Thursday, July 20, 2006

Nils Lofgren, Marcus Eaton, the Blooms; great night!

I'm still reeling after catching a trio of wonderful artists at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano several nights ago (Tuesday, July 18).
Headlined by E Street guitarist Nils Lofgren, the bill also included singer-guitarist Marcus Eaton and the Blooms (featuring singer-songwriter Allan Goodman).
The magic kicked in at 8 p.m.
Right on time, Fullerton-based The Blooms (singer Allan Goodman, lead guitarist Marcus McMillan and singer Kimberly Ann) took the stage. I had seen Goodman years ago (likely in the mid to late 1990s) as a solo acoustic act, but this show was far greater than any of those performances. His skills as a singer and songwriter are impressive, and the harmonies with Kimberly Ann worked really well. The trio's set included "Someday Maria," "I Wish I Knew What You Wanted," the country-tinged "All the World," "Still," and the infectious rocker "Good Enough." It was a wonderful 30-minute set and I look forward to hopefully catching a fully-electric set from Goodman with a full band soon.

I had never seen Marcus Eaton before Tuesday. Wow, what a guitarist. He performed solo, using a variety of effects and looping devices to build songs on stage and then play guitar and sing over those structures over the course of his 48-minute set. Eaton, whose voice often sounded like that of John Mayer to my ears, featured a number of new songs from his latest CD, "The Story of Now," including the Bruce Cockburn-styled "Drug" (which served as his set opener), rocking "Candle to the Sun" and "Standing Still." Eaton is a singular talent and that was obvious after catching him for the first time.

There is something completely unjust about an artist with Lofgren's talent performing before a less-than-capacity crowd at the Coach House. But those at the show know they were part of the fortunate few; this was a concert that will not be quickly forgotten. His 90-minute show featured Lofgren performing solo (the last time he performed at the Coach House in the 1990s was with a full band) and showcasing his skills as singer, songwriter, guitarist and keyboardist. He opened with the beautiful "Blue Skies" and then picked things up with "You." Both songs provided a chance to hear some of Lofgren's wonderful early 1990s solo work before he introduced a song off his latest album, the aptly-titled "Sacred Weapon." He noted that "Frankie Hang On" was written about a soldier wounded, but in a hurry to get better so he could go back and rejoin his fellow troops again. But his wife didn't want him to go back. It was a serious moment, but Lofgren broke the ice when he apologized that David Crosby and Graham Nash (who sing with him on the CD) couldn't be with him on stage since they were busy with the current CSNY reunion tour. The song was delivered with the kind of emotional and melodic intensity that has matched his supporting work for Springsteen and Neil Young.

The highlights came frequently throughout Lofgren's set: "Girl in Motion" (his extended solo was a gem), "Keith Don't Go" (written for Keith Richards), and a blistering version of Bruce Springsteen's "Because the Night," as well as his entire encore (which included an acoustic "No Mercy" and set-ending "Shine Silently").

There are those anxious for the Boss & E Street Band to regroup and play again soon. But I, for one, am glad Lofgren had a break from that gig to record an impressive new album and head out on tour. One of the best shows I've seen this year. Come again soon Nils...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Uneven vibrations: Only Pato Banton soars at Reggaefest

No matter how many times Shaggy told the crowd to "throw your hands in the air" during his hour-long set at the Pacific Amphitheatre on Sunday night, July 16, 2006, there was never the sense the less-than-capacity audience was ready to fully succumb to the dancehall reggae star.
Shaggy (whose real name is Orville Richard Burrell) brought plenty of good-time party music, blending reggae and hip-hop in equal measures with his ladies-man persona, to his headlining slot at the Orange County Fair ReggaeFest, which also featured Pato Banton and Wailing Souls.
That's not to say Shaggy's 11-song set completely faltered. There were moments, particularly during a strong cover of the Folkes Brothers' 1960 single "Oh Carolina," that he and several others singers blended R&B vocals with a "Peter Gunn"-style surf guitar lick to great effect.
The best stretch came when he delivered "In the Summertime" and "Angel" (a reworking of the country-Western classic "Angel of the Morning") back-to-back. However, some of his most recent material, "Hey Sexy Lady" and "Strength of a Woman," lacked punch.
Because of the seemingly endless between-songs chatter and efforts to get the crowd to respond to his pleas to wave their hands or call out this way or that, his performance never gained any lasting momentum. He might well take a pointer or two from his energetic namesake in the "Scooby-Doo" cartoons to keep the action moving ahead.
Birmingham, England's Pato Banton has been a force on the reggae scene for almost 25 years and continues to inspire, as he proved over the course of his 10-song set.
Backed by the powerful six-member Mystic Roots Band, the talented singer/toaster sang songs geared toward having a good time, but with deeper messages centering on his religious faith, the need for world peace and the legalization of marijuana (even while discouraging the use of hard drugs during a lively "Don't Sniff Coke").
However, his hour-long appearance really captured the artistic heights of the genre during performances of "One World (Not Three)," "Good News" and a spirited cover of Bob Marley's "Jamming" that got just about everyone dancing to the beat.
The Wailing Souls opened with a 40-minute set of Jamaican roots reggae that rarely impressed. With the notable exception of the speedy "Shark Attack," the set simply lacked the magic to touch the audience.

