Review of Black Stone Cherry’s First Seattle Headlining Show
After five worldwide releases, mainstream rock radio success, and sold-out arena tours across the US and Europe, you’d think that Kentucky’s finest southern hard-rock group would have headlined The Town. Not so! Though overdue, as guitarist Ben Wells stated mid-set, El Corazon’s “dirty, sweaty, basement atmosphere” was the most fitting – and rock n roll – setting for their first Seattle headlining show.
They don’t call this guy the “Big Mouth of the South” for nothing. This guy belts it out, no-holds-barred. I’ve watched their “Thank You: Livin Live Birmingham UK” DVD and countless YouTube videos of them performing from the likes of Germany’s Rock am Ring to hidden gems like fan footage of them rocking Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”, and I was still not prepared for the gusto this guy has on the mic.
Ben Wells’ Energy
The dude was head banging and kicking like a mad man. All the while, he was singing every word and cutting through insane southern rock/metal riffs for a solid 90 minutes straight. He made sure that everyone stage-right was engaged the whole night.
Okay…so there was a break where he sat down and played an acoustic guitar for “The Rambler”. You got me. But I’m sure he was still moshing in his head.
I feel obligated to note that the whole band had an incredible amount of energy. The rest of the band still blew the roof off the place.
John Fred Young’s Harmonica/Drum Solo
The man was jamming out on the harmonica AND playing a drum solo. Such an act was something I’d never heard of and I don’t think I’ll ever see anyone do it better. This may have been the most joyous moment of the concert. I can’t put my finger on it, but there was something special about this moment. Throughout the show, I was amazed by his chops. I’m convinced that he’s one of the most underrated drummers in the business.
Jon Lawhon: The Friendliest Guy On & Off the Stage
Jon was a close second in the energy department. If Ben went stage-left, he was jumping right up to the front of the stage. Throughout the night, he and a woman who was clearly an avid Black Stone Cherry fan went back-and-forth all-night yelling, dancing (head banging), and screaming every lyric. He made sure he was at the center of the camera for every photo/video she took, including a mid-song selfie. Towards the final third of the show, he walked directly up to her and handed her a pick.
After the show, while waiting for my Uber ride he took the time to chat with me on the curb by their tour bus. It felt like talking to an old friend. We talked the band’s journey over the past 16 years, rock n roll’s dominance in Europe (and the contrast here in the US), his home-town in Kentucky, and the band’s day off in Eugene (where I went to school – hence my excitement).
If he ever reads this, I do want him to know that two canceled rides was truly the reason I was out-front for so long and that I wasn’t using that time to trick him into hanging out.
Dean: The Gentleman Working the Merch Table
The Black Stone Cherry experience is rife with genuine, kind men. This guy isn’t around just to hustle merch, but making genuine connections with the fans at these shows. What started as buying some shirts turned into a night-long conversation. Between each set I made my way back to the merch table to chat with him. Like with Jon, it felt like talking to a life-long friend. It was fascinating to hear a different perspective on the tour-cycle, how things have changed since the band switched labels, and why none of them have the desire to call any place other than Kentucky “home”.
When you go see these guys on tour, make sure you say hi to Dean and throw a few tips his way.
“Devil’s Queen” – this is one of my favorite Black Stone Cherry songs, hailing from their second album Folklore & Superstition, and I did not think this would be played. It served as a kick-ass opener.
“White Trash Millionaire” – a talk box, heavy guitars, and talk of “trans-ams in primer paint”. What’s not to love?
“Soul Machine” – my favorite song off of the new album Kentucky, which I feel is the epitome of the band. Fresh, yet still a throwback to their older material.
“The Rambler” – this was the most heart-felt performance from Mr. Chris Robertson. The performance featured Ben on acoustic guitar and Chris on the mic. You could feel the heartache the man feels from being on the road and away from his family.
