Once in awhile you see a concert that truly surprises and delights your senses to the core –- one that’s ear and eye candy for the hungry musician inside you. Recently, on March 22, 2018, Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy played in a small club in Redwood City, California, and this was one of those very amazing occasions.
As most readers will know, Emerson Lake & Palmer was the preeminent “progressive rock super group” that emerged at the beginning of the 1970’s, reigning supreme until a few misfortunes befell the band and they essentially “lost the plot.” Keith Emerson started his career as the keyboard wunderkind of The Nice, growing into a keys juggernaut, favoring multi-tracked equipment of every kind, blended into an aggressively beautiful noise that was frequently overwhelming to anyone remotely familiar with what it takes to play the piano. Greg Lake had already proven his skills as melodious baritone and bassist of King Crimson on their first two massively influential and stunning albums In the Court of the Crimson King(1969), and In the Wake of Poseidon(1970). Carl Palmer, drums and percussion, the only remaining living member of the trio, got his start with none other than Arthur Brown and then Atomic Rooster. The guys banded together in 1970, Greg added guitar to his skill set, and the game was, as they say, on.
The group released a series of increasingly complex, multi-layered progressive rock albums, beginning with the self-titled debut in 1970, and continuing with the brilliant follow up Tarkus(1971), then Pictures at an Exhibition(1971), Trilogy(1972), and their undisputed masterpiece, Brain Salad Surgery(1973). Following extensive touring for this 1973 release, which included a stop that was recorded in Long Beach California (Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends – Ladies and Gentlemen 1974), followed within days by a headlining spot at California Jam (also featuring Deep Purple headlining an adjacent evening), the band took a long break to rest and recoup.
The last really exceptional work by this amazing trio was then undertaken – Works Volume 1and Works Volume 2(1977) — oddly sold separately and one of four total LP sides devoted to each band member — allowing them to “stretch their wings” (or “ego-up” depending on how one saw the band’s work). As is well publicized, the band then “lost their shirts” mounting a tour to support Works, which featured a symphony orchestra. The massively expensive tour was a ballsy move that cost them a fortune and set the band back on their heels. When they returned in 1978 with an ill conceived follow up, the attempt-to-be-commercial Love Beach, it was time to disband, just as “punk” music had already seen it’s sad and stupid one-year-long stint as the music of the times!
Though the band reunited, recorded, and toured with new material, there was no way to match the 1970’s era brilliance of what one could argue was the biggest prog rock band of the decade – challenging as they did Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd (uh huh, among others) for the top spot. It should be noted that Black Moon(1992) was an exception to the lesser rule, and that album plus tour, which followed, was really the last chance to see the band in good form. In addition, while Palmer managed to stay fit and fluid working with Asia, ELP and others in the years to follow, Emerson and Lake suffered declining heath and physical abilities. Sadly, both passed away in 2016.
Carl Palmer has been out now several times with his own band, the ELP Legacy, to give honor to his fallen brethren, to stay fit, in top musical shape, and rightfully remind all of us that he is most certainly one of the world’s top drummers, and now absolutely the greatest drummer remaining from the progressive rock era. Always possessing a muscular ability, coupled with occasional deft gentle touch, always with military snare at the ready, Palmer played a mean kit, backed by dual gongs and well tuned toms. For Brain Salad Surgery, he innovated a synthesized drum kit that, once triggered used sequencer technology to create an electronic orchestra for the drums, as evidenced on the track “Toccata.” It was and is simply an unmatched, violently brilliant work of sonic wonder. (Apologies to Phil Collins, Bill Bruford, Neil Peart, and a few others that vied for the top spot, Carl had or at least has it now!)
Palmer plays a great set list of selections from the 70s, and does so instrumentally, with ace guitarist Paul Bielatowicz, and bass/stick player Simon Fitzpatrick. No keyboards you say, blasphemy? No, Paul and Simon cover all of Keith Emerson’s keys, at least the ones that mattered, unbelievably. These two younger musicians have no idea how good they are – it’s uncanny to watch them just nail this material with aplomb, supported and driven of course by master of ceremonies, the ever talented Palmer. As an example, when they do “Lucky Man” Simon plays bass on the stick with his left hand, while soloing the moog lead with his right at the bottom synthesized end of said stick. Awe-inspiring. Truly. By the time Palmer launches into “Fanfare for the Common Man” within which he slips a 10-minute drum solo, you will be absolutely convinced of your good fortune in catching the man and the living legend, Carl Palmer. I promise, welcome back.
p.s. Only thing that bugged me? Even though many of us in the crowd are getting “up there’ in years, when did we Americans become so lazy? No one, and I mean no one, stood up between songs to do a standing ovation – it was like they were sitting on their arses, expecting to be entertained. Three of the best musicians I’ve ever seen play live (and believe me, I’ve seen ‘em all) gave a master class on bass, drums, and guitars, and no one can stand up? Damn. Just sayin’ Over and out.
