Monday, October 28, 2013

Lou Reed: The Good, The Awful & the WTF?

Perhaps you've heard the news. Rock & Roll legend Lou Reed has died at age 71 due to liver failure. The amazing thing is that Reed lived as long as he did, considering the sheer bulk of illicit substances he put into this body. I don't intend to write a Lou Reed tribute today, but rather a very brief guide to his bewildering solo musical career. Reed will always primarily remembered for his time in The Velvet Underground in '60s. The VU were immensely influential and their musical catalog is very solid, comprising three great albums and one good one. Reed's post-VU solo work is much more extensive and wildly uneven. There's very little logical pattern in Reed's solo output. So many '70s artists released strong work at the beginning/middle of the decade and then experienced a slow decline (e.g. Rod Stewart, Led Zeppelin, The Who, James Brown, Yes, Can and just about everyone else, really.) Reed's onetime collaborator David Bowie had a pretty typical career arc: releasing a series of consistently great records in the 70s, starting to produce weaker material around 1980 and then totally plunging off the cliff a few years later, with the '80s & '90s being virtual lost decades. Reed, on the other hand, was totally eccentric. A moment of utter and shining brilliance would be followed immediately by a turd. If nothing else, the man's musical output is full of surprises.

Here's a very subjective, yet completely correct, catalog of his solo works, organized by quality. Reed became a virtual museum piece sometime in the mid 90s, so his work after that point won't be given much consideration.

The Good Stuff:

Transformer (1972)

Reed's second album is still his best known. Produced by David Bowie, who dragged Reed, along with Iggy Pop, into the burgeoning glam scene, Transformer contains his most recognizable solo songs, "Walk on the Wild Side," and "Perfect Day." The latter was given sort of the second life in the '90s when it became suddenly popular in the UK after being used in the Trainspotting movie. Transformer's songs are of mostly high quality, but it's also a rather impersonal, mercenary album, lacking the freaky weirdness of Reed's best work.

Berlin (1973)

The exact opposite of Transformer, Berlin is a sprawling rock opera jam-packed full of human misery, drug abuse, insanity and suicide. When I first heard this as a young man in the 80s, it was the most intense music I had ever heard - sort of like The Wall minus the juvenile psychodrama. Both Berlin and The Wall were produced by Bob Ezrin, who gave this album a slick, overproduced sound that makes its gloomy subject matter seem even more disturbing. Appropriately, Reed and Ezrin experienced drug-related mental breakdowns while working on Berlin. Probably his best album from the 1970s.

Rock N' Roll Animal (1974)

Reed followed up Berlin by switching gears again, releasing this grandiose live album. Bringing in the twin guitars of Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter, Animal is the closest Reed ever got to straight up arena rock. It's the also most fun album he's made, and its version of "Sweet Jane" became a classic rock radio staple. Lou Reed Live from 1975 is, I believe, taken from the same performance, so I suppose you should combine them together to make a complete show.

Coney Island Baby (1976)

Reed's first "comeback" album. He dropped his drug addled, Frankenstein-in-leather image, and suddenly became an older and wiser version of himself, full of warmth, humanity and humor. Instead of spinning tales of drug overdoses, Reed was now singing of playing high school football, and "the glory of love." Still, he found time to squeeze in "Kicks," a disturbing tale of drugs and killing for fun.

Street Hassle (1978)

Two years after Coney, Reed was back to wallowing in themes of human dissolution with Street Hassle, though the sincerity of Berlin has been replaced with bitterness, self-loathing and bit of gallows humor. Street Hassle is what they call a "difficult" album. The sound is stripped down and ugly, Reed was beginning to sing with sort of a robotic vibrato effect, and the whole record is dirty and depressing. The title track is an epic triptych masterpiece containing male hustlers, drug overdoses, a surprise uncredited appearance by Bruce Springsteen (!), and the immortal line, "When somebody turns that blue/it's a universal truth/you just know that bitch will never fuck again." It's Fanfare for the Common Man, reconfigured for the fucked-up 70s. It's Reed at his most sincere/cynical best.

The Blue Mask  (1982).

