Circuline’s Counterpoint

circuline2017_counterpoint_72dpiNow that we are in the new year, I am compelled to catch up with some reviews and activities that unjustly fell off the plate during a very busy period leading up to 2017, right when my new book was released. To begin, one of the best new albums I heard last year was the excellent second release from prog rock band Circuline, titled Counterpoint.

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Circuline was founded three years ago and released Return in 2015. That debut garnered positive reviews and the group moved forward to produce this spectacular follow up. Counterpoint features Andrew Colyer (keyboards, sound design, vocals), Darin Brannon (drums, percussion, keyboards), Natalie Brown (lead vocals), William “Billy” Spillane (lead vocals, rhythm guitars), Paul Ranieri (basses) and new guitarist Beledo. What’s really unique about the sophomore outing is that there are no less than seven guest guitarists contributing to the album, including Randy McStine (The Fringe, Lo-Fi Resistance) who also contributed lyrics and vocal melodies, Doug Ott (Enchant), Alek Darson (Fright Pig), Ryche Chlanda (Fireballet, Renaissance), Alan Shikoh (Glass Hammer), Matt Dorsey (Sound of Contact, Dave Kerzner) and Stanley Whitaker (Happy the Man, Oblivion Sun).

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Occasionally I find modern prog music a bit wearing as so many new bands employ the ‘wall of sound’ approach that grates as the years go by. Yet on Counterpoint while there is epic prog intensity it is all balanced out with a deft use of dynamics. There is a separation in the field of sound, lots of space for us to hear bass or drum led passages, and meaningful lyrics delivered by beautiful vocal leads and multi-part harmonies; the warm vibrato of Brown/Spillane shines throughout. Critically, Colyer’s default keys are played on real grand piano (courtesy of Yamaha) layered with warm synth patches atop Brannon’s well-tuned toms. It’s not by accident that the music is so listenable – Brannon/Colyer write most of it and you can hear the result of how much thought and effort they put into their choices. It leads to a set list that is melodic and rhythmic in the way that a focused pairing of keys and percussion can achieve. Yet expert frets abound both at the low and high end – there is ample room for Ranieri/Beledo along with everyone that contributes.

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Highlights abound across these ten songs – lush harmonies on “Who I Am,” Colyer’s gorgeous piano intro leading into long form suite “Hollow,” Darson’s searing guitar solo during “Forbidden Planet.” “Erosion” builds tension before “Nautilus” kicks in with more major tones, and great solos on frets and keys. “Stay (Peter Frankenstan)” is a favorite of the set – jazz-infused chord progressions, rumbling toms, impactful lyrics, and a smooth, winding lead from ace-guitarist Whitaker – a cycle of vocal harmonies to finish it off. “Inception” and “Summit” finish the set in a way that will please fans of prog and all-round creative music. The latter opens with a slow build and jazzy riff that pins down each verse, the chorus is set to dramatic phrasing as the band comes together, building on the themes rather than overwhelming them. The instrumental conclusion includes a section with intricate grand piano atop more tuned toms, building a theme that grows in intensity before easing it all back down to end the album. Lyrics reflect the ascent:

I left my life there
And laid my soul bare
Scaling the summit for truth

The song is a powerful coda to this excellent album – if you missed it, now is a good time to remedy that and add it to your playlist.

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Midge Ure Returns

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.

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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.

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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.

midgeure_ultravoxhits_72dpiUltravox 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!

p.s. thanks to Amy Lynn for the featured photo!

Rockin’ Angels Interview

Jon Downes, editor of Gonzo Weekly interviewed me last week about my new book, Rockin’ the City of Angels. Here is the transcript, also up at GonzoWeekly.com:

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Tell us about the book

When I was a teenager (way back in the 1970s), I was lucky enough to be able to attend dozens of rock concerts staged in Los Angeles, (aka the City of Angels). Rock music was life to me, and probably due to 7 years of piano lessons I was in love with prog rock. My collection of records and concert tickets included Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, and Pink Floyd, along with what I felt were the highest quality rock bands like Zep, The Who, Queen, and Kansas. Music patronage became a lifelong passion for me. The concerts at that time were becoming amazing spectacles, with elaborate theatrical productions. As the lyrics were often as important as the music to me, the fact that many bands dramatized the themes of certain songs, or even whole concept albums made for artful theater.

