Friday, July 30, 2010

American Idol judges guessing game

Today, it was announced American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi is apparently following Ellen DeGeneres and Simon Cowell by exiting the show. Now it is rumored that Jennifer Lopez has signed on as judge and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith could be next. If she is, I'll probably think twice about watching. Lopez was one of the worst guest mentors ever. Tyler would be very interesting, but I doubt he'd put all Aerosmith commitments on hold to do it. Other band members are itching to record a long awaited studio album.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Yaz reunion tour album due in September

Check out this info I received about the Yaz live disc in a press release from Mute Records. I caught their gig a couple years ago at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa and it was definitely a memorable one. This should be a great memento...

YAZ release RECONNECTED LIVE on September 28th 2010 on double CD, limited edition hardback with a 32-page booklet and download.

RECONNECTED LIVE documents one of pop’s most anticipated tours: in the summer of 2008 Vince Clarke & Alison Moyet reunited for the first time in over 25 years. The Times raved: “Clarke has unobtrusively retooled the band’s music for the digital age, making their vintage 1980s synthesizer ditties sound crisp, fluid and timeless” while The Guardian noted, “Yazoo’s first tour in 26 years finds the chemistry behind their smash hits unchanged.”

RECONNECTED LIVE, produced by Yaz, recorded by Martin Hildred and mixed by Vince Clarke features classic tracks from Yaz’s albums ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’ and ‘You And Me Both’; including Only You, Don’t Go and Situation plus tracks performed live for the first time ever, such as Nobody’s Diary

The joyous, unlikely coming together of Vince Clarke, who had just left Depeche Mode, and Alison Moyet lasted for only 2 albums, performing just 24 concerts worldwide, but left an unforgettable mark on pop. Yaz released ‘Upstairs At Erics’ in July 1982, parting ways 12 months later upon release of their second album ‘You And Me Both’, which reached Number 1 in the UK.

Speaking prior to the Reconnected tour, Vince Clarke said: "It's been really good going back to these songs after such a long while. Many of them have never been played live. I'm looking forward to performing them with Alison for all the fans who've enjoyed our music through the years but never had a chance to see Yazoo in concert"

Alison Moyet explained: "Playing this material live is not about revision for me, it is about finishing something we started – writing, recording, performing. Three parts of a whole. A salmon cycle. It’s like going home.”

Adam Lambert concert review

Photo courtesy RCA Records/19 Entertainment/

My review originally appeared in the OC Register and can be viewed here:

Adam Lambert
Pacific Amphitheatre, Costa Mesa, Calif.
July 27

In the midst of his unusual Middle Eastern-tinged take on the country classic “Ring of Fire,” Adam Lambert sang about flames going higher and higher. But Tuesday night, in his first of two performances at Pacific Amphitheatre (and the only show this season to take place while the adjacent OC Fair is closed), the proceedings seldom burned brightly.

Although last year’s unique American Idol runner-up dazzled everyone on hand with lasers, eye-popping outfits and four dancers who looked as if they stepped out of the 1985 video for Tina Turner’s “We Don’t Need Another Hero” (the ravaged desert look was probably inspired by the Burning Man Festival, which Lambert has attended), many elements of the gig still came off erratically.

For starters, the pacing and song selection needed work. A remix of the title-track single from Lambert’s debut For Your Entertainment, used as a video introduction, seemed to go on forever and wasn’t properly performed at all. (You might recall its risqué live display last November at the American Music Awards proved controversial and the artist was subsequently dropped from several ABC television programs.)

Frontloading the set with two lesser-known numbers (“Voodoo,” “Down the Rabbit Hole”) that are bonus tracks on the album’s deluxe and international editions, then following them with the aforementioned Johnny Cash cover, also were puzzling moves. And an acoustic segment, during which the singer sat on a mini-staircase used for grand entrances, was awkward, despite his falsetto workouts and nearly operatic vocals on the ballads “Whataya Want from Me,” “Soaked” and “Aftermath.”

Plus, the early part of the 55-minute, 13-song set was rushed. Verses were excised here and there and the four-piece band (anchored by ex-Yellowcard drummer Longineau Parsons) plowed right into songs — not exactly medleys, more like the truncated, Idol-dictated approach. Adhering to a Pac Amp curfew and two preceding opening acts probably didn’t help.

Of course, none of these problems mattered to rabid fans who packed this first of two packed Costa Mesa gigs.

Prior to show time, a couple dozen enthusiasts waited anxiously across from Glambert’s tour bus for a possible sighting; inside the venue, two older women wore black feather boas draped around their necks (a nod to Lambert’s keen fashion sense). Several teenage girls were spotted with homemade “I Love Adam” T-shirts and could be heard, alongside hundreds more, shrieking their approval and waving glow sticks as the evening progressed. Quite a few male couples also were seen swaying in unison to the more romantic numbers.

Since previous appearances had bypassed Orange County, this served as Lambert’s local debut. The San Diego native actually spent time here before auditioning for Idol, briefly attending Cal State Fullerton as a music theater major until going on to rack up an impressive resumé via several Southern California and European musicals.

