My Musical Bucket List: Five To See Before I Die

So someone says, “Hey…you’re going to die in a year.”  Isn’t the next logical thought, “Who should I see in concert?”

On Tuesday, four of us were in an interesting conversation about music that stemmed from my outing Monday night to see Pearl Jam in Boston. The sensational and musically-inclined Brett had mentioned that he had never seen PJ before which started a discussion on what bands we’d like to see before we died, otherwise known as ‘The Bucket List” chat.

I’m not sure when the whole Bucket List phenomenon started (I’m guessing when the movie came out, but my Spidey-sense is telling  me otherwise), but the concept has given plenty of people the chance to do what seems to be inherently human: a) making lists, b) thinking about doing fun stuff that they probably will never do and c) thinking about dying.

I sat back when Brett brought up the idea of the live music Bucket List and was fascinated at this subject I never had considered. Who would make my list? I love hitting up live shows, but with most of the music I listen to, I’ve seen nearly everyone that dominates my iTunes and even those who are nowhere near it. When shows come up, I try to find someone to go and make a night of it. Luckily, I have a lot of friends who do the same thing.

I thought a lot about the question and figured my first post here in nearly eight months couldn’t have been about a better subject. For public consumption, here are my five Bucket List bands I’d like to see before I die.

(A side note? We played this game initially with ANY band ever, even if they were broken up or non-existent. For the purposes of reality, all these bands exist now…or at least are thinking about existing. That will make more sense as you read on.)

Smashing Pumpkins

This one rocketed up to the top of the  list without question. Billy Corgan’s masterpiece quartet of the 90’s was a such a huge influence on me growing up that I’m stunned and somewhat frustrated that I’ve never seen them live before.

Part of the reason was my locale growing up: the thriving metropolis of the Oxford Hills, a part of Maine  known for mountains, country music and my dad’s killer curve horseshoe throw. Rock shows never came close to us,  save for Portland which was about an hour away. My first live show was in my freshman year of college, so up until 1996, I simply had never been to a concert. The Pumpkins’ heyday was from 1992-1997 so I was already behind.

Of course, the original Pumpkins would be my first choice but I don’t see that reunion happening ever. I’d gladly go see them now, but I almost feel like it would have an asterisk next to it. This isn’t the group that created Gish, Siamese Dream and what could have been the greatest album of all time if they just didn’t make a damn double disc in Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness. It’s now a slightly above-average alternative band who is giving away almost 50 new tracks for free this year.

But that doesn’t stop  my desire to see Corgan and crew rock out live. It’ll happen someday, even if it will be a far cry from the starting roster that helped dominate the 90’s alternative scene.

Guns ‘n’ Roses

I’m not ashamed to admit that I still love G’n’R despite what you might think of Axl W. Rose. I told you that Chinese Democracy deserved your respect and haven’t backed off that statement yet. Take that one to heart.

Like the Pumpkins above, this isn’t the classic Axl and Slash duo that brought us unforgettable albums and created anthems for late nights in bars across the world (Sweet Child O’Mine, anyone? Yeah, you know you’ve been that guy or girl swaying at 2 am after too many Amstel Lights) and in arenas across the world (my hockey job ruined my previous love of Welcome To The Jungle. I somewhat recoil and twitch Humpty Dance-style whenever I hear the first few chords.)

But you know what? I don’t care. As long as Axl is belting it out, isn’t that what matters? Actually, now that I think of it, fulfilling a full slate of tour dates should actually matter more, then Axl, then finding my old acid wash jeans and bandanna collection.

Rage Against The Machine

If you talk to any New England Rage fan that was alive in 2000, they probably will tell you they had tickets to the infamous 2000 tour stop in Foxboro with the Beastie Boys; the same one that got canceled after the Beasties’ Mike D got hurt in A FREAKING BICYCLE ACCIDENT which caused the tour to be canceled. By the time he was better, Rage had broken up. Thanks, Mike. Thanks a lot.

Now that it’s been more than a decade later, Rage has begun playing some dates again and it’s looking like a full-on reunion is very, very possible. They are playing a slew of European dates this year and hopefully, that will lead to them returning to U.S. soil in true touring band fashion.

There’s no doubt that as a 32-year-old, the 90’s were my formative years in music. With their brand of hard rock, RATM was a fusion of everything I liked at the time: aggression, a message, unique style and dreadlocks. I first saw ‘Freedom’ on MTV on Christmas morning in 1994 and never stopped being enthralled. Now that RATM is nearing the point of being an official band again, it’s time to prepare for the inevitable.

Hopefully this time, their opening act can stay off the two-wheeler.

The Who

At last count, I have just one Who song in my iTunes (The Seeker, inspired by my classic rendition/tribute on Rock Band) and even as I write this, I don’t know how that is possible. While I loved The Doors and admired the Stones and Zeppelin growing up, I really began to delve into Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry’s band over the past five years. The more I listen to, the more I like. Where are all my songs then?

If there was a group I’d be willing to spend big money to go see, it would be The Who. I was awestruck at their Super Bowl halftime show this year and thought the entire layout was just awesome. Their body of work will hold up against anyone’s and that style of rock has influenced many of my faves today, including Pearl Jam who routinely cover Reign O’er Me (including Monday night).

