Tag Archives: Styx

Best Rock Concerts of 2016

Best Rock Concerts of 2016

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.

More than half of these bands can be found in my new book Rockin’ the City of Angels which I am happy to say is now available on Amazon here.

For this patron, the best of the year:

ARW (Anderson Rabin Wakeman), Yes, Rick Wakeman

bestof2016_yesarw2_144dpi

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.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Relayer/Solos tour:

rtcoa_yesbookopeningpage_144dpi

 

Steve Hackett, Sting/Gabriel

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.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour:

rtcoa_genesisspread_144dpi

 

The Cure

bestof2016_cure_72dpi

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!

 

David Gilmour

bestof2016_gilmour_72dpi

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.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during The Wall tour:

rtcoa_pinkfloyd2_144dpi
Photo (c) Brian Weiner / The Illusion Factory

 

LCD Soundsystem

bestof2016_lcd72dpi

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.

 

ELO

bestof2016_elo_144dpi

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.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Out of the Blue tour:

rtcoa_elofilm_144dpi

 

Coldplay

bestof2016_coldplay_72dpi

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!

 

Adele

bestof2016_adele_72dpi

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.

 

The Who

bestof2016_who_72dpi

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!

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Tommy tour:

rtcoa_who1spread_144dpi
Photo (c) Neal Preston

 

Alice Cooper

bestof2016_cooper_72dpi

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!

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Welcome to my Nightmare tour:

rtcoa_cooperalicespread_144dpi

 

Bad Company

bestof2016_badcompany_144dpi

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

bestof2016_hodgson_144dpi

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.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Breakfast in America tour

rtcoa_supertrampfilmspread_144dpi

 

Styx

bestof2016_styx_144dpi

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!

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Pieces of Eight tour:

rtcoa_styxspread_144dpi

 

Ambrosia

bestof2016_ambrosia_72dpi

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.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Somewhere I’ve Never Traveled tour:

rtcoa_ambrosiaspread_144dpi

 

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!

rtcoa_jethrotullspread_144dpi

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!

 

Rockin’ the City of Angels: What?

Click here to buy Rockin’ the City of Angels, the new book now available at Amazon.com

_______________________________________________

Titled Rockin’ the City of Angels, the book was a 2 year labor of love for this long time rock fanatic. I described it on the back cover in this way:

genesis_lambitboth_72dpi

STROBE FLASHES PIERCE THE DARK STAGE to reveal a NYC street punk as he faces the other half of his fractured self. A father’s WWII fighter plane crashes into a wall, temporarily slowing its ascent around his son’s troubled heart. A fiend clad in a white tuxedo steps out from the frame of a graveyard scene onto a haunted stage welcoming all to his many nightmares. A woman, weapon drawn, tells the story of James and his very cold gun. The top drummer from the top 70s rock band in the world pounds out the opening beat that tells us it’s been a long time since he rock ‘n’ rolled . . . a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely lonely time.

rtcoa_bowiepage_144dpi
David Bowie photo (c) Neil Zlowzower / Atlas Icons

THESE IMAGES ARE SEARED into my memory from the rock concerts I witnessed in Los Angeles, the “City of Angels” in the 1970s, a time when rock bands were making expansive concept records with sweeping themes. Rock albums at the time promised “theater of the mind,” and their creators were inspired to mount elaborate stage shows that brought these dreams to life. These artists used every available piece of stagecraft—lights, projections, backdrops, props, and costumes—to create awesome spectacles for arenas packed with adoring fans— fans like you and me.

rtcoa_yesbookopeningpage_144dpi

This book celebrates more than thirty of these incredible performances including key tours by bands such as Led Zeppelin, Queen, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Genesis, Heart, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, The Who and Yes. We’ll share memories of those legendary concerts and my reviews of the best video documents of the era, each band illuminated by a hand-picked collection of brilliant images—some never-before seen—by the best photo- journalists of that time including Richard E. Aaron, Jorgen Angel, Fin Costello, Armando Gallo, Neal Preston, Jim Summaria, Lisa Tanner and Neil Zlowzower along with many others.

rtcoa_who1spread_144dpi
Who photo (c) Neal Preston

This coffee-table book is nearly the size of an LP album cover, 396 pages, over 500 images, written by Douglas Harr, designed by Tilman Reitzle. Forword by Armando Gallo.

rtcoa_toc_144
The bands, order by category, then the date of their key performance in L.A.

