“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.
“We keep moving back now, further back to the 70s… you guys are fans of the 70s, right?” Daryl Hall and John Oates continued to delve deep into their catalog at their show at Mountain Winery in Saratoga on Thursday night. With a seemingly endless reservoir of top hits, the number one duo of all time were in a special groove. I’ve always counted them as one of the top live acts of all time, and every time I see them play I feel that sentiment more strongly. As incredible as their studio cuts of each song are, they come to life in such a special way at their live shows. There is an element of improvisation and a kind of subconscious jamming among the band where they can riff and extend songs out in a way that makes everything fresh and new and unpredictable. And somehow better than ever. They usually hit Mountain Winery every year, but were missed in 2013, so it was great to have them return this year.
“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).
“We don’t do this one often… this is awful fast; it’s awful hard…” Huey Lewis of Huey Lewis and The News giving an intro and tribute to a song they rarely play live in concert, “Hip To Be Square”. He went on to explain to the crowd at Mountain Winery in Saratoga on Saturday night that San Francisco 49ers players Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott contributed backing vocals to the song, so were performing it to support their team. Having come off of their “Sports 30th Anniversary Tour” in 2013, they are still drawing large crowds with a mix of old and new material, which seems to change show to show. Whatever the setlist, they seem to have a lot of contagious fun, and their shows always have a family affair sort of vibe. As Huey introduced his band, he mentioned that he and drummer Bill Gibson even went to middle school together. I think the spirit of all that shines through in their music (recorded and live), and it’s pretty remarkable that those relationships can endure in the music industry, when I’ve seen it completely tear other bands apart (even blood family members). They always put on an amazing concert, and Mountain Winery always serves as an awesome host, overlooking the night lights of San Jose and Silicon Valley.
I usually open my reviews with a quote from the headlining artist at a show… and I generally don’t care for audience sing-a-longs (I come to hear the artist, not drunk people that don’t know the lyrics). But Saturday night was a different, special sort of show with the perfect fans in attendance. Tom Bailey from the Thompson Twins hasn’t played live for over 25 years, and came out of retirement for the newly rebranded Retro Futura tour (which was previously operating as Regeneration Tour). I cannot emphasize enough how much I loved the Thompson Twins and their music growing up, and that I never imaged I would have an opportunity to see them perform live. So at Saturday night’s stop at Mountain Winery in Saratoga, following the awesome sets by Howard Jones, Midge Ure (of Ultravox) and Katrina Leskanich (Ex Katrina and the Waves), Tom Bailey and his fantastic new backing band absolutely blew away every expectation I had. It was as if, as a performer, he was in hibernation for the past quarter of a century and came out the same as he was in his prime to play this show. It was quite surreal. So getting back to that sing-a-long… the final song of the night was Thompson Twins’ “Hold Me Now” (which a friend of mine captured on video from the audience) and everyone in attendance was so elated to see that man performing in front of them. As the song came to an end, the entire audience was on their feet, singing the chorus. Tom looked moved by the whole thing, stopped singing in mic, pulled out his ear monitors, motioned for his band to join him at the end of the stage, and it all came to a close acapella. A beautiful thing, and I think a way for us fans to let him know that we still love him, love his music, and want him to stay. A perfect ending, and maybe new beginning. “Hold me now, warm my heart… stay with me, let loving start, let loving start…”
“This was originally a full electric performance on, I don’t know what you might have had – an LP, CD, or cassette… or 8-track tape!” Kelly Hansen, singer for Foreigner, as preface to one of the many hit songs that they played at Mountain Winery on Monday night, underscoring how long the band has been around in one form or another. Foreigner are currently touring with Styx and Don Felder of the Eagles as part of their “Soundtrack of the Summer” tour, though this was a one off date featuring Foreigner as single headliner, with Bay Area’s The Bad Jones supporting the show at this stop. The band had an interesting sort of pacing throughout the night, rocking out and then having a leisurely sort of conversational and intimate way of chatting with the audience between songs. The celebratory nature of it all was built on a framework of classic rock and roll music, and they most definitely played to and fed off of the energy of the crowd – maybe one of the more energetic shows I’ve seen at the venue. I love the whole thing and wouldn’t hesitate to see them again the next time they tour – excellent show.
