Category Archives: Concert Review

Voices of the ’80s

RF_BackstageThe rock music world changed drastically with the explosive introduction of punk music in 1977. Punk was a raw form of popular rock; one that, for a short time, abandoned studied virtuosity in favor of pure aggressive energy, four chords, sneers and volume. For classic and progressive rock bands of the 1970’s, the punk movement threatened to end their time in the spotlight. More importantly, it was the lightening rod to which a great number of new bands drew close, splintering and absorbing the energy into a multitude of unique genre acts.

Suddenly, it seemed that popular music could take nearly any form, go in any direction. A college degree in music theory was not needed. Alongside the punk upstarts, the Sex Pistols, The Ramones, X, The Clash and The Dead Kennedys, there emerged many acts that were difficult to categorize. In the states, the CBGB club crowd included The Talking Heads and Blondie, joined elsewhere by bands like Devo, Oingo Boingo, and the new southern sound out of Georgia from REM and The B-52’s.  Australia/New Zealand produced a few bands, most notably Split Enz, who along with their states-side CBGB peers, paved the way for the kind of quirky music that came out of this era. In England, a major wave of trendy bands, covering both the lighter and darker side of music emerged at light speed. Suddenly, Ska music, originally from Jamaica, sprang forth from bands like The Specials, Madness, and The English Beat. Adam and the Ants and Bow Wow Wow adapted tribal beats and chants as the basis of their unique sound. Gothic music, driven by Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen and a handful of darker, brooding bands emerged from the darkness. Synth pop and new wave music brought new forms of dance music to the fore, most often draped in layers of synthesizer leads, and the then new sound of drum machines. It seemed all barriers were broken.

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What was so different for those of us who transitioned from classic rock to these new bands, was that many, whether punk, ska, new wave, or gothic were not so much bands you listened to but bands you danced to. Many of these groups became the “new disco” – the groups whose music filled clubs and concert halls. In general these bands called you to the floor, with relentless beats, metronomic precision, deep bass tones, and all manner of vocalists who performed the work and connected to fans. And in each market, somewhere on the radio dial, there emerged stations willing to play this new music, to make it their preferred content, constantly introducing audiences to new bands, a flood of which appeared from 1977 to 1985.

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Since the advent of the pop music form, there has always been “one hit wonders” – singers or bands that had brief success in their own time. The 1980’s had a fair share of these acts, which came and went quickly, whose sound was so unique, fitting into the trend of the year, fading shortly after. For a short time this led to the increasing popularity of singles – the ability to obtain a few songs from an artist on a 45rpm vinyl single, or for some, a single cassette tape. While bands like U2, The Pretenders, Simple Minds and Madonna built lifelong careers, many others faded, some of course undeservedly, others predictable.

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Recently, I’ve noticed a number of travelling 1980’s “showcase” concerts, shows which are somewhat akin to small festivals, that present a number of what are today lesser known 80’s acts alongside one or two who held it all together and who are able to continue today to headline shows, even if in smaller theaters and clubs. One of these traveling circuses is Retro Futura, and this was this show I was drawn to in New York this last July.

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I was there principally to see Annabella Lwin, the lead singer from Bow Wow Wow, a surf-punk-meets-tribal-beats group that lived for a short time in the early 80’s. Bow Wow Wow released two albums before the boys in the band fired Annabella, their lead singer, a disaster of epic proportions for fans of the act. Amazingly, considering the level of talent in the original band, Annabella was at the bottom of the roster at this show. She was only allotted time to do three songs, after which she bolted to catch a plane. Still this was the best part of the lineup for me, made greater after I was able to get backstage to meet Ms. Lwin to express my appreciation to this artist, one of my favorite 80’s personalities. Bow Wow Wow will be prominently featured in my upcoming book, Dancing in Fog City (1977-1989).

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The remaining acts on the roster included Limal (Christopher Hamill) from Kajagoogoo, Tony Lewis, the singer/bassist from The Outfield, four-fifths or the original band Modern English, Belinda Carlisle from the Go-Go’s and headliners ABC. Kajagoogoo was allotted time for four songs, none of which stirred this patron, including the too-coy “Too Shy Shy.” Follow up Outfield singer Tony Lewis strained to hit his notes. Modern English were quite acceptable, and at times a bit fun, as personalities shown through and musicianship was a notch above. This was the one band that featured predominantly original members.

