Nirvana Members Reunite to Play Cal Jam 2018

This weekend, Foo Fighters held their second annual Cal Jam music festival at San Bernardino, California, resulting in a surprise set from Nirvana. During the six-song set, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic were joined on stage by Deer Tick’s John McCauley and Joan Jett, filling in for Kurt Cobain for three songs each.

Jett joined the band for “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “All Apologies”, and “Breed”, while McCauley took the stage for “In Bloom”, “Serve the Servants”, and “Scentless Apprentice”.

Watch a few of the performances below:

Grohl and Novoselic previously got back together to perform during Nirvana’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction and during a 2012 “Saturday Night Live” appearance with Paul McCartney.

Which song from the performance is your favorite? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

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Reflecting On : The Pillows – My Foot

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The Pillows are legend. As the band behind the grunge pop soundtrack of smash-hit anime, FLCL, they’re the only Japanese rock band that a shocking amount of Americans know (and love). The Pillows are Japan’s answer to The Ramones. Starting as a cheesy pop band in the late 80’s, they broke into a grunge infused garage rock with hints of surfer rock by the mid-90’s.

Over the course of almost three decades, The Pillows have had a similar evolution to that of Green Day; after releasing nearly an album a year, their signature sound has taken tiny steps. Each record can sound similar to the uninitiated, but those who listen can see the shifts, waiting year after year to see how the band pushes themselves this time. For me, My Foot is the most important record to the band’s sound in the last 15 years.

By the early 2000s, The Pillows had shifted from the fuzzed grunge in favor of poppier elements on albums with differing degrees of success. My Foot found the best utilization and drastically altered the band’s course into the present day. Even now, their (almost) yearly album releases continue to refine and experiment off of the style choices made on My Foot.

The elegance of The Pillows is in how their music can sound as though it is bare-bones, but still be so rich and full. The way that vocalist Sawao Yamanaka and lead guitarist Yoshiaki Manabe seem to call and answer each other on guitar. The way that the bass thumps along (perhaps because the band lacks an official bassist) in simple harmony. The way that Shinichiro Sato’s drumming seems to hover on single, steady beats, offset by raging hammering at a moment’s notice.

The album’s second song, “Rock’n’Roll Sinners” is the very thesis for what The Pillows had spent 15 years trying to accomplish, and what they’ve done ever since – pure rock and roll the way it was meant to be written. The guitar riffs rage with the energy of the best Saves the Day song and their signature, simplistic garage pop. In English, Yamanaka sings the anthem of all rock bands, with the spirit that has made The Pillows such a draw for almost three decades: “All the people of the earth want to rock and roll / I quit forgot, yes, I’ll try to do better in the future / All the people of the earth want to rock and roll / I will do it yet, I felt my heart beating wildly / What do you want?”

My Foot also contains one of the best singles in a discography covering nearly 30 years, “The Third Eye”. Based over an elegantly simple drum beat and a quick, sexy plucky guitar riff, the song is just cohesive enough to work. At the same time, the energy pushing the song forward is unrelenting, meshing a pop beat with an aggressive punk riff, “The Third Eye” is the embodiment of what The Pillows are and what makes them so endearing. It also showcases a willingness to play with music, in that during a dual guitar bridge, one of the guitars changes keys and attempts to directly conflict with the main melody. It’s an incredibly short moment, but it’s the type of thing that you still remember years after the fact.

“Non Fiction”, resting midway through the album, is the type of song only The Pillows could write. The guitar riff is quick, fun and circus-like, as though written to be the soundtrack to an animal plodding along. It’s the type of music that seems like it should be a quirky B-side for most bands, but The Pillows manage to give it a sense of passion to strong, you can hear how much fun they had writing it.

My Foot is the type of album that is incredibly hard to find. It is the definitive sound of a band who already had almost two decades of music under their belt, and the accomplishment of refining themselves to a razor edge. It’s sleek and sexy, written with melodies broken down to essential sounds. If anything was added or touched up, the songs possibly wouldn’t work – take anything away and they’d be disastrous. But more than anything, it’s what rock and roll should be. It’s fun, memorable and passionately energetic.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and actually bought My Foot  in a Borders Books on a whim based on the album art. Good choice, classic Kyle. Good choice.

