Monday, June 30, 2008

The Bon Jovi Central Park Free Concert is On - July 12th

The rumors of a free Bon Jovi Central Park concert have been confirmed. The band will perform a free show in the Park on July 12th as part of the festivities surrounding the baseball All-Star Game, which will take place at Yankee Stadium on July 15th.

The possibility of a Bon Jovi Central Park concert arose when the singer inadvertently let a comment slip about the idea in an interview back in April.

In giving a free Central Park concert, Bon Jovi is joining a long tradition of performers who have performed free in New York City's largest park, including Simon and Garfunkel, Paul Simon, and the Dave Matthews Band.

Bon Jovi also has concerts scheduled for Madison Square Garden on July 14th and 15th.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Billy Preston: He Played with Everyone from Ray Charles to Beatles and the Stones

Seeing Billy Preston on last night’s replay of the first Saturday Night Live show reminded me of what an amazing talent he was. Preston, who died a couple of years ago at the age of 59, had a number of hits in the 1970s as a solo artist (including “Nothing from Nothing,” which he performed on SNL) but he is best known as a versatile keyboard player who collaborated with a who’s who of star musicians.

Billy Preston started performing as a child, playing with gospel and soul legends including Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Aretha Franklin, and Little Richard, among others.

He is the only musician to have played with both the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, and was often called the “fifth Beatle.” In fact, when the Beatles were nearing their end there was discussion of making Preston an official member of the band. That didn’t happen, but their single "Get Back" was credited to "the Beatles with Billy Preston" – said to be the only time that the band allowed a side player to be so credited. And Preston also was playing with the band their final public performance, the famous rooftop gig they played in London.[

Despite being hospitalized with kidney disease in his later years, Billy Preston continued to record and tour with various musicians. I was lucky enough to see him playing at part of Eric Clapton’s band a couple of years before he died, in a concert at Madison Square Garden. I was surprised to see him playing, since the show was not that long after he had been hospitalized.

It was good to see Billy Preston in his prime on SNL, but it was also sad to think of how many great talents from that show died too young: Billy Preston, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, and of course George Carlin.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Rockin' in Weehawken: NJ's Smithereens Play the Waterfront

Jim Babjak, Pat DiNizio, and Derek "Toledo Tornado" Anderson of The Smithereens in Weekhawken

After 28 years, The Smithereens are still rocking, and sounding good, and were in fine form Wednesday night at a concert in their home state of New Jersey. Playing in a park just steps from the Hudson River, and in the shadow of the Lincoln Tunnel, Pat DiNizio and company played a solid hour and a half set that was spirited and very much appreciated by the audience.

The Smithereens got serious airplay on the old progressive rock station WNEW-FM, which bit the dust long ago. DiNizio remarked at one point that while WNEW is long gone, his band is now played on the "classic rock" stations.

The band played many of its hits from its various albums, from "Blood and Roses" to "Only a Memory" and "House We Used to Live In," as well as a number of Beatles covers that the band did on their album "Meet the Smithereens." Being a weeknight concert, the audience thinned out a bit as the clock approached 9 p.m., but the majority of the crowd that stayed was rewarded by a lengthy encore set by the band.

Bruce Springsteen isn't the only Jersey rocker from the '80s that's still out there rocking hard.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Tonight's Weather Forecast: Dark. George Carlin Has Died

Anyone who's familiar with the work of George Carlin will recognize the first part of this post's title; it's from Carlin's famous routine, The Hippy-Dippy Weatherman.

George Carlin died yesterday at the age of 71 from what's being described as heart failure, though I didn't learn of his death until this morning. Though 71 doesn't seem that old by today's standards, Carlin had suffered from heart problems for years.

Carlin spoofed all kinds of subjects, from the sacred to the inane. Among the former were the Catholic Church, Vietnam, and of course the "seven dirty words" and "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television." Among the less-weighty topics he tackled were the too-cool-for-school mellow-voiced FM disk jockeys, consumerism, and the contradictions of daily life. One of my favorite Carlin lines was from the "Al Sleet," the afore-mentioned hippy-dippy weatherman — "Tonight's forecast: Dark. Continued dark throughout most of the evening, with some widely-scattered light towards morning."

Reading some of his obituaries, I learned some things I never knew or had long forgotten: he was the host of the very first show of Saturday Night Live; he performed in suit and tie on the Ed Sullivan Show and elsewhere before becoming a long-haired counterculture figure; he was present at the arrest of groundbreaking comedian Lenny Bruce.

You can find an interview Carlin did with The Onion here, and read of his extensive movie appearances here.

Rest in peace, George.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Feist's "Reminder" Gives Her Label a Lift

Here's a rare good-news story about record labels, the business that everybody loves to hate. But there are some good labels out there, and Canada's Arts & Crafts is certainly one of them. That's why I was glad to see this Billboard article saying how Feist's latest album "The Reminder" had given the label its biggest hit ever.

"The Reminder" has sold more than 200,000 copies in Canada according to SoundScan, and the use of the single "1-2-3-4" in an iPod commercial made the song ubiquitous on TV for a while. (The album has sold 600.000 copies in the U.S., but A&C doesn't hold the rights there.)

The article quotes an Arts & Crafts co-founder as saying the the album's success "Has allowed us to build out our infrastructure ....We now have all the tools at our disposal that any much larger label has. We can do things that were previously outside our scope."

