I got to 94.1 The Zone's annual Bonzai Fest Saturday at the Highland Bowl just in time to catch the back half of the set by Walk The Moon. It was a little on the poppier side of life than I tend to dance on, but was catchy nonetheless. That band was followed by Eve 6, which is one of those bands that falls into my "meh" band category. I wasn't an Eve 6 fan before its set, and still wasn't a fan after. To me it was just middle-ground American rock.
Then came the main attraction for me, New Jersey's The Gaslight Anthem. The group just put out a new record, and though I wasn't entirely blown away by it, the new songs fit in very well with the band's set at Bonzai. I'm always amazed at how precise this band is live, and how much its concerts sound like near replications of its records -- and that's a good thing. I was a little surprised that the group kept pulling out slow songs for a festival set, and given it wasn't a headlining slot and it seemed like many in the crowd weren't familiar with the band, going with the fast and in-your-face may have been the smarter route. Either way, Gaslight ended with a rousing, raucous, and respectful cover of "Baba O'Riley" which was nearly worth heading out just by itself.
Our Lady of Peace went up next. At first I was somewhat intrigued: the music teetered on stadium-pop-rock jams, with slow and steady vocal lines over the powerful clash of guitar, drums, and bass. (There were keys in the mix, too, but bless anybody if they could hear them -- I couldn't.) But the longer the group went on, the less it kept my interest, and things started to blend together song after song. Part of the problem was the lead singer's overreliance on a megaphone. There is never any excuse to use a megaphone on stage during a concert, ever.
I can't remember the last time I listened to any of its music, but The Offspring was the band that most surprised me. The California pop-punk band put on one sweaty, fast, and furious set, the kind of pure powerful take-no-prisoners rock that you just don't see much anymore, including staples such as "Hit That " and of course "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)." The prerecorded clips that played between songs were a little corny, and the expansive lighting rigs, strobe lights, and enormous lighted logo were over the top. But if you can bring the rock as much as The Offspring did, some pageantry is justified. When I first saw the bill I was suspicious of the festival bringing the band in as headliners. But that set not only managed to quell my fears, it quashed them with a hard-hitting and mosh-pit inspiring good time. And you can't go wrong with that.
There is a particularly transcendent moment at the beginning of "Upward," the third track on Manuel Valera's excellent new album. An urgent Latin beat is established when suddenly a swirl of notes come spiraling up out of nowhere with a wondrous sound, as if to say: Fasten your seat belts, this album is now taking off.
Valera, who is equally adept at acoustic piano and a variety of electronic keyboards, wrote and arranged most of the album's tracks. He is a native of Cuba and one of the top contemporary artists carrying on the Afro-Cuban tradition in jazz. But on this album Valera goes for something different. Afro-Cuban jazz is still present, but he also incorporates elements of R&B, funk, and fusion, and the result is exhilarating.
For instance, his composition "Regards" covers all of the territory mentioned above in an engaging hybrid style with bassist John Benitez slapping out his notes and Eric Doob (drums) and Mauricio Herrera (percussion) getting a funk workout. Other supporting players who excel throughout the album are Yosvany Terry on various saxophones and Tom Guarna on guitar. But it is Valera's unique musical vision and his innovative solos that carry the day.
There are only a few days a year I brave the sun for extended periods of time, and Warped Tour is one of them. It somehow manages to always be the hottest, dustiest, and otherwise most uncomfortable day of the whole summer. Yet there's a reason that it continues to draw such a crowd, year after year, and a reason that I've gone nearly every year since my first time back in 2004.
On Tuesday I started off the long, hot, sunny day at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center with Rochester natives Polar Bear Club. This was my first chance to catch the group live, and while PBC is a little on the harder side of things than I usually like, it makes it work, and work well. At the end of the night its songs were still stuck in my head, and it wasn't just because they left the first impression. They left a great one.
