Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sex Pistols, Heineken Jammin’ Festival, Mestre 20/06/08

So picture the following scenario: two young school kids are talking. One says to the other: “My grandad is great! He takes me to the zoo and buys me ice-cream and toys and plays with me at home right after he takes his daily afternoon snooze. So what does your grandad do”? The other looks and says: “Oh, well, he goes around the world singing and yelling “fuck” to people who throw at him bottles, shoes, shirts, you name it on stage. He’s also one of the “fathers” of punk music”! The grandchild (could) be taking about his grandad, none other than that madman of punk rock, Johnny Rotten (his real last name is Lydon. Rotten comes from the crappy teeth he’s always had!), the lead singer of the Sex Pistols, who landed with their mayhem act in Mestre (located near Venice) at this year’s great Heineken Jammin’ Festival (loads of great beer and great chicks too!). Rotten, sans that other “saint” of punk music, Sid Vicious, was joined on stage by original band member Steve Jones on guitar and two other musicians.

The Sex Pistols formed in London in 1975. The band originally comprised singer
Johnny Rotten, guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook and bassist Glen Matlock (who was replaced by Sid Vicious). Their initial career lasted only three years and produced only four singles and one studio album, perhaps their best work, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (Never Mind the Bollocks was released on 28 October, 1977, to mixed reviews. Rolling Stone praised the album, comparing its sound to "two subway trains crashing together under 4 feet of mud, victims screaming", and applauded the band for playing "with an energy and conviction that is positively transcendent in its madness and fever").

They’ve been defined by the BBC as "the definitive English punk rock band." Their fame is due to the fact that they’ve been widely credited with initiating the punk movement in the UK and creating the first generation gap within rock and roll. Their shows and tours repeatedly faced difficulties with organisers and authorities, and public appearances often ended in mayhem. Their 1977 single "God Save the Queen” was regarded as an attack on the British Monarchy and British nationalism (no kidding! Listen to some words from that song: “God save the Queen, she ain’t no human being”!). Just imagine what Queen EII must have thought about the boys when that song was no doubt constantly played on the air-waves! More info from Wikipedia:

“The Pistols' second single, "God Save the Queen”, was released on 27 May, 1977. Though widely perceived as a personal attack on Queen Elizabeth II, Rotten later stated that the song was not aimed at her specifically, but was instead intended to critique the deference given to royalty in general. However, the perceived disrespect to the monarchy caused widespread public outcry. The record was banned from airplay by the BBC, whose Radio 1 dominated music broadcasting. Rotten later remarked, "We had declared war on the entire country—without meaning to!" During the week of Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee, the single reached number one in the NME chart, but only number two in the official UK chart. Many suspected that the data had been massaged, believing that the record had actually qualified for the top spot, but that the charts had been rigged to prevent a spectacle. At least one radio station announced the song at number one, but refused to play it, as they had been advised it might incite disruptions of the national celebration”.

Vicious eventually died of a heroin overdose in February, 1979 (he had also been apparently involved in the murder of his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, a drug addict and occasional prostitute from New York with a history of severe emotional problems). Another classy guy as Vicious was found in a hospital, having carved the words "Gimme a fix" in his chest with a razor! In 2006 the Sex Pistols were inducted into the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but they refused to attend the ceremony, calling the museum "a piss stain".

That evening in Mestre they naturally played their major hits such as “Pretty Vacant” (pronounced in such a way as part of the second song sounds like the word “cunt”!), “God Save the Queen” and “Anarchy in the U.K.”. Anarchy served as “a statement of intent—full of wit, anger and visceral energy. Despite a common perception that punk bands couldn't play their instruments, contemporary music press reviews and live recordings reveal the Pistols to have been a tight, competent and ferocious live band”. And naturally for all the kids present, their performance was a catalysts for pushing, shoving and throwing water around (we naturally got showered and pushed too).

