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Connecticut Rocks?… Fast Times at Mohegan Sun

Connecticut Rocks?… Fast Times at Mohegan Sun

New Haven Blues… Connecticut Rocks?… Fast Times at Mogehan Sun…

I recently started attending concerts again after a long layoff. Before I moved to Connecticut, I lived in New York City and Nashville, and used to go to shows as often as I could. One by one, I scratched all of my favorite bands, big and small, off my bucket list.

Covid and fatherhood hit and I stopped going to concerts. I said goodbye to that particular yellow brick road (an Elton John farewell tour reference. Stick with me.)

I came back for Tame Impala. They were the only band I hadn’t seen live on my “need to see live list,” which once included The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney. Their new album The Slow Rush had been a steady companion during quarantine. And they were playing at Mohegan Sun, for a reasonable price. Also, they live in Australia, so you never know when they’ll be this way again.

The show was epic; it made me feel good. Tame Impala are like the best combination of Beatles and Pink Floyd-inspired lysergic rock, and modern-day dance music. The visuals were sumptuous, and the sound quality was spot on. And the free parking wasn’t bad either.

And now I’ve decided that Connecticut is a decent state to live in for music fans.

Joe Rogan hates us. All the venues are bad. All the people are weird. He mentioned we’re the state where both he and Dave Chapelle ended their sets early because of how lame the crowd was being – a bunch of Connecticut Karens.
Bridgeport’s Sound on Sound Festival didn’t work out so well. I knew from the get-go that it should be skipped, although I like most of the bands that performed. My wife really wanted to go see Stevie Nicks again, and Brandi Carlisle was performing. Then there was the acoustic fury of Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds. Their show was ultimately cut short by lighting. Many lawn chairs were trampled over the weekend, and a bad time was had by all.

I made multiple trips to College Street Music Hall and the newly opened Westville Music Bowl this summer. I saw a lot of great guitar bands. Bands that can tastefully shred. Wilco. Built to Spill. Courtney Barnett. Australian Pink Floyd.

But My Morning Jacket might have out-guitared them all.

To me, this was a revelation.

I once wrote a column called “What’s All The Racket About My Morning Jacket,” complaining that I didn’t get it. I get it now. Songs like “One Big Holiday” make you feel like you’re at a 10 for the entire song. Until they kick it up to 11 at the end. The songs are relatively uncomplicated but soar and crackle with electricity. It’s as if they’ve taken the basic recipe of rock, and perfected it. Singer Jim James and lead guitarist Carl Broemell make a potent team, snaking their guitars around each other, the keyboard, and the drums, creating a spiritual vortex of amplified heat. Somehow, even Wilco’s Nels Cline (an avant-garde shred machine) and Built To Spill’s Doug Martsch (a buddha of the electric guitar) couldn’t match the soul power My Morning Jacket was cranking out.

I was thinking about the show lately, and knew there were a few videos from it on YouTube. But the last time I searched, I found the entire show. What a world we live in, where not only can we hear every album and watch every TV show and movie, but we can revisit entire concerts we’ve been to before. For free.

It was through YouTube that I realized that I really should have gone to the Bright Eyes show at College Street Music Hall earlier in the year, when I was still avoiding shows. I was afraid it wouldn’t have been that good…based on other recent YouTube videos.

Here, watch it yourself:

(If the link went missing, I apologize.)

Now I await my next two concerts — Arcade Fire at Mohegan Sun next week, and Bruce Springsteen in March. Both could be religious experiences.

Both have elements of uncertainty. Will Win Butler save his wretched soul? Will Bruce Springsteen survive old age? Will I survive the ride home? Will anybody annoying sit next to me?

Stay tuned!

 

Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium: A Concert Retrospective

Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium: A Concert Retrospective

 (Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Photo: American Songwriter)

Evan Schlansky’s Top Ryman memories

The Ryman Auditorium is one of the most celebrated venues on the planet, with some of the coolest vibes. And while it is known as the Mother Church of country music, everyone from the Wu-Tang Clan to The Wiggles has performed there.

I was fortunate enough to be a music fan living in Nashville in the 2010s. I visited the Ryman often during that time. I even got to walk across the stage.

This was before they put the food court in. They sure sold a lot of popcorn though. And delicious Yazoo beer, the local brew. You could buy a Hatch Print poster of that night’s show right there in the lobby.

