Tag Archives: Progressive Rock

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!

Anderson and Tull Revealed

Screen Shot 2013-11-28 at 9.55.05 AMA Passion Play – The Story Of Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull
By Brian Rabey, 2013 – Soundcheck Books, LLP

As we get some perspective on the golden age of progressive rock, there have been a number of books written about the bands and people behind the music.  These include biographies both authorized and unauthorized about many progressive rock giants, including Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, and Jethro Tull.  Some of these are interesting, giving us insight into how the artists crafted their work, their inspirations, the interpersonal dynamics of the band members, and stories from life on the road.  Others are much more definitive, giving a deeper insight into the creative process, both musically and lyrically, and telling a more complete story about the band and their art.  The success of these tomes depends on the knowledge and skill of the author and level of involvement from the subject artists themselves.

In the case of the new biography, A Passion Play, The Story of Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull, we have a new and definitive look at the band and it’s driving persona.  Author, Brian Rabey, began the project already very knowledgeable about all things Tull, having learned the songs on flute during his teenage years, as a fan, and then interviewing and writing reviews on the band for years as a journalist.  For this bio, the author augmented that study with hours of new interviews taking time with many of the more than 20 band members past and present.  These discussions, in the bands own words, along with the author’s keen observations are woven together to create the whole.  It is a thoroughly researched, fascinating look at a band that’s endured for more than four decades with their stories told from many perspectives, not just that of Ian Anderson, who has led the band since it’s inception.

Screen Shot 2013-11-28 at 9.59.11 AMThe book is divided into two major parts – part I being a history of Jethro Tull, and part II dedicated to extensive interviews of Ian Anderson himself.  To begin part I, the birth of the band is covered in great detail.  We learn much about these early formative years, including the revolving door of early members, how they found gigs, and got their start.  We learn exactly how bassist Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond (bass), and Barrie Barlow (drums) drifted in and out of the early bands, why Mick Abrahams (guitar) ended up on exiting after their first release, and how John Evans (piano, keyboards) ended up not appearing on the first two albums – making his more formal debut on the third release, Benefit.  This exhaustive early coverage is important to understanding the formative years of the outfit.

Screen Shot 2013-11-28 at 10.50.06 AMThe rest of part I is taken with a segment about each album, each of which interweave authors’ notes with observations from band members culled from their interviews.  Included with this are stories about the comings and goings of the various members, and their reflections on those times.  This section leads to my only quibble with this exceptional book, which is the uneven amount of text dedicated to each of the bands extensive catalog.  The deepest coverage is fairly awarded to the first seven releases – averaging a handful of pages about each album, including many key revelations, most notably a thorough explanation as to how A Passion Play (1973) came to be rewritten and re-recorded.  But this coverage tapers off after that release, such that the core mid period from – 1974’s Warchild, through 1979’s Stormwatch each receive just a page or so of space.  It’s as if the interviews and author’s added commentary tapered off for an intermission, and while picking back up never return to the longer more informative earlier passages.  In particular most fans would agree that Minstrel in the Gallery (1975) was a high point for the band, and while the author notes how solid the release is, and guitarist Martin Barrie is shown to agree, more coverage would have been useful in particular to illuminate the top notch acoustic center of this work spanning from “Requiem”, “One White Duck…” and the phenomenal “Baker Street Blues” suite.  In the end, a minor complaint, as many of the bands albums are so fully explored, along with the detailed interviews on all subjects.

IMG_0650As noted, part II of the book “The Thoughts of Ian Anderson” focuses on the man himself, Ian Anderson, via a series of interviews, and author’s framing commentary.  This an exceptionally presented, informative series of musings, admissions, and observations on the enduring music and legacy of Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson.  In one rare segment, Ian reflects on issues with his vocal performances during the last many years.  While not naming a specific malady or damage done during the “Under Wraps” tour of 1984, he notes honestly that given he is not a traditionally trained vocalist, the wear and strain of repeated performances and attempts to extend his vocal abilities in the early 1980’s has taken it’s toll.   I’ve not seen as much clarity in print as to Ian’s voice until this book captured it.

