Monday, July 30, 2007

Tears for Fears blends old and new in stunning show

There were two great things that happened at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa on Sunday night (July 29, 2007).

First, Tears for Fears performed a dazzling mix of old and new material with a sophistication and ease fitting the band's brilliant blend of melodic pop and Beatles-tinged psychedelia. Secondly, all proceeds earned by the group were donated to tour manager Gordon "Gungi" Paterson to assist him with his battle against cancer.

The only magic ingredient missing from the night was an ill-fitting capacity crowd that at times seemed more interested in tossing around beach balls, chatting incessantly and making beer runs than listening to anything but the band's best-known hits.

When Tears for Fears performed at the Pacific Amphitheatre in July 2005, it proved to be a magical night on which Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal masterfully played 75 minutes before an enthusiastic and adoring audience glad to see the duo performing together again. But at more than 90 minutes, this week's longer showcase allowed Tears for Fears to provide a proper look at the group's most recent album "Everybody Loves a Happy Ending," truly one of the best albums of 2004.

To be certain, there were times on Sunday night when the group would break into one of the newer gems such as the joyous "Call Me Mellow" and "Quiet Ones" and a fan of the group would erupt and pound a fist into the summer sky. And when Tears for Fears noted how aptly the title track off "Everybody Loves a Happy Ending" fitted the spirit of the show, it would have been great to see everybody in the audience rise to the occasion.
But it was hits and hits alone that were able to move the masses.

An effective opening with only Smith lit on stage and singing "Mad World" before the entire group burst in with "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" worked well, as did the final five-song stretch when the group playing strong versions of hits such as "Pale Shelter," "Head over Heels" and the night-ending "Shout."

Smith and Orzabal each handled his lead vocals with confidence, but the outstanding harmonies they shared (notably during "Sowing the Seeds of Love" and "Call Me Mellow") and how their roles fit so well with an excellent ensemble around them, seemed to lift the performance to an even higher level than two years ago.

Opener Gary Jules performed a 45-minute set of literate and well-crafted folk rock highlighted by his original tune "Pills" and his best-known song, a sparse reworking of Tears for Fears' "Mad World."

Friday, July 13, 2007

Pat Benatar keeps the hits coming at Anaheim HOB

Pat Benatar knows how to please her fans.
During a fast-moving, 90-minute set at the House of Blues in Anaheim on Thursday night, the singer and her solid three-man band (featuring her talented guitar-wielding husband Neil Giraldo) drew cheers and audience sing-along choruses with hits such as “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and a cover of John Mellencamp’s “I Need a Lover.”

The last time I caught Benatar, it was two years ago (July 14, 2005 to be exact) at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa and her like-minded headlining appearance easily outdistanced sets by Berlin and the Motels that night.
Here in the intimate confines of the Mouse House, the 54-year-old singer was able to intersperse her nostalgic approach with acoustic-flavored material to provide a more wide-ranging sampling of material from throughout her 28-year recording career.
So while the crowd couldn’t get enough of the hard-rocking likes of her opener “All Fired Up,” the decidedly-dated “Heartbreaker” and night-ending “Love is a Battlefield,” there were definite moments when Benatar showcased her real ability to explore the blues, folk-rock and even prog rock styles.

Of the big hits she played, the steely rocker “Promises in the Dark,” timeless message-driven “Hell is for Children” and reworked “Invincible” soared best. Both Benatar and Giraldo excel in playing blues-rock and “True Love” allowed them to share that passion, with the adoring audience eager to come along on the ride.

But it was the performance of several songs from her overlooked early ‘90s album “Gravity’s Rainbow” that found Benatar venturing into territory furthest outside of the Arena rock sound where she is best know. “Disconnected,” written in the wake of the Los Angeles riots, was delivered in a blistering alt rock style that defied the cliché sound of some of her late 70s-early 80s material while continuing to display Benatar’s high octave vocals.
And in a similar approach rework some of her more dated material; “We Live for Love” was reworked in an acoustic, folk-rock vein.
While Benatar will never be able to escape the polished rock sound that produced a number of mainstream hits, there is no doubt she and her band deliver the nostalgic goods with an authenticity and passion equal to the thrill her performance gives time machine-bound fans.