I saw Sheryl Crow perform there. I also saw the Black Crowes, The Counting Crows, Old Crow Medicine Show, Andrew Bird, and Toad The Wet Sprocket, as well as several bands not named after animals, such as Robert Plant, Jack White, Dierks Bentley, Ben Folds, The Avett Brothers, Morrisey and Mumford and Sons.

Part of what makes the Ryman so unique is sitting in those wooden pews. You’re very aware that you’re at a show — it’s not very comfortable, but it’s neighborly. You have to squeeze past everyone in your row to get out to go to the bathroom or get a beer, and so you become intimately familiar with each other. You could turn around and say hello to someone you knew a few pews back, or spot the backs of heads of various people you knew in the rows below you.

How you went up and down the ornate spiral staircase was a testament to how many Yazoos you’d had. “Be nice to the people you meet on the way up, you’re going to have to meet them on the way down,” applied here.

You were in the mother church, so you better act neighborly. If you stepped out of line, you would be ushered out by the septuagenarian ushers they employed there, and nobody would want that. You didn’t want to mess with them and they didn’t want to be messed with.

Here are some of my favorite Ryman memories:

Neil Young, June 1, 2010

My first show at the Ryman. Young, a musical institution himself, performed solo acoustic. I’m a fan of his, but not a superfan. I’ll admit that the show got a bit sleepy for me after awhile, hearing all those songs that I wasn’t familiar with. But that’s on me.

Arcade Fire, August 9, 2010

This show was just a rager, a near-religious experience. The stomping feet of devoted followers shook the pews. It felt like the balcony would collapse. They will kill you with volume, so you can be resurrected. . “I guess we’ll just have to adjust” to all this hearing loss, caused by the audience losing their minds trying to sing over the band during “Wake Up.”

Pixies, September 12, 2010

Ear-drum bleeding volumes, tons of hits. Kim Deal beaming ear to ear. They played Doolittle in its entirety. A full album show is always a gamble. Like, here, eat an entire cake. But this time it worked. At one point, they showed a vintage horror video, complete with someone “slicing up eyeballs.” I could have done without that part.

They opened their set with three Doolittle b-sides, performed in the dark. It was a cool trick that allowed the Pixies to be their own opening band. The real opener was an electronic noise band called Fuck Buttons. They were terrible; half the audience left when they started playing. Still, a band called Fuck Buttons made it to the Ryman.

The Americana Music Honors and Awards, 2010 – 2014

An embarrassment of riches in an occasionally endless awards show.  Getting to see Emmylou Harris duet with whoever was standing next to her, no big deal, and every legend they trotted out there, and all the Americana hopefuls. Jason Isbell for the win. Punch Brothers punching out The Secret Sisters on stage. Okay I made that up. Elvis Costello is here, probably. I went four years in a row.

Bright Eyes, March 17, 2011

Good music is my religion. Spiritual albums like Cassadaga play well in the Ryman. Songs like “We Are Nowhere And It’s Now” and “Beginner’s Mind” washed over us. A pedal steel was deployed. Conor Oberst put on his “metaphorical cowboy boots” to perform “Four Winds.”

Flaming Lips, May 18, 2011

The Flaming Lips squeezed an arena rock show into a small venue. The light show burned our eyes out. Costumed furries danced and confetti cannons burst. Singer Wayne Coyne’s giant hamster ball rolled into the pews and back to the balcony. Unreal. It was like a 60’s psychedelic rock poster had come to life.

Paul Simon, May 19th, 2011

Finally… Rhymin’ Simon comes back to the Ryman! Hello, intimate performance with his amazing 20-million piece band. They played 27 timeless songs in two hours, including my favorite obscure song of his, “Hearts and Bones.” There was even an appearance from Don Everly.

(Wilco performs at the Ryman. Photo: American Songwriter)

Wilco, October 1, 2011

My favorite band of all time. Their Television-style racket could rattle the walls and pull down the curtains. You’re lucky to see your favorite band in a venue like this. They brought their immersive hanging linen stage set, and performed songs from The Whole Love. Hearts were predictably broken. Ten years later, they would finally “go country.”

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, December 1, 2011

Shows like this are what the Ryman is about. Living history. They had their distinctive, vintage capo stand and mystery box of guitar accouterments with them. They covered “Long Black Veil” and ended their set with Johnny Cash’s “Jackson.”  The audience bust a collective nut over David Rawlings’ wandering, pugnacious guitar solos. If there was ever a chance to appreciate a solo at the Ryman, you can bet that people there were gonna go “Woo.”

