Category Archives: Live Performance Reviews

My review of live performances I attend

McCartney Rocks Austin for the first time…

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I have had the privilege to see Paul McCartney 3 times. So when my friend Jim, who lives in Austin, called to invite me to see Paul in Austin, I almost declined the offer. Boy am I glad I didn’t. I witnessed history. Witnessing history is guaranteed when you go to a McCartney show. First of all, IT’S PAUL MCCARTNEY ON STAGE! Last time I checked he is a living legend. Second, he seems to always dust off a song or two that were never played live by the Beatles. Third: As many times as Paul McCartney has played in Texas, it was hard to believe when he announced from the stage at the Frank Erwin Center, that he had never played in Austin before. Paul was rewarded with a very enthusiastic crowd that was ready to rock, and Sir Paul and his powerful band delivered!

The ticket said it was an 8:00 pm start time and there was no opening band. We arrived around 7:40. A DJ started playing club mixes of Beatles songs at 8:00. At 8:30 the DJ left the stage and a pre-recorded soundtrack played while video screens displayed photos covering the entire life of Paul up to this moment. Paul and his band mates walked on stage proptly at 9:00 and launched into “8 Days a Week”.

The show alternated between Beatles songs and Wings songs. A real highlight of the first half of the show was a powerful version of the Wings song “Let Me Roll It“, followed up by a rocked up version of the Beatles song “Paperback Writer“.

An amazing thing happened during the opening of “Maybe I’m Amazed“: Paul forgot the opening cord sequence of the Piano intro. He handled it in fine form with his typical laid back demeanor on stage. He simply quipped “Well, at least you know we’re live…” The crowd ate it up. He simply restarted the song and went on.

In the middle of the show the band left McCartney on stage alone. He walked to a smaller stage that then elevated him way above the floor of the arena. He performed “Black Bird” which he described as song of social protest that was designed to give hope to Black Americans that were being discriminated against during the 60’s. He then performed a song he wrote for John Lennon called “Here Today“. He described the song as a conversation between he and John that never happened but should have. It was a very emotional moment.

In the next section Paul made history when he played two songs that had never been played live in Texas. He performed “Lovely Rita Meter Maid” and “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” from “Sargent Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” It was awesome. The video screens showed old psychedelic videos from the 60’s that the Beatles had made for “Yellow Submarine” and “Magical Mystery Tour“. Very cool…

After “Mr. Kite“, Paul paid tribute to George Harrison. He started playing “Something” on a Ukulele. Slowly the band joined in one by one, leading up to the big guitar solo in the bridge of the song. It was a very emotional and very fitting tribute to George.

This led to the closing sequence of songs that included “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude“. I was trying to take a close up photo of Paul singing the line “The movement you need is on your shoulder…” during “Hey Jude“. I was zoomed in on McCartney’s face. He forgot the lyrics leading up to that line… I saw him “blah, blah,” the words and then recover. Putting this with the “Maybe I’m Amazed” piano gaffe, I wonder if age is finally catching up to Paul McCartney?

Paul came back twice for encores and closed the show with an awesome sequence of songs: “Yesterday”, “Helter Skelter” and the final songs of “Abbey Road” (Golden Slumbers, Carry that Weight, The End.)  2 and 1/2 hours of great music. The show ended at 11:30 and Paul had to come back and play the next night as well!

It is interesting that this tour is hitting smaller cities and not the usual big venues. Erwin Center only seats 12,000 for a show. So it may take some effort on your part to catch him this time around. But consider this: This might be the last time. Don’t miss this chance to see him live. He and his band mates will ROCK YOU! Paul will not disappoint. And when you are standing with everyone else singing “Hey Jude” at the top of your lungs, you will know that there is so much more that unites us all than divides us. “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make…”

Set list:

Eight Days a Week

Junior’s Farm

All My Loving

Listen to What the Man Said

Let Me Roll It

Paperback Writer

My Valentine

Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five

The Long and Winding Road

Maybe I’m Amazed

I’ve Just Seen a Face

We Can Work It Out

Another Day

And I Love Her


Here Today

Your Mother Should Know

Lady Madonna

All Together Now

Lovely Rita

Mrs. Vandebilt

Eleanor Rigby

Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!


Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

Band on the Run

Back in the U.S.S.R.

Let It Be

Live and Let Die

Hey Jude

First Encore:

Day Tripper

Hi, Hi, Hi

Get Back

Second Encore:


Helter Skelter

Golden Slumbers

Carry That Weight

The End

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After 50 years, Clapton is still god…

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 Eric Clapton‘s 50th anniversary tour came through Dallas, Texas March 19th at the American Airlines Center. This tour is not getting the publicity of The Rolling Stones 50th anniversary tour, and it seems typical of Clapton to not toot his own horn like Mick and Keith do. Although it is not getting the attention of the media like The Stones tour, it is an equally important milestone in Rock n Roll history. On a beautiful spring evening in Dallas, the 67 year old guitar god proved that he is every bit the musician he has ever been.

Musician is a title that is earned and I don’t use lightly. Eric Clapton is a virtuoso musician of the highest level. In his understated, “Slow Hand” way he took us on a kaleidoscopic tour of his rich musical legacy. And what a tour it is…

I scored my tickets from a good friend I work out with. He called late Monday afternoon with the good news. Making it to a concert on a Tuesday night can be a little challenging and unfortunately we were late for the opening act The Wallflowers. This is Bob Dylan‘s son, Jakob Dylan‘s band. We sat down in our seats just in time to hear their best know song “One Headlight” . They sounded great, but we only heard  their last four songs. It was a pleasant surprise to see that the arena was completely full for The Wallflowers. Apparently, most of the fans that attended the show had no problem being on time for the 7:30PM start time. This is the first concert I’ve been to in years where so many fans turned out for the opening act. Very impressive, and a great indication of the popularity of this great band.

