Sunday, May 20, 2018

ZZ Ward Show Experience

Saw ZZ Ward on 5/18/18 in Austin at Emo's.

First of all, never miss the opening act, you never know what you might miss. Opening for ZZ Ward was the trio consisting of brothers from the UK with an American drummer called the Ruen Brothers. They were a blast.

I don't know how to exactly to describe what they did. It was kind of a rockabilly/country/California surf punk/50s/Brit pop mashup. Go figure. I'd never heard any of their songs before, as I'm sure a large percentage of the crowd had not, but they kept everyone engaged throughout their 40 minute set.

To me, that's what separates the good live entertainers from the bad; if no one knows the songs, is the crowd still engaged? They did that.

I'm a recent fan of ZZ Ward since hearing her most recent album The Storm, which I wrote about.

Ward is an exceptional performer, vocally fantastic with her unique voice, playing harmonica, guitar and keys at various points throughout the show. She transitioned smoothly between full band and acoustic, blues and beats.

I'l admit, I'm not fully versed in her full catalog, but the songs I didn't recognize had me just as engaged as the songs I was familiar with. See above, but to me, that's what makes an artist truly great in a live setting.

Ward is heavily influenced by the blues, and that is where she and her band really shined. More blues rock than straight blues, but her set was heavy in that area and the crowd (and I) really dug that.

I understand the draw to recreate the album as close as possible, but the only criticism I have of the show is the use of pre-recorded music for a few songs. She, and her band, are good enough to pull off the songs without it. It was obvious, and they didn't try to hide it. It did not take away from the enjoyment of most patrons, but as a music nerd, it bothered me. I'd rather hear a stripped down version of the song than trying to emulate the album exactly, but that's just me.

Other than that, the show was awesome. She commands the stage. Her band is fantastic. Packed in the music, not much banter, one song to the next. You get your money's worth at a ZZ Ward show.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Favorite Power Ballads From 1988-1992

Loudwire put out their best power ballads of all time that don't suck. I don't think they understand what a power ballad is.

Before I saw that article, this happened. I'm a big college football fan and Andy Staples, who writes for Sports Illustrated about college football, has a column every Monday which includes a "Random Ranking". Via Twitter, I asked Staples if he'd ever done a random ranking on power ballads between 1988 and 1992. He replied that it would be in this week's column, You'll need to scroll past the football stuff to get to it if you're not a fan.

Why 1988 to 1992? Because that was power ballad prime and power ballad hell, concurrently. Then Nirvana blew the whole thing to shreds.

What follows are my Top 10 Favorites. Notice I didn't say "best". That's subjective. "Favorites" lets you know that it's subjective.

1. "I Remember You", Skid Row. This song perfected what the power ballad is supposed to be. A tame, acoustic opening. Hints of power in the verses. A bombastic, memorable chorus. The ramp up in the bridge before the guitar solo. Bring it down for the third verse before blowing out the final choruses with Sebastian Bach's soaring vocals.

2. "House of Pain", Faster Pussycat. Harmonica intro into acoustic verse. This one may not fit the classic definition because it actually has some real meaning behind the lyrics. Taime Down has, shall we say, an interesting voice. But it has the memorable chorus. Tasty electric guitar solo. It doesn't have the signature bridge. What can I say, it's one of my favorites and it's my list.

3. "Ballad of Jayne", L.A. Guns. Familiar acoustic start through the verse and chorus. This one, again, has more meaning behind it, being that it's about someone who has passed. Goes with the electric guitar solo. More subdued than others, before transitioning back to acoustic. And we get some strings towards the end.

4. "Heartbreak Station", Cinderella. I could probably put three Cinderella songs on this list, but I'm just going to stick with this one. Tom Keifer as a ballad writer is unmatched. You get the lap slide solo in this one. You get the piano ballad from "Don't Know What You Got" and the more pure power ballad in "Nobody's Fool", just to name a few.

5. "I Saw Red", Warrant. OK, I know most people, if they were to choose a Warrant song would choose "Heaven". Not me. This is just an old fashioned cheatin' song. And he's very nonchalant about it. He didn't see his face, but he saw hers and closed the door and now he's not going to love her anymore. So simple, yet so poignant. Then the bridge before the solo, we get the pain and anger.

6. "Close My Eyes Forever", Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne. I'm not sure if this may not be the best song on my list. But it fails to make the top stop on the spirit of the list because it has too many epic qualities. It's a great song, but a bit over-produced and over-dramatic, but I can't not include it.

7. "Love's A Loaded Gun", Alice Cooper. Hey, if Ozzy and Lita can get into the power ballad game, why not Alice? Of course Alice puts his own twisted twist on the power ballad by making it about a call girl that he's in love with/stalking?

8. "Something To Believe In", Poison. OK, I know, "Every Rose Has It's Thorn" is the popular choice. I don't know, I like my power ballads to have some substance. And besides this is the superior song.

9. "Fly To The Angels", Slaughter. I think Mark Slaughter oversings everything, but that's just him. It doesn't take away from the greatness of this song. Again, this song has some meaning to it. I don't know, maybe it's just me getting older, but mostly I'm not here for the superfluous. Don't get wrong, I still like my nonsense, but don't give me meaningless fluff.

10. "Love Of A Lifetime", Firehouse. This is not a great song. Why do I include this? Because this is the kind of schlock that killed an era and led to grunge. Not that I'm bitter or anything. Number 10 should always be a wildcard, right? Or make a point? The previous nine are good songs. This is just what happened.