Under a Clear Blue Sky at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Aug. 21, 2007*

August 26, 2007


By Matthew Anderson
2007.08

Hello! Hello! We’re in a place called Morrison!

Or, more precisely, Red Rocks, the storied concert venue that has had many an historic event happen upon its main stage.

Tuesday night was no exception.

A sold-out crowd of 8,000 turned out for the Denver Film Society’s final “Film on the Rocks” of the season. For the first time in the event’s eight years, people had to be turned away from an amphitheatre that was bursting at the seams with Bonoholics and movie lovers alike.

As part of the summertime tradition, attendees were treated to a concert and a movie, all in the magnificent outdoors of Red Rocks. While the Cinderella Twin Drive-In, only a few miles down the road is, sadly, counting down to its final frames before being razed in the name of “progress,” “Film on the Rocks” is thriving with its mix of rock ‘n’ roll ‘em.

Of course, it’s always good to have a little help from your friends, like Under a Blood Red Sky, the Denver-based U2 tribute band that headlined the evening’s entertainment. Also on the bill: a real, genuine wedding on the Rocks followed by, appropriately enough, Wedding Crashers.

Indeed, the party spirit was in the house as the white flags gently fluttered in a mild summer breeze.

While the stormy weather that helped U2 gain worldwide recognition with its map-placing tour-de-force 24 years ago failed to make a repeat appearance, it was, instead, Under a Blood Red Sky that took to the stage in the name of love.

Their set began as a recreation of one of Red Rock’s most revered performances, but in a nod to newer and younger fans, the band went on to perform a multi-era set attired in outfits replicating the days of War, The Joshua Tree, Elevation, and even ZOO-TV.

The set list packed in many of the band’s biggest hits, including “Where the Streets Have No Name” and a stellar take on “Vertigo,” but it also featured early gems like “Gloria” and “Two Hearts Beat as One.” The band’s ambitions took a super-sized chomp on the nails of success and, a couple of technical glitches aside, they rose to the occasion with panache.

The Edge’s guitar riffs induce goose bumps around the globe and this band’s Edge (Ted Gravlin, or “Tedge”) deftly recreated those magical notes. Given the spotlight during a sterling guitar solo, Gravlin nailed it while playing “Mothers of the Disappeared.” That music in that venue is enough to awaken the ghosts of concerts past and make them dream out loud all over again.

On drums, Jerry Bousquet rocked the stage to its core while Todd Brown smoothly and casually filled in for the smooth and casual Adam Clayton.

Then there’s Billy Bunting, or “Billy Bono.” The vocal range was there and the physical dexterity was there, but more importantly, the passion was there. Whether he was on the main stage or shouting from the rooftop of a Red Rocks concession stand, Billy Bono earned the crowd’s enthusiasm.

And enthusiastic it was; there’s no denying Denver loves U2 and U2 loves Denver.

Even so, amazingly enough, Tuesday night marked the first time a U2 tribute band ever performed at Red Rocks. But, given the unabashed earnestness of Under a Blood Red Sky and the U2-starved crowd that ate it all up with relish, it won’t be the last time.

In fact, June 5, 2008, the 25th anniversary of the original U2 performance, is already reserved for somebody to take the stage.

Recalling when Bono described U2 as reapplying for the job of the world’s biggest band, Billy Bono asked the crowd if Under a Blood Red Sky got the job. The response was a resounding “yes.”

But even Billy Bono would have to concede that, at least in this one particular case, there’s nothing better than the real thing.

The invitation – and petition – has been put forth. The biggest band in all the land is invited back to a place called Morrison next year.

Bono… Hello? Hello?

Set list:
Out of Control
An Cat Dubh
Two Hearts
Surrender
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Electric Co.
New Year’s Day
Gloria
Trash, Trampoline and the Party Girl
11 O’Clock Tick Tock
I Will Follow
40
Where the Streets Have No Name
Pride (In the Name of Love)
Bad
Walk On
One
- The Edge: Guitar Medley -
Mysterious Ways
Vertigo
Bullet the Blue Sky
With or Without You

For more information about U2 tribute band Under a Blood Red Sky, please visit the band’s website at www.underabloodredskyband.com.

