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Best Rock Concerts of 2016

Best Rock Concerts of 2016

In a year that saw the sad loss of so many musical artists, entertainers and sports heroes, there was concurrently much to celebrate, as go on we must. For this patron, there were more than two-dozen amazing classic, progressive, or goth/new wave rock concerts by legendary artists, along with some fantastic shows from more recent bands that carry the torch of rock in all of its forms.

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

For this patron, the best of the year:

ARW (Anderson Rabin Wakeman), Yes, Rick Wakeman

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These are a holy trinity of artists that together comprise most of the core members of Yes. First up, Mr. Wakeman absolutely nailed his one-time performance of the King Arthur album redux at the O2 earlier this year, with orchestra, choir and narration. Then, the Steve Howe / Geoff Downes led version of Yes arrived to faithfully play renditions of half the double album Tales From Topographic Oceans paired with Drama, which sounded fantastic live. But the capper was seeing ARW who played Howe and Rabin era Yes music with a fever that brings a new appreciation to the work. It was a heartwarming, wonderful experience to see Jon Anderson so happy, and sounding as good as any night I’ve witnessed in over 20 years. This topped the year off in style.

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

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Steve Hackett, Sting/Gabriel

In the Genesis camp, while we wait for Phil, Mike and Tony to put something together, we always have Steve Hackett and Peter Gabriel as working musicians – the former working often, the latter not so much! Hackett has been absolutely on fire, both during his Genesis Revisited performances, and with his solo work. The night we saw him here in San Francisco at the Warfield was by far, and I am not padding here, the best show I’ve seen from him since Wind & Wuthering. His renditions of classic songs from the Genesis catalog, along with his first four albums, and newer work from Wolflight, have never been bested. He is my true prog hero. Gabriel went out with Sting this year, in a fun and pleasant show – different for him – I think both better on their own, but it was nice to see the camaraderie. Chills when Sting teased us with the first few bars of “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight.” Chills.

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

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The Cure

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The Cure on this year’s tour played crowd-pleasing set lists that changed each night, with a core of consistent selections from their most popular mid period work. The band played several tracks off Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987), Disintegration (1989), which included career highlights “Lullaby,” “Fascination Street” and “Pictures of You,” about which my daughter says “If you wanted to play one song to someone who did not know The Cure’s music, this would be it – so sad but beautiful.” Truer words. The other featured album was Wish (1992) from which the band pulled off a most unexpected pleasure, set closer “End.” Leader Robert Smith’s uncanny way of putting words to music, making the sum of the two something more than its parts, awakening dread, a cry for help, and ultimately survival, even transcendence is unparalleled. And, fortunately for us, he is a survivor and, as seen this year in concert, he continues to thrive, in apparently good health and surprisingly strong voice.

Watch for The Cure in my next book, should this sell out!

 

David Gilmour

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Witnessing Gilmour rock and roll at the Hollywood Bowl was absolutely perfectly awesome (in the 70s we would have said, “bitchin!”) The lighting and sound was fantastic, the film projections, which were programmed to the contours of the stage’s bowl shaped awning, were amazing. And we had close up seats and the pleasure of attending with great company, photojournalist Armando Gallo and his wife Cheryl, which will forever be a special memory. On this night, Gilmour seemed on fire, grinding out his brand of searing guitar solos gracefully, matching his alternately gravelly and silky smooth voice. He absolutely owned the stage, and the moment, blowing away this crowd of Angelinos, young and old alike.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during The Wall tour:

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Photo (c) Brian Weiner / The Illusion Factory

 

LCD Soundsystem

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This band performed at San Francisco’s Outside Lands, August 5th, 2016 to an anxiously awaiting crowd, once again taking their place a the top of the electro-funk pantheon, delivering an explosive concert consisting of 14 tracks that were also played at their “farewell” concert five years ago at Madison Square Gardens, chronicled in the exceptional film Shut Up and Play the Hits (2011) and the live album Live at Madison Square Gardens. The music as presented was incredibly tight, each musician playing his or her part with aplomb. Their songs progress, contrapuntal lines are drawn, the beat is intensified, bass, guitar or treated electronics are added, until the drone or melody comes clear and captivating, and Murphy adds vocals, working his rich baritone, ultimately building into ecstatic abandon. This is the main recipe for the band, and it’s done wonders for space rock, afro funk, new wave and alt/indie bands past and present. See this band in 2017 if you possibly can.

