It's had been a long, long time coming.
One of my flat-out favorite bands, one that has massively influenced both my playing and writing, was finally back together again after 13 years and on tour with some of my best friends in the entire music biz... Extreme was touring with King's X.
When I found out a posted off a quick note to my old pal Paulo (Bettencourt - see my top friends) - because nobody, NOBODY - had bothered to tell me. (Hey, you're little brother is doing what!?! with WHO? I didn't even know Extreme had reformed, let alone were on tour with a new CD coming out. Color me clueless!) I actually found out when I discovered the Extreme myspace page and saw they were playing L.A. on August 26th. "Geez, that date seems familiar?" Then I checked the King's X page - same date. Oh no, I have to choose? SHIT! Then I dug further - meaning I clicked on the show link, DUH - and saw that they were both playing House of Blues Together!.
I've known Paulo since he was out in L.A. struggling to get signed with his own band Flesh in the early 90's. We hung out quite a bit, and caught a ton of their shows. All of them are good people. Paulo got me an audition for with Jeff Scott Soto's (Yngwie/Journey) Rock/Funk band back then. Didn't work out but I'm still grateful for the chance to hang with Jeff, scream my head-off along with his songs and talk about Prince and the Time for hours. When Flesh went back to Boston, me and my wife visited and spent a week with Paulo and his family. I got to meet his wife, daughter, his ultra-cool dad, who owned a little guitar shop just down the street in Berlin, Ma. (one that had more than a few Nuno N4's Washburns in stock) While we were there King's X showed up and played a club just across the street from Fenway Park and we all - including all the guys in Flesh went to that gig together. It was crazy, but cool.
And now Paulo's little brother's band Extreme were coming to L.A. with King's X opening for them? I seriously thought my head was going to explode.
Show day arrived and after a ton of wrangling and maneuvering to get cash for the tix and borrow my mom's 2001 Mustang - (since I still haven't received the pink slip on the Toyota I bought nine months ago from my cousin and the last thing I need is be driving around L.A. in a car with expired tags - petty shit like that cost me more than you could imagine already...like 4 days in country lockup for a $300 in unpaid traffic bills.) We're we cruising up the 405, trying not to have flashbacks as we passed a way too damn familiar Ross Dress for Lessat National Blvd, when the traffic went completely to hell.
Choice 1: Stay on the freeway all the way to Sunset or Choice 2: get off at Santa Monica and take it too the streets?
We took door number two, and eventually found it had the booby prize behind it. Traffic on Santa Monica was nearly as bad and choked up as the freeway had been. Bumper to bumper for miles all the way through Westwood and the Beverly Shills 9021-BLOW ME part of town. Driving past the park in downtown BH where George Micheal got busted for pulling out his pecker in front of the police - is always a good laugh (and George turned it into such a hilarious Video), but we we're laughing by the time we finally got West Hollywood and the corner of Santa Monica and Doheny (where the Troubadour still stands).
That was when we finally saw the smoke.
At first you think, "aw, that must of come from somebody else's car"
Which of course is when it got a whole lot thicker - and we saw that temperture gage was fire-walled against the "H". Oh shit. And we were stuck here waiting the left turn signal to come on - which of course - it didn't. Can't afford to stop the car, not without some water nearby, it might not start again and we'll be stuck in middle of the street. Traffic is passing us on the right. Passing on the left. Passing in front. Light's not changing.
This is when you really turn into one of those crazed L.A. drivers. "Fuck You, get outta the way dickweedhead!!" The steam's getting thicker, Robin getting worried and my mind is racing. Where's the nearest gas station around here? Think Think. Isn't there one across the street from the Whiskey? Yeah, yeah... but that's lick six blocks away... and this light won't....
Hell yeah. We head up Doheny, and are at Sunset in a few seconds. Good. Good. All we needs it to turn right and get down another 3 or 4 blocks. Fine.
