Reelin’ In The Years At PNC Bank Arts Center

Steely Dan treat New Jersey audience with great show in Donald Fagen’s home state

Last night, I saw Steely Dan at PNC Bank Arts Center, a great midsize amphitheater-style outdoor venue in Holmdel, N.J. My fourth and last concert in June was dynamite, ending a busy month of live music on a high note.

Should I have been surprised that Donald Fagen and his band once again put on a stellar performance? After all, the two previous times I had seen them were both fantastic.

PNC Bank Arts Center is a 7,000-seat venue with an additional grass area capacity to accommodate about 10,500 people

The songs Fagen wrote with his longtime partner Walter Becker remain compelling. Since Becker’s untimely death in 2017, Fagen also successfully continued what had been a key ingredient to the Dan’s sound: Surround himself with top-notch musicians. And, boy, what a killer backing band he had last night!

But even with all of the above, I think one should never take a music artist for granted. And, let’s face it: At age 74, Fagen isn’t exactly any longer, hey, nineteen! I also still remember reading accounts leading up to the two previous times I saw Fagen & co. in 2018, which were less than favorable, criticizing Fagen’s singing, among others. But just like four years ago, he did it again, proving any such concerns to be unfounded!

Steely Dan in action: Donald Fagen (vocals, keyboards, melodica), Jon Herington (lead guitar & musical director), Adam Rogers (guitar), Jim Beard (keyboards), Walt Weiskopf & Roger Rosenberg (saxophones), Michael Leonhart (trumpet), Jim Pugh (trombone), “Ready” Freddie Washington (bass), Keith Carlock (drums) & The Danettes: Carolyn Leonhart, Jamie Leonart and La Tanya Hall (backing vocals)

Before I get to Steely Dan, I’d like to acknowledge opening act Dave Stryker Trio. Until I learned and read about Dave Stryker, I had not heard of this great American jazz guitarist who has been active since the ’80s. Quoting his online bio, Whether you’ve heard guitarist Dave Stryker leading his own group (with 34 CD’s as a leader to date),  or as a featured sideman with Stanley Turrentine, Jack McDuff, and many others, you know why the Village Voice calls him “one of the most distinctive guitarists to come along in recent years.”

Last evening, Stryker (electric guitar) was joined by Jared Gold, who I thought was terrific on the Hammond, as well as McClenty Hunter, a fine jazz drummer. They played neat jazz instrumental jam versions of songs by artists like Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield and The Temptations.

The Hammond reminded me of the man who originally was supposed to join Steely Dan on their Earth After Hours Tour, Steve Winwood. I’m not gonna lie, seeing Winwood for the third time would have been the ultimate thrill. A short February 1 announcement on Winwood’s website cited “unforeseen circumstances” for the change in plans. Back to Dave Stryker. Here’s a cool clip of Papa Was a Rolling Stone from a 2019 performance at jazz radio station WBGO 88.3 fm – groovy with no static at all!

Okay, after seven paragraphs into this review, you may start to wonder when am I finally getting to some Steely Dan music? Alrighty then! Let’s shake it! First up is Night by Night, a tune from Steely Dan’s third studio album Pretzel Logic released in February 1974 – the last that featured the band’s original quintet lineup of Becker, Fagen, Denny Dias, Jim Hodder, and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. Unfortunately, it appears the dreadful pandemic has made audiences pretty restless. I don’t recall people getting up during shows pre-COVID as frequently as I’ve experienced it during all of my four concerts in June. Frankly, I find it pretty dreadful!

I think it’s safe to say many Steely Dan fans consider Aja to be Messrs. Fagen’s and Becker’s Mount Rushmore. It certainly remains my favorite Dan album. Let’s hear it for the title track. According to Songfacts, Fagen told Rolling Stone magazine that the title came from a high school friend whose brother was in the army and came back with a Korean wife named Aja, although he wasn’t sure how she spelled it.

For this next tune, let’s go to Gaucho, the seventh and final Steely Dan album from November 1980 before Fagen and Becker split and went on a 12-year hiatus. Becker moved to Maui, managed to overcome his longtime drug abuse, and did some occasional production work, most notably for British pop group China Crisis. Meanwhile, Fagen launched a solo career that among others yielded The Nightfly, his solo debut gem from October 1982. Back to Gaucho with Babylon Sisters with another fun tidbit from Songfacts, probably less fun for those involved: Donald Fagen made seemingly endless tweaks to this song, creating one mix after another. Someone in the studio must have been keeping count, because when he hit 250 mixes, the crew gave him a “platinum” disk they created just for him. Fagen kept going, and it was mix number 274 that finally won his approval. He took that mix home to New York, but heard a note in the bass line he didn’t like, so he returned to Los Angeles a week later and reconvened the team to fix it. You gotta shake it, baby, you gotta shake it!

I guess our memories of school can be good and not so good. Clearly, this next tune falls into the latter category. Songfacts notes My Old School, the final track of last night’s main set, is at least partially inspired by an event that occurred at Bard [Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. where Fagen and Becker met in 1967 – CMM], where both Becker and Fagen, along with their girlfriends, were arrested in a pot raid on a party that was orchestrated by an ambitious young District Attorney named G. Gordon Liddy (hence the line “Tried to warn ya about Geno and Daddy G”). Despite the fact that California has not (yet) tumbled into the sea, both Fagen and Becker have returned to Bard.

The last tune I’d like to call out, from the encore, is a song that reportedly was one of the Dan’s least favorite. Again citing Songfacts: In Rolling Stone, September 17, 2009, Donald Fagan said, “It’s dumb but effective.” Walter Becker added, “It’s no fun.” Well, Reelin’ in the Years may not have a million chord changes and breaks, but in my humble opinion, this tune, off Steely Dan’s November 1972 debut album Can’t Buy a Thrill, is a terrific rocker with a dynamite guitar solo. I wonder how Fagen feels about the song these days. It surely still looks effective!

What else is there to say. Donald Fagen clearly seemed to be energized last night, saying at one point, ‘what a night!’ – and he wasn’t referring to the one in late December back in sixty-three. Playing in his home state of New Jersey, as he called the garden state at the end of the show, appeared to be a thrill. Who, knows, it may even have influenced Fagen’s decision to replace Green Earrings and Any Major Dude Will Tell You with Josie and Black Cow, respectively – two additional tracks from the above-mentioned beloved Aja album. The only thing that could have topped the set would have been Deacon Blues, my all-time favorite Dan tune. But, hey, nineteen, stop complaining! 🙂

I already briefly mentioned the exceptional band that backs Fagen on the tour. These amazing musicians, some of whom have played with Steely Dan for many years, deserve to be called out: Jon Herington (lead guitar & musical director), Adam Rogers (guitar), Jim Beard (keyboards), Walt Weiskopf & Roger Rosenberg (saxophones), Michael Leonhart (trumpet), Jim Pugh (trombone), “Ready” Freddie Washington (bass), Keith Carlock (drums) & The Danettes: Carolyn Leonhart, Jamie Leonart and La Tanya Hall (backing vocals).

