Cheap Trick - Live in Traverse City

  Cheap Trick live
Following out this week's concert extravaganza, the third gig in 7 days was Cheap Trick. I've seen Cheap Trick before and despite the legal drama with original drummer Bun E. Carlos, they are still a great live band. Following Cheap Trick's inclusion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the release of a great new album "Bang Zoom Crazy Hello" Cheap Trick is currently touring with Joan Jett and Heart. But if that wasn't enough to keep them busy, they are also doing one-off gigs on their own, which is what brought them to Traverse City for the Cherry Festival.

With a career that spans 5 decades, 17 studio albums and numerous hit singles, the band has a pretty big catalog to draw from. They also tend to mix things up a bit in different shows, so it's not always the same songs every night, which is nice.  They started off strong with their usual show opener "Hello There," followed by "Just Got Back," "California Man," "On Top Of The World," "Baby Loves to Rock," and "Taxman, Mr Thief," an obvious Beatles reference from their first album and "Never Had a Lot to Lose" and "The House is a Rocking" from Dream Police. The band played with a ton of energy. Robin Zander's vocals are in fine form and he still looks good in skinny leather pants and a cape. Rick Nielsen is all over the stage, swapping out a new guitar for every song, flinging picks into the audience and goofing around as always. The rhythm section is extremely solid with Tom Petersson on bass and Dax, Rick's son, on drums, pounding like hurricane. 

Cheap Trick 5 neck hamerThen they played a couple of songs from their new album "Bang Zoom Crazy Hello:" "The In Crowd," and "No Direction Home." Personally, I think it's a great album, possibly the best since the '70s era and I wish they'd played a few more cuts. Next up was "The Ballad of TV Violence" followed by what was a great solo by Tom Petersson on his unique 12-string Gretsch bass (!) that went into a cover of The Velvet Underground's "Waiting for My Man" with Petersson on vocals. This was followed by the ballad "The Flame" and then the big hits: "I Want You To Want Me," "Dream Police" and an encore of "Surrender." That song still gives me goose bumps.

Rick Nielsen then brought out his crazy 50 pound 5 neck Hamer guitar for a short "Goodnight." The whole set was about 90 minutes leaving everyone thirsty for just a few more songs.

Here are a couple of videos I shot. I'll also try to post some high-def photos later on.

 The opening band was the born-and-bred in Traverse City Kenny Olson. It was a a bit too generic-hard-rock-guitar for my taste, but they did manage to get the audience on their feet and Kenny is a great blues guitar player.


Zappa Plays Zappa (sort of)

Zappa plays zappa

Dweezil Zappa, eldest son of musical iconoclast Frank Zappa, has been keeping his father's work alive by touring as "Zappa Plays Zappa." Or at least, he has been until a family fallout has made it impossible for him to use that name. Dweezil has embarked on a fairly public skirmish with younger siblings Diva and Ahmet who control 60% of the Zappa Family Trust.  Dweezil and his older sister Moon, each own 20%. Presumably matriarch Gail Zappa knew exactly what kind of situation she was creating when she wrote her will dividing things up this way and leaving youngest son Ahmet in charge. While every family is dysfunctional in their own way, lets just say the Zappa family seems to have some special dynamics.

Mostly I wouldn't care less about some children-of-stars squabble except at the point where it starts to impact the actual shows that are being performed.  There's no likeness of Frank Zappa anywhere on stage or in any of the merchandise or promotional materials. In fact the tour has been renamed the "Dweezil Zappa plays whatever the f@%k he wants." Except, that's not exactly true either. But I'll come back to that point momentarily. 

The show began on a strong note with several songs from the first "Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention" album "Freak Out!" which was released 50 years ago this year. Songs ranged from the phrenetic "Help, I'm A Rock!" to the soulful "Doreen" to more musically adventurous songs like "The Illinois Enema Bandit" and "Eat That Question."  Indeed, it was the vast instrumental breaks with Dweezil's soaring guitar parts that got the fans up on their feet cheering. Of course, there were also some songs of questionable taste "Shove It Right In" and the jaunty "Catholic Girls" but taste is in the ear of the beholder. 

