‘Stars Align’ Is Bold Tour Title, But Ann Wilson, Paul Rodgers And Jeff Beck Look Like They Can Live Up To It

One could be forgiven to a bit cynical about the concept: Take three artists who had their prime years in the ’70s, throw ’em together and boldly call it the Stars Align Tour. Admittedly, I couldn’t entirely escape this notion when I saw that Ann Wilson, Paul Rodgers and Jeff Beck announced their tour, which kicked off on July 18 in West Valley City, Utah. Then I read some reviews and watched some clips on YouTube – well, let’s just say I wasn’t turned off by what I saw and just got a ticket for August 12 at my go-to concert venue PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J., and for very reasonable money I should add.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised in the first place. After all, the success or failure of the three-in-one concept crucially depends on the featured artists. At 74, Beck seems to continue to defy age, not only with his looks but much more importantly with his guitar-playing. Okay, you might say, compared to 82-year-old Buddy Guy, Beck’s still an adolescent. But let’s not kid ourselves, rock & roll is a brutal business. On top, I can’t imagine Beck lived a particularly healthy life style. Speaking of Guy and Beck, I saw these two guitar dynamos in a double-header in July 2016 at the above venue, and it was a terrific show, so my expectations for the upcoming gig are high – now you better bring it, Beck! 🙂

Paul Rodgers, Jeff Beck & Ann Wilson

As for Rodgers, I had actually hoped he and Bad Company would be part of the June 22 Lynyrd Skynyrd farewell show I caught at – yes, you guessed it correctly – PNC. Given how many freaking shows I’ve seen there, perhaps I should apply for an honorary membership! 🙂 Leading up to the Skynyrd gig, I had read somewhere that Bad Company would be among the special guests that night. So I was full of anticipation and quite disappointed when it turned out they weren’t part of the lineup. I suppose that was another good reason to get a ticket for the Stars Align Tour. Looking at setlists from recent gigs, Rodgers is playing a nice mix of Bad Company and Free stuff. And his rock pipes still seem to be working nicely!

And then there’s Wilson. While I don’t want to pretend I’m a Heart expert, based on their music I know, I’m well aware of Wilson’s vocal capabilities. Barracuda is a nice showcase of what she can do. As an aide, Ann’s older sister Nancy Wilson is a kick-ass guitarist, but she’s not part of the tour. Interestingly, as reported by Ultimate Classic Rock and other media outlets, Ann’s set only includes one Heart tune, the aforementioned Barracuda. The remainder are all covers, and there’s some great stuff there, such as The Who’s The Real Me, The Black Crows’ She Talks To Angels and the Eagles’ Life In The Fast Lane.

Okay, time for a few clips. Here’s Wilson’s rendition of Life In The Fast Lane. She took some creative liberties with the tune, which was co-written by Joe Walsh, Glenn Frey and Don Henley and appeared on the Eagles’ Hotel California album from December 1976. It’s quite different from the original, but I think it’s a cool take.

As noted above, Rodgers’ set nicely draws from Bad Company and Free. Here’s the latter band’s signature tune All Right Now. Penned by Rodgers with Free bassist Andy Fraser, the song is from their third studio album Fire And Water, released in June 1970. It also appeared separately as a single. It’s one of these timeless straight rockers with a cool guitar riff that still sound great to this day!

Last but not least, here’s a cool black & white clip of Beck performing one of the few originals from his set, Brush With The Blues, which he co-wrote with Tony Hymas. The tune appeared on his seventh studio album Who Else! from March 1999.

Wilson, Rodgers and Beck are playing Boston tonight. Next they are taking the Stars Align Tour to Camden, N.J. (Aug 4), Cincinnati (Aug 8) and Indianapolis (Aug 10). The tour will wrap up in Tampa, Fla. on Aug 26.

Sources: Wikipedia, “Stars Align Tour” announcement; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube

Steely Dan And The Doobie Brothers End Double Headliner Tour On High Notes

Both bands deliver powerful sets at New Jersey’s PNC Bank Arts Center

The Summer Of Living Dangerously was supposed to have wrapped up on Saturday in Bethel, N.Y. Instead, Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers brought their double-headlining tour to a close yesterday at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J. – and what a glorious night it was for both bands!

Initially, the show had been scheduled for July 6. But due to an illness of one of the musicians, the gig had been postponed on short notice. Luckily, it didn’t get cancelled altogether. After all, as The Doobies’ Tom Johnston put it, this was the end of “a long and draining tour” with Steely Dan. But while more than 30 dates crammed in just three months must have been exhausting, you surely didn’t notice any of the musicians were worn out. On the contrary, at times, it seemed they were playing as if it was their last gig ever!

