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Boldly going where no band has gone before: Keith Richards leads the Rolling Stones into their 50th year with two bow-down London gigs

Keef 25.11.12

 

“I’ve always wanted to find out what would happen if we just kept going.” – Keith Richards

“To boldly go where no man has gone before.” – Captain James Tiberius Kirk

That Keith quote came from an interview with Rolling Stone mag’s then-reporter, Kurt Loder. The interview took place on November 12, 1981 on the eve of the Rolling Stones’ Still Life tour. That was 32 years ago.

Tonight I saw my second Stones gig in London in the span of five days. Tonight I saw a group of guys who have been prowling stages across the globe for the last 50 years. Tonight I saw grown men, elderly people, play rock and roll music with the reckless abandonment of piss-and-vinegar teenagers.

Tonight I saw the Stones go where no band has gone before … and they did it in bold fashion.

Disclaimer time: I am a certified Stones freak. This post is an unapologetically gushing review/commentary on the band that I love to love. If they sucked, I’d tell you, because I have high expectations every time I see them. They didn’t suck … not even remotely close. In fact, these were the best Stones shows I have ever seen. These gigs were bow-down quality; so damn good you have to genuflect whenever you speak of them.

The two Stones shows that I saw this week were my 19th and 20th. I happily paid those ugly, greedy, what-the-fuck prices that everyone is bitching about. After the first show on Sunday night, I claimed that it was the “best I’ve ever seen.” Tonight, Thursday night, after seeing the Stones again, I can now say that this gig was THE best that I’ve ever seen. I am going to the December 15th show in Newark, N.J. and I am sure that I will proclaim that show as … drumroll please … the best ever.

I have seen the Stones on three continents and in four countries.

I have sold possessions to get tickets. I have donated blood and sperm for money to get tickets (not at the same time). In college I lied to my parents, telling them I needed money for a school project to get bread for tickets. I have burned savings and bridges to get tickets.

One time, late on a Wednesday afternoon, I chartered a small four-seater twin engine plane to fly me and three friends from Nashua, N.H. to Buffalo, N.Y. to see a show that I had randomly bought tickets for (I had never even been to Buffalo). The round trip flight-concert-flight took 13 hours.

Another time, a group of twenty or so people I was going to college with drove from Plymouth, N.H. to Montreal, Canada to see the Stones. Most all of us got separated at the gig. The next day, after sleeping in a bus station, myself and two buddies had to hitchhike to the Canadian border and wait there until someone from Plymouth made the four-hour drive to come pick us up.

On another occasion, myself and a handful of other Stones nuts woke up one morning and decided to drive from N.H. to Philly, without tickets, to see a Stones gig … and then drove the eight hours straight back home (we scalped good seats).

I have had similar, madcap, illegal activity-filled, over-the-top incidences in Boston, New Jersey (don’t ask!), Vegas, Miami, NYC and Sydney, Australia. The list goes on and on and on.

I have seen the Stones many times, but what I saw this week in London was something truly special. This wasn’t a nostalgia act. This wasn’t some un-retirement “we’re back!” bullshit. This definitely was not a last hurrah. Nope — the band that performed in London this week was a working band. This was a band that, though they have an average age of 69, played as though they still had something to prove.

Maybe that’s what keeps them going, as Keith says. Maybe they think they owe it to themselves, to their fans, and to rock and roll itself to keep this thing of theirs moving forward; to see how far they can take it; to set a bar so damn high that it forces those young upstarts not just to reach for the stars, but to reach for stars in other galaxies. To boldly go, indeed …

For these two shows they played a total of 46 songs; nine of those unique (set list from night one and night two ); one of them they hadn’t performed since 1964 (“I Wanna Be Your Man”). They had four special guests: Jeff Beck, Mary J. Blige, Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine, and Eric Clapton . They invited two old pals back to play along with them in their hometown: Bill Wyman (76 years young) and Mick Taylor.

