Category Archives: concert

“…a big record that felt like life…”

Concert Review
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
Thursday, 17 March 2016
Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena


Bruce Springsteen, working the crowd at the LA Memorial Sports Arena, Thursday, March 17, 2016.

Diehard Bruce Springsteen fans often refer to his live shows in terms more befitting a papal mass or an old-fashioned tent revival. Questions regarding faith notwithstanding, there is most certainly something spiritual happening at Bruce’s epic, marathon live performances. That was certainly the case on Night Two of the E Street Band’s three-night bon voyage party at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena on St. Patrick’s Day. “The dump that jumps” is closing its doors for good and Bruce gave it a fitting sendoff on this night with a 3-1/2 hour set of airtight rock n’ roll—anchored by the band’s end-to-end performance of Springsteen’s landmark 1980 album, The River—that blew the roof off the old joint.


The LA Memorial Sports Arena; aka: The Dump That Jumps.

Opening with a raucous Meet Me in the City, a release on the sprawling River box set last year, Springsteen held sway with the vibrant audience like a conductor warming up his orchestra for a performance. “Are you ready to go down to the river?” Springsteen asks during the song’s bridge, warming up the crowd for the centerpiece of the evening’s performance. Unlike other tours, where Bruce is introducing new material interspersed with his classic gems, The River Tour is an opportunity to look back and reflect on the album that, in many ways, cast the dye for what would become the E Street Band’s indelible footprint for the next several decades.

“I wanted to make big record, a big record that felt like life—like life for an E Street Band show,” Springsteen said, introducing The River set. “I wanted a record that contained fun, dancing, laughter, jokes, politics, sex, good comradeship, love, faith, lonely nights and, of course, tears. And I figured if I could make a record big enough to contain those things, maybe I’d edge a little bit closer to the answers and the home I was trying to find.”

What followed next was a two-hour romp through the 20-song River album, opening with a spirited The Ties That Bind that felt every bit as vibrant and joyous as it did in the early 80s. Following a script that was written more than 35 years ago, the next hour was pure, pedal-to-the-metal arena rock including the familiar Hungry Heart (during which the 66-year-old ringleader crowd surfed like a kid) and Out in the Street. While the first hour was truly an off-the-chain rock show, the most poignant moment came during Independence Day; a song about Bruce’s often strained relationship with his father.

The E Street Band certainly proved all night it’s never too old to turn it up and rock the joint. Crush on You, Cadillac Ranch and Ramrod provided the requisite fun we expect from Springsteen shows, punctuated by guitarist Steven Van Zandt’s guitar work and Max Weinberg’s driving rhythms while Bruce prowls the stage, works the pit and connects with the fans. Despite the loss of Bruce’s right-hand man, Clarence Clemons, the power, energy and spirit of “The Big Man” was carried on through Clemons’ nephew, Jake Clemons. Jake channeled his uncle in every sax solo throughout the night; never more evident than in the evening’s penultimate number, the epic Tenth Avenue Freeze-out.

Though there was no shortage of rockers on this night, Bruce and the band were in finest form during the darker ballads that dot the landscape of The River. It is these darker songs where The River’s depth is truly felt. All that raw emotion from the 1980 album is retained and augmented in these live performances. The arrangements are, essentially, the same, but the passage of time has provided depth and experience that paints a new color on the lyrics and melodies. Bruce’s vocal on the title track was darker and more haunting than we hear on the vinyl. Roy Bittan’s opening piano interlude to Point Blank sets a tone of desperation. The wistful sadness of Stolen Car (one of Springsteen’s first songs written about “men and women” in his own words) is replaced by a somber perspective colored by three decades of life.

The 20-song River set begins as a joyous, boisterous romp and ends as a careful, measured walk through deep, emotional—and, sometimes, uncomfortable—territory. Wreck on the Highway serves as the closing bookend to The River, providing emotional resolve and a sense of survival more than closure.

“I was sitting with a friend of mine last night and he said, ‘time comes to us all’,” Springsteen said during the closing notes of Wreck on the Highway. “The River was about taking of that time and how we each have a finite amount of it to do our jobs, to raise our family, to do something good.”

By itself, the performance of The River is a complete show, but Bruce wasn’t done yet. He and his nine-piece band shifted gears and, without any breaks, launched into a 90-minute sprint through standards including Badlands, The Promised Land, Backstreets and Thunder Road. Alongside wife Patti Scialfa, Bruce delivered a heartfelt Brilliant Disguise; an oft-forgotten ballad from his 1988 Tunnel of Love. It was interesting to see the couple perform this song 28 years after their first time on that Tunnel of Love Express tour, where the sexual tension was amped up to ’11’.

