Journey and Steve Miller Band at Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harvey’s | Stateline, Nevada | 7/30/2014 (Concert Review)

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“We’d like to play something off a very old record, but a very good record… it’s called Infinity.  This was not the beginning with Mr. Perry…  this was one of the first songs I wrote with him… actually the second song.  We wrote it sitting downstairs in Gregg Rolie’s house… and then the song came out of nowhere – it wasn’t about L.A., it was about San Francisco!  I don’t think they have a bay there…  Is there a bay in L.A.?  There’s one in San Francisco!”  Neal Schon of Journey reminiscing about creating some of the best rock and roll songs of all-time, as intro to “Lights”.  Journey and Steve Miller Band are just closing out a 41-date tour with Tower of Power that kicked off in mid-May, though this special one off show at the Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harvey’s did not include the third band playing on the larger tour.  The two classic rock bands provided plenty of music and energy on their own, playing to what appeared to be a sold out crowd.  With many hits spanning decades, it was a great show with a lot of music history on display – both the songs and the people that made them.  I’ve seen Journey a few times in the past couple of years, but I have to say that they’ve really cranked things up with this tour, and look and sound better than ever.  It was my first time seeing Steve Miller Band, and while I’m not as familiar with them compared with Journey, I really loved that set as well.  Both bands were in top form and put on amazing shows.  One of the best tours of the Summer to be sure.

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Foreigner at Mountain Winery | Saratoga, California | 7/28/2014 (Concert Review)

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“This was originally a full electric performance on, I don’t know what you might have had – an LP, CD, or cassette… or 8-track tape!”  Kelly Hansen, singer for Foreigner, as preface to one of the many hit songs that they played at Mountain Winery on Monday night, underscoring how long the band has been around in one form or another.  Foreigner are currently touring with Styx and Don Felder of the Eagles as part of their “Soundtrack of the Summer” tour, though this was a one off date featuring Foreigner as single headliner, with Bay Area’s The Bad Jones supporting the show at this stop.  The band had an interesting sort of pacing throughout the night, rocking out and then having a leisurely sort of conversational and intimate way of chatting with the audience between songs.  The celebratory nature of it all was built on a framework of classic rock and roll music, and they most definitely played to and fed off of the energy of the crowd – maybe one of the more energetic shows I’ve seen at the venue.  I love the whole thing and wouldn’t hesitate to see them again the next time they tour – excellent show.

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Tori Amos (Unrepentant Geraldines Tour 2014) at Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay | San Diego, California | 7/24/2014 (Concert Review)

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“He had all these things there… Sandman comics… things like that…” Tori Amos, coincidentally playing in San Diego during Comic Con week, reminiscing about her brother (who was in attendance) back in the day, and the inspiration for her song, “Flying Dutchman”, which was third up on her phenomenal setlist at Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay.   This was my second show seeing the “Unrepentant Geraldines Tour” (having seen the show in Oakland on Monday night at the Paramount Theatre).  As with that show, Tori is ever full of surprises, and the two shows were completely different on many levels.  The most obvious being the venues, with the indoor, ornate, classy and historical Paramount Theatre having a certain sophistication, while the outdoor Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay is more relaxed, with the unmistakable coastal air and open feeling sitting out under the stars.  With the setlists from the respective shows sharing only three songs (opening with “Parasol”, closing with “Cornflake Girl” and having “16 Shades of Blue” in their encores), it was two very different shows in terms of the music as well.  The show in San Diego was at least to some degree a celebration of “Under the Pink”, as it was highly represented in the song choice.  I loved both shows, but I’d have to say – for me – my love for Oakland’s was on more of an intellectual level, while San Diego’s was because she played more of the songs I truly love (and if I had to pick any one song for her to play, it would be “Bliss”, and she totally killed it on stage at Humprey’s.  One of those rare artists that has the ability to completely change up her show night to night, this is definitely one of the best tours of 2014.

