Paul Heinz

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Filtering by Tag: Genesis

20 More Desert Island Albums

Thirty down with another twenty below. This list of albums I can’t live without is limited to rock/pop albums, no greatest hits or typical live albums are allowed, and double albums count for two picks unless only two sides are chosen. Here are my first thirty entries, in no particular order:

Kean - Hopes and Fears
Aerosmith - Toys in the Attic
Innocence Mission - Umbrella
Jackson Browne - Standing in the Breach
Lyle Lovett - The Road to Ensenada
Fleetwood Mac - Tusk (sides 1 and 2)
Fleetwood Mac - Tusk (sides 3 and 4)
Radiohead - The Bends
Company of Thieves - Ordinary Riches
Stevie Wonder - Songs in the Key of Life (sides 1 and 2)
The Pursuit of Happiness - Love Junk
Big Country - Peace in our Times
Pink Floyd - The Wall (sides 1 and 2)
Pink Floyd - The Wall (sides 3 and 4)
Randy Newman - Little Criminals
Randy Newman - Bad Love
Bad Examples - Kisses 50¢
Paul Simon - Suprise
Off Broadway - On
Joni Mitchell - Court and Spark
Lloyd Cole - Don’t Get Weird on Me Babe
Phil Collins - Hello, I Must Be Going!
The Who - Quadrophenia (sides 1 and 2)
Gabriel Kahane - Where are the Arms
Supertramp - Crisis? What Crisis?
Supertramp - Breakfast in America
R.E.M. - Automatic for the People
Yes - Close to the Edge
Elton John - Madman Across the Water
Elton John - Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy

Up to speed? Okay - here are my next twenty selections in detail:

Rickie Lee Jones – Rickie Lee Jones (1979).  Wow, what a debut.  I’m not sure how an unknown singer managed to nab Steve Gadd, Dr. John, Randy Newman, Jeff Porcaro, etc. to accompany her, but having first-class musicians to backup your debut sure doesn’t hurt!  Jones’s next two albums are also wonderful, but listening to them front to back, her debut is the standout, with nary a weak track to be found, offering a wide ranging output: playful, nostalgic, desperate, loving and chilling.  “Last Chance Texaco” and “On Saturday Afternoons in 1963” are favorites of mine.  That’s another release from 1979.  More to come!

Pete Townshend – White City: A Novel (1985).  Just a few years post-Who, Townshend returns with an excellent solo effort, a sort of story (though I’ve never followed it) taking place in a section of London in the 60s, Townshend surrounds himself with a terrific cast of musicians and focuses on short, melodic songs without getting too bogged down in the story it’s supposed to tell.  Instead, we’re simply left with a solid set of songs, with “Crashing By Design” the highlight.

Aimee Mann – Music from the Motion Picture Magnolia (1999).  Mann’s first solo effort in 1993 has a few of my favorite tracks ever, but six years later her soundtrack to a film that left my jaw on the floor upon first viewing hits the nail on the head.  Once in a while a soundtrack is so inextricably linked to a movie, the opening chords of a song like “Wise Up” is enough to send chills down the spine and transport one right back to the film.  Mann has such a knack for writing lyrics that so perfectly describe a character, it’s easy to overlook the labor that Mann must expend to finish a song.  Either that or she’s just plain brilliant.  Maybe both.  But this is a great album filled with wonderful characterizations.  The soundtrack also two Supertramp songs and a few other cuts, but the album stands on Mann’s contributions alone.  Jon Brion produces and adds his tasty flavoring throughout.

Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti, Sides 1 and 2 (1975). 

Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti, Sides 3 and 4 (1975).  Funny how some songs grate on you after decades of being overplayed while others sound as fresh and urgent as the first time you heard them.  For me, Led Zeppelin’s sixth album is full of the latter.  I’ve never gotten tired of hearing the ball-busting intro to “Kashmir.  If I were a professional baseball player, that would be my song when I came up to bat.  (Think it’s weird to fantasize about being an MLB player?  Yeah, fair enough.)  “Ten Years Gone” is among the most beautifully-crafted songs ever produced, with Page’s multiple guitar tracks interweaving perfectly into a sublime climax.  With just the right balance of rockers and softer tracks, long and short, blues-based and folk-based, Physical Graffiti is one of the best albums in rock history.

