Marscape’s Dreamy Landscape

marscape_lp_us_frontThe beautiful, haunting 1976 album Marscape, by Jack Lancaster and Robin Lumley, is available again from Gonzo Multimedia.  Except for Jack Lancaster (winds), Bernie Frost (voices), and Simon Jeffs (koto), the musicians on the work are also the founding members of the jazz fusion band Brand X who would release their stellar debut Unorthodox Behavior that same year.  Members that play on Marscape who went on to Brand X include Robin Lumley (keys), John Goodsall (guitars), Percy Jones (bass), Phil Collins (drums) and starting with their second release, Morris Pert (percussion).  Jack guests briefly on that debut album.  The fact alone that Marscape was written and performed by these musicians in that same year warrants a listen, which is well rewarded.

Marscape, Jack and Robin wrote: “was a magical journey to the planet Mars… a kind of soundtrack to an imaginary movie, our intention was picture-making through music, so we conceived Marscape as one piece, divided up into audio sketches of the events emotions that might be experienced by voyagers traveling from Earth to the red planet.  By the end, we surmise that the visitors realize that they are not visitors at all, but have actually returned home after a very, very long time away.”  This perfectly sums up what a listener could imagine from the evocative thematic piece.  Tracks include “Sail on Solar Winds”, “Homelight”, and “Dust Storm” each of which cbrandxoveys the nature of the lonely and angry red planet.  A standout track is “Hopper” which refers to the “machine for negotiating the rough Martian terrain” and which sports Phil’s signature skipping beat to a tune reminiscent of “Baby Elephant Walk.”  Also gorgeous then a bit chilling is “With a Great Feeling of Love” that is described in liner notes as two parts – one “an inner warmth and feelings of affinity” and the next an “outer cold and icy silence.”

Themes are developed early on and repeated to excellent effect, drawing the listener into the album and it’s concept.  And the musicianship is first rate – highlights:

  • John Goodsall establishes his searing guitar leads that later took Brand X to such amazing heights
  • Percy Jones lays down the groundwork for an amazing career playing his fret-less bass runs – always inventive and melodic
  • Phil Collins delivers a tour de force on his expertly tuned kit that will remind any listener of his best work – including with Genesis on Trick of the Tail recorded the same year
  • Robin Lumley had to be one of the most underrated keyboard players around – you can compare his synth leads to anyone hot from that era and his work on grand piano is beautiful
  • Jack Lancaster’s writing and performance on winds will make you look for more from this artist, including as a start his work with Blodwyn Pig

It’s a wonderful and compelling prelude to the work of Brand X and highly recommended for any fans of that band, or of acoustic and electric jazz fusion.

Eels play “Soft Bummer Pop” with Fine Artists

P1010144The American alt rock band Eels played the best and most impactful set we’ve ever seen them deliver at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco June 10, 2014. Mark Oliver Everett, referred to as “E”, the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist led the band through many tracks from his latest, The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett, along with a choice selection of his work back to 1995. The new album by the way is a revelation – it’s an intimate portrait of personal growth involving someone E says he lost by choice and later came to regret. With titles like “Where I’m At,” “Where I’m From,” “Where I’m Going” and “Mistakes of My Youth” – the latter being one of E’s best compositions over these many years, it’s clear this a very personal work. Live is was stunningly beautiful.

From the end of the first song, it was clear E was in a great mood and would be conversing and connecting with the audience. He apologized for much of his music being sad – warning us before songs if they would be of the form he calls “soft bummer pop.”  In another jest, he referred to his band a “fine artists” in consideration of the venue, and at one point extolled the audience to perk up as it was getting a bit too “PBS” in there.

P1010163Since so much of E’s music does tend toward dark and painful subjects, his work in large quantities can threaten to depress. However on this night, the crack band of musicians aided the man, teetering perfectly between the melancholy and happy, quirky sides of his catalog, peppering the sadder tracks with others such as “Lockdown Hurricane,” “I Like Birds,” and “A Daisy Through Concrete” from his stellar album Daisies of the Galaxy, “Fresh Feeling” from Souljacker, and “I Like the Way This is Going” from the new album. Notably, E sang several covers, including lovely renditions of “When You Wish Upon A Star,” (okay small tears were shed) “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis and “Turn on Your Radio” by the similarly underrated and wonderful Nilsson.

