City in my head, heaven in my body.

Remember when reunion tours were looked upon as a joke? Like, basically cash grabs for beer-company sponsorship money?

I’m either lucky or I’ve chosen well, because the reunion tours I’ve seen have all been lights-out. The list includes Steely Dan in 1993 (first tour in 19 years); Graham Parker and the Rumour in 2013 (supporting their first album in 33 years) … and, as of last night, Todd Rundgren and Utopia.

The length of time between Utopia gigs depends a little on how you slice it, but after a little Wiki research, I’d call it the first tour by this edition of the band since 1992.

And this would be the first show of the reunion tour, at Penn’s Peak, a friendly barnlike building in the wooded hills of eastern Pennsylvania. Rundgren played there on his own last year and must have decided it would be a good place for a shakedown cruise.

Utopia started as a progressive-rock band before migrating to more conventional pop. And that’s how the show was structured — a first set going heavier on prog stuff, and a second set of shorter, poppier songs.

Starting with the complex stuff has its ups and downs.

On one hand, the music — both stately and energetic — speaks of loftier things than simple three-minute pop songs, and sets a grander tone. Hearing the band take the twists and turns of the 14-minute “Utopia Theme” made for an ambitious and memorable opening. Other notable parts of the prog set included “Freedom Fighters,” a condensed version of “The Ikon,” and “Communion With The Sun.”

(A few more words about “Utopia Theme”: I’d first encountered that song on a college radio station, many years ago, while running an errand … it turned out to be the kind of errand where you get lost in the song, drive until the song is over, and then return to your business. I never really expected to see anybody perform it live, so it made an especially wonderful scene-setter last night.)


On the other hand, starting off a show with complicated multi-part material requires you to be on top of your game right out of the dressing room. It’s like being a former world-class hurdler and starting your comeback at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

I was surprised to notice several instances in the first set when Rundgren’s left hand landed a fret or two — sometimes more — away from where it was supposed to be. My (very) distant impression of TR as a bandleader is that he doesn’t look that kindly on mistakes, so it was an interesting turn of events to see him fall short of the rest of the band.

(Utopia’s other members — bassist Kasim Sulton, drummer Willie Wilcox and new-guy keyboardist Gil Assayas — were rock-solid throughout on instruments and vocals. It’s a shame that former keyboardist Ralph Shuckett couldn’t make the tour as intended, but Assayas has the parts more than capably covered.)

After one especially noticeable cock-up, Rundgren told the crowd: “First night … OK, let’s play something simple, then.” Whereupon they launched into a perfect, blunt-instrument version of the Move’s “Do Ya,” as performed on the Another Live album.


A storming “Last of the New Wave Riders” ended the first set. The second set featured a slightly different stage setup, with Wilcox’s drums taken down off a riser and placed at the back of the stage — where Rundgren, in one of his wandering moments, almost tripped over them.

Rundgren and Sulton also did a lot of instrument-swapping, and each of them at one point received an instrument that hadn’t been correctly plugged in — requiring two songs to be waved to a stop after thirty seconds and started again. Roadies have first-night jitters too, it seems.

But that was about all the fault to be found with the second set, which kicked off with a strong “The Road to Utopia” and built from there. Rundgren’s playing was flawless; everybody save Assayas took a turn singing lead; and songs like “Set Me Free,” “Love In Action” and “Princess of the Universe” were tight, memorable and assured.

(I’m having trouble remembering whether “Trapped” and “Back on the Street” were in the first or second set — I suspect first; I wasn’t taking notes — but those were well-performed as well.)

The second set ended perfectly, with “Love Is the Answer” and an upbeat “One World” to close. “Love Is the Answer” was heartfelt without being histrionic, with a guitarless Rundgren roaming the stage and firing up the crowd. (Scoff at England Dan, John Ford Coley and yacht-rock all you want — I still say this is a marvelous song.)

And the encore, “Just One Victory,” remains a soaring, heartwarming white-soul underdog anthem.

In a different world, I suppose this and not “Bang The Drum All Day” would be the Todd Rundgren song you’d hear at sports games and on sitcoms. But that’s just as well; it’s avoided being overplayed and remains a gem for the faithful, a song to send you buzzing on your way home.


