Steven Wilson brought his To The Bone tour to the Fillmore auditorium in San Francisco last week. It was another in a series of amazing concerts given by this gifted man and his amazing band.
To begin the show, as is the norm at Wilson’s events, a short film was used to “warm up” the audience. However, in past years, while the films have been haunting, melancholy bits of dirge, this year the content was thought provoking, and not exactly obtuse – a bit more Talking Heads, a bit less Dario Argento. Wilson is on a new bent these days, one where his music is more straightforward, a bit less melancholy, a bit more pop. Nonetheless, dramatic subject matter and skilled performances anchored the concert, and it was exceptional.
In order to punctuate his slightly altered musical direction, Wilson stopped between songs to say a few things about the difference between PROG and POP music. How “pop” was the original rock music, and how there should be no distain for pop, in comparison to it’s more complex, uptight brethren PROG:
“pop music has a very fine tradition… the greatest pop group of all time were The Beatles – you would not call them a rock band, you would call them a pop band. Second greatest pop band was Abba – does anyone here not like the Beatles and Abba? You see ergo everyone likes pop music. …Pop music is not SHIT!”
After this bit of pep, he asked the audience to dance (yes dance) to his new song, “Permanating,” a nice song in the pop genre, it must be agreed. Of the new songs, by the way, “People Who Eat Darkness” and “The Same Asylum As Before” were particularly muscular and memorable. “Pariah,” the particularly melodic song which features singer Ninet Tayeb on record, was played with her image singing her parts on the front and rear screens – a very effective use of the silk that drapes down in front of the band for part of the show. Its amazing really how such a seemingly unassuming, quiet man can command a stage and rock the s___ out of a venerable venue such as the Fillmore.
On this tour, the set list did not include stalwarts “The Raven Who Refused To Sing”and “Drive Home” and that was disappointing for this fan, but it’s clear that Wilson is leaning in a bit happier direction. It must be said that the set list was a nice combination of older Porcupine Tree and newer Wilson solo work.
As with earlier tours, 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 Fillmore. 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 new guitar player Alex Hutchings, 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. Steven 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 rock and pop music. 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.
Astounding, and wonderful is this artist. Check him out!
Andreas Vollenweider is the Swiss genius who gently plucks the electroacoustic harp with such feeling and with such beautiful tones, that he manages in just a few bars to conjure up everything good about the genre of music known as New Age. Next to brilliant keys composer Kit Watkins, he ranks top of the class in this, his chosen art.
Andreas hasn’t been to the states for a very long time, much less, in his native Europe as he’s long been working on new material, for which we are waiting with great expectations. Let’s hope he returns soon.
My wife Artina and I have been “on a tear” over the last decade catching bands and individual musicians in concert wherever the appear – locally in San Francisco or Los Angeles if possible, but if the closest a favorite band plays happens to be on the east coast, New York, Boston, Philly, etc. we will make the trip. We’ve done this for U2 (360 tour), Billy Crystal (one-man show), The Cure, PFM, and many others. We were fortunate over the last three years to have multiple reasons to go to the U.K. — home of my heart as it comes to music. We saw Simple Minds do their early album cuts at the Roundhouse, Kate Bush at the Odean for one of here 22 rare comeback performances, Stone Roses in the park, and, importantly my hero Rick Wakeman performing his masterwork Six Wives at the castle of Henry VIII, and his Arthurian Legend Redux at the O2. We even saw Artina’s favorite-ever singer/saxman Van Morrison in Lugano – what a blessing. It’s been expensive, certainly a luxury, and I owe it all to my last job at Splunk. I think we’ve “done it all” so to say – not sure as we peruse the list of bands we’ve loved, that another would draw us over the pond again.
Having said that (never say never – a lesson well learned from Sean Connery) I was looking through my hundreds of concert DVDs – yes I’m THAT guy) and slipped in the concert film of Andreas this morning. It’s brilliant, heartfelt, beautiful, as with all of his work. Then I checked his website, and it appears that, at least as of September last year, he plans a new release and tour. If he does that and does not come to the states, we will travel once again. If it is to be in Switzerland, which would not raise a complaint from this fan, then maybe an evening in Interlaken, Zermatt, or Lugano? Please Mr. Vollenweider!
The other main things to report, after I took quite a break from writing:
LCD Soundsystem, the brilliant, Talking-Heads-ish electro-indie band, sold three nights at the Greek Berkeley – gotta go
Steven Wilson is back at the Fillmore in May – his concerts are second-to-none
Bananarama plays in February, as does Robert Plant – certainly two ends of the musical spectrum!?!?
