“I was going to save this one for later… just like me, I’m too excited, and I just can’t wait!” Dave Wakeling of The English Beat, teasing the crowd and then finally throwing down with popular hit “Save It For Later” not even halfway through their lengthy concert at City Winery Napa on Thursday night. After finishing that song, toaster King Schascha exclaimed: “We could not be saving anything for later… after that, we officially want to welcome each and every one of you to the Dave Wakeling workout program. Just that seven minutes right there is the best workout you’ve had all week. And you did it while drinking alcohol. More calories than ever. All you need to do for this membership is come to a Dave Wakeling Beat show.” King Schascha is one of several line-up changes in the band since I last saw them live back in January, and this is definitely my favorite modern-era incarnation of the band yet. They absolutely killed it on stage, and sounded better than ever with amazing energy and chemistry pouring into the sold out crowd (many of whom did get a great workout through the night). If how good a performance makes you feel while it’s happening was the only criteria for ranking a live show, I would have to say that this English Beat event was the concert of the year, and definitely the best I’d ever seen them, from the energy to the sound to the venue and atmosphere to the crowd, it all just came together beautifully. I’m actually now worried about seeing them again in the future, as it would be hard to measure up to this one show. Outstanding.
“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.
The show at Thunder Valley Casino Resort’s Outdoor Amphitheater Sunday night was continuing on in WorldOne Presents’ tradition of their annual “80s Rewind Festival Music Fest”, and arrived in Lincoln, California with it’s own unique line-up and variation on the newly christened Retro Futura Tour 2014 (formerly Regeneration Tour). With this event, the same co-headliners – Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey and Howard Jones – shared the bill, as did Katrina Leskanich (formerly of Katrina and The Waves. But in place of Midge Ure and China Crisis was the incredible English Beat featuring Dave Wakeling. As usual, the show took on a character all it’s own, playing out to a large and enthusiastic crowd. I think the Katrina/English Beat/Howard Jones/Tom Bailey line-up featured artists that all have one thing in common: authentic optimism driving their music. Of course, the modern day ’10s are not the classic ’80s, and though the music played came from the past, it could also serve as a beacon of hope for the future. And, as with the show at Mountain Winery the night before, there seemed to be quite a reception for Tom Bailey, who stopped touring and performing live as Thompson Twins way back in 1987. It was another exceptional performance by all of the artists, and both shows are certainly on the short list for top concerts of the year for me personally.
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…”
Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, who have been active touring in 2014, will be playing a number of dates all over the United States through the end of the year. In September, they will be playing a few shows in California (including Mountain Winery in Saratoga, Jackson Rancheria, the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa, and the Los Angeles County Fair) and the Pacific Northwest (The Showbox in Seattle, Edgefield in Troutdale, and the Les Schwab Amphitheater in Bend, OR). [Read more…]
The Retro Futura Tour 2014 (renamed from prior years, previously known as Regeneration Tour) kicked off in New York City last week, and is heading westward. The tour this time around features Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey (his first time playing live in 27 years), Howard Jones (who co-headlines last year’s tour), Katrina Leskanich (Ex Katrina and the Waves), Midge Ure (from Ultravox), and China Crisis. The group will be playing The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on Friday, Mountain Winery in Saratoga on Saturday, and a different line-up with The English Beat featuring Dave Wakeling (in place of Ultravox and China Crisis) will be performing at the annual 80’s Rewind Music Fest by WorldOne Presents at Thunder Valley Casino Resort in Lincoln on Sunday. [Read more…]
“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.