PAUL MCCARTNEY

(October 15, 2014; THE PHILIPS ARENA, Atlanta GA)

Paul McCartney OUT THERE TOUR

Simply put, Paul McCartney’s OUT THERE TOUR is one of the great nights of musical entertainment. Here’s a guy who’s 72 years old, with all the money and fame in the world and he still puts on a close to three hour show, with hits from five decades of music, with his very capable band of Paul Wickens, who plays keyboards, guitarists Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray and drummer Abe Laboriel, Junior giving him all the support and room he needs to do his own thing.

Paul McCartney and the boys in the band (Rusty Anderson, Brian Ray, Abe Laboriel, Junior and Paul Wickens (photo credit: MJ KIM)

Paul McCartney and the boys in the band (Rusty Anderson, Brian Ray, Abe Laboriel, Junior and Paul Wickens (photo credit: MJ KIM)

McCartney, buoyant and full of life and energy, has the crowd in the palm of his hand as soon as he takes the stage. He starts off with the Beatles classic, “Eight Days a Week,” and never looks back. The newer songs, “Save Us,” “New” and “Queenie Eye,” off his recent studio album, NEW, fit comfortably among the classics everyone wants to hear. Paul’s tributes to John Lennon, with “Here Today,” and George Harrison, with a wonderful version of “Something” are stirring.

Paul McCartney's tribute to George Harrison, OUT THERE TOUR 2013 (photo credit/copyrighted by MJ KIM)

Paul McCartney’s tribute to George Harrison, OUT THERE TOUR 2013 (photo credit/copyrighted by MJ KIM)

Likewise, McCartney’s tribute to his late wife, Linda, with one of his very best solo songs, “Maybe I’m Amazed,” is one of the highlights of the show. Actually, there were too many great moments to talk about; he covered early, mid and late Beatles – “All My Loving,” “And I Love Her,” “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” songs from “SERGEANT PEPPER’S… ” and on and on. Tears were falling from audience faces when he played “Eleanor Rigby,” “Yesterday” and “Blackbird.”

Paul McCartney with Abe Laboriel, Junior, PHILIPS ARENA, October 15, 2014 (photo credit: PERRY JULIEN)

Paul McCartney with Abe Laboriel, Junior, PHILIPS ARENA, October 15, 2014 (photo credit: PERRY JULIEN)

Paul told stories of knowing Jimi Hendrix and being the first rock star to play Red Square in Moscow a few years back. The massive audience singalongs of “Let It Be” and “Hey, Jude,” the explosions during “Live and Let Die,” or how about an encore of a crunching “Day Tripper,” the Wings hit, “Hi, Hi, Hi” and “Get Back,” finishing the night off with “Yesterday,” “Helter Skelter” and the ABBEY ROAD medley (“Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight,” “The End”). It was all almost too much at times but, to me, as a long time fan, just seeing McCartney up on stage and playing, entertaining the crowd… just being there for an evening was enough. For most fans, that was plenty.

Paul McCartney at the piano, OUT THERE TOUR 2013 (photo credit/copyrighted by MJ KIM)

Paul McCartney at the piano, OUT THERE TOUR 2013 (photo credit/copyrighted by MJ KIM)

After 50 years of making music that has become a part of so many people’s lives, you would think Macca would have had enough of it and would just want to take it easy. That’s just not the case. It was a magical night in Atlanta with Sir Paul; as the guy behind me kept saying, just one right after the other, “It’s just wonderful!” I think that pretty much summed up the evening.


HAPPY TOGETHER TOUR 2014

(August 9, 2014; THE FAMILY ARENA, Saint Charles, MO)

HappyTogether_Horizontal_2014

When I first saw that the 2014 version of the HAPPY TOGETHER TOUR was coming to our neck of the woods, I was unsure of what to expect but… I did know that I wanted to be there. After all, I grew up with the music of Mark Farner and Grand Funk Railroad and Chuck Negron and Three Dog Night; I always liked Mitch Ryder (with or without his Detroit Wheels); and, of course, I liked the Turtles but, I loved Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan’s post-Turtles work as members of the Mothers of Invention and as the Phlorescent Leech and Eddie. For the record, I was never a huge fan of Gary Lewis and the Playboys, but, hey… four outta five ain’t bad, huh?

Bassist John Montagna; Drummer Steve Murphy and guitarist Godfrey Townsend (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Bassist John Montagna; Drummer Steve Murphy and guitarist Godfrey Townsend (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

One thing I was expecting was full band participation, as the ads listed the acts as “Gary Lewis and the Playboys,” “Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels,” and the “Turtles with Flo and Eddie.” Plus, Mark Farner has been playing with the same band for quite a few years. However, there were no Playboys, no Detroit Wheels, no Turtles and no Mark Farner Band; I ran into John Montagna out front of the venue and he told me that he was playing bass in the “house band,” a group that I later learned have been playing together for several years, as backing band for everyone from Alan Parsons Live Project to Joey Molland and, yes, the Turtles. Upon entering the venue, two things were evident (if you were paying attention): First, this was a decidedly AARP-heavy crowd (now, don’t get yer granny-panties in a bunch… though I have no affiliation with the organization, I do qualify for membership) and, second, not only would there be no Playboys, their leader, Gary Lewis, would also be a no-show (apparently, he’d already missed several dates due to illness). Though I’m sure that there were a lot of people disappointed that Lewis wasn’t playing, I was more than okay with that.

Mitch Ryder (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Mitch Ryder (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

A recording of Shadoe Stevens kept us informed, like a NASA countdown, of the number of minutes left before the HAPPY TOGETHER TOUR 2014 would kick off: Ten minutes… three minutes later, the five minute mark was reached… two minutes later, we were told that we had two minutes left… five seconds later, we hit the one minute mark and the start of the show, in quick succession, as Stevens introduced Mitch Ryder. The band played a brief intro for Mitch, who ripped through a set that included “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” “Jenny Take a Ride” and, what is probably his biggest hit, “Devil With a Blue Dress On” coupled with Richard Penniman’s “Good Golly, Miss Molly” like he was a kid. Which was cool, ’cause he looked more like Mick Mars on a bender. Ryder’s voice sounded strong and it was evident that he was having a blast on stage, recounting tales of youthful conquest and commenting that when the single “Sock It To Me, Baby” was released in 1967, he wasn’t allowed to sing the lyrics as written; with a sly smile, he delivered the unedited, “dirty” version which, he opined, after three-and-a-half decades of rap, I figure you can handle the original version tonight.” Even though Mitch was on stage for less than 30 minutes, we were certainly off to a rip-roaring start!