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The best part of the show, long after my favorite Annabella left the stage, was to be sets by Belinda Carlisle and ABC. Belinda was radiant, at 60 years old, still looking fab, and hitting all her marks and high notes with seeming ease. She rolled out a string of her own hits alongside expected highlights from the Go-Go’s first few albums, a small collection that has sustained members of this group, particularly Belinda through to today. ABC was the surprising set for me, as their whole presentation was befitting the headlining spot. Adorned in sharp suits and upbeat attitudes, the band began with “Millionaire,” the first of a number of hits most fans clearly remembered from the day, played with aplomb by the talented hired-hands led by charismatic singer Martin Fry.

Coming into the lineup, it was hard not to tag this tour as a collection of also-rans from the 80s. Indeed, every act other than Modern English was really the lead singer from their bands, each having had one or two albums back in the day, peppered with a few singles, and little follow up solo success. Yet, it was heartwarming to hear their voices again, stepping back in time to witness this singles crowd, harkening back to dancing days now so long ago.

The Fixx is In

The Fixx are one of the most unique bands to emerge during the 1980’s. They did not seem to fit the typical mold of their time, despite lots of great synth, tasty, treated guitar focused on chords rather than solos, and a talented vocalist with a range less commonly found in traditional “rock” music. Today they would be classified more as “rock” or “alternative” music than “new wave” yet back in the day they ultimately they did fit in with their peers and they absolutely excelled at their craft.

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Fixx_2018_RTB_CoverReach The Beach, released in 1983 was this band’s second album, and remains their most popular. It sported hits “One Thing Leads To Another” (their highest charting US Single at number 4) and “Saved By Zero,” accompanied by several other standout tracks and deep cuts that demonstrate the quiet determination of the band as stellar songsmiths and solid musicians. Personnel on this album included Cy Curnin (vocals), Rupert Greenall (keyboards), Jamie West-Oram (guitar), Adam Woods (drums) and a couple of bass players, Alfie Agius and Dan Brown, the latter of whom became the band’s official bassist for the tour and subsequent albums. The album was produced by the talented Rupert Hine. This is a very “listenable” album which flows nicely from track to track, stropping at some of their best ideas and greatest musical passages.

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The intellectual lyrics of this band, delivered by lead vocalist Cy Curnin are a major part of what makes Reach The Beach, and the rest of their music so special and enduring. Cy is a deep thinker who will pose a question and hang on that question, each word counting towards the idea, often suggesting an answer. The lyrics are seldom overtly political yet there are messages, they are not preachy, but there are spiritual lessons within. Songs like “Are We Ourselves” and “Less Cities, More Moving People” always cause me to ponder meaning, messages, and my own reaction to them. Cy delivers all this in concert with occasional asides highlighting his current thinking – all questions that deserve to be asked and answered.

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I first saw this band in 1983 at one of the last “Day On The Green” festivals in Oakland California. Famed producer and production company Bill Graham Presents staged these all-day festivals, and they were impressive lineups featuring multiple bands, who were well chosen to show off both headliners and supporting acts. On this summer day in 1983, headliners The Police was on their final tour, supporting their swan song “Synchronicity.” Behind them was The Fixx, taking that vaulted “2ndact” spot on the strength of their then new release Reach The Beach. Preceding The Fixx were a varied collection of new wave acts, The Thompson Twins, Oingo Boingo and Madness. The Fixx stood out that day, among these contemporaries, as a group of serious, adult musicians, primed for mainstream success yet seemingly comfortable at that vaulted #2 spot on the bill.

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Last week, 35 years after that Day on the Green, the band played at The Independent club in San Francisco, on their Reach The Beach anniversary tour. They played the whole album, but in reverse order, which worked very nicely given the original record kicked off with four exceptional tracks in a row, making the reverse sequencing close the first half of the show with those highlights. The band continued with a collection of hits and deep cuts, including some newer work, as this enduring act continues to record and tour today, with the same lineup from 1983. It was an exceptional show that demonstrated to one and all the talents of the band. Quite a night, and highly recommended should The Fixx come your way.

