Sunday, November 6, 2016

Did I Really Count to 100?

1. 3/19/1990, Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe, Spectrum Arena, Philadelphia, PA
2. 4/16/1991, Yes, Spectrum Arena, Philadelphia, PA
3. 7/12/1991, Yes, Spectrum Arena, Philadelphia, PA
4. 7/13/1991, Yes, Spectrum Arena, Philadelphia, PA
5. 6/21/1994, Yes, Allentown Fairgrounds, Allentown, PA
6. 8/26/1994, Yes, Spectrum Arena, Philadelphia, PA
7. 9/7/1994, Yes, Garden State Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ
8. 9/8/1994, Yes, Jones Beach Amphitheatre, Wantagh, NY
9. 9/9/1994, Yes, New Haven Coliseum, New Haven, CT
10. 9/10/1994, Yes, Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY
11. 3/5/1996, Yes, Fremont Theater, San Luis Obispo, CA
12. 3/6/1996, Yes, Fremont Theater, San Luis Obispo, CA
13. 10/17/1997, Yes, Meadows Music Center, Hartford, CT
14. 10/18/1997, Yes, Orpheum Theater, Boston, MA
15. 10/22/1997, Yes, Patriot Center - George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
16. 10/24/1997, Yes, Tower Theater, Upper Darby, PA
17. 10/25/1997, Yes, Tower Theater, Upper Darby, PA
18. 10/26/1997, Yes, Tower Theater, Upper Darby, PA
19. 10/28/1997, Yes, Hersheypark Arena, Hershey, PA
20. 10/29/1997, Yes, Beacon Theater, New York City, NY
21. 10/30/1997, Yes, Beacon Theater, New York City, NY
22. 10/31/1997, Yes, Beacon Theater, New York City, NY
23. 6/26/1998, Yes, PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ
24. 6/27/1998, Yes, Entertainment Center, Camden, NJ
25. 6/28/1998, Yes, Montage Mountain Performing Arts Center, Scranton, PA
26. 10/16/1999, Yes, Tabernacle, Atlanta, GA
27. 11/26/1999, Yes, State Theater, New Brunswick, NJ
28. 12/12/1999, Yes, Tower Theater, Upper Darby, PA
29. 12/13/1999, Yes, Tower Theater, Upper Darby, PA
30. 6/30/2000, Yes, Riverport Amphitheater, Maryland Heights, MO
31. 7/1/2000, Yes, Sandstone Amphitheatre, Bonner Springs, KS
32. 7/8/2000, Yes, Grant Park, Chicago, IL (Taste of Chicago)
33. 7/21/2000, Yes, Fleetboston Pavilion, Boston, MA
34. 7/22/2000, Yes, Meadows Music Center, Hartford, CT
35. 7/29/2000, Yes, Amsouth Amphitheatre, Nashville, TN
36. 8/4/2000, Yes, Riverbend Music Center, Cincinatti, OH
37. 7/28/2001, Yes, Konocti Field Amphitheatre, Kelseyville, CA
38. 8/10/2001, Yes, Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, OH
39. 8/11/2001, Yes, Palace Theater, Columbus, OH
40. 8/24/2001, Yes, Wolf Trap Filene Center, Vienna, VA
41. 9/7/2001, Yes, Jones Beach Amphitheatre, Wantagh, NY
42. 9/8/2001, Yes, Radio City Music Hall, New York City, NY
43. 7/25/2002, Yes, UMB Bank Pavilion, Maryland Heights, MO
44. 7/26/2002, Yes, Chicago Theater, Chicago, IL
45. 7/27/2002, Yes, Fox Theatre, Detroit, MI
46. 8/3/2002, Yes, Tommy Hilfiger at Jones Beach Theater, Wantagh, NY
47. 8/5/2002, Yes, Radio City Music Hall, New York City, NY
48. 8/6/2002, Yes, PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ
49. 8/24/2002, Yes, Las Vegas Hilton, Las Vegas, NV
50. 8/25/2002, Yes, Las Vegas Hilton, Las Vegas, NV
51. 11/8/2002, Yes, Tower Theater, Upper Darby, PA
52. 11/9/2002, Yes, Tower Theater, Upper Darby, PA
53. 4/30/2004, Yes, Office Depot Center, Sunrise, FL
54. 5/2/2004, Yes, St Pete Times Forum, Tampa, FL
55. 5/7/2004, Yes, Air Canada Center, Toronto, ON
56. 5/8/2004, Yes, The Palace, Auburn Hills, MI
57. 8/20/2004, Yes, Borgata Hotel Outdoor Event Complex, Atlantic City, NJ
58. 9/2/2004, Yes, Wegmans Grandstand @ New York State Fair, Syracuse, NY (New York State Fair)
59. 9/3/2004, Yes, Allentown Fairgrounds, Allentown, PA (The Great Allentown Fair)
60. 11/29/2008, Howe Squire and White of Yes, Riverside Theater, Milwaukee, WI
61. 11/30/2008, Howe Squire and White of Yes, US Cellular Coliseum, Bloomington, IL
62. 12/2/2008, Howe Squire and White of Yes, The Pageant, St. Louis, MO
63. 7/14/2009, Yes, Uptown Theater, Kansas City, MO
64. 7/16/2009, Yes, Muskogee Civic Center, Muskogee, OK
65. 2/18/2010, Yes, House of Blues Chicago, Chicago, IL
66. 2/19/2010, Yes, House of Blues Chicago, Chicago, IL
67. 2/27/2010, Yes, Sea World, Orlando, FL
68. 2/28/2010, Yes, Sunset Cove Amphitheater, Boca Raton, FL
69. 6/18/2010, Yes, Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, Bethel, NY
70. 7/2/2010, Yes, M&I Classic Rock Stage, Milwaukee, WI (Summerfest)
71. 3/18/2011, Yes, House of Blues Chicago, Chicago, IL
72. 3/19/2011, Yes, House of Blues Chicago, Chicago, IL
73. 7/16/2011, Yes, The Woods Amphitheater at Fontanel, Nashville, TN
74. 7/24/2011, Yes, Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, Maryland Heights, MO
75. 7/20/2012, Yes, Tower Theater, Upper Darby, PA
76. 7/22/2012, Yes, Mayo Performing Arts Center, Morristown, NJ
77. 8/15/2012, Yes, Gibson Amphitheatre, Universal City (Los Angeles), CA
78. 3/16/2013, Yes, The Venue, Horseshoe Casino, Hammond, IN
79. 3/17/2013, Yes, Palace Theater, Louisville, KY
80. 3/24/2013, Yes, Hard Rock Live, Hollywood, FL
81. 3/26/2013, Yes, MSC Poesia - Carlo Felice Theater, MSC Poesia (Cruise to the Edge)
82. 3/27/2013, Yes, MSC Poesia - Carlo Felice Theater, MSC Poesia (Cruise to the Edge)
83. 7/19/2013, Yes, BJCC Concert Hall, Birmingham, AL
84. 7/20/2013, Yes, Mark C Smith Concert Hall, Huntsville, AL
85. 4/8/2014, Yes, MSC Divina - Pantheon Theater, MSC Divina (Cruise to the Edge)
86. 4/9/2014, Yes, MSC Divina - Pantheon Theater, MSC Divina (Cruise to the Edge)
87. 7/25/2014, Yes, Overture Hall, Madison, WI
88. 7/26/2014, Yes, Copernicus Center, Chicago, IL
89. 8/8/2015, Yes, Prudential Hall at NJPAC, Newark, NJ
90. 8/14/2015, Yes, Rose Music Center, Hubert Heights, OH
91. 8/19/2015, Yes, Family Arena, St. Charles, MO
92. 7/25/2016, Yes, American Music Theater, Lancaster, PA
93. 7/30/2016, Yes, Tropicana Showroom, Atlantic City, NJ
94. 7/31/2016, Yes, Sands Bethlehem Event Center, Bethlehem, PA
95. 8/12/2016, Yes, Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, NY
96. 8/13/2016, Yes, Mayo Performing Arts Center, Morristown, NJ
97. 10/14/2016, ARW, Sands Bethlehem Event Center, Bethlehem, PA
98. 10/15/2016, ARW, Keswick Theater, Glenside, PA
99. 10/16/2016, ARW, Keswick Theater, Glenside, PA
100! 10/28/2016, ARW, Borgata Hotel Event Center, Atlantic City, NJ

