One of the better records to come across this writer’s desk the past few weeks is For Life, the debut LP from California synth-pop quartet Phases. Ostensibly a supergroup, Phases comprises Alex Greenwald (Phantom Planet), Jason Boesel (Rilo Kiley, Conor Oberst), singer-songwriter Michael Runion and Z Berg (The Like).
Seen last week at Orlando’s House of Blues their six song set was magnetic, polished and deeply entertaining. Vocalist Berg is a natural frontwoman and her ability to play off her bandmates allows the songs to glide and swerve in a way they can’t on record. Highlights from the set included the doe-eyed and supple “Spark,” the sugary and sunny “Betty Blue” and the buoyant “Cooler.” The latter two have a radiance that seems ripe for terrestrial radio and ample TV placement. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, but if their brief set in Orlando last week was any indication, Phases are destined for big things in 2016 and beyond.
Headlining last week’s show was Canadian chanteuse Lights whose 16-song set was in a word: brilliant. Featuring stadium-quality lighting effects and a set that was both intimate and electric, she more than proved she’s far better than the synthetic and sometimes shallow nature of her studio albums. Whether it was the kinesis of 2011 single “Toes” or the titanic heights of “Running With The Boys,” Lights left an indelible mark on the evening. Easily the high point of the set was the three-song acoustic set, which gave the evening both restraint and accessibility. Songs like “Meteorites,” “Peace Sign” and “Second-Go” had an emotional depth and vulnerability that cannot be felt on her albums. In many ways, that same sense of accessibility carried over into the swirly and cylindrical “Timing is Everything” and the full-bodied, stadium-ready “The Last Thing on Your Mind.”
Lights’ set proved to be a co-bill with California collective The Mowgli’s but little about their set proved they are ready for primetime. From start to finish, their 16-song set was cluttered, hurried and unfocused. Never once did the band try a cover, nor a ballad, nor a chance to let vocalist Katie Jayne Earl take center stage. Whereas Lights’ set was polished, pristine and bound for bigger stages, The Mowgli’s proved they have lots more left to do. Here’s hoping exactly that happens. For now, they’re a derivative throwaway that isn’t worth the time or money. Lights and Phases on the other hand absolutely are. So here’s to the both of them for knowing exactly how to make a concert night truly memorable.
The always controversial Kid Rock brought his First Kiss: Cheap Date tour to West Palm Beach's Coral Sky Amphitheater this past week. Performing a set that focused mostly on his new material, the 90-minute performance was controlled, mild-mannered and most importantly, humble. Now 44 and a grandfather, Kid Rock has seemed to settle himself into the pocket. His last two albums have veered heavily towards country and Southern rock and the profanity-laced material seem few and far between. Though he did dive into much of Devil Without a Cause and Cocky, few of those songs were played from start to finish.
In fact, a large portion of the set was compiled of Kid Rock singing a few bars of much of his material before segueing into something else. Arguably the set's most inspired moment came early in the set during the rafter-shaking "You Never Met a Mother$#%@!$% Quite Like Me," which found the Detroit native vaulting into the air on more than one occasion. The youthful exuberance was something that stayed tangible for much of the set. But never once did he push that exuberance farther than he should have. That sense of restraint is what helped make the set that much more enjoyable.
After the rumbling roots-rock effort "Johnny Cash," Rock and band zipped through seven songs in about sixteen minutes. At various intervals, Rock would stop to schmooze, mostly enticing the crowd. The set slowed down again on the breezy "All Summer Long," which fed into a near-perfect rendition of "Picture." In the place of Sheryl Crow was strong-lunged vocalist Jessica Cowan-Wagner, More than a suitable replacement, Cowan-Wagner is just one of many in Rock's 11-person backing band Twisted Brown Trucker. Though the lineup has changed through the years, this 2015 version might be the strongest incarnation yet. Saxophonist David McMurray contributed an inspired and lilting sax solo in the latter stages of "Picture," giving the song a certain panache not heard on the ubiquitous radio version.
