I had the privilege of seeing Metallica at their show this past summer at Soldier Field. I went with my brother, and my dad drove us into downtown Chicago, stayed in the hotel while we were at the show, and then drove us back the next morning. This also happened to be on Father's Day. My brother and I felt so bad that we bought my dad a card apologizing for what a pain in the ass we were (and still are) and bought him dinner. My dad also drove me into Chicago to see Megadeth and a bunch of openers at the Aragon Ballroom a few years ago and read a book in a Starbucks for about five hours while I was at the show. I don't why he was crazy enough to do any of that, but because of him, I got to see two of the best shows of my life. So, dad, thanks for putting up with me finding shows that are in the most inconvenient locations possible and thank you for being so willing to make sure I'm happy.
I had been anticipating this show for so long. The instant Metallica announced their first album in eight years, I knew a tour had to be coming. So every day, I waited for that tour to be announced so I could hop on tickets right away. In the mean time, I listened to every single Metallica album so I would know all the lyrics so I could scream at the top of my lungs with James Hetfield on every song. I was certain that he would be able to distinguish my voice from the 60,000+ other fans at the show, but looking back now, that may have been a bit of a lofty goal. The new album, "Hardwired... to Self-Destruct" came out in November of 2016, and I knew it was only a matter of time before the tour was announced. A few months later, Metallica announces a huge North American tour. Tickets were going on sale a few days later and I knew I had to get some. Usually, my mom gets the tickets for shows I go to because she is the world's greatest ticket buyer. Seriously, I don't know how she does it, but she is able to scoop up tickets right when they go on sale with no problem. Well, the day tickets were going on sale, she happened to be at work, so it was up to me to grab the tickets. So I logged on to Ticketmaster once the sale started, and to my surprise, I found tickets right away. These seats were pretty far back though, so I tested my luck to get closer, and I ended up finding closer tickets. At this point, I got cocky and tried one more time, but then the site said it couldn't process my request, and it kept saying it no matter how many times I refreshed the page. So now I'm freaking out because all the tickets are going to get bought up and be resold for an absurd amount of money. So I call my mom in a panic while she's at work and ask if she can try because I messed up and she tells me she will try her best. Five minutes later, I get a text from her telling me what section, row, and seats my tickets are in. I've got the most clutch parents on Earth.
The show was absolutely incredible. Before the first song, they always play a clip from the renowned film "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" where Ennio Morricone's famous composition "The Ecstasy of Gold" plays. So I'm singing along with the chant like every other fan in the stadium and then the intro to their first song on the new album, "Hardwired," begins to play. I took video of this moment because I knew this would be something I would want to see for the rest of my life. The instant Metallica hit their first note, my legs literally started shaking because of how excited I was, so my video is basically useless. Nonetheless, I was enjoying every moment. I was surrounded by people who love what I love which is such a great feeling. Everyone in that stadium was headbanging together, putting up devil horns, and collectively having their faces melted. I was playing air guitar and singing with complete strangers but it felt so normal. It was just like being a part of one giant family. Before the show, I was talking to people near me about our favorite Metallica songs, our favorite bands, and one guy even complimented my patch jacket which made my day. And of course, Metallica absolutely killed it. They were on top of every song and blew everyone away with their stage presence. Rob Trujillo did his famous crab walk during "For Whom the Bell Tolls," the band got the whole crowd singing the classical guitar intro to "Battery," and they shot off enough fireworks after "Enter Sandman" to make a Fourth of July show jealous.
Metallica is my second favorite band of all time. I used to be in the "Megadeth is better" camp, but that changed when I spent time really listening to each Metallica album, and the on that finally pushed me over the edge was "...And Justice for All." This album gets a lot of hate because the bass is essentially nonexistent. While that is true, the masterful songwriting negates that one flaw. Everything else about it make it the perfect thrash metal album. This is easily Metallica's most darkest, most aggressive work. Just listen to "One" and "Dyers Eve." "One" is probably the darkest song they've ever written. Just watch the music video, it's the stuff of nightmares. "Dyers Eve" is played blazing fast all the way through while James growls his way through lyrics about a difficult childhood. Not only is the music fast and loud as one would expect, but the songs are also the most complex they have ever written. In a list of the top ten hardest Metallica songs to play on guitar by ultimateguitar.com, three songs from this album were featured, including "The Frayed Ends of Sanity," "Blackened," and "Dyers Eve." I would argue that the title track and "One" should be on there as well. The clean guitar tones throughout the album are so melodic, composed like a symphony, yet they quickly transcend into a frenzy of notes at a moment's notice. However, it's not just mindless filler. It's filled with anger, fury, and despair. Plenty of people say shredding has no emotion. I say listen to this album and try to tell me otherwise. People also give Lars Ulrich crap because they say he's not a great drummer. While his playing has regressed with age (which is understandable), listen to his drumming on any of these songs. "...And Justice for All" has some of the greatest double bass pedal work of any album I've ever heard, and even when he's playing simple beats, he's playing a variety of poly rhythms so it's never quite what you expect.
