Coldplay @ Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara CA 10/04/17

This was our second occasion seeing Coldplay for this tour. After the color and the joy we experienced at the first concert, it was super easy to say yes to a second show. During this time, Levi’s Stadium and the San Francisco 49ers football club were experiencing a strained relationship with the city of Santa Clara. A weeknight 10pm noise curfew was in place and it was a sore spot for many touring acts. Ed Sheeran cancelled a Santa Clara date because of that curfew. Coldplay tried to mitigate the early curfew with a request to the city for an extension. This extension was promptly denied. So with a start time of 7pm on a Wednesday night and three acts performing, it left many people to wonder what was going to happen. Would the show stop at 10pm? Really?? The fine for surpassing the time limit is reportedly $1000. Fair to say that Coldplay were going to ignore the time constraint and pay the measly grand. Ultimately, a few days before the concert, the team president notified the city that Coldplay would be the last act to play a weeknight concert at the venue. Unfortunately, it look like the stadium and city would likely lose out on future revenue.

As for show day, we planned our itinerary pretty well. We made reservations at the reasonably priced, well rated Avatar Hotel on Great America Parkway. The venue was a 15 minute walk away. My wife planned on wearing a stylish outfit that night with heels, not the most appropriate shoes for a mile long walk. To her credit, she was ready to give it a go, however I recommended we take an Uber over to the stadium. I really wanted to save her feet. We made it to the front gates in a flash, despite the congestion on the road. Arriving early paid off. We were able to enter the venue and pass through the security measures with ease and without getting caught up in crowd congestion. The tone has changed in regards to security. This show occurred two days after the infamous Las Vegas Massacre, where a sniper shot at Route 91 Harvest festival goers, resulting in the greatest loss of life ever in an American mass shooting. Security and police presence were increased, it was calming to see so many vigilant staff and PD in and around the venue. Venue security along with police personnel were on high alert. Their presence was intensified and the bag checks and security screenings were completed vigilantly and efficiently. As we passed the metal detectors we came upon three armed uniformed officers, one with an AR rifle slung. It was a very welcomed presence from our perspective. One of the officers smiled broadly and said “nice shirt, man.” The officer was referring to my Tom Petty 40th Anniversary Tour shirt, my wife and I caught the 9/1 show in Sacramento. I smiled back and said an appreciative thank you and we moved along, eager to find some eats. We took our time and made our way to the concourse level. The event staff were so helpful and gracious, approachable and eager to help us around their stadium. They enjoyed their jobs and were eager to help us around their enormous house. You could feel the love. After surveying all the food options we went for the taco vendor, asada for the win. We initially thought about trying the Pub grill, but we figured we’d take advantage of the short lines in the concourse. While in line I spotted a lady wearing a similar Tom Petty 40th tour shirt. We said hello and discussed Tom’s recent passing, she was very sentimental but happy to see tonight’s Coldplay show. We made our way to our seats and luckily the sun was setting by this point. Levi’s Stadium is notorious for having no shade apparatuses whatsoever. People bake in the Autumn months during game days. I initially had misgivings about these seats. We were mid level in the 207 section, with a diagonal view of the main stage. Luckily, we were in the 6th row somewhat behind a partition. Our first stadium gig experience was for the 9/03/16 Coldplay show at this same venue but we were very close to the stage. These seats would give us a different perspective, we’d be able to witness the concert from full frontal vantage point instead of side-stage.

Alina Baraz and Tove Lo opened the show. Alina’s set was underwhelming. To some she was chill, to me she was underwhelming. She was off key at times and doesn’t know how to dance. She does that gentle croon and kind of sways with the music. She doesn’t look like the girl in her social media pics. Her public image thru social media shows a slender, almost gaunt girl. In the flesh she’s more on the full figured side and healthy looking. There’s nothing wrong with that, but in this day and age it just continues to prove that fake is the new real, and one’s social media images are really just avatars: exaggerated and idealized representations. Sorry people, just doing some critical thinking. Tove Lo brought a stronger performance. Her signature songs “Habits” and “Talking Body” were the best received songs of her set.

Coldplay was set to go on and the vibe inside the stadium intensified, despite the chill of this October evening. For us, It was a different kind of excitement. I think because we caught a show on the first leg of the tour, we knew what to expect and we sort of felt like veterans, with a kind of faux insider knowledge of what was to come. Additionally, there was a vibe in the air that bordered on somber. It was a serious time and we even questioned whether it was appropriate to be enjoying something like this after so much carnage had taken place only a couple days previously. After the first couple numbers, Chris Martin said something like “The world is a mixed up place and all we can do is give you the best show that we can.” At the time it seemed grossly inappropriate to even think that life goes on. After much reflection and perspective, one has to agree, yes it does go on – it must. On a side note, this relates to something Styx drummer Todd Sucherman said at a drum clinic I attended this same month. To paraphrase, he said something along the lines of “you had the gumption to get dressed, put on your shoes, and travel to a live event. You wanted to experience something in the moment, in the now. Follow your passions, follow those noble pursuits, do something that excites you, because not to be a downer…after all of this, we die.” It was noble that Coldplay were going to perform and provide us with a temporary escape, a moment of connection, joy and celebration. They weren’t going to let anyone down and would perform to the best of their abilities. Like something Bruce Springsteen had said, they would perform as if tonight could be someone’s first concert, as if tonight could be someone’s last concert.

