Tori Amos (Unrepentant Geraldines Tour 2014) at Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay | San Diego, California | 7/24/2014 (Concert Review)

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“He had all these things there… Sandman comics… things like that…” Tori Amos, coincidentally playing in San Diego during Comic Con week, reminiscing about her brother (who was in attendance) back in the day, and the inspiration for her song, “Flying Dutchman”, which was third up on her phenomenal setlist at Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay.   This was my second show seeing the “Unrepentant Geraldines Tour” (having seen the show in Oakland on Monday night at the Paramount Theatre).  As with that show, Tori is ever full of surprises, and the two shows were completely different on many levels.  The most obvious being the venues, with the indoor, ornate, classy and historical Paramount Theatre having a certain sophistication, while the outdoor Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay is more relaxed, with the unmistakable coastal air and open feeling sitting out under the stars.  With the setlists from the respective shows sharing only three songs (opening with “Parasol”, closing with “Cornflake Girl” and having “16 Shades of Blue” in their encores), it was two very different shows in terms of the music as well.  The show in San Diego was at least to some degree a celebration of “Under the Pink”, as it was highly represented in the song choice.  I loved both shows, but I’d have to say – for me – my love for Oakland’s was on more of an intellectual level, while San Diego’s was because she played more of the songs I truly love (and if I had to pick any one song for her to play, it would be “Bliss”, and she totally killed it on stage at Humprey’s.  One of those rare artists that has the ability to completely change up her show night to night, this is definitely one of the best tours of 2014.

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Tori Amos (Unrepentant Geraldines Tour 2014) at Paramount Theatre | Oakland, California | 7/21/2014 (Concert Review)

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“So this is one of your requests… I’ll see if we got this right.”  Tori Amos in the “Lizard Lounge” section of her performance at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland last night, wherein on this “Unrepentant Geraldines Tour” she does a few covers suggested by fans.  With Monday night’s show, the first was a kind of dark rendition of the Calvin Harris and Rihanna electro-house hit song, “We Found Love”.  What?  Tori Amos doing “We Found Love”?  Yeah, I know the song well, but it took my thought process a few seconds to catch up with the familiar lyrics played out in such a different manner.  As I settled into that incredible collision of techno pop and, well, however you might categorize what it is that Tori does, when she does her thing…  I started imagining what might be the most amazing cover to hear from her following that.  Immediately, I thought of “Tiny Dancer” (it has a special connection with my fiancé and I, and she was seated next to me in the orchestra pit for her first Tori concert)…  So after finishing “We Found Love” on her electric keyboard, Tori spun around and found her way to the deeper keys on her Bösendorfer piano and started into the classic Elton John tune.  I’ve seen, I would guess, thousands of artists live in concert – that was the first time I’d felt that maybe one read my mind.  Very surreal moment, and maybe the coolest moment for me at any Tori Amos concert (and I’ve been to my fair share).  She was certainly full of surprises last night, as a fan might see simply from taking a look at the set list, which had songs from her latest, Unrepentant Geraldines, going all the way back to her failed synthpop band, Y Kant Tori Read.  With the new album and this current tour, Tori has certainly hit her stride both in the studio and on the road, and she’s always been one of those rare artists that is a master at both.

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Replay America (The Go-Go’s, Patty Smyth from Scandal, Martha Davis and The Motels, and Pete Byrne from Naked Eyes) at Thunder Valley Casino Resort | Lincoln, California | 7/19/2014 (Concert Review)

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“Are we not in the desert?  Where are we?” A  bit of comic relief part way through The Go-Go’s set by Gina Schock, who as per tradition emerges from her drum kit at some point in the show to give us a bit of fun.  And that is kind of at the heart of The Go-Go’s punky/poppy/surfy/beachy New Wave music, so what better a group to headline 2014′s newest 80s-centric tour, Replay America.  Also on the bill is Patty Smyth from Scandal, Martha Davis from The Motels, and Pete Byrne from Naked Eyes.  A real assortment of 80s hitmakers each took to the stage at Thunder Valley Casino Resort on Saturday night to take the crowd back about three decades to a real innovative time in music.  Though there was a lot of music to be heard, things proceeded along quite quickly with the first three artists sharing a band (with some changes set to set), and a quick changeover for the aforementioned Go-Go’s, who closed out the night with a string of classic songs.  Definitely a unique opportunity to catch many favorites in one sitting, and I know I thoroughly enjoyed each artist, only half of whom I’d seen live before (though I was already a fan of all four).  Awesome show.