I haven’t gotten any sense that this reunion will last beyond the current tour’s run or lead to any additional records. Given Rundgren’s celebrated unpredictability, he may well move on to a record of Vietnamese folksongs once the tour winds up. And he may be so used to independence by now that he doesn’t want to go back to a democratic band setup where everyone writes and sings.

Still, if this reunion is all the Utopia the world gets, it was a nice place to visit for a couple of hours.

Not hurrying into anything.

In December 2012, I wrote a post about Todd Rundgren’s intention to release a new record, and my intention to see him perform if his subsequent tour came to my area.

Took me almost three years, but I finally bought a ticket to go see him again.

He happens to be coming to a theater in the northern Philly suburbs in mid-December, on a Sunday night before I take a week off from work.

(He’ll be coming with the same band I saw him with in 2011, not with the EDM-oriented show he toured with earlier this year. Though, honestly, I would probably have gone to see the EDM show if that’s what was on offer.)

And, I happened to discover the presale code for tickets left online by the theater management. So I went ahead and bought a ticket. They would have gone on public sale tomorrow at noon anyway, but I saw no need to wait that long if I didn’t have to.

I’d been holding out for him to come to the Lehigh Valley again, especially now that we have a bunch of nice new performance venues. Hasn’t happened, though. Rundgren’s legendary stubbornness seems to have trumped mine, and if he won’t come in my direction, I’ll drive an hour south to go to his.

This show (assuming nothing stops me from attending) also will elevate Rundgren alongside Neil Young, Bob Dylan and maybe B.B. King as artists I have seen three times.

Given that he continues to tour regularly, and continues to play smaller markets (or the outskirts of larger ones), Rundgren seems to have a better shot than the other (living) members of the Three-Show Club at reaching the never-ascended Four-Show Plateau. I won’t go to the big arena in Philly to see the other guys, but a smaller theater in the ‘burbs is another matter.

What happens if he reaches four shows, I don’t know … but Rundgren’s always game for new things, so maybe we’ll find out together in a year or two.

Of course, I’ve said that before.

A post about Badfinger.

Having declared my hate for obvious, punny headlines and ledes, I’m gonna skip trying to come up with a clever title for this.


I wasn’t going to write anything about last night’s free concert featuring Badfinger at the Levitt Pavilion in Bethlehem. But I think now I will, if for no other reason than to help me remember it.

Some bullet points, then:

– Pretty good show; I’d give it a solid B-plus.

– Veteran Joey Molland and his new mates played the five big hits commonly associated with Badfinger*, as well as a bunch of deep cuts that weren’t insanely memorable but weren’t embarrassing either.

*In order of appearance, they were “Baby Blue” (they opened with it); “Come And Get It;” “Day After Day;” “Without You” and “No Matter What” (the main set closer).

– I’m fairly certain Molland didn’t sing lead on any of the band’s original big hits. (The late Pete Ham, who wrote most of them, also sang lead on most of them.)

Thankfully, Molland has a strong enough voice to do the job capably. Rarely if at all did I think, “Hey, that’s not the same guy.”

– As part of his between-song banter, Molland playfully gave someone in the audience the bird. The frontman of Badfinger giving someone the (bad) finger would have made a great photo; alas, I missed it.

– At another point, referencing the chain restaurant next door to Levitt Pavilion, Molland declared in his Liverpudlian accent: “We’re all goin’ to Pairkins later.”

I wondered if anyone in the audience decided to follow the band over there and buy them dinner, or pester them with questions about what George Harrison was really like.

My money’s on the guy I spotted wearing the “Badfinger 1990 World Tour” T-shirt. Heck, for that kind of long-term loyalty, I think maybe Molland and company should buy him a short stack.

– Molland handed some of the deep cuts over to keyboardist Steve Wozny and bass player Mark Healey to sing. Not sure if that was to save his voice, or to preserve the image of a collaborative band.

– On some of the songs sung by Healey, Molland sang backing vocals standing off to one side of the mic, not directly behind it.

That raised thoughts of his deceased bandmates more than any other part of the show. It looked for a moment like Molland was leaving space on the other side of the mic in case Tom Evans should decide to drop by.