Note: I never counted short performances filmed for TV on this list like Fox After Breakfast in 1996 or VH1's Hard Rock Live in 1998.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Death Cab for Cutie

Death Cab for Cutie
Opening Act: Telekinesis
The Pageant
St. Louis, MO
Sunday, October 2, 2011
General Admission

I saw this concert almost two weeks ago, but it's still living in my head. It's time to start up the concert blog again. I need to document shows like this.

I've been in a musical rut lately. I haven't been becoming a fan of newer bands. Since I was a teenager, I've loved the British progressive rock bands of the 1970s, and it's been my favorite music for 20 years. But I used to be able to find modern bands that I liked as well. I worked at the best radio station in the world in college, and I listened to it for years afterward.

Then I moved to Missouri and started listening to classic rock radio. I found a few new bands here and there from recommendations. And I go to prog music festivals every year, sometimes several a year, but I find I enjoy a lot of those bands for their performance more than their music. I love the scene, but I'm not finding bands whose music I really want to absorb.

Almost two years ago, I quizzed friends on new bands they liked and checked out a few. I listened to the new modern rock radio station. Then it changed formats and I went back to classic rock. The effort did pay off, as I have a dozen albums by newer bands I like and I've seen a few of them in concert now.

I don't remember when I first heard of Death Cab for Cutie. Roy watched one of their concert videos and we both liked it. I liked the song "I Will Possess Your Heart", but I can't remember where I first heard it or learned what band did it. Likely, I was back home in Philly listening to WXPN.

That's what happened in August. I was visiting my dad for a long weekend, and WXPN was hyping an upcoming Death Cab for Cutie concert. They would be playing later in the week, after I flew home. I liked what I heard and thought I wouldn't mind seeing them sometime.

Tickets for their St. Louis show went on sale that Friday.

The show was at the Pageant. I have a love/hate thing with that place. More love since it went non-smoking and I moved to its neighborhood. But I'm so over going to concerts and not being able to see anything. There's a big general admission area, and lots of room for tall people to stand in front of me. Roy was interested in the concert too. We tried to get the reserved seats in the balcony, but they sold out. We snagged two general admission tickets.

On the same day, we bought tickets for the gala reopening of the Kiel Opera House with Aretha Franklin and Jay Leno. The concerts were the first weekend in October, a day apart. I wrote a note on Facebook bragging about how eclectic my tastes are.

I really like general admission concerts...sometimes. With my bands, I'm still the youngest person there and the crowds are mellow. I certainly don't mind waiting in line the day of the show to get a spot by the stage. But I didn't know what this crowd would be like - mostly kids, I guessed.

On the day of the show, I still wasn't sure if I wanted to grab a seat or try to stand by the stage. Roy didn't want to wait in line, so we agreed that I'd go there at some point and try to get two seats or just get a spot for myself in the pit. Roy walked by the Pageant around 3, and said there were a few people already in line. Maybe I should have gone then.

The Pageant has an early entry system. People over 21 can wait inside their bar and enter first. The bar opens at 5, so I aimed to get there then. There was already a decent sized line, with a wait to even get into the bar. It's funny, Roy's 19 years older than me, and when I go with him, I never get carded. This time they carded everyone. The bouncer was the only person who said anything about my Yes t-shirt. Roy said the same bouncer was at the door when he arrived. He went in at the same time as another older couple. The bouncer carded Roy too, but asked the other people questions about the Monkees to prove their age!

The only thing memorable about the wait was going through security. I travel a lot and go to concerts a lot. This was the most thorough check that I've ever had. The woman seemed offended that my concert purse had so many compartments and zipped sections. I don't know what she was looking for - I actually had to pull out my business cards in one small pocket to show her that was all that was in there. But she was fine with my aspirin bottle and my wrapped up sandwich.

The wait went quickly. The area right in front of the stage was already full; I later found out that the fan club people got early-early entry, so the club had more people in it than I expected. The front row of general admission seats was already full too. There's four tiered levels on the floor, going from the pit up to the bar. At first, I grabbed two seats near the soundboard back by the bar, but then I decided on two stools in the next tier down. They were less comfortable to sit on, but gave me a better chance to see over people. Roy found me and all was good. I like this place when I'm in the balcony or standing in the front row, but this wasn't bad.

