Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Psych Furs/Happy Mondays concert review

2007 Photo by Trisha Lynch
My review originally appeared in the Orange County Register

Psychedelic Furs, Happy Mondays
Where: House of Blues Anaheim
When: Sept. 19

Back in the late 1980s, Manchester, England’s Happy Mondays crafted an alluring sound that mixed soul, hip-hop and psychedelic rock elements. Discovered by music impresario Tony Wilson (who also shepherded the careers of Joy Division and New Order and is the subject of great 2002 cult film, “24 Hour Party People”), the hedonistic hoodlums signed to Factory Records.

Following their debut disc in 1987, the Mondays spearheaded an influential rave scene throughout U.K. dance clubs. Crossing the pond, the band reached an apex of popularity with hit 1990 album “Pills ‘n’ Thrills & Bellyaches,” co-produced by Paul Oakenfold. A few years later, the band dissolved amid drugs and legal entanglements. Lead singer Shaun Ryder, drummer Gary Whelan and vibes man Bez reconvened for 2007’s “Uncle Dysfunktional” and an uneven performance at Coachella that year.

Before Happy Mondays took the Mouse House stage on Saturday night, one had to wonder whether the unpredictable Ryder would actually be coherent, if any original members bothered to turn up and if they could get through a gig without it becoming a train wreck. The answers probably disappointed longtime fans who attended their rare O.C. appearance.

Ryder was joined by nephew Jake on drums and three other young musicians (Whelan and Bez were absent). The front man seemed somewhat lucid behind a pair of dark shades, but stood stiffly onstage. Reportedly sober for several years now, there was a newfound clarity to his vocals, but Julie Gordon did all the heavy lifting in that department.

Sonically, the 45-minute set in Anaheim was a muddled mess. Despite opening with “Kinky Afro,” the audience got a batch of mostly unfamiliar tunes and barely danced until the slinky hit “Loose Fit” and extended rollicking closer “Step On.” What good is a Mondays show without a bunch of people shaking their stuff?

By the time Psychedelic Furs began its late night performance, the venue was packed with enthusiastic followers who loudly cheered and sang along at every turn. Although the veteran London post-punk group hasn’t had a new studio work to promote, but has been promising one since the 2000 reunion, it hardly felt like a nostalgia fest on Saturday. Several setlist additions for this tour brought a new vitality to the proceedings.

Examples of The Furs’ importance amid the modern rock pantheon have been turning up more frequently lately. Recent reassessments of late film director/producer John Hughes’ career frequently cited the classic soundtrack “Pretty in Pink,” which was spawned by the Furs’ original track. French buzz band Nouvelle Vague covered “Heaven” on its new album “3.” The Furs also opened for The Killers at the Hollywood Bowl last week, where both acts did “Pink” together.

Launching with a lean “Love My Way,” Furs leader Richard Butler, alongside brother Tim (bass), mid-‘80s members Paul Garisto (drums) and Mars Williams (sax), plus Amanda Kramer (keyboards) and new recruit Richard Good (guitar), sounded strong during the 80-minute concert. Richard was jubilant and in fine raspy voice. He did his signature spinning move, dramatic gestures and interacted with both fans (shaking hands) and bandmates.

Among the standouts: a jaunty “Heartbeat” (Williams nailed one of many blazing solos), politically-minded “President Gas” (ostensibly about Ronald Reagan, lines like “it’s sick/the price of medicine” still resonate 27 years later), an endearing “The Ghost in You” driven by airy synths, the spiraling Love Spit Love rocker “Believe” and the frenzied “Pink,” which was dispatched halfway through and got a rousing response.

Those who favored the dark and moody Furs side weren’t ignored either (“No Easy Street,” “Sister Europe”). Maybe it was the smaller venue vibe (my previous two Furs experiences were at Verizon and Pacific Amphitheatres), but this was the best I’ve seen the band in years.

Happy Mondays setlist:
Kinky Afro/Monster/Close the Dam/Loose Fit/Reverend Black Grape/Anti Warhole on the Dancefloor/Jellybean/Mumbo Jumbo/Step On

Psychedelic Furs setlist:
Love My Way/Heartbeat/Like a Stranger/President Gas/The Ghost in You/In My Head/All of This and Nothing/Believe/Pretty in Pink/No Easy Street/Sister Europe/It Goes On/I Don’t Want to Be Your Shadow/Heaven
Encore: She is Mine/Forever Now

Friday, September 18, 2009

A few more minutes with Arctic Monkeys

Some additional excerpts from my interview...

