Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Wish List

Top Ten Things The Inky Jukebox Would Like To See 
(And Hear) In 2013
In No Particular Order

Gary LeVox duets with Grace Potter.
We don’t care what they sing. Just that they have a fierce and dazzling vocal battle in which everyone is a winner.

Justin Moore headlines his own tour and sings “Outlaws Like Me.”
Hey — he’s bringing out a new album; he needs to tour that baby. And with two hours or so to fill, he’d have time to sing all our favorites.

Eric Chuch sings “Springsteen,” and Bruce actually joins him on stage for it.
C’mon: surely his people and his people can make it happen. How hard can it be? The cheering alone would seriously deafen people. Happily.

Brantley Gilbert plays at The Inky Jukebox’s wedding.
Look: If he’ll agree to it, a wedding can be arranged.

Kenny Chesney busts out all The Inky Jukebox’s favorite Kenny Chesney songs at his show.
Wait; he’ll do that already. Never mind.

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill film their Vegas show so we can all see it.
Sure, it’ll be staged within an inch of its life, but wouldn’t you want to go? They have to sing “Jackson,” though.

Ashton Shepherd releases her own record and sells a bazillion copies; is offered new record contract.
Ashton Shepherd was hit with horrible timing: her second record was over-produced, and she was too busy makin’ babies to tour it. She’s too big a talent to be entertaining her loyal fans with her homey facebook posts about domestic life.

Brad Paisley and Blake Shelton actually come to Pittsburgh.
They were scheduled to perform last year, and never showed up. It’s been a LONG time, fellas. Stop on by, whydon’tcha?

Blonde Ambition Competition Show.
It would feature all the blondes who have appeared on TV singing competitions: Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Kellie Pickler. They would be supported by all the guys: Philip Philips, Casey James, Scotty McCreery, etc.

Jennifer Nettles sings with Kimberly Schlapman and Charles Kelley.
The official video features them recording the track live in the studio with plenty of practice and warm-up out-takes. Sing the phone book; whatev.

#11: Brooks and Dunn decide to get back together.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Carrie Underwood and Hunter Hayes Come To Pittsburgh

Storm Warning: Prepare to be Blown Away!
Pittsburgh, November 27, 2012

Shorts are a good option if the stage is transparent and you are above people's heads

You know those intimidating-looking consoles that sound engineers sit in front of in recording studios, with a zillion dials and buttons and knobs? One presumes that many of them balance the general sound of all the input streams (vocal, guitars, drums, etc.) so that the layers ride in synch with one another to make the auditory experience pleasurable for the listener.

A criticism of contemporary recordings is that they’ve been “brickwalled” in this way, compressed so that very little dynamic range remains to give a record depth.

With Carrie Underwood, The Inky Jukebox has always secretly suspected that the engineers behind her records have turned everything up to eleven and gone out for beers. Every single element sounds like it has been pushed to the limit, sort of like standing in a kindergarten room at tired-time. Sure, Carrie’s voice sounds amazing — but can a real human voice really rise above all that sound? Do real human voices really sound like that at all? Listen to “So Small”: could a person make that sound if it weren’t for a lot of electronics?

Thus is was with a somewhat technical curiosity The Inky Jukebox attended Carrie Underwood’s Blown Away tour stop in Pittsburgh. If you’re going to name your tour “Blown Away,” it better do just that.

Carrie Underwood on the floating stage

The Inky Jukebox confoundedly reports that Carrie Underwood sounds pretty much the same live as she does on a CD. In person, a few less perfect notes break through, reassuringly, but her voice still reaches those places mortals tend not to go. One might wonder if this is because the sound mixer had her band turned up extra high, causing her to have to ride above it (and not always succeeding). At times, it can appear that Carrie is competing with the guitars for attention, when there should only be one diva on the stage.

The Inky Jukebox was delighted when the floating stage came out and stopped right where she was sitting giving her a front-row seat. Now that this bit of mechanics is here, it looks like everyone has to do some kind of crowd-immersion maneuver. 

The Inky Jukebox recorded this footage

This is mercifully tempered at the very end of the concert, when opening the encore, Carrie sits and sings, with only subtle accompaniment, with such force that you finally feel she could literally blow you away. It’s astonishing that she could produce such vocal fireworks two hours into a show.

Anything Taylor Swift, I can do better! 

Now that we’ve dispensed with the actual singing, we need to move on to the costumes. Carrie Underwood is known for two things: her blonde locks and her long legs. Both were being played for all their worth. The trouble with Carrie’s costumes is that they scream Oklahoma girl in a frock! They are clearly stage costumes and not real clothes, and even the most humble of outfits — cut-off jeans and a tank-top — is gussied up with dangly accessories galore. Carrie is sexiest when prowling a stage in a pair of black leather pants and thigh-high boots. Alas, the ruffled blue mini-dress confection with ankle booties has the opposite effect.

The screen says it all, clever marketing move

One person The Inky Jukebox will definitely see when he comes to town again is Hunter Hayes, who lives up to all the hype. He is clearly a natural on the stage and in front of a crowd, which ought to be expected since he’s been doing this professionally since he was six. The only thing that wasn’t as awesome as the talent he brings is the shortness of the set he has to deliver as an opening act, and the way this causes him to rush songs which deserve more breathing room. This is especially so when circumstances cause him to drop “Rainy Season” from the set — a longer song that needs time to develop, and perhaps a more intimate setting or invested crowd.

