Monday, July 31, 2017

Justin Moore concert review: Costa Mesa, Calif.

photo: Miguel Vasconcellos/OC Fair
“I never thought that song would be so popular in Orange County, California,” exclaimed Justin Moore, referring to “Small Town USA.” 

The fact that fans in Costa Mesa sang along loudly to his first country chart-topping hit on Thursday shouldn’t have been a surprise. 

Artists from the genre tend to fare well around here, regardless of hometown population or income. And many people can relate to hanging out on a Saturday night with their baby by their side.

Taking the Pacific Amphitheatre stage to an old Western movie theme song, Moore and his band kicked off the 75-minute, 15-song set in spirited fashion with “Hank It.” The rowdy ode to Hank Williams Jr.-styled machismo from Moore’s gold-selling, 2009 self-titled debut album immediately had people on their feet, hoisting cups of beer and waving turkey legs. “Backwoods” sizzled with some swampy guitar work.

This no-holds-barred show utilized an extensive stage design and production typical to much larger venues. Whimsical 2015 hit single “You Look Like I Need a Drink,” an early standout featuring images of Moore branded light beer on the screens, was the first of three songs off last year’s solid “Kinda Don’t Care.”

Moore’s third album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard country chart, it saw the Arkansas native expand his usual sonic terrain a bit by blurring styles and utilizing instrumentation (synths, programming) more in line with what’s common on country radio these days.

“Somebody Else Will,” the sensual, R&B-leaning current top 20 single, was a key example. Before starting the song, Moore instructed, “we don’t do a lot of love songs, so gentlemen, here’s your opportunity” to snuggle. Several cowboy hat-sporting guys responded in kind with their gals.

Driven by honky tonk-style piano and guitar, the title track to “Kinda Don’t Care” (about being tired of trying to be good by dieting, going to church, etc.) was a welcome change of pace. Constantly smiling, Moore frequently worked both sides of the stage, shook people’s hands and prompted singalongs (that seemed like demands).

The life-affirming, “Til My Last Day” evoked the best Kenny Chesney material. Equally stirring No. 1 ballad “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away,” was prefaced by a touching introduction where Moore talked about family, moving back to his tiny hometown, losing a grandfather and supporting the military. The latter topic was a cue for two female fans to raise a flag banner.

Then it was full-on energy the rest of the way, from an organ-driven “How I Got to Be This Way” and hard-rocking “Small Town Throwdown” (originally a top 10 duet with Brantley Gilbert and Thomas Rhett) to the somewhat lunkheaded braggadocio of “Guns” leading into “I Could Kick Your *** and bright and catchy closer “Point at You.”

Up-and-coming young Sacramento native Tyler Rich opened with a pleasant half-hour modern country set often reminiscent of Sam Hunt – albeit with fewer rap cadences. Rich fared best during the danceable “Just Like That” and “California Grown,” off his “Valerie” EP, which name checked fellow Cali singer Jon Pardi and got a rousing crowd response.

My review originally appeared in the OC Register.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Bonus Q&A with Colin Hay

photo: Sebastian Smith
There was so much interesting material from my recent chat with Colin Hay, I decided to post more of it that didn't make the regular feature article (found elsewhere on this blog). 

Q: During Men at Work’s 1980s heyday, the band played the Universal Amphitheater and the US Festival near San Bernardino. Over the years, do any SoCal concerts stick out as particularly memorable? 
A: The whole Men at Work experience stands out. The US Festival was a huge thing for us and a lot of people because it was one of the first of the mega festivals where you fly in and there’s just a sea of people. There was Woodstock, but that was unpredictable - the people that came to that. The thing that I remember more than anything was the little gigs we did before people really knew who we were. We did a show at the Hollywood Palladium. Lots of different people turned up. It’s that kind of excitement before something happens, which is usually the most exciting thing, isn’t it? Once something is happening, it’s exciting, but you’re up and running and you’re riding the wave. The period of ascension – the takeoff, if you like, was the most exciting time. 

