Tag Archives: Progressive Rock

Rockin’ Angels Interview

Jon Downes, editor of Gonzo Weekly interviewed me last week about my new book, Rockin’ the City of Angels. Here is the transcript, also up at GonzoWeekly.com:

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Tell us about the book

When I was a teenager (way back in the 1970s), I was lucky enough to be able to attend dozens of rock concerts staged in Los Angeles, (aka the City of Angels). Rock music was life to me, and probably due to 7 years of piano lessons I was in love with prog rock. My collection of records and concert tickets included Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, and Pink Floyd, along with what I felt were the highest quality rock bands like Zep, The Who, Queen, and Kansas. Music patronage became a lifelong passion for me. The concerts at that time were becoming amazing spectacles, with elaborate theatrical productions. As the lyrics were often as important as the music to me, the fact that many bands dramatized the themes of certain songs, or even whole concept albums made for artful theater.

I wrote this book as a “love letter” to rock musicians of the ‘70s— focused ultimately on the concerts and the films that captured them. I used only photos of the bands live in concert – no portraits. I wanted to show and tell the story of these concert performances from the standpoint of a fan, hoping a reader would relate to a guy who might have been a few seats down the row at these shows, who might have raved about what we just saw on the way home.

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As an example of a chapter, one covers the Genesis tour The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. There are fantastic shots by Armando Gallo, a Melody-Maker cover showing Gabriel’s grotesque Slipperman costume, pages from the concert program, a ticket stub from the date at the Los Angeles Shrine auditorium, and sample frames from the film. The written material illuminates the album and tour, the special effects, and the film of the production’s slide show, which many fans might not realize exists (it’s on the 71-75 box set). This was a blueprint for all 36 bands covered.

How long has it taken to research and write?

At one level its taken 45 years of “field research,” record collecting, and study. But from the time I started writing and finding the photos it all took 2.5 years. I spent a lot of this time tracking down a selection of iconic photographs from around the world, sometimes digging through archives at agencies, others directly with the photographers of that day. I was fortunate to meet several of those photojournalists including Neal Preston, Armando Gallo, Neil Zlozower, and Lisa Tanner, who opened their archives for me at their studios or homes. I could not believe how many amazing shots exist that have never been seen by fans, shots that captured our musical heroes in their prime.

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Were there any gigs you didn’t go to which you wished you had seen?

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Oh yeah! For each band I had to select what I think in retrospect was their finest hour –the best album and concert, and the best film covering that band, hopefully for that same tour. In the case for instance of Jethro Tull, I had not seen the Passion Play tour, but I knew through older friends and research that it would have been for me their best, and that is my favorite Tull record after all. Same with Genesis’ Lamb tour, though tribute band The Musical Box recreated it professionally just recently.

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In a few examples, I did not get to see the band in the ‘70s but instead did catch them later. Only three bands out of 36 eluded me completely. I was never inclined to see AC/DC (although I did enjoy the great film, Let There Be Rock!), and Happy The Man never toured the west coast (and, there is no film!). The worst mistake was missing the mighty Led Zeppelin. In the case of the Zep ‘77 tour, I loved Presence, and that was the concert to see, but I was instead booked to see Pink Floyd’s Animals concert just weeks before and budgets kept me from seeing more than one show every couple months.

What was the best gig you ever saw?

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All of that is in the Genesis family – I will never forget the Wind & Wuthering tour in 1977, and the first time I saw Peter Gabriel solo at the Roxy Theater the next year. But number one was Gabriel’s tour for his 4th album (also dubbed Security) which came early in the ‘80s – it’s a bit of a cheat as I cover that show in this “70s” book, but it’s really for me, the epilogue of the ‘70s decade. He absolutely stunned the audience and finally emerged on his own at the level of performance he had achieved while in his former band. Armando Gallo’s unbelievable shots give a very good idea of the drama. As there is literally no film of this seminal tour, we examine the So movie, particularly those songs he performed in the same way as that prior tour (like “Lay Your Hands On Me”).