After making the Idol Top 12, Lambert quickly stood out as the contestant most willing to take chances and was the early favorite to win the singing competition. His flair for the dramatic likely dissuaded some voters, however, though not this one; I provided phone-ballot support toward the end of the competition.

Last year’s Entertainment album was an eclectic assortment of dance, rock and pop tunes produced and/or written by Lady Gaga, Pink, OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, Linda Perry, Muse’s Matt Bellamy, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo and others. Certified gold in America and moving a million copies worldwide, it has made a bigger impact than 2009 Idol champ Kris Allen’s first effort. The album’s title track went Top 5 on the Dance Club Play chart, while “Whataya Want from Me” reached the Top 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 overall singles chart.

Onstage in O.C., the Scissor Sisters-type bounce to “Fever” — during which Lambert and his bleach-blond male bassist engaged in fast, blink-and-you-missed-it tongue action — was an early musical highlight. But a handful of lengthy instrumental intros allowing Lambert to change attire were mind-numbing (notably before “Sleepwalker” and the robotic “Sure Fire Winners,” in which Lambert and his bassist got frisky again).

Later, the intricate dance routines for “Strut” and the propulsive “If I Had You” were fun to watch. “Music Again,” a big, stomping, glam-rock number penned by Justin Hawkins (formerly of the Darkness) that starts the album and recalls Queen, would’ve been a perfect show opener — but it came off muted and less hard-hitting in this live context.

Come encore time, Lambert served up a slow, sultry, acoustic-guitar-led take on Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” capped by an elevated banshee wail. It was intriguing, but a far cry from the powerful turn remembered from Idol. Leaving the venue, people were obviously disappointed about one glaring show omission: the popular, compelling remake of the Tears for Fears-via-Gary Jules tune “Mad World.” Overall, a mixed bag.

Aussie singer/guitarist Orianthi opened with another blistering set of hard rock and pop similar to her showcase last January at the NAMM convention in Anaheim. Smoking covers of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” and Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” were welcome additions. Too bad she didn’t join Lambert on “Sleepwalker,” for which she contributed a memorable solo on his album.

Miniature Tigers album review

Photo credit: Brandon Lee

Miniature Tigers
(Modern Art)
Grade: A-

Simultaneously weird and wonderful, Miniature Tigers makes dreamy indie pop that unveils more layers after repeated listens. On 2008 debut Tell it to the Volcano, the Brooklyn via Phoenix band utilized a sparse musical approach with playfully sardonic lyrics and was often compared to early Death Cab for Cutie and Shins.

Sophomore effort Fortress finds them expanding that sonic framework through collaborations with Morning Benders’ Chris Chu and Texas electronic outfit Neon Indian. Lead singer/guitarist Charlie Brand isn’t as sharp tongued as before, but his fragile voice still meshes well with the eclectic, floating melodies.

Everything kicks off with “Mansion of Misery,” an endearingly eerie departure inspired by a viewing of “The Shining” that includes crashing cymbals, wailing guitars and assorted odd noises. The frontman has cited Grizzly Bear and Dirty Projectors as kindred spirits.

That’s evident during the upbeat “Bullfighter Jacket,” led by a delirious group chant and glorious falsetto break. “Lolita” fluctuates between classical piano, fluttering vocalizations and a tropical island guitar vibe. “Coyote Enchantment” is blissful danceable fun, as a luxurious female voice repeats the title and the stomping “Rock ‘n’ Roll Mountain Troll” finds Brand singing about being “stoned at 3 a.m./talking to myself in public/I think I really hit a low.” But “Gold Skull,” awash in blipping synths and distant vocals, is the real highlight.

Steel Train album review

Steel Train
Steel Train
(Terrible Thrills)
Grade: A

Gaslight Anthem isn’t the only exhilarating band waving the alt-rock flag for New Jersey these days. Hot on its heels is Steel Train, whose impressive, classic rock-leaning 2007 effort Trampoline got buried under Drive Thru Records’ punk/pop heavy roster.

After an extended period spent extricating themselves from the label, the quintet started their own. With Redd Kross’ Steven McDonald (Imperial Teen) at the studio helm of this outstanding third album, these guys definitely sound like they have something to prove.

Anthemic opener “Bullet” charges forth urgently and elastic voiced Jack Antonoff sings “we are the last generation of hope/and I wouldn’t mind if together we died alone” with conviction (fist pumping is a necessity). A similar sense of dramatic uplift envelops the slow building, emotional “You and I Undercover,” driven by reverb drenched guitars. “S.O.G. Burning in Hell” boasts tribal drums and manic, intense instrumentation.

Frequent cello and violin accents give several songs an Arcade Fire vibe. R&B jokester Har Mar Superstar (!) guests on drums and backing vocals; Antonoff’s fashion designer sister Rachel, the cover model laying in his cluttered teenage bedroom, also lends her pipes in a few places.

Keyboardist Justin Huey’s frantic playing dominates throughout, while lead guitarist Daniel Silbert unveils Queen-like leads at perfect junctures (the quirky Modest Mouse-styled “Turnpike Ghost,” “Soldier in the Army”). There’s even a punkish nod to the Ramones (“Speedway Motor Racers Club”). Definitely an album of the year contender.

