Monday, April 28, 2008

A tale of two shows: Matt Costa vs. Sly Stone

Sly Stone, photographed by Kelly A. Swift at the House of Blues in January 2007, performed a full-length show at the same venue over the weekend.
I reviewed shows two nights in a row (Matt Costa and Satisfaction on April 24 and Sly & the Family Stone and Jupiter Rising on April 25) and the experiences couldn't have been more different.
When an artist keeps an audience waiting two hours just to hear a mere hour's worth of music, the show better be amazing.
Sly Stone's own remarks early in his set at the House of Blues in Anaheim on Friday night (April 25, 2008) were likely a bit revealing: "Everybody made the rehearsals except me, but I made the gig!"

And while the concert marked the first full-length appearance by Sly and the Family Stone in decades, the reclusive and little-understood 65-year-old leader of the pioneering '60s-spawned funk act did show up as promised to lead his large band through their best-known hits.
And to be fair, Stone was much more impressive and engaging at the Mouse House on Friday night than the odd reunion appearance at the 2006 Grammy Awards.

"Dance to the Music," "Everyday People," "I Want to Take You Higher" and "Family Affair" are among Stone's best-remembered tracks and it was historic to hear them performed by their architect in the intimate setting.
But Stone, who blended funk, soul and psychedelia in the late 1960s and early '70s, came off much like Brian Wilson, a man truly alone even in the largest and most public of settings. Stone's voice was strong in brief spurts, but both his singing and keyboard playing reflected the fragile nature of his condition.
From the opening strains of "Sing a Simple Song" that kicked off the show to an a cappella version of a new tune featuring the lyrics "I'm a Real Model, not a role model," there was more of a sense of being at a historic event rather than at a great show.

Opening act Jupiter Rising played an energetic mix of hip-hop and pop that failed to connect with the crowd.
Although lead singer Jessie Payo and rapper Spencer Nezey delivered songs such as the sexually-charged "Flip My Switch" and melodic "Electropop" with fire, this crowd was on hand to hear Sly. Little did they know when Jupiter Rising left the stage after a quick six-song set at 8:24 p.m., they would have to wait until 10:15 for Sly & company to show.
What about the show I caught a night earlier featuring headliner Matt Costa and opening outfit Satisfaction?
Indeed, Costa's laid back approach proves to be a perfect fit with his intricate style of songcraft, while Satisfaction impresses with a retro-tinged attack.
Performing before a sold-out crowd as part of the Orange County Performing Arts Center's Off Center Series on Thursday night, Huntington Beach native Matt Costa delivered exactly the kind of pleasing, no-frills show a casual listener might expect.

Whereas many of his contemporaries are all about in-your-face style and attitude, Costa proved his prowess continues to be about intricate song craft and how he can help listeners connect with those tunes.
Armed with his acoustic guitar – and occasionally adding harmonica or electric keyboards to his on-stage arsenal – Costa and his four-man band offered up solid versions of his best-known folk rock and alt country-styled material over the course of 90 minutes.

Although he wears many of his influences on his sonic sleeve – notably Donovan, the Beatles and Neil Young – it would not be smart to dismiss Costa's gifts as something strictly out of the past packaged for today's audiences. He proved throughout his set that complex chord patterns, melodic choruses and an emotive voice can be lethal weapons in the quest to get ears turned his way.

Although fans seem most delighted with the performance of the breezy '70s-styled "Cold December" and "Yellow Taxi," the upbeat country of "Sweet Rose" and "Ballad of Miss Kate" also got the general admission audience on the floor moving to the music.
Material from his most recent album, 2008's "Unfamiliar Faces," also worked well in the set, notably the Kinks-flavored "Trying to Lose My Mind" and bouncy "Miss Magnolia."

If members of the Dave Clark Five, Raspberries and Franz Ferdinand had bridged the distance between their respective generations and formed a band together, it might well sound like Orange County's own Satisfaction.
Led by ex-Smile frontman singer-guitarist Michael Rosas, the quartet's propulsive attack was truly formidable.
Playing eight songs across 40 minutes, Satisfaction (rounded out by bassist Aaron Wahlman and brothers Matthew Fletcher on keyboards and James Fletcher on drums) featured songs from the band's wonderful 2007 release "Cougars, Sharks & Flying Sparks."
It's not a surprise that Costa specifically praised Satisfaction during his set. Songs such as the infectiously raucous "Feel So Stupid" and "So We'll Just Take the Night" should continue to draw new audiences to this wonderful troupe.

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