Monday, August 26, 2013

John Mayer Brings "Born and Raised" to the First Niagara Pavilion

In 2010 during the Battle Studies tour, Mayer was fresh off the media backlash from his recent Playboy interview. His performance during this tour was lack luster and seemed forced. Mayer seemed ready to throw in the towel and could not wait for that tour to end. One comment he made, as I remember it, was a reaction to the crowd heading to the parking lot before his set was over. Pittsburghers gave back the energy that he was putting into the show and decided to beat the traffic.

The Born and Raised tour last evening, however, was singing a different tune. He entered the stage with a warm welcome to his Pittsburgh fans and brought an undeniable energy to the lake last evening. Mayer was filled with smiles and laughs and truly was enjoying the show.  We were lucky enough to be in the second row to experience his triumphant return.

He started out his set with the Paradise Valley hit, “Wildfire” followed by an up-tempo version of “Half of My Heart”. During his heart-wrenching break up song, “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room”, a young couple was escorted to the front row and before my eyes the young man proposed to his girlfriend.  This was probably not the best Mayer song to pop the question to, but a beautiful moment to witness.

Mayer continued on with a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad” and later broke out his harmonica with a wonderful interlude into the tour titled tune, “Born and Raised”.

Later, Mayer performed “Who Says” and changed the lyrics to reflect his current age -  “Its been a long time since 32”. This is certainly acceptable, since he is now looking back at the time when he was struggling to find who he is today. 

Other unique performances included, “I Will Be Found (Lost at Sea)” from Paradise Valley while on the piano and “Come Back To Bed” from his critically acclaimed 2003 album, Heavier Things. Mayer attempted to play this for a fan that requested it from the 5th row. He said he had not played it for a very long time and ‘put it away’ to make room for his new songs. Mayer really went for it, knowing the chords were not coming easy and we enjoyed watching his interaction with the fans during this moment.

Mayer ended the night with his guitar-shredding classic, “Gravity” and left fans soaring to their cars talking about how impressed they were with the evening.
He later put a picture on his Instagram, showing he was not holding back - shredded fingertips and all. Mayer seemed taken back with the Pittsburgh crowd this time. He certainly received from us the high praised energy that he and his amazing band were putting into the show … and no one was trying to beat the traffic.

This was the best I have ever seen him perform. The vibe was chill, the fans were singing, and John was smiling. This performance was memorable and showed his appreciation to being back on the stage.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Vinyl Smell-O-Meter

Those that know me understand that the smell of vinyl is my favorite smell in the world. I know that is seems strange, being this smell is merely the decomposition of the cardboard that contains the records of music that I love. 

It is the essence of the music that is captured in the smell that I am crazy for. During Record Store Day 2013 I realized I need to put together the Vinyl Smell-O-Meter to show you the ranking of the four record stores I have visited in Pittsburgh on the Smell-O-Meter.

You may or may not understand my obsession, but I figured I would share it.  The four listed are record stores in Pittsburgh I have visited and are ranked below.

0 - Sound Cat Records - With their business primarily focused on the sale of Compact Disks, they did not even rank on the meter. They contained a very small select section of New and Used vinyls records for sale, which made it impossible to make the meter.

5 - Dave's Music Mine had a basement full of vintage records spanning from the 1950's to new releases. The smell of decomposing vinyls ranked #5.

8 - The Attic in Millvale came close to the top of the scent ranking. Their store was flooded by shelves and racks of records and employed the most knowledgable of individuals that could easily track down your favorite album or artist.

10 - Jerry's Records by far ranked the highest of the vinyl smell. He has created quite the collection of records over the last 33+ years. If you want it, most likely Jerry has it. You would be lost in this sea of records for days searching for your childhood nostalgia.

Record Store Day 2013

Record Store Day was celebrated on Saturday, April 20, 2013. A day to show support for all the independent record storeowners.  I took part and did a small tour of a couple shops in my hometown.

