Friday, January 30, 2009

Q&A with Brit star James Morrison

My phone interview with Morrison took place during a tour stop in Salt Lake City on Jan. 23.

He opens for Adele in a sold out L.A. Wiltern show tonight, does a sold out solo gig at the Belly Up in Solana Beach on Saturday, then returns to SoCal for an appearance at the Coachella Festival in Indio on April 18.

Tell me about the current trio you're playing with on these dates.
It's me, another keyboardist and a guitarist. We’re kind of doing it acoustically (on the opening dates). I’ve got a full band I play with back home, which is guitar, bass, drums and backing singers.

Do you find a big difference between the American and British crowds?
The American crowds are easier to get on your side, really. They’re already waiting for you to come on, whereas the English crowds, it takes them a little longer to get into it. I saw so many funny people in the audience last night [in Denver]. There was this guy, I think he was deaf or he was just mental. He was signing the words to every song. I watched him for about half an hour, it was amazing. Just brilliant.

For the Belly Up show you’ll be headlining. I assume your set will be much longer.
Yeah, we’re going to have to put some more songs in. Hopefully, we’ll get some backing vocalists for that one as well.

Congrats on the latest BRIT nomination. What was the experience like when you won the last time around?
It was mental. Everything happened so quick – the release of my album, just all of that was quite a lot to take in. Then I won a BRIT which was unbelievable. I just couldn’t believe it. Obviously, I was really pleased. It was a real shock, definitely.

Was the success of “Undiscovered” in England also surprising – how it took off?
Yeah, I expected to have to work for at least a couple more albums before I had that much success, really. It came really quickly, so that was pretty scary. I thought, ‘if it can come that quick, it can go that quick.’ It was a bit daunting, but I just rolled with it. As long as I keep my eye on the quality of the music, I’ll just take it as it comes really.

The latest album "Songs For You, Truths For Me" is well on its way, having gone platinum in the UK. Relieved you haven’t had to deal with the sophomore slump?
Definitely. That was one thing I was really worried about. I did the best I could. I just wanted to know that if it was successful or wasn’t a success that I’d still be happy with it. That was just the main thing I was focused on. Rather than try to pull things together (on the basis of) ‘Is it going to sell?’ I wrote songs I could feel good about and hopefully that’ll be the thing that will sell it.

When you entered the studio, did you have any goals on how you wanted it to sound – maybe bigger and bolder?
Yeah, I wanted it to be bigger and rock a little more. I did try that in the beginning, but it just sounded wrong and like pastiche pop/rock. It just sounded crap. So I just wrote songs on the guitar again and didn’t worry about the style. As long as the song was there, we’d build the production around that.

You have some interesting co-writers on the album including Dan Wilson of Semisonic, who earned a Grammy for his work with Dixie Chicks and Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic. What did you learn from these guys?
Just exactly what I thought: they all want to write a good song and it’s all about the song rather than…I’m lucky to be able to work with people that just want to write good songs. Obviously, if you want to get on the radio, you do try for that. At the same time, working with Dan – he allowed me to do what I do and just direct me and steer me when I needed it, basically. He said, ‘what do you want to write about?’ I told him and he said, ‘there you go. You’ve got the lyric already.’ He was like a pro steering me in the right direction.

Did your lyrical inspiration come from friends and family on this album? You have one song about your sister.
There is a song about my sister. In general, I think you do get inspired by people you know and experiences. The song “Once When I Was Little” is all about holding up to your childhood. I know a lot of people that had to grow up quite quickly like my mom, my brother and sister. If you have rough experiences growing up, it can ruin you as a person. In a lot of ways, (the album) was inspired by friends and family, but it was more about my relationship with my girlfriend.

“Save Yourself” is one my favorites. Did you have the classic Motown sound in mind when you did that one?
Yeah, I love Motown. It was hard not to do that sort of stuff because I love it. I do lean toward that anyway sometimes when I’m writing. I do try and avoid it because of how many records are coming out with Motown stuff. It was natural for me to do that. I love Motown and I think there’s no harm in leaning toward references you immediately enjoy and have been inspired by. There are a couple tracks like that – “Nothing Ever Hurt Like You” and “If You Don’t Wanna Love Me” is like a Sam Cooke kind of thing.

