Eagles At The Forum

Who can go the distance
We’ll find out in the long run

Welcome to 2018, when everybody’s got an opinion and nobody’s listening. Word on the street is that this is the ersatz Eagles, but Don Henley’s got no problem with that, he acknowledges that the band has changed right after the show begins. But the songs remain. This concert is a tribute to very hard work done a long time ago that has been enshrined in the brains of fans all over the word, which is why the Eagles possess the biggest selling album of all time. You may hate ’em, but more people love ’em.
Now if you’re a fan, the opening will slay you.

There are stars
In the southern sky
Southward as you go

It’s “Seven Bridges Road” which was never a single, was only released on a live album back in 1980. But that was then and this is now. That’s the Eagles and everybody else. Like Led Zeppelin, the Eagles transcended the format. Album cuts were as big as singles. You knew them. And this unheralded song written by Steve Young is a classic.

There is moonlight
And moss in the trees
Down the Seven Bridges Road

It’s a new era, a rebirth. If Dodger Stadium was the introduction, this tour is the freight train, streamlining the sound, getting rid of the rough edges, and steaming down the track. If you can find a better rehearsed band, you’re lying. It’s so perfect, you want to pinch yourself. And sure, one can argue the roots of rock and roll are about the coarseness, but that’s never been what the Eagles have been selling. The Eagles came late, they may be considered classic rock now, but “Take It Easy” came out in ’72, long after the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. The band’s sound was a distillation of what came before, all its members had paid their dues, it was about stewing up the sounds and perfecting them, to rise above. And the Eagles did.

Sure, it was Glenn Frey’s idea. But the new band has maintained his vision. As a matter of fact, the biggest applause of the night was when his image was projected on the big screen. You see the audience knows. From back when rock ruled the planet and no one had even heard of techies. Being a rock star meant you were fabulously wealthy and hewed to the beat of your own drummer. That’s what we all aspired to. Today’s industrialists look down on musicians, back then everybody wanted to be one.

So, you’re listening to “Seven Bridges Road” stunned. The country rock sound was birthed by Gram Parsons, expanded by Crosby, Stills & Nash, but… Parsons never broke through to the mainstream and CSN could not reproduce the magic on stage. Just take a look at “Woodstock,” or listen to “4 Way Street,” you wince. But not when the Eagles took the stage, then or now. Last night at the Forum, forty three years after their first show there.

As Timothy B. Schmit said, they’re the Eagles from Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is a state of mind. One of freedom, one of possibilities. East coasters pooh-pooh it, southerners say they’ve got it, as they sweat away, Texans believe they’re superior, but the hopes and dreams of our nation reside in California, and it’s the hedonistic southern part of the state where your dreams come true. You can have no CV, trading on your pluck and luck, and you can make it. It’s why both Glenn Frey and Don Henley came here to begin with.

So last night was a celebration of what was, and in the mind of Angelenos, still can be.

Deacon Frey singing about standing on a corner…you don’t age in SoCal, your features fade, but you still believe your best days are ahead of you, that that girl in the flatbed Ford will still check you out.

And Vince Gill takes it to the limit, and one can never forget that Randy Meisner was ousted from the band because he no longer could. You see family is secondary to chops in the Eagles.

And speaking of Gill, one of the surprises of the evening was his take on Tom Waits’ “Ol ’55,” a smidge better than the rendition on the third album.

And Gill got to play one of his own songs, “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away,” which was not quite up to the Eagles’ level, but his guitar-playing was. Last night was an axefest. With Gill, Joe Walsh and Steuart Smith demonstrating world class chops that compete with anybody. With help from Deacon and Don at times. That’s right, the act often featured SIX guitarists on the front line.

And Walsh delivered the spice as usual. But he had fire that had previously been held in check. He had the audience make fun of him in “Life’s Been Good.” And not only was there “Funk #49,” but “Walk Away” from his James Gang roots too.

But this show lived somewhere between nostalgia and the present. Sure, you’d hear “Tequila Sunrise” and think about what once was, where you were back then, but then you’d be on your feet singing along to “Heartache Tonight” and it felt like you were in the present. Where else can you go to a show where you know every word? This is a celebration, of not only the band, but the audience.

