Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ronnie James Dio & Dokken

Hello everyone (3 of you, at least!).

Didn't realize it had been so long since I'd written anything, so here's another post for you.

I wasn't sure what to concentrate on, so I thought I'd just try stream of consciousness and see what happens.

As you may already know, Ronnie James Dio was diagnosed with stomach cancer late last year. Regardless of how you may feel about the man, this is surely a scary diagnosis for him, his family, friends and fans. The whole thing is quite a shock.

All signs from the Dio camp are that Ronnie's spirits are good and that he is responding well to chemotherapy. There is also the claim that the cancer was caught early. As much as I sincerely hope that these are accurate and honest statements, something about all of this worries me greatly: stomach cancer survival rates are somewhere in the neighborhood of 20% (for 5 year survival). In fact, in a completely unrelated report on ABC News, when speaking on the topic of stomach cancer recently, their resident medical expert Dr. Timothy Johnson stated that the odds of surviving stomach cancer are very low. Not good news at all. Now I don't know how early detection would benefit Ronnie, but it is being talked about by those close to him as a determining factor in his survival. One thing I do know is that one way of "beating" the cancer is to have some or all of the stomach removed which, I suspect, is similar to the idea of removing a lump or an entire breast in a breast cancer patient, i.e., get all the cancer cells before they spread. I'm sure Ronnie would only want portions of his internal organs removed if it meant he would survive for a long time. I can't even imagine what he must be going through!

Despite all of this scary medical talk, the early detection must be worth something because, at last check, Heaven and Hell (i.e. the Dio fronted version of Black Sabbath with Iommi, Butler, & Appice in tow) have scheduled a dozen or so summer festival dates in Europe. Now this does not sound like the action of a band with a dying man on vocals! I certainly hope this is not wishful thinking on the band's part, but I have to believe Ronnie feels good enough to perform live shows or he would not put himself, the band, and the fans in a position to be disappointed.

Losing Ronnie now would truly be tragic, and I sincerely hope that we have him for many more years to come. In spite of his 67 years, the man remains one of my heroes, not only for his truly unique voice & vocal ability, but for his undying desire to create metal music, no matter how old he gets. As long as he remains great, I see no reason for him to stop. If no one is telling McCartney, Starr, or the Stones to stop, why should they tell Ronnie, just because he sings metal? He is STILL far better than other metal singers who are "only" in their 40's or 50's. The cool thing is, just like Rob Halford's coming out of the closet years back, no one in the hard rock/heavy metal community seems to care about Ronnie's age, and I mean that in the most positive of ways (for both Rob & Ronnie); it has done nothing to diminish people's respect for him. If anything, it has caused people to gain greater respect for him. I know that's the case for me.

Let's hope RJD gives us many more years of great music to come. I, for one, am not done with him yet!

Something else that caught my eye (& ear) a couple of weeks ago about a possible Dokken reunion, that is, Don Dokken, Jeff Pilson, Mick Brown and, yes, George Lynch.

The idea for a reunion was, no doubt, sparked by recent tour dates that the current version of Dokken did with Lynch Mob (George Lynch's band) opening for them in California last month. Jeff Pilson, currently with Foreigner, even joined his former band mates on stage for a song or two.

Being a big Dokken fan, I was pretty excited about the idea of them reuniting. To me, they have always been one of the greatly underrated metal bands, mainly because of their unfortunate association with the "hair band" era of 80's metal. The reality is, although they did adopt some of the 80's look, they really were a band that was head and shoulders above their contemporaries and I feel they never got the acclaim and respect they deserved. Between Dokken's unique voice and Lynch's other-worldly playing, they were in a class by themselves but were bested in chart success by bands like Poison and Def Leppard, which is a complete joke. Just goes to show that talent is, unfortunately, only part of the equation. Still, many in-the-know agree that Dokken is one of the best bands of the metal genre and are still highly respected in the hard rock community to this day.