Lou's second comeback album, released a decade after Transformer, Blue Mask was his "wiser and mature FOR REAL this time" record. Off drugs, married, and playing guitar for the first time in years, Reed suddenly turned out the most finely crafted work of his career. He was helped out by a fantastic band, which included former Richard Hell & the Voidoids guitarist Robert Quine. No joke, the guitar work on The Blue Mask is fantastic; check out the second half of  "Waves of Fear" for proof. The song's subjects range from domestic bliss and true love to alcoholism, gun violence, paranoia & in the title track, horrifying S&M murder. Probably his overall best solo album.

New York (1989)

Reed's third comeback album. After sitting out the second half of the 80s, Lou reinvented himself as an elder statesman of rock/singer-songwriter type guy. Sort of an angrier, more cynical Springsteen or a musical Martin Scorsese. References to Rudy Giuliani, AIDS & Bernard Goetz gave New York a very specific, timely and topical focus. By 1989 the Velvet Underground had been fully integrated into mainstream rock history, and Reed's image had transitioned from washed up relic to musical legend. New York was met with huge amounts critical acclaim and Reed's career entered a resurgence in the early/mid 90s. Perhaps the high point of this was the brief Velvet Underground reunion and their subsequent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A good album, but it feels somewhat dated today.

Magic and Loss (1992)

Riding high off his success with New York, Reed released two memorial albums, Songs for Drella with John Cale, and Magic and Loss. A concept album about the death of Reed's friend, songwriter Doc Pomus, this is Reed showing his contemplative and mystical side. The music almost approaches jazz at times, and while its not as musically exciting as some of Reed's earlier work, this is probably his most personal album. I for one can't resist a song that brings in Little Jimmy Scott for the background vocals.

The Bad Stuff:

Sally Can't Dance (1974)

Released shortly after Rock N' Roll animal, Sally established a Reed tradition: he would follow a strong album with a truly awful one. Released at the height of his '70s commercial success, Sally was Reed's highest charting album, somehow reaching the top ten in the Billboard charts. Reportedly Lou was so fucked up on drugs at this point that he needed to be literally propped up in the studio, reading the lyrics off a piece of paper someone held in front of his face. Still, even his worst records manage to have one good song on them, and Sally contained one of his best, the harrowing "Kill Your Sons," about Reed's experience with shock therapy as a teenager.

Rock and Roll Heart (1977)

The pattern repeats. After Coney Island Baby, Reed switched record labels, moving from RCA to Clive Davis' Arista. Not sure why he thought working for one of the music industry's most notorious assholes was a good idea, but his first Arista album is one of his dullest.  Most of the songs float by without making the slightest impact, though it picks up at the end, with a silly previously unrecorded Velvet Underground song, "Sheltered Life," and, best of all, the venomous, snarling "Temporary Thing." It's sort of a hate-filled version of "Like a Rolling Stone." Again, Reed manages one great song on his worst albums.

Mistrial (1986)

The album that killed Lou Reed's Blue Mask fueled comeback. AKA the record where Lou Reed raps. Most of Mistrial is not so much terrible as it is just very dated and boring. However, if you were a person of a certain age, then probably the first time you encountered Lou Reed was the music video for "No Money Down." Please remember that music videos in the 80s were typically shot very quickly and on very low budgets. A high concept video like "No Money Down," with its super sophisticated animatronic Lou Reed head, attracted a lot of attention. It was directed by Godley and Creme, famous for the robot-filled video for "Rockit", among other things.

Set The Twilight Reeling (1996)

This is not exactly a bad album, but it was the tombstone set atop Reed's '90s resurgence. Mostly musically uninteresting , it was the signal that told us we could go back to ignoring Lou Reed again. I saw Reed while he was touring in support of Twilight, and it was a magnificent show. But after this, he would slow down, put out a few live albums, release a mostly ignored studio record every five years, and finally die. His creative years were now behind him. So anyway, here he is sigining about egg cream sodas.