Genesis – A Trick of the Tail (1976).  My favorite Genesis albums have shifted over the years.  Wind and Wuthering and Selling England by the Pound used to be tops, but these days if I am to pick a few albums by one of my top two favorite prog-rock bands, one has to be the first album with Phil Collins on lead vocals.  I’ve never been one of those goofballs who claim that Genesis after Peter Gabriel isn’t worth the time of day.  This album is a kick-ass clinic on all things prog, from shifting time signatures, obscure and fanciful lyrics and deft musicianship, but unlike many bands in this genre, Genesis manages to achieve all the essential elements while crafting beautiful melodies over challenging harmonic structures, with just enough lyrical universality to entrance the listener.  Take “Mad Man Moon,” a preeminent track composed by keyboardist Tony Banks.  I couldn’t tell you exactly what the song means or what Banks intended, but it seems to tell a tale of a man who leaves his loved-one in search of glory, and winds up in a desert, where he keenly observes how no matter where you live, the grass appears to be greener elsewhere.  Nothing miraculous there, but beautifully stated over absolutely sublime chord changes, with a mid-section of subtle percussion and piano.  It’s just a perfect, standout track on a standout album.  Only the unfortunate “Robbery Assault and Battery” keeps this album from being flawless.

Ben Folds Five – Ben Folds Five (1995).

Ben Folds – Rockin’ the Suburbs (2001).  Just like I can’t overstate the importance of Supertramp to the 11 year-old me, I can’t tell you how revitalized my interest in music became when I first heard Ben Folds Five on WXPN, Philadelphia.  Finally, a pianist with edge, wit and chops, with a kick-ass drummer and bass player to boot.  This music influenced my own compositions in a big way, much like Randy Newman had just a few years before.  The debut album holds up oh, so well, and so do the second and third albums, but if I have to choose one from Ben Folds Five, it has to be the one that put them on the map, with “Philosophy,” “Underground” and “Boxing” the highlights.  And a mere six years later, Ben Folds releases an almost perfect solo effort, with some of this most exciting and moving pieces to date.  “Still Fighting It,” “Gone” and “Not the Same” are my favorites.

Marc Cohn – Burning the Daze (1998).  You know him for his pseudo hits, “Walking in Memphis” and “Silver Thunderbird,” and while his debut album is undeniably solid, it’s his third album that grabs me and doesn’t let go.  Oddly, Cohn plays virtually nothing from this release when he performs live, and one gets the feeling that he’s lost all affinity for it.  This collection of songs is deep and dark, delving into the insecurities and baggage that humans carry with them on convoluted paths, with “Lost You in the Canyon” a standout, a song whose lyrics about disconnection from a loved one could be applied to society as a whole twenty years later

Rufus Wainwright – Want One (2003).   To date, this is Wainwright’s crowning achievement, a fifty-eight minute single release absolutely packed with memorable tunes, lush arrangements and lyrics that are utterly empathetic to the human experience.  “I Don’t Know What It Is” is one of my favorites tracks ever, “14th Street” is a gem, and “Dinner and Eight” brings me to tears if I’m in the right sort of mood (or, perhaps, the wrong sort of mood).  Wainwright sometimes aims high and misses the mark – which is entirely forgivable – but with Want One he hits the bulls-eye.  In the age of streaming, you’ll be hard-pressed to hear highly-produced (i.e., expensive) albums like this being recorded anymore.

Sara Bareilles – Kaleidoscope Heart (2010).  Hey, I stand by this, so back off!  Bareilles is ridiculously talented, a pop-melodist extraordinaire, and I love that her lyrics are both vulnerable and strong, providing a great role model for youth and elders alike, male or female, but there’s no denying that she played an important musical role in my daughters’ upbringing.  “Uncharted” and “Let the Rain” are standouts.

Billy Joel – Turnstiles (1976).  I wasn’t aware of just how good an album this is until a few years ago.  I knew all but two of the songs, but hadn’t realize they were all from the same album, self-produced by Billy Joel after relocating back to New York after a stint in LA.  Joel is a consummate lyricist, and the greatest pleasure in listening to his songs – aside from impressive melody – is picking up on lyrics like “Now as we indulge in things refined/We hide our hearts from harder times.”  None of Joel’s albums is perfect, and Turnstiles is no exception, with “All You Want to Do Is Dance” the clunker on Side A, but the other good stuff is so good, I’ll allow it.

