Tag Archives: Detroit concert venues

The Break a Leg Tour: Foo Fighters at DTE Energy Music Theater

26 Aug

Foo Fighters curtainAt last, four years after I’d seen them for the first time at the Palace, nine months after spending three of the coldest hours of my life waiting in line for tickets, the big day arrived: The Foo Fighters returned to Michigan, fronted by the indefatigable Dave Grohl.

Grohl has more than earned his reputation for being the biggest bad ass in rock and roll this summer. Back in June, Grohl pitched off the stage during a concert in Sweden, dislocating his ankle and breaking his leg before getting back on stage to finish the show. As he told Entertainment Weekly,

[T]he doctor said, “Your ankle’s dislocated and I have to put it back into place right now.” They put this roll of gauze in my mouth and I screamed and bit down on it and they put my ankle back into place and then everyone was quiet for a minute. The Foo Fighters were onstage playing a Queen song or something and I looked down and said, “OK, can I go back on stage now?” Because it didn’t hurt. My paramedic doctor said “I have to hold your ankle in place,” and I said, “Well, then you’re coming on f—ing stage with me right now.” And he did.

Dave Grohl and Dave GrohlOnce the adrenaline ebbed, the pain took over, and the band had to cancel the rest of their European dates. However, Grohl was determined to return to the road for the American leg (ahem) starting with the Foo’s 20th anniversary concert on July 4th in Washington D.C. While in the hospital – high as a kite due to painkillers – he designed a movable chair with speakers and a smoke machine built into the base and a huge red logo surrounded by guitar necks and “lazers.” Sitting on his throne, he could prop up his leg and still thrash through three hours of music. His crew constructed the contraption and the tour was saved.

As gruff as he comes off during a concert, he’s a fan first and foremost, knowing what it’s like to brave the weather, inflated ticket prices and a weary day at work the next morning to see a show. Promising to pack as much time on stage as the local ordinances would allow, Grohl kicked right into “Everlong” and didn’t let up for two and a half hours. This is a guy who usually runs from one end of the stadium to the other, so staying seated had to be tough. Although he’s graduated from a hard cast to a boot (which he used as an ersatz bow for his guitar for one number), he stayed on his throne, singing, screaming and headbanging per usual.

Dave Grohl in red

He’s also running for Coolest Dad on the Planet. A few times he called to the wings for some water, and out trotted Violet, his six year-old daughter, sporting noise-canceling earphones. (Five year-old Harper came out toward the end; probably his toddler was asleep on the bus.)

The crowd was up for anything as long as Dave was at the helm, and he was ready to acquiesce to our demands. He brought a fan on stage to make good on his poster board request to share a beer in honor of the guy’s 50th birthday. During his introductions of the band, joking that they knew “the first minute of every rock song ever written,” he capitulated to the crowd’s demand to play all of Kiss’ “Detroit Rock City.” More than once, he left it to the audience to decide if the next song would be a Foo Fighters song or a classic cover, clearly favoring the former. (Despite a compelling version of Tom Petty’s “Breakdown,” the Foos really aren’t that great of a cover band.)

There are so few honest-to-goodness rock bands left these days, much less those with band members under the age of 60. Grohl carries the torch for a lot of us who, despite kids, jobs, infirmities and changing times, never want the show to end.

See you on the flip side …

Concertpalooza 2015: Mariachi El Bronx, Gogol Bordello & Flogging Molly at Meadowbrook

15 Jun

MEL GB FMWhoever came up with this bill was a genius.

The three groups have a lot of similarities:

  • a sizable line up of musicians
  • a violin/fiddle player
  • a good chance of having an accordion player
  • a female musician who plays more than just a tambourine
  • ethnic roots
  • punk approach
  • a good beat you can drink to
  • rabid followings
  • music that just won’t allow you to stand still

Months ago, I got tickets for my whole family to see this show, with Gogol Bordello as the main draw. Since my son and partner have not ranged the rock-and-roll show circuit as much as my daughter and I, I prepped them by taking them through as many contingencies as I could think of. “Bring a jacket. Use bug spray. Get some earplugs. Charge your phones. Be ready to wait in traffic longer than you spent watching the show. Watch out for knuckleheads who want to crowd surf.” It was like I sending them to Rock Band Day Camp. I did everything but write their names in their t-shirts.