The Summer Of Living Dangerously

As I usually do leading up to concerts, I checked YouTube for recent performances, setlist.fm and online reviews to get a better feeling what to expect. In this case, I noticed the reviews were consistently great for The Doobies but more on the mixed side for Steely Dan. Some reviewers were disappointed that unlike the southern rockers, Donald Fagen left out Dan gems like Deacon Blues and Do It Again. Others noted Fagen’s voice sounded challenged, especially on the high notes. YouTube clips I had watched prior to the show seemed to confirm some of what the above reviews noted.

Based on the above, I had definitely adjusted my expectations – after all, who wants to be disappointed! As such, I was anticipating a solid set from The Doobies and more of a mixed bag from Donald Fagen/Steely Dan. What I feel I got instead were kick-ass performances from each! While Fagen’s vocal performance may have varied during some of the tour’s previous shows, I thought he was in great shape last night! Maybe it helped that the boy from Passaic, N.J. was home at last, as he acknowledged at some point. Fagen also showed signs that he enjoyed himself – something I understand he’s not particularly known for!

The Doobie Brothers.jpg
Current lineup of The Doobie Brothers (left to right): John Cowan (bass, vocals), Patrick Simmons (guitars, vocals, co-founder), Ed Tooth (drums), Marc Russo (saxophone), Tom Johnston (guitars, vocals, co-founder), John McFee (guitars, pedal steel, dobro, fiddle, vocals, core member since 1979) and Bill Payne (keyboards; not in photo)

The Doobies kicked off the great night. From the very first bars of Natural Thing to the last note of the second encore Listen To The Music, these guys sounded as terrific as they did the first time I saw them some 20 years ago: the harmony singing, the dynamic of the music – everything was still there, and it all still sounded fresh – pretty amazing! What more could you possibly ask for?

Time for some clips. I decided to capture and use my own video material. This comes with all the caveats you have, recording with a smartphone that isn’t latest generation and when you’re not exactly sitting in the first row. But at least it’s authentic!:-)

First up: Rockin’ Down The Highway. Penned by Johnston, this great rocker appeared on Toulouse Street, The Doobies’ second studio album from July 1972 and their commercial breakthrough.

Another classic from Toulouse Street is Jesus Is Just Alright. For some reason, I had always thought of it as an original Doobies tune – I was wrong. According to Wikipedia, the song, a gospel tune, was written by Arthur Reid Reynolds and first recorded by his band The Art Reynolds Singers for their 1966 studio album Tellin’ It Like It is. Who knew.

In general, I’m more drawn to the early phase of The Doobies – basically, their first five studio records. One of the exceptions is Cycles, the band’s 10th studio album from May 1989, the first record following their reunion after the 1982 break-up. One of the tunes from Cycles I dig is the opener The Doctor, a co-write by Johnston and the record’s co-producers Charlie Midnight and Eddie Schwartz. Last night, the nice honky-tonk piano by Bill Payne and Johnston’s guitar work stood out to me. It’s just a seductive tune overall that’s very reminiscent of the early Doobies.

Another classic by the southern rockers is Long Train Runnin’. Written by Johnston, the tune was included on the band’s third studio album The Captain And Me, released in March 1973. I’ve always dug the combination of funk and rock in this song. This is also a great track to call out killer saxophonist Marc Russo. The guy must have been blowing out his lungs! Long Train Runnin’ was the last track of the band’s regular set, so I guess that’s the reason why they extended it. It meant more great sax playing. The audience certainly loved it!

And while I could keep on raving about southern rockers, I also need to get to Fagen & Co., so I’m going to wrap up The Doobies’ section with an additional gem from The Captain And Me: China Grove, yet another Johnston composition and the first encore. If you’re curious what else they played, you can check here.

After such a dynamic set from The Doobies, the bar certainly had been set high for Steely Dan. Of course, Fagen and his former partner Walter Becker have been known for playing with top-notch musicians, so I hadn’t had any real concerns the band somehow wouldn’t be up to par. It was mostly Fagen I had wondered about. But as noted at the outset, he had a great night, so I really couldn’t have been more happy!

Steely Dan Collage
Current lineup of Steely Dan: Upper row (left to right): Jon Herington (guitar), Freddie Washington (bass), Keith Carlock (drums), Walt Weiskopf (tenor sax) and Roger Rosenberg (baritone sax). Lower row (left to right): Jim Pugh (trombone), Michael Leonhart (trumpet) and The Danettes La Tanya Hall, Catherine Russell & Carolyn Leonhart. Far right: Donald Fagen

Following a set-opening jazz instrumental performed by just the band (see lineup in caption of above photo collage I put together), during which the musicians immediately took the opportunity to shine, Fagen entered the stage. In a deviation from previous set lists I had seen, they played Black Cow, the opener from Dan’s masterpiece Aja. Apparently, it was swapped with Josie, which during earlier gigs had been included later in the set. Here’s my clip.

