Wednesday, November 24, 2010

INXS Mystify DVD review

music video reviews

[Eagle Rock Entertainment]

INXS arrived on these shores from Australia in the early ‘80s and immediately stood apart from the new wave pack. A large part of the allure was singer Michael Hutchence, whose pure, unadulterated sensuality and onstage swagger often recalled Jim Morrison and Mick Jagger.

Although the dance/rock band achieved massive worldwide success with the albums Listen Like Thieves, Kick and X, it was strictly playing to the faithful by the time Elegantly Wasted arrived in 1997. Filmed at a German outdoor summer music festival for long-running European music television show “Rockpalast,” Mystify finds the group supporting that CD five months before Hutchence committed suicide.

The 80-minute performance starts off sluggishly, but the group finally rebounds a quarter way through on poignant ballad “Searching.” Hutchence is in a flippant, playful mood here: he attempts to crowd surf, mugs right into camera crew lenses, climbs atop amplifiers, jokes around, smokes a joint and interacts with both lead guitarist Tim Farriss and the buxom female backing vocalists. Yet the front man turns in a performance that’s passionate (“Disappear,” “Never Tear Us Apart”), sultry (“Need You Tonight,” “Devil Inside”) and party hearty (“Kick,” “What You Need”) as the musicians are solid (sax man Kirk Pengilly seems to have the most fun).

Sound and picture quality are average for a TV shoot. Diehard fans will relish the 25-minute bonus performance from a 1984 “Rockpalast” in studio taping from Hamburg, where a young INXS is ready to make its mark. Hutchence oozes sexuality on “Original Sin”; the driving pace and icy synth lines of “Don’t Change” still induce goosebumps a quarter century later.


Depeche Mode Live in Spain DVD review

music video review

Depeche Mode: Tour of the Universe
Grade: B-

For the past couple decades, Depeche Mode has pushed visual boundaries in concert with longtime artistic director Anton Corbijn. Getting everything to work on home video though is a different story. Tour of the Universe, filmed in Spain last November, often suffers due to distracting camera work and lackluster images. Shots from the fans’ perspective block onstage action, while lingering on insignificant focal points proves detrimental.

The two-hour concert finds the veteran synth pop trio in satisfactory musical form. Some new tunes (“In Chains,” “Hole to Feed”) get the proceedings off to a sluggish start before they eventually pick up steam during “It’s No Good.” Lead singer Dave Gahan - looking like a leaner version of Social Distortion’s Mike Ness nowadays – vigorously works the stage, but rarely uses the catwalk. 

Despite sounding good, he has the crowd take over entire song choruses way too much. “I Feel You” lacks the usual rocking punch; Martin Gore’s dramatic vocals on luxurious, yet sedate tunes (“Jezebel,” “Home,” “Dressed in Black”) kill any momentum. Still, “In Your Room,” “Fly on the Windscreen” and “Never Let Me Down Again” summon the old DM excitement and lullaby-type ballad “Waiting for the Night” finds the guys’ voices meshing nicely.

Besides a live CD, the set is available in three versions. The DVD/Blu-ray bonus content includes a tour documentary, additional live songs, New York City rehearsal tracks, four music videos culled from 2009’s Sounds of the Universe (car-stuck-in-reverse rampage clip “Wrong” is simply harrowing) and Corbijn’s screen films/montages.

Hellogoodbye album review

Would it Kill You?
(Rocket Science/Wasted Summer)
Grade: A

Four years between albums seems like an eternity in the ever-changing indie rock world. But this Huntington Beach, Calif. band didn’t sit around idly after impressive debut Zombies! Aliens! Vampires! Dinosaurs! and hit single “Here (In Your Arms)” went top 20 on the Billboard charts: there was a lineup revamp, lawsuit to exit their former label, marriage for creative mastermind Forrest Kline and a slight change in musical direction. Last time around, Hellogoodbye’s quirky songs were rife with keyboard programming, danceable rhythms, vocoder-ized singing and acoustic guitar-based emo ditties.

On Would it Kill You?,Kline and returning producer Matt Mahaffey (Beck, P!nk, The Sounds) handled most instruments and utilized actual string/horn players. The result is an enthralling ride through chamber and power pop terrain with 1960s-styled Beach Boys and Zombies detours. 

Kline’s lyrics reference aging, death and paranoia, yet a fun sense of restless energy still envelops the songs. Among the standouts: an upbeat “When We First Kissed,” sporting jangly and reverb-drenched guitars recalling early ‘80s Smiths; finger-snapping “Thoughts That Give Me the Creeps,” colored by ukulele and Celeste sounds and “I Never Can Relax,” where swooping orchestration and tack piano give way to a sweet falsetto vocal breakdown akin to Sigur Ros’ Jonsi. 

Then there’s “Betrayed by Bones,” which gallops alongside sparse vocals before suddenly bursting into dense atmospherics. Buoyant harmonies abound. This one was definitely worth the wait.

Wagon Wheel concert festival review 2010 Day 2

My reviews originally appeared on the Californian newspaper entertainment blog and can be viewed here:
Photo of Randy Houser by Ryan Ambrust; courtesy of EB Media PR

Concert Review
Wagon Wheel Country Music Festival, Day 2

When Randy Houser opened his Wagon Wheel set with “My Kind of Country,” the singer recalled outlaw performers of yore like Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash. Other acts on Sunday’s bill ran the gamut of country music sounds - from soul (James Otto) and pop (Sara Evans) to honky tonk (Dwight Yoakam).

Fewer people appeared to show up for the festival’s second day, but event promoter Just Cruzin’ Productions estimated a weekend attendance of 12,000 at The Diamond in Lake Elsinore.

