Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Dylan talks, but is he listening?

Reuters has published a story ("Dylan says modern recordings 'atrocious') today that got me to do some thinking.

According to the article filed from Los Angeles, the 65-year-old singer-songwriters was quoted by Rolling Stone magazine as saying "I don't know anybody who's made a record that sounds decent in the past 20 years, really."

I wonder if Robert Zimmerman has actually taken the time to listen. Neil Young has made a few classics during that stretch, notably "Harvest Moon" (1992) and "Mirror Ball" (1995). In fact, including efforts such as the rocking "Ragged Glory" (1990), beautiful "Prairie Wind" (2005) and raging "Living With War" (released earlier this year), Neil Young has released as many great albums since turning 40 as he did in the first part of his music-making career.

The same can be said for Canadian great Bruce Cockburn. Start with "Breakfast in New Orleans Dinner in Timbuktu" (1999), and then get a well-worth-it earful of "You've Never Seen Everything" (2003) and this year's powerful "Life Short Call Now."

Let me point Bob to another few artists who didn't even get started until the 1990s or '00s. The Cranberries' "Bury the Hatchet" is one of the best rock albums I've ever heard and Dolores O'Riordan never sounded better. The disc boasts a lyrical journey that blends global concerns with intimate struggles, and the music soars. American radio just didn't have the guts to give it a try when it was released in 1999.

And anyone who reads this blog frequently knows how strongly I feel about the work of a number of other '90s outfits, notably dada ("Puzzle," "American Highway Flower" and "El Subliminoso" are timeless efforts), Toad the Wet Sprocket ("Fear," "Dulcinea" and "Coil" still sound as fresh as ever).

And, of course, there well-recognized landmark efforts from the Cure ("Disintegration," "Wish"), U2 ("Achtung Baby," "All That You Can't Leave Behind"), Moby ("Play"), Keane ("Hopes and Fears") and Snow Patrol ("Final Straw") that are among the countless original music masterworks released during the stretch. Again, dismissing all music is great fodder for magazine articles. But, I think Bob Dylan might be better off listening to some music once in awhile.

And if all else fails, get a soundcheck courtesy of notable releases from Charlie Musselwhite, Dead Can Dance, Depeche Mode, Radiohead, Coldplay, World Party, Vinnie James, Altered State, Pearl Jam, Lee Rocker, Bright Blue Gorilla, Scarlet Crush, Walter Clevenger & the Dairy Kings, Mel, Lunar Rover, Michael Ubaldini, Social Distortion...the list goes on.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Toad the Wet Sprocket conjures up magic at Galaxy

For me, the 1990s will forever be the decade about a handful of great bands who released strong and timeless material that has been largely overlooked by the world.
DADA, Altered State, the Cranberries and Toad the Wet Sprocket rank on the top of my list and the reason is obvious; excellent songs played with the perfect lineup of players.
On Saturday (August 19, 2006), I got to see the reunited Toad the Wet Sprocket when they made a highly-anticipated stop before a capacity crowd at the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana.
Singer-guitarist Glen Phillips, guitarist-singer Todd Nichols, bassist Dean Dinning and drummer Randy Guss were truly firing on all sonic cylinders throughout the 22-song set, which kicked off at 9:30 p.m. and didn’t end until 11:10 p.m. I wish the band could have played all night.
Toad the Wet Sprocket – which played its first show on Sept. 3, 1986 – revisited material from throughout its small but decisive catalog, including audience favorites such as “Something’s Always Wrong” (which kicked off the 100-minute concert), “All I Want,” Crowing,” "Walk on the Ocean" and “Fly From Heaven."
The show was kind of split in half because Glen Phillips played a solo, 2-song acoustic set in the middle to showcase several recent songs. An affected “Easier” (off his “Winter Pays for Summer” disc) was especially strong, with Glen’s distinctive voice driving every line home.
It was also great to hear the ghost of Gram Parsons when the entire band played “Everything But You,” a country-styled song off his most recent disc, “Mr. Lemons.”
Toad the Wet Sprocket has always been a band able to fit comfortably into the folk rock category, but the cast artfully blends rock, pop, country and folk into a magic potion all its own.
For those who like a rock edge, “Hold Her Down” “Fall Down” and “Brother” (with Glen delivering some wah wah-anchored electric guitar work) delivered. For those who like the wistful and emotive songs, Todd sang lead vocals on a tender “Inside” and there were great readings of countrified tracks such as “Stupid,” “Nanci” and “Nightingale Song.”
And one song from 1997's tragically-overlooked “Coil” worked exceptionally well here; the confessional “Whatever I Fear” was among the night's highlights.
An aptly-placed “I Will Not Take These Things for Granted” closed the emotional show; it painfully clear the incredible night was coming to a close.
Come back soon guys, okay? We need you.