Best yet, the Dixie Dregs have reunited the original lineup, and are playing all over California in April – more on that to come
In a year that saw the sad loss of so many musical artists, entertainers and sports heroes, there was concurrently much to celebrate, as go on we must. For this patron, there were more than two-dozen amazing classic, progressive, or goth/new wave rock concerts by legendary artists, along with some fantastic shows from more recent bands that carry the torch of rock in all of its forms.
These are a holy trinity of artists that together comprise most of the core members of Yes. First up, Mr. Wakeman absolutely nailed his one-time performance of the King Arthur album redux at the O2 earlier this year, with orchestra, choir and narration. Then, the Steve Howe / Geoff Downes led version of Yes arrived to faithfully play renditions of half the double album Tales From Topographic Oceans paired with Drama, which sounded fantastic live. But the capper was seeing ARW who played Howe and Rabin era Yes music with a fever that brings a new appreciation to the work. It was a heartwarming, wonderful experience to see Jon Anderson so happy, and sounding as good as any night I’ve witnessed in over 20 years. This topped the year off in style.
In the Genesis camp, while we wait for Phil, Mike and Tony to put something together, we always have Steve Hackett and Peter Gabriel as working musicians – the former working often, the latter not so much! Hackett has been absolutely on fire, both during his Genesis Revisited performances, and with his solo work. The night we saw him here in San Francisco at the Warfield was by far, and I am not padding here, the best show I’ve seen from him since Wind & Wuthering. His renditions of classic songs from the Genesis catalog, along with his first four albums, and newer work from Wolflight, have never been bested. He is my true prog hero. Gabriel went out with Sting this year, in a fun and pleasant show – different for him – I think both better on their own, but it was nice to see the camaraderie. Chills when Sting teased us with the first few bars of “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight.” Chills.
The Cure on this year’s tour played crowd-pleasing set lists that changed each night, with a core of consistent selections from their most popular mid period work. The band played several tracks off Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987), Disintegration (1989), which included career highlights “Lullaby,” “Fascination Street” and “Pictures of You,” about which my daughter says “If you wanted to play one song to someone who did not know The Cure’s music, this would be it – so sad but beautiful.” Truer words. The other featured album was Wish (1992) from which the band pulled off a most unexpected pleasure, set closer “End.” Leader Robert Smith’s uncanny way of putting words to music, making the sum of the two something more than its parts, awakening dread, a cry for help, and ultimately survival, even transcendence is unparalleled. And, fortunately for us, he is a survivor and, as seen this year in concert, he continues to thrive, in apparently good health and surprisingly strong voice.
Watch for The Cure in my next book, should this sell out!
Witnessing Gilmour rock and roll at the Hollywood Bowl was absolutely perfectly awesome (in the 70s we would have said, “bitchin!”) The lighting and sound was fantastic, the film projections, which were programmed to the contours of the stage’s bowl shaped awning, were amazing. And we had close up seats and the pleasure of attending with great company, photojournalist Armando Gallo and his wife Cheryl, which will forever be a special memory. On this night, Gilmour seemed on fire, grinding out his brand of searing guitar solos gracefully, matching his alternately gravelly and silky smooth voice. He absolutely owned the stage, and the moment, blowing away this crowd of Angelinos, young and old alike.
This band performed at San Francisco’s Outside Lands, August 5th, 2016 to an anxiously awaiting crowd, once again taking their place a the top of the electro-funk pantheon, delivering an explosive concert consisting of 14 tracks that were also played at their “farewell” concert five years ago at Madison Square Gardens, chronicled in the exceptional film Shut Up and Play the Hits (2011) and the live album Live at Madison Square Gardens. The music as presented was incredibly tight, each musician playing his or her part with aplomb. Their songs progress, contrapuntal lines are drawn, the beat is intensified, bass, guitar or treated electronics are added, until the drone or melody comes clear and captivating, and Murphy adds vocals, working his rich baritone, ultimately building into ecstatic abandon. This is the main recipe for the band, and it’s done wonders for space rock, afro funk, new wave and alt/indie bands past and present. See this band in 2017 if you possibly can.
Seeing ELO last September 10, 2016, on the second of three sold-out nights at the Hollywood Bowl was like stepping back in time, as Lynne, band, and orchestra faithfully replicated every note of the original ELO compositions, along with a few newer tracks from Lynne’s most recent album. At around 80 minutes, incredibly, nearly every track on the set list was originally a hit or at least massively popular FM radio staple for ELO, including “Evil Woman,” “All Over the World,” “Livin’ Thing,” “Telephone Line,” “Turn to Stone” and on through seventeen songs, ending inevitably with “Roll Over Beethoven,” which as one would expect, highlighted the immense contribution of the Hollywood Bowl orchestra let by conductor Thomas Wilkins while fireworks lit the night sky.