Paul McCartney – Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005).  Tug of War and Flowers in the Dirt aren’t nearly as good as I remember them, Back to the Egg is a favorite with just a few too many weak points, Ram may be in vogue with the critics but it really doesn’t measure up, and Band in the Run is undoubtedly a worthy contender, but for me McCartney’s 2005 release is the most solid album from start to finish, and it’s one that speaks to me more lyrically than the nonsensical words on some of his other releases.   I’ve written about Chaos and Creation before, but suffice to say that it’s a great effort with beautiful melodies that are much more complex than they appear to be at first glance.  My one gripe is that I’d love to have more backup vocals – I can actually hear where they should go and what they should be – but producer Nigel Godric opted for a sparser album.

Steely Dan – Gaucho (1980).  Aja is probably their crowning achievement, but I’m kind of tired of the tracks, and I don’t really like “I Got the News.”  Instead, I choose the smooth-jazz follow-up, Gaucho, an album that makes me want to drink a dirty martini in a high-class nightclub.  Polished beyond belief – you can read stories about the lengths that Donald Fagen and Walter Becker went to to get the sounds they wanted – it still breathes humanity and musicianship.  “Babylon Sisters” and the title track are my favorites here.

Joe Jackson – Get Sharp! (1979).  One more from 1979!  Joe Jackson has put out so much great material in so many different genres over four decades, I feel a little bad for picking his very first effort, but there’s simply no denying its magnificence.  From top to bottom, Jackson effuses sarcasm and wit with enough insight and substance to keep it from getting downright cranky, and he wades into the waters of so many different musical feels – the breakdown of the title track, the manic anxiety of “Got the Time,” the reggae feel of “Fools in Love” – that it never gets redundant.  My favorite lyric: “Happy loving couples/in matching white polo-necked sweaters/reading Ideal Homes magazine.”  Fantastic!

Joe Jackson – Blaze of Glory (1989).  Just a decade later Joe put out his most ambitious record to date, the fifty-seven minute-long Blaze of Glory that he played in its entirely when I saw him in September that year.  Each album side plays uninterrupted, beginning with the idealistic outlook of a young man who eventually grows disillusioned and who has to scratch and claw his way to an unsatisfying, but inevitable, consolation.  Bold and beautiful, the only unfortunate aspect of the album is the highly produced and electronically triggered snare and tambourine sounds.  When I saw him live these sounds were prerecorded (or triggered somehow), the drummer literally avoiding playing the snare.  It sure was the 80s!  I found this album on vinyl a few years ago for something like $8 and was ecstatic.

The Hush Sound – Like Vines (2006).  I was turned onto this band after some of its members who attended my town’s local high school rehearsed in my neighbor’s garage, but this isn’t some homer fascination with a local band.  The Hush Sound is serious shit, having produced three albums and gone onto do other musical projects both individually and together.  With a beautiful melding of male vocalist Bob Morris and female vocalist Greta Salpeter, the band produced fabulous dynamic changes from sweet piano waltzes to ballsy guitar rockers and was on regular rotation throughout much of my children’s upbringing.  Greta’s voice and influence grew as the band went on (she was all of 17 when the first album was recorded), but it’s this second album that balances both singers’ influences in perfect harmony.  I see on-line and on Spotify that “Wine Red” has been remixed into a positively horrendous dance tune, a black spot for anyone with musical taste.  If you take the jump, find the original CD avoid this egregious affront to music lovers.

Simple Minds – Once Upon a Time (1985).  Two years before The Joshua Tree, I felt like this Scottish band was accomplishing what U2 was still hoping to achieve: a consistent, powerful album with mass appeal and a unifying sound.  One Upon a Time is nearly perfect, with each of the first five tracks absolute juggernauts.  When they performed “Ghost Dancing” at Live Aid in Philadelphia, I’m not sure the American audience quite knew how blessed they were.  The band’s next album, Street Fighting Years, a whopping four years after, was such a disappointment, it gets my vote for worst follow-up to a magnum opus ever.

