If there was something you could count on between 1976 and 1986 as sure as the sky was blue was that at any time of the day on the radio, you could probably hear the voice of Michael McDonald.
Whether he was harmonizing in the background for Steely Dan, or singing lead for the Doobie Brothers, or performing any one of his top 40 solo hits, McDonald’s distinctly, husky voice was a staple on FM radio, a reminder that whatever angst existed during that decade, the soothing voice of Michael McDonald could be found by just turning the radio dial.
So when McDonald walked on stage on Friday night at the North Beach Bandshell during the 4th Annual GroundUP Music Festival, took a seat behind a Yamaha grand piano, greeted the audience briefly, and then vocally belted his first note, it was a comforting reminder that there are things from our past that are still intact.
Backed by members of the Grammy-award winning jazz collective Snarky Puppy including bassist Michael League and keyboardist Shaun Martin, as well as virtuoso guest-saxophonist Chris Potter, the Michael McDonald Quintet, as they billed themselves on Friday night in Miami, performed a remarkable 50-minute set that included Doobie classics like Takin’ it to the Streets and What a Fool Believes, his 1982 hit, I Keep Forgettin’, and his own version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, that at first made me cringe until I was swept up by the easy-listening vocal register of Michael McDonald.
Before the show I ran into a friend who admitted he was “kind of a Michael McDonald fan,” to which his wife quipped, “He used to be cool.”
I get it: liking Michael McDonald isn’t really cool, and admitting that you are a Michael McDonald fan in public is really uncool. In fact, I would argue that the genre that McDonald’s music falls into, somewhere between “Easy Listening” and “Yacht Rock”, is the polar opposite of cool.
But I get the sense that Michael McDonald doesn’t seem to care about any of that.
Since 2013, the 68-year old has been gradually increasing his work load. He appeared at Coachella in 2017. Last year he performed fifty shows including the Curaçao North Sea Jazz Festival.
This coming May, he will join the remaining members of the Doobie Brothers in Cleveland as they are inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Then the band will embark on a 50th anniversary tour that kicks off in South Florida at the Coral Sky Amphitheatre in June. That’s more than cool. In fact, given present day America’s fast-pace culture and hyper-ventilating news cycle, Michael McDonald might just be the Easy Listening we need right now.
Copyright © 2020 Long Play Miami
p.s., Stay tuned for upcoming pieces including one about the ground-breaking hip hop record that remains a force nearly 40 years later (“It changed everything.”).
In the summer of 2016, a female raccoon tore off one of the air vent screens on the eave of our roof and entered our attic.
Every night it was here, this nocturnal rabies-carrying, flea hotel of a mammal rummaged through our air ducts and scratched at the fiberglass insulation, at times right over our heads as we struggled to sleep soundly in our bed.
I am not a religious person, but I remember asking a higher power during those sleepless nights for the unwelcome visitor to be exorcised from our home. We also searched on Yelp and found an animal removal company.
Traps were placed on the roof and in the yard. There were chunks of chocolate and globs of peanut butter plated inside the traps but the animal wouldn’t take the bait.
When that didn’t work, the animal removal subject matter expert took to spraying a fluid in our attic that emitted a putrid odor used to repel female raccoons in these circumstances. “What the hell is that?” I asked him. The expert said, “Its supposed to replicate the scent of a male raccoon’s testicles. Female raccoons hate it.”
I would not wish this smell on anyone, but it worked. The raccoon just upped and left a week or so later.
Now I plead to a higher power again to remove another unwelcome visitor:
– the music from the film A Star is Born, which has been playing in my head at all hours since we rented the film on Apple TV two weeks ago.
I can’t rid my mind of this music.
There are not one, not two, but three songs rummaging through my brain as if looking for a place to settle: (1) the ubiquitous Shallow, of course; (2) the one about the Arizona Sky and the California Gold that Lady Gaga belts on the piano during a scene; and, (3) the Bradley Cooper folksy-rock catchy-as-hell ballad Maybe Its Time.
I don’t know many of the lyrics save for a few lines but it doesn’t matter, the melodies won’t leave my head.
Three years ago the raccoon was driven away. The animal expert said she must have felt threatened. But this music, in my head…its been 14 days.
Please go away.
In the meantime, I’m going to go blast some Metallica.
