Tag Archives: Rock

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.

Flaming Lips Burn!

The Flaming Lips burned brightly last time I saw them at the Fox Theater, Oakland on October 1, 2010 when they played to a sold-out crowd of initiated followers.  The music of this band is a jarring combination of funk, progressive, noise, and psychedelic music, that may invoke a dreamy state in the listener.  Their most recent release at that time, Embryonic, is a relentless, percussive masterwork that was not particularly featured in the set list at the Fox.  Instead the band pulled more evenly from material released over the last dozen years, probably because this show fell late in the tour.

In general, there is a lot to applaud in a Flaming Lips show:

  • Front man Wayne Coyne climbing inside his clear plastic ball rolling through the audience
  • Tons of confetti delivered via colorful cannons, showering down on the audience along with a multitude of giant balloons
  • A dozen amatuer dancers – boys stage left, girls right – posing and shimmying to the sounds
  • Wayne donning a giant pair of hands containing palm lasers shooting out in all directions
  • Beautiful light pallet with acid-house projections on clever rear video delivery system
  • Talented musicians that improve on the studio recordings with their aggressive live delivery

All of this should add up to an absolutely amazing entertainment spectacle.  And it does.  But somehow this night’s show just fell a bit short for me. Loved the evening, but some minor complaints:

  • Wayne too often extols the crowd to cheer louder
  • Too much time is spent wandering the stage and preparing for the next track, breaking the flow of the show
  • The dancers, hands and bubble are great staples, but new innovations would help the converted

Having said all that, for anyone uninitiated in the ways of the Lips, the show would be an exceptional experience. And make no mistake, once the band gets focused on the delivery of their most forceful, driven work, they are on top of their game as alt-rock pioneers. For this two time attendee, I will be excited to see them again with some additional set pieces and a tighter delivery so as to take the heat a few degrees higher.  Seems after the intervening years, and now with a new EP, the next tour will be the right time.

Crowded House Intrigues

Crowded House came to the Warfield Theater this summer, touring in support of their latest release Intriguer.  I have a long history of patronizing all manner of audio, video, and performances from this band, from Neil Finn and Tim Finn, and from their original band, Split Enz, and so am likely to be a bit biased about their capabilities. But to me, almost anything Neil and/or Tim are involved in will always be special as they are basically the Beatles of New Zealand.  Personal favorites amongst all their projects over the years include “Conflicting Emotions” from Split Enz, Tim Finn’s self titled third release, and the self titled “Finn Brothers” album.  For me, Crowded House’s best work is “Together Alone“, though after a series of listens, the new release “Intriguer” does intrigue – buy it with the DVD which sports the band running through most of the tracks in their home studio live and up close – it’s a wonderful document of a mature, precision band.

At the Warfield, the group was in top form in front of an enthusiastic crowd of fans.  New tracks like “Amsterdam” and “Either Side of the World” were standouts during the set, which was neatly comprised of Crowded House staples going back to their first release.  For the first time in my experience, they did not include a track from the Enz era, though it was not missed amongst so many favorites from their back catalog.  Neil’s voice is remarkable for it’s durability after all these years, and given every group member sings backup, including his wife who lent her voice for one track, the harmonies were lush and heart warming. All in all a great night from a great band fronted by this important artist and entertainer.

Foreigners

Mick and Kelly of Foreigner
Mick and Kelly of Foreigner

Went to see Foreigner last week at the Mountain Winery, Saratoga, California. I knew that the only original member of the band present would be guitarist Mick Jones and that they had a “replacement” vocalist for Lou Gramm but I was curious to see how the show would be. And…it was really great – surpassing my expectations, which got me thinking about why it was so special. A fair amount of it was nostaligia – for a tight ’70’s classic rock sound, and for a band that was popular when I was in high school. But a dominant factor was the new vocalist, Kelly Hansen, who took the mantle of lead rock vocalist and delivered a flawless performance, hitting all the notes, sounding every bit as strong as Lou back in the day.

This phenomena of bands employing replacement singers shows no signs of abating. Besides drummers (wink), vocalists seem to be the first to “retire” from a band. Sometimes this is to pursue a solo career, or due to personal issues within the group, but as time goes on it is often true that there are health issues and the assertive vocals just aren’t presentable anymore. For various reasons, we have more youthful vocalists fronting Boston, Foreigner, Journey, Yes, and Alan Parsons – all solid acts from the 70’s.  Each of these acts rely on the singer to deliver the message, to dance or strike postures, engage the crowd and to be an entertainer. It’s a critical role and the show ends up being a disappointment if the vocalist cannot meet the challenge – particularly daunting for those whose core work relied on emotive, forceful vocals.

In fact, the trend of touring with new crew does not stop with the vocalist. At this show for instance, Mick was the only original member of the band. The other core original member, Ian McDonald (keys, winds) has been out this decade with an assortment of ex-King Crimson players covering early tracks by that band. Several acts I’ve seen recently have only a one or two original members still wailing away. Eventually, we end up with “tribute” bands being the only way to experience the music live, and I’ve seen some great tributes including The Musical Box (Genesis), and The Australian Pink Floyd.  Tribute bands for 80’s artists are now following suit.

