Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Town

As far as bank robber movies go I would say, without a doubt, that I’m a fan. Point Break, The Italian Job, The Dark Knight, Ocean’s Eleven – all heist movies, all awesome. And Ben Affleck’s The Town is no different. Taking place in hardcore Boston – a setting for some of my other favorites like The Departed and Good Will Hunting – the action never stops in this move and trust me, you don’t want it to stop.

Affleck plays local kid Doug MacRay who got drafted to play pro hockey but then chose drugs over an athletic career. As a result he turned out just like his father (played brilliantly in one scene by Chris Cooper) and became a bank robber. But unlike his father, who is serving time in prison and will be there for seemingly forever, Doug is looking to get out of the criminal life and get out of town. In the meantime he hangs out with three friends and literal partners in crime including best friend James “Jem” Coughlin, played with angst and rebellion by the amazing Jeremy Renner, Owen Burke who is from New England and Slaine who is a Boston-bred, Irish-American hip hop MC and actor. Jem would do anything for Doug, never met a drug or drink he didn’t like and never shies away from a fight.

Doug MacRay: I need your help. I can't tell you what it is, you can never ask me about it later, and we're gonna hurt some people.
[Jem pauses to think for a moment]
James Coughlin: Whose car are we gonna take?”

These guys pull off bank robberies with finesse and precision while wearing rubber masks that are reminiscent of Point Break’s “Ex-Presidents” – except these guys switch up their masks going from skeletons to nuns.

The first bust turns out to be the most important because we are introduced to bank manager Claire (the fantastic Rebecca Hall) who ends up being Doug’s love interest. She doesn’t know that Doug is the one who held her at gunpoint and robbed her bank so they begin dating. It starts off as a way for Doug to make sure she doesn’t say too much to the FBI but it turns out he actually falls for her.

Another excellent performance is given by Jon Hamm who plays FBI Special Agent Adam Frawley. This guy is no joke – he is out to get Doug and his crew and will not stop until they are dead or behind bars forever.

[To the team of police officers]
Adam Frawley: Where are they? What are they doing right now? They got the money, now they have to clean it. Casino's, tracks, maybe they make a big drug buy, flip it across town. They wanna go celebrate, right? V.P.D, D.E.A. I want chips, names, witnesses. Anything. We're gonna knock on some doors see who wants to help us out. Any questions? No. Great. Let's go.”

When Doug and company aren’t robbing banks and running drugs the guys also hang out with Jem’s sister Krista (played by Blake Lively) who has an affinity for cocaine and oxycontin and also has a young daughter. From watching the previews I thought Lively would have more screen time but she does make good use of the little time she is given. Though her character is a clichĂ©, she exemplifies the “townie” type person who is a young mother, into drugs and booze, wears tights clothes and has smeared makeup – essentially the Boston version of Courtney Love.

While the final 30 minutes of the movie are pretty predictable – final robbery goes wrong and people die – Affleck (who starred in and directed this movie) went big and decided to make the final bust take place at “The Cathedral of Boston” – Fenway Park. Very cool and very appropriate considering how big the Red Sox have been over the last few years. But that’s how this entire movie played out – very cool and very well done. I think Affleck has finally shaken the Jennifer Lopez bullshit and is back making good movies about a town he knows very well. While The Town proves you can never and may never want to go home again, it sure is fun watching these guys try.

I’m Jealous Of Grace Potter

Have you seen the video for the Grace Potter & The Nocturnals song, “Paris”? Shot in black and white with lead singer Potter and her band looking like something out of seventies rock and roll I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. While female singers aren’t always my first choice, Potter kills it. In addition to looking like Heidi Klum and pulling off Tina Turner – type dresses she can hit AC/DC-esque high notes and while playing several instruments including guitar and piano. When the band played a live concert for the troops in Iraq she even duetted with the Heart girls and completely held her own. It was unbelievable.

Now to be fair – and to not be one of those writers who pulls a No Doubt and only talks about the female lead singer –Potter has a sensational band behind her. The Nocturnals include Scott Tournet on guitars and harmonica, drummer Matthew Burr, Catherine Popper on bass guitar and vocals and Benny Yurco on electric and vocals. They too carry the seventies band persona and provide an incredible backdrop for Potter.

Favorite simple but brilliant lyrics:

"You got me down on the floor
So what'd you bring me down here for?
If I was a man I'd make my move
If I was a blade I'd shave you smooth
If I was a judge I'd break the law..."