They played with a stripped-down band (just the core four guys) with Darryl Jones on bass, plus Chuck Leavell on keyboards and with appearances by their normal back-up singers and brassmen, including the legendary Stones co-hort, Bobby Keys. They played with as small and uncomplicated a stage as they’d used since their Some Girls US tour in ’78. They kept it relatively simple: it was about the guys and, righteously, about the music.

A video playlist of fan vids from the two London Stones gigs:

Right, the music. I have to talk about the music. I will focus mostly on the second show, because it was superior in a few ways. The band was far more relaxed the second night. The guests, Clapton and Florence, were much better. The set list, in my opinion, was better. The true reason the second night was better was because Keith Richards was playing out of his head.

Keith has been a longtime hero of mine, and not just for the debauchery. I admire the man because he has lived life on the terms that he dictated … for better or worse. He’s never had a real job in his life; his life is his job. He is the Rock and Roll archetype that many others try and fail to duplicate. Charlie Watts recently said that “when people are hanging around Keith, they start believing that they are Keith. That’s where all the trouble starts.

The trouble with Keith is that in the past decade or so, he has been caught up in his own myth — and to be honest, riding on the coattails of his legendary guitar work. The hardcore Keith/Stones fans will tell you that he hasn’t been playing well at all on recent tours. His playing was sloppy: missing intro riffs he has done gazillions of times; flicking away at his fretboard when he should be chugging away at his classic Keef riffs; not singing and playing at the same time; using hired sidemen to stand off stage and play fills for him. It was getting to the point that you expected Ronnie to carry the show (and to carry Keith). Some people thought that when he fell out of that tree in Fiji and had brain surgery that he lost basic motor skills. There were reports that on the last tour in 2005 he was drinking too much … yeah, too much for Keith Richards (this was confirmed in a recent interview with three years sober Ronnie Wood).

Actually, I read recently where Keith recently said that he has slowed down his drinking to the random glass of wine with dinner. If this is true, it may be the reason why he is now playing his face off. In 1978 the Stones went on tour to support the Some Girls album. Keith had just kicked the junk. Go watch that recently released tour video, Some Girls – Live in Texas ‘78. Keith’s playing is renewed and downright possessed. Hopefully history repeats itself.

I went to the (first) Sunday show with a worried mind: what kind of Keith would show up at the London gigs? I had heard reports that at the warmup gig in Paris a month earlier, Keith was not in good form. Could Keith be the reason there are only five shows? Are they testing him to see if he can hold up? Are they testing him to see if he has the chops? Are they testing him to find out if he can still deliver the goods?

If the band was testing him … he fucking aced it.

Keith Richards’ performance for these two shows was something to behold. He is 69 years old and carries the heavy baggage of a life not just living on, but peering over the edge 24/7. He should not have been able to do what he did on Sunday and Thursday night … but he did. By the end of the Thursday night gig he was prowling around the stage like the feared and proud black panther of “Midnight Rambler” fame. He owned that stage … flat out owned it. And he knew it, too.

The first night you could actually see it start to happen. For the first three songs you could tell he was feeling his way around. He was casing the joint and trying to figure out where the entrance was. Then, when they kicked into “Paint it Black,” his switch flipped. He came alive. He started moving around the stage and laying down the riffs with authority. It was as if he just said, “Aw, fuck it … I’m all in. Let’s do this.

Fast forward to the final encore of Thursday night, “Satisfaction.” Three minutes into the song, Keith starts in on a solo that lasted well over two minutes. I remember thinking, “Holy shit … this is the real Keef, the real deal rock and roll legend as I’ve never seen him live before.” The band was locked in Keith’s groove. It was Keith’s band on this night.

To say he was on fire would be too cliche. He wasn’t on fire, he was a fucking raging furnace with its big steel doors wide open exposing the glowing red coal carpet that was fueling the night’s performance. Mick, Charlie, Ronnie and the fans just kept shoveling coal into Keith’s belly and the flames got brighter, the heat got hotter and the music warmed our rock and roll-loving hearts.