Hunter Hayes, go see him while he's still young

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Taylor Swift: Genius?

Let's Get Together

Some people decry Taylor Swift as merely an opportunistic ingénue who shoves out girly-pop under the guise of being an actual country music star. Some people relish her wholesome, talent and professionalism, citing her immense popularity with her core demographic. As she releases her new album Red, this week, it is time for The Inky Jukebox to pick sides.

Let’s use a single from this album as a point of focus: the irrepressible “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”

Once you’ve heard this devastatingly catchy song once, you already know it. Its chorus is hook-city. It is jarringly up-tempo for a break-up song. It acknowledges the DRAMA of teenage dating into the fluff it is. It’s a pop song. There’s nothing explicitly country about it — something you can say about most of Swift’s work since her MySpace success with “Tim McGraw,” which is only country in that it references Tim McGraw. Swift claims she wrote it specifically to annoy the guy the song references, being everything he said he hates in music. The Inky Jukebox is not sure how well this maneuver is going to continue to work before people get pissed off about being dragged into Swift’s dating troubles. The fabric is already wearing thin.

But today, I walked into the lounge at a girl’s high school, and they were playing it and all singing heartily along, completely unconcerned about any of these things. This seems to trump all of the criticism being tossed back and forth at the end of the day. These girls are living through Swift vicariously, looking forward to the day they too can tell a guy goodbye without sounding so damn sad and broke-up about it. 

The Inky Jukebox will review Red later....

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Hunter Hayes: The Youngest Old Pro You’ve Never Heard Of

He's Wanted

Every now and then along comes a musical prodigy who astonishes everyone with their remarkable facility with an instrument. For some unknown reason they are able to play songs perfectly by ear, or pick up the intricacies of the instrument as if by magic. Parents post videos of such things on YouTube and we all gasp. As often as not, however, childhood promise does not materialize into adult talent, and what seemed incredible at 4 years of age becomes ordinary at 24 years of age. Perhaps the little genius grows tired of being the center of attention or develops just as big a love for video games, say, or cocaine, or even just attention, things one’s parents do not advertize on YouTube.

One such child star was Hunter Hayes (see above). Only in his case, he actually grew up to develop that early gift, and is now a bona fide adult star. I say grown up, but what I mean is 21. Dude is still only 21, yet he has released five independent albums and one self-titled debut on a major label, as well as having written songs for acts like Rascal Flatts.

Although known as a guitar / accordion prodigy, Hayes’s skills reach deep: he also plays mandolin, keyboards, bass guitar, piano and drums along with having a voice lesser sings would kill for. Not only that, but he played every instrument that appears on his album. Oh, and he co-writes and co-produced every song on his record too. Plus he looks good.

I know, BOOOORING, right?


Here he is singing “Rainy Season” at a little club the day before he turned 20 last year. Check out his guitar chops.

And here is the future Grand Ole Opry member showing off his piano chops on his hit “Wanted.”

And something a little up tempo — his hit “Storm Warning,” where he demonstrates his mastery of the acoustic guitar.

While Hayes had, it must be admitted, a touch of the performing seal about him when 4 years old, he looks like he thoroughly enjoys himself on stage now. To wit: “Billy Jean.”

Hayes is currently opening for Carrie Underwood on tour. The Inky Jukebox will be seeing them both in November, and will report back on how insanely awesome it was. Buy his album Hunter Hayes now.

…And here’s a wee bit more.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Modern Day Prodigal Star

Brantley Gilbert’s “Freshman Year” Record

It’s been Brantley Gilbert’s year for a while now; his songwriting credits for Jason Aldean only gave him a leg up to the big time, where he belongs. Along the way, Gilbert has undergone quite a transformation — one which can best be seen by giving his first album, A Modern Day Prodigal Son, a spin. I expect that many of his new fans, familiar with Halfway to Heaven, will be reaching back to pick this one up, so even though MDPS was released in 2009 (it was scheduled to hit stores in 2006), a review feels necessary.

The biggest change folks will notice is that the Brantley Gilbert of six years ago was a quieter, gentler guy. The spitting image of a farm boy, he has a sweet voice and sings sweet songs, accompanied by his able and melodic guitar playing. There are only a few up-tempo numbers, notably "G.R.I.T.S," a paean to Girl Raised In The South, which has predictably remained a live show fan favorite.

Listen to “Play Me That Song,” which showcases his talents beautifully — especially his knack for writing songs with natural hooks that draw you in.

If you’ve only just heard of Gilbert because he’s hawt right now, you should take a look at this footage of a show he did at a small club where the crowd shows him some serious love. He wrote this song — "Picture On The Dashboard" — when he was just 17.

This is the album on which appears Gilbert’s song “My Kinda Party,” which became a monster hit for Aldean. Hearing the original, you’ll appreciate how closely he kept to it. Perhaps it was this very aspect which got Gilbert fans hot under the collar, thinking, mistakenly, that he’d sold the song to a bigger star. He explains the situation here.