The opening act was a band called Telekinesis, a young garage-level band that had some ties to Death Cab. They didn't play a long set and they were better than they could have been.

Death Cab for Cutie opened up with I Will Possess Your Heart. Yay, I figured they'd do this song, but it made for a great opening. Hypnotic bass line and piano. I bought MP3s of their latest two albums to prepare for the show, but this was really the only song I knew well.

It was one of the next songs that really caught my attention. Not sure which one it was, but the band got a lot heavier than I was expecting. My biggest issue with heavier music these days is how it trends to low-frequency mush - the singer growls, the guitar is distorted until it sounds like a bass, and all I can discern from it is the rhythm of the riffs. It's why I don't listen to KSHE or the Point, radio stations that play newer music. I want songs that take inspiration from Roundabout, clean and bright sounding. Anyway, Death Cab got heavy, but stayed sonically interesting to me. I loved it.

As the show went on, I found myself really enjoying it. The songs had development, good sounds, personality. I hadn't liked the Ben Gibbard's voice all that much on record, but live, I got it. There was a good variety of sound - the singer alternated between guitar and piano. My view of the stage was partly blocked (tall people standing in my tier) and I couldn't see much of guitarist/keyboard player Chris Walla on my right, but I think he was responsible for a lot of the layered sound that gave their songs that lovely atmosphere. Roy and I commented to each other that we liked the songs with piano best, that extra dimension brought something more to the music.

My favorite song of the night was We Looked Like Giants, with Gibbard adding drums to his other instruments. Roy and I joked during the show that most of the songs were so concise, no jams or dramatic finishes, compared to bands that we usually listen to. When they did stretch out here with the drum duet, I took notice. This sound, in the context of a song-based group, was something I've been wanting, but missing.

The other non-music parts of the show, like the stage set and interaction with the crowd, were great too. This night was one of the baseball play-off games. Roy and I have this fake-rivalry going on; I don't care about sports, but I will always root for my hometown. And our hometowns were playing each other. Before the encore, Ben Gibbard gave out the score, with the Cardinals leading the Phillies by a run. After the encore, he came back on stage to announce the Cardinals had won. I turned to Roy and made a show of stamping my foot and cursing, but I must admit it was a great way for the show to end.

The show reminded me of some that I had gone to when I was younger - when there were so many bands out there from the previous 25 years that I knew I would eventually love. I went to see Traffic on their reunion tour, when I only knew two songs from them. I figured that would be my only chance, and I didn't want to regret missing them after I delved into their catalog. I loved the show, and stopped by Record Castle the next day to buy all their used Traffic albums.

Gibbard also spent time talking about buying some records down the street at Vintage Vinyl. Later that week, I made my own trip to Vintage Vinyl. I re-bought their newest album Codes and Keys, this time on LP. And I picked up several cheap EPs and CDs. Last night, we sat down and listened to the album, lyrics in hand. I just listened to it, without turning it into background music. Aside from the new Yes album, it's been a while since I've done that.

I bought a t-shirt after the concert, and we walked home discussing our impressions. Roy didn't like it as much. We have such similar taste in music, but where I heard all the dynamics in their sound, he heard a repetitive rhythm section that made the songs sound the same. Roy liked the studio albums better. He found some comparisons - the production style and vocals in Codes and Keys made him think of Trevor Horn's production of the Dream Academy. And Gibbard's vocals on Grapevine Fires reminded him of Al Stewart.

The review in the Riverfront Times the next day helped me put this in perspective. Death Cab for Cutie are not a new band. They have a pretty extensive catalog, and their music means a lot to some people. The show was sold out, so people must have some way of learning about bands like this. Only one of my coworkers was familiar with them; he listens to satellite radio and the bands his kids like. That's something I should look into... um, the satellite radio part, not having kids just so I can learn about their favorite bands when they'd be teenagers!

I'm excited right now, but I'm trying not to overdose on new music or harp on it too much. I wonder if I would have enjoyed the show more if I was familiar with the music or if the surprise of enjoying so much made it that much better. I do know one thing though...

Next time, I will be in the front row singing along with all the songs.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Miss Diana Ross

Diana Ross
Fox Theater
St. Louis, MO
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Section Balcony 03, Row A, Seat 125

A lot of the music that I love comes from the time period before I was born or when I was too young to appreciate it. I learned a lot from listening to classic rock radio or delving into albums and CDs, reading books about the era, or listening to older fans. I wasn't exposed to Motown this way. I never went out of my way to listen to these recordings, but I know a lot of Supremes songs, just by picking them up through popular culture.

When a St. Louis show was announced for Diana Ross' retrospective tour, I was curious. She is legendary, and this would be a good opportunity to see her. I actually do have one of her albums. One of the nice things about being known as a record collector is the donations...people give me records they no longer have use for. One coworker gave An Evening With Diana Ross on LP a few years ago. Roy and I listened to it before the tickets went on sale to see if we really wanted to go. Plus, the show was at the Fox Theater, which is always nice.

We got tickets in the pre-sale, front row of the lower balcony, center section. These were great seats. We had a full view of the stage, mostly full view of the large screen behind it, and also a good view of the fans sitting in the orchestra pit. We brought binoculars too. I normally find them distracting during concerts; I'd rather be bopping around to the music than sitting still to look through them. I thought this show would be more about observing the performance than really getting into the music, and there would be a lot to see. We had fun watching the crowd too - this was a dress-up occasion for a lot of people there.

The show was scheduled to start at 7:30pm, but it really started another fifteen minutes after that. No opening act. The band took the stage and started playing an instrumental. I counted - it was an 18 piece backing band: 4 piece horn section, 5 piece string section, guitar, bass, drums, percussion, keyboard, piano, and three backup singers. The stage was set up in different tiers, so we could see them all clearly. Diana Ross appeared via a lift on the back of the stage and then walked down some steps to the front.

