Feeds:
Posts
Comments

(Above: The David Rawlings Machine perform the always-poignant medley of Rawlings’ “I Hear Them All” and Woody Guthrie’s timeless “This Land is Your Land” at musical celebration of the film “Inside Llelywn Davis” in 2014.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Folk music simultaneously looks back nostalgically at a bygone era while looking hopefully ahead at a better tomorrow. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk without becoming antiseptic and corny or preachy and naive.

With a repertoire that included an old-time telegraph man, a pretty, young mountain girl and several appearances by Old Scratch, David Rawlings showed Friday night at the Folly Theatre why he is one of today’s most sought-after folk artists.

The two-hour concert (with half-hour intermission) was Rawlings’ second performance at the Folly in a year. Overall, it was Rawlings fourth show in the area in as many years. Or as Gillian Welch, Rawlings’ partner and musical foil put it, “the rest of the country is not seeing us that often.”

daverawlingsmachinecolorThe first set was heavy on material from Rawlings’ just-released third album. Across the course of the night, he’d perform all but one of it’s tracks. While the songs aren’t as road-tested, they had a knack for seeming instantly familiar. By the end of several numbers, the crowd was quietly singing along, even if they were hearing them for the first time.

Old favorites dotted the opening half as well. Welch took lead vocals on “Wayside/Back in Time” from her 2003 release “Soul Journey.” That was followed by Rawlings’ early collaboration with Ryan Adams, “To Be Young (Is to be Sad, Is to be High),” introduced as a “song older than some of the instruments onstage.”

For their encore performance at the Folly, Rawlings and Welch brought the same musicians who backed them last year. Guitarist Willie Weeks, formerly of Old Crow Medicine Show, bass player Paul Kowert from the Punch Brothers and violinist extraordinaire Brittany Haas completed the ensemble.

In a group of world-class musicians, Haas stood out. Her fiddle provided a melodic counterpoint to Welch and Rawlings’ vocal harmonies and frequently drew mid-song applause, especially on “Short-Haired Woman Blues.”

The mournful “Lindsey Button” sounded like a lost Appalachian hymn until Haas started plucking her violin along to Rawlings’ solo, turning the performance into a minuet. Later, the ensemble returned to the classical motif on “Pilgrim (You Can’t Go Home)” as two fiddles and Kowert’s bowed bass accompanied Rawlings’ guitar.

Other high points included a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Queen Jane Approximately” which featured a virtuosic Rawlings guitar solo that quoted “Midnight Rider.” Paradoxically, the solemn “Guitar Man” implored the crowd to “hear the band” and “clap your hands,” but Rawlings’ longing vocals and the band’s arrangement made it sound like they were looking at a faded photo and wistfully remembering something from long ago.

A medley of Rawlings’ original “I Hear Them All” and Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” has become the emotional centerpiece of the set. The pairing sadly never loses relevance, but seemed especially poignant in light of current turbulence and earned a standing ovation.

During “It’s Too Easy,” Welch swished her dress back and forth, dancing in place as Haas’ and Watson’s fiddles dueled. It seemed like the end of the night, but after another group bow, Rawlings reached back toward his guitar. After playing something Rawlings confessed they had been rehearsing at sound check, the night ended with all five musicians huddled around a single microphone. As the quintet sang “Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby” a capella, the audience provided percussive accompaniment with claps and stomps.

Keep reading:

Review: Gillian Welch and David Rawlings

Review: Bob Dylan

Review: Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle

Advertisements

(Above: As he has done countless time through the years, Michael McDonald relishes “Takin’ to the Streets” on June 17, 2017 at the Kauffman Center in Kansas City, Mo.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Michael McDonald has enough hits in his five-decade career to please fans for days. On Saturday night at the Kauffman Center, the celebrated songwriter boldly chose to devote nearly half his set to introduce songs from his upcoming album.

The strength of the material rewarded McDonald’s decision. Although the songs were new, many sounded instantly familiar and blended well with the classic numbers. “Free Your Mind” had a funky Haight-Ashbury feel, while the slow blues “Just Strong Enough” featured several great solos from McDonald’s six-piece band. The upbeat “If You Really Wanted to Hurt Me,” perhaps the best of the bunch, found McDonald’s unintroduced backing vocalist signing along off-mic and dancing and clapping across the stage.

IMG_IMG_Michael_McDonald_2_1_2353JDV3_L135136365Enough hits from McDonald’s days with the Doobie Brothers and solo career were sprinkled throughout the 90-minute set to keep the audience engaged, even if they didn’t find their feet until “What a Fool Believes” near the end of the night.