My wife and I were very fortunate last weekend to attend the San Francisco stop on the latest tour of Italian superstar Adelmo “Zucchero” Fornaciari. This man known simply as “Zucchero” who reportedly first picked up a guitar the year I graduated high school in 1978 somehow escaped our attention until the turn of the century, when we travelled to Sienna Italy and were surrounded by posters of his then new tour, supporting the album Shake (2001). We knew of Italian progressive rockers Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM) and in a sort of happy coincidence were stopping in Pennsylvania on the way home from Italy to see a rare appearance by that band at a prog music festival. But we also picked up Zucchero’s decidedly not-prog record, learning that it was recorded near our home in Sausalito, then back in Italy, finally mixing and mastering at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios. It was a certified hit for Zucchero – an album of boisterous, life-affirming music. We instantly fell in love with the man and his work. From the strength of that initial exposure we started our collection, which now includes the newest, Black Cat (2016). We more recently snatched up tickets to what ended up being a fantastico, bellissimo, heart-rending blues and soul infused evening of music last Sunday night.
What we’ve learned is what many readers may already know, and I recommend the rest of you learn, that Zucchero’s career spans more than three decades, with worldwide record sales over 60 million and an impressive collection of awards and accolades received over those years. The gospel, blues, soul and rock music influenced artist is considered to be “the father of the Italian blues.” Zucchero, meaning ‘sugar’ in Italian, is a nickname given to Adelmo by a schoolteacher when he was just a young boy growing up in Roncocesi, Italy. It’s an appropriate moniker for the musician whose work is often about love and whose presence on stage exudes joy, passion and positivity. When sampling Zucchero’s work for the first time, take the time to browse a variety of his albums/songs and notice that much of his work is akin to listening to many of those he has collaborated with over the years (Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, B.B. King, Peter Gabriel and so many more), while drawing strongly from his native Italian roots.
Black Cat is a return to the artist’s much beloved blues & soul style work, and as such is being compared to his fourth studio album, oro incenso e mirra (“gold, incense & beer) in 1990. We read that the latest album was inspired while touring the southern U.S. and that Zucchero wrote the songs much as he did in the early days of his career, when things were more simple and he didn’t have as much to lose and didn’t care about the logic of the market. The album features among others the song S.O.S. (Streets of Surrender) penned by long time friend, Bono of U2. The song, born on the wave of terrorist attacks in Paris last November is a hymn against such hatred and violence.
Zucchero’s March 19th, 2017 show at the San Francisco Palace of the Fine Arts not only joyfully delivered most of the tracks off of Black Cat, but with more than 30 tracks on the set list, it also included so many of his audience’s favorite songs spanning the past few decades, from the sexy BailaMorena (Shake 2001 – Spanish Version), to the passionate duet with Pavarotti Miserere (Miserere 1992), the soulfully beautiful Bacco Perbacco (Fly 2006), Un Soffio Caldo (Chocobeck 2012 – track titled Life on English version) and so many more. The band, which included exceptional musicians on violin, keyboards, slide guitar/guitar, bass, and drums, was top of class. Special guest Corrado Rustici, who worked on Shake, joined them on guitar for one track. The backdrop was, appropriately a framed heart, which was set off by moody low lighting, approaching brighter tones only when raising the house lights that illuminated the cheering crowd of both faithful followers and the newly informed.
Though Zucchero occasionally sings in English, it’s when you listen to his sultry, whisky voice singing passionately in his native Italian tongue or occasional Spanish that you truly ‘feel’ his work. This is what we felt Sunday night, as the artist focused much less on any pop trappings, and absolutely more so his sultry, bluesy, and heartfelt work delivered in the more romantic languages. During one of only a couple breaks between songs, after apologizing the his English was “not so good,” Zucchero explained that he grew up listing to the music of many English artists, finding that even though he had no clue what they were saying, the “music spoke” to him, adding:
Music talk. You don’t have to understand everything. It’s the vibe, the feeling…
That we understood completely, as it was our experience that night, not knowing Italian beyond a few key words like Amore. Didn’t matter in the least, in fact it made the evening a unique and special experience. It certainly helped that Italian Americans and travelers at the show enthusiastically poured their affections out verbally and visibly all around us, helping to highlight what is so meaningful about Zucchero’s songs and lyrics. Catch this legendary artist in concert if you possibly can. Your heart will thank you.
Fresh air, exceptional, challenging music, calm seas, good fellowship: this year’s floating concert spectacle, Cruise to the Edge 2017 was undeniably one of the best yet. It’s the forth time progressive rock heroes Yes have sponsored this particular festival and it was smooth sailing in almost every respect. This time we were afloat on the Brilliance of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean cruise liner which experienced travellers said was above average though not the best craft in the league. Made little difference – the real attraction of these trips is the exciting lineup of progressive rock bands new and old, fresh or reconstituted, and this year’s collection of artists ensured there was something for every fan.