Q: When you first moved out to LA in the '90s, you began playing the original Largo in LA on a regular basis. Did you immediately fit in among the close-knit musicians who appeared on a regular basis, like Jon Brion, Grant-Lee Phillips, Aimee Mann, etc.? 
A: I would play on a Saturday night and Jon would come down. He’d just arrived from New Haven. He was this fresh-faced, cherub, rosy-cheeked [guy]. Most nights when I played, he would join me. He would play behind me whatever he felt like. Sometimes on the vibes, drums, guitar. It was really, still to this day, some of the most magical nights I’ve ever had. I was like a tree in the middle of the stage, playing and singing the songs. Jon would give it flight. It was amazing. Then people like Elliott Smith would play. It was incredible. Then there would be the comedy nights with Zach Galifianakis and Sarah Silverman, Louis CK. It was a very inspiring place to be a part of – still is. 

Q: Many heritage acts that came to fame in the ‘80s are weary of including much new material in their sets, but you’re just the opposite. Is that because you know your longtime fans really want to hear it? 
A: I’m still trying to get my head around the term ‘heritage act.’ 

Q: You’re very prolific and tend to put out a new album every 2-3 years, while others will go 10+ years. I think your fans expect to hear what you’re doing musically now. Do you think that’s the difference? 
A: Very much. I would be very depressed if that wasn’t the case. I think I would probably think of something else to do. I love the fact that I have old songs, mainly because they sit within the context of new songs. Or you could look at it the other way as well: the new songs have the context of the old songs. They all seem to co-habitate quite easily together. I think because of the fact that when I started to play solo shows, the people who came weren’t coming to see me because they had a passing interest in music or in a casual basis. They came to see me because they were real fans. They’d taken the time to go, ‘that’s that guy from that band, but it’s not that band, it’s that guy. So we’ll go and see what he’s about.’ I developed an audience that was interested in what I was doing from the start. So that’s grown in the last 25 years. And yes, you’re right, they seem to expect that I will continue to make hopefully better records and there will hopefully be something different about each record that I do. And hopefully they will get better over time, which I like to think that they have. 

Q: ‘Fierce Mercy’ is really a high-water mark album for you. Once you were done with it, did you think, ‘this is one of my stronger collections of songs?’ 
A: I definitely thought it was the best record that I’ve done, song wise and production-wise, as a piece of work. I co-write a lot of songs with my friend Michael G. that lives up the road. That was also different from the past as well. I think it was a well put together record. That’s the thing: the frustrating aspect of everything is to try and get it noticed, which is very difficult to do. At least they exist. It was like when I made a record in the ‘90s called ‘Transcendental Highway.’ I had that song “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Get Over You,” which I always thought was a strong song. I thought, ‘probably no one’s going to ever hear this.’ There’s something depressing about that, but you just carry on. Then 10 years later, Zach Braff had the song for quite a long time and told me he liked it. Then he was in the position to actually do something about it with that film he did [Garden State]. Then all the sudden, it’s part of a record a lot of people hear. So sometimes songs do get a chance at the big time. 

Q: On “Secret Love” and other new songs, you use actual string players as opposed to just utilizing keyboards. Was that important to you? 
A: What happened was when I’d finished the songs in the studio, everything sounded so great and organic to my ears that we thought, ‘the last touch to make this complete would be to have real strings.’ I think we were right. So we went to Nashville and got a nine-piece section. I’d only done that before on one other album, where I sat in the studio and [watched] these beautiful players. It’s like heaven. It’s one of the most joyous experiences I’ve ever had. Listening to a string section coming in and playing on your song is just magic. 

Q: A couple upbeat songs, like “Best in Me,” and “I’m Inside Out Outside In,” have an exquisite quality that reminds me of Mitchell Froom’s work with Crowded House in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Were you a fan of their work at all? 
A: Oh yeah. I thought that was a good pairing, a very organic pairing of talent for sure. 

Q: There's a refreshing country-styled vibe on “Come Tumblin’ Down.” 
A: Audley Freed plays a B-bender tele. That’s why it sounds country. If that wasn’t there, it probably wouldn’t sound country. It’s like having a touch of Nashville, which kind of takes it into that realm. It’s a nice taste indeed. 

Q: I was just re-listening to Men at Work's successful debut LP ‘Business as Usual’ again and found that it still sounds fresh. And a song like “Underground,” with its social-political lyrics, could even be relevant today. 
A: We were very concerned with climate change back in the late ‘70s and the political elite. We were always left of center and probably always will be. So we always had great suspicion of the landed gentry or the ruling class of Conservatives. I think you’re right. A song like “It’s a Mistake” was the same way. Very much inspired by “Dr. Strangelove.” Interesting, isn’t it, how Oliver Stone sat down with Vlad and made him watch “Dr. Strangelove” [in the recent HBO documentary]. That was a very funny moment. Such a bizarre scene. 