Coldplay brought their A Head Full Of Dreams Tour to our 49ers (Levi’s) stadium in Santa Clara, south of San Francisco this year, and they will be back in 2017. It was an amazing night of lights, confetti, stagecraft, and music, courtesy of Chris Martin and band. Followers of Coldplay take no issue with their often-sentimental lyrics and gut-wrenching delivery by heartthrob Martin. I’ve read some number of critics who are dismissive of this band and their music exclaiming, “There’s no crying in a rock concert!”. Fair enough, Coldplay’s songs veer towards “adult contemporary,” with few gritty guitar licks, in favor of acoustic guitar and piano. This is, after all the man who very publicly decided to undergo a “conscience uncoupling” with ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow, then penned a song called “Fun” featuring the lyrical refrain “Didn’t we have fun” to honor what they had together. Very adult…and, excellent!
We saw Adele this year, yes we did! It was truly amazing – what a talent. Her voice was in perfect shape. The songs she close spanned her catalog sounding as good as or better than the original studio versions. Adele generally stood in place, whether main or b stage, swaying or turning a bit while her image was projected on front and rear stage screens to get everyone in the audience a great view. What was unexpected for this uninitiated punter is just how personable and funny Adele is. She greeted fans warmly, even pulling one couple on stage for selfies. She told stories from different points in her career, often in a self-deprecating way that was very endearing. There was a lot of this between song chatter, but it never wore thin, particularly since so many of her tracks are melancholic, a fact Adele herself pointed out, admitting that a lot of her songs are depressing. Yet there were enough upbeat songs in the playlist, and between those and the banter, there was a celebratory air in the room.
We caught the most recent, maybe last tour, of the Who, one which comes at the heels of the seminal band’s 50th anniversary, and wherein they ”play the hits.” The Who, after a delay a several months, made it to the Oakland Arena here in the San Francisco Bay Area last week on May 19, 2016. The delay was due to health issues with singer Roger Daltrey, which involve his voice, limiting his ability to sing on consecutive nights, causing quite a logistical challenge during the tour. The show was fabulous. Daltry is still in fantastic shape, a real inspiration for clean living and fitness! Townsend still hits his vocal marks and his guitar technique is immaculate. Though he understandably does not leap into the air as in times past, he still executes his windmill-arm attack on the frets mightily. And he has attitude to spare. We were lucky recipients!
Of the many rock groups in the 70s that strove to stage a theatrical performance, Alice Cooper stands among those that invested significant time and energy in the pursuit. “We were trying to create something that hadn’t been done. And what hadn’t been done is nobody took the lyrics and brought them to life…. you use the stage as a canvas. It’s all vaudeville and burlesque” according to Cooper. The man brought his crack band, stage props, dancers and costumes to San Francisco this year. While much of the stagecraft has been presented consistently throughout the years, the show is amazingly well rehearsed yet still fresh — a sonic and visual success. Musically, this was a straight-on hard-rocking show, highlighting the chops of the band’s three guitarists, most notably L.A. resident Nita Strauss, whose searing solos and flowing blonde hair punctuated many of the most metal-laden tracks. Cooper sustained his own still-intact gravelly vocals from start to finish, enthralling the crowd as the well-fashioned master of macabre ceremonies. The set list was peppered with some deep cuts and many hits like “I’m Eighteen,” “School’s Out” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” along with encore “Elected” during which Cooper made a fairly good case for his election to U.S. President, as a third-party candidate fronting the “Wild Party.” If only he had actually run and won!
Bad Company is one of the most important rock bands of the 1970s. They topped a hard rock core with silky smooth yet gritty production values, hooks galore, and pedigree in each musician. They are a band I had to, regrettably leave out of my upcoming book Rockin’ the City of Angels. The omission is due in large part to a few issues – most importantly that the book is a celebration of the outstanding concerts of the ‘70s including classic rock and prog bands, and I did not get to see them in concert until recently. This show, which included opener Joe Walsh, was absolutely amazing. Importantly Paul Rodgers has kept himself and his voice in perfect shape, and the band is as tight as ever, pinned down by Simon Kirke’s “rock steady” percussion. Catch this band while you can!
