As party tricks go, this is pretty great: 60 years of rock history as told by 100 famous guitar riffs from Chuck Berry to St. Vincent, played out over about the length of an average Phish song. Alex Chadwick renders them all instantly recognizable, and he even changes tunings on the fly as he goes. There are a few head-scratchers -- "Pictures of Matchstick Men" is Status Quo, not Camper Can Beethoven (although the latter did cover it) -- and I'd quibble with some of the selections. Still, anybody who can segue from "Blitzkrieg Bop" to "Barracuda" without missing a beat is a genius. And it's all one take, no edits.
Long ago and far away, print magazines were one of the primary ways to find out about new music. And in the pre-Internet days of the early 1980s, the twice-a-month arrival of the latest Rolling Stone was a major event. I would sit and devour every word of every issue, while scanning the writers' bylines and wondering who those people were. Like Parke Puterbaugh, a name that seemed impossibly exotic.
Years later, I moved here and discovered that Puterbaugh lived right down the road in Greensboro -- and that, in addition to being a record geek supreme, he was also a right nice guy. It's to his credit, I think, that he looks like he's trying to keep a straight face in the photo below. And now he's written the book he was born to do, "Phish: The Biography" (Da Capo, 318 pages, $25).
Phish has never gotten much critical respect, and I have to admit that their jam-band whimsy ain't really my ball o' wax. But Puterbaugh has always been a fan, going back to when he began covering Phish for Rolling Stone in the mid-'90s. He got plenty of behind-the-scenes access to report "Phish," and it shows in his even-handed treatment of the music as well as the band's virtues and foibles.
You can come talk to him about it directly tonight, when Puterbaugh does a reading at Raleigh's Quail Ridge Books. It will be my honor to commence the evening with an introduction at 7:30. Promise I'll keep it brief, so come on out.
If you tried to buy Jimmy Buffett tickets online when they went on sale Saturday morning, chances are good that you found it to be a frustrating experience. This was the first big local test of livenation.com's new ticketing system, and... well, it didn't exactly pass with flying colors. There were widespread reports of delays and glitches, with numerous fans shut out -- you had better luck going old-school, lining up at the venue box office.
"We had a tough weekend," sighs Nathan Hubbard, CEO of Live Nation ticketing. "We had 63 great shows go on sale, and the combination of Jimmy Buffett and Phish traffic just overwhelmed us. Friday and Saturday, we had more than 10 million requests, and it just overwhelmed us. We sold out a lot of shows, but during that huge blast of traffic, a lot of fans had trouble getting access to tickets. In Raleigh, a lot simply could not get into the system. We never want our customers to have that experience. By way of apology, the best news for Jimmy Buffett fans is that tickets are still available."
Another complaint ticket-buyers had was the service charges. When Live Nation announced it was leaving Ticketmaster to handle its own its ticketing, there was much talk about "creating more transparency so the fan can make the decision whether the total amount is worth it." But for Buffett, online buyers reportedly couldn't see either the face price or the extra fees until after the tickets went on sale. And the parking, service and handling fees added $19 to the cost, bumping a $29 lawn ticket up to $48.
Here again, Hubbard pledges improvement and transparency.
"For us, it's a first step in a longer process of bringing more transparency to the process," he says. "The Eagles with their single all-in fee, data tells us that's what the fan wants. So we're moving in that direction, listening to fan feedback. This weekend, it came through loud and clear that we did not do as good a job as we should have."
ADDENDUM (2/3/09): Live Nation and Ticketmaster may merge!
Word to the wise: If you're planning on buying tickets for Jimmy Buffett's April 23 Raleigh date, which go on sale Saturday, don't try to do it online at LiveNation.com. A number of Phish reunion tour dates went on sale today and the debut of Live Nation's online ticket-vending system did not go well, with widespread reports of malfunctions and delays. Since Live Nation's outlets in Blockbuster stores won't start up until next month, your best bet will be to go directly to the Walnut Creek box office.
Out this week is a two-disc live DVD by the Vermont jam band Phish. Big deal, right? Well, this one is notable because it was shot in Raleigh. "Phish Walnut Creek" came from a 1997 show at our local big outdoor joint, which took place during a wrath-of-God thunderstorm. From the liner notes to the set:
On July 22, 1997, Phish performed the second show of their U.S. summer tour at Walnut Creek Amphitheatre in Raleigh, NC, through a torrent of rain, thunder and lightning. Rather than cancel the gig, the band played on with the music mirroring the peaks in the storm's intensity. Highlights include "Down With Disease" that slowly segues into "Mike's Song" -- the first and only time these two classic tunes were ever paired together in such a way -- as well as "Taste," complete with near-Biblical thunder and lightning display.