Tour Talk: The Raconteurs, John Mayer and More

Daron Malakian of System of a Down, Elvis Costello, Jewel, and others talk about what to expect at their summer shows

By |

Jack White and Brendan Benson of the Raconteurs
Touring with: Kelley Stoltz
Tour starts: July 16th in Denver

You pulled out a new song at the New York show a few weeks back. Do you have a bunch of songs you're going to be play that aren't on the album?

[Brendan] There might be, yeah, if we feel like it, but the problem with it nowadays is that the Internet pretty much ruins that type of fun. You can't really do that. We did that -- we played so much live in England that by the time the album came out, it was like, 'Oh, these aren't the same as the ones we heard.'

[Jack] But it's like, 'Yeah, if it was back in the day, you wouldn't have heard them at all.' That's the joy-slash-pain of living in the age of the Internet, you can't really do everything you want to do because you kind of distort yourself if you do too much, because everything is instantly available worldwide. Times have changed. Back in the day, if you went and saw the Who, you didn't know where they were playing the next night or the night before or what the set list was. Now, you look out in the crowd, and everyone's filming you.

[Brendan] A sea of cell phone lights. How romantic.

Does that make you want to switch it up more from show to show?

[Jack] It makes you want to safeguard what you have ready to come out next time. It's hard to play songs from the next album, the ones we have cooking now, because it would almost feel like you were throwing them away, because of the Internet. What can you do, you have to make decisions based on what's smart. There were times when we bumped into each other, me and Brendan, on tours and stuff before this album came out, and we'd say, 'Let's play "Steady, As She Goes" onstage,' but it wouldn't have been a good idea.

In these latest rehearsals, have things popped up that seem new compared to what you were playing onstage in the shows you already did?

[Brendan] Yeah. All the ways we're playing the songs, they already aren't like the album anymore, and they're going to keep changing over and over again. I can only hope for that. I think everyone else in the band hopes for that, too. The last thing I want to do is play songs like they are on the record.

John Mayer
Touring with: Sheryl Crow
Tour starts: August 24th in Burgettstown, PA

Are you just going to charge ahead and play the new stuff from day one?

I'm damned either way because if I play the stuff that people haven't heard yet, I can't do a good enough job representing the record, even live -- not that first week. I would love people's first impression this time around to be the record. You really have a diminutive effect on people when they start piecing together their version of your record by way of different live cuts and acoustic things from radio stations, and they try to assemble the record. I think I spent too long working on it to have that be the way that people are introduced to the music. But on the other hand, I don't want to be up there playing the 2004 setlist. I'll figure it out.

Once you do start playing the stuff from the new album, how do you think that's going to affect the vibe of the shows?

Oh, I can't wait. I wrote this entire record over a two-year period, almost always with the live tour in mind. As a composer, you're kind of setting up the performer in you. It's almost like in-house writing for an artist, except you're the artist. The end result, every time I've been excited and danced a jig when this record was playing back, it was because I thought about how it was going to feel live. It's engineered to be a really great live set, I don't think there's anything here I won't play live or is impossible to play live.

In general – tell me what you think the vibe of the record is going to be.

I listen to it, and I just say, 'At the very least, you can't poke a hole in it,' and that's all that matters to me right now. You don't have to love it…I hope people do, but I think it's my first record where it has no holes in it. And 'holes' being anybody going, 'Eh, I don't know if I believe that kid.' I think I've always had sincere sentiments. I know, for sure, I've never put an insincere idea into a song. Even if you put a sincere idea into a song and you're not a good enough songwriter, if you don't package it right, you can bring about that look out of the corner of your eye, like, 'I don't know about that.' I feel like the record is incredibly authentic. Also, it's taken so long to make it, anything that doesn't thrill me over a two-year period is not on the record. It's this kind of net that catches, filters out only the stuff that still moves me over all this time.

I understand you're going to have keyboards and a horn. What do you like about that, as opposed to with the trio?

Oh, man, I can relax. Playing in the trio, I just remember coming offstage and being wet and pissed-off. Some nights I just couldn't get it where I wanted to get it. All these bands that are trios that break up, they don't break up because they don't like each other, they probably love each other, but they need a cover for having to get out of that difficult of a musical situation. It's like, 'Why don't you just punch me in the face right now, and we can call it quits.' It's so much giving, and the thing about having a bigger band is that as a guitar player and as a singer, you can really find some space. I hope to sing some songs, parts of which my hands are at my sides or my hands are at the microphone, and I can let the tune come through.

