Twenty years ago, an unassuming Gainesville quintet splashed onto the national scene with “All For You,” a happy-go-lucky acoustic anthem that stayed atop the charts for years. Successive hits would follow but nothing could ever topple the prowess of “All For You.” Nearly two decades removed from the ubiquitous heyday of “All For You,” Sister Hazel are still releasing albums and still touring to hordes of adoring fans. If you question that notion, just a few listens to the band’s new album 20 Stages (Rock Ridge Music, Oct. 4, 2014) will put any doubt to rest.
Recorded at various concert venues throughout the years, the two-disc 20 Stages is an engaging look at a band still reveling in their opportunity to live out with their dream. Disc One opens with “Shame,” a guitar-driven slice of Southern rock that reiterates what a cohesive live unit Sister Hazel truly is. The song also serves as a reminder that Ryan Newell is a first-rate lead guitarist and much of the band’s strengths rest in his deft command of his guitar.
Proving that they are still tied to their roots, the quartet dives into the sun-splashed acoustic pop of “Starfish,” before segueing into the splendid “Mandolin Moon,” arguably one of the strongest efforts of Disc One. From there, the disc vacillates between memorable numbers and forgettable filler. Highlights include an acoustic version of minor hit “One Love,” the moving piano ballad “World Inside My Head” and the romantic valentine “Everything Else Disappears.”
Disc Two kickstarts with the uplifting and confident “Change Your Mind,” the terrific ballad “Concede” the glorious singalong “Champagne High” and the punchy “Swan Dive.” Easily one of the more memorable efforts of disc two is “This Kind of Love,” a Drew Copeland-led slow-dance that features the backing of the Wilmington (NC) Symphony.
All over 20 Stages, songs are sprinkled with banjos, mandolins, keyboards and even a sax, providing a layer of versatility that very much bucks the band’s acoustic rock categorization. Though the two-disc effort will probably not win over many, if any, new fans, there’s enough robust material here to satiate old fans, entice casual fans and satisfy anyone who enjoys hearing a band in a live concert setting. While 20 Stages is not the band’s first live effort and at times is far from their best, the winning moments are well worth revisiting. In the end, 20 Stages very much proves that 20 years into a career they stumbled into accidentally, Sister Hazel shows little signs of slowing down.
Back in the late 90s I was mesmerized by the Liverpudlian band Treehouse. Their album Nobody’s Monkey, which was released by Atlantic Records, was a splendid collection of honeyed roots-rock that garnered the band countless praise and found the band sharing the stage with the likes of Edwin McCain and Hootie and the Blowfish. Nearly two decades later Treehouse vocalist Pete Riley has passed the torch on to his son Pete Riley Jr.
The younger Riley is the frontman for Shamona, a Liverpool-based trio who just released the video for their single “Just Like You,” off an EP of the same name. Vaguely reminiscent of Ari Hest and mining the same sonic terrain as James Blunt circa Back to Bedlam, “Just Like You” is a sterling slice of plaintive balladry that points towards a very promising future. Though it will probably fail to make waves here in the States, color this writer as one that’s hoping it will.
Venerable 90s radio heavyweights Counting Crows launched their 2014 summer tour at Tampa’s Straz Center, this past Wednesday. The summer tour in many ways serves as an introduction to the band’s sixth album Somewhere Under Wonderland, due in September on Capitol Records. During the band’s 21 song set, they sampled some of those new songs as well as diving deep into their discography. The show opened with a near ten-minute rendition of “Sullivan Street,” before diving into “Scarecrow,” the first of three Wonderland cuts. Straddling the line somewhere between country-rock and heartland narrative, “Scarecrow” has a pronounced bounce to it but never really packs a wallop. In essence, the song seems more focused on vibe and lyrics and not so much casting an indelible impression. On the contrary, the band’s next four songs did exactly that.
Beginning with the This Desert Life rarity “High Life,” and pushing into the whimsical “St. Robinson in His Cadillac Dream” the set began with gusto and never once relented. Frontman Adam Duritz was quick to please as he inserted “Mr. Jones” into the rotation before performing the always brilliant ballad “Colorblind. Describing Teenage Fanclub’s “Start Again,” as “medicine for our heads,” Duritz proudly declared the song as one “we can’t stop playing.” Arguably one of the weakest on 2011’s Underwater Sunshine, “Start Again” was probably the only song of the entire set list that felt misplaced. On the contrary, a sterling, air-tight rendition of “Anna Begins,” was the first of many moments in which Duritz and Co. seemed completely locked in. That sense of presence and focus helped make the building rocker “Miami” an absolute home-run and easily one of the best of the night.
The second half of the set opened with “Earthquake Driver,” another genial rocker that has a playful frolic but never really packs an emotion wallop, a hallmark that has carried Counting Crows through the last two and a half decades. Much like “Scarecrow” the song seems more focused on vibe and lyrics than that of lasting impact. Though its arguably more appealing and commercial than “Scarecrow,” there’s still something about the song that leaves a lot to be desired. Knowing full well they had to draw the crowd back into familiar territory, the septet glided effortlessly into a near-ten minute rendition of “Round Here.” A brief acoustic set included “When I Dream of Michelangelo,” and the Grateful Dead cover “Friend of the Devil,” before the band concluded the acoustic set with the Joni Mitchell cover “Big Yellow Taxi.”
