Friday, July 31, 2009

Power-pop dream release: 'Sgt. Pepper' live courtesy of Cheap Trick & friends

Wow, it must be Friday - wait it is Friday!
This came to my inbox today and I've been hoping for this announcement since I got the opportunity of a lifetime to see Cheap Trick, Aimee Mann, Ian Ball and others on Aug. 10, 2007 when they performed The Beatles' full-length "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and other Fab Four classics with an orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl.

Here is the media release I received earlier today.

Cheap Trick’s new self-released album- "The Latest" - continues to impress listeners as it takes the honor of the #1 selling 8-track in the world. The limited edition format is available exclusively through the band’s website. “In the format, it makes sense,” proclaims Idolator. “The riffs crackle, Robin Zander’s voice sounds nearly curdled, and the whole enterprise brings the words ‘kick ass’ to mind over and over again. (I know, I know, not the most erudite assessment, but when one gets bludgeoned, it’s often hard to sound smart in the immediate aftermath.)”On September 1st, Cheap Trick heads to LA to perform the new single “Sick Man of Europe” on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien. A big fan of the band, you may remember Conan sprinting across the United States during his premiere episode opening while the Cheap Trick classic “Surrender” played (watch here:

On December 12th, 2007, Cheap Trick performed Sgt. Pepper Live at the The Waldorf Astoria in New York City for the Prostate Cancer Foundation Charity Concert & Auction. A live DVD and CD of this performance are scheduled for release on August 25th with all artist proceeds from sales to benefit the Prostate Cancer Foundation. The New York Philharmonic and special guests Joan Osborne, Ian Bell of Gomez, singer-songwriter Rob Laufer and an Indian instrumental ensemble, lend their talents to the cause. Geoff Emerick, who engineered the original album in 1967 and engineered Cheap Trick's All Shook Up with George Martin for Epic in 1980, oversaw all elements of the recording and mixing.Sgt. Pepper Live featuring Cheap Trick originated in 2007 when the band was invited to be special guests of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance of the 40th Anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band record release.

The concert was reprised the following year and the shows sold over 50,000 tickets combined. At these shows, as at The Waldorf, the band performed a track-by-track rendition with the orchestra, an Indian ensemble and an array of very special guests. Michael Milken, founder and chairman of the Prostate Cancer Foundation, was at one of the Los Angeles shows and invited the band to re-create the event for his legendary holiday fundraiser in New York City.For more information on the foundation, please visit
For more information on Cheap Trick, visit

The Fray, Jack's Mannequin and Vedera: solid show in Irvine

The Fray’s biggest hits have proved to be an accessible blend of piano-driven ballads and mid-tempo rock, with “Over My Head (Cable Car)” and the title track from 2005’s How to Save a Life enjoying tremendous airplay via radio and television over the past four years.

The Denver band’s headlining show on Wednesday night, July 29, 2009 at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine, however, saw it aiming for the kind of wide-ranging territory identified with the likes of Coldplay. An ambitious set list found those Gavin DeGraw-ish hits, anchored by vocalist and piano man Isaac Slade, injected with just the right amount of sonic firepower to fit comfortably alongside more muscular material from the group’s self-titled sophomore album from earlier this year.

After opening with an infectious take on its aforementioned smash –- a crowd favorite that got everyone to their feet and singing along –- Slade along with guitarist-vocalist Joe King, drummer Ben Wysocki, guitarist Dave Welsh and two supporting musicians proceeded to deliver a largely effective mix of songs from both of the group’s albums.

Yet, though the crowd screamed and cheered loudest when a grand piano was wheeled out to the center of the stage for the Fray to play “How to Save a Life” a mere five songs into its 90-minute set, it was the performance of several new songs that reached higher artistic heights this night.
“Say When,” with its lush textures wrapped around Slade’s confessional lyrics, fit the Fray’s burgeoning aims, artful red lights enveloping the stage adding power to its delivery. Sparse arrangements of ballads didn’t necessarily detract from the Fray’s approach either; the beautiful “Never Say Never” led seamlessly into “You Found Me,” a song that began with Slade alone at the piano and singing in a lower register. The rest of the band then came in, and by the time the first chorus hit Slade was singing in a higher range with explosiveness to fit the song’s thematic tug-of-war between religious faith and doubt.