Opening act Boz Scaggs took the opposite tack, delivering more than half of his bestselling “Silk Degrees” album. The 1976 smooth soul album sold 5 million copies and generated four Top 40 singles, which delivered the biggest cheers of the night.

Mixed among the familiar tunes were several covers, including Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” and Li’l Millet’s “Rich Woman.” Scaggs dedicated the former to “my favorite Missouri musician. Well, him and Miles (Davis), anyway.” The latter featured a honking sax riff and swampy feel that betrayed the song’s Louisiana origin and Scaggs’ Southern upbringing.

Both men were chatty, setting up less-familiar numbers with anecdotes about their inspiration. McDonald took the stage talking about growing up in St. Louis, and how when some of his relatives had too much to drink they’d end up driving to Kansas City.

A pair of blues songs provided the most compelling moments in Scaggs’ 85-minute set. “Some Change” was inspired by the kind of change that “seems to come along every four years” and featured some of Scaggs’ best guitar playing. The burning “Loan Me a Dime” gave all five band members plenty of time to stretch out and solo across its 10 minutes.

McDonald sent the mostly full room home happy with a gospel version of his first, and in many ways defining, Doobie Brothers hit, “Takin’ It Too the Streets.” The song opened with piano and organ gradually giving way to the full band and the admonition to let peace, love and justice rule.

Boz Scaggs setlist: It’s Over, Jojo, Rich Woman, Some Change, You Never Can Tell, Harbor Lights, Georgia, Cadillac Walk, Look What You’ve Done to Me, Lowdown, Lido Shuffle. Encore: What Can I Say, Loan Me a Dime.

Michael McDonald setlist: It Keeps You Runnin’, Sweet Freedom, Free Your Mind, I Keep Forgettin’, Find It In Your Heart, If You Wanted to Hurt Me, Just Strong Enough, Here to Love You, Beautiful Child, Half Truth, Minute by Minute, On My Own, What A Fool Believes, Takin’ It To the Streets.

Keep reading:

Review: Cheap Trick, Peter Frampton

Review: Bob Seger

Review: Farm Aid

(Above: “Dogs” and “Pigs” from the classic Pink Floyd album “Animals” captured Roger Waters’ disgust at the current political landscape.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

As the lyrical and conceptual soul of Pink Floyd, Roger Waters’ music has helped define classic rock radio for nearly two generations.

Many of the songs Waters performed at his tour opener on Friday night at the Sprint Center are more than 40 years old but hold contemporary relevance in today’s fractured political landscape. In fact, his depraved, pessimistic views of humanity seem downright prescient.

Fans knew every note and syllable thanks to decades of continuous airplay, but Waters put the performances in a modern context by the films that accompanied the band on a huge screen that spanned the arena behind the stage. During the second act, another perpendicular screen was lowered over the floor.

LEDE REV ROGER WATERS 0114 SK 20The video for “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” was a devastating piece of anti-Donald Trump propaganda. Borrowing from the lyrics, the word “charade” splashed across the screens as unflattering illustrations of the commander-in-chief cycled in and out. During the long guitar solos, an inflatable sow wearing the phrase “piggy bank of war” flew over the crowd.

“Money” sustained the proletariat rage, as images of Trump’s failed casinos, Russian buildings and photos of Kremlin and cabinet officials accompanied the music.

A very few people headed for the exits – one man raised his middle finger to the stage while departing during “Money” – but they were easily outnumbered by fans raising their beers, singing along and reveling in the moment. “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” may have been the least subtle moment of the evening, but it also drew far more applause than any other non-radio track.

Waters got help from his 10-piece band, which included Kansas City native Gus Seyfort on bass and former Pink Floyd and The Who touring member Jon Carin on keyboards. Backing vocalists Holly Laessig and Jessica Wolfe stole the spotlight several times, including a duet on “Great Gig in the Sky” and the new song “Déjà Vu.” Dressed in platinum blonde wigs and black fringed dresses, the pair looked like Cleopatra as reimagined by Bryan Ferry.

The only material that didn’t come from the Floyd catalog were four new songs. All were well received and dealt with the same themes. Driven by piano and drums, “The Last Refugee” wouldn’t have been out of place on Waters’ previous solo album, 1992’s “Amused to Death.” Nestled near the end of the set, “Smell the Roses” emerged from a slinky guitar line and sounded like an outtake from Pink Floyd’s “Animals” album.

Ten local children lined the front of the stage during “Another Brick in the Wall.” After singing the familiar chorus, they shed their orange jumpsuits and danced around wearing black shirts that said resist. At the first notes of “Wish You Were Here,” seemingly every phone in the building was held aloft to capture every moment. The nostalgic ballad was a rare moment of reprieve from the scathing critiques and protests.

