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One Man, One Voice
By Erik Hage

Bruce Springsteen

Pepsi Arena, July 16

It often seems like the people who hate Bruce Springsteen’s music hate it for the wrong reason—and that some of the people who love the Boss love him for the wrong reason. This is, after all, the man who, not long before 9/11, alienated the entire NYPD with his performances of “American Skin (41 Shots),” which unflinchingly looked at the police slaying of Amadou Diallo. This is also the man who originally penned “Born in the U.S.A.” as a stark, bitter acoustic track during his Nebraska period. But when it ultimately appeared in its full-blown form, it was wildly misinterpreted as “flag-waving” (not least of all by a dim-witted Ronald Reagan, who adopted it as a theme song).

Google the lyrics: It is one of the most brutal and cynical songs about our country to ever top the charts.

So here’s Bruce at the Pepsi on Saturday. Fast-forward to the final song of the encore, and he is alone on stage howling a beautifully creepy and ominous version of “Dream Baby Dream,” by New York postpunkers Suicide. The song put an exclamation point on a night that completely scuttled expectations. It wasn’t just that Springsteen was alone, with none of the grand gestures and all-peaks-no-valleys cacophony of the E Street Band to bolster his muse. It was something more than that.

>>From the moment he hit the stage in cowboy shirt and blue jeans, tanned and fit as ever and not looking a day over 40, Springsteen seemed inward and all bunched up into himself. He would roll out none of his wildly recognizable anthems, relying heavily on songs from his stark new album, Devils and Dust (Nebraska meets Spoon River Anthology . . . on peyote) and throwing out a smattering of tracks from other albums that seemed to fit the hunkered-down atmosphere.

Springsteen started by muttering something about the evening being about as quiet as he ever gets and then perched himself at a small wooden harmonium to deliver an uplifting “Into the Fire.” Next, still deep in his own private moment and looking strangely human and pensive, Springsteen once again forsook the guitar to deliver a completely deconstructed “Reason to Believe” on harmonica (delivered through an old murky mic). With mic and harmonica clasped to his face, Springsteen pounded out a heavy bottom with one boot working the song out of both sides of his mouth by alternately singing and blowing and working himself up into a fire-and-brimstone fervor, spittle flying. (He would also, throughout the night, frequently lilt into that falsetto, “li-li-li” yodel that he uses in his dustbowl folk-singer guise.)

And so it went. And the audience remained, for the most part, seated. Springsteen did eventually connect with the crowd to dedicate “Long Time Comin’” to his oldest son, Evan, who was in attendance—and he did flash that unmistakably underbitten and eyetoothed smile at the crowd a few times. But for the most part this seemed like Springsteen in the raw, shucked of his shell, with the pink parts exposed. And it wasn’t the acoustic guitar tracks, but the tunes delivered at the grand piano that really struck home, particularly a breathtakingly pretty “Paradise.” All evening, Springsteen’s instrumental accompaniment was spare (with occasional backing track). That unmistakably bold voice carried the night.

And so he could have ended the night with “Promised Land” from Darkness on the Edge of Town. It’s not one of his hallmark tunes, but it’s close. But Bruce is not the man we think we know; he’s thorny, and he’s more of a lion in the road than his detractors or worshippers would have you believe. And so, to exorcise whatever haunts still remained in his psyche that night, he gleefully vamped through Suicide’s creepy “Dream Baby Dream,” shaking hands all down the front row. And as a Brucehead with poofy Sopranos hair and a single gold chain shook his head in disgust, remarking, “I came all the way from central Jersey for dis?” I thought, “No, man. . . . It’s perfect.

Let’s Get Sweaty

Second Annual Aggressive Music Festival

Glens Falls Civic Center, July 16

Another night at the ballet. I reached Glens Falls in 40 minutes in bare feet, the humidity as if God were panting over the city like a big dog in the skies waiting for lamb. This year’s festival was not as well-attended as 2004’s flagship two-day event, perhaps due to the absence of headliners that drew from different age groups (last year the mighty Slayer brought in people looking more like Gandalf than Jamie Jasta), but the package was a good one considering this summer’s bevy of metal tours, taking full advantage of an Ozzfest “off” day by grabbing as many bands from Sharon Osbourne’s undercard as possible.