Screen Shot 2013-11-28 at 10.47.15 AMMore importantly, Ian muses about band members past and present, talks of inspirations, instruments and his ability with each (no more alto sax for Ian!) his writing and recording and a fair amount of reflection as to why he keeps going after all these years.  In addition the author captures Ian sharing many thoughts about the industry and his contemporaries in the music field.  There is even a bit about his family, although brief, acknowledging he’s always been rather private about his personal life.  The book wraps with some information on each of Ian’s own solo releases.  Of great interest are the thoughts on the creative process including Ian noting that he writes about pictures – visual imagery driving his lyrics.  Anyone who has puzzled over his writings will enjoy this segment.  Also within are some honest observations about other musicians including his enjoyment of Frank Zappa, and Captain Beefheart, and some bits about Paul McCartney, Phil Collins, and Lou Graham.  All told, very interesting interviews with this musical genius – there will be something new for even for well read fans.

Overall, this is an exceptional work from Brian Ramey – a solid presentation with rare photos – highly recommended to fans and others interested in this seminal band, and it’s reclusive leader.

Goblin Haunts

I’ve always been a junky for the exploitation cinema of my youth – the b-movies peddled from the 1960’s through the 80’s as double features, which included any number of horror, science fiction, martial arts, biker, and other films of the era.  Of these, many were international movies, from France, Germany, and in particular “giallo” works from Italy.  I saw every Mario Bava giallo film before being old enough to realize what a genius he was, instead just reveling in the colored lighting, unique cinematography, and parade of troubled killers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn 1977 one of my best friends moved from our neighborhood in southern California to Philadelphia, and it was during our trip out there we ducked into a trashed downtown theater of the “grind house” variety to see the latest Italian import, “Suspiria.”  As the movie began with the sound of bells, bouzouki, and demonic voice chanting “la, la, la, la, la, la, la…..la, la, la, la, la, la……witch!” I knew this was no low budget import, but something more accomplished and frightening, driven by the bizarre prog-horror-rock music of Goblin.  We were very well scared by this movie, and it’s become a favorite – I’ve kept upgraded versions in my collection ever since this first viewing in that creepy run down theater.  After this film, and 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead (Zombi),” more of the soundtracks produced by Goblin came to my attention, along with their first two releases – 1975’s “Profondo Rosso” and their progressive rock debut – 1976’s “Roller.”  I also purchased their strange and challenging progressive rock release “Il Fantastico Viaggio Del Bagarozzo Mark” from 1978, which includes vocals in Italian.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo it was with great anticipation I attended the first tour put on in the United States by the remaining members of Goblin this October at the Warfield theater in San Francisco.  The show paid off on expectations, though parts were rather repetitive, interest was sustained as the 5 piece band was augmented by clips from the horror films that inspired so much of their music, in addition to a lovely dancer who graced the stage during several key sequences.  Standout tracks included “Mad Puppet” from Profondo Rosso, “Goblin” from Roller, Suspiria, and Tenebre – a rare example of vocalization, even if via “vocoder.”  The band including original members Claudio Simonetti (keyboards) and Massimo Morante (guitars) along with additional musicians, were all very adept at recreating the sinister, haunting sound of the original soundtracks, in addition to a selection of their excellent progressive rock works.  It was clear the band was as excited to be playing in San Francisco, as we were to be seeing them here.  After 36 years, quite a wait, let’s hope they rise again.