As Gilbert makes the transition to productions with far more money, firepower, and wattage behind them (the kind that makes “Kickin’ in the Sticks” sound the way it does), he brings along some of his mellower songs for the ride. The title track is a good case in point: it sounds great run through some big stacks. The Inky Jukebox hopes that Gilbert continues to showcase that careful ear and ability to end on a soft note even as he gets harder musically.

The Inky Jukebox has some advice for country’s newest bad boy on the block: Dude — toss the dip and questionable goatee. It puffs your lip out in an unattractive manner. I don’t care how smokin’ your current girlfriend is (and she is), there’s plenty of ladies at home who’re put off by tobacco teefs.

That being said, The Inky Jukebox LOVES this guy, and strongly recommends you pick up this lovely and overlooked first album. It’s only $6.99 on iTunes. What a steal.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

All Praise Eric Church and Justin Moore

Sinners Like Us: The Blood, Sweat and Beers Tour, 
Pittsburgh Sept 15, 2012

Justin Moore appreciates the crowd

Last night in Pittsburgh, Eric Church and Justin Moore, country music’s new bad boy vanguard, put on a master class in kicking ass. If the 13,000 capacity crowd wanted their faces rocked off with hit-after-blistering-hit, that’s exactly what they got. Apart from one girl I could see (more on her here), every single person there was a devotee of the kind of hard-living, hard-partying, leave-your-guts-on-the-floor lifestyle preached by these two ministers of Outlawism. If you remove the crutch the R leans upon, you’d be left with EPIC CHURCH, which is what the CONSOL Energy Arena turned into — one big revival tent. In case you didn’t know that’s what you’d signed up for when you bought a ticket (more on that here), then the High Priest made it clear in his opening song, “Country Music Jesus.” And boy, if you had any doubts that American music was all out of soul, then your soul was saved.

Let’s start with Justin Moore, which is always a good idea any time of day. The only thing that differentiated him from the “main act” was that his set was shorter. It needn’t have been; he could just as easily have rolled on through both his albums in their entirety and the crowd would still have not wanted him to leave the stage. Instead, he was limited to a roll-call of his singles (all hits), plus the crowd-pleaser “I Could Kick Your Ass,” which he’ll never be able to leave out of a set list for the rest of his career. The crowd belted along to every single word, sometimes drowning him out — except for those times when he switched into high gear and delivered one of his signature upper-range long notes, which are enough to prove that he’s the best male singer in country music. Perhaps that’s his real gift: it’s not just that he has the song, the look, and the attitude: dude’s got a pair of lungs and ability to deliver melody like no-one else.

This here's in a club, but you get the idea

He also knows how to work a crowd. It’s been a few years (alas) since The Inky Jukebox saw him, and he had not yet affixed his star the firmament. With some hard time touring tucked in his belt, he’s got it down to a fine art. The Inky Jukebox would have liked there to be more time in his set to deliver some of his ballads (“Like There’s No Tomorrow,” “Flyin’ Down a Back Road,” and “Outlaws Like Me” would have been nice), but we understand that when you open for someone else, your job is to whip the crowd into a frenzy with up-tempo numbers. (For the record, why did they release “Till My Last Day,” a bit of an ode to clichĂ© as his next single instead of “Outlaws Like Me,” which is transcendently awesome?)

Moore’s covers are so good it makes you wish he’d release an album of them; his delivery of “With A Little Help From My Friends” was a perfect example of this done right — hearing a song you know inside out as if for the very first, and best, time.

Justin Moore demonstrates why he's the best singer in country music

Anyone who’s seen Eric Church before knows that when you hear the thomping strains of Clutch’s “Electric Worry” come over the PA system, he’s about to take the stage. It’s a good intro — a perfect blend of old-time stomp and metal shred, just the sort of thing Church’s band excels at.

Eric Church wants you to know that he doesn’t give a shit, a damn, or a single solitary fuck about, as he put it, “anything that’s happening outside this arena.” It’s that attitude that both sets him apart from the rest of the country pack, yet ties him to it, in the grand tradition of the old-school stars he worships. He’s unapologetic about pretty much everything he does on stage, which is a good thing. When he thumps his chest or pumps his fist in the air or gives the crowd a wide-mouthed howl, you know he means it, dammit. Eric Church can do this because Eric Church has the balls to back it up with pure talent. Does he need the bank of flamethrowers behind him, letting off great rips of fire to punctuate choruses? Of course not. But he knows this is a magic show-cum-sermon, and that tricks that make it seem the devil is biting at your heels are all part of the act.


As far as stage shows go, it’s a treat to see him finally design his own, after playing the opener for so long. The revolving backdrop of huge painted curtains doesn’t feel out of place alongside a forest of spotlights bursting from the stage, and the billowing clouds of thick smoke that illustrate “Smoke A Little Smoke” seem less a gimmick than an in-joke. He swigs his Jack Daniels from a red Solo cup just like you expect him to, and you hold on of your boots in the air like leather lighters when he sings his peon to them, “These Boots.”

