Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Wrong Creatures Tour 2018 [Concert Review]

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Wrong Creatures Tour, Newport Music Hall, Columbus, Ohio – Friday, February 9, 2018

The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, with it’s gloriously long moniker, arrived in middle America in support of their 8th album, Wrong Creatures (see album review HERE) on Friday night, playing the Columbus club closest to the Ohio State campus on High St. to a pretty full house made up of curious college students and a fair number of fans who were back to see the West Coast post-punk alt-rock trio’s return.

Eager to display their newest material they opened their 90 minute concert with 3 from their latest, sandwiching the album’s most obvious and promising single, “Little Thing Gone Wild,” between the disc’s opening tracks, “Spook” and “King of Bones.” Feedback drenched would prove to be an applicable descriptor throughout the set, while guitarist Peter Hayes and bassist Robert Levon Been traded vocals back and forth, often in the same song. The sound suitably spooky from the get go, and Hayes offering a screaming solo in “Bones,” while drummer Leah Shapiro rocked with solid authority throughout.

The pair moved to acoustic guitars for “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo,” an obvious fan favorite, and then Hayes added a reverb soaked harmonica to the mix on the demented Delta blues of “Ain’t No Easy Way.” Then it was back to their primary instruments, with Hayes adding a keyboard loop, and Been a solid bass line for the rocker, “Stop.”

Then they returned to the new one for “Question of Faith,” with the two vocalists switching instruments as well as sides of the stage, Hayes playing bass, and Been on guitar, who incidentally soloed like a bass player (a common malady). They returned to original positions, but not yet to their original sound. “Circus Bazooko,” with it’s “acid trip on a carousel” keyboard riff, proved more in keeping with the rest of the BRMC repertoire live than in the studio version, but I didn’t find it more enjoyable.

With “Berlin,” which dates back to ‘07’s Baby 81 album, the band recovered the set’s previous momentum with one of the strongest riff rockers of their set, and then continued in that direction with “Conscience Killer,” and followed up with “White Palms,” from the band’s 2001 eponymous debut, which they returned to more and more as the set moved toward it’s climax.

At this point, it’s probably necessary to remind you of the “feedback drenched” quality inherent in the loud, noisy processed guitars that came to define the post-punk and shoe-gazing movements that most inspired BRMC from the beginning. Nowhere was this more obvious on than in the dense, yet moving cover of John Lennon’s “I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier,” where they ignored the rest of the lyrics and just repeated the refrain, “I don’t wanna be a soldier, Mama, I don’t wanna die.”

The returned to the new one for another of the album’s more promising airplay candidates, “Echo,” which struck a slow haunted groove, and was followed by another from Wrong Creatures, “Carried From the Start,” for which Been added a keyboard part, while Hayes played an extra tom-tom drum, that was set to echo in repeat. Hayes and Shapiro then left the stage, and Been sang an acoustic version of the Pogue (Ewan MacColl) classic, “Dirty Old Town,” after assuring the Columbus audience that he was sincere in saying how great it was to be back and playing new music.

The rest of the band returned for “Shuffle Your Feet,” a Dylanesque song that brought back the harmonica into the mix, and was followed by “Love Burns” and “All Rise,” which grew in musical intensity that was mirrored in the increased use of strong strobe lights facing the audience. It’s not uncommon for these club shows to avoid spotlights, and allow the musicians to get lost in the shadows due to the intense rear-lighting dynamics, but I’ve never seen a band embrace their on stage anonymity with the commitment of BRMC, they cast a bold profile nonetheless, with Been often holding his bass high like he was aiming a rifle and letting it hang low with his strap dangling behind his legs.

I had checked out a couple setlists from previous shows in anticipation of this Newport gig, and the one real surprise was the addition of “Awake,” another from the band’s debut, to the set. Been followed that, with a playful experimental thing, playing some high squealing notes on an echoing loop that he stopped abruptly about a minute in, saying “You’re not ready for that,” and then dove in the strong bold bass line of “Six Barrel Shotgun.” Here the music and the lighting moved toward the set’s climax with growing intensity, and the set closer, “Spread Your Love,” also from that debut album.

The band returned to encore on “Ninth Configuration,” from the latest, and then returning again to their earliest work as a band, closed out the evening with “Whatever Happened to My Rock ‘n’ Roll (Punk Song),” which answered it’s own question, but rocking with reckless abandon, loud, noisy, and yes, drenched in feedback and marked as silhouettes against the onslaught of strobe lights that felt like an obvious attempt to blind us all before we went deaf. Which is to say, like most of the evening’s music, it was a pretty stellar Black Rebel Motorcycle Club show.

-Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb

Foo Fighters: Concrete & Gold Tour 2017 [Concert Review]

Foo Fighters: Concrete & Gold Tour, US Band Arena, Cincinnati, Ohio – October 20, 2017

Dave Grohl is an everyperson’s rock star, he’s the rock star you think you would want to have a beer with, hell, he’s the rock star that would buy you a beer, and you’d gladly buy a round yourself. There’s no doubt that the appeal of Grohl’s band of 22 years, The Foo Fighters, starts there, and is no doubt complemented greatly by the fact that he has a knack for writing great, hooky songs, many of which have become hits on real rock and classic rock radio.

I have a music writer friend back in St. Louis named Dan Durchholz who likes to describe the appeal of the Foo Fighters this way: “If you could be in a rock band, it’s the rock band you’d want to be in. Maybe they’re not the best, but who has more fun?” (Dan’s work appears regularly in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,, and his website is And, clearly the sold-out crowd at Friday night’s show in the U.S. Bank Arena came to share in that fun.

And intimacy. Several times during the concert Grohl paused to say that there was a woman standing in the front row who was trying to hold a conversation with him and show him pictures on her phone throughout the show, and he tried to explain to her that “15 thousand people are waiting for me to start this song.” Then, about half way through the show he attempted to mollify her by playing “Times Like These” to her, which he started out solo but some became a campfire sing-along with the whole audience joining in. Half way through, the full band kicked in and rocked with authority, with a noticeable similarity to the band Rush in the song’s later instrumentals. “And the fans took every advantage to return the love to Grohl, singing back to him his own lyrics when they could, most notably on two of the Foo’s biggest hits: “My Hero” and “These Days.”

While the Foo Fighter’s set followed the pattern of previous shows on the tour pretty closely (something he seemed eager to breakaway from when I saw the band on Grohl’s “Broken Leg Tour” two years ago, where he used every shouted out request from the audience as an excuse to play a classic rock cover), there were regular moments like this one, where the fans took over singing loudly enough to lead Grohl to exclaim, “Ohio audiences, you’re loud as shit!”

The show opened with nearly a full hour of songs, played nearly back to back, with only brief moments where Grohl spoke to the crowd. The set started with “Run” from the band’s latest album, Concrete & Gold, followed by “All My Life” and “Learn to Fly.” Early on he referenced great things that came out of Ohio, “Devo, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, and Joe Walsh,” among others. “I like that old shit, that Bob Seger shit,” he said perhaps mistaking Cincinnati for Detroit, before adding “shit that makes you shake your ass to it all night long.” Then Grohl stepped over to the band’s lead guitarist Chris Shiflet, to jam for a while on the guitar opening to “The Pretender,” which was followed by another new one, “The Sky Is a Neighborhood,” which was one of several songs that included a trio of female background vocalists.

While Grohl gets a lion’s share of the attention, as he writes most of the material, does most of the running around on stage and dominates the festivities in nearly every way, he also insists that Foo Fighters is a band. The moment that proved that came following the song “Walk,” when as the song “Rope” reached its climax and what followed was an extensive jam and drum solo from drummer Taylor Hawkins. Events began to escalate when Grohl engaged Hawkins in a playful call and response where Grohl would play a line on the guitar, and Hawkins would try to replicate it on his drum kit, Grohl ran around playing blues licks over a calypso beat of sorts, and then the drum riser rose on hydraulics until it hovered over ten feet above the stage, where Hawkins did a brief solo and then sang lead on “Sunday Rain,” another song from the new one.

Later, the drum riser slid forward and the large square video screen that was tilted at a 45 degree angle moved out until in hung over the band, giving the large arena stage a bit of a cramped club feel for a few songs that recalled Grohl’s and the band’s earliest punk roots, “Let It Die,” “I’ll Stick Around” and “White Limo.” One of the evenings strongest musical offerings, “Arlandria,” followed, this time with Grohl and the band lit almost entirely by cell phone’s set on flashlight, while the stage were returned mechanically to their original positions.

With all of that behind him, Grohl reminded his fans that “we got a lot of records,” after promising earlier that they’d be sure to play something from every one of their albums before the night was through. Reconnecting with the audience around his status as “one of us,” Grohl adlibbed a lyric about minivans into the first verse of another rousing punk-leaning number, “Breakout,” assuring the fans that “I have one too.” Then played “Make It Right,” one of the strongest tracks from Concrete & Gold, before changing things up musically with “Skin and Bones,” which featured keyboardist Rami Jaffee on accordion, a novelty for a harder rock band, Grohl insisted.

