THE FLESHTONES’ THE WHEEL OF TALENT: WHERE EVERY SPIN IS A WIN — An Interview with Peter Zaremba.

fleshtonesThe Fleshtones’ Wheel Of Talent  (Yep Roc Records 2014) is an album that has stayed near the top of my favorite sounds pile for the entire first half of this year, and it shows no sign of stopping that spin cycle anytime soon — if ever.

As resplendently crafted as albums can be, it still retains all the trademarks of what makes any Fleshtones album worthy: It is a chock-full barrel of potential Top-Ten hit songs and would-be chartbusters, or at least it is in the alternate cultural universe that I’ve chosen to call my listening world.

For myself and other fans with similar musical appreciations, this is a world where The Fleshtones truly are the legendary Solid Gold Sound  hit makers that their own self-labeled title “Super Rock” perfectly describes — a sound that is a specialty brew of raucous soul, rock and roll, trashy Farfisa organ, garage rock, fuzz punk, and funky glam.

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Into their fourth decade as a band, I have enjoyed The Fleshtones both on record and live for years, and even had a chance to have my band open for them years ago once in New London, CT at the famed El & Gee Club. This was a brief period for the band that saw Fred Smith from Television (!) filling in as their bass player. I recall spending most of the night talking to the extremely laid back Mr. Smith and marveling at how he managed to reluctantly join The ‘Tones in their typical stage antics such as a human pyramid, spinning around and getting low on the dance floor — standing in those “Cold Cold Shoes” indeed.

Fans of the band who has seen The Fleshtones live, know that they always have been and still are one of the greatest acts live acts ever, and in my opinion that includes going up against anyone past or present.

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Peter Zaremba Farfisa Two Boots 2014

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Peter Zaremba at Jakes 2008 Farfisa copy

Peter Zaremba at his mighty Farfisa.

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Peter Zaremba at The Middle East 2008

Zaremba implores the crowd to GET DOWN!

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Appearing alongside such luminaries as The Chesterfield Kings, The Fuzztones, The Plimsouls and Rain Parade on the essential Rhino box set Children Of Nuggets, and in the seminal 1981 concert film Urgh! A Music War, The Fleshtones have a stellar legacy and continue to roam the planet recording and performing live as if they were missionaries for what I like to think of as a part of the great Caravan Of Cool.

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Keith Streng Mondo Zombie 2013

Keith Streng — A true Super Rock Living Legend.

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Keith Streng Hygenic 2013

Streng teaching the kids rock star bad habits.

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What Little Steven Van Zandt has since coined The Underground Garage, this caravan is a vast cadre of musicians, singers, bands, DJ’s, studio engineers and record labels that are dedicated to and continue to carry the torch of everything that is exciting ROCK and ROLL and all the permutations that Rock’s history encompasses.

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Ken Fox Middle East 2009

…and The Wheel Of Talent points to Ken Fox!

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Bill Milhizer Bridge Street Live 2014

Bill Milhizer: The “Secret Weapon” and Robert Mitchum of the group.

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While The Underground Garage umbrella term is a perfect match for 60’s originated garage rock and all its related forms, so too does it manage to accommodate other musical styles and genres: great soul and r&b, psychedelic jewels, glam rock, power pop, proto punk, 1st generation punk rock — hell, even a little Rat Pack crooner swagger makes it into the mix. A band as genre defining as The Ramones shares equal space with James Brown and many other musical giants of all sounds and sizes. Along with these legends and unknown legends are the equally gigantic number of songs by decades of various artists that The Fleshtones themselves have covered over the years — a number that reaches into the hundreds!

The Woggles, The Dictators N.Y.C., Lyres, Barrence Whitfield and The Savages, Buzzcocks, The Hoodoo Gurus, Big Sandy, Shonen Knife, Los Straitjackets and Southern Culture On The Skids are only a few examples of the wonderful bands I’ll always support. All are musical wonders who continue to relentlessly tour, record and release albums — with The Fleshtones standing proudly, even over this illustrious crowd — in their finest Powerstance — atop the very peak of The Underground Garage.

