Last Night’s CNBC Hit

Last night on CNBC I gave a range of opinions on emerging market currencies, Fed tapering, Treasury yields, and irrational, emotional markets. Take a look!

My CNBC “Off the Charts” Segment

Last night, Jim Cramer used my analysis for his “Off the Charts” segment on CNBC’s Mad Money.  Jim explains why I went long an emerging ETF, but it wasn’t an obvious choice.

As always, its an honor to be featured. Thanks again to Jim and to everyone at  Mad Money.

Review: Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington, Atlantic City

If you’re a rock music fan, you’re probably familiar with the controversy surrounding the Stone Temple Pilots and their former lead singer, Scott Weiland. The band booted the mercurial vocalist this spring after a long on-off relationship, spurring a flurry of law suits.

While Mr. Weiland has been touring with his own band, The Wildabouts, STP made the jaw-dropping decision to replace him with Chester Bennington. Bennington accepted the gig, though he remains the front man for the massively popular rock-rap group Linkin Park.

Weiland etched his name into rock history with his versatile singing style, creative melodies, and legendary live performances with STP, but his recent solo performances have met with mixed reactions. Some appearances have been described as transcendent, and others decried as train wrecks.

Just as no one knows quite what to expect at a Scott Weiland gig, nobody knew what to expect when STP with Chester Bennington hit the stage on Saturday night at the House of Blues in Atlantic City. This was only the third official show for the new lineup, not counting a few surprise appearances and charity events.

The show was opened by hard rock act Filter, which scored big hits with Hey Man Nice Shot in 1995 and Take A Picture in 1999. If I could describe lead vocalist Richard Patrick with one word, it would be ‘grateful’. Mid-set, he gave an honest, wrenching soliloquy about his struggles with past demons.

“The first time around I didn’t meet any of you. I was wasted on the tour bus.  Now I want to meet ALL of you.” Patrick said as he climbed into the audience. Later he instructed everyone to meet him in a corner of the establishment after his show.

Filter did an outstanding job opening the show. As much as I would’ve enjoyed meeting Mr. Patrick, I didn’t want to leave my seat. It was a good one, second row balcony. We were so close it felt as if we were hovering above the stage. Here’s a clip of Mr. Patrick performing admirably while crowd surfing.

Filter Richard Patrick

In order to obtain prime seating, I signed up for a “meet and greet” with the band. I’d never participated in a meet and greet before, but the price seemed reasonable, and it was the only way to guarantee outstanding seats. So, I went for it, and prepared to meet the members of the band.

You can’t tell much from meeting any person for just a few minutes, but my impression is the guys seem very genuine and down-to-earth. First in line was Mr. Bennington. He was polite and at ease. I shook his hand and congratulated him on his new gig. He smiled, “Hey man I’m just here to have some fun.” I moved on while my wife, a big LP fan, spoke to him at length.

Next was drummer Eric Kretz. I think Eric is one of the most underrated drummers in the music business. I’m not a drummer (I play guitar, as many of you know) but I can tell that Mr. Kretz knows exactly what to play and went to play it. Unlike some flashier drummers, he puts song above showmanship.  We had a brief, cordial conversation.

Next was bassist Robert DeLeo, the man who wrote the music to hits like Interstate Love Song. There aren’t too many artists about whom I can say, when I hear a specific guitar riff, “Damn, I wish I’d written that.” But I do feel that way about many STP tunes, and I told Robert so. He chuckled, “And you’re going to hear them again tonight.”

Just for fun, I pulled out my phone. “Robert, I know you have a lot of fans, but let me know if any of them has ever done anything like this.” I had the following clip loaded on my phone, fast-forwarded up to the one-minute mark. Robert bent over, his ear to the speaker, and I played about ten seconds of this clip, from 1:00 to 1:10:

http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000195932&play=1

Robert laughed out loud and grabbed his brother, guitarist Dean DeLeo, by the shoulder. “Dean! You’ve got to hear this!” Dean listened to the clip, while Robert gave me an appreciative bear hug. Very cool.