Others in the top tier include Paul McCartney’s Wings Over America tour, Queen’s News of the World tour during which Freddie held the audience in complete awe, Kansas Point on Know Return featuring Steve Walsh giving the most physical performance I’ve ever seen, Dixie Dregs with their stunning virtuosity, Camel, ELO – so many incredible shows I will never forget. For the Floyd, while Animals was spectacular, I suffered a bit of “bad vibe” that night in the gi-hugic Anaheim Stadium, and it was eventually to be Roger Water’s restaging of the Wall this decade that became the ultimate live experience of that band’s music for me.

How did you go about the picture research?

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This was the most difficult part of the book’s production, hands down. Thank God for Google, but even with all the search engines in the world, it was amazingly difficult to find some of the photographers and shots that eventually did appear in the book. One snap alone, of Camel in concert with the London Symphony Orchestra on the night they recorded The Snow Goose together, took 7 months to find and it was sitting in the vaults at The Daily Mail, having also been recently unearthed by a researcher at PROG magazine (RIP). I never found shots of Ambrosia and Happy The Man until I actually reached a member from the band themselves, who had boxes “in the attic” with old shots and memorabilia. A lot of the shots in the book came from slides I was allowed to borrow and scan at Dickermans in San Francisco.

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Ambrosia’s David Pack, Joe Puerta

What is your next project?

TalkingHeads_SMSPoster_72dpiWell, this book was so expensive to produce that I have to sell all the copies I ordered during this year. Provided that happens, I will move to the next decade, sliding into the ‘80s with late ‘70s punk, then covering the era of New Wave music, including bands like Depeche Mode, The Cocteau Twins, Japan, Echo & The Bunnymen and so many others that were part of the second “British invasion!” I’m really looking forward to that as I’ve not seen any great ‘80s genre books that include what for me were the best bands of that decade with any kind of stunning photography.

Thank you to Jon Downes and his long time support of my work at GonzoWeekly.com

Hey ma, I got the cover!

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Rick Wakeman & Tony Ashton’s Gastank

wakemangastank_ad-breakRick Wakeman just released DVD and CD/DVD sets of the original series called Gastank, a unique show aired in the U.K. on channel 4 back in 1982-1983. It featured Wakeman interviewing a host of musical artists as diverse as Steve Hackett, Ian Paice, Andy Fairweather Low, John Entwistle, Eric Burdon, and Godley and Crème, then joining these musicians for a few live numbers with stalwart cohost Tony Ashton and friends. The show was beloved by fans of rock and prog music who had the chance to see some well established rock ‘n’ roll heroes, along with a few overlooked artists of the era, play bar blues, classic, progressive old and new songs live in an intimate setting. It’s available via Wakeman’s site and at Gonzo Multimedia here: http://www.gonzomultimedia.com/product_details/15960/Rick_Wakeman-Gastank_(DVD).html

Anyone interested Wakeman’s mid-period work, or any of the guests on this show are advised to pick up a copy of this rare set. Every segment is interesting and even of historical importance in some way, be it the interviews or live numbers. One of the best moments of the set is Wakeman and Ashton sharing a piano for a hilarious bit simply called “Keyboard Adlib.” That and Steve Hackett’s “Boogie” alone are well worth the price of the set! Sound good? Read on…

Background / Interview with Rick Wakeman

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Rick Wakeman and Steve Hackett

The year is 1982. Popular music has gone through several tumultuous years, an understatement for artists of the time. Classic and progressive rock musicians are at that moment reimaging themselves, their sound, and their stagecraft, in light of new influences, and the tremendous impact of music videos via the juggernaut called MTV. Punk has come and mostly gone, but continues to influence a host of bands, all plying slightly different musical territory, be it goth, ska, “new wave” dance or one of any number of increasingly eclectic musical styles.

In the face of these events, Wakeman and Tony Ashton, established a new television show called GasTank. Produced by Paul Knight with associate Ralph Tobert, Directed by Gerry Mill and recorded in a pub setting with stage and small studio audience, the show aired in the U.K. on channel 4 in 1982-1983.