Next up: Black Friday from Katy Lied, Steely Dan’s fourth studio album that appeared in March 1975. The record was the first after the break-up of the band’s original five-piece lineup. At that time, Fagen and Becker had decided to stop touring and become a studio band. Additionally, they increasingly were relying on top-notch session musicians for their recordings. Among the latter were guitarist Rick Derringer, drummer Jeff Porcaro and Michael McDonald (backing vocals), who BTW just a month after the record’s release joined The Doobie Brothers.

While as previously noted Fagen & co.  didn’t play Do It Again, one of my favorite early Dan tunes, they performed Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, another early gem I dig. It appeared on Dan’s third studio album Pretzel Logic from February 1974. Also released separately as the record’s first single in April that year, it became their biggest hit, climbing all the way to no. 4 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

Steely Dan didn’t skip Can’t Buy A Thrill altogether. In fact, they played two tunes from their studio debut released in November 1972. One was Dirty Work, which prominently featured the band’s excellent backing vocalists La Tanya Hall, Catherine Russell and Carolyn Leonhart, a.k.a. The Danettes.

The last tune of the regular set was My Old School from Steely Dan’s sophomore album Countdown To Ecstasy, which came out in July 1973. Like predecessor Bodhisattva, it featured Connor Kennedy, a young guitar virtuoso hailing from Woodstock, N.Y., who had toured with Fagen last year as part of a band called The Nightflyers.

The amazing Reelin’ In The Years, the second tune from Can’t Buy A Thrill, was the first encore and the last Dan tune of the night. To see what other songs they played you can check here. Reelin’ In The Years also included Kennedy who traded guitar licks with Jon Herington. Unfortunately, while I was recording this great performance, Facebook cheerfully informed me that something had gone wrong and that my live video had stopped – bummer! But with close to 4 minutes, at least I captured a good chunk of it, so decided it was worthwhile keeping and including the clip in this post. Plus, Fagen’s outgoing “yah!” that precedes the performance is kind of cool!

Based on what I experienced last night, I can highly recommend the show, except of course that particular tour is now over. But looking at their schedules, each band already has additional dates on the calendar for this year. The Doobies resume performing in San Francisco on September 20 together with the Eagles – that should be fun! There are also dates in San Diego; Clearwater, Fla., Greensburg, Pa.; and two special shows at New York’s Beacon Theatre in mid-November, where they will perform the albums Toulouse Street and The Captain And Me in their entirety, along with other songs.

Steely Dan has 18 additional dates on the schedule starting October 1, including a nine-gig residency at the Beacon Theatre, beginning October 17. Like The Doobies, these are special performances dedicated to select Dan albums, including The Royal Scam (May 1976), Aja, Countdown to Ecstasy and Gaucho (November 1980). There are also shows focusing on Fagen’s first solo album The Nightfly (October 1982), a gig billed as “greatest hits,” as well as an on-demand concert, based on fan voting.

I have to say, Dan’s Aja performance sounds really tempting, especialy since they left out Deacon Blues and Josie last night. Plus. I’ve never been to the Beacon Theatre, a venue where The Allman Brothers used to perform, making it something like “holy ground.” You see what I did here? Trying to rationale spending additional money on yet another concert. We shall see!

Sources: Wikipedia, setlist.fm, Doobie Brothers official website, Steely Dan official website, YouTube

Gov’t Mule Rule With Powerful Pink Floyd Set

Southern jam rockers and Avett Brothers bring their summer tour to central NJ

When I told a good friend from Germany the other day that I was going to see Gov’t Mule for a Dark Side Of The Mule show, he had the same initial reaction I had a few weeks ago: What’s a southern rock band got to with Pink Floyd? And why would such distinguished musicians with plenty of own material devote an entire gig to the British psychedelic rockers? Well, because not only does Mule dig great music, but they also like to celebrate it during their own shows. In fact, they always have done so since they were founded in late 1994, though thus far, Pink Floyd is the only band to whom they dedicated an entire show.

