SEATTLE — For nearly two decades, producer Daniel Graves’ attention-grabbing and infectious industrial pop project, Aesthetic Perfection, has defied the world’s demands for definitions by blending genres and reinventing what it means to be a dark electro artist.
Last year, Aesthetic Perfection announced the “Into The Black World Tour 2019” to support their fifth studio album, Into The Black. The European leg of the tour commenced in the month of April in the UK, and the North American leg began in the beginning of September in San Diego. For the second date of this leg, they performed in Mesa, AZ — home of Burning Hot Events. Aesthetic Perfection’s North American tour made one of its last stops at Highline Bar with supporting acts Empathy Test and LAZERPUNK.
LAZERPUNK, from Budapest, set an apropos dark and gritty tone, with electronic music so heavy that it feels like it resonates with your flesh and courses through your veins. The intensity of the music, especially as it was coming from just one man wearing an Adidas baseball cap, was nearly beyond comprehension.
Stepping into the environment of the club that night and being smacked with the power of these beats was like being dragged into an alternate universe. It was easily a reminder of why so many of us go out to industrial shows for the cathartic experience — communally flipping a switch that turns on a stifled side of our souls that is screaming and clawing to get out and rage during the mundane day-to-day, as we dismally watch our world socially and environmentally corrode around us. It is here we are uplifted, escape, and achieve balance in a combination of commiseration, unadulterated passion for music, and unjudged embracement of our dark, but not necessarily evil, sides.
With Isaac Howlett’s British vocals that feel longing and aching, and an ethereal touch, synthwave act Empathy Test has no doubt drawn some associations to Depeche Mode innumerable times. As a blend of 80s sci-fi soundtracks, 90s guitar bands, and modern underground dance as influences, they are a duo in the studio (Howlett and producer Adam Relf), and currently a trio performing live. The beautiful thing about electronic music, as demonstrated by LAZERPUNK and Empathy Test, is that something so big can come from so few people. With the aid of Angel Metro on keys and Christina “Chrisy” Lopez on drums, the trio pulled the entranced audience at Highline into a galaxy of emotion. In between songs, Howlett brought some levity back to the room with charming, good-humored banter. Teeming with talent, Empathy Test are also responsible for their breathtaking artwork.
When Aesthetic Perfection hit the stage, it wasn’t long before the integrity of the building structure was tested as the crowd unapologetically jumped with such force the floor could be felt bouncing under your feet — admittedly not the most comforting feeling when you’re on the second story of a building.
Consisting of the aforementioned vocalist and programmer Graves, Elliott Berlin on keys/guitar/bass, infamous drummer Joe Letz (formerly of Combichrist and a slew of other industrial bands), this trio contrasted Empathy Test with deliciously harsh aggrotech.
The band added a delightfully creative “speed dating” VIP upgrade experience for this tour in which fans got a guarantee to interact with every band number. Additionally, the package included a signed setlist, signed polaroid, signed poster, and VIP laminate — basically all of the essentials that any diehard fan is going to want to collect from a show, and a really smart offer on the band’s part to turn a profit on their tour.
The diversity of Graves’ vocal techniques shine in sexy transitions between a vicious growl and a timbre that might be described as an approximate blend of Jay Godon (Orgy) and the late Chester Bennington (Linkin Park) — this vocal flux is exemplified in the track “Ebb and Flow”; there is a broody and agonizing cover of ‘NSync’s “Bye Bye Bye” (featuring guitarist Nikki Misery of New Years Day) in which he hits an impressively powerful high note with chest voice at the bridge, a beautiful falsetto in the new Into the Black opening track “Gods & Gold”, and even an OTEP-like quality in the theatrical track “Dark Ages”.
Berlin jumped back and forth between instruments, with hair flying wildly to no end, and making himself an entertaining spectacle each time he climbed upon his keyboard and thrashed around amongst the rising smoke.
Meanwhile, Letz made apparent why his percussive skills are so acclaimed, as the vigorous force of the backing beats that he was responsible for nearly brought down the house.
“Holy shit,” was the sentiment that coursed through my head all night, and near the finale of their set, Graves showed that those in the crowd were not alone in sheer awe of the magnitude of the immense energy pervading the venue, as he let out a clearly sincere, “Holy shit Seattle!”
