Archive for the Review Category

Live Review: Stevie Wonder, Houston

Posted in Review, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2015 by 30daysout

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At 8:55, the great Stevie Wonder was escorted onto the stage to a standing ovation at the Toyota Center by his daughter, Aisha Morris. Yes, the same Aisha crying in “Isn’t She Lovely.” She is lovely and quite curvy, but that’s another story. Wonder proceeded to apologize to the sold out crowd for being almost an hour late, but he said it had been a tough day. One of his band members, Keith John, was found unconscious in his hotel room. He made sure to let us to know that no matter what we hear, it was not drug-related. Clearly shaken,Wonder then told the crowd a little about the album we were about to hear…Songs in the Key of Life. He then walked over to his keyboard and proceeded to rip into “Love’s In Need of Love Today.” With this we were on our way to an amazing musical extravaganza.

Members of the Houston Symphony joined Wonder on a beautiful version of “Village Ghetto Land” and then he proceeded to blow the roof off the place with a back-to-SonginKeyback-to-back tour de force of “Contusion,” “Sir Duke” and “I Wish,” featuring the legendary Nathan Watts on bass. “Knocks Me Off My Feet” was next and, in a word, was unbelievable. At the end of the song, he let his backup singers show off a bit, and told the crowd his band likes to “jam,” which they proceeded to do to the great delight of the crowd. He even let one of the Symphony violinists have a solo. “Ordinary Pain” finished off side 2 and brought Aisha Morris front and center with two other singers for the soulful ending that resulted in a standing ovation from many, including me. He ended the first set with great versions of “Saturn” and “Ebony Eyes,” two songs off the “Something Extra” 7″ single that came with the original album.

After a short 20 minute break, Wonder proceeded to tell us he has 9 children, and was looking for the men to give him some respect, which we did. He also told his daughter Aisha that “I saw you before your mama did.” A stellar version of the song he wrote about her, “Isn’t She Lovely,” kicked off the set, followed by “Joy Inside My Tears,” clearly the most soulful tune of the night and one that left Wonder with tears streaming down his cheeks. “Black Man” and “All Day Sucker” were incredibly funky and “Easy Goin’ Evening (My Mama’s Call)” showed off Wonder’s incredible ability to play the harmonica.

“Ngiculela – Es Una Historia – I Am Singing” started off side four, one of the best sides of any album ever. After performing his vocal part with one of his backup singers, Wonder sat down to play an instrument that I didn’t recognize. He proceeded to include versions of “Tequila” and Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel,” a tune that sent the crowd into a frenzy. Wonder explained the beautiful “If It’s Magic” is about love and it’s magic power. He sang to the original harp track performed by Dorothy Ashby, who he said died before the success of the album. “As” brought the crowd to it’s feet and a rousing “Another Star” kept them dancing for another eight minutes. Wonder then asked us if we were ready to go home, to which we emphatically said NO. He then sat down at the piano to play “When the World Began,” a new tune he’s working on with David Foster. It was so new, he screwed up the beginning and had to start over.

He again asked if we were ready to home, to which we screamed louder…NO. At this point he said “Stevie Wonder has left the building….I am now “DJ TICK TICK BOOM.” A DJ set up on the piano allowed him to tease with some of his classic tunes. He then did brief versions of “Livin’ for the City” and “For Once in My Life” before ending the night with an energetic version of “Superstition” that had the crowd dancing in the aisles.

This was a magical night of music. I had been waiting for this since I received the album as an Easter present in 1977 and Wonder and crew did not disappoint. As I watched him perform you could tell that he is on a different level of life than everyone else. Maybe not being able to see helps him see everything better than the rest of us. All I know is that if everyone had Stevie Wonder’s spirit there would no war, no racial hatred and the world would be a much better place.

Stevie Wonder Official Website

CD Review: “That’s It” by The Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , , on July 3, 2013 by 30daysout

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By George Kovacik

My wife and I get 48 hours a year to be together all by ourselves and we usually spend that time around our anniversary in the great city of New Orleans. Our nightly trek usually starts at the legendary Pat O’Brien’s. We enter off of Bourbon St., walk through the crowd, get a blast of hot air from the big fire pit in the middle, and then make our way to the back and order a hurricane (a drink so powerful you only need one). We then stand around for a few minutes and people watch,  and when we are ready to leave, we walk out the back past the long line of people waiting to get into to see the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in the infamous Preservation Hall.

