Live Music: Charles Aznavour at the Greek Theatre

September 15, 2014

By Don Heckman

What is there to say about a 90 year old French singer/songwriter with the ability to mesmerize a packed house at the Greek Theatre? Not much that Charles Aznavour didn’t himself say at the Greek on Saturday night. Not just in his words, although there were plenty, in both French and English. What Aznavour had to say was based on musicality, lyricism, emotion and warmly intimate communication.

There may come a time when the vision of a nonagenarian singing a nearly two hour long program, strolling, sometimes dancing, across the stage, interacting humorously with his listeners and his musicians and winding up seeming as energetic as when he began, won’t be a rarity. But until that enlightened time, anyone who’s been fortunate enough to see and hear Aznavour in action – Saturday night at the Greek and elsewhere – will surely remember the experience as the rare and remarkable event that it was.

Sometimes described as France’s Sinatra, Aznavour performed with the kind of dynamism associated with Ol’ Blue Eye’s live performances. But Aznavour, who is also a brilliant songwriter, with a thousand or more songs to his credit, in four different languages had a more far ranging set of creative skills to offer.

Add to that his extraordinary ease on stage. At one point he paused in singing to address the age old question directed at songwriters – What came first, the words or the music? And on one song, he was joined in a delightful duet by one of his daughters.

The program of Aznavour originals ran the gamut of his grand catalog of works. Among them, such Aznavour classics as “Mon Ami, Mon Judas,” “La Boheme,” “She,” “Je Voyage,” his remarkably touching “Ave Maria,” one of his most-covered songs, “Yesterday, When I Was Young” and “What Makes A Man,” the song that triggered some of the most enthusiastic audience response of the evening.

But the central, most mesmerizing aspect of this memorable performance was the still potent quality of Aznavour’s captivating vocals. Soaring across octaves, from a rich baritone to penetrating head tones, he brought each phrase vividly to life, applying his stunning musicality to the story-telling enhancement of every song.

Rumors of Aznavour’s retirement were heard over the past year in Europe and the U.S. But he has repeatedly denied them. One can only hope that he will in fact return again to Los Angeles, and the many other cities on his usual itinerary before he actually does write finis to his incomparable performance career. Charles Aznavour is, has been and will always be one of a kind.

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson


Live Music: ZZ Top and Jeff Beck at the Greek Theatre

August 18, 2014

By Mike Finkelstein

Los Angeles, CA.  Cool is one of those qualities that, although hard to precisely define, we sure do recognize when we see it. On Wednesday night at the Greek Theatre, Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons, two of the coolest guitar personalities to ever spank the plank, shared a double bill, and also found time to share the stage. These are two who have the cool  in their delivery and style. And as both approach 70 years old their continued prowess with their instruments is inspiring. For guitar enthusiasts this was must see live work and it satisfied mightily.

Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck went onstage shortly after sundown in a black vest, a wrapped scarf, and the same haircut we have known him with for nearly 50 years. The silhouette is very familiar. For years from the seventies on, his bands have featured him playing with one talented keyboardist or another (Max Middleton and Jan Hammer are notable alums). On Wednesday, there were no keyboards, instead he had a second guitar player, a dynamic young female bassist and a monster drummer… and for more than half of his set he had ex-Wet Willie vocalist and long time collaborator, Jimmy Hall, singing a batch of his more bluesy, guitar-and-vocals oriented tunes.

Beck’s set began instrumentally with “Loaded,” and the band stretched out nicely over a cover of “You Know You Know,” by the Mahavishnu Orchestra.  Bassist Rhonda Smith in particular, shined on this,serving up a contrasting mix of slapping and undulating bends.

Lately, no Jeff Beck show is without his instrumental version of the Beatles’ “A Day In The Life.” On Wednesday that tune was classic JB, with all the dynamics and nuance he is famous for injecting into his interpretations.  Much has been written over the years about his style and he truly stands alone in that nobody else does what he does and if they try to, we know where they got the ideas. It is his multitasking right hand that sets him apart. That right hand often does two or three things at once.  Whether he is tapping the strings, delicately nudging the vibrato arm, working the volume knob, or just ripping open a power chord it all takes a beautiful form. He hangs his hat on controlling chaos in his sound. It blows like a tornado and then stops and pivots on a dime.

