Monday, August 06, 2012

My Oldest Best Friends

When I was an insecure, dorky teenager my record collection was my best friend. My record collection and my turntable kept me company when I was lonely and entertained me when I was bored. Last weekend two of my oldest best friends, like, ever visited me again.

Iron Maiden
Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, California
August 3, 2012

Iron Maiden. Always.

After having seen one of the first shows of Maiden's current tour last month in Boston, I was curious to see Maiden as they neared the end of another North American Tour. It's always interesting to see a band early in a trek as they're fine tuning their performance versus a dozen or more shows later when they've played to thousands of more people and (hopefully) gotten into their groove. Also, at this point in history, Umlaut has seen Maiden double digit times so I'm always interested to see if I can still geek out over seeing them.

The last time I saw Iron Maiden at this venue was for OzzFest 2005 when they absolutely blew the reunited Ozzy-fronted Black Sabbath off the main stage and made Rob Zombie on the 2nd Stage look silly.

[From the Umlaut Archives]

What can I say about Maiden that I haven't already said many times in this space? If you have time to kill go back through some of my older Maiden posts from years past (Click HERE to see all of my Maiden posts). Whenever I start to rant about Maiden here I feel like I'm repeating myself, and I don't want to bore the longtime readers by plagiarising myself again. However, I will say (again) that my Inner Teenage Metalhead lost it when 'Doctor Doctor' by UFO was turned up over the Shoreline PA to clue longtime fans that Maiden were hitting the stage in around 4 minutes. For the newbies: Maiden have played 'Doctor Doctor' before they come onstage since Day One. Umlaut LOVES tradition!

On this tour Maiden are doing what is basically a "Greatest Hits" set focused on a certain time period in their history. On this tour the focus is on the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son era (1988) which was a time when Umlaut wasn't engaged in what Maiden were doing. However this was one of those shows that reminded me way more people became Maiden fans after I discovered them during the Paul Di'Anno years. Does that make sense? Discuss amongst yourselves.

As in Boston, the high water mark of the night was the mighty mid-set 1-2-3-4 punch of 'The Trooper' into 'The Number of the Beast' into 'Phantom of the Opera' into 'Run To The Hills'. However, I have to say my favorite songs of the night were 'Two Minutes To Midnight' and 'Aces High' because it's awesome when a crowd sings along to them. At one point Bruce announced that Shoreline was unable to accommodate the band's full production tonight, which I found to be a very odd thing to happen here in the 21st Century. No matter, Maiden still performed with the same intensity that they had back in The Day and Steve Harris is still my hero.

One thing that I love about Maiden now is how much fun they look like they're having onstage. All of them are smiling, either at the crowd or at each other. Alot of jaded old fans will complain about what songs they didn't play or should have played but fuck that attitude. Personally, as much as I want to hear my fave Maiden songs live, I'm cool at this point in history to simply watch them perform as they attack a stage with the level of charisma and musicianship that very, very few bands now possess. Here in the 21st Century I'd rather watch 15 minutes of Iron Maiden onstage than 60 minutes of a band, like, Hatebreed. The right hand of Steve Harris über alles!

If you bought one of every Maiden merch item you would have paid just over $1,000 (one thousand dollars); Maiden's merch company rules! On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called me a fag. It cannot be understated how amazing it was for me to have Iron Maiden visit the Bay Area again and then 24 hours later it was...

Aerosmith / Cheap Trick
Oracle Arena, Oakland, California
August 4, 2012

Cheap Trick. Always.

Before I discovered Iron Maiden and Metal, there was Cheap Trick. Umlaut was fanatical about them in Junior High and my first concert was Cheap Trick supporting Blue Öyster Cult at San Jose State on the At Budokan Tour. Yes, Umlaut is old and Cheap Trick are still one of my all-time favorite bands. Also, at this point in history, Umlaut has seen Cheap Trick double digit times so I'm always interested to see if I can still geek out over seeing them.

Fast forward to the 21st Century and no matter how tepid Aerosmith's creativity has become over the past 20 years it was hard not to have my Inner Classic Rock Teenager be awakened by seeing this bill on paper. Aerosmith with Cheap Trick is so 70's... but I didn't make any plans to attend. However, the Rock Godz work in mysterious ways and 24 hours prior to the show I found out that I'd be visiting Oracle Arena again on a Saturday night. The last time I saw Cheap Trick in this building was on the Dream Police Tour in 1979 (!):

[From the Umlaut Archives]

Reality check: In 1979 the ticket price was $9.50. In 2012 parking was $35. Crazy, right?

As I just said, the Rock Godz work in mysterious ways and one thing led to another and I found myself sitting in a front row reserved seat. WTF. As the houselights went down I stood at the rail for the first time in I can't remember how many years as some of my first Rock Star heroes walked onstage and jammed into 'Hello There' and went straight into 'Big Eyes' and then into 'California Man'. Holy shit! It seriously felt like 1979 all over again except I was in the front row this time! My head was in a haze watching Cheap Trick as half my brain was immersed in their performance and the other half was flashing back to the show almost 33 (!) years ago.

