Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Submarines set to surface in Costa Mesa

Blake Hazard, left, and John Dragonetti are the Submarines.
This story was originally posted on the Orange County Register Web site on Thursday, Jan. 29, 2009.
Submarines have been an effective image for music makers, with the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine," the Gram Parsons-led International Submarine Band and Thomas Dolby's "One of Our Submarines" among the best-known examples of subs used in the service of song.

But increasingly, music fans identify the word with the Submarines, a compelling indie pop group comprised of John Dragonetti and Blake Hazard. The Los Angeles-based husband-and-wife duo kick off a nationwide tour this week in support of their sophomore effort, "Honeysuckle Weeks," with a show at Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa on Friday, Jan. 30, 2009 marking the second night of the trek.
The group has been garnering plenty of local attention since the release of the Submarines' 2006 debut "Declare a New State."

Both that album and 2008's "Honeysuckle Weeks" each received solid airplay on KCRW-89.9/FM, as well as Indie 103.1, and it was the recent demise of the latter station where conversation began in a phone interview with the Submarines on Jan. 19.
"It's such a loss," Hazard said. "We had heard that there were problems going on over there. I'm happy they didn't succumb to this sort of corporate (expletive), which is why they are off the air. It's so incredibly sad that they're gone."
On a happier note, former KCRW music director Nic Harcourt was among the first high-profile voices to champion the Submarines' unique and introspective style.
"They've been fantastic and Jason Bentley (the new music director at the station) is actually doing a really great job with 'Morning Becomes Eclectic'. KCRW is totally going strong and we're fans and supporters," Hazard said.

The Submarines' compelling story has made for an interesting backdrop to the duo's alluring and intoxicating song craft. Originally from Boston, they were introduced by a mutual friend and became romantically involved, even touring together as members of each other's bands.
However, their initial four-year romantic relationship ended when they moved to Los Angeles in 2004. Both continued to write songs, and Hazard still recorded her tracks in Dragonetti's home studio. Listening to each other's music they realized all their songs were pretty much about each other, so they got back together and started the Submarines.
"I think we didn't want it ('Honeysuckle Weeks') to be focused on our relationship (as was the case on the band's 'Declare a New State' album)," Dragonetti said. "We felt like it was time to be a real band and not have so much attention focused on how we started and the breakup and writing songs and all that.
"I think we just tried to make a record like anyone else would, and we also did want to make something that was more enjoyable to play live and I think, comes across as more upbeat. But there are still a lot of dark undertones in there; it's certainly not a happy-go-lucky sort of record. It's just nice to not always be writing about yourself."

Thanks to the addition of drummer J. Stare, the Submarines are expanding their concert presentation in 2009. The duo's version of "Boys Don't Cry" is also available on the newly-released "Just Like Heaven – a Tribute to The Cure" recently issued by American Laundromat Records.
"(With) the first album, we toured just the two of us; we used a lot of computers and stuff and guitars. But on this record we really wanted to kick it up a notch and so we've been playing with Jason (J. Stare) and it's been a great trio, just a fun group to play with and so it's drums and guitars and various little instruments," Dragonetti said.
Added Hazard: "It's been very cool to have the dynamic of the three of us as we tour around. It's so nice not to just be the two of us. It diffuses some of those tensions that a couple might have traveling together."
For more information on the Submarines, visit

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Coach House concert is Sweet news for classic-rock fans

This story was originally posted on the Orange County Register Web site on Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009.
Sweet is back.
The legendary 1970s rock band that crafted a string of infectious and well-known rockers such as "Fox on the Run," "Ballroom Blitz, "Little Willy" and "Love is Like Oxygen" is the subject of an upcoming reissue by Shout Factory.
"Action: The Sweet Anthology" is a two-disc collection set for release April 28. It is the definitive Sweet set, featuring the band's best-known material remastered. The ambitious CD celebrates the legacy of Sweet, which featured bassist-vocalist Steve Priest, singer Brian Connolly, drummer Mick Tucker and guitarist Frank Torpey (later replaced by Andy Scott).

