An Evening of Joyful Blues with Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’

Blues Legends Bring Good Time to Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley

A long three months finally came to an end last night. Shortly after Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ had issued their collaboration album TajMo in May, I found out about their All Around the World tour and got a ticket to what I knew I simply wouldn’t want to miss. It was a great decision!

Yesterday night, the two blues dynamos brought their show to the F.M. Kirby Center of the Performing Arts in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. The heart of the Wyoming Valley is not exactly New York or Chicago, but was well worth the 2.5-hour hike from my house through the Pocono Mountains!

Readers of the blog have probably noticed the blues has been on my mind frequently as of late. Undoubtedly, the excellent TajMo album, which I previously reviewed here, has something to do with it. In addition, I’ve been excited about other recent new releases in the blues and soul genres from artists like Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Casey James and Southern Avenue. Maybe Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ are right when they expressed full confidence that the blues will survive during a recent PBS NewsHour segment.

Jontavious Willis

Before I get to TajMo, I’d like to say few words about the opening act, a country blues artist called Jontavious Willis. According to his online bio, Mahal called Willis “my Wonderboy, the Wunderkind.” After having seen last night’s 30-minute performance by the 21-year-old from Greenville, Ga., I have to say this is not an exaggeration and yet another indication that the prospects of the blues look bright these days!

Willis, who is currently finishing his studies at Columbus State University, released his debut album Blue Metamorphosis in February this year. He’ll continue to tour with TajMo for many of their upcoming gigs in August and September. What this young artist got out of just an acoustic guitar was insane. It’s hard to find clips that do his exceptional solo acoustic skills full justice.

After Willis blew off the Kirby Center’s roof with his dynamic acoustic guitar performance, it was time for TajMo. From the very first moment they walked on stage, their joy of performing together was palpable. The set opened with Señor Blues, a jazz standard by Horace Silver, which Mahal covered on his 1999 studio album with the same title. This was followed by Don’t Leave Me Here, the first of five songs Mahal and Mo’ played from TajMo, and one of favorites from that album.

After six tunes with the full band, the two blues maestros took things “to the deep country blues,” as Mahal put it, playing Diving Duck Blues. Written by Sleepy John Estes, Mahal first recorded the track on his 1969 eponymous debut album. It is also included on TajMo and another highlight of that record. Watch the amazing chemistry between the two.

One of the highlights during the second half of the set was The Worst Is Yet to Come. Co-written by Mo’, Heather Donovan and Pete Sallis, Mo included the tune on 2014’s BLUESAmericana, his 12th studio album. I wonder whether Mo’ got the inspiration for the song’s title from the American songbook 1959 standard The Best Is Yet to Come, which became one of Frank Sinatra’s popular tunes in the mid-’60s. Unfortunately, the only TajMo clip I could find is cut off in the beginning.

Ironically, The Worst Is Yet to Come was followed by one of my longtime favorite blues tunes: She Caught the Katy And Left Me a Mule to Ride. Prior to that I only had known the great version by The Blues Brothers. It turns out Mahal co-wrote this classic with Yank Rachell and included it on this second studio album The Natch’s Blues, which was released in 1968.

The last song I’d like to highlight is All Around the World, which also appears on TajMo and was the closer of the 20-song regular set. The tune perfectly sums up the positive vibes Mahal and Mo’ sent to the audience throughout the show. People were up on their feet and made some noise, so they came back for one encore: Soul, yet another tune from their collaboration album.

Finally, I’d like to say a few words about the top-notch band that backed up Mahal and Mo’. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the names of the musicians, but here are a few things I remember. The drummer comes from Memphis, Tenn., former home of the storied Stax Records label. The bassist, who is a lefty, hails from Washington, D.C. The fantastic horn section consists of a male trumpet player and female saxophonist. Mo’ called her out for her amazing sound. The keyboarder, who among others played a seductively roaring Hammond, was top-rate as well. Last but not least, there were two special background vocalists: Mahal’s daughters, Deva and Zoe. And they were not there just for alibi – these ladies can sing!

TajMo are taking their tour next to Wheeling, W.Va.; and Richmond, Va. before hitting New York City’s SummerStage in Central Park this Sunday, where they will perform a free show. I’m tempted to go there to see them again! The tour continues throughout the remainder of August and September all the way into October, when it concludes in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on October 21.