The Indifferent:

Lou Reed (1971)

His almost forgotten first solo album recorded in England with Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman, and various British session musicians. Ignored upon release, it's actually sort of interesting nowadays, since it turned out to be composed of unreleased Velvet Underground songs. Later, the original VU versions would turn up in the form of live recordings and studio outtakes. "Ocean" for example was eventually released in a superior live version on the 1969: Velvet Underground Live record.

Growing Up in Public (1980)

Another slick and somewhat dull record, and his last for Arista, Growing Up is sort of a dry run, a very dry run, for The Blue Mask. Reed is starting to enter his stable/grown up/autobiographical phase here, and there are a few decent songs, such as "My Old Man." He even looks like he just got out of rehab on the cover photo. An odd transitional record.

Legendary Hearts (1983)

An inferior clone of The Blue Mask, recorded with the same band. Some good songs. Some forgettable songs. And a couple that sound like they could have fit right in on The Blue Mask, "The Last Shot" and "Bottoming Out." At least it has a cool cover depicting black leather gloves holding a futuristic looking motorcycle helmet.

New Sensations (1984)

After Legendary Hearts, Robert Quine quit the band, and Reed released New Sensations: "the Lou Reed album with songs about videogames." He's even playing a videogame on the cover, though the game appears to just be a picture of himself. It's even poppier and chirpier than Legendary Hearts. Two great things about New Sensations are: a song in which a joystick is a phallic symbol, and one of my favorite Reed lyrics, "The president called me up with the news/I've been awarded the Nobel Prize in Rhythm and Blues/And Stevie Wonder wants to record one of my songs."

The Twilight Zone: A few albums walk the line between good and bad. I'm not sure how to categorize these.

Metal Machine Music (1975)

Okay, here's the biggie. It's impossible to discuss Reed's discography without bringing up MMM.  Opinions on this album vary, to say the least. Many sources call its his worst album or even the worst album ever made. Others say its the only wholly original thing Reed did in his post-Velvets career. It's not clear if MMM was intended to be taken as a serious composition, a drug inspired joke, or an act of contempt towards his record label. Whatever his motives, Reed's decided to follow up Sally Can't Dance, his best selling record at that point, with a 2-LP set of electronically distorted guitar noise, full of sequels of feedback laid on top of oscillating waves of sound. As despised as MMM is in most circles, it's probably Reed's most influential solo work, and can bee seen a predecessor to the noise music of the 80s and 90s. Whatever his intentions were, it's amazing that a successful mainstream musical artist somehow got a major label to release something this crazy.

Live: Take No Prisoners  (1978)

Another double LP.  AKA the Lou Reed live album with all the talking. Best known for its protracted monologues before, after, and during the songs, Take No Prisoners has a reputation as one of the most confrontational and acerbic live albums ever recorded. Many of the songs are almost unrecognizable, having been converted into lengthy R&B jams. Yet the audience seems to be eating it up, and it's actually a reasonably fun listen. The sleeve art stands out as well. An illustration by the Spanish underground comic artist Nazario Luque Vera, of a pale bald figure wearing a leather jacket and fishnet stockings, caused a bit of a row later. It turns out the label never attained the rights from the artist, resulting in a lawsuit.

The Bells (1979)

Reed's late 70s work with Arista is pretty uneven and messy. The Bells is perhaps the messiest and least Lou Reed-y of all his records. For reasons I can't explain, it's one of my favorites. His robotic vibrato returns here, and a sense of alienation permeates the whole thing. Repetitive disco-inspired songs, recorded samples of ambient speech, gongs, and a guest appearance by free jazz legend Don Cherry -- this record has it all. The title track is Reed at this weirdest. An ominous synth & trumpet jam burbles along for five minutes before the vocals come in: a stream of consciousness piece about... well, God knows what the song is about. It's like an evil, bizarro world version of "Layla."

