It’s hard to believe, but the eternally youthful blues maestro Robert Cray is celebrating five decades of plying his craft with the imminent release of 4 Nights of 40 Years Live. So, uh, Robert, do you mind if we call you an “elder statesman” at this point in your career? “Well, we’re doing what we do, and I’m having fun doing it. To me, that’s the most important thing,” says Cray. “It’s funny; whenever it’s mentioned that we’re ‘getting up there,’ I always revert back to my heroes — John Lee [Hooker], and B.B. [King] — and I just think about those guys as being ‘the guys.’ I never consider myself as being on the same ship.” Sorry to disagree with the man, but Cray is most definitely onboard with being on par with the masters of the blues art form. I called Cray, 62, at his hotel during a tour stop in the Pacific Northwest to discuss the sonics of 4 Nights, the ongoing merits of vinyl, and why live woodshedding is vital for bands who want to improve. “Oh yeah, there’s been a lot of change over the years,” Cray observes about his storied career. I guess he showed us.
With speakers strategically positioned all the way around The House That Ruth Built — a.k.a. Yankee Stadium — and buttressed by a multimedia visual presentation second to none, Roger Waters and his ace band tore through Pink Floyd’s seminal 1979 masterpiece The Wall in full on July 7 in the Bronx.
Ah, sweet home Chicago. I remember partaking in a number of great local traditions when I used to call the Windy City my backyard: Going to Buddy Guy's Legends club for a late night of tasty blues. Seeing the Chicago River dyed green for St. Patrick's Day. Taking in a Chicago Cubs game in the bleachers at Wrigley Field.
“Be cool or be cast out.” So goes one of the pivotal lines in “Subdivisions,” the indelible lead track from Rush’s transitional 1982 album Signals, and it’s also a statement that aptly describes the band’s own fortunes as it navigated a hard-won ascendance from perennial cult favorite to mass acceptance over the course
of its five-decades-and-counting career. The band recently completed a triumphant 40th anniversary tour dubbed R40, celebrating its genuine Rock & Roll Hall of Fame legacy by performing a 23-song set in reverse chronology. (Actually, “Reverse Chronology” sounds like a lost track from the band’s mid-’80s synth-centric period.) I saw Rush’s late-June stop at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, and marveled at the ever-present breadth of the band’s sound and how bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and drummer Neil Peart were able to modernize decades-old material like “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Lakeside Park” without compromising each track’s initial, individual compositional integrity and charm.
“We’ve got about 6,000 songs to play for you tonight,” Geddy Lee said to raucous cheers during the first set break at Rush’s return to Madison Square Garden last night. Well, give or take some 5,974 other choices, the Canadian trio powered through 26 tracks at the NYC stop of the Time Machine 2011 tour. The set has remained the same since the two shows I saw last summer (Jones Beach in July, PNC Bank Arts Center in September), but hold your fire—the musicianship and vigor never waned.
In anticipation of the 30th anniversary reissue of Rush’s truly seminal Moving Pictures as both CD+DVD (April 5) and CD+BD (May 3) deluxe editions, with PCM 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround-sound mixes by Richard Chycki, I’m dipping into my personal Rush interview archive to present a truly exclusive, incremental look at how the band’s attitude toward bringing its vaunted studio material into the surround-sound arena has literally changed from “no” to “go” over the last decade.
“It’s a timeless record with so much detail,” says surround-sound remix guru Richard Chycki about Rush’s 1981 masterpiece, Moving Pictures. “I’m glad you’ve clued into all of the nuances.” Chycki is referring to what I said to him last week about the PCM 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes he did for MP’s 30th anniversary reissue. Today marks the release of the CD+DVD version, something certainly worth getting if you’re not equipped for Blu-ray — but the much preferred Holy Grail CD+BD version won’t be out until May 3.
Sagacity, definition: Exhibiting acute perception, foresight, wisdom, and sound judgment. Tenacity, definition: Holding together tough and firm, with a tendency to stick or adhere. Two words could not better describe Saga, the longstanding Canadian progressive collective that continues to up its game with every release. To wit: Sagacity (earMusic/Eagle Rock), which crackles with confident energy, from the heavy propulsion of “Go With the Flow” to the anthemic uplift of “I’ll Be.” As an added bonus, Sagacity includes a second disc, Saga Hits, where the band muscles through nine of its best-known songs during a set recorded at the SWR1 Rockarena in Ludwigshafen am Rhein, Germany on June 22, 2013 that includes the perennial powerhouses “On the Loose,” “Humble Stance,” and “Wind Him Up.” Lead vocalist Michael Sadler (with arms folded in the above band photo) and I recently got together to discuss modern-day recording logistics, the fine art of mixing, and some surround-sound wishes. As you’ll soon see, when it comes to having Sadler talk about harnessing great sound, once you wind him up, he can’t stop.