In 2002 I had the honor of taking Dr. Ralph Stanley to KGSR in Austin, Texas to talk about the release of his self-titled new record. I remember asking him about bluegrass music and he said to me, “I don’t play bluegrass, I play old-time country music.” That’s exactly what I heard on stage last week when The Devil Makes Three played the second of a two night stint at the Fox Theater in Oakland.
Effortlessly blending elements of western swing, folk, honky-tonk, rockabilly, and bluegrass, The Devil Makes Three was formed in Santa Cruz, California, in 2002. Guitarist Pete Bernhard, upright bassist Lucia Turino, and banjo player Cooper McBean have released four studio albums and a couple of live recordings along the way.
The trio have evolved their sound ever so slightly over the course of more than a decade of performing together. “Worse or Better” is a track from their latest record, 2013’s I’m a Stranger Here which showcases the group at its finest hour in my opinion, as Grammy Award winning songwriter and Nashville legend Buddy Miller took the helm as producer, bringing out the best from the trio to tape.
If you’ve not seen a Steel Panther show, you’re missing out on one of the most entertaining spectacles ever put to stage. Michael Starr, Lexxi Foxx, Stixx Zandinia, and Satchel are keeping the legacy of hair metal alive as they carry the torch for one of rock ‘n’ roll’s favorite past times.
The Regency Ballroom was completely packed to see these guys and for good reason. Their live show is nostalgic, comedic, part sing-along, and always over the top with excess. With song titles such as “You’re Beautiful When You Don’t Talk,” “Asian Hooker,” “Gloryhole,” and “F*cking My Heart in the Ass,” it’s easy to write these guys off as a simple novelty act, but the songs are incredibly catchy and their musicianship is absolutely stellar.
So while these guys may come across as a joke they have some serious chops to back up their crude lyrics, and that’s what makes them so brilliant. The band’s new CD/DVD, Steel Panther, Live from Lexxi’s Mom’s Garage arrives in stores February 26th and is available for pre-order.
Supergroups come and go but allegiances can be forever. Founded by mastermind Mark Menghi, Metal Allegiance has quickly become the torch-bearer for the metal community world-wide. More than just a band, it’s a movement bringing together the best of the best to keep the legacy of classic metal alive and well.
The core of Metal Allegiance features Mark Osegueda (Death Angel), Troy Sanders (Mastodon), Phil Demmel (Machine Head), Dave Ellefson (Megadeth), Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), Alex Skolnick (Testament), and Mark Menghi. The show on this night consisted of mostly covers but also a few select tracks from their debut album which features even more metal alums which are way too many to list here—but it’s a seriously impressive list that reads like a who’s who of metal past and present.
While I would have loved to hear a few more originals from the record in the set, the few that they played were everything that metal should be; loud, aggressive, and worthy of an entire crowd pumping their devil horns in the air. Alex Skolnick was absolutely on fire and melted every single face in the crowd with blistering guitar solos that he made look easy.
Within the past thirty days I have seen two of the most brilliant examples of modern music taken to the next level. In mid-December it was the stellar performance by Puscifer in Las Vegas touring in support of their brilliant new record Money Shot, and last week it was the mind altering sonic bombardment of multimedia juggernauts Tool. The common denominator of course being the prolific yet reclusive genius that is Maynard James Keenan.
Whether it’s the avant-garde offerings of Puscifer or the enigmatic styling of Tool, both have solidified their place and continue pushing the boundaries in a current musical landscape that is bloated and remarkably uninteresting. Tool of course remains a juggernaut and for good reason.
Is there a better example of doing more with less in the music business when it comes to Tool? Probably not. Four albums and one EP over the course of a quarter of a century and they are still the most relevant, Grammy award winning, visually stunning, progressive rock band on the planet. Critics often say the Tool has built a “cult” following, but that statement tells only a fragment of the entire story and the undercuts the vastness and diverseness of their fan base.
For my final rock ‘n’ roll show of the year I decided to go with something truly unique. Something I’ve never seen before; a Puscifer show. What I got was a mix of Mexican wrestling—in the form of something called Luchafer—opening up for one of the most incredible performances of unadulterated musicianship, lyricism, and avant-garde rock music that I have ever heard before.
Puscifer is clearly one of the most uncomfortable names to pronounce in the biz today, and to be quite honest, whenever someone asked me what band I was going to see in the days before the show I always took a minute to brace them for a slightly uncomfortable moment, then we had a laugh. Puscifer is the brain child of eclectic Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan. He’s put together a band of musicians who defy everything conventional you know about metal, progressive, and experimental music.
Along the way, Maynard has figured out how to deliver this with a sort of socially conscious message without being overly aggressive and only slightly offensive. It’s more like a “you get out of this music what you put into listening to it” scenario. And Puscifer’s style of music is certainly something you don’t just put on in the background, but instead you pay close attention because it demands it.
The voice of ZZ Top and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Billy Gibbons released his debut solo record Perfectomundo last month and it’s not what you might expect. The legendary blues guitarist channels his childhood percussionist roots (Gibbons was once a student of mambo legend Tito Puente) in the context of Afro-Cuban rhythms and unexplored territory—and it works remarkably well.
The first single from the album, a cover of rockabilly singer Roy Head’s soulful 1965 hit “Treat Her Right,” sets the tone for an adventurous record that is already making quite a few year-end best of 2015 lists. Gibbons took a break from his minimalistic trio to bring together a new backing band called the BFGs. The handpicked BFGs include two drummers, a percussionist, and two keyboardists who take Gibbons’ bluesy foundation into a whole new world.
Gibbons and his BFGs played to an intimate and incredibly enthusiastic crowd as he seeded the set with stories about the past and the present. While the setlist focused mainly on songs from Perfectamundo, Gibbons couldn’t resist peppering in a ZZ Top classic or two. The band was tight, the grooves were smooth, and the Cuban flavor was a real treat to see performed live.
The Dandy Warhols are one of the greatest rock bands on the planet. They have their own signature sound, they continue to innovate both sonically and lyrically, and they are one of the few bands that can go on tour just to go on tour, no new album necessary.
On top of all that, they took a boring genre called shoegaze and injected some much-needed personality and soaring harmonies into it. I’ve seen them live half a dozen times and they just continue to completely blow my mind.
The Dandy’s returned to the Bay Area last week for a two-night stint at The Great American Music Hall. I scored a ticket to night one, I even upgraded to the VIP experience, and I have to say it was pretty amazing. I got to watch the band’s soundcheck which was only going to be two songs, but then Courtney Taylor-Taylor started asking for requests. I immediately shouted out my all time favorite song “Mohammad,” and they dove right into it.
As 2015 comes to a close I think I might have just seen the most intensely original, high energy spectacle of the year.
They’re called Gogol Bordello and they are a Gypsy punk band from the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Known for theatrical stage shows, persistent touring, and high energy performances they hit the jam-packed Warfield with what seemed to be a full on revolution. Even though this band of gypsies have been around since 1999, it was the first time I have seen them live and I can tell you that they absolutely live up to the hype, maybe even over-delivering if that’s even possible.
Imagine the Gypsy Kings crossed with the Sex Pistols. Add some brilliant storytelling masterfully delivered in song and backed by what could easily be confused for a Cirque Du Soleil show in the wild, and you can begin to imagine what I witnessed last week. The only thing missing at this show was a full on revolution—and that didn’t seem far off.
I’ve seen The Cult perform live almost a dozen times and they never cease to amaze me. How could one ever get tired of the combination of Ian Astbury’s dark yet soulful voice and Billy Duffy’s one of a kind Phil Spector-esque wall of sound guitar tone?
Add in some of the most iconic and memorable rock songs of the past 30 years and you have arguably one of the greatest rock bands on the planet in my opinion. For some reason they seem to play in San Francisco more than any other city in the country, but this time around it was quite a different show.
Teaming up with Scottish rock gods Primal Scream, the co-headlining bill appropriately named “Primal Cult,” is in the midst of a short West Coast run. I’m a casual fan of Primal Scream as they usually come in one of two flavors in regards to their live shows. One being their signature, noise-induced psychedelic electro-rock in the form of Screamadelica and Evil Heat (which I totally dig as do so many aging hipsters), and the second, their Stones-infused classic rock jams found on my favorite two records from them, Riot City Girl and the terribly underrated Give Out but Don’t Give Up. This show in particular would feature the later.
I’ve always been a fan of Collective Soul, but something happened since the last time I saw these guys live in 2012. It’s almost like a rebirth of sorts. They just released their 9th studio album and embarked on the “See What You Started Tour,” because that’s what a band does, right? But what I saw at the Fillmore on Monday night was the best sounding Collective Soul I’ve ever seen take their show to an entire new level. Who would have guessed that in mid-November there’s a contender for best show of the year? Believe it.
Frontman extraordinaire Ed Roland could be one of the most gifted songwriters alive. He can write a hook like nobody’s business and nine albums in he hasn’t missed a step. Collective Soul’s songs generally go in one of two directions; heavy-duty Zeppelin style grooves, or orchestrated layers and harmonies that can easily turn into one of the best ballads you’ve ever heard before. They’ve also taken a pop route here and there turning simple AC/DC riffs into polished, gang style chants and modern-day summertime anthems. Pull all of this together and you have one hell of an eclectic show.
The setlist that night pulled heavily from their new album, See What You Started By Continuing and was peppered with hits from the band’s impressive catalog. The fact that they opened up the set with “December” is a testament to how many incredible songs they have to choose from without having to save the “hits” for last. The most remarkable song in the set that night was “Needs.” Every time I hear this song I can’t help but think, how can anyone write such a magnificent song?