Modern Pop Music: No Guitar? No Drums, Either.

Listening To More Modern Pop

My kid has gotten to the age where he’s started to get interested in popular music. This has led us to listen to a lot of the “Now That’s What I Call Music” and “Grammy 20xx” CDs over the last few months. Even though pop music isn’t really my thing, I have enjoyed it quite a bit. It was funny to have heard so many of these songs over the years in the bathrooms and common areas of office buildings, but not really knowing the artists. I remember hearing a few songs like Ava Max’s “Sweet But Psycho” and Imagine Dragon’s “Thunder” literally 5 times a day. It seemed like every time I went to the restroom, one of them was on. It’s been a while, so fresh ears are a good thing. There are some, like Thunder, that have grown on me. Others, like “Sweet But Psycho” I’d be happy to never hear again. It’s also been an interesting listen as a musician and writer…

I’ve started to identify what I actually don’t like about modern pop music. As primarily a guitar player, and with guitar being the foremost instrument in most of the music I love, I sort of assumed that modern pop music not having much guitar is a big factor. I was surprised how much guitar was featured in the 2021 Grammy Awards show. Anyways, it turns out that’s not really the issue. It’s the lack of real drums, played by a real human being, with variation and feeling that is what I actively dislike.

Rhythm

A lot of modern pop music sounds like basically one 4:4 loop repeated for the entire song. Drag and drop the bar of midi, and drag across the song for the whole 3 minutes. I keep saying it, but it’s not the chords, it’s not the notes, it’s the rhythm that defines a genre. With a lot of modern pop, the rhythm is simply… boring. There are no fills to lead from section to section. There is no sense of dynamics.

Tone

On top of that, tonally, I just don’t like the generic low end thump used instead of a kick drum and the white noise crack used instead of a snare. Real drums have such a great tone, and such a great variety of sound contributing to the music Kick, snare, hi hat, crash, splash, a million toms. That’s interesting to me! So much modern pop music has that chopped, compressed, generic kick sound and either a finger snap sample, or the generic white noise snare … and that’s it. I’ve noticed over the last year that pop artists who use real drums appeal to me a lot more.

Like anything, there are exceptions to every rule. This isn’t a big, revelatory piece, but it’s been really interesting to examine what it is that appeals to me and not, and why it works or doesn’t work. What do you think? Does it bother you? Do you like that style?

Of course, no matter whether you like a piece of music or genre or not, there’s always something to learn. At least listen with open ears and maybe you’ll get something out of it.

On The Blues Radar

As you may have guessed from my recent posts, I’ve been listening to a lot of blues lately. Over the last few years I’ve been curating a Spotify playlist where I keep track of songs that catch my ear. As I read reviews or interviews in a bunch of magazines, or listen to the Smokestack Lightnin’ show I try to keep my ears open. As much as I liked the classics, that’s great stuff happening now! This was a way to highlight some artists that weren’t as well known, and of course some that are. I include all styles of blues – traditional, modern, funky, soulful, acoustic, electric… I had called it “New Blues From Radio & Magazines” but that doesn’t roll of the tongue, does it?

Sit back and enjoy what’s come On My Blues Radar:

Some of My Favorite Livestreams

In the current landscape, lots of artists are doing live streams. Personally, I’ve been (thankfully) too busy to watch as much as I’d like. There’s also just so much out there. Here are a few I’ve carved out a bit of time to watch and they’ve been great.

JamBase Live Stream Repository

The first stop, and one of my favorite resources is the JamBase website. They have a great schedule and calendar of Live Streams, so you can keep an eye on what’s going on and coming up. Check it out here: https://www.jambase.com/livestreams

They cover a lot more than Jam Bands, it’s really a live music repository. Or, more accurately, what was formerly live…

Dead & Co. “One More Saturday Night”

Every Saturday night at 5pm PST / 8pm EST Dead & Co. streams a past show. I watch on Facebook, but there are other options. That one is streamed by nugs.tv but I believe there are other options. The sound quality is usually incredible, as is the video. Definitely worth a watch and after the first one I definitely tried to carve out at least a little of my Saturday night to watch.

