The 50 Greatest Live Acts? What? No Prince?

Who doesn’t love a music list? After all, they make great clickbait, right?

Hype Music Festivals (who?) has just published its list of “the greatest 50 live acts right now.”

Conspicuously missing: The mighty, multitalented Prince, one of the greatest live acts of all time (not just right now; his show 20 years ago at the Sunrise Musical Theater was one for the ages); Bootsy Collins and other super-funky acts; Medeski Martin and Wood; any number of great New Orleans artists; and the fast-rising trio Dirty Loops.

Still, lots of great, groove-alicious high-performing acts on the list, including Galactic (from New Orleans), lately taking things to a fever pitch with new singer Maggie Koerner; the amazing, oversized Tedeschi Trucks Band, co-led by miracle-working slide guitarist Derek Trucks and his blues-belting wife and guitar slinger Susan Tedeschi (the band was hot, again, at the Sunshine Blues Festival); the astonishing collective Snarky Puppy; Blues Traveler; Further; Lettuce; the Punch Brothers (sublime at Springfest); My Morning Jacket; Umphrey’s McGee; String Cheese Incident; and Radiohead (naturally).

And, in the No. 1 spot … The Allman Brothers, probably extra smoking-hot these days because the clock is running out on the band.

Here’s the list.

As mentioned, the high energy pop-fusion-funk group Dirty Loops is one of the bands that should have made the cut:

Want to see The Dirty Loops live? The band’s new 20-city tour kicks off Oct. 21 at Irving Plaza in NYC. Details are here.

The Boss at the (Super) Bowl: Over-Exposed?

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, although looking pretty long in the tooth, put on a reasonably impressive performance during the Super Bowl halftime show.bruce

Nice hearing solid versions  of oldies “10th Avenue Freeze Out,” “Born to Run” and “Glory Days,” along with the supposed-to-be inspirational title track from his new CD, Working on a Dream.

Credit goes to the NFL powers-that-be for choosing to showcase genuine American music royalty, rather than subjecting viewers to, say, 12 minutes of Kanye West or ‘Lil Wayne.

Still, it might be said that Mr. Integrity didn’t exactly stay true to his school of blue-collar rock. New York Times reviewer Jon Caramanica notes in a story published today that the Boss dropped verses from each of the four songs.

The Times, for the most part, liked the performance:

“Springsteen appeared in good cheer throughout, sliding across the stage on his knees (and into a camera) at the end of ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,’ and singing a collegial duet with the guitarist Steven Van Zandt on an ecstatic ‘Glory Days,’ ” Caramanica writes. ” ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out’ was warm and bluesy, with Springsteen building up energy for ‘Born to Run,’ which concluded with a spectacular burst of fireworks. For the measured ‘Working on a Dream,’ Springsteen was backed, in triangle formation, by Van Zandt and Patti Scialfa (also Springsteen’s wife), all of them flanked by a gospel choir, the set’s most heavy-handed moment.”

He also altered several lyric lines to reflect the show’ s setting. Said Todd Martens, in his item posted on the L.A. Times music blog: “Give Springsteen credit. He was clearly enjoying the stage, although he misfired by changing the lyrics to “Glory Days,” swapping out the dead-beat baseball player references for lame nods to football. But this was a Springsteen clearly caught up in the advertising-driven spectacle of the Super Bowl, and completely unashamed about all of it.”

Stephen Metcalf, writing in Slate, is a little more harsh: “Springsteen has evolved, in the 35 years I’ve adored him, from an acquired taste that almost no one acquired to America’s favorite karaoke act.”

It wasn’t coincidental, as even Springsteen has admitted, that the performance in part was a pitch for lots of new “product” – including CDs and concert tickets – sure to generate hundreds of millions when all is said and done.

The new album was released on the Tuesday before the performance, and advance-sales tickets for the forthcoming E Street tour went on sale, convenently enough, this morning. Also just released, as Jonathan Cohen points out today in his Billboard piece, is a new greatest-hits disc, available only through Wal-Mart.

And the payoff stands to be strikingly immediate for Springsteen, Martens writes: “In the days following his halftime performance last year, Tom Petty saw a 352% increase in digital track sales. The four songs performed today — the set ended with “Glory Days” (you were expecting something else?) — are surely rocketing up the iTunes sales chart as this quick reaction blog is being typed.”

I suppose all this is win-win, in the short term, for Springsteen.

But, as a fair weather fan — yes, I was entirely blown away by the E Street band’s 1985 performance at the Orange Bowl in Miami — I have to wonder a couple of things:

1)How’s all this working out for his artistic credibility?

and, related questions:

2)Isn’t Springsteen moving into the land of the over-exposed? Is he risking a backlash?

I mean, Bruce has been all over the media recently because of:

  • A good deal of critical slobbering, as well as prominent placement and cover stories, tied in with the release last week of his new album. Brian Hiatt, in his Rolling Stone review, praised the CD’s “romantic sweep and swaggering musical ambition.”
  • His countless pro-Obama efforts in the fall, culminating with his headlining of the pre-inauguration concert (with a gospel choir, natch, a device that’s way over-used), aired live Jan. 18 on HBO. His assumption, a risky one, was that all of his fans shared his political views. I’m guessing that some sort of concert DVD is in the works.
  • His Golden Globe, which he picked up on Jan. 12, for a song, “The Wrestler,” contributed to the Darren Aronofsky film of the same name.

When is a lot of Bruce, too much?

I’d say … about now.

NY Times Critic Ben Ratliff Talks To Readers

Want to ask a question of a New York Times music critic, actually get a response, and perhaps see the exchange published?