 

ELO

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Seeing ELO last September 10, 2016, on the second of three sold-out nights at the Hollywood Bowl was like stepping back in time, as Lynne, band, and orchestra faithfully replicated every note of the original ELO compositions, along with a few newer tracks from Lynne’s most recent album. At around 80 minutes, incredibly, nearly every track on the set list was originally a hit or at least massively popular FM radio staple for ELO, including “Evil Woman,” “All Over the World,” “Livin’ Thing,” “Telephone Line,” “Turn to Stone” and on through seventeen songs, ending inevitably with “Roll Over Beethoven,” which as one would expect, highlighted the immense contribution of the Hollywood Bowl orchestra let by conductor Thomas Wilkins while fireworks lit the night sky.

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

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Coldplay

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Coldplay brought their A Head Full Of Dreams Tour to our 49ers (Levi’s) stadium in Santa Clara, south of San Francisco this year, and they will be back in 2017. It was an amazing night of lights, confetti, stagecraft, and music, courtesy of Chris Martin and band. Followers of Coldplay take no issue with their often-sentimental lyrics and gut-wrenching delivery by heartthrob Martin. I’ve read some number of critics who are dismissive of this band and their music exclaiming, “There’s no crying in a rock concert!”. Fair enough, Coldplay’s songs veer towards “adult contemporary,” with few gritty guitar licks, in favor of acoustic guitar and piano. This is, after all the man who very publicly decided to undergo a “conscience uncoupling” with ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow, then penned a song called “Fun” featuring the lyrical refrain “Didn’t we have fun” to honor what they had together. Very adult…and, excellent!

 

Adele

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We saw Adele this year, yes we did! It was truly amazing – what a talent. Her voice was in perfect shape. The songs she close spanned her catalog sounding as good as or better than the original studio versions. Adele generally stood in place, whether main or b stage, swaying or turning a bit while her image was projected on front and rear stage screens to get everyone in the audience a great view. What was unexpected for this uninitiated punter is just how personable and funny Adele is. She greeted fans warmly, even pulling one couple on stage for selfies. She told stories from different points in her career, often in a self-deprecating way that was very endearing. There was a lot of this between song chatter, but it never wore thin, particularly since so many of her tracks are melancholic, a fact Adele herself pointed out, admitting that a lot of her songs are depressing. Yet there were enough upbeat songs in the playlist, and between those and the banter, there was a celebratory air in the room.

 

The Who

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We caught the most recent, maybe last tour, of the Who, one which comes at the heels of the seminal band’s 50th anniversary, and wherein they ”play the hits.” The Who, after a delay a several months, made it to the Oakland Arena here in the San Francisco Bay Area last week on May 19, 2016. The delay was due to health issues with singer Roger Daltrey, which involve his voice, limiting his ability to sing on consecutive nights, causing quite a logistical challenge during the tour. The show was fabulous. Daltry is still in fantastic shape, a real inspiration for clean living and fitness! Townsend still hits his vocal marks and his guitar technique is immaculate. Though he understandably does not leap into the air as in times past, he still executes his windmill-arm attack on the frets mightily. And he has attitude to spare. We were lucky recipients!

