I Stroke, Therefore I Am
Wind-blown wisps of lightly graying hair swirl around the singer's temples and brow as he mewls the lyrics to his early '80s mouth-breather hit "Everybody Wants You." The song's stretched words flutter in the air, leaving many of the 6,000-plus in attendance to muster a faint gasp of recognition. Scant man-dog yelps and "woo-hoos" are heard but do little to recall the desert kegger parties of long ago, where FM heroes like Nugent and Nazareth became an eternal soundtrack to the lives of a good many assembled here. Despite the fact that it's a hot and gooey August night in Phoenix -- the kind of muggy midsummer evening where the musk of other people's sweat is inescapable -- Billy Squier is wearing leather trousers. "Ev-rybody wunts youuuu/Ev-rybody wunts youuuu/Ev-rybody wunts youuuu."
In a kind of unintentional testament to MTV's Unplugged and how that show doused bad rock with heaping doses of self-seriousness (see: Queensrÿche, Tesla, Damn Yankees, Bryan Adams, etc.), Bad Company opener Squier performs in the dreaded sit-down mode. He carries no band, no Marshall stacks, no worthy-sounding guitars and no shortage of theories regarding life, love and the universe.
In his between-song banter, Squier comes across like a poodle-haired Prozac disaster who fashions himself an amateur philosopher after a recent introduction to, say, Plato. (A scenario that sounds vaguely similar to label pig/Limp Bizkit croaker Fred Durst, who -- after directing crap videos for his own jizz-tosses -- now often refers to himself as a "film director.")
Segueing into a new, decidedly power-ballady ditty ("Pursuit of Happiness"), Squier sermonizes with this eye-popping revelation: "If you're looking for truth, don't tell lies." Later he orates gravely on inner conflicts and how "we all have life's struggles" before handling a "blues version" of his master wank "The Stroke." Struggles indeed: Could this ex-metal popinjay be so self-assured as to suggest, in front of a giant throng, that for him, getting wood for a jerk session is no laughing matter? Wow, what an evolved man!
After all, it was one choreographed dance sequence in the 1984 video for the single "Rock Me Tonight" that unwittingly murdered Squier's metal-poppin', multiplatinum career. That fatal vid featured him prancing around his bedroom, dancing with himself and frolicking suggestively atop his bed with a light-in-the-loafers persona. It was not a poise that sat well for a man of Squier's grace -- a man in possession of a distressing Steven Seagal-like build -- much less rawk's hetero rock-dude stance of the early '80s.
More tunes of high disregard ("Learn How to Give," "Happy Blues") pass with surprising fanfare, and before long, Squier is gone like he came. Forgotten. And still the crowd roars.
During intermission, a peppy security guard with a catcher's-mitt-shaped head takes to busting a man seated just behind me who is smoking a cigarette. Security regards the smoker with the same bent the law shows toward any purported bad guy on Cops.
"Cigarette goes out or you do," he snaps to the innocent inhaler. "Yeah, yeah, no problem," the gray-haired man replies sheepishly. "I don't want no problems."
No smoking at an outdoor rock venue. Fear struck in the hearts of the sinless, those who partake in the very legal and leisurely activity of smoking. I ask Security why the no-smoking rule?
"Because, dude, not everybody likes cigarette smoke. And pretty soon nobody will be able to smoke in public in Arizona. That is a good thing, dude."
"Well," I say, "then let's ban cars, boats, forest fires, marshmallow roasts, planes, perfume, people who fart too much, cow shit, outdoor barbecues, meat and somebody else's conversation. And just think, without all that dirty stuff in the air, we may have an even healthier rock 'n' roll atmo, dude."
For a long moment, Security stares at me. He already looks like a cop. Strong jaw. Tight skin. Big ears. But his nose is crammed with ungodly blackheads. No girls for Security. "Because you smoke doesn't mean those around you should," he finally says.
"I don't smoke." And it is true, I don't. Smoking is the one vice that didn't grab me by the throat. I just think drinking, smoking, drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll (good or bad) are all batch mates. Call me doomed. "Sure," he says nodding. "I really believe that horseshit." He trots off to bust other smokers. I turn to get drinks.
I order a cup of beer and a double shot of Jack, pay, and head back to my seat. Moments later, in a burst of white light, Bad Company emerges, the original lineup together after an 18-year absence. The combo slams into the cocked-up "Can't Get Enough of Your Love."