Do you like performing at festivals in America like you did for Coachella out here in SoCal in 2007?
Alex: Yeah, we had a great time there that year. In fact, we tried to do it this year, but recording got in the way. Next year, I’d love to do that one again. We had a scream there.

On the current tour, you’re taking a keyboardist along.
Matt: Obviously we needed a little extra help [to reproduce] songs from the new record.

Matt, in one of your very entertaining webisodes on the band's website, you're seen hanging with P. Diddy at his house party in Miami. Diddy said he was going to join the band and sign you to his label at one point. Did people take that seriously?
Matt: Maybe some people, yeah. I think he might even have. You never know though, do ya?

Jason Aldean interview

My interview with Jason Aldean originally appeared in the Californian newspaper. He headlines the Wagon Wheel Festival in Lake Elsinore on Sept. 19.

Jason Aldean is a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll.

Check out “Wide Open Live & More!” (Eagle Vision), his first concert DVD/Blu-ray filmed last spring in Knoxville, Tenn., and you’ll see the singer with a raucous band that isn’t afraid to kick out the jams.

Anyone who caught the Macon, Ga. native’s memorable Indio appearance at Stagecoach 2007 will recall the fiery Guns ‘N Roses medley.

“I feel like our live show is a big selling point for me,” said Aldean, in a phone interview. The new DVD was shot in hi-definition. “We wanted to give people who might not normally see our show a preview of what to expect…it seemed like the right time.”

Several selections (including top 10 country hits “Hicktown,” “Johnny Cash” and “She’s Country”) bear a distinct Southern rock attitude – a factor in attracting listeners that might not normally be into the music. “I didn’t set out to go and grab all these people from other genres and say, ‘hey, listen to us.’ But if that happens, it’s incredible.”

The success of Aldean’s platinum-selling, self-titled debut album in 2005 and gold-certified follow ups (2007’s “Relentless,” the current “Wide Open”) provided the opportunity to play and record with some boyhood idols.

First came former Alabama vocalist Randy Owen. The pair covered the superstar country band’s “My Home’s in Alabama” (from 1980) as a bonus track for versions of “Wide Open” purchased at The tune happened to be “one of the first songs I learned to play on guitar.”

“It’s been one of the highlights of my career,” enthused Aldean, 32. “Working with Randy was like somebody else getting a chance to work with The Beatles. That’s as big as it gets.”

During a recent episode of CMT “Crossroads,” Aldean teamed up with Bryan Adams. “We hit it off pretty quick. Bryan is a class act. He came in very prepared; knew my songs. I’m a huge fan of his stuff…to get a chance to work with somebody like that, then look over and watch them singing your songs is special. It was a blast. Hopefully, we’ll have a chance to work together again.”

Aldean started performing in bars and clubs around Georgia at 14, and then expanded to college towns in Florida and Alabama. He initially got a song publishing deal and moved to Nashville in 1998.

Having spent many years there before signing with upstart label Broken Bow, Aldean has a solid rapport with Music City’s top tunesmiths. John Rich (of Big & Rich) helped pen half the songs on the debut, while Brett James contributed a few for “Open.”

Such familiarity means “when we record, those guys write songs specifically for us,” he said, citing the rousing “She’s Country” by Danny Myrick and Bridgette Tatum as an example. “It definitely helps when you have your own identity and people know what that is.”

The romantic mid-tempo ballad “Big Green Tractor” just became Aldean’s third No. 1 single. Although he wishes “I could tell you I had the formula [for picking hits] down, I really don’t,” Aldean does have a loose criteria in choosing songs for his albums though.

“Any time you can sing about something you’ve experienced, it definitely helps.” Then there are elements that “make you sit up and pay attention or else it’s like elevator music…trying to find a combination of songs I like that are different enough for people to be interested in what I’m saying - I think that’s the trick.”

Arctic Monkeys interview

Here is my interview with Arctic Monkeys. Their new album is out now.

After Arctic Monkeys made a major splash in England with the exciting 2006 debut disc Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, some people on this side of the pond viewed the band’s rapid ascent with skepticism.