At present, my partner is recovering from a total hip replacement. While we had pavilion seating at the Meadowbrook Music Theater, it’s a good half mile from the parking lot to the amphitheater, and it was supposed to rain (because it always rains at outdoor rock music events). Thankfully she was able to score a handicap parking permit. We were whisked to a small lot next to the bathrooms (!), the beer distributor (!!) and the seats (!!!). With all the time saved in getting onto the property, we even had enough time to hobble up the hill to the merchandise shed before the first note was played.

(While I hope you never have to obtain a handicap sticker, if you do, I highly recommend buying concert tickets shortly thereafter.)

Mariachi El Bronx

Mariachi El Bronx

I saw Mariachi El Bronx four years ago as an opening act for the Foo Fighters at the Palace in Auburn Hills and was blown away by how they embrace the traditional style completely. It was a surprise because these Angelinos (many of them non-Latinos) also perform as The Bronx, a hardcore punk act. Yet they play brilliantly and respect the form – the galloping waltz time, the tempos that can go from languid to rapid-fire, the glorious trumpets.

Their brief set wasn’t all it could be, sadly. Before they got on stage, a bizarre pulse filled the venue like a strobe light made of sound waves. It was a cool effect for about 30 seconds, but it went on and on until it was way too annoying and disorienting. Then, once the sound stunt stopped and the band began, the bass and percussion levels were set way too high so they overwhelmed the rest of the musicians. It was too bad that my family had a poor first impression; I still bought their t-shirt.

Eugne Hutz and Gogol Bordello

Eugene Hutz and Gogol Bordello

Then on to the band we were waiting for: the gypsy punk troubadours, Gogol Bordello. After seeing them last year in an indoor venue, I hoped an open-air environment wouldn’t diffuse their magic. Not to fear: Eugene Hutz and the rest of the international gang were in fine form. My daughter and I had a bet that Eugene wouldn’t be wearing a shirt: while I lost the bet when he entered, I won it about 15 minutes later when he’d worked up enough of a lather to toss it into the wings. They’re the kind of band that will get you singing along, even if you don’t know the words – since they could be singing in any number of languages, it doesn’t matter what comes out of your mouth as long as it’s in tempo.

Given how many green t-shirts – and men in kilts – there were in the audience, it was clear the bulk of the crowd was there for Flogging Molly. I had never heard any of their music. I assumed they were direct competitors with the Boston-based Dropkick Murphys, but their brand of Celtic punk is less screamy and and more folky, with fiddle/flute/banjo instrumentation and songs that could be heard closing down a pub at 2 a.m. This was a bit of a hometown gig for the LA-based band, as the fiddle/flute player Bridget Regan is from Michigan. (Her Irish husband, lead singer and guitarist Dave King, made a point of extolling the beauty of his mother-in-law from the stage.)

Floggin Molly - 1

Bridget Regan and Dave King

King is a charming showman: bearded, goofy, bounding around the stage barely time for a breath and a swig before starting the next number. My daughter described him as looking like a great dad. The guys in the audience who had been amping up their anticipation with the help of a few tall beers sang along to every song at the top of their lungs. We, the uninitiated, had our fill after an hour and left before the encore, slipping out of the handicap parking lot without having to hit the brakes once.

I talk about tribalism a lot when it comes to rock music. You go to a show to be with those like you, fellow fans who love a bunch of musicians enough to pay the ridiculous Ticketmaster fees and put up with the knuckleheads just so you can breathe the same air, sing the same lyrics and throb to the same beat. Putting these three tribes together was not only brilliant cross-promotion. It opened our ears and widened our circle to include even more like minds and hearts.

See you on the flip side at the next Concertpalooza gigs: the Violent Femmes on June 20, and the Heartless Bastards on June 21

The “Summertime Sadness” of Lana Del Rey

9 Jun

Concertpalooza 2015 got off to a terrific start on May 31, thanks to the generosity of our friends who had tickets to Lana Del Rey they couldn’t use. Off to the rain-sodden DTE Energy Music Theater we went, my younger daughter and I, thrilled to see one of our favorites from the fourth row.

