Grace Potter pretty much has it all; the voice, the songs, the band, the fans, and most importantly the live show. Watching an artist of this magnitude completely own a stage and truly captivate an audience from start to finish is a rare thing these days and she makes it look effortless.
Touring in support of her latest record simply called Midnight, Grace Potter has left what she calls “safety net” of the Nocturnals and has gone her own way. The historic Fox Theater was the perfect venue for Potter to come out swinging the day after the release of what is technically her first solo record in more than decade.
Midnight noticeably has more of a pop sound to it and rightfully so, as producer extraordinaire Eric Valentine (Queens of the Stone Age, Nickel Creek, T-Ride) took control of the board while polishing up her timeless, soulful sound.
Rise Against has been around for 16 years? Hard to believe that’s the case but it is indeed true. It’s the classic story of a band signing to an independent record label, touring their asses off, getting some miles under their belt, and then moving on to a major for their breakthrough. That’s the way the music industry is supposed to work in my opinion. It’s the way bands can get some experience before being thrust into the limelight and the fast-moving gears of a major.
The problem is that this scenario these days is more of a fairy tale—it just doesn’t really happen anymore. If you are in a band today, you pretty much have the same chance of making it big as going to Vegas and winning a jackpot. But then again, that shouldn’t be a band’s goal any longer. Rise Against paid their dues, took full advantage of their major label shot, and made the most of it.
It’s good to see a band like Rise Against continue to find success. They know who they are, they know what they stand for, and the deliver one hell of a live show. That’s basically the formula that punk rock icons such as the Clash and the Pistols put together during the birth of punk. It’s real, it’s authentic, and if you don’t have it, then fans can see right through your bullshit.
Like a powerful derecho blasting its way across the midwest, stoner rock icons High on Fire keep gathering momentum the further into their career they go. Their destructive winds blew into the Regency Ballroom on Saturday night (8/1) as the band began the tour in their home state of California. Hot on the heels of releasing their most dynamic album to date, Luminiferous, they seemingly have a renewed spark and have put together a package tour of brutal proportions.
Opening up the night was Houston’s Venomous Maximus. With songs full of dark stoner riffs like “Give Up the Witch,” the band was musically adept and at times walking the doom metal line harkening back to classic Pentagram or Sir Lord Baltimore. What was lacking here are the mediocre vocals of singer/guitarist Gregg Higgins. In fairness, Higgins sounds better on wax than on stage and their mix was muddier than the Rio Grande, but it just wasn’t happening in Frisco. The solid metal core of their songs carried them through their set and the slowly growing crowd showed them some love.
Up next was Germany’s Lucifer, a band I was immensely excited for especially considering it was their first tour in the United States. Led by the bewitching Johanna Sadonis, Lucifer took the stage with something to prove—and prove it they did.
After an eerie intro, the band opened with pure Sabbath worship in the form of “Anubis.” The all-seeing eye on the back of Sadonis’ satin robe stared down the crowd as she turned away towards the drums and her voice was soaring and haunting, perfect all the way through as she writhed with the music. Her vocals were the focal point of their sound, but the thick guitars of metal veteran Gaz Jennings of Cathedral gave the band some serious weight. Two shows into the tour, Lucifer sounded well-seasoned and are destined for higher ground very soon.
The Kings of Chaos take the concept of a supergroup to an entirely new level. With a rotating lineup that reads like a VIP guest list for the greatest rock ‘n’ roll jam of the last two decades, these guys blew the roof off of the legendary Fillmore last week and did it all to save the friendliest creatures in the sea. The show was a benefit to raise funds and awareness for the Dolphin Project and I would say that it was a tremendous success.
So who was there you ask? Where do I begin… Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple), Sammy Hagar (Montrose, Van Halen), Slash, Duff McKagan (GnR, Velvet Revolver) Matt Sorum (GnR, Velvet Revolver, The Cult), Billy Duffy (The Cult), Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake) and Gilby Clark (GnR). What did they play? A cornucopia of rock classics that defined a generation—and a setlist for the ages.
The man, the legend, the voice of rock opened the show with two Purple classics “Highway Star” and “Smoke on the Water” backed up by Sorum, Clark, McKagan, and Aldrich. The first thing that I noticed is that Glenn Hughes’ voice sounded fucking spectacular. He hit every single note effortlessly and commanded the crowd as if he were asked to lead this crusade personally by the gods of rock ‘n’ roll. (By the way Glenn formed a band called California Breed and released a brilliant album last year.)
I think that John Mellencamp might be the coolest guy on the planet. He’s the personification of the most interesting man in the world. He’s got the stories, the songs, the women, the style, and an entourage of brilliant musicians and producers to back it all up. He’s the very definition of Americana and often cited as the only roots rocker who matters to his generation and pretty much my lifetime.
Touring in support of his latest record Plain Spoken, Mellencamp treated a sold out Paramount Theater to a stellar performance of both his classic and new songs. I loved the fact that Mellencamp only peppered in the “hits” during the first half of the set so that he could focus on the newer material right out of the gate.
Opening up with “Lawless Times” and then straight into “Troubled Man,” both cuts from the brilliant new record, was the perfect way to set the stage and the mood for the evening. Here’s a guy who continues to evolve as a songwriter while not forgetting to celebrate his past. Later on in the set would be another track from the album, my absolute favorite, “The Isolation of Mister.” If you don’t have this record yet, it’s the best thing he’s done in the past ten years in my opinion. I would have been OK with him simply playing the new record in its entirety.
