Monday, September 30, 2013

RECORD REVIEW: Kings of Leon "Mechanical Bull"

Mechanical Bull
(RCA Records) 

After a three-year 
break, those fun-
loving Followill 
boys are back with 
their latest effort — 
a record that was 
well worth the wait.

I recall first reading about an exciting new southern rock / blues  hybrid from Tennessee in the pages of Rolling Stone back in 2003 — I was intrigued. They were unlike any other band at the time. In fact, Kings of Leon were so cool and unique that I was baffled by how they could have gotten signed at all —  especially given that this was during the height of Britney mania.

Their first three records, Youth & Young Manhood ('03), Aha Shake Heartbreak ('04) and Because of the Times ('07) were rootsy, raw and oozed mystique. But although they were embraced  immediately abroad, Kings of Leon just couldn't seem to sneak into America's rock and roll "champagne room."

I saw Kings of Leon live during the 2005 Aha Shake Heartbreak tour. At the time, the band's chart presence was less than impressive. Hence, I was shocked by the sold-out crowd that night at Orlando's House of Blues. I remember it well — there was me, a creepy-looking guy named Antoine — and 2,998 screaming chicks! Despite the rather alterno sound of their records, live, they were as edgy and high-energy as AC/DC circa 1979. By the encore it was crystal clear to me that these kids were rock stars and it would be just a matter of time before they became huge.

I would wager a guess that it was "do or die" for the Kings by the time they released their fourth record, Only by the Night, in 2008. Frontman Caleb Followill seemingly had been persuaded to hang up his trademark marble-mouth vocal style for one (slightly) more audible. Hmm, add a little enunciation to a fistful of snappy tunes and voilĂ ! — a platinum-seller was born!

Kings of Leon - 2013

Kings of Leon certainly hadn't gone Journey-O-Styxwagon. However, "Sex on Fire" and "Use Somebody" were monster-sized pop hits. As a result, they finally were discovered by an infinite glut of middle-aged cover bands who systematically bludgeoned those poor songs to death — nearly squelching my passion for the band in the process.

Although 2010's Come Around Sundown failed to deliver any American chart-busting hit singles, it did achieve gold-plus status. And for me, "Mary," "The Immortals" and "Back Down South" were just a few of the glorious moments that helped to create a record even more satisfying than its predecessor. 

One key to the Kings' quality output over the years is that they've been dealing consistently from the same deck. In 2013, the Followill brothers: frontman / guitarist Caleb Followill, drummer Nathan Followill, bassist Jared Followill  and (cousin) guitarist Matthew Followill once again have joined forces with longtime producer / songwriter Angelo Petraglia to create Mechanical Bull — a record that offers the band's signature factory features while also providing that "new car" smell.

"Supersoaker," the radio-friendly lead single, kicks off the record with a southern-fried bang.

Aside from simply being a great rock band, Kings of Leon always has en- gaged fans with compelling lyrics — powerful and personal stories. And in that regard, "Rock City" stands boldly alongside many of the band's most popular staples.


I was running through the
desert - I was looking for drugs.
And I was searching for a 
woman who was willing to love.
(from "Rock City")

In a similar vein as "Red Morning Light" (2003), "Don't Matter" recaptures the raw, nut-busting honesty of the band's first record and serves as one of Bull's shining beacons. Additionally, the Joshua Tree-flavored "Beautiful War" and the recent Starbucks / iTunes freebie, "Temple," are also mighty nuggets.

But Kings of Leon is also a riff-oriented band and the catchy main riff of "Wait for Me" strikes a (very) close resemblance to "Dysfunctional Family" — the 1995 track from Florida's former hardcore kingpins, Dead Serios.

From command and conquer to the subsequent breakup and makeup, much of the band's focus is (as usual) — chicks. And of that ilk, the groovy, bass-driven, guaranteed audience participation sing-along, "Family Tree" and the more subtle and ambient "Comeback Story" represent some of the tastier tracks. 