Then on “Precious Love” you have the amazing Waters Sisters on backing vocals.
Oh yeah, man. Brilliant. When they came in, I was blown away! They’re awesome.

You’ve said “I don’t feel like a soul singer, but I can sing with soul.” Do you think people have trouble differentiating between the two?
Yeah. Obviously, if you put references to soul music in there - like I have done on a couple tracks – you’re going to get a bit of that. It can be confusing. I try to just concentrate on the lyric and what you’re singing about and let that be the soulful part of it. Rather than the style of what you’re playing. It’s hard not to lean toward those references when you’re writing because that’s the music I like and grew up on. It’s half and half. You don’t have to do a three step beat to be soulful and you don’t have to rip to be soulful. You can just sing about things that are important to you, that mean something and open yourself up in the song and that’s soul music to me.

Do you like more stuff from the mid-60s to 1970s?
That’s the music my mom and dad used to play all the time in the house. That was all the music I could get hold of for a period of time because we didn’t have a lot of money. I used to just listen to radio and put my mom and dad’s records on. All my references are from (their) music collection.

Some people questioned your authenticity after the success of the first album. Was that due to a glut of similar male singer/songwriters around?
Yeah. It didn’t help me at first when I came out. Everyone was like, ‘Oh, you’re like another James Blunt.’ I’m like, ‘for fuck’s sake. You know what I mean?’ It’s really annoying. You just want to get credit for being who you are. I didn’t bring out an album then because it was in fashion to be a singer/songwriter. I probably got signed because of the label because of that reason. I don’t care really. I got the chance to make an album. Whether it’s because (a certain type of act) was favored at that time or not, I took it with both hands and tried to write what I felt good about really and tried not to worry about all that stuff. Yeah, I think you do worry about that because everyone looks at you through a bloody magnifying glass and dissect you apart. I think that’s fair. When a lot of artists come out, that’s what you need to do to suss out who the artist is and stuff. You’re going to get that.

Do you think all the busking on street corners that you did helped you hone your performance style?
Definitely. It teaches you to be a little tougher. You’re not always going to please everyone. But as long as you can enjoy it and get on with it, it gives you a bit of backbone. If something goes wrong in a gig, which it did a lot when I was busking, like you break a string and you can’t replace it, you just carry on. It does teach you to get on with it really. And not be too precious about stuff.

Going back to the latest album, what was it like working with Nelly Furtado on “Broken Strings”?
It was great. She’s brilliant. I didn’t know whether it was going to happen or not in the beginning because duets aren’t something that I’d normally do. But it seemed natural for that song. I wanted to get someone who’d be an interesting collaboration. And Nelly Furtado was someone who’s in another world from me musically. It could’ve been a disaster or great, but I went for it. Luckily for me, it worked.

And the accompanying video is very emotional with you facing each other on each side of a mirror and all the flames…
It’s funny actually: on the day I was waiting for that explosion at the end all day I was so excited about it. They got this fire guy and he was like [in exaggerated American accent], ‘ok, be careful guys. If you don’t need to be in here, get out. It’s going to be pretty dangerous. There may be shards.’ He was building up to this big thing. When they said ‘action’ and went to blow it up it was like the tiniest thing ever. On the video it looks alright, but I got a laugh out it and said, ‘is that it?’ I expected like a big flame ball. It was over before it even began. It was good fun filming it. She wasn’t there (at the same time) for the shoot, but when I recorded the song, she was in the studio.

How did the collaboration with Jason Mraz (“Details in the Fabric”) on his new album come about?
His producer worked on my first album, so it was coincidence. Martin the producer called me up and said, ‘I’m working with this guy Jason Mraz and he’s got this song that could be a duet.’ They wanted a husky voice, so I went in and did my thing. I found it flattering that he wanted me to do stuff. I didn’t want to overdo my spot on the song. It was good fun. He’s a great artist. We have the same management now.