Mark Farner (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Mark Farner (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

As Mitch walked off stage, the recorded voice of Shadoe Stevens (I coulda sworn that guy was dead!) introduced one of my all-time favorites, Mark Farner, the driving force behind Grand Funk Railroad for more than 30 years. The band, already a well-oiled rock and roll machine, seemed to tighten things up even more during Mark’s set. Kicking off with “The Loco-Motion,” it was obvious that the guitar-playing part of Grand Funk was ready to have some fun. After a joke about age and keeping hydrated, Farner introduced the band’s biggest chart success: Don Brewer’s “We’re an American Band.” He took the high road and, sensibly, also introduced “the world’s best singing drummer,” Steve Murphy, who – if you closed your eyes – sounded enough like Brewer to cause flashbacks. Murphy also handled the second vocal parts on “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “I’m Your Captain,” which Farner dedicated to all of the military personnel currently defending (as well as those who served and died to preserve) the freedoms we, as Americans, enjoy each day. If you didn’t know, Mark is a huge supporter of our military and does great work for various veterans organizations. For an old Grand Funk fan, this was the highlight of the night.

Chuck Negron (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Chuck Negron (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

After Mark’s set, there was a short (about ten minutes) break, as many in attendance had to head to the water receptacles to take their evening meds. Before getting back to the actual show, I’d like to tell you about a guy I met before the doors opened. His name is Ralph. He served our country as a Marine in the early 1970s and he is a huge Three Dog Night fan. He knew the other bands’ music, but he was here to see THE voice of Three Dog Night, Chuck Negron. I kinda kept an eye on Ralph during the show, to see if he was having a good time. Boys and girls, the smile on that man’s face when Negron walked on stage made my day! Chuck was having a good time, too. When he finished set opener “Mama Told Me (Not To Come),” he joked about messing up the words: “I forgot the last verse. I did the second verse twice.” After “Celebrate,” he noted that he had no problem remembering the title of the tune; after repeating it about sixty times, it all came back to him. Other pitch perfect hits included “Shambala,” “One,” and “Joy To the World.” I don’t think Ralph missed a single word as he sang along.

The Turtles' Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The Turtles’ Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

As Flo and Eddie (Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan) took the stage, it was obvious that their set was going to be something completely different. As the pair spent a few minutes berating each other, I think a lot of people were starting to wonder just what was happening. Eventually, the guys kicked into “She’d Rather Be With Me,” and there was dancing in the aisles (so to speak). One of the Turtles’ big hits, Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” elicited a great response before one of the guys told the crowd that the next song was the one that made him a billionaire. That song, “You Showed Me,” snaked its way through a series of tunes by the Doors, including “Riders On the Storm” and “Light My Fire.” The band introductions (before “You Showed Me”) turned into another comedy bit, as Howard introduced guitarist Godfrey Townsend as the group’s musical director. Mark asked Townsend to step forward… but not too far out… back a half-step… now a bit to the left… okay, that’s good… now, get back to your spot. Okay… so that’s why the guy leading the band looked so familiar: I met Godfrey about 13 years ago, when he was a member of the John Entwistle Band. At least I can finally stop racking my brain about that!

The Turtles: Mark Volman; Howard Kaylan (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The Turtles: Mark Volman; Howard Kaylan (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

By this time, I was back in my seat with my friend, Bill, who – like me – is a huge Frank Zappa fan. I kept bugging him with, “So, do you think they’ll do ‘Bwana Dik?’ How ’bout ‘Call Any Vegetable?’ Or, maybe, they’ll do ‘What Kind of Girl Do You Think We Are.’” After a fantastic version of “Elenore,” someone on stage yelled “Zappa” and the band broke into a cool take of “Peaches en Regalia.” I was grinnin’ like a buffoon! The set ended – as it should – with the Turtles’ signature tune (and the song that supplied the name of this tour), “Happy Together.” Kaylan thanked the crowd and said that it had been a great night… so great, in fact, that we should start the whole thing over. With that, Mitch Ryder came back for a short reprise of “Devil With the Blue Dress On.” Mark Farner reprised “The Loco-Motion,” Chuck Negron did “Joy To the World” and the ensemble finished with a sing-along version of “Happy Together.” A great night of classic rock and roll and pop. Plus, we were out the door and on our way home at ten sharp… some of us need our sleep, ya know.


A BRIAN CAPPS DOUBLE-HEADER

BRIAN CAPPS AND THE PRISON KEYS/THE DOMINO KINGS

(June 27, 2014; LUTTRELL’S AUCTION BARN/PATTON ALLEY PUB, Springfield, MO)

Brian Capps (photo credit: JEREMY CHARLES)

Brian Capps (photo credit: JEREMY CHARLES)

Springfield, Missouri, is probably not the kind of town that most folks not in the know would consider a significant music center. However, in the past decade or so, the city has evolved, grown and given rise to an astonishing number of gifted musicians; you can’t throw a stone in the town without hitting some talented player. Locals tend to take their own talent for granted, and the major musicians in the city are modest and self-deprecating to a fault. Nonetheless, you can go hear some fantastic music in Springfield almost any night of the week, and any music connoisseur NOT from the town might be surprised by the number of amazing talents who reside there.

Brian Capps and the Prison Keys (Donnie Thompson, Bobbie Lloyd Hicks, Brian Capps, John Wynn) (photo credit: TINA CARL)

Brian Capps and the Prison Keys (Donnie Thompson, Bobbie Lloyd Hicks, Brian Capps, John Wynn) (photo credit: TINA CARL)

This is only one reason I head for Springfield at least a few times a year, and there is ALWAYS some concert of interest; I miss way more than I ever catch. One of my very favorite local acts is Brian Capps, a Lebanon (less than an hour to the northeast of Springfield) native who nonetheless is a regular on the Springfield circuit and plays with several different groups of musicians in town, as well as being a touring member of Branson On the Road throughout the US. The chance to see Capps play in two different configurations in one night (something a lot of dedicated local musicians seem to do down there) was too good to pass up, and so I headed down I-44 bent on losing myself in some awesome, rootsy tunefulness during a rather stressful time. Talk about the healing power of music! Up first was Brian Capps and the Prison Keys, who on the surface appear to perform traditional country music and vintage rock and roll for a predominantly older crowd (certainly the case here at Luttrell’s Auction Barn). The odd little structure, on the west side of Springfield, is literally an auction house AND music venue, where bluegrass and old-timey country artists play semi-regularly to small but enthusiastic crowds.

Brian Capps and the Prison Keys (Brian Capps) (photo credit: TINA CARL)

Brian Capps and the Prison Keys (Brian Capps) (photo credit: TINA CARL)

The Prison Keys are a quintet but were missing one member this particular night. No matter; any long-time follower of music hatched in Missouri would naturally be thrilled by the fact that two members of this assemblage were also founding members of one of the most memorable acts ever to emerge from the Ozarks – the Skeletons. Donnie Thompson is one of the finest guitarists anywhere around, and can damn near play ANYTHING, which in the Skeletons and another of his past outfits, the Morells, he sure DID. And drummer/vocalist Bobbie Lloyd Hicks is simply a brilliant, staggeringly versatile musician who has toured and played with the likes of Dave Alvin, NRBQ, Jonathan Richman, Robbie Fulks and many others too numerous to mention. Hicks adds layered quirkiness to any band he plays with, and that made a significant difference here. Fiddler John Wynn was also a vital part of the blend. Capps fronted this amiable outfit with his huge, gorgeous blue upright bass and dollops of easy humor. A fantastic singer and charismatic front man, Capps is one of the few musicians I’ve ever seen who is able to effortlessly charm listeners of all ages. Fans were treated to pleasing if sometimes low-key versions of Johnny Cash tunes (“Southwind” and “I Guess Things Happen That Way” – it’s worth stating that Capps does a stellar, respectful take on Cash that is never mere imitation but always engaging and familiar), the Marty Robbins’ classic “A White Sport Coat (and a Pink Carnation)”, Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me,” Ernest Tubb’s “Waltz Across Texas” (shouted by request, which often happens at these shows and is always gamely agreed to by Capps and company), and Porter Wagoner’s “Woman Hungry,” which Capps humorously decried the somewhat misogynistic lyrics of.