Rotten hadn’t, at age 52, given up his old ways in Mestre as he was still squirming and making faces on stage, including showing off his chest and slight pot-belly! But just to give you an idea of the mood that evening (and where the Pistols come from!), here’s what Jones had been up to in 1976 on a programme in England. The episode naturally created massive publicity for the band. “Appearing as last-minute replacements for fellow EMI artists
Queen, band and entourage took full advantage of the green room facilities, and consumed significant amounts of alcohol. During the interview, Rotten used the word "shit", and host Bill Grundy, who was apparently drunk at the time, flirted openly with Siouxsie Sioux: "We'll meet afterwards, shall we?" This prompted the following exchange between the host and Steve Jones:

Jones: You dirty sod. You dirty old man.
Grundy: Well keep going chief, keep going. Go on. You've got another five seconds. Say something outrageous.
Jones: You dirty bastard.
Grundy: Go on, again.
Jones: You dirty fucker.
Grundy: What a clever boy.
Jones: What a fucking rotter.

But more would happen as one day they were about to board a a plane at London Heathrow Airport. The band reportedly spat on each other and verbally abused airport staff. "One witness claimed the Sex Pistols were doing something so disgusting that she could not repeat it for publication ... it became generally believed Jones had been vomiting on old ladies in the preflight lounge," reported Rolling Stone. EMI released the band from their contract two days later. "I don't understand it," Rotten remarked at the time. "All we're trying to do is destroy everything."
And speaking of alcohol, every time Rotten went to start in with a song in Mestre, he’d go to his drummer, pick up a bottle of whisky, have a sip and gargle with it! At times he’d even spit it out, indeed a really classy kind of guy!

An honour having seen Sex Pistols as they directly inspired the style, and often the formation itself, of many punk and post-punk bands during their brief existence, such as
The Clash and Siouxsie & The Banshees who are among those in London's "inner circle" of early punk bands that credit the Pistols. On 4 June 1976, still early in their career, the Sex Pistols performed to a crowd of around 40 people at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester. It was to become one of the most important and mythologized events in rock history. In addition to the groups they directly inspired, the Sex Pistols influenced many later bands as well. Among those who have acknowledged their debt to the Pistols are Nirvana, NOFX, Oasis, Green Day, Venom and Guns N' Roses.

Finally, in 1997,
paleontologists Jonathan M. Adrain and Gregory D. Edgecombe named a series of fossil trilobite species in honour of the Pistols' members: Arcticalymene rotteni, A. jonesi, A. cooki, A. matlocki and A. viciousi. Looking at some pics of Rotten, the paleontologists got it certainly right…(all pics by M. Rimati).

Queens of the Stone Age, Heineken Jammin’ Festival, Mestre 20/06/08

One of the opening bands at the Mestre Heineken Jammin’ Festival (the other two were Iggy Pop and the Stooges and Linkin’ Park). Not a bad small show for this band who’s also had in its ranks David Grohl, Nirvana’s former drummer and Foo Fighter’s current drummer. In fact, they even played the song, “No One Knows”, from the same video which was shot with Grohl (all pics by M. Rimati).

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Joe Satriani, Villa Manin, 10/06/08

As I arrived at the splendid Villa Manin just two days after Knopfler’s nice little concert, I was afraid, even though the weather was nice, that Satriani’s show was cancelled: there were hardly any cars parked in the usual place leading up to the villa itself. But no, the concert was certainly on, even though there were probably only about 2,000 die-hard “Satrianists” out there.

The concert began on time at 9:30 pm. Satriani was backed up by three rather good musicians, including drummer Jeff Campitelli who’s been with Joe since 1986. Joe himself is 51 but looked in great shape. He began his two-hour show (ending with two encores) with a rocker, “I Just Wanna Rock”. Not bad the San Francisco guitar virtuoso, a man who in the past taught some guitar licks to the likes of Steve Vai and Kirk Hammet (does his name ring a bell? Think of Metallica!). But for young Joe it doesn’t end there: in 1993 he’s called up by none other than the Deep Purple boys to substitute Mr. “Smoke On The Water” himself, Ritchie Blackmore. Unfortunately, that collaboration didn’t last too long and Steve Morse, who’s still today with DP, ended up filling Satriani’s rather big shoes in the band. His other big success came in 1996 as the super-group “G3” was created together with fellow guitarists Steve Vai and Eric Johnson.