See the crowd wave their boots

The real lighters are few and far between these days; during the closer, “Springsteen,” he asks the crowd to flash their cell phones instead. Sure enough, the arena becomes a twinkling universe of screens that is a sight to behold, and you’re in no danger of getting your hair or the brim of your hat singed.

In getting to call his own shots, Church delivers many things he believes in, including that whole albums deserved to be played in their entirety. This is easy for him to do, given that none of his albums contains a single fluff song. He spread every song off Chief out over the show, with liberal helpings from Carolina and Sinners Like Me along the way. It doesn’t matter if only a handful were ever singles; such are Church’s records that every song feels like it must have been a hit you sang to on the radio.

Acoustic brilliance: sing along now, y'all

Half way through, the black curtain came down on the stage, and he gave the crowd a mini, stripped down acoustic set that recalled (for The Inky Jukebox, at least) the way early YouTube videos captured him giving impromptu performances sitting on tailgates in parking lots. 

Eric Church: 2009 (parking lots)

Just the man and his guitar and a song — that’s all he needed, and all he still needs. He is a good enough player to make it sounds like three guitars at once — his notes and riffs sparkly and rhythmic at the same time. You know you’re on to something good when everything else can be peeled back to the bare bones.

Eric Church: 2012 (arenas)

This is not to say that the full-on experience of the band is less satisfying: he says he “likes his country rocking / how ‘bout you?” and the answer’s an emphatic yes. At times you could be forgiven for thinking you’d wondered into a hard rock or metal show — that’s how loud they crunch and shred, fairly melting your face off in the process.

The show draws to a close with the heartfelt “Springsteen,” during which he breaks into a countrified “Born To Run,” to everyone’s delight. Behind him, a giant American flag hangs, an unsubtle notice that this country has a new hero troubadour to worship. He stood for a long time after the rest of the band left the stage, looking out at his disciples cheering. What a view he must have had.

SET LISTS (in no particular order)

Justin Moore

How I Got To Be This Way
Small Town USA
I Could Kick Your Ass
Hank It
Bait A Hook
Till My Last Day
If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away

Eric Church

Drink In My Hand
Hungover And Hard Up
Country Music Jesus
Jack Daniels
I’m Getting’ Stoned
Over When It’s Over
Lotta Boot Left To Fill
Smoke A Little Smoke
Hell On The Heart
Before She Does
Sinners Like Me
How ‘Bout You
These Boots
Guys Like Me
Pledge Allegiance To The Hag

Monday, September 10, 2012

Come On Over!

Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)

In the porno video for his new single, “Come On Over,” Kenny Chesney helms the largest, shiniest waterborne penis motorboat you’ve ever seen in a country music video. It’s the kind of metal yacht that only rap stars billionaires rent own. He’s all alone, moodily piloting it dressed like a GQ model guy with a stylist. The stylist is probably responsible for getting him to ditch his eponymous cream straw hat, so that we see his bald noggin.

The storyline appears to be that a very rich lonely guy wants a girlfriend — specifically the comely brunette seen swimming in a bikini. Somehow she magically appears on his boat, where they have fun jumping into the water, paddling on surfboards, making out on a bed and having sex in the shower.

Hang on, Kenny’s having sex in a shower? You heard right. He’s getting up to all sorts of intimate shenanigans in this one. It’s like his publicist said enough’s enough with the gay rumors already! Get Kenny boy laid! In between he plays piano! Earnestly! Damn!

If you’ve ever seen Kenny Chesney in real life, you’ll know he’s a little, sweaty, tight nubbin of a guy with a cut-off shirt, jeans and a hat.

Exhibit A

Here at The Inky Jukebox, we kinda like black and white Kenny-on-a-boat. Keep up the good work, Blue Chair Records! Or just keep it up. 

(In case you were wondering where the title came from, it's this classic:

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Poxy Pittsburgh

Asphalt Cowboys and Tailgate Blues:
An Open Letter

Dear Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean

I would like to report that your concert tonight at Pittsburgh’s First Niagara Pavilion (located near the West Virginia border, 40 miles or so away from downtown) was AWESOME. I expect it still is, because as I write, it’s ten o’clock and Jason’s still on stage.

Sadly, I am not there. I fully intended to be. I bought a ticket, paid the babysitter, got in my car and hit the highway a full three hours before the show was due to begin. Two hours later I hadn’t even left downtown.

Things did not improve. Four miles from the venue, the two-lane rural highway — the only road leading to it — was again filled, bumper to bumper, with cars, trucks and things that were not going anywhere. I know I was four miles out because a large sign saying Burgettstown 4 miles was where the traffic began. I can also attest that it was moving at the strolling pace of 4 miles an hour. I know this because it took another whole hour to reach the exit.

The traffic began way, way further down Route 22 to the right.
By this time, I had been driving for four and a half hours. It was nine, and starting to get dark. Folks put their headlights on. Some had pulled over. Other folks had gotten out and were leaning against their vehicles, drinking beers and chatting. Dark storm clouds rolled in.