For those around the country who have a television the band will be on Letterman tonight. For all the Denver kids – this band is coming to the Ogden Theatre on Friday, February 11 so let’s get some tickets and go! In the meantime, download “Paris,” “Apologies” and their cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.” You won’t be disappointed.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Steel Panther Is A Little Soft

A friend of mine said: “They’re an 80s metal cover band that plays songs by Guns, Van Halen and Motely Crue. You’re gonna love them!” Famous last words. I was so excited to see Steel Panther this weekend and unfortunately I have to admit that I was disappointed. I was expecting some amazing covers by a band who really loved the Sunset Strip bands that made the 80s so legendary. What I got was a bunch of posers who dressed and looked like the bands I love but were actually turning everything into a big joke. One of the band members even spent his time in between sets spraying his hair with Aquanet and looking into a pink mirror. Funny at first but it got old really fast.

Rather than using their talented front man (who looked and sounded like Motley Crue’s Vince Neil) and heavy guitar skills to pay respects to the great bands from the decade of decadence, they made fun of those bands by talking about sex, drugs and rock and roll as if it was a stupid act that everyone fell for. While I’m well aware that not everyone loves 80s metal bands the point of going to this show was to see a band that dressed like those bands and played their songs. Instead, they played their own songs with ridiculous names like “Asian Hooker” which would have been fine if they had played three or four of their own songs and then played 10 or 12 amazing covers. No such luck. In between playing boring parody Steel Panther songs they did some kind of comedy routine during which they talked about having sex with groupies and doing drugs – stuff that Crue, Guns and Van Halen did but didn’t feel the need to discuss on stage. There was a good reason for that.

Some would say I got what I asked for when I decided to see a tribute band but if you’ve ever seen the all-girls AC/DC cover band called Hells Belles you would see why I was excited. There is a reason why Hells Bells sell out every single show – they sing AC/DC songs like they wrote them and play all the hits. Their lead singer sounds so much like Brian Johnson and their lead guitarist could fill in for Angus Young if necessary.

Steel Panther could learn a thing or two from Hells Bells: Play a few of your songs and then play what people came to hear. And shut up in between songs – no one is trying to hear your half- assed comedy routine about drugs and groupies when you’re playing a part and you all have wedding rings on. It’s ridiculous.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Tattoos & Tequila

No, that’s not a two-item list of debauchery beginning with the letter “T.” It’s the title of Motley Crue lead singer Vince Neil’s new book and like his band’s reputation, it doesn’t hold back. Released as a literary accompaniment to his new album of the same name, Tattoos & Tequila is Neil’s tell-all book of the life and times of one of rock and roll’s most decadent and infamous lead singers.

Although Motley Crue originally told their story in the New York Times best seller The Dirt, the book was written by all four band members with the help of Neil Strauss, not just one specific band member. As far as The Dirt goes, there is a reason why that book was a New York Times best seller – it was that good. I remember buying it one day and being unable able to put it down until I finished it - and it wasn’t short. Apparently telling the story of four self-destructive musicians who defined the decade of decadence took a few hundred pages. No problem – I literally couldn’t put it down.

My point is that if you are a Motley Crue fan and already read The Dirt, you should still read Tattoos & Tequila because like the cover says, it really does bring you “to hell and back with one of rock’s most notorious front men.” While Neil clearly had his choice of women, booze and drugs for most of his life he also dealt with killing a good friend and injuring two strangers in a drunk driving accident and watching his four-year-old daughter die of cancer. He also has gone to rehab more times than he can count and is on his fourth wife. For all the success, fame and decadence there were some serious consequences that Neil faced.

While many people roll their eyes at me when I tell them how much I like Motley Crue there is something to be said about a lead singer who looked and sounded like a girl but still put off this macho, badass image while hitting the high notes, a drummer who was as lawless as he was talented, a bass guitarist who was a tortured writer and severe drug addict and a lead guitarist who has pretty much suffered from chronic pain for as long as he can remember. They all came together and put out some seriously amazing rock and roll records. If you’re not a Motley Crue fan try to put aside the 80s hairband stereotype and listen to songs like “Kickstart My Heart,” “Dr. Feelgood” and “Too Fast For Love.” It’s good stuff and regardless of the haters who shun Motley Crue for being cock rock or glam rock or whatever – those guys can play their instruments and Vince Neil can sing.

Tattoos & Tequila begins with an intro by co-author Mike Sager and here are a few of my favorite quotes where he describes Vince Neil:

“Androgynous sex symbol during the early years of the gender-bending eighties.”