While it makes a great song on record, “Richard Manuel is Dead,” fell flat and hollow and aside from “Start Again,” was one of only two songs where the band just seemed to stumble out of the gate. Never the kind of band to wallow in mediocrity, the set closed with a powerhouse triumvirate. First up was the rocking “Elvis Went to Hollywood,” a brawny diatribe in the same vein as “Cowboys” and “Hanging Tree” and one that is destined to be a live favorite. The set came to a close with an error-free rendition of “A Long December” before sending the crowd into a frenzy with a rowdy rendition of “Rain King.” For an encore, the septet offered up the melancholic “Washington Square,” the drug-addled hip-shaker “Hanginaround” and the dreamy lullaby “Holiday in Spain.” Leaving the stage contentedly, Duritz stopped to thank the crowd before offering up this final salvo,” This was a damn good way to start the tour. Thanks for a great night. We’ll be back to Tampa real soon.”
Twenty-one years into their career, the California/New York-based band are still firing on all cylinders and still keen on playing many of their biggest hits. In a time when many of their contemporaries have called it quits, gone on hiatus or found careers outside of music, Counting Crows keep on chugging along. Now nearly 50, Duritz shows little signs of slowing down. He’s just as emotionally connected to his material as ever before and seems wholly invigorated by the new songs. While their days of charting for the Billboard Top 100 may be behind them, they’re still a viable touring commodity that very rarely ever disappoint.
Hell, if they’re not on your summer concert radar, then shame on you.
POST-SCRIPT: Exactly three nights later, the band headlined the St. Augustine Amphitheater and performed a total of four more new songs. The first of the five was the mesmerizing mid-tempo cut “Cover Up the Sun,” while the second was the introspective ballad “God of Ocean Tides.” Arguably one of the strongest of the five was the rustic rocker “Johnny Appleseed’s Lament.” For the band’s encore, Duritz and Co. presented the near ten-minute narrative “Palisades Park,” a genre-bending yarn with a bevy of twists and turns. An equal blend of “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby,” “Round Here” and “1492,” the song is magnetic, provocative and deeply memorable. Though Duritz’s voice was notably weak for much of the night, he let the band do much of the heavy lifting. Nowhere was that more apparent than on an absolutely transcendent version of the urgent rocker “Children in Bloom.” With nearly a quarter of the set being culled from Underwater Sunshine, the evening was a firm reminder that even on their weaker nights, they’re still compelling, awe-inspiring and well worth the price of admission.
The halcyon days of the 1970s (and 80s) were rejuvenated with vigor at the St. Augustine Amphitheater this past weekend. Headliners STYX and Foreigner were accompanied by longtime Eagles collaborator Don Felder for a tour dubbed The Soundtrack of Summer, which kicked off in Kansas two weeks ago. The tour, comes complete with a companion disc, The Soundtrack of Summer, which cracked the Billboard 200 in its first week. Clearly, there’s still a demand for classic rock.
Depending on which narrative you choose to subscribe to, Don Felder is either a raging asshole or an integral force of one of rock music’s most iconic bands. Given his personality on stage Friday night the latter tenor seems far more appropriate. From start to finish, Felder was humble, gracious and ever the showman. Playing lead guitar on most, if not, all songs, he tore through the set with ease and abandon, never once coming off too self-indulgent and never once appearing uninspired. The set opened crisply with “Already Gone” and “One of These Nights,” before tackling a more contemporary Felder cut, “You Don’t Have Me,” off of last year’s album Road to Forever.
And then the set hit another stratosphere. A resplendent if not flawless version of “Those Shoes,” was backed by a note-perfect rendition of “Seven Bridges Road,” replete with five-part harmonies. The song also served as the first time the audience rewarded Felder and Co. with a standing ovation. After reminding the crowd that he’s a born-and-bred Floridian, he snaked his way through “Witchy Woman,” a song he dedicated to Tiger Woods. From there, he offered up the sinewy “Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride)” from the 1981 film of the same name, before barreling through long-time fan favorites “Heartache Tonight” and Life in the Fast Lane,” the latter also receiving a standing ovation.
Alas, no Eagles-heavy set would be complete without “Hotel California” and so it was that Felder, sharing vocal duties with STYX’s Tommy Shaw, churned through a gorgeous and polished version of one of the 70s most ubiquitous songs. In the end, it was some of the most rewarding fifty minutes this writer has spent in a stadium in quite some time. In short, the best summation of Felder’s set was muttered by a concertgoer headed to the beer line, “This is exactly how you kick off Memorial Day weekend.”
Not looking to be outdone by Felder, radio-rock heavyweights Foreigner took to the stage twenty minutes later and left no debate for who was the evening’s most indelible act. Anchored by lead singer Kelly Hansen’s indefatigable spirit the set was not short on attitude or spunk. Twirling around the stage like a whirling dervish, Hansen brought flair, histrionics and swagger to a set that had few, if any, hiccups. Opening with “Double Vision,” and segueing quickly into first-rate versions of “Head Games,” and “Cold as Ice,” Foreigner was on-point and never once looked back. Soft-rock staple “Waiting For a Girl Like You,” was arguably the weakest cut of the night.