When asked in a recent interview if the reunion rumors were true, George Lynch confirmed that there was very serious talk of a reunion and that it would probably be happening soon. He seemed to be looking forward to the idea of working with Dokken again. Clearly, if he was able to do tour dates with Don, his arch rival in the band, there must be some positive vibes there.

When I heard that there was Youtube footage of the recent "reunion" of the guys playing a couple of tunes at the end of Dokken's set (after the current lineup played), I made a point of checking it out as soon as I could. There they were, Don, Mick (who still plays with Dokken), George, and even Jeff, who stopped by specifically to play a song or two with his old mates. It was with great anticipation that I watched the low-quality footage and they sounded great! That is, until Don started to sing. Wow, what a letdown! I was fortunate enough to see the last reunion tour, back in 1995, and they were absolutely phenomenal then but, clearly, Don's voice has gone south in a big way. Just goes to show that they should have put their differences aside years ago. Don has lost most of his upper register, most likely due to years of smoking, and the fact that he's in his 50's.

Too little, too late guys. Based on the two songs I watched, it's clear that there is no point in a Dokken reunion. Yes, they are musically very solid, and George never disappoints, but yeesh, those vocals! It's sad to see Don slogging it out in the clubs with a voice that is a shadow of its former self, but what can you do? You can't turn back time. The realist in me also knows that, as much as I love them, even if Don's voice were in top form, there's probably no real demand for a Dokken reunion in 2010. If they did a headlining tour, it would be playing to crowds of about 1,000 people at best. We're talking large clubs or, if they're lucky, small theaters.

I hate to say it, but I hope they don't put themselves through a reunion tour. I think they will be left feeling very unsatisfied, if they do. I know I would, if I went to see it.

Until next time...


Monday, March 1, 2010

"You Wanted the Best?! You got the best! The Hottest Band in the World?" Not this time...

Oh, how it pains me to say it! Sadly, the live intro used at every Kiss concert since the late 70's (remember, it used to be "Hottest Band in the Land" before that) is no longer true. Truthfully, it hasn't been true for quite some time, but at least they could have realistically been called "Hottest Band in the Country" in the years since the original lineup fell apart (again). On Oct. 12, 2009, here in Philly, I would have settled for "Hottest Band in the Building".

That's right, I said it! Musically speaking, they were shown-up by opener Buckcherry. No joke. I'm saying this, and I'm a lifelong Kiss fan. Really! I've been following them since 1977 and, for some reason, they are the one band I've never outgrown. I've been a fan of every lineup, and there have been may. I'm what you'd call a "true believer". The funny thing is, their current lineup is one of their strongest, speaking of the chops of the "young guys" (Eric & Tommy) and the heart & soul of the founding members (Gene & Paul). Unfortunately, time is catching up with them and with Paul, in particular.

Ah, the setlist, blah, blah, blah. Who cares?! Doesn't matter. They vary things so rarely now that, if it weren't for songs being included from their new and very forgettable album "Sonic Boom", this would have been a very standard set of classics.

I should have known how things would be after listening to the opening track of "Boom". The song, "Modern Day Delilah", though not terribly original, rocks sufficiently. There's just one problem: if you listen carefully, Paul's voice cracks. Cracks! And not just once, but on every chorus. Now, granted, I'm a musician and notice things the average listener won't, and they are subtle cracks, but this is a first for Kiss, allowing chinks in the armor to show. Now, I will cut the guy some slack, as he is (or will soon be) 58 years old. HOWEVER, if you're going to go out of your way to say this is your best tour ever, strongest lineup ever, best album since the 70's, etc. (all things the Kiss hype machine has claimed), you'd better f*@cking deliver! The fact is, they have no business claiming to be the greatest show on earth if the guy singing half of the tunes has a failing voice.

I held out hope that Paul's voice would be strong, like it had been for so many years past its prime, but I had an uneasy feeling, especially since I had seen the band perform on Letterman a few weeks before the Philly show and Paul's voice repeatedly cracked quite noticeably when they performed the new single. And there they were, weeks later in Philly: big stage show, big production, decent energy on the opening number with Gene singing "Deuce", then, song 2, "Strutter". Oh boy. Paul was clearly struggling to sing it and, for that matter, every single song he sang in the set. He did his best to put on a great show and whip up the crowd, but he wasn't fooling me. And how I was routing for him! "Maybe he just needs to warm up", I thought. Nope. It never improved. Not only that, but he let Eric & Tommy sing all of the backing vocals for him. How disappointing.

