Saturday, October 13, 2018

SYNESTHESIA'S SESSION NOTES FOR OCTOBER 2018: T.P.O.H. POST-SCRIPT-HERE'S THE STORY

FROM THE DJ'S STUDIO DESK:
At this moment, as I write, The Pursuit Of Happiness is performing live in Canada at a promotional event in conjunction with the recent 30th anniversary re-release of their debut album "Love Junk" (re-released September 21, 2018). 

Of course, I would love nothing more than to be present at said event as I have never once seen the band perform in concert...and truth be told, since the band is no longer signed to any American record labels, and have not been for nearly 25 years, the likelihood of them touring the United States is sadly unrealistic. Yet, while I cheer the band onwards from very afar, I am still caught up within a certain powerful afterglow...and to think, it all began with a blogpost from this site.

If you are regular visitors to this site, you may recall that in August, I wrote and published a tribute to The Pursuit Of Happiness, partially because "Love Junk" was reaching its milestone and partially because it had been something that had existed in my head for more years than I am able to fully reveal to you and that time truly felt to be, at long last, the right time.

Additionally, I wished to compose something in tribute to this band that actually happened while all of the members were...frankly...living. Not that any of the members happen to be of an elderly age (they aren't) but it always feels like tributes are written once someone passes away--postings of the very type and style that I have written on Synesthesia over the years. I just did not wish for it to be the same way for this band because shouldn't we offer our words of praise and love while we are all still here among the living? How often do we ever hear any sort of praise in our day to day lives anyway, for that matter. With regards to The Pursuit Of  Happiness, it was import to me to pay tribute right here and right now and all I could hope for is that the band members would see it and feel the appreciation and love contained in the words.

I have no idea whatsoever of the reach that posting would ultimately have.

Now I have to preface the remainder of this particular posting by announcing to you that I am indeed Facebook friends with the members of The Pursuit Of Happiness. This does not mean that I am chatting with them with any degree of regularity, aside from vocalist Renee Suchy, who has been exceedingly kind, generous and open with her friendship towards me and I am as grateful as I am astonished (she would probably be laughing her head off right now as any words of me being starstruck tend to have her sending me responses like "You're killing me!"). Not at all.

Yes, I have sent very brief messages to both guitarist Kris Abbott and even bandleader/singer/songwriter/guitarist Moe Berg  here and there, to which each of them have been kind in their responses but as I do not wish to intrude, I leave them alone. When I completed my tribute posting, I did have a direct avenue to the band via Facebook so to both Kris Abbott and Renee  Suchy, I sent them the piece and that was that. Again, all I hoped for was a positive response from the band. What occurred was more than I could have ever wished for.

First of all, my main wishes were granted as both Abbott and Suchy responded affectionately to the posting. Abbott then informed me that she would send it to the band's Media Coordinator and before I knew it, the piece was shared on the official T.P.O.H. Facebook page as well as the band's 'official Twitter account.

Soon, that one posting became the most read/clicked posting that I have ever written, as it has received well over 2500 clicks and counting, far outpacing tributes I wrote for both Prince and Tom Petty when each of them passed away. To provide you some context, the things that I write typically do not click much further then somewhere between 50-100, sometimes a little more or less. My space in the Internet ocean is quite tiny and I never expect more than a very small sense of being noticed and that is just fine with me.  But yes, I was screaming for joy on the inside as I regarded the numbers climbing higher and higher for this posting about this band. But this was not about me. This achievement spoke directly and loudly about the powerful love that remains for The Pursuit Of Happiness and how it has endured for these past 30 years.

If it had ended there, I would have been more than satisfied and happy. But...yet, it kept going...

One of the responses I received arrived from the management of Mr. Moe Berg himself and with that response arrived an opportunity:

"How would you like to interview Moe?"

What?!

The answer to that question was an obvious one and yet, I was absolutely terrified as I am not a professional interviewer by any means and the interviews that I have conducted upon my Savage Radio program  which broadcasts upon WVMO 98.7 FM, have been with a variety of wonderful artists and musicians local to Madison, WI, some of whom I am now very friendly with, so any sense of pressure or nervousness was considerably muted.

The possibility of interviewing Moe Berg was of an entirely different league and I was terribly unsure if I was really up to this challenge. But...really...to have the chance to speak with a musical hero, why would I ever pass that up if it was a real possibility?

I will spare you the minutia of all of the back and forths between myself, Berg's management and the top brass of WVMO as we all e-mailed details, questions, answers and so on. But it was a process that lasted for several weeks before finalizing the day, date and time that Moe Berg would call me in Monona, WI from Toronto, Canada and we would have an interview that I could record and then, program into a future episode of Savage Radio. I absolutely wanted to ensure that whatever time spent was worthwhile for Mr. Berg and hopefully our conversation would be fun and informative to listen to. I wanted to keep any fan worship at considerable bay because there was work to be done and I also wished to tackle the conversation with some sense of intelligence and depth.

Simply stated, I needed to "Cameron Crowe" this thing.

Monday, September 24, 2018 8:30 p.m.

That was the day, date and time agreed to by all parties for the interview. I arrived at WVMO by 8:00 p.m. to settle myself and make sure all of the technological aspects were in place and ready. And I have to admit to you that by this point, I was absolutely terrified!

I mean --I was as prepared as I would ever be by this stage. In all of my previous interviews, I never had any prepared questions ready as I just wanted the conversations to flow naturally. For this conversation with Moe Berg, and especially as I would have him on the telephone and unable to read any facial expressions, I knew that I would have to be prepared so as to not waste time. So, I wrote out nearly two pages worth of questions to work almost as a script but I didn't wish to sound canned or stilted.  My nerves had already been getting to me, so much so that there were moments when I kind of wished that the interview would fall through so I wouldn't have to do it. And what that means is this:  I didn't want to do it, screw it up and make a fool out of myself as well as the station just by me being associated with them.

I wondered if Terry Gross ever felt like this.

So, as I sat in the quiet WVMO studio, I tried to calm myself and think mostly about the messages I had received from both Kris Abbott and Renee Suchy, each of whom expressed to me how everything would work out just fine, Moe Berg being a lovely man and that I should just go for it and have a good time with it.

By around 8:33 p.m., the light on the studio phone lit up and I saw the word "Toronto" on the display screen. I took a deep breath, picked up the receiver and said, "WVMO..." And then, it happened...

"Is this Scott? Hi. It's Moe Berg."

After a few minor preliminary words, the interview began and over the course of 51 minutes, I asked and I was graced with answers, all delivered via Moe Berg's loquacious storytelling which just held me completely captivated. There was no small talk between us and once the interview was completed, no more words other than a "Good night" were said. Which was fine because I really just needed to exhale!

I did it! I really did it and made it through the interview! This part of the job had been completed and I had all of the raw material needed to try and make a show happen. And even still, there was more work to be performed.

After making several copies of the interview, to ensure that I had additional versions should something unfortunate happen to one of them (yes, I was that paranoid), I listened to the entire conversation twice--the first time to make myself believe that it did really happen and the second time, to try and find decent spots where I could insert music, times where I could speak live on air, as well as points where I could place our station breaks. That was when I realized that I would need perhaps an additional 30 minutes of air time to really make the proceedings flow as best as possible--which meant that I needed to get permission from the top WVMO brass to extend Savage Radio from 60 to 90 minutes, a request which was unquestionably the easiest piece of this puzzle to achieve.