While no one can fault the band for playing one of their biggest sets, the song’s tepid arrangement did not match the intensity of Hansen, who wandered through the song like a dog on a leash, just waiting to get back to the set’s more uptempo cuts. He was given that chance on the yearning “Feels Like the First Time,” a song that could have easily sounded dated, rehashed and uninspired. Instead, it was just the opposite. The song’s deft execution is due in no small part to band founder Mick Jones, who joined the band on the song and stayed on stage until the end. Introduced by Hansen as “the heart and soul of Foreigner, who recently had to take time off to deal with health issues,” Jones was greeted to a standing ovation that lasted long after the song’s final note.
If Jones had been battling health issues, it has had zero effect on his guitar prowess. On both “Urgent” and “Starrider,” he absolutely owned the stage, tearing into searing riffs that were as provocative as they were chill-inducing. And then, Hansen took to the stadium theatrics on a rip-roaring rendition of the quintessential 70s anthem “Juke Box Hero.” After a five minute “break,” Foreigner retired for a most predictable encore. The saccharine power ballad “I Want to Know What Love Is” was stronger than “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” though not by much. The added company of the Creekside High School Choir was a nice hallmark but did little to bolster the song’s memorability. But perhaps, the night was just about rocking in the end, and so it was that Hansen, Jones and the rest of Foreigner dove headlong into an amped-up, testosterone-addled rendition of “Hot Blooded.”
Don Felder may have opened the night but he most certainly had not stolen the show. That title squarely fell to Foreigner.
Closing the set was Chicago prog-rockers Styx, who try as they might, could not carry the set forward. Whereas the Foreigner set was drenched with sweat, fist-pumping and bravado, STYX’s set was saturated with swirling keys, guitar nuances and very little sense of modernity. Even on classic cuts like “Lady” and “Sail Away,” the band just didn’t have the believability that made Felder and Foreigner’s sets so likable. Music is at its best without pretense, without grandiosity and never once in the set did Styx find that sweet spot. Lawrence Gowan may still have a voice but he seemed more caught up in himself than pleasing the crowd. Ditto for Tommy Shaw. If the set had a high point it was the middle triumvirate of “Light Up,” “Crystal Ball” and “Superstars,” all of which had a sense of empathy and heart that much of the set was sorely lacking. Not content to let Foreigner be the only band with the arena-sized swagger, the band churned out high intensity on encore efforts “Rockin’ the Paradise” and “Renegade.”
In the end though the night belonged to Foreigner and Felder. Forty years removed from their heyday, those two acts showed that good things do come with age and that icons will always be icons. Here’s to hoping The Soundtrack of Summer lives on again in the years to come.
If their recent smash single "Peninsula" hasn't already proved their worth, then their live show definitely does. Seen this past weekend at Orlando's The Social, London trio Dinosaur Pile Up performed a master class in how to successfully marry guitar-driven grunge with armfuls of melody.
Matt Bigland and Co. tore though their set with both bombast and ballast, but never once did the band part with a catchy hook. Be it "Peninsula" or the ringing albeit open-hearted "White T-shirt and Jeans," the band made the most of their 40 minute slot. The set, which proved to be superior to both support act Brick + Mortar, as well as headliner Middle Class Rut, was bookended by the snarling opener "Draw a Line" and the clanging closer "Nature Nurture." Of all the songs few were as impressive as the latter. Like a blistering blitzkrieg the band howled from the very first seconds and performed the song with the wanton ferocity of a predator catching prey. It was in short, awe-inspiring and utterly star-making. If the evening proved anything, it is that Dinosaur Pile-Up have a most certainly bright future ahead of them. Wholly confident, arena-ready and more than capable of headlining, they just might be alt-rock's next great hope.
Fresh off a US tour with YouMeAtSix, the band is in the final stages of their Middle Class Rut tour, before taking a couple months off. The band returns to the US for a small Northeastern tour with Brand New this July. A word to the wise, do not come late and miss their set, it will absolutely blow you away. To date, this writer has not seen a more impressive set so far this year.
Sixteen years removed from his first (and only) gold record, Edwin McCain brought his band to Orlando’s Hard Rock Hotel as part of its Velvet Sessions concert series. Proving that the sixteen years has indeed been a blessing, he performed a sturdy, confident and fully engaged set of a dozen soul-drenched charmers. The evening opened with “Mercy Bound,” an organ-kissed acoustic-driven yarn that ponders mortality.
From there he dove into the playful singalong “Gramercy Park Hotel” before performing one of his older tracks “Solitude” by request from an overeager fan. Using the humor that has always been his calling card, he addressed the crowd by saying, “Sure I’ll do Solitude. There’s nothing like a song about teenage drug abuse to keep our spirits high.” All hilarity aside the song was executed deftly and like much of the set had few if any swells. McCain’s music rests on his whiskey-soaked croon, a guttural powerhouse that can often do the sonic and emotional heavy lifting all by itself. On the note-perfect “Love TKO” he used his ageless timbre to perfection as he navigated an old-school soul ballad with aplomb. Two songs later, he belted out an arresting, power-packed nine minute version of the heartbreak ballad “Sign On the Door.”
