Music

Classic Rock

A steady stream of music fans moved towards the Toyota Center in downtown Houston where Roger Waters would take the stage for his US+Them tour accompanied by Lucius, a two-woman team lending vocal muscle and might to Pink Floyd fan favorites and Roger’s uncompromising anthems asking the audience: “Is this the life we really want?” T-shirts sported by concertgoers provided a timeline of tours from Dark Side of the Moon to those purchased fresh from the merch table. Generations represented by groups of families, couples, and friends gathering for music they grew up with or, as in my case, music that grew on me. Music equally at home in a planetarium’s laser light show, a backyard bbq, the confines of a teenager’s bedroom, or a protest march.

Music simultaneously rooted in the past but uncannily present. The evening’s set list of Pink Floyd titles on point more than ever: Welcome to the Machine, Money, Bring the Boys Back Home, and of course, Another Brick in the Wall with Part II featuring a lineup of young boys and girls singing the chorus while wearing the unmistakable orange of inmate apparel that they shed to reveal t-shirts emblazoned with the present-day battle cry: RESIST.

Music steeped in shapeshifting where a farmyard pig floats above the audience’s head with a bank for a belly. A dog, man’s best friend, turned against him as a tool of torture and intimidation. A president transformed into a diapered, belligerent baby no one wants to hold.

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The Piggy Bank of War taking a victory lap.

Music paired with mammoth-sized video screens streaming scenes of collateral damage later making the drowsy, dreaminess of Comfortably Numb less of a song and more of a statement on our own complicity. But shock turned to awe as the Battersea Power Station smokestacks separating the audience gave way and a mirrored orb shiny as a disco ball floated overhead while Dark Side‘s signature triangle sprung up like a lightning bolt with confetti showering the crowd that now was a community. Wish I was still there.

 

 

 

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Music

Shut Up and Smoke

 

I swore I caught a whiff of a clove cigarette. But since you can’t smoke anywhere anymore, the scent must have been part of the punk rock flashback brought on by being in a room full of fans waiting for the band X to play their unique blend of gritty Los Angeles rapid fire rock & roll tempered with a rockabilly soul. The demographics skewed heavily towards representatives from Houston’s Montrose neighborhood circa 1980s – a group consisting of former garage apartment dwellers, former garage band members, their ex-girlfriends, and the critter in the tie-dyed shirt who was always front row at all the good shows.

Upon taking the stage, even the former power-punk couple, John Doe and Exene, reminisced of their early days playing Houston, noting the significant upgrade in venue for the band’s 40th anniversary. The Heights Theater, a proper performance space on a street known more for antiquing than live music was opposite in every way from the bunker-like, disco ball spinning atmosphere of Numbers where the band played in 1982. However, the crowd, in a standing room only formation, responded just the same as they did back in the day, albeit without a mosh pit as no one in this 40 + years fan base was taking a chance on breaking a hip.

This was an audience singing along to every song – songs that rarely went over the three-minute mark but provided a generous pour of indignation and desolation and a really badass cover of Jerry Lee Lewis’s Breathless. Four decades later, X’s music, much like the resurgence of The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984, remains totally on point as it was in the Reagan era. We chanted the chorus “I must not think bad thoughts” like a mantra for modern times. Despite the musical message reminding us “that the world’s a mess,” cathartic exhilaration bounced back and forth from the floor to the band members: grizzly ringleader John Doe, Exene, clutching the mike in her happy homemaker on a bender ensemble, the super cool DJ Bonebrake on drums and everywhere else, and guitarist Billy Zoom who maintained an unnerving perma-grin and used his forehead as a resting spot for his guitar pick while playing the the saxophone.

Fans quickly and unobtrusively snapped photos during the brief breaks between songs but otherwise kept their electronic devices in their pockets. A scene devoid of the constant chatter dominating many recent concert experiences. This crowd’s attention remained focused on listening to music they loved played by a band who still clearly loved playing the music. A punk rock show ironically turned master class in concert-going etiquette best summed up by the t-shirt worn by a mature music fan: Polite as Fuck.

Ain’t music grand!

 

Note: All photos taken quickly and unobtrusively by @j.hall.yall

Set List 5/22/17

 

 

 

 

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Music

Bear Witness

My riff on Jon Landau’s seminal 1974 concert review, Growing Young with Rock and Roll, in which the jaded music critic finds the fountain of youth in the sight and sound of Bruce Springsteen.

Last Friday night, at the Civic Theatre in New Orleans, I saw rock and roll future and it is female and her name is Alynda Lee Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff. And on a night when I needed to feel something, I heard music that made me want to be something for the first time in a very long time.

Rock and roll past didn’t flash before my eyes. Rock and roll was reborn in the form of a boxcar jumping, guitar strumming, soul igniting spiritual adviser, a balladeer from the Bronx with New Orleans chops, a Puerto Rican truth teller paired with a punk rock heart of gold who gave her all to a crowd hungry for the return of their small town heroes.

A night beginning with Nina Simone’s, I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free, served up as a pre-show prelude to Hurray for the Riff Raff’s catalog of coming of age, rage, immigrant stories and love stories before culminating in a consciousness-raising, rock and roll rally of two covers: John Lennon’s Bring on the Lucie (Freda Peeple) and CCR’s Fortunate Son with an assist from Ron Gallo.

Ruminating on the powerful performance I had witnessed and the empowerment that continues to stay with me, I can testify that there is nothing more rock and roll at this moment in time than to be a woman, who now by definition is a pre-existing condition, and not back down but grab back, and not turn away but move forward, and motivate others from the stage to do the same in a single phrase turned refrain: Pa’lante.

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