Jimmy Hall

Jimmy Hall

Halfway through the set, Hall came onstage and they reached way back to the Truth album for “Morning Dew.” It’s a powerful song, whether sung by Rod Stewart (on Truth) or by Hall this time. And it’s a great example of how much more than the sum of the parts a vocal line and guitar line can elevate to. They also continued on to cover Jimi Hendrix’ “Little Wing,” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.”

But the direction of the evening was shown with last two selections of “Goin’ Down,” from Rough and Ready, and the British blues/rock staple, “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” At the end of his set, his “Aw Shucks” grin and slouch said it all. But we would see Beck again, later in the evening.

ZZ Top came on next as the headliner, and put on a uniquely stylized rock ‘n’ roll show. The stage set had a distinctly automotive theme to it, from the red and green lights in the bass drums, to the truck smokestacks that supported the mike stands, and there were many projected slides of sparkplugs displayed like fine hors d’oeuvres.

One really can’t discuss ZZ Top without acknowledging the presence of the beards. Both bassist Dusty Hill and guitarist Billy Gibbons have beards down past their sternums and also wear black sunglasses, dark hats and similar but happily not identical black pants, coats and shoes. You could say they each look like a cross between Cousin It (Addam’s family) and the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers…but can they ever play and dance. The way they carry themselves onstage is one of a kind. Together it’s magic, a comic combination of effortless, confident, and impressive. … and all of these are key strands of cool.

ZZ Top

ZZ Top

Both Gibbons and Hill are thinner than you might imagine, and light on their feet in a laid back way. Gibbons is pretty much gaunt, but he slides around stage with the same cool fluidity he exudes on guitar.  The two beards can still dance the choreographed steps they learned in the bars and roadhouses of Texas coming up through the ranks. Who knew the dancing and their style would get them noticed, big-time, on MTV in the 80’s? It does look cool, but it wouldn’t mean anything if it didn’t sound like ZZ Top.

For a three-piece band, ZZT puts out a lot of sound. They keep the riffs and the riff-support simple but it sounds tremendous. The bass and guitar are usually playing in unison to make the figure sound as big as possible. The drums were thunderous and on one of the toms there was a huge reverb trigger at work. But on top of it all is Billy Gibbons’ legendary guitar tone…and that’s what sets ZZ Top’s sound apart.

One has to hear Gibbons’ tone to appreciate it. On Wednesday he played a customized old gold top Les Paul. He often plays with a quarter or a peso instead of a guitar pick, and this enables him to put all sorts of overtones off the top of the string with the metal on metal contact. He also has his amps dialed in for huge but not overblown sustain, and very little dirt in his distortion. The end result is a tremendous, clean and bright, clear and soft, lead tone and a magnificently overdriven, but clean rhythm tone.

The band cruised through crowd favorites such as “Waitin’ for the Bus,” “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” “ Gimme All Your Lovin’,” and even covered Jimi Hendrix with an impressive rendition of “Foxy Lady.” But perhaps the most telling song was their cover of Muddy Waters’ “Catfish Blues.” There’s just something about the way ZZ Top plays blues that isn’t remotely like so many other bands that just rock the blues into a distorted and boring cliche. While they do turn it up, ZZ Top’s rhythm section takes a less is definitely more approach for the blues. And again, Gibbons’ guitar tone, just squeezing out the sparks and wheezes was phenomenal. They linked the elusive sparsely powerful intimacy of the old Chicago blues with the big oomph of power trio rock music…not so easy to do well.

ZZ Top’s encore was the big treat and the moment of anticipation- Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons on the same stage.  Bring it on. It wasn’t so much a showdown as a chance for us to finally corral two of the more distinctive rock guitar stylists ever on one stage. Many guitar players who share a stage with Jeff Beck are in awe. Gibbons was simply playing with a peer, so there was no tension to break. Gibbons switched to a Fender Telecaster, so as not to overpower Beck’s Stratocaster.  They Played “La Grange,” and “Tush,” of course, but the coolest song had to be a cover of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons.” Between Gibbons’ low, murmuring growls on the vocal, it was a fine showcase of the two styles and in the end the winner was the audience.