10,000 Maniacs – In My Tribe (1987).  This could have gone either way: the band’s 1987 release or its last with singer/songwriter Natalie Merchant, Our Time in Eden.  The latter packs more punch in parts, but the former album marked a clear delineation for me when I purchased it at Tower Records on Mass Ave in Boston instead of Toto’s seventh album.  I chose something new, something progressive, instead of the usual fair I’d been accustomed to.  I’ve never turned my back entirely on classic rock bands, but this purchase opened the door to Elvis Costello, Innocense Mission, and on and on.  This is a terrific release.  I’m ashamed to say – or maybe the U.S. education system should be ashamed – that I didn’t know who Jack Kerouac was in 1987, so that upon hearing the second song on the album – my favorite – I didn’t know who or what Merchant was singing about.  I just knew it was good.  Just as this album opened up musical doors, it also opened up literary doors, as On the Road was soon part of my library.

James Taylor – Never Die Young (1988).  James Taylor is an American treasure, but he’s laid a few eggs in his time, and few of his albums are terrific from front to back.  I thought I might pick Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon, but then returned to a tried and true album that I listen to regularly: Never Die Young.  Aside from the fact that I have a personal relationship with this album – my wife and I danced our first dance as a married couple to “Sweet Potato Pie” – there’s just a lot here to like: the quirky “Valentine’s Day” that I fondly recall Taylor playing it at a concert back in 1996, and an ostensibly silly song like “Sun on the Moon” that’s actually quite poignant, speaking to the rat race that many of us choose to engage in.  The only tune I could do without is the last on the album, “First of May,” which is kind of ironic, as this track was the sole representative of the album on JT’s most recent tour.  Go figure.  Probably played better live.

So there you are! One more entry and I’ll be finished with my list of albums I can’t live without. Stay tuned as we ramp up into the new year.

What Genesis Should Have Become

In 1997, while my wife and I tried to figure out how to take care of a pair of week-old infants, a little album by a big band was released: Calling All Stations by Genesis. Phil Collins had announced a year earlier that he was leaving the band, and upon hearing the news I was as excited as I was surprised. I was, and still am, an unabashed fan of the Collins-era Genesis – you’ll get no “there is no Genesis without Peter Gabriel” rant from me – but I also felt like Collins’s absence provided an opportunity for keyboardist Tony Banks to really shine again the way he had from the mid-70s to the early 80s. Banks was the glue that held the whole band together anyhow in my opinion, so it mattered little if a different singer joined the group, and I felt that Genesis had taken the pure pop element of its journey about as far as it could go. It was time to redirect, not only musically, but as a live act. Time to go back to mid-sized theaters and reinvent a set list that had become somewhat stale.

I had reason to be optimistic, as just five years earlier Banks had released a solo album that – predictably – went nowhere, but was so damn good that I couldn’t wait for him to release similar material under the Genesis moniker. His 1992 release, Still, is a gem, and I was practically giddy when I found a used vinyl copy for six dollars last summer.  

(note: many websites state that Still was released in 1991, and the album itself is copyrighted that year, but I stand by Amazon’s April 14, 1992 release date as I distinctly remember listening to the album while working at Musicland in Brookfield, Wisconsin that spring. Then again, my memory has been known to fail me.)

Still may not be a perfect album – it has an unfortunate sax solo in the opening track – but for a project that recruited five different singers it’s unexpectedly consistent, all the while accommodating Banks’s flare for unpredictable harmonic changes within songs that are largely “pop” in essence. Take tracks like “Red Day on Blue Street” or “I Wanna Change the Score," both co-written by Nik Kershaw of “Wouldn’t It Be Good” fame. Both songs have a pop feel to them, but their chord changes are worlds away from simple I, IV, V progressions. Making the complex accessible is a gift that Banks had been cultivating for twenty years – ever try learning the song “Me and Sarah Jane”? How he came up with those changes boggles the mind – and Still is a great addition to that trend, as he combines pop elements, darker themes (“Angel Face”) complex ballads (“Still It Takes Me By Surprise”) and a touch of prog rock (“Another Murder of a Day”) into one surprisingly strong album.