Colin Hay plays Wiens Family Cellars in Temecula and '80s Weekend 4 at Microsoft Theater in LA on Saturday.    

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Cribs are back in business

The Cribs' new album 24-7 Rock Star S*** will arrive on Aug. 11 through Sonic Blew. They debuted new single "Rainbow Ridge" (listen now HERE), which follows previously released tracks "In Your Palace" and "Year Of Hate," which will also be featured on the album. It is now available for pre-order HERE, with all three songs coming as instant grat download with purchase.

Recorded with Steve Albini in his Chicago Electrical Audio studio, 24-7 Rock Star S*** is the quickest thing The Cribs have ever recorded -- done and dusted in five days -- yet has also been six years in the making.

The album's origins lie back in 2011, when the three Jarman brothers were making In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull. After recording the bulk of the album with producer Dave Fridmann in upstate New York, they flew straight to Electrical Audio and laid down four tracks for possible inclusion on ...Brazen Bull. But the songs had such a spirit and sound of their own that they were laid aside for a rainy day. When it came time for the next album, there was a plan to make two LPs to represent two distinct strands of their work: a pop record and a punk record, one polished and melodic, the other raw and underworked. Yet the former took precedence, and became 2015's For All My Sisters. The punk album - hinted at in the press - instead became a thing of fan myth.

After touring wrapped around For All My Sisters, the band made it their mission to complete the punk album, and convened on Gary's house in Portland, OR, determined to keep that pop side in check. And in November 2016, exactly five years after that first visit, they re-entered Electrical Audio with the intention of recording another four songs, which soon became six. Three days later, they left with an album, all the songs captured as-live and straight to tape, onto 16 tracks. The resulting recordings, Ryan says, are "really immediate, really raw and it really represents where we are at this point, and that's all I really want from a record. Something that's stripped-back and unsterilized. I miss that in what's in vogue today, and I'm sure other people do."

"We've been in a band a long time - this is our seventh record - and we've been doing this for 15 years now," says Gary, regarding the unconventional announcement of 24-7 Rock Star Shit. "You get to the point where certain parts of the machinations of the music industry become monotonous and laborious. But we've got the luxury of being quite autonomous, we've got a dedicated fanbase who've been with us for a long time and we thought, why not just cut out all the extraneous stuff for once? This way we bypass as much of the usual protocol as possible - we just want to get it to people as quickly and easily as we can."

Fittingly, it's a fast release for an album that throbs with immediacy, from "Give Good Time"'s squeal of feedback to the yelped vocals and sense of paranoid urgency on "Year Of Hate." But it's not all about going full throttle: "In Your Palace" is as melodic as anything the band have done, and "Sticks Not Twigs," one of the last tracks written for 24-7 Rock Star Shit, is an acoustic track. It means that, though the fans have long had an inkling about The Cribs' mythical punk album, it's a safe bet that the finished thing will still surprise. A new era for The Cribs, then. An album that's as fresh as can be, as few steps as possible between writing sessions in Ross's Wakefield garage and your ears. And soon to be heard in a venue near you.

The Cribs announced more headlining North American tour dates this fall, beginning in September. Itinerary is below.

Track listing:

Give Good Time
Year of Hate
In Your Palace
What Have You Done For Me
Sticks Not Twigs
Rainbow Ridge
Dead At The Wheel
Broken Arrow

Tour Dates:

07/28 - Cornwall, UK @ Leopallooza Cornwall
08/05 - Newcastle, UK @ Times Square (w/ Manic Street Preachers)
08/27 - Oxfordshire, UK @ The Big Festival
09/07-10 - Wales, UK @ Festival Number 6 Portmeirion
09/14 - Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry
09/15-17 - Chicago, IL @ Riot Fest
09/16 - Detroit, MI @ Third Man Records
09/18 - Toronto, ON @ Lee's Place
09/19 - Montreal, QC @ Fairmount
09/20 - Boston, MA @ Middle East Downstairs
09/21 - Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
09/23 - Washington, DC @ U Street Music Hall
09/25 - Chapel Hill, NC @ Cat's Cradle
09/26 - Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
09/29 - Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall Upstairs
09/30 - Austin, TX @ Antones
10/01 - Dallas, TX @ Club Dada
10/03 - El Paso, TX @ Lowbrow Palace
10/05 - Phoenix, AZ @ Valley Bar
10/06 - Los Angeles, CA @ Teragram Ballroom
10/07 - San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
10/10 - Vancouver, BC @ Cobalt
10/11 - Seattle, WA @ Chop Suey
10/12 - Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre
10/19 - Mexico City, MX @ Sala Corona
10/21 - Monterrey, MX @ Live Out Festival