I was pretty much there just to see Shadows Fall and the impervious In Flames from Sweden. Shadows Fall are a steamroller, strapped with a live sound that could choke a grizzly. I liked them better in the clubs, but who can deny any band the well-earned right to blast even more kids to pieces, which they accomplished with reasonable aplomb? Two resplendent rows of double stacks on either side of Jay Bittner’s drum riser, and there you go. No artsy-fartsy semi-transparent screens obscuring the electronics with album-cover graphics, just over-the-top metal for metal’s sake.

In Flames, however, suffered from an atrocious mix, the vocals all but absent, and the song list broke my stupid heart, the band favoring lighter material over such hurtful classics as “Morphing Into Primal” and “Episode 666.” But they trumped As I Lay Dying, who were competent but very predictable: intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, breakdown chorus, out. Even Killswitch Engage, who knocked the crowd dead, failed to emerge from the drop-tuned drone that, when exposed for seven hours, gets awfully weird in a persistent-cough kind of way. But to be fair, I was distracted from any real assessment of their wares by guitarist Adam Dutkiewitz, who skipped and leapt around his metal-posing brethren in his weird socks, towering over them in some kind of illusory daisy dance that would put most metalheads in the penalty box. Somehow he pulls it off. Brrrrrrr.

Hatebreed, despite some crushing (and probably the most honest example of East- Coast) hardcore on the card, have the annoying habit of holding the low B or C-sharp or whatever-the-hell-it-is base chord between songs while frontman Jasta plays the ringmaster, inciting the crowd with unintelligible panegyric into the next tune. After every song he clasped the mike with both fists and screamed, “Ruff-ruffa-roof-ralla . . . rue-specka-row-recka-ree-shodda?!” And the crowd, realizing that this was some sort of inquiry that demanded a response, replied with a “RRRAAAHHRRRGG!!” And the pits spun into rapture, of course. More people got knocked out during Hatebreed’s set than any other, and Times Union freelancer David Malachowski looked bored and nervous by the concessions.

The largest audience response of the evening, however, belonged to the dozens of poor, attention-craving nubiles in low-cut jeans who flashed their tits and tongue-kissed each other like they were getting paid. What is with these fatherless young women pretending to be lesbians? Indeed, more than one liquor-soaked lassie was escorted from the arena after one too many booty calls in angel-hair thongs, and two more ground and groped in the eye of the rear arena pit, as if in a dressage, whilst young mooks carefully avoided them with their karate, tongues wagging and cursing security for prohibiting mixed media. Why, they are no more lesbians than Nancy Reagan or Ann Coulter, but there they were, sexing on to such a slippery extent that no one in eyeshot paid any attention to the bands until the police removed them to indignant cries of “Bullshit!” It boggled the mind.

Finally, after many, many sweltering hours and about six cheeseburgers later, Mudvayne appeared and did that very average thing that they do. I don’t see what all the hype is about. The singer has pretty eyes. Most of the other bands made them look unworthy, if not downright inadequate. Then my phone rings and it’s a friend of mine who is very, very intoxicated. “Where?!” he screams. “Where are the words that will save my life!?” Excellent question.

—Bill Ketzer

Hot Stuff

Rob Zombie, Priestess

Northern Lights, July 12

It was hot as hell, in every way. But isn’t that appropriate for the appearance of Rob Zombie, the man who channels B-grade horror-movie sensibilities into industrialized, irresistible devil metal? At Northern Lights on Tuesday, the Zombie ensemble’s furious energy kept the sold-out audience in constant, enthusiastic motion despite a stage-front temperature that was easily more than 100 degrees. Because of the packed, overheated conditions, and the incessant surges forward to and back from the stage, it was hard to discern if Zombie had included any splatter-flick special effects in the set production, as he did for his last local appearance at Edgefest in Altamont a few years ago. But even without a ritual throne, the pounding fury of the music produced its own fire and brimstone. Zombie’s first live outing in three years, the show was a promising warm-up for the band’s slot on the Ozzfest tour.

Zombie himself has jettisoned his dreadlocked, Undead Treebeard look, and was stripped down to the basics: unruly hair, tight T-shirt, and sleeve tattoos. He seemed most stoked when promoting his upcoming film, The Devil’s Rejects, the follow-up to his craptacular House of 1000 Corpses. He was also revved up about drummer “Tommy, who is 16,” which was probably a joke, but his boast that Tommy could perform White Zombie songs better than the originals was not: The drummer stripped the percussive gears with gusto.