Citizen Zero (2nd Opener)
I was familiar with their material and they did not disappoint. I’d go as far as saying that they’re better live than they are on their records. “State of Mind” and “Save the Queen” were my favorite songs of their set. The Detroit rockers brought the party to Seattle on a Tuesday night. If these guys come back around, don’t hesitate to buy a ticket.
I only caught the last 3 songs of their set, but the lead singer has PIPES! I wish I had more here, but they certainly showed that they deserved to be sharing the stage with the likes of Black Stone Cherry and Citizen Zero.
(original post was February 19th – re-launched with website)
My Thoughts on the 2017 Grammys
This year was certainly interesting during “The Biggest Night in Music”. Grammy night is never short of electrifying performances, on-stage failures, and controversy. For me, Grammys don’t carry the weight that they used to. There’s a reason that many accomplished artists continue to skip out on attending the big night. I must admit, as an avid fan of rock n roll, the diminished acknowledgement of the genre – as well as prominent rock artists noting the Grammys lack of credibility – plays into my bias.
Chance The Rapper – Big Win for Independent Musicians
I just recently started listening to Chance the Rapper. Lyrically and musically, he’s great. Delivery is where I have my issues. His vocal style is hard for me to digest, yet I couldn’t be more appreciative of the way he runs his business:
Refuses to sign to labels
Built a strong brand, knows how to differentiate himself (his delivery/voice)
Garnered mainstream success and collaborated with some of the biggest names in hip-hop
Became the first artist to chart, with streaming only (all his music is available for free)
Chance single-handedly won the night for independent musicians across the globe, taking home 3 Grammys (Best Rap Performance, Best Rap Album, and Best New Artist). The 23 year old rapper is a true disrupter in the world of music. I think it is safe to say that this man is just getting started.
As far as his Grammy performance, it was a little off for me. His hype man was a bit overwhelming at times and the excessive shouting of the other performers drowned out Chance’s lyrics. Part of this could be on the sound engineers mixing the live performance. My knit-picky qualms aside, I am now very excited to see him at Sasquatch in May.
Gary Clark Jr. Is Brilliant (William Bell sounded phenomenal, too)
“Born Under a Bad Sign” was my first time hearing Gary Clark Jr. perform, and he blew me away. There’s a sense of soul that’s been missing from mainstream rock, and it feels like it’s been even longer since modern blues artists have had the opportunity to step into the limelight. Vocally, he reminds me a lot of local blues-rock act Ayron Jones and the Way (whom you definitely need to check out). It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see the two share the stage at some point. If they need an opening act, I’ll be over here frantically jumping around and waving my arms.
Bee Gees Tribute (Medley: “Stayin Alive”, “Tragedy”, “How Deep is Your Love”, “Night Fever”)
More specifically, MY GOODNESS DEMI LOVATO! The past few years I’ve been intrigued by Demi’s transformation into a vocal powerhouse. She gave one of the most impressive performances of the night, in my opinion, with the “Stayin Alive” portions of the Bee Gees Tri by the Bee Gees. Tori Kelly brought a fresh take on “Tragedy”, but didn’t own the stage like Demi did.
Little Big Town was underwhelming. Part of this had to do with the arrangement. After two energetic performances from Demi and Tori, slowing down the tempo and going with a crooner arrangement felt out of place and didn’t set them up for success. Overall, the tribute would have been much stronger without this section.
Andra Day quickly brought the energy back up and owned the stage with “Night Fever”. I understand adding some dynamics into the performance and not having the arrangement turned up to 10 the whole time, but I feel a shorter arrangement with the Demi, Tori, and Andra would have been more enjoyable (or one with just Demi and Andra).
It’s no surprise to me that the Recording Academy called on Bruno Mars for two performances. His performance of his song “That’s What I Like” was good. The breakdown “for the ladies” was cheesy and a bit over-the-top for me. Nonetheless, he and his crew were perfectly in-tune.