Back to the show. About 20 minutes after Filter left the stage, a jangly, upbeat instrumental version of the Beatles’ I Feel Fine” began to play. The lights dimmed, and the band took to the stage. After a few thundering chords, Chester intoned Mr. Weiland’s lyrics.

Pleased to meet you, Nice to know me

STP crashed into their opening track, Down from the 1999 album No.4.  The sound was sharp and crystal clear. This was my fourth STP show, and to my ears it was the tightest the band had ever sounded.

Down

Right from the start, it was clear that this band was on a mission. The show had a ‘brand new’ vibe to it, as if Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington (the official name of the band) were a completely new act, out to make a strong first impression. They did. The playing was crisp, with Dean DeLeo flawlessly shifting among multiple guitar parts, one moment strumming a grungy rhythm, the next wrenching a vicious lead, as if he were ripping and tearing the sounds from his tortured axe.

Dean Solo

Bennington continued to handle the vocals admirably as the band launched into their glam-rock hit Big Bang Baby. As the night wore on, it became clear that he was more than up to the task, both as a vocalist and a front man. The band, especially Dean, grinned widely at the enthusiastic crowd response to deep cuts like Church on Tuesday. They were playing songs they hadn’t attempted in years, and they were crushing it.

I noticed sharp contrasts to previous STP concerts, and one dealt with the backing vocals. Chester and Robert nailed nearly all of their harmonies, and it was apparent they’d rehearsed. The band seemed tight and energized, as if a weight had been lifted from their shoulders. It was clear that they were having fun, and the audience roared its approval after every song.

Also, on several tunes, Robert augmented his bass parts during Dean’s solos. This filled the empty space that is sometimes left during live performances, as the rhythm guitar parts beneath the solo are missing. This tactic worked amazingly well. At one point, with both brothers soloing together in counterpoint harmony, my wife quipped, “Is that Geddy and Alex DeLeo?” a reference to the prog-rock band Rush. It was unexpected, and very well done – but not overdone.

The biggest contrast of all? The four member of the band seemed genuinely happy. They were kicking ass, they were enjoying it, and it showed. The audience picked up on that too.

During the encore, Richard Patrick joined the band onstage for a rendition of Piece of Pie:

STP with Richard Patrick

As I mentioned, I’d seen the band on three earlier occasions with former lead vocalist Scott Weiland. Every time I saw the band, they were great. On two of those occasions, I didn’t even mind waiting the extra hour that it seemed to take the band to find their way to the stage, because they were that good. The question on everybody’s mind is this: How did the new STP with Chester Bennington stack up against the classic version?

The answer is this – don’t compare them. This is a different band. It’s a new band that just happens to have one of the most amazing back catalogs in the history of rock. I will always appreciate and revere the original STP, but this isn’t simply the same band with a fill-in singer. This is something special. As Robert said into the mic as he left the stage after the final encore, “Spread the word.”

 

 

Dr. Rajan, the Rupee, and Stone Temple Pilots

On CNBC last night I was asked about the new governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Dr. Rajan. I called a bottom on the Rupee and somehow, my favorite band became part of the conversation:

Coincidentally, it’s Rajan’s first day on the job, and the first night of the new STP tour. Think I’m excited to see them in Atlantic City this weekend? The band, not Dr. Rajan…

