Monday, May 22, 2017

Wake Up / Beautiful Feeling (TOTR 299)

Big Country - Fields of Fire
The Alarm - Marching On 

The Waterboys - I Will Not Follow 
The Dream Syndicate - That’s What You Always Say Pretenders - My City Was Gone 
Big Audio Dynamite - The Bottom Line 
World Party - All I Really Want To Do (Dylan cover) 
The Pogues - Sally MacLennane 
The Dubliners - The Wild Rover 
In Tua Nua - Right Road to Heaven 
Hothouse Flowers - Hallelujah Jordan 
Hoodoo Gurus - Bittersweet 
The Mission - A Wing and a Prayer 
Lone Justice - Belfry 
Lou Reed - Satellite of Love 
BB King - The Thrill Is Gone (with Tracy Chapman) 
Little Steven - Solidarity 
Damian Marley - Road To Zion 
PJ Harvey - Beautiful Feeling 
Kings of Leon - Slow Night, So Long 
Interpol - Evil 
Keane - Somewhere Only We Know 
Arcade Fire - Wake Up 
The Killers - All These Things I’ve Done 
 Simple Minds - Promised You A Miracle (with KT Tunstall)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Back to the Blinding Lights: U2 in San Jose in April 2005

from my personal archive; originally published on Interference!

On tour throughout this year, with what’s proving to be one of the most craved and desired tickets in rock ‘n’ roll, U2 cannot imagine a disappointed customer. The elegant and earnest combination of catalog-mining dedication and back-to-basics-inspiration that defined the Elevation shows returns without apology.

An inclusive invocation of spirituality and social justice transcends rather than tramples on the integrity of the experience. As Bono illustrated in a recent short interview with NME, the new Vertigo tour comes with the character the best U2 shows have almost always possessed. "At times it was a political rally, at times it was a gospel tent, at times it was a Las Vegas show,” he told the British music magazine.

From the confetti-drenched elation of the people screaming at the opening twinkles of "City of Blinding Lights" to the teary-eyed edification of 20.000 sharing an intimate refrain of the band’s final, prayerful chorus of "40," the Vertigo tour is a triumphant moment of the arena-sized concert succeeding as serious performance art and redemptive rock ‘n’ roll.

As much as the venue and the crowd matter at a concert, the San Jose scene Saturday was lovely, with a warm and enthusiastic crowd. I cannot imagine a more Beautiful Day and night than this to see my first concert on the Vertigo Tour.

Early doubts and questions about Bono’s tired throat chakra or his overall commitment to vocal delivery will hopefully wane. If this seventh show -- two weeks into a tour that might last two years -- has any hallmark quality to make it one memory among many, it’s the frontman’s fierce devotion to wed technical performance with soulful personality, to utter every nuance and transition with the rhetorical loyalty of a radio preacher, to nail every chorus and every verse as if this were the band’s last night on stage.

Dedicated, traveling fans looking for wild and risky set list variation may feel disappointed; at least at this point in the tour, the switch-ups in song selection and sequence have dramatically settled down. The self-professed apostles of stage design may miss the experimental excess of previous projects. Fans for whom the concert experience depends on the band’s compliance with a must-hear list of songs might find fault with the increasingly solid shape the set list on the first leg of Vertigo appears to be taking. For the second San Jose show, of course, the band could launch a whole new set list, stripping this theory entirely. If a fan’s distinction between a good and great show is irretrievably linked to its degree of spontaneity, there may be reason to quarrel with the organic and elegant flow this two hour set has developed.

As preachy as the self-appointed rock prophet can be, Bono’s sermons tonight are shockingly sparse and almost painfully precise. But in his moments of ethereal ebullience and churchy evocation, the "insufferable little Jesus" is actually his most modest. The most elaborate homily came in the lucid build-up to "Miracle Drug." Pontificating about the pontiff, Bono confesses his own "pope complex" while describing his encounters with the hip old patriarch. Since we all know how the deceased father advocated global solidarity with the poor, Bono spends more of this dedication paying tribute to the man’s deep and piercing eyes.