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Rolling Stones Rock On!

On Wednesday May 23rdwe travelled to Scotland, to Edinburgh to see the band Echo and the Bunnymen perform their most beloved and balladering hits with “orchestra.” Turned out to be a string quartet but lovely anyway. Then we took the train to London and I RollingStonesVenuespent the next day choosing photos from Shutterstock for my next book Dancing in Fog City (1977-1989). While there, I noticed a pop up ad on my phone. It was a last minute offer for tickets to The Rolling Stones, who were playing THAT NIGHT at London’s Olympic Stadium. Was sold out so went to Stubhub (there are ALWAYS tickets to shows, excuse-making people) and they had two excellent tickets third row loge.

Traveling on the tube to the stadium that night, walking the long haul across greens and such to the huge venue, in the company of my beloved neighbors-over-the-pond Britains, made me ponder my heartfelt affections for everything English. I was born in 1960 and grew up on the Stones and the Beatles, had all the arguments as to who was better, etc. RollingStonesCrowdThen I heard Jethro Tull , Genesis, Yes, and Led Zeppelin and I knew who was better – those that came after the 60s to inhabit the 70s. Objectively they took everything started by the Beatles and Stones and made it bigger, badder and better from my point of view, again being only 10 years old in 1970 but therefore thrilling to my formative years. But a strange thing happened with the Stones and then Paul McCartney, both of whom are covered in my book about 1970s rock concerts, Rocking the City of Angels.

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What happened in the 70s was, the Stones and Paul McCartney carried over what they knew from the 60s and did what some might argue was even more exceptional work. I’ll put on the Wings Venus and Mars three times to one over Sgt. Peppers. In the case of the Rolling Stones, I love Sticky Fingers (1971) and Exile on Main Street (1972) and their huge “comeback” near the end of the 70s, Some Girls (1978). It was the Stones and The Who, not the Beatles, not the Kinks, who took their craft through the 70s and actually excelled. Same story in my opinion with the 80s. So longevity is on their side.

If you ever needed proof that there may be a Devil, to whom you could sell your soul, you would be convinced of it at London Stadium last month. The Stones came out in a blast of smoke and just nailed their long set with aplomb. Even notorious on-his-last-legs Keith Richards hit his notes, and even he looked surprised when he did. Ronnie could relax a bit, and focus on his blistering solos. Charie Watts, the oldest of the bunch I think, just lays down that basic beat the way he always did, a deceptively catchy rhythm that actually swings – it’s a huge part of the Stones’ legacy.

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And then there is Mick. What can one say about Mick “fn” Jagger that hasn’t been said?  Musical hero, hot dude, great dancer, or just, one of the most exceptional front men ever to rock n roll, and probably the best that ever will be. Sure Daltry is amazing, Plant is magnetic, Collins was funny and imminently watchable, but Jagger, no one is really in his class, he filled it — party of one anyone?  This man, who has no business being this good at this point in his life just killed it once again on the London stage. He is the most entertaining front man in rock – his dance, his chat, his sexy-time with Honky Tonk woman guest, which this time was Florence from FATM – not too shabby Mick. God, I love him and his rag tag bunch of bad boys. To see them all in London on the stage with all the local British people cheering them on at maximum volume was an unmatched experience. Man, I loved the Camel reunion, and Simple Minds 5×5 at the Roundhouse theater, and Hackett doing Genesis at the Royal Albert, etc. but to see these sons of Britain The Rolling Stones, in their home turf in front of almost 70,000 fans, wow. Thank you Mick and guys, thank you. A lifelong dream fulfilled for this unrepentant anglophile.  Brilliant, as you say there, fucking brilliant.