Saxon Pub

One of my favorite places in Austin, TX is The Saxon Pub. They host all kinds of great music, including a near-mandatory evening every time I get out to Austin: David Grissom on Tuesday nights. I also caught Sue Foley there a while back, and a variety of great blues, country and rootsy artists. They’ve been hosting a lot of great streams over the last few months, check out their Facebook and Instagram sites for schedules and streams.

https://www.facebook.com/thesaxonpub

https://www.instagram.com/thesaxonpub/

Keeping The Blues Alive

Joe Bonamassa’s organization to promote music for kids has also been helping Fueling Musicians over the last few months. It hosts a great variety of streams, from individual artists like John Oates, Larkin Poe or Ana Popovic; to sharing videos from the KTBA cruises or Joe’s Concerts. There’s always something good to watch.

Live From Clarksdale

Clarksdale, MS is still a blues Mecca, even without having nonstop live-and-in person blues. They’re compensating by having a packed schedule of shows at Live From Clarksdale. There are tons of local and regional artists, so turn your ears onto something new. Streams are often on Facebook, but there are other avenues. Check it out!

My Favorite Blues Records

I fell in love with the blues in the early-mid 90s, when a friend turned me on to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Texas Flood.” Before then, I was really only into metal and classic rock. If it didn’t have pointy guitars and Marshall stacks, I wasn’t particularly interested… outside of a few bands like Pink Floyd and Hendrix, etc. I was aware of blues – through classic rock & radio – but not an active listener. In college my tastes expanded a little, but it was still more interested in the metal side of music. As I started to really get into guitar, my ears expanded, and “Texas Flood” hit me hard. What struck me was that it was so powerful, but not about doom and gloom. It was human, it was real life, it covered a range of emotion. It never connected with me that music could be so powerful and positive at the same time. So, that was my gateway. After that, I moved pretty quickly into blues and only blues, which also took years to get out of… but it was life changing. Blues is still at the core of my playing in part because I fell so hard for it right when I was developing as a player.

Here are some of my favorite and most impactful blues records… some are albums everyone (hopefully) has, some might be a bit off the beaten path. What are your favorites?

Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown – Pressure Cooker

I love this record because Gatemouth is such an eclectic player, and such a melting pot. He mixes up blues, jazz and country into his own unique style. Interestingly, I picked up a compilation of his earlier works and it’s very much in the style of T-Bone Walker. I was fortunate enough to get to see Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown do a live acoustic show in New Orleans at the LMNOP music conference around 1999. He was as great acoustic as he was electric, and it’s side of him I’d never heard before.

I also recommend “Blackjack.” If you want a bit more of his Louisiana style (and fiddle playing), check out “Gate’s On the Heat.”

BB King – Live In Japan

While BB is my favorite of the 3 Kings, and my favorite blues musician. Across his wide catalog of stutio and live albums, Live in Japan is my favorite. Perhaps my love of it is fueled in part by a memorable late nigh drive from Buffalo to Chicago in a snowstorm, BB’s incredible voice coming through the car stereo, the band cooking, pure love radiating out of our van’s speakers. I also love the adventurous nature of the record, with jams like “Hiraki #88” and “Jammin’ at Saneki hall” spicing things up from the array of hits and classics. His “Hummingbird” on this album also blows me away. If you’re only familiar with Completely Well or Live at the Regal, give this a serious listen.

Freddie King – Live at the Electric Ballroom

What is there to say about Freddie King, the Texas Cannonball, other than he’s one of the Three Kings. His tone is incredible, his phrasing is incredible, his voice is incredible. He’s pure blues, but funky and soulful. “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” is one of my all-time favorite blues songs. It’s a great overview of Freddie King, and an album everyone should have.

http://www.alltime-records.com/01-albums-0002/0002126.php

Muddy Waters – The Best of Muddy Waters

While I love pretty much everything Muddy has ever done, this was the album that opened my ears to acoustic blues, despite coming into the genre via electric guitar. Of course, Muddy was the guy that built that bridge across the country and blew the genre wide open. The Best of Muddy Waters is where you can hear the ache and cry of humanity, and for a suburban white kid from Wisconsin, get a glimpse into a completely different side of America. It’s a slice of history. It was raw, dirty, and dangerous… but also tender, loving, and soulful. This is the record that helped me understand where the music came from, and started my journey digging backwards in time.