Then as you could begin to feel things move toward the end of the set proper, Grohl introduced the other remaining members of the band with a bit of music to represent what they brought to the Fighting Foos. Shiflet led the band in a verse and solo from Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle,” bassist Nate Mendel offered up the bass line from Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” and long-time guitarist and side-kick Pat Smear, who goes all the way back to Grohl’s days as drummer in Nirvana, offered up a bit of The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop.” And, can I just say, that seeing the 58 year old icon, Smear, who got his start in the influential punk band The Germs, hold his own on stage alongside Grohl and company is strangely but steadfastly comforting to this 60 year old rocker at heart. They closed the set with “Monkey Wrench,” one of the band’s earliest hits, and one of their best, and “Best of You,” a real sweetest day treat for his fans, offered a few hours early.

After a bit of video theatrics where Grohl appeared to negotiate the number of songs to be delivered during the encore, while egging the very loud audience to shout even louder, the band returned and did what was promised. First they played the most low-key track from the new album, “Dirty Water,” again supported by that trio of female voices filling out the song’s choral effect. Next came “This Is a Call,” going back to the Foo Fighters’ self-titled debut, which Grohl recorded alone, playing all the instruments before the actual band was fleshed out with supportive players. It was closing in on 2 and half hours, when Grohl led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to his somewhat shy guitar tech, and then said, “and I think it’s also someone else’s birthday,” before leading the band into a cover of Tom Petty’s “Breakdown,” that made up for whatever it lacked in finesse by playing with emotional spirit and then, following a lengthy piano solo by Jaffee, Grohl leaned toward his drummer and rushed the pace in true punk fashion, before returning to the songs singular guitar line. It was a think of beauty and emotional purity. And finally, the traditional Foo Fighters’ farewell song, “Everlong,” which the fans gladly sang along with the band, ending a long and fulfilling night of rock & roll.

The Struts opened the show with 45 minutes of 70’s rock trio instrumentals that were pretty solid, but left a syrupy aftertaste in your mouth because of the 80’s vocal imitations of either Journey or Boston, after a while it was hard to care.

-Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb

The Afghan Whigs: In Spades Tour 2017 [Concert Review]

The Afghan Whigs: Bogarts, Cincinnati, Ohio – Sept. 28, 2017

Any time the Afghan Whigs return to play Cincinnati, it’s going to have the feel of a homecoming, and it certainly did last Thursday night at Bogart’s. For lead singer and primary songwriter, Greg Dulli, born and raised in Hamilton, attended U of C, and even worked for a couple years at Bogart’s doing production and security in the 80’s, this was a return to his roots, and he paused mid-set to make the obligatory shout out to his Mom & Dad, as well as The Curley’s, the family of the Whigs’ other remaining original member, bassist John Curley.

Dulli, who didn’t talk all that much during the band’s 80-minute set, had also acknowledged the passing of guitarist Dave Rosser, who died back in June of colon cancer. Dulli said Rosser had played beside him for years, back in the Twilight Singers, and since the Afghan Whigs reunited in 2014, but he didn’t mention this to bring down the crowd. While he was missed, Dulli assured the packed house, the band wanted to celebrate his life and love of music every time they played. And that it was, but given the dark, heavy music on the band’s latest releases it started out as a “black celebration,” to borrow a phrase from Depeche Mode.

Dulli entered alone to sing “Birdland” over the orchestrated soundtrack from the band’s latest album, In Spades. The band entered as the brief piece reached its conclusion, and launched into “Arabian Heights,” just as it appears on the album, followed by “Matamoros,” “Debonair” and “Light As a Feather,” starting each one before the previous song had ended in silence. From the start the band hit it hard and heavy, with Dulli on guitar, together with lead player John Skibic, and multi-instrumentalist Rick G. Nelson also on guitar for the most part, although he played violin on “Debonair,” and as the night wore on moved skillfully from guitar to violin, cello, electric piano and synthesizer.

Clearly, Dulli feels really strongly about that “no flash” rule for phones and cameras that was displayed around the venue, and came with a warning by a roadie prior to the show not to “be that guy” who ruins the show for everybody. And, of course, “that guy” was not paying attention to or ignored the warning, so Dulli called out someone near the back of the room right in the middle of “Arabian Heights,” and then when they finally paused he explained that the lights hurt his eyes and made it hard to see, and produced lousy photos. Now, he said, “let’s play something sexy,” leading the band into “Oriole,” followed by “Toy Automatic,” both from the new one. After commenting that the next one was a favorite of Rosser’s, “Can Rova,” to which he segued into “Last Goodbye,” a song by Jeff Buckley that served as a fitting tribute to the missing guitarist’s memory.

That was followed by “Royal Cream,” which evolved through a drum break into “I Am Fire.” The band charged on, through “My Enemy” and “Teenage Wristband,” which is a Twilight Singers song, but nobody was complaining, as the audience was singing along more and more as they dipped back in to older, more familiar material.

Moving to the piano, Dulli, once he’d greeted all his family and hometown friends in attendance, shared the story how his original composition for “Going to Town” evolved into the version heard on the 1996 release, Black Love, explaining that he’d been listening to a lot of Prince, and stumbled across a bag of mushrooms. Then he offered up his telling of the story of Bonnie & Clyde as he’d originally envisioned it, a lovely, melodic ballad.

Still on piano, he led the band into “Demon in Profile” from the new one, only he turned over the lead vocal duties to Har Mar Superstar, the opening band who had changed into a black “Har Mar” t-shirt and exotic orange print tights… which strangely enough worked with the song’s threatening and ominous tone. Dulli followed with a cover of The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” one of a variety of covers he’d been doing on this tour (about 6 years back, I caught the Twilight Singers at a club in Minneapolis and he slid into a version of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” right in the middle of one of his songs and it was pure rock show genius.).

As the band shifted gears, and Dulli moved back to center stage and guitar, they closed out the set proper with some hard rocking fan favorites, but while they were as heavy and intense as earlier songs, the funk of “John the Baptist,” with it’s “dance, little sister” command, and “Somethin’ Hot,” both drenching with sexuality from the 1998 release, 1965. Then closing the show proper, with “Into the Floor,” the 7th song from their latest album, which evolved into a slowed down cover of Don Henley’s solo classic, “Boys of Summer,” that emphasized the haunting end of the season tone of the lyrics.

(Something a little strange happened as Dulli tried to exit the stage walking behind the drummer as the band built to the end of the song, he appeared to fall to the floor, raising a question if he was okay physically. When the band finished their end of show jam, Dulli stood us behind drummer Patrick Keeler at the same time that he did, and exited. We noticed a road crew guy came out with towels and appeared to wipe up a spill behind Keeler’s kit, which explains Dulli’s fall. As they returned to encore, Dulli was shaking his right hand, which may have been hurt, but otherwise there was no other mention, of what could have been an embarrassing scene.)

They encored strongly on “Parked Outside,” with plenty of audience support as folk shouted along with Dulli’s full voiced delivery. That was followed by “Summer’s Kiss,” and then a bit of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” which segued smoothly into “Faded,” which ended the night, the band again jamming after Dulli left the stage, this time walking out in front of the drums. Afghan Whigs’ reunion a few years ago, returning to recording and the road, is a real triumph for heavy indie rock/alternative bands of a certain age. And they draw a specific audience (I saw 3 other people wearing the same Queens of the Stone Age t-shirt that I had on), but interestingly enough a wide age range from early 20’s to social security recipients. That staying power, and commitment to edgy creativity is a tribute to this music’s viability, even as market forces work against the selling of albums, etc. Thursday night’s show, warm with home town buzz, was indeed a celebration of music’s ability to enliven the human experience and create community, even as it confronts the darker aspects of our character. Same are quick to say “rock is dead,” but they weren’t at Bogart’s on Thursday night.

By Brian Q. Newcomb

Queens Of The Stone Age: Villains Tour 2017 [Concert Review]

Queens Of The Stone Age: Express Live!, Columbus, Ohio – Sept. 12, 2017

Tuesday evening, as downgraded tropical storm Irma was making her way into Southern Ohio, the lawn and concrete pit of the Express Live! outside stage was filling up with Queens of the Stone Age fans. While it rained much of the evening, it was a light and steady presence that occasional let up, it had little impact on the fans gathered to hear the heavy alternative rock sounds of Josh Homme, and the latest rendition of the band, that in the past has also included luminaries like Mark Lanegan, Nick Oliveri and Dave Grohl.

Of course, there’s no doubt that Homme, the only original member, is running the show. He’s tall, with a rugged demeanor, and a bit of an Elvis-like swagger, and he dominates the band on the stage physically and with his guitar he dominates the band’s sound. Homme of course was also a co-founder of the Eagles of Death Metal, and played with Dave Grohl and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones in the band, Them Crooked Vultures. Last year, wrote with and produced Iggy Pop for his Post Pop Depression album, and tour.

