Monday, March 16, 2009

Book Review: Ronnie by Ronnie Wood

This rock n' roll autobiography deserves more treatment, but is enough to placate.

By Clarence Yu
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The Glimmer Twins' (Mick Jagger and Keith Richards) life stories have been so highly publicized that one feels that they need not publish their own autobiographies, thereby adding more stories to the mix. Bill Wyman has published his own revealing memoir (Stone Alone) which seems surprisingly bitter in tone and provides for a detailed inside look from the Stone who moved the least on stage but had the most groupies amongst all.

Now with Ronnie Wood's autobiography, simply titled Ronnie, what is being attempted here? For starters, Ronnie Wood is the third lead guitarist to fill the position, after the death of original Stone Brian Jones and the questionable departure of Mick Taylor, begging the question: what does it take to be a Stone besides being a good guitar player?

Ronnie provides the answers in spades. In a sense, this incomplete autobiography is much like his guitar playing — without the rhythm of Keith Richards' playing, the sound is only half-complete, shades of the complete painting that can only be revealed in a group autobiography.

Nonetheless, the writing is surprisingly candid. He gets along with all the Stones, taking a bit of a stab at each but never being bitter and remaining true to everyone, especially his mate Keith. This feat in itself is testament to the qualities that have allowed him to endure as a Stone and endeared him to his fellow Stones: be nice, don't overshadow, be amiable, and most of all, don't diss anyone.

For Stones fans, there is really nothing new, with the exception of how broke Woody (as he is endearingly called) really was all the time while playing with the World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band, some personal tidbits about his family life, and his detailed account of his frightening imprisonment along with wife Jo on the island of St. Maarten in 1980.

Much expected but not present were more of Ronnie's artistic frustrations, which are only written about in passing. Colorful characters ranging from Anthony Perkins and Muhammad Ali to John Belushi all pop in for visits but all deserve chapters in their own right. Chapters are written in mostly non-chronological format, which gives the book an improvised feel. One has the feeling that Woody wrote this on the fly. In the end, he claims sobriety after years of excessive substance abuse and professes undying love to his wife Josephine, but today's headlines are rife with speculation about his affair with a much younger woman and his rumored relapse into alcohol abuse. Then again, the Stones have always been masters of media manipulation.

Like a work of art, this has to be taken in slowly. Ronnie's Ronnie manages to pull everything off without a feeling of discontent. We love you even more, Woody! Now, if only you could get Charlie Watts to write his memoirs. That would really be something of an achievement.
The Beatles Will Soon be Playable

The Beatles officially join the video game world. Why?

By Clarence Yu
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The band that John Lennon once described as more famous than Jesus Christ will soon be available as a video game as The Beatles: Rock Band.

According to this article from the Rolling Stone website, the game will be available for play on Xbox, Nintendo Wii and Playstation 3 and will be released on September 9, 2009.

Developed by Harmonix Music Systems and published by MTV Games, Rock Band is a popular music video game that allows players to play as a band unit — guitars, bass and drums, unlike the rival Guitar Hero game series by Activision (until the recent release of Guitar Hero World Tour) only allowed players to interface with the game as a guitar player.

This will be the first Rock Band video game devoted solely to a band, and will reportedly cover material from the Beatles' first album, Please Please Me, to their final album, Abbey Road.

This development continues the trend of artists who are diversifying their channels of distribution through the gaming industry. Previous artists who have done so include Aerosmith and Metallica (through the Guitar Hero franchise).

One can have mixed feelings about this kind of medium being used by artists to enhance their popularity and sales. For one thing, it certainly is proven to work well for big-name artists. With Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, the band garnered more sales from the game than from any individual album they recorded. It also worked to boost their catalog sales by giving gamers an increased awareness of the band's past music.

While this is a great way to learn about an artist's music, it might not be the best way to learn an instrument. For example, given the big differences between the game guitar controller and an actual guitar, it might be easier for a gamer just to play the video game. But as a form of expression and creativity, the game might be utterly useless. The only good thing that can be seen at the moment about this from a musical standpoint is that it might spark the interest of gamers into picking up an actual instrument.

The Beatles certainly do not need the money or the added popularity. Hopefully, one can only imagine that they are getting into this project to incite more interest in the art of writing and creating music, which would then lead to a boost in more bands and more recorded music. Just like the Beatles' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, which launched thousands of bands and inspired even more kids at the time to pick up an instrument, one can only hope that a similar revolution will occur with the game's release.

In the meantime, it would be interesting to see the kind of reaction this game will elicit from hard-core Beatles fans, gamers, and music industry insiders, and how much Apple Corps Ltd. (the Beatles-owned record label) would stand to gain from a business standpoint, and how other legendary bands would react. Rock Band: The Rolling Stones, anyone?
Concert Review: Journey At Mall of Asia, Manila, March 14, 2009

Journey stays true to their roots in their first concert in Manila with new singer Arnel Pineda

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by Clarence Yu

All roads led to the SM Mall of Asia (MOA) fair grounds as Manila’s mostly upper crust and middle class crowd witnessed rock band Journey’s first Asian date in support of their Revelation album.

An announcer mentioned to the audience that the concert was being filmed for a special DVD and asked the crowd to perform two cheers for filming purposes.

Led by native son Arnel Pineda on vocals, the band took the stage at approximately 8:50 pm and erupted into "Never Walk Away" off the Revelation album with all cylinders firing, followed by "Only The Young," a sufficient one-two salvo to keep the crowd on its' feet.

The legendary rockers mixed the old with the new. Instead of trying to please the crowd with a potential wall to wall greatest hits concert, the band admirably dug deep into their newest release, with songs like the rockers "Change For The Better," "Where Did I Lose Your Love," and the tear-jerking ballad "After All These Years," intermixed with old gems like "Ask The Lonely," "Stone In Love," and the ever crowd rousing "Separate Ways." This brought the crowd on and off their feet; for every hit like "Open Arms," which had everyone screaming, there was a "Wildest Dream" which kind of flew over the audience's heads.

No matter. The sound was all-professional, solid, and tight.

The band also added new bits into their old songs. "Separate Ways" had an interlude during Neal Schon's blistering solo, and "Wheel In The Sky" began with Jonathan Cain on harmonica and Schon on acoustic in a country-honky tonk jam. Bassist Ross Valory was cool and collected, holding down the bottom end while entertaining the audience with his comical facial expressions.

Drummer Dean Castronovo sang lead vocals on several songs, the most impressive being "Mother Father" off the Escape album. Castronovo proves not only to be a great drummer but an excellent singer as well.

Finally, lead vocalist Arnel Pineda was a ball of fire throughout the whole show, jumping all over the stage and hitting all the high notes with his more than apt voice. Confident and equipped with the obligatory arena rock star charisma and moves, Pineda was visibly charged and emotional in his first concert with Journey in his native land, and dedicated the 1996 ballad "When You Love A Woman" to "all the women out there" and "to my wife."

Understandably, though most of the crowd was there to see Mr. Pineda, Journey proved that collectively they are still a serious band to be reckoned with. This was no sentimental tour. Albeit boring the crowd somewhat with their new songs, the band showed no compromise, proving in the end that they are still firmly entrenched in their roots and are looking forward to a longer career ahead of them.