A lot of Zappa songs are laden with key and tempo changes that go way beyond rock and lean more heavily towards avant-garde jazz and that was certainly true with songs like "Five Five Five."

Presumably to show that Dweezil Zappa's tour was not just capitalizing on the music or fame of his father, the second part of the show included a medley of '80s songs.  Sure that's kind of cool. And these songs were played with great musicianship despite the fast chord, tempo and key changes. After going through snippets of a dozen songs in under 4 minutes ("Tom Sawyer", "Spirit of Radio", " Another One Bites The Dust", "Under Pressure", "Billie Jean", "Like a Virgin", "Jack & Diane", " I want Candy", "Walking on Sunshine", "Stray Cat Strut", the novelty wore off.

Yet the '80s snippets continued on with short bursts from: "Lady", "I Just Called To Say I Love You", "9 to 5", "Get Physical", "Xanadu", "Don't You Want Me Baby..."

And on... "I Don't Want to Hurt You", "Mr Roboto", "Blinded By Science", "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)"...

And on... "I Melt With You", "Shout", "Our House", "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"...

And on... "C'mon Eileen", "Money For Nothing", "I Want A New Drug"...

And on... "Hey Micky", "Footloose", "Chariots of Fire"...

And on... "C'mon Feel The Noise", "Higher Love"...

And on... "Relax", "Born to Run"...

I counted over 75 songs. All brilliantly played. But other than the musical showmanship of being able to play these short signature licks without ever losing the beat, it became mind-numbing tedium.

So where was I?

Oh yes, the audience was there to hear the music of Frank Zappa. Not an '80s K-Tel commercial.  

After a brief pause, the band came back and played "You Are What You Is" and "Keep it Greasy". 

Again, I have to commend the band for an incredible performance of extremely complex music. They are superb musicians and Dweezil is an exceptionally talented guitarist and band leader.  It was an excellent show even for casual fans.

And I appreciate that Dweezil is in the difficult position of being unable to use his own family name without a license from the Zappa Family Trust (of which he is a beneficiary.)  While everyone in the family is saying they want to preserve Frank Zappa's legacy, Dweezil is out there keeping it alive while the Zappa Family Trust are singing a different tune.   


Billy Idol Live in Traverse City

Billy Idol 1

Eighties rocker Billy Idol stepped on the main stage at the Traverse City Cherry Festival Sunday evening for what was mostly a great concert.  The Cherry Festival, like any typical summer state fair, attracts it's share of oldies bands, but Billy Idol kicked things off with a 100db rendition of "Shock to the System" followed by a newer song "Can't Break Me Down" from the vastly underrated "Kings and Queens of the Underground."  They covered all the usual hits: "Eyes Without a Face," "Daytime Drama," as well as an old Gen-X song "King Rocker." Despite years of decadance on the road, at 60, Idol still looks the part of the buffed-out punk rocker running around on stage with an excess of energy. 

There were some excellent over-the-top guitar solos from super shredder Steve Stevens that went from Flamenco to Yes' "Roundabout" along with some tasty Led Zeppelin licks from "Over the Hills and Far Away" and "Stairway to Heaven."

Billy Idol 2The concert took a bit of a wrong turn when they embarked on Idol's biggest hit "Rebel Yell." Idol was singing very off-key and eventually stopped the song mid-verse and started over again. The second version still wasn't perfect and Idol left a lot of the singing to the crowd.

This is a song they've played in every single gig for the last two years, so I can't help but wonder what was going wrong with the sound on stage to cause such a screw up.  At the end, the band dashed off stage for a few minutes, presumably figuring out how to get things back on track.

Stevens and Idol came back for a slightly shaky acoustic version of "White Wedding" before the band came on for the full-on rock version. This was followed by a drum solo and a lengthy version of the classic "Mony, Mony."

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Coming in at about 90 minutes, it seemed to me they cut the show a bit short, with only one song from the new album. Maybe that was because of the shaky vocals. Or maybe they just wanted to get off stage and get some elephant ears from the food stands. 

Here's a couple of videos from the show including some Steve Stevens guitar pyrotechnics...