Now, I'm not used to being surprised at Warped Tour these days; I usually have a decent idea of who will be there, and whether I'll like them or not. A complete random walk-by win-over is rare, but that's what happened with Skinny Lister. I was shocked that an accordion-playing, foot-stomping Celtic (dare I use the C word? The band hails from England, not the Emerald Isle) band had sneaked on the tour without my prior knowledge, and it was by chance that I walked by just in time to catch a few of its enjoyable reels.
Kicking off the afternoon was current bastion of ska, Streetlight Manifesto. I forgot just how good this group is, and how tight everything always sounds. I've seen the horn-heavy band blast and blare a few times before, so had to cut the time short to run over to the band I was most excited to see, but Manifesto was sure a-rocking.
And then I finally found them! Wales-based rockers Lostprophets haven't seen a huge stateside hit since 2004's "Last Train Home," with the band's second-most-recent album not even seeing a U.S. release. But for me, the group has been on my concert bucket list for years, being one of the first rock albums I ever bought. It's somewhat of a guilty pleasure, but always near and dear to my heart, and I had just about given up seeing the band on this side of the Atlantic before the Warped announcement. So, I'm hyping them quite a bit (btw: its most recent album, "Weapons," just came out, and it's amazing).
Unfortunately, Warped can sometimes not be the best place to see an act due to short set times, fast changeovers, etc. For whatever reason sound problems plagued Lostprophets. The first few songs the vocals were barely, if at all, audible to anybody not right up against the stage, and the bass sound issues kicked in after that. You could just tell that the band was getting frustrated constantly trying to get whoever was running sound to adjust anything. The sound got better, but I don't think it was ever as right as they, or I, would have liked it.
That didn't keep them from hitting the set hard. Lostprophets played a ferocious and fiery cut off "Shinobi Vs. Dragon Ninja," a very deep cut off their back albums I never thought I'd hear live, and I had a hard time keeping up with the fast flying and fret-handling fingers.
For its last song, lead singer Ian Watkins ran off stage to the people sitting on the lawn and formed his own personal mosh pit, with the crowd soon swarming after him. Nice ending to a very strong set, it's just a shame the sound problems put a damper on what could have been even more awesomeness.
Now, say all you want about Warped changing and what-have-you, but some things never do. And that can't be said better than the finale one-two punch that was Taking Back Sunday and Yellowcard. Both were headlining on my first Warped back in '04, so it was a little slash of nostalgia to wrap up this tour with both bands.
I'll be blunt: I like Taking Back Sunday, I really, really, do, and not just because my high-school girlfriend loved them and shoved them down my throat. The band is very skilled at riffing together pop-catchy lines, duo vocal attacks, and ushered in a whole wave of the genre. But still, I've always felt like they the band is leaving something on the table live that is present in its recordings. The line-up shuffles over the years may not have helped, but with the original gang back in tow, I expected a little more. It's tough to put an exact finger on what was missing, but Adam Lazzara's vocal uncertainty and all-over-the-place pitch didn't help things any. And I know I'm getting really picky, but swinging microphones just pisses me off -- especially when you are missing notes. Pitch first, theatrics second.
And last but not least, was Yellowcard. Yes, THAT Yellowcard, and yes, we all know that "Ocean's Avenue" was a good song like 10 years ago that got played so much it should only be listened to every few years or so. But it was also the only band on the tour (correct me if I'm wrong, anybody) that had a violin, so I owed it that much. And luckily, I did. The group blew me away
And -- and I cannot stress how big a point this is -- the group actually had things mixed so that I could hear the violin just as loud and level as the guitars. Plenty are the bands I've seen that can't pull that off, so props and kudos all around. I didn't think I'd ever be saying it, but Yellowcard was possibly the best group of the day. You can say that the band has had its heyday, its moment in the sun, but if this performance was any indication, you're wrong.
In proper tradition, the band closed off the night with "Ocean's Avenue." And you know, there's a reason it got played as much as it did (it's catchy as hell) and I was due to have to listen to it this year anyway. And anything is better than "Call Me Maybe" stuck in my head.