Here’s the setlist:
Phantom Raiders (Stanley Wilson cover)
Night by Night
Hey Nineteen
Black Friday
Aja
Kid Charlemagne
Home at Last
Green Flower Street (Donald Fagen song)
Time Out of Mind
Babylon Sisters
• Josie
• Black Cow
Dirty Work
Bodhisattva
Keep That Same Old Feeling (The Crusaders cover)
Peg
My Old School

Encore:
Reelin’ in the Years
A Man Ain’t Supposed to Cry (Joe Williams cover)

The Earth After Hours Tour still is in full swing. Tomorrow night, the Dan are scheduled to play Xfinity Center in Mansfield, Mass., before moving on to Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, Bethel, N.Y. (July 3) and First Bank Amphitheater, Franklin, Tenn. (July 13). The full tour schedule is here. If you’re a fan of the Dan and still can get a ticket you can afford, I can highly recommend the show!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Dave Stryker website; Steve Winwood website; Steely Dan website; YouTube

Paul McCartney Got Back to Jersey’s MetLife Stadium

Final gig of North American tour features plenty of music, anecdotes and a surprise guest

Last night, I saw Paul McCartney for the third and possibly last time, at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. It’s hard to believe six years had passed since my previous Macca concert in August 2016 at Hersheypark in Hershey, Pa. Yesterday’s show marked the final gig of his 16-date North American Got Back Tour. And back he got, with more than two and a half hours of songs, anecdotes and a surprise guest.

Overall, I share the same sentiments of fellow blogger Jim from Music Enthusiast, who recently got to enjoy McCartney in Boston and posted a nice review here. Backed by his longtime touring band, McCartney delivered many great songs and had an amazing amount of energy. His voice definitely wasn’t what it used to be, but I had fully anticipated that, so it didn’t bother me. I was simply happy to get another opportunity to see one of my biggest heroes in music.

Paul McCartney got back. So did I, to see him for the third time.

There was a LOT of music – 40 songs, including a snippet of Jimi Hendrix’s Foxey Lady at the end of Let Me Roll It, and not counting the audience’s rendition of Happy Birthday to congratulate Sir Paul in advance of his imminent big occasion. Putting together a setlist that between The Beatles, Wings and Paul McCartney solo tunes reflects a massive catalog must be tricky and cannot make everybody entirely happy. Personally, I would have loved to see a few more early Beatles songs. And from Egypt Station, Paul’s 17th solo album from 2018, which I feel is among his better post-Beatles efforts, Come On to Me and Fuh You wouldn’t have been my picks, but enough with the silly complaining!

While based on Jim’s blog and other accounts I’ve read Macca’s song announcements and shared anecdotes didn’t vary from show to show, nevertheless, this didn’t feel like some routine gig to me. You could see from Macca’s facial expressions that the soon-to-be 80-year-old still enjoyed performing for his fans. I mean, ‘drink this all in,’ to borrow one of Paul’s expressions he used last night!

Waiting for Macca with cool psychedelic renderings of The Beatles

Usually, I don’t “coordinate” my posts with fellow bloggers. But since I believe Jim and I have a number of common followers and given his recent review, I decided to focus on music Jim didn’t highlight in his great post, so our fellow bloggers don’t end up watching the same clips twice. And, as previously hinted, there is a surprise guest. Curious? Read on! 🙂

Let’s kick things off with a Beatles tune from Revolver: Got to Get You Into My Life. Written by Macca and credited to him and John Lennon, the song is a nice homage to Motown. I’ve always dug it! The performance also prominently showcased Paul’s neat horn section.

The next song I’d like to highlight is from Band on the Run, Macca’s third studio release with Wings. The 1973 record remains my favorite McCartney album post-Beatles. Here’s the great piano-driven Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five.

For this next tune, Macca went back, way back, to the very first song recorded in June 1958 as a demo by The Quarrymen, the group that eventually would evolve into The Beatles. In addition to Paul, John and George Harrison, the line-up featured John Lowe (piano) and Colin Hanton (drums). Sure, In Spite of All the Danger isn’t as good as I Saw Her Standing There, You Can’t Do That, She Loves You and other early Beatles tunes, but I still thought it was cool Paul decided to play it.

No Paul McCartney gig would be complete without some solo tunes on acoustic guitar. Here’s Blackbird, off The White Album, a song I loved from the get-go when I heard it many moons ago. In fact, my great guitar teacher showed me how to play it at the time. Unfortunately, these days, I can only partially remember it. But I suppose there’s always YouTube!

Next, I’d like to highlight a medley of You Never Give Me Your Money and She Came Into the Bathroom Window. During his announcement, Paul noted the North American tour marked the first time they performed this. It’s hard to believe they didn’t play these great tunes from Abbey Road during previous tours.

Did I mention there was a surprise? About two-thirds into the show, there was a sudden commotion in the audience. I heard people behind me speculate that Ringo Starr might be in the house. After all, Ringo had showed up at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles in July 2019 where Macca wrapped his Freshen Up Tour. Well, we didn’t get Ringo. Instead, Bruce Springsteen walked up on stage to a screaming audience. Here are two tunes he performed with McCartney: His own Glory Days, off the Born in the U.S.A. album, and The Beatles’ I Wanna Be Your Man. For a moment, the Boss stole the show, but Macca seemed to be cool with it!

I could go on and on, but all things must pass, to borrow from the wise George Harrison. The last tune I’d like to call out is from the encore: Helter Skelter, another track from The White Album. And an impressive illustration of Sir Paul’s admirable energy level two and a half hours into the gig. Any young cat musicians out there, check this out – just incredible!

I briefly mentioned Paul’s excellent band in the upfront. These guys are simply top-notch musicians and Macca rightfully called them out last night: Paul “Wix” Wickens (keyboards), Brian Ray (bass/guitar), Rusty Anderson (guitar) and Abe Laboriel Jr. (drums). He also noted the name of his amazing horn section, but unfortunately, I did not catch it.

Last but not least, here’s the setlist:
• Can’t Buy Me Love (The Beatles song)
• Junior’s Farm (Wings song)
• Letting Go (Wings song)
• Got to Get You Into My Life (The Beatles song)
• Come On to Me
• Let Me Roll It (Wings song) (with “Foxy Lady” outro jam)
• Getting Better (The Beatles song)
• Let ‘Em In (Wings song)
• My Valentine
• Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five (Wings song)
• Maybe I’m Amazed
• I’ve Just Seen a Face (The Beatles song)
• In Spite of All the Danger (The Quarrymen song)
• Love Me Do (The Beatles song)
• Dance Tonight
• Blackbird (The Beatles song)
• Here Today
• New
• Lady Madonna (The Beatles song)
• Fuh You
• Jet (Wings song)
• Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! (The Beatles song)
• Something (The Beatles song)
• Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (The Beatles song)
• You Never Give Me Your Money & She Came in Through the Bathroom Window (The Beatles songs)
• Get Back (The Beatles song)
• Band on the Run (Wings song)
• Glory Days (Bruce Springsteen cover with Bruce Springsteen)
• I Wanna Be Your Man (The Beatles song with Bruce Springsteen)
• Let It Be (The Beatles song)
• Live and Let Die (Wings song)
• Hey Jude (The Beatles song)

Encore:
• I’ve Got a Feeling (The Beatles song) (“virtual duet” w/video &… more )
• Happy Birthday to You (Mildred J. Hill & Patty Hill cover) (with Jon Bon Jovi)
• Birthday (The Beatles song)
• Helter Skelter (The Beatles song)
• Golden Slumbers (The Beatles song)
• Carry That Weight (The Beatles song)
• The End (The Beatles song with Bruce Springsteen)

Sources: Wikipedia; Setlist; YouTube

Bonnie Raitt Beams at The Mann

Lucinda Williams opens great night at Philly’s nonprofit performing arts center

When you visit the website of the Mann Center of the Performing Arts, the first chiron flashing on your screen reads “The Mann is music”. While this is followed by multiple other pronouncements, music is what ruled last night at Philadelphia’s prominent outdoor nonprofit performing arts venue. Great music, delivered by Bonnie Raitt, one of my all-time favorite artists, and her special guest Lucinda Williams who opened the beautiful night.