This set was very similar to the Leg 1 set with the exception of three songs. This time around the group omitted “Birds”, “Till Kingdom Come” and “Amazing Day” in favor of “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face,” “O” (with an audience member on piano) and “Something Just Like This.” The set was similar in format to the 2016 concerts, with the set structures, multiple stages, light shows and video montages still intact. The joyous bombast of “Head Full of Dreams” got the show to a celebratory and explosive start, the fireworks and confetti cannons adding to the jubilation in the stadium. We feared that our seats would make us feel like we were watching a TV screen, as if we were half a world away. However, even though we were further away from the stage, we still felt included and part of the action, we still felt like a part of the show. We jumped, we hooted, we hollered, we sang along. Like the 2016 gig, there were so many smile inducing moments at this show. What comes to mind is the barrage of color. The images on screen, the waves of blinking xylobands, the confetti canons, the fireworks displays, lazer shows, pulsing lights, etc. etc., the sights alone are enough to stir you. Other great moments included the surprise performance of “O” on the C stage at the back end of the stadium. A kid named Reese held up a sign and Chris Martin plucked him out of the crowd. Chris mentioned that they were going to give it a try and asked Reese not to be offended if the duet doesn’t work. Without mentioning the song title, Reese began fingering the opening notes to “O” off of Ghost Stories, a delicate and sentimental piece, the title inspired by a Shel Silverstein children’s book ‘The Missing Piece Meets the Big O.’ The crowd responded with a quiet gasp and applause, then listened intently. The performance was great for an impromptu, surprise duet. “Don’t Panic” featured drummer Will Champion on lead vocals. And the stripped down “In My Place” included the chorus to Tom Petty’s immortal “Free Fallin,” prompting a sing-along with the audience. Another great stand out moment for me occurred during “Charlie Brown.” There was a family sitting behind us: a little girl, a couple teen boys and their parents. And during “Charlie Brown” we were asked to put our phones away, per Guy Berryman’s request, and to bounce up and down with the beat. Everybody bounced and we could feel the concrete beneath us move under our feet, the sea of bright xylobands bouncing along as well. It was scary and amazing at the same time. And all the while, the kids behind us sang the keyboard hook to “Charlie Brown” out loud, those 11 notes at the end of the hook: na na na, na na na, na na na naa naaa (C D E, C D E, C D E D C). I couldn’t help but sing along as well as we jumped up and down. At the end of the concert, “Something Just Like This” and “Sky Full Of Stars” worked as an appropriate combo bringing the set to a bouncing yet celestial end. “Up and Up” closed the show with its gospel flavored choruses and final clusters of fireworks. It was another stellar experience and happy to witness it from a different part of the venue. It was wonderful to see this group again and we countered ourselves very fortunate that we could experience something like this for a second time. We would even consider bringing our kids along the next touring cycle. The music and the show are that enjoyable and accessible.



Janet Jackson @ Save Mart Center, Fresno CA 09/24/17

This show was another one of those “big deals” for the Central Valley. A very big deal. Pop royalty was coming into town. Janet Jackson’s last visit to Fresno occurred during the 97/98 Velvet Rope Tour, 20 years ago. Fresno wasn’t originally on the touring itinerary for the 2015/2016 Unbreakable Tour. Fresno emerged as an added date following Janet’s cancellation of the original touring schedule so she could have her baby. The tour resumed with a new name, State of the World 2017, and Janet’s little one was now a tender 9 months old. This meant that showtime would be prompt and the closing notes of the night would be even more prompt, allowing for the superstar to immediately resume bonding and mommy duties following each gig. We actually felt a bit guilty coming to see her perform, you know, making the new mom sing and dance for us. We scored upper level first row seats in section 225, close to the stage (thank you, TM presale). We arrived about 30 minutes before printed show time. The lines at the entrance dragged to a snail’s pace. Thousands were still waiting to enter the venue as show time neared. We’ve been to several shows at Save Mart Center over the years, without issue, but for some reason the staff were not on it this night. From the Will Call window to the front doors, staff were inattentive or sparsely distributed. Regarding our line, as we got closer to the door, a supervisor emerged with her walkie and gave commands to the crowd to form additional lines: more yellow shirts had arrived. The pace didn’t improve. Despite the arrival of more event staff, we were stuck with the most uninterested, unconcerned, blasé staff person we’d ever encountered. The other lines moved at an efficient pace. Ours continued to painfully drag. Finally we made it into the venue and tried to grab some margaritas, only to be told as we got to the front that they ran out of margarita mix. Seriously!? So we said fuck it and went to go find our seats…only to find an older couple had taken them. A helpful usher (the only truly helpful staff of the evening) resolved the issue and the couple made their way up into the nose bleeds. We sat down, forgot about the minor mishaps and eagerly awaited the start of the show. I mean, it’s freaking Janet!!!

This tour has taken a serious tone. The theme is in keeping with and reflective of current events in the USA, especially regarding the Black Lives Matter movement and the deaths of men of color at the hands of law enforcement. A video montage opened the show reflecting such images, plus images and sound bites concerning domestic terrorism, alt-right extremism and white supremacy. It was a sobering video and in keeping with the themes of social justice in the Rhythm Nation album. And it was a fitting segue into the opening number “The Knowledge” off the same record. The track denounces unawareness and idiocy = “Prejudice: NO. Ignorance: NO. Bigotry: NO. Illiteracy: NO.” It thumped along while the crowd roared for Janet as she slowly and teasingly made here way across the stage. The song then immediately melted into “State of the World” off the same record. Janet was in awesome form. She was covered from neck to ankle for the majority of the performance, however she appeared fit and prepared for the tour, with that fiery, long pony tail splashing around like hot flames. I wouldn’t have guessed that she had a baby 9 months earlier. At 51 years of age, Janet still looked like a hot performer. She owned the house with her presence, prowled the stage like some kind of exotic jungle cat, blended into the dance routines, and used a mixture of prerecorded vocal tracks and live singing to flesh out her performance, a necessity due to the continuous physical activity happening onstage. I have to give it to Janet for filling the set to the gills with a mix of music from all her albums, even the newer stuff. We were practically spoiled with 35 songs either played in full or as interpolations and medleys. Songs from the last six records were well represented, with several tracks from Unbreakable, Janet, Damita Jo, Discipline, All For You and Velvet Rope (ok, so 20 Y.O. is the exception). Even some non-singles were performed and some other tracks that hadn’t been dusted off since the tours for those respective albums. There was a ton of value and variety to this set. This was not an oldies show or a nostalgia act. Janet wasn’t afraid to showcase the newest material and she wasn’t afraid to reach back into her history. What really got the place hot were the mega medleys including material from Control and Rhythm Nation 1814. For myself and my wife, we have a special place in our hearts for that classic material. And thankfully, it was done right! On past tours like the Velvet Rope Tour, the musicians used live instruments. They were the same songs however they lacked the authentic sounds and patches from the studio originals. During the VR tour for example, the drums were live with no triggered samples or electronic elements. They were real drums, which usually isn’t a bad thing. Same deal with the bass guitar: It was expertly played by a very capable funk/R&B player, however it sounded like a live bass guitar – not like the boomy, synthy goodness on the original recordings. Thankfully for this tour, those OG elements were back. The synths, drums and bass sounded just as they should, as they were recorded during the Control and Rhythm Nation sessions. The songs weren’t the same without that unmistakable Minneapolis Sound. To those who might not be familiar with the term Minneapolis Sound, it’s the sound and production made famous by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who were originally members of Morris Day’s group, The Time. In the early 80s, they took elements like funk, soul, r&b, and married it with the electronic sounds of New Wave, making for a sleek, romantic sounding and stylish subgenre. Prince and The Revolution’s early records had that sound, as did records by The Time, Sheila E., The Jets, Ready For the World and for a brief moment, The Human League (Just listen to Jungle Love, Love Bizarre, Crush On You, Oh Sheila, and Human, back to back. You’ll hear what I mean).

