Tag Archives: the national

Top Ten Concerts from 2014

kate_doug_hamThis year has been one of the greatest ever for live music based on the sheer number of amazing rock concerts I was privileged to witness. Many milestones were hit – Kate Bush performing 22 sold out shows in London 35 years after her first and only tour – Stevie Wonder doing all of Songs in the Key of Life – his masterwork from which had never played more than 3-4 numbers – Fleetwood Mac with Christine McVie back after 16 years absence from touring – Yusuf / Cat Stevens, back in the U.S. 38 years since his last appearance here. To top it off, Sir Paul McCartney, playing the final event at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, the site of the last Beatles concert some 50 years prior. So quite a few firsts, which may become “lasts” – one never knows.

Special mention this year goes to the “progressive rock cruise” called Cruise to the Edge. On that journey my lovely wife joined me and we saw Steve Hackett, Yes, UK, Tangerine Dream, Marillion, and most importantly for me, Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM, from Italy) and Three Friends (Gentle Giant’s guitarist Gary Green and drummer Malcolm with full band of hired help). Both of these shows were absolutely fantastic – both celebrating 70’s progressive rock and keeping it alive with surprising precision and power.

Hard to pick a top ten out of these, but here goes:

  1. Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo Theater, London

IMG_1127This was one of those “Once-in-a-lifetime” experiences as we witnessed the third of what were 22 highly anticipated Kate Bush concerts she staged after 35 years absence. As the night’s proceedings and the accompanying media frenzy proved, this long absence was a terrible shame. Focusing on The Hounds of Love (1985) and Aerial (2005) irked some fans, but it gave her the chance to perform two acts of the best rock theater ever staged – heights only reached by the likes of Pink Floyd and Genesis. Absolutely brilliant – here’s hoping they filmed it as well!

  1. Three Friends (Gentle Giant), CTTE

P1000511Because I had not been able to see Gentle Giant until their last ever show at the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles, I had not seen them perform many of their complex classic works live. Gary Green (guitar) and Malcolm Mortimore (drums) hired a band of crack musicians calling themselves Three Friends and changed all that on the cruise as they tore through almost all of the third Gentle Giant album, Three Friends (1972) along with something from almost every record made between their debut and Interview. Early in they played “The Moon is Down” – one of four tracks they would include from Acquiring the Taste (1971). They perfectly nailed this dense composition going beyond all expectations. For this fan the whole experience was true nirvana.

  1. Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM), CTTE 

P1000160PFM was Italy’s answer to the British progressive rock invasion of the ‘70’s. Their records were unique, beautiful, and completely original. We had been able to catch them early in this millennia at a prog rock festival, but the shows on the cruise beat that, as the band covered lots of tracks from their first five releases, along with a few more recent, including one from PFM In Classic – Da Mozart A Celebration. A highlight of the show was their performance of “Promenade The Puzzle”, an early classic with brilliant lyrics by former King Crimson lyricist Pete Sinfield.  It was a truly rare treat to witness these maestros perform live, and to interview them for Gonzo Weekly as well!

  1. Yusuf / Cat Stevens, Nokia Live Theater, Los Angeles

cat3Cat Stevens has been absent from the stage in the U.S. for 38 years. The first concert I ever attended was his last – the Majikat tour in 1976 with my sister Sue. My 7th grade Social Studies teacher had us reading and interpreting his lyrics in class, focusing on his seminal album Tea for the Tillerman. At that first concert, in my 15th year, I discovered the amazing impact seeing an artist perform live could have on a heart. “The Wind” was the first song on the set list back then, and again when Yusuf / Cat Stevens came to the Nokia Live theater in December. What was surprising and gratifying about this show was that he chose songs from his whole career, including the Foreigner suite, Days of the Old Schoolyard from IsItSo, and others. His voice is aged like fine wine and the show was superb.

  1. Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life Tour, Oakland Arena

stevie_bandUnbelievable, fantastic, heartwarming, tear jerking joyous show in which one of our finest artists played his entire masterwork from 1976, sounding like he’s never aged a day since. Joined by 30 musicians including a 10 piece orchestra, 6 piece horn section, three keyboard players, three drummers, numerous backup singers, bass, and guests, each track was played with it’s perfect accompaniment, whether that meant Stevie alone, as on “If It’s Magic” or all 30 as with the anthemic finale “As”.