As I previously wrote, Mule first introduced the concept in 2008 in Boston when they added a second set to their set of original tunes, which solely consisted of Floyd covers. They repeated it at the Mountain Jam music festival in 2015. And now the band is doing this dedicated show for the third time during a short co-headlining summer tour with The Avett Brothers – something I didn’t want to miss as a huge Pink Floyd fan, especially since one of gigs was happening right in my neck of the woods at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J. last night. Based on Mule’s corresponding live album, my expectations were high – and boy did they deliver!

The Magpie Salute

But first things first. The evening was opened by American rock band The Magpie Salute, which was formed in October 2016 by guitarist Rich Robinson, a co-founding member of The Black Crowes. He pretty much co-wrote all of their songs with his brother and lead vocalist Chris Robinson. I didn’t know any of the band’s songs but liked what I heard. Their remaining current lineup includes two other former Black Crows members, Marc Ford (lead guitar, vocals) and Sven Pipien (bass, backing vocals), as well as John Hogg (vocals, percussion), Matt Slocum (keyboards) and Joe Magistro (drums). The Magpie Salute currently have one live album out from 2017 and are set to release their studio debut High Water I on August 18, 2018. I’ll definitely keep that on my radar screen.

The Avett Brothers
The Avett Brothers: (from left to right) Bob Crowford, Joe Kwon, Scott Avett and Seth Avett

Next came The Avett Brothers, a band that except for its name I hadn’t known. To get a sense of what to expect, I checked setlist.fm for the first date of the tour. It didn’t help much, since they made many changes to their set last night! The band’s core members include brothers and multi-instrumentalists Seth (vocals, guitar, etc.) and Scott Avett (vocals, banjo, etc.), Bob Crawford (double bass, bass, etc.) and Joe Kwon (backing vocals, cello, piano, etc.). The current touring lineup is complemented by Mike Marsh (drums) and Tania Elizabeth (violin, vocals, kazoo).

The origins of The Avett Brothers date back to the late 1990s when Seth’s high school band Margo combined with Scott’s college rock outfit Nemo. After Nemo had released three albums, Seth and Scott started The Avett Brothers as a side project, playing acoustic music with some friends. Eventually, this resulted in the release of an EP, The Avett Bros., in 2000. Their fist full-fledged studio album Country Was appeared in 2002. To date, the band has released eight additional studio records, three additional EPs and four live albums. I was impressed with the craftsmanship and warmth they used to deliver their music, which blends folk, bluegrass, Americana and indie rock. I didn’t record any video, but here’s a YouTube clip of a tune they did last night: Down With The Shine, from The Carpenter, their seventh studio album released in September 2012.

And then it was time for Mule to rule, and boy they certainly did! While like The Avett Brothers they mixed things up compared to the tour’s opening night, they kept the same format.

Gov't Mule 2018
Gov’t Mule (left to right): Danny Louis (keyboards), Matt Abts (drums), Jorgen Carlsson (bass) and Warren Haynes (guitar)

After kicking off their set with two original songs, it was on to mighty Pink Floyd. Last night, the original tunes included Thorazine Shuffle and Banks Of The Deep End, from the Dose (February 1998) and The Deep End, Vol. 1 (October 2001) studio albums, respectively. Here’s Thorazine Shuffle, a co-write by Mule co-founding members Warren Haynes and Matt Abts.

Following their two original songs, Mule launched into a transitional instrumental that blended into One Of These Days, from Meddle. Floyd’s sixth studio album from October 1971 happens to be one of my favorites. All for a sudden, it felt like the band had kicked up the intensity by a few notches. The song’s bass line came across like a furious jack hammer – since I didn’t anticipate it and didn’t want to start recording after it had started, unfortunately, I missed capturing that one.

After this powerful rendition of the first Pink Floyd tune of the night, Mule kept their foot on the gas. Next came Echoes, another gem from Meddle and perhaps my all-time favorite Floyd track. Again I didn’t record that one, figuring if my arms wouldn’t fall off holding my smartphone, the device would probably run low on battery power, given the length of the tune! Next it was on to a series of songs from Dark Side Of The Moon, my favorite Floyd album released in March 1973. Here’s The Great Gig In The Sky, featuring Mule’s outstanding backing vocalists

In addition to Dark Side Of Moon and Meddle, Mule also heavily drew from Wish You Were Here, another Floyd gem and the follow-on to Dark Side, which came out in September 1975. Here’s Welcome To The Machine.

Before playing some additional tunes from the Dark Side and Wish You Were Here albums, Mule threw in Nile Song from More, Floyd’s first soundtrack and their third studio release from June 1969. Then it was time for the cash register to ring with Money, another track from Dark Side. Again, I thought the band did a great job with the tune, especially the saxophonist who killed it!