1.     The Attic – Located in Millville this shop has been around since 1980. Primarily The Attic is known for its vinyl collection, but also offers CDs for sale as well. As I was checking out with my purchases, the owner helped me out. I said I had heard the WYEP Record Stories series this week and ask if it was him who told the story. He replied, “No, it was my son.” I asked how the turn out was for him and he said it was really good this year. I said it seemed as though this year’s Record Store Day had more acceptance and hype than the previous, and he agreed.

2.     Sound Cat Records – Bloomfield is one of the most unique areas of Pittsburgh with the people and types of shops there are. Not a much visited area by me, so finding this store was difficult, even with my GPS. The store is not well marked, as is donned a small sign on the window, “Sound Cat Records”. Smaller of the three stores I visited that day and has the least amount of vinyl’s. Primarily adorned with every genre of music on CD and a small space of new and slightly used records in the front of the store. The walls were plastered with album posters and it was the cleanest shop we entered, perhaps the limited amount vinyl’s kept the amount of unwanted dust down.

3.     Dave’s Music Mine - In the heart of South Side this record store started in the 1996 with this family owning several stores in the 90’s. Since the times have changed and demand for tangible records decreased, they now have this last store. The upstairs contained all CDs with a small rack of new releases on vinyl. When venturing to the back of the store there was a sign pointing down a set of stairs in Pittsburghese – “You can go down ere…”  In the basement were racks of cassettes and old vintage vinyl records. It reminded me of my parent’s collection as a child. – Earth Wind and Fire, Phil Collins, Barbara Streisand and even the soundtrack to Flashdance.

It was a wonderful day to go out and show support to the Indy store owners. But remember you can do this year round and Record Store Day is there is raise awareness for the owners that are knowledgeable about sound, music, and the artists out there. They actually listen to the music they put on their shelves and can tell you the history of the albums they have received. It is quite nostalgic from the smells of the stores to the shop owners themselves.  Check out the series “Record Stories” on WYEP’s website.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Farm Aid 2012 – Hershey Park Stadium

An annual event making it to it’s 27th year, Farm Aid supports local family farmers to aid them in keeping their land and thrive in a tough economy. Concert goers can find it easy to get wrapped up in the music and forget this day is for a cause. But each musician speaking about the benefit made us all realize we were there for something more than a day of entertainment, we were there to help local families survive on the land we live on. Overall the fans enjoyed the day and the sell out crowd took in every moment of the music, but perhaps not the venue.

Packing 29,000 people into Hershey stadium was something left to be desired by the concert promoter. The small and narrow walkways under the bleachers housed most of the beer and food vendors as well as the bathrooms. When you left the field you knew you were in for a long wait. 1 hour beer lines made for a miserable crowd experience and not to mention the 1 hour bathroom lines as well (Yikes!). Trying to navigate through the crowd in these areas left us frustrated. But thank goodness for the incredible line up, because when you entered the field and left the madness behind, it seemed like none of that mattered and all the stress melted away.

The afternoon started at 2:00 PM with Dale Watson, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real (Willie Nelson’s son), Pegi Young and the Survivors and ALO. I casually caught these acts in the parking lot on Sirius Radio’s Farm Aid channel – Willie’s Wheelhouse. We entered the stadium as Jamey Johnson strummed his first song. He did well and had a solid set. I have not ever previously heard his music but enjoyed it as I relaxed and took in the scene. Grace Potter & the Nocturnals came out blazing after Jamey Johnson’s slower blend and were joined on Stage by Willie Nelson for “Ragged Company” and finished up their short five song set with “Medicine”.

