Thursday, July 24, 2008

Chris Isaak and Vanessa Carlton, Wailers revisited

Sorry I have not posted in a bit. I've been busy training to climb Mount Whitney next week (I have a permit to climb the tallest mountain in California on Tuesday, July 29), so I've been spending a good deal of my free time at the gym and fitting in weekend climbs in the San Gabriels.

But I have covered a few shows for the Orange County Register this month, including a strong bill with Chris Isaak and Vanessa Carlton on July 13, and a reggae show headlined by the Wailers on July 17.

I have reposted the reviews as they ran in the Orange County Register below:

Monday, July 14, 2008
Chris Isaak does his usual thing and that's not a 'bad, bad thing'
There was a time – say 10 years or so ago – when singer-songwriter Chris Isaak seemed destined to be forever identified solely with his best-known hit, the haunting and timeless "Wicked Game" off 1989's breakout recording "Heart Shaped World."
However, when an entertainer has the musical instincts, a captivating Roy Orbison-styled vocal style and a top-notch five-man band, it might not matter if he ever had a single hit on commercial radio for a near-capacity crowd to enjoy the best ride of the day at the Orange County Fair thanks to his two-dozen song set on Sunday (July 13, 2008).

Isaak may not be the most innovative artist of all time – in fact, the personable singer-songwriter covered tunes from several of his 1950s era heroes over the course of his 95-minute set – but his retro-tinged rock 'n' roll is much more than a bland nostalgic act.
While the haunting "Wicked Game" may be his masterpiece, several new songs set for release on his next album achieved nearly equal power in the live setting.

In particular, one song ("We Let Her Down") was particularly strong, with its sparse and moody delivery enhanced by lead guitarist Hershel Yatovitz echo-drenched guitar work.
Isaak was so much in control of the crowd, he could alternate between raucous rockers such as a cover of "I Want You to Want Me" and his own "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing" and hushed acoustic titles like "Dark Moon" and "Two Hearts" while keeping the momentum going strong.
Isaak closed his full-length show with a poignant, acoustic version of "Forever Blue," a fitting finale to the best show this writer has caught by Isaak.

Opener Vanessa Carlton was anchored to her piano throughout her 45-minute set, but that didn't prevent the Pennsylvania native from playing her accessible material in an entertaining nine-song showcase.
The best songs in her Sunday set came off her third album, 2007's "Heroes & Thieves," which find Carlton exploring deeper issues than her better-known 2002 debut "Be Not Nobody."
Whether singing about being dropped from her first record label in "Nolita Fairytale," the joys of an exciting romance in the wonderful "Hands on Me" and a magical walk through New York's Central Park chronicled in "Heroes & Thieves," her fine piano playing and vulnerable voice (often cracking artfully at its upper range) made for a particularly good outing.

Friday, July 18, 2008
Reggae night smokes at the O.C. Fair
Because the Wailers are rightfully identified with some of the biggest and most significant reggae recordings of all time, fans of the genre are justified in making it to at least one of the band's shows.
And while singer-songwriter Bob Marley died in 1981, several longtime members of the Wailers (notably bassist Aston "Family Man" Barrett) continue to play as part of the ensemble, which was fronted this evening by the singer Yvad.
In a 90-minute set before a near-capacity crowd at the Pacific Amphitheatre on Thursday night (July 17, 2008), the Wailers proved that good songs are timeless and classics such as "No Woman No Cry," "Is This Love," "One Love" and inspired night-ending "Exodus" continue to shine when played with the kind of magic put on display under a bright full moon in Costa Mesa.

Although the group's first few songs were not played with quite enough firepower, the group hit its stride when it turned the outdoor venue into a giant dance floor with a feel good-styled "Keep on Movin'" and "Stir It Up." A strong vocal performance highlighted "I Shot the Sheriff" minutes later and that set the strong tone for the rest of the night.
The Wailers seem to have a few new tricks up their sonic sleeve, with Yvad kicking off the encore with an acoustic guitar and playing the folk-styled "Buffalo Country" that could have been at home in a Neil Young set.

Eek-A-Mouse might be the talent that launched a well-known vocal style (sing-jay, where a singer uses vocals to fuse singing and DJ-styled chant together), but the Kingston, Jamaica, native's 35-minute lackluster set seemed at odds with the ready-to-cut-loose crowd that greeted his initial arrival.
Ultimately, Eek-A-Mouse's performance was a backdrop to everything else happening in the crowd (more on that a bit later). Had he simply performed "Biddy Biddy Beng" or "Sensee Party" over and over, he would have been greeted with the same cheers.

Although many in the crowd had not yet arrived when Pato Banton kicked off the night with his own 35-minute set of original music, the Birmingham, England, singer actually accomplished something the night's subsequent acts did not.
Armed with his engaging personality and an extended walk through the crowd early in his set, he had the party-minded audience actually listening to his songs.
Songs such as "Stay Positive" and "Don't Sniff Coke" hit home with his emotive vocals and strong performances from the seven members of the Mystic Roots Band and two backup singers.
On another note, anyone interested in enjoying the show solely for music-related reasons would have been disappointed. From the time Eek-A-Mouse took the stage, many in the crowd were more interested in snapping photos with their friends, talking on their cell phones, hitting beach balls and – this was a reggae show after all – smoking and drinking to the point where at least one concert-goer was so sick in the row in front of me he had to be escorted out before the Wailers even hit the stage.
"Exodus," indeed.

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