Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Sheryl Crow, Gavin DeGraw at the Hollywood Bowl

Singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow is one of the few artists to emerge in the first half of the 1990s who has continued to craft new material well into this decade that is still greeted with widespread commercial airplay and welcomed by mainstream audiences eager to hear her latest project.
In a two-hour headlining show Sunday night, Oct. 23, 2005 at the Hollywood Bowl, the nine-time Grammy winner delivered a generous retrospective of her hits-filled career while also casting the spotlight on her latest disc, "Wildflower."
That album, released Sept. 27, is filled with confessional tales focusing on her well-publicized romance with cyclist Lance Armstrong and larger explorations of the world such as her stirring, anti-war "Where has All the Love Gone" and her probing "Letter to God."
Performing more than 20 of her own songs and a few reworked covers by Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan and Elton John, the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter seemed genuinely delighted to be performing at the fabled Hollywood Bowl, proclaiming during her encore, "It's so nice to come back and play in your back yard."
Backed by her four-member band and a large string section under the direction of David Campbell, Crow used the concert as a showcase for her skills as a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist who moved from guitar to bass to piano throughout the night.
The bad news for the enthusiastic audience was not Crow's choice of material or her performance, but rather the sound itself.
The band (drums, guitars, bass, keyboards) continuously drowned out the string section (which featured more than a dozen musicians), except in the quietest moments.
So while a countrified take on Dylan's "Mississippi" and her own "Strong Enough" were clearly enhanced by strings in the overall mix, they sounded muddled on straightforward rockers such as "If It Makes You Happy" and "My Favorite Mistake."
And, during many songs, such as the reworking of Stevens' "First Cut is the Deepest," the additional musicians simply came off like window dressing.
However, there is no doubt that the majority of fans came to hear Crow deliver her collection of hits, and she did not disappoint.
Many in the audience sat politely through much of the concert, but became more animated and enthusiastic when she performed titles such as "All I Wanna Do," "A Change Will Do You Good" and "Soak Up the Sun."
Show opener Gavin DeGraw is clearly looking to position himself as an artist who can carve out a lasting career in the tradition of Crow.
His seven-song set, highlighted by material such as the emotive "Crush" and accessible "Chariot," pleased many in the crowd, especially when the young singer-keyboardist ventured into the audience.
While songs such as "Chemical Party" and his biggest hit, "I Don't Want to Be," were delivered with zest, his sonic approach clearly recalls artists such as Maroon 5, Train and Billy Joel, and time will tell if he is able to develop a sound he can truly call his own.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Aimee Mann just keeps getting better

Only three nights after catching an impressive show from power-pop rockers 9 Ball in Fullerton on Oct. 11, I took in a stunning concert from Aimee Mann. I have seen the talented singer-songwriter a number of times, and she continues to amaze enthusiastic and loyal audiences whenever she performs. Count me as one who is both enthusiastic and amazed.

At the Anaheim House of Blues where I caught her two-hour performance on Friday, Oct. 14, she featured songs off her latest CD, "The Forgotten Arm," a concept album that continues to showcase her skills as a songwriter and keen observer of people and this crazy planet we call home.

She seemed to be especially confident and chatty with the crowd, encouraging people to write down their requests and throw them up to the stage. Dozens seem to take her up on the offer, resulting in her playing many of her classics such as "Red Vines," "Invisible Ink," "Deathly" and "4th of July." She even took a good-natured attempt at "Ray," a song she admitted wasn't ready for its sonic close-up this night. And her band continues to get better everytime I catch them.

But it was an incredible show, and I spent the weekend listening to her music - a bright spot as the Anaheim Angels lost 3 games in a row and the Chicago White Sox are now World Series bound. If I had Aimee's gift, I could turn that into a song...

Friday, October 07, 2005

Society's shift shakes music

There was a time - before interactive cellphones, high speed internet and on-demand everything - when movies were more about quality than box office positioning and music was a connection fans had with a particular act as they journeyed through albums growing and exploring new ground. Think Beatles, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Peter Gabriel and U2 - you get the idead.

That sounds like a world away, huh? I can think of a number of classic artists who would have never released anything beyond a debut if they had come of age in the late '90s or this century. Cheap Trick is a famous example used by critics; the band's amazing self-titled debut was ignored. You still never hear anything from that LP, even on classic rock stations.

It wasn't until the band's third album they sold anything and scored a hit. Today, if an artist signed to a major label doesn't create a buzz or go Gold from the start, a major label is likely going to cut the chord.

That's one of the reasons I love writing the Orange Pop column for the Orange County Register. It runs just about every Friday (including today, where Michele Rene is featured). Here are artists who aren't selling millions of CDs. In fact, they are likely doing pretty good if they are selling hundreds. But they are doing it because they have no choice; the music matters to them and when it comes to playing original music in So Cal, getting paid is no given either.

This fall is a promising time to go out and see some of these real artists. Sure, the celebrated likes of Aimee Mann, Doves, U2, Paul McCartney and Bruce Cockburn are all coming to town either this month or next, but be sure to check out my column to get wind of the underground. You can read it at