It was a dramatic entrance. She wore a sparkly dress with a big chartreuse wrap. I only mention her clothing because it was a big part of the show. Diana Ross changed into 4 other sparkly dresses in different colors throughout the concert. For all the concerts I've been to over the years, I've never gone to a big pop show with costume changes. It certainly gave us something to look at throughout the show. I used the binoculars the most when she made her entrances. Every time I looked at the legend close-up, she was smiling as she was singing.

The first couple songs didn't do much for me. I didn't think the sound was very good. Diana Ross' vocals were buried in the mix. I hoped the whole show wouldn't be like this. The third song Reflections was the first to really pull me in to the music. I wasn't familiar with it before the show, but it had that snappy Motown beat and harmonies that I expected from a show like this. The first portion of the show also contained songs You Can't Hurry Love, Stop in the Name of Love, and Love Child. It really was cool to watch live such an iconic moment of Diana Ross holding up her hand for "Stop" like the Supremes used to do. That is real musical history there.

Ross left the stage during Love Child to change her gown. The band kept playing and went into a cuban-sounding jam. I liked that quite a bit.

The next portion of the show featured more disco-sounding songs. I had heard I'm Coming Out and My House before, but they're not really in my musical world. Thankfully, during these songs, there was more visually going on. The screen showed pictures of the Supremes and other scenes from Ross' past. She invited a couple fans up to dance with her. One little girl was smiling so big, I didn't need the binoculars to see it. She also played Ease on Down the Road, which I remember from watching The Wiz on TV when I was little.

My favorite part of the show was the next part. Diana Ross sang a few jazzier songs. The backing vocalists weren't used and only some of the band members stayed on stage, so it was a less full mix. I think these songs highlighted her voice the best. There wasn't so much aural competition.

There were other songs later on that I knew like the theme from the movie Mahogany, Ain't No Mountain High Enough, Endless Love. There were a few that I knew but didn't associate with Diana Ross: Why Do Fools Fall in Love and (ugh) I Will Survive. I turned to Roy during that one and said "Disco still sucks". Roy pointed out that at least it was being playing with real instruments.

Diana Ross refered to this herself. She didn't say much during the show and didn't do much to introduce her songs. But before the encore, she mentioned that this was "real music" and introduced her entire backing band. I wonder how it is for a pop singer who has been active so long. She's probably gone from being backed by an orchestra, to rock band instrumentation, to synthesizers and computers, and now back to live musicians. I don't know if she plays any music herself or always got to choose who was playing with her, but hopefully, she can tour with the sound she wants now at this point in her career.

(I do have to admit, I once saw Brian Wilson on his SMiLE tour play with a similar sized backing band. It remains the best sound I've ever heard at a concert. Every instrument could be heard distinctly, but blended together well. The sound here wasn't nearly that good. After the first couple songs, I didn't feel like I was lost in the mix at least.)

I didn't know the songs from the encore. Diana Ross came out in my favorite of her costumes, sweatpants, a zipped up sweatshirt, and sneakers. She told us she was leaving when this song was over, and she was dressed for it. There were a few songs I would have liked to hear that she didn't play: I Hear a Symphony, Baby Love, You Keep Me Hanging On. The show had a great presentation, great production values, and it was a lot of fun. Plus, it ran for just over an hour and a half. It was over around 9:20pm, and we got home well before 10pm on a Sunday night. It is so nice going to a concert and not having to recover from a late night.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

State of Independence

Jon Anderson and the Contemporary Youth Orchestra
Liza Grossman, Music Director
Severance Hall
Cleveland, OH
Monday, May 24, 2010
Section 200, Row A, Seat 210

Jon Anderson had just finished the first song in the world premiere of his new four-piece suite. Roy turned to me and said "Wow." We had managed to not only get seats in the front row, but directly in front of Jon. Jon was looking for audience reaction and saw our exchange. "Wow?", Jon made eye contact with Roy and mouthed this to him. Roy smiled and gave our hero a thumbs-up.

This is the second time we've seen Jon after his illness in 2008. We saw his first show back, last year in California. I wanted to be there to show my support for Jon. He's been doing more one-man shows, but this was something different. He was playing with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra in Cleveland, playing his songs with a full orchestra and choir. We saw him with the Youth Orchestra once before, in 2004. It remains one of my favorite concert experiences, and we jumped at the chance to go to this one.

The trip itself took a couple changes. The show was on a Monday, and we originally booked a flight coming in on Sunday night. The venue and our hotel were in the University Circle area of Cleveland, home to colleges and a number of museums. We'd have time to be tourists. Then, I found out the finale of Lost would be airing that Sunday night, and I had to watch that live. We changed our flight to fly out Monday morning. It led to two late nights of entertainment and two early mornings of flights. Plus, our flight on Monday was delayed, so we got even less time to sightsee in Cleveland.

We got together with my friend Jerry and his new girlfriend Vicki at the hotel, and then we went to dinner at a place next door to catch up and get acquainted. The venue was a classy one this time, the home of the Cleveland Orchestra. Jon deserves it; he should aways get to play places this nice. It was just a short walk from the hotel. I bought a bottle of water to smuggle into the auditorium. We didn't even see the merchandise or the artwork on display.

I jokingly told Jerry and Vicki that Roy's and my seats were "right in front of Jon". I didn't realize it until we found that seats that we were, indeed, right in front of his microphone stand. Jon's wife Jane had a seat in the second row right behind Roy. I've had seats in the front row for Jon before, but never quite this close. He was set up right by the edge of the stage. Standing up, we could have touched his microphone stand. I stood up and waved to Jerry, so he could see exactly where I was sitting.

The show got off to a wonderful start with Starship Trooper and Long Distance Runaround. Trooper was reworked somewhat. I looked back to see if Jane was going to stand up to applaud. I followed her lead and gave Trooper a standing ovation. We all applauded for a long time. There was another ovation for Long Distance Runaround.

In Jon's solo shows, he's only been doing the Life Seeker part of Starship Trooper, changing it almost to a verse-chorus-verse structure. The orchestra played that part, but also the instrumental Wurm. I wondered if he dropped the "Loneliness is a power that we possess" lyrics because they were Chris Squire's. Later on, Jerry pointed out that he also left out the "you and you may follow" part. His voice may not be strong enough to hold the note on "follow".