I am your family tree - I know 
your A to ZThis is a secret 
proposition, lay your hands 
on me. Nothing to talk about 
darling, it's all make-believe. I
see your hands are shaking, but
my heart is breaking me down.
(from "Family Tree")

Despite recent YouTube clips of its member's onstage rock star meltdowns, Mechanical Bull presents Kings of Leon in top-form (at least in the studio) and showcases the band as one that likely still has some tread on its tires.

-Christopher Long
(September 2013)

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

CONCERT REVIEW: The Safety Fire - Orlando, FL (9.17.13)

The Safety Fire 
Orlando, FL (9.17.13)

When I saw The Safety Fire 
perform at a club in Orlando 
on their first tour in 2012, 
I was less than impressed. 
Actually, I thought that 
they SUCKED!

In 2012 the band was on tour supporting their debut record, Grind the Ocean, as an opening act for Protest the Hero. And pinned against co-opener, Periphery, I perceived The Safety Fire merely as another garden variety, whiplash-speed screamo band with gymnast-like guitar work. But what a difference a year makes. As I recently began scoping out selected advance YouTube cuts from their (then unreleased) 2013 sophomore release, Mouth of Swords, I noticed a distinct musical evolution. Hey, these sound like songs!

Okay, in all fairness, perhaps I should have allowed The Safety Fire defense team an opportunity to fully present their case before passing judgment. But a band's level of suckdom can only truly be measured on stage. So my son and I ventured out again recently see the band when they returned to Orlando — as an opening act for Between the Buried and Me. And this time, The Safety Fire stood out like a rose among thorns. 

Joaquin Ardiles 
Lori Peri
For starters, I was rather surprised to discover bassist Lori Peri and drummer Calvin Smith personally manning the band's merch table — meeting, greeting, taking money, checking off inventory lists — the whole shebang. Not only was I impressed by their grassroots level of dedication, but my son is likely the world's most ardent Safety Fire fan. Hence, for him to walk through the front door of the venue and immediately be face to face with his heroes, had him nearly wetting himself. In short order, we made our way to the stage, as anything less than a front row spot simply would be unacceptable  to my kid.

The paralyzing thump from the sub woofers hidden beneath the Plaza Live stage was powerful enough to render me sterile, when The Safety Fire took the stage at precisely 7:30PM — kicking off its animated, high-energy show with "Yellowism," a golden nugget from Mouth of Swords. In fact, the lion's share of the 30-minute set was culled from the band's latest record. 

Sean McWeeney
Frontman Sean McWeeney (that name kinda makes me giggle) was charismatic and engaging, apprising the early birds that this was only the band's second time performing in Orlando and further commenting that they looked forward to coming back.

Today's metal music genre certainly has "evolved" since the golden era of  British Steel, Lovedrive  and Piece of Mind. Hard-driving, hook-laden bands have all been replaced by a slew of angry prog rockers who use such terms as "percussive mathematics" to define their music. Hence, melody seemingly has become a guilty pleasure that's reserved for only Bieber and Gaga disciples. But sometimes punch and style can be acceptable trade-outs for hooks and melody. And in that regard, The Safety Fire proved to be a monstrous, unified force — a band that I dare say occasionally borders on fun. GASP! The blistering duel guitar work of Joaquin Ardiles and Derya "Dez" Nagle was stunning as they decimated such newer fan faves as "Old Souls" and "Glass Crush," while Calvin Smith punished his kit throughout with machine-like precision.

My son, Jesse Long, with Lori 
and Calvin from The Safety Fire.
However, as the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. This particular show was owned by the headliner, and headliners typically don't afford openers much in terms of stage production. As a result, The Safety Fire set out to rock under minimal lighting — which was particularly amusing because even in the dark, they were still, hands-down, the most engaging and entertaining band of the night.

Within the span of half an hour, I finally was sold on The Safety Fire. Simply put, I'm now a fan. And as the band wrapped up its set with "Huge Hammers" from Grind the Ocean and "Red Hatchet" from Mouth of Swords, it occurred to me that I'd already gotten my money's worth on this show. In fact, it would be anti-climactic for the other bands even to take the stage after them. And in hindsight, I was right.

