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.

RAIN 4

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.

RAIN 5

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!

RAIN 6

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

Blue Öyster Cult & Jefferson Starship Rock New Brunswick

Seeing Blue Öyster Cult and Jefferson Starship at the State Theatre New Jersey in New Brunswick last Thursday (Dec 8) was spontaneous, last-minute decision.

Let’s face it – there are many more rock concerts than one could possibly attend, plus tickets for most shows aren’t exactly pocket change. Therefore, I usually plan well ahead of time which acts I want to see. For Blue Öyster Cult and Jefferson Starship it was very different – an ad on Facebook I saw two days prior to the show gave me the initial idea, and when I noticed the ticket prices were reasonable, it was a done deal.

I had a fairly good idea about Blue Öyster Cult but wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Jefferson Starship. When I checked their line-up, I noticed only David Freiberg was a member of Jefferson Airplane when he replaced Marty Balin in 1972 on vocals during the band’s final concert tour until its brief reunion in 1989. Another original member of Airplane, Paul Kantner (rhythm guitar, vocals) passed away in January this year. But, to say it upfront, Jefferson Starship and Blue Öyster Cult did not disappoint.

Jefferson Starship, which was formed Balin, Freiberg and a few other Airplane members in 1974, nicely mixed their 10-song set with Airplane covers and own songs. They also threw in We Built This City, the 1985 No. 1 hit from Starship, yet another Jefferson Airplane offspring. In addition to that song, highlights included Airplane’s biggest hits Somebody to Love and White Rabbit.

At age 78, I thought Freiberg’s vocals were outstanding, as were lead singer Cathy Richardson’s. In fact, I read on Jefferson Starship’s website that Airplane’s original lead singer Grace Slick invited Richardson to sing in her place when Airplane received their Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys this year. An excellent clip of Somebody to Love from that performance is here. Jefferson Starship’s current members also include Donny Baldwin (drums, percussion, backing vocals), Chris Smith (keyboards, synthesizers, bass) and Jude Gold (lead guitar).

Blue Öyster Cult’s 14-song set list mostly focused on the band’s first six studio albums released between 1972 and 1979. Lead guitarist Buck Dharma (Donald Roeser), the only remaining founding member, also played an extended guitar solo.

The set’s best moments were Cities on Flame with Rock & Roll, Don’t Fear the Reaper, Godzilla and Burnin’ for You, which together with Harvest Moon was the only song from the band’s post 1970s song catalogue. While the song list included three tunes from Tyranny and Mutation, my favorite from that album, 7 Screaming Diz-Busters, was “missing.” They also did not play Dr. Music, my favorite from the Mirrors album and instead chose The Vigil. But overall, it was a great set that was probably also shorter than usual, given Blue Öyster Cult shared the stage with another act.

Blue Öyster Cult was established in 1967. In addition to Dharma, the band’s current line-up includes Eric Bloom (lead vocals and rhythm guitar), who has been with Blue Öyster Cult since 1969 and on all of their albums; Richie Castellano (keyboards, rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Jules Radino (drums, percussion) and Kasim Sulton (bass, backing vocals).

Here is a nice clip of Don’t Fear the Reaper from a Blue Öyster Cult concert in London earlier this year.

 

 

 

Three Concert Film Jewels

When switching on my TV last evening to look for the next episode of the excellent PBS series “Soundbreaking,” I was thrilled to see they were showing “The Last Waltz” instead – quite appropriate, given it was the 40th anniversary of The Band’s epic performance. This inspired me to do a post on great concert movies.

People who know me or have visited the blog are aware that I love going to rock concerts. Seeing my favorite artists perform live brings their music much closer to me than any album could ever do. While I’ve been to many great shows over the past three decades or so, unfortunately, there are way more acts than I can see. Of course, watching a concert movie instead cannot really make up for the thrill of being in the concert hall yourself, but I still enjoy it. Following are some of my favorite concert films.

The Last Waltz

As I watched this film again last night, I realized how truly outstanding it is. Robbie Robertson (guitar, piano, vocals), Richard Manuel (piano, organs, drums, clavinet, dobro, vocals), Garth Hudson (organ, accordion, synthesizers, soprano saxophone, clavinet), Levon Helm (drums, mandolin, vocals) and Rick Danko (bass, fiddle, vocals) simply put on rock & roll craftsmanship at its best. Add to this that the movie was shot by film director icon Martin Scorsese, and it’s not a surprise why many critics have called The Last Waltz the greatest concert movie of all time.