Buddy Guy Live – The Real Deal with GE Smith and the SNL Band

Buddy Guy had quite a run of great albums in the 90s. This live album, captured at his club Legends, is a highlight to me. The interplay he has with the band is fantastic, and it’s fun to hear him go back and forth with GE Smith and Johnnie Johnson. He’s one of those performers who makes great records, but really shines live. The stories, the interaction with the audience… it all adds up to a great listen. His tone is classic 90s Buddy Guy and the band sounds fantastic. Their version of “My Time After A While” is the highlight.

Stevie Ray Vaughan – Texas Flood

For me, the record that started it all. This was the album that showed me powerful music didn’t have to be about demons and warfare. It could be about humanity, positivity, real life. It opened my eyes not just to blues, but to the rest of the world of music.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_Flood

Robert Johnson – The Complete Recordings


There’s probably not much to say about this incredible compilation, other than everyone should own it. I learned so many of these songs. I want to call out that to me it’s not his amazing guitar playing, it’s his voice. That’s what’s so haunting. The edgy, provocative lyrics were also pretty mind-blowing. To think these were performed in the 1930s! That takes guts. Its’ a lot more risque than some guy dorpping F-bombs nowadays.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Complete_Recordings_(Robert_Johnson_album)

Live Show Review: Michael Angela Batio

Thursday, January 30 I got to see Michael Angela Batio (heretofore referred to as MAB) perform at the Shovelhead Lounge in Casselberry (Orlando’s home for metal and shred, and a great place to see shows). I debated whether or not to go. I like shred in small doses, and I’ve had mixed experiences seeing shredders live. These days, between family and work, I have to pick and choose which concerts to go to very carefully. I also can’t be up until 2am and then get up at 6am… When the ticket said “7:30” I didn’t know if that meant the first of four opening bands started at 7:30 but MAB goes on at midnight… I messaged him on Facebook and he responded the same day that he expected to go on around 8:15. Fantastic! Before we get to the show itself, kudos to MAB for being so responsive and helpful to fans.

MAB – Shredder Extraordinaire

A Word on Shred

To me, “shred” is a genre – it’s guitar-driven, instrumental heavy metal. Musicians can shred – verb – on any instrument. It can be short for “woodshed” – to intensely practice. There are lots of guitar players considered shredders, whether they play instrumental music or not. Examples include Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, Jeff Loomis and of course Michael Angelo Batio.

The Show

To put it simply, this was one of the best shred shows I’ve seen. He played solo, using backing tracks. The sound and mix were quite good – not too loud, but nothing got drown out. His tone was great. I had my mild ear plugs in, but didn’t need foam, and I never got ear fatigue. The Shovelhead is pretty small, so I was able to sit at the bar for about a third of the show, and up front for the rest. I never had a problem seeing or hearing clearly.

What made this show special is that before every song he told an entertaining and usually funny story to give the song context. Not only did it draw you into the music, and give you an insight into him as a person and musician, but it gave your ears a rest between songs that featured lots and lots of notes. The storytelling and humor made the show. I’ve seen other shredders just go up and play song after song with no break, and while I like the music, it’s hard to take in like that.

MAB is a great storyteller…

My wife made a comment at that it was like the folk and Americana acts we used to go see frequently – and that’s spot on. It was interesting how well between-song storytelling sets up this type of dense music, obviously very different from folk. He came across as such a nice, authentic, passionate, friendly and funny guy. You can’t help but have fun. His personality came across so well – it added a lot to balance and complement the technical nature of the music.

I also loved that he was so inspirational to listen to. He expressed over and over how grateful he was to be there, to have such a long career, and to have played with so many other great musicians. He exuded positive energy, and you coudn’t help but root for him. MAB was unapologetic about his musical direction (although many may not know he studied jazz and spent time writing jingles). I loved his attitude that you have to be yourself, do what you love and what you believe in, and don’t worry about the people that try to tear you down. You’ll never please them, anyways. I’ve heard a lot of other great musicians, including Steve Vai, express a similar viewpoint.