The good news for area music fans is that Sweet, which Priest reconstructed last year, will deliver live versions of those classic cuts and other material when the band kicks off its 2009 tour Thursday night, Jan. 29, 2009, with a show at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano.
Sweet combined the harmony-minded vocals of groups such as the Hollies and the Turtles with distorted guitars and heavy bass guitar and drums. That distinctive sound remains an influential force 35 years later.
Sweet's 2008 tour saw the band perform for more than 200,000 fans throughout the United States and Canada, with the positive response setting in motion the reformed outfit working on a new studio album expected to be completed this year.
The 2009 tour is dedicated to two members of the original Sweet, Connolly (who died at age 51 in February 1997) and Tucker (who died at 54 in February 2002).
In addition to Priest, Sweet's current lineup includes lead vocalist Joe Retta, lead guitarist Stuart Smith, drummer Richie Onori and keyboardist Stevie Stewart.
Sweet, J.D. Peterson & Gratitude and the Claude Von Trotha Band will perform at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 29, 2009.
Tickets priced at $20 each are available at the venue's box office.
Information: 949-496-8930.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

NAMM - Still about the music

On Friday, Jan. 16, I got to see a strong acoustic set by the Bangles and meet the band at the Winter NAMM show in Anaheim.
It's no wonder musicians and music fans love to go to NAMM. Where else can you catch intimate, stand-by-the-stage concert experiences with coutless of the world's best known names and then usually chat with them too?
On top of the experience of seeing so many performances, you get to see and check out the latest instruments and music gear before it goes on sale to the public. Kind of like a kid in the candy store.
I've been attending NAMM since the early 1990s and it is always a highlight. I was there on days 1 and 2 this year (Jan. 15-16, 2009) and was impressed by the performances and gear. On Thursday, I caught a wonderful acoustic set from fingerstyle guitarist Laurence Juber (best known by rock fans for his work with Paul McCartney & Wings) at the Martin Guitar Booth. The highlight for me was his instrumental version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." Just beautiful. I had a sit-down interview with the guitarist/composer and that story will run in connection with his performance as part of the Lord of the Strings concert series in March 2009.
I also caught a full-on electric performance from Lee Rocker and his band. Wow, the group was on fire and highlights included the rockers "Gone" and "Lost Highway," as well as an infectious version of the Beatles classic "I'll Cry Instead." Rocker is a wonderful frontman, and has a couple of great sonic weapons in guitarists Buzz Campbell and Brophy Dale. Both played plenty of surefire guitar solos.
On Thursday afternoon, I also got to interview instrumental guitarist Muriel Anderson for a story that will also run in the Orange County Register in a few months. Both she and Laurence Juber are playing as part of the Lord of the Strings concert series. Visit for more information and to see when they will be back here in Orange County.
On Friday, I caught two more wonderful performances. Orange County-based singer-songwriter Kerry Getz performed at the Starbucks inside the Marriott at noon, and she played several new songs that were very strong and won the approval of discerning listeners.
Then in the early afternoon, the Bangles performed a strong set that included semi-acoustic versions of favorites such as "Manic Monday" and "In Your Room." Their power pop-styled harmonies were great and fans crowded around the Daisy Rock booth to catch a glimpse of the group.
Among the many talented members of the Orange County music scene I saw this year: Michael Ubaldini, TJR, Walter Clevenger, James Grey, Kenny Howes, David Koval and Mike Hernandez, who is the drummer in Clevenger's top-notch Dairy Kings.
Among the other legendary performers who attended NAMM but I missed meeting or seeing perform this year were Eric Johnson (I saw the guitarist deliver an incredible full-length set on Wednesday, Jan. 14 at the Coach House), Brian Wilson, Doors guitarist Robby Krieger, CCR singer-guitarist John Fogerty and Los Lobos.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Fountains of Wayne unplug to great effect

Chris Collingwood of Fountains of Wayne sings at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Friday night, Jan. 23, 2009.

Photo by Kevin Sullivan.

Both Kevin Sullivan's photo and my review were posted on the Orange County Register Web site on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2009.