That was something I noticed, how the old songs had new meaning.

“Life In The Fast Lane”… So many have fallen off the edge. Tested the limits and got consumed by them. Mac Miller and Lil Peep have been cut down prematurely recently, but the game is to stay alive, to see how it all plays out. Die and you’re a legend, survive and you’re just a regular guy. But the trick is to live long enough to see how it all turns out, to try and capture the brass ring once again.

Unlike in past shows, Henley didn’t dominate. But one of the absolute highlights was when he performed “Boys Of Summer,” from the MTV era.

It’s that guitar lick, that synth sound swirling, and then Don steps up to the mic and sings:

Nobody on the road
Nobody on the beach
I feel it in the air
Summer’s out of reach

We have seasons in SoCal, contrary to popular opinion. And they’re changing right now. It might be bubbling under triple digits, but the beaches have cleared out, PCH is nearly empty and the angle of the sun makes everything golden, but not bright yellow. Kind of like our lives.

Maybe you started with the Beatles. Maybe it was the Eagles themselves. Maybe you didn’t come along until Martha Quinn and the rest of the VJs became household names. But you remember. How it was. Before cell phones. In the era of loneliness, of little communication. You listened to music to connect, to feel your humanity. You went to the show for a religious rite, to know you were all right. And you go a Eagles show to get back in touch with that feeling, all those thoughts, all those questions, how was it gonna all work out?

Well I’m gonna tell you how it did. You made it. The road’s been littered with disasters and death, but somehow you made it through, you’re still here. And so are the Eagles.

So you lay your money down to remind yourself. You pay some of the highest ticket prices extant. But you don’t care, you just need another hit of the magic, because you checked into the Hotel California and you can never leave.


Second Try

The Savoy Brown Anthology

I knew the Savoy Brown Blues Band but never heard them. They were always billed at the Fillmore, but New York radio did not play them. It was the opposite of today’s situation, my inbox is filled with people who’ve never heard of Twenty One Pilots, but their music is just a click away, whereas back then we knew all the acts, but if radio didn’t play it and you didn’t buy it you never heard it.

I always thought of Savoy Brown as a second-rate band, their albums were in the bins, but if they were that big they would have broken through, I would have heard them, right?

But Tuesday night, after leaving the Greek, I was listening to SiriusXM’s “DeepTracks,” hell, I’ve been listening to that channel since Lee Abrams programmed XM, and I was going about 75 on the 101, L.A.’s funny, most times you’re crawling along, but when it gets to the late night, or early in the morning as Harry Nilsson sang, there are still vehicles on the road, but you can fly, and it was then that I heard Savoy Brown’s “Second Try.”

I’d be lying if I said it sounds as good to me right now listening on headphones at home, but…

Remember when you had your collection and you played what fit your mood? “Second Try” is perfect when you’re alone and it’s dark or you’re high on a lazy afternoon and especially when you’re driving.

It really reached me Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.

The sound was familiar to me. It’s familiar to anybody who lived through the era. A driving, blues-based boogie with wailing guitars, it’s this sound that will presage the rock renaissance, that’s right, we’ve got to get back to the garden if we want to rebuild rock, rock music has become so self-referential as to be incomprehensible to most of the audience. I remember when Led Zeppelin was heavy metal and Black Sabbath was on the edge, now we’re many generations down the rabbit hole and if you haven’t followed the curve, ain’t got your decoder ring, you just pass it by.

The blues. Can’t say I’m an expert. But everybody from Jimmy Page to Bonnie Raitt was infected by them. They started with the classics, amplifying them, stretching them, that’s what drove the FM revolution.

Now “Second Try” sounds nothing like what’s on the hit parade. But that does not mean you won’t get it instantly. It was made for listening, not to be a hit. When you couldn’t just press a button and be done with it, you had to get up and lift the tonearm on the turntable and… Listening was a different experience, there was a lot of repetition and you couldn’t afford much, so you went deep. Not that I’m lamenting today’s world, we just haven’t figure it out yet, how to separate the wheat from the chaff, it’s great that we’ve got the history of recorded music at our fingertips.