Regardless, the orchestra sounded wonderful and Jon sounded even wonderful-er. This concert hall is built for acoustics and the orchestra just washed over us towards the finale of Starship Trooper. Jon sounded and looked much stronger than he had last year. We had a small speaker near us carrying Jon's voice and guitar and the choir. I joked later on that this was the "QPR mix", since we could hear Jon's guitar high in the mix.

Jon did a couple more unreleased songs, some that I recognized from other shows, some that I heard for the first time this night. The song Big Buddha (which used to be called This Is or The Buddha Song) sounded particularly good with the choir. We heard probably the best version of the song Show Me that I've heard, but I still wasn't sure we needed to hear it again.

The big deal in the first half of the set was the premiere of the four-song set. Jon had written it for orchestra and choir, so we were going to hear it exactly as conceived. The four parts were Children Yet to Come, Earth Singing, Breathing, and Love is All. Roy's reaction might have been "Wow", but for me, the performance could have been better. Jon was reading the lyrics right off his lyric sheet, and sometimes he sang towards the lyrics rather than into the microphone. He told the audience he was so excited by the musicians on stage that he wasn't paying enough attention to his own part. I want to hear it again before making any judgements.

During intermission, Jerry and Vicki came up to our seats and compared notes. This was Vicki's first time seeing Jon live, and what a show to see. Roy pointed out some of the musicians who looked like they were really enjoying performing this music. (I had eyes only for Jon.) If anything the second half of the show was even more impressive than the first.

Someone named "Warciple" took this picture and posted it online. He kindly gave me permission to use it in the blog. It looks like this was taken during the intermission. You can see me standing right in front of my seat with my back to the stage, in the bottom right corner of the photo.

The second set opened with a beautiful And You And I. It had more magic than the version done by the current line-up of Yes. I've enjoyed almost all of the shows I've seen by the new line-up, but this just highlighted what they are missing. Some years ago, I would have said I was tired of hearing this song live, but then I fell in love with it over again.

The next new song was called Earth and Peace, and it was my favorite of the new pieces. I think Jon's singing was really great, showing off that beautiful voice.

The high point of the whole show was State of Independence. Liza Grossman, the conductor and music director, asked to give the introduction. She mentioned how great this song was at the previous Contemporary Youth Orchestra and how the theme of independence relating to the youth orchestra and this performance. The event was named "State of Independence". It was a great performance. Liza also gave Jon a queue during the song. Jon held his microphone up to the lead violinist for a short solo during the song. And afterward, Jon looked over at Roy, and gave Roy a thumb's up! He knew this was a great one.

The only nitpick I had with it was that Jon got some of the lyrics wrong. It's hard when I'm singing along with Jon and suddenly, I'm not in sync anymore. It pulls me out of the song. (This happened with Owner of a Lonely Heart in the first half too.) Still, this sounds powerful with the orchestra behind him.

We heard some other great songs too. Your Move/All Good People, Roundabout, Change We Must, Soon. Jon told us to sing along, but not to stand up, because we were in such a fancy venue. I was bopping along in my seat to Roundabout. There were multiple cameramen out there, filming this for eventual release. I noticed one of the cameras aimed at our row while I was singing and dancing in my seat. I tried not to react to it. I wonder if I'll end up in the final release?!

The encore was additional versions of Starship Trooper and State of Independence. It was great hearing them again. I guess for a classical thing like this with all the arrangements needing to be written out and everything needing to be rehearsed, they can't have "extra" songs to play during the encore. Jon got the words right this time, but Roy thinks the violin solo was better during the first performance.

We met up with Jerry and Vicki again. Vicki says she understands us following Jon and Yes around now. We talked for quite a while, and then I remembered I wanted to buy a t-shirt and a poster. I was sure that the merchandise booth would be closed by now, but Roy told me to check anyway. I was happy to be wrong! I made my purchases.

I've been able to meet Jon Anderson at a number of his shows. Sometimes he does meet-and-greet after the show, and sometimes he talks to fans waiting outside. This was a big building, and we had no idea where to wait or how long it would be. I felt like I lost an opportunity here, but I agreed that it was fruitless to hang around. We all walked back to the hotel and hung out in the lounge for another hour. Jerry showed us his iPad. We talked about this show, other shows we had seen, and how lucky we were to be part of this world.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Men with Sticks in Chicago

Stick Men
Opening Act: The E-Mics
Chicago, IL
Saturday, May 15, 2010
General Admission

Even if you've never heard of Tony Levin, without a doubt, you have heard his music. He's played bass for Peter Gabriel, John Lennon, Paul Simon, in addition to being the long-time bass player in King Crimson. He's the best known player of an instrument called the Chapman Stick, a guitar/bass hybrid where each finger can play notes independently, like on a piano. Tony's current project features the Stick. His band is called Stick Men, with Tony and another musician on Stick and Pat Mastelotto from King Crimson on drums.

Stick Men weren't coming to St. Louis, but they were playing Chicago on a Saturday. Roy and I could drive up and back without taking any time off from work. The show was at Martyrs, and I've had some bad experiences there in the past. The club could get hot, no air movement, and quite smoky. I haven't been back since Illinois banned smoking, so maybe it would be better now.

Martyrs is so laid-back. Usually at a club for a general admission show, people will line up outside, wait until the doors open, and then file to a position by the stage. Martyrs is open as a bar earlier in the day, so their doors are always open. We got in around 6 and walked right in. They said someone would come around and check for tickets later. The opening band was still sound-checking. we sat down near the bar for a while. I wanted the space by the stage right in front of Tony, but I didn't want to be in anyone's way. There were some other fans there already. When everyone cleared off the stage, we walked over to our spot and stood... for the next six hours.

We were the only two people standing there, still some hours before the show was going to start. We saw Tony Levin walk into the club. He talked to a couple fans. Then he walked right over to us to say hi. Roy was wearing his Papa Bear Records t-shirt, for the record company that Tony owns. Tony noticed it and said he liked the t-shirt. I think that's why he stopped for a little longer, instead of just walking by. He told us he has almost sold out of the original run of those shirts. (Roy's had his for at least a dozen years.) Roy got to tell him that he enjoys Tony's website and blog and reads it often. Tony said he was heading upstairs to update it now.