Rock history is littered with “next big things” that failed to translate to a worldwide audience. The young Sheffield lads entered the U.K. charts at No. 1 (selling more album copies in Week 1 than anyone since Oasis), notched back to back singles in the pole position and won multiple awards simply because they delivered the goods.

While America didn’t go as crazy, it did take a shine to chief songwriter Alex Turner’s knack for authentic vignettes and the group’s raucous tunes inspired by The Strokes and Libertines. The album landed in the top 30 here, accompanied by a top 10 modern rock radio single.

Later, Arctic Monkeys performed on “Saturday Night Live” and wowed crowds at big festivals like Coachella in Southern California. Favourite Worst Nightmare did even better, launching at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 in 2007.

Eclectic new studio release Humbug was co-produced by Queens of the Stone Age leader Josh Homme and James Ford (Nightmare, Simian Mobile Disco, Klaxons). It finds the foursome straddling the line between heavier grooves (first single “Crying Lightning,” “My Propeller”) and glorious ballads (“The Jeweller’s Hands,” “Secret Door”).

Fans who are gamers will be pleased to discover that “Brianstorm,” from Nightmare, is included on Guitar Hero 5. Meanwhile, the group's touring lineup will be augmented by Humbug keyboardist John Ashton.

Singer/guitarist Turner and drummer Matt Helders gave us the current lowdown on Arctic Monkeys in a recent phone interview before playing at the All Points West Festival in New Jersey. Soon after, Humbug became their third consecutive No. 1 debut in the UK - outselling the rest of the top 5 combined.

Alex, you just moved to Brooklyn to be with your girlfriend, MTV host Alexa Chung. How do you like it?
Alex Turner: It’s growing on me.

The other guys in the band are still based in England. Has that distance affected your working relationship?
AT: The transitional period was when I did some recording [separately] in Brooklyn and it all worked out alright.

How did the band hook up with Josh Homme for the new album?

AT: [mock seriously] I met him in Belgium once on a magic carpet. Then we played with his band in Houston in 2007. We conspired amongst ourselves to work with him in a studio in a producer’s role and sort of forgot about it and started writing tunes. The idea was [facilitated] by Laurence Bell, who runs our U.K. label, Domino Records.
Matt Helders: After we met him a couple times, we all got on quite well. We knew he was a fan and we were big fans of his.
AT: [Lead guitarist] Jamie [Cook] and I used to play guitars in his bedroom and would listen to [QOTSA’s] Songs for the Deaf with the volume on ‘11.’

Homme’s studio is located in Joshua Tree, Calif. Being from rainy Sheffield, did it take awhile for the band to acclimate to the dry desert climate?
AT: We were fine. When we were there in September [2008]. It was quite hot, but in December, it actually gets quite chilly at night. We had fires going and everything.
MH: It was a different experience from anywhere we’d been before. It was an amazing place. We had such a good time there.

Was there a consensus on how you wanted the new music to sound?
AT: We had been enjoying playing more riff-led rock elements, rather than song-led stuff on previous tours. In the beginning, there was a feeling that the new record would be heavier. But as time went along, we didn’t want to make it all one dimensional. It seemed like the challenge would be approaching pop songs too.

You’d been listening to acts like Cream and Jimi Hendrix while making Humbug. Did that have an affect on the beefier songs like “Pretty Visitors” and “Potion Approaching?”
AT: I think so, yeah. You gravitate toward Hendrix when you pick up a guitar, almost automatically. Whilst recording, we delved into areas of Hendrix’s records that were not properly appreciated before. I think as you get older, you appreciate him more. We got into Band of Gypsies, which I’d never really heard until last year.

Alison Mosshart from The Kills and The Dead Weather provides backing vocals on “Fire and the Thud.” I know you’re label mates in England. Is that how her appearance came about?
AT: Yeah. Laurence introduced me to her and we got along well. Originally, I wanted to write a song for her. We did another version [of “Fire”] with Josh out in the desert. It was recorded at the end of 2007 and she sings the whole tune. But there was something about “Fire” that made me want to claim it back. It was quite a personal song. Maybe I didn’t have the balls to do it before, so I tried to get someone in to sing it. I’d love to do something with her again in the future.

