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.

* * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * *

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

.

- 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.

.

.

..* * * * * * * *

Dr. John photo by Tony Gieske.

Arturo Sandoval photo by Bonnie Perkinson.

Cheryl Bentyne photo by Faith Frenz.


Live Country Music: Brantley Gilbert, Jack Ingram and Rachel Farley at the Greek Theatre

July 22, 2013

By Mike Finkelstein

On a perfect Friday evening, KKGO radio hosted a triple bill bonanza showcasing the new sound of country music at the Greek Theatre.  What transpired was lovingly devoured by one of the most enthusiastic and attractive crowds you could hope to see.  It was beautiful. The bands rocked and the crowd rolled all night long.  They played like pros, looked current, sported any image they wanted to, and delivered their tunes with conviction and energy.  Still, the curious thing about this big event country show was that it looked and sounded so very much like a classic southern rock show.

Brantley Gilbert and his band were top billed and delivered a high-energy set of, let’s face it, southern rock.   Their sound was driven by 3 snarling guitars, huge bottom end bass sound, and hard-hitting drums.   The crunch and punch in their sound would have to have been inspired by the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchett, or the Outlaws.    Lynyrd Skynyrd is a worthy model to base a southern rock sound on.  But, seriously, LS may have been country personalities, but they were not a country band.

Gilbert’s band had such a curious assortment of looks going on that one had to wonder if it was just an accident.   Bassist Jonathan Waggoner and lead guitarist Jess Franklin both had hippie length hair and beards, looking like vintage 70’s musicians (think Allman Brothers Band, 1970).  Drummer Ben Sims had a gigantic striped Mohawk.   Gilbert himself wore a black ball cap very low, so that it pretty much covered his eyes to make him look a bit sinister.  Cowboy hats and Nudie suits are not required under this tent.

Brantley Gilbert

Brantley Gilbert

Brantley Gilbert hails from Georgia and he let us know several times that he is one proud redneck.    He sang with a throaty twang about brawlin’ in “Take It Outside,” partying out in the woods in “My Kind of Party,” taking the law into his own hands in “Read Me My Rights,” running moonshine in “Hell on Wheels,” crazy love in “My Kind of Crazy,”   and old fashioned county pride in “Country Must Be Country Wide.”

Jack Ingram and his Beat-Up Ford Band (as in a Ford pickup truck) were second billed and played a winsome set of straight ahead boogie styled southern rock.  They too, owed much of how they do what they do to bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers Band.  Ingram’s sound featured a generous amount of walking bass and his two lead guitarists often split themselves into slide and unison lead lines a la the Allman Brothers.  In the end, there wasn’t anywhere close to the amount of improvisation and straight blues in the arrangement to continue the comparison with the Allmans.   There weren’t a whole lot of rock guitar licks here that we haven’t heard before.  And they were definitely not country sounding guitar licks, just straight-ahead rock all the way.  But they were played with panache and to be sure the presentation rocked.

Jack Ingram

Jack Ingram

Ingram is forty-two years old and performed in a black t-shirt that said “Kristofferson,” in a nod to classic country singer and songwriter Kris Kristofferson.  His approach onstage is earnest, appealing, down to earth, and positive.  A recurring lyrical theme from him concerned the inevitability of things going wrong in life and how one must “Keep on Keepin’ On.”  He also humbly told us the story of how it felt to go from playing s#$&hole bars in Dallas to having a #1 record, “Wherever You Are,” on the country charts.  He was clearly blown away by his improbable turn of good fortune.  Gotta like this guy, as he doesn’t take himself too seriously and he is clearly all about writing the best music he can.

It’s fun, and rather unavoidable now, to consider what the term country actually refers to.   We all know labels can be non-descriptive, limiting, or even pointless.  But the point of labeling something is to let other folks know what they’re getting.   Country music has, from the beginning, suggested that we will likely hear a sparse, snare-based drumbeat, with very clear, clean guitars, often pedal steel guitars, and words that are entirely audible.   Style wise, cowboy hats and western wear in one form or another are part of the package, too.  Styles and fashion change like everything does, but classic country music by the likes of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings or even Red Sovine is unmistakable for its sound.   Lyrically country music has always been the place to find great story telling in a song and innumerable descriptive tales of woe and heartache.

