Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fessing up to a guilty pleasure

There's one album I cannot get enough of at the moment: Chickenfoot.

Gotta admit that this super group -- comprised of Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony, Joe Satriani and Chad Smith -- is a guilty pleasure that isn't helped by the band's choice of name. My main interest in the record is Joe Satriani, who is one of my three fave guitarists of all time. I also like The Red Hot Chili Peppers and occasionally I'll bust out my two-disc Van Halen "best of."

Chickenfoot is very much a big, dumb, rawk record. The kind you aren't supposed to make anymore. It's also fun and kicks ass.

While the album isn't perfect -- I could have done without the mawkish ballad -- it runs circles around all the Van Hagar albums. Oddly enough, many songs are reminiscent of David Lee Roth-era Van Halen.

The record has more than its fair share of killer riffs and hooky choruses such as “Sexy Little Thing,” “Oh Yeah,” and “Runnin’ Out.” Yep, songs about cars 'n' girls. (An attempt at political commentary on the opening track, "Avenida Revolution," doesn't say very much at all.)

“Turnin’ Left” is another highlight. (It’s not, as the title might suggest, a song about Arlen Specter's career.) It ends with Hagar's voice doing a call and response with Satriani's guitar, matching it's every squeal and shriek.

The album's centerpiece, "Get It Up," is a shoo-in for the 2009 Award for "Most Kick Ass Rock Song." It has a guitar riff that powerful enough to create antimatter and Chad Smith's drum fills are inhuman. This album, produced by Glyn Johns (Led Zep and others) captures the sheer power and swing of Smith's drumming better than any of the Red Hot Chili Pepper albums. The dude may look like Will Ferrell, but he's truly one of the greatest drummers in rock.

Joe Satriani is one of my fave guitarists and I own all his albums. Satch gets to show off his astonishing technique -- he has finger speed that a court stenographer would envy -- but his great talent has always been exploring the fourth dimension of guitar and all its textures. He has good feel, too. This is more of a fun rock record, so it's not as ambient or cerebral as Satriani's solo stuff. It's more straightforward. Nevertheless, Satriani's guitarwork on this record is blistering. (Listen to this, Eddie....)

I've never been a big fan of Sammy Hagar, but I'm astonished that his voice is able to effortlessly run on high octaves at age 61.

Michael Anthony's backing vocals were Van Halen's secret weapon and they're put to great use here. He's also a great partner in rhythm for Smith. The bottom end on this album outstrips that of any of the Van Halen albums. I've been blasting this album in the car ever since summer.

I also caught the band's August gig here in LA., which felt like being strapped to the front grill of Jeff Gordon's NASCAR. A pure rush with a thrill of danger. The sheer explosion of sound and energy was unbelievable. Smith was all mad-hatter glee with a constant grin. Phenomenal drum fills followed by him flipping his sticks into the air and catching them like a street-corner juggler. He must have tossed out 30 drumsticks into the audience over the course of the show and he not only looks like Will Ferrell but also cracks jokes to the audience between songs.

Satriani -- whom Hagar has nicknamed "Smoke" for his guitar prowess -- does stuff on the guitar that I've never seen anyone do on an axe. I've never seen someone who can stretch his fingers across as many frets as Satch did and he broke the landspeed record early and often. What's so great about Chickenfoot is that Satriani gets to breathe more than usual. At his solo gigs, his guitar is the voice as so he often overplays but here he could sit play and play a groove and then step forward for a molten solo.

For the encore, a gold disc was presented to Hagar for the Chickenfoot's sales. Chad Smith says Hagar is the only guy to have been a member of four bands with gold sales for an album. Soon after, Hagar sat at the edge of the stage and played some insane lap-steel guitar on "Bad Motor Scooter." Then British guitar phenom Davy Knowles, who was the first act, came on for a dazzling guitar duel with Satriani. It all ended with a cover version of The Who's "My Generation" (earlier, the band launched into "Immigrant Song" at the end of "Get It Up") and then Smith went all Keith Moon by trashing his kit, smashing it to pieces, hurling the bass drum across the stage, and jamming the cymbal stand into another drum.

Now that's rock 'n' roll.

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