The Fleshtones’ Wheel of Talent was previewed on Record Store Day’s Black Friday of 2013, with a 7″ for the first single (and lead off song) from the album: a song called “Available.”

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Meeting of the Minds?

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This Keith Streng beauty showcases a sublime string section and lyrical observations that question how much emotional content actually exists in social media’s omnipresence where every twit has to let everyone else know the minutiae of their day 24/7. Striking me immediately was the song’s departure from anything the band had done before. This was a hint that here would be an album that was not intended to be a mere replication of their music performed live, but a bonafide listening album experience as well.

As this first track indicated, my theory was confirmed when I finally heard the entire Wheel of Talent album and I knew that The Fleshtones were not taking an easy route to album making. Instead, while still capturing their trademark “Living Legends” top shelf live performance excitement, they have delivered the jackpot. Listening to this album as much as I have now, it already seems like a collection of greatest hits, and that is said without any hyperbole, as each track soars like a collection of singles with no misfires from beginning to end.

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FleshtonesWheel-web

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Wheel Of Talent was recorded in Detroit, where it was produced and engineered by the legendary Jim Diamond, who has indeed crafted a musical diamond.

The LP kicks off with the aforementioned “Available,” whirls into the careening tornado rocker “What You’re Talking About,” then gyrates into the autobiographical instant classic, “It is As It Was.”

No time to take a breath however, as “Remember The Ramones,” is next.

This song is a superbly fitting tribute (and now a bit poignant, especially in light of the last original Ramone, Tommy’s recent passing) from guys who were there in the nascent days of the NYC punk rock scene. Chances are good that it will remain a live staple in every Fleshtones’ setlist.

Had enough zip by the fourth track? No rest for the weary as it’s time for Keith Streng’s “Roofarama,” an album highlight of incendiary rock and roll that skyrockets the listener into the cosmos with very wild Streng string action. It’s kind of like an atom bomb T Rex.

From this point on Wheel Of Talent showcases a high quotient — make that a brainiac level — in variety of styles and moods: 60’s Carnaby Street fashion eccentricity in “The Right Girl,” a lovingly sentimental sing-along, “What I’ve Done Before,” hauntingly beautiful Baroque art rock elegance on the string laden “How To Say Goodbye” and then it’s deservedly a woman’s, woman’s, woman’s world for the campfire acoustic guitar strumming and bongo delight delivered by Mary Huff (of Southern Culture On The Skids) as she takes a lead vocal spotlight on “Just For A Smile.”

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“For A Smile” was also released as a single, The Fleshtones featuring Mary Huff although  Peter Zaremba preferred it had been released as Mary Huff and The Fleshtones.

This 7″ was sold on the Mondo Zombie Boogaloo Tour, a 2013 Fall tour dream come true extravaganza that featured The Fleshtones, Southern Culture On The Skids and Los Straitjackets sharing a bill to support their outstanding Halloween compilation of the same name.

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Somber frustration, bitter questioning and sadness in what seems to be dealing with the aftermath that comes from the death of a loved one might be a departure in lyrical content from any past Fleshtones song, but in “Stranger In My House” Keith Streng manages to turn the emotions into a powerful original work that reminds me of some of the greatest songwriting that you might find in the brilliant country and western writing of say Johnny Cash or George Jones. Yet another middle finger to all Fleshtones’ detractors who have pigeonholed the band for years as lightweight party, good time Charlies with no sense of depth.

Another strength the Fleshtones have always had is reworking covers to make them their own, especially when it comes to taking some classic 60’s garage fuzz and giving it the Rock en Español treatment as they do on the Music Machine’s “I See The Light” which the band has covered for years and now has turned into the fantastic “Veo la Luz.” Who ever said these alchemists can’t turn gold into a diamond?