Before headliner Yoakam closed out the proceedings, a tribute to slain Riverside police officer Ryan Bonaminio was held with local officials, colleagues, and the victim’s parents onstage to offer their thoughts. Concertgoers were given candles and glow sticks, which were waved in Bonaminio’s honor during a bagpiper’s song. A guitar and memorabilia auction was also held. A portion of proceeds from that, as well as ticket sales since last Wednesday, will go to the family.

Troy Olsen penned songs for Tim McGraw and Blake Shelton and has finally struck out on his own with a new  digital EP. In concert, tracks such as “Good Hands,” “Tumbleweed” and “Summer Thing” (the latter receiving prominent airplay on country radio) had an easygoing Kenny Chesney-type vibe. Olsen and his band did a jaunty medley of Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life” and Eddie Rabbitt’s “Drivin’ My Life Away” that went over well with early Wagon Wheel arrivals. The same held true on their pedal steel-enhanced take on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” Definitely one to watch.

James Otto notified the crowd that “we’ve come to get down and get a groove on.” He wasn’t exaggerating; the afternoon performance was easily Sunday’s best. The funky “Lover Man” featured Otto's tasteful electric guitar solo, while an extended version of Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” spotlighted the singer’s sultry pipes, alongside a dobro player. “Sun Comes ‘Round Again” had a classic Stax soul vibe. Otto had no trouble getting audience participation going on the playful “It’s a Good Time (For a Good Time)” and “Shake What God Gave Ya.”

Writhing, buxom cowgirls in front of the stage took the latter title to heart and the group incorporated a snatch of Nelly’s “Hot in Herre.” A fine Ronnie Milsap cover (“There’s No Getting Over Me”) and Otto’s big hit (“Just Got Started Loving You”) stirred things up even more.

Houser’s rambunctious performance was rowdy and fun. The singer/guitarist laughed a lot between song descriptions and made sure people were in the moment right along with him. “They Call Me Cadillac” was a prime example of Houser’s humor. The barrelhouse piano-led “Out Here in the Country” made light of the Hollywood lifestyle. His cover choices (Allman Brothers Band’s “Midnight Rider,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man”) allowed the musicians to jam a bit and “Boots On” ended the party-hearty hour on a high note.

Wagon Wheel’s lone dose of estrogen in the lineup came from Sara Evans. She was very genial and professional, yet her predominantly jubilant set came across as bland as contemporaries Martina McBride and Faith Hill. With the exception of dramatic current single "A Little Bit Stronger," she stuck to the hits (“Born to Fly,” “A Real Fine Place to Start,” “Suds in the Bucket”), an odd attempt to rock a cover (Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me”) and was well-received by the crowd.

Yoakam dealt with unwanted feedback, a muddy sound mix and a cold, but still soldiered on. Steamrolling through one song after another and barely pausing in between - much like Willie Nelson does in concert – tended to make the songs blur into one another. Clad in trademark light blue jean jacket and pants plus white hat, Yoakam and his flashily attired band opened with the Northern California country sounds of idol Buck Owens (“Under Your Spell Again,” Act Naturally,” “Streets of Bakersfield”). 

The front man engaged in some loose limbed moves and nailed the emotional “If There Was a Way.” Three selections from the 1986 debut album, “Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.” were played, including the title track and the slow revamp of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” Once 10 p.m. arrived, The Diamond had noticeably thinned out. A passionate “To Love Somebody” (the Bee Gees number), appended with a verse of Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds,” reverb drenched, slide guitar wonder “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere,” “Little Sister” and “It Only Hurts When I Cry” were among the main set standouts.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Wagon Wheel concert festival review-Day 1

My review originally appeared on the Californian newspaper entertainment blog and can be viewed here:
Photo of Lee Ann Womack courtesy of MCA Nashville Records

Concert Review
Wagon Wheel Country Music Festival
The Diamond, Lake Elsinore, Calif.
Nov. 13

For those watching sporting events at
The Diamond, the headgear of choice is usually a baseball cap. On Saturday, it was cowboy hats all the way as the Wagon Wheel Country Music Festival returned to the Lake Elsinore stadium. A few thousand concertgoers enjoyed sets by six acts – including stellar turns by Lee Ann Womack and Dierks Bentley

Deejays from Go Country 105 FM in Los Angeles served as emcees (an unusual choice, given K-FROG is the Inland Empire’s main country music station). While the weather was mild and breezy - a far cry from Wagon Wheel’s sweltering temps last year – many people stayed in the shaded general admission seats throughout the afternoon. Once the sun went down though, nearly everyone was on the field or in the VIP area.

Canada’s Emerson Drive delivered a solid performance, heightened by singer Brad Mates and guitarist’s Danick Dupelle’s dual harmonies on the contemporary country/pop-leaning “You Still Own Me” and their top 10 singles “I Should Be Sleeping” and “Fall Into Me.” Mates dedicated the moving ballad “When I See You  Again” to a former Emerson Drive bassist that committed suicide. A fan, fast-paced hoedown vibe encompassed “Countrified Soul” and “Testify”; fiddler David Pichette got quite a workout amid a cover of Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” (interspersed with Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”).

Jimmy Wayne dealt with a cold and some sound issues early on, but didn’t let that affect him. Totally gregarious and fan-friendly, Wayne continuously signed hats, shook hands and went into the audience while singing. Earnest ballads (“I Will,” “Stay Gone,” a stripped down take on Hall & Oates’ “Sara Smile,” “Where You’re Going,” prefaced by the inspiring story of his hard luck upbringing) took overall precedence over a handful of rockin' country numbers.

