“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.
Erasure (“The Violet Flame Tour”) at Pearl Concert Theater at Palms Casino Resort | Las Vegas, Nevada | 10/31/2014 (Concert Review + Photos)
“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).
Pet Shop Boys “Electric Tour 2014″ at Fox Theater | Oakland, California | 4/8/2014 (Concert Review + Photos) #PSBtour
It was one year ago to the day that I saw Pet Shop Boys and their Electric Tour in San Diego… and while the “show” was mostly the same on this 2014 tour, kicking off at Fox Theater in Oakland, my own personal experience was worlds apart. The actual concert itself was the same as last year’s, with the exception of I think just one change to the setlist, but that is actually a good thing – why mess with near perfection? While there are a few favorites of mine I would have loved to have heard, the highly prolific duo have been making hits for over three decades now, so there will always be some songs that aren’t going to make the cut for every tour. As with last year, the avant-garde stage production is of the highest order, with credit also due to Stuart Price with his music production and programming, Creative Director/Designer Es Devlin and Stage Director/Choreographer Lynne Page, the two colorful dancers (Merry Holden and Tom Herron) with their interesting costumes and stage presence, and many others behind the scenes. This show was their first of 2014, and at one point Neil even confessed to having some nerves in coming back on the stage, but his voice and delivery was spot on, and the blending of old and new music maybe even works better the second time around. It was one of my favorite shows last year, and it was great to revisit it as well as share it with someone very special in my life this time around – it is a concert that I will never forget (more on that later)!
Rick Springfield “Stripped Down” at Yoshi’s San Francisco | San Francisco, California | 3/13/2014 (Concert Review + Photos)
“…I thought, ‘you know, there’s no better translator of Black American Blues than a middle-class, 16 year old Australian white child’.” Part of Rick Springfield’s storytelling in-between songs, it was apparent early on that not only has he led an interesting life, but he has real depth as well as a self-deprecating sense of humor. Though he is best known for that one big 80s hit (“Jessie’s Girl”) and acting on General Hospital as Dr. Noah Drake, he is a great storyteller and certainly a real artist with some great music and a knack for bringing it alive in a special way in an intimate venue. The highlight of the night for me was his very personal rendition of “My Father’s Chair”, a song about the loss of his dad many years ago. It’s rare to see an artist connect with such a powerful song on stage, and present such vulnerability to an audience. This set of solo shows is definitely well worth checking out, and in many ways more compelling than the traditional, full band rock show, as Rick Springfield has a lot of storytelling in him, in both personal accounts from his life as well as his music.
The Invisible Lighthouse – A Film and Live Performance by Thomas Dolby at Crest Theatre | Sacramento, California | 11/23/2013 (Concert Review)
“It’s a happy and a sad occasion…” Thomas Dolby talking about his last stop at Creat Theatre in Sacramento last night, in his preface to “performing” his very personal documentary film, The Invisible Lighthouse Tour. Really a film unlike any I’ve ever experienced, it was just that – an experience. Dolby has been a pioneer in pop culture from his very beginnings, well known for his 1982 New Wave hit, “She Blinded Me With Science” among a number of other accomplishments in and out of music. Dolby’s partner on the stage, Blake Leyh, produced some amazing “analog”, impressionistic sound effects during the film, which Dolby scored and narrated, which made it clear that each performance of his film has been quite unique and different. A real pioneer in the arts, Dolby certainly has consistently blazed his own path, and after hearing his candid thoughts throughout the event, it would seem that he operates in a bit of a pop culture bubble, and looks to technology to find new ways in which to create meaningful art and vehicles for expression, and currently he is inspired by the ability today to make powerful films, sans Hollywood budgets and crews. The result is something that literally has to be experienced in a theater, and hopefully this event is truly not the last for The Invisible Lighthouse.
“This is actually the first song we ever wrote… do you remember your first time?” Susan Ottaviano, vocalist for Book of Love, providing her introduction to “It’s in Your Eyes” halfway through their set at DNA Lounge in San Francisco last night, one stop in a handful of California dates this month. The New Wave synthpop band from Philadelphia, which was formed more than 30 years ago, have started working together and recording together again, and these special concerts are a part of that rebirth for the group. Based on the packed nightclub and enthusiasm of the crowd, they are not forgotten, and there was a large fan base in attendance, many of whom traveled special for the relatively intimate show. As the style of music that they helped to develop back in the 80s gains in popularity today, it is exciting to see the band active and killing it on stage as if they’ve been active all along, rather than reuniting. Hopefully it will mark the start of more to come.