On Wednesday, September 26th, Savage Radio went on the air with this event that was unprecedented for me and my show, and despite a couple of hiccups, noticeable only to myself, the show aired without any significant hitches. As with that initial blogpost, my desires for this specific episode were really simple:

I wished that Moe Berg had been satisfied with my questions and the time spent on the phone answering them for I knew that he was performing a task that he was never required to do whatsoever. He was enormously gracious with his time and energy and I hoped he knew how deeply appreciative I was and remain for his generosity. Secondly, I hoped the show would be a good experience for anyone who took time out of their lives to choose to listen.

Once the show ended, I uploaded it to Soundcloud, shared it on my personal pages, and with Kris Abbot and Renee Suchy and left it at that.

And again, everything continued...

First, I was just humbled to have received enormously kind words from Abbot and Suchy, already exceedingly more than I could have wished for. The show was then soon heard and re-shared by The Pursuit Of Happiness' media team upon the band's official Facebook and Twitter pages, and what responses I have seen have been positive, again confirming the unbreakable hold this band has maintained over listeners and fans during these 30 years, as well as the excitement over the "Love Junk" re-release. 

Again, all I can really say after recounting this activity to all of you is that I hope that any of you out there who have not ever  been familiar with The Pursuit Of Happiness, to please make the effort to reach out and discover this incredible band and really take a dive into a musical vision that has remained so very singular as I am unable to think of any bands that have ever really sounded quite like them. If there was anything that I did, from the blogpost to the interview, that helped in giving this band and the "Love Junk" re-release some additional and much deserved attention, then I am thankful.

And once you do find it, without question......PLAY LOUD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, September 29, 2018

SAVAGE RADIO PLAYLISTS SEPTEMBER 2018: WVMO 98.7 FM-THE VOICE OF MONONA

SAVAGE RADIO EPISODE #141-SEPTEMBER 5, 2018
1. "A Day Without Me" performed by U2
2. "Siva" performed by The Smashing Pumpkins
3. "I'll Stick Around" performed by Foo Fighters
4. "Where Is My Mind" performed by Pixies
5. "Go Ahead In The Rain" performed by A Tribe Called Quest
6. "Music For My Mother" performed by Funkadelic
7. "Private Life" performed by Pretenders
8. "Baby's Coming Back" performed by Jellyfish
9. "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" performed by Joe Jackson
10."Carry On Til Tomorrow" performed by Badfinger

SAVAGE RADIO EPISODE #142: "SAVAGE VINYL EDITION"-SEPTEMBER 12, 2018
1. "Rock Love" performed by Utopia
2. "Other Arms" performed by Robert Plant
3. "I Got You" performed by Split Enz
4. "Good Girls Don't" performed by The Knack
5. "When I Write The Book" performed by Rockpile
6. "Industrial Disease" performed by Dire Straits
7. "Planet Earth" performed by Duran Duran
8. "Space Age Love Song" performed by A Flock Of Seagulls
9. "Only You And Me" performed by Planet P. Project
10."Flesh Wound" performed by Robert Palmer
11."When Am I Going To Make A Living" performed by Sade
12."All Over The World" performed by Electric Light Orchestra

SAVAGE RADIO EPISODE #143
"SAVAGE VINYL EDITION SIDE TWO"
SEPTEMBER 19, 2018

1. "On The Air" performed by Peter Gabriel
2. "Head Over Heels" performed by The Go-Go's
3. "Postcards From Paradise" performed by Flesh For Lulu
4. "Woman On A Train" performed by The Fixx
5. "Secrets" performed by Van Halen
6. "I Need You Tonight" performed by Peter Wolf
7. "(I Just) Died In Your Arms" performed by Cutting Crew
8. "Victim Of Love" performed by The Cars
9. "You Matter To Me" performed by Peter Criss
10."Are You Leading Me On?" performed by General Public
11."You Might Be" performed by Nik Kershaw
12."Too Daze Gone" performed by Billy Squier

SAVAGE RADIO EPISODE #144
"AN EVENING WITH MOE BERG OF THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS"
SEPTEMBER 26, 2018

1. "Down On Him"
2. "Master" (live)
3. "Let's Do This" performed by Todd Rundgren with Moe Berg
4. "I'm An Adult Now" (1986 Original Demo)
5. "Let My People Go" (The Todd Rundgren Sessions)

NOW PLAYING IN THE WSPC JUKEBOX SEPTEMBER 2018

"BROTHERS"
THE BLACK KEYS
Released May 18, 2010
"BLIND FAITH"
BLIND FAITH
Released August 1969
"SORRY TO BOTHER YOU"
THE COUP
Released October 30, 2012
"OGILALA"
WILLIAM PATRICK CORGAN
Released October 13, 2017
"SCHOOLBOYS IN DISGRACE"
THE KINKS
Released November 17, 1975
"INDIGO"
WILD NOTHING
Released August 30, 2018
NEW 2018 MUSIC:  For all of the people who decry the music of the 1980's (and believe me, even having lived through that decade, experiencing much of the music as a teenager, I cannot deny anyone's declarations), I still wish to emphasize that although that decade has more than enough that truly needs to be forgotten, there was still an exceeding amount of material being created that in hindsight has only increased in power due to its overall innovative and wholly original qualities.

Wild Nothing, the musical alias of Jack Tatum, who writes, produces and performs nearly all of the instrumentation, feels to be a devotee of that particular decade, especially through the artists that arrived from England via New Wave and the style of romantic synth pop that would not feel out of place in a John Hughes film.  With this fourth full length release "Indigo," Wild Nothing continues the dream party with a collection of instantly ear catching songs that have magically found a certain musical soundscape that feels like all of the hazy, woozy, half-remembered songs from the long forgotten high school dances rushing back into the present and all ready to break your hearts again.

It is truly an amazing feat how Tatum inexplicably manages to craft and therefore, conjure that exact sound, tenor and feeling of  this completely idiosyncratic musical period, yet he accomplishes this feat over and again through Indigo" as the melodies, chords and beats suggest and recall The Thompson Twins, Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark, early Wang Chung, and some aspects of Kate Bush and Prefab Srpout's 1980's work,  all the while signifying something that is indeed new.

The album's 11 tracks, which include the terrific "Letting Go," "Partners In Motion" and "Canyon On Fire" plus "Wheel Of Misfortune," "Shallow Water" "The Closest Thing To Living" the brief instrumental "Dollhouse" all flow and intoxicate luxuriously while listening but unfortunately the songs tend to float away into the ether or like a fading dream. In essence, it feels as if Jack Tatum definitely possesses the skills and is really on the brink of breaking through into something wonderful because all of the elements are in place.

Once Tatum solidifies his songwriting even further, Wild Nothing will be able to create works for the ages. But for now, a sizable talent merged with copious whiffs of melancholic nostalgia (almost) carries the day. 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR: "EGYPT STATION" PAUL McCARTNEY

"EGYPT STATION"
PAUL McCARTNEY

All music and lyrics by Paul McCartney except 
"Fuh You," music and lyrics by Paul McCartney and Ryan Tedder

Produced by Greg Kurstin with Paul McCartney except
"Fuh You" Produced by Paul McCartney and Ryan Tedder

Released September 7, 2018

"...I found my way upstairs and had a smoke/somebody spoke and I went into a dream..."
"A Day In The Life"
music and lyrics by John Lennon and Paul McCartney

I am amazed, and there is absolutely, positively, undeniably no amount of "maybe" about it.