Womack’s rare area appearance was worth the price of admission alone. In fine voice and backed by a top-notch, eight-piece band, her nuanced tunes often recalled the classic 1960s and ‘70s country sounds of Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette (“Never Again, Again,” “I May Hate Myself in the Morning, “The Fool”).

She even paid tribute to onetime duet partner Willie Nelson by doing a jazzy “Night Life” and Patsy Cline on “Walkin’ After Midnight.” Other standouts included the twangy “A Little Past Little Rock,” the big, cascading strains of “You’ve Got to Talk to Me,” sweeping No. 1 single “I Hope You Dance” and upbeat, powerful version of Rodney Crowell’s “Ashes by Now.”

Bentley and his group began in a semi-circle, backs to the crowd, singing into a lone microphone, for the bluegrass tune “Up on the Ridge.” The title track to his exceptional CMA award-nominated album (it lost to
Miranda Lambert on Wednesday) was both riveting and feisty.

Then the front VIP section suddenly became a sea of white cowboy hats: a bunch of guys raised their beers in a nod to the good time party tunes (a good portion slow danced with their significant others during the ballads). All the prominent hits were represented and played with verve (“Free and Easy,” “Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do,” “Settle for a Slowdown,” “Feel that Fire”).

Before “I Wanna Make You Close Your Eyes,” Bentley recalled his time spent in Arizona and invading our Southern California beaches every summer; the somber “Long Trip Alone” was dedicated to military personnel. Finally, the main set closed with “Sideways,” a refreshing change with programmed and sampled sounds.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

News on upcoming Duran Duran album

I just received this press release about the new Duran Duran album. Can't wait to hear it!
Archive photo courtesy of Epic Records.

The four original members of Duran Duran - John Taylor, Roger Taylor, Nick Rhodes and Simon Le Bon - have announced their 13th studio album, entitled All You Need Is Now. The 9-track digital LP is due out  on the iTunes Store on December 21st while the expanded physical LP and various format special packages will come in February 2011. The first single from the record, title track “All You Need Is Now,” will be available worldwide on December 14th on iTunes

Produced by the Grammy Award-winning Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Adele, Kaiser Chiefs, Lily Allen) and mixed by Spike Stent (Madonna, Björk, No Doubt), the record is a return-to-roots homage to Duran Duran’s most celebrated musical panache.
This new tale begins in 2008. As part of a year-long run, they headlined festivals in a number of countries, playing arenas in others, and became the first group to perform at the Louvre Museum in Paris.  Two nights later, in the same city, Duran Duran treated fans to a specially created “mega-mix” one-hour set that was filmed in a tiny theatre, with longtime fan, Mark Ronson. This rare live performance, immediately proved that there was a powerful chemistry between Ronson and the band, and within just a few weeks, a much larger collaboration had developed, with Mark committing to produce the band’s 13th studio album. Starting out in the late Spring of 2009, at Sphere Studios in London, this much-anticipated Duran/Ronson union flourished, as writing and recording began on an exciting new body of work, which Ronson has boldly stated is the “imaginary follow up to Rio that never was.”
With this newfound partnership, the band was energized and excited by the music they were creating. The result is nothing short of pure Duran Duran brilliance.  The album features guest vocals/rap from longtime Duran Duran pal/collaborator Ana Matronic of the Scissor Sisters while Owen Pallett of Arcade Fire contributes the album’s string arrangements.
Always at the forefront of the art scene, the band enlisted the talents of up-and-coming British art star Clunie Reid for the album artwork and packaging. Reid’s work has been recently shown at leading UK and US spaces, including the Saatchi Gallery, The Tate and the New Museum in New York. British fashion magazine POP’s creative team will provide art direction for the project.
All You Need Is Now Digital LP tracklisting in full:
       1. All You Need Is Now
2. Blame The Machines
3. Being Followed
4. Leave A Light On
5. Safe
6. Girl Panic
7. The Man Who Stole A Leopard
8. Runway Runaway
9. Before the Rain

*A 12-track physical package will be available for purchase on CD and vinyl with special deluxe options in February 2011.

Wagon Wheel Festival preview

My interview originally appeared in the Californian newspaper and can be viewed here:
Dwight Yoakam photo courtesy of Just Cruzin' Productions

Wagon Wheel Country Music Festival
Gates open at 12:45 p.m. Nov. 13-14
The Diamond, 500 Diamond Drive, Lake Elsinore
$65 daily, $100 weekend (general admission); $150-$175 weekend (VIP)
951-245-4487, 951-656-0862

The second annual Wagon Wheel Country Music Festival rolls back into Lake Elsinore this weekend with superior traction.

Last year's event featured some well-known acts (Travis Tritt, Tracy Lawrence, Sammy Kershaw, Tracy Byrd) and popular upstarts (Jason Aldean, Julianne Hough) performing over three days. The 2010 edition boasts even brighter star wattage from Dierks Bentley, Dwight Yoakam, Lee Ann Womack and Sara Evans.
According to organizer Mike Davidson of Riverside-based promoter Just Cruzin' Productions, concertgoers said they'd rather see more money spent on bigger talent.

"We took polls. A lot of the acts we booked (this time) were based on who the fans wanted to see," he said. Now a two day festival, "everything is tightened up and will take place inside the stadium. We had it spread outside with the second stage and vendors there (in 2009). We've learned from that. People just want to stay inside. So we've only got one stage now. It's less acts, but more quality ---- definitely a more focused show than what we had."

Other changes involved the vendors and where people can watch the live sets.

