Erasure (“The Violet Flame Tour”) at Pearl Concert Theater at Palms Casino Resort | Las Vegas, Nevada | 10/31/2014 (Concert Review + Photos)

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“Halloween is so brilliant though, isn’t it?  ‘Cause everyone can dress up; be what they want to do…  nobody is like judging you at all for how you look or anything or what you’re doing or who you’re with, blah, blah, blah …” Andy Bell of Erasure on Halloween at the Pearl Concert Theater at Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.  Certainly an interesting combination of band, date, and city to be sure.  As the more extroverted of the duo, Andy came dressed in a sort of skeleton costume with accompanying face paint that has some resemblance to the cover art of their latest album; Vince Clarke, set back from the front of the stage and back to one corner, I don’t think said anything all night, and was dressed in more business-style attire (though he had the aforementioned art one his laptop lid.  However the two contrasting personalities found one another for their journey into music that has gone on for nearly three decades, the magic worked in the beginning and continues to do so today.  This was definitely an interesting (in a great way!) night on many levels.  I had an opportunity to meet Vince Clarke and Andy Bell from Erasure via the special tickets made available through their PledgeMusic campaign for that newest latest album, The Violet Flame.  The aptly named Violet Flame Tour included a number of those new songs mixed into the set, as well as a lot of their many, many hits and favorites.  I got the sense that it was a different sort of show for this series of shows, and I’m happy that I got a chance to experience this new music and tour.

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The Airborne Toxic Event at Ace of Spades | Sacramento, California | 10/28/2014 (Concert Review + Photos)

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“We had a new song come out today…  We got a lot of comments on the site.  You know, people asking us, are we a rock band?  Or are we a folk band?  Are we an electronic band?  The answer is: fuck off!”  Comments from The Airborne Toxic Event’s frontman Mikel Jollett, before kicking into that new song, “Wrong”, toward the end of the initial set at Ace of Spades in Sacramento.  The comment might read as  negative, but their music and connection with the crowd was anything but, with that same signer and guitarist jumping off stage and interacting with the crowd several times throughout their one and a half or so set.  At one point, he even held a young boy in the air, asking (somewhat rhetorically) if he had the coolest mom there, but virtue of his presence.  The band, and supporting act In The Valley Below before them, put on a fantastic show with great music.  They are both certainly worth checking out.  Even Mikel said, at the end, “Every now and then you get to have a night like tonight – I think this is the best show I’ve ever played in Sacramento!”, and I suspect the fans agree.

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MisterWives, Crash Kings, The Soft White Sixties, & Moondog Matinee at Cargo at the Whitney Peak Hotel | Reno, Nevada | 10/24/2014 (Concert Review + Photos)

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“Those guys really rocked their faces off, so it was an honor to share the stage with those incredible bands.”  Mandy Lee of MisterWives, talking about the three awesome bands that took the stage leading up to their set: Crash Kings, The Soft White Sixties, and Moondog Matinee.  A quadruple headliner show, each act served as unique showcases of up and coming artists, with each being featured early next year in their own respective episodes of the PBS member station’s KNPB television series, Cargo Live at Whitney Peak Hotel, due to start airing early next year.  This concert, which ran for about five hours Friday night at Cargo in Reno, Nevada, boasted a fantastic collective of artists and the venue provided a great setting for really exciting and electric shows.

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The Asteroids Galaxy Tour at Bimbo’s 365 Club | San Francisco, California | 10/17/2014 (Concert Review + Photos)

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“Do you want more?” Mette Lindberg at Bimbo’s 365 Club in San Francisco Friday night, to a crowd mesmerized by the amazing show put on by The Asteroids Galaxy Tour.  Kicking off a new headlining tour, following a summer of festival appearances and the debut of Bring Us Together, their third studio album last month, the group, as she put it at one point during the hour and a half set, got to play a lot of their new songs.  This was my first time seeing the band live (I was always traveling in past opportunities), and I have to say it definitely ranks I think within the top five of my favorite concerts so far in 2014.  Incredible music to be sure, but they bring it to life in a concert setting in a way that truly surprised and impressed me.  Mette’s vocals were just spot on, and the sound was dialed in perfectly, and the band has a way of bringing their brilliant sound to life on stage that has to be seen and heard to truly appreciate.  I came away from the show a much bigger fan to be sure, and will definitely turn out for any future show that I can to experience it all over again.  One of the best newer bands active today.

