Clive Farrington, former lead singer of When In Rome at Hogue Barmichael’s | Newport Beach | 12/6/2014 (Rehearsals & Concert Review + Photos + New Wave Bar)

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I had an opportunity to spend a couple of days with Clive Farrington, to see what is going on with the former front man and lead singer of the popular 80s band, When In Rome.  On the itinerary was sitting in on a rehearsal with his new band prepping for 2015, checking out the New Wave Bar & Restaurant in Bellflower for Danny Sanchez’s birthday (“70s Disco Night”), and a few days later attending their special charity concert at Hogue Barmichael’s in Newport Beach, which benefited the Orangewood Children’s Foundation.

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Berlin Featuring Terri Nunn at The Canyon Club | Agoura Hills, California | 12/5/2014 (Concert Review + Photos)

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“You’ve excited me so much I’ve lost my voice all of a sudden…”  Terri Nunn in her intro to “Take My Breath Away”, Berlin’s Academy Award and Golden Globe winning 1986 song.  Playing to somewhat of a hometown crowd at The Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, the place was packed and the band changed things up a bit for Christmas, with a few festive classics fit in midway through their set.  They’ve had a heavier tour schedule in 2014, in part to support their latest album, Animal.  This marked the third time seeing Berlin in 2014, having seen their shows at Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach in January and at City Winery Napa in August.  As per usual, they put on an incredible show with a mix of songs from old and new, including my two favorites, “Metro” and “Will I Ever Understand You”.  Hopefully I’ll have a chance to see them just as much in 2015, and they are one of my highest recommended live acts to check out.

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Fleetwood Mac “On With The Show Tour” at Sleep Train Arena | Sacramento, California | 11/24/2014 (Concert Review + Photos)

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“I walked out of there with not much, except a feeling in my heart that it was all going to work.  And the reason that I tell you this story, is that I want you to know that if you have a dream, and you believe in yourself, and you believe something that you really want, don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t have it.  Don’t ever let anybody get in your way, because you can have it, and we are living proof of that…”  Optimistic words spoken by Stevie Nicks at the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento last night, joined on stage by the core members of one of the best rock and roll groups of all time, Fleetwood Mac.  I think we collectively need more optimism in the world today, but not just lofty words and sentiments, but used to power individuals to look to themselves and their own abilities and opportuities to make their dreams come true.  Somehow, this collection of gifted artists – Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, and Christine McVie – all found one another back in the 70s and made music that has endured as classics to this day.  I first saw Fleetwood Mac with their tour in 2013, and marked it as one of the best shows of the year.  As that tour did not include Christine McVie, with her return on this year’s tour, I marked this show as my top “must see” concert of the year.  It did not disappoint.  All of the players sound like they are truly at the top of their game, and they seemed to love performing as much as the audience loved watching it.  It was also a bit different than last year’s tour, with even higher production standards and maybe the best sound quality I’ve ever heard in a sports arena.  It was truly an epic show, and Fleetwood Mac is one of those rare bands that can make playing to a large indoor arena work (I rarely go to such shows because they typically do not work on many levels).  They really exceeded my expectations with their nearly three hour show, and I think the highlight for me was “Little Lies”, with Christine McVie’s beautiful voice and the overlapping chorus with Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham – a real showcase for the distinct character in each of their voices but how well they harmonize and blend together to such effect.

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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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(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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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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