The Music

He kicked off the show with tributes to Dimebag Darrel and Randy Rhoads – both set up with great stories of his background with them. Later on he did a tribute to Metallica. Each one featured familiar riffs and vocal melodies played on guitar; some solos close to the original performer, some his own version. I thought it worked well.

I’m honestly not that familiar with MAB’s catalog, and with that in mind I was pleasantly surprised that he played two of my favorite songs of his: Rainforest and Hands Without Shadows.

Showmanship

MAB is known for playing super fast, and while his technique on the instrument is incredible he can craft a great melody. The barrage of notes is mixed with singable lines. Like the show overall, it makes everything more listenable than some others in the genre. All that said, seeing him perform live, and seeing how fast and clean he played, was pretty mind-blowing as a guitarist.

The Gear

I was surprised that he did not play his long-used Dean guitars, but instead relied on an array of Sawtooth guitars and amps. When he first warmed up I thought his tone was a little too saturated for my tastes, which sometimes happens with shred, but actually it worked great once he started going with the backing tracks. It emphasizes the concept that tone is in the hands (or probably more accurately, in the ears). Sawtooth isn’t an expensive, boutique brand of instruments. In the hands of a great player, they sounded great.

He had a small wall of Sawtooth amps, and for most of the show he played a double humbucker S-style, pulling out a LP-style as well. I was surprised to see he had a double-neck tele-style guitar (instead of his trademark metal-looking double neck). It was cool, and the crowd was psyched when he pulled it out and did all the fancy stuff.

Tapping on the Double Neck

Lots of fun, amazing technique, and great showmanship. That’s a MAB show. Go see him if you get a chance. Current tour dates here.

Listen More

MAB was fairly famous for his articles in Guitar World, as well as his Speed Kills instructional video. Check those out if you want to explore the genre of shred.

Follow and listen to MAB on Spotify here:

Listening To: Rick Wakeman

A few weeks ago I randomly picked up Rick Wakeman’s “Classic Tracks” at the Daytona Flea Market. I love going there, you never know what you’ll find. I knew the name Rick Wakeman, but couldn’t place that he was the keyboard player for Yes. I’d been listening to a lot of prog lately, and since it was in the $2 bin, it was worth a shot. What a great record! I’ve been listening nonstop for weeks.

Fantastic Cover Art

The Tracks

Journey to the Center of the Earth – a 31 minute epic musical journey through Jules Verne’s fantastic tale. Rick Wakemans’ musical retelling of the story is a masterpiece, but what really surprised me was the killer guitar solo by Jim Gentry. It’s atmospheric, grooving, heavy… the song captures everything.

Catherine Howard – from his album “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” has as much variety as you’d want. It starts with beautiful acoustic guitars and segues into bluegrass-flavored synths. Some of the keyboard tones capture a harpsichord feel as well, perhaps bringing the listener back to the Age of Kings.

Merlin the Magician – now this is prog… a mash-up of styles and genres, starting with a heavy bass groove. Keys drift on top, with their melody adding an air of mystery. The lyrics are supported crunchy heavy guitars and more killer keyboard solos. Halfway through the song shifts dramatically to a whimsical and fast section, followed by a return to the groove and lyrics.

The cool thing about Rick Wakeman’s solo albums – and the songs on “Classic Tracks” – is that it’s 100% prog rock, but also accessible. I find Yes to be more of an acquired taste. I really have to listen, and be in the mood. I can put on and enjoy Rick Wakeman’s stuff a lot more often. Check it out!

The Players

  • MUSICIANS
  • Rick Wakeman – keyboards
  • Michael Franklin – lead vocals, keyboards
  • Jim Gentry – guitars
  • Paul Parker – drums, percussion
  • Tim Franklin – bass, backing vocals
  • Tom Hook, Tess Franklin, The Full Sail Tabernacle Choir – additional vocals
  • PRODUCTION
  • Michael Franklin – producer
  • Don Oriolo – producer (exec.)
  • Stuart Sawney – recording engineer (Banjour Studio)
  • Gary Platt – engineer (Full Sail Platinum Post studio)
  • Ken Latchney, Nasser Sharif – assistants (Full Sail Platinum Post studio)
  • O. B. O’Brian, Phil Nicolo – engineers (Studio 4)
  • Jiff Hinger, Dirk Grobelny – assistants (Studio 4)
  • Jay Goodman – main tech
  • Tibor Kovalik – Artwork

Rick Wakeman’s Catalog

I’ve really enjoyed digging into his catalog, with this “greatest hits” type of album providing an effective gateway. I particularly liked “Best of the Bootleg Box”:

I also recommend 2000 A.D. Into the Future

Why CD & Vinyl Shopping Is So Fun

I’ve always enjoyed browsing flea markets, Goodwills and yard sales for CDs and records. As a music fan and a musician, there are tons of reason why. Here are a few of them.

