Tag Archives: Michael McDonald

Rocks In The Attic #560: Guns N’ Roses – ‘Appetite For Destruction’ (1987)

RITA#560.jpgI saw something last night I thought I’d never see – Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan on the same stage together. It’s been a long time coming, but for a large part of the twenty five years since I first heard Appetite For Destruction, it seemed unlikely that a reunion would ever happen. Slash kept himself busy, playing in Velvet Revolver (with Duff) before going on to record several decent solo albums. Axl retained the Guns N’ Roses name, touring the band in the 21st century with a host of stand-in musicians and finally releasing the long-threatened Chinese Democracy album in 2008. The new Axl was a portly fellow, rumoured to have an addiction to fried chicken and was described by one audience member in London as ‘a gold lamé blob up on stage.’ A reunion seemed as unlikely as all four Beatles playing together on stage.

Then the unthinkable happened. In 2016 Axl, Slash and Duff patched up their differences and announced a reunion tour. Who needs differences anyway when you’ve got millions of dollars to earn touring the world as a nostalgia act? Plus, that fried chicken won’t buy itself…

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The initial reaction was one of cynicism. Surely Axl would keep everybody waiting like he did in his prima donna days during the 1990s. Would it be worth buying a ticket if it meant waiting around for a few hours in the rain, waiting for Axl to finally take off his bathrobe and finish that last bucket of KFC? Of course it would!

Then the unthinkable part two happened. Axl landed the job as stand-in vocalist for AC/DC. It seems that Brian Johnson’s eardrums had enough of his own high-pitched screaming and put up a protest. He got a sick note from his doctor, ruling him out of that band due to the threat of permanent hearing loss. Step up, Mr. Rose.

It still hasn’t really sunk in that this actually happened – Axl Rose singing with AC/DC sounds like such an off-the-wall idea. Comparable to Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell singing in front of Rage Against The Machine. Oh wait, that actually happened too.

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What a great pairing – Axl DC – can it get any better? Brian Johnson’s vocals have never really fit the band if I have to be honest – there’s only so much shrieking I can handle, and after 1980’s Back In Black, there was a pretty consistent dip in quality. Other than Steven Tyler, Axl is the best choice to front Angus and company – he has the range to hit Brian Johnson’s high notes, and the ballsy tone to handle Bon Scott’s earlier material.

So the rock world waited with bated breath, and the unthinkable part three happened. Axl turned up on time and did his duty. No diva behaviour whatsoever – and best of all, his inclusion prompted the long-standing – and frankly, now quite boring – AC/DC set-list to change. They started playing songs they had rarely, if ever, played with Brian Johnson. Songs such as Riff Raff and Rock And Roll Damnation from 1978’s Powerage, If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It) from 1979’s Highway To Hell, and 1975’s Live Wire (from the Australian T.N.T. album, or the international version of High Voltage). It was so refreshing to see these songs performed once again.

Then, one show into the GNR reunion tour, the unthinkable part four happened. Axl broke his foot. It’s still unclear how he did this – so one can only speculate that a bottle of Hot Sauce fell on his foot as he opened the fridge for a midnight feast of fried chicken. He ended up fulfilling the rest of GNR’s U.S. tour, and the remaining AC/DC dates sat on a throne of guitars borrowed from Dave Grohl.

Last night my wife took a bullet and stayed home to put the kids to bed so that I could go down early to catch the support band, Wolfmother. When I got to the stadium I spoke to a lovely lady named Lucy, who had endured a 9-hour bus trip from Gisborne to see the show. Crikey! She sat next to me as she rolled a joint, out of sight of the security staff, and in minutes we had bonded over our mutual dislike of Michael McDonald-era Doobie Brothers.

I was really looking forward to seeing Wolfmother after I caught them supporting Aerosmith in Dunedin back in 2013. At that concert, the sight of the band bouncing on to the stage like exuberant puppies made me smile. Four years later and they’ve reduced their ranks significantly. What was once a boisterous four- or five-piece back in 2013 has now distilled into a tight trio. I’m not sure if this was intentional, but it meant one member was pulling more than his fair share of the weight – bassist Ian Peres also played keyboards, incredibly both at the same time during some songs.

