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(Above: 5FDP land a knockout in Lancaster, Penn. on Oct. 13, 2013.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

When your band is called Five Finger Death Punch, covering LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” seems preordained.

The surprise isn’t that the five-piece metal ensemble decided to record a hip hop tune, but that it took them four albums to do it. When the band finally decided to put their stamp on the classic rap track, they found perfect person to help out: Tech N9ne.

“Zoltan (Bathory, guitarist) came up with the idea, and the riff was laying around for a couple years,” said Death Punch drummer Jeremy Spencer. “Ivan (Moody, vocalist) and I are big Tech N9ne fans, so we asked our management to reach out. I thought he did an incredible job.”

Although he was on tour, Tech N9ne jumped at the request. The only time his schedule would allow was the very un-rock-and-roll time of 8 a.m.

“I usually get up about 11-ish, 12-ish,” Tech N9ne said. “I was worried about my voice because I had just done a show the night before. It was too early for me to be screaming, but it was meant to happen. I don’t sound groggy at all.”

tech-fiveWith the instrumental track complete and a scratch vocal track to provide direction, it didn’t take the Strange Music MC long to record his part. The hasty departure meant although they collaborated on tape, Spencer and Tech N9ne have still yet to meet face-to-face.

“I got an email from their people about two weeks ago saying they were playing Kansas City and asking me to join them. I just about died,” Tech N9ne said. “I wanted to perform with those guys, but will still be on tour. It would have been such a surprise to Kansas City. But don’t worry, I think we’ll be working together a lot in the future.”

Tech N9ne isn’t the only guest on the new Five Finger album. Judas Priest frontman and metal god Rob Halfort joined the band on lead single “Lift Me Up” and members of Soulfly, In the Moment and Hatebreed also appear.

“We’ve been able to experiment a little bit,” Spencer said. “There are some instrumental interludes that link one song to another, and one song has a spoken-word narration from Zoltan.”

The Los Angeles-based band had the freedom to expand their boundaries when they realized they had more than enough material for one album. Instead of culling the material for one release, they decided to release it all in two parts. “The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, Vol. 1” came out in July. Volume two drops November 19.

“When you are touring, there is a lot of downtime. We’ve always had some kind of portable studio or recording device with us to keep that (creative) muscle flexing,” Spencer said. “We went into the studio this time with a wealth of material. When we got to 24-25 songs, we thought they all fit so well we didn’t want to separate them.”

Spencer said the band consciously spread out the tempos and textures across both albums rather than creating a common theme for each volume.

“I think you get a wide variety of emotion on both albums,” Spencer said. “You can interchange songs on either volume.”

The recording studio can be a harsh master that will fray even the best of bands – look no further than the Beatles’ “Let It Be” – Spencer said his band emerged from the process even stronger.

“I don’t want to overthink what happened. We just let the ideas flow and got out of the way,” Spencer said. “We all supported each other’s ideas, and the songs just happened. I definitely feel the group is tighter for whatever reason I can’t put my finger on.”

Thinking twenty-six songs and more than 90 minutes of new Death Punch material might be too much for fans to digest in one sitting, the band opted to pace releases. The glut of new songs also created issues when planning setlists.

“We try to balance the old and new. We don’t want to forget about people who want to hear the old hits,” Spencer said. “It’s kind of a good problem to have this much good new material.”

They may have nearly doubled their catalog this year, but Five Finger Death Punch aren’t resting on their laurels.

“We’ve definitely started talking about ideas,” Spencer said. “It will be exciting to move forward and see where it goes.”

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(Above: Toad the Wet Sprocket perform “I’ll Bet On You,” a new song that would fit comfortably on any best-of collection.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Toad the Wet Sprocket, the ’90s alternative to alternative music, seemed to be the victims of bad timing. Sure, the band scored two platinum albums and a handful of Top 40 singles, but it was too late (and soft) to be considered college rock and too early for indie rock.

The band’s break-up in 1998 didn’t create any waves. There was no critical re-evaluation of its catalog or new fans clamoring to the legend. Toad was just gone.

On Friday night at the Uptown Theater, 16 years after Toad’s last album, the band reminded fans what they had been missing and delivered hope of a promising future as well.