Turntablist/programmer Paradime even gave up his perch during an instrumental jam inspired that fed out of "Kid Rock aka DJ Bobby Shazam." That moment of improvisation found Rock behind the drums for a sizzling take on Ted Nugent's inspired "Cat Scratch Fever."
Rock behind the drums was just one of four instruments played by Rock during the 90 minutes. Of the four none was more surprising than the extended piano intro that preceded "Born Free." Said song was also preceded by a three-minute clip that paid homage to America's blue-collar community, military both past and present as well as first responders. In true Kid Rock fashion, the video ended with the line, "And always remember that we live in the greatest mother$@%! country in the world," a sentiment that sent the crowd into a tizzy. The near eight-minute version of "Born Free" was an appropriate pinnacle for a night that had many winning moments.
And yet none could match the sheer ferocity and reckless abandon that encapsulated the "Bawitdaba" encore. Guitarists Marlon Young and Jason Krause both took turns proving their mettle while Rock bounced across the stage as if this night was the last concert of his life. The same youthful vigor from "You Never Met a Mother$!%$@ Quite Like Me" was once again on display.
Opening the show was Georgia bluegrass quintet Packway Handle Band and legendary hard-rockers Foreigner. Packway Handle performed a masterful set of six Appalachian-tinged charmers. Dripping with harmonies, hook-heavy choruses and first-rate picking, the group never let the amphitheater swallow them whole. In fact, just the opposite happened. The upright bass, fiddle and banjo flooded the South Florida night with a warmness that needed to heard to be fully understood.
That same sense of transcendence was repeated in the 60-minute set by hard-rockers Foreigner. With Mick Jones on stage for the entire set, the band tore through some of their most ubiquitous hits. Opening with "Double Vision" they barreled through. An inspired sax solo on "Urgent" and numerous snarling leads from Jones helped pave the way for what quickly became a memorable night. And yet as much credit as Jones deserves, the true hero of the Foreigner set is frontman Kelly Hansen. Now ten years into fronting Foreigner, he seems like a natural fit, one that has taken his role seriously and never once taken it for granted. A consummate entertainer, he was incessantly barking at the crowd, imploring them to shake their coiled reserve and give in to the many charms of Foreigner. Nowhere was that more present than on a rousing, 16-minute performance of the seminal "Juke Box Hero" and the near 10-minute "Hot Blooded." Now nearing their 40th year as a band, Foreigner continues to electrify crowds and their thunderous response from the Coral Sky crowd solidified that point emphatically.
Perhaps in twenty years time, Kid Rock will be just as lucky.
In only six years, Utah quartet Neon Trees have made quite an impression on the modern pop landscape. Three titanic singles, a kinetic live set and hordes of fans have kept the band in constant motion, touring incessantly from year to year. Their latest tour, An Intimate Night Out With Neon Trees, kicked off two weeks ago with support from Utah’s Fictionist and Nashville’s Coin. Seen recently at downtown Orlando’s Beacham Theatre, the band was in fine form.
Opening with the unreleased gem “Songs I Can’t Listen To,” the quartet set the stage from the very first seconds: this night was going to be loud, energetic and full of flair. Through fourteen songs, Tyler Glenn and Co. absolutely owned the stage and made their mark as one of the nation’s more compelling live acts. Roaming around the stage with reckless abandon, one minute emulating a whirling dervish, the next a Radio City Rockette, Tyler Glenn was half-Bowie, half-ballerina and his band followed him every step of the way. “Sins of My Youth” was punchy, immediate and downright invigorating, while “In The Next Room” was howling, histrionic and enveloping.
For reasons unknown and undiscussed, Glenn then halted the show and asked his band to follow him to the back of the stage. The unusual event did little to disturb the set but did remind all in attendance (including the band) who exactly was in charge of the night. Not long after the aforementioned set break, Utah’s gnarliest Mormons dove headfirst into their now ubiquitous single “Animal,” and it was every bit as bombastic and brilliant as one would expect. Though The Beacham was only three-quarters fill they did everything they could to fill the room with volume, glee and squeals. Fresh on the heels of “Animal,” Glenn and Co. made one of their strongest statements of the night with a controlled, serpentine performance of “Moving in the Dark.” The heights of the song were not lost on Glenn as he collapsed onto the stage and remained there until the song finished.