Being a veteran of the First Niagara Pavilion’s parking lots, I knew that even once you reached the entrance, you could reasonably expect to spend another hour snaking slowly around to find a parking spot. I knew that by this time, this spot would be at the very far reaches of the muddy fields surrounding the venue, and that with all this traffic, lining up to actually get in would take some time too. It was starting to rain, and no umbrellas are allowed. Last year, there were so many people that organizers had to open overflow parking a mile away in somebody’s field. That was incredible fun to hike back to in the pitch dark after the show.

Not having eaten since breakfast, and having exhausted the lone snack size Peppermint Patty I found in my car for emergencies, I also realized that the possibility of food was a long way off.

So I am afraid to say I cut my losses. I took advantage of the Emergency Vehicles Only turnaround, and turned around. As I gained speed going in the opposite direction, I passed another four miles of backed-up traffic which had been behind me.

So, dear Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean: if you were puzzled by the strangely thin audience that lined the hillside tonight despite sold-out sales, it was because we were all still outside. You may have passed many of them in your tour busses as you exited, their headlights making a long, long line in the Pennsylvania night. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Devil Went Down To Pittsburgh

Zac Brown Band, Burgettstown, July 15, 2012

The Inky Jukebox would like to open this review of the Zac Brown Band by saying that it was, by a long shot, the loudest show we’ve been to in recent years. And by “recent” we mean since the mid-nineties, say. What liquid gold was poured into the engineer’s pocket to make it so? Let us tell you how loud it was: a raucous capacity crowd of 23,000 screaming people could not be heard above the music they were singing lustily along with. That’s damn loud. From way out on the lawn, it was deafening. The folks under the canopy probably staggered out and fell over afterwards.

This is not a problem, however. Why? Because the Zac Brown Band (ZBB hereon in) are musician’s musicians: each and every member can sing and play their hearts out, and are allowed their own moment (or two, or several minutes) in the spotlight to demonstrate this. Indeed, it is when individuals are allowed to shine that the crowd goes wild, and with good cause. If you’ve been to a ZBB show before, you’d know to expect some guitar fireworks from Clay Cook, and Holy Moly, he brings them — but you might not have been prepared for how far along fiddle player Jimmy DeMartini has come in terms of being comfortable in his own space on the stage. The solo he delivers during “Neon” is nothing short of astonishing.

Be patient and watch until the end of the clip

The Inky Jukebox has tried to find a good clip of it on the YouTube, and this one sort of shows you, but only towards the end. This one’s a year old; at last night’s show, his solo has been extended and made even crazier, so that he literally tears up the stage and sets it on fire. OK, not literally. But he might as well have: you never saw a fiddle player exert so much energy or play so fast in your life — and if you closed your eyes, you’d swear it was a blistering electric guitar. Dude makes a violin sound for all the world like a Gold Top. It’s something to behold and worth the ticket price alone.

Clay Cook, meanwhile, runs from the front of the stage to the organ and piano perched above, stage left, the all-wound go-to guy for basically anything that needs doing. He clearly relishes the attention and the camera, and being an unlikely axe man who could give ANY of the greats a run for their money. His “America The Beautiful” intro is a highlight for the crowd, who, patriotic as they always are, sing along with gusto. He takes turns leading the fray with Zac Brown himself, who’s no slouch when it comes to picking. He can play FAST.

Crowd favorite “It’s Not OK” is delivered by be-whiskered John Driskell Hopkins, complete with a moment of utter silence in the middle of the song when everything comes to a stop so everyone can imagine crickets chirping. Before the encore, the percussionist, Daniel de los Reyes and drummer Chris Fryer engage in an epic rhythm battle that leaves you breathless.

At this point, you know that they are saving “Chicken Fried” for the encore, and you’d expect to hear “Highway 20 Ride” in there too, but it isn’t. Perhaps they have simply shifted it to make room for “Colder Weather,” which appears earlier in the set, to much delight from the crowd. The Inky Jukebox was surprised they didn’t play “Sweet Annie,” which seems like an obvious candidate to be a single off their new album Uncaged, and that they didn’t take advantage of Sonia Leigh, who opens for them, to perform together.

Speaking of which: this was a Hillbilly Hippie bunch, oh Lawdy. There was tie-dye, there was reefer wafting in the night air, there were beach balls a-plenty. And before any of it, there was a group of already drunken backwoods boys in unlaced work boots, falling apart Wranglers, torn shirts, cammo ballcaps and grizzled beards who approached the party in front of The Inky Jukebox who were rather more upscale. The girl was petite and immaculately groomed; her boyfriend looked maybe 16, and like he was about to go off to college in the morning, in 1955. “What up, Nigger Motherfucker!” one of the grizzly boys proclaimed, leaning in to give Mr. Varsity a bro-hug. It could have been a comic scene, except for the deep aroma of sheer terror emanating from the clean-cut crew. It was very clear they had never met. The preppy folks gamely entertained the Mountain Men, standing for awkward photos, as if they were afraid they were about to slip into a Deliverance moment. One of the sweaty, gimpy bears got nacho cheese all over the girl’s iPhone, which the boyfriend endeavored afterwards to wipe off studiously with his shirt.

That’s love.