What stood out to me was the execution of his Prince tribute (The Time was good, but Bruno is the one who made it what it was). I didn’t know that he could play guitar, let alone well enough to put on a flawless Prince medley. Now I know better. An audacious feat, no doubt, and he owned it. Not only is Bruno Mars insanely talented, but you can tell that he’s having the time of his life when he’s performing. His charisma draws you in and makes you feel like you’re just as much a part of the fun. That is what will fuel his career for years to come.
The Grammys Diminish Rock n Roll
This starts with a majority of the rock awards making the live coverage. When Halestorm won Best Rock/Metal Performance in 2013, they took the stage and gave an acceptance speech to a nearly empty theatre hours before the live event started. In similar (non-televised) fashion, earlier in the night, Megadeth won “Best Metal Performance” for their song “Dystopia”. As they were taking the stage, Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” was played. Typically, winners’ songs are played as they take the stage. It may seem like a small slight, but this instance is a little more offensive than a simple flub. For those of you who don’t know, Dave Mustaine founded Megadeth after he was kicked out of Metallica in 1983. Ouch.
Metallica remained at the center of rock turmoil later in the show, as well. As the band took the stage for their performance of “Month into Flame” with Lady Gaga, Metallica’s name was not mentioned. LaVerne Cox announced “Ladies and gentleman, all my gender non-binary people watching tonight, eight-time Grammy award winners and six-time Grammy winner, Lady Gaga”. To make matters worse for the band, James Hetfield’s microphone was not turned on until halfway through the song. Like the rock stars they are, they powered through the technical difficulties and put on one of the most energizing performances of the night.
The Grammys have consistently consolidated the rock awards, further taking away from the genre’s influence on the awards. This year “Best Rock Performance” encapsulated what used to be Best Rock Vocal Performance for Duo or Group, Female Performance, and Male Performance, Best Rock Instrumental Performance, Best Hard Rock Performance, and Best Metal Performance.
Nominations (and awards) for the “Best Rock Performance” award demonstrate the disconnect between the rock community and The Recording Academy (formerly the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences). Of the songs nominated, “Don’t Hurt Yourself” by Beyonce and Jack White was the most rock n roll.
21 Pilots is more pop/hip-hop than rock. 90 percent of the song is rapped over an electronic beat and an automated voice that sounds like a possessed kid (I say it like it’s a bad thing, but I freaking love that song. It’s just not rock.). In their song “Lane Boy” the lyrics address their roots in rap:
“Scared you a bit like a hazmat, in a gas mask if you ask Zack He’s my brother, he likes when I rap fast”
Not to mention, they won a Grammy this year for Best POP DUO/GROUP Performance. I’ll let that speak for itself.
David Bowie, while certainly a rock n roll artist and icon, released an album that was more experimental jazz than rock.
Disturbed, while undoubtedly a hard rock group, were nominated for their performance of Simon and Garfunkle’s “The Sound of Silence”. The arrangement is more like that of a musical than a rock track. That said, it should have won, as it was TRULY the best performance out of all the songs/performances nominated. Don’t believe me? Go watch their performance on Conan. I dare you not to get chills. I’d argue that their performance of “The Sound of Silence” with Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge in Houston is just as compelling, if not more so.
As for “Best Rock Song”, my complaints are repetitive, but I’m still a little upset so I’ll repeat them. “Heathens” is a POP SONG with heavy rap influence, and “Blackstar” by David Bowie falls more into Jazz than Rock. All songs nominated are great pieces of music, so I’ll leave it be. I think “Hello, My Name is Human” by Highly Suspect was the best song in the list.
Rock is not the only genre that is experiencing exclusion/lack of recognition by The Recording Academy.