Lana Del Rey - 2

Photo by Davis Kurepa-Peers

Lana Del Rey used to perform under her given name, Lizzie Grant, but changed it to be more in line with the noirish Hollywood image she cultivates. Her look is very feminine: chiffon, liquid eyeliner, long hair and nails. Her multi-octave voice juices her ethereal, whiskey sour sound. In most of her work, she chronicles a doomed combination of attraction and danger when it comes to men. “Off to the Races” is a love song sung from a jail cell to a seedy older guy with a gambling habit and a “cocaine heart.” She excerpts The Crystals’ “He hit me and it felt like a kiss” in her lyrics for “Ultraviolence.” She even gives over to her boyfriend’s passion for Springsteen and video games.

It’s as if Carole King scored David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.

The staging for her Endless Summer tour amplifies this, with the singer framed by two listing skyscrapers towering over a sign spelling her name in high-watt bulbs. The video footage on screens around the stage – of flowers, a car wreck, even Del Rey herself – shifted between black and white and the burnt rust and ocher of the cover of a pulp novel. Smoke furling around them, she and her four-piece band were mesmerizing.

Photo by Davis Kurepa-Peers

Photo by Davis Kurepa-Peers

I appreciate her daring disregard for what a modern woman is supposed to express. Her persona survives more than lives, loving whatever her boyfriend loves without question, molding herself to whatever shape her lover demands. She also appreciates her fans a great deal, to the point of stopping the show twice to go into the general admission area to pose for selfies and sign autographs. This struck my daughter as sweet, although it made me wonder why she couldn’t have just sung a couple extra numbers and stuck around after the show instead.

However, Del Rey’s obsession with death and “Summertime Sadness” raises concern and criticism in the press. (This is someone whose two big albums are Born to Die and Ultraviolence, after all.) When she capped her admiration for Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain to a British interviewer last summer by saying, “I wish I was dead already,” Frances Bean Cobain challenged her, saying “the death of young musicians isn’t something to romanticize.” It doesn’t help that Del Rey comes off as a bit flippant, making me shake my head as she considers feminism as merely being able to do what you want to do as a woman and otherwise “not an interesting concept.”

Clearly I don’t know her personally, so I don’t know whether she’s dealing with personal demons or shrugging off philosophical discussions to focus on her music. I also have to ask myself if quotes like this get hyped in the press because she’s a female singer who doesn’t do shiny, wildly costumed and choreographed pop.

Setting aside what may or may not be her personal foibles, Lana Del Rey is uniquely engaging because she isn’t out to be a role model, or empowering, or even fun, which isn’t what many would expect of a young female singer.  That’s what makes her appeal equally to jaded concert-goers like me and upbeat, well-adjusted young fans in flower crowns like my daughter:

See you on the flip side …

The opposite of Gen X: Neil Diamond and All Time Low

31 May

Neil Diamond poster

I am a Gen Xer by the skin of my teeth, having been born nine months after the Baby Boom shut its doors on December 31, 1964. I’d like to think I embody my generation’s reputation for being “savvy, skeptical and self-reliant,” particularly in terms of musical taste. After wasting our teenage years binging on MTV, we Xers demanded  the seething purity of Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, the Pixies and Sonic Youth. We wouldn’t settle for pop or posers, we of the clove cigarettes and flannel shirts. We would live and breathe the Real for the rest of our existence and pity those who didn’t follow in our Doc Martens’ footsteps.

Therefore, I feel I have to explain why I went to that Neil Diamond concert at the Palace a few months ago …

I don’t have anything against the Jewish Elvis. Diamond was inescapable on 1970s radio but I didn’t give him much mind. I honestly didn’t think he had much of a following. Then my concert buddy Lois called the night of the show with a last-minute request that I join her, her sister and a friend to use their spare ticket – and I learned otherwise.

As I entered the Palace, it was clear there are thousands upon thousands of people who love Neil Diamond – I mean, love Neil Diamond. This was made very public by the messages appearing on the big screens sent from fans in the crowd to #TweetCaroline (nice). Clearly, these folks had been fans for a long, long while:

First concert in 20 years!

So glad to bring my mom

Granny in the house!

Thanks to Lois’ sister being a particularly devoted fan, I was seated directly under the scoreboard at center court: the best seats I’ve ever had at a show at the Palace. (Where, oh where were these when we saw the Black Keys?)

