This Month in Music: An Idol and an Icon

This Month in Music: An Idol and an Icon

It’s a question as old as time.

“What kind of music do you listen to?”

For anyone who knows me, you know when I answer “a little bit of everything,” I mean it with every cell in my body.

Beethoven to Metallica. Ella Fitzgerald to Zedd. Garth Brooks to Snoop Dogg. I want it all.

That being said, I wanted to create a monthly post where I share all of my adventures in music. Might be concerts, or a new band or album I discovered, or a song I have stuck in my head. Whatever it is, it is my therapy, a uniter of me to others I know and don’t, and a language we all hear the same but may speak differently. Join me on my adventure into the world of harmonies and melodies and the random note here and there.

The idol? The band Sparta, specifically their lead singer, Jim Ward. It is someone you have likely never heard of, but they have been an idol to me since I walked into a record store for the first time in my life. It was a pleasant evening in Tempe at Zia Records on University and Mill. There is now a Chick-Fil-A where it once stood which absolutely breaks my heart, but I digress. I walked in with a freshly cashed paycheck burning a hole in my pocket and in need of some music to put out the fire. People who say that album covers or things like the font of the writing on the spine don’t matter, they have never met me. I am a grazer when it comes to books and vinyl/CDs and if something catches my eye, I will give it a try. I saw this deep maroon CD cover with really cool black and write writing and birds. I am sucker for anything that has birds on it. Can’t begin to tell you why.

After the visual draw of the album got me, I then started to read who it was, the name of the album and the names of the songs. The album itself is a live recording at the club La Zona Rosa in Los Angeles, and a pretty good one for a live recording in my opinion. Well my young brain saw the place and said “this surly has to be a place in AriZONA, so I am going to give it a listen.” I am also a sucker for anything related to my home state. I took the CD home, put it in my boombox, and got taken on a ride through hard but melodic rhythms and lyrics that were like the most haunted poetry I had ever heard. This was a band I wanted in my life. I then realized this was the first time I discovered a band on my own. No one recommended them to me. I hadn’t heard them on the radio. They weren’t an opening act I had seen. They were a mystery in a record store that I set out to unravel. This made them feel like my band and I while I did boast about them, I was still almost protective in keeping them my secret band.

While the band Sparta has changed over the years, Jim Ward has always been the anchor that keeps them afloat. Jim Ward started as a member of the alternative/punk band At The Drive-In in the 90s, and when they broke up, he started the band Sparta. In addition to Sparta, Ward has also done solo work and was a part of the band Sleepercar (go listen to the album West Texas, you can thank me later), which had a different sound than what I was used to hearing from him. But the musicality and lyrical genius was still very much present and drew me in. Jim Ward also has a great mind and voice when it comes to issues facing us in the real world. Being from Texas, there are a lot of issues he is very vocal about, and he takes the time to sit down with people on his Patreon, Instagram or his web series “Let’s Get A Drink,” like Beto O’Rourke, for example, and talk about what needs to be done. And trust me he doesn’t sugar coat what the issues are at all.

After listening to his music and watching all content out there Jim Ward related, I found out he was kicking off the 20th anniversary tour of Sparta’s first album “Wiretap Scars” in my own backyard, on my freaking birthday! And not only were they playing a show, I was able to snag tickets to go in before the show for a meet and greet! I feel like I wrote this story ages ago, because the first time I saw them solo, I connected with this girl who was seeing them on her birthday. When Tony Hajjar (one of the founding members, but no longer in the band), threw his drumstick into my hand after the show I passed it along to her since I already had a set list in the other hand. Karma has to be real right?!? The meet and greet and the show were at a local venue called The Nile in Mesa, AZ. This venue has been around since 1924 and plays some great shows from the rock/punk scene. I walked in the venue freaking out that Jim Ward was going to be there to talk to us, and the list of questions and the thanks I had prepared while in the shower that day had fallen right out of my brain. He started by playing two acoustic songs for us and I never wanted it to end. I was able to muster up a question about where his head was at writing this album being a new band, and the answer he gave was so raw and unfiltered, that it moved him to tears and brought a warmness to my heart. The same warmness I felt when I first listened to that bird covered CD I stumbled across years earlier. The concert itself was absolutely amazing. I joined a book club with one of the openers, Geoff Rickly, and lost feeling in my ears thanks to an absolute riot of a band called ’68. I then sang until I thought my vocals cords couldn’t take anymore to the lyrics of “Wiretap Scars,” and it was different now that I had heard from Jim himself what the album meant to him. This is a band that I will always keep in my life.

The icon? The Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. This is a venue that has always been on my list of places to see a show, and boy did I see a band that delivers. The one and only Phish. Phish is one of those bands some people have heard of but know nothing about them, have heard their music and have no idea who they are, or just think they are The Grateful Dead. Whatever you know about them, if you love music, you have to give this band a listen. My personal favorite Phish tracks? Petrichor, Down With Disease and Carini.

As much as I like the band Phish, I absolutely loved the Hollywood Bowl venue. I saw Phish two nights, Friday and Saturday, (and yes they play different songs every night of their runs. Impressive I know). I explored the venue differently both nights. Friday night, I had driven straight from Phoenix to LA and got to Hollywood Boulevard just in time to park and start the trek up Highland Avenue to get to the main entrance. The walk up to the venue made me think I was in line for the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland as it is covered with trees and the crowd noise almost sounds like running water. For the first night I was in the lower section of the Bowl in our own personalized space which was nice. The entire lower section consists of terrace-type boxes in which four people can fit comfortably in chairs. The chairs stood neglected however as we danced our rears off to the each bass chord, guitar twang, piano melody and snare hit being thrown at us. I have been to plenty of amphitheatres, but this one sounded by far the best of them. I don’t know if it is because of its location in the valley with the mountains surrounding it. If it’s the construction of the dome the band performs in. If it’s the setup the band uses during their shows. Or all of these things. Whatever it was, it was so immersive and there were many times I closed my eyes and could feel the music pulse through me and dance with me.

The second night I was there, I sat in the upper section. I like to do this on show runs because it lets you hear the band differently and experience a different view. Since I had more time the second night to get to the venue early and explore it, that is what I did. The awesome thing about the Hollywood Bowl is that you can take ramps and escalators up to the very top of the rear section of the bowl and take in all of the beauty it has to offer.

No other venue I have been to has a better backdrop than this. I mean for goodness sake you can see the iconic Hollywood Sign! The upper section did not disappoint and the sound still sent shivers down my spine. I sat at some points taking everything in while people danced in glee around me. It was an experience I will never forget, and a venue I hope to visit many more times.

Some other quick notes regarding music discovery this month.

  • The National released their new album “First Two Pages of Frakenstein” and while I have only listened through it once so far, I can’t not swoon over Matt Berninger’s voice and Aaron Dessner’s melodies. I am seeing them in August at The Mission Ballroom in Denver and can’t wait!
  • Discovered the playlist “Thirfted” on Spotify which has a bunch of great known and unknown tracks by many of the bands we know and love. I am sure every one of these songs you have heard in a coffee shop, cafe, book store, record store, etc at some point. If you want a trip down memory lane with your favorite artists, this one is for you.
  • Although I think Deadmau5 is a total arrogant jerk, I rediscovered his old jams that I grew up downloading off of Limewire and clubbing to in my bedroom. If you don’t know who he is or haven’t listened to him in a long time, throw on Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff or The Veldt and just let loose.

Let me know some of your favorite artists and venues in the comment section below.

Happy listening my friends!

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