Except there's some dude ahead of us in the right turn lane and he's not budging event though it's perfectly legal to turn right on the red at this corner and the traffic passing by isn't that heavy. Both Robin and I have had cars seriously overheat on the freeway before in situations where we couldn't see the steam or the thermostat was broken and we couldn't do anything until it was too late - and those cars are carrying St Peter around in heaven right now. That's not happening THIS TIME. Not again. All we need is for this fuckerhead to turn the damn corner. The steam coming from our front bumper is starting to make his back window look like a sauna, and he's just sitting there...
HONK! Nothing, not a clue. Might as well be pissing in a pool.
To paraphrase the Foo Fighters - "It's times like these..." that make we wish a hand on a spring device so I could smack some of the oblivious, self-centered, inconsiderate, blind, assholish, dimwitted L.A. drivers up side the head. I was tempted to get out of my seat and write a finger message in his back window (like writing on a mirror after a shower) that said "GO!!!!"
Finally, nuts for brains turns the corner. Hallelujah.
We pass the Rainbow, the Roxy, the Hustler Store.. damn, where's the Whiskey? Ah, there it is - and there's the gas station and there's - yet another L.A. Asshole whose got plenty of space in front of him, but isn't moving while his tail end just happens to be blocking the driveway to the gas station while we're got this PLUME of white smoke and STEAM starting to obscure our entire front end.
Yet another fine upstanding citizen of Los Asshol'es, doing the right thing for his fellow man and blocking the god damn road for NO REASON. Moving two feet costs him nothing, but it might cost us an engine block. Seconds, seem like minutes until Grampa Speedway eventually creeps a few inches forward and we get into the lot and get the car shutdown. I buy some antifreeze ($11 bucks - ouch, I had had to budget tonight down to the dollar for tonight, so much for that idea!!) We give a few minutes for for the engine to cool off, hoping that we haven't done any damage and cracked the block since we really didn't know how long it had been overheating on a day of blistering 72 degree Southern California weather.
As it turned out, everything was fine. We escaped another all-night nightmare like the one we went through for The Who show last month. The antifreeze did the trick, no permanent damage. At least this time I already knew we had access to AAA.
"No More Drama!" So sayeth Mary J. Blige, so let it be done.
On to the show - which at this point was just another few blocks down Sunset. We parked in the HOB lot (even though that was $5 more than the Riot House lot across the street) because Robin's bad knee couldn't take the excess walking. Tickets were at Will Call, just like they were supposed to be, Cool - no more near disasters tonights please? Thank you. We had come early hoping to catch part of the KX soundcheck, but slow traffic caused us to miss it. From outside we could hear the final notes of one of their songs just as we walked up. Damn.
Robin stayed downstairs near the club entrance, I went up to Sunset to Green Room level hoping for a chance to talk to some of the KX guys before the show. dUg (KX bass and lead vox) peeked out and I said "Hi". I've known dUg for almost 16-17 years, ever since the one incredible show they did at the Boardwalk in Sac back in 1991-92 and we and a ton of other fans chatted with the band for hours in the parking lot after the gig. In 1994 our friend Simon (see my top friends) flew to L.A from England to go on this massive KX road trip with us, and our son Nathan (also on Top friends). We saw them in L.A., Fresno, then followed their bus to San Francisco - saw that show - then drove 24 hours straight past Area 51 in Nevada to see them 2 days later in Denver. Their bus driver actually thought we were another band on tour with them, no - But Simon's band D.I.L.E. might be up for it these days. Those guys are just so cool, you have no freaking idea. In Fresno we thought they would be driving overnight to SF, but they weren't, so we hadn't planned on sticking around - or getting any sleep - and dUg said, "Forget that, you can stay in my hotel room". The guys actually slept on their bus and only used the hotel for showers, so once they were done with that - the room was all ours, so we didn't have to drive to SF all sleep deprived. You can't TOP that for being cool. You can't.