My decision to see Raitt again was relatively last minute, since at the time I already had tickets for three other shows in June. Until then, I had never planned to go to four concerts by “big artists” during the same month. I may be a music nut, but that’s certainly a pace I cannot maintain, and it’s not just because of high ticket prices, though the latter are a key factor!

Fun at The Mann with great music, nice view of Philly and gourmet pizza!

Before getting to Bonnie Raitt, I’d like to say a few words about Lucinda Williams. Until I saw the bill included the Americana singer-songwriter, who is a few years younger than Raitt and started her recording career in 1979, I had only been familiar with her name. The title of her fifth and to date best-selling studio album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (such a great image!) also rang a distant bell.

Over her now 43-year-and-counting recording career, Williams has released 14 studio albums, one live record, two video albums and 20-plus singles – not exactly a massive catalog, given the long period. Her most recent album Good Souls Better Angels appeared in April 2020. In November of that same year, Williams had a stroke at her home in Nashville. Fortunately, she recovered, though last night she still seemed to have some mobility challenges and did not play guitar. But Williams still delivered what I thought was a very solid performance.

Here’s Drunken Angel, a tune off the aforementioned Car Wheels on a Gravel Road album. When Williams announced the song last evening she said she wrote it in honor of her friend Blaze Foley, a Texas country singer-songwriter who apparently was prone to drinking and was shot and killed in a bar “over a senseless argument”. Williams also noted Foley had been chasing Townes Van Zandt, “but nobody could keep up with Townes.” Apparently, Foley did become friends with Van Zandt who ended up writing a song about him, Blaze’s Blues.

Before moving on to Bonnie Raitt’s set, let’s do another song Williams performed: You Can’t Rule Me, a nice adaption from a Memphis Minnie composition, which originally was recorded sometime between 1935 and 1941. Williams included it on her most recent album. The blues rock lover in me smiled!

And on to Bonnie Raitt who I had last seen in August 2016 at New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. From the very beginning, it felt as if time had stood still. Raitt looked and sounded the same as six years ago. The only difference were her set included various songs from her excellent latest album Just Like That…, which came out in April this year and which I previously reviewed here. Raitt started her set with the album’s great opener Made Up Mind. Check out that sweet sound – so good!

In addition to playing five tunes from Just Like That…, Raitt drew from other albums throughout her career, including Luck of the Draw (1991), Nick of Time (1989), Silver Lining (2002), Streetlights (1974), Dig In Deep (2016) and the live release Road Tested (1995). Here’s No Business, a song written by John Hiatt, one of four tracks Raitt played from Luck of the Draw. Raitt, who has recorded various tunes by Hiatt, reiterated her admiration of the great roots rock singer-songwriter.

In addition to Just Like That…, which os my favorite Bonnie Raitt album these days, I’ve always loved Nick of Time. Her 10th studio album brought Raitt on my radar screen in 1989. Let’s do the title track, which she penned. Her commercial breakthrough album is best known for the hit single Thing Called Love, which happens to be another John Hiatt composition. Perhaps the official video featuring American actor Dennis Quaid also helped boost mainstream success. Nick of Time saw Raitt switch from her main instrument to keyboards – nice!

Next, let’s turn to Livin’ For the Ones, another great tune from the Just Like That… album. Raitt wrote the words to music composed by her longtime guitarist George Marinelli. I just love that Stonesy sound!

No Bonnie Raitt show would be complete without Angel From Montgomery, a long-time fan favorite. It was written by John Prine, another songwriter Raitt loves and called out last night. In fact, she dedicated the title track of her new album to Prine, noting the style was inspired by the story-telling songs Prine had written. Angel From Montgomery is included on Raitt’s above-mentioned fourth studio album Streetlights. This is one timeless gem!

This brings me to the final tune I’d like to highlight. I Can’t Make You Love Me, another track from Luck of the Draw, is one of Raitt’s best-known songs. While she has had many great songs over the decades, Raitt has only scored a few mainstream hits. During a recent interview with Zane Lowe for Apple Music, she didn’t seem to mind her relative lack of chart success. In fact, Raitt said after Nick of Time, she had been nervous she would now be measured by that album’s chart performance. Luck of the Draw turned out to be hugely successful as well. I Can’t Make You Love Me, a pop ballad co-written by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin, is one of three songs that made the top 20 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100.

Bonnie Raitt said two things last night, which are among the many reasons I dig her as an artist. She expressed her happiness to be back on the road, noting the long break from touring had been torture. Raitt also stated she has no plans to retire since she enjoys performing. In this context, she called out other artists like Willie Nelson and Mick Jagger, who are no longer 19 years either. She added she hopes to see the Stones, wishing Jagger the best, who recently came down with COVID.

Before wrapping up this post, I’d like to acknowledge Raitt’s fantastic band. Apart from the above-mentioned guitarist George Marinelli, who also sings, the line-up includes Duke Levine (guitar, vocals), Glenn Patscha (keyboards, vocals), James “Hutch” Hutchinson (bass) and Ricky Fataar (drums). Marinelli, Hutchinson and Fataar have worked with Raitt for many years, both on the road and in the studio. For more on each musician, check out their impressive bios on her website.

Here’s Raitt’s setlist from last night:
• Made Up Mind
• Waitin’ for You to Blow
• No Business
• Blame It on Me
• Nick of Time
• Back Around
• Just Like That
• Something to Talk About
• Livin’ for the Ones
• Have a Heart
• Need You Tonight (INXS cover)
• Angel From Montgomery (John Prine cover)
• Burning Down the House (Talking Heads cover)

Encore:
• I Can’t Make You Love Me (Mike Reid cover)
• Not the Only One (Paul Brady cover)

Raitt’s Just Like That… tour is next headed to Boston’s Leader Bank Pallivion (June 17), Tanglewood in Lennox, Mass. (June 18) and New York City’s Beacon Theatre (June 21 and June 22 – both shows are sold out). The full schedule is here. If you like Raitt and can still get a ticket you can afford, I’d highly recommend it. That lady is the real deal!

Sources: Wikipedia; Bonnie Raitt website; Setlist.fm; YouTube

After Various Attempts, The Starrs Were Finally Aligned at The Beacon

Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band shine at New York City’s renowned performance venue

I finally got to see Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band Tuesday night at New York City’s storied Beacon Theatre. While as a huge Beatles fan I can’t quite explain why this didn’t happen years ago, I know one thing for sure: The night turned out to be a great memorable experience that was worth the wait!