The Fray’s encore featured a mini-tribute to Michael Jackson via a version of “Man in the Mirror” (both Coldplay and Tears for Fears infused recent sets with similar tributes, albeit by covering “Billie Jean”) as well as a night-ending, emotive take on the band’s own “Happiness.”
Opener Andrew McMahon led his band Jack’s Mannequin through a remarkably energetic and consistent 55-minute showcase that rivaled the strength of a sold-out show at House of Blues Anaheim in November 2008. Obviously thrilled at performing on the large stage, McMahon recalled that he had lived in Dana Point for about 10 years, and that it was a teen dream of his to someday perform on this stage.
McMahon didn’t let that now-realized dream go to waste. After opening with a rousing version of “Dark Blue,” he proceeded to play another 12 up-tempo tracks, memorable highlights of which included “Spinning” and “Swim” off his second Jack’s album The Glass Passenger, as well as the alt-rock favorite “Bruised” and the singalong “La La Lie” from the group’s debut. Closing out the set was a rocking take on Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” with McMahon so fired up that he went into the crowd and then climbed atop his grand piano.

Opening the bill was Vedera, a Kansas City band that offered a pleasing set highlighted by singer-guitarist Kristen May’s soaring vocals, reminiscent of Cranberries lead singer Dolores O’Riordan and Sixpence None the Richer’s Leigh Nash. Her soprano infused “Satisfy” and “A World Apart” with a winning kind of urgency that outdistanced the straightforward song arrangements.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Coldplay shines at Home Depot Center show

This review was originally posted on the Orange County Register's Soundcheck blog on Sunday, July 19, 2009.

There were few disappointments for the sold-out crowd that caught Coldplay’s impressive 1 hour, 45 minute show at Home Depot Center Saturday night, July 18, 2009.

Sure, the quartet ignored some of its best-known songs (“Speed of Sound” and “Square One” immediately come to mind), but with a set list featuring two dozen gems, it’s clear to this reviewer that Coldplay’s dazzling decade-long discography can no longer be revisited in a single concert.
From the group’s uplifting opener “Life in Technicolor” to the night-ending “Life In Technicolor ii,” the thing that struck me most is how singer-keyboardist Chris Martin, guitarist Jon Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion used a combination of technology, songs, physical presence and sheer determination to bring the audience deeper into the show.
(The Associated Press photo, by the way, is from the Roskilde Music Festival in Denmark earlier this month.)

As at other gigs earlier on this tour, there were dual ramps that stretched out onto the floor of the outdoor stadium, allowing the band to run out closer to the crowd from time to time. And, as before, all four of them set up shop at the end of one ramp for a short semi-acoustic set highlights by reworked versions of “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face” and “Talk.”

Later, to the cheers of everyone I saw, Coldplay walked from the front of the venue to the back for several more strong acoustic numbers. After Champion sweetly sang his signature tune for this tour (the Irish-flavored “Death Will Never Conquer”), Martin got the audience to use their cell-phone lights to create an illuminated wave that rolled around the venue before launching into a stirring version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” He used his falsetto to winning effect for that tribute, while many in the crowd added well-known vocal parts from Jackson’s original recording into the mix.