Sure, it’s all sound. But styles are different. “Second Try” is music too.

It’s they way it swings, gets right into the groove, there were no long intros, the song began and you were swept away, and when the verse begins the keyboard keeps you jumping. And sure, the lyrics are not revolutionary, but they are personal. And then during the second verse we get some picking, some of that lead stuff so popular in the era of the guitar hero. And then they put the pedal to the medal, switch into overdrive as the guitar wails and you’re just holding on tight, riding the tiger into uncharted territory, meanwhile the track starts to twist and turn some more, until they pull back a bit and the vocals return, however with more emphasis. Now the band is in the groove, unconscious of the audience, locked in and unstoppable like a freight train. That’s right, the whole edifice is rolling down the tracks, you’ve got the piano and the organ and the riff and the wailing and it sounds so different from today’s music, but so right, and still fresh, undated like the AM pop tunes of that era.

Now if rock comes back it will start with a walk into the wilderness. None of today’s trappings will work. Won’t be about clothing, won’t be about sponsorship, won’t be about hype, it’ll be all about the work. First you’ve got to have the skills, you’ve got to practice, off the grid, when no one is paying attention. Social networking, posting YouTube videos and spamming won’t work. When you’re good enough, you’ll form a band and start to play live, for bupkes. But you’ll be so basic and good that you will draw an audience. It’s a great big world, there’s room for you. Everything new and great starts from outside the system, and builds slowly. Today labels consider a one album wonder artist development, used to take three or four, but you got a record deal after you’d developed your chops, when you were finally ready.

Music when done right is an intoxicant. You start to sip, still feeling the same, and then something changes. I’m about the fifth time through “Second Try” and now I’ll have a hard time clicking it off, it’s taken over not only my ears, but my whole body, my head started nodding involuntarily and then it spread to my torso and then my arms. Doesn’t matter if anybody else is listening, where the track is on the chart, it’s a personal experience, like it used to be and still can be again. AM was for everybody, FM was for somebodies. And when acts stopped trying to be in-your-face their music penetrated and took over. This is the feeling, the sound the baby boomers lament the loss of. It was killed by MTV, when it became about how you looked. But now the internet has blown that paradigm apart, now, more than ever, it’s about the music. It’s time for the younger generation to give their take on the blues, which like classical and jazz never die, they just wax and wane. Didn’t Muddy Waters put out an LP entitled “Electric Mud”? I’m waiting for “Electrical Millennial”!

“My Blood” Twenty One Pilots

“My Blood” Twenty One Pilots

This is a hit!

At first, for the initial twenty seven seconds, it seems generic, not much different from everything else, au courant, albeit employing the drum machine sound of the early eighties. And then, after that, it takes a turn, and then at forty two seconds in another, and this is when you get hooked, by the beat and the groove, and it only gets better from there, with the falsetto, and now you’re completely enraptured, you might not get it in the first three seconds, but within a one minute listen you do.

Fans and insiders know that Twenty One Pilots is a monster act, especially on the road, one can argue they broke there first. But if you’re not in the loop, you self-satisfiedly ignore them. And on one hand I get it, what they’re doing on “My Blood” is not especially innovative and not far from what else dominates, but the act puts all the elements together to end up with the aforementioned HIT!

This is something a computer will never tell us, certainly not today or in the near future. It’s a feeling, a vibe. A musician knows it when he or she locks on to it, and then they search for it the rest of their careers. You cannot write a hit every day, and you lose the touch, and sometimes it comes back and sometimes it doesn’t. You’re waiting for the inspiration, the vibe, and then you run to your instrument of choice to lay it down. And speaking of instrument of choice, the video, which has a slightly longer intro, resonates strongly because it’s just the bassist in front of the screen in the studio, the way people really make records these days. It’s a lonely pursuit. Oh, some tracks are made by committee, but ironically those are the ones that have the juice squeezed out of them, they’re so busy trying to concoct a hit that they don’t, or what they produce is soulless, but when an individual gets the word channeled from the heavens…those are the cuts we want to listen to most.

