30th Jul2012

Interview with Rod Argent from The Zombies/Argent

by rockchicago

 

Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone, two true stalwarts of classy English pop, have reunited after three decades under the moniker of their former outfit, The Zombies.  Their reunion has been enthusiastically embraced by the public, thanks to a hot band, some superlative new material, and a stage repertoire that draws heavily upon their much-cherished catalogue of The Zombies and solo hits.

In their day, The Zombies were one of the few English bands of the 1960s that enjoyed true global popularity, with two American number ones, chart records throughout the rest of the world, and a deep and lasting affection for their music. For instance, in early 1967, at a time when their career had almost ground to a halt in the UK, the band played to crowds of over 30,000 in the Philippines. And ironically, right after the band split, their final single “Time Of The Season” quickly became their biggest record – US radio plays for the latter song recently passed the four million mark. The Zombies’ first two American singles, “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No”, also remain two of the most-heavily spun vintage hits on American classic-rock radio.

But beyond the statistics, The Zombies had several remarkable attributes that set them apart from other artists. The sheer consistent quality of Rod Argent and Chris White’s songwriting is rivaled only by Lennon and McCartney. Building upon the standard R&B and rock’n’roll influences, The Zombies introduced class and sophistication into a genre not noted for either, and in the most natural, unselfconscious way possible. And the songs were lent an extra dimension by the voice of Colin Blunstone, widely acknowledged as one of the finest singers Britain has ever produced. Rod Argent’s keyboard work is regarded as some of the most accomplished and inventive in rock. The Zombies’ canon belongs on the same shelf as the other major players of the mid-1960s such as the Kinks, Yardbirds and Animals; from their debut “She’s Not There” onwards, there was never at any point a drop in quality. The Zombies’ records are some of the best produced and distinctive in all pop music.

More importantly, the popularity of The Zombies’ music, in keeping with their name, shows no sign of dying. Their unsurpassed oeuvre continues to influence musicians around the world, whether they be original fans the stature of Tom Petty or Pat Metheney, or relative youngsters like REM, Beck, Pavement and Paul Weller. And contemporary cutting edge American and UK acts such as Fountains of Wayne, Spoon, Badly Drawn Boy, Belle & Sebastian and Super Furry Animals are just the latest in a long line of musicians to play homage to The Zombies, for thanks to high profile reissues like the definitive 1997 box set Zombie Heaven, each new pop generation has been able to discover for themselves the undiluted magic of the band’s catalogue.

In recent years, when The Zombies have been feted by pop’s hip aristocracy, it has been largely for their swansong, Odessey & Oracle (famously misspelled by the cover artist), from which “Time Of The Season” was taken. It was their second and final album, recorded in 1967 before they went their separate ways, and remains perhaps their greatest artistic statement. Odessey presents an evocation of memory that maybe has yet to be surpassed in pop music, with a peculiarly English yet universal slant on dreams, childhood and the attendant loss of innocence that derives from the passing of both. And it is a record today as celebrated and influential as the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds or Love’s Forever Changes, recently ranked #80 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and #32 by the U.K.’s New Music Express in a similar list of British albums.

Upon the demise of The Zombies, Rod Argent went on to form the eponymously named band Argent, who had further success in the United States during the 1970s with the anthemic hits “Hold Your Head Up” and “God Gave Rock & Roll To You”. He has since had a varied and successful career in the field of record production, as well as frequently scoring for television and stage. Colin Blunstone meanwhile has remained a familiar chart presence in the UK and Europe through hits like “I Don’t Believe In Miracles” and “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted”, while his back catalogue, studded with gems like the album One Year, boasts a solid cult following amongst musicians and fans ‘in the know’ (in addition to The Zombies’ material, Rod and Colin feature excerpts from both of their solo careers in the current show).

In 1998, these two exceptional musicians decided to join forces again after thirty years, cognizant that their musical partnership is far more than the sum of the parts. They also have the added benefit of a splendid, entirely complementary band, which includes former Argent and Kinks bassist Jim Rodford, his son Steve on drums, and acclaimed session player Tom Toomey on guitar. In 2001, Blunstone and Argent released the first recorded fruits of their collaboration in the album Out Of The Shadows.

This was followed up in 2004 with As Far As I Can See…, released in the U.S. by Rhino Records.  Featuring 10 new tracks, plus a re-working of Blunstone’s hit “I Don’t Believe In Miracles”, the album is colored by The Zombies’ trademark minor-key melancholy along with Blunstone and Argent’s explorations of new musical territory.

This is also the first new recording released under “The Zombies” name since Odessey & Oracle – a move Argent had resisted for years, in respect to the band’s legacy. “Ever since The Zombies split up in 1967, we have always resisted re-forming despite being offered lots of money,” explains Argent. “We didn’t put the band back together then because we have always wanted to look forward, and it has always seemed wrong to put the band back together again simply to make a quick buck.” However, commenting on the new album, Rod reveals that the specter of The Zombies is a natural result of his and Colin’s renewed partnership: “When we played the first mixes back, Colin and I were surprised to hear many resonances of our first band on the record, because they weren’t achieved consciously,” says Argent. “Suddenly, and for the first time in all these years, it felt honest and right to include the name ‘Zombies’ somewhere on the album. It still feels important to include our own names as well – a way of expressing something about the future as well as acknowledging the past.”

The album has another special connection to The Zombies’ storied past. Paul Atkinson, one of the group’s original guitarists and a legendary music executive, earned a special A&R credit on As Far As I Can See…for his efforts championing the album. Blunstone and Argent recently played a benefit concert at the Los Angeles House of Blues to honor their friend and bandmate, who sadly died prior to the album’s American release. The album also features former Zombies member Chris White contributing guest vocals on three songs: “Memphis,” “I Want To Fly,” and “Look For A Better Way.”

Their return to the concert stage is of particular importance to fans, since many never had the opportunity to see the band live during its brief existence in the 60’s (especially since a large number of their fans were born after the original line-up disbanded!).  Their live performances were recently captured on a double CD and DVD, Live At The Bloomsbury Theatre (released in the U.S. by Rhino in 2007), and their appearances in North America have included the “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” and “HippieFest” tours, as well a stint for Rod Argent in the 2006 line-up of Ringo Starr’s “All-Star Band”.

March 2008 marked a true celebration of joining the old and the new, when the current Zombies line-up was joined onstage by the other surviving original members, bassist Chris White and drummer Hugh Grundy, for a series of special concerts at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire, which featured the first-ever live performances of Odessey & Oracle in its entirety.  This momentous event, awaited by many for decades, was filmed for a future DVD release, and was attended by fans ranging from Robert Plant to members of Snow Patrol.