McCain’s career has been paved via two wedding songs, the Diane Warren-penned “Could Not Ask For More” and the 90s radio smash “I’ll Be.” Both were delivered crisply, evenly and without flaw but it was the night’s more unexpected moments that proved to be the evening’s apex moments. McCain dove deep into his back catalog to sing the tender “Take Me” before trying his hand at Bruno Mars’ ubiquitous hit “Locked Out Of Heaven.” If the latter song proved anything it’s the dexterity of McCain’s backing band. Lead guitarist Larry Chaney, organist/saxophonist Craig Shields, bassist Jason Pomar and drummer Tez Sherard, never batted an eyelash as they carved through Mars’ mega single.
That same sense of dexterity was elucidated during the encore as McCain and Co. aced Teddy Pendergrass’ “Can’t Hide Love.” Though the set was brief, the Southern singer made the most of the opportunity. For all 80 minutes, he was engaging, candid and deeply committed to his craft. In an era where so many former radio heroes have a propensity to mail it in, McCain’s set was a refreshing reminder that there are still a select few vagabonds who still want to sing their songs and sing them well. More than two decades into a career he never thought possible, McCain shows very little signs of rust and disinterest. And for that, we should all be grateful.
These days musicians are measured as much by their videos as their body of work. With the ascent of YouTube, artists are recreating themselves via music videos and choice covers. But can that rise to success parlay into a successful live set? That was the question posed by this writer before taking in the 90-minute set by Canada’s Walk Off This Earth. Four years ago, the band was mired in Canadian anonymity, unknown to a select few in the United States.
All that changed in early 2012 when the band released a dazzling and novel cover of Gotye’s “Somebody I Used To Know,” a video which at the time of this writing has racked up more than 156 million views. Now three years removed from that cover, the band has toured North American in support of their Gang of Rhythm tour and in doing so have proved their worth. Make no mistake
about it, Walk Off The Earth is no one-trick pony. Whether it was the hyper-caffeinated energy of set opener “Speeches,” the dizzying kinetics of the uber-catchy “Revolution’s in My Head,” or the bubblegum bounce of B.O.B’s “Magic,” the quintet’s first three songs were entrancing, memorable and deeply magnetic.
Proving that their ingenue extends beyond just the studio and YouTube covers, the gorgeous “Natalie” was a sterling example of just how well the band marries ingenuity with deft musicianship. Opening with the sounds of an electric toothbrush (yes, that’s not a type) and an ukelele, the forlorn ballad had a tender immediacy that proved the band was just as skilled at downtempo numbers as they were with the more urgent material. Easily one of the best songs of the night was the radio-ready “Red Hands,” an earnest, accessible and indelible offering that shockingly has yet to chart in America.
After allowing a fan to come on stage to propose to his wife, the band dove into the melodica-driven valentine “No Ulterior Motives,” a languorous and hazy yarn that felt decidedly Caribbean. Like a hybrid of Jack Johnson and/or Jimmy Buffett, there was a sweetness to every passing second. Unfortunately the set stumbled the rest of the way. With the exception of the surging “Shake” and the soaring “Gang of Rhythm,” the latter half of the set was littered with covers. While choice takes of somebody else’s songs has long been a live set staple, the idea of nearly one-third of their set being covers felt a little strange.
Like the title of the tour implies, Walk Off The Earth are indeed a rhythm driven outfit, a band who easily parlays hip-hop, indie-folk and reggae into an intoxicating stew that in concert leaps off the stage. Exuding confidence, charisma and a bevy of eclectic weirdness, Walk Off The Earth truly have a style and swerve all their own.
Opening the set were Virginia pop tarts Parachute whose breezy and harmless set felt like a hybrid of Maroon 5 and Bruno Mars. With the exception of a sterling cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” very little of the band’s set felt believable. Make no mistake about it, frontman Will Anderson is a veteran performer with likable charm and a velvety voice, but never once did the set feel like a band effort. From start to finish, the entire set felt like the Will Anderson solo show. Maybe that’s the band’s MO or maybe Anderson was just feeling his oats, but never once did the set feel like a collective, cohesive event.
On the contrary, New York’s Camera2 performed a first-rate set of celestial Brit-rock that was absolutely astounding. Whether it was the swirling and stormy “This is Not a Sad Song” or the enveloping and multi-layered “Just About Made It,” the band had a sense of clarity and precision that was both eye-opening and awe-inspiring. Whereas Parachute seemed more focused on being crowd-pleasers and chart-toppers, Camera2’s nuanced sound was truly something to behold.
Opening up for the legendary, iconic and ubiquitous country-rock group The Eagles is a daunting albeit enviable task, but sure enough, somebody has to do it. Last night at Orlando’s Amway Center that very task fell to veritable unknowns: New York City’s JD and the Straight Shot. Fronted by multi-millionaire James Dolan, the sharp-tongued owner of the New York Knicks and the telecom giant Cablevision, Dolan’s band included drummer/washboard Rich Mercurio, bassist Jeff Allen, his son Aidan on guitar, Brian Mitchell on piano, accordion, organ and harmonica; Lorenza Ponce on violin and Marc Copely on banjo. Their set opened with “Fall From Grace, an organ-infused jaunt with ample amounts of meandering piano, dulcet piano, hazy vocals and a rustic blues veneer. Ostensibly a song about political leaders’ penchant for failure, it had a decidedly well-placed organ flourish at its conclusion that stamped it as indelible.