Note: Steel Train also commissioned a companion collection featuring all the songs sung by female musicians like Tegan & Sara, Scarlett Johannson (she dated Antonoff in high school), members of Dresden Dolls, Dirty Projectors, That Dog, the Go-Go’s and others.

The Maine album review

The Maine
Black & White
(Sire/Action Theory)
Grade: B

A large ‘M’ adorns the cover of Black & White. It represents The Maine’s logo, but could also apply to a somewhat mature musical and lyrical direction for the young Phoenix alt-pop band whose rabid fan base propelled the rousing 2008 indie debut Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop into the top 40.

Last time around, a couple tracks utilized piano and organ; those instruments are far more prevalent on this major label bow. Profanities are downplayed since vocalist John O’Callaghan and company co-wrote half the tunes with seasoned tunesmiths like Gregg Wattenberg (Train, Daughtry) and Butch Walker.

The latter assisted on “Right Girl,” an infectious, synth happy song about saying dumb things while inebriated to “the kind of girl you steal from the captain of the football team” and later regretting it.

Heightened vocal arrangements - a frequent trademark of hitmaking producer Howard Benson - are particularly evident during the soaring, wistful Bon Jovi-esque “Growing Up.” The same can be said for the strident guitar thrust of “Fuel to the Fire,” where O’Callaghan sings of racy cell phone pics and the thrill of the chase. Sleek harmonies recall Eighties chart topper Huey Lewis & the News.

Elsewhere, “Give it to Me” is a sexually charged, classic rock radio influenced singalong (replete with mini rap) and album closer “Color” has an earthy quality along the lines of Goo Goo Dolls. A solid, but not consistently engaging effort.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More new Duran Duran reissues coming

Capitol Records continues its impressive Duran Duran catalog reissue series in September with two albums that found the band in transition, but still making vital music in the mid-to-late 1980s: "Notorious" and "Big Thing."

I personally have a special connection with the latter release since it was the first tour I saw the band on in Feb. 1989 at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. These reissues appear to be just as interesting and designed with cool touches like the "Duran Duran" and "Seven & the Ragged Tiger" ones this past spring. Those were filled with rare video clips, B-sides and a must for all diehard Durannies. Aside from the Rolling Stones' revamp of "Exile on Main St.," they are the best reissues of 2010 so far.

Here are the details from the label press release:


2CD/DVD and Digital Audio Packages to be Released September 28 by Capitol/EMI

Following the recent release of expanded editions of Duran Duran’s first three albums comes the September 28 release of expanded Limited Special Editions of the band’s fourth and fifth albums, Notorious and Big Thing. Both 2CD/DVD packages feature the remastered original albums and extensive bonus materials in lift-top boxes with an eight-page booklet, five postcards, and a folded poster. On the same date, the full audio from each set’s two CDs will also be available for download purchase from all major digital service providers.

Duran Duran’s platinum-certified Notorious was produced by Nile Rodgers; its release in 1986 followed the Grammy-winning band’s third album, Seven and The Ragged Tiger, by three years. The title track reached #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, and was revisited by The Notorious B.I.G. in 1999 as the sampled foundation of his eponymous single.

Disc one of Notorious (Ltd. Special Edition) includes the original album plus three single remixes. Disc two adds seven mixes and the “Duran Goes Dutch” EP, recorded at the Ahoy, Rotterdam on May 7, 1987. The DVD includes the music videos for “Notorious,” “Skin Trade,” and “Meet El Presidente,” a November 1986 “Top Of The Pops” U.K. TV performance of “Notorious,” and for the first time on DVD, “Working For The Skin Trade,” a concert film shot in Rio de Janeiro during the band’s 1987-’88 “Strange Behaviour Tour.”

Big Thing, recorded at Devout Studios in Paris and co-produced by Jonathan Elias and Daniel Abraham, was released in 1988. The album’s title track and lead single, “I Don’t Want Your Love,” reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and #1 on the Dance Play/Club Singles chart, and its second single, “All She Wants Is,” also took the top spot on Billboard’s Dance Play/Club Singles chart, peaking at #22 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album’s cover art was designed by Swiss illustrator and artist Hans Arnold.

Disc one of Big Thing (Ltd. Special Edition) restores the album to what the band originally wanted, with the inclusion of the original mix of “Drug (It's Just A State Of Mind),” rather than the remix that made the final album (this original version has previously been released only once before on CD, on a Japanese reissue). Disc two features singles, B-sides and mixes, including the album remix version of “Drug (It's Just A State Of Mind).” The Special Edition’s DVD includes Big Thing recorded live at the Palatrussardi in Milan, Italy on December 12, 1988, plus the music videos for “I Don’t Want Your Love,” “All She Wants Is,” and “Do You Believe In Shame?.”

For more info, go to

Friday, July 23, 2010

Barenaked Ladies/Kris Allen concert review

Photo from Nashville, May 2010, by Dave Bergman, courtesy

My review originally appeared in the OC Register, which can be viewed here:

There’s something about playing the Greek Theatre that brings out the Radiohead fan in musicians.

