VANILLA FUDGE

(March 22, 2019; WILDEY THEATRE, Edwardsville, IL)

I knew only a couple of things about Vanilla Fudge before I stepped into the Wildey Theatre to see them on March 22: One, that they had been around a long, long time, and two, that they took an old Supremes song called “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and did a spectacular, lengthy remaking of it that became a giant hit and established a kind of freeform, jammy trademark that still powers their style today. VF bear many of the trappings of a classic prog rock band: Long instrumental passages, tight vocal harmonies and multi-textured keyboard work (courtesy of Mark Stein) that occasionally sounds like a relic from another era. Which it sort of is. But what prog rockers do you know that start their show with… a MONKEES song? That almost made me fall over, their wildly unique take on “I’m A Believer,” which had a bigger impact on me than you might expect since I’d just seen the Dolenz and Nesmith show in Saint Charles not even a week prior. Wow! It was almost unrecognizable, but there it was… the beloved Neil Diamond-penned number. That was followed by something else unrecognizable but jammy, which they introduced as “a tribute to our old friends, the Doors.” And this one was… “Break On Through (To the Other Side,” which featured their own three-part harmonies, slowed down but repeated over and over on just the phrase “Break on through.” Okay, so now it was clear that we’d be treated to epic cover songs, done in a manner seldom heard before. These guys, original members Stein, guitarist Vince Martell, drummer extraordinaire Carmine Appice and “the new guy,” bassist Pete Bremy, who replaced Tim Bogert in 2010, have a curious aesthetic that is nostalgic but fresh, proggy but curiously low-key, sonically far out but couched in a downright neighborly stage demeanor. They told the story of dedicating Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” to Martin Luther King right after he was assassinated; it was sung by Appice here with tenderness and power, and laced by terrific organ work by Stein. Soon after they did a casual original both retro and vitally relevant, “Let’s Pray For Peace.” That was from their classic SPIRIT OF ‘67 album, and Stein talked about how the band had the chance to play it in Belgium not long after the terrorist incident there. Good as all this was, the show’s real highlights were yet to come.

VANILLA FUDGE (Mark Stein, Vince Martell, Carmine Appice, Pete Bremy) (photo credit: JIM FORD)

This song took up an entire side of our fourth album,” the band cheerfully announced, before launching into “Break Song,” an incredible extravaganza that was sometimes loud, sometimes soft but always musically engrossing, especially when it featured a borrowed chunk from Lee Hazelwood’s “Some Velvet Morning” and then segued into “Season of the Witch,” which clearly took the audience to a whole new level of psychedelic nirvana. The vibe was like Kansas meets Yes at times, but actually, it was the kind of thing Vanilla Fudge excels at, these long, intricate, rapidly varying passages. It was clear to me that they were underrated… possibly because cover bands don’t often rise to the level of bands that do this sort of thing on their own material. But it was grand, and it was mesmerizing. So was the unbelievable drum solo Appice performed on “Shotgun,” a song they did on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW, they told us. Drum solos can be tedious and overly cliched, but in all honesty, this was one of the best drum solos I’ve ever heard. Appice performed with muscular mastery, keeping it intense and focused, and doing a section with only one stick which you could see he was passing from one hand to the other. The sound was especially bracing and adrenaline-pumping for this showcase. And he justifiably earned a partial standing ovation. Next, Stein told the story of how long ago, in ‘68, a band opened for them featuring the “guy who had just left the Yardbirds, Jimmy Page.” At this time, Vanilla Fudge were at their peak, with three albums in the Top 40. These young whippersnappers, Led Zeppelin, may have opened for them this one occasion, but soon eclipsed them… and every other band by becoming the biggest thing in the rock world. Such is fate! The Fudge did a tribute album called OUT THROUGH THE IN DOOR, and they quoted from it with a fun combo of “Dazed and Confused” and “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.” No, they aren’t the Zep, but this was still a nice, fun surprise. Everyone was waiting for the big hit, of course, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” They talked about the initial inspiration for it, which was an offhand exposure to the song outside a club in the ‘60s, and then invited the audience to sing along on the chorus. Who’s gonna refuse that offer? It’s their signature song, and they know it. A vibrant encore of the Zombies’ “She’s Not There,” then it was all over. I didn’t really expect to be so impressed by these guys. I’d heard a few of their songs before and sort of had an idea what I’d hear… lots of organ and guitar, long instrumentals. I had no idea. They are masterful musicians, nice guys, and unique in being able to survive performing long, often weird versions of other people’s classics. Not to mention having clearly one of the best drummers in the world in their lineup, and singing sterling three-part harmony. This was quite a fantastic show, to summarize. I’ve now been educated in the tasty stylings of “the Fudge,” and I won’t forget it.


THE MIKE NESMITH AND MICKY DOLENZ SHOW

(March 16, 2019; THE FAMILY ARENA, Saint Charles, MO)

Nostalgia is a powerful, mysterious phenomenon. It’s the reason we jump at the chance to see musicians we grew up with, and why we get all emotional when we revisit places that were significant to us at one time in our lives, places that likely have changed significantly. To know that something CONTINUES, even if it’s not the same, gets to something primal in our natures. I’ve seen the Monkees about five times, always reveling in this journey back into my childhood, when songs like “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “Tapioca Tundra” were soundtracks for good times. I never cared what some critics said, ie: They were a “manufactured TV show band,” blah blah blah. The music stood up for me, and I adore it to this day. PISCES, AQUARIUS, CAPRICORN AND JONES LIMITED remains a favorite album of the ‘60s. But the significance of Peter Tork’s recent death shouldn’t be underestimated. Although the Monkees were still very much a going concern after Davy Jones passed, doing a new tour every couple of years, it seemed, with every bit of their madcap humor and chemistry still intact, something perceptibly shifted. Now they were TWO. And Mike Nesmith had pretty much been the lone holdout for the reunion tours, doing only a couple of shows here and there, and agreeing to join a “full” tour only after Jones died, perhaps for his own nostalgic reasons. A band based largely on nostalgia, with a very distinct and popular chemistry, will often survive after the loss of one member. But TWO key members, one of whom was among the two most versatile musicians in the outfit? Are you still a “going concern” after that?

THE MIKE NESMITH AND MICKY DOLENZ SHOW (photo credit: SHERRI HANSEN)

My answer is: Not really. Although I loved seeing Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith together at the Family Arena (and let’s be clear, this tour was booked BEFORE Peter Tork died), it didn’t really feel like the Monkees to me. Something was different. It was “the Mike and Micky Show,” exactly how it was billed. And yes, the classic songs were served up, just as fans expected. But the energy was different, the VIBE was different. There is a music brand, “The Monkees,” that will carry on and still sell records. But I just don’t think there is a “Monkees group” anymore. Not without Peter Tork. And that makes me sad.

THE MIKE NESMITH AND MICKY DOLENZ SHOW (Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz) (photo credit: NOEL VASQUEZ/GETTY IMAGES)