Dolan has a deep affinity for swampy Louisiana blues and nowhere was that more apparent than on the thick and steamy “Voodoo Stew.” Anchored by accordion, upright bass and searing guitar, the song was sassy and loaded with attitude. The set segued into “Holy Water,” a Nick Cave-esque effort from the film Lawless, that combined dusty Appalachian folk with the haunting hypnotism of a New Orleans swamp. In the song’s latter stages, it meanders to a playful conclusion. If JD and the Straight Shot had a musical doppelgänger it would most likely be Little Feat. As if cognizant of that, the band rattled off a near-perfect rendition of Little Feat’s “Let it Roll,” featuring rollicking piano, buoyant banjo and Ponce’s exceptional violin.
On stage Dolan was a natural storyteller and a charismatic frontman. Before announcing the cut “Can’t Make Tears,” a song which appeared in the soundtrack of the TV show Hell on Wheels, he went about explaining the show’s premise: the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. This turn allowed the musician to serve as a sort-of history teacher and amiable host. As for the song, it was slow-moving, swampy and full of Delta blues. It was also the first moment at which one can see just how deeply the band has its hands dipped in history. The song’s finest moments included another interlude from Ponce and a stoic guitar solo from Aidan Dolan.
Dolan is not one to shy from spouting off and sure enough before introducing the song “White Bird,” recorded by the band It’s a Beautiful Day in 1969, he made sure to let the audience know, “this song isn’t played often because it’s so hard to play.” But if you can back up the talk, then play on, and sure enough ‘White Bird” was vernal, supple and at times orchestral. Decidedly British, and almost elegiac and funereal, the song is backed by a shimmering piano and the collective skill of his first-rate band. Dolan paused to introduce each of the members before performing “Violet’s Song,” which is featured in the upcoming film August: Osage County. Heartily Midwestern, it featured banjo, lap-steel and Ponce’s inimitable violin.
Though it was a bit of an awkward choice for a penultimate cut, the band’s last song “Midnight Run,” more than made up for it. Another cut that appeared in the film Lawless (albeit with Willie Nelson on vocals).”Midnight Run” was lively, limber and expertly crafted. When the Amway Center lights came back up and Dolan and Co. stepped off stage, they had achieved something truly awesome. No, they were not the Eagles and no they are not Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-worthy, but they were something well worth remembering. Dolan, who has been actively pursuing music for more than two decades, finally seems on the cusp of something truly special. Their 45-minute set Saturday night proved exactly that.
While a headlining gig across the United States is probably a bit premature, nonetheless the Australian duo Atlas Genius entered into Orlando's House of Blues armed with two singles and a hot-selling album. But having only that album and a concise EP in their canon, the set was as expected, markedly brief, chronicling only 11 songs with a running time of 68 minutes.
Walking on stage to a Beach Boys tune, the Australian duo almost immediately foreshadowed what the night be: a breezy and bubbly set of cheery indie-pop. Opening the set was "On a Day," a fuzzy and bright slice of dance rock that set the tone nicely for what was about to take place. Rather unpredictably the band launched into current single "If So," a ditty that is the very epitome of the word hip-shaking. "When It Was Now," the title track to the band's current LP was equal parts throbbing and pulsating as it was fizzy and free-spirited.
An airy organ opened the introspective number "Back Seat," a song whose tranquil melodies and dreamy kinescopes made for arguably the most compelling listen of the set's first few selections. Towards the song's latter stages, vocalist Keith Jeffery, yielded to his guitar and set on a lively and invigorating guitar solo. While the result was rewarding, arguably the best part of the solo was that it veered from the script, allowing a bit of improvisation from a set that thus far had been as expected.
Nintendo-like keys opened "All These Girls," a song which benefitted from a lengthy introduction and Jeffery's inherent charisma. Ostensibly a hazy valentine that is both languorous and dream-like, the song is both swirly and intoxicating and reveals the kind of magnetism that has carried the Aussie duo this far in their career. Similarly, the circular and kaleidoscopic "Symptoms" was intoxicating and enveloping but benefitted most from Jeffery's inspired guitar solo in the latter stages.
Arguably the set's most heartfelt exercise was the crestfallen "Don't Make a Scene," the first time in the set in which Jeffery appeared to be at his most vulnerable. After heart-sleeving his way through "Don't Make a Scene," Jeffery and Co. offered up the evening's most straightforward, linear and accessible offering, the yearning and big-hearted "Through the Glass," an effort that seems to point towards a certain radio future. Aided by a spartan piano outro, "Through the Glass," made arguably the biggest splash of any song the entire evening. Predictably the set closed with a pounding and rhythmically dense version of "Trojans," before rattling off a two-song encore of "Centred On You" and "Electric."