A similar moment arrived during the final song, “Comfortably Numb.” As Dave Kilminster tore into another guitar solo, Waters raised his hands and swayed back and forth. The crowd, bathed in soft lights and gently falling pink confetti, joined him. After nearly three hours of angry catharsis, it was time to heal.

Setlist: Breathe, One of These Days, Time > Breathe (reprise), Great Gig in the Sky, Welcome to the Machine, Déjà vu (new song), The Last Refugee (new song), Picture That (new song), Wish You Were Here, The Happiest Days of Our Lives > Another Brick in the Wall (parts two and three). Intermission. Dogs, Pigs (Three Different Ones), Money, Us and Them, Smell the Roses (new song), Brain Damage, Eclipse, band introduction, Vera > Bring the Boys Back Home, Comfortably Numb.

Keep reading:

Shine on Rick Wright

Jeff Beck relishes “Commotion”

Review: Prophets of Rage

(Above: The RZA and Paul Banks tear down the Tank Room in Kansas City, Mo. with “Giant.” The frenetic performance literally had the floor shaking.) 

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

As the guitarist and singer for Interpol and mastermind behind the Wu-Tang Clan, Paul Banks and the RZA, a.k.a. Bobby Steelz, have filled and commanded spaces far bigger than the intimate Tank Room. Wednesday night, the duo treated a sold-out crowd to a masterful mashup of indie rock and hip-hop.

The seemingly disparate musical approaches have driven each artist to deliver some of their best work. On party tracks like “Sword in the Stone,” Banks’ soulful indie rock chorus played off RZA’s aggressive verses. Other times, formula reversed itself when RZA’s insistent contribution punctuated Banks moody vocals.

banks-steelzThe hourlong set comprised all but one song of the duo’s debut album, and ignored their other groups. The night started with the soulful yet ominous “Point of View” before exploding with “Ana Electronic.” Fans may not have been able to sing every word, but they had no problem swaying to the beat.

The room reached fever pitch with “Giant,” the album’s lead track, which has been generating airplay and online buzz. As Banks sang “everything is shaking through the walls” on the chorus, the floor was literally pulsing with the rhythms of everyone dancing.

RZA took the stage holding a large bottle of vodka. After several liberal pulls, he distributed cups along the front row and filled them before passing the bottle into the crowd. Later in the show, he popped open a bottle of champagne and sprayed the room.

A woman on the front row and her companion were singled out by RZA to set up “Can’t Hardly Feel,” a song about loving someone who belongs to another.

While the RZA had the flash and energy to command attention, it was in moments like this that Banks quietly stole the spotlight. His plaintive tenor drove not only “Can’t Hardly Feel,” but the philosophical “One by One” and the potent “Speedway Sonora.”

Walkmen drummer Matt Barrick supported the duo, turning the group into an all-star trio. His tight bossa nova rhythms anchored the song “Wild Season” and showed why RZA later called him the human drum machine. The three stretched out instrumentally only once, during “Conceal,” when Banks’ lengthy guitar solo gave way to RZA’s keyboard/organ.

Setlist: Point of View, Ana Electronic, Love and War, Sword in the Stone, Wild Season, Conceal, Speedway Sonora, One By One, Can’t Hardly Feel, Giant, Anything but Words.

Keep reading

Review: Snoop Dogg with Method Man and Redman

Album review – “Stax: The Soul of Hip-Hop”

Peter, Bjorn and John Heart Hip Hop

 

(Above: Local Natives embrace “Villany,” one of several standout tunes performed during a swift, damp autumn concert at Crossroads KC in Kansas City, Mo.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

With thunderstorms looming on the Doppler radar Saturday night, indie rockers Local Natives took the stage ahead of schedule and wrapped up before the weather portion of the local news aired. No umbrellas were needed.

Crossroads KC was about a third full, with most of the crowd standing comfortably in front of the sound tent.

0926 rev local natives 0924The Southern California quartet expertly generates songs that serve as atmospheric pieces with anthemic vocals. Their sound recalls the National and Fleet Foxes, with a splash of Radiohead and Talking Heads. Electronic textures compliment the soaring, earnest vocals and make the music both easy to dance to and sing with.

The versatile musicians traded roles frequently throughout the night, performing in front of a white curtain, frequently backlit and visible only as silhouettes. The lighting was even more dramatic when the wind whipped through the curtain.

While the scope was cinematic, the songs were compact. It took the band just 80 minutes to deliver 17 songs. “Coins” opened with a funky stop-start rhythm that lifted a lot of hands into the air. Opening act Charlotte Day Wilson joined the band for a duet of “Dark Days.” She danced at her mic between verses, relishing the moment.