Cool is one of those qualities we tend to associate with youth but it’s really quite remarkable to see older folks retain it and wear it so effortlessly. Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons are still two of the cooler cats you’ll ever see nearing seventy years old and playing killer guitar.

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To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

 


Live Music: Furthur, with Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, Celebrate the Music of the Grateful Dead at the Greek Theatre

October 7, 2013

By Mike Finkelstein

It’s rather phenomenal, the way the Grateful Dead tradition continues to thrive. On Saturday evening, Furthur, featuring two original G.D. smembers — rhythm guitarist Bob Weir and bassist Phil Lesh – hosted the second night of a sold out, jam-packed, three-night weekend stint in perfect evening weather at the Greek Theatre. Last year they did two nights at the Greek, this year they did three. So it seems that their popularity is increasing.

It was nothing short of a tribal gathering as the ceremony commenced in the parking lot with friends meeting, reconnecting, and sharing set lists in the familiar haze of weed, tie-dye and patchouli oil.

Further

Further

In the wake of lead guitarist and spiritual leader Jerry Garcia’s death more than 18 years ago, Furthur (Bob Weir/guitars,vocals, Phil Lesh/bass, John Kadlecik/guitar,vocals, Jeff Chimenti/keyboards, Joe Russon/drums, Sunshine Becker/backing vocals, Jeff Pehrson/backing vocals) is the most popular lineup to carry the G.D. torch. The name was cleverly lifted from the placard atop the psychedelic bus driven by Merry Prankster Neal Cassady during the legendary Acid Tests of the mid-1960’s. After all, the Grateful Dead were actually on that bus as the house band for the festivities.

The Furthur format is a proven winner: play lots of fan favorite Grateful Dead songs; throw in tasty covers; have guests who get the psychedelic mindset sit in(they will know the vibe and the tunes, and love playing them); change the set list each night, relax and jam. The tribe will certainly take care of the rest.

Further

Further

Many superb musicians started out as Dead fans themselves, and as they came up, they learned by listening to tapes, and going to the shows, to improvise in that style. This was a simple labor of love. From the beginning the band was very friendly and supportive to their listeners about everything audience-related. (In fact, this approach has served as a model for similar Dead-inspired bands like String Cheese Incident and Phish in building their lasting audience bonds.) The Dead always encouraged and enabled their fans to participate in taping their shows. It follows that there is a whole lot of live audio in circulation for people to learn from in depth. With Jerry Garcia dearly departed, there is essentially a giant hole in the surviving sound, right up there on stage, that can be filled by a baker’s dozen of very talented Dead fans from other bands.

Lead guitarist Jon Kadlecik’s route into Furthur is worth noting because he was recruited from his own renowned Dead tribute band, Dark Star Orchestra. If Bob Weir and Phil Lesh want you to. leave your tribute band to join them, of course you’ve gotta go for it. Kadlecik’s voice and guitar do sound hauntingly like Garcia ‘s and it’s not at all hard to see why they would want him in the lineup.

The Further Bus

The Further Bus

Saturday’s guests were guitarists Jonathon Wilson and Neil Casal, neither of whom are in tribute bands. Both are established in their own right, but are fans and totally get the G.D. vibe and the esthetic. They fit right in and Casal, in particular, sounded great singing over the band as though he, too, had always been there. He did a winsome job with “Scarlet Begonias” to start the second set and, later, a transcendent version of the Beatles’ “Across the Universe.”

Saturday’s show began with the usual noodling warm-up, out of which inevitably creeps a recognizable phrase from one or another G.D. tunes. Once the phrase surfaces, a ripple of recognition seems to spread across the crowd. Tonight the opening tune was “Feel Like A Stranger,” which was followed by an invigorated version of “Friend of the Devil.” By the time they were ready to launch into a crowd pleasing “Bertha,” special guest Jonathon Wilson had plugged in his Stratocaster and played lead guitar in the pocket between Bob Weir and John Kadlecik. He stayed on stage for three more tunes till the end of the first set and sounded like he was always part of the band. “New Speedway Boogie,” from Workingman’s Dead sounded particularly upbeat, powered by the three guitars and a fine vocal from Weir.

