Louis E. Johnson Passes Away at 60: Concert Photography Tribute – Photos from Last Concert as The Brothers Johnson

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Louis E. Johnson, known as Louis “Thunder Thumbs” Johnson and half of The Brothers Johnson with brother George “Lightnin’ Licks” Johnson, passed away on May 21st at age 60.  Louis Johnson was a legendary bass player and one of the principal figures in Funk music, and also is famous for laying down that incredible bassline on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” as well as playing on his hit, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”.  The Brothers Johnson collaborated with Quincy Jones, and are best known for their 1977 cover of Shuggie Otis’ “Strawberry Letter 23″, their 1976 hit “I’ll Be Good to You”, and the 1980’s hit “Stomp!”.  I was lucky enough to see what I think might have been the last live concert performance by The Brothers Johnson” in September 2013 as part of WorldOne Presents and their “Funk Fest” event at Thunder Valley in Lincoln, California, and did extensive photography at the show.  You can see my full review and photos in my original article, but I thought I would pull out some of the Louis Johnson ones here as a tribute to the great man. [Read more…]

Wolf Alice at The Independent | San Francisco, California | 5/14/2015 (Concert Review + Photos)

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I’d like to thank our two friends down here who have been down here all day; it was crazy for us to have any of you here in San Francisco all the way from London…”  Ellie Rowsell’s gratitude expressed to the two Wolf Alice fans who came a long way to see the UK alternative four piece play in the U.S.  I’d just seen their show at Popscene in San Francisco only three months ago, and I could not wait to catch another one of their dynamic live concerts.  Having since had an opportunity to get schooled in their music released to date, I have found Wolf Alice to be one of the most exciting newer bands recording and performing today.  With their debut album – My Love Is Cool – due next month, I am confident that their music will propel them to greater success and larger stages.  They have a real set of gifts and talents with their songwriting and originality, and the contemporary yet timelessness of their music which features some touches and influences that span many disparate music genres and eras.  They are the real deal.

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Howard Jones at Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub | Sacramento, California | 5/13/2015 (Concert Review + Photos)

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You gotta keep believing in what you wanna do; don’t give up…”  Howard Jones on stage at Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub in Sacramento on Wednesday night, playing to a sold out crowd in an intimate space holding about 450 fans.  He was reflecting back on when he was working in a factory as a very young man, and writing “New Song”.  His debut single – released in 1983 – is all about optimism… and that is in my estimation what the man is still about today, some three decades later.  Throughout his performance, he was beaming with joy and fun between each song, chatting with fans and tossing out anecdotes and familiar lyrics that can still be instructive today (“try and enjoy the here and now… the future will take care of itself somehow!”).  But it’s not just the classic tunes that had people moving.  Having released his 11th studio album this year – Engage – he is as creative and relevant as ever, with fresh new songs.  My own feeling is that in all this time since the 80s have come and gone, he best represents not just the style of music but the feelings of that era, and it is awesome that he continues to spread his work and message in live shows like this one.  Things can only get better, indeed.

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Blues Legend B.B. King Passes at 89; A Tribute in Concert Photography

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Music legend B.B. King passes away at age 89 today.  The “King of Blues” was born in Mississippi, and not only was witness to nearly nine decades of history, but was a key participant in it as well. [Read more…]

MS MR at Popscene at Rickshaw Stop | San Francisco, California | 5/7/2015 (Concert Review + Photos)

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“My only birthday wish is to fucking bring the house down……”  MS MR playing Popscene at Rickshaw Stop on Thursday night, being a traditional Popscene show that runs late into the night, it literally became Lizzy Plapinger’s birthday at some point during the show.  When, exactly, was anybody’s guess, as she and her partner, Max Hershenow, blasted through hit songs and songs yet to be released at the sold out show in San Francisco.  Keeping with the duality of their performing and recording name, the old and the new songs split the exactly hour long set in about in half, giving fans a preview of the upcoming sophomore album, due out in July on Columbia Records.  MS MR easily sold out two shows at the much larger Fillmore last year (see past review), so it was special seeing them playing a smaller, intimate venue.  The new music is fantastic, and shows a lot of growth for the duo as the expand their musical horizons.  I ranked their debut, Secondhand Rapture, as my favorite album of 2013, so I really look forward to seeing how the studio versions of the full album measure up to the brilliant Popscene show this past week.

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Florence + The Machine at The Masonic | San Francisco, California | 4/8/2015 & 4/9/2015 (Concert Review + Photos)

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“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…]

Colin Hay at Crest Theatre | Sacramento, California | 3/22/2015 (Concert Review + Photos)

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“I’m happy to live in the mystery…”  One of a seemingly endless set of poetic and thoughtful comments made on stage at The Crest Theatre in Sacramento on Sunday night.  Part of a solo performance by Colin Hay, best known as the front man, vocalist, and guitarist for the Australian, early 80s, Grammy-winning New Wave/Rock/Raggae band Men at Work.  In 1983, the band had a number one album (Business as Usual) and a number one single (“Down Under”) and gained international fame with their music and quirky music videos.  Here we are, 32 years later, and Mr. Hay has cultivated not only an interesting career but an interesting life with insights and experiences that continue to guide him.  All this time later, there is no ego, no regret, and an incredible depth of self-awareness.  He seems to have a vivid and real view of the world and how it works, and seems quite settled and comfortable with who he is and his role in life as not just a musician, but as a storyteller and philosopher, with much of the latter coming in the form of brilliant comedy.  I’d been lucky enough to catch his Finding My Dance one man show in 2013, so I had an idea of what to expect, but his current tour supporting his latest album, Next Year People, was even better.  He is one of the most entertaining and gifted artists touring today, and I can’t recommend enough turning out for one of his shows if you have the opportunity.