“Hipster Heaven” does indeed recall The Fleshtones of old in its speed trials pep and a healthy dose of snappy sarcasm and the final LP track, “Tear For A Tear,” closes the album with a great early 60’s sounding upbeat chestnut. The song seems to be modeled after something that might have appeared in the Kim Fowley songbook with lover’s revenge lyrics like “I’m gonna make you cry, until your eyes run dry, I’m gonna make you pay, baby baby, tear for a tear.”

The Fleshtones are truly one of the greatest bands on the planet. They are still approachable, funny and have an ability to turn out a gem of an album such as Wheel Of Talent. There are no bad albums or bad live shows by The Fleshtones, just varying degrees of exclamatory, celebratory superlatives. They are a band that brings a smile and a resounding “Wow!! I love those guys!” by countless strangers who happen to see me wearing one of their T-shirts.

Handsome Dick Manitoba, who is none other than the legendary iconic frontman for the seminal CBGB’s band, The Dictators (now touring and recording as The Dictators NYC ) — an incredible group who always do an outstanding cover of The Fleshtones’ “American Beat” in their live sets as well — gave me some beautiful, admiration filled words about The Fleshtones:

“The Fleshtones to me embody what a truly great rock ‘n roll band should be all about. They love what they do and they’re going to do what they do regardless. They will make records, they will play live, they will travel and entertain the masses. I love them, I respect them, I admire them.”

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The Dictators NYC  featuring L-R: Daniel Rey, Dean Rispler, Handsome Dick Manitoba, Ross “The Boss” Friedman and JP “Thunderbolt ” Patterson.

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Then there is “The Professor” Mighty Manfred, the microphone stand twirling, tambourine shaking, energy bolt / frontman for the astoundingly explosive rock and soul danceathon foursome from Georgia, The Woggles, who had this to say about The Fleshtones:

“Jon Landau once said something to the effect of ‘The Remains are how you told a stranger about rock and roll.’ To me, The Fleshtones are how you get that stranger to listen to and love rock and roll.”

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The Woggles Dusk 2014The Woggles featuring L-R: Buzz Hagstrom, Dan Elektro, “The Professor” Mighty Manfred and Flesh Hammer.

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Emily's Fleshtones 2014

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The Powerstance!  L-R: Ken Fox (bass, vocals), Keith Streng (guitar, vocals), Bill Milhizer (drums, vocals) and Peter Zaremba (vocals, Farfisa organ), are The Fleshtones. Photo © 2014 Emily Seah

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I had the honored opportunity to talk with Peter Zaremba a bit about Wheel of Talent  as well as a few other Fleshtones related topics…

Peter Zaremba at Ralph's Fleshtones 2010Peter Zaremba

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  • RJ: For a year or more you guys have been doing a live Wheel Of Talent shtick in your shows, where did this originate and how did that become the title of your new album?

PZ: The Wheel Of Talent just sort of happened during a show. All sorts of unplanned things happen when we are on stage. We started spinning around and when we stopped, I pointed to who would sing the next song. Hence the Wheel Of Talent. I think Keith said it would be be a good title for our new album.

  • RJ: Instead of individual songwriting credits, all the songs on Wheel Of Talent say written by The Fleshtones. Is this album more of a group writing effort?

PZ: No song writing credits, really? Well, it’s usually a group effort as far as arranging stuff but these days we usually bring more or less completed songs to the band. We don’t have the time hanging around together like we had at the ‘house’ or the ‘music building’. That said, The Fleshtones’ stamp gets smeared over every tune!

  • RJ: I really admire the use of strings on “Available” and “How To Say Goodbye.” Immediately I heard a Roy Wood of The Move (and the first Electric Light Orchestra album) thing going on, where it’s a heavy cello/violin, rock kind of presence. At a live show recently, Keith Streng told me that was in fact, his intention. So is expanding The Fleshtones’ sonic palette, something we can look forward to with future recordings?