(The truth, I’m sure, is less romantic. I’m guessing that maybe you sing backup vocals into the side of the mic because it won’t pick you up as strongly, and there’s less of a chance you’ll overpower the lead singer. Or, maybe Molland was trying to maintain eye contact with Healey. Those are  just guesses; I have certainly never been employed to sing.)

– They drew what I thought was a surprisingly good crowd, filling up the lawn.

I had sorta thought that only a few middle-aged, nerdy pop obsessives (my kind of people) would show up. Badfinger’s fame was relatively short-lived, after all, and this version of the band has only one original member.

But I guess there are still a lot of people who remember Badfinger’s hits fondly, or who dug the use of “Baby Blue” in the final episode of “Breaking Bad” and decided it was worth seeing the band behind the song.

This show was also part of a summer-long series of free concerts, and there may be people who turn out every Saturday night just to see what’s cracking. Which, now that I think of it, is not the worst idea in the world.


– “No Matter What” is a terrific song, and for some reason I felt particularly gladdened to hear it played by one of its original performers — more so than any of the other hits of the night.

Some shows have one or two songs that stand above the rest and remind you why you went. “No Matter What” was my got-what-I-came-for moment — which was convenient, as it was the last song of the main set, and thus allowed me to skip the encore.

(I overheard a little bit of the encore on my way out. Left to his own devices, Molland seems to prefer straight-ahead Chuck Berry-derived rock to crisp British-style pop, and this was more of the former. It might have been hot but, again, I’d got what I came for.)

– I also used the voice-memo function on my iPhone 4S to record about a minute’s worth of “No Matter What,” just because I was there and I could.

Without any frills — no external mic, no mic stand, just held at one’s waist — those things make surprisingly listenable live recordings. Not pro-quality, of course, but better and crisper than a lot of bootlegs I’ve heard in my time.

I’m not going to make a habit out of surreptitiously taping live shows; it doesn’t seem right.

But if I were a performing artist, I would hate the iPhone.

It’s already impossible to make a living selling studio recordings. Now, every single person in the crowd has the wherewithal to take the show home with them, and it’s virtually impossible to stop.


Brokedown palace.

Robert Hunter is on the road again.

And like the Grateful Dead — the band for whom Hunter wrote lyrics for almost 30 years — he is capable of summoning the highest highs and the lowest lows within the course of a single set.

Hunter stopped by Miller Symphony Hall, a quaint old joint in downtown Allentown, tonight for the second of an eight-show East Coast run.

I’d guesstimate the room was half full, maybe a touch over — and it’s not a big room. I was one of about 15 people in the balcony, which enabled me to grab a front-row seat with plenty of room to myself.

The balcony, a half-hour prior to showtime. The two guys in the front row are setting up a recording rig.
The balcony, a half-hour prior to showtime. The two guys in the front row are setting up a recording rig.

It would have been nice to see a couple more people show up for an honest-to-goodness legend. Hunter was a core contributor to the Dead’s legendary trip, as much as any of the band members, and he’s also co-written songs with the likes of Bob Dylan.

But on the other hand, there’s a reason Hunter doesn’t draw big crowds: He’s simply not a great performer, and probably not even a good one.

His voice pleasantly surprised me. It’s not instantly identifiable, but is more than strong enough to do justice to his material. Hunter’s voice at age 72 is miles ahead of Dylan’s at the same age — and also miles ahead of Jerry Garcia’s voice at age 50.

On the other hand, Hunter’s guitar playing is all over the map.

His right-hand fingerpicking rhythms can be erratic; his left-hand chording can be imprecise; and every trip out of first position is an adventure. Simply put, the guy doesn’t have consistent enough chops to support a one-man-with-guitar show.

And when his deficiencies in playing skill meet apparent deficiencies in musical knowledge, the results are as cringeworthy as the worst of the Dead.

I will always take some degree of pleasure in knowing I saw Hunter play “Stella Blue,” the beautiful country-tinged ballad from the Wake of the Flood album. It’s one of my favorite Dead songs (one of Hunter’s favorites, too, he says), and one I never got to see the Dead perform.

