Wednesday, August 17, 2016

My Summer of Live Rock & Roll Act VIIII: Jonny 2 Bags & ZZ Top (Alphabetical Order Puts ZZ at the End)


Whenever I provide a review or write up, it means that I have bought and paid for the item or admission costs myself.  In the rare instance when items or admission are being provided free of charge or at a discount, I say so.  This site is non-monetized therefore the opinions provided are truly free of influence.

This concert was very different, in that the tickets were provided to me as a result of my being a veteran and by someone other than the act being reviewed.  Therefore, I will explain a little bit about Vet Tix before I talk about the concert itself.  



From their website:  

Vet Tix provides tickets to events which reduce stress, strengthen family bonds, build life-long memories and encourage service members and veterans to stay engaged with local communities and American life. We support our troops by honoring their service and providing positive family and life experiences, during and after their years of service to our country.


There are too many details as to how all this works to get into here, but if you are a veteran I would recommend you check it out and sign up.    Short version:  They go out and seek donations (and ask that you help), they have a fair way to make sure every Veteran gets a chance at what tickets are available and the manage the administration of the distribution of the tickets very well.  This was only my second event for which Vet Tix supplied admission, but they have recently started offering a lot more shows and events in my area.  

As a Cold War Veteran, it is nice to be included in this recognition, especially since (even though we won) we got no parades, medals, or veteran’s hiring preference.


Jonny 2 Bags

Photo Copyright 2016 Chris Schwegler
Ever heard of him?  How about Jonny Wickersham?  The Punk Rock band Social Distortion?  Me neither on all three counts.  He was the replacing Gregg Allman as the opening act for ZZ Top.  I was looking forward to Gregg, now I had someone I had never heard of opening for one of my favorites – I had a friend tell me that when he saw ZZ Top that REO Speedwagon opened for them – a good band but a poor matchup that led to REO being booed off the stage.  I wished Jonny more luck as I took my seat and turned my attention towards the stage.

Photo Copyright 2016 Chris Schwegler
He walked out by himself, carrying an acoustic guitar and stood behind a single mic on a stand.  Then he started to play.  I had no expectations, I had no knowledge of what he was going to play, but before he got to the first bridge, I was interested.  A t first I thought he had a John Mellencamp feel to his ballads – but his voice was similar to Tom Petty.  It was an unexpected combination but a pleasing one.

Two songs form his set list that I particularly liked (music & lyrics) was One Foot In The Gutter and Clay Wheels.  Stories told through melody and backed by the sound of an acoustic guitar.  Simple and easy, yet deep and complex.  My kind of music – music you can sit and listen to by yourself while enjoying the miles rolling by or clouds crossing the sky. 

Jonny did not get booed but I felt bad the applause was not more.  The DTE crowd does not really fill out before the opening act is about to start – tonight they missed something really worthwhile.  I think he (like REO) was a poor match for ZZ Top, but I am glad fortune had him cross my path so that I could discover his music.  I now have his 2014 album Salvation Town and I am enjoying what I am hearing.
Photo Copyright 2016 Chris Schwegler

Now if you ask me about Jonny 2 Bags or Jonny Wickersham, I can tell you he is an American balladeer and if you get a chance go see him – GO – at the absolute least be sure check out his music.

I spent some time looking, but could find no reference as to where the “2 Bags” part of the name came form or what it meant.   If I find out I will post an update here. 


Umleitung:  I truly believe one of the most terrifying performances you can give is one in which you are truly a solo act, supplying both the vocals and the music.  The first time I did something like this, I was performing a Jim Croce song at a high school guitar concert. It was one of the first times that I had sung in public, and at the same time I was playing a rather tricky guitar accompaniment. The problem with being both the sole vocalist and musician is that if you screw up either part, it can have an instant effect on the other. In other words, if you are playing and miss a chord change, you might stop singing or your voice might change as you try to get back in the groove.