  1. King Crimson, Warfield Theater, San Francisco

KC_Oct4_BowThis progressive rock juggernaut brought their seven-man supersonic distortion machine to the states for a series of highly anticipated concerts. These were epic events for King Crimson fans. For the first time in what seems like forever, leader Robert Fripp agreed to dust off older tracks like “Pictures of a City” from In the Wake of Poseidon (1970), “Sailor’s Tale” and “The Letters” from Islands (1971). Given he had winds genius Mel Collins in the band they were able to reproduce those rare treats with surprising ferocity, particularly “The Letters” which was just stunning. The three-man drum assault was legendary. I’ve never seen Robert appear more happy and excited to be addressing his followers!

  1. Elbow, Fox Theater, Oakland

P1010130Elbow played one of the top shows we’ve seen this year.  Singer Guy Garvey led the group through a lengthy set that included much of the latest album, along with highlights from their catalog of recordings.  What was really impressive is how this singer emotes and connects with the audience.  At times the languid pace threatens to overstay it’s welcome, but this band can meander between slow and soulful to more medium paced bits, building the dynamics of a song until the audience can be swept up in the emotion and joy of their beautiful melodies, their meaningful lyrics, and Guy’s silky smooth vocal delivery.  In this way I would compare them to The National – one of the other great live acts seen last spring.

  1. The National, Greek Theater, Oakland

P1000846The band were in fine form this year, supporting 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me, driving their slow burning moody compositions to lovely crescendos – punctuating dark passages with horns and carefully placed guitars and keys to enliven the procession.  Matt is a baritone and as such inhabits the sound spectrum at the low end, spilling out his unique lyrics, huddling over his mic, or stalking the stage to accentuate the sound of their work.  This time out, the band backed the volume down during key passages, allowing Matt to be heard clearly and gain additional dynamics in the mix – a clever way to help connect him and the band to the audience.  The show was a wonderful demonstration of their wares – the best yet for this viewer.

  1. The Eels, Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco

Eels_closeupThis American alt-rock band played the best and most impactful show I’ve seen them deliver here in the city. Since so much of singer-songwriter E’s music does tend toward dark and painful subjects (he calls it “soft bummer pop”), his work in large quantities can threaten to depress. However on this night, the crack band of musicians aided the man, teetering perfectly between the melancholy and happy, quirky sides of his catalog, peppering the sadder tracks with the upbeat. Notably, E sang several covers, including lovely renditions of “When You Wish Upon A Star,” (okay small tears were shed) “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis and “Turn on Your Radio” by the similarly underrated and wonderful Nilsson. Friends of soft-bummer pop unite!

  1. Fleetwood Mac, Oakland Arena, Oakland
Christine McVie
Christine McVie

The Mac is back! They rolled into the town for the “On With The Show” tour featuring the return of Christine McVie – singer, songwriter and keyboard player who left the band to retire some 16 years ago. The audience greeted her with rapturous applause. It was wonderful to hear the band whole again, back to their 1975 lineup, which endured for so many years producing mega hits on the albums “Fleetwood Mac” (1975) through Tango in the Night (1987).

 

paul_ticketHonorable mention goes out to other amazing artists we caught this year including Paul McCartney, Yes, UK, Steve Hackett (on his Genesis revisited tour), Kraftwerk, Queen (with “glambert”), Tom Petty, Neil Finn, Midlake, Daniel Lanois, America, Erasure, Elton John, Tears for Fears, Adrian Belew, Paula Frazer, The Musical Box and others. Thank you to Artina for being so open minded and musically inclined, and for taking so many of the best photos we shot during the year. I will have to renew that resolution to catch more new artists this year – we are starting in January with Ty Segall. Happy New Year, everyone….

The National Up Front

P1000846The National played at the Greek Theater in Berkeley last month supporting their May 2013 release Trouble Will Find Me almost a year after it’s release.  The band were in fine form, driving their slow burning moody compositions to lovely crescendos – punctuating dark passages with horns and carefully placed guitars and keys to enliven the procession.  This American indie band consists of Matt Berninger (lead vocals), twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner (guitars, keys, vocals) and brothers Bryan and Scott Devendork (bass and drums respectively).  I’ve heard their music compared to the likes of Joy Division though their overall sound is completely current, and a bit hard to nail down – lots of downbeat tracks, though so many of them building to a triumphant impression. Matt is a baritone and as such inhabits the sound spectrum at the low end, spilling out his unique lyrics, huddling over his mic, or stalking the stage to accentuate the sound of their work.  This time out, the band backed the volume down during key passages, allowing Matt to be heard clearly and gain additional dynamics in the mix – a clever way to help connect him and the band to the audience.  The show was a wonderful demonstration of their wares – the best yet for this viewer.