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Kristin Hersh (of Throwing Muses) at City Winery Napa | Napa, California | 3/16/2015 (Concert Review + Photos)

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“I’m going to play really small tonight…”  Kristin Hersh at the start of her special show at City Winery Napa.  I would have to say that it was maybe the most quotable concert I’ve ever attended, filled with an endless number of interesting comments and observations throughout her set, which was a mix of poetry readings and music from her various projects recorded under her own name, Throwing Muses, and 50 Foot Wave.  The setting within the beautiful, candle lit venue seemed perfect (Kristin’s first words coming out to the stage and mic was, “it’s so romantic here…”).  Her comment about playing small was inspired by her own characterization of her setlist (“the tiniest setlist ever!“), which was about half the size of a Post-It Note, double-sided.  But Kristin always seems to do things different; her own way… and sees the world I think a lot differently from the rest of us, which makes her works all the more compelling (in words, sound, and delivery).  Quite the artist, it is interesting how she does not limit her expression to her incredible music, but also gives us glimpses into her world via words printed on paper (“I’m going to read books at you tonight…“).  She has a sort of funny, quirky, open, and honest presentation which is somewhat disarming, in that she will then tear into a raw and emotional (powerful) song that is a shock to the system.  A singular artist, I get the sense every show she does – even the “small” ones like last night – are quite unique journeys unto themselves.  Certainly one of the more gifted and unique artists of her generation (and a real pioneer in terms of creating new pathways for women in music), she is definitely worth turning out to see live if you get the opportunity, and I would say the solo show is even more interesting than the traditional Throwing Muses concert (like the one I reviewed about a year ago).

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Wolf Alice at Popscene at Rickshaw Stop | San Francisco, California | 3/13/2015 (Concert Review + Photos)

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“We’ve got a couple more for you… party on, Friday night!”   Ellie Rowsell’s preface leading into Wolf Alice’s encore at the sold out show at Popscene at Rickshaw Stop on Friday night in San Francisco.  The alternative band from London put on a blazing show at a rare headlining stop in the U.S. on their way to SXSW.  A relatively newer band, their debut album, My Love Is Cool, is due in June, and already they seemed destined for much bigger venues.  I would be surprised to see them on a steep upward trajectory over 2015.  While the four members skew quite young, they exude maturity and confidence in their music, and as great as their EPs released thus far sound, their music seems fashioned to excel in a live setting even more than the studio recordings.  Even though they didn’t move around too much on the stage during their set, their music moved the crowd and they are one of the most exciting bands to come along in recent years.  Definitely ones to watch, and to catch live if you get the opportunity.

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Broods (The Evergreen Tour) at The Regency Ballroom | San Francisco, California | 3/7/2015 (Concert Review + Photos)

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“If I was rich, I’d live here…” The modest Georgia Nott, chatting in-between songs about the beautiful houses she’d seen in San Francisco earlier in the day, at their sold out show at The Regency Ballroom Saturday night.  It was a big step up in size from the shows I’d attended last year.  Accompanied as always with her brother Caleb and touring drummer Joel Farland, it was indeed a much bigger stage this time around, which they filled with ease with their authentic set of fantastic pop music fueled by incredible melodies and heartfelt, thoughtful lyrics (and of course those soaring vocals!).  Dubbed “The Evergreen Tour”, they are supporting their solid debut album released last year (which I ranked in my own Top Ten Albums of 2014).  The kiwi duo are so young that I’m really excited to continue to follow them to see where their gifts take them next.  I expect checking in on them in 2016, we will see them take on even larger stages and venues.  One of the best new artists of this era, and they put on a fantastic live show – my highest recommendation.

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Jefferson Starship (The Music of Jefferson Airplane 50th Anniversary) at The Center for the Arts | Grass Valley, California | 2/27/2015 (Concert Review + Photos)

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“I think Paul and I actually played this before we even picked up electric instruments, more than 50 years ago… “ An intro into Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Cod-ine” by David Freiberg, who played with legend Paul Kantner in both Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship.  The sold out concert at The Center for the Arts in Grass Valley last night was a celebration of both bands, as they celebrated 50 years of the former and 45 years of the later.  Coincidentally, yesterday was also the day that the great Leonard Nimoy passed away.  I made the connection in that Jefferson Airplane and Paul Kantner and Star Trek and Leonard Nimoy were both pioneers in pop culture from the mid-60’s onward and remain icons of that period today.  The 60’s represents many different things to different people, but as time marches on, the reality of it slips more and more into the past and that reality is transformed more and more into symbolism and ideas.  In some ways it fades, but it also becomes more powerful in that it has more of a mythic than real quality to people today, who forget…  Or, like me, were born after that time.  But Paul Kantner and David Freiberg are still on the road, keeping their music and the messages behind their art alive for those who come out to experience it.

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The Lovemakers at Popscene at Rickshaw Stop | San Francisco, California | 2/13/2015 (Concert Review + Photos)

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“Is that the only pair of panties we’re going to get tonight?”  Lisa Light, remarking on the underwear tossed at her co-vocalist and guitarist Scott Blonde of The Lovemakers at Popscene at Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco Friday night, as part of their “My Bloody Valentine’s Day Party on Friday the 13th of February”.  The band seem to have a special relationship with the annual romantic holiday, though looking around it seemed to have turned out more singles looking for fulfillment than happily coupled couples.  Building on their 2014 reunion, the band seems at it’s best live and on stage, literally pouring water on their hot and sultry style of retro pop and dance music.  The Lovemakers were supported with a blazing set by Beginners, who came up from their home in Los Angeles.  Filling in with fantastic DJ sets were Popscene’s Aaron Axelsen and Omar.

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