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Tommy tour:

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Photo (c) Neal Preston

 

Alice Cooper

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Of the many rock groups in the 70s that strove to stage a theatrical performance, Alice Cooper stands among those that invested significant time and energy in the pursuit. “We were trying to create something that hadn’t been done. And what hadn’t been done is nobody took the lyrics and brought them to life…. you use the stage as a canvas. It’s all vaudeville and burlesque” according to Cooper. The man brought his crack band, stage props, dancers and costumes to San Francisco this year. While much of the stagecraft has been presented consistently throughout the years, the show is amazingly well rehearsed yet still fresh — a sonic and visual success. Musically, this was a straight-on hard-rocking show, highlighting the chops of the band’s three guitarists, most notably L.A. resident Nita Strauss, whose searing solos and flowing blonde hair punctuated many of the most metal-laden tracks. Cooper sustained his own still-intact gravelly vocals from start to finish, enthralling the crowd as the well-fashioned master of macabre ceremonies. The set list was peppered with some deep cuts and many hits like “I’m Eighteen,” “School’s Out” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” along with encore “Elected” during which Cooper made a fairly good case for his election to U.S. President, as a third-party candidate fronting the “Wild Party.” If only he had actually run and won!

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

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Bad Company

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Bad Company is one of the most important rock bands of the 1970s. They topped a hard rock core with silky smooth yet gritty production values, hooks galore, and pedigree in each musician. They are a band I had to, regrettably leave out of my upcoming book Rockin’ the City of Angels. The omission is due in large part to a few issues – most importantly that the book is a celebration of the outstanding concerts of the ‘70s including classic rock and prog bands, and I did not get to see them in concert until recently. This show, which included opener Joe Walsh, was absolutely amazing. Importantly Paul Rodgers has kept himself and his voice in perfect shape, and the band is as tight as ever, pinned down by Simon Kirke’s “rock steady” percussion. Catch this band while you can!

 

Roger Hodgson

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Roger Hodgson performed again this year in the states to audiences of adoring fans. Our show down at Coachella was a heart rending, spiritual journey through a bit of Hodgson’s fine solo work, topping a generous helping of the songs he wrote for the band Supertramp. Hodgson was in fine voice, still able to hit all those soaring high notes, and also waxing philosophical between the hits and deep cuts, which included four from my favorite, Crisis? What Crisis? He spoke plainly and warmly about the meaning of these songs, to him and to others, sometimes reading notes he’s received from fans or sharing his thoughts about how music can bring back memories, and heal troubled spirits. Truer words.

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

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Styx

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Styx is a Chicago based rock band that released nearly a dozen records from the start of their most enduring lineup in 1972, through 1983’s Kilroy Was Here. Three multi-talented singer-songwriters Dennis DeYoung (vocals, keyboards, accordion), Tommy Shaw (vocals, guitars), and James Young (vocals, guitars, keyboards), backed by brothers John Panozzo (drums) and Chuck Panozzo (basses) penned a dramatic blend of rock and pop that placed them in league with stateside brethren Kansas and Journey. This author caught the group on tour supporting the Pieces of Eight album on January 27 1978 at the Long Beach arena. It was an exciting, powerful presentation, featuring a tight performance that showcased the soaring vocal prowess and instrumental credentials of each principal musician. As of the time of this writing Shaw and Young represent Styx on annual tours while DeYoung tends to his solo career. We saw the Shaw/Young band this year and several times this decade and every time they were absolutely fantastic!

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

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Ambrosia

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The band Ambrosia was founded in southern California in the early 1970s. Today they would be best known for their most popular albums Life Beyond L.A., and One Eighty each including a mega-hit single, respectively “How Much I Feel” and “You’re The Only Woman (You & I).” These hits highlighted the group’s more melodic tendencies. However, their first two albums, and much of their unjustly overlooked fifth and final release Road Island would be best filed under the progressive rock heading. Ambrosia was back on tour this year, and we caught their exceptional show in Pleasanton, California on Saturday January 23rd. Last year we caught cofounder David Pack who also continues to perform solo shows amongst many other pursuits in the music business. These musicians remain at the top of their game, and it’s been amazing to see them perform again.

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

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Special mention goes to Ian Anderson’s multi-media concert about the original Jethro Tull – very innovative use of filmed sequences which help with the vocals and storyline – and, I finally got to meet Ian, one of my musical heroes! Jethro Tull of course features in my book as well, focusing on their 1973 epic, A Passion Play!

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Other shows this year that were similarly fantastic included Bryan Ferry, Radiohead, The Specials, X, Ra Ra Riot, American Football, Beach House, St. Germain, Album Leaf and Steven Wilson, who made a final victory lap in support of Hand.Cannot.Erase. All in all a big year for live music!

