As with my 2012, 2013, and 2014 Year in Review features, this feature looks back on a year of music with a summary of the highlights. This year, I attended about 50 shows, with hundreds of different sets of incredible talent and music to make sense of, not to mention trying to keep up with all of the studio releases from artists, new and old. This is my attempt to (subjectively) share my favorites of the year, from live shows to new songs and albums. You can also check out my Top 100 Concert Photos of 2015 in that separate article.
This is the first of my 2015 “Year In Review” articles. As with my articles in 2012, 2013, and 2014, I reviewed a sampling of my concert photos from 2015 and compiled some of my favorites and stopped when I hit 100 photos in total. Please also check out my companion 2015 Year in Review article, which covers my Top 10 Albums, Top 10 Songs, Top 10 Concerts and more. [Read more…]
“Spread open your Golden Gates…” Morrissey always has an interesting little quip before delving into the first song of the night, and what he prepared from The Masonic in San Francisco was appropriate enough. Having seen him one other time this year – in San Jose in July (phenomenal show!) – he seems to be increasingly jubilant this year… a turn of fortunes for sure. He also seems much more comfortable in his own skin, and more confident (with a stellar band bringing his music alive in a way that eclipses all iterations that have come before it). He was also quite chatty with this latest engagement on Tuesday night, abandoning at least some of the darkness fans have become accustomed to (though he did make a remark about looking to find him in a monastery eight miles south of Vienna in the future). There is often a unique theme for each show by way of matching outfits for the band, and with this show, they all wore “Morrissey for President” t-shirts. We can only image. As one of my all-time favorite artists, I see him as often as I can, and it seemed most fitting to make this show my final one for 2015. He remains one of just a few artists that can still give me that chill down my spine and make me feel like I am witnessing something genuine and important (kicking in at this show with “How Soon Is Now?”). Morrissey has a way of bringing up feelings of nostalgia and fusing it with his new works to create something special. [Read more…]
Not So Silent Night (NSSN) is Live 105’s “Annual Holiday Rock Show”, with 2015 bringing it back from a two-night event to a one night show. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I tend to avoid the massive outdoor Summer-style festivals (too hot, dirty, sweaty and crowded, though I did cover Live 105’s BFD this year – see Part 1 & Part 2), so I really enjoy these indoor ones that happen in the colder weather. With this one being an annual event, they are extremely well organized and somehow improve upon their formula year after year. The night kicked off early at about 5:30 and ran up towards midnight, so it was a very long evening of excellent artists doing their thing (with scant 5-minute breaks in-between as the did quick stage rotations). It was also an interesting mix of artists, with newer bands as well as some that have put in a lot more years, with Weezer topping the billing. All in all, it was a great line-up that flowed well and all performers seemed to step up and deliver to their own fans as well as making some new ones.
“Fuck you, Greg! Just kidding!” What the audience playfully shouted at Inara George of The Bird And The Bee (on cue and at her direction) as she recorded video of the crowd with a borrowed phone, to share with the other half of their duo who is not joining her on this short, rare tour hitting just four cities in the U.S. (Pasadena, San Francisco, Chicago, and Minneapolis). Supporting their first all-original album since 2009 with the newly released Recreational Love, that crowd has certainly been waiting with great anticipation to see the act, in whole or part, for the better part of five years (in which time just a handful of dates have been played). The packed collection of fans at Social Hall SF in San Francisco (just below and part of Goldenvoice’s Regency Ballroom) was not disappointed, as Inara George and her band played through The Bird And The Bee favorites, old and new. Going by the quality and energy of the show, you wouldn’t know that live shows are not something that they do continuously, as it was a brilliant concert and the unique studio sound was recreated faithfully and, of course, at the heart of it all were Inara’s unique vocals. Definitely worth turning out for one of these rare shows, and short of that, checking out the new album, which takes them in a new direction while retaining that unique distinct, singular, signature sound. [Read more…]
“We’re going to play a few songs now that you might know. You’ve been very patient; thank you very much. You also might not know them as well…” Dave Gahan, bridging the main set of Soulsavers material and their encore, which featured two songs from his first two solo records and two from Depeche Mode’s Songs of Faith and Devotion. Making his debut performance with Soulsavers, they previewed the newly recorded material from Angels & Ghosts, which will be released on Friday. Dave Gahan has reunited for a second album as Dave Gahan & Soulsavers, as well as announced a very limited set of concerts with a 10-piece band at very small and intimate venues in the U.S. and Europe, with this first one happening at The Theatre at Ace Hotel in Los Angeles on Monday night. The album, Angels & Ghosts, is his second collaboration with producer Rich Machin and the tour takes them to New York, London, Berlin, Paris, and Milan. It all creates a framework to showcase Mr. Gahan’s ability to transcend the work of Depeche Mode into territory that allows him to reveal his own unique gifts, artistry, and vision. A peek into the soul of a man who is very complex, as well as a foundation with which to truly hear his voice soar to new heights and lyrics that provide real vulnerability. Decidedly not “a Depeche Mode show”, but a rare experience for fans to see another side of one of the most talented artists of our generation. Unforgettable.