It was a very good show overflowing with musical variety. Janet employed a diverse group of dancers of all shapes and sizes. The routines were non stop, as one song melted into another. An amateur could get whiplash at that kind of pace. The band rolled through the material with ease and without any clams. I greatly appreciated the low end, with the synth bass and electronic kick drum setting the funky mood. But despite the funky and joyous celebration that was taking place, Janet appeared reserved. She wasn’t chatty with the audience. There were moments where she looked disengaged, she looked like she’d rather be elsewhere. At one point during the set she said exactly that, she’d rather be with her little one. The concert was very well paced, uptempo and sultry with a few breathers mixed in. We’re very thankful we got to see one of the greats live and on home turf. We can proudly say that we got to experience Prince and now Janet. If only Michael were still here.

  • Opening Video
  • The Knowledge
  • State of the World
  • Nasty/Feedback/Miss You Much/Alright/You Want This
  • Control/What Have You Done For Me Lately/Pleasure Principle
  • Escapade/When I Think Of You/All For You
  • All Night
  • Love Will Never Do Without You
  • Interlude Mix (elements of So Excited/Feel It Boy/Enjoy/Go Deep/Together Again)
  • Again (video interlude, piano only and audience singing)
  • Twenty Foreplay
  • Where Are You Now/Come Back To Me/The Body That Loves You
  • Spending Time With You
  • No Sleep
  • Got Til It’s Gone
  • That’s the Way Love Goes
  • Island Life
  • Throb
  • Together Again
  • What About
  • If
  • Rhythm Nation
  • Black Eagle
  • New Agenda
  • Dammn Baby/I Get Lonely
  • Well Traveled

Tom Petty & The Heart Breakers @ Golden 1 Center, Sacramento CA 09/01/17


Tom Petty. A master. Like others have written, there is something uniquely American and easily recognizable about Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ sound. It’s a classic sound, not old, but classic. Classic and as uniquely American as baseball, Coca-Cola, and the Fender Stratocaster guitar. Defying time and trends, this group has maintained a swampy Southern mystique and scored hits across the decades. As sacrilege as it sounds, I never owned any Tom Petty material, yet somehow I grew to know and love many of those gem-like tunes thanks to terrestrial radio, MTV and VH1. There were glimmers of folk, country, delta blues and Memphis Soul in these songs. His vocal style is one that shouldn’t be pleasing to the ear yet it is – a Floridian drawl and a nasal quality that weaves from baritone to alto and that can distinctly fit the rockers, the ballads and everything in between.

We had plans to see the group in Sacramento on the originally scheduled date of 8/25. The show rapidly sold out and I kicked myself for not getting on the ticket purchase more quickly. Come to find out, Tom Petty came down with Laryngitis and had to postpone the show to a new date of 9/1. Some ticket holders weren’t able to commit to the new date…low and behold, some seats were now available. As fate would have it, we sold our tickets to a San Diego Coldplay show for October and it allowed us some freedom to buy into this 9/1 Tom Petty makeup date. Never would we have thought this would be one of Tom Petty’s final performances.

The Golden 1 Center is Sacramento’s band new indoor arena. It replaced the Sleep Train/Arco Arena which closed in December of 2016. The Golden 1 was a polished and striking venue, and it still smelled new. What struck us in very positive ways were the ease of entrance and the quick flow of the concessions lines. This had to be the easiest entrance we ever experienced. We planned our evening fairly well and worked out the logistics. We stayed at a hotel a short two blocks away, 5 minute walk. We were able to safely stroll down during the heatwave without discomfort. As walkers we didn’t have to worry about congested traffic, nor did we have any issues with transients or weirdos (the bad kind of weirdos). As we made our way to the front doors, I spotted a familiar looking man, with long straight hair and a lanky figure. There was something crazy familiar about the way he moved. I said to my wife, man…that looks like the singer for Tesla. We looked at each other, puzzled, and she said “well go ask him!” So I sheepishly approached him and yes, it was Jeff Keith! He came to see the show with who I presume is his wife. Jeff was such a gracious man, he stopped to chat with us and even introduced himself to my wife. He was all smiles and didn’t mind pausing to have a few words with a fan and snap a picture. Very cool and random experience. They went their separate way and we entered the venue. We made our way upstairs and sampled the drinks. The concessions lines flowed with super efficiency. Sure the prices are steep, but that’s to be expected and the house needs to make their money. I was impressed by the variety of alcohol, extensive menu and friendly staff. It was cool to have such an easy and welcoming experience at an arena

