06th Nov2014

Fleetwood Mac…A Symphony of Solos at United Center

by rockchicago

 

As I sat amongst a sold-out crowd at the United Center waiting for Fleetwood Mac to begin what was the band’s second stop on its 2014 reunion tour, I could barely contain the excitement brewing from within.  I mean, this was one of those supergroups that helped define pop-rock music of the late seventies, my most musically impressionable years.
After 47 years, 100 million albums (1977’s Rumours accounts for 45 million of that, being the sixth highest selling album of all time) and hundreds of sold out arena performances later, Fleetwood Mac is indeed Rock royalty.  But what I witnessed during the two-and-a-half hour, twenty-four song and double-encore performance helped me come to the realization of something that is really quite obvious and what I believe is a big reason for the band’s success…there are a bunch of solo performances going on coincidentally at the same time!

The combination of the personal and professional personalities on stage is so engaging that, whether you realize it or not, you get drawn in and wrapped up within the band’s individualistic approach to a cohesive group.

First of all, this “On With The Show” tour marked the long-awaited return of keyboardist/vocalist Christine McVie to the band after a sixteen-year hiatus, thus returning to the lineup that propelled the band into an international phenomenon in the late seventies.   Her warm and humble presence didn’t take away from her smooth yet powerful delivery of some of the band’s biggest hits including “You Make Loving Fun,” “Songbird” and “Little Lies.”  The band’s personal excitement about McVie being back on stage was most evident and made the experience something that just seemed right.
Only bassist John McVie somewhat remained in the background keeping his contribution to the evening solely musical, which was enough for me!  He was recently diagnosed with cancer and is fighting the battle, but still is a vital part of the band and the prognosis is good.

Then there is the guitar playing prowess of Lindsey Buckingham.  Even though I have been a fan of his vocals since the beginning, it wasn’t until recently when he played my Arcada Theatre as a solo act doing twenty songs with twenty guitars that I really saw first-hand what a guitar-wielding crazy man this person really is!  That show was in and of itself and incredible performance.  But his guitar solos at the FM show were awe-inspiring!  His incredible finger-picking style and Flamenco overtones makes him as much of an entertainer to watch as he is to listen to.

He just continued to jam, note after note after note, tossing in his quips and song pre-cursors.  When it comes to guitar playing greats, names like Hendrix and Clapton come to the forefront, but what this guy does, in my humble opinion, puts him right up there with them.

The most animated person in the band, bar none, was absolutely the guy bangin’ on the skins, Mick Fleetwood.  He was the first to take the stage, a six-foot, five-inch, sixty-seven year old rocker seemingly sharing the excitement with the bubbling crowd like a teenager.  After practically every song he egged the audience on for louder applause with his wide-eyed smile and Sean Connery-like demeanor.

Of course, the practically mythical member of the band is Stevie Nicks.  Like Madonna did years later, Stevie created her own look, her own persona, and it was present that night.  Clad in flowing black dresses, black boots and lace-laden shawls and gloves added to the retro-feel of the show as she broke into her signature twirls on stage.  Many times throughout the concert, all the band members recognized the return of Christine, but Stevie seemed particularly sincere and genuinely happy about it.

So I found myself so engaged with the players on stage that the music almost became secondary.  Their first number was “The Chain,” followed by megahit after classic rock megahit all the way through the final number of the evening, “Songbird.”  I have to say, my personal favorite is the college football halftime staple, “Tusk.”  With a massive video screen behind the band and footage of the USC Marching Band playing along, the power of this tune made me play the dashboard drums on countless occasions.

The band hasn’t skipped a beat and is even talking about recording new material.  Just when the likes of Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and inner-city gangsta rappers seemed to be taking over the music scene, bands like Fleetwood Mac step out of the shadows to remind us what music really is.  You can “Go Your Own Way,” but you can “Never Break The Chain” of hits Fleetwood Mac has given to true rock ’n rollers for generations to come.

I still don’t know why McDonalds never named a sandwich after them, though.  Seems only natural to me.

Reviewed by Ron Onesti

20th Oct2014

King Crimson Comes Back to Chicago!

by rockchicago

It was with eager anticipation that I and all the concert goers had for the King Crimson concerts at the Vic (they played for three nights 9/25, 9/26, 9/27). For those of you unfamiliar with King Crimson, they are considered one of the “founders” of “progressive rock.” Although, since their founding in 1968, they have continued in various reincarnations with a myriad of members, and their music has been indescribable, ranging from prog rock, experimental music, hard rock, metal, jazz-rock fusion, and even new wave. Their debut album, “In the Court of the Crimson King,” released in 1969, was the recording which began my life long fascination with prog rock and also made me a huge fan of Greg Lake, their original vocalist.