Phil Lesh and Bob Weir

Watching Bob Weir and Phil Lesh play the Furthur material does turn attention to the fact that both guys have a very unique approach to their instrument. There is a signature sound between the drums, bass and lead guitar that these two have always provided. It still sounds remarkably unique, yet completely familiar to Dead fans.

For any chord progression the band may be following, Weir rarely uses basic chords during the jam section. Instead, it’s all about setting up a rhythm guitar part that is as interesting yet unobtrusive as possible. He usually has several alternative chord routes through the song using inversions and playing off of the percussion. The general effect is to open up a rhythmically enticing space for the soloists to groove upon…and not step on anyone else’s musical feet in the process. What Weir does with the possibilities for rhythm guitar is art. And on Saturday, Weir even stepped up several times to play harmony leads with Kadlecik.

Phil Lesh has always been one of the more unorthodox sounding bass players in rock circles. His style is busy and bouncy, much like the motion of boiling water. It’s always fun to focus on his bass lines because he takes some odd angles. It often sounds like he’s experimenting as he goes and the tension draws us in. For this show, he looked positively jazzed as he ran up and down his six string bass. Two more strings means all the more possibilities for Phil to explore and he was certainly running with it.

Saturday night featured a savory version of “Terrapin Station,” nearly twenty minutes of structured, melodic jazz and progressive rock interplay. This is what the G.D. were up to in about 1977. The crowd dug it immensely and pieces of music like this one are what still drive the Grateful Dead mystique.

In the end, Furthur is the direct connection to the Grateful Dead tradition. Though Jerry Garcia is gone, Jon Kalecik maintained his place in the sound masterfully. Moreover, Weir and Lesh, two of the very unique elements that made up the band’s sound, remain as musically recognizable as ever. The whole thing works perhaps on a higher level than the Dead were on towards the end, but it isn’t completely the Dead. Still, the sound is revitalized. The tribe thrives and they are showing up.

That being said, Furthur will be on hiatus during 2014 and Lesh is 73 with a transplanted liver. So, catch ’em while you can.

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To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.


Live Jazz: Diana Krall at the Greek Theatre

September 22, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles, CA. One of the great pleasures of reviewing music is the rare opportunity to observe the creative evolution of a gifted artist. It doesn’t happen often. But when it does, as it did at Diana Krall’s concert at the Greek Theatre Saturday night, it’s an experience to remember.

Diana’s Los Angeles concerts of the past few years have generally showcased her mastery of the classics in the Great American songbook, performed with backing ranging from the intimacy of her own quartets to the lush orchestral accompaniment of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Each of those events displayed her growing creative maturity. Always a natural musical story teller, she brought a heightening level of interpretive magic to every song she touched, adding new perspectives to music long familiar as part of the soundtrack of American life.

Diana Krall

Diana Krall

On Saturday night at the Greek Theatre, however, she revealed an even more compelling desire to expand the potential of her art. She did so while still retaining her deep connections with many of the songs her dedicated audiences love to hear her sing and play. While also adding intriguing, early ’20s selections from her latest album, Glad Rag Doll.

And that was just one aspect of this memorable performance.

Start with the fact that virtually all the music was illuminated by huge video projections of vintage film clips, all selected by Krall. Among the many highlights in the non-stop images: Groucho Marx romancing Margaret Dumont; George Raft dancing elegantly with Carole Lombard; and dozens of others, embracing everything from classic cartoons to black and white masterpieces.

Diana has often referred to a Canadian childhood in which she was introduced by her parents to the music and films of the ’20s, `30s and ’40s. And her long program – delivered without a break, and with a four-song encore — honored that influence by her choices of music and film clips, while positioning one of her father’s old gramophones on the front of stage left, and including a segment in which she sang while playing an old upright piano.