Ladies and gents, on Thursday night, Keith Richards played some of the best live guitar work of his career. And it isn’t just me saying this. Go check out the forums on the long-running fan site It’s Only Rock and Roll and you’ll read the same. All of the talking heads on the radio stations here in London can’t stop talking about how shit-hot Keith’s playing was. You can catch his performance on YouTube clips, but I beg you to go see them live in the States next month if you can … you have to experience the energy Keith is giving off right now firsthand. It’s sick.

Don’t let a Keith fan run amuck when at the keyboard, eh? Let me get back to the shows.

They kicked off with four early hits: “Get Off My Cloud,” “I Wanna Be Your Man” (a Lennon/McCartney penned tune specifically for the Stones), “The Last Time,” and “Paint It Black,” which was the showstopper of the lot. Lot of pumping energy and great lighting effects.

Next up was my favorite song of all time, “Gimme Shelter.” Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine guested on this. She nailed it. I am not a fan of her voice, but she was provoking the hell out of Mick. She was right up in his face to the point where you thought she was going to bite it off. She brought a lot of energy to the song. Keith’s solo was spot on.

Next up was the treat of the night: “Lady Jane.” Mick said that they hadn’t played it live in a while … didn’t show. Ronnie and Keith pulled up a couple chairs, plopped down with their acoustics and delivered a gorgeous version of the song.

Time for special guest number two: Eric Clapton . While Jeff Beck was a worthy guest on Sunday night, he overpowered the entire building with his wizard-like technical skills. It was impressive, but it didn’t completely jibe. Clapton was a true pro and a gentleman. They played a Muddy Waters song, “Champagne and Reefer.” Clapton didn’t overplay or overpower, but he did play some killer blues. He took two solos that were tops. Ronnie took one as well and, per usually, was brilliant. Then, quite unexpectedly, Keith took a solo! It was a statement solo: “Hey pal, this is my stage … you think you know the blues? This is the blues.” He had this look on his face when he was playing it, too: Don’t fuck with me, I’m working here. The song was an all-around crowd pleaser.

Then they went into “Live with Me.” This is where Keith started to stake claim as the baddest motherfucker in the building. He got right into this one, he hunched over his fretboard, didn’t move from it and delivered those hybrid Chuck Berry solos that had me playing some serious, if not embarrassing, Keef-like air guitar.

“Miss You” came next. Whether you like this tune or not, you can’t help but get up and dance (I was on my feet, but then again, I never sat down once during the entire gig). Mick leads the crowd in a great sing-along with everyone delivering horrible falsettos that seem to work in unison.

The two new tracks were next: “One More Shot” and “Doom and Gloom.” Hey, for new tunes, these worked well. A lot of people left for the toilets, but I don’t think that was a reflection of the songs. Remember, this is an old crowd, and bladder control ain’t what it used to be.

Hopefully they got back in time for the next few songs, because they featured Bill Wyman, the Stones’ original bassist (yes, I know, the true original bassist was Derek Taylor … but let’s keep this history lesson short, eh? This review is long enough). They played huge sing-along favorites for Bill: “It’s Only Rock and Roll” and “Honky Tonk Women.” Bill got huge applause, but really, you couldn’t truly tell if he made a difference. His style is distinct, but in the setting, not so much. It was just cool to have him there. He stood there and smiled a bit and the crowd was happy. Hell, he’s 76 years old! Keef was down right countrified on this one.

After Bill left, we got to the band introductions. All the core guys received huge applause, and they saved the best for last: Keith. Deafening cheers were delivered in acknowledgement of the man’s playing. He delivered none of his usual tour schtick (“It’s good to be here … it’s good to be anywhere“). You don’t need schtick when you got chops. Keith slashed through his two most popular hits, “Before They Make Me Run” and “Happy.” Believe it or not (and now this is where I will lose anyone still reading), Keith’s vocals were actually damned good on both numbers.

