Category Archives: live review

KEEPING THE PROG FAITH: Neal Morse Band Live

Live at Charlotte, North Carolina, venue the Neighborhood Theatre, on February 11, the prolific Xian prog-rock hero (and erstwhile member of Spock’s Beard and Transatlantic) served up the recent “The Great Adventure” and plenty more. Tourdates follow review.

BY BILL KOPP

Neal Morse is well established as a key figure in American progressive rock, a field that—certainly as compared to its British and European counterparts—is sparsely populated. But even if there were exponentially more prog artists operating in the U.S., it’s assured that Morse would still be at the top of the heap.

Morse first came to prominence as a member of Spock’s Beard; he wrote a good deal of the music and lyrics for that group before leaving for a solo career … or, I should say, careers. In addition to making music under his own name (with a strongly faith-based perspective that sets him apart from most everyone else in rock), with international all-star prog group Transatlantic, guesting on others’ albums, and with the Neal Morse Band.

Neal Morse has been staggeringly prolific, with a volume of output that rivals that of Steven Wilson. Morse’s religiously-oriented worldview is a central characteristic of his music; try as one might, there’s really no escaping it. On his solo albums like Testimony (2003), Sola Scriptura (2007) and 2012’s Momentum, Morse chronicles his faith journey both directly and in the form of parable-like stories; Sola Scriptura, for example, is based upon the life of Martin Luther.

Listeners not predisposed to enjoying Christian-themed music may find Morse’s lyrical subject matter not to their liking; while there are long—and quite often impressive—instrumental passages on most all of Morse’s albums, when he sings, it’s pretty much always about his faith. To the converted, doubtless Morse’s lyrical themes are inspiring; even removed from that perspective, his lyrics are objectively good, steering as clear of cliché as one can do when working within the comparatively narrow format of faith-based music.

But before he was a Christian (or at least a born again one), Neal Morse was a progressive rock musician. And he has lost none of the fire and passion for musical adventurism that characterizes the best of that genre. Combining faith-based subjects and ambitious music is in itself a daunting goal, and—again, looking at it from the outside—one at which he has succeeded mightily.

But there are still those lyrics. Lots of story lines about journeys, trials, tribulations and (nearly always) an uplifting ending are what listeners will find. As one of several vehicles for his lyrical and musical ideas, Morse launched the Neal Morse Band in 2015. The group has to date released three epic-length albums: 2015’s The Grand Experiment, The Similitude of a Dream in 2016, and his newest, The Great Adventure. The standard Morse established years ago is adhered to on all of these albums; though he’s a superb musician himself, in this group Morse surrounds himself with fellow top-flight players including Mike Portnoy (drums), Eric Gillette (7-string guitar), bassist Randy George and keyboardist Bill Hubauer. It’s worth noting that all five sing, and quite well.

As I discovered in February 2019, the experience of seeing and hearing the Neal Morse Band live onstage is, surprisingly, not at all like listening to a CD. To be sure, the music’s quite similar: the current tour presents The Great Adventure start to finish, plus an encore of sorts drawing from Morse’s solo work. And the players are the same. But there’s an energy that even Morse’s finely-crafted albums can only hint at. And for that reason, the live experience is the one to have. This is especially true, I should think, for music fans of the non-religious (or other-religious) variety. While Morse puts across all of the same ideas, concepts and messages onstage that he does on record, in a concert setting it’s far easier to allow oneself to get wrapped up in the stunning musical interplay, the sublime vocal harmonies and the general upbeat, passionate energy of the show.

Think of it this way perhaps: if you’re seeing, say, an Italian progressive rock band that features vocals in the group’s native tongue, then you revel in the sound of the vocals rather than the content of the lyrics. For the most part, that’s what I did at the show I witnessed. It’s worth emphasizing that there’s very little in Morse’s lyrics with which most could (or would) take serious issue; it’s positive, life-affirming stuff. And in that way, it’s not all that different from, say, Jon Anderson’s lyrics for Yes about astral traveling and universal brotherhood. In Morse’s case, though, you just know it’s all about Jesus and so forth.