Brian Capps and the Prison Keys (Donnie Thompson, Bobbie Lloyd Hicks, Brian Capps, John Wynn) (photo credit: TINA CARL)

Brian Capps and the Prison Keys (Donnie Thompson, Bobbie Lloyd Hicks, Brian Capps, John Wynn) (photo credit: TINA CARL)

Hicks stole the show several times by spearheading the catchy George Jones classic “Who Shot Sam,” inexplicably singing most of the Chuck Berry classic, “Memphis,” in a mocking early Dylan style (the humor of which may have escaped some of this crowd), launching into the Ventures’ “Wipe Out” with his own unique laugh, and doing a delightful version of “Honey Don’t,” the Carl Perkins tune most people became familiar with when Ringo sang it with the Beatles. As for Capps, who was always gracious and attentive to his audience, each of his turns at the mic brought a new aural pleasure: a hearty version of Don Gibson’s “Sea of Heartbreak,” the Elvis tune “You’re the Devil in Disguise,” his own original “Walk Through Walls,” and the irresistable Gene Vincent classic “Lotta Lovin’,” which in any venue but Luttrell’s likely would’ve packed the dance floor. Guitarist Thompson tended to underplay for this crowd, but had plenty of shining moments nonetheless, notably on several instrumentals and on anything where Hicks’ unique energy cajoled him into something more offbeat. It was all thoroughly entertaining, and the sound was good and volume-balanced. I shouldn’t fail to mention Wynn’s excellent fiddle work either, and a high-energy take on “Orange Blossom Special” was one of his showcase moments.

The Domino Kings (Steve Newman, Brian Capps, Les Gallier) (photo credit: TINA CARL)

The Domino Kings (Steve Newman, Brian Capps, Les Gallier) (photo credit: TINA CARL)

Most groups would’ve been exhausted after serving up two hours of the trad (quirked up a bit for those of us paying close attention), but in less than an hour, Capps was off to join his other regular outfit, the Domino Kings, at downtown’s Patton Alley Pub. The Kings have been around for 15 plus years, with a few different lineups, but this was the original trio and best incarnation of the band: Capps on upright bass, Steve Newman on guitar and Les Gallier on drums. All three men sing and write songs, and they are absolutely, unquivocally superb musicians. The mild conservatism of the Luttrell’s show gave way to fiery, edgy rock and hard country showmanship at this venue. You know what it’s like to hear a band who have a sound, a unique musical flavor that somehow no one else can duplicate? Well, the Domino Kings have that in spades – a punchy, danceable, ballsy brand of Americana that is loaded with character, unpredictable and physically invigorating. It’s too limiting to call them one of the best trios in Springfield; I’d say they are one of the best rockin’ trios anywhere when they are on. And they were this evening, despite the inexplicably small crowd. Guess there is just too damn much to do in Springfield on a weekend night (including the rowdy Pub Crawl contingent next door to Patton Alley).

The Domino Kings (Steve Newman) (photo credit: TINA CARL)

The Domino Kings (Steve Newman) (photo credit: TINA CARL)

The Domino Kings think about gals and relationships a lot; their own songs and their choice of covers deal with issues involving the fairer sex continuously. There is Newman’s rousing “Ballad of Katie,” a staple of their shows; Capps’ wickedly catchy “Alice,” about a girl who is “one bad piece of mean”; the Ronnie Dawson classic “Veronica” (which Newman sang the crap out of) and the laser-sharp Blasters tune “Marie, Marie,” on which Newman’s guitar was flat out incendiary. Newman makes zippy, high-energy electric guitar playing look easy; he doesn’t move that much on stage, but man oh man, the sounds coming out of his guitar certainly do. It’s clean, animated, aggressive fretwork that miraculously always manages to be musical and ear friendly, hardly ever self-indulgent, and that’s no easy trick. Even on a crazed medley that I’ve seen the Kings do many times, a bizarrely diverse sonic summation that has room for the “Jeopardy” theme, a quote from Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” “Secret Agent Man” and at least a dozen other pop/rock standards from all eras, Newman exhibits awe-inspiring control and discipline, with Capps and Gallier matching him all the way. Capps has written many of the Kings’ most memorable tunes; performed this night were “Dark Side of Love,” a personal favorite, and the rockin’ “Where Your Lies Stop,” along with what I think is an unrecorded tune called “I Don’t Wanna Forget,” not sure. Capps also shone, as he always does with Johnny Cash stuff, on “Delia’s Gone.”

The Domino Kings (Steve Newman, Brian Capps, Les Gallier) (photo credit: TINA CARL)

The Domino Kings (Steve Newman, Brian Capps, Les Gallier) (photo credit: TINA CARL)

Gallier also deserves special praise here, not just for the tunes he sang such as “My Mind is Ramblin’” (from the band’s debut, LONESOME HIGHWAY), the snarling “Show Me” and the as yet unreleased “Would You Let Me Be Your Man” and “Some Kind of Power,” but for his laser-point timing. Gallier’s “snare ‘n’ stick” style is utterly distinctive, especially given the relatively small size of his kit; he is truly one of my favorite drummers. If Steve Newman and Brian Capps represent “two distinct types of visionaries” (thank you, Spinal Tap!), Gallier is not merely “lukewarm water,” but instead the unexpectedly zesty third element that often pushes the group into the realm of the sublime. He sings and plays with real gusto. Capps must feel very fortunate to work with no less than TWO of the most interesting singing drummers around. I’d personally put these guys up against any similar act in Nashville or the coast that I’ve heard. Each member of the DKs is a vital, perfectly matched part of a rock-solid entity that really deserve more credit than they get. But they haven’t put a record out since 2005, although a new one is reportedly in the bag. And, audiences are fickle; in that regard, Springfield doesn’t differ much from larger cities. Certainly it should be stated here that the Kings rarely have captured on record how good they are live. Their best album, LIFE PLUS 20, comes close in moments and features a handful of stellar Capps compositions and a smooth Lou Whitney production. But you have to hear these guys live to truly experience their gritty, anchored musicianship at its best. “Lonesome Highway” (a real Americana classic), a newer Newman song called (I think) “The Second Luckiest Guy in This Room”, virtually any Capps tune such as “Alice” and an instrumental called “Thrown Clear,” all have this thing about them, a revved-up, rock and roll-abilly, real-life-reflecting edginess that transcends whatever genre you want to call this stuff. Labels be damned. The Domino Kings BRING IT, baby, and it’s some of the best dancing, drinking, carousing music you can ever hope to hear. They oughta be packin’ these dang bars!