Before the concert, I came up with my own way of separating the two performances in my mind so that I could cope with the huge responsibility of trying to play both.  Some people call this compartmentalization, but I saw it more as a dual track way of mentally handling what was going on. Therefore, if my voice when a little flat, the guitar melody continued unabated and without being affected.

I think the longest performance I ever gave of that nature was 4 songs back to back in front of a crowd of about 400 or so at a coffee house. I have great admiration for anyone with the mental control necessary in order to handle a performance in front of 10,000 or so people. /Umleitung




ZZ Top

I have history with ZZ Top, from my love of double meaning lyrics, guitar heavy blues, and my early 80s love affair with MTV.  After you get done checking out the lyrics and real meanings of Pearl Necklace, Cheap Sunglasses and La Grange check out the YouTube collection of ZZ Top videos.  Almost every video featured the band as Karma overlords evening the score for someone who had been done wrong – and by the end of the song the oppressed was either riding or driving away in a 33 Ford Coup Eliminator along with three hot Graces courtesy of a key on a distinctive ZZ keychain supplied to them by the band.  What is not to love about this band – and the music.  For only three guys they pump out a fat sounding dose of Texas blues funk --   heavy on the guitar, bass, and driving rhythms.

I saw them 16 years ago at the Missouri State Fair (opened by Los Lobos) and they were great then – my expectations were sky high tonight.


The lights came up and there they were – Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons in their traditional uniform of hats and shades along with Frank Beard laying down a driving beat on the drums.  ZZ Top.

Any band that has been together almost 4 decades will be either tired or extremely polished.  You could see your face in the reflection of every surface of this performance. The Tres Hombres were in great form and they were enjoying playing with each other as well as the audience reaction and support.  Dusty and Billy were joking back and forth as well as synching their movements in some light choreography.  It was just a great performance – little more to say.

I have never just given the set list for a concert, but if I were to point out my favorite tunes from the show, I would end up doing just that – so I will save the discourse and just list the most dynamite set list of ZZ Top tunes heard to date (including 3 covers):

Got Me Under Pressure 
Photo Copyright 2016 Chris Schwegler
Waitin' for the Bus 
Jesus Just Left Chicago 
Gimme All Your Lovin' 
Pincushion 
I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide 
I Gotsta Get Paid 
Rough Boy 
Foxy Lady (The Jimi Hendrix Experience cover)  
Catfish Blues (Robert Petway cover)  
Sixteen Tons 
Cheap Sunglasses 
Chartreuse 
Sharp Dressed Man 
Legs 

Encore 1:
La Grange / Sloppy Drunk Jam 

Encore 2:
Tush

Photo Copyright 2016 Chris Schwegler
The only thing missing from this performance, that was in the 2000 show was the spinning rabbit guitars (check out the video for Legs).  They had fuzzy guitars but did not spin them.  That’s okay, the 80’s are gone but this music lives on and does not age at all.

Since I discussed 2 Bags’ name before, I will add this about ZZ Top’s – as the legend goes…. Billy noticed B.B. King and Z.Z. Hill used just their initials and thought of combining the two into "ZZ King", but considered it too similar to the original name. So he figured that "king is going at the top" which brought him to "ZZ Top".  The rest is rock & roll legend.



95,582

Thursday, August 4, 2016

My Summer of Live Rock & Roll Act VII: Journey & The Doobie Brothers With Special Guest Dave Mason (In Detroit Not San Francisco)


The show is formally billed as The San Francisco Fest Tour 2016, but I think many people found that confusing since the show was not in San Francisco but made up of bands that originated in San Francisco.   So, it was being called a Journey & The Doobie Brothers with special guest Dave Mason.  That works -- just make the music good.

Dave Mason

Unless you are really into late 60s music, were a fan of Traffic, or track Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, the name Dave Mason probably does not mean much to you.  He was the composer of one song, however, that almost everyone knows thanks to a cover done by Joe Cocker:  Feelin' Alright.  Dave mentioned before playing it that it was a two chord song that has been covered by more people than any other song ever written, if you count drunks doing a karaoke version of it.  He is probably right.  But this was another time when the opener could easily have been the headliner.