“The 1987 Aerosmith classic, ‘Dude Looks Like A Lady,’ was written after Steven Tyler and Joe Perry spotted Vince in a bar and mistook him for a hot chick.”

“He was the show.”

From Co-manager of Motley Crue, Doc McGee:

“Vince was an aggressive, over-the-top frontman. That band was just so aggressive…they thought they were above the law.”

“They just went out there and turned it on. There was no dimmer switch. It was awesome.”

“They just took no prisoners”

Motley Crue Statistics:

In August 1985, Theatre of Pain hit number six on the charts, the highest of their albums.

“Home Sweet Home” became MTV’s most requested video in November 1985.

In May 1987, “Girls, Girls, Girls” peaked at number 12 on the US charts, the highest placing yet for any Motley Crue single.

The album of the same name soon followed – entered the Billboard 200 at number five, the highest positioning of a metal album since Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains The Same, almost a decade earlier.

In August 1989, the single “Dr. Feelgood” reached number six on the Billboard chart. First gold disc for a single and the album of the same name hit number one on the Billboard charts. By November 1989 the album hit double platinum with two million copies sold in the US.

Final quote from Vince Neil:

“Motley Crue: We started something great. But we also created a monster.”

Saturday, December 4, 2010

It's Grammy Time!

Out of all the award shows we are bombarded with on an annual basis my favorite, without a doubt, is the Grammys. When I started this blog almost a year ago the first post I wrote was about the Grammys so in a sense I could say that the show was my initial inspiration for all of this.

Anyway, the Grammys is my favorite award show of the year because of the performances of course but also because this one has the ability to solidify and legitimize an artist’s career. Whether the artist is brand new or has been around awhile, getting a Grammy matters. Even if artists have said in previous interviews that awards don’t matter and it’s all about the music, the fans and God, trust me, this one matters.

The Grammys are comparable to the Academy Awards in that once an actor wins an Oscar their names will forever be introduced as “Oscar Winner _____.” The same goes for musicians who win a Grammy and I can imagine that there is nothing better than being introduced as “Grammy Award Winner ____.” There is a reason why the Grammys are called “music’s biggest night” – it’s because winning this award is a very big deal. So, here are this year’s nominees and my picks for the winners:

Album of the Year
Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Eminem - Recovery*
Lady Antebellum - Need You Now
Lady Gaga - The Fame Monster
Katy Perry - Teenage Dream

*There is no question that Eminem should win this category. Recovery is gutsy, melodic, tells a great story and features one of rap’s biggest stars at his finest. I guess you can call it a comeback.

Record of the Year
B.o.B (featuring Bruno Mars) - "Nothin' on You"
Eminem (featuring Rihanna) - "Love the Way You Lie"*
Cee Lo Green - "Fuck You"
Jay-Z and Alicia Keys - "Empire State of Mind"
Lady Antebellum - "Need You Now"

*This is a tough one since there are three strong choices including “Love the Way You Lie,” “Fuck You” and “Empire State of Mind.” This year was definitely the year of the rappers/lady hook masters so I’m thinking Eminem and Rihanna might take it since it’s the most recent and currently the most ubiquitous. That being said, “Empire State of Mind” was inescapable for what seemed like forever but honestly I feel like that song came out in 2009. I think Eminem and Rihanna will take home the big trophy.

Best New Artist
Justin Bieber
Florence + the Machine*
Mumford & Sons
Esperanza Spalding

*Since I literally cannot stand the sight or sound of Justin Bieber and I think Mumford & Sons are good but not great I’m going with Florence + the Machine as a shout out to Carly Brown.

Song of the Year
Ray LaMontagne - "Beg Steal or Borrow"
Cee Lo Green - "Fuck You"*
Miranda Lambert - "The House That Built Me"
Eminem (featuring Rihanna) - "Love the Way You Lie"
Lady Antebellum - "Need You Now"

*Again this one is a close call between “Love the Way You Lie” and “Fuck You” so maybe Cee Lo will grab this one – he certainly deserves it.

Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals
"Glee" cast - "Don't Stop Believin' (Regionals Version)"
Maroon 5 - "Misery
Paramore - "The Only Exception"
Sade - "Babyfather"
Train - "Hey, Soul Sister (Live)"*

*Since the Glee cast is technically not a real music group I’m not sure why they are nominated and honestly I’m not super impressed with any of these choices. I guess I’ll go with Train even though Paramore might take.

Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals
B.o.B, Eminem and Hayley Williams - "Airplanes II"*
Herbie Hancock, Pink, India.Arie, Seal, Konono No. 1, Jeff Beck and Oumou Sangare - "Imagine"
Elton John & Leon Russell - "If It Wasn't For Bad"
Lady Gaga and Beyoncé - "Telephone"
Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg - "California Gurls"

*I absolutely love “Airplanes” – can’t get enough of it.

Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals
Arcade Fire - "Ready to Start"
Jeff Beck and Joss Stone - "I Put a Spell on You"
The Black Keys - "Tighten Up"*
Kings of Leon - "Radioactive"
Muse - "Resistance"

*The Black Keys have been all over the radio and TV this year – I mean seriously, every single commercial on television features a song by them. Plus, they are phenomenal live – “Tighten Up” gets my vote.

Best Hard Rock Performance
Alice in Chains - "A Looking in View"
Ozzy Osbourne - "Let Me Hear You Scream"
Soundgarden - "Black Rain"
Stone Temple Pilots - "Between the Lines"*
Them Crooked Vultures - "New Fang"

*Another tough call as all five options represent some of the biggest guns in rock and roll. That being said, I think I’m going to have to go with “Between the Lines” for this year.

Best Rock Song
Neil Young - "Angry World"
Mumford & Sons - "Little Lion Man"
Kings of Leon - "Radioactive"
Muse - "Resistance"
The Black Keys - "Tighten Up"*

*I have to go with The Black Keys again for this one.

Best Alternative Music Album
Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Band of Horses - Infinite Arms
The Black Keys - Brothers*
Broken Bells - Broken Bells
Vampire Weekend - Contra

*Although I loved seeing Band of Horses live this year, The Black Keys should take this one as well. (By the way, what constitutes "Alternative" music sure has changed since Nirvana ran the show).

Best Rap Song
Jay-Z and Alicia Keys - "Empire State of Mind"
Eminem and Rihanna - "Love the Way You Lie"*
Eminem - "Not Afraid"
B.o.B (featuring Bruno Mars) - "Nothin' on You"
Jay-Z and Swizz Beatz - "On to the Next One"

*This one may come down to Eminem vs. Eminem and although I think “Not Afraid” succeeds in being both gritty and inspiring at the same time, I think people really could not get enough of “Love the Way You Lie.”

Best Rap Album
B.o.B - The Adventures of Bobby Ray
Drake - Thank Me Later
Eminem - Recovery*
Jay-Z - The Blueprint 3
The Roots - How I Got Over

*I feel like I’m being repetitive but then again Eminem did earn an astonishing 10 nominations this year. I predict Eminem takes home the trophy with Jay-Z nipping at his heels.

Best Country Song
George Strait - "The Breath You Take"
Zac Brown Band - "Free"*
Miranda Lambert - "The House That Built Me"
Gretchen Wilson - "I'd Love To Be Your Last"
The Band Perry - "If I Die Young"
Lady Antebellum - "Need You Now"

*Zac Brown Band seems to be the favorite but I think both Miranda Lambert and Gretchen Wilson put out stellar albums that include these unforgettable songs.

Best Country Album
Dierks Bentley - Up on the Ridge
Zac Brown Band - You Get What You Give
Jamey Johnson - The Guitar Song
Lady Antebellum - Need You Now*
Miranda Lambert – Revolution

*Five great choices as these are five of country music’s biggest acts. I’m partial to Dierks Bentley and Miranda Lambert but Lady Antebellum and Zac Brown Band have been getting a ton of airplay while Jamey Johnson is billed as country’s biggest badass. Tough choice but I’m thinking Lady Antebellum might grab this one.

Best Americana Album
Rosanne Cash - The List
Los Lobos - Tin Can Trust
Willie Nelson - Country Music
Robert Plant - Band of Joy*
Mavis Staples - You Are Not Alone

*While I think this is a very strange name for a category there are clearly some heavy hitters on this list of nominees. Though I am a big fan of Rosanne Cash and Willie Nelson I will always put Led Zeppelin’s notorious front man, Robert Plant, at the top of my list.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Godfathers Of Outlaw Country

One of the godfathers of outlaw country is none other than Hank Williams – a man who is arguably one of the greatest country music stars of all time. Even though he was basically unable to read or write music, he charted eleven number one songs between 1948 and 1953 including hits such as “Your Cheatin' Heart,” “Hey Good Lookin’” and “I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Whether you’re a country fan or not, I’m pretty sure that you know at least one of these songs – in fact you may even know the words to them.