 I'll try to post some more videos from the show later on.

Civil twilightOpening act Civil Twilight from South Africa did an admirable job trying to entertain a crowd of aging boomers doing their best not to go blind from staring into the setting sun. The band played as a trio, with brothers McKellar on bass and guitar and fellow countryman Richard Wouters on drums.

The band  delivered a mix of song ranging in style from U2 to Peter Gabriel with a bit of Paul Simon "Graceland" polyrhythmic vibe. Highlights of their set included a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" and their final song, a lively upbeat number called "When Am I Going to See You Again?"  They are definitely be worth catching on their own US tour later this summer.


Mike Marlin US Tour

Marlin2

Indie rocker Mike Marlin is on tour with his band the MeloManiacs hitting the midwest and eastern US for a couple of weeks to promote the new album "The Secret of My Success."  They'll be in Chicago, Wisconsin, Cleveland, New York, DC, Cambridge and Connecticut. Definitely worth catching live if they're in your area. Last time Mike and crew were slated to tour the US was with the Stranglers in 2013, and sadly they weren't able to make the gigs happen. 

The new album is an excellent, if sombre, follow up to the 2012 release "Grand Reveal." There are a lot of interesting influences and comparisons here with Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, U2 and various and sundry '70s classic rock. 

Update:

I managed to catch the band in Cleveland earlier this week at a club called Wilbert's. Despite the rather drunken crowd of baseball fans, it was an excellent gig. The first set was basically a sound check before the game. The second set, after the game, was excellent including songs from the new album, as well as older songs "Grand Reveal," "The Magician" and an impromptu version of The Beatles' "Come Together."  The MeloManiacs are playing as a trio with Mike Marlin on rhythm guitar, Kim Murray playing fantastic lead guitar and Paul Silver rounding things out on keyboards and backing vocals.  This a great trio and it gives the songs a more laid back vibe. Still, I would have loved to have had the full band with drums and bass tackling songs like "Skull Beneath the Skin" or "The Murderer."  Hopefully there will be another tour in the future.

I shot some video which I've posted below and will follow up with a Q&A interview with the man himself next week.


Springsteen Relives The River

Springsteen

I managed to catch Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band live this week at The Palace at Auburn Hills, Michigan.  I'm not the biggest Springsteen fan, but I have friends who have been telling me for years about his epic live shows.  If you've never been, it is definitely a revival experience.

His current 2016  tour commemorates the 35th anniversary of his 1980 double album "The River." (Interesting historical fact, the original River tour began in October 1980 at Crisler Arena in nearby Ann Arbor.)

For Springsteen fans, this was definitely a homecoming concert. Springsteen and the latest incarnation of the E Street Band play the entire double album, and then proceed into a lengthy repertoire of hits: "Bad Lands," "Promised Land," "Rosalita," "Dancing in the Dark," "Because the Night," "Born In The USA," and even the old Isley Brothers song "Shout" with Bob Seger joining the band on stage. (Further historical fact, Seger joined Springsteen on stage at Crisler Stadium back in 1980 to sing "Thunder Road.")  

For a man who has crossed the 65 year mark, Springsteen has a remarkable amount of energy. This was a three and a half hour all-out high-energy show, with no breaks. Springsteen is certainly not phoning it in. He was out in the audience, crowd surfing, and getting the audience up on their feet. The band is impeccable with Max Weinberg's powerful drumming, Steven Van Zandt on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, Nils Lofgren on lead guitar, and Jake Clemons stepping in for his uncle, the late, great Clarence Clemons.  

Die hard fans seemed to know the words to every song, even the deep cuts off The River that never got much airplay. The audience was a sea of old people reliving their youth, dancing to the music and enjoying the vibe. When Springsteen and band are giving it their all up on stage, it's hard not to appreciate their energy and enthusiasm. 


Ever Get The Feeling You've Been Cheated?

Goodbye Winterland front

With those memorable words, Johnny Rotten ended the final Sex Pistols concert at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco in January 1978. Rotten parted company with the band, though they released a few other singles without him as well as the miserable Julian Temple film "The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle." 