Dave's music is rooted in guitar blues with a dash of 60's psychedelic thrown in on top.  He even did an awesome cover of a Jimi Hendrix tune, having been one of the musicians who helped with the original recording.  Another song of Dave's that met with great success was We Just Disagree -- awesome lyrics.  

His band line-up changed several times during the set as he brought up the Doobie Brother’s John McFee (guitar) and Marc Russo (saxophone) along with Journey bassist Ross Valory (nope, he did not dance).  As a result each song had a complete feel and well-rounded sound that is often lacking when a band is on the road.

The Doobie Brothers


When I was in High School, a friend of mine (Lelia Beakey) gave me the album Takin' It To The Streets for my birthday.  It was the first new album I ever owned and I wore it out.   I always liked the Doobie's style and vocal harmonies.   Growing up in the California Rock era, the band was a natural companion for a fan of Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles.

I enjoyed the performance as it was neither over produced nor overly complicated.  They played their hits, interacted with the audience and everything they performed was done well.  

The set list, as I said, was all hits and the audience ate it up.  Most notable were:  Rockin' Down the Highway -- Part of my 50 Greatest Motorcycle Riding Tunes list for good reason, great road song;  Spirit --  Played totally acoustic,  sounded awesome;  Takin' It to the Streets -- brought back memories for me;  Black Water -- one of my favs (and the name of my first and only garage band); Long Train Runnin' -- Always loved dancing to this; and China Grove -- another of my favs and a great dance tune too.  They performed two encores:  Without You & Listen to the Music (my favorite Doobie Bros tune)

Overall, I considered the performance to be flawless and effortlessly enjoyable.  Just sat back and enjoyed every note played.

Journey

The first thing that comes up when talking about or going to see a Journey concert is "who" you are going to see.  Journey's make up has been fairly consistent over the years, with the exception of the lead singer.  There have been 4 of them to date.  The one who is most widely known and rightly admired for his vocal prowess is Steve Perry (and this will be the only time I mention his name).   But it has been 18 years since he has even performed with the band -- it is time to let go and decide if you are a fan of him or of Journey.  

Arnel Pineda is the current lead vocalist with the group, and whereas I was curious and leery as to how he would sound,  I will tell you that he has tremendous range and power in his voice and every song I heard this night was indeed a Journey song.  Arnel also has great stage presence and performs as a true member of the group and not as a typical front man/vocalist.  I have never seen another iteration of the band live before this performance, but after seeing it I can truly say I saw Journey at its best.

Before the concert started I was told by someone else on our row that if you closed your eyes Arnel's voice sounded just like the old Journey.  Why close your eyes?  With them open you can see and hear that Arnel is Journey -- 

The set list included all their hits plus a few tunes from their 2011 Eclipse album.  Before I get to the set list, I want to talk about the fourth selection:  The Star-Spangled Banner.

The song was done well and I personally like the anthem as a guitar solo. Having said that,  as a veteran I can't stand the way people ignore the tune's significance by remaining seated, talking, or shouting while it is being played.  I would suggest playing as the first song of the evening with an appropriate "Please rise for the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner," preface or removing the song from the playlist completely. 

What makes a Journey set list interesting is the mix of driving songs in their repertoire (like Separate Ways (Worlds Apart), Any Way You Want It, and Wheel in the Sky) along with slower deep meaning songs (like Lights, Open Arms, and Faithfully).   You can't just have a full concert of fast songs,  and their careful blending and mixing of tempos allowed you to recover emotionally from the fast songs so you are not always on the edge.  It provides a more rounded concert experience.    Aside from Arnel's excellent vocals I also, really enjoyed the Jonathan Cain keyboard work and solos.
 Last song of the evening made me know what it felt  like to be a small town girl born and raised in south Detroit -- by the way south Detroit is in no way a small town -- Don't Stop Believin'  It was UNBELIEVABLE live.

