Archive for the ‘concert’ Category

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WHAT A LUCKY MAN I WAS-EMERSON AND LAKE ON TOUR

May 22, 2010

 The original Moog Synth

Many moons ago when vinyl reigned and concerts cost $6.50 for a ticket that included at least one opening act, a complex fusion of classical, jazz, rock, and modern mash-ups emerged that sold out stadiums and arenas. Emerson, Lake, and Palmer were back there in the late sixties merging Bartok, Bernstein, Brubeck, and Beethoven into a style of rock that few could come close to duplicating. They were considered one of the ultimate “supergroups” selling over 40 million albums.

The concert at the Las Vegas Hilton tonight was in an intimate setting of less than 800 seats and billed as Emerson and Lake-no Palmer would be present. As many know Greg Lake was also a member of King Crimson in its heyday with Robert Fripp and Bill Bruford, but that’s another story. The monstrous nine foot stack of oscillators complete with old rotary potentiometers from the “Apollo 8” era stood tall beside a Hammond B-3 with hundreds of 1/4 phone patch cords to audio adaptations such as now defunct terms as envelopes, sawtooth waveforms, graphic filters, porting and expansion controls, and others too obscure to mention. Unlike the relics usually brought onstage just for show by other bands, this monstrosity was fully functional and used to palpitate your aorta and buzz your sphincter as Keith Emerson dialed his way to the sounds of yesteryear that encompassed the lowest lows and the highest highs.

The stage setting was at “Manticore” recording studio with just the two of them playing to tracks already laid down, talking about each piece, how it was conceived and the little bits of trivia surrounding each. With the “unplugged” atmosphere the talents of these men became more than apparent as each note could be heard precisely without the echoing of a vast stadium turning magnificent runs into a dopplerish muck of indistinguishable muddiness.

“From the Beginning,” was the first song. It was clear Lake (62 years-old) was up to the task. Emerson’s different arrangements kept it all fresh. They wasted no time going into King Crimson’s “I Talk To The Wind,” which was a beautiful rendition. After a chat about Lake throwing stones across a lake drawing inspiration for the next song “Take A Pebble” began and morphed into what amounted to the first side of Tarkus. There was one point in the show when Emerson (65 years-old) paid tribute to Brubeck’s Rondo from his old group “The Nice” years but changed the 9/8 time signature to 4/4 and included “America” from West Side Story, The Phantom of the Opera theme-played backwards from the other side of his keyboards, Rondo of course, and then slid into a the sound of the legendary organist Jimmy Smith’s B-3 groove.

They opened up the concert for questions from the audience and there were more than a few chuckles about their breakups and egos. For the record, Lake declared, “to be passionate about one’s music requires strength of conviction and the band never argued about anything but the music, which if we all are passionate is a healthy thing. Don’t forget we were together constantly over ten years and needed to take a break from the touring and recording together. There was no ill will, ever.”

The “studio engineer” mixed the drum, bass, percussion, and layered tracks from a “recording booth” behind them and all in all it was a magical evening. Would Carl Palmer have made a big difference? Yes, but then the entire show would have been louder, less intimate, and the showcasing of these incredible musicians would not have been in the forefront.

They ended the show and came back for an encore with “What A Lucky Man He Was.” I was the lucky one to be there to hear their top ten hit that blared through the radio speakers of my car while driving through the youthful nights. The backstory on that song was that Lake had written it when he was 13 years-old and when they recorded their first album they needed one last song to finish it. Lake played it for Emerson who wasn’t impressed with it but told Lake to go ahead a lay some tracks down. When Emerson returned, the brand new monstrous Moog had been setup in the studio and Emerson began to improvise to “Lucky Man” not knowing that Lake had the recording button on….hence the infamous solo captured on the first take and forever associated with that old folksy song electrifying it and propelling it into the top ten.

The most amazing thing is that they have yet to be included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “When I look at some of the other people who’ve been inducted, there should be a place for the contribution that ELP and King Crimson made to the world of modern music,” Lake said. “Why ignore that absolutely stark reality, you know?”