The Script band news

The Script have announced details of their album Freedom Child, available Sept. 1 via Columbia Records. The 14-track album will include lead single, “Rain,” see full tracklisting below. Freedom Child was recorded between London and Los Angeles, and is available to pre-order now:

To celebrate the release of Freedom Child, The Script will embark on a US headline tour this fall. The 14-date tour kicks off in September before wrapping up in October. 

Comprised of Danny O'Donoghue, Mark Sheehan, and Glen Plower, The Script has sold more than 29 million records, with x3 multi-platinum albums, all of which were #1 in the UK. 2014’s No Sound Without Silence featured the hit “Superheroes,” which reached Top 10 at Adult Pop and has nearly 100M views for the official video.

The Script have also picked up a huge following in the US where they have x4 platinum selling singles under their belt. They are also one of the biggest live bands, having sold over 1.4 million tickets across 203 headline shows and selling out the legendary Croke Park stadium in their hometown in a matter of minutes.

Track listing:

No Man Is An Island
Arms Open
Rock The World
Mad Love
Divided States of America
Love Not Lovers
Written In The Scars
Freedom Child

Tour Dates:

09/28 Mashantucket, CT The Grand Theater at Foxwoods Resort Casino
09/29 New York, NY Radio City Music Hall
09/30 Boston, MA Orpheum Theatre
10/02 Washington, DC Lincoln Theatre
10/03 Charlotte, NC The Fillmore Charlotte
10/04 Philadelphia, PA The Electric Factory
10/06 Chicago, IL Riviera Theatre
10/07 Champaign, IL University of Illinois
10/08 Saint Paul, MN The Myth
10/10 Denver, CO Paramount Theatre
10/11 Salt Lake City, UT The Complex
10/13 Oakland, CA Fox Theatre
10/14 Los Angeles, CA The Wiltern
10/15 Las Vegas, NV The Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

A new career retrospective for prog-rock guitarist Steve Howe

Steve Howe was among my first interviews as a music journalist in the early '90s. Can't wait to hear this collection.

Legendary guitarist Steve Howe will add a second volume to his Anthology series this summer with an upcoming collection that highlights his key contributions to groups like Yes and Asia, while also rounding up his numerous collaborations with musicians like Paul Sutin and Oliver Wakeman.

On July 21, Rhino will release ANTHOLOGY 2: GROUPS AND COLLABORATIONS as a physical three-CD set designed by Roger Dean and digital equivalent. The collection spans more than 50 years of Howe's prolific career with 56 tracks that mix hits with a generous selection of unreleased recordings, including several with Keith West, who was Howe's bandmate in Tomorrow and The In Crowd.

Starting with his work in the mid-Sixties, the collection opens with songs that Howe recorded during brief tenures with bands like The Syndicats ("Maybellene," 1964), The In Crowd ("Blow Up," 1967), Tomorrow ("Revolution," 1968) and Bodast ("Nothing To Cry For," 1969).

As you would expect, ANTHOLOGY 2 is packed with many of Howe's memorable contributions to Yes and Asia, two of the world's most successful progressive-rock bands. Hits like Yes's "Roundabout" and Asia's "Heat Of The Moment" are featured along with rarities like "Montreux's Theme," a song Yes recorded during sessions for Going for the One (1977), and "Masquerade" a previously unreleased tune by Asia.

The collection also touches on Howe's stint in GTR, the supergroup he founded in 1986 with former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. Featured here is "When The Heart Rules The Mind," a song from GTR's only album to date. Also included is "Brother Of Mine," a song he recorded in 1989 with former Yes members: Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford and Rick Wakeman. The Steve Howe Trio, a jazz band he started with his son Dylan on drums, is represented by: "Kenny's Sound" and "Sweet Thunder."

The set's final disc explores some of Howe's many musical collaborations through the years, including songs he recorded with Fish of the band Marillion ("Time And A Word," 1993), keyboardist Oliver Wakeman ("The Forgotten King," 2001) and Paul Sutin ("Voyager," 1995). In addition, more than a dozen of Howe's unreleased collaborations will make their debut on ANTHOLOGY 2.