I wrote this book as a “love letter” to rock musicians of the ‘70s— focused ultimately on the concerts and the films that captured them. I used only photos of the bands live in concert – no portraits. I wanted to show and tell the story of these concert performances from the standpoint of a fan, hoping a reader would relate to a guy who might have been a few seats down the row at these shows, who might have raved about what we just saw on the way home.

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As an example of a chapter, one covers the Genesis tour The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. There are fantastic shots by Armando Gallo, a Melody-Maker cover showing Gabriel’s grotesque Slipperman costume, pages from the concert program, a ticket stub from the date at the Los Angeles Shrine auditorium, and sample frames from the film. The written material illuminates the album and tour, the special effects, and the film of the production’s slide show, which many fans might not realize exists (it’s on the 71-75 box set). This was a blueprint for all 36 bands covered.

How long has it taken to research and write?

At one level its taken 45 years of “field research,” record collecting, and study. But from the time I started writing and finding the photos it all took 2.5 years. I spent a lot of this time tracking down a selection of iconic photographs from around the world, sometimes digging through archives at agencies, others directly with the photographers of that day. I was fortunate to meet several of those photojournalists including Neal Preston, Armando Gallo, Neil Zlozower, and Lisa Tanner, who opened their archives for me at their studios or homes. I could not believe how many amazing shots exist that have never been seen by fans, shots that captured our musical heroes in their prime.

mccartneypaulwings_rockshowcover_72dpiAnother thing that took a lot of time was combing through more than 100 rock films from the decade, all part of my private collection. You and I know that TV appearances, professionally filmed 35mm movies—even celluloid left in the can for years, sometimes decades after light hit the film—are finally getting home video or streaming media release. I remember going to see many of these films at the local cinema that featured Led Zeppelin, Yes, AC/DC, Alice Cooper, Paul McCartney and Wings, and so many others. Now, just about every major band of the rock world can be seen performing live in one format or another, thanks to Eagle Rock Entertainment, Warner Home Video, and others who are helping to keep their legacies alive. I’m still that guy, the one who collects the high quality digital transfers available on media, rather than streaming them. Having said that, many of these films are available on streaming services like YouTube.

Were there any gigs you didn’t go to which you wished you had seen?

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Oh yeah! For each band I had to select what I think in retrospect was their finest hour –the best album and concert, and the best film covering that band, hopefully for that same tour. In the case for instance of Jethro Tull, I had not seen the Passion Play tour, but I knew through older friends and research that it would have been for me their best, and that is my favorite Tull record after all. Same with Genesis’ Lamb tour, though tribute band The Musical Box recreated it professionally just recently.

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In a few examples, I did not get to see the band in the ‘70s but instead did catch them later. Only three bands out of 36 eluded me completely. I was never inclined to see AC/DC (although I did enjoy the great film, Let There Be Rock!), and Happy The Man never toured the west coast (and, there is no film!). The worst mistake was missing the mighty Led Zeppelin. In the case of the Zep ‘77 tour, I loved Presence, and that was the concert to see, but I was instead booked to see Pink Floyd’s Animals concert just weeks before and budgets kept me from seeing more than one show every couple months.

What was the best gig you ever saw?

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All of that is in the Genesis family – I will never forget the Wind & Wuthering tour in 1977, and the first time I saw Peter Gabriel solo at the Roxy Theater the next year. But number one was Gabriel’s tour for his 4th album (also dubbed Security) which came early in the ‘80s – it’s a bit of a cheat as I cover that show in this “70s” book, but it’s really for me, the epilogue of the ‘70s decade. He absolutely stunned the audience and finally emerged on his own at the level of performance he had achieved while in his former band. Armando Gallo’s unbelievable shots give a very good idea of the drama. As there is literally no film of this seminal tour, we examine the So movie, particularly those songs he performed in the same way as that prior tour (like “Lay Your Hands On Me”).

Others in the top tier include Paul McCartney’s Wings Over America tour, Queen’s News of the World tour during which Freddie held the audience in complete awe, Kansas Point on Know Return featuring Steve Walsh giving the most physical performance I’ve ever seen, Dixie Dregs with their stunning virtuosity, Camel, ELO – so many incredible shows I will never forget. For the Floyd, while Animals was spectacular, I suffered a bit of “bad vibe” that night in the gi-hugic Anaheim Stadium, and it was eventually to be Roger Water’s restaging of the Wall this decade that became the ultimate live experience of that band’s music for me.