This rendition of the National Anthem will bring you to your knees.
Happy Independence Day.
It was reported recently that actors Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are reuniting to film “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” the third installment in the “Bill & Ted” series. The 1989 original film saw Reeves and Winter portray a couple of California high school slackers who dream of becoming rock stars. When the likelihood of flunking a final history exam most heinously threatens their lifestyle, they are visited by a futuristic character at a Circle K who stresses the importance of passing this particular test. Apparently the future of mankind depends on it (because Bill & Ted are, like, the Chosen Ones, dude.)
The pair travel through time in a telephone booth to prepare for the exam by meeting up with the likes of Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Freud, Mozart, and Lincoln and bringing these historical characters to present day San Dimas, California.
Cue the space-time continuum high jinks.
News of this upcoming film prompted me to think, not what I feel about Keanu Reeves using the term “bodacious” in 2018, but about time-travel and what-ifs, as in,
What if I could travel in a time machine?
Where would I go?
The answer is simple really.
At this very moment, I would go back to this very day, 50 years ago, May 18th, 1968.
Gulfstream Park, …
Hallandale, Florida, …
the site of The Miami Pop Festival.
The Miami Pop Festival was the first of its kind on the East Coast. Co-founder Michael Lang, a New Yorker who had settled in Coconut Grove and ran a head shop, and Ric O’Barry, a dolphin trainer at the Miami Seaquarium, decided to partner up and bring a music festival to Miami because – I don’t know – it was the 60s and it would be a groovy thing to do (?).
For Lang, the festival served as something of a test run; he would go on to co-produce Woodstock, in August 1969.
Now let me indulge some more in my time-travel fantasy ∼∼∼∼∼∼∼
Once I arrive at Gulfstream Park, I would take a seat near one of the two flatbed trucks that were rented to serve as a performance stage. Just after noon, I’d listen to the trippy musical rants of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, get my R&B fix with John Lee Hooker and Chuck Berry, then I’d persuade someone to save my spot, go for a snow cone, and come back for the headliner, The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
In the book, Woodstock Festival Remembered, Michael Lang remarked about the Miami Pops Festival:
It was going to be a two-day event; two shows a day, afternoon and evening. We rented out booths to sell head-shop gear and assorted psychedelia. We managed to get everything arranged and the crowds came. After the music began we realized somebody had forgotten to pick up [Jimi] Hendrix at the airport. I sent cars out to get him, but Jimi had gotten impatient and decided to rent a helicopter. This turned out to be beautiful. Just as Jimi was due to go on stage and we were going berserk, this helicopter came hovering over the stage…
Hendrix was fresh off his US festival debut performance at the Monterrey Pop Festival the year before and his debut LP, the masterful and incomparable Are You Experienced (1967). It’s fair to say he was the biggest rock star of the moment.
This electrifying performance would be one of Hendrix’s most memorable shows. The set list would include Hey Joe, Purple Haze, Foxey Lady, and Hear my Train a Comin’.
By the fifth song, I would pump my fist when Hendrix announces to the crowd that one of the amplifiers had blown out:
It’s really very bad trying to play on ashes. That’s all that’s left. Nothing but ashes.
The second day of the festival was canceled early by the organizers due to rain. Yet Hendrix wasn’t discouraged. He reportedly was inspired to write “Rainy Day Dream Away” which was featured on his third album Electric Ladyland (1968).
Look, I get it, Woodstock was and remains the mother of all music festivals, but it was the Miami Pop Festival that established the roots.
Or as Michael Lang once claimed:
This is where the seeds to Woodstock were sown.
Fortunately, you have a chance to time-travel too. Sort of. The HistoryMiami museum will launch a new exhibition this weekend titled “Miami Rocks” to honor the 50-year anniversary of the Miami Pop Festival. The exhibition will run until September 30, 2018.
(Photo credit for the above pictures belongs, with all due respect, to Ken Davidoff.)
Here is the virtuoso performing Foxey Lady 50 years ago today.
Black is the color of night, of cool, of darkness, of the opaque, of the unknown. Black is the color of the galaxy, the pigmentation of the space between the planets and the stars and the comets and the objects that we have yet to identify. Black is the polar opposite of white, and it was the predominant color at the Radiohead concert last Thursday in Miami, where the band opened its 2017 tour.