As of this time of writing in the year 2018, Paul McCartney is 76 years old. Of course, this would be the typical point where articles and postings of this sort would speak to the man's level of energy, which still feels to be unstoppable, the adage of the man "not showing any signs of slowing down" being bandied about over and again. Yes indeed, his ability to continuously perform three hour plus concerts over worldwide tours year after year, essentially making him the world's greatest and most beloved Pied Piper, cannot be disputed. But, I would like to delve a tad deeper as I regard this man, this peerless artist, one of the figures that forever sits within the center of my musical heart of hearts as I wonder not about his energy and stamina but his steadfast adherence to his creative spirit.

Of the musical figures who truly has NOTHING left to prove to anyone, I cannot help but to wonder just what is it inside of Paul McCartney that gives him the impetus to get out of bed and try writing even one more song. This is not to suggest that he cease songwriting and recording by any means. I just wonder what drives him, what speaks to him, what calls to him to get pen to paper again, to return to that studio, to keep picking up those instruments to do it all over again and share it with the world when he does not have to do so whatsoever.

As I continue to ruminate, please allow me to excitedly point you towards McCartney's latest studio effort, "Egypt Station," his 17th solo release and his first in five years since the technicolor wonderland that was the stunning album entitled "New" (released October 14, 2013).

With "Egypt Station," it feels as if McCartney has returned to the concept album format in as grandly high style and expertise as he has ever approached the genre. While the album contains no plot or storyline, it is indeed evocative of a journey, physical, psychological and emotional, as we are passengers together as listeners and as characters while we hear the inner thoughts of perhaps one or several protagonists all on their respective ways to who knows where, all arriving at the titular Egypt Station to begin their voyages.

In fact, after several listens, the album made me think that it is perhaps a full extension of one of the songs from "New," entitled "On My Way To Work," itself the inner monologue of a gentlemen performing precisely what the song's title describes. And in doing so, "Egypt Station" is a full album of morning commute daydreams, memories, regrets, sorrows, lusty imaginings, words of affirmation and stimulation, and at its most striking, a political allegory designed to mirror our fractured political landscape both in Britain and the U.S. Once the journey has been completed by album's end, Paul McCartney has delivered a pristine and beautifully realized kaleidoscope of impressions, melodies and moods, completely showcasing once again exactly why he remains a world treasure.

After a few opening moments of sounds and music, perfectly evoking the populated locale of the album's title, McCartney, ever the eternal optimist uncharacteristically begins the album with "I Don't Know," a song of rare melancholy, existential confusion, and even painful defeat, leaving our narrator asking and answering the following question of himself over and again:

."What am I doing wrong? I don't know. What is the matter with me?"

McCartney's piano is mournful, his drums soulfully drag their collective feet while  his peerless bass playing slowly glides with palpable misery. It is the sound of early morning soul sickness, the kind that refuses to subside, even when the task of going to work and facing a new day is unavoidable. "I Don't Know" may feel like an unorthodox way to start a new album and to a degree, and perhaps it is. Yet, it is an impeccable song, one that illustrates Paul McCartney's superior gift of being able to match lyrics to music to mood, capturing that inexplicable element that makes the song easily identifiable to absolutely anyone who chooses to listen.

From here, "Egypt Station" provides aural windows into the worlds of our fellow travelers. Carnal desires and fantasies (the robust stomper "Come On To Me," the surprisingly randy "Fuh You," the garage basher "Caesar Rock"--pronounced "She's a rock!"), tales of romantic salvation, endurance and dissolution (the pensive "Happy With You," the steamy short story "Back In Brazil," the gently elegiac "Confidante"), activist anthems (the percussive "People Want Peace") and songs of solidarity ("Hand In Hand," "Who Cares").

On occasion, it feels as if McCartney himself is riding the train right alongside us as he seems to step into the album's narrative to offer counsel and guidance on two especially lovely songs in particular.

For me, the meditative "Do It Now" was particularly stirring. With the blissful doubling of piano and harpsichord, the song, via McCartney's voice, feels almost as if it is not solely him singing to the characters on the album and to us listening at home, or in our cars or in headphones. It feels like the voice of inspiration speaking gently to every single one of us.

"Do it now, do it now
While the vision is clear
Do it now
While the feeling is here
If you leave it too late
It could all disappear
Do it now
While your vision is clear"

"Dominoes," takes the concept of the titular objects falling over and apart and extends and even flips them into a folkish utopian ballad, complete with elegant call and response vocals plus some truly endearing McCartney mouth percussion presented as if he is digging his own campfire vibe.

"In time we'll know, it's all a show
It's been a blast
As time goes by, we'll laugh and cry
It's in the past...

...From day to day, we'll fight and play
For what we need
We'll soon forget we ever met
And disagreed

We can start to begin (to begin)
Living in the world we're in (world we're in)
This is it (this is it), here and now (here and now)
We can find our way somehow 

And lines of dominoes are falling
Into place, ignoring everything in their way
And all the telephones are calling
Constantly, imploring us to come out and play"

Deceptively simple as the poignancy, philosophy and profundity of the fleeting nature of time itself when related to all of our grievances, either personal, social or inter-political. In his completely personable way, never preachy or through any sense of proselytizing, and just as we evidenced with The Beatles' "We Can Work It Out," McCartney implores us once again to take those mere moments and think about how we can really leap over our intractable challenges and differences to not just create a better world, but a higher plane of existence.

By this point, Paul McCartney's "Egypt Station" has revealed itself to existing as being of the same high caliber as anything he has released within the past 20 years, including some of his finest material as found upon "Driving Rain" (released November 12, 2001), "Chaos And Creation In The Backyard" (released September 12, 2005),  "Memory Almost Full" (released June 4, 2007) and especially, the extraordinary experimentation on "Electric Arguments" (released November 24, 2008) as credited to The Fireman, a collaborative project between McCartney and music producer Youth. That being said, there is perhaps the final third of the album remaining and it is here where McCartney tops himself spectacularly, defiantly showcasing that his wellspring of ideas and superior gifts have no signs whatsoever of drying up anytime soon.

"Despite Repeated Warnings" is a seven minute tour-de-force. Part musical suite, part rock opera and entirely a metaphorical "state of the nation" call to arms against the likes of a certain reality television show President, without ever mentioning him by name. Beginning as a mournful dirge of doom with the repeated worries of "What can we do?," McCartney gives us the image of a ship being led by a madhouse Captain towards certain and irrevocable doom regardless of any aspects of commonsense, decency, compassion, dignity or empathy.

The pace and pulse of the song quickens once we reach its second movement where we meet the ship's engineer, who misses his wife and daughter Janet and knows something is dangerously amiss with the Captain and just may end up being the spark to alight the flame of resistance and ultimate rescue, which arrives in the song's triumphant third movement and the rallying cries of "YES!! WE CAN DO IT!!! YEAH!! WE CAN DO IT NOW!!" as the Engineer and passengers rise up, confront the Captain and tie him up with ropes, thus saving themselves from destruction. And as the song's moral states:

"If life would work out the way you plan it
That'd be so fine for the wife and Janet
Sometimes you might have to battle through it
And that's the way you learn how you've got to do it...