(Note to Clay Cook: When in the Pittsburgh region, don’t wear a Braves shirt. It incites the natives to belligerence.) 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

This Lion Does Not Sleep Tonight: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

Hear Me Roar

Let there be no mistake: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are a hard rock band. If you have been confused by Potter’s collaboration with Kenny Chesney into thinking she’s a country chick, you are wrong. Not that Country chicks can’t be long-legged, flying-V playing, high-heel wearing firecrackers, because Lordy knows, they can. But Potter lends her invincible energy and considerable vocal talents to music that draws from a deep well of 70’s era rock. I’m thinking the Ram Jam Band and Heart my have been a big influence.

If you look at the kind of songs they cover, you see a smattering of Blondie, Grace Slick and ZZ Top, no slouches when it came to tearing it up on stage with red-hot licks. Potter is helped along by what appears to be a heavy hand on the echo machine, but this merely serves to bring her voice up to compete with the screaming guitars.

Their latest album, The Lion, The Beast, The Beat, opens with the title song, in which one can find the lyrics “someone let the beast out” — and that’s just what the track does. The record builds steam, so that the last two tracks, “One Heart Missing” and “The Divide” are full-on amp-up-to-eleven blasts of rock majesty. (They start out slow to get a running leap at the finale.)

Imagine U2 or Coldplay with a hot female singer

In concert, Potter noted that the closest thing to a ballad they have, a song called “Stars” is going to be their next single, and that they re-recorded it with Chesney. The Inky Jukebox isn’t sure why. It’s pretty darn good all my itself.

The only dud note on this amazing record is a track in the middle called “Loneliest Soul,” which The Inky Jukebox confesses not to have listened to, and in fact, to have clicked off on the iTunes because it opens with one of those jangly, off-key piano intros you only hear as music that signals the entrance of the scary clowns. You know of what we speak. I do not want to be startled into terror by these sounds. Perhaps the rest of the track is lovely, but I’ll never be able to stick around to find out.

Buy this album now. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Blisters in the Sun

Brothers (and Sister) of the Sun: Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw and Grace Potter, Heinz Field June 30, 2012

Heinz Field - great place to see a show
Early in Tim McGraw’s set, the woman sitting next to me leaned over and asked “do you think he goes tanning?”

The man in white
The Inky Jukebox opens with this because it seems to sum up something very interesting about the Brothers of the Sun tour — those compatriots being the aforementioned Mr. McGraw and his longtime pal Kenny Chesney. Billed as a co-headliner, the tour (and everyone attending it) nevertheless implicitly understands that there is no parity here — all is not equal under this particular sun. McGraw is opening for Chesney, and anyone who doubts that ought to come out and see for themselves.

A tanned Tim McGraw in his Christian Grey jeans
But back to the tanning. She asked this because of the deep chestnut color of McGraw’s skin, which was emphasized nicely by his choice of all-white, tight-fitting clothing. Surely this is a shade not achieved in nature? We do not think McGraw goes tanning, no. Not in the way she envisioned, in any case. Does McGraw care about his tan, however? Hells yes. The difference between McGraw and Chesney is that Chesney popped out of his center-stadium podium in a sleeveless grey shirt with a small sweat stain already darkening it — a few songs later it was soaked through. Did he change it? No.

Honey Badger don't care about being sweaty
It was odd seeing McGraw do his set in the sunlight — after years of closing shows in the prime spotlight, it was a bit sad to see him deliver “Live Like You Were Dying” without the dramatic assistance provided by darkness and lighting. (And by "sunlight," we mean scorching 100 degree solar glare. Hence the aptness of their cover of "Blister In The Sun.") His set was also weighted with too many unfamiliar tracks — ending with his new single “Truck, Yeah,” which is far too easy to simply call “Truck, NO.”

But lo, what light from yonder spotlight breaks? Why, 'tis a brother of the sun 
Add to that the fact that there were still too many yellow seats waiting for their tailgaters and the sheer volume of the crowd once Chesney appeared, and you got the feeling that the torch had been passed — and not just on this tour, but perhaps years ago.

Bring your beach balls, y'all
This show marked a historic precedent, which was marked by the presentation of an iron plaque celebrating Chesney’s sixth straight sold out show at Heinz Field. This is notable because although Chesney is obviously a friend of football, and has made stadiums his own stages all across the country, it genuinely feels as if the Heinz crowd responds in a special way. Perhaps this is also because Chesney has the gift of actually sounding genuine when he speaks to the crowd. It goes a very long way.

Raucous, drunken crowd enjoying the show
Chesney also knows a very significant thing about his audience: we come to have a good time, and to hear his greatest hits. This, he delivers, one after another, the entire show.

In the morning he'll be leaving, taking himself off to Cleveland, but for now he's mine, all mine

It is bookended by “Beer In Mexico” and “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy,” the opening violin strains of which whip the crowd into a frenzy.