The band opened with “Go With the Flow,” a song from Songs For the Deaf, that on previous nights on the tour had been the song they used to close the set. They followed that with “Lost Art of Keeping a Secret” and “Feet Don’t Fail Me,” a song that they’d used to open on previous nights from the new album Villains. Queens’ music is characteristically hard and heavy, often structured around a bold riff that’s repeated, with Homme’s vocal and occasional guitar solos laid on top of the solid structure shaped by bassist Michael Shuman, drummer Jon Theodore, Troy Van Leeuwen on guitars, and Dan Fertita on keyboards, and on some tracks third guitarist.

Much of the rest of the band’s 18 song, 85-minute set, included songs from Villains interspersed with tracks from 2013’s …Like Clockwork, like “My God Is the Sun,” and “Smooth Sailing.” Highlights included “The Evil Has Landed,” a strong song from the latest; “Avon,” the one song from the band’s 1998 debut; “No One Knows,” which featured a brief drum solo from Theodore while Homme lit a cigarette; the goofy disco sex song, “Make It Wit You,” with Homme delivering his bluesiest guitar solo; the new “Villains of Circumstance” which was quieter and built on a strong bass line by Shuman, as Homme sang in a near falsetto; and “If I Had a Tail,” which the whole crowd appeared to know, and sang along with. They closed the set with “Little Sister.”

For the encore, they came back strong with the alternative radio hit (if there is such a thing), “The Way You Used to Do,” which had the entire audience singing along and imitating Homme from the music video, followed by a very heavy take on “A Song For the Dead.” But let’s be clear, Josh Homme is everything you want in a Rock God, tall, good looks, attitude with a touch of dark humor, you know the type: women want him, men want to be him. While he wants to rock and see the audience enjoy his music, he’s not a cheerleader, he’s not going to tell you to clap or sing along, if it’s important, if it’s real you’ll do it and he won’t have to ask. Or you won’t, it’s no skin off of him.

Homme had one message for the crowd, the past is gone, the tomorrow may not come, if you’re going to do something, be something, whatever, be it now. “Yeah, you want to give me the finger, go ahead and do it, but do it NOW!” Before he adds, “your finger’s too small to hurt me, anyway.”

The opening band, Royal Blood is a British two-man blues metal band, where singer/bass player Mike Kerr plays a bass riff that each song hangs on, drummer Ben Thatcher does everything he can to make the rock beat interesting, and Kerr simulates guitar solos by playing the high notes on the thinner strings. For the first half of their 55-minute set, you had to marvel at their ingenuity and musicality to pull off such a big sound with only two players. But then I thought of the Black Keys and the White Stripes, and how much better that worked with a guitar player who knew what they were doing. So, for the second half, as it rained pretty solidly, I have to admit I kept wondering how much better their music would be if they were just willing to pay a decent guitarist to sit in.

-Review by Brian Q. Newcomb

Yes Featuring Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman: North American Tour 2017 [Concert Review]

Yes Featuring Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman: Fraze Pavillion, Kettering, Ohio – Sept. 12, 2017

The “New” Version of Yes hit all the right notes! As a newly-minted member of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame you would think that all would be peace and love in Yes world. In case you haven’t been following along with their internal politics … shortly after bass legend Chris Squire passed away in 2015, the other co-founder Jon Anderson (who had been kicked out of the band in 2008) contacted two other former Yes-men, Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin, and a new band was born. They touted themselves initially as ARW but earlier this year they officially began using the Yes name – creating a universe with two competing Yeses. Oddly enough, this sort of thing has happened before with Yes. However this being 2017, things are a lot different now and there is a real divide between fans of the Steve Howe-led band and this upstart unit. The frostiness extends to band members who cold-shouldered each other at the Hall Of Fame induction and during interviews and Facebook posts. All of that partly explains why this version of Yes works so well: they actually seem to enjoy playing together. And Tuesday night’s performance at the Fraze Pavillion confirmed that they seriously intend to compete with Yes (Official).

The short instrumental “Cinema” opened the show and that is important for a few reasons: it set the tone for the Rabin-era heavy set, it’s responsible for the band only Grammy and it sounded extremely impressive. But it also served to give Jon Anderson a solo entrance on “Perpetual Change”, a song from 1971’s The Yes Album. As the oldest song on the night’s set list it was refreshing to hear it reworked with care. The rhythm section of Lee Pomeroy on bass and drummer Louis Molina III added punch and professionalism but their inclusion makes perfect sense. Pomeroy has worked with Rick Wakeman before (as well as ELO and Steve Hackett) and Molina has done work for Rabin and his film scores. There’s familiarity but there’s also great cohesion as a musical unit. This materialized most effectively when the band delved into their radio friendly 80’s material. “Hold On” and “Changes” fared particularly well. Rabin would clearly rather play his guitar riffs than Steve Howe’s. His energy level was much higher during songs from 90125 and Big Generator. Rick Wakeman was (conversely) very active on tracks he did not originally play on. His finger dexterity is still very good and one expects him to shine on prog epics like “Heart Of The Sunrise” or “And You And I”. But on the more accessible songs his ever-busy and ornate playing cut through and added what those tunes always needed in the first place: Rick Wakeman.

Throughout the night it was a revitalized Jon Anderson that stole the show. After being forced out of the band he co-founded for respiratory issues it was a joy to witness his angelic tenor at full strength. He remarkably hit all the high notes. At 72, that’s pretty impressive. Like a guy with something to prove. Not that there was even a trace of bitterness in the performance. Only joy at being able to play this music. Or in the joy he took when a hawk flew over the stage – his eyes transfixed on its beauty in flight. It’s hard not to find his harp and his hippie love sensibilities charming in these angry times. Though the average age of the crowd was not much younger than Anderson, there were a splattering of younger fans there as well. They were there to see him. To these fans, Anderson is the true voice of Yes and this version of the band is the more legitimate one. A convincing argument in that case was Going For The One stand out track “Awaken”. It’s one of those songs that is supposed to transport and enlighten – the very essence of a Yes show and a real test of the band’s moxy. With the aforementioned harp in hand, Anderson led the quintet through a superb rendition and set the show up nicely for the predictable finale of “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” – complete with Rabin and Wakeman (with keytar) wondering through the crowd, followed by an abbreviated “Roundabout” as an encore. And that, to me, is the core of the debate. This band gives more weight to the eighties, the Howe-led one to the seventies. But at the end of the night no one was really thinking too much about that. They were there to celebrate life. They were there to celebrate Yes.

Set List:

1. Cinema
2. Perpetual Change
3. Hold On
4. South Side Of The Sky
5. And You And I
6. Changes
7. Rhythm Of Love
8. I Am Waiting
9. Heart Of The Sunrise
10. Awaken
11. Owner Of A Lonely Heart
12. Roundabout (encore)

The Alarm: USA Tour 2017 [Concert Review]

The Alarm: Music Box Supper Club; Cleveland, Ohio – August 27, 2017

The Alarm, led by original member Mike Peters, returned to the US for a tour that included a number of dates on Vans Warped tour, and a series of stand alone dates in cities that had befriended the Welsh band in its 80s and 90s heyday. Given the intimacy of the space, with tables where many had had dinner, Peters came out ready to relive the history of the band to the point of insisting that the full house in Cleveland not applaud when he re-entered the stage to play the first song he’d ever written for The Alarm, “Unsafe Building,” which he’d played for the first time to a nearly empty room. He followed that with a solo acoustic version of “Shout to the Devil,” before he was joined on stage by the rhythm section, drummer Steve “Smiley” Bernard and James Stevenson (Gene Loves Jezebel) on bass and electric guitar.

With the full trio on stage, Peter’s remembered the band’s earliest introduction to the US, opening for U2, with “The Stand” and “Declaration / Marching On” which recalled the band’s early martial beat and influences like The Clash. Peters recalled the band’s early performances in London on “The Top of the Pops” and encounters with bands like Echo & The Bunnymen and The Smiths, offering up impromptu imitations of singers Ian McCulloch and Morrisey. Now this all could have come off really corny, but Peters was so engaged in telling the story of his career, and honoring the people he’d met because of it, that it was both endearing and fun, and the band while certainly not delivering the loud, intensity from those early days when Dave Sharp’s acoustic guitar was rigged up with acoustic pick-up so that they gave strong, punchy support while Peters played rhythm on his acoustic, and occasionally blew a harmonica from the holder around his neck.

To introduced his wife, Jules, to play keyboards, as someone who’d stood by him for 29 years of marriage, 21 of which he’d been living with leukemia, and a year ago fought off a bout with breast cancer, before playing a solo version of “Walk Forever By My Side.” Then, she joined the band for a rousing version of “Absolute Reality,” one of the band’s early hits. Next, Peters told the story of seeing the Sex Pistols, which included a brief cover of “Anarchy in the UK,” and a brief encounter with Johnny Rotten back when he was just a teen, as an introduction to “Spirit of ’76.” He interrupted that song with a story about the film Vinyl, and a fake band called The Poppy Fields that was really just a new iteration of The Alarm, and played the single “45 RPM,” before falling back in to the conclusion of “Spirit of ’76.”