"We found out the vendors didn't get the business they wanted outside the stadium," Davidson said. "We've cut them down by about two-thirds. Also, general admission (ticketholders were) only allowed in the stands. This year, everybody is allowed on the field to get close to the stage."

Those camping onsite in two specially designated RV areas (with and without electrical outlets) can purchase $25 tickets to a Friday night kickoff party including food and live music. Meet & Greet tickets are also available.

Although the Route 66 Rendezvous and L.A. County Fair took place on the same weekend as Wagon Wheel in '09, Davidson said moving the event from September to November was mainly due to the extreme temperatures.

"The heat last year just killed us, work wise, ticket wise, everything," he said. "We didn't want to compete with Route 66 ---- not because we didn't believe in our show, but because we wanted to stay way from other events happening that month."

Davidson anticipates a daily attendance of 10,000 people, up from approximately 6,000 in 2009.
"Based on ticket sales, we think we're going to reach that," he said. "They're coming from all over the place ---- L.A., Orange County and Ventura. About 50 percent come from the Inland Empire. Being the second year, people know about it a little better. We found that almost everybody across the board had a good time in 2009."

VIP tickets include a reserved seat and private section with its own bars, food areas and restrooms.
"We also have it set up lounge style where it's going to have bar style tables; people can mingle there," Davidson said.

Charity is among the festival components as well. Some ticket proceeds go to the Loma Linda Veteran's Hospital, another way Just Cruzin' has continued to give back over the past dozen years. "We've raised close to a million dollars for them," Davidson said. "A big portion of our money goes there. We always support our veterans heavily."

On Saturday morning, singer Jimmy Wayne is sponsoring a 5K walk in conjunction with his Meet Me Halfway organization that helps raise awareness about issues facing homeless youth and children's foster care. It starts at the Lake Elsinore Hotel & Casino (20930 Malaga Road) and ends at the stadium. Wayne completed a 1,700-mile walk across six states this past summer.

"Jimmy will be doing various fundraising throughout the weekend," Davidson said. "While he's onstage, we're going to auction off a guitar. All the money goes to the local Boys and Girls Club in the Lake Elsinore area."
A live charity auction with guitars and memorabilia signed by all the artists, will take place prior to Dwight Yoakam's Sunday evening closing set.

If Wagon Wheel is a continued success, it could help put Lake Elsinore on the map as a live music destination.

"We thought the area didn't have a lot of entertainment going on, as far as concerts and wanted to bring something else to the Inland Empire," Davidson said. "Coachella (Valley) has Stagecoach. We want (this part) of the Inland Empire to have a big festival and be recognized in the country music scene."

Is there room for two country-based festivals in the IE?
"Absolutely," Davidson said. "We're not that far way from Stagecoach, distance-wise. But we think this area needs something to be recognized in the country music scene."

Interview with James Otto

My interview originally appeared in the Californian newspaper and can be viewed here:
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Nashville

Appearing 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14
Wagon Wheel Country Music Festival
The Diamond, 500 Diamond Drive, Lake Elsinore
$65 daily, $100 weekend (general admission); $150-$175 weekend (VIP)
951-245-4487, 951-656-0862

James Otto's main mission is to put soul back into country music. On engaging third effort "Shake What God Gave Ya," he definitely succeeds.

"I set out to combine the gritty R&B that I grew up loving with classic country sounds," said Otto. "I really wanted to find something that was uniquely me, but also harkens back to Conway Twitty and Ronnie Milsap."
The latter country legend adds vocals during smooth album closer, "Good Thing's Gone Bad." The track originated at Fame Music, a studio complex/record company in Muscle Shoals, Ala. known for fostering classic soul music.

"I wrote it on a guitar that once belonged to Otis Redding," Otto said. "Then I started covering (Milsap's) 'Stranger in My House' live as a way to explain country soul to my audience. I'd say, 'check this song out. It reminds me of something else,' I'd break that out in the middle and people would lose their minds."
Otto, 37, said the Milsap collaboration was "an amazing experience. To have him there (in the studio), see him reading in Braille, hear that voice come out of his mouth and sing lyrics that I wrote was incredible, for sure."

The pair is scheduled to reprise the duet for the first time Thanksgiving night on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon."

Among all the songs on "Shake," the striking "Soldiers & Jesus" is most personal.

"My dad was a drill sergeant in the Army for 23 years, my grandfather was a Korean War vet and I was a Navy vet," he said. "It's near and dear to my heart and something I truly believe. It's great to be able to honor people in my life that are personal heroes."

At the other end of the spectrum is lighthearted "Groovy Little Summer Song," taking a cue from R&B-infused Carolina beach or "shag" music first popularized in the 1960s.

"That was actually inspired by a December in San Diego," Otto said. "I went down there to do a Christmas show and was really hoping for warm, sunny weather and a beautiful couple of days. When I got there, it was cold, just like everywhere else. I played the guitar lick and wrote that chorus in the back of the bus."

A typical Otto gig is very high energy.

"As my album title suggests, I want you to go out there and shake what God gave you," he said. "We want people to dance and have a good time. I look as a concert as a way to celebrate and get away from everyday life. Forget about problems in the world."

When informed about who is sharing a stage with him at Wagon Wheel, Otto admitted to being a huge fan of Dwight Yoakam and Lee Ann Womack.

"That's a killer lineup," he said. "I'm proud to be a part of it. To see somebody like Dwight Yoakam ---- who I think is one of the truly great contemporary artists and somebody I think will go down as a country music legend ---- is always a great opportunity."

Initially drawn to classic rock music like Led Zeppelin and Bob Seger (to whom he bears a slight vocal resemblance) while growing up in Ft. Lewis, Wash., Otto saw the country music light after a two-year period living in Alabama.