While the white flag represented the unequivocal refusal of all nationalism, Bono’s current litany embraces an almost utopian global unity. While this message remains as moving and motivated as it is carefully choreographed during the Africa encore sequence of "Pride," "Where the Streets Have No Name" and "One," Bono complicates and challenges easy answers during the battle drums and ballistic guitars of "Love and Peace or Else," "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Bullet the Blue Sky."

"Bullet" is perfect example of the post-ideological tightrope Bono dances on. Over the years, this reliable crowd-pleaser has evolved from a vicious critique of US intervention in Central America to a more nuanced statement about the cost of American foreign policy. At times, it’s been about other topics altogether. Often the piece can be read as more about the religious nature of American conflict, with an almost pharmaceutical dose of Jimi Hendrix-esque guitar that reflects a tortured but still-present patriotism. This time, the tune has taken on a whole new aura: the final sequence, once an angry and haunting recitation about a preacher peeling off dollar bills has been transformed into a hymn that includes a somber "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," some of the most wickedly metalesque Edge guitar ever and a few lines from "The Hands That Built America."

Some in the old-school set might miss the younger, brasher Bono’s biting the hands that feed him in deliriously dadaesque defiance of politicians and politics as usual. Especially for those fans with political leanings to the left of John Kerry, the newer, shrewder singer as pragmatic negotiator and power-broker might come off a little lukewarm. But in his current phase of nonpartisan passion, this refusal to pledge allegiance to the left or right actually carves a space for more sustainable moments of meditation. While a favorite point of the band’s harsher critics, these self-conscious contradictions have become an expected facet of Bonoism.

But without fail, from Edge’s howling and moaning rock-god solos to Bono’s exaggerated gestures and Christ-like POW poses to Larry’s pounding, pulsing, puncturing percussion to Adam’s understated ability to keep the sound on the ground even as it soars outer stratospheres, the emotional center of this show remains connected to the riveting heart of all great arena rock.

After "Bullet the Blue Sky," the band reclaims the old-school transition into "Running to Stand Still" which fades into an almost heart-breaking series of Bono’s "hallelujahs." Just when the show looks like it’s turning into a welcome but sober late 1980s revival, the band immediately follows the universal Declaration of Human Rights statement with the fierce and Euro-funky early 1990s trilogy of "Zoo Station," "The Fly" and "Mysterious Ways."

After a long and beautiful dance with an overjoyed fan and without a break, the band leaves its most hedonistic and secular segment of the show for the three songs ("Pride," "Streets," "One”) that Bono uses to define what he believes is the defining question of our time—what will this generation do about global AIDS and extreme poverty? While communal text-messaging for the sick and starving at an upscale rock concert can come off as a tad much, even to those most sympathetic, Bono before "One" is his most painfully sincere rhetorical salesmen, asking those in the crowd with cell phones to dial in on behalf of The One Campaign. It’s hard not to believe every word. Even as this one phone call might be the most activist gesture some of these fans ever make, it’s one that might actually save lives.

While those following this tour closely will notice how much this part of the show relies on a rehearsed formula, its musical integrity surpasses the intrinsic shortcomings of the cell-phone gimmick. And this emotional section is only getting us ready for the even more sentimental encore.
Through the late 1990s, the once holy band wandered though the global shopping mall of fashion and sex and flirted with getting jaded and detached through decadent industrial music. But when the band went on tour to places like Sarajevo, Tel Aviv and Mexico City, the hope and sincerity seeped through. And to the emotional pleasure and moral satisfaction of the band’s most devoted fans, U2′s released its most overtly religious album since "The Joshua Tree."

Years ago, Paul McGuinness and other handlers of the band’s image guaranteed that these wide-eyed evangelicals avoided the Christian rock pigeonhole like the plague. Such a worry wouldn’t make sense to this latter day U2. So, from an open stage, the four men all dressed in black close the show in the manner of traveling apostles as they transform a cavernous arena into a cozy revival tent. The final trilogy combines two recent songs with one that’s more than 20 years old. The punk hymn "All Because Of You" prepares the way for an acoustic "Yahweh" and the standard coda of the old school, simply called "40."

Although I’d experienced this enchanting ritual with thousands before on both the Unforgettable Fire and Joshua Tree tours, the first time I grappled with the sentimental gravity of "40"as a show closer was watching the video from "Under a Blood Red Sky." Around that time (it was probably still 1983) I read an article in Rolling Stone where Bono compared the band to The Beatles and The Who. The cynics saw Bono’s now-trademark pomposity but laughed off the claim.