Fans wore black. T-shirts, blouses, pants, jackets, caps. I wore black. My wife wore black. We were geared for a dark evening.
If Radiohead were a time of day, they would lie somewhere between dusk and dawn. This is where Radiohead resides. They make melodies and sounds and noise that reverberates, coagulates, and then secretes into your soul before the sun’s first rays poke out.
It was Radiohead that helped me cope with my father’s battle with lung cancer in the early 2000s (the other band was Rage Against the Machine.)
In the early 1990s, Radiohead released PABLO HONEY, unarguably their most “conventional” album (it features “Creep,” a wonderful song that they refuse to play live anymore). Then they began to detour a little with the aptly named THE BENDS (1995) and OK COMPUTER (1997), which launched them into rock stardom alongside their contemporaries. But in this author’s humble opinion, it was the back-to-back releases of KID A (2000) and AMNESIAC (2001) that fired them through the ozone layer and into the dark where they remain, occasionally orbiting the Earth and sometimes drifting close enough for us to catch a glimpse.
Last week when the lights in the arena began to dim, an ominous hum sounded over the speakers, like the dial tone of an old telephone. “They’re here,” I said to my wife, sounding oddly similar to that young girl in the movie “Poltergeist.”
But these were not spirits. This was Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, and Phil Selway.
We stood, all of us, in black attire, and welcomed the English quintet with howls befitting a rout of wolves on a full moon.
They opened the show with a gradual lift-off into Daydreaming from their latest album, A MOON SHAPED POOL (2016), a soft tiptoe of a song between a state of consciousness and sub-consciousness, between the darkness of sleep and the brightness of a dream, cracking an idyllic tone for the rest of the evening, which was beautiful, eerie, melancholic and sublime.
Through a 24-song well balanced set across their entire songbook including Idioteque, Lotus Flower, Weird Fishes, No Surprises, Fake Plastic Trees, and You and Whose Army, Radiohead pulled the crowd a step closer, inviting us to a place brighter than the blackness that was all around us.
(I bought a new shirt. It is gray.)
Full Set List (Miami, 3/30/2017)
Song / ALBUM / Year
- Daydreaming / MOON SHAPED POOL / 2016
- Desert Island Disk / MOON SHAPED POOL / 2016
- Ful Stop / MOON SHAPED POOL / 2016
- Airbag / OK COMPUTER / 1997
- Morning Bell / KID A / 2000
- Climbing Up the Walls / OK COMPUTER / 1997
- All I Need / IN RAINBOWS / 2007
- Videotape / IN RAINBOWS / 2007
- Let Down / OK COMPUTER / 1997
- I Might Be Wrong / AMNESIAC / 2001
- Lotus Flower / KING OF LIMBS / 2011
- Identikit / MOON SHAPED POOL / 2016
- Idioteque / KID A / 2000
- Nude / IN RAINBOWS / 2007
- Weird Fishes/Arpeggi / IN RAINBOWS / 2007
- The Numbers / MOON SHAPED POOL / 2016
- How to Disappear Completely / KID A / 2000
- No Surprises / OK COMPUTER / 1997
- Burn the Witch / MOON SHAPED POOL / 2016
- Reckoner / IN RAINBOWS / 2007
- Fake Plastic Trees / THE BENDS / 1995
- The Tourist / OK COMPUTER / 1997
- You and Whose Army? / AMNESIAC / 2001
- BodySnatchers / IN RAINBOWS / 2007
Copyright © 2017 Long Play Miami
U2 announced last week that they would be touring again in 2017 in North America including a stop in Miami (their first visit to the Magic City since 2011).
One of my favorite bands of all time, I discovered U2 when a friend who’s name I can’t recall lent me a cassette tape of War which I personally consider, nostalgia aside, as some of the band’s best work. That cassette is still with me 34 years later, a relic from 1983, when U2 opened my eyes to famine, war, and the plight of refugees; heavy stuff for a 12-year-old boy growing up in a quiet suburb bordered by a forest of pine trees and palmettos.