There were several fans in the near-capacity crowd at the Coach House Friday night (January 23, 2009) who were likely disappointed that Fountains of Wayne initially ignored occasional loud calls to play the band's best-known hit, "Stacy's Mom."
That disappointment likely turned to confusion when the eclectic quartet finally did play the song, turning the upbeat tale of youthful lust into a wistful story of regret with a musical arrangement that recalled a Frank Sinatra cocktail lounge lament.

But such change-ups were largely the point of this stop, part of a brief, highly anticipated acoustic tour intended to test out new material and recharge creative juices that found Fountains of Wayne delivering an outstanding 20-song set in San Juan Capistrano.

With the exception of some electric bass guitar, the group took a decidedly unplugged approach all night, with drummer Brian Young using brushes while Adam Schlesinger, Jody Porter and lead singer Chris Collingwood worked on grand piano and acoustic guitars.
On a night where wary fans might have expected things to get a bit too folksy, the group opened with the aptly titled "Please Don't Rock Me Tonight." That song, like many to follow over the next 75 minutes, rocked despite the absence of electric guitars.

For those who appreciate the band's Beatles-y harmonies, endless parade of winning melodies and the sense of irony songwriters Schlesinger and Collingwood wield, the set list had something for everyone. "Someone to Love" and a new song, "The Summer Place," boasted up-tempo, driving rhythms, while an authentic alt-country sound that might please Wilco audiences was showcased on the terrific "I-95," "Valley Winter Song" and "Fire in the Canyon."
Of the fresh tunes the band played, "Cemetery Guns" was especially impressive. With a militaristic drum beat, arresting melody and lyrics focused on death and delivered perfectly by Collingwood, the song showcased Fountains of Wayne's continuing quest to stretch its sound and artistic range. Based on this showing, the group's next studio effort should be a strong one indeed.

Neither of the night's opening acts came close to attaining the kind of songcraft exhibited by the headliner. Singer-songwriter Dennis Roger Reed has a personable approach and winning folk-rock style, but his brand of cowboy blues was not particularly effective this night. His "Nickels and Dimes," however, proved to be catchy and gave him a chance to play a nice solo on acoustic guitar.
That Was Then is a promising young band out of the Dana Point area whose members' individual skills are strong, but after watching their 35-minute set, I firmly believe they should focus on trying to play together as an ensemble. The singer is armed with a pleasing voice, but various players often seemed to be in their own worlds, not paying attention to the nuances of their band mates' music-making. As a result, promising song ideas often became a patchwork of forces working against each other

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fountains of Wayne to perform unplugged at Coach House

Fountains of Wayne includes, from left, guitarist-singer Jody Porter, drummer Brian Young, singer-guitarist Chris Collingwood and bassist-singer Adam Schlesinger.
Please note this story was originally published in the Orange County Register on Thursday, Jan. 22, 2009.
Fans of melodic and intelligent power pop will want to secure their tickets for an intimate acoustic performance by Fountains of Wayne on Friday, January 23, 2009 at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano.

Since releasing their first album in 1996, Fountains of Wayne has earned a reputation for crafting rock that is as melodic as it is artful.
Fountains of Wayne was formed by singer-bassist Adam Schlesinger and lead singer-guitarist Chris Collingwood, who met at Massachusetts' Williams College in 1986. The two songwriters then joined forces with guitarist Jody Porter and drummer Brian Young, and the quartet has gone on to enjoy commercial success and critical acclaim.
In addition to the band's 1996 self-titled release, other albums include 1999's “Utopia Parkway,” 2003's “Interstate Managers” and 2007's “Traffic and Weather.”

On a bill that also included Arcade Fire, Travis, and Jack's Mannequin, Fountains of Wayne's appearance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in 2007 was among the highlights of the three-day festival.