Case in point: during Wednesday’s opening slot for Keane, Ingrid Michaelson tackled the British band’s “Creep.” Then, Thursday night, while warming up the still-arriving Greek crowd for Barenaked Ladies, L.A. newcomer Angel Taylor covered the same tune — after which second-billed Kris Allen offered his take on “Paranoid Android.” Surely, these were just coincidences. It reminded me of a similar situation exactly a year ago, when I saw both Tears for Fears and Coldplay pay homage to Michael Jackson on successive days. (Of course, there was a lot of Michael’s music in the air at that time.)

Regardless, Barenaked Ladies didn’t play anything by Thom Yorke & Co. during an engaging 90-minute, 21-song set before a moderately-sized crowd (the terraces and benches were closed off). They served up a hilarious medley of others’ tunes instead.

Heading into this show, however, the big question was how the departure last year of co-lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Steven Page would affect the veteran Canadian band’s live dynamic. After all, he started the band with childhood friend and creative partner Ed Robertson (pictured) and they frequently traded verses and comic banter onstage.

Now pared down to a quartet, BNL already passed the first test with a solid new studio album, All in Good Time, released this past spring. Robertson shouldered a majority of the singing and songwriting load, much of it darker in tone and more rock-oriented than before. Bassist Jim Creeggan and multi-instrumentalist Kevin Hearn helped pick up the slack and contributed five equally enticing tracks between them.

Why the disc’s emotionally resonant first single, “You Run Away” — one of the best things Robertson has ever penned — wasn’t a monster smash is beyond me. (Regular viewers of ABC’s "The Bachelorette" would recognize the tune from an episode last month in which contestants filmed their own music video for it.)

Fortunately, Barenaked Ladies also nailed Thursday night’s live challenge. The musicians didn’t shy away from Page-dominant material; what’s more, there were only a couple minor instances when fans might have missed his bombastic style. Creeggan and Hearn were front and center more often — both stepped up their backing harmonies, as did drummer Tyler Stewart. Although humor has always been a major element in the BNL presentation, everyone seemed happier than in the past.

Quite a few children and teenagers dotted the audience. Some, no doubt, were there for last year’s American Idol champ; others perhaps enjoyed the kids album (Snacktime!) that BNL put out in 2008. Taylor served as Robertson’s duet partner on the strident rocker “Every Subway Car” — the first of five songs from the new album (two others were included on the setlist but dropped). She looked uncomfortable, tentative and the pairing was an odd fit.

Hearn’s low-key “Another Heartbreak,” with cool cartoon illustrations appearing on 18 rectangular LED screens, sounded stronger in concert than on Good Time. He also led “Sound of Your Voice,” off 2006’s Barenaked Ladies Are Me, as the other guys helped with barbershop-style harmonies and snapping fingers. Creeggan proved equally strong in the lead-vocal department during the Burt Bacharach-esque “On the Lookout,” for which he played piano. Robertson added some majestic electric guitar à la the Edge for “You Run Away” and convincingly showed that his rapid-fire, pseudo-rap skills remained intact amid the polka rhythm of “Four Seconds.”

Following a string of spirited hits (“One Week,” “Too Little Too Late,” “Pinch Me,” “If I Had $1000000” — thankfully no macaroni was thrown onstage this time) plus the quick theme to the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, BNL shifted to its trademark medley of recent Top 40 hits. This one featured Selena Gomez (her cover of the Pilot song “Magic”), the Black Eyed Peas (“I Gotta Feeling”), Justin Bieber (“Baby”) and Katy Perry (“California Gurls”). All four members once again danced at the front of the stage, mimicking Backstreet Boys. It was a real hoot.

As for Kris Allen, anyone who still thinks he’s a lightweight after winning the 2009 Idol crown would benefit from seeing him rock out in concert. His 40-minute set here started with “Can’t Stay Away,” and immediately he and his four-piece band locked into a tight, funky groove. Clad in his usual white T-shirt, black vest and jeans, a gaggle of teen girls screamed whenever he lifted an acoustic guitar.

Although his self-titled debut narrowly missed the Top 10 and hasn’t sold in huge quantities like previous Idol alumni, it’s still a pleasant slice of contemporary pop/rock that suits Allen well. It should, after all: he co-wrote most of the songs. Not every American Idol can say that.

Current single “The Truth” (co-penned by Train’s Pat Monahan) featured a bigger dynamic buildup live than on the album, as Allen crouched down to deliver his passionate vocal. And the band’s blistering rock cover of the aforementioned Radiohead tune was a real eye-opener.

His popular take on Kanye West’s “Heartless” featured impressive cascading harmonies and incorporated Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise.” A loose, fun and folksy “Alright with Me” recalled Kenny Loggins, while “Live Like We’re Dying” found the amiable Allen and the band elevating the intensity level.

Finally, a searing version of the Beatles’ “Come Together” (Idol watchers will recall Allen doing it during Rock Week, later teaming up with Danny Gokey on Styx’s “Renegade”) capped things off well. He definitely left the audience wanting more.