 

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’

David Gilmour at the Hollywood Bowl

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We just saw David Gilmour’s fantastic show at the Hollywood Bowl, and since that night I’ve been thinking, what makes a particular concert evening absolutely perfectly awesome? Obviously the performance itself, which certainly can vary from night to night, is critical. And of course the staging, sound, lighting, seats (which matter a lot more as the years go by!) matter. Even access to and from the venue counts, particularly given L.A.’s clogged roadways. And, the friends you go with, the party before or after, what you ingest, inhale or whatever you kids do these days are truly impactful.

Gilmour2016_DougArmando_72dpiThis night seeing Gilmour rock and roll at the Hollywood Bowl was in fact absolutely perfectly awesome (in the 70s we would have said, “bitchin!”) The lighting and sound was fantastic, the film projections, which were programmed to the contours of the stage’s bowl shaped awning, were amazing. And we had close up seats and the pleasure of attending with great company, photojournalist Armando Gallo and his wife Cheryl, which will forever be a special memory. Yes, bitchin it was.

Gilmour2016_Echo_72dpiLast October, we saw nearly the exact same Gilmour show on the same Rattle That Lock tour at the Royal Albert Hall in London, most definitely another of the greatest venues on the planet. While it was a lovely evening featuring the exact same set list, a nearly equal number of selections from Gilmour’s solo and Floyd output, all played beautifully, something felt missing – there didn’t seem to be much enthusiasm from Gilmour and the band – I think it was an off night. Also the location of our seats, which were up where the air was quite thin, afforded us great overhead views (not much hair left on any of the guys), but not the kind of viewing experience you get on the floor, which is our preferred location. In this case, as the tickets were so in demand, we felt lucky to have nabbed seats at all. At the Hollywood Bowl, our seats were nearly front and center!

About the set list, to be specific, we expected this legendary guitarist to include songs from the Floyd, and there were quite a number of these in the mix, including “Astronomy Domine,” “Fat Old Sun,” “Money/Us and Them,” “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” “Wish You Were Here” and closers “Run Like Hell,” and encores “Time/Breathe” and “Comfortably Numb” from their early catalog. These were staples of FM radio in the 1970s and we reveled in their psychedelic, cautionary tones. From later years, by the time when we all had damn jobs, “Sorrow” from A Momentary Lapse of Reason, and “High Hopes/Coming Back to Life” from The Division Bell, rounded out the show.

During the encore, “Time/Breathe (reprise)” from Dark Side Of The Moon called to mind dear departed Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright and the lyrics he delivered so perfectly during Gilmour’s prior tour, supporting On An Island. Somehow it seems so long ago:

Every year is getting shorter; never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over,
Thought I’d something more to say.

…by the way, did you really know that lyric, the scribbled lines? Uh …no

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Gilmour has built a long if not prolific solo career now, and it’s true, the recent recording Rattle That Lock is packed with music rooted in blues-rock, with a mix of genres sprinkled in, as it was with his last solo outing. Despite a rather listless title track, there is much to admire in this work, from jazz-club riffs to haunting slow-hand blues. The best of the new songs came off nicely in concert. The first three tracks from the album opened the show, followed later by four additional songs “A Boat Lies Waiting,” “In Any Tongue,” “The Girl in the Yellow Dress (playful, fun),” and “Today.” Standout track “The Blue” from On An Island was gorgeous, a mellow lullaby played with only the good notes (as Jack Black said in The Holiday…. yes, I just referenced a romcom!). On the whole, a nicely drawn set list of solo and Floyd gems.

Gilmour2016_Girl_72dpiAs mentioned, the films were amazing once again. Gilmour’s production team must be using some of the same tech Waters deployed on the most recent, awe-inspiring tour of The Wall. A few classic Floyd videos were presented onscreen, most notably the surreal, psychedelic movie projected during ”Shine on you Crazy Diamond.” Of the new films, “The Girl In The Yellow Dress” directed by David Madden, was creatively evocative, itself a work of animated art.