The Domino Kings (Steve Newman, Brian Capps, Les Gallier) (photo credit: TINA CARL)

The Domino Kings (Steve Newman, Brian Capps, Les Gallier) (photo credit: TINA CARL)

The next day, despite not feeling his best and having played for nearly five hours, Mister Capps was off to the Farmers Market in south Springfield for yet ANOTHER Domino Kings gig, an outdoor deal, one that saw rain bursts, nervous vendors, and trucks pulling up halfway through the set to load supplies, interfering with what I would expect a “musician’s mojo” to be. But yet again, the Kings rocked, for an appreciative crowd of about 15 or so that ranged from an elderly man named Harrison (whom I struck up a memorable conversation with) to a couple of young’uns dancing at a stall nearby to an attractive hottie that showed up to hear a couple of tunes, one of which she claimed her uncle co-wrote. It was all just another day’s rockin’ for Capps, one of the area’s most dedicated and talented musicians, and his extraordinary colleagues. You wanna see a musical work ethic at its finest? Try Springfield, folks. No wimps allowed.


SWANS/XIU XIU

(June 24, 2014; THE READY ROOM; Saint Louis, MO)

The Ready Room (photo crdit: JASON STOFF)

The Ready Room (photo crdit: JASON STOFF)

At some shows I’ve been to in recent years, particularly smaller ones, I’ve looked at the audience as much as the performers, trying to gauge people’s reactions and suss out what kind of experience they were having. When you’re dealing with a noncommercial act like Swans, the Michael Gira-led entity that inhabits one end of the post-punk spectrum, you can’t help wondering about the fans and why this kinda assaultive sonic maelstrom appeals to them. This is not to pass judgment, as I AM such a fan. It’s just… why? How can long, discordant, punishing slabs of dark drone and indecipherable lyrics be life-affirming? Do you leave such an experience in a good mood, and just say to your concert-going pals, “Man, that was great!” the way you would after a normal concert? I dunno. But I did indeed utter “That was pretty amazing” to MY companion for the night, and I did experience SOME kind of catharsis. But I’m not sure what it was. I do know I won’t forget it.

Xiu Xiu (uncredited photo from June 20, 2014)

Xiu Xiu (uncredited photo from June 20, 2014)

I wasn’t overly familiar with Swans going in; I’d heard a few bits and pieces, and read some articles about them. But never had a chance to experience their sound up close before. Warning was given via a sign on the door that the concert was going to be extremely loud (helpful hint, that!), so ear plugs were clearly in order. But actually, I’ve been to louder, even though it WAS a punishing volume throughout. Things kicked off with a bizarre half hour opening stint by an incarnation of Xiu Xiu that included only founder Jamie Stewart. I’d been looking forward to hearing some songs from Xiu Xiu’s early CDs that I happened to own, but it was not to be. Stewart sat at a synth console and delivered a piercing monolithic tone that gradually got louder and louder, and gradually added other drone elements until it evolved into a squall of noisy dark ambient matter that was alternatingly hypnotic and tedious. He never said a word and never looked up, and I wouldn’t have even known this had anything to do with the Xiu Xiu I once listened to unless I’d done some research the next day. One thing’s for sure; you don’t see this kinda thing on stage in Saint Louis very often.

Swans live, May 28, 2014 (photo credit: ANDREW NOVELL)

Swans live, May 28, 2014 (photo credit: ANDREW NOVELL)

The wait for Swans was short and, it’s pretty clear when you lay eyes (and ears) on a crazed codger like Michael Gira that you’re in the presence of a twisted original. It seems almost irrelevant to mention song titles, because at a show like this, only hardcore fans would care about such a thing. Swans “tunes” are really long, really repetitive and singularly immersive; variety is not what you’re in for at a show like this. But, okay… “Frankie M” and “A Little God in My Hands” were the first two tunes. Layered gongs kicked off the former, and your ears had no choice but to instantly surrender to the onslaught. I was distracted almost immediately by a comely young woman swaying to the sound, yes, swaying to a sound that most of my friends would’ve bolted from within minutes. Heck, I thought girls liked dancing to stuff with a beat and a sing-along chorus. But damn, even the weirdest and most anti-commercial of bands gotta have their female followers, I suppose. “ …God… ” began with a slashing, repeated chord or whatever you’d call the combination of tones that kicked this one off. I was reminded of Eno’s oblique strategy card, “Repetition is a form of change,” a notion that Eno pioneered and that Swans have seemingly taken to another level. No one would be able to lose themselves in this kind of sonic overload if it was truly just one continuous, unvarying tone but, the fact is, Gira’s band conjure a gargantuan symphony of strident yet structured noisetronica that is ferociously willful and ultimately transfixing. The crowd was apparently riveted, although one girl sitting next to me was peacefully reading a paperback novel half the time, and I wondered about her temperament. I wouldn’t have been able to get through a single page of any book with this kinda music in the background.

Swans live, May 28, 2014 (photo credit: ANDREW NOVELL)

Swans live, May 28, 2014 (photo credit: ANDREW NOVELL)

Gira has a trademark way of holding his hands out to each side, shaking them a little, symmetrically, sometimes with eyes closed. He’s a curious figurehead with his long hair and piercing gaze, and seems genuinely appreciative that he gets to do this sort of thing. My companion and I chatted about how this sort of music can only exist and, in fact, progress, if its makers are utterly serious and committed to what they do. Not an issue at all with Swans. The cacophonous “The Apostate” was next, and it was thunderous, with atonal chord play, primal sludgy ambience and a sound that struck my ears as “Da U WOOM/ Da U WOOM!” It went on for a long, long time and, again, I couldn’t help watching the Ready Room patrons, most of whom watched with rapt attention and, a few of whom attempted to move their bodies in one way or another to this crazed sound. I wouldn’t want to hear this sort of thing every day, but experiencing it live was a pretty singular experience. Something almost approaching “tonal variety” came with the song “Just A Little Boy,” which made me think of the eerie Talking Heads song, “The Overload.” Straight-up dirge-y angst, the lyrics go, “Now I sleep in the belly of woman/And I sleep in the belly of man/And I sleep in the belly of rhythm/And I sleep in the belly of love.” Maybe not manifesto territory here, but Gira is clearly saying SOMETHING, and trying to do so in the context of a long, assaultive drone makes it brave and interesting. It was actually one of the more emotionally resonant moments of the evening.