And much to the joy of those few who were present at the Villa Manin, right after his opener he presented himself as “Mi chiamo Giuseppe Satriani”!, as a clear reference to his Italian roots. Satriani’s come a long way from his “Surfing With The Alien” album which came out some 20 years ago and was voted best guitar album (all pics by M. Rimati).

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mark Knopfler, Villa Manin, 08/06/08

If the great Mark Knopfler, who played in front of some 7,000 avid Dire Straits fans, appeared at the splendid setting of the historic Villa Manin (located about 20 kms from Udine), well, perhaps we owe it to a certain degree to his old chum, Paul McCartney. And what does Sir Paul have to do with Knopfler and Italy? Well, many, many moons ago Mark came with his old band, Dire Straits, for some concerts in the Bel Paese. He was apparently ripped off by some crooked promoters, and said: “Never again in Italy”! The man who instead convinced him to return? Paul McCartney. And ain’t we glad too!

The quasi 60 year-old Scottish musician from Glasgow, albeit with a slight paunch, looked in o.k. shape. I think it must have been over 10 years ago that I last saw Knopfler together with his old band at Rome’s old PalaEur. That was Dire Strait’s first-ever Italian appearance after the bad financial run-in the band had had years before in Italy.

Another great memory I have of Mark is the 1997 DVD he did together with McCartney for a benefit concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall for Sir George Martin and his recording studio on the island of Montserrat. The tiny island had been destroyed by a volcanic eruption and so in order to help his old and famous record producer, Paul called up some of his old musical mates, such as “Slow Hand” Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Sting, Elton John and Mr. “Blue Suede Shoes” himself, the late, great Carl Perkins (who would shortly later die of a heart attack after that very memorable concert. McCartney in particular had been one of Perkins’s greatest admirers). The grand finale of that epic concert was “Kansas City” (which had been played by The Beatles in that very same venue some 30 years before!) and saw on the very same stage: Knopfler, Sting (on bass), Clapton, Collins, Perkins, John and McCartney. The result is simply impressive as Paul stares in awe (and vice-versa) at Clapton as he plays one of his famous guitar solos! I’ve seen most of the people great musicians listed above (in fact all of them with the exception of Perkins), including two great other artists that Knopfler’s also worked with: his idol, Bob Dylan, and Tina “TNT” Turner (on her “Private Dancer” Album).

But on with the Villa Manin show. Mark was joined on stage by 6 other great musicians and opened the 2-hour concert with “Cannibals”, followed by “Why Aye Man”, “What It Is” and “Sailing To Philadelphia”. Some old Dire Straits songs were then pulled out of Knopfler’s magical hat, including everyone’s favourite, “Romeo And Juliet”, “Sultans Of Swing” and a great old ballad, “Brothers In Arms” (in 1985 it reached position no. 1 in the UK and US charts, as well as in 22 other countries!). Knopfler then ended with “So Far Away” (much to the immense joy of all those present) and “Local Hero”. A pity though that he didn’t play one of my all-time Dire Straits favs, “Walk Of Life” (if I’m not mistaken, the video of that song shows a few NBA matches), but one can’t “always get what one wants”, as Mick Jagger once sang a zillion years ago…(all pics by M. Rimati)

Barry McCabe, Castel San Pietro Blues festival, 01/06/08

This very “simpatico” Irish bluesman really got all those present standing up on their feet with some great blues (and also r&r!). I got to talk to Barry at the end of the show. Again, yet another honour as he’s also played together with his fellow great compatriots, Rory Gallagher (an Irishman who grew up with the American blues and who died in 1995 after complications from a live transplant. So sad were the Irish upon hearing of his death that the mayor of Cork proclaimed an official day of mourning while the great Jeff Beck read the funeral eulogy) and Van Morrison. Barry’s been playing for about a year with Mick Taylor and apparently had put on quite the show together with Mick in Milan last year. Barry also invited him to be his 'special guest' for his CD presentation. They apparently had hit it off so well and the crowd enjoyed the show so much the only thing to do was to do it again...and again...and again.

