Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Summer Vacation Days 1 & 2

This year, Alec, Zack and I are going to Gatlinburg and Chattanooga for our summer vacation.

Day 1 – Sunday

We drove up to Gatlinburg Sunday afternoon. It was a great drive, I made a playlist with 528 songs (about 1.6 days worth of music) for our trip. We jammed to whatever came on and the 3 of us talked pretty much the whole way here. It’s great that Alec still likes talking to his dad, even though he’s 15. We got up here around 5 and checked into the hotel. We went out and walked around for a bit and found somewhere to eat dinner. We ate at the Mountain Edge Grill, which was pretty good. Then we walked around and found an indoor miniature golf place. We pretty much had the place to ourselves and had a great time. We also road go-carts, which was fun.

Day 2 – Monday

This morning, we decided to go hiking. We drove up to the national park entrance and went to the Sugarlands visitor’s center. We got a map of some day hike trails and decided to do the Chimney Tops hike. It’s a 4 mile round trip and rated as strenuous. The first part is easy, leading down to a bridge over waterfalls and a pool in the river. Several people were swimming, even though the water is pretty cold. Alec & Zack waded in and got their feet wet. We climbed out over some big rocks and got a lot of pictures. Someone picked up Zack’s water bottle, so we were down to 2 bottles. We hiked on, going up some pretty steep inclines. We crossed several bridges and got tons of pictures (which I will post this weekend). We reached a point and realized we were only half way up. We were tired and running out of water. Alec wanted to press on, but I knew we would run out of water and would need some food soon. So we turned back. Not 3 minutes later, it started to rain. It was just a drizzle, so no big deal. We got back to the car and started back down the mountain and it started pouring. It was raining so hard, we had to pull into one of the parking areas because I couldn’t see the road. If we had pressed on, we would have been over a mile up a mountain getting soaked. So we eventually got back to town and relaxed in the room for a bit and dried out.

We went out walking, looking for something to do and hit one of the candy stores. It was still raining and we couldn’t find anything fun to do. We headed back to the room to get ready for dinner. For dinner we went to the Hard Rock CafĂ©. It was pretty cool, the food was not bad, just nothing special. But it was cool to look at all the guitars and pictures on the walls and listen to good music while eating instead of the standard muzak. Our waitress was Anna, who was from Belarus. I've now met 3 women from Belarus (I worked with 2 years ago) and let me tell you, there are some beautiful women in that country. The table we were at had Chet Atkins memorabilia, including his Fender Telecaster (with his name on the neck) and a red, sequined outfit he wore at Carnegie Hall in 1969. The table next to us had Johnny Cash stuff, so Zack had to get a picture of that. He also took a picture of the Chet Atkins stuff cause my granddad will get a kick out of that. Other acts in the room we were in were the Allman brothers, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimmy Vaughn next to each other and Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top. I didn’t get pictures of those because people were eating at those tables. In the lobby, I took a shot of Eddie Van Halen’s display, Guns N’ Roses (Duff McKagan), a Sex Pistols t-shirt and a couple of other things.

Tomorrow, we go white water rafting!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Chris Cornell Review

I'm going to kill two birds (pun intended, you'll get it later) with one stone and review both Chris Cornell's show in Nashville Thursday night (May 31) and his new album "Carry On" that came out Tuesday (June 5).

Live Show Review

When I saw that Chris had left Audioslave AND was going on tour AND that tour was going to hit Nashville, I was very happy. Don't get me wrong, I liked Audioslave and they made some good music, but if you listen to Chris' previous work with Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog and his solo stuff, you realized how much Audioslave limited his style. I think the other 3 musicians from Audioslave are great musicians, but when you have 4 or 5 songs on an album where the guitar solos are the same tired "make weird noises that sound like record scratching" solo, you're not really pushing new musical boundaries.

On to the show, I met up with a friend of mine earlier in the afternoon and we drove by City Hall to see if there was a line. There were about 10 people waiting, so we went back to his office to meet up with a couple of other friends. We had a couple of drinks and walked down to the venue. The line was around the corner. We didn't wait too long and when we got in, we ended up about 75 feet from the stage, right in the middle. It didn't take long til they killed the lights and the band came out. Chris has put together a great backing band. He opened with Spoonman and the whole band was rocking it just as hard as Soundgarden ever did. I had never seen Chris live before with any of his bands, and let me tell you, his voice will just blow you away. It sounded just as good live as it has on any studio album. One of the guys I was with, Ace, always says if he had a voice like that he would never talk, he would sing everything he had to say. I have to agree.