How did you go about the picture research?

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This was the most difficult part of the book’s production, hands down. Thank God for Google, but even with all the search engines in the world, it was amazingly difficult to find some of the photographers and shots that eventually did appear in the book. One snap alone, of Camel in concert with the London Symphony Orchestra on the night they recorded The Snow Goose together, took 7 months to find and it was sitting in the vaults at The Daily Mail, having also been recently unearthed by a researcher at PROG magazine (RIP). I never found shots of Ambrosia and Happy The Man until I actually reached a member from the band themselves, who had boxes “in the attic” with old shots and memorabilia. A lot of the shots in the book came from slides I was allowed to borrow and scan at Dickermans in San Francisco.

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Ambrosia’s David Pack, Joe Puerta

What is your next project?

TalkingHeads_SMSPoster_72dpiWell, this book was so expensive to produce that I have to sell all the copies I ordered during this year. Provided that happens, I will move to the next decade, sliding into the ‘80s with late ‘70s punk, then covering the era of New Wave music, including bands like Depeche Mode, The Cocteau Twins, Japan, Echo & The Bunnymen and so many others that were part of the second “British invasion!” I’m really looking forward to that as I’ve not seen any great ‘80s genre books that include what for me were the best bands of that decade with any kind of stunning photography.

Thank you to Jon Downes and his long time support of my work at GonzoWeekly.com

Hey ma, I got the cover!

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Rick Wakeman & Tony Ashton’s Gastank

wakemangastank_ad-breakRick Wakeman just released DVD and CD/DVD sets of the original series called Gastank, a unique show aired in the U.K. on channel 4 back in 1982-1983. It featured Wakeman interviewing a host of musical artists as diverse as Steve Hackett, Ian Paice, Andy Fairweather Low, John Entwistle, Eric Burdon, and Godley and Crème, then joining these musicians for a few live numbers with stalwart cohost Tony Ashton and friends. The show was beloved by fans of rock and prog music who had the chance to see some well established rock ‘n’ roll heroes, along with a few overlooked artists of the era, play bar blues, classic, progressive old and new songs live in an intimate setting. It’s available via Wakeman’s site and at Gonzo Multimedia here: http://www.gonzomultimedia.com/product_details/15960/Rick_Wakeman-Gastank_(DVD).html

Anyone interested Wakeman’s mid-period work, or any of the guests on this show are advised to pick up a copy of this rare set. Every segment is interesting and even of historical importance in some way, be it the interviews or live numbers. One of the best moments of the set is Wakeman and Ashton sharing a piano for a hilarious bit simply called “Keyboard Adlib.” That and Steve Hackett’s “Boogie” alone are well worth the price of the set! Sound good? Read on…

Background / Interview with Rick Wakeman

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Rick Wakeman and Steve Hackett

The year is 1982. Popular music has gone through several tumultuous years, an understatement for artists of the time. Classic and progressive rock musicians are at that moment reimaging themselves, their sound, and their stagecraft, in light of new influences, and the tremendous impact of music videos via the juggernaut called MTV. Punk has come and mostly gone, but continues to influence a host of bands, all plying slightly different musical territory, be it goth, ska, “new wave” dance or one of any number of increasingly eclectic musical styles.

In the face of these events, Wakeman and Tony Ashton, established a new television show called GasTank. Produced by Paul Knight with associate Ralph Tobert, Directed by Gerry Mill and recorded in a pub setting with stage and small studio audience, the show aired in the U.K. on channel 4 in 1982-1983.

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John Entwistle and Rick Wakeman

As an example, GasTank #1 kicks off with a couple of pieces by Ashton and Wakeman, then features friends Rick Parfitt from Status Quo, a reggae band The Cimarons, then legends Alvin Lee and Eric Burdon. Ashton brings a sense of humor, honky tonk bar-band blues piano and gritty vocals to his featured songs – his bits are often tongue-in-cheek and always enjoyable. Wakeman is, well, the man and musician we’ve come to know over so many years in the business – funny, disarming even, and as always brilliant on the keys. The house band includes long time Wakeman drummer Tony Fernandez with Chas Cronk and Jerome Rimson on bass. The rest of the crew play their parts whether an original tune from their catalog, or a suitable cover, such as when Eric Burdon introduces a long time Elvis Presley favorite. It’s intimate and thoroughly enjoyable for any fan or interested viewer.

