That '70s column
This summer's concert lineup begs the question: Is this 2003, or 1978?
If you don't know me, I should probably tell you before we go any further that I sometimes have a tendency to wallow in a blissful quagmire of mid-'70s music and pop culture. It's not like I walk around in platform shoes humming the "Star Wars" theme or mumble lines from "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" or anything. But it's darn near that weird. As my wife and any of my good friends will tell you, I'm a bit obsessed with the decade, thank you very much, especially the songs from the rock and country music of that era to the soul and jazz.
Some days, for no apparent reason and without warning, I'll just close my eyes and transport myself back to the passenger seat of my best high school buddy's Mercury Cougar, where, with a bong in one hand and a short stack of 8-track tapes in the other, I'll pop in the Steve Miller Band's "Fly Like an Eagle," then the Marshall Tucker Band's "24 Hours at a Time," then Jackson Browne's "The Load Out/Stay," then George Benson's "Breezin'," hoping all the while that I'm not late for homeroom again.
So why am I confessing this strange and rather pathetic bit of behavior to you? Well, two reasons, actually. First, my 25-year high school reunion is coming up at the end of this summer, so I guess I'm starting to prepare for that bit of bittersweet nostalgia. And second, and more important, the summer concert season is upon us, and while some are lamenting that the lineup this summer looks eerily similar to the summer tour roster of 1978, that's precisely why I'm looking forward to it, and why I'm writing about it here.
As you might have guessd by now, there's very little popular music I can stomach these days. Besides country music, which I consider the last bastion of melody and decent songwriting in popular music in 2003, and but for a painfully short list of bluegrass, rock, R&B and jazz artists and an even shorter list of acoustic singer-songwiters, I would say that most pop sucks, most rock sucks, most rap sucks, and most jazz sucks. In other words, if you'd really rather see 50 Cent than the Eagles in concert this summer, you're reading the wrong piece.
Now that I've offended if not completely scared off the trendoids, neophiles and cynics, I'm happy to report to the rest of you brave and wise Turbula readers that there's still plenty of live music in America this summer to satisfy your appetite. And it's not just oldies stuff, either. Lest you think I hate all new music, the truth is there are a few concerts coming up to which I'm very much looking forward that don't qualify for the oldies circuit, including Coldplay, Norah Jones, the White Stripes, John Mayer, Foo Fighters and Jason Mraz.
But that's about it, folks. For the most part, I'll be actively avoiding the new stuff, including and especially the much-hyped 50 Cent tour I wouldn't pay 50 cents to see that crap and the Justin Timberlake-Christine Aguilera gig, which promises to be a journey straight to dance-pop hell and a living billboard for auto tunes. As for Ozzfest 2003, the Vans Warped Tour 2003 and Lollapalooza 2003, these three multi-band tours are more about attitude and angst than music, and, combined, they don't feature a single artist who will stand the test of time. Except Sir Ozzy, of course.
Which leaves us, basically, with country singers and all those "vintage" artists. You know, the ones who aren't selling as many records these days but who are still selling plenty of concert tickets.
Among the road-tested veterans hitting the stage one more time this Summer are the Eagles, Neil Young, Poco, Steely Dan, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Chicago, Bruce Springsteen, Dan Fogelberg, Kenny Loggins, the Doobie Brothers, Steve Winwood, KC & the Sunsine Band, Fleetwood Mac, Al Stewart, America, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Earth, Wind & Fire, Santana, Peter Frampton, Huey Lewis & the News, Heart, the Rolling Stones, ZZ Top, Cheap Trick, Boz Scaggs, Firefall, Ringo Starr, Brian Wilson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Van Morrison, Aerosmith and KISS.
Why do I love the music of this era so? Well, because I'm 42 years old, for starters. And because I'm all about melody. And because I'm a somewhat nostalgic, sentimental guy to begin with. And because I'm a country-rock singer-songwriter and guitarist myself who grew up listening to and being inspired by the classic rock and country artists from the '70s. And because unlike most music writers, who are typically joyless, pretentious, mean-spirited dweebs, I actually had a rather normal, happy childhood and a great time in junior high and high school, and will forever associate those good times with all the classic songs from that era.
I'm certain that another reason I'm still able to get so much enjoyment out of the old stuff is that I stopped listening to classic rock radio a long time ago. That's right, I tuned out KGB, KLOS and the like permanently back in the late '80s after deciding it was destroying my love for this music. In particular, it was all but ruining my magnificent and healthy obsession with Led Zeppelin. "Stairway to Heaven" is one of the greatest songs of all time, but nothing sounds good after 17,000 listens.
I'd like to see every one of these shows I listed above, if I could. But contrary to what you might be assuming right about now, I, uh, do have a life. I'll catch as many of these shows as time and my family will allow.
But a caveat, my fellow classic rockers: there's a distinct possibility that your favorite band will show up without the member or members you fantasized about in your basement and/or dorm room. It happens all the time. Take the current Styx-REO Speedwagon-Journey tour, for example. On this classic rock juggernaut, each band is missing some of its integral pieces: Styx is without founding member Dennis DeYoung, REO is without founding lead guitarist Gary Richrath, and Journey is without lead singer Steve Perry.