The former was entrancing thanks to Jeffery's winning falsetto, his deft guitar playing and a meandering albeit melodic strut that kept the crowd captivated long after "Trojans" had played its last note. On "Electric," the band soared into a new direction, shedding their dance-rock arena for something far more energetic, dizzying and transcendent.. Channeling elements of psych-rock, 70s era album rock and Brit-rock swagger, "Electric" had a methodic and calculated complexity that proved the Australian duo is far more than just a charting pop song.
While the set was surprisingly brief and was sorely lacking a choice cover, Atlas Genius more than proved their worth in just 70 brief minutes. Having expanded the live ensemble to a quartet instead of a duo has certainly paid dividends for the young upstarts and one can certainly see a decidedly bright future in the months and years to come.
Made my way to The Beacham this past Saturday to catch Frightened Rabbit. They are everything as advertised and then some. Hutchison was extremely taciturn but unfailingly polite and very workmanlike about the entire thing. Highlights from the set were many but few performances will ever top their rendition of "Acts of Man." It was in many ways otherworldly and jaw-dropping. I am still left speechless and awestruck when thinking back on how truly magnetic the performance was. Ditto to encore closer "The Loneliness and the Scream."
Equally as impressive as Frightened Rabbit, was Brooklyn's Augustines. Frontman Billy McCarthy is an absolute born performer and his natural charisma, charm and inherent confidence was apparent from the get-go. Highlights from the set included the whiskey-soaked piano-ballad "City of Brotherly Love," and the raucous "Book of James." The fiery three piece plays a blend of sweaty, ragged rock not unlike The Hold Steady, The Gaslight Anthem and Bruce Springsteen. While they've endured four name changes and their career has yet to skyrocket, their 45-minute set was an absolute head-turner and a surefire eye opener. If AP.net kids want a band to watch out for come 2014, it most certainly is Augustines.
Last summer, revered music zine Paste wrote an article featuring the 10 Best Bands in the state of Florida. While that article is a fair representation of some of the best talent in the Sunshine State, there was one giant and glaring omission: Jacksonville Beach's Flagship Romance. A boy-girl duo in the vein of The Civil Wars, Delta Rae and Lady Antebellum, their dual harmonies and tender slices of indie folk remain make them arguably one of the most exciting under-the-radar musical acts in not just Florida but the entire nation.
Having already supported chart-toppers such as the Goo Goo Dolls and Mumford and Sons, to name a few, the supremely polished duo is more than on their way. Seen this past Saturday at Orlando's The Social while opening for Caitlin Crosby and Jesse Ruben, they performed what was easily the best set of the night. Whether it was the deeply impacting love song "My Jolene" or the timeless melancholy of "Games of Sorrow," there was a palpable sense that Flagship Romance are more than worthy of wider stages and greater acclaim.
On the impassioned foot-stomper "Strange Thing" and the leave-it-all-on-the-table slow-burner "Harvest," dual vocalists Jordyn Jackson and Shawn Fisher made the most of their all-too-brief set. Every concert has a statement moment and their ephemeral 30-minute set was a venerable call to arms for all those in the crowd. Flagship Romance will be something, that much is certain, how and when they get there still remains to be seen.
Though Flagship Romance was the inarguable showstopper, the remainder of the bill wasn't exactly a dud. Orlando native Matthew Fowler began the evening playing a confident and deft set of Damien Rice-inspired acoustic folk. Though he was visibly nervous and seemed a bit overwhelmed by the venue, his songs certainly made up for it. Be it the stripped--down version of The Cranberries ubiquitous 90s hit "Linger" or the placid fragility of "Beginners," Fowler was equal parts ruminative, introspective and intimate. His set's finest moment was the rising "Wear," a song which plays off both his harmonica playing and his soaring voice.
Co-headliner Caitlin Crosby, a LA native, was arguably the Robin to Flagship Romance's Batman. Her warm, confident and wholly accessible set vacillated gorgeously between melancholia and effervescence. Tackling dark themes such as human trafficking, drug use and narcissism, her set carried the most emotional weight. In between songs the bubbly blonde was chatty, upbeat and supremely comfortable. Highlights included the snarling blues cut "Gasoline," the gospel-tinged Crack Me Open," the lovelorn ballad "Consolation Prize" and the country strut of "You Make it Better."
The last artist to take the stage was Brooklyn's Jesse Ruben, an erudite and garrulous singer-songwriter in the vein of Matt Duke and Matt White. Though he played to a crowd of no more than 75, he did his best to keep the set entertaining. Unfortunately before the set could even gain momentum he was quickly distracted by a chatty albeit drunk couple and never once gave them a moment of peace. While it is one thing to scold listeners for cell phone use or fighting, his repeated barbs eventually derailed the set into a snarky and almost condescending character play. That is not to say that Ruben's set was without winning moments. The soulful ballad "Different," written for a homosexual friend, was star-making in every sense of the word. Similarly the strident "Point Me In the Right Direction" and the uplifting "We Can," pointed towards something worth revisiting in future listens. Though much of his material mined the woes of heartbreak and failed romance, it was his non-romance songs that truly made the biggest splash.