Gilmour2016_Manzara_72dpiOh, and the music. On this night, Gilmour seemed on fire, grinding out his brand of searing guitar solos gracefully, matching his alternately gravelly and silky smooth voice. His band, mostly returning from the last tour, was professional and tight. Musicians included returning band members, guitarist Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music fame, Jon Carin on keys, guitars, and vocals, Guy Pratt on bass and vocals, and Steve DiStanislao on drums. Joining this time was Kevin McAlea on keys, and Joao De Macedo Mello who supplied expressive winds. Bryan Chambers and Louise Clare Marshall covered backing vocals.

At the RAH I said we witnessed a bit of serenity from a man who has broken a few of his own chains, free of past encumbrances, owing nothing to anyone, and living in the moment. But this time, he absolutely owned the stage, and the moment, blowing away this crowd of Angelinos, young and old alike. And please, if this show comes anywhere near you, get yourself a ticket, get off the couch, and run, run, run like hell to the venue, before the time is gone, and the song over (sorry, just sayin’, it was quite a stretch better than another episode of CSI). Go for it.

Gilmour Returns to the Royal Albert Hall

Gilmour_AdDavid Gilmour, famed guitar player and vocalist of Pink Floyd fame staged a short tour supporting his new solo album Rattle That Lock visiting several venues in Europe and the U.K. this fall. We caught one of several dates booked at the Royal Albert Hall on 2nd October 2015. It was a lovely evening featuring a nearly equal number of selections from Gilmour’s solo and Floyd output.

Gilmour_AcousticGilmour recently announced the demise of Pink Floyd as the release of his new solo album drew near. The final record under the Floyd banner, The Endless River, out just last year, brought together jams and song ideas that originated during development of the last proper album, 1993’s The Division Bell. The overwhelming impression I got from interviews and press around this project was that it was exhausting, and it made sense that Gilmour later announced the end of the band. Despite this epitaph, it was expected that he would include songs from the Floyd, and there were quite a number of these in the set list, including “Astronomy Domine,” “Fat Old Sun,” “Money,” “Us and Them,” “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” “Wish You Were Here” and closers “Run Like Hell,” and “Comfortably Numb” from their early catalog. In addition, “Sorrow” from A Momentary Lapse of Reason, and “High Hopes” and “Coming Back to Life” from The Division Bell, rounded out the later Floyd material.

During the encore, “Time” and “Breathe (reprise)” from Dark Side Of The Moon called to mind dear departed Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright and the lyrics he delivered so perfectly during Gilmour’s prior tour, supporting On An Island. Somehow it seems so long ago:

Every year is getting shorter; never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over,
Thought I’d something more to say.

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The recent recording Rattle That Lock is packed with music rooted in blues-rock, with a mix of genres sprinkled in, as it was with Gilmour’s last solo outing, On An Island. Despite a rather listless title track, there is much to admire in this work, from jazz-club riffs to haunting slow-hand blues. The best of the new songs came off nicely live. The first three tracks opened the show, followed later by four additional songs “A Boat Lies Waiting,” “In Any Tongue,” “The Girl in the Yellow Dress,” and “Today.” All things considered, a nicely drawn set list of solo and Floyd gems.

As to staging, the psychedelic lighting, stage level and follow spots, and the huge round screen, were again spectacular. A few classic Floyd videos were presented onscreen, and new films for tracks “Rattle That Lock,” and “The Girl In The Yellow Dress” the latter directed by David Madden, were fantastic. For that one, Gilmour suggested we all imagine ourselves at a French café; a fitting image for this jazzy piece and it’s animated imagery. The Royal Albert Hall was long ago the venue for a summer evening concert from Pink Floyd in 1969. During that show, a powerful smoke bomb ended the concert, resulting in a lifetime ban from the hall. Lifted only eight months later, it was a short-term bit of notoriety for the Floyd. The lighting, films, lasers and vapors were present again for Gilmour this time, sans explosions. It was a feast for the eyes and for the proggy-blues fan in all of us.