Alex, on a few Humbug tracks, you sing in that crooner-type style first adopted on your 2008 solo project Last Shadow Puppets with Ford and Miles Kane. The luxurious “Cornerstone,” where you describe traveling to various bars to locate an old girlfriend, is definitely a stand out. What was the inspiration for that one?
AT: I wanted to write a traditional pop tune and get away with it – and try to avoid the cheese…I was introduced to James [Skelly], the singer of The Coral on a tour we did with them a couple years ago and his lyrical style was quite humorous. There will be some tunes he’ll do on acoustic guitar, but it’s super crafted and concise. Maybe that led me to a tune like that.

Do all those places mentioned in the lyrics actually exist?
AT: No. Maybe somewhere. A friend of mine grew up in a bar and asked the owners’ permission, very kindly, if he could call it The Rusty Hook though.

Matt, I noticed you seem to be singing more backing vocals this time around.
MH: Me and [bassist] Nick [O’Malley] did quite a bit of singing, yeah. There’s a lot more harmonies, which is something Josh was into.

After the major success of your debut album in England, were you surprised at how well it did right out of the gate?
AT: We were. I think people were certainly drawn into in lyrically. We just had a certain knack and everything was neatly tied up. Our angle on it was unique.
MH: You can never really anticipate something like that. It’s always a nice surprise.

How did it feel to break Oasis’ Definitely Maybe sales record? I know a few of you grew up listening to them.
MH: You can’t deny that it’s an amazing thing, but we never let it get to us too much. It’s not the most important thing in the world.

There have been some intriguing covers of your biggest hit, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” in the last few years. One that comes to mind is Tom Jones’ live version on the world televised broadcast of The Concert for Diana in 2007. What is your immediate impression after hearing a remake like that?
AT: Actually, my favorite cover is “Only Ones Who Know” [off Nightmare] by [1970s English pop standards vocalist] Tony Christie. I preferred it to the original. We haven’t been covered too many times. He did an album produced by Richard Hawley where Tony recorded songs by people from Sheffield. And I was asked if I minded being included. There’s a string section on it and it’s perfect. We’d never played the song live before, but because of that version, it prompted us to play it at live shows lately.

Upcoming tour dates
9/19 Seattle, WA…Showbox
9/22 Salt Lake City, UT…In the Venue
9/23 Denver, CO…Ogden Theatre
9/25 Minneapolis, MI…First Avenue
9/26 Milwaukee, WI…Rave Eagles Club
9/28 Columbus, OH…Newport Music Hall
9/30 Philadelphia, PA…Electric Factory
10/2 New Orleans, LA…House of Blues
10/3 Houston, TX… House of Blues
10/4 Austin, TX… Austin City Limits Festival
10/5 Dallas, TX…Palladium Ballroom

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Photo from the Grove of Anaheim (03/09) by Kelly Swift

The Show at Agua Caliente Casino
Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Sept. 4

After waiting seven months, I finally had an opportunity to attend a concert at Agua Caliente’s 2,000-capacity arena The Show, which opened earlier this year with Billy Joel. Having been to gigs at several local casinos, I have to say this one is the best of the lot.

The pastel-colored seats are very comfy, have cup holders (always a good thing) and plenty of leg room. Two screens on each side of the stage projected what looked like hi-definition images of the Pretenders. The sound was crisp. We were seated in the loge section right up off the floor and had a perfect vantage point. I’d recommend trying for this area when purchasing tickets, although the mezzanine and balcony levels didn't appear to have a bad view either.

Veteran rock band the Pretenders opened its taut 75-minute, 18-song set with “Break Up the Concrete,” the title track from its rootsy 2008 album. Other shows on the tour spotlighted more new tunes. In Rancho Mirage, the final stop of the North American tour, they just did the bluesy “Rosalee” (featuring an amazing solo guitar spotlight for James Walbourne), “Don’t Cut Your Hair” and “Boots of Chinese Plastic.” Maybe it had something to do with the unexplained absence of pedal steel player Eric Heywood.

Still, the crowd had plenty to get excited about in a performance that leaned heavily toward the band’s 1980s heyday, including a tender “Kid,” wicked “My City Was Gone,” stomping “Mystery Achievement” and “Back on the Chain Gang.” Then there was a gorgeous, rare cover of “Angel of the Morning” (popularized by Merrilee Rush in 1968 and Juice Newton in 1981) – worth the price of admission alone.