Jack Johnson opened with “Better Together” and “Home”. If you have ever seen him live you know what to expect. Jack is consistent and flawless as Jack always is. He commented on his wife sitting in the front row “making him nervous” and made the fans sigh, “awe”.  I love how his family tours with him and he mentioned many times that several of his songs were written about her. He went down his list of greatest hits, which made the hippies in the crowd roar and dance, and yes I was one of them. He finished his set strong with “Bubble Toes”, “Banana Pancakes”, “Flake” and “Mudfootball”.
Kenny Chesney, was well…Kenny Chesney. White shirt, ball cap, and jeans so tight he must have just pulled them out of the dryer. I was a little bummed he did not sing “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy”, especially this being Farm Aid, but he choose to perform other hits such as “Beer In Mexico” and “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem”.

Now the highlight of the evening was Dave Matthews with Tim Reynolds. Absolutely stole the show. Being a huge DMB fan, I have seen him about a dozen times, so I can say with confidence I have never experienced him like this. He opened with “Gravedigger” and I was enthralled, I think I even had tears coming down my face at one point. And my question to the music writers of the world, “Why hasn’t Tim Reynolds ever made the list for the top 50 guitarists of all time?!”  He took his acoustic guitar and turned it on its side, manipulating every string and sounding like a classically trained Spanish guitar player. He made their acoustic set spark something deep within them as musicians and us as fans watched in amazement.  They continued wowing the stadium with “Stay or Leave”, “Don’t Drink the Water” and “Funny the Way It Is”. Then Dave took us all to another level of sexy with his stripped down version of “Crush”. I swear I saw a dozen women lighting up cigarettes after this intense love song, including myself. Matthews and Reynolds took us home with “Mercy”, “Dancing Nancies”, and “Some Devil”, sealing up their set and made us all think this was the end of the night. I forgot we still had the founding fathers of Farm Aid to see!

John Cougar Melloncamp opened with “Authority Song” and sounded rough. He is an American music legend that has toured the nation for years and I think it may be wearing on him. By the time “Small Town” was performed, I thought he was not going to make it to the end of his set. Kenny Chesney boyishly joined him on stage, with his hand in one pocket and appeared to forget the lyrics. After half way through his segment, Melloncamp did warm up and killed the end of his set with “Crumbling Down” and “Pink Houses”, a definite crowd pleaser to the point that everyone sang in unison, “There's a young man in a t-shirt|Listenin' to a rockin' rollin' station|He's got greasy hair, greasy smile|He says, "Lord this must be my destination."

 Neil Young and Crazy Horse…what can I say but I have never been a fan. However, as an advocate to music I respect their talent and their status of being American icons, but I was a little lost during Young’s set. There were hardly any lyrics and each song was mostly instrumental, in other words all jam without the bread. When he did sing, he missed the microphone so many times it was hard to make out the lyrics. Closing his set with “Like a Hurricane” (over 15 minutes in length), Young repeated the line “I wanna love you” over and over again. I think I fell asleep in the middle of the arrangement at some point and when I woke up I noticed most of the bleachers were empty. The crowd had dissipated and called it an evening.

Finally, a little after 11 PM, the man himself took the stage, Mr. Willie Nelson. Quick and classic this old favorite did not disappoint. Singing in his familiar voice, he took the stage looking as he did 20 years ago, with a full beard and long braids. Nelson opened with “Whiskey River” and “Beer for My Horses” and later talked through his performance of the Patsy Cline favorite “Crazy” like spoken word. The highlight of his set was when his son joined him on stage for the Pearl Jam cover “Just Breathe”. Nelson and his son have such similar singing styles it became hard to tell who was the melody and who was the harmony. He closed the evening with The Blackwood Quartet and The Bee Creek UMC Choir for “I’ll Fly Away” and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die”.
The day came and went and I witnessed many American musical icons, which I would not trade anything for in the world. As a whole I thoroughly enjoyed myself and wished I could have shared this experience with all my friends that could not make the trip. I can only hope Farm Aid will release a DVD of the concert not only to share and relive my experience but to provide support for a worthy American cause. To support local farmers, please check out their website to see how you can donate. And check out their YouTube site for Live performances.

Check out full set lists here