Archive for the ‘Music Reviews’ Category

Concert Review: Trey Anastasio Band – Charlotte, NC, February 26, 2010

February 28, 2010 Comments off

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The name “Anastasio” means “resurrection” in Greek. Sounds fitting enough for a man who’s playing had deteriorated as the 2000’s, as well as his addictions, wore on, finally hitting rock bottom in December of 2006 with a drug arrest.  These days Trey Anastasio has been living up to the meaning of his last name, living a sober lifestyle. He’s brought his old band Phish back, as well as his phenomenal Trey Anastasio Band side project. His stop at The Fillmore in Charlotte, North Carolina was the definition of resurrection.

Trey Anastasio at The Fillmore

If he wasn’t looking as though he was in a trance, he was dancing, grinning from ear to ear the entire night. His horn section (Jennifer Hartswick, Russel Remmington, and 18 year old Natalie “Chainsaw” Pressman) added a bright, at times fierce, mix to the music. Ray “The Funky Cow” Paczkowski on keys and clavinet provided funk with enough of a rock and roll sensibility. Drummer Russ Lawton and bassist Tony Markellis defined themselves as the thickest, steadiest sounding rhythm section in music today. This band is Trey Anastasio’s bungee cord, allowing him to consistently jump over the cliff at will, yet keeping him from hitting the ground. At it’s lowest, this show was bright with energy. On average it bubbled slightly beneath the surface with a ferocious, yet steady groove. Oftentimes it became volcanic, exploding with an intensity you don’t often see, especially for such extended lengths of time.

From the opening horn notes of “Shine” to the final notes of “First Tube,” the three hour show was relentless. His show never stuck to one style of music, exploring various genres while making them sound uniquely his. Songs like “Shine,” and “Peggy,” straight forward pop numbers, were brimming with a happy energy. The island-esque “Sweet and Dandy,” the calypso sounding “Mozambique,” the ballad-y “Sweet Dreams Melinda (“Went from Charlotte all the way to Savannah”), all sounding bright and joyous. Straight ahead rockers like “All That Almost Was,” and “Tuesday,” were Anastasio’s musical explosions, hitting loud peaks time and again. “Mr. Completely” was the more unique number of the evening, allowing Trey to conduct the band like an orchestra. Calling for key changes with a raise or lower of his finger (at four beats when I pull my fist down, thank you very much), he would call upon various members of his band to showcase their own talents.

Resurrection - Trey Anastasio at The Fillmore

Credit the horn section, particularly trumpet/vocalist Jennifer Hartswick, for adding to the evening’s insanity. She’s taken a center stage role in the band these days, whipping the crowd up into her own frenzy at times. This was never more evident during Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” Taking Robert Plant’s vocals, as well as shifting the sexual identity of the song from male to female, the Fillmore would go ballistic after every line she sang. For 18 years old, and sounding as though she’s been doing this twice as long as she’s been alive, Natalie Pressman impressed time and again. Russel Remmington might be the only man who could take a flute to a Trey Anastasio song and make it work.

If anything might truly define the band, it would be the moments when the horn section would leave the stage, stripping the sound down to four basic rock and roll instruments. “Gotta Jibboo,” and “Sand,” were prime examples of this band allowing Trey to create his own sonic chaos. Each of these numbers started with a thick, bubbling, heavy groove. There would be quiet, patient interplay between Anastasio and Paczkowski, eventually allowing Trey to create his own aural insanity. The jams would hit peaks, staying there until it seemed the Fillmore itself would implode.

If the night’s “First Tube” closer sounded slightly ragged, it still sounded good. Watching Trey bouncing up and down and dancing side to side during the closing jam was as much fun as the instrumental itself. He ended the night at the Fillmore waving his guitar around like a jedi lightsaber, flashing it side to side, jutting it forward, until finally raising it high over his head; taking the sound, the band, and the audience with it. If anyone had a time more awesome than the audience, it was him. Good for him, and awesome for the rest of us.

