February 26, 2012


Axl Rose, Feb. 23, 2012
For certain fans and critics alike, the original lineup of Guns & Roses is like the rock & roll equivalent of the Jennifer Aniston-Brad Pitt marriage. After all these years, people still fawn over what was, and lament what could have been. I understand your hearts were a-flutter when it was happening.  However, it’s now long over, folks. Get over it!

If anyone is saying exactly what I’m saying, it’s Axl Rose. He’s now moved onto his own Angelina Jolie phase and adopted a motley crue of hired guns who – dare I say! - are technically far more proficient than Jennifer Anist- eh, Slash, Duff, Izzy, Steven, and Matt. 

The band just completed a sold-out arena tour of America. Outside America, they still sell out massive soccer stadiums. Call it a disappointment without probably ever hearing a note of it, but Chinese Democracy sold more than a million copies in America and scores more elsewhere. However, if you’re still fixated sometime between 1987 and 1993, then Guns & Roses circa 2012 is probably not for you anyway. Go perm what’s left of your hair and listen to the old stuff…dude.

                   (Paradise City at The Fillmore, February 23, 2012)

Currently on a brief club tour, the band recently played The Fillmore in Silver Spring, MD, and proved that everything you’ve heard about them is true. The tickets said that doors open at 9 p.m. and showtime was 10 p.m. After an underwhelming 35-minute set by Electric Sun – a band conflicted between their indie-rock pretensions (how indie – a chick keyboard player!), CC DeVille guitar licks, and a Johnny Thunders wannabe lead singer with a Joey Ramone coif – the faithful audience and crew waited and waited and waited for an hour and a half before Axl & Co. finally took to the stage at midnight. 

I finally understand why Axl tests the patience (Ha! Get it?) of his fans nightly. Once he does take to the stage, he puts on an epic show and exceeds all your unrealistic expectations. At age 50, the now Ed Hardy-wearing, multiple hat-sporting, Mickey Rourke lookalike still delivers all the maniacal banshee wails and Axl-isms a la 1988. Opening with Chinese Democracy and segueing right into Welcome To The Jungle and It’s So Easy, the pace was set for the rest of the night (technically, morning) with all the songs you wanted to hear from Appetite For Destruction, the epics from Use Your Illusions I and II, and the highlights from Chinese Democracy

As if to prove that G&R is still a band, each member of the band had his own solo spotlight. Whereas most bands’ solo sections are usually meandering noodle-fests, the solos here were actually concise instrumentals highlighting a particular member with the entire band backing him up. Izzy Stradlin/Johnny Thunders doppelganger, guitarist Richard Fortus jammed to the James Bond Theme; ex-Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson sang Motivation; keyboardist Dizzy Reed performed Baba O’Reilly; Sixx A.M moonlighter DJ Ashba played an original, Mi Amor; the entire band jammed to Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2; guitarist Bumblefoot rocked The Pink Panther Theme; and even Axl soloed with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road/Someone Saved My Life Tonight

In classic cavalier fashion, Axl played by no one’s expectations or rules. He showed up when he wanted to, played whatever he wanted to, and for however long he wanted to. Case in point: The band ended its official set at 2 a.m. – Silver Spring’s curfew – with back-to-back epics, Civil War and Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, and Night Train….and then as his mood would dictate, the band played a 75-minute encore of a funk jam, Madagascar, Better, two acoustic jams bookending Patience, before finally ending the night with Paradise City and a red-confetti blizzard.

If you managed to tell your babysitter, kids, wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, boss that you would get home when you damn well felt like it, and stayed to the end of the show, then at 3:15 a.m. you walked out of the Fillmore with the satisfaction and reward of having just witnessed a band at the top of their game. Sentimentality be damned, Guns & Roses circa 2012 is a better band than the original, wasted and highly erratic legends of 1988. 

All that said, I am salivating at the rumor and prospect of the original lineup of Guns & Roses getting up onstage in Cleveland – even if only to pick up their trophies, and not play a single note – in April at the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony. No matter the outcome, it will be high rock & roll drama, indeed.

February 23, 2012

View From The Launch Pad - Ça Va? Magazine

Ça Va? Magazine, debut issue

 Samira Georgi and Amanda Minnie Williams-Vasquez are what you’d call audacious and ambitious.