Gilmour_BandGilmour delivered his typical searing guitar solos expertly and his voice was in good form, with plenty of gravel when needed, but still able to deliver smooth soft tones. His band, mostly returning from the last tour, was professional and tight. Musicians included returning band members, guitarist Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music fame, Jon Carin on keys, guitars, and vocals, Guy Pratt on bass and vocals, and Steve DiStanislao on drums. Joining this time was Kevin McAlea on keys, and Joao De Macedo Mello who supplied expressive winds (Theo Travis played same on the European leg.) Bryan Chambers and Louise Clare Marshall covered backing vocals.

It’s hard to pin down, but something seemed a bit off in the show this time. It feels wrong to blame it on Gilmour’s stage presence, being that he has always been a bit stoic live, rooted in position about his pedals and microphone, eyes often closed. So possibly it was the ordering of the set list, the large number of down-tempo songs, the lack of guest performers, or the mood of the musicians on this particular night, but the whole lacked energy. Having David Crosby and Graham Nash present to sing harmonies on two of Gilmour’s best two solo tracks “On An Island” and “The Blue” was special and poignant on the last tour, and they were present on September 23rd, but not for our show. The last tour also saw visits from Robert Wyatt and David Bowie but no one other than Crosby/Nash appeared this time. And obviously, the absence of Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright was felt. Maybe what we witnessed was actually a bit of serenity from a man who has broken a few of his own chains, free of past encumbrances, owing nothing to anyone, and living in the moment.

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In retrospect, any chance to see this legendary musician is an event, given his continuing stature as one of rock’s greatest guitarists. The tour continues next year where we will catch one of three nights at the Hollywood Bowl – recommended to any fan, particularly as these solo shows are few and far between. Get yourself a ticket and go before the time is gone, and the song over.

Mountains Come Out of the Sky: Reviewed

Book Review: Mountains Come Out of the Sky, The Illustrated History of Prog Rock, by Will Romano
Backbeat Books, Hal Leonard Corporation, Milwaukee © 2010 by Will Romano
ISBN 978-0-87930-991-6

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As I prepare a manuscript for my own book for next year, I’ve been doing some research on other works that cover progressive, classic and space rock music genres. There is quite a mix out there as anyone interested in music journalism knows. Most of the books I’ve found are about specific bands, such as Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Gentle Giant, Led Zeppelin and many others. My favorite of these, I Know What I Like by Armando Gallo, long time Genesis biographer was covered in an earlier article. I’ve found a few books that focus on very specific works by those bands, the most excellent of which is Tim Smolko’s Jethro Tull’s Thick and a Brick and A Passion Play: Inside Two Long Songs. Some are by photographers or artists and the best of these is Roger & Martyn Dean’s Magnetic Storm which chronicles Roger’s art and architectural design as well as Martyn’s work creating the fantastic staging Yes deployed during their early years.

Many rock music books make an attempt to cover the entire genre or specifically the progressive rock music genre and these books can be the most difficult to assemble. There is the encyclopedic The Billboard Guide to Progressive Music by Bradley Smith, Progressive Rock Reconsidered by Kevin Holm-Hudson and one that ties prog to the counterculture of the times called Rocking The Classics by Edward Mecan, among others. Often these books end up being for reference only (Billboard Guide) or a bit more academic and stuffy. The best of the books I’ve found that delve into the progressive rock genre and its practitioners is Will Romano’s Mountains Come Out of the Sky.

Spectacular Book Design
Spectacular Book Design

Romano’s book, reportedly the result of three years of effort, is an excellent, thoroughly researched document that includes interviews with the artists, essays, and vibrant color photos that include album covers, portraits of the artists and live shots. After a nice forward by Bill Bruford, the book begins with the ever-important question “What is Prog?” This is answered quite well in a short essay that includes Romano’s own position on the subject, peppered with quotes from Greg Lake (ELP), Ian McDonald & John Wetton (King Crimson), Steve Howe (Yes) and others who present a clear and simple definition. The script moves directly into a study of prog’s early history, and first practitioners including The Beatles, The Moody Blues, and Frank Zappa while charting the impact of the Mellotron and Moog keyboards on the sound of the emerging bands in the scene.