Yet the most powerful moments, in terms of synergy between band and audience, were performances of Coldplay’s big hits. For as much as wow factor as there is in the sonic magic of lesser-known tracks like “Strawberry Swing,” “Cemeteries of London” and “Lost,” superstar acts like Coldplay unavoidably attracts plenty of casual fans who only know radio favorites — especially at one of the largest tour stops the British group has ever played.
So when they launch into staples like “Clocks” and “Yellow,” the crowd’s surging energy brings added vigor to the show. “Viva la Vida” in particular, with the band roaring at full force amidst white beams of light shining on them, was simply incredible.
And throughout the set all manner of props — large yellow balloons dropped on the crowd during “Yellow,” confetti shot out of cannons later in the night — were used in the service of songs, never with the concern of sacrificing the power of the music itself. All told, this mega-set reaffirmed that Coldplay -– along with U2 and Radiohead –- can lay claim to being among rock’s greatest live bands right now.

Although both of the evening’s opening acts were strong and added world-music flavor to the proceedings, the blind Malian duo Amadou & Mariam sounded better during their 45 minutes simply because their mix of musicians and dynamics were so good. By comparison, Kitty Daisy & Lewis are merely a young buzz band out of L.A. that used its set to showcase a Hootenanny-esque approach fusing rockabilly, blues, jazz and swing. But the trio closed its brief set with a fiery number, “Say You’ll Be Mine,” that featured impressive harmonies and top-notch Americana musicianship

Friday, July 17, 2009

British folk veteran Al Stewart comes to Coach House

Al Stewart photo courtesy of the artist

Al Stewart returns to The Coach House with a headlining set tonight, July 17, 2009. The singer-songwriter is on tour in support of his latest CD, "Sparks of Ancient Light," a collection of 12 songs showcasing his distinct style of songcraft blending intelligent lyrics with accessible British folk music.
While best known for his 1976 hit, "Year of the Cat," many of the Glasgow, Scotland, native's songs are equally affecting. A key member of the British folk scene of the 1960s, Stewart played the first Glastonbury Festival in 1970 and has released almost 20 full-length albums since his 1967 debut, "Bedsitter Images".
On 2008's "Sparks of Ancient Light," Stewart tackles many subjects, including a British prime minister via the baroque-flavored "Lord Salisbury," an American president ("Like William McKinley"), the King of Rock 'n' Roll (the country-tinged "Elvis at the Wheel") and others.
In addition to songs from his most recent album and 2005's "A Beach Full of Shells," Stewart's Coach House show is likely to include hits such as "Year of the Cat," "On the Border," "Nostradamus" and "Time Passages."
Trivia buffs might note that Stewart's 1966 single "The Elf" is generally credited as the first pop song inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Rick Springfield's power-pop as strong as ever in Costa Mesa

Photo credit: Robert Kinsler
Coming on the heels of performances by Duran Duran a night earlier at the same venue and a Friday night show by New Kids on the Block at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine, Rick Springfield’s Sunday night, July 12, 2009 set at Pacific Amphitheatre might have seemed like part of a conspiracy to reawaken the dreams of thousands of nostalgic women.
But Springfield, who turns 60 next month, continues to defy his would-be role as a Tiger Beat heritage act. His 90-minute concert at Pacific effortlessly blended his role as an entertainer who solicits screams from female fans with that of pleasing everyone with infectious power-pop that boasts undeniable singalong choruses.
Although mainstream listeners may have missed it, 2008 marked the release of one of Springfield’s best-ever albums, "Venus in Overdrive," a collection whose songs helped elevate Sunday’s set list beyond the previous two appearances I’ve seen from him in recent years. Opening with the hard-edged “Mr. PC” and immediately launching into “What’s Victoria’s Secret,” Springfield had the audience on their feet and made sure to keep them there for his full 18-song set.
While there are fans who likely thought they were in heaven when a shirtless Springfield came out into the audience and was embraced by countless women during “Human Touch” or pointed to them as he sang “Jessie’s Girl” at the finale of his main act, what set this night apart were actually the musical proceedings.
Playing a mix of radio-friendly rock (“I’ve Done Everything for You,” “Affair of the Heart,” “Don’t Talk to Strangers”) and harder stuff (“Living in Oz,” a cover of Paul McCartney’s “Jet”), Springfield has become a master at delivering a well-paced, rousing show that is bound together by its tunes.
Swapping solos with guitarist Greg Bernhardt, the Australian native impressed on a take of the blues classic “Crossroads.” He also allowed the show to focus on his deeper songwriting and vocal skills, with “Venus in Overdrive” and “I’ll Miss That Someday” blending in with his well-known hits from the early ’80s.
There was a time when Springfield might have been dismissed by critics as nothing but a General Hospital star who used his television fame to help score musical success. Watching Springfield tear it up on stage Sunday night, it’s clear his love of music and a sincere and lasting connection with fans have elevated him beyond the mere Working Class Dog of his youth.