Now I know what you're thinking: maybe he just had a bad show. It happens, after all, especially if you're trying to sing the way you did 30 years ago. It takes its toll. But I did my research, watched all kinds of clips from many shows on the current tour, and it's the same thing. They even played on a German TV show a few days ago, after months of rest before the European tour, and it was more of the same; Paul can't cut it any more. Hey, it's not his fault, but you've got to know when to say "when". I just don't think his ego will let him do it.

I've seen the band live many times over the years and I know what they were capable of. Don't get me wrong, the band still sounds pretty good live (not great, but good), but as any Kiss fan knows, so much of what they had to offer centered around Paul's strong and very unique voice. When firing on all cylinders, and with power chords behind it, there's nothing better, but his engine has far too many miles on it now to ever go fast enough to get onto the highway. And the audacity Kiss has to try and sell a box-set of recordings of every single US show for $1,195.00, when you know there can't be more than 25 different songs included in the whole thing with Paul's voice cracking all over them. They must be in la-la land if they want to document that! Besides, do I really need 30+ more versions of "Rock and Roll All Nite"?

The current state of Kiss is a many-splintered thing. The simple fact that replacement members are donning the makeup and personae of Peter Criss & Ace Frehley (now generically referred to as the "catman" & "spaceman" characters) is enough to frustrate any die-hard fan. In fact, Gene Simmons has openly discussed the idea of having a Kiss with NO original members. The fact that he and Paul are now also referred to as "the demon" & "starchild" respectively, lends credence to this idea. They would, in essence, have their own, officially-licensed tribute band. Well, they're halfway there! They are pretty much their own tribute band already. If they are really going to go that way, and I sincerely hope they are NOT, it's time to replace Paul. What are they waiting for? Are they waiting with bated breath for Paul's son Evan to get through puberty? Well, Nick Simmons sounds just like his dad when he sings. If he can play bass, I'm sure he'll fool people in the audience drunk enough to think it's 1975.

That's the other problem: the fans don't know when to let go. I get that nobody wants to get old, but you've got to let these guys go so they can bow-out gracefully and not start sucking as they get into their 60's. This whole idea that "they're better than ever" is such BS. Look, I love my favorites too, but you've got to face reality. After a certain point, we go downhill. We're only human. I have so much respect for Robert Plant not wanting to do the Led Zeppelin reunion. He knows that he can't do the music justice any more, so he didn't go for what would have certainly been the biggest reunion tour in rock history, just for his ego or for money. He makes new music that suits the voice of a man his age, and it sounds good and natural. Paul, on the other hand, is still trying to do what he did when he was in his early 20's and it sounds forced & sub-par. I would support their efforts wholeheartedly if I felt that Paul could still cut it, but he can't. There are people like Ronnie James Dio & Sammy Hagar, who seem to defy nature and sound incredibly good for their age (Dio is 67 & Hagar is 61), but even they are not "better than ever". That very notion defies common sense. Just ask Larry Bird or Dr. J if they play ball "better than ever"!

Paul & Gene have said many times, especially when trying to explain why they continue to tour after their "farewell" in 2001, that they would rather hear people say "why did you leave" than "why don't you leave", i.e., go out on top instead of staying too long. To them, that seems to mean, if ticket sales are decent, they must still be on top. On the contrary; they are far from it. It's just that the Kiss Army is so goddamn loyal that they don't seem to notice that their heroes are just aging men. It's the biggest codependent relationship on the planet. It's time to break the cycle, people! Stop buying tickets and Kiss toilets and crappy albums that fail in their overt attempt to recapture 70's glory. Get out while you still have money in your bank account! Let Kiss know that we will always love them, but it's time for them to go.