The rest of the Lou Reed catalog is filled out with a few live albums, including the pretty darned good Live in Italy featuring the Blue Mask/Legendary Hearts band. There are also countless compilations, best-of's, greatest hits, etc. And of course, Reed continued to releases the occasional studio albums, though most of them are the sort of thing that his fans didn't want to hear. Ecstasy (2000),  his last "regular" record, was notable for the 18 minute guitar jam "Like a Possum." The Raven (2003) was a guest star packed musical theater type thing with lots of spoken word. Hudson River Wind Meditations (2007) is fucking Tai Chi exercise music. Finally, we have Lulu (2011) his almost universally reviled collaboration with Metallica. Like The Raven, this is a theater-inspired project, Lulu being an adaptation of the plays of Frank Wedekind.(which had already been musically adapted in a much more successful fashion by Alban Berg.)

However, like every awful Lou Reed record, Lulu has one shining moment, the final song, the medative 20 minute "Junior Dad." Too bad Loutallica couldn't have scrapped the rest of the record.

Lou almost released a few collaboration albums. Songs for Drella (1990) drew a great deal of attention since it reunited Reed with John Cale for the first time in many years, and was released shortly after the critically acclaimed New York. Le Bataclan '72, with Cale and Nico, is a live recording from a French TV concert. There were also a few more avant-garde releases: an improve disc with John Zorn and Laurie Anderson, and not one but two (!) live recordings of Metal Machine Music. 

So there we have it. I think we can now consider this to be the definitive guide to the recorded solo work of Lou Reed. Please adjust your opinions accordingly

Friday, October 4, 2013

Dirk Now Wears Orthopedic Socks

(Preface from Dr. Sparkle: I'm sorry I've been so quiet on the blog lately. I'm sorry that Chrontendo is on some sort of stupid hiatus. Yes, it will be back. No, I am not dead. Just a reminder, if you ever need to confirm that I still live on planet earth, you can look at the Chrontendo Twitter: You don't even have to join Twitter to see the posts. I post stupid tweets all the time. Today I mentioned JNCO Jeans. Last weekend I discussed the death of my 14 year old cat. What more could you want? Anyway, here's my thoughts on an Adam Ant concert, that I had promised to write about earlier on Twitter. I'm sorry its so damned long.)

I believe the term "rock dinosaur" was first uttered the mid 1970s. Rock 'n' Roll was a young man's game -- music for and by teenagers. Rock acts came and went quickly. The idea of a rock star in his 30s must have seemed absurd in 1965, when Roger Daltrey claimed that he hoped to die before he got old. Ten years later, The Who, The Rolling Stones & Led Zeppelin, were all in their 30s, and critics began pointing out the inherent ridiculousness of rocks stars rapidly approaching middle age, still singing those same songs of teenage rebellion.

In 2013, we have it much worse; those same men are now entering their 8th decade of existence. The generation of younger, hipper artists who displaced them in the pop charts in the 1970s and 1980s are themselves now in their 50s. Hell... Kurt Cobain, were he alive, would be 46 now. We now have multiple generations of musical artists simultaneously riding endless waves of nostalgia-fueled comebacks. Look! Kiss is touring again! Adam Ant has a new album! My Bloody Valentine finally finished that record! Some of these guys are already on their third, fourth, or fifth "comeback." The problem, of course, is that these combebacks are pretty stunted. No one goes to a Kiss concert to hear new Kiss songs; they go to see makeup, platform shoes and stage pyrotechnics, and to be able to say afterwards, "I saw Kiss!" The music itself might be incidental to their experience. What they really want is to relive their youth or to simply see an iconic musician in person.

The question is, what should we expect from these artists? When it comes to Kiss, we know what to expect -- they will give the audience exactly what they want. This is because Kiss has only one goal: to take the audience's money. But for musicians with more artistic integrity than Kiss (that is, musicians with at least some artistic integrity) they might feel compelled to not endlessly repeat the past over and over again. Here's he problem: this is exactly what the audience does not want. Does this make the audience wrong? Not necessarily. The sad truth is most 50 year old former rock stars used up their extra special musical mojo years ago. We all know this to be true. No matter how many critics call the new Sabbath album a "return to form," it will never, never replace Paranoid in our hearts. Old dried up dudes rarely churn out music with the same freshness they had when they were young.