Preservation Hall was founded in 1961 by Allan and Sandra Jaffe as a way to preserve New Orleans Jazz. The building in the French Quarter was once a tavern in the War of 1812 and to this day has never received a “facelift.” Even though it has no air conditioning or any other modern day luxury, it’s packed every night by people eager to bop along to music played by some of the finest musicians in the Crescent City.

In the band’s illustrious 50-year history, it has never recorded an album of all original material…until now. That’s It, produced by Jim James of My Morning Jacket and director Ben Jaffe (son of the Hall’s founders) was recorded in the famed venue and is quite a delight.  Drummer Joe Lastie kicks the album into high gear on the album’s first track “That’s It,”  which also features stellar tuba work by Jaffe and a very creative trumpet solo by Mark Braud. “Dear Lord (Give Me Strength) is pure New Orleans dance music with a great gospel vocal. “Sugar Plum” almost sounds like it could have a rap over it like many of the songs on HBO’s Treme’ soundtrack.  “Rattlin’ Bones” has a Dr. John vibe, “I Think I Love You” and “Come With Me,” both sung by the legendary Charlie Gabriel, are as cool as the other side of the pillow, and the sultry “August Nights” is one of those ballads that would have been cool to here Frank Sinatra belt out with the band.

I will have to admit I am not a jazz connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination, but I really love the stuff that comes out of that little old building at 726 St. Peters. This new album, which comes out on Tuesday, is a fun, spirited collection of originals that will have you dancing and wanting to lift up your shirt for some beads. Okay, maybe that last part is just wishful thinking.

“That’s It” (NPR First Stream of entire album)

The Making of “That’s It”

CD Review: “Searching for Sugar Man” by Rodriguez

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , on July 2, 2013 by 30daysout

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By George Kovacik

Most of us musicians make albums that, for one reason or another, never seem to find their place in the world. They are filled with songs that we have spent years writing and thousands upon thousands of dollars recording. We think they are the next Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds and we have big dreams of money, girls and everything else that goes along with being a superstar. Back in 1970, Sixto Rodriguez was a singer-songwriter who had these same dreams. Then he made a record.

Rodriguez, as he was billed, put out his first album, Cold Fact, in March 1970 and a year later followed it up with, Coming from Reality. Both albums bombed in the United States, and Rodriguez quit music and worked manual labor jobs in Detroit where he lived at or below the poverty line.  Unbeknownst to him, both albums caught fire in South Africa. His songs became hits with the anti-apartheid movement and he became a hero no one knew anything about. In fact, tall tales circulated about how he had died. One said he shot himself to death on stage, while another said he doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire.

In 1997, South African record store owner, Stephen “Sugar” Segerman, set out to find out what happened to the elusive Rodriguez and to see if he was still alive. This is where I’m going to leave you hanging. I encourage you to watch the excellent documentary, Searching for Sugar Man, for the rest of the story.  However, I will tell you about the music that makes up the incredible soundtrack.

When you listen to Rodriguez, it’s hard to believe that he didn’t become a huge sensation. He’s a cross between Bob Dylan and Jim Croce. His songs were socially conscious with great melodies. They drew me in the first time I heard them. The catchy “I Wonder” should have been a huge hit. The sad “I Think of You” is a beautiful love song. The psychedelic “Sugar Man” showed his love for more than one kind of mind-altering substance, “Cause” is as brilliant and sad a song as you will ever hear, and his lyrical prowess is firmly on display on the Dylan-esque “This Is Not A Song, It’s An Outburst (Or, The Establishment Blues).”

The story of Sixto Rodriguez gives all of us musicians hope that there is some kid halfway across the world who cannot wait to get home from school to listen to his iPod and learn one of our guitar licks. I’m sure there is some other guy out there right now trying to find the balding guy on the back cover of the Orange Is In Another Lame Semi-Tragedy CD. I’m right here, buddy. Give me a call.