My favorite types of general admission shows are the ones where there's a standing-room-only pit in front of the stage with seating further behind it. Especially for older bands, most of the people who get there early will vie for the seats, leaving the front of the stage for me. It takes the pressure off. Roy said Martyrs was this type of venue. I didn't think so, since there was only a row of seats by the back and a couple tables off to the side. But he was right; all those seats were filled before the front row was.

People started filling in. The merchandise booth was opened. Roy and I didn't end up buying a t-shirt, but I wanted to buy the new Stick Men CD. The band would hang out after the show to sign autographs; I knew I'd be buying this, so I didn't bring anything else to get signed.

But the copies of the new CD were already signed. I asked if they had any copies that weren't signed. The guy standing next to me quipped that the signatures would rub off easily. I explained that I was hoping to get this signed after the show. It was at the next comment that I realized I was talking to the "other" Stick player in the band, Michael Bernier. He said they signed them all in advance to cut down on doing so many autographs after the show, but they'd sign anything. I told him I was looking forward to the performance.

I really liked the opening band The E-Mics. It was two guys on guitar and vocals. Nice harmonies, nice guitar work. One of the musicians uses a saxophone for one song to change the sound up. The harmonies really made it work, it came across as a full sound, much more than if either of them were performing alone. Apparently, they opened for Adrian Belew in Chicago, and one of the band members was learning Three of a Perfect Pair. He played a measure of it on guitar a couple times. I think I liked this duo more than Stick Men.

I've been to three very different types of concerts this month. There was a pop band decades after their peak in popularity, struggling to play newer material when fans want to hear the old stuff. There's the soon-to-be classic alternative band, still at their peak, with an arena full of fans, and this band can play anything. Most of the fans know every song. Stick Men is something else entirely. It's a small crowd, all there on faith that we'll like the music given Levin and Mastelotto's other work. Stick Men have one album out, which came out a week ago, and they're playing the whole thing. This is really, really alternative.

The opening song was familiar, a reworked version of my favorite King Crimson song Indiscipline. It went on as an instrumental for so long, I wondered if they weren't doing the spoken word lyrics. Michael Bernier did the vocals. I think it's hard to judge, because this isn't being sung but spoken, but I thought he came across as mimicing Adrian Belew's delivery.

The next few songs were all unfamiliar ones. The real treat of this concert was seeing some of my favorite musicians so close. Pat Mastelotto had his drum kit at stage center, at the same level as the other musicians. Usually, his drum is on a riser further back on the stage. We could see everything he was playing, both the drums and the percussion work.

The show was divided into two 45 minute sets and an encore. It was in the second set that the stillness of the air began to bother me. It wasn't hot really, but it got uncomfortable. Smells just did not dissipate. Roy thought it smelled like a skunk at one point, but I think it was b.o. from people sweating. This place has some overhead fans, I don't know why they weren't using them. I got restless. I could see the songs listed out on Tony's setlist. There was an improvisation that went seemlessy into one of the new songs. In fact, all of the songs were unfamiliar after Indiscipline until the last song of the main set. They did a cover of Red, a King Crimson song from before either Levin or Mastelotto joined the band.

The encore was a special treat. Stick Men did an arrangement of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite. This piece is best known to Yes fans as the classical piece that starts off most Yes concerts. There's a Pavlovian response of anticipation and excitement. Roy and I chose this as our processional music at our wedding. I have to admit, I'm not too familiar with the Suite other than the finale. But when Tony Levin played that melody that I know so well, I got chills.

After the show, I asked Roy to reach over on stage and grab Tony's setlist. We took seats by the bar and some drunk guy wandered up to us. I recognized him. He tried to squeeze in between Roy and me during the show and I wouldn't let him. He rambled on about how we need to go to Winnipeg and how Lincoln Avenue (where Martyrs is located) isn't where it's at. This went on and on. Finally, I told him I needed to talk to my husband. He stopped talking, but still stood there. Privately, I said. Finally, he left us alone. We could have walked away, but I didn't want to give up our seats.

Levin came out to talk to fans and sign autographs. Mastelotto was taking apart his drum set, but walked over to the edge of the stage to sign autographs. They both signed my newly purloined setlist. Some bands give them away after the show. I wonder if other bands mind taking these things. Tony Levin said it was a good idea to get it, so he was fine with it. Roy told him we drove up from St. Louis, and Tony wished us a safe drive back. Roy got to tell Pat Mastelotto how much we enjoyed watching him play. He thanked Roy and walked over to shake his hand.

I'm not sure I would travel up to Chicago to see this band again. I talked about this experience with a coworker who is not a rock music fan or concert-goer. He didn't have any assumptions and asked me some insiteful questions and wondered if it was because it was unfamiliar music. I don't think so. I go to a lot of concerts and festivals where there's music I don't know. I even liked the opening act E-Mics, and I had never heard of them before. I just don't love Stick Men's sound. I don't dislike it and I enjoyed seeing these musicians in concert. I'd see them again locally. This was a quick trip - we arrived in time for deep-dish pizza dinner and went to the show. We didn't do any Chicago-touristy things, so it was all about the concert.

However, when you add in giving up a whole weekend and sitting in a car for five hours each day, it wasn't worth it for me. I don't think that makes me any less of a Tony Levin fan. He works with a lot of different projects, and there are some I like more than others. I'm glad I got a chance to see this one, so I don't feel like I've been left out. For the next tour, I can make an informed decision.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Rising Above with Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam
Scottrade Center
St. Louis, MO
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Section 102, Row G, Seat 17

I graduated high school in 1992, so my senior year coincided with the Seattle grunge scene breakthrough. I was aware of it that year, but slow to catch on. On April 10, 1992, the very same night when Pearl Jam played the Trocadero in Philly, I was at the Skid Row concert at the Spectrum. I bought a few albums from Seattle bands, and I saw Soundgarden and Alice in Chains that school year.

I really became a Pearl Jam fan in college. I was 19 and getting more and more into Yes and other bands from the 1970s progressive rock era. I was excited about this music and other bands that I listened to when I was younger faded away. But I bought Pearl Jam's second album Vs. on midnight on the day of its release, and I listened to it a lot. Songs like Daughter and rearviewmirror resonated with me. Some of those lyrics could have been about me, putting my relationship with my family and a betrayed friendship into perspective. I bought a few more albums, but I never got to see them in college.