After a brief intermission, Eric quietly strolled onto the stage with his incredible band:  Doyle Bramhall II (guitar), Steve Jordan (drums), Chris Stainton (piano and keyboards), and Willie Weeks (bass), along with the amazing  Paul Carrack (organ and keyboards), Greg Leisz (pedal steel guitar), and Michelle John and Sharon White (backing vocalists).  Instead of kicking off the show with a bang, Eric started out the concert with two acoustic dominated songs: “Hello Old Friend” (A greeting to the crowd) and “My Father’s Eyes”.  Both songs featured great pedal steel solos by Greg Leisz.  After the first two songs, Clapton greeted the crowd by talking about how much he loved Dallas and that he considered it a second home.  He then kicked it up a notch as the band launched in to “Tell The Truth” from his great Album Layla.  This song featured outstanding  solos from all three guitarists.  Doyle Bramhall was amazing as  he played his guitar Hendrix style (he plays left handed, with a right handed guitar that is turned upside down, so the bass strings are on the bottom and the treble strings are on the top).  Up next was a song from Clapton’s new album “Old Sock” called Gotta Get Over.  This song stood up well against all the other well known hits that Clapton played.    A powerful cover of the Albert Collins song Black Cat Bone featured amazing guitar work by Clapton and Bramhall.  Clapton then went back to his Derek and the Dominos days and performed Got to Get Better in a Little While.  This song was smoking hot!  It was a huge bonus that Clapton was touring with Paul Carrack.  Paul is a living legend in England.  He is sadly, only moderately well known in the U.S.A.  Paul took the first of three turns at lead vocal with “Tempted” from his days with Squeeze.  This magnificent song was magnificently sung by one of the best “Blue Eyed Soul” singers on the planet.  It is also very appropriate that Eric Clapton occasionally played the roll of  “side man” to another singer/song writer.  It hearkened back to the days    when he toured with Delaney and Bonnie.  He had several times in his 50 year career that he just wanted to be the guitar player in the band.  Next Clapton played the first song from his days with Cream as the band almost blew the roof off the arena with an extended version of Badge.  This song brought the crowd to it’s feet for the first time in the show.

Clapton took a chair next and did an “unplugged” set that included Driftin’ Blues, (Written by Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers) a uptempo reggae version of Tears  in Heaven that was only marginally effective, a great version of Lay Down Sally, Wonderful Tonight, and Layla.

Paul Carrack then returned to sing his great hit from his days with Ace:  How Long (Has this been goin’ on?).  Clapton turned in one of his best solos of the night during this song.

Then the concert went to a whole different level and I had one of the concert experiences that stay with you for a very long time… Clapton walked up to the microphone and said “Now, it’s Robert Johnson time!”  I’m sure there were many in the arena that missed the significance of that moment, but it was not lost on me.  Without Robert Johnson there would be no Rock-n-Roll.  Few people know that 13 of his known recordings were made on the third floor of 508 Park Ave. in Dallas.  Eric Clapton has been personally involved in saving and protecting this important historical property.  Clapton and his band tore through Stones in My Passway, Love in Vain, Crossroads, and a powerful cover of Little Queen of Spades.  This was what you paid to see.  Powerful, raw blues guitar by the greatest living blues player on the planet.  The last song before the encores was J.J. Cale’s song Cocaine.

The band return for two encores, Sunshine of Your Love, which was amazing, and Paul Carrack sent us all home with a rousing cover of the Joe Cocker song “High Time We Went”.

This tour is coming to an arena near you.  I think it’s high time you went…

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Is Kat Edmonson the next Cole Porter?

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My Wife’s birthday resulted in the discovery of an amazing new musican. My wife wanted to get out of town for her birthday so we planned a weekend trip to Fort Worth. It just so happened that a new live music venue was opening up that weekend and my wife found an article in the weekend guide of The Dallas Morning News promoting a concert there the same weekend. The performer was a singer/songwriter from Austin named Kat Edmonson.  We had never heard of her, but the article described her as follows:  “that beautifully gray area that separates Americana from Jazz, country from folk”. Well that was enough for me.  We bought tickets.   She was performing at a new venue in Fort Worth called The Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge.  This is a great new place on the south side of Fort Worth.  It has an outstanding restaurant, a rooftop bar with an incredible view of Forth Worth, and a Music Hall that seats a little over 200 people.  The entire menu in the Lounge is also available in the Music Hall.  Pretty cool!

Our experience at the Lounge was first class.  The food and wine selection was excellent.  After dinner we went into the music hall and enjoyed the concert.  The opening act was Luke Wade.  He is a local artist from Fort Worth.  He was late because he had just played a private fundraiser for President Obama that was hosted by Bill Clinton.  The guy came in through the main entrance for the public, ran up on stage, and asked for two minutes to get ready. He performed on guitar with a fiddle player.  He put on a very enjoyable show.  He sounded too much like John Mayer to me.  That should tell you that he could sing and play at a very high level.

