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October 31, 2007

ON THE SAME TRAIL

Los Lobos, John Mellencamp hit the road

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It already was shaping up to be a typically busy fall for Los Lobos.

Then John Mellencamp reached out to the band with an offer to open for him across America.

"We really had to think about it," says Los Lobos saxophonist Steve Berlin.

That's because the opportunity would have clashed with the band’s regular San Francisco and southern California shows around this time of year.

"And these things were all booked and advertised," he adds.

The opportunity to play in front of a different audience, and in places where the band had never been, prompted Los Lobos to accept Mellencamp's offer, according to Berlin.

The Mellencamp/Los Lobos tour kicked off Oct. 26 in Terre Haute, Ind.

"We're opening for him, so we get 45 minutes," Berlin explains. "It's his show. This is very clearly John's tour, John's show, and he was gracious enough to invite us along."

As the tour progresses, look for the possibility of onstage collaboration.

"It's been discussed," says Berlin. "I think he's ready to go, and we're a little behind. I think the infrastructure question was one that was not really thought out before the offer was made -- in other words, how exactly do two bands play together, when we're standing in front of their gear? Once all of those details are figured out, then we'll just rock on."

-- By Chris M. Junior

John Mellencamp and Los Lobos on tour (schedule subject to change):

* Nov. 1: Memorial Coliseum -- Fort Wayne, Ind.

* Nov. 2: Seagate Convention Centre -- Toledo, Ohio

* Nov. 3: Conseco Field House -- Indianapolis

* Nov. 6: Alliant Energy Center -- Madison, Wis.

* Nov. 7: Alltel Center -- Mankato, Minn.

* Nov. 9: Wells Fargo Arena -- Des Moines, Iowa

* Nov. 10: Tyson Events Center -- Sioux City, Iowa

* Nov. 11: Qwest Center -- Omaha, Neb.

* Nov. 14: Metrocentre -- Rockford, Ill.

* Nov. 15: Scottrade Center -- St. Louis

* Nov. 29: Louis J. Tullio Arena -- Erie, Pa.

* Nov. 30: Bryce Jordan Center -- State College, Pa.

* Dec. 1: Wachovia Center -- Wilkes Barre, Pa.

* Dec. 4: Blue Cross Arena -- Rochester, N.Y.

* Dec. 6: Verizon Wireless Arena -- Manchester, N.H.

* Dec. 7: Mohegan Sun Arena -- Uncasville, Conn.

* Dec. 8: Times Union Center -- Albany, N.Y.

* Dec. 11: Cumberland County Civic Center -- Portland, Maine

* Dec. 13: Dunkin Donuts Arena -- Providence, R.I.

* Dec. 14, 15: Borgata Events Center -- Atlantic City, N.J.

October 18, 2007

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

Original Superdrag members reunite for tour -- and maybe more

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Even before the original Superdrag lineup reformed for a series of shows this fall, singer/guitarist John Davis could understand why such reunions are a big deal to devoted fans.

After all, he is a fervent fan himself, as his story of recently seeing a reunion performance by his favorite band, Dinosaur Jr., shows.

"By the time I could get in to see them (as a kid), on the Green Mind tour, Lou (Barlow) wasn't in the band anymore," Davis says. "I waited 16 years for that show."

Superdrag devotees will not have to wait nearly as long to see the Tennessee melodic-rock band's original quartet -- which also includes drummer Don Coffey Jr., bassist Tom Pappas and guitarist Brandon Fisher -- take the stage again. That lineup, which released two albums on Elektra in the late '90s and is probably best known for MTV frequently spinning the videos for "Sucked Out" and "Destination Ursa Major," is in the midst of its first shows since 1999.

Pappas and then Fisher split from the group soon after. Davis and Coffey forged on with new members until 2003, releasing two more studio albums on the independent Arena Rock Recording Company label. They have been faced with the prospect of getting the old band back together for years, Davis says.

"From the time we played last, we’ve constantly gotten offers to go and play," Davis says via cell phone from near his home in Nashville, Tenn., on the eve of the band's second reunion date. "But the timing was never right; there was always some reason not do it. This past spring and summer, we started getting some pretty serious offers to do bigger shows. It seems like the band’s stock has sort of shot up since we quit playing. People seem to care more about the band than they did four years ago, which is pretty awesome.

"Back in April, we had a new record come out (rarities/B-sides compilation Changin' Tires on the Road to Ruin), and that kind of stoked the fire a little bit. And I said, 'I can't think of one good reason not go do this.' I spent some time thinking about how much I would enjoy playing music with these guys again. ... I always just had a feeling that if we ever got together to do it again that it would have to be the original band."

With these performances, Davis is doing more than regroup with his old bandmates; after sobering up, becoming a born-again Christian and releasing a surprisingly rocking gospel album (a self-titled CD in 2005), in a way he is reconnecting with his old self.

"Five or six years ago, it was a lot more difficult for me to integrate those two lifetimes," he says. "Throughout the body of our material, figuring out my relationship with God was a recurring theme. ... There are a few songs that are off the table now, period."