Then the lights dimmed and glowed blue on the stage and a familiar riff came out of Mick’s harmonica: The Rambler. The band exploded into “Midnight Rambler” just as the house lights came up to reveal that Mick Taylor had joined the band. Taylor was damn good on Sunday night — and on Thursday night, he was brilliant. On Sunday he was hopping around the stage as if he was trying to find his spot. He seemed to be thinking and playing at the same time. Between the two gigs he must have watched some footage of his performance, because the second time around he was much more controlled in his movements and his playing was more dynamic; more in the groove with the song. He took some great solo runs that made you wish we could get more of him on the night. I think the Stones should hire him as a sideman, like they do with the horns and Bobby Keys. Bring Mick T on tour and let him come out on four songs.

stones+mickT

After “Rambler” we hit the home stretch: a powerhouse lineup of some of the most familiar, time-tested and genre-changing music ever created. One by one, Keith led the band through stomping, raw and rowdy versions of their best of the best: “Start Me Up,” “Tumblin’ Dice,” “Brown Sugar,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” and then three encores: “You Can’t Always get What You Want,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and “Satisfaction.

The band was in full stride at this point. Charlie Watts was steady and punctuated every familiar riff with fills, rolls and bashes. At 72, the man is not slowing down. A phenomenal performance by Charlie. Mick is a complete wonder … how the hell does he do that? He never stopped moving. His voice is in damned good shape. He works hard to keep his health and his voice up to scratch, and it shows. He is the master showman and there is (and never has been) anyone better. Ronnie, as always, was having fun and playing solo after solo. His work on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was outta sight … my fave rave Ronnie solo of the night.

But the final run of War Horse classics came down to Keith. These are his riffs. He knows them inside and out. As mentioned previously, he hasn’t been doing them justice as of late, but tonight he put them on display in all of their raunchy glory.

His solo on “Sympathy” had that beautiful thing he does with adding white space between the notes. So simple, but so poignant. His solos on “Gimme Shelter” were full of that toughness, that cock-sure attitude. His solo on “Honky Tonk” had that trumpet-y, horn feeling to it and it rang out in the venue. Yeah, if he ever left, no bones about it … Keith Richards is back and in top form. Do not miss him live.

During “Jack Flash” there was a great montage video on the screen. It showed clips of fans at Stones concerts for the past 50 years, which was very cool to see. There was 50 years of culture change flashing before our eyes. There was black and white footage. There were small rooms and huge crowds of people. There were scenes of fans from all over the world. There were generations of fans getting lost in the fun of being at a Rolling Stones gig.

It made you think of all the people that have attended their concerts over the last 50 years. How many lives have the Stones been a part of? How many memories have they created for people? How many people have actually seen the Stones? You watch this video and you see the joy on people’s faces and you realize that it is the Stones — who they are and what they represent — that are the constant. Though they are now old they still represent youth, rebellion and fun. Who doesn’t want that? The Stones are still around because we need them. Yeah, you forget about them on a day-to-day basis, but when you go to one of their gigs and they play like they did on Sunday and Thursday, you realize just how alive and ambitious they make you feel.

Near the end of the song, the video changed from showing old images to live shots of the crowd. A nice touch, and you know what? There was no difference between the past and the present. People were LOVING it. People were still just as excited to be a part of a live Stones gig today as they were 50 years ago. This struck me when I saw the live footage. I thought, “That’s me.” Yeah, I’m a nut and I think into this a bit too much for the average punter, but last night I was a stark raving mad fan singing along to every tune and dancing in the aisles while doing it. Shit, I went to the damned gig by myself. I needed to be there. I love being a Rolling Stones fan.

As they were playing to the end of the last encore, “Satisfaction,” I started to mull over the thought I always have at a Stones gig: That this might be the last time I see them live; the last time that I might be in the same room, breathing the same air, listening to my fave guitar player play my fave songs at the same time. Then I smiled, knowing full well that our time together was not over. I’m flying to the States for the final gig on their five-show mini-tour on December 15th in Newark, New Jersey.

Where the Stones go after that is anyone’s guess. Maybe a world tour? Maybe into the studio. Maybe they’ll go and play a few clubs. Wherever they go, however Keith decides to keep this thing going, I know that I’ll be going along with them.

Carry on, boys … see you next month in the States. Thanks for all the turn-ons in London.