Friday’s show satisfied the audience big time, but in the name of perspective, it really didn’t sound like country music.   It owed most of its sound to southern rock and AC/DC.   The old-school, cornerstone country artists may get lip service from the new country gang but little to none of that was musically apparent on Saturday.  Not that it matters.  Clearly the audience identifies with country style and attitude.   The girl sitting next to me mentioned that the new country music is more wholesome and likable than what rock has become.    I get it, too – many rock ‘n rollers are so over the top in image and their crazy lifestyles that it turns a lot of people off.    In the rock arena we have old rockers still touring and young rockers who come across as too extreme and too dysfunctional to want to listen to.  It doesn’t speak to young people like it used to.

During the 90’s many people must have begun wondering, “Can we just rock without all the distraction? “ How about we just rebuild classic rock from the ground up and then call it something else?  If we build it the people will come.

The new country is simply classic rock, cleaned up quite a bit, and marketed squarely to young people as “country.” But the name “country” has been taken for years because it refers to something much different, and to market rock ‘n roll music as country music is not unlike the emperor’s new clothes.   Face it folks, it’s still rock ‘n roll, and we still like it.   But it’s really southern rock played by country folks.

Rachel Farley

Rachel Farley

When you have an audience full of hot young women in boots and miniskirts singing along with the music, they have bought in.  So, the young men will surely follow and your prospects are very good.  Thirty years ago, young ladies were doing the same thing…at an Aerosmith or Cheap Trick show.   It’s all good, just call it what it is.

Rachel Farley opened the show to a good reception with an upbeat set of, yes, southern-sounding rock (although hers was the only one of the three to use keyboards). Was it really any wonder that her lead guitarist stuck the guitar solo of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” into her last number?   No, not at all.  Farley is only eighteen, and an energetic performer who can deliver the power vocals… so the future looks mighty bright for her.

* * * * * * * *

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


Picks of the Week: July 15 – 21

July 15, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Kenny Burrell (Photo by Faith Frenz)

- July 15. (Mon.)  L.A. Jazz Orchestra Unlimited.  With Kenny Burrell.  Guitarist/educator Burrell leads an aggregation of some of the Southland’s fine big band players.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- July 16. (Tues.)  Nora Rothman.  With an appealing vocal style, young jazz artist Rothman offers what she describes as her own “unique twist” on jazz standards.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- July 16 & 17. (Tues. & Wed.)  Aaron Weinstein.  A violinist, mandolinist and arranger, Weinstein’s special talents have been drawing attention lately.  Here’s a chance to check out his skills in the warm musical environment of Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Herb Alpert and Lani Hall

Herb Alpert and Lani Hall

- July 17. (Wed.)  Sergio Mendes, Lani Hall and Herb Alpert.  After last week’s odd jazz opening night program featuring Queen Latifa, the Bowl summer jazz season finally arrives via an evening of stellar jazz with a Brazilian touch.  Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2000.

- July 18. (Thurs.)  Bob McChesney Quintet.  Trombonist McChesney always does a spectacular job of making other bands sound great.  Here he is in the spotlight leading his own group.  Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– July 19.  (Fri.) Brantley Gilbert.  Country superstar Gilbert makes his Greek Theatre debut .  Jack Ingram and Rachel Farley open the show.  The Greek Theatre.   (323) 665-5857.

Freda Payne

Freda Payne

- July 19 & 20. (Fri. & Sat.)  Freda Payne.  The lovely Ms. Payne makes one of her infrequent Southland appearances, looking great as she applies her special vocal talents to a program of standards as well as her own hits (hopefully including “Band of Gold”) Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- July 19 – 21. (Fri. – Sun. )  Pink Martini with the L.A. Phil.  With singers China Forbes and Storm Large in the foreground, the 12-piece Pink Martini ensemble easily and entertainingly crosses genres from jazz and classical to pop and Latin.  Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

- July 21. (Sun.)  Quattro.  The unique Quattro instrumentation (cello, percussion, violin and guitar), combine with their four-part vocals and imaginative interpretations to produce some of the most intriguing music on the contemporary music scene.  Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

San Francisco

Eddie Daniels (Photo by Bob Barry)

- July 18. (Thurs.)  Eddie Daniels & Roger Kellaway.  It’s a rare combination – the superb clarinet work of Daniels and the similarly excellent piano of Kellaway – displaying a range of talents reaching easily from jazz to classical and beyond.  SFJAZZ Center, Miner Auditorium.    (866) 920-5299.