Toad the Wet Sprocket set list on Saturday, August 19, 2006:

Something’s Always Wrong
Whatever I Fear
Fly From Heaven
All I Want
Inside (Todd sang)
Hold Her Down
Come Back Down

Back On My Feet (off "Abulum")
Easier (off “Winter Pays for Summer”)

Everything But You (off “Mr. Lemons”)
Nightingale Song
Good Intentions
Fall Down

Crazy Life (Todd sang)
Walk on the Ocean
I Will Not Take These Things for Granted

Earth, Wind & Fire shows that less is more

When Earth, Wind & Fire and Chicago toured last year, each group performed separate sets and segments of the show together, with EW&F clearly delivering the best moments at a September stop at the Greek Theatre. However, because of the dual design of that bill, the most magical moments of EW&F’s set were spread over 3 1/2 hours.
In a wonderful show at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine on Friday night (August 18, 2006) clocking in at a mere 90 minutes, the genre- and time-defying EW&F performed a mix of energetic dance numbers and emotional ballads in ways simply not possible the last time the group rolled through the region.
What has always set EW&F apart from just about any other artist is the way the large ensemble can lock into a dance groove and use a blend of R&B, Motown harmonies, pop, funk and blues to joyous effect. “Shining Star” and “Saturday Nite” were highlights in the early part of the set, but the overall energy and excitement of the band and the connection with the audience continued to build.
And while the range of material covered by the 12-member touring version of the troupe stretched from disco to soulful ballads, there was cohesiveness courtesy of lead vocalist Philip Bailey, bassist Verdine White and the three-member horn section that lifted the performance of all of the songs. Even though inserting a ballad into the middle of a set could easily squash the momentum, EW&F had no worries on this night. During beautiful renditions of “Reasons” and “After the Love Has Gone,” Bailey’s soaring vocals provided the dramatics. During dynamic dance tunes such as “Sing A Song” and “September,” the mix of funky grooves, lush vocals, layered guitars and horn blasts propelled the music in unison with the moving crowd.
In fact, many in the near-capacity crowd stood for much of the concert, providing an additional boost to EW&F as the band played most of its big hits from the 1970s and early 1980s.
In a rare moment as concerts go, the performance of “Fantasy” boasted that magical moment when the combination of great song, talented players and tuned-in audience arrive at some distant place together.
Opener Chris Botti, an accomplished trumpet player, played a solid hour-long set that was a true amalgamation of smooth and adventurous jazz material. Botti and his excellent quartet excelled during instrumental versions of “Cinema Paradiso,” “A Thousand Kisses Deep” and “My Funny Valentine.”

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Attraction pushes punk's envelope

It's no wonder the Attraction picked up honors in the Best Punk category at the Southern California Music Awards in February of 2006, and then nabbed top honors in the same category at the Orange County Music Awards two months later.
The group's 12-song debut, "Step Right Up!" is a must have for discerning listeners who love punk. And the Huntington Beach-based outfit's sound is vast enough to include alt-rock, power pop and reggae. The Roundhouse Productions-issued disc features instantly-memorable melodic tracks such as "Tales of a Liar" and "Farewell," as well as the wistful U2-flavored "Christmas Song," the hardcore assault of "Bleed" and reggae tune "Subject to Change." While the original July 2005 pressing of "Step Right Up!" recently sold out, the Attraction is repressing the disc in a special edition format that will include some live cuts.
"These are the greatest and most easy going guys I've ever been with in a band," said drummer Humper T, in an interview conducted after the Attraction tore through a strong 45-minute set at diPiazza in Long Beach on Aug. 10. The band's all-original lineup also features lead singer Lance Romance, guitarist Master John and bassist Beaver.
Watching the quartet perform together on stage, connect with a crowd and talk about the magic of firing on all cylinders, it's easy to see why the Attraction is likely the most aptly-titled outfit around. It's not the great songs alone; dressing in colorful attire and using some select lighting and sound effects to open their performances, they deliver a show that truly combines a powerful rock aesthetic with theater.
"It's fun. We all have grown," said Master John. "We've come in with an open mind. We throw the spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks." Added Lance Romance: "It's not just a band, it's a bond."
The Attraction has found a fast-growing fan base, thanks to airplay on Los Angeles' Indie 103.1 FM, as well as shows at large venues such as the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana and opening for Guttermouth at Vault 350 in Long Beach. The band also headlined at the 15th annual Inkslinger's Ball, performing in front of its largest-ever audience at Angel Stadium in April.
Since playing its first show at Gallagher's in Huntington Beach on Oct. 11, 2003, the band has been writing, recording and playing music – all built around a mix of melodic choruses, catchy guitar riffs and enthralling shows. Very soon the Attraction will see if far-off audiences are as receptive as those in their own backyard; the band is playing at the Celebrity Night Club in Las Vegas tonight. In addition, it is going on a nationwide tour in October, including shows in connection with the CMJ Music Marathon festival in New York.
"This band is a second chance at life for me," admitted Beaver, who hadn't played music in several years before the Attraction. "I met Lance and we started the band three years ago. This is everything music should have been when I first started, being involved with a band that is more than four guys playing music. There is so much heart behind every song, but at the same time it's pure fun."
Lance Romance agrees: "I'm of the opinion, that (live) music has lost its entertainment value." That said there is no lack of substance in the Attraction's material. The ramifications of war ("Johnny") and the loss of loved ones ("Still Breathing" was written in the wake of the death of the lead singer's sister three years ago) are among the Attraction's most memorable songs.
"The word of mouth on us is ridiculous," Beaver said. "We haven't done pay to play (the system in which some clubs require artists to sell a minimum number of tickets to play). Once they (audiences) see us, they're sold."
The Attraction will perform at the South Bay Music Awards, 710 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach, at 8 p.m. on Sept. 9.
Information: www.theattraction.net.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Santana; a sound of his own