The Steve Miller Band dazzles in Costa Mesa

It’s worth noting that despite the wide-ranging string of radio hits that the Steve Miller Band scored in the 1970s and early 1980s, Miller and company can be an inconsistent live act.
However, in a 140-minute concert at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa on July 14, 2006, Miller, 62, showcased his considerable skills as a singer-songwriter – and most striking – as a guitarist before a sold-out crowd. Fans hoping to hear Miller play his hits were rewarded with energetic takes on “Swingtown” (which kicked off the night), “Living in the U.S.A.,” “Jungle Love” and “Jet Airliner.”
And those who wanted to tap into Miller’s 40-year love of the blues got rousing covers of Freddie King’s “Tore Down” and Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads,” as well as a reworked take of his own “Abracadabra” highlighted by virtuoso fret work.
Most of the evening’s highlights came while the ensemble was showcasing material off “Fly Like An Eagle,” an album that Miller told the crowd has just been remastered and is newly-available in a deluxe edition featuring 5.1 Surround Sound and includes previously unreleased material. A countrified “Dance, Dance, Dance,” psychedelic “Wild Mountain Honey” and infectious sing- and clap-along “Take the Money and Run” were among that 1976 album’s songs revisted by Miller during the 23-song set.
An epic version of “Fly Like An Eagle” was used to showcase the distinct talents of his five-man band, notably harmonica wizard Norton Buffalo and keyboardist-rapper Joseph Wooten. Buffalo’s strong skills on the blues harp were artfully mixed with full vocal harmonies during the encore, when a beautiful “Winter Time” reinforced that many of the Steve Miller Band’s strongest songs have been ignored by commercial radio.
Indeed, Miller has always been overshadowed by his commercial hits, stretching from “The Joker” in 1973 to “Abracadabra” in 1982. However, during his performance in Costa Mesa, he seemed to make a strong case for celebrating his unique style of blending blues and rock as uniquely as any artist of his generation. In fact, “The Joker” was reworked with a funk-rock feel that peaked when Miller and guitarist Kenny Lee Lewis played a twin-lead guitar attack reminiscent of Thin Lizzy.
The troupe ended the night with a haunting and powerful version of “Serenade,” which provided the perfect mix of rock and atmosphere to sum up a memorable evening of classic rock hits and electric blues.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Nils Lofgren ready to draw "Sacred Weapon" in OC

What do Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and Ringo Starr have in common?
Well, in addition to being notable members of the Rock‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, all three of the legendary artists have counted singer-guitarist Nils Lofgren as a seminal member of their band.
Now, Orange County residents have a rare chance to see one of rock’s most talented singer-guitarists when he performs an intimate solo acoustic show at the Coach House on Tuesday night, July 18.
Lofgren is on tour in support of his latest CD, “Sacred Weapon.” The newly-released disc features a dozen of Lofgren’s original songs, and features guest appearances by Willie Nelson (on the wonderful “In Your Hands”), David Crosby and Graham Nash (their beautiful harmonies are on display across the rocking “Frankie Hang On”), as well as Margo Reed, Martin Sexton, Bob Berberich and Mary Ann Redmond.
Lofgren, 54, comes to the Coach House on the heels of a two standout guest stints in June. He began the month by being invited to come on stage and perform with Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions Band when the ensemble came to Phoenix on June 3, and then on June 11 Lofgren performed at the Key Club in Cabazon with singer Paul Rodgers (Queen, Free, Bad Company), playing guitar on “Rock and Roll Fantasy,” “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love,” and other songs.
Lofgren got his first commercial break in 1970 when the then 17-year-old unknown was invited to play piano on Young’s seminal “After the Gold Rush” album. Lofgren is also a long-time member of Springsteen’s famed E Street Band, having replaced Little Stevie Van Zandt in 1984. He has continued to play with Springsteen, and toured as part of drummer Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band in 1989. In addition to the recentlyreleased gem “Sacred Weapon,” Lofgren’s catalog of excellent solo releases includes 1991’s “Silver Lining,” 1992’s “Crooked Line” and 2001’s “Breakaway Angel.”
Nils Lofgren, Marcus Eaton and Los Angeles’ excellent roots rockers the Blooms will perform at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, SJC, at 8 p.m. on July 18. Admission is $20. Information: 949-496-8930.