Add to that a selection of repertoire that included such Songbook classics as “We Just Couldn’t say Goodbye,” “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” “The Sunny Side of the Street,” “Just You, Just Me,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” and more. While including tunes associated with Nat “King” Cole and Bing Crosby, and adding songs by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Band, and Tom Waits. All of it delivered by Krall with convincing understanding of each of the song’s musical stories.

Diana Krall and her Band

Diana Krall and her Band

Krall was backed in her artistically ambitious endeavors by a superb group – guitarist Aram Bajakian, bassist Dennis Crouch, ukulele player Stuart Duncan, drummer Karriem Riggins and keyboardist Patrick Warren. Well-tuned to the eclectic styles her program demanded – hard swinging jazz, simmering rock and intimate balladry – they were the perfect choice to support her musical goals.

But the most fascinating subtext of the evening was the emergence of Diana Krall as a mature, evolved performer whose growing artistry has become balanced by equally magnetic skills as a communicator and an entertainer. It’s a rare combination, and Krall now expresses those skills with a convincing believability that firmly places her in the rarified group of Olympian artists she honored in her mesmerizing evening of music and visuals.

Photos by Faith Frenz.


Live Music: Peter Frampton’s Guitar Circus at the Greek Theatre

September 8, 2013

By Mike Finkelstein

Sometimes life can be so poetic. In 1980, as Peter Frampton’s career was at a low ebb, he lost his most prized possession. He lost his Les Paul black beauty. This was his main axe and a huge, iconic part of his musical identity. It’s the one he played on Humble Pie’s Rockin’ the Fillmore and on Frampton Comes Alive. The guitar wasn’t stolen from him. It actually went down off the coast of Venezuela in a fiery airplane crash. The pilot died and the plane sank with all of Frampton’s gear including his prized and simply one of kind Les Paul black beauty.

Well, apparently the guitar was rescued quickly and was actually played by a local musician in Curacao for decades, with no idea of the instrument’s history. A local guitar repairman there, with the help of a Dutch Frampton fan helped get the ax back to Pete in 2011. Now at age 62, Frampton’s career and his guitar playing have been on a wonderfully climbing arc since that time. He actually played the black Les Paul in all of its battered, matted glory in late August, when he brought his Guitar Circus into the Greek Theatre before a full house.

And what about this Guitar Circus? The Guitar Circus format calls for different well known artists in each city to come onstage and play with Pete and his band. It’s a return to featured jamming and it’s quite entertaining. While the bill also features BB King and Sonny Landreth, there is nightly anticipation about who will be PF’s guests onstage. This is because guests on previous nights have included talents as diverse as Roger McGuinn, Steve Cropper, Robert Cray, and Leslie West.

Frampton’s Greek Theatre set featured a sampling of his tunes from the ’70’s and 2000’s along with a tasty array of covers that served to showcase his enormous guitar prowess. His solo material has aged quite well. Songs like “Lines on My Face,” “I’ll Give you Money,” “ Show Me the Way ,” and “Do You Feel Like I Do,” were as familiar, vibrant and balanced as ever. He can go from an appealingly light pop song such as “Baby I Love Your Way,” to a cover of a crunching alternative metal tune like “Black Hole Sun,” by Soundgarden,…and they both sound as though they belong to be heard back to back. Crossing genres and eras is something that Frampton has mastered. The songs sound fresh and vibrant in his hands.

In terms of guitar playing, it’s not that Frampton plays blindingly fast, though at times at the Greek he most certainly did. It’s his tone, which is basically second to none. He lives in the sweet spot of every guitar sound he uses. His tone is a pure, clean, mid range. It’s bright but not shrill, cool and airy but fat too, when he wants it to be.

To watch Frampton and his band (Dan Wojciechowski-Drums, Rob Arthur- keys, guitar, harmony vocals , Adam Lester- Guitar, and Stanley Sheldon – bass) lay it down is to watch a clinic on letting dynamics and strategic restraint do great work for you. Another thing was obvious too, that it never hurts the effort to be heard when you have a Fender Rhodes keyboard in the mix.