Arts & Crafts is also the home of respected Canadian indie artists Broken Social Scene, Stars, The Dears, and The Stills.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

New On iTunes: Coldplay, The Hold Steady, Camp Rock Soundtrack,

Among the new releases this week that are now available on iTunes are the new Coldplay album, Viva la Vida and the new album from The Hold Steady. The iTunes folks say that the new Coldplay download comes with an "exclusive acoustic track;" don't know if this is available on the CD release or not. To celebrate Viva la Vida, iTunes is selling Coldplay's previous albums for $7.99 each.

I liked the last album from the Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America, and they put on a great free show in downtown NYC last summer, so I'm interested to hear what their new CD sounds like.

It's a good things I get the iTunes new music e-mail each week, otherwise I'd be woefully out of touch with new releases. I didn't even know that that old '90s band The Offspring was coming out with a new album. As is an even older band, Judas Priest.

And my college friends with tween daughters are no doubt already aware that this is the release week of the soundtrack from Camp Rock, a new Disney Channel movie. It features performances from New Jersey's own Jonas Brothers, a couple of whom also act in the movie. Camp Rock the movie premieres this Friday on TV; the Camp Rock soundtrack was dropped on the world today. The iTunes version includes an acoustic version of "This Is Me," performed by Demi Lovato, one of the lead actresses from the Camp Rock movie.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert Dies at Age 58; Was Host of "Meet the Press"

Sad news from the business of news: Tim Russert, the political analyst and longtime host of "Meet the Press" on NBC TV, died this afternoon of a heart attack. Russert was only 58 years old, and reportedly died while at work.

Russert was also the Washington bureau chief for NBC News. I don't know if he had any health issues, but he was a big man. And his NBC colleague Tom Brokaw, who announced Russert's death on NBC, said Russert had been pushing himself hard and working long hours during this long political campaign season.

And yes, there is a podcasting connection in this story. Podcasts of Tim Russert hosting "Meet the Press" are still available free from iTunes (both audio and video versions), so his political analysis lives on. And Russert's bestselling books, "Big Russ and Me" and "Wisdom of Our Fathers," are available in audiobook form from iTunes and other sellers.

Tim Russert was a straight-talking journalist who always tried to get the the heart of an issue in interviews. He will certainly be missed.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

"@#%&! Smilers"! Aimee Mann is Back With a New Album

Indie singer-songwriter Aimee Mann is out with "@#%&! Smilers," her first album in three years, and though I haven't heard much of it yet it's been getting good reviews. Billboard, for one, praises the CD (which came out on June 3rd) as "her most compelling album to date" (though it misspells her name "Amy").

The title is a tongue-in-cheek swipe at people who encourage others to put on a happy face, and fits in with Mann's slightly jaded view of life, love, and the music business. Of course, she's perfectly justified in the latter: while some artists can point to being dropped by their labels or had an album held up in limbo, Mann has been through numerous nightmares with labels and record execs. Happily, she finally started up her own record label, SuperEgo Records, a number of years ago, and has control over her work.

Starting her own label is just one of the do-it-yourself actions Mann has taken; she also began using email to keep in touch with fans earlier than other artists, and has had several different podcast series devoted to her musical projects.

From what I've heard of "@#%&! Smilers," Aimee Mann is still in good form as a songwriter, combining wry lyrics with the kind of catchy pop-rock melodies that attracted attention when she was with Til Tuesday, singing the '80s megahit "Voices Carry." A Billboard article notes that Mann herself admits that the new CD is "one of her most 'smiley' to date."

But apparently there's no need for fans to worry that Aimee Mann is going soft on us (after all, she has even given in to one of the most time-honored music biz traditions and made a Christmas album), but the new CD does have some songs with bite, like "Thirty One Today."

I can't wait to hear the rest of the album.

Monday, June 02, 2008

BREAKING: Rock Legend Bo Diddley Has Died

Just heard on the news that Bo Diddley has died of heart failure at the age of 79. I was lucky enough to see him play a free show in Central Park, must have been 15 years ago, and he was still rocking. That chugging Bo Diddley beat has been used in many songs over the years by all kinds of artists, from Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" and Bruce Springsteen's "She's the One" to U2's "Desire."

He wrote many songs that were hits by other artists, including "I’m a Man," "Who Do You Love?," and "Before You Accuse Me," as well as distinctive tunes like his trademark "Bo Diddley." The distinctive rectangular "cigar box" electric guitar he played was one he designed himself.

Bo Diddley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. In 1996 he released "A Man Among Man," an album that featured guests including Keith Richard and Ron Wood.

The accomplishments of Bo Diddley are far too numerous to mention here, so I'll refer you to his induction page from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame here.

Jesse Malin Plays a Marathon Show at Maxwell's

Punk rocker turned singer-songwriter Jesse Malin showed both sides of his musical personality at a show at Maxwell's in Hoboken on Friday night. Well, it was practically two shows: Malin played an engaging set with acoustic guitar, accompanied by singer and keyboardist Christine Smith, then brought on his full band for a second set. The whole evenng lasted more than an hour and a half... quite a long show by club standards.

Malin is a fun performer to see live, especially in a small venue such as Maxwell's (where I also saw him perform a New Year's Eve show a few years back). His full-band set was rocking, backed by Smith and other musicians who are longtime Malin collaborators, But even his acoustic songs can have a kind of punk edge to them.

Formerly a member of the punk group D Generation, Malin has several solo albums under his belt. The Maxwell's gig was billed as a CD release party for his latest disc, "Mercury Retrograde," a live set drawn from shows he performed at New York's Mercury Lounge.

In addition the studio albums of his own material, Malin also has a covers CD out called "On Your Sleeve," featuring some of his favorite tunes from the '70s. He performed several tunes from that CD at Maxwell's, including Paul Simon's "Me And Julio Down By The School Yard," Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side," and Jim Croce's "Operator."