“I Think of You” – Rodriguez

“Cause” – Rodriguez

“Crucify Your Mind” – Rodriguez (Live on “Late Show with David Letterman)

“I Wonder” – Rodriguez (Live on KEXP)

Live: Barry Manilow, Houston

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , on July 1, 2013 by 30daysout

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By George Kovacik

In this time of venom-filled abortion debates, Paula Deen’s 30-year old racism, the Trayvon Martin trial, 19 Arizona firefighters losing their lives and other disturbing events, it was nice to spend an pleasant evening outside under the stars with Barry Manilow.  Before an energetic crowd who packed the seats and part of the hill at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands, TX (40 miles north of Houston), Manilow broke out the songbook and cranked out hit after hit during his 95 minute set.

“It’s A Miracle” and the disco mix of “Could It Be Magic” kicked off the night and in between that and the dramatic closer “I Write the Songs,” Manilow gave us “Can’t Smile Without You,” “Weekend in New England” (complete with women screaming after the line “when can I touch you” and Manilow responding “I’ve still got it), “This One’s For You,” “Mandy,” which started out with his first appearance on The Midnight Special, a powerful version of “Tryin’ To Get the Feeling,” the showstopper, “Copacabana,” and a new tune from a musical he has written called “Harmony,” which received a thunderous applause.  The night’s most moving ballad was  “I Am Your Child” from his first album. He talked about the cutting of school music programs and encouraged the crowd to get behind one of his passions, the Manilow Music Project, a fund that gathers, fixes and donates musical instruments to school districts around the country.

Manilow has always been a master showman, but to be honest with you, I wasn’t expecting much from the Brooklyn native who turned 70 last week (that should make you feel old). However, he more than proved me wrong. His voice was strong, he moved up and down the stage and he genuinely looked like he was having the time of his life singing songs that still stand up after all these years.

I first saw Manilow at Illinois State University in 1975 when he was just hitting it big. At one point on Sunday he referred to himself as the “Justin Bieber of the 70s.” Somehow I don’t see Biebs sticking around as long as Barry.

“Mandy” (Live 2013)

“This One’s For You” (Live 2013)

Live: Paul McCartney, Houston

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , on November 15, 2012 by 30daysout

Paul McCartney’s stage filled the outfield of Minute Maid Park in Houston.

Paul McCartney’s recent set of concerts on his current “On The Run” tour are epic, full of breathtaking singing and instrumental virtuosity on faithful renditions of some of the greatest songs in the rock and roll canon. His show last night (11/14) at Houston’s Minute Maid Park was exactly that.

But there’s also a sense – certainly fleeting – of wistfulness and summing up of a brilliant, unparalleled career belonging to one of the greatest entertainers of all time. At one point of the show in Houston, Paul said “These events are so cool … I just want to take a moment for myself and drink it all in.”

Then he stepped aside from the mic and just stood there, surveying the nearly sold-out crowd (about 39,000) as it cheered him on.

He did that same thing when we saw him in 2011, at the beginning of this tour in New York’s Yankee Stadium. I can’t help but think this may be a victory lap for the 70-year-old ex-Beatle but who knows? He can keep this going for quite a while.

Because it’s obvious McCartney is clearly invigorated by staging these grandiose rock shows. He played for three hours in Houston, staying on stage virtually the entire time and never once sipping a drink of water or wiping sweat with a towel. It helped that the ballpark’s roof was open, and it was a crisp, cool Houston evening.

The voice is still there: on “All My Loving,” hitting the same notes he did in 1963, crooning on the goofy “My Valentine” and rocking out on “Got To Get You Into My Life” and “Paperback Writer.”

And the dude can play: he strapped on an electric guitar eight songs into the set to take the lead on “Let Me Roll It,” which morphed into an impressive instrumental rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxey Lady.” He pounded the piano keys for Band On The Run deep cut “1985” and the Beatles warhorses “Lady Madonna” and “Hey Jude.”

Video screens made the Beatle’s show feel intimate, even from the cheap seats.

McCartney has proudly accepted the mantle of keeper of the Beatles’ flame, and in addition to his own compositions he paid deeply touching tribute to his fallen fellow Fabs George Harrison and John Lennon. Harrison was remembered fondly with a great rendition of “Something,” which started out on ukulele and wound up with a full-on band treatment.

After that highlight, McCartney mentioned that George wrote that one “all by himself.” And he capped it with “Frank Sinatra once said that ‘Something’ was his favorite Lennon/McCartney song,” Paul shrugged.