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, Springsteen mixed in a pair of Irish-inspired crowd favorites: the defiant Death to My Hometown and the hopelessly joyous American Land. Soozie Tyrell especially revved up the 15,000 in attendance on this St. Patrick’s Day with her violin, punctuating the holiday with a bit of Irish folk-rock flare.

With house lights back up, turning the concert hall into something of a backyard jam, Bruce launched into the always-epic Born to Run. Dancing in the Dark followed, and has become one of my favorite Springsteen songs as it has evolved into an all-hands-on-deck staple. On this night, it was a family affair as Bruce danced with the late Danny Federici’s daughter and brought out her brother and Clarance’s son to sing and dance along.

The final song of the evening, a cover of the Isley Brothers’ Shout, was something of an E Street show infused with bar band silliness and pure joy. There are better renditions of this classic song, no doubt. But how often do you get to hear Bruce doing his Curly Howard impression? You heard me.

And with that, the 15,000 faithfuls in “the dump that jumps” just witnessed the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, hard-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, love-making, Viagra-taking, history-making, legendary…



Meet Me in the City

The Ties That Bind
Sherry Darling
Jackson Cage
Two Hearts
Independence Day
Hungry Heart
Out in the Street
Crush on You
You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
I Wanna Marry You
The River
Point Blank
Cadillac Ranch
I’m a Rocker
Fade Away
Stolen Car
The Price You Pay
Drive All Night
Wreck on the Highway

Death to My Hometown
The Promised Land
Brilliant Disguise
The Rising
Thunder Road
American Land
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out


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sunday, 2 february 1992: the perfect day.

Whenever_We_WantedBut the rest of us die,
On your battle fields.
With wounds that fester and bleed,
But never heal

Yeah love and happiness,
Have forgotten our names.
And there’s no value left,
In love and happiness.

That’s a lyric from one of my favorite John Mellencamp songs, Love and Happiness. Just now, my iTunes shuffled its way to a live bootleg I have of Mellencamp circa 1992, which opens with that song. It didn’t take long for the flood of memories to come crashing down.

I saw Mellencamp on that tour at Market Square Arena on 2 February 1992. I remember that day like it was yesterday.

It was a Sunday. I was still in college, living in my parents’ house in South Bend. I was in a long-distance relationship with a girl from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan whom I met on Spring Break the previous March. We kept in touch and I flew up to Marquette to visit her in November 1991. I had a sweet, sweet mullet back then! We were still together, so she decided to fly down and visit me in South Bend for a weekend. It was the same weekend that Mellencamp was playing Indianapolis in a series of hometown shows for the Hoosier-born singer.

People forget, but this Mellencamp album and tour were a pretty big deal back then. He was a major recording artist throughout the 80s. After a string of wildly successful albums—Uh-Huh, The Lonesome Jubilee, Scarecrow and Big Daddy—Mellencamp took a break. He was burnt out. The 1991 release of Whenever We Wanted ushered in a new era for Mellencamp. Not only was he ditching the violins, pseudo-zydeco and country sounds he employed on his previous three albums for rawer rock sound, Whenever We Wanted was the first album he released as John Mellencamp. John Cougar was officially dead and buried.

My ticket to my first Mellencamp show, back in 1992. It was a perfect day.

My ticket to my first Mellencamp show, back in 1992. It was a perfect day.

A Last-Minute Decision.
Being as how it was such a big tour—especially for the Indianapolis dates—demand was high. A co-worker friend of mine at the Olive Garden had tickets for the Sunday night show. Her seats? Behind the stage. She, being a huge Mellencamp fan, wasn’t too thrilled about having to watch the show from behind the stage. Knowing I was going to have a visitor that weekend, I thought it would be a fun surprise for her and I to go see the show, but for the fact that it was a sellout.

A few days after the conversation with the co-worker, I learned an additional Indianapolis show was added to the tour. Upon informing my Mellencamp fan co-worker, I told her I’d buy her tickets for the Feb. 2 show. She agreed. She was able to procure better seats and I was able to take the girl to see Mellencamp. It wasn’t planned, honestly. It was something of a last-minute decision, really.