And that’s okay, and should be okay, even for listeners who aren’t of faith. The musicians are so outrageously good that, in the end, little else matters. Morse writes prog with the values of a pop songwriter, and that’s meant in the best possible way. He knows his way around a hook and a melody, and he’s skilled at the long-form approach, weaving musical themes in and out of extended pieces. In short, the man just knows how to write a compelling rock opera; it’s just that he chooses topics like Pilgrim’s’ Progress as his inspiration. Hey, it beats yet endless recycling of J.R.R. Tolkien.

And the band is jaw-droppingly good. Eric Gillette is the rarest of guitarists: he can shred with the best of them, but he’s supremely melodic, and doesn’t engage in hey-look-at-me pyrotechnics. He sings lead and harmony all the while, which itself is a triumph. Portnoy’s much the same; his command of his big kit is complete, but he never seems like a show-off. Hubauer’s keyboards often seem to melt into the overall sound of the group, but his vocals are a major asset to the group. Randy George has that rock-solid yet thunderous bottom end thing down cold.

And in front of it all is Neal Morse himself, leaping about the stage like a young Ian Anderson, disappearing briefly every once in a while, only to return in a new costume or mask. Nothing too flashy—this isn’t 1972 Peter Gabriel—but his costume changes do get across the points that (a) there’s a story here and (b) Morse is having a wonderful time.

And ultimately, that’s the vibe that comes across strongest. The Neal Morse band isn’t a bunch of dour-faced musos (with the possible exception of bassist George, who gives off a slight hey-let’s just-get-on-with-it air). They’re musicians who are having the time of their lives playing this challenging and breathtaking music. And unless one is irrationally hostile to Morse’s lyrical point of view, that enjoyment is wholly infectious.

At the end of the day, I don’t know how much time I’ll spend in the future playing Neal Morse’s albums, but I do know that I will never miss an opportunity to witness him and his band live.

Neal Morse Band upcoming live dates: http://nealmorse.com/live.asp

Exclusive Video, Photos: Come 12/29/18, Brooklyn

Dates: December 29, 2018

Location: Union Pool, Brooklyn, NY

Live at Union Pool, the Brokaw-Zedek guitar summit continues to stun even after all these years. Below, watch the band do “Submerge.”

Video, Photos, & Text by Jonathan Levitt.

I was extremely lucky to have the chance to see Come play this last December here in NYC. I’ve been a fan since the mid 90s and never thought I’d have a chance to catch them live. Living in China for the past 20 years and the fact that they’d broken up kind of sealed the deal. But as fate would have it they reformed for two shows at Brooklyn’s Union Pool Club which is quite a cool place to catch a performance. The room was tiny and the lighting was awful, but the band played a killer set that veered through ground breaking LP Eleven Eleven, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell  as well as other songs from their canon. Chris Brokaw and Thalia Zedek both wring immense tragedy from their instruments. The combination of the two takes you to some incredibly dark places and is definitely not for the faint of heart. They were tight, bluesy and seemed immediately to hit their stride. I offer up to readers the song “Submerge” from the show.

I can only hope in the near future that this means more shows might be in the offing. It would be great to have them back in action.

 

 

 

 

 

 

King Tuff + Stonefield 1/15/19, Athens GA

Dates: January 15, 2019

Location: Georgia Theater, Athens, GA

The scene was the Georgia Theater, and the rock ‘n’ roll meme was kicking ass…

PHOTO GALLERY & TEXT BY jOHN BOYDSTON

King Tuff is on tour through February and you gotta look up the dates at this link (http://kingtuff.life/) and go – and I say that purely as fan who appreciates the work KT puts into his music and live shows.  As an artist Kyle Thomas has grown up, and never seems to have stopped working since we first heard his records in the earlier part of this decade.   I first heard “Bad Thing” on Sirius XM and Little Steven’s Underground Garage channel.   It’s a great starting point for his stuff – part hard T-Rex, part Joan Jett, part flat out balls to the wall garage rock.   Plus throw in some goofy moves and therein lies the fun and magic.   KT is touring in support of his latest release “The Other.”

Plus his band is Zoe Brecher on drums, Adrien Young on bass, and guitarist Nicole Lawrence- who, it has to be noted, adds a significant dimension to their live stuff, sometimes bringing a dual-guitar fuzz thrill ride.  The band rocks, and about every song feels like a showstopper.
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Stonefield opened, an all-sister band from Australia, holy crap are they good.  They’d fit right in at the Austin Psych Fest if that was still a thing.  Maybe Levitation will have them later this year, the event that replaced APF.   Amy Lee, Hannah, Sarah, and Holly Findlay, a band you should know.   They have done a few shows with KT, but openers vary.  Boise fans get a double-bill treat with King Tuff and Broncho on the same bill, there ya go Idaho.

Smokescreens 8/30/18, Denver

Dates: August 30, 2018

Location: Hi Dive, Denver CO

Live at the Hi Dive, the band served up no jive!

BY TIM HINELY

I first got turned on to this LA band when someone told me to check out the fabulous tune “I Can’t Wait” on their Bandcamp page. I did and I’m glad I did. Totally great, clattering pop tune like an updated version of recent (current?) New Zealand band Surf City who are basically doing an updated version of The Clean. In other words, listen now!

Their debut full-length Used to Yesterday (Slumberland Records) has spent a lot of time in my cd player these past few months so had to jump at the chance to catch them in a live setting.

Got there and found out that they were playing second which was a-ok for my tired bones (caught a few songs by the headliner American Culture and wasn’t feelin’ it).

 

Guitarist/vocalist Corey Cunningham used to be in another Slumberland band Terry Malts (well worth checking out if you haven’t done so) while other guitarist Chris Rosi spent time in a band called Plateaus. Along with drummer Brice Bradley and a fill-in bassist (regular bassist Jenny Moffett could not make the tour) these four put on a fabulous show for the small-ish crowd that made it out to see them.

They opened with three songs off of their limited edition 12” that was released on Spain’s Meritorio Records including “Painted Mirror,” “Working” and the totally great (previously mentioned) “I Can’t Wait.” From there they played several tunes off of their Slumberland full-lenght including the righteous title track “The Lost Song,” “Falling Down” and the the song of the summer  “Waiting for Summer” (oh and “Jolly Jane” too). They ended the set with the great “Eneies” and called it a night. Again, if the Flying Nun Records scene of the 80’s was your bag then you’ll love Smokescreens.

Cunningham and Rosi are on to something here, the way their guitars tangle and then richochet off of each other, it’s like these two were meant to play together. On drums Bradley kept a steady beat and the bassist brought some cool energy to the band (and even sang lead on one tune) but it’s a shame so few people saw it. With songs this good, however, the people will come, it’ll just take some touring.

 

K. Michelle Dubois / Tigers and Monkeys: 12/8/18, Atlanta

Dates: December 8, 2018

Location: Star Bar, Atlanta GA

Live at the Star Bar, Atlanta, Ga, December 8th, 2018

TEXT & PHOTOS BY JOHN BOYDSTON

K. Michelle Dubois is an Atlanta singer-songwriter rocker and the first thing you should do, after reading the rest of this is check out her newest video for the song “Reckless Needs” (featuring Chris Lopez) here:

Rock fans of any certain age will dig the song and the clip, and hopefully become new Dubois fans.  Her show at Atlanta’s Star Community Bar was a powerhouse show rock with equal parts indie rock muscle and pop finesse,  with major support from openers Tigers and Monkeys, an indie NYC band led by former Atlanta by way of Nashville power rocker Shonali Bhowmik.  (KMD and Bhowmik were among the brains and beauty behind Ultrababyfat,  the center of Atlanta’s power pop universe in the mid-to-late 90’s, but that’s not important now. It probably is important but I’m just the photographer, so footnote it.)