One of the night’s most powerful moments came on “Colombia.” Accompanied only by his guitar and Taylor Rice on piano, Kelcey Ayer sang about his mother’s death. The somber moment hovered as the rest of the band returned to the stage for the crescendo.

Somehow, that number segued into “Fountain of Youth,” a poppy new song that references a female president and bounces with a chorus of “We can do whatever we want.” Although the songs were polar opposites, the journey was flawless.

Local Natives’ third album, “Sunlit Youth” was released a little more than two weeks ago, but the crowd seemed familiar with the material. Several of its songs — including “Villany” — drew generous responses. The set list was pretty much split between new songs and material from “Hummingbird,” the group’s second album. A few songs from their 2009 debut were included for good measure.

One of those early songs ended the night on discordant and satisfying note. With Nik Ewing’s bass galloping over noisy guitars, “Sun Hands” recalled “Boy”-era U2. The most boisterous and least contained number of the night ended with low feedback — and rainclouds — hanging in the air as the band waved goodnight.

Setlist: Past Lives; Wide Eyes; Villany; You and I; Breakers; Mother Emmanuel; Airplanes; Ceilings; Heavy Feet; Coins; Dark Days (with Charlotte Day Wilson); Masters; Colombia; Fountain of Youth; Who Knows Who Cares. Encore:Sea of Years; Sun Hands.

Keep reading:

Review: TV on the Radio

Middle of the Map 2013

Review: Devotchka

 

(Above: Shawn Colvin, left, and Steve Earle emplore listeners to “Tell Moses.”)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

With all the smiles, stories and strumming, Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin’s performance Wednesday night at the Kauffman Center seemed like very upscale busking.

The two artists stood on an all-black stage adorned with four monitors, one table, four guitars and two mandolins.

The concept was as straightforward as the setup. Over the course of 100 minutes, the pair performed ever song from their new collaboration, “Colvin and Earle” and scattered a couple of their own hits for good measure.

IMG_5969Despite nearly two dozen albums to their names, cover songs dominiated the setlist.

Earle introduced the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” by saying he learned how to play tennis racket to that song in front of a mirror. The spare arrangement brought Mick Jagger’s haunting lyrics to the forefront, particularly lines like “catch your dreams before they slip away.”

Other standout covers included Emmylou Harris’ “Raise the Dead” and the oft-recorded “Tobacco Road.” A laidback, almost effortless cover of “Wake Up Little Suzy” opened the night.

Before “Someday,” Earle told a long story, recapping his days as a Nashville songwriter trying to get a record deal, then fighting to get another when his debut single disappointed everyone. A friend took him to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band on the “Born in the U.S.A.” tour, where Earle found inspiration to write his “Guitar Town” album. After success proved to be more of a struggle than failure, Earle fell into a spiral of drugs, only poking his head out of the darkness long enough to hear Harris recorded “Guitar Town” and Colvin cut “Someday.”

IMG_5974Despite a lack of drums (or band), the version of “Someday” that followed punched as hard as a metal band going full throttle.

Colvin bragged about all her depressing breakup songs, saying “I’ve known fans who won’t take their Prozac for a week before I come to town.” She backed up her words with her biggest hit, “Sonny Came Home,” and “Diamond in the Rough.” While most songs found Colvin and Earle playing off each other vocally, “Diamond” featured a long outro that saw the pair spar musically.

The auditorium was about two-thirds full, and needed little prompting to join in on Earle’s buoyant, mandolin-fueled “The Galway Girl.” The singing and clapping encouraged during “Tell Moses,” a new song, felt like an hootenanny.

After returning to the stage with a Beatles number, the pair closed the night with Earle’s biggest hit, “Copperhead Road.” Colvin got the chance to show off her guitar chops again on that one. With Earle playing mandolin, she had to provide all the song’s musical muscle.

Judging by the lines at the merchandise table afterward, it was more than enough to convince fans into throwing some more change in the hat on the way out.

Setlist: Wake Up Little Susie; Come What May; You Were On My Mind; Raise the Dead; Ruby Tuesday; Tobacco Road; That Don’t Worry Me Now; Someday; The Way That We Do; You’re Right (I’m Wrong); Burnin’ It Down; Sunny Came Home; The Galway Girl; Happy and Free; Tell Moses; You’re Still Gone. Encore: Baby’s In Black; Diamond in the Rough; Copperhead Road.

Keep reading:

Justin Townes Earle: His father’s son

Review: Lilith Fair

Elvis Costello – “Secret, Profane and Sugarcane”