Frampton and co. always found the open space for the guitar’s purest tones to shine in. But the bottom line is that he can just flat out rip it up on guitar. Having a band that sets the table so well is icing on the cake. He looked so satisfied plunging into song after song and laying down each line, obviously knowing how sweet it would sound. Remarkable.

The first guest of the night was Dean De Leo of Stone Temple Pilots. He came on and led the band through “Interstate Love Affair,” and “Vaseline,” doing all the solos himself and with Peter’s son Julian doing the singing. Frampton and the guys clearly enjoyed a chance to back someone else and step outside of themselves for a bit.

Next on was no less than Andy Summers of the Police carrying his familiar red Stratocaster. He piloted the band through “Message in a Bottle” as rhythm guitarist Adam Lester did a fine job delivering the Sting vocals. Summers played his rear end off on this tune, much more vigorously than with the Police. Brilliant! Next, they did a jam on “Synchronicity I” where Pete and Andy exchanged composed yet frenzied leads. No doubt about it, Andy Summers came to play.

The encore turned out to be a great version of the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Frampton, DeLeo (through a wah wah pedal), and Summers all took solos in a heavy but clear send up for the evening.

BB King was second billed and at the age of 87 rapidly approaching 88 next month he did do a lot of sitting and kibitzing onstage like a lovable grandpa. He did not tickle his black Gibson semi-hollow body, Lucille that often … but she did have a lot of sustain behind her. Towards the end of the set, Frampton came out, sat down next to BB and while listening to the stories, grinning ear to ear, snuck in a devastating run or two or three.

At his age BB has earned the right to play a little less. He sounded good when he did play but he did far more talking. He even looked downright impressed as he looked across and checked out PF laying down the blues over his band.

Sonny Landreth and his trio from New Orleans got the evening going with a short set before the sun went down. He plays in a uniquely arpeggiated style, combining slide guitar and fretted leads. It seemed that it shouldn’t sound that intricate when his fingers actually didn’t look the least bit busy. His right hand is a big part of this sound. He often passes on a plectrum and attacks the strings with his fingers extended much like a bassist.

All in all this was an extraordinary night of music at the Greek. To see Frampton making that same battle-scarred black Les Paul sing again looked and sounded like destiny. I hope there is more to come.

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To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.


Live Music: Heart and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience at the Greek Theatre

August 29, 2013

By Mike Finkelstein

Los Angeles, CA.  Last Friday night at the Greek Theatre, Heart and Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience shared the bill and the stage with the looming presence of Led Zeppelin in absentia. There actually were more Led Zeppelin songs played this evening than those of anyone else.   Friday’s show saw Heart do their crunching melodic ’70’s tunes, the power ballads of the mid ’80’s, and then tighten up their Led Zep connection with John Bonham’s son Jason.

Heart’s two remaining original members are the talented and charismatic Wilson sisters, Ann and Nancy Wilson. In the mid/early 70’s the Wilsons helped form Heart and developed a unique, attractive sound that combined folk harmonies, melodies, and instrumentation with heavy power chording and nifty riffing. They also developed a strong visual esthetic revolving around the roving gypsy notion of touring rock musicians (Little Queen). The fact that the Wilson sisters were romantically entwined with their fellow band mates only added to the effect.

Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart

Folk music and blues/rock proved to be a mere entry point for what would follow in Zeppelin’s career. It’s also no secret that the Wilson sisters and many other developing musical minds of that period revered and studied Led Zeppelin’s combination of different styles with magical results.

Fusing folk and heavy rock, Heart hit it big in 1976. They became rock icons, mainstays at the top of the charts and people knew their albums inside out for the remainder of the decade. On Friday night they trotted out the hits in their rock ‘n’ roll glory. “Magic Man,” “Even It Up,” “Barracuda,” “Kick It Out,” all satisfied the crowd mightily. And they should. These are songs that featured the pretty ladies rocking as hard and writing as well as the very talented dudes in the band. When Heart released a new single you just knew there were going to be several guitar breaks worth sitting down to learn and perk up for when it came onto the radio.