Like B.B. King, Carlos Santana is one of a handful of guitarists who have a sound so readily recognizable it has become a timeless style all its own. Performing before a near-capacity crowd at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater on Monday night, July 31, 2006, the legendary guitarist led his nine-member troupe on a 2-1/2-hour journey that reached artistic highs even while making some missteps. Before Santana was catapulted back into the spotlight with the success of his 1999 album “Supernatural,” he was best known by fans for his distinctive guitar work and his band’s puercussion-heavy jams. But with that release, and the similarly-formatted followups(“Shaman” and “All That I Am”) boasting well-known guests such as Rob Thomas, Dave Matthews and Los Lonely Boys, Santana has also become a hitmaker. Over the course of his concert on what should have been a beautiful night under the stars (I barely survived all the cigarette smoke engulfing me from every which way...), the 59-year-old guitarist juggled those two sides of his career effectively. There were extended jams where he traded solos with wonderful organ player ChesterThompson and several other members of his band, and he mixed up the set list to reflect flamenco, blues andLatin rock genres he has explored since forming his first group 40 years ago. His fiery and virtuoso guitar work, often delivered amidst a backdrop of horns, congas, timbales and the driving work of drummer Dennis Chambers usually was on the mark. Santana’s guitar work was great throughout the night, but the ensemble at large scored best with material that broke up the extended jams and solos that frequently slowed the momentum of the show. Indeed, along drum solo delivered during the early part of the encore actually proved to be the perfect incentive formany concertgoers to beat the traffic and call it anight. So when Santana and company performed relatively faithful versions of hits such as “Smooth” and the classic “Black Magic Woman,” it actually swept the audience back into the show, getting many on their feet to dance and bring a necessary ingredient to Santana’s pleasing mix. “No One to Depend On” was particularly effective in fusing the best musical and vocal elements that define the Santana sound. Singer Andy Vargas was an energetic and strong-voiced singer throughout the night, while trombone player JeffCressman’s work was particularly strong. All eight songs in Anthony Hamilton’s eight-song set were played well and the Charlotte, North Carolina native delivered serviceable R&B with the help of a strong six-man band and three female backing vocalists. But with the exception of a rousing “Chyna Black,” there was predictability to the sound and the set ultimately didn't catch fire.

Moody Blues deliver a wide-ranging night of music

Who knew the Moody Blues remain one of classic rock’s most powerful rock outfits? Performing before a near-capacity crowd at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa on July 30, the band delivered amemorable concert featuring strong material pulled from across four decades. In a performance that outdistanced the combined efforts of a four act 1960s-themed bill that shared the same stage a week earlier (Vanilla Fudge,Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Starship and John Kay & Steppenwolf), the Moody Blues made a powerful case for an often-overlooked legacy across a gracious 19-song set that is the band’s only performance this summer. And fans of the group’s most recent collection, 2005’s “Lovely to See You: Live from the Greek,” were basically treated to that same set list here in Costa Mesa. The group (which features three long-time members, as well as four strong supporting members used this night) wasn’t afraid to rework original hits, notably when singer-guitarist Justin Hayward and bassist-singer John Lodge wanted to jam. While “Nights in White Satin” (off the group’s 1967 debut “Days of Future Passed”) remains their best-known album rock track, it was truly only one of a number of highlights. In concert, the group’s psychedelic-styled lush 1960s material (“Nights inWhite Satin,” “Tuesday Afternoon”) blended well with 1970s rockers and more recent pop-styled material that led to a bona fide comeback for the Moody Blues in the1980s. Not many bands have strong material stretching across 40 years, and the Moody Blues didn’t waste that vast repertoire over the course of two hours on Sunday. And rather than just playing hits that mirrored the classic album versions, the seven-member troupe brought urgency to many of the songs. “Tuesday Afternoon” was enhanced by Hayward’s finger-picking style and the support from Norda Mullen on flute.The Moody Blues broke the show into two parts, with each half featuring folk-styled rock and more upbeat rockers. “Steppin’ in a Slide Zone,” “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” and “The Story in Your Eyes”showcased the band’s natural rock instincts in the first half, while the beautiful “Lean on Me (Tonight)” featured Lodge’s emotive vocals in a setting that showcased the group’s ability to connect with an audience in quieter moments. But truly, the Moody Blues really took off when they delivered a second set. Hayward remains a virtuoso and expressive guitarist, and his skills on the frets were showcased during a muscular “I’m Just A Singer (in aRock and Roll Band)” and again during an extended “Ride My Seesaw” that had everyone in the theater on their feet. And while the haunting “Nights in White Satin” was understandably effective with Hayward’s voice soaring, more recent material (notably the beautiful “DecemberSnow”) was just as thrilling.