Sunday, April 29, 2012

Thanks to Another Fantastic Willie Nile Show, a Silver U2 Anniversary and a Mind-Blowing Tom Morello Guitar Solo (on stage with Springsteen), It's a Day to Celebrate What's Right About Rock 'n' Roll

My previous post here was about the relative sparsity of great rock artists to arise in the 21st Century.

The post seemed to generate pretty good traffic, but somewhat despairingly, I've received no feedback suggesting that I'm wrong, or ignorant to some decidedly superb band.

One friend hailed the White Stripes a bit more fervently than I did, and I respect that opinion as their albums were excellent, but I was disappointed both times I saw them live.

But as I pointed out, although I'm chagrined by the relative lack of much new and notable in the realm of rock music, there are still numerous artists that can keep me satisfied in terms of catching an amazing concert and forever enjoying phenomenal recorded material.

And today I'm particularly reminded of that for the following reasons:

1) Another @@@@@ concert by Willie Nile, backed by the Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra, at Fitzgerald's in Berwyn. 

Although I've only come to know about the 63-year-old New York rocker in the last 5 years, Nile has become one of my most consistent musical pleasures, both for his wonderful songs/albums (both new and old) and tremendous, high-energy live shows.

I won't write a full review of the show I saw last night at Fitzgerald's, for the one I penned about his gig last September largely holds true.

Playing at the same venue, for the same $15 cover charge, Nile was once again backed by Chicago's Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra (basically a 5-piece band), who opened the show with a solid set of their own. Rather than bring a band to town, Willie enlists Nick and his group to back him up, and as evidenced for the third time (including a 2009 show at Martyrs), the collaboration makes for a terrific night of music.

Perhaps because he and the NTO presumably play together but once a year, Nile's repertoire last night was largely the same as it was seven months ago, even if the setlist was somewhat shuffled. I'm a fan to an extent where any of a dozen or more different songs would've been welcome, but everything he played--including a new song called "Holy War"--sounded good. And my friend Dave, who was seeing him for the first time, seemed to very much agree that Nile is a terrific songwriter who puts on a great show with a sound that (as I wrote last time) marries Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen to The Ramones and The Clash.

In sharing a video I shot of "One Guitar," off last year's excellent The Innocent Ones album, I'll mention Willie Nile's One Guitar Charitable Initiative, in which numerous artists record their own version of the song to help raise money for great causes. Anyone with the ability to do so can seemingly contribute their rendition of "One Guitar," so if you're musically inclined, please do and/or support the selected charities including the TJ Martell Foundation, John Lennon Educational Tour Bus and Light of Day.

2) Today, April 29, 2012 is the 25th anniversary of the first time I saw U2 live in (their own headlining) concert. 

Although I think I first came to know of U2 in 1983, it wasn't until The Unforgettable Fire tour in 1985 that I was interested in seeing them live. But though they played a pair of Chicago shows at the UIC Pavilion that year, a high school classmate petered out on his offer to include me in his ticket purchase. Scalpers existed back then even without StubHub, but sans a car or anyone to go with, well, I had to forget that fire.

Especially after U2's great LiveAid appearance made me a bigger fan, I rather fortuitously was able to get a ticket to see them on the Amnesty International Conspiracy of Hope tour. But while it was awesome that on June 13, 1986, I also got to see the then-reunited Police, Peter Gabriel, Bryan Adams, Lou Reed and Robin Williams--and U2 was amazing to the extent I felt sorry for the Police having to follow them--their 8-song set didn't count as seeing a full U2 concert.

The next spring, with the release of The Joshua Tree, U2 would truly explode. The album went to #1 and just days before their April 29, 1987 show at the Rosemont Horizon (now known as the Allstate Arena), TIME magazine put them on the cover with the headline "Rock's Hottest Ticket."

On that same spring leg, U2 would play 5 arena shows in LA and 5 near New York, even three in Hartford, but booked just one in the Chicago area.

At the time, I was in my freshman year at Northern Illinois University with no easy access to a Ticketmaster outlet. But I was a member of the Jam Ticket Club, run by concert promoter Jam Productions, whereupon for an annual fee one could buy tickets to selected shows that Jam promoted.

So I was able to get a pair of tickets in the 21st row for face value, which you can see above was $16.50.

I still had no car up at NIU, but a friend from my dorm floor, Dave Palkovic--not the same Dave I saw Willie Nile with last night--had one and was happy to drive in order to accompany me to such a hot show.

And it was fantastic. I've seen U2 several times since, including just 6 months later when they returned to the Horizon for three shows (I saw just one), but I don't recall any as being any better or more meaningful.

Though my memory about many much more recent concerts is sadly quite dissipated, I still clearly recall the show-opening strains of "Where the Streets Have No Name" and Bono walking out on stage in a cowboy hat. It was pretty damn cool. (Lone Justice opened the show.)

Of course, I now have the advantage of virtual memory, for in addition to the Joshua Tree tour being immortalized in the Rattle and Hum movie, this YouTube clip from an Iowa City show that fall roughly depicts what the opening of the concert was like (indoors, the stage hue was blue for "Streets," not red as seen in Rattle and Hum and frequently since).

And just yesterday, I found online a full length audio bootleg of the April 29, 1987 show with remarkably good sound. I won't provide a link, but if I could find it you can--Google "U2 4-29-87"--and I've tremendously enjoyed hearing it over the past 36 hours. You can see the setlist for that show here, which still remains one of the most important landmark concerts of my lifetime.

3) Another version of one of the best guitar solos I've ever heard

As I've conveyed often--including in this recent review--Bruce Springsteen is my favorite musician. Bruce is probably underrated as a guitarist, but whenever he and the E Street Band have played in the L.A. area in the last few years, Rage Against The Machine's phenomenal guitarist--and like Bruce, one of today's ruefully rare rock activists--Tom Morello makes a guest appearance.

I've seen clips of Morello soloing on "Ghost of Tom Joad" now on several different occasions--this one without Bruce is particularly swell--and am never not amazed. The one he did Friday night--the second of two Springsteen shows on which he guested--is no exception. (If you think his first solo on the song is good, just wait until the second.) And since I'm citing reasons to still celebrate rock and roll, this seems well worth sharing:

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