Aesthetic Perfection will go on to tour in Germany from October 25th through November 2nd, with alternating and combined support by Empathy Test and Iris on select dates. If you’ve lost touch, this lineup is a mind-blowing reminder of what there is to love about industrial shows, that they are alive and well, and it is still a scene worth supporting.
PHOENIX — Bad Religion’s concert at The Van Buren, with support from Emily Davis and The Murder Police and Dave Hause & The Mermaid, was more than just a legendary punk band giving a show at an intimate venue in support of a new album. It was a night where their legacy was felt not only in the crowd but on the stage, too.
Their recent tour is in support of the band’s 17th album,Age of Unreason, released earlier this year. The reason for the band’s longevity is that from their initial formation in 1980 and first release, 1982’s How Could Hell Be Any Worse?, they have stayed true to their ethos and written righteous punk anthems exploring many of the same themes recurring in our society across those 39 years. Any doubt of their staying power could be quickly dismissed with a quick sweep of the audience, where longtime fans of the band loudly sang along and pumped their fists in the air, alongside kids ranging from teenagers and younger. At one point, a father hoisted his daughter up on his shoulders, so she could rock out hard to “Generator” late in the set.
Emily Davis and The Murder Police
The show’s opener was Emily Davis with her backing band The Murder Police, consisting of Jose Macias, Jorge Torres, and Tomas Tinajero. Davis has three previous solo releases, and is touring in support of her debut album with the band, 2018’s Same Old World. Hailing from El Paso Texas, Davis managed to flip the initial impressions given off by the country-ish twang of her vocals, as the songs would quickly explode into all out rockers. Davis describes her songs as “aggressive, introspective folk music,” which could be heard as she and her band tore through seven tracks from the new album with an intensity reminiscent of Neko Case fronting The Attractions, in place of Elvis Costello.
Late in her set, she told the concertgoers what an honor it was to be touring with Bad Religion, adding that her introduction to them came via Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, which means “You” from their 1989 album No Control was her introduction to the band. She closed out her set with “Circles” and the album’s title track “Same Old World.”
Dave Hause and The Mermaid
Up next was Dave Hause and The Mermaid, and if anyone didn’t already know his music (and you should), they might have been fooled by their sound from his quick soundcheck with his band, consisting of short bursts of riffs from songs by Lynyrd Skynyrd and Metallica, which drew some surprising whoops of approval from the punk crowd. When Hause (pronounced like pause or cause, for the record) and the band came back out to start their set proper, he took a moment to joke with the audience that despite their appreciation for the soundcheck, they wouldn’t be hearing covers from either band. “For the rest of the night, you’ll only be hearing songs by me and Bad Religion because this is a punk show!” The crowd roared in approval (although that didn’t stop someone from yelling out for Metallica mid-set).
Hause and his band are touring to support of Kick, his fourth solo album since leaving his previous band The Loved Ones in 2009. His set drew heavily from the new album, save for one track from 2017’s Bury Me In Philly. Prior to forming his backing band The Mermaid, Hause performed most of his shows solo with a guitar, bantering with the audience between songs. Since forming The Mermaid, the sound is louder, but the impromptu moments of interactions with the fans have remained.
The band features Hause´s brother Tim on lead guitar, Miles Bentley (the son of Bad Religion bassist Jay Bentley) on bass, and Kevin Conroy on drums. His stellar song-writing aside, Hause shines when it comes to instantly generating a rapport with his audience. Even when he encouraged everyone to put up a middle finger and direct it towards a particular politician in Washington, and an audience member booed the moment, Hause turned the moment around to something light: “Oh, do you not agree with me? That’s okay. We’re not always going to agree, so go start your own band and write songs about why you think he’s so awesome.” The crowd (including the person who booed) laughed, and Hause tore into “Dirty Fucker.” Hause closed out his set with Kick highlight “The Ditch.” He’ll be back to Phoenix to headline in February.
Any band that’s approaching their 40th anniversary would be excused if their live shows were a serving of pure nostalgia and built a set list around the songs the audience loved from years ago. While Bad Religion managed to cover points all along their discography, what stands out the most about one of their live shows is how prescient the songs feel, with thirty-year-old songs feeling like they were a three-minute prophecy of events yet to happen. All of this is because as a band, Bad Religion has railed against the same ills of society since the band’s inception.