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A Tale of Two Cities

May 8, 2008

This past weekend I was in Cape May to attend the wedding of one of my nieces.  I grew up in South Jersey and lived “at the shore” for many years B.C. (before casinos) in Atlantic City.  The old pier that housed Cafe Ole’ that I played at on Satuday nights is long gone replaced with multi-storied condos and the old rundown houses are now spiffy high-end Bed and Breakfast palaces.  The entire bride’s wedding party and family were housed in one of these gorgeous 10 bedroom mansions, complete with an elevator and view of the ocean’s waves breaking, providing a harmonious drone in the background.  Back in the seventies things were pretty grim.  Unemployment was over 12% and there was no future for most people coming out of college or high school unless your family absorbed you into their own business.  Then along came the promise of casino gambling.  The first referendum failed but a year later, once the bill was modified exclusively for casinos just in Atlantic City, it was passed as “a unique tool of urban redevelopment.”  More on this later.

The wedding was beautiful as the town it was held and the next day we went to Ocean City’s boardwalk to enjoy the sunny day before heading back home.  Ocean City is “America’s Resort” just as The Dallas Cowboys are “America’s Team.”  No alcohol allowed, the former Methodist retreat is loaded with families with young and innocent kids with hormones just kicking in and no where to go, so walking, mingling with their peers helps vent some of that angst away.  I spent many a night here, as did many of my high school friends, some of whom I immortalized in my book “Only Moments,” as we cavorted and danced the dance of sweet youth and lived on George’s cocoanut macaroons and Taylor pork roll sandwiches.

My brother-in-law and I have had long discussions about Atlantic City and the changes the town has seen through the years.  My first year of college was in The Mayflower Hotel on the boardwalk because Stockton State College hadn’t finished building on time to open in the fall.  Now….you want to talk party school?  Imagine a 17 year-old freshman sandwiched in between a Red-Light District on the right and a randy party-time gay community on the left, and the beach and boardwalk in the front. The stories are legendary and someday I’ll tell a few.  Nonetheless, my wife’s brother told me of the lack of business and layoffs in the town that 30 years later has absolutely no excuses for being anything but first rate, but never saw that promise come to fruition due to political power brokering, the lack of great customer service, paranioid stranglehold regulations on the casinos and the lack of leadership to force a complete renovation of the city and it’s slums.  That monopoly is now over.  To assist in their woes over the years they jacked-up prices on rooms, food, and the casino tables can’t be broached with less than $20 a hand on weekends. The city itself is still dangerous (I worked there for over 15 years, trust me) and the State of New Jersey has the audacity to make you pay to park to gamble your money away.  The outlying states have now figured out how easy this money can be made and why travel to Atlantic City to gamble?  After all, then Governor Brendan Bryne declared 30 years ago that “Atlantic City would never become like Las Vegas!”  So, ahem……there’s really no reason to go there other than gambling now is there?  Shopping abounds elsewhere, as do concerts, restuarants, etc.  So who’s crying now?  That you should even be worthy of shining Las Vegas’ shoes at this point, would be a plus to be quite frank.  Money taken-in is not a measure of success-it is the mystique of this city as well as the superior attitude and operations of the State of Nevada, Clark County, and our wonderful mayor Oscar Goodman that allow Las Vegas to remain competitive and thriving. Now that being said, here is a message for my former employing corporate entities:

Las Vegas Operators, learn from this mistake!  Don’t be so stupid as to think your lunch cannot be eaten by someone else.  You are not insulated from the world.  Stop trying to take every buck out of your customers.  Stop raising prices on rooms, food, entertainment, and by the way-while were talking about entertainment-try employing musical entertainment for patrons to hear free-yes, free, like it used to be all over this city.  You’ve been warned to wake up and take care of your customers.  Remember, they don’t have to come here, they have many other vacation options now.  Focus on customer service in fact, not in words and give them a reason to be here.  Any experienced casino operator will tell you it was inexpensive food, rooms, and loose slots that brought them here.  Just because Steve Wynn built the Mirage, doesn’t mean every new place has to be bathed in gold, mosaic tile, tidal waves and gorgeous Sirens, or Austrian Crystal.  Just make them to be enjoyed and you will continue to prosper without all that overhead!