After a brief intermission Kat Edmonson sang and was accompanied by a acoustic guitar player.  Her guitar player was a French Canadian and he was a spactacular musicain.  She performed every song from her latest album and covered a song by Ella Fitzgerald (Champagne) and also Brian Wilson (I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times.)  Her cover of the Brian Wilson song was easily one of the highlights of a very magical night.  She infused the song with a pathos that exceeded the brilliant original song by The Beach Boys

Kat Edmonson was raised in Houston by her Mother and Grandmother.  She grew up listening to their LP records. (This is this story’s link to my blog..)  She especially loved her Grandmothers LP’s.  She grew up listening and loving The Great American Song Book.  Her songs are full of amazing lyrics.  She is also a very effective and interesting live performer.  She understands subtlety and technique like very few performers I have seen recently.  I picked up her latest CD “Way Down Low” and I cannot stop listening to it.  The CD features a duet with Lyle Lovett.  The lyrics are a great example of her work:

The Long Way Home

I’ll take the long way home tonight Please don’t wake up I’ll be alright Going about my usual day, I had no idea Cupid and friends had other plans for me, now i see And so, before I call it a day I’m making stops along the way Well I’ll be laughing with the moon in sea of delight and thinking every little bitty star in sight When I, take the long way home tonight I’ll take the long way home tonight Please don’t wake up I’ll be alright, going about my usual day, I had no idea Cupid and friends had other plans for me, now i see And so, first, before this day is through I’ve got some things I’ve gotta do Well I’ll be laughing with the moon in sea of delight and thanking every little bitty star in sight When I, take the long way home tonight Well I’ll be winking to the (? wise one?) who always knew And babbling with the brook about my love for you
When I, take the long way home tonight, tonight When I, take the long way home tonight.

If you can’t hear the Soul of Cole Porter in those lyrics then you must not have ever heard a song by him…

Check out Kat Edmonson.  She just recorded an episode of Austin City Limits with Willie Nelson.  Here is the link to her site:  Kat Edmonson.  Her music and lyrics are fantastic.  The ghost of Cole Porter lives!

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Posted in CD Picks, Country Music, Jazz Music, Life Events, Live Performance Reviews, Rock Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Dallas Symphony performance of Bruckner’s 8th Symphony is breathtaking!

Sunday April 29th I attended the Dallas Symphony’s performance of the Bruckner 8th Symphony.  I was really excited to hear this piece performed live.  It is a magnificent symphony.  It is not performed very often because of it’s length, (over 70 minutes depending on the version performed) it’s complexity, and the massive size of the orchestra required to perform it.  The symphony is scored for  3 flutes (third doubling piccolo), three oboes, three clarinets, three bassoons, eight french horns (four doubling on Wagner tubas), three trumpets, alto, tenor and bass trombones, contra bass tuba, timpani, and a full complement of strings.  The Scherzo and Adagio movements also include 3 harps, triangle and cymbals.  Needless to say, the stage was crammed full of musicians.  We are very fortunate in Dallas to have one of the best conductors in the world as our conductor.  Jaap Van Zweden was just voted Conductor of the Year by Musical America for 2012!  I was even more interested to hear this performance because Van Zweden has just recorded this symphony with The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic for Octavia Records.  Mr. Van Zweden is currently recording the entire cycle of Anton Bruckner Symphonies.

One of the first things a conductor has to decide before he can conduct a Bruckner Symphony is which version?  Anton Bruckner was notorious for revising his work. There are two or three versions of almost all of his nine symphonies.  A total of 26 versions exist for his nine symphonies.   He was not a very confident person and was very reactive to criticism from peers that he respected.    There are 3 versions of the Bruckner 8th.  In this case Jaap Van Zweden chose the last version which was revised by Bruckner and two of his students Joseph and Franz Schalk.  It is the opinion of Maestro Van Zweden that the Bruckner 8th was the only symphony that was improved by the alterations.  This version was completed in 1980.  The symphony was debuted in Vienna on December 18, 1892 with Hans Richter conducting. This symphony is unique in the cannon of Bruckner symphonies for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it is the only Bruckner Symphony to include harps and second, it is the only Bruckner symphony that the Scherzo precedes the Adagio movement.

When I say this symphony is massive, I mean it is massive!  The last two movements are each over 30 minutes long.

If you are not familiar with the music of Anton Bruckner, think about the sound of the music of Richard Wagner.  Bruckner idolized Wagner and worshiped his orchestral techniques.  But that’s where the similarity ends.  Wagner was a hedonistic, atheist and an antisemitic.  Bruckner was a devout Roman Catholic and very spiritually centered in his personal beliefs.  He composed an enormous amount of music for Catholic church services in addition to his nine symphonies.  His love of God infuses his music.

The symphony No. 8 in C minor starts out in a whispering  tremolo in the strings, much like the Beethoven 9th.  Bruckner’s  music spins out in very long, slowly developing phrases.  The first thing that stuck me about the DSO’s performance is how beautifully Jaap led the orchestra and audience through these long beautiful phrases.  His vision of this symphony is beautifully clear.  Consequently, he made this normally complex, difficult composition stunningly easy to follow and comprehend.  What an amazing achievement!

We are also fortunate to have a world class concert hall in Dallas.  The McDermott Concert Hall at the Meyerson Symphony Center seemed to have been built for Bruckner.  This state of the art hall can actually be tuned to the type of music being performed.  The hall has an Acoustic canopy panel that can be raised and lowered as well as tilted to create various complementary environments for sound.  In addition the hall has reverberation chambers that can be adjusted  based on the amount of reverberation the conductor requires.  For this performance the canopy was raised as high as it could go and the reverberation chambers were opened all the way.  This created a cathedral like environment for the performance.  Bruckner was an organist by training and most of his music was greatly influenced by the sound of an organ.  The Bruckner 8th has several massive climaxes.  As the mighty crashes of the full orchestra occurred, the ambient tail of the music was breathtaking.  (When you think of ambient tail think of echo.)  The sound would literally hang in the air for  amazingly long times and Mr. Van Zweden would take full advantage of this effect.   It was a breathtaking!