Together, they have just launched Ça Va?, a glossy, new magazine about arts, fashion, environment, and business innovations. The extent of their audacity and ambition is especially apparent when you consider the corporate-backed competition in similar genres, and at a time when print media is allegedly in the throes of its own slow death.

After attending a splashy launch party recently for the magazine at Ulah Bistro on trendy U Street in DC (and the ladies certainly know how to throw a party for the glitterati), I became interested in learning what sparked their endeavor and where they envision it going – a sort of “view from the launch pad” before the takeoff.

What inspired you to start Ça Va? Magazine?

Before becoming a magazine, Ça Va was a closely-knit circle of creative talents, business innovators, thinkers – any aspiring individual willing to share their our talent, work, and experiences. Getting feedback from people in the same or a different fields helped each of us brainstorm strategies, give and receive advice…but most importantly, feel inspired and energetic about our passions.

We even began receiving requests from people who wanted to be invited to our meetings, and discovered that there are many talented people who want to share their work with the world, but don’t have the platform to do it.

So how does someone become known for their talent, if there’s not anyone to give them a chance to become known?

We decided that we wanted to be that vehicle to promote the ideas and works of talented people – who other publications may have overlooked – with a focus on authentic experiences and insight into any aspect of the human condition, aimed at bettering the spiritual or professional lives of our audience.

Is there a particular niche or demographic that your magazine aims to represent that isn't covered by others (either in print and/or online) - ie., City Paper, Washingtonian, Washington Post Style Section, etc.?

Ça Va? Magazine’s audience is the educated, multicultural individuals who are interested in a variety of subjects and ideas. Our focus is to entertain and inspire readers by profiling not only creators, but also the environment that is being created. The magazine is designed primarily to showcase the diversity of talents among people and businesses in Washington, DC – but also talents from the rest of the world.

According to your Web site, you plan to focus on the arts, fashion, beauty, business innovations, business growth, and environmental and health topics. Can you preview some of the features you're working on for the coming months that can readers expect?

We have a wide range of topics in the works, running the gamut from Holistic Health; Passive House-Energy Efficiency in Buildings; art from Japan; photographers and artists from Washington, DC as well as Russia; a nonprofit organization helping children in Thailand; and event coverage in Washington, DC, and more.

Will you have a core staff or writers, or will the articles/stories be dependent on contributing writers, or syndicated stories?

We have staff writers as well as contributing writers.

Is Ça Va? Magazine going to be strictly print or online as well?

We’ll print quarterly for the first year. However, we’ll place a lot of material on our Web site: http://www.cavamagazine.com/. Our debut issue came out on January 24th.

In the process of launching the magazine, what challenges have you encountered and how have you overcome those challenges?

There are always challenges in any new project. We encounter new challenges almost daily. We are also learning a lot as we work more on the magazine. Our staff is young and highly motivated. With a lot of inherent determination and teamwork, we’ve been able to overcome every challenge that’s come our way.

February 7, 2012

A Different Kind Of Truth....Van Halen Delivers a Monster

A Different Kind Of Truth©2012 Interscope Records

Comeback albums are always problematic and rarely measure up to vintage material.  Reuniting and recording for financial or nostalgic reasons is not a promising recipe for inspired new music.  Even in the rare instance when the new music is undeniable, for most fans, sentimental legend surpasses objective reality.

Perhaps no band faced this seemingly lose-lose challenge more than the original lineup of Van Halen.  As legend would have it, Eddie Van Halen played Eruption note-for-note while simultaneously doing scissor jumps in an alcoholic mania.  Diamond David Lee Roth did Nadia Comaneci (look 'er up, kids) splits off the drum riser, 13 feet up and 28 1/2 feet across the stage - C'mon Dave, gimme a break!  Michael Anthony drank a case of Jack Daniels during his bass solo alone.  Alex Van Halen played the intro to Hot For Teacher in triple time while he set the gong behind him on fire in between beats.  Then there were the albums:  Van Halen, Van Halen II, Women And Children First, Fair Warning, Diver Down, 1984...