Unfortunately, Hunter doesn’t know the chords. We’re not talking about an occasional mistake: We’re talking full-on what-comes-next unfamiliarity. The result made me squirm; people would cheer in polite encouragement when one of Hunter’s vague, shambling instrumental transitions resolved on the correct chord.

(I spotted at least four tapers in the crowd; if their recordings make their way online, I may post “Stella Blue” here, just to defend myself against anyone who thinks I am being too harsh.)

While “Stella Blue” was bittersweet at best, Hunter’s performances of a crop of 1969-70 songs shone.

“Candyman,” “New Speedway Boogie,” “Friend of the Devil,” “Ripple” and “Brokedown Palace” all featured Hunter in strong, spirited voice, with steadier instrumental backing. It was a pleasure to see all five songs done well by one of their creators, and a reminder that the strength of the best Hunter-Garcia material will outlast Hunter, Garcia, and probably everyone else in the room.

“Box of Rain” and “Brown-Eyed Women,” also written in the 1969-70 time period, were perhaps not quite as well-performed as the others, but still warming and welcome.

And the Western outlaw saga “Jack Straw” featured a charming moment when Hunter drew a blank on the verse that begins “Leaving Texas / Fourth day of July.”

He looked around and asked, “Anyone out there remember the next verse?” … whereupon everyone in the room sang that verse, and the rest of the song, along with him.

Hunter’s music had probably provided uplift to everyone in the crowd at some point or another; and when he needed a hand, they were there to help him in return. When I think back on this show in five or 10 years, that’s probably the moment I’ll remember best.

If you want to see Robert Hunter live, he’s got six more East Coast shows scheduled between now and Oct. 10. I would not expect them, based on my experience, to be transcendent.

But the best of Hunter’s performances suggest that he still has the capacity to bring some great songs to life. If you happen to like those songs, it’s worth taking the chance.

Howlin’ wind.

Of all the shows I’ve seen, my favorite remains Neil Young and Crazy Horse at the old hockey rink in Buffalo, on the Arc/Weld tour of 1991.

Neil and the Horse played sloppily and louder than Christ, which is the only way they know. But underneath the energy was a strength and fire that had little to do with volume, and a wisdom built on 20-plus years of marvelous songwriting. Age met spirit, and the results were explosive.

Tonight’s show by Graham Parker and the Rumour at Bethlehem’s Musikfest Cafe wasn’t quite as earthshaking as Neil and the Horse were, all those years ago.

But it was very, very, very good, and another potent reminder of what can happen when experience, spirit and smarts come together on equal footing.

Which is a good thing … because when you’re Graham Parker and the Rumour, it ain’t just about hitting the right notes.

The albums the British singer-songwriter and his band recorded between 1976 and 1980 crackled with energy, emotion and soul — not “soul” in a literal-minded, let’s-make-this-sound-just-like-Otis-Redding way, but soul nonetheless.

(Not for nothing is their best-known album called Squeezing Out Sparks, nor one of their rallying-cry signature tunes called “Passion Is No Ordinary Word.”)

For a reunion tour to work, it would have to be about something besides the box office. It would have to embrace the power of the past, and summon it  in the present.

Parker and his five-man backing band ain’t getting rich off this tour: I guesstimate the Musikfest Cafe holds 500 people, and it wasn’t sold out.

But if this first show of the tour is any indication, they’re more than fulfilling the artistic part of the equation. The two-hour show abounded with energy, good humor, and a commitment to putting across a classic set list of songs with wit and emotion intact.

Parker and company played at least four songs from last year’s reunion album, Three Chords Good — one of them, the sardonic “Last Bookstore in Town” (complete with kazoo solo), for the first time onstage.

From the sound of it, the new songs hold their own with the classics. One, “A Lie Gets Halfway ‘Round the World,” featured Parker riffing on the local color: “Bethlehem, the Steel City … they replaced steel with plastic … and that sucks.”

Of course, it's sorta hard not to riff about steel when your stage is across the street from the former Bethlehem Steel plant.
Of course, it’s easy to riff about steel when a former Bethlehem Steel plant looms behind your stage.