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John Entwistle and Rick Wakeman

As an example, GasTank #1 kicks off with a couple of pieces by Ashton and Wakeman, then features friends Rick Parfitt from Status Quo, a reggae band The Cimarons, then legends Alvin Lee and Eric Burdon. Ashton brings a sense of humor, honky tonk bar-band blues piano and gritty vocals to his featured songs – his bits are often tongue-in-cheek and always enjoyable. Wakeman is, well, the man and musician we’ve come to know over so many years in the business – funny, disarming even, and as always brilliant on the keys. The house band includes long time Wakeman drummer Tony Fernandez with Chas Cronk and Jerome Rimson on bass. The rest of the crew play their parts whether an original tune from their catalog, or a suitable cover, such as when Eric Burdon introduces a long time Elvis Presley favorite. It’s intimate and thoroughly enjoyable for any fan or interested viewer.

Three cameramen, Richard Dellow, Andy Watt, and Mike Hand Bowman capture the action primarily from positions just in front of the small stage, or on it, affording us an upfront view of fingers, frets, and performances. The sound by Mike Erander and enduring quality of the footage itself is exceptional.

GasTank has long been unavailable on home video in any format. The box set from Gonzo Multimedia puts that right. It includes every episode of the series, presented over 2 DVDs (and in the larger set 3CDs as well) along with an interviews book and other goodies.

But there is a bit more to the story of GasTank, and for that we talked to the man himself, Rick Wakeman to learn more.

Rick, how did the concept for Gas Tank come about?

My dear friend Tony Ashton came up with it. The whole idea of the program, of playing live with people was his brainchild. He came up with the name as well, which I thought was a great name – back then “gas” was a hip expression. He was wonderful to play with – all Tony wanted to do was play piano, which worked well cause I played synths. He was a great boogie-woogie rock player – bands like Ashton, Gardener and Dyke and all the other groups he worked with are evidence to that. He was so, so good. It was sad when he died. One of the nice things is when I watch the programs – it’s the memories of seeing Tony play and all the good times that we had that I cherish. We did have amazing amounts of fun.

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Tony Ashton and band

What to you are some of the standout moments from the interviews or performances from the show, from your perspective?

There were quite a few standout performances. Phil Lynott was a great friend who came on and you’ll see when you watch it, he introduced a new member of Thin Lizzy, one that became a very important part of the band. John Entwistle’s solo appearance will remain with me forever. I asked him to come on – he was a great friend. I said “I want you to do a long solo – imagine an extended “My Generation” type of solo.” He said okay. So we wrote this piece for him and he did it in rehearsal. It was a good solo – a bit subdued, but I thought it would be really nice. Then his roadie took me aside and said ‘be prepared for tonight – that was just playing around.’ The solo he did for the taping was just jaw dropping – he absolutely knew how to take it to that next level. We had some good fun things on there. Suzy Quatro, Maggie Bell – lots of other performances. There were fun things as well – odd comments made, John Entwistle made one comment and his ex-wife sued him!

We had a great house band – we had a lot of fun with the house band – all great friends and camaraderie. Alvin Lee was on as a guest and he was fantastic. He loved it so much, he asked to come down and play in the house band. We had that with a few of the guest musicians – not just playing and leaving but most staying all day and watching the other people that came in. We had it set up like a club, and it was a great idea and it would still stand up today.

Give us one or two humorous anecdotes about the proceedings, something that went wrong or was surprising or even shocking?

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Rick Parfitt came in and it was the first time he had ever performed solo. And I remember him saying to me “I’m nervous, I never get nervous!” He helped overcome his nerves before we did the interview, by getting completely rat-faced; mind you I was as well. I sat with him doing the interview and I saw the lights were on but no one was in, and he could see in me there wasn’t anyone in either! I asked him a question (mumbles) “how did it feel to do your first solo” and he just grinned – and you can’t see this part because the footage was lost, but he came off the stool and he stumbled by me and landed on the floor (whack). The producers voice came down from upstairs and he said, “probably best to do this interview tomorrow!”