There have been rumblings about a tour this year which would be a must-see and likely hella pricey but sometimes you gotta pay for the quality, baby. Right after this, I’m going to go download a ton of their stuff so I can begin preparation in earnest. I can’t wait.

Blink-182

This was by far the hardest choice because I’ve seen all of my other favorites. From PJ to Incubus to Tool to Taproot to Deftones to Green Day to Linkin Park to Coldplay to Kid Rock to Eminem and dozens of others, I’ve experienced live shows for nearly everyone I care about.  Others like The Doors, Nirvana or Johnny Cash just aren’t happening for obvious reasons. Scanning through my music collection tonight, the one that really stood out was Blink-182.

Mostly thanks to Green Day, I really got into the pop punk sound and latched onto Blink-182, a trio out of California that sang 3-minute songs about a variety of immature subjects that were fairly radio friendly. Listening to these guys wasn’t exactly a night at the opera in terms of sophistication, but c’mon now: aren’t we all allowed to like who we like, regardless of what others might think when the windows are rolled down? (Except for Yanni or Matchbox 20….I can’t get with that.)

But just as Blink-182 evolved and put out an incredibly awesome and musically advanced self-titled album in 2003, bassist/vocalist Tom DeLonge left the group and formed Angels And Airwaves. leaving guitarist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker to form +44.  After Barker got in a near-fatal plane accident in September 2008, all three began talking about the future and decided to reform. Who knows what this version will bring, but if it’s anything like what I heard on that last album, I can’t wait to check them out live.

So that’s my top five of bands I’d like to see before I jump six feet under. I know you want to tell me who’re you’re dying to see, pun fully intended.

Josh Nason is a freelance journalist who has penned pieces for FIGHT! Magazine, Apollo (Australia) Magazine, Manchester Magazine and more. While he loves to write about mixed martial arts, blogging about music and observations on life are passions as well. Follow him at Twitter.

Why Chinese Democracy is a better Guns N’Roses disc than you think

gnr“Sorry, Chinese Democracy barely qualifies as GnR.”

While I was traveling on the T last month in Boston, I started listening to Guns N’ Roses’ latest effort, Chinese Democracy. If you haven’t heard of this disc or any of the production drama behind said disc, chances are that you probably aren’t into rock music, lived in Antarctica or simply decided to erase the thought of Axl Rose from your conscious being at some point over the past decade.

I had heard from some friends that they really liked it, but I was prepared to be less than blown away. I had purchased Democracy months ago and only briefly skipped through some tracks, never really fully embracing what I was hearing. But I made the commitment and focused into what Rose and his group of mostly non-original Gunners had to tell my ears and mind and I gotta tell you…I really liked what I heard.

“That album mostly sucks. I gave it three tries.”

I’m not a mega-fan of the band, but like many other white guys in their early 30s, I had the Appetite for Destruction tape that spun repeatedly in my yellow Walkman and participated in the debate over what Use Your Illusion disc I liked better (for the record, the blue one). While my musical taste has grown over the years, I still looked forward to hearing this new cd eventually – even if the path to get there took way too long to begin with.

What I heard was fantastic. From the title track to songs like Better, Madagascar and my personal favorite Shackler’s Revenge, this is a great disc. Totaling 14 tracks in all, you can throw this on and just listen to it from start-to-finish. While there is no Sweet Child O’Mine, Patience or even You Could Be Mine, the release of Democracy has added some good music to the G N’R catalog – even if a vocal group won’t allow these songs to enter the conversation.

“Sorry Josh, that was not worth the wait.”

But as you can see by the italicized comments throughout this blog, my opinion apparently is in the minority. Unfortunately for the band, they were in a no-win situation with the CD for several reasons:

– The on-again, off-again release of the disc over the last decade became a running pop culture joke. There was more stops and false starts than a ’85 Ford Escort with no oil so when the impending launch became very real, people didn’t take it seriously. I was in a Best Buy and saw a display that helped spark my memory. Marketers and fans just got burned out from the entire game and thus, killed a lot of buzz for the November release. Strike 1.

– This isn’t the original crew. A cop-out from some critics has been that Slash isn’t in the group and thus, it really axl-roseisn’t Guns. I can see where they are coming from because Axl and Slash were like a well-tuned WWF tag team of the 80s. But bands evolve and change and while this version has been bastardized over the last 10 years, it’s still Axl’s voice and I think that should count for something.

Being Axl is obviously its own curse as he’s one of the most polarizing figures in rock, even when he was holed up somewhere in the desert working on Democracy. Easy to overcome? For some, yes. For many others, not so much. Ah, the curse of a frontman that believes too many of his own clippings. Strike 2.

– If this disc was put out by someone other than Guns, it would have been hailed as one of 2008’s top rock discs. When you factor in all of the above, it would have taken a miracle for this to get the credit it truly deserved. Just out of spite alone, I feel that critics would never give Chinese Democracy a fair shake. It was either Appetite for Destruction II or bust and I don’t think that’s fair. If any number of bands had released this under a different name, there would be a huge buzz but because it was Guns N’Roses, the disc was seen as average at best.

Yes, they are a better band with Slash…but he’s not coming back. Yes, it shouldn’t have taken a decade to get this on the shelves…but it did, so deal with it. Yes, they should be touring to help support this…which I actually don’t understand at all but that’s beside the point.

Let go of your prejudices and give Chinese Democracy a shot. G N’R got you through the late 80s and 90s – you owe Axl that much.