The Zombies are cited by the mercurial Courtney Love; and as influences by Badly Drawn Boy, Paul Weller, Super Furry Animals, Magic Numbers, Billy Joel, She & Him, Foo Fighters, Fleet Foxes, The Vaccines and the Arctic Monkeys, among others. Recorded for their Golddiggers album, The Beautiful South released their version of  “This Will Be Our Year” as a single. Just recently, Neko Case and Nick Cave recorded “She’s Not There” for the premier episode of HBO’s ‘True Blood’ fourth season.  The Zombies’ songs are regularly covered live by such varied artists as Beck, She & Him and Belle & Sebastian, and used in films and TV shows (‘Dear Wendy,’ ‘Awakenings,’ ‘Kill Bill 2,’ ‘The Simpson,’ among others – evidence that their music really is as fresh and relevant today as it ever was.

The Zombies’ touring band features original members Colin Blunstone (lead vocals) and Rod Argent (keyboards & vocals), plus Jim Rodford (bass), Tom Toomey (guitar) and Steve Rodford (drums). They played live dates in the UK in 2009 and again in 2010, also touring that year in France, Spain, and the USA. They kick off a U.S. tour in September, 2011.

This year, The Zombies, helmed by founding members Rod Argent and singer Colin Blunstone, are marking the group’s half century with a stunning new album – Breathe Out, Breathe In.

I recently chatted with Rod Argent about the upcoming tour and The Zombies.

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How did you get into music?

For the first 11 years of my life, I only really loved classical music. Then, in 1956, I heard Elvis sing “Hound Dog”, and my life  changed in an instant. The guy who played it to me was my cousin, Jim Rodford. He’s three years older than me, and played bass in one of the earliest electric bands in the south of England. I went along to hear them, was knocked out, and vowed to have my own band one day.

 

What prompted you and Colin to form The Zombies?

I hadn’t even met Col until we had our first rehearsal! I heard a guy playing good guitar in a folk club at school, and asked him if he wanted to be in a band. When he said yes, I then actually  asked Jim Rodford ( later a founder member of “Argent”,  for twenty years a member of “The Kinks”, and now playing bass in the current line-up)  first to be the bass player Jim, being in a top local band, declined, so I put the question to one of my mates from another school, Paul Arnold. Paul was building his own bass guitar, and said he sat in front of a certain Colin Blunstone, who played guitar and sang a bit. That left only a drummer, so that Friday, I stood in front of the school army corps marching band, and chose the side drummer who seemed to have the best sense of rhythm – and that was The Zombies formed! Then I met Col for the first time at our first rehearsal. At the time, I was supposed to sing lead, and Colin play guitar. In the first break, I wandered over to a beaten up old piano and played “Nutrocker”, the old B Bumble and the Stingers hit. Colin said ” You have to play piano!”. Just a few minutes later, he sat down and played a recent Ricky Nelson song. I couldn’t believe how good it sounded.  I walked over to him and said “Ok – I’ll play piano, but you’ve got to be lead singer!

 

After so many years, how does it feel to be back touring together?

Completely natural. We’re honestly not doing this to make a buck. It’s just such a gas to be at this stage in our careers and to feel that paths are still opening up! The band we have around us is so good – totally energized – and it’s a joy to be playing.

 

Why did you guys decide to work together again and record a new album as well?

It happened completely by accident. In 2000, I did a charity gig for a good friend, John Dankworth, the jazz musician (now sadly passed away). Colin was in the audience, and on the spur of the moment got up and sang “She’s Not There” and “Time Of The Season”. It felt as if we’d been playing together only a couple of weeks before, instead of the actual gap of 33 years! After the concert, Col suggested putting a band together, and playing half a dozen gigs for fun. Those six gigs have turned into twelve years of touring around the world!

Recording is a natural adjunct. We’re not interested in just being a nostalgia band, and while it feels great to play the old stuff, it’s totally necessary for us to feel the challenge of writing and performing new stuff as well.

 

How do you think you’ve grown as a band since the 60′s?

The overall criteria have remained remarkably similar. We always tried to construct songs from the point of view of following musical ideas that excited us – and not, for instance, to reach the chorus in thirty seconds! We still do. We always believed that capturing performance was everything on record, and still work to that.

Colin’s voice is remarkably intact. There is of course some change, but in some ways it’s stronger than ever. His range is totally there, and we still do everything in the original keys. I feel I’m a better keyboard player, and certainly a better singer now. After “Argent” split I decided I really needed to strengthen my voice, found a voice coach and worked really hard at it. I introduced Colin to the same guy – in his case, not to change the character of his voice, but to help maintain it and give it stamina. I actually believe you can keep hold of, and even improve, your chops as you get older, but you have to work at all the aspects. When you’re 18 there are a lot of things physically which are going to disappear if you don’t work at them!

 

Why did you decide to form Argent?

I never wanted The Zombies to break up, but totally understand the reasons why – Chris and I, as writers, had a good income, but the other guys were very short of money. We were pretty badly ripped off from many points of view.

When we split in ’67, Chris and I immediately wanted to move ahead with another band and musical venture, but Chris no longer wanted to play. So we formed a production company together,”Nexus”. “Argent” was our first project, and Chris’s role was co-writer and co-producer with me. I’d already decided to start the band with Jim Rodford, and within a short space of time we’d found Russ Ballard and Bob Henrit to complete the band.

 

On Breathe Out, Breathe In, you wrote a Christmas song “Christmas for the Free.” Why did you decide to incorporate that on this album?

“Christmas for the Free” was actually one of two songs on “Breathe Out” that started life on an Argent album. I’d always liked the song very much, and wanted to hear Colin sing it – as simple as that. The other song was “Shine On Sunshine”, and this has a completely different story. This was a song which always felt half completed to me, and I’ve meant to revisit it for more than 30 years! So I rewrote chord progressions, lyrics, and completely revisited and changed the whole middle eight. I’m finally much more happy with the whole song!

 

Odyssey and Oracle has come to be seen as the definitive Zombies album. How do you feel about where it’s come today?

It took 12 – 15 years for O&O to finally start to gather momentum, and start to pick up sales. It now sells more, year in, year out, than it ever did when it was first released! I’m really proud of the fact that it’s appeared in so many different all-time top 100 charts, and knocked out that so many contemporary artists continue to name it as their favourite album.

 

What made you decide to release Classically Speaking, and how did that come about?

Around 1999 I decided I’d had enough of producing other artists, which I’d been doing pretty much non-stop for about 12 or 13 years. I was grateful for the income that’d was brought, and the success – Tanita Tikaram’s first album, for example, had sold 4.5 million records in Europe – but I really wanted to concentrate on my own artistic projects again. A great friend, who is a classical musician, suggested I make a solo piano classical album. I said that, as a self-taught musician, I didn’t really think it was possible. He said, “I’ve heard you half play so much stuff – why don’t you do some real work, and make a record?” So I did! I had some time, so I spent 3 hours a day practicing, and then made “Classically Speaking” I’m proud of the result, and the fact that some classical musicians have said that they love it.