More than half of the 100-minute set drew from the “Fear” and “Dulcinea” albums, Toad’s best and best-selling releases. The sing-alongs came fast and furious, starting with “Good Intentions” and continuing through “All I Want,” “Nightingale Song,” “Brother” and “Fall Down.”

toadNestled among those chestnuts were five tracks from Toad’s upcoming new album. Singles like “New Constellation” and “Bet on Me” didn’t show any of the lapsed time between recording sessions and fit comfortably in the band’s sound. The fans may not have been singing along with these songs yet, but there’s a good bet they will the next time Toad rolls through town.

The old songs sound pretty much like they did two decades ago. Touring guitarist Johnny Hawthorne added nice texture to “Windmills” and “Walk on the Ocean” with his pedal steel. His mandolin was a nice touch on “Nightingale Song” and “Come Back Down.”

Lead guitarist Todd Nichols was given the mic for “Inside” and “Crazy Life.” During “Come Down,” one of the band’s biggest Kickstarter donors was invited onstage to play cowbell.

Singer Glen Phillips seemed as surprised as anyone at the band’s reception. The Kickstarter campaign to fund a new album raised more than a quarter of a million dollars in two months. While the Uptown wasn’t close to full — the balcony was open, but the sparse crowd upstairs could have easily fit among all the empty seats downstairs — Phillips commented on the audience reception several times. Without major publicity, he said, fans have been finding their own way back to the band.

The world may not have been asking for a Toad the Wet Sprocket reunion, but Friday’s show made a strong case for it being a good idea.

Setlist: The Moment; Woodburning; Good Intentions; Crowing; Windmills; New Constellation; Inside; All I Want; Whatever I Fear; Come Back Down; Nightingale Song; Something’s Always Wrong; The Eye; Crazy Life; Jam; California Wasted; Brother; Fall Down. Encore: Come Down; Bet on Me; Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie cover); Walk on the Ocean.
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(Above: ‘Song stylist’ Bettye LaVette captivates a sold-out crowd at Knuckleheads in Kansas City, Mo. with an a capella version of Sinead O’Connor’s “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.”)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Bettye LaVette didn’t write any of the songs she performed for 90 minutes in front of a sold-out crowd Saturday at Knuckleheads, but she owned every single one of them. It’s hard to imagine the original songwriters — including John Lennon, Pete Townshend, Lucinda Williams and Cee-Lo Green— investing more emotion than LaVette poured into her performance. Her voice ached and cracked with every syllable and her arms and legs writhed on every word.

Chatty and playful, LaVette told the audience the biggest reason why she covered Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” was so her grandchildren would think she was hip. By stripping the song of its kinetic energy and slowing the tempo way down, LaVette turned the ubiquitous hit into a cathartic confession. It also illustrated why she’d rather be called a “song stylist” than a singer.

09.03.08_bettye_lavette253At any other concert LaVette’s mournful, pleading reading of the Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me” would have been the showstopper. Saturday night it was only one of many powerful moments that earned pin-drop silence from the crowd. Other stand-out moments included “The Forecast” and the haunting country ballads “Choices” and “The More I Search (The More I Die).”

While many of the top performances were quiet, LaVette and her four-piece band did a great job of varying tempos and textures. A cover of Lucinda Williams’ “Joy” was bathed in a swampy funk. “I’m Tired” was wrapped in a twisted country-rock guitar riff. The band’s best moment came on “Your Turn to Cry” when it successfully re-reated the Muscle Shoals production from LaVette’s shelved, would-be 1972 recording.

LaVette discussed those disappointments frankly, sharing how much she wanted to be on American Bandstand and how crushed she was when the show’s producers found her debut 1962 single “My Man – He’s a Lovin’ Man” too suggestive. She said that much of her life had been pretty good, except that she was continually denied her biggest joy, the opportunity to sing.

The happiness LaVette has found over the past 10 years when her career finally started taking off was evident in the night’s final songs, “Close As I’ll Get to Heaven” and an a capella reading of Sinead O’Connor’s “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.”

Setlist: The Word; The Forecast; Take Me Like I Am; Choices; Joy; Your Turn to Cry; They Call It Love; Crazy; My Man – He’s a Lovin’ Man; The More I Search (The More I Die); I’m Tired; Love Reign O’er Me; Close As I’ll Get to Heaven; I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.