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OK Go at Assembly Music Hall | Sacramento, California | 7/15/2014 (Concert Review)

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“But the problem is, it’s a piece of shit… so things like the little thing, that goes on here… the plastic thing that keeps you from slicing your fucking finger in half?  That fell off in the middle of that song…” A post song, play by play recap by Damien Kulash of OK Go, talking about how part of his favorite guitar (purchased at a pawn shop in New Orleans) fell off and how he waited for the right break in singing to pick it up amid a floor covered in confetti… and for some reason decided to put it in his mouth for the rest of the song.  Quirky, funny, and entertaining…  an OK Go show would probably be worth the price of admission even if they didn’t play any music at all, as the between-song banter was all quite amusing on its own.  But they did put on an impressive showcase of music at Assembly Music Hall in Sacramento… kicking off their 2014 tour that culminates in the release of Hungry Ghosts, their fourth studio album in October.

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New Order & La Roux at The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium | San Francisco, California | 7/11/2014 (Concert Review)

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“…since we’re in San Francisco, we thought we’d do something special.”  Bernard Sumner, singer and guitarist for New Order, as preface to an unexpected, second encore closer and cover of “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium last night.  One of just a half dozen dates on this North American tour, the concert showed a band that has worked to refine their live set, with updated visuals as well as a bit of tweaking and reworking of what has become their usual selection of songs.  It was definitely the best I’ve heard them in the past four years, and they seemed most energized during their performance of new song, “Plastic”.  The sold out crowd of around 7,000 never stopped moving and bouncing as they ripped through a sequence of favorites at the end with “True Faith”, “The Perfect Kiss”, and “Blue Monday”.   As has been tradition, they closed out with an encore of a few Joy Division covers, but the Scott McKenzie cover at the very end showed that they can still surprise when they are inspired to do so.

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The Lovemakers at Popscene at Rickshaw Stop | San Francisco, California | 7/10/2014 (Concert Review)

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“Are you ready, San Francisco?” Scott Blonde of The Lovemakers, on guitar on the front end of a blazing set at Popscene at Rickshaw Stop last night, sometime around midnight.  With co-vocalist Lisa Light holding down the opposite corner on bass, it was am impressive onslaught of thumping and catchy 80s-inspired synth pop for the on and off again band that is maybe the best thing those outside of San Francisco are missing of late, as they have amazing songs and an incredible live show.  Following on a fantastic opening set by The Trims and framed by cutting-edge DJ sets by Aaron Axelsen and Omar, it was another unique evening with Popscene.

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Huey Lewis and The News at Marin County Fair | San Rafael, California | 7/2/2014 (Concert Review)

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“As I look out on all your faces, there’s a few people here I don’t know!  Most of you I do know… most of you are on the guest list, I think!”  Huey Lewis of Huey Lewis and The News, peering out across the overflowing crowd within the tent at the Marin County Fair, it was more like a party than a concert, with friends and family making up a good portion of the audience.  A hometown show (Huey is from Marin County and the band as a whole is identified with the area), it definitely had a certain magic in the air…  a celebration of a band that has written and recorded a large catalog of fantastic music and stuck together now for about 36 years, the crowd was energized from beginning to end.  They played songs going back from 1978 to today, and showed how, as a band, they eclipse the decade that they are best known for, and can showcase not only their own music but rock and roll songs written by others, using electric guitars and their famous horn section as well as coming together to the front of the stage for acapella.  Definitely one of the most talented bands playing today, and, as always, one of the best tours going.

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Veruca Salt at The Independent | San Francisco, California | 6/26/2014 (Concert Review)

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“We’re Veruca Salt, and we’re gonna blow it out your ass…” Early on in their sold out show at The Fillmore in San Francisco last night, Louise Post made reference to their EP that followed their hit 1994 album, American Thighs, though it seemed to sum up what they came to do on stage, with Louise and co-singer and guitarist Nina Gordon shredding, singing, and shrieking through just south of a two hour set to a crowd of people who were more into this show that I generally see.  I became aware of Veruca Salt when their song “Seether” became a smash hit.  Unfortunately, I never had an opportunity to see them play live back in the day; in the late 90s, I was living in LA and going to grad school full time and working full time, which left almost no time for concerts.  However, I have to imagine that they are better than ever in their current comeback, which includes not just touring but new music as well.  As a matter of fact, I am fairly certain that their new single – “Museum of Broken Relationships – is perhaps my favorite Veruca Salt song to date.  The two things that most struck me about their concert at The Fillmore last night was that 1) they put on a stunning show and 2) they seem to be having more fun than anyone.  Hopefully this is just the beginning of bigger and better things, because it would be well-deserved and a long time coming.