“Rescue Me” and “Rain in the Summertime,” proved to be so familiar that Peters had no trouble get the Supper Club audience to sing along. Next was a great story about singing “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” with Bob Dylan when the band opened for him on tour 1987, with his own fine rendition of the song. He followed that with “No Frontiers,” suggesting that he heard that melody in the air when standing next to Dylan, and believes that song was intended for him. The band’s biggest radio hit, “Sold Me Down the River” came next, with Peters using the call & response breaks to keep the audience in the mix. Finally he told the story of how the Alarm ended up playing a cover version of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” before Young’s album had even come out. And then they closed the set with a rousing version of “Blaze of Glory.”

Peters & Co., including Jules, encored with “68 Guns,” followed by the song “Strength,” which gave his charity foundation to fight cancer its name, “Love, Hope, and Strength.” He closed out the night with another gospel song anthem, “Two Rivers,” but not before advising his fans to give a quick DNA sample before leaving the venue, so they can continue to find bone marrow donors for people living with leukemia, as he does. On the tables and emblazoned on his trailer outside the venue was an ad for the movie, “The Man in the Camo Jacket,” which has enlisted a host of other rockers, including Billy Bragg, Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze, Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses, and a host of others, to help him “Give Cancer the Boot.”

Peters has a big personality, and a big life, and a solid musical repertoire to celebrate. After all this time, it was good to be reintroduced to the story of The Alarm.

-Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb

Green Day “Revolution Radio” Tour [Concert Review]

Green Day: Riverbend Music Center; Cincinnati, Ohio – Sunday, August 20, 2017

Over 20 years ago, as Green Day began dominating alternative rock radio with singles like “Basket Case” and “Longview,” which required a few words to get the censor “bleep” treatment, that we’d be talking about a multi-platinum selling, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Broadway show producing, rock star phenomenon with the ability to sell out large outdoor concert sheds around the world? I think back to those early days when Green Day was playing rock clubs coast to coast, and punk music fans were debating if they were still really punk since they had “hit” songs, and Billy Joe Armstrong seemed to smile a lot when the band performed, but we’ve come a long way from the time when drummer Tre Cool routinely set his drum kit on fire after the spent their last song imitating The Who by knocking over most of their instruments on stage, and you knew there would be no more encores because there was nothing left standing.

Sunday night, these 30 year veterans from East Bay, California, delivered a rock show that was all rock and all show. When it came time for Green Day to vote whether it was still punk if it was entertaining, entertainment won with a landslide, but there’s no doubt that what brings the large, sold-out crowds to the party is these songs. They pulled out every trick in the book, great light show, big backdrop and flashing “GREEN DAY” sign, explosives and pyrotechnics, flame throwers and, hell, on the final encore they even had confetti cannons, so that it snowed paper from both the front and back of the roofed seating area, drifting out to the lawn.

Knowing how to crank up an audience, Green Day only hit the stage after a loud sing-along version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” played through the PA which had the whole crowd doing their best karaoke Freddie Mercury, special points for those that air-guitared the Brian May solo. That was followed by a recording of The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop,” while a roadie in a pink rabbit suit cajoled the audience into screams of hysteria, yelling “hey ho, let’s go.” I’d say who knew rock audiences were so easily manipulated, but then of course, Billie Joe knew. I can’t count the times during their 2 hour show that he engaged the crowd in a “hey, ho” call and response, or for the number of times he yelled out “Cincinnati, f-ing, Ohio!” to assure people he knew who where he was playing.

The band hit the stage hard and fast, with “Know Your Enemy,” and Armstrong was running from side to side of the large stage, mugging for the crowd right from the start, bringing a girl fan up out of the crowd to sing the final verse, before stage diving into the crowd. They followed that with the two big singles from the band’s latest album, “Bang Bang” and the title track, “Revolution Radio.” And then what followed was a steady string of hits, with just enough deep tracks thrown in to satisfy the hard core fans.

As they have on recent tours, the strong trio of Armstrong, Cool, and bassist Mike Dirnt were supported by Jason White on lead guitar, Jason Freese on keys and saxophone, and Jeff Matika adding background vocals and guitar. The sound throughout was excellent, with both Tre Cool and Mike Dirnt getting moments to let their strong playing shine, but there was never any doubt that Armstrong is artistic connective tissue and the non-stop energizer bunny, “keep the spotlight on Billie Joe,” star of the show. He ran non-stop, playing rhythm guitar much of the show, always mugging for the crowd. Highlights included “Longview” (with another fan, a guy in a “Dookie” shirt, singing the final verse), “Hitchin’ a Ride,” “Basket Case,” “She,” and the fans pretty much took over the singing duties on “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Welcome to Paradise.”

While there was an undertone of political frustration in Armstrong’s between song rants, he complained about “politicians” in general and no one by name, but he cried out several times “No racism, no sexism, no homophobia,” which was on the back on one of the band’s t-shirts for sale. But mostly the politics was carried in songs like “Minority,” which included an acoustic tone on the guitar with Freese playing accordion. Cool delivered a stirring drum solo before the band was whipping into their Operation Ivy cover, “Knowledge,” which brought Freese forward on sax, while Billie Joe brought an 11 year old girl who was a novice guitar player to the stage to play the three chord chorus… which she managed to do with her tutor nearby, and then Armstrong gave her the guitar to take home… so, yeah, that was cool.

For “King for a Day” the band donned Village People/disco clothes, and the jam launched into a sax driven solo section that quickly devolved into a joke version of the George Michael song, “Careless Whisper.” When the fan got to the medley on the setlist that included “Shout”/”Always Look On the Bright Side of Life (Monty Python)” / “Satisfaction” /”Hey Jude,” they rushed to the point, falling to the ground almost immediately on the first chorus of “Shout” and staying their as they played with Armstrong, momentarily paying tribute to the melodies by the Stones and Beatles, after complaining how the last week had been hellish… “I hate Nazis,” and “I hate racists” he shouted to loud cheers. The band closed the set with two more from the new one, “Still Breathing” and “Forever Now.”

For the inevitable encore, I have to admit they did make the fans cheer for a good 5 minutes, they played two from their biggest seller and the source material for their Broadway production, “American Idiot,” following the title track with the long suite that is “Jesus of Suburbia.” At that point the principle trio took a final bow.

Then, with almost no wait, Armstrong came back again, this time alone with an acoustic guitar to deliver a sing-along versions of “21 Guns” and “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” While had taken some guitar solos on electric that were more flash than substance throughout the concert proper, on the last song he did some lovely finger picking for a few measures as if to suggest that underneath all the noise and spectacle, these were real songs played by real musicians… and frankly it’s those songs, and that playing that still makes this still punk, still great rock band matter.

– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb

U2: The Joshua Tree Tour [Concert Review]

U2 w/ The Lumineers: MetLife Stadium; Meadowlands, New Jersey – Wednesday, June 28, 2017

After U2’s triumphant tour two years ago in support of their Son(g)s of Innocence release, everyone expected the next tour would center around the promised sequel, Songs of Experience. While the album was given a positive review critically in some corners (the one I occupy, to name one), there was push-back from Apple users who, for reasons that escape me, were incensed by the automatic appearance of new U2 music on their devices.

However, once fully realized in a live concert setting with state of the art graphic technology displayed across a large screen/cage/walkway that ran down the center of the sports arenas they filled, the concept along with the album’s music made perfect sense. It was presented as a drama, Broadway musical with a running narrative that was an artistic retelling of the band’s history alongside the events of Irish history all presented in music and visuals. Once the show was captured for live broadcast from Paris, just weeks after the terrorist attack at an Eagles of Death Metal concert, it was clear that once again U2 had taken the concert audiences into a fully realized artistic journey… one that rocked.

But then The Joshua Tree album turned 30, the album that broke the band as a mega-star commercial act that could fill stadiums, and plans changed. While U2 had made serious inroads in North America and around the globe with each successive release, it was their third album, War, which won the Irish lads a presence on the largest commercial vehicle to break new music at the time, MTV. While the band was finding it’s voice as a post-punk entity in the early 80’s, influenced by The Clash, The Sex Pistols and others coming out of England, it was videos of the more melodic and accessible “New Year’s Day” and the martial beat of “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” songs that opened the world’s eyes to the civil war that had dominated life in Ireland for decades, that first captured a significant U.S. listenership.

But it was their next album, The Unforgettable Fire, which first revealed U2’s passion for all things American. The album produced the band’s biggest radio signal to date, “Pride (In the Name of Love),” one of two songs about Martin Luther King, as well as name dropping Elvis Presley and Ireland’s religious patron, St. Patrick. The album also delivered one of the band’s early live gangbusters, “Bad,” which they performed to perfection on the Live Aid T.V. broadcast that revealed Bono’s star-power charisma and the band’s true potential to rock fans world-wide. An EP followed, with a live performance of “Bad,” and a couple outtakes that didn’t make the album. All of which set the stage for U2’s next album to break big, if they could deliver the songs… and they did. The rest as they like to say is history.