Review: Man Overboard – Heavy Love

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Man Overboard has always been that band that stood just on my peripheral vision. Their battle ready slogan of “Defend Pop Punk” made you root for them, but something was always just a little off. “Cliffhanger”, off of the new album Heavy Love does a good job of explaining what I mean, as dual singers Nik Bruzzese and Zac Eisenstein rattle off the lyrics, “I realized that I’m a natural second best / And whatever is against me, I’ll appear as something less”.

But that isn’t this album. Heavy Love is the first Man Overboard album that really grabs what the band should have been all along and never lets it go.

Man Overboard have a definite hardcore fanbase, but they’ve seemed unable to really take advantage of the pop punk community in the way that their peers have over the last few years. Part of that, I believe, is that their albums have always felt lopsided. There are a few very good songs, and a plague of what could be argued as filler. Heavy Love feels like the first album that takes advantage of Man Overboard’s talent as songwriters. It’s the first album of theirs that I didn’t find myself skipping tracks on the second listen through.

In many ways, it reminds me of Saves the Day’s In Reverie or Weezer (pick any of the colored albums). The band has the confidence to push themselves in ways that they never had before, mixing smooth surfer rock and the harsh crunch of heavier pop punk successfully over emo lyricism.

In many ways, I wish this were the self-titled album of the band’s career, as it gives their sound the full body that it has always deserved. The guitars are heavy where they need to be, melodic and crisp. Listen to the way they pop and bounce during “Invisible”, the Say Anything/Franz Ferdinand styled breakdowns of “Deal”, or the control and melody of “A Love That I Can’t Have” before breaking into an all-out fury as the song fades to a close.

Nik Bruzzese’s bass rumbles along slightly overshadowed by the guitars, but pounds out some solid melody. Joe Talarico’s drumming seems a bit restrained during parts of the album, but unleashes full power when the songs break into choruses or solos. He basically commands “Deal” with quick snaps and rolling snares throughout the song.

Nik and Zac’s vocals are the best they’ve ever been. Zac’s deeper voice is a perfect balance to Nik’s surprisingly high notes. They really push themselves in ways that I’m not sure I’ve heard before.

Perhaps the biggest complaint that I’ve heard against Man Overboard is that their lyrics are regularly hit or miss, often covering the same material. Expect more of the same, just much, much better. With an album title of Heavy Love, it’d be ludicrous to think that the subject matter would be about anything other than relationships. It’s disappointing that the band hasn’t explored much beyond this subject matter, but what is reassuring is that it’s consistent this time around: the choruses are memorable, the verses are simplistic, but hold a depth the last albums lacked.

Heavy Love’s themes revolve around broken relationships. What is weird is that the songs don’t even seem particularly angry, but the overall tone is that of frustration with attempting to fix relationships. Lines like “If you never come home / Then you really must know / I adored you, and I adore you now” from “Splinter” or “And I already know / Cuz I can already tell / From how it feels / And how I just keep looking at you / I keep your pictures and I stare right at you”, from “She’s In Pictures” litter the album. It’s explored territory for sure, but there’s no arguing a good chorus when you hear it.

Heavy Love is what Man Overboard should have been a few years ago. This is the album that they should be known for. It doesn’t have the simple pop songs that makes a band stand out initially (see “Dead End Dreams”), but is instead packed full of every element that makes a pop punk record great. There is a lot of territory that the band isn’t covering and few places that push the boundaries of the genre as much as their peers. But Heavy Love is a solid album and a fun listen that justifies all the time invested in hoping the band really comes out on top.

As the verse in “Cliffhanger” ends, the band shout defiantly, “And the sad thing is that I’ve never been better / But if you look at the facts, you know I’ve never been better”.

4/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and first encountered Man Overboard on the Warped scene. A $5 CD started this journey into following them. Defend Pop Punk!

Review: Gerard Way – Hesitant Alien

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My Chemical Romance was a well-worn machine; they created magic in the recording studio and spread the credit to each member of the band. Now that they’ve separated, it’s becoming interesting and far easier to see the individual cogs that held MCR together.

I think it is safe to say that most everyone expected Gerard Way’s first solo album to be a sassy demonstration of his swagger and persona, but considering that he was really only credited with lead vocals on MCR’s albums and on stage, it’s impressive that he can write an album that is just so damn good.

Hesitant Alien sounds as though it is a natural progression out of MCR’s Danger Days; wave after wave of fuzzy guitars, heavy drums, bombardments of bass and a raging synth. There is a dynamic surf-style chord progression to the guitars that keep the songs grungy and charismatic.