Back on Sunset tho dUg didn't recognize me until I mentioned Robin - "Oh, you cut your hair" So I took off my backwards Dallas Mavericks Cap and let him see my shoulder length braids - "Nope". He told me that they were going to be hanging out at their merch table after their set - "Cool, catch ya later dude."
Back downstairs Robin had run into Ty (KX Guitar) and said he looked "stressed". Something to do with the tour or gear problems. Not long after that Jerry (KX drums) comes by - I can still remember sitting in that Hotel Lobby in Fresno with him, looking up at the TV as the OJ police chase was being broadcast live over a decade ago, or when KX played the Dennis Miller show to an empty audience because the L.A. Riots were taking place during the taping, weird times - I asked how this tour, which featured the opening act of "Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp" was going? He said "Great, couldn't be better'.
Ok. but I still had my doubts.
This Fantasy Camp thing had me kinda split. Sure I can absolutely understand why someone would want to play on stage with their Rock and Roll Heroes. I'm sure they'd love to have their friends and family see it. I get that. It's got to be the thrill of a lifetime, I should know - Ty once invited me onstage with KX in San Francisco to do their song "Wally Bella Farkus" (which has a vocal which is all screaming, so remembering the lyrics wasn't a problem) But then, KX have been doing that kind of thing, particular for their song "Goldilox" for years. They sometimes can get 20-30 people on stage at a time, and everyone - EVERYONE - knows the song, trust me.
It's one thing, to jump on stage and do like say - "Good Time, Bad Times" along with Zeppelin, or "You Really Got me" with Van Halen. That would be cool. This fantasy camp thing was really just Kareoke with a live band where only ONE guy, maybe two, actually knows what their doing. It's fun for them, but not much fun for the audience unless their idea of high entertainment consist of all Tivo'ing the outakes and rejects on American Idle.
Not my cuppa.
Sure, I would've liked to have seen Glen Hughes or Kip Winger perform - but that would be doing Their own songs not backing a rag-tag cover band full of wannabes! Ugh.
So we spent most of the opening act in the HOB restaurant having dinner.
We really did try and take our time and eat nice and slow, but you know how the best laid plans of mice and morons usually go? Yeah, like that.
So we end up downstairs as the last three Fantasy Camp bands played. We saw them with Dave Ellefson from Megadeth, Mark Slaughter and Gilby Clark (on drums?). And some of the camper guys were actually surprisingly good - but then again, some of them were bloody gawd awful.
The one band doing Beatles songs was a complete disgrace to bad cover bands at your weddings and bar mitzvah's everywhere. Yeah, that bad. Cover your ears and cringe bad. "It's an election year, why don't you take a vote and pick a KEY?", bad.
It was like the Special Rock Olympics. "Johnny can't sing, and he can't play - but he tried really hard - and PAID US A SHIT LOAD OF MONEY - so give johnny a big round of applause, mmkay?"
Hey man, there's a reason they call this a Fantasy!! Cuz, it is.
By comparison, people who spend an even bigger shit load at Musicians Institute down the road at least are capable of become superstars on their own. People like Rivers Cuomo or John Fruciante. Y'kow real Musicians. If you're going to pay thousands of dollars, get something more than an embarissing bad Youtube vid out of it.
So finally the last Kareoke band gets up there, and the announcer gives the gal vocalist a big talk up. Ok, this better be good. And - lo, and beyond - it Was. They called the group Shitte Housen! - I'm thinking they should've gone for the entire Brick Shitte Housen but who am I to quibble? This girl has some decent pipes. Real good. They started out with "Breaking the Law", so you know she had nerve to come out the shot with Rob Halford. From there it was all golden. The band was tight, the backing vocals were on, and for a little while more than just the people on stage were having fun - the entire crowd got into it too (imagine that!) Not only was it cool for them, it was cool for us too - miracles do happen.
If this seems like it was a long long intro just to get the main course - that's because that's how it usually feels to go a concert. Hour and hours of bullshit - then BAM the show really starts. Just like life.