The Sunday Road Trip.
I remember nearly every single detail of that Sunday road trip to Indy and back. It was a cloudy day and pretty cold outside. No snow was predicted, but winter driving in the Midwest is often a wildcard. I was piloting my first “red sled,” a 1990 Chevy Cavalier. I loved that car, even though it would develop some peculiarities over the next two years before it was destroyed in a car accident. I even remember what I was wearing: blue jeans, brown loafers and a tan, button-down dress shirt, buttoned all the way to the collar (hey, it was a thing back then). Oh yeah, I no longer had the mullet.

On our way out of town, we stopped off to say hi to a buddy of mine who was living through a very bizarre episode of his own that I’ll not get into…but we stopped by, nonetheless. It was a pleasant, albeit brief visit and then we embarked on our journey down U.S. 31-South to Indy.

This was only my third “grown-up” trip to Indy. I recall a summer family vacation where we visited Fort Knox in Kentucky and also swung by Fort Harrison in Indianapolis. Our parents wanted to shop at the PX and the commissary. I distinctly recall the commissary entrance had a pinball machine, a video game and a big cutout of an IndyCar on the wall. Because I was already something of a fan of the Indy 500, I found that wall cutout rather intriguing. I spent a lot of time that day wondering how far away we were from the track (answer: the other side of town). Anyway, back to the story.

En route to Indy for the Mellencamp show, we stopped in Kokomo to get a quick bite to eat—at Denny’s!—before the final push into Indy. I couldn’t tell you what we had to eat, but I do recall turning left out of Denny’s and nearly getting T-boned by oncoming traffic. It was probably not as harrowing as I seemed to think it was, at the time, but I did have an “oh shit!” moment in Kokomo. Who knew this would become the first of MANY “oh shit!” moments I’d have in Kokomo over the years: breakdowns, unruly pets, bad traffic, cops pulling me over…another topic for another day.

Welcome (Back) to the Circle City!
For the most part, the drive was pretty easy, but my anxiety was creeping up as we drew nearer to our destination. It was only my third grown-up visit to Indy. I didn’t know the streets all that well. I knew Market Square Arena was very close to the center of the city, but that was about all I knew. The two previous trips I’d taken there were for basketball games, and I didn’t even drive one of them. In reality, my Indianapolis at the time consisted of Meridian Street, Circle Center and Market Square Arena. That was it. The mere thought of attempting an alternate route down a parallel street was verboten and insane. No thanks. I’ll just sit here in traffic with all the other out-of-town rubes, thank you, very much!

Luckily, downtown Indy is stupid-easy to figure out. I mean, U.S. 31 takes you directly to Monument Circle. I knew MSA was visible from the Circle and we’d figure out parking once we got there. Sure enough, we turned onto Market Street off the Circle and parked in a crappy, little garage about two blocks from the arena.

The Not-So-Madhouse on Market Street.
This was my first concert at MSA. I’d been there twice previous for Pacers games, but never for a concert. Those games and this concert pre-date the mid-90s success of the NBA Pacers, so Market Square Arena wasn’t known for being a very loud building yet. Going to a game at MSA was a rather polite affair; mostly because no one expected much from the Pacers. But this was not a Pacers game. And the crowd was much more attune to the significance of these shows, so the atmosphere was decidedly different. The air was thick with anticipation.

Staring at the Backs of Heads All Night.
I’ll admit I wasn’t crazy about sitting in seats positioned in the exact opposite direction of which way the performers were facing. I wasn’t grumpy about it, but if I had the chance, I would’ve traded up. Nevertheless, our seats weren’t too bad. We were in the upper bowl of Market Square. From our vantage point, we could see the entire stage. We were on the left side, sort of in a corner. Even though I didn’t feel like staring at the backs of heads all night long, I quickly shed that attitude, as the show turned out to be stellar, regardless of your view.

”…We’re Droppin’ Our Bombs in the Southern Hemisphere…”
As the house lights dimmed, the low buzz of the 16,000+ exploded into a roar. Being as how we were seated behind the stage, we could see the band members taking the stage, moving into position. I spotted drummer Kenny Aronoff getting seated behind his kit and I kinda got giddy. Aronoff is one of the best rock drummers out there. He makes everything better. I couldn’t wait to hear him live. What I didn’t expect was Kenny Aronoff opening the show.

From a blacked out stage—the only light in the arena emanating from cigarette lighters (remember that?), Aronoff kickstarted the show with an intense, pounding drum solo that cut through the screams and shouts like a chainsaw. Aronoff took immediate command of the stage and set the tone: we are here to kick your ass.