The epic Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V) rounded out Mule’s regular set. Like on the Dark Side Of The Mule album that I previously reviewed here, this was the track where the band took the most artistic freedom, especially Haynes on lead guitar. And just like on that record, I thought he did a nice job, so the deviations didn’t bother me at all. No Pink Floyd show would be complete without Wish You Were, which the band threw in as the encore.

As mentioned at the outset, I thought Mule’s show last night was outstanding. But, as I also noted before, Dark Side Of The Mule is not a note-by-note rendition of Floyd’s music. I imagine not all hard core Floyd fans may like the artistic freedom Mule occasionally takes. As a former hobby musician, I can fully appreciate that artists want to add a little bit of their own flavor when playing covers. If you feel the same and dig Pink Floyd, this show is for you, if you live in the right corners of the country. There are only four remaining dates: Xfinity Center, Mansfield, Mass. (today, Jul 14); Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center, Noblesville, Ind. (Aug 23); Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, Tinley Park, IL (Aug 24); and DTE Energy Music Theatre, Clarkston, MI (Aug 25). But there is always hope for additional dates, though Mule’s summer 2018 tour schedule looks dense through the second half of September.

Sources: Wikipedia, setlist.fm, Mule official website, YouTube

Neil Young Triumphantly Returns To Boston

Solo set at Wang Theatre spans various decades

“One of my first solo shows was in the Wang Theater, then called the Music Hall,” wrote Neil Young on his website in May, talking about his 2018 solo tour that officially ended last night with the second of two dates at the landmark venue in Boston’s Theatre District. “It’s a real beauty folks – a chapel of soul and music. I hope it still sounds as good as it did then and that I do too!” While I wasn’t around when Young played Music Hall in January 1971, I saw him at Wang Theatre on Wednesday night, the first of his two concerts there, and he surely sounded amazing to me!

Wang Theatre
View of Wang Theatre auditorium from stage

Young was right. The venue is pretty impressive. Take a closer look at the above photo, and you can see the rich ornaments and decorative painting. In addition to its looks, he certainly also well remembered the Wang Theatre’s acoustic, which was great.

While it must be about 40 years ago that Young entered my radar screen with Heart Of Gold, I had never been to one of his shows. When I read about his solo tour a few months ago and noticed it would bring him to Boston, it didn’t take long for me to decide that seeing him was worth a five-hour drive from my house, especially given the tour only had six dates: Two in each Chicago and Boston, and one in each Detroit and St. Louis.

Neil Young

But before I further get to Young, I’d like to acknowledge William Prince, a folk and country singer-songwriter, who like Young hails from Canada. Punctually at 8:00 PM, he walked on stage with just an acoustic guitar and opened the night. Prince is a member of the Pegius First Nation from Manitoba.

In 2015, he released his debut album Earthly Days, for which he won a Western Canadian Music Award for Aboriginal Artist of the Year in 2016 and the 2017 the Juno Award for  Contemporary Roots Album of the Year. From that album, here’s Breathless. The look and feel of the performance, which apparently was captured in December, is very similar to Wednesday night. I thought his voice and guitar-playing sounded really nice. Visit his website for more information.

And then it was time for Young. To get an idea what to expect, I checked the previous shows from the tour on setlist.fm. I noticed the sets were relatively constant and included a mix of well-known songs and other tunes that at least to me were deeper cuts. A friend of mine, who is a Neil Young connoisseur and the lead vocalist in an excellent Neil Young tribute band, thought it was a selection for longtime fans.

The stage setup looked a little like a music workshop. It featured areas with different instruments, including an array of acoustic guitars, a semi-hollow electric guitar, two grand pianos and two organs. Young also had multiple harmonicas on hand. During the show, he shared anecdotes about most of the instruments. For example, one of the grand pianos was from the 19th century, and the bottom had been burned during a fire. Young maintained this gave it a very unique sound, adding this tour was the first time he took it on the road. He also pointed to guitars that had once been owned by Stephen Stills and Hank Williams.

Time for some music. I tried capturing some of the songs, and while the audio came out okay, the quality of the video varies quite a bit. The latter was due to challenging lighting conditions and my seat up on the balcony in the back of the theater. There was also what looked like an illuminated stripe in the background above the stage. I’m wondering whether this may have been done on purpose to discourage taking videos, which officially was strictly forbidden.

While I get they don’t want flash photography, I generally find these “no video rules” complete nonsense. Unless you walk in with a professional camera that enables you to record footage you could sell, what damage are you going to do with clips taken with a smartphone? On the contrary, in my opinion, taking and posting such clips on Facebook or elsewhere actually helps promote the artist. Okay, I’m stopping going off on a tangent now. The following is a combination of my own clips and footage from other recent solo gigs.