This performance was nothing short of stunning.  As the finale came to it’s dramatic conclusion, the audience sprang to their feet in a totally spontaneous standing ovation that went on for 15 minutes.  70 plus minutes went by in the blink of an eye.  I was totally blown away by the vision of the conductor and the fabulous playing of the Dallas Symphony.  What a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  I for one am going to acquire the newly issued recording of this symphony my Maestro Van Zweden.  Congratulations to Jaap Van Zweden and the Dallas Symphony.  And how lucky am I to live in a city where I can experience a world class musical event like this!

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Radiohead fearlessly blazes their own trail… Radiohead live in Dallas March 5, 2012

Radiohead is not only the future of Rock, but maybe even the future of music.  I used to tell people that had never head Radiohead that they were the modern Pink Floyd.  The real truth is Radiohead is not like anyone else that has ever been.  This band is so creative and smart there is no telling where they can take music in the future.  Currently the lead guitar player Jonny Greenwood is collaborating  with the avantgarde composer Krzysztof Penderecki.  They did the movie soundtracks to “There Will Be Blood” and “Norwegian Wood”.  They just released a CD on the Nonesuch  label.  The CD is a compilation of works by both musicians.  It was just released on March 13, 2012.  I haven’t heard it yet, but I assure you I will purchase it as soon as possible.  Needless to say this is not the average rock band.  Radiohead is heavily influenced by contemporary “Classical” (for lack of a better word!) composers.  Another cool thing about this band is that they regularly employ some of the very first synthesizers ever invented.  First is the Etherwave Theremin Kit:

This Synthesizer was invented in 1928 by a Russian Scientist named Theremin. It was first used in Rock-n-Roll by Randy California of Spirit, and Randy introduced it to Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, who got a lot of mileage out of it during live performances with Led Zeppelin.

The other synthesizer is called the ondes Martenot.   This synthesizer was invented in France in 1928.  Radiohead owns two ondes Martenots!  Here are a couple of pictures of the Martenot.  They are very difficult to play and even harder to master.

So on to the show.  My brother Joe went with me.  He is a highly trained and excellent musician. (If I may be so bold as to brag on my brother…).

I have been a fan of this band for years and have always wanted to see them so needless to say I was very psyched for this show.  The opening act was a band called Other Lives.  This band was a real pleasure to see live.  They sounded like a cross between old Peter Gabriel era Genesis, Kate Bush, and with a little Arcade Fire mixed in.  Several of the musicians in the band played different instruments during their 30 minute set.  At various times they had a cello, violin, trumpet, and many different kinds of percussion instruments playing.  The poor bastards were jammed together in front of the giant pile of equipment for Radiohead.  They could hardly move around but they really sounded great!  Then to my surprise, when the lead singer introduced the band, he said they were from Stillwater, Oklahoma!   I would never have guess that.  They sounded English!  Here is a photo gallery of Other Lives on stage at American Airlines Center, in Dallas, Texas.




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After a brief intermission the main event began. Here’s a taste of what it was like.

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They opened their two hour 24 song set with Bloom from their latest CD called King of Limbs and ended their set with Paranoid Android from their CD called OK Computer.  From the very first song it was apparent I was in for a very special night.  First of all their set included the live debut of two new songs.  The first one came about half-way through their initial setIt was called The Amazing Sound of Orgy.  The second new song was played during the second encore. (By the way, I’m told that two encore sets from Radiohead is extremely unusual too!)  That song was called Skirting on the Surface.  Both songs were excellent and bode well for the next Radiohead CD.  They also played two other new songs that they have played other places on this tour:  Identikit and Staircase.  They played almost everything I wanted to hear.  Of course they could play all night and I’d still think of a song I wished they had played.  The light show was amazing.  They had 12 giant flat screened televisions that were hung suspended above the stage.  These screens could move up and down and rotate, creating mind boggling effects.  Behind the band was an extremely sophisticated wall of lights that really blew me away.  Here is a photo gallery of pictures I took at the show with my iPhone:

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The most interesting thing about the light show, however, was what was not there.  There was not one single spotlight used during the entire show. In all of my life of going to rock concerts (my first show was in 1969) I have never seen a band perform without using spotlights.  The message is obvious and a real insight into the mindset of Radiohead.  Radiohead is a BAND!  The sum is greater than the parts. This band has no Star.  They are truly an ensemble performing their joint compositions.  Really, that is what I love about them.  They are composers not song writers.  They are practicing their art on the highest level.  They could care less if anyone likes it.  They write their music because they have too.  Because their art always comes before their popularity it was very gratifying to see a sold out hero worshiping crowd at the AAC that night.  The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades!

Here’s the Set List:

  1. Bloom
  2. Little By Little
  3. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
  4. Morning Mr. Magpie
  5. The Gloaming
  6. The Daily Mail
  7. Pyramid Song
  8. The Amazing Sounds of Orgy
    (Live debut)
  9. Karma Police
  10. 15 Step
  11. Staircase
  12. Identikit
  13. Lotus Flower
  14. There There
  15. Feral
  16. Idioteque
  17. Encore:
  18. Separator
  19. Climbing Up The Walls
  20. Bodysnatchers
  21. Everything In It’s Right Place
    (w/True Love Waits intro)
  22. Encore 2:
  23. Give Up The Ghost
  24. Skirting On The Surface
    (Full band live debut)
  25. Reckoner
  26. Paranoid Android


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Big Head Todd is a Monster of Rock!