 

Who are your influences as a songwriter and performer?

I honestly can’t think of a keyboard player that I tried to copy. I listened to so many kinds of music all the time when I was young – rock’n'roll, jazz and classical music, and loved many different kinds of singers and instrumentalists. I was besotted with Bill Evans playing with the Miles Davis group of about 1959,though, and was knocked out when I heard Jimmy Smith – I guess indirectly they were kind of influences. In fact, I loved the whole Miles Davis band of that time – loved the musical lines of Coltrane and Cannonball Adderly.

As a songwriter, I have to say that, along with just about every other writer of the time, the Beatles were the biggest  presence and influence. But I guess I automatically drank in all those other different influences as well. For instance, I remember Pat Metheny saying to me that “She’s Not There”, with it’s modal characteristics, was one of the reasons he felt he could pursue the musical direction he chose. That startled me – until I thought about it, I didn’t even realize there was anything modal in it ….I was certainly not thinking about Miles when I wrote that song, but, indirectly, he was making himself known!

 

Why did Argent break up in 1976?

I felt we’d reached the end of a natural cycle. The specific moment came after a pretty chaotic US tour during which we almost wrote off the Winnebago we were traveling in, and due to some canceled gigs, found ourselves 50,000 dollars in debt! Also, I personally felt that I’d been on the road long enough at the time, and wanted to explore some other musical avenues.

 

Will there be another album soon from The Zombies?

Absolutely. This band is having a great time playing together. The last album was a joy to make, and we’ll definitely start to work on ideas for the next one pretty soon.

 

What can fans expect at your concerts on this tour?

A real mix. You’ll hear loads of vintage material like “Time of the Season”, “She’s Not There”, Tell Her No” and definitely some other early Zombies material. Maybe 5 songs from “Odyssey and Oracle”. Some material from Colin’s solo career. Some Argent stuff – certainly “Hold Your Head Up”. And certainly 4 or 5 songs from “Breathe Out”, as well.

 

What is your favorite album that you’ve recorded?

I’ll have to break that down-

Zombies: “Odessey and Oracle” and “Breathe Out, Breathe In”.

Argent: “Ring Of Hands”

What is your favorite song you’ve written?

That’s really an impossible question. I’m fond of many different songs in different ways. But if you force me, I’ll choose “She’s Not There”, because of the sentimental associations, and because it was the one that got everything started!

 

Make sure to catch The Zombies performing at Viper Alley in Lincolnshire on July 31st at 7:30pm. Tickets available here: http://www.viper-alley.com/calendar/details/499. The Zombies will ALSO be performing at Mayne Stage in Chicago on August 1st at 8pm. Tickets are available here: http://www.maynestage.com/Zombies.aspx

30th Jul2012

The 39 Steps “Sparkles” at Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace

by rockchicago

 

Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, presents the Tony Award-winning Broadway and West Endsmash hit THE 39 STEPS, playing now through August 26.  THE 39 STEPS stars Peter Simon Hilton as “Richard Hannay.”  A U.K. native, Hilton starred as “Professor Higgins” in MY FAIR LADY at Maine State Music Theatre, as “King Arthur” in SPAMALOT at the Patchogue Theater for the Performing Arts, as “Mark Anthony” in JULIUS CAESAR, and “Benedick” in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at The Alabama Shakespeare Festival.

THE 39 STEPS is directed by multi-Jeff Award nominee David New (DruryLaneTheatre’s BROADWAY BOUND, Sarah Siddons Award Winner and former Associate Artistic Director at Steppenwolf Theatre).

Based on the 1915 novel by John Buchan (the “father of the spy novel”) and the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film, THE 39 STEPS is a fast-paced comedy thriller that introduced the “man on the run” genre toHollywood.  Adapted for the stage by Patrick Barlow, the production is the winner of two 2008 Tony Awards, a 2008 Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience, and the 2007 Olivier Award for Best Comedy.

Set in Englandand Scotlandin 1935, THE 39 STEPS is the riveting story of Richard Hannay, who inadvertently embarks on a chaotic adventure full of narrow escapes after trying to help a female spy.  When he wakes up to find her dead in his apartment, he flees from the police and an espionage organization, desperately trying to discover the truth and clear his name.  Featuring four actors that bring more than 140 characters to life throughout the play, the whirlwind story requires ingenious theatrical devices to instantly transport audiences to a chase scene on a train, to a plane crash, to a luxurious Scottish manor, then to a London flat, and on to The London Palladium.

The cast for THE 39 STEPS also features multi-Jeff Award nominee and Ostrander Award Winner Angela Ingersoll as “Annabella”/“Margaret”/”Pamela”; Jeff Award and Helen Hayes Award winner, Jeff Dumas and Paul Kalina the 2006 recipient of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers National Directing Fellowship at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and founding member of  500 Clown, which has performed throughout the U.S. and England as “The Clowns.”

An English Music Hall full of theatrical inventions and surprises is brought to brilliant life by Jeff Award-winning Set Designer Kevin Depinet.  Sound Design is by Michael Bodeen and Rob Milburn of MILBOMUSIC, Costume Design is by Tracy Dorman, Wig Design is by Rick Jarvie, Props Design is by Nick Heggestad, Cecille O’Reilly is the Dialect Coach and Lighting Design is by Rita Pietraszek.

This production was a theatrical triumph employing every possible theatrical trick to keep its audience entertained for two hours of non stop top notch entertainment. The cast of 4 had the energy of a locomotive steam engine literally flying through costume changes, wig and facial hair changes, and changing dialects with split second perfection. David New’s direction of this genius script was innovative and brilliant.  The play has hints of such productions as “The Mystery of Irma Vep” by Charles Ludlam, a play in three acts using two actors; or “Noises Off” which shows the “other show” backstage during a British play called Nothing On. Compared to this show, those two pieces were child’s play. The mere vocal energy and physical stamina of these four actors is to be applauded on its own.

Some stands out moments were Paul Kalina’s dialogue free entrance through a doorway to make his way to a podium. His fully bearded geriatric reminded me so much of Bob Newhart’s doddering old man on the Carol Burnett show. And once he spoke it was even more hilarious.  It was five minutes of brilliance.

Jeff Dumas’ chesty lady innkeeper of a small hotel inScotlandreminded me of Robin Williams’ title role in Mrs. Doubtfire. His physical carriage and Scottish over the top brogue; combined with a little glint in his eye of mischievousness was a joy to watch.

There were some fantastic moments on scaffolding, on top of a moving train, and across a fence, that had me breathless. These actors did their own stunts, many of them appearing very dangerous. The execution was truly fantastic. I was awestruck.