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Sarah McLachlan (Shine On Tour 2014) at Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harvey’s | Stateline, Nevada | 6/24/2014 (Concert Review)

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“It enabled me to finish writing a bunch of these songs and create more of a positive spin.  A hopeful, hopeful spin.  This one is for my sweetie; it’s called “Brink of Destruction”…  which is not a very positive title, now that I think about it.  [laughter]  …but, I don’t know, I like it; I like the dark side…  and, you know, you walk to the edge and you look over and you go, “holy shit, do I want to jump?” and, yeah…  I always do.”  Sarah McLachlan talked about loss, and love, and new love, and like her music, it all reflects a very complex and deep feeling soul behind that soulful voice and heartfelt words.  She is probably the most gifted vocalist to emerge in the past few decades, and having an opportunity to hear her in a live venue is definitely a memorable experience.  Over the course of two hours, Sarah and her extremely talented band put on a showcase concert that hit on all cylinders – sound, lighting, audience interaction and some storytelling about some of the songs, as well as several Q&A opportunities (fans wrote down questions which she drew at random).  Truly an “evening with” performance if there ever was one.  Sarah has been writing and recording amazing songs for many years now, and her latest - Shine On – has quality that is right there with the best of it.  End to end, the event presented a kaleidoscope of feeling and emotion, and Sarah can connect with people with her music unlike anyone else – she is truly peerless on many levels, and this is definitely one of the best tours going this year.

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V101′s Summer Jam Concert with Keith Sweat, Tony! Toni! Toné! and Salt-n-Pepa at Thunder Valley | Lincoln, California | 6/14/2014 (Concert Review)

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“Somebody’s gonna get pregnant tonight!”  Headlining this year’s Summer Jam for WorldOne Presents and V101, R&B icon Keith Sweat made it clear that much of his music is meant to accompany more… romantic activities.  It was fitting that by the time he took the stage at Thunder Valley’s Outdoor Amphitheater Saturday night, the sun was long gone and there was a bright moon serving as backdrop to the evening.  The other artists brought more of a high energy show to the stage, with Salt-n-Pepa performing not only their own music but samples from all manner of genre of music, courtesy the founding DJ, Spinderella, while D’wayne and Amar of Tony! Toni! Toné! raced back and forth across the vast stage getting the audience going at the start of the show.  The sold out crowd of 4,000 fans in Lincoln, California appeared to be thrilled by the performances of all three artists, with DJ Gino bridging each act with his ongoing DJ set.

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MØ with Erik Hassle at Popscene at Rickshaw Stop | San Francisco, California | 6/3/2014 (Concert Review)

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The Popscene concert at Rickshaw Stop on Tuesday night was one of those rare shows that was very surprising (in a good way).  Danish singer-songwriter MØ (Karen Marie Ørsted) headlined the night that featured Swedish singer-songwriter Erik Hassle supporting, and both put on stellar performances, with awesome bookend DJ sets by Aaron Axelsen.  Candidly, I was not familiar with either of these young artists until recently, and I would mark the night as one of the best concerts I’ve attended so far in 2014.  MØ and Erik Hassle should be on the pop culture watch list as ones to expect big things from in the future.

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Luscious Jackson at The Independent | San Francisco, California | 5/31/2014 (Concert Review)

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“We’re female chauvinist pigs…”  Jill Cunniff, one of the three members of Luscious Jackson, prefacing her invitation of a handful of men in the audience to join them on the stage to shake their booties during their song, “#1 Bum”.  It was an informal kind of show for the band, who haven’t been in San Francisco for a very long time, having recently reunited for their first studio album since 1999.  One of just three headlining shows for this tour (having played Los Angeles the night prior and with Boston still to come next Saturday, as well as two festival appearances), The Independent appeared sold out (or close to it) last night.  They put on an electric show with material spanning their original 90s songs as well as the new album, all sounding fresh and original.  They definitely still have “it”, and hopefully their efforts to reinvent themselves with their PledgeMusic campaign and new independent streak will lead to a resurgence of their special brand of rock/pop/hip hop.

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