Where's Kenny?
But the awesome spectacle of a Kenny Chesney concert was not necessarily the highlight of the evening — it was Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Because they haven’t had a hit single, and folks only really know of Potter through her duet “You and Tequila” with Chesney, it seemed odd that she would go on after Jake Owen, who has had numerous hits. But as soon as Potter strutted out on stage dressed in what looked like a low-cut black bathing suit and flimsy wrap, her ridiculously long legs amped up on heels, singing by herself, unaccompanied — the half-full stadium immediately sat up and paid attention. Her entrance was astonishing — as was the entire set, where she played keyboards, a sweet Flying V, and drums, all the while delivering a husky-voiced blistering serving of blues rock. By the time she shook her stuff to ZZ Top’s “Tush,” The Inky Jukebox was sold. What was this girl like in high school? Wow.

Country girls and boys gettin' down on the stage

Kenny Chesney delivers nothing but monster hits

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Lady Antebellum: Hello World?

First Niagara Pavilion, Burgettstown, PA June 2, 2012

I get it with the security pat-downs at concert venues, I really do.  Those places are full of drunken people who’d probably shoot you if they could.  But when it takes an hour of standing in a long line just to get from the parking lot to the turnstiles, all you do is make a crowd angry for losing their tailgate buzz — especially when they’re standing in the pouring rain listening to the muffled strains of the opening act from outside the venue.

This is what we missed: Thompson Square

Why the lines? Because female fans have to get patted down by female security guards — and it takes longer to do this because women tend to have handbags that also require a search. One would think that it would make sense to employ twice as many female security personnel to speed things along, but no: at Pittsburgh’s First Niagara Pavilion Amphitheater, male and female guards are alternated, the men generally standing there doing nothing except a perfunctory pat-your-pockets to the odd male concertgoer who happens to want to get in. It is worth noting that the men at country concerts tend to be wearing nothing but shorts and a pair of boots — and maybe a hat — which a quick (or lingering) glimpse will make obvious they are weapons-free.

The result of this — particularly at a show that tends to attract a large female crowd, as it did for Lady Antebellum last night in Pittsburgh — is that the venue quickly fills up with men waiting for their lady friends. And what do they do to pass the time? They drink. Perhaps this whole security detail thing is a devious ploy to increase concessions sales. In any case, by the time the womenfolk show up, they (the ladies) are pissed, and several drinks behind.

One of the many reasons they are pissed (in addition to having missed the opening acts and the chance to use the bathroom before the show starts in earnest, and any shot at a choice spot on the lawn), is that they have stood for an hour only to get past security with the proviso they surrender their umbrella. New rule: no umbrellas allowed. All 23,000 people here tonight have umbrellas. They are also confiscating lawn chairs. Needless to say, with pouring rain all day, the lawn is a tad wet.

It is with this in mind that I offer this gentle suggestion to the bands: while it is nice that you thank us (as you invariably do) for spending our hard-earned money to buy a ticket to come see you, you might also pay attention to the weather conditions outside the tour bus and thank us I an heartfelt way, for having endured several hours of standing in line in the pouring rain. That would go a long way towards making your visit to our neck of the woods seem less like an anonymous stop on your massive tour. (Am I the only one who cringes when a band member begins “Hello…,” hoping they get the location right?)

Sometimes, an attempt at appealing to local pride falls flat. This is usually because some sporting reference is lost on a particular crowd. Last night, Darius Rucker told a lovely anecdote about meeting his hero Dan Marino, which was met with utter silence from the sodden masses, probably to his puzzlement. This is because the crowd consisted of teenage girls whose only notion of the legendary quarterback is that he’s one of those guys in a suit on TV commenting on the game. They never knew that Pittsburgh was his proving ground. They are also too young to appreciate the Hootie and the Blowfish song that mentions crying when the Dolphins lose.

They are also too young to recognize Rucker’s magnificently decadent version of Prince’s “Purple Rain,” which has become his go-to closer. I think the girls standing near me thought it was a taste of his next single and weren’t too keen.

Speaking of not being too keen, the female person whose delightful company I enjoyed suffered for the hour of waiting to enter the venue, had much to say on the matter of Mr. Rucker and his ilk. And by ilk, I mean black people. I am still unsure whether this person was even aware she was attending a concert at which a “nigger” (her word) was going to be tolerated actually performing (she certainly wasn’t shy about letting everyone around her know of her distain for the darker-skinned security guards). She was also on a tear about the hoards of “bitches” from the other queues whom she perceived as a threat to her place in line. She was a thin-featured, weather-beaten women who was wearing earrings made out of Budweiser bottle caps, which she proudly assured us she made herself. (“Y’all can find me in row H if you want me to make you a pair.”) Poor row H: I wonder how their evening went?

For those still wondering why on earth Hootie has become a country act, consider this: if Hootie (and his Blowfish) were around today, they would be a country act; they're about as country as Lady Antebellum is.

More songs the young crowd don't know. 

The earliest shows in a concert season are subject to their own universe of woes. In late May / early June, chances are that by the time the sun goes down it is pretty cold. If you are also soaking wet, you’re going to be uncomfortable. Folks want to get their groove on and wear summer concert attire, but ladies: shorts, tanks and flip-flops are not ideal when it’s only 54 degrees out. On the other hand, the men are all covered up (boo), mostly in camouflage. They’re hard to spot. The number of darkly tanned girls at such an early date is curious. The spray-on crowd are usually the ones sporting very natural-looking two-or three-toned hair; black and white was popular last night, as was purple and white, and a lady with red and white stripes.