- July 21. (Sun.)  Laurie Antonioli“The Music of Joni Mitchell.”  Antonioli is a pleasure to hear when she’s showcasing her impressive jazz skills.  Singing the songs of Joni Mitchell should stimulate an even more engaging set of creative interpretations. SFJAZZ Center.  Joe Henderson Lab.  (866) 920-5299.

New York

Billy Childs (Photo by Faith Frenz)

- July 16 – 20.  (Tues. – Sat.)  The Billy Childs Quartet.  Pianist/composer Childs takes a break from his chamber jazz ensemble to showcase his mesmerizing, straight ahead jazz skills.  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

London

- July 17 – 19. (Wed. – Fri.)  Hermeto Pascoal.  Composer/multi-instrumentalist Pascoal has been setting a unique pathway through contemporary Brazilian music for decades. Hearing him in live performance is a memorable experience.  Ronnie Scott’s.    +44 20 7439 0747.

Paris

- July 17. (Wed.)  Roberta Gambarini.  She’s one of  the current jazz scene’s most fascinating vocal artists, balancing her superb ballad skills with incomparable scatting abilities. New Morning Paris.    +33 1 45 23 51 41.

- July 18. (Thurs.)  The Steve Swallow-Carla Bley Quintet.  Bassist Swallow and pianist/composer Bley have been at the cutting edge of contemporary jazz for decades.  And they’re still a pleasure to hear in action.  New Morning Paris.    +33 1 45 23 51 41.

Berlin

- July 21. (Sun.)  Dave Douglas “Be Still.”  Always adventurous, trumpeter Douglas leads an ensemble of similarly envelope-stretching players, featuring Jon Irabagon, saxophones, Matt Mitchell, piano, Linda Oh, bass and Rudy Royston, drums.  A-Trane.    +49 30 3132 ext. 550.

Milan

Branford Marsalis

Branford Marsalis

- July 21. (Sun.)  Branford Marsalis.  Not quite as visible as his brother, trumpeter/impresario Wynton, Branford Marsalis is, nonetheless, a compelling, musically creative jazz artist.  Blue Note Milano.    +39 02 6901 6888.

Tokyo

- July 17 & 18. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Dionne Warwick.  She’s been one of the hit-makers of the rock era, especially when she’s singing songs by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.  And, at 72, she’s still a mesmerizing performer.  Blue Note Tokyo.   +81 3-5485-0088.


Live Music: Ian Anderson plays “Thick As A Brick” – both of them — at the Greek Theater

July 13, 2013

(Editor’s Note: Because of unforeseen internet problems, this review did not make it into print on its originally scheduled publication date earlier this week.  But here it is, a few days late, but a thoughtful review of an important performance, nonetheless.)

By Mike Finkelstein

On a gorgeous Saturday night at the Greek Theatre, Ian Anderson gave the loyal Jethro Tull following an entire reading of the legendary Thick As A Brick saga. After 40 years, you may or may not know that there are now two Thick As A Brick albums.  Oh yes, Thick As A Brick 2 was released in 2012 to update us on the life of the fictional Gerald Bostock.  In this program, both albums were performed back to back in two separate sets.

Ian Anderson

Ian Anderson

Jethro Tull has always been the musical vehicle for Ian Anderson’s active imagination.    They were quite the representative band for their generation in the late ‘60’s/early ‘70’s, taking chances with their musical direction and actually selling tons of records by making music that resonated on the radio and on the stereo.  Thick As A Brick was one of the first concept albums by the flourishing progressive rock band.  The entire album was one long, multi-textured, many themed, and yet cohesive song … a song that lasted both sides of an LP.   This was risky in its time.  But, it worked because the music was catchy and iconic, refining much of the sound Jethro Tull had established on Aqualung.   On Thick As A Brick in particular, the band began to riff around instrumentally beneath and between the verses.   This approach developed into the very unique style that defines them to this day.