The film captures what was billed The Band’s farewell concert performance at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on Thanksgiving day in 1976 (Nov 25). Released in April 1978, the film also features guest appearances from such amazing other artists like Muddy Waters, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Wood and of course, not to forget Band long-time collaborator, Bob Dylan.

The idea to turn The Band from a live to a studio act, similar to what The Beatles had decided in the mid-60s, came to Robertson in early 1976, after Richard Manuel had a serious boating accident. Robertson also thought about capturing the event on film and recalled he liked Mean Streets, the 1973 movie directed by Scorsese who had also worked as an assistant director and one of the editors of another legendary concert film –  Woodstock.

The Last Waltz has so much great music that is almost impossible to select my favorite moment. Clearly, one of the highlights is when all musicians perform Dylan’s I Shall Be Released.

The Concert for Bangladesh

This film is another jewel among rock concert movies. Directed by Saul Swimmer and released in March 1972, the film documents two benefit concerts organized by George Harrison and his good friend, sitar maestro, Ravi Shankar. The performances, which raised money for refugees of the 1971 revolution and armed conflict in Bangladesh, took place on August 1, 1971 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Similar to The Last Waltz, the show brought together an incredible array of rock artists, including Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, and Eric Clapton, among others. Even Bob Dylan showed up. While Harrison had reached out to him, it was unclear until the very last moment what the great rock poet would do, until perhaps in typical Dylan fashion he suddenly walked on stage!

The concert kicks off with traditional instrumental Hindustani classical music performed by Shankar (sitar), Ali Akbar Khan (sarod), Alla Rakha (tabla) and Kamala Chakravarty (tambura). In one of the film’s lighter moments, the audience enthusiastically applauds when the musicians pause after tuning their instruments, to which Shankar remarks: “Thank you, if you appreciate the tuning so much, I hope you will enjoy the playing more.”

The rock portion of the film captures amazing music from Harrison, The Beatles and some of his guests. Highlights include While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Something and My Sweet Lord, as well as Starr’s It Don’t Come Easy and Preston’s That’s the Way God Planned It. It doesn’t matter much that the musicians at times struggle a bit with lyrics and their instruments. If anything, this gives the performance a charming spontaneous character.

Here is a nice clip of While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

Rust Never Sleeps

This 1979 film is based on a live album with the same title from Neil Young and its longtime band Crazy Horse. The picture, directed by Young under the pseudonym Bernhard Shakey, captures a nearly two-hour show performed on October 22, 1978 at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.

While the film has received accolades for its terrific music, some critics have complained about grainy and underlit footage, as well as certain features that take away from the band’s great craftsmanship, such as the roadies with glowing eyes reminiscent of the Jawas in Star Wars, who can be seen in the beginning of the movie setting props on the stage and at times during the show. In my opinion, it’s a minor aspect of an otherwise outstanding concert film.

Rust Never Sleeps features some of Neil Young’s greatest songs, showcasing acoustic gems like Sugar Mountain, Comes a Time and My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue), and grunge rockers, such as Like a Hurricane, Cinnamon Girl and Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).

This clip of Like a Hurricane nicely illustrates how the film combines quirky features and outstanding rock & roll.

More Rock & Roll Acts to See than Money to Spend?

Like most rock & roll fans, I find there are many more shows than I can possibly see. And while nothing can replace the real deal, listening to a cover band can be a lot of fun as well. Following are four such bands I saw over the summer and greatly enjoyed – and all of it for free!

In addition to seeing “real” rock & roll shows, I enjoy going to free summer outdoor concerts, especially when they feature cover bands of my favorite rock & roll stars. While there are many such bands and not all are created equal, some of them do a fantastic job and come pretty darn close to the real thing.

Many moons ago, I played in a band myself, and part of what we did was covers. And while I’m not trying to say we were as good as some of the bands I’m going to talk about, I think I can appreciate the effort that goes into faithfully covering your rock & roll heroes.

Following are four cover bands I greatly enjoyed seeing this summer. Each represents great musicianship and a passion for detail to bring the music of rock & roll legends to fans and help keeping it alive. While I got to see them for free, their shows typically require tickets. Just like for any endorsements in previous posts, I have neither received any compensation for reviewing these bands, nor do I look for any such payments.

The Glimmer Twins

The Glimmer Twins are a Rolling Stones tribute band hailing from Philly, PA. Their name is the nickname Mick Jagger and Keith Richards adopted for their song writing partnership in the late 60s. While unfortunately I missed more than half of their free show in Wildwood Crest, NJ at the end of July, the remainder I saw was worth every minute and the significant amount of time I spent driving there from Central Jersey. Essentially, the band performs the Stones’ greatest hits but there is more to it.