"It was junior high," he said. "I discovered Hank Williams Jr., Waylon (Jennings) and Willie (Nelson), Charlie Daniels Band ---- all this great stuff. That's when it really struck me and I decided I wanted to be a country artist."

Following Naval duty (Otto attended boot camp in San Diego and also lived there briefly), Otto set his sights on Nashville. Alongside friends Big Kenny and John Rich, they started the Musik Mafia collective that gathered weekly to play a local nightclub in the early 2000s.

"It was about freedom to do whatever you wanted," he said. "The Nashville scene and songwriter nights had grown a little stale. There wasn't a lot of thinking outside the box. What we wanted was a young, energetic, fun-filled evening of entertainment. It was like a variety show and the hip spot to be on Tuesday nights at 10."

The scene bred a bunch of interesting characters, including Gretchen Wilson.
Since the release of his 2004 major label debut "Days of our Lives," Otto has notched six top 40 singles, including "Just Got Started Lovin' You," a country chart topper in '07 and the most played song on country radio in 2008.

"It was something you work for your entire life," Otto, said of the John Rich-produced hit. "I've definitely had a long road in Nashville. Before that, I was playing in clubs ---- it was an incredibly powerful feeling and the most insane time of my life ---- I did 300 shows that year."

Otto suddenly became a sought after writer ---- even more so after working on Jamey Johnson's "In Color," which won top honors at the ACM and CMA awards (he also contributed to Zac Brown Band's latest album).

"Having a 'Song of the Year' is a big deal among songwriters and was a huge honor for me," he said. "It's something I never expected to happen. It's been a true blessing and emboldened me to go out and write as much as possible. Just dig in, you know?"

Monday, November 8, 2010

Paul Weller concert review

My review originally appeared in the Orange County Register and can be viewed here:
Photo by Dean Chalkley, courtesy of Yep Roc Records

Paul Weller
Wiltern Theatre, Los Angeles
Nov. 3, 2010

Paul Weller is definitely a rare breed among musicians who started their careers in the ’70s. Few of his contemporaries from British punk rock’s first wave (apart from ex-Clash man Mick Jones) still have the restless energy and creative drive necessary to make an adventurous studio album like Wake Up the Nation, which arrived on Yep Roc Records in April.

Alongside electronic DJ Simon Dine (Noonday Underground), Weller’s frequent collaborators sought to create a claustrophobic city-life vibe — sans the acoustic instrumentation prevalent on 2008’s equally ambitious 22 Dreams — and basically succeeded. Some longtime enthusiasts might be initially puzzled by odd noises and instrumentals in a genre-splicing collection that crams 16 tracks into a 40-minute timeframe. Successive listens, however, reveal all its sonic nuances and hidden charms.

Guest musicians include drummer Bev Bevan (once of ELO), guitarist Kevin Shields (prime mover behind My Bloody Valentine) and Weller’s former bandmate in the Jam, bassist Bruce Foxton, marking the pair’s first recording together in more than 25 years. Earlier this year, Nation was nominated for the U.K.’s esteemed Mercury Music Prize, though it lost out to the xx’s self-titled debut. But Weller also snagged an Ivor Novello, England’s top songwriting award, honoring his lifetime achievement.

An invigorating Wiltern Theatre gig Wednesday night, part of a quick mini-tour with just one Los Angeles date and two in New York City, found Weller, 52, still in peak vocal and musical form. The venue was nearly full, a testament to his continued cult following here; back home in the U.K., arenas are the norm.

A few years back, the Modfather (as Weller is affectionately called) jettisoned his longtime touring band, culled from Ocean Colour Scene, but retained masterful lead guitarist Steve Craddock. This group — keyboardist Andy Crofts, bassist Andy Lewis and drummer Steve Pilgrim — were tight throughout the night. Each of them pitched in on background vocals, which made a big difference amid more soulful numbers like “Have You Made Up Your Mind” and a sweeping, Phil Spector-esque “No Tears to Cry.”

The 28-song set came in at just under two hours and covered all facets of Weller’s career, with fine selections from the Jam (the Beatlesque “Start!,” “Pretty Green,” the acoustic guitar-based encore closer “That’s Entertainment”) and the Style Council (a glorious “Shout to the Top”), all getting expected jubilant crowd responses. Sporting a carefully mussed silver mane and clad in a charcoal gray sports coat and trousers, the singer/guitarist still looked the epitome of cool. “Aim High,” the first of nine tracks off Nation, opened the proceedings on a groovy note.

In a nod to childhood influences, old-school R&B touches and classic-rock jams were also part of Wednesday’s performance. A dramatically recast cover of Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)” was colored by swelling organ, Weller’s soulful singing and his compelling piano work. Frenetic rave-up “Fast Car, Slow Traffic” included a bit of free jazz; the spacey mind-trip “Echoes Round the Sun” (co-written and performed on 22 Dreams by pal Noel Gallagher) contained extended guitar solos.

Brawny rocker “Wake Up the Nation” bore traces of the younger, more opinionated Weller (key lyric: “Get your face out of Facebook and turn off the phone / With the death of the post box / Nowhere feels like home”), as did an off-the-cuff remark about finding his new album in stores. Craddock’s wah-wah solo on a vigorous “From the Floorboards Up” was a wonder to behold; later, he’d engage in Pete Townshend windmill motions.

And on the subject of the Who, “That Dangerous Age,” a brand new song from Weller’s next studio album, recalled the British band’s early mod rock sound. Other highlights here included a sweet, soulfully revamped “Broken Stones,” the trippy “Pieces of a Dream” and “Porcelain Gods” — the latter two dominated by Crofts’ billowy, Ray Manzarek-style sonic beds.