Styx Was Here

Styx_Caught5b_72dpiStyx 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. I 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. I will never forget DeYoung singing “women and whiskey” in repeated cycles with echoplex effects, Shaw nailing every note of “Renegade” and Young growling out “Miss America.” Somehow they never got as big as Kansas and similar acts – the arena had a curtain erected cutting off 30% of the seats towards the rear of the floor. Maybe it was the fact that their most popular work came a bit later in the 70s, as one can see by the marquee of their show at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom, they played just a couple of weeks after the Sex Pistols! Yet they have endured. As of the time of this writing Shaw and Young represent Styx on annual tours while DeYoung tends to his solo career. As to their concert history, several films of varying quality and interest capture the band during their initial tenure.

Styx_WinterlandMarquee_72dpi

Styx Live and In Concert (2011) Tommygun Video, 142 min B&W, 1.33:1

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 11.10.52 AMThis unofficial release from Tommygun video presents Styx live on two tours at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom, the Equinox tour April 2, 1976 and the Grand Illusion outing, January 28, 1978. The first includes eight songs at 48 minutes while the second, filmed in black and white has thirteen tracks at 88 minutes. The Grand Illusion set is the better of the two, and the DVD sports a crisp transfer with lucid, high contrast B&W photography and decent sound. Extras include 6 minutes of rare footage from 1972 & 1977, and an entertaining kitschy television advertisement for Styx live. It’s another excellent release from Tommygun, as they continue their important quest to preserve rare concert video.

Styx: Caught in the Act (2007), A&M Records, 142 min, 1.33:1

Styx_CaughtCover_72dpiIn addition to the Tommygun release, key for any fan or collector, the high resolution color film transfer on the official Styx DVD Caught in the Act (2007) remains the best official release by the band. Directed by Jerry Kramer and recorded for ‘In Concert’ by Westwood One, the main feature is a live performance from the tour supporting 1983’s Kilroy Was Here. This concept album about the demise and resurrection of rock ‘n roll music in a dystopian future led to a creative blending of rock and theater performed on tour. In fact, it’s one of the few examples of a rock opera or concept album that was presented live with actual staged interludes that incorporated a bit of acting and actual dialogue. The show begins with an opening video that establishes the concept, after which Tommy Shaw and Dennis DeYoung take the stage to act out the first two songs, “Kilroy Was Here” and “Mr. Roboto” sporting costumes designed by Ray Brown and Peggy Martin along with wireless microphones, freeing the players to traverse a stage full of props and lighting effects. Special effects luminary Stan Winston designed “Mr. Roboto” which is worn briefly by DeYoung. James Young reprises his role as “Dr. Righteous” the mouthpiece for the fascist regime, for the first of four additional tracks that include dialog and staging. These are interspersed with a number of Styx 1970s classics, most notably “Come Sail Away” from The Grand Illusion and “Renegade” from Pieces of Eight each delivered in tight performances that rival the original tours for those albums. Director of photography Daniel Pearl arranged a flawless multi-camera shoot (eight cameramen and eight assistants are credited!) that captured the band in perfect form, alternating pit and perspective camera angles to present the creative staging and rocking performances to the best possible advantage.