This is a common thread throughout the album that makes it sound cohesive, if not slightly similar. The punk aspect that Way has been so familiar with is replaced by driving rock beats that sound more aligned with a heavy indie sound. The addition of random instruments, like a saxophone in “Get the Gang Together” just feels right with the playfulness of the music.

As someone not known for his guitar work, Way seamlessly channels the sound from verse to chorus to intricate and meaningful solos. The fuzz of the guitar doesn’t get in the way of melody or overpower the other instruments. “No Shows” has a heavy rhythm that translates to an energetic jam of an instrumental halfway through. The fuzzed power chords become incredibly soothing against the relentless drums. The bass is heavy, often equally as fuzzy and always popping at the forefront.

As with Frnkiero and the Cellabration, former MCR touring drummer Jarrod Alexander absolutely kills it. He destroys the drums with heavy beats that maintain a hypnotic steadiness that pairs perfectly with the grunge of the guitars and Way’s eccentric vocals.

Vocally, Way delivers the electric performance he is known for. He barks out sharp vocals that sound more comfortable and natural against the pop grunge guitar than the stylized punk rock of MCR. However, that may be the biggest detriment to his voice; it sounds comfortable. While his singing sounds natural and eccentric, he doesn’t seem to be pushing or challenging himself the way that his fans know he oftentimes does. However, given the work he put into writing such balanced songwriting, it’s not surprising that he wouldn’t strain his vocals as much with everything else to concentrate on.

Lyrically, fans shouldn’t expect to find the grand storytelling or deep poetic prose of MCR. These songs are whimsical and simple. They’re easy to sing along to, but don’t carry much weight past the surface level. The verses are sparse, with the brunt of the song relying on the chorus, such as the second verse of “Action Cat”, which is simply, “Every accidental damage I wouldn’t take, every heart I left behind you couldn’t break.”

There are a few charming lyrics though, but they are sparsely hidden. During “Millions”, Way sings, “You believe in love, I believe in faith. They’ll believe in anything, you make up the villains. A trillion legions of the damned and William.” Nothing deep emotionally, but it’s a line that will turn your head. Though the lyrics are pretty basic, they make some great lines to sing over the raving guitars.

Hesitant Alien is a great surprise from an artist not particularly known outside of their vocals and energetic stage performance. The quality of the writing and experimentation is beyond what I imagined Way capable of on his first go as a solo artist, which proves how little I thought I knew about the inner workings of MCR.

The energy, passion and spectacle are alive and thriving on this record. Just like he managed a little over a decade ago, Gerard Way came out swinging to prove to anyone willing to listen that he’s one of the greatest performers of this generation.

4/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.

Stalking Seattle: Exploring the Dark History of One City’s Rock Legends

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For years, it’s been a dream of mine to travel to Seattle and visit the old haunts of some of my favorite musicians. Like so many others my age, I was deeply impacted by the alt rock explosion in the early 90s – a movement that would forever alter not only the underground music scene, but pop culture itself and the philosophical trajectory of an entire generation.

It’s safe to say that It’s All Dead wouldn’t exist without this movement and the local sounds that sparked it.

As anyone that’s spent more than 10 minutes with me can attest, Kurt Cobain is easily my favorite musician. I’ve read nearly every book written about him, spent countless hours reading, obsessing and writing about the impact and arc of alternative rock, and argued relentlessly for In Utero’s superiority to Nevermind.

However, for all of this self-proclaimed head knowledge, I had yet to step foot in the city that spawned it or walk down the roads that told its stories. This mission was recently (and belatedly) accomplished, thanks in large part to Stalking Seattle, the city’s surprisingly one and only rock and roll tour.

Statue of Jimi Hendrix, unveiled in 1997

Statue of Jimi Hendrix, unveiled in 1997

In the early afternoon, we climbed into the back of a black minivan with a few fellow music lovers and a kind-hearted, sharp-witted tour guide named Charity. She immediately strikes you as someone who is friends with everyone. This likely isn’t far from the truth, as her knowledge of the Seattle rock scene is one born from having lived in it and amongst it.

Charity is a Seattle native who started the tour a few years ago after repeated urges from those around her to fill the city’s glaring tourist void. She’s fully equipped for the task, with enough charisma to match her vast knowledge and experiences.