Four years later, Banks and fellow Genesis alum Mike Rutherford were in need of a new singer, and since Kershaw had made such a great contribution both vocally and compositionally to Still, I wonder now if he was ever considered. It would have been an interesting call. Instead, they recruited Ray Wilson, who did a fine job with the material on Calling All Stations, but the material was unfortunately week. By the time Wilson joined the band, Rutherford and Banks had already co-written an entire album’s worth of music, and the songs are light-years away from what Banks had recorded just a half a decade earlier. It’s a dark, plodding, lifeless mess with embarrassing lyrics and nary a hook to be found. It’s also a whopping sixty-seven minutes long! Why Banks and Rutherford thought that after hiring a new singer their fans would enjoy being overwhelmed with over an hour’s worth of music is a question for the ages.

To make matters worse, Genesis planned a massive tour of large venues as if nothing had changed in the intervening years since the last tour. Banks later said in the book, Genesis: Chapter and Verse, “We started downsizing the venues. We were getting sales in places like Columbus, Ohio…of twenty tickets. We had to cancel the US leg of the tour.”

And the tour they did perform in Europe included the foolhardy decision to perform tracks that were inextricably linked to the band's former singer: songs like “Land of Confusion,” “Hold on my Heart,” “Mama” and “Follow You, Follow Me.” This was a missed opportunity, as a better call would have been to perform songs that hadn’t been performed before or hadn’t been in years. I believe that Wilson would have sounded great on tracks like “Blood on the Rooftops,” “Deep in the Motherlode” and “Man of Our Times.” Instead he had to sing “Invisible Touch.” What were they thinking?

Rutherford has admitted that the new lineup needed time to cultivate. In 2007 he said to Innerviews, "I'm aware of how we could have improved the next album. I would have brought in someone else to co-write with us. I think Calling All Stations was lacking in some areas, so I think the second album would have been much better."

That may be so, but the reality is that Genesis already had the tools needed to make a good album. They had Banks. And Banks should have been the driving force with the possible aid of a singer with a pop sensibility like Nik Kershaw. Unfortunately, the new lineup never got a chance for a sophomore effort. By the late 90s Rutherford and Banks weren’t so keen on releasing an album every other year and touring in between. They were well into their forties with families and it was time to pull the plug.

But Still is “still” in my regular rotation, and one can only wonder what might have been had Banks and Rutherford gone a different direction back in 1997.

The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock

David Weigel’s book The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock traces the arc of a semi-vague movement in rock history, devoting a good deal of space to the usual suspects of Yes, Genesis, Rush, Emerson Lake and Palmer, King Crimson, etc., while highlighting various bands who may have fallen under the radar for some listeners (me, for instance). If nothing else, the book provides a jumping off point to discover new music, but unless you’ve already submerged wholeheartedly into the waters of 20-minute long epics, this book will not wade you in gradually via the shallow end and let you get used to the temperature. You’re getting thrown into the deep end and will likely drown.

Weigel doesn’t hand-hold, so that when he delves into the history of chaps named Daevid Allen and Robert Wyatt – two people I had never heard of – he doesn’t give the reader the benefit of context. In the hands of a better writer, I would have expected a brief “…who would later form Soft Machine…” No such luck. Mercifully, a few pages later he applies this technique for Michael Giles, as “…the future drummer of King Crimson.”

But until the Weigel anchors the reader firmly in the 1970s and the bands that gained traction, the book is a bit of a mess, devoting a page to one band, then a page to another, so that it’s hard to find one’s bearings. The promising prologue is the only thing that kept me turning the page at first, but once we reached 1970, I was all in, finishing the book in just over a day (which, for me, is quite an accomplishment).

Once again, I had my handy streaming service next to me throughout the reading of this book, playing hours of music to see if any music struck a chord. Recognizing that I didn’t give compositions the same chance I would have had I shelled out $7.99 for an LP in 1980, here are some of my hasty conclusions:

1)     I hadn’t considered Procol Harum a prog rock band, and really, I hadn’t considered them at all. But after streaming through half an album, I’ve decided that I need to investigate them more fully (I'm listening to them as I write this blog). Aside from their breakout hit, “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” I have no clue, but I like what I’ve heard thus far.

2)     The funnest fact I learned was that the vocal/organ line of Yes’s 20-minute epic “Ritual” was sampled for a song by De La Soul called “The Grind Date.” Now THAT was something Jon Anderson couldn’t have foreseen back in 1973 as critics were panning the double album, Tales from Topographic Oceans (one of Yes’s best).