For the encores, the keyboardist moved front and center to play guitar and sing lead on the Jam’s “Art School,” while Weller handled backing vocals and never seemed to tire. The energy level was still so high, he probably could have easily gone another half-hour.

Main set:
Aim High / Up the Dosage / Pretty Green / From the Floorboards Up / 22 Dreams / All I Wanna Do (Is Be with You) / That Dangerous Age / Into Tomorrow / Have You Made Up Your Mind / Shout to the Top / No Tears to Cry / Broken Stones / Trees / How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You) / You Do Something to Me / Pieces of a Dream / Start! / Fast Car, Slow Traffic / Echoes Round the Sun / Wild Wood
First encore: Wake Up the Nation / Andromeda / Art School / Come On, Let’s Go
Second encore: The Changingman / Porcelain Gods / Moonshine / That’s Entertainment

Tiger Army concert review

My review originally appeared in the Orange County Register and can be viewed here:
Photo by Kelly Swift, courtesy of the Register.

Tiger Army
Grove of Anaheim
Oct. 30, 2010

After covering the obscure Ramones tune “Slug” on Saturday, Tiger Army’s previously undetected similarity to the New York City punk rock pioneers became apparent. While the Northern California trio’s brand of punk is infused with rockabilly touches, it has basically stuck to the same formula (much like Joey Ramone & Co. always did) throughout four albums with only minor variations.

That tried-and-true method is common among artists in every genre, yet too much repetition can become tiresome in concert. The first of two shows for Tiger Army’s third annual Octoberflame run at the Grove of Anaheim was a prime example.

Still technically on hiatus as singer-guitarist Nick 13 continues the long process of making his countrified solo album (now tentatively slated for spring), the group’s O.C. dates comprised its only live appearances of 2010. Keeping in the spirit of Halloween weekend, young fans dressed in a variety of costumes (nurse, bride, vampire, skeleton, jail inmate, mariachi man, Bret Michaels). Others were decked out in the de rigueur rockabilly look you’d typically see at Hootenanny.

Male members of the Tiger Army faithful let out their pent-up frustrations by starting slam pits on the general-admission floor. Some drunken participants instigated fights and had to be escorted outside. I witnessed one guy bleeding from what appeared to be a broken nose. (A fire truck and ambulance were stationed near the entrance; haven’t seen that at the Grove in quite awhile.)

Following opening sets from Throw Rag and TSOL frontman Jack Grisham, then an instrumental prelude and the familiar chant “Tiger Army never die!,” the well-tailored musicians began their 65-minute set with “Afterworld.” Mindful that many enthusiasts would return Sunday to hear 2001’s II: The Power of Moonlite played front to back for the first time, this setlist was planned completely differently. Only one song came from that disc, a supercharged, defiant “F.T.W.”; the rest of the choices concentrated on the initial releases plus a few rarities.

One was “Jungle Cat,” off the Early Years EP, while the live debut of “Spring Forward,” from 2007’s more nuanced Music from Regions Beyond, was a highlight, with Nick 13’s tender vocals and stand-up bassist Geoff Kresge’s backing harmony coming to the fore.

“Rose of the Devil’s Garden,” sporting a chiming guitar effect reminiscent of the Cure, was equally enthralling. Nick 13 dedicated “Through the Darkness” to his mother in attendance and explained that “Wander Alone” is about “making choices that can’t be undone.”

Kresge had the unenviable task of bantering with the crowd every time Nick 13 took excessive time changing his guitar tunings. It was a valiant effort, but it led to several lulls that seemed to take an eternity. Drummer James Meza’s solid rhythms tended to blend into the woodwork because Kresge’s rickety instrument was more heavily emphasized in the mix.

Tiger Army’s most popular alt-rock radio song, the strident mid-tempo rocker “Forever Fades Away,” had everyone singing along loudly. Come encore time, the Ramones remake was transplanted back a few decades in the hands of these guys, while “Never Die” became a furious anthem. Still, despite some standouts, this sold-out Anaheim gig was a mixed bag.

Stone Temple Pilots concert review

My review originally appeared in the Orange County Register and can be viewed here: 
Scott Weiland photo, taken in August at Red Rocks in Colorado, courtesy of
(a great STP fan site)

Stone Temple Pilots, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Nokia Theatre, Los Angeles, 
Oct. 29, 2010

Sometimes a joke can speak volumes.

Halfway through Stone Temple Pilots’ powerful show Friday night at Nokia Theatre, singer Scott Weiland looked down at the setlist and announced they were going to play a song by a “big English rock band.” But he jumped the gun and corrected himself: “I meant a big American rock band — us.”

During the ’90s, of course, STP was one of the biggest grunge groups around. A dominant force on alternative and album-oriented rock radio here, their first two albums, Core (1992) and Purple (1994), sold a combined 15 million copies, while the next two discs (1996’s Tiny Music … Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop and 1999’s No. 4) also went platinum.

Yet Weiland’s persistent drug and alcohol problems led to various stints in jail and rehab and elevated tensions among members (guitarist Dean DeLeo faced substance abuse to a lesser extent). STP split up in 2003.

Two years ago the quartet reconvened for a highly successful tour that included a debut at the Hollywood Bowl. An impressive self-titled effort, their first work in nearly a decade, came out in spring and finds the musicians expanding upon their usual crunchy rock sound with excursions into glam, psychedelia and power pop.