After Spoonman, they rolled into Outshined, which has always been one of my favorite songs. It just plain kicked ass. They did some Audioslave songs, Original Fire sounded great. He sang "No Such Thing" off the new album, which wasn't out yet. I had heard 2 songs of the album and this was not one of them. It sounded great live. Then he reached back to the Temple of the Dog album and did Hunger Strike, which was great but I did miss hearing Eddie on it. Then Chris said something about it being great being able to play some of the old stuff and said that they hadn't played the next one yet. Then the opening notes of Say Hello to Heaven rings out. Man, I was floored. I first heard that song about a year after my mom died and it's just one of those songs that reminds me of her. It was great getting to hear it live.

He introduced Rusty Cage by saying something about he still gets a high when he thinks about Johnny Cash recording one of his songs. It was freakin' loud and hard and amazing. After Sunshower, the band took a break, but Chris played acoustic versions of Can't Change Me (the only song he did from Euphoria Morning), Scar in the Sky (from the new album) and I Am the Highway. He started Call Me a Dog from the Temple of the Dog album acoustic and the band came back in halfway through. Listening to Chris just singing with an acoustic guitar is further proof that he is an amazing singer and musician. I think one of his talents has always been creating such great melodies on top of the music. He uses his voice as another instrument and the melodies he creates are just amazing. At that point, the words don't even really matter, he could sing his grocery list and it would sound good.

After the acoustic set, they did some more Audioslave songs. This was the point I started realizing it was hot. I don't mean "fan your face a little" hot, I mean it was fuckin' hot. I had on a lightweight button down shirt and a t-shirt and when I took off the outside shirt, it was soaked in sweat. He did a couple of songs from the new album, including Billie Jean. Yes, that Billie Jean. It's a completely different take on the song and it sounded really good. That was followed by Like a Stone one of my fave Audioslave songs. Then, wait, is that...holy shit, that's Loud Love! (from Soundgarden's 2nd album Louder than Love). That was rockin' and then when they kicked into Jesus Christ Pose, I about lost it. That song is one of the heaviest, hardest hitting songs ever. And Chris' backing band did it justice. Those guys are pretty damn good to be playing music from 3 different bands, especially considering those 3 bands consisted of Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron, Matt McCready, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Tom Morello and the bassist and drummer from Audioslave (I can't remember their names and I'm too lazy to go look it up). Plus playing stuff from Chris' solo albums, which are all over the place stylistically.

After Jesus Christ Pose, they all left the stage and we waited patiently for an encore. I was drained after JCP, but was ready for more. They came back out and open with that great guitar riff that starts off My Wave. They did a great job on it. Then Chris said something about he hadn't played the next song in a long time and the guitarist starts picking Seasons. Holy shit! I mean, if you had asked me before the show what songs I thought he would play, Seasons would have been way down at the bottom of the list. But it would have been near the top of my list of songs I would want him to play. It is a song he did solo for the Singles soundtrack (Soundgarden also had a song on there). It was amazing hearing it live. They followed that up with Black Hole Sun. That's one I loved when I first heard it (I bought the Superunknown album the week it was released), but after the radio and MTV wore it out, it's one of those songs I usually skip over. But hearing it live made me love it again. I loved it without the vocal effects that are on the album.

The house lights actually came on toward the end of Black Hole Sun. They finished up and Chris thanked everyone and left. I found out later that they actually were going to play a 2nd encore with Never Be Your Man (new album), Be Yourself and Slaves & Bulldozers (which would have been awesome), but they got shut down because it was so hot and people were passing out. Even without the 2nd encore, it was an amazing show. He played for at least 2.5 hours, maybe a little more. We definitely got our money's worth. I'm still pissed about paying $35 to go see Sting 7 years ago and he only played for 1:45, which included a 10 minute acoustic version of Roxanne, and what made it 10 minutes was mostly him repeatedly singing "Roxxxxaannne". I spent the same amount for this show and was close enough to read the Gibson name on the headstock of the guitar and Chris put on a fucking show. I included the setlist below, thanks to someone on the Chris Cornell forum.