If the evening had a true silver lining it was that the music served a greater purpose. With the exception of Fowler all three musicians performed sets in partnership with a non-profit passion project. Flagship Romance's set was performed in support of Charity Water; Crosby's supportedThe Giving Keys, while Ruben's garnered interest for the Christopher Reeve Foundation. In an era when music appears to becoming more and more self-centered, this night of benevolence and acoustic-based songwriting was a perfect tonic from all the din and clutter that so often permeates the daily grind.
Synth-pop was on the menu Thursday night at UCF's CFE Arena for the university’s Pegasus Palooza 2013. Headliners Capital Cities were supported by Michigan quintet Stepdad and Kentucky quartet The Pass, with each one proving their worth in their own unique ways. First up was Louisville's The Pass who had arguably the most talented vocalist and guitarist of the night. Kyle Peters proved adept at both noodling and crooning and effortlessly tore through a set of seven psych-driven synth-stompers. An amalgamation of U2-era Zooropa, present day Muse and the Pet Shop Boys, the quartet definitely appears to be on the precipice of something truly exciting.
Grand Rapids' Stepdad entered the stage with a headlining sense of presence. Utilizing three part vocal harmonies, the band blasted out of the gate with the titanic and anthemic "Treasure Hugs" and the hyper-caffeinated "Wolf Slaying as a Hobby." Though charismatic frontman Ultramark was both quiet and wooden in between songs, he more than made up for it behind the mic. Though the set began sluggishly the band turned a corner after cheery singalong "Pick and Choose." Punchy effort "Must Land Running" was effortless, smooth and glided with precision, while "Magic Stones" had shades of Prince.
Ultramark's falsetto remains his calling card and it shined beautifully on the sleek sing-along "Will I Ever Dance Again?" Not content to wade in only electro-pop, the percussive "Jungles" got both concussive and vibey and ventured off into experimental psych-pop towards the end. By the time the band barreled into hit single "My Leather, My Fur, My Nails," they had won over the crowd and seemed eager for more. If there was one gripe to be had from the Stepdad set it was the entire tone of the performance. For a band that has made a habit of writing jocular and light-hearted summer songs, the entire performance felt rigid, lifeless and over-serious.
Headliners Capital Cities entered the stage in matching white varsity jackets with the band's name emblazoned on the back. Drawing strength from trumpet player Spencer Ludwig, the band careened forward marrying club-ready dance moves with thumping beats. Opening the set with a scintillating albeit unconventional rendition of Pink Floyd's "Breathe," the band made a statement from the very beginning: they were here to dazzle and wow, and never once did they fall short of that goal. Trumpet-laden "Chartreuse" was pliant, effervescent and undeniably dynamic. While an inspired cover of "Staying Alive" fell a bit short, a note-perfect rendition of Prince-cum-Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U," continued to prove the band's versatility.
Other head-turners included the churning "Patience Gets Us Nowhere Fast," and the anthemic "I Sold My Bed But Not My Stereo." The arena turned downright kinetic when the band segued into radio smash "Safe and Sound" and the entire set seemed to hit its zenith. Whereas Stepdad struggled with an identity crisis, Capital Cities seemed more than content in their own skin and their place in pop music. While at times the entire performance felt more akin to a Las Vegas entertainment revue or a So You Think You Can Dance routine than a pop concert, the energy was far from vacant and the band's enthusiasm was both infectious and downright refreshing.
A rare thing happened this past Wednesday night at Free Bird Live in Jacksonville Beach, FL. The opener, Nashville, TN's The Wild Feathers, performed a stronger set than the headliner, Grammy-and-Oscar-winner Ryan Bingham.
Whereas Bingham's set was brawny, blustery and drenched in sweat, The Wild Feathers performed a crisp, lucid and nearly flawless set of ten rootsy efforts. Utilizing three immensely gifted vocalists, the band allowed each one a shot at lead, as well as employing guitarist and pedal steel player Preston Wimberly for a barrel of four-part harmonies. With shades of The Band, The Eagles and The Rolling Stones circa 1975, there was little about the set that wasn't intriguing.
Firecrackers like "Backwoods Company" and the slowly rising closer "The Ceiling" had as much attitude as anything Bingham churned out. Moreover on the mid-tempo and melancholic moments, namely "Got it All Wrong," and "Love Me," there was something transcendent and timeless about every passing my second.
Being that all three vocalists (rhythm guitarist Taylor Burns, acoustic guitarist Ricky Young and bassist Joel King) have previous experience as frontmen, it was no surprise the set was as sterling as it was. Equal parts magnetic, awe-inspiring and wholly triumphant The Wild Feathers clearly proved they are on the precipice of something truly extraordinary. Since their signing with Warner Brothers, there have been whispers around the blogosphere that The Wild Feathers just might be the next great American band. While that notion still seems a bit too hard to swallow, there were enough moments in Wednesday's 40-minute set that gave ample amounts of credence to that very statement.
Imagine Dragons visited Orlando's House of Blues last Friday night in support of their chart-topping album Night Visions and in doing so cemented themselves as one of 2013's most promising new artists. With a stage setup surrounded by towering palm trees and a ten-foot tall drum, the group marched on stage and performed a percussion-heavy intro to a dizzying array of lights and airy guitars.