I had never seen King Crimson in person so this was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and speaking to the other concert goers, it almost seemed that to many this was going to be almost a “religious experience” for them. I have been to many concerts through the years but rarely have I seen so many fans with such a deep fascination with a band. In fact, one of the concertgoers I spoke to had flown in from Virginia with his wife for this concert. I was surprised at the make up of the crowd as there was a mix of all ages, not only a group of aging or aged prog rockers like I had anticipated. This is a testimonial to the uniqueness of King Crimson and the wide range of musical styles they have dabbled in, leading to a broad fan base exemplified by the many young people in attendance. I must make mention that there were not too many women present, as King Crimson tends to be more of a guy band, characterized by skillful musicianship, some pretty intense music, and long epic songs.

As I walked into the lobby of the Vic Theater (which was pretty tight), there was a concession stand, selling the usual music CDs, DVDs, photo books, but there were some outstanding tour tee shirts with some of the iconic album covers on the front. One of the tee shirts had the “screaming man” from “In the Court of the Crimson King” which I had to have. There was a mob of people purchasing the memorabilia, however, it was well organized and people lined up very orderly, single file. I was reminded of the scene in the movie “A Christmas Story” when the boys went to see Santa, got in line and were told that the end of the line started way back behind them. In this instance people were told the back of the line was upstairs….I looked up the stairs to the balcony and the line snaked up the stairs and beyond. But I had plenty of time so trudged up the stairs, to the end of the line, and waited my turn, hopefully not missing the show. It moved quickly, I got my tee shirt and was a happy fan.

Walking into the theater I was instantly struck by the band set up….there in the front of the stage were three drum sets, the one in the middle was a typical kit with some keyboards to the right side, and the other drum sets on either side were some pretty ornate sets with all sorts of additions. I had seen bands with two drummers before, but never three, and needless to say it further piqued my interest and anticipation, especially because I knew one of the drummers was Gavin Harrison. I became a huge Gavin Harrison fan listening to and watching him perform with the band “Porcupine Tree.” His style and virtuosity is amazing, so never seeing him live, I was definitely psyched.

Typically for my reviews I am able to have a photo pass so I can take pictures at the concert, however, for this show no photos or any recording was allowed, even stating so on the tickets. It was a seated concert for the Vic, which is not the usual arrangement at the Vic, but I was pleased as I am getting older and not in the mood to stand the whole show and get jostled around.

The concert opened with an audio recording termed “No Cameras Please,” which you can find and download from www.dgm.live.com (which also has information about the tour). It basically started with founder Robert Fripp saying “Welcome to King Crimson, hope you have a really great time. Have fun.” Then there was a dialogue with Fripp and all his band members explaining that there will be no recording of any kind. Each band member had interesting comments about the topic, saying how it is distracting to them as well as to other audience members, in addition to the fact that you cannot really enjoy the concert looking through a small view finder…..actually pretty true. Fripp closed by saying that that you should “embrace the moment” using your mind to do the recording and have your mind be your “viddie.” He then repeated, “Welcome to King Crimson, hope you have a really great time. Have fun.” The band then walked out to rousing applause and a standing ovation.

The band then took their places, the three drummers in front, to the left Pat Mastelotto (drummer for King Crimson since 1994, also a founding member of Mister Mister), in the center Bill Rieflin (started working with King Crimson since 2013, playing with many bands, notably R.E.M. since 1997), and to the right Gavin Harrison (had played with King Crimson in 2008 and rejoined them in September 2014 for this tour, better known for his work with Porcupine Tree). Mel Collins, playing the saxes (a legendary player, playing with such bands as King Crimson off and on, Camel, the Alan Parsons Project and many others) took his place in the back row on the far left. Tony Levin, on bass was next to Collins (an outstanding session musician, considered one of the 20 most under rated bass players of all-time, noted for his work with progressive rock bands such as King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, and his band “The Stickmen,” referring to the Chapman Stick bass he is noted for playing). Jakko Jakszyk, on guitar and vocals, was next to Levin, (Jakko is the current lead singer of King Crimson, since 2013, and has been with a number of bands over 30 plus years). Robert Fripp, very unassumingly then took his place on stage at the extreme right, settling in behind a keyboard, with his guitar resting on his lap. Fripp was a founder of the band and has been the only member who has played on every album from the late sixties to the present day. He is considered one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time as published by Rolling Stone Magazine.

All the band members wore either black sport coats or black vests with ties, although Gavin Harrison had on a black shirt. It gave them a very distinguished, classy look. There was no “showboating” at all, there were very workmanlike, precise and impeccable musically. What a collection of outstanding musicians. They did not disappoint.

The concert started with the percussion trio and their precision absolutely blew the crowd (and me) away. I had never seen anything like this and the three drummers were in absolutely complete synch throughout the entire concert….not even a single misstep, always right on. To see the drummers in rehearsal and the basic set up the band you can view this youtube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1JapuD0ikk.

The set list featured music from every decade of King Crimson, so no one was disappointed as they played for nearly two hours.