Yes has been joined in the past by their 1970s contemporaries Marillion, Steve Hackett, Carl Palmer, PFM, Three Friends (Gentle Giant), Tangerine Dream, UK, Caravan, and Martin Barre (Jethro Tull), along with newer prog acts Anathema, Enchant, Moon Safari, Lifesigns and many others. Each festival has had something to offer, and has been successful despite each running into a storm during the voyage!
This year’s lineup included returning mainstays and new acts: Yes, Steve Hackett, Kansas, Mike Portnoy, The Neal Morse Band, Spock’s Beard, Stickmen, Haken, IO Earth, Patrick Moraz, Bad Dreams, District 97, Anglagard, Curved Air, Frost, Electric Asturias, Focus, The Fringe, Dave Kerezner, Pain of Salvation, and Scott Henderson. An excellent lineup made even better with a special appearance by Dixie Dregs/Kansas/Deep Purple axe-man Steve Morse who surprised the crowd on opening day with a great but short set from Flying Colors, staged during Mike Portnoy’s 50th birthday bash.
Missing this year but certainly not forgotten was prog legend John Wetton, who passed away just before the cruise was to depart, a very short time after announcing he would not be able to make the event. John Lodge from The Moody Blues stepped in after the unfortunate announcement. There was a moment of silence for John at the opening event, and a number of tributes to him by the other artists on the cruise – possibly the most touching when Steve Hackett dedicated the Genesis mainstay “Afterglow” to our fallen friend. We miss you more …as well.
Once again Jon Kirkman was our eloquent master of ceremonies. Jon is so deeply studied in the prog arts and music in general that his many interviews with band members during the course of the cruise are a always a highlight. Jon’s new book, Yes Dialogue (@TimeAndAWordTheYesInterviews) is hitting stores now. We had the brief chance to take a look at this excellent book, which sports numerous never-before-seen photos and lots of inside information on this enduring band.
Roger Dean was in attendance again this year, with Michael and the team at Trading Boundaries at his gallery top deck. This was another chance for cruisers to obtain one of Roger’s stunning prints, from the Yes and Virgin Records logos, to the cover of Gentle Giant’s Octopus (UK), or the magnificent cover for Yes Tales From Topographic Oceans. Roger kindly displayed a copy of my new book Rockin’ the City of Angelsat his front desk with postcard ads as this tome contains licensed shots of the Yes Relayer tour taken by Martyn Dean in addition to a couple of Roger’s legendary album cover images. https://www.amazon.com/Rockin-City-Angels-Douglas-Harr/dp/0997771100/
One of the fantastic features of this cruise is the Late Night Live sessions. As the name implies live music fills the wee hours from about midnight into the early morning. Organized by broadcaster Rob Rutz and a team of dedicated proggers, this event gives attendees who can play or sing a chance to take the stage and perform with other fans, sometimes with one of the professional musicians who come to cheer them on and lend an occasional hand. This afforded us a chance to see and hear Jon Davison (Yes), Nad Sylvan (Steve Hackett) members of Circuline and others perform side by side with many talented fans, as they work together often for the first time, through long set lists that cover tracks from our prog favorites old and new.
As mentioned, there was something for fans of nearly every style of progressive rock music from the big acts to the newer lot. As usually there isn’t time to get to all of the bands. Here are some snaps from the top acts I was able to see:
Yes: Continued their album-pair set that included the hard-driving Drama record and two sides of masterwork Tales From Topographic Oceans. Jay Shellen was there to assist Alan White on drums, and Billy Sherwood was absolutely on fire, visibly happy, relaxed and just nailing bass parts that were absolutely reminiscent of Chris Squire yet still colored by his own unique palette. I could have watched the whole show again just to see and hear Sherwood at that level of excellence. It had to be part of what drove the whole band, including guitarist Steve Howe to perform at the top of their game. That Drama was featured surely inspired keyboard wizard Geoff Downes who was a part of that era’s lineup. Jon Davison also mentioned in interview that it was liberating for him to do some vocals not originally recorded by founder Jon Anderson as this allowed for some stretching out, on material that is more strident and modern (added Howe and White).
Steve Hackett: played a few stellar new tracks, along with a set list that included several from Genesis masterwork Wind and Wuthering, now 40 years on. These songs included “Eleventh Earl of Mar,” “One for the Vine,” and EP B-side “Inside and Out” along with the oft-played suite that ends the album. During that coda, Hackett dedicated “Afterglow” to fallen friend John Wetton leaving not many a dry eye in the house. Hackett and his band continue to stage innovative progressive rock concerts that are second to none.