As for the lyrics of “My Blood,” they’re the usual tripe. Oh, a bit better than that, it’s all “I’ll stand by you when times are rough.” But you listen a long time before you care about, even get the lyrics. Because first and foremost it’s about music. Great music and lame lyrics works, the opposite does not.

And what’s up with all these people power lyrics? Is everybody really that oppressed? Don’t answer that. What I truly mean is what we’re yearning for is your inner feelings, those are what we resonate with most, especially if you come down off your throne and demonstrate you’re a regular person just like us.

And there are many elements that make this track work, but it’s the driving bass primarily.

So how did I discover “My Blood”?

Jeff Pollack’s newsletter. You know, the guy who was the King of AOR when that was still a thing. That’s right, now Jeff’s got one of those daily newsletters too. You know, where he lists the articles you should pay attention to. This was cool when Jason Hirschhorn first did it, but now everybody’s got one, just makes me want to unsubscribe. Too many people promoting articles with interesting headlines and terrible writing. And how much time does one person have anyway? But for now, Jeff’s newsletter is sparse, it only has six stories with less than a sentence introductions, so if you like this kind of thing, e-mail him at HQ@Pollackmedia.com to sign up.

But what kept me from unsubscribing is his weekly music recommendations. Five cuts. That I would not expect from Jeff. Turns out he’s not rooted in the past, this is all today’s stuff. This is exactly what I’ve been yearning for from the beginning of the playlist era. Give me just a few tracks, hand-curated, those I can pay attention to, ten or more and it’s incomprehensible.

And all of Jeff’s tracks were listenable and interesting, but none was a hit like “My Blood,” which is not to put down the other cuts, just to illustrate how hard it is to reach the brass ring. I wanted the Dua Lipa/Diplo/Mark Ronson cut to be a hit, I’m a huge fan of the first two and Ronson is cool, but it doesn’t quite make it. Hozier and Mavis Staples same deal, not quite there, although good in theory. But the surprise was Jagwar Twin’s “Loser,” it only has 239,311 streams on Spotify compared to Twenty One Pilots’ 9 million plus. Stream it, wait for the vocal, then you’ll get it, but the chorus is substandard, it’s cliched musically, never mind lyrically, if only the act had worked a bit harder. As for the O’My’s with Chance the Rapper, interesting once again, but no cigar.

All these cuts are in the playlist above. And isn’t it interesting that Pollack is utilizing Spotify, if the other streaming services don’t figure out mass sharing, they’ll be in trouble. Then again, do they have a free tier?

And my inbox will be inundated with hating on “My Blood.” But the joke is on the writers. A pro knows what a hit is, irrelevant of genre. And “My Blood” is one.

twenty one pilots: My Blood – YouTube

Leon Bridges At The Greek

Leon Bridges

Where are all the black people?

That’s what everybody was remarking at Leon Bridges’s sold-out show at the Greek last night. If you were in attendance you’d think he’s one of the biggest acts on the planet. But he’s not. Welcome to the modern music business of niches, where you can be a star amongst your fan base, but unknown outside it.

Now the thing about Leon Bridges’s music is it’s inoffensive. And I mean this in the best possible way. So much of what is lauded these days a great percentage of the public detests. As big as hip-hop might be, many ignore it. Same deal with Beyonce, her appearance at Coachella? Lauded by the press, ignored by just about everybody. This is not the way it used to be, used to be the media anointed you and everybody paid attention. Now the media no longer has a hold on the populace like it used to.

And yes, a lot of rappers are black, and Beyonce too, BUT SO IS LEON BRIDGES!

He’s singing soul music, and there seems to be little room for soul music in the black space these days, at least new stuff, Leon’s stuff. What is happening? Is the throwback sound anathema, must you rap and employ beats to get attention?

And it is about attention, Bridges is one of those acts that most people would like if they ever heard his music.