Cheap Trick are pretty much the only band that can erase every jaded thought out of my old man mind. When I see them I'm immediately that 16-year old dorky kid whose best friend was literally his record collection. My oldest best friends from Rockford, Illinois owned the stage in Oakland again for an hour and played all the hits you would want in an abbreviated Cheap Trick opening set. 'On Top Of The World'... 'Ain't That A Shame' (featuring Brad Whitford of Aerosmith joining them onstage)... 'I Know What I Want'.. and closing with the full tilt sprint of 'Dream Police' into 'Surrender' into 'Goodnight'. Yes, sadly Bun E. Carlos retired from touring a couple of years ago... but having Rick Nielsen's son Daxx on drums is working just fine and it's cool they kept it in the family. Also, this NEVER gets old:

[Photo courtesy of Cable Car]

The one difference seeing Cheap Trick in the support slot was that Rick was more subdued and didn't work the stage in overdrive like he normally does... and he didn't toss out as many guitar picks into the crowd either. Thankfully I managed to get one:

Me. Love. Cheap Trick. Long Time!

The last time I saw Aerosmith in this building was in 1984 (!) when these same band members attempted their first Reunion Tour; this was a couple of years before Run-DMC brought Aerosmith back from the dead. The show was filmed for MTV but it was never aired. Steven Tyler was fucked up and fell off the stage (TRUE!) and Joe Perry smashed apart his Stratocaster at the end of 'Sweet Emotion'. This venue on that Friday night in 1984 was also less than half full; here in 2012 on a Saturday night the same venue looked pretty much sold out.

[From the Umlaut Archives]

Reality check: In 1984 the ticket price was $13.50. In 2012 parking was $35. Crazy, right?

During the changeover after Cheap Trick there was the strong smell of incense coming off the stage; Aerosmith are such Millionaire Hippies now. I think 99% of the people reading this will agree that Aerosmith were better when they were younger and fucked up before they started writing songs geared specifically for film soundtracks. It's still hard to fathom that the same band who wrote 'Lick And A Promise' did that awful song from the movie Armageddon.

Fast forward to the 21st Century and I found myself on the rail preparing to see Aerosmith for the first time in 17 years (the last time I saw them was in 1995). The band's stage was the same style as AC/DC and Foo Fighters had used in this same venue in recent years: A long ego ramp from the main stage that ended at a smaller stage in the middle of the arena. I understand that bands claim to have this stage configuration in order to bring fans at the back into the show. However, Umlaut hates this modern day stage because it diffuses the energy of a Rock concert if some of the band members are on the main stage and the others are 100 yards away. Doesn't that make sense? If you're a BAND you should all be on the same stage at all times... but that's just me.

Aerosmith popped onstage (literally) at close to 9:15pm with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry suddenly appearing on the small stage to lead the rest of the band (aka the less popular original members) on the main stage into a surprisingly great version of the old classic 'Draw The Line'. For the next 2 hours I was both entranced and dubious about watching Aerosmith again. Of course, being in the front row directly in front of Joe Fuckin' Perry was awesome, but the fact that Tyler spent at least half of the set behind me on the smaller stage was annoying. Also, having Tyler perform away from the rest of the band so much gave Aerosmith 2012 a weird energy. It was sort of like a "That Judge from American Idol and The Rest of the Band" feeling. So, I spent most of my time taking advantage of where I was standing and watched Joe Perry at work. Despite everything else about Aerosmith 2012, Joe Fuckin' Perry is still a badass.

[Photo courtesy of Cable Car]

Perry performed like the old school Guitar God that he is, especially when he pulled moves like jamming the headstock of his guitar into the battered grill of one of his vintage Marshall cabinets to strangle more feedback out of them. Magic. Thankfully, Aerosmith included a satisfactory number of vintage songs in the setlist. 'Same Old Song And Dance' and 'Last Child' were good. 'Rats In The Cellar' was the best song of the night with Tyler joining the rest of the band on the main stage and leaning forward into his mic stand to sing like he did back in the old days. Aerosmith wrote such GREAT fucking songs back when they were fucked up, man. When they announced 'Combination' I raised my fists in the air, but it was a weird version with only Joe Perry front and center singing and Tyler basically offstage behind the backline and drums. SO FUCKING WEIRD! That was one of the songs The Toxic Twins would sing together in the same mic when they were onstage fucked up on coke or whatever back in The Glory Days of the 70's. Weird. Anyway, if I never hear 'Dream On' again I'd be happy.

If you bought one of every Cheap Trick merch item you would have paid $210. On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called me a fag. Aerosmith's "Day Pass" was basically All Access... as long as you stayed in hallways and didn't go into any rooms backstage. Ooookaaay. I've always been a much bigger Cheap Trick fan than an Aerosmith fan anyway.