On Friday, at age 59, Nancy Wilson still riffed, swayed, kicked, and rocked like the true lil’ rocker she is. Perhaps the most compelling moments came when she played acoustic guitar. She gets a lot of cleanly articulated arpeggios out of her strumming and chord-wise, she was right there on songs like “Mistral Wind” and, particularly, on Zeppelin’s “The Rain Song.” “Crazy on You” was one of their very first hits and it started with a short but sweet montage of acoustic guitar styling from Nancy Wilson. She gave us what we were waiting for and some extra on that intro. Including Elton John’s tender ballad “I Need You to Turn to,” was also a nice nod to the 70’s aesthetic.

Heart had a huge ’80’s rebirth as they pioneered the power ballad genre. Weepy, overblown, contrived, flashy, silly power ballads came to define a rather insipid chapter in the general decline of rock ‘n’ roll. Not long after power ballads had taken over the radio, Nirvana’s alternative Nevermind blew the doors off the scene. It was all over for the purveyors of power ballads.

On Friday, Heart’s power ballads were stripped of the over-the-top frills and recognizable as better songs than we tend to remember them. Ann Wilson’s voice carried these songs so impressively. Though I hate to admit it, I heard the angst and tension in songs like “What About Love,” and “Alone” much more clearly than years ago.

Jason Bonham and Led Zeppelin Experience

Jason Bonham and Led Zeppelin Experience

The most intriguing part of the evening centered around Jason Bonham joining Heart onstage for a Led Zeppelin mini-set encore. The Heart connection with Led Zeppelin began last year at the Kennedy Center Awards ceremony. At this event Heart played a transcendent version of “Stairway to Heaven,” one that Plant, Page, and Jones were seen to profoundly enjoy on YouTube. That is bona fide validation.

With Bonham, Heart covered a lot of different musical entries from the LZ catalogue. Beginning with one of the best covers you’ll ever hear of “Battle of Evermore,” the Wilson sisters on mandolin and guitar channeled Sandy Denny and Robert Plant simultaneously. Fantastic rendition. They brought out members of Bonham’s band for “The Song Remains the Same,” “The Immigrant Song(!)” “The Rain Song,” “Kashmir,” and of course “Stairway to Heaven.” Bonham played his dad’s parts effortlessly.  He had all the bass heavy tone we were listening for and his combination of finesse and buff, wrist-rooted power drumming was impressive.

The Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience band walks a fine line between being a top-notch tribute band and keeping the family name alive. JB is known mostly for reproducing his dad’s style and sound. The JBLZE also feature two of the more impressive Zeppelin impersonators you will ever see.

Tony Catania had all the Jimmy Page LZ studio guitar sounds nailed on a cherry sunburst Les Paul and got them across intact to our ears in the open night air of the Greek. That’s an impressive feat. He wasn’t satisfied to just copy the studio solos and played around with the Page sound, which must be like getting the keys to a classic old muscle car with a full tank of gas.

James Dylan was right on the money with the Robert Plant parts. In particular, he not only hit the high, heavy parts but in songs like “What Is and What Should Never Be,” he actually did the soft nearly spoken parts sounding just like Plant. He had the whole spectrum of Plant’s voice down pat.

Still, all of this is what it is…yet another opportunity to vicariously revisit the Led Zeppelin legacy.

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To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.


Picks of the Week: July 30 – Aug 4

July 30, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Dr. John

Dr. John

- July 31. (Wed.)  Props to Pops: Dr. John’s Tribute to Louis Armstrong. An entertaining blend of old and new jazz, tinged with a New Orleans touch.  Featured guests include Dee Dee Bridgewater, Terence Blanchard, Arturo Sandoval and more.  The Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2000.

- July 31. (Wed.)  Tom Ranier Trio.  Pianist Ranier takes a break from his busy studio work to showcase his impressive jazz skills.  He’ll be backed by Abe Laboriel, bass and Steve Schaeffer, drums.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

- Aug. 2. (Fri.)  Chicago, The Band. The Grammy winning, multi-platinum band from the ‘60s is going strong.  Expect to hear such hits as “Just You ‘n’ Me,” “25 Or 6 To 4,” “Saturday In The Park,” “You’re The Inspiration” and more.  The Greek Theatre.  (323) 665-5857.