What's weird is Ozzy gradually transformed into the woman on the cover.
 So...on Thursday, September 11th, I found myself at an Adam Ant concert. "Who exactly is Adam Ant?" you younger folks may ask? To which I'll reply that Adam Ant was before my time just as much as he was before yours, so your youth is no excuse. Though I actually do remember hearing about him when I was a kid, I didn't hear his music until years later. He was sort of well known in the early 80s, despite not having sold a lot of records (Dear British people: yes, I know that AA was a huge, chart-topping star in his home country. He was more of a cult figure in the US. I don't think he ever had a song in the top 40 here.) Ant got a lot of media attention for his weird name, striking appearance and flashy videos. Basically his deal was that he wore American-Indian face paint and frilly pirate outfits. In 1981, that was enough to get you on TV. Adam and the Ants, as his band was called, released three good LPs and Adam released one good "solo" LP, all between 1979 and 1982. After this, his fortunes quickly diminished. He released one "comeback" record in 1990, disappeared again, and then put out another comeback record in 1995 which featured a mature, makeup-free Ant playing acoustic guitars and such. 2012-2013 is his third career comeback, and since '80s nostalgia is much more marketable now than it was in 1995, he is back to wearing pirate outfits.

Despite several stylistic changes throughout the years, Ant will mostly be remembered for his work in 1980-1981, as part of a weird micro-genre of New Wave music distinguished by the so-called "Burundi Beat." A brief history lesson on this bit of cultural appropriation  -- The whole thing started with a 1960s recording of African drumming called "Musique du Burundi."

The simple (by African standards), hard driving percussion drew the attention of US and European musicians, who found ways to it work into their own music. A fellow named Mike Steiphenson threw some keyboards on top of the recording and released it as a single called "Burundi Black." In 1975 Joni Mitchell used it in "Jungle Line" on her album The Hissing of Summer Lawns.

Former New York Dolls/Sex Pistols manager Malcom McLaren was fond of strange cultural mashups, and it seems he hit upon the idea of having new wave acts incorporate rhythms from the Burundi record. McLaren was brought in to revamp the image of Adam and the Ants, who at that point were a leather-clad quasi-punk band that specialized in S&M themes. Thus, by 1980 we had Adam and the Ants, as well as spin-off band Bow Wow Wow*, putting down "tribal" drumbeats in their songs. "Antmusic" was one such hit.

The Ants found massive commercial success in the UK, and cultish success in the US. Even I, a dumb kid in the early 80s who had no fucking idea who Joy Division or Human League or The Sex Pistols were, had somehow heard of Adam Ant. Years later, once I actually heard his music, its appeal was immediate: pounding drumbeats from dual drummers, clean guitar sounds, and yelping, often nonsensical vocals with distinctive harmonies.

"But Dr. Sparkle, on Twitter you said this was going to a review of the Adam Ant show you just saw!" I know you impatient bastards, I'm getting to that now.  When my wife announced she had bought us Adam Ant tickets, I had no idea what to expect. When you get to see an artist who was popular 30 years ago, you never quite know what you'llget, especially if they've been retired from music for the last 15 years. Hell, I wasn't even sure what sort of crowd Adam Ant would draw. It turns out he pulls in a crowd of old fat yuppies, with an assortment of younger  folks mixed in. I've been to numerous shows at this particular venue, and this was one of the smaller crowds I've seen there -- probably somewhere between 1/2-2/3 capacity. There is an upstairs bar area thas was closed off completely that night. The show started incredibly early. The doors were set to open at 7:30, which typically means the opener will begin playing around 8:30. In fact, we arrived around 8:15, and Adam Ant was on stage a few minutes before 8:30. We were walking back to our car by 10:30.

Prior to the day of the show, I had no idea what to expect. Ant did a smaller US tour last year, but this time he had just released a new album and had a pretty extensive tour itinerary. If someone's playing Sacramento, then you know they're playing every podunk town in the country. There was even an appearance on Jimmy Fallon, meaning Ant was getting mainstream media exposure in the US for the first time in... well, decades. Prior to the show I was hoping he might assemble a band with some roots in his musical history. Guitarist Marco Pirroni was as an important part of those 80s albums as Adam himself was, and as far as I know, they're on good terms and still work together. Other former Ants also went on to have interesting musical careers. But it turned out that Ant was touring with a young band of unknown musicians (though apparently the guitarist once passed through Fields of Nephelim!) who did not have any connection to his musical past.