Seeing them now is nostalgic for me, a gift to my 19-year-old self. I knew that this is not a band that needs nostalgia. They've been active creating new music all along. I figured I'd know a handful of songs that they'd play, and the rest would be unfamiliar.

Roy didn't want to go to this concert. I think it's funny that sometimes I can go to a concert by myself and it doesn't bother me in the least. Other times, I feel like an outcast for no longer having a local group of friends to go with. I think it comes down to how well I know the music or what type of crowd I'm expecting. I asked around, and I couldn't find anyone else interested. I could buy two tickets and continue my search, or accept it and buy a single ticket. I didn't want to keep asking around. It was fine at the show, as I brought a magazine to read beforehand and I talked to some of the people in my row.

I ended up with a really good seat. I didn't want to be on the floor. I bought my ticket during the presale, and I got a seat in the first tier of seats, about seven rows up. I was in line with about the 15th row on the floor. It was a great viewing angle. Sometimes shows have video screens or a backdrop that can't be seen if your seat has a side-view of the stage. I like it better to be a section further back.

The opening act Band of Horses was a nice surprise. I had never heard of them before. They sounded nothing like Pearl Jam, but had a laid-back sound with a country-folk influence to their songs. I liked their harmonies and their use of piano.

Pearl Jam came on and opened with four songs in a row that I didn't recognize. The fifth song was Elderly Woman Behind a Counter in a Small Town from Vs. I remembered all the words to this one. I sang along to "Hello. My god, it's been so long, never dreamed you'd return" and so did the rest of the audience. I got a big smile on my face. I knew a few more songs during the main set, and most of the encore songs. I heard the songs I really wanted to hear, Daughter and rearviewmirror. But I didn't get to hear other songs in the "would be nice to hear" category like Who You Are and Black. A fair trade-off.

I watched singer/guitarist Eddie Vedder for most of the show. So impressed with his performance. I think he's a fascinating artist, and I got to see him connect with the audience without being cheesy or over-the-top. He got us cheering without ever saying anything that didn't sound like he was chatting with us. One of my favorite moments, visually, of the show was Vedder holding his guitar over his head up to a spotlight. Light reflected off of it into the audience. I watched as he'd move his guitar a little and the reflected light would hit another section of the arena and then another. I wonder if he does that at every show. I'm amazed to read that he's 45 years old. That's how old my favorite singer Jon Anderson was the first time I saw him in concert, but Vedder still seems youthful.

The band didn't need a stage show to keep our attention. The backdrop was a cloth that had typewriter keys on it. In the center were the letters P E A R L J A M. The lights would shine on different letters and highlight them. I was close enough to be able to see and recognize all the band members, but not close enough to see their facial expressions. A close up video feed would have been nice, but it wasn't necessary.

Pearl Jam is a band that takes a stand on a lot of social and environmental issues. At this show, it was lessening the use of plastic water bottles. We clashed there, because I usually buy a bottled water at concerts. The concession lady told me the bottled waters were not allowed into the auditorium, so what they were doing was selling the waters, but pouring them into a plastic cup, which we were allowed to bring in. Two plastic drink holders is worse than one! To make it worse, the cup was a flimsy thing that had no lid. I imagined myself spilling it before I even got to my seat. I bought a large soda for $7 that was also plastic, but came with a lid. Of course, it's easy to find holes in the band's philosophy, places where they might look hypocritical. My big environmental deal is smoking, forcing me to breathe your carcinogenic waste. Eddie Vedder smoked on-stage, and even made it part of the show, in a non-smoking building. We can't all be perfect.

The concert lasted about two and a half hours, but it never dragged, even with me knowing so few of their songs. It was well-paced, with their mix of songs that sound like classic rock, heavier stuff, and quieter singalongs. It didn't go on too late either. The concert started at 7:30, and Pearl Jam took the stage around 8:30. The show was over by 11. For the final encore, the house lights came on. That maybe gave me another burst of energy, along with their cover of The Who's Baba O'Riley.

The final song of the night was Yellow Ledbetter. Eddie Vedder played tambourine, and he was hitting two tambourines against each other, then tossing them out to the audience. There was a roadie keeping him with a running supply of tambourines. Vedder stood on the far end of the stage to sing, and then walked into the audience. The song ended with him sitting on his monitors at the edge of the stage, having a drink. A roadie brought over a cigarette, and Eddie Vedder drank and smoke and hung out with the crowd listening to the end of the song.

I was talking to a coworker the day after the show. Now I've seen Pearl Jam, so I can check them off the list. But this show has stayed with me for the last week. I think I will see them again if they come back to St. Louis. And I'll be sure to check out their latest album, so I know more of their material.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Walk Like a Bangle

The Bangles
Opening Act: Sick of Sarah
The Pageant
St. Louis, MO
Sunday, May 2, 2010
General Admission

I didn't pay much attention to The Bangles in the 1980s. I knew their break-through singles Manic Monday and Walk Like an Egyptian, but that was a year before I really got interested in music. And I didn't care at all about ballads when Eternal Flame became a big hit.

One easy way to get my attention now is to have some connection to Yes. The Bangles' singer guitarist Susanna Hoffs is a self-professed Yes fan. She did a cover of Yes' I've Seen All Good People on an album of covers with Matthew Sweet. She even recorded the song with Steve Howe. I listen to this whole album often, and Roy and I also like an earlier volume they did of cover songs from the 1960s. I've become a fan of Susanna Hoffs, and that gave me new interest in The Bangles.

I heard The Bangles were coming to the Pageant, a concert venue in my neighborhood, just a half-mile from my home. I didn't rush out to buy tickets, but I made a note of the date. If we weren't too busy that day, it might be fun. I knew about five songs of theirs, so I figured I'd know about a third of their set. On the good side, the show was non-smoking. On the bad side, there were no reserved seats. I have this thing about needing a spot with a good sight-line at concerts. I'm short, so I can't see over most other people. I like getting to general admission shows early, waiting in line to get my pick of seats. Roy was interested in this show, but not enough to invest hours waiting in line.

