Monday, April 28, 2014

Stagecoach 2014 roundup: Lynyrd Skynyrd, Shelby Lynne, Don McLean, more!

Here is a roundup of my six reviews that originally were posted on The Orange County Register site related to this weekend's Stagecoach (April 25-27). I've also added a few details on artists I didn't get to include in those initial posts on the Soundcheck blog
For the countless Stagecoach-goers who never got over to check out the Americana featured in the Palomino and Mustang tents early Friday afternoon, they missed out on some outstanding new music-makers. What's more, they were robbed of a chance to hear the genre's roots that these days seem a world removed from the heavier rock and pop feel of so many mainstream country acts.
Hannah and Talbot, a duo backed by several musicians during their Mustang set, celebrated those early sources with plenty of great tunes delivered with authentic zeal. Infectious and crowd-pleasing songs like "Not from Texas," "Cowboy Saturday Night" and "Miss Molly" got their strong set going, the troupe enjoying its spotlight with a number of authentic cowboy tunes. The highlight was a performance of "Murphy's Law," with a long and expressive acoustic guitar solo leading into the rest of the band lifting the song's momentum.
Another of the afternoon's highlights came courtesy of JD McPherson (above), who brought his retro rockabilly to the Palomino tent. With a sharp four-man ensemble behind him, the singer-guitarist served up both uptempo rockers ("Dimes for Nickels," "Fire Bug") and slower pieces, like the moving "Country Boy."
Nashville's Howlin' Brothers come anchored in a blend of old-time blues and bluegrass, but here at Stagecoach that approach was delivered with a good helping of indie rock, an attack that attracted an enthusiastic crowd to the Mustang tent. The trio's 40-minute turn was solid all around, and it didn't hurt that the multitasking outfit (several members often perform on different instruments at once) has an experimental and fun way of performing originals and classics.
With a new album, Trouble, set to land May 13, there were all kinds of fresh selections to share, my favorite being the pretty "Tennessee Blues." That song, featuring fiddle player Ian Craft on vocals, featured a dancing melody on his instrument, while a riveting bass line was played by Ben Plasse. Elsewhere in the set, guitarist Jared Green was astounding while playing guitar and harmonica on "The White House Blues."
As has become a wonderful tradition at Stagecoach over the past few years, producing an alternative Stagecoach apart form the main stage, a wide range of Americana and roots artists continue to shine inside the Palomino and Mustang tents.
One of my early favorites was one-man band Shakey Graves, the moniker for Austin-based singer-songwriter Alejandro Rose-Garcia, who thrilled a pretty big crowd in Palomino. Sometimes joined by a lap guitar player and drummer, Rose-Garcia performed songs centered on a free-flowing lyrical style and edgy fretwork that was both textured and crunchy. The highlight was a potent version of his song "Late July," where his feel ventured toward Radiohead territory with shades of Thom Yorke.
Just as impressive was Shelby Lynne, a cranky 2008 main-stage attraction but a standout in a better setting here, her voice powerful whether singing blues, gospel, country or material blending all of those styles. Chief among her highlights was the uptempo, gospel-flavored "Call Me Up," lead-off track on her new EP, Thanks, as well as her incredible emoting on a rendition of the pop staple "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me."
Much has been said about our so-called celebrity culture, and Katey Sagal's appearance on the Palomino Stage underscored that. Clearly three to four times as many people who caught Lynne's affecting performance rushed over to the same tent right afterward to see the actress known for her roles on Married ... with Children and the current FX series Sons of Anarchy.
Backed by her large ensemble the Forest Rangers, Sagal was the subject of an endless barrage of cheers, shouts of "I love you" and pauses for fan photos during her appearance. While she was personable and engaging, her run-of-the-mill voice, like her adequate musicians, added little insight to reworkings of material by Tom Petty ("Free Fallin'"), Dusty Springfield ("Son of a Preacher Man") and others.
Based on the number of people who jammed into the Palomino tent on Friday night, Lynyrd Skynyrd, a late addition replacing Loretta Lynn, could well have performed on the Mane Stage. Yet there's no doubt that with the Palomino tent stuffed from front to back and on every side, there was palpable excitement throughout the legendary Southern rockers' 90-minute set.
The band's performance was just fine, the Florida-spawned outfit still championing the hard Southern rock its original lineup popularized in the '70s. For the party-minded Stagecoach faithful, Skynyrd's sharp set was mostly a soundtrack to drink, cheer, dance and shoot photos. A young woman next to me waved a gigantic foam hand you'd normally see at a baseball game – and kept slamming it into my head, seemingly oblivious to those around her.
Sadly, those busy with their extracurricular activities missed hearty versions of more than a dozen of the group's staples: "Call Me the Breeze," "Simple Man," "That Smell," "Gimme Three Steps," the indestructible "Sweet Home Alabama." This also was the only concert I can remember where bothersome fans who typically yell out "Free Bird" were rewarded for their cat calls with a mighty band on stage playing that request.