Today U2 stands alone, having long since left behind its peers in the 1980s new rock revolution. In fitting tribute to those bold ambitious comparisons, Bono channels those whose crown he’s stolen, with delicious snippets of "Blackbird" during "Beautiful Day" and "I Can See for Miles and Miles" at the end of "Electric Co.”

U2 has revived the big music of arena rock from numerous near-death experiences. Perhaps that’s too much for one man, perhaps this is too much for one band, but U2 seems up for the challenge of keeping it real and keeping it human, a fact exemplified again and again by Bono’s accessible and down-to-earth demeanor that can be see when he’s chatting up his fans who gather outside each venue early, hoping to get a glimpse of the band. If the world of pop music is a kind of musical polity, it’s a place where Bono is unashamedly pope, president, and king.

Yet because of U2′s unrelenting loyalty to the fans, and the enduring grace and power of the music itself, it’s a society we’re still willing to pay to be citizens of, if only for one (or, maybe, more) night every four years.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Help Me (TOTR 298)

Neil Young - Tonight’s the Night
Jamey Johnson - High Cost Of Living
Gary Allan - It Ain’t The Whiskey
Steve Earle - Oxcontin Blues
Phil Odgers - Sunday Morning Coming Down
Son Volt - The Storm
Ryan Adams - Breakdown
Sturgill Simpson - Keep It Between The Lines
First Aid Kit - My Silver Lining
Joseph Arthur - I Miss The Zoo
John Mayer - Helpless
Buffy Sainte-Marie - Helpless
The King’s Singers - Helplessly Hoping
The Michigan G-Men - Helplessness Blues
Straight No Chaser - Helplessness Blues
Donna The Buffalo - One Day At A Time
David Benton - Came To Believe
Luka Bloom - Bad
Mickey Harte - Running to Stand Still
Ed Sheeran - Save Myself
Can We Hang On? - Cold War Kids
Johnny Cash - Help Me
Corey Harper - Keeping Me Alive
Mondo Cozmo - Shine

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Celebration Road: Restless Reflections of Redemptive U2 Fandom, then & now

The Joshua Tree must be more than an album. And pondering its impact on me for its 30th birthday, this is more than just another mid-life crisis and exercise in nostalgia. 1987 was such a whirlwind year. 1986 and 1988, too. I graduated high school, started college, dropped out of college. I was finding myself and losing myself.

My first wave (1983-1988) of seriously following U2 would peak when I caught numerous shows that spring season, trekking around on the first leg of the North American tour, from Tempe to Los Angeles, from San Francisco and Detroit. My friendship with Maria McKee and Lone Justice, who would be tapped to open the shows on this tour, helped make this possible for a college student on a budget, as her generosity provided me guestlist tickets to the shows I attended.

jt aws 2
The Lenten season had just begun when the album was first released, so the record’s desert Biblical tones seemed more than a perfect fit for the journey we were on.  That March, I scrambled to throw together my dream of following the band’s world tour. If people could follow Springsteen or the Dead, then U2 needed that kind of traveling fanbase, too.

At the time, I was living in intentional Christian community in Atlanta, and the idea of running off to catch these shows seemed frivolous, even a decadent privilege, but I was possessed in my gut with that kind of fandom obsession only conjured by rock n roll bands. Within walking distance of where I lived, I could purchase the new tape for less than ten dollars, and I learned all the songs by listening to it on my cassette Walkman with headphones.

The social frame surrounding The Joshua Tree was for me more-than-intense, a fierce urban and rural religious resistance to Reagan-era America. We could feel it from the breathing bricks and overgrown weeds of our lives, manifest in mixtapes of classic rock. I was running from rally to protest, against the KKK or against intervention in Central America or against apartheid in South Africa or against the nuclear arms race. We had a lot to be against. Because of all this passion, I decided my touring with U2 needed a “mission statement,” so I conjured up “Celebration Road” as the nickname for my endeavor. I would pass out fliers at the shows, encouraging fans to get involved in movements for change.
celebration road
Like the social and political edges, the musical ambiance that influenced The Joshua Tree also influenced me in heady and heavy ways. Like Bono and the gang in their late 20s, during my last days as a teenager, I rediscoverd the deeper cuts in the music of the late 1960s, music that had been on the turntables at my house my whole life. And after being mostly straightedge in high school, I was suddenly discovering the substances that made the 60s sound better. Like Bono has said about himself in the intervening years, I was as much punk as hippy. But so much both, that at times, I had been called hippypunk. For my sensibilities, U2 and R.E.M. of the late 1980s were much more avant-garde in musical and political spirit than their sudden “college rock” surge in popularity might suggest.