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(Above: Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears rip up the Riot Room in Kansas City, Mo. on Valentine’s Day, 2013.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Thursday may be the first time Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears have headlined a show in Kansas City, but it’s far from the bandleader’s first visit.

The soul and roots music front man has lots of family in the area. For several months in the mid-’90s, his family lived with his grandmother off Cleveland Avenue.

“I was only about 15 or 16 at the time,” Lewis said. “I remember hanging out in the neighborhood playing basketball, hearing gunshots, BBQ. We weren’t there long, only about 6 months.”

black_joe_lewis_soundcheckmagazine_03Just a few years later, Lewis was busking on the streets of Austin, Texas. Five years ago, he started assembling the Honeybears, a five-piece horn and rhythm section welded tight after countless shows and miles touring by van.

Lewis has shuffled in and out of town on family visits several times over the years, but his band is in a vastly different place from when it last stopped in the area.

In 2010, when the group played the Bottleneck in Lawrence, it was touring on the back of its first full-length album, “Tell ’Em What Your Name Is!” In the two years since, the Honeybears dropped their sophomore LP and shuffled members. A third album is underway.

“Our set now is mostly new stuff, but we still play the older songs, too,” Lewis said. “It’s a lot of fun for us. We know fans sometimes want to hear stuff off the records, but they get into it. It will be nice when the record comes out and people will know what to expect.”

Right now Lewis’ plan is to get the six-piece combo in the studio once a two-week tour wraps up, then try to set up a distribution deal. Lewis said he hopes to have the album out this summer but doesn’t have a timeline. Regardless of when it’s released, Lewis can’t wait for fans to hear it.

“I feel like with what we’re doing right now, I’m putting out my first record,” Lewis said. “On a lot of it, we sound like a rock and roll power trio with a horn section.”

Sometimes songs start from skeletons worked up by Lewis or bass player Bill Stevenson. Other ideas come out of jams, either during rehearsal, sound check or a show.

“Somebody might record our jam on their phone and we’ll come back to it, but even when we’re playing live, the stuff that sounds cool, I’ll work on lyrics for it,” Lewis said. “For me the structure of the song is the meat of the song, and the lyrics put it over the top.”

Forces that compromised the band’s sound in the past are gone now. The contract is up with label Lost Highway, which commissioned DJs to create a Honeybears mix with an electronic and hip-hop flavor aimed at the dance floor. Band members who pressured Lewis to clean up the band’s sound are gone.

“To me, those first albums sound wimpy,” Lewis said. “Back in the day, different guys wanted to do different stuff, and I went with it because that goes with being in a band. Now that stuff isn’t around. I get to cut loose.”

A fully unleashed Lewis could be dangerous. There’s not a lot of sheen or timidity in the Honeybears’ catalog. Lewis doesn’t have any trouble channeling Wilson Pickett or Howlin’ Wolf. He isn’t as concerned with re-creating a specific sound or era as are contemporaries Sharon Jones, the Daptone family and Raphael Saadiq, but he works in enough similar circles to draw comparisons.

“Honestly, I think we’re doing something completely different,” Lewis said. “I feel like we’re American roots music with our own twist. Once the new record comes out, the differences will be more obvious.”

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(Above:Robert Randolph and the Slide Brothers bring a whole new shade to “Purple Haze.”)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Four tour buses lined the streets near the Power and Light District, each painted with classic album covers and photographs. Their bright colors could be seen from blocks away, heralding the arrival of a six-string circus.

Covered with images of Jimi Hendrix, there was little doubt what brought the caravan of nearly 20 musicians to the Midland Theater on Wednesday. The Experience Hendrix tribute clocked in at nearly three hours, or just slightly longer than the time it takes to play the three studio albums Hendrix released in his lifetime back-to-back-to-back.

Hendrix’ army buddy and Band of Gypsy’s bass player Billy Cox opened the night and as expected the guitar pyrotechnics started almost immediately. Byron Bordeaux was the first to impress with his solo on “Machine Gun.” A terrific exchange between Dweezil Zappa and Indigenous axeman Mato Nanji on “Manic Depression” was another early high point.

Eric Johnson’s six-song mini-set was the music equivalent of driving with hands firmly planted at 10 and two on the steering wheel and keeping the needle glued to 55. Johnson’s thin, reedy voice was incapable of creating any energy, a trait especially missed on “Power of Soul.” While technically proficient, Johnson’s fretwork also failed to capture the freedom and spontaneity that underlined Hendrix’ work.