Peter Simon Hilton’s tall wiry figure was used to its fullest, making great use of his long legs in a time passage sequence sitting in a chair. It was the Kama Sutra of chair sitting. He also had some truly great moments hand cuffed to Angela Ingersoll while she removed her stockings in a bedroom scene. Additionally the opening sequence with Hilton and Ingersoll was reminiscent of a Carol Burnett sketch. Ingersoll’s thicker than thick German dialect and stern frame were hilarious in her exchange with Hilton.  Ending in a death in which she falls on him, he then has to slide out from under her then dead body. I cried with laughter.

An exceptional visual gag was the parade of Scottish Bag Pipers. Lets just say it was genius property and costume construction paired with creative staging as Hilton had to hide though the “crowd” of Scottish musicians.

A special mention must be made to the understudies Nicholas Foster, Tammy Mader and Joe Foust who also served as the Fight Choreographer. These three actors are definitely earning their pay checks having to cover such a mammoth production.

If you don’t see any other show this summer, run to see this show. It is something to be experienced.

The performance schedule for THE 39 STEPS is as follows:  Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. ($35), Thursdays at 1:30 p.m. ($35) and 8 p.m. ($40), Fridays at 8:30 p.m. ($45), Saturdays at 5 p.m. ($45) and 8:30 p.m. ($46) and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. ($45) and 6 p.m. ($40).  Lunch and dinner theater packages range from $49.75 to $68 depending on the day of the week.  Group rates for Student tickets start as low as $20 and Senior Citizen tickets start as low as $30 for matinees and $44.75 for a matinee luncheon package.  For reservations, call the Drury Lane Theatre box office at 630.530.0111, call TicketMaster at 800.745.3000 or visit www.drurylaneoakbrook.com.

Reviewed by John B. Boss on 7/26/12

 

26th Jul2012

Heart Sets The Venue On Fire

by rockchicago

 

Many of you remember Heart from the late 70’s or 80’s, but to a new generation of listeners, Heart’s music is legendary, and lately, Heart wants to bring their music to a crowd of every generation. Well they certainly did here at The Venue at Horseshoe Casino! A venue that holds thousands of seats, this placed was packed tonight! You can tell it was mostly an older crowd. My girlfriend Sarah got me into Heart’s music, as she is a long-time fan of Ann and Nancy Wilson. As Sarah played my more and more of their music, I really started to get into them, and this was our first time seeing Heart live!

Month’s ago, I had an interview with Ann Wilson http://rockchicago.net/?p=906  and when I spoke with her, she was one of the nicest people to speak to. Getting to see the band performing live was a real treat. After all these years, the Wilson sisters showed that they still have it.

The night started out with Ann introducing one of their newer songs off their upcoming album Fanatic, “Even it Up.” To be honest, Heart seems like, now they are trying to be the hard rockers, but really, they had beautiful songs back then, and there’s not much of that on their new album sadly. After that, Heart stretched back to the hits that the fans wanted to hear.

Starting off with the mystical “Magic Man,” they then went into my personal favorite “Dog & Butterfly,” where Ann played the flute. Next was “Straight on for You,” then they went forward in time and played a newer song, where Nancy sang lead called “Walking Good.” On that number, Ann also played flute again.

The hits kept rolling out with Nancy staying on vocals for one of their best hits “These Dreams,” which is my girlfriend’s favorite song. It grew to be mine as well. After the song, Ann took her turn singing a very unique acoustic arrangement of “Alone.” Known to be one of their biggest hits and toughest to sing, she mastered that song that night to prove she can still sing those signature high notes!

Being that the Wilson sisters come from a military family, they wrote a new song off fanatic for our troops called “Dear Old America.” It was, again, a hard rock song, and I only wish they had softer songs as well off Fanatic. After the song, it switched back to the classics with “Crazy on You” and “Barracuda.”

I wished Heart would have played more classic songs and Led Zeppelin covers than playing the newer material from Fanatic. After those two hit songs, they switched forward to a song off the new album called “59.” I hoped they wouldn’t end on that song, because Heart has been known to do Zeppelin covers, but where were they? Instead for the final song, they pulled an unexpected number on me and covered The Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me.” What a song! Ann mastered that song and knocked it right out of the theater! By far, that was my favorite song of the night. For the encore, they sang their hits “Heartless” and “What About Love?”

Overall, for seeing Heart in concert for the first time, Sarah and I really enjoyed it. Although, we wish it would have been longer being only a 90-minute show, and we wish they would have done their signature Led Zeppelin covers, but alas it’s still ok. Don’t miss Heart when they come to a city near you.

Reviewed by Kevin Pollack on 7/6/12

24th Jul2012

The Tedeschi-Trucks Band Ignites Ravinia

by rockchicago

 

The Tedeschi-Trucks band stormed into Ravinia in Highland Park last night, seemingly bringing with them a much needed thunder storm that reached monsoon-like proportions, soaking our drought ridden area with some desperately needed water. It was fitting that the song they were playing as the storm hit was the old standard “Rollin’ and Tumblin” as the thunder boomers did a little rolling and tumbling of their own, lighting up the sky, and scattering the lawn seated patrons in a mad scurry to their cars or shelter of some kind.  That was unfortunate, for they missed one of the more energetic shows I have seen at Ravinia, for both the band and the audience.  That was followed by a spirited version of “Get What You Deserve”, with Mike Mattison handling lead vocals. It brought the crowd out of its seats for the first of many standing ovations on this night.

I have found that as a venue, Ravinia can be a double edged sword of sorts. It is a unique venue with a devoted group of season ticket subscribers. On one hand you get a contingent of people that are clearly open minded to hearing a variety of different music genres each season, while supporting one of the Chicago area’s gems as far as the Arts are concerned. On the down side, a consistent high energy level from those subscribers can be missing some nights, compared to going to a show at other venues, where the audience is there strictly because they are already fans of the band that is performing. In my opinion, which is based on my many years of attending shows at Ravinia, albeit mostly as a lawn seat guest, that opening response can set the tone for the quality level of the performance. A band can feel a little put off when they come out to start a show, only to see the audience making a mad dash down the aisles to their seats. Not this night. The pavilion crowd was in their seats, and very energized and into the performance from the opening song, Harry Nillson’s “Everybody’s Talking”.

The band itself seemed to have a little energy boost as well. In speaking with Chris Trucks, Derek’s father, before the show, he stated he was ready for a break, as after one more show in Kentucky the next night; the band would scatter for a few weeks for some much needed rest. That is with the exception of Derek Trucks, who moves on to tour with another band he has been associated with for the past 13 years, The Allman Brothers Band. The TTB has been on the road for most of 2012, including a short jaunt to Japan for four shows. The band seemed to have a high level of “excited energy “, the kind you get on the last day of school.  You know, where you’re exhausted from the long year, compounded by finals week, only to get that charge of giddiness knowing your personal freedom is only hours away.