Metallica is one of those bands where I understand if you don't like them. Not everyone likes metal, but you at least have to appreciate and respect the talent, influence, and dedication they've had over the past 35 years. Normally, I put one video at the end of these posts, but I'm going to add an extra one here. Metallica is kind enough to record high quality video and audio of every single show they play now, so I am going to include one video of "Blackened" performed in Seattle on the "...And Justice for All" tour in 1989, and one video of "Battery" performed at the show I attended so you can see how incredible the band remains to this day.
It was a debate for me if I should make my first blog about "Aqualung" or an album from my favorite band, Rush. It made sense to go with my first album as my first post, so that means Rush had to come second. Now, if you knew me in high school, I sincerely apologize for how much I talked about Rush. I know I pissed off countless friends and probably even some strangers with how much I brought Rush into a conversation. While they are still my favorite band today (and always will be). This album was the one that got me interested in Rush. When I say it got me interested in Rush, I mean I now own every single one of their studio and live albums on both vinyl and CD, own several shirts, posters, DVD's, and I am a part of at least four Rush fan groups on Facebook so that I can talk about the world's greatest band with others who share my insanity. So "interested" may be a bit of an understatement. My true Rush infamy came when they announced their R40 tour and I found out they were coming to the United Center in June of 2015. After that point, there was no turning back. If you were near me, you were going to be sucked into Rush conversation some way or another and I didn't care if you wanted to hear it. My friend, his sister, and myself went to the show with extremely close seats thanks to my generous parents getting me a ticket for my birthday. Still to this day, it is the best show I've ever seen. Even 40 years later, Rush was on top of their game.
When I was younger, I knew of Rush, but never really knew anything about them besides their hits like "Tom Sawyer," "The Spirit of Radio," and I knew the members' names and that was about it. I remember one day I was at my grandparents house spending the weekend and something inside of me told me to look into Rush more. I guess I thought "well I like their hits so I'll probably like their other stuff, right?" So I grabbed my old iPod Touch, opened up the iTunes store, and searched for Rush. Much to my surprise, Rush had released an album just a few years prior called "Clockwork Angels." Next thing I know, I clicked buy and was listening to this completely unknown album from a band I knew little about. As unbelievable as it may seem, the first time I listened to the album, I specifically remember thinking "Neil Peart's drumming really isn't that impressive on this album." I can't believe that thought ever came through my head. (Neil, I know you're probably reading this, and I would just like to apologize for my past ignorance). If I ever say that now, I want someone to shoot me because something has gone horribly wrong. Over time, however, the album grew on me more and more and I slowly began to realize how incredible their musicianship really is. Geddy Lee is the most ripping bass player on the face of the planet, Alex Lifeson is easily the most underrated guitarist alive and plays parts that I doubt guitarists of similar genres could touch, and Neil Peart is a god, plain and simple, and I will back up those statements until the end of time.
Although there was speculation in the past year, it seems likely that "Clockwork Angels" is Rush's last album. While it upsets me that I won't get any new music from my favorite band, this is a perfect album to end a career on. This is one of Rush's most underrated albums. On ultimateclassicrock.com, "Clockwork Angels" is ranked number 11 out of the 19 original Rush albums (2004's "Feedback" is omitted because it is a covers-only album). I easily put "Clockwork Angels" in my top five Rush albums. Now part of it is because this is the album that started my borderline unhealthy Rush obsession, but also it is one of their most consistent albums. Every song is perfect. The vocals, bass, drums, guitar, production, EVERYTHING is perfect. There aren't many bands that deliver one of their best albums at the end of their career, but Rush did.
Each instrument is displayed in its own unique way. This album has the best bass tone I've ever heard. Later in his career, Geddy Lee switched over to Fender Jazz basses, and the tone is captured perfectly. Just listen to his bass line on "The Anarchist." You can clearly hear the bass throughout the whole song, and he's playing these incredible line with only his fingers. And don't forget, he's singing vocal parts with no relation to the bass line simultaneously, and he's doing it like nothing. Neil's drums sound absolutely massive on "Clockwork Angels", and, even with what I said in the past, he is sounding better than ever. Listen to his drumming on "Headlong Flight". In classic Neil Peart fashion, he's switching up time signatures left and right, playing with impeccable timing, and just beating the hell out of his drum set. Neil knows exactly when to go all out and when to scale back. To really hear that, you have to listen to the album a few times through. It took me several listens in order to really hear what he was doing. Overall, his playing is a little more scaled back, but he will throw in some little fills you may not catch on the first time. And this album contains some of Alex's best guitar work. His playing on the title track blows me away every time I hear it. He puts so much depth and emotion into that song. Listen to his solo. When you hear it, you will probably think "well that's not too complicated." Afterwards, watch it. He seems to be playing completely random notes with no regard to the time signature but it fits in perfectly. I've tried learning how to play famous Rush guitar solos and given up quickly because it's impossible to do it as well as him.