Set List

  1. Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Part One)

  2. Level Five

  3. A Scarcity of Miracles

  4. The ConstruKction of Light

  5. VROOOM

  6. Coda: Marine 475

  7. Interlude

  8. Red

  9. One More Nightmare

  10. The Letters

  11. Sailor’s Tale

  12. The Light of Day

  13. The Talking Drum

  14. Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Part Two)

  15. Starless

Encore

  1. Hell Hounds of Krim

  2. 21st Century Schizoid Man

The drummers were the definite featured element of the concert, front and center with amazing performances. They all had distinct styles. Rieflin was a very slick, smooth, drummer, seeming to be playing effortlessly. He also played keyboards on occasion as well. Mastelotto attacked the drums with a ferocity and was a very aggressive, demonstrative player. Harrison definitely displayed why he is such a well-regarded drummer with his virtuosity. On several occasions I saw Mastelotto looking over at Harrison, with a big smile on his face as he was marveling at Gavin’s drumming. Much like the look of admiration I had watching Harrison myself!

But it was great musicianship by all band members all night long. Mel Collins was superlative on the sax and demonstrated why he has been in demand and so well-regarded over all these years. What can you say about Tony Levin? He is probably one of the best bassists around and he sure reinforced that observation by his playing all night long. Jakko Jakszyk definitely impressed me with his guitar work, but especially with his superb vocals. I had heard him before on recordings as lead vocalist for “The 21st Century Schizoid Band” but he sounded even better in person. Robert Fripp was kept a low profile all night, remaining seated, but playing mind blowing guitar. The sounds he coaxed out of guitar were so unique showing what a genius on the guitar he has been for so many years.

The crowd was so appreciative of the concert experience, rewarding the band with numerous standing ovations. What I thought was interesting is that all the band members were very stoic, barely acknowledging the accolades of the audience, almost like they were trying not to show any emotion. The only time I saw some sort of response was from Tony Levin, after someone in the audience yelled out, “You guys are amazing!” Levin had a small grin on his face, otherwise everyone seemed to go through the paces very workman like.

The closing song of the concert was a sublime performance of “Starless” which brought the crowd to their feet. Tony Levin then pulled out a camera and then began taking photos of the crowd form his place in the back row. I was trying to decide if it was a jab at the audience (so to speak) or if it was a tradition of his. As the band took their bows they finally showed more emotion. However, Fripp stood at his place in the back, head slightly bowed as he acknowledged the crowds’ admiration, almost giving me the impression that he looked very “professorial” in his demeanor, as well as his look with the black vest and tie.

For the encore they began with another mind-numbing drum trio, accentuated by more superlative drumming by Gavin Harrison. To the absolute delight of the entire audience the final song of the night was the iconic “21st Century Schizoid Man.” The entire audience stood and roared their approval, many singing along as well as gesturing wildly to an intensely played version of this classic. The band then took their bows to another well-deserved standing ovation. Once again Tony Levin pulled out his camera and took more photos of the crowd.

What a great ending to one of the best concerts musically I had ever seen. But how could you expect any less from such an iconic band with a superb collection of supremely talented individuals. Sadly, I have no pictures of the show, but as Fripp would say, I have the “viddies” in my mind, and they will stay there forever…..never to be erased!

Reviewed by Peter S. Sakas

12th Sep2014

Tower of Power, Steve Miller Band & Journey Blow the Audience Away at First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre

by rockchicago

 

This past Wednesday I went to one of the coolest concerts I have ever been to. Literally, it was a cool 61 degrees at the First Midwest Bank Center when Tower of Power took the stage right on time at 6:45. They played only 45 minutes which is rare for those guys. Even with so many hits in their repertoire they were able to squeeze a good number of them in. TOP is never disappointing….NEVER, and Wed. evening was no different. This is the first time I was able to hear their new singer Ray Greene. Greene is another power house, soulful singer that fits well in front of one of the greatest bands on the planet. One of the trumpet players, Sal Cracchiola was absent to be his wife while she recovers in ICU from a skating accident. Also missing was legendary bassist Rocco Prestia. We send our prayers and thoughts to both of them and their families. I always tell young musicians if you can only make one concert this year make it a TOP concert. They mesh so many different styles into one living musical breath that only hearing them live can explain.

Also right on time the Steve Miller Band came out taking no prisoners. His musical line up of musicians is also filled with a virtual who’s who in rock music history. As he played his hits for the next ninety minutes I kept thinking “I forgot about that song…and that song…and that one. Miller had twenty eight albums had to choose his play list from dating back to 1967. Besides being impressed with his vocals I was equally impressed with his guitar playing. He is for sure no slouch when it comes to playing. One of the biggest impressions the SM band made on me was that were all just having some good, old fashioned fun. They played with excitement and energy like it was their first time to play in front of a big crowd….and they loved every minute of it. At one point in his Miller’s set, Neal Schon came out and played a song with the boys like he belonged with the band. When guys like this that are so naturally talented play for so many years they can only sound remarkable and they did. They ended their set with Fly like an eagle.