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Tori Amos (Unrepentant Geraldines Tour 2014) at Paramount Theatre | Oakland, California | 7/21/2014 (Concert Review)

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“So this is one of your requests… I’ll see if we got this right.”  Tori Amos in the “Lizard Lounge” section of her performance at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland last night, wherein on this “Unrepentant Geraldines Tour” she does a few covers suggested by fans.  With Monday night’s show, the first was a kind of dark rendition of the Calvin Harris and Rihanna electro-house hit song, “We Found Love”.  What?  Tori Amos doing “We Found Love”?  Yeah, I know the song well, but it took my thought process a few seconds to catch up with the familiar lyrics played out in such a different manner.  As I settled into that incredible collision of techno pop and, well, however you might categorize what it is that Tori does, when she does her thing…  I started imagining what might be the most amazing cover to hear from her following that.  Immediately, I thought of “Tiny Dancer” (it has a special connection with my fiancé and I, and she was seated next to me in the orchestra pit for her first Tori concert)…  So after finishing “We Found Love” on her electric keyboard, Tori spun around and found her way to the deeper keys on her Bösendorfer piano and started into the classic Elton John tune.  I’ve seen, I would guess, thousands of artists live in concert – that was the first time I’d felt that maybe one read my mind.  Very surreal moment, and maybe the coolest moment for me at any Tori Amos concert (and I’ve been to my fair share).  She was certainly full of surprises last night, as a fan might see simply from taking a look at the set list, which had songs from her latest, Unrepentant Geraldines, going all the way back to her failed synthpop band, Y Kant Tori Read.  With the new album and this current tour, Tori has certainly hit her stride both in the studio and on the road, and she’s always been one of those rare artists that is a master at both.

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Replay America (The Go-Go’s, Patty Smyth from Scandal, Martha Davis and The Motels, and Pete Byrne from Naked Eyes) at Thunder Valley Casino Resort | Lincoln, California | 7/19/2014 (Concert Review)

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“Are we not in the desert?  Where are we?” A  bit of comic relief part way through The Go-Go’s set by Gina Schock, who as per tradition emerges from her drum kit at some point in the show to give us a bit of fun.  And that is kind of at the heart of The Go-Go’s punky/poppy/surfy/beachy New Wave music, so what better a group to headline 2014′s newest 80s-centric tour, Replay America.  Also on the bill is Patty Smyth from Scandal, Martha Davis from The Motels, and Pete Byrne from Naked Eyes.  A real assortment of 80s hitmakers each took to the stage at Thunder Valley Casino Resort on Saturday night to take the crowd back about three decades to a real innovative time in music.  Though there was a lot of music to be heard, things proceeded along quite quickly with the first three artists sharing a band (with some changes set to set), and a quick changeover for the aforementioned Go-Go’s, who closed out the night with a string of classic songs.  Definitely a unique opportunity to catch many favorites in one sitting, and I know I thoroughly enjoyed each artist, only half of whom I’d seen live before (though I was already a fan of all four).  Awesome show.

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Joan Jett and the Blackhearts at Cal Expo (California State Fair) | Sacramento, California | 7/18/2014 (Concert Review)

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“When it hits the fan, people usually show up for each other…” Joan Jett of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, talking about surviving tragedy, and how real life experiences inspired their latest album, Unvarnished.  It was really quite inspiring to hear the punk icon with roots in music – in her teens – going back to the 70s, today crafting music that is informed by a fascinating and full life.  Yet regardless of her growth as an individual and as an artist, she still has that counter culture swagger and joy with a guitar strapped around her and a mic stand before her…  she can still rock it unlike any other, and she certainly made that clear at their appearance at the California State Fair at Cal Expo last night.  Whatever it is that she’s had since her formative years, that motor still drives her today.  A real rock and roll legend.

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OK Go at Assembly Music Hall | Sacramento, California | 7/15/2014 (Concert Review)

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“But the problem is, it’s a piece of shit… so things like the little thing, that goes on here… the plastic thing that keeps you from slicing your fucking finger in half?  That fell off in the middle of that song…” A post song, play by play recap by Damien Kulash of OK Go, talking about how part of his favorite guitar (purchased at a pawn shop in New Orleans) fell off and how he waited for the right break in singing to pick it up amid a floor covered in confetti… and for some reason decided to put it in his mouth for the rest of the song.  Quirky, funny, and entertaining…  an OK Go show would probably be worth the price of admission even if they didn’t play any music at all, as the between-song banter was all quite amusing on its own.  But they did put on an impressive showcase of music at Assembly Music Hall in Sacramento… kicking off their 2014 tour that culminates in the release of Hungry Ghosts, their fourth studio album in October.

