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Concert review: Queen + Adam Lambert at Madison Square Garden

The Queen is dead; long live the Queen. It’s been 22 years since Freddie Mercury died, and yet his band—who managed to continuously find new life throughout its original run—has done so yet again. The current heir presumptive? American Idol’s Adam Lambert, a self-proclaimed Freddie Mercury devotee who was still in diapers the last time Queen played New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1982.

But for all of Lambert’s preening and expert vocal acrobatics, this was still very much Mercury’s show. Queen’s remaining original members, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor (bassist John Deacon retired in 1997), have said time and time again that this show is not a reproduction and that Lambert is not meant to be a Mercury clone. So while his skinny leather pants, leopard-print tuxes, and use of studs and fringe in a single outfit would likely all be Freddie-approved, Adam Lambert was very much his glam-punk self, and Mercury still kept a couple of coveted solos for himself.

The band came out hard with songs such as “Now I’m Here,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” and “Fat Bottomed Girls” and spent the majority of their two-plus-hours-long set showcasing the still-obvious talent that made May a guitar hero in the first place. Lambert catwalked and peppered the crowd with sporadic stage banter (“When I feel lonely, I just drink and douse myself in rhinestones like any sensible gay,” he said before launching into “Somebody to Love”). Lambert’s crowning theatrical moment was his vaudevillian performance of “Killer Queen”—sprawled out on a purple velvet chaise lounge mid-arena, platformed, glitter-covered boots in the air, spewing champagne onto the audience. Guaranteed to blow your mind, indeed.

But for all of the show’s highs (including a rousing “Who Wants to Live Forever,” co-starring a dazzling disco ball), there were still enough tributes to fill a VH1 special. “Years and years and years ago,” May eulogized mid-show, “some of you will remember and some of you were not even born yet—there was a man named Freddie Mercury. And he was extraordinary.” May then quietly duetted with the audience on an acoustic performance of “Love of My Life,” a contemplative ballad he used to, back in the day, perform next to a seated Mercury under simple stage lights.

And May is right. Of those filling the Garden on July 17, many were probably early fans of the British rock band—who would sing along with early hits like “Stone Cold Crazy” and not think of it as a Metallica song. And then, there were plenty who probably learned of the band by listening to their parents’ LPs—a couple of generations worth who weren’t around to witness Queen’s 1970s heyday, or their miraculous comeback at 1986’s Live Aid concert in London (29 years ago this week), or the lingering decline and death of the band’s brilliant and beautiful leader.

And yet, it was without irony that not 15 minutes after May’s tribute (and Taylor’s rendition of “These Are the Days of Our Lives”—a schlocky song Taylor wrote for his frontman for their final album before Mercury’s death, and sung while playing a video montage of ’70s band nostalgia), that Lambert returned to the stage to the opening bassline of “Under Pressure,” a song that younger generation of audience members would undoubtedly place as ’90s staple “Ice Ice Baby” before remembering its very glam origin. Sigh.

It was the finale the brought the nostalgia-fest to its peak, though, and gave Mercury his biggest moment of the night. Lambert took the first verse of the band’s opus, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and moved aside for Mercury to take the second (via old concert footage). The operatic section? The band cleared the stage. They let the original recording do the heavy lifting, opting to play their 1975 disembodied head video, complete with all the complicated vocal layering that made those “Galileos” and “Bismillahs” famous in the first place. And why not? Even with a first-rate fill-in like Lambert, sometimes you just don’t mess with perfection.


Billy Joel taught me everything I know

Truly, I could draw you the best fishing routes off the coast of Long Island before I even set foot in New York (thank you, “The Downeaster ‘Alexa'”). I was introduced to the complexities of dating beyond your station without the help of Jane Austen (“Uptown Girl,” indeed). I still sprint to see Bizet’s Carmen because it reminds me of “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant.” And the first drink I ever ordered in a bar was a gin and tonic (though not a tonic and gin, as I’d first heard it in “Piano Man”).

In 1982, while my sister Amy was mooning over Barry Manilow’s “The Old Songs,” I was crushing my first 45, Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” My first favorite T-shirt was a blue-and-white ringer emblazoned with his name and a glittering keyboard. (That’s it in the picture above. I’m 6, my sister is 8.) My first CD was his two-disc Greatest Hits Volumes I and II. But until last week at Madison Square Garden, I’d never seen Billy Joel perform live—even though I’ve come to realize that he is the longest-running nonfamilial relationship of my life.