I called TM and requested aisle seats in the first few rows of the upper section. We got lucky with 3rd row aisle seats halfway back from the stage, upper level. We had a great vantage point without being too far away from the stage. Fans will want to slap me, but I was afraid that we were going to receive a tired and aged Tom Petty. Granted, Petty and the Heartbreakers have been in the business for 40 years – but some veteran acts have more energy and spirit than others. That foolish assumption quickly melted away as we witnessed an engaging and chatty Tom Petty, all smiles and committed to a kick-ass performance. There was no indication that he had been ill, nor did he mention the canceled, original date. At the beginning of the set, Petty mentioned that they were playing as if the set was an LP and they were going to drop the needle wherever they wanted. The show opened with “Rockin Around With You” off of the first album, a rollicking opening. My wife and I are casual listeners at best. Even without great familiarity with the songs or lyrics, we still knew or at least recognized the majority of the selections performed. It was a generous 2 hour set spanning decades, and it flew by quickly. It didn’t feel like 2 hours at all. There were 19 songs performed, a very strong set with no filler. The group has such a rich, lengthy history, they constructed a lean yet ample set and still had to omit several classics like “Into the Great Wide Open,” “The Wait,” “You Got Lucky,” “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “Even the Losers,” etc. etc. etc. With all the strong material available, the group could easily construct a three hour show but would likely slump over from exhaustion by the end of the set. The crowd went nuts. One could feel the heart, the love for this group. The volume swell was super impressive, the energy within the arena continued to build and build. And the smell of reefer began to permeate the Golden 1. A grinning and appreciative Tom Petty coyly exclaimed “I feel a little mojo building up in here! Can ya feel it!?” The performances were very good. The group didn’t miss a step, performing all those classics with equal parts ease and passion. Bassist Ron Blair and keyboard player Benmont Trench have been mainstays with the Heart Breakers since the beginning. Utility man Scott Thurston has been playing with the group since the 1990s, the same with drumming great, Steve Ferrone. There’s a Duran Duran connection: Steve played drums on the studio version of “Ordinary World.” “I Won’t Back Down” was dedicated to the people of Houston who were experiencing some of the worst flooding in the city’s and the nation’s history. “Learning To Fly” was delicately performed with a lone acoustic guitar, the audience blending their voices with Petty’s for a sweet and stripped down rendition. At another point in the show, Petty recounted how he first met guitarist Mike Campbell at a scary old house in Gainsville. Petty said that he paid a friend to drive him over to this dilapidated house and he went in alone. After hearing Campbell rip through “Johnny B. Good,” Petty told us with that classic Cheshire grin, “I don’t know who you are, man, but you’re in my band forever!” The gig was fun and it was filled with timeless music, performed by living legends that showed no indication of slowing down. The songs flew over with bounce and rumble, like the feel of a weathered train chugging along, reliable and solid. As a kid, my first introduction to the music of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” it was the trippy and comical video that started it all for me. I was like, who’s this guy in the Mad Hatter outfit!? As for the music, it was the lyrics and the new wave elements that got me, as well as that cool drum riff on the toms. Little did I know the sound was thanks in part to Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, who also played the part of the Caterpillar in the video. And from there, the music of Tom Petty weaved in and out of my musical world by way of MTV and classic rock FM radio. The music of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers is like a natural fixture: There’s a magical permanence to this music, mandatory listening. You have to experience it. It was a treat seeing another master like Tom Petty live. And the love from the crowd is evident and breathtaking.

  • Rockin Around With You
  • Mary Jane’s Last Dance
  • You Don’t Know How It Feels
  • Forgotten Man
  • Breakdown
  • I Won’t Back Down
  • Free Fallin’
  • Walls
  • Don’t Come Around Here No More
  • It’s Good to be King
  • Crawling Back To You
  • Wildflowers
  • Learning To Fly
  • Yer So Bad
  • I Should Have Known It
  • Refugee
  • Runnin’ Down a Dream
  • You Wreck Me
  • American Girl

Dweezil Zappa (Zappa Plays Zappa) @ The Tower Theater, Fresno CA 05/03/17

The first Frank Zappa song I ever head was “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow.” I was attending college at the time and broadening my musical horizons. This introduction to the Zappa Universe was thanks to a certain infamous file sharing program. The first time I heard this bizarre, hysterical and musically acrobatic “song,” I think I stared at my computer screen and blinked, not knowing what the hell just happened. I dove into this music thanks to the likes of Steve Vai, Warren Cuccurullo and Dream Theater. And any song that begins with “Dreamed I was an Eskimo” had to be crazy special and deviously clever. It was, and it was merely a preview of the eccentric brilliance that was out there in the Zappa catalogue. Several purchases later and a couple chance encounters with Mike Keneally and Steve Vai (a Martin Guitar Clinic and NAMM appearance), I found myself itching to somehow experience Zappa’s music in a live setting. Behold, Zappa Plays Zappa is born, brainchild of Dweezil Zappa.

This leg of the tour was in part a celebration of the Freak Out! album and entitled “50 Years of Frank: Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F@%k He Wants – The Cease and Desist Tour.” The name of the tour is a response to the trademark dispute that has occurred between Dweezil Zappa and the Zappa Family Trust (Ahmet Zappa/Executor). The trust ordered that Dweezil cease using the “Zappa Plays Zappa” moniker and to cease using images of his father, Frank Zappa, on all merchandizing. The details of this dispute can be found elsewhere and it’s a very sad read. Frank Zappa passed away in 1993 and left a mountain of a musical legacy behind. He was regarded as a genius, an avant-garde innovator that was never afraid to break the rules. He was also one hell of a guitar player. Dweezil Zappa has carried on this legacy by presenting the music of Frank Zappa at his live shows. It is only fitting that Dweezil, an accomplished guitarist in his own right, honor that heritage and with stellar musicians, many of whom were part of incarnations of Frank’s touring bands. For this touring cycle, the group would present selections including songs from Freak Out!, the debut album by The Mothers of Invention, Frank Zappa’s first rock combo.

The Freak Out! tracks are the wackiest, and yet some of the most brilliant music pieces you’ll ever experience. It didn’t sound like anything that was around at the time and still doesn’t sound like anything that’s out now. It’s freaky, complex, intricate, fun, jazzy, zany, it grooves, it boogies, it rocks, it sways, and it’s just one giant amalgamation of bizarre sound and eccentric brilliance. The vocals dart from spoken word narration, to lounge singing, to doo-wop, to soulful crooning, and on and on and on. It’s madness. But there’s something amazingly entertaining and musical about it. Only a certain breed of power musicians can pull off this crazy, impossible to play music with heart AND expert precision. The current line-up is no exception. They’re like musical super heroes. The Zappa musicians have always been untouchable players and unusual characters: Odd, weird, funky, freaky, cool, but above all…freaking geniuses. And at the core of this line up is a mellow and low-key guitarist in jeans and a black V-neck, armed with a gentle smile and a Gibson SG. There’s a calmness and serenity to Dweezil when he’s onstage, it’s spellbinding watching him, seeing him lay down his parts with nurturing care, then seeing how he glances over at his bandmates with equal parts pride and a quiet joy.

