Yeah Yeah Pink Tings

pink in slingThe last few weeks brought several shows to the San Francisco Bay area which were all fronted by powerful female vocalists.  The Yeah Yeah Yeahs with vocalist Karen O at the Fox Theater, Oakland were up first.  Next was the entertaining show by Pink with opener The Ting Tings, fronted by singer Katie White at the HP Pavilion, San Jose.

I think of all of these bands as pop entertainment – a good night out to see a show and have fun.  In this regard, Pink came on as the most advanced entertainer. Between the time I first saw her after the breakthrough second album, “M!ssundaztood“, released in 2001 until this tour for the 2008 release “Funhouse“, Pink has matured into a first class performer.  She’s confident, sassy, talented, athletic and tough. There were lots of highlights to this show, and several of Pink’s original compositions and collaborations were superior, but one of the most memorable moments for me was when she and her very skilled backup band, singers, and dancers performed a note perfect version of Queen‘s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. I saw Queen perform this in 1977 in Los Angeles on the “News of the World” tour, and they left the stage during a pre-recorded middle operetta. Pink and co. conquered the whole track live and brought back some great memories in the process. This show overall reminded me of the spectacular Christina Aguilera show last year. Both of these singers have now made the transition from performer to world class entertainer.

ting tingsThe Ting Ting’s opened the evening with a fun set of their danceable pop. Several of the tracks from their debut album were performed with great energy and enthusiasm. One of their biggest hits, “That’s Not My Name” had the crowd on their feet and it was impossible not to catch the hook. Keyboards and bass were pre-recorded, and the duo would benefit from a larger band…next time…one to watch.

yeah1The Yeah Yeah Yeahs played to a packed house of devoted fans at the Fox. Singer Karen O is fine at the front of the stage and consistently propels the music forward with her emphatic dance moves and delivery. I was reminded of a happier version of singer Siouxsie Sioux, but the band really needs to step up their game to support the proceedings at the level of the Banshees….next time…one to watch.

Foreigners

Mick and Kelly of Foreigner
Mick and Kelly of Foreigner

Went to see Foreigner last week at the Mountain Winery, Saratoga, California. I knew that the only original member of the band present would be guitarist Mick Jones and that they had a “replacement” vocalist for Lou Gramm but I was curious to see how the show would be. And…it was really great – surpassing my expectations, which got me thinking about why it was so special. A fair amount of it was nostaligia – for a tight ’70’s classic rock sound, and for a band that was popular when I was in high school. But a dominant factor was the new vocalist, Kelly Hansen, who took the mantle of lead rock vocalist and delivered a flawless performance, hitting all the notes, sounding every bit as strong as Lou back in the day.

This phenomena of bands employing replacement singers shows no signs of abating. Besides drummers (wink), vocalists seem to be the first to “retire” from a band. Sometimes this is to pursue a solo career, or due to personal issues within the group, but as time goes on it is often true that there are health issues and the assertive vocals just aren’t presentable anymore. For various reasons, we have more youthful vocalists fronting Boston, Foreigner, Journey, Yes, and Alan Parsons – all solid acts from the 70’s.  Each of these acts rely on the singer to deliver the message, to dance or strike postures, engage the crowd and to be an entertainer. It’s a critical role and the show ends up being a disappointment if the vocalist cannot meet the challenge – particularly daunting for those whose core work relied on emotive, forceful vocals.

In fact, the trend of touring with new crew does not stop with the vocalist. At this show for instance, Mick was the only original member of the band. The other core original member, Ian McDonald (keys, winds) has been out this decade with an assortment of ex-King Crimson players covering early tracks by that band. Several acts I’ve seen recently have only a one or two original members still wailing away. Eventually, we end up with “tribute” bands being the only way to experience the music live, and I’ve seen some great tributes including The Musical Box (Genesis), and The Australian Pink Floyd.  Tribute bands for 80’s artists are now following suit.

Some decry the advent of rock musicians still pushing their wares past age 50 or 60 and it clearly is important that the band be able to deliver as great a show as possible. My experience has been that more often than not, these shows have been well played and entertaining. Heart and The Rolling Stones are examples of bands that have been solid this decade with their original vocalists. Artists from the 80’s like Depeche Mode, Simple Minds, and Echo & The Bunnymen have similarly put on amazing shows. As time goes on, tribute bands will step in to recreate and interpret the work of these original artists. We can now see that rock and it’s variants should be able to endure just as classical music has, to be recreated and experienced by new generations into the future. To me, either within the band, or as a tribute, these foreigners are most welcome.