Archival '80s live set due from The Replacements

This is exciting news. I was glad to see the band's reunion tour a few years ago when it stopped at Coachella 2. Read more from the press release below...

In February 1986, The Replacements performed a classic live show at Maxwell's in Hoboken, NJ. That night, a 24-track mobile studio was on hand to record the quartet as they careened through a 29-song marathon that mixed tracks from all of the band's albums to date with B-sides and covers. Until now, that pristine recording of the legendary performance has only been available in low-quality bootleg form. Even so, Pitchfork has called the show "a fiery, focused set that would make a true believer out of any skeptic."

On Oct. 6, FOR SALE: LIVE AT MAXWELL'S 1986 will finally make its commercial debut as a two-disc set and a double-LP. The music will also be available on digital download and streaming services. This marks the first live album by the band to see an official release on any of these formats. Their infamous 1985 live release The Shit Hits The Fans, famously recorded with an audience of roughly 30 people, was only available on cassette. The set also includes new liner notes by Bob Mehr, author of the New York Times bestseller Trouble Boys: The True Story Of The Replacements, as well as never-before-seen photos from the Maxwell's show by noted music writer and photographer Caryn Rose.

Paul Westerberg, Bob Stinson, his brother Tommy Stinson, and Chris Mars made their major-label debut in October 1985 with the release of Tim on Sire/Warner Bros. When the acclaimed album reached the charts in January, the band was preparing to perform on "Saturday Night Live" - where they would later be banned for life for using profanity live on air - before launching a short East Coast tour that included the show in Hoboken.

The show at Maxwell's would prove to be one of the last great performances by the four original members of the Replacements, a much beloved line-up including Bob Stinson on guitar, before his departure from the band in 1986. The songs they played spanned the band's entire history while giving prominence to new material from Tim, including "Bastards Of Young," "Left Of The Dial" and "Kiss Me On The Bus." Mixed in were favorites like "I Will Dare" from Let It Be (1984) and "Color Me Impressed" from Hootenanny (1983). But it was songs from the band's first album - Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash (1981) - that seemed to summon their best on furious versions of "Takin' A Ride" and "I'm In Trouble."

The original 24-track master tapes of the show sat in the Warner Music vaults until being given a proper mix in 2007, but it would still be another decade before the concert would get its official release. Mehr writes in the album's liner notes: "Now, a decade later, and more than 30 years after the original concert, Replacements For Sale finally offers high-fidelity proof of the peculiar alchemy and unadulterated majesty of one of rock and roll's greatest bands."

Long awaited studio return from Starsailor

I can't wait to hear new material from one of my favorite Brit-rock bands of the 2000s.

British quartet Starsailor have announced their new album All This Life, set for both physical and digital release on Sept. 1 via Cooking Vinyl. The lead track "Listen To Your Heart" is now available to stream HERE.

‘Listen To Your Heart’ is the opening track from the album. Lead singer & guitarist James Walsh describes it as, “an energetic, emotional song. I think in doing what we do, you have to be emotion and instinct lead. If every decision was sensible, practical and mulled over, we'd never have done anything or got anywhere. It’s not always easy, so you have to keep reminding yourself.”

Of the album and recording process, Walsh says; “Recording the album was an intense and rewarding experience and we're excited to get it out there. There's a good mix of the aspects of the band people know and love, and a few changes in direction.”

Their fifth studio album – and first since 2009 – All This Life finds Starsailor re-energized and in outstanding form. They played to an ecstatic crowd in a packed Big Top Stage at this year’s Isle Of Wight Festival and debuted a new track from the forthcoming album.

Pre-order All This Life now and stream/download ‘Listen To Your Heart’ HERE.

Starsailor originally formed at Wigan & Leigh Music College by music students James Walsh (Vocals, Guitar), James Stelfox (Bass), and Ben Byrne (Drums). They were soon joined by keyboardist Barry Westhead who cemented the band’s sound.

Signing to EMI Records, they shot to fame with their debut album Love Is Here in 2001. Featuring the Top 10 single ‘Alcoholic’, the album was released to great critical acclaim and reached Number Two in the UK Album Charts going on to sell over half a million copies in the UK alone.

For the band’s second album Silence Is Easy in 2003, Starsailor worked with legendary producer Phil Spector, alongside Danton Supple (Elbow, Doves) and John Leckie (The Stone Roses, Radiohead). The album also reached Number Two in the UK and soon went Gold.