Sources: PBS NewsHour, Jontavious Willis website, Setlist.fm, Facebook, TajMo web site, YouTube

The Eagles Rise Again at Classic West

Band delivers powerful tribute to Glenn Frey

Following Glenn Frey’s untimely death in January 2016 at the age of 67, the future of The Eagles looked uncertain. After all, Frey led the Southern California band together with Don Henley and co-wrote most of their songs with him. So it was a fair question to ask whether anyone could step into his shoes. Last night, fans got some answers during The Eagles’ first regular live concert after Frey’s death, conducted at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles at part of The Classic West music festival.

Of course, to close observers it wasn’t much of a surprise. At the end of May, the Los Angeles Times had reported Deacon Frey, Glenn’s 24-year-old son, and country artist Vince Gill, one of Frey’s close friends, would join The Eagles to share responsibilities for replacing Frey.

Deacon Frey

“Bringing Deacon in was my idea,” Henley told the Times. “I think of the guild system, which in both Eastern and Western cultures is a centuries-old tradition of the father passing down the trade to his son, and to me, that makes perfect moral and ethical sense. The primary thing is I think Glenn would be good with it — with both of these guys. I think he’d go, ‘That’s the perfect way to do this.’ ”

Deacon added he grew up singing his father’s songs. “The first songs I learned on guitar were ‘Take It Easy’ and ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling.’ He was always very supportive and very encouraging of my music and my love for music.”

Vince Gill

During the same interview, a beaming Gill commented, “In my mind, I always thought I’d have made a good Eagle…but in a million years, I never would have seen this coming. It’s pretty surreal. I turned 60 recently, and to get to be a part of this amazing legacy of songs, that’s the greatest part of all this for me.”

While Deacon’s and Gill’s participation in last night’s show had been announced, the appearance of another music artist was a surprise. Bob Seger, a long-time friend of Frey and a collaborator, joined the band to sing Heartache Tonight. The song choice was not a coincidence – Seger had co-written the tune with Henley, Frey and J.D. Souther and provided (non-credited) background vocals on the recording.

Following are a few clips from last night’s concert.

Take It Easy featuring Deacon Frey

Tequila Sunrise featuring Vince Gill

Peaceful Easy Feeling featuring Deacon Frey

New Kid in Town featuring Vince Gill

Heartache Tonight featuring Bob Seger

And then there is of course the ultimate signature Eagles tune, Hotel California, which was the first encore:

While media coverage of last night’s show has been favorable, I’ve no doubt critical voices will emerge, questioning the motives behind the revival of The Eagles. After all, in the wake of Frey’s death, Henley himself had said during various interviews he thought this was the end of the band. Sure, one could take a cynical view and argue this would also mean the end of lucrative concert tours and merchandise, so it’s ultimately a money grab. I do see it a bit differently.

While I’m not naive and realize financial incentives are likely part of the equation here, especially in today’s music business where records no longer sell the way they used to, I also think it’s important to acknowledge The Eagles did not only consist of Henley and Frey. Let’s not forgot about Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit. If one member of a four-piece band is no longer around, this should not automatically seal the fate of the band.

Just like I thought it was perfectly fine for Pink Floyd to continue after they had parted ways with Roger Waters, I feel it’s okay for The Eagles to go on without Glenn Frey. Sure, he’ll be dearly missed and it’s big shoes to fill, especially for Deacon. But while the 24-year-old essentially still is an unproven music artist, he deserves a lot of credit for what must have been a high-pressure performance last night. Gill is the complete opposite. He’s had a 30-year-plus career with 19 studio albums and multiple Country Music Association and Grammy Awards – more than any other country male artist.

It remains to be seen whether Deacon Fry and Vince Gill will become permanent replacements for Glenn. For now, The Eagles are soaring again, which most fans will appreciate.

Sources: Wikipedia, Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, Setlist.fm, YouTube

John Mellencamp Made Philly’s Walls Come Crumblin’ Down

Emmylou Harris and Carlene Carter added country power at Mann Center last night

When I read John Mellencamp was going to bring his Sad Clowns & Hillbillies 2017 Summer Tour to the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, my decision to get a ticket didn’t take long. It’s a 1.5-hour drive from my house, and I’ve driven longer to see a great show! The only question was, would it be R.O.C.K. or more of the stripped down Americana Mellencamp has gradually embraced since 1986’s The Lonesome Jubilee. It was definitely the former!

