I've been laying pretty low when it comes to watching rock shows lately. I've been sick, I've been tired, I've been lazy, I've been whining. But I couldn't turn down the opportunity to see Judas Priest and Queensrÿche at the Ford Amphitheater in Tampa. It's been years since I've seen Priest, and, more importantly, the Ford Amphitheater is across I-4 from the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. A night of metal and a longer night of poker? I'm so there.
Unfortunately, the show kinda sucked. The venue itself for a sterile, logo-festooned shed was surprisingly nice, and both bands had decent-enough mixes. But Priest played everything slooooooowwww. Not sludgy-slow; more like a-beat-behind slow. Rob Halford shuffled around the stage like a creepy old man in a floor-length coat (precisely, several different floor-length coats), never seeming to invest any emotion other than bored superiority in his performance. And hell, if Rob Halford can't be bothered to give a shit about Judas Priest, why should I?
Thank God I was staying at the superfab Hard Rock. The rooms were gorgeous and modern, with a TV and a CD player and free high-speed Internet; plus, housekeeping left two little chocolate guitars on my pillow. The fact that I won at poker made it perfect.
THINGS I SHOULDN'T LIKE
While watching the crowd at the Priest show, I couldn't help but be reminded of my old metalhead days. Back then, the standard line to show that you were "open-minded" went something like, "I don't just like metal; I like everything … except for country and opera. And poseurs. And Madonna. She's a dick." Well, it turns out that country and opera weren't half-bad (poseurs and Madonna are still well worth avoiding), and in their place I've put jam bands and anonymous radio-rock, two genres that hold absolutely no interest for me whatsoever.
Of course, I don't go a day without getting proved wrong about something. And two recent releases from local (or at least quasi-local) bands have me questioning my rules.
Funkus, a long-running local jam band, has just released a new CD called Free. It's heavy on goofy melodies and off-kilter kumbaya shit, but it's still pretty good. If they weren't trying so hard to please hippies, I'd feel all right calling them a dorky and semi-soulful Meat Puppets. But since they never get truly freaky, I have to let them be a guilty pleasure. That said, their drummer is great, their songs are quirky, they're willfully independent and their harmonies are like nails on a chalkboard.
Speaking of nails on a chalkboard, it took a long time for me to even put the debut disc from Dark New Day into my player. After all, what possible good could come from a band featuring alumni of Skrape, Stuck Mojo, Stereomud, Virgos Merlot … wait a second. Wasn't Virgos Merlot one of those Orlando bands that shoulda been a contender? Well, I'd never heard them, but I had heard that Brett Hestla (from Virgos and now the de facto leader of Dark New Day) was a nice guy with a hell of a production hand. Maybe his influence on these nü-metal cats would help.
Now, I don't know if it was Hestla's fault, or if this is the sort of record that the Lowery boys have been itching to make for years, but I do know that Twelve Year Silence is a surprisingly good mainstream rock record. Not that you would know it from the by-the-numbers bullshit that is "Brother," the first single. (I have never heard a song as cynically calculating as that little button-pusher.) However, this disc proves there's at least a little bit of life left in downtuned, superdynamic rock anthems. It's very predictable and it's very commercial, but it also rocks pretty fucking hard, thanks to Hestla's pull-the-sky-down vocals and the ferocious drumming of Will Hunt. (Note to self: You'll regret writing these words in a year, if not much sooner.)
ROCK BAND 101
I received a ton of e-mail responses to my first installment of Rock Band 101. Most of them were in the "you're right" vein, but a few were like this one from Aaron Jarvis of The Delusionaires, who offered up some ideas for further lesson plans:
"Be equipped. Skip a six-pack or two and buy some cables. Learn to solder, maybe buy a cheap tuner and learn to string a guitar. Get an amplifier that you can actually use at a gig so you don't have to bum one from the next band. And most importantly, make sure that your equipment is manageable, i.e., you actually have the means to transport it to and from the gig. Few things ring with the pathos of a bass player calling you the morning of a gig moaning that he/she can't fit their rig in their car, wondering aloud if the headliner might let them use their amp/instrument/ cables/car that night."
Now, I had planned to take on live shows in a future "class," but since Aaron brought it up, now would be a good time to solicit insight and advice from other local musicians; if you've got a tip about gigs, send it along.
Canvas a band that I liked quite a bit, since they were unabashedly a rock band, but also unwilling to be predictable is no more. Three of the members have formed a new band, featuring Jason Jones of Drowning Pool and Rob Dehaven of Still Naive. The new band is called A.M. Conspiracy, and I can only hope that they can rock like Canvas did … Inkwell has signed on with the fine folks over at One Eleven Records and their new album is slated for release later this year, with distribution through EastWest/ADA. Lest ye be concerned that Inkwell is shitting on their former label, Amateur, by jumping to the "big time," keep in mind that the band's leader, Travis Adams, helps run Amateur.