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Twenty minutes later and Guns N’ Fucking Roses emerged. My wife had made it with just minutes to spare, and thankfully she was there to see opener It’s So Easy. They followed this with Mr. Brownstone, and Western Springs went off like a firework.

Axl did that jaunty side-to-side dance with his microphone stand, looking like a menopausal Nicole Kidman, Slash took all his solos with his guitar propped up on one elevated thigh, and Duff kept up on the bass, sticking his neck out to sing backing vocals.

The set-list was really strong with songs from Appetite For Destruction, and while I like most of the singles from the Use Your Illusion records, the songs from the debut record are just in a different class. They’re truly magical, and the whole of that first record is like lightning in a bottle.

I could never really work out why I liked Appetite so much more than the Use Your Illusion albums, and it wasn’t until I read Slash’s autobiography that I figured it out. Drummer Steven Adler – the one missing component that didn’t survive into that second line-up of the band – really provides the groove of ­Appetite. His replacement Matt Sorum is a powerhouse drummer himself, but Adler had something else – a swing that you don’t get with most 4/4 rock drummers. I’d have loved to have seen a full reunion with Adler on board, alongside original rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, but I’m more than happy to have seen three out of the original five.

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Covers were well-represented, not surprisingly for a band with only four albums of original material to their name. As well as the likely contenders – Live And Let Die and Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door – they also played the Misfit’s Attitude, the Who’s The Seeker, and in one really touching moment, a cover of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here afforded Slash and rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus the opportunity for a lovely bit of guitar work. November Rain was prefaced with Axl playing the piano outro from Derek & The Domino’s Layla, and Slash played snippets of the Godfather theme, Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) and Zeppelin’s Babe I’m Gonna Leave You before the night was through.

If I had one criticism, it was that the show could have easily been an hour shorter. After two hours when I told my wife that there was almost another hour left, she mimed shooting herself in the head (I noted that this was an odd thing to do in the presence of Duff McKagan, the last person to see Kurt Cobain alive; they found themselves sitting next to each other on a flight to Seattle where Cobain took his life a few days later).

At one point, the audience nearly chuckled themselves to death when Axl sang his big emotional number – This I Love, from the Chinese Democracy record. This was like bad wedding music; just awful and such a polar opposite to the youthful vibrance that is all over Appetite For Destruction.

Hit: Sweet Child O’Mine

Hidden Gem: Mr. Brownstone

Rocks In The Attic #502: The Doobie Brothers – ‘The Captain And Me’ (1973)

RITA#502This isn’t my favourite Doobs album – that would be Toulouse Street – but this is probably the most successful one, if you consider the strength of the individual songs on it. Both Long Train Runnin’ and China Grove were lifted off this record, and they’re amongst the best singles the band ever released.

In 1976, when the band’s first compilation, Best Of The Doobies, was being put together, as well as taking the two hit singles on The Captain And Me, they also took a couple of album tracks – Without You and South City Midnight Lady. As a result, these two songs now sound like hit singles. The end result for The Captain And Me is a record that feels like it’s full of hits.

Of course the thing that makes this a great Doobie Brothers album is the absence of Michael McDonald. He wasn’t tainting the band with his smooth AOR vocals just yet. I’ve criticised him enough in the past though, so I won’t elaborate further on this lest anyone think I have a personal vendetta against the man. <Aside> I do!

The record does mark the first occasion when fellow Steely Dan alumnus Jeff “Skunk” Baxter would appear on a Doobie Brothers album. He would also appear on the following year’s What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits, before becoming a fully fledged ‘brother’ on 1975’s Stampede.