The classics, meanwhile, are in good hands. “Discovering Japan” and “Howlin’ Wind” and “Local Girls” and “Watch The Moon Come Down” and “Lady Doctor” and “Soul Shoes” (which got a stomping honky-tonk take as the final encore) and, yes, “Passion Is No Ordinary Word” felt strong and biting, familiar without being rote.

“Howlin’ Wind,” in particular, had an ominous strut, just a tiny bit different from the record, that makes me wish they were still playing it and I were still listening to it. This short clip (which could stand a fade-in, fade-out, and other sweetening I don’t have time to give it) conveys a tiny, tiny bit of it:

Oh, yeah — late in the show, just when I’d forgotten how very much I wanted them to play “Stupefaction,” they played it, and it was brilliant, as scornful and fed-up as it was in 1980.

The 30 years between the original breakup of the Rumour and Three Chords Good got their due too, with the band rocking through a selection of tunes they didn’t originally play on, but did justice to anyway. (I now have a whole bunch of Graham Parker albums I know I need to catch up on.)

Parker and the Rumour will be on tour in the Northeast for the next three weeks or so, playing such humble venues as The Met in Pawtucket, R.I. (Did I mention they’re not getting rich?)

If you can catch ’em, do it. If you can’t, cross your fingers and hope that the band’s rediscovered rock n’ roll soul is enough to keep it together for a while longer.


My man Jim Bartlett posted a piece yesterday about The Smoking Gun’s online archive of tour riders, which provides a wonderful look into the backstage demands and vanities of well-known performers.

(One of my favorites: B.B. King’s request not to have dinner supplied. This could be for any number of reasons. I like to think it was B.B.’s response to hard-earned success: “I’m through eating rubber chicken in the dressing room. When I’m done with this gig, I’m gonna take my walking-around money someplace classy and buy myself a lobster. No, make that two.“)

I’ve been to the Rider Archive before. But this time I found myself asking some obvious questions that had never occurred to me.

Anyone who knows the music industry is welcome to enlighten me on these, using the Comments section.

Or, if you don’t have any firsthand knowledge, I welcome wild and scurrilous speculation:

1. How common is it for a promoter to fail to live up to the terms of the rider?

And, related to that …

2. What happens if an artist doesn’t get what they want, to some greater or lesser degree?

I’m led to believe that tour riders can specify all kinds of things, from technical details of sound and staging to the flavor of bubble gum in the dressing room.

That means a promoter could violate a rider in any number of ways, large or small.

It could be anything from failing to hire enough security and support staff … to not sufficiently preparing the stage in some way … to stocking the backstage coolers with RC Cola instead of Pepsi.

Now, if the promoter does something that truly imperils the band or audience, or makes a professional stage presentation impossible, the band would presumably refuse to play.

(That promoter probably wouldn’t be in business long, either.)

But if the promoter breaks the contract in some other, lesser way … well, that’s another question:

3. How much blatant defiance of their backstage rider will a performer accept before he or she refuses to take the stage (or get off the tour bus)?

This might vary from performer to performer: Some are divas, others are troupers.

It might also vary from era to era. In the druggy, pampered ’70s, American cheese on the deli tray instead of Muenster might have been enough to trigger a Nigel Tufnel-style flip-out. I’m guessing (based purely on gut) that today’s major performers have at least a little more tolerance for not getting exactly what they want.

Still, canceling a concert can cost a performer a fair amount of money and, maybe, fan loyalty as well.

So how much will they put up with? The wrong brand of beer? A lousy catered dinner — or no dinner at all? No dressing-room Wi-Fi? No backstage runner with a van, ready to take band members on any errand they want?

I am guessing that most bands will put up with just about anything, because the show must go on.

If they truly get shafted by a promoter, they’ll probably just make a mental note never to work with that person again. They may also take their frustration out on the audience with a half-hearted show.

Which leads to a final question …

4. Was that shitty, uninspired Santana concert I sat through in 1993 so lame because the promoter insisted on loading the deli tray with pressed turkey loaf?

Squeezing out sparks.

Forgot to mention: I bought a ticket Friday to see Graham Parker and the Rumour on April 5.

They’ll be playing the Musikfest Cafe, a small club-like venue that’s part of the same rehabilitated former Bethlehem Steel complex where I saw Shonen Knife last summer.