Oh, The Things You’ll Learn (From Album Artwork)

Let’s start with the obvious one, although it’s not always about the artwork itself. It’s also about the writing on the back, or other “bonus” stuff. One of the cool finds I had recently ($2) was Uriah Heep’s Greatest Hits. It wasn’t the music, as I already had most of the songs, it was the chart on the back of the record that showed various members’ tenure with the group. What a cool find! Sure, I could probably find that on wikipedia if I searched, but why would I do that.. and when? This was one of those particularly nice bonuses to records you don’t get with mp3s or streaming.

You can’t get this from an mp3.
I love a good font

I’ll talk about it below, but I got a Rick Wakeman CD that I really love, Classic Tracks, and scanning the album notes I saw it has a connection to my home of Orlando, FL. How random! I was blown away by the guitar playing on this record, too, so it’s cool to be able to look it up and see who played on it. Sure I could search the internet, but I was listening to it with my kid in the kitchen. I didn’t want to – and didn’t have to – get up and go to the computer or pull out my phone. The liner notes were right there.

It’s not just the thrill of discovery of the music, but the things you learn from browsing the packaging.

It’s Economical!

To be honest, I’m not that into buying new vinyl at $30+ a pop. I do love finding records and CDs at garage sales, used shops and flea markets though. They’re CHEAP! I often find CDs at garage sales at 3-for-a-dollar prices. I get a lot of vinyl at flea markets or Goodwill for a few bucks. Even mp3s can’t compete with a $0.33 CD. I get that streaming services are a good deal for a lot of people, but personally I don’t want to be locked into $100+/year for a subscription, and if I ever decide to cancel the music is gone. I also don’t like being locked into having to be online. Sure, Spotify lets you download songs to play offline if you’re a paid subscriber, but you need to know ahead of time you want to download it… which kills the “discovery.” I think used CD & vinyl is a great deal.

Of course artists aren’t getting a cut of the used album sale, but they did get paid for the initial sale. I definitely do buy new music as well, and I support artists I love, but it’s not an either/or thing.

Incentive To Actually Listen

We’re so inundated with music these days, but I find I don’t listen to artists in any depth when on Spotify or Youtube. They’re great services for checking things out, but it’s always brief. Background. One and done. I have no incentive to listen to something over again and really get it. When you purchase a physical product – spend the money and hold the disc – it’s incentive to put it on and listen. If you spend money on something specific, even if it was $2, there’s an inherent desire to not waste that money. Even if it’s not an album I listen to very often, when I buy something, I always listen through at least once.

How many times have I heard Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do” from Frampton Comes Alive? Hundreds? After all these years, I’d never sat down (or ran, or biked, or worked) and listened to the whole album. What a great record, top to bottom. The hits get overplayed, but the deep tracks get overlooked. I would never have bought this on iTunes or streamed on Youtube. But for $2, I figured the record was worth owning, and it absolutely was! Tracks like “Lines On My Face” are so good. I see now why the record earned so much respect. Without buying the vinyl, I never would have listened to it.

You Can’t Find That On Amazon… and Wouldn’t Think To

It opens you up to random music you wouldn’t otherwise hear. Browsing through bins of CDs or records sparks curiosity. Sure, you can find 95% of the music online, but would you know to even look for it? Would you take the time to listen to it? Even spending a few bucks and having the physical product is incentive to actually listen to new things.

Highly Recommended

For example, I knew the name Rick Wakeman (keyboardist in Yes), but never sought out his music. While I like Yes, I’d never even think to look up his solo work. It’s incredible! What a great album. I highly recommend it, and I got it for the low prices of ZERO. The flea market shop owner thew it in for me as I bought a bunch of other stuff.