Kansas took the stage for a pair of first time CTTE performances, receiving many standing ovations from the audience. With the addition of Ronnie Platt on vocals and keys, and additional expert musicians, the band is able to present new and old Kansas music with the level of instrumental and vocal prowess once championed by retired founders Kerry Livgren and Steve Walsh, albeit without the handstands!
Mike Portnoy celebrated his 50th birthday, and for his fans and admirers this was a key event on the cruise. Of the various bands he’s been in, my top vote goes to Flying Colors and they were the toast of the launch.
Haken: They get the award for continuous improvement. I’ve seen them over the years and each time their performances just get tighter, both instrumentally and vocally, fronting compositions that increasingly achieve balance between light and dark for a melodic and powerful form of prog.
Anglagard: Similarly this exceptional Swedish band continues to amaze as they endure. Their first performance was cut short by late night rain, but the full set the next day found them astutely blending electric and acoustic piano/sax/flute against electric frets for a compelling strain of prog, most reminiscent of the 70s era while still sounding new and all their own.
IO Earth: beautiful compositions and performance that blended middle eastern motifs with rock instrumentation.
Focus: They sounded better than any time I’ve seen them – great sound and performance by this Dutch band, fronted by the always entertaining, Thijs van Leer.
Curved Air: Legendary British band fronted by long time inspiring vocalist Sonia Kristina closed the cruise with the final set late Friday night.
Electric Asturias: Exceptional blend of jazz-fusion and prog forms hailing from Japan.
Stickmen: Masters of dissonance Tony Levin/Pat Mastelotto/Markus Reuter were fantastic as always.
Patrick Moraz: legendary keyboardist on his own at the piano…. Magnifique!
District 97: Highly talented band, brilliant set.
Neal Morse and Spock’s Beard were crowd favorites I ended up missing, but everyone I talked to who saw them, John Lodge, Bad Dreams, Alex Machacek, Frost, The Fringe, Dave Kerzner and Pain of Salvation loved those sets.
Back on dry land this week …vive le rock (y tambien, terra firma)!
Mention Adam Ant (born Stuart Goddard) or Adam and the Ants to someone today and they will likely have polarized reactions – whether friend or foe (couldn’t resist that). While Adam Ant’s music and flamboyant stage manner was decidedly not for everyone, most look back at his whimsical themes with great affection, recalling his powerful tribal music and riveting live stagecraft. More dedicated fans embraced Adam’s many personas, his passionate, sometimes fetishistic homages to pirates, highwaymen, Cowboys, American Indians, and other colorful macho characters. His popular work drove nearly a dozen singles to the top of the charts, sustaining a musical career that began in 1977 and peaked in 1985. We caught him February 3, 2017 in Seattle for what was an exciting return to form, as Adam and band tore through a set list that featured the entire Ants breakthrough record Kings of the Wild Frontier.
Adam Ant began his music career during the dawn of punk rock, casting about for a record deal until the formation of Adam and the Ants and debut release Dirk Wears White Sox (1979). After that freshman outing, Adam signed on with producer Malcolm McLaren, who promptly convinced the band to defect and form Bow Wow Wow with singer Annabella Lwin. McLaren had acquired a fascinating tape from Africa of native Burundi drummers; a powerful exuberant tribal sound that fuelled both Bow Wow Wow and Adam’s quickly reconstituted Ants. Marco Pirroni, an ex-member of Siouxsie and the Banshees joined the Ants, becoming Adam’s collaborator and guitarist for the remainder of his 80s heyday.
The new band released a second album, Kings of the Wild Frontier in 1980 which went to number one in the UK, establishing the basis of the ever-evolving sound that Adam popularized for the next five years. While retaining the raw verve of its punk rock predecessor, Kings ventured into wild new territory with stunning results. Tribal sounds driven by a pair of drummers mixed with Ennio Morricone inspired tremolo guitars, chants and yodels abound. The lyric “I feel beneath the white there is a red skin suffering from centuries of taming” typify Adam’s themes, which most frequently alternate between tales of warrior heroes and ruminations on fame and the press. The album launched many of Adam’s enduring themes and his iconic look; leather clad punk below the waist, colonial pirate above.
Ever the change artist, Adam morphed the Kings sound and fashion over the next several albums, as he released and toured for one more Ants record Prince Charming (1981) then solo albums Friend or Foe (1982), Strip (1983) and Viva Le Rock (1985). After this string of successes, he took a lower profile musically, appearing in public less frequently. There would be two more albums in the 90s, but recording gave way to a career in film and television. With Adam’s autobiography in 2006, the public learned of his lifelong struggles with bipolar disorder, something that had been clear from based on bits of press over the years. Adam revitalized his music career earlier this decade, performing one-offs and short tours since this rebirth, including one new album. We saw the first part of this comeback a few of years ago in San Francisco – on that particular night, a decidedly mixed affair that was unfortunately not on par with his original concerts. But this time, last week in Seattle, Adam looked his old self and was absolutely on top of his game in every way.