The first Thick As A Brick is a rambling affair that concerns the adventures, thoughts, and dreams of a small town English lad named Gerald Bostock.   In the end, the music holds the attention more than the somewhat long-winded story does.  Still, the album displays an entertainingly English sense of humor and style.

The original album cover art actually included an entire mock up newspaper (the St. Cleve Chronicle) from the boy’s town, which humorously engaged the listener in small town English culture.   Toward that end, on Saturday there were several film vignettes of Anderson walking through his estate and some nearby small towns, narrating the story in his own witty and animatedly recognizable style.   Similarly intriguing were the images of the English Boy’s Own magazine to give a feel for the times of Gerald’s boyhood.

On Saturday, Anderson was joined by ace players and current Tull members John Ohara on keyboards and David Goodier on bass, along with Scott Hammond on drums and Florian Ophale on guitar.    Also present was actor/singer Ryan O’Donnell who served as Anderson’s shadow/understudy/relief pitcher.   At times, we had to wonder why O’Donnell’s presence was needed.   Looking a bit like a young Anthony Michael Hall, he struck the same poses as Ian, used the same physical theatrical mannerisms, and even carried a prop flute.   When he sang he did sound like a young Ian Anderson, and perhaps that’s the rub.  It has been clear for several years now that Anderson must strain noticeably to reach the clear notes of his early work when singing live.   So, young O’Donnell did spell him for a few stanzas at a time throughout the show, playing a younger version of himself as Gerald Bostock.

Though it is now more of an effort for Anderson to sing the songs, the music is so well conceived and so tastefully played that it still works onstage.  It’s interesting that Anderson plays the whole of Thick As a Brick with a capo on his tiny parlor guitar.    A capo will give a guitar a distinct sound but it can tend to drive a singer’s expected range higher.   Still, the capo remained right there at the third fret of Anderson’s guitar to maintain the song’s familiar ring Saturday night.

The first half of the show was familiar to many of us who have owned Thick As A Brick on vinyl for years/decades.   Listening to the band play through the album you can definitely trace the developing Tull sound.   In the second half of the show the band allowed itself off the leash to follow that direction and step out a bit.  Musically it delivered because no other band sounds like this.

The musicianship in each song is built on a foundation of several catchy riffs and from there each player gets to coordinate and synch up with every other player throughout the program.  Interplay is what gives Tull shows their personality.   Having watched the whole of both albums unfurl onstage Saturday night I couldn’t help but be drawn less to the story than to the details of the songs and their high musical level.  While it would have been nice to have Martin Barre there on guitar, he didn’t actually play on Thick As A Brick2, and Ophale did.  Live, Ophale shined in his own right with a Les Paul run through a Fender Twin amp.

It is a very unique blend of rock, jazz, and English folk music that Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull have concocted over the years.  In the end the level of playing will continue to allow Tull to delve into their past at will, on whatever terms Ian Anderson wants.

* * * * * * * *

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


Picks of the Week: July 1 – 7

July 1, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Susan Krebs

Susan Krebs

- July 1 (Mon.)  Suze’s Birthday FestSusan Krebs celebrates her birthday in the creative company of Rich Eames, piano, Jerry Kalaf, drums and Tom Warrington, bassAdd to that the presence of special guests saxophonist Brian Scanlon and violinist Paul CartwrightVitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- July 2. (Tues.)  Carol Robbins, Pat Senatore and Larry Koonse.  An evening of interactive stringed instruments, with Robbins’ harp, Senatore’s bass and Koonse’s guitar.  Expect to hear some brisk swing combined with some fascinating textures.    Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

Josh Groban

Josh Groban

.

- July 2 – 4. (Tues. – Thurs.)  Josh Groban Fireworks Spectacular. Groban’s warm, baritone voice is featured singing patriotic songs, supported by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and conductor Sarah Hicks in this year’s fireworks spectacular.   Hollywood Bowl.   (323) 850-2000.