We used to do the interviews after the recordings, we would record in the morning then we would have a liquid lunch then we would do the interviews in the afternoon. They organized a green room, which was heavily stocked with alcohol – better than most pubs and bars. After the incident with Parfitt the green room was only opened after the interviews had been done!

More of this interview can be found inside the set’s booklet, including artists of today who would be on Rick’s wish list if there show were to be revived… and a recollection by dearly departed talent Tony Ashton

Not included, however, is Rick’s perfect pitch for the DVD/CD Box Set:

I can truly recommend that you buy this wonderful collection. The reason I can say this is, I’d buy it myself! It contains so much history, so much fantastic playing, interviews that will never be heard again from a lot of people whom sadly are no longer with us. There’s some music that was never recorded anywhere else. It’s part of our heritage and history and if you’re old enough to remember it, it will bring back great memories. If you weren’t even born at the time, I’m sure you will like a lot of the music, and will like going back and learning how so much of it came about. The GasTank collection, there will never be anything else quite like it, I can guarantee that!

 

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’

Roger Hodgson’s Desert Spiritual

hodgsonroger_ad_150dpiRoger Hodgson performed at the Spotlight 29 Indian Casino in Coachella last Saturday night, December 3, 2016 to an audience of adoring fans. It was a heart rendering, spiritual journey through a bit of Hodgson’s fine solo work, topping a generous helping of the songs he wrote for the band Supertramp.

Anyone within range of an FM radio in the 1970’s heard a lot from Supertramp. The group was led by a marriage of the uniquely talented principal members, Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies. Their breakup in 1983, which ended with Rick taking over the band, and Roger taking the highway, is one of the saddest in rock history. A decade before the split, after two early releases that were not commercially successful, the band clicked, releasing three popular masterworks in succession, Crime of the Century (1974), Crisis? What Crisis? (1975), and Even in the Quietist Moments… (1977). Each of these albums blended pop, jazz, and progressive rock music into a crowd-pleasing brew that allowed them to build a growing worldwide audience.

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By the time of their best selling release Breakfast in America (1979) they were mega stars, finally getting a #1 record in the states (#3 in the UK.) Many of the songs from that album are pure pop, and they became radio staples, including the title track, “The Logical Song,” and “Take the Long Way Home.” The album also contained several deeper cuts including Hodgson’s “Lord is it Mine” and “Child of Vision” – the fabulous workout for dual keys, Hodgson on Wurlitzer electric keyboard (a signature part of the album’s sound) and Davies on grand piano. After one more studio album …Famous Last Words… (1982), and tour the partnership fractured.

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This Hodgson solo tour was billed as the Breakfast in America show, and there was truth in that advertising, as all of the Hodgson-penned tracks listed above were included in the set list. On top of those selections, there was a generous helping of four from Crisis? What Crisis? (my absolute favorite); the one-two lead-in “Easy Does It” and “Sister Moonshine” were included with the more rare songs “Lady” and “A Soapbox Opera.” Fantastic! Key tracks from Crime of the Century, included set opener “School,” pop hit “Dreamer,” message song “If Everyone Was Listening” and arguably Hodgson’s most beautiful, heart-rending track “Hide In Your Shell” were highlights. One of Hodgson’s solo songs, “Death and a Zoo” was particularly fitting at this venue, as the message of kindness to animals was in line with Native American attitudes and music, including a tribal drum workout that shined. Closing the set, “Fool’s Overture” sated the prog crowd, while encores -“Had a Dream (Sleeping with the Enemy)” (his first solo single) and of course “Give a Little Bit” – kept everyone close to the stage and on their feet.

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Hodgson was in fine voice, able to reach smoothly into his upper register, which is critical for these songs to hit their mark. His playing on keys and particularly on twelve-string acoustic guitar was impeccable. The band was very strong as they deftly brought down the volume during sensitive bits, while punching the rockier moments. As the main man is so often on keys, there are times where an additional guitarist could punch things up a bit. But for this patron listening to these songs rendered with two and sometimes three simultaneous keyboards was pure heaven.