The set list focused on Kings, which was performed in sequence, To this Adam added a few B-sides, including fan favorites “Beat My Guest” and “Christian Dior,” a couple from his first album, the title track of Prince Charming along with “Stand and Deliver,” and several others including the hit “Goody Two Shoes,” and popular numbers “Desperate But Not Serious,” and “Vive Le Rock.” The final song, as has been true on several tours, was “Physical” a single that appeared on the U.S. version of Kings. While the two level staging and lighting was simple, the four-piece band (two drummers, bass, and guitar) was fantastic. The tragic passing of Tom Edwards, Adam’s bandleader and guitarist for this tour forced the postponement of a few shows just before our date in Seattle. Will Crewsdon, who played in Adam’s band in in the past rejoined and was well rehearsed by this third night out. As good as they were, the focus was appropriately on Adam, who was back to his sexed-up dance moves, playful phrasing, and clear soaring vocals, which showed no signs of strain during the performance. Fans deliriously sang along to many of the songs, particularly when Adam beckoned them on for “Prince Charming.” My favorite, “Killer in the Home” was worth the admission, the wait and the dedication to this artist, once again at home on stage. Catch him if you can, noble human beings.
Oh the ravages of time… over the last several years, I’ve been picking up tickets to concerts by bands from the “New Wave” era as they do the rounds, whether they are out on the road again for the sheer joy of playing live, because they are out promoting new work, or just due to the fact that the rock industry has no retirement plan! Midge Ure, formerly of the British new wave band Ultravox, dropped by San Francisco to perform several times over the last 5 years. He returned to kick off 2017 with a two-piece band backup, delivering an assertively played set that highlighted a large number of popular ‘80s Ultravox songs along with a selection of solo work. It’s dubbed the Something From Everything Tour as the songs featured spanned Ure’s long career.
Many readers will be aware that there were two different frontmen who led Ultravox(!) during their life span. Early on the band was led by founder, singer Dennis Leigh (who took the stage name John Foxx). The early work by the band, while creative and oft compelling was not commercially successful and Foxx left before the dawn of the ‘80s to make a go as a solo artist. Midge Ure took the reigns on guitar and vocals, joining keyboard player Billy Currie with whom he worked in the band Visage. The band released Vienna in 1980, their fortunes grew, and they released four more albums before Ure called it a day and went on to begin his own solo career.
At last week’s San Francisco show, Ure was in good humor and fine voice, particularly considering how challenging his ‘80s vocal work is. A couple of years ago when I saw him solo at a small bar Ure confided to the audience that he wished he had written more of his popular songs in a lower key or register, so difficult it is to sing many of those high notes as the years go by. The truth of this revelation was obvious at many points during this year’s show, most notably during one of the most beautiful romantic ballads ever written, “Vienna” when Ure reeled back at least 3 feet from the microphone to call out the name of the titular city. Nonetheless, this quality artist puts everything he’s got into the performance, including being his own roadie (!) and the results are impressive. The audience was enthusiastic, dancing as much as older bones allow, laughing at Ure’s cracks and singing along to his melodic compositions.
Ultravox staples included the triple play “Hymn,” “The Voice,” and “Vienna” followed shortly by additional hits “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes” and “Reap the Wild Wind.” Just about all of the Ultravox songs he played were on what was one of the greatest “best of” albums in the day Ultravox: The Collection. The set began with one that was not – the 1988 top 10 solo tome “Dear God” and it ended with a heartfelt encore that found us all singing along to David Bowie’s “Starman.” One highlight for clubbers of the day the inclusion of “Fade to Grey,” a song Ure co-wrote and produced for Visage in 1980. For anyone who wanted to rekindle the flame this artist lit in the day, or any who came to dance, the show did not disappoint!
In a year that saw the sad loss of so many musical artists, entertainers and sports heroes, there was concurrently much to celebrate, as go on we must. For this patron, there were more than two-dozen amazing classic, progressive, or goth/new wave rock concerts by legendary artists, along with some fantastic shows from more recent bands that carry the torch of rock in all of its forms.
These are a holy trinity of artists that together comprise most of the core members of Yes. First up, Mr. Wakeman absolutely nailed his one-time performance of the King Arthur album redux at the O2 earlier this year, with orchestra, choir and narration. Then, the Steve Howe / Geoff Downes led version of Yes arrived to faithfully play renditions of half the double album Tales From Topographic Oceans paired with Drama, which sounded fantastic live. But the capper was seeing ARW who played Howe and Rabin era Yes music with a fever that brings a new appreciation to the work. It was a heartwarming, wonderful experience to see Jon Anderson so happy, and sounding as good as any night I’ve witnessed in over 20 years. This topped the year off in style.