I usually start off my reviews with a quote, but Wolf Alice don’t spend too much time talking on stage, and their concert at The Chapel in San Francisco Thursday night was a bit too chaotic and kinetic for chit chat; they let the music speak for itself. I’ve been fortunate enough to catch all three of their San Francisco shows in 2015 (their debut at Popscene at Rickshaw Stop in March and follow-up at The Independent in May), but their most recent show – fueled by the June release of their debut album My Love Is Cool – was their best yet. They are, in my opinion, the most exciting new band recording and performing today. They continue to develop their many gifts and talents with their songwriting and originality, and their live concerts serve as a showcase for how amazing they are at recreating their rich and complex, multi-layered sound on stage. But back to that album… for me personally, it is the Album of the Year. Truly, the best album of the past several years. Every song is a gem. They are THE band to watch.
“Lyrics is everything to me…” The very thoughtful and contemplative Howard Jones, during his intimate solo show (“The Songs, The Piano, and The Stories) at City Winery Napa on Friday night, leading into his heartfelt hit song, “Life In One Day”. The lengthy set was split between his solo performance and stories about each song, delivered with warmth, honesty, and wit, in an authentic, humble manner. The format proved to be an amazing way in which to begin to get to know (funny enough) the man behind the music, which is something I always approach with a little trepidation (at least one favorite 80s icon proved to be a disappointment a few years ago – I wish I could “unexperience” that show). But Howard Jones proved to be a man the audience liked to get to know well… Mr. Jones is really not just an incredible artist, but an incredible man and I really appreciate his efforts to openly share about his fascinating life as well as pass along some life lessons. He does this in his traditional electric shows as well, but it’s not quite the same as him settling into his seat behind his keyboard with the mic volume set for discussion as well as playing, with an equally relaxed audience sitting around him. If you’ve ever seen one of Howard Jones’ electric live shows, I would highly recommend checking out one of these solo shows as well, as it is a totally different experience and maybe even more gratifying and entertaining. I loved every second of it, and plan to go to another one the next time the opportunity arises. My highest recommendation.
“I was going to save this one for later… just like me, I’m too excited, and I just can’t wait!” Dave Wakeling of The English Beat, teasing the crowd and then finally throwing down with popular hit “Save It For Later” not even halfway through their lengthy concert at City Winery Napa on Thursday night. After finishing that song, toaster King Schascha exclaimed: “We could not be saving anything for later… after that, we officially want to welcome each and every one of you to the Dave Wakeling workout program. Just that seven minutes right there is the best workout you’ve had all week. And you did it while drinking alcohol. More calories than ever. All you need to do for this membership is come to a Dave Wakeling Beat show.” King Schascha is one of several line-up changes in the band since I last saw them live back in January, and this is definitely my favorite modern-era incarnation of the band yet. They absolutely killed it on stage, and sounded better than ever with amazing energy and chemistry pouring into the sold out crowd (many of whom did get a great workout through the night). If how good a performance makes you feel while it’s happening was the only criteria for ranking a live show, I would have to say that this English Beat event was the concert of the year, and definitely the best I’d ever seen them, from the energy to the sound to the venue and atmosphere to the crowd, it all just came together beautifully. I’m actually now worried about seeing them again in the future, as it would be hard to measure up to this one show. Outstanding.
“…for those of you who haven’t been with us for twenty years, ‘welcome’. Thank you for listening, and thank you for connecting with us.” Shirley Manson of Garbage, talking about young people reaching out to the band, some of whom maybe weren’t even alive 20 years ago when they released their eponymous debut album. 20 years later, “connecting” has taken on a whole new meaning than it had in the mid-90s, as the Internet bounds us together in various forms and interfaces. This new tour is all about that landmark and somewhat counter culture album, Garbage, which came out in deluxe, remastered, reissue versions spanning three SKUs across multiple formats on October 1st. The “Super Deluxe Edition” features a whopping 62 tracks, including all of the B-Sides and remixes and demos galore. The “20 Years Queer Tour” is a celebration of that album, playing the whole thing front to back with B-sides sprinkled within, as well as a few songs from later albums and eras. The sold out show at the Fox Theater in Oakland on Wednesday night largely had a party-like atmosphere, as some fans spent the day waiting in line or participating in the Adventures in Wonderland add-on packages (which included swag, sound check viewing, meet and greets with the band, early entry into the venue, etc.). Having turned out for several of the band’s shows as they’ve made their comeback in recent years, they seem to kill it in concert more and more, and the trend continues with this tour, as they stand with confidence on stage, bathed in red-hued lights and performing over a sea of mostly black attire clad fans with the occasional pink feather boa as added flair. Even though they are looking backwards for this tour, they continue to move forward and it is an exciting time to be a fan of this band, who continue to reach up for their full potential. [Read more…]