We headed up close to the stage where we could get a good view of everything as King's X got ready. Last time we'd seen KX, three years ago at the same HOB, I'd met and had good long talk with actor/musician Hal Sparks who is a GINORMOUS fan of King's X. And funny as hell too, quick and smart like a razor. Incredible guy. I notice a little commotion to my left, Robin says - "Hey, tthat guys looks like Hal Sparks". That guys is Hal Sparks.
He's in the middle of a classic conversation, why were they so often stuck doing tours with groups that they had nothing in common - like Scorpions. Or ZZ-Top. Why couldn't they have had a chance to tour with RUSH or something? Good point. I jump in,
'Excuse me, but might you be... The Guitarist for that awesome band ZERO 1?"
"Why yes, yes I am..." he says, smiling cuz I didn't go for the obvious Queer as Folk/Best Week Ever/Dude Where's my Car?/Celebracadabra reference. "How's it going Hal?"
(Ok, before you go - "geez this guys seems to know everybody." No, I don't. But I do stalk very well, which is to say I don't act like a crazed fan boy and scare the living daylights out of them. Besides if you live in L.A. and spend any time in Hollywood or on the Sunset Strip - which I have - running into celebrities is about as common as stepping in dog poop, they're EVERYWHERE! It's not a big deal - they're just people with jobs to do, it's just that nobody has a camera trained on the shoe-shine guy 24-7, although now that I say that out loud, it just might become the new reality show pitch!)
Last time we had been here Hal had helped us get into the Green Room upstairs. Like I said, hella cool guy. Tonight were just hear to worship at the altar of the King's X, who promptly came out and hit the stage hard with Groove Machine. I noticed that Ty didn't sing any of his backing vocals and it really changed the song (Man, he must be down - I've seen him sing and play through excruciating pain with a pinched nerve in his neck and still blow the doors off the joint.., this could be serious) But by the second song Ty was back into it. Whew.
It's difficult to describe what King's X is like to someone who hasn't seen them live, and it takes seeing them live to really GET IT. Their sound is so huge and tight, it's unbelievable that it only take three guys to do it. They often sound much better than the record live, even with all the complex vocal harmonies they do. In a live show they have this MASSIVE sound that just slams into you like a sledgehammer. It feels good. Real good.
Doug's got this rich soulful, church drenched voice. The kind of voice that gave birth to the Blues, which is still Rock N Roll's daddy. He can sing so deep, and then scream so high. Fucking mindblowing. This was maybe the second best show I've seen them do, but then maybe I'm biased by the songs from their latest and Fifteenth Album. There are times that they descend into this plodding kind of funk, and other times when they pumping and upbeat and this latest album - titled XV - does a good job a bridging the two elements. But that isn't to say that didn't pick out some golden-oldies. They naturally did "Over my Head", which had been their high-point at the 1994 Woodstock concert, "Lost In Germany" along with great new songs like "Rocketship". Hal was rocking his ASS OFF, horns up all through the show - so was I. And so were the other two guys, clearly Hardcore fans, who were between us. One guy was cracking me up, because was just completely over the top, dancing, head-banging and doing the Axl Rose snake-dance - Jack Black style! It was awesome and hilarious and cool all at the same time.
(Another irony, I actually met the real Jack Black in the very same building 9 years ago at the Artist Direct Awards which he was hosting with Kyle Gass as Tenacious D. He was still fairly unknown, so I gave him a compliment for his X-Files performance with Giovani Rabisi - Hey, man Nice Shot - which is still cool to this day!)
As the mosh went on Robin wasn't feeling so good, even a relatively polite and tame one like this - with her bad knee wasn't working so well. She looked like she was ready to pass out or keel over by the time we they were getting to the end of the set, and decide to break out the song that had been their very first video on Headbangers Ball 17 years ago. King!