The group, these days featuring only one founding member, guitarist Gary Rossington, closed out the night with a 13-minute take on that FM radio classic, complete with pretty instrumental piano intro, confessional middle (featuring singer Johnny Van Zant, younger brother of original frontman Ronnie Van Zant, who died in a 1977 plane crash that claimed three other members) and the epic's blistering three-guitar afterburn.
Lera Lynn
Lera Lynn not only kicked off Day 2 of Stagecoach with her 1 p.m. set in the Palomino tent but acknowledged she wasn't going to let early concert-goers relax and kick back.
"Good morning," she told her small crowd. "Are you well rested and recuperated from yesterday?"
She then impressed in a big way, opening with "Lying in the Sun," a mid-tempo tune that revealed the Houston native has a strong voice and magnetic stage presence. Subsequent standouts offered up by the Nashville singer-guitarist's 45-minute set, including the country ballad "Whiskey" and memorably epic closer "I Become You," revealed Lynn can sing everything from quiet material to roots rockers with deft pitch authenticity. Definitely one to watch.
Corb Lund
Following Lynn on the same stage was Canadian star Corb Lund, who served up his distinctive blend of country and Western music with his touring band, the Hurtin' Albertans. Lund used humor as a key part of his 45-minute set, stopping during songs to offer quips as well as providing witty intros to his originals.
The ones about life in Alberta ("Cows Around") and playful takes on everything from religion ("Bible on the Dash") and drinking ("Rye Whiskey/Time to Switch to Whiskey") to the survivalist movement ("Gettin' Down on the Mountain") are out of step with the majority of the Juno Award winner's contemporaries, but it was refreshing to the enthusiastic crowd positioned in Palomino having a blast. Kudos to Grant Siemens, whose work on electric guitar and mandolin brought extra layers to everything.
From the start, Stagecoach has made a point of honoring country music's living legends; Saturday's early afternoon lineup added to that tradition by including John Conlee, who scored a number of hits in the '70s and '80s. The personable singer, 67, performed several of his most popular songs for an appreciative audience: the ballad "Lady Lay Down," the sober "Backside of Thirty," pretty piano-anchored "Friday Night Blues" and a country-rocker "Busted."
Lovers of sounds ranging from old-fashioned Appalachian mountain music to bluegrass and classic folk-rock couldn’t go wrong if they hung out in the Palomino and Mustang tents the last half of Saturday.
Alynda Lee Segarra
Buzz-worthy Hurray for the Riff Raff, a New Orleans collective fronted by singer/guitarist/banjoist Alynda Lee Segarra, thrilled a crowd gathered in front of the Mustang Stage to hear the group’s blend. After opening accompanied only by her acoustic guitar on the lovely “The New SF Bay Blues,” things picked up with the other four members joining for a set highlighted by fine vocal harmonies on the rollicking and Cajun-flavored “I Know It’s Wrong (But That’s Alright)” and the sorrowful country rocker “Crash on the Highway.”
There’s both good and bad points about more casual fans, who tend to congregate in front of the Mane Stage all day, venturing over to one of these shaded havens. It was nice to see veteran singer-songwriter Don McLean attract a near-capacity crowd in Palomino for his late-afternoon set, but clearly the majority came over simply to hear “American Pie.”
Sure enough, McLean delivered that classic in an extended sing-along at the end of his hour outing. But less-discerning listeners huddled close to the stage didn’t seem appreciative of other gems, notably “Vincent” (better known by its opening line, “Starry, starry night”), a wonderful version of Roy Orbison’s “Cryin’” (complete with lovely falsetto) and his opening number, a rocking rendition of “Well All Right” – by Buddy Holly, the fundamental country-rocker whose tragic fate, alongside those of Richie Valens and the Big Bopper, is the cornerstone of “American Pie.”
Trampled by Turtles continues to be a force of nature, as evidenced by the quintet’s set on the Mustang stage. While they occasionally touched on beautiful mid-tempo folk numbers, sometimes abetted by a touring cellist, it was the bluegrass-on-steroids material that delighted the party crowd living it up throughout the hour-long performance.
“Alone” typified the sort of hyped-up traditionalism that got the crowd crazy once the band accelerates the tempo to warp speed. Not to suggest that TBT is a one-trick pony: the entire lineup is fantastically skilled, conjuring songs that are melodically memorable no matter what the pace. But there was little doubt this night that the biggest cheers came whenever the group charged full speed ahead, with Dave Carroll (banjo), Erik Berry (mandolin) and Ryan Young (fiddle) unleashing impressive solos. “Wait So Long,” the last grenade launched from their arsenal, resulted in a huge mosh pit that suddenly transformed Stagecoach into O.C.’s 20-year-old Hootenanny. ...
The setting was perfect Sunday to arrive early and catch the day’s opener, I See Hawks in L.A. Over the years the locally loved band has been compared to everybody from the Eagles and Gram Parsons to Warren Zevon, and the quintet’s 35-minute set proved there’s truth in those associations. The group’s ’70s vibe rang true whether amid country-mining rockers (especially “Rock ’n’ Roll Cymbal from the Seventies"), post-psychedelic departures (“Raised by Hippies,” “Humboldt”) or Jayhawks-style folk-rock (“Good and Foolish Times”).