When you name your tour Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, it’s appropriate to add some country flavor to the mix. With Carlene Carter and Emmylou Harris, Mellencamp invited two pretty amazing ladies of the genre. And I say that as somebody who hardly listens to country music. Carter essentially has been touring with Mellencamp for the past three years and is also prominently featured on his last album.

Carlene Carter

Carter, the daughter of June Carter Cash and stepdaughter of Johnny Cash, opened up the show all by herself, alternating between guitar and the piano – frankly, she didn’t need anything else! Except for one tune, Damascus Road, which she wrote for Sad Clowns, I didn’t know her songs. But this lady drew me in pretty quickly, so it didn’t matter whether or not I was familiar with her music.

Looking now at her set thanks to Setlist.fm, in addition to the above excellent Sad Clowns tune, Carter played five songs from her previous four studio albums. This included Every Little Thing from 1993’s Little Love Letters, which peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks and appears to be one of her biggest hits. To me the highlight of Carter’s set was Lonesome Valley 2003, one of two tracks she performed on keyboards from her most recent solo album Carter Girl (2014). It’s a heartfelt song about her mother. Here’s a clip of the studio version, which features Vince Gill. Last night, Carter delivered it just as beautifully, if not with even more passion.

Next came country music legend Emmylou Harris. Over her impressive 45-year-plus career, she has received numerous accolades, including 13 Grammys and an induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. While similar to Carter, Harris is not an artist I usually listen to, I thought she delivered a powerful performance as well. And as somebody who recently turned 70, she also looked great!

Emmylou Harris

Again, I have to peek at Setlist.fm to elaborate on Harris’ 11-song set. She dug deeply into her catalogue, ranging from Luxury Liner and Pancho & Lefty, both from Luxury Liner (1976) to My Name Is Emmett Till, from Hard Bargain, her last solo studio album released in 2011. Interestingly, Harris hardly played any of her big hits, except for Born to Run (Cimarron, 1981), which peaked at no. 3 on the U.S. country charts. In my opinion, her most powerful performance was Emmett Till. The tune recalls the true story of a 14-year-old African-American, who was brutally lynched in Mississippi in 1955, after allegedly offending the 21-year-old wife of a small grocery store owner. Here’s a clip of the song, which supposedly was captured during a 2012 live performance.

Then it was John Mellencamp’s turn. Of course, as a huge fan of the Indiana rocker for more than 30 years, I didn’t wait until the concert to get an idea what he is going to play – once again, bless Setlist.fm!

The first thing I noticed was the set only includes three songs from Sad Clowns, namely Grandview, My Soul’s Got Wings and Easy Target – a surprise, given Mellencamp named the tour after the album. I also saw there are plenty of tunes from his early, more rock-oriented phase, which represents the Mellencamp I came to love initially. Given his full-blown embrace of acoustic roots music in more recent years, I figured, ‘okay, so maybe he’ll do stripped down versions of his rockers.’ Nope!

John Mellencamp 1

From the opening bars of his first tune Lawless Times, included on the 2014 studio album Plain Spoken, Mellencamp made it crystal clear he wasn’t stripping down anything – in fact, most of the 18-song set rocked pretty vigorously! Unlike Carter and Harris, he also didn’t shy away from playing many of his biggest hits he scored over the last 35 years. It made for a dynamite performance!

Mellencamp covered songs from 10 albums, ranging from 1982’s American Fool (Jack & Diane) to Sad Clowns (Grandview, My Soul’s Got Wings and Easy Target). In addition to Sad Clowns, Mellencamp also played three tunes from each Scaregrow (Minutes to Memories, Rain On the Scaregrow and Small Town), The Lonesome Jubilee (Check It Out, Paper in Fire, Cherry Bomb) and Uh-Huh (Crumblin’ Down, Authority Song and Pink Houses). The remaining tracks included John Cockers (Life, Death, Love and Freedom, 2014), Pop Singer (Big Daddy, 1989) and a great cover of the Robert Johnson song Stones In My Passway (Trouble No More, 2003).