Duran Duran thrills sold-out crowd at Pac Amp

Photo credit: Kim Kinsler
Duran Duran faced a number of challenges in its full-length performance before a sold-out crowd at Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa on Saturday night, July 11, 2009.
Lead singer Simon Le Bon was in great voice throughout the night, but was obviously ill and often had to go to the back of the stage to clear his throat.
The other, bigger challenge were inattentive people. In the section where I sat, there were several concert-goers who were more interested in making multiple beer runs and chatting than listening to the band –- even during Duran’s best-known hits.
A comment I overheard from several other attendees seated further back was that the video screens showed Le Bon 95 percent of the time; one person said she didn’t remember a single shot of keyboardist Nick Rhodes or drummer Roger Taylor projected on the big screens.
Even during impressive solos, the screens would focus mostly on closeup images of Le Bon. One suspects the director of the video presentation didn’t realize Duran Duran was a band not a solo performer with a backup group in tow.
Despite those roadblocks, the majority of the crowd was enthusiastic and on its feet for the 1 hour, 45 minute concert that found the band playing a 20-song set of ’80s and ’90s classics, as well as worthwhile tracks from this decade and a convincing cover of “White Lines” from the outfit’s 1995 Thank You album.
As the band opened with a crowd-pleasing “Wild Boys,” the audience was clearly in the mood to sing along, and did so throughout much of the night. The concert’s best moments came when the group performed some of its most sonically rich and far-reaching material. The soaring “Hold Back the Rain,” the driving “Rio” (featuring John Taylor’s virtuoso bass playing) and an emotive “Save a Prayer” (with Le Bon on acoustic guitar as the audience sang out the chorus) were memorable.
I thought the band’s powerful and uplifting version of “(Reach Up for the) Sunrise” and a two-tiered approach to “A View to the Kill,” in which the song started as a ’60s Vegas-style foray before going into the original rock arrangement, were the strongest selections of the night.
For fans of the short-lived Arcadia, a one-off side project featuring Le Bon, Rhodes and Roger Taylor), Duran Duran also performed a solid version of that band’s hit “Election Day” as a real treat. But I suspect the majority of fans enjoyed the one-two punch of “Planet Earth” and “Girls on Film” even more. It would have been nice to hear "Nice" or more material from the great 2004 album "Astronaut," but I'm sure even more fans missed hearing "Hungry Like the Wolf" from "Rio."

Hootenanny: Los Lobos, Lee Rocker, Michael Ubaldini & more!

Photo, from left, shows me with Lee Rocker and Michael Ubaldini. I had interviewed Lee Rocker several times over the years, but never met him until Hootenanny.

Artists who have performed at the annual Hootenanny festival know what to expect: a wonderful setting where live music is offered up nonstop on the main stage, with even well-known acts usually playing only 30-minute sets until the day’s final two headliners arrive to play an hour each.

And then there’s the heat. Oak Canyon Ranch, located next to Irvine Lake in a mostly rural area of Orange County, seems to always attract desert-like temperatures on the first Saturday in July. Such was the case again on Independence Day (July 4, 2009), when the blistering sun made hanging out in front of the main stage a challenge for even the most experienced concert-goers.
But despite the challenges, a number of veteran Hootenanny performers — and a first-ever appearance here by Los Lobos — made this long day race by.