3)     The prog rock bands that hit the big time were likely the best, so give a hand to the masses for taste. I listened for a while to Soft Machine, Van der Graaf Generator, Gong, etc., and more modern bands like Porcupine Tree and Dream Theater, and none of them grabbed me.

4)     Given the inclusion of Gong, I was surprised that 10cc wasn’t given a brief shout-out, as the quirky nature of the music is similar. Styx too is mentioned only in passing on page 214, a little surprising given the content of their first several albums.

5)     Two additional bands that I’d like to investigate more are Hatfield and the North, and Gentle Giant. My ears perked up for both and I’ll need to add them to the list along with Procol Harum.

6)     A great deal of space is devoted to Robert Fripp, from his King Crimson output to his work with Brian Eno, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel and Daryl Hall, and I found both the man and his music to be insufferable. I’m not a fan of Bowie’s Heroes and Gabriel’s second album, and last night I listened to the Daryl Hall release Sacred Songs – terrible. And then I found a King Crimson concert recorded just last June from the Chicago Theater – a concert I actually considered going to until I learned that neither Bill Bruford nor Adrian Belew would be on stage – and I’m so glad I saved my cash. Aside from the song “Three of a Perfect Pair,” I guess I’m simply not a Fripp fan.

7)     As a vinyl purchaser, I’ve occasionally had a Jethro Tull album in hand before placing it back in the record bin (they tend to be pricey). After listening to Thick as a Brick in its entirety, I think I’m going to pass on this band. Aside from a few songs, they aren't my cup of tea. However, I have to give Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull a bit of a shout-out, as his 1980 description of why prog rock went out of favor is spot on:

Ten years ago, there was a great deal more flexibility and freedom both in radio programming and in terms of the record company policy, as to what they would take a chance on.

I agree, but the rise of the Internet and home recording studios of course changes all of that. As connoisseurs we can listen to anything we want whenever we want, and I imagine that aside from the terrible metrics that Pandora uses to crap out the same old shit time and time again, there has got to be access to interesting, innovative music at everyone’s fingertips. The trick is finding it. If I put in a Yes song in Pandora and press play, I’ll get the usual Genesis, Kansas, Styx and Rush – nothing that exposes me to interesting bands I’ve never heard of, including many of the bands explored in Weigel’s book. But I suspect if I were 20 years-old and cared more, I would find the music I was longing for.

For the time being, I’m going to go backward and explore some of the bands I missed the first time around. And then I’m going to put on Close to the Edge. Because really, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Spicy: 8 Band in 4 Weeks

If variety is the spice of life the last month was particularly spicy for me. 

A few years ago I played with a drummer who performed very similar setlists between two different bands, adding the difficulty of having to recall the slight variations between the two, be it tempos, endings, extended solos, etc. In the past four weeks I’ve played with eight different bands, but I had the luxury (and also the curse) of having virtually no crossover between the various acts. That didn’t keep me from making countless mistakes, but at least the endings were unique!

August 19: my regular gig with Second Time Around.

August 19: a 50 minute setlist of a makeshift funk band playing tunes from The Commodores, Stevie Wonder, Patti Labelle, KC and the Sunshine Band, Kool and the Gang, etc.

August 20: a two hour rehearsal of Genesis tribute music that didn’t lead to a live performance but did require something close to twenty hours of preparation. I can tell you that Tony Banks continues to be my musical hero, as not only do his composition skills never fair to impress, but the keyboard part to “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” kicked me in the ass.

August 25: a gig with The Ripleys, a classic rock band that usually plays as a power trio but added keyboards for this particular performance.  Great time, and it forced me to learn how to play “Tempted” by Squeeze, a pop song with surprisingly complex chord changes.

August 27: my regular church gig at Elmhust Prebyterian.

Sept 1: my regular gig with Block 37.

Sept 2: a duo performance with Ken Slauf playing mostly light rock such as Van Morison, Elton John, Marc Cohn, The Beatles, etc.

September 16: for the third year in a row, a reunion gig with my old high school band, I ON U, playing mostly 80s rock tunes.

During these four weeks I performed something close to 150 distinct songs. In a few months I'll probably be hard-pressed to remember how to play any of them, but for a brief month I had a monster repertoire! It was great fun.