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Return of the Dixie Dregs

DixieDregs2018_6Dixie Dregs is an American band formed in the early 1970s by guitarist Steve Morse and bassist Andy West. Their music is almost exclusively instrumental, fusing rock, country, and a bit of jazz into a potent brew that is designed to showcase each band member’s virtuosity. Their core compositions were typically rooted in traditional country & western music, most frequently upbeat and exciting. Their live shows were absolutely fantastic. One of their signature and most entertaining feats in concert was a game of “musical chairs” where each musician would trade off soloing in round-robin fashion, taking leads for ever decreasing measures until each would play just one or so notes, passing from one to the next at lightning speed in an amazing display of talent. Musicians came and went from the Dixie Dregs, all of them exceptional, and founder Steve Morse has always been at the helm.

DIxieDregs_NOTLDCover_72dpiAfter two early albums, the band was signed to Capricorn Records and released their most progressive album What If(1978), produced by Ken Scott, featuring Morse and West joined by Rod Morgenstein (drums), Mark Parrish (keyboards), and Allen Sloan (violin). After completing their first tour that year, they combined a few of the live recordings and several new pieces to create their most popular Grammy nominated album, 1979’s Night of the Living Dregs. The opening track “Punk Sandwich,” is a perfect introduction to the band for any fan or casual listener. Rapid-fire guitar and violin leads backed by electric organ bridge the tuneful melody. The second track “Country House Shuffle” leads off with a drum solo that demonstrates Morgenstein’s apt skills. The second half of the record is punctuated by the live track “The Bash” which demonstrates one of the country-western jams that featured their signature round-robin solos. I caught the band live on this tour at some small venue in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles and it was a spectacular show from the first note to the last.

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The band signed with Arista at the end of the 70s, and released an excellent follow up album, Dregs of the Earth(1980) with the talented T. Lavitz replacing departed Mark Parrish on keys. I was fortunate to see this tour as well at the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles, and recall being surprised that Lavitz was able to meet the challenge set by their former keys wizard. It was another exceptional concert experience.

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Widespread success eluded the Dixie Dregs, though they managed to build a core following of eager admirers. As the eighties wore on, the group hoped to expand their audience by changing their name to The Dregs, after which they released Unsung Heroes(1981) and Industry Standard(1982) the latter with guest vocalists. Soon after they disbanded but have continued to stage concerts sporadically to this day. Steve Morse plied his axe during a short solo career, and also took on lead guitar duties in years since with Kansas and then Deep Purple.

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So it was with only mild surprise that I saw an ad for the Dixie Dregs reunion, which we attended in Agoura California, at the Canyon Club last month. The show featured a new keyboard and saxophone player, Steve Davidowski, who joined original members Steve, Andy, Allen and Rod. The show was fantastic in every way. Morse had his hand wrapped in what looked like an injury support brace, but nothing was taken off the top of his incredible range and dexterity. Everyone played at the top of their game.

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During the run up to these shows, I heard from guys who still live in their mother’s basement, you know them, the ones who complain like “why are these old dudes out on the road again with no new material?” As if to prove any naysayers wrong, Morse and co. came to the stage on fire, nailing their leads with aplomb, showing one and all that there was and IS an instrumental band so adept at their chosen instruments, that they simply stun, even if their music was never heard before by the listener.

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To top off the experience for me, I was able to hand Steve a copy of my book, Rockin’ the City of Angels, which has a chapter on the Dixie Dregs, released last year. And while I was thanking him, I got a big surprise, one that made me burst into tears. Someone behind me exclaimed “Doug Harr?” as if they knew me. It was my long lost childhood buddy Marcus Ryle, the one in our neighborhood with the cool dad, the engineer, the cool siblings, and some real keyboards. Marcus’ dad introduced us to Moog synth music before Keith Emerson, regaling us with Wendy (then Walter) Carlos’s classical synth albums, and in particular the legendary Dick Hyman and his fanciful synth pop. Marcus was the first in our neighborhood to get his own synth and as it turns out, as I learned, went on to design them, and eventually same for guitars, sporting the Line 6 guitars at Yamaha. I will finally see him, now back from Japan, next week. Good times. Rock on.

 

Steven Wilson Plays To The Bone

Steven Wilson brought his To The Bone tour to the Fillmore auditorium in San Francisco last week. It was another in a series of amazing concerts given by this gifted man and his amazing band.

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To begin the show, as is the norm at Wilson’s events, a short film was used to “warm up” the audience. However, in past years, while the films have been haunting, melancholy bits of dirge, this year the content was thought provoking, and not exactly obtuse – a bit more Talking Heads, a bit less Dario Argento. Wilson is on a new bent these days, one where his music is more straightforward, a bit less melancholy, a bit more pop. Nonetheless, dramatic subject matter and skilled performances anchored the concert, and it was exceptional.

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In order to punctuate his slightly altered musical direction, Wilson stopped between songs to say a few things about the difference between PROG and POP music. How “pop” was the original rock music, and how there should be no distain for pop, in comparison to it’s more complex, uptight brethren PROG:

“pop music has a very fine tradition… the greatest pop group of all time were The Beatles – you would not call them a rock band, you would call them a pop band. Second greatest pop band was Abba – does anyone here not like the Beatles and Abba?  You see ergo everyone likes pop music. …Pop music is not SHIT!”

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After this bit of pep, he asked the audience to dance (yes dance) to his new song, “Permanating,” a nice song in the pop genre, it must be agreed. Of the new songs, by the way, “People Who Eat Darkness” and “The Same Asylum As Before” were particularly muscular and memorable. “Pariah,” the particularly melodic song which features singer Ninet Tayeb on record, was played with her image singing her parts on the front and rear screens – a very effective use of the silk that drapes down in front of the band for part of the show. Its amazing really how such a seemingly unassuming, quiet man can command a stage and rock the s___ out of a venerable venue such as the Fillmore.

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On this tour, the set list did not include stalwarts “The Raven Who Refused To Singand Drive Home” and that was disappointing for this fan, but it’s clear that Wilson is leaning in a bit happier direction. It must be said that the set list was a nice combination of older Porcupine Tree and newer Wilson solo work.

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As with earlier tours, the lighting techniques were clever and colorful. Sound was crisp and clear, reproduced by the top-notch audio system, which sounded amazing in the acoustic-friendly Fillmore. Even with all the finery, the primary focus remained on the band members demonstrating their virtuosic skills throughout. From the increasingly well-rehearsed touring band there were complex rhythms and solos from new guitar player Alex Hutchings, electronic textures and brisk synth leads from keyboard player Adam Holzman, and a deep, thunderous bottom end and vocal harmonies from Nick Beggs on basses, paired with skilled drummer Craig Blundell.  It was plainly visible that each one of the musicians has become exceedingly adept and delivering this material. Steven delivered his poetic lyrics throughout in fine voice, alternating skillfully between guitar, bass, keys and samples. He displayed his wit and thoughtfulness between tracks as lead raconteur. These elements combined to make up a masterful set; an evening of dramatic, inspirational and at times emotionally overwhelming rock and pop music. Wilson remains at the top of the list of artists I’ve seen over these now forty years with his accomplished, expressive body of work and ability to so expressively present it all live in concert.

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Astounding, and wonderful is this artist. Check him out!

LCD’s American Dream

Ban=ck in the day, a very very long time ago, we would have called LCD Soundsystem “totally bitchin!” They performed this year both at the Bill Graham auditorium in San Francisco, and just the other night at the Berkeley Greek Theater.  Our night was the second of three sold-out shows, on Saturday April 28. The band delighted the anxiously awaiting crowd, once again taking their place a the top of the electro-funk pantheon, delivering an explosive concert consisting of 16 perfectly chosen tracks. Many of these tracks were played at their “farewell” concert 7 years ago at Madison Square Gardens, chronicled in the exceptional film Shut Up and Play the Hits(2011) and the live album Live at Madison Square Gardens. I cherish that film and as it perfectly captures how astoundingly great this band’s live shows had been. Fortunately at Berkeley they hewed closely to that winning formula, as they did for their “comeback” two summers ago at Golden Gate Park.

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LCD2018_AmericanThe band’s latest album American Dream (2017) was featured via 4 songs, “Call The Police,” “Tonight,” and “Emotional Haircut.” These are fab tracks from the new record which rates highly in their catalog, surprisingly fresh after a rather long career, certainly helped by a long break and time for Murray to D.J. it up a bit in his favorite clubs. Other than the four new ones, the staples were, rightfully so, on full display – beginning with set opener “You Wanted A Hit” and closing with “All My Friends,” a crowd-pleaser if ever there was.