At the beginning of the concert, which kicked off shortly after 8:00 p.m. with no opening act, Ringo noted that after various previously cancelled attempts he was glad to be back on the road. Based on the vibe he projected throughout the gig, those were honest words from a close to 82-year-old artist who still loves to perform.

The Beacon Theatre framed by construction scaffolding. And, nope, that black Mercedes wasn’t Ringo’s limousine.

One sad note: All Starr member Edgar Winter was absent. Ringo explained he had come down with COVID. Since his keyboards had been set up, I assume Winter literally must have found out just hours before the gig. But as professional musicians do, they decided the show must go on. Not only do I join Ringo who wished Winter the best, but I also hope nobody else from the band and the supporting staff got infected and the long postponed tour can go on.

Another bit of a bummer: I didn’t capture any video. You can thank the Beacon Theatre’s usher police. I’ve rarely seen ushers constantly pacing back and forth and telling people not to take photos or videos. Granted these are the official rules but, come on, regular concert visitors snapping some photos or taking some video aren’t doing this for profit.

Yes, there is a smile behind that bloody mask!

Well, other than taking a couple of pictures, I didn’t want to become a troublemaker, especially when the performer’s key motto is ‘peace and love’. Instead, I’m relying on YouTube videos captured by some other terrible violators! None of the clips was captured Tuesday night, but they are all from the current tour and feature Edgar Winter. And while he was defintely missed, the group did a great job without him.

Speaking of the All Starr Band beyond Ringo, each member had moments when they truly shined. The first two I’d like to call out are saxophonist Warren Ham, who also played flute and harmonica and sang vocals. Then there was British guitarist and bassist Hamish Stuart, a co-founder of Scottish funk and R&B group Average White Band, aka AWB. Check out their and and the band’s great rendition of AWB’s Pick Up the Pieces, off their 1974 eponymous sophomore album. And, yep, that’s Steve Lukather on bass, who occassionally traded the instrument with Stuart.

Colin Hay, best known as songwriter, guitarist and lead vocalist of Aussie band Men At Work, stood out on vocals, still sounding like business as usual in the ’80s, especially on Men At Work songs. Here’s Overkill, a tune from the band’s sophomore album Cargo, released in April 1993. Check out Hay hitting high notes at around 3 minutes. Hay also perfectly nailed the high notes on Toto’s Africa, a vocal highlight of the night. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a clip that did the performance full justice.

Steve Lukather was great on guitar. Here here’s rocking out on Hold the Line, Toto’s debut single from October 1978, which gave them a big hit from the get-go. When anouncing the tune on Tuesday night, Lukather said he was 19 years old when Toto recorded that tune, adding in a few months he’s turning 65. I’ve always loved that song!

So where the heck is Ringo in all of this, you may wonder. Well, to begin with, he shared drumming responsibilities with Gregg Bissonette, and they both looked like they were having fun behind their kits. And then, of course, he also did some singing. Here’s Photograph, co-written by him and George Harrison, and first released in September 1973 as the lead single of Ringo’s eponymous third studio album that came out in November that year.

Following is the setlist from Tuesday night:
• Matchbox (Carl Perkins cover)
• It Don’t Come Easy (Ringo Starr song)
• What Goes On (Beatles cover)
• Rosanna (Toto cover feat. Steve Lukather)
• Pick Up the Pieces (AWB cover feat. Hamish Stuart)
• Down Under (Men At Work cover feat. Colin Hay)
• Boys (Shirelles cover feat. Ringo Starr)
• I’m The Greatest (Ringo Starr song)
• Yellow Submarine (Beatles cover feat. Ringo Starr)
• Cut the Cake (WAB cover feat. Hamish Stuart)
• Octupus’s Garden (Beatles cover feat. Ringo Starr)
• Back Off Boogaloo (Ringo Starr song)
• Overkill (Men At Work cover feat. Colin Hay)
• Africa (Toto cover feat. Steve Lukather)
• Work to Do (Isley Brothers cover feat. Hamish Stuart)
• I Wanna Be Your Man (Beatles cover feat. Ringo Starr)
• Who Can It Be Now? (Men At Work cover feat. Colin Hay)
• Hold the Line (Toto cover feat. Steve Lukather)
• Photograph (Ringo Starr song)
• Act Naturally (Johnny Russell cover feat. Ringo Starr)
• With a Little Help From My Friends/Give Peace A Chance (Beatles cover feat. Ringo; John Lennon cover)

Tuesday night’s gig was the second of three dates Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band did at the Beacon Theatre. Tomorrow night, they play Count Basie Theater, a great venue in Red Bank, N.J., before moving on to State Theater in Easton, Penn. (June 11) and Providenc PAC in Providence, R.I. (June 12). The current leg of the North American tour wraps up in Clearwater, Fla. on June 26. Part 2 starts in Bridgeport, Conn. on September 23. The full current schedule is here. If you haven’t seen Ringo yet and like his music and the All Starr Band concept, I can highly recommend the show!

Sources: Wikipedia; Setlist.fm; Ringo Starr website; YouTube

Meanwhile, Some 1,400 Miles South…

…Yes, I guess I’m on a magical Beatles tour today

Yeah, you can call me predictable. For a 40-plus-year-Beatles fan, jumping from Ringo Starr to Paul McCartney really wasn’t exactly a leap. And when I spotted the below clip earlier today, writing about Macca was a no-brainer. While Ringo and His All Starr Band were rockin’ Casino Rama in Ontario, Canada, approximately 1,400 miles to the south Paul McCartney got back to Orlando, Fla., his first time in five years to hit the sunshine state, as noted by Orlando Weekly.

McCartney and his great band have been on the road since late April when they kicked off their Got Back Tour at Spokane Arena in Spokane, Wash. The gig at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium on Saturday night was the 10th show of the 16-date North American tour. Orlando Weekly reported it attracted tens of thousands of folks who “converged from across the state, of all backgrounds and generations, spending a not insignificant amount of hard-earned money to sing long-loved songs together” and were treated for a nearly three-hour set. All you young cat musicians out there, listen up, three hours!

This is what the power of music can do. You may say I’m a dreamer: More music, fewer guns!

Here’s a bit more of what Orlando Weekly had to say about the gig: “McCartney was in prime-form, taking the stage with his iconic Höfner Violin Bass to overjoyed fans. The Beatle turns 80  next month, a stunning revelation considering he played three-dozen songs and a nearly three-hour set. The setlist was majority Beatles classics, a healthy balance of songs from the Fab Four’s expansive discography, while also weaving in Wings’ classics alongside more recent and obscure tracks for “the real ones.” Never before played live included “You Never Give Me Your Money” from the Beatles’ Abbey Road; as well as a virtual duet with John Lennon singing Let It Be’s “I’ve Got a Feeling,” incorporating remastered video from The Beatles’ last rooftop concert 53 years ago.”

Following is You Never Give Me Your Money (evidently without the piano intro), combined with She Came Into the Bathroom Window – oh, that magic feeling! Based on Setlist.fm, this was 23 tunes into the show! You also gotta love when Paul after a false start says, “we’re gonna start that again [laughter in the audience], aye, come on, it proves it’s live!” Yes, it is!