When we entered the huge stadium now 30 years after U2 claimed their place as one of the largest rock bands in the world, the massive tree and stage for the 2017 tour revisiting that album in full dominated the floor, most often set aside for football games featuring the Jets and the Giants. Poetry was already scrolling along the right side of the large screen backdrop, from known poets like Carl Sandberg and Walt Whitman, but also modern day voices that echo the experiences of people of color and life rises out of the third world experience, from people like Rita Dove, Lucille Clifton, and Sherman Alexia. These edgy poems of injustice and the attempt to find meaning in the whole of life’s challenges continued to crawl up the screen until the show began, and again after opening act, The Lumineers had played their hours worth of tunes from their first two albums.

True to their Irish roots, U2 took the stage while a great song by “The Waterboys” played for the 80 or 90 thousand fans that filled the place on the first of two nights in the market near New York City, “The Whole of the Moon.” One by one they entered, starting with drummer Larry Mullin, Jr., who pounded out the marching snare intro to “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” from the tree stage that jutted out into the middle of the audience on the floor. Following a set-list that has stayed constant since the earliest shows on this tour, the band offered up four songs from their earlier days, on that satellite stage, without any support from the larger screen. It was old school, just a band playing for their fans, some for whom they likely appeared as small as ants in the distance.

They opened with two from War, guitarist The Edge moving to the piano for the keyboard parts in “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Singer and spokesman, Bono offered a greeting: “Thank you for letting us into your country once more, thank you for letting us into your lives once more.” While that may have suggested a dig at our current administrations policy on immigrants, Bono was determined to not let politics dominate the band’s presentation, as it has from time to time in the past. Anyone else remember those phone calls to the White House from the stage of the Zoo TV tour? “It’s time to let go of some things, even as we hold on to others” he said, by way of introduction to “Bad,” which included the title line from the Simon & Garfunkel song “To Look for America.”

Then they played “Pride,” which Bono introduced as a tribute “for the faithful and the furious, for the right and for the left. All are welcome here,” which sounded a bit like a minister welcoming their congregation. As the band played the screen offered up words from MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, then as the band’s version of the song hit it’s climactic choruses, words from the poem began to float out across the screen: “dream,” “truth,” “equal,” “sing,” “wake up,” “build,” and more. As the audience applauded, the dense synth tones that open up side one (sorry, my age showing) of The Joshua Tree filled the arena, as the band waved to fans and made their way back to the main stage, where The Edge played that echoing guitar chords that everyone recognized from “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

Here the visuals provided by film-maker Anton Corbijn came into play, with the large screen – the largest in existence, we’re told) broadcast as series of films made especially for the tour, by the visual artist who recorded the original Joshua Tree cover art, and filmed that tour for the movie, Rattle & Hum. Visually, the show is stunning start to finish, without a doubt, whether it was mountain landscape, dessert scenes of Joshua Trees, or films developed to accompany specific songs.

The bulk of the concert proper then, followed the album straight through in sequence. With a reference to the gospel rendition of “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” Bono introduced this song saying, “We’re still here, you’re still here. We’re still searching, still looking for a way to wake up the America of community and compassion. Take me to church now,” but the band played the music much as you hear it on the original version, not with the addition of the gospel choir, like showed up for the Kimmel late night show taping.

While the sound quality was impeccable throughout the night, there was an eerie feedback ring in the P.A. as the band started “With or Without You,” echoing the recorded synth sounds that accompany the track. That it more or less persisted throughout the song proved a minor distraction. But then came the often bombastic “Bullet The Blue Sky,” which in the past Bono has used as a time to attack TV evangelists and the Religious Right as well as “Pay-to-play” politicians, but he stock to the album’s script this time around, with Edge’s guitar solo echoing the sound of a British emergency vehicle alarm at times.

The one nagging question I had when hearing about the plan to tour The Joshua Tree start to finish was how would they handle the music of the second side, when the opening four song were epic rockers with immediate audience recognition. The back side of that album, is quieter, more subtle and with a less dynamic energy. The opening quiet ballad about addiction, “Running to Stand Still,” was a case in point, and you could feel the audience relax, while many in the stands took their seats. Bono added a bit of harmonica as the song reached its conclusion.

“Red Hill Mining Town” featured a Salvation Army brass band recording playing on the track and on the video screen, a curious and ultimately successful juxtaposition for the rockers in the crowd. This is the first tour that the band has attempted this song live, ever. “In God’s Country” is a pop rocker by nature, so that revived the crowd a bit, with Bono advising that “We need to stay awake… to dream.” Bono, whose bicycle accident a few years ago ended his ability to play the guitar, picked up a harmonica to play at the end of the fun “Trip Through Your Wires,” which was supported with a video of a woman painting an American flag on a shack’s outer wall, and swinging a rope lasso.

“One Tree Hill” is a song about death and laying a loved one to rest, which Bono dedicated to an Australian motorcyclist friend, assuring his fans that “It’s how we know that there’s no end to love,” which featured visuals that a Native American male, as he sang the concluding lines, “he runs like the river to the sea.” “Exit” was more of a rocker, celebrating the “hands of love,” which strangely included the words of the kids rhyme, “eenie, meanie, minie, moe.”

The album’s closing track, also ended the concert proper, a tribute to Central American mothers who had lost children in the violence of that time, “Mothers of the Disappeared,” which included video of lots of native women holding candles, with them blowing them out one at a time as the song came to an end, the band waved and left the stage.

To say the least, this was anti-climactic, and the fans were slow to realize that it was time to applaud for the encore, that we all knew was expected. U2 did not disappoint. They returned with the electronic Passengers track, “Miss Sarajevo” revisioned to go with film of a 15 year old Syrian girl refugee in a camp in Jordan, the pictures showing he war-torn cities, and the challenging life in the camps, while the voice of Luciano Paarotti, although in the past Bono has song that part live… and he may have on this night… from my distance it didn’t appear so, and it did sound like the recorded voice of the opera mater.

Next came a string of hits that came after the band’s early heyday: “Beautiful Day,” “Elevation,” and “Vertigo,” which Bono converted one line to echo David Bowie’s “Rebel, Rebel.” He introduced “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” to celebrate the women of the world, as well as the band’s wives who he said were all present that night. He commented on the women who turned history into “her story,” and “women who marched, then resisted, and persisted.” While Bono had avoided political topics for the most part, this was perhaps the most focused moment of the show, with photos of women suffragettes, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Angela Davis, Gloria Steinem, Sister Rosetta Tharp (an early rock & roll pioneer), and punk poet/songstress Patti Smith, along side slogans like “poverty is sexist,” and “Women of the World Unite.”

Then, offering a bit of an altar call, Bono celebrated the band’s involvement in the ONE campaign and with (Red) businesses, that seek to end the transmission of AIDS in impoverished third world countries, saving millions of lives. “We don’t agonize,” he proclaimed, “We organize” as an introduction to “One.” The band closed the song with the one new song from their next album, “It’s the Little Things That Give You Away.” To be honest, I was a bit disappointed not to hear “I Will Follow,” the bands first recorded song on their first album, Boy, which they had played on previous shows.

The Lumineers opening set was pretty strong for the band, playing their breakthrough hit, “Hey Ho” early, and focusing on the newer songs as the hour set went on. The strong presence of cello, the strong vocal presence of Wesley Schultz and the full band’s energetic performance of Americana/folk rock was a strong opening act for this massive venue.

On the whole it was a great night with U2, the sound and visuals were very strong, the band played with energy and vigor, although Bono doesn’t seem to run to the stage as he was wont to do even a few years ago. I’ve been asked by other long-term fans if this was the best live U2 show ever… and in my humble opinion, it was not. It was very strong, very solid, and a good night with a band who feel like old friends at this point, but I’d still have to give best live show to that Zoo TV tour, in support of Achtung, Baby. Who knows, maybe that’ll be the summer tour to see in two or three years… after Songs of Experience. But on the whole, it was a very solid outing, a great showing for a great album, by a great band.

-Review by Brian Quincy Newcomb

Nowhere Else Festival [Concert Review]

Nowhere Else Festival: Featuring Over the Rhine & the Band of Sweethearts, Birds of Chicago, Red Dirt Boys, Carrie Newcomer, Carrie Rodriguez, “Treasure of the Broken Land: The Songs of Mark Heard” with various artists, Matt Haeck, Levi Parham, and Phil Madiera
Clinton County, OH – May 27 & 28, 2017

The forecast for Memorial weekend in Southern Ohio suggested rain, potentially hard storms for at least some part of the weekend, which would have been challenging for a boutique music festival with modest facilities on the farm of Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler, the duo that make up the indie alternative folk/rock group Over the Rhine. While there was a loud storm around the Dayton area on the night before the fest, when Over the Rhine offered up an intimate concert especially for their volunteers and supporters, many of whom would staff the event, Saturday and Sunday featured blue and cloudy skies, serious humidity, and apart from the occasional drip, a dry weekend for the music and arts festival just a mile or two outside of Martinsville, in God’s country.

Described on the Fest’s website as “an extended musical family reunion,” this was the second year for Over the Rhine to invite their fans and friends to come together for a weekend picnic, literally in their backyard. The 2017 edition involved art workshops, readings by authors, an art gallery set up in the barn, and a late-night showing of the Marvel superhero movie, “Dr. Strange,” with a conversation with the film’s director Scott Derrickson the following morning.

Welcoming the crowds at the beginning of the music event at 1 pm on Saturday, Linford and Karin, offered words of explanation leaning on familiar authors. Offering up a commonly used quote by GK Chesterton, Linford suggested that “we need preachers and pastors to remind us that we are going to die, we need poets and musicians, artists and writers to remind us that we are alive.” Adding a word from poet/essayist Mary Oliver, he asked “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Well, he concluded, we know what we’re doing with it this weekend.

Over the Rhine played a set each day, closing the show as a trio, but their main-stage showcase came at the end of a long day of great music on Saturday night backed by their Band of Sweethearts. The evening’s MC, Owen Brock offered up in his introduction that many of OtR’s fans have found the band’s music to be “a soundtrack at weddings, and some conceptions…” to which a woman in the crowd offered up, “and an emergency C-section.”

They opened with “The Laugh of Recognition,” Bergquist offering up the familiar opening lyric “Come on, boys” as an invitation to join in the “holy rumpus” (kudos to Maurice Sendak), then followed it with seven songs from their latest, the 2013 album “Meet Me at the Edge of the World:” “Blue Jean Sky,” “Soul Catch,” the title track, “Sacred Ground,” “Called Home,” “Baby If This Is Nowhere,” and “I’d Want You.”

Early on, Detweiler offered up the band’s “mission statement:” he said, “We make sad people happy, and vice versa,” owning up to the band’s artistic commitment to keep it real, to let their art flow from their honest experiences, including the intimate connection in their marriage and their life on the farm, which no doubt explains the profound connection many have found to their songs.

There’s little doubt, that many connect to the band’s thoughtful lyrics, but it’s ultimately Bergquist’s potent, earthy vocals, which as she has grown to maturity has a vibe quite familiar to that of Emmylou Harris. On quite a few of the newer songs, the two sang in duet, a lovely intertwining of voices that worked well at carrying the word’s mood and tone, as Detweiler moved back in forth from his keyboards and acoustic guitar. Bergquist introduced “I’d Want You” as “an apocalyptic love song,” acknowledging later that that’s the only kind of love song she knows how to write.

And you cannot say enough about the way the Band of Sweethearts back up the duo, and the quality of the sound underneath that circus tend, where it was easy to hear the subtlest percussion, and many of the guitarist’s fine solos, which tended to grow in length as it got later into the evening.

As they were moving toward the end of their concert they offered up some older fan favorites, “Born” and “Drunkard’s Prayer” from the 2005 release of that last one’s name. The sexy “Trouble,” and “”Who’m I Kiddin’ But Me” from the 2007 release, The Trumpet Child, and the beautiful set closer, “All My Favorite People” (from The Long Surrender, 2010), which has become a sort of credo for the band and the community of friends that has grown up around them. The sentiment that surrounds Over the Rhine can best be summed up in the lyrics: “Orphaned believers, skeptical dreamers/You’re welcome/Yeah, you’re safe right here/You don’t have to go/’Cause all my favorite people are broken/Believe me/My heart should know.” They encored with the song “Wait,” also from Edge of the World.

Over The Rhine

Earlier in the afternoon, one of the major draws of the festival was the set by various artists, honoring the music of the little-known singer/songwriter Mark Heard, who had a heart attack while playing in a very similar tent at a music festival at a fairground in Illinois outside of Chicago. Mark was released from the hospital a few days later, but then had another major cardiac event that sent him into a coma. He died several weeks later, a great personal tragedy for those close to him of course, but also to a larger community of musician friends and fans around the country.

Throughout the ‘80s, Heard had worked hard to define his own sound, although on his 1979 debut, Appalachian Melody, you could hear a strong James Taylor influence. But with records like Victims of the Age (’82) and Mosaics (’85) he developed as a strong songwriter with gritty, roots rock songs that today might be called “Americana,” and stand up well compared to work by Warren Zevon and The Bottle Rockets. In 1987, Heard signed up with the promising new label, What? Records (distributed by A&M), and tried rebranding himself under the band name iDEoLA, not unlike World Party or The The which tend to be whoever is in the room with the principal artist and songwriter, for a more electronic album called Tribal Opera. Olivia Newton-John later covered his song “How to Grow Up Big and Strong.”

In the last three years of his life, Heard was surprisingly productive at a high artistic level, perhaps sensing in his being that he was running out of time, he worked furiously, his candle shining brightly until the end. Not only did he tour as the guitarist for singer/songwriter Sam Phillips (when she was married and produced by T Bone Burnett), but he was the producer on albums for artists like Pierce Pettis, Phil Keaggy and Randy Stonehill, but co-produced the Vigilantes of Love with Peter Buck of R.E.M. And, Heard released his three best albums – Dry Bones Dance (’90), Second Hand (’91), and Satellite Sky (‘92) – in the final years of his life, supported on record by musicians like Michael Been of The Call. In 1996, a two CD collection of Heard’s music was covered by a variety of his musical friends, including Been, Pettis, Bruce Cockburn, Buddy & Julie Miller, VoL, Tonio K., and others.

Now, 25 years later, executive producer Jeff Grantham has brought together of host of new artists, to rethink and re-record 18 of Mark Heard’s songs, all from the last three albums that he produced, in a collection titled Treasures of the Broken Land. Grantham shared with The Fire Note, that a year ago when he was attending the first Nowhere Else Festival he was beginning to prepare for this new compilation, and seeing bands like Over the Rhine and Birds of Chicago, became convinced that they needed to participate in the project. So, it was natural, he said, to bring the debut of the album, and many of the artists who performed on it to Nowhere Farm for its first live performance.

Birds of Chicago, who played two sets of their own music over the course of the weekend, opened the Mark Heard tribute set with a spirited rendition of “Rise From the Ruins.” The rest of the songs were performed by artists backed up by Phil Madiera, who produced the album in the studio, and his current new band, the Red Dirt Boys, supported by violinist Megan Palmer, who also provided nice background vocals throughout, and The Choir’s drummer Steve Hindalong sitting in on percussion. When introducing the band, Madiera admitted that he had had only a passing acquaintance of Mark Heard, but that Hindalong had drummed in the studio on the iDEoLA project and a lot of those last three albums.

Early on, RDB guitarist Will Kimbrough sang lead vocal on “Worry Too Much,” and then traded solos with Madiera and Palmer as they revealed that they were willing to take these songs out for a fun ride, playing fast and loose, not offering them up as fragile artifact from the past. Country singer Matt Haeck joined the band for turn on Mercy of the Flame, which allowed Palmer to shine on harmony vocals and a bit of country-sounding fiddling. The fact that they’d had little if no rehearsal prior to public performance became obvious when another country leaning singer/songwriter Levi Parham forgot the third verse of “I Just Wanna Get Warm.” Madiera was forgiving, explaining to the audience that Heard’s songs were difficult to sing at times, given the vocabulary and the number of syllables that filled each line on some songs, which reminds me of Bob Dylan. Then introducing “Satellite Sky,” he suggested, “it’s my turn to mess one up.”

Haeck rejoined the band for two more, the project’s title track and the one he actually sang on the album, “Dry Bones Dance,” then Parham got a chance to redeem himself on “Orphans of God,” which he sand in duet with Allison Russell of Birds of Chicago, covering the voices of Amy Helm and Cindy Morgan who appeared on the album with Parham. OtR’s Karin Bergquist sang harmonies to Kimbrough’s lead vocal on “Nod Over Coffee,” which is sung on the album by country music icon, Rodney Crowell. That last one is a sentimental favorite of Heard’s, I’m happy to admit, and Kimbrough did a wonderful job on it.

“Freight Train to Nowhere” got a suitably bluesy treatment by the Red Dirters, and then they closed out the Mark Heard tribute with the way the album closes, Karin singing the sad lyrics of “Look Over Your Shoulder,” as Linford played the piano backing. Bergquist offered that they had a different arrangement in mind from the beginning, but they went into the studio on the day after the Presidential election, and they were moved to quiet in down to a bit of dirge, which is beautiful and fitting.

Birds of Chicago, an indie rock band formed around the talented wife/husband duo or Allison Russell and JT Nero returned to Nowhere Fest after winning over the Over the Rhine fans the previous year. They played a set each afternoon on Saturday and Sunday, and while they were new to this reviewer, I can assure you their music will not be for long. The two completely unique sets offered up music from their previous albums, including last year’s Real Midnight, produced by long-time Over the Rhine associate, Joe Henry.

The immediate impressions of Birds of Chicago are the vocal and personal chemistry of Russell and Nero, and Russell’s compelling lead vocals, and multi-instrumental additions on banjo and ukulele, and of course, that rock & roll standard, the clarinet. Yes, I said, clarinet… and strangely enough, it works, even when she’s playing opposite her band’s lead guitar player, fellow Canadian Dan Amu-Absi. The rest of the players are Americans, with brothers Nero (aka Jeremy Lindsay), who along with Russell writes a lot of the band’s music, and keyboardist Drew Lindsay offering up enough satisfying vocal banter to entertain the more twisted among us, yours truly included. But ultimately, it’s the songs, and Russell’s energetic performance that puts the band over.

Saturday afternoon, there were many songs that offered up a counter to the kind of cynicism that drains one’s hope, but were profoundly grounded in the challenges of human existence. And anti-suicide song demanded, “don’t go easy, don’t slip away from me.” Another addressed the racial unrest in “Baton Rouge” from the perspective of a Chicagoan, and one celebrated both the joy and risk of living in a city where violence is a daily occurrence: “here’s to joy of summer in the city/a city that bleeds – this is not the day I die.” “American Flowers,” a song from a newly recorded album, came to Nero on a cross-country drive which he said put him in a Woody Guthrie frame of mind. During the band’s second set on the next day, they leaned toward a lot of crowd favorites, playing a song a toddler in the crowd had requested that she called the “na, na, na” song, and “Flying Dreams” was dedicated to a couple who was anticipating their upcoming wedding.

The other debut performance of the fest was the Red Dirt Boys, who admitted from the outset that the band was named by Emmylou Harris in honor of her album, Red Dirt Girl, released on Nonesuch in 2000. Madiera, who shared vocals with Kimbrough and moved back and forth from piano & organ and electric guitars, offered up that when they decided to record their own album as a band that they asked Emmylou’s permission to use the name, to which she replied in the positive if she could sing on the album. Madiera said she sings on two tracks on the album, set for release next year, although the Red Dirt Boys will be playing again with Emmylou this summer when she opens for John Mellencamp’s “Sad Clowns and Hillbillies” tour.

Left to their own devices, The Red Dirt Boys served of a set of new original songs, that Madiera assured the collected crowd that, in the spirit of our new Executive, “we have the best songs.” What they delivered was a collections of immediately memorable roots rockers, a gumbo of jazzy, blues, rock & roll numbers that are so catchy the you can sing along shortly after hearing the chorus the first time around. Rhythm section, drummer Bryan Owings and bassist Chris Donohue, as well as the front-man team of Madiera and Kimbrough are celebrated studio and touring players, but together theirs a contagious energy, a chemistry that has come from years of playing together, and a dark, nearly cynical sense of humor that they shared in live banter.

The playing was obviously world class, but the loose and comfy jam feel that was no doubt partly necessary since this was the first time they’d performed these songs live together, was a prefect fit for the spirit on the Nowhere Else Festival which often applauded the better, more emotional solos, which were often. The whole set was fun, and interesting, but two stood out. “Jesse,” a song written in tribute to singer/songwriter Jesse Winchester, with the lyric: “now that you’re gone, what’s this broken down world s’posed to do without you.” The angry song “Religion” closed the set, challenging conservative expressions of religious belief that are rooted in fear and hate, and the strong lyric stood out as well: “How can you talk about religion/when you’ve got no soul to save… How can you talk about the Prince of Peace, and send your babies off to war?”

Two women named Carrie offered up individual sets at the dinner hour each day. On Saturday it was Carrie Rodriguez, who had played violin on tour with Lucinda Williams and in collaboration with Chip Taylor. More recently she’s release her own works, her latest a record honoring her Latin Tex-Mex roots on last year’s Lola. Supported on guitar by guitarist Luke Jacobs, Rodriguez shined whether playing in a more classical violin style or offering up country fiddle chops and she was in strong voice, whether singing in Spanish, English or her occasional use of what she described as “Spanglish.” Jacobs offered up a funny song about winter hitchhiking in Minnesota and sang a round that warned that sometimes the “universe is playing tricks on you.” But Rodriguez shined on her more personal memories and celebration of her family and roots.

Sunday afternoon, it was Carry Newcomer, who repeatedly described herself as a folk singer from Indiana,” who celebrated her Quaker values and collaboration with noted Quaker author Parker J. Palmer on a project titled “What We Need Is Here: Hope, Hard Times and the Human Possibility.” She celebrated what is possible, but refused to soften the challenges before us by affirming the “You Can Do Hard Things,” something she said every young person, especially young women need to hear. A song about 20 women coming together for harvest canning was called “The Work of Our Hands,” and she assured us, in light of the election results that “The things that have always saved us, hospitality, kindness, compassion, good parenting, a good dog, a good cat (that’s not an oxymoron), a kiss and a word of encouragement, these things did not go away in November.”

After two sets on Saturday that found him playing lots of keyboards and electric guitar on Saturday with the Red Dirt Boys, and on the Mark Heard tribute, on Sunday afternoon Phil Madiera pulled out an acoustic guitar to play many of his own older songs, supported only by Hindalong on percussion. Madiera, who’s a world class wise-ass as well as an accomplished songwriter was in good form, even if the nappy crowd under the big top was slow to respond to his many attempts at jokes and one liners. He asked Hindalong, “Steve, am I not funny anymore?” with false humility. What didn’t fail is his battery of great songs: “If I Was Jesus,” which says he’d hang out with the poor and never be bored, and walk on water just to mess with your head.

Several of Madiera’s songs came from a couple albums he produced that he said were “Gospel albums,” made in response to the right which had high-jacked the Christian message. He says, I called up Emmylou and said, “I want to make an album that’s starting point is “what if God loves you?” With that thesis in mind, Madiera played the title track, “Mercyland,” one he wrote with Harris, “Kyrie,” and “From This Valley,” written with The Civil Wars, and recorded on their one successful Grammy-winning album before they broke up.

Madiera covered a Lennon & McCartney early rock & roll song, “Hey Baby, You Can’t Do That,” but the heart of his set came from his fine solo indie album, Motorcycle, which included the title track. He introduced his fabulous song, “The Ghost of Johnny Cash,” which he said he wrote after awaking with a hangover in the middle of the night, the night he moved out of his ex-wife’s home. Another great piece of songwriting, “Grandpa’s Skin,” was based on the tattoos on his friend Derri Daugherty’s father, a WWII vet turned Pentecostal preacher. “They’re the best songs,” he concluded, “when they’re true.”

As I walked toward the port-a-potties to make that last stop before the hour drive home on Sunday evening, I watched as families tossed Frisbees, young boys were kicking soccer balls, couples were stretched out on blankets sipping wine and making small talk. Others were gathered around the beer vendor discussing brewery preferences or politics or something of less consequence. The pizza vendors were out of supplies, so there was a longer line than usual at the Gyro food truck, and some kids were getting soft serve cones. There was a pretty softening sky as the sun was casting shades of pink and yellow to mix with the blue and the light clouds. It was a lovely weekend in the country.

-Review by Brian Quincy Newcomb

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: 40th Anniversary Tour [Concert Review]

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers w/ Joe Walsh: Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO – May 12, 2017

When Tom Petty led the Heartbreakers to the stage for their 40th Anniversary Tour stop in St. Louis, the large screens at the rear of the stage projected a photo of one wall of the band’s practice space, with two dozen guitars lined up and ready for use. It was also against the back drop that this might be the last large tour for this band, ever.

Relaxed and ready to play, Petty was accompanied by players that had been the core of his band for all 40 years of their recording and touring career. Mike Campbell, his lead guitarist and foil – the Keith to his Mick, the Little Steven to his Bruce, the Joe Perry to his Steven Tyler (I could do this for hours) – keyboardist Benmont Tench, and bassist Ron Blair who had been with him at the very beginning, although Blair departed after 6 years, and then returned twenty years later in 2002 replacing Howie Epstein who had replaced him.

Multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston had worked with Jackson Browne and Iggy Pop before joining Petty & Co. in 1991. Drummer Steve Ferrone has been a Heartbreaker since 1994, but had been an original member of the Average White Band, and had recorded with Eric Clapton, Stevie Nicks, and Slash 0f Guns ‘N’ Roses, to name but a few. For this tour, Petty was accompanied on background vocals by The Webb Sisters, Charley and Hattie, the English singing duo that had toured with the late Leonard Cohen, performing on his concert album Live In Dublin.

Petty opened the show much the way he did on the tour supporting his 2002 album, The Last DJ, which was a broad condemnation of what had become of the music industry, computers replacing radio deejays, corporations using rock songs to sell beer, cars and trucks, anything and everything. Arriving to loud ovations from the sold-out hockey arena, Petty said he could feel the mojo in the place, name dropping the album title of the bands’ 2010 release.

Before the band had played a lick he guaranteed a “100% rock show… no artificial sweeteners, no corporate sponsors. This show is brought to you by you.” Acknowledging the 40-year milestone, the band opened with first song from their first eponymously titled album, “Rockin’ Around (With You),” which felt like a less than memorable pop/rock offering given the high expectations that Petty and his fans seemed to place on this show, but given all that has come in the years since that album, released in 1976, it was the right place to start.