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As to staging, the band stays rather close together, surrounded by all manner of drums, percussion, electronic keyboards, and space for the bassist and drummer with lead man, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist James Murphy up front, and able to wander the small passages between. Crammed in with all that gear, the presentation seemed somehow intimate, despite the number of musicians. Lighting is simple but effective, a giant glitter ball hung top center stage. It was from start to finish, once again, one of the best concerts of the millennia thus far.

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LCD Soundsystem, as described by writer and musician Nick Sylvester is “the sound of a man digging himself out of his own skull… an extremely smart and sensitive man wrestling his inner Klosterman” (by the way, Klosterman is a quirky American author and essayist who writes thoughtfully about American popular culture).This gets at the heart of why these confessional, observational songs speak to so many, songs like “Losing My Edge,” sporting these lyrics:

I’m losing my edge
I was there.
I was the first guy playing Daft Punk to the rock kids.
I played it at CBGB’s.
Everybody thought I was crazy.

On the studio albums, nearly everything you hear is played by Murphy – in concert he has a troupe of musicians, changing at times based on availability. The performance is incredibly tight, each musician playing his or her part with startling accuracy yet requisite live energy. The best of their songs start with a beat, sometimes laid down by a drum machine, but more often by precision-driven drummer Pat Mahoney, sometimes by a keyboard sequence triggered or played by Nancy Whang or Gavin Russom. As the song progresses, additional contrapuntal lines are drawn, the beat is intensified, bass, guitar or treated electronics are added, until the drone or melody comes clear and captivating, and Murphy adds vocals, working his rich baritone. Interlocking riffs are added or taken away to change the dynamics, which ultimately build into ecstatic abandon. This is the main recipe for the band, and it’s done wonders for space rock, afro funk, new wave and alt/indie bands past and present. The most frequent touch point I could think of was the Talking Heads, Remain in Light era work with Brian Eno – or more recently the kind of dynamics mastered by Arcade Fire. Murphy stirs it all up and makes something new and unique. It’s beautiful frenetic dance music that’s utterly irresistible.

LCD_SUAPTH_Cover_72dpiThe aforementioned film, Shut Up and Play the Hits(2011) directed by Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace, is as spectacular a concert movie as any in my collection. The entire three-and-a-half show is captured, along with interviews and a portrait of James Murphy as he prepares for the event, intended to be their last.  The shoot is professional, multiple camera angles fixed and handheld, both close-up and long/wide angles provide viewers with a bird’s eye perspective, illuminating how the large band works together to create the whole.

The movie kicks off with three of their best songs “Dance Yrself Clean,” “Drunk Girls,” and “I Can Change.” At the end of those tracks, at 20 minutes into the film, you’ll know if this is a band for you – don’t be surprised if you’re singing “I Can Change” over and over again for days, such is it’s status as an electro-funk earworm!  At the end of the film, as Murphy croons the slow burner “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” staring and smiling wistfully at the sell-out crowd while the balloons fall from the rafters, it’s impossible not to feel a bit sentimental, a bit of loss for their disbandment. Fortunately for the music world, Murphy and his collaborators are back. Let’s hope they remain, on record, and in lights.

Video: All My Friends (from Madison Square Gardens)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9wnbPUgq6c

LCD Soundsystem (live band)

James Murphy – vocals, percussion, synthesizer, organ, keyboards, piano, kalimba
Tyler Pope – bass, samples, synthesizer, percussion, organ
Pat Mahoney – drums, synth pads, vocals
Nancy Whang – synthesizer, vocals, piano, organ, samples, Wurlitzer
Gavin Russom – synthesizer, percussion, piano, Wurlitzer, clavinet, vocals, vocoder
Matthew Thornley – guitar, percussion, percussion [electronic percussion], bass, synthesizer, electric piano, samples
Al Doyle – guitar, vocals, percussion, synthesizer, bass, clavinet, trumpet, organ, glockenspiel

And new touring member, Korey Richey – percussion, synths, piano, vocals

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Loving STRANGELOVE

Depeche Mode are an enduring, genius band that formed in 1979 who still write, record and tour today. Their success in the 80’s and 90’s is legend. More recently, during the last 15 years, their work has become increasingly dark and experimental — still a single here or there, for instance last year’s “Where’s The Revolution” reward the faithful who seek a bit more dance than trance — it all comes off smashingly well in their most continuing concert tours, which sell out to global audiences.