The highlight for me was when Kofi Burbridge stepped out from behind the keyboards to center stage and played a beautiful solo on flute, followed by his brother Oteil pulling out his “banjo bass”, and providing a little thunder of his own.  That was followed by a spirited rendition of what is becoming the bands signature song, “Bound for Glory”, from their 2011 debut CD release Revelator, which won the 2012 Grammy Award for “Best Blues Album”. They also performed “Midnight in Harlem” from Revelator as well. This song displays Susan Tedeschi’s full bodied vocals front and center, allowing her to express the powerful voice that is the foundation of this band that is quickly establishing itself as a strong force in the music industry today. Their second commercial release, this summer’s “Everybody’s Talking”, a 2 CD live recording, is also in stores now, and is well worth picking up, and giving a listen. It really captures the eleven piece ensemble at their best, demonstrating a versatile and full sound that the Tedeschi-Trucks Band has quickly become known for.  It was a great show on a soggy evening, and the future for The Tedeschi Trucks Band, to quote the Chicago area’s own Dennis DeYoung “looks quite bright to me”.

Reviewed by Patrick Kinsella on 7/18/12

21st Jul2012

Tower of Power Prove They Still Have It at Viper Alley

by rockchicago

 

Class, precision, punctuality, and dependability, these are the characteristics of a fine Swiss watch. And like a fine Swiss watch, the soul and funk band Tower of Power (TOP) is a precision machine that is in a league of its own.

But unlike a quality wristwatch that has been passed down from generation to generation, this group has not aged and lost its luster over the 40 plus years it has been together.

Not settling for “good enough,” TOP constantly works on each song they perform, making each a musical work of art with their display of impeccable tightness and masterful execution.

From the moment this group of talented musicians steps on the stage, they put on a show that does not fall short of remarkable. I was completely captivated by their incredibly sophisticated and entertaining arrangements, which have been crafted to perfection over they years.

If you think I’m heaping a bit too much praise on this classic band, think again. Catch their next show to see what I mean. Their high-energy performance is non-stop fun that is thoroughly entertaining. You will laugh, sway, and drop your jaw watching a show that stands out as one of the very best in the business.

Founding member, Emillio Castillio, has pulled together a gifted group of musicians and entertainers who do not disappoint. When the first song started to play, I could have sworn that the drums were a sophisticated prerecorded click track. Not so. David Garibaldi is, flat out, the most precise drummer I have every heard. He has recently been inducted into the Percussion Hall of Fame, and for good reason!

The singer, Larry Braggs, is pure entertainment. He fits the band like a glove as he engages the audience with is wit and soulful vocals. The horn section lead by founder and band-leader, Emillo Castillio, gives TOP its unique, energized sound. Blend that with their tight rhythm section and you have the hottest funk and soul band around, Tower of Power.

I can’t remember the last time I went to a concert and was completely drawn in by every single song played, from the first note to the last encore song, each was honestly a masterpiece of entertainment.

If you want to hear an example of perfect musical execution and pure entertainment, catch The Tower of Power the next chance you get.

Also, click this link [http://rockchicago.net/?p=947] to read an inspiring interview with Emillio Castillio.

Reviewed by Gary Chappell on 6/26/12

21st Jul2012

“Hero: The Musical” Overpowers the Standard Original Musical for Marriott

by rockchicago

 

“There is wonder all around.” That’s what our Hero always came back to in Hero the Musical playing at Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre. Hero the Musical is an original musical conceived and written by Marriott’s Aaron Thielen and music and lyrics by the talented young songwriter Michael Mahler.

The story revolves around aspiring comic book artist Hero Batowski. He lives anything but a superhero’s life – he’s 28 years old, works in his family’s comic book shop, and still lives at home with his dad. A long-ago tragedy left Hero unable to move on with his life. When a series of unexpected events occur, Hero must decide whether he is ready to finally face his fears and get his life on track. This quirky new musical explores those extraordinary moments in ordinary life when there are no superheroes to the rescue.

We get to know the characters as the story unfolds. Hero Batowski is played with great skill and charisma by young actor Erich Bergen, who was also seen in Jersey Boys. He seemed to fit to the music throughout the show in standout numbers like “My Superhero Life,” “Your Darkest Place,” and my personal favorite “Powerless.”

 

Hero lives with his dad Al, played strongly by Don Forston. With the show taking place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Forston put on the Wisconsin dialect perfectly. Also in the shop in Hero’s 12-year-old cousin Nate, played by Jonah Rawitz, who I think was kind of weak in this performance, but it wasn’t that distracting. Some standout performances included Alex Goldkang and Michael Aaron Linder as the comic book shop groupies Ted and Kyle. What I liked about them was they were like the Bill & Ted of the show, always leaving the store when something goes wrong. Also, who I believe was the best in the show, Alex Goodrich as the Jack Black-ey cousin Kirk to Hero. Goodrich had great comic timing. I’ve always been a Jack Black fan, and Goodrich reminded my of him but with his own flare. There were some songs in the show that reminded me of Tenacious D like “Wing Man” and “Phone Booth.” I was starting to see where maybe Mahler got some influence from.

The women in the cast were way weaker than the men in this case. Dara Cameron was probably the strongest of the two playing Susan, an old high school chum of Hero’s, who falls in love with Kirk and his weird ways. It lookedl ike her character was modeled after Tina Fey from SNL. There was a great line how Kirk described Susan, “I like the suit. It’s a little Palin and a little Westpoint. I like it!” She seemed to blend well with Goodrich onstage. Just a little fact; Dara Cameron is actually Michael Mahler’s wife, who can also be heard on the Hero demo recordings on www.heromusical.com.

The weakest performance was Heidi Kettenring as Susan, Hero’s long time love, who went away for 10 years, then came back. Ok, let’s think about this. Hero and Susan are supposed to be 28 years old. Bergen looks like he’s 28, Kettenring definitely does not. Plus, she could not sing the songs in this show. Her voice was not suited for this kind of music and her range didn’t show it either. It was definitely a bad casting choice there.

 

As the story unfolds more, there are very sad moments in the show. Like when Hero loses his dad Al to a stroke in the store, unexpectedly after a heart attack years earlier. From then on, Hero has to choose what he wants to do with his life. I liked what Thielen did what the script there by bringing grief to the story instead of just having the story be all fun and games. He has the comedic elements spot on in this show, including Hero coming out onstage in a full-on Chewbacca costume from Star Wars. Another thing, is both Hero and Jane have quirky “best friends,” so you kind of knew where that was going to go. One thing, I heard recently in an interview with Thielen, was that this show is sort of based on personal experience for him. He grew up in Milwaukee and always hung around a local comic book store.