Original Fire
Show Me How to Live
No Such Thing
You Know My Name
Hunger Strike
Say Hello to Heaven
Fell on Black Days
What You Are
Rusty Cage
Can't Change Me (Chris solo)
Scar in the Sky (Chris solo)
I Am the Highway (Chris solo)
Call Me a Dog (started Chris solo, band came back at end)
Doesn't Remind Me
Your Soul Today
Billie Jean
Like a Stone
Loud Love

My Wave
Blackhole Sun

Album Review: Carry On

Carry On is Chris Cornell's new album that was released yesterday. He apparently recorded it immediately after recording Revelations with Audioslave. In February, he announced he was leaving Audioslave and releasing a solo album. I was always a bigger fan of Chris' work in Soundgarden and solo than Audioslave, so I was pretty happy to hear that. I've heard that he is pretty much an asshole to work with and that he is egotistical. If I had his talent, I would be freakin' unbearable. I don't really care if he's a jerk, I just know I like the result of his musical creativity.

The album opens with No Such Thing, which starts off as a up-tempo rocker. The guitar riff at the beginning is pretty generic, if you've listened to any alternative in the past 10 years, you've probably heard it before. But the music suddenly drops to just an acoustic guitar and light drum, with Chris' vocals. The choruses go back to that generic riff with Chris singing. I guess it's a good opener because it's one of the harder rocking numbers on the album, but it's just not one of his best. But, my opinion of the song went up a few points when it got to the bridge. It shifts into a great sounding arpeggioed guitar with Chris' vocals split over the left and right channel. On the right, he's singing in that high falsetto he has (not the primal scream) and the left channel is his lower pitched, rougher voice (think of When I'm Down on Euphoria Morning).

Up next is Poison Eye, which doesn't have the best lyrics, but the chord progression, riff and melody makes up for it. Arms Around Your Love starts out sounding very poppy and radio friendly. And it stays there. That's not a bad thing, I'm sure some fans who only want to hear him sing Outshined for the rest of his life won't like it, but that's their loss. I think pop sounding songs like this are great when the artist is authentic. It's the manufactured pop music or the bands that say "hey, Pearl Jam sold millions of records, if we sound like them we'll sell millions too." (ahem, Creed) and even worse "hey, Creed sold millions sounding like Pearl Jam, we'll sell millions sounding like Creed sounding like Pearl Jam" (ahem, Nickelback). And I can't even bring myself, okay I guess I can, mention (I cringe even typing it) Hinder, which sounds like a rip off of a rip off of a rip off of Pearl Jam. Ok, back to the review.

Safe and Sound is a great song. It's got a bit of a bluesy feel, which I love when Chris does blues flavored songs (Call Me a Dog, When I'm Down). The lyrics are great, concerning a utopian view of society. Next up is She'll Never Be Your Man, which is written from the point of view of a man who's woman left him for another woman. Apparently Chris knew several people this happened to and he wrote this song about it. It's a very catchy song and has a great vocal melody and the lyrics are catchy. Ghosts has a some great guitar chords opening up, which fade into a great sounding acoustic strumming. I'm definitely going to have to learn the chords to this song.

The next song is Killing Birds (we finally get to the source of my pun at the beginning). Very interesting sound, opening up with a low-key acoustic guitar and some electronic drum sounds. After the chorus, it kicks into a more rocking tune with either a piano or guitar playing some weird notes while the rest of the band plays a straightforward rhythm. And the guitarist has great tone on the solo. The lyrics sound very personal and intense. Up next is Billie Jean and as I said above, yes the Billie Jean written by Michael Jackson in the 80's (back when he was cool). First thought is the guy from Soundgarden covering Michael Jackson?!? But you should check it out. Hit iTunes or Amazon and listen to the 30 second preview. He has rearranged it into a slow, bluesy tune with subdued vocals during the verses and cutting loose during the choruses.

Scar on the Sky is a pretty song that would sound at home on a Soundgarden album. That is followed by Your Soul Today, which I think is my favorite on the album so far. It's got an infectious guitar riff and a funky beat. Finally Forever has a Beatles feel with a slide guitar. Silence the Voices starts off sounding vaguely like an old school Soundgarden sludge-fest. But the vocals and drumming change that feel. It's actually a tough song to classify. Interesting. Disappearing Act is next. I wondered if it was related to Disappearing One from his last solo album (Euphoria Morning). It's a pretty, mostly acoustic song. Closing out the album is You Know My Name, which you've heard if you saw Casino Royale. It's a good song, with great lyrics and music. Chris collaborated with a composer on it and the orchestration in the song blends well with the standard guitar/drums/bass sound. Being a Bond fan and a fan of several Bond songs, I love that Chris has added one to the list*.

*Cool Bond Songs
Live and Let Die - Paul McCartney
The World is Not Enough - Garbage
A View to a Kill - Duran Duran
You Know My Name - Chris Cornell