- Aug. 2. (Fri.)  Tony Bennett.  Bennett’s in his ‘80s, but he is still one of the great performers, singing at the top of his game. Don’t miss this one. Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2000.

- Aug. 2 & 3. (Fri. & Sat.)  Arturo Sandoval Big Band.  He plays magnificent trumpet, exciting percussion, impressive piano and sings, as well.  Hopefully he’ll be doing all that with his stellar big band. Catalina Bar & Grill.(223) 466-2210.

- Aug. 2 & 3. (Fri. & Sat.)  Julie Esposito.  The versatile Ms. Esposito takes a break from her attorney responsibilities to sing an autobiographical program of songs written in her lifetime.  The selections embrace pop, Broadway and contemporary jazz, from Sondheim to Nilsson and beyond.  The Gardenia.  (323) 467-7444.

- Aug. 3. (Sat.)  Diana Ross.  Like Tony Bennett, Ross – on the cusp of 70 — continues to sing superbly.  She, too, is an artist who should be heard at every opportunity.  Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000.

- Aug. 3. (Sat.)  Gary Foster Quartet.  Alto saxophonist Foster has been a first call player for decades.  But he’s also a jazz artist of the first rank. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

- Aug. 3. (Sat.) Trevor McShane.  Ssinger/songwriter McShane, aka Neville Johnson, is an attorney who has been pursuing his musical ambitions since the release of his first album in 2000.  Witz End.  (310) 395-4792.

- Aug. 3. (Sat.)  Gipsy Kings.  They’ve been developing their unique approach to new flamenco music, spiced with pop, salsa and rumba since the ‘70s. The Greek Theatre.    (323) 665-5857.

San Francisco

Cheryl Bentyne

Cheryl Bentyne

- Aug. 4. (Sun.)  Cheryl Bentyne Trio.  Back in action after some difficult medical problems, Bentyne displays her far-reaching musical skills with her own trio before heading back to her long-time gig with the Manhattan Transfer.  Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

Seattle

- Aug. 2 – 4. (Fri. – Sun.)  John Pizzarelli Quartet with Bucky Pizzarelli. Here’s a rare opportunity to hear talented father and son in action.  Dad Bucky has been a much-admired guitarist for decades; son John continues to follow in Dad’s footsteps, adding his own fine vocal skills to the mix.   Jazz Alley.    (206) 441-9729.

New York City

- July 30 – Aug. 3.  (Tues. – Sat.)  Pablo Ziegler’s “Tango Conexio with Special Guest Stefon Harris should result in the discovery of some intriguing connections between jazz and tango. Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

- Aug. 1. (Thurs.)  Susan Werner. Singer/songwriter Werner applies her wry humor and passionate voice to a celebration of her new CD, Hayseed – a collection of songs dedicated to her parents, grandparents and great grandparents, paying tributes to farmers everywhere.  Joe’s Pub.  (212) 539-8778.

Paris

Joao Bosco

Joao Bosco

- Aug. 1. (Thurs.)  Joao Bosco.  Guitarist/composer Bosco’s playing has been described – with good cause – as among the most auspicious in Brazilian music.” Paris New Morning.    +33 1 45 23 51 41.

Copenhagen

- Aug. 2 & 3. (Fri. & Sat.)  Kenny Barron and George Mraz.  It’s a rare and promising musical encounter between two of the jazz world’s most gifted, veteran artists.  They’re not together often, so don’t miss this one.  Jazzhus Montmartre.    +45 31 72 34 94.

Tokyo

Joyce

Joyce

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- Aug 1 & 2. (Thurs. & Fri.)  Joyce. Singer/songwriter Joyce (who occasionally performs using her last name – Moreno – as well) has been pioneering the amiable linkages between jazz and Brazilian music since the late ‘60s.   Tokyo Blue Note.   +81 3-5485-0088.

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Dr. John photo by Tony Gieske.

Arturo Sandoval photo by Bonnie Perkinson.

Cheryl Bentyne photo by Faith Frenz.


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