Friday, June 10, 2011

Who is Owl Stretching? Who? Who?
Start with Saigon Kick, and add evolution...

When Chris McLernon called me this week and told me about his next venture, I was a little confused.

"Owl Stretching!" he said proudly.

"Bowel stretching?" I asked.

"Owl Stretching," he repeated.

"Bowel stretching?" I asked again.

"No, Owl Stretching - without the B," he responded, somewhat frustrated.

"Bowel stretching when you need to pee?" I countered, resisting the urge to launch into a diatribe about how nice it would be if the actual phone on an iPhone worked as well as the camera.

"OWL, with an O!" he said, enunciating as clearly as possible.

"Yeah, I know," I finally admitted, "I was just being a dick..."

Kidding aside, I love Owl Stretching as a band name - maybe not for three run-of-the-mill musicians hacking it out on the local scene, but there couldn't be a better name for a band comprised of McLernon, Jason Bieler and Ricky Sanders.

If the members sound familiar, that's because they are - Owl Stretching is Saigon Kick.

But they're not rehashing their history and reliving the past in this new outfit, they are carving out a new future based on where they've been in the decade-plus since Saigon Kick disbanded.

For those that don't know Saigon Kick, you're missing out - they emerged in the early '90s, and have just as much in common with Jane's Addiction as they did with many of their hard rock brethren of the day. Jason Bieler was the band's fulcrum and virtuoso guitarist - he would later become lead singer, as well, when the band parted ways with their original frontman. McLernon was the band's longest-tenured bassist, and Ricky Sanders was the band's drummer when they disbanded in the late-'90s.

So why not just call it Saigon Kick? Because it isn't Saigon Kick. Owl Stretching is what happened after Saigon Kick, as well as what will happen next. Yes, they will play Saigon Kick material live, but this is just as much about a new band, for a new place in their lives.

And, in case you're wondering, the name is a Monty Python reference... Do you really think Bieler and McLernon would have it any other way?

Owl Stretching website
Owl Stretching on Twitter
Chris McLernon on Twitter
Jason Bieler on Twitter

Paul Gargano on Twitter

Monday, June 6, 2011

SINGLE: Limp Bizkit "Gold Cobra"

I've always liked Limp Bizkit - they know their way around a hook and their songs are catchy as all hell. And now, best I can tell, it seems they're the first major-label rock band to employ an aborigine as a guitarist... I love this group shot because you can see the fear in bassist Sam Rivers' eyes - he just wants the photos to end before he gets speared by Fred Durst's new jungle friend. (Ya gotta love Wes!)

Check out new single "Gold Cobra" below, the title track from the band's album of the same name, due to hit streets June 28.

Until then, you can take that cookie and stick it up your...

Fred Durst
Wes Borland
DJ Lethal
Sam Rivers
John Otto

Paul Gargano on Twitter

Friday, June 3, 2011

Cinderella: 25th Anniversary Tour
(06.02.11 - House of Blues Sunset, L.A.)

The blues don't grow old, and they never go out of style - the same can be said for Cinderella, who celebrated their 25th Anniversary in Hollywood Thursday night.

Going back about 15 years, I inadvertently insulted a member of the band with what I thought was high praise, calling them one of my favorite acts of their era. Said band member found that to be a back-handed compliment (at best), and some good-natured (ok, maybe mean-spirited) jostling in online forums ensued. We eventually kissed and made up - so of course I made it a point to say hello after the show last night. "Great show," I told him, "don't worry, you're still my favorite band of your..."

What can I say, the more things change, the more they stay the same - Cinderella remain one of my favorite bands to graduate from the mid/late-'80s hard rock scene. In fact, they're one of the only bands "of their era" that I actually like more now than I did then, which says a lot about the lasting power of their music.

The funny thing is, I'm not alone in that sentiment - at least a half-dozen people in the balcony at the House of Blues Sunset also said Cinderella were their "favorite band of the era" (their words, not mine) and, judging from the packed floor, the feelings downstairs were mutual.

When I told Chris Cornell that Soundgarden were my favorite band from their era, he didn't get offended (he thanked me). I'd never tell Maynard Keenan that Tool is my favorite band of his era, only because I know it would lead to him debating me on what era he's from - like me, he's the type that would argue that a blue sky is red just to amuse himself. If I told Tony Bennett he was my favorite of his era, he'd probably tell me why Frank Sinatra should be...

My point? There's no shame in being the best at what you do, and Cinderella are among the best at what they do. They deliver hard rock with a simmering blues base, equal parts Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin, without being copycats. And like all good artists should, they evolved.

Few would argue that style wasn't a key selling point of Cinderella's Night Songs debut, their purple hues and big hair a perfect coupling to ingratiate them to fans of the exploding arena rock scene. But for all of the album's style, it packed just as much substance - and I'm prepared to argue that it placed the band far ahead of the curve.

If Twilight were set in the late-'80s, Cinderella could, should and would be part of the soundtrack. They were unwittingly a predecessor to H.I.M. - a saturation of sound and color that bled from a gothic underbelly long before Type O Negative introduced us to "Black No. 1." Yeah, they looked glam and made "Shake Me" their mantra, but "Nobody's Fool" built cold, damp castle walls around the soul long before emo was fashionable.

For me, the real glass slipper dropped when I saw Cinderella open for Judas Priest in the summer of 1988 on the Ram It Down tour. They weren't hell bent for leather, but they were dark enough to fit the bill, winning over even the hardest metal heads at Connecticut's long-since demolished New Haven Coliseum.