I truly can't imagine my life without this album. Along with "Aqualung," this is the most important album in my life. Because of it, I became truly obsessed with my first band and in turn branched off and began obsessing with other bands (I'm looking at you, Metallica). I struggled putting Rush's musicianship into words in this blog. I think you just have to watch and learn for yourself. Say what you want about their sound or style, but you can't help but be impressed when you see these guys live. Although their career is over, Rush influenced so many other musicians and so many people. And even if you aren't yet convinced that they are great, don't worry. I've got 19 more Rush albums to review.
May as well start at the beginning, right? I wish I knew the date I bought this album so I could know exactly how long I've been doing this. It still blows my mind how much music is contained within Toad Hall. Sure, the other stores I've been to have plenty to choose from, but Toad Hall feels like an endless maze filled with anything you could want. Of course, I shot straight for the rock section. At the time, I was beginning to discover how much I loved Jethro Tull. Even now, I still love Ian Anderson's stage presence, his chaotic flute playing, Martin Barre's dirty guitar tones, and how tight that whole band played in their hey-day. At the end, there is some excellent footage of them playing at Madison Square Garden in 1978 that I highly recommend everyone watch if you want to see how impressive those guys really were.
I remember, once I found the section of all the used Jethro Tull albums, I was blown away by how many copies of each record there were. Apparently a lot of people aren't searching for used, 1970's prog folk rock when they visit a record store. Either way, I dug through the mass of albums they had and found the only copy of Aqualung they had. I'm pretty sure I only knew one song on the album. I'm not even sure I checked the condition of the album because I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I probably only paid $7 for it, and just like that, my record collection began. So I eagerly returned home so I could finally hear how this thing sounded. So I asked my mom if she could show me how to work the record player we had. First of all, my mom was probably wondering why I just came home with a record, and second, she told me we got rid of our record player. Perfect. So now I have this album that I'm never going to be able to play. My dad, however, decided that since I had gotten a record, he was going to get back into listening to his old records. So maybe a week or two after I bought my first album, I finally got to listen to it. My dad went to Barnes and Noble and bought one of those awful little Crosley Cruisers with the built-in speakers because we assumed we wouldn't need a high quality record player because it's not like I was going to buy hundreds more records, right?
So, finally, my mom showed me how to use a record player correctly so I wouldn't completely screw up. So I took out my album, put it on, set the stylus down, and eagerly awaited to hear my first album. And of course, since I acted like an idiot and didn't check the condition of the album before I bought it, it turned out the album had a huge scratch on the first side. Normally, the first track, Aqualung, starts off with the main riff twice, and then the verse starts. Well my copy only played a few notes of the second time through the riff because of that scratch. Thankfully, the rest of the album sounded fantastic. The whole album is filled with absolutely incredible songs besides just the title track. Two of Jethro Tull's other biggest hits, "Cross-Eyed Mary" and "Locomotive Breath" came off of that album as well. Listening to Ian Anderson play the flute on those two songs still blows my mind, especially on "Locomotive Breath." I can't even begin to describe what he is doing. Of course part of that is because I don't know how to play the flute, but still, even from a general music background, his playing leaves me speechless. The solo goes from 2:47 to 3:26 so you can hear what I'm trying to talk about. Another song that I came to love from listening to this album over and over was "Up to Me." I absolutely love how the acoustic guitar and flute play the main riff together at the beginning. It has such a dark tone. It's almost menacing in some odd way. And then right after, they play this light little verse which will quickly change back into that awesome riff. Even better, the whole time, Martin Barre throws in these short, sharp guitar stabs with a blistering tone that just completely rip through the song.
Alright I need to go off and rant about how great of a guitarist Martin Barre is. I can almost guarantee that, unless you're a big prog rock fan, you've never heard of him. He featured on most of Jethro Tull's albums starting with "Stand Up" which was released in 1969 after he replaced guitarist Mick Abrahams. Being on most of Jethro Tull's albums is no small feat either considering that they have had well over twenty total members through their existence. Barre's guitar tone is different than a lot of early prog artists. Most early prog guitar had clean tones or a little bit of fuzz, but Barre used much more distortion than many of the prog guitarists of the time. Just listen to "My God" by Jethro Tull. It starts off with a dark acoustic intro like many Tull songs, but once he kicks in with main riff, the tones sound more like Tony Iommi than Steve Howe or Greg Lake. Those guys still played with overdrive now and then, but Barre applied it much more frequently, and it worked so well. I think it's a huge part of the reason why Jethro Tull sounds so much darker than the other early prog bands.
So "Aqualung" was definitely a great album to start my collection off on. There is truly not a bad song on the record, and it's one of those albums that never gets old. This album definitely helped fuel my love for other concept albums as I began to listen to more and more prog music. Without this album, I honestly don't think my love for music would be where it is today. I could not recommend this album enough times. I would easily consider it a top ten favorite of mine. If progressive folk rock isn't your thing (which I can completely understand), next time you're at a store that sells any kind of music, take the time and find something you only have a little familiarity with and want to learn more about or just buy something that you have never heard of before. Who knows, it could lead somewhere completely unexpected.