Three cameramen, Richard Dellow, Andy Watt, and Mike Hand Bowman capture the action primarily from positions just in front of the small stage, or on it, affording us an upfront view of fingers, frets, and performances. The sound by Mike Erander and enduring quality of the footage itself is exceptional.

GasTank has long been unavailable on home video in any format. The box set from Gonzo Multimedia puts that right. It includes every episode of the series, presented over 2 DVDs (and in the larger set 3CDs as well) along with an interviews book and other goodies.

But there is a bit more to the story of GasTank, and for that we talked to the man himself, Rick Wakeman to learn more.

Rick, how did the concept for Gas Tank come about?

My dear friend Tony Ashton came up with it. The whole idea of the program, of playing live with people was his brainchild. He came up with the name as well, which I thought was a great name – back then “gas” was a hip expression. He was wonderful to play with – all Tony wanted to do was play piano, which worked well cause I played synths. He was a great boogie-woogie rock player – bands like Ashton, Gardener and Dyke and all the other groups he worked with are evidence to that. He was so, so good. It was sad when he died. One of the nice things is when I watch the programs – it’s the memories of seeing Tony play and all the good times that we had that I cherish. We did have amazing amounts of fun.

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Tony Ashton and band

What to you are some of the standout moments from the interviews or performances from the show, from your perspective?

There were quite a few standout performances. Phil Lynott was a great friend who came on and you’ll see when you watch it, he introduced a new member of Thin Lizzy, one that became a very important part of the band. John Entwistle’s solo appearance will remain with me forever. I asked him to come on – he was a great friend. I said “I want you to do a long solo – imagine an extended “My Generation” type of solo.” He said okay. So we wrote this piece for him and he did it in rehearsal. It was a good solo – a bit subdued, but I thought it would be really nice. Then his roadie took me aside and said ‘be prepared for tonight – that was just playing around.’ The solo he did for the taping was just jaw dropping – he absolutely knew how to take it to that next level. We had some good fun things on there. Suzy Quatro, Maggie Bell – lots of other performances. There were fun things as well – odd comments made, John Entwistle made one comment and his ex-wife sued him!

We had a great house band – we had a lot of fun with the house band – all great friends and camaraderie. Alvin Lee was on as a guest and he was fantastic. He loved it so much, he asked to come down and play in the house band. We had that with a few of the guest musicians – not just playing and leaving but most staying all day and watching the other people that came in. We had it set up like a club, and it was a great idea and it would still stand up today.

Give us one or two humorous anecdotes about the proceedings, something that went wrong or was surprising or even shocking?

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Rick Parfitt came in and it was the first time he had ever performed solo. And I remember him saying to me “I’m nervous, I never get nervous!” He helped overcome his nerves before we did the interview, by getting completely rat-faced; mind you I was as well. I sat with him doing the interview and I saw the lights were on but no one was in, and he could see in me there wasn’t anyone in either! I asked him a question (mumbles) “how did it feel to do your first solo” and he just grinned – and you can’t see this part because the footage was lost, but he came off the stool and he stumbled by me and landed on the floor (whack). The producers voice came down from upstairs and he said, “probably best to do this interview tomorrow!”

We used to do the interviews after the recordings, we would record in the morning then we would have a liquid lunch then we would do the interviews in the afternoon. They organized a green room, which was heavily stocked with alcohol – better than most pubs and bars. After the incident with Parfitt the green room was only opened after the interviews had been done!

More of this interview can be found inside the set’s booklet, including artists of today who would be on Rick’s wish list if there show were to be revived… and a recollection by dearly departed talent Tony Ashton

Not included, however, is Rick’s perfect pitch for the DVD/CD Box Set:

I can truly recommend that you buy this wonderful collection. The reason I can say this is, I’d buy it myself! It contains so much history, so much fantastic playing, interviews that will never be heard again from a lot of people whom sadly are no longer with us. There’s some music that was never recorded anywhere else. It’s part of our heritage and history and if you’re old enough to remember it, it will bring back great memories. If you weren’t even born at the time, I’m sure you will like a lot of the music, and will like going back and learning how so much of it came about. The GasTank collection, there will never be anything else quite like it, I can guarantee that!

 

Best Rock Concerts of 2016

Best Rock Concerts of 2016

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.

More than half of these bands can be found in my new book Rockin’ the City of Angels which I am happy to say is now available on Amazon here.