Zappa Plays Zappa is no stranger to Fresno. Fortunately for us, the group has performed in this area once or twice previously. Kudos to the group and booking agents for not forsaking our little neck of the woods. From the moment the group came onstage we knew we were in for an unmatched experience, variety and virtuosity. From the netherworldly bounce of “Transylvania Boogie,” to the vocal hilarity and madness of “It Can’t Happen Here,” the soulful “How Could I Be Such a Fool?” to the creepy waltz of “Who Are the Brain Police?,” it was an insanely wild roller coaster ride. During a pause, many in the audience began shouting song titles. Someone shouted “Watermelon!” Dweezil with a playful smirk said something like “Requests? You’ know what we’re gonna do? We’re gonna stick to the fucking setlist, that’s what we’re gonna do,” and the group powered on. David Luther on lead vocals, guitar, keys, and bary sax, was an eerily perfect match for this group. That deep voice is a striking resemblance to Ike Willis, Napoleon Murphy Brock and Frank Zappa’s vocal style. “It Can’t Happen Here” is a great example of that zany vocal delivery. “What Will This Evening Bring Me This Morning?” saw vocalists Cian Coey and Scheila Gonzalez harmonize and sing the hell out of that song. It was an exercise in power soul. The set had transitioned from Freak Out! era tracks to 200 Motels. And then the band reduced itself to a power trio, with Dweezil, Ryan Brown and Kurt Morgan ripping into a bitchin’ version of “Apostrophe,” the title track of the same album. You could feel and hear the great Jim Gordon and Jack Bruce in their playing. Bassist, Kurt Morgan, was awesome to watch. His facial expressions, nonverbals, mannerisms, his movements onstage. The way he curled his lips and bobbed his head when he locked into a tight, thunderous groove. And damn, no one, I mean NO ONE can rock cargo shorts and orange socks like that man. Throughout the concert, Kurt was playing insane bass parts, singing backgrounds, AND having an incredibly euphoric time while doing it. You could see the musical joy on that man’s face. And the way he played that bass during “Apostrophe,” I’m amazed those strings didn’t fuse onto the fretboard with all the kinetic energy and heat going on. About drumming power-house Ryan Brown, wow, everyone in this group has a legacy of big shoes to fill. The drummers in all the Zappa groups have always had the distinction of being an “it” guy, drummer’s drummers. One has to continue a legacy built upon and including Jimmy Carl Black, Ansley Dunbar, Vinnie Colaiuta, Terry Bozzio, Ed Mann, Chester Thompson, Chad Wackerman and Joe Travers. Bottom line, the drummer had better be a bad ass drummer. Ryan was able to easily channel the spirits of all the Zappa alums that came before him, and laid down a kicking groove while keeping all the intricacies and nuances needed to pull off those complex parts. And then there’s the striking Scheila Gonzalez, who can’t be a real person.She has to be some kind of musical virtuoso android fem-bot sent from the future. She’s an accomplished, award winning multi-instrumentalist, able to play flute, sax, keys, and sing like her life depended on it. She possesses a powerful voice, husky and throaty, and it gels well with Cian Coey’s raspy yet soulful diva vocals. Main keyboard player and violinist Chris Norton brought it all together, gluing the group together and anchoring it with complex leads and great background singing as well. KILLER line-up. At one point during the set, Dweezil made reference to these songs, the bizarre qualities of the music and how it all must have freaked out parents in the 60s. Dweezil expressed “This isn’t music from the past, it’s music from the future. We just haven’t caught up with it yet.” The group continued to faithfully execute pieces like “Inca Roads,” “Zomby Woof,” “Doreen/You Are What You Is,” “Keep It Greasy,” “Packard Goose,” and of course the lovely and tender closer to Joe’s Garage (and my biggest reason for attending this concert), “Watermelon in Easter Hay.” It gently murmurs its way into the world, delicate and dreamy, with a guitar tone that borders between space rock and surf rock (think of Santo and Johnny’s “Sleepwalk”). I have this deeply sentimental connection to that song. When I think of that melody, I think of my young kids, and snapshots of the joy and color of their growing up comes to mind, I’m not sure why. The song is regarded by many, including Dweezil, as Frank Zappa’s greatest guitar solo. There are several videos showing a composed yet emotional Dweezil Zappa, performing that song with great care and reverence as tears roll down his face. I think this Fresno gig had him just as nostalgic. Side note: Duran Duran performed a version of this song during a 1994 New York City concert, with Warren Cuccurullo on guitar (a Zappa alumnus, kind of young, kind of wow). The show continued with encores and the final closer, “Muffin Man.” This was an insanely great concert, performed by master musicians. It deepened my appreciation for Zappa’s brand of weird but devastatingly awesome music. I’m so fortunate I was able to see these guys close to home. If you have even the slightest inclination to go see this group, please do, you won’t regret it. Just watch out where the huskies go.

Miguel Bose @ Gallo Center for the Performing Arts, Modesto CA 04/20/17

Miguel Bose is an artist’s artist, with a celebrated history and a rich sounding baritone. Bose is practically a Euro-Latin treasure, with a career spanning four decades that began in television and ventured into music, while singing in Spanish and Italian. He’s known for his heart rendering folk anthems, tender ballads, exciting dance tracks and beloved pop hits.

The charismatic Bose NEVER tours near this area. To see big international acts, Central California music fans must travel 3 hours plus to cities like Oakland, San Francisco or Los Angeles. Low and behold, the opening date of the brief Estare Tour was occurring in Modesto at a gorgeous and intimate theater called the Gallo Center for the Arts. Like I had written previously about a Richard Marx show, The Gallo is a jewel of a theater 90 minutes north of Fresno and there’s not a bad seat in the house. This was a birthday treat for my lovely wife, and I clamored for those balcony box seats. Those seats provide a wonderfully close vantage point, and the big, comfy upholstered chairs add a charm and grace to the concert experience. We enjoyed our glasses of wine in comfort as the show unfolded.