Anything else you want the world to know about this tour?

I just like the idea of going out with Sheryl [Crow]. I feel like we're both grittier than we're sometimes known for, and the idea that we could bring out each other's heritage, musically, is kind of a cool idea. I don't think it'd be long before you see the both of us onstage, together. I just like the idea that in my fantasy world, I'm Eric Clapton and she's Bonnie Raitt…or whoever she most wants to be. I just like the idea of community, and as you probably know, there's not a whole hell of a lot of community in music. I like the way that she occupies the stage, she does it in a very timeless, classic way.

Is it a co-headlining deal?

Yeah, it's co-headlining in that the opener will be decided by a nightly game of ping pong...best two out of three, winner serves.

Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello


Touring with: Alain Toussaint
Tour starts: June 20th in Oakland, CA

"Central to our repertoire will be "River in Reverse." Alain [Toussaint] has also arranged nine of my songs from my catalog. We're going to have quite a lineup. I don't want to give the game away -- put it this way, they range from quite well-known to songs we've never performed, or I don't recall performing them. He's taken songs I've done right back to the beginning of my career, up to the last 2-3 years. We figured we'd keep consistent to that because a brand-new view of a song can make it shine.

I pick songs that were closer to my heart, even if you might call them obscure to a lot of people's ears -- because then they're brand-new to people. Not all of the songs are sorrowful or accusatory. Some of them are just joyful. Maybe some nights we'll play as duo, some nights as full band. Likewise if we do a song of mine like "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror," obviously that won't be too much of a surprise. Allen worked on that back on Spike in 1988. He's rewritten it -- I'm sure it'll have some of the same sounds as the original, but he'll probably bring a few new aspects of the arrangement."

STEVE KNOPPER

Jewel
Touring with: Rob Thomas
Tour starts: June 20th in Nashville

"With this tour, I put a band together and I'm doing stuff from my whole career. All the hits, just something off each record. It's actually been awhile since I've had a band -- I want to say at least four or five years. It was a little bit hard to get used to 'cause when I'm alone I don't really do a set list. I have 500 songs that I just know. Whereas this time we have 22 songs -- as we get touring, we'll learn more and more songs from sound check, and I can change things up more.

Rob and I started doing some duets. We've started doing "Stop Dragging My Heart Around." We actually just learned it because we had to do a duet today on Good Morning America. I think we're gonna learn a bunch of others like Madonna's "Borderline." Not yet -- I guess I gotta learn it.

I take a lot of requests. It's pretty loose, especially like I'll do a solo set in the middle, just me and my guitar. I yodel, which surprises some people -- other people who're into kind of an underground, weird sound, they like it."

Joe Elliott of Def Leppard
Touring with: Journey
Tour starts: June 23rd in Camden, NJ

How are European gigs different from playing here in the States? Are the fans different? Are they more intense over there?

Oh, massively different. American audiences get Def Leppard, and sometimes European audiences don't. The one thing that's vastly obvious is that between songs they go deadly silent. And, it's like, "Oh, dead air. Quick, talk!" And, in America, you can towel down and have a quick swig of a drink, and they're still cheering the song you just played 20 minutes ago. It's just a different culture. Rock & roll is more part of the American culture than it will ever be part of the European culture. You know, obviously certain people can fill stadiums. It never feels as nature as America. It's always a lot more -- I don't want to say tiresome -- but it's definitely a lot more uphill than an American audience.

So how do you choose a set list with so many songs?

Yeah, that's a tricky one. The longer we exist, by nature of the fact that we refuse to be a nostalgia act, we are always going to every tour have ten more songs to pick from, or in this particular tour, fourteen. And because we're both playing for the same amount of time, we're actually playing for less time than we would if we were out on our time. More songs, less time -- tricky. What we end up doing normally, is we have a pool of songs, we may be playing eighteen of them any one night, but we're picking from a pool of maybe twenty-five. So we don't die of boredom, we sort the set around a bit.