P1000851Tracks selected weighed heavily on their most current release, along with a handful from High Violet (2010), and a small selection from both Boxer (2007) and Alligator (2005).  Near the end of the main set, they included a nice rendition of the track “About Today” from the Cherry Tree EP (2004).

Of special note this time out was their lighting and backdrops which alternated between evocative psychedelic projections, and slightly obscured video of band members as they performed.  These visuals reflected the mystique of their music and added interest to the live experience.

P1000870In these pages I most often write about “progressive rock” and similar sounds that tend towards the more esoteric side of the musical spectrum.  The National, though firmly in the “indie” or “alternative rock” genre, still inhabit a part of that adventurous territory where thoughtful lyrics, creative compositions, blends of acoustic and electric instruments and strange-but-beautiful music that builds on dark themes live. THis is one of a few bands where a brooding baritone can inspire an entire crowd to sing along joyfully to a mournful song.  A highly recommended experience.

 

Appendix: Complete Set List:

Don’t Swallow the Cap (Trouble Will Find Me)
I Should Live in Salt (Trouble Will Find Me)
Bloodbuzz Ohio (High Violet)
Demons (Trouble Will Find Me)
Sea of Love (Trouble Will Find Me)
Hard to Find (Trouble Will Find Me)
Afraid of Everyone (High Violet)
Squalor Victoria (Boxer)
I Need My Girl (Trouble Will Find Me)
This is the Last Time (Trouble Will Find Me)
Santa Clara (Boxer)
All the Wine (Alligator)
Abel (Alligator)
Slow Show (Boxer)
Pink Rabbits (Trouble Will Find Me)
England (High Violet)
Graceless (Trouble Will Find Me)
About Today (Cherry Tree)
Fake Empire (Boxer)

Encore:
Ada (Boxer)
Mr. November (Alligator)
Terrible Love (High Violet)
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks (acoustic) (High Violet)

I saw more than a few tears during this final encore – also the last track on High Violet.  The band all came up to the front of the stage and played this soulful ditty in an acoustic, heartfelt rendition – a perfect ending to a beautiful night.

 

Lucky 13 – Best Concerts of 2013

IMG_07382013 has been quite a year for live music.  We made it to over thirty shows including a few festivals – Coachella in Palm Desert, Outside Lands, and Not So Silent Night in San Francisco.  I had the chance to travel to Britain twice – once for the Stone Roses followed by two Rick Wakeman shows, and later this fall for a long weekend of gigs including Steve Hackett, Brian Ferry, Peter Gabriel and Camel – what a amazing time that was!  The day after Steve’s show we met Peter briefly at the train station in Manchester before the last night of his “Back to Front” tour.  I told him we had been to see an old friend of his and that tears were shed during “Dancing a With The Moonlit Knight.”  He seemed pleased 🙂

There were a couple of bands we missed – I know if we had been able to see Steve Wilson, Ozric Tentacles or Atoms For Peace they would have made the list – having said that here are the top 13 shows we did attend, in order of rating:

1. Camel, the Barbican Theater, London – speaking of tears being shed, they flowed for Andrew and company at this amazing display of talent so long absent from the stage.  “The Snow Goose” was wonderfully recreated along with a second set of classic Camel tunes.  To be in London in an auditorium of adoring fans, cheering long for this oft forgotten band was an amazing experience.

2. Steve Hackett‘s Genesis revisited tour, Royal Albert Hall, London – Just attending a show at the RAH was one thing, but to have it be Steve playing all early Genesis tracks, and including “Return of the Giant Hogweed” and the aforementioned Dancing was heaven.  Ray Wilson joining to sing two of the tracks was priceless.  The show was really a dream came true for this one, being raised on Genesis and loving it all.  Looking forward to seeing them again on Cruise to the Edge in 2014.

3. Rick Wakeman, family show, Gloucester – I flew over from California with my son to this show and the next night’s stop in Cheltenham.  Have to put this one at the top of the list, as Rick played alongside three of his children, now all grown, as they each performed a couple of tracks, told stories, and even explained Jemma’s bedtime routine to the song of the same name from Family Album.  An afternoon I hope never to forget!