- July 5. (Fri.)  Joe La Barbera Quintet.  Everyone’s favorite rhythm section drummer steps into the leadership role with a stellar group that includes saxophonist Bob Sheppard, trumpeter Clay Jenkins, pianist John Beasley and bassist Tom Warrington. Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- July 5 & 6. (Fri. & Sat.)  Bugs Bunny at the Symphony. An evening of classic Bugs Bunny cartoons along with Tom and Jerry and some new 3D animation.  The video projections will be performed with live music from the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by George DaughertyHollywood Bowl.    (323) 850-2000.

- July 5 – 7. (Fri. – Sun.)  Ron Carter Trio.  With Russell Malone and Donald Vega.  It’s a cross-generational trio of world class players, from veteran bassist Carter and busy guitarist Malone with the gifted young pianist Vega.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- July 6. (Sat.) Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson plays Thick as a Brick 1 & 2 in a theatrical production with video and additional musicians – including some who are veterans of Jethro Tull. The Greek Theatre.  (323) 665-5857.

– July 7. (Sun.)  LL Cool Jay.  Grammy-winning LL Cool Jay headlines the Kings of the Mic hip-hop tour, joined by Ice Cube, Public Enemy and De La Soul.  The Greek Theatre.    (323) 665-5857.

- July 7. (Sun.)  David Silverman. Singer/pianist Silverman, who has become a major musical star in Tokyo over the past two decades, performs a program of classics from the Great American Songbook. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

- July 6. (Sat.)  Jim Kweskin Jug Band 50th Reunion.  Featured artists include Maria and Jeff Muldaur, Richard Greene and Bill Keith from the original Jug Band, along with guitarist Cindy Cashdollar and bassist Sam Bevan.  Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse.  Berkely, CA.    (510) 644-2020, x120.

New York

Jackie Ryan

Jackie Ryan

- July 2 – 4. (Tues. – Thurs.) Jackie Ryan.  The ever-appealing jazz singer Ryan  celebrates the release of her new CD Listen Here  with special guest Harry AllenBirdland.    (212) 581-3080.

- July 2 – 7.  (Tues. – Sun.)  Jerry Gonzalez & the Fort Apache Band.  The super-heated Latin jazz rhythms of the Fort Apache Band fill the room whenever trumpeter/percussionist Gonzalez and his players perform.  Village Vanguard.   (s12) 475-8592.

Dominick Farinacci

Dominick Farinacci

- July 2 & 3. (Tues. & Wed.)  Dominick Farinacci. Trumpeter Farinacci, one of the most gifted players of his generation, still hasn’t received the attention his fine playing deserves.  He performs with Zaccai Curtis, piano; Ryan Scott, guitar; Yasushi Nakamura, bass; Keita Ogawa, percussion.  Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.   (212) 258-9595.

London

- July 7. (Sun.)  Daryl Sherman“The Songs of Johnny Mercer and Cole Porter.”  Singer/pianist Sherman offers a convincing blend of cabaret and jazz.  She performs here with Alan Barns, woodwinds, Andy Cleyndert, bass, and Steve Brown, drums.  Ronnie Scott’s.   +44 20 7439 0747.

Copenhagen

- July 4 & 5. (Thurs. & Fri.)  ‘The New Generation Meets the Great Danes.”  Young American jazz pianist Christian Sands performs with a pair of legendary Danish jazz artists, bassist Thomas Fonnesback and drummer Alex RielJazzhus Montmartre.    +45 31 72 34 94.

Tokyo

Pat Martino

Pat Martino

- July 1 – 3. (Mon. – Wed.)  The Pat Martino Trio.  Guitarist Martino was striken with amnesia after experiencing after a near-fatal brain aneurysm in 1980.  But over the succeeding years he relearned how to play his instrument, returning to action in 1987 with a sequence of superb recordings.  The Blue Note Tokyo.   +81 3-5485-0088.


Live Music (and More): Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion at the Greek Theatre

June 11, 2013

By Mike Finkelstein

On Friday night Garrison Keillor and the cast of A Prairie Home Companion descended upon the Greek Theater ostensibly to record the latest installment of their delightfully entertaining radio show for public radio.    It was a beautiful evening as the sun started to set over Griffith Park.   You couldn’t imagine a more intimate feeling in a gathering of thousands.

