Saturday, July 30, 2016

My Summer of Live Rock & Roll Act V: Boston 40th Anniversary with Dennis DeYoung: The Music Of Styx (Rocking The Hilltop)

This was the first time I sat on "the hill" versus being in permanent seats in the pavilion and rain was supposed to fall at some point during the evening.  The rain did not fall and it was a great experience even if the view was not always great due to the management of the big screens (more on that later)

Dennis DeYoung: The Music of Styx

Photo Copyright 2016 Chris Balow
I have talked about opening acts and how they just keep getting better.  Tonight the opening act surpassed the headliner.  DeYoung played nothing but hits and they were played with precision and without interruption.  He hit every note in perfect voice and even though the band was composed of all new members,  they did not try to reinvent the music or alter it in any way.  

Photo Copyright 2016 Chris Balow
The Grand Illusion started the set, and established where we were going tonight -- right to the heart of Styx' best stuff.  Backing it with Lady and Lorelei smoothed the edge a little; both songs having thought provoking lyrics but with melodies that but kept the energy high and driving.  Dennis seemed to be selecting and playing songs in well matched pairings throughout the evening.

Photo Copyright 2016 Chris Balow
Desert Moon was followed by my personal favorite Too Much Time on My Hands, a song that has great meaning to me.  I think everyone at some point in their lives has been stuck in  a situation that just left them hanging with nothing to do other than waiting for the next event -- waiting with too much time on your hands.

Somewhere after that Dennis spoke to the audience and said

(paraphrasing) "How many of you are seeing me for the first time live,  either solo or with Styx?"  applause and cheering "Well, I am 69,  what took so long?"  More applause followed.  

69 and still rocking it?  Wow.  I am impressed.

Rockin' the Paradise was followed by Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man).   Fooling Yourself was not on the Paradise Theatre album,  but it pairs so well with title track.  I have only recently discovered and started to appreciate Paradise Theatre as a themed collection of songs versus a standard album collection of random tunes.  No idea why I did not do this when it was released.  Do yourself a favor, if you have not done it before:  Get the album,  cloister yourself into a quiet room,  put on headphones and listen to the album start to finish (in order) without interruption.  You can thank me later.

The Best of Times was paired with Renegade.  Another dynamite well thought out pairing and two more rocking tunes that got the audience fired up. What a way to close the set.  Dennis then took the mic and said:

(again, paraphrasing) "You all know how this works,  we are going to go stand over there (motioning to offstage left) and wait while you guys applaud.  We will wait a minute or two and then we will come back out and play some more.  Tell ya what,  we will skip the walk and just stay here and play"

The band then broke into  Come Sail Away as the performance sailed us away one last time.

Boston, 40th Anniversary Tour

The band opened with The Star-Spangled Banner which was appreciated by many (as they all stood up and at attention) but also showed the lack of respect of many as they continued to walk around and carry on conversations.  Sorry, as a veteran that bothers me.

Photo Copyright 2016 Chris Balow
Photo Copyright 2016 Chris Balow
Tom Scholz (only original member left) and Gary Pihl shared lead guitar duties all night and gave the performance that distinctive dual lead Boston sound.  Tommy DeCarlo supplied the lead vocals and was in terrific voice and ramped up the crowd.

Gary asked at one point if the audience wanted to hear stuff off their last album (Life, Love & Hope, 2013) or their hits.  The crowd's response was obvious, we had come to hear the hits and that is what they played.  The song that really fired up the audience was the expected, More Than a Feeling -- everyone was on their feet and singing along, also expected.  

The song Walk On was done in two parts both of which featured Beth Cohen on vocals.   Her voice meshed and harmonized beautifully.  She had a really strong voice with that distinctive Boston sound.  However, whoever was controlling the sound board so over produced her vocals you could not understand a single word she was singing.  It wasn't until she did the second half of the song (after Get Organ-ized ) that I even figured out what the title of the song was. 
Photo Copyright 2016 Chris Balow

Get Organ-ized featured several solos,  but the most impressive was Tracy Ferrie on Bass.  The guy was having fun and putting on a show not only with his playing but with his stage choreography.  It is seldom they let the bass player take over the stage -- I was glad he did.  With the song's title you know the song was going to feature Scholz on the Hammond organ playing ever -- and it did.

Photo Copyright 2016 Chris Balow
Foreplay/Long Time is my personal favorite due to the keyboards and lengthy intro.  Love it when a musician gets to show off and Tom did.