What’s next for you?
After the Adele tour, go back home and a couple tours in England Mar-Apr and festivals in Europe. It’s just a gig year really, which is wicked. I love gigging. I’ve done a lot of promo last year already. I’m always busy.

O.A.R. concert review

This review originally appeared in the Orange County Register on Jan. 26.
Where: House of Blues, Anaheim
When: Jan. 24

For many O.A.R. fans in Anaheim on Saturday night, achieving total inebriation seemed to be more important than watching a gig from their favorite group. I can’t remember the last time so many people boasted about how drunk they were or planned to get before show time.

If you’re going to partake in a communal experience like the one O.A.R. (the acronym means Of a Revolution) typically provides live, wouldn’t it be better to remember what happened afterward? Several obnoxious louts at a packed House of Blues (the first of two appearances) apparently disagreed. Alcohol sales probably exceeded expectations.

The Rockville, Maryland quintet gained a rabid grass roots following on college campuses via file sharing in the early 2000s while members were students at Ohio State University. They have drawn comparisons to Dave Matthews Band due to jam rock tendencies (most songs surpass five minutes; others broach the 10-minute mark), an open taping policy and a prominent sax player. But the similarities end there.

Singer/guitarist Marc Roberge often engages in lyrical improvisations onstage and the O.A.R. repertoire frequently encompasses reggae sounds. In recent years, the group sold out New York City’s Madison Square Garden twice. “All Sides,” released last year, is the sixth and strongest studio disc to date, accentuating Roberge’s inspired songwriting, catchier-than-usual choruses and more memorable melodies. Current hit single “Shattered” is top 20 at various radio formats.

The musicians – augmented by tour keyboardist Mikel Paris – got off to a sluggish start in O.C. with the moody and expansive “City on Down,” from 2000 debut “Souls Aflame.” It was marred by a muddy sound mix that continued through a quarter of the nearly two-hour, 18-song set. Good time anthem “This Town” – the first of five “All Sides” tunes performed – featured three electric guitars. The rousing rocker was fun, but certain instruments were barely discernable.

Roberge isn’t exactly a captivating front man; neither are his band mates, who initially appeared to be going through the motions. Still, “Wonderful Day” oozed with positive vibes as saxophonist Jerry DePizzo provided jaunty fills and Paris added sweet organ. Fans crowded near the front of the stage pumped their fists in approval and hoisted homemade signs. The uplifting “Try Me,” about trusting your own instincts, soared thanks to robust harmonies and chiming guitar work by Richard On.

Dub reggae love song “Dareh Meyod” (a Farsi phrase translated as “it’s coming”) was merely passable and extended with guitar and sax solos. “This is one of the first songs we ever recorded,” explained Roberge, before the subtle, meandering “About an Hour Ago.” The crowd shouted the lyrics loudly.

Elsewhere, a highly dramatic “On My Way,” described as being about “someone who doesn’t believe in themselves,” found Roberge pulling out all the vocal stops and “Delicate Few” continued the island party spirit. A surprising cover of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends,” done in the Joe Cocker vein, proved the band could get psychedelic with Paris and On doubling up on a lengthy keyboard intro and Roberge giving it his gritty best.

Come encore time, O.A.R. did one of the evening’s highlights - a majestic “Shattered,” where female enthusiasts danced around trance-like and concert staple “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker.” One of the band’s earlier songs, “Poker” clocked in at 13 minutes and was like their version of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band’s “Rosalita,” all shifting tempos, solos, fun sing along sections, sax lines galore and Roberge displaying his impressive toasting/improv skills.

Album review

Pat DiNizio
Buddy Holly
Grade: A

Next week marks 50 years since The Day the Music Died (Feb. 3, 1959), when Buddy Holly and others died in an Iowa plane crash. As UME Records commemorates the event with two vault busting releases (Memorial Collection, Down the Line – Rarities), Smithereens leader Pat DiNizio pays tribute with his own excellent covers collection.

You can tell it was a labor of love for the singer/guitarist, who considers Holly a formative influence, wrote a tune about the Holly’s widow (“Maria Elena”), owns Holly’s original tape recorder and uses Holly replica guitars by Fender. Most tracks here are orchestrated like the innovative Texas rocker’s posthumous top 20 single “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.”

DiNizio’s low vocal register gives several songs more of a dramatic heft (“True Love Ways,” “Raining in My Heart”). The Encore Chamber String Quartet’s updated arrangements – handled by former 4 Seasons member Charles Calello - provide a welcome richness (“Words of Love,” “Well…Alright”). Sixties pop idol Bobby Vee (whose band replaced Holly on the ’59 Winter Dance Party Tour) adds buoyant harmonies on “Listen to Me.” A smile-inducing a capella take on “That’ll Be the Day” caps things off.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Q&A with Walkmen's Hamilton Leithauser

Here's the interview I did with the singer of NYC alt-rock act The Walkmen. He was taking care of some friends' apartment at the time in Brooklyn and was late calling because he had to take their dog out to do its duty beforehand. The band plays Solana Beach (Jan. 19) and Hollywood (Jan. 20).

What can fans look forward to at the shows?
We play a lot of our new songs. We have some brand new material written, but I’m not sure if we’re really going to get into that yet. We haven’t recorded them. A bunch of it is finished, which is nice.

Last year, I read you were touring with horn players. Are you still?
What’s actually great about this time is we’ve done this thing where we posted ads on Craigslist in all the towns we went to and found guys and they come out and play. This time what we did is called up the best guys we’ve run into throughout the U.S. and we’re flying ‘em out. We’re going to have an all star horn section. We’ve got guys from Manhattan, New Orleans, New York (State) and L.A. They don’t really know each other but they just stuck out from the crowd. I’m really looking forward to that. Honestly, I don’t think they really knew our music very well before they played with us. We really got along with all of them so it will be fun to travel with them.

In the early days, your shows were shambolic because you were still trying to figure out the band’s sound would be. Has all the steady touring over the years made you tighter as a unit?
I think we have a more unified direction (about) the kind of music we want to play. I think there’s a clearer vision of everything we want to do among everybody. You get to a point where you’ve played so many shows that you sort of don’t care anymore and don’t put the preparation into every show that you should. That’s not a very good way of being. I think that’s how we were a couple years ago. Now I think we’ve played so many times, you don’t get as nervous. We try not to tour as much as we used to so each show has more of a buildup. You want to be more prepared for it.

Do you have a preference between playing the smaller venues like The Glass House or larger festivals like KROQ Inland Invasion and Coachella?
It’s all fun. It’s nice when everything’s different. With Coachella, there’s that huge stage. Sometimes it’s a nightmare because you’re not used to it. You’ve been playing these small clubs and then it’s such a sterile feeling. Sometimes when you get it right, it can be fantastic.

Now that “You & Me” has been out for six months are you happy with how it turned out overall?
We’re thrilled with it. It’s everything we wanted it to be. I have only good things to say about it, which is not always the case.

You took a lot more time writing and recording it. Do you think that shows in the songs?
Definitely. The thing we took the most time in doing was finding a direction in the way we wanted it to sound. It’s weird, but (it came down to) somehow turning a corner - making five guys in the same room with the same instruments sound new. Everybody wanted to be a part of it. You go in and hammer it out and just waste so many hours and months, then suddenly something works and everybody wants to be doing it again. You can’t explain why, but it definitely happens. If that doesn’t happen, the stuff you turn out is not top quality.

Several of the rave reviews of the album have pointed out you’re enunciating words more clearly. Was that a conscious decision?
It was, actually. I think this time, I was really feeling the words. I felt the words really led a lot of the songs. We’ve always done music first in the past. This time, the words were essential to how the songs were going to go. Sometimes we’d get in there and if the words were really wrong, the song ended up sounding worse. We really had to work with them to make them alright. That’s where it came together better.

Have you tired of the constant Dylan comparisons to your voice?
I used to get so sick of the Bono comparison. Oh man, it was all over the place. That got old. Then some people were saying I sounded like Rod Stewart, which I thought was really funny. It went on for so long and that started getting old too. Then everybody said Bob Dylan and that’s been going on until now. I don’t see that. It’ll switch (again in the future).

You recorded all the instruments simultaneously in the same room for this album, right?
Yeah, we really made a point of doing that – having me sing right with everybody so it was more like our live show. That was the biggest thing we did. We’ve always tried to do that in the past, but in the end we haven’t. It’s always been like a big process of trying to make everything live and for one reason or another, having to do things on top of it. This time, it was more of a conscious effort to make sure if something wasn’t sounding right, it was going to be fixed right there, right from the beginning.

How did changing studios affect things? You’d done so much at your own Marcata Studios.
The thing about Marcata was one of us had to be the engineer, so you couldn’t have everybody in the room. Sometimes we’d do a thing where the guy would hit ‘play’ and he’d have to sprint through the hallway, pick up a guitar and try to do it. Somebody would mess up and you’d have to run all the way back through this big thing and stop the tape and try again. We were doing that for awhile. (Once), we didn’t know the counter was broken on our machine, so we’d rewind it, hit ‘record,’ then go back up and get back in the studio and realize you’d recorded over half the last take of the song you wanted to put down. That got really old.

You’ve said in interviews that maybe it might be a good idea if the band didn’t use so much reverb in the future. Is that ever a sticking point between you and the others in the studio?
You try and experiment with new guitar sounds, but maybe we’ve found our niche with that sound. Paul has such a great sounding guitar and the amp is so great. The way he makes it sound is something we’ve just done over the years. For now, that’s just going to be our thing. We do try to break out of it, but I guess we have more luck with it.

When Peter and Walter switched instruments for “A Hundred Miles Off,” did it have a big effect on the band’s musical dynamic?
Definitely. Actually much more so on this record. This one is a clear indication of what it’s like since they switched. Before, it was happening while we were doing the last record, going back and forth. I think Walt really has a new bass style for this one and does a lot of rhythm stuff. The reason he wanted to do that in the first place is it’s a lot more involved in the rhythm. I think you can really hear the bass. It’s a big part. When he comes up with a groove, now the drums and bass are much more of a groove. It’s nice and loose and sounds like a band that’s a lot more comfortable. It’s less in your face but more groovy.

Album review

The Black Ghosts
The Black Ghosts
(Universal Republic)
Grade: B

A few months back, the soundtrack to vampire flick “Twilight” entered the Billboard charts at No. 1 and went platinum. The Black Ghosts’ haunting, exotic song “Full Moon” was among the movie’s coveted music slots. If there’s any justice, success will also rub off on the British electronica duo’s impressive self-titled debut.

Former Simian singer Simon Lord and DJ Theo Keating (also known as Touche of The Wiseguys) met via the internet and began collaborating on original music and remixes. Lord’s sleek vocals here recall Roddy Frame of defunct folk/pop band Aztec Camera. The pair has called the album a bunch of “slightly psychotic torch songs.” There’s definitely a tension-filled buildup on trip hop-leaning album opener “Some Way Through This,” thanks to some orchestral flourishes (think early Portishead or Mono).

The zooming electronica of “Any Way You Choose to Give It” could give the Chemical Brothers a run for the money. Other standouts include “Full Moon,” moody Big Beat-styled “Until it Comes Again” (dig the obscure David Holland sample and Gregorian chants), the hi-NRG intensity on “Face” and slinky “Repetition Kills You,” which sounds like a cross between Zapp and Dandy Warhols, with New Wave synths and laid back guest vocals by Gorillaz/Blur main man Damon Albarn.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame inductees

Well, the latest Hall of Fame inductees were just announced:


Yawn. It looks like I won't be watching the ceremony on VH1. I've never understood why rap & R&B acts are allowed in when they're clearly not Rock 'n' Roll. There are so many worthy acts who haven't got in and the number announced each year gets fewer and fewer (it used to be as many as nine). Obviously Jann Wenner and the powers that be are going to overlook Prog Rock, New Wave or anyone affiliated with it altogether. I think Genesis and Yes are worthy, as are Hall & Oates to name a few.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The demise of Virgin Megastore

Another of my favorite record stores bites the dust as Virgin Megastore in the Ontario Mills mall closes its doors this week. It was always the first place I browsed at the shopping center. Apparently one SoCal location still remains in L.A. and Orange counties - for now.

I made a few trips during the liquidation sale to buy about 6 CDs. As I was figuring out what the 50% markdowns would be, I couldn't help thinking chains like Virgin and Tower shot themselves in the foot by continuing to sell CDs at such high list prices.

Who in their right mind would pay $18.99 for a new release when they could get it cheaper at a big box retailer like Best Buy, Wal Mart or Target for around $10 week of release and a couple dollars more afterward?

I'm not condoning those three loss leaders' pricing practices because they are part of the reason Tower and Virgin suffered (along with more people downloading MP3s than ever before). But I think Tower and Virgin should have lowered their prices to compete.

I bet FYE (formerly The Wherehouse) will succumb this year.

Thankfully, we still have Amoeba Music in Hollywood. They'd be wise to lower list prices in the future.

Duran Duran DVD review

Classic Albums: Rio
(Eagle Vision)
Grade: A

For audiophiles, the “Classic Albums” series (which has aired periodically on VH1 since the early ‘90s) is must see TV. It’s always fascinating to watch veteran musicians sit at a mixing board and show how various parts of a track came together.

The latest installment focuses on Rio, one of Duran Duran’s most successful releases. This insightful DVD runs more than two hours. It features interviews and song demonstrations by four of the British band’s original members, who also perform live in an exclusive studio session. Bob Geldof, MTV co-founder John Sykes, director Russell Mulcahy and other key players from the ‘80s provide additional insight.

Keyboardist Nick Rhodes unveils sonic secrets behind “Save a Prayer” and “The Chauffeur,” bassist John Taylor tells why “Hold Back the Rain” was so complex and drummer Roger Taylor notes “Duran Duran was really a rock band with synths…everything we touched seemed to turn to gold.” Indeed. Rio went multi-platinum, spawned the hit title track and “Hungry Like the Wolf,” plus several iconic music videos. Overall, an excellent time capsule.

Neil Diamond concert review


Where: Citizens Business Bank Arena, Ontario, Calif.
When: Nov. 4

This entertainer holds a special place among my concert memories, as he was the first official concert I ever attended. It was back in June 1983 at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, Calif., where Diamond sold out a then-unprecedented seven nights at the venue.

I was a teenager, but remember very little except for his glittery outfit on the "Heartlight" Tour. My review, which originally appeared in the OC Register, follows.

On Sunday night, Neil Diamond sang “I’ve been around a good long time” and “I think of myself as a lucky old dreamer” during the riveting, acoustic guitar-based “Hell Yeah.” It served as a reminder that age shouldn’t make a difference in pop music if you have a good story to tell.

Lately, an increasing number of musicians who came to prominence in the 1960s (Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Brian Wilson, Paul Simon) have continued to craft compelling studio albums despite so-called fans ignoring them altogether.

Add Neil Diamond to that list. Five years ago, he teamed up with rock producer du jour Rick Rubin for the “12 Songs” CD – a stark, introspective collection where the former Brill Building tunesmith returned to his stripped down roots. The result was Diamond’s strongest work in decades. The pair upped the ante for latest effort “Home Before Dark.”

Diamond told MOJO Magazine that the vulnerable lyrics throughout “Home” were the most difficult he’d ever written. “I had to dig (deep) for those songs, but I guess from that pain came something worthwhile…my soul is laid bare on it.”

The title track and “Hell Yeah” – definitely fall into that category. They were among four solid newer songs amid a rousing sold out show at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario.

Dressed in a tasteful black blazer, slacks and silk shirt – no glass beads in sight –the man some call the Jewish Elvis opened the 22-song, nearly two-hour set with a fiery “Holly Holy.” He strummed an acoustic guitar (and continued much of the evening) while the 14-piece band gradually built momentum. A joyous “Beautiful Noise” and dramatic, jazzy “Love on the Rocks” followed.

According to recent interviews, the current tour – which landed among 2008’s top 10 concert grosses and ends Thursday - has been one of Diamond's all-time favorites. Coming off his first No. 1 album debut and high profile appearance on “American Idol” last spring, the 67-year-old pop icon was raring to head out on the road again.

That high energy remained at CBBA, especially on “Cherry Cherry,” a rocking “Crunchy Granola Suite” and the extended, jubilant crowd participation number, “Sweet Caroline.”

Compared to area gigs this past October, the set list was shorter and a moving “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” was added after Diamond explained merch sale proceeds would benefit Hurricane Ike victims in Houston.

Fans that preferred the contemplative side of Diamond were rewarded with a romantic “Play Me,” NYC growing up tale “Brooklyn Roads” (archival family footage projected on the big screens) and over-the-top “I Am…I Said” (given a long standing ovation).

“You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” became a mini-theater piece as Diamond sat at a small dinner table, wine bottle at the ready, to duet alongside longtime backing singer Linda Press. They slow danced and warmly embraced at the end.

Despite all the musicians onstage (including a brass section), the sound never got overbearing. Many times, it was surprisingly subtle. Soulful vocals from the Waters Sisters and tasteful rhythms by onetime Elvis Presley drummer Ron Tutt stood out from the pack.

Diamond the Showman was in full display. He played to fans all around the shifting tiered stage, joked around a bit, did his trademark pointing gestures and was in fine voice, even amid the ballads.

A SoCal resident since the ‘70s, the performer even proved he knew his geography on this debut Inland Empire appearance by listing a dozen cities in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties to cheers.

Everyone from grandparents to children stood for the electrifying encore including “Cracklin’ Rosie,” patriotic “ America ” and gospel fervor of “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show.”

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Album review

The Cross of My Calling
Grade: A

Whether it’s rock, pop or electronica, Scandinavia provides a consistent supply of enticing music. For the past decade, Swedish band The (International) Noise Conspiracy have crafted incendiary garage rock tunes like few others in Europe. Producer du jour Rick Rubin helmed 2004’s in-your-face effort Armed Love and returns to work his magic on excellent fourth album The Cross of My Calling.

Espousing a Marxist philosophy, politics are still a major lyrical inspiration. A swirling organ-led instrumental sets the trippy, late ‘60s tone that surfaces throughout the disc. Front man Dennis Lyxzen flexes his vocals more than ever. He recalls a young Joe Jackson on the jittery, anti-Bush/Iraq invasion tune “Washington Bullets” and funkified “Hiroshima Mon Amour” (complete with wicked blues harmonica solo). Later, (I) NC gives a nod to The Doors during the psychedelic “Child of God” and ominous 8 ½ minute title track, where Lyxzen’s yelps are in a moody Jim Morrison-esque vein. Lisa Kekaula of Riverside, Calif. garage rockers The BellRays adds her powerful pipes to the soulful “Boredom of Safety” and intense stomper “I Am the Dynamite.”

Guitarist Lars Stromberg’s playing prowess is on full display during “Assassination of Myself” (about the deconstruction of the male identity) and “Storm the Gates of Beverly Hills.” Best of the lot is “Satan Made the Deal.” Lyxzen namechecks Patty Hearts and Charles Manson as the band locks into a Stones-meets-Santana groove. Highly recommended.

Note: Calling is definitely worth purchasing on CD just to read the band’s A Love Vision manifesto and see the unusual artwork which deserves a Grammy nod for Best Package Design.