Saturday, January 28, 2017

My Musik Trifecta at Kalamazoo State Theatre – Part III: Blackberry Smoke & The Steel Woods

This concert was affected by the notorious weather of Michigan. It was originally scheduled to start at 8 PM with The Steel Woods leading off followed by Blackberry Smoke. However Blackberry Smoke was delayed on the road and the venue opted to have The Steel Woods perform as scheduled and the delayed Blackberry Smoke go on stage at 10:30 PM. This left the audience with an approximate two hour intermission between the two acts. Which means, the warm up band really wasn't a warm-up it actually became an act all its own. To give the credit where it is due, the theater did arrange for discounts to be given by the bars and restaurants right in the vicinity so if you wanted to you could leave the theater and enjoy a quick bite to eat or drink between the two performances.

The Steel Woods

I had never heard of The Steel Woods before this evening, but I am satisfied that all of us will be hearing more from them in the future. They did a dynamite performance that had Not only covers but also some of their original material. The cover they did of The Allman Brother's Whipping Post was everything that it could possibly be. They downplayed the keyboard replacing it with strong guitar riffs, the vocals were dynamite, the solos and breaks were awesome and the drums were excellent. Even though their original songs were unfamiliar, they were instantly likable with great hooks. I have often found that Southern Rock is really hard to define because it is somewhere betwixt and between Country, Blues, and Hard Rock, but these guys were dead on that genre. When the intermission occurred, rather than going to grab a bite to eat or a drink, I chose to hang out in the lobby of the theater and had a chance to meet the band, and have my photo taken with them. Really nice guys who appear to be dedicated to their music. I even opted to buy a copy of their CD so that I could enjoy their music again later.

I was only peripherally aware of Blackberry Smoke until a few months ago. My frustration at the cancellation of the July Lynyrd Skynyrd concert convinced me that I might need to look for other bands that perform the same style of Southern Rock.  A search of the Internet led me to several different bands who were considered to be heirs apparent to Lynyrd Skynyrd's legacy,  the one that always topped the lists  was Blackberry Smoke. I was unaware of it until later but I had already heard the group before on the One More For the Fans CD performing Workin' For the MCA. I was in the process of checking out their albums when it was announced that they were coming in concert to the Kalamazoo State Theatre, .So I decided to give him a chance to impress me in person and I grabbed some tickets.

They actually went on stage about 10:15 PM, not wanting to hold off any longer than necessary I guess. They performed six songs before they took the first break to say a word other than a quick Thank You for the applause at the end of each song. They were  excellent and the band worked well together,  I don't recall hearing a cover song all evening, but their style of play and the way that their original songs were arranged could easily be called Skynyrdesque. If they are reading this, I hope they take that is the complement that I mean it to be. 

It is bold to open a show with a song that is a cover,  the only way to do it is to make it so much your own that people see it as belonging to you in spite of the prior version.  The way Smoke played Little Richard’s Southern Child was a lesson in how to open with a cover.  They owned it – I didn’t even think of the Little Richard version until midway through the song.  The only covers they did was midway through the show when they did some Led Zeppelin covers (Sleeping Dogs / Your Time Is Gonna Come-Black Dog) and during the encore.  My feelings about d with doing in encore with a cover is the same as opening with one – they owned that too.

High points to me during the show were Six Ways to Sunday, Waiting for the Thunder, Ain't Got the Blues, and Payback's a Bitch.  Every song they played was good in its own right, but those stood out and stayed with me.  Most of the songs were off their recently released Like an Arrow album.  Overall, the the show, was very tight. They had little dead air between tunes and they moved from one song straight to the next without taking long stretches to talk. 

After their last song, they performed an additional three tunes as an encore; including a Little Feat cover of Fat Man In The Bathtub and The Allman Brothers Band tune Southbound. The concert wrapped up at about a quarter past midnight -- which means they performed a solid two hour show.


Friday, January 27, 2017

My Musik Trifecta at Kalamazoo State Theatre – Part II: America & Steve Forseman

Steve Forseman

This warm up act was a good choice.  He played folk/folk-rock which matched America’s genre.   Steve had a great voice and filled the theatre with music even as a sole musician.  My only complaint was that his performance was just too short, only about 30 minutes.  I would like to have heard more and I am sure that just like Jonny 2 Bags   we will hear from Steve again.  

It was a brave and unusual choice to finish with a David Bowie song as an acoustic performer, but he did it well.


I have often marveled that many of the groups from my teenage years still sound so great. This surprise is true of the vocals in particular, which are effected more by age than playing an instrument.  Of the concerts I have seen in the past two years,  only Heart’s show last year could be called a disappointment. 

When America crossed the stage, and started to play Tin Man I was hopeful that the standard I was used to would again be met -- but that did not last long.  When Gerry Beckley started to sing solo, I realized things were definitely not as they should be.  

For the first 5 or 6 songs, any song that called upon Gerry to sing solo or to sing with background vocals and not as part of a harmony was disappointing.    His vocals were either flat or he strained to reach the higher notes and often fell short.  Daisy Jane was bad.  I looked around me and I was not the only one who noticed that this was not good.   A few songs into the show, when America was performing Driving it improved was slightly, but he was still not hitting the upper range. 

Without a definitive reason, I am left to wonder about the cause:  was he having problems hearingown voice and could only stay on key when he had someone else match pitch with or did he just fail to warm up properly?  In contrast, Dewey Bunnell’s vocals were consistently good through the whole concert.  Ventura Highway and the cover of California Dreamin’ were both great.  

The sole saving grace was that overall the music played during the concert was superb.  

To give credit where it is due, Gerry did play well.  His guitar (6 and 12 string/acoustic and electric) was very good and enjoyable to listen to.  He also gave a good performance on keyboard and harmonica.  Dewey’s playing was likewise on target.  I was unaware that he only played guitar until this concert, but he supplied steady rhythm guitar throughout.

Richard Campbell gave a solid performance playing bass and providing the harmonizing vocals that had been historically provided by the late Dan Peek.  I did get the feeling that he wanted to do more but was prevented from really busting loose by the front-men.

Ryland Steen is a great drummer.  He was more than just a rhythm keeper, elevating the drums and making them a vital part of every song.  America performed a cover of The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby and the drums, which were almost non-existent in the original recording, were brought out by Ryland giving the song a truly new interpretation.  He was entertaining to watch as well and seemed to be having a great time contributing to every number.  Ryland is truly the best drummer I have ever seen live and he is now in my list of the top 3 drummers of all time.

Andy Barr showed great versatility playing guitars, banjo (Don't Cross the River), keyboards, and providing backing and (in one case) lead vocals.  His solos were crisp and accurate.  He also proved himself to be a superior musician by making his performance about the music and not his own on stage antics.  

I am not sure of the point of America’s set list.  At first, they seemed to be going chronologically, but then threw in random songs that weren’t in order.  The benefit of a chronological performance is that you can actually listen to the band’s music maturing -- I even like sets that seem to follow a fast and slow pattern.  This set list appeared to be almost random.  In particular, I think they would have been better served to make A Horse With No Name the last song with Sister Golden Hair as the encore, rather than the way they did it, the other way around. Looking strictly at building up to a climactic end, and not the relative sales of either song or the ability of both songs to get the audience on their feet,  A Horse With No Name is just a better build up to a Sister Golden Hair finish.

America has been around for almost 50 years which is a testament to both their music and the memories it left in people.  To give anything less than a worthy performance is just wrong.  I cannot recommend seeing them live to anyone on any level based on the amount paid and the performance received.  It actually hurt my memory of the band and their music.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

My Musik Trifecta at Kalamazoo State Theatre – Part I: The Temptations with The Soul Experience

The Trifecta

It wasn't anything formal that Kalamazoo State Theatre did, I just ended up with concert tickets for three performances over three consecutive nights.  They are booking some great acts this year!

The Soul Experience

Good opening act, played a set of what I knew as soul music growing up.  Both vocalists had strong voices and connected well with the audience.  Very enjoyable, but I regrettably missed part of the performance when I went to the Meet & Greet.

The Temptations

The Temptations have been a part of my musical life since birth.  Most of their biggest hits that are my personal favorites were released before I was 10; yet those songs still have a massive audience.  They are one of the few groups that I consider to be Legends.  Getting to see them live was a gift to me that I will always be thankful for.

First, I saw the band as they are today.  It would be unfair to compare who I saw with the Temptations that included David Ruffin or Eddie Kendricks (like comparing Journey today to the Journey with Steve Perry).  The lineup I saw did include Otis Williams who is the only original Temptation still in the band; he was singing tenor for the group since they were The Elgins.  The rest of the lineup was Ron Tyson (tenor/falsetto), Terry Weeks (tenor), Larry Braggs (lead vocals – used to be with Tower of Power) and Willie Green (bass)

I did get to meet the group prior to the performance and I was able to get a rushed photo and autographs.  Since I was the last to leave the Meet & Greet room, I had a chance to talk with them as they walked to the stage.  Overall, they were personable and joked around.  It was my first Meet & Greet ever, but these guys are legends so it was worth it.  One note to promoters & venues:  If you delay the start of the Meet & Greet, you need to expect a slight delay in the show starting – simple solution: start on time.  Also, when doing a Meet & Greet be fair to everyone.  Since I was towards the end of the line, a lot of the available time was gone due to the folks at the front of the line taking more time.  As a result something I paid extra for was just a blur.  

Larry Braggs
The performance was spot on.  The vocals, music, choreography, and audience connect were on par with what you would expect for a group of this caliber and history.  They did not hold anything back and Larry Braggs was awesome to watch and hear as was Ron Tyson.  They all worked well off of each other and showed what polished showmen can do with a stage.  

I heard every song I wanted to hear from them including Ain't Too Proud To Beg, Treat Her Like a Lady and what they called the Temptation’s anthem:  My Girl.  I will admit to not only singing along, but also doing the hand gestures along with the group.  If you get a chance to see them  -- do.

A comment on their matching outfits.  I do not know if it was special material or what, but when one of them started a solo and the spot light hit them and their outfit, the rest of the band seemed to fade into the background like their clothes were a different color.  Even though I was in the front row, it added depth to the stage and made the performance more intimate.

Post Script:  On the way out, a black gentleman who had been sitting next to me during the show told me that his wife looked around at the crowd during the concert and said “Look at these folks all enjoying the show.  We could get rid of a lot of race issues if we would all just listen to more music.”  I smiled and nodded – that thought was spot on.  Music is a wonderful thing that everyone can share together, it does tear down walls and brings peace.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

My Age Is Showing but I Ain't Kicked Me Out of Bed Yet

I was watching an episode of The Crown recently when the subject of personal vanity came up. By the way, great series that I highly recommend.  The episode that brought the issue to light dealt with aging Sir Winston Churchill who was having his portrait done by Graham Sutherland. Churchill was about to turn 80 and Parliament had taken up a collection to have a portrait done as a gift.  Churchill was openly concerned that the artist treat him with kindness versus having a picture that was “too truthful.”  In other words, Churchill was hoping to have his age softened and covered up by the artist’s brush. Sutherland was a modern artist and as such was seeking to paint not only the visible but something more profound.

The Sutherland portrait
When the portrait was unveiled on Churchill’s birthday (live on the BBC), he was visibly appalled and later in private, argued that the artist has publicly insulted and humiliated him.  The artist countered that the portrait was an homage to wear of the man after spending a lifetime in service to his nation through some very harrowing times.  A testament to the accuracy of the portrait came from his wife who had said during the process that the likeness looked "really quite alarmingly like him".  Churchill had the painting at first hidden, and then later it was burned (rumors abound as to who directed it, did it, and how).

What you could see in the dramatization was that it was Churchill’s own vanity that had lurched forward regarding the portrait.  The vision he had of himself as the strong, lion of the British Empire had been shown to be in the winter of his life.  Tired, showing his age defects, slightly slumped and imperfect.  Even though many likened his pose in the portrait to that of the Lincoln Memorial, where the artist tried to make it seem as if Lincoln was about to rise to action, it is easy to see Churchill’s pose as almost lolling in the chair, exhausted.

After seeing that portrait, I was reminded of a portrait I saw of President George Washington which was 
Washington Masonic Portrait by Williams
on display in the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia.  It was done in 1794, five years before his death, and he sat for it as a gift to his Masonic brethren.  The portrait was done in pastels by William Joseph Williams.  According to the tour guide, when the artist offered to smooth out his wrinkles, remove scars and imperfections, to include the mole near his left ear, Washington told Williams to do a faithful rendering of the man seated before him and not someone imaginary.  If you look at the picture, you can see his slouched shoulders, 5 o'clock shadow, scar on left cheek, smallpox scars on his nose and cheeks, and a mole under his right ear.  Washington accepted his fallacies and did not expect them to be hidden.  

I spent time reflecting and comparing Churchill and Washington’s vanity to my own as I grew older.  I will admit that I avoided changing out the lights over the bathroom sink form incandescent to LED because LED has a tendency to be a little too revealing.  I am used to seeing me at 28 or so me in the mirror versus me at my actual age.  So, I braced by myself, put on my reading glasses – if I was going to do this, I did want a good clear image -- and then confronted the mirror’s image of me as I am today.

There are lines around my eyes and mouth I did not think I had, but I am glad to say that more are caused by smiling and laughing than from frowning or the grimace of suffering.  Gravity has caused a bit of sagging here and there.  There are a two chicken pox marks from when I was 8, I guess I shouldn’t have scratched.  I still have scars from a car wreck when I was 19 and from being hit by a brick when I was 8. My forehead and between my eyes also have lines – thinking too hard or worrying too much?  Who knows.  My facial hair and eyebrows both contain a smattering gray, even though I start dying it a year or so ago.

Yep, the guy in the mirror is not 28, but he is not beat down or used up either.  The lines I carry are from the life I have lived with scars from various events that shaped me in their own way.  My eyes are clear, and bright and even while performing this brutal inventory I managed to keep a smile on my lips.

Way back in 1985, I took a self-portrait with my 35mm Pentax, using a pile of books as a tripod and shooting my reflection in a wall mirror.  It was an ultimate selfie because not only did I take the picture, I also developed the film and printed the photo myself.  A year or so ago, I captured the same image again, this time using a digital Nikon and a real tripod, but still using a mirror.  There are changes between the pictures, no doubt. But I like to think the same inner spirit within still shows through.  Maybe I will make this portrait exercise an annual event.

Sir Winston Churchill is worthy of admiration for many great talents but is also admirable for at least one vice.  By becoming aware of his vice, I could make an assessment of myself before the changes of age were so drastic that I shocked myself – as the Sutherland Portrait did him,  It also allows me to guard against seeing it as a degradation of my life rather than a representation of the good things I have experienced.

I have never considered myself handsome in any kind of a Hollywood way, but I always thought I was attractive in my own way. I guess I still am, even after a good honest look at myself. So, no need to burn the current portrait or to kick me out of bed either.