True to the spirit of this very warm evening show, E came down to hug everyone in the first row at the end of the set. Having seen him play over the years it was an absolutely heartwarming and special night of his unique brand of live therapy – here’s hoping for encores into the years.

The set list was:

Where I’m At
When You Wish Upon a Star (yes, really – achingly beautiful with his gravelly voiced delivery)
The Morning
Parallels
Mansions of Los Feliz
My Timing is Off
Where I’m From
It’s a Motherfucker (one of the best, most true renditions I’ve heard)
Lockdown Hurricane
A Daisy Through Concrete (check this – such an awesome song)
Grace Kelly Blues
Fresh Feeling
I Like Birds (electric version of this fantastic track)
My Beloved Monster
Gentlemen’s Choice
Where I’m Going

Encore:
Mistakes of My Youth (favorite from the new album – truly confessional, hopeful, and triumphant)
I Like the Way This is Going
3 Speed

Encore 2
Last Stop: This Town
Can’t Help Falling in Love (Elvis)
Turn On Your Radio (Nilsson)

Yes Cruises to the Edge

yesband1Yes organized and headlined the recent concert and ocean voyage aptly named “Cruise the the Edge” this April 2014.

I’ve been a Yes fan and patron going back to teenage years past with my first show being 1977’s Going for the One tour at the fabulous Forum in Inglewood, California. I’ve also seen the band many times since original singer Jon Anderson’s departure some years ago, and I’ve seen them with scores of keyboard players besides Tony Kaye and Rick Wakeman. There’s been something to admire in every performance and always there have been moments of transcendent feeling, as Yes builds their compositions to heavenly crescendos of power and emotion. Here’s what was laudable about the concert:

yesjondavidsonCurrent vocalist Jon Davidson has never sounded better – he reached for some of their highest notes with a power and clarity of tone that I’ve not seen surpassed. There was joy, peace and some Yes gospel in his strong performance.  His stage presence and confidence has improved measurably over the last several years.

 

yeschrisChris Squire (bass) still packs a punch with his bass and projects a deep happiness at plying his art after all these years. His playing is unique and seldom duplicated elsewhere. His voice has magically held up all this time – a key ingredient of the Yes sound.

 

yessteveGuitarist Steve Howe must be responsible for the tendency they have now to reduce the pace of much of their work – while this may drain a bit of the frenetic energy out, he is able to play all of his licks with stunning accuracy. It renders his performance a master class for any budding guitarist or aficionado of fine fretwork.

 

yesjeffKeyboard player Geoff Downes is always a pleasure to hear – while it would be awesome to include more tracks on which he originally played into the set, it was great to at least hear “Tempus Fugit” off 1980’s Drama.

Alan White had a somewhat off night.

I feel badly saying, can’t blame anyone for slowing up a bit – and possibly the laconic pace of some of the tracks inhibit a more energetic performance, but its something for them to work on. Alan’s has delivered some of the finest drum and percussion work of any progressive rock band in concert over the last 40 years.

yesband2Two basic quibbles for the night – one has to be the selection of the set list itself, and the second – there were no guest appearances. On this cruise keyboardist Patrick Moraz who played on the Relayer album was in the lineup of performers, and played several solo shows during the week. Annie Haslam from Renaissance was guest at one of Patrick’s shows to sing the Yes song “Soon” from Relayer – one of the most beautiful songs Yes ever recorded. But no guest spot for Patrick with Yes.  I did not expect them to take the time to learn and play the more challenging pieces from that album, but just inviting Patrick to come and do “Soon” would have made the show and the entire Cruise more special. Along with this, Yes continued to play two of the three same complete albums – a nice idea that’s now been a part of their long 2013-2014 tour – but something that should not have been repeated for a boatload of fans. In particular playing all of The Yes Album should have been off the list – that’s now been done on both of the last two extensive tours. Their catalog is so large, that dusting off and playing a larger swath of it’s path would be preferable. Doing “Roundabout” as the encore of almost every tour I’ve ever seen shows a lack of creativity. It leaves the planning feeling a bit “by the numbers.”

