Tag Archives: mel collins

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….

King Crimson Experiment with The Elements

KC_SignageThe progressive rock juggernaut King Crimson brought their seven-man supersonic distortion machine to The Warfield theater in San Francisco on October 3rd and 4th for two highly anticipated concerts, dubbed “The Elements.” These were epic events for anyone seeking a potent, diverse mix of prog, metal, jazz, and classical rock – at times structured, at times improvisational – but all bundled into a challenging mix delivered by this band of expert musicians.

The current Crimson lineup is a ensemble consisting of Robert Fripp (guitar, keys), Jakko Jakszyk (guitars/vocals), Tony Levin (bass), Mel Collins saxophones/flutes), and up front, three drummers Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison and Bill Rieflin. Many of the cast have tenure in the band, others like Harrison, Rieflin, and Jakszyk are new or recently added. Only Jakszyk with Collins and other members of early versions of Crimson paid respect to their initial albums during their tenure in the group 21st Century Schizoid Band – touring around the turn of the millennia. Most of the early work has not seen the bright lights of a concert hall in decades. The set list for these “Elements” shows was spectacular.

KC_AlbumsTo the astonishment and delight of long time fans, Fripp agreed to include older tracks in the set list, beyond the three most commonly played during concerts from 1981 through 2008 (“Larks 1&2”, and “Red”). In contrast, no tracks from the 1980’s version of the band were played. Instead, depending on the night’s set list, the band played three or four pieces that came after 1990, and one or two from the Jakszyk/Fripp/Collins project A Scarcity of Miracles (2011). The night belonged to the early music, which included:

  • 21st Century Schizoid Man – In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)
  • Pictures of a City – In the Wake of Poseidon (1970)
  • Sailor’s Tale, The Letters – Islands (1971)
  • Lark’s Tongues in Aspic, Part One & Two, The Talking Drum – Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (1973)
  • Red, One More Red Nightmare, Starless – Red (1974)

These choices were inspired and balanced – instrumentals and vocals well represented. On top of that, the band was able to reproduce and reinterpret these pieces with ferocity and precision. In particular, the two cuts from Islands were awesome to behold live. “The Letters” tells the story of a woman who comes to learn of her husband’s affair via post from his lover.  Upon receipt the woman reacts:

As if a leper’s face
That tainted letter graced
The wife with choke-stone throat
Ran to the day with tear-blind eyes

KC_Oct4_BowAt the moment Jakszyk sings the last of that line, sax, guitar, drums, and all came crashing in to make a cacophony that sounds like anger, despair, and pain all wrapped into a sonic boom. Once the next verse arrives the quiet renaissance refrain begins again. Played live, these dynamics from the original record were massively amplified. The moment sums up how one could describe so much of Crimson’s work. Fripp’s compositions alternate suddenly between dark and light. A typical track will contain segments of distorted, dissonant but rhythmic sound creating almost unbearable tension and finally resolve to a peaceful passage made up of quiet beautiful tones. The black notes vs. the white – the sun and moon, the Larks’ tongue and the Aspic – all part of this yin and yang. Both were on full display for these two shows.

Only the bows for photos!
Only the bows for photos!

The band looked energized and pleased to be delivering this material. Collins played aggressively and magnificently on winds – at times with him on the sax the band actually swings! Levin demonstrated his unparalleled capabilities on upright and electric basses and Chapman stick. Jakszyk sang beautifully on key, with controlled vibrato, and clear delivery – only “One More Red Nightmare” showing a bit of strain. The front line of three drummers worked miracles with the dense material, and before the final encore we were treated to a three-man drum solo where the skills of each were highlighted. Robert, playing in the light finally, says in an interview video, “I’m in a different place in my life” and it shows in his playing and demeanor. In fact, almost the entire concert was played under plain white lights – only during the final track of the main set, Starless, did the lights slowly change to red, echoing the emotions brought from the intense “one note” guitar solo that builds to that masterful track’s resolve.

KC_ticketBoth shows were challenging, rewarding, and exceptionally well presented – an impressive achievement for this groundbreaking 45-year-old musical collective. Take a quiet moment to hope for more than this first 22-date tour from these artists.

21st Century Crimson Glory

21stcenturyKing Crimson is reincarnate this year with Robert Fripp and Jakko Jakszyk leading the band, joined by winds wizard Mel Collins along with Tony Levin on bass and three drummers – Gavin Harrison, Pat Mastelotto, and Bill Rieflin.  This will represent a major event in progressive rock circles as Fripp and his Crimson vehicle have a rich history as pioneers and practitioners of the form.

Of particular note for this new lineup is the inclusion of Jakko Jakszyk up front.  Jakko led an alumnus group of former Crimson band members called 21st Century Schizoid Band in the early 2000’s.  He was joined by brothers Michael & Peter Giles, Ian McDonald, and Mel Collins each from early versions of the band. They were captured live in Japan via high quality video production aptly titled “21st Century Schizoid Band – Live in Japan” in 2002, available from Gonzo Multimedia.

For any fan of live concert video and the early work of King Crimson, this disc is a must have both for it’s content and expert production values.  The track list is rich with early Crimson gems, absent from the stage for so many years.  After the end of the 1970’s, Fripp primarily performed “Lark’s Tongue in Aspic part II”, and “Red,” from the 70’s period, both amazing instrumental classics, but representing a pretty limited span of the band’s rich history.  Occasionally another early track has been performed, but this release includes a wealth of material from their first four albums including four songs from their debut, In the Court of the Crimson King.  Other gems like “Catfood” from In the Wake of Posieden, “Formentera Lady” and “Ladies of the Road” from Islands, two from McDonald and Giles, and other solo work are included. Another early live release available on CD, Pictures of a City -Live in New York, includes tracks from Lizard, which had never been performed live.

21st century schizoid band 1Jakko’s vocal delivery in this live setting are perfectly suited to the variety of early material, particularly given the the number of vocalists represented during these early shifting lineups. The rest of the band is in great form each being themselves quality musicians.  The alumni association did not last more than a few years so this DVD of the show in Japan is an important and thoroughly enjoyable document.

Looking back now, this video offers an exciting preview of what could be possible with a new band fronted by Fripp & Jakszyk, joined by Mel Collins and the rest of the band. Fripp stated in a recent interview that there will not be new music this year but rather “reconfigured” older material.  Might they pay tribute to their earliest work with Jakko up front, or will Robert keep the nostalgia in check – either way, the new band will be welcomed in all it’s Crimson glory.