STP’s 90-minute, 18-song concert in Los Angeles touched upon most of the ’90s hits and a smattering from Stone Temple Pilots (only four of its dozen cuts). With his trademark megaphone at the ready, Weiland and the guys opened with a menacing “Crackerman,” while a giant LED screen displayed muted images (it was later put to better use flashing lyrics).

Despite some recent controversy, where Weiland admitted to drinking again at a Houston show and subsequently rescheduled concert dates, the frontman looked and sounded just fine at Nokia.

Boisterous fans — many dressed in Halloween costumes — packed the lower level of the venue (the upper section was closed off). They howled at DeLeo’s opening ramshackle notes to “Wicked Garden.” After that forceful delivery, Weiland and DeLeo smiled and hugged as if to congratulate each other for a job well done. “Vasoline,” where the vocals were crisp, sported an equally gargantuan delivery.

The camaraderie extended to Robert DeLeo, too. From time to time, Weiland marched across the stage and leaned on the bassist and backing vocalist while singing. On the careening, glamtastic new tune “Huckleberry Crumble,” Weiland got down and sang into Dean’s guitar pickup — a clear nod to his idol David Bowie and Mick Ronson’s infamous Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders From Mars tour pose. Current single “Cinnamon” also proved to be a pop-inflected wonder.

And that previously mentioned cover tune? It turned out to be Led Zeppelin’s “Dancing Days,” which STP did for the 1995 tribute album Encomium. The Nokia performance choice was appropriate, considering Dean’s guitar style and slide work often pays a stylistic debt to Jimmy Page. Spiraling new track “Hickory Dichotomy,” also done this night, references it amid a solo.

The band capped its main set with a thunderous “Sex Type Thing.” Weiland brought a boy from backstage (ostensibly his 10-year-old son, Noah) to sing the opening line of “Dead & Bloated” into the megaphone. All told, the band was definitely firing on all cylinders.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, back for a return engagement as an STP opening act, put on a mind-blowing 45-minute set. The L.A.-based noise-rock trio formed in the late ’90s (Danish drummer Leah Shapiro, an ex-touring member of the Raveonettes, joined a few years ago). They provide a palpable sense of danger live. Chalk it up to dark-hued songs infused with fuzztone and feedback-laden guitars, deadpan vocals, plus inspiration derived from the Jesus and Mary Chain, British shoegazers and alternafolk.

The squealing groove of “666 Conducer” kicked things off; “Ain’t No Easy Way” was an appealing, swampy blues stomp. “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo,” the mesmerizing and intense title track of BRMC’s latest album, concluded with a group chant. “Conscience Killer” raced along at a fast clip, while another new song, “Shadow’s Keeper,” was driven by a dense maelstrom between singer-guitarist Peter Hayes and bassist-singer Robert Levon Been (whose father Michael, the former singer for the Call and BRMC’s sound engineer, passed away over the summer). Slowly, it coalesced into a mountain of noise à la My Bloody Valentine.

Then Shapiro exited for the quiet conclusion: Hayes and Been calmly singing together to minimal reverb guitar sounds on “Open Invitation,” a hidden track off 2005’s Howl. Everything went down like a storm with the STP crowd. I look forward to experiencing a full show from the band in the future.

Main set:
Crackerman / Wicked Garden / Vasoline / Heaven & Hot Rods / Between the Lines / Hickory Dichotomy / Still Remains / Cinnamon / Big Empty / Dancing Days / Silvergun Superman / Plush / Interstate Love Song / Huckleberry Crumble / Down / Sex Type Thing
Encore: Dead & Bloated / Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart

JP, Chrissie & the Fairground Boys concert review

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

Photo by Drew A. Kelley, taken at the Queen Mary Events Park over the summer, courtesy of the Register  

House of Blues
Anaheim, Calif.
Oct. 27, 2010

The story of JP, Chrissie & the Fairground Boys’ formation is something you don’t hear everyday: struggling male musician meets veteran female rock star in a bar, they hit it off romantically but realize their 30-year age difference is too vast to work, so they start a band together instead.

Fidelity!, released this past summer, is the refreshing fruit of Chrissie Hynde and JP Jones’ musical labors. And quite an achievement too, considering the longtime Pretenders leader had never done a true side project in a career that now spans across four decades. Ranging from organic folk-rock to reflective adult-alternative-leaning sounds, the tunes occasionally recall the Pretenders’ underrated 1990 disc Packed! and have drawn comparisons to the Swell Season.

At House of Blues Anaheim on Wednesday, before a mediocre turnout likely due to the unwieldy group name and low-profile radio and sales presence, the quintet formed by the duo gave the album’s upbeat songs a punchier delivery, while the warm, inviting ones came across even more personal.

Taking the stage to carousel music, with roses strewn across the floor and a fairground scene for the backdrop (patterned after the album art and Jones’ Welsh family history), the band started its 75-minute set with “If You Were My Age.” The searing outtake had a late ’60s vibe and spotlighted the fiery fretwork of lead guitarist Patrick Murdoch, who would continue to amaze all evening.

Jones and Hynde’s whiskey- vs. honey-drenched vocal trade-offs meshed well on the rousing rocker and first single “If You Let Me.” Clad in a black tank top and skinny black jeans, she vigorously shook a tambourine as the musicians gave it an added exhilarating kick. “Fairground Luck,” meanwhile, was a prime example of these singer-guitarists’ obvious connection: Jones would turn to face Hynde as he sang lyrics like “could you kiss these lips everyday?”