For the encore, they played what I consider one of the most passionate songs in Rock & Roll history:  Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'  -- the lyrics tell the story of a break up due to cheating but the longing in the melody and lyrics is just so relatable. In the end Karma takes her pound of flesh and levels the field, as Karma often does.



All in all -- great show.


95,250

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

My Summer of Live Rock & Roll Act VI: This Is What the Truth Feels Like -- Gwen Stefani with Eve (It Can’t All Be Guitar Rock)


Whenever I provide a review or write up, it means that I have bought and paid for the item or admission costs myself.  In the rare instance when items or admission are being provided free of charge or at a discount, I say so.  This site is non-monetized therefore the opinions provided are truly free of influence.

This concert was very different, in that the tickets were provided to me as a result of my being a veteran and by someone other than the act being reviewed.  Therefore, I will explain a little bit about Vet Tix before I talk about the concert itself.  



From their website:  


Vet Tix provides tickets to events which reduce stress, strengthen family bonds, build life-long memories and encourage service members and veterans to stay engaged with local communities and American life. We support our troops by honoring their service and providing positive family and life experiences, during and after their years of service to our country.


There are too many details as to how all this works to get into here, but if you are a veteran I would recommend you check it out and sign up.    Short version:  They go out and seek donations (and ask that you help), they have a fair way to make sure every Veteran gets a chance at what tickets are available and the manage the administration of the distribution of the tickets very well.  This was only my second event for which Vet Tix supplied admission, but they have recently started offering a lot more shows and events in my area.  

As a Cold War Veteran, it is nice to be included in this recognition, especially since (even though we won) we got no parades, medals, or veteran’s hiring preference.

Eve

@2016 Chris Schwegler
I can listen and appreciate all music and my collection has massive variety, but Hip Hop is something I have only recently come to appreciate.  As a lover of ballads, I have begun to see the story telling connection between ballads and Hip Hop.  With that said, I can tell you that Eve is a Hip Hop artist and I enjoyed her performance.


The warm up was actually her DJ (Rough Rider) who got the crowd going  before Eve and her dance crew took the stage.

@2016 Chris Schwegler
I liked her song Love is Blind, which dealt with domestic violence, Eve and She Bad Bad.  All three had tales to tell and I enjoyed the play on words to make the point.

Eve was backed by four dancers who were doing great moves and were almost like poetry.  One dancer (the brunette with straight hair) was awesome and flowed through every move start to finish. Great to watch….almost a syncopated ballet.

Gwen Stefani

@2016 Chris Schwegler

There were several songs I liked by No Doubt and part of the reason was Gwen’s voice and musical style.  I was looking forward to seeing her live and she did not disappoint.  What struck me most of all was her production values.


The show was slick and featured eight choreographed dancers in addition to the band, who also was moving to the music – especially the bass player.  First was Boston’s bass player and now this guy?  Next thing you know drummers will become respectable.  Gwen did at least five costume changes (that I noticed) and kept the audience fired up taking only one brief break while the band played an instrumental.  

Of note from the set list: Baby Don’t Lie -- full of emotion and carefully crafted; Wind It Up – how can you not rock to a song that samples The Sound of Music?  Rich Girl (feat. Eve) – an old tune, but one I liked; What You Waiting For? -- the audience went nuts for this one; Go Ahead and Break My Heart -- from where I was sitting I could see a figure walking past the open backstage door a few times that I thought looked like Blake Shelton.  Indeed it was, and he came out to perform a duet that started with Gwen in tears and ended with the two of them in a hug; and the night ended with Hollaback Girl – She rocked it.  
@2016 Chris Schwegler

The best part of the evening was the way Gwen played to the crowd.  She made a concert with 15,000 or so people seem intimate because of the way she covered the house and spoke openly about how she felt about being in Detroit (her Dad is form here).  At one point she walked to left stage and told the crowd “I could get obsessed with you”, walking to the right she told those folks “I see you there, and I want to get to know you”, then returning to center stage told them “I feel like I already know you, but I want to know you better”.  She made the entire audience feel special – how can you not like that.

