Thirty eight years after crawling out of the burgeoning Los Angeles punk rock scene to become one of the biggest bands of the new wave era, The Go-Go’s could be finally calling it a day. At least that’s what the name of the current tour suggests. Postponed from 2010 when Wiedlin was forced to take time off to recover from a knee injury, the Go-Go’s official “Going Going Gone; The Farewell Tour” has sadly come to pass.
Openers Kaya Stewart and Best Coast collectively did a great job of warming up the crowd as they filled the seats, wine and beer in-hand. But it was clear that the gathered crowd, whose age rage spanned a several decades but generally tilted towards the 50s, was there for the headliners. So when the band finally took the stage to Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re An American Band,” the house lit up.
While Kathy Valentine officially parted ways with the band in 2013 amidst acrimony, the rest of the Go-Go’s (including Abby Travis on bass) could not have looked happier to be on stage together, all smiles as they danced along to the intro music before kicking straight into “Vacation,” as a barefoot Belinda Carlisle spun around the carpeted stage.
PHOTOS: KATARINA BENZOVA | They said it would never happen … certainly not in this lifetime … but Tuesday night found tens of thousands of people packing San Francisco’s AT&T Park for just that. It had been nearly 24 years since original Guns N’ Roses members Axl Rose, Duff McKagan, and Slash shared a Bay Area stage and no one was going to let the opportunity to see them together again slip by.
The late announcement of The Struts as openers didn’t seem to help get too many folks in the door early and their 6:30 pm set boomed through a lot of empty seats as most of the crowd appeared to be busy with getting their drink on. Even 10 minutes of incessant gun fire from the prepped stage failed to get the revelers moving and it wasn’t until the band finally strolled on stage to “The Equalizer” (miraculously within minutes of their scheduled set time) and launch into “It’s So Easy” that the mad scramble began.
The crowd went appropriately crazy for the Appetite for Destruction classic which was followed by “Mr. Brownstone” as one-two punch that was more-than-adequately punctuated by fireworks and flames.
Thankfully the days of Axl traipsing around a stage wearing only spandex short shorts and white Reebok high tops are far behind us and he instead he opted for torn jeans, leather jacket, and a flannel shirt around his waist. Looking none the worse for wear after his broken foot which kept him sitting on Dave Grohl’s throne during his stint with AC/DC, Axl strutted and snaked his way around the stage just like the old days. And while the vocals felt a bit off at first, his voice quickly found its groove by “Estranged” at which point he was actually caught smiling on the big screen as he perched himself at the end of the stage extension looking down at the general admission pit. All was clearly good in GnR Land.
Dead and Company
Through 50+ years and numerous incarnations, the Grateful Dead legacy keeps on truckin’. The latest torch bearers for the Dead legacy is Dead & Company and features original members Bob Weir (guitar/vocals), Bill Kreutzmann (drums), and Mickey Hart (drums), joined by John Mayer on guitar/vocal duties. A beautiful Saturday night in Mountain View found Dead & Co. wrapping up their successful U.S. tour with a sold out show at the Shoreline Amphitheatre, close to the Dead’s old San Francisco Bay Area stomping grounds.
With any act associated with the Grateful Dead lineage, you never know when their next show will be their last. So when Dead & Co.’s last planned tour date rolls through, you can be assured that the devotees will arrive early so as not to miss a single note. All this made for astounding gridlock inside and outside of the Shoreline which miraculously seemed to sort itself out by the time the band casually strode onto the stage at 7:40 and pm launched right into “Help on the Way” without uttering a word.
Dead and Company
While Mayer and Weir traded vocal duties and guitar licks, the “rhythm devils” stoically held down the beat behind massive amounts of percussion equipment and the whole amphitheater settled into a patient groove as the sun set behind the lawn before the first set wrapped with an enthusiastically-received “Franklin’s Tower” that had nearly every person in the venue on their feet.
Billed as a “legendary lineup of hip-hop artists spanning the history of the art form,” the “Art of Rap” tour hit San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom with over 4 hours of entertainment for the Bay Area’s fans. Curated by none other than Ice-T, the line-up included headliners Public Enemy with support from Ice-T, Naughty by Nature, and Grandmaster Melle Mel of Grandmaster Flash fame.
A last minute shift in venue from the Warfield to the smaller Regency Ballroom proved a wise move. While the room was disappointingly sparse for Melle Mel’s 6:40 pm opening set, the room quickly filled with bodies bringing with them a thick haze of smoke from Northern California’s finest for what would prove to be an intimate evening of hip hop classics.
While each act pulled the best of their catalogs (you can’t really expect Naughty By Nature to get away without playing “O.P.P” or “Hip Hop Hooray” now, can you?), they lived up to the billing by paying tribute to the OGs such as The Digital Underground, LL Cool J, and Kool Moe Dee, as well as the more recent artists such as Eminem.
After a successful 2015 one-day festival, the Taste of Chaos Tour made its return to the U.S. for the first time since 2009 with a 37 date amphitheater tour which wrapped on July 16 with a mega-fest at San Bernardino’s San Manuel Amphitheater.
The tour’s only Northern California stop featuring The Early November, SAOSIN, Taking Back Sunday, and Dashboard Confessional was particularly ambitious by the fact that it was held at the far-flung Concord Pavilion. On a Tuesday. Starting at 6:30 pm. Sadly for The Early November, that meant a pretty sparse audience for their opening set, but that didn’t stop them from blasting through their 30 minutes as if they were playing to a full house.
