Wednesday, April 28, 2004

On Friday I saw Prince at RBC Center with Mr. X. It was an experience that left me completely astounded -- not at Prince's performance, though my respect for him as a guitarist is renewed now that I've seen him live. No, I was astounded at the completely chaotic, in fact downright anarchic, traffic situation at the venue.

If you've been to the RBC Center, you know the place is massive with acres and acres of parking lots surrounding it. I've seen two other concerts there, AC/DC and Backstreet Boys (my friend had to write about it and wanted moral support during the show). During both shows, as well as several Carolina Hurricanes games, I was able to drive right on up and go in with minimal fuss. The only problem I've had there is trying to find my seat once I was actually inside.

The show was to begin at 8 p.m., so we left my house at 7:30, thinking we'd have plenty of time. We took 40, and planned to exit onto Wade Avenue. About a mile from the exit, traffic started slowing, then creeping, then finally coming to a full stop. Mr. X was a little nervous. He's seen Prince before, and knows that he doesn't include supporting acts, and is notoriously punctual about starting his shows on time. As the minutes ticked by, our mood went from mildly agitated to downright panicky. He called his friend Joyce, who was having a slightly easier time of it -- though not by much -- approaching on Hillsborough Street.

When we realized that after 45 minutes we had only traveled a few hundred feet, we consoled ourselves with a bit of insider info: After the show, Prince was going to go over to the Lincoln Theatre where he was going to jam with Corey Parker, son of his horn player, the legendary Maceo Parker. People are still talking about the Prince's show at the now-defunct Plum Crazy, where he went after his Walnut Creek performance six years ago. If we missed the show, I reasoned, we'd still get to see him in a relatively intimate setting. That was just about the only comforting thought I had as we finally pulled into a parking space, two hours after leaving home and an hour after Prince hit the stage. The ultimate indignity was having to pay $7 to park. I'm still not sure what the hold-up was. Say what you will about Walnut Creek's Nazi-like security, but they have parking down to a science.

So, about Prince. ... I've never been a big fan of his, but after seeing him live, I might just have to add him to my list of favorite guitar players. The amazing thing about Prince is that he is a complete package: He's a killer guitarist, he writes intricately catchy hooks that somehow appeal both to the masses and music snob critics, and he's a showman who knows how to mesmerize an arena full of people. I was looking forward to seeing how he'd work a small club crowd.

Well, he never showed up -- at least not while I was there; from what I understand, he spent the wee hours holding court (and not playing) at The Office. There was an announcement after the concert that the after-party would be at The Office, but we went down to The Lincoln Theatre anyway -- along with hundreds of other people who had heard the same thing.

The evening wasn't a complete bust, though. Opening for Corey Parker was a local Michael Jackson tribute band called "Who's Bad." The singer, being a black male, obviously looked more like Terrence Trent D'Arby, but he had Michael's moves down, and if you closed your eyes he sounded approximately like him. The backing band was full of young guys who probably weren't even born when Thriller was released, but they played passionately and without a hint of irony.

Friday, April 09, 2004

I may have unravelled the mystery of the COC show. According to Todd, Peter said that "the original COC" was practicing in his living room right at that moment (keep in mind, I did not see the Monkeytime episode in question). When I mentioned this to Danny Hooley, he looked perplexed, then said that the Ugly Americans had been practicing in Peter's living room, and some COC folks were hanging around with them. I don't know where the disconnect came from, but I don't want anyone to go to the Guitartown shows thinking they're going to see some hardcore.

Last night was my first experience with Ugly Americans (yes, I know, kind of bad for someone who supposedly reviews North Carolina music). According to the old-timers, the show was awesome. And there were quite a few old-timers hanging around: You could have told the history of N.C. rock music just by pointing out people in the audience. The band seemed stiff for the first few songs, which is to be expected, but then really let loose. Danny Hooley's rock faces are almost on par with G.E. Smith -- though not quite as good as the Ghost of Rock's drummer, who truly looked like he was in agony throughout the show. Until last night, I had only seen bass player Chris Eubank in quirky Wifflefist projects (Polycarp, the Hee Haw/Lawrence Welk Show) and improv jams (too many to list). Mr. X made a point about "musical body memory," meaning that no matter how long you've been sitting on a chair to play, once you pick up an electric bass and get on stage in a rock club, the old moves come right back.

For a detailed review, I'm going to defer to Mr. X, who saw the band back in the day and can better assess their performance (though he has already said it was "awesome.")