The show itself, though, was pleasantly entertaining. I have one odd, substantial complaint, though. The sound was NOT loud enough. I rarely feel this way at shows; usually it’s the opposite.. But I really, REALLY wanted the music to be louder. On a scale of 1 to 10 (or “11” if you’re Spinal Tap), the sound was at about “5” for most of the show, occasionally making it up to “6.” And that puzzled me. It reduced the energy level substantially. That said, it was a delight to see Micky in his dapper black suit and hat, and Mike in his jeans and black shirt come strolling out to the stage, all smiles. They opened with “Good Clean Fun” and “Last Train to Clarksville,” the latter a song so infectious and familiar that anyone growing up in that era has to get an instant charge from it. Whatever cynical comments made about the Monkees in some quarters, no one can deny they didn’t utilize top-notch songwriters: Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Neil Diamond, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, Harry Nilsson and more. They may have started as a music-making MACHINE, but it was a machine that worked splendidly. “Sunny Girlfriend” and a peppy “Mary, Mary” were next, the latter song benefitting from the added background vocals of Micky’s sister Coco (a regular in the band on most recent tours) and the lovely Circe Link, who has her own project going with Christian Nesmith (Mike’s son and a member of this entourage). All of us in the audience were, of course, waiting for an acknowledgment of Tork’s passing, and that came when the band performed Tork’s fantastic song “For Pete’s Sake,” which Micky mentioned was the closing song for season 2 of the original TV show. Footage of Tork was shown on the giant screen, and Micky referred to him as “our pal” I think, I couldn’t quite hear. A Nesmith-sung tune from PISCES… made me smile: “The Door Into Summer,” which Nes sang with relish. In fact, it’s worth mentioning what an upbeat mood Nes seemed to be throughout the show, cracking jokes, making odd little gestures and stage antics, even making fun of himself for needing his i-Pad to remember all the old lyrics. He muffed the timing of things a few times, which I found sort of endearing, but the audience may not have noticed it. After a rather low-energy “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You” and “You Just May Be the One,” the show finally reached a couple of genuine highlights for me. Micky talked about 2016’s superb GOOD TIMES album, truly a miracle in retrospect, with its mix of newly discovered songs from the vaults and tunes penned by fresh new writers like Ben Gibbard, Andy Partridge and the combo of Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller. That unlikely pair wrote “Birth of an Accidental Hipster,” which Dolenz and Nesmith sank their musical teeth into, the band rising to a slightly higher sonic level along with them. It was just fabulous. And then, the shivers for me when a Nes-less Dolenz sang “As We Go Along,” one of my very favorite Monkees songs, which I don’t think I ever heard them do before. The original recording, from HEAD, famously featured Ry Cooder and yes, Neil Young. Dolenz got a hearty round of applause when he mentioned the HEAD movie, and he wryly quipped, “Oh, you BOTH saw it? Can you tell me what it was about?” HEAD’s reputation has grown in leaps and bounds over the years; it now stands as a crazily entertaining, psychedelic relic of a time that will never come again. Nes returned to the stage for another song from that film, “Circle Sky.” He shushed the audience a couple of times before commencing, for comical effect, as that song is his original, proudly perhaps the most snarling rocker in the Monkees’ repertoire. Then they went right into “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” one of the greatest pop songs of the ‘60s, which could have been two degrees louder for my taste. But still, it’s just a great tune, hard to screw up. Micky announced a break but told everyone to stay in their seats for a special video. That turned out to be a truly poignant, solo in-studio performance by Peter Tork on the song “Till Then.” Tork was delightful and completely vibrant and charismatic in the video; it was honestly a tear-jerker, and the audience was visibly affected.

THE MONKEES (Peter Tork) (video still)

Set two began with a few “unplugged” acoustic tunes including “Papa Gene’s Blues” and Dolenz’s own “Randy Scouse Git,” which he prefaced with a funny tale of how he wrote the song based on something he observed in London. But when the Monkees were planning it for their next recording at the time, Dolenz was told to change the title because it meant something “dirty” in England. So the release over there listed it as “Alternate Title.” Chuckle! “Tapioca Tundra” was next, and despite this being my all-time favorite Monkees song and a theme to my own childhood, this was a slow, acoustic and completely different version of it. I would have loved to hear it as the rocker it is. That said, however, it was a delight to see the careful and attentive way Nesmith sang his own song, which clearly had some meaning for him. So did his First National Band classic “Joanne,” which was a sweet surprise. He remarked that though he didn’t write it for the Monkees, he was proud to be able to do it on this occasion. Nesmith is a bit of an eccentric. The way he phrases things in interviews, and most of what he said at this concert was curiously offbeat. At times he seemed to barely make it back to the mic in time, after stepping offstage to do whatever he was doing. And at one point he seemed surprised to find himself alone onstage, but that could have been an act. In musical terms, “Me and Magdalena,” another song from GOOD TIMES, may have been the highlight. This splendid Ben Gibbard-penned gem, found Dolenz and Nes in perfect harmony, literally, with the band’s keyboard player adding a sweet sparkle. It’s sort of amazing to hear a modern Monkees classic… an indication of more that the band could have accomplished with just a couple of different turns of fate’s wheel. But here it was, a NEW song in their canon that stands proud and tall. “Take a Giant Step” followed and was also better than expected. I had been wondering to myself if they would tackle “Goin’ Down,” Micky’s most incredible vocal performance from their entire oeuvre. And by golly, here it was. But they slowed it down, and not unsurprisingly, shortened it quite a bit. Micky used the moment to introduce the members of their backup band, which included seven other musicians! After a rousing “Sweet Young Thing,” it was a climactic run of classics to end the show: “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” (a stone classic, that), “Daydream Believer” (an audience sing-along favorite, although not everyone was doing so, quite obviously), “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round,” the late-era Nesmith classic “Listen To the Band,” and of course, “I’m a Believer,” which would start a riot if NOT performed at any Monkees-related show. Then it was all over, with me trying to figure out if my sadness or gratitude was greater.

THE MIKE NESMITH AND MICKY DOLENZ SHOW (Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith) (uncredited photo)

Dolenz and Nesmith have another round of dates on this tour in June. And it is certainly possible they will play again together down the road. But they both have plenty of other things happening in their careers. And I would really be surprised if they didn’t openly admit that something has irrevocably changed. These are not young guys anymore, and Nes has had health problems recently. The march of time continues, and the fact is, we can’t really see “The Monkees” in concert anymore. Half the band is now in rock heaven. What we can and MIGHT see is an “approximation” of an experience that once thrilled, once brought us back to a more innocent and hopeful time. That’s largely what this particular show was. I enjoyed it and thought there were some delightful moments. But let’s just admit that it wasn’t truly the Monkees. It was a group of nine people serving up a sound that was one version of what you would hope to see at such a show. You can’t go home again. And the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.


SUPERJOINT: CAUGHT UP IN THE GEARS OF APPLICATION

(HOUSECORE RECORDS; 2016)

Superjoint (formerly Superjoint Ritual) is a hardcore/extreme metal/punk supergroup, formed in the early ‘90s by Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo, Jimmy Bower (Eyehategod, Crowbar) and Joe Fazzio. Their latest effort, CAUGHT UP IN THE GEARS OF APPLICATION, opens with what I can only describe as controlled chaos, in a way that only Anselmo and company can deliver. It’s a pretty relentless romp into dark themes and heavy grooves. There are some glimpses of their previous sound throughout, but all in all, this is a fresh sound with new ideas for the band.

SUPERJOINT (Kevin Bond, Jose Manuel Gonzalez, Phil Anselmo, Jimmy Bower, Stephen Taylor) (photo credit: DANIN DRAHOS)

The first half of the album is a sonic explosion, with Phil roaring nasty vocals in over-expertly crafted starts and stops in a way that exudes extreme deliberation, and you can tell that serious time was put in to writing the music. Despite the obvious age in his voice, Anselmo still has a vocal style unique to only himself. The opener, “Today and Tomorrow,” is a pretty good indication of what you’re getting into when you sit to listen to the album as a whole. “Burning the Blanket” is the gem of the first half, having extreme groove, and Phil screeching filthy highs over the latter half of the song.

The record really picks up during the second half, with “Clickbait,” which, in my opinion is the best song on the album and the best representation of the band’s new sound. The album closes up with “Receiving No Answer To the Knock,” which is a solid song and just goes to show you that although the record is over, Superjoint intends to kick your ass until the last second of it; the use of a dark, descending melody on guitar coupled with Anselmo’s best performance on the album let you know that they are not going anywhere anytime soon. Overall, CAUGHT UP IN THE GEARS… is an incredibly solid album and, if you have the time, you should really listen to the whole thing, as I think the totality of its eleven tunes plays better than any single track.


CLUTCH/SEVENDUST/TYLER BRYANT AND THE SHAKEDOWN

(18 October, 2018; POP’S NIGHTCLUB, Sauget IL)

Needless to say, as soon as I heard that they were coming back to Pop’s, I was pumped to have the chance to see Sevendust again! Then, I found out that Clutch was going to headline. What!?! Clutch AND Sevendust on the same night? Hell, yes! I was definitely gonna be in that pit!