Further albums On The Outside (2005) and All The Plans (2009) followed, with the band chalking up ten Top 40 hits in total, before the band went on an extended hiatus to explore other projects.

Reconvening in 2014, Starsailor headed out on a Greatest Hits tour in 2015 following the release of Good Souls: The Greatest Hits. The band have supported the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Police, The Killers, and U2, during their career selling over 3 million albums worldwide.

Track listing:

1. Listen To Your Heart
2. All This Life
3. Take A Little Time
4. Caught In The Middle
5. Sunday Best
6. Blood
7. Best Of Me
8. Break The Cycle
9. Fallout
10. FIA (F**k It All)
11. No One Else

The B-52s concert review: Costa Mesa, Calif.

photo: Miguel Vasconcellos/OC Fair
The B-52s have been a mainstay at the Pacific Amphitheatre for years, so another appearance as part of the Orange County Fair’s Summer Concert Series initially seemed routine.

Yet this time the billing revealed a special addition - The Pacific Symphony.

Two years ago, the veteran Georgia new wave/post-punk band did a few songs backed by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and were apparently so pleased with the results that the concept was expanded.

Since then, the B-52s have also done it selectively elsewhere. Singer Kate Pierson recently told an interviewer she thought the group’s late 1970s and early ‘80s material worked especially well with the new treatment because the original recorded instrumentation was sparse.

But the big question leading up to the O.C. gig was whether it would come across like a train wreck. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case here. Pierson and co-vocalist Cindy Wilson’s trademark wails easily towered above it all.

Before show time on Thursday night, I spotted a smattering of fans who obviously decked themselves out just for the occasion: one woman in the front row had a beehive hairstyle, while other people wore glittery or electric shirts and pants.

Playing to a large crowd comprised of many LGBT couples, the B-52s opened their 95-minute show in Costa Mesa with the frenetic title track to 1989’s “Cosmic Thing.” Fans immediately stood up and danced right along. Then politically astute singer Fred Schneider voiced his approval of somebody’s Planned Parenthood t-shirt.

An exciting take on “Whammy Kiss” was an early highlight, while the delightful “Summer of Love” was a rare concert treat (until now, the song - taken from 1986’s “Bouncing Off the Satellites” - hasn’t been played regularly in 18 years. Later, the humorous “Wig,” another semi-obscure song from the same underrated album, caused one guy near me to exclaim, “I think I can die now.”

Pierson and Wilson (the latter sporting a blonde beehive, sunglasses, a Geisha-type dress and waving a fan around) gave their high vocal ranges a good workout during the eerie “52 Girls.” The band closed the first segment with the frantic exuberance of “Strobe Light.”

Following an intermission, the B-52s returned for another 45-minute segment with the Pacific Symphony conducted by Roger Kalia. First came “Planet Claire.” The orchestra’s brass and string sections paired well with the song’s sci-fi, synth-dominated sound and built to a fine crescendo.

Sweeping violins added intensity and dramatic heft to the usual sonic maelstrom of “Private Idaho,” while “Roam” suddenly had a grander texture. The orchestra’s sprightly accents amid “Love in the Year 3000 were welcome; the string section’s dominance during a vibrant “Love Shack” was a pleasant surprise (one female violinist seemed to be having the most fun among her fellow musicians by mouthing along to the lyrics).

Finally, the full classical version of typical concert closer “Rock Lobster” brought the tune’s anxious tension to dizzying heights.

Next: 8 p.m. Aug. 12, Pershing Square, Downtown Stage, 532 S. Olive St., Los Angeles, free,

A version of my review originally appeared at

An interview with Colin Hay

photo: Sebastian Smith
Back in the Eighties, when Colin Hay led Men at Work, the Australian band’s music videos for chart topping pop singles like “Down Under” and “Who Can It Be Now” were filled with humorous antics.

That sensibility still infuses Hay’s modern-day concerts, which tend to open with a comedic banter with the crowd.

The practice began after the Scottish-born singer/guitarist first played solo gigs and discovered the old fan base had disappeared.

“Hardly anybody was there and they seemed to be a little embarrassed for me,” said Hay, 64, in a recent phone interview. “So I would start talking to the audience because it was like they were just in this room with me. The divide between performer and audience seemed to be broken down.”

Following a move to LA’s Topanga Canyon in the early ‘90s, the intimate club Largo helped Hay regain career momentum.