The encore included Truth, Just a Girl, and The Sweet Escape – my personal favorite and she did an extended version.  One great performance.  Thanks again to Vet Tix and Live Nation (who donated the tickets) for making it possible.




Audience

I have no problem with people moving from the back towards the front when there are empty seats available.  Why let them go wasted?  I do have a problem when those people act like complete and total asses once they have moved; disturbing and blocking the view of those who paid a much greater price for the assigned seats they are occupying.  

There was a family sitting directly in front of me, with two small very well behaved children.   The kids could sit in their seat and see the show, no problem because several rows in front of them were empty.   As Gwen took the stage, two rather large women ducked into the row and took position directly in front of the kids, and rather than sitting down, proceeded to stand and dance until the final curtain call.  This blocked the kids view of the stage (and mine as well).

The father swapped the seats around so the kids were moved to the opposite side, so they could see again.   The show went on, then three more folks showed up from the back and took up positon directly in front of where the kids had been moved to and stood directly in front of the kids.  One of the three even turned around and looked down at the kid and laughed before turning back toward the stage.  So, again the view was blocked by some rude interlopers.

The father moved the kids out of the row (we were on the edge of the seat block) and stood in the aisle right next to his seats only to have security come over and tell him they were required to be in seats.  He moved back in and then let the kids stand on their seats.  They were so small, even standing on the seat they did not block my view.  Security came over again, and told him the kids had to sit down.  The Dad made them sit and the kids could see nothing but the asses of the asses who had snuck down into the seats in front of them.

Bottom line:  Either sit in the seats you paid for or act like you were raised with some modicum of manners by not making yourself a nuisance if you move to seats you did not pay for.  Don’t be an ass!


94.966

Saturday, July 30, 2016

My Summer of Live Rock & Roll Act V: Boston 40th Anniversary with Dennis DeYoung: The Music Of Styx (Rocking The Hilltop)


This was the first time I sat on "the hill" versus being in permanent seats in the pavilion and rain was supposed to fall at some point during the evening.  The rain did not fall and it was a great experience even if the view was not always great due to the management of the big screens (more on that later)

Dennis DeYoung: The Music of Styx

Photo Copyright 2016 Chris Balow
I have talked about opening acts and how they just keep getting better.  Tonight the opening act surpassed the headliner.  DeYoung played nothing but hits and they were played with precision and without interruption.  He hit every note in perfect voice and even though the band was composed of all new members,  they did not try to reinvent the music or alter it in any way.  

Photo Copyright 2016 Chris Balow
The Grand Illusion started the set, and established where we were going tonight -- right to the heart of Styx' best stuff.  Backing it with Lady and Lorelei smoothed the edge a little; both songs having thought provoking lyrics but with melodies that but kept the energy high and driving.  Dennis seemed to be selecting and playing songs in well matched pairings throughout the evening.

  
Photo Copyright 2016 Chris Balow
Desert Moon was followed by my personal favorite Too Much Time on My Hands, a song that has great meaning to me.  I think everyone at some point in their lives has been stuck in  a situation that just left them hanging with nothing to do other than waiting for the next event -- waiting with too much time on your hands.

Somewhere after that Dennis spoke to the audience and said

(paraphrasing) "How many of you are seeing me for the first time live,  either solo or with Styx?"  applause and cheering "Well, I am 69,  what took so long?"  More applause followed.  

69 and still rocking it?  Wow.  I am impressed.

Rockin' the Paradise was followed by Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man).   Fooling Yourself was not on the Paradise Theatre album,  but it pairs so well with title track.  I have only recently discovered and started to appreciate Paradise Theatre as a themed collection of songs versus a standard album collection of random tunes.  No idea why I did not do this when it was released.  Do yourself a favor, if you have not done it before:  Get the album,  cloister yourself into a quiet room,  put on headphones and listen to the album start to finish (in order) without interruption.  You can thank me later.