Oh yeah. I noticed Hal had already been doing the fingers-crossed thing that was actually part of the bands name. Cross your fingers behind your back and King's X - your lies and sins are forgiven", and that was something that was used heavily in the King video. Funny how that works. Great set, great final tune to bring it all full circle.
We moved to the back out of the pit and the concession guys gave us a chair so that Robin could sit and rest her knee, which she said "Felt like it was going to explode!" Not good. King's X com out and we chatted for a bit. Just before coming to the show I had burned some CD's of my solo project demo with 7 songs to give the guys. Hal was like, "They have these things called 'Jewel Cases' now..." (Yeah, but five of those weren't gonna fit in my PANTS!) "Sorry, didn't have time to stop and pick some up" (Not with my car turning into a Turkish sauna on Sunset!) The thought had occurred to me, but I was a little pre-occupied at the time. Also broke.
dUg practically grabbed the CD out of my hands, which cracked me up. I'd sent him a CD of my old group Planet X years ago, and he like it so much we actually got into a fight. Well, an argument - well, a disagreement. He came up to me after one of his sound checks at a show in my old hometown of Sacramento and said ' You - Da MAN!"
I'm like smiling like a teenager inside when I heard him say such a nice thing, and considering I was playing a video game at the - feeling like a teenage was appropriate - but I tried to play it off. "No, YOU da man!!!'
"Naw, dude - your the man!" repeats dUg.
"No way, YOUR the freaking MAN!!" - LOL Good times. Good Memories.
Hopefully he enjoys the new stuff, which doesn't focus so much on vocals, but the overall songs and sounds since I played everything myself this time. I talked to Ty, who still looked a little down. "It's the same old touring stuff man. L.A...." Oh gawd, I hear ya on that one brother. Do i ever. If any place on earth with perfectly calming non-weather/weather could drive you into a homicidal/suicidal rage - it's this town. I know, I was in that space just about 3 hours previously.
I had another copy so I gave it "Jack Black" as he headed toward the front of the stage for Extreme's start. We held back and Robin tried to massage her knee back into usability. I stood shotgun, trying to keep the silly Hollywood chicks from spilling their drinks on her, and stomping on her feet. To that end, I wasn't perfectly successful - but I did my duty - acting like a tackle blocker for the rest of the evening.
Now Extreme, like King's X, is a band that only the people that have truly listened to their stuff really get or appreciate. Yeah, yeah - they had that "More than Words" song, but they were a POWERHOUSE band long before and after that. Nuno is just, phenomenal. And on most of his most dizzying riffs, bassist Pat Badger is right there often matching him note for not on a much larger instrument. Their new drummer was completely in the pocket, and Gary freaking Cherone was ON FIRE! I'd seen these guys in a lot of shows during the 90's, saw them opening for Bon Jovi at the Meadowlands, and headlining the Universal Amphitheater, and on their last tour 13 years ago at the Palace in Hollywood and usually - usually Gary's voice gets tired by the end of the night. It even happened when they did the Freddie Mercury Tribute Show at Wembley Stadium in 1989.
But not tonight.
Maybe a lot of the reason that a lot of bands didn't want to tour with King's X back in the day was because KX would blow them the fuck away - but Extreme has no reason to be worried about that. On song after song, new ones like "Comfortably Dumb" and "Star" to older tunes such as "Cupid's Dead", "Rest In Peace" and others - the vocals and harmonies were beatiful enough to make heaven cry.
Nuno is such a monstrous whirling dervish on guitar, like the Tasmanian Devil of Riffage. Yet again, you can't really get it until you hear them live. It can be like - Shit is that REAL? Did a human person actually play that funky serpentine guitar part at the same time as bouncing all around the stage and singing backup too? This becomes even more mindblowing as he pulls out "Flight of the Wounded BumblebeE" and makes the tops fly off heads.
Yes, it's real. Not Memorex. And it's fucking cool too.