TYLER BRYANT AND THE SHAKEDOWN (Tyler Bryant) (photo credit: DUSTIN GABEL)

Opening the show was Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown from Nashville, Tennessee. Since their start in 2009, Bryant and the band have released several singles and EPs, including 2015’s THE WAYSIDE, as well as their first full length album, WILD CHILDREN, in 2013, and the recently released self-titled follow-up. Onstage, they definitely perform very well, feeding off the energy of the crowd; their influences, likewise, play a vital part in the Shakedown’s sound: Kinda like a mix of Blues riffs combined with a good, solid rock base that I strongly believe places them in a musical genre all their own! Their unique blend of musical styles and strong onstage presence has led to the band touring with and opening for such acts as Aerosmith, Eric Clapton, ZZ Top, AC/DC, BB King and Jeff Beck and has garnered them an opening slot on several dates of Guns ‘n’ Roses’ NOT IN THIS LIFETIME tour, which wraps up on December 8 in Honolulu. If you do get the chance to see them live, you definitely shouldn’t miss it!

SEVENDUST (Lajon Witherspoon, Morgan Rose) (photo credit: DUSTIN GABEL)

The second act of the night, much anticipated by myself and all of their fans, was Sevendust from Atlanta. The band is a personal favorite and much of the crowd was cheering for them to come onstage. The group formed in 1994 and are currently promoting their 12th album, ALL I SEE IS WAR, which was released in May. They still deliver that unique Nu-Metal sound as only they can and always have from the first time I saw them live, promoting their very first album. The tradition continues with the latest release, highlighted by the hardcore vocals of Lajon Witherspoon, Morgan Rose’s blistering drum fills, and insane guitar riffs from Clint Lowery and John Connolly. The sound, the intensity and the level of professionalism definitely leaves you wanting more! The vibe you get seeing them perform live is just surreal! After a rocky start and multiple name changes, Sevendust has seen much success, with three consecutive RIAA gold certified albums, a Grammy nomination and millions of albums sold world-wide. Their fan base is huge and fiercely loyal. If you get the chance to attend one of their shows, you will soon see the love and respect people have for Sevendust, with the members of the band giving it all right back to their audience like I have never seen with any other live act! Much respect to the members of Sevendust for keeping excellent rock alive!

CLUTCH (Neil Fallon) (photo credit: DUSTIN GABEL)

Closing out the night was Clutch, touring in support of their just-released album, BOOK OF BAD DECISIONS. Since forming in 1991, Clutch have released 12 studio albums, as well as several rarities and live albums. As always, these guys have never failed to deliver a superb show. Even with a set weighted primarily with songs from the new record (11 of the 15 found on …BAD DECISIONS), the energy you feel by the second song is just unreal because the vocalist, Neil Fallon, is so pumped up, so quick to belt out that new material, interact with fans and dip into a back catalog filled with fan favorites. Fallon’s infectious energy keeps both old school Clutch fans and newer fans of the latest releases rocking hard. With 27 years on the front-lines of the metal scene, Clutch easily achieves their goal of rocking the venue down to the foundation!


4U: A SYMPHONIC CELEBRATION OF PRINCE

(October 14, 2018; THE FOX THEATRE, Saint Louis MO)

Celebrity deaths are not new and I tend to ponder such passings for only a short time before moving on. Exceptions, of course, do happen. The first that really – make that REALLY – affected me was the plane crash that took the lives of Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and other members of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s entourage. Groucho Marx, a couple of months earlier, was big but… the deaths and the devastation to the entire Skynyrd band shook me. Others – Glen Buxton, Rick Nelson, Johnnie Johnson, Johnny Cash, David Bowie – all had profound affects on me, as did the untimely deaths of three musicians I had considered friends: God Lives Underwater vocalist David Reilly, and drummers Dustin Hengst and John “Beatz” Holohan of Damone and Bayside, respectively. With all of these (and a few others), my personal feeling of loss was palpable. All of them pale, however, to the majestic hole left by the departure of Prince Rogers Nelson in April, 2016. He always seemed to be so relatable. Not just to me or his legions of fans, but to those outside of his music’s scope, as well. Heck, even my Dad sat through and liked PURPLE RAIN. So, this was an evening that I knew I must be a part of. I was not disappointed!

4U: A SYMPHONIC TRIBUTE TO PRINCE (JAMES OLMSTEAD) (photo courtesy: JEN GRAY/ReviesSTL)

The show was delivered in two parts, as the project’s curator, the Roots’ Questlove, announced (via a recorded introduction). The first would highlight “deep cuts,” while the second half would feature the hits. The deep cuts came mostly from the movie UNDER THE CHERRY MOON. While the material – “Christopher Tracy’s Parade,” “I Wonder U,” “New Position,” among them – are fairly unknown to me, as I wasn’t a big fan of the movie, but having been arranged and orchestrated by Clare Fischer, they, seemingly, were no-brainers for this show. In a brilliant move, Quest had approached Fischer’s son, Brent, as he had worked with his father on several Prince projects. The first half also featured fairly different takes on songs like “Controversy” and the 1999 album cuts “Automatic” and “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute).” Complete surprises were the unreleased compositions “It Ain’t Over ‘til the Fat Lady Sings” and “All My Dreams,” leftovers from the UNDER THE CHERRY MOON sessions. More than twenty minutes into the show, “Nothing Compares To U” was the first song that I really recognized straight off. I certainly don’t mean to slight the talented band accompanying the orchestra; however, “Nothing Compares To U” was the first time that one of the group stepped forward for any type of sustained exposure as electric violinist Ginny Luke delivered a brilliant solo. For the first time, “1999” got some folks on their feet, shaking off the staid, almost sterile orchestra feel of the evening. Miss Luke, likewise, was on her feet, delivering the first minimal vocals of the evening, as well as a bit of booty shakin’ of her own. Bassist CJ Alexander, drummer Skeeter, electronic percussionist Titus Johnson and a still unidentified guitarist, steadfast all night long, seemed energized by the crowd, pushing into new heights of rocking funkiness. If this first half dealt us a somewhat laid-back take on the Prince legacy until the end, that ending certainly did bode well for part two.

4U: A SYMPHONIC TRIBUTE TO PRINCE (CJ ALEXANDER) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

4U: A SYMPHONIC TRIBUTE TO PRINCE (THE UNKNOWN GUITARIST) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Totally eschewing that “stay in your seat, this is an orchestra” stuff, as “Let’s Go Crazy” kicked off part two and the front of the stage was crashed by a slew of hearty revellers. A Prince-worthy solo by Luke ended the number. “When Doves Cry” turned into a massive sing-along, with the Fabulous Fox crowd raising their voices as one. It was, for me, the first truly moving moment of the evening, though certain ly not the last. As Ginny Luke became more involved with the crowd, I mentally noted that she had turned into quite the show-stopper. “Little Red Corvette” sounded like it was made to be played in this orchestrated fashion. Mister Alexander delivered an absolutely amazing bass solo and the guitarist (does ANYBODY know this guy’s name?) definitely proved his funky mettle. The inherent funkiness of His Royal Purpleness continued on a cool version of “Kiss.” Though an odd choice (in my opinion) of “Starfish and Coffee” kinda slowed things down at just the right time before spilling into a majestic “Take Me With U.” A snippet of “Irresistible Bitch” followed before morphing into “Raspberry Beret.” The symphony took over for an incredible interlude that led into… the Revolution doing “Purple Rain?” Yes, at this point, the live band sat out and let the legendary moment from PURPLE RAIN speak for itself. Though we had being seeing images and visual cues of Prince all night, his voice literally (and, yes, I have used that word properly) sent a chill down my spine, put a lump in my throat and brought a tear to my eye. In fact, there were several audience members wiping away the tears during this one. The orchestra continued to accompany as Prince’s solo hit. It is, without any doubt in my head, one of the greatest, most soulful guitar workouts in the history of rock, funk, soul or any other genre of music. As the live band joined in, the already overwhelming emotions merely intensified. It was a brilliant finish to an absolutely stunning show! But, wait… after most of the musicians had quit the stage, the video screens came alive again, with the Man himself delivering those familiar words: “I ain’t done yet. Chalk one up for the Kid!” As Prince and the Revolution launched into “Baby I’m a Star” before the band and orchestra joined in amidst an insane light show. While the tune and the presentation was cool, it almost seemed anti-climactic after the stirring “Purple Rain.” My thanks go to Questlove and the Prince Trust for bringing this vision to life and for the band, conductor James Olmstead and the local musicians of the orchestra for an unforgettable evening celebrating the one, the only Prince.

4U: A SYMPHONIC TRIBUTE TO PRINCE (PRINCE) (uncredited photo)


NEIL YOUNG/JOHN HAMMOND

(June 28, 2018; FOX THEATRE, Saint Louis MO)

A chance to see Neil Young solo is rare indeed, and Saint Louis fans have not had that opportunity for many years. As a lifelong fan, there was no way I would pass up such an opportunity. I’ve seen Neil with Crazy Horse, with CSNY, with the International Harvesters, with the Stray Gators and more, but the solo acoustic concerts have certainly been among the most memorable. When I flew to San Francisco in 1978 to see Neil at the tiny Boarding House nightclub, that may well have been the most stunning concert I’ve ever seen. So, to say I was stoked for this rare Saint Louis solo show would be an understatement. John Hammond, a grizzled old blues rocker, opened the show despite not being billed. Favoring a bottleneck guitar and looking as craggy as an old oak tree, Hammond was amiable and interesting, but there was some restlessness getting through his set. And it was at least 45 minutes after he finished before Neil finally came out. Dressed all in black, a la Johnny Cash, Neil looked around, waved to the crowd, and finally took his seat. He opened with the nostalgic and totally appropriate Buffalo Springfield-era classic “On the Way Home.” This song speaks volumes to die-hard Rusties, and Neil delivered it with focus and clarity. In fact, it was quickly apparent he was in great voice tonight. At his age, it’s a wonder he can still reach most of those high notes. “Homefires” was next, the first of many surprises. That song was intended for the unreleased HARVEST follow-up, HOMEGROWN, and I couldn’t help but think it was kind of a comment on Neil’s changed love life in the last two years. “I’m free to give my love/But you’re not the one I’m thinking of/So for me, the wheels keep turning/Got to keep those homefires burning.” His ex-wife Pegi might have been the one Young was NOT thinking of. He is certainly thinking about new gal Darryl Hannah, and plenty.

NEIL YOUNG (photo credit: THRASHER)

“Love is a Rose” and “Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ came next, and the latter was a special treat for me. I could not remember hearing that one at a Neil show before, and it was charming. Neil told little anecdotes about many things during the show. He pointed to several guitars and with a couple of them said, “I got that one from Steve Stills. He’s a great guy.” In fact, it soon became apparent that Neil was in an especially chatty mood. This is not typical for him at all. “I feel like I’m talking too much up here,” he remarked at one point. “Like I’m doin’ a job interview or something.” “You’re HIRED!” someone bellowed from the audience, and it was a memorable moment. Young fiddled with his harmonicas, telling his assistant he needed a “C harp.” But when he started the song, he quickly stopped and said, “No, I need a B flat harp!” That song was “Mellow My Mind,” one of three he performed from TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT. He told the story of how he and his band had all drunk alot of tequila and gotten into a certain mood, so they could pay tribute to Bruce Berry and others who had died around that time. Neil played great, ringing piano on that song and “Speakin’ Out,” another tune I had never heard him do. The audience went nuts when he talked about a time in his career when he changed the type of songs he was writing, and how the Kent State massacre drove him to write about a new ill wind blowing in. He then performed “Ohio” on solo electric guitar, a truly compelling and unexpected moment, one the sold-out throng reveled in. His only hint about the times we’re living in came when he talked about school shootings and all the “anger” out there, leading to the fiery song “Angry World.” Some of us thought he might bring up our current president, but that did not happen. It was clear that Neil was NOT speaking from a script; spontaneity was the rule of the night.

NEIL YOUNG (uncredited photo)

For me, after Neil talked about where two of his pianos came from (one had fire damage and he was still able to play it), I was thrilled to hear “There’s a World,” possibly one of his most underrated songs. It’s a dreamlike ode to looking both inward and outward, and Neil played it with great delicacy. That was one of about five songs he played from his most popular album, HARVEST. “Are You Ready For the Country,” a note perfect “Out On the Weekend” and “Heart of Gold” were others. “Love In Mind,” a tender ode from the “ditch-trilogy” live album TIME FADES AWAY, also got an airing… wonderfully evocative. But for hardcore Neil-ites and “Rusties,” the one-two punch of “Love and War” and “Peaceful Valley Boulevard,” from the not often heralded LENOISE album, were the emotional peak of the show. Both these songs touch on violence, things being out of control, and environmental apocalypse, with love being seen as the one necessity for all of us, the ultimate way to peace. The guitar Neil played on that latter song allows for a certain rich, atmospheric resonance in the simple strumming of a powerful chord. The edgy sound, which potently rang through the entire theatre, accented Neil’s existential lyrics perfectly. “A polar bear was drifting on an ice floe/Sun beating down from the sky/Politicians gathered for a summit/And came away with nothing to decide… Who’ll be the one to lead this world/Who’ll be the beacon in the night?” Most in the audience sat in hushed awe.

Unfortunately, that did NOT include a chowderheaded idiot across the aisle from me, who simply could not shut up. He drew a few complaints with that, but when he stood directly in front of the people behind him and blocked their view, that’s when it got serious. The addle-brained druggie (I was sure he had to be; no one could be that rude just naturally, could they?) earned two visits from ushers, but even that didn’t do it. When he continued to jabber, the guy behind him had enough and probably called him a name. The two men stood up, and I was about to witness a fight, I thought. Right here during Neil’s apt song “Love and War”! The good guy’s girlfriend intervened to stop the violence, instead opting to go for security. They did, and the troublemaker was unceremoniously removed by Security. Maybe it’s just me, but if I paid $100 for a Neil Young ticket (or even more), I would not get so fucked up that I would lose all sense of decorum and risk getting escorted out of the show prematurely. Takes all kinds, I guess.

NEIL YOUNG (uncredited photo)

Neil appeared to not be phased by shouted requests or various fan comments. “What d’ya mean?” he said wryly, when someone shouted “Old Man!” And he remarked “It doesn’t even register” after another comment. It was striking to see this iconic, charismatic legend stalking the stage, walking this way and that way, looking as if he was making it up on the fly. “I would do something if I could remember what I was just thinking,” I believe he said near the end. The show barely grazed the 90-minute mark. He closed with “Needle and the Damage Done” and “Heart of Gold,” and was coaxed out for a single encore, “Tumbleweed,” which he played on ukelele. The tender song was clearly directed at Darryl Hannah, a sweet ode to her positive influence on him (it appears on the soundtrack to their new movie, PARADOX). Always leave ’em wanting more, it is said. Mister Young did just that; the fans were yelling until the lights went on. Altogether an eccentric, often dramatic and mostly moving performance by a performer who is seldom less than mesmerizing. I counted in my head, and with all the configurations I’ve seen him in, I think this was Neil show number 25 for me. Many moments from this one will stay with me. That’s how it tends to be with Neil Young shows.


TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA

(9 May, 2018; PEABODY OPERA HOUSE, Saint Louis, MO)

From the Nazz through his various solo outings, masterful production work and, particularly the ten albums released under the Utopia banner, I have been a fan of Todd Rundgren for a very long time. Sure, my previous experience with the live Rundgren had left a bitter taste in my mouth, but… this was Utopia! I knew that I must see the reunited progressive pop quartet that was responsible for the final eight Utopia albums, including ADVENTURES IN UTOPIA and OOPS! WRONG PLANET; Todd would be reuniting with Kasim Sulton, John “Willie” Wilcox and the keyboardist from the initial Todd Rundgren’s Utopia records, Ralph Schuckett, supplanting Roger Powell, who had to step away from playing in 2009 because of his health. When Ralph was forced to recuse himself due to health concerns of his own, Rundgren’s son suggested they check out a guy named Gil Assayas, who stepped into the very large shoes left by Schucket and Powell. Though Sulton and Todd had continued working together since the band’s unofficial dissolution, Utopia had not played together on North American soil for over three decades. Let’s just say that I was more than mildly stoked when I received confirmation that I would be granted access to this show. Before delving into specifics, might I also say that I was not disappointed!

TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The guys very wisely split the show into two very different sets: The first half featured the longer, more progressively-attuned material (primarily from the first offering, TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA and the concept album, RA) with a couple of covers tossed in for good measure; the second half of the show concentrated more on the skewed pop asthetics of later records like UTOPIA and SWING TO THE RIGHT. The stage configuration for the first set featured Rundgren center-stage (was there any doubt about that?), Kasim holding down stage right with Wilcox on a riser behind him and Assayas on a riser stage left… a very prog rock look, fitting perfectly with the music. And, what music! Opening the evening’s festivities was a medley of classic Utopia tunes – “Utopia,” “The Ikon” and “Another Life” – which Todd affectionately dubbed “the Storm” after the tempest had subsided. “As you may have surmised, there’s a thing going around and I got it!,” the Runt declared before, apparently, hocking up a lung and ripping into a killer version of the Move’s “Do Ya.” The sound was virtually immaculate other than the occasional over-modulation of Todd’s mic. “Freedom Fighters,” one of my favorite tunes from my favorite Utopia album, is up next and Gil Assayas’ keyboards are on-point with that record’s version.

TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA (Todd Rundgren) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA (Kasim Sulton) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The high notes were not coming off too well, as Todd’s affliction seemed to get the better of him on “The Wheel.” Later in the tune, Rundgren’s solo falsetto voice sounded stronger, if a bit strained. A very nice version. Kasim Sulton took the lead on “Back On the Street.” The number has a thumping groove and Todd looked absolutely hyped to be working in a true band environment again. Leonard Bernstein’s kitschy-cool Broadway show tune, “Something’s Coming,” from WEST SIDE STORY, comes off sounding very much like a kitschy-cool Broadway show tune, a great detour from the progressive pop that is this bands bread and butter. Kasim was back on lead vocals for “Monument,” a rather lightweight attempt at a hit single from Utopia’s last official studio release, 1985’s POV. The song’s break, however, does feature a really nice solo from Rundgren and a cool short blast from Assayas. A very cool visual backdrop adds to the atmosphere and the power of Willie Wilcox and Assayas’ introduction for “Overture: Mountaintop and Sunrise.” Sulton and Rundgren join in before a fist-pumping take of “Communion With the Sun,” highlighting the strength of an often-overlooked classic of the progressive era, RA. The coupling was absolutely great, with some nice vocal harmonies and all four players hitting on all cylinders. “Last of the New Wave Riders,” one of the stellar tracks from the group’s 1980 record, ADVENTURES IN UTOPIA, brought the first half of the show to a rousing conclusion. As the curtain closed, Todd tells the crowd, “We’ll see you in twenty.”

TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA (Todd Rundgren, Willie Wilcox) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA (Willie Wilcox) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

As the curtain opened for the second set to a recorded intro to “Road To Utopia,” a more traditional stage set-up was revealed, with Willie’s drums now sitting center-stage back, with Gil’s keyboard rig in basically the same spot it occupied before the break; both musicians were now situated on a level with Todd and Kasim, the previous set’s risers having been removed. A quick look at the time as the quartet took the stage again – playing a spirited version of one of my favorite numbers from Utopia’s “pop period” – indicated that they were gone for nearly forty minutes. The additional rest seemed to work wonders for Rundgren’s voice, so I cannot be upset over a break that was nearly twice as long as promised. This second set proved to be punchier than the first, with shorter, more melodic songs emphasizing a true band dynamic. The point is driven home by Kasim Sulton’s lead vocals on the next two tunes, POV’s “Play This Game” and the jazz-tinged “Swing To the Right.” “Trapped” featured a patented Rundgren guitar freakout and, though Todd continued to take a few vocal turns (mostly choruses and harmony parts), it seemed at this point that Kasim was doing most of the leads after the group’s return to the stage. I thought that it may have been Rundgren’s illness forcing a readjustment of the set list but, after checking set-lists from previous nights, it would appear that Sulton’s songs were bunched together like this since the beginning of the tour. “Set Me Free” gave way to a very nice version of “Love In Action,” with Todd once again taking the lead vocal. “Hammer In My Heart” seemed to indicate that the Wizard was saving his voice for the “radio/MTV hits.” Though obviously ailing, Rundgren continued to push through with some quite animated and very spirited guitar histrionics.

TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA (Kasim Sulton, Todd Rundgren) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

TODD RUNDGREN’S UTOPIA (Gil Assayas) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Willie Wilcox got his “Ringo moment,” as he took the lead on “Princess of the Universe,” a very Nazz-like pop thing from 1982’s UTOPIA before Sulton again sings lead on “I Will Wait” from OBLIVION. A Philadelphian at heart, Todd always pushed a bit of the Philly Soul sound into his music. “Rock Love” was his “James Brown moment,” setting aside his guitar, exhorting the crowd and his bandmates like a Baptist preacher on a Sunday morning, to ever greater heights of ecstasy. Kasim, on guitar, played a nifty solo. With Sulton back on bass, Rundgren delivered a powerful, if strained (and guitar-less) “Love Is the Answer” as, finally, the audience rose to its feet for a sing-along, clap-along ending. With the Runt looking a little the worse for wear, he nonetheless strapped on the guitar for the final number of the show proper, “One World.” After a short break, the band returned for one final song, a cover of sorts – an emotional, Gospel-tinged “Just One Victory” from Todd’s 1973 solo release, A WIZARD, A TRUE STAR. The evening was everything I could have hoped for (well, I wouldn’t have minded if they did “Itch In My Brain” but, that’s a minor infraction) and, I gotta say, that even though he wasn’t feeling too well, Mister Rundgren looked pretty good for a guy that’s (mumble-mumble) years old.


50 SUMMERS OF LOVE

(October 13, 2017; THE FAMILY ARENA, Saint Charles MO)

When this show was announced, I was excited at the prospect of seeing two of my favorite performers – the Monkees’ Micky Dolenz and Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and the Raiders fame – doing some of my favorite songs in solo sets, a la the HAPPY TOGETHER packages of the past. After speaking to Lindsay about the show, I was even more excited, as I learned that this was a full-on production that features both vocalists onstage together, sharing songs, stories and memories. I previously likened the concept to the early live work of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis; meanwhile, in a recent interview with the Mule’s Kevin Renick, Dolenz said, “It’s a little bit like a Rat Pack thing.” And, I suppose – if you suspend all disbelief and squint your eyes just right – a case could also be made for the Bonos (circa THE SONNY AND CHER COMEDY HOUR). However you look at it, the “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You” aspect of a show starring Mark Lindsay and Micky Dolenz is a dream come true for any child of the 1960s.

THE FAB FOUR (Ron McNeil as John Lennon) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Opening the show was the Fab Four, hailed as “the Ultimate Tribute,” performing to perfection a set of Beatles tunes that the lads never performed live. Decked out in the Beatles’ SERGEANT PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND attire, the Four looked and sounded like the originals as they played and quipped their way through a packed 40-minute set. Led by founder Ron McNeil as John Lennon, the group – quite naturally – focused on material from the groundbreaking 1967 album, including (of course) the title track, “With a Little Help From My Friends,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” (the non-album single from the same recording sessions, as well as its equally brilliant B-side, “Penny Lane”) and the heady, atmospheric “A Day In the Life.” All of George Martin”s studio trickery and embellishments, by the way, were performed live by the quartet, via the keyboard work of McNeil and Doug Couture’s George Harrison… no mean trick, that. The group also visited REVOLVER for “Got To Get You Into My Life,” and the brilliantly dreary “Eleanor Rigby,” one of my all-time favorite Beatles tunes. Nestled in the middle of all of this amazing music was “Yellow Submarine,” along with another of my personal favorites (but then, aren’t they all?), “Day Tripper.” What a great way to kick off the night!