Opening with "Round and Round," a song not found on Night Visions (save for deluxe packages) the quintet made an impression from the get-go. The rhythm section was tight, the guitars were lively and impacting and Dan Reynolds had the swagger and charm of an industry veteran. And that small nugget should not be overlooked. Having only been at it for four years, Imagine Dragons appeared wise beyond their years in nearly every song played.
Whether it was the bombastic and chill-inducing "Radioactive," or the pleading "Bleeding Out," there was something crisp and well-executed about the entire 70 minute set. Arguably the finest moment in the set was when Reynold and Co. veered from the script. Standing on stage with just guitarist Wayne Sermon flanked on his left, Renyolds belted out the plaintive "Thirty Lives," an unreleased cut that is also going by the titles "Lay Me Down," and "Starlight." Ostensibly a plea for help, it is easily one of the band's finest songs to date and one can only hope it makes the cut on the next release.
On the contrary, the Aussie upstarts Atlas Genius performed a set that was well-executed and expertly performed, the only problem was the entire set lacked charisma. Whether the set falling short was the result of inexperience or just a band in a room far too big, the 45-minute set was unfortunately one giant letdown. Even the catchy single "Trojans," and the pensive "Back Seat," could not rescue this band from an underwhelming set of monotony sans charm.
Taking the stage before Atlas Genius was California's Nico Vega, whose frontwoman Aja Volkman is also the wife of Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds. Volkman is indeed a rare bird and has a strange sense of making her live set a piece of performance art. Though the set itself lacked the crispness and lucidity of seasoned veterans, there was a strangeness and a left-of-center verve that actually made the set worth watching. In many ways it felt like What Will Aja do next? But a live set should never be about a frontowman's antics.
In short, the night belonged to the Las Vegas pop-rockers and to them alone. It was a position they were more than willing to relish in. And if Friday night's set is any indication, they have all the talent and skill to remain a force on radio for years to come.
When it comes to live music, there is no greater joy than watching performers revel in what they do. No one wants to watch a band mail it in or look haggard and disinterested. And it is for this reason that Friday night's tour send-off show at Orlando's Backbooth, was such a treat for those attended. Ostensibly a happy trails shindig for local singer-songwriter Emily Kopp, the bill also included some of Kopp's closest friends: classmate Megan Alfredson, Los Angeles-by-way-of-Tampa singer-songwriter Connor Zwetsch and another Orlando native, Bracher Brown, the lone male on the bill.
Alfredson opened things off quietly and humbly. Though her set was mostly covers, she slammed home a wide swath of frothy cuts, including Paramore's "Misery Business," Willie Nelson's "Crazy," and a choicecover by Lil Wayne. What Alfredson lacked in stage presence she made up for with a belting voice. Though her hushed nature kept her mousey and unassuming, she certainly revealed a flair for vocal gymnastics and with more seasoning could certainly provide a spark to the meager singer-songwriter scene in Orlando.
Connor Zwetsch took to the stage with drummer Sandi Greco and a fireball of energy that was nothing if not illuminating, awe-inspiring and all-consuming. Anchored by powerful and deeply penetrating vocals, her (yes, Connor is a girl) set was easily one of the night's true highlights. Whether it was the racy opener "The Little Things." or her near-perfect cover of MGMT's "Electric Feel," Zwetsch performed a set wise beyond her years and revealed a talent that was both alarming and provocative. The one-time Tampa resident recently relocated to Los Angeles and the move seems to have done her well. There was a confidence and effortlessness from the opening seconds, that made her set so hypnotizing. Hard at work on her debut EP, Zwetsch is just a mere months away from shaking up the overcrowded California music scene.
Bracher Brown took to the stage with a three-piece band (all of whom are members of New Wave up-and-comers Stockholm) and armfuls of family and friends in the crowd. One would hope that the legions of kin would accentuate the rugged rocker's set. But alas, nothing did. Despite a buoyant cover of Tom Petty's "American Girl," little about Brown's set was memorable. While humble and hunky, his set lacked originality and seemed more concerned with brawn and braggadocio than brilliance and substance.
Headliner Kopp took to the stage shortly after 10 p.m. and barreled through an hour-long set that never wavered or sagged. Buttressed by an air-tight rhythm section and the zesty stylings of producer/lead guitarist Justin Beckler, Kopp never stopped smiling. Her songs, despite their maudlin subject matter, were nothing if not, affecting, poignant and undeniably potent. Whether it was the somber "When We Fight," the dark and stormy "Thicker Than Blood," or the grateful "Thank You," there's an assuredness and crispness in her songcraft that is both refreshing and revelatory.
While her debut EP veered more toward Colbie Caillat honey-pop, her new stuff seems more geared in indie folk and that change is something that should serve Kopp well going forward. Though much of her set was serious in nature, the 22-year-old was more than willing to add moments of levity. Whether it was a Britney Spears mashup with Alfredson, or a slightly comical version of Katy Perry's "Wide Awake," the sun-drenched set was a welcome tonic for a day marred in tragedy. And in an era, when so many artists mail it in and show little joy in performing, Friday night's set at the Backbooth elucidated exactly why live music is such a worthy endeavor.