The power-pop quartet's performances at The Coach House will likely feature material off the DVD release “No Better Place – Live in Chicago,” set for release by Shout Factory on March 3. The DVD features 5.1 “surround sound” and a widescreen picture of the energetic band performing a 16-song set, including hits such as “Mexican Wine,” “Stacy's Mom” and “Bright Future in Sales.”
In addition to the full-length concert shot in Chicago in 2005, the band recorded a five-song set of acoustic material in a New York studio in December that is part of the DVD's bonus material. The alt-country-flavored “I-95” and “Fire in the Canyon” boast the approach that Fountains of Wayne will likely take when performing their acoustic show in San Juan Capistrano.
Fountains of Wayne, Dennis Roger Reed and That Was Then will perform at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, at 8 p.m. on Jan. 23, 2009. Admission is $23.50.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Eric Johnson coming to Orange County

Photo credit: Max Crace

Even music fans unable to attend the upcoming NAMM music show in Anaheim later this month will still have a rare chance to see acclaimed guitarist Eric Johnson play an intimate show in Orange County this month.

So while the Austin, Texas-based guitarist will perform at NAMM (the acronym for the International Music Products Association's previous name, but is still used for the annual convention that draws more than 80,000 music industry insiders to Orange County every January) on Jan. 16, Johnson will perform a full-length set at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano at 8 p.m. on Jan. 14.

Of particular interest to longtime fans of Johnson is that his upcoming show at the Coach House will be among a handful of concerts staged this month that see the legendary guitarist sharing the stage with bassist Kyle Brock and drummer Tommy Taylor for the first time since the mid-1990s. It was that talented trio that was featured on Johnson's classic albums "Ah Via Musicom" (1990) and "Venus Isle" (1996).
"It's kind of a thing where it's a bit under the radar. We kind of booked it last minute," Johnson said in a recent phone interview.

"What happened, I'm releasing a new Strat (Stratocaster guitar) for Fender, a new version of the one that came out a few years ago (in 2005) and so they hired me to play the NAMM show and I thought as long as I'm coming out to play at NAMM maybe we should play a few shows.
"So I talked with my friend Kyle Brock, we hadn't played together for years except this one benefit we did a few months ago, he happened to have a lull in his schedule, and said 'Why don't we get together and play for 10 days?' So it's kind of a coincidence that he had time and we were doing the NAMM show anyway. So why not add a few dates to it."

In addition, both the show at the Coach House and performance at the Fender Musical Instruments exhibition area at the Anaheim Convention Center on Friday afternoon, Jan. 16 will celebrate the recent release of his full-length DVD "Anaheim," which chronicles a concert performance at The Grove of Anaheim on May 3, 2006. Released by Vanguard Records and featuring incredible 5.1 Surround Sound, "Anaheim" was one of the best concert DVD releases of 2008.

"Well, it was a crew from Canada shooting Joe Satriani when I was on tour with him, and they were going to show it for HDNet (the first all-high definition television network) and they had all these cameras and said 'Hey, if you want, we'll shoot your show.' I said, 'Sure, why not'."
After HDNet was done with the footage, they offered to give it to Johnson for his use.
"We did some editing on it and put it together, and started to add a couple of bonus things to it and decided to put this out."

"Anaheim" features tracks from Johnson's most recent studio album, 2005's "Bloom," as well as a cover of Bob Dylan's "My Back Pages," Neil Diamond's "Little Bit Me Little Bit You" and his only recording of a cover of the Jimi Hendrix gem "Manic Depression."
"A lot of time when I go on tour I'll end up doing a Hendrix song because I love playing his music and people like to hear it and that was a particular song that we had worked out before that (2006) tour," Johnson said.
"So yeah, we just had that in our bag for that tour so we played it."

In addition to the nine-song set of songs he performed at the Grove of Anaheim, "Anaheim" also features a wealth of bonus materials including an interview videotaped by Orange County-based Cox3 producer-director Eric Winter, as well as several acoustic performances. The highlight of the acoustic material is Johnson playing a version of Hendrix's "The Wind Cries Mary" on acoustic piano.

"I started playing piano first when I was really, really young and then transferred over to guitar when I was a teenager. I love acoustic piano – it's my favorite instrument."

Eric Johnson and opening act Shawn Jones will perform at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, at 8 p.m. on Wednesday night, Jan. 14, 2009.

Tickets to the show, priced at $25, are available at the venue's box office.