Foreigners

Mick and Kelly of Foreigner
Mick and Kelly of Foreigner

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

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

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

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

The Duran Duran Dance Party

Duran Duran
Duran Duran

Still thinking about the Duran Duran gig we caught at Mountain Winery in Saratoga, California, on July 8, 2009. I don’t know what I expected exactly.  This band were such a staple of the ’80s pop scene, that between airplay and MTV there was no missing their constant exposure. When listening to some tracks like the 1983 hit “Reflex” I-yi-yi-yi-yi wanted to run and hide, while at the same time there was a growing list of solid tracks I really loved.  I never saw the band perform live during the 80’s, being that I preferred groups like “Depeche Mode“, “Echo & The Bunnymen” and “Japan” (the latter was a darker more progressive version of Duran Duran) but was intrigued by the idea of going to this current tour.

Simon Le "Bond"
Simon Le "Bond"

So how were they?  Still relevant, still fit and fasionable, and still sounding really really great, this band put on one of the best shows I’ve been to in this millenium. Yes, seriously. The band took a remarkable approach to the show’s set list – instead of stopping between each song, they constructed several long sets of their best material, cross-fading or just transitioning between the tracks seemlessly as if a DJ was behind the scene. These were not medleys, which can be very frustrating – instead the whole tracks were played.  The show therefore ended up being one long dance party and the audience at the winery stood and danced through the entire 2 hour show – something I have not witnessed at this venue since “Simple Minds” conquered the site several years ago. Highlights included “Come Undone”, “Skin Trade”, and of course “Rio” (and, they did not play “Reflex” – whew). For the encore, singer Simon Le Bon donned a white tuxedo to perform their James Bond track, “A View to a Kill”.  A wonderful night to remember.

3 Doors, Down on the 4th

doorsdownJust saw 3 Doors Down on July 4th, at Konocti Harbor, at Clear Lake in northern California.  Arrived at the lakeside resort at about 4 pm to a party that had clearly already started – you know, that slightly awkward situation where everyone but you is already drunk? Seemed like everyone was yelling – almost put my earplugs in before the show even started!

doorsdownpatrioticRegardless, the show was excellent. 3 Doors hail from Mississippi with an assertive, tight, “southern style” of rock infused with plenty of soul and often with positive or patriotic lyrics. Singer Brad Arnold is a solid live performer, and led the band through hits and back catalog including “It’s Not My Time”, “Kryptonite”, and my favorite “When I’m Gone“. Not my usual cup of tea but a strong brew that fit the 4th of July spirit perfectly.

Yes Transcends

Asia Opening
Asia Opening

Finally!  After a year of uncertainty about the future of Yes, I am pleased to report here that the show last night at the Warfield theater in San Francisco exceeded my expectations making the long wait worthwhile.  Asia opened and played a set list that included several songs from their debut, two tracks from the followup, and one from the most recent release. Group members presented something from their past –  John Wetton (King Crimson/In the Court of the Crimson King), Geoff Downes (The Buggles/Video Killed the Radio Star), and Carl Palmer (ELP/Fanfare for the Common Man), each representing a bit of the the history of their 1970’s bands.  While Asia was always this “progressive supergroup gone pop”, their work was pleasent, powerful and certainly less angular than their predecessors.  John Wetton is one of my favorite vocalists and he delivered with accurate, clear vocals throughout the show – awesome and unexpected after all these years.

When Yes took the stage for the opening track, “Siberian Khatru”, any fears that this ensemble would have troubles melted away.  This first track would be a litmus test for any band, given the complex interlocking passages and strong harmonies. This band showed right away that they are up to the task, as Chris Squire (bass), Steve Howe (guitars), and Alan White (drums) played as well as I have seen, and seemed to enjoy themselves during the almost two hour set. Though this music calls for precision timing and accuracy, the band kept a the slight looseness to some passages which added to the experience.  The only minor complaint for me is that while Oliver covered his father’s material (and Geoff/Tony) faithfully, he never really stood out in the mix, but that has been a common affliction of Yes keyboard players other than Rick Wakeman.