“Without a stretch of the imagination, it really saved my life and sanity,” he admitted. “Everything was falling away. I didn’t have a record deal, a booking agent or management - none of the industry trappings I’d had for over a decade. Largo was a stabilizing thing. It gave me focus and a place to try out new ideas and songs. Then people started to come.”

During the 2000s, TV producer Bill Lawrence and actor Zach Braff saw Hay perform at the venue. Both were so impressed that the musician/occasional actor was given a few cameos on their NBC series “Scrubs.” Braff later placed “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” in his feature film “Garden State,” whose Grammy-winning soundtrack went platinum.

“Waiting for My Real Life” – the insightful, award-winning documentary named after a 1994 Hay song and released earlier this year on DVD, download and streaming platforms - recounts Hay’s professional highs and lows. Sia, System of a Down’s Serj Tankian, Mick Fleetwood, Hugh Jackman, Guy Pearce and others provide observations.

Hay felt the “Waiting” directors did a good job and really appreciated Fleetwood’s comments because Men at Work’s stint as Fleetwood Mac tour opener in ‘82 “was a very important period and really helpful for us at the time.”

Soon the veteran musician will embark on his biggest SoCal tour in many years to support excellent 13th studio album “Fierce Mercy.” Unlike 2015’s spare, folk-leaning “Next Year People,” Hay took a more expansive approach by utilizing a live string section, guest rappers (“I’m Walking Here,” inspired by the Trayvon Martin killing) and then delving into Americana (“Come Tumblin’ Down,” “Blue Bay Moon”), sophisticated rock a la Crowded House (“The Last to Know,” “The Best in Me,” “I’m Inside Outside In”) and dramatic 1960s-styled pop (“Secret Love”).

The latter standout tune is a rare opportunity to hear Hay belt out a vocal.

“I was watching [The Late Show with] David Letterman one night. I had a melodic idea and structure that reminded me of Roy Orbison’s operatic approach. When I grew up in Scotland in the music shop my mother and father ran, you’d listen to a Gene Pitney or Righteous Brothers song and there was always this dramatic element to the production and melody. For me, especially if you lived a long way [from America], it had a real magical, otherworldly quality to it. Which never really leaves you.

“It’s mysterious and exciting, like hearing a Fender amp with reverb played in a ballroom. That sound is like the first time you heard the Beatles, [The Beach Boys’] “Good Vibrations” or “(Oh) Pretty Woman.” You just think, ‘Wow, that’s a world I want to belong to.’”

Speaking of the Beatles, Hay performed with one as a two-time touring member of Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band. And with the 50th Anniversary reissue of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” last month, Hay relayed what the landmark LP meant to him as a teenager.

“Two things happened to me in 1967 that were monumental: “Sgt. Pepper’s” came out and I moved from Scotland to Australia. I always associate that album from when I first arrived. Where you are geographically can really have an effect on how you listen to music.

“I remember listening to “A Day in the Life” and getting it straight away,” he continued. “The way John and Paul would interact was intriguing. They definitely brought out the best in each other.”

Hay also revisits that pivotal year in the new whimsical ballad “I’m Going to Get You Stoned,” inspired by young hippies who’d ask him about living in the Sixties (the musician has admitted to writing Men at Work songs on marijuana). 

In concert with his band today, Hay does reworked versions of the hits off Men at Work’s multi-platinum, No. 1 album “Business as Usual,” which came out 25 years ago in America. Since the Grammy-winning quintet didn’t succumb to many of the era’s sonic trappings, it doesn’t sound dated. Hay agreed.

“I listened to the record again [recently] for the first time in years,” he said. “As a whole, it’s all strong and not just the hits. It was spare and the whole thing has a very organic quality which stands the test of time so well.”

Upcoming shows: 

6 p.m. July 28, Wiens Family Cellars, 35055 Via Del Ponte, Temecula, $55-$99,; 7 p.m. July 29 at ‘80s Weekend #4, with OMD, Belinda Carlisle, Psychedelic Furs, The Fixx and Berlin, Microsoft Theater at L.A. Live, 777 Chick Hearn Court, Los Angeles, $62-$500,

Latest Colin Hay music video “Secret Love”

Trailer for Colin Hay documentary “Waiting for My Real Life”

Classic Men at Work music video “Down Under”

Men at Work’s “I Can See it in Your Eyes” (US Festival 1983)

A version of my feature originally ran in Southern California News Group publications.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Retro Futura 2017 (Howard Jones, English Beat, Modern English, etc.) concert review: Costa Mesa, Calif.