Now... tons of old bands do the "one or two original guys plus all-new members" thing. There are a couple ways this scenario plays out. The results can sometimes be awful. An example: in the late 90s I saw a revamped version of Modern English play a local bar. The band comprised the guy who was the singer/songwriter/main creative force plus some younger musicians he rounded up to form his backing band. The show was dull as could be, with the crowd chatting throughout the songs from the new album and then finally springing to life and dancing along to "Melt With You." Modern English's new songs had nothing in common with the sound of their older material, and this particular band didn't have much going for it musically, coasting entirely on the success of a hit recorded by an almost entirely different band. And while rock dinosaurs can often be ridiculous, musicians who tour together for years and years can create an amazing musical bond. Think of Grateful Dead, arguably the most successful American rock band ever, in terms of their live shows. Their success was based on their tightly knit performances, with the members sharing a sense of musical intuition that bordered on psychic communication. This is something you just don't see in a thrown-together band like the 90s verson of Modern English.

The second way the one-old-member plus all-new-band scenario works is as follows: the one original member fills out the rest of the positions with highly skilled professional musicians.  Permit me another personal example. Dave Wakeling was one of two vocalists in an 80s ska band called The (English) Beat, and later, in General Public. He eventually moved the California and has since toured up and down the state playing shows under the names Dave Wakeling, General Public and The English Beat. Regardless of the name, it is always the same band and virtually the same setlist. When my wife said she wanted to see him some years ago, I was pretty skeptical, assuming they would be another Modern English. But within minutes of them starting their set, I was won over. While the group was not really "The English Beat," it was Dave Wakeling and his musical buddies from LA, the performance was about everything you could hope for. The band played like seasoned pros; the drummer was one of those guys who looked like some veteran studio drummer. He wore sunglasses and headphones while playing. The band was tight, yet swinging. They could lay down a serious rocksteady groove. Everything about the performance was fun, charming, and musically solid. Afterwards I was amazed at just how good those guys were. (I couldn't find a recent live clip of them with high quality sound, but here's a clip that gives you sort of an idea.)

"Wait a second, Dr. Sparkle," you say. "You still haven't said anything about the Adam Ant show." OK, I'm getting there. I just wanted to set the stage for what the expectations might be for seeing a performance by a living relic like Adam Ant.

Here's my opinion on the show: it was not the worst show I've ever seen. I can't be too hard on Mr. Ant. The man is approaching 60, has battled mental illness, and had been retired from music since the mid-90s. He is now older, fatter, and probably bald as a cue ball (he seems to be doing the Brett Michaels thing of never talking off his headwear.) His current look is that of a Johnny Depp cosplayer.  I told my wife I'd be be happy as long as there were two drummers. There were two drummers, yet, I can't say I came away pleased from the show.

Here's a clip of the start of the show. Despite being recorded on a cell phone, the sound is actually a bit clearer than what it sounded like in person. The vocals and drums were muffled; the bass rumble and guitar drowned out everything else except a bit of the cymbals. The guitarist was using quite a bit of distortion, and the result was just an undifferentiated blob of sound. Now, listen to the vid below for just a sec. The sound on the recording is pretty screwed up, as the uploader admits. But the sound mix actually resembles what I heard, standing in the back 1/3 of the room.

Eventually, the sound man adjusted a few knobs and things cleared up a bit.  But still, the balance of the instruments was awful, and everything sounded sort of smeared together. I've heard people complain about the sound of this particular venue. I recall someone seeing Buckethead there years ago, and griping how bad the sound was. I've certainly heard some pretty awful acoustics there, and maybe The Ace of Spades is a difficult room for sound men to work with. But a competent crew can get the room to sound great. You'll recall I saw Richard Thompson there a while back, and at that show the place sounded like fucking La Scala. Even loud artists such as Sonic Youth and Peaches managed to get great sound out of The Ace of Spades. So the bad sound was more of a problem with the sound crew, rather than the venue.