Twenty-five years later, the shit we ate for breakfast still gives us cancer - and Cinderella were tight as ever at the House of Blues.

My only complaint? The 70-minute set was only 13 songs long. There wasn't a dull moment throughout, but I'd have loved to have heard more than three songs from Heartbreak Station, as well as anything from Still Climbing (if you're not familiar with it, I highly recommend digging into the vastly-underrated 1994 release, their fourth - and most recent - studio offering)... And where the hell was "Push Push"?

But that's nit-picking.

I was bristling at the back-to-back bump and grind of "Somebody Save Me" and "Night Songs," and "The More Things Change" offered the perfect bridge into "Coming Home" (Favorite. Cinderella. Song. Ever.) and "Second Wind," which strutted along to a blues breakdown and electric keys. And in the unexpected laugher of the night, a friend and self-professed "huge fan" turned to me 10 seconds into "Gypsy Road" and asked me what song it was - not because it didn't sound great, but because she couldn't remember...

They say you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone - here's hoping Cinderella are back before too long.

1. Once Around The Ride
2. Shake Me
3. Heartbreak Station
4. Somebody Save Me
5. Night Songs
6. The More Things Change
7. Coming Home
8. Second Wind
9. Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone)
10. Nobody's Fool
11. Gypsy Road
12. (Intro) Long Cold Winter
13. Shelter Me

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

'DAVE MUSTAINE: A Heavy Metal Memoir'
(file under 'Hidden Treasures')

I've been catching up on long-overdue reading lately, and took advantage of the Memorial Day weekend to read Megadeth mastermind Dave Mustaine's aptly titled autobiography Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir. I loved the book, and mentioned on Twitter yesterday that it was the best rock bio I've ever read, and a must-read for anyone with even a passing interest in mainstream metal.

A friend of mine - a New York Times bestselling author in his own right - asked me what made it my favorite rock bio, and I told him my answer was too long for a text message. Here's my response...

Truth be told, rock bios aren't my favorite books to read, typically because I fear for the impact they may have on my relationship with an artist's art. Sound confusing? I can explain.

I love music because of the way it makes me feel, not because of the way the artists that perform it make me feel. When I was introduced to Megadeth, it wasn't Dave Mustaine that I developed a relationship with, it was his band's music. Maybe I felt a connection to a lyric. Maybe I was driven by the energy of the song. Maybe it was a combination of both, or maybe it was something altogether different. But it was the music that moved me, and it was my interpretation and response to that music that was (and remains) alive inside me.

Yes, I understand that by getting closer to the artist, you can get closer to their art - but after two decades of interviewing artists for a living, I have found that quite often the opposite proves true. The more I learn about an artist, the more distant I sometimes start to feel from their music - their music becomes more about their story, and less about my story with the music. And that is why I tend to not appreciate rock bios as much as other fans might...

Which brings us to this memoir.

My two favorite metal bands are Anthrax and Megadeth (consider them tied, I do), and my favorite metal personality is Dave Mustaine. Yes, he's a rock star, but I also see a lot of similarities between our personalities - from hearty cynicism and a dry sense of humor, to an outspoken personality and oft-misunderstood private nature.

I've interviewed Mustaine countless times, and being asked to appear in the Megadeth Behind the Music and on the band's Rude Awakening DVD are career highlights for me. After twenty years, I'd safely consider us friendly... friends, but not particularly close.

So it is with both thirst and trepidation that I picked up this book. I honor Mustaine's mystique as much as anyone's in metal, and while I'd love the opportunity to better understand him, the last thing I would ever want is for that understanding to sour one of my favorite bands, and favorite frontman.

But this book was remarkable. Mustaine's personality and spirit echo throughout, only enhancing what just may be the most fascinating story in heavy metal history. The underbelly of the book is Mustaine's place as an original member and principal songwriter of Metallica. Yes, this is only his side of the much-publicized rift between him and his former bandmates, but if you've seen Metallica's Some Kind Of Monster, you know that there aren't many, if any, discrepancies.

From a heavy metal perspective, that alone makes the book required reading. Even if taken with a grain of salt, you can't help but raise an eyebrow at the history Mega-Dave and Metallica shared.

From there, Mustaine's inner turmoil is the backbone of the book, and Megadeth is the spinal fluid that fills it - what I found most compelling about both is that Mustaine never points a finger at anyone without similarly pointing one at himself. The book doesn't mince words, and the book doesn't tread lightly. It hits hard, and takes as many punches as it lands.

But the best part isn't the grit. The best part is the way that the grit sands Mustaine's character throughout, shaping him into a different person by the book's end. This isn't the story of drug use and rehabilitation, it's the story of standing toe to toe with one's demons and knowing that even if you can't win every battle, life is a war worth fighting.

While I can't relate to Dave Mustaine's lifetime of drug use, I can relate to the spiritual core that he discovers more than 300 pages later, and that is the type of revelation that makes this book a triumph to read - and Megadeth's music twice as triumphant to listen to after you've turned the final page.

Why is Dave Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir my favorite rock bio? Because it did what I wish every rock bio could do - it offered me a profound insight into music I love, made me feel a heightened kinship with the artist behind the music, and it made me appreciate one of my favorite bands even more.

TWITTER: Dave Mustaine
TWITTER: Megadeth
TWITTER: Paul Gargano