As for New Jersey- Cape May, Ocean City, Avalon, Wildwood, Strathmere, and the like up and down the coast are waiting for your enjoyment without expecting you to spend your entire nest egg in one day.  Enjoy your treasures of nature, they are priceless!  Imagine if we had beachfront property here………maybe after the big one…….just kidding!

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Jimmy Castor in Las Vegas

April 29, 2008

Jimmy Castor appeared at an out-of-the-way local bar in west side of Las Vegas this past weekend complete with a horn section and backup singers.  For those of you who don’t know who this man is he is a songwriter, singer, saxophonist, percussionist, producer, arranger, etc and is known as The E-Man,  “The Everything Man.”

Jimmy Castor, who grew up in Harlem, wrote his first million seller for Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers called, “I Promise To Remember,” while still in junior high school.  He later put together his own band and then wrote his second million seller, “Hey Leroy Your Mama’s Calling You,” on the legendary label, Mercury Records in 1966.

“Troglodyte (the cave man)” and “Luther the Anthropoid,” were hits and a title cut from the “It’s Just Begun” album was featured in the movie “Flashdance.”  His album “Butt of Course,”  featured the infamous “The Bertha Butt Boogie” that everyone sang in jest whenever a woman of substance walked by for many years after.  And from the same record, there was also the disco hit “E-Man Boogie.” His song “Space Age” blazed a trail of jazz fusion into the era of disco and will be long remembered.  His songs have been sampled by many in contemporary pop music today. Christine Aguilera, Ice Cube, The Beastie Boys, and many others have used his tracks in their music, an outstanding tribute to this man’s writing skills and their subsequent longevity.

The great thing about Las Vegas is the outstandingly talented people that not only live here, but visit and make appearances all over this town, just to have fun and join with old friends.  Los Angeles may have a bit of that, and New York’s Harlem days are all but gone, so it is truly a special place at times to be able to hear and see legends of the entertainment business.

He seems ageless while performing his hits and the energy he exudes is carefully paced-but plentiful to carry the load of yesteryear for the audience’s enjoyment as much as his own.  His perfectly centered pitch on the saxes is precise and his delivery that of a man many years younger than his age.  The entire show was peppered with his yore of goodtimes and his interactions with Sammy Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Frankie Lymon and lesser celebrities along with the origin of Bertha Butt (and the Butt Sisters).  He’s funny and charming and the 90 minute show was well worth the jaunt to Sonny’s Tavern, a “mobbishly yesteryear” decorated speakeasy, outside of town.  Mariano Longo, a longtime Vegas very fine bandleader, pianist/keyboardist, guitarist, arranger, and all-around musician convinced Mr. Castor to “reinvent himself” and recreate for a new generation the glory days of a time long past but instrumental  (pardon the pun) in our pop musical history.  To take a line from a television series that debuted in 1966, “Live long and (keep) prospering” Jimmy.  You still have what it takes.

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THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME-The Music of Led Zeppelin with a 50 piece Orchestra

March 30, 2008

Yes you did read correctly, it does say orchestra in the title. Rock and roll merges with classical music as conductor/arranger Brent Havens presents The Music of Led Zeppelin, a program he scored that extends the listening experience of Led Zeppelin’s timeless tunes. Now you would ask as I did, how can they maintain the power of such a super screaming rock and roll mega-band, riff for riff, while blending in new musical colors with 50, count em’, 50 orchestral instruments?
Think about incorporating just the double-reed instruments—the oboe, English Horn, bassoon, add in the violins, violas, cellos, basses, and woodwinds or more pure sounds from instruments like a flute or a clarinet, then add the entire brass section, like the trumpet, trombones, French horns, and the lower brass like the bass trombone and tuba and you begin to see just how large that task is.  Then add a monster electric guitar, bass and drums with the addition of the electric violin and you have to go and listen for yourself to see if it is all that it seems to be.
In conductor Havens’ words, “The Music of Led Zeppelin was to take the music as close to the originals as we could and then add some colors to enhance what Zep had done. The wonderful thing with an orchestra is that you have an entire palette to call upon.” 