This one’s a bit of a flyer for me. I have three of Parker’s albums from the 1970s, like them quite a bit, and imagine I could easily get to like the guy’s entire career if I got to know it.

But, I’ve still never taken the step to really get to know it.

Maybe this show will motivate me to do that.

In the meantime, here are a couple of choice clips that capture Parker’s brand of snarling soul-influenced pop-rock.

Live on “Fridays,” circa 1980-81, singing a song I often sing to myself on my way to work:

And here’s the New Wave-y first track from the “Squeezing Out Sparks” LP:

Repeat customer.

Just caught up with some news from two weeks ago: Todd Rundgren plans to release a new album in April 2013 and follow it with a tour.

This is of note to me because, if he plays in my area, I will go see him.

And if I go see him, he will become one of a small handful of performers I have seen three times.

The last time.
The last time.

I’m not one of those people who considers any particular artist an absolute must-see — not one of those U2 or Springsteen fanatics with a glass-topped coffee table full of ticket stubs.

There are a couple of reasons for this:

– I just don’t get out to hear live music that often any more. I gave in to parenthood and boringness a long time ago.

– I haven’t gotten into many younger bands, and I don’t particularly want to see most older ones. (For instance, I never saw Aerosmith as a teenager, even though I loved them then; and I’m convinced that seeing them now would just be anticlimactic.)

– The region where I’ve lived for the past decade doesn’t have a hockey rink-slash-arena. And, I don’t like driving an hour or two to see a show. So most performers of arena popularity have been off my list for a good 10 years, just because I have no patience for big-city, big-venue hassles.

For instance, seeing Neil Young and Crazy Horse on their current tour would have meant going to Philadelphia. And going to Philadelphia from where I live is a pain in the ass on the best of days. While I revere Neil and the Horse, I don’t consider it worth the time and expense.

(I will be interested to see whether the hockey rink under construction in downtown Allentown attracts much in the way of concerts.)

So who have I seen three times? What performers have roused me to get off my arse and dismiss my excuses?

Bob Dylan – October 1994 at Boston’s Orpheum Theater; November 2004 at Stabler Arena, Lehigh University; and July 2009 at Coca-Cola Park, Allentown. Even though he doesn’t have the voice to front a live band any more, I would probably see him again, just because he’s Bob Dylan. (He also lets kids in for free at his outdoor summer shows; the July 2009 show was my older son’s first concert, which is a cool memory, at least for me.)

Neil Young – February 1991 with Crazy Horse at the Aud in Buffalo; March 1992 solo acoustic at the Orpheum; and August 1996 with the Horse at the Great Woods amphitheater in Mansfield, Mass. I’d probably see him again, as long as he wasn’t off on some dopey country tangent.

(An old friend of mine came into a bunch of free tickets to see Neil and the Horse in Buffalo in November 1996, but he didn’t tell me in time. Otherwise Neil would be atop this list.)

I might have seen B.B. King three times. I know for sure I saw him twice, in August of 1993 and ’94, at what was then called the Finger Lakes Performing Arts Center in Canandaigua, N.Y. B.B. used to do package tours with two or three other blues/roots acts, and I caught a couple of those; they were always enjoyable, and a good night’s entertainment for the money.

There aren’t that many artists I’ve seen twice, and it’s a fair bet that I won’t be completing the trifecta for most of them:

They Might Be Giants – April 1993 at MIT, and April 1995 at Boston’s Avalon club. What can I say? It was a college thing. (Though I make no apologies for seeing the MIT show. It was pretty hot. Seriously.)

Yes – April 1991 at the Aud in Buffalo, and again in July 1991 in Canandaigua. Both shows were part of the bloated “Union” tour. My chief memory from the Buffalo show is keyboardist Tony Kaye waving to the crowd with one hand … with Rick Wakeman also in the band, Kaye was kinda surplus to requirements.

Phish – Opening for Santana, July ’92; then headlining in July ’94; both at Canandaigua. Yeesh.

Rundgren – October 2009, with Hall & Oates and the Hooters, in the last concert ever at the Philadelphia Spectrum; and again in September 2011 at Lehigh. By that schedule, I’m on track to see him again next year. And if he doesn’t give in to age, frustration or crankiness by 2015, he might just make the top of my list then.