Billy and I first started riding high during 1983’s An Innocent Man. I was 7. “Tell Her About It,” “Keeping the Faith,” “The Longest Time”: All that glorious doo-wop with ’80s sax overlay had me wondering what I was doing in karate class when I could be taking piano lessons so that I could perform in a revolving bar someday. The album was the perfect introduction to Billy. Its lyrics didn’t require the level of introspection that songs on Piano Man, The Stranger, or Glass Houses did—I’d get into those soon enough. Though early exposure to “She’s Got a Way” did result in a misguided interpretation that caused me to sing tearfully into my pillow after saying goodbye to my favorite teacher on the last day of fifth grade. Like I said, some of his material was initially a bit out of my grasp.

Sure, I had fixations on other artists. There was my Willie Nelson phase (ages 6-9), an Aretha Franklin era (11-14), a stint with Steve Miller (15-17), and a nice run with Dr. John (17-22). But while I flirted, no one stuck around like Billy. His vivid character studies—”Big Man on Mulberry Street,” “Goodnight Saigon,” “Captain Jack”—were like Raymond Carver short stories told in new time signatures.

When I heard that Billy would be doing a monthly residency at Madison Square Garden, I knew I had to go. And despite my sister’s early-onset Manilow mania, I knew I had to bring her. As we took our seats, I learned she’d been harboring a secret: This was her fourth Billy Joel concert. Still, we sang, we swayed, we even teared up. And—like 99 percent of the 20,000 fans who fill the Garden for Billy every month—we didn’t sit down once while the Piano Man wailed wonderfully through classics like “Pressure” and “You May Be Right.” “Allentown,” “She’s Always a Woman,” and “Everybody Loves You Now,” too.

People often ask me what my favorite Billy song is, and my answer always changes. The day before seeing this show, I learned I’d lost my incandescent friend Aylie to an aneurysm at 38. “Only the Good Die Young” can seem like a trite sentiment—until it doesn’t. It was the final encore Billy performed at MSG the night I was there. So for now, that one’s my favorite, for Aylie. And because life is life and Billy is Billy, I’m looking forward to the next time my answer changes.

 

 

Joel is booked at Madison Square Garden through February 2015 or “as long as there is demand.” (So presumably, forever.)

in_this_issue(2)Pick up a copy of this week’s Entertainment Weekly, on stands Friday.

Salme Dahlstrom premieres 'Pop Ur Heart Out'

You may not recognize Salme Dahlstrom’s name, but it’s very likely that you’ve heard her song “C’mon Y’all” in a commercial (for everything from Special K to Subaru), a movie, a TV show, or a video game. Or you may have heard another song from her 2008 album The Acid Cowgirl Audio Trade somewhere, since she managed to license every single track on it, Moby-style.

The follow-up to Acid Cowgirl, titled Pop Propaganda Volume 2: Retro Funk Soul Junction, comes out September 16—and if the lead single, “Pop Ur Heart Out” is any indication, she won’t have problem selling these songs either. “Pop”—which Dahlstrom produced herself, like all her material—is relentlessly hooky and ridiculously accessible, with bits of hip-hop and dance music floating around in a matrix of straight sugar pop. Expect to see it in about a million more commercials.

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Dance-music legend Arthur Baker returns with 'No Price'

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Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories helped to revitalize the careers of disco-era masters Nile Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder. Now Arthur Baker—who helped guide disco’s evolution into modern dance music, producing Afrika Bambaataa’s massively influential “Planet Rock” and remixing the biggest pop stars of the ’80s (including, weirdly, Bruce Springsteen, who’s not known for being a club-music kind of guy) along the way—is engineering a comeback of his own.

Baker’s new track, “No Price,” was first written and recorded in 1979 for a collaborative album with soul singer Joe Bataan that was scrapped when their label folded. Thirty years later, Baker dusted it off and sent it to Al-P from MSTRKRFT, and later invited Chromeo crooner Dave 1 to add a new lead vocal part. The final result is a glossy, string-laden jam that gooses peak-era disco funk with some contemporary thump. Baker’s calling his new project Slam Dunk’d, and they’ll be releasing a full album in September.

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The best and worst of Weird Al's one-word-title parody songs

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The Internet is knee-deep in Weird Al week, in which the universe’s preeminent song parody artist is deploying a new video every day to celebrate the release of his latest (and possibly last) album, Mandatory Fun. EW spoke to Weird Al about the origins of some of his classics a few weeks back, but as the new songs roll out , it’s tough not to notice the proliferation of the one-word pop song—both in our culture at large and in Weird Al’s prism view of it. There’s “Tacky” (a play on Pharrell’s “Happy”), “Foil” (off Lorde’s “Royals”), and today, “Handy” (riffing on Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”).