Right now it’s the Triple-A crowd, millenial and older white people.

Of course there’s some African-American traction, but it was less than five percent of those in attendace last night. Has Bridges just not gotten his chance or has he been rejected or..?

You would have been awed if you’d been there. Most of the people knew all the words. And this was not a heritage act. Leon held the mic out to the crowd and…they sang along. He’s infiltrated the minds of those who care, and those who don’t… Actually, Leon Bridges is a mini Adele, minus the slickness, minus the big push. And maybe minus her pipes, but Leon’s are certainly serviceable.

And he almost stumbled into a career. He never thought it would happen. He was just living in Fort Worth making demos and word got to Michael McDonald and there was an ensuing deal with Columbia and this proves it is all about the music, because Leon did not have the CV, none of the vaunted socials all the labels are supposedly looking for. So let this be a beacon to wannabes and also a warning. You can break the rules, but you’ve got to be damn good.

And how can music this good go unnoticed?

His new album is more contemporary, less of a throwback to Sam Cooke, and he was on “CBS Sunday Morning,” the only program that truly moves the needle, so there is action, but it’s not sweeping the country, it’s a bubble.

And it is about AAA, but it’s also about word of mouth. Like right now, if you’ve got no idea who Leon is you’ll check his music out and say…I DIG THIS! Where has this guy been? Right under your nose. But you missed him while you were trying to escape the tsunami of hype.

You’ll be enraptured by “Bad Bad News” from the new album. It doesn’t exactly inhabit Stevie Wonder land, but it’s absent the contemporary bells and whistles Jason Derulo, who’s one of the best, employs. The sound is classic. From an era where you could listen to not only Mr. Wonder, but AC/DC and Joni Mitchell too. Now the choices are even broader, but the trees in the forest all blend together.

And you cannot keep your noggin from nodding when you listen to “Smooth Sailin'” from the debut. It’s the groove. And the horns and…

That’s right, last night’s show was not a production tuned to tape, it wasn’t about hard drives, but players. A rollicking full band. We went from the big bands of the forties to the rock ensembles of classic rock to today, where you might get an MC and a turntable, or a hard drive. Yes, Leon Bridges is out of time, but some stuff is timeless.

And “Beyond” references his grandma, the object of his desire “might just be my everything and beyond.” There’s no danger here, no one shooting anybody, no one dressed in leather and spikes, instead there’s just humanity and feeling. The songs soothe and draw you in, not the trappings.

And then Leon’s most streamed track, “River,” talking about redemption, just an acoustic guitar and a vocal, it’s almost like it’s 1962 all over again, or maybe 1972. This is basic stuff, and the basic stuff always resonates.

This is a revolution. And it’s bigger than Leon Bridges and his music. It illustrates the OPPORTUNITIES!

We’ve been taught that it’s all about the hit parade, the Top Ten, the Top Forty. It was otherwise during the heyday of free format album rock in the late sixties and very early seventies, ever since then… There are the hits and everything else. Especially after MTV. But then Napster and the internet blew up the paradigm and no one noticed. Everybody’s still trumpeting the chart when those tracks might be popular with a niche, but they’re far from the whole story.

The whole story is music is a wide swath, and we need new lenses to see the scene.

Which gets started by tracks, but truly lives live, it’s all about the experience, and people are willing to pay for it. Leon Bridges is not a heritage act with ten radio hits where you weigh whether his ticket is worth the price… No, you go to see Leon Bridges because of the newness, because of the excitement, you can’t stay away. Some sounds just draw you in, you don’t care what anybody else thinks, you’ve got to listen, you’ve got to go…

See Leon Bridges.

P.S. Michael McDonald’s old client John Mayer came out and wailed on a couple of numbers and although he killed, with subtlety in spaces, you couldn’t help but sit there and think that Mayer might be a star but first and foremost he’s a musician, he wants to play! That’s what it’s all about, the performing, in the studio, on the stage, in the rehearsal hall, in your bedroom. The flame of our musical values has been flickering, but last night Mayer, Bridges and his troupe fanned them, hard.