We can't play the same set night after night, 'cause if you do that somebody says, "Well I've been to see them six different times, and they never change the set." You know, you can't pander, you just can't. You have to do your own thing and live with the consequences. We do our thing by making sure that if we get a set that really works, we're loathe to change to it, but we do because we would actually die if we didn't alter it around every now and again. So consequently, we do a set that's not quite as good as our top set, just so when we go back to doing the other ones, it's fresh again.

How is launching a concert tour different now then, say, twenty years ago?

Essentially, everything is the same except it's all e-mail and mobile phones instead of telex machines. Not finding information out for weeks at a time. Now we find out too much information, when we don't need it. But, it's no different. We're playing the same buildings that we played in 1980 opening up for Ted Nugent. It's just like a footballer that never gets old, who's still playing on the pitch.

Daron Malakian of System of a Down
Touring with: Ozzfest 2006
Tour starts: June 29th in Auburn, WA

When you first heard about that opportunity, to headline and do it without Ozzy – how did that sound? was that intimidating? Or exciting? Or what?

Well, it was very intimidating. But we've always had a good time on that tour. I feel like it's the most well-organized. The bands all get on on-time. Sharon really runs a tight shift and I like that because everything's smooth. It's not like everytime we're going on at a different time. And that's also cool for a lot of the younger bands. I've seen certain situations in other tours where second stage bands have no idea when they're playing. It kinda works out for everybody. When we were just starting out it was just a really fun tour for us to be on from the get-go, and it's also been a big part of helping our band to get to where it is. So when they asked us it was kinda like (1) excitement, and (2) kinda return them the favor by doing the tour for them, you know?

I wonder how you're gong to set it all back and start doing a set list, or if there's stuff you're going to focus on… Have you thought about that yet?

We kinda like to mix it up. We don't like to completely alienate our old songs. So we'll always bring in some of those old songs but we like to play some of the stuff off the new record, too. We're gonna mix it up. It's not gonna be strictly stuff off Mezmerize and Hypnotize. I think it's gonna be pretty broad, through all our records. We'll probably play a few songs off each record.

It's cool. You meet new people, some guys from new bands. It's like a long summer-camp. I've always called it that. I'm sure other people have, too, because it really feels like a summer camp type of thing.

David Crosby of CSNY
Tour starts: July 6th in Camden, NJ

How did the tour come together?

The way they all do. Neil just called and said, "Ok, let's do it." And it's certainly up to Neil; he is the driving force there 'cause he is the 600 pound guerilla. And I am intensely grateful. I don't mean to mock anything about it -- I really love it -- but it obviously only happens when he wants it to happen.

But this is the third tour in six years, so he clearly…

Yeah, we must be doing something right. It's so powerful, man, and I always go back to the songs. To me that's our real strength. CSNY has such a powerful book of songs that it's really not fair. We can play 3 hours of shit that will rock your world because you live through it. And it's an unfair advantage and one that we intend to really enjoy. And, of course, there's the new album.

Did you book this tour before you cut the album, because you cut it so quickly and recently?

Well, we knew that we were going to go out, but then he just came with this and said, "Hey, what do you think?" And we said, "Are you asking me, do I want to sing 'let's impeach the president for lying?' FUCK, YES!" We're pretty excited about doing that. Most of the people I know are very unhappy with this president and this war and it's familiar territory to us. We've been through this before. And we very much want to sing those songs.

I saw you guys four years ago and you were playing "Military Madness" and a guy near me was pissed off. It was four years ago, when the country was a bit different. I was all for it, but, I think these days that nobody would be opposed to it. Don't you think so?

Yeah, somebody getting pissed at "Military Madness." I remember a night when somebody -- when we were out with Crosby Stills and Nash -- and the guy was really upset. And I just had to laugh. What does he expect coming to a Crosby Stills and Nash show? There aren't any songs in praise to George Bush, but I can't imagine us doing them even if there were.

These days, it seems the country is finally coming to their senses so I think it'll be a rather smooth ride for you guys.

Well, I don't know about that. I don't' know if I should tell you this, but I've heard twice from two different sources that people are going to picket us.

What?

I'm kind of hoping they do.

Yeah, God. I guess that 30% is still out there that's believing this crap. That's shocking. Have you faced pickets at any of your concerts in recent decades?

No. There were a few people who are sure that lesbians are the spawn of the devil that were out there after the Melissa thing, but this would be more serious. Obviously, if they want to that would be fine with me. They certainly have the right to. I think it would be fun.