yesband3Having said all of that, Yes is in fact performing their early masterpieces, many of which should be played long after they and we are all gone, in the tradition of classical music.  And, they have always steered away from medley’s – a scourge that long plagued another famous prog rock band from the era – so it’s nice to see and hear them play these spectacular tracks in their entirety.  I am definitely of the camp that hopes Yes keep up their touring, hoping they vary the set list, but keep at it, as this band are one of the few key practitioners of the original form that still produces a powerful progressive rock concert experience.  Waiting with high expectations for HEAVEN & EARTH, their new album, to drop.

Elbow Transcends at the Fox

P1010130The British band Elbow started their career under that name in 1997.  With their first studio album in 2001 through their most recent release this year, they have charted a course of alternative rock music that is at times melancholy, soulful, and celebratory.  They have always been popular in Britain – with strong album sales, awards and recognition, and a spot playing at the 2012 Summer Olympics closing ceremony in London.  The band have claimed influences from early Genesis (with Peter Gabriel), to Radiohead and Talk Talk.  In fact recording for their latest album The Take Off and Landing of Everything (2014) was initiated at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios in Bath, and they contributed a track to his “scratch my/your back” music exchange project.  The new album is a triumph for this talented band, debuting at number one in the UK, and gaining them new fans in the states.

P1010125At the Fox theater in Oakland they performed in what was one of the top shows we’ve seen this year.  Singer Guy Garvey led the group through a lengthy set that included much of the latest album, along with highlights from their catalog of recordings.  The staging and lighting was simple but elegant and the music was amazingly well interpreted for the show.  What was really impressive is how this singer emotes and connects with the audience.  At times the languid pace threatens to overstay it’s welcome, but this band can meander between slow and soulful to more medium paced bits, building the dynamics of a song until the audience can be swept up in the emotion and joy of their beautiful melodies, their meaningful lyrics, and Guy’s silky smooth vocal delivery.  In this way I would compare them to The National – one of the other great live acts seen this spring.

P1010131Prior to the encore and leaving the stage for the first time, Guy asked audience members to select a song to sing to the band while they rested back stage.  After several suggestions, we lit on “Fat Bottom Girls” by Queen.  Guy asked those close to the front for help remembering the first set of lyrics, sang us through them and let us know to start after they were off stage for about 5 minutes.  Sure enough, at that point, everyone started singing “Fat Bottom Girls” and as the band reassembled, Guy helped us deliver a jubilant final chorus.  This was great fun and something I’ve not seen a band do before – this kind of interaction made the show just that much more special.

The set list was:

Charge   (The Take Off and Landing of Everything (2014))
The Bones of You   (The Seldom Seen Kid (2008))
New York Morning   (The Take Off and Landing of Everything (2014))
Real Life (Angel)   (The Take Off and Landing of Everything (2014))
The Night Will Always Win   (Build a Rocket Boys! (2011))
Fly Boy Blue / Lunette   (The Take Off and Landing of Everything (2014))
The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver   (The Seldom Seen Kid (2008))
Great Expectations   (Leaders of the Free World (2005))
Scattered Black and Whites   (Asleep in the Back (2001))
Mirrorball   (The Seldom Seen Kid (2008))
(Guy dedicated this to a couple of fans who were on a first date)
The Birds   (Build a Rocket Boys! (2011))
Grounds for Divorce    (The Seldom Seen Kid (2008))
My Sad Captains   (The Take Off and Landing of Everything (2014))

Encore
Lippy Kids   (Build a Rocket Boys! (2011))
One Day Like This   (The Seldom Seen Kid (2008))

the last one being a perfect message to send us all home with the lyrics:

Throw those curtains wide
One day like this a year would see me right

After the show we had just witnessed, truer words could not be said.