Tag Archives: El Bajista

From the Stands – RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS (20/10/2012) – Houston, TX


“Road-hardened chops” is a term often used by cynical hacks to describe a really tight and professional show by a band and/or an artist. Yet, I can’t help but bring that term up when I saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers on October the 20th. From the efficient way in which the audience was whisked in, to the aptly placed merch stand to the extremely quick and tight set up for the Peppers after the opening band finished, it was a sight to behold. 

The opening band was something called Thundercat, a band that had two bass players, only playing lead and one rhythm. All in all, a very impressive set of jazzy numbers and virtuosic soloing. There was only one problem: the sound. The Toyota Center is basically a basketball arena, and it seems its architecture is optimized for that and not for concerts. As a result, the drums were too loud (maybe because I was close to the stage) and the bass was vague and boomy. Still, the vocals were pretty audible, as was the keyboard.

When the Peppers started, they started with a bit of a misstep. Flea – resplendent in Native American print pajamas – had a slightly detuned bass. And any musician will tell you, that there is nothing worse than a slightly detuned bass. The unfortunate song to have this fate was Monarchy of Roses off their latest album, “I’m with You”. However, tight and professional as always, the band powered through the song with gusto.

A few things became clear within the first 10 minutes of the 45 minute set. The first thing is the improvisation that’s always been a feature of the band: its clearly pretty spontaneous, though they set aside certain ‘segments’ for some tight riffing. This is made clear with all the bass solos here and there and a sharp little ditty of a Klinghoffer – Smith guitar-drum duet.

The second thing is that Flea is clearly the star of the show. Despite some technical difficulties initially and a less than optimal sound throughout the show, he danced, headbanged and soloed his way through the show with great energy and originality. You could see the showman come out, as he was the only member of the band to play to all parts of the stadium, while simultaneously interacting with his band members.

The setlist itself was not a surprising one, as it consisted mostly of the Peppers’ very reliable hit catalogue from the past 20 odd years, aside from the odd choice or two. I found myself clearly at odds with the rest of the crowd, as many of the songs that the crowd didn’t find that hot happened to be my favorites for that night. Cue a devastatingly funky rendition of “I Like Dirt”, which was one of the revelations of the night. Klinghoffer – who was seated because of a broken foot – managed a sweet solo. However, his effects laden guitar rig had some technical problems and at one time he had to change his guitar mid song. Otherwise, the songs were a reliable balance between Californication, By the Way, I’m with You and BloodSugar songs.

All in all, a good, tight and professional set. Some of the moves were familiar from other live performances, but the Peppers reminded everyone why they belong firmly in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. This sounds right.

- El Bajista


Blinding White Noise: Illusion & Chaos – SKYHARBOR – 2012


Somewhere during the gorgeous, oceanic chorus of “Celestial”, a thought germinating in my mind for the last six songs finally reached fruition. The problem with modern over-the-internet recording is that there is a severe lack of unity of purpose ‘twixt the performers. It may seem like arty hokum, but a few people in the same room can do amazing things in close proximity. While “Celestial” is a big success, roiling and dense in its expanse, Dan Tompkins’ presence in this album is largely a failure, and this album’s biggest one. Read on. This is not a negative review.

Hype.

Starting a review off on such a note might be annoying, but it’s critical that I get this out of the way and you read till the end. Tompkins is an amazing singer with a stratospheric range, but he simply overdoes it. Too many opportunities for riffing along with the band are let go, in favor of a floating qawwali-style performance that sounds like an afterthought. Towards the end of the first disc, my ears were saturated with DIIIIIEEEEEEEs and AAAAAREEEEEEs and WEEEEEEEEs that play havoc with the previously devastating “Order 66” and “Catharsis”. Seriously, I hope he doesn’t talk like that in real life.  And because vocals are no.1 in the totem pole of metal mixing, the savagery of Keshav Dhar’s guitar playing Anoop Sastry and Nikhil Rufus is diluted as a result. Nowhere is this more disappointingly apparent than “Dots”, which should’ve been left as an instrumental intro. The vocals are completely unnecessary and blunt the epic (EPIC!) riffage. It’s a huge missed opportunity. However, things start to clarify nicely in the more atmospheric tracks. “Night” is right up Tompkins’ street, as is the sexy slow middle section of “Aurora”. On such sections Mr. Rufus also steps up nicely with a fat-assed bass tone and considered melodicism.

Ok, how about the soloing? Well, not much cop. Marty Friedman is there, yes, but he seems more interested in trying out his new-fangled F12G4#Dim13ZFlat6PFlat3Aug2 inversion scales rather than paying attention to the movement of the band underneath him. Yet another missed opportunity. However, there is a solo prior to Friedman’s effort on “Celestial” that’s capital B Bitchin’. Very, very tasteful.