Review: Cabin’s I Was Here is Heartfelt, Haunting, and Heavy on Hooks*

August 22, 2007

By Andy Smith, Editor
2007.08

Hailing from Louisville, Kentucky, the rock-pop quartet called Cabin has inspired all kinds of top-shelf comparisons and accompanying acclaim.
The grumpier critic could cry “We hardly need another band with sweet sounding epic anthems to elicit more comparisons to Coldplay and Keane.” Put another way: The gruff cynic in all of us might moan for more grits without so much syrup. But frankly, why be so gruff and grumpy? With Noah Hewett-Ball’s soaring singing and Sarah Welder’s fruitful fiddle, listeners will want to be soothed and seduced.

After listening countless times to the latest EP by Cabin, my visionary verdict is that anything this heartfelt and haunting should not be burdened by the names of its beatific Brit-pop peers. Like neighbors My Morning Jacket, here’s another outfit that could be called “Kentucky’s Radiohead.” Cabin is that good.

But perhaps because of the bold comparisons, the band dodges the question of influences this way: “We don’t know how our music is influenced by any one specific band. We listen to it all and come from different musical backgrounds. We really don’t talk about it that much.”

Heavy on hooks and lyrics ripped from rock’s eternal glossary, “I Was Here” still stands tall, tugging at the ineffable with its inspired riffs and refrains. Better than the teen films it should end up on the soundtrack for, the second track “Dance With Me” delivers such sappy yet certain declarations about scribbling the name of a beloved on a notebook or making a mixtape or simply imploring: “Rescue me/I’m dying, please.” Only those so jaded or drugged to have forgotten young love—or those so unlucky to have never experienced it— could reject this song in all its superior allure. “Cover Your Eyes” is a compelling rock hymn that comprises the ultimate combination of religious doubt with spirited faith, making me think that this songwriter is perhaps a pantheist or Unitarian, a Gnostic or agnostic—or something along those lines.

The recent record begs to be replayed—and that’s a good thing, since at five songs it’s guilty of an almost criminal brevity. Clearly the “singles,” the first two songs can be sampled on MySpace and purchased for a mere dollar.

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of catching this band’s live set. Sadly, I traveled to the show late after another engagement and only caught a few songs. More disappointing, most of the people at the venue preferred drinking downstairs to dancing upstairs. But without doubt, the almost ethereal quality of the disc translates and transforms towards intensity at a club, where bassist Billy Lease and drummer Dave Chale shine more than they do on record. And frankly, I feel the rhythm section especially deserves its props since Sarah and Noah are such incredibly charismatic artists who could easily “steal the show.”

Hope beyond the hype, Cabin will continue to tour and come back soon with another record, hopefully a full-length this time. Perhaps they will land some choice opening spots and with that the opportunity to play for larger crowds. With bands like the Kings of Leon and My Morning Jacket bringing a profound notoriety to the rock music of America’s mid-south, may Cabin ride the wave to find a wider audience.

I Was Here was released on May 29 by Machine Records. Please visit http://www.myspace.com/cabin or http://www.cabinmusic.info/ for more information.

Exploring U2s Back Catalogue: Special Editions*

August 21, 2007

By Mark Reed
2007.08

“The Joshua Tree” is 20 years old this summer. 20 years is a long time. And recently, almost every band that’s been around as long as that has released a “Special Edition” of its back catalogue. Expanded with rare, out of print material! Remastered with new, previously unheard music! Demos, live songs, b-sides, finished ‘abandoned’ tracks, rehearsals and remixes! Every band seems to be doing it: releasing tenth, twentieth, thirtieth anniversary editions with new packaging, previously unseen artwork, unreleased songs, interviews and documentary DVDs.

But not U2. Never U2. U2 are about moving forward and exploring new territories. Not about looking back. U2 are an adventure – not a history lesson.

U2 will always leave you wanting more. For them, it’s not about sating demand, but about slowly, carefully releasing material so there is no such thing as an overdose. The albums are just the albums: relatively compact, complete artistic statements. Not ripe to be exploited with remasters or expanded editions. Every song is given time to be explored and listened to, relistened to and rediscovered so each listener can truly glean from it all the meanings possible. Even now, a decade later, I’m still finding new things in “Pop”, when I thought I had heard it all.

It is important to consider why this may be. U2 are artists and craftsmen. An artist doesn’t display his every piece of work, but only what he regards as his best. With some bands, regarded as amongst the best in the world, the best is The Best Of The Best.

U2 know the value of their band. They know the strength of the band as a brand. It is a strong name of no small commercial clout. When U2 put out a record, no matter what it is, it sells millions and millions. Even U2’s biggest commercial ‘flop’, “Pop”, has sold something like 7 million copies. Almost everyone in London could have their own copy.