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If you don’t know who Big Head Todd and the Monsters are, then you need to get to know them. I was not familiar with their music until last year. Now I have all of their music except the new CD of Robert Johnson covers. Big Head Todd was formed in 1986 released their first studio album in 1989 so they have stood the test of time. What I think Todd Mohr (The Lead Singer/Lead Guitar Player/ Song Writer) has accomplished is the perfect melding of alternative rock with blues rock. Simply put, The man can play the blues. The set they performed at the House of Blues was appropriately Blues infused! I think Todd had the blues in his heart and mind because he had just released “Big Head Todd Blues Club – 100 Years of Robert Johnson” in 2011 and his buddy, the great Hubert Summlin, had just died. Hubert was the guitar player for Howlin’ Wolf. Keith Richards was putting together a surprise birthday party for Hubert at the Apollo Theater in New York when Hubert passed away. The birthday party became a tribute concert. Todd was invited by Keith Richards and Eric Clapton to participate. That concert occurred in New York on February 24th right before I saw this concert on March 1st, 2012. I think the blues were on his mind.

I got invited to the show by a friend of mine who is one of their biggest fans and he is also the guy that turned me on to them as well. I had heard a few of their better known songs like “Bittersweet”, but I had never sat down and listened to an entire recording of theirs until Wojo came along.  Thanks Wojo where ever you are! My friend Wojo is also a Founders Club member of The House of Blues. What that means is that we had a first class experience at the show. We had access to a private entrance to the club, a private bar, reserved seats, and table service for cocktails. That’s why some of the pictures are so good. I was sitting right next to the mixing board.

There was no opening act. Todd and the Monsters walked on stage at exactly 9:00pm and promptly blew the doors of the building. The sound quality was excellent. The musicianship was even better. Todd wields a major Ax! (It’s no wonder that Keith Richards and Eric Clapton invited him to participate in the Summlin tribute.)  They played all of their hits as well as a good bit of material from their newer CD’s.  The show lasted 2 hours but it went by way too fast.

Big Head Todd and the Monsters are on tour right now.  Don’t you dare miss them.  You will have a first class rock experience even if you’re not a Founders Club member.  Buy their music too.  You will not be disappointed.  I for one am going to get the Robert Johnson CD as soon as possible. Also, check out their website:  – There is great video of the Hubert Summlin tribute as well as all of the music from this amazing band.

Sorry for the long hiatus form my blog.  It couldn’t be helped.  I was traveling a lot in the first 3 months of this year and I have really been working way too much.  My focus is back on music and my blog now.  I have several other blogs that I need to post, so expect much higher activity in the near future.

Happy Easter and Long Live The Blues!

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Roger, Wilco… I hear you loud and clear!

Review of the Wilco concert November 29th at the State Fair Music Hall, Dallas, Texas.

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Wilco is one of America’s finest Rock-n-Roll bands.  I know many people have never heard of them, but that doesn’t matter.  Popularity has nothing to do with quality.  And quality Rock-n-Roll is what you get with Wilco.  Since their is a good chance you don’t know who they are a little background is appropriate.  Wilco was formed from the ashes of the great band Uncle Tupelo.  Uncle Tupelo was a folk rock, roots rock band that was formed by Jeff Tweedy (Wilco’s lead singer) and Jay Farrar (Lead singer of Son Volt)  Jay and Jeff were like Lennon and McCartney.  They were highly talented, ambitious, song writers.  And just like Lennon and McCartney they couldn’t get along.  Jay wanted to continue in the Country Rock/Americana vein and Jeff wanted to continue in the Rock/Blues/Jazz/Roots vein.  They split the band and in 1995 Wilco put out their first album “A.M.”  Jay Farrar went his own way and formed Son Volt.  Both bands have done very well.  The two bands sound very different.  Wilco now has 11 Cd’s out, if you count the two they made with Billy Bragg.

The concert started with Nick Lowe.  Nick Lowe has written a lot songs that you would know.  You just might not know that he wrote them.  Songs like “What’s so Funny ’bout Peace, Love, and Understanding, ” or “Cruel to be Kind”.  He also covered Allison by Elvis Costello.  You rarely see a musician who is so confident of the power of his songs he will perform them with just his voice and a guitar.  His set was simply great.  He reminds me of Nick Drake.

After a brief intermission, it was finally time for Wilco.  I have wanted to see this band for years so needless to say I was pumped up for it.  They opened their set with the first song from their new CD The Whole Love:  One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend).  This is a long sprawling masterpiece of a song that starts like a ballad and ends up like a progressive rock song.  This is typical of Wilco.  They juxtapose beauty with discordance.  Dissonance is a vital part of their sound.  They are not afraid to make a lot of noise.  A simple song morphs into a sonic experiment at the drop of a hat.  At one turn the music and lyrics are heartrendingly beautiful and at the next turn you think your speakers are going to melt from the sonic energy this band creates.  As you can see from my photo’s I had a great seat.   I was about 30 rows back near the center of the stage.  The stage design looked like a weeping willow with handkerceifs tied in the branches.  This created many beautiful moments from the light show.

There were many highlights.  The Art of Almost, I am Trying to Break Your Heart, One wing (This is one of my favorite Wilco songs.  I love the lyrics:  “One wing will never fly, love.  Nether yours or mine.  I fear we can only wave bye, bye…).  The menacing sound of Bull Black Nova was followed by the beauty of Impossible Germany.  The show built to the powerful conclusion of Shot in the Arm.  The crowd chanted with Tweedy as he  pleaded “Maybe all I need is a shot in the arm,  maybe all I need is a shot in the arm.  Something in my veins bloodier than blood!”  

The first Encore reached back to their very first CD.  The song is called “Passenger Side”  a great Country/Rock ballad about a guy who has had his drivers licence suspended. “I don’t like driving on the passenger side!”  Before they played the next song Jeff Tweedy introduced the song by saying “This is the closest thing we have to a hit.”  They then rendered an enthusiastic performance of Heavy Metal Drummer.  The show closed with the uplifting love song “I’m the Man Who Loves You…”

Beautiful songs, beautiful lyrics, beautifully played.  More people should know about this fantastic group of musicians.  I told a lot of people I was going to this show and the first comment back was always “Who’s Wilco?”  Well, the show was sold out and the crowd knew every word to every song.  It was a giant love fest for Wilco, and I was among my people a last.  If you get the chance go see them and buy their records.  The new record The Whole Love is just fantastic.  The CD is their first record released on their own label; dBpm Records.  Support great rock-n-roll and great musicians.