Aronoff’s drum gave to the rest of the band filling in on the opening chords of Love and Happiness, the first track off Whenever We Wanted. All I remember is they sounded tight. They played with an energy I can’t quite describe; not angry, but locked in. As the band ripped through the opening, a spirited John Mellencamp made his entrance, bouncing and shaking across the stage as the 16,000+ in attendance collectively lost their shit. It was truly a pretty awesome moment.

A Two-Hour Hit Factory.
I went into this show thinking I knew quite a bit of Mellencamp’s material. I’d been a casual fan for a few years. My dad got me American Fool a few years prior, when Hurts So Good and Jack and Diane were very popular. I always liked that album, but it wasn’t a “wow” album for me. Mellencamp’s subsequent albums would change all that for me. He was a mainstay on the radio and on MTV. Mellencamp was also a rarity, earning both critical and commercial success throughout his career. The older I got, the more I understood the message of his music.

Even with all that in mind, I wasn’t prepared for the two-hour hit factory I witnessed at this show: Jack and Diane, Small Town, Paper In Fire (another wow moment), Rain On The Scarecrow, Lonely Old Night, Cherry Bomb, Pink Houses, to name a few…it was simply incredible. The energy, the sound, the intensity…just incredible.

This show was the first time I’d heard a couple songs that have since become favorites: Martha Say and Jackie Brown, the latter of which closed Mellencamp’s first set. I always appreciated the song, but it came off much heavier and darker when he performed it live.

It was also on this night I was introduced to Minutes to Memories. The lyrics have always been rather poignant for me:

Life sweeps away the dreams,
That we have planned.
You are young and you are the future.
So suck it up and tough it out,
And be the best you can.

While experiencing Small Town, Pink Houses and Rain On The Scarecrow live are memorable moments, it was when Mellencamp performed a pissed off rendition of Pop Singer that he became one of my favorite artists. It’s already an angry, cynical song. On this night, the anger was cranked up to 11. I loved that!

Coming into this show, I knew John Mellencamp was a thoughtful artist who, similar to guys like Dylan, Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen, he gave voice to people and issues that are often forgotten or marginalized. It wasn’t until after this show I realized the depth of Mellencamp’s commitment. Sure, I knew he was an organizer of Farm Aid, so I knew the cause was important to him. It’s different, though, when you hear the artist telling his stories live. I never heard his music the same way after this night. In that sense, I “got” it.

Mellencamp closed the show with a communal moment. House lights turned on, he led the crowd in a bouncy, whimsical and optimistic Cherry Bomb.

That’s when a sport was a sport,
And groovin’ was groovin’.
Dancing meant everything,
We were young and we were improving.

What a great lyric and a great sentiment to close the show. It captures the essence of that night and, really, it captures that moment in my life.

The Perfect Day.
That girl and I parted ways about a year and a half later. About 2-1/2 years after that 1992 concert, my brother and I moved to Indianapolis. My buddy who was going through his episode? Yeah, that seems like nine lives ago. I don’t know if any of that has anything to do with my memory of the Mellencamp concert, but it all seems somehow relevant, to me.

Twenty-three years later and I still remember the finer details of not just the concert, but so many trivial details about that day. At the time, it felt like the perfect day. Even though we’re all in different places in our lives now, it is still a perfect day. No, I don’t feel a sense that she was “the one that got away.” I seriously doubt she feels that way about me either. Some relationships don’t have to last forever to be special or significant. Sometimes, they just have to carry you from one station to the next and then you both move forward in your lives and you’re both better for the experience you shared. You really can’t improve upon that, can you?

…and days turn to minutes and minutes to memories.

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queen at live aid, 29 years later.

Twenty-nine years ago today, this happened.

It was a Saturday. I remember it like it was last Saturday. I was up all night the night before because I was so excited about seeing Queen live. Late Friday night, I set up camp in the family room of my boyhood home in Bay City, Michigan and turned on MTV in the wee hours to discover this obscure, live concert broadcast from Australia. I had no idea what Oz for Africa was, nor did I recognize any of the bands outside of INXS (clearly, I completely missed Men At Work’s set), but I kept it on so as to not miss Live Aid.