The set’s finest moment was the reaching, stadium-sized cut “Still Young,” which found Glenn’s vocals at their peak and the band in similar form. Always quick to thank the crowd, he took a few minutes towards the latter stages of the set to profusely thank the crowd for coming out to the show and more importantly for singing along to the album tracks just as energetically as the radio singles. That moment of candor dovetailed immediately into “First Things First,” a beat-driven mission statement that in many ways serves as Glenn’s personal anthem. For all the many charms of Neon Trees (and there are many) few are as indelible as Glenn’s devotion to being an entertainer. Never once during the 80-minute set did he appear placid, bored or disinterested. That kind of resolve is exactly why the band continues to garner new fans every day.
Preceding Neon Trees was Nashville quartet Coin. Their 40-minute set of seven synth-drenched pop cuts was as compelling as the headliner. From start to finish, the band was polished, focused and fully locked in. Performing with the kind of conviction one usually sees at industry showcases, they were as impressive a live act as this writer has seen all year. From the very onset, it was evident that the band is destined for larger stages and has venues like Wembley Stadium in their crosshairs. And yet for all the awe-inspiring moments, it could be argued the band might have taken themselves too seriously. Very little about the set seemed relaxed, loose or inviting. In fact, it could be argued the band was smug, cocky and without charm.
On the contrary, Utah’s Fictionist was warm, endearing and instantly likable. Not afraid to poke fun at themselves, the quartet displayed a keen sense of self-awareness, humility and most importantly, technical precision. Anchored by an air-tight rhythm section, their eclectic set vacillated between fuzzy garage-pop and lush dream-pop. Vocalist/bassist Stuart Maxfield and vocalist/guitarist Robbie Connolly both took turns at the mic over the course of six songs. Highlights from the set included the vibey “Not Over You” and the hook-heavy “Free Spirit.” By the time they walked off the stage, there was an immediate need to want to hear more. In the end, isn’t that why we attend concerts in the first place?
In September of 2013, this very blog championed the talents of Jacksonville folk duo Flagship Romance. At the time, that post called them one of Florida's Top 10 unsigned bands. Fast forward to May of 2015 and one can argue they might just be the best unsigned band in the Sunshine State.
Seen this past weekend at Orlando's The Plaza Live, the newlyweds outshined headliner Lisa Loeb and delivered a set that was in a word: awe-inspiring. Whether it was the driving, highway rocker "A Strange Thing," or the inward and feathery "Where There's Smoke," the duo crafted a myriad of engaging sonic landscapes. Though at times they were too garrulous, their songs were darn near perfect. Set opener "Hit the Ground" was the perfect marriage of Shawn Fisher's hyperkinetics and Jordyn Jackson's stately grace. And therein lies the power of Flagship Romance. For all of Fisher's jittery energy, his wife is a poised and calming yin to his yang. Both also possess top-tier vocals and their harmonizing is both timeless and mesmerizing. Nowhere was that more apparent than on the gorgeous ballad "Amsterdam." By the time, the duo closed out the set with the hushed tones of "Harvest" one got the feeling they were in the midst of something special. A standing ovation from the crowd reiterated that very point.
The duo is currently touring the country in support of last year's brilliant debut Fee-Fih-Foh-Fum and are hard at work on their sophomore follow-up. Perhaps what's most remarkable about the band is that their music goes beyond relating their love story. Fisher and Jackson are both dedicated humanitarians and are founders of the Clean Water Music Fest, a Northeast Florida music festival which donates all of its proceeds to New York City nonprofit charity:water. In an era where narcissism and self-indulgence are the norm in the music business, their presence is both refreshing and much-needed.
So here's to Flagship Romance, Florida's best unsigned band.
More than 40 years removed from his self-titled debut, Jackson Browne still remains the pinnacle of singer-songwriters. That much was certain during his 2.5 hour set week at Orlando’s Bob Carr Theater. Deftly vacillating between classic hits and a large chunk of last year’s fantastic Standing In the Breach album, Browne was at his very best. His stop at Bob Carr was the last of a six-date Florida February tour, his final domestic stop of the Standing in the Breach tour before embarking on an Asia and European tour.