As they did on their headline III Sides tour, the middle section of the show went acoustic - with Nuno doing Midnight Run on acoustic. I do have one minor bitch/whine about this song. Nuno needs to play it with a softer pick, years ago Ty described at a Guitar clinic why he uses really light picks - it's because you can slam down hard and not throw the guitar momentarily out of tune. I'd had already been using thin Clayton picks, but that reasoning just cemented the idea in my mind. Ty also recommend Yamaha guitars, as ones that may sell for $200 and sound liike $500 - I took his advice and bought one that very day. I'm still playing it - it the one I'm making my CD with and he was right too!
Anyway there's this one bit in Midnight Run where Nuno slams down on the low E-string and he hits it so hard - it goes out of tune. It's even like that on the album. Reminds me of Ty everytime. Yeah yeah - I know I'm anal about music, why do you think I listen to virtuoso Bands like These?
At least I'm not as bad as Dream Theater fans - holy god whattabunchapompousdickheads!!
Extreme and King's X have all their chops to spare - but you know what? They use all that talent to make GOOD SONGS -not mastubatory musical wank-a-thons. Something that you can still hum in the shower, or have a real Rock N Roll Fantasy (With the Creepy Camp Counselors) about.
They moved on the "More than Words" and it was the most funny shit, because almost petulantly insisted on doing the Entire Song. It was like.."No, no...were not done yet - there's more". Nuno does the acoustic finger-tap/open harmonic bit with neck-bend for vibrato. "Nope, not yet..." Then they do the final vocal flourish. It was funny, because so many people had only seen or heard to video/single version which ends about 40 seconds early. The full ending is the coolest, most progressive part.
The band finished up the main set by taking it old school - whipping out "Mother", "Kid Ego" and the ultimately classic "Play With Me".
Another thing about Extreme, beyond the incredible musicianship, is the depth of worldview. They performed "Decadence Dance" early in the set, and that is a song that is making fun of the objectification of ourselves and our culture. It points out and makes fun of those people who exploit women and vice for their own financial gain, and how a lot of the late 80's/early 90's rock culture had become completely immersed in purience. They GOT IT long before the Legion of Nirvana Clones came around to shove it down everyones throat.
And then they have songs like their first encore tune - "Am I Ever Going to Change" - I've said it before, I'll say it again - JEZUS Hussein CHRIST that is song that will change your hair color, move the part to the other side of your hard and re-circumsize you on contact. When they did it in an amphitheater setting a decade ago the delay on the guitar mixed with the natural echo of the venue washed everything out, but doing it in the House Of Blues it was just so HUGE!!!!!
Oh MY GOD!
If you really listen, the lyrics on this song can bring to straight to tears - do not pass "Go" - do not find a tramp to take to Park Place.
"I'm tired of being me, and I don't like what I see.
Am I Ever Going to Change? Will I Always Stay the Same? If I say one thing and do the other, same old song it goes on Forever"
The first place you can start making the world better is with yourself, but can we become greater than ourselves? (I tried to do this today by NOT screaming or acting out with the various non-driving idiots from earlier) Can we be better people? More giving, more caring, Rich in Spirit, not simply in Finances? More Patient and Forgiving? Less Bling Bling and 20-inch spinning Rims, More Heart - More Soul?
Geez, I don't know - but that's the ultimate question isn't it? And (depending on your diety of preference) only God, Jehova, Vishnu, Budda, Mohammad, Ted Haggard and Jesus know the answer.
Could it be ... 42?
Anywhoo... after "Change." and "Hole Hearted" since it was the their last night with KX on this leg of the tour the Extreme guys broke out something special.
Led Zeppelin's "Communication Breakdown" -- and Gary fracking NAILED the vocal. Last song in the set and he's doing Robert Plant? And doing it better than Plant usually did it at the beginning of a show? Jiminy Cricket that was awesome!
After that all the trials and tribulation just melted away. Climbing up a mountain may suck, but getting to the top is all worth it.
Thanks guys, you made my year. Maybe my decade, cuz most of it has pretty much sucked balls so far.
Another great memory. One that won't fade away...