Genesis and Revelation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASteve Hackett was the guitar player for Genesis during their early years – with Peter Gabriel on vocals until 1975, and then for two tours when Phil Collins first took on vocals.  The first time I saw Genesis it was for the “Wind and Wuthering” tour in 1977.  It was the last time Steve toured with the band, who continued on their path with Phil Collins in front, becoming less about mysterious “progressive rock” and more about pop, to the acclaim of millions.  Now thirty-six years later, we traveled to London to see Steve perform a concert entitled “Genesis Revisited” at London’s wonderful Royal Albert Hall, October 24, 2013. As hoped, the show was spectacular, focusing entirely on early Genesis work – three tracks off each record from 1971’s “Nursery Crime” through 1976’s masterpiece “Wind and Wuthering.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were quickly reminded that to really appreciate Genesis music, it’s important to experience it played live.  The skilled band included Roger King on keys, Gary O’Toole on Drums, Lee Pomeroy on bass & rhythm guitar, Rob Townsend on winds, and Nad Sylvan on vocals.  They all reproduced the sound faithfully, with thrilling dynamics, arranging the songs with Steve’s parts nicely highlighted.   While Nad did a laudable job of covering both Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins vocals, special guest vocalists helped, including John Wetton (Roxy Music, King Crimson, UK, Asia -plus) singing “Firth of Fifth” from 1973’s “Selling England by the Pound” – a highlight of the set.  Also in attendance was Ray Wilson who sang on the 1997 Genesis release “Calling All Stations.”  Ray came out to perform “I Know What I Like” also from “Selling England” and “Carpet Crawlers” from “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,” both songs being the closest thing you could call “hits” from that era.  Amanda Lehmann came out to do an acoustic version of “Ripples” from “Trick of the Tail” – an emotional song done beautifully as a duo.  For the hardcore fan, Steve included the full version of “Supper’s Ready” the sprawling 23 minute track from “Foxtrot.”

What I always loved about old Genesis was on full display.  It’s strange and thrilling music –Steve describes one track, “Fly on a Windshield” as “doom ridden music at its most unashamedly epic.” In fact the tunes from that era are often gloomy with heavy use of minor tonalities, though offset in almost every case by the resolve to major keys, greater volume, and stories of transcending the dark into light.  For me the best example of this, and highlight of the night was “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” – which kicks off with an a cappella line “Can you tell me where my country lies?” evoking a nostalgia for a Britain of old, before Wimpy burgers and mass commerce.  It was really exciting and heartwarming to see and hear Steve and band play these songs so faithfully, so many of which most of us of a certain age missed, having not seen the original Gabriel era tours. It was a brilliant performance and a special evening I will never forget.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe day after this show, we headed up to Manchester where we will see Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music and solo effort fame October 26th.  As we disembarked from the train I was surprised to see Tony Levin and Peter Gabriel just beside us.  I said to Peter “We just saw an old friend of yours play last night” and had a short chat about the Hackett show, and my emotional reaction to some of the material.  He wished us luck on our own “concert tour” after I let him know we were also seeing Bryan, and Camel while in London.  We realized he was playing tonight, and picked up a couple of tickets to the last night of his global “So” revisited tour, even though we had seen this earlier in the year in San Jose.  For these shows, Peter plays his 1986 album “So” – arguably his first attempt to make music that would appeal to a larger audience.  After leaving Genesis, Peter released four very dark and different self-titled albums each presented back in the day with powerful performances.  Though the Genesis-era costumes were no more, the third and forth tours included a bit of make up, and a dose of stage theatrics.  Musically, “So” was a departure from all that, including more of a rock & soul vibe, and less oblique lyrics.  For the tour then and now, while Peter included some of those darker pieces such as “The Family and the Fishing Net” and “No Self Control” the overall mood is more jubilant and there is even… dancing!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAQuite a one-two punch from one night to the next, leaving us ruminating on the various stages our musical heroes had been through, each returning to their older work, each taking a different path.  Steve has always kept a torch alive for his Genesis-era work, and for him, the crowd last night was probably larger than any of his frequent solo tours, confirming the fact that there is still an audience for that work, and for progressive rock in general.  In Peter’s case, he filled a giant arena revisiting his most popular album from 1986 – it’s different than his early work, but with as many dynamic, touching moments.  While one punter shouted “Supper’s Ready” during a quiet moment, I don’t think Peter will ever perform his Genesis-era work again, though it’s all been left in able hands.