What was your favorite act of the day? What do you think of Warped Tour overall?
Over the years I've had the pleasure to meet and play with some of my guitar heroes. Some of them are original cats from rock 'n' roll's first wave, like Ike Turner, Ronnie Dawson, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry, Link Wray, and Friday night's star attraction at Water Street Music Hall, surf-guitar innovator/godfather/legend Dick Dale. It's been a trip meeting all these guys, but over the years I've noticed a disconnect. You tell one of these guitarists that he's a hero, or how you wore the grooves off his record and off your fingertips -- until both melted and bled -- learning how to play like them, and inevitably they just kind of look at you. I mean, they've all been cordial and appreciative. But they don't quite get it. You see, in many cases, these guitarists were the creators of their style and its sound. Whether by accident or out of shear genius, they created it without outside influence. These heroes had no heroes.
Dick Dale is one of those hero-less heroes, and he stands majestically as one of the greatest guitar players of all time. Last Friday, Water Street Music Hall was packed and electrified by the time Tombstone Hands finished its rough and trashy set. Dale's guitar reverberated loud and urgent from off stage like a Tyrannosaurus Rex with a hard-on. By the time he was on stage, he and his band (including his son Jimmy Dale on drums) were full bore into a full-tilt, breakneck version of "Nitro." The crowd went wild, and stayed wild. Dale still amplifies through vintage Fender tweed, and his sound was magnificently huge. Punctuating his set with stream-of-conscious standards like "House of the Rising Sun" and "Summertime Blues," Dale tore up and down his neck like a rabid surfer. Or like the guitar player he is, and the hero he never had.
I first saw The B-52's at the Dome Arena 30 years ago. Thirty years ago! But as much as you may think the band's show at CMAC this past Saturday was a revival, I'm here to tell you, there is still no one that brings the party like this band. The music is trademark 1950's sci-fi, surf-a-go-go made into a bunch of hits that the band whipped out and set down. The band was tight and fun, working the crowd to its feet. Squeeze closed the show to a lesser crowd. The B-52's are a tough act to follow, especially when you got me and bagman Tim Brown singing all the wrong words -- loudly -- to "Tempted."
BY TODD REZSNYAK
If you've never seen The B-52's perform live, you're missing out on a unique concert experience. The band is all about having a good time, with songs and lyrics that may seem completely off the wall, yet have the ability to burrow right into your pleasure centers. The legendary party band opened its Saturday show at CMAC with "Wig," a perfect example of what I'm talking about. It's a song that's literally about people wearing various types of hairpieces, with a couple of intentionally corny wig-related puns tossed in. It would sound strange to a person unfamiliar with the group, but for the audience that night, it made perfect sense.
The B-52's hit the stage promptly at 8 p.m. and over the next 75 minutes blew through 14 tracks, a well-balanced set list that touched on every important era for the group (and all but one of its studio albums), with a couple of surprises mixed in.
The B's of course played their most recognizable songs, "Love Shack" and "Roam," while treating long-time fans to early gems "Lava" and "52 Girls." Kate Pierson was in fine form, her voice strong and on pitch throughout the show. Fred Schneider was also in great shape, his signature sing/shout vocals clear and energetic. Only Cindy Wilson seemed to falter a bit in the middle of the set, struggling to land some notes, but she recovered and finished strong. Keith Strickland, on guitar, took every opportunity to showcase his skills, shining on guitar-heavy songs like "Funplex" and "Private Idaho."
The stage was light on visuals, but that didn't matter, as the experience was more about the music, and the audience clearly connected with it. From the moment the band took the stage, large portions of the crowd were on their feet, dancing in the aisles and in front of their seats through most of the set, especially to "Mesopotamia," "Rock Lobster," (the final song), and of course "Love Shack." The audience particularly relished shouting the most iconic line, "Tin roof! Rusted!" back to the band, before breaking back into dance.
