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…]
“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.
“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.
“So we’re really at the very beginning of a tour that will probably go on for a year and a half… and we’re just starting to kind of realize the kind of appetite and love that is out in the world for Duran Duran… It hasn’t always been like this; you know we’ve been around for 35 years… We have a great job that we love doing…” Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran at The Grand Theatre at Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno, Nevada on Friday night… taking a moment to express some gratitude to the sold out crowd before performing one of their most popular songs (not from the 80s), “Ordinary World”. Supporting their 14th studio album, Paper Gods, which Warner Bros. Music released this month, the setlist for this tour is a good representation of the phenomenal music Duran Duran have released over the past four decades. But with less than two hours to perform, the show only scratches the surface of their brilliant catalog of music. With founding members Nick Rhodes on keyboards and John Taylor on bass, along with Roger Taylor on drums and Simon on vocals, the group have ties working with one another that goes back to the start, and they still make up the core of the band, with each contributing greatly to their signature sound. A lot of bands who have been around for a long time and have a strong association with a certain period or era become resentful of that, and some view their most popular songs with disdain – as if those hits are anchors holding them down rather than stepping stones that helped to propel them forward into world. Some other bands even refuse to perform their most popular hits live for their fans (see: Radiohead). Duran Duran are the opposite. Not only are they mindful of their own history and cognizant of what fans love to celebrate, but they appear happy to celebrate it right along with those of us in the audience. Duran Duran has always been about the past, the now, and the future, somehow all at the same time. I guess it goes back to that “great job” that they “love doing”, which is quite a modest take on creating some of the songs that are included in the soundtracks to the lives of people of my generation. As far as their concert tours go, they always bring some of that “new” with them with each tour, and this one is no different. From a healthy sampling of the new songs as well as new takes on older ones, they remind us all that they are accomplished artists with the ability to not only recreate that sublime studio sound, but also breathe vibrancy into it for how it all comes together on stage, in both sound and visuals. And somehow the guys appear timeless themselves, as they seem to defy the gods (paper or otherwise) and never appear to age year to year… the principals all look 10 to 20 years younger than they should, which contributes to the feeling of being part of an event that could be happening in the past, present, or future. At certain points during their live set, you could squint a little and travel back in time to the 00s, 90s, and 80s.
“She looked out her window one day, and saw a dog chasing a butterfly…” An intro to the song, “Dog & Butterfly”, the title track of Ann and Nancy Wilson’s 1978 album, and one of those songs that they don’t play every show. Heart’s show at Thunder Valley on Friday night was my second in as many months, and as I mentioned in my review of that concert at Mountain Winery, they do change things up from show to show. It’s also a reminder of just how many decades that they’ve been recording and touring hit music – they’ve actually been active as Heart since the year I was born, 1973. With the other show so fresh in my mind, for me personally, it was all about comparing and contrasting the two shows. Crowds create context, and Mountain Winery vs Thunder Valley is kind of like the wine-drinking city crowd vs the beer-drinking crowd from relatively more rural areas. Different energy and momentum, I’d say the smaller stage and softer environment of the winery venue made for a more intimate show while the bigger, tall stage and spotlights at this show was more rocking. As with each time I’ve seen them, the show was amazing and each member of the band had moments to showcase their special gifts and talents. They are one of my favorite bands to see live, and growing up with their music, they have the ability to tilt that adrenaline in my spine with those special moments in those songs I carry with me, that take me back to touch points in my life and feelings of nostalgia as they transport me back in time.