Of note:  Jeff Neal played the most awesome drums and percussion I have heard all summer.   The beats were solid and he added a lot of runs and flourishes that blended with each song and at the same time showed off his superlative skills.  If I ever formed another band,  I would want a drummer that could emulate that performance. 

The Venue

If you have never been to DTE Energy Theatre, there are two kinds of seats:  Pavilion and Lawn. Within the Pavilion are two large screens, on either side, that display live camera shots of the band as they perform.  If you are on the Lawn,  there are 3 additional screen attached to the roof of the Pavilion that assist you in being able to see what is going on.  There is one more screen directly behind the stage and above the band that displays video footage that I can only ascertain that the band has provided to go along with the music.  That screen is very visible from any seat in the venue.

For some reason during this show, the only thing displayed on all the screens during the opening act was the name of the performer,  Dennis DeYoung.  As a result if you were on the lawn you could not see any of the act except in miniature.

During Boston, the screens split their time between live footage of the band and  the band's supplied video.  WHY?  The video was easy to see on the main screen from any seat in the place -- even if they also showed it on the two interior screens it would have been enough.  Showing it on the 3 exterior screens was overkill and left those on the lawn with no view of the band.

Whoever the video director was should take a few minutes and walk through the venue -- to each seating section -- to see and experience the effects of their decision.

Props to the venue for playing Mother's Finest version of Mickey's Monkey during the intermission.  No this was not a Funk concert and I am unaware of Mother's Finest performing anywhere this far North this summer -- but to dig that one out and give it a play -- dunno if anyone else appreciate it -- but I sure did.

Lum de Lum de la iii.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

My Summer of Live Rock & Roll Act IV: Lynyrd Synyrd & Peter Frampton (Well That Didn't Work Out As Planned)

Lynyrd Skynyrd was forced to cancel or postpone a number of shows after guitarist Gary Rossington had to undergo yet another heart surgery following chest pains last week.

"The Lynyrd Skynyrd band is canceling or rescheduling the next 2 weeks of touring, while Gary Rossington recovers at home from heart surgery to repair blockage in his arteries," said the band in a statement.

The concert in Clarkston was caught up in those two weeks.  Bummer -- this was the one concert I was really looking forward to.

The last time I was planning to see Lynyrd Skynyrd was in October 1977, that show was cancelled too, but for a more fatal reason.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

My Summer of Live Rock & Roll Act III: Hollywood Vampires With Andrew Watt (Seriously, the Dude's Name Was Alice)

Attendance at this concert (and the Boston/Dennis DeYoung concert 2 weeks after this one) was a total opportune accident.  When I got an email announcing the Presale, I had no idea who the Hollywood Vampires were but what caught my eye was who was in the band -- Alice Cooper.  That caused me to look a little deeper.   I was not a big Alice fan but a chance to add him to My Summer of Live Rock & Roll was a good thing, so I got tickets.

The band is a unique construct of 3 base members and rotating members of various statures.  The base members are Alice, Johnny Depp and Joe Perry.  Alice was known as a solo act and Joe Perry is a guitarist for Aerosmith -- but Johnny Depp?  Yes, that Johnny Depp.  I had no idea pirates even played guitar.

The band was formed in 2015 and plays music by artists of the 70's who died young due to personal excesses.  The artists honored were prior members of a drinking club that was formed in 1968, known as the Hollywood Vampires (where the band derives its name).    A cool premise which kind of solidifies The 27 Club mythology.

The concert also featured opener...

Andrew Watt

My opinion of opening acts is changing and I am going to start expecting good performances from these acts in the future.  Andrew came out with electric energy and kept that high level of energy during his entire performance.  His voice will make him a star.  It was solid, strong and had great range.  He had great stage presence as well.

He played a few originals (check out Ghost My Head ) and a few covers.  Even with the covers he put his own spin on them and showed off his vocal range and capability.  As a result the audience was fired up.  

He ended his set by dropping his guitar and walking off stage.  Normally I would have seen such action as immature and precocious of a non headliner; but in this case his performance was worthy of it.

No encore.  That would have been understandable if time was tight but there was 45 minutes between Watt and the lead act. Way too long.

Hollywood Vampires

Note:  Joe Perry was ill so Robert DeLeo (Stone Temple Pilots) played in his place.

I have never seen a personification of the phrase owning the stage until tonight.  Alice owned the stage.  He came out carrying a cane that he seemed to use to conduct the band and the crowd so we all rocked in concert.  Appropriately, Alice's outfit included a vampire neck bite and blood spattered shirt.  His voice was more mature and fuller than I had ever heard it.  Some things do get better with age; who woulda thunk that would include Alice Cooper?

Overall this was the best and most professionally run live performance I had seen all summer.  It was driving and in constant motion.  Alice almost consistently went straight from one song to the next without a break.  It kept things at fever pitch.  When he did take time to speak it was relevant to the music or to provide an explanation of who the Hollywood Vampires were and why.  He held the audience in his hand for the entire performance guiding the mood to ever higher plateaus as the evening went on.  

As stated Hollywood Vampires is about covers.  Among the best of the evening were: The Who's Baba O'Rielly - the Who reimagined with even heavier guitar and vocals.  The Beatles' Come Together -- the whole crowd singing in unison and fists pumping in the air. A smattering of MotorHead (in honor of recently deceased Lemmy Kilmister) and of course the sound of some old T-Rex. 

Johnny Depp dressed the part of a metal rocker and pranced around stage playing with the fans in the front row.  He  was one of two guitarists playing rhythm guitar and sang background a few times as well.  All in all -- meh.  Depp did not contribute anything vital and (more importantly) did not take way from the performance.    

From time to time there have been actors who suddenly decide they are singers or visual artists.  Having lots of money and contacts allows them to pursue their dream.  Good for them; but at the same time their fame does not automatically earn them praise and adulation in the new field of endeavor.  I understand Johnny is a nice guy and visits Children's Hospitals while touring.  I can only guess that he is doing this for the new experience and maybe to help him emotionally distract from his recent divorce.  The most important thing to me was that he did not make the band's performance all about him or his fame, and he did not distract from the band's performance. 

The final encore was a mashup of Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall and reprise of Cooper's own School's Out.  It was an awesome experience that I will not forget.  The crowd and the band was one -- rocking out on familiar music and lyrics in a new way.

I found out later the band was using a floor teleprompter to help with lyrics -- to which I replay:  So what?  Having experienced issues with remembering lines from plays while on stage and lyrics (even my own) while performing -- I have a heart for anyone else with the same issue.  It did not take away from the show nor did it cheapen the performance.  Get over it.

If the chance presents itself, go see them -- you will not be disappointed.

During the concert they were offering United Shore Lawn seats to Boston/Dennis DeYoung for just $15.  I jumped on it and added another concert to My Summer of Live Rock & Roll.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

My Summer of Live Rock & Roll Act II: Rock Hall Three for All (Joan & I Finally Connect)

This was the start of it all and the tickets I bought first.  Three acts that were big in the 70s and 80s, all Rock & Roll Hall of Famers, touring and performing together.  I had even lobbied for two of the acts to get into the RRHoF.  Joan Jett was the ticket I wanted, but what an opportunity!  I jumped on the tickets, buying VIP Tour seats in the Cheap Trick section  of the audience.  Not a huge Cheap Trick fan, but they were the only VIP seats left when I got online.    Heart mentioned that this was the first performance of the Rock Hall Three for All.  Cool.

Upon arriving and after finding the seats, the guy next to me leaned over and asked who I was here to see.  My response was Cheap Trick -- you got to be faithful to your seating section after all -- apparently that was good enough for him and he shook my hand and started yelling "Cheap Trick! Cheap Trick!"  I joined in for a few shout outs and then let it fade -- waiting for the show to begin.

Cheap Trick

The Live at Budokan album was seminal to me because it was one of 3 Live albums that came out and lived in my tape player for months afterwards -- the other two being Frampton Comes Alive and Kiss Alive II.   I knew the songs I wanted to hear, and was eager to hear them play.  Kevin Zander came out dressed in a mixed military/80s glitz white leather outfit and Rick Nielsen was in a normal suit and baseball camp -- although Rick's part of the stage was covered in the expected black and white checkers.  Tom Petersson was less dynamic, except for a solo late in the show, but his rhythm guitar under penned the whole performance.  Daxx Nielsen was on drums and kept the driving beat going.

Zander's voice was on target and even though he was not very physically animated, you could tell he was getting the energy of the crowd and he was striving for and delivered a great vocal performance.  Rick on the other hand was all over the sage, on top of amps, swapping guitars (once even in mid song) and throwing dozens of guitar picks to the appreciative audience.    As mentioned, Tom played a bluesy instrumental solo that I had never heard before but really enjoyed as he built it from something very delicate to a thunderous rocker.

