The Duran Duran Dance Party

Duran Duran
Duran Duran

Still thinking about the Duran Duran gig we caught at Mountain Winery in Saratoga, California, on July 8, 2009. I don’t know what I expected exactly.  This band were such a staple of the ’80s pop scene, that between airplay and MTV there was no missing their constant exposure. When listening to some tracks like the 1983 hit “Reflex” I-yi-yi-yi-yi wanted to run and hide, while at the same time there was a growing list of solid tracks I really loved.  I never saw the band perform live during the 80’s, being that I preferred groups like “Depeche Mode“, “Echo & The Bunnymen” and “Japan” (the latter was a darker more progressive version of Duran Duran) but was intrigued by the idea of going to this current tour.

Simon Le "Bond"
Simon Le "Bond"

So how were they?  Still relevant, still fit and fasionable, and still sounding really really great, this band put on one of the best shows I’ve been to in this millenium. Yes, seriously. The band took a remarkable approach to the show’s set list – instead of stopping between each song, they constructed several long sets of their best material, cross-fading or just transitioning between the tracks seemlessly as if a DJ was behind the scene. These were not medleys, which can be very frustrating – instead the whole tracks were played.  The show therefore ended up being one long dance party and the audience at the winery stood and danced through the entire 2 hour show – something I have not witnessed at this venue since “Simple Minds” conquered the site several years ago. Highlights included “Come Undone”, “Skin Trade”, and of course “Rio” (and, they did not play “Reflex” – whew). For the encore, singer Simon Le Bon donned a white tuxedo to perform their James Bond track, “A View to a Kill”.  A wonderful night to remember.

3 Doors, Down on the 4th

doorsdownJust saw 3 Doors Down on July 4th, at Konocti Harbor, at Clear Lake in northern California.  Arrived at the lakeside resort at about 4 pm to a party that had clearly already started – you know, that slightly awkward situation where everyone but you is already drunk? Seemed like everyone was yelling – almost put my earplugs in before the show even started!

doorsdownpatrioticRegardless, the show was excellent. 3 Doors hail from Mississippi with an assertive, tight, “southern style” of rock infused with plenty of soul and often with positive or patriotic lyrics. Singer Brad Arnold is a solid live performer, and led the band through hits and back catalog including “It’s Not My Time”, “Kryptonite”, and my favorite “When I’m Gone“. Not my usual cup of tea but a strong brew that fit the 4th of July spirit perfectly.

Yes Transcends

Asia Opening
Asia Opening

Finally!  After a year of uncertainty about the future of Yes, I am pleased to report here that the show last night at the Warfield theater in San Francisco exceeded my expectations making the long wait worthwhile.  Asia opened and played a set list that included several songs from their debut, two tracks from the followup, and one from the most recent release. Group members presented something from their past –  John Wetton (King Crimson/In the Court of the Crimson King), Geoff Downes (The Buggles/Video Killed the Radio Star), and Carl Palmer (ELP/Fanfare for the Common Man), each representing a bit of the the history of their 1970’s bands.  While Asia was always this “progressive supergroup gone pop”, their work was pleasent, powerful and certainly less angular than their predecessors.  John Wetton is one of my favorite vocalists and he delivered with accurate, clear vocals throughout the show – awesome and unexpected after all these years.

When Yes took the stage for the opening track, “Siberian Khatru”, any fears that this ensemble would have troubles melted away.  This first track would be a litmus test for any band, given the complex interlocking passages and strong harmonies. This band showed right away that they are up to the task, as Chris Squire (bass), Steve Howe (guitars), and Alan White (drums) played as well as I have seen, and seemed to enjoy themselves during the almost two hour set. Though this music calls for precision timing and accuracy, the band kept a the slight looseness to some passages which added to the experience.  The only minor complaint for me is that while Oliver covered his father’s material (and Geoff/Tony) faithfully, he never really stood out in the mix, but that has been a common affliction of Yes keyboard players other than Rick Wakeman.

Siberian Khatru
Siberians

Most important was the question – would the absence of lead singer Jon Anderson, the zen center of Yes, render the show a lesser form?  Would the emotional integrity of the experience be intact?  Covering for Jon Anderson is even more difficult than what we have seen with other ’70’s acts such as Alan Parsons, Journey, Foreigner, Boston, etc. because Jon is so much part of the fabric of the whole Yes experience.  The main reason most of us love this band is simple, and goes beyond exceptional musicianship and compositions – its that when Yes hits it marks, we are taken somewhere on a transcendent journey, getting in touch with an energy outside ourselves.  The band construct these intense, chaotic passages, which build, and then shift into the most angelic, harmonic major-chord-based resolves imaginable.  Jon seems at the heart of this journey, embodying his spiritual lyrics – often obtuse, but imparting radiant, positive messages.  When this is presented properly in a live concert setting, the results are powerful.  On this night, of course we missed seeing Jon himself, but even without him in this lineup, all was well in the Yes universe.

The current vocalist Benoit David has Continue reading Yes Transcends