Now's the time.
 
Ben Ratliff, who writes about jazz, rock and pop for the Times, and penned
last year's acclaimed The Jazz Ear: Conversations Over Music, a collection
of interviews with jazz greats, this week is making a point of responding
to readers' questions.
 
Below is the announcement of the feature, and an initial q&a.
 
Ratliff offers a quite sound response to a question regarding the relatively small
audience for jazz. To that, I would add:
 
1)The if-a-tree-falls-in-the-woods truth: If the average music listener/consumer
doesn't read or hear about jazz (or, for that matter, blues or world music or
altcountry), then how does he or she know that that music exists? There is often
 -- but not always -- a direct correlation between the music that gets the most
hype, and the Billboard charts. This is related to the below:
 
2)FAR too many music "critics" spend the bulk of their time/energy
chasing celebrity culture, rather than writing actual music. Case in point:
The acres of forests giving their lives this week for oodles of stories on
the allegedly new and improved "American Idol." What's that abomination
of a "reality" show have to do with music that matters?
Nothing.
 
Related to the above is an irony: The folks who continue to be loyal to
newspapers, in print, are generally older readers. Within that group are
those who cite arts and entertainment coverage as a primary reason for
continuing to purchase newspapers. Many of those older readers have
little use for coverage of '"American Idol" and the likes of Miley Cyrus
and the Jonas Brothers, etc. 
 
Here's the irony: The younger audiences (Teens? Tweens?) who are interested
in that kind of stuff have already abandoned print papers for online sources, so
they're not being served when that coverage appears in print. And the readers
still loyal to print newspapers are simply annoyed when papers emphasize
teen/pop celebrity coverage at the expense of arts/music of substance. So -- to 
clarify -- they're catering to an audience that's already gone and in the process
pissing off regular readers. 
 
Smart thinking, huh? 
 
Here's the link to the ask-the-readers feature. And below is the announcement
published in the Times:
 
January 12, 2009 
Talk to the Newsroom: 
Ben Ratliff, Jazz and Pop Critic 
 
Ben Ratliff, music critic, is answering questions from readers Jan. 12-16, 
2009. Questions may be e-mailed to askthetimes@nytimes.com. 
 
Mr. Ratliff has been a jazz and pop critic at the New York Times since 1996. 
 
Born in New York City in 1968, he grew up in London and Rockland County, 
N.Y., and studied Classics at Columbia University. He is the author of 
"Jazz: A Critic¹s Guide to the 100 Most Important Recordings" (2002), 
"Coltrane: The Story of a Sound" (2007) and "The Jazz Ear: Conversations 
Over Music" (2008). 
 
Among hundreds of reviews, reported stories and obituaries in these pages, 
he has written about Duke Ellington, Slick Rick, Shirley Caesar, Dorival 
Caymmi, Miles Davis, Tony Bennett, Johnny Paycheck, Cat Power, Slayer, 
Donald Lambert, the Stooges, Tito Puente, Miley Cyrus, Prince, Gal Costa, Bo 
Diddley, Bebo Valdes, the Texas A&M University Marching Storm, community 
singing in East Lansing, Mich., the praise-rock house bands at the High 
Desert Church in Victorville, Calif., and much else. 
 
These discussions will continue in coming weeks with other Times editors and 
reporters. 
 
Why Isn't Jazz Audience Bigger? 
 
Q. Why isn't there more of an audience for "straight-ahead" jazz? Or put in 
a different way, how come established jazz artists who have been active 
since the '50s or early '60s are given only niche status (or no visibility 
at all) by the media? Do you feel the media plays a role/responsibiltiy 
regarding the public awareness of such artists as Freddie Hubbard, Barry 
Harris, Cedar Walton, for example? Why is it that the general (U.S.) public 
have no awareness or appreciation of this genre? 
-- Paul Loubriel 
 
A. Paul: This is a big question. I'll try to hit some parts of it but I 
probably won't answer it to your satisfaction. 
 
In the last 60 years, people almost completely stopped dancing to jazz, and 
far fewer people grew up with pianos in the house. I think that has a lot to 
do with why jazz is no longer the popular vernacular art it used to be. When 
you dance to music (in all ways -- partner dancing, stepping, headbanging -- 
just reacting to music with your body) or when you play it, then you own it. 
A lot of people born since 1960 don't feel that they own jazz. 
 
Absolutely, the media plays a role in why the average person doesn't know 
who Cedar Walton is. But I think the mainstream media -- obviously we're not 
talking about jazz magazines like Downbeat, which has Benny Golson on the 
cover this month (a good example of the kind of artist you're talking about) 
-- doesn't, by definition, deal with the kind of art that post-bop mainstream 
jazz has become, which is an art of tradition and very slow refinements. 
 
Mainstream publications, generally, want to run music stories about what's 
new or radically different, or about trends. (This could get into a larger 
issue about the shallowness of the general perception of "news.") With 
classical music, they put a lot of stock in premieres or big, notable new 
compositions. In jazz there are few premieres and few big, notable new 
compositions. One has to sniff out what's interesting, however it presents 
itself: it could be a one-night gig attended by 15 people or a sold-out run. 
 
As for the general public, they're not buying albums as much anymore, and as 
much as jazz is a recordings medium at all, it's still an album art. 
 
I believe that jazz needs more jazz clubs (with small cover charges), 
because it's still a social music. The way to know about Cedar Walton in 
2009 is to go see him at the Village Vanguard. 
 
By the way, I see that The Times has mentioned Cedar Walton 247 times, in 
reviews and articles and listings, since 1980. Not too bad.