“It actually wasn’t supposed to be on the album, but I’m glad we did it, because it’s one of the greatest rock and roll songs of all time…” Daryl Hall giving an intro to their cover of the classic Righteous Brothers hit, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”. Along with his partner, John, Hall and Oates have so many hit songs that they don’t have time to get to in the span of a standard-length concert that it is the one rare cover song that they perform live, showing a respect and debt of gratitude to the record and artists that came before them. Playing to a nearly sold out crowd of many thousands at the gorgeous Ironstone Amphitheatre at Ironstone Winery in Murphy’s California, it was only fitting that they closed out their Summer Concert Series on such a high note. I tend to see them every year (and less than a year ago at Mountain Winery in Saratoga), and they remain one of my all-time favorite live acts. They are such a fantastic live band, their songs in concert tend to be even better and more vibrant than the familiar studio recordings. A full band of exceptionally talented musicians, they play so well together than little improvisational flourishes make it all fresh and immediate. As the most successful recording duo of all time, they at once exceed audience expectations yet leave everyone wanting more because they are just that brilliant on stage.
“I think we’ve been here like eight or nine or ten times before… you can tell we’re sort of a variety band…” Nancy Wilson reminiscing about past appearances with her sister Ann and band Heart at Mountain Winery, before diving into a stunning cover of “Mona Lisas and Madhatters”. I’ve been lucky enough to see Heart several times in the past few years (even a year ago at the same venue and two years ago almost to the day at America’s Cup Pavilion) and one thing that I’ve learned with them is that every show is a completely different experience. Slight but substantive changes to setlists and songs, different tone and attitude… they have so much range and talent and emotion, you never quite know what to expect. Maybe that feminine perspective brings a wider gamut of approaches and possibilities? Or the duo and their band have so much by way of musical gifts, they challenge themselves by expressing their art in a variety of ways? In any event, this show was exceptional, with each of the sisters – as well as their stellar band – having moments to shine and showcase their talents. The standing ovation following “Alone” was one of the most enthusiastic I’ve seen in a long time. Somehow, Ann can really nail that song in so many different ways it’s amazing. As has been the case in the past few years, Heart remains the caretakers of keeping Led Zeppelin music alive and well (along with Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience, who have toured with them as well), closing out the night with covers of the classic, beloved music. Real icons and pioneers in music themselves, they are one of the best live shows touring today, with a catalog spanning decades and reflecting different eras in not only music but pop culture and our times.
“This and I think the ‘Gangster of Love’ inspired me to write ‘The Joker…'” Steve Miller of Steve Miller Band giving an introduction to “One Mint Julip”. Throughout his lengthy set of originals and covers, he gave some context and history about the music he has been playing for fans for decades. Also performing on the massive new stage at Ironstone Amphitheatre in Murphy’s on Saturday was Blues legend Buddy Guy. The pairing made for an interesting show, if only to compare the drastically different styles… Buddy Guy kicking off the night with a loud shirt and seemingly spontaneously arranged grouping of songs, using the whole stage and ultimately the vast venue itself as a stage as he unplugged and roamed the entire seated section playing to cheering fans. In contrast, once the day gave in to give thousands of fans in attendance at the beautiful vineyards a glorious sunset, Steve Miller Band came out on stage with a few of his iconic images propped up against black and darkness. Steve Miller had on his formal attire and sunglasses and was most comfortable at center mic. Both put on fantastic performances that showcases incredible music from the 50s onward. Another great event put on for Richter Entertainment Group’s summer concert series.
“I love you too, sir!” Huey Lewis of Huey Lewis and The News literally giving some love to one member of the sold out crow at Thunder Valley’s Outdoor Amphitheater on Friday night. “We first worked together about 40 years ago…” Huey Lewis, talking about Eddie Money who played the supporting set, giving a sense of how long the two have been making hit music, both with new albums in the works today. Of course, Huey Lewis and The News came armed with more hits than they had time to play, but they did manage to squeeze in a few new songs as well, introducing one by saying, “a brand new song for you… now feel free to imagine yourself owning this song on a CD sometime next year – it’s called, ‘Her Love Is Killing Me'”. Having taken their “Sports 30th Anniversary Tour” around the U.S. in 2013, they have always been a band to look both backwards and forwards, and the timelessness style of their music makes it easy for fans to embrace this approach. Shows by Huey Lewis and The News always seem to have an authentic vibe to them, as Huey reminisces about their roots in the area, even when playing to a long sold out crowd of 5,000+ fans.