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Tigers & Monkeys are touring behind their 3rd LP release “Saturday Destroyer.”   Check all their stuff at http://tigersandmonkeys.com/

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K. Michelle Dubois delivered an equally compelling and at times blistering set of new and older songs.  A crack band behind her, including guitarist D Dixon, who is  as good as it gets, maybe better.  The band is planning another show next spring to support the upcoming LP “Harness” which you can check out in streaming form here:  https://www.kmichelledubois.com/home
Follow John on Instagram @johnboydstonphoto

JD McPhearson / Eddie Angel’s Guitar Party: 12/9/18, Atlanta

Dates: December 9, 2018

Location: Terminal West, Atlanta GA

Live at Terminal West, Atlanta, Ga, December 9th, 2018

 

Text & Photos by John Boydston

 

JD McPhearson has been touring behind his new LP of all-holiday songs.  All-holiday record?  That’s a good idea?  Yes, if you are JD McPhearson and his crack band of Wrecking Crew A-list players.  So the songs are great, and the record an instant classic.  It’s called “Socks” and its out now on New West Records.   Rolling Stone says he’s blown up the concept of Christmas records  by doing “no jingle bells, no cover songs, and no schmaltz.”   Check out one of the new retro tunes here:

It was JD’s 2nd show in Atlanta in a year, both at the great Terminal West.  And the place was packed despite it being a cold, dreary, rainy, December Sunday night.   McPhearson is popular in these parts and his fans don’t just like him, they love him.   JD sings and plays guitar, his band is Raynier Jacob Jacildo, Jimmy Sutton, Jason Smay, and Doug Corcoran.
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Opening for JD was his Nashville buddy Eddie Angel’s Guitar Party.  You know Eddie as the one of the guitar slingers behind the masks with Los Straitjackets.  He did some of that band’s well-branded Christmas instrumental surf rock renditions of holiday classics, and LS standards like “Pacifica” and “Close to Champaign.”   He stepped up to sing even.  And yes, he can play the guitar like wringing a chicken’s neck.  #chickenpickin.   They were down a player who got stuck in a North Carolina snowstorm, so the 2nd Guitar Party guitarist – who graduates from high school this year – took over bass-playing duties and did a great job.   (Eddie must be trying to skew down the average age of the band, but good is good.)

 

Follow John on Instagram @johnboydstonphoto

 

KALAMASHOEGAZER FESTIVAL 11/10/18, Kalamazoo, MI

The eclectic, eccentric multi-band event was held, appropriately enough, at Bell’s Eccentric Café. Pictured above: Springhouse.

TEXT & PHOTOS BY TIM HINELY

I had never been to Kalamazoo before. Heck, I had never been to Michigan before but a one-day music festival with 8 bands seemed as good as any to make the flight and visit the Wolverine State (or whatever the heck it is). April and her small group of dedicated music fans (April Zimont is/was in the fab band Glowfriends and now the same folks have a new band called Tambourina which played on this very night) have been putting the festival on since 2006 and do a damn good job of running it. It ran like clockwork and everyone had a good time (no frowns) and at tix at $15 it was a steal (they could/should have charged twice that much).

My old friends Tears Run Rings were on the bill, as was Jack Rabid’s NYC band Springhouse (you know Jack from his long-running, legendary mag The Big Takeover) so yeah, I pretty much had to go.

The weather was cold and snowy, but Bell’s Eccentric Café was warm, cozy and inviting and seemed a popular place for both locals and folks like me coming in to see the festival. The bands played in a nice sized room that has touring bands as well (Anna Burch was playing the next night). There was also a bar in the back, food service (tasty grub!) and they even had a small balcony upstairs (where I caught part of the show from).

Up first was Milwaukee’s Brief Candles (above) who I’d heard some tunes before but not a lot and they were perfect openers, getting the crowd lubed up.  They’ve been around for a looong time and have a classic shoegaze sound (big hooks). Check out their Bandcamp page sometime.

Seashine took the stage next and they were a quartet from St. Louis (Demi, Paul, Seth and Kate) with a real positively dreamy sound that was real easy to like. I’m gonna look for some of their stuff (only some tunes on Soundcloud from what I’ve seen).

Kalamazoo’s own Tambourina was up next and kicked the tempo up a bit while vocalist April bounced all over the stage (not sure where she gets her energy from). I really enjoyed their soaring set that really had the crowd bouncing.

Though I’ve been a fan of Tears Run Rings for ages I had never seen them play live and they did not disappoint. Playing a few cuts off their new EP (Somewhere) as well as a healthy dose of tunes from their entire catalog. They really had the crowd swaying and hypnotized.

Sacramento’s Soft Science (Test Pattern Records) had a few equipment problems but once those got sorted out (Katie’s vocals were hard to hear at the beginning) that didn’t stop them from putting on a terrific set, mostly of cuts off their righteous, recently-released LP,  Maps. Well worth your time.

Chicago’s Airiel, a trio with a handful of records out on Shelflife (and a bevy of fx pedals) brought in a bit of a heavier sound and had the crowd eating out of their hand.

Springhouse came armed with some merch and a seriously good set. Now a quartet with the addition of Dave Burokas on 2nd guitar (Dave was the editor of old killer NJ zine Sporadic Droolings….fun fact: he gave DAGGER my first ever review!). We heard “Eskimo,” “Land Falls” and plenty more old faves and drummer  Jack Rabid has not lost a step on his drum kit).

Texas trio Ringo Deathstarr showed up a little later but the packed house were ready and they did not disappoint either.  I don’t believe they’ve released a record since 2015’s Pure Mood, but they dug deep into their grab bag of songs and killed it. Adding some fun and humor whilst chatting with the crowd and totally delivering until the wee hours.

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It all ended about 1:00 AM and I had an early flight so I had to say a few quick goodbyes and cut out but it was well worth it. Great bands, nice people, a well run mini-festival all around…not much more you could ask for, really.  I will be back one day. …thank you Kalamashoegazer, you know how to put on a festival!

BRONCHO – 11/2/18 Nashville & 12-8-18 Atlanta

Twice the rocking’ and twice the fun!

TEXT & PHOTOS BY JOHN BOYDSTON

The band Broncho is currently on tour promoting their latest LP “Bad Behavior” and I was lucky enough to catch two recent club shows with the band of artsy upstart rockers.

Nashville, TN
Basement East
November 2nd, 2018

Broncho’s music and stage show can be moody, dark, strangely upbeat, usually melodic, and always catchy.  For all the dark atmospheric stage lighting, they do bring the hooks, bounce, and beat.

Atlanta, Ga
Masquerade
December 8th, 2018

 

Broncho is front guy Ryan Lindsey, Nathan Price, Ben King, and Penny Pitchlynn on bass and who usually catches the best light, hence her prominence in these photos.  The band calls Norman, OK home and why not?  The new LP “Bad Behavior” is garnering great reviews, and said to be more pop than previous records, and that can’t hurt anything since the band’s signature mood, quirks, and scrappy rock are all still there.  I considered their 2015 release “Just Enough Hip to Be a Woman” to be on the pop-side so what do I know?  My favorite from that release ‘Class Historian’ is a modern classic.  Look up those videos, songs, as well as current and future tour dates here:  http://broncho.tv/

Check out more of John’s work on Instagram: @johnboydstonphoto

FOO FIGHTERS 10/12/18, Kansas City

Live at the aptly named Sprint Center—because the band not only sprints nonstop, it gallops! (Photo credit: Brantley Gutierrez.)

By Danny R. Phillips

I saw it with my own two eyes this past Friday night in Kansas City; the transformation is now complete. Sprawling stadium hero guitar solos, a drum riser that raised twenty feet in the air for a drum solo from the superb Taylor Hawkins, Dave working the crowd like a rock god carnival barker on speed.  It’s true, it has come to fruition: Foo Fighters are my generation’s Led Zeppelin.  The band’s bombast and control of the stage rivals any of the giants of the 1970’s, kicking you in the face one minute, soothing you with a ballad the next.