Bose employed a large cast of musicians, with their names appearing on screen as they entered the stage, one by one, a classy and personal touch. The 11 person ensemble included several backing vocalists, primary keyboardist, a second keyboardist/violinist/accordion player, two guitarists, a bassist, a percussionist and a drummer. The musicians were in great form and the extra sidemen/women helped to recreate the songs authentically. Most people get hung up about live music not sounding like the studio originals, many complain that “it’s just not the same.” That’s true most of the time, however, I think a live group’s job is to channel the spirit of the music, perform an authentic rendition and connect with the audience. That’s what happened in Modesto this night. The group performed arrangements very similar to the studio originals with a couple exceptions. However, the sounds were updated, brought to the present. The live renditions went over well in an almost magical fashion. Tonight’s set was generous, spanning over 30 years of music including new offerings. Bose was dressed all in black, his hair cropped short with an equally sharp goatee. He was in playful form, moving about the stage regularly, joining in on the dance routines and occasionally taking a seat on a bar stool. Bose proved he wasn’t merely a polished studio vocalist but a true performer and he was relishing the crowd’s energy.

The playful “Y Poco Mas” had the crowd singing along and cheering as Bose snuck in some flirty dance moves, prompting a squeal from the ladies…Bose counted in the ‘One Two Three Four!’ and the audience joyously belted out the next chorus. The group led the audience on another stirring sing-along during “Nada Particular,” a swell of voices delicately lifting the song higher and higher. The entire show was one massive sing-along. The audience knew the songs by heart and never overpowered Bose or the backing vocalists. Instead, the audience lovingly complemented the performers, adding additional color and dynamics to the vocals. People loved these songs and did them justice with their respectful and gentle singing. During “Creo En Ti,” Bose appreciated the love and support, and had that charming grin as the audience joined in on the choruses, he nodded in approval as the accordion player continued her leads. The acoustics were wonderful, Bose’s vocals were clear and rich sounding, the Gallo was the perfect venue for this kind of anthemic pop, especially for gems like “Si Tu No Vuelves.” Like a gentle thunder, his voice filled the entire building, that subtle, natural echo disbursing his voice throughout the theater. “Si Tu No Vuelves” was performed in a similar manner to the duet version with Shakira. The instrumentation and sounds were very similar. For this rendition, Bose provided all the vocals with the group delicately accompanying him. The playful, island flavored “La Chula” once again saw the audience filling in wonderfully on the verses and choruses while shaking it. “Morir De Amor” continued the accordion flavored string of baladas, Bose once again leading the sing-along and playfully dancing to the tune and making the ladies scream. The delicate “Como Un Lobo” prompted more tender sing-alongs, with several fans in the front hanging onto each other and reaching out toward the performers. The tender “Te Amare” was like a choral exercise, Bose prompted the entire crowd to sing the choruses unaccompanied as he adoringly listened and conducted our performance. “Amante Bandido” got the audience to their feet, the bouncy anthem prompting a roar of cheers. The song was performed similar to the studio original but without the horns and with a straight ahead dance-rock beat. As a younger fan I identify more with the dance remix, but this rendition was perfect.

There were so many teary eyes in that theater. Midway through the set I had to leave my seat to use the restroom and grab a couple t-shirts for my love. On my way out I couldn’t help but examine the audience, many of whom were deeply touched and tearful, the stage lights reflecting off their glistened eyes. To our immediate left sat a woman likely in her 50s who had come to the concert alone. I couldn’t help but notice her sitting there, solitary and sentimental, chin propped on her hand as she watched. So many connections and so many feelings. Seeing the physical reactions to that kind of connection is stirring, a bitter-sweet kind of joy and happiness. I was so happy to be able to surprise my wife with this show for her birthday. For her and many many others, hearing and seeing the iconic Miguel Bose was nostalgic in a wonderful way, like reliving childhood memories, reconnecting with and experiencing echoes from the past. Experiencing all that with someone near and dear just makes the experience all the more memorable.

Songs performed this evening included Amo, Encanto, Libre Ya De Amores, El Hijo Del Capitán Trueno, Salamandra, Nena, Aire Soy, Horizonte De Las Estrellas, Sevilla, Y Poco Mas, Como Un Lobo, Si Tu No Vuelves, Tú Mi Salvación, Un Argumento, Partisano, Morena Mía, Nada particular, La Chula, Creo En Ti, Bambu ,Sí Se Puede, Que No Hay, Te amaré, Por ti, and Amante Bandido.


Twenty One Pilots @ Save Mart Center, Fresno CA 02/14/17

It was Valentine’s Day and this concert was our couple’s outing. My wife and I are casual admirers of Twenty One Pilots. My first exposure to them was the single “Tear in my Heart.” It was a quirky single, danceable and fun. It’s rare for a big name in the rock genre to tour this area of California, so I jumped on the chance to be able to see this concert locally. This was a younger rock fan’s show. Meaning, there was no wait time for alcohol! The day after the concert I was telling my buddy at work (yes, I went in to work the next morning) that it had been a very long time since I had experienced a show where the majority of the audience wasn’t old enough to drink and probably had school the next morning. Back to the group, this duo is part of a new wave of alternative rock and yet it’s unfair to classify them that way, as they bridge multiple genres. However, their sound is heavily associated with alternative hip-hop, electropop with some dancehall and island flavorings. Multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Tyler Joseph’s singing style wasn’t something that I’m normally into. Much of the time, his singing borders on sing-songy quasi rapping. Quirky and off-beat, but it helps give this duo a unique identity among their peers in the alt-rock world. Bottom line, their sound is fun and energetic with introspective lyrics, and it was impressive to see a newer group that isn’t a country or mainstream pop act fill an arena, especially in this area. The Save Mart Center was FULL. My eyes bugged out.

This tour was called the Emotional Road Show. Like I had previously stated, while the music can be fun, it can also be touching and through provoking, just listen to “Goner” for an idea of their deeper lyrical reaches. Fun, melodic and accessible, however Twenty One Pilots are not a mainstream act. Granted, they’re Grammy winners and they’ve’ been around close to 10 years – I feel they continue to playfully flirt with the mainstream. “Ride” and “Stressed Out” were championed early on by the likes of ALTnation, however top 40 terrestrial radio played those songs to death, along with “Heathens.” I think It’s more fitting to call Twenty One Pilots a huge cult band. And the Central Valley youth were out en masse.