First up: Pocahontas, a song by Young that first appeared on the Rust Never Sleeps live album from July 1979. Initially, he recorded a version of the tune in the mid-70s for Chrome Dreams, a then-planned but unreleased album.

Ohio was the only Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young tune Wednesday night and one of two songs Young played on the electric guitar. Written by him in the wake of the Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970, the track was released by CSNY as a single in June that year. It was also included on the band’s 4 Way Street live album from April 1971 and the studio compilation So Far, released in August 1974. The tune also appeared on Young’s solo compilation albums Decade (Oct 1977) and Greatest Hits (Nov 2004).

A highlight of the show and perhaps my favorite moment of the night was After The Gold Rush. Young played the title track of his third studio album from September 1970 on a pipe organ. The church-like sound was just incredible. He slightly updated the lyrics by singing, Look at mother nature on the run in the 21st century/Look at mother nature on the run in the 21st century. The performance was incredibly powerful and gave me the goosebumps!

Among Young’s more recent tunes was Love And War. He recorded the song for his 30th studio album Le Noise, which appeared in September 2010. This clip was captured at his June 28 show in St. Louis.

Young finished his regular set with two gems from Harvest, his fourth studio album released in February 1972: The Needle And The Damage Done and Heart Of Gold. Unfortunately, the following clip of Needle, shot in Chicago on July 1, is cut in the beginning but otherwise 10 times better than my attempt to film it.

Here’s the mighty Heart Of Gold. Young may be getting old (though he sounded great!), but not the song.

Young came back for one encore: Tumbleweed, a tune from the deluxe edition of his 34th studio album Storytone from November 2014. He performed it with a ukulele. This clip is from the above St. Louis clip.

For now, Young’s second gig in Boston last night marked the final show of his solo tour. In September, he is scheduled to perform back-to-back at Farm Aid (Hartfort, Conn., Sep 22) and, together with Promise Of The Real, at another Willie Nelson event (Saratoga, N.Y., Sep 23).

Sources: Wikipedia, Neil Young official website, William Prince official website, setlist.fm, YouTube

 

Lynyrd Skynyrd Shines During Farewell Show In New Jersey

Skynyrd Nation celebration also features Atlanta Rhythm Section and Peter Wolf as special guests

When Johnny Van Zant asked the audience last night whether folks showed up because they are die-hard Lynyrd Skynyrd fans or because it’s their farewell tour, I answered ‘both’ to myself. While I’ve listened to Skynyrd for 20-plus years and like many of their songs, I wouldn’t call myself a die-hard fan. And, yes, part of my motivation to see these southern rockers at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J. on Friday was the fact that this may well have been the last opportunity, if they indeed retire.

Recently, I read that Skynyrd added dates to extend their Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour. Maybe additional gigs will follow. Maybe it’ll turn into a Deep Purple-like “long goodbye tour.” Or maybe they’ll change their minds altogether, just like Scorpions did a few years go when the German rockers realized they couldn’t just decelerate from running at 200 mph to zero. Who knows.

Lynyrd Skynyrd Farewell Tour Poster

Compared to artists like The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Neil Young and especially 81-year-old Buddy Guy, Skynyrd certainly has relatively young members – at age 68, guitarist Rickey Medlocke is the oldest. Gary Rossington, guitarist and the band’s only remaining co-founder, is 66. Johnny Van Zant, the younger brother of co-founder and initial lead vocalist, the late Ronnie Van Zant, is 58. The other members are still in their 50s as well. One thing was crystal clear to me last night: Lynyrd Skynyrd sounded absolutely fantastic! And maybe that’s the whole point of the early retirement plan – go out while they’re still on top of their game.

Before Skynyrd came on and set the stage on fire, there were three guests. I didn’t catch the name of the band that opened up the long evening but certainly recognized the artists who followed: Atlanta Rhythm Section and Peter Wolf, ex-vocalist of the J. Geils Band. They compensated for my disappointment when I realized that contrary to what I had read somewhere before, Bad Company, a band I would have loved to see, wasn’t among the special guests.

Atlanta Rhythm Section
Atlanta Rhythm Section

Frankly, I wasn’t even aware that ALR are still performing. Two of their current members, Rodney Justo (lead vocals) and Dean Daughtry (keyboards), have been around since the band’s formation in 1971, though in Justo’s case, it looks like were some breaks along the way. The remaining current line-up includes Steve Stone (guitar, harmonica, backing vocals), Justin Senker (bass), David Anderson (guitar, backing vocals) and Rodger Stephan (drums, backing vocals).