Singer/guitarist Chrissie Hynde - a staunch animal activist and vegetarian - made snide comments about gluttonous meat eaters she saw earlier at the casino buffet, her breasts (“they’re all mine”) and the band’s best known hit “Brass in Pocket” (“want to hear something cheesy and trite?”).

There was a special festive air to the concert since founding drummer Martin Chambers celebrated his birthday (the audience sang to him) and the Palm Springs area was where Walbourne made his debut with the group a year ago. Chambers was solid throughout and Hynde never seems to age.

After concluding with the always exciting “Middle of the Road,” Chambers left the stage and returned donning a clown wig and everyone toasted the tour’s end with wine.

Break up the Concrete/Message of Love/Talk of the Town/(Happy Birthday)/Kid/My City Was Gone/Back on the Chain Gang/Rosalee/Angel of the Morning/Stop Your Sobbing/Don’t Cut Your Hair/Thumbelina/Boots of Chinese Plastic/Night in My Veins/Mystery Achievement/Precious
Encore: Brass in Pocket/The Wait/Middle of the Road

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Stone Roses anniversary CD review

The Stone Roses
The Stone Roses: Special Edition
Grade: A

Earlier this year, Noel Gallagher of Oasis told a British music magazine, “When the Roses came along, everything went into color. The ‘80s were suddenly over. Suddenly, it was all peace and love, man.”

Indeed, the Stone Roses’ eponymous debut arrived in 1989 like a breath of fresh air. Hailing from musically fertile Manchester, England, the Roses and producer John Leckie crafted an enthralling album that combined subtle dance rhythms, layered sounds and backward loops with Ian Brown’s understated vocals and John Squire’s shimmering, neo-psychedelic guitar work.

The quartet spearheaded the burgeoning rave/baggy scene, became a major influence for countless BritPop acts that would follow it in the mid-1990s and saw the release continually land near the top of critics’ all-time best lists.

To mark the 20th anniversary, Stone Roses is now available in various configurations. Special Edition includes the remastered U.K. version (added clarity is really noticeable on a vibrant “She Bangs the Drums” and “This is the One”) and full-length “Fools Gold.”

Longtime fans will want to fork over the extra dough for Legacy Edition, which adds The Lost Demos CD (early recordings, plus the previously unreleased “Pearl Bastard”; a stripped down “Bye Bye Badman” is great) and 90-minute DVD featuring a satisfactory 1989 gig filmed at Blackpool Empress Ballroom (Brown is typically aloof; the band barely discernable in the shadows) and six music video clips.

Three vinyl LPs, a book, Squire's art prints, a Leckie documentary, ringtones and more are added to the Collectors Edition, while the Gatefold Vinyl Edition has a white label 7” of “Bastard.” Still a classic.

Pretenders interview 2

My story originally appeared in IE Weekly

One of Martin Chambers’ first trips to the IE involved excessive heat, massive dirt and a few hundred thousand people. We’re talking about the 1983 US Festival at Glen Helen Regional Park in Devore, where the Pretenders shared a bill with U2 and David Bowie.

“We had lost my best friends [and band mates] James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon in ‘82 and ’83 and more or less finished the Learning to Crawl album,” recalls the drummer, in a recent interview. “We did a few warm up gigs, then the dusty festival miles from anywhere that took ages to get to. The first thing I did when I walked on to start the show was go to the front edge of the stage, bend down and kiss it. The rest is a complete blank…I missed the boys that day more than I could ever express and I still think of them every day; it’s hard not to.”

The Pretenders’ current tour finds members returning to the IE with a performance at Agua Caliente in Rancho Mirage on Friday. When the veteran band plays casinos, does Chambers dabble in any gambling?

“Oh, yes. I go for the roulette table that has ‘No 0 or 00 Win’ on its board. With this technique, I have won big with the max table limit [and] regularly lost more often.”

Lady Luck shined on the Pretenders soon after they formed 31 years ago in London.

Beginning with the classic eponymous debut in 1980, the quartet – led by sassy onetime U.K. music scribe and Ohio expat Chrissie Hynde – immediately became an AOR radio fave thanks to several attitude-laden tunes (“Mystery Achievement,” “Tattooed Love Boys,” “Message of Love,” “The Adultress”).