Overall the show was a simple affair; the band's outfits were rather muted, with Schneider's multiple pairs of sunglasses qualifying as a costume change of sorts, and Pierson and Wilson without their signature beehive 'dos, which made the songs the focus of the show. And there's a good reason for that: the band still sounds great. Despite Wilson's vocal hiccups for a song or two, she and Piersone have always blended well together, and they both play off and with Schneider's vocals as well as they ever have.
The songs also hold up. The three tracks played off the "Funplex" album from 2008 fit right in with tunes like "Planet Claire," a tune that's now 30 years old. Anyone who knows the B-52's also knows they've always been in a crowd of one. No other band out there is quite like the B's, so here's to hoping they keep the partying going for a good while longer.
Over the years I've had the pleasure to meet and play with some of my guitar heroes. Some of them are original cats from rock 'n' roll's first wave, like Ike Turner, Ronnie Dawson, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry, Link Wray, and Friday night's star attraction at WaterStreetMusic Hall, surf-guitar innovator, godfather, legend Dick Dale. It's been a tres cool trip meeting all these guys, but over the years I've noticed a disconnect. You tell on of these guitarists he's a hero, or how you wore the grooves off their record and off your fingertips -- until both melted and bled -- learning how to play like them, and they just kind of look at you. I mean, they've all been cordial and appreciative, but they don't quite get it. You see, in many cases these guitarists were the creators of their style and its sound. Whether by accident or out of shear genius, they created it without outside influence. These heroes had no heroes.
Dick Dale is one of those hero-less heroes, and stands majestically as one of the greatest guitar players of all time.
Water Street Music Hall was packed and electrified by the time Tombstone Hands finished its rough and trashy set. Dale's guitar reverberated loud and urgent from off stage like a Tyrannosaurus Rex with a hard-on. And by the time he was on stage, he and his band (which included his son Jimmy Dale on drums) were full bore into a full-tilt, breakneck version of "Nitro." The crowd went wild and stayed wild. Dale still amplifies through vintage Fender tweed and his sound was magnificently huge. Punctuating his set with stream-of-conscious standards like "House of the Rising Sun" and "Summertime Blues," Dale tore up and down his neck like a rabid surfer. Or like the guitar hero that he is -- and never had.
Last night I discovered the distinct difference between Highland Bowl and the Highland Park Festival Site. For whatever reason, me and my wingman Woody thought that the Wednesday Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad concert was at the Bowl. But when we rolled up there was no reggae, there was no dub, there weren't thousands of hippies with hula hoops, there was no earth-shattering ka-boom. There were, however, a lot of "thither to"s and "wherefor arts" and lots of complicated antiquated phrases ending in "th."
"Man," said Woody. "The Pandas have really changed."
That's when it dawned on me.
"What light through yonder window breaks," I said. "'Tis Shakespeare in the Park and Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad is over there." Apparently we weren't the only ones to make this mistake. We followed the bass and the faint cheers south.
And that's where we found a crowd of about 4,000 hula-hooping, dancing, swaying, swinging, shoeless, braless bodies personifying and interpreting the band's deep-dish groove. The sound was great, bested only by the peaceful joy and upbeat vibe. The band pulled out a few tunes from it's "Country" album, which essentially just altered the bass groove from the one to the two/four. The band applied this to one of my all-time favorite Elvis tunes, "Mystery Train" (incidentally, the Junior Parker original featured guitarist Floyd Murphy, who used to live with our own Joe Beard).
The band was simultaneously loose and tight. I guess you could call it snug, kind of like new underpants. At times it kicked off songs with an exuberant acceleration before immediately slowing things down. It was trippy to the max. Good show, good band, good night.
The Indie Music Channel brought its Indie Music Revolution Festival to Water Street Music Hall this past weekend. The event boasted a cornucopia of young talent, including plenty of stuff from the home team. I caught Methanol Friday as the band blasted its big rock with hooks. This group has really settled into a solid groove and has transcended its influences; it owns its own brand of rock 'n roll. Methanol ended its set with guitarist White Mike smashing his guitar a la Townshend, to my secret delight.