Bethlehem rock city.

The salaryman went out and saw himself some live music tonight, from a most unexpected source.

In the past few years, part of the old Bethlehem Steel plant in south Bethlehem has been revamped into a performing arts complex with several stages, a cafe, and sundry other new-urban tweaks.

At least one of the stages — the one I visited tonight, Levitt Pavilion — backs directly up to the rusty tangle of the Steel’s old industrial complex.

It’s a wild view; several artists who have played in Bethlehem have tweeted pictures of the stage, with a note to the effect of, “Isn’t this the coolest stage you’ve ever seen?”

Levitt Pavilion at SteelStacks.


An attempted panoramic view of the site, with Levitt Pavilion at far left. You’ll probably have to click to enlarge this for a better view.

I went to see a free show featuring Shonen Knife, the long-running all-female Japanese punk-pop trio.

I have no special fondness for Shonen Knife. But I remember them knocking around 20 years ago when I was in college — I even played one of their songs on one of the two college-radio shows I ever DJ’d.

I figured if they were still out there working at it, they were a cause I could support. Plus, it was free.

Guitarist and singer Naoko Yamano.

They played for 70 minutes or so, and the music was about what you’d expect — big and bouncy and simple and slabby and candy-colored and fun.

There were songs about banana chips, and songs about eating barbecue, and songs about rubber bands, and a song called “Osaka Rock City.” Oh, and a surprisingly charming cover of the Carpenters’ “Top Of The World” to encore.

Are you having a good time, Bethlehem?

The Ramones, of course, were a major influence on Shonen Knife, who covered “Rockaway Beach” at one point in the show. And as I listened, I couldn’t help but think back to the one time I saw the Ramones.

It was the spring of 1994. I was an exchange student in Australia, and the band played Sydney as part of an alternative festival tour called the Big Day Out.

The Ramones played closer to the end of the day than the beginning. And they sounded like a jet taking off, only without the bass frequencies. It was so painful that I had to retreat to the back of the rugby oval, or whatever the hell the outdoor venue was, and sit in a seat at the rear just to escape the murderous treble.

At Levitt Pavilion the sound was perfect, not overwhelming in the least, no matter how close I got. The music was fun and the setting was beautiful; I could easily spend a full day at the arts complex, walking from stage to stage and listening to different bands.

As one gets older and fatter and greyer, it is easy to romanticize how much fun the old times were. But I am reassured to know I am capable of having a better time than I did back then, and there can still be plenty of pleasant evenings of live music if I only go find them.

Oh, yeah — before I snap out of the reverie, I’ll mention one other flashback to my yout’.

Before Shonen Knife performed, a local band called Taking Tomorrow played on a small stage across the street. They’re either high school students or recent graduates. And at first they were playing fairly current stuff — Franz Ferdinand covers, things like that.

And then they burst into back-to-back Hendrix covers — “Purple Haze” followed by “Voodoo Chile.”

I’m pretty sure I played at least one of those songs with my own high school band, a quarter-century ago.

I guess it’s a tribute to Hendrix’s chops and charisma that — even after the coming of grunge and post-grunge and punk-pop and ska and God knows what else — high school kids with guitars are still throttling his music. (That’s a little unkind; these kids were quite good.)

I suppose that as long as there are guitars and basements and teenagers, there will be “Purple Haze” and “Voodoo Chile.”

Taking Tomorrow.

Encore Performances: Just another mad, mad day on the road.

This appeared on my old blog July 12, 2010. Seems appropriate to exhume it for the 50th anniversary of the first Rolling Stones gig. For what it’s worth, I did not re-check the ARSA database before re-posting this; this is based on the evidence at hand when I wrote it in 2010.

Today (July 12) is the 48th anniversary of the Rolling Stones’ first gig.
That’s worth a snort of bourbon and a couple of hundred words.

I profess to be tired of most everything labeled “classic rock.”
But I still love the Stones, one or two tunes excepted.
(I’m thinking mainly of “Satisfaction,” though I know someday I will encounter that song in a setting that makes me love it all over again.)