PZ: Yes indeed it was Keith’s intention to use strings in the Roy Wood manner, that is as a rock component and not to ‘sweeten’ a song. I think it worked great. It’s fun to finally be able to do things in the studio that we always wanted to do, and have it turn out right! As far as a new direction, We shall see. Perhaps we shall react against this and go super-heavy on the next album.

  • RJ: For “The Right Girl” I was trying to figure out your vocal style. I heard a non-monster, wealthy actor Boris Karloff in a smoking jacket, sitting by a fireplace in his home library thing, which is a compliment. You told me recently, it was you channeling early David Bowie, channeling Anthony Newley. I really love the song. Why did you come up with this vocal for that song?

PZ: Haha! I wasn’t thinking of Karloff but that’s great. I WAS thinking of a Spanish-speaking Karloff, or at least a Bobby Pickett, when I did the Spanish vocal for Lost Straitjackets’ ‘Que Monstruos Son’ on the Mondo Zombie Boogaloo LP, Now, back to ‘The Right Girl,’ yes indeed Bowie channeling Newley as he did on his early recordings, or even more channeling Gene Pitney in his super self-pitying lyric style. For a while we used to play his recording of ‘Back Stage’ after each of our shows, the outer limits of his weepy self pity. We should start doing that again. Anyway, this song just came to me fully-formed while I was dusting our bedroom, fake Gene Pitney/Bowie/Newley voice and all. Maybe I should dust more often. The room could use it!

PZ: Well, as I tell people who ask me to sign the book, I’m just a character in it, like having Winnie The Pooh sign a book or something. That said, of course I get off on the fact that people write books about me, even if I have to be in The Fleshtones for 38 years for them to do it. It Is As It Was!

  • RJ: “Remember The Ramones” which has become an audience favorite, has been in your set list for a while. When I first heard it, I could not wrap my head around how you break up the words with “Remember” as “Remem…ber the Ramones.” Then it snapped in to become unforgettably catchy.  How did you work this magical phrasing?

PZ: Haha, once again, this was something that popped into my head at an unlikely time, in this case mowing a big lawn. By the time I finished the lawn, I had the whole song, after all, it’s just the story of us going to see the Ramones and what that meant to us at the time.

  • RJ: Yep Roc Records really seems to have become such a great fit for The Fleshtones. Is this because they seem to be music fans first and and that creates less pressure than some labels you’d been on in the past?

PZ: We couldn’t be happier, Yep Roc is the best!! Music fans they are, which is their key to success, if not ours. In fact, we met the Yep Roc guys when they were still in college, They had hired us for an all out ‘Animal House’ style frat party at their school. In the course of the night, Glenn Dicker said his dream was to someday start a record label so he could sign bands like us.

  • RJ: We observed that when you guys play the cover of “Laugh it Off” some audience members start making out? Do any other songs elicit particular audience responses?

PZ: I never noticed that. I thought people were just laughing. They also like the clapping part. But making out? I’m impressed! Anyway, that is from one of my favorite Fleshtones’ albums, ‘More Than Skin Deep.

  • RJ: In my opinion, bassist Ken Fox’s song “Better Days” (also from More Than Skin Deep) is a classic song and up there with all the greatest Fleshtones’ songs. Could he be the George Harrison of the band, just waiting to break out with a triple album masterpiece?

PZ: He might make that triple album sooner than we think. At any rate, his songs are a great addition to Fleshtones’ LPs. People, me in fact, can only take so much of Streng and myself screaming before they need some relief. He should come up with more tunes!

  • RJ: Any future goals for The Fleshtones? I am still waiting for the big box set.

PZ: Future goals? Now that it’s so much fun to do, we’d like to make more records. Also like to play the many parts of the world that we have yet to perform in like Japan and Russia (although I have preformed twice in Russia with The Cavestompers), as well as return to Mexico. And the box set? Sure, that would be nice. We’ll start with trying to get our Ichiban albums like Powerstance, Forever Fleshtones and More Than Skin Deep, re-issued. That would be a start. Let the wheel of talent spin! Thanks for the great questions and see you…!