...he should have listened to 
The will of the people
The will of the people
The will of the people"

A song that certainly would and even should remind you of classics like "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" and "Live And Let  Die," "Despite Repeated Warnings," is certainly no mere throwback but a striking selection of its own right. Working exclusively as a work of much needed cheerleading in our cultural time of despair and disillusionment, the song beautifully serves as a finale of superior uplift to an album which began in a state of inner turmoil. Continuing the travelogue themes contained within the title, the song serves as the arrival point, a place where we leave the station and then, we are all on our own as we decide just how to proceed next, yet hopefully with McCartney's encouraging words echoing powerfully, we can possibly unify and embark into our new landscapes together in full solidarity. 

And still...there is even more!

Much like the head spinning "Cosmically Conscious" from "Off The Ground" (released February 2, 1993), the meditative avant garde dreamworld of "I've Only Got Two Hands" from "Chaos And Creation In The Backyard," the joyously dissonant "Nod Your Head" from "Memory Almost Full," McCartney once again (and in true Beatle fashion) decides to give us a false ending..therefore a coda to the album after the finale. And for "Egypt Station," he outdoes himself again with "Hunt You Down/Naked/C-Link," another nearly seven minute suite that at first gets you on your feet, slows to a bluesy slow drag and glides into its finish with an instrumental starring McCartney's glorious David Gilmour styled guitar solo merged with accompanying orchestra, channeling what sounds like the end of a long day now blissfully concluded.

I know that for some, Paul McCartney's best days are either behind him or that he will never match what he created with The Beatles ad for those people, there will be nothing I can write or say to convince them otherwise, as McCartney is not simply competing against himself but he is competing against people's memories and in that level of battle, anything new will always lose. Yet, for McCartney himself, from the conclusion of The Beatles, he continued placing one musical footstep in front of the other without being intimidated by his own legacy with The Beatles and in doing so, he has amassed a staggering body of work, most especially what he has been releasing in his later years.

Paul McCartney's "Egypt Station" is indeed a remarkable work filled with vibrancy, urgency, relevancy and just downright enjoyable energy that only serves to continue to solidify this artist as one of the finest we have ever been graced with. What a pleasure and privilege to have had McCartney alongside us for approaching 60 years and still, and as previously stated, with absolutely nothing in the world left to prove to absolutely anyone anywhere, he hunkers down and creates once more, emerging with this new album that is as full of spirit as anything you would ever expect from him.

There is not one lazy note or lyric. There is not one uninspired moment or song. And yes, while his voice has lowered its register a taste due to aging, its agility and strength remains as infectious and as expressive as ever. His instrumental prowess also remains firmly on point. While he occasionally employs the usage of his crack touring band--formulated in 2001 and includes guitarists Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. and keyboardist Paul "Wix" Wickens--once again, the bulk of the album finds McCartney playing essentially all of the instruments himself,  richly presenting that eternal "kid-in-a-candy-store" emotion which translates powerfully throughout the entire album.

And you know, perhaps the reason why Paul McCartney continues to create is the simplest reason of all: it is just plain fun and it is just plain magical. Every single time that I have ever listened to Paul McCartney, either with The Beatles, or with Wings or on his own, what I hear the absolute most is the sheer, exquisite, unabashed joy and love of creation as each album represents a musical painting that we are all eagerly invited to lose ourselves inside of.

Just the joy and love of creation. Yes...that has to be it. And without question, that joy and love is all you need.

Friday, September 14, 2018

TODD RUNDGREN "AN UNPREDICTABLE EVENING WITH TODD RUNDGREN" LIVE AT THE ORPHEUM THEATER, MADISON WI. SEPTEMBER 11, 2018

TODD RUNDGREN
"AN UNPREDICTABLE EVENING WITH TODD RUNDGREN"

MUSICIANS:
Todd Rundgren: Vocals, Guitar
with
Jesse Gress: Guitar, Vocals
Greg Hawkes: Keyboards, Vocals
Prairie Prince: Drums, Percussion
Kasim Sulton: Bass Guitar, Vocals

LIVE
ORPHEUM THEATER
MADISON, WI
SEPTEMBER 11, 2018

I shook Todd Rundgren's hand. Yes I did.

And while this particular moment was a long wished for occurrence, it was decidedly not one where the skies opened up and rainbow colored shooting stars blasted through the atmosphere as I had finally made contact with the figure who exists as one crucial, eternal third of my personal musical "Holy Trinity" (with The Beatles and Prince taking up the other equally crucial two thirds)--and even despite the fact that this occurrence happened twice on this particular night. No, dear readers and listeners, the handshakes were momentary, one of which arrived with a direct smile and that, as they say, was that. And that, as I say, was all I could have asked for.

For those of you out there who know me and know how much Todd Rundgren has meant and still means to me, I wish for you to not feel any sadness towards me concerning the brevity of this moment. Yes, I had over 30 years of things that I wished to say to this man but this night was absolutely not the time to say any of them. Believe me, the handshake was enough and considering Rundgren's, reportedly at times, apprehensiveness towards fans--especially, I would assume after traveling and performing--I was glad that I didn't annoy him. In fact, it all felt fitting to the nature of the evening itself, one where legend and down-to-Earth human being aligned in a performance that was a loose as a jam session yet somehow, someway encapsulated everything that exists within the iconic musical artistry and vision of Todd Rundgren.

On this evening, with this summer's demonic humidity threatening to make it unwelcome return, I was beyond thrilled to be able to take in Todd Rundgren's return to Madison, WI in about 10 years, when I saw him previously as he embarked upon his rock and roll guitar centric "Arena" tour at the Barrymore Theater. In fact, this night would mark my fourth time seeing Rundgren perform live, the  very first time being the rhythm and blues revue themed "Nearly Human" tour in the summer of 1989 at Chicago's Park West, the second being the Hawaiian themed "With A Twist" tour at the Barrymore Theater in 1998 and finally, the aforementioned "Arena" performance.

This time, I would be witnessing "An Unpredictable Evening With Todd Rundgren," a tour he occasionally undertakes during which he and his band have rehearsed somewhere between 50-60 songs yet on the evening of the performance itself, whichever of those songs that Rundgren is feeling in any given moment will be the one the band performs. It is a high-wire act to say the least, as echoed by longtime Rundgren guitarist Jesse Gress by the tour bus afterwards, where he described this series of shows as being especially "nerve wracking" due to the randomness of the songs and the intense recall and agility that must be displayed in order to perform them at any given moment.

Indeed. And even so, it all looked so easy...

The show began promptly around 8 p.m. and for the duration of two full hours, Todd Rundgren and his stellar band--which included the aforementioned and superlative Jesse Gress, longtime Rundgren associate and drummer Prairie Prince (The Tubes, session drummer extraordinaire, including XTC), The Cars' keyboardist Greg Hawkes (!) and 40 year plus Rundgren veteran and Utopia bandmate bassist/singer Kasim Sulton--performed 25 songs, which ran the gamut from Rundgren's own catalog, featuring selections that were either solo, with Utopia and even Nazz's "Open My Eyes" to a smattering of surprising and often hysterical cover songs.

With only the opening song, a cover of Cheap Trick's "Hello There," existing as the tour mainstay, it was indeed off to the races, as the show, as promised was wholly unpredictable and, as Rundgren playfully warned the audience, the band would not take requests and if songs were shouted out, that is a guarantee that they wold not be played! Point taken, sir!

