Tag Archives: Justin Bieber

Howlin’ for You: The Black Keys at the Joe Louis Arena

20 Sep

Black Keys screen - Auerbach

Dan Auerbach

Black Keys screen - Carney

Patrick Carney

Concertpalooza came to a close on September 12 in a familiar place: the Joe Louis Arena, experiencing the Black Keys with my loved ones as concert buddies (this time, my partner along with our younger daughter). It was the perfect show to cap off an exhilarating summer of live music!

Props to the headliner for choosing stellar talent as opening acts. In 2011 they had the Arctic Monkeys on board. Our leg of the tour this time featured Cage the Elephant while other lucky people get to see Jake Bugg or St. Vincent; any of those bands could hold their own topping the bill. Cage the Elephant’s music is bouncy and fun, personified by their inexhaustible lead singer Matt Shultz. You may know their single from 2009, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.” Check them out!

“Fun” isn’t the word I’d use to describe the Black Keys, though. Their music is fuzzed out, feedback-fueled blues rock … and their personal lives are even more distorted. Most of what I’ve read about them – the horrifying account of guitarist Dan Auerbach’s recent divorce; the 5000-word piece in Salon that drummer Patrick Carney’s wife wrote about their divorce; the Twitterstorm Carney kicked up over Justin Bieber; and the TMZ-fed feud Jack White forced onto Auerbach when he questioned Dan’s worthiness as a blues musician (sample hissy fit: Jack told his ex-wife to pull their kids out of the Nashville elementary school where Dan’s daughter attends) – tells me these guys are drama magnets. Lighthearted they ain’t.

Therefore, it was surprising and gratifying that they seemed to have a great time performing at the Joe. Auerbach did a lot of smiling between numbers, thanking the audience and raving about Detroit fans. (Who knows what Carney was feeling since he rarely smiles and doesn’t talk during concerts; he’s Teller to Auerbach’s Penn.) Auerbach’s bottom-heavy guitar style, snaky licks and atmospheric songwriting keep the songs tight and catchy; plus, the guy’s got a strong, distinctive voice. Carney is the first to agree with my partner that he “sucks at drums,” and he swerved off tempo more than once during the evening. When he was on, though, he brought the heavy ammunition.

If you want to bone up on less gossipy, more nuts-and-bolts trivia about the band, watch this:

Since I saw them in 2011, the Black Keys have cemented their status as a straight up, non-pop, 21st-century rock-and-roll band. For the two dudes from Akron, there wasn’t another choice. As Carney said in Rolling Stone,

When we were in ninth grade, we were well aware that if we wanted to go to a good school, it wasn’t a possibility – that we didn’t have the money. So it’s like, what do you have from there? You have rock & roll!

Detroit needs rock and roll. The city is fighting for an identity we can be proud of, something beyond blight and bankruptcy. Bands that shout “Detroit Rock City!” earn a roar of appreciation. Auerbach and Carney went a step further, honoring a local hero by playing for their first time ever a cover of Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.” Not for the first time that evening, half the audience (the male half anyway) broke out their air guitars, danced without rhythm and high fived each other, proud of themselves and damned glad to be there no matter what the troubles were outside the arena.

The Black Keys understand how a guitar and a drum kit can blast away your problems, and for that we’re all grateful.

See you on the flipside … and mark your calendars: I’ll be one of the featured local writers at the Books & Authors event at Leon & Lulu in Clawson on October 26, promoting Love and Other B-Sides to my closest friends and perfect strangers from 11 AM – 5 PM. Come see!

Check … Check … Name-Check …

19 May

Eric Church Springsteen KaraokeWe in metro Detroit are able to tune into CBC Radio 2 out of Windsor. It’s worth a listen despite my general lack of enthusiasm for Canadian rock music, mainly because you never know what you might hear next: jazz, world music, even a classic rock program hosted by Mr. “Takin’ Care of Business” himself, Randy Bachman.

Running errands last weekend, I heard the DJ recommend a Canadian singer/songwriter who is trying to snag the attention of her favorite rock star through a tribute song. The name of the song was enough to get me to check it out:

Now that I’ve listened to it all I can say is, I should not be so quick to take the advice of a Canadian DJ.

It’s nice and all but WWTPD? doesn’t live up to its title’s potential. It combines the Canuck tendency of being mildly amusing way too long with the infuriating pop country practice of name-checking a much better performer in an attempt to build credibility (or beg for a collaborator). And if this tune really does succeed in getting Mr. Petty’s professional attention, Ms. -Lee may be disappointed. As reported in Rolling Stone last year (with additional context from a nifty blog I just discovered, Saving Country Music), he’s got a major beef with bland pop country.

Don’t get me wrong. There are any number of terrific songs that mention other singers or groups – here are just a few:

  • Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music”
  • “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” and “Losing My Edge” by LCD Soundsystem
  • Weezer’s “Buddy Holly”
  • “Runnin’ Down a Dream” by Tom Petty (who mentions singing along with Del Shannon, perhaps because Tom Petty produced some of his later work … and/or because Tom felt guilty about stealing bassist Howie Epstein away from Del to join the Heartbreakers)
  • and one of my favorites, “Elvis is Everywhere” by Mojo Nixon (although he’d probably reassess his opinion of Michael J. Fox at this point):

Likewise, there are any number of terrible ones:

  • “Moves Like Jagger” by what’s his name from The Voice
  • ABC’s “When Smokey Sings”
  • “R-O-C-K in the U-S-A” by John Mellencamp
  • “Don Henley Must Die,” also by Mojo Nixon (whose career pretty much died with this song)
  • and one of my least favorites, Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (name-checking musicians is the least of the song’s problems)

Ms. -Lee’s tune falls somewhere in the middle of the list, yet for me it’s as much a cautionary tale as a mediocre song. These days, name-checking has gone far beyond shoring up your street cred. It’s bad enough that we trick ourselves into believing we know stars personally because every scrap of their life stories is available online. With the blinding success of Justin Bieber, a Canadian (!) discovered by Usher via YouTube,  we’re being led to believe that celebrities are just a tweet or video clip away from becoming our champions or even our friends. We expect them to reply to our Facebook posts or retweet our compliments or otherwise acknowledge our existence, with a certainty that borders on madness. Let’s face it, they appreciate “the fans” but can’t possibly be expected to appreciate each fan individually … especially when someone’s angling for a favor in the process.

Moral of the story: if you name-check a rock legend, you’d better 1) have a damn good reason and 2) have a damn good song. Of course, if you’re dropping the name of a Nineties’ television phenomenon, knock yourself out:

(True confession: I was such a fan of The X-Files back in the day that I plunked down a chunk of change on eBay for a grainy, seventh-generation copy of this on VHS. Don’t judge me …)

See you on the flip side …

P.S. On a writerly note, The Story Cartel is once again offering its online writing workshop/marketing seminar. I highly recommend it to those who are considering writing creatively and haven’t taken that first step: this could be that first step. Because of the Story Cartel Course I got a lot of practical advice on self-publishing and promotion, social media, and simply writing better … and I have a published novel and picked up a writing award to prove it! Register today and let them know I sent you.

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