I find so many things that catch my eye, CD and vinyl shopping has expanded my interests, knowledge of music, and my ear. Artists I’d heard of but never listened to; artists I love but hadn’t heard X album before; styles of music I wouldn’t go out of my way to find but fora $0.25 garage sale record – why not?

Be it garage sales, church sales, Goodwill or flea markets, there are oddball gems to be had…

I stumbled upon this Lord of the Rings concept album by Swedish multi-instrumentalist Bo Hansson. It’s very much in line with 70s prog, and very cool. I’d never find this on Amazon or iTunes

(Music Inspired By) The Lord of the Rings
Some Background Info…

Another time I bought a Paul Butterfield Blues Band record that had a newspaper clipping advertising a live show. Pretty cool bonus!

In Summary

Get out there and browse! Look at the artwork, read the packaging. Find something cool, new, old, unique… Streaming certainly has its place. Historically with music, convenience seems to win out in the market. It’s just not as much fun.

Live Show Review: The Aristocrats Live

It’s hard to believe it had been 6 years since The Aristocrats last came to Florida. Previously they played at West End in Sanford, a little bar just north of Orlando, and it was almost a religious experience. The place held about 100 people, and I was able to stand just a few feet away from Guthrie, Marco and Bryan. This year, they came to a slightly larger venue downtown Orlando and blew the packed house away. I really don’t need to write much for the review, other than wow. If you have any interest in progressive, instrumental music you need to go see the band.

It’s not just the mind-boggling level of musicianship from every member; but the humor, the interaction with each other and the interaction with the crowd that made it special. Bryan Beller got the crowd going for every song: leading chants, clap-alongs, cheering. While this is an instrumental band, he basically filled the (necessary) role of front man.

You Know What?

Touring on support of their new album “You Know What?” they played a great mix of new and old material. Happily they played my favorite track from the new album, “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde.” Bryan Beller went through a lengthy backstory for how the song came about. Part of what made the show so much fun was hearing the backstories behind many of the new songs.

The new album is fantastic, as expected

Plastic Farm Animals

Happily, the plastic pig and chicken made a return!

Bryan Beller and Rubber Chicken – making sweet sounds
Marco Minnemann shares the spotlight with Rubber Pig

Final Thoughts

I was pretty tired by the time the Aristocrats took the stage, but I’m so glad I made it out. The musicianship is incredible, of course, but the humor and audience interaction puts they in a class way above most instrumental rock/fusion/shred bands. Highly enjoyable, and absolutely worth going to see.

Live Show Review: Greta Van Fleet Live

Not a lot of bands have the balls to do a drum solo after the first song of the set. That kind of cool and unexpected event marked one of the best shows I’ve seen in a while. On a beautiful, warm evening in May, Greta Van Fleet took to the Orlando Amphitheater with tons of energy and blew the place away.

The Music

I loved that Greta Van Fleet delivered what I love about live music – they went beyond just playing their songs as-is. If you do it just like the record, why go see it live? On a few numbers they really stretched out, rode on the energy of the crowd, and took some familiar tunes in new places. I want to see interplay between the musicians. I want to see some chances taken. For all the flack Greta Van Fleet gets for their Zeppelin-isms, they take a lot more chances on stage than you might expect. Of course, their more popular tunes were all represented: Highway Song; Lover, Leaver; When The Curtain Falls; etc. I’ve been a fan for a while, but I was surprised how well I knew their catalog.

The Band

Josh Kiszka belting it out

Props to the whole band, but I want to call out a couple things. First, the singer, Joshua Kiszka, is a freak plain and simple. How he can hit those notes all night, show after show, is beyond me. He’s got a pretty high voice, but there’s gravel there. The way a bluesy rock singer should sound. I don’t know if he’s going to have a voice left when he’s 50, but for now he was incredible to see live. He’s also a great front man, and had the crowd engaged all night.

I also dug that Sam Kiszka (bass) did a number of songs on the organ, in the vein of John Paul Jones. It was a cool bit of variety. He’s a great bassist in that he holds down the low end and doesn’t overplay, but adds movement to the songs when necessary. Some bassists in rock bands just pound out eighth notes all night. Sometimes that’s what the song calls for, but some times you need the bassist to walk up to the IV, you need them to add a riff at just the right spot. He did that.

