Tag Archives: Fleetwood Mac

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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Rockin’ the City of Angels…Why?

Click here to buy Rockin’ the City of Angels, the new book now available at Amazon.com

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My first book, Rockin’ the City of Angels, is off the presses and at the warehouse. It will be shipping starting Tuesday, December 27!

Yesterday I was asked why I wrote the book…it’s worth a moment of reflection:

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Freddie Mercury of Queen, the stunning photo (c) Lisa Tanner

When I was a teenager (way way back in the 1970s), I was lucky to be able to attend dozens of rock concerts staged in Los Angeles, the City of Angels. Rock music had become increasingly relevant to my life, and I was drawn to complex works and the challenging, sometimes fantastical elements of the genre known as “progressive rock.” My collection of records and collection of concert cite stubs grew to include prog-rock bands like Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Pink Floyd, along with some of the more creative harder rocking contemporaries like Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, and Queen, as well as bands from North America like Kansas, Styx, and Heart. My youthful fascination grew into a lifelong passion for music in general, and for progressive or classical rock music in particular. My enthusiasm was stoked by seeing these bands live in concert, where increasingly elaborate theatrical productions dramatized the themes of many of these concept albums. These concerts were almost religion to my growing list of fellow concertgoers.

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Yes Relayer/Solos Tour

I wrote this book as homage to rock music of the ‘70s—in concert and on film. It tells the story of three-dozen key concert performances from this era; illuminating the genius of the best progressive and classical rock acts whose concerts I attended. I spent two years tracking down a selection of iconic photographs from those unforgettable events, taking me to agency basements, file drawers brimming with slides, to band member and photographers homes, to collections both organized, and out of control! In the process, I’ve been fortunate to meet many of the talented photojournalists of the era, including Neal Preston, Armando Gallo, Jorgen Angel, Neil Zlozower, Lisa Tanner, Jim Summaria, and many others. Many thanks go out to these artists, who captured these consummate rock musicians in their prime, frozen in time in arresting images.

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David Bowie; Station to Station Tour – One of my favorite photos in the book!

In addition, I’ve combed through more than 100 rock films from the decade, all part of my private collection. 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 that cooperalice_dvdcover_3x4_72dpifeatured Led Zeppelin, Yes, AC/DC, Alice Cooper, Paul McCartney and Wings at the local cinema, flicking lighters and hollering at the screen. Now, just about every major band of the era can be seen performing live in one format or another, thanks to the dedicated teams at Eagle Rock Entertainment, Warner Home Video, and others who are helping to keep their legacies alive and to introduce the power and majesty of this adventurous music to new generations.

Although some of these bands are still touring, their time is waning, and soon these films will be the only way to recapture their extraordinary live performances. I believe these films are important documents of rock music performance in our life times. Those of us who were there found more than just good times at these concerts. Those shows brought us together to share profound, even life-changing experiences that bonded us forever.

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Fleetwood Mac’s incomparable Stevie Nicks

That’s what led me to write this book, and work for months on end with my designer Tilman Reitzle to render these photos and my recollections into a stunning tome. Check it out…. as we would have said… it’s bitchin’

Fleetwood Mac’s Public Rumours

FleetwoodMac_RumoursCover_72dpiFleetwood Mac is one of the most popular and successful bands of the last four decades. Their mega-hit albums Fleetwood Mac (1975) and Rumours (1977) were staples of the FM airwaves in Southern California where I grew up. Each member of the band came with a public persona that seemed real, not something manufactured by the music press, where they appeared frequently. Many of my friends hung their posters, and followed their exploits closely, particularly due to their very personal, confessional lyrics and their appeal as representatives of who we were at that point in the 70’s. Recently the band re-released these albums in deluxe collector’s editions, and they each have considerable merit.

While the band began life as a British blues act in 1967, numerous personnel changes resulted in a cross-pond partnership of both British and American musicians that together had global appeal. The breakthrough came when core members Mick Fleetwood (drums), John McVie (bass) and his wife Christine McVie (keyboards, vocals) recruited Lindsey Buckingham (guitar, vocals) and his then girlfriend Stevie Nicks (vocals) to join the already well-honed trio.