Pretty much every song Mellencamp performed was awesome, so it is hard to highlight a few tunes only. So I guess I go by some of my all-time favorites. First up is Small Town. Here’s clip I found from an earlier Sad Clowns show. Frankly, last night’s version seemed to rock a lot more! Of course, while smartphone video cameras have become pretty good, they do have their limitations.

Next up: Grandview together with Carter. She and Mellencamp just sound great together. They also visibly have good chemistry! 🙂 Immediately following is My Soul’s Got Wings, the only song in the show where Mellencamp is joined by both Carter and Harris – pretty cool!

Another tune I cannot leave out is Pink Houses. If I had to name my most favorite performance of the show, it would have to be this track. Again, Carter and Mellencamp just sound awesome together!

Last but not least, the set’s and show’s closer, Cherry Bomb.

This post would not be complete without acknowledging the top-notch musicians who backed up Harris (The Red Dirt Boys), as well as Mellencamp’s tour band: Andy York (guitar), Mike Wanchic (guitar), John Gunnell (bass), Dane Clark (drums), Miriam Sturm (violin), Troye Kennett (keyboards and accordion). While each of these musicians is outstanding, I’d like to call out Sturm in particular, an out-of-this-world violinist. If you met her in the street, you’d never guess she’s a true rock & roll star!

In fact, at some point during the set, Sturm played Overture together with Kennett on accordion. The beautiful classical piece is the opening track from Mellencamp’s 1986 studio album Mr. Happy Go Lucky. Among others, the instrumental includes part of the melody of Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First), a track from the same album. Sturm and Kennett extended the piece by adding a section from I Need a Lover, an early Mellencamp tune from 1979’s John Cougar. And since it is so amazing, here’s a clip I luckily found.

Last night’s show undoubtedly was one of the best concerts I’ve attended in recent years. If there is perhaps one thing I missed a bit, ironically, it was the lack of stripped down songs – tt really only came down to Easy Target and Jack & Diane. I say “ironically,” since while I’ve always loved Mellencamp’s 80s rockers, it did take me a while to fully appreciate the more acoustic, more bare bones type of music he has adopted in more recent years. Now I’ve also become a fan of the latter. For example, Indigo Sunset from Sad Clowns would have been a terrific addition to the set.

Sources: Wikipedia, Setlist.fm, YouTube

U2 Rocks MetLife With Epic Performance

After 30 years The Joshua Tree sounds as fresh as ever

While I have listened to U2 for more than 30 years and heard more than once how terrific their live performances are, I had not been to one of their shows. The Joshua Tree is my favorite U2 album, so when I read about the band’s summer tour to celebrate the record’s 30th anniversary, I knew the time had come to finally see them. So I did Thursday night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. And what an amazing show it was!

Things kicked off with The Lumineers. I know next to nothing about this folk rock band hailing from Denver, but I definitely liked what I heard. I only recognized one song, Ho Hey, which became a hit for the band in 2012 and was the lead single from their eponymous album released the same year. Their set included 11 other songs – some additional tunes from their debut album and some tracks from the 2016 follow-up, Cleopatra.

20151116_the_lumineers_shot_02_059

Lead vocalist and guitarist Wesley Schultz, who together with Jeremiah Fraites (drums, percussion) writes most of the band’s songs, has a great voice. Cellist and vocalist Neyla Pekarek rounds out The Lumineers, adding an interesting flavor to the band’s sound. I am planning to check them out more closely.

U2 Joshua Tree Tour 2017

After about an hour and a half into the evening, U2 finally took the stage. With Sunday Bloody Sunday and New Year’s DayBono, The Edge, Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton made it clear from the get-go they mean business. Both tunes are from War, their third studio album from 1983, and are among my favorite early U2 songs. Next came two tracks from the 1984 follow-up The Unforgettable Fire: Bad and the epic Pride (In the Name of Love). 

And then it was time for The Joshua Tree album, U2’s fifth studio album from 1987. They played all of its tracks and in the same order. This is a truly great record. In addition to its three big hits Where the Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and With or Without You, the album has numerous other gems. These include Bullet the Blue the Sky, Running to Stand Still, In God’s Country, Trip Through Your Wires, One Tree Hill and especially Red Mill Mining Town. By the time you’ve listened to the aforementioned songs, you’ve listened to almost the entire album!