Greg Allman, January 4, 2012

I had yet to see the Allman Brothers, but here was one of the main ones. Allman had deep ties to Nashville. He was having a cultural renaissance, having just released his solo album Low Country Blues. There was a knife fight before the encore. It was a great show. He was still alive then. The Ryman is an excellent place to drink beer and sing “Sweet Melissa.”

Crosby Stills and Nash, July 27, 2012

To my delight they didn’t suck. Lord knows this band has sucked a lot. They’ve been sucking since the 70’s, but sucked the most during the 90’s and 2000’s. Harmonies are meant to be sung well or not sung at all. On this night, they were able to hit the high notes. By the way, CSN is one of my favorite bands.

Gotye, October 3, 2012

The surprise sleeper of the bunch, this show will always stay with me. I didn’t know the albums or the songs. It didn’t matter. The visuals were excellent. The musicianship was dope. Gotye took a drum solo during the encore to show off. Nirvana was reached, via a midi saxophone.

The Lumineers, October 14, 2013

The Lumineers (or is it just Lumineers?) put on a show loaded with energy and got everyone to sing along to “Ho Hey.” These guys were not from Nashville, but they could easily have been. They were from Brooklyn, the Nashville of the East. They were there campaigning for future Americana Awards.

Beck, July 15, 2014

My last show at the Ryman, and one of my last shows in town; thanks for the memories, Beck. He brought out caution tape and draped the stage and amps with it during a monster encore of “Loser / Where It’s At.” His kids (Cosimo and Tuesday) had been dancing around backstage, and crashed the stage at some point. His son looked just like him. Beck to the future.

Good Guys

Good Guys

Leonard Wyeth met up with Guy Van Duser at Acoustic Music over the weekend to shoot a fundraising video for Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries.

Stay tuned for details!

Watch 2020’s Black Friday tribute concert featuring Wyeth and others HERE.

Traffic At The New Haven Arena

Traffic At The New Haven Arena

The New Haven Arena was on Grove Street in New Haven. It was built for indoor ice hockey in 1914, burned down in 1924, and reopened in 1927. I never saw a hockey game there. My first visit was to see the circus as a very young child. I have a vague memory of the elephants and the tightrope walker, and not much beyond that. The Arena was demolished in 1974, replaced by the New Haven Coliseum that was completed in 1972.

What I remember most about the “Arena” are the rock & roll concerts I saw there. My all-time favorite was Traffic touring in support of the Low Spark of High Heel Boys LP, released in November of 1971. The concert took place on January 11, 1972. I was lucky to be working for the local newspaper at the time and had a New Haven Register ID. This allowed me to go up to the stage and take pictures. 

Generally, the sound at the arena was horrible; it sounded like you would expect a loud rock & roll band to sound like in a cavernous hockey rink. Also, they just put wood over the ice, so it was always freezing sitting in floor seats. 

That night’s show was completely different from all others. The sound was fantastic! JJ Cale opened and did a solo set. I have to say I had no idea who he was and don’t remember his set. 

Then Traffic hit the stage and hit the ground running with a tight set, playing the entire Low Spark of  High Heel Boys  LP. Steve Winwood switched off between a Gibson Firebird (later stolen on tour), a Martin D-28 (that looked pretty much new) and keyboards. Of course, they also played “Dear Mister Fantasy”. My favorite part of the show was when Steve played his D-28 on “John Barleycorn Must Die” and “Rainmaker”. Chris Wood looked like the picture of cool with his sax hanging from him while playing flute. I got right up to the stage and took pictures. This night was one of those concerts I look back on often. 

Yeah Yeah Yeah – Remembering The Beatles

Yeah Yeah Yeah – Remembering The Beatles

What follows is a collection of memories I have carried with me since 1964. I was 11 years old, almost 12, and on February 9th, at 8 PM, my life was forever changed. I hope you enjoy my journey through the past. Please forgive any historical errors.

I was into the guitar, partly because my older brother had one. I used to try and play his. My father saw my interest, and whenever he saw someone playing a guitar on the television, he would call me into the living room to watch. On January 3rd, 1964, he called me to see The Beatles on The Jack Paar Show. That was the beginning of a musical obsession that would reshape my life and is with me still.  

On February 9th, The Beatles made their live television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. In that short span of time, their music had conquered America, and every waking moment of my life. My cousin Bette and I would scan the radio stations listening to their songs as many times as we could find a station playing one spinning the dial wildly looking for another sonic fix. We could barely contain ourselves waiting for a show featuring the Beatles to air, and, of course, the discussions would carry on well afterward. All we could think about was their next appearance scheduled for the following week, to be broadcast from Miami Beach on February 16th. 