Let’s throw in another beautiful moment from that Orlando gig: The finale including Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight and The End. This is followed by Paul’s final words, “Beautiful, thank you so much, and all that’s left to say we’ll see you next time.” Okay, before I’m getting really emotional, let’s play the clip!

Tomorrow, Paul and his band are bringing their show to Thompson Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn. The schedule for the remaining dates of the Got Back Tour is here. Taking a peek at Ringo’s remaining tour dates reveals there isn’t any direct overlap with his former Beatles mate.

With Macca playing Baltimore on June 12 and Ringo’s two scheduled gigs there June 14 and June 15, they will just miss each other. Ringo is playing Providence on June 12. But Mr. Starr looks free on June 16 when Macca is wrapping up at MetLife in New Jersey, which is where I’m supposed to see him. Baltimore is only about 200 miles away from East Rutherford, N.J. Now there would be an idea…

Sources: Orlando Weekly; Setlist.fm; Paul McCartney website; Ringo Starr website; YouTube

Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band Kick Off Long-Awaited North American Tour

15th All Starr Band features Steve Lukather, Colin Hay, Warren Ham, Hamish Stewart, Greg Bissonette and Edgar Winter

We’re on the road again/We’re on the road again/We’re on the road again/We’re gonna play some rock ‘n’ roll, that’s true/Now we’re heading down the highway to play for you...

The above excerpt from We’re On the Road Again, the opener of Ringo Starr’s 2017 studio album Give More Love, was my first thought when getting a recent email reminder for my scheduled upcoming gig by Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band at New York City’s storied Beacon Theatre. This prompted me to check on the status of their tour, which had been derailed twice in 2020 and then again in 2021 due to you know what! It’s now official. Ringo and his revolving cast of prominent bandmates are back on the road, the best news I’ve heard in a long time!

The tour kicked off on May 27 in Canada at Casino Rama in Rama, Ontario. An announcement on Ringo’s website notes the show marked the fifth time the band launched a tour at that venue after 2001, 2003, 2006 and 2014. The large casino, hotel and entertainment complex is located on the reserve land of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation.

Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band perform at Casino Rama on Friday, May 27, 2022. PHOTO BY DARREN EAGLES /PHOTO

“It’s loose,” Ringo told the Toronto Sun when describing the atmosphere at Casino Rama and explaining why the band chose the venue yet again to kick off another tour. “For a week we live here and we just go to the same stage. It’s good being in the same vicinity as where we’re rehearsing.”

Following are some clips taken by concert attendees of both the initial May 27 show and the second Rama date of May 28. First up: It Don’t Come Easy, which has always been one of my favorite Ringo tunes. The song, which he co-wrote with George Harrison who also produced it, first appeared as a non-album single in April 1971. It was Ringo’s second solo single. The tune may be titled “it don’t come easy”, but you don’t get the sense performing it posed any bigger challenge to Ringo who is turning 82 in July and seems to be in superb shape!

While Ringo undoubtedly is central to the All Starr Band, the idea behind the live “rock supergroup”, which he founded in 1989, has always been to go beyond Ringo’s songs and showcase tunes by the band’s members. Now in its 15th iteration, the group features longtime members Steve Lukather (of Toto), Colin Hay (formerly of Men At Work), Warren Ham, Hamish Stuart (formerly of Average White Band) and Gregg Bissonette, as well as alumni Edgar Winter whose first tenure was from 2006 to 2011. Speaking of Edgar, here’s Free Ride, a song written by Dan Hartman and originally recorded in 1972 by the Edgar Winter Group. Yeah, baby, this rocks!

How ’bout some Aussie music. Ask you shall receive. Here’s Colin Hay with Men at Work’s Down Under. One of the band’s best-known tunes, Down Under appeared on Business As Usual, the group’s debut album released in November 1981. Hay’s proposition of the vegemite sandwich still sounds pretty tasty.

Three clips in, you may wonder, and no Beatles? Agree, this borders on a crime. Here’s Octopus’s Garden, one of two songs Ringo not only sang but also wrote for the band. The second one was Don’t Pass Me By. He penned Octopus’s Garden during a boating trip with his family in Sardinia after he had walked out on The Beatles during The White Album sessions in 1968. Of course, we know the rest of the story. When Ringo returned, he found his drum kit covered with flowers, thanks to George, and Octopus’s Garden ended up on Abbey Road, the actual final Beatles album, even though it was released in September 1969, eight months prior to Let It Be.

Let’s do one more: With a Little Help From My Friends combined with a snippet of Give Peace a Chance, the show finale. With a Little Help From My Friends, off Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, was among the final songs John Lennon and Paul McCartney truly wrote together. Give Peace a Chance, recorded May 31, 1969 at a “bed-in” Lennon staged with Yoko Ono in a room at Queen Elizabeth’s Hotel in Montreal, was Lennon’s first solo hit.

Here’s the setlist from the May 27 show, as reported by the Toronto Sun:
• Matchbox
• It Don’t Come Easy
• What Goes On
• Free Ride
• Rosanna
• Pick Up the Pieces
• Down Under
• Boys
• I’m The Greatest
• Yellow Submarine
• Cut the Cake
• Overkill
• Africa
• Work to Do
• I Wanna Be Your Man
• Johnny B. Goode
• Who Can It Be Now
• Hold the Line
• Photograph
• Act Naturally
• With a Little Help From My Friends/Give Peace A Chance

“I can’t wait to get back out on the road and play,” Ringo said in the above statement that was issued in February. “This is the longest I’ve been off the road in years – up until 2020 I was touring every year with the All Starrs – and I’ve really missed it. Making music in the studio has been great, and it certainly saved me during the pandemic, but nothing beats playing live with great musicians in front of an audience. I love my fans and they love me and it’s going to be wonderful to be peace and loving and playing for them again.” That’s the spirit!

Tonight, Ringo and His All Starr Band are playing CMAC in Canandaigua, N.Y., before moving on to Boston’s Wang Theater on June 2 and Hanover Theater in Worcester, Mass. on June 3. The full tour schedule is available here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Ringo Starr website; Toronto Sun; Songfacts; YouTube

Paul McCartney Kicks Off North American ‘Got Back’ Tour

Set includes tributes to John Lennon and George Harrison

On Thursday night, Paul McCartney kicked off his North American Got Back Tour at Spokane Arena in Spokane, Wash. Apparently, it was a fabulous show with emotional tributes to John Lennon and George Harrison.

“Well, we said we’d come back, and we got back,” McCartney told the audience, according to this online piece by classic rock station Q104.3, which triggered this post. “And believe me,” he added, “We’re really happy to be back. I’m gonna take a moment for myself to drink it all in.” Who can blame Macca, after nearly three years of being off the road!

As time-stopped by local newspaper The Spokesman-Review, the gig lasted more than 2.5 hours. To me, it’s an indication that at nearly 80 years, Sir Paul still has remarkable fire in the belly to perform, something I’ve always loved about the man!

The regular set of 30 tracks and encore of six tunes featured many Beatles gems, as well as songs from Macca’s Wings and solo career. Following are two beautiful tributes to John and George, evidently captured by folks who were there.