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The Rosebud Film by Michael Collins 1977

As if to underscore a fresh start, the newly constituted band titled their breakthrough album Fleetwood Mac released in 1975. After extensive touring to back the record, it reached #1 on the U.S. charts. It’s a brilliant collection of enchanting stories, rockers FleetwoodMac_Rosebud2_72dpiand ballads, led by the defining Stevie Nicks composition “Rhiannon” along with Christine’s “Say You Love Me” and “Over My Head.” Lindsey Buckingham’s brooding rocker “I’m So Afraid” became a concert staple featuring an extended guitar solo highlighting his unique fingerpicking style. Everyone I knew had that record, whether they were into freak music, prog, or just good rock n’ roll, such was the breadth of their appeal.

FleetwoodMac_Rosebud1_72dpiFrom the moments just before and after their new union, each band member went through tumultuous events in their romantic relationships, and these were covered extensively at the time, and to this day in the media. The lyrics reflected this well, as so many of their songs were about love and relationships, and were or seemed to be autobiographical. Fans knew the stanzas by heart; they read the stories and followed the band partly due to these dramas, cheering the musicians on and sometimes watching for a stray glance between Stevie and Lindsey, or other signs of emotional import. This became a poignant kind of theater, illuminating life’s triumphs and travails, starring a cast of rock heroes. It became well known that drummer Mick Fleetwood’s wife had an affair as the old band disintegrated, leading to their divorce, and that John and Christine McVie ended their marriage. In addition Buckingham and Nicks broke off their romantic relationship. Mick summed it up himself during interviews saying “the whole band’s gone through a complete emotional trauma,” adding that being in Fleetwood Mac was “more like being in group therapy!” All of this transpired between 1974 and 1976, and the drama was captured in perfect prose and harmony on their next album Rumours released in 1977.

FleetwoodMac_Rosebud3_72dpiIt’s a testament to the determination of these artists that they were able to pull it together and record an album like Rumours with everything that was apparently going on in their personal lives. The lyrics Stevie and Lindsey wrote often directly referenced their romantic crisis, ruminating on the reasons for failed relationships in the upbeat “Go Your Own Way” and ethereal “Dreams,” and offering stark commentary on cocaine addiction in “Gold Dust Woman.” Christine McVie’s relatively cheerful songs “Don’t Stop” and “You Make Loving Fun” the latter featuring her skills on the funky clavinet lift the mood, along with Buckingham’s “Never Going Back Again.” Concert staple and band composition “The Chain” summed up their collective romantic travails – “Run in the shadows, damn your love, damn your lies.” The music was a spectacular demonstration of the classic rock form, tinged by the California sound featuring the lovely three-part harmonies of Buckingham, Nicks and McVie, all backed by Mick Fleetwood’s steady laid back beat, and John McVie’s resonant warm bass. The album was their first #1 in the UK while lasting most of the year on the U.S. charts, reaching over 40 million sales over time, becoming one of the most successful rock albums of our era.

FleetwoodMac_FMLiveCover_72dpiThe next album Tusk took a more adventurous direction, and could be compared to The Beatles White Album in the breadth of its music and composition, and the difficulty the band had getting through the long period of tinkering and recording in the studio. Anything was bound to sell less than Rumours, particularly a double album, but that is not a reflection on the contents, which are startling, and arguably represent their greatest work. This version of the band recorded their first live album on the tour to support Tusk. Appropriately titled Live, the double album is a sprawling, nearly complete set list from that time, along with an additional studio recording of “The Farmer’s Daughter.” While it’s a fitting document of the band’s live performances, the newly uncovered Rumours concert recordings caught the band on the upswing, and are superior for the energy and verve on display.

FleetwoodMac_RumoursLive77_72dpiThat audio recording, simply titled Fleetwood Mac Live – 1977 Rumours World Tour, is part of the multi-disc re-release of the Rumours album completed in 2015. Coming directly on the heels of the album’s recording, the songs are culled from multiple shows on the tour, including Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Nashville and Columbia, South Carolina. The live renditions are much tighter than the Tusk tour Live album, containing aggressive, true to studio versions of “Monday Morning,” “Gold Dust Woman,” and a nearly eight minute version of Nicks’ classic “Rhiannon,” introduced by Stevie simply, “This is a song about a witch,” and ending with some of her most gravelly rock n’ roll vocals on record. Hard, driven versions of “The Chain” and “World Turning” are also highlights of the set, along with a straight-ahead rendition of “Never Going Back Again,” a song that Lindsey expanded into an acoustic jam on later tours.