The evening was indeed a relaxed affair, compared with Rundgren tours I have seen in the past, and what I would imagine would have been the polar opposite of this spring's Utopia reunion tour, itself an intense undertaking due to the musicality, visual components and the surprise, last minute addition of keyboardist/singer Gil Assayas, who by all accounts astoundingly filled in the shoes of Utopia veterans Roger Powell and Ralph Shuckett, both of whom were unable to tour due to individual health reasons. In fact, before the show, a woman I was sitting next to, and who had never seen Rundgren perform live  before asked me, "Is he going to come out in his pajamas or something?" to which I answered, "He might!"
    photo courtesy of Sue Barry

It was not that far off of a description as Rundgren took to the stage wearing what looked to be a pullover sweatshirt, a relaxed pair of pants and gym shoes, complete with dark glasses. No costume changes whatsoever on this evening as he took to his perch upon a stool, seated next to a table adorned with one martini and one large bottle of water on one side and his guitar upon the other. 

Instantly, after opening with Cheap Trick and then barreling ahead into the Utopia anti-war/Greek mythology themed power pop glory of "Lysistrata," I was struck by the fullness and dexterity of Rundgren's peerless vocals and boundless energy. 

Yes, this man is 70 years old and still sounds as youthful, spry and as strong as ever--something that I did indeed house some inner curiosities about as he did experience some vocal trouble on a few dates of the Utopia tour this spring. In all reality, how much longer can a voice as formidable as his contain that power?

For the entire show, Rundgren beat away any doubts and fears I may have had over and over and over again as he absolutely and flawlessly soared through every song, style and genre, be it his own heart-aching ballads like "I Don't Want To Tie You Down," a glorious "Cliche," "Can We Still Be Friends?" (which I had never heard him perform live before) and the high flying heights of Utopia's "There Goes My Inspiration" all the way to hard rocking covers of The Call's "The Walls Came Down," Weezer's "Hash Pipe," and The Cars' "Good Times Roll," most certainly, a nod to the presence of Mr. Hawkes and their time together in the short lived The New Cars.
Throughout, Rundgren seemed to be in high spirits, telling stories, cracking off color jokes and even mocking the heart-on-sleeve tenderness of his own ballads, at one point blowing his nose directly into the microphone creating a seismic HONK, followed by the declaration, "Oh...it's SO SAAAAD!!!" which he cracked through mock tears to the enormous laughter echoing through the Orpheum. 

And it was that deceptive looseness that made the evening such a supremely engaging and downright fun event. Rundgren proclaimed that the band utilized "elaborate hand signals" (of which there were none) to signal which song would be arriving next. Choice and absolutely ridiculous covers from Little Feat's "Don't Bogart That Joint" to The Captain and Tenille's version of "Muskrat Love" inspired  a level of comical storytelling and asides worthy of any first rate stand-up comedian. At yet, it was his cover of Clarence Carter's version of "Patches" that nearly brought the house, and almost Rundgren himself, down as the memories of the song's endless tales of woe and the infectious laughter that ensued reverberated and increased the overall joyousness contained.

 
Jesse Gress (left) Kasim Sulton & Greg Hawkes (right)
photos courtesy of Sue Barry

For all of the hilarity, which was often, and the overall relaxed nature, please do not allow these qualities to suggest any sense of musical sloppiness. On the contrary, what this "Unpredictable Evening" proved was the extreme dexterity and flexibility of Todd Rundgren and the entire band to shape shift at a moment's notice and perform the song, whatever it was and whatever genre it happened to be, with expert precision. It was a testament to all five WORLD CLASS musicians of how undeniably and uniformly skilled they are. 

Kasim Sulton in particular, and also perched upon his stool, showcased exactly why he has been a crucial piece of the Todd Rundgren universe for four decades and running as his high, clear vocals remain as pristine as they did in the 1970's and his bass playing has only continued to grow more expressive and fluid with each passing year.

photo courtesy of Sue Barry

Additionally, I kept close eyes upon drummer Prairie Prince, a percussionist of peerless proficiency and one whom I have long admired, who somehow made his drum kit adaptable to all manner of styles and genres, supplying the exact correct touch to every single selection with effortless finesse and aplomb. It was truly a privilege to watch him in action!

And of course, I have to express the joy I felt being able to be in such close proximity to keyboardist Greg Hawkes, whose work has existed as part of my musical vocabulary ever since the age of 9 when The Cars' debut album was first released. To regard him and hear his musical voice alongside Rundgren's was priceless, to say the least.

And then, there was the man himself, Mr. Todd Rundgren, again demonstrating exactly why he is that eternal wizard, that true star, the eternal individualist, and the white knight of musical artistry, as he just glowed profoundly throughout this performance with his standout guitar chops (he even busted a string during a volcanic "Black And White") and muscular vocals which refused to quiver and falter at any point. 

Whether taking on and re-contextualizing Frank Zappa's "Carmarillo Brillo" to reflect our current terrifying political era, delivering the jubilant Scottish brogue of The Proclaimers "I Would Walk (500 Miles)," to the ludicrous innuendo of Melanie's "Brand New Key," the show stopping standard of Tony Bennett's "Are You Havin' Any Fun," the one-hit psychedelic wonder of Strawberry Alarm Clock's "Incense And Peppermints" and to of all things, Mary Martin's "I Won't Grow Up" from the stage version of "Peter Pan," a tune which ultimately came off as a defiant mission statement describing his entire career, Todd Rundgren was simultaneously puckishly playful and astoundingly brilliant. 

This "Unpredictable Evening" was such where Rundgren and is bandmates had to make all of these off the cuff moments and songs feel entirely...well...off the cuff, fully masking the fact that what we witnessed was a rich performance that truly needed to be seriously rehearsed in order to pull it off whatsoever. Again, we were all in the hands of a master showman, musician, singer and conceptualist who, during this particular concert, weaved a spell of communion, and ultimately, like the namesake of his philanthropic institution, a spirit of harmony. 

Honestly, I do not remember a show I have attended that felt so informal, therefore making the event feel less like the star on stage and the fans in the audience and more often like some sort of a campfire, in which Todd Rundgren served as the irreverent Camp Leader and we were all the campers, basking in what had to be the coolest most idiosyncratic campground in the world.  
In doing so, it would have been very easy to fully miss that we did indeed have a legend in our midst, performing a concert which, in its own way, was an illustration of the entirety of his 50 year and counting musical odyssey. Yes, we had the rock and roll guitar heroics and heart on sleeve balladry. We were given sublime slices of blue eyed soul (The Impressions' "I'm So Proud," Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' "Ooh Baby Baby," and Marvin Gaye's "I Want You") and some of his most Utopian compositions ("One World" and "A Dream Goes On Forever") and throughout it all, a sense of humor was definitely required for full enjoyment. You never quite knew where he was headed, and that even included the members of his own band, but we all arrived together in complete and harmonious unison.

How else to describe our own individualized relationships with the legacy of Todd Rundgren, especially my own, which did indeed begin in earnest in this very city of Madison, WI when I first arrived here for college in 1987. What a blessing it was to continue this journey on this night in this city.  

And that is why just the momentary act of shaking his hand, first at the lip of the stage and secondly, right outside of his tour bus, felt right. Who knows if it would ever happen again. Who knows if I would ever have the chance to ask him those thousands upon thousands of questions I wish to ask him. Who knows if I could just have the chance to tell him what countless others have told him before and will continue to tell him. 