Roger Hodgson performed again this year in the states to audiences of adoring fans. Our show down at Coachella was a heart rending, spiritual journey through a bit of Hodgson’s fine solo work, topping a generous helping of the songs he wrote for the band Supertramp. Hodgson was in fine voice, still able to hit all those soaring high notes, and also waxing philosophical between the hits and deep cuts, which included four from my favorite, Crisis? What Crisis? He spoke plainly and warmly about the meaning of these songs, to him and to others, sometimes reading notes he’s received from fans or sharing his thoughts about how music can bring back memories, and heal troubled spirits. Truer words.
Styx is a Chicago based rock band that released nearly a dozen records from the start of their most enduring lineup in 1972, through 1983’s Kilroy Was Here. Three multi-talented singer-songwriters Dennis DeYoung (vocals, keyboards, accordion), Tommy Shaw (vocals, guitars), and James Young (vocals, guitars, keyboards), backed by brothers John Panozzo (drums) and Chuck Panozzo (basses) penned a dramatic blend of rock and pop that placed them in league with stateside brethren Kansas and Journey. This author caught the group on tour supporting the Pieces of Eight album on January 27 1978 at the Long Beach arena. It was an exciting, powerful presentation, featuring a tight performance that showcased the soaring vocal prowess and instrumental credentials of each principal musician. As of the time of this writing Shaw and Young represent Styx on annual tours while DeYoung tends to his solo career. We saw the Shaw/Young band this year and several times this decade and every time they were absolutely fantastic!
The band Ambrosia was founded in southern California in the early 1970s. Today they would be best known for their most popular albums Life Beyond L.A., and One Eighty each including a mega-hit single, respectively “How Much I Feel” and “You’re The Only Woman (You & I).” These hits highlighted the group’s more melodic tendencies. However, their first two albums, and much of their unjustly overlooked fifth and final release Road Island would be best filed under the progressive rock heading. Ambrosia was back on tour this year, and we caught their exceptional show in Pleasanton, California on Saturday January 23rd. Last year we caught cofounder David Pack who also continues to perform solo shows amongst many other pursuits in the music business. These musicians remain at the top of their game, and it’s been amazing to see them perform again.
Special mention goes to Ian Anderson’s multi-media concert about the original Jethro Tull – very innovative use of filmed sequences which help with the vocals and storyline – and, I finally got to meet Ian, one of my musical heroes! Jethro Tull of course features in my book as well, focusing on their 1973 epic, A Passion Play!
Other shows this year that were similarly fantastic included Bryan Ferry, Radiohead, The Specials, X, Ra Ra Riot, American Football, Beach House, St. Germain, Album Leaf and Steven Wilson, who made a final victory lap in support of Hand.Cannot.Erase. All in all a big year for live music!
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.
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 missed 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.
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.
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!
Once again my wife Artina and I had a wonderful year of travel and concerts, stoking our love of music and performance. It was another year that saw many acts from the 1970’s and 80’s coming back to town, along with several new bands we’ve followed over the last 25 years. Here is a list of the eleven best shows (one more than 10!) more or less ordered from best to less best, from where we sat:
Steven Wilson, San Francisco & London
We were privileged to catch Steven on his Hand.Cannot.Erase. tour stop at the Warfield theater in San Francisco, and then again one the second night of his London show at the Royal Albert Hall. Both were spectacular, but the London show was special as Ninet Tayeb was on hand to sing a devastating, beautiful lead vocal for “Routine” and Wilson performed many Porcupine Tree classics including a song I’ve happily not been able to get out of my head “She’smovedon.” Wilson and his concert production team are adept at staging his 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 Royal Albert Hall. Even with all the finery, the primary focus remained on the band members and guest musicians demonstrating their virtuosic skills throughout.
Änglagård, Cruise To The Edge
Not my wife’s favorite, as they can be very angular, but I’m working on her! I find this band from Sweden to be on the forefront of modern progressive rock. Taking cues from King Crimson, and European peers Shylock, SFF, and Ragnarok, this band manages to hit both beautiful and melancholy sounds in perfect harmony, calling in mind things like “Lark’s Tongues in Aspic” while being completely original. Their two sets on the cruise were a rare treat given their infrequent tours. Änglagård incorporated flute and acoustic instruments, putting Anna Holmgren (flute, saxophone, Mellotron, recorder, melodica) at center stage, Tord Lindman on guitar and occasional vocals, and the rest of the talented band all anchored by Johan Brand’s confident leads on Rickenbacker bass. Their live performances are more fluid and accessible than on record, as is true of the best bands.