Robert Randolph’s segment nailed the other end of the spectrum. The pedal steel stylist had the crowd dancing for all of his set. Randolph was accompanied by the Slide Brothers, and hearing “Purple Haze” performed by three pedal steel guitars placed the classic number in a new context. When bass player/vocalist Henri Brown tried to wrap up “Them Changes,” a tribute to Gypsys drummer Buddy Miles, Randolph kept on playing, eventually leading the ensemble into a gospel romp.

Between the Johnson and Randolph sets, Doyle Bramhall II provided the only acoustic moment of the night with his riveting solo performance of “Hear My Train A-Comin’.” He was followed by an outstanding blues set by Taj Mahal that found Mahal channeling Howlin Wolf on “Catfish Blues” and jamming with Cox on “Hey Joe.”

Kenny Wayne Shepherd also led his band through a three-song set that included a lengthy performance of “Voodoo Child.”

Although the musicians at the front of the stage rotated, Chris Layton, the drummer with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, manned the kit for the entire night. The evening closed with many of the musicians reunited onstage for “Red House.”

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(Above: Andrew Bird and his band break into some bluegrass at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, Mo., on March 23, 2012.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Indie rock singer/songwriter Andrew Bird told the crowd at the Uptown Theater on Friday night that this was his first “proper” show in Kansas City. The statement conveniently overlooks his 2007 opening slot for Wilco at Crossroads, but in a way it was true. Bird flew solo opening for Wilco – Friday he had a full band.

When an artist can call on as many musical talents as Bird – who plays violin, guitar and glockenspiel and sings and whistles – it begs the question of what an ensemble can bring to an already rich arrangement.Bird started both the main set and the encore alone, showcasing his considerable talents. The hallmark of Bird’s one-man-band performances was how he layered and looped his plucked, strummed and bowed violin to create a singular orchestra. With those elements and his virtuosic violin talents front and center, “Carrion Suite” felt a bit like a recital.

As the band entered during “Nyatiti” each musician gradually revealed what he could bring to an already full table. Alan Hampton’s bowed upright bass at the end of “Desperation Breeds …” coupled with Bird’s violin to create psychedelic chamber music. His electric bass playing paired nicely with Bird’s loops to add extra urgency and muscle to several songs, including a dynamic “Plasticities.”

Guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker rarely took a solo, but added great texture and feeling, especially on “Lusitania.” At times, the dimensions of plucked violins created the same kind of percussive atmosphere favored by Paul Simon. Drummer Martin Dosh had no trouble enhancing and playing off those polyrhythms.

Despite all the musical elements happening at once, the sound was pristine, with each instrument clear and distinct throughout the night. An impressive light show enhanced each performance. As a series of lights cascaded over the crowd, the four abstract sculptures hanging over the stage looked like flames, whisps of smoke or clouds depending on the mood.

The 100-minute set drew heavily from this year’s “Break It Yourself” album. The night ended with a sound impossible to replicate alone, as Bird, Ylvisaker and Hampton played crowded around one mic. Their acoustic instruments and vocal harmonies blended masterfully on the dark “So Much Wine” and hopeful “I’m Goin’ Home.”

Setlist: Carrion Suite > Nyatiti, Danse Carribe, Desperation Breeds …, Measuring Cups, Fitz and the Dizzyspells, Give It Away, Eyeoneye, Near Death Experience Experience, Lusitania, Orpheo Looks Back, Scythian Empires, Plasticities, Tables and Chairs > Fake Palindromes. Encore: Dr. Stringz, So Much Wine (Handsome Family cover); I’m Goin’ Home (Charley Patton cover).

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(Above: A view from the front row as Jane’s Addiction rock the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, Mo., on March 16, 2012.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

As the epic “Ted, Just Admit It …” gradually unraveled, the vintage ’50s video footage grew more disturbing. As two lingerie-clad dancers worked their corner of the stage, films of old stripteases graduated to spanking, bondage and S&M, reinforcing the chorus of “sex is violent.”