Rush’s Clockwork Angels Tour: Review

Rush is an enigma to many, a hard rock band from Toronto that has somehow survived for decades. This band has been together for most of its members’ lives, first forming in 1968; the current lineup has been together for close to 40 years. Bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee turns 60 today, and if my math is correct he’s been in the band since the age of 15. In an era where musical groups fall apart like wet tissue paper, what makes these guys so unique?
I caught the band in Atlantic City, NJ in May, and again at Jones Beach, NY in June. I’m surprised the band chose to return to the Atlantic City venue, the Mark Etess Arena. This concert hall is located in the recesses of the Trump Taj Mahal casino, which holds out the best seats for high rollers. Drummer/lyricist Neil Peart criticized this practice on a previous tour; at one show the arena was full, with the exception of the high-roller seats directly in front of the stage. However, that was not an issue on this night.
It seems to me that with most bands, casual fans want to hear the hits while the more seasoned fan enjoys hearing deep cuts played live. Rush mixed it up nicely in their opening set, which featured some hits along with deep tracks, many from 1985’s relatively obscure (to the casual fan) Power Windows.
This has always been a musician’s band; there are no love songs, and catchy hooks and lilting verses are few and far between. This is particularly true of the Power Windows material, which seemed to leave some audience members of the Atlantic City audience puzzled/disinterested, but the inclusion of better-known cuts like Limelight and Subdivisions kept that crowd engaged. Meanwhile, the seemingly more familiar Jones Beach crowd welcomed the deep cuts warmly.
At both shows, guitarist Alex Lifeson tore off an incredible guitar solo on The Analog Kid, one of the many musical highlights of the first set. Rush performs as its own opening act, playing for about 1:15 before taking an extended break.
Halfway through that break, a video began to play. An inquisitive young man in a suit, possibly from the IRS, is piloting a balloon through the clouds, searching for the Watchmaker. When he arrives at the Watchmaker’s abode in the sky, he is greeted by three gnomes. He tells the gnomes that he has questions about some ‘discrepancies’. The gnomes, played by the members of the band, never lead him to the Watchmaker, who may or may not exist. They torment the young man before dispatching him.
As the video ends, the first strains of Caravan, the opening cut from the band’s new Clockwork Angels set, fade in. A string ensemble now accompanies the band. Clockwork Angels is a parable about religion and atheism, a story of loss and redemption. Featuring incredibly proficient musicianship, this may be the best work the band has done in decades. The band played most of the new album; again, the Jones Beach crowd seemed more receptive than the Atlantic City audience. After another brief break, the band encored with Tom Sawyer and some cuts from 2112.
Those who have criticized Mr. Lee’s high-pitched vocals will be pleased to hear that he writes/sings in a lower register now, but still manages to do justice to the band’s earlier material. The sound system was incredibly crisp and pleasant. I highly recommend both of these venues; the Etess arena is a more intimate setting than Madison Square Garden or similar hockey barns, and Jones Beach is an outdoor arena. This puts you at the mercy of the elements, and it did rain lightly on the night I attended. I didn’t mind, and the audience, which stayed until the end of the three-hour show, didn’t seem to mind either.

Detroit Story

You may know of me from my chart work, or from a book I wrote about currency trading that was pretty popular a few years ago. However, my first gig in the finance industry was as a Series 7 stockbroker. After obtaining the required licenses, I was sent to company HQ for two solid weeks of training. HQ just happened to be in downtown Detroit.

Walking to work on Monday morning, something was amiss. The city had everything you’d expect – buildings, traffic lights, etc. The only thing missing was people. You literally could’ve played touch football on the main streets during rush hour. A skyscraper loomed nearby, but as we approached, it became apparent that it was abandoned.

On Day 1, the instructor bellowed, “I understand we have some guys from Philly in the room today. I want you to see something.” He produced a replica of the Stanley Cup; Detroit’s Red Wings had defeated my Philadelphia Flyers to win the coveted trophy. “Here, this is what it looks like!”

Even though the joke was at my expense, that may be my most positive memory of those two weeks. Someone noticed a trail of blood near the dorm. Not far from HQ, a trainee had been robbed, ignoring the warning that we should travel in groups. Apparently, wandering around this town in a suit and tie wasn’t the smartest move.

After a few days, people began to quit.”It’s bleak,” said my friend Pete. “I’m leaving.” It never occurred to me to quit, but I could see his point. This place was lawless. I jumped on a bus to see where it would take me.

People love to use the term “war zone” when describing devastation, and I’m sure you’ve seen the images of Detroit’s abandoned houses and ruined neighborhoods. What you can’t tell from those images is how the damage goes on and on, mile after mile. Every city has run down areas, but except for a few square blocks in the downtown area, Detroit looked like the ruins of a lost civilization. This was over 15 years ago. I began counting the days, hours, and minutes until my departure.

How do we prevent “the next Detroit”? Unlike so many self-anointed experts, I don’t know the answer. I can only sympathize with people who wake up every day in a city that crushes your soul.