English rockers You Me at Six are one of those bands that has been on my radar for several years, but I’ve somehow managed to miss them every time they toured the States (back when I lived there). So when I saw that the band was playing at London’s famed Alexandra Palace and the buzz seemed to be at an all-time high, it was the perfect storm for me to grab my gear and check this one out. Throw in the opening band Black Foxxes who’ve just released one of my favorite records of the year so far and things could get very interesting.
To say that You Me at Six are huge in the UK is an understatement—numerous Kerrang awards and several gold records all-leading up to a new album called Night People that just debuted at number 3 on the UK charts. Having lived in London for less than a year as an expat from San Francisco, it continues to blow my mind how different the levels of popularity there are between bands in the US versus the UK. You Me at Six have a respectable fan base in the US, but in the UK they are bona fide superstars.
With a sound falling somewhere between Taking Back Sunday and Royal Blood, these guys continue to make solid records. It’s a step above the cookie cutter bands of the current movement and these guys have the songs in place on the new record to break them worldwide. It will be interesting to see how the States embrace the upcoming tour along with radio and all the other essential elements to break a band these days. I’d say they have the UK conquered at the moment.
The doors are opening at London’s famed Scala for one of the most anticipated shows of the year, but it’s a show that almost didn’t happen.
My Vitriol has launched into full backup mode due to an unforeseen issue that has left the band’s touring van in Wales from the previous show. Frontman Som Wardner is racing to program the lights for tonight’s sold out show and he’s finished just as the doors open. As if all of this wasn’t enough pressure, the band is one lady down as Tatia Starkey is still away on maternity leave. She’s disappointed to be missing out on all the shows, but family comes first and the band couldn’t postpone touring any longer. She gave them her blessing to carry on without her.
To say that I was excited is an understatement. Finelines is one of my favorite records of all time and to be honest, I never thought that I would have the chance to see the band again live, especially in their hometown. Having never been to Scala before this was a new adventure for me as both a photographer and a fan. The venue is sort of a choose your own adventure for watching a show. Several different levels accompany several different stairwells in which some lead to what seem to be secret bar locations.
Sting is a living legend. He’s got nothing left to prove to the world of rock ‘n’ roll as he’s seemingly done it all. He’s in the Rock an Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Police, he was nominated again for induction as a solo artist in 2015, he’s ventured into acting, and even Broadway. Add to this having sold more than 40 million records worldwide and numerous top lists from Rolling Stone to VH-1—and one wonders what’s next? How about going back to his roots and releasing his first rock album in 13 years?
That record is 57th and 9th which has laid the foundation for a full-blown tour. The album’s title is a reference to the New York intersection Sting crossed every day to get to Avatar Studios in Hell’s Kitchen where much of the album was recorded. The record is a return to form for Sting and it’s really interesting to see the band of musicians he’s put together for the record and the tour.
Sting’s backing band is a your sort of alt-country act from San Antonio called the Last Bandoleros. They sounded a bit like the soundtrack to From Dusk Til Dawn crossed with Crosby Stills and Nash with a touch of Wilco. And holy shit can these guys sing—I’m talking four part harmonies for days here.
Swedish metal lords Ghost are at the top of their satanic doom and gloom game in 2017. Lead singer and founder Tobias Forge—who performs as Papa Emeritus and is the driving force behind the band—continues to evolve the group’s sound and lineup. Rumor has it that the evil priest did some demon cleaning earlier this year by firing and replacing the entire band. While no one really seems to know the truth as the “nameless ghouls” go to great lengths to hide their identities, what I saw was apparently the third show with the new lineup and these ghouls didn’t miss a beat.
This was my first time seeing Ghost live and I have to say that this is a very special band. If you see a photo of Ghost before you hear their music, their image alone would make you think that they are burn the priest style, hard core death metal. But they are not, actually nothing of the sort. They are more of an early Black Sabbath or Pentagram from the ’70s, but with a much bigger sound. Think Phil Spector producing Sabbath with a hint of Type O Negative and Clutch. It’s a truly unique sound—and that’s the best I can do to convey this in words.
I love a band that has the balls to open up their set with their current “hit” in the form of the brilliant “Square Hammer.” There’s a sense of confidence in that they needn’t save this one for the encore like countless other bands do just to ensure that the crowd sticks around for the entire show. That’s not the case with a Ghost show as they have several stellar records to choose from which fill a nearly two-hour set. Highlights included the Grammy Award winning “Cirice” which has one of the greatest riffs in doom metal history, “From the Pinnacle to the Pit,” and the hauntingly gorgeous “He Is.”
When it comes to Sunset Strip metal in the ’80s, Appetite For Destruction is always hailed as the crown jewel of the genre. While that record was, of course, a brilliant piece of work that was ahead of its time, there was another—the self-titled debut masterpiece from LA Guns.
Released in January of ’88 and clocking in a just over 30 minutes it was the “Never Mind the Bullocks” of hair metal. It had a sound that was distinct given the killer vocals of Phil Lewis, and monster riff after riff from arguably one of the best guitarists on the planet, Tracii Guns. Rough around the edges, every song led perfectly into the next, giving birth to instant classics in the form of “Sex Action,” “Electric Gypsy,” and “No Mercy.”
LA Guns took it up a notch on their second record with Cocked and Loaded and continued successfully until Nirvana arrived and single handily murdered the genre. It was a shame that LA Guns got looped into that mess of hair metal at the time because they had the substance that many of the others lacked. Either way, many years later the band would later dissolve into two versions, one led by Phil Lewis and the other by Tracii Guns. 2016 found the two back together again and I absolutely had to see this for myself.