News of a U2 concert in South Florida prompted me to plunge obsessively into their extensive body of work from their first raw albums of the early 1980s to their more recent, less ambitious recordings; from Boy (1980) to Songs of Innocence (2014), I listened incessantly to songs at my disposal which included original vinyls, downloaded digital music, and streamed tunes on Spotify. I watched old music videos that I used to watch on MTV and videos of live performances of (so many) hits and B Sides. I read about the albums, the stories behind the compilations, and the influences. Whether I was taking the dog on an early morning walk or driving to/from work, or falling asleep at bedtime listening through ear plugs, I have been on U2 hyper-drive.
In honor of these four Irishmen, their expansive contribution to rock music, and their upcoming Joshua Tree Tour celebrating 30 years since that iconic album, I have prepared my essential Top 10 U2 songs. It’s not a list I approached lightly. I tried to consider not only the musicality and the lyrics in the songs, but their context and meaning both at the time of their release and thru present day, and how they have aged over the years.
Counting down, one by one, I begin with…
#10. I STILL HAVEN’T FOUND WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR (The Joshua Tree, 1987)
In 1987, U2 released The Joshua Tree, described by many critics as the band’s peak achievement. It was a grown-up record album, the kind you make when you want to put some distance between you and your younger, rebellious self, and they certainly did. The Joshua Tree pushed forth a more enlightened approach for the band as they sought answers to some of the great mysteries in life – love, religion, death.
From the song’s opening repetitive guitar strum and welcoming angelic tambourine, to a second guitar with the Edge’s signature suspended echoing ring, a gospel tone is set from the start, sending the listener soaring. When the warm bass line comes, the listener is grounded back to Earth, compelled to his knees.
And then Bono begins his sermon:
I have climbed the highest mountains,
I have run through the fields,
only to be with you,
only to be with you.
Bono’s lyrics refer to a search for love that evolves into a search for spirituality, both quests morphed together like “colors bleeding into one.”
About this song, Bono once said, “The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or away from God.”
And this running never ends, this quest, it is a journey, and their journey becomes our journey. Then, now, and forever.
#9. SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY (War, 1983)
This song is not a rebel song, this song is Sunday Bloody Sunday.
On January 30, 1972, in Northern Ireland, over a dozen demonstrators who were protesting the imprisonment of Irish nationalists by the British government were fatally shot by the British Army in a confrontation. The event became known as “Bloody Sunday” and shone a light on the crisis in Northern Island between nationalists and the British government.
Sunday Bloody Sunday was the first song on U2’s fiery 1983 album, War, one which further cemented the band’s early reputation as a protest band.
One of the beautiful things about this song is the anti-war lyrics juxtaposed with a military marching drum beat, played to perfection by Larry Mullen Jr. It makes you stand in attention, while you “wipe the tears from your eyes.”
Bono once said, “This song will be sung wherever there are rock fans with mullets and rage, from Sarajevo to Tehran.” In today’s highly divisive political environment, the song carries a special meaning. How long must we sing this song?
As long as necessary.
#8. MYSTERIOUS WAYS (Achtung Baby, 1991)
The world was rapidly changing in the early 1990s. The Cold War ended, the USSR was dissolved, and East and West Germany reunited. Maybe this piece of news inspired U2 (part of Achtung Baby was recorded in Berlin’s Hansa Ton Studios). U2 was looking for a change too. Their 1991 album Actung Baby was an about-face for the band coming off the more serious sounds of Rattle & Hum (1988) and The Joshua Tree (1987). With the new album, the band went alternative, putting politics aside for the most part, and embracing technology, fashion and a more colorful brand of rock; groovy drum tracks, distortion pedals, and even alter egos (Bono’s sunglass-wearing The Fly).
Mysterious Ways is one of their finest. It wasn’t the easiest composition to complete, however. Stories of tension between the band and their producers surrounded this particular song. In the end, a funky guitar effect and drum track and the playful lyrics by Bono (Johnny, take a walk with your sister the moon, Let her pale light in, to fill up your room. You’ve been living underground, eating from a can, You’ve been running away from what you don’t understand) saved this song, forging a new alternative identity; more progressive, more distortion, more risk taking. A band that was on top of the world turned that same world upside.
If you want to kiss to sky better learn how to kneel.
#7. WHERE THE STREETS HAVE NO NAME (The Joshua Tree, 1987)
1987’s The Joshua Tree was an ambitious undertaking for U2, one that aimed to established the band “from an arena act to a stadium act,” as bassist Adam Clayton pointed out in a recent interview.