After performing all 15 tracks for The Joshua Tree, U2 came back for a nice encore, playing seven more songs. Highlights included Beautiful Day (All That You Can’t Leave Behind; 2000), Vertigo (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb; 2004), Mysterious Way and One (both Achtung Baby; 1991).

In early June, a 30th anniversary edition of The Joshua Tree album was released in several formats. In addition to the original studio record, the deluxe editions include a live recording of a 1987 concert at Madison Square Garden in New York. I listened to it earlier today and have to say U2 on Thursday night sounded pretty darn close to that recording from 30 years ago.

Sources: Wikipedia, Setlist.fm, YouTube

British Invasion Rocks Atlantic City

Amazing tribute bands took audience back to greatest period in rock music

One of the main reasons I am on Facebook is to get news about the artists and music I love. Last weekend, an announcement popped up in my newsfeed about a British Invasion tribute festival in Atlantic City. With cool-looking bands and free admission, it didn’t take long to convince me to go there. After all, what could possibly go better together than the sin of gambling and rock & roll? And so I hopped in my car and went there yesterday.

To say it right upfront, I had a great time, and so did the other folks who had come out to the deck at the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino. Three tribute bands brought back the 60s and 70s: Glimmer Twins, Who’s Next and Britain’s Finest. Each did a great job looking and sounding like the rock & roll heroes they represented.

Glimmer Twins

Adopting the nickname of the songwriting partnership of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the Glimmer Twins hail from Philly, Pa. The band is led by Keith Call (vocals, harp) and Bernie Bollendorf (guitars, vocals), who bring to life Jagger and Richards in the ’70s. Call has Jagger’s facial expressions, moves and swagger down to the details, while Bollendorf beautifully captures Richards’ onstage persona, from the way he’s holding his guitars to the cigarettes in his mouth while playing. Even both of their voices sound similar to Jagger and Richards – amazing!

Glimmer Twins 2

Call and Bollendorf are backed up by a kick ass band, which according to their Facebook page consists of Michael Rubino (guitars), Chris Bollendorf (drums), Rob Ekstedt (bass), Rocco Notte (keyboards), Valorie Steel (backup vocals), Bobby Michaels (saxophone, flute, organ) and Bill Cancel (saxophone, flute, organ). In fact, it’s safe to assume they sound better than the their stoned rock & roll heroes during many of their ’70s shows!

Some of The Rolling Stones classics the band played included Start Me Up, Wild Horses, Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker), (I Can’t Get No) SatisfactionHappy, It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It) and what I thought was a highlight: Gimme Shelter, where the band’s African-American backing vocalist demonstrated her amazing pipes. Here’s a little demo.

Who’s Next

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find much public information on this tribute band to The Who. They have a Facebook group, which I’ve asked to join. What I can say for the time being is these four guys would make Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend really proud. Who knows, perhaps they’re even aware of them!

Who's Next 2

Apparently named after The Who’s fifth legendary studio album from 1971, the band strives to look and sound like the real thing during the ’70s. The singer looks like he could be a younger brother of Daltrey – similar height, similar body build, similar stage persona; oh, and he has a pretty good voice, too! The guitarist, bassist and drummer also do an excellent job personifying Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon, respectively.

Who’s Next’s set included classics, such as Can’t ExplainSubstitute, Pinball Wizard and appropriately various tunes from the 1971 album, such as Baba O’Riley, Bargain, Behind Blue Eyes and the epic Won’t Get Fooled Again. Here’s a nice promo clip I found from the band.

Britain’s Finest

I’ve seen various tribute bands to The Beatles over the decades, including some that were very good and others that were – well – not as great. The music of the Fab Four, especially the songs they played during their live period, may be relatively simple. But The Beatles were a fantastic live act, and it’s sure as heck not easy to replicate that experience. Britain’s Finest comes pretty darn close to it, both in terms of their looks and the way they’re playing the songs.

Britain's Finest 2

The members of the band are Ruben Amaya (John Lennon), Benjamin Chadwick (Paul McCartney), Robert F. Bielma (George Harrison) and Luis G. Renteria (Ringo Starr). According to their Facebook page, these guys are based in Los Angeles and founded the band in 2011. Based on their website, the band recreates both the live years and the later studio period of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Yesterday’s set was focused on The Fab Four’s live period. It included classics, such as A Hard Day’s Night, Help, I Saw Her Standing There, Roll Over Beethoven and Twist and Shout. The guys also did something you could well imagine The Beatles might do, if they would still be around: Announcing a song from The White Album, they played Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. Not only was it a hilarious joke, but they were really killing it! Here’s a clip that in addition to the music also nicely illustrates how these guys do a great job portraying The Beatles’ humor.