ON FILM

FleetwoodMac_TuskDocCover_72dpiFor years, the only officially available footage of this era’s lineup was part of a one-hour documentary made during the time of Tusk. Released by Warner Home Video on videotape, Fleetwood Mac Documentary and Live Concert captured the band in studio and on tour supporting their artistic masterpiece Tusk. Ten songs are presented in whole or in part highlighting Stevie’s songs “Sisters of the Moon,” “Angel,” and “Sara,” the latter clip used to make a video that found heavy rotation at MTV. Lindsey belts out his vocals for “Go Your Own Way,” and “Not That Funny,” a clip also used on MTV, and usually credited as being a response to the punk movement. A rousing rendition of “The Chain” captures the band as a whole, and Christine’s “Songbird” ends the show nicely, though marred by rolling end-credits.

Much of the “behind the scenes footage” is worthwhile, though some of it is superfluous, for instance we see Mick taking oxygen, Stevie fluffing her hair, and John taking a smoke backstage before an encore. Mick mugs for the camera when presented with a type of voodoo doll, before explaining how he ended up becoming the band’s manager. The in-studio clips are interesting, the best by far being Stevie working side by side with Lindsey, recording the actual vocal track for “Angel.” She then explains that though she usually writes “intense, serious, dark songs,” it was meant to be an “up” song that ended up having an eeriness to it. Fans cheer as Lindsey hugs her during the live performance. In one segment, Lindsey says his real value to the band is not as a guitar player or writer, but “as someone who can take x amount energy flowing through different people and somehow formulate to some degree how things should sound in studio.” Stevie is shown doing ballet, opining that it’s important that she have interests outside rock n’ roll, as a true Gemini. Christine is shown sailing and shares her origin as a bass player in a blues band prior to her college years and time as a window dresser, concluding with “I paid my dues.” But the real treat is the live performances, which are electrifying, and these remain the best official footage of the band in concert.

FleetwoodMac_Rumours_RosebudCover_72dpiMore recently, the Rosebud Film by Michael Collins was released as part of the aforementioned Rumours box set. Clocking in at just thirty minutes, it is a long sought 1977 documentary film created to promote the European leg of that tour. It includes interviews, rehearsal clips, and live performances of six songs. The opener “World Turning,” and closer “I’m So Afraid” document the band live at an outdoor festival. “Rhiannon,” “Say You Love Me,” “Go Your Own Way,” and “You Make Loving Fun” are very effectively captured indoors with an eerie moonlit tree-lined backdrop, which graced many a poster and promotional photo of the band at that time. These clips were also shown on late night TV music shows like The Midnight Special. As with the live disc, these performances are defining, energetic renditions of the selected tracks, while the band was truly in top form. In the best quote of the back stage interviews, Stevie comments on the band’s diverse wardrobe, “I know sometimes we look like Lindsey’s all Chinese guy in his Kimono, and I look like I’m going to a Halloween party, Christine looks like she’s going to be confirmed in the Catholic church, and Mick’s going to a Renaissance fair and John’s going to the beach!” While the Rosebud film and 1977 live audio are key for any fan or collector, in the case of video, the Tusk documentary is superior. Fans await an official release on more current media, as this gem is not yet officially available on DVD or streaming services.

The Mac continues to tour to this day, now back with the complete lineup after Christine McVie’s short retirement. Amazingly they sound as good in concert today as ever, another testament to this enduring ensemble.

Fleetwood Mac ...Today
Fleetwood Mac …Today

Top Ten Concerts from 2014

kate_doug_hamThis year has been one of the greatest ever for live music based on the sheer number of amazing rock concerts I was privileged to witness. Many milestones were hit – Kate Bush performing 22 sold out shows in London 35 years after her first and only tour – Stevie Wonder doing all of Songs in the Key of Life – his masterwork from which had never played more than 3-4 numbers – Fleetwood Mac with Christine McVie back after 16 years absence from touring – Yusuf / Cat Stevens, back in the U.S. 38 years since his last appearance here. To top it off, Sir Paul McCartney, playing the final event at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, the site of the last Beatles concert some 50 years prior. So quite a few firsts, which may become “lasts” – one never knows.