Also, I invite comments on my list of favorite guitarists, as I'm sure everyone has a list of their own. I also meant to mention at the end of my Rolling Stone gripe in the last post that a former colleague, Eric Bates, is now a top editor at the magazine, and I can already see his positive influence. Not only has the magazine returned to harder-hitting political and investigative stories, there are a lot fewer scantily clad women on the cover. I'm not a prude, but it had begun to seem like the only way a woman was going to get on the cover was to be in a bathing suit, in her underwear, or naked. Eric probably had nothing to do with that, but it is nice to see better covers.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Damn it! I just heard Rainbow's "Man on the Silver Mountain" on a beer commercial! First Sweet, now Rainbow. I guess UFO will have to be my new favorite semi-obscure British band. Next wel'll hear "Too Hot to Handle" on a KFC commercial.
Currently listening to: CNN's analysis of Condoleezza Rice's appearance before the 9/11 commission

Thank God basketball season is over. Having been raised in both Raleigh and Darien, Conn., Mr. X was in a conundrum during the entire tournament about whom to support. Duke getting knocked out made it easier for himI'm a little disappointed that Duke didn't end up in the final, but I have to tip my hat to UConn for winning both the men's and women's championships.

The big news 'round these parts is tonight's Ugly Americans reunion show -- or, at least, it's big news with a lot of the local musical glitterati. Former frontman Simon Bob (who supposedly now works in law enforcement in LA) is in town for a visit, so the original line-up will play a 20th anniversary show at Kings. I didn't have the pleasure of seeing them when they were playing, but Mr. X saw them many times in Connecticuit punk clubs, and so he's one of the musical glitterati looking forward to the show. I expect it will be a bit of a family reunion for the original Raleigh hardcore crew. It'll be funny to see guitarist Danny Hooligan's N&O colleagues mixing with that crowd.

According to Todd Morman, whom I chatted with last night at Bar Metro, "the original COC" will be playing this weekend (he wasn't sure which day) at the Pour House as part of the Guitartown Rock 'n' Roll Revue. Aparently local scribe/man-about-town Peter Eichenberger made the announcement on Todd's Monkeytime show. Given that Guitartown is an alt-country discussion group, and that the line-up for the shows is skewed heavily in that vein, I find this just a tad bit odd. But since Simon Bob was also in COC, and the Pour House has nothing on their schedule for Sunday, it does make sense.

So, why is Rolling Stone running these Top 100 lists so often? In recent months we've had the Top 500 Albums, the Top 100 Guitarists and now the Top 50 Immortals. It's fun, but what does it really achieve to read why other people thinks certain artists or albums or songs are the best? Sure, it stirs a little controversy, gets discussion going among readers. Plus, in this Web-savy world it gives readers short chunks of information to digest in a hurry. But with so many list items to cover, none of them get the detailed analysis they deserve. I'd rather read longer articles on the 10 Greatest Guitarists than a bunch of smaller articles on the 100 Greatest. Each article could include sidebars of quotes from other artists, archive photos and maybe a CD of the music included with the magazine, or a refer back to the Web site for an interactive multimedia presentation on each.

I'd also like to know a little more about the judging process. What do they mean by the "Greatest"? Do they mean most influential? Most technically accomplished? Most inventive? Top selling? Coolest? All of the above? Are they including jazz and blues guitarists? What about classical guitarists? Picking on the Guitarist list a little bit here, I would probably have different lists for each of the above criteria.

Most influential (in no particular order): Chuck Berry, Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton
Most technically accomplished: Eddie Van Halen, Robert Fripp and Randy Rhoads
Most inventive: Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Robert Fripp, John Fruciante
Top selling: Elvis, John Lennon, Trey Anastasio
Coolest: Keith Richards (he would be 1-10 in this category.)

Karen's personal favorites

1. Jimmy Page: The first guitarist who ever blew me away. It's because of him that I gave up listening to Andy Gibb and fell madly in love with rock 'n' roll at age 12.

2. Brian May: He gets the most amazing tone from a guitar that he made from a fireplace mantle when he was a kid.

3. Gary Moore: Based solely on his performance in the Thin Lizzy live in Sydney video. Scott Gorham was prettier, Brian Robertson was probably a little bit better, but Gary was always the coolest. (With appologies to my metal-loving friends who worship John Sykes.)

4. Steve Gaines: He truly rejuvenated Lynyrd Skynyrd. I can only imagine what he would have accomplished if he had lived.

5. Michael Ammot: Former Carcass guitarist, now with his own band, Arch Enemy. A lot of death metal guitar leads sound fairly bland to me. They're all scales and no soul. Ammot is one of the few who gets it right.

6. Keith Richards: Just because he's Keith Richards.

7. Angus and Malcolm Young: Angus gets the glory, and rightly so: He is a truly amazing guitarist. But Malcolm is the one who really holds it together, providing a rhythmic base on which Angus can shine. Malcolm gets my vote for most under-rated guitarist ever.

8. Slash: Slash is like all the best guitar players rolled into one. He's awesome at both lead and rhythm, he writes great hooks, and he's almost as cool as Keith.

9. John Fruciante: Funky, soulful, jammy and unobtrusive. He's a great player in a band of great players, so he knows when it's time for him to step back and let the other guys take over.

10. Joe Perry: Simply because he looks better now in his 50s than he did when he was 25.