But these bands all still rock, and at encore time, their fans still shout "more" until they're hoarse and still flick their lighters only now they're pulling them out of their elastic-waist-stretch Dockers. And if you closw your eyes, you won't notice the absence. Styx still has guitarists Tommy Shaw and James Young and a guy who sounds just like DeYoung, REO still has lead singer and founder Kevin Cronin and a guy who plays just like Richrath, and Journey still has lead guitar player Neal Schon and a guy who sounds just like Perry.
Another band that unbelievably is still on tour is Steppenwolf. I believe this marks the band's 72nd consecutive year of playing "Magic Carpet Ride" in concert. Lead singer John Kay is the only remaining original member, but you won't much notice or care once they break into the opening chords of "Born to be Wild." Foghat, too, is out for yet another slow ride, sans co-founder/lead singer/guitarist Lonesome Dave Peverett, who sadly died of cancer in 2000. But co-founder/lead guitarist Rod Price is back in the fold.
Steppenwolf and Foghat, who appeared recently at the opening day of the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar, California, are both a bit long in the tooth, but they both still rock the house at their advanced ages. Again, I never tire of hearing "Rock Me" and "Fool for the City," even when sung by octogenarians.
And speaking of geezer rock, I'd have to say the most intriguing among the classic rock tours this summer is the Aerosmith-KISS merger, primarily because these two veteran arena rockers are surprisingly touring together for the first time and, for the most part, the original members are still on board. Aerosmith and KISS, together on stage, might this just be too much bombast and bravado for one '70s aficianado to handle in one night. But I'll try to maintain, as we used to say, and I won't bogart that joint.
Unfortunately, word is that the two bands are not appearing on stage at the same time, which always makes me feel a bit ripped off. Reminds me of the recent David Lee Roth-Sammy Hagar tour, in which "the artists formerly known as the lead singers for Van Halen" barely spoke off stage, let alone appeared together on stage. It would have been cool to see Diamond Dave and Sammy on stage, together, giving a shot at each other's songs.
I always wish co-headliners would play together, the way they did back in the day. Does anyone reading this remember how cool it was when the Beach Boys toured with Chicago back in the mid-'70s and the guys from each band would come on stage and perform songs normally identified with the other band? It was a rare treat to see Robert Lamm singing a Brian Wilson tune, and seeing Mike Love singing a James Pankow song. It would be rock 'n' roll ecstasy to hear Steven Tyler sing "Rock and Roll All Night," or to hear Paul Stanley cry "Dream On," or to hear Gene Simmons spew "Sweet Emotion."
Another complaint about the Aerosmith-KISS tour: there's an opening act, some band called Saliva. Huh? Why on earth would a concert featuring two legendary headlining bands whose body of work comprises several hours of music include an opening act? It's rididulous, but I guess it's another sign that these bands are aging and simply don't have the energy they once had. They're not into playing the 3-hour shows these days. We'll be lucky to see them for more than an hour apiece. Hell, not even Bruuuuuce is playing all night like he used to.
When I'm not shouting out loud, I'll be spending a lot of time in the country this summer. And by the way, it is no contradiction that I love both classic rock and country music. My favorite artists have always been ones who most effectively melded the two genres, from the Byrds to the Eagles to Loggins & Messina to Poco.
And don't pay any attention to those to tone-deaf music critics who lambaste country music for going too pop. The fact is, while there admittedly is some country music that is a bit too cheesy and poppy, country music overall is on a healthy track and is in fact expanding its listenership with such artists as Tim McGraw, Rascall Flatts and Keith Urban, who lean more toward country-rock.
But these artists are still respectful and aware of their roots. Urban, for example, an Australian who is fast approaching superstar crossover status in the States, has an encyclopedic knowledge of American country music's past. And you just can't say that about most of today's rock or rap artists, who generally are musically clueless and have no sense of history. Not to mention the fact that few of them can carry a friggin' tune.
Easily the coolest country tour this summer is the trio of Urban, Kenny Chesney and Deana Carter. All three of these likable, talented artists are worthy of their own summer tours, but together they comprise a powerhouse four hours of fun, barefoot, no-shoes, hook-filled country with a strong '70s rock sensibility. They're calling this one the "Margaritas and Señoritas Tour," but, thankfully, no parrotheads will be in sight. If promoters were a little more creative, though, they would've booked Urban on the Eagles' so-called Farewell Tour. Urban and the Eagles are a perfect fit. But promoters just aren't that smart.
Other country tours worth checking out this summer include the curious pairing of gruff legend Merle Haggard and the multi-talented Marty Stuart, which will provide some very interesting combination of music and a diverse audience. Also on the road again this summer is the always-entertaining Willie Nelson and his family road show, the wonderful Gillian Welch and her ridiculously talented guitarist/sidekick David Rawlings, the great Vince Gill in an intimate evening of music and down-home chat, and, of course, the ubiquitous Dixie Chicks.
And finally, one last note regarding the summer of 2003 concert schedule that also happens to be a personal plug of sorts. All of the following artists performing this summer also appear on my forthcoming record: Charlie Daniels, Dickey Betts, Ricky Skaggs, Suzy Bogguss, Charley Pride, Eve Selis, Randi Driscoll and Dennis Caplinger. You see, there's something for virtually everyone to enjoy this summer, even me. So get a sitter, and rock on. If I don't see you in the aisles, I'll see you in September.