First up is I’ve Got a Feeling. According to Rolling Stone, Get Back film director Peter Jackson had texted McCartney to let him know they can extract John’s voice, so he could sing the tune with his former bandmate. And that’s exactly what happened, together with video footage of John from the famous roof concert. Unfortunately, it’s only a snippet and the cameraman was shaken but not stirred. But, hey, we’ll take it, hoping it’s going to stay on YouTube.

McCartney also paid tribute to George with a beautiful rendition of Something, one of my favorite Harrison tunes off Abbey Road. Macca did so using a ukelele George had given him all those years ago. McCartney also included that version during a July 2016 show at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey, Pa. I was fortunate to attend – the last time I saw him.

Yes, let’s be honest here, it’s quite obvious Paul’s voice is showing signs of wear and tear. But I still love the man and the joy he continues to get from performing. I’m going to be amazed when seeing him at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey on June 16, and that’s not a maybe!

Last but not least, here’s the setlist, as recorded by The Spokesman-Review:

Start time: 8:09 p.m.

1. “Can’t Buy Me Love”

2. “Junior’s Farm”

3. “Letting Go”

4. “Got To Get You Into My Life”

5. “Come on to Me”

6. “Let Me Roll It”

7. “Getting Better”

8. “Women and Wives” (first song at piano)

9. “My Valentine” (with video featuring Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp)

10. “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five”

11. “Maybe I’m Amazed”

12. “I’ve Just Seen a Face”

13. “In Spite of All the Danger”

14. “Love Me Do”

15. “Dance Tonight”

16. “Blackbird”

17. “Here Today” (tribute to John Lennon)

18. “Queenie Eye” (the 2013 star-studded video includes Depp, as well)

19. “Lady Madonna”

20. “Fuh You”

21. “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”

22. “Something” (tribute to George Harrison)

23. “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”

24. “You Never Give Me Your Money”

25. “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”

26. “Get Back”

27. “Band on the Run”

28. “Let It Be”

29. “Live and Let Die”

30. “Hey Jude”

31. Encore at 10:30 p.m. after Washington state, Ukraine, U.S. and British flags are waved onstage. “I’ve Got a Feeling” video duet with Lennon orchestrated by Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson.

32. “Birthday”

33. “Helter Skelter”

34. “Golden Slumbers”

35. “Carry That Weight”

36. “The End”

End time: 10:51 p.m.

The current schedule for Macca’s Got Back Tour is here. On February 18, it was announced they had added a second date in Boston: June 8 at Fenway Park.

Sources: Q104.3; The Spokesman-Review; Rolling Stone; YouTube

Buddy Guy Reminds New Jersey Why He Was Born to Play the Guitar

Wednesday night, I saw Buddy Guy at Wellmont Theater, a lovely 2,500-seat concert venue in Montclair, N.J. My ticket had been a last-minute impulse purchase triggered by a post from a Facebook friend. Age has been kind to Guy, and it felt as if time had stood still since I had first seen him in July 2016.

If I see this correctly, the now 85-year-old is the last man standing from the old generation of Chicago blues artists, such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Elmore James and Luther Allison. Guy still proved to be an incredible guitarist, compelling vocalist and a great showman.

Key aspects of Guy’s show like hitting his guitar with a drum stick, cursing like a sailor and walking off the stage into the audience while playing were familiar from the two previous occasions I had seen him. While as such you could say there were no big surprises, I take predictability when it’s delivered at such a high caliber.

Buddy Guy with Colin James

Before getting to some of Guy’s music, I’d like to say a few words about Canadian blues-rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Colin James who opened the night. According to his website, His career has spanned over 30 years, with a track record that includes 19 studio albums, 7 Juno Awards, 27 Maple Blues Awards and multi-platinum record sales. His most recent album Miles To Go garnered worldwide attention, debuting on the Billboard Blues Charts and holding a position on the RMR Blues Chart for 24 weeks, 14 weeks in the top 10. He continues to sell out shows across Canada with over 80,000 tickets sold on tours over the past 3 years. Colin was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2014.

I was completely new to Colin James and greatly enjoyed his 45-minute set. For some of his songs, he was joined by Guy’s excellent pianist and organist Marty Sammon. Here’s one of these tunes, the title track from James’ new album Open Road, which appeared in November 2021. James came back for one song in Guy’s set.

After a short break, the time had come for Buddy Guy. And he made it damn clear right from the get-go that he meant business with Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues. The title track of his seventh studio album from July 1991 was penned by Guy.

One thing Guy likes to do is to combine songs, which can result in lengthy jam-like performances. Not only can this make it tricky to distinguish between songs, but it also becomes an endurance test for filming! 🙂 Anyway, here’s one such example from Wednesday night: The Willie Dixon standard I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man and the Muddy Waters tune She’s Nineteen Years Old. Both songs were first recorded by Waters in 1954 and 1958, respectively.

I leave you with one more clip: Skin Deep, the title track of Guy’s 14th studio album from July 2008, which I felt was one of the highlights of the night. The soulful tune was co-written by Guy and his long-time collaborators Tom Hambridge and Gary Nicholson. Such a great tune!

Other songs in Guy’s set I could recognize included Feels Like Rain (written by John Hiatt; title track of Guy’s 1993 studio album), Got My Mojo Working (written by Preston “Red” Foster; from Guy and Junior Wells’ Live in Montreux, 1978), a snippet of Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love, Someone Else Is Steppin’ In (written by Denise LaSalle; from Guy’s 1994 studio album Slippin’ In), I Go Crazy (written by James Brown; from Feels Like Rain), Drowning On Dry Land (co-written by Mickey Gregory and Allen Jones; from Guy’s 2008 live album 2008-06-28: Glastonbury Festival) and Cheaper to Keep Her (co-written by Bonny Rice, Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer; from Guy’s 2005 studio album Bring ‘Em In).

This review wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging Guy’s excellent backing group The Damn Right Blues Band. Apart from Marty Sammon, the line-up includes dynamite guitarist Ric “JazGuitar” Hall, Orlando Wright (bass) and the above-mentioned Tom Hambridge on drums.

Guy is taking his show to the Kodak Center in Rochester, N.Y. tonight. Other upcoming dates include Massey Hall, Toronto, Canada (April 9); Revolution Hall, Portland, Ore (April 21) and Moore Hall, Seattle, Wash. (April 22). The tour also includes a show scheduled for July 30, Guy’s 86th birthday, at Taft Theater in Cincinnati, Ohio. The schedule for his entire 2022 tour, which currently has gigs until September, is here.

I find Buddy Guy an amazing inspiration. If you dig electric blues Chicago-style and don’t mind cursing, I can highly recommend the man who truly was born to play the guitar and who damn right has got the blues.

Sources: Wikipedia; Colin James website; Buddy Guy website; YouTube

The Temptations and Four Tops Shine On After 60-Plus Years

Iconic Motown acts deliver sweet soul music old school style and in perfect harmony at St. George Theatre on Staten Island, N.Y.