The handshake and the smile I received was simple and seismic...and in full nature of the evening, completely unpredictable. 
all photos by Scott Collins except where indicated

Sunday, September 2, 2018

THE SMASHING PUMPKINS "SHINY AND OH SO BRIGHT" : KEY ARENA, SEATTLE, WA & TWITTER LIVE STREAM AUGUST 24, 2018

"SHINY AND OH SO BRIGHT"
THE SMASHING PUMPKINS
LIVE
KEY ARENA, SEATTLE, WA
AND
TWITTER LIVE STREAMING

THE SMASHING PUMPKINS:
Jimmy Chamberlin: Drums, Ukelele
Billy Corgan: Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Keyboards
James Iha: Guitars, Vocals
Jeff Schroeder: Guitars

with
Jack Bates: Bass Guitar
Katie Cole: Piano, Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals

Linda Strawberry: Creative Director

AUGUST 24, 2018

I now have a Twitter account.

For most of you, this admission may not seem to be terribly significant whatsoever. But, in order for you to really fathom the significance, I should inform you of a few things regarding my life. I do not own a smart phone as I still own a flip phone. If a television program is exclusive to streaming services, I'll never see them. My presence on social media is essentially limited to my Facebook pages, this blogsite (and its sister site Savage Cinema), an Instagram page that carries not one photo by me (as I do not own that aforementioned smartphone), a rarely visited Goodreads page...and now, Twitter.

I have never possessed s desire to join this arena of the social media landscape and frankly, as years have passed, my desire has only decreased due to a lack of interest and need to join the fray, such as it is. So...now knowing all of this, I am certain that you are now wondering just why oh why I would ever join if I had not before the night of Friday, August 24, 2018. I'll happily tell you why...

The Smashing Pumpkins.

Honestly, it would have to take something extremely special to inspire me to actually join a social media network that I never possessed any interest within. Nonetheless, for The Smashing Pumpkins, one of my most favorite bands for nearly 30 years (it still feels like yesterday), I needed to make this particular leap.

The reason was entirely as a means to see one stop of the band's current "Shiny And Oh So Bright" tour, a celebration of the band's 30 year existence and most importantly, the full reunion of nearly the entire original band as both drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and guitarist/singer/songwriter/co-founder James Iha have returned to the fold as full-fledged bandmates alongside "The Pumpkin King" himself, co-founder/singer/songwriter/guitarist Billy Corgan, for the first time since the band's original dissolve in 2000.

In rock and roll, the prospect of bands breaking up and re-forming is as common as the songs themselves yet in the case of The Smashing Pumpkins, this was a band where I truly felt that the bridges had been burned beyond all recognition, making any potential reunions non-existent. As a fan, I had made my peace with that possibility, and for so many years, a reality.

Even during the years of the first re-formation featuring Corgan, Chamberlin, the introduction of guitarist Jeff Schroeder (who the fan community has since given the affectionate nickname "The Shredder" due to his exemplary guitar heroics) and a revolving door of first class musicians including bassist/singer Nicole Fiorentino, drummer Mike Byrne, bassist Ginger Reyes and even Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, I refused to echo the sentiments of sections of the fan community who continuously kept that heartbeat for the return of Iha and original Pumpkins bassist D'arcy Wretsky thumping as my feelings were quite simple:

The four original members of The Smashing Pumpkins are human beings first, bandmates second and to me, it made no sense whatsoever for these four human beings to get together and tour the world in misery just to fulfill the nostalgic dreams and wishes of their fan base. If something were to happen, then it had to be right. It had to be true. Some serious healing had to happen, as far as I was concerned. But I wasn't counting on it.

And then...it happened.   

The sight of witnessing Billy Corgan and James Iha together again was truly something I NEVER thought that I would see again, yet when Iha surprisingly walked out on stage during a stop on the Smashing Pumpkins' "In Plainsong" tour in 2016, I performed double takes at the You Tube fan footage to ensure that I wasn't regarding special effects wizardry but something real. And when I fully understood what was happening, tears spontaneously jumped to my eyes. It was not just because of the glorious music performed with gentle passion but of the level and depth of forgiveness that must have occurred between these two men in order for a moment like this to happen at all.

Flash forward to the present as The Smashing Pumpkins, night after night, have more than delivered the goods, elating longtime fans and even proving their harshest critics wrong (and I would gather even those grudging cynics who still want to count the band out), with a concert experience that has garnered some of their highest praises. A concert that I would unfortunately not have the chance to see...
After these past ten years or so of The Smashing Pumpkins' reformation, which began in 2007, the "Shiny And Oh So Bright" tour represents a simultaneous continuation and conceptual re-set. With James Iha's return combined with the continued presence of Jeff Schroeder plus Billy Corgan, the band now possesses an unprecedented three guitar configuration, which allows them to replicate the heavily multi-layered guitars of their studio work more faithfully within a live setting.

Additionally, the tour, while serving as a celebration of the band's entirety, musically focuses solely on the band's first five albums, "Gish" (released May 28, 1991), "Siamese Dream" (released July 27, 1993), the monumental double album "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" (released October 24, 1995), "Adore" (released June 2, 1998) and "MACHINA/The Machines of God" (released February 29, 2000) plus all manner of B-sides and rarities from this particular era, all of which was the work created and performed by the original members now reunited (with the exception D'Arcy Wretsky). 

As for me, I have never seen The Smashing Pumpkins live before. Yes, I have seen copious amounts of footage over the years but I have never had the opportunity to attend a show in person and the way life was panning out this summer, I would be unable to see them yet again--therefore limiting myself to the words of friends who would be able to attend, plus watching some striking fan footage on You Tube.

That is until Twitter.

Without question, there is NOTHING like the experience of actually being within the same room as the band and the sea of people in attendance as it contains its own unique energy which creates the overall event. But with the band's tour stop at the Key Arena in Seattle, Live Nation and Twitter joined forces to bring fans what would be the next best thing to being there...and for free at that! I would have been a fool to miss out, so I joined Twitter to have my chance to see and hear the full experience, which Corgan has expressed is unlike anything the band has attempted in the past and what Iha has referred to in behind-the-scenes tour footage as a "journey of the mind."

The "Shiny And Oh So Bright" concert opens with the image of a sea of stars set against a black, night sky. With soft, introductory music as our sonic guide, we are first greeted by a cartoon image of the ice cream truck from the band's "Today" music video, which is then followed by re-contextualized imagery from the band's aforementioned first five albums combined with animations conveying both whimsy and menace. 

The prologue culminates with the arrival of the girls from the "Siamese Dream" album cover, now adults and brandishing a blowtorch setting the classic Smashing Pumpkins' heart logo aflame. The arena goes black until the walls slowly part revealing blinding white lights from which emerges Billy Corgan, in full rock star super anti-hero mode. Adorned with grim eye makeup, Gothic skirt, a black top with the number 0 on the back and massive black boots making his already 6 ft plus frame extend even higher, Corgan, also cradling an acoustic guitar, surveys the crowd silently, until he begins to strum the first cords of the now iconic track, "Disarm." 

With this song, nerve endings fully exposed, Corgan's powerful voice and augmented with visual footage of Corgan as a child yet decorated with jagged lettered words like "Broken Boy," I was instantly transported emotionally. Yet decidedly and remarkably not through any lens of nostalgia. While this is a song from the past about the past, the delivery and presentation made everything about "Disarm" feel to be up to the minute, as if Corgan was revealing something completely new about himself to us even as we all know every word. 

