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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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Review: Evanescence

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(Above: Amy Lee delivers a spellbinding performance of “My Immortal” at the Midland Theater in Kansas City, Mo.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Five years ago, Evanescence was on the verge of living up to their name. After losing a founding band member and laboring over their second album, more personnel problems left the band’s future in limbo.

A convincing performance Tuesday night at the Midland Theater by the hard-rock band left little doubt that it was still not only a force to be reckoned with, but very much here to stay. As the quartet relentlessly hammered heavy riffs, singer Amy Lee glided across the stage and sashayed over the cacophony, her voice simultaneously tempering and reinforcing the ferocity below.After roaring for nearly a half hour, Lee sat down behind a grand piano and dialed the music back a bit. Her near solo performances of “Lost in Paradise” and, later, “My Immortal” were spellbinding. When the band re-joined Lee, her piano provided the textured that made the performances even more intense. Even after Lee’s piano had been rolled offstage, her playing frequently appeared on the pre-recorded backing tape.

Half of the 75-minute setlist was dedicated to the group’s self-titled third release, which came out last year. Although it was often difficult to hear the crowd over the band, the audience was definitely involved all night. Lee stopped to commend the room’s energy several times. When she invited her fans to join her singing they nearly overwhelmed her voice.

The music was augmented by an impressive light show that sent rays throughout the room, bathed the stage in deep colors and punctuated every beat with a battery of strobes. A second bank of strobes above the stage revealed the band’s name behind a sheer backdrop.

Evanescence hasn’t been a consistent presence on the charts, but when the band has regrouped enough to release singles they’ve tended to stick. Although the audience didn’t waver in enthusiasm for the new or older material, the half-dozen songs that appeared on the radio got especially boisterous responses. The Top 10 hit “Call Me When You’re Sober,” which Lee dedicated to all the ladies, generated an especially passionate sing-along.

After more than an hour of music, Lee dropped the crowd off where she likely picked most of them up with a powerful performance of the band’s 2003 debut single “Bring Me To Life.”

Setlist: What You Want, Going Under, The Other Side, Weight of the World, Made of Stone, Lost in Paradise, My Heart is Broken, Lithium, Sick, The Change, Call Me When You’re Sober > Imaginary, My Immortal. Encore: Swimming Home, Your Star, Bring Me To Life.

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(Above: Slash + Myles Kennedy and co. perform “Civil War,” arguably Guns N Roses’ finest moment.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Slash will always be known as the top-hatted guitarist for Guns N’ Roses, but he’s built quite a body of work in the 15 years since leaving that band. Thursday night at Harrah’s Voodoo Lounge, Slash drew on all phases of his career – Snakepit, Velvet Revolver, his new solo album and, of course, Guns N’ Roses – during his two hour performance.

The early numbers were a quick survey of Slash’s career. “Ghost,” a number from his new self-titled effort opened the proceedings with a slinky, sleazy guitar riff. It was followed by the rough stomp of “Mean Bone” from Slash’s Snakepit days, the “Appetite for Destruction” classic “Nightrain” and Velvet Revolver’s “Sucker Train Blues.”

After a strong opening, the set got even better. “Back to Cali,” another new track, opened with vocalist Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge and Slash standing shoulder-to-shoulder during a heated call and response that brought to mind Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Both “Cali” and “Do It for the Kids” rocked harder than anything Slash’s former band came up with for “Chinese Democracy.” “Civil War” and “Rocket Queen,” two of the brightest moments from Slash’s Guns glory days, came next.

Guitarist Zakk Wylde once said playing with Ozzy Osbourne was like being in a glorified cover band, because the performances encompassed material from different eras and songwriters. The same could also be said by Slash’s four new band mates, but they didn’t seem to mind helping Slash recreate his finest moments any more than Wylde did with Ozzy.

Kennedy easily conjured the ghost of Axl Rose, replicating his vocal tics right down to the radio commentary at the end of “Civil War.” He had no problem nailing the high parts on “Rocket Queen,” either. Together, Kennedy and bass player Todd Kerns – who delighted romping around the stage and lip synching to all the Guns N’ Roses songs – came close to capturing the spirit of Velvet Revolver singer Scott Weiland’s tone.

Although the singer is generally regarded as the front man, this was purely Slash’s show. Kennedy dutifully moved himself and the mic stand back by the drums during each solo so Slash could have center stage. Although primarily stationed at stage left, the crowd followed Slash’s movements across the stage like plants chasing sunlight. Kennedy’s one moment in the spotlight came late in the set when Slash relinquished lead guitar duties during a cover of Alter Bridge’s “Rise Today.”

If the first half of the concert was a showcase for great songs Slash helped write, the second half was dedicated to showing off his guitar skills. Slash is the king of the oily riff that goes down smooth and leaves you feeling dirty. Those skills, however, tend to perish without the structure of a song.