The set list, taken mostly from the recent retrospective release, Past, Present, & Future, included almost all of Zombie’s best songs from before he went solo, most notably “Thunder Kiss ’65,” the throbbing homage to drag-strip racing and corrupted 60s’ psychedelia; the unwholesomely throbbing “Thrust!” and the enduring club hit “More Human Than Human.” These songs, more than 10 years old, went over even better than more recent stompers such as “Demon Speeding,” which just goes to show that White Zombie (whose appearance at Saratoga Winners in 1993 was one of the decade’s most incendiary area performances) were ahead of their time in regards to art-damaged schlock rock. The set also included a smattering of wacky “Hellbilly” barnburners, for which Zombie donned an oversized cowboy hat; and one ballsy, crepuscular ballad. The evening’s only disappointment was the cover encore of Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever.” The faithful rendition did not stand up to Zombie’s famed interpretations of Black Sabbath and Black Flag songs, his traditional closers.

Openers Priestess, from Montreal, were not, as expected, a satanic pastiche from Zombie’s stripper friends, but were instead a band of longhairs playing undistinguished ’70s-style guitar rock.

—Ann Morrow

Do You Remember?

Chicago, Earth Wind & Fire

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, July 17

The last time I saw Earth, Wind and Fire was at the Pepsi Arena, six days after 9/11. The group seemed less than sharp, the stage set looked like it needed a coat of paint, and the whole thing reeked of warmed-over nostalgia. It didn’t help that they had to follow Chaka Khan. Not the best situation.

Sunday’s show, before a jam-packed house and lawn, was a night-and-day transformation, as EWF were a supercharged band reborn, a groove idea, a funky institution at its peak.

Chicago, just watching.

The show was bookended with both bands onstage together, a total of 20 musicians, tag-teaming selected hits from each. It was frantic, but it was a fun overload, and while nobody got seriously hurt, the segue from “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is” to “Shining Star” did reportedly cause several mild cases of whiplash, and underscored what a strange pairing of acts this was.

EWF, now a 12-piece outfit, played the first full set, which sparkled. The choreography was effortless and cool, and the new material (new CD out in September) meshed perfectly with the ’70s warhorses, which all sounded fresh and pumped-up. Original member bassist Verdine White kept the fashion flame alive with a tight-pink top with poofy sleeves, hot-pink polyester pants with silver fringes, and white patent-leather shoes and belt. That’s what I’m talking about. The rotund Russian guitarist Vadim Zilbershtein looked extraordinarily out of place until he nearly stole the show with a series of heart-stopping solos toward the end of the set.

But the stage really belonged to singer Philip Bailey, who cooed, yelped, and just plain sang the ship into funk nirvana. Bailey’s performance was a dissertation on funk and soul singing, with casual class to burn, and several forays into upper-register singing just a few notes shy of the inaudible range. After all the trials and tribulations, near misses, reunions, and break ups, Bailey and the several remaining original members of EWF have fashioned a vehicle worthy of claiming the mantle of best funk band ever, period.

Chicago followed, and seemed sad and silly in comparison. A gutless, anemic sound mix certainly didn’t help things, but the band didn’t help themselves, either. With both of the singers of the band’s ’70s hits long gone, the horn section is now the front line of the band, with the singers relegated to wandering around with headsets competing for attention. And as the singers are clearly not the same guys we know from the radio, the whole thing sort of lays flat. And this isn’t overcome by original trombonist James Pankow’s hyperactive cheerleading, mincing around making orgasm faces, trying to convince the crowd that, say, “Saturday in the Park” rocks his world, and ours. C’mon, man. The high point, and most real point, of Chicago’s set, by far, was when Philip Bailey came out and beautifully sang “If You Leave Me Now” while sitting on a stairway.

During the monstro-jam at the end, the combined forces launched into “Free,” from 1971’s Chicago III, a call to arms for the revolution if ever there was one. Now, in 2005, a giant American flag unfurled behind the stage, everybody danced and sang happily along, and the once proudly furious song got dropped squarely on its head. Terry Kath is no doubt spinning in his grave.

—Paul Rapp


The Force is With Him

Local 5-1-8 representer Dezmatic hosted a burlesque show featuring the beautiful Lipstick Lovelies at the Lark Tavern on Saturday night (July 16). Here, sporting a Darth Vader helmet, Dez breaks it down while the ladies take a break.

 

 

 

 

 

overheard:

“I have been hit much, much harder than that.”

—a kid standing over his bloodied friend on a stretcher as EMTs prepared a neck brace at the Aggressive Music Fest in Glens Falls.

 

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