Archive for November, 2012

in performance: bruce springsteen and the e street band

Bruce Bpringsteen and Steve Van Zandt. Photo by Jo Lopez.

“I was raised outta steel here in the swamps of Jersey, some misty years ago,” Bruce Springsteen sang Saturday night at Louisville’s KFC Yum Center. The line, which introduced the title tune to his current album, Wrecking Ball, was telling. Penned initially as a makeshift last chorus for Giants Stadium in New Jersey before its demolition in 2010, the line could be viewed as somewhat autobiographical, especially when the veteran rocker they still call The Boss dressed it with the musical reverence and brassy vigor of a reconstituted, 17-member E Street Band. The tune morphed into a rally cry that was half resolute and half defiant (“Let me see what you got; bring on your wrecking ball”), but it also was a catalyst for an evening full of the intensely animated and physical rock ’n’ roll that Springsteen and the E Streeters have dealt in for decades.

On Saturday night, The Boss delivered the goods again with a performance that ran for 3¼ hours. Springsteen engaged the crowd in a sing-along chant before the stage lights even came on for the show-opening Shackled and Drawn. He exited after the finale of Tenth Avenue Freeze Out looking as if he could have gone another couple of rounds. Not bad for a guy who just turned 63.

In many ways, this was not business as usual for The Boss. Since its last Kentucky visit, his E Street Band lost two key members – keyboardist Danny Federici (who died in 2008, and was ably replaced last night by Charlie Giordano) and saxophonist and longtime Springsteen foil Clarence Clemons (who died in 2011). It took a five-man horn section to replace Clemons, although tenor saxophonist Jake Clemons neatly replicated his uncle’s trademark solos during Born to Run, Badlands, She’s the One and other staples.

Elsewhere, new and old hands had plenty of room to shine. Longtime drummer Max Weinberg and new percussionist Everett Bradley co-piloted the lean soul-funk charge of what was perhaps the evening’s biggest surprise, 1973’s The E Street Shuffle. Guitarist Nils Lofgren fortified Because the Night with a solo that had him physically spinning in circles before its conclusion. Pianist Roy Bittan’s boogie-woogie runs turned the elemental Nebraska rocker Open All Night into a blast of rockabilly-charged swing. And new vocalist Michelle Moore added a luster of gospel and even hip-hop to the finest of the Wrecking Ball tunes, Rocky Ground.

Springsteen’s wife and co-vocalist, Patti Scialfa, was absent though very much in the Bluegrass. She is in Lexington this weekend with daughter Jessica Springsteen, who is competing in the Alltech National Horse Show at the Kentucky Horse Park.

And what of The Boss himself? Well, as usual, he was a force of nature. Three songs into the evening – during Hungry Heart, to be exact – he was in the middle of the arena floor so he could crowd-surf back to the stage. For Spirit in the Night, he was rock evangelist (“Can you feel the spirit?”) and for the sloppy but tremendously fun encore of Rosalita (Come Out  Tonight), he was mugging and merrily cutting up with co-guitarist Steve Van Zandt.

The concert’s set list also favored the joyous more than usual. Even My City in Ruins (dedicated to displaced victims of the Jersey Shore, decimated earlier in the week by Hurricane Sandy) and Land of Hope and Dreams (which Springsteen performed Friday on prime-time TV as part of a storm-relief benefit) were delivered with lightened tones of Impressions-flavored soul.

But the highlights were still the heavies. Atlantic City took on a deeply anthemic feel (a neat trick for a song that wasn’t exactly a jingle for tourism in the first place), the Wrecking Ball rant Death to My Hometown was delivered as something of a Celtic brawl, and the seldom-played Streets of Philadelphia was delivered with chilled but ultra-focused solemnity.

It was all there: rock nostalgia, performance vitality, social (but, refreshingly, not political) urgency, musical might, an epic song catalogue, a killer band and a frontman that made it all seem ageless and effortless.

It was all in a night’s work for Jersey’s man of steel.

enter the entrepreneur

Rick Ross.

The corporate name suggests solidarity. So does the title of the package tour being sent on the road this month. But make no mistake about who is running the show in both instances. When you’re talking about the Maybach Music Group, you’re talking about Rick Ross.

Dubbed “the William Howard Taft of the rap game” by Rolling Stone in an August cover story, Ross is the next great hip-hop entrepreneur. A Southern rap stylist who has been a sensation ever since his 2006 debut album, Port of Miami, entered the Billboard 200 chart at No.1., Ross is as unafraid of shying away from lyrics that embrace rap’s more sordid vices as he is of flaunting the riches a series of charttopping albums (including the recent God Forgives, I Don’t) and mixtapes (the even newer The Black Bar Mitzvah) have brought his way. But he is also revealing himself as a keen businessman and talent scout, hence the formation of MMG and the placement of labelmates Meek Mill and Wale on the recent Self Made compilation albums as well as the November tour that hits Rupp Arena tonight.

“He’s smart,” said Devine Carama, one of Lexington’s most visible hip-hop artists. “He’s all about building his brand. And I think that’s why he is signing so many other artists. He’s trying to take a Diddy-type role by building his brand so he can later sit back and watch Wale and Meek Mill and some of these other artists do their thing.

“Honestly, he kind of reminds me of a Notorious B.I.G. back in the day. And the only reason I say that is a lot of his (lyrical) content is negative. But very seldom do you have that kind of content with such great music. And he has that. I think his content is actually what keeps him from probably reaching a level of Drake or Jay Z. But the reason he has been so successful is that he makes good music. If I can use this metaphor, I would consider him to be kind of a gangsta rapper. But with the imagery he provides, he is like the Scarface for the average guy on the corner. His music is real dramatic, and it’s real big. It’s almost like a movie. I think that’s what attracts people.”