U2 know that when they release a record it will be seen as an Important Artistic Statement. Academics will pour over the meaning of miniscule lyrics, and look for biblical references in the sleeve imagery. They know that if they stand on a stage to sing the material, that if they wanted to sell 70,000 tickets a night, they would. U2 know that it is not just what you say that matters, but what you don’t say. That what really matters in their music is not just what is not played, but also all that you can’t leave behind.

For U2, the album is a complete statement. It’s not merely a collection of songs. It matters that each record consists of a narrative and musical flow and that the record makes a cohesive statement.

Even the order of the songs matters. Consider what you think “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb” would have sounded like if it had started with a gentle ballad of “One Step Closer” and ended with, say, “Vertigo”. Unlike a movie where the big explosions are at the end, a record must start well and end suitably. This is why most U2 albums tend to close on a piece of relatively gentle, elegiac music : “40”, “MLK”, “Mothers Of The Disappeared”, “All I Want Is You”, “Love Is Blindness”, “The Wanderer”, “Wake Up Dead Man” – all of these are suitable closing points for a record. All of these are songs that tend to summate the themes of the previous 50 minutes of music and form a piece of narrative and musical closure: in the same way the opening songs tend to be vital, important pieces of music that define the record in microcosm.

“That’s why I hate those reissues. Someone somewhere thinks that ‘Murmur’ ends with a live version of “We Walk”.” – Peter Buck of REM

Consider then, the U2 album as an artistic statement. Imagine if the last notes of the album weren’t “Walk On” or “Fast Cars”, but were instead a meandering, forgettable b-side, or perhaps a hastily appended demo where Bono hasn’t yet found the melody of the song and the lyrics are the gibberish that Brian Eno calls “Bonoese”: anyone who has heard the leaked 1990 demos will know that U2 have plenty of these.

It would devalue what has already been produced and add nothing to the legacy. Sometimes, magicians are good because they do not reveal their tricks. It is sometimes enough not to know how they weave their magic, only that there is magic.

To look behind the curtain and say that “It’s only Smoke and Mirrors” removes the power of the spell great musicians weave. A U2 record is a talisman, a spell, an artistic statement that is self-contained and a delicate blend designed to achieve and express a specific vision. A carefully constructed mixture of elements to create a unique chemistry that is more than the sum of the parts. To remove or add an element could be to destroy or weaken the equation. The painter knows that where he puts the frame is as important as what is in the frame.

That is why U2 albums are not appended in expanded “legacy,” “anniversary,” or “special” editions. The music contained within them, and every nuance thereof, is enough to create a lasting and important statement, to achieve the desired communication of great artists. To show the artist’s sketchbook and reveal all the extraneous material destroys the integral and vital mystery of the work in creating a complete and satisfactory artistic work. The record is a statement, and revealing the inner working of how it was created dilutes the vision. Leave the albums alone, they don’t need expanding. They’re more than good enough as they are.

Review: Bad Case of Stripes: Jack and Meg Haunt Alabama’s Sloss Furnaces*

August 1, 2007

By Andy Smith, Editor
2007.08

Whoever conjured the notion that Alabama’s Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark in Birmingham would provide a weirdly wonderful venue for a rock show surely shares a lowdown logic of rustic ambiance with Jack and Meg White. The allegedly haunted site of the former blast furnace feels more like the abandoned post-industrial ruins of Detroit than a southern museum devoted to chronicling industrial progress; thus, it’s an alarmingly perfect place for a White Stripes show.

Being a general admission show, the kids line-up for hours before the gates open just to wait for the best place to stand. Walking that line to find the will-call booth, I admired all the creative combinations of black and red that adorn the devoted. At the Sloss, the gigs take place in a long warehouse or hanger-like rectangle with a slanted cement-floor and open air walls. Although the capacity crowd really had to cram into the place, the angle of the floor gave the majority a really respectable sightline, which is way more than we can say for all unseated shows.


Photo: Michael McPherson

While far from the nexus of any actual smelter, the sweltering temperature up close on the mainfloor Monday night might have made a metallurgical mess of us. But most rock fans have this superhuman stamina for tolerating all forms of minor discomfort. No proximity to intoxicated delirium and neighborly body odor would have kept us from the major sonic mojo proffered by the priestly siblings and proper heirs to the power of power chords and formidable rock fashion sense.