Although most reports from this era say they weren't playing very well, concert footage from Winterland and bootleg albums, tell a different story.  Yes, there are times when the band appears to just want to get things over with --particularly on "No Fun," the Stooges song that served as an encore. The vocals are rough, Steve Jones guitar is occasionally out of tune and Sid's bass playing is not always excellent. But it's still much better than I had expected.  

It also seems that in San Francisco, the band found a receptive audience. The show was recorded for local San Jose radio station KSAN and so bootlegs are available if you know where to look.  The sound check bootleg is particularly good.  


Wishbone Ash - Live at Callahan's

Wishbone ash live

I managed to catch legendary '70s UK rock band Wishbone Ash at Callahan's, a small cub outside Detroit. While Wishbone Ash never had the radio airplay of UK bands like Led Zeppelin or Mott the Hoople, they were every bit as influential. The band was formed in 1969 and put out some of the most rocking, forward looking albums ever. The created a unique meld of English folk, UK blues, and proto-prog rock. But most especially they were famous for inventing the twin lead guitar sound, influencing such bands as Thin Lizzie, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Def Leppard to name a few.

This was one of the best live gigs I've ever seen. This is a phenomenally tight band, owing to the fact that the current lineup has been recording and touring together for about 10 years under the leadership of founding guitar player and vocalist Andy Powell.

The set included many of their classic songs from their most famous album "Argus" from 1972 as well as other songs from the '80s and from their most recent album, 2014's "Blue Horizon."  And unlike a lot of long-running bands the newest material worked great and was just as strong as the classics.  Powell's vocals, as well as the harmonies from bass player Bob Skeat and guitarist Muddy Manninem were superb. Given the small venue, it was a rare opportunity to see a legendary band up close. I was particularly taken with the impressive bass work on what looked like a very heavy duty six-string bass. 

Here's some video from the gig, including my favorite song "Time Was." (Yes, I was the guy shouting for them to play it and I'm glad I did since it wasn't on the set list.) I have a few more videos that I'll try to add in the coming days.

If you're not familiar with Wishbone Ash, I encourage you to check out their compilation album "Time Was Collection" or the latest release "Blue Horizon."  And by all means, go out of your way to see them live!

While this was my first visit to Callahan's, it won't be my last. It's a great venue and looks to have a steady lineup of national touring blues and rock bands.  


The Return of House of Floyd

Hof-rio-theatre-may-9-2015

I happened to be back in Santa Cruz for a brief visit and was delighted to see that, House of Floyd, one of my favorite tribute bands, had a gig at the Rio theater in Santa Cruz. As lead guitarist Pat Potter said, playing in Santa Cruz is like homecoming week. It was a full house and fans were excited to see the band in full form with lasers, smoke machines, a trippy video montage and of course a giant pig. 

Hof-1JPGOne of the best things about seeing House of Floyd, is that it's a different show every time. The Pink Floyd catalog is so deep, that there is always an exciting mix of songs. There are always plenty of hits like "Wish You Were Here", "Shine on You Crazy Diamond", "Great Gig in the Sky" along  slightly more obscure tracks from the Syd Barrett era. 

Having seen the band perform over a number of years, it's clear they just keep getting better. It's a remarkable achievement that they're able to put on such a consistently high quality performance at every gig. In particular, the vocals are absolutely spot on, as a result of 4 strong male vocalists, not to mention the excellent backing vocals. 

Here's some videos from the show shot with my iPhone 6 Plus, a definite improvement on my old iPhone.

 House of Floyd will be touring through the summer and fall, and I encourage you to sign up for their newsletter so you can keep track of their schedule.


Nick Lowe's Quality Holiday Revue

Nick Lowe - Los Straitjackets

I managed to catch Nick Lowe and his Quality Holiday Review at The Ark in Ann Arbor this week. What a great show! Nick played a short acoustic set and was then joined on stage by the fabulous surf-guitar band Los Straitjackets. While you might find this to be an incongruous mashup, especially given the mexican wrestling masks, it worked perfectly. They added a retro-modern shimmer to the whole show.