Mainstream success (“Brass in Pocket,” “Back on the Chain Gang,” “Middle of the Road”) came quickly too. The Pretenders earned two platinum and four gold records during the first half of their career.

Unfortunately, original lead guitarist Honeyman-Scott and bassist Farndon both died of drug overdoses. A low period in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s saw Hynde fire Chambers and use multiple musicians under the Pretenders moniker. The drummer returned to work on 1994’s solid Last of the Independents in a lineup that remained intact until a couple years ago.

“Chrissie - very bravely - sacked guitarist Adam Seymour, although he always played great,” explains Chambers, who turns 58 on Friday. “Luckily, I had a friend, James Walbourne, who is fantastic. So, along with Nick Wilkinson on bass and Eric Heywood on pedal steel, we have, what I believe is without doubt, the best lineup since the original band. I am proud I have played a huge part in enabling this line up for the Pretenders’ diehard fans…I’ve now found a guitar player that can set a fire under her.”

After Hynde went to Joshua Tree National Park to see where the ashes of Gram Parsons were scattered, she decided to take the Grievous Angel’s lead on latest studio album Break Up the Concrete.

Recorded live in less than two weeks in L.A. (oddly without Chambers), Hynde co-produced the rawer, roots rock-leaning collection and released it on media mogul Steve Bing’s Shangri-La Music label. Concrete was the Pretenders’ highest charting album since 1986’s Get Close.

Among the highlights: No. 1 Triple A radio hit “Boots of Chinese Plastic,” where Hynde sings about various religious deities, countrified “Love’s a Mystery” (also top 10 at the format), the Bo Diddley-influenced title track with references to Hynde’s Buckeye state home, rockabilly stomper “Don’t Cut Your Hair” and bluesy “Rosalee,” elevated by Walbourne’s ace slide work.

Following the Pretenders’ silver anniversary, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“Chrissie didn’t necessarily want to do it,” but Chambers wasn’t missing the ceremony. “It’s a great honor, really, to be in a room with many of those people. They’re just legends…and a lot of them are so cool. It’s nice when you look in a dressing room mirror and you’re standing next to someone like Aretha Franklin. You look at yourself, going, ‘what am I doing here?’ The whole point for me though was to accept the honor for [Pete and James].”

The band also got the deluxe box set treatment on 2006’s Pirate Radio. One fascinating tidbit from the liner notes revolved around the recording sessions for Pretenders. Chambers and Farndon used to arrive at the studio early to work out arrangements because of Hynde’s unusual rhythmic timing – particularly on “Phone Call” and “Tattooed Love Boys.”

“What I had to do with Pete was decipher where she was coming from and try to make sure it all rolled along. It must never stop and can’t be angular or too jazz-like.”

Chambers and Hynde have a unique “push/pull” element between their playing styles. “She’s first to admit she’s not the greatest guitar player in the world. What she can do is provide what she needs to write a song and portray that song…if you listen to the music, take Chrissie’s guitar out and put her back in, you’ll understand. It’s like the wheel chugging along with bits of metal coming off.”

Pretenders at The Show, Agua Caliente Casino Resort & Spa, 32-250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage, (888) 999-1995, Fri., Sept. 4, 9PM. $45-$85.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Chieftains DVD review

Few bands are more ingrained in Celtic music tradition than The Chieftains. You hear ’em at folk fests and St. Paddy’s Day parties, piping through authentic Irish pubs and during PBS concert broadcasts.

Still going strong after 47 years, the Dublin sextet is led by founder/arranger Paddy Moloney, who plays tin whistle and Uilleann pipes. This spirited DVD, shot using modest camera work and lighting at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, finds the seasoned musicians playing with nuance and authority.

Step dancers appear throughout to elevate the proceedings a few giddy notches. A jovial Moloney pokes fun at his bandmates and quips that one song is about “an illness you get when you drink too much Guinness; it’s called a hangover.” Coming off two successful releases—the gold-selling, superstar pop/rock collaboration The Long Black Veil (1995) and Spanish-influenced Santiago (1996).