Led to the stage first by drummer Jamie Miller and guitarists Brian Baker and Mike Dimkich, original members bassist Jay Bentley and singer Greg Graffin came out last. Without a word, the band launched into “Them and Us” from 96’s The Grey Race. The song hit the room like an atomic bomb and sent everyone into a frenzy of moshing and crowd surfing. Security guards at The Van Buren earned their checks over the next ninety minutes, as they caught, set down, and guided out multiple people.
“We put out a new record this year, Age of Unreason,” Graffin exclaimed after “Them and Us” faded out, “which is #17 for those of you who are counting, and we just wanted to get back to play for you before the end of history,” setting up a track from the new album.
“End of History” was followed up by the to-the-point “Fuck You,” from 2013’s True North. Graffin complimented The Van Buren for being the perfect rock club. “How many of you have been to a lot of shows here before?” he asked. With everyone yelling out the number of shows they’ve seen, he joked, “Well, this will be the best one you’ve ever seen here!” This was followed by “Stranger Than Fiction,” the title track from their 1994 album, which in itself laughs at the absurdity of the real world.
They next performed “Dichotomy,” “Recipe for Hate,” and “Chaos From Within,” before Graffin paused again to survey the sea of people, noticing the range of ages staring back at him. Spotting one kid in the audience, he asked how old they were, but after being told the kid was 12 and starting to say that has to be the youngest one, another kid called out she was only nine. Laughing for a moment, Graffin said, “Well, I’ve always said it’s the kids who are our future,” which might have been a double entendre, referring to either society or the band. The show’s next fifteen minutes was a sprint through the band’s catalogue, covering songs from 1989’s No Control through the recently-released Age of Unreason.
To watch a Bad Religion show, you wouldn’t instantly know how long they’ve been playing together, as they bring the same energy to every song now as punk-rock elder statesman, as they did as kids starting out. Pausing after “Automatic Man,” Graffin looked around and asked the crowd where he was. “Oh yeah, that’s right: Phoenix! No matter where we all are, this is still the new dark ages,” as they played “New Dark Ages” from 2007’s New Maps of Hell, an album whose cover art and title served as a knowing nod to their first album How Could Hell Be Any Worse?, on its then-25th anniversary.
Taking a jab at himself, Graffin mused that he was born in the 1980’s and was only two when he wrote the next song. Guitarist Brian Baker chimed in that he was born in 1981. The song was the timeless “We’re Only Gonna Die,” from that first album, a song that shows no signs of being a now 37-year old song. It was quickly followed by “No Control,” which reignited the crowd. “Generator” and “Conquer the World” were played with the same fervor as when they were new releases.
While playing “21st Century (Digital Boy)” from their 1990 album Against the Grain, there was a moment that showed just how much their music has connected to everyone in the grade, both young and old: As the crowd sang along, a kid no more than 15 crowd surfed while screaming the lyrics “I don’t know how to read, but I got a lot of toys!” like the song was written only for him and his generation, even as he passed over the heads of men and women easily three times his age who sang it with the same energy. Bad Religion is still here because their music doesn’t age. There’s no nostalgia in their set. Songs from their debut all the way through the new album live in the moment, just as each member of the audience experienced them the first time.
“We’ve reached the climax of the show, and after you’ve reached the climax, you move into a refractory period. In this moment, we want to dedicate this next song to our favorite people: You!” After the No Control classic and “Paranoid Style,” Graffin told a story about their first album: “Back in the 80’s there wasn’t a whole lot of color choices, so we chose red with the shadowy figure of Los Angeles in the background, and we asked a simple question: How could hell be any worse?” The band’s original anthem led into “Sorrow” from 2002’s The Process of Belief, which was another sing-along across the generations in the crowd. As the song closed out, each member walked off the stage one-by-one, led by Graffin.
For the next two minutes, the fans cheered, clapped, and called out for one more song, before the band emerged for an encore. “I could get all sentimental about Phoenix,” said Graffin, “It was the second city we ever went to play a show. This song is about you and me.” The band closed out the show with “Infected” from Stranger Than Fiction, and “American Jesus” from Recipe for Hate. Before leaving the stage, they took one final moment to acknowledge the audience, pulling up their set lists and giving them to the kids in the crowd, and solidifying the next wave of fans who will continue to carry them on as a band who defies time and continues to produce powerful, relevant music