Micky Dolenz and Mark Lindsay (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

After a short intermission, the Fab Four were back onstage… this time in Raiders costumes. McNeil introduced the headlining duo, Mark Lindsay first, then Micky Dolenz, as the band launched into “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” a song recorded by both the Monkees and Paul Revere and the Raiders. Mark told Micky, “I recorded it first,” to which Micky replied “I had the hit.” The hits came fast and furious from there, with the duo performing their own songs, as well as each other’s. The Raiders tune “Steppin’ Out” gave way to the Monkees’ “Last Train To Clarksville,” a tune that had the revved-up crowd up and dancing. The Raiders’ first “woulda, coulda, shoulda” non-hit, “Louie, Louie” (the Kingsmen recorded the song around the same time they did and rode their version to the top of the charts) followed hot on the heels of that one.

Micky Dolenz (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

While the sound was generally solid, it was not without problems; some of the between-song banter (mostly Lindsay’s) was lost to the cavernous rafters of the Family Arena; as the sound tech worked out the kinks, their were sudden over-modulations of bass or guitar. But, those minor issues aside, the group of musicians onstage (including Micky’s sister, Coco on vocals and his “personal” guitarist, Wayne Avers) sounded phenomenal. Coco’s vocals, in particular, caught my attention, as she added that one extra layer that pushed the proceedings from a solid recreation of the songs we all know and love to a “Holy crap! This sounds just like the record.” level. From a rocker’s standpoint, the backing band had a harder edge. And, that’s not a bad thing… these songs are fifty years old and the relative youth of the Fab Four has infused both the songs and the singers with a new vitality. Tunes like “Hungry,” “Good Thing” and Mike Nesmith’s “Mary Mary” crackled and ignited under the pure weight of the Rock ‘n’ Roll offered up by the players, pushing Micky and Mark to ever greater heights.

Mark Lindsay (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

As we knew they must, the reflections soon turned to this dynamic duo’s time on the small screen, with Lindsay ribbing Micky about “hanging out behind a circus tent with Cheetah and Tarzan,” in reference to Dolenz’ childhood role as CIRCUS BOY in 1956. After a little back and forth, the band launched into the theme song from WHERE THE ACTION IS, the Dick Clark vehicle that propelled Lindsay and the Raiders to superstardom, followed by the theme to THE MONKEES, which ended with a sort of modified “Monkees walk” by the pair. An outrageously bizarre video from WHERE THE ACTION IS featured Dolenz and fellow Monkee, Davy Jones, disrupting and dismantling a performance by Paul Revere and the Raiders. Laughing, Micky said, “I really don’t remember that… at all!” Of course, I think we all knew that someone would eventually broach the subject of opening acts. There was mention made of the Rolling Stones in regards to Paul Revere and the Raiders before Lindsay asked Micky about a certain short-lived opening act on the Monkees’ first major tour. “Yeah,” quipped Dolenz, “this is what Jimi Hendrix sounded like opening for the Monkees… ” as the group pushed into the opening of “Purple Haze.” Two lines into the vocals, Micky began screaming, “We want the Monkees! Where’s Davy? Where are the Monkees?” As the saying goes, “mistakes were made, people were blamed.” Somewhere along the way, Mark noticed that there was something off about the Fab Four’s Raiders’ outfits and produced a feather-adorned tri-corner Colonial hat for the only “Raider” not wearing one, Ron McNeil as Paul Revere; with his back to the band, Lindsay continued his spiel, as Micky quietly replaced Doug Couture’s (not absolutely positive, but relatively sure of the name) hat with a green wool cap, a la Mike Nesmith. A small thing, to be sure, but it definitely registered with the gleeful crowd.

Doug Couture and Wayne Avers (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

How can you qualify the sheer quantity of great music that came out of the mid-to-late ‘60s, many by the two legendary figures onstage tonight? I mean, “Kicks,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “Him Or Me – What’s It Gonna Be,” “I’m a Believer.” Toss in the lesser-known (though no less impressive) “She,” “Randy Scouse Git” and the psychedelic Blues work-out of “For Pete’s Sake” and you have not only an incredible set list for this show, but along with the Fab Four’s set, you have the soundtrack to the lives of many a baby boomer. Highlight upon highlight drove the performers and the audience to give a little bit more as the evening progressed. Things bordered on transcendent for me when Lindsay and Dolenz discussed their heritage, leading into the spine-shivering intro to “Indian Reservation.” I say again that both vocalists were in top form throughout the show, but it just seemed to me that Mark kicked things up a notch for what was Paul Revere and the Raiders’ biggest hit… a protest, an anthem, a song for the ages.

Micky Dolenz (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

After a final, brilliant turn by Micky Dolenz on “I’m a Believer,” it was over. Well, not really… I mean, you know how these things work, right? After a very short break, the band returned, with McNeil introducing Mark and Micky back to the stage for the encore, which included one of the Monkees’ most beloved tunes, “Daydream Believer.” The night ended with a rousing “Twist and Shout,” an early hit for the Beatles, with Dolenz delivering the first couple of lines before turning vocal duties over to “John.” As the lights came up, the buzz in the air wasn’t from the amplifiers; it came from the excited, appreciative crowd. And, why not? They had just witnessed two of the greatest performers and purest voices of the Rock era put on the show of their lives.


PAUL MCCARTNEY

(August 13, 2016; BUSCH STADIUM, Saint Louis MO)

Paul McCartney (The Busch Stadium crowd enjoys the show) (photo credit: JEFF KING)

Paul McCartney (The Busch Stadium crowd enjoys the show) (photo credit: JEFF KING)

It’s really worth a moment of reflection here: What’s it like to be Paul McCartney? None of us can really know. McCartney is almost unarguably the most successful and influential singer/songwriter/musician in the history of popular music. He’s reached a place no one else has gotten to, a rarified zone of rock royalty where interest and reverence for him is ongoing, on a global scale. Taylor Swift and Bruce Springsteen may be able to sell out stadiums at times, and the Rolling Stones can say they’ve been around as long still doing their classic rockin’ thing. But NO ONE has had the impact through multi generations, the acknowledged cultural influence, the extensive body of work and the ability to sell out shows around the world, like Sir Paul McCartney. On the pop culture landscape, it’s like there is Mount McCartney, soaring high towards the clouds to a peak you can’t even make out or even comprehend, and then way below, there are some other peaks that are also impressive but not as gigantic. Mount Dylan. The Jagger-Richards Range. Who International Park. Et cetera.

Paul McCartney (photo credit: JEFF KING)

Paul McCartney (photo credit: JEFF KING)

You get the idea. So beloved are the Beatles, and so deep and enduring is the nostalgia for all that they represented, all the good memories they provided for millions, that people around the world want to experience any taste of that magic again, and to believe that Beatlemania is not just a thing of the past. Sir Paul McCartney bears that burden (not discounting Ringo here, but he doesn’t tour as much and he simply wasn’t one of the prime architects of that Beatles songwriting thing that changed the world) on his 74-year-old shoulders, and he does so with class, good cheer and almost unbelievable energy. Mount McCartney indeed! And we fans are lucky enough to still climb those musical heights each time Paulie decides to perform. He’s doing it often these days, and it is never less than a spectacle. He might be technically a senior citizen, but man oh man, Mister McCartney still shows he’s got it, and that he loves doing it. Song after song after song.