“To me, Rick Ross’ music is very specific,” said Rob Jackson, a Lexington rap artist who has collaborated with famed producer L. A. Reid after signing to Arista Records in 2001. “As far as hip-hop goes, it’s skillfully done. I can see where people might have a problem with the subject matter. But this is young people’s music.”

Having the MMG concert in Lexington, as opposed Louisville and Cincinnati, where many arena acts have been taking tours in recent years, can also be viewed as something of a coup. Aside from a show that will be exclusive to the region, this is Rupp’s second major hip-hop bill this year. A February performance by Drake was the first.

While Ross may not possess the kind of pop crossover appeal of artists like Drake, his Rupp appearance can’t help but be seen as a positive among hip-hop enthusiasts.

“I think the majority of hip-hop is supported by the African-American community,” Carama said. “But there is about a 10-15% group that crosses over and supports a wide range of artists like Drake, Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne. I think Rick Ross falls right under that.

“The demographics in Lexington alone are not going to allow him as successful a showing as one of the crossover artists would have. But hip-hop artists are always looking for new markets. So I think that’s why they come in here, like with 2 Chainz being in Frankfort (for a Kentucky State University Homecoming concert) a couple of weeks ago. I think that kind of opens up the market for artists like Rick Ross. It will be interesting to see how his show goes here.”

“This is overwhelmingly positive for our community, culturally as well as economically,” Jackson added. “We can’t afford to turn anybody away from Rupp Arena that’s going to put bodies in there and generate some capitol for the local economy.

“It’s something new for the area. That means it’s also positive as far as diversity in the area goes, and diversity in the music scene.”

Maybach Music Group featuring Rick Ross, Meek Mill and Wale perform at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3 at Rupp Arena. Tickets are $29.75, $49.75 and $69.75. Call (859) 233-3535, (800) 745-3000 or go to www.ticketmaster.com.

in performance: radney foster

Radney Foster. Photo by Marshall Foster.

Two of the more telling moments from Radney Foster’s solo acoustic concert last night at Natasha’s came when he stripped a pair of original tunes that were hits for country star Keith Urban (Raining on Sunday and I’m In) down to elemental slices of folkish drama.

“This is the West Texas version,” said Foster before each song. And, true, the darker, starker treatments brought out a surprisingly rich Texas tenor in Foster’s singing, even when the vocals reached to treacherously high extremes during I’m In. Mostly, though, the performance illuminated considerable detail and color that sometimes gets buried on Foster’s recordings.

The veteran singer-songwriter’s newest album, Del Rio, Texas Revisited: Unplugged and Lonesome, presented a partial deconstruction of Foster’s music by retooling all of the songs from his 1992 solo debut album, Del Rio, Texas 1959 with bluegrass-leaning arrangements for small acoustic combos. Last night, without any band at all, the potency of Foster’s singing and writing beamed all the brighter.

Recast Del Rio works like the show-opening triad of Louisiana Blue, Don’t Say Goodbye and Just Call Me Lonesome underscored the transformation. A few outside inspirations – like 1973-era Jackson Browne and Kentucky’s own Dwight Yoakam – crept into the swagger of the latter two songs. But the heart of these tunes – and, indeed, of the entire performance – reflected an unadulterated country spirit that was seemingly unleashed.

Foster’s indie albums of the past decade promote him as more of an Americana songsmith. But last night’s program, which only sparingly touched upon those records, revealed what an expansive country soul lives within his songs, from the aged rodeo buck of Went for a Ride to the cowboys of Texas in 1880 (a gem from the singer’s days in the grand country duo Foster & Lloyd).

Perhaps what separated this music from so much of pop hokum that passes for country music today is that Foster favors story and characterization over cheap sentimentalism and audience pandering. A brilliant example last night was Angel Flight, a tune co-penned by fellow Texas scribe Darden Smith that outlined the final journey of fallen service men and women (“Come on, brother. I’m taking you home”).

Country artists have often bonded themselves in almost parasitic fashion to war and the military. Foster’s delivery of Angel Flight had none of that. Like the entire performance, it allowed a potent human story to unravel without patronizing excess. This was truly country with an honest, open, Texas-sized heart.

running with the boss, from 30 rock to kentucky

Bruce Springsteen performed at a campaign rally for president Obama last month in Parma, Ohio.

The Boss is going to be a busy man this weekend and Kentucky will be at the center of his work schedule.

Earlier today, Bruce Springsteeen announced he will participate in a live, one hour telethon to be staged Friday evening from 30 Rockefeller Plaza that will aid, via the American Red Cross, victims of Hurricane Sandy. He will perform as part of a guest list that includes Billy Joel, Jon Bon Jovi, Sting and Christina Aguilera. Matt Lauer will host. Appearances are also scheduled by Jimmy Fallon and Brian Williams.

Titled Hurricane Sandy: Coming Together, the event will be broadcast live at 8 p.m. on NBC, Bravo, CNBC, E!, G4, MSNBC, Style, Syfy and USA and streamed live on www.nbc.com.

This week’s storm hit New Jersey, Springsteen’s homeland (and Bon Jovi’s), head on. Longtime fans can’t help but notice a bittersweet coincidence here. One of The Boss’ great pre-Born to Run songs was 1973’s 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy).

Then, on Saturday, Springsteen heads on our way for his first Kentucky concert in a decade. He will perform at 7:30 p.m. at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville with a 17-member version of his famed E Street Band. Tickets are $94 through TicketMaster at (800) 745-3000.

Rest up, if you’re going. Springsteen’s current shows are clocking in at just under four hours. And with Daylight Savings Time ending early Sunday morning, there is no telling how late the fun will run.

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