To introduce the shimmering, contemplative, slide guitar-laden “Meanwhile,” Hynde teased the audience by saying it was about “a woman who will stand by her man forever … sucker!” Though less-informed audience members undoubtedly thought she was about to do “I’ll Stand by You” — a ballad Hynde rarely performs at Pretenders shows — this was not a night to hear selections from her more famous group’s catalog.

When Jones took the lead-vocal reins on a plaintive “Leave Me If You Must,” reminiscent of the Sun Records era, his gruff timbre made it the least interesting of all the Fidelity! songs played. But “Portobello” — a non-album cut about the street in West London’s Notting Hill that Hynde described as a place where “all the cokeheads and drug dealers go” — was a lean and mean, harmony-filled stomper. The equally enticing, jangly fun of another unreleased song, “You’re the One,” proved this outfit has a few aces up its collective sleeves for a second album.

A wrenching “Courage” found Jones providing a passionate vocal while facing Hynde. She countered with her trademark quaver, Murdoch added descending guitar lines, and everyone’s supple harmonies brought it all home. Speaking of harmonies, they nailed the memorable and unusual ones on “Australia” as well.

Come encore time, a simple yet effective “Never Drink Again” was colored by elegant guitar work, while a cover of Moby Grape’s 1968 number “Murder in My Heart for the Judge” was an inspired choice. (Hynde called the San Francisco psychedelic rockers “a great California group from the days when rock ’n’ roll meant something.”)

Finally, JP, Chrissie & the Fairground Boys unveiled what seemed to be an original holiday tune, “Merry Christmas Soon.” The great mid-tempo rocker had ringing guitars, an uplifting message and recalled fellow Welshman Mike Peters of the Alarm. Let’s hope they release it soon.

Recoil feat. Alan Wilder concert review

My review originally appeared in the Orange County Register and can be viewed at:
Photo courtesy: Mute Records

Galaxy Theatre
Santa Ana, Calif.
Oct. 24, 2010

After years of witnessing pulsating electronic dance music at Coachella and elsewhere, I’ve discovered the most memorable DJ sets are usually accompanied by either eye-popping lighting, visually stimulating imagery or both.

The latter element was definitely present during Recoil’s first-ever local appearance on Sunday night in Santa Ana. Mastermind Alan Wilder last played Orange County as a member of Depeche Mode in 1994 (he exited that band soon after to focus more time on the solo project). Recoil’s inaugural U.S. tour, which began earlier this month, drew fans from Europe and Asia for its Southern California run.

Selected, a new Recoil double-disc career retrospective, was assembled, remastered and edited together by Wilder and longtime musical collaborator Paul Kendall. It focuses on songs from 1992-2007, in addition to an album of new remixes. Diamanda Galas, Toni Halliday of Curve, Nitzer Ebb’s Douglas McCarthy, spoken-word artists Maggie Estep and Nicole Blackman and Texas blues guitarist Joe Richardson, among others, are featured vocalists.

In a recent interview, Wilder told me his past shows here were “absolutely some of the highlights of my whole Depeche Mode career. There was the Rose Bowl event (before 75,000 people on the 1988 Music for the Masses Tour). We used to play regularly in Irvine … we did lots of shows there and they were always great crowds.”

During Recoil’s sold-out Galaxy Theatre gig, only Wilder and Kendall held court onstage behind Apple Mac laptops and assorted electronic gadgetry to occasionally manipulate the sounds. Concert-goers were packed like sardines on the general-admission floor, which didn’t leave room to dance (I would have limited the people allowed down there). Surprisingly, only a fraction of them bobbed their heads to the music. Maybe they were mesmerized by the frequently disturbing and explicit images projected on the huge backdrop screen.

The 75-minute set kicked off with the ethereal “Black Box” intro. Richardson’s deep voice signaled the powerful gospel/blues and clanking rhythms of “Pray.” A slinky and seductive “Drifting” came paired with a strip club scene. The thumping and haunting “Killing Ground” — all female whispers, accompanied by World War II and atomic bomb imagery — was a stark highlight.

Wilder looked like he was having fun and smiled whenever he turned to face the crowd. Pure excitement arrived via a popular extended remix for Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down Again”; everyone seemed to perk up and wave their arms back and forth just like at a DM concert. A slow building, percussion heavy remix of the Normal’s 1978 experimental classic “Warm Leatherette” continued that high-energy vibe.

Later, “Faith Healer” — probably Recoil’s best known song — expertly set McCarthy’s intense voice and clips from its music video to images of church healings and exorcisms. For the encore, Recoil adeptly incorporated elements from DM’s “Walking in My Shoes” and “Personal Jesus” into the bluesy “Jezebel.” All told, Recoil put on an intriguing presentation, one that would have been even better if Wilder had wrangled an actual vocalist out to O.C.

Much-anticipated special guest Martin Gore, chief songwriter for Depeche Mode, followed Recoil with a DJ set. The initial 45 minutes were generic, hard-hitting techno — and a disappointment. The crowd had thinned out slightly as midnight approached, but most people just stood, stared and snapped pictures.

Launching the evening’s proceedings was Conjure One, an electronic music vehicle for Canadian musician Rhys Fulber, formerly of Front Line Assembly and Delirium. At the Galaxy, he was joined by live vocalist/bassist Leah Randi and fared best amid the soothing “I Dream in Color” (from the coming digital release Exilarch). Their set was pure enchantment.

On a far more energetic tip was the second opener, techno DJ Architect (aka Daniel Myer), who laid down some electro grooves and breakbeats and earned a very enthusiastic response. Totally into the music and working up quite a sweat over the turntable action, he spiced up a vibrant set of tunes from his latest album, Consume Adapt Create, with bits of Nitzer Ebb and DM (“Stripped,” “Behind the Wheel”).