The day of the show, I was running errands all morning and early afternoon. I'd have to make an early dinner if we were going to the show. We could have easily blown it off, except for this turn of events: I got home to find out our neighbors invited us over for a party they were having. I was tired, but Roy and I went down. I ended up playing a Wii dance game, dancing to a Beach Boys song. It was fun, and it put me in the mood to go to a concert and dance to the live music.

Our timeline was off from my original plan. We blew off waiting in line for good seats. The show started at 8. We weren't ready to leave home until 7:15, after dinner. We walked over, got tickets, and walked right up to the front row.

I knew the show hadn't sold too well; I read on-line that the Pageant wouldn't be opening the balcony for this show. Roy and I were hoping that there'd still be seats available, or if not, we could stand along the wall and hope for a good view. If we couldn't find a good spot, we'd just leave. Tickets weren't that expensive. When we got there, most of the seats were already taken. But we've noticed at shows that skew to an older crowd, almost everyone heads to the seats, and leaves the standing-room-only pit in front of the stage empty. There were maybe 10 people standing in the front row, so we joined them. Roy mentioned that if we had waited in line all those hours, this would pretty much be the spot I wanted anyway. We got there 15 minutes before the opening act started.

The opening act was called Sick of Sarah. Unfortunately, the sound quality during their set was just awful. We could hear the drums and bass, far-away sounding vocals. The guitar player was standing right in front of us, but I could not hear what she was playing. The band had a lot of energy and put on a good live presentation. Roy wandered back to the sound board, to see how different it sounded there. Not much better. Sometimes the front rows can get bad sound because the main speakers are above us, pushing the sound further back. We hear the on-stage monitors and get a weird mix. I don't know what was causing it this time. I hoped the Bangles would be better. The opening act played for half an hour.

I like the idea that the Bangles were taking a young group on tour to give them exposure, like bands used to do before the package tours became so popular. It feels like so many bands charge a fortune for concert tickets on the basis of nostalgia, and the return is that they have to offer up nostalgia, delivering songs that every one knows, by every band. With a band playing a small venue, with $25 tickets, the show becomes less of an "event" and more of a real concert by an active touring band. There's a freedom to play lesser known songs and bring unknown acts with them.

The Bangles came on stage right at nine. They opened with their cover of Hazy Shade of Winter, a Simon and Garfunkel song. For me, it was a great opening because it's so lively and it's the only song where I could sing along for the whole song, knowing all the words. The sound was much better than the opening band's. We could hear every instrument and the vocals clearly. The only thing I had trouble with was catching everything the band members said to the audience.

There were three microphones set up in front. Vicki Peterson stood stage center, Susanna Hoffs was stage left, close to where we were standing. For a few songs, Debbi Peterson left the drumset to play guitar; she took the position on stage right. This was not a real personality-driven band for me. Roy asked me earlier if I could name all the band members. I could, but I didn't know which Peterson sister was Debbi and which was Vicki. It turned out that Roy didn't know it was Susanna Hoffs standing closest to us; he refered to her as "the other guitarist" after the show. They all took turns singing, with Debbi sometimes singing while playing drums, and sometimes by the front of the stage. There were only three original members of the band. They were joined by a bassist and keyboard player.

This was just a really fun, well-performed, enjoyable show. I told Roy that it felt like the band stripped off the 80's production sheen from their music. It came across as power pop with great vocal harmonies. The covers they played only reinforced this - a Big Star song in memory of Alex Chilton, the Nazz's Open My Eyes (which Roy and I both thought was going to be Can't Explain from the Who), a snippet of the Who's Magic Bus during the encores. There was another song that used the bassline of The Beatles' Taxman. I don't know if that was a cover or not.

There was one song that I didn't think sounded well. They performed to a backing track for one song, so Debbi Peterson could play guitar. The pre-recorded drums were too loud and seemed to clash with what the band was playing, rather than support it. Either I got used to it, or they fixed the volume issue, because it got better as it got on.

Roy was particularly impressed with Vicki Peterson's guitar playing. He said it reminded him of The Moody Blues' Justin Hayward's very melodic playing.

The Bangles played one unreleased song, from their upcoming album. Vicki Peterson asked the audience to indulge them this one song. I hate that it's come to this. Why is there this dividing line, where songs of a certain vintage are acceptable, and new songs suck? Every song was new at one point, and we used to like them. Did it come with radio deciding to stop playing the new songs from older bands? Or too many artists with new material that wasn't that interesting, too middle-of-the-road. I asked Roy if, when he saw Yes the first time, just before the Relayer album was released, if they meekly asked the audience if they would indulge them playing Sound Chaser? Or did they just open with it? Roy said they slammed the audience with it. Of course, I didn't know half the material the Bangles played at this show, and the new song fit right in stylistically, so I wouldn't have noticed it was new.

For the encore, The Bangles invited Sick of Sarah back on stage to sing and dance. They did In Your Room. The final encore was Walk Like an Egyptian, played to a backing track. Susanna Hoffs had two pre-teen girls sitting off to the side of the stage. Roy heard her say these were her nieces. They came out and danced along for this song. Some of the Sick of Sarah musicians clowned around did the dance from the video in back of the stage. The bandmembers really looked like they enjoying themselves throughout the show. We were too.

The show ended at 10:30pm. I've had good luck meeting some of the musicians who play at the Pageant in the past. I know what exit they use to get on the tour bus after the show. I brought my copy of Susanna Hoff and Matthew Sweet's Under the Covers CD, and we waited. It gets to be late, and we want to go home, but we've already waited all this time, it's bound to be soon. We saw people with backstage passes leave. We saw the young nieces leave, and the backing musicians.

There was a new wrinkle in waiting for autographs. Since the last time we were at the Pageant, a new hotel opened a few store-fronts away. The band could come out of any door and walk over without a big production. That's just what happened. Everyone else left from the usual door in back, but the Bangles walked out front. One of the Pageant employees told us they'd already left. I didn't know whether to trust him or not, but someone from the opening act confirmed it. It was around midnight. We walked home. If I had gone home right after the concert, I wouldn't have gotten to sleep too late. This extra hour and a half of waiting was another matter. I called work and left a message that I'd be in late. I gave myself too little sleep and still got in late, but it's balanced by the happy memories of a good concert. I'm really glad we went.