Special mention this year goes to the “progressive rock cruise” called Cruise to the Edge. On that journey my lovely wife joined me and we saw Steve Hackett, Yes, UK, Tangerine Dream, Marillion, and most importantly for me, Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM, from Italy) and Three Friends (Gentle Giant’s guitarist Gary Green and drummer Malcolm with full band of hired help). Both of these shows were absolutely fantastic – both celebrating 70’s progressive rock and keeping it alive with surprising precision and power.

Hard to pick a top ten out of these, but here goes:

  1. Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo Theater, London

IMG_1127This was one of those “Once-in-a-lifetime” experiences as we witnessed the third of what were 22 highly anticipated Kate Bush concerts she staged after 35 years absence. As the night’s proceedings and the accompanying media frenzy proved, this long absence was a terrible shame. Focusing on The Hounds of Love (1985) and Aerial (2005) irked some fans, but it gave her the chance to perform two acts of the best rock theater ever staged – heights only reached by the likes of Pink Floyd and Genesis. Absolutely brilliant – here’s hoping they filmed it as well!

  1. Three Friends (Gentle Giant), CTTE

P1000511Because I had not been able to see Gentle Giant until their last ever show at the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles, I had not seen them perform many of their complex classic works live. Gary Green (guitar) and Malcolm Mortimore (drums) hired a band of crack musicians calling themselves Three Friends and changed all that on the cruise as they tore through almost all of the third Gentle Giant album, Three Friends (1972) along with something from almost every record made between their debut and Interview. Early in they played “The Moon is Down” – one of four tracks they would include from Acquiring the Taste (1971). They perfectly nailed this dense composition going beyond all expectations. For this fan the whole experience was true nirvana.

  1. Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM), CTTE 

P1000160PFM was Italy’s answer to the British progressive rock invasion of the ‘70’s. Their records were unique, beautiful, and completely original. We had been able to catch them early in this millennia at a prog rock festival, but the shows on the cruise beat that, as the band covered lots of tracks from their first five releases, along with a few more recent, including one from PFM In Classic – Da Mozart A Celebration. A highlight of the show was their performance of “Promenade The Puzzle”, an early classic with brilliant lyrics by former King Crimson lyricist Pete Sinfield.  It was a truly rare treat to witness these maestros perform live, and to interview them for Gonzo Weekly as well!

  1. Yusuf / Cat Stevens, Nokia Live Theater, Los Angeles

cat3Cat Stevens has been absent from the stage in the U.S. for 38 years. The first concert I ever attended was his last – the Majikat tour in 1976 with my sister Sue. My 7th grade Social Studies teacher had us reading and interpreting his lyrics in class, focusing on his seminal album Tea for the Tillerman. At that first concert, in my 15th year, I discovered the amazing impact seeing an artist perform live could have on a heart. “The Wind” was the first song on the set list back then, and again when Yusuf / Cat Stevens came to the Nokia Live theater in December. What was surprising and gratifying about this show was that he chose songs from his whole career, including the Foreigner suite, Days of the Old Schoolyard from IsItSo, and others. His voice is aged like fine wine and the show was superb.

  1. Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life Tour, Oakland Arena

stevie_bandUnbelievable, fantastic, heartwarming, tear jerking joyous show in which one of our finest artists played his entire masterwork from 1976, sounding like he’s never aged a day since. Joined by 30 musicians including a 10 piece orchestra, 6 piece horn section, three keyboard players, three drummers, numerous backup singers, bass, and guests, each track was played with it’s perfect accompaniment, whether that meant Stevie alone, as on “If It’s Magic” or all 30 as with the anthemic finale “As”.

  1. King Crimson, Warfield Theater, San Francisco

KC_Oct4_BowThis progressive rock juggernaut brought their seven-man supersonic distortion machine to the states for a series of highly anticipated concerts. These were epic events for King Crimson fans. For the first time in what seems like forever, leader Robert Fripp agreed to dust off older tracks like “Pictures of a City” from In the Wake of Poseidon (1970), “Sailor’s Tale” and “The Letters” from Islands (1971). Given he had winds genius Mel Collins in the band they were able to reproduce those rare treats with surprising ferocity, particularly “The Letters” which was just stunning. The three-man drum assault was legendary. I’ve never seen Robert appear more happy and excited to be addressing his followers!