Lennon’s tribute consisted of the acoustic ballad “Here Today,” written by McCartney after his mate’s murder in 1980. Then, later, Paul wound up with Lennon’s “A Day In The Life” appended to a singalong “Give Peace A Chance.”

Fireworks both figurative and literal peppered the homestretch: “Get Back,” “Helter Skelter,” “Let It Be,” and the James Bond theme “Live and Let Die,” punctuated by an impressive pyrotechnics display.

Say what you want about McCartney’s cute/pop/cloying tendencies over the past 50 years – in 2012 this is the Cadillac of rock shows. To steal from another James Bond song (not written by McCartney), nobody does it better.

Paul McCartney setlist from Houston Minute Maid Park 11/14/2012

Found on YouTube: “Paperback Writer” from Houston (thanks pokabeb)

The pyro goes off for “Live and Let Die.”

CD Review: “In Session,” Glen Campbell and Jimmy Webb

Posted in Review with tags on October 16, 2012 by 30daysout

In Session [CD/DVD]

When Glen Campbell stepped up to the mic at Farm Aid 2 in Champaign, IL and sang “I am a lineman for the county” it was one of the greatest moments in music history for me. Many of you might be wondering why and I really have no answer for you. It was just great. Campbell had a #3 hit with “Wichita Lineman,” a song written by the great Jimmy Webb. Two years earlier the two had gotten together for a TV special called In Session and that stellar performance has just been released on CD/DVD and it’s nothing short of amazing.

Campbell’s voice has always been kind to Webb’s songs (he also had huge hits with “Galveston” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”), but on these slower, stripped down versions it goes into another dimension. “Galveston” is slowed down to the speed Webb intended when he wrote it and it takes you to sweeter place without brown water and 500 pounds of seaweed. “Wichita Lineman” is one of the great songs of all-time and this arrangement and performance is impeccable. His take on “MacArthur Park” shows off Campbell’s chops as a guitar player, a talent for which he is underrated. The collection also includes a stunning rendition of “The Moon is A Harsh Mistress,” a fun, loose take on”Sunshower” and beautiful versions on “If These Walls Could Speak” and “Where’s the Playground Susie?”

In Session shows two artists who deeply admire each other’s work doing what they do best. It’s one of those truly special collections that comes along once in a lifetime.

Glen Campbell official website

Jimmy Webb official website

Glen Campbell – Farm Aid 1985

Austin City Limits Music Festival – Day Two

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , on October 14, 2012 by 30daysout

Neil Young (right) and Crazy Horse closed out the night with a psychedelic rock frenzy.

by Denny Angelle

Saturday, the middle day of the big Austin City Limits Music Festival, offered a little bit of everything for festival goers – a variety that ranged from different musical styles to a choice of weather. “If you don’t like the weather in Texas, wait a minute and it will change,” goes the saying, and it did.

A warm, humid day finally gave way to strong, intermittent rain showers but the downpours were mostly welcomed by crowds gathered around stages featuring hip hop, bluegrass, country, and good old rock and roll. The grass of Austin’s Zilker Park quickly turned into a muddy quagmire in the more heavily traveled areas of the festival grounds, particularly around the food and refreshment stands and the porta-potties.

Father John Misty

When the deep bass thump of a hip hop act on a nearby stage act bled into the quirky, gentle music of Father John Misty, singer Josh Tillman playfully stopped his own set to listen, and dance, along. And when the rain got a little too close to the electricity of British rockers Band of Skulls, they too halted their set briefly so that helpers and attendants could mop up the stage and cover equipment with plastic sheeting.

Tillman, formerly the touring drummer of indie rock sweethearts Fleet Foxes, offers up a sunny bit of singer/songwriter-ness flavored with a little bit of soul and a baggie full of drug-fueled attitude. “Fun Times in Babylon” and “Only Son of the Ladies’ Man” are calling cards for Father John Misty’s Laurel Canyon scenarios, and his mellow band laid back, ready to explode at the drop of a non-sequitur.

The Whigs, from Athens, Ga., rocked harder. The trio’s garage rock exploded over the crowd at Zilker, singer/guitarist Parker Gispert hopping around on one foot like Jethro Tull’s redneck brother. “Waiting,” with its crunchy guitar chording, is the Whigs’ signature, and “Summer Heat” was appropriate for the weather – for the moment, at least.