Hodgson himself waxed philosophical, as has been his norm during the last decade as he tours as a duo or with band. 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.

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See this enduring artist while the show goes on and the quality of performance is still so outstanding – if you care for this music, or just have interest and an open heart, it will be a priceless evening.

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#RockinTheCityOfAngels   #RTCOA   #DiegoSpadeProductions

Steven Wilson’s Masonic Moment

Steven Wilson brought what will likely be the final leg of his Hand. Cannot. Erase tour to the Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium San Francisco, Friday November 4, 2016. This is the third time I’ve seen Wilson on this tour – the first being in early 2015 and the second at the Royal Albert Hall in London. While the RAH show held many surprises, the show at the Masonic hewed much closer to the original leg of the tour, with the addition of a recent song off his six-song EP 4 1/2. It was another in a series of amazing concerts concerts which have served well to thrill Wilson’s existing fans and expand his audience.

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To begin the show, Steven and his well-seasoned band again performed the entire album Hand. Cannot. Erase, a concept record that fictionalizes the tragic true story of Joyce Carol Vincent, a young woman found dead in her London apartment, undiscovered and not wilsonsteven2016_cover_72dpimissed by anyone for over two years. On this night Ninet Tayeb (aka Nina) was not present to sing the devastating, beautiful lead vocal on “Routine,” though a recording of her vocal was used in part and the song was still a standout. With the focus appropriately on the five musicians on stage, dramatic subject matter and skilled performances graced the first half of the show.

After an intermission, the band continued with masterful versions of Porcupine Tree songs “Dark Matter,” “Lazarus,” “Harmony Korine” (again an enduring highlight of these shows) and “Sleep Together.” There was also a new track from 4 1/2, “My Book of Regrets,” followed later by “Don’t Hate Me” (originally a Porcupine Tree song from 1999’s Stupid Dream). These sounded equally fresh and powerful, despite another missed opportunity to hear Ninet who is featured in studio on the latter remake. Wilson began the encore of three songs with a Prince cover “Sign of the Times” which he promoted as a better choice than the typical cover of that artist’s rich and varied catalog. So true. Next up, a stellar rendition of Porcupine Tree song “The Sound of Muzak” and closing the show, the gorgeous title track from Wilson’s fantastic album The Raven Who Refused To Sing, a song he described as representing his best work, an agreeable notion for many fans.

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Wilson and his concert production team are adept at staging this work live, setting the mood with long dissonant ambient sounds, muted lighting and surrealistic imagery projected on a stunning high definition screen. As with earlier shows in the tour, 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 Masonic. 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 lead guitar player Dave Kilminster, 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 – in particular Kilminster and Holzman cranked out a number of superb progressive-laden solos throughout the evening.

Wilson 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 musical theater. 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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There are a handful of shows remaining in the U.S. this year, along with two in India, with no other plans announced at this time – get there if you can…nothing lasts forever!

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Rush Balance Left and Right Brain

Rush_ESLImage_72dpiRush could be described in a number of ways; they are rock gods, storytellers, and virtuosos. They are the rare band that evolved without trading away complexity or progressive tendencies and yet became incredibly successful, their popularity waxing rather than waning in the 1980s and beyond. As most readers will know, there is a question now as to how many more times Rush will play live, whether a one-off or a proper tour, given the status of the three band mates, and the vagrancies of time.

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I missed seeing Rush in the 1970s and was first introduced to the band by my hard-rocking college roommate Dave Kain, who was a major fan. I really liked parts of Farewell to Kings (1977), and had no exposure to Hemispheres (1978), instead I identified most with the sound and lyrics on Moving Pictures, released in 1981. Here is what I’ve learned while researching my book, on late 70s Rush.