Martin Barre, Cruise To The Edge This long time Jethro Tull guitarist led his crack band of blues-rockers through a roots-oriented show, focusing on new songs from his latest solo album, the excellent return to form Back To Steel. A follow-up morning gig featured more Tull classics including a very condensed version of a Tull epic they called “Thin As A Brick” after which Martin expressed the desire to carry on indefinitely, threatening to play the 1973 opus A Passion Play backwards! On the new album and in concert, vocalist and second guitarist Dan Crisp shines, bringing his own style to the new tracks, and the older Tull songs. Clearly, all members of the band, which included skilled drummer George Lindsay and veteran bassist Alan Thomson were in fine form. Martin looked happy and relaxed, joking that it was the first gig they played on coffee, and announcing, “Thank you for choosing us over porridge…were going to be the best breakfast you ever had!” Truer words…
Gryphon Fly Again
Gryphon recorded 5 albums from 1971-1977, each with a slightly different contemporary take on traditional English folk music including medieval and Renaissance era sounds, and original compositions, which blended instruments like bassoon, crumhorn, recorders and mandolin, with modern electric bass, guitar, and keyboards. We had the rare opportunity to see their reunion show earlier this year, which was a consistent display of virtuosity from each of the skilled multi-instrumentalists. Drummer Dave Oberle and Brian Gulland occasionally sang in rich bass and baritone voices undiminished by their long absence from the stage. Dave’s work on drums and percussion, along with bass player Jon Davie anchored the songs with rumbling toms, and a thick and varied bottom end. Guitarist Graeme Taylor spent the evening seated with his acoustic guitar front and center, adding shimmering rhythms and leads to the music. Relative newcomer Graham Preskett filled in on all sorts of instruments including the only electronic keyboard, along with guitar, violin and winds. Founder Richard Harvey and Brian led with solo and dueling winds and traditional keyboards, each thrilling the audience with their display of talent. Richard’s lightening fast leads on recorders bring honor to a sometimes-maligned instrument. Brian’s skill on the bassoon is a fun listen – certainly something you won’t often hear elsewhere. And, you haven’t seen anything in progressive folk/rock until you witness two expert crumhorn players duel with rapid-fire counterpoint!
Camel’s Long Journey, Rambin’ Man Festival
Founding guitarist Andrew Latimer’s shows a rare restraint, like contemporaries Eric Clapton and David Gilmour, wringing powerful emotion from every note, never crowding the measure. On top of this, he sings and plays flute, and these skills were all on display at the summer festival. He traded leads and harmonies with Colin Bass (who makes everything he does look easy, paired with Denis on drums) and shared solos with keyboard wizard Ton, who was in great form. Although this was a great show, the band was rushed offstage, seeming to be surprised at the shorter time they were allotted. Prior nights on this brief tour included a three track set from Dust and Dreams (1991) a keyboard instrumental, and “Long Goodbyes” from Stationary Traveller, (1984), one of our favorites, none of which they were able to play. The rush seemed unnecessary; the stage time allotted to the comparatively pedestrian Scorpions would have fit Camel’s entire set list. It was not an arrangement befitting one of Britain’s most talented musical outfits. Nonetheless Camel packed a punch during their truncated 80 minute set and made the trip to England special for us.
Alan Parsons at Club Nokia
Alan Parsons and his supremely talented band played the Nokia Club in Los Angeles, performing in town for the first time in 6 years on June 11, 2015. The group was at the absolute top of their game, driving through a set list that included many of their hits recorded over the years as The Alan Parsons Project, and in particular highlighting one of their most popular albums, The Turn Of A Friendly Card (1980). Parsons and his musicians were all in a great spirit, reproducing the sound of the studio records with pinpoint accuracy but also with some improvisation, and room to demonstrate virtuosity. The band on this night were: Alastair Greene (guitar), Dan Tracey (guitar), Guy Erez (bass), Danny Thompson (drums), Tom Brooks (keyboards), Todd Cooper (lead vocals, saxophone, cowbell J), and long time vocalist P.J. Olsson who just nails the delicate, emotive vocals of songs like “Time” and “Old and Wise” –truly wonderful.
Robert Plant’s Still Got It!
Robert Plant totally rocked the BottleRock festival in Napa California on May 30, 2015. We brought a dozen friends along for our birthday weekend, and went in with mixed expectations – knowing he would do some of his own material and of course some Led Zeppelin classics and generally just hoping to see this rock n’ roll legend perform at his best. From the start we were actually a bit shocked at how incredible the show was. Robert opened with “The Wanton Song” an old Zeppelin classic, performed pretty much as originally recorded. What followed was a mix of his solo work, covers, and Zeppelin songs, including “Black Dog”, “The Lemon Song”, “What Is and What Should Never Be” and others. During Robert’s rendition of “Going To California” a 20 something woman behind me started to cry and I realized what an impact Zeppelin’s music and Robert’s vocal prowess have meant to generations.