Next up was the news that there was going to be a movie, A Hard Day’s Night. Bette and I were off-the-charts crazy to see it as soon as we could. The movie came out in the US in August. We were lucky to see it in an old-fashioned movie house, the Rivoli Theatre in West Haven, Connecticut. The experience was surreal, actually getting to see them on the big screen for over an hour, talking, joking, and playing music. 

The balance of 1964 into 1965 was filled with the release of Beatles LPs and 45s. August of 1965 would find Bette and me back at the Rivoli seeing Help!, the Beatles’ second movie. This one was in color, unlike the black and white Hard Day’s Night. They were already bigger than life; full color just made the experience more real. 

I bought my first 12-string Rickenbacker sometime in 1965. Playing guitar by this point had become one of the only things I truly cared about. Since George Harrison, John Lennon and Roger McGuinn of The Byrds played Rickenbacker guitars, I simply had to have one. They were not cheap, and to raise the money, I started working odd jobs, helping neighbors, delivering newspapers, selling my bike and most of my toys. It was worth it.   

One day in the summer of 1966, after spending some quality time playing guitar in the barn behind our house, my mom and dad said they had something they wanted to tell me. We were going to Shea Stadium on August 23rd to see The Beatles.  

(The author’s photo of the Beatles, taken from the back of Shea Stadium in 1964)

The journey down to New York included listening to the Beatles on the radio and singing along with the songs. The stadium seats were quite high up, and I will admit that the sound system was not great, but we could hear the band despite the screams around us. Fortunately, my father brought binoculars and a camera.  

I remember the setlist (at least some of it): 

  • Rock and Roll Music (Chuck Berry cover)
  • She’s a Woman
  • If I Needed Someone
  • Day Tripper
  • Baby’s in Black
  • I Feel Fine
  • Yesterday
  • I Wanna Be Your Man
  • Nowhere Man
  • Paperback Writer
  • Long Tall Sally (Robert “Bumps” Blackwell, Enotris Johnson and Richard Penniman, better known as “Little Richard”)

Little did we know that the August 29th show at Candlestick Park would not only be the last concert of that tour, it would also be their last tour. 

Between 1964 (the year of the first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show) and 1966, (the year of The Beatles’ last concert) they released an incredible number of albums in the United States. 1964 saw the release of Meet the Beatles!, The Beatles Second Album, A Hard Day’s Night, Something New, and Beatles ’65. In 1965 they released Beatles Vl, Help!, and Rubber Soul. The Rubber Soul LP saw the band starting to take a major step beyond traditional rock & roll music. This continued with their next two albums released in 1966, Yesterday and Today, and the groundbreaking Revolver

Also, in 1966, The Beatles came up with a creative alternative to performing live. They would make videos that they distributed to TV stations. Years before MTV, The Beatles laid the groundwork for what would become a major networking tool. 

We started hearing that the next Beatles LP would be one of epic scope. To this day, 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is considered one of the greatest rock & roll LPs ever made. 1967 also saw the release of the trippy Beatles film Magical Mystery Tour and its soundtrack. 

The world was changing at breakneck speed both culturally, politically, and musically. Much of the expansion of popular music can be directly tied to The Beatles and Bob Dylan, each inspiring the other.

It was no surprise that 1968 would see yet another shift of musical direction from the Beatles. The Beatles (or The White Album as it’s commonly known) was released as a double LP. I have always felt that every great double LP would have made a fantastic single LP. In the case of The Beatles, I will admit there are songs I could have lived without back in 1968. But listening now, there were way too many great songs to fit on a single record, so why not take some chances with the left-over grooves!

1969 saw the release of Abbey Road featuring the classic John Lennon song “Come Together,” and the beautiful George Harrison songs “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun.” Side two included a collection of song fragments tied together that end with the lyrics, “and in the end, the love you make is equal to the love you take”. This line would soon take on greater meaning. John Lennon had privately left the band six days before the LP’s release, and by the following April, Paul publicly announced the band’s breakup. One of my favorite Beatles songs, “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” was produced at the end of these sessions and released later as a 45. It was recorded as a duo with just Paul playing bass and drums, and John on acoustic and electric guitars. Despite the tension in the band, John and Paul were still able to pull it together in the studio.