Brothers Rockin’

Props to Jake Kiszka’s guitar tone, which was thick, chunky and perfect for the music. It was ROCK guitar tone. He’s not necessarily a flashy player, but he serves the song whether through riffs, solos or extended improv jams. He did the blues rock thing, he played some slide, and pulled out the acoustic for a couple of tunes. He played his SG for most of the set, and seems to be forming a signature sound and style.

I mentioned it at the top but Daniel Wagner’s drum solo after the first song was a nice, unexpected surprise. It wasn’t long, but it was cool. He’s similar to Jake in that he’s not really a flashy player, but absolutely solid and always served the song.

The Crowd

To some degree I expected it, but I was happy to see young and old, men and women all enjoying the show. I saw 20-something girls singing along. I stood next to a guy in his 50s that had seen Greta Van Fleet over 20 times. There were modern rock fans, classic rock fans, metal fans, blues fans, and people just going out for a show. It’s nice to see this type of blues-influenced rock have such a big, wide draw.

The crowd was really engaged all night, singing along, hands in the air. Cell phones weren’t *too* bad… although it helped to be outdoors. At one point someone threw a bouquet of roses at Josh (the singer), it hit him square in the face… kind of funny. He laughed it off, took one of the roses and put it in his pants for the rest of the night.

The Venue

I had never been to the Orlando Amphitheater before, and I feared the worst – crowded, dirty, terrible sound. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Greta Van Fleet had the best live sound I’ve heard in ages. Everything was clear, it was loud but not too loud. I was pretty close up front on the right side of the stage. Normally being right in front of the PA would be a deal breaker, but here it wasn’t too bad. I did switch from my 18db to 30db ear plugs partway through, but that’s average for me. Actually, better than average. Due to my worsening tinnitus, ear plugs are simply a must at every show.

Because it’s a large area, part of the Central Florida Fairground, there were tons of options for food and drinks as well.

If there was a downside, it was the $20 parking, but you’re right there in the fairgrounds, close to the entrace so I didn’t feel put out.

Ida Mae

Blues Duo Ida Mae

The opening band, Ida Mae, did a great set of basically straight up blues. It was so gratifying to see a big and diverse crowd getting down to blues in 2019. The (generally) acoustic duo did a mix of originals and covers, and weaved in some nice banter to engage the audience. I dug it, check them out!

Listening To: Metallica – Helping Hands… Live and Acoustic at the Masonic

Most of the time when I hear metal bands do acoustic versions of their songs, they just swap out the electric guitars for acoustic and call it a day. Same basic arrangement, only with a tone that doesn’t quite… fit. That’s why I was so impressed with Metallica’s recent All Within My Hands acoustic set. They totally rearranged the tunes to make them work in an acoustic arrangement, but they still keep the spirit of the song. They didn’t turn them into country or folk tunes, but they didn’t take the easy way out. Bottom line: it works.

Highlights

Highlights for me include the opener, Disposable Heroes, which took me a while to even recognize it’s so drastically different. It definitely sets the stage for what’s to come, though, and it works great. I was never a huge fan of the Black album to begin with, let alone how overplayed some of the songs are. If I never heard Enter Sandman” again it’d be fine. The acoustic arrangement on Helping Hands was a total breath of fresh air, though, and totally enjoyable. It takes a lot for me to enjoy that song, but I must admit I do! I also really dug hearing the Hardwired bonus disc track When A Blind Man Cries. It’s one of those bonus tracks that seemed “not quite finished.” Not as polished as the rest of the album, although the song had promise. In the acoustic setting, it felt more full. More complete. Finally I want to call out the bluesy version of Four Horsemen. It could have easily turned cheesy, but they pulled off turning a quintessential metal song into basically a blues. Hetfield’s voice carries it, as does the pounding rhythm section.

The Whole Album

If you’re a Metallica fan, or a music fan interested in how you take songs from one context and put them into another successfully and with independent musical merit, this is a great album.

There’s a killer vinyl version as well, which has great packaging. I’m tempted, although it’s pricey. https://www.metallica.com/news/2018-11-27-helping-hands-vinyl.html