Over the past 25 years, I have seen The Fighters of Foo go from a band born of grief at the loss of Dave Grohl’s band mate and friend Kurt Cobain, creating from the maelstrom a self-recorded album meant to be for only his friends, a record where Grohl played all the instruments (except for The Afghan Whigs Greg Dulli’s appearance with his guitar on the track “X-Static”), I’ve stayed with the band through good records and not so great ones, I’ve seen them go from 1,500 seat rooms to the 18,000 strong packed into The Sprint Center like so many sardines.  I’ve seen guitarists come, go and in the case of former Germs great Pat Smear, come back again, I’ve sat through hiatuses, rumors of break ups and numerous Grohl side projects as I waited patiently for more Foo Fighters.

I have witnessed the trading in of original drummer William Goldsmith for the nearly bionic Taylor Hawkins and the retirement of Smear for Franz Stahl, former member with Grohl in Scream. Through it all, I’ve stayed diligent in my resolve when it comes to Grohl and Company; every time I get the chance to see the spectacle of Foo, I’ve never left disappointed.  This night in October would be no different, in fact it would be one of the best performances (and longest, clocking in at just over 3 hours) I’ve had the pleasure to see.

Stacked at the start with three new tracks from the 2017 record Concrete and Gold “Sky is a Neighborhood,” “Run,” and “La Dee Da,” the Foos then tore through a career spanning set that included “Walk,” from Wasting Light “This is a Call,” “Monkeywrench,” “The Pretender,” “Learn to Fly,” Van Halen’s “Jump” to the tune of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” with Smear showing his punk rock guitar chops and Taylor Hawkins trading places with Dave behind the drums to provide startlingly well done Freddie Mercury lead vocals on the Queen classic “Under Pressure” with Dave returning to the drum throne where he will always be king, a treat even if it for just one song and jamming Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” with a seven year old kid on lead guitar, after which Dave gave the kid his guitar.  Each one of their albums were represented in the 25-song set, giving new and old fans alike a taste of what they wanted, sending everyone home happy.  Closing the show with a stirring rendition of “Everlong” from The Colour and the Shape.

Underneath all the trappings of the stadium rock show (the solos, illuminating the darkness of the Sprint Center with cell phones, the stories between songs, the banter), Foo Fighters are still a band that comes to rock, Dave’s nearly 50 year old voice screaming like a kid, never phoning it in, always giving the fans what they want, making sure to cover all the moments that give the concertgoer something to remember.  The shows are never boring, the audience never slighted.  This night, like many nights over the past two decades, gave me things I’ll remember and talk about for years to come.

Dave Grohl proved to me once again that he is the showman for a generation.  Standing tall above the rest, never running out of gas and always leaving you wanting more.  Two questions swim around my mind as I write this: will I ever realize my dream of interviewing Dave and when in the fuck will they play “Wattershed” live again? There’s always next time…

 

Billy Idol 9/28/18, Nashville

Dates: Billy Idol

Location: Carl Black Chevy Woods Amphitheater at Fontanel, Nashville TN

A rebel yell was heard echoing through the Carl Black Chevy Woods Amphitheater at Fontanel in Music City USA.

Text & Photos by Mark Jackson

Billy Idol has been out touring and sounding as great as ever with the release of  his remix collection Vital Idol: Revitalized. It has fifteen tracks remixed by such artist as Moby, Crystal Method, Paul Oakenfold, and others.

On the same day as the release Billy preformed at the Carl Black Chevy Woods Amphitheater at Fontanel in Nashville, TN, to an ecstatic fan base. Billy and the boys put on a hell of a show that kept the fans on their feet all night while dancing, singing, and jumping. Billy was looking and sounding as sharp as he did in the ‘80s, and Steve Stevens was still up to his old tricks, playing the guitar behind his head and with his teeth without missing a chord.

If Billy F**king Idol comes to your town, make sure you grab a ticket, give a “Rebel Yell” and sing along all night to his ageless hits…

Visit our ace photographer Mark Jackson: @MarkJacksonPhotography1