Throughout their career, the Stones have moved between all manner of contradictions — rich and poor; blunt and oblique; dangerous and predictable — and have adopted all kinds of musical flavorings without ever losing touch with the ragged, lusty blues pulse that defines them.
(Well, almost never.)
I find their catalog more rewarding than that of most classic-rock bands, and I do not think I will ever stop finding things to enjoy there.

It’s intriguing to me to compare the career paths of the early Stones and the early Beatles.
Lennon and McCartney (and, from early on, Harrison) spent the better part of five years slouching around Liverpool and Hamburg before becoming stars in the UK in 1962.
The Stones, in contrast, recorded their first UK single something like nine months after their first gig, and had a UK number-one album less than two years after that low-key first show.

I’d guess that the Beatles had much to do with the Stones’ quick ascent. They raised — if not created — record companies’ interest in any and all British beat bands, from the Stones to the High Numbers.
I’m also guessing that geography played a role. The Stones hailed from London, the undisputed center of Britain’s pop-music world and a great place to be discovered; while the Beatles came from Liverpool, a provincial city with about as much pop-culture clout as, say, Buffalo.

Our man Wisconsin JB wrote a post about the extent of the Beatles’ popularity before Beatlemania — checking the ARSA airplay charts to see what U.S. stations were spinning Beatles records before the avalanche of January and February 1964.
I thought that might be interesting to do for the Stones.

The Stones’ first foothold in America — or, at least, the earliest hieroglyph to be found on the walls of the ARSA cave — comes from Endicott, N.Y., where the “Not Fade Away” single showed up as a pick hit on Top 40 station WENE-AM the week of March 28, 1964.
(Where’s that, you say? Endicott is a suburb of Binghamton. Where’s that, you say? Look it up.)

Small beer, perhaps, in a survey where Limey groups the Beatles, the Searchers and the Swingin’ Blue Jeans were all in the Top 10; but a start, nonetheless.
And I’ll tell you what — the Beatles would have killed to get American airplay less than two years after their first gig.

According to Wiki, “Not Fade Away” would top out nationally at No. 48 in the Stones’ hands.
The ARSA surveys for the song show it achieving a decent degree of success in markets across the country between the first week of April and the first week of August, and even cracking the Top 20 on stations in Miami and Chicago.
(This was likely helped by the Stones’ first, brief U.S. tour in June.)

By the first week of August ’64, the Stones would have more tunes on American airwaves:
Jagger and Richards’ tentative first single A-side, “Tell Me,” would crack the Top 20 at stations in Detroit, Hartford, Milwaukee and faithful Endicott.
And “It’s All Over Now” would ascend to the lofty heights of No. 6 in Keene, New Hampshire, while also going Top 10 in Endicott.

Incidentally, an Internet search suggests that the Stones never rewarded the loyalty of the greater Binghamton area — perhaps their first foothold Stateside — by playing a gig there.
It’s not too late, blokes.

The ARSA archives also turn up one oddity: Early single “I Just Wanna Make Love To You” shows up on exactly one survey, from late July 1964 in Montgomery, Alabama.
Wonder what the people in Montgomery thought of these long-haired Anglo kids feeding them back their music.

As for the LP market, the first Stones album (the wonderfully titled “England’s Newest Hitmakers”) first shows up on an ARSA survey from Detroit/Dearborn, Michigan, the week of June 11, 1964.
That album only appears on four surveys in the ARSA archive, with the other stations hailing from New Haven, Pittsburgh and Salt Lake City.
Later that fall, the “12X5” album appears on 18 surveys — including one from Endicott.

All this, of course, was a prelude to 1965, when the Stones would release three successful albums, notch their first U.S. Number One and cement their status as a smokin’ singles act.
And that, in turn, was simply a prelude to the peak of the Stones’ career — June 20, 1980, and the release of the iconic, evanescent, ethereal yet deeply human “Emotional Rescue” single.

That must be the bourbon talking.

Anyway, one more curiosity before there’s silence on my radio:
The final survey in the ARSA database for faithful ol’ WENE-AM in Endicott, N.Y., the station that loved Mick and Keef when no others did, comes from the week of Aug. 2, 1969.
The Number One that week: “Honky Tonk Women.”
Fitting, no?