Saturday brought night No. 2 of the revolution. Brooklyn Haley -- a new teen sensation who wouldn't stop texting while I tried to talk with her -- was on stage track singing as I made the scene. It was pop fluff that the kids seemed to dig. But then Rochester's Melia came out like a torpedo, or, more accurately, a black-and-purple pinball in hot pants. She not only performed but commanded an eager crowd pushed up to the stage, all the people in it seemingly having a working knowledge of the Melia songbook. Then Melia strapped on her steely Les Paul and let fly. This lady can shred. Her songs are complex, but not too heavy; sweet in spots, but they don't leave you walking away with a toothache. It was to Melia's credit that the Indie Music Channel put Rochester in its crosshairs to begin with, as she had won three awards at The Indie Music Channel Awards in Hollywood for Best Female Rock Artist, as well as Best Rock Song and Song of the Year for her tune, "Just a Bride."
For a soulful 180, Ronnie Lickers performed with his Goodbye Ronnie outfit for a set full of stark wonder and dusty atmosphere. I love the new record. It caught me off guard, like Joe Henry's "Tiny Voices."
Between getting clobbered for two nights at Water Street, I spent a beautiful day at the Corn Hill Arts Festival's Gazebo Stage, where I got to hear some Big Easy, not-too-greasy New Orleans/Dixieland stroll from The Roc City Stompers, some analog dub-step with Roots Collider, and the classic bluesy swing with the always stylin' and profilin' Electro Kings. I made my way over to the main stage where The Campbell Brothers were laying it down hard. They were smack in the middle of a foot-stompin' gospel throw-down. The Campbells never fail to bring tears to this heathen's eyes. Hallelujah!
So, we've reached the end: the last day of this year's Jazz Festival. It's been a long ride, but there was still a lot going on Saturday night worth talking about.
First up was theSierra Leone Refugee All-Stars. Now, for better or for worse I try to leave politics aside when looking at a musical group. For as many good things as the group has done, including its documentary on forming in a refugee camp during Sierra Leone's civil war, I just couldn't get into the music.To be fair, I've never really been a reggae fan. I was expecting a much more African folk sound from the group, and instead got a very reggae vibe. Say what you will, but I just couldn't dig it: it was all too circular and too similar.
Next up was Gov't Mule. I've always been a fan of seeing more rock-centric acts on the free stages during the big weekend shows. Smash Mouth? I was down with that. In fact, the festival seems to use these big rock-heavy acts to bring in the younger, drinking, free, crowd, so I'm not sure why they don't expand and just make one of those stages a rock stage while they are at it.
But I digress. Gov't Mule, which I was unfamiliar with before now, falls into my category of "classic rock" groups. It sounds like classic rock, smells like classic rock, and looks like classic rock. Nothing new, nothing groundbreaking, just heavy, loud, and standard rock.
Not that there's anything wrong with that; it just tends to not excite me as much as it could. Though, I will say that some of the band's solo work may have been the tipping point to bringing them here. But I have to ask the question: if you are putting rock bands on a stage to attract a younger crowd, shouldn't they, you know, be younger-attracting bands?
Last, and my saving grace for the day ,wasLocarnoat the Big Tent. Such a treat on which to end the festival, this group was what I wished every Mexican- or Spanish-leaning group I saw this week sounded like: a mix between mariachi, a few splashes of rock, some loud, blaring, bright horns, and yeah, let's throw in some violin for good measure.
I can't believe Locarno was also the first, and only time, I saw a violin all week, and it was great to hear that sound coupled with the trombone, trumpet, and guitars. It was the second-best show of the festival (trailing the ZydecoHellrasiers, of course), and a great last note to leave the festival on.
And I mean, come on, the band closed with "La Bamba." Always a party.
Now that the festival is over, who were some of your favorite acts? Who should come back next year, and who do you wish would have played but didn't? The festival is listening, so share your thoughts below.