-Christopher Long
(September 2013)

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Monday, September 16, 2013


Simply Outrageous!

From the backstreets
on Florida's beaches to
center stage at extreme
motor events — from 
the small screen to the 
big screen — from the
wrestling ring to the red
carpet — the creations of
Parker Brothers Concepts
push the envelope and 
raise eyebrows.

Life as the "Show Biz Guru" is rarely boring. I never know from day to day where I'm going to wind up or what fascinating people I'm going to meet.

"Dude, I'm headed to Parker Brothers Concepts at 1:00 this afternoon," engineer Damion Johnson announced in short order upon calling me the other morning. "You wanna come along?"

"Heck yeah!" was my immediate response. "Can I bring my camera?"

"No problem," he assured me. "Those guys are totally cool."

One of their most outrageous creations, 
PBC designed and built THE SHREDDER for 
the 2012 Hollywood premier of BATTLESHIP.
Brothers Marc and Shanon Parker both had relocated from Greenville, South Carolina to Florida's Space Coast by 2005. Sharing a passion for the extreme, they launched their custom vehicle operation, Parker Brothers Concepts, in 2010. With their bold, Dream Big  Build Bigger philosophy, PBC quickly developed an impeccable reputation throughout the industry and in 2012, their reality TV series, Dream Machines debuted on the SyFy Network.

PBC shop foreman Ron Sarnes discussing 
design plans with engineer Damion Johnson.
Dream Machines  gives viewers an up-close and personal behind-the-scenes look at PBC's day-to-day operations — taking fantasy vehicles from TV, movies and comic books and bringing them into the real world. Some of the show's most compelling episodes feature PBC's celebrity clients such as chart-busting rap person 50 Cent and reigning wrestling superstar John Cena.

The future of law enforcement?
Maybe I should re-think my career options.
For a guy like me who grew up in a motorcycle family with an auto-crazed  dad who seemingly was always in the garage tinkering, customizing and restoring, my visit to the PBC facility was an amazing experience. The enormous warehouse looked exactly how I remembered seeing it on TV, and it was packed to the rafters with outrageous creations in various stages of development.

"Our plates are darn 
full, for sure."
-Marc Parker 

With a penchant for big wheels and a goal of becoming Hollywood's "go-to guys," Shanon is the Chief Designer for Parker Brothers Concepts, while Marc is the Engineering Specialist who assumes the rather daunting task of taking Shanon's Turbo Teen-inspired fantasies and making them functional realities — an engaging television dynamic to be sure.

 This sweet little ride was used in the Gumball 3000.
Everyone at PBC was extremely cool, hospitable and gracious. And I got the distinct impression that, as portrayed on Dream Machines, this is a family.

There was a buzz of behind-the-scenes activity during my visit, with most of the staff holed up for a time in a backroom meeting. Yet I was allowed total unsupervised access to the joint. "Take as many pictures as you want," I was told. Wow — extremely cool indeed!

Me with the Parker brothers and 
their infamous "Green Machine."
As Damion and I were leaving, Marc and Shanon managed to squeeze in a few minutes to come out, say "hello" and pose for a few photos. While Marc and I briefly discussed their overwhelming current schedule, he mused that their next project would be a custom-built time machine. Hey, "Never say it can't be done!" 

-Christopher Long
(September 2013)



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Saturday, September 14, 2013

KISS: The Infamous Solo Albums Turn 35

The Infamous Solo 
Albums Turn 35

YIKES! 35 years ago this
week Casablanca Records
released the infamous KISS
solo albums. Just another
milestone anniversary to
help make us KISS freaks
all feel little bit older.

1978 — it seems like just yesterday. I was a starry-eyed 15-year old kid working at the neighborhood record store — living my life according to the ministry of the four Apostles: PeterPaulGene and  Ace. They were unstoppable. They were THE "Hottest Band in the Land." And they were my band.