So that’s a wrap.  Roger, Wilco.  Over and out…

Set List:

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Posted in Live Performance Reviews, Rock Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Don’t follow your head, follow your heart. Great CD by “The Head and the Heart”

The CD cover for the self titled recording The Head and the Heart

I was going to get back to recording and posting about vinyl but this CD would not leave me alone. It has ingrained itself into my psyche. Quite frankly, it has been a very long time since I’ve heard a CD that I could not quit listening to. I listen to this CD constantly.  I have to share it with cyberspace.  I saw this band at Austin City Limits Music Festival.  They were one of the highlights of the 3 day event. Although The Head and the Heart was formed in Seattle Washington in 2009, most of the members are transplants from California and Virginia. The band has three main singers:  Josiah Johnson, Jonathan Russel, and Charity Rose Thielen.  Jonathan and Josiah play guitar, sing, and play percussion.  Charity sings, plays percussion, and violin.  The other members are Chris Zache (Bass), Kenny Hensley (Piano) and Tyler Williams (Drums and Percussion). As you will hear, the band is piano driven and three part harmony driven.  The blending of Josiah, Jonathan, and Charity is pure magic.  This band is pulling off what other bands all over the country are aspiring to.  That being the marrying of folk, rock, and country into a true Americana sound.  Other bands like Bright Eyes, and Monsters of Folk may be getting more press but no one is accomplishing anything remotely as good as The Head and the Heart. The CD is on Sub Pop Records.  The label made famous for it’s role in creating the “Seattle Grunge Sound”  with bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney.  As great as this CD is, this band is even better in concert.  (See my review of their appearance at Austin City Limits Music Festival 2011.)  ACL has released 3 YouTube videos of their performance at the festival, so I am going to include them in this blog.  I think you will really enjoy getting a flavor for what The Head and the Heart are like in concert.  So “Pump up the volume” and get ready to dance, sing along, and drum on your table your your knees or what ever else you can find to bang on; because this music is irresistible!

1.  Cats and Dogs:  This first song is very short and acts as a prelude to everything you are going to hear.  I love the part where Josiah sings ““Fallin’ from the sky, there are raindrops in my eyes, and my thoughts are digging in the back yard.  My roots have grown but I don’t know where they are…”  All the elements of folk are here.  A simple topic, cats and dogs, a mouse in the house.  As the song nears it’s close it surprisingly and effectively switches from 4/4 time to triple time then ends suddenly.  If you’re not paying attention you will think that the next song is still part of the first song.

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2.  Coeur D’ Alene:  Coeur is the french word for Heart.  This piano driven song has a “Martha my Dear…” feel to it.  It has a Beatle feel to it.  I love the “La da da” chorus.  The luxury of having three singers is exploited very well in this song.  As one singer finishes a line another singer will start a line over the last word of the other singer.  This creates a dramatic effect at the end of the La da da chorus when the vocal “Messes that I haven’t tried to clean up in a while …” overlaps the last …da

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3.  Ghosts:  This is another song about leaving home and blazing your own trail.  “When Mary moved all her shit to Chicago, her Mother made sure she took her Bible.  But you won’t see her face on Sundays…”  Again this song has a very catchy “du,du, du, du, du, du, du…” chorus.  I love the refrain “One day we’ll all be ghosts, tripping around someone else’s house.  Once day  we’ll all be ghosts, ghosts, ghosts…”  Then the du,du, du’s change to “Ba Dap, ba dap, ba, ba, da, da…” This is also kind of Beatle sounding somehow.  There was a time in rock history that they believed if you had a da, da type chorus it was a guaranteed hit.  This song should be all over the radio.  It is infectious and catchy…

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4.  Down in the Valley:  Starting with this song the CD really begins to soar.  This is a great song.  It starts out simply with Josiah singing with just a guitar “I wish I was a slave to an age old trade.  Like ridin’ around on rail cars and workin’ long days.  Lord have mercy on my rough and rowdy ways.”  This song is full of yearning, regret and the desire to start over.  He sings in falsetto and then Charity joins him at the octave.  Their voices blend perfectly.  The song builds and builds until it becomes a tidal wave of emotion.  Then the song ends quietly just as it begun.  But the song is now in your memory bank and is unforgettable.  It will stay with you for a long, long  time.  This is also a staple of their live shows.  Listen to the song and then watch the video from ACL 2011.

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5.  Rivers and Roads:  This is the song that The Head and the Heart always end their live shows with.  Here they are a brand new band and they already have a traditional end er.  It took the Rolling Stones years to get to the point where they had a song that they traditionally ended their shows with! (Jumpin’ Jack Flash)  After you hear this song you will understand why they end their shows with it.  This song underscores the need for more featured vocals from the only woman in the band Charity Thielen.  Listen to what she does in the live performance at ACL.  She sings like a woman possessed.  She is frenetic.  It blew me and the crowd away.  This is a show stopper!

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6.  Honey Come Home:  This song starts out with beautiful 3 part harmony.  A song about a broken home.  A beautiful song with beautiful lyrics.

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7.  Lost in my Mind:  This is their hit.  This song just makes you want to sing along and dance your ass off.  Which is exactly what happens in the video at ACL.  A group of people got on stage and danced with the band during the song.  If you watch carefully in the video you can tell the band is totally surprised but they go right along with it and have a blast with their fans.  After the song was over Charity asked Jonathan: “Who were they? ” Jonathan says: “I have no idea”  Charity asks “Where did they come from” Jonathan says: “I don’t know, but that was a lot of fun!”