I have to give Diamond his due. His work means a great deal to his fans worldwide, and even at 72 he’s not slacking off. He started promptly at 8:00 with no warm-up act and sauntered through more than two hours of hits, accompanied by a no-nonsense band and two seasoned background singers. I nodded along, tamping down my ageist impulse to snicker at devotees like the gent taking photos with his flip phone. I admire Diamond’s craft and commitment, but his work just doesn’t ring my bell or rattle my cage. As another great pop song writer wrote several generations before, he’s “writing songs of love, but not for me.”

###

All Time Low tour posterI, the sneering Gen Xer, was equally out of place drowning in a sea of Millenials at the All Time Low concert at the Compuware Sports Arena a few weeks later.

Here’s another act that has no emotional resonance for me; they sound like a Blink-182 cover band doing their best Green Day imitation. My younger daughter, however, has been a rabid fan since kindergarten, thanks to her older sister’s iPod. And she was not alone: the 5,000 seat venue was sold out.

Clearly I was not the only Xer in the place. We parental chaperones and chauffeurs were everywhere, wearing t-shirts indicating the many places we wished we could be instead of in a hockey rink full of screaming teenagers. I wore the shirt I recently got at the Johnny Cash museum in Nashville. The guy in front of me had a B.B. King & Friends tour shirt from 2001; the fella behind me was in a Tigers jersey. One woman even got her CATS shirt out of mothballs. Many of them were also wearing an accessory I should have had the sense to bring: earplugs.

During the three (three!) opening acts and the main attraction, I was under assault. The bass and percussion rattled the stands on the opposite side of the arena. We were sitting in the center section, so whenever the lights spun around they’d go straight through my eyeballs and out the back of my skull. At a certain point, I was doubled over in my seat, my fingers jammed in  my ears and my eyes shut tight. But I was in the minority. Just as at the Neil Diamond show, the majority of the audience knew every word of every song and squealed every time a new one began. They were having fun doggone it, despite me curling up in a ball and running through a mental list of synonyms for “excruciating.”

I know that generational superiority only goes so far when it comes to music. Everyone has his or her own internal soundtrack that draws from decades of material, and what warms one heart leaves another one cold. Rather than rage against music I don’t enjoy, I would be better to allow someone else to take my seat. Otherwise, I will become my dad – a proud member of the Silent Generation – who pretty much summed up all music written after World War II as nothing but “too damn loud.”

See you on the flip side …

From underground obscurity to international phenomenon: “It Came From Detroit”

2 Mar

It Came From DetroitThank goodness I moved to Detroit when I did. If I’d arrived in the 1990s, I probably wouldn’t have been able to hold down a steady job or get any sleep because I would have spent every spare dollar and minute in a scuzzy bar somewhere downtown listening to garage bands.

I know this thanks to a very thoughtful gift from my cousins-in-law: a copy of the 2013 documentary, It Came from Detroit, chronicling the garage scene before, during and after the White Stripes made it big and gave the world a glimpse of the home-grown music scene.

The way the musicians tell it in the film, many of these bands were formed out of boredom by music geeks who clogged the aisles of record stores looking for albums by early 1960s American bands like Bay City’s own ? and the Mysterians. Having no experience playing an instrument wasn’t necessarily a barrier; friends would pick up a guitar or a pair of drum sticks and jump right in. As more bands formed, they took over whatever space was cheap and available (dive bars, bowling alleys, stripper transvestite clubs) to play for whoever would show up. The sound – fuzzed up, fun and really loud – was dubbed “Detroit garage rock.”

The crowds grew, the bands (which often shared or swapped players) got better known around town, and while they weren’t exactly able to quit their day jobs, bands like The Demolition Doll Rods, Electric Six and The Detroit Cobras were able to play rock music their way – as this video from The Gories shows:

 

Then came Jack and Meg White.

Jack had played with a number of Detroit bands like Rocket 455 and the Hentchmen, but once the White Stripes started, they were on a different trajectory. The documentary uses their rise to the top as a line of demarcation between a time when music was just a way for friends to get together by making music, and one in which Detroit bands like the Von Bondies were getting national praise and international exposure … which didn’t last long.

