Tag Archives: music

The Fixx is In

The Fixx are one of the most unique bands to emerge during the 1980’s. They did not seem to fit the typical mold of their time, despite lots of great synth, tasty, treated guitar focused on chords rather than solos, and a talented vocalist with a range less commonly found in traditional “rock” music. Today they would be classified more as “rock” or “alternative” music than “new wave” yet back in the day they ultimately they did fit in with their peers and they absolutely excelled at their craft.

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Fixx_2018_RTB_CoverReach The Beach, released in 1983 was this band’s second album, and remains their most popular. It sported hits “One Thing Leads To Another” (their highest charting US Single at number 4) and “Saved By Zero,” accompanied by several other standout tracks and deep cuts that demonstrate the quiet determination of the band as stellar songsmiths and solid musicians. Personnel on this album included Cy Curnin (vocals), Rupert Greenall (keyboards), Jamie West-Oram (guitar), Adam Woods (drums) and a couple of bass players, Alfie Agius and Dan Brown, the latter of whom became the band’s official bassist for the tour and subsequent albums. The album was produced by the talented Rupert Hine. This is a very “listenable” album which flows nicely from track to track, stropping at some of their best ideas and greatest musical passages.

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The intellectual lyrics of this band, delivered by lead vocalist Cy Curnin are a major part of what makes Reach The Beach, and the rest of their music so special and enduring. Cy is a deep thinker who will pose a question and hang on that question, each word counting towards the idea, often suggesting an answer. The lyrics are seldom overtly political yet there are messages, they are not preachy, but there are spiritual lessons within. Songs like “Are We Ourselves” and “Less Cities, More Moving People” always cause me to ponder meaning, messages, and my own reaction to them. Cy delivers all this in concert with occasional asides highlighting his current thinking – all questions that deserve to be asked and answered.

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I first saw this band in 1983 at one of the last “Day On The Green” festivals in Oakland California. Famed producer and production company Bill Graham Presents staged these all-day festivals, and they were impressive lineups featuring multiple bands, who were well chosen to show off both headliners and supporting acts. On this summer day in 1983, headliners The Police was on their final tour, supporting their swan song “Synchronicity.” Behind them was The Fixx, taking that vaulted “2ndact” spot on the strength of their then new release Reach The Beach. Preceding The Fixx were a varied collection of new wave acts, The Thompson Twins, Oingo Boingo and Madness. The Fixx stood out that day, among these contemporaries, as a group of serious, adult musicians, primed for mainstream success yet seemingly comfortable at that vaulted #2 spot on the bill.

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Last week, 35 years after that Day on the Green, the band played at The Independent club in San Francisco, on their Reach The Beach anniversary tour. They played the whole album, but in reverse order, which worked very nicely given the original record kicked off with four exceptional tracks in a row, making the reverse sequencing close the first half of the show with those highlights. The band continued with a collection of hits and deep cuts, including some newer work, as this enduring act continues to record and tour today, with the same lineup from 1983. It was an exceptional show that demonstrated to one and all the talents of the band. Quite a night, and highly recommended should The Fixx come your way.

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Return of the Dixie Dregs

DixieDregs2018_6Dixie Dregs is an American band formed in the early 1970s by guitarist Steve Morse and bassist Andy West. Their music is almost exclusively instrumental, fusing rock, country, and a bit of jazz into a potent brew that is designed to showcase each band member’s virtuosity. Their core compositions were typically rooted in traditional country & western music, most frequently upbeat and exciting. Their live shows were absolutely fantastic. One of their signature and most entertaining feats in concert was a game of “musical chairs” where each musician would trade off soloing in round-robin fashion, taking leads for ever decreasing measures until each would play just one or so notes, passing from one to the next at lightning speed in an amazing display of talent. Musicians came and went from the Dixie Dregs, all of them exceptional, and founder Steve Morse has always been at the helm.

DIxieDregs_NOTLDCover_72dpiAfter two early albums, the band was signed to Capricorn Records and released their most progressive album What If(1978), produced by Ken Scott, featuring Morse and West joined by Rod Morgenstein (drums), Mark Parrish (keyboards), and Allen Sloan (violin). After completing their first tour that year, they combined a few of the live recordings and several new pieces to create their most popular Grammy nominated album, 1979’s Night of the Living Dregs. The opening track “Punk Sandwich,” is a perfect introduction to the band for any fan or casual listener. Rapid-fire guitar and violin leads backed by electric organ bridge the tuneful melody. The second track “Country House Shuffle” leads off with a drum solo that demonstrates Morgenstein’s apt skills. The second half of the record is punctuated by the live track “The Bash” which demonstrates one of the country-western jams that featured their signature round-robin solos. I caught the band live on this tour at some small venue in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles and it was a spectacular show from the first note to the last.