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Daryl Hall and John Oates at Mountain Winery | Saratoga, California | 10/16/2014 (Concert Review + Photos)

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“We keep moving back now, further back to the 70s…  you guys are fans of the 70s, right?”  Daryl Hall and John Oates continued to delve deep into their catalog at their show at Mountain Winery in Saratoga on Thursday night.  With a seemingly endless reservoir of top hits, the number one duo of all time were in a special groove.  I’ve always counted them as one of the top live acts of all time, and every time I see them play I feel that sentiment more strongly.  As incredible as their studio cuts of each song are, they come to life in such a special way at their live shows.  There is an element of improvisation and a kind of subconscious jamming among the band where they can riff and extend songs out in a way that makes everything fresh and new and unpredictable.  And somehow better than ever.  They usually hit Mountain Winery every year, but were missed in 2013, so it was great to have them return this year.

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(the) Melvins at Assembly Music Hall | Sacramento, California | 10/15/2014 (Concert Review + Photos)

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I usually open my reviews with a quote from the headlining artist, but the Melvins were pretty much all business at Assembly Music Hall on Wednesday night, kicking off their “Hold It In” tour in Sacramento.   Quite the prolific band, they released their album Hold It In the day before, a collaboration with Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover, with Butthole Surfers members Paul Leary and Jeff Pinkus.  On stage last night were all but Paul Leary.  With a democratic stage set up, featuring Dale Crover at center on drums with King Buzzo and Jeff Pinkus flanking either side, they are one of those interesting collaborations that seems to lack ego.  Just as their music is balanced by the contributions of each player – though with a lot of variety and variation song to song – each seems to hold their own with their live show, and the sonic spotlight seems to shift around as called for by moments and breaks in each song.   The star of the band is really the music, and it’s eclectic style that doesn’t really fit into any particular genre (though there are strong foundations of both metal and punk at the heart of it).  Truly an important band, in a historical sense, though that wouldn’t matter as much if they didn’t make compelling music or put on a killer live show, and in their case, they do both.  Definitely a tour with catching as 2014 races to conclusion.

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Tears for Fears at The Wiltern | Los Angeles, California | 9/23/2014 (Concert Review + Photos)

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“Is that the new iPhone 6?”  Roland Orzabal, early on in the show, as he and Curt Smith looked out over the sea of cell phones in the air, held by an exuberant sold out crowd at the historic Wiltern in Los Angeles last night.  Tears for Fears, best known for their collection of timeless and classic New Wave hits from the 80s, do not tour very often, and when they do, the tours are usually not too many dates and cities.  So there was a bit of an “event” feeling in the air, and based on some of their comments later in the show, they both seem to have quite an affinity for the City of Angels.  As such, it seemed to be one of those special sort of shows, that unfold in a different sort of way.  About halfway through the show, Curt even gave a shout out to Richard Blade, who was at the front of the GA crowd in the pit…  if you didn’t know him by his own lifetime in music, you would think he was the band’s biggest fan (and maybe he is).  Perhaps the development that represented the biggest point of fan service, prefaced by Roland with “nothing like changing it up for L.A.; obviously this is a special place for us…” was the surprise encore opener, a song that “we haven’t done for many, many years”.  He said that this version will be included in their deluxe reissue of Songs From the Big Chair in November.  He said it has been impossible for them to do live “until now”, and then proceeded to play “The Working Hour”.  Definitely a special show by a fantastic band, and the place was certainly buzzing when it all came to a close after upwards of a two hour show.

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Better Than Ezra at House of Blues Anaheim | Anaheim, California | 9/21/2014 (Concert Review + Photos)

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“Michael, I want you to take this crowd – this hardened crowd of entertainment junkies – on a percussion journey…”  Kevin Griffin of singer and guitarist for Better Than Ezra, along with co-founding member Tom Drummond on bass, setting the stage for the most blazing cow bell drum solo ever, by their drummer, Michael Jerome.  This was my first time seeing Better Than Ezra live in concert, and I came away with my expectations far exceeded…  and maybe a bit sad that they didn’t become bigger back in the day; big enough to carry them forward in a way that was, for lack of a better explanation, more successful.  They are talented songwriters, and it all manifests itself on stage in a unique way.  Everything is framed in a bit of irreverence…  not quite on the scale of, say, They Might Be Giants, but let’s just say that Griffin doesn’t take himself too seriously and makes the show fun for him, and in turn, the band’s mix of audience.  An audience that I couldn’t really begin to stereotype, as it seemed to be made of people of all ages, genders, and walks of life.  They certainly captivated and entertained the crowd, and there is a real sense of expecting the unexpected throughout their set.  I really recommend checking out their live show if you have a chance, and either way, I think the new album released this month, All Together Now, is certainly worth a listen.