P.S. If I had to choose which gig was better, I would have to say this: The second night was superior musically, while the first night had a very special feel to it due to it being the tour opener and the first show in five years. There was so much excitement in the air on Sunday. Which leads me to this …

P.P.S. Just so you understand I’m not the only Stones freak in London, check out this video from the bar right before the gig. You think fans don’t want to see these guys go on a world tour?

Note:  I recently attended the two Rolling Stones 50th Anniversary gigs here in London on the 25th & 29th of November. I was asked to write a review for Popdose.com.  This review below was originally posted here on http://www.popdose.com.

It just ain’t easy (sing it, Brother Gregg Allman): learning to play the guitar ain’t no easy pickins

When the Allman Brothers box set, Dreams, came out … in 1989 … that was early, early days for the box set. At that point in the record label, money grubbing, dry-hump the catalog period of the beginning of the end of the High Times, the idea was to put out a career retrospective of their cash-cow, legacy artist from year one to year now. Legacy artist … what a rank term:  less a compliment for artist and more of an indictment of the fans who will buy anything the artist (label) puts out. Oh, the poor super-fan … a blessing and a curse to be one, eh?

The box sets of that time were long and winding rides through a career filled with wide open roads (the early years), six lane highways (when the band hit their stride/peak), ruts (usually when the drugs took over), breakdown lanes (when they played it safe, but still kept going) and backroads (when they went back to their roots to recapture the magic of yesteryear).

You don’t need a cartographer  to know which way the road turns.

Hey, 1989 .. it was early days for box set, yes … but, we have to give the Brothers credit for trotting out their hits and skeletons as early in the game as they did. Eighty-nine … I bought that box set (through my Columbia House membership … remember THAT!?).  I was a junior in high-school and  on my way to being a ’60’s wannabe. I loved the fucking Allmans. Hot Damn … they could stoke the coals at a moments notice.  That entire four-CD set was both fuel and fathom … “I Love this and what was this!?”

My first Allmans gig was in 1991 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The Allmans had buried hatchets (again) and reformed with new members (again) and went out on the road for long stretches to play long jams (again). I was with friends that understood what an Allmans gig was all about: pulsing rhythms, dual(ing) guitars, stamina, boogies, shuffles and extended, balls-out jamming.

I distinctly remember during ‘Liz Reed soloing that the two guitars had an “Egyptian-Weave” feel to them.  That is what came into my mind … that was the phrase my brain conjured up; I always think that now. I still get the chicken-skin thinking about that turning point in my impressionable music fandom career.

I loved that gig. I love that band. I have seen the Allmans 27 times … the last time was in 2003. I moved to Sydney, Australia in 2005; I haven’t lived in the US since. The Allmans don’t (have never) travelled to Europe as a group. I now live in London. As much as Brits and Europeans would flock to a London Allman’s gig … it ain’t happening.

Just the same, the individual members do make the trip over here. This past summer, in the span of 14 days, I saw the Tedeschi Trucks Band (UNREAL), Warren Haynes (always sure-fire) and Gregg Allman (best I have seen him play in many a year) play solo gigs here in London.  It was a knock-out, bow-down two weeks of jams, grooves and gut-bucket growling that (kinda) added up to a complete Allmans gig.

Shit … I got way off track. What was it that I wanted to say? Oh yes: learning to play the guitar is not easy. I just started teaching myself how play to a few months ago (“teaching myself” … sounds better than playing with myself … which, actually, might produce a more satisfactory  result than teaching myself how to play this damn six string monster). I am using Apple’s Grage Band software to guide me through the in’s and out’s of the fretboard. If you are a beginner, this is a good program. So far I like the lesson structure and I am in control of the pace.

Tonight I was trying to learn barre chords. Sons-a-bitch … I thought I was making progress until I ran into this brick wall. As I was trying to get the first finger down across the entire fret, I said out-loud, “this shit ain’t easy.”

Whammo.

I instantly thought of one of the best Allman Brothers deep-cuts on their Dreams box set called, “Just Ain’t Easy.”  … it is on the fourth CD of the set.  The fourth, and most often, final CD of these early box sets was usually “ruts,” “breakdown lane” and “backroads” territory  … commonly known as “filler.”