To anyone who enjoys listening to the British Invasion and the Stones, The Who and The Beatles in particular, I can highly recommend the above bands. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It may only be rock & roll, but I sure as heck liked it!

Sources: Glimmer Twins Facebook page, Britain’s Finest Facebook page and website, Wikipedia, YouTube

It’s That Time of the Year Again: Summer Concert Season

From rock to roots music to blues to hard rock and shock rock, it’s all in the mix for the next few months

To readers of the blog and folks who know me it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I love going to concerts. I can barely wait until the end of June when my summer concert season kicks off. Following is a preview of shows I’m currently planning to see.

U2: The Joshua Tree Tour 2017, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ, June 29

Even though I’ve listened to U2 since the early ’80s, I’ve never seen them live. They have been on my bucket list for a long time. And what better occasion to catch them than during their 2017 tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree, their fifth studio album and probably my favorite U2 record. The tour, which includes North America and Europe, kicked off on May 12 in Vancouver, Canada and will conclude in Brussels, Belgium on August 1. “My show” will be the second night at MetLife and the 20th date.

Rolling Stone, which covered the U.S. tour opener in Seattle on May 14, called the show “epic.” The set kicked off with Sunday Bloody Sunday and featured 16 tracks, including all songs from The Joshua Tree, played in the same order than on the album. U2 also played two encores with seven additional songs. For the final Joshua Tree tune, Mothers of the Disappeared, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder joined U2, together with Mumford & Sons who had opened the show. Here’s a clip of Where the Streets Have No Name.

John Mellencamp: Sad Clowns & Hillbillies 2017 Summer Tour, The Mann, Philadelphia, PA, July 6

This will be my second time to see John Mellencamp, one of my favorite music artists. Similar to U2, I’ve listened to him since the early ’80s. I like both the early, more rock-oriented Mellencamp with songs like Hurts So Good, Pink Houses and R.O.C.K. In the U.S.A., as well as his roots-oriented, more stripped down approach he has increasingly adopted over the past 20 years. I think his current album Sad Clowns & Hillbillies with Carlene Carter is an absolute gem. I previously reviewed it here.

The summer tour, which features Carlene Carter and Emmylou Harris, includes 22 shows. It is set to kick off on Monday, June 5 in Denver, Colo. and will finish in Forest Hills, N.Y. on July 11. The concert at the Mann in Philly will be the 18th date. As reported by Variety, the upcoming tour will include outdoor gigs, the first time in 15 years Mellencamp has played such venues.  Here’s a clip of Indigo Sunset, one of the best songs from the new album. I think Carter’s beautiful country voice and Mellencamp’s raspy singing make for a great mix.

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’: F.M. Kirby Center, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., August 10

I’m particularly excited about this show, which will be the first time I see any of these legendary blues artists. Taj Mahal’s and Keb’ Mo’s recently released collaboration album TajMo, which I previously reviewed here, has become one of my most frequently played records. The joy these two guys had when recording the album is obvious and something I find very engaging.

Things got underway in Fort Collins, Colo. on May 30. The concert in Wilkes-Barre will be the 11th of 39 shows of the tour, which will conclude in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla on October 28. Here’s a clip of All Around the World.

Deep Purple and Alice Cooper: PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, N.J., August 28

While there are several hard rock bands I like, if I would have to choose only one, it would be Deep Purple. And if I would need to select only one of their albums, undoubtedly, it would be Machine Head, which to me is the definitive ’70s hard rock album. It was also one of my first vinyl records I bought in the late ’70s – I still own it!

While I’ve enjoyed listening to Deep Purple for more than 30 years, this will be the first time I’m going to see them live, as will be the case with Alice Cooper. But unlike Deep Purple, I don’t know Mr. Shock Rock’s music, except for the epic School’s Out and No More Mr. Nice Guy. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, the co-lining tour includes 19 gigs in North America, starting in Las Vegas on August 12 and concluding on September 10 in Cincinnati. PNC Bank Arts Center will be 11th show. The tour is part of Deep Purple’s Long Goodbye Tour – sounds like it’s about time to see them!