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8.  Winter Song:  This is a folk song that any folk singer would have loved to have written.  This song also highlights the point made earlier that the band needs to give Charity more opportunity to feature her unique vocals.

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9.  Sounds Like Hallelujah:  This is a beautiful song that almost becomes a prayer.  From the count off that starts the song to the beautiful finale this song has heart.  I love how the song changes meter in the middle with the “mama don’t put that gun in my hand..”   refrain then it switches to the Hallelujah chorus…

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10.  Heaven Go Easy On Me:  Just when you think that a CD could not possibly have anymore great moments this CD stuns you with an unbelievable final song.  The singer talks about the wind blowing through your window and your front yard and the music gives you that feeling of the breeze blowing through your window.  The leads singers tells the listener “Don’t follow your head, follow your heart…” Then the singers begs “Heaven go easy on me…”  The song would be fairly normal but just as the CD starts with a Prelude (Cats and Dogs) it ends with a truly incredible Coda.  The piano begins a repetitive motif and the guitar begins to strum and the magic happens. “It’s damn good to have met you.  I hope that you’ll stay.  We’re well on our way, we’re well on our way…”  The band takes full advantage of having three great singers as they layer three lines over each other, each singing different lyrics at the same time.  The effect is magic.  “All these things go rushing by…” While another sings “We’re well on our way…” and then the last singer sings “All things must end daring…”  the singers fade away one at a time until all we hear is Charity’s violin and a cello in a beautiful string quartet for the end of time. The CD ends and I just start it over again.

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Bottom line?  Go out and buy this CD now!  The new Seattle sound is Folk Rock.  Check out Fleet Foxes as well.  Don’t miss them when the play David Letterman on October 28th.  You won’t be disappointed.  Personally I love this Americana sounding music and of all the bands that pursue this style of music, The Head and the Heart affect my Head and my Heart!

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Day 3 at ACL – All Good Things Must Come to an End…

The Head and the Heart performing at ACL 2011

Day three started with breakfast at a great local restaurant in east Austin called “Cisco’s”.  While we were having breakfast one of the bands that we saw perform on Friday came in for breakfast too.  The band was called “Wild Beast”.  They were very nice.  We just told them how much we enjoyed there show and then left them alone.  I’m sure they enjoyed their authentic Tex-Mex breakfast as much as we did.

We got to the concert a little earlier than I thought we would and caught about half the set of another English group called Graffiti 6.  We had not planed to see this group but they were very good.  They sounded kind of Jamiroquai like.  The vocals had a soul edged rock sound to them.  They are about to release their first American single.  They played the song and I liked it.  It sounded kind of like The Spencer Davis Group.

Next up was The Head and the Heart.  There was a lot of pre-show buzz about this band.  They had played South by Southwest earlier in the year, but the venue was really small and very few people got to see them.  A large crowd had assembled to see them this time.  I was very excited about hearing them.  The Head and the Heart are a very Americana sounding band from Seattle Washington.  Their self titled debut album was released by Sub Pop Records.  Band has three main singers who traded off taking the lead vocal on various songs.  Their set started slowly and built to a powerful conclusion.  I really enjoyed this band and highly recommend them.  If you’d like to hear what they sound like live and you have iTunes, you can download a live performance from NPR’s “All Songs Considered”.  Some of the highlights were “Rivers and Roads” and “Lost in my Mind”.  This band has great chemistry with the audience.  The only note I wrote about this performance was “WOW!!”

Back at the main stage we saw a band with the very interesting name of Airborne Toxic Event.  They sounded like a cross between The Clash and Bright Eyes.  The lead singer looked like a tatted up hood but when he spoke to the crowd he was a very kind and thoughtful person.   He dedicated a cover of a song by The Magnetic Fields to his recently deceased Grandparents.  He dedicated another song to our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.  He also did a very cool cover of the Bruce Springsteen song “Fire”.  Immediately after I made a comment to my friend that they sounded kind of like The Clash they covered “Rockin’ The Kazbar”.  They closed their show with a rousing version of “I Fought the Law and the Law Won”. This band had played ACL before and a large and enthusiastic crowd tuned up to see them.

During the intermission I went to get some food and beer.  Every day I at these Grilled Steak Kebabs from Tim Love’s Lonesome Dove Cafe.  The food at ACL is very, very good.   Especially Tim Love’s food.  Here’s a picture of his sign above their booth.

The Sign above Tim Love's Lonesome Dove Cafe Booth at ACL

The next band I saw was Broken Social Scene.  This band hails from Canada.  They are great practitioners of Phil Spectors “Wall of Sound”.  There were at least 9 people in the band.  There music soars.  They use a lot of distortion.  They were not afraid to make a lot of noise.  Neil Young would have loved their set.  Late in their set they did a very cool cover of a Modest Mouse song.  I would highly recommend this group.

The sun was beginning to set when Fleet Foxes took the stage.  I have heard of this band for some time and I was very interested in seeing them live.  This set was one of the highlights of the entire 3 day event.  This is a very serious band with highly sophisticated music and harmony. They had as good of harmonies as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young or The Eagles.  They were every bit as good of musicians too.  What an amazing band!  I loved them.

So that brings me to the end of the show.  The last band standing.  Sunday night September 18, 2011 Arcade Fire burned the house down!  They put on a fantastic show.  They light show was blinding at times.  They are also great practitioners of “The Wall of Sound” .  They remind me of Talking Heads at the end of their career when they did Stop Making Sense.  The lead singer sounds and even has some of the mannerisms of David Bryne.  The woman in Arcade fire that plays all of the different instruments and sings lead vocal on certain  songs, kind of stole the show.  She also got to sing lead on the very last song.  The whole crowd dispersed singing her catchy song.