Nope, it wasn’t just my imagination, runnin’ away with me. On Thursday evening, I actually found myself at my first larger-scale indoor concert since January 2020: The Temptations and Four Tops at St. George Theatre, an old beautiful 2,800-seat performance venue on Staten Island, N.Y. I literally didn’t make the final decision to go until the morning of the show. In the end, perhaps I’m weaker than a man should be, I can’t help myself. One thing is for sure: It felt so damn good!

I’ve deliberately been avoiding large crowds since this bloody pandemic began, especially in closed rooms, so my decision to attend this show didn’t come easy. In the end, I felt the risk was acceptable, given the Covid numbers have been trending down, I’m fully vaccinated and I was wearing a mask for additional protection. In addition, performance venues in New York require that all visitors provide proof of vaccination before they can be admitted. Frankly, I wish New Jersey would do the same. On to the show!

Yours truly at St. George Theatre, which first opened its doors on December 4, 1929. And, yes, there was a big smile behind that mask!

I trust none of these two iconic Motown acts need much of an introduction. The Temptations, who opened the evening, were formed in 1960 in Detroit, Mich. Initially called The Elgins, the original members included Otis Williams, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams and Elbridge “Al” Bryant. Not surprisingly, the group’s composition has changed many times over the decades. Notably, Williams who just turned 80 on October 30, is still part of the current line-up, which also includes Terry Weeks (since 1997), Willie Greene (since 2015), Ron Tyson (since 1983) and Larry Braggs (since 2016). Braggs couldn’t be there since he was under the weather, as Williams put it, but the four of them did a marvelous job on vocals.

Following are a few clips I took from their set. First up: Ain’t Too Proud to Beg. Co-written by producer Norman Whitfield and Edward Holland Jr., part of the songwriting and production powerhouse of Holland-Dozier-Holland, Ain’t Too Proud to Beg was first released as a single in May 1966 and also included on The Temptations’ fourth studio album Gettin’ Ready from June of the same year. The song became their fourth no. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles chart. It also reached no. 13, no. 32 and 21 on the mainstream charts in the U.S., Canada and UK, respectively.

For the most part, The Temptations presented their songs blending into each other, which made recording a bit tricky. Luckily, Setlist.fm included the song line-up from another recent show and, as far as I could tell, they replicated that same set. Here’s the highlight of their show and perhaps the highlight of the night: Just My Imagination (Runnin’ Away With Me) and Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone. Just My Imagination, co-written by Whitfield and Barrett Strong, first appeared as a single in January 1971 and was also part of the group’s 14th studio album Sky’s the Limit. The song became their third to top the Billboard Hot 100 and reached no. 8 in the UK, one of their most successful hits there. Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone, another Whitfield-Barrett co-write, with its edgy psychedelic soul sound set quite a contrast. Originally, this tune was released as a single in May 1972 by The Undisputed Truth, another Motown act. But it was the version by The Temptations from September that year, which turned the great tune into a major hit, both in the U.S. and internationally. Once again, it topped the Billboard Hot 100, reached no. 12 in Canada, and became a top 20 hit in the UK and various European countries.

The last tune from the group’s set I’d like to call out was the closer My Girl, which Williams called The Temptations’ anthem. Co-written by Smokey Robinson and Ronald White who also both produced the tune, My Girl became the group’s first big hit and a signature song. First released in December 1964, it reached no. 1 in the U.S. on both the mainstream and R&B Singles charts, climbed to no. 8 in Canada, and peaked at no. 2 in each the UK and Ireland. My Girl was also included on The Temptations’ sophomore album The Temptations Sing Smokey, which appeared in March 1965.

Here’s the entire setlist (based on the aforementioned entry in Setlist.fm)

Get Ready
Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue)
The Way You Do the Things You Do
Ain’t Too Proud to Beg
Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)
I Wish It Would Rain
Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)/Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone (The Undisputed Truth cover)
I Can’t Get Next to You
Is it Gonna Be Yes Or No
Waitin’ On You
Treat Her Like a Lady
My Girl

After a 10 to 15-minute intermission, it was the Four Tops’ turn. That vocal quartet was first established as the Four Aims in 1953 in the Motor City. This means the group has been around for some 68 years, which I find absolutely incredible. What’s even more amazing is that one of the founding members, Abdul “Duke” Fakir, who is turning 86 years in December, is still part of the current line-up! The other original members were Levi Stubbs, Renaldo “Obi” Benson and Lawrence Payton. That line-up remarkably performed for more than 40 years until 1997 without any changes. Apart from Fakir, the group’s present members are Ronnie McNeir (since 1999), Alexander Morris (since 2019) and Lawrence Payton Jr., the son of original member Payton (since 2005).

Here’s Baby I Need Your Loving, the Four Tops’ first Motown single. Written by the aforementioned Holland-Dozier-Holland and released in July 1964, it marked an impressive start, reaching no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and going all the way to no. 4 in Canada. The song was also included on the Four Tops’ eponymous debut album from January 1965.

Similar to The Temptations, the Four Tops hardly left breaks between their songs and combined some in medleys. Here’s a mighty triple combo of Reach Out (I’ll Be There), Standing in the Shadows of Love and I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch). All of these three tunes, which formed the finale of the group’s set, were penned by Holland-Dozier-Holland. First released in 1966, Reach Out was the second Four Tops song to top both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Hot R&B Singles charts. Also reaching no. 1 in the UK, no. 4 in Ireland, no. 6 in each The Netherlands and Canada, and no. 10 in Belgium, Reach Out became one of the group’s biggest hits and one of Motown’s best-known songs. Standing in the Shadows of Love couldn’t quite match that enormous chart success, but still climbed to no. 6 on the U.S. and British mainstream charts. I Can’t Help Myself marked the first no. 1 for the Four Tops in the U.S. on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Hot R&B Singles charts. In the U.K., it got to no. 23.

Here’s the list of songs the Four Tops performed:

Loco in Acapulco
Baby I Need Your Loving
Bernadette
Same Old Song / Shake Me, Wake Me
I Believe in You and Me
I Got a Feeling
Mack the Knife
What’s Going On (Marvin Gaye cover)
When She Was My Girl
Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got)
Reach Out (I’ll Be There) / Standing in the Shadows of Love
I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)

What else can I say? Other than sharing a 10-piece horn section, The Temptations and Four Tops were backed by excellent separate bands. One cool factoid the Four Tops‘ Fakir shared is that their backing band featured Earl Van Dyke Jr. on keyboards. He’s the son of Earl Van Dyke, the main keyboarder for Motown’s house band The Funk Brothers. Similar to Booker T. & the M.G.’s at Stax, The Funk Brothers can be heard on countless Motown recordings between 1959 and 1972.

Speaking of Stax, I’ve noted before that Motown introduced me to soul, which eventually led me to Stax, my favorite soul label these days. Having said this, while the Motown formula they used during the ’60s can become repetitive, many of these songs were done incredibly well, thanks in part due to excellent studio musicians like The Funk Brothers. That’s something I realized once again listening to this music on Thursday night.

The final thoughts in this post shall belong to Otis Williams, who was quoted on the website of St. George Theatre as follows: “When I tell people we are God’s group…I don’t mean it arrogantly. It’s just that we have been tested time and again and keep coming back. We have suffered the death of so many legendary singers…Paul Williams, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Melvin Franklin. Other’s like Dennis Edwards, Richard Street, Ali-Ollie Woodson and Theo Peoples have left, and yet our unity is tighter, our sound brighter and our popularity greater. Someone has watched over this group. Someone has protected our integrity. Someone has said…just go on singing and it’ll get better.”