You have to admit, some of the songs on this Dreams fourth CD is high-quality filler … but, some of it is buried treasure. One of them rare gems was, “Just Ain’t Easy”. I played that shit at high volume quite often. It is a soulful lament for (what I think) was someone (Gregg) trying to kick a very heavy-duty drug habit. This ditty is a derge dressed up as a slow, thick, soul sender. Check it out: Just Ain’t Easy

Anyhow … I was practicing on my guitar tonight, I went off the road an into the ditch, barely avoiding a head on collision with a barre chord. While I was trying to pull myself out of it, I remembered that … it just ain’t that easy.

But, in the spirt of “Dreams” … I’ll “get myself back in the race” and be playing “Melissa” in no time.

Okay, I couldn’t find a version of “Just Ain’t Easy” on YOuTube, but I did find more buried treasure fromt eh 4th CD of Dreams:  a rowdy “Can’t Take it With You.”  This is a tough as leather ripper.

Once a fan, always a fan: a report on the “most over the top” Levon Helm Midnight Ramble ever

“Tonight is going to be the most over the top Ramble we have ever had.”

Damn straight, Barbara. Damn straight.

That was the statement that Levon Helm’s manager and Midnight Ramble host, Barbara O’Brien, made when she kicked off the night’s festivities.   I had already experienced the Ramble twice in 2011; I went back on 3rd December hoping that the third time would be a charm. It was.

I am from New Hampshire, but I now  live in London, UK. I flew in specifically for each of the Rambles I attended this year. For the most recent one I flew in just for the weekend: landed in Boston on Thursday night and flew back to London on Sunday night.  It is a long way to travel just for a gig, but this is not just a gig …  it is a full-on, bow-down music experience.

My first Ramble was on 29th January, 2011. I wrote an exhaustive story detailing every bit of that experience [read it here].  That Sunday morning when I was pulling out of Woodstock I felt … satisfied. Attending a Ramble is like one massive exhale.  Afterwards you feel exhausted and excited and then you start to feel a bit anxious: “I have to do that again!”

(“once you get it, you can’t forget it … “)

After my second Ramble [8th August] I had them old anxious-blues again and was looking for an excuse to get in the big bird and fly back to Woodstock, N.Y. to visit ol’ Levon and friends again.  And then I found my it: Dawes.

In late October I received my handy Levon email newsletter. It told me that Dawes would be opening up for Levon at the 3rd December Midnight Ramble. Hot Damn!  Dawes was the perfect band to play in Levon’s barn.  If you know of Dawes, then you would agree with me and would know full-well why I immediately bought two tickets to that Ramble even before checking on international flights.

If you don’t know Dawes, watch this:

Okay, now you see what I mean. This band wears that old timely, band as a family, pass the jug, the music matters most ethos that  permeated throughout the sweet-spot era in Laurel Canyon and up state New York way back when.  As expected, Dawes were perfect for the Midnight Ramble. I’ll jump ahead in the story a bit here …  before Dawes lit into the third song of their set, Taylor, the lead singer and guitarist and brother of drummer Griffin, said this to the audience: “when we first started out, our manager asked us what our goals were as a band. One of them was to play here at the Midnight Ramble.” And with that, he flashed a big shit-eating grin and they tore into the balls-out sing-a-long, “When My Time Comes.”

At one point or another we are all fans. We all start out as fans and then some fans make the jump from fan to musician, or whatever … professional chef, athlete, actor … whatever. But, once a fan, always a fan.  That’s the beauty of it all … being a fan … you never lose that spark of what got you juiced enough to sing-a-long, follow the tour or to once and for all, pick up that guitar and start a strummin’.

Me and Dawes, we were both in Woodstock for the same reason: the experience that is the Ramble. The only difference is that they were playing and I wasn’t.  You could see their fan-roots when they played and when they were hanging out during Levon’s band’s set and singing along with the rest of the packed house.