Taking Back Sunday
Next up was a rejuvenated SAOSIN, back with original frontman Anthony Green who was clearly invigorated after his break from the band and his time with Circa Survive. The crowd clearly wanted more than just a taste of SAOSIN and, with a new album recently out in May, it sure feels like we should be hearing more from these guys very soon.
It’s been a long 6 months since Cage The Elephant paid San Francisco a visit, last touching down on Bay Area soil for an opening slot on Metallica’s “The Night Before” concert at AT&T Park back in February. Let’s just say that there was a slightly different demographic packed against the rail this past Thursday night for CTE’s headliner at the Bill Graham Civic.
Openers Sunflower Bean took the stage at 7 pm to the gathering crowd. The New York trio was tight and powerful, delivering a set that was clearly influenced by Zeppelin and the Doors while still feeling fresh. Bands like Sunflower Bean are the reason to get to shows early for the opener.
By the time Portugal. the Man took the stage, the floor of the Billy Graham was packed. Their generous hour-long set, the stage pumped with thick smoke, drew the mostly young (and mostly female) crowd out and had them singing along.
As the crew readied the stage for Cage the Elephant’s headlining set, it was clear who people had come to see. The energy was palpable as the band casually strolled onto the stage with a wave and broke into “Cry Baby,” the lead track from their December 2015 release, Tell Me I’m Pretty.
When I was a teenager growing up in the midwest I would to go to the record store and seek out the most evil, sinister-looking metal album covers that would surely piss off my parents—Slayer, Possessed, Megadeth, Venom, King Diamond, etc. Those were the ones that had huge parental advisory stickers on them and some of the craziest artwork you’ve ever seen, and those were the ones that my friends and I loved to listen to. Most of that stuff was all a gimmick or for show, but the extreme metal movement of the early ’90s turned gimmicks into something much more real, and Polish death metal band Behemoth were leading the charge.
What the hell do I know about Polish black death metal? Not much. But after seeing Behemoth I’m quickly becoming a fan. Formed in Gdansk back in 1991, somehow these guys flew under my metal radar for the past 20 plus years. They are considered to have played an important role in establishing the Polish extreme metal underground, and over the years they have redefined the genre. I realize I’m a bit late to the game with this one, but better late than never.
It’s easy to dismiss death metal as simply heavy guitars, rapid fire drums, growling vocals, and indistinguishable band logos, but there’s quite a bit of substance happening here, you just have to dig in a bit. It’s certainly not for everyone, but for those who get it are rewarded with a different way of thinking.
So I’ve seen the Avett Brothers several times now and their shows keep getting bigger and better. Are these guys the best songwriters of my generation? They certainly could be as one song after another cherry picked from a vast catalog of genius was enough to have me in awe—along with several thousand others for almost two hours.
As I was watching what has evolved into a seven piece band on stage all I could think was f*ck Mumford and Sons—the Avetts are the real leaders of this bluegrass, folky, rocking old-time country revival movement. Not to dig too much at Mumford as I think the Avetts are doing just fine with another sold out return to the stunning Greek Theatre in Berkeley—but it does beg the question, why does the former seem to be so much more popular and get all the credit for the genre?
In my opinion, it’s a consistency thing. The Avetts have been at it much longer and have built a solid foundation of insanely passionate fans while Mumford and Sons pretty much came out of nowhere, had a few big hits, and were at one point lauded as the “biggest band in the world” before going rogue and throwing their fan base a curveball by going electric, akin to Bob Dylan. It reminds me of the time Radiohead stopped writing songs and instead went for “free-form jazz explorations in front of festival crowds.” While the gamble paid off for Radiohead, I think it fell flat for Mumford.
So, I used to have a bit of a problem with Foals. They have a very unique rule for photographers—instead of the customary first three no flash, they opt for the last three no flash. While it sounds like a unique idea it poses a problem. How in the hell will I know when the last three songs are and does that include the encore? Last time I went to see them myself and several other photographers missed the opportunity to shoot.
On top of that, we were all so fucking stressed trying to figure everything out that we really couldn’t enjoy the show. So there goes the photo-journalist element of what I love about covering shows in the first place. You see, many of the bigger publications have a writer and a photog, I choose to do both. One, because I can, and two, because I’m in the thick of this and I want the reader to both see and feel what it was really like. I’m convinced that the best way to share this experience comes from one person doing both.
Back to Foals. I was speaking at a social media conference in San Diego and noticed the band was playing a show at the Observatory on their way back from Coachella. The first thing that crossed my mind was that I have to get another chance to shoot these guys, and I did. This time though, I was prepared. I found out how long the set was, stood up next to the photo pit barrier, and counted the songs.
Generation Axe is guitar extravaganza bringing together five of the greatest axe men on the planet for a night a pure unadulterated shredding. Featuring Steve Vai, Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt, and Tosin Abasi, each of the five basic food groups of face-melting was represented well. Backing up the all-star lineup is a very capable band of musicians including Malmsteen keyboardist Nick Marinovich, Zappa Plays Zappa/ Dethklok bassist Pete Griffin, and Animals as Leaders drummer Matt Garstka.
Up first was Tosin Abasi, a Nigerian American guitarist best known as the guitar player and founder of the instrumental progressive metal band Animals as Leaders. I’m not too familiar with this guy, but he set the stage pretty well for what was to follow. Another interesting note is that he plays an 8 string guitar and was probably the most technical savvy shredder of the night.
Tosin played some mind-boggling solos with a full band before passing the torch to Extreme’s Nuno Bettencourt. The cool thing about this show is that each guitarist plays a 20 minute set then transitions via superjam to the next. The flow is quite brilliant and definitely led to some interesting encounters that fans won’t likely see ever again.