An evening with Alice in Chains, a sold out crowd, and a setlist that perfectly captures the legacy of one of the most influential and successful American rock bands of the last two decades. No opening band, just two hours of epic music. And they sounded so spectacular live that I would easily list them as one of the top five touring bands on the planet at the moment.
Frontman William Duvall is simply masterful at handling lead vocals and his guitar adds a welcomed layer to the band’s colossal wall of sound that wasn’t there before. And before you say that no one can replace the late, great Layne Staley, I will say that I agree. He’s not trying to. Duvall sounds fucking amazing on the classic material and adds a new dimension to the Alice in Chains sound—keeping it alive and well.
And how’s the rest of the band? Jerry Cantrell looks and sounds as good as ever before, Sean Kinney still pounds the shit out of his drums, and Mike Inez continues to make it look effortless laying down the bass upon some of the heaviest grooves of all time. Collectively these guys look like a band that still very much loves to perform, instead of those who tour only for a paycheck.
I am going to get a tremendous amount of shit from my heavy metal friends for this one, but who really cares. I have a thing for Charli XCX. Not only because she’s incredibly attractive (I think it’s ok to say that because my wife has a crush on Mason Jennings), but more importantly because she’s got attitude and substance. Out of all the generic pop stars out there Charli has a sort of punk rock I don’t give a f**k mindset that I think is missing from much of the crap cluttering up the last of the available airwaves.
She reminds me of a very polished Joan Jett. On top of that she has a full band behind her that really kicks ass. When I heard that she was coming to the Fox Theater in Oakland I had to be there to photograph what was sure to be an epic pop show. I didn’t really care who was opening the show that night as I just really wanted to see Charli, but then BØRNS hit the stage and completely blew me away.
After a bit of research, I discovered that these guys are on Interscope and have a pretty good buzz behind them based on one of their songs being featured in a car commercial. The song is called “Electric Love” and the only bad thing about it is that apparently Taylor Swift tweeted about it (by the way that’s not a selling point to your target audience).
It’s been an epic past few weeks for me. First I got to watch Marilyn Manson interviewed at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in the south of France—check out my recap here—and then I got to photograph Manson’s epic live show here in the Bay Area. Within the span of fourteen days I saw two very different sides of Manson. One where he was a calm and reserved storyteller, and the other the exact opposite in the form of a flamboyant rock star commanding the stage and demanding attention.
During Cannes Lions, Manson joined Tor Myren, Chief Creative Officer at Grey Advertising, on the main stage for an interview appropriately titled “A Conversation with the Antichrist.” The topic was branding lessons for marketers. The format was talk show style. The players were two of the most creative minds on the planet, but with very different roles; an artist and an advertising exec, and it was brilliant.
The result was a side of Manson that many of us don’t get to see: a stripped down minimal makeup wearing Manson coming across very soft-spoken and seemingly shy. It’s a much different persona than the than larger than life one Manson assumes on stage.
Marilyn Manson continues to evolve as an artist. His latest album The Pale Emperor is an absolute masterpiece and his best work to date. This album is much more about the music and the lyrics than any elements of shock rock in his earlier work. It’s a very bold statement from Manson and has the substance to back it all up while along the way reminding us that he can still write a riff that will tear your head off. He wasted no time at all letting the capacity crowd at Concord Pavilion know that.
Taking their name from National Lampoon’s favorite vacationing family, The Griswolds are touring in support of their debut album, Be Impressive. This Aussie foursome lit up the Independent and played an impressive set for a capacity crowd that fell somewhere in between the sounds of MGMT and Vampire Weekend—but with the energy of an atomic explosion in their live show.
There’s been a recent surge in bands with this type of sound though. I think it started with Youngblood Hawk and I really thought they would blow the scene wide open, but that never happened. Passion Pit could have easily carried the torch a bit further but their second record was a bit disappointing as I think they lost their quirkiness which really made them stand out amongst the pack. The Griswolds on the other hand are in control of their own destiny with their next record, which I believe the band is heading back home to record as I write this.
Highlights from the set and recommended listening from their debut are “Right on Track,” “16 Years,” and “If You Wanna Stay,” in that order. It was incredibly difficult to get good photos from this one as the lights are always challenging, to say the least, at the Independent and there’s no photo pit. Luckily they have a very cool fan base that can be very accommodating to photographers.
It was a sweltering midwest summer back in 1984. I was ten years old and I had just heard Slide it In from Whitesnake for the first time. I remember the cassette tape was white with black print—which I ultimately played so many goddamn times that the cassette turned completely white—the print rubbed off from flipping it over so often in the player. But there was no need for song titles on this one as my friends as I had every song memorized. How many records can you do that with today?
Thankfully someone had created auto-reverse by the time I discovered the seminal masterpiece simply known as Whitesnake (1987). Again, here was an album that I would just listen to non-stop from start to finish. It was brilliant. Whitesnake stood out from the other bands at the time because they had substance. David Coverdale knew how to put together one hell of a band, and he still does to this day.
Fast forward twenty years to the biggest show I’ve ever seen happen inside the Regency Ballroom. David Coverdale and his reinvigorated Whitesnake are touring in support of The Purple Album. Comprised of songs from the three Deep Purple studio albums that David Coverdale appeared on, Burn, Stormbringer, and Come Taste The Band, the album is a brilliant tribute to Coverdale’s former colleagues.