Overall, this was such a great, fun show to watch. I read in a review earlier that Michael Mahler should be writing Broadway musicals, and I completely agree. I enjoyed the music in this show whole-heartedly.

To anyone who wants to see a fun show with great music and a great story, come to Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre to see Hero the Musical playing through August 29th. Plus, as an added bonus, after the show, Marriott has actually made a real comic book of Hero the Musical that you can purchase for $4 after the show, with proceeds going to a nice benefit.

Important Links:

www.heromusical.com

www.marriotttheatre.com

Reviewed by Kevin Pollack on 7/20/12

Rating: 4/5

21st Jul2012

Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour “Wows” the United Center

by rockchicago

 

Cirque du Soleil brought “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour” to Chicago this weekend for a highly anticipated two-night stand at the United Center.  With the show selling out over 90% of its tickets world-wide it was not surprise to see a packed house on Friday night featuring people of all ages, some wearing signature Michael Jackson hats, many fans of anything Cirque du Soliel puts their hands on, and all there to celebrate the iconic music of the King of Pop.

A quick browse through the list of musicians who would interpret and perform the songs everyone already knew shows a world-class cast, including rising guitar all-star Desiree Bassett, queen of all things cello Tina Guo, John “Sugarfoot” Moffett on drums, and musical director Greg Phillinganes.  It’s worth noting that Moffett played drums for the Jackson’s Victory tour and Phillinganes was the musical director on Jackson’s own “Bad” and “Dangerous” tours.  This direct link to the music of the man of the hour was palpable throughout the show.  It was augmented by the rising stars, with an especially notable bass solo, not directly linked to any Jackson material, from the spotlit Guo in the center of the arena.

This was not a night, however, to focus on the musical performances, even though they were top-notch.  This was a night of spectacle and celebration, with a seemingly endless array of costume changes, dance numbers, special effects, video highlights, and physical artistry happening often all at the same time.  Leading us through it all is the talented hip-hop dancer Salah Benlemqawansa, whose popping moves made him the winner of the first season of the French equivalent of America’s Got Talent.

There is a loose narrative taking the audience through the show, starting with Jackson’s ideas about the magic of childhood and his own first performances as a gifted 6 year-old.  Dancers climb walls and magically spring into the air, video screens fold into themselves, performers flip and swing high above our heads – it’s just another day for Cirque du Soleil who have been honing and building onto their signature style since the mid-1980’s.

Along with the dazzle of the performance numbers are the individual artists, who somehow managed to find yet another level to take their craft to.  Felix Cane’s pole dance was especially notable and thrilling as she snaked her was high over our heads and managed to find ways to support herself vertically while performing splits and shifting her weight from limb to limb.  To say this was to the song “Dangerous” further underscores the power of this act, and the audience knew it.  By far she received the most applause at the end of the show.  I personally liked watching Baaska Enkhbaatar emerge from and perform amazing contortions on a giant book during “Scary Story.”

Each song, or I should more accurately say, portions and arrangements of a song, since we never heard a tune all the way through, had its own aesthetic.  As you read in Peter Sakas’s interview with official spokesperson Laura Silverman elsewhere on this site, this was also a massive undertaking, with over 250 costumes and state-of-the-art video projections, among other effects.  I was especially taken by the aerial performers in individually lit costumes (the first of several times we saw such costumes in the show) during “Human Nature.”  Other standouts were the 1920’s flavored “Smooth Criminal” and “Beat It,” which featured an enormous glittery glove and pair of loafers with white socks – iconic images of Jackson brought to life by the performers.

Some of the numbers, however, left me less than dazzled.  “Thriller” started with giant video images taken from the famous music video, showing the transformation of Jackson into a werewolf.  The stage quickly filled with ghouls and mummies in white, and the dance featured some of the well-known moves.  I couldn’t help but feel that this time they didn’t add anything to the song with this interpretation – that the material itself was already too big.  My sense was that the crowd would have been just as happy to watch the full-length original video.  In the second set, several songs just felt off.  One was an extended time with a single performer slowly miming Jackson moves with spotlights circling around the vast space of the United Center.  It was quiet – so quiet that the audience took to entertaining itself.  “We love you Michael!” and “We miss you Michael!” people shouted, both of which received far more applause and attention that the actual performance.  This was followed by “Earth Song,” featuring little more that performers moving around with inflated beach-ball-sized globes.  I understand the idea of having a variety of pacing, but, the show seemed to have lost the audience at these moments.

A personal favorite song of mine was “I’ll Be There.” Using the vocal-only track (there is a full cd of these, Pure Michael: Motown A Capella) with some live piano accompaniment and a giant video screen showing clips of his stunning performance from 1970, it hushed the crowd and reminded us all of the power of his voice, even from his early years.  Similarly, late in the show there was a beautiful ghostly projection of Jackson in his flowing white silk shirt leading into “Will You Be There.”  In a typical concert, this might have been a tease, leading to the reveal of the performer himself.  Here, it was a pointed reminder of the loss of this icon.

In many ways, the show struggled between being a celebration and a marking of this void.  The name of the show, “Immortal,” is apt here, because we are no longer able to see him in the flesh.  Instead we must conjure him and find ways to wrestle with his complex persona.  In other ways, the show was an overwhelming success in terms of reminding us this was a human being of enormous talent.  For every amazing dance performance we saw, we were also reminded of how Michael’s work inspired it.  For all of the strangeness of Neverland, Bubbles the monkey, and the role of children in Jackson’s world, tonight was all about the beauty and wonder of it all.  For all of the challenges each day in the news, there is also a voice of optimism.  Closing with “Black or White,” featuring collaged flags of all nations, we were reminded about this side of Jackson, and how his music continues to be loved the world over.

Concluding with a medley of some of his biggest songs, “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” and “Billie Jean,” and finally “Man in the Mirror,” they certainly gave the crowd what they wanted.  In the end, I was thoroughly entertained, but still had a hard time connecting to parts of it.  I had a similar feeling when seeing Further with Bob Weir and Phil Lesch – the Grateful Dead tunes and vibe were all there, but Jerry wasn’t.  Here, it was a huge spectacle without its star.  But the music and its power endures, and has now entered the realm of the immortals.  Kind of like that statue of another MJ whose statue was much-photographed as the crowd filed out, forever frozen in mid-air, the way we will always want to remember him.

Reviewed by Neil Rigler on 7/20/12

19th Jul2012

Interview with Laura Silverman from Michael Jackson: The IMMORTAL World Tour

by rockchicago

Interviewed by Peter S. Sakas 

 

Michael Jackson: The IMMORTAL World Tour is a once-in-a-lifetime electrifying production combining Michael Jackson’s music and choreography with Cirque du Soleil creativity to give fans worldwide a unique view into the spirit, passion, and heart of the artistic genius who forever transformed pop culture. The show was written and directed by Jamie King, the leading concert director in pop music today, and features more than 60 international dancers, musicians, and acrobats.