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Many fans of the band continue to follow and patronize the act, yet typically consider their “golden age” to stretch 1981-1997, now 20 years ago. These were triumphant times the band spent on the write/record/tour train, resulting in legendary albums from Speak and Spell(1981) to Ultra(1977). This is when DM could easily be compared to “The Beatles of the 80’s” — really “80s/90s”. As many will already know, the band began with their first album largely hemmed by Vince Clark, who left the year it was released, and was replaced by deft player Alan Wilder, who joined singer David Gahan and third keys-man Andrew Fletcher making the long running foursome. Alan left in 1995 before the last “core period” release Ultra.

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But at the early stage in 1981, with Clarke going away to do Yaz, Martin Gore became principal songwriter and instead of that being a challenge, the band’s output matured by leaps and bounds. The third record Construction Time Again(1983), which found Alan increasingly taking a role as lead player and soundscape creator is a masterwork. This album was a breakthrough in terms of ambition and maturity, though just one successful single, “Everything Counts” emerged. The record as a whole covered territory sonically and lyrically that became the trademark for these hard working musicians. Global popularity built steadily after this from Some Great Rewardto Black Celebration, Music for the Masses, Violator, Songs of Faith and Devotionand on. At the end of two decades, after the new-millennia “backward look” Exciter(2001), the band took increasing sonic risks, releasing 4 additional records and 5 world tours in the last 15 years. These live shows became louder and noisier – much more like rock ‘n roll in many parts, more focused on drums, bass and guitar than on 3 men at their synths – a different and new sound and style for this millennia.

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Enter tribute genius band Strangelove. What these stellar musicians and performers so is lovingly recreate the DM live experience, focusing on their shows from 1981 to 1997 – basically, the version of the band we all grew to love — all synth, maybe a few found objects, no “bass player” and definitely no drummer. Just four guys and three keyboard rigs, and four part harmonies all fronted by one of the most charismatic lead singers born to this world. Each member of Strangelove recreates not just the music but also the persona of their role:

Brent “Counterfeit Martin” (Martin Gore)
Leo “Ultra Dave” (Dave Gahan)
Julian “Oscar Wilder” (Alan Wilder)
James “In The Fletch” (Andrew Fletcher)

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Taken in parts or as a whole, I had multiple moments, regularly, where I felt like I was seeing the actual band live, despite each of these talented musicians infusing the proceedings with some of their own obvious talents. Critically, maybe most importantly, Brent’s vocal interpretation of warble-then-sustain (or vice-versa) Martin Gore is dead on, and Leo’s growling baritone representing Dave Gahan is note perfect, accentuated by moves both dressed and undressed that echo everything great about Dave as one of the world’s greatest front-men. It’s an unbelievable collection of talent which will, for all, preserve the early DM experience while allowing for the original band to continue stretching into experimental territory. And, finally, there is something about a show featuring all synth — pure synth, which bubbles and pops out of high-definition speaker systems in such clear form while we watch and dance.

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I talked to Brent after the show and in follow up discussions:

1) Brent did you specifically agree to focus on 1981-1999 in order to represent the four piece synth led version of the band?

We do represent all eras of the Depeche Mode canon. Depending on the scale and locale of the show we’re performing, we bring in different stage set pieces and costume changes that reflect key points in their evolution. That said, there is a deliberate focus on what are perceived as the halcyon days from ‘86-‘93, as this era represents the sweet-spot where many lifelong fans of Depeche Mode were first introduced to them. Our project also proudly features a 1:1 analog for every member of the classic lineup. The project was very much cast with this in mind.

2) Though Alan did play some drums, very tastefully by the way, on his last tour, for “Songs of Faith and Devotion”, did you make a conscious choice to avoid this?