Unfortunately, Williams had some drug and alcohol problems that led to his demise. On August 11, 1952, Williams was fired from the Grand Ole Opry as he was told not to return until he was sober. He died at age 29 and his death is widely believed to have resulted from a mixture of alcohol and drugs.

As of October 31, 2010, Hank Williams was officially reinstated into the Grand Ole Opry. A press statement said, “Hank Williams was the reason the Grand Ole Opry exists. Without him, this organization operates on false pretenses, and we are ashamed to have managed this American Institution without giving Hank his due.”

Hank Williams’ songs have been recorded by hundreds of other big names such as Bob Dylan, Cake, Johnny Cash, Tony Bennett, Patsy Cline, Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong and Tom Waits. He is a legend in the music business – a trait that he passed down to his son, Hank Williams, Jr. who is not only a professional singer but is also one of the most famous outlaw country singers of all time. Hank Williams Jr.’s most well-known song is “A Country Boy Can Survive” which reached number two on the Billboard Hot Country Singles charts in early 1982. Since 1984 he has won multiple awards from the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association, as well as four Emmys and one Grammy.

As someone who has played and made albums with Waylon Jennings, Toy Caldwell, Marshall Tucker Band and Charlie Daniels, it is no surprise that he has influenced younger country artists of today. He has had so much of an impact that recently, Hank Williams, Jr. has been referenced in more than few country songs by some of the genre’s biggest stars:

Gretchen Wilson – “I Got Your Country Right Here”

Gimme some Waylon
Little bit of that Ramblin’ Man
Our country boys can't survive
Can I get a little hand for Hank?

Jason Aldean – “Crazy Town”

Bend those strings 'til the Hank comes out
Make all the drunk girls scream and shout
We love it, we hate it, we're all just trying to make it
In this crazy town

Jake Owen – “Eight Second Ride”

We went riding round rocking to the sound of “Country Boy Can Survive”
And I knew then that she was my kind of girl cuz she was singing every single line

There’s no question that mentioning either Hank Williams or Hank Williams, Jr. gives artists street cred. They know that giving a shout out to the pioneers of their craft is never a bad thing.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Where the hell is Gretchen Wilson?

For someone who was winning Grammys while Carrie Underwood was still competing on American Idol, Gretchen Wilson has been strangely under the radar for the last few years. Although there is no question that country music has recently experienced a new wave of popularity, I would argue that Gretchen Wilson was one of the first artists to bring country music back into the limelight.

She made her debut in 2004 with the Grammy Award-winning single “Redneck Woman,” a number-one hit on the Billboard country charts. The song served as the lead-off single of her debut album, Here for the Party. Wilson followed this album one year later with All Jacked Up, the title track of which became the highest-debuting single for a female country artist upon its 2005 release.

On a negative note, Wilson was the victim of one of Kanye West’s first outbursts when he threw a fit after losing to Wilson in the American Music Awards’ Best New Artist category. Although these days Kanye acting like a whiny bitch is par for the course, (see his behavior towards yet another female country artist at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards) back in 2004 people couldn’t believe that he had the audacity to call Wilson’s music “bullshit.”

Having nothing to do with Kanye, after 2005 Wilson seemed to fall off the planet. Even though she released albums both in 2007 (One Of The Boys) and in March 2010 (I’ve Got Your Country Right Here) we haven’t seen Wilson on TV or anywhere else for a while and I can’t figure out why. Over the last six years Wilson has charted 13 singles on the Billboard country charts, five of which reached the Top Ten: the Number One “Redneck Woman,” as well as “Here for the Party” (#3, 2004), “When I Think About Cheatin’” (#4, 2004), “Homewrecker” (#2, 2005) and “All Jacked Up” (#8, 2005). The album Here for the Party was certified five times Multi-Platinum by the RIAA for sales of five million copies, while All Jacked Up was certified platinum. In just six years, Wilson has sold over six million records worldwide.

So where the hell is she and why aren’t her songs getting airplay? I’ve listened to a few tracks from her latest album, I’ve Got Your Country Right Here, and it’s great stuff. My favorites so far are the title track, along with “Work Hard, Play Harder” and “Outlaws And Renegades.” If you’re a country fan do yourself a favor and listen to a few of her new songs. Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert and Taylor Swift may be the most popular female country names out right now (and don’t get me wrong, I think Underwood and Lambert are sensational) but Wilson may be the most badass female country singer out there. Listen to her new album – you won’t be disappointed.