Journey finished the night and all I think of to say is that they were so HIGH. Huh? Gotcha. High energy, high performance, high tech, and high voices. They had some HIGH tech jumbo screens that screamed special effects and close ups of the solos that were blazing through the hefty sound system. Now we know that Neal Schon, Jonathan Cain, and Ross Valory are no longer spring chickens..whatever that means.

They played with such HIGH energy for over ninety minutes without a break. Cain showed his diverse musical greatness on keyboards when he toyed with the keys by himself for about ten minutes. A couple songs later Schon had his ten minute solo time in the spotlight. I am sure that other people besides me were aware that this night was the eve of the thirteenth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks on our country. Schon broke into his Hendrix like version of the Star Spangled Banner. The crowd exploded in cheers as the screens behind Schon showed Old Glory as he finished the song. They remembered, we remembered, and no one had to say anything. I thought it was a great tribute. The only time I heard louder cheers was at a Blackhawks game. Next thing you know lead singer Arnel Pineda comes out wearing a Blackhawks T shirt. The night was complete for me. This guy’s comparative youth was nothing but HIGH energy as he hit ALL the Steve Perry HIGH soprano notes with ease while he is running around. On bass and backing vocals is Ross Vallery. As an old school bass player all I can say is that I get this guy. No ten minute solos, no running all over the place, no high vocals. Just straight up, solid bottom, pocket playing that meshed so well with drummer Deen Castronovo. Without these guys there is no foundation for Journey. With Castronovo on drums all I can say is “wow”. This guy has to be hands down one of the best rock drummers on the planet, period. Playing like that is not enough though, he sang a tune as HIGH as Perry and Pineda. He also has a drumming video titled “HIGH performance drumming” Now that’s a surprise. While the rest of the band was wearing long sleeve shirts to stay warm, Castronovo was wearing cut off sleeves and probably lost five pounds with his energetic playing.

Start to finish the whole concert went a bit over four hours. Four hours of the some of the best musicians and songs in the world. We all left a little chilly but also on a very HIGH note.

Reviewed by Paul “Mr U” Uhrina WVLP radio

12th Sep2014

Train Keeps-A-Rollin’ at Ravinia Festival

by rockchicago

 

Let the train keep on rolling as they say…another beautiful night at Ravinia Festival tonight, as a sold-out crowd scatters into the pavilion to experience Train! As I mentioned, it was a packed house, and we were all waiting for Pat Monahan’s unpredictable voice to soar.

As the band entered the stage, they went right into their song “Parachute,” which was a song I didn’t know, but it was really upbeat and the audience seemed to love it. Next they went into one of their hits “Calling All Angels.” The crowd was getting into it even more. As the night progressed, the audience was on their feet for most of the show and Monahan was just soaking it all in.

Throughout the night, Monahan was very interactive with the audience by taking “selfie” pictures on people’s phones in the front row. At one point he was even throwing out free T-shirts to the audience. He even took off his own shirt, had the entire band sign it, then threw it into the crowd.

Some of the crowd favorites that night included a lot of their well-known hits including “Save Me, San Francisco,” “Meet Virginia,” “When I Look to the Sky,” “Hey, Soul Sister” and “Drops of Jupiter.” They even performed 2 kick-ass covers, Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be” and the very last encore of the night, Aerosmith’s “Dream On.” The covers were honestly my favorites of the night not only because they nailed them but Monahan’s voice was just superb!

Train really knows how to put on a show for its fans and it showed on night 1 of their 2-day residency at Ravinia Festival. I only hope night 2 was just as good as night 1. I would highly recommend seeing Train live if they come to a city near you. Ravinia was a perfect venue for them as usual. The only thing I was kind of hesitant with was the new material from Train. One thing that aggrivates me about bands always coming out with new material, is they tend to switch styles. I only wish Train could have stuck to the same style they originally came out with. But that’s only my opinion.

Overall, definitely worth it, and I would see them again anytime.

Reviewed by Kevin Pollack

05th Aug2014

Heart Rocks Ravinia Once Again!

by rockchicago

 

No doubt about it, the Wilson sisters still got it and they are here to stay! Bold and beautiful, Ann and Nancy are aging like fine wines, each with their own unique style. Ann’s lead vocals were “spot on key as always”, according to Patti Miller-Reinhart (who performs Heart songs with her band Midnight with the same vigor). And true to rocker form, hair flying, Nancy’s riffs on the guitar were solid and the way she bowed the guitar was amazing, like caressing a child. Their intoxicating deliverance of their classic hits are still playing in my head like old friends. A sound distinctly their own is timeless and comforting, great rock and roll to the core!  Not only did they play many of their old songs like Dreamboat Annie, Magic Man, Crazy on You and a dozen others, these Hall of Famers gave us “Heaven”, a new, soon to be released single. The girls and their band are still writing, creating and performing beautiful songs about various types of love, which proves they are in it for the long haul with no signs of slowing down. To top off the night was a brilliant encore tribute to Led Zeppelin! By that time, no one was in their chair. We were all singing and dancing! We couldn’t have expected more from this rocker duo who paved the way for females throughout the music world. Thank you Ann, Nancy and Heart from all of us! You, your songs and your messages are truly beautiful and the world is a better place with you in it.

Reviewed by Donna B.

29th Jul2014

Umphrey’s McGee Soothes the Crowd at Ravinia Festival

by rockchicago

 

Always a pleasure to spend a night at Ravinia. This time it was for the great Chicago jam band Umphrey’s McGee. I have to tell you this was one of the most interesting shows I’ve seen at Ravinia thus far. Not to mention, it was a giant party for hippies and stoners. Having just released their new album Similar Skin, they were ready for the party.

Walking in, it wasn’t very packed. It started to fill up more during the second half of the concert. Umphrey’s McGee is a progressive rock band originally from South Bend, IN, whose music is often referred to as “progressive improvisation” or “improg.” Although the band is part of the jam band scene, like Phish and the Grateful Dead, they’re more influenced by progressive rock artists like King Crimson, Yes, Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd and Genesis.

Starting from the very beginning, Umphrey’s just started jamming on some of their own songs including “Divisions,” “Second Self,” “In the Kitchen,” “Great American,” “Susanah,” and a great cover of Toto’s “Africa.”

After taking a break from their first set, the band came back and pushed it harder on the second. Starting out with a new song called “Cut the Cable” off their new album, flowing right into “Wappy Sprayberry” and another great cover of The Police’s “Walking on the Moon.” Umphrey’s covers are always really great having heard them cover great songs before like The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” and Band of Gypsys’ “Who Knows” at Summerfest this year. The band always knows how to put their own spin on things.

Throughout the night, everyone was either tripping on something or drinking just to enjoy the music. As funny as that sounds, it’s true. Every time I go to a jam band concert, it’s usually almost always the same. But overall, Umphrey’s is really an outstanding band who are really tight. I would definitely catch them again when they’re in town and I highly recommend everyone out there to go see them. Kris Meyers on drums just kills it, and Brendan Bayliss on guitar and vocals really just smooths everything out and keeps the music flowing.

If you like good progressive rock or bands like Grateful Dead or Phish, then I suggest you check out this band, and I think Ravinia was the PERFECT setting for them.

For more info on Umphrey’s McGee, check out their website: www.umphreys.com

Reviewed by Kevin Pollack

21st Jul2014

Crosby, Stills & Nash Play Ravinia to a Sold-Out Crowd

by rockchicago

What a beautiful evening for an outdoor concert. I love Ravinia for many reasons such as the staff who are always very friendly and accommodating, and the atmosphere that the patrons create on the lawn. Everybody is here to have a great time with family and friends, and even waiting in line is not so bad because there is always a conversation going on which makes the line move faster. Ravinia is one of my favorite venues to review a show for those reasons alone.

The concert began promptly with the band coming out to a standing ovation from the crowd with Carry On/Questions, with David Crosby, Graham Nash and Stephen Stills front and forward on stage along with Shayne Fontayne (Guitar), Steve Distanislao (Drums), Kevin McCormick (Bass), Todd Caldwell (Organ) and James Raymond (David Crosby’s son, on Keyboards). On this song, the music sounded great, but the vocals were a mess. I was trying to figure out what was wrong with their harmonies. After singing many years together, one would think that CSN would have this track down pat, but unfortunately, this song sounded vocally like a train wreck. Further into the song the harmonies got a little better, but clearly it was Stephen Stills who could not sing in tune. Still, the crowd gave them a standing ovation after this song was performed. Next, they played another old favorite, Marrakesh Express. The vocals got a little better, as I believe the sound guy adjusted the mics in order to accommodate the off-key singing by Stephen Stills, followed by another long-time favorite of mine, Long Time Gone. David Crosby sang lead on this one and was in perfect key, along with Graham Nash. The musicianship on these songs were remarkable, and adding James Raymond into the mix playing keyboards made CSN sound better than they have in years.

As a side note, this concert was probably the longest I have seen them perform with the first set lasting 70 minutes and the second set lasting 90 minutes, with a 20 minute intermission in between. For a group of guys in their 60’s and 70’s, I have to hand it to them for playing on stage for that long a period of time. Anyway, following were the songs Southern Cross, Lay Me Down and a song from David Crosby’s new solo album, Broken. This song was co-written by James Raymond. Next were a few songs that I had never heard before such as Delta, Don’t Want Lies and Cathedral which was written while Graham Nash was standing on a soldier’s grave. The one interesting aspect of this performance tonight that I had not seen in prior concerts, was that each songwriter explained their inspirations behind writing some of these classic songs that the baby boomers have been singing along with for generations. Some of the stories, which were told before the songs, were performed truly explained the meaning behind the song before it was played.

The first half continued with a solo song beautifully written and performed by Graham Nash called Back Home which was written about his family, Bluebird, a Buffalo Springfield cover and the classic Déjà Vu which was, in my opinion, the best song of the first set featuring the entire band going into a mini jam.

CSN led the second half with Helplessly Hoping which really sounded good. The harmonies seemed to be much better. Next, Stephen Stills sang a Bob Dylan cover song, Girl From the North Country. I absolutely could not understand a word that he sang and his vocals were totally off key. Don’t get me wrong, his guitar playing was flawless but his vocal ability is pretty much gone. Next, Graham Nash got back on the keyboards with a harmonica and sang his song Here For You. I had never heard this song before, so hearing it for the first time, the words and melody were truly beautiful. Keeping with the solo theme, David Crosby then sang another solo off his new album, What Makes it So, again co-written by his son, James Raymond. David Crosby then explained that he had written the tune Guinnevere for his wife of 38 years who was sitting in the audience. I was moved by how melodic they performed this song with keyboards and acoustic guitars. This time they left out Stephen Stills for the harmonies, which absolutely sounded spectacular. Other songs following included Burning For the Buddah and Treetop Flyer which I have never heard before. In my opinion, they were just okay. Then finally, the party begins!!! Our House turned into a giant sing-along with the audience, with the band pausing to hear us, which led to the song Chicago, which everybody got on their feet singing and dancing to the music, followed by the famous song written by Buffalo Springfield, For What It’s Worth. This was the highlight of my night most definitely. These two songs brought me back to the protest days in the early 70’s at Grant Park. Everyone was on their feet with the final song by Stephen Stills, Love the One You’re With. This song is my favorite Stephen Stills song. This time, they got it right with the harmonies. I was wondering at this point if Stills lost his voice or if they cut out his mic. Regardless, it sounded really good.

The encore consisted of the song Teach Your Children, which the audience was still on their feet and singing along. The problem I saw with the performance of this song was CSN could not hit the high notes as originally written. Instead they transformed the song to go down on the harmonies. It was very awkward for me to hear it performed that way after decades of listening to this song the way it was performed originally on their album.

Overall, it was a very entertaining evening packed with a lot of good music from CSN, and a history lesson behind some of their most famous songs.

Reviewed by Debbie Pollack

18th Jul2014

Counting Crows Excites the Crowd at Ravinia

by rockchicago

 

It was a beautiful Monday night and a sold-out show for the Counting Crows at Ravinia tonight and everyone was busy setting up out on the lawn as it was filled to its capacity. The openers for the night included 90′s band Toad the Wet Sprocket and newer band Daniel and the Lion from Madison, WI.

As I sat down, Daniel and the Lion started promptly on time at 6:30pm. They didn’t play that long of a set because Toad had to go on next. But in their 25 minute set, Daniel and the Lion proved they have what it takes to stand up next to 2 great bands like Toad and the Crows. They played songs from their most recent EP Death Head which has great songs including their popular song “Need You.”

Next up, we had Toad the Wet Sprocket, a great band from the 90′s that I’m glad reunited because they were always a tight band with great songwriting, and they definitely proved that tonight. Original 4 members were here; Glen Phillips, Todd Nichols, Dean Dinning and Randy Guss. I’ve been a fan of these guys for a long time, and to the crowd, they were definitely pleased because they played some of their classic hits along with some of the new songs from their recent album New Constellation. Some of the classic songs that they played that you’d know include “All I Want,” “Walk on the Ocean,” “Something’s Always Wrong” and “Fall Down.” They also played some great songs from their new album including “New Constellation,” “The Moment” and “California Wasted.” I would definitely see these guys again on their own.

Lastly, the Counting Crows arrive on stage with lead singer Adam Duritz wearing a Daniel and the Lion shirt on while chewing gum the whole time, which I though was hysterical. Being a singer, I’ve always heard you shouldn’t chew gum on stage, but in this case it looked like it actually helped him. Tonight they were playing songs from their upcoming album Somewhere Under Wonderland, along with covers and some of their hits.

Some highlights included their hits “Mr. Jones,” “Mrs. Potter’s Lullabye,” “Hanginaround,” “A Long December,” “Palisades Park,” “Sullivan Street” and many others. They even did some great covers including “Untitled (Love Song)” by The Romany Rye, “Friend of the Devil” by The Grateful Dead, “Meet on the Ledge” by Fairport Convention and “Like Teenage Gravity” by Kasey Anderson.

Duritz was having a lot of fun with the crowd and the crowd responded back singing all the words to their songs. The crowd were on their feet for all their hits and people were dancing in the aisles as usual.

Overall, this was the ultimate concert package. I thought these 3 bands sounded great together and it was a perfect choice. Ravinia is always the perfect place to see a concert in an outdoor setting and these bands took advantage of it. I highly recommend you see this tour if it’s coming near you.

Reviewed by Kevin Pollack

05th Jul2014

Summerfest 2014 Kicks Off With A Bang!

by rockchicago

Milwaukee’s annual celebration of music kicked off Wednesday with a packed bill and throngs of people, even though it was the middle of a work day with cool temperatures along the shore of Lake Michigan. Bruno Mars would star at the Marcus Amphitheater for a sold-out show that night, and other acts appearing that day included Rick Springfield, Neon Trees, Ray Lamontagne, and Ben Harper, but I decided to stay at one stage for the day to wait for the rare chance to see Arctic Monkeys in a smaller setting than their current status as world headliners allows. Apparently, many other people had the same idea, staying at the Miller Lite Oasis stage for many hours beforehand. The result was an odd mix of a crowd. Usually at festivals I’ve been to, people wander from stage to stage to watch a set by a band they are interested in seeing. On this day, however, the packed house busied themselves with iphone games and chatter, barely paying attention to a deserving set of acts playing just a few feet away.

I arrived for the second half of the set from King Washington. Their 18th-century-Sergeant-Pepper-Beauty-Queen outfits and three-part harmonies pulled me in right away. Their brand of rock stretched from pub to arena, and their personalities made for a more than serviceable festival set. They were clearly having fun and were able to engage the slowly building crowd. During the show I spoke with a few people who knew the drummer they added for the show, and the fit worked well. Hopefully they picked up more than a few followers on social media from this quick stop in the midwest. Their strong set of songs deserves it.

Next up were White Denim, a band I’ve seen several times in a variety of settings in recent years, from the small stage of Schuba’s to Lincoln Hall to opening for Tame Impala at the Riv. They’ve been opening for Arctic Monkeys on their current tour and I understand the sonic fit – both bands recapture a wide range of sounds and energy from rock bands of the 70’s. The difference is White Denim focus more on sophisticated musicianship, with songs featuring quick time signature shifts and complex solos. The lyrics are not the focus, although James Petralli’s vocal work is excellent. The problem on this day, and I’m curious if they faced it on the rest of their tour, is the lack of energy coming from the crowd. Even a shout-out to Robin Yount got no reaction. But that also says something about the fans at the Miller Lite stage that day – most were no older than college age, all freshly-minted Arctic Monkeys fans, who knew neither Robin Yount nor the Black Sabbath riffs thrown into the headliner’s set later. So while White Denim were busy re-digesting everyone from Jerry Garcia to Jimmy Page and re-spinning it into brilliant sonic tapestries, not many took notice. But I, for one, thought their set was up to their typically high standards, and am looking forward to seeing how the Lollapalooza crowd welcomes them to Chicago later this summer.

Hamilton Leithauser is on an extended hiatus from his usual band, the Walkmen. His recent solo debut is a re-examination of the crooner tradition, taking advantage of his gifted trademark baritone voice. Going from jazz to pop to moody rock songs, it tweaks the Walkmen sound to shift the focus to him. On the record, the songs receive full instrumentation, with as many as fifteen musicians providing a full range of sound. Live, on this day, he was accompanied by two relatives and two friends who worked hard to replicate the full depth of the songs. From piano to marimba to tambourine to maracas, there were nice touches, but it often fell short. Many of the songs fell into a mid-tempo U2-like sound, which wasn’t bad in and of itself, but it left me wanting more – or to see him in a smaller club setting. There, the subtleties would be clearer and the crowd, once again, more focused.

I’d say the same goes for the next band, San Fermin. Their self-named album was one of my favorites from last year. Its compositions combine an exploration of dissonance and vocal interplay, and include violins and saxophone. On paper, seeing this band on the same stage as White Denim makes sense – both bands are charting out new territory built on a re-examination of musical ideas. But again, seeing it live on this day fell a bit short of what I had hoped to see. the crowd stood up to greet them at the start of their set, but soon found itself sitting and texting. After an extended sound check beforehand they had the right levels, but it didn’t fully cohere. Part of the issue might be that Milwaukee native Rae Cassidy left the band back in April and new addition Charlene Kaye feels a little less invested int he songs. Add to that Ellis Ludwig-Leone’s vocal becoming almost indecipherable, and the result is the masters of baroque pop delivering a sub-par performance. But that won’t deter me from seeing them again this summer at Lollapalooza – detect a theme here?

Indeed Arctic Monkeys will also be in town for the big Grant Park party in August, and until then will be wowing the world with their confident, powerful set and well-deserved status as major headliner. Why Summerfest decided to put them on this awful stage under the highway I’ll never understand. They easily could have been a Marcus Amphitheater draw, or benefited from better sight lines at the BMO Harris Pavilion. Instead, the crowd stood on their metal benches, stopping virtually all dancing and movement except for head bopping and screaming. It also made for a strange arrangement of people who were close to the stage, but interspersed between rows of people on those benches and thus unable to see anything but a glimpse of the video screens. Outside the main seating area the densely-packed crowd pushed as close at they could get. It was nice to be able to stand up on those benches and not feel the crush of the masses, but it felt like many people had a hard time seeing the band. Too bad – they missed a stellar show, filled with hits and strong songs. Here is where White Denim and Arctic Monkeys differ – the latter focus on tight songs – singles that zoom to the top of world charts and lead to a crowd of people singing along. Alex Turner had the audience in his pocket from the moment he hit the stage, and never let go, taking us along through songs from the band’s five albums. Their sound continues to evolve impressively from one record to the next, and their recent move to Los Angeles has added a moodier texture resulting in a set that felt more like listening to a great record collection than a bunch of similar-sounding songs. On this night Matt Helders’s drumming stole the show, providing both a powerful anchor and driving pulse. Jamie Cook and Nick O’Malley are consummate professionals, but left virtually all of the work of engaging the audience to Alex – and why not? They are one of the biggest bands in the world at the moment because of him. Like he sang in “Library Pictures,” “Eenie meenie miney mo, give me an ip dip dog shit rock and roll” – and that they did, bringing a great first day of Summerfest to a close.

One piece of advice I must pass on to those planning to attend the festival: avoid parking close to the gates in the main parking lot. Walk a few blocks into the city or take one of the many shuttles offered by area bars and clubs. I had the pleasure of waiting 90 minutes – I kid you not – to get out of the parking lot, watching many impatient people jockey for position without any help from the absent police presence. For such a well-run festival, the last bite left the wrong taste in my mouth – take the time to not make the same mistake.

Reviewed by Neil Rigler

28th Jun2014

James Taylor “Showers the People” with Love at Ravinia Festival

by rockchicago

 

Oh, what a beautiful evening it is. Night 1 of James Taylor’s sold out 2-night residency at Ravinia Festival, and what madness! As everyone rushed to take their seats, you know the band is just about to take the stage!

The first person you see is James Taylor greeting the crowd walking back and forth saying hi to the audience. Then he walked center stage, picked up his acoustic and went right into a beautiful rendition of “Something in the Way She Moves.” Song after song, you can tell Taylor just loves playing and he loved playing with his band as well. Taylor’s All-Star band included legendary drummer Steve Gadd (Steely Dan, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney), percussionist Luis Conte (Phil Collins, Madonna, Pat Metheny Group), Jimmy Johnson (a member of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section) on bass, Larry Goldings (Ray Charles, Norah Jones, Herbie Hancock) on keyboards, Michael Landau (Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson, Steve Perry, Seal, Richard Marx) on guitar, Lou Marini (The Blues Brothers Band, Frank Zappa, Steely Dan, Blood, Sweat & Tears) on horns, Walt Fowler (Frank Zappa) on horns and keyboards, Andrea Zonn (Alison Krauss, Amy Grant, Lyle Lovett, Neil Diamond) on backing vocals and violin, Arnold McCuller (Phil Collins, Bonnie Raitt, Todd Rundgren, Carole King) on backing vocals, Kate Markowitz (Billy Joel, Diana Ross, Kenny Loggins, Neil Diamond) on backing vocals and songwriter David Lasley (Luther Vandross, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Bette Midler) on backing vocals. How about that for an all-star band!!!

Taylor’s set list included a lot of his hits including “Everyday (Buddy Holly cover),” “Country Road,” “Carolina in My Mind,” “Sweet Baby James,” “You’ve Got A Friend,” “You and I,” “Handy Man,” “You Are My Only One,” a beautiful acoustic rendition of “Fire and Rain,” “Up on the Roof,” “Mexico,” and “Your Smiling Face” among others. He performed a 2 and a half hour set with 3 encores including “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” “Shower the People” and “Lassie Will You Go.”

Taylor also premiered new songs like the great “Today, Today, Today” and the bluesy “One More Go Round,” which makes you want to go out and buy the new album already. Throughout the show, Taylor was talking to the audience like he’s talking to his friends, telling stories of being on the road, working with Carole King, and how much he loved The Beatles. You can tell he was comfortable on stage and comfortable with the crowd. To prove that, during the 15-minute intermission, he even came out to the front of the stage to sign autographs and take pictures with fans!

The best song of the night by far was “Steamroller.” This is one of Taylor’s early bluesy songs, but it’s one of those songs that you can feel how he feels onstage. Michael Landau killed it on guitar during this song, as he’s able to show off playing the blues. But I have to give it to the rest of the band as well, because not only were they amazing, but you can tell they were having so much fun onstage. Especially the backup singers! At one point at the end of the show, Taylor even brought out his wife and his son to sing backup as well! Another highlight for me was a song Taylor wrote called “Mill Worker” for a musical by theatre composer Stephen Schwartz called Working.

Overall, this was one of the best concerts I’ve seen at Ravinia. Having grown up with James Taylor’s music, it was a real treat to see it live. It was almost like a celebration of some sorts. Hopefully, the people that went the second night will feel the same way I felt this first night!

Reviewed by Kevin Pollack

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