Swans live, May 28, 2014 (photo credit: ANDREW NOVELL)

Swans live, May 28, 2014 (photo credit: ANDREW NOVELL)

Fire trucks appeared in fromt of the Ready Room two different times, once early in the evening, and once during “Don’t Go,” when the flashing red lights got the attention of anyone near the windows (including yours truly) and made me wonder whether a fire code violation had occurred, or whether the crew outside had been tipped off about something that needed to be “watched” at this show. No doubt the attendance was amazing; the line waiting to get into the RR was thrice longer than I had been anticipating. Gira gets good publicity. Anyway, the sound slabs during this number were particularly intense, with two or three bass notes played insistently while granite chunks of guitar, percussion and keys were hurled out into the crowd with abandon. My mind wandered (and a few Shock Top drafts added splendidly to the mood), and I thought that if Gira’s story was ever made into a movie, either Michael Madsen or Guy Pearce would have to be cast as the lead. Scruffy intensity was definitely called for. The one-two climactic punch of “Bring the Sun/Black Hole Man” was sometimes evocative and haunting, sometimes poundingly nasty, with lyrics almost impossible to decipher (although I’d swear I heard the phrase “Joseph is riding” once or twice). But, hey, lyrics are not the point of a Swans song. Immersive surrender to the darkest of dark waves is more in order. And, actually, I left in admiration for the perverse, primal simplicity of what Swans have to offer. Though there is little pleasure or comfort to be had in a show like this, the catharsis is real, and the visceral release is palpable. It’s important for music to stake out EDGES to explore, places where few dare go and declare, “Okay, this is what’s out here in THIS place, check it out if you’re so inclined.” I’m grateful to have experienced that thing that Swans do, even if I’ll be scratching my head for a long time over what it means, and how that girl could’ve gotten through a good portion of her book with Swans as the background soundtrack. Each to their own in this world, truly…


DETROIT COBRAS/PUJOL/NIKKI LANE

(June 12, 2014; THE DEMO, Saint Louis, MO)

The Detroit Cobras Saint Louis Poster by James Bratten

This is my first sojourn to the Demo on Manchester Avenue, in the Grove section of the city (which has turned into something of a “Music Row,” with what seems to be a couple dozen live music venues). With a capacity of 200, the Demo is what is known as an “intimate room.” That term also connotes the friendly atmosphere offered by Jake Snyder and his knowledgeable staff. Ben Schulte, the production manager, goes above and beyond to guarantee the best sound possible, insuring a positive experience for both patron and musician. The musicians on this night’s vintage-style anything goes bill is the hard-working rock ‘n’ blues party combo, the Detroit Cobras, the punky Pujol and the real-deal country of Nikki Lane.

Nikki Lane (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Nikki Lane (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Nikki Lane, in the midst of her first headlining tour, opted to open for this show rather than go up against the proven might of the Cobras. I’m glad she did! By doing so, she has insured that the next time she plays the Lou, the fans will turn out for her. Nikki’s set was short, but very sweet: Three tunes from her just-released sophomore album, ALL OR NOTHIN’, a couple from her debut (2011’s WALK OF SHAME) and a cover of Tom Petty’s “Saving Grace.” Her backing band – they’ve dubbed themselves “Team Thunder,” a name that Nikki abhors – are a well-oiled machine… just wish I woulda remembered to get names! The guitar player, in particular, impressed with a myriad of styles, from hardcore country twang to chugging blues riffs to over-the-top psychedelic soloing. And, let’s not forget the lead singer in the band: Nikki, two albums into what should be a very successful career, certainly commands your attention with her singing (thanks in part, I’m sure, to her deft songwriting talents) and her between song quips and intros. A great set that has me counting down to her next Saint Louis date.

Pujol (Daniel Pujol) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Pujol (Daniel Pujol) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Shifting gears completely, Daniel Pujol and his band (the creatively named Pujol) offered an entirely different view of the Nashville music scene. Daniel’s songs and arrangements are a few cuts above the standard punk sound that you’re likely to hear on any given night at just about any club in the country. Aside from Daniel’s (and his guitar cohort, who’s name I didn’t get) continual shredding (and occasional harmonic duets), the set’s focal point was at the back of the stage: Tiffany Minton was a diminutive dynamo, keeping the beat with arms flailing and her kinetic energy driving the songs at an almost breakneck speed. Pujol’s interesting vocals – kinda like Geddy Lee on helium – were, unfortunately, somewhat lost in the mix, causing a few in the crowd to miss the nuances inherent in his lyrics. The power and musical acumen of the group, thankfully, nullified the problem.

The Detroit Cobras (Dale Wilson and Richie Wohlfeil) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The Detroit Cobras (Dale Wilson and Richie Wohlfeil) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Rachel Nagy, the Detroit Cobras’ powerhouse vocalist, was ready to rock ‘n’ roll. The band blasted through a long set of classic R and B and rock songs, with Rachel front-and-center and longtime band mate, guitarist Mary Ramirez, holding things down on stage left (right in front of improbable scenester and local pain, Beatle Bob). Stage right was occupied by Mary’s guitar counterpart, Reuben Glazer, and bassist Dale Wilson; holding the beat was Richie Wohlfeil, doing more with a simple kit (and a cut in the palm of his hand) than most can accomplish with a set that would make Neil Peart envious. For some unknown reason, the crowd was slow to warm up to the hard working, hard partying vibes coming from the stage, not really getting into the groove until the fourth song, a rare original, “Hot Dog (Watch Me Eat).” That’s something that I’ll find myself pondering for some time to come… all the while basking in the glow of my very first Detroit Cobras show.


THE MONKEES

(June 5, 2014; THE FOX THEATRE, Saint Louis, MO)

The Monkees Fox Theatre ad

Any band that was a significant part of your youth is one that you tend to make allowances for, years later, if they continue to make music. The memories you associate with their songs, the deep familiarity of their music and personas, means you are predisposed to love their show and surrender to the excitement as you did all those years ago. Such is the case for me with the Monkees, a band second only to the Beatles in their pervasive impact on my life in the mid to late ’60s. The first riff I ever played on a guitar was that of “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” The album PISCES, AQUARIUS, CAPRICORN AND JONES, LIMITED was on constant rotation in 1967 in my circles. “Pleasant Valley Sunday” was no less than an anthem. And my favorite Monkees song of all, a Mike Nesmith tune called “Tapioca Tundra,” could very well serve as the soundtrack for my childhood, those peak carefree days of fun TV shows (THE MONKEES among them), innocent crushes, bicycle rides and, always, neighborhood games with my pals. A whole slew of memories are conjured by the spectacle of seeing the Monkees live in concert, and for this tour, with the previously MIA Mike Nesmith leading the charge, things were bound to be interesting. And they were, definitely.

The Monkees, 1966 (Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, Michael Nesmith) (publicity photo)

The Monkees, 1966 (Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, Michael Nesmith) (publicity photo)

This isn’t the space to discuss the many reasons why Nesmith came aboard only after the band’s heartthrob, Davy Jones, passed away unexpectedly in 2012. It can certainly be said that Nesmith was always a champion for the Monkees’ musicianship and control over their legacy, and perhaps he felt both needed to be reasserted and “freshened up” after the Vegas-style theatricality of several previous Monkees tours that were certainly Jones-centric. Having seen at least half a dozen previous Monkees shows, I can say with confidence that the goofing around and animated stage patter the band is known for was dramatically lessened at their Fox show, relegated to continuous clips from their TV show that screened both during and between their performances. Sometimes these clips were hysterical, sometimes they were monotonous, but they reminded you of where these four guys came from and what they were called upon to do, at least from 1966 until their disastrous (commercially speaking) movie, HEAD, ended one phase of their career. Nesmith, with thinning hair and wearing a dapper white jacket over a Sun Records t-shirt, was a quietly commanding presence at this show. He didn’t say that much, nor did the expression on his face change much, but he was authoritative and he meant business, musically speaking.