Trey Anastasio at The Fillmore

Burlap Sack and Pumps
Push On Til the Day
Cayman Review
All That Almost Was
Sweet Dreams Melinda
A Case of Ice and Snow
Sweet and Dandy
Night Speaks To A Woman
Gotta Jibboo
Goodbye Head >
Mr. Completely
Black Dog
Show Of Life
First Tube


Concert Review: Furthur – New York, NY February 24, 2010

February 25, 2010 3 comments

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What a difference one night makes.

Bob Weir and Phil Lesh’s latest post-Grateful Dead lineup hit New York’s Radio City Music Hall for the second of it’s two night stand at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. The first night was a bit uneven, a disjointed first set, yet a spectacular second set. What an amazing night that was had for those who attended this show. It was a window into the past, without ever coming off as nostalgic.

The evening’s jam that started the first set had a spacious, dream-like quality to it with no single band member taking the reins. Immediately they were floating as a single organism, weaving through a sonic landscape, jamming straight into the evening’s first New York favorite, “Truckin’.” Between the two New York references and the shout back mantra about it all being “a long, strange trip,” it was only fitting this gets played tonight. The end jam seemed to lack a bit of direction, as it were looking for a rabbit hole that wasn’t quite there. This was still a high energy start to what would be a high energy evening. “Dire Wolf” brought the spirit that was, and always will be, the “good ol’ Grateful Dead,” John Kadlecik playing wonderfully and sounding like the youthful Jerry Garcia many of us remember. Cowboy Bob Weir took the mic for a solid version of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried,” followed by a hot, sinewy “Althea.” “Brown Eyed Women” was particularly heartwarming each time Lesh took to the microphone for any reference to “the old man.” A feisty, bouncy “Til The Morning Comes” gave way to a spacey “The Music Never Stopped.” “Touch of Grey” would end the evening’s first set in great fashion. A few standout jams and terrific playing, this was easily one of the better first sets of the tour. You’d be tempted to write home about it, but you knew something else was in store when all was said and done.

Then the jamfest truly began.

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Concert Review: Furthur – New York, NY, February 23, 2010

February 24, 2010 4 comments

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Anyone who followed the Grateful Dead post “In The Dark” remembers the mania surrounding the band whenever they played Madison Square Garden. The tie dye King Kong standing next to the marquee, and 20,000 ticketless Deadheads with a single finger in the air, looking for a their miracle. Expectations were always raised when the boys played New York. These days the stakes aren’t anywhere near as high. There’s no Jerry Garcia, no Madison Square Garden, only two original members of the band left. Regardless, it’s still Grateful Dead music in New York, this time being the Furthur lineup at Radio City Music Hall for the first night of a two night stand.

The first set started off strong with an “Other One” jam that immediately had direction, almost as if we were the ones who walked in after the band started. The traditional 16-17 note Phil Lesh bass roll signaled the real beginning to “The Other One,” yet started to tread ever-so-lightly into “Dark Star” territory before weaving into a beautiful “Playin’ in the Band.” The jam here was clearly bassist Phil Lesh’s showcase, as he carefully guided the rest of the band through intricate, outer space melodies. John Kadlecik’s guitar tone was eerily reminiscent of the ’72-’74 Garcia years, at times, stylistically, seeming to summon the big guy himself. This combo would also represent the only real highlights of the first set. JJ Cale’s “After Midnight” followed, Kadlecik and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti trading licks before falling into a short groove reminiscent of something Phish would do (sans the stop-start stuff). “They Love Each Other” had the band sounding a bit more like the Jerry Garcia Band as opposed to the Grateful Dead. Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece” was next. Weir wasn’t in the finest form vocally at the start, but finished strong. “The Race Is On” and “Dear Mr. Fantasy” were up, the former a rollicking version, the latter seeming a bit out of place, possibly because of the feeling that “Fantasy” was yet another cover song and not an original within the confines of the first set. Ratdog’s lyrics-heavy “Two Djinn” killed whatever momentum might have been left. Barely resuscitating the set was an unexpected “Samson and Delilah.” Normally reserved for a Sunday night, it sounded feisty, Weir snarling out several lyrics, Jeff Chimenti with a soulful, fantastic keyboard solo.

All in all, it wasn’t quite the set list and energy level befitting a New York audience. Nothing was played badly, it’s just nothing beyond the first jam and song really stood out. Regardless of the original Grateful Dead making songs like “The Race Is On,” and “Masterpiece” their own, the first set relied too heavily on covers. “Memorable” isn’t the first word that comes to mind after that set. Surely the mojo had to be there for the second set.

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Concert Review: Furthur – Charlotte, North Carolina, Feb 10, 2010

February 11, 2010 7 comments

Hand it to Phil Lesh and Bob Weir. After years of trying, the band formerly known as the Grateful Dead finally got it right.

No small feat, as that collaboration has yielded too many band combinations in search of the Jerry Garcia x-factor. Having drummer Joe Russo (Benevento/Russo Duo), percussionist Jay Lane (Primus), and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti (RatDog) was genius enough. When they tapped Dark Star Orchestra’s John Kadlecik to take over Jerry’s guitar and vocals, they came as close to nailing that x-factor as they ever will. Over the years, Kadlecik has developed the uncanny ability to mimic Garcia in both voice, guitar style, and tone. So much so that one could close his or her eyes, focus on his playing, and almost trick yourself into believing that Jerry was actually on stage. This happened on occasions too numerous to mention during Furthur’s stop at the Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte last night.

Proving that some things never change, the fact that a Lesh and/or Weir collaboration will never start on time, the band started with a short, but melodic jam that wove its way into “Here Comes Sunshine.” It was apparent that the Jerry factor was in full swing, but even moreso the second Kadlecik opened his mouth. Sounding like a more youthful Garcia, the opening line “Wake of the flood, laughing water, forty nine” had the crowd of older hippies (and, let’s be honest, freaks . . . but spoken with affection) up and dancing. It also became clear that Kadlecik has enough confidence in his situation to be more assertive than in earlier shows. “Crazy Fingers,” normally a second song, second set selection in the Grateful Dead world, found its way second song first set tonight. Again, it was another example of how this band can trick you into believing you’re seeing the Grateful Dead as opposed to a glorified cover band.

The “Cowboy Bob Weir” selection of “Me and My Uncle” was standard enough, but the show took its turn during the Bob Dylan cover of “Maggies Farm.” Gone was the breakneck speed of Dylan’s version, as well as the version the Grateful Dead would do. This one was slowed down, bluesy, with more than a dash of funk. Kept at somewhere above simmering but not far below a rolling boil, “Maggies Farm” was one of the standouts of an already terrific first set. “Candyman” brought us back to 70’s Dead, Kadlecik’s flange toned guitar solo sounding almost too much like Jerry’s. “New Minglewood Blues” continued Weir’s hot streak. “Foolish Heart” would’ve been a great enough set closer, played well above average, but it was the “Cosmic Charlie” that really did the trick. Taking us right back to the 60’s, a beaming and animated Phil Lesh had a wonderful time with this song. By the end of the first set you knew that not only was this band hitting on all cylinders, but they were clearly having a good time doing it. It was something that seemed to be lacking in former lineups.

“Lost Sailor” would kick off the second set in slightly ragged fashion. After finally getting its feet off the ground, it kicked off a set where the music would not stop until the short break before the encore. “Saint of Circumstance” kept it’s Grateful Dead spot after “Lost Sailor,” and a fine version it was. “Doin’ That Rag” was John Kadlecik’s challenge. A workout of a song, filled with odd time signatures, different tempos both instrumental and vocally, Kadlecik never took his eyes off of his lyric sheet.  At times it looked as though he were going through a fraternity initiation, given the nature of that beast (I really wonder if someone backstage said, “let’s throw this at him and see how he does”). However he was more than up to the task and nailed everything. “Come Together” was given a sleazier, slinkier, back alley type of sound than what appeared on the Beatles’ Abbey Road. “Caution” and “New Potato Caboose” again took us back to he 60’s before bringing us an epic version of Ryan Adams’ “Nobody Girl.” This was a wall of intense, glorious sound and one of the band highlights of the entire evening. The personal highlight came during “China Doll.”

If the Jerry x-factor was in play all evening, Jerry’s spirit took it’s turn near the end. Listening to Kadlecik sing the final line, “Take up your China Doll, it’s only fractured. Just a little nervous from the fall” and it wasn’t just Jerry Garcia. For that moment, it was the Grateful Dead. After the set closing “Cold Rain and Snow,” it was the best compliment one could pay: “It felt like the Grateful Dead.”

Phil Lesh’s hopeful “Box of Rain,” also being the final song the Grateful Dead ever played as a band, seemed an appropriate encore to me. It was as if Charlotte got flash backed twenty five years when Jerry Garcia occupied stage right. John Kadlecik does more than an admirable job taking one of the hardest spots in music. His younger age, as well as his “he sounds so much like Jerry, it’s creepy” style was a huge kick to the two veterans.

The other less spoken factor seems to be that Jerry isn’t there. The setlists are no longer static, set to certain songs appearing in certain slots in each set. Without the big guy calling many of the shots, the setlists are more prone to surprise, and numerous songs have been given either a slight reworking or more of a re-imagining. It’s no less of an adventure than when Jerry was alive, just a side step down that same alternate reality. And missing this trip shouldn’t even be an option.

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For the Broken-hearted

February 5, 2010 1 comment

Valentine’s Day isn’t all romance, kisses and boxes of chocolate for some amongst us.

Here’s a bit of music for the broken-hearted.  Sometimes, it is best to just go with the memories and whatever feelings come with remembering . . .

Send us your selections and we’ll add them.

2/6 – Thanks, Erin, for your suggestion, “Neon Moon,” by Brooks & Dunn. We’ve added it to the playlist!

CD Review: Lady Antebellum – Need You Now

January 26, 2010 Comments off

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I’m sure every band has felt the added pressure to follow up a smash debut album with something better. Lady Antebellum found themselves with a dilemma most bands would kill for–the opportunity to build on a surprise success. Whether the band found itself trying too hard for a more polished and mature sound, or looked to out Sugarland “Sugarland,” Need You Now is more of a middle of the road release as opposed to a huge leap forward.

The title track, Need You Now, starts the CD off on a promising note, a song that wouldn’t sound too out of place on a few Fleetwood Mac albums. If only that vibe could last. From Our Kind Of Love on, the disc starts to wander more towards “we’ve heard this song before” territory rather than breaking anything close to new ground. American Honey (my personal favorite)  sets the disc back on track to redeeming itself with a slight trip hop sound, as well as the atmospheric, almost U2 sounding Hello World. It’s from Perfect Day forward that the disc becomes a real mixed bag. While not a bad song in its own right, it’s just something we’ve heard too many times before, and in many instances done a little better than here. Love This Pain is the album’s obligatory highway country rocker which, to its credit, is done well enough to cause a gas pedal or two to hit the floor.

Unfortunately, it’s the second half that truly derails Need You Now. When You’ve Got a Good Thing, If I Knew Then, and Something About a Woman are all largely forgettable.  Stars Tonight is the album’s most confusing track, a blend of country with a heavy riff reminiscent of The Clash’s Should I Stay Or Should I Go that never seems to work. Ready To Love Again is that “promise to find love” song intended to end the album on a hopeful note. It still falls well short of One Day You Will, the song that ended their first release.

Therein lies the problem. The album, along with nearly every track, follows that same old formula: the road rockers are just that, the ballads contain a rising crescendo with the sweeping bridge and chorus. End the album taking the listener on a journey of hope. Lather, rinse, repeat. Sorry Lady Antebellum fans, Sugarland does this better. LA did it better initially, too.

Lady Antebellum’s first release had a mix of wonderful harmonies, a youthful exuberance, and a sound that seemed on the verge of fresh, elements that are lacking in too many places here.  It shows just enough flashes of living up to their debut, which becomes the problem. In no way is Need You Now a bad release, and I’m sure Lady Antebellum fans are going to have a field day with this. I’ll go back to their first one and hope that the third time’s the real charm.

Two and a half out of five stars.

Michael Jackson: This Is It (DVD Review)

January 13, 2010 Comments off

Life is hard, right? And I’ve been kinda searching for something to shake me up a little bit and give me a kind of a meaning to believe in something . . . and this is it.

When Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009, he took a great deal of 80s and 90s pop culture with him. One of the  defining, if not galvanizing, entertainers of our time, Jackson’s appeal crossed racial and geographical boundaries. This Is It, a behind-the-scenes look at the preparation for Jackson’s London comeback, was filmed for archival purposes. Under film producer/dance choreographer Kenny Ortega, the glimpse we’re given is of what was supposed to be: fifty carefully choreographed, sell-out shows spanning Jackson’s career, while marking his return to the stage.

These were to be wildly elaborate concerts, sparing no expense regardless of the notion that these shows were to help pare down his own debt. Racing fire, explosions, an oversized animatronic spider, apparitions flying over the crowd, a bull dozer, various short films, dancers shooting up from beneath the floor to the “light man” that Jackson was to emerge from.  This was to be a sensory assault that Pink Floyd would have been proud of. We’re given a look into the creation of a few of the movies that were to be projected. Again, money seemed to be no object with Jackson green-screened into an old gangster movie for “Smooth Criminal.” The short for “Earth Song” was of a garden paradise about to be torn down–his ecological message. “Thriller” was set to break the boundary between performer and audience; the film shot in 3D (glasses were to be given out) with spirits flying overhead.

The dance moves shine, if not a bit slowed down due to age or saving his own energy. We’re taken into the dancer selection process, albeit a brief look, spending only a couple of minutes as to how these dancers got their jobs. During the actual rehearsals, Jackson never stopped moving. And even though his infamous Moonwalk was nowhere to be found, his moves were still glass smooth, his rhythm, impeccable. While his appearance was almost unrecognizable from the Michael Jackson of the 80’s, his voice never changed. It struck me during “Human Nature” that there was absolutely no discernible difference between the person who sang it twenty six years ago and the man singing it on stage. He never sounded young or old; he sounded like Michael Jackson.

With any documentary of this kind, if it intends to be real, you’re going to get a look into moments of conflict, where the subjects forget there’s a camera around. Nothing ever really blows up here (or at least approaches George Harrison’s “I won’t play anything at all if it pleases you” rant to Paul McCartney in “Let It Be”), but two or three times we do get to see tempers at least starting to flare. Through it all, Jackson would remain almost ethereal, constantly insisting “love” with a “God bless you” shooter for good measure. If anything got worse, only Kenny Ortega and those who were a part of those rehearsals would know.

And while I’ll never lay claim to being a fan of Jackson’s music, what’s shown here is done well. “The Way You Make Me Feel” was to be reworked, half of the song performed with a smoky jazz room sound, the other half sounding like the version that became a hit. “Beat It” was worked to extend the solo that Eddie Van Halen had laid down. “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” with that “mama se mama sa mama coo sa” chant that Manu Dibango first recorded back in 1973, was to be one of the numerous show stoppers. The entire production was designed to be one huge show stopper, and it would have been, if only . . .

Kenny Ortega took on a huge task of showcasing Michael Jackson without the weight of scandal or controversy. Michael Jackson, the Paparazzi Magnet, wasn’t shown here.  What is shown was a perfectionist with a deep love of his craft, the people around him, and the fans who had paid to see him. By lifting the tabloid veil, Ortega took the focus off of a flawed human being and put it squarely back on the entertainer many grew up with. For an hour and forty minutes, I can live with that.

Four out of five stars.

This Is It will hit DVD and Blu Ray on January 26.