  1. Elbow, Fox Theater, Oakland

P1010130Elbow played one of the top shows we’ve seen this year.  Singer Guy Garvey led the group through a lengthy set that included much of the latest album, along with highlights from their catalog of recordings.  What was really impressive is how this singer emotes and connects with the audience.  At times the languid pace threatens to overstay it’s welcome, but this band can meander between slow and soulful to more medium paced bits, building the dynamics of a song until the audience can be swept up in the emotion and joy of their beautiful melodies, their meaningful lyrics, and Guy’s silky smooth vocal delivery.  In this way I would compare them to The National – one of the other great live acts seen last spring.

  1. The National, Greek Theater, Oakland

P1000846The band were in fine form this year, supporting 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me, driving their slow burning moody compositions to lovely crescendos – punctuating dark passages with horns and carefully placed guitars and keys to enliven the procession.  Matt is a baritone and as such inhabits the sound spectrum at the low end, spilling out his unique lyrics, huddling over his mic, or stalking the stage to accentuate the sound of their work.  This time out, the band backed the volume down during key passages, allowing Matt to be heard clearly and gain additional dynamics in the mix – a clever way to help connect him and the band to the audience.  The show was a wonderful demonstration of their wares – the best yet for this viewer.

  1. The Eels, Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco

Eels_closeupThis American alt-rock band played the best and most impactful show I’ve seen them deliver here in the city. Since so much of singer-songwriter E’s music does tend toward dark and painful subjects (he calls it “soft bummer pop”), his work in large quantities can threaten to depress. However on this night, the crack band of musicians aided the man, teetering perfectly between the melancholy and happy, quirky sides of his catalog, peppering the sadder tracks with the upbeat. Notably, E sang several covers, including lovely renditions of “When You Wish Upon A Star,” (okay small tears were shed) “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis and “Turn on Your Radio” by the similarly underrated and wonderful Nilsson. Friends of soft-bummer pop unite!

  1. Fleetwood Mac, Oakland Arena, Oakland
Christine McVie
Christine McVie

The Mac is back! They rolled into the town for the “On With The Show” tour featuring the return of Christine McVie – singer, songwriter and keyboard player who left the band to retire some 16 years ago. The audience greeted her with rapturous applause. It was wonderful to hear the band whole again, back to their 1975 lineup, which endured for so many years producing mega hits on the albums “Fleetwood Mac” (1975) through Tango in the Night (1987).

 

paul_ticketHonorable mention goes out to other amazing artists we caught this year including Paul McCartney, Yes, UK, Steve Hackett (on his Genesis revisited tour), Kraftwerk, Queen (with “glambert”), Tom Petty, Neil Finn, Midlake, Daniel Lanois, America, Erasure, Elton John, Tears for Fears, Adrian Belew, Paula Frazer, The Musical Box and others. Thank you to Artina for being so open minded and musically inclined, and for taking so many of the best photos we shot during the year. I will have to renew that resolution to catch more new artists this year – we are starting in January with Ty Segall. Happy New Year, everyone….

Fleetwood Mac Go On With The Show

Christine McVie
Christine McVie

Fleetwood Mac rolled into the Oakland Arena on December 3, 2014. The headline for this tour is “On With The Show” featuring the return of Christine McVie – singer, songwriter and keyboard player who left the band to retire some 16 years ago. The audience greeted her with rapturous applause, and after the opening track “The Chain” the band launched directly into one of her best, “You Make Loving Fun.” It was wonderful to hear the band whole again, back to their 1975 lineup, which endured for so many years producing mega hits on the albums “Fleetwood Mac” (1975) through Tango in the Night (1987).

FM_christinebackFor their set list, the band focused on their hits, which has been the norm for the last several tours. As such, the addition of Christine’s tracks “You Make Loving Fun,” “Everywhere,” “Say You Love Me,” “Over My Head,” “Little Lies,” and as the second encore, a beautiful rendition of “Songbird,” with her on grand piano, front and center, helped to freshen the set list.

Mac's Songbird
Mc’Songbird

The rest of the song selections alternated between Stevie and Lindsey’s lead vocal tracks, all of which they have been featuring since 1998. My only wish would be for the band to pull out some more rare tracks, such as “Warm Ways,” “I Don’t Want to Know” or one of Christine’s tracks from Tusk, particularly “Brown Eyes.” I half expected they might pull out “Hypnotized” to pay tribute to Bob Welch who passed away in 2012, but not so. Having said all that, it’s understandable that they focused on their most reliable hits and crowd pleasers, now that they are five once more.