After “Ted” ended, Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell urged the audience to do the Twist, singing a few bars of the famous song and demonstrating the dance. Those two moments captured the essence of the late-’80s alt-rock quartet: sexy, intense, sleazy and silly. And loud.Farrell and his fellow founding band members — shirtless guitar god Dave Navarro and drummer Stephen Perkins — and longtime bass stand-in Chris Chaney rocked a comfortably crowded Uptown Theater for 90 minutes on Friday.

The 15-song setlist leaned heavily and appropriately on the two classic albums Jane’s released during its original incarnation, 1988’s “Nothing’s Shocking” and 1990’s “Ritual de lo Habitual.” The band has reformed several times since originally calling it quits in 1991 after the first incarnation of Farrell’s Lollapalooza tour. The four songs from last year’s “The Great Escape Artist” acquitted themselves well alongside the longtime favorites. “Just Because,” the lone song performed from 2003’s “Strays,” was easily the weakest performance of the night.

Although the band occupied a smaller stage than its appearance at Livestrong Sporting Park last summer, it still piled on the theatrics and visuals. Three screens showed recycled and found video footage. Two women in skimpy attire danced on a small stage atop one of the screens at stage left and took sultry strolls through the musicians. During “Twisted Tales,” a man in all white hanged and destroyed baby dolls before ultimately hanging himself. A large sculpture of two naked women loomed over everything above the drum kit at center stage.

Despite everything happening onstage, the music easily overpowered everything else. For “Classic Girl” and “Jane Says,” the band set up in an intimate corner at stage right. During “Jane Says,” Navarro strummed his acoustic guitar from the edge of the stage, legs dangling. For “Chip Away,” everyone except Farrell pounded huge drums. Both “Stop!” and “Been Caught Stealing” featured a little sonic experimentation in the middle sections.

Farrell didn’t need to do much to get the crowd involved. The teased intro to “Jane Says” fooled no one, and as expected the number quickly turned into the biggest sing-along of the night. The fans were also impressive during the a cappella bridge in “Stop!” while “Mountain Song” provided the earliest opportunity for everyone to throw their lungs toward the stage.

Both “Ted” and “Three Days” spanned more than 10 minutes. While the former framed the mood of the night, the later captured the band at peak form. Perkins was at the center of the performance. As a psychedelic light show encircled his kit, Perkins’ drumming held the song together. Later in the number, Navarro delivered one of his best and flashiest solos of the night. Although Chaney didn’t play on the original recording, his thick bassline propelled the song.

More than two decades removed from their original heyday, there may not be anything shocking in Jane’s world anymore, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still a lot of fun.

Setlist: Underground, Mountain Song, Just Because, Been Caught Stealing, Ain’t No Right, Ted, Just Admit It…, Twisted Tales, Classic Girl, Jane Says, Chip Away, End to the Lies, Three Days, Stop! Encore: Words Right Out of My Mouth, Whores.

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(Above: Ryan Adams improvises a song about his pet badger at the Music Hall in Kansas City, Mo., on Feb. 1, 2012.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

In a night that covered more than two hours and comprised 21 songs, including hits, rarities and fan favorites, the most memorable song may have been the one that didn’t even exist when the concert began.

Mistakenly hearing a fan’s song request as “My Badger,” singer/songwriter Ryan Adams immediately composed a song about his new pet badger “Admiral.” Containing references to the USS Enterprise, Mariah Carey and “Glitter” and the perils of domesticating wild animals, it was the “Iliad” of improvisation. The song contained four verses, a chorus and whistled bridge. It probably would have featured a drum solo if Adams weren’t the only performer onstage.“My Badger” wasn’t the only spontaneous song during Wednesday’s performance at the Kansas City Music Hall. The off-the-cuff material provided a nice contrast to Adam’s less-than-uplifting lyrics and allowed the singer to poke fun of himself as well. g.”

In the past, detours like those could have easily turned into wormholes that derailed the performance. This current solo/acoustic tour is an artistic showcase. Everything in the carefully crafted song arrangements and selections is designed to display Adams’ songwriting abilities. While Adams is a divisive performer and personality, there’s no question he has chops. A beautiful “Oh My Sweet Carolina” set the mood perfectly. Later, Adams gave a stripped down reading of his post-9/11 hit “New York, New York” on the piano, placing the familiar song in a new context.