  • RJ: Best of luck, see you soon and thanks, Peter!

The Fleshtones Wheel Of Talent is available through all fine retailers and directly through Yep Roc Records.

You can also support The Fleshtones at their official Facebook page.

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WELCOME ALL WHO ENTER THE WORLD OF ROBERT JAZ

I write, create visual art and music.

As DJ Robert Jaz and also as Robert Jaz, DJ From The Black Lagoon I spin music.

I write a column called THE ROBERT JAZ MYSTERY BOX which can be viewed here on the very site you are visiting: www.RobertJaz.com

My Mystery Box presence on FB is at this page: https://www.facebook.com/RobertJazMysteryBox

A few of the other FB Pages and Groups I operate:

https://www.facebook.com/SUBLIMEFREQUENCIES

https://www.facebook.com/FORHEADPHONESONLY

https://www.facebook.com/RobertJazpresentsBeautifulMusic

Former employee with the East German Embassy in Athens – 
Number Station Division.

Ministre de Psychedelia and  Sublime Frequencies Number Station Operative. 

Yes, I was a Cosmonaut.

Working on a new series of paintings to be unveiled soon…

Operated The Mystery Box Film Festival at AS220 early to mid ’90s / Founded Terrastock Music Festival which 1st took place in Providence 1996, made possible along with the record label Flydaddy and Medicine Ball band member Mark Stone / Founding member Providence Filmmaker’s Group early ’90s. / Projectionist for The Tiki Wonder Hour and guitarist with the 14 piece “Combustible Edison Heliotropic Oriental Mambo and Foxtrot Orchestra”/ Projectionist for various band performances including Six Finger Satellite and Christmas / Member of Camera Ready in late ’80s / member of the trio, Carrot Bread / Founding member, writer, Art director, and cover designer for The NicePaper early – mid ’90s / Art Director for The NewPaper then The Providence Phoenix / member of The Robert Jazz Quartet which morphed into the band V. Majestic 1993 = presently on hiatus. 

Creature Double Feature Horror Convention 2011: I did the Sound Design and was spinning music as Robert Jaz, DJ From The Black Lagoon.

Plonsky

THE ROLLING STONES: SOME GIRLS Live in Texas ’78

This piece was originally published April 8th, 2013.

Some Girls still stCharlie Watts Some Girls Icon Templateands today as one of The Rolling Stones last incredible album masterpieces.

While they certainly made some outstanding albums afterwards—Tattoo You and Undercover are both high points—there were none that would be so perfectly complete as Some Girls.

Released in 1978 and quickly becoming a #1 album, it is hailed as an across the board classic, and one of their all time best selling studio albums.

Recorded in ’77 & early ’78, the writing and sessions were done amidst a time of even more internal turmoil than usual for The Stones, with Keith Richards’ looming Toronto drug bust a concern as to whether he could be imprisoned for years, and the challenge of responding to punk rock’s ground zero takedown of the dinosaurs of many of rock and roll’s giants.

 

The original cover art (there was also another color variant cover) to the 
Some Girls album, spoofing a wig ad is brilliant. The cover was quickly changed 
when copyright issues came up regarding the various female celebrities depicted.

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BEWARE OF MR. BAKER: GINGER BAKER VS. HIMSELF

This piece was originally published February 11th, 2013.

Even when I thought I knew just about everything creative, compulsive and crazed when it came to tales of the man and his music, I saw this film and realized my knowledge was only a small part of a wilder story.

  Beware of Mr. Baker is a documentary on the life of the legendary British rock drummer with a mane of flame and the eyes of a madman, Ginger Baker.

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LED ZEPPELIN: CELEBRATING THEIR LAST HURRAH!

This piece was originally published December 17th, 2012.

Led Zeppelin Post Icon
Ah, Ah,
We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow,
The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands,
To fight the horde, singing and crying: Valhalla I am coming!
On we sweep with thrashing oar, our only goal will be the western shore.
© 1970 Led Zeppelin

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The above is the lyrics to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” from their third album, 1970’s Led Zeppelin III.