As was customary for my brother and I in the summer, we usually did our paper route on the weekends long before sunrise (although I think I was flying solo, at this point, as he had recently turned 16 and I think he had a job). As soon as the bundles of newspapers were dropped off at the corner, we’d throw them in our canvas Bay City Times delivery bags and walk the three blocks to our route. All before 4 a.m. on Saturday mornings, usually. I know what you’re thinking. “That doesn’t seem safe!” Relax. It was totally safe. And quiet. And dark. And fun. The cool summer night air and dewey grass made it pleasant and peaceful…and the cloak of the godforsaken hour’s pitch-black darkness combined with our sense that we had to be stealthy and animal quiet made us feel like we were getting away with something, like we were committing a caper! Hey, when you’re 14 years old, you live on whatever edge you can find.

By the time I returned home and ditched the canvas bags, I returned to my family room entrenchment as Oz for Africa was heading into its homestretch. It closed with INXS performing one of their signature hits, Don’t Change. Around 6 a.m. ET, Live Aid kicked off in London’s Wembley Stadium. I watched as Status Quo—a band I had never heard before—opened the festivities with a song I still remember to this very day: Rockin’ All Over The World. So many great performances from rock icons and bands of the zeitgeist bands of the day: Style Council, Bryan Adams, Run-DMC, Howard Jones, U2, Duran Duran, The Hooters, Billy Ocean…and on and on and on. I know I nodded off at some point during the show, because my brother woke me up to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

When Queen finally took the stage in the early afternoon (in the US), I had the TV on in the family room and the stereo on in the dining room and I was bouncing around the house during their set. I was right there with Freddie and the Wembley crowd, fist-pumping during Radio GaGa, singing along to Freddie’s serve-and-volley with the crowd and playing air guitar while Brian May played Hammer To Fall. I don’t recall if it was that day or later, but my friend Bobby—knowing I was a huge Queen fan—later told me he was going to call me when Queen went on to make sure I didn’t miss it.

On a bill that included performances from Paul McCartney, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan (w/ Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood), Elton John, Mick Jagger w/ Tina Turner, Madonna and so, so many more, who knew that Queen’s performance at Live Aid would go down as THE performance of the entire event?

What people don’t remember is Queen, at that time, was no longer a huge band in the U.S. After The Game, Queen was largely forgotten in the States. While they were conquering the world in 1986, American audiences mostly ignored them. It wasn’t until Freddie Mercury died in 1991 that anyone in the U.S. really began paying attention to Queen’s music again. And then, in 1992, Queen’s revival was boosted by that one scene in that one car in Wayne’s World.

I don’t know that a concert of this magnitude could take place again and resonate like Live Aid. Remember, this was long before the Internet. People still listened to the radio, bought records (on cassette or CD, at the time) and MTV still played music videos. I suppose you could say Live Aid bridged the gap between the great music festivals of the 1960s and the Coachellas and Bonnaroos and Lollapaloozas of today.

A big difference between then and now: no one talks about a legendary Bonnaroo performance outside of those who were there. Twenty-nine years from now, we won’t be having a discussion about Skrillex or Dierks Bentley or even Elton John at this year’s Bonnaroo. No one will point to any of these festivals as the culmination of that moment in time quite the way we do with Freddie and Queen at Live Aid. I mean no disrespect to the artists who perform at those events, nor the fans who attend, but it’s the reality of a 24/7, information overload world. We don’t have shared pop culture moments like this anymore. We, as a society, no longer stop and stare at the same thing unless it’s a tragedy.

Even though it took Freddie’s death to rekindle Queen’s popularity in the U.S., the casual Live Aid observer couldn’t help but note he truly owned the stage on that one July day in 1985.

Hard to believe it was 29 years ago today. And I remember it like it was yesterday.

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the show must go on: queen + adam lambert rocked the joint in vegas.

No one can replace Freddie Mercury. No one. The good news is no one is trying to replace Freddie. That being said, Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor couldn’t have found a better singer than Adam Lambert to take the stage with them on their current North American tour.

Queen + Adam Lambert at The Joint, Las Vegas, 6 July 2014.

Queen + Adam Lambert at The Joint, Las Vegas, 6 July 2014.

Queen + Adam Lambert rolled into Las Vegas for a sold out, two-night stand at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s The Joint over Fourth of July weekend. Seating just around 3,000 people, The Joint is easily Queen’s most intimate venue on this 24-city tour. Despite the pared down stage (by Queen’s standards), they still left an indelible footprint on The Joint, burning through a two-hour set of obscure gems, greatest hits and re-imagined classics.