Some decry the advent of rock musicians still pushing their wares past age 50 or 60 and it clearly is important that the band be able to deliver as great a show as possible. My experience has been that more often than not, these shows have been well played and entertaining. Heart and The Rolling Stones are examples of bands that have been solid this decade with their original vocalists. Artists from the 80’s like Depeche Mode, Simple Minds, and Echo & The Bunnymen have similarly put on amazing shows. As time goes on, tribute bands will step in to recreate and interpret the work of these original artists. We can now see that rock and it’s variants should be able to endure just as classical music has, to be recreated and experienced by new generations into the future. To me, either within the band, or as a tribute, these foreigners are most welcome.

3 Doors, Down on the 4th

doorsdownJust saw 3 Doors Down on July 4th, at Konocti Harbor, at Clear Lake in northern California.  Arrived at the lakeside resort at about 4 pm to a party that had clearly already started – you know, that slightly awkward situation where everyone but you is already drunk? Seemed like everyone was yelling – almost put my earplugs in before the show even started!

doorsdownpatrioticRegardless, the show was excellent. 3 Doors hail from Mississippi with an assertive, tight, “southern style” of rock infused with plenty of soul and often with positive or patriotic lyrics. Singer Brad Arnold is a solid live performer, and led the band through hits and back catalog including “It’s Not My Time”, “Kryptonite”, and my favorite “When I’m Gone“. Not my usual cup of tea but a strong brew that fit the 4th of July spirit perfectly.

Yes Transcends

Asia Opening
Asia Opening

Finally!  After a year of uncertainty about the future of Yes, I am pleased to report here that the show last night at the Warfield theater in San Francisco exceeded my expectations making the long wait worthwhile.  Asia opened and played a set list that included several songs from their debut, two tracks from the followup, and one from the most recent release. Group members presented something from their past –  John Wetton (King Crimson/In the Court of the Crimson King), Geoff Downes (The Buggles/Video Killed the Radio Star), and Carl Palmer (ELP/Fanfare for the Common Man), each representing a bit of the the history of their 1970’s bands.  While Asia was always this “progressive supergroup gone pop”, their work was pleasent, powerful and certainly less angular than their predecessors.  John Wetton is one of my favorite vocalists and he delivered with accurate, clear vocals throughout the show – awesome and unexpected after all these years.

When Yes took the stage for the opening track, “Siberian Khatru”, any fears that this ensemble would have troubles melted away.  This first track would be a litmus test for any band, given the complex interlocking passages and strong harmonies. This band showed right away that they are up to the task, as Chris Squire (bass), Steve Howe (guitars), and Alan White (drums) played as well as I have seen, and seemed to enjoy themselves during the almost two hour set. Though this music calls for precision timing and accuracy, the band kept a the slight looseness to some passages which added to the experience.  The only minor complaint for me is that while Oliver covered his father’s material (and Geoff/Tony) faithfully, he never really stood out in the mix, but that has been a common affliction of Yes keyboard players other than Rick Wakeman.

Siberian Khatru
Siberians

Most important was the question – would the absence of lead singer Jon Anderson, the zen center of Yes, render the show a lesser form?  Would the emotional integrity of the experience be intact?  Covering for Jon Anderson is even more difficult than what we have seen with other ’70’s acts such as Alan Parsons, Journey, Foreigner, Boston, etc. because Jon is so much part of the fabric of the whole Yes experience.  The main reason most of us love this band is simple, and goes beyond exceptional musicianship and compositions – its that when Yes hits it marks, we are taken somewhere on a transcendent journey, getting in touch with an energy outside ourselves.  The band construct these intense, chaotic passages, which build, and then shift into the most angelic, harmonic major-chord-based resolves imaginable.  Jon seems at the heart of this journey, embodying his spiritual lyrics – often obtuse, but imparting radiant, positive messages.  When this is presented properly in a live concert setting, the results are powerful.  On this night, of course we missed seeing Jon himself, but even without him in this lineup, all was well in the Yes universe.

The current vocalist Benoit David has Continue reading Yes Transcends

Ozric Tentacles Indescribable at the Independent

The Ozrics Live
The Ozrics Live

How many adjectives does it take to describe a band’s sound? Defining the sound of instrumental band Ozric Tentacles could take a couple dozen, but might best be summarized as “psychedelic-hippy-jam-trance-reggae-space-rock.” More to the point, listening to a track from the 2000 release “The Hidden Step,” my son Aidan described them as “Arabian porn music!” In reality, the Ozrics mix jazz-fusion, reggae/dub, and space-rock forms with eastern flavored trance/ambient, sequencers and sound effects, creating a unique brew that is truly their own. Listen to the track “Sunhair” from 1993’s “Jurassic Shift” and you will know instantly if this music is for you. If it is, you will find more than 25 varied and rewarding album releases to explore.

Ed Wynne
Ed Wynne

Last Wednesday night, May 27, 2009 at the Independent, founding member guitarist-synth player Ed Wynne led what is now a four piece band through a cosmic three hour set. The set list included several earlier tracks, such as “Saucers” from 1991’s “Stangeitude” (a personal favorite) which Ed played on acoustic guitar.  These identifiable tracks were needed to balance the more jam-band oriented excursions, and I would have preferred more of them, particularly in the second half of the show. During many of these segments the keyboards were too far back in the mix, robbing the sound of some of the more trance-inspired bits. Still it was an amazing set, and very effectively showcased new material from 2009’s superb “The Yum Yum Tree“.

This unique band Continue reading Ozric Tentacles Indescribable at the Independent