Swedish band Dungen’s sound has softened a bit over the years since the debut in 2001. Since it’s music that’s hard to describe, it’s best to listen to a few tracks. Check out this video for “Akt Dit” which sports an intro and melody reminiscent of French duo Air. Or for an earlier more challenging psychedelic track try “Högdalstoppen” from the album Skit I Allt (2010). While the majority of songs are more pastoral and melodic, each show has at least one long instrumental “freak out” such as “Högdalstoppen.” Best to salve the dissonance with a typical follow up track such as “Satt Att Se” which sports a nice animated video. As if to confirm the difficulty one has describing their sound, front man Gustav Ejstes explains on their website that the 2010 album Skit I Allt “is about a certain feeling: you’re with your friends and mates, all hanging out till 6 in the morning. You’re the last one left at the party and you call this person that you want to be with. They’re asleep, but they still say, ‘Ah, fuck it, come over.’ It’s that feeling.”
Kansas Carry On…. In Valencia, California
Kansas is now touring again, populated with the two original members Ehart and Williams and new members that have joined over many years. Original member Dave Hope (bass) left in 1983 and Billy Greer has played bass with the band since then. Robby Steinhardt (violin, vocals) retired almost 10 years ago in 2006 and David Ragsdale has been their violin player since that time, with Greer covering Steinhart’s vocal parts. Principal composer Kerry Livgren (guitars, keys) was in and out of the band until his final departure in 2000, and since then both Williams and Ragsdale cover his guitar parts. After Walsh’s retirement last year, the remaining players hired Ronnie Platt primarily to cover his vocal parts, along with some keys, and David Manion to supply primary keyboard parts and add some background vocals. The good news is, as seen carrying on this year, Kansas is definitely back and ready to roll.
Ty Segall’s Glam and Grind
Ty Segall is a 27 year old indie rock wunderkind from San Francisco. Ty has released eight studio albums, beginning with 2008’s Ty Segall and continuing thru to 2014’s rocker Manipulator, building a solid fan base over these last seven years. In addition, he has released more than two-dozen singles and EP’s and played on as many albums by other indie bands. We caught up with him at the Great American Music Hall last January. From the first note it was clear that Ty’s punk roots remain strong. Hard core fans populated a mosh pit up front, slowing to rapt attention only during some of the new numbers, and building to a fever on the rest. The performance was energetic and unrelenting, as Ty, dressed in workman’s jump suit attacked both guitar and vocal leads with aplomb, recalling an early, angular Pete Townsend, though channeling less anger, more excitement (he is from California after all).
Blancmange recently completed a two-night live stint at The Red Gallery in London. We were fortunate to be over from San Francisco, to catch the first of these on Friday May 15, 2015. Blancmange last made it to my city by the bay way back in the early 1980’s when I felt similarly fortunate to catch a show at the Old Waldorf. There we witnessed Neil Arthur (vocals, haircut, quirky moves), Stephen Luscombe (keyboards) and David Rhodes (guitar, rhythm) play along with a reel to reel tape, backup singers, and a harried drummer who had occasional trouble keeping up with the pace of Stephen’s drum machine. It was a fantastic show – one of my favorite memories of 80’s era “new wave” concerts we attended in and around San Francisco. Blancmange is now primarily the vehicle for singer Neil Arthur and his current day electronic music. Founding partner Stephen Luscombe is said to be ill, unable to join on this album and live shows that follow. For the concert, long time guitarist and collaborator David Rhodes, was present once again. It was a fun show from these talented artists.
David Gilmour, Heart, Of Montreal, Yes, Marillion, Three Friends, PFM, Moon Safari, Haken, Steeleye Span, Robin Trower, U.K., Mew, Billy Idol, Paula Frazier, Tempest, Midge Ur, Magma, Blue Oyster Cult, Simon Phillips and David Pack were all excellent as well – we feel blessed to have seen more than three dozen incredible artists perform in concert this year.
Honorable mention must go to Madonna, who brought her stage extravaganza to the bay area this year. Her 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. It was a fantastic show – the only pop oriented band of the year, owing to the fact that I am buried in 1970’s history at the moment, finishing a book on that era’s defining rock concerts. From here forward, we have a definite plan to put away the AARP card, and get out to hear more new bands. We are already set to include Beach House, Ra Ra Riot, Muse, and many more.