If that was their goal, then Where the Streets Have No Name was their ticket.With its anthem-like keyboard introduction and the Edge’s guitar coming in from above, and the bass guitar and bass drum fused together and providing the song’s heartbeat, leading audiences to clap their hands along, before Bono cries out he wants to run, he wants to hide, he want to tear down this wall, that holds him inside, hands down, this is one of the great rock songs to hear live in a stadium (I, for one, have heard the band play it live 4 times and each time, the song stood out as one of the best performances of the night.)
U2’s video for the song was an event as well. They shut down several blocks in Los Angeles on Friday afternoon to film on the roof top of a liquor store (reminiscent of The Beatles “Get Back”).
#6. NEW YEARS DAY (War, 1983)
New Years Day was one of those songs that needled itself into the fabric of my early teens. U2 didn’t enjoy an abundance of radio play in Miami around the time of War’s release unless it was on the University of Miami’s radio station (WVUM), or by the occasional rock deejay on the far end of the FM dial. Nevertheless, the song, to put it simply, was everywhere. I’d hear it at open house parties whether we were invited or we crashed them. I’d hear it playing out of car speakers on a Friday night at the beach where we gathered after high school football games to drink malt liquor and hit on public school girls. Local bands whose members were average students at Catholic prep schools would perform it as part of their hip weekend repertoire.
I’d argue that most of us didn’t know that New Years Day was about the solidarity movement in Poland or the struggle to find love in a war-torn country. We just liked how the music made us feel (cool, edgy, chic). And why not? Just listen to that thick bass line; Adam Clayton fires into that signature bass strut as if he’s is saying “I want to be with you, be with you night and day.” Mullen’s drums are the perfect sidekick to the bass and opens the landscape for the Edge’s almost off-key riffs to scratch the only window into this universe. Bono’s singing is pitch perfect especially when he harmonizes with Edge that he “will be here again.” New Years Day also established a common theme that U2 carried throughout many of their songs: a call for unification (“torn in two, we can be one”), renewal, and redemption.
#5. PRIDE (In the Name of Love) – (The Unforgettable Fire, 1984)
Full disclosure: I love U2’s The Unforgettable Fire. In my teens, I listened to both sides of this record, again and again, until I memorized most of the music. It’s a big record for an Irish band. In my opinion, The Unforgettable Fire is the band’s first “American” album. It wasn’t so much that this album was musically influenced by American songs (that would come later with The Joshua Tree), but this was the record that aimed directly at the Red, White and Blue after years of composing from the other side of the pond.
Filled with tracks about conflicts that on some hand may be universal such as heroin addiction and racial discrimination, many songs in this album directly reference America by name, by imagery, by message. Pride (In the Name of Love) was U2’s first breakout song from the album. U2 takes on American racial, political and social history, with a beautiful ode to the Reverend Martin Luther King. Pride catapulted the band to higher ground. The guitars (yes, plural) are a highlight, rhythm and lead working in tandem but what sets this song apart is Larry Mullen’s evolution as a drummer, opening the cymbals and high hat, keeping the rhythm going, whipping drum fills using an eight count on the snare, before the grandiosity of the chorus. The song is epic especially when Bono sings about that “one man” washed up on an empty beach, one man betrayed with a kiss.” This shows U2’s early brilliance, bringing heartache to your doorstep, describing this one man, as every man, you, me. And then the song hits its peak with the story of April 4th 1968 in Memphis, and the assassination of Dr. King.
#4. WITH OR WITHOUT YOU (The Joshua Tree, 1987)
The Nobel Laureate Ernest Hemingway subscribed to the writing theory that less is more, evidenced by his terse writing style. In music, sometimes the simplest melodies pack the biggest punch. Such is the case with With or Without You, U2’s biggest commercial hit off The Joshua Tree record and the band’s first ever song to reach #1 on the Billboard Charts in the U.S. (May 16, 1987) (Interestingly, the only other U2 song to reach #1 was I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, #10 on this list). But the song’s deservedly high ranking on this list is not about commercial success.
With or Without You radiates. It contains some of the most beautiful lyrics ever penned by Bono. It is repetitive but not redundant, melodic but not monotonous; the bass line ushers you along with four simple chords. It is probably as perfect of a quiet song as they can compose on an album that is loud with politics, religion, and a little bit of righteousness.