Throughout the afternoon, Charity shares stories of laughter, tears, joy, amazement and solemn reflection of over a decade’s worth of proceedings. She and her friends literally watched the small community around them explode into a worldwide phenomenon, finding themselves at ground zero. Even years later, you can still catch a flicker of awe in her voice as she marvels at the events.

Among the many stops along the way are sites such as the apartment of deceased Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood, the building where members of what would become Pearl Jam first heard Eddie Vedder sing their songs, venues where Nirvana first played in front of a crowd, settings for the seminal Cameron Crowe film, Singles, the sculpture that inspired Chris Cornell to write Soundgarden’s smash song “Black Hole Sun”, and the high school of Jimi Hendrix.

Black Sun sculpture that inspired Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun"

Black Sun sculpture that inspired Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”

Each stop includes a story told from Charity’s perspective, along with local lore and details to fill in the gaps. Even more intriguing is the speculation and questions that linger in the aftermath of so many of these events and settings.

Herein lies the most fascinating and disturbing reality about Seattle’s celebrated music scene. Just above the sparkling reflection of artistic talent and bold culture-shifting influence lies a dark cloud of grief. Moments I had long anticipated as being filled with joy and wonder were often full of sober reflection.

Andy Wood’s heroine overdose, Kurt Cobain’s suicide, Jimi Hendrix’s mysterious death, Chris Cornell’s crippling substance abuse problems, and the tragic murder of Gits singer Mia Zapata are just a few of the events that cast a dark shadow over the city’s streets that, to this day, are still plagued by heroin use. Be not mistaken, there is beauty here, but it came at a cost.

In no moment is this more apparent than while standing outside of the home formerly owned by Cobain and Courtney Love, located in the ritziest neighborhood in Seattle. During their time there, the house is described as being nearly dilapidated, with peeling wallpaper and water leaking in from the roof.

Outside the home, now completely restored, lies a small park with a single wooden bench, which has become a shrine for Cobain. It’s covered with song lyrics and pictures, and on this afternoon, is dressed with an old sweater and a few wilting flowers.

A bench located in the park next to Cobain's Seattle home

A bench located in the park next to Cobain’s Seattle home

As each of us approaches the bench for a picture, Charity quips, “Don’t smile, but don’t look too sad.” We all chuckle at the notion, finding it difficult to find the appropriate response for the moment. It is truly one filled with a deep sadness and a healthy reverence.

In so many ways, that lone bench embodies not only the life and lasting impact of Cobain, but of an entire generation of the city’s music and culture. Unique, yet hauntingly out of place. Inviting, yet starkly alone.

My experience of Seattle wasn’t as I expected, but was instead profoundly more impactful. Walking these paths and listening to these stories is humbling in the most unexpected of ways. We find ourselves forever grateful for the music and voices that impacted our lives so deeply, while simultaneously learning from and feeling a deep sting from the events that came in their wake.

Visiting Seattle soon? Be sure to check out Seattle’s premier rock and roll sightseeing tour – Stalking Seattle.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Nirvana inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

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Seattle grunge legends Nirvana have officially been voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This is the first year that the band was eligible, as their debut single “Love Buzz” was released in 1988. This year, for the second time ever, fans had the ability to vote on the nominees, along with artists, rock scholars and music professionals.

The band released their wildly popular album Nevermind in 1991 to critical acclaim, selling more than 30 million records worldwide. Their 1993 follow-up, In Utero, a polarizing record upon its release, is now considered a rock classic and was re-released earlier this year as part of the record’s 20th anniversary. Nirvana disbanded in 1994 upon the untimely death of lead singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain.

The band’s two remaining members, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, had the following to say upon the announcement of their induction:

“This is a great honor. Thank you to the people who nominated and voted for us. Thank you most of all to Kurt Cobain. And to everyone who’s kept Rock music going strong for 60 years and counting.”–Krist Novoselic

“For once… I’m speechless. From the basements, to the dingy clubs, to the broken down vans, to… the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I’d like to thank the committee not only for this induction, but also for recognizing Nirvana for what we were: pure rock and roll. Most of all, thank you to all of the fans that have supported rock and roll throughout the years, and to Kurt and Krist, without whom I would not be here today.”–Dave Grohl

Details on the induction ceremony are forthcoming. In the meantime, check out the 20th anniversary deluxe edition of In Utero on iTunes.

Share your favorite memories and songs of the band in the replies.

Posted by Kiel Hauck