Except for Spooky and So Into You, I’m not well familiar with ALR’s songs but can confirm that in addition to these tunes, their set included Champagne Jam and Imaginary Lover, among others. Here’s a clip I took of my favorite ALR tune So Into You, a song I liked for its smoothness from the moment I heard it for the first time on the radio in Germany in the late 70s.

Next up was Peter Wolf. I was pretty pumped when I found out he was among the special guests last night. I’ve really come to like the J. Geils Band and ended up seeing them a few years ago. These guys truly were the ultimate party band. Wolf pretty much brought out that same swagger last night. He still has his distinct voice, charismatic stage presence and the occasional machine gun-like fast talking!

The set included a mix of J. Geils Band tunes, such as Homework, Give It To Me, Must Of Got Lost and Love Stinks, and songs from Wolf’s solo career like Wastin’ Time and Piece Of MindThe Midnight Travelers, which include Duke Levine (guitar), Kevin Barry (guitar), Marty Ballou (bass), Tom Arey (drums) and Tom West (keyboards), proved to be a top-notch backing band. Here’s my clip of Homework.

After Wolf and The Midnight Travelers had fired up the crowd with an energetic performance, it was time for the big enchilada. From the opening bars of Working For MCA till the last note of the epic Free Bird, Skynyrd made it clear they meant business and didn’t want to say farewell quietly. In addition to these tunes, their set included many other gems like What’s Your Name, That Smell, Saturday Night Special, Tuesday’s Gone, Simple Man, Call Me The Breeze and, of course, Sweet Home Alabama.

Below is my clip of What’s Your Name, one of my favorite Skynyrd tunes. Co-written by Rossington and Ronnie Van Zant, it appeared on their fifth studio album Street Survivors in October 1977 – released only three days prior to the devastating plane crash that killed Ronnie, Steve Gains (guitarist) and Steve’s sister Cassie Gains (backing vocalist), along with the pilot, co-pilot and the band’s assistant road manager. Incredibly, Rossington not only survived the crash, but eventually made a fully recovery despite breaking both arms, legs, wrists, ankles and his pelvis.

Another highlight of Skynyrd’s set to me was That Smell, also from the Street Survivors album, which was co-written by guitarist and founding member Allen Collins and Ronnie Van Zant. In particular, I dug the harmonizing guitar parts. Since my cell phone battery was starting to run low on juice, I didn’t capture the performance, so needed to rely on other footage I found on YouTube. Here’s a clip from a gig in Tampa last month. Obviously, it was taken from a location way closer to the stage where I was last night, and frankly it is much better than anything I could have recorded!

Another song I’d like to highlight is Call Me The Breeze. I’ve always liked that J.J. Cale tune and Skynyrd’s take of it. As they were playing it last night, they turned it into an homage to the Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and many other music legends, displaying images of them on the main monitor behind the stage – I thought this was kind of cool. Apparently, Skynyrd didn’t do that during their concert back in March in Atlanta, where the following clip was recorded. But it’s great quality concert footage.

In light of my cell phone battery situation, it came down to a choice between capturing Sweet Home Alabama or the encore Free Bird. Given the extended length of the latter, I went for Alabama, which is also my favorite of the two. The opener to Skynyrd’s sophomore record Second Helping, released in April 1974, was co-written by Rossington, Van Zant and then-bassist Ed King. To me it hasn’t lost any of its appeal to this day!

Of course, making the above choice doesn’t mean skipping Free Bird in this  post, especially when there are great other clips on YouTube. The song, which was included on Skynyrd’s debut album Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd from August 1973, turned into an emotional commemoration of Ronnie Van Zant. Here’s a beautiful clip from the above Tampa show.

In addition to Van Zant, Medlocke and Rossington, Skynyrd’s current line-up features Michael Cartellone (drums), Mark Matejka (guitar), Peter Keys (keyboards) and Keith Christopher (bass). The touring band is complemented by backing vocalists Dale Krantz-Rossington (Gary’s wife) and Carol Chase. Skynyrd’s upcoming dates include Jones Beach Theatre, Wantagh, N.Y. tonight; Coastal Credit Union Music Park, Raleigh, N.C., June 29; and PNC Music Pavilion, Charlotte, N.C., June 30. Earlier this month,  Ultimate Classic Rock reported that the band announced 21 additional dates, which extend the current tour from early September all the way to December. Let’s hope there will be additional extensions.