The first time I saw Devin Townsend perform live was when he was hand selected by Steve Vai as the vocalist for Vai’s landmark album Sex and Religion and the tour that would follow.
That was back in 1993 at Mississippi Nights in St. Louis. I remember the show being epic as one would expect from a Vai show, but the bigger question was who in the hell was this insane singer that looked like a superhero and sang like a prog-rock version of Mike Patton? This guy’s voice went from gorgeous soaring highs to razor-sharp screams in a split second. It was the perfect complement to Vai’s eclectic, mind-bending soundscapes, but that wouldn’t last long.
A year or so later I got a copy of Townsend’s new band Strapping Young Lad in the mail at the record store I worked at. I think it was part of the Concrete Corner program. I put this thing on inside the store and scared the shit out of every person who was shopping at the time. This was by far the heaviest thing I had ever heard in my life, and it had a huge wall of sound layered harmonies. It was as if Queen had been crossed with Pantera but then stuck to the front of a Mack truck and driven through a brick wall at an insanely high speed. In other words, it was awesome.
Big Wreck is a very special kind of band. One that has a truly unique sound, an unrivaled live show, and a frontman who does a remarkable job transporting the listener through storytelling and thought-provoking lyrics.
Formed by Ian Thornley in Boston back in 1994, Big Wreck released a stellar piece of work in the form of their debut album In Loving Memory Of. This record spawned a couple of minor radio hits for the band. The folks who got it know that Big Wreck never really got their fair share in the clouded and confused major label clusterfuck of mediocre rock at the time. But more importantly, it was just enough to lay a foundation for the band to build upon for the next decade.
I haven’t seen Big Wreck since 1994 back in my hometown of St. Louis as the band rarely tours the lower States because they remain quite popular in Canada and the New York/ New England area with a rabid fan base. During a business trip to New York City last week I saw that the band was playing a show at the Gramercy. I extended my trip by one day to see this one, and holy hell was it worth it.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 50 years since ZZ Top formed back in Houston Texas. For one reason or another, I’ve never seen the band live and thought it was about time I do so. That opportunity came during a recent work trip to New York City where I found out the band would be playing at the legendary Beacon Theater. Even though I had to deliver a speech the next day at a tech marketing conference, I jumped on the opportunity. On top of that, I was able to score a photo pass to get my gear inside.
Having never shot at the Beacon before, to say that it was a challenge is an understatement. We were limited to the far sides of the stage and with all the photogs piled up on one side, I ran to the other and had stage left all to myself. I quickly realized that the duo of Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons tend to cater toward stage right, so I was in quite a difficult position. Regardless, I did what I had to do to get some decent shots. Did I miss the big EPIC ones? Yeah, maybe. But there were half a dozen photogs on the other side to get those shots. I was going to pull a George Constanza (and do the opposite).
You would never guess that these guys have been jamming for close to five decades as they came out on fire with “Got Me Under Pressure” as the opener. Up next was “Waitin’ for the Bus,” right into “Jesus Just Left Chicago.” Then it was time for a couple of hits before diving into a blues extravaganza including a slowed down, boozy version of the Hendrix classic “Foxy Lady.” The rest of the set was a jam-palooza of ZZ Top staples old and new, topped off with a finale of the King’s signature track “Jailhouse Rock.”
There’s a certain mystique surrounding Band of Horses when one listens to their records. It’s a sort of atmospheric elegance led by Ben Bridwell’s dreamy vocals which are in contradiction to his dark, withdrawn lyrics. That all gets blown to hell though when you see the band live. In an instant, it goes from quiet and reserved to a full-blown rock ‘n’ roll explosion. It’s night and day compared to the record, but isn’t that what a live show is really supposed to be anyway?
Falling somewhere between the Avett Brothers and Sunny Day Real Estate, Seattle’s Band of Horses are touring in support of their fifth studio album Why Are You Ok. The critics will say it’s a return to form for Bridwell, but then again those are the same people who criticised the brilliant Mirage Rock. Now, before we start debating this, I will tell you that in my not so humble opinion Cease to Begin is the band’s masterpiece and I would simply call it an extension, or an evolution of that record.
I know what you’re going to say next—Infinite Arms was the band’s breakthrough. And I would say to that, great record, but a major label and a Grammy nod don’t make the record “a breakthrough.” The songwriting on Cease is arguably some of the best from the first decade of the 2000s. But enough about debating what’s best, let’s get onto the show.
I’ve seen some metal shows in my time, but Meshuggah is by far the heaviest. They make Lamb of God sound like Air Supply. Their time signatures are so incredibly insane that even Stephen Hawking would have trouble deciphering them. It’s controlled chaos that’s orchestrated perfectly by one of the most forward-thinking bands on the planet—and it’s a fucking mind trip to watch live.
Meshuggah‘s name (almost) literally translates to “crazy” in Yiddish. It’s the perfect word for encapsulating the contribution this Swedish experimental death metal band has provided the genre over the past 25 plus years. The band’s eighth studio album, The Violent Sleep of Reason, continues to push forward and evolve their very complex sound.
Drummer Tomas Haake (named by Rolling Stone as one of the greatest drummers of all time) recently talked to Loudwire about the songwriting process which is equally as complicated as the song structures. Haake says, in a nutshell, that the band doesn’t write on tour because “they tend to compartmentalize their responsibilities and even a show three months out can disrupt the writing.”
The process of writing actually starts on a computer and later translates into a live setting. Rehearsals take months to perfect the mind-bending rhythms and time signatures, and the band has reported playing one song more than 50 times straight through in rehearsal with an additional 20 in order to nail the recording.