Geddy Lee (bass, vocals) and Alex Lifeson (acoustic and electric guitars) formed Rush with drummer John Rutsey in Toronto in 1968. In 1974, they released their first album, Rush, which sounded a little like Led Zeppelin. It included the first classic Rush song “Working Man.” Rutsey left after the first record and was replaced by ace stick-man Neil Peart. With that, Rush recruited not only one of the world’s greatest drummers, but also one of rock’s best lyricists. By 1977, Rush was bringing their epic songs and instrumental virtuosity to arenas in the US, Canada, and Europe.

Rush_farewell-to-kings-cover-600x600The band’s fifth and sixth studio albums, A Farewell to Kings (1977) and Hemispheres (1978), are two of a kind. They were both written in the Wales countryside and both contain lengthy compositions on grand themes such as space travel (“Cygnus X-1”) and Greek mythology (“Hemispheres”), and songs inspired by Romantic poetry (“Xanadu”) interspersed with short, intimate pieces (“Closer to the Heart”). The two albums are also connected by one long song in two parts. A Farewell to Kings ends with “Cygnus X-1,” the first part of a two-part epic that lasts 28 minutes. The second part, titled “Hemispheres,” kicks off the next album, Hemispheres.

Rush’s concerts for the two albums were a feast for the ears and eyes. The success of 2112 (1976) had allowed them to buy some shiny new instruments. Peart added a wide array of percussion to his arsenal: a gong, orchestra bells, tubular bells, temple blocks, and crotales. These expanded his sound palette and helped him to become one of the most versatile drummers of the period. In addition, Lee bought some new synthesizers (a Minimoog, an Oberheim polyphonic) and a Taurus foot-pedal keyboard. Lifeson showed his versatility by switching from acoustic to electric guitar, playing foot-pedal keyboard and changing his sound with a wide array of effects pedals. Watching Lee sing, play intricate lines on his bass guitar, and play a pedal keyboard with his feet all at the same time was riveting. No matter how complex and cerebral their albums were, when they played live they were always raw and visceral, and no one ever seemed to make even the slightest mistake!

Rush_HemispheresCover_72dpiThe tours for these two albums were reportedly extremely difficult for the band, not only because of the complexity of the music, but also because of the everyday circumstances of being on the road in the 1970s. They headlined both tours, but, unlike Led Zeppelin, Rush didn’t have a snazzy jet to fly from gig to gig. Driving in a van 300 miles each day across the vast expanses of Canada and the United States to reach their next destination, they dubbed the Farewell to Kings tour the “Drive ’til You Die” tour. These die-hard musicians never wanted to disappoint their fans, playing when they were sick and sleep-deprived, rarely missing a gig.

Fans recall these performances as legendary in great part because of the backing films by Nick Prince, the swirling smoke effects, and the band’s high-powered performances. The wider array of instruments expanded the overall complexity of the material, but the band still rocked hard, wringing emotion from Peart’s two-part science fiction epic. These rock gods embodied the story’s new deity, Cygnus, the god of balance: a perfect blend of Apollo (the logical thinker) and Dionysus (ruler of emotion). Mind and heart united, a balance of brain and boogie… Rush triumphed at the end of the 70s, perfectly positioned for the mega-success the experienced in the 80s.

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Exit … Stage Left (1981)
Replay X 3 box set
Mercury (2006), 59 min., 1.33:1

 

 

 

Although short clips of early Rush concerts have been included in documentaries and as bonus material on DVD sets, the best way to see them during their epic period is to the watch Exit … Stage Left, filmed in Montreal. This concert video is on Disc One of the box set Replay X 3, released in 2006 (each of the three discs from the set is also available separately). Although the concert was filmed in late 1981, after they had released Moving Pictures, the band plays three classics from their epic period: “Xanadu,” “Closer to the Heart” and “The Trees.” Geddy and Alex’s double-necked electric guitar and bass can be seen in action in “Xanadu,” as well as Peart’s wide array of percussion instruments. The sound is a bit muddy and the lighting could be brighter, but it hardly matters in this epic display of creativity.

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