There were other fans in the room, too. At the outset of the night when Barbara made her proclamation of “greatest Ramble ever,” she also told us we were in for a few surprises that evening.  She wasn’t lying. The shit hit the fan after Dawes completed the fourth song of their set, “Twilight“, a cover of a classic Band song: Jackson Browne came out on to the floor. Jackson and Dawes had been touring and recording together earlier this year. Seeing him come up with Dawes  made sense, but still, it was a welcome surprise. The place erupted.

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The best of the fringe and all of the backbone – Mojo Music, Sydney Australia

Mojo Music in Sydney Australia – The Kings of the Back Catalog.

They gots the best of the fringe and all of the backbone…

If you followed me at all on The 6149, you know that one my fave rave places, where some of my fave rave people in the world inhabit, is Mojo Music – located in Sydney, Australia.

Mojo is a real-deal, salt of the earth, bow-down good ol’ fashion record shop. The owner, shopkeep and resident maestro of the Mojo vibe is Nev … but, I call him the Kingfish.

I was recently contacted by a reporter from one of Australia’s top newspapers, The Sydney Morning Herald, and was asked to give my thoughts on Mojo as to why I think it was so special. This reporter did a bit of a search online and had seen my many blog posts on Mojo.

Here is what I wrote:

It is usually around 4:30pm on a Friday that I start to get the fever; I start to get the Mojo itch. It has been just over two years since I moved from Sydney to London, UK. Even now, try as I may, I still can’t scratch the itch that was my regular, four year long Friday night visit to Sydney’s Mojo Music.

I am from New Hampshire, USA. I moved to Sydney in 2005 and lived there for five years. I am a passionate music fan.  I love listening to, talking about and sharing my music. It wasn’t until the end of my first year in Sydney that I found Mojo. I remember walking into the shop for the first time; I had found my home away from home; these were my people; they listened to the same sounds; they told the same stories; they fanned the same flame. This was a place where my music became our music.

On first sight, to virgin eyes, Mojo would look like what it seems to be: a relic record shop still hanging on to the notion that people want to buy their music on CD or vinyl, let alone buy it at all. But, to the been-around-the-block, knowing-eye crowd, Mojo is the true music fan’s promise land: a place where people gather to immerse themselves in the music that they love: to listen to it, to share stories about it and to turn others on to it.

“If you ever get lonely, you just go to the record store and visit all your friends…” – Penny Lane, Almost Famous.

For four years my Friday nights started off, and most often ended up, at Mojo. After work I would get home, drop off the car and walk to Mojo. On the way I would pick up a six-pack of Cooper’s Sparking Ale (the unofficial beer of the Mojo Men) and bring it to the shop. I would meet there with regular “Friday Guys” and we would spin tunes, spin yarns and back-slap and tip back beers until after-hours became the wee-wee hours. Mojo wasn’t just my local record shop, it was part of my life.

Mojo exists for one reason: Nev Seargent. Nev is the owner of Mojo. In fact, Mojo is Nev. The look of the shop, the product sold at the shop and the vibe of the shop … it is all Nev.  Nev sets the tone and has established the ethos: Mojo is all about the “real” and the “authentic” and that goes for all the music, the people and the and feel that exists in the shop; there is no pretentious bullshit at Mojo.

Nev is a good mate. I call him “The Kingfish”. I copped that term from a Randy Newman song of the same name. In the song, The Kingfish is a New Orleans mayor, a man of the people, someone that gives the finger to the establishment and puts the needs of the people of first.

Kingfish, Kingfish
Friend of the working man
Kingfish, Kingfish
Who’s gonna save this land
It’s the Kingfish, baby, that’s who…

That is what Nev is doing. He is doing his part to keep the music shop alive and well … saving this land. When the music industry tells you that big box music stores are dying, that streaming music is the new buying music and that people just aren’t that invested in music anymore … Nev says, “oh yeah, there are still some of us left and I’m going to give ‘em a place to go.”

People go to Mojo, that is for sure. There are Thursday and Friday night regulars, people who make personal pilgrimages and those that wander in having been lured by the music that plays out on to the street.  As Nev likes to say, Mojo Music has the best of the fringe and all of the backbone.  That applies not only to the music they sell, but also the people they serve.