Exhibit A was a tedious five-minute blues jam that culminated in the theme from “The Godfather,” another several-minute exercise. After noodling around for nearly 20 minutes – the blues jam was preceded by the instrumental “Watch This” – Slash ended his solos in the best way possible by dropping into the signature riff to “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”

Kennedy held the mic stand over the re-ignited crowd and let them lead the chorus, a trick he would perform again a few minutes later during “Paradise City.” The closing song, it encapsulated all the best elements of the night: energetic crowd participation, big riffs, great songwriting and killer solos. The night ended with some of Slash’s best solos as the ensemble stretched out over the melody.

For $30 fans could take home a recording of the concert. A line was already forming at the table in the back as the band took their final bows. The CDs are a nice souvenir for dedicated fans, but it’s hard to imagine any casual “best of Slash” playlist deviating too much from what he delivered onstage.

Setlist: Ghost; Mean Bone; Nightrain; Sucker Train Blues; Back from Cali; Do It For the Kids; Civil War; Rocket Queen; Fall to Pieces; Just Like Anything; Nothing to Say; Starlight; Watch This; blues jam > Theme from “The Godfather” > Sweet Child O’ Mine; Rise Today (Alter Bridge cover); Slither. Encore: By the Sword; Communication Breakdown (Led Zeppelin cover); Paradise City.

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motley

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Motley Crue’s “Dr. Feelgood” album may end with the ballad “Time For Change,” but Sunday night the band gave its fans at the Sprint Center nearly two hours of the same ol’ situation.

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the “Feelgood” album, the hair metal icons spent the first hour of their set playing it in order. Kicking off with the title track, the band performed in a small padded cell erected onstage. It looked pretty cool head-on, but offered zero visibility from the sides or the rafters. Fortunately the cell went away and the stage opened up as the quartet slid into the second number, “Slice of Your Pie.”The performance capped the six-hour Crue Fest 2 that also featured Godsmack, Theory of a Deadman and Drowning Pool. The audio quality in the three-quarters-full arena was solid, given that the day’s style of music didn’t demand any attention to its nuances.

Resurrecting albums in concert is the latest rock trend, but it’s a rarely a sure-fire success. Most albums have – no matter how classic – have a few tracks that can be skipped, and what goes down well on album doesn’t always play well live.

“Feelgood” is a great example. On the one hand, fans got to live top-to-bottom the record from the band’s most successful period. However, there were good reasons why songs like “Without You” and “She Goes Down” were mothballed.

Pacing was another issue. The massive response to “Kickstart My Heart” was tempered by the ballad “Without You” and a bizarre Tommy Lee solo moment onstage where he chastised security for not tossing drumsticks into the crowd that landed short of the barricade.

The Crue seemed looser and happier when they shed the album cycle. After a Mick Mars guitar solo, the band tore through their favorites with an energy that ignited the already-reved crowed.

“Saints of Los Angeles” was one of two songs performed that didn’t date from the ‘80s and one of the stronger moments. Although it is just a couple years old, the audience sang along with every word. The pyro-heavy closing set was at its peak during “Wild Side” and “Shout at the Devil,” when flashpots erupted with every “shout.”

Lee slid behind the piano bench for “Home Sweet Home” as his bandmates crowded around the grand piano like drunken saloon crooners. After picking up an assist from the two omnipresent female backing vocalists/dancers during the electric section, the song ended with Lee and vocalist Vince Neil singing from the piano bench together.

The backing singers wore black leather boots that would have made Gene Simmons envious and legs that would have made him covetous. After one hour and 45 minutes onstage, the women – who were barely older than the “Dr. Feelgood” album the evening celebrated – showed off their assets as the band roared through “Girls Girls Girls.”

Godsmack: I arrived about 20 minutes into the metal quartet’s one hour set. The Massachusetts-based band had spent some time apart, but is back on the road for the first time in over a year celebrating its 10th anniversary. Their setlist was heavy on the hits, and included one new song, “Whiskey Hangover.”

The band also celebrated the acts that inspired them, tossing a bit of Pantera’s “Walk” into “Keep Away,” which drew a huge response. Later on, singer/guitarist Sully Erna hopped behind a second drumkit for a friendly drum duel. As the drummers went back and forth, the band slipped in snippets of their favorite tunes, letting the audience supply the words. Some of the choices, like “Back in Black,” “War Pigs” and Led Zepplin’s “Moby Dick,” were expected. “Aqualung” and “Tom Sawyer” hinted at a different side of the group.

After a one-two punch of “Whatever” and “I Stand Alone,” the band ceded the stage to Motley Crue with the promise of more new music to come. In a few years, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them headlining their own rock caravan.

Setlists

Motley Crue: the “Dr. Feelgood” album: Dr. Feelgood, Slice of Your Pie, Rattlesnake Shake, Kickstart My Heart, Without You, Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.), Sticky Sweet, She Goes Down, Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away), Time for Change; guitar solo, Wild Side, Saints of Los Angeles, Shout at the Devil, Primal Scream/encore: Home Sweet Home, Girls Girls Girls

Godsmack (partial): Keep Away/Walk, Speak, Whiskey Hangover, Voodoo, Batalla de los Tambores, Whatever, I Stand Alone

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