It Came From Detroit took ten years to film and features dozens of interviews and music clips. I’m glad that many of these bands are still playing (I’ve seen a couple recently) and grateful their commitment to having fun onstage hasn’t waned. And as for those that are hiatus or broke up long ago, at least we can experience some of that Motor City magic on screen. As my cousin writes,

Looking back it was by far the most enjoyable job I have ever had. For 9 years 3-4 nights a week my job was to go witness great rock and roll shows, well for the most part at least.

There are lots of stories to go along with all those shows. It did kind of dampen my enthusiasm of seeing national acts in larger venues, knowing that I saw so many great bands that were just as good and many times far better than those big touring bands.

Buy the documentary, spread the word, and share your experiences here. In the meantime, enjoy this clip from Ann Arbor-based The Paybacks:

 

See you on the flip side …

Right Around the Corner: The Detroit Cobras at the UFO Factory

29 Dec

Tied and TrueThis year has been a personal best for concerts. I saw some of my favorite bands of all time and went to nearly every major Detroit venue, many featuring not just places to sit but actual seats. It’s been grand.

My final show of 2014 was a departure. I and my intrepid concert buddy Lois ventured to the UFO Factory in Corktown to see a local favorite I’ve wanted to catch live for a long time: the Detroit Cobras. This outfit’s specialty is doing lesser-known R&B songs with a pumped-up tempo. One of my favorites is “Right Around the Corner,” originally recorded by newly-minted Rock & Roll Hall of Famers the “5” Royales:

Having missed the Detroit Cobras the last time they were in town, I made sure to buy tickets in advance. (Lois’ comment: “At these low prices, I’m guessing there are no seats.” Correct.) Another sign this was not going to be the usual Ticketmastered affair: my online receipt confirmed the date of the show as follows:

Start Date: December 27, 2014 9:00 PM
End Date: December 28, 2014 2:00 AM

I made a note to myself to use those Starbucks gift cards I got for Christmas. It was going to be a long night.

Tim V. of The Hentchmen

Tim Purrier of The Hentchmen

There were three warm-up acts on the bill, all of them new to me: Twine Time (not too bad, featuring a drummer who looked like he had just gotten his learner’s permit); J. Walker & the Crossguards (meh); and The Hentchmen. These three guys have played together for more than 20 years; Jack White sat in with them back in the old days. The guitarist, Tim Purrier, is a force of nature, unleashing muscular garage rock with every song. Great, great stuff.

When the Hentchmen wrapped up, it was after midnight. By then the place was filled to capacity with an admirable mix of age groups, although it was pretty much an all-white crowd, as has been the case at all of the shows I’ve attended out here (even Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings’ audience wasn’t particularly diverse). Some local rock stalwarts were rumored to be in the room: one of The Romantics was standing in the back, along with a guy from The Howling Diablos. The DJ kept things lively, blasting punk singles louder than any of the bands; Lois gamely shielded her eardrums. Finally some of the Cobras got onstage to set up. We were more than ready.

Rachel Nagy

Rachel Nagy and a Cobra

The constants of the band over the last two decades have been singer Rachel Nagy and guitarist “Mary Cobra” Ramirez. They look like the gals you want with you in a bar fight: tough and battle-tested. Nagy was the last one on stage, puffing on an e-cigarette and adjusting her t-shirt to better feature her tattoos. They got on with the show, kicking out three or four boppy, garaged-up songs in 15 minutes.

Before one of the tunes ended, however, Nagy left the stage. The remaining band members took it in stride, cracking lame jokes to cover for a few minutes. Then she returned to explain her absence, looking a bit worse for wear:

“Clearly I’m not as punk rock as I used to be,” she admitted. “I don’t throw up onstage anymore.”

Dearie me …

Whatever the cause for her indisposition (heat stroke? jello shots? stomach flu?), Nagy and the band got back into the groove. By 1:15, the 25-ish lead singer of Twine Time, boozy and uninhibited, was attempting to chat Lois up, and I had had enough of contending with the giant photographer blocking my view. The ink of our hand stamps had faded; we’d proven our mettle; it was time to go home to the suburbs.