There is always music being played at Mojo. Starting around 5:00pm there is a crowd gathered around the front counter listening to it. People come in to find a lost album or get turned on to what ever it is that Nev has playing on the front-burner. If you are in need of a recommendation … Nev knows just what you need. Many times I have said to Nev, “I’m looking for this kind of sound and feel … you got anything for me?” Inevitably, The Kingfish always knew just what I wanted. He would walk over to one the CD racks … straight to a specific spot … pull out a CD and say, “You got this one? You know of this cat? You need this.” His picks were always spot on.

I purchased a lot of Nev’s picks over the year; my music collection was better off for it.  There was a definite correlation between time spent at Mojo and cash spent at Mojo.   Buying my music at Mojo was always a pleasure. Not only did I add great music music to my collection, I was also giving back to Nev and the shop. Nev has created something special and everyone that goes there knows this. We all give back by supporting the cause. Once Mojo gets under your skin, you just can’t ignore it.

Under your skin … there’s that itch again.  Two years on and I’m still trying to scratch it. Currently I work in London. My office is riight next to Soho. Soho has a handful of great used vinyl shops. On Fridays after work I take the long way home, wandering in and out of the shops to see if I can find any buried treasure.  I usually find a few records that I take home to play, but what I can’t find is that Mojo feel; no one calls out my name when I walk in these shops; there are no friends there waiting to play me the latest re-release or or newly found used original Chess Records pressing on vinyl; there are no cold beers waiting for me in the fridge; there is no back-slapping and story-telling; there is no walking out the door with Nev at midnight and shutting the lights and closing the door behind us. There is only one Mojo and it is in Sydney, Australia. The “lucky country” indeed.

Mojo is a one-off; a mutation; an anommoly.  It is a place that still cares about the shared experience of listening to music. Not the kind of pseudo sharing that is done on the web. We’re talking real-deal, face-to-face, ear-to-ear, flip the record over sharing.  You go there for the music and you walk out part of a community of music loving Mojo Men. Someone has to keep that feeling alive, right? Some one has to continue to fan those flames. Someone … but, who?

The Kingfish, baby, that’s who.

Johnny’s in the basement, mixing up the medicine…

Working on The [new] 6149 … more to come soon. Head over the The 6149 [The B Side] to hold you over.

Turn out the lights, the party’s over…

“Funny how things that start spontaneously end spontaneoulsly. Eat a peach – Neil”

That was the infamous note that Neil Young left for Stephen Stills when he bailed out after a July 1976 gig on their illfated tour together. You know ol’ Neil … he certainly has his own row to hoe.

I share that quote with you, becuase I too am ending things spontaneously. That’s right, I am retiring The 6149. It is time to move on. I ran this blog for just about three years; I loved every minute of it.

Sometimes you just need to put things in the rearview mirror. Sometimes you just need to pack it in. Sometimes you just need to strike another match and go start anew.

That is exactly what I aim to do.

I can remember a few other times I have done this in my life – decided that the time had come. I have recognised that sometimes, when you hang on to something too long, the fun stops. What was once a turn-on turns into a drag. Don’t get me wrong I only have good feelings for The 6149. So much so, that it will live on in spirit in the next party I throw.

For the past few months I could feel that I needed to make a change. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I just did nothing. Until now…

I am putting together the next … or should I say, the now. I will still be spending time at The 6149, albeit metaphorically. I’ll still be out there at the intersection; at the inflection point; at the crossroads; striking sparks out where the now happens.

Thanks to everyone who came here once or came here often to have a look, a listen and laugh. It meant a lot and I enjoyed your company. The 6149 will stay up and live on as an archive, a trove of trash and treasure; a local haunt where people come to back slap and and tip ‘em back; a journey through the past.

As soon as me and the muse get the beers chilled and the turntable set up, I’ll let you know where and when the next party starts.

“I still see the vista. I hear the muse. I continue.” – Neil Young

Eat a peach. Judd

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