In the wake of 28 years of Sam Hagar, Gary Cherone, a Diamond Dave cameo, Sam Hagar again (again!!?!?!?), the mostly schlocky Van Hagar catalogue, and a decade or so of alcoholic oblivion, a comeback album that wasn't a cringe-worthy embarrassment seemed a monumental challenge.

As if Van Halen's challenge weren't daunting enough,  there was also the incessant one-man barrage of public sniping from the band's bitter former singer - you know, the current lead singer of ChickenMcNuggets....

Feb. 8, LA Forum - Final Dress Rehearsal

In the face of all the reasons why a Van Halen album should be a collossal disappointment, the band delivers A Different Kind Of Truth.  Very bluntly, "The new Van Halen album is a FUCKING monster!!!!"

A Different Kind Of Truth seems more a sequel to their first four albums than to Diver Down or the pop-infused 1984.  There aren't as many obvious pop hooks, and it's probably a good thing because otherwise these songs might have sounded more dated than classic.

Performance notes:
  • Ed never played guitar with this consistent level of ferocity during their entire tenure with the current lead singer of ChickenBreast. 
  • Alex Van Halen is predictably precise and comfortable in his role as the Modern Day Ginger Baker. 
  • Perhaps it's a bit of nepotism, but Wolf Van Halen's bass is more prominent in the mix than Michael Anthony's was on all the previous albums.
  • Either Wolf Van Halen plays bass exactly like his father plays guitar...or Papa Ed pulled rank on bass on certain tracks.
  • Diamond Dave REVELS in his return throughout the album.  His enthusiasm is so palpable and infectious that you will not be able to help yourself from grinning ear to ear as you listen.  One more thing:  listen to the lyrics.  Behind the distraction of glitter, zaniness, and Joker's grin is a formidable lyricist with a keen sense of observation and irony. 
Tattoo - ©2012 Interscope Records

Track notes:
  • Tattoo - Solid, pop radio-friendly hello, but given the pace of the rest of the album, it's understandable why some may be underwhelmed initially.
  • She's The Woman - prototypically Mean Street, with its relentless funk groove intact.  Currently my favorite song, with one complaint:  it's too damn short!
  • You And Your Blues - Van Halen lost Michael Anthony, but they didn't lose their trademark harmony vocals (although if Mikey were here, the harmonies probably would've been more prominent in the mix).
  • China Town - This Shy Boy of a track lives in the same turbo-beat part of town where Dave lived with Steve Vai and Billy Sheehan when they used to Eat 'Em And Smile.
  • Blood And Fire - Reminiscent of VH-I and VH-II, complete with Dave's wink and nod to the past: "I told you I'd be back.  Did you miss me?  Say it like you mean it!" 
  • Bullethead - Wailing elephant intro segues into an On Fire/Light Up The Sky-style vibe.
  • As Is - Everybody Wants Some-style tribal drums, mammoth-heavy guitars give way to a Sinners Swing verse and a gang-vocal chorus - G-g-g-get out and push!  Indeed.  
  • Honeybabysweetiedoll - Badness bringing up the rear with menacing minor-key guitar riff,  flanged bass, funky drums, and low-end vocals.  
  •  The Trouble With Never - Heavy, driving funk with oohs and aahs of choruses past and a Barry White-meets-Diamond-Dave interlude to boot.
  • Outta Space - We've found the Atomic Punk circa 2012!
  • Stay Frosty - The Ice Cream Man cometh with a whole lotta mystic popsicles.
  • Big River - Heavy-meets-pop with a melodic outro solo that deserves to be turned into a future song all its own.
  • Beats Workin' - Probably the most Van Halen circa 1977 song in the set with a Feel Your Love Tonight sunny vibe.  All that's missing is a Gazzari's wet t-shirt night, bell bottoms, and roller skates.     
Bottom Line:

A Different Kind Of Truth tips its hat generously to past Van Halen classics, but stands toe to toe with any of the band's pre-1986 vintage albums.  It also makes blatantly obvious that what's been missing in Van Halen's music for the past 26 years - something that all the high-end tequila in Cabo San Lucas and all the Olympic vocal gymnastics that go with it could never duplicate - was a larger-than-life, bigger-than-the-sum-of-its-parts, unique-as-a-fingerprint persona and attitude that only comes from a volatile mix of Diamond Dave and Eddie.

This is Classic Van Halen - period.