Comparing the band’s long recording career to one side of a vinyl album, Petty claimed the set list was designed as if they were just dropping the needle at different places on the record, with a video of just that running on the large screens behind the stage. But the love fest took off right from the beginning of Tench’s opening to “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” which predictably turned in to a fan sing-along, the crowd nearly louder than the band on the chorus line: “Oh, my my, oh, hell yes/you gotta put on that party dress.” The band felt tight and rehearsed on all the changes, but loose and ready to stretch out on the solos, with Petty taking a bit more of a lead guitar presence on early songs, and Campbell finding cool harmonies and adding riffs that moved in and around what Petty was playing.

And, “You Don’t Know How It Feels” followed in similar fashion, Thurston playing the harmonica hook that opens the song, and at least one person somewhere behind our seats who took that line about “rolling another joint” as an invitation.

While most of the 17 song set Petty & The Heartbreakers played were recognizable radio hits, many still getting regular airplay on classic rock formats, and Petty has had enough high charting singles to fill a double disc “essential hits” set, for many of Petty’s biggest fans The Heartbreakers really are an album band, with plenty of gold in the recordings deeper tracks. To make that point, and to remind his fans that as recently as 2014 they had released another solid album, Petty inserted “Forgotten Man” from Hypnotic Eye. While some less entranced fans used less recognizable songs to make a beer run, Petty was quick to draw folk back in with follow-ups like “You Got Lucky,” which found Campbell stepping out for his first longer, more aggressive guitar solo, much to everyone’s delight.

“I Won’t Back Down,” originally from one of Petty’s 3 solo albums but a long time Heartbreakers’ concert favorite, once again found the fans singing the “Hey Baby” chorus back in a volume to match the band. And here, the warm band/fan appreciation rose to a high, and the band’s ovation at the end of this song seemed to go on and on, so that if you didn’t know better you would have thought the band had just played the concert’s last song. For his part, Petty seemed quite comfortable bathing in the praise of his bands, and at numerous times different band members seemed more expressive in greeting their fans than I’d seen on past tours. Guitarist Campbell, wore a big floppy green hat an on quite a few occasions during the show, he seemed to wonder to the far side of the stage and waved his hat to the fans there, a mutual admirations society that was ongoing throughout the night.

As the band settled in and got more comfortable, and as the fans kept responding like glad participants rather than mere spectator, Petty and his musicians seemed to feed on the crowd response. After noticing that often Campbell and Petty played complementary guitars, One on a Gibson SG, the other on a Fender Tele, and on and on, each using a different guitar for each song, often maximizing the unique tones and flavors of various their guitars, it was noticeable, that for “Free Fallin’” the two both picked up Rickenbacker semi-hollow body electrics. Petty and Campbell came close together in the middle of the stage and counted off together before playing that song’s memorable opening chordal harmonies. To say that it was a guitar fan’s little piece of heaven is no exaggeration, as the two players got more and more into playing as the evening moved on.

One thing that you notice as you get past the obvious hooky quality in Petty’s writing, that infectious quality that marks a song’s musicality as accessible and delightful to the ears, is that Campbell’s playing fits naturally up against any given song’s melody. What makes Campbell one of the best of the best guitar players in rock is that while he avoids flashy playing for the sake of flashiness, his solos work with the song, both in tone and melodic structure, and when the moments are right, he can elevate a song with a stinging solo, and pull off a stunning emotionally row moment, with power and dexterity, yet without drawing attention to his playing. He’s the kind of skilled craftsman who’s work embellishes Petty’s songs, never distracts from them.

And there’s a seamless, textured quality to Ferrone’s muscular and musical approach to rhythms, that appears to blend effortlessly with the direction of Petty’s song structure, and the unique elements that Tench and Thurston contribute to each piece and you begin to hear what comes from working together decade after decade. Over the long haul the players have learned to support Petty and each other, weaving in and out of the songs in the ways that make the most sense, in such s relaxed and playful fashion that you forget that this kind of chemistry usually only comes from playing as a unit for years and years, eliminating anything that is unnecessary and superfluous.

Add to this fine musical unit, the sibling vocal blend of the Webb sisters, and you have something that’s rare and satisfying, yet something that would be difficult to recreate from scratch.

“Walls” followed, from the band’s soundtrack album “Songs and Music from ‘She’s the One,’” with Petty taking a brief one on the harmonica himself, followed by the dramatic “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” a song that was one of the best videos from Petty’s MTV days (remember when that M stood for music?), found Petty picking up his old black top hat, if only in the video above the band, followed by the most psychedelic screen images of the evening, and extensive use of strobe lights when the song was at its musical climax, again earning the band a long ovation.

Petty introduced the band with little stories about each musician, saying that the first time he met Campbell he had gotten his number off a “guitarist looking for a band” poster, and gone to a sketchy house, where the guitarist had torn up Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” on a cheap Japanese guitar. Petty remembered saying, “you’re going to be in my band forever.”

The band fell into the slow, throbbing groove of “It’s Good to Be King,” and you could really feel the maturity and musicality that the musicians brought to the arrangements, Tench adding piano in just the right spaces between the chording of the guitarists, Petty on a Telecaster, Campbell on a Les Paul using an e-bow to vibrate the strings rather than a pick, as the dreamy instrumental began to swell and grow in intensity as Tench moved to organ. Campbell took one of the strongest solos of the night as the song built to a dramatic crescendo. Petty seemed to love directing drummer Ferrone at the conclusion of each song, holding out the songs ending to extremes with a wave of his arms.

Man, oh man, is this a great band, and it was made even better by the way they played supportively, making room for one another to shine, keeping things open, yet crisp, as noticeable on “Crawling Back to You,” a deep track from Petty’s solo album Wildflowers, which will be re-released in a deluxe edition later this year. Petty picked up an acoustic guitar for the album’s title track, which brought the energy in the room down to a low simmer, then Petty began one of his biggest radio hits, “Learning to Fly,” and before long the audience took over the vocals and Petty stepped away from his microphone and let us sing the song to him as the band provided accompaniment, Campbell playing an electric mandolin to enhance the acoustic flavor, while Tench added rich organ fills. To finish up the acoustic part of the evening, Petty put on a Guild acoustic 12-string for “Yer So Bad.”

With Campbell back on electric, Petty announced, “okay, now we’re going to turn the amps up pretty loud,” and he sang the only song of the evening without a guitar in his hand, the bluesy “I Should Have Known It.” If you’re not familiar with it, the song is suspiciously familiar to the riff of “Oh Well,” the Peter Green song that Fleetwood Mac covered back in 1969, and the Heartbreakers covered it in 2009.

They closed out their main set proper with two of Petty’s biggest hits, “Refugee” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” So far, Petty’s set list had followed the pattern of previous concerts on this tour to a T, exactly the same as the May 8 show in Memphis. After a lengthy wait, while the audience continued to deliver a solid cry for an encore, the band came back and perhaps because they were in St. Louis, or perhaps because the “Johnny B. Goode” story that Petty told about the first time Campbell played for him, but the band came back and Campbell burst into a Berry lick, and the band dove into “Carol” with Petty repeating the key lines of the song, “I got my eyes on you baby, ‘cause you dance so good,” and “I’m gonna learn to dance if it takes me all night and day.”

And the band took to it, and because it was not a standard part of their nightly set, they dove in with a lot of energy, first Campbell taking the lead, but shortly Tench took over, leaning into the old school boogie woogie at the rock & roll classics core, echoing Berry’s longtime piano player and co-writer, Johnnie Jonhson. Tench got more into as it continued, eventually kicking back his piano stool and rocking the song it a fun expression of enthusiasm was as musically pleasing as it was entertaining.

And then, of course, Petty closed the night out with “American Girl,” perhaps his earliest and most sustained success, a song every Petty fan knows by heart, and yet it’s still so fun to hear again live. In total it was great evening. Like any Petty fan, one could moan about the songs he didn’t play… hits like “Breakdown,” “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “Into the Great Wide Open,” or “Jammin’ Me,” but that’s rarely worth noting when an artist plays so much of their catalog and touched so many other of the significant bases in their career. One final note, for a hockey arena, probably seating 18,000, the sound was really good. Arena shows in the olden days were often too loud to overcompensate for the fact that the rooms tended to echo, but with today’s improved audio technology, even a space that large had very good sound, and while it was loud enough – well, not loud enough to cover up the drunk guy in the next section who kept standing up during the quieter sections and yelling “hey, Tom Pet-Tee!!!” –but loud enough to enjoy at a rock show, but with all the clarity of a fine listening room.

So is this really the last tour for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers? Who can say for sure, probably not even Tom. He’s 67 years old, and appears to be pretty healthy. And critically speaking, the last couple of band’s albums have been very solid works, the Southern rock jam band feel of Mojo, the straight-ahead rocker that was Hypnotic Eye, plus in 2016 he collaborated with his earlier band, Mudcrutch, on a second studio album and a tour… so it’s hard for me to believe that he won’t get a wild hair and offer up another Heartbreakers record and a few more “last” tours before he really has to call it quits… but maybe that’s just wishful thinking… I’ve been trying to be more optimistic.

-Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb

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