Sources: Wikipedia; St. George Theatre website; YouTube

Rock the Farm Triumphantly Returns to Jersey Shore

Ten-hour open air festival for great cause features top-notch music tribute acts

After taking a break last year due to this seemingly never-ending pandemic, Rock the Farm 2021 had felt a long time coming – especially the weeks leading up to it! Yesterday (September 25), the wait was finally over. The annual event in Seaside Heights, N.J., organized by the CFC Loud n Clear Foundation, combines music performed by outstanding tribute bands with raising funds and awareness for programs that support individuals and families struggling with addiction. CFC’s efforts aim to fill the gap after clinical treatment, a period when staying sober and remaining on track can be particularly challenging. You can read more about this nonprofit organization and their important work here.

Rock the Farm 2021 marked the seventh time the festival took place. As in years past, the line-up of tribute acts was impressive: One Fine Tapestry (Carole King), Coo Coo Cachoo (Simon & Garfunkel), Walk This Way (Aerosmith), Decade (Neil Young), The Traveling Milburys (The Traveling Wilburys), Guns 4 Roses (Guns N’ Roses), TUSK (Fleetwood Mac) and Tramps Like Us (Bruce Springsteen).

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Just imagine for a moment these would have been the real acts. Apart from being non-affordable for most music fans, obviously, it wouldn’t have been possible to have all these artists appear at the same festival. Creating a unique music experience is a key idea behind Rock the Farm! And it’s definitely part of what makes it so much fun to attend!

Following are some highlights from the 10-hour music marathon that took place on two stages next to each other. I’m going in chronological order, featuring one clip per tribute act that are all from New Jersey except when noted otherwise.

One Fine Tapestry/I Feel the Earth Move

As in years past, One Fine Tapestry, a tribute to Carole King, kicked off Rock the Farm. At the core of this act are Gerard Barros and Diane Barros, a versatile husband and wife duo performing a variety of different tribute shows. Yesterday, they were backed by a full band. Here’s I Feel the Earth Move, a tune from King’s Tapestry album that appeared in February 1971 – one of the many gems celebrating their 50th anniversary this year!

Coo Coo Cachoo/Mrs. Robinson

Coo Coo Cachoo are Thomas Johnston and Ed Jankiewicz, who have been performing Simon & Garfunkel songs since they met in high school close to 50 years ago – that’s just remarkable! Here’s their set opener Mrs. Robinson. Written by Paul Simon, the tune was included on Simon & Garfunkel’s fourth studio album Bookends from April 1968. It also became the record’s lead single and, of course, was part of the soundtrack for the romantic comedy drama The Graduate released in December 1967.

Walk This Way/Love in an Elevator

Walk This Way are a Dallas, Texas-based tribute to Aerosmith, featuring Ian Latimer as Steven Tyler (vocals), David Semans as Joe Perry (guitar, backing vocals), Chris Bender as Tom Hamilton (bass), Martin Turney as Joey Kramer (drums), Eamonn Gallagher as Brad Whitford (guitar) and Chris Loehrlein as Russ Irwin (keyboards). They opened their set with Love in an Elevator, a track co-written by Perry and Tyler, and included on Aerosmith’s 10th studio album Pump that appeared in September 1989. It also became the record’s second single.

Decade/Almost Cut My Hair

Decade are a band around Neil Young tribute artist John Hathaway (guitar, vocals), who has performed with different line-ups over the years. Yesterday’s backing band included Gordon Bunker Strout (guitar, backing vocals), Joseph Napolitano (pedal steel guitar), Billy Siegel (keyboards), John Perry (bass), Bob Giunco (drums) and Pam McCoy (backing vocals). In addition to Young songs, they also throw in a few tunes by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, such as this great rendition of Almost Cut My Hair featuring Pam McCoy on lead vocals. Penned by David Crosby, the song is from the Déjà Vu album, the first CSN record with Neil Young, released in March 1970.

The Traveling Milburys/Telephone Line

Traveling Wilburys tribute act The Traveling Milburys feature Nelson Milbury as George Harrison, Lefty Milbury as Roy Orbison, Charlie T. Milbury as Tom Petty, Otis Milbury as Jeff Lynne and Lucky Milbury as Bob Dylan. Also part of this Canadian band are Rick Hyatt (keyboards), Mike Berardelli (bass) and Danny Sandwell (drums). Apart from Wilburys songs, the group plays many tunes from the individual artists that made up the Wilburys. Here’s Telephone Line, a track written by Lynne from ELO’s sixth studio album A New World Record that came out in September 1976.

Guns 4 Roses/Sweet Child o’ Mine

Guns 4 Roses, another Dallas-based band, are a tribute to Guns N’ Roses. Their members are Laz as Axl Rose (lead vocals), Eamonn as Slash (guitar), Chris as Duff McKagan (bass), David as Dizzy Reed (keyboards), Martin as Steven Adler (drums) and Chris as Izzy Stradlin (guitar). Here’s Sweet Child o’ Mine from Guns N’ Roses’ debut album Appetite for Destruction released in July 1987. The tune, which also became the record’s third single, was credited to the entire band. These guys were truly rockin’ the farm!

TUSK/You Make Loving Fun

TUSK are a tribute band focused on the pop rock period of Fleetwood Mac. The group includes Kathy Phillips as Stevie Nicks (vocals), Kim Williams as  Christine McVie (keyboards, vocals), Scott McDonald as Lindsey Buckingham (guitar, vocals), Randy Artiglere as John McVie (bass) and Tom Nelson as Mick Fleetwood (drums). Their harmony singing is just incredible! Here’s You Make Loving Fun written by Christine McVie and from the Rumours album that appeared in February 1977. It also became the record’s fourth and final single.

Tramps Like Us/Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

Closing out Rock the Farm 2021 was music by The Boss performed by longtime Bruce Springsteen tribute Tramps Like Us – great way to end a 10-hour music marathon! Formed in 1990, the band features front man Mark Salore as Bruce Springsteen (vocals, guitar), together with Jon Malatino (acoustic guitar, percussion, backing vocals), Ken Hope (piano, organ, keyboards, backing vocals), Tom LaRocca (saxophone, keyboards, guitar, backing vocals), Scott Bennert (bass, backing vocals) and Marty Matelli (drums, percussion). Here’s Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, one of my favorite tunes from Born to Run, Springsteen’s third studio album from August 1975.

This was my fourth Rock the Farm in a row. While except for The Traveling Milburys I had seen all other tribute acts at previous Rock the Farm and/or other concerts, this event truly has been a gift that keeps on giving. Admittedly, my decision to attend this year did not come as easily as in the past, given COVID-19. After all, I had stayed away from most music events over the summer. Rock the Farm was the one I simply didn’t want to miss!

Sources: Wikipedia; CFC Loud n Clear Foundation website; One Fine Tapestry website; Coo Coo Cachoo Facebook page; Walk This Way website; Decade Facebook page; Traveling Milburys website; Guns 4 Roses website; TUSK website; Tramps Like Us website; YouTube