In the Genesis camp, while we wait for Phil, Mike and Tony to put something together, we always have Steve Hackett and Peter Gabriel as working musicians – the former working often, the latter not so much! Hackett has been absolutely on fire, both during his Genesis Revisited performances, and with his solo work. The night we saw him here in San Francisco at the Warfield was by far, and I am not padding here, the best show I’ve seen from him since Wind & Wuthering. His renditions of classic songs from the Genesis catalog, along with his first four albums, and newer work from Wolflight, have never been bested. He is my true prog hero. Gabriel went out with Sting this year, in a fun and pleasant show – different for him – I think both better on their own, but it was nice to see the camaraderie. Chills when Sting teased us with the first few bars of “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight.” Chills.
The Cure on this year’s tour played crowd-pleasing set lists that changed each night, with a core of consistent selections from their most popular mid period work. The band played several tracks off Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987), Disintegration (1989), which included career highlights “Lullaby,” “Fascination Street” and “Pictures of You,” about which my daughter says “If you wanted to play one song to someone who did not know The Cure’s music, this would be it – so sad but beautiful.” Truer words. The other featured album was Wish (1992) from which the band pulled off a most unexpected pleasure, set closer “End.” Leader Robert Smith’s uncanny way of putting words to music, making the sum of the two something more than its parts, awakening dread, a cry for help, and ultimately survival, even transcendence is unparalleled. And, fortunately for us, he is a survivor and, as seen this year in concert, he continues to thrive, in apparently good health and surprisingly strong voice.
Watch for The Cure in my next book, should this sell out!
Witnessing Gilmour rock and roll at the Hollywood Bowl was absolutely perfectly awesome (in the 70s we would have said, “bitchin!”) The lighting and sound was fantastic, the film projections, which were programmed to the contours of the stage’s bowl shaped awning, were amazing. And we had close up seats and the pleasure of attending with great company, photojournalist Armando Gallo and his wife Cheryl, which will forever be a special memory. On this night, Gilmour seemed on fire, grinding out his brand of searing guitar solos gracefully, matching his alternately gravelly and silky smooth voice. He absolutely owned the stage, and the moment, blowing away this crowd of Angelinos, young and old alike.
This band performed at San Francisco’s Outside Lands, August 5th, 2016 to an anxiously awaiting crowd, once again taking their place a the top of the electro-funk pantheon, delivering an explosive concert consisting of 14 tracks that were also played at their “farewell” concert five 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. The music as presented was incredibly tight, each musician playing his or her part with aplomb. Their songs progress, 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, ultimately building 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. See this band in 2017 if you possibly can.
Seeing ELO last September 10, 2016, on the second of three sold-out nights at the Hollywood Bowl was like stepping back in time, as Lynne, band, and orchestra faithfully replicated every note of the original ELO compositions, along with a few newer tracks from Lynne’s most recent album. At around 80 minutes, incredibly, nearly every track on the set list was originally a hit or at least massively popular FM radio staple for ELO, including “Evil Woman,” “All Over the World,” “Livin’ Thing,” “Telephone Line,” “Turn to Stone” and on through seventeen songs, ending inevitably with “Roll Over Beethoven,” which as one would expect, highlighted the immense contribution of the Hollywood Bowl orchestra let by conductor Thomas Wilkins while fireworks lit the night sky.
Coldplay brought their A Head Full Of Dreams Tour to our 49ers (Levi’s) stadium in Santa Clara, south of San Francisco this year, and they will be back in 2017. It was an amazing night of lights, confetti, stagecraft, and music, courtesy of Chris Martin and band. Followers of Coldplay take no issue with their often-sentimental lyrics and gut-wrenching delivery by heartthrob Martin. I’ve read some number of critics who are dismissive of this band and their music exclaiming, “There’s no crying in a rock concert!”. Fair enough, Coldplay’s songs veer towards “adult contemporary,” with few gritty guitar licks, in favor of acoustic guitar and piano. This is, after all the man who very publicly decided to undergo a “conscience uncoupling” with ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow, then penned a song called “Fun” featuring the lyrical refrain “Didn’t we have fun” to honor what they had together. Very adult…and, excellent!
We saw Adele this year, yes we did! It was truly amazing – what a talent. Her voice was in perfect shape. The songs she close spanned her catalog sounding as good as or better than the original studio versions. Adele generally stood in place, whether main or b stage, swaying or turning a bit while her image was projected on front and rear stage screens to get everyone in the audience a great view. What was unexpected for this uninitiated punter is just how personable and funny Adele is. She greeted fans warmly, even pulling one couple on stage for selfies. She told stories from different points in her career, often in a self-deprecating way that was very endearing. There was a lot of this between song chatter, but it never wore thin, particularly since so many of her tracks are melancholic, a fact Adele herself pointed out, admitting that a lot of her songs are depressing. Yet there were enough upbeat songs in the playlist, and between those and the banter, there was a celebratory air in the room.