It was a miraculous beginning, as the past and the present connected at this specific moment in time and here we were, all experiencing it together, musing over who we once were and who we have become, ultimately realizing that this song, those lyrics and this voice all represented an everlasting now as we are always reckoning with the past while we continuously attempt to redefine ourselves. 

A journey of the mind, as well as the soul, indeed.

Shortly afterwards, the full band--guitarists James Iha and Jeff Schroeder, drummer Jimmy Chamberlin with bassist Jack Bates (son of ex-Joy Division/New Order bassist Peter Hook) and pianist/guitarist/singer Katie Cole--emerged on stage and over the course of 31 songs within a whopping three hours and fifteen minutes, The Smashing Pumpkins elicited a performance that was by turns dazzling, spectacular, poignant, mournful, enlivening, euphoric, surprisingly affectionate and even symphonic and cinematic in vision and execution.

In terms of the music, I can easily express to you that I have never heard this band, in any of its previous incarnations, sound as tight and as focused as they were on this night (and the tour, overall). It was as if they approached this evening, and the tour as a whole, as something to prove and not as  any sort of a victory lap--which is possibly how Billy Corgan, the professional wrestling fan, may have even desired it. "Just try to discredit us," he may be saying. "We're about to blow your mind!"

My mind was certainly blown apart by the wide breadth of material that Corgan has written as well as the sheer agility, dexterity and top tier professionalism and undeniable energy that the entire band exhibited while performing. The songs were all there. The hits and the deep cuts ("Today," "Cherub Rock," "Bullet With Butterfly Wings," "Rocket," "Hummer"). The vortex psychedelia ("Rhinoceros," "Drown"). The crystalline ballads ("Try, Try, Try"). The glistening pop and the pummeling art-metal ("Tonight, Tonight," "1979," "The Everlasting Gaze," "Zero"). The dark dream electronica ("Ava Adore," "Eye," "The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning"). Starling covers (Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" and yes, it's true, they are playing Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven" and it is majestic in its faithfulness). And the band's blistering new single "Solara," which has already evolved into an even better song, showcased individual band members' strengths, due to their continuous performances of it each night.

The music of evening, presented with no intermissions, functioned as a fully orchestrated composition all divided into distinct movements, all the while presenting different shadings of the band while taking the audience through all of the peaks and valleys of their odyssey, and the effect was titanic in scope and performance.

Jimmy Chamberlin remains unquestionably the greatest rock drummer of his generation as he illustrates a MASTER CLASS of focus, technique, skill, invention, force, flair and a blinding musicality. He is thrilling to behold.

Touring members Jack Bates and Katie Cole are impeccable. For Bates, to step into these enormous rhythmic shoes, creating a foundation with Chamberlin, as well as honoring what Corgan and D'Arcy Wretsky originally created in the studio and on stage, while also carving out his own presence must have been daunting to say the least. And there he is, stoic yet fluid, unobtrusive yet ever present, reverential yet seemingly effortless. He is in full lockstep, never once taking his eyes off of the prize.

Katie Cole, provides a superior warmth that works beautifully in collaboration, as well as a counterpoint to the heaviness surrounding her. Her rich vocals work exquisitely with Corgan's and when she steps out, complete with acoustic guitar to duet with James Iha on his Pumpkins' B-side chestnut "Blew Away," it made me long for a full length or even an EP of Cole/Iha duets. Just sublime. 

And now, I turn to the grand return of James Iha and to see him again, in the precise place that I figured I would never see him, felt so absolutely right!! His presence, complete with his trademark wryness, also worked beautifully as a counterpoint to Corgan's intensity. But furthermore, it was clear that Iha was enjoying himself, and in turn, it was evident that Corgan and Chamberlin were thrilled to be working and playing together again, as witnessed through knowing looks and smiles, as well as an elevated commitment to each other and the music and legacy they created.

Jimmy Chamberlin has remarked recently that perhaps now that all three men are in their 50's and are also now Fathers, perhaps they are now all mature enough to be in The Smashing Pumpkins now. To that end, there was just something to the high level of their performances that seemed to dictate that maybe all three men are old enough to even be playing this music they created when they were much younger men. Iha, especially seemed locked in tighter than I have ever seen him in the past, even singing better live than I have heard him with a clearer, stronger, more tuneful voice--the very type I hear upon his lovely solo albums. 
As a guitarist, I have always been saddened at the short shrift James Iha has received over the years and I am hoping that what he has displayed upon this tour, and especially on this night, proves his critics completely wrong once and for all. Iha's six string prowess is fully worthy of the highest praise as he displayed an ability to blast out the monster riffs plus provide the elegant textures that are his signature and allow the songs to take on greater musical colors and dimensions. And still, he can bring the heat, as his outro solo on the band's triumphant cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" unleashes some stellar cosmic shooting stars.

James Iha was as outstanding as he was deeply missed during his time away. Here's hoping that he remains after such a wonderful welcome back.

I would be remiss if I did not shine some of my personal spotlight upon Jeff Schroeder at this time, especially as he has more than earned his Pumpkin stripes during his tenure in the band over the last 12 years. Schroeder's guitar work is nothing less than extraordinary and it thrilled me to see that he would remain in the band even with Iha's return and that decision, as witnessed within this performance, has proven itself to being a masterstroke. The new dynamics created between himself and Iha are masterful and downright inspired, especially during the classic "Stairway To Heaven" finale as well as the guitar waterfalls contained in "Drown" and at their most jaw dropping within the mighty "Porcelina Of The Vast Oceans." 

Schroeder, whose guitar work is nimble, angular, enveloping, dive bombing while also possessing the ability to set off searing sparks with his personalized streaks of white lightning, gives the band an opportunity to honor their past more faithfully in the live setting while also pointing to the potential of new soundscapes to arrive in future music with this new three guitar lineup. As it stands, the band's performance of "Siva," which is presented in an extended arrangement, is astonishing as Schroeder and Corgan trade face melting solos at an alacrity that is whiplash inducing.

As previously stated, I mentioned that the "Shiny And Oh So Bright" concert also conveyed a feeling that I could only describe as "cinematic." This specific and essential quality to this production lays directly at the feet of Linda Strawberry, longtime Pumpkins' associate who serves as the tour's Creative Director.

When I happened to see The Flaming Lips one year ago, I marveled at how the visual extravagances of the s how were actually carefully designed elements to give each song of the night its own visual presentation. What Linda Strawberry has achieved for The Smashing Pumpkins is exactly the same, as her visuals, which run the gamut from animations, abstractions, and filmed segments, are all designed to essentially tell the story of the band and their history in an impressionistic fashion where the band members, the music and the images play off of each other to the point where they are inseparable. The results are stunning and often give the feeling of being lost inside of a Smashing Pumpkins dreamworld--sometimes soothing, sometimes troubling yet always providing a palpable emotional connection.

Strawberry is wise and artful enough to understand that not every moment need to be an overwhelming one and in fact, what worked the very best were the ones that were indeed the most elegant. Just seeing the lyrics on screen to "Thirty-Three" was perfection. To have 2018 Corgan driving in the front seat while "1979" Corgan rides in the backseat, playfully illustrated the circular nature of time.