I have gone to more concerts in five years in Detroit than the rest of my years combined. No doubt this has to do with my advancing age, knowing I’d better do it now before my aching back won’t let me stand in General Admission anymore. Still, rock music isn’t some fountain of youth for me. It’s not my aspiration, either; as much as I wish I could have sung back-up for Joe Cocker, I would have wanted to do so in 1969. And Lord knows no matter how many shows I attend, “cool” will never be synonymous with my name.

I simply like to feel the music as well as hear it, surrounded by fellow members of the tribe, especially when friends and/or family agree to share, or at least humor, my obsession. It’s fun; it’s silly; it’s glorious; it’s rock and roll.

May the journey continue in the New Year and beyond.

See you on the flip side … and here’s to more music in 2015!

P.S. A special thank you to everyone who has bought, read, reviewed and talked up Love and Other B-Sides. You helped make 2014 truly spectacular!

Bonanzatronic madness: Gogol Bordello at the Royal Oak Theater

6 Aug

Gogol Bordello sign

A band that can cause a real panic at the disco …

Raise your hand if you’ve never heard of Gogol Bordello … or if you have heard of them, raise your beer so you don’t spill it as you crowd-surf.

The eight-member gypsy punk outfit is led by Eugene Hutz, a Ukrainian by birth with Romani heritage on his German mother’s side whose family moved after Chernobyl  and eventually relocated to Vermont; he now lives in Brazil. Hutz is skinny and beaky, with a silver canine tooth, wild hair and a pirate’s mustache. He sings with a pronounced accent that serves his material well and plays a rugged acoustic guitar with rambunctious grace.

Photo by my concert buddy Davis Kurepa-Peers

Photo by my concert buddy Davis Kurepa-Peers

The rest of the line-up is just as internationally far-flung, with musicians from Belarus, Scotland by way of China, Russia, Ethiopia, Ecuador and Los Angeles. The name is an homage to Ukrainian writer Nikolai Gogol … and, well, a brothel. The lyrics are a mix of English, Romani, Spanish and for all I know, Esperanto. Their songs jump from pogo-worthy punk to ska to straight-up rock, along with several ballads that sound like what you’d hear at the end of a Russian wedding reception right before the last of the drunken guests are kicked out of the hall.

My partner is quite the fan of Gogol Bordello, starting with their 2010 album Trans-Continental Hustle. (I just found out that was produced by Rick Rubin, whose exquisite taste knows no musical boundaries.) She took our older daughter to see them at the Fillmore a couple of years ago and sat in the balcony as our daughter joined the crush of fans standing near the stage. After more than 90 minutes of mosh pit churn with the “gypsters” she was dehydrated and half-deaf: in other words, she’d had a great time.

Gogol Bordello blue

Photo by Davis Kurepa-Peers

When she learned my partner had gotten tickets for me and our younger daughter to see the band in Royal Oak, she had just one piece of advice: “Wear shoes you don’t care about.”

We arrived early enough to stake a claim standing one level above the main floor behind a railing so we could see everything without getting trampled. Our neighbors to the left were a pony-tailed guy and his girlfriend with an ice-blue pixie cut and flawless red lipstick (who, upon learning my daughter was 12, told her, “You’re gonna go far, honey”). On the right was Bald Tattooed Handlebar Mustache Guy, who brought half his family with him since he’d had so much fun at the Fillmore show. Who needs an opening act when you’ve got an audience like this?

(There was an opening act: Man Man, which brought funk and surrealism together in a way that might have made Frank Zappa proud … although someone will have to explain to me what was up with the guy in the neon green boiler suit and melted piggy face mask who wandered on stage during a couple of their numbers.)

Gogol Bordello puts on an amazing concert, even if you’re like me and don’t know the words to their songs (and have no desire to slam dance). Grinning the entire time, we were swept away by their energy and showmanship – although they aren’t as zany as in their earlier days:

Yet this show was not shtick or the “bonanzatronic madness” Hutz described in Mother Jones a few years back. It’s a combination of tribal tradition and new music, partying and protest: the world seen through immigrants’ eyes. As they sing in “Immigraniada,”

It’s a book of true stories
True stories that can’t be denied
It’s more than true, it actually happened
We comin’ rougher every time

 

See you on the flip side at the show I’ve been waiting for all summer: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at DTE Energy Music Theater August 23!

P.S. Looking for a rock and roll romance?  Love and Other B-Sides is available in paperback and e-book editions now on Amazon.

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