Lindsay Fingerpicking
Lindsay Fingerpicking

The lighting and staging for the show was top notch – the latest in movable screen panels and track lighting used to enrich the events on stage. The main feature was the huge hi-def projection system that filled the screen behind the risers, used for imagery that matched and accentuated the songs, and then also used for closed circuit video of the band in performance. This was particularly effective in capturing the band member’s skills and techniques with live close-ups of their playing.

FM_lindsayafraidAnd what a musical, lyrical performance it was. Lindsey was in top form with his amazing, dexterous fingerpicking style, the likes of which I’ve never seen from any other rock guitarist. Perennial favorites including the explosive acoustic guitar on “Big Love” or the rockin’ blues attack on “I’m So Afraid” fully displayed his remarkable skills and pliant voice. Stevie sounded as good as I’ve heard her, nailing classics like “Sisters of the Moon” and “Landslide” whether the phrase was soft or forceful. Christine sounded great and again made a big difference in the overall sound. Her backing vocals were also quite noticeable on the other songs that featured one of her band mates on lead vocals.

Stevie's Gypsy
Stevie’s Gypsy

What was really noticeable was how personable the band members were. Time was taken between tracks for some fun stories – the longest being Stevie’s intro to “Gypsy” during which she encouraged the audience to follow their dreams. She talked about how she and Lindsey got their start in the bay area, poor but working hard, and described the San Francisco shop “Velvet Underground” with it’s beautiful painted floor and stacks of rock frocks, where all the stars of the era like Janis Joplin, Grace Slick and others shopped for their stage clothing. The already potent lyrics were made more meaningful by the intro:

So I’m back to the velvet underground
Back to the floor that I love
To a room with some lace and paper flowers
Back to the gypsy that I was to the gypsy that I was

FM_fleetwoodThis is the stuff from which great live shows are made, and we got a bit from Christine and Lindsay as well, and at the end of the show receiving another heartfelt sendoff from Stevie and a final farewell from drummer Mick Fleetwood with his characteristic “The Mac is Back!” Indeed, they are.

Lucky 13 – Best Concerts of 2013

IMG_07382013 has been quite a year for live music.  We made it to over thirty shows including a few festivals – Coachella in Palm Desert, Outside Lands, and Not So Silent Night in San Francisco.  I had the chance to travel to Britain twice – once for the Stone Roses followed by two Rick Wakeman shows, and later this fall for a long weekend of gigs including Steve Hackett, Brian Ferry, Peter Gabriel and Camel – what a amazing time that was!  The day after Steve’s show we met Peter briefly at the train station in Manchester before the last night of his “Back to Front” tour.  I told him we had been to see an old friend of his and that tears were shed during “Dancing a With The Moonlit Knight.”  He seemed pleased 🙂

There were a couple of bands we missed – I know if we had been able to see Steve Wilson, Ozric Tentacles or Atoms For Peace they would have made the list – having said that here are the top 13 shows we did attend, in order of rating:

1. Camel, the Barbican Theater, London – speaking of tears being shed, they flowed for Andrew and company at this amazing display of talent so long absent from the stage.  “The Snow Goose” was wonderfully recreated along with a second set of classic Camel tunes.  To be in London in an auditorium of adoring fans, cheering long for this oft forgotten band was an amazing experience.

2. Steve Hackett‘s Genesis revisited tour, Royal Albert Hall, London – Just attending a show at the RAH was one thing, but to have it be Steve playing all early Genesis tracks, and including “Return of the Giant Hogweed” and the aforementioned Dancing was heaven.  Ray Wilson joining to sing two of the tracks was priceless.  The show was really a dream came true for this one, being raised on Genesis and loving it all.  Looking forward to seeing them again on Cruise to the Edge in 2014.

3. Rick Wakeman, family show, Gloucester – I flew over from California with my son to this show and the next night’s stop in Cheltenham.  Have to put this one at the top of the list, as Rick played alongside three of his children, now all grown, as they each performed a couple of tracks, told stories, and even explained Jemma’s bedtime routine to the song of the same name from Family Album.  An afternoon I hope never to forget!