If I am going to veer into the cruel world of fashion faux-pas, I am duty-bound to mention the redneck girls who could stand to lose 50 lbs or so who have adopted the one-shoulder top. This is a garment designed for women who are not you. It is not clear who, exactly, but most definitely not a woman whose massive chest is being contained by an industrial-strength bra. The whole one-shoulder thing sort of precludes a bra strap, no? While I’m at it, if your face has not yet settled down from the acne that riddles it, invest in a course of Proactive rather than spend your cash on facial piercings. Too many spots.

As for Lady Antebellum: Mrs. Scott appears to have been put on a diet, or marriage agrees with her. Mr. Heywood has a better haircut. (Y’all know what I’m talking about.) And Mr. Kelley still looks like a really tall, thin Muppet, but one with a voice like melted chocolate. When Hilary said they only formed five scant years ago, it seems shocking they could be headlining a tour, let alone one that didn’t haul out all of their hits. I thought maybe “Hello World” might appear as an encore — but no. A song with that title for their entrance onto the larger stage might have been a no-brainer, but hey, what do I know.

The damp and shivery Inky Jukebox X

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Phillip’s Head

Need A Screwdriver? Or Just A Screw?

"Yo Daddy let you date?"

If anything distances this season’s American Idol show from years past it might well be the sheer industry-ready professionalism of the top contestants. There’s no doubt all of them can sing, and most can work a stage. They all look pretty polished too. Actually, it’s kind of neat to cast one’s mind back to the days when contestants could dress themselves, picked songs by themselves, and didn’t get squat in terms of vocal coaching. It was a hot mess, and we kinda liked it because against all odds quirky no-hopers made it through on who-knows-what vote.

But it’s been steadily improving to the point where winning isn’t necessarily the best prize. Let’s face it: all of the top six at least will get record deals right out of the gate, as have some very successful Idol runner-ups in recent years. Kelli Pickler and Chris Daughtry have pretty solid careers.

Phillip Phillips, so good they named him twice

The idea of a professional safety net has meant that although no-one wants to go home and leave the fun (and grueling schedule) behind, their goodbye performances are now as good as encores, delivered with confidence rather than warbling tears. When Skylar Laine took the stage for the last time (as an active contestant), she gave it some wellie taking on Miranda Lambert’s “Gunpowder and Lead,” singing about going home to get her shotgun. A lot of folks might think she’s getting extra redneck on them as a parting shot, but Country music fans know this song inside out and recognize Skylar’s well-chosen (but predictable) model.

This song has never been sung with such a beaming smile. Completely inappropriate. 

Clearly the two best singers (if that’s what we’re still judging here) in the competition are Joshua Ledet and Jessica Sanchez, whose performances drip with technical ability and showmanship, remarkable for their tender ages. But both are flawed: Jessica is simply too young to know better when it comes to delivering mature songs the right way, so that many of her performances look like highly competent talent show drills. Joshua can bring it when he’s singing, but when he’s not he’s a charisma vacuum, who looks considerably embarrassed to be on TV, especially around other men (his insistent avoidance of any physical contact with Phillip after their duet was painful to watch). The Inky Jukebox suggests this is because he is sensitive to the gay rumors that have followed him — mostly fueled not by his touching other men, but by his wardrobe choices and general mincing.

Did it get hot in here? 

Hollie Cavanaugh, the petite blonde fireracker with a disarmingly bizarre accent, though no stranger to the bottom three, has managed to slip through. Whether this is because she sings just well enough, or that people are rooting for her in the derby between Joshua and Jessica as the plucky gee-gee who could pip them to the post is anybody’s guess. People who recognize her parent’s accents will know that hers is a wrestling match between Scouse and South which might never come to a decision. At least it goes away when she sings.

Well, hello

But this post isn’t about those guys. It’s about the Dark Horse Phillip Phillips, the guitar-playing wunderkind whose eschewal of Tommy Hilfiger’s fashion advice has served him well. Sure, his singing is a kind of growling, and he is lauded as a musician’s musician, but some people wonder why he’s still in the competition. This is because they are either straight men or tweens. The reason Phil Phillips never gets a seat in the bottom three is because grown-ass women think he’s hot. And he is. He looks like a young Steve McQueen. He has that charming drawl and uses it to say things like “What’s yo number? Your Daddy let you date?” The reason people are voting for him is because they just want to see him on their TVs another week. The Inky Jukebox does.

Don't look down. OK, look down. You know you can't resist. 

The criticism TV talent shows get is that they are simply popularity contests, not ways to measure actual talent. Since all of the contestants have actual talent, and heaps of it, popularity is all we have left to go on. And popularity, as everyone knows, comes down to good looks. American Idol has been under the gun because for several years mildly gifted but decent-looking dudes have won. Mostly, they have used their win to disappear quietly and never be heard from again. The Inky Jukebox hopes that this doesn’t happen to Phillip. It’s entirely possible that Joshua and Jessica will cancel each other out leaving him holding the bouquet.

And when they do, he can bring it with him on that date yo Daddy doesn’t want you to go on, because you know what happens on dates like that. They never get off the bed backseat sofa table stairs ground.