The story continues with chapters devoted to the six largest acts in the genre, starting with Pink Floyd, and continuing with King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, Genesis, and Jethro Tull. Each group’s chapter is well researched and composed, including many direct quotes from Romano’s own interviews with band members, producers, engineers, and peers. The material is factual and engaging, detailing the origins of the bands, descriptions of the music and observations as to where it fits in history from today’s perspective. Follow-up chapters cover some other major bands, primarily from the 1970’s. These include groups that were part of the Canterbury scene, some who delivered a sort of Prog Folk sound, bands hailing from American, Italy and Germany, and an additional set of key acts including Camel, Gentle Giant, Marillion. Some of these chapters are lighter on content, particularly when the bands hail from outside the U.K. But Romano makes a defensible case that the birthplace and origin of progressive rock is Britain, and this focus keeps the book from becoming yet another encyclopedic reference, instead allowing him to tell the complete story of the most important acts without becoming ponderous.

Well-read prog fanatics will find bits of new information here, but more importantly, will see that the content on each band details what one must know in order to understand the act and their legacy. I have already used the book to introduce a band to someone who is not so versed, and they attain a quick understanding of the group, it’s key albums, and iconography. In this way the content will please existing and new fans alike. The book includes a bibliography and a discography that includes almost 300 titles, almost all of which I would concur belong in every collector’s library.

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Key Albums

Special mention must be made that this volume is referred to as a “visual history” for good reason. The design by Damien Castaneda and color rendering by the printers is exceptional. There is a generous set of photos, including album cover art, band portraits and live shots. Many of these have not been seen before appearing here, and several are quite rare. These have been edited so that the book is colorful and vibrant. An occasional ribbon at the footing allows for key albums to be nicely referenced, with their cover and year of release, and there is a clever design technique overlaying bits of album cover art and labels as portals into the band’s iconography. It’s almost a coffee table book format, and worthy of its sturdy construction.

In summary this is an excellent entry in progressive rock literature. Romano makes the subject relatable, presenting the best quotes by the musicians and readable descriptions of what makes this music special, and why Britain must be considered the birthplace and primary region from which the form emerged and flourished. The choices as to who to include and who to leave for another tome are well made, so we end up with a fine set of bands and commentary. With that, and the excellent visual layout, it’s an instant favorite for this avid reader and collector.

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Mountains_ZappaBy the way, our own Gonzo Multimedia label carries a load of interesting books on the genre, most of which are more about placing music in the context of it’s times, with socio and political commentary. One that I plan to read soon is Frank Zappa et al – The Real Porn Wars (http://www.gonzomultimedia.co.uk/product_details/15802/Frank_Zappa_et_al-The_Real_Porn_Wars.html ) which covers the maestro’s fight against the puritanical “Parent’s Resource Center” in the 1980’s here in the states. One that is more focused on exposing music that I was most surprised by is Neil & Tom Nixon’s – 500 Albums You Won’t Believe Until You Hear Them (http://www.gonzomultimedia.co.uk/product_details/15804/Neil_&_Tom_Nixon-500_Albums_You_Won’t_Believe_Until_You_Hear_Them.html) . I thought I had a lot of rare music, but came across hundreds of peculiar and rare album recommendations! Check some of these out.

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Camel Coming Home

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACamel are one of the greatest yet least known of the “progressive rock” genre bands that came to life in the early 1970’s.  Associated with the Canterbury music scene in Britain, with Andrew Latimer (guitar, keyboards, flute, vocals) at the helm, the band navigates rock and jazz motifs, prog / space rock, and English folk.  Much of their work is surprisingly sunny – while Andy’s evocative guitar style might be compared to David Gilmore of Pink Floyd fame, there is less gloom in their work as a whole.  At the start, Peter Bardens (keyboards) co wrote the first six records from 1972’s self titled debut “Camel”, through 1978’s “Breathless.”  Peter left the band before the Breathless tour and went on to success as a solo “new age” music artist.  Other group members playing bass, keys, and drums have changed multiple times, with the most persistent member being Colin Bass, an amazing bass player who also offers warm vocals to many tracks since 1979.