Paul McCartney (photo credit: JEFF KING)

Paul McCartney (photo credit: JEFF KING)

At Busch Stadium, August 13… nearly 50 years since the Beatles played here at the stadium’s previous location (the year that REVOLVER, one of their very best albums came out!), McCartney treated a wildly enthusiastic crowd to a generous platter of classic songs and some obscurities, from throughout his career. He opened with “A Hard Day’s Night,” a timeless classic that he’d not done before live. Another from that beloved movie, “Can’t Buy Me Love,” soon followed. I’m sure I wasn’t the only long-time fan to experience a chill or two just from those two rockers. Dressed smartly in a purple jacket and dark jeans, McCartney sounded and looked younger than his age, and wasted no time chatting up the audience. Miraculously, considering that the acoustics for a sold-out stadium show are by no means always optimal, you could hear just about every word he uttered. And you WANTED to “listen to what the man said” because, hey, how often do you get to share time with him? At one point, McCartney took time to acknowledge all the many signs people were holding up in the stadium. There were the usual lovey-dovey kinda things, but a young girl held up a sign that said (I had high-powered binoculars to try to catch all this), I think, “Loved you as a bug, loved you as a wing and love you still today.” I saw her laugh delightedly when McCartney mentioned that sign. In fact, the ample projection screen repeatedly showed people laughing, dancing, and singing along to favorite tunes. It was a celebration, after all, McCartney being “one on one” (as it was billed) with thousands and thousands of delighted fans. And the set list was by no means predictable. Sure, you’d be reasonably safe to expect stuff like “Back In the USSR,” “Let It Be,” the inevitable “Hey Jude,” “Maybe I’m Amazed” (and yeah, he DID mostly hit those high notes despite a few subtle strains evident in his vocals here and there) and the great “Band on the Run,” one of his finest solo songs. But genuine surprises (unless you were an internet set list junkie) included “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “We Can Work It Out” (a personal favorite), a warm and tender “Here, There and Everywhere,” “And I Love Her” (gorgeous) and “Fool on the Hill.” At one point, McCartney gave a nice mini-talk on where songs come from, something he’s obviously been asked a zillion times. He explained that sometimes it’s a melody, sometimes a lyric idea, and sometimes an insistent chord progression that has “potential.” He began playing one such evocative progression on guitar a few times until it evolved, marvelously, into “You Won’t See Me,” another delightful surprise. And what else can be said about brilliant songs like “Eleanor Rigby” and “Blackbird,” two of the many, many touchstones in Macca’s career, never losing their beauty or impact?

Paul McCartney (photo credit: JEFF KING)

Paul McCartney (photo credit: JEFF KING)

Of course, there were not just Beatle songs on the list. Solo numbers as diverse as “Let Me Roll It,” “Temporary Secretary” (I personally enjoyed this one though others apparently were not in my company), “1985,” a searing “Hi, Hi, Hi” (an early Wings classic) and a clutch of tunes from McCartney’s last disc NEW (“Save Us” and “Queenie Eye” among them) sounded just fine, although it was amusing to see McCartney gesture or feign mock disappointment when the reaction to less famous songs was not as thunderous as that for Beatle classics. McCartney knows full well that fans want to hear the tunes they grew up on, and he is incredibly generous (he has been for many years) in bulking up beloved tunes on set lists these days. Two potently touching and dramatic moments occurred in the middle of the show. “Here Today,” the song McCartney wrote as “a conversation I never got to have” with John Lennon, is a tune he almost always plays in concert, but it had an intense emotional resonance to it in this performance… delicate, tender, unbearably sad… and the legend almost looked like he was tearing up anew as he sang. The audience was spellbound. Another genuine surprise was “In Spite of All the Danger,” a song the boys conceived in their Quarrymen days, and which McCartney explained they cut in a primitive studio as a demo. This event is depicted at the end of the movie NOWHERE BOY, which I’d been lucky enough to see, so it had a major impact on me, and McCartney seemed delighted to tell the story. For a song that few at the stadium could have known, it was staggering that McCartney was able to get the crowd to sing the repeated “Whoa oh oh oh” chorus with almost perfect timing. Maybe I’m amazed by this, indeed! Also a sweet and tender “My Valentine,” which he dedicated to his wife Nancy, was subtly compelling in its intimacy, and featured visual aids by Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp on the adjoining screens, something that struck me as surreal but beautiful. But it was old Beatles classics that got the crowd really jazzed: “Lady Madonna,” “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da,” the George Harrison tribute “Something” (which McCartney began on ukulele as expected, but this time it quickly evolved into a full Beatle-y band arrangement, unlike the last time I saw him perform it), and a stirring “Love Me Do,” complete with the precise harmonica part that Lennon played all those years ago. No one can ever say that Paul McCartney is not a good team player, by the way… the band he’s with now, which consists of some of the most crackerjack players around (keyboardist Paul “Wix” Wickens, bassist and guitarist Brian Ray, guitarist Rusty Anderson and drummer Abe Laboriel, Junior), has been with him for 14 years plus, longer than the Beatles were together! And any encore that includes the perfection that is “Yesterday,” the White Album novelty “Birthday” and the gripping “Golden Slumbers” section of the dazzling ABBEY ROAD medley, well, it lets you know in no uncertain terms that you are one lucky fan to be at this concert. You’re getting rock history live, right here, right now.

Paul McCartney with Abe Laboriel, Junior (photo credit: JEFF KING)

Paul McCartney with Abe Laboriel, Junior (photo credit: JEFF KING)

Paul McCartney’s importance is not just his place in the musical scheme of things, it’s the fact that he is a living testament to the ongoing power of songwriting, performing and communicating with fans. He’s had to endure continual comparisons to his former partner Lennon, judgments about his work since the Beatles, and the always fascinating reappraisals of his recordings that new writers always feel motivated to offer. For example, the once-maligned RAM album is now considered a charming low-key classic by most, and Wings, who nearly always got short-changed in the 70s by snobby comparisons to the Beatles, now have their own special fan base, and McCartney knows that. More than anything, what McCartney knows is that music can transform, inspire, document, delight and be really, really personal for different people, different generations, over a long, long time. You just don’t get to go on the kind of journey Paul McCartney has been on, very often. Because of the volatility of the times he flourished in, and the unimaginable success, McCartney gets to see the impact of his life’s work over and over, and to keep writing, recording, and rocking. And somehow he still manages to do it with that same boyish glint in his eye that he had back on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW. That is one staggering triumph of an artist and a human being, across six decades, and still going. How can you not regard Mount McCartney with absolute awe? And he’s still here today, his legend secured for all time.


NIGHT DEMON/VISIGOTH/DOOM AND DISCO/BANGARANG

(May 9, 2016; FUBAR, Saint Louis MO)

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I’m gonna let you guys in on what may be one of the worst kept secrets in the universe: I love heavy metal… all kinds of heavy metal. However, if I were staked to the ground in close proximity to a colony of fire ants and the only possible salvation was telling my captors what type of metal was my favorite, I would have to say the classic, hard rocking stuff… you know, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, Demon. So, even though I thoroughly enjoyed recent shows by Nile and Coal Chamber (and am looking forward to the return of Dez’s other band, DevilDriver), I gotta say that this night was Nirvana (the mystical happy place, not the band) to this old-school rocker. By the way, this was my first foray to the Lounge, a smaller room with impressive, clear sound, located to the left of the venue’s entry. What a great decision it was to put this show here and the other, more punk oriented bill in the main room.

Bangarang (John Loness; Cory Crowell; Ruben Guerrios) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Bangarang (John Loness; Cory Crowell; Ruben Guerrios) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Local three-piece Bangarang is the modern approximation of early-to-mid ’70s Mountain-ous (you know, Leslie West… Felix Pappalardi… Corky Laing) hard rock, filtered through ’80s SoCal punk. The group’s eight song set featured the five tracks from their recently released EP, SNACK TIME, including a raging jungle beast called “Jumanji,” which featured a cool breakdown, with Cory Crowell pounding out a brutal tribal beat. Other highlights were the thudding behemoth that is “Monsoon Tune” and the atmospheric “Egan’s Rats,” which put me in mind of those psychedelic freaks, NIL8. Guitarist John Loness holds an odd place within the musical structure of the band, as he – more often than not – adds chittering effects and weird little strands of rhythm rather than any kind of boisterous, balls-out lead or solo (even though he proved himself more than capable of those types of guitar heroics); when he does step out, it is always tasty and very much holding to the vibe of the song and the suitably heavy groove laid down by his bandmates, drummer Crowell and the lucidor-masked bassist Rubin Guerrios, who manages to be crushingly heavy and uncompromisingly funky at the same time. Loness, who is also the trio’s lead singer (the others provide some well-placed backing), has the perfect voice for the style of rock played by Bangarang and, though the final three songs were works-in-progress, presented as instrumentals waiting for lyrics, he still shied away from filling the lyrical void with over-the-top guitar parts… it just wouldn’t have made sense within the arrangements and would have been a distraction to what the band is attempting with their music; in fact, the first of the three instrumentals, called “Bangarang,” was more of an extended drum solo with minimal accompaniment from Guerrios and Loness. The three numbers, voiceless though they were, seemed to fit in well with what has come before and definitely bodes well for the next phase of Bangarang’s evolution; I, for one, can’t wait.