Of course, I realize Machine Head was released 45 years ago. It’s still hard for me to picture Deep Purple without Ritchie Blackmore and especially Jon Lord, and Ian Gillan’s voice has probably seen better days. But Steve Morse and Don Airey are top-notch musicians, and the band’s new album inFinite, which I reviewed here, shows Deep Purple still has some gas in the tank. Here’s a clip of Highway Star from a recent concert in Munich, Germany.

I’ll probably need hearing aids after the show!

Sources: Wikipedia, U2 web site, Rolling Stone, YouTube, John Mellencamp web site, Ultimate Classic Rock

A Night of RAIN Brings Beatlemania to Red Bank

A Facebook ad about this Beatles tribute band delivered what it had promised with a great show last night at the historic Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, N.J.

Last year, an ad on Facebook announced RAIN: A Tribute to The Beatles was going to play the historic Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, N.J. As a true Beatlemaniac, I looked them up on YouTube right away. Over the years, I’ve encountered various bands covering The Beatles – some pretty good, others not so much – so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. In this case, I was immediately intrigued and got tickets for last night’s show.

To put it right upfront, RAIN delivered what the YouTube clips had promised and then some. These guys are truly amazing and probably come pretty darn close to the real thing. Not only are the vocals almost indistinguishable from the original songs, but the band also does an amazing job looking and acting like The Fab Four during different times of their career.

RAIN was founded in Laguna Beach, Calif. as Reign in 1975, initially playing both original songs and Beatles covers. The band took its name from the 1966 song Rain, written by John and credited to Lennon-McCartney. The tune was released as the B-side to the single Paperback Writer. In 2010, RAIN took their act to Broadway, performing 300 shows there between October 2010 and July 2011.

For each of the Fab Four RAIN has various musicians: Steve Landes & Jimmy Irizarri (John Lennon – vocals, rhythm guitar, piano & harmonica), Paul Curatello, Joey Curatolo & Ian Garcia (Paul McCartney – vocals, bass & piano), Alastar McNeil, Joe Bithorn & Jimmy Pou (George Harrison – vocals & lead guitar) and Ralph Castelli, Aaron ChiazzaDouglas Cox (Ringo Starr – drums, percussion & vocals). Additionally Mark Beyer and Chris Smallwood help out on keyboards & percussion. RAIN is managed by Mark Lewis, the band’s founder and original keyboardist.

RAIN 3

Last night’s lineup included Landes, Paul Curatello, McNeil, Chiazza and Beyer. RAIN worked their way through The Beatles’ music catalogue in rough chronological order. The show was divided in five sections: The early years mostly included singles The Beatles released between 1963 and 1965, such as Please Please Me, I Want to Hold Your Hand, She Loves You, A Hard Day’s Night, If I Fell and Yesterday. The section also featured a reenactment of the Fab Four’s first visit to the U.S. and appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

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Part 2 covered The Beatles’ legendary open-air concert in front of more than 55,000 screaming fans at Shea Stadium in August 1965. This section featured Ticket to Ride, The Night Before, I Feel Fine, Day Tripper and Twist and Shout. The next part captured the end of the band’s live touring and mostly included songs from Rubber Soul and Revolver, such as Drive My Car, In My Life, Eleanor Rigby and Got to Get You Into My Life. The section ended slightly out of chronological order with two tunes from the White Album: Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da and While My Guitar Gently Weeps featuring a superb rendition of Eric Clapton’s guitar solo – a highlight of the show.

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Following a short intermission came the evening’s biggest thrill – in honor of the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, RAIN played the entire album in chronological order, from the title song to A Day In the Life. It was truly amazing!

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The last part of the official set featured a selection of post-Sgt. Pepper tunes, including Here Comes the Sun, Lennon’s solo single Give Peace a Chance, Get Back, Revolution and The End. The band did not play any tunes from Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine, but given they performed all of Sgt. Pepper and the show lasted for more than two hours, one cannot complain. When not surprisingly at the end of the official program the audience was cheering for more, RAIN played Hey Jude as an encore.

Here’s a nice clip of more than one hour of footage from a concert RAIN performed in Mexico in April 2013.

Sources: Wikipedia, RAIN (official web site), YouTube