Tag Archives: pink

Madonna on Ice

Madonna_MaterialOn October 19, 2015 the ice lay mainly beneath the stage, as Madonna brought her multi-media extravaganza to the San Jose arena, normally the home of our local ice hockey team. The tour is in support of the recent leak/release of the album Rebel Heart. That record is one of Madonna’s best since 1998’s Ray of Light, with over two-dozen songs that cross genres, from dance tracks to ballads, delivered with some of strongest most resonant vocals on record. Sample “Unapologetic Bitch,” a supremely catchy dis on a former lover, or “Ghosttown,” one of her best love songs of recent years. The title track possibly offers a glimpse into Madonna herself:

So I took the road less travelled by
And I barely made it out alive
Through the darkness somehow I survived
Tough love – I knew it from the start
Deep down in my rebel heart

This followed by “Beautiful Scars” seem to cap a record that represents this artist with work that invites the listener to take her as a whole person, scars or not.

Madonna_SpanishThe show’s set list predictably favored the new release with nine selections, along with twelve songs spanning as many prior releases. On one end of the spectrum, new track “Devil’s Pray” reflected on the evils of drug addition, while “Body Shop” was a sexy play on words, set against a backdrop of the titular auto repair set. For those looking to hear some of the 80’s work, “Burning Up,” “True Blue” – a sing-along with our host on ukulele, and encore “Holiday” served up some fulfilling dance-pop. The best was “La Isla Bonita,” accompanied with flamingo guitar, everyone adorned in traditional Spanish attire. Other early tracks were made part of medleys, and changed radically from their original versions, which reduces their impact a bit, while still touching on special memories. Best surprise of the night for us was the inclusion of the ballad “Frozen” from Ray of Light, one of those tracks that displays Madonna’s vocal range and the depth and impact of her lyrics.

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The staging on this tour was, as usual, expansive and bold. The stage extended from one end of the arena to the other via cross-shaped catwalk. Set pieces included the grand entrance via descending cage surrounded by exotic warriors, the aforementioned auto shop set, and a huge table set resembling that of the last supper. These shows are akin to Las Vegas productions, much like veteran diva Cher, complete with hi-def video, large band, dancers, and lots of props and production value. One nit, the video screen configuration and content, as well as the dance troupe and choreography was impressive, but not on par with prior tours such as the shows supporting 2008’s Hard Candy.

 

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Should we expect someone of Madonna’s fame, in the middle of this kind of massively produced multi-media event to express deep thoughts or very personal sentiments? If so, that’s something missing in this show between the lights, videos, dancers, and stagecraft. Other artists like Pink have walked this tightrope, allowing for what seem like personal moments, time to express something honest from the heart. For others it seems like years of massive press coverage, paparazzi, and prying eyes build a wall of protection, and a veneer of attitude and quips triumphs. It would be reasonable to assume Madonna could be affected in this way and at times during the two-hour spectacle it seemed Madonna_Danceso. Nonetheless, at one point she gave a shout out to a few fans that had followed the tour from city to city, and there was a simple moment of grace and vulnerability when she danced alone and at length, traversing the long catwalk to the hit “Music.” And, during one interlude, after a fan near the stage expressed his adoration, her retort was one of humility, something akin to “Oh you want me, you don’t know what you’re asking for!” Other than those moments, what’s missing from these shows are more opportunities for Madonna to go off script, chances to hear her reflect on the origins of a song, or more broadly her life and depth of experience surviving a career that’s spanned more than thirty years. Without it, the show is a display of attitude, of titillation with less intimacy, but probably what we should expect to be fair, given the scale of the presentation, and this star’s massive popularity.

Recently during an interview with radio personality Howard Stern, we did get to spend time with the person, more than the persona, and it made for riveting listening. At one point, after Howard asked how long she could keep this up, Madonna said that she intends to forge ahead, that eventually she wants to do some unadorned acoustic gigs, at smaller clubs, to be closer to audiences. It’s clear she wants to connect, and fans will be the better for it, as we certainly admire M’s drive, her strength, flaunting social conventions, and pushing boundaries. We will be back for that show, but in the meantime, as to any quibbles, Madonna says it best:

I think you’re confusing me with somebody else
I won’t apologize for being myself

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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!

Yeah Yeah Pink Tings

pink in slingThe last few weeks brought several shows to the San Francisco Bay area which were all fronted by powerful female vocalists.  The Yeah Yeah Yeahs with vocalist Karen O at the Fox Theater, Oakland were up first.  Next was the entertaining show by Pink with opener The Ting Tings, fronted by singer Katie White at the HP Pavilion, San Jose.

I think of all of these bands as pop entertainment – a good night out to see a show and have fun.  In this regard, Pink came on as the most advanced entertainer. Between the time I first saw her after the breakthrough second album, “M!ssundaztood“, released in 2001 until this tour for the 2008 release “Funhouse“, Pink has matured into a first class performer.  She’s confident, sassy, talented, athletic and tough. There were lots of highlights to this show, and several of Pink’s original compositions and collaborations were superior, but one of the most memorable moments for me was when she and her very skilled backup band, singers, and dancers performed a note perfect version of Queen‘s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. I saw Queen perform this in 1977 in Los Angeles on the “News of the World” tour, and they left the stage during a pre-recorded middle operetta. Pink and co. conquered the whole track live and brought back some great memories in the process. This show overall reminded me of the spectacular Christina Aguilera show last year. Both of these singers have now made the transition from performer to world class entertainer.

ting tingsThe Ting Ting’s opened the evening with a fun set of their danceable pop. Several of the tracks from their debut album were performed with great energy and enthusiasm. One of their biggest hits, “That’s Not My Name” had the crowd on their feet and it was impossible not to catch the hook. Keyboards and bass were pre-recorded, and the duo would benefit from a larger band…next time…one to watch.

yeah1The Yeah Yeah Yeahs played to a packed house of devoted fans at the Fox. Singer Karen O is fine at the front of the stage and consistently propels the music forward with her emphatic dance moves and delivery. I was reminded of a happier version of singer Siouxsie Sioux, but the band really needs to step up their game to support the proceedings at the level of the Banshees….next time…one to watch.