The Monkees, 2014 (Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork) (uncredited photo)

The Monkees, 2014 (Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork) (uncredited photo)

After a slightly tame “Last Train to Clarksville” got things under way (Micky Dolenz sings that one), Nesmith took the mic for quite a handful of tunes: “Papa Gene’s Blues” (an early country-ish outing; Nes was a pioneer of what came to be known as country rock), “The Kind of Girl I Could Love,” “Sweet Young Thing,” “You Told Me,” “Sunny Girlfriend” and more. Fans hadn’t gotten to hear these songs performed live, for the most part; with Davy’s stuff out, with rare exceptions, the set could be reconfigured to accommodate Nesmith’s many fine compositions. If Nes didn’t move much on stage, however, the same can’t be said of the amazing Mister Dolenz, dressed sharp in gray hat and suit, and always ready for his closeup. Dolenz is acknowledged as the finest singer in the band, and he is a consummate entertainer, involving the audience, shimmying from one side of the stage to the next, and belting out classics like “I’m a Believer,” “She” and the utterly peerless “Goin’ Down” with dedication and real joy. He’s clearly happy to be doing this, all these years later, and he always hits those high notes, sometimes to shivery effect. On “Shades of Gray,” a tender ballad where Dolenz shares the vocal duties with Peter Tork, he wryly grabbed a tuft of Peter Tork’s hair as the “shades of gray” chorus came up for the third time; not everyone saw this, but it was a more subtle brand of goofiness than what we’ve seen before.

The Monkees, circa 2013 (Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork) (ncredited photo)

The Monkees, circa 2013 (Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork) (uncredited photo)

And speaking of Tork, fans were NOT cheated out of seeing him in the spotlight; there was “Your Auntie Grizelda” (a weird song, even now), “For Pete’s Sake” (which featured Tork introducing the song with a speech about how badly the group wanted to make and play on their own records in the ’60s; Tork declared that the band “were guilty only of NOT being the Beatles, also true of 6 billion other people”), and a rousing “Can You Dig It,” among others. Hits such as “I’m A Believer” and “ …Steppin’ Stone” naturally thrilled the audience, but in terms of musical ecstasy, it was the tunes from HEAD that delivered the biggest impact. “The Porpoise Song” was transcendent, preceded by clips from the infamous film, then easing into a thrilling Dolenz vocal and all the psychedelic layering a fan could reasonably expect. What Monkees fan doesn’t get a shiver from that “Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye” refrain? Even better was “As We Go Along,” a truly beautiful song featuring clips of band members wandering through serene landscapes and Dolenz nailing the vocal to the wall in a perfect sonic picture frame. Fun fact: this tune in its recorded version is one of four the Monkees recorded with a young Neil Young adding guitar to the sessions. “Circle Sky” was a chance for Nesmith to rock out more than usual, but I thought he was even better on “The Door Into Summer” and the classic “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round”. The band wanted a big, well-adorned sound for this show: on “Mary, Mary,” four pairs of shakers were utilized by the added musicians on the tour (an ensemble that included Micky’s sister Coco and Nesmith’s son Christian). Female harmonies insured a properly lush vocal sound when needed, and though Mickey played drums fairly often, most of the percussive duties fell to a second drummer that was added.

The Monkees (Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork with the late Davy Jones on screen behind) (photo credit: JEFF DALY/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The Monkees (Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork with the late Davy Jones on screen behind) (photo credit: JEFF DALY/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Some other highlights included a vibrant “Randy Scouse Git,” the Jones gem “Daydream Believer,” in which, touchingly, all three remaining Monkees took a verse (encouraging the audience to belt out the chorus), and a poignant clip of Jones effectively punctuated the tune, and the closing encore of “Listen to the Band” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” I was disappointed that “Tapioca Tundra,” while played, seemed to get short shrift in the arrangement department; it sounded tossed off here and lost the eerie melancholy of the original. Some of the vocals here and there were also hard to understand (Tork didn’t always intone his lyrics clearly), and the sound was almost subdued at times. It wouldn’t have killed the band to turn things up here and there and just madly rock. But professional? Yes indeed. Musically diverse? Check. Generous with serving up both hits and deep album cuts? You betcha. There’s no doubt that Mike Nesmith added a whole new dimension to this version of the Monkees onstage, and he’s a crucial balance to the madcap antics that sometimes went overboard in the past. There’s also no doubt that Micky Dolenz is an amazing singer and the real focal point of this band. He just IS. A real BAND was on stage at the Fox Theatre, playing and singing their hearts out, and offering more classics than most bands have in their entire repertoire. How amazing that the Monkees can still surprise after all these years. They’re the old generation. And they got something to say!


BIG HEAD TODD AND THE MONSTERS

(March 8, 2014; THE PAGEANT, Saint Louis, MO)

Big Head Todd and the Monsters (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Big Head Todd and the Monsters (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

In the mid-to-late 1990s, Big Head Todd and the Monsters recorded some of the most memorable music of the “alternative rock era.” A lot – “Bittersweet,” “Circle,” “Resignation Superman” – are still personal favorites from that time. And, yet, somehow, this March night in Saint Louis, is the first time I’ve seen them play live. What can I say, except… “Wow!” This is one of the tightest bands it has ever been my pleasure to see play live. And, their fans? Some would call them “rabid,” but that really isn’t right… sounds too animalistic. However, the word “loyal” does come to mind… and, not in a puppy dog kind of way. Speaking to a couple of young ladies before the show, I discovered that one had been following the guys around the country, through some truly horrible weather, like that ancient tribe known as the “Dead-Heads.” The other – even though she, like myself, was attending her first BHTM show – talked about how excited she was because this is the music that got her through some very hard times.

Big Head Todd and the Monsters (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Big Head Todd and the Monsters (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The night was billed as “An Evening With Big Head Todd and the Monsters,” which meant – obviously – no opening act. But, the quartet (Todd Park Mohr, Rob Squires, Brian Nevin and Jeremy Lawton) did bring along a couple of friends to join in on the fun: Guitarist Ronnie Baker Brooks (son of legendary Chicago Bluesman, Lonnie Brooks) and vocalist (and former full-time member of the band) Hazel Miller. It was apparent that all six came to play! Todd and the Monsters kicked things off with one of their biggest hits, “Bittersweet,” following that with another, “Resignation Superman.” You just know that you’re in for a special night when the band starts with two of their biggest achievements, chart-wise. A couple of early songs, “Vincent of Jersey” and “The Leaving Song” (the first two tracks from the group’s second album, 1990’s MIDNIGHT RADIO) brought us to the first new tune, the beautifully rendered “Josephina,” which reminds me of some of Phil Lynott’s best Thin Lizzy balladry. Ronnie Baker Brooks joined the band for a fun version of “Twine Time,” a 1964 hit for Saint Louis natives, Alvin Cash and the Crawlers. At the time, I had no idea who the guy playing the mean blues guitar was, but I knew that he had a familiar style. After speaking to him during the break and learning his heritage, that style and sound made perfect sense: His father, Lonnie, was a leading light in bringing the Chicago style of the Blues to prominence in the ’70s. Mohr and Brooks are certainly a formidable guitar tandem. Hazel Miller joined in the fun a few songs later, delivering a mesmerizing “ICU In Everything.” The sextet ended the set with a funky, roiling “Beautiful World” and a great version of “It’s Alright.”