This group is great at doing the unexpected. These surprises were very original for an arena show. The live show is one of the most atypical concert productions my lady and I had ever witnessed. It’s a minimalistic show but it’s also very high tech. It’s also very interactive with unexpected crowd participation. The first surprise was multi-instrumentalist Tyler Joseph’s disappearing act. Near the close of “Hometown,” Tyler sat at the upright piano onstage and became draped with a dark colored sheet. He continued to sing and play piano. A short rest occurred and the spot lights quickly converged above us in section 217. A masked Tyler Joseph appeared above us, it was like he materialized out of thin air. He was wedged between the first row and the barrier, singing the outro to the song, lifting up his mask at song’s end and waving to the astonished crowd. We were freaking out. Wait, how the hell did he do that? Another great moment came when the entire arena shouted the ‘YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!’ portions of the ukulele flavored “We Don’t Believe What’s On TV.” We geeked out again when Josh Dunn crowd surfed…WITH his drum kit. Crew members brought out a secondary drum kit – the hardware and drums were fixed to a piece of plywood around 6’x6′. Another geek out moment when Josh’s did a drum battle with…himself? This was awesome. Josh Dunn soloed against a prerecorded video of himself. The timing and choreography made for a unique drum battle. Live Josh battled virtual Josh on screen. At another point in the set, a fan, Patrick, was brought onstage to battle Tyler in a game of Mario Kart. And the greatest, single most jaw dropping moment during the set was the 90s/00s mega medley. The group invited openers Judah & Lion onstage for a duet. The two groups bounced into a hoppin’ version of Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping,” a 90’s gem (or irritating POS, depending on your tastes). At the close of “Tubthumping,” the members of 21 Pilots and Judah & The Lion were joined by second opener Jon Bellion, and the all-star team slid into a swingin’ version of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity,” continuing to the blow the young minds in Save Mart Center. The guys did an excellent job of performing the songs true to form, in hindsight, they may have been singing over the actual recordings. The soul and New Jack Swing of “No Diggity” got the crowd grooving. Even Judah Akers, vocalist for Judah & The Lion, was busting out with some funky foot work on stage. The medley then transitioned into another classic, The Black Eyed Peas’ “Where is the Love?” and the crowd continued to dig on the live DJ set that was being performed. Bellion smoothly crooned his way through Fergi’s parts and we continued to be awe-struck. And then, out of the nowhere, “Where is the Love?” comes to a close and the horn fanfare intro to House of Pain’s immortal “Jump Around” plays over the PA. That’s when the children of the 90s in the crowd truly lost their shit. All around us we could hear people yell “woah!” and “holy crap!” The entire arena jumped up and got down. The whole arena was bouncing and it was so cool seeing all the wide eyed, smiling faces. The concert was surprising, fun, and at the same time the guys could dial it down and show us their passionate and humble side. The most startling musical moment of the concert was Tyler’s poignant rendition of “Cancer,” a My Chemical Romance original. It was heartbreaking. There wasn’t any other way to describe it. Tyler sat at the upright piano and was bathed in dark blue light while he sang the melancholy yet stirring lyrics. The vocal delivery and the piano lines fit the song perfectly. Tyler made it his own song: soulful and bitter-sweet. The whole set went done amazingly well with my favorite selection being “Ride” off of Blurryface. Tyler played bass while Josh laid down a groove with sequencers in support. It was a thumping, fun performance, I just wish Tyler would hold that B note when singing the chorus, Instead he shortened it to a quarter note, letting the audience fill in. Minor gripe but still a unique concert.

My only major criticism about the concert was the duo’s reliance on backing tracks and sequencers. Ok, I get that there are only two guys in the group. But what may seem like a weakness is actually a strength for this group. Two performers leave an uncluttered stage setup. This minimalist approach serves the group and the production very well – the focus is on the two group members as well as the giant digital displays behind them. No distractions, no silly props or toys. The Central Valley still got one heck of treat.



Tower of Power @ Tachi Palace Casino, Lemoore CA 01/19/17

I had always wanted to see funk masters Tower of Power. I’ve always admired their drummers, especially. David Garibaldi is one of the greatest groove masters out there, and his drum parts are funky as well as tricky. It’s still difficult for me to wrap my head around many of those grooves. Sadly, tragedy befell the group during their stand at Yoshi’s in Oakland. Garibaldi along with bassist Marc Van Wageningen were walking in Jack London Square near the venue when an Amtrak train struck them. They weren’t in the greatest shape, with Van Wageningen suffering the more serious injuries. I was unsure they would fulfill the Lemoore date. I contacted the venue and amazingly, they reported that the group’s management team provided an update via email that they would still go on, however it was unknown who the stand-ins would be on bass and drums. This touring line-up consisted of Marcus Scott, David Garibaldi, Roger Smith, Marc Van Wageningen, Jerry Cortez, Tom Politzer, Sal Cracchiolo, Adolfo Acosta, Doc Kupka and Emilio Castillo. I later learned that TOP alums Russ McKinnon and Rocco Prestia would fill in for the injured brothers.

I attended this show at the Tachi Palace in Lemoore, an Indian gaming casino in rural Kings County. Concert buddy ‘La Diane’ came along for the gig. The resort is like a gem in the middle of nowhere and it has significant pull when it comes to entertainment. Their bingo hall converts to a proper concert hall. I had my misgivings at first, as this was my first experience at the Tachi live venue and didn’t know what to expect. We had fairly good seats and the venue was appropriate and easily accessible.  The group was HOT. They were firing on all cylinders and having several original and veteran members present added a special authenticity to their performance. At one point during the Show, Emilio mentioned that when they first started the group they knew they had something special. He further elaborated that they did a gig in Fresno and the moment the horn players laid down their sultry parts, a big Mexican chick in the back went nuts. That’s when they knew they had something special 🙂 Marcus Scott on lead vox was a heck of a singer, powering through those TOP classics with conviction, reminiscent of the great Lenny Williams. Marcus even ventured into the crowd, stood on a chair and sang while surrounded by the audience in the center section. The crowd was loving it and we could feel the euphoric energy in the venue. My mom was a child of the 70s and although she wasn’t at the show, she hoped that they’d play some of her favorite TOP radio hits. I’d heard that TOP rarely if ever includes material like “So Very Hard to Go” and “You’re Still a Young Man” in the set, so I wasn’t expecting to hear anything like that. What do you know, last number of the night was “You’re Still a Young Man,”AKA that one song that makes all the sad cholos cry. The group turned out fiery and polished renditions of their songs. It was impressive to see a veteran group perform to that high level of excellence and with heart. The set for this evening was short by most standards but exciting. Fun and energetic concert and I feel very fortunate for catching TOP while they’re still around. Sorry mom, they didn’t play “Sparkling in the Sand”.

