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Rock n’ Roll ain’t dead (just yet)!

Slash

It’s 2011, a time when mainstream Pop music, Hip Hop and R&B continue to rule the charts along with a small, non-threatening helping of polite rock music such as Coldplay to keep company. But it seems like old school hard rock or even guitar oriented classic rock is still not completely dead, despite gasping for breath underneath the weight of your Lady Gagas, Justin Biebers, Katy Perrys and Black Eyed Peas.

There has been a handful of rock albums in the recent past and they have not all been duds either. Neither do they come off as embarrassing attempts to reclaim some long lost glory. The most recent one is ‘Wasting Light’ by Foo Fighters. The Foo Fighters have of course been kind of a mainstream rock band throughout, winning Grammys, being played on MTV and so on… sorry MTV doesn’t play music, my bad. Anyway, you get the point. This latest album though, sounds like it was created to win back old fans. It is a pretty tight set of songs that rock as hard as anything on their first or second albums. Apparently, it was literally recorded in Dave Grohl’s garage as opposed to the band’s studio. As a result, the album sounds rawer than usual and rocks harder than most made-for-the-charts hit singles nowadays. Good for them! Personally, I liked most of the album, not all of it. But it is such a refreshing change to hear brutal hard rock and punk riffs in an era of inane lyrics and candy coated melodies.

Then there was Slash’s album last year… Who?… That’s right! Slash of Guns n’ Roses fame came back, believe it or not! After releasing only a couple of albums with his own band Snakepit over a period of 15 years or so, he came back in 2010 with a self titled album filled with guest singers galore! And it is a really nice effort, I must say. I have to admit something embarrassing here. I only even heard of this album recently, because I was Google-searching and wondering if the old curly haired, top hat wearing rock n’ roll stud was up to anything at all. The best thing about this album (titled ‘Slash’ with subtitle R&FN’R for obvious reasons) is that the guy has managed to bring vocalists as varied as Ozzy Osbourne, Chris Cornell and Lemmy to Fergie, Adam Levine and Kid Rock all under one roof; and the end result does not sound like a discordant mess at all. I never thought I would say this, to be honest, but Fergie actually sounds totally badass on this record! The same cannot be said for the weirdly un-manly voice of Maroon 5’s Adam Levine but it doesn’t matter. The whole package along with Slash’s guitar actually sounds halfway decent. Heck, this album definitely sounds more cohesive than Chinese Democracy by Guns… I mean, Axl and his huge posse.

Then, moving on to classic rock, we had R.E.M. earlier this year delivering a damn good and cheerful album in ‘Collapse Into Now’. It contained just about the best mix of old and new sounds that one can realistically expect from this geriatric band of nerdy college rockers at this point in their career. Roughly two years before that (God! Has it been that long already??), their more-mainstream musical brothers, U2 put out yet another album that sounded excellent on the first few listens but in hindsight showed that Bono & Co continue to straddle that fence between reliving former glories and staying relevant for today’s kids.

But I digress. Surely, somebody like Slash coming out with an album in 2010 is much more news-worthy than bands like U2 and R.E.M. which have more or less been on the radar over the last 15 years or so. Oh, and I forgot Metallica’s ‘Death Magnetic’ from 2008. Anyway, my overall point remains. Old school ‘rawk’ music is still alive and kicking and I couldn’t be happier. 😉

U2 360 Tour in Johannesburg – Literally larger than life!

This is a late entry but I have finally decided to write about my recent U2 concert experience. It was my 3rd time seeing them live after catching them twice on the Vertigo tour in 2005. U2 has always been my favourite band growing up and there was a time in the 90’s when I was completely obsessed with them. In the 2000’s they lost me a bit with their back-to-basics approach which arguably ended up sounding too conservative and seemed like they weren’t pushing their creative limits enough. Nonetheless, I enjoy all of their albums in varying degrees. The best aspect about them in this late stage of their career is that, they create one hell of an awesome live concert experience! The night of 13th February 2011 was no different.

First of all, I couldn’t believe that U2 had finally decided to come to South Africa again, after almost 13 years! When I left the US in 2009, I did not have much hope of catching their live show again anytime soon. In recent memory, the band has not performed outside the Americas, Europe, Australasia and Japan. So when the announcement came that the 360 degrees tour was coming to SA, I was both delighted and surprised. Last year’s successful FIFA world cup here had perhaps left a good impression on their minds.

Anyway, it was an excellent show with great performances of their all-time classic songs like ‘Beautiful Day’, ‘I Will Follow’, ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’, ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’, ‘Pride’, ‘One’, ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, ‘Vertigo’, ‘With Or Without You’ and several others. They even included a couple of obscure ones from their catalogue, namely ‘Miss Sarajevo’ and ‘Scarlet’ in a fresh new instrumental version; plus songs such as ‘Until The End Of The World’, ‘Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me’ and the recent ‘Moment Of Surrender’ which are all both lyrically and musically brilliant! As for that huge claw-shaped spaceship of a set, I just do not know how to describe the wide-eyed awesomeness of the light shows it created! It was pretty much the best concert stage lighting I have ever seen! And I’d like to think that I have seen a fair bit of big name rock acts, like Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Radiohead, Green Day and Metallica among others. At the risk of sounding like a total U2 geek but trying my best to be as unbiased as possible, I have to say that the 360 tour set was the best I have seen since U2’s own Vertigo tour which was absolutely stunning! Of course, I have not seen Pink Floyd live and judging from their ‘Pulse’ dvd, that would be an otherworldly experience of its own. So overall from U2’s side, the concert was amazing and exceeded all my expectations.

The venue had some problems though. Parking at FNB Stadium (formerly Soccer City) was a mess with attendants having no clue where to direct people with the Park n Walk tickets. The beer and beverage queues were too long due to an insufficient number of vending clerks. To make things worse, they had this system where one had to stand in line to get tokens first and then stand in another line to get the drinks, using said tokens. The problem was that the person issuing the tokens was clueless about the price of certain drinks. So basically we had to almost guess how much it would be and get a good number of tokens to be on the safe side. That was completely ridiculous! And I heard that the women’s toilets were not very clean. The men’s ones were thankfully fine. Otherwise, to mention something positive here, the cops did a great job directing traffic out of the stadium area after the gig was over.

Despite being packed to the gills with a 98,000 strong audience, I felt that the crowd was not lively enough for a rock show of this magnitude. So many people around us were sitting down for the major part of the show! Why would you sit down at a rock concert??? This is not opera! Some people around me did get up and started singing along or dancing to the big chorus songs but this was mostly not the case. Even if somebody did not know any songs, they could have at least got up and danced around or done something that shows that they are happy they came! Anyway, thankfully this did not ruin our personal enjoyment or participation at this awesome show.

Here are some photos: