Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Wide range of artists thrill at Doheny Blues Festival

Blues Traveler performing on the PCH Stage at the Doheny Blues
Festival in Dana Point, CA, on Saturday, May 19, 2018.
Photo: Bob Steshetz
After two decades, the Doheny Blues Festival moved from Doheny State Beach to its new home at nearby Sea Terrace Park in Dana Point this year. The annual blues bash  held Saturday, May 19 and Sunday, May 20  was staged under mostly overcast skies. But neither the move nor an early case of June gloom dampened the spirit of those attending the fest or the artists who performed mostly memorable sets across three stages (four, if you count the "breakfast sets" that played out for folks waiting to get inside the venue).

Nearly two dozen artists performed and I had the good fortune to catch the majority of all, or part, of the sets across the two days. What follows is my recap of my favorite performances.

Day One - Saturday, May 19
Artur Menezes bringing musical magic to The Backporch stage
(and nearby tables!) at the 2018 Doheny Blues Festival.
Photo: Bob Steshetz
I had never heard of singer-songwriter-guitarist Artur Menezes before I caught his early morning appearance on the Backporch Stage. In my notebook, I jotted down "Gary Clark Jr. meets Alvin Lee," meaning Menezes' smooth and passionate vocals draw comparisons with Clark's contemporary style while his ability to thrill with speedy fretwork reminded me of the late Ten Years After guitarist. But make no mistake, the Brazilian artist who now calls Los Angeles home is a talent who must be seen. Backed by a four-member group, Menezes' set combined Chicago-styled blues, heavier blues-rock and even a Robert Cray-styled soulful cut. A key point to recognize about Menezes is that there was purpose in his lead guitar solos extending beyond merely being flashy. Make sure to get a copy of Menezes' new Josh Smith-produced LP Keep Pushing, set for release on May 28.


Eric Gales thrilling the Doheny
Blues Fest faithful.

Photo: Bob Steshetz
Performing on the Dana Point Stage was Eric Gales, whose hour-long set showcased the artist's powerful blues-rock style via stellar guitar work and great first-rate vocals. 

Showcasing both his own work and several covers (including Freddie King's "Boogie Man," a track featured on his 2017 Middle Of The Road album), the Memphis, Tennessee native's approach was all about explosive power but never over-the-top bombast. His Hendrix-inspired guitar work was thrilling in the expansive outdoor setting, but there was an emotional epicenter that insured the material connected with the crowd on a deeper level. One of the clear standouts of his set was a cover of Buddy Guy's "Baby, Please Don't Leave Me," complete with poignant vocals and nuanced guitar work that grew mightier and the use of a DigiTech pedal to bolster his lead with some screaming effects. Nice!




Larkin Poe's Rebecca, on left, and Megan Lovell.
Photo: Bob Steshetz

Larkin Poe delivered an incredible set that drew a packed crowd at the Backporch Stage. The Georgia-based duo (sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell) were backed by a simple rhythm section, but there was nothing simple about their astonishing 75-minute outing before a packed and awe-struck audience. Featuring tracks off their most recent album (2017's terrific Peach), the siblings performed with the kind of power and authority that Doheny audiences recall with The Record Company's set in 2016 and Vintage Trouble's killer turn in 2014. Larkin Poe's reworkings are undeniably a great way to bring in new fans (a version of Lead belly's "Black Betty" was simply epic), but the originals showcased were also special. The intoxicating "Look Away" and "Freedom" were early favorites, with Rebecca's work on electric guitar and Megan's deft handling on a lap-steel guitar bewitching). 

Larkin Poe performing at The Backporch.
Photo: Bob Steshetz

In addition to their power as singers, musicians and masters at fusing blues, Southern rock and roots music together, the Lovell sisters just seemed to be having a great time. Indeed, earlier in the day I spotted them on the side of the stage enjoying Gales' set. "What a fantastic festival," Rebecca Lovell said about mid-way through their fast-moving set. " Larkin Poe is scheduled to perform at a number of high-profile festivals this summer. Check out their tour page for upcoming performance dates.
George Thorogood in Dana Point.
Photo: Bob Steshetz

Blues Traveler delivered a decidedly different vibe with their freewheeling jam style on the PCH Stage. The group's "Run-Around" remains one of rock's most catchy singles from the '90s, and the performance here got a large crowd moving and dancing to the blues-rock groove.

Closing out day 1 was legendary classic rockers George Thorogood and the Destroyers, whose set of rowdy, party-minded Chuck Berry-inspired rockers included "Who Do You Love" and "Night Time," the latter a terrific cover of The Strangeloves' early 1960s classic.











Day Two - Sunday, May 20

Singer-blues harp player Curtis Salgado and guitarist Alan Hager joined forces for an inspired set on the Backporch Stage for an early morning set of traditional blues. My favorite selection was a moving version of Little Walter's 1954 hit "Last Night." In addition to Salgado's tasty harmonica playing, Hager was featured on a long solo celebrating Chicago blues.
Kim Wilson in action.
Photo: Bob Steshetz


Kim Wilson has been such a fixture at the Doheny Blues Festival over the years, it's easy to take the talented singer-harmonica virtuoso for granted. Having performed at the festival many times in the past (as both a solo artist and with his Fabulous Thunderbirds), his performance here with the Blues + Boogie Revue was a wonder. Highlights of his hour-long outing included a fiery version of Chuck Berry's "Back in the U.S.A." and a high-octane run with the Chicago blues Elmore James classic "Shake Your Moneymaker."

John Nemeth and the Love Light Orchestra showcased a different side of the Northern California-based artist. A past visitor who had previously wowed crowds with his top-tier soul vocals and stellar blues harp work, this time Nemeth's vocals still thrilled courtesy of a five-man horn section and full band sans his harmonica. Highlights included the classic-styled original "Poverty" and soulful take on Bobby Blue Bland's 1961 classic "I've Been Wrong So Long."

Also based in the Bay Area, The California Honeydrops came to Dana Point on the heels of the release of a terrific new album (Call It Home: Vol. 1 & 2). Like Larkin Poe's set a day earlier, the California Honeydrops secured a full 75-minute slot and that allowed the group to really explore a myriad of sounds that make the group so exciting. Blending R&B, New Orleans jazz, funk, blues and soul, the ensemble performed with an infectious spirit; the performance was bolstered by fantastic musicianship, the mix of three lead vocalists and stunning harmonies.


Nikki Hill at Doheny Blues Fest.
Photo: Bob Steshetz
The 3:45-5 p.m. slot featured simultaneous performances from Eric Burdon & The Animals on the Dana Point Stage and Nikki Hill at the Backporch. I found Hill the stronger of the two artists, particularly her rock 'n' blues foray "Struttin'."


Making a highly-anticipated return to the festival was singer-songwriter-keyboardist Beth Hart, whose blues ballads and rockers connected powerfully with a huge crowd gathered in front of the PCH Stage. With long-time guitarist Jon Nichols adding firepower everywhere, this must-see set featured favorites the piano-anchored "Love Gangster" and gospel-tinged blues rocker "Bottle of Jesus" and a cover of the blues ballad "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know."


Closing out the strong two-day affair was legendary Buddy Guy, 82, who thrilled with a 90-minute set of hard-edged Chicago blues, compelling stories and great sense of humor. While the entire 90-minute set was great, I was floored by a short but rousing cover of "Hoochie Coochie Man" (complete with Guy playfully rubbing his electric guitar  on various parts of his body for comedic effect) and a true masterpiece from the artist, "Feels Like Rain."
Buddy Guy at Doheny Blues
Festival.
Photo: Bob Steshetz

He later brought on teen guitar virtuoso Quinn Sullivan, who thrilled the crowd with hard-rocking jams centered around Hendrix and Cream tracks. Guy reached another thrilling high mark with a performance of "Skin Deep," a timeless blues ballad penned by Guy a decade ago. 

The good news for those who missed the Doheny Blues Fest this past weekend, Buddy Guy is scheduled to headline at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. 


Review by Robert Kinsler

Photography courtesy of Bob Steshetz

Monday, May 21, 2018

MUSIC WORTH BUYING episode: U2's eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour

On the most recent episode of MUSIC WORTH BUYING, TJR and Robert Kinsler discuss U2's eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour, including what concertgoers can expect to see and how this tour compare's with the Joshua Tree 2017 Tour:

New Releases Celebrate a Myriad of Musical Styles

Fans of great American pop, rock and roots music will want to purchase four collections available now.

Artist: Roger Joseph Manning Jr.
Title: Glamping (PledgeMusic)
You might like if you enjoy: XTC, Jellyfish, ELO
Tell me more: A founding member of Jellyfish and key member of several other celebrated troupes (Imperial Drag, TV Eyes and The Moog Cookbook), and having subsequently worked alongside Beck since the late 1990s, it's no wonder Roger Joseph Manning Jr. has returned with a recording of incredible depth, melodic songcraft and lyrical complexity. Glamping is a four-song EP and marks Manning's first new batch of songs since his terrific 2009 disc Catnip Dynamite. With the lush and intoxicating "Operator" (a timely plea to somehow make real connections in an inter-connected world) opening the collection, the outstanding set also includes the driving and aptly-named "Funhouse," psychedelic-tinged introspective standout "Is It All A Dream" and probing "I'm Not Your Cowboy." In addition to Glamping (available on CD, purple vinyl and via digital download), Manning has just released deluxe editions of his 2006 solo debut Land of Pure Imagination and his 2009 sophomore release Catnip Dynamite. Information: https://www.facebook.com/RogerJosephManningJr/.



Artist: The California Honeydrops
Title: Call It Home: Vol. 1 & 2 (Tubtone Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Vintage Trouble, Leon Bridges
Tell me more: The California Honeydrops' newly-released Call It Home: Vol. 1 & 2 is not only a wonderful celebration of New Orleans jazz, funk, classic R&B and soul and all kinds of blues, but the songs across the wide-ranging collection will make the listener feel great. The positive life-affirming spirit of the Northern California-based group is infectious and cast of talented singers and instrumentalists deliver the mix of songs recorded over a span of 18 months with perfection. The uplifting title track "Call It Home," soulful "Coming Around," aptly-dubbed "Standin' Still Blues," lovely "Only Home I've Ever Known" and shining "Things We Used To Do" are among this writer's favorites on a terrific release. Information: www.cahoneydrops.com.



Artist: Buck Owens and the Buckaroos
Title: The Complete Capitol Singles: 1967-1970 (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: Dwight Yoakam, Buck Owens
Tell me more: The second of three volumes collecting the late Buck Owens' Capitol singles discography, more than 30 classic tracks have been collected on the newly-issued The Complete Capitol Singles: 1967-1970. Whether you are a new or long-time fan of the father of the so-called "Bakersfield Sound," you will find plenty to love across the two-disc set featuring a slew of great remastered tracks. The uptempo "Sam's Place," spirited "Happy Times Are Here Again," and sweet ballads "Don't Ever Tell Me Goodbye" and "I'd Love To Be Your Man" are among the timeless tracks on this wonderful collection. There are also several beloved duets Owens did with soprano Susan Raye, including the lively "We're Gonna Get Together" and the reflective "The Great White Horse." In addition to all the great music are the new liner notes from Scott B. Bomar shedding details and context to the singles. Information: OmnivoreRecordings.com.



Artist: Larkin Poe
Title: Peach (Tricki-Woo Records)
You might like if you enjoy: The Record Company, First Aid Kit
Tell me more: Although Larkin Poe's album Peach was released back in September 2017, I only recently discovered the superb disc after catching the duo's incredible performance at the Doheny Blues Festival in Dana Point, CA. Sisters Rebecca Lovell (lead vocals, electric guitar) and Megan Lovell (lap steel, slide guitar, keyboards, backing vocals) are from Georgia and have carved out a bona fide sound that blends the blues-infused Southern rock and style of the Allman Brothers with the harmonies and magic of Sweden's First Aid Kit (the latter a roots-minded duo also featuring two talented sisters). On Peach, Larkin Poe offers up a mix of outstanding original material and reworked classics they make their own. Standouts on the 10-track collection include their own rollicking "Freedom" and the introspective blues ballad "Pink & Red," as well as a rousing cover of the traditional African-American work song "Black Betty" and a tender take on Robert Johnson's iconic "Come On In My Kitchen." Information: www.LarkinPoe.com.



Robert Kinsler


Friday, May 18, 2018

Roger Joseph Manning Jr. thrills in remarkable return at GRAMMY Museum

Roger Joseph Manning Jr. at the GRAMMY Museum
on Thursday, May 17, 2018. Photo: Robert Kinsler 
On Thursday night (May 17, 2018), acclaimed singer-songwriter-keyboardist Roger Joseph Manning Jr. headlined his first solo public performance in "a decade" at the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles. 

Scott Goldman, the executive director of the GRAMMY Museum, interviewed Manning as part of  "The Drop," an ongoing series of live events held in the museum's Clive Davis Theater. The conversation delved into everything from Manning's childhood and influences (jazz piano, XTCElton John, Talking HeadsThomas Dolby, Leon Russell and many more) to his early career as the co-founder of Jellyfish and his ongoing musical relationship with Beck (as a member of that multi-Grammy winner's touring band and contributing musician on a number of albums dating back to 1998's Mutations) as well as a myriad of projects that have utilized his talents as keyboardist, vocalist and arranger.


"I've been fortunate to accompany people of all kinds and styles," Manning said. 

Indeed, Manning's far-flung contributions include performing on Glen Campbell's 2008 masterwork Meet Glen Campbell, Cheap Trick's 2009 The Latest, Neil Diamond's 12 Songs, Interpol's El Pintor and even contributing orchestral arrangements to Morrissey's latest album Low in High School.



But it was clear from Manning's discussion of his return with new music (as well as the reissue of his first two solo albums The Land of Pure Imagination and Catnip Dynamite) that he was excited to be on stage again performing his own material.

"Realizing my own ideas from start to end; there is nothing more fulfilling to me," said Manning, noting he writes on piano and guitar because the two different instruments lead his songwriting in very different directions and that diversity is important to him. 



Many of the musical ideas on Manning's albums stretch back many years before they are finally completed in the studio. 

"Beck calls it 'Simmering'," Manning noted.


After the interview concluded Manning and his stellar four-man band performed a four-song set of original material touching off his newly-issued EP Glamping (available now via PledgeMusic) his 2006 solo debut Land of Pure Imagination and even a Jellyfish classic.

The players opened with the enticing new track "Operator," the first track off Manning's new Glamping EP. With its melodic structure and textured musical arc, "Operator" captures the sheer pop craft of which Manning is a master. Rooted in the power pop and melodic rock of the 1960s and '70s, Manning's songs featured at the GRAMMY Museum displayed just how successfully he has been able to both capture and expand the musical traditions of that early rock era. 


The next track was the second selection off Glamping, the more driving "Funhouse," a song that reminds me of classic Squeeze enhanced by the dazzling and wonderfully dizzying vocal harmonies of Queen

Third up was the title track off The Land of Pure Imagination, an ambitious gem that features Manning's poignant vocals, psychedelic sensibilities, a high-flying chorus and a just-right dose of progressive rock. 

Manning definitely pumped up the adorning crowd with his shining version of the classic Jellyfish track "That Is Why" off his former band's groundbreaking 1990 debut Bellybutton

It was sheer joy to be able to see Manning's career and talents celebrated at the GRAMMY Museum last night. Let's hope another decade doesn't pass before he is on stage again playing his own music. And in the meantime, be sure to pick up a copy of Glamping and catch him playing along with Jason Falkner in Beck's terrific band.

Robert Kinsler

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Sights and Sounds: A Flock of Seagulls, Like Totally ‘80s Festival

The '80s provided the world plenty of great artists to be sure. Here is a round-up of news definitely geared toward music fans of that fabled decade...

A Flock of Seagulls returns with much-anticipated 'Ascension'

Legendary quartet's new album to be released June 29, 2018



In the words of VH1's Aamer Haleem A Flock of Seagulls is a band reunited!

For the first time since 1984, all four original members of the band appear on record together for their new album Ascension. The recording puts a new and unique spin on their greatest hits by performing orchestral versions with the Prague Philharmonic providing the backing.

A Flock of Seagulls may well be known for their bizarrely teased haircuts as much as their hit single "I Ran." A Flock of Seagulls were one of prime movers in the 80ís new wave era. Growing out of the synth-heavy and ruthlessly stylish new romantic movement. Hairdresser Mike Score (lead vocals, keyboards) formed A Flock of Seagulls with his brother Ali Score (drums) and fellow hairdresser Frank Maudsley (bass) in 1980, adding guitarist Paul Reynolds several months later. The group released its debut EP on Bill Nelsons Cocteau Records early in 1981, and while the record failed to chart, its lead track, "Telecommunication," became an underground hit in Euro-disco and new wave clubs.

The band signed a major-label contract with Jive by the end of the year, and their eponymous debut album appeared in the spring of 1982. "I Ran (So Far Away)" was released as the first single from the album, and MTV quickly picked up on its icily attractive video, which featured long shots of Mike Score and his distinctive, cascading hair. The single climbed into the American Top Ten, taking the album along with it. In the U.K., I Ran didn't make the Top 40, but "Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)" reached number ten later that year; in America, that single became a Top 40 hit in 1983, after "Space Age Love Song" peaked at number 30. "Wishing" was taken from the group's second album, Listen in 1983. The band released 1984's "The Story of a Young Heart" which fielded the minor hit "The More You Live, The More You Love." Shortly after Paul Reynolds left the band.
Mike and Ali moved to the US shortly after basing themselves out of Pennsylvania. The band now as a trio released the album Dream Come True in 1986. Ali and Frank left in the years afterwards. Mike released the Light At The End of the World album in 1996.

A Flock of Seagulls never really broke up. Mike carried on touring with session musicians and quietly, surely and steadily the folk lore surrounding the band began to grow. The references in culture from TV (Ross’s Haircut in Friends), Computer Games ("I Ran" was the standout track on Grand Theft Auto Radio), Film (The band and haircut are reference in Pulp Fiction, X-Men and The Wedding Singer) cemented the bands reputation and brought the band to a whole new legion of fans.

In 2003, the original line-up of Mike, Ali, Frank and Paul reunited for a one-off performance on the VH1 series Bands Reunited. In September 2004, they reformed again and did a brief tour in the United States. From 2004 to 2017 Mike was as busy as ever touring the band around the world. In 2017 the band appeared on record together for the first time since 1984. The Ascension album was recorded in multiple studios around the world and featured the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra providing backing to their hits.


Like Totally '80s Festival Recap and Photos

Mike Peters of The Alarm /
Photo by Bob Steshetz
I wasn't able to hit the Like Totally '80s Festival in Huntington Beach on Saturday, May 11 because I was in Las Vegas catching U2

However, my pals George A. Paul (reviewer) and Bob Steshetz (photographer) were at the day-long event. 

Check out George's Music Minded blog for an excellent review and amazing photos taken at the event. Several of my favorite '80s bands performed, including The AlarmDramarama, and Martha Davis and the Motels!

Sights and Sounds: U2 Live At The Apollo For SiriusXM

Wow, wouldn't it be nice to be in New York and get an invite to attend this show!


U2 Live At The Apollo For SiriusXM

"'From Northside Dublin, U2. For one night only at The Apollo Theater, June 11th"

SiriusXM to Present U2's Most Intimate New York City Show in Nearly 20 Years

Exclusive concert to take place June 11, 2018 at Harlem's legendary Apollo Theater

Bono performing on the opening night of the eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour
Photo by Danny North

NEW YORK, May 15, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- SiriusXM announced today that U2 will take a one night detour from the "technologically advanced… sensational" (The New York Times) production of the eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour 2018 to perform for the first time ever at Harlem's world famous Apollo Theater. This special invitation-only concert exclusively for SiriusXM subscribers will take place Monday, June 11, as announced by Howard Stern today during his live SiriusXM show The Howard Stern Show.
The SiriusXM concert is a rare theater performance for U2, whose recent outings include the #1 grossing tour of last year, The Joshua Tree Tour 2017. The band will be playing material from current release Songs of Experience (Interscope) – ranked #6 in the Global Top albums of 2017– alongside classics from the storied U2 catalogue that has seen Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen win 22 GRAMMY awards to date, more than any other rock band. The special concert will be the first time the band, who paid homage to Harlem's Billie Holiday on their 1988 song "Angel of Harlem," has played the legendary venue. It is also the first time since their acclaimed 2000 Irving Plaza show that U2 will play such an intimate New York show—harkening back to the band's roots touring the club circuit, a period revisited nightly during the first half of the eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE shows. The special concert will air following the performance via satellite on channel 30 and through the SiriusXM app on smartphones and other connected devices, as well as online at siriusxm.com.
"New York City and the U2 band have a unique history," said Bono. "From the songs of Lou Reed, Billie Holiday and the Ramones that taught us how to listen, to the New Yorkers at our earliest U.S. shows who taught us how to play, the souls of New York and U2 have always been intertwined. The Apollo Theater is the heart of New York's musical soul, and to finally be playing our songs on the same stage where James Brown begged Please Please Please is not only a bucket list moment, it's an incredible honor."
"Experiencing U2 in the intimate setting of the legendary Apollo is a rare opportunity and will make for a historic evening," said Scott Greenstein, President and Chief Content Officer of SiriusXM. "It's the first time U2 has played a New York City venue of this size in almost two decades, and we couldn't be more excited to offer our subscribers the opportunity to be part of this singular musical event."
The legendary Apollo Theater is known for launching the careers of countless iconic performers, and has been a catalyst for artistic excellence and innovation since it opened its doors in 1934. The Apollo's new artistic vision builds on its legacy and the current programming epitomizes the range and vibrancy at the core of the Theater's mission, strengthening its integral role as a leading music and arts institution. For more information, visit www.apollotheater.org.
SiriusXM has presented special, private concerts at the Apollo Theater with Paul McCartney in 2010, Bruce Springsteen in 2012, Metallica in 2013, James Taylor in 2015 and Guns N' Roses in 2017. 
SiriusXM subscribers will have the opportunity to win tickets to this private performance through an invitation sent by e-mail. In addition, subscribers since April 25, 2018 will be able to enter for the chance to win a trip for two to New York, NY including airfare, hotel stay and a pair of tickets to SiriusXM Presents U2 at the World Famous Apollo Theater. See Official Rules for complete details at siriusxm.com/U2.  
For further information on U2, the eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour 2018 or Songs of Experience, visit www.U2.com.

Monday, May 14, 2018

U2 brings eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour to Las Vegas

Editor's Note: Robert Kinsler's eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour concert preview was originally published on The Orange County Register website on May 13, 2018. You can read Robert Kinsler's concert review of the May 12, 2018 concert here.



6 things to know about U2’s eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour that comes to the Forum this week


U2’s eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour comes to the Forum in Inglewood on May 15 and 16.
(Photo by Danny North)

PUBLISHED:  | UPDATED: 
For almost 40 years U2 has been thrilling audiences and connecting with new generations of listeners with compelling song craft and rousing performances while expertly capturing the pulse of current events and an ever-changing world along the way.

Both diehard and casual fans of U2 were justifiably pleased with The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 that was staged in massive stadiums throughout Europe and North and South America last year; that 51-date tour reportedly grossed $316 million and racked up 2.71 million in ticket sales. Compared to the two shows this writer caught in Vancouver and San Diego last year, the 2018 eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour is decidedly more intimate even while offering up dazzling sonic and visual thrills at every turn. Based on U2's second performance at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas this writer caught on Saturday (May 12), here are five key things to understand about the eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour that includes two upcoming stops at the Forum in Inglewood on Tuesday, May 15 and Wednesday, May 16.
U2’s eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour comes to the Forum in Inglewood on May 15 and 16.
(Photo by Danny North)

The Songs Remain the Same…and Not
Music fans that only know U2's radio hits or their beloved '80s and early '90s albums will certainly be treated to some favorites this time around. But it is a good idea to be at least familiar with the band's two most recent studio albums (2014's "Songs of Innocence" and
Bono as seen on the interactive screen.
Photo credit: Robert Kinsler
2017's "Songs of Experience"); almost half of the 25 songs performed in Las Vegas came off those two LPs. There have been a few new songs added (and others removed) in the first six dates of the tour, but there is a high chance those hitting the Forum this week will hear newer tracks such as "Love Is All We Have Left," "The Blackout" and "American Soul" as well as bona fide classics "I Will Follow," "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "One." U2 has also dug a bit deeper into its classic catalogue to feature the driving "Acrobat" from "Achtung Baby," which the Irish quartet had never performed live until the start of this tour on May 2, and "Staring At The Sun" (not performed by U2 in concert since 2001). As a result of focusing on newer and rarer gems, the band's 130-minute sets have been omitting much-loved concert staples such as "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "With or Without You," "Bullet the Blue Sky" and (most surprisingly) "Where the Streets Have No Name."

An Intimate Affair
U2 works hard to connect with every member of the audience. On the "eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour" that effort includes performing a good chunk of the second half of the concert at a second stage on the opposite end of the main stage. In addition, because many concertgoers filled the seats located behind the main stage, both Bono and The Edge would frequently turn and perform for those folks. And because of the sparse and uncluttered design of the main stage, there were clear views of the proceedings from every corner of the venue.


Bono, left, with The Edge seen performing
"Acrobat" on May 12, 2018. Photo: Robert Kinsler
Technology on Display
While there was a secondary stage at U2's stadium shows in 2017, for many concertgoers the best views were watching the gigantic screens positioned above and around the main stage. Not this time around; the arena is essentially separated into two halves with a state-of-the-art video screen running the length of the floor that allows the band to actually perform within and below throughout the immersive screen. It is impressive.




U2, seen here performing on May 2, 2018, brings their eXPERIENCE
+ iNNOCENCE Tour to the Forum on May 15 and May 16, 2018.
Photo credit: Danny North
Political Theater
Anyone who has been to a U2 concert recognizes the band's commitment to the poor, social justice and women's equality. On this tour, the band continues to make its powerful points, in part via documentary footage of hate groups in the U.S. including Nazi and KKK rallies staged in recent years. The leads up to U2's performance of "Pride (in the Name of Love)" with images of the Martin Luther King Jr. and those opposing the hate groups offering the better side of the America Dream. There are obvious jabs at Donald Trump (at one point a Refugees Welcome" sign is projected overhead) as well as supporters of the Second Amendment notably with messages projected before and during the show. 


A massive screen was utilized throughout the concert in
Las Vegas on May 12. Photo credit: Robert Kinsler
Crowd Matters
Anyone who has gone to a concert where everyone is engaged (think Bruce Springsteen or Radiohead) and then caught a favorite classic rock act at the Pacific Amphitheatre knows the difference between a discerning audience and one that is there simply to party, go on beer runs and take selfies with their phones. U2 continues to strive to provide the musical might and immersive experience that makes it worth the time and money to get to a concert. There were countless times in Las Vegas when it was clear U2 sets the bar for how great a rock concert can be; a moment that stood out for yours truly was the crowd's unprompted and enthusiastic chanting vocals on the band's 2014 track "Raised by Wolves."

U2
U2 is that super rarefied top-tier classic band with its original line-up intact. Those going to U2 at the Forum will view that magical chemistry that happens when Bono (vocals), The Edge (guitar, keyboards), Adam Clayton (bass) and Larry Mullen Jr. (drums) join forces and create something very special. 


U2’s eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 15; 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 16
Where: 3900 W. Manchester Blvd.,  Inglewood
Tickets: $46-$176, plus fees

Information: ticketmaster.com

U2 finds riches and renewal via 'eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour' in Las Vegas

U2’s eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour is coming to the Forum in Inglewood, CA on Tuesday, May 15
and Wednesday, May 16. U2, from left, is The Edge, Bono, Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton.
 Photo by Danny North
If you caught U2's The Joshua Tree Tour 2017, you weren't alone. After all, the stadium-minded extravaganza featuring a complete performance of their 1987 masterwork grossed $316 million while selling 2.71 million tickets. This writer caught two of the 51 shows (the tour opener in Vancouver and their final U.S. date, a late September gig in San Diego featuring Beck as the opener) and they were both impressive.

Exactly one year after seeing U2 perform the kick-off to their previous tour in British Columbia, I found myself in Las Vegas at the decidedly more intimate T-Mobile Arena catching the sixth show of their eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour on a beautiful Saturday night (May 12, 2018).


Bono (pictured) and the other members of U2 will
bring high-tech visuals to arenas this spring and
summer. Photo by Danny North
This time around, U2 has opted out of performing at gigantic stadiums and is only playing smaller arenas en route to delivering an experience very different than what fans of the Irish quartet got last time around. Essentially, the new tour is a continuation and companion to U2's Innocence + Experience Tour in support of 2014's Songs of Innocence LP that wrapped up in December 2015 but only played out at 10 cities in the North America. Like the 2015 tour, the eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour features an impressive projection screen that runs the length of the floor bringing visual elements and band mates Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. as close as possible to concertgoers in every part of the arena. The screen also is able to accommodate members of U2 actually performing and moving inside the high-def marvel  even interacting with animated images and those of their fellow band mates. Amazing.

All of the planning, 21st century technology and great sound systems in the world wouldn't mean a thing if U2 couldn't deliver artistically. A long-time fan of U2 (I first caught the band at the US Festival in May 1983 and have seen them dozens of times since), the band delivered a powerful and deeply affecting 130-minute concert event on May 12. Those wanting a nostalgic-centered show of hits will only be partially satisfied; about a half of the songs offered up in Las Vegas came from the band's two most recent albums (2014's Songs of Innocence and 2017's Songs of Experience). 


Bono, left, and The Edge seen on the massive projection
screen during the performance of the deep cut "Acrobat."
Photo by Robert Kinsler
And while there were certainly staples of the band's four-decade discography offered up (including "I Will Follow," "Beautiful Day," "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "One"), there was a strong focus on deeper cuts from the past as well as recent gems that provided a magical experience for die hard fans. It was simply spellbinding to watch the band soar through "Acrobat," a nugget from Achtung Baby never before played live by the band until this tour's opening date in Oklahoma on May 2. "Staring at the Sun" — offered up during an acoustic set — was so beautiful and I marveled that the song hadn't been featured in a U2 set since 2001. 

The consequence of this calculated focus on deeper and newer cuts were long-time favorites such as "With or Without You," "Bullet the Blue Sky" and "Where the Streets Have No Name" were nowhere to be found. But there was such power in the set that such omissions didn't matter; in fact, they likely enhanced this night.

Special moments came early and continued through the fast-moving two-part concert. Bono opened the show, alone on the long ramp as he sang "Love Is All We Have Left," a foreshadowing of the wide-ranging themes of love, loss, family, faith and political turmoil that defined so much of the lyrical content to come. 

The Edge's guitar playing continues to astound, especially when heard in an expansive concert setting; his first major solo during "Lights Of Home" bolstered that song to be sure. And even his driving rhythm work was a wonder, notably on early favorites such as "I Will Follow" and "Gloria," the latter featuring his use of both ringing harmonics and even pounding on the guitar body for effect before unleashing another otherworldly lead foray. And, never to be overlooked, the signature drive of Clayton's driving bass guitar and Mullen Jr.'s solid drumming provided for nuanced and potent versions of the material all night. The house lights up, the band roared through "Beautiful Day."


U2 on the big screen. Photo by Robert Kinsler
Bono and The Edge took the lead in interacting with the video and animated images on the screen, which itself was positioned over a ramp that connected the main stage and a secondary stage toward the rear of the T-Mobile Arena. The use of the screen (which could be raised and lowered artfully) and ramp never negatively impacted the power of the set; a second focusing on Bono's youth in Dublin was empowered by paintings and old movies; the performance of "Iris (Hold Me Close)," a song for Bono's late mother, was especially poignant. Leading up to the song, Bono noted: "A story about a boy and his search for his mother...a household that never mentioned her name; her name was Iris." Bono's weighty vocals, Edge's shimmering guitar and sublime harmonies added up to one of the most special offerings of the concert.

"Sunday Bloody Sunday" also benefited from the stage production. All four members performed, lined up on the ramp an equal distance apart. The subsequent performance of a newer song, "Raised By Wolves," got a huge unprompted boost when a good share of the audience would sing the "Raised By Wolves" refrain. And capping up the mighty run, U2 leveled the arena with a rocking version of "Until the End of the World."

The second half of the concert was just as awe-inspiring, featuring a high-octane opening punch with "Elevation" and "Vertigo." An acoustic-styled set presented on the second stage included "Desire," the aforementioned "Acrobat," lovely "You're The Best Thing About Me" and "Staring at the Sun."


A view of the projection screen during U2's set on May 12.
Photo by Robert Kinsler
The band's focus then turned and remained focused on the world stage and current events, including troubling images of hate groups such as the KKK and Nazis marching in American streets. Some of the disturbing images were then offset by those seeking to fight back and finally a black & white image of Martin Luther King Jr. as the band led the audience through a spirited version of "Pride (In the Name of Love)." U2 continued to make points geared toward a more inclusive America, women's rights and undocumented refugees via a run of songs that included a fiery "American Soul" (complete with Bono using a bullhorn) and an inspired "One." The night ended with a gorgeous "13 (There Is A Light)," with Bono at the far end of the arena from his band mates before they came together to end a very special night.

U2's set list at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday, May 12, 2018
Love Is All We Have Left, The Blackout, Lights Of Home, I Will Follow, Gloria / Van Morrison's Gloria (snippet), Beautiful Day, The Ocean, Iris (Hold Me Close), Cedarwood Road, Sunday Bloody Sunday / When Johnny Comes Marching Home (snippet), Raised By Wolves / Psalm 23 (snippet), Until the End of the World, (Intermission - Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me), Elevation, Vertigo / The Jean Genie (snippet), Desire, Sympathy For The Devil (snippet) / Acrobat, You're The Best Thing About Me acoustic, Staring at the Sun acousticThis Is Not America(snippet) / Pride (In the Name of Love), Get Out Of Your Own Way, American Soul, City of Blinding Lights
Encore: One / Invisible (snippet), Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way, 13 (There Is A Light)


(Click Here to read my post that originally ran in The Orange County Register looking at "6 things to know about U2's eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour that comes to the Forum this week")

Robert Kinsler

U2’s eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 15; 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 16
Where: 3900 W. Manchester Blvd.,  Inglewood
Tickets: $46-$176, plus fees
Information: ticketmaster.com