Despite my concerns that a "Holiday Revue" would mean a lot of cliché'd christmas songs, the set was a great blend of classic Nick Lowe, more recent works, instrumentals by Los Straitjackets and a few obscure and wry Christmas songs from his recent album "Quality Street." Highlights for me included "Cruel to be Kind", "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding," and a mostly instrumental version of "I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass."  I posted a few videos on YouTube:

Nick lowe quality revueSadly, Ian MacLagan, keyboard player with legendary band The Faces was supposed to be the opening act, but died just a few days before the tour began. Los Straitjackets played a beautiful instrumental version of "Itchycoo Park" that sent shivers through me.

Kudos to the mythical Jasper Sailfin for his nice photos of the event.  You can view more of his work at Zenfolio.

 


X - Live in New York City

X - NYC

The seminal '80s punk band X is playing 4 nights at the City Winery in New York as well as touring other major cities. I had the good fortune of being in town and catching the opening night during which they played their debut album "Los Angeles" in its entirety. Punk rock being what it is, that's a fairly short album, so they came back for another full set of songs from later periods of their career and then a final encore.  

While I was a huge fan of late '70s / early '80s punk and new wave from New York and the UK, I never really got into the LA bands of that era. When I did listen to some of the bands over the years, the production always felt a bit too raw. But seeing X live last night makes me reconsider my assessment.  

As a live band, X was incredibly tight. You could argue that since they've been playing these songs on and off for more than 30 years that's expected. But I've seen many bands falter in similar circumstances, messing with the arrangements, trying to change things up in ways that don't need changing. X was as tight as a bottle of Scotch. The combination of Billy Zoom's driving guitar parts and DJ Bonebrake's drumming was like a freight train going 70 miles an hour. Add to that John Doe's bass lines, some added keyboards and the slightly off-kilter vocals of Doe and ex-wife Exene Cervenka and you have something that is unique. Needless to say, the audience loved it. 

While many would dismiss LA punk (or punk rock in general) for it's lack of musical talent, X, and more specifically Billy Zoom, fall into a different league altogether. Zoom is a multi-instrumentalist who played with rockabilly legend Gene Vincent for a period. His idea for X was to take the stripped down rock and roll style of the Ramones and add to it a bit more musicality. While X never sold a lot of records, they influenced a lot of bands. And Zoom's complex guitar parts stands a cut above most bands, punk or not.

Here's some video from the show. And let me apologize in advance for only getting part of X's brilliant cover of The Doors' "Soul Kitchen."

If you're in New York, you should definitely see this band.  They are touring the east coast and also have dates in Chicago, Michigan and Ohio.


Marshall Crenshaw - Live in NYC

Marshall crenshaw nyc

This summer I've been traveling frequently to New York on business. Between Greenwich village and Soho there's always a ton of live music in the area. It was my good fortune to see Marshall Crenshaw and his band at City Winery in Soho last night. They played a two hour "by request" set including many of his most popular songs as well as covers of Buddy Holly, the MC5, The Who and more. 

Crenshaw is somewhat of an anacrhonism with his '50s meets '80s rock 'n' roll style, but he embodies the best of those eras. Crenshaw's voice seems not to have aged at all, his guitar playing is melodic and flowing. His bandmates provided a well-balanced sound delivering a powerful rhythm section, great backing vocals and some added guitar fire power.

Crenshaw is continuing to tour the rest of the summer through Texas, Arizona and California and is well worth catching. For those in New York,  City Winery has a lot of great shows coming up in August and September including Buster Poindexter, Southside Johnny, Aaron Neville, Albert Lee, Three Dog Night, X, Jeff Bridges, John Mayall Billy Bragg, Jackie Greene and more.

Here's some video from the show:


Collective Soul in Traverse City

Collective soul tc

Collective Soul was among the rock bands playing at this year's Cherry Festival in Traverse city.  It was a great show and the band had a ton of added energy with a new guitar player.  It was a warm summer night, there was cold beer, and lots of tattoo'd fans in attendance.  Collective Soul also has a new album coming out which fits in great with the rest of their catalog.

Here's a video of "December" which sounded great: