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(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.

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Review: Cheap Trick, Peter Frampton

Review: Bob Seger

Review: Farm Aid

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(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.

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(Above: Bob Seger sings about life on the road during his March, 2015, tour stop in Kansas City, Mo.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Bob Seger has never been shy about looking backward and taking stock. In his early 30s he reminisced about singing a song from 1962. Now on the cusp of his 70th birthday, Seger took Friday night’s crowded Sprint Center on a trip through musical memories that made him a wealthy soul.

Dressed in a black button-up shirt, jeans and black headband Seger looked more like someone ready to do yard work than put on a rock show. He performed a few songs sitting down, strumming an acoustic guitar, and a couple of numbers behind the piano, but for the most part he was all over the stage, pumping his fists in the air and leading singalongs — not that the energetic crowd needed any encouragement.

seger FYI 03202015 spf 0087fWhen Seger accidentally skipped a verse on “Turn the Page,” the singing masses blindly followed his flub, starting over only when he corrected the mistake. The way the line “Twenty years now/Where’d they go?” reverberated across the lips of everyone in the arena during “Like a Rock” made the song feel a little like a hymn.

These days, Seger’s Silver Bullet Band is a small army of more than a dozen musicians, including three female backing vocalists and a four-piece horn section. Although not everyone was on stage at the same time, there were always enough people out front that the stage seemed empty during a pared-down reading of “Against the Wind.” There were eight musicians onstage for that number.

Most of time, the songs sounded just like they do on the radio, a testament to both the strength of Seger’s voice and skill of the musicians. Lead guitarist Rob McNelley laid down a funky groove with his wah wah pedal on “Come to Poppa” and faithfully tore into the landmark slide guitar solo on “Like a Rock.”

It helped that several band members have been playing with Seger for decades. Bass player Chris Campbell came on board in 1969. Horn player Alto Reed joined three years later, and organist Craig Frost was hired in 1979.

The music received a few interesting tweaks. Reed’s saxophone replaced the traditional pedal steel on “Mainstreet” and “Night Moves.” Seger played piano and delivered the first half of “We’ve Got Tonight” alone. Although others eventually joined him, the stripped-down setting and sped-up tempo made the performance seem like a demo of the final product and proved the single didn’t need all the gloss and production it was given to reach the radio.

In a night full of highlights, the period when Seger left the stage and let his band stretch out during “Travelin’ Man” was the most exciting. McNelley and Jim “Moose” Brown traded guitar licks, giving the song even more punch than the familiar, now nearly 40-year-old live version. On cue, Seger emerged from backstage just in time to start “Beautiful Loser” and take the music in a new direction. The songs have been played together for so long it seems strange that they were originally recorded and sequenced separately.

New material usually gets the short straw from deep-catalog acts like Seger, but four songs from this year’s “Ride Out” got the spotlight. Seger talked about hearing Waylon Jennings perform “The Devil’s Right Hand” before delivering his new version of the Steve Earle song and revealed Stevie Ray Vaughan as the inspiration behind “Hey Gypsy.”

The “Night Moves” album was the crown jewel of the set list. Five of the nine songs from the 1976 classic were performed, including nearly all of the first side. Album cut “The Fire Down Below” doesn’t get much airplay, but the crowd still threw every word back to the stage.

Less than two hours after opening the night with “Roll Me Away,” Seger said good night by reminding everyone that “Rock and Roll Never Forgets.” That may be true, but the flip side — remembering — is more fun.

Setlist: Roll Me Away/Tryin’ to Live My Life Without You, The Fire Down Below, The Devil’s Right Hand, Mainstreet, Old Time Rock and Roll, It’s Your World, Come to Poppa, Her Strut, Like a Rock, Travelin’ Man/Beautiful Loser, All of the Roads, Hey Gypsy, We’ve Got Tonight, Turn the Page, Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man. Encore 1: Against the Wind, Hollywood Nights. Encore 2: Night Moves, Rock and Roll Never Forgets.
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(Above: One of the many deaths of Alice Cooper – and “School’s Out.”)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Friday’s concert was barely 15 minutes old when Alice Cooper was forced under the guillotine. The crime was impaling a roadie and the sold out Ameristar Casino crowd was witnesses to his guilt.

As his head flopped into the basket, Cooper emerged unscathed and unamused, briefly holding up his severed head like a “Twilight Zone” Hamlet before signaling his band to start “Welcome to My Nightmare.”

From the guillotine to the hangman’s noose to the iron maiden, Cooper’s Theater of Death definitely lived up to its name. More than a rock concert, the 90-minute spectacle was a brutal slab of rock theater set to a heavy soundtrack.

Backed by a tight, thunderous four-piece band, Cooper both opened and closed the show with “School’s Out.” In between he hit on nearly every phase of his massive back catalog. Flipping from blues-based hard rock to industrial metal, Cooper and co. did a good job unearthing album tracks and delivering the hits.

Big numbers like “I’m Eighteen” and “Poison” got the expected responses but lesser-known numbers were just as good. Cooper belted the “Ballad of Dwight Fry” from a straightjacket. Later he performed “Nurse Rozetta” from a wheelchair, setting up her PG strip-tease during “Be My Lover.”

The only time the group dialed down from 11 were the back-to-back acoustic numbers “Only Women Bleed” and “I Never Cry.” Cooper delivered “Bleed” with a lifeless Rozetta across his lap and “Cry” hanging from the gallows. The setting rendered the ballads less tender but more powerful.

Cooper uses props in the same way as the Flaming Lips. The added spectacle definitely makes the evening more entertaining, but would be worthless without the great music supporting them. Cooper’s band drove this point the two times they were given the stage alone. Deprived of their leader and all his tricks, they rocked hard and kept the audience riveted.

After an instrumental number, Cooper returned with some of his biggest numbers. It was hilarious to watch the group of graying mid-life dudes in the crowd go nuts over the silver Mardi Gras beads he tossed out during “Dirty Diamonds.” For the next number – “Billion Dollar Babies” – he presented a saber loaded with fake money, which was sprinkled over the front rows.

The main set ended with the one-two punch of “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “Under My Wheels.” Although they’d been played to death, the band was clearly having a blast, duckwalking backward across the stage and grinning from ear to ear. It was hard to tell who was having more fun, the band or the crowd. Ultimately it didn’t matter. It was clear both sides lived for this stuff.

Setlist: School’s Out, Department of Youth, I’m Eighteen, Wicked Young Man, Ballad of Dwight Fry, Go To Hell, Guilty, Welcome To My Nightmare, Cold Ethyl, Poison, The Awakening, From the Inside, Nurse Rozetta -> Is It My Body, Be My Lover, Only Women Bleed, I Never Cry, instrumental, Vengeance Is Mine , Devil’s Food -> Dirty Diamonds, Billion Dollar Babies, Killer, No More Mr. Nice Guy -> Under My Wheels / School’s Out (encore)

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