I’m also happy to be learning more about how to take concert photos at these shows. Artina does some, and has a great eye, and I’m trying to catch up. Last several shows I’m using the “bridge camera” Lumix FZ-1000 and liking the results. Given I’ve been fortunate to meet some of the greatest photographers of the rock era this year, it’s been an inspiration! Happy New Year to you and yours….. Doug
Steven Wilson staged two concerts at the Royal Albert Hall on the 28th and 29th of September, 2015. This is the second time I’ve seen him on this tour – the first being earlier this year in San Francisco. That fantastic show, in support of his latest Hand. Cannot. Erase. (2015), was very similar to the first night of his two night stop at the RAH. Nearly all of the new work was performed, a concept album that fictionalizes the tragic true story of Joyce Carol Vincent, a young woman found dead in her London apartment, undiscovered and not missed by anyone for over two years. The subject matter anchored an evening of dramatic, inspirational and at times emotionally overwhelming musical theater.
We caught the second night at the hall. Given many in the audience had been to the first show, Wilson prepared a new set list that included just a few from Hand. Cannot Erase., instead focusing on earlier solo tracks and many Porcupine Tree songs. After a strong opener “No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun” from 2009’s Insurgentes, Wilson intoned, tongue firmly in cheek, “Tonight is a very different show – for those of you who were not here last night, you don’t know what you missed. It was awesome. Tonight we are going to be doing stuff that we don’t know how to play very well.” The band then played a masterful version of “Shesmovedon,” a Porcupine Tree song from 2000’s Lightbulb Sun. Next, he noted that audience members who were present on the prior night would not mind if he brought out the first guest, Ninet Tayeb, to sing the devastating, beautiful lead vocal on “Routine,” from HCE, a show stopping moment that was greeted with rapturous applause. Her vocal was flawless and highly emotive, illuminating the accompanying stop motion animated video of the song’s lonely, heartbroken protagonist. Next up were two more Porcupine Tree songs, “Open Car” the spectacular riff-driven track from 2005’s Deadwing, and “Don’t Hate Me” from 1999’s Stupid Dream by which time it was clear we were being treated to a very unique concert.
Now mid way through the show, Wilson mentioned there had been rumors that he would be bringing out some “so-called” veteran players, but that instead, “these two shows are very much a celebration of my generation of musicians.” At this, he introduced the next guest, his sometime live and studio guitarist Guthrie Govan, who took on leads for the next three songs “Home Invasion,” “Regret #9,” and “Drive Home” the only track on this evening from his fantastic album The Raven Who Refused To Sing. This song included a projection of director Jess Cope’s haunting artistic video clip featuring it’s sorrowful lead character cleverly rendered by newspaper clippings, illustrating it’s message:
Release all your guilt and breathe
Give up your pain
Hold up your head again
Before launching in, Wilson brought out winds player Theo Travis, who he joked, had to be secreted-away from David Gilmour. Theo played beautifully on this, and the following four tracks that ended the main set. In a surprise move, these were all from earlier Wilson solo albums. Three of these songs “Sectarian,” “No Part of Me,” and “Raider II” were from 2011’s Grace for Drowning with the forth being the title track from 2009’s Insurgentes. Two encores followed, all Porcupine Tree songs. After the first, “Dark Matter,” Wilson came back onstage with Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison for “Lazarus” and “The Sound of Muzak.” Harrison delivered his brand of deft percussion rich with fine work on symbols and, as would be expected, the crowd went wild. The guests and song selections were aimed perfectly at pleasing these dedicated fans, so many which were present for both nights, for very different shows.
Wilson and his concert production team are adept at staging his 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 Royal Albert Hall. Even with all the finery, the primary focus remained on the band members and guest musicians demonstrating their virtuosic skills throughout. From the 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. Though he claimed to be a bit worn from the two long performances, Steven 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 core set, and a special night for his fans. 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. It was all well worth the trip across the “pond!”
(photo of Ninet Tayeb used by kind permission of Camila Jurado Photography 2015)
Steven Wilson brought his latest tour to the Warfield Theater in San Francisco on June 14, 2015. This is the second time I’ve seen him at that venue – the first being with his band Porcupine Tree on their last tour. Each solo outing from Steven and his band has been an increasingly intense, powerful experience. On this night, while retaining all the darker, melancholic aspects of prior visits, the whole seemed a bit brighter, owing to the more modern, accessible nature of this latest album, Hand. Cannot. Erase. (2015). This new work is a concept album that fictionalizes the true story of Joyce Carol Vincent, a young woman found dead in her London apartment, undiscovered and not missed by anyone for over 2 years. The subject matter anchored an evening of dramatic, inspirational and at times emotionally overwhelming musical theater.