Anyone who was beat back by the heat or just wanted to check out early missed one of the biggest surprises of the day, when Los Lobos brought out Blasters lead singer Phil Alvin and Reverend Horton Heat (aka singer-guitarist Jim Heath, pictured above) to play several songs together to close out their 13-song set, including a great version of the Blasters classic “Marie Marie” with Alvin singing the lyrics in both Spanish and English.
Los Lobos’ set was strong from the start, with the venerable troupe playing a mix of straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll (including a powerful “Don’t Worry Baby” and “Evangeline” to kick things off) and traditional Mexican folk music.

A number of the other top-tier acts have played at past Hootenannys, several delivering best-ever sets there — and they didn’t disappoint this year. Rev. Heat offered up a wealth of classics and new material during an hour-long showcase, with Heath and the rest of the Texas trio playing their winning blend of rockabilly, early punk rock and surf music on favorites such as “Galaxy 500,” “Baddest of the Bad” and “400 Bucks” — as well as a new Western swing song fitting for the fest, “Drinking & Smoking Cigarettes.”
But fans in search of strong musical performances didn’t have to wait all day to catch great acts.

Fountain Valley’s own Michael Ubaldini was the second artist of the day yet delivered an outstanding eight-song set of original roots-rock on the main stage. Backed by a strong four-man outfit, he sang several of his best-known songs, including “Ave. of 10 Cent Hearts,” “Mardi Gras” and “Scratch My Back.”

Lee Rocker also continued to prove that he’s one of the best around when it comes to interpreting rockabilly. His Hootenanny set was a home run, with the O.C. singer-bassist playing his own rip-roaring “Bulletproof,” several songs from his pioneering ’80s band Stray Cats (“Stray Cat Strut,” “Runaway Boys”) and choice cuts from Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley and Hank Williams (including an excellent version of “Lost Highway”).

The Blasters were actually much stronger than the past few times I’ve caught Phil Alvin & Co. Highlights of their set included a fiery “American Music” and a bluesy “Dark Night.” Guitarist Keith Wyatt was dynamic, unleashing a number of great solos throughout the group’s set.

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s energetic neo-swing was actually a welcome change from the parade of rockabilly and guitar-fueled proponents, with the group’s four-member horn section and party-up delivery typified by sing-along favorites “You & Me & the Bottle Makes 3 Tonight (Baby)” and “Go Daddy-O.” (That’s frontman Scotty Moore in the pic at left.)
I only caught part of the always-powerful Supersuckers (who played a terrific new song titled “Anything Else”) and a few minutes of Nekromantix on the main stage because I had anticipated catching the Rockers in the Round showcase on the Second Stage … but I came away disappointed.

Not because area singer-songwriters Jeremy Popoff (of Lit), Danny Walker (Handsome Devil), Brian Coakley (Wax Apples) and several other artists were not worth hearing. It was simply that the volume from the main stage overwhelmed the acoustic performances. I did enjoy Walker’s “Purple Heart,” as well as an acoustic take of “Shake” featuring Coakley and his wife Cindy Jamie on duel vocals.

Of the other performances I caught -– specifically from No Dice, singer-songwriter Roger Alan Wade and Danish psychobilly band HorrorPops –- the artists thrilled the hardcore Hootenanny fans with solid performances, but their material lacked the strength of the stronger artists on the bill.

Yet, with such a wide-ranging lineup, a large display of classic cars and motorcycles, plus clothing vendors, food booths and people-watching opportunities galore, Hootenanny continues to be among the most treasured events on the Orange County concert calendar.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


Photo credit: E1 Entertainment
As many of you know, Chris Isaak is a great singer, songwriter and live entertainer. So this update I received today from E1 Entertainment will please fans of the talented artist.