Our own “Alan” performer, Julian Shah-Tayler (aka: Oskar Wilder) is an adept multi-instrumentalist and is easily up to the task of performing live drums for a segment of our set. That said, we would likely limit that to a live presentation that focused primarily on Songs of Faith and Devotion, and adhere to that visually, as well as in the set list and instrumentation. A native of London, via Leeds; Julian’s from the very popular UK outfit “Whitey”, that had quite a bit of momentum a handful of years ago. For larger shows in US we’ve brought in Terri Nunn/Berlin’s drummer Chris Olivas and he’s a our “fifth member”. An interesting footnote — I’ve produced a couple of original music projects, and brought in Depeche Mode drummer Christian Eigner. He did a fantastic job!

3) How many “Dave’s” have you employed, Leo is fantastic!

I began developing a project as music director and performing in the “Martin Gore” capacity in 2006, in what was an early iteration of what eventually became Strangelove-The Depeche Mode Experience. Since that time I’ve worked with two other vocalists before finding our current singer, Leo Luganskiy (aka: Ultra-Dave). When we first heard him we immediately knew our worldwide search was over. His vocal timbre is uncannily like Gahan’s. He’s the total package, and at just 30 years old, more accurately represents the timeframe we referenced above.

4) When you study Martin’s lyrics, do you pick up bits of humor or even a track you think is overtly happy from this maestro of all things dark and lonely?  (I might say “But Not Tonight”)

Of course we have poured over the lyrics quite a bit, in the course of the thousands of hours involved in recreating their studio work to present it in a live setting. There’s quite a range of emotion on display; and quite an evolution from their early work to the open cynicism in evidence on their latest release, “Spirit”.  A certain line in “But Not Tonight” often elicits chuckles from the audience. Other lyrics gain newfound relevance in our modern times (“People Are People”, “New Dress” immediately come to mind)

5) Are there any songs you omit because they are too challenging to you or to audience for any reason?  (I am thinking lack of singles on my favorite Construction Time Again)

We don’t omit any songs because of performing challenges, but rather, based on what we know the audience response is likely to be. For instance, there are no current plans to work up “Black Day” or Christmas Island” since few would care and others that are familiar would still likely be bored and go grab a pint. An immersive album listening experience is very different from a live presentation and there are matters of set programming flow and energy level to take into account.

6) Playing a few from Speak and Spell, do you see a real difference in the structure when Vince wrote and played as lead?

The chief difference to us was the naivety and spunk the young lads had at that point. Obviously, with Vince as primary writer at that point, the songs have a different feel. We do a few tracks from SAS and they’re still a lot of fun to perform live.

7) Can Londoners expect any surprises that we don’t see in the states?

The biggest surprise, (even though it’s listed on the poster) is that we’re having “Scant Regard” open for us. This is a new project by Will Crewdson, the London-based guitarist/writer/producer best known for his work with the London band Rachel Stamp, Concrete Blonde’s Johnette Napolitano, Flesh for Lulu, Adam Ant, The Selecter and Bow Wow Wow. He may bring a special guest to sit in…

8) What does Depeche Mode think of your project-

We’ve had quite a bit of interaction with several people within the DM camp. I’ve had a few conversations with Martin about our project and he’s very gracious and generous with regard to helping us out. I’ve had a couple of screwdriver-ish conversations with him about particular synths/samplers used on specific songs. Alan Wilder has also provided us with original tour samplesets (the custom-made keyboard sounds they employed in making the records). Their manager Jonathan Kessler politely tolerates us, I think in part, because they understand that we keep fans sated while they’re on their tour/album cycle hiatus. At a recent “Spirit” press conference Dave took the piss out of Martin for spending hours watching OUR performance videos!

Londoners and those close or far by via tube/train – do NOT MISS THIS SHOW.  Diego

Facebook event for London gig.
https://www.facebook.com/events/2001096206818310/

All Photos (C) Animus-Art Photography
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Facebook: @animusartphotography
Thank you, B!!

StrangeLove Depeche Mode Tribute Santa Cruz CA Animus-Art Photography (444)