KISS certainly were on a roll. They were coming off six consecutive platinum-sellers — ALIVEDestroyerRock and Roll OverLove GunALIVE II and Double Platinum. They'd become real-life superheroes and even had a much-talked about TV movie set to air on Halloween night. And on September 18th, Casablanca Records went for broke — releasing an individual solo album from each band member simultaneously. The quadruple-record release exemplified 1970s-style marketing chutzpah on steroids. Unprecedented in the music biz, the endeavor either was a runaway success or an epic failure, depending one's perspective.

Many fans who purchased all four 
solo albums at once took home 
their treasures in a souvenir 
plastic KISS shopping bag.
Given the band's enormous international fanbase and their record label's deep promotional pockets, the notion that each solo record would achieve gold status (500,000 units) was a no-brainer. However, Casablanca president Neil Bogart had greater expectations. Rather than shipping two million units upon release (four instant gold albums) and allowing them to sell off gradually before pressing a second run, Bogart ordered the initial production of five million total units (1.25 million copies each). As a result, even after the holiday shopping season, stores and warehouses still had unsold KISS solo albums piled sky-high. And before long, retail outlets were selling off the surplus records desperately at cut-out prices — from as low as $1.99 each. Bogart's bold vision proved to be a colossal misstep that quickly changed the public perception of KISS' popularity — damage that took the band years to erase. Casablanca seemingly never rebounded from the financial debacle.

For me, September 18, 1978 was like Christmas, New Year's Eve, Halloween and the 4th of July all rolled into one glorious religious rock and roll holiday. I remember Larry, my boss at the record store, positioning the long-awaited solo albums prominently at the top of the "New Release" display bin as I salivated with delight. But I only had enough money to buy two of the four LPs on the first day of release — Paul and Ace. Gene and Peter would have to wait until payday.

Fortunately, Larry had compassion. To make me wait three additional days before hearing the entire set was just plain cruel. So he allowed me to get all four at once, with the understanding that I wouldn't take home Gene and Peter's until payday. A kind and fair deal, to be sure.

The unified solo album covers were amazing and have since become iconic. Set against simple black backgrounds, Eraldo Carugati's portraits of each band member that graced the front of his particular record were so detailed and real-looking that the guys seemingly could have jumped right off their respective cover and engaged in a full-scale ego clash right in my bedroom. Now that would have been truly awesome! But considerably less cool than the covers was the cartoonish color poster included inside each member's album jacket. The complete set interlocked to create a rather silly-looking group mural.

Even as a 15-year old blind follower, I recognized that
the posters included inside the solo album covers were
goofy — cheesier than even the paper "Love Gun." BANG!

So that's the back story. But what about the music? Well, for starters, I believe that the solo albums were a prime example of individual pieces actually being greater than the sum of the parts. And the four records represent some of KISS' all-time best work — a set packed full of musical surprises.
What's KISS without the "Star Child?" ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! In fact, without Paul Stanley, rock and roll itself would have dried up, blown away and ceased to exist years ago. Hence, his solo album not only was the best of the bunch, it's the best KISS album they never released — or at the very least, it was the last great KISS record. (Have ya heard Crazy Nights?)

I attribute most of the action I experienced during high school in the back seat of my dad's Chevette to the hypnotic power of Paul's solo record — on 8-track. From the romantic opening of "Tonight You Belong to Me" to the high-octane energy of "It's Alright" to the power ballad, "Hold Me, Touch Me," this record consistently affected my female teenage companions like an aural roofie. Thanks, dude!

Apparently set on throwing fans a curve ball from the very beginning, KISS' founding co-frontman and bassist opted to switch to guitar for his record. He also utilized the solo op as a means in which to showcase his Beatles-caliber songwriting skill rather than merely a vehicle to further perpetuate his "Demon" persona.

"Tunnel of Love" and "Living in Sin" represent two of the record's close calls — nearly great songs marred by libido-drenched lyrics. However, "See You Tonight," "Man of 1,000 Faces" and "Mr. Make Believe" are chilling examples of Gene's impeccable songwriting talent.