We caught the most recent, maybe last tour, of the Who, one which comes at the heels of the seminal band’s 50th anniversary, and wherein they ”play the hits.” The Who, after a delay a several months, made it to the Oakland Arena here in the San Francisco Bay Area last week on May 19, 2016. The delay was due to health issues with singer Roger Daltrey, which involve his voice, limiting his ability to sing on consecutive nights, causing quite a logistical challenge during the tour. The show was fabulous. Daltry is still in fantastic shape, a real inspiration for clean living and fitness! Townsend still hits his vocal marks and his guitar technique is immaculate. Though he understandably does not leap into the air as in times past, he still executes his windmill-arm attack on the frets mightily. And he has attitude to spare. We were lucky recipients!
Of the many rock groups in the 70s that strove to stage a theatrical performance, Alice Cooper stands among those that invested significant time and energy in the pursuit. “We were trying to create something that hadn’t been done. And what hadn’t been done is nobody took the lyrics and brought them to life…. you use the stage as a canvas. It’s all vaudeville and burlesque” according to Cooper. The man brought his crack band, stage props, dancers and costumes to San Francisco this year. While much of the stagecraft has been presented consistently throughout the years, the show is amazingly well rehearsed yet still fresh — a sonic and visual success. Musically, this was a straight-on hard-rocking show, highlighting the chops of the band’s three guitarists, most notably L.A. resident Nita Strauss, whose searing solos and flowing blonde hair punctuated many of the most metal-laden tracks. Cooper sustained his own still-intact gravelly vocals from start to finish, enthralling the crowd as the well-fashioned master of macabre ceremonies. The set list was peppered with some deep cuts and many hits like “I’m Eighteen,” “School’s Out” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” along with encore “Elected” during which Cooper made a fairly good case for his election to U.S. President, as a third-party candidate fronting the “Wild Party.” If only he had actually run and won!
Bad Company is one of the most important rock bands of the 1970s. They topped a hard rock core with silky smooth yet gritty production values, hooks galore, and pedigree in each musician. They are a band I had to, regrettably leave out of my upcoming book Rockin’ the City of Angels. The omission is due in large part to a few issues – most importantly that the book is a celebration of the outstanding concerts of the ‘70s including classic rock and prog bands, and I did not get to see them in concert until recently. This show, which included opener Joe Walsh, was absolutely amazing. Importantly Paul Rodgers has kept himself and his voice in perfect shape, and the band is as tight as ever, pinned down by Simon Kirke’s “rock steady” percussion. Catch this band while you can!
Roger Hodgson performed again this year in the states to audiences of adoring fans. Our show down at Coachella was a heart rending, spiritual journey through a bit of Hodgson’s fine solo work, topping a generous helping of the songs he wrote for the band Supertramp. Hodgson was in fine voice, still able to hit all those soaring high notes, and also waxing philosophical between the hits and deep cuts, which included four from my favorite, Crisis? What Crisis? He spoke plainly and warmly about the meaning of these songs, to him and to others, sometimes reading notes he’s received from fans or sharing his thoughts about how music can bring back memories, and heal troubled spirits. Truer words.
Styx is a Chicago based rock band that released nearly a dozen records from the start of their most enduring lineup in 1972, through 1983’s Kilroy Was Here. Three multi-talented singer-songwriters Dennis DeYoung (vocals, keyboards, accordion), Tommy Shaw (vocals, guitars), and James Young (vocals, guitars, keyboards), backed by brothers John Panozzo (drums) and Chuck Panozzo (basses) penned a dramatic blend of rock and pop that placed them in league with stateside brethren Kansas and Journey. This author caught the group on tour supporting the Pieces of Eight album on January 27 1978 at the Long Beach arena. It was an exciting, powerful presentation, featuring a tight performance that showcased the soaring vocal prowess and instrumental credentials of each principal musician. As of the time of this writing Shaw and Young represent Styx on annual tours while DeYoung tends to his solo career. We saw the Shaw/Young band this year and several times this decade and every time they were absolutely fantastic!
The band Ambrosia was founded in southern California in the early 1970s. Today they would be best known for their most popular albums Life Beyond L.A., and One Eighty each including a mega-hit single, respectively “How Much I Feel” and “You’re The Only Woman (You & I).” These hits highlighted the group’s more melodic tendencies. However, their first two albums, and much of their unjustly overlooked fifth and final release Road Island would be best filed under the progressive rock heading. Ambrosia was back on tour this year, and we caught their exceptional show in Pleasanton, California on Saturday January 23rd. Last year we caught cofounder David Pack who also continues to perform solo shows amongst many other pursuits in the music business. These musicians remain at the top of their game, and it’s been amazing to see them perform again.