In and of itself, Illusion would be a pretty decent album, albeit one that is littered with potential genius frittered away at the hands of Mr.Tompkins, Mr.Friedman and whoever thought it was a good idea to dip the band in a vat of reverb. Chaos on the other hand, is fucking epic. Freed of the need to make everything angelic and shit, Sunneith Revankar steps up to the mike and instantly gels with the band – mainly because he’s in the same time zone. Only three songs long, this bit sounded more like Skyharbor Mark 2. It’s superb, with an ideal balance of hammering verses and soaring choruses. “Aphasia” and “Trayus” are phenomenal tracks, and the chemistry between Dhar and Sastry is something to behold. and together, they conjure up moments that feel like driving an F1 car through a WWIII battlefield. Check the intro of “Aphasia” and the riff at 3.25 in “Insurrection” for instant birth control.

First metal....then the bitches

I’ve been avoiding talking of the hype that has been attached to Blinding White Noise: Illusion & Chaos, preferring instead to judge it on its merits. And it goes like this. As a package, it’s a missed opportunity; Princess Tompkins should’ve dialed down with the cherubic-angel mating calls, Marty Friedman should’ve dialed in some “Tornado of Souls” for his solos, and “Dots” should’ve been an instrumental. So does it destroy the Great Brown Hype? It dilutes it for sure, but a quick look at the press package is encouraging. All the fuck-ups are from the guests. The band itself -Dhar, Sastry and Rufus- have done a fantastic job; tight, professional and absolutely world class. I’m no drummer, but I think Sastry is in rarefied air; Dhar is going to level arenas with that guitar of his. And while I’ve always maintained that extreme metal is not a place for a bass player can stand out, Rufus acquits himself well in his spots. The fundamentals, therefore, are tip-top, and India has had a good opening innings. This sounds right.

- El Bajista

EDIT Apr.5: A reader pointed out that there is no band for Mr. Dhar to have chemistry or coordination with, as this was recorded as a one-man project. This is mostly true. As it turns out, Nikhil Rufus wrote the bassline for “Aurora”, and many fills were re-written on jamming with Anup Sastry. Since the press pack mentioned all three as full members, I believed that they all recorded everything.

So, some of the parts of the review that made these references have been struck out, and in the last paragraph, it now reads:

Judging from some of their live performances on YouTube, the band itself -Dhar, Sastry and Rufus- have done a fantastic job; tight, professional and absolutely world class.


Let Them Talk – HUGH LAURIE – 2011


The misanthropic Dr. House seems fit for music a lot less empathetic than this….something sardonic like Cake would suit him better. As it turns out, Hugh Laurie is much softer and more amenable to such trifles as empathy and disenfranchisement and loves the blues. I didn’t think so. To me, this was simply a curious aside in a career that’s in textbook good health.

The change came about mid-air. While flying home from a vacation, I managed to catch a documentary (Down By The River – watch it) that Laurie filmed while recording this album. Suddenly, that which seemed to me a product of mild-conceit suddenly seemed much, much deeper. Laurie’s love for the blues is far more than skin deep, and hence this tasteful selection of covers.

Because he’s a recording n00b, Laurie’s enlisted some heavy weaponry to articulate his blues dream. Irma Thomas mans (womans?) the duet singer desk while at the production table is Joe Henry. It’s clear, then, that Laurie is implying that the album be judged unsparingly on it’s own merits. And so it shall be.

I’ll start with his piano playing. From the barroom strut of of “St. James’s Infirmary” to the dying breaths of the title track, Laurie’s playing has several this-is-really-quite-good moments. “Swanee River” and “Tipitina”, for instance, are grin inducing. However, all is not cloudless, and the occasionally lunk-headed heavier than necessary phrasing causes minor heartburn. You’ll know when you hear it.

When singing, it sometimes seems that Laurie is trying too hard to do an American accent, but even the sometimes strange result sounds musical, with the stubbly Dr. House look (reinforced on the cover) dovetailing nicely with his soulful, lugubrious voice. The lovely clippy Oxbridge is nice in and of itself, but since the fiction here is of an American accent, it’s a bit jarring, like on “Six Cold Feet”. He also happens to be out of his depth in songs that rely on melisma and sustain. He’s no Howlin’ Wolf, and its usually the tunes themselves and the able backing band that ferry the songs beyond the ordinary. A little more croaking and hoarse whispering would sound excellent.