Doom and Disco (Fu Thorax; Henry Savage; Fu Thorax) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Doom and Disco (Fu Thorax; Henry Savage; Fu Thorax) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Doom and Disco, the second Saint Louis band of the evening, rather like their name, is somewhat of a paradoxical venture. The group performed as a duo, with a third member wandering the floor, unprepared to play. The band play classic riff-heavy metal at ear-bleeding volume; you know… the good stuff. Despite a count-in on virtually every song, everything sounded like it started in the middle and was over at least fifteen seconds before it ended. (Before continuing, I should point out here that the names listed are somewhat in dispute, as my best investigative efforts could only uncover one name associated with Doom and Disco, a guitarist/vocalist named Shalom Friss, the same person who gave me the band info for this review… plus, his Facebook profile looks suspiciously like the dude onstage.) Guitarist Henry Savage featured a beefy, bassy sound, while his vocals somehow reminded me of the legendary Lemmy Kilmister; skin-pounder Fu Thorax was merciless in his approach, reminding me of that wild-eyed family member who always looks like he just farted in the dip bowl while holding an internal running commentary on the social relevance of DUMB AND DUMBER TO. Doom and Disco’s musical selections included such blistering fare as “666 Death,” “Spaghetti Western,” “Savage Journey” and set closer, “Vengeance and Oblivion.” As a duo, the sound was heavy, oppressive and surprisingly full; I can only imagine what we would have heard if that third player HAD been on stage (I’m assuming that he would have played bass, which would have given their sound an even heavier vibe). Bottom line: Doom and Disco… whoever you are and however many of you there are, I hope to have the chance to see you again soon.

Visigoth (Leeland Campana; Jake Rogers; Jamison Palmer) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Visigoth (Leeland Campana; Jake Rogers; Jamison Palmer) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

So… what does Salt Lake City’s Visigoth have in common with long standing bands like Iron Maiden, Raven, Diamond Head, Tygers of Pan Tang, Witchfynde and Samson? Well, they may not hail from the United Kingdom, but they do hold the torch of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal high. The group has an epic sound, with lyrics retelling tales of legendary lore of castles and dragons and knights; vocally, Jake Rogers can wail like an earlier Briton, Rob Halford, while guitarists Leeland Campana and Jamison Palmer deliver majestic dual leads, ala classic Maiden or Judas Priest. In short, Visigoth is the best kind of throwback band… with a studious knowledge of (and respect for) those who have gone before, paving the way for a new generation of head-banging musicians, yet talented enough to add their own metallic twists to the mix. Much of their set draws upon the group’s latest release, THE REVENANT KING, including the epic, Arthurian title track; “Dungeon Master,” the new Gamer Nerds National Anthem; “Mammoth Rider,” a mystical retelling of Hannibal’s legendary march into Italy astride elephants; and “Necropolis,” a killer Manila Road cover. The rhythm section of Mikey T on drums and Matt Brotherton on bass were rock solid throughout, laying down a massive foundation, allowing the guitars and vocals to weave their magical spells and minstrel tales of adventure. For me, one of the ultimate highlights of the brilliantly well-paced set was another cover, as the band reached back into their NWOBHM ancestry to offer “The Spell,” from Demon’s 1982 album, THE UNEXPECTED GUEST… a song, a band and a record virtually unknown in these here United States. With a new release on the horizon, Visigoth can only continue their upward trajectory. If you have the chance, do not sleep on the opportunity to see these guys live. Oh, yeah… I gotta give bonus points to Jamison Palmer for his Tank tee. Plus, additional bonus points to me for not using the words “sacked” or “sacking” anywhere in this review.

Night Demon (Dusty Squires; Armand John Anthony; Jarvis Leatherby) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Night Demon (Dusty Squires; Armand John Anthony; Jarvis Leatherby) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

As much as I liked the under card, I was absolutely stoked for the main event. The Ventura, California trio, Night Demon, plays that classic Deep Purple brand of heavy rock, with more than just a dose of sinister Misfits style punk. They opened their set with a blistering “Screams In the Night,” the lead track of the band’s debut full-length, CURSE OF THE DAMNED, with solid vocals from their sole original member, bassist Jarvis Leatherby; in fact, Leatherby’s vocals were on-point and – thankfully – upfront throughout the night. Along with his battery mate, drummer Dusty Squires, Jarvis also laid down a monstrously heavy bottom end… on a Flying V, no less. New(ish) guy Armand John Anthony more than held his own on guitar, with amazingly tight leads and smoking solos. The set was enhanced by oddly effective lighting, more so because they were supplied by the band’s merch guy from the front of the stage.

Night Demon (Jarvis Leatherby; Armand John Anthony; Dusty Squires) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Night Demon (Jarvis Leatherby; Armand John Anthony; Dusty Squires) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

The guys tore through a solid song list that included tales of fast cars, ages-old evils, modern day madmen and religious rites, both sacred and profane: “Road Racin’,” “Ancient Evil,” “Killer” and the centerpiece of the band’s live performances and their raison d’etre, “Chalice.” With an intensity rivaling the original Blue Cheer or the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Night Demon took their place among the great power trios of hard rock and heavy metal, updating the model to represent, not only current musical trends, but also the grimmer, grimier aspects of our modern world. If I had to compare Armand’s six-string assault to a predecessor, I hear definite influences from Gillan-era Bernie Torme, the late, lamented Paul Samson and the guys from Maiden, particularly Adrian Smith… classic metal riffs laced with a speed and fluidity that few possess, all amply displayed on “Full Speed Ahead,” among others; it’s hard to pinpoint any one style in Leatherby’s vocals… his is a strong, forceful rock and roll voice that seems to be manufactured for exactly this style of heavy music; Squires is a rock-solid Ian Paice type of drummer, a brilliant timekeeper with the occasional flash of reckless abandonment. As the show built to its climax, from “Killer” into “Road Racin’” and into the moody, sombre “Chalice,” the trio was joined onstage by Rocky, the looming, leering personification of Poe’s THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, who bade all to “Drink from the chalice.” This theatrical cameo brought wild cheers from the (unfortunately) modest crowd, much like the Iron’s lumbering Eddie or the Misfits’ Fiend/Crimson Ghost used to back in the day. Rocky’s departure from the stage conjured the ultimate evil, as the band charged into the final number, “Satan.” Jarvis asked for the stage lights to be lowered and, upon learning that they were actually controlled by a wall switch by the stage, Visigoth’s Leeland jumped to the rescue, turning the lights off and on, creating a type of rhythmic lightning effect… a rather silly but somehow appropriate ending to a fun evening of live music.

Night Demon (Armand John Anthony and Jarvis Leatherby with Rocky; Rocky offers the Chalice; Dusty Squires) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Night Demon (Armand John Anthony and Jarvis Leatherby with Rocky; Rocky offers the Chalice; Dusty Squires) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

I was impressed by the professionalism of all of the bands (and their meager crews), as each went out of their way to ensure that I (and the entire room, really) had a great time. I had a brief interlude with Jarvis after the show and mentioned, rather offhandedly, that I wished the record companies would send out vinyl copies of their releases for review; he asked if I had a copy of CURSE OF THE DAMNED and, receiving my negative reply, walked over to the merch table and handed me a vinyl copy, saying, “Now you do, my friend.” I certainly wasn’t expecting that but, the gesture put me in mind of the way artists generally handled their business when I first got into this game more than twenty years ago. If I hadn’t been a fan before, I definitely was when I walked out of the venue with my brand new slab of orange vinyl!