As I headed to my seat, there seemed to be some commotion in front of me…and this was because Keillor had made his entrance by sauntering up in song from the stage and arriving all the way at the top of the theatre to savor the view.

A Prairie Home Companion is a unique slice of radio entertainment these days.  The show’s format is a throwback to old time radio variety shows.   It relies on the engaging voices of its host and cast to bring cleverly worded scripts to warm life.  True to the old radio tradition, listeners can’t help but let their imagination run with it to concoct their own vision of what they hear.   That’s a lost art in these times of nonstop video gratification. But the sound of it was vintage radio, even with the modern references.   How would it be with no need to imagine the proceedings?  I’m happy to say the results were thoroughly entertaining.

The Cast of A Prairie Home Companion

The rear of the stage had, naturally, a life size façade of a narrow two-story Minnesota prairie style house, as well as the logos of several of the mock sponsors of the show.    The 7-piece Shoe band, led by pianist Rich Dworsky and guitarist Pat Donohue, sat in several layers in front of the house.  Whether they were featured or setting up the atmosphere with background music, their blend of jazz, folk, and boogie was a perfect fit with the rest of the program.

To the side of the stage we had the fascinating table of gizmos and knick-knacks that Fred Farrell uses for sound effects.   His crop duster impression was perfection, as were his one-man cocktail party, flushing toilets, breaking branches (Styrofoam plate) and flapping wings.  Next to Farrell stood Tim Russell and Sue Scott.

Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor

At center stage there was Garrison Keillor, moving the whole thing along so very smoothly.  The guests for the night included Martin Sheen reading scripted characters, Lily Tomlin reading scripts and making conversation, Paula Poundstone doing standup and also reading scripts and conversing.

It’s fun to watch actors and comedy artists do something formatted like reading a radio script as you can see their personalities leap forth while they read.  Ah, the lost art of simply reading aloud with panache.   Lily Tomlin got to deliver the line, conversationally, “What is reality but a collective hunch?” and Tim Russell got on a roll with his impressions of George W. Bush, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Tom Brokaw, and even Henry Kissinger.

The musical guests included semi-regular PHC members, the singing sisters Jearlynn and Jevetta Steele.   They gave the music a gospel feel when they sang, very up beat and just as joyous.  Colin Hay, formerly of Men at Work, performed solo.  He is an engaging storyteller, a man with different guitar for each song, and he has a big, rich voice.  It’s been a while since I’ve heard “Overkill,” but I remembered how good the lyrics were when I first heard them.

Between the skits, monologues, musical numbers, and mock ads, one becomes aware that there is a prodigious amount of material and coordination that goes into putting these shows together on a weekly basis.   Whoa!   In one monologue Keillor told us about the descent into LAX and filled us in on fine details of places like Whittier, Southgate, and who is buried in the Inglewood Cemetery.  Speeches like this take a fair amount of research every week.

There was so much beautiful rhyme woven into the night’s dialogue.   It was also there in the lyrics of the songs, the ads, and even in a touching poem that Keillor wrote for a neighbor’s cat (“they are God’s beauty”).   Well, the show was sponsored by P.O.E.M (the Professional Organization of English Majors).

"The Adventures of Guy Noir"

“The Adventures of Guy Noir”

No PHC show would be complete without an episode of Guy Noir, private eye.  This installment featured erudite flirtations between Keillor and Tomlin, plenty of alliteration, and an amusing dissection of the lyrics to doo wop songs like “Who Put The Bomp,” and “Who Wrote The Book Of Love.”   The actors were clearly enjoying the humor in the written words and riffing a bit with it, too.

During this two and a half hours show there were a whole lot of ideas touched upon.  Many times we noticed how little time it took to get a pretty deep observation about people over to the audience.  Near the end of the show Keilor told us about the time he was asked to give the commencement speech at his high school.  He went on to describe how he didn’t speak about the lifelong bonds that we make with people from our youth (that they are our tribe), but about instead about success.   It turned into a heartfelt reminiscence of his youth — and then the principal mentioned how hard it is to get a good graduation speaker.

But I’m guessing Garrison Keillor actually gave a great speech at Lake Wobegon High School.

* * * * * * * *

Photos courtesy of the Prairie Home Companion.

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


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 220 other followers