As much as I loved learning more Dylan or more Doors, more Beatles or more Hendrix, I could easily fall into rapturous moments with the Minutemen or the Meat Puppets or even hardcore like M.D.C. or Dead Kennedys.

Looking back, this time would be the last season of my youth when I would identify as a follower of Christ, before a two-decade descent into a crazed wilderness of addiction. My belief in Jesus had shaped, inspired, and guided me for so long, that it was hard to imagine life outside church and fellowship communities. My faith filled me with passion, and it shaped the entirety of my life, fueling my commitment to social justice. But the allure of the secular counterculture called loudly. I found myself dancing in the streets, debating in classrooms, and drinking at parties, seeking and craving and experiencing a version of the revolution that wasn’t rooted in a religious context.
jt aws
Listening then and listening today, The Joshua Tree reaches the status of canon and brings a riveting liturgical experience. This is rock as revelation. The tracklisting is an order-of-service. Strangely, my experience of immersion on the opening leg of the tour would almost completely sate me. These concerts were undoubtedly church, but I would get somehow and somewhere disillusioned by the end of the line, and I was ready for extended visits to other rock-and-roll denominations. Months later, I would get spiritually restless, and some of the theological significance of the album for me would get lost, at least for awhile. Nevertheless, I have returned to this record at various times and places, and it has been rock scripture again and again, unpacking parts of my aching heart in new ways.

I stopped listening to U2 as much when I drifted away from Jesus. Then, when I made a decisive break with the church at 20 years old on Easter 1988, it was to listen to loud voices of hedonism, psychedelic and otherwise. When I returned to U2 in the 2000s, to this album along with all the others, especially All That You Can’t Leave Behind and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, U2’s music helped draw me back to the source of my faith, the source of salvation, to Jesus.

U2 has always embodied for me what we today call the intersectional, the deeply connected. For them, the message is musical art as justice, brandishing a chorus or a guitar solo at that crossroads of God and spirituality, at the intersection of romantic love and movements for social change.

The music that a person connects with while growing up is the music that grabs heartstrings and holds you with gravity. To this music you can return, years and years later. My yearning for deep spirituality and romantic love and world peace were the swirling turbulence of the late 1980s, and this album brings those aches a profound amplification. Older versions of ourselves share the same concerns, and we will sing them out loud on this coming tour. 

reposted from

Monday, May 1, 2017

Breath and Burning (TOTR 297)

Burning Sky - Spirit Within
Douglas Spotted Eagle - Dance
Willie Thrasher - Spirit Child
Sugluk - Ajuinarasuasuga
John Trudell - Blessings
John Sinclair - Everything Happens To Me
Malcolm Guite - The Green Man
Jethro Tull - Beltane
Loreena McKennitt - Huron Beltane Fire Dance
Reclaiming - Wake Again
Libana - Kore Chant
Libana - The Earth is Our Mother
Reclaiming - We Are the Flow
Casey Neill - Mayday
Casey Neill - Riffraff
Utah Phillips - “All we want is to create volunary combinations”
Dick Gaughan - The World Upside Down
Pete Seeger - My Rainbow Race
Jackson Browne & Bonnie Raitt - Kisses Sweeter ThanWine
The Weavers - Wimoweh
Rising Appalachia - Medicine
Nahko and Medicine for the People - Love Letters to God
Grateful Dead - The Wheel
Phish - Breath and Burning
Desert Dwellers - Peaceful Om’s
Desert Dwellers - Wandering Sadhu
The Farm Band - Prayer
Scissor Sisters - Return to Oz
Israel Kamakawiwoʻole - Over the Rainbow