Keane/Ingrid Michaelson/Fran Healy concert review

Keane photo by Kim Kinsler. My review originally appeared in the OC Register, which can be viewed here:

It is easy to lose yourself inside the expansive, piano-dominated realm of Keane. A similar experience — minus the music — can be had around Griffith Park, too.

Midway through the British band’s invigorating Greek Theatre show, singer Tom Chaplin recounted how he spent the afternoon: after visiting the nearby observatory, he wandered through the wilderness, lost sight of direction and walked about 10 miles.

So the frontman was relieved to sit down before playing organ amid the simple and elegant “Hamburg Song.” Before that, Chaplin, keyboardist Tim Rice-Oxley, drummer Richard Hughes and unofficial fourth member Jesse Quin (adding bass and additional keyboards) concentrated on a sprightly, mostly uptempo batch of songs.

Although Los Angeles has always been a strong market for British music, seeing Keane booked into the Greek again seemed a curious move. Chaplin described it as “the most magical place to play music on the planet” — high praise, considering where they’ve toured. The venue was only about two-thirds full, possibly the result of a depressed and overcrowded summer concert season, though it’s also in keeping with some of last summer’s offerings, like Neko Case and Andrew Bird.

There was also the fact that the band’s popularity has cooled a bit stateside since its 2004 debut, Hopes and Fears, went gold, spawned two adult rock hits (including the anthem “Somewhere Only We Know” and another on the dance chart) and earned a Grammy nod. Back home, the album was the second-biggest seller that year, moving nearly 3 million copies and snagging several prestigious awards. Keane has retained enough of a following here, though, to see its next two releases debut in the Top 10.

New EP, Night Train, issued in May, was recorded in six countries while Keane was touring the world throughout 2008-09 behind third album Perfect Symmetry. The intriguing collection boasts an international vibe thanks to guest appearances from female Japanese baile funk MC Tigarah (on the Yellow Magic Orchestra cover “Ishin Denshin”) and Somali-Canadian rapper K’Naan.

Wednesday night — the second date of the band’s latest North American jaunt — Keane took the stage to the ominous strains of “House Lights,” a short instrumental that opens Night Train. The 90-minute, 20-song set touched on each release, with surprisingly little culled from Fears and a New Wave-ish “Again and Again,” off Symmetry, launching everything in effervescent fashion.

Among the handful of new selections unveiled live, two fared best: Spanish-tinged “Clear Skies,” for which Chaplin and Rice-Oxley both played guitar (flamenco-esque acoustic and rocking electric, respectively, while the latter also alternated on keys); and current single “Stop for a Minute,” with Chaplin handling all the verses himself (a remix without K’Naan is Top 20 at adult rock radio) and offering theatrical gestures as Rice-Oxley played glistening synth lines.

From the start of Keane’s career, Chaplin has had a robust voice and projected a life-affirming presence on stage, even when he was battling substance addiction behind the scenes. Amazingly, the singer, looking healthier these days, has managed to take those qualities up a notch. Likewise, watching Rice-Oxley shake his body wildly while playing an assortment of distorted and treated piano and keyboards never got boring.

It would have been interesting to see the band attempt more Night Train material, especially Rice-Oxley’s first stab at lead vocals, “Your Love,” and hopefully they will as the tour progresses.

But this set was loaded with highlights nonetheless: the hyper-danceable, synth-dominated “You Haven’t Told Me Anything” … the high flying vocals of “This Is the Last Time” … the moving acoustic ballad “Try Again,” during which everyone huddled at the front of the stage as Chaplin poured his heart out … the strobe-light-assisted rocker “Is It Any Wonder” … another rousing audience singalong to “Somewhere Only We Know” … and the melancholy, dramatic concert closer “Bedshaped.”

Finally, Keane closed with the glorious, atmospheric “Crystal Ball,” in which Chaplin sang “tell me life is beautiful.” Leaving the Greek crowd in a state of music-induced euphoria, everyone would probably respond in the affirmative.

Quirky New York singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson gained a SoCal following through multiple engagements at L.A.’s Hotel Café in the mid-’00s as well as routine spotlights on TV dramas like Grey’s Anatomy. So she immediately got a wild reaction after she and her tight five-piece band hit the Greek stage ahead of Keane.

Starting with the idyllic folk-pop of “Soldier,” from 2009’s Everybody, the 50-minute set showcased Michaelson’s mellifluous voice and droll sense of humor, like a cross between Joni Mitchell and Jill Sobule. Mostly playing ukulele, she got the audience to participate on some difficult sounds and gestures during “The Hat” … turned in a stark solo take on Radiohead’s “Creep” … impressed with the jaunty hit single “The Way I Am” … and finished with a fast-paced, ironic cover of Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” complete with choreographed dance moves with her band at the end.

Fran Healy, leader of Scotland’s popular and much-revered alt-rock band Travis, began the night with a winsome 40-minute solo acoustic performance. It was his first time on the Greek stage — a place the singer-guitarist admitted wanting to play since once catching Radiohead here.