Michael Jackson: The IMMORTAL World Tour is a riveting fusion of visuals, dance, music, and fantasy. The audience is immersed in Michael’s creative world as his artistry unfolds before their eyes in the show which captures the essence, soul, and inspiration of the King of Pop, celebrating a legacy that continues to transcend generations.

Michael Jackson: The IMMORTAL World Tour takes place in a fantastical realm as the audience discovers his inspiration and wellspring of his creativity moving through various scenes representative of Michael’s long and storied career. Along the way the audience will be treated to more than 30 of Michael’s songs (performed by Michael), in addition to numerous bits and pieces of songs that have been used for soundscapes and transitions. A stellar group of musicians have been assembled, many of them who have had direct contact with Michael.

A hallmark of Cirque du Soleil is spectacular stagings and this show does not disappoint. Props and scenic designer Michael Curry, who was one of the designers on Michael’s THIS IS IT concert tour, has developed props that serve as storytelling devices. It took more than 9,000 hours to create all the props and puppets used in the show.

Few stage performers have created iconic looks which were directly related to specific songs like Michael Jackson did. In Michael Jackson: The IMMORTAL World Tour, there are references galore to Michael Jackson’s legendary outfits. The costume designer, Zaldy Goco, was also Michael Jackson’s exclusive designer for the THIS IS IT concert series. The production brims with imaginative costumes and outfits. There are more than 250 costumes in the show and more than 1,000 pieces total, including accessories, shoes, hats, and head pieces.

Then of course there is the dancing. Outstanding choreography and amazing acrobatic feats are synonymous with Cirque du Soleil. The fusion of the characteristic wonder of a Cirque du Soleil production and the music/dancing of Michael Jackson is absolutely breathtaking, truly something to behold!

The video projections in Michael Jackson: The IMMORTAL World Tour not only act as storytelling devices, but play a key role in making Michael’s presence palpable. Production Designer Olivier Goulet integrated video content such as footage of Michael’s performances and real-time projections of the performances on stage. The total video projection surface is more than 5,300 square feet, larger than a basketball court.

I posed a series of questions to Laura Silverman, an official spokeswoman and publicist for Michael Jackson: The IMMORTAL World Tour, which she graciously consented to answer. I wanted to get a feel for what was involved in the creation and staging of a show of this magnitude.

PS) How did the idea of creating the Michael Jackson: The IMMORTAL World Tour come about?

LS) Michael Jackson was always a huge fan of Cirque du Soleil. He saw one of the first Big Top shows in Santa Monica in the 1980’s and visited our International Headquarters in Montreal in 2004. There has always been great respect between Michael Jackson and Cirque du Soleil and interest to collaborate at some point. Unfortunately it wasn’t till after his passing that this partnership came about. The Estate of Michael Jackson came together with Cirque du Soleil to create a show that would truly celebrate his legacy.

PS) Was creating a show honoring Michael Jackson being considered while he was alive? Were they any things that Michael Jackson had ever said about a show like this that directly were used in the creation of this show or aspects of it?

LS) This show did not come about till after his passing. The goal was to create a show that Michael himself would have loved, which was why it was so important to have people who knew him personally and professionally involved in the creation process.

PS) How much input, if any, was there from the Michael Jackson estate or his family in the creation of this show?

LS) This show was created in partnership with the Estate. They gave Cirque du Soleil access to all of Michael’s original recordings, allowing the Director (Jamie King) and Musical Designer (Kevin Antunes) to create different mash ups and arrangements. The creators also spent some time together at Neverland Ranch really absorbing who Michael was.

PS) Michael Jackson was such an iconic figure. What were the challenges of creating a show that would do justice to his legacy?

LS) No one can ever replicate Michael Jackson. He was iconic in his dancing, singing, costumes, and artistry as a whole. The intention of this show is to celebrate his legacy and pay tribute to who he was as an artist and all that he stood for, while also creating a show that he himself would have loved.

PS) This show seems to be such a massive multi-media undertaking. How many people were involved in the planning/logistics of bringing the show concept to fruition?

LS) Currently this is the largest arena tour in the world! On tour we travel with 200 people, which includes artists, crew, artistic staff, management staff, drivers, catering, wardrobe, etc. And 35 trucks.

PS) How long did it take from the original concept to the completion of the show? Do you have any idea how many hours were put into the entire process, including creating the props, scenery, costumes, etc.

LS) Creation totaled about 18 months, much shorter than most Cirque shows, which usually take 2.5-3 years. Six months of the 18 were spent in Montreal with the cast and crew.

PS) The staging of such a show is such a daunting task. Could you comment on the rehearsal schedule and the time involved in perfecting the show?

LS) The artists are always working on their craft. Because we move so fast (2 cities a week) there is limited rehearsal time at the arena so the artists take it upon themselves to hit the gym for training or a dance studio for rehearsal. We travel with some work out equipment and have scheduled training/rehearsal on-stage as needed.

PS) I understand that there was an effort when creating the band to include as many people as possible who had a direct, personal history with Michael Jackson. Do you have an idea of how many of the complete cast and organizers of the show did have a direct connection?

LS) Five of our 12 musicians previously toured with Michael Jackson including our drummer, Jonathan ‘Sugarfoot’ Moffett, who toured with Michael and the brothers for over 35 years, and our keyboardist/Musical Director, Greg Phillinganes, who was Michael’s Musical Director for over 20 years. Most of the 10 choreographers had previously worked with Michael including Travis Payne and Rich and Tone Talauega. And the director of the show, Jamie King, worked with Michael for many years.

PS) What sort of person will enjoy a show like Michael Jackson: The IMMORTAL World Tour?

LS) This show really is for everyone! If you are a fan of Michael Jackson’s music, you’ll love this show. If you are inspired by the messages of love, peace, unity, you’ll love this show. If you are a fan of Cirque du Soleil, you’ll love this show. In the simplest terms, this show combines great music, dance, costumes, and acrobatics for an electrifying, colorful, highly entertaining night!

PS) Why should anyone who is a fan of Michael Jackson attend this show?

LS) It is a true tribute to Michael Jackson and the legacy he left behind. This show is the perfect way to have closure on his passing and celebrate who he was an artist. Plus it’s Michael Jackson’s voice and music!

PS) Do you have any other comments or observations?

LS) We are so excited to bring this show to Chicago! There are moments where you’ll want to stand up and dance and moments when you’ll want to cry – we encourage it all! When you leave this show you will feel inspired. It is not to be missed!

So there you have it, a sneak preview of what looks to be a phenomenal show. The melding of two iconic performers, Michael Jackson and Cirque du Soleil, truly a match made in Heaven (the reference is definitely intended!). This is a show that must be experienced live and one that should not be missed.

Michael Jackson: The IMMORTAL World Tour will perform in North America through Fall 2012 and then move to Europe.

For more information, visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/michaeljackson.

Catch the performances this weekend in Chicagoat the UnitedCenterFriday July 20th at 8 PM and Saturday July 21st at 8 PM.

18th Jul2012

Sublime with Rome Pound Sound Waves Across Lake Michigan

by rockchicago

In the hottest year on record in a century, July 12, 2012 in Chicago was no exception.  Temperatures soared deep into the 90s with punishing humidity.  Nevertheless, these extreme conditions did not prevent Sublime followers from attending a special concert featuring the revitalized “Sublime with Rome” performance.
Charter One Pavilion hosted this summer event and is arguably the best outdoor Chicago concert hall given its location with the surreal views and layout.  Plotted right on Lake Michigan where the old private airport stood (knocked down in the middle of the night by R. Daley), this now public domain is an ideal rock and roll venue.  Different areas showcase various angles/perspectives of the immense lake, the elite marina, and an amazing panoramic view of the Chicago city skyline.  Distinguished from rival arenas, smoking is permitted (officially or unofficially), there is ample space to sit/roam, and there are all kinds of food/refreshments options including beer, wine, cocktails, etc.  These parameters facilitate a party-friendly atmosphere.
The average age was roughly 30 with very few younger than 21 or older than 45.  I followed both of these bands in High School and can recall each having a strong influence on my peers/friends/generation.  Both groups prevailed to earn multiple songs on Chicago land radio stations.  Sublime became extremely popular selling over 14 million CD’s.  Unfortunately, the front man Bradley Brad Nowell passed away in 1996 which halted the band’s monumental progress.  This revolutionary band vowed to disassemble for good like Nirvana did. However after the breakup of the Long Beach All-Stars, the two long time friends rejoined with the closet vocalist the coud find – Rome.   After court rulings, the reassembled group was obligated to refere to themselves as “Sublime with Rome.” The main show began with the prerecorded intro to Smoke Two Joints.  This caused widespread commotion as everyone realized at that this once unimaginable show had just commenced.  The party scene then reached a new, higher level than before. I was fortunate to situated in the general admission area as I find in in my limited experience this is the desirable location compared to the designated bleach/nose bleach seats.  The freedom allows you to rome throughout the confines wilthout limitations.
As the band continuted thier performance, the crowd was delighted to hear such monster songs Garden Grove, April 26 1992, and Doin’ Time, one of my personal favorites.
In addition to these classics, the band decided to surprised the crowd by covering two virtually opposite songs.  I was born too young to see Nirvana live, but I felt privileged to see Drain You ripped live by the members of Sublime with Rome while exerting both grace and respect. In a totally opposite genre as well as decades earlier, Stevie Wonder wrote his famous number Superstitious.  Nobody, including myself, saw the alternative set list to include this questionable Motown hit to make the premier cutoff for a reggae/ska punk rock group.  Some surprises are unpredictable and priceless.
The show seemed to conclude abruptly around 10:35 which was 25 minutes before the official Northerly Island closing time.  The band made a stealth exit while the audience pleaded for more.  A local consensus formed that they would play more, but the closing song was in speculation.  The band’s greatest hit was “What I Got” but “Santaria” could be considered most popular.  As luck would have it, both songs were played to the ticket-holder’s delight.   In fact, three songs were song with Santaria decided as the closer. This show surpasses any show I have seen so far this year and in recent memory (better than one would think for admiring these bands).  Not only did I and my fellow fans experience two top notch bands, we absorbed Sublime’s prime songs reproduced with mad skill and pride.  The performance was one-of-a-kind, not to be confused with the original trio, but as near to the original as now possible , The bottom line is that this modified band jammed and rocked to satisfy the crowd’s thirst.
I am obligated to commend all of the musicians for their energy, their commitment, and their focus on satisfying their fans.  The experience of seeing these two top notch bands was borderline overwhelming.  I might be somewhat partial, but I can declare without any doubt this was a phenomenal performance.
Important Links:
Reviewed by Sean Heraty on 7/12/12
Rating: 5/5
18th Jul2012

Big Sam’s Funky Nation Storms Up Mayne Stage

by rockchicago

If you want to be knocked out by a wall of sound, Big Sam’s Funky Nation is the band to see. This high impact band is an explosion of sound that just keeps on going.
The group is headed up by Big Sam Williams on Trombone who has played with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band out of New Orleans. The group also features a typical New  Orleans type of line up with a Trumpet player, Drums and electric guitar and bass.
Out of the gate one can tell that this band has a lot of fun and they really know how to pump up the crowd. There is always plenty of audience participation and they know how to get the crowd going.
Although the band is from New Orleans, don’t expect to hear your father’s Traditional Jazz here.   This band does a great job of updating the New Orleans sound while still staying true to the roots. While their style might be best described as hard hitting funk, they definitely preserve the New Orleans Jazz flavor in their work somehow.
There is a fusion of a number of different styles and influences that make their overall sound fresh and interesting.  One can hear James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Rick James and even a touch of Rap in what they do.
Sam Williams dominates the scene with his mighty powerful trombone playing.  He has a big sound and it is forceful but well centered. His intonation is spot on and he is very agile on an instrument that makes it difficult to play quick successions of notes. He is an accomplished showman and regularly shouts out to the audience to get things going with the crowd.  They even have tunes that involve the crowd dancing.   In one tune they invited audience members up to dance solos in front of the crowd.   Those familiar with Big Sam’s work will remember these “Shake That Funky Donkey”events from past performances.   They certainly drew attention at this year’s Jazz Fest in New Orleans.
The rest of the band is also comprised of very accomplished players.  Andrew Baham on trumpet is also a very strong player that plays precisely, definitively and with incredible force.  His solos were high impact and melodically interesting.  The bass player was rock solid and played with excellent time.   The drummer was also very impressive and always played with rock solid time and high energy.
High energy is the best way to describe this band.   They understand the dynamics of jamming and building up energy. It was not long before everyone in Mayne Stage was dancing or at least moving to the music.   They also played continuously as a DJ would, transitioning from song to song smoothly. As soon as they had the crowd grooving on one thing they would morph it into another great groove. They just built this up more and more over their set until they had the whole house rocking.
This band is definitely worth seeing.   They have a great sound that is interesting and entertaining and they are fun to watch. Just make sure you bring comfortable shoes because it is highly likely that you will spend most of the show on your feet!
Reviewed by Michael Hesiak on 7/13/12
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