4. Goblin, The Warfield Theater, San Francisco – their first time in the states will hopefully not be their last – a tight set of horror movie soundtrack gems, with backing film clips and a dancer, especially appropriate during “Suspiria.”  This along with a handful of their progressive rock compositions made for a great night with the Italian prog pioneers.

5. Peter Gabriel, Back to Front Tour, Manchester – a great set that began with highlights from Peter’s catalog, followed by the entire So album in proper sequence, with two encores.  It was hard not to miss the darker period just before So, particularly after rousing versions of “The Family and the Fishing Net” and “No Self Control” from his prior two releases.  But all in all, amazing musicianship and exciting delivery recalling the original tour and mid point of Peter’s remarkable career.

6. The Stone Roses, Coachella, Palm Desert – somehow I missed this band on their first time out in 1989.  This year I found their guitarist John Squire, vocalist Ian Brown and the rest of the guys to be a very pleasant surprise – their psychedelic sound revival finding its way back to the stage at what seems like just the right time.  Had the chance to see them again in London a few weeks later with all of us – seemingly everyone in the crowd – singing at the top of our lungs.  Music as the catalyst for love and devotion!

7. Black Sabbath, Shoreline, California – if you suggested in 2012 that these founders of heavy metal would make my top list this year I would have scoffed and made some crack about Satan and bats – but after releasing a stellar album 13 and clearly back in form, we found ourselves head banging joyfully to the actually somewhat proggy sound of these survivors.  Am so glad to have seen and heard Tony live showing his riffs along with most of this band still intact.

8. Depeche Mode, Shoreline, California – These purveyors of doom and redemption sound as great as ever live and master writer Martin Gore may be in his finest voice – I find the drama in their sound goes straight to the soul.  The Beatles of the ’80’s to these ears, with another couple decades of great work after that founding era.

9. The National, Outside Lands, San Francisco – this band delivered an awesome set of their moody fitful music, reminding me at times of Morrissey/Marr with less humor.  When joined for a few tracks by guests The Kronos Quartet, the combination of this tight outfit with metered drums, horns, and strings brought some of their woeful best to transcendent conclusions.

10. Simple Minds, Orpheum Theater, Los Angeles – on their Greatest Hits+ live tour, Simple Minds finally returned to the states after a 10 year hiatus.  Not as rewarding as the 5×5 show we went to see at London’s Roundhouse, but then we did not expect to be as excited about a hits retro above a show dedicated to their first 5 records, which had been spectacular.  This band continues to sound excellent – we are big fans of lead singer Jim Kerr’s vocals and writhe delivery.

11. Heart with Jason Bonham, America’s Cup Pavilion, San Francisco – Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart still rock n’ roll, proving it this year in a double bill with Jason Bonham’s band opening, followed by his return for encore with Heart performing a handful of Zeppelin classics, including a smoking rendition of “Kashmir”, and a beautiful “Rain Song”.  Heart’s best move – pulling off the classic “Mistrel Wind” from Dog & The Butterfly and building to it’s own Zep-like coda – show stopping excellence.

12. Alison Moyet, The Fillmore, San Francisco – Alison is back to electronica, with a great new album, looking fit and sounding as amazing as ever delivering her warm smoky vocals atop those cold synths.  One of only three nights in the states, we felt lucky to be there for the show.

13. Muse, Oracle Arena, Oakland – as they’ve grown during the last dozen years, Muse has become for me increasingly more interesting, particularly live.  An incredible amount of energy flows from the stage as they expertly build anthemic rock tomes to shattering crescendos of sound.  Maybe a notch below the last time around, but a great concert to start off the year.

Honorable mention goes to: The Specials, The Warfield Theater, San Francisco – just had to mention – it’s been a dream of mine to see Terry Hall live, scowling through anything he’s been part of whether it’s The Specials, Fun Boy Three, Colour Field or solo.  To me one of the greatest and most underrated British vocalists alive today.

That’s a wrap.  Thanks also go out to Yes, Ian Anderson, Eels, Bryan Ferry, Fiona Apple, Sea Wolf, Pink, Bad Company, Fleetwood Mac, The Postal Service, Hall and Oates, Pearl Jam, Van Morrison, Capital Cities, and Paul McCartney for making it a great year in music.  Looking at the list, I vow to make it to more new bands this year!