The Best of Times was paired with Renegade.  Another dynamite well thought out pairing and two more rocking tunes that got the audience fired up. What a way to close the set.  Dennis then took the mic and said:

(again, paraphrasing) "You all know how this works,  we are going to go stand over there (motioning to offstage left) and wait while you guys applaud.  We will wait a minute or two and then we will come back out and play some more.  Tell ya what,  we will skip the walk and just stay here and play"

The band then broke into  Come Sail Away as the performance sailed us away one last time.

Boston, 40th Anniversary Tour


The band opened with The Star-Spangled Banner which was appreciated by many (as they all stood up and at attention) but also showed the lack of respect of many as they continued to walk around and carry on conversations.  Sorry, as a veteran that bothers me.

Photo Copyright 2016 Chris Balow
Photo Copyright 2016 Chris Balow
Tom Scholz (only original member left) and Gary Pihl shared lead guitar duties all night and gave the performance that distinctive dual lead Boston sound.  Tommy DeCarlo supplied the lead vocals and was in terrific voice and ramped up the crowd.

Gary asked at one point if the audience wanted to hear stuff off their last album (Life, Love & Hope, 2013) or their hits.  The crowd's response was obvious, we had come to hear the hits and that is what they played.  The song that really fired up the audience was the expected, More Than a Feeling -- everyone was on their feet and singing along, also expected.  

The song Walk On was done in two parts both of which featured Beth Cohen on vocals.   Her voice meshed and harmonized beautifully.  She had a really strong voice with that distinctive Boston sound.  However, whoever was controlling the sound board so over produced her vocals you could not understand a single word she was singing.  It wasn't until she did the second half of the song (after Get Organ-ized ) that I even figured out what the title of the song was. 
Photo Copyright 2016 Chris Balow

Get Organ-ized featured several solos,  but the most impressive was Tracy Ferrie on Bass.  The guy was having fun and putting on a show not only with his playing but with his stage choreography.  It is seldom they let the bass player take over the stage -- I was glad he did.  With the song's title you know the song was going to feature Scholz on the Hammond organ playing ever -- and it did.

Photo Copyright 2016 Chris Balow
Foreplay/Long Time is my personal favorite due to the keyboards and lengthy intro.  Love it when a musician gets to show off and Tom did.

Of note:  Jeff Neal played the most awesome drums and percussion I have heard all summer.   The beats were solid and he added a lot of runs and flourishes that blended with each song and at the same time showed off his superlative skills.  If I ever formed another band,  I would want a drummer that could emulate that performance. 

The Venue


If you have never been to DTE Energy Theatre, there are two kinds of seats:  Pavilion and Lawn. Within the Pavilion are two large screens, on either side, that display live camera shots of the band as they perform.  If you are on the Lawn,  there are 3 additional screen attached to the roof of the Pavilion that assist you in being able to see what is going on.  There is one more screen directly behind the stage and above the band that displays video footage that I can only ascertain that the band has provided to go along with the music.  That screen is very visible from any seat in the venue.

For some reason during this show, the only thing displayed on all the screens during the opening act was the name of the performer,  Dennis DeYoung.  As a result if you were on the lawn you could not see any of the act except in miniature.

During Boston, the screens split their time between live footage of the band and  the band's supplied video.  WHY?  The video was easy to see on the main screen from any seat in the place -- even if they also showed it on the two interior screens it would have been enough.  Showing it on the 3 exterior screens was overkill and left those on the lawn with no view of the band.

Whoever the video director was should take a few minutes and walk through the venue -- to each seating section -- to see and experience the effects of their decision.




Props to the venue for playing Mother's Finest version of Mickey's Monkey during the intermission.  No this was not a Funk concert and I am unaware of Mother's Finest performing anywhere this far North this summer -- but to dig that one out and give it a play -- dunno if anyone else appreciate it -- but I sure did.

Lum de Lum de la iii.






94,754