Styx_KilroyCover_72dpiOne wonders how comfortable band members were with DeYoung’s Kilroy concept, and the fact that they were obliged to act out parts of the story on stage with actual written dialogue, some of it admittedly a bit cringe-worthy. The official story is that band members were unhappy with the musical direction of Kilroy leading to a somewhat acrimonious split. However, any misgivings are not evident on film, as the musicians deliver their lines and performances with aplomb and dramatic intensity. Adding further credibility to the concept, DeYoung’s story about the criminalization of rock by the “Majority for Musical Morality (MMM)” ended up being somewhat prescient. Just two years after Kilroy’s release, in 1985 Tipper Gore, wife of future vice president Al Gore, led a campaign as part of the “Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC)” seeking to add warning labels to albums deemed to contain offensive content. At U.S. Senate hearings, artists as diverse as Frank Zappa and John Denver argued against the labels, protesting the attempt to restrict their freedom of expression. Given the lens of history, Kilroy was a very successful, unique way to blend rock and theater that ended up influencing rock musicals through to the current day. As the critics of the work say, maybe it is a bit too much “rock meets show tunes” or “Andrew Lloyd Weber swallowed a robot!” But looking back through a kinder lens, it’s a milestone event in rock lore that’s entertaining on A&M’s home video release.

The DVD release includes 54 minutes of bonus material consisting of twelve music videos, filmed between 1977 and 1983. The transfers on these videos are richly detailed, with clear stereo sound available in Dolby stereo and Dolby 5.1. It’s a reminder that the 70s-era Styx was the more successful incarnation, and that they split after the theatrical Kilroy work in 1983, just as the music video market, hungry for artists that worked with mixed media, was skyrocketing.

Film Strip: (top to bottom) (a) DeYoung’s disguise, demonstrating the film’s rich, vibrant colors (b) Young’s Dr. Righteous, caught with perspective (c) Shaw at mid range, one of eight camera placements (d) DeYoung at the grand piano, Young behind, from discreet on-stage cameraman (e) Band caught in the act

Styx_FilmStrip_72dpi

Styx was here…

In the rock business, there is a fine line between “rock ’em” and “hokum”.  The 70’s classic rock band Styx always rode that thin line tightly, alternating between melodic, symphonic “prog-ish” flavored tracks alongside more hard rocking southern-rock infused works.  Never striding out as close to the edge as Yes, Genesis, or other English bands, they were more in line with American counterparts Kansas, Boston, Journey and Foreigner.  Singer keyboardist Dennis DeYoung tended towards the softer and sometimes more progressive side, penning hits such as “Babe”, “Lady” and “Come Sail Away” while singer guitarist Tommy Shaw composed the harder edged tracks typified by “Renegade” and “Blue Collar Man”.  Additional guitar player composer James Young fit comfortably in the middle.  In general, the enthusiasm and sincerity of this band sold their theatrical presentation to those skeptical of their hard rocking credentials, many of whom had been drawn in by the band’s 1977 masterwork, “The Grand Illusion“.

I saw the band at their peak in 1978, on the tour supporting “Pieces of Eight“.  They put on an incredible show, with the three main composers sharing center stage, balancing their varied styles and themes.  But by the time of their concept album “Kilroy Was Here” in 1983, the “hokum” arguably outweighed the “rock ’em” and songs such as “Mr. Robato” were widely parodied.  After that release and subsequent tour, Tommy Shaw left the band.  There have been several reformations and versions of Styx since that time, led by Dennis or Tommy but seldom reuniting both.  I did not see the band perform again until this month at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco some, ahem, 30+ years since the first time.

Tommy Shaw
Tommy Shaw

Styx have been back at it led by Tommy Shaw for the last ten years, and performing at a level that in many ways tops their younger incarnation.  Without Dennis, this version of the band is free to focus on their harder rocking side, focusing on Tommy’s aforementioned hits, and well as going deeper into the back catalog to play authentic guitar driven gems from their mid-70’s releases.  They are exuberant, enthusiastic, tight, and all in the great physical shape it takes to deliver such a show.  A bit of that unrestrained theatricality is still there, particularly in the pianist who covers Dennis DeYoung tracks while spinning his keyboard and striking poses worthy of the best rock-disciples.  But with virtuoso level playing, accurate four part harmony’s, and overall delivery, this band is delivering shows absolutely worth checking out.  See them as headliners, rather than packaged for the sheds, and see for yourself!