Peter's record has been maligned from the beginning for being the most Un-KISS-like solo record. However, as a bona fide KISS freak, I wasn't surprised by the R&B-flavored set. And be sure that it's not the all-fluff, wimpy record that it's been made out to be. And it actually has stood up quite nicely over the years.

"I'm Gonna Love You," "Hooked on Rock 'n' Roll" and the Sean Delaney-penned, "Rock Me, Baby," are straight-up rockers. And despite the mellow factor, "Easy Thing" and "I Can't Stop the Rain" (Delaney) are tremendously well-written, heartfelt songs.

Ace always was the most mysterious KISS member. I recall reading in Hit Parader back in the day, that Ace's solo record was to be comprised of all instrumentals. Hmm. As a result, I don't think anyone was expecting his to be the one to completely blow up in terms of content AND sales.

Ace's also was the only solo record to have scored a Top 40 hit (the Russ Ballard-penned "New York Groove"). This was particularly perplexing, given that Casablanca reportedly had Billboard in its back pocket at the time. Decades later, Ace's record has maintained its street cred — "Rip it Out," and "Speeding Back to My Baby" remain fan favorites.

Sounding as fresh as the day I carried home that souvenir shopping bag in 1978, the KISS solo records still kill!

I know that a lot of KISS Army members visit this site on a regular basis and I encourage you all to share your own related personal thoughts and experiences as we celebrate this KISStoric occasion.

-Christopher Long
(September 2013)

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C'MON! -

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

RECORD REVIEW: Coney Hatch "Four"


Along with such
contemporaries as 
Helix, Killer Dwarfs 
and Headpins — Coney 
Hatch defined Canadian 
hard rock in the '80s. 
And in 2013 the band 
returns with its first 
new record in nearly
three decades.  

Coney Hatch made a huge splash on the international hard rock scene when their self-titled debut album arrived in 1982 via Polygram Records. Produced by Max Webster frontman / guitarist Kim MitchellConey Hatch featured the stand-out tracks, "Devil's Deck," "Hey Operator" and "Monkey Bars" — catapulting the Canadian combo onto international tours with such chart-busting headliners as Judas PriestIron MaidenTed Nugent and Cheap Trick. Two more melodic, high-octane records followed — Outta Hand (1983) and Friction (1985). But relentless touring and critical acclaim did not equate into gold and platinum sales figures, and by 1986 Coney Hatch  had called it quits.

The 1982 debut record from Coney Hatch.
"The first Coney Hatch record
was a staple in my collection
 'Devil's Deck' and 'Monkey 
Bars' were played, rewound
and replayed enough to drive
my parents crazy." 
-Brent Jensen 
Rock Critic / Author
(No Sleep 'Til Sudbury Leftover People)

Coney Hatch circa 1982
In ensuing years, the members went on to play in various renown bands, including April Wine and The Guess Who, as well as releasing their own solo records. Following frontman / guitarist  Carl Dixon's near-fatal car accident in 2008, the original Coney Hatch line-up came together and began considering possibilities — resulting in a few recent one-off concert appearances. And in 2013, their full-blown reunion has come to pass with the release of Four, the first all-new Coney Hatch record in 28 years.

"We never thought it would 
happen but the stars aligned 
and hell froze over!"
-Andy Curran

Entitled Four, the new record arrives in stores and online via Frontiers Records on September 24th in North America and September 27th in Europe. And what makes the Coney Hatch reunion so unique and special is that it's the REAL band. Unlike so many of their contemporaries, the 2013 Coney Hatch line-up is their original line-up — including vocalist / guitarist Carl Dixon, vocalist / bassist Andy Curran, guitarist Steve Shelski and drummer Dave 'Thumper' Ketchum. 

"I know Coney fans are 
going to love this album."
-Dave Ketchum

Four kicks off with the high-energy video single, "Blown Away." And despite some rather 80's-era  lyrical cheese, it makes a bold statement — WE'RE CONEY HATCH. AND WE'RE BACK!