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Heart at Mountain Winery | Saratoga, California | 9/16/2014 (Concert Review + Photos)

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“In the spirit of toasting, here’s a song by Paul McCartney…”  Nancy Wilson of Heart giving an appropriate intro to their cover of the Wings song, “Let Me Roll It”, from 1974, with her sister Ann sharing the stage in the wonderful atmosphere at Mountain Winery in Saratoga last night.  This was one of several cover songs performed, though the rest were Led Zeppelin songs for their encore.  I’ve saw Heart twice last year, and they always deliver with stunning performances and are truly as great as they’ve ever been.  In addition to their own vast and growing (with last year’s Fanatic) catalog, they’ve also in some way become the caretakers of keeping Led Zeppelin songs alive and well (in addition to Jason Bonham’s own Led Zeppelin Experience, which toured with them last year).  Who else but Ann Wilson can give epic delivery of those vocals, and yet with her own trademark style?  But of course fans turn out to hear Heart songs first and foremost, though they only played one song off the new album, “Mashallah” (which Ann said drives her into the stratosphere).  Each time I see them, the familiar songs sound a bit different, as though they find new and innovative ways to translate them into a live experience.  In any event, they put on a fantastic show in a gorgeous venue, so it was a wonderful celebration of them and their great music (as well as a tribute to some other greats in music).

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“Big Block Party” with Morris Day & The Time (The Original 7ven), Sheila E., Guy, and Doug E. Fresh at Thunder Valley Casino Resort | Lincoln, California | 9/13/2014 (Concert Review + Photos)

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“Sacramento… you may notice a bit of moisture forming on my forehead… falling down my face…  I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking, ‘Morris has lost it.’  You may even be thinking, ‘Morris is not cool anymore.’  But let me fix that shit for you, Sacramento.  Just like you take a cool bottle of champagne out of the refrigerator, and you set it on the counter… what does it begin to do?  See, it sounds like you all don’t know.  See, it begins to condensate, Sacramento.  Because that’s what you do when you’re cool from the inside out…   So please understand, Morris is not sweatin’.  I’m condensatin’.   And, hell yes, Morris Day is still cool!”  Words from the legendary Morris Day from Morris Day & The Time (now The Original 7ven), headlining the Big Block Party by WorldOne Presents at Thunder Valley Casino Resort Saturday night.  Having come on stage after the sun dropped out of view, which hit a high of 100 degrees, it left me wondering if the sweat rolling off everyone in the sold out concert venue was from the heat of the day, or the heat coming off the stage from the outrageous funk band, who followed the incredible line-up of Sheila E., Guy, and Doug E. Fresh.

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Air Supply at Montbleu Theatre | Stateline, Nevada | 9/12/2014 (Concert Review + Photos)

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“Ladies and gentlemen, tonight we are going on a journey together…”  Graham Russell giving a bit of a preface to an amazing concert, along with his songwriting partner Russel Hitchcock, the duo that comprise Air Supply have “been on tour” now for 39 years, though this is the first time I’d ever seen them live.  Playing to a sold out crowd of around 1,300 or so at the Montbleu Resort Casino & Spa in Lake Tahoe, from the vantage point of the front row, eyes on the stage, it felt like they could have been playing to a vast sports arena.  Hands down, I would have to say that Air Supply gave me the biggest surprise of the year in terms of my expectations against the actual performance – they were spectacular.  Playing over 100 shows a year, unless there was something different about this concert (and I have no reason to believe that there was), these guys know how to put on a stunning show with a variety of music, up tempo and slowed down, and in many cases rocking, and they have a brilliant band backing them up.  I cannot stress enough my recommendation to check them out if you get the opportunity – these guys put on a stellar live show.

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Huey Lewis and The News at Mountain Winery | Saratoga, California | 9/6/2014 (Concert Review + Photos)

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“We don’t do this one often… this is awful fast; it’s awful hard…”  Huey Lewis of Huey Lewis and The News giving an intro and tribute to a song they rarely play live in concert, “Hip To Be Square”.  He went on to explain to the crowd at Mountain Winery in Saratoga on Saturday night that San Francisco 49ers players Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott contributed backing vocals to the song, so were performing it to support their team.  Having come off of their “Sports 30th Anniversary Tour” in 2013, they are still drawing large crowds with a mix of old and new material, which seems to change show to show.  Whatever the setlist, they seem to have a lot of contagious fun, and their shows always have a family affair sort of vibe.  As Huey introduced his band, he mentioned that he and drummer Bill Gibson even went to middle school together.  I think the spirit of all that shines through in their music (recorded and live), and it’s pretty remarkable that those relationships can endure in the music industry, when I’ve seen it completely tear other bands apart (even blood family members).  They always put on an amazing concert, and Mountain Winery always serves as an awesome host, overlooking the night lights of San Jose and Silicon Valley.

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