Every time I listen to this song, I am reminded of a time when U2 could keep it simple (the good old days?) before blowing the doors open with a falsetto at the end of the song that is Bono laying his soul out, with his hands tied and his body bruised.
#3. I WILL FOLLOW (Boy, 1980)
Ladies and Gentlemen… let me tell you… I Will Follow!
The first time I heard I Will Follow was on the 1983 live album, Under a Blood Red Sky. Making first contact with a song through a live recording (or live version) bends the ears in such a way that you never can listen to the studio recording and think it’s entirely acceptable. I Will Follow had that effect on me. The live recording is the only version and renders its other self, the original self, lifeless and dull, which is unfair to say about this particular song. I Will Follow is blessing of a song. (and needless to say, the original version features a Glockenspiel, which earns it back a few points.)
Released originally on the Boy album in 1980 and somehow prophetically listed as the first song on Side A, it is U2’s introduction to the rock scene, their debut, and it is stunning.
Your eyes make a circle.
I see you when I go in there.
It is in that circle that we trip over the heavy bass that carries the load, the double-timed drum beat that races after you as you walk away/walk away, and the catchy and slightly rough guitar riff. I Will Follow is a signature U2 song, a sing-along favorite at concerts, and one of the finest alt- rock songs to jump start the messy glamorous decade that was the 1980s.
#2. ONE (Achtung Baby, 1991)
Is it getting better,
or do you feel the same,
will it make it easier on you now,
you got someone to blame.
Simply said, One contains the finest lyrics U2 has ever composed. The song is an idyllic fusion of beauty and melody. I can’t define it as a rock ballad or a rock song, it’s place is on a different plain, it’s glory is above definition, beyond categories.
Appearing on the terrific Achtung Baby album, nothing tops One as the album’s core. The song occupies the middle, where the heart is, the album’s heart, and in a way, the band’s heart. Its a beautiful poem about love, one love, one blood, one life you got to do what you should. And when Bono’s falsetto voice flies in at the end in harmony with the Edge’s guitar, you don’t want the song to end, but rather but to go on living.
#1. BAD (Live Version – Wide Awake in America, 1985)
Originally released on 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire, a live version of Bad was released on Wide Awake in America, a four-song EP gifted to fans a year later. And its my number one.
The sound of hands clapping, strangers hands, not a single person I know or will ever know and yet I feel like they do, like we have this in common, the hands filling the missing beat and Bono going on and on about Surrender and Dislocate, two verbs that Bono recites with such power they deserved to be capitalized.
If there is an emptiness in your life, at any moment, or in between places and spaces, this is the song that makes the glass half full; U2 at their highest, widest, throwing their arms around the world, embracing humanity, and saying, its okay baby. The song was about heroin addiction, but it could be about suicide, divorce, death, any tragedy, any horror, and when Bono sings, he is standing at the top of a mountain, his voice soaring above the clouds.
I’m Wide Awake.
I’m Not Sleeping.
Copyright © 2017 Long Play Miami
I have, as I grow older, few priorities that can compare to listening to live music. Sure, my wife and kids top that list. There’s also my home, my health, my business, my vinyl collection, a good day at the beach, a favorite episode of Seinfeld, and almost anything written by Philip Roth. But tagging just behind, within eyesight (or earshot), is live music.
I can say with certainty that this passion began to develop listening to live albums, and specifically (i.e., ad nauseam), Rush’s Exit Stage Left (1981), U2 Live at Red Rocks (1983), and Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense (1984).
But this all went next-level on March 27th 1984.
I was 13 years old meandering about at a younger cousin’s birthday party when my aunt and her oldest daughter approached me and said, “Hey, we have an extra ticket to the Duran Duran concert, wanna come?” Three hours later, I was sitting at the edge of my ticketed seat at the Hollywood Sportatorium when the lights dropped and in the dark, with the crowd noise rising, the band harmonized the lyrics, Please Please Tell Me Now (from Is There Something I Should Know). Then all at once, the lights returned, the drum kicked in with the bass and the guitar, and Simon LeBon, John Taylor and Andy Taylor sprinted to the edge of the stage. Bam! just like that, I was hooked.
In my lifetime, I’ve attended over 60 concerts. It’s not a record for the record books but that’s a lot of live music. So when my wife heckled me one night late last year that we didn’t attend any concerts in 2015 (an absolute rarity in my house), I set upon a mission to get to as many shows as physically possible this year.