Fully bringing Superdrag full circle, as Davis proudly notes, this time out the band is back to headlining big clubs it hasn't played since its major-label days, such as Chicago's Metro and New York's Irving Plaza (now called The Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza). The itinerary also includes a stop at Boston's Paradise, site of what was supposed to be the group's finale in 2003. Davis says Superdrag's set lists will draw heavily from the early albums and even find the band dusting off tracks from rare 7-inch releases.

Meanwhile, Davis is tapping into the influences of his youth -- think Husker Du and Black Flag, he says -- with the release of his second solo disc earlier this month.

Recorded at the Foo Fighters' home studio in Los Angeles with Foo Fighters and former Superdrag producer Nick Raskulinecz, Arigato! is noticeably heavier than Davis' other material.

"There's a lot of SST Records on there," he notes. "It's really the kind of record I wish I could have made when I was 18 but didn't know how. I think song-for-song it’s probably the most rocking album I’ve made, energetic and pro-active.

"Which is weird," he adds with a laugh, "because I'm old."

As for the future of their suddenly revived band, the members of Superdrag wisely aren't ruling anything out, given recent surge in interest.

"We've definitely kicked it around," he says of continuing beyond this run of concerts. "I think we're down for whatever as long as it's fun."

-- By George Henn

Superdrag tour dates (schedule subject to change):

* Oct. 19 and 20: Barley's Taproom – Knoxville, Tenn.

* Nov. 2: The Fillmore at Irving Plaza – New York

* Nov. 3: The Paradise – Boston

* Nov. 8: 9:30 Club – Washington, D.C.

October 14, 2007

THE RASPBERRIES

Oct. 13, 2007
Highline Ballroom, New York

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Dave Smalley and Eric Carmen

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Eric Carmen

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Dave Smalley

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Wally Bryson

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Jim Bonfanti

Photos by Chris M. Junior

October 08, 2007

LONG WAY HOME

Kasey Anderson talks about travel habits

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Everyone has a road-trip checklist. Washington singer/songwriter Kasey Anderson is no different.

He has been traveling the highways and byways since late last month in support of The Reckoning (Terra Soul Records), the follow-up to 2004's Dead Roses, both of which were produced by Eric "Roscoe" Ambel. Anderson recently took time from his touring schedule to share some of his travel preferences and particulars.

Medleyville.us: Name three things, excluding instruments, that you never leave home without when you go on tour.
Kasey Anderson: "A copy of Tom Waits' Mule Variations, an atlas and a bag of Riesen caramels, which are usually gone before the van has pulled out of the driveway."

What are the most miles you've driven between gigs?
Anderson: "Valentine's in Albany, N.Y., to Wise Fools Pub in Chicago, Ill. That's about 13 hours and about 825 miles. With five guys in the van, the rest stops are copious because, for some reason, we can't seem to synchronize our stomachs or bladders."

What's your favorite hotel/motel chain while on tour, and why?
Anderson: "La Quinta -- affordable rates and wireless Internet. However, the two most important words you'll read on a hotel sign are 'continental breakfast.' "

What are your favorite eateries/restaurants while on tour, and what are yout favorite items at those places?
Anderson: "Any grocery store with a decent deli. I could live on bagels and cream cheese for the next decade if I needed to."

Have you ever used a Laundromat on the road and had your clothes stolen from either the washer or dryer?
Anderson: "No."

What artists, or particular songs, do you most often listen to while on the road?
Anderson: "Tom Waits, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Tupac Shakur, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle, Justin Timberlake . . . (and) sports radio."

While onstage, have you ever thought you were in one city but were really in another?
Anderson: "No, but I've often forgotten what day it is."

-- Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior

Kasey Anderson on tour (schedule subject to change):

* Oct. 8: Hennessy's Upstairs -- Boston

* Oct. 9: Valentine's -- Albany, N.Y.

* Oct. 11: Wise Fools Pub -- Chicago

* Oct. 13: Vaudeville Mews -- Des Moines, Iowa

* Oct. 16: Lee's Liquor Lounge -- Minneapolis

* Oct. 17: Black Sheep -- Sioux Falls, S.D.

* Oct. 18: The Filling Station -- Bozeman, Mont.

* Oct. 19: The Loft -- Missoula, Mont.

* Oct. 20: Brooklyn Nights -- Spokane, Wash.

* Oct. 21: The High Dive -- Seattle

* Oct. 22: The Green Frog Cafe -- Bellingham, Wash.

* Oct. 26: Laurelthirst -- Portland, Ore.

October 01, 2007

DISC DISCUSSION: BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN -- MAGIC

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Bruce Springsteen is back with the E Street Band for his latest studio album.

Is Magic the same ol' Boss, or does Springsteen have some new tricks up his sleeve? Medleyville.us staffers George Henn, Mike Madden and Michael Corby hash it out.