For over two decades, rockabilly crooner Chris Isaak and his longtime band Silvertone have entertained audiences with their legendary shows. This summer, fans of the multi-talented musician will get a front row seat to a world-class performance without ever having to stand in line. CHRIS ISAAK GREATEST HITS – LIVE captures Isaak at his finest, with a hi-definition, 5.1 surround sound recording of 15 of the musician’s greatest hits.
Filmed for the acclaimed PBS music series Soundstage in 2005, this unforgettable live set debuts on DVD featuring three songs not included in the original broadcast. CHRIS ISAAK GREATEST HITS – LIVE arrives in stores via E1 Entertainment on August 11 for $19.99 SRP.
With his sexy good looks and his endearingly shy yet flirtatious demeanor, Chris Isaak (who is also known for his many acting roles) knows how to woo his fans. With his reverb-drenched rockabilly and country songs, Isaak’s penchant for heartbreaking lyrics and haunting melodies embrace the ‘50s and ‘60s sound while stylizing it for contemporary audiences.
Isaak graces Soundstage with a compelling set that spans his early years on through the new millennium. The performance launches with “Dancin’ ” from his debut. Other gems include the breakthrough, mesmerizing hit, “Wicked Game” and “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing.” As a special treat, he strips down six songs, adding an acoustic element to his very memorable performance.
With state-of-the-art digital video and sound, the live music program “Soundstage” has long been the premiere television venue for the most significant musical artists. With the release of CHRIS ISAAK: GREATEST HITS - LIVE, E1 Entertainment continues to bring the magnificent music series to DVD for the first time. Previous E1 Entertainment Soundstage DVD releases include Rob Thomas: Live at Red Rocks (6/30), Foreigner: Live (4/09), America: Live in Chicago (9/08), and both Jewel: The Essential Live Songbook (10/08) and Sheryl Crow: Live (11/08) in standard and Blu-ray DVD formats.

Song List

Let Me Down Easy
Wicked Game
Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing
Solitary Man
Western Stars
Can’t Do A Thing (To Stop Me)
Only The Lonely
Wrong To Love You
American Boy
Notice The Ring
Diddly Daddy
Going Nowhere*
Blue Hotel*
Think Of Tomorrow*
* Not included in original PBS broadcast.

Format : DVD/Single
Run time: 68 mins. + extras
Price: $19.99
Release date: August 11

Iron Butterfly to unleash classic rock at Coach House

This story & photo were originally posted on the Register Web site on Monday, June 29, 2009.
The legendary band Iron Butterfly will bring its brand of early heavy metal to The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Friday night, July 3.
Armed with classic rock tracks such as "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," "Most Anything You Want" and "Don't Look Down On Me," the group features Ron Bushy (drums, percussion), Lee Dorman (vocals, bass), Charlie Marinkovich (vocals, lead guitar) and Martin Gerschwitz (vocals, keyboards, violin).
Formed in San Diego in the mid-1960s, Iron Butterfly released a trio of seminal albums in the last part of that decade: "Heavy," "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" and "Ball."
With the commercial and artistic impact of the song "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" (at 17 minutes, it was the complete second side of the 1968 album of the same name), Iron Butterfly's place in rock 'n' roll history was secure.
Indeed, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" is one of the best-selling albums in history, at more than 25 million copies. In fact, the album sold more than 8 million copies in the year after its release.
Iron Butterfly's history is the stuff of legend, having toured with the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, the Who and Cream.
The group's modern-day shows are a celebration of Iron Butterfly's singular sound, as well as the legacy of guitarist-vocalist Darryl DeLoach (who died of liver cancer in 2002) and guitarist Erik Braunn (who died of cardiac failure in 2003).
Opening for Iron Butterfly at The Coach House is Oceanside-based Inberst (a four-member outfit influenced by the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan), as well as the Howard Johnson Experience, playing original songs that reflect the style of the 1970s.
Tickets for the show are $15 and available at the Coach House box office.