And “out of the blue” (excuse the pun!), McCabe organised at the end of his gig (with a very low-key Snowy White in the corner) a great, great jamming session with Ana Popovic and the other back-up artists. One song (which I immediately recognised) was Grand Funk Railroad’s “Some Kind Of Wonderful”. The best was yet to come as the impromptu band concluded with that great American blues-rock guitarist himself, George Thorogood, and his “Move In On Over”!!

I can’t think of a better way to have ended such a great little free blues festival (and McCabe even told me after that the last encore wasn’t even rehearsed, it was just done on the spur of the moment!). I can’t even begin to imagine what the concert would have been like had Taylor also been on the same stage with these great performers (all pics by M. Rimati)!

Terence Charles “Snowy” White, Castel San Pietro Blues festival, 01/06/08

Well, this is one artist that I’m probably NOT going to buy his music via iTunes or E-mule, that’s for sure. Not only did he show up without his own guitar (it was sent ahead to St. Petersburg as he was going to play with Roger Waters on his live “The Dark Side of the Moon” tour after the Castel San Pietro festival), but at one point in the show he almost appeared to have stopped playing all together! Snowy was called up at the last moment by concert organizers as Mick Taylor unfortunately bowed out do to “health” problems (a Rolling Stones biography states that after 5 years that Taylor spent with Jagger and Richards, he came out of that experience completely “destroyed”! No doubt the lifestyle, including the massive quantity of drugs, that the Stones led had quite the effect on Taylor. Richards though had deemed him one helluva guitarist. And here’s what Bill Wyman has to say on Taylor’s playing capabilities. It’s taken from Wyman’s massive autobiography on the Stones and it quotes “The Village Voice” from one of their Boston concerts: “The Stones were marvellous, superb as always in presenting the best type of music around. The horn section was a great contribution, but the real surprise was the lead guitar by Mick Taylor”!).

White’s repertoire may include having played with Pink Floyd from 1977 to 1980 (after 3 years of permanent play with Thin Lizzy) and also with Waters on his 1990 “The Wall” album (which was played near the ruins of the Berlin Wall), but he didn’t leave THE greatest impression that I’ve ever seen in all these years of concerts. My sources tell me that Snowy at one point huddled up with the keyboard player in order to let McCabe and the others jam. That may certainly be so but the general impression from those in the crowd (including me wife) was that he didn’t look too enthusiastic of having to be up there on stage, albeit he is nevertheless a great guitarist (all pics by M. Rimati).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ana Popovic, Castel San Pietro Blues Festival, 01/06/08

Having seen a concert or two in my life (with Ms. Popovic, that makes 162!), you could say I’ve also seen a few great guitarists here and there. And I have to safely say that 99% of them have been men, until Ana Popovic came along. It was indeed refreshing to see one “hot” female performer (and a great guitarist too!) for once come along on a stage and sort of “knock your socks off”, as was the case with Belgrade’s 32 year-old Popovic!

She’s come along way from her native Belgrade (she lives in Holland and travels with her 5 year-old son Luuk) with her first group Ush in 1998 right up to her latest album, “Still Making History” which was recorded in 2007 at the House of Blues in L.A. (apparently, the album has been in the top U.S. charts for some 14 weeks). And it’s the U.S. which has also helped to launch her career internationally-speaking.

Quite the slide-guitarist, Ana has also played with the likes of Taj Mahal and Solomon Burke. She’s also taken part in the prestigious “Blues Cruise” in 2006 with the likes of Hammond, Cotton, Hubert Sumlin and others. In 2006 she also received 6 nominations at the “Living Blues Awards”, including “Best Live Performer” and “Best Female Blues Artist”.

Quite the honour I must say to see this young female blues artists as the Castel San Pietro gig was her only Italian concert in 2008 before her long and upcoming tour of the U.S. Ana packed quite the heavy punch and concluded her set with Jimi Hendrix’s “House Burning Down”, a song, as she herself said, most appropriate for the situation which had hit her native Yugoslavia years ago and which still today haunts many countries in the world (all pics by M. Rimati).

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