The first couple of months of 2016 were silent. Then it started in March.
When New Order released its compilation album Substance in the summer of 1987, I took hold of it and played it on my Sony Walkman till my ears popped. The band’s up-beat, industrial sound knocked the 80s melancholy genre (e.g., The Smiths) on its ass. I saw New Order in concert in 1989 in Miami but was underwhelmed (the lead singer Bernard Sumner was way off his game; one rumor circling about was that he was on drugs, but then again it was the 80s in Miami so anyone physically and/or audibly distorted at any given moment was shrugged off with a “yeah, he’s just high on coke.”
New Order returned to the Fillmore in Miami Beach this past March. (My wife missed the show. It was Spring Break week and she had traveled with the kids to visit family in Bogota). I cut off work early, picked up my brother in law and we headed to the Fillmore, and found an open spot among the standing room general admission crowd.
New Order appeared a little past 9:30 PM silhouetted by a flood of technicolor. But the band, off the heels of a new album, started with songs that had most of us perplexed and antsy with anticipation for the songs we came to hear. About halfway through, lead singer Sumner sensed the fading enthusiasm:
I think this is the 1st American show that no one is smoking pot.
Not that I condone smoking pot. (ahem)
Then they played their hit song Bizarre Love Triangle. At which point I wrote a note in my iPhone: “Crowd erupts, lights up, and so begins the rest of the show.”
Perfect Kiss, Truth Faith, Temptation, the hits kept coming. The first set ended around 11 PM. A minute later, they returned and performed back-to-back tributes to their older sibling, Joy Division with Atmosphere and Love Will Tear Us Apart.
When it ended with their 1983 hit Blue Monday, I was numb with a nostalgia for my teenage years that I had long ago forgotten.
Sometimes fate is your best friend for an afternoon.
Four days after New Order (my wife still away), through the power of Facebook, I scored a one-day pass to the last day of this annual EDM festival in downtown Miami.
The very long, dizzying arc of that afternoon’s narrative can be summed up like this: big crowd, young crowd, elated crowd, sweaty crowd, dancing crowd, and repeat in a perpetual ebb and flow of drum beats, sun glasses, furry back packs, flags, leather, lace, skin, hair, colors, sounds, sun, moon, stars, and magic.
I bought a hat. I drank lots of Heinekens. And I rode the heart thumping and mind blowing experience that is Ultra all the way back from where I was.
(Bucket list item checked off).
In the 90s there were two rock bands: Pearl Jam and Nirvana . The path of one of those bands was cut short. Another one survived and endured. [update: In hindsight, actually there were three bands. My original post embarrassingly excluded the Red Hot Chili Peppers).
My wife and I caught Pearl Jam’s second show of their 2016 tour at the American Airlines Arena in April, and damn were they good. We didn’t know all the songs but the ones we knew we sang the shit out of them. Among the countless highlights were [a] during the encore when Eddie Vedder said the last time he saw Pink Floyd was in Miami (March 30th, 1994, to be exact), honored Roger Waters’ dedication and contributions to war veterans, and then, gifted the 18,000 in attendance with an inspiring rendition of Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb that had everyone feeling just like two balloons; and [b] the band roaring through Neil Young’s Rocking in the Free World, a banging show-closer when they were joined onstage by wheel chair rugby player Richard Shupan.
When the singing stopped, Vedder didn’t drop the mic but slammed it on the stage floor as if to say, Miami, Thank You, We Are Done!
One additional highlight: the closing minutes of Jeremy.
Around 2004, a taco shop opened on the corner of Biscayne Blvd and 64th St that sold among its menu items an outstanding fish taco made with beer-battered tilapia. I love fish tacos and it turns out that so does Iggy Pop. He was a regular there. But for a fleeting moment when I watched him drive away in his Cadillac, he and I never really crossed paths. Either too late, too early, I always missed him.
So when it was announced that he would be touring for his most recent album Post Pop Depression with a stop at the Fillmore in Miami Beach, missing him was not an option. I bought two tickets for a Tuesday night show.
We arrived at the venue with few expectations except that my wife was a little nervous. Iggy Pop shows from the 70s and 80s were once wild and bordering on violent, so said the internet.