The Retro Futura tour arrived at the Pacific Amphitheatre on Wednesday night and proved that many artists who came to fame during the 1980s still sound strong today.

Case in point: Howard Jones, who headlined the Costa Mesa event (part of the Orange County Fair Summer Concert Series).

Backed by a three-piece band, the congenial Englishman frequently worked both sides of the stage and switched from keyboards to keytar.

The 50-minute set kicked off with “Like to Get to Know You Well.” It was followed by a frenetic “You Know I Love You…Don’t You” (a top 20 U.S. hit in 1986) – an early standout.

Before Jones performed “The Human Touch,” an ethereal, EDM-minded tune from 2015 concept album “Engage,” concertgoers were urged to take their phones out. Fans sang along loudly and swayed to “No One is to Blame,” Jones’ biggest Stateside single, also from ’86). Other highlights included the vibrant “Everlasting Love,” whose rhythm was modernized, an infectious “Life in One Day” and encore “Things Can Only Get Better.” That lyrical sentiment was a perfect summation of Jones’ positive outlook. 

As in other multi-act concerts elsewhere, the order and lopsided duration of sets at Retro Futura was often baffling.

Men Without Hats, featuring singer and lone original member Ivan Doroschuk, was probably the most New Wave act in the lineup. Sonically driven by three synths and an electric guitar, “Pop Goes the World,” “Where Do the Boys Go” and of course, “The Safety Dance” were all mindless fun. The front man, clad in a silver jacket and shades, spun around and did some jigs throughout.

Dave Wakeling’s English Beat, sporting an expanded eight-piece lineup, turned in one of evening’s best and well-received performances. While the band leader was all smiles and in decent voice during their 40-minutes onstage, ace sax man Matt Morrish and toaster King Schascha often stole the limelight.

Opening with “Mirror in the Bathroom,” they immediately instilled a party vibe through the venue.

It continued amid the jaunty Smokey Robinson & the Miracles cover “The Tears of a Clown” and final number, “Save it for Later.” Wakeling – readying a long-awaited studio album – had the most interesting between-song banter. He mentioned raising his kids in Dana Point before General Public’s “Tenderness” and said the latter band’s joyful hit cover of The Staples Singers’ “I’ll Take You There” was used by two past U.S. presidents in their campaigns.

Modern English recently put out the impressive “Take Me to the Trees,” their first new studio album in six years. Still featuring four original members, the Brits were all clad in white attire and turned in a solid, way-too-short 20 minutes in O.C.

Fortunately, guitarist Gary McDowell was right up there with them (his emergency surgery last spring cause some tour dates to be cancelled). A darkly-hued “Someone’s Calling” was hypnotic, while the new “Moonbeam” – elevated by vocalist Robbie Grey’s expressive delivery – as quite enticing and got an enthusiastic response. Finally, Grey’s plea for audience participation was gleefully met during their best-known single “I Melt with You.”

In an extremely rare and way-too-short U.S. appearance, Paul Young gave it his best, despite vocal problems and a ticking clock. Still twirling the microphone stand like back in the old days, he did a serviceable rendition of “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down.” Most concertgoers didn’t seem to recognize “Senza una donna” (not the best song choice), Young’s minor U.S. hit duet with male Italian singer Zucchero from 1987 and chatted away. 

At the start of his chart-topping cover of Daryl Hall & John Oates’ “Everytime You Go Away,” Young briefly sang directly to a woman in the front row on bended knee and the audience handled a bulk of the chorus. 

Interesting note: former Hall guitarist Paul Pesco was part of the band that backed Young and Katrina. 

Katrina Leskanich of Katrina and the Waves valiantly sped through three of that band’s best-known pop/rock tunes – “Rock ‘n’ Roll Girl,” “Going Down to Liverpool” (famously covered by The Bangles)” and “Walking on Sunshine” - and played electric guitar with verve. 

All photos by George A. Paul

Upcoming July dates:

7/21 Saratoga, CA
7/22 Las Vegas, NV
7/23 Salt Lake City, UT
7/24 Denver, CO
7/26 Dallas, TX
7/28 Atlanta, GA
7/29 Charlotte, NC
7/30 Baltimore, MD

The tour runs through August with Annabella of Bow Wow Wow replacing Young on select dates. For more info, go to