Much like last year’s stripped-down dates with the band’s lead guitarist, Andy Dunlop (I caught one of their thoroughly entertaining gigs at Largo at the Coronet nearby), background behind the songs was provided. Healy’s passionate delivery on “Writing to Reach You,” for instance, was prefaced with a funny story about nicking the chords from Oasis and later facing author Noel Gallagher about it. He also described an emotionally resonant “Driftwood” as being about the old TV show Cheers and a loser friend, while a Britpop family tree explanation was appended to the comforting Travis tune “Sing.”

Five selections were also unveiled from Healy’s first solo album, Wreckorder, due in October (Paul McCartney and Neko Case make notable contributions). The desperate pleas of “Buttercups,” dark-hued “As It Comes” and dramatic “In the Morning,” for which Healy switched to piano, came across strongest in this format. Can’t wait to hear the whole thing.

Train concert review

Pat Monahan photo, from San Francisco Fillmore show in October 2009, courtesy of My concert review originally appeared in the OC Register, which can be viewed here:

A quick trivia question: What do Madonna and Mr. Mister have in common? Besides notching No. 1 singles in 1985-86, both are name-checked in Train’s recent hit, “Hey, Soul Sister.” The biggest digital song of the year so far, it has sold nearly 4 million downloads since last August, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Reading singer Pat Monahan’s lyrics on the group’s latest album, Save Me, San Francisco, is like a game of Spot the Musical Reference. Current single “If It’s Love” (whose self-parodying video was directed by Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz) mentions Winger, while Sonny & Cher emerge in “I Got You” — itself an interpolation of the Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water.”

For San Francisco, the onetime Bay Area band’s fifth and best effort, the musicians often utilized an organic approach along the lines of their 1998 self-titled debut. Primarily produced by Martin Terefe (known for work with Jason Mraz and James Morrison), Monahan penned a couple tunes with hot hit-makers S*A*M and Sluggo as well as Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic.

Cynical observers (Train has never been a critic’s darling) might view such collaborations as a calculated stab at success, since 2006’s “For Me, It’s You” fell short of gold status. Yet these tracks come across as effortless — and the same held true in a live setting. More than half those songs comprised Train’s sold-out show Sunday night during the end of the first weekend of the 2010 Pacific Amphitheatre Concert Series. Select lawn overflow tickets were also available, swelling the attendance level to nearly 9,800 — the largest since the venue reopened in 2003, according to an OC Fair spokesperson.

At one point in the spirited 90-minute, 16-song set, a gracious Monahan said it was one of the biggest gigs they’d ever headlined. Seeing people up on the hill area, which had been closed off every fair season, was indeed odd. Even stranger? Half a dozen Jeep SUVs were parked all around the dirt behind them, ostensibly to be test-driven by fair-goers in an obstacle course.

Train served as a house band of sorts for Orange County this past week. Local baseball fans know their adult-contemporary chart-topping 2003 song “Calling All Angels” serves as the theme to the Anaheim team’s history montage during home games. But this time the trio performed it at the Home Run Derby and for tailgaters prior to last Tuesday’s All Star Game.

In Costa Mesa, Train had a modest stage setup and just a few speakers; unusually, drummer Scott Underwood was situated toward the front. The mid-tempo “Parachute” launched the proceedings on a soaring, romantic note. On “Get to Me,” Monahan immediately prompted some call-and-response action. A lithe and affable frontman who indulged some gymnast-worthy moves, he continually worked both sides of the stage and interacted with the audience at every turn.

After spotting people hoisting unusual stuffed game prizes from the fair, an observant Monahan brought up several females, corralled to help him sing and slow dance onstage. (The security staff sure were kept busy this night.) Fans’ photo requests were also obliged. The personal connections were a nice touch, although they also tended to deaden the set’s pacing and led to some sloppy singing. A gentle, acoustic-based “Marry Me” was marred by Monahan’s trip through the crowd, his microphone often cutting out due to overzealous enthusiasts.

Train’s first hit, “Meet Virginia,” came off a bit sluggish, but “She’s on Fire” proved the band has a sense of humor. Tour keyboardist Jerry Becker led with some funky Fender Rhodes work, and halfway through a roadie handed Monahan a cowboy hat. The singer explained the video to “Hey, Soul Sister” was just added to the CMT channel, so they switched gears into country mode, speeding and twanging everything up until returning to the original tempo.

“Mississippi,” a rarely played song off second album Drops of Jupiter (2001), was a languid groover featuring weepy guitar from Jimmy Stafford. The feisty “I Got You” was a real crowd-pleaser. Fans helped with the Doobies’ refrain as Monahan sang through a megaphone and Stafford added tasty slide guitar.

Among the other highlights: the inspirational “Angels”; the swampy, gospel-tinged title track from the latest album; the charming “Sister,” which began a capella, had Stafford giddily strumming a ukulele and found Monahan side by side with (presumably his) two toddlers; and the majestic encore-closer “Drops of Jupiter.” The band was sonically proficient, yet Monahan had the audience in the palm of his hands from the start and used that to his advantage.

Previous concerts this year saw the band toss in a classic-rock remake or two (Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Van Halen). I would like to have heard their take on “Going to California” since Monahan once fronted a Led Zep cover band. But the fair’s curfew for concerts — in addition to his lengthy fan encounters — likely scuttled that opportunity.