They opened with the brilliant Lust for Life.
Here comes Johnny Yen again
With the liquor and drugs
And a flesh machine
He’s gonna do another strip tease
Watching Iggy Pop move is dazzling; jerking his aging body around the stage like a ragged doll being shaken by an invisible hand. But this is no puppet. In fact, he’s pulling all the strings and drawing the crowd towards him. You just can’t keep your eyes away.
When he was ready to greet the audience, he said:
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck…
The crowd chanted along.Talk about breaking the ice.
You’re a good-natured crowd.
If you want to bum rush the stage, I certainly will not object.
Through the next two hours the band performed a non stop string of new music and old classics including China Girl, Repo Man, The Passenger, and one of my personal favorites, Night Clubbing.
Past the halfway point of the show, he murmured, fuck it, I’m going in, and stepped down onto the floor. He weaved through the audience with a spotlight trailing him. We were in the mezzanine section and had to stand on our tippy toes to get a peak at the diminutive (5’6″) punk rocker dancing through the crowd.
Suddenly, to my surprise, he re-appeared and worked his way towards our section. Those times I missed him at the taco shop were long gone. Here he was. What did we do? – bum rushed the Godfather of Punk as he sang Fall In Love With Me.
That’s it for this long post. Part 2 will be written at a future, to be determined date, and will include, but not be limited to, The Cure.
update: The Psychedelic Furs, Louie CK, Bob Dylan.
Copyright © 2016 Long Play Miami
Music festivals conjure up visions of Woodstock and Monterrey Pop, tales of Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo, and vaguely lucid memories of Voodoo and Langerado (oh how I miss Langerado). Rhythm Foundation each year does its part to contribute to the music festival quilt of America with its own very distinctive, very intimate Heineken TransAtlantic Music Festival. Combing the world for innovative musicians, they have for years fashioned a program that meshes with Miami’s diverse music appetite. This year marks the 13th year for TransAtlantic, a two-day affair set for this Friday and Saturday at the North Beach Bandshell on 73rd and Collins Ave. I’ve been attending this festival for years, since before my kids were born (they are 9 and 7 now) and always come away with good memories. Past performers include Aterciopelados, Sidestepper, Jorge Drexler, Seu Jorge, Amadou and Mariam, and Zero 7.
Here’s a preview of this year’s intriguing lineup.
Performing on Friday April 10th:
In this age of fusion, sampling and copycat acts, it is a real pleasure when purity shines through. Puerto Candelaria at its core is a Cumbia band from Medellin, Colombia, and they celebrate their ancestral roots with a dose of theatric, surreal flair that reminds one of the magical realism found in a Garcia Marquez passage.
This New York instrumental band first performed at TransAtlantic in 2009, and they don’t travel light. Eleven members, lots of horns and percussions. Their music sounds like extended reflections on retro cop show theme songs. No wonder they have been described as a “70s Psychedelic” band. I like the 70s. I like psychedelic. And I grew up on Starsky & Hutch so I’m looking forward to hearing them blast away on Friday night.
On tap for Saturday April 11th:
French born. Chilean roots. The daughter of exiles from the Pinochet regime, Ms. Tijoux embodies the gulf between the developed and the developing world with a hip hop bravado that pops like Missy Elliott and crackles like Lauryn Hill. Her “1977” track (the year she was born) was featured in a Breaking Bad episode. (Remember the Mike & Jesse day-long money pick up sequence?) She made NPR’s 2012 list of Best Latin Alternative Music of the Year in 2012 (“Las Cosas Por Su Nombre”) and has continued to be featured there. She is a star and she’ll be tearing it down on Saturday night.
Brother and sister duos worth there place are rare in music. The Carpenters? Pass. The White Stripes? You had us fooled for a while. Wild Belle is a brother-sister music act from Chicago that draws from reggae and paisley pop. Brother Eliot is the instrumentalist (he usually bounces between the piano and the saxophone) while sister Natalie delivers vocals with a subdued Bond girl quality to her. Their music is shag carpet cool.
Finally, each night will also feature a local band: MY DEER on Friday night and BLUE JAY on Saturday. Both are newcomers to the local indie scene. This is another fine thing Rhythm Foundation does well. No matter where the transatlantic flights take them, they never forget their roots.
For more info, visit this link.