Big Head Todd and the Monsters (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Big Head Todd and the Monsters (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The second set kicked off with another pair of hits, “Broken Hearted Savior” and “Circle,” before moving into “Please Don’t Tell Her” – a song that prominently features the organ-work of Jeremy Lawton – and its BEAUTIFUL WORLD album-mate, “Caroline.” The next several songs were from the group’s latest, BLACK BEEHIVE: “Everything About You,” “I Get Smooth,” which is sort of a Fats Domino-type stroll with a nice upright bass line from Rob Squires, and the funky slide workout of “Seven State Lines.” “Dirty Juice,” another – harder edged – slide extravaganza breaks up the new music set before the title track ballad, “Black Beehive.” A honkin’, funky take of “Yes We Can” kicked things back up a notch before a solemn “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” which was ingeniously coupled with the Staple Singers’ fantastic 1971 hit, “Respect Yourself.” A Brooks song, “Love Me Baby,” from his album, THE TORCH, led into the set closer, the muscular “We Won’t Go Back,” another BLACK BEEHIVE track. The encore featured a rocking cover of LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” sandwiched between another pair of new songs, the hauntingly beautiful, acoustic “Travelin’ Light” and the heavy, chugging funk of “Hey Delilah.”

Big Head Todd and the Monsters (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Big Head Todd and the Monsters (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this evening. What I got were great performances – guitarists Brooks and Mohr and drummer Brian Nevin in particular; a healthy dose of the BLACK BEEHIVE album, as well as classic BHTM tracks and some well-chosen (if occasionally odd) covers. As mentioned at the beginning of this review, this was my first BHTM live experience. It will not be my last!


THOSE DARLINS/DIAHREA PLANET/SPEEDBOATS

(22 February, 2014; OFF BROADWAY, Saint Louis, MO)

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

When reviewing a band live, sometimes things work out, sometimes there are a couple of bumps in the road, sometimes things completely fall apart. This review kinda falls into the “bumps in the road” category. Nothing serious, just a matter of… timing. Planning to meet up with some friends, I was at the venue early. It was then that I found out that not only was the door time an hour later than expected, but there was one more band on the bill than anticipated. All of this meant that – besides a 9:10 starting time – I had time to kill… a lot of time to kill! But… you don’t really care about that, do you? You just wanna know about the show. So…

Speedboats (photo credit: DARREN TRACY

Speedboats (photo credit: DARREN TRACY

The “extra” band was Speedboats, a newish hometown group whose sound is borderline pop punk, leaning heavier toward a cool California skater punk/stoner rock vibe. The five-piece has a great sense of self-deprecating humor and energy to burn. There was also a huge case of the nerves on display, as singer Greg Crittenden had some problems with his control. Now, how, you may ask, do I know it was “nerves” and not something else? Well… I watched the boys’ sound-check and he didn’t crack at all. There’s actually so much to like about these guys and this is such a minor complaint that, truthfully, besides the guys on stage, I may have been the only other one to notice. The guitar duo of Sean Gartner (stage right) and Karl Stefanski (stage left… where else?) elevated the music to something way past standard pop punk, particularly on a song so new that it didn’t even have an official name yet. The working title is “Roller SK8 or Die,” which as far as I can tell (what lyrics there were weren’t totally clear to these ears), had absolutely nothing to do with rollerskating or death. Speedboats got the crowd into things early on and set up the evening nicely. I seriously expect great things from these guys in the not too distant future.

Diarrhea Planet (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Diarrhea Planet (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Up next was Diarrhea Planet, a band hand-picked by fellow Nashvillains (?) and headliners, Those Darlins. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but what I got absolutely blew me away. Imagine… oh, let’s say, Dead Kennedys… with… let’s go with Eddie Van Halen and then multiply him by four. That’s right: old school California punk with four guitar players continually soloing, shredding and finger-tapping like mad scientists. Founding member Jordan Smith handles most of the vocals, but the other guitarists (Emmett Miller, Brent Toler and Evan Bird) all have their moments. With the rhythm section (drummer Casey Weissbuch and bassist Mike Boyle) holding everything together – in the very loosest sense – the four front line guys were allowed to entertain the fans (and, occasionally, each other) with some of the hottest playing I’ve ever seen, including two of the guys finger-tapping in harmony. Absolutely amazing! This band managed to do something that I haven’t seen for quite some time: They had the crowd moshing, bouncing and bringing back that old school punk pit vibe. At one point, they brought the “least punk person” to the stage to prove that “anyone can be a punk.” They gave Ty the mic and 35 seconds to rant, vent and be punk. He started out with a truly epic scream, but was soon lost in the swirling guitar overload. What a fun show! However – and, please, don’t hold this against me guys – Diarrhea Planet may just be the fourth worst band name ever – right behind Panic! At the Disco, Vampire Weekend and Justin Bieber. Since I have absolutely no idea where the name came from, I’m gonna go with this: It’s a geo-political statement aimed at the leaders of the world. Thankfully, the band elevates the music to a level that transcends the horrible noises of the Disco Vampire Bieber. There latest release is called I’M RICH BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS and is available at all of the usual places. Don’t let the name scare you!

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

In Nashville, Those Darlins (as well as Diarrhea Planet) are godlike. In fact, they had a large contingent of their hometown fans front and center at the intimate Off Broadway stage. There were also quite a few folk from upstate Illinois: Chicago and, if I heard right, a suburb called Berwyn. People absolutely love the Darlins… with good reason. The quartet took the stage and the crowd by storm, with the kind of rock ‘n’ roll that has people making five hour drives to see them onstage. Jessi Zazu (who handles most of the vocals) and Nikki Kvarnes continued the guitar showcase, with their own brand of sweet leads and tasty solos. Things seemed to kick into a higher gear with the set’s third song, “Red Light Love,” which – even if you had no idea who Those Darlins are – is a tune that you’re gonna recognize, as it was featured in several commercials for Kia Motors over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, this is where the whole time thing came in to bite me on the posterior: About the time that the band was finishing “Red Light Love,” I received a call telling me that I was needed at home. I love the Darlins, but – and I’m sure they’ll agree – family comes first. I am really sorry that I didn’t have the chance to hear the entire set from Those Darlins. If the rest of the set was as hot as the first three or four songs, I certainly missed a great one!