The Chieftains’ set here includes several enthralling tracks from both Grammy-winning collections (“Have I Told You Lately,” “Rocky Road to Dublin,” “Guadalupe”), plus old favorites (“Give Me Your Hand,” an epic “Did You Ever Go a Courtin‘ Uncle Joe”—where everyone gets to solo). Crank up the surround sound and take a trip to the Emerald Isle.

The Chieftains: Live at Montreux 1997, Eagle Rock Entertainment. 85 min. List price $14.98. In stores now.

Modest Mouse concert review

Photo by Kelly Swift
A version of my review originally ran in the OC Register

Towards the end of an engaging 100-minute show at the Grove of Anaheim on Saturday, Modest Mouse singer/guitarist Isaac Brock asked the crowd, “Did you all stick around to get your money’s worth?” Judging by the wildly enthusiastic audience reaction throughout the band’s concert, including some pogoing and crowd surfing, I’d say the answer was affirmative.

Not everything ran smoothly. Although the venue was packed (supposedly “sold out” actually, but ample room was available in the back tiers) and the temperature still hot outside (even Grove staffers fanned themselves to stay cool), the air conditioning was apparently turned off.

Despite a nearly hour-long set changeover (the natives were definitely restless), Modest Mouse’s sound mix was admirable at best. Whenever Brock moved into soft-spoken vocal mode, he was often buried in the sonic cacophony created by the lead guitarist, bassist, keyboardist and two drummers.

Early on, Brock witnessed a fan bleeding from the mouth and took a few minutes to see if he was alright. A fight in the front pit area also had to be diffused by security. The Modest Mouse leader seemed to be in good health, kept the nonsensical rambling to a minimum and was in decent yelping voice onstage.

But Brock apparently was no mood to placate casual Modest Mouse followers who anticipated hearing such latter-day modern rock radio hits as “Float On,” “Ocean Breathes Salty,” “Dashboard” and “Missed the Boat.” The band might be getting major attention right now for its violent, animated "King Rat" music video that was started by late actor Heath Ledger, but it wasn't in the Saturday set either.

Before the Grove show, I spotted a handful of people wearing Smiths t-shirts. Unfortunately, that band’s former guitarist, Johnny Marr - who joined Modest Mouse for the recording of 2007’s gold-selling No. 1 album We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank and subsequent tours - was nowhere to be found in O.C. Marr recently hooked up with British indie rock upstarts The Cribs and is likely immersed in their music for the time being.

Sirens sounded and searchlights focused on the crowd as Modest Mouse launched the 18-song set with an intense, fast-paced “Invisible.” Brock was all spastic moves and sang with a bug-eyed expression as the band packed quite a wallop.

Appropriately, Brock lighted a cigarette before starting the chant-worthy “Fire it Up,” percolating with soothing programming and elastic guitar sounds. A highly danceable, Talking Heads-styled “The View” easily lived up to its “I feel pretty blissfully” lyric and “We are fearless” refrain. Fans went especially crazy for the stomping rocker “Black Cadillacs.”

Selections from the new odds ‘n’ sods EP No One’s First and You’re Next also went over well: "The Whale Song," breezy “Autumn Beds” - where Brock played banjo and sang tenderly before transitioning into crazed vocals - and the poppy “Satellite Skin.”

Diehard enthusiasts were treated to several fine older tunes, notably the tempered “Baby Blue Sedan,” from 2000 compilation Building Something Out of Nothing, “Breakthrough” and the beautiful, fiddle-infused “Talking S--- About a Pretty Sunset,” off 1996’s This is a Long Drive For Someone With Nothing to Think About. Finally, the band closed its encore section with the glorious chamber pop strains of “The Good Times Are Killing Me,” which had a campfire sing along vibe.

San Diego garage rock band The Night Marchers blazed a fiery trail during its high energy 40-minute opening set comprised of tunes from last year’s See You in Magic release. Led by one time Rocket From the Crypt and Drive Like Jehu mastermind John Reis AKA Speedo, the quartet fared best during surf punk-leaning “In Dead Sleep (I Snore ZZZZ)” and “Total Bloodbath,” which recalled a less melodic Hives. Speedo was totally a happy go lucky showman, telling the “Anaslime” audience that they should “feel naked because you’re clothed in the sounds of rock ‘n’ roll.” He even did a bit of The Trashmen’s ‘60s tune “The Bird’s The Word.”