The band has become Andy’s life occupation, being the one remaining original member, and who save for a hiatus from 1985-1990 remained productive, with regular releases and tours all the way through their 2003 tour.  At the end of that tour Andy and his wife moved from the US back home to Britain.  After a prolonged illness which made playing too difficult during the last ten years, Andy re-recorded their 1975 release “The Snow Goose” and booked a short series of concerts in Europe and the UK this fall to perform this release and a series of songs from their large catalog.  We flew to London to catch their stop at the Barbican Hall, October 28th, 2013.

The concert was a huge success.  The audience stood to applause for what seemed minutes before the band could play the first note.  Tears were shed.  Notes wound out of Andy’s Gibson Les Paul like siren songs.  Colin and Andy retain their rich vocals and the rest of the band played fabulously, as if no time had passed since their last outing.  The first half of the show found the band playing The Snow Goose in its entirety, with a few deviations from the original work, played beautifully and leaving the audience enraptured.  The second half of the show included early tracks starting with a half pace rendition of “Never Let Go” – beautifully executed, making it hard not to think of Andy’s triumph over health issues with the lyrics:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMan is born with the will to survive,
He’ll not take no for an answer.
He will get by, somehow he’ll try,
He won’t take no, never let go, no…

Then on to others including “Song Within a Song” from “Moonmadness,” a gorgeous rendition of “Tell Me” from “Rain Dances,” “Echoes” from “Breathless,” and the encore “Lady Fantasy” from Mirage.  Their 1979-1984 work was skipped to include more from “Harbour of Tears” and “A Nod and a Wink” – their 1996 and 2002 releases. While I would have included the mid-period work in the set list, it was really special to hear them play The Snow Goose and so many key tracks again after 10 long years.

The dynamics of Camel’s music are so important, where volume, drums, double keyboards and particularly Andy’s plaintive emotive guitar played live are beyond what can be captured on record.  Comparisons to Clapton, Gilmour and the great slow-hand note benders are apt – and fortunately for Camel’s rapt fans, time and illness did not diminish Andy’s skills nor those of his band.  Camel continues the journey and after such a long break, made a welcome visit home.

The Wall Torn Down

The Teacher

I’m seriously prone to nostalgia, but never would have thought that a production of Pink Floyd‘s “The Wall” would touch the nerve it did, even for a guy who re-collected and framed all his high school era rock posters.  Did not see the original 1980 production of said wall, after being terribly disappointed by the 1977 Animals era concert at Anaheim Stadium.  As it turned out, the original stage production of the show was inspired by composer, bassist Roger Water‘s disassociation with the live experience in 1977 when the separation between the band and audience seemed so complete he imagined playing to the crowd from behind a wall.

Taking this out on the road again, the normally mercurial Waters redirected the focus of the live show into much more of a statement of personal triumph, and a strong anti-violence message.  For this long term fan it was a deeply touching experience seeing Roger so transformed into his adult self, now much more at peace, and actually having fun.

Roger (2010) with Self (1980)

Best moment for me was when he shared a bit about his personal growth, queuing up a film of his younger “frightened, pissed off” self playing “Mother” at Earl’s Court in 1980.  He played “Mother” on acoustic guitar, along with this film, creating a very sentimental montage of old and new image and sound.

Overall the show exceeded all expectations in every way.  The wall itself stretched across the width of the auditorium creating a hi-def video screen on which old and new footage traced both the story line of “Pink” along with various statements against violence, and the terrorists, religions and governments that perpetrate it.  The original designs for the giant marionettes were used, including the school teacher, mother, girlfriend, and pig.  The opening still included the plane crashing into the wall, falling behind in a burst of flames, and ending with the “trial of Pink” and final tearing down of the wall.

Nobody Home

This production was far more well imagined and spectacular than any rock opera every produced, the closest precedent still being “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” tour by Genesis after all these years.  Yet even with all the artifact and amazing effect, there remained room for a glimpse into the man behind the genius, who stepped out from behind his wall to give a welcome dose of hope and positivity to salve the pain and grief of the loss of loved ones.  A triumph in every way.