The Music Of The Rolling Stones @ Carnegie Hall March 13 2012

Hang in kids, this might be a long one.

Big giant tribute type shows are always risky. Put many artists on the same bill with a house band, doing songs written by someone else, and things are bound to be treacherous.  Equally, there are bound to be some great moments.  Its like a sandwich where you’re surprised/terrified with each bite.

Michael Dorf, creator of the original Knitting Factory, has been doing these type of shows for a while now.  They benefit various childrens music charities, and I think we can all get behind that.  Unless you want to get political, and instead of supporting music in schools, have a tax cut or some shit for wealthy job creators.  Anyway.  They pick an artist, a bunch of people do a song.  Its a classic formula, don’t mess with it.

I saw one of the first of these, a tribute to Bob Dylan.  There were some beautiful moments, Alan Toussaint doing “Mama You Been On My Mind” and Ryan Adams going way over his allotted time on an “Isis/Love Sick” binge.

Last night, a varied roster took on the Rolling Stones classic collection Hot Rocks.  One artist for each song, 21 in total.  Let’s talk about some highlights and other things.

Before the music, we have to talk about the crowd.  This venue was basically a living Portlandia sketch, with Fred Armisen playing every character.  There’s the dude with the hilarious spiked hair and the tye dyed “No Security” Stones shirt, wearing binoculars and a backpack, moving seats at every chance he got.  There’s the 50 year old guy with a braided pony tail, moving to the end of the balcony, dancing and snapping along like he’s at a Flamenco show on acid.  There were the slightly-overdressed slightly too old to be dancing like a drunken college girl-woman, who could not resist the urge to flail about.  What do these people do during the day?  I would love to find out.

OK, on we go.

TV On The Radio opened the evening with Italian singer Jovanotti performing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” with a children’s choir. The band sounded great, but I’m pretty sure everyone got lost near the end of the song and just kept repeating the chorus, but that’s pretty much what these things are about.  You rehearse the verses and chorus so much, that you forget to come up with an ending.  It did teach me one important lesson – its all about the ending.

Ian Hunter best demonstrated this.  The Mott The Hoople front man played “19th Nervous Breakdown”  Which was not overly exciting, but his band was clearly well rehearsed, and looked like they spent lots of time coordinating outfits, which I also respect on this occasion, I mean, its Carnegie Hall, man.

The evening had 2 clear standouts.  First, you’re pretty much not going to top David Johansen on this bill.  Its an event made for him. He came out looking like every NY Jew’s aunt from Long Island who goes on too many island vacations.  White pants, white shoes, giant sunglasses, hair helmet.  “Get Off Of My Cloud” is as close to a NY Dolls song as there is in the Stones catalog…or it’s probably the opposite.

The frontrunner in all advance betting was Glen Hansard.  The man has more charisma than Obama, and is just so endearing.  He silences a crowd with solo acoustic performances. So hopes were high.  What we got was a lovely concise version of “Under My Thumb.”  With just upright bass and electric guitar, he might have owned the night.  After asking the crowd to snap along, then slowing everyone down saying “Come on guys, on the BACK of the beat, that was definitely a white snap”  the first half of the song was just bass and vocals.  He ended with a trademark segue into GLORIA, just for the hell of it.  His most insightful comment was “What kind of headspace do you have to be in to write a song like this?  This is definitely a Keith tune”

I don’t feel in the mood to dish any negative dirt, except for the fact that if you’re an actress who was in Natural Born Killers, that does not give you enough rock and roll street cred to do a Prince Style motivational breakdown in “Satisfaction”

An interesting dilemma arose about the Stones recently.  I was watching the fantastic documentary “Lemmy” about the Motorhead frontman, examining his life and approach to music.  He made the point, and I will paraphrase since I don’t remember the quote, that everyone was always arguing over who were the real “bad boys” the Beatles or the Stones.  He said there was no question, it was the Beatles.  They were from the much richer Liverpool, they played in the dangerous clubs of Hamburg, they were the real thing.  The Stones were from the suburbs, they went to art school, they were just faking it for image.  Now what impact this has on legacy, who knows, they wrote some amazing music.  But a little later on Dave Grohl made another point.

When people talk about the “Rock and Roll Lifestyle” or whatever bullshit you want to call it, they think of the Stones.  His point was, fuck that.  They’re off banging some supermodel traveling first class, while Lemmy is sitting at a bar in LA drinking Jack Daniels and working on his next album.  He doesn’t care much for image, he just is who he is.

Again, this does not dispute the fact that there was an abundance of amazing music written, it’s just something to think about.  How much do we like a legendary band for what they stood for (or what we thought they stood for) purely based on image?

Just something to think about.  Mull it over while listening to Its Only Rock And Roll.

Nina Simone: Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues

Holy crap.  I just read this on BoingBoing.   Do everyone on earth a favor and listen to this youtube clip, then lets continue our discussion.

First off these are 2 artists with some of the most distinct voices in the world.  No one else will ever be mistaken for Simone, same goes for Dylan.  But the thing that constantly amazes me is how his songs really take on new life in the hands of other artists.  A few years back there was the film “I’m Not There”  where various actors portrayed Dylan at different periods in his life.  Now, not gonna lie, I didn’t have much interest in seeing Heath Ledger play Bob Dylan.  I did however, buy the soundtrack.  A double disc affair containing all covers of Dylan classics and lesser known tunes.

There are high points and low points just as with any giant film soundtrack.  Some of my favorites include a great Cat Power cover of “Stuck Inside A Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again”  Backed by a crazy group of studio musicians including Lee Renaldo, Smokey Hormel, and John Medeski.  Jim James of My Morning Jacket and Calexico do a reverb soaked “Goin To Aculpoco”  reminiscent of The Band days.  Richie Havens doing “Tombstone Blues” and also from highway 61, Ramblin Jack Eliot does “Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues”

From the ages of about 12-16, this was possibly my favorite album in existence.  The beginning of the electric years, Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and Harvey Brooks in the band, Dylan at the top of his game.  Tom Thumb may consistently be my favorite track on there. Other than Ramblin Jack and Nina Simone, the only other cover of this song I had heard was on some Grateful Dead bootleg, and that just didn’t do it for me, so lets forget it ever happened.  Something in these 2 voices though (Jack and Nina)  really seems to make the song speak out.  The dylan version maybe has some bitterness to it, basically its like “screw you guys, I’ve had it with this BS”  Where as Simone’s seems more sentimental, and Ramblin Jacks is kind of “I’m tired of this shit, I’m out”  yet he’s not pissed about leaving.

This version though, literally heard for the first time about 5 minutes ago, I just can’t get over.  That piano against the conga rhythm sounds like the basics of hip hop right there. Kanye West is totally ripping this shit off in “Heard Em Say”.  The little lead guitar coming in has a little Sam and Dave, but pays the most direct homage to the original track.  The vocal though, how does something like that even happen.  Her rhythm is all her own, but perfectly fits into the track.  Who the hell else is gonna sing like that.  Lets not turn this into “nothing like this would ever happen today”  discussion..but ya know…nothing like this would ever happen today.  The production is so perfect I just want to go out and throw every computer in a giant bonfire and find a tape deck somewhere to record on.

This is one of the two greatest Dylan covers ever done, among the hundreds or thousands out there.  This one, and Allen Toussaints version of “Momma You Been On My Mind”  which I don’t think was ever recorded, but which I have heard live not once but twice, and will be in my head forever.  What is with soul singers and Dylan?  It just blows my mind every time.