Now it’s back to normal during the non-summer months as my various acts struggle to find a gig here and there, but given my recent schedule I think I’m okay with that.  Sometimes after a run of spicy meals, a bland one isn’t so bad.

Peter Gabriel and Sting at Milwaukee's Summerfest

When I saw Peter Gabriel and Sting perform at the Marcus Amphitheater in ’87 and ’88, respectively, to imagine seeing them perform together 29 years later with my adult twin girls (and my sister!) in attendance would have been way too bizarre to contemplate. I could barely be expected to attend class on a regular basis much less successfully raise two children (and now very close on the third). How cool that both musicians are still around on tour, but cooler still that they managed to pull off a very entertaining and fulfilling show as a double bill. It could have been oh so lame, but it was anything but.

Though the stars shared the number of songs performed, I couldn’t help but think that this was a Peter Gabriel show with Sting in tow, and I have to give credit to Mr. Sumner for being such a gracious musician on stage. Gabriel opened with “Rhythm of the Heat,” a track I never expected to hear live in my lifetime, and the power exhibited during the finale of the tune was such that even Sting’s powerhouse “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You” that followed sounded thin by comparison. That’s not a knock on Sting. That’s a recognition that when it comes to majestic, heartfelt performances, Gabriel likely has no equal. 

Following the two opening numbers, Gabriel, after a joking reference to the body shapes of the two singers (yeah, Sting wins, and beats just about every male in attendance), announced that the bands and the stars themselves would commingle throughout the evening. Up to fourteen musicians graced the stage, with several staying put for most of the show while others exited and entered or combined, and not always with allegiance to their usual band. From where I was sitting, I at first thought that Sting was handling all the bass parts, but then from behind a large pole that obstructed part of the stage, I saw the unmistakable silhouette of Tony Levin as Gabriel began 1992’s “Digging in the Dirt,” and my girls were equally thrilled to see David Rhodes, the guitarist they loved watching on the Secret World Live DVD that was on constant rotation during much of their early childhood.

Sting surprisingly eschewed much of his stronger solo tracks in favor of his Police catalog, focusing on several deeper cuts, including “Invisible Sun,” “Driven to Tears” “Englishman In New York,”and “Walking in your Footsteps,” and as cool as it was to hear those songs, when held up against Gabriel’s “Red Rain,” “San Jacinto” and “Secret World,” they didn't have the same impact. All told, only six Sting solo numbers were performed, with Gabriel taking the reins on a Beck-inspired “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free.” It would have been cool to hear a few others (“I Hung My Head,” anyone?), but again, to Sting’s credit, he leaned on several tunes that he knew would please the crowd, including the overplayed but still pretty damn fun “Message in a Bottle,” and “Roxanne,” the latter morphing into a lovely verse of the Bill Withers tune, “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone,” the only song not penned by either of the evening’s stars.

The most surprising inclusion of the night was Sting’s brief cover of “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight,” a track from the Peter Gabriel-led Genesis catalog that the original singer has avoided for decades. I find it odd that Gabriel is unwilling to give a gentle nod to his prog-rock past while still playing old songs like “Solsbury Hill” and “Games Without Frontiers,” but oh well, Sting took it upon himself to get the job done!

As strong as most of performances were, the weakest tune of the evening by far was Gabriel's "Love Can Heal," a new track written for the recently slain Jo Cox. Perhaps this tune would have worked better in a different setting, but to me it simply isn't a good song, and I also found it interesting that Gabriel played not one note from his album Up, another example of how underwhelming the exceedingly nonprolific composer's songs have been since his album Us.

I admit I was moved to tears during two numbers: first, the booming climax of “San Jacinto,” the song Gabriel opened up with when I saw him back in 1987 as a wee 19 year-old, the same age my daughters will be in a month’s time – this was simply too much for me to handle; and then again on the climax of “Don’t Give Up,” a song I don’t particularly care for, and yet again, the song conjured up a complexity of emotions that went way beyond the song itself.  Perspective matters with these things.  Hearing Paul McCartney sing “Yesterday” means so much more today than it meant three decades ago, and a sixty-six year old Gabriel singing “Whatever may come/and whatever may go/That river’s flowing” meant more to this nearly-fifty year-old writer last night than it did in 1987.

That river’s flowing, indeed.

Copyright, 2017, Paul Heinz, All Right Reserved