For most of the evening, Adams was seated on a chair in the center of the stage with two red, white and blue Buck Owens-style acoustic guitars within arm’s reach. A notebook of song lyrics lay on a monitor at his feet. The low red lighting kept most of Adams face in shadows as he bent over his guitar, delicately finger-picking and strumming.

The setlist contained as many songs from Adam’s first solo album, 1999’s “Heartbreaker,” as his most recent, last year’s “Ashes and Fire.” In a way, the night had the same flaw as the album. Taken individually, every song was exquisite, but together they started sounding similar.

Varying tempos would have helped, but even upbeat numbers like “Firecracker” were slowed down. The songs that best fit the mood were the gentle “Please Do Not Let Me Go” and haunting reinterpretation of Oasis’ “Wonderwall.” The sole number from Adams’ days in Whiskeytown, “16 Days,” was another standout.

Although stacking mid-tempo numbers created a steady stream of fans in and out of the theater, those who remained were pin-drop quiet during each song. Between numbers they shouted requests and egged on the singer’s eccentricities. There was nothing that would have converted an undecided listener, but after experiencing two frustrating concerts previously at the Uptown Theater over the years, the devoted finally got what they came for. And then some.

Setlist: Oh My Sweet Carolina; Ashes and Fire; If I Am A Stranger; Dirty Rain; My Winding Wheel; Sweet Lil’ Gal (23rd/1st); Invisible Riverside; Everbody Knows; Firecracker; Let It Ride; Rescue Blues; Please Do Not Let Me Go; English Girls Approximately; Two; Lucky Now; Wonderwall (Oasis cover); New York, New York; 16 Days; Come Pick Me Up. Encore: When Will You Come Back Home?; Sweet Illusions.

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(Above: Anthrax fights ‘em ’till they can’t at the Midland Theater in Kansas City, Mo., on Jan. 26, 2012.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

When Anthrax took the stage for 2010’s Big Four tour with thrash-metal peers Slayer, Megadeth and Metallica, it was the only band without any new material.

Anthrax hadn’t released an album in eight years, which meant its Big Four shows were essentially hit parades. That was fine for the time being, said founding member and guitarist Scott Ian. But the band had bigger things in mind.“We played a greatest-hits set, which was great,” Ian said. “All the shows were great. It just added more fuel to what we were doing.”

What they were doing was preparing new material with lead singer Joey Belladonna for the first time in more than 20 years. Belladonna, the singer from what is considered the band’s classic period, was with the group from 1985 to 1992, when he was replaced by John Bush. Belladonna performed with Anthrax for a tour in 2005 but decided not to permanently rejoin the band.

The ball got rolling again when Ian and drummer Charlie Benante attended Metallica’s induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April 2009, and the idea of a Big Four tour was introduced.

“I knew if they were serious about these shows, it would be amazing to have Joey back,” Ian said. “It just seemed like the right thing to do. In a way, the 18 months we spent together on tour before helped a lot this time around. We weren’t starting from scratch.”

So in early 2010, Belladonna rejoined the band. With both the band and its fans itching for a new release, the four instrumentalists and Belladonna set to work completing “Worship Music,” an album with a complicated gestation. It was released in September.

The album had originally been scheduled for release in 2009 with short-lived vocalist Dan Nelson. When Nelson and Anthrax parted ways, it was rumored that John Bush, Belladonna’s original replacement, would record new vocals. But Bush wasn’t comfortable proceeding with the band beyond a handful of concerts, and the tapes were handed to Belladonna.

“Joey had all the freedom in the world to change anything he wanted,” Ian said. “Joey worked with producer Rob Caggiano, and then they’d send us MP3s of what they were working on. There were hardly any notes or suggestions. It was an unbelievably smooth process.”

The band had never let the singer work independently done before, Ian said, but he thinks the album benefits from the approach.

“The music is always done first in our band,” Ian said. “In the past with Joey and John, the song would end and it was like the judge’s panel would sit there and nitpick. We now realized this was not a good way to work.”

Anthrax gave Kansas City a taste of its reconfigured lineup in October when it opened for Five Finger Death Punch at the Independence Events Center. Ian said fans can expect more of the same at tonight’s show at the Midland. Much more.

“Now that we’re headlining, that means a much longer set than what we delivered a few months ago,” Ian said.

Fans can expect to hear Belladonna deliver some of the best songs of the John Bush-era in concert, Ian said, but they shouldn’t be concerned about any more games of musical chairs with lead singers.