Pet Shop Boys “Electric Tour 2013″ at Copley Symphony Hall | San Diego, California | 10/8/2013 (Concert Review)
I had really high expectations for this, the latest Pet Shop Boys tour… yet somehow, as I sit down to write my thoughts about their show in San Diego at the Copely Symphony Hall last night, I am left a bit speechless… Not because I have nothing to say about it, but because I have this swirling flood of thoughts in my mind, and can’t seem to form a coherent approach to the whole thing. Maybe it was the overpowering strobe lights that disrupted the circuitry in my brain. Maybe it’s because they put on one of the most brilliant shows of the year. The cover of the tour program reads, “TURN IT ON”. Not a mere concert, it was a full blown, avant-garde stage production of the highest order, with credit also due to Stuart Price with his music production and programming, Creative Director/Designer Es Devlin and Stage Director/Choreographer Lynne Page, the two colorful dancers (Merry Holden and Tom Herron) with their interesting costumes and stage presence, and many others behind the scenes. Just when you expect that they should have peaked by now, they keep blazing new paths in music and life. Real artists, they create new work (in the studio and on stage) with a palette featuring colors all their own. They obviously put a lot of thought into not just sharing their music (old and new, hits and deep cuts), but creating a captivating and memorable experience. Though the visuals were mind blowing, the arrangements were amazing, Neil’s voice sounded better than ever, and the sound quality within the venue was superb.
Heart “Heartbreaker Tour” with Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience at America’s Cup Pavilion | San Francisco, California | 8/28/2013 (Concert Review)
I have been to many, many concerts this year, but this is one of those few that left me feeling kind of speechless. With their San Francisco stop on their “Heartbreaker Tour”, Live Nation and America’s Cup hosted the event at America’s Cup Pavilion as part of their Summer Concert Series. Joining Ann and Nancy Wilson on this Heart tour is Jason Bonham and his Led Zeppelin Experience; more than a supporting act, it is a dynamic fusion that has made for a very unique and unforgettable concert experience. Throughout the evening, the musical journey and artistry on display seemed to build perfectly, song after song, moment to moment, and culminated with Jason Bonham and his band joining Heart on stage to perform Led Zeppelin material, with the crescendo of the overall experience being their collective rendition of “Stairway to Heaven”. Really, live music does not get any better than that, and when you see even the venue security rocking out with the fans, you know you are part of one of those special concert experiences where people forget who they are and just live the moment and soak it in, basking in the greatness shining from the stage.
The Cure “The Great Circle Tour” at Neal S. Blaisdell Arena | Honolulu, Oahu in Hawaii | 7/30/2013 (Concert Review)
Playing on stage for nearly three and a half hours, with just two 2-minute breaks and almost no in-between song chit chat, The Cure was all about songs and performance at the Neal S. Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu, Oahu last night, making the legendary band’s first ever concert in Hawaii maybe one of the best for those lucky enough to score tickets at the sold out arena. Last night’s rocking show was all about fan service, from the sprawling 38-song set list to the special meet and greet opportunity for those who were able to get one of the coveted front row seats on the floor; the decades old group that is impossible to categorize played a dream set of many of their seemingly endless catalog of hits, spanning their entire career. Though they’ve been one of my own favorite bands since the 80s, I haven’t seen them live since their Wish Tour in the early 90s. I’ve been to over 60 concerts so far this year and with that probably have seen sets by well over 100 artists, and I would definitely rank this as one of my Top Three shows so far in 2013. Having traveled special to the islands for this special concert event – part of their “The Great Circle Tour” – it was definitely more than worth it as it was an unforgettable experience.
Kings of the Mic Tour (LL Cool J, Ice Cube, Public Enemy, De La Soul) at The Greek Theatre | Los Angeles, California | 7/7/2013 (Concert Review)
I don’t go to very many hip hop/rap shows, but loved the artists that got their start (and really got that genre of music into the mainstream) in the 80s. My first ever concert, at the age of 14, was Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, and Ice-T at Cal Expo in Sacramento in 1987. So when I heard about this “Kings of the Mic Tour” earlier this year, and that it was headlined by LL Cool J, it was a must see concert for me. Unfortunately, the Bay Area show conflicted with other travel plans, but a date was added onto the end of the tour in Los Angeles at the Greek Theatre, so I knew that was the one to catch. I am certainly glad that I did attend that specific show Sunday night, as it seemed to be a special one on all counts (and clocked in at over four hours of nearly non-stop entertainment). However, the highlight for me took me back to that very first concert experience I ever had, as there was a special surprise guest… toward the end of the last set, Darryl McDaniels (from Run-DMC) joined LL Cool J on stage, and the two performed “Peter Piper”, which was amazing. Stunning for me, really. Overall, it was a very impressive and high energy show from start to finish by all artists involved, and it definitely left me feeling that I need to catch more old school hip hop shows, though I think the bar was set very high by this last stop on the Kings of the Mic Tour.
This article features the latest in an ongoing series of “Rock Talk” podcast audio interviews for the Rock Subculture Journal. Today’s guest is Susan Ottaviano with Book Of Love. The pioneering New Wave favorite from the 80s and early 90s will be releasing some all-new music later this year and will be playing some special live concert dates in California in October.