“Tonight what you see is a very, very, very stripped, stripped version of what it is that we do on a nightly basis…” OneRepublic’s show at Mountain Winery in Saratoga Sunday night was one of those very rare shows that surprised me (in a good way) on all counts. It was my first time seeing the band live, who are touring their latest studio album, Native (more on that later, also in a good way). Since it was such a different show from the norm, I can’t really account for what is different, though I suspect it was much more acoustic-driven than their typical set, though both approaches certainly do justice to their material. One thing that was apparent is that the group is made up of musicians at heart, and perfectionists in recreating their music on stage in a very real way. Their crew quite masterfully swapped out instruments (large on small) on stage in-between each song, helping to create a very memorable night that was a tapestry of the great music that OneRepublic has created. They sounded phenomenal and their identity as a band certainly came through in a variety of ways, especially their relationships with each other and boundless energy on stage. The experience definitely made me a bigger fan and my curiosity is definitely piqued and interested in checking out the other kind of show that they referenced as different from this one, which felt quite intimate and special.
“30 years is a long time. Think back 30 years ago… no cell phones… no Internet… no CDs… no reading glasses… Those were the days. And in case you guys haven’t figured it out yet, we’re going to play the Sports album. From the beginning to the very end. And that… was Side 1. That was the ‘video’ side, if you will. And now we’re going to take the record, and we’re going to turn it over… because that’s what we did, kids. We took the record, and we turned it over. Right? ” Part of a pretty entertaining monologue by Huey Lewis of Huey Lewis and the News at Mountain Winery last night, half way through their #1, septuple platinum 1983 album, which had four Top 10 hits (“Heart and Soul”, “I Want a New Drug”, “The Heart of Rock & Roll”, and “If This Is It”). Playing the classic album front to back – side to side – in honor of the “Sports 30th Anniversary Tour”, they did not end with that, as the concert continued on beyond with a new song as well as more non-Sports classics and covers. It was really a phenomenal show, and Huey and the band were in top form playing in their Bay Area home at Mountain Winery in Saratoga, which Huey Lewis characterized as “the scene of so many of our youthful indiscretions“. The sold out venue was filled with an awesome crowd of fans, and I think this was the first time I checked StubHub before a show at this venue and found that there was only a single ticket for sale, which I illustrates that it was the hottest ticket for the night in Northern California on the beautiful Saturday evening overlooking the lights of Silicon Valley.
“Hey Gina, did you play your brother’s 78s?” The Go-Go’s bass player Jane Wiedlin giving their drummer a hard time as Gina tried to give a preface to their stellar cover of the Rolling Stone’s hit “Paint it Black” by talking about how when you were a kid you would borrow your older brother or sister’s “records or CDs or whatever“. Like co-headliner The B-52s, both bands brought a combination of rock and good fun on stage at Mountain Winery in Saratoga last night, and even shared the stage for one song, contributing to the intimate, party-like atmosphere. I’ve seen both bands in the past 12 months, but it was something special to be treated to their respective New Wave sound on the same night. It was also kind of neat to see members of each band watching each others’ sets from side stage (like Belinda Carlisle fully immersed in The B-52s show and Kate Pierson taking in The Go-Go’s performance). Maybe the combination gave special energy all around, as each put on the best show I’ve seen from either band, so it was a pretty amazing night celebrating some of the best songs from my personal favorite era of music.
“‘The second hand is unwinding…’ And I’m thinking… good lyric. So I used it. I always think it’s good to put a piece of what is really happening in the songs… there’s always a piece of what somebody says, in the songs, and that was one of the pieces.” A small part of one of many stories told by Cyndi Lauper about the making of the songs comprising her debut album, She’s So Unusual. With her “She’s So Unusual: 30th Anniversary Tour” underway, currently touring California, the Grammy and Tony Award winning artist entertained and delighted fans in the audience of Mountain Winery in Saratoga last night with her compelling mix of great music and insights into her life and experiences. Having had the opportunity and pleasure to catch her show two nights in a row, there were definitely some differences between the show I reviewed at the Crest Theatre in Sacramento and the one at Mountain Winery. For starters, the former was indoors in a theater while the latter was outdoors in an amphitheater, both designated historic landmarks in The Golden State. It was fun for me, personally, to compare and contrast. In any event, one thing is certain – no two shows are the same. While the general framework of the stories behind the music was the same, her recounting of them and stream of consciousness approach provided different insights, and the music felt different show to show as well, with a bit of a different energy (with Sacramento being perhaps more relaxed and Saratoga being more rocking). I’m very glad I was able to turn out for both, but having written quite a bit in the original review for Sacramento, this is more of a Part 2 addendum. Both shows are among my favorites attended this year and it is definitely a must see event for pop and rock music fans, especially those (who, like me) view the 80s (and first half of the 80s in particular) as an amazing time for music, with the birth of many great artists and songs, with Cyndi Lauper being central to all of it.