Susanna Hoffs
Best known as the lead singer of power-pop heroes The BanglesSusanna Hoffs and a tight-knit four-man band made the most of a fast-flying 40-minute concert set with a mix of new material featured on her outstanding 2012 album Someday, as well as artful covers and timeless Bangles hits. Highlights came early and often, including a tender version of Michael Nesmith's "Different Drum" (a 1967 hit for the Linda Ronstadt-led Stone Poneys), a rowdy and loose version of Big Star's "September Gurls," the lovely "Raining" off her latest studio disc and a Rolling Stones-styled version of the Prince-penned "Manic Monday" that was much more loose than the Bangles' original. For more details about Hoffs' set and some of the other great acts featured at Stagecoach last weekend, make sure to check out George A. Paul's roundup on his Music Minded blog here.
With Corey Smith unable to make his 2 p.m. slot on the Mane Stage, Nashville outfit the Railers were called in to pinch hit. The group was up to the task and actually got some early birds to listen in the large expanse nearest to the festival’s biggest platform.
But what a difference a venue makes: When only an hour or so later the same gang took to the Mustang tent for its scheduled appearance, they proved capable of convincingly winning over a crowd – not because they changed their approach but because they were in a setting where people could actually tune in more intently.
Cassandra Lawson of the Railers
One particular rocker, “The Lessons I Don’t Want to Learn,” featuring Cassandra Lawson on concertina and a good audience clap-along, was among the early highlights. A version of the Band’s classic “The Weight” came next, with the Railers’ shining harmonies and Jordan Lawson’s fiddle playing giving this version a unique touch.
Cheers for the band’s instrumental Celtic jam, dubbed “The Irish Song,” exploded as brothers Jonathan (mandolin) and Jordan (fiddle) got completely locked into the piece, turning the Mustang tent into a warm little pub. There were a number of originals in their set that ought to be embraced by commercial radio when the band’s debut is released (likely later this year), including the up-tempo “Seeing the World” and their closing cut, “I Kind of Dig the Feeling.” 

Wanda Jackson's 2011 performance at Stagecoach was such a success, here she was back again Sunday afternoon to bring her mix of '50s and '60s styles to the Palomino tent. While the 76-year-old Queen of Rockabilly is not able to get around much on stage nowadays, her voice and warm personality were fully up to delivering faves such as "Mean, Mean Man" (a hit in the late '50s), her 1960 hit "Let's Have a Party" and "Shakin' All Over" (off her Jack White-produced LP The Party Ain't Over).
While those rollicking rock tunes got many to move to the groove, her voice was more fully showcased on her self-penned 1960 country hit "Right or Wrong" and a remake of the Rolling Stones' "It's All Over Now, which appeared on her most recent disc, 2012'sUnfinished Business.
Michael Nesmith performing at Stagecoach
Michael Nesmith will forever be known as one of the Monkees, but the singer-songwriter made a good case for celebrating his role as a pioneering country-rock artist during his hour-long set in Palomino. He focused almost entirely on his post-Monkees songbook, with notable exceptions including a countrified version of one of his earliest compositions, "Different Drum" (as noted above, the song was also covered earlier by Susanna Hoffs) and the Monkees' classic "Listen to the Band."
Backed by five skilled players – among them his son Christian, who proved to be an especially talented lead guitarist – Nesmith's work with the First National Band was featured early via "Joanne," a pretty country ballad that had the 71-year-old utilizing his still-strong falsetto while Christian played 12-string acoustic guitar in one of the most moving songs of the set. Elsewhere, he sang and rapped his way through the entertaining "Grand Ennui," one of the more interesting tunes from the 1970 album Nevada Fighter. Later, he focused on some of his more experimental songs, including the Latin-flavored gem "Rio" and the heavy-rocking "Dance (Dance & Have a Good Time)."
Christian Nesmith with dad Michael Nesmith
Stagecoach 2014's schedule of roots and Americana music ended with a wonderful 70-minute outing from revered singer-songwriter John Prine, who attracted a sparse but almost fanatical crowd of enthusiasts to the Palomino tent. With his dramatic delivery now nearly a spoken-word approach on his effective folk compositions, Prine brought cheers with performances of "Six O'Clock News," the beautiful ballad "Souvenirs" and his oft-remade staple "Angel of Montgomery."

1 comment:

newwavegeo said...

Good review of the fest. Glad to read about the acts I missed there.