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The band signed with Arista at the end of the 70s, and released an excellent follow up album, Dregs of the Earth(1980) with the talented T. Lavitz replacing departed Mark Parrish on keys. I was fortunate to see this tour as well at the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles, and recall being surprised that Lavitz was able to meet the challenge set by their former keys wizard. It was another exceptional concert experience.

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Widespread success eluded the Dixie Dregs, though they managed to build a core following of eager admirers. As the eighties wore on, the group hoped to expand their audience by changing their name to The Dregs, after which they released Unsung Heroes(1981) and Industry Standard(1982) the latter with guest vocalists. Soon after they disbanded but have continued to stage concerts sporadically to this day. Steve Morse plied his axe during a short solo career, and also took on lead guitar duties in years since with Kansas and then Deep Purple.

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So it was with only mild surprise that I saw an ad for the Dixie Dregs reunion, which we attended in Agoura California, at the Canyon Club last month. The show featured a new keyboard and saxophone player, Steve Davidowski, who joined original members Steve, Andy, Allen and Rod. The show was fantastic in every way. Morse had his hand wrapped in what looked like an injury support brace, but nothing was taken off the top of his incredible range and dexterity. Everyone played at the top of their game.

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During the run up to these shows, I heard from guys who still live in their mother’s basement, you know them, the ones who complain like “why are these old dudes out on the road again with no new material?” As if to prove any naysayers wrong, Morse and co. came to the stage on fire, nailing their leads with aplomb, showing one and all that there was and IS an instrumental band so adept at their chosen instruments, that they simply stun, even if their music was never heard before by the listener.

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To top off the experience for me, I was able to hand Steve a copy of my book, Rockin’ the City of Angels, which has a chapter on the Dixie Dregs, released last year. And while I was thanking him, I got a big surprise, one that made me burst into tears. Someone behind me exclaimed “Doug Harr?” as if they knew me. It was my long lost childhood buddy Marcus Ryle, the one in our neighborhood with the cool dad, the engineer, the cool siblings, and some real keyboards. Marcus’ dad introduced us to Moog synth music before Keith Emerson, regaling us with Wendy (then Walter) Carlos’s classical synth albums, and in particular the legendary Dick Hyman and his fanciful synth pop. Marcus was the first in our neighborhood to get his own synth and as it turns out, as I learned, went on to design them, and eventually same for guitars, sporting the Line 6 guitars at Yamaha. I will finally see him, now back from Japan, next week. Good times. Rock on.

 

Steven Wilson Plays To The Bone

Steven Wilson brought his To The Bone tour to the Fillmore auditorium in San Francisco last week. It was another in a series of amazing concerts given by this gifted man and his amazing band.

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To begin the show, as is the norm at Wilson’s events, a short film was used to “warm up” the audience. However, in past years, while the films have been haunting, melancholy bits of dirge, this year the content was thought provoking, and not exactly obtuse – a bit more Talking Heads, a bit less Dario Argento. Wilson is on a new bent these days, one where his music is more straightforward, a bit less melancholy, a bit more pop. Nonetheless, dramatic subject matter and skilled performances anchored the concert, and it was exceptional.

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In order to punctuate his slightly altered musical direction, Wilson stopped between songs to say a few things about the difference between PROG and POP music. How “pop” was the original rock music, and how there should be no distain for pop, in comparison to it’s more complex, uptight brethren PROG:

“pop music has a very fine tradition… the greatest pop group of all time were The Beatles – you would not call them a rock band, you would call them a pop band. Second greatest pop band was Abba – does anyone here not like the Beatles and Abba?  You see ergo everyone likes pop music. …Pop music is not SHIT!”