Sources: Wikipedia, Setlist.com, Atlanta Rhythm Section official website, Ultimate Classic Rock, YouTube

British Invasion Returns In Full Force To Atlantic City

Beatles, Rolling Stones and Who tribute bands set stage on fire

The British Invasion may have stopped some 50 years ago, though it surely didn’t feel like it yesterday in Atlantic City. If anything, three outstanding tribute bands illustrated how the music continues to be alive and kicking to this day, and why the British rock and pop music wave of the ’60s is one of the best imports the U.S. has ever seen, except perhaps for German cars!:-)

This was my second year at the British Invasion Festival at the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City. I greatly enjoyed the free outdoor one-day event last June when I went there for the first time, so was it worth a two-hour drive to return? You betcha, baby – if anything, I felt it was even better than last year! Britain’s Finest, The Glimmer Twins and Who’s Next once again were in top shape.

Britain’s Finest

Britain’s Finest are one of the most intriguing tributes to The Beatles I know, and as a longtime Beatles fan, I’ve seen quite a few over the decades. Founded in Los Angeles in 2011, the band consists of Benny Chadwick (Paul McCartney), Ruben Amaya (John Lennon),  Robert Bielma (George Harrison) and Luis Renteria (Ringo Starr).

Like last year, they focused on the Beatles’ live period, playing songs, such as From My To You, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Can’t Buy Me Love, A Hard Day’s Night, Help and Twist And Shout. What distinguishes Britain’s Finest from other Fab Four tribute acts I’ve seen is that in addition to a faithful execution of the music, the four guys also resemble John, Paul, George and Ringo, and assume their on-stage personas. This time for a change, I took video myself. Here are clips of From Me To YouCan’t Buy Me Love and Twist And Shout.

To further check out Britain’s Finest and their scheduled shows, visit their website. Most of their upcoming gigs are on the West Coast – given the band is based in L.A., perhaps that’s not a big surprise. They’ll be back east for a series of gigs in Miami starting in early August. But I suppose New Jersey fans may have to wait until next June when they are planning to return to Atlantic City.

The Glimmer Twins

Unlike The Beatles, I actually don’t recall having seen a tribute act to The Rolling Stones. But frankly, except for the original, I doubt it can get better than The Glimmer Twins. This band from Philly is led by Keith Call (lead vocals, harp) and Bernie Bollendorf (guitar), who in an incredible way bring to life Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, respectively. They are backed by excellent musicians, including Michael Rubino (guitar), Bobbie Corea (drums), Rob Ekstedt (bass), Rocco Notte  (keyboards), Bobby Michaels (saxophone, flute) and amazing vocalist Valorie Steel.

The Glimmer Twins play Stones gems, such as Start Me Up, Dead Flowers, Sympathy For The Devil, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Honky Tonk Women, Paint It Black and, of course, Satisfaction. Here are three the clips from their performance last night: opener Start Me UpJumpin’ Jack Flash and Honky Tonk Women. The latter prominently features Steel – that lady can sing!

The Glimmer Twins have a long schedule of summer shows in the tri-state area and beyond, including gigs in Tarrytown, N.Y. (June 22); Sea Isle City, N.J. (August 4); Manchester, Vt. (August 10); Bethlehem, Pa. (August 11); and Riverhead, N.Y. (August 18). For more about the band and their upcoming concerts, visit their website.

Who’s Next

This firecracker tribute to The Who was the perfect band to close out the night. Their members include Bill Canell as Pete Townshend, Dave McDonald as Roger Daltrey, Mike Conte as John Entwistle and Rich Savarese as Keith Moon. Similar to Britain’s Finest, not only do these four guys sound great, but the resemblance of each to their heroes is truly remarkable. The fact that none other than Messrs. Townshend and Daltrey acknowledged the band at a Who concert in May 2014 in Forest Hills, N.Y. speaks for itself.

Who’s Next play many of the tunes that come mind when you think of The Who: Baba O’Riley, Love Reign O’er Me, The Real Me, 5:15, Squeeze Box, Who Are You, Eminence Front, My Generation, and the list goes on and on. Below are clips of opener The Real Me/5:15 and Who Are You. I got really close for the second clip to better capture how meticulously each member plays and impersonates their part. Fortunately, they skip the destruction of equipment. As much as I can see the spectacle, watching Townshend smash his guitar always made me cringe. Instead, he should have given away the guitars to schools in underprivileged neighborhoods or something like that.

For more about Who’s Next, check out their website. At this time, it doesn’t list any upcoming shows, but I’m sure there will be more. The band already announced last night they are going to be back to Atlantic City for next year’s British Invasion Festival. While much can happen in a year, I have every intention to return as well!

Sources: Britainsfinestband.com, theglimmertwins.com, whosnexttribute.com, YouTube