Bad Company concert review

Bad Company photo, from earlier in the world tour, courtesy of Lippin Group PR. My review originally appeared in the OC Register, which can be viewed here:

While waiting in line Saturday night to watch Bad Company during the 2010 Pacific Amphitheatre Concert Series, one silver-haired gentleman wearing a tie-dyed shirt exclaimed, “I’ve waited 30 years to see this band!”

Surely he meant the latest incarnation — the closest fans can get now to the original.

As with many classic rock acts that came to prominence in the ’70s, you need a scorecard to keep track of all the lineup changes. For Bad Company, the short version goes like this: vocalist Paul Rodgers, guitarist Mick Ralphs, bassist Boz Burrell and drummer Simon Kirke formed in 1973, after noteworthy stints in Free (Rodgers and Kirke), Mott the Hoople (Ralphs) and King Crimson (Burrell). The supergroup, the first act signed to Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song Records, achieved massive success — all but one of its ’70s releases went platinum, the ’74 self-titled debut eventually selling 5 million copies — but it broke up in ’82.

A few years later, Ralphs and Kirke revived the name and steered toward a more pop/rock direction. Three additional hit albums and several radio chart placements ensued, while many musicians came and went.

The full founding quartet recorded four new songs for an anthology and toured behind it in 1999 — then Burrell and Ralphs exited, while Rodgers and Kirke continued until 2002. (Merchants of Cool, a live disc from that tour, featured music from the Grove of Anaheim.) Rodgers subsequently joined Queen for a well-received world tour, resulting in 2008’s The Cosmos Rocks studio album, though that didn’t make much of an impact.

Surviving members of Bad Company (Burrell passed away in 2006) made a short East Coast concert jaunt last summer. This past April the band’s sold-out gig at London’s Wembley Arena was filmed for an upcoming live DVD; a new retrospective, The Very Best of Free & Bad Company — due out domestically sometime in the future — landed the band in the U.K. Top 10 for the first time in decades. A Hard Rock Live DVD/CD also arrived in stores recently.

But their impact continues to be felt here, including in local ways: Before the show in Costa Mesa, fans could donate money for a signed memorabilia raffle to benefit the Kids Rock Free music education program at Fender Center in Corona. Rodgers is an active supporter of the facility, having appeared and performed there on several different occasions.

Over the course of a 90-minute, 16-song set, Bad Company tastefully kicked out the jams before a packed venue of enthusiastic concert-goers. Ralphs, 66, walked onstage and looked happy to be back in Orange County after a long absence. He immediately motioned for everyone to stand as the guys opened with “Can’t Get Enough.”

Rodgers, clad in a lime green shirt and black vest, twirled the microphone stand in the air and sang with gusto. Former Heart guitarist Howard Leese, who has played in Rodgers’ solo band since the late ’90s, did tandem riffs alongside Ralphs.

For “Run with the Pack,” Rodgers stood to play a black piano and added the first of several soulful vocal tags at the end. With the stage shrouded in smoke and lightning projected on the video screens, an ominous-sounding “Burnin’ Sky” was an early highlight. Lynn Sorenson, another mainstay from Rodgers’ solo band, excelled here with sinewy bass lines, while the singer delivered gritty wails at the song’s conclusion.

Lightening the mood, the band’s hit cover of the Coasters’ “Young Blood” was simple fun, while the gorgeous ballad “Seagull” found Rodgers and Ralphs alone at the front of the stage on acoustic guitars.

Some harder-edged rock came via “Gone Gone Gone” (from 1979’s Desolation Angels). Then Rodgers was back at the piano for the tranquil “Electricland,” which the frontman said was inspired by Paris. He had no problem with the sustained vocal notes. Leese’s 12-string guitar work on the extended intro to “Simple Man” shimmered; Rodgers infused the contemplative song with bluesy vocalizations.

The subtle folk accents on “Feel Like Makin’ Love” were freshened up and elevated live, thanks to Leese’s mandolin work and Rodgers’ harmonica solo. Audience members loudly sang along at Rodgers’ prodding, but did so even more boisterously during the poignant casualty tale “Shooting Star.” Despite its non-hit status, that track’s reception is equal to that of “Rock and Roll Fantasy” and “Movin’ On.”

For the encores, Bad Company offered up a laid-back “Ready for Love,” with dreamier guitar effects that verged on the psychedelic, plus more of Rodgers’ bluesy inflections. Both he and Ralphs playfully leaned on each other a few times, proving the old camaraderie remained intact.

Fittingly, images of flames and horsemen were projected on the screens as the band performed its fiery namesake tune. They pulled out all the stops. To quote another popular selection, Bad Company simply rocked steady on this evening.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Prince speaks to Euro press

Prince is releasing a new album via cover mount on European newspapers and magazines this weekend and has done a few interviews. I was glad to hear he's only putting it out on CD and not digital download (no U.S. release in confirmed yet).

Apparently, he despises iTunes, downloads and digital devices. Good for him!
But he also hates the internet and has shut down his official website. Not so good.