For this patron, the best of the year:

ARW (Anderson Rabin Wakeman), Yes, Rick Wakeman

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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.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Relayer/Solos tour:

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Steve Hackett, Sting/Gabriel

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.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour:

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The Cure

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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!

 

David Gilmour

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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.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during The Wall tour:

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Photo (c) Brian Weiner / The Illusion Factory

 

LCD Soundsystem

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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.

 

ELO

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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.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Out of the Blue tour:

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Coldplay

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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!

 

Adele

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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.

 

The Who

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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!

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Tommy tour:

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Photo (c) Neal Preston

 

Alice Cooper

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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!

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Welcome to my Nightmare tour:

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Bad Company

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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

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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.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Breakfast in America tour

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Styx

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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!

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Pieces of Eight tour:

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Ambrosia

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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.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Somewhere I’ve Never Traveled tour:

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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!

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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!

 

Yes it is Anderson Rabin Wakeman!

arw_anderson1sf_144dpiLike 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.

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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.

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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.

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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. arw_louismolino_144dpiRabin 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.

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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!

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(and I got my new book #RockinTheCityOfAngels signed 🙂

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Roger Hodgson’s Desert Spiritual

hodgsonroger_ad_150dpiRoger Hodgson performed at the Spotlight 29 Indian Casino in Coachella last Saturday night, December 3, 2016 to an audience of adoring fans. It was a heart rendering, spiritual journey through a bit of Hodgson’s fine solo work, topping a generous helping of the songs he wrote for the band Supertramp.

Anyone within range of an FM radio in the 1970’s heard a lot from Supertramp. The group was led by a marriage of the uniquely talented principal members, Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies. Their breakup in 1983, which ended with Rick taking over the band, and Roger taking the highway, is one of the saddest in rock history. A decade before the split, after two early releases that were not commercially successful, the band clicked, releasing three popular masterworks in succession, Crime of the Century (1974), Crisis? What Crisis? (1975), and Even in the Quietist Moments… (1977). Each of these albums blended pop, jazz, and progressive rock music into a crowd-pleasing brew that allowed them to build a growing worldwide audience.

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By the time of their best selling release Breakfast in America (1979) they were mega stars, finally getting a #1 record in the states (#3 in the UK.) Many of the songs from that album are pure pop, and they became radio staples, including the title track, “The Logical Song,” and “Take the Long Way Home.” The album also contained several deeper cuts including Hodgson’s “Lord is it Mine” and “Child of Vision” – the fabulous workout for dual keys, Hodgson on Wurlitzer electric keyboard (a signature part of the album’s sound) and Davies on grand piano. After one more studio album …Famous Last Words… (1982), and tour the partnership fractured.

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This Hodgson solo tour was billed as the Breakfast in America show, and there was truth in that advertising, as all of the Hodgson-penned tracks listed above were included in the set list. On top of those selections, there was a generous helping of four from Crisis? What Crisis? (my absolute favorite); the one-two lead-in “Easy Does It” and “Sister Moonshine” were included with the more rare songs “Lady” and “A Soapbox Opera.” Fantastic! Key tracks from Crime of the Century, included set opener “School,” pop hit “Dreamer,” message song “If Everyone Was Listening” and arguably Hodgson’s most beautiful, heart-rending track “Hide In Your Shell” were highlights. One of Hodgson’s solo songs, “Death and a Zoo” was particularly fitting at this venue, as the message of kindness to animals was in line with Native American attitudes and music, including a tribal drum workout that shined. Closing the set, “Fool’s Overture” sated the prog crowd, while encores -“Had a Dream (Sleeping with the Enemy)” (his first solo single) and of course “Give a Little Bit” – kept everyone close to the stage and on their feet.

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Hodgson was in fine voice, able to reach smoothly into his upper register, which is critical for these songs to hit their mark. His playing on keys and particularly on twelve-string acoustic guitar was impeccable. The band was very strong as they deftly brought down the volume during sensitive bits, while punching the rockier moments. As the main man is so often on keys, there are times where an additional guitarist could punch things up a bit. But for this patron listening to these songs rendered with two and sometimes three simultaneous keyboards was pure heaven.

Hodgson himself waxed philosophical, as has been his norm during the last decade as he tours as a duo or with band. 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.

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See this enduring artist while the show goes on and the quality of performance is still so outstanding – if you care for this music, or just have interest and an open heart, it will be a priceless evening.

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