Whatever you’re feeling about this crop of Weird Al tunes, there’s no denying that Mr. Yankovic loves a nice, simple pop platform, and that, historically speaking, we love him for it. For the most part, his songs generate richness in a manner inversely proportionate to the simplicity of the original. Put another way: Weird Al tends to make maximum hay when given minimal concepts.

But does using this style of song also hamstring Weird Al at times? After all, the simpler the structure of the original, the easier it is for us to compare it and its parody side-by-side. How often does a one-word pop song help Al, and how often does it hurt him? Let’s look. READ FULL STORY

In the studio: Weezer discusses lyrics, the new album title, and Ric Ocasek

We’re still a few months away from the arrival of Weezer’s new album Everything Will Be Alright in the End, but you can get a good sense of what to expect by reading about EW‘s exclusive visit to the studio. I spent two days with the men of Weezer, and we had a ton of conversations both about the new album and about the stuff bands talk about between takes.

But of course there was not enough room to get all of the gems into the piece. If you’re hungry for more, here are a handful of awesome bits that were left on the cutting room floor. READ FULL STORY

'Billboard' Hot 100 recap: Magic! unseats Iggy, 'All About That Bass' enters the summer jam competition

Over the course of the summer so far, the Hot 100’s been defined by its lack of movement. This week’s Top 10 is almost identical to last week’s, which was almost identical to the week before–four songs remain in the same positions, and the remaining six have only moved up or down by one or two slots.

These small changes can still produce significant drama. At the very top of the chart, Australian rapper Iggy Azalea’s seemingly unbeatable “Fancy” and Canadian faux-reggae group Magic!’s virally popular “Rude” have traded places, knocking “Fancy” out of the top spot and ending its record-setting seven weeks at number one. READ FULL STORY

Paul McCartney on when he'll retire: 'When I feel like it, but that's not today'

Paul McCartney probably isn’t the first person you picture when you think Ibiza, the Spanish island known for its hard-partying ways. But when he had the chance to go on vacation thanks to doctor’s orders to rest, he and his wife headed straight there. “We didn’t exactly go clubbing, but there’s plenty of it about,” he told Rolling Stone in a new interview.

The Ibiza vacation didn’t last too long—McCartney’s currently on tour and isn’t planning on stopping anytime soon. “The answer to ‘Are you going to retire?’ is ‘When I feel like it,'” McCartney said. “But that’s not today.”

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Hear Justin Townes Earle's contribution to an all-star Springsteen tribute

There is a certain kind of Springsteen fan who loves the songs on his 30-million-selling Born in the U.S.A. but can’t stand the album’s highly polished, synthesizer-heavy sheen. That type of fan should be thrilled about the upcoming tribute compilation Dead Man’s Town, out Sept. 16, where a cast of roots-rock luminaries, including North Mississippi Allstars, Low, Nicole Atkins, Blitzen Trapper, Joe Pug, and Trampled by Turtles, offer a stripped-down song-by-song reimagining of Born in the U.S.A. that aims to replicate some of the powerful intimacy of its predecessor, 1982’s Nebraska.

Outlaw country scion Justin Townes Earle is involved, which shouldn’t be too surprising to anyone familiar with his habit of covering Springsteen songs and also of appearing pretty much anywhere rootsy, acoustic-based rock music is being made. For Dead Man’s Town, he gives a bare-bones rendition of “Glory Days” that peels back the original’s feel-good bar-band sound to highlight the small-town pathos at its core. We have the first listen here.

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Video: Heaven's Jail premieres 'Suicide'

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Francesco Ferorelli grew up on rap and heavy metal, but as the primary songwriter for the group Heaven’s Jail he makes folk rock with a traditionalist bent and an attitude that recalls sardonic ’70s singer-songwriters like Kris Kristofferson and Loudon Wainwright III. The group’s latest, Ace Called Zero (out Aug. 26 on Heart Break Beat), was recorded last fall in Connecticut, with Matthew Houck (a.k.a. Phosphorescent) producing and Ben Greenberg of the Men engineering, making it kind of a super-session of Brooklyn roots rockers.

The first video from the album is for its second single, “Suicide.” It was directed by Curtis Wayne Millard, who’s who’s worked with The Head and The Heart, and its chilly visuals pair well with the song’s bare-bones arrangement. Ferorelli says, “This video was born in a moment of inspiration. We drove up to the woods to shoot the album cover and halfway through Curtis said ‘I think we might have a music video too,’ so he grabbed the Super 8 and just started filming. The weather was on our side providing thick rolling mist and drizzling rain, a couple feet of snow still covered the ground and night was approaching quickly. In several short enigmatic scenes he harnessed the fleeting spirit of the song and created an elegant visual companion.”

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