The link to one of the articles is below, where Prince invited a journalist to Paisley Park in Minneapolis, but as has been the norm over the past decade or so, the guy couldn't take notes or record what transpired:

The origin of KROQ-FM/Los Angeles

There's an interesting Q&A on with Shadoe Stevens, the second syndicated radio host of "American Top 40" after Casey Kasem left to launch his own show. This month marks AT40's 40th anniversary.

In the interview Stevens - the onetime host of TV's "Hollywood Squares" - briefly recounts how he helped launch "The World Famous KROQ," something I didn't know.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Concrete Blonde concert review 2010

A version of my review originally appeared in the Orange County Register, which can be viewed here:

“Twilight” saga fanatics will get their vampire fixes from the “Eclipse” movie. But alt-rock enthusiasts got a musical dose of dark, gothic imagery on Monday night as Concrete Blonde made its first Los Angeles area live appearance in more than five years.

Performing to a full Music Box (formerly Henry Fonda Theatre), the LA trio - which formed in 1982 and spent the latter part of the last two decades apart - recently reunited to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Bloodletting.

Among the band’s best and most popular efforts, the lyrics touched upon such heavy subject matter as AIDS, alcoholism and death. R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate), Andy Prieboy (Wall of Voodoo) and Gail Ann Dorsey (David Bowie) all made guest appearances.

Concrete Blonde finally hit big when the single “Joey” reached the top 20 on Billboard’s Hot 100. The album has sold nearly a million copies to date. A great deluxe remastered edition, bolstered by half a dozen rarities, comes out on Shout! Factory Records next month.

Although Bloodletting wasn’t performed as a whole in Hollywood, it did get a proper airing and front-loaded the strong 100-minute set. Red roses were strewn across the stage as on that album’s cover. Shrouded in smoke, the musicians entered to the appropriately creepy strains of Bauhaus’ “Bela Lagosi’s Dead.”

Singer/bassist Johnette Napolitano – still looking resplendent in long black hair, silvery top and black dress - slowly plucked the moody, opening notes of Anne Rice inspired “Bloodletting (The Vampire Song),” sang with fervor and cackled.

Surprisingly, “Joey” was dispatched early and the dense mix initially engulfed Napolitano’s lower register, but she overcame that during the dramatic chorus. Band co-founder Jim Mankey did a brilliant, tasteful solo.

Despite being the end of an American tour, Napolitano didn’t have any vocal problems mentioned on her personal MySpace blog a few days ago. From singing the sustained notes on “I Don’t Need a Hero” and “Heal it Up,” getting ferocious amid hard rocking “Days and Days” and humorous “Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man” to the more subdued “Caroline” (some scintillating arpeggios from Mankey), she and her bandmates continually impressed.

The Music Box crowd was boisterous, often shouting their approval. Napolitano, in turn, was feisty as ever. She danced around a bit, joked about having a similar sounding name as the U.S. head of homeland security and told her stepmother watching an intense Concrete Blonde gig for the first time that “I tried to warn you.”

Before launching into the searing “Run Run Run” from 1989’s equally solid album Free, the singer recounted a low period – also told in her new book - in the early ‘80s: she scored drugs from a guy at the Formosa Café on Santa Monica Blvd. Napolitano spit out the lyrics, while drummer Gabriel Ramirez-Quezada, a more recent recruit from LA rock en espanol group Maria Fatal, got a mini solo spotlight.

Another tune referencing illicit behavior, longtime Concrete Blonde concert staple “Everybody Knows” by Leonard Cohen, was riveting. Mankey’s played short, surf guitar-styled licks as Napolitano whisper/sang with authority and tweaked the lyric (“everybody knows BP lied”).

On a day when the U.S. Supreme Court extended rights of gun owners, 1989’s blazing “God is a Bullet,” describing assassinations and drive-by shootings, couldn’t have been more topical. Mankey's displayed his razor sharp riffage and Napolitano added Harvey Milk to the list of slain people in the lyrics.

The acoustic encore section, including countryish gem “True” off the 1986 self-titled debut disc, a gorgeous, bilingual “Mexican Moon, endearing “Happy Birthday” (about LA tenement slums) and harrowing Prieboy number “Tomorrow Wendy,” where Napolitano kneeled and fans sang along loudly, were all highlights.

A Perfect Circle/Ashes Divide guitarist Billy Howerdel guested on backing vocals during the final encore of a rousing “Still in Hollywood.”

Concrete Blonde, The Music Box, Hollywood, June 28, 2010
Main set: Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)/Joey/I Don’t Need a Hero/Days and Days/ Lullabye/Scene of a Perfect Crime/Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man/Someday/Everybody Knows (Leonard Cohen cover)/Caroline/When I Was a Fool/God is a Bullet/Run Run Run/Little Wing (Jimi Hendrix cover)/Heal it Up/Your Haunted Head
First encore: Mexican Moon/Happy Birthday/True/Tomorrow Wendy (Andy Prieboy cover)
Second encore: Still in Hollywood

Photo by Amber Boggs, courtesy Girlie Action PR.