Opening the set with “Barricades of Heaven,” the band was in strong form from the opening note. Though the song was a bit too sedate for an opener, it was performed exquisitely and it set the tone for what would be a most memorable night. Choosing to divide the performance into two sets, the first set featured a stirring and stripped down version of “Looking Into You,” a rollicking and expertly crafted rendition of “Shaky Town,” and an ageless rendition of “Fountain of Sorrow.”
But the first set’s most inspired moments came via request. The first of the requests was by an eight-year-old boy who attended the show with his mother and anxiously shouted for “Yeah, Yeah,” a cut from Standing In the Breach. Taken back by the entire charade, Browne quickly gave in. “I guess we have to play it now,” and took to the piano before realizing he and the band had not rehearsed it. “I honestly forgot how this one starts.” After taking some cues from pedal steel player Greg Leisz, guitar player Val McCallum and drummer Mauricio Fritz, Browne paused yet again before addressing the crowd, “There we go.” And off it went. Effortless. Artful. Nary a flaw. Having already honored the “Yeah Yeah” request, Browne caved once again and confidently dove into “Call it a Loan.” In doing so, the song received arguably the largest ovation of the first set and kept fans anxious heading into the 30-minute intermission.
To start the second set, arguably the stronger of the two, Browne and Co. offered up “Your Bright Baby Blues,” which led to a raucous reception from the crowd. Much of the evening was a note-perfect melange of keys, organ, pedal steel and inspired lead guitar and nowhere was that more pronounced than on “Your Bright Baby Blues.” For a set that often times dipped too deep into melancholic mid-tempo fare, an uptempo number like “Rock Me On The Water,” was a welcome addition to the set and if the evening had any flaws it was that the more upbeat fare (“Somebody’s Baby”, etc) was left off the list.
Having already showcased some of Standing in The Breach in the first set, Browne rattled off three straight Breach songs, all of which were apex moments. The first of the three was the direct and immediate “If I Could Be Anywhere,” an ocean conservation rocker with shimmering verses and a tepid chorus. Inspired by a Galapagos TED Talk, the song at times felt too self-indulgent but definitely tackled some weighty subject matter.
On the heels of “Anywhere,” came the bristling blues cut “Which Side?,” a pointed political diatribe that was sinewy and serpentine and drew on Jeffrey Young’s haunting organ fills. Easily the best of the new songs was the gorgeous and ageless piano ballad “Standing In the Breach,” a song written after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. For some reason, Browne has always had an uncanny knack for tapping into the emotional well of humans from all walks of life and the tender and poignant verses of “Standing in the Breach” proved exactly that.
Having already honored two requests earlier in the night, Browne once again indulged another fan and performed a masterful rendition of Warren Zevon’s oft-covered “Carmelita.” With all the requests now behind him, Browne closed out the new material with “The Birds of St. Marks,” a song he introduced as “probably the oldest song I have.” Jangly, amiable and Byrdsian in every sense of the word, “St. Marks” is a reminder that even in his 60s, Browne can still craft a song stronger than just about anybody.
The set’s final four songs began with the timeless ballad “In the Shape of a Heart,” which received arguably the longest ovation of the night. From there, the band rattled off the bouncy and buoyant “Doctor My Eyes,” a defiant “The Pretender” and a very energetic “Running on Empty.” Next to “Shape of a Heart,” the strongest of the four was “Doctor My Eyes,” which had a vigor and vibrancy that never once felt like the song was 40-plus years old.
That very fact is what made the tepid version of “Take It Easy” during the encore so disappointing. Thankfully, a deeply resonant and melancholic “Our Lady of the Well” closed the night in fine form. Quick to give the band all the credit, Browne allowed each member a 40-second solo before pausing to thank the crowd and exiting the stage.
From the eight-year-old requesting “Yeah Yeah” to the octogenarian sitting with her 45-year-old daughter, there were few, if any, who left the theater disappointed. In the end, that’s about all you can ask for in a performer. Here’s to hoping Browne returns to Florida for the next album cycle.
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.