After a short and stunning set by Birmingham’s own Dan Sartain (who did several Stripes’ shows on this leg of the tour), the masses who weren’t still pushing towards the front instead swarmed the beer tents, visited the porta-potties, or just left the sweat-lodge like conditions for a moment under the full-moon sky. Back inside, the black curtain had been lifted to reveal the red architecture of the Stripes striking stage-set. Just past 9:15pm, with the tense anticipation as thick as the sweat in the air, the darkness of house-lights dimming descended on us just in time.

While recent studio offerings have included much experimentation with different instrumentation, the White Stripes onstage are nothing but the basics—barren blues rock that eschews the need for bass and skewers us with something much more base. Driven to the back alley of love’s tortured soul by the pounding prurience of Meg’s drumming, Jack carjacks the juju of Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page and feeds it to us straight like a fiery shot of Tennessee moonshine.


Photo: Michael McPherson

Spontaneity and simplicity define the Stripes like a near-death experience and the humble reckoning to follow. Sure, the Stripes set is filled with stalwarts and sing-a-longs such as “Hotel Yorba” and “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself,” but playing without a setlist and communicating with Meg through eye-contact and chemistry, Jack jettisons the expectations we have for a man of his rockstar stature and keeps it catastrophically real. To decorate this primal moan with anything more would only tarnish the tempestuous minimalism the twosome throws down.

Who else at this level of career and calling could still pull it off? While this carefully careless approach still centered around the scorching certainty of crowd-pleasers from the current record, it also gave us such surprises as the Dylan cover “One More Cup of Coffee” that appeared on the band’s debut record.

But such primacy is not without its own brand of pretense, artifice, and superstition. A lack of technological geekery and sophisticated studio-born calculation in so many musical matters does not deny an otherwise other-wordly and obsessive commitment to image and craft. Certainly, the critical challenge here is to make some sensible assessment of that paradox without pandering to abstractions like mysterious, metaphysical, and mythopoetic—and all the high-falutin’ theories that our brains assign to the feelings a band like this gives us in the balls (or ovaries, as the case may be).

To fully feel a show “down there,” to momentarily forget how many dollars you don’t have in the bank account, to skip away from work and family and spend a day in the car or on a Greyhound bus, to meet random people on the band’s message boards and then in the hotel elevator, to do all of these things in the pursuit of a religious awareness offered only by live rock and roll describes fandom’s devotion. Such a common communal calling touches all of us, as Jack might sing: “From the Queen of England to the hounds of hell.”


Photo: Arik Sokol

On Monday, the adamantly apolitical Jack White addressed the crowd after cutting “Seven Nation Army” short. Lest the righteous and violent rigor of the lyrics be misinterpreted as condoning an unrighteous war, White declared, “I don’t know if we should play this song in America anymore.” This curt charge challenges his own acute allergy to politicizing rock.

Since so much ballyhoo has been made about the verse in “Icky Thump” that ignites an anti-anti-immigration mood, White has chosen to distance himself from any clear-cut political code aside from his general consciousness that endorses the unsung and underdog in art as in life.

In a recent interview with Barry Divola over at Pitchfork, White described the song as dealing in the “timeless ridiculousness about one group of people excluding another group of people” but not being a “protest song” per se. White continued to delineate his aversion to message music, “I try to stay away from that stuff because I think it’s best left to people who know more about politics to talk about it. It’s not my specialty. I don’t read the newspaper every day. I don’t watch CNN all day long, so there are a lot more people who do their research and can back up what they have to say.”

With Jack White, I share some Cass Corridor connections, a Tennessee current address, and a love for red and black attire. But my fandom for this group came late. Having left Motown before they hit, I was preoccupied with family things when the buzz became ubiquitous. When I finally got it, I could hear the rugged riffs pulsing through my memories. I could hear the twisted heartbreak and universal poetry that would make this garage gargantuan. Even at home in the south, my Detroit recall will always make me want to sing the blues. The Stripes strip away the past and purify the future without forgetting the legacy of the Stooges and the MC5 and everything grueling and great about home that haunted me, that made me proud of my former fanzines and downtown zipcode.

Everywhere they tour, the young kids and the old-schoolers know. We are slowly turning onto them. We are always tuning into them. We are slowly turning into hardcore fans whose depleted bank balances will be martyrs for our love for them.

The White Stripes sixth studio album Icky Thump was released on Warner Brothers Records on June 19, 2007. The band’s official homepage is http://www.whitestripes.com/. Andy would also like to recommend the band’s fansite and forum at http://whitestripes.net .