Hit: Long Train Runnin’

Hidden Gem: Busted Down Around O’Connelly Corners

Rocks In The Attic #446: The Doobie Brothers – ‘Best Of The Doobies Volume 2’ (1981)

RITA#446Much like the first Best Of The Doobies album, this reminds me of a road trip across America when I was ten years old. The double-cassette of both albums that my Dad bought at a gas station was on repeat on the car stereo throughout that journey, and so this music is hardwired into my soul – it’s as American as fast food, diners, open highways and the hot backseat of a hired Pontiac.

I don’t think we listened to Volume 2 as much as the first one though. There’s definitely a drop-off in quality. Out goes Tom Johnston and rock n’ roll, and in comes Michael McDonald and a weird hybrid of rock n’ soul. In fact, to call it a drop off in quality is disingenuous to Tom Johnston. It’s a crevasse of a drop-off – we’re talking the heights of Everest to the depths of the deepest ocean trench. In fact, if you didn’t know the Doobies and you were played excerpts of both line-ups, you’d have trouble believing they were the same band. Chalk and cheese. Apples and oranges. Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac and the transatlantic Fleetwood Mac from 1975 onwards.

I’m still waiting for Volume 3

Hit: What A Fool Believes

Hidden Gem: Dependin’ On You

Rocks In The Attic #325: Tom Johnston – ‘Everything You’ve Heard Is True’ (1979)

RITA#325This is the first solo album by moustachioed head Doobie Brother Tom Johnston. I picked it up in the sales racks at Real Groovy in Auckland, and I’m glad I did. Sometimes you just have to trust your gut when buying records, and it paid off this time.

I guess it wasn’t too much of a risk – Johnston was the driving force behind the first classic run of Doobie Brothers albums, alongside Patrick Simmons – and so you’d expect a solo album to be more of the same, at the very least. Any risk comes from the question of whether Johnston could still cut it, five years after he made his last meaningful contribution to the Doobs. After Stampede in 1975, he effectively stood on the sidelines, only appearing on a few songs on Takin’ It To The Streets (1976) and Livin’ On The Fault Line (1977) before being replaced by beardy MOR pusher Michael McDonald. The reason – chronic stomach ulcers and “exhaustion”.

Thankfully, Everything You’ve Heard Is True is just like an early Doobs record. It’s even produced by Ted Templeman. The only noticeable change is that the songs are a little less rocky – so you don’t get anything approaching China Grove. There’s plenty of soul though – and a lot of the tracks are little funkier than your typical Doobie Brothers fare.

The cover shows Johnston sat on a stool in a bar, lighting a cigarette. Behind the bar, amongst the nuts and bottles, and usual debris and clutter you find behind a bar, there’s a great little pun. A printed sign reads ‘OUR CREDIT MANAGER IS HELEN WAITE. IF YOU WANT CREDIT GO TO HELEN WAITE.’

Hit: Savannah Nights

Hidden Gem: Down Along The River

Rocks In The Attic #279: Steely Dan – ‘Aja’ (1977)

RITA#279This isn’t my favourite Steely Dan album. That has to be the awesome Pretzel Logic. I guess any of them could be my favourite though – they’re all so consistent. But just like your favourite James Bond actor, or your favourite Doctor (Who), it always comes back to the first one you were exposed to, and for me that was Pretzel Logic.

Aja has to be the best sounding Steely Dan record though. The production on it sounds just perfect, like it was recorded on a computer, but without losing all the soul that pro-tools recordings always seem to do. Obviously it couldn’t have been recorded on a computer back in 1977 – it’s just recorded really well; seven tracks of perfection.

When I saw Steely Dan a couple of years ago on the 2011 Shuffle Diplomacy Tour, they opened with the title track from Aja. I don’t know what the drummer did wrong to deserve that – the drum parts on that song are amazing, with an awesome drum solo mid-song over the saxophone parts. I think I’d like a bit of a warm-up before I tackled that in a setlist. Perhaps it was punishment for his habits on the tour bus or something. Anyway, he nailed it – and he was only a young dude as well. He didn’t even flinch; he just took it all in his stride. Give the drummer some, indeed.