Surrender, Dream Police and I Want You to Want Me did not disappoint -- although the lack of an encore to a clamoring crowd did.    I realize that there were timing marks to be met -- but damn it this is Rock & Roll!

Cheap Trick left the audience ready for what Joan Jett was about to bring.

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
Heavy guitars, driving bass, and a snarl.  What a way to hit the stage.  Joan was fired up and delivering music in her style and having a great time doing it.  She and the band connected with the vibe established by Cheap Trick and kept it fired up.  Things may have calmed a little as roadies switched out equipment but then Joan et al took the hum that was left and turned it into a roar.

She played tunes going back to her time with the Runaways.  It was not done in a retrospective chronological format but someone seemed to have taken the time to construct a set that was connected and flowed.  She and the Blackhearts also threw in two tunes off her latest album (2013's Unvarnished) that fit right in with the rest of her set.  It was visible that she was having a great night and the band as well.  She played to the crowd and was rewarded with cheers and applause.  The band was totally rockin' it and they knew it -- it is what a concert experience was meant to be.

Joan had built up the crowd and fanned the flames that were growing -- then she doused it with gas as the band hit the unforgettable guitar riff that starts I Love Rock & Roll.  Everyone was on their feet and cheering. 

The band went straight from that classic to Crimson & Clover -- my personal favorite.  I was sitting almost directly in front of Joan -- four rows out.  As she sang the line "I want to do everything" -- she looked straight at me, smiled, licked her lips, tilted her head, winked, and then breathlessly sang "What a beautiful feeling".  Dayum.   To anyone who wants to argue that Joan and I did not share a moment -- please take that rhetoric elsewhere.  Joan was connecting with me -- after all these years -- she and I both knew and enjoyed it.


I have often said that going to a concert carries with it the expectation that you will have a good time and the artist will deliver the expected performance.  If you read my past write ups you have probably come to expect me to likewise deliver a positive review and you would be hard pressed to say you have ever read a negative review authored by me.  Well, page mark this one and I will add that I am a fan of this band.

Heart disappointed.  They failed on so many levels and it was not the headline experience I was expecting nor that the audience deserved.

The sound mixing was horrible.  Ann Wilson's voice was drowned out by the rest of the band.  She was on 5, they were on 11.  As a result, her usually magnificently strong voice was totally buried in the music.  Midway through the set some adjustments were made, but not enough and the damage had been done.  The chance for the audience to become immersed and escape into the music was gone.

The huge background video screen was a mistake.  The pictures displayed seldom went with the song being sung, and the screen's brightness made it hard to see the band standing in front of it.  It was just a distraction that added nothing.  Get rid of it.

Nancy Wilsons' playing and vocals were great, but she didn't seem to be there.  The performance was almost robotic and disconnected.  You can tell when a performer is connecting with the audience and that symbiotic exchange of energy is going on -- but it was totally lacking.  However, she does play a wicked mandolin and provided great vocals on the Led Zeppelin and Ne-Yo cover.

I wondered during the entire set, what was wrong with Ann Wilson.  She dropped notes and did not hold the sustained pitches as she did in the past.  She seemed to be out of breath -- allergies?  A cold? Not in shape?  Her face showed that she knew it too.  She would bite the end of the note that should have been sustained early and then gave a look disgust seemed to be out of personal frustration for a moment before going to the next lyric.  One of my favorite tunes that Heart did not perform was Magic Man -- but it requires her voice to sustain those notes to come off right.  Maybe she cut the tune because her voice could not handle it; I have no way of knowing.  Disappointing even if given the benefit of imagined reasons.

The audience did not need the "We are the inspirational woman led band" speech.  Most of the crowd were my peers and knew Heart's history.  Ann and Nancy Wilson may have blazed a trail, but that was almost 4 decades ago -- at least two generations of female rockers have come and gone since then and Heart may have inspired some of it -- but it is no longer unique.  Agreed that Ann & Nancy did inspire and led the way but that is part of a Rock Hall induction speech, not a distracting and flow interrupting speech for the middle of a concert.

The songs off the new album, Beautiful Broken, were okay but are a significant departure from their past style -- at least musically if not lyrically.  Just did not fit in with the rest of the set they were playing.  I realize it was a promotional decision -- but that does not make it right.  

A bad way to end an otherwise winner evening.

Note: Gave Beautiful Broken a listen separately.  It is a good album but a departure for Heart as there is less driving guitar and more keyboards, strings and sitar (yes, sitar).