Laurie’s playing has several this-is-really-quite-good moments

The biggest compliment I can give this album is that it’s not an embarrassing teenage fantasy fulfilled for a middle-aged man. This is a proper album, with proper musicians. In fact, Laurie’s piano playing is arguably better than his singing. This authenticity comes to the fore in the ebullient, celebratory sounds of “Swanee River”. The piano doesn’t have an accent.

My favourite track would be the irresistibly upbeat “Tipitina”, which as the documentary says, has special resonance for Laurie. It’s a great choice too. The apparently nonsensical scatting provides the biggest emotional wave of the album, which then thrillingly recedes in the moments immediately afterwards. At this point I felt a bit of a prole when I realized that “Tipitina” reminded me of, uh, the Will and Grace theme tune. Further reinforcement of ignorance came shortly afterwards upon realizing that “They’re Red Hot” is a blues standard and not in fact a Red Hot Chili Peppers original.

Fundamentally, this is a good album. Laurie’s musical talent is obvious, and it’d be a real disappointment if he stopped at just this one release. It’d be even more of a disappointment if he doesn’t come out with some original material next. I’d like to see him put his compositions to the test. This sounds right.

 - El Bajista


Slash – SLASH – 2010


Every once in a while, a band comes along and manages to restore our faith in good ol’ rock n’ roll. Too much prog? Try The Ramones. Too much punk? Try thrash. Too much Limp Bizkit? Err, try suicide. After an entire decade of bands made of 50% hair and 50% hairspray, the world needed a change. Guns n’ Roses were ones to deliver everyone from them, and Slash was their patron deity. Sure, they borrowed a bit from the hair era, but it was, you know, so much better. Much has been written about Slash’s paradigm defining look and playing- the hard drinking, near death experience ridden, drug-addled guitar hero-in-a-top-hat image has endured, and the new GnR will always be incomplete for that reason.

Thankfully, Slash moved on, and formed the very vital Velvet Revolver with Duff McKagan and bulimic-cadaver-turned-rock-singer Scott Weiland. Now, freed of the bonds of band membership, he’s turned to making the solo record he always was meant to make. Initially, it was lamely titled “Slash and Friends”, but it’s since been shortened to just ‘Slash’. Whew.

Aah, Fergie

So how does it stack up? ‘Ghost’ kicks off, with the standard guitar-soaked hard rock fare, that displays Slash’s still tasteful touch on the instrument. Excellent solo, but then what else is new? One of the notable things about this album is the huge number of guest stars, which is a good and a bad thing. It’s good, ‘cause it adds a lot of variety. It’s also bad, ‘cause I think Slash missed a trick here. Doing Motorhead-like-songs with Lemmy, and Iggy Pop like songs with Iggy “We’re All Gonna Die” (which is nonetheless very memorable) and Ozzy like tracks with Ozzy (“Crucify the Dead”), is kind of limiting. I would’ve been very pleasantly surprised if some of them had been taken out of their comfort zone and made to do something new in the service of Slash’s songs rather than the other way around. That’s why Fergie comes out so well. Aah, Fergie. She’s the surprise of the album, on ‘Beatiful Dangerous’. She gives an extremely sultry performance, with the half-rapped verses being genuinely powerful. This is the album’s song to fuck to. And Slash caps it all off with a great solo. Why isn’t she in a rock band?

Some of the songs veer on unimaginative, and a star cast of the best singers/bass players Slash can muster doesn’t necessarily save them. The guitar solo and the change in tone save ‘Promise’, but the rest of the song is fairly B-side-ish, and Chris Cornell does not save it. Same is the case with ‘Gotten’, which I feel should’ve been done by the much ballsier Fergie than Adam Levine, who seems out of his depth. The album’s biggest disappointment has to be ‘Doctor Alibi’, which completely ruins (RUINS!) Lemmy’s legendary voice by having him mouth juvenile lyrics. “You’ve got some real bad habits/ You’d better stop right quick”. Seriously? Thankfully, things quickly improve on the instrumental track “Watch This”, which features Duff McKagan and Dave Grohl and is full of twisted solos. It sounds like Jeff Beck and Velvet Revolver jumping into a vat of molten lava. There are some incredibly meaty riffs and some truly excellent soloing worth listening to over and over again.

As you might have noticed by now, I think this album is a bit of a mixed bag. There are a few great songs here, if you look deep enough, and Slash has clearly been playing guitar during his off days. And the Fergie song is understandably the lead single. It bloody rocks. At times however, it sounds like GnR 2.0, and at other times it sounds like Slash guesting on his guests’ records rather than the other way around. In the end, a mixed bag. This sounds somewhat right.

-El Bajista


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