Steve Earle

As the storm clouds gathered we made our way over to the next stage for alt-rockers Band of Skulls, from Southampton, England. Possessing a darker, more driving sound, these Brits gamely tried to keep the rain away but when the fat drops made their presence felt the audience roared in approval. Just a few minutes later, though, the downpour sent the Skulls running away from the humming amps and cracking electric instruments. Once the towels and white plastic sheeting protected everything, the Skulls came out and finished their thumping, driving set. Sorry I didn’t get too many song titles – the ink on my notes simply washed away.

Wet but undaunted, we dropped in on the Punch Brothers, a progressive bluegrass group that could be the American version of Mumford and Sons. That is, if Mumford were as happy and engaging as Punch frontman Chris Thile. Thile’s music is ambitious to say the least – he wrote a 40-minute suite dealing with his divorce – and occasionally the Punch set veered toward some precious experimentalism, such as a cover of Radiohead’s “Morning Bell.”

The Punch Brothers offered up some rousing bluegrass.

But they brought it all home and put smiles on our faces at set’s end with crowd pleasers like “Who’s Feeling Young Now?” and the rousing “Rye Whiskey,” with its shout-along “Oh, boy” refrain.

Which was a perfect setup for the next act, the great Steve Earle. The Texas bard offered up “Waitin’ On The Sky” before he jumped right in and introduced “Little Emperor” with: “This song is for George W. and his fuckin’ horse!” I love Steve Earle – but I must admit I cut out on him a bit early when I heard the thump of The Roots finally cease, way down at the end of the park.

The rain just got us wet – it didn’t stop anybody’s fun at ACL.

That’s because I needed to see Neil Young & Crazy Horse, the night’s nominal headliner. Young at one end of the park vs. Jack White playing on the other end gave festival goers a very tough decision on Saturday, and I opted to head for Neil.

One side note: on the way from Steve Earle to Neil Young a few hundred yards apart, I encountered a very large crowd to see popster Gotye. Slicing through his adoring crowd, I heard a few of his songs. Ugh. Steve Earle to Gotye to Neil Young, that’s not for the faint of heart. I hope I don’t come down with Gotye poisoning later this week.

Possibly the only Woodstock veteran (update: John Fogerty and Levon Helm have also played ACL) to also play the Austin City Limits festival, Young ripped through a fuzz and feedback- filled frenzy that included  “Love and Only Love,” and new ones like the goofy ” Born In Ontario” and stomping rocker “Walk Like A Giant.” The latter was a guitar showcase, with Young spraying jagged guitar leads like a machine gun around his veteran backup band Crazy Horse. Just when you thought the song was over (it had already gone on for about 10 minutes) it climaxed with the thunder of giant footfalls and a rainshower of psychedelic feedback (going on for five more minutes).

The crowd, not quite believing what it just experienced, was polite so Young strapped on an acoustic and harmonica to offer up “The Needle And The Damage Done,” as if to thank the audience for its patience. The whole set kind of went that way: a new song or two, followed by one of Young’s favorites to keep everybody interested. “Powerfinger” made an appearance, and after a shoutout to “my sweetheart” Young offered up a rousing “Cinnamon Girl.”

Neil Young cranks it, with Crazy Horse guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro.

But perhaps the peak of an already incredible set came late, when Young surprised everyone by dusting off the chestnut “Down By The River.” It was awesome – Neil didn’t try (or didn’t want) to match the recording’s guitar work note for note, making this live rendition slightly ragged but really right. “Fuckin’ Up” concluded with Young himself admitting “I fucked up the ending of this song,” and we closed out the night with “Hey Hey My My” and its battle cry “rock and roll will never die.”

What a way to wind it all up. Thanks, Neil.

Our Austin correspondent caught Jack White as we rocked out to Neil Young but don’t worry – we have a few videos from his ACL set and as a bonus (for us) we’re attending his taping of the “Austin City Limits” TV show tonight. Check ya later!

Jack White – “Blue Blood Blues”

Austin City Limits festival webcast page – tonight’s highlights include Iggy & the Stooges and the Red Hot Chili Peppers