Lead singer Keith Call and guitarist Bernie Bollendorf act like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, respectively. Keith does a great job imitating Jagger’s moves, his British accent and making the kinds of on-stage comments you’d expect hearing during a Rolling Stones show – it’s kind of hilarious! Bernie, apart from nicely capturing Richards’ guitar parts, adds to Keith’s act by sticking cigarettes in his mouth while playing, just like Richards! And while the remaining members of the band – Mike Rubino (guitar), Chris Bollendorf (drums), Rob Eckstedt (bass), Valorie Steel (vocals) and Bobby Michaels (sax-flute) – don’t look like the Stones and their tour musicians, they do a nice job capturing the sound of the “Greatest Rock & Roll Band in the World.”

The Glimmer Twins have a very active touring schedule that in addition to New Jersey includes various other states, mostly on the East Coast. Some of their upcoming gigs include Leesburg, VA (Oct. 1), Dubois, PA (Oct. 2), Wilmington, DE (Oct. 7 & 8) and Atlantic City (Oct. 14). For more information, see the band’s tour schedule on their home page or visit their Facebook page.

EagleMania

As their name indicates, EagleMania covers the songs of The Eagles. I was able to catch one of their free concerts at Etra Park in Hightstown, NJ in late July. Between their amazing vocal harmonizing and their instrumental arrangements, doing justice to the great music of The Eagles is not an easy task, but these six veteran musicians do a beautiful job.

The band’s slogan, “The World’s Greatest Tribute Band,” reflects their ambition to faithfully capture the sound of the The Eagles note by note. In addition to performing classics like The Long Run, Take It Easy, Desperado and of course Hotel California, the band also covers solo work from Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Joe Walsh, such as Boys of Summer, Party Town and Life is Good.

The band includes Frankie Reno (keyboards & vocals), Joe Gaechter (guitar & vocals), Ken Darcey (guitar & vocals), Steve French (lead vocals), Jon Weiswasser (drums) and Kevin Hummel (bass). They all have played music for many years and some have worked with pretty big names, for example Gaechter with Roger Daltrey and Jack Bruce, and Reno with Marshall Tucker and Ace Frehley.

EagleMania has upcoming gigs in Atlantic City, NJ (Sep 24), Rochester, NJ (Oct 1), Port Washington, NJ (Oct 7) and Groton, CT (Oct 14). For more information, visit their homepage and Facebook page.

Danny V’s 52nd Street Band

Established in New Jersey in 1994, Danny V’s 52nd Street Band is the “world’s longest running tribute to Billy Joel,” according to their web site. I saw them at Waterfront Park in Carteret, NJ at the end of August, which is a nice intimate outdoor venue right by the water.

Listening to Dan Vechesky (Danny V) and his seven-member band comes very close to listening to the piano man himself, which I had the pleasure to do in 2002 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Vechesky’s way to play the piano and his singing are strikingly similar to Billy Joel. It is obvious he has listened to Joel for a long time and taken great care to learn his songs note by note.

In fact, Vechesky even had a chance to the meet the man in May 1974 while working with the stage crew at a Billy Joel concert. It would take another 20 years before he gathered talented musicians from the New York Metropolitan area to form the 52nd Street Band, named after Joel’s 1978 album.

Appropriately, the band’s performance includes various songs from that Grammy winning album, such as Big Shot, Honesty and My Life. They also pretty much play all the other songs Joel includes in his concerts like She’s Got a Way, Captain Jack, The Entertainer, New York State of Mind, You May Be Right, Pressure and of course Piano Man, to name some.

The 52nd Street Band includes Ed Kuri (guitar, vocals), Troy Rusnack (bass), Keith Droz (drums, vocals), Matt O’Connor (horns, acoustic guitar, vocals), Greg Grispart (horns), Mike LaBuono (keyboards, vocals) and Joe Ferrante (keyboards, vocals). These musicians do a fantastic job backing up Vechesky with great attention to detail, just like Danny.

The band had a pretty busy touring summer (July and August) and as of September appears to have slowed down. The only current upcoming show listed on their web site is in Bordentown, NJ (Oct 15). Visit their web site and Facebook page for more information.

The Blues Brotherhood

The Blues Brotherhood from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley are a tribute band to The Blues Brothers. I saw them in mid-August as part of Musikfest at SteelStacks in Bethlehem, PA, a pretty cool venue at what used to be the home plant of steel giant Bethlehem Steel. These guys are pretty amazing both musically and in terms of their visual presentation.