So there you have it.  Three days of fun and music.  What’s the bottom line?  Well, I thought ACL was extremely well run.  I thought the variety and the quality of the music that was presented was fantastic.  They really have this thing down now in their 10th year.  I highly recommend going.  Register on line and get on the email list.  Next years early bird ticket are already on sale.  The line up has not yet been announced but it doesn’t matter.  I can assure you that it will be well worth the $185.00 ticket price.  I have paid more money to see just  one band.  For the same price I got to see 19 bands. I think they are moving the event to October 14-16 2012.  This is great because it will be much cooler weather than it was this year.   It was an experience I will remember for a long, long time.  So, I say buy a ticket and maybe I’ll see you there next year…

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ACL Day 2 – The School of Wonder…

Aloe Blacc and the Grand Scheme

Aloe Blacc and the Grand Scheme Live at ACL September 17, 2011

Day Two was dominated by Soul and Rhythm and Blues.  The first band we saw Saturday morning was Aloe Blacc and the Grand Scheme.  Aloe was like going back in time and seeing Marvin Gaye or Sam Cooke.  The second song he played his band took us through the various styles of James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Sam and Dave, and (ironicly) Stevie Wonder who would be the last artist of this day at ACL.  Aloe Black is just fantastic.  He has one of the most infectious hits out right now.  Once you hear:  “I need a Dollar…”  it will be stuck in your head forever.  The song is a big hit in England but for some reason has not gotten a lot of air play in the United States.  Here’s the video:

Once again, England seems to appreciate our music first. What’s up with that?  Aloe is from California.  I believe he is going to be a huge artist. His debut album is called Good Things.  

Next up, at the other end of the park, was another amazing band called Young the Giant.  All four members of this band are from different countries.  (Indian, Persian, English, and French-Canadian)    Their band of rock and roll is dynamic, rhythmic and infectious.  The lead singer plays the tambourine so well it becomes an integral part of their sound.  The lead singer sounded like a cross between Harry Connick, Jr. and Michael Hutchence.  He had stage presence and a very powerful voice.  They played to a huge crowd and they rocked!  I highly recommend this band.  It rained during their set and the rain stayed around for a couple of hours.  The crowd reveled in the rain.

At this point in the day the other  two people I was with split up to see different bands.  I chose to see the living legend Daniel Lanois’.  


Daniel Lanois' Black Dub

Daniel Lanois' Black Dub performing at ACL September 17, 2011

Daniel Lanois is one of the most famous producers in the history of rock. He produced albums for U2, Peter Gabriel, Bod Dylan, Brian Eno, Willie Nelson, Neil Young and many others. He also has a few solo albums out I would strongly recommend. Especially For the Beauty of Wynona.  His new band Black Dub features a very talented musician named Trixie Whitley.  She sang lead vocal on most of the songs.  For good measure she also played drums, (see the picture above) guitar, and keyboards.  She had a powerful blues laced voice.   The “Dub” in “Black Dub” does not refer to Dubbstep like you would think.  The music was Louisiana blues laced rock and roll.  They turned in a short but powerful set.  Daniels guitar playing was simply brilliant.

After the Lanois set I had to walk a the way down to the end of the park where the Budweiser stage was in order to catch Allison Krauss and Union Station. The crowd was huge and by the time I got there they were a few songs into their set.  They put on a beautiful blue grass show.  This band is full of fantastic musicians not the least of which is Allison Krauss herself.  The music was so intimate and the crowd was so large that some of the impact of the music was difficult to experience.

As the sun began to set Cee-Lo and his all woman band took the stage.  His band walked out first.  6 statuesque women wearing solid red jump suits or dresses, except for the mix-master who was dressed in a solid gold jump suit.  Next Cee-lo came out in a black sweat suit with red stripes down the side.  All he did was put on the most intense R & B show you could ever imagine.  He rocked the stage with power and presence.  He was also a lot of fun.  He was the perfect warm-up band before the main event of the day:  The headline act of Stevie Wonder.

I feel a little foolish trying to comment or critique the performance of the musical treasure that is Stevie Wonder, but I’ve come this far so there is no turning back.  As Cee-Lo was performing a steady stream of people kept coming into the Budlite stage area.  By the time Stevie Wonder came on the crowd was so enormous it was almost scary.  The Austin paper estimated that 70,000 saw the Stevie Wonder Set.  There were probably at least another 30,00 at the other end of the park at the AMD stage to see My Morning Jacket.

Stevie played a greatest hits plus he covered a Michael Jackson song.  When he came out he said “You are about to go to the school of Wonder!.”  He and his band were simply wonderful.  The bass player and drummers were especially great.  His set included Higher Ground, Sir Duke, Living in the City, My Cherie Amore, and on and on it goes.  The only thing that marred his set was his decision to be political.  This is what he meant by “The School of Wonder”.  He begged the audience to support Barak Obama, (I thought this would be greeted with huge applause in the most liberal city in Texas, but surprisingly there were more boo’s than cheers) he challenged people to financially support education for children, he asked people to support gun control, (from the reaction of the crowd I can only deduce that Democrats like guns as much as Republicans in Texas) he asked that the crowd not support capital punishment ( again greeted with a lot of jeers).  It is disappointing to me to go see such amazing performer and feel I was at a political rally.  His music saved the day but I would have enjoyed it more without the politics.  There was perfect symmetry to the day as the day started with the R & B of Aloe Blacc and end with the R & B of Cee-Lo and Stevie Wonder.

Next blog up will be the third and final day of Austin City Limits.

Let me know your thoughts.


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