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…]
“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.
“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.
Music from the 1980s continues to permeate pop culture today – it seems like every commercial break cycle includes a familiar New Wave hit song repurposed for selling something or other. In addition – and on the positive end of the spectrum – we sometimes have the opportunity to catch a multi-artist live concert with a few or a variety of 80s artists perform at the same event. One such event was held at The Karman Bar in Orange County, providing a double headlining show with Dale Bozzio from Missing Persons and Clive Farrington from When In Rome. Taking a step back, one of the most interesting things about this show is how the two principals from the two very different 80s bands collectively covered the decade in music, with Missing Persons originally together from 1980 to 1986 and When In Rome being active from 1987 to 1990. So listening to their music at this event, there was also a contrast in sound from the beginnings of that decade (with it’s more traditional rock and roll emphasis of vocals, guitar, bass and drums) to that at the end (with vocals and keyboards/synth and electronic beats at the forefront). In any event, it is of course awesome to see two key players from the era keeping their music alive and turning out fans to celebrate it.
“Remember baby, the lake may be cold, but the light at the end of the tunnel may be you…” The final words from the immortal Steven Tyler as he turned his back to the crowd and strutted topless down the ramp and into the bright lights glowing from the back of the stage, as “Bad To The Bone” played him out. Performing at Harvey’s Outdoor Arena in South Lake Tahoe as part of their Summer Concert Series two years running, the explosive live show by Aerosmith kept a sold out crowd on their feet for over two hours. In my own opinion, Aerosmith is not just the best live rock and roll band touring today, but maybe of all time. They do pretty much everything better than anyone else, and they have so many hits in their arsenal that it just builds and builds and builds all night. Steven Tyler was born to do what he does, and even at 67 years old, he does it like no one else (and last night appeared to be have more energy than any of the 7,000 people in attendance). As much as he is the ultimate front man and performer, he is absolutely beaming when “Joe Fucking Perry”, “on guitar for 40 fucking years” is beside him, bringing the familiar riffs to life in a way that seems to be equal parts passion and effortlessness. Their songs feel like they were made to be performed live, and maybe more than any other band today, they know how to put on a show that’s brilliant no matter where you are, from up close to far away in the bleachers. Even if you are not a dedicated Aerosmith fan, I would say above any other band today – if you are a fan of ANY contemporary music – you’ve got to turn out to their show at least once, just so you have a new benchmark from which to judge all other concerts. It really doesn’t get any better when you consider every critical element that goes into a live concert event. They’ve earned the title, “America’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band”.
“It’s so wonderful to be back in San Francisco. It’s wonderful to be back in America, because actually the title of the record – How Big How Blue How Beautiful – was inspired by the American sky. It was actually, in a text message… I sent – I don’t want to break the mystery of it – but I sent to someone I really cared about a lot. And this song was written about that time. And about just how everything seemed endless, and beautiful, and that the world was a magical place. And then if you hear the rest of the record, you may be able to tell that things got a bit… muh… but still, I feel like you come back to this feeling, always.” Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine, providing an introduction to the title song of the upcoming album due out in June. Playing two back-to-back shows at The Masonic in San Francisco, it was not only a set of concerts with new music, but seemingly a Florence with a bit of a different feeling. I was lucky enough to catch two of their shows in 2012 (at the Mondavi Center in Davis and at the Hollywood Bowl), and the Florence I saw performing this week encompassed what I came to expect (an intense and phenomenal performer), but with flourishes of more joy than I’ve seen previously. It made for even more captivating shows, as her and her incredible group of artists truly put on a masterful performance, with a mix of familiar and new. I obviously attend a lot of concerts every year, but Florence + The Machine is one of the very few that can give me that adrenaline rush and tingle down my spine throughout – a real feat. Being fortunate enough to attend both shows this week, while the set list was the same, the shows each had there own character, energy, and vibe. With the preview of the new album, and the quality of the songs, it would appear that the band hasn’t hit any ceilings yet in terms of their gifts, talents and abilities, and I expect them to continue to soar in that big blue sky that Ms. Welch is so fond of… in studio or on stage, they remain one of the top musical artists active today. [Read more…]