So there I was in a great seat in the Planet Hollywood Theater (the old Aladdin Performing Arts Center) in a unique position of listening to an orchestra tune their instruments to A-440 minutes before this rock concert opened.  After a very informal hello, the lead singer Randy Jackson, not to be confused with the corpulent person from American Idol, dove into “Good Times, Bad Times” and by the end of the song I wanted to go to the sound console and throw the audio engineer aside as all I could be heard was a loud guitar and the overbearing vocals, not that they were bad-they were quite good-but this was to be with a 50 piece Orchestra and not an acappella concert.  Yes it brought back memories, memories of concerts by bands such as The Grateful Dead when I wanted to throw audio mixer Dan Healy off of the mixing console as all you could hear was a screamingly loud lead guitar most of the time.  I don’t want to go into a diatribe, but I just can’t understand how hard it is when you’ve taken hours to carefully place microphones on every instrument, ran then to the board, equalized them, and then combined them to matrixed subgroups specifically for the purpose of being able to bring up and down volume of each grouping of instruments so one does not have to sit there and try to mix 60 instruments at once.  If you’re going to combine an orchestra with a rock ‘n roll group, then you have to be able to hear the orchestra.  It’s as simple as that.  Now I understand it takes a couple songs to get in gear and I was willing to easily forgive the sound guy because mixing an orchestra is a daunting task, I know-I’ve done it more than a few times.  Keep in mind, however, that the following is a no-brainer to understand especially if you’re going to mix a rock show – there is a certain dynamic level that can be achieved only by a minimum amount of volume overall and without that level of “push” through the sound system the feel and drive of the music is not there, regardless of genre. 

George Cintron, the lead guitarist, did a phenomenal job laying down the lines of legendary Jimmy Page note for note and enjoying his job tremendously.  Drummer Powell Randolph did an excellent job mimicking the late John Bonham’s inventive and melodic style.  The bassist Dan Clemens was adequate, when you could hear him, in fact the orchestra was quite good when you could hear them and unfortunately it wasn’t until the encore, when the obligatory song “Stairway to Heaven” was performed that the true merging of all those instruments and the rock ensemble teamed together in a perfect wave of sound at the right volume to produce an absolutely incredible musical delight.  Perhaps it was because that was the only Zeppelin song the young audio mixer had ever heard, but I doubt it.  Fortunately the great vocals and the excellent guitar work of Mr. Cintron salvaged the evening but I left only wondering how incredible it could have been.  As this is the closest I will probably ever be to seeing Led Zeppelin live it was a nice revisit to the days of yore, when hotel rooms were routinely trashed and private 747’s crisscrossed the world delivering those young lads from one sold-out stadium to the next.  The songs rocked and brought more than a few smiles to my face.  A gray-haired Jimmy Page is smiling somewhere as well, as he reminisces and possibly prepares for one last reunion with his mates.

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VEGAS VIG WEEKLY

March 29, 2008

Weird Scenes Inside A Gold Mine 

This is the first in a series of weekly blogs that will try to capture the irony and spirit of “a city gone wild” in a perspective that will show different types of lifestyles, concert and show reviews, nutty people and the things that happen to them, and a contemporary view of this Twenty-first century gold rush that shows no sign of stopping.  Thanks for tuning in to the first entry and please feel free to comment on anything.  The first blog will be short and sweet until I can get everything worked out.  WordPress does not make any of this very easy and with another blog it is very confusing to get anything done quickly.  Bear with me, I’ll make it worth your while once I can get the “look” established.  

Have a lucky day!