It was written by Robert Plant after being inspired by a concert the band played at a college in Reykjavik, Iceland and touring the country, which reminded him of Viking hordes and big ships.

It’s perspective, as that of the Vikings leaving Scandinavia in search of new lands and new adventures, always left me with the impression that it easily could have been a song about the members of Led Zeppelin themselves.

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The gods swooped down to conquer in their own private jet

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CHRIS ISAAK: Carrying His Rock ‘n’ Roll Torch ‘Beyond The Sun’

This piece was originally published July 2nd, 2012.

Chris Isaak Post TemplateAs Chris Isaak puts it, he grew up incessantly listening to his parent’s record collection as a child in Stockton, CA.

It wasn’t an outrageously huge collection, but it was one that would influence Chris to this day.

The collection was heavy on Sun Records recording artists and included records by Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley.

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Finally…Ladies And Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones!

This piece was originally published December 10th, 2010.

Mick Jagger Post IconThree years onwards, from the tragic circumstances that made The Altamont Speedway Free Festival of 1969 such a disastrous black mark for its headliners/organizers, The Rolling Stones, 1972 would be the first time back for a large tour of the United States.

They would not be performing “Sympathy For The Devil” however, because of the (wrongly thought, but it seemed like a cursed tune to many at any rate) negative connotations associated with the murder at Altamont, again in the U.S. until at least 1975.


 

Now, embarking on a large tour to promote their recently released double album, Exile On Main Street, which was released in May of ’72 to mostly glowing reviews, they had surrounded themselves with a huge entourage of friends, associates, gal pals, and hangers on, and subsequently the tour was dubbed the STP Tour (Stones Touring Party).
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ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN: An Intimate Evening At Great Scott

This piece was originally published October 26th, 2009

October 18, 2009.

Echo and The Bunneymen IconThings couldn’t have been more perfectly designed…seeing one of the legendary (and a favorite) post punk bands performing in Allston, MA at a tiny venue called Great Scott. Echo And The Bunnymen, in an extremely rare, intimate one-off return to playing a small room, not unlike their earliest days of performing in the clubs of Liverpool.

Little did I know that a freakish snow storm and terrifying driving experience would almost derail this grand opportunity.

Then again, it was also the perfect backdrop for seeing a band who has weathered the highs and lows of musical superstardom and continued to pilot their musical voyage through the “Seven Seas.”


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RANTING ON THE OLDIES: PACKAGED TOURS WITH A QUESTIONABLE SMELL

This piece was originally published September 28th, 2009

Sack O' Money IconYou’ve seen them advertised, and perhaps you’ve even attended a few: The packaged oldies/nostalgic concert tour.

The tours that bring together several musical acts who had a pop hit or two back during the same decade and now have been relegated to sharing a bill with another act that they probably never had much in common with, other than coming out of a similar genre, a similar time period and a willingness to lump themselves in with these others to play at some amphitheater, local car show, or casino.

Personally, I get a twing of uneasiness whenever I hear about one of these musical extravaganza packages, and I get mortified if one of the acts happens to include a band or artist that I really really like.

I fully understand one of the primary reasons for jumping on board one of these tours—money.

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AC/DC: My Favorite Musical acts I will See Again and Again. Part 3.

This post was originally published August 24th, 2009

Happy Devil IconA few weeks ago I attended a concert by the Australian band AC/DC at Gillette Stadium, a.k.a. home to the NFL’s New England Patriots.

These days, Gillette is located within the confines of a sparkling wonder that is Patriot Place: A mega city of commerce hosting the Patriot’s Hall of Fame, restaurants and macho retail. Really, it is a man-mall of sorts, built out of the barren disrepair and lonely dust that was once the rickety wooden seat loserville known as the old Foxboro Stadium.

Appropriate venue for a band of yobs turned colossal giants that are the boys in AC/DC.

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