By this point, you’ve probably heard enough about how Beyonce should have won album of the year. Adele and news outlets around the country, big and small, have talked about how she should have taken home the award. This trend isn’t new. I could write an entire paper on this subject, but I do want to touch on it briefly, as I’ve given enough attention to my frustration with the state of rock with the Grammys. Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and To Pimp a Butterfly both should have taken home Rap Album of the Year AND Album of the Year in 2013 and 2016. M.A.A.D City lost to Macklemore’s The Heist and Daft Punk in 2013, and To Pimp a Butterfly lost Album of the Year to Taylor Swift’s 1989 (although it did win Rap Album of the Year) in 2016.
Kendrick Lamar, with both works, brought to light the conditions of the African American community that mainstream music and media weren’t acknowledging. The reason the albums found so much success is that the songs connected with people; their story was being told. On top of that, the story-telling gave people outside of those communities raw insight into what was going on. The songs are honest and the story-telling is unbelievable. Kendrick’s ability to write from multiple perspectives to round out his message is second-to-none. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed Macklemore’s The Heist and I danced to “Shake it Off” throughout my last two years of college, but neither album – in full – did what Kendrick was able to do with Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and To Pimp a Butterfly.
I’ll admit it. I’m not a fan of Beyonce’s music. She is an extremely talented singer and performer. I just don’t like the music, but I can recognize talent when I see it. It’s important to note the profound impact this work of art had on women. Lemonade highlighted Beyonce’s vulnerability as an individual, and as an artist. She created a work of art that gave the world insight directly into her personal life and struggles – most notably, her husband’s infidelity. Her honesty, amid her struggle, connected with millions around the globe who have struggled with the very same challenges of marriage and motherhood. She empowered them by showing them that they’re not alone, and that the best is yet to come. That’s what music is about. That’s why she should have won.
This year’s Grammys gave us all a lot to talk about. From major award snubs, microphone malfunctions, and fiery performances (literally), the award show is never short on celebration or controversy. There are many things to celebrate about this year’s Grammys. Chance is paving the way for independent musicians and serving as a disruptive force in the music business. His approach to music proves that artists don’t have to sacrifice their integrity for recognition. The show serves as a platform of musical discovery (Gary Clark Jr) and gives us the opportunity to see some of our favorite artists get recognized.
On the other hand, I can only hope that rock n roll is able to reestablish its rightful place at the Grammys. Unfortunately, I don’t see things turning around within the next year. There are some phenomenal rock acts out there that deserve to be recognized. Then again, many groups will tell you that it’s all about the fans. As long as we’re at the shows, they’ll be able to keep on turning out great records.
New Rock Albums to Check Out:
The Stage – Avenged Sevenfold
Touch – July Talk
Paradise – White Lung
The Last Hero – Alter Bridge
Who You Selling For – The Pretty Reckless
Wild at Heart – The Wild!
State of Mind – Citizen Zero
The Recording Academy has some soul searching to do, but The Grammys will continue to be taken seriously by the music industry…for the most part.
The Weeknd always sounds great, but he’s not a very good performer. Putting a bunch of lasers around him to make things interesting was the perfect call. For any live-show, he’ll need a lot of extra-curriculars to hold people’s attention.
Ed Sheeran should do a small scale one-man-show club tour. I’d be curious to see what kind of arrangements he’d put together with just a loop pedal. His one-man performance of “I See Fire” is another incredible musical experience.
John Legend’s voice is made of magic.
Adele’s performance of “Hello” was phenomenal. I had chills the entire time. The George Michael Tribute had me cringing for her the whole way through. While a tough go for her, her authenticity and integrity as an artist can’t be questioned.
I don’t know who thought pairing up Kelsea Ballerini and Lukas Graham was a good idea. Each of them are good in their own right, but this was a bad idea. Lukas’s voice is much more powerful than expected. Based on his recordings, I assumed he was more of a falsetto type.
Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood collaborating makes sense, but it felt like an ode to soft-rock, not country. I don’t get it.
Pentatonix. Yikes. Love them, but this performance was boring. They sounded fine, but felt extremely out of place. Having to follow up Bruno’s Prince tribute didn’t do them any favors.