For those of you in Europe and the U.K., this tour is coming your way from 12-July through 9-February 2016. On the strength of the San Francisco show, we will be attending again at the Royal Albert Hall on 29-September. It’s a spectacular, stunning night of music and theater, not to be missed. Spoiler alert: read on only if you are fine knowing details of the show before attending!
Steven and his concert production team are adept at staging his work live, setting the mood with long dissonant ambient sounds, muted lighting and surrealistic imagery. This night began with an introductory film focusing on the cold exterior of a non-descript apartment building, setting the tone for the themes of urban loneliness and isolation from Hand. Cannot Erase. The band took the stage to perform all the songs on the new album save one, with just a few added tracks: “Index” from Grace For Drowning (2011), “Lazarus” from Porcupine Tree’s, Deadwing (2005), and “Harmony Korine” from Steven’s first solo album Insurgentes (2009). These songs resonated with the themes of his new record, as the liner notes confirm. That his new work would be featured, and form the core of the set, was expected and welcome.
Gritty, surrealistic films from directors Lasse Holie, Jess Cope, and Yousef Nassar accompanied the music and were a highlight of the show. The film for “Regret #9” was a standout, with its animated tale of mundane moments in the protagonist’s daily life. Lighting techniques were clever and colorful. Sound was crisp and clear, reproduced by the top-notch audio system in surround sound. Yet, the primary focus remained the band members demonstrating their skills throughout. 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 from Nick Beggs on basses, and skilled drummer Craig Blundell. Despite a jibe that he is the “weak link” in the otherwise excellent display of musicianship, Steven delivered his poetic lyrics throughout in fine voice, alternating skillfully between guitar, bass, keys and samples, including evocative spoken word loops from Ninet Tayeb. He displayed his wit and thoughtfulness between tracks as lead raconteur. These elements combined to make up a masterful core set.
Prior to the first of two encores, a silver translucent curtain was dropped across the front of the stage. Additional projections were shown and for a time, the band played behind this curtain, their frames casting shadows falling in front and behind, creating a mysterious visual effect. The first encores “The Watchmaker” from The Raven That Refused to Sing (2013) and “Sleep Together” from Porcupine Tree’s Fear of A Blank Planet), were followed by a final encore, the beautiful title track from The Raven That Refused to Sing, ending the show in a stunning display of craft, verve and virtuosity.
Most of Steven’s solo work veers toward unrelentingly dark and sad subjects and matching tonality. After the song “Perfect Life,” Steven summed it up best: “This music is superficially miserable, but actually I’ve always found that kind of music very uplifting and being very beautiful going right back to my teenage years … it makes you feel good. I’m not quite sure how that works as I’m not a psychologist but I’ve always found that to be the case. There’s something about shared human experience that when you hear something really sad, melancholic, depressing, angry, then implicitly I think you understand that we are not alone in the world, that there is someone else that feels the same way we do – and let’s focus on that.” Made me reflect on how true that’s been of my own tastes in music and the profound impact it’s had on my life.
For the uninitiated, when it comes to assessing your interest, note that while Stephen is very often associated with progressive rock and it’s 1970’s era practitioners, his sound is very much of today, and his influences are diverse. Follow Steven’s ongoing re-mastering work as engineer-for-hire, and the names of early inspirations will be apparent. At one point in the show Steven acknowledged his audience was more than “middle aged men in Pink Floyd t-shirts” (even though they’re great!) and that his influences go beyond 70’s conceptual rock. Before launching into “Harmony Korine,” he name-checked some of these artists from the 80’s and 90’s. “The music of my teenage years was the music of the 80’s and I still love this music … there is a lot of [it] in my DNA and I’m not talking about just the mainstream bands, I’m talking about Kate Bush, Talking Heads, and also a bunch of other bands that were only there if you sought them out. Artists like Sonic Youth, XTC, Cocteau Twins and … a musical genre called shoegazing music which came at the end of the late 80’s, into the start of the 90’s – bands like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Chapterhouse… it’s a specific sound that I absolutely loved and still love to this day and it’s in my music somewhere.”
Indeed, there are many influences that have been fused and evolved into something utterly unique by this multi-talented musician. I can’t think of another artist I’ve seen over these now forty years with a more accomplished, expressive body of work and ability to present it with the highest standards in concert. Treat yourself to a heavy dose by catching the band on this tour.