I have heard Neil say that his favorite thing on the tour is to play guitar again with Steven Stills. Do you think the two of them feed off each other?

Yeah, Neil gets the best out of Steven of anybody. He challenges him and makes him rise to higher levels and that's a wonderful thing. And I think Steven's been out doing a solo tour, acoustic and small band, just to get his chops up. And I think that was a very smart move because Neil's chops are up. He's always workin'.

Bret Michaels of Poison
Touring with: Cinderella
Tour starts: June 20th in Green Bay, WI

If someone had told you twenty years ago that you'd be going on this tour for your 20th anniversary, would that have shocked you?

The truth is, I would have probably loved it. I'd have been proud to say it, although in each year and with each album, we've kind of lived it in the moment, which is probably while we're still here twenty years later. We get excited; I'm as excited about doing this tour as I was for the Cat Dragged In tour where we were moving pool tables out of the way in the run-down dumpy clubs. Honestly, it was exciting then, and it's exciting to me now. I'm really pumped up for it this year. It's our biggest production, as far as visual, we've ever taken on the road.

Tell me about this tour – you mentioned the visual aspects, can you tell me more about the whole production?

Each year, I go back to exactly the way I did when I was in junior high and high school -- I sort of plan everything out on a piece of paper. 'Here's what I'm thinking the stage should look like,' and I take it to our production manager and he helps me build this thing out. As a band, we look at it and we build it out into a scenic design. This year, we have a huge screen, and we broke out of our warehouse the old school lasers, so we got some laser effects. Everyone will think it looks like everyone rediscovered the Big Muff Pedal. I remember owning the official Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pedal, thinking, 'Man, it's back, this is awesome.' So it'll be all that – we'll have the lasers, the pyro, we'll have flamethrowers and all that stuff. I think that really it's our energy, and the rehearsal we do is twofold. The first week of rehearsal is nothing but the music, getting all the music tight in a small rehearsal hall. Then we spend four days at Midwest Wireless Civic Center [in Mankato, MN] in the arena getting the actual show down. Hopefully, come the kickoff, everything will work.

With so many songs in your catalog, how do you choose a set list?

It's a pretty interesting process – the easy part is just picking all the hits. And then we start the arguments of 'Do we play "Good Love"?', which wasn't a hit. Do we play the 'album tracks'? That's where the arguments start. Me and Rikki [Rockett, drums] have to walk out in the parking lot and discuss it, because we're going to go to blows. We all have an opinion, and in some sense it's probably [argumentative] but in some sense, it's great, because when we finally do it, we take all that pent up frustration and use it as energy on the stage.

There are definitely lots of fans that are dying to hear some rare songs. How do you find a kind of balance?

We're going to do all the hits. If I go see Aerosmith, I want to hear the hits, but I also want to hear "Last Child" or "Mama Kin" or something that wasn't a huge hit, but I still want to hear it. But at the same time, if they don't play "Sweet Emotion" or "Walk This Way," I'm going to be pissed. So I try to use my fan mentality, I say, 'Okay, I go see these shows, I know what I want to see,' and I put that back into what we do. I'm a fan of music, so I think like that when I'm trying to put the set together.

How is touring now? How is it different than, say, 15 years ago?

Here's the biggest difference. I always push to try to keep the band tight, as far as traveling. It's great, because each member has their own tour bus. Back then, we would all try to ride in the same bus, and maybe that was my mistake [laughs]. It produced a few fistfights. We finally found a way to make it more fun, and we're not quite as in each other's faces. We throw great bus parties after all the shows, and I sometimes bring my daughters out with me – they're huge rock fans. I get a balance of the best of both worlds. After 43-plus years, it's pretty exciting.

So you think that the next Poison tour will be behind a new album?

I hope to God. We did it with Power to the People in 2000, and we did it with Hollyweird [2002] and I think those were exciting tours for me, because we would play a couple of new songs mixed in with all the hits. It was really exciting. I think if we continue, I imagine in 2007, we'll be off, and come back in 2008 and come back strong with a new album. . . . Here's what's cool about this tour with Poison and Cinderella doing it together: we kicked off in '86 with the beginning of our recording career for both of us, and we both opened for a band called Loudness, a Japanese band, in '86. The first time we played together was Santa Monica Civic Center. So it's kind of cool that we're both all the original members of both bands, twenty years later. Who knew?

x