GEORGE HENN: Magic is just Bruce Springsteen's third studio album with the E Street Band since 1987 and also a rarity for him for another reason: It is, by and large, a fun, feel-good listen. When was the last time we could say that? Even his last E Street project, 2002's The Rising, had its upbeat moments, but the pall of Sept. 11, 2001, hovered over it. With this disc, which follows a jug-band foray (2006's We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions) and a dark and self-indulgent solo offering (2005's Devils and Dust), Springsteen has tapped into more of the slickly produced, party-band vibe of The River era. As such, these songs should translate quite well live as the Boss and his favorite contractors take the album on the road this week.

MICHAEL CORBY: It's enjoyable when Springsteen is not on a personal/political agenda and reverts back to being the great bandleader that he was/is. This record is just about making good rock music like in the past, like on The River or 1978's Darkness on the Edge of Town. The album's first single, "Radio Nowhere," leaves very little doubt as to what direction Springsteen and the band are going in. Hopefully, Springsteen will perform most of the new material and sprinkle it with the right combination of old stuff.

MIKE MADDEN: While it's true that Magic can be viewed as revisiting Springsteen's heyday of record-making, he actually has changed up his arranging techniques a bit. The prime example of this shift is on the song "Your Own Worst Enemy," which drives itself forward with the big-room, lush arrangement that has been the calling card of Phil Spector and Brian Wilson. Springsteen avoids the novelty-track status here by not going overboard on his vocals and letting the music take center stage.

HENN: Give Springsteen & Co. credit for some new approaches on this disc, but the production is overdone a bit, if only because some of the lyrics get lost in the arrangements and all the bells and whistles producer Brendan O'Brien employs on several tracks. In the case of "Livin' in the Future" -- which at the heart of it sounds like a "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" rewrite -- some of Springsteen's lines are barely intelligible. There are jumbled political references to Election Day and torture, topped off with a cute if illogical chorus: "We're livin' in the future, and none of this has happened yet." Then there is "Girls in Their Summer Clothes," which sounds like an out-and-out summer-song homage to the Beach Boys. The novel approach is refreshing, but Springsteen's overcooked vocals are almost a distraction. More effective is the stripped-down title track, where Springsteen cleverly conjures up every magician metaphor in the book to describe political sleight-of-hand ("I'll cut you in half while you're smiling ear to ear"), and delivers it with something sorely missing on much the album: intimacy.

CORBY: Springsteen's lyrics are weak on many tracks on this album, and he seems to struggle to find his "rock" voice as he slips in and out of the folky twang he has been using on his last two albums. "Gypsy Biker," perhaps the most rocking track on this disc, is weighed down by the lame lead vocals and unintelligible lyrics, ruining what could have been a stellar rock performance. Chalk it up to age or stylistic changes, but Springsteen is outperformed by the E Street Band for most of this album.

The title track is prime evidence that he cannot let go of his fondness for folk. It is an extremely weak song, which should have been stashed in the vault. The track "Magic" further suggests that Springsteen should stay out of the production room and let O'Brien do his thing -- capturing the magic of the musicians.

MADDEN: The musicians do have their shining moments here, especially Danny Federeci's dynamite organ fills on "Gypsy Biker." The E Street Band just has that gift to steer itself around rocky notes or overproduction. Another prime example is "Long Walk Home," which easily could have been just another somber reflection for a solo acoustic album. Once the band kicks in, the song blooms into one of Springsteen's best works, a true chugging anthem that features one hell of an outro with the right amount of guitar-solo heroics and sweet saxophone. Surely Jon Bon Jovi will be looking to rip this song off on his next effort.

HENN: Yes, I can see the title of this track already -- "Who Says You Can't Go on a Long Walk Home." But seriously, back to discussing the outfit that probably made Jon Bon Jersey want to pick up a guitar in the first place: the E Street Band. For all my criticisms of some of the production, one strong point of this recording is that you really can hear the players' distinctive contributions at many points. Guitars and drums crackle on such visceral cuts as "Gypsy Biker" and "Radio Nowhere"; the sweeping keyboards help push "Devil's Arcade" along seductively; and sometimes a burst of Clarence Clemons 'sax or having Steve Van Zandt's harmony pushed up in the mix make even a mediocre Springsteen rocker sound as if it belongs with the classics. Having such a seasoned band behind him is an invaluable weapon for the Boss, and I can't help but think that in a live setting, many of Magic's tunes will sound like powerhouse numbers once the tour gets rolling. As Springsteen himself said before the album's release, these songs were written to be performed live with this band, so in a way, maybe the best measure of this new batch of tunes is in how they translate onstage.

CORBY: While Magic may not be a classic, it's a very solid rock album. The playing of the E Street Band is the highlight. Springsteen has his spotty moments, but he pushes forward and still leads the band to where it needs to be. Years ago, before advances in recording, Springsteen would state that his records were always a sneak peak at what the band could deliver live. The E Street Band was what always separated him from the rest of the pack of singer-songwriters, so this record brings everything full circle.

MADDEN: Magic will end up on many critics Top 10 albums list for 2007 -- and deservedly so -- and the tour to follow will seemingly last forever and delight fans, but I'm worried about the self-indulgent Springsteen coming back to haunt us on his next work. Hopefully this album is a monster hit that makes him realize that the true "magic" lies within his assembled assistants and their ability to pull tricks out of their respective hats.