From the first note to the last tune it is as if Jake Blues and Elliot Blues have come back from the past. The two guys who are performing John Belushi’s and Dan Aykroyd’s parts – Paul Miller and Aaron Hetrick – look and move like Jake and Elliott, and their singing is pretty good, too. They even enact the part of the 1980 movie where they perform at the Palace Hotel Ballroom north of Chicago, greeting the law enforcement officers in the audience – simply hilarious!

The band does an outstanding job backing up Miller and Hetrick and playing classics like She Caught the Katy, Gimme Some Lovin, Everybody Needs Somebody to Love, Sweet Home Chicago and, not to forget, Soul Man. Apparently, they sometimes play with two of The Blues Brothers’ original members, Tom “Bones” Malone (trombone, saxophone) and Alan “Mr. Fabulous” Rubin (trumpet, percussion, backing vocals). Other members of The Blues Brotherhood include Steve “Stevie B” Bridges (saxophone), Barry “The Beast” Schultz (trumpet), Dustin “Credible” Hartman (trombone), Rob Bell (guitar), Ty Hooker-Haring (bass), Bob “B.T.” Thomas (keyboards/piano) and Willie “Too Big” Rose (drums).

According to band’s web site, their tour schedule is currently being updated. You can also check them out on their Facebook page.

 

 

The Boss Rocks MetLife

Bruce Springsteen delivered four hours of non-stop rock & roll to an ecstatic New Jersey audience.

Yesterday (Aug 30) finally was the night I had been waiting for all summer long: Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band were playing MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ – the third performance of their three-show run at the venue as part of 2016 River Tour.

From the first song, New York City Serenade, to the final tune, Jersey Girl, The Boss gave it his all, delivering four hours and one minute of non-stop rock & roll – I did not stop the time but actually read that on Springsteen’s official web site. The duration of the concert meant Bruce broke his own record from previous week in the same venue yet another time!

In many regards, it was as if time would have stopped since 1988/1989 when I saw Bruce for the first time in Frankfurt, Germany in a comparable size stadium. He had not lost any of his intensity in almost 30 years, and you could be forgiven for not noticing he is now well into his 60s! The Boss also clearly seemed to be energized to play in front of a home crowd that knew all of his songs by heart.

The set list included 34 songs and drew heavily from Bruce’s first two albums from 1973 and Born in the U.S.A., the 1984 album that became his most commercially successful record and one of the best-selling albums ever with more than 30 million copies sold.

Songs from Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. included Blinded By The Light, Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street, It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City and what I thought was one of the highlights of the show – a particularly spirited version of Spirit in the Night. From The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle Bruce played the strong show opener, New York City Serenade, as well as 4th of July Asbury Park (Sandy), Kitty’s Back, Incident of 57th Street and Rosalita, which remains a big crowd pleaser.

I’m Going Down, Darlington County, Working on the Highway, Downbound Train, I’m on Fire and Glory Days were songs from the Born in the U.S.A. album, as was Dancing in the Dark – another highlight of the show. During the performance of the song, Bruce invited various people from the audience on stage to, well, dance with him! I thought it was telling that Bruce did not play the title song of the album. I once read he had gotten tired of the song and how many people completely misunderstood or ignored the lyrics.

There were only two songs from The River album, Hungry Heart and Out in the Street, which I felt was remarkable for a tour billed The River Tour. That being said, I had read that Bruce had started to deviate from the original tour concept to play all or most of the album’s songs. Still, I wish he at least would have performed the title song, which remains one of my favorite Springsteen tunes.

Other songs that stood out to me were Born to Run and Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. During the latter, historic footage was shown on the large stage video screens of the amazing Clarence Clemons, The E Street Band’s former saxophonist who sadly passed in June 2011.

Just as he did back in 1988/89, Springsteen also played terrific cover versions of various great songs, which most notably included Twist & Shout, Shout and Summertime Blues.

This blog post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the amazing E Street Band. Stevie Van Zandt (guitar, background vocals), Nils Lofgren (guitar, background vocals), Patti Scialfa (acoustic guitar, background vocals), Max Weinberg (drums), Garry Tallent (bass, background vocals) and Roy Bittan (keyboards) all did an outstanding job to back up the Boss.

Among the additional musicians, Jake Clemons, the nephew of Clarence Clemons, must be mentioned. He literally had big shoes to fill playing Clarence’s saxophone parts and did so beautifully. I’m sure his uncle would have been proud of him!

The Springsteen concert was my last (commercial) summer concert. It was a great way to end my series of summer shows this year. Just like the previous Springsteen concert in Germany in the late 80s, I have no doubt this show will stay in my memory.