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Those Darlins (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Before I go, I’ve gotta say something about the venue. Off Broadway is currently one of the best sounding rooms in Saint Louis. The vibe is awesome and laid back, as are the people who work there. Even though Off Broadway is smaller, the closest comparison I can come up with is the late, lamented Mississippi Nights. If you have the chance, get out to Off Broadway for some live music. Check out their schedule here: www.offbroadwaystl.com.


IAN ANDERSON

(14 July, 2013; PEABODY OPERA HOUSE, Saint Louis, MO)

THICK AS A BRICK 2 (band photo by MARTIN WEBB)

THICK AS A BRICK 2 band (photo credit: MARTIN WEBB)

Three fifths of the (very likely) final incarnation of Jethro Tull descended upon the beautiful Peabody Opera House (formerly the Kiel Opera House, lo those many years ago) on this hot mid-July evening. Ian Anderson, whose latest solo outing is THICK AS A BRICK 2: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO GERALD BOSTOCK, is in full TAAB mode on the current US tour, performing the seminal Tull album in full, followed (after a short intermission) by a complete reading of the sequel. This is a move that a lot of “classic” acts have taken up quite recently and, while – more often than not – they don’t live up to the hype (or the album they’re trying to replicate), Ian and his five henchmen delivered everything that this enthusiastic crowd could have hoped for and more! For the record: It ain’t Tull, but it ain’t bad.

Ian Anderson and Ryan O'Donnell live in Berlin, 2012 (photo: MARTIN WEBB)

Ian Anderson and Ryan O’Donnell live in Berlin, 2012 (photo credit: MARTIN WEBB)

Ian’s band wandered onto the stage a few minutes late, dressed as a cleaning crew. They proceeded to sweep, dust and clean just about every surface on the stage before approaching their instruments and, looking over their shoulders to make sure the boss wasn’t watching, began to play “Thick As a Brick.” We’re not talking about that little edit that was released as a single in a few countries; we’re talking about the entire album-long song. They eventually got rid of the work smocks (or, maybe, they were “dirty Macs,” a la the “Thick As a Brick” single sleeve) as Mister Anderson appeared, stage left, strumming his acoustic and singing the opening lines of the nearly hour-long tune. Anderson’s vocal parts are now split with actor/singer/circus performer Ryan O’Donnell, giving Ian more time (and breath) to focus on his flute playing, which is as flawless as ever. O’Donnell’s voice is a softer, subtler version of Ian Anderson and is no less expressive. In theory, I suppose, Ryan is performing in the role of Gerald Bostock, the character created as part of the original THICK AS A BRICK album cover. This is a man who knows his way around a stage, a great performer and a lot of fun to watch.

Scott Hammond live in Berlin, 2012 (photo: MARTIN WEBB)

Scott Hammond live in Berlin, 2012 (photo credit: MARTIN WEBB)

The rhythm section of drummer Scott Hammond and former Tull bassist David Goodier bring a nice jazz vibe to the proceedings, while still maintaining the heavy rock underpinning of the original work. Hammond’s not-overly-long solo was imaginative and as impressive as any I’ve seen in a while. The other Tull expatriate, keyboardist John O’Hara, is as eye-catchingly expressive and verbose as Ryan O’Donnell. His parts seem to be the glue that holds the entire performance together. Guitarist Florian Opahle is a scary kind of flashy, kinda like Ian’s longtime band mate, Martin Barre. He just stands there and rips these amazing leads and solos, acting like the least likely guitar-hero of all time. For some odd reason, Florian’s stage presence reminds me of a younger Gary Rossington. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. The ensemble is “completed” via the video inclusion of violinist Anna Phoebe – who is busy at home recording a new album and raising a young daughter – during an instrumental break that happens in what would be “Side One” of the original album. The end of “Side One” has a cool fade, just like it did on the album, and leads into a serio-comic public service announcement warning men of a certain age to have regular medical check-ups to keep the plumbing clean. Though the message was entirely serious, it was a fun diversion that offered a much needed break for the musicians onstage. It also helped us geezers in the crowd (and we were legion!) put a mental stamp on where we were within the intricacies of the THICK AS A BRICK album.

Ian Anderson and Florian Opahle live in Berlin, 2012 (photo: MARTIN WEBB)

Ian Anderson and Florian Opahle live in Berlin, 2012 (photo credit: MARTIN WEBB)

Having considered the plumbing, Ian and his lads were back to rocking with “Side Two.” Since we’re still talking about the same song, it would be easy to say that the rest of the first set was very much like the first part. That, however, isn’t exactly true. The intensity of Opahle’s and O’Hara’s solos picked up, as did the theatrical aspects of the stage presentation. The pure musicianship and artistry of this band is an amazing thing to witness. Bringing the first album to a close, Ian announced a 15-minute break. The rapt crowd was on their feet, still reeling from the stunning performance we’d just experienced and abuzz with anticipation for THICK AS A BRICK 2.

Ryan O'Donnell live in Berlin, 2012 (photo: MARTIN WEBB)

Ryan O’Donnell live in Berlin, 2012 (photo credit: MARTIN WEBB)

Well… most of us, anyway. To be quite honest, I was a little – uh – underwhelmed by TAAB2 upon first listen. My one hope was that this band would be able to bring it to life onstage… instill it with the sense of fun that was exhibited in the first half of the evening’s show. What can I say? They did! Even the spoken word pieces (which I think gave me the most problems on the album) were good, given the inherent theatricality of Anderson’s stage persona and voice. O’Donnell’s vocals were more forceful here, due – I would guess – from the fact that he was now portraying a grown-up and more confident Gerald Bostock. The musicians were again turned loose, imbuing the sometimes pastoral tunes with a more vivid sonic life than they have on disc. The main difference, I believe, between the two albums (outside the obvious) is that TAAB2 is “songs” whereas the original is a single “song.” While there are technically no stops between the numbers, there is a certain sense of separation. This even minute respite offered the audience a nice give and take with the band that we didn’t have with the first set.

Ian Anderson and Florian Opahle live in Berlin, 2012 (photo: MARTIN WEBB)

Ian Anderson and Florian Opahle live in Berlin, 2012 (photo credit: MARTIN WEBB)

Nearly two-and-a-half hours after the “cleaners” took the stage, good-nights, thank yous and introductions were said and made. My friend, Bill, asked me if I thought there’d be an encore. Just about the time I was saying, “I don’t think so,” John O’Hara came out and began playing the introduction to “Locomotive Breath.” He was soon joined onstage by Scott Hammond, followed by the rest of the band. The crowd erupted as Florian played one of the most revered riffs in rock history and as Ian led the band through one of the most beloved songs in the Jethro Tull canon. I dare say that even the people in the $95 seats left feeling that they’d gotten their money’s worth. I know I did! Bill commented on the way out that he knew Ian couldn’t get away without doing a Tull song. I reminded him that he’d just done an entire Tull album, front to back. “Well, you got me there!” he said as we exited the lobby and headed for home.