The lights dimmed to the familiar chords of Procession, from the Queen II album. The curtain dropped and Queen blasted into their set, opening the show with a raucous rendition of Now I’m Here on the strength of May’s signature Red Special guitar sound and Taylor’s adrenaline-pumping drums. Before the audience had a chance to breathe, they launched into the jolting rocker, Stone Cold Crazy, reminding fans Queen can still put the pedal to the metal.

For the next two hours, Queen, Lambert and their supporting cast (bass player Neil Fairclough, Spike Edney on the keyboards and Roger’s son, Rufus, on drums and percussion) deftly ripped through a set of Queen classics as though they never missed a beat. Whether bouncy sing-alongs like Fat Bottomed Girls, the raw power of Tie Your Mother Down or Lambert’s vocal gymnastics on Somebody To Love, Queen and Lambert were flexing their muscles, daring the audience to not love it. The Vegas audience roared with approval when, mid-show, May coyly asked, “What do you think of the new kid?”

For his part, Lambert—the “new kid”—prowled, strutted and preened across the stage like he owned it. Anyone who’s following Freddie Mercury can’t be a shrinking violet and Lambert certainly made this set his own, putting his own stamp on Queen’s daunting setlist. He was never more at home than with Killer Queen. Perched on a purple chaise and guzzling Moet & Chandon, Lambert was campy, theatrical, over-the-top and basking in music befitting both his vocal range and Broadway diva stage presence. For Lambert and the fans, Killer Queen was just one high point of many on this night; an obvious marriage of classic Queen and Lambert’s interpretation. Watching May share the stage and clown with Lambert during Killer Queen, it was evident that he was truly enjoying the performance.

Lambert also paid homage to Freddie with his vocal on a slower, rearranged version of Mercury’s solo song, Love Kills. But Lambert’s most soulful tribute to Mercury was during the powerful and emotional Who Wants to Live Forever. “Who dares to love forever, when love must die?”

With a catalog as deep as Queen’s, they found clever ways of squeezing in fan favorites in the least expected of places. Leading into an emotionally charged Under Pressure (Roger sharing vocals with Lambert), bassist Neil Fairclough paid homage to John Deacon as he ripped through a smooth and soulful bass solo that included traces of Body Language and Dragon Attack.

Brian May at The Joint, Las Vegas, 6 July 2014.

Brian May at The Joint, Las Vegas, 6 July 2014.

The most poignant moment of the night came during Brian May’s two-song acoustic set, beginning with the Mercury-penned ballad Love Of My Life. As is customary at Queen shows, May deferred to the audience to sing along with him. For the closing verse, May and the audience were treated to a video of Freddie singing, eliciting cheers and tears from the crowd in an emotional and cathartic moment for both May and the audience.

The mood quickly lightened as May was rejoined by the band (sans Lambert) for a rousing, countrified version of ’39, which was followed by Roger taking the lead on the bittersweet ballad, These Are The Days Of Our Lives, which was accompanied by a video montage of Queen from their earliest days. Probably the most spontaneous moment of the night came during this song as the audience cheered loudly at the first image of original bassist John Deacon, who retired from performing after Freddie died.

Heading into the homestretch, May took the stage for himself to deliver an illusive and dark 12-minute guitar solo that weaved improvised licks through snippets of Last Horizon (from his 1991 solo album, Back To The Light) and traces of Brighton Rock. There’s a reason Eddie Van Halen considers May a contemporary and his solo on this night cemented it.

Queen + Adam Lambert closed out the night with all the subtlety of a Mike Tyson punch, bringing the heat with Tie Your Mother Down, an inspired, fist-pumping, hand-clapping Radio GaGa, Crazy Little Thing Called Love and the truly mesmerizing The Show Must Go On and the all-time classic, Bohemian Rhapsody. Freddie came back to perform with the band on the big screen, delivering the the final verse before May’s guitar solo and operatic middle section. Queen closed Rhapsody with a fury, but that was not the end of the show.

Returning for just one encore—and you know what it has to be—they blew the roof off The Joint with a heart pounding We Will Rock You and gold-glittered We Are The Champions, leaving everything on the stage.

With the exception of the youthful Lambert and Rufus Taylor, this retirement-aged group of stately Britsh gentlemen played with as much vigor, passion and emotion as any 20-something rock band out there today. It’s clear Lambert invigorated May and Taylor. They were enjoying every moment of the show.

There is no better way than this to honor the legacy of Freddie Mercury.

The show must go on.