4. Goblin, The Warfield Theater, San Francisco – their first time in the states will hopefully not be their last – a tight set of horror movie soundtrack gems, with backing film clips and a dancer, especially appropriate during “Suspiria.”  This along with a handful of their progressive rock compositions made for a great night with the Italian prog pioneers.

5. Peter Gabriel, Back to Front Tour, Manchester – a great set that began with highlights from Peter’s catalog, followed by the entire So album in proper sequence, with two encores.  It was hard not to miss the darker period just before So, particularly after rousing versions of “The Family and the Fishing Net” and “No Self Control” from his prior two releases.  But all in all, amazing musicianship and exciting delivery recalling the original tour and mid point of Peter’s remarkable career.

6. The Stone Roses, Coachella, Palm Desert – somehow I missed this band on their first time out in 1989.  This year I found their guitarist John Squire, vocalist Ian Brown and the rest of the guys to be a very pleasant surprise – their psychedelic sound revival finding its way back to the stage at what seems like just the right time.  Had the chance to see them again in London a few weeks later with all of us – seemingly everyone in the crowd – singing at the top of our lungs.  Music as the catalyst for love and devotion!

7. Black Sabbath, Shoreline, California – if you suggested in 2012 that these founders of heavy metal would make my top list this year I would have scoffed and made some crack about Satan and bats – but after releasing a stellar album 13 and clearly back in form, we found ourselves head banging joyfully to the actually somewhat proggy sound of these survivors.  Am so glad to have seen and heard Tony live showing his riffs along with most of this band still intact.

8. Depeche Mode, Shoreline, California – These purveyors of doom and redemption sound as great as ever live and master writer Martin Gore may be in his finest voice – I find the drama in their sound goes straight to the soul.  The Beatles of the ’80’s to these ears, with another couple decades of great work after that founding era.

9. The National, Outside Lands, San Francisco – this band delivered an awesome set of their moody fitful music, reminding me at times of Morrissey/Marr with less humor.  When joined for a few tracks by guests The Kronos Quartet, the combination of this tight outfit with metered drums, horns, and strings brought some of their woeful best to transcendent conclusions.

10. Simple Minds, Orpheum Theater, Los Angeles – on their Greatest Hits+ live tour, Simple Minds finally returned to the states after a 10 year hiatus.  Not as rewarding as the 5×5 show we went to see at London’s Roundhouse, but then we did not expect to be as excited about a hits retro above a show dedicated to their first 5 records, which had been spectacular.  This band continues to sound excellent – we are big fans of lead singer Jim Kerr’s vocals and writhe delivery.

11. Heart with Jason Bonham, America’s Cup Pavilion, San Francisco – Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart still rock n’ roll, proving it this year in a double bill with Jason Bonham’s band opening, followed by his return for encore with Heart performing a handful of Zeppelin classics, including a smoking rendition of “Kashmir”, and a beautiful “Rain Song”.  Heart’s best move – pulling off the classic “Mistrel Wind” from Dog & The Butterfly and building to it’s own Zep-like coda – show stopping excellence.

12. Alison Moyet, The Fillmore, San Francisco – Alison is back to electronica, with a great new album, looking fit and sounding as amazing as ever delivering her warm smoky vocals atop those cold synths.  One of only three nights in the states, we felt lucky to be there for the show.

13. Muse, Oracle Arena, Oakland – as they’ve grown during the last dozen years, Muse has become for me increasingly more interesting, particularly live.  An incredible amount of energy flows from the stage as they expertly build anthemic rock tomes to shattering crescendos of sound.  Maybe a notch below the last time around, but a great concert to start off the year.

Honorable mention goes to: The Specials, The Warfield Theater, San Francisco – just had to mention – it’s been a dream of mine to see Terry Hall live, scowling through anything he’s been part of whether it’s The Specials, Fun Boy Three, Colour Field or solo.  To me one of the greatest and most underrated British vocalists alive today.

That’s a wrap.  Thanks also go out to Yes, Ian Anderson, Eels, Bryan Ferry, Fiona Apple, Sea Wolf, Pink, Bad Company, Fleetwood Mac, The Postal Service, Hall and Oates, Pearl Jam, Van Morrison, Capital Cities, and Paul McCartney for making it a great year in music.  Looking at the list, I vow to make it to more new bands this year!