Siberian Khatru
Siberians

Most important was the question – would the absence of lead singer Jon Anderson, the zen center of Yes, render the show a lesser form?  Would the emotional integrity of the experience be intact?  Covering for Jon Anderson is even more difficult than what we have seen with other ’70’s acts such as Alan Parsons, Journey, Foreigner, Boston, etc. because Jon is so much part of the fabric of the whole Yes experience.  The main reason most of us love this band is simple, and goes beyond exceptional musicianship and compositions – its that when Yes hits it marks, we are taken somewhere on a transcendent journey, getting in touch with an energy outside ourselves.  The band construct these intense, chaotic passages, which build, and then shift into the most angelic, harmonic major-chord-based resolves imaginable.  Jon seems at the heart of this journey, embodying his spiritual lyrics – often obtuse, but imparting radiant, positive messages.  When this is presented properly in a live concert setting, the results are powerful.  On this night, of course we missed seeing Jon himself, but even without him in this lineup, all was well in the Yes universe.

The current vocalist Benoit David has Continue reading Yes Transcends

Ozric Tentacles Indescribable at the Independent

The Ozrics Live
The Ozrics Live

How many adjectives does it take to describe a band’s sound? Defining the sound of instrumental band Ozric Tentacles could take a couple dozen, but might best be summarized as “psychedelic-hippy-jam-trance-reggae-space-rock.” More to the point, listening to a track from the 2000 release “The Hidden Step,” my son Aidan described them as “Arabian porn music!” In reality, the Ozrics mix jazz-fusion, reggae/dub, and space-rock forms with eastern flavored trance/ambient, sequencers and sound effects, creating a unique brew that is truly their own. Listen to the track “Sunhair” from 1993’s “Jurassic Shift” and you will know instantly if this music is for you. If it is, you will find more than 25 varied and rewarding album releases to explore.

Ed Wynne
Ed Wynne

Last Wednesday night, May 27, 2009 at the Independent, founding member guitarist-synth player Ed Wynne led what is now a four piece band through a cosmic three hour set. The set list included several earlier tracks, such as “Saucers” from 1991’s “Stangeitude” (a personal favorite) which Ed played on acoustic guitar.  These identifiable tracks were needed to balance the more jam-band oriented excursions, and I would have preferred more of them, particularly in the second half of the show. During many of these segments the keyboards were too far back in the mix, robbing the sound of some of the more trance-inspired bits. Still it was an amazing set, and very effectively showcased new material from 2009’s superb “The Yum Yum Tree“.

This unique band Continue reading Ozric Tentacles Indescribable at the Independent

Keane at the Fox

The band live
The band live

Keane is one of the few current bands I know whose sound is piano and keyboard driven, bursting on the scene in 2004 with their instant classic “Hopes and Fears“.  Keyboard player Tim Rice-Oxley is dynamic and assertive in concert, rocking his electric piano back and forth as he emphasizes the power chords that drive such hits as “Somewhere Only We Know”. Singer Tom Chaplin is one of the more expressive vocalists on the stage today, unafraid to be demonstrative and emotive as he puts every bit of energy into his soaring vocals. Only drummer Richard Hughes hangs Continue reading Keane at the Fox

Six Wives Live, Live!

Rick at the castle in pink
Magnificent!

Seeing Rick Wakeman perform “The Six Wives of Henry the VIII” this month with symphony, choir, and band was easily one of the top three concert experiences of my life.  A bit of background:

On a rainy day in 1974 one of my crowd’s older friends came down to our hangout with two records that would come to shape my musical tastes forever.  One was Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung”, and the second was Rick Wakeman’s “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”.  We sat transfixed by these exhilarating albums and in particular Rick’s “Journey” sounded fantastic, mystical, as a perfect blend of rock and classical music.  My record collection began when I ran out and acquired these two releases along with Continue reading Six Wives Live, Live!

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