1970 brought the long-awaited release of the final Beatles LP, Let It Be. Well ahead of its release bootlegs were leaked and we could hear firsthand the tension and dysfunction within the band, though there were still some amazing songs waiting to see the light of day. I went to see the Let It Be movie at the theater in Madison, Connecticut, with my friend Bill Thompson. By that time, he and I had a band and had been playing songs from the Let It Be bootlegs. Together we watched the final movie The Beatles would release as a band.

1970 would also bring the release of solo albums from each of The Beatles. My personal favorite is John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band. John made it clear there would be no more new Beatles music. In his song “God,” John lists the many things he no longer believes in, leading up to these lyrics, “I don’t believe in Beatles… and so dear friends you’ll just have to carry on, the dream is over.”

There has never been a day in my life since 1964 that the music of The Beatles and their many solo efforts have not been playing as a soundtrack to my life. The music of the four Beatles, both as a band and solo, has offered me a worldview and a lifelong endeavor that has led to a life well-lived, “Yeah Yeah Yeah, Yeah!….”

The Replacements at Toad’s Place

The Replacements at Toad’s Place

I spent the greater part of the early Nineties playing guitar in the electric alt-rock band The Name. One night in Middletown, CT, the band’s instruments and amps were stolen from a parked car. After a gig at The Moon in New Haven, we weighed our options and decided the easiest course of action was to become an acoustic rock band. The advantages were clear: less stuff to own, move and maintain.

I traveled to all our gigs in a beat-up Dodge van. The only thing that worked right was the cassette player. At the time, I was living on a steady diet of REM, The Silos and The Replacements. I was a true believer in The Replacements and devoured every recording. I would search out magazine articles and read everything I could about them.

Musician did two major stories that formed the backbone of my knowledge of the band (beyond their music). The December 1990 issue had the story “Replacements Kaput (say it ain’t so, Paul)”. After reading it, it was clear the band was not long for the road. When a February 1991 show at Toad’s Place in New Haven was announced, it was also clear that if I wanted to see one last show, I had to get my ass down to Toad’s!

It was a shitty snowy stormy night, and no one wanted to go with me, so I went alone. I got there early and sat down on the stage just to the right of where Paul Westerberg would end up taking the stage. I made a deal with another early arrival that we would hold each other’s spot by the stage if one of us left for a drink or to take a piss. Uncle Tupelo opened the show with a blistering take-no-prisoners set that was so tight and fast-paced that it felt over before it really got started.

It was pretty close to midnight when The Replacements took the stage, opening with an ear-bleeding “ Don’t Know”. For a band on the verge of breaking up, you wouldn’t see any evidence that night. They played an amazing 28-song set. Slim Dunlap’s leads on “Bent Out of Shape” were just that. I remember him leaning into Paul and the two of them cracking a simultaneous smile. I’ve never heard “Waitress in the Sky” played so fast or “Chuck Berry” played like that, before or after. Not only did they play all their classic songs, but they also played a bunch of songs from the new All Shook Down LP. Tommy Stinson looked happy as a kid in a candy shop and Paul wasn’t too far behind with a constant shit-eating grin on his face. The band was really “on” and the audience loved it. They ended the set with “Left of The Dial” and “Alex Chilton”.

Walking out into the cold night air singing “who knew that avenue was bound for Happy Town?,” I ran into a friend who also had been at the show at the parking lot on Broadway, where I parked my car. When she started talking to me about the concert, I realized her words sounded like paper being torn. I’m pretty sure the show was the loudest concert I had ever been to and standing against the stage dead in front of the speakers was not the best plan after all.

I remembered this while reading The Replacements bio Trouble Boys, where Steve Foley (the drummer on that tour) recalled the deafening volume of that last tour. I had seen Neil Young with Crazy Horse, Sonic Youth, and Social Distortion eight days before (third row at the New Haven Coliseum). and that show was nowhere near as loud. At some point, my hearing came back, kind of. I have hearing loss to this day and feel attending concerts starting in 1965 with no hearing protection played a part in it.

That last concert included many songs from the “last” Replacements LP All Shook Down. The LP has been referred to as the “Paul gets a 12-string acoustic guitar” album. This is not completely fair as Paul used an acoustic from the beginning. Paul recorded most of the songs without the band, bringing them in for overdubs. It is a testament to how tight the band could be live, and that with electric instruments the songs retained the feel and vibe they had on the more acoustic treatment they received on All Shook Down.

There was the benefit album for Slim Dunlap who suffered a stroke in 2013, but little else new has been released under The Replacements name. Tommy and Paul continue to release amazing solo recordings to this day. To quote a line from one of Tommy’s songs, “anything could happen.”