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Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band at City National Civic | San Jose, California | 7/13/2014 (Concert Review)

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“I don’t know about you, but this seems like a peace and love city…” A quote from a real rock and roll legend, Ringo Starr, at the City National Civic in San Jose last night as the front man for Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band.  It seems to be a consistent and heartfelt message and sentiment from the former drummer for The Beatles, though he doesn’t really “front” the group of talented musicians that share the stage with him on his touring concert event so much as jam with them and turn the spotlight not only on their gifts as artists but also provides a platform with which to share their own music with fans.  It was truly a spectacular concert on all levels Sunday night, with a collection of amazing artists, a superb setlist, and an excellent production (top quality sound and lights, etc.).  Not only did Ringo Starr play his own music, new and old… so, too, did his friends, which include Steve Lukather, Gregg Rolie, Richard Page, Todd Rundgren, Warren Ham, and Greg Bissonette.  I would rank it as one of the best shows I’ve been to in 2014, and really an honor to see such legends all play together on stage.  They seemed to be having as much fun as the rest of us, and it was more like a glimpse into a two hour long jam session.

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New Order & La Roux at The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium | San Francisco, California | 7/11/2014 (Concert Review)

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“…since we’re in San Francisco, we thought we’d do something special.”  Bernard Sumner, singer and guitarist for New Order, as preface to an unexpected, second encore closer and cover of “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium last night.  One of just a half dozen dates on this North American tour, the concert showed a band that has worked to refine their live set, with updated visuals as well as a bit of tweaking and reworking of what has become their usual selection of songs.  It was definitely the best I’ve heard them in the past four years, and they seemed most energized during their performance of new song, “Plastic”.  The sold out crowd of around 7,000 never stopped moving and bouncing as they ripped through a sequence of favorites at the end with “True Faith”, “The Perfect Kiss”, and “Blue Monday”.   As has been tradition, they closed out with an encore of a few Joy Division covers, but the Scott McKenzie cover at the very end showed that they can still surprise when they are inspired to do so.

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The Lovemakers at Popscene at Rickshaw Stop | San Francisco, California | 7/10/2014 (Concert Review)

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“Are you ready, San Francisco?” Scott Blonde of The Lovemakers, on guitar on the front end of a blazing set at Popscene at Rickshaw Stop last night, sometime around midnight.  With co-vocalist Lisa Light holding down the opposite corner on bass, it was am impressive onslaught of thumping and catchy 80s-inspired synth pop for the on and off again band that is maybe the best thing those outside of San Francisco are missing of late, as they have amazing songs and an incredible live show.  Following on a fantastic opening set by The Trims and framed by cutting-edge DJ sets by Aaron Axelsen and Omar, it was another unique evening with Popscene.

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Huey Lewis and The News at Marin County Fair | San Rafael, California | 7/2/2014 (Concert Review)

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“As I look out on all your faces, there’s a few people here I don’t know!  Most of you I do know… most of you are on the guest list, I think!”  Huey Lewis of Huey Lewis and The News, peering out across the overflowing crowd within the tent at the Marin County Fair, it was more like a party than a concert, with friends and family making up a good portion of the audience.  A hometown show (Huey is from Marin County and the band as a whole is identified with the area), it definitely had a certain magic in the air…  a celebration of a band that has written and recorded a large catalog of fantastic music and stuck together now for about 36 years, the crowd was energized from beginning to end.  They played songs going back from 1978 to today, and showed how, as a band, they eclipse the decade that they are best known for, and can showcase not only their own music but rock and roll songs written by others, using electric guitars and their famous horn section as well as coming together to the front of the stage for acapella.  Definitely one of the most talented bands playing today, and, as always, one of the best tours going.

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Veruca Salt at The Independent | San Francisco, California | 6/26/2014 (Concert Review)

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“We’re Veruca Salt, and we’re gonna blow it out your ass…” Early on in their sold out show at The Fillmore in San Francisco last night, Louise Post made reference to their EP that followed their hit 1994 album, American Thighs, though it seemed to sum up what they came to do on stage, with Louise and co-singer and guitarist Nina Gordon shredding, singing, and shrieking through just south of a two hour set to a crowd of people who were more into this show that I generally see.  I became aware of Veruca Salt when their song “Seether” became a smash hit.  Unfortunately, I never had an opportunity to see them play live back in the day; in the late 90s, I was living in LA and going to grad school full time and working full time, which left almost no time for concerts.  However, I have to imagine that they are better than ever in their current comeback, which includes not just touring but new music as well.  As a matter of fact, I am fairly certain that their new single – “Museum of Broken Relationships – is perhaps my favorite Veruca Salt song to date.  The two things that most struck me about their concert at The Fillmore last night was that 1) they put on a stunning show and 2) they seem to be having more fun than anyone.  Hopefully this is just the beginning of bigger and better things, because it would be well-deserved and a long time coming.

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