The title-track from Aja is probably the best example of the band being classified as jazz-rock. There are huge portions of the song based around a simple two-note motif, reminiscent of Miles Davis’ So What opener from Kind Of Blue. Like most of Steely Dan’s music though, I have no idea what any of the lyrics mean – but it doesn’t really matter. The music is just so rich, that they could be singing in ancient Hebrew and I’d still dig it.

Thanks to De La Soul heavily sampling Peg (for their song Eye Know), I felt I already knew that song before I heard anything else by Steely Dan at all. It’s a great pop song – probably their most commercial and mainstream-sounding single, but the prominent Michael McDonald backing vocals on the song are the only sour point on the whole album for me.

The master tapes for two of the albums songs – Black Cow and Aja – have gone missing over the years, preventing the record company from being able to bring out a SACD or 5.1 version of the album:

“When we recently sent for the multi-track masters of Aja so as to make new surround-sound mixes of same, we discovered that the two-inch multi-tracks of the songs Aja and Black Cow were nowhere to be found. They had somehow become separated from the other boxes, which the producer had abandoned here and there (studios, storage lockers, etc.) almost twenty years before. Anyone having information about the whereabouts of these missing two inch tapes should contact HK Management at (415) 485-1444. There will be a $600.00 reward for anyone who successfully leads us to the tapes. This is not a joke. Happy hunting.” – Donald Fagen & Walter Becker, 1999.

Really? “$600.00”? That misplaced decimal point sure sounds like a joke to me.

Hit: Peg

Hidden Gem: Aja

Rocks In The Attic #246: The Doobie Brothers – ‘Minute By Minute’ (1978)

RITA#246The last Doobies album to feature Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, and with Tom Johnston now a distant memory, this is really now Michael McDonald’s band. You can still hear the influence of Patrick Simmons (especially on the awesome Steamer Lane Breakdown), but his parts are usually absent from the MOR-tinged McDonald songs. It’s almost as though there are two bands at play – one band doing session work at the bidding of Michael McDonald, and another band trying their best to sound like the Doobie Brothers of days gone by.

Compared with their earlier albums, Minute By Minute is pretty average, but the cover is awesome. I’m a sucker for black and white album covers showing a warts ‘n all band photograph, and this is up there with the best of ‘em – almost as good as the inner gatefold photo of the mighty Floyd inside Meddle.

Of course, it’s nice to see Baxter on the cover for one last time. It should be a rule that all rock bands have to have somebody in their ranks with a handlebar moustache.

Hit: What A Fool Believes

Hidden Gem: Don’t Stop To Watch The Wheels

Rocks In The Attic #219: Average White Band – ‘AWB’ (1974)

RITA#219Quite how a Scottish soul and R&B band can produce one of the deepest funk records – Pick Up The Pieces – almost out of nowhere, is at times hard to believe. Just to give you an example of how Scottish they are, their drummer is called Robbie McIntosh, their guitar-playing vocalist is called Hamish Stuart, and their other guitarist is called – my favourite – Onnie McIntrye, which sounds like a made-up Scottish name. It wouldn’t be hard to believe if you found out that the long-lost seventh member of the group was called Kilt Mcsporran.

My love for Pick Up The Pieces is widely known among my friends. It’s easily my favourite song ever, and due to its lack of lyrics, I don’t get bored of it. It’s just an extremely funky record, and just that bit more musically interesting than the best of James Brown. The counterpoints between the horns and the guitars, with the percussion sitting in the middle, really are a joy to listen to.

The rest of this album, the band’s second, is quite terrible. Apart from a decnt cover of The Isley Brothers’ Work To Do, they almost sound like a different band to the musicians that play on Pick Up The Pieces; and if I could compare them to anything, I would have to put them next to the worst of Michael McDonald-era Doobie Brothers.

Hit: Pick Up The Pieces

Hidden Gem: Work To Do