“Joey is the singer of Anthrax until there is no more Anthrax,” Ian said. “I think it’s been proven beyond doubt this is the band that is supposed to be Anthrax.”

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(Above: Jay-Z and Kanye West battle sharks and charm the Sprint Center crowd during a recent “Watch the Throne” tour stop in Kansas City, Mo.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Hip hop superstars Jay-Z and Kanye West titled their first joint album and tour “Watch the Throne,” but they could have just as easily called it “Where’s the Recession?” Seats near the stage commanded $200 while many seats in the upper deck went for $50. The asking price on tour T-shirts at the concert was $45.

That’s a lot to ask of fans in these times, but the deep-pocketed mass (12,000) that crowded into the Sprint Center on Tuesday night got a lot of bang for its buck. The gigantic main stage looked like a sleek aircraft carrier, completely bare, save a DJ and pair of multi-instrumentalists hidden in the back.

A smaller stage set at the back of the floor. The main stage was flanked by two gigantic screens. A dozen flashpots, including one above the stage, walls of light and the best laser show this side of Pink Floyd completed the visual extravaganza. Topping it all off was nearly two and a half hours of music encompassing three dozen songs, two-thirds of which were Top 40 hits.

West and Jay-Z appeared  on opposite stages. As the duo opened with five songs from “Watch the Throne,” the stages below each performer grew, elevating each man on a two-story cube of video screens.

After the initial run of duets, the two alternated pairs of mini-sets, never intruding on the other’s material, but often appearing to back each other up, as on “Run This Town” or “Diamonds of the Sierra Leone.” A healthy sprinkling of “Throne” tunes ensured Jay-Z and West were never apart for long. By the end of the night the crowd was treated to 10 of “Throne”’s 16 songs.

Because there was no band, the songs stuck close to the original arrangements. This also meant that the rappers were the only people onstage. It takes a lot of showmanship to carry an audience alone for that long, but the number of hits, he amount of charisma and overall spectacle kept the crowd on its feet, dancing and waving with each beat for the entire set.

For the most part, the lack of live instruments didn’t hurt the material, but there were a few moments that were obviously strengthened by the supporting musicians, such as the guitar solo on “U Don’t Know Me” and keyboards on “Made in America.”

The tag-team of hits also contrasted the two performer’s styles. Jay-Z was more straightforward, wearing street clothes and devastating with his phonetic dexterity and intricate cadences. His big moments were frequently punctuated by pyrotechnics. West, on the other hand, wore a black leather kilt over his black leather pants and performed in near darkness, surrounded by lasers.

Each style brought its own high points. Jay-Z overpowered the crowd during “Public Service Announcement” and “On To the Next One” and had the house singing on “Empire State of Mind” and “Jigga What.” West’s best moment was an extended version of “Runaway” that found him standing atop a red cube on the second floor singing about his mistakes and ruminating on love. Completely invested in the moment, West dovetailed “Runaway” into another emotionally revealing number, “Heartless.” Later, West’s perfectionism got the best of him when he twice halted “All of the Lights” to fix a lighting cue.

For most of the night the set functioned like an meticulously calibrated mixtape, with each song setting up and naturally leading into the big number. Somehow the playlist got stuck on repeat during the night’s final song. Not only did the main set end with three runs through “N****s In Paris,” but the pair returned for two more takes as an encore. When the two left the stage for the final time it set off a series of sparklers across the state, but those fizzled in comparison to the fireworks delivered throughout the night.

Setlist: H.A.M.; Who Gon’ Stop Me; Otis, Welcome to the Jungle; Gotta Have It; Where I’m From; Jigga What, Jigga Who; Can’t Tell Me Nothing; Flashing Lights; Jesus Walks; All Falls Down; Diamonds from Sierra Leone (remix); Public Service Announcement; U Don’t Know; Run this Town; Monster; Power; Made in America; New Day; Hard Knock Life; Izzo (H.O.V.A.); Empire State of Mind; Runaway; Heartless; Stronger; On to the Next One; Dirt Off Your Shoulder; Give It To Me; That’s My B***h; Good Life; Touch the Sky; All of the Lights; Big Pimpin’; Gold Digger; 99 Problems; No Church in the Wild; N*****s In Paris. Encore: N****as In Paris.

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