Yet for me, the greatest emotional connections I had was during the stretch of the show which began with "For Martha," and continued with "To Shelia," as Strawberry gave us what felt to be filmed dreams of what seemed to be Billy Corgan as represented by a small boy in a white suit and top hat interacting with his deceased Mother, as represented by a ballerina dancing around the stars and the moon before ascending her own stairway to heaven, where she is eventually joined by other female spirits in an eternal dance.

From here, the stage goes dark once again, the sounds of Schroeder's guitar echoing throughout the arena. At this point, I had already been stirred by the music and the images but what arrived next was the blissful marriage of all of the show's components. In the dark, center stage, there stood Billy Corgan and James Iha, facing each other and slowly beginning the guitar opening of the achingly beautiful ballad "Mayonaise," and tears began welling up in my eyes regarding these two men re-connecting on their co-composition as if they were still kids with guitars in a bedroom.

As the full band arrived and the stage lights went upwards again, on cue, was Strawberry astounding image of some maiden, and inexplicably I began to cry for the level of deliverance was flawless as we flowed from epic to intimate to epic all over again, all the while never losing the emotional core.

I have no idea of how she kept all of the conceptual threads straight as we see influences as disparate as Victorian, Art Deco, German expressionism, vaudevillian (with special guest Mark McGrath's filmed interludes), futuristic, apocalyptic, pastoral, and even more. Yet, Linda Strawberry more than achieved what I am certain felt to be impossible and she handled every moment with a cultivated sophistication that elevated the entire production.

Finally, I turn my attention to Billy Corgan, who exceedingly deserves more credit and praise than he is certain to receive for this production due to the continuously unfair media perceptions of him rather than focusing on what is actually occurring on stage. No, Billy Corgan does not need the likes of myself to defend him but I do wish to add my voice into this social media stratosphere as an offering of congratulations and support.

For all of the ink, both real and virtual, spilled over the level of Corgan's supposed megalomania, I find it odd that people are still unable (or just plain unwilling) to see that he is indeed playing a character and this show is a work of theater. Of course, Corgan is playing the next phase of the character we once knew as "Zero" and then transformed into "Glass," and in doing so, we have a performance that harkens back to the rock and roll fantasies and personas of the 1970's, something that truly did not exist during the alt-rock 1990's, a quality that kept The Smashing Pumpkins out of step with their peers and therefore, placed into a musical universe of their own making. An environment I would think they would be happiest because there is no one else like them!

With that, and regardless of the supposed level of his ego, there is no conceivable way to question or debate the level of commitment Billy Corgan brought to that stage, as a songwriter, as a singer (that  high note he hit during "Space Oddity"--I never knew he had it in him), as a superior guitarist, as a pianist, as an overall showman. No, he did not say terribly much this night (much of the banter was left to Iha) but with all of the costume changes and vocal demands upon him, I am not surprised.

Yet, it seemed as if he wanted to be there and was enjoying himself, being among the members of his rock and roll family in celebration and communion. And to conclude the show with the grace note that was "Baby Mine" from "Dumbo," was a move of such tenderness and humor (honestly, if one could not see that he was poking fun at himself with his bizarre Ringmaster get-up for the encore, then blindness is apparent) that I exited this experience with full elation and a want for nothing more for he and the band gave absolutely everything they had.

What more could I ask for?

Certainly there are drawbacks to watching the entire show upon live streaming instead of being in the actual arena--and that is, you are not in the actual arena seeing absolutely everything unfolding at the same time. Yes, at home, I could not see all of Linda Strawberry's work, for instance. But, at home I could see the band at a proximity that I would never have been able to regard them had I been in the arena. And even so, alongside with those who were in person, I, plus the rest of 1.3 million viewers at home had the chance to experience the show together at the same time, something that carries its own excitement and I am so thankful that I was able to experience it at all.
   
The Smashing Pumpkins' "Shiny And Oh So Bright" concert was a night of rock opera at its finest, as it provided a full testament to the legacy and future of one of rock and roll's most idiosyncratic bands performing at the full height of their collective powers and artistry.

I guess Twitter was good for something after all, huh?

Saturday, September 1, 2018

SYNESTHESIA'S SESSION NOTES SEPTEMBER 2018: THE BEGINNING IS THE END IS THE BEGINNING

FROM'S THE DJ'S STUDIO DESK:
Changes are underfoot upon this blogsite...

Eagle eye readers may have noticed two seemingly small changes to the look of Synesthesia, yet they each represent one particularly big change to the overall focus of this on-line home that celebrates my love of music. First, underneath the name of this blogsite, where once was a reference to "WSPC," that has changed to my on-air real world radio handle plus WVMO, the equally real world radio station with which I am humbly and graciously affiliated. Secondly, with this specific posting, references to "WSPC" have been removed in favor of the blogsite name.

So..what happened? 

Well, dear readers and listeners, without getting into any specifics, life happened. Life, with all of its responsibilities have made me re-think the purpose of Synesthesia and what it could possibly be...at least, for the time being as I could easily revert back to how it has been for several years. I know this is all sounding cryptic but please know that I don't mean to be so cagey. I'll explain...

As I have always said to you, I am WSPC and WSPC is me. WSPC is the radio station that exists inside of my head, my fantasies, my dreams and it encases all of the music that has existed with me throughout the entirety of my life. I only "realize" such a station via the work of You Tube and Facebook, making playlists daily, weekly, monthly and then compiling all of the songs into the monthly playlists that close each's month's activities upon Synesthesia.

As of late, I have to say that I have been feeling a certain strain due to the busy nature of life.  There have been days upon days when I have not posted songs, or if I have it may be weeks before I compile them into the monthly playlists, also due to those aforementioned responsibilities which take up more time than I would wish.

Ultimately, thinking up songs to "play" and compile were beginning to feel like actual assignments rather than the joyous fun they originated as. And while I had been thinking about this for some time, this past week I made the decision to give WSPC a bit of a break. Not a hiatus. And it is not closing up shop either. WSPC is simply taking some time away and I will re-focus this site to serve as the on-line home for my real world radio pursuits, much like the blogs I have seen from real world DJs from long established stations, including my beloved WXRT-FM Chicago's Finest Rock!   

Synesthesia is really not going to change terribly much at all. I will still have my album explorations, concert reminisces, the monthly Savage Jukebox compilations as well as the compilations of all of the playlists through the month from my Savage Radio broadcasts upon WVMO. What will not continue is the WSPC playlist compilations and after I had made that decision, I honestly felt a weight lift mentally. It was then that I knew that I had made the right decision for myself.

So, what of WSPC? Would I never post songs again? No, of course not--especially during June's Black Music Month celebration, an event I am still passionately committed to continuing. I will still post songs but just if inspired to do so and if I am not inspired for weeks, then I am not...and that is possibly what I may need to do for some time.

In essence, WSPC is not going anywhere for as long as I live and breathe, it exists as well.  But, as a means of expression, I think that my radio adventures upon WVMO serve that purpose enormously. Things can change, of course. Yet for now, this feels good and right and will serve the music and my spirits better than over-usage and potential burnout.

And so, with all of the changes of the season, with Summer soon to mercifully end and for Autumn to blissfully begin, with school bells beginning to ring in a matter of days, this change to Synesthesia feels to be happening at the right time for the right reasons.

The music remains as much as it ever has and for you, as well as for me, keep listening, keep experiencing and always remember to....PLAY LOUD!!!!!!!!