Harley logos, halter-top knots and fast-food-fed frames rise from the seats in front of me. Myriad middle-aged fists ram the humid night. Bad Company is here and rockin', dude. When this crowd roars, I feel like a fly speck at a convention for distressed parents of Kid Rock fans. A gathering in which Paul Rodgers is its evangelical bell cow.
Bad Company's big intro is but an aural and visual smoke-and-mirrors display. The arena rock lighting is huge. The volume is huge. The crowd is huge. Yet, by the second song, the band, aside from singer Paul Rodgers, is as staid as a nurse-assisted grandpa content with a simple routine. A move from their personal spots on stage would seem unfeasible without the benefit of a roadie. During "Ready for Love" (only the third song of the set), bassist Boz Burrell -- wearing a knee-length, tie-dye tunic and tinted, close-cropped locks -- appears ready for his medication, and a nap.
Worse, the sound mix smacks of that awful God of Thunder production style popularized in the '80s, when reverb was to drum mixes what Desmond Child was to songs: overwrought and stupid. No guitar can be discerned through this mire. But ex-Mott the Hoople guitar hero Mick Ralphs -- with his airy, punk-rock-influencing guitar style and glitter-boot assuming history -- would seem the redeemable hinge at a Bad Company show. Unfortunately, the sound man ensures that Ralphs won't be heard, and the visual horrifyingly reveals that the guitarist could double for any current-day Beach Boy fill-in at some state fair.
And Paul Rodgers was never cool, even when he was supposed to be. Aside from being alarmingly deficient of any sexuality -- onstage he's more like a neutered marine than a rock 'n' roll front man -- Rodgers built his city on good old Yankee sexism. His dull wit and bogus American accent only emphasize semen-heavy lyrics like "Well, I take whatever I want/And baby, I want you"; his well-flaunted hirsute chest and ladies-man mien is pure '70s Playboy smarm. If Brian Ferry was a 1970s rock 'n' roll version of Peter O'Toole, then Rodgers is its Smokey and the Bandit-era Burt Reynolds. Worse, Rodgers' testicle-dangling voice has unforgivably influenced nearly three decades' worth of dispassionate corporate cheese, from Lou Gramm to Don Dokken to the guy who sings those insufferable Domino's Pizza TV commercials.
Prior to "Shooting Star," Rodgers, in his aforementioned G.I. Joe jargon, makes the prototypical song dedication to the dead rock heroes who inspired him. His ready-made balderdash like "This song is about Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix" stinks of a device designed to amass a house of burning lighters and midsong crowd participation. It works on "Feel Like Makin' Love" -- rock's most popular four-minute argument in favor of justifiable rape -- and Rodgers croons sans shirt, as if we didn't already know that he's bedroom-ready. His gym-happy ripples, tight jeans and taut pecs even suck heated squawks from many of the pavilion's men. Extraordinary for a band whose draw is by tradition riddled with homophobic yahoos.
And what does it say that a pack of mossbacks like Bad Company should still cover the crusty Coasters classic "Young Blood"? Mothers, hide your daughters, fathers, hide your sons? The first encore sees a still-shirtless Rodgers stroke his baby grand on "Silver, Blue and Gold" as the crowd sings along in earnest. On the last ("Bad Company"), BC confirms what it has suggested throughout its 80-minute set: that the band possesses all the potency of retired naval officers on holiday away from their wives. Just four Viagra-enhanced ex-sailors rich with the hope that somebody on these streets will still salute them.
Edge of Forever
They're old, they're fat, and some of them are lucky to be alive. What's more, this record won't annoy, piss off or sell. But VH1 gave them an empathy that a deadly plane crash couldn't. So why does the band have to ruin it all by saying that this is the album Skynyrd fans "have dreamed about since 1977"?
New American Shame
New American Shame
These guys are old and fat, too, but not as bad as Skynyrd. Though the singer looks as if Andrew "Dice" Clay pissed in his gene pool. Yikes! His poor parents. His poor band! At least the drummer understands what rock 'n' roll spirit is all about -- he champions the "It don't matter if you are good or not" philosophy with all the conviction of a man who will soon be installing satellite dishes for a living.
The Very Best
Some knee-bruised journalist once used the adjective "sexy" in an attempt to define a George Lynch guitar line. Another said Don Dokken's words are "like the breath of a poet." What more must I say?
The Big '80s -- Big Hair
One local DJ recently opined that the big-hair bands are back from the dead. He seemed quite pleased, too. God bless Rhino Records. Irony has never been more fun than when its direct result is the tomfoolery of a local radio ham.
Contact Bill Blake at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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