From left to right: Neil Fairclough (bass), Rufus Taylor (percussion, drums), Adam Lambert (vocals), Brian May (guitar, vocals), Roger Taylor (drums, vocals) & Spike Edney (keyboards).

From left to right: Neil Fairclough (bass), Rufus Taylor (percussion, drums), Adam Lambert (vocals), Brian May (guitar, vocals), Roger Taylor (drums, vocals) & Spike Edney (keyboards).

Now I’m Here
Stone Cold Crazy
Another One Bites the Dust
Fat Bottomed Girls
In the Lap of the Gods…Revisited
Seven Seas of Rhye
Killer Queen
Somebody to Love
I Want It All
Love of My Life
These Are the Days of Our Lives
Under Pressure
Love Kills
Who Wants to Live Forever
Guitar Solo
Tie Your Mother Down
Radio GaGa
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
The Show Must Go On
Bohemian Rhapsody
We Will Rock You
We Are the Champions
Outro—God Save the Queen


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concert review: van halen. “…i heard you missed us, we’re back!”

The view from our seats.

Van Halen with Kool & The Gang
Friday, 24 February 2012
United Center, Chicago

Full disclosure: I’m one of those rare breeds that has room in my heart for both the Dave and Sammy incarnations of Van Halen. To me, they’re two completely different bands that speak more to what Eddie was trying to do musically than compete against each other’s legacy. With Dave, Van Halen was a raw force of nature. With Sammy, the band stretched out, musically, and found a new groove. They’re both great, but in different ways.

But on this night—in a packed arena of 21,000+ in Chicago—it was all about the vintage 1970s and 80s Van Halen. The Van Halen that fueled testosterone for two, maybe three generations of teen-age boys in the pre-CD era of rock music.

This was my fourth Van Halen show, first with David Lee Roth. This was my chance to finally see the Van Halen I grew up hearing on the radio. The Van Halen I heard blaring from eight-track players in Monte Carlos. The Van Halen I heard from my bedroom window as a child when they toured through my hometown and played at the local high school a few blocks away. And on this night, some 35 years after I first heard You Really Got Me by Van Halen, I finally saw them live.

In a word, wow. Just. Wow.

Despite the obvious microphone issues and monitor issues, the show was top notch. Dave seemed to struggle with his voice most of the night, but not to worry when you’re backed by a trio of Van Halens. Any vocal imperfections from DLR were easily hidden under the sharp, crisp guitar work from Eddie. Unlike the last time I saw them in 2004 with Sammy Hagar, Eddie was focused and at his best all night. It’s damned near scary how he can still play songs from the late 70s that sound as fresh and intense as the day it was released. Eddie is back.

While I miss Mikey, I can’t take anything away from Wolfgang. He and Alex were tight with the rhythm and that bass guitar was THUMPING all night. He was especially bringing it on Runnin’ With The Devil. And I never much saw Alex, but he sounded awesome; especially on Everybody Wants Some!! From the opening tribal rhythms, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the building who thought of John Cusack in Better Off Dead.

For my money, hearing Dave and Eddie together on Unchained was the high point of the show. It’s my all-time favorite Van Halen song and the band nailed it. One of the most surprising moments of the night was hearing I’ll Wait, an underrated gem from 1984. Same goes for Women In Love, from Van Halen II. I honestly never thought I’d get the chance to hear these songs outside of my iPod (do people still have iPods?).

Before the show’s closer—Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love and Jump—Eddie held court by himself one more time to give the crowd what it wanted: his guitar solo. Now, I’ve never been a guy too keen on guitar solos in concerts. Usually, I find them boring. But Eddie Van Halen changes everything. For six minutes, Eddie weaved in and out of Eruption and Little Guitars while adding a few new licks. Most impressively, he seemed to play with more passion than I’d seen in the past. At 56 years old, Eddie is still the reigning guitar hero.

Looking around at the sellout crowd at United Center, this Van Halen show was something of a communal experience for men of a certain age. With an average age hovering closer to 40 than 30, it was clear we were all reliving our youth, but in a much more relaxed manner. Oh sure, there were the fist pumps and air guitars, but we’re not 17 anymore. We know how to pace ourselves (and probably have to so we don’t get worn out). It was really one of the most fun bonding experiences I’ve ever had with complete strangers.

And even though I’m a guy who loved Van Halen live with Hagar at the helm, there was a much different chemistry with DLR back in the saddle. With Dave, it was one speed, all night long. And that was, quite simply, a moment to behold.

Dave may not be able to hit the high notes and pull off the leg kicks like he used to, but Van Halen proves their music and performance is more than just a sum of its parts. When you put them all together, they create a palpable vibe with their music. This was, without a doubt, the best Van Halen show I’ve ever seen.

Set list
You Really Got Me
Runnin’ With The Devil
Romeo Delight
Everybody Wants Some!!
Somebody Get Me A Doctor
China Town
Mean Street
Oh, Pretty Woman
(Drum Solo)
The Trouble with Never
Dance The Night Away
I’ll Wait
Hot For Teacher
Women In Love
Girl Gone Bad
Beautiful Girls
Ice Cream Man
(Guitar Solo)
Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love

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get your ass off the stage! an ode to self-absorbed, hack musicians.

I spent my weekend visiting unfamiliar haunts in my hometown, Bay City, Michigan, at the annual Hell’s Half Mile Film & Music Festival. This event is a treasure, an absolute treasure, for mid-Michigan. I’ll have more on this later.

The only dark spot from my weekend was witnessing one of the most obnoxious, most self-absorbed, noisiest “musicians” I’ve ever seen. I didn’t bother getting his name. He may be a nice kid, I don’t know. But he was a horrendous live act that actually moved me to visceral anger. He was a one-man band who played the drums (via some contraption of foot pedals and a snare and high hat cymbal) and guitar simultaneously. And sang. And he was shitty at all three.

He really needs to learn how to:
* Tune his instruments
* Dial in volumes properly for the venue
* Hire a freakin’ drummer!

He spent a solid 30 minutes doing the check one…check two crap into the mics and strumming and beating on crap before actually sitting down to play. And when he played, he was so over-modulated and so distorted because he had everything turned up TOO loud. This is not an old man telling kids to turn it down. This is an old man telling a talent-free load to get his ass off the stage because he’s sucking the air out of the room by blasting noise at everyone. And after each song he’d get up and check the mics again. I’ve seen five-piece bands spend less time jacking with the mics than this dude!

He couldn’t keep a beat. He couldn’t play guitar very well. He couldn’t sing for shit. He had everything turned up so loud it was distorted and physically causing my ears pain.

No thanks.

To make matters worse, someone had the bright idea to invite him to the after-party on Saturday night. Big mistake. With the exception of a handful of odd admirers, he was considered more nuisance than artist. Thankfully, he was pulled off stage after a few ear-splitting minutes when people were annoyed.

With this one exception, all the music I heard at Hell’s Half Mile was outstanding. Some truly great artists performed. This kid was not one of them.

I went to his Myspace page and listened to a minute or so of his music. Not bad, but not great. He’s trying to be an all-in-one band a la Nine Inch Nails. Even Trent Reznor brings a band on tour. But I could at least hear the chords and lyrics on the recorded version because the sound was dialed in properly. The live show? An abysmal mess.

Learn to play or get your ass off the stage.

As bad as he was, it couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm for Hell’s Half Mile. It was a great event and I’ll share more about it soon.

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Filed under bay city, concert, hell's half mile, michigan, opinion

pump it up. elvis costello invades indianapolis.

Elvis Costello is in the building.

At some point I’ll pen a proper review of the Elvis Costello show I saw this week. For now, I’ll just say it was another home run live show this year for me. I hadn’t seen Elvis in nearly six years. And this was my first Imposters concert. Wow. Simply, wow.

I mean, here’s a guy closer to 60 than 50 and his voice only seems to get stronger. Having never heard the Imposters live, I was impressed and transfixed on them as much as Elvis. Drummer Pete Thomas was awesome and effortless. I honestly spent a lot of time watching bassist Davey Faragher do his thing because he was so effortless about it all. But someone’s going to have to explain to me why Steve Nieve was wearing a priest’s collar.

My favorite moments of the show (in no particular order) were:

What a clod.

Watch Your Step. Always liked this song. Love it even more hearing it live.
Pump It Up. Probably my most favorite Elvis song.
Alison/I Hope. The latter was absolutely chilling.
A Slow Drag for Josephine. One of those things you truly appreciate about an Elvis show.
The Spectacular Spinning Songbook. What a great, fun device!
Row C. That’s where I was. Close enough to see sweat pouring off Elvis.
The Go-Go Dancers. What’s not to like?

What a great, great show. If you want a setlist, go here. I’ve uploaded a few video clips to my YouTube page, if you care to have a look and listen.

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