Other highlights  include "Boys Club" — a track that offers plenty of the band's signature-style, gritty  guitar work. While "Down & Dirty"  recreates their classic vibe, "Do It Again" and "We Want More" both possess a fresher-sounding edge. "Connected" and "Marseilles" are groove-oriented nuggets and ooze an AC/DC-like intensity. Finally, "The Devil U Know" is a textbook example of how a great rock track can (and should) be built around a great guitar riff.

"My personal objective 
was to not over think
the music and just let 
the creativity flow."
-Steve Shelski

Yes, after more than 30 years, 2013 finds Coney Hatch at the top of their game — both musically and vocally. In sum, Four serves as a mighty vehicle for a band that remains a powerful and authentic hard rock force.

-Christopher Long
(September 2013)

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Monday, September 9, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: "The Butler"

The Butler

As an American history buff
with a particular penchant for
presidential American history,
this one was right up my alley.

Directed by Lee DanielsThe Butler is (very) loosely based on the real-life story of Eugene Allen, an African-American who worked as a White House butler, serving eight American presidents (Truman, EisenhowerKennedyJohnsonNixonFordCarterReaganfrom 1952 until his retirement in 1986.

I've always had a passion for American history. I also spent much time growing up in the south during the racially-charged civil rights movement of the '60s. As a result, I was intrigued by trailers for The Butler. Truth be told, I was just thrilled to venture out to the theater and plunk down a fistful of George Washingtons for any film promising something other than salacious scenarios, mindless drivel and gratuitous nonsense.

Eugene Allen (center), serving 
at the White House circa 1976.
Forest Whitaker heads an impeccable, all-star cast in the lead role of Allen's fictionalized character, Cecil Gaines. And therein lies the key word — fictionalized.

America now has become so sensitive — so politically polarized as a nation, that any Hollywood effort to recreate history is going to come under fire. Hence, The Butler simply offers a compelling story — one based on historical events.

Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines
More gripping than the dramatic behind-the-scenes accounts of various presidential administrations pinned against the backdrop of one of America's most explosive eras was the story — a heartfelt story about people. And I experienced a sense of personal connection to Cecil Gaines — his family, friends and co-workers.

In true Color Purple-like fashion, Oprah Winfrey delivers another absolutely amazing performance — spanking the role of Cecil's whiskey-drinking, chain-smoking wife, Gloria.

Oprah Winfrey asGloria Gaines
Other notable performances include David Oyelowo as Cecil's son, Louis / Terrence Howard as the Gaines'  neighbor, Howard / Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Cecil's friend, "Uncle" Carter Wilson and Lenny Kravitz as James Holloway,  Cecil's White House co-worker. Additional kudos to Yaya DaCosta who not only is extremely yummy, but who also was superb as Louis' love interest, Carol Hammie.

Oyelowo and DaCosta as Louis and Carol
As an American presidential aficionado, I thought that Robin Williams was pretty spot-on as Dwight D. Eisenhower, as were James Marsden as John F. KennedyMinka Kelly as Jackie Kennedy and Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda as Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan. However, John Cusack as Richard Nixon was a bit of a stretch. Oh sure, Cusack has been supremely kickass throughout his 30-year career, but he didn't "become" Nixon in this role — he merely was John Cusack in a suit with his feet propped up on a desk, saying a bunch of stuff that Nixon might have said.

John Cusack as Richard Nixon
But Cusack as Nixon wasn't the most glaring miscast role. That distinction goes to Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson. Prosthetic earlobes excluded, there was nothing about Schreiber's look or performance that would have led me to believe that he was portraying LBJ. In fact, I had to check the closing credits to see if Stevie Wonder had in any way been involved in the casting process.

Although I was disappointed that the Truman administration was bypassed and that Ronald Reagan was portrayed as less than sensitive regarding race issues, I was reasonably satisfied with the presidential aspects of the film.

 Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson
In sum, I enjoyed The Butler — a lot. In fact it delivered maximum bang for my seven bucks. Just remember folks, it's Hollywood. While there are many aspects of the film with which some people are crying foul, I encourage movie goers to pull the stick out before leaving the house and just enjoy a riveting story that's packed with Oscar-worthy performances.

-Christopher Long
(September 2013)

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