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After this bit of pep, he asked the audience to dance (yes dance) to his new song, “Permanating,” a nice song in the pop genre, it must be agreed. Of the new songs, by the way, “People Who Eat Darkness” and “The Same Asylum As Before” were particularly muscular and memorable. “Pariah,” the particularly melodic song which features singer Ninet Tayeb on record, was played with her image singing her parts on the front and rear screens – a very effective use of the silk that drapes down in front of the band for part of the show. Its amazing really how such a seemingly unassuming, quiet man can command a stage and rock the s___ out of a venerable venue such as the Fillmore.

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On this tour, the set list did not include stalwarts “The Raven Who Refused To Singand Drive Home” and that was disappointing for this fan, but it’s clear that Wilson is leaning in a bit happier direction. It must be said that the set list was a nice combination of older Porcupine Tree and newer Wilson solo work.

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As with earlier tours, the lighting techniques were clever and colorful. Sound was crisp and clear, reproduced by the top-notch audio system, which sounded amazing in the acoustic-friendly Fillmore. Even with all the finery, the primary focus remained on the band members demonstrating their virtuosic skills throughout. From the increasingly well-rehearsed touring band there were complex rhythms and solos from new guitar player Alex Hutchings, electronic textures and brisk synth leads from keyboard player Adam Holzman, and a deep, thunderous bottom end and vocal harmonies from Nick Beggs on basses, paired with skilled drummer Craig Blundell.  It was plainly visible that each one of the musicians has become exceedingly adept and delivering this material. Steven delivered his poetic lyrics throughout in fine voice, alternating skillfully between guitar, bass, keys and samples. He displayed his wit and thoughtfulness between tracks as lead raconteur. These elements combined to make up a masterful set; an evening of dramatic, inspirational and at times emotionally overwhelming rock and pop music. Wilson remains at the top of the list of artists I’ve seen over these now forty years with his accomplished, expressive body of work and ability to so expressively present it all live in concert.

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Astounding, and wonderful is this artist. Check him out!

Andreas Vollenweider

Andreas Vollenweider is the Swiss genius who gently plucks the electroacoustic harp with such feeling and with such beautiful tones, that he manages in just a few bars to conjure up everything good about the genre of music known as New Age. Next to brilliant keys composer Kit Watkins, he ranks top of the class in this, his chosen art.

Andreas hasn’t been to the states for a very long time, much less, in his native Europe as he’s long been working on new material, for which we are waiting with great expectations. Let’s hope he returns soon.

My wife Artina and I have been “on a tear” over the last decade catching bands and individual musicians in concert wherever the appear – locally in San Francisco or Los Angeles if possible, but if the closest a favorite band plays happens to be on the east coast, New York, Boston, Philly, etc. we will make the trip.  We’ve done this for U2 (360 tour), Billy Crystal (one-man show), The Cure, PFM, and many others. We were fortunate over the last three years to have multiple reasons to go to the U.K. — home of my heart as it comes to music. We saw Simple Minds do their early album cuts at the Roundhouse, Kate Bush at the Odean for one of here 22 rare comeback performances, Stone Roses in the park, and, importantly my hero Rick Wakeman performing his masterwork Six Wives at the castle of Henry VIII, and his Arthurian Legend Redux at the O2. We even saw Artina’s favorite-ever singer/saxman Van Morrison in Lugano – what a blessing. It’s been expensive, certainly a luxury, and I owe it all to my last job at Splunk. I think we’ve “done it all” so to say – not sure as we peruse the list of bands we’ve loved, that another would draw us over the pond again.

Having said that (never say never – a lesson well learned from Sean Connery) I was looking through my hundreds of concert DVDs – yes I’m THAT guy) and slipped in the concert film of Andreas this morning. It’s brilliant, heartfelt, beautiful, as with all of his work. Then I checked his website, and it appears that, at least as of September last year, he plans a new release and tour. If he does that and does not come to the states, we will travel once again. If it is to be in Switzerland, which would not raise a complaint from this fan, then maybe an evening in Interlaken, Zermatt, or Lugano? Please Mr. Vollenweider!

The other main things to report, after I took quite a break from writing:

  1. LCD Soundsystem, the brilliant, Talking-Heads-ish electro-indie band, sold three nights at the Greek Berkeley – gotta go
  2. Steven Wilson is back at the Fillmore in May – his concerts are second-to-none
  3. Bananarama plays in February, as does Robert Plant – certainly two ends of the musical spectrum!?!?
  4. Best yet, the Dixie Dregs have reunited the original lineup, and are playing all over California in April – more on that to come
  5. Anything else I missed?

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!

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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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’