Opener Lennon Murphy (better known as Lennon) performed a 30-minute set of keyboard-anchored material that explores that area somehow home to Evanescence, Nine Inch Nails and Alanis Morissette. Although her piano playing was not especially impressive and her voice only had limited range, there was an effective melancholy presence to her solo set that worked over the course of six songs.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Hootenanny: Lucky 13

Fans arriving a bit late at Hootenanny on Saturday, July 7, 2007 were in luck. In fact, the first several performers to play on the Main Stage provided a good excuse to get out of the daytime sun and go check out the classic cars and the glut of merchandise booths and find a place to keep cool until the big names played.

Because while the Flamethrowers kicked off the day with a set of rowdy rock highlighted by "Stay Free Forever" and "Never a Dull Moment," things quickly took a turn for the worse when Tex and the Horseheads played a losing mix of roots rock, blues and cow punk.

But from the time Throw Rag took the stage at 1 p.m., fans never had to wait long to catch one of many classic artists returning to the unique festival that has been a celebration of those seeking the trailhead where alt-country, rockabilly, blues, folk and rock 'n' roll connect.
Clearly the majority of the crowd was there to see headliners Social Distortion. Frontman Mike Ness seemed unusually reflective during the band's hour-long set, ignoring many of the band's best-known songs and offering up a rich mix of obscure originals and strong remakes including the Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb," Chuck Berry's "Maybellene" and Hank Williams' "Six More Miles (To the Graveyard)."
While the legendary Orange County outfit didn't play set list staples such as "Story of My Life," "Ball and Chain" and "Bad Luck," the Hootenanny crowd was treated to "Far Behind" (a new song featured on the band's just-released "Greatest Hits" set) and his confessional "King of Fools." Social Distortion closed with an introspective piano-anchored "Prison Bound" and a fiery remake of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."

Leading up to Social Distortion's set, there were a handful of 30-minute appearances that highlighted some of the best Americana artists from the Southland.
Those who continue to link John Doe with X and Lee Rocker with the Stray Cats are missing out on enjoying the unique talents of each of these singer-songwriters.
Rocker and his excellent three-man band busted out of the gate with several songs from the forthcoming CD "Black Cat Bone," with the high octane "Lost Highway" and the bluesy title track thrilling the crowd. Later Rocker played "Race Track Blues," a 2005 song that provided a showcase for the two excellent lead guitarists in his band.

Doe, who came to Hootenanny armed with a wealth of affecting songs from his new album "A Year in the Wilderness," didn't disappoint. He opened with the beautiful "The Golden State" and later rocked with "Lean out Your Window."
Doe and his strong band closed their set with a terrific version of the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter."

With both the Phil Alvin-led Blasters and his Dave Alvin on the bill, it was a dream-come-true moment when the brothers and one-time band mates teamed up to play a great version of the Blasters' classic "Marie Marie."

Several Orange County-based artists turned in pleasing sets as well. Anaheim-based Big Sandy & his Fly-Rite Boys offered up "Power of the 45," "Chalk it Up to the Blues" and other retro-sounding gems blending traditional country, rockabilly and western swing, while Fountain Valley's Michael Ubaldini explored the vast ranges of his Americana landscape with ferocious rockabilly ("Scratch My Back"), Dixieland (""Mardi Gras") and heartland rock 'n' roll ("Tears of a Lonesome Train"). One major oversight of the concert organizer was putting Ubaldini on the Second Stage when this major talent should have been featured on the Main Stage.

Hootenanny, which was launched way back in 1995, continues to be one of Orange County's most original and wonderful live music showcases. But do they have to charge $9 for a falafel?