Special mention goes to Ian Anderson’s multi-media concert about the original Jethro Tull – very innovative use of filmed sequences which help with the vocals and storyline – and, I finally got to meet Ian, one of my musical heroes! Jethro Tull of course features in my book as well, focusing on their 1973 epic, A Passion Play!
Other shows this year that were similarly fantastic included Bryan Ferry, Radiohead, The Specials, X, Ra Ra Riot, American Football, Beach House, St. Germain, Album Leaf and Steven Wilson, who made a final victory lap in support of Hand.Cannot.Erase. All in all a big year for live music!
Like many fans who read this, I’ve had a lifelong passion for all things Yes, every incarnation of the band, the solo records, the shows… everything. I’ve even braved cruise liners to see a version of the group twice now on the annual Cruise to the Edge voyage, something I thought I would never do. I’ve found something to appreciate in every era of Yes music, whether early on in the ’70s, through the more commercially appealing ‘80s, and beyond. Every lineup featured musical genius; from guitarists Peter Banks, Steve Howe, and Trevor Rabin, lead vocalists Jon Anderson to Trevor Horn, from Tony Kaye, to Rick Wakeman, Patrick Moraz, back to Rick Wakeman, you know the drill. Yes’s music and message at its best challenges the mind, engages the heart, and sometimes even inspires a bit of boogie. All of that was true last Sunday December 4th on last night of ARW’s 2016 US tour at the Masonic Auditorium, San Francisco.
ARW is absolutely the best combination of Yes alum I’ve seen in the last few years. Jon Anderson is certainly the definitive Yes vocalist, Rick Wakeman the classically trained gem of Britain, and Trevor Rabin the searing guitar player who led the band through the tumultuous 1980s. These musicians are able to traverse the history of Yes music, performing each song with reverence to the original yet with space for improvisation. It was a wonder and privilege to see them together on stage again.
Though ARW intend to record, the band, which included veteran prog bassist Lee Pomeroy and drummer Louis Molino III is not performing new material at this time, which means this first tour is a journey back through the Yes catalog. Spoiler alert for UK fans: the set list selections went all the way back to 1971’s The Yes Album (“Perpetual Change,” “All Good People”), Fragile (‘Heart of the Sunrise,” “Long Distance Runaround/The Fish,” and encore “Roundabout”), Close to the Edge (“And You and I”), and Going for the One (for the stunning set highlight “Awaken”). Rabin-era tracks such as “Cinema,” “Hold On,” “Rhythm of Love,” Union track “Life Me Up,” a tight version of crowd pleaser “Changes” and closer “Owner of a Lonely Heart” buoyed the set. At some shows, though not ours, the beautiful Anderson/Wakeman track “The Meeting” from the AWBH album was also performed. The more mystical, spiritual Yes songs from the ‘70s and the relatively more urban sound of the Rabin-era work from the ‘80s were perfectly blended for maximum enjoyment, even more so in this setting than on the 1991 Union tour.
The entire band truly seemed to be happy on stage together, to be greeting audiences and once again playing this legendary music. Before the tour, Wakeman professed excitement at being able to work with Rabin again and it shows in the live setting, as he was prone to broad smiles and laughs whenever Rabin crossed the stage to be nearby, and when the keyboardist donned the portable “keytar” for some dueling solos. Wakeman brought almost a dozen different keyboards, as is his want, to perfectly recreate the sounds of Yes, including an approximation of the real church organ used to record “Awaken.” Anderson was in amazing voice, as good as I’ve heard in the last 20 years; his face alight with the joy of performance and the chance to share his meaningful lyrics with open heart once again. Rabin was similarly upbeat and enthusiastic. Despite recovering from a cold, he gave it all on stage, his fluid rapid-fire riffs generating bouts of applause, his vocals adding to the whole. Lee Pomeroy is a singularly talented bass player, as he crosses pop and prog genres, playing on and off again as he does with many prog legends, including Wakeman’s solo band, Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited, Gentle Giant’s Three Friends, and Jeff Lynne’s ELO among others. Pomeroy brought honor to Squire’s bass leads, particularly on “The Fish,” using multi-track capture/repeat gear to approximate the effect of the studio masterwork. Molino’s drum solo, and steady work on skins grounded and punctuated these complex songs.
The staging was simple but effective, with silk backdrops that reflected dazzling colored lights, and though on both nights I attended there was a bit of trouble getting the sound mix just right, everything coming out of the speakers was ear candy for hungry audiophiles. Patrons in the U.K., Europe and Japan, don’t miss this one when it comes your way!
(and I got my new book #RockinTheCityOfAngels signed 🙂