  1. I Like Your Style
  2. Ain’t Nothin’ Stoppin’ Us Now
  3. You Ought To Be Havin’ Fun
  4. Only So Much Oil in the Ground
  5. Don’t Change Horses in the Middle of a Stream
  6. Soul Vaccination
  7. Willing To Learn
  8. This Time It’s Real
  9. So Very Hard To Go
  10. What Is Hip?
  11. You’re Still a Young Man



6:00 On a Christmas Morning – Dream Theater at Their Best

Bryan Morey on my favorite Dream Theater album, AWAKE.


Dream Theater, Awake, 1994

Tracks: 1. 6:00, 2. Caught in a Web, 3. Innocence Faded, 4. Erotomania, 5. Voices, 6. The Silent Man, 7. The Mirror, 8. Lie, 9. Lifting Shadows Off a Dream, 10. Scarred, 11. Space-Dye Vest

1993dream-theater-awake-delanteraSome might say that I am unqualified to discuss a twenty-two year-old Dream Theater album, especially since I’ve only been listening to the band for three years. Indeed, I’ve received similar comments on the negative review I wrote of the band’s most recent piece of… er… album. However, I believe my recent discovery of the band allows me to bring a fresh perspective to their catalogue.

I was introduced to the band through their self-titled 2013 album, which I happen to enjoy. I think it is their best “Mangini-era” production. Furthermore, I see that album as being in a special category of Dream Theater’s heaviest albums, alongside Awake and Train…

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On the Edge of 30: U2’s THE JOSHUA TREE

Brad Birzer’s musings on one of the most important rock albums ever made, The Joshua Tree.


u2-joshua-tree Originally released March 9, 1987

Thirty years ago this month and next, U2, Brian Eno, and Daniel Lanois were putting the finishing touches on what is arguably one of the greatest rock albums ever written, THE JOSHUA TREE.  That “the album wears well,” even three decades later, would be a tragic understatement.  Frankly, though I have listened to it repeatedly over the past 29 years, THE JOSHUA TREE sounds as fresh at the end of 2016 as it did in the spring of 1987.  It’s possible that nostalgia—“the rust of memory,” as the great sociologist Robert Nisbet once proclaimed it—clouds my judgment, but I don’t think so.  Other albums from that time that meant almost as much to me then sound dreadfully tinny and dated now.

So, my continuing and continuous awestruck response to THE JOSHUA TREE can’t be complete nostalgia.

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The Cult @ The Paul Paul Theater, Fresno CA 10/07/16

It’s pretty cool when an international rock group of this caliber and history does a date like Fresno or Bakersfield. Like a friend of mine had mentioned, it keeps us from having to fork out the extra money and time spent traveling to a primary market like LA or San Francisco. Gigs like that are usually a 3 hour drive for most people in this area. Fans in the Central Valley have to pick and choose wisely when it comes to pricey out of town “big” gigs like that. And these days it seems like EVERYONE’s touring. To be more accurate, there are more options to choose from, with groups hitting the road with more frequency even without new material to support, flooding the market with an overwhelming amount of live options. The Cult, at least, were still touring in support of Hidden City, a worthy offering of new material featuring the rocking “Deeply Ordered Chaos.” The Cult have been called the hard rock version of U2. I don’t really see the comparison, but for me, the Cult are a mixture of post-punk hard rock infused with blues and dark wave. Think of bluesy hard rock like Led Zeppelin, plus the baritone of Jim Morrison, the psychedelic mysticism of The Doors, with a dash of Joy Division and early Cure. It was an early set, beginning around 7:15pm with no opener. The energy level in the venue was ok but not quite up to Cult standards. Ian Astbury was engaging the crowd and playfully remarked “tomorrow you will get Country annnd Western. But tonight, you will get Rock n’ Roll.” Numbers-wise, it was a strong turn-out. From what I could see the venue was at least 3/4 full, which is great considering the area and minimal promotion. The Central Valley is a hot spot for country, big name pop and urban acts. The unfortunate reality of a well known rock group touring in a secondary market (especially a rural secondary market) is that you’re going to get an audience of mostly casual fans. Support for rock artists in this area is difficult to assess or even describe. There was a healthy sized crowd present and they were appreciative, but it appeared that most of them were only familiar with the group’s mainstream period of work, albums like Love, Electric and Sonic Temple. Sure there were die-hards present, rocking out, singing their lungs out to the majority of the live set, but from my position at least, they were few and far between. Astbury commented that the group would be performing 3 new selections, and in a playfully self-deprecating move, said “Don’t drift away now, come back, come back, it’s not like we’re in Fresno every week…get it while it’s hot!” 

The performance was mostly good. For most of the set, the group played ferociously. John Tempesta’s drums thumped and rumbled along while Billy Duffy’s guitar smoldered. Damon Fox of Big Elf was recently added to the touring line up, handling keyboard and rhythm guitar duties. Grant Fitzpatrick on bass is another recent addition to the lineup, rounding out the rock solid rhythm section. The live renditions flew over with power. Stand out performances for me were “Wild Flower,” “Rain,” “Fire Woman,” “Deeply Ordered Chaos,” “Love Removal Machine” and “Sweet Soul Sister.” Frustratingly, what was an otherwise very solid set tanked with “She Sells Sanctuary,” one of their most beloved and widely-known numbers. The vocal delivery was uninspired and lacked effort. Astbury was phoning it in. The first verse was practically spoken word. The rest of the vocal performance was just as disappointing, picking up only at the outro. I had waited the whole set to hear this song in particular and upon hearing it live, I thought “what the hell!?” I don’t know if Astbury’s short winded vocals made the rest of the band sound bad, but on SSS, Billy Duffy’s guitar tone wasn’t as magical and John Tempesta’s drumming sounded restrained and tame compared to his playing on the rest of the set. It was like the energy level got dialed back down when there should have been a climax. Pardon the analogy, but it’s like we got blue-balled. The group rescued the set when they returned for an encore of “Love Removal Machine.” It was a good ending to the show but I was still bummed about the lackluster rendition of “She Sells Sanctuary.” Still glad I was able to catch The Cult at a local venue, makes me wonder what the gig would have been like in Oakland or LA.