Aside from technical issues, much of the crappy sound was due to the band's musical decisions. The guitarist played though loads of effects, distortion, etc, trying to create a more "contemporary" heavy sound. Together the guitar and bass produced a huge wave of monolithic noise, which drowned out the percussion. Ant himself had a massive amount of echo on his vocals, making them hard to understand. There is nothing wrong with an artist changing their musical style over time to avoid stagnation. This particular style, however, made the band sound like generic late 80s buttrock at times. This stripped out most of the charm of songs such as "Desperate but Not Serious." The spare, sinister guitar line from the original has been replaced with non-stop busywork from the guitar player. Perhaps they should have brought along a keyboardist to do some of the melodic heavy lifting.

The band performed a typical mixture of old hits, new songs, and "deep" catalog titles. A few lesser known songs were dragged out, including a sing-along version of "Whip in My Valise," as well as "Cleopatra," and they even covered T-Rex's "Get it On."  For a few songs, such as "Stand and Deliver", the guitarist used a cleaner, more melodic, 80s guitar sound. Towards the end of the set, the band actually managed to coalesce into a tighter musical unit, though the sound mix remained pretty terrible. For the live version of the above mentioned "Ant Music," much of the drum work couldn't be heard well, which is crazy because the drum work is practically the whole point of the goddamned song!

This was certainly not the worst show I've ever seen. But it was one of the worst musical performances I've seen from an act charging $30/ticket. The band plodded along; Ant jumped around, did pirouettes, told silly stories between songs. Overall, the performance lacked conviction. Ant told a story that evening in which he claimed that during his retirement, he didn't miss making music. If true, that would explain the perfunctory nature of the show.

As I said earlier, some musical acts can keep going forever without losing their fire. Richard Thompson is one of those. Seeing him live, it doesn't matter whether he plays new songs from an album you've never heard, because he can fucking sell the song. He can play those songs with such conviction that you will think, "I've never heard this before, but this song is goddamned amazing**." He relies on the strength of his songwriting and musicianship, rather than on nostalgia.

If you'll permit me one last personal example before I end this overly long post, I'll mention seeing Cheap Trick in the late 90s. This was during a low point in their career, and they were playing a relatively small bar.  Still, the place was packed, and the crowd was entering a state that might be called "frenzied." I don't even know if they performed any new songs. The show might have been fueled by pure nostalgia. All the hits were performed. Bun E. Carlos drummed wearing white gloves. The five-necked guitar was brought out. The guitar shaped like Rick Nielsen was brought out. (Yes, Rick Nielsen has a guitar shaped like Rick Nielsen.)

Why is the bass player holding the guitar?
At point during the show, a complete stranger turned to us and ecstatically screamed "I can't believe I'm standing here seeing Cheap Trick do 'Heaven Tonight!" Why was the crowd  this rabid? Because Cheap Trick rocked out like fucking hell. Everything was fucking perfect. Even if you had a time machine and traveled back to 1978, you could not have seen a better Cheap Trick show. There was nothing new, nothing cutting edge about it. They pulled it off because they were masters at their craft. They were masters at combining a guitar, bass, drums and a voice into a perfect unified whole. Adam Ant and his band couldn't do this. Maybe Ant is only as good as the people he works with. Maybe a some things are simply better left in the past. Maybe we should just pretend Adam simply vanished for good in 1983. Let me leave you with this: here's one better than two drummers.

*To go into a bit more detail, at some point, McLaren decided it was Adam who was holding the band back. He convinced the band to dump Adam, and paired them an 14 year old singer, thus forming Bow Wow Wow. Incidentally, McLaren discovered another singer, a flight attendant later known as Boy George, and tried to work him into Bow Wow Wow. George left, hooked up with a former Ants drummer and formed Culture Club. Meanwhile, Adam Ant had hired a new band and then went on to commercial success.

** You might not know this, but the Grateful Dead operated in a similar fashion. Many of their biggest live numbers weren't released on actual Grateful Dead studio albums. None of the the songs on the1969 Live/Dead album, for example, had been on either of the two albums they had released at that point.