Is it Real? It is The Musical Box

It is Real

It is Rael

So ends the double album epic by the band Genesis, titled “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.” This 1974 release was the last record Genesis created with lead vocalist Peter Gabriel who wrote the story and most of the lyrics to tell the tale of Rael, a street punk who is mysteriously plucked from the streets of New York city to unwillingly inhabit and then transcend an underworld filled with personal challenges, freaks, creatures, and his own alter-ego, brother John. The Lamb was a true concept album, and the tour to support it was conceived as “rock theater” complete with bits of narration, a three screen slide show with over 1,000 images, costumes, props, and lighting effects. It was staged only 102 times, seen by few of the bands eventual followers, and was utterly unique in the world of rock ‘n roll.

Several “classic rock” artists between 1967-1979 wrote concept albums, meant to be taken as “rock opera” or at least as something approaching theater. The BeatlesSgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” was taken as a concept album, and though in reality a loose collection of individual tracks, set the tone for the form as it would be attempted within the rock framework. The Who‘s famous double album epic “Tommy” established the potential of rock theater even though it was not staged as such at the time. Seek out the Isle of Wight show by the Who from that era and while you will find their lead singer’s delivery forceful, there are no literal theatrical elements. At the time many rock bands, from the Who to Queen, Yes, and others, incorporated some elements of storytelling and some physical or projected imagery into their shows, but generally did not have sets and a cohesive presentation approaching Broadway theater. The lead vocalists from these bands were revered for emotive presentation of the individual songs, and were lauded for as expressive a presentation as possible.  Theatrical yes, theater no.

Enter Genesis, with Gabriel as lead vocalist, who had been donning costumes and acting out bit parts during their concerts since 1971. The Lamb was the logical extension of this approach, painstakingly assembled by Gabriel while secluded from the band, who wrote the music and worked to patch everything together with added lyrics and transitions. The end result is an oblique tale of Rael’s experiences in a “parallel universe”, which might be akin to “purgatory” or a waiting room between this life and the next. In order to escape from or transcend this realm, Rael survives a series of vignettes echoing the human experiences of imprisonment, helplessness, sexuality, disease, betrayal and despair. However one interprets the story and lyrics in the first two acts, the last is slightly more clear – Rael sacrifices his own interests to save his brother John, who then morphs into and merges with Rael himself. The union then frees Rael to become part of “it” which is here, now, and everywhere, ending the story on a spiritual plane. Did Rael die and finally make his way out of “hell?” Did he become a supreme being himself? Or, was the tale just Rael’s dream depicting the battle of good vs. evil raging in his own soul. This became the grist for many debates among fans of early Genesis, most of whom consider it to be the band’s masterwork, despite it’s acknowledged flaws.

The production was staged in as grand a way as possible at the time, yet within the confines of a rock quintet presenting the material on stage. A slide show unfolds across three screens, allowing for over a thousand images to tumble by – some with artists renderings but most via photographs, presented as a running storyboard for the play. Gabriel was the only member of the band to “act out” the story, spending much of his time dressed as Rael, and hitting a high water mark after climbing into a bulbous rubber suit to depict the diseased “Slipperman” character. The show was presented 102 times, and besides a few short 8mm clips, it was never filmed. The specter of Gabriel being considered to be “the band” itself and probably the realization that this Lamb was as far as their brand of rock theater could go, led to Gabriel’s subsequent departure.

Other progressive and classic rock bands at the time penned concept albums, but this Broadway melody was unlike any other – surreal, strange, and reaching high for meaning and impact. It’s not easy listening -later work written after Phil Collins took over vocal duties in addition to his role as drummer were much more accessible, and include top ten hits approaching “easy listening.” Any remnants of Gabriel or Collins acting out characters were gone by the 1980’s. Over the last dozen or so years, several tribute bands have attempted to recreate the experience of seeing Genesis live with Peter Gabriel. One such tribute band, “The Musical Box” officially obtained the 24 track master tapes from the Lamb recordings, along with the slides from the actual show. They worked for almost a year to rebuild the staging elements, costumes, and even instruments from the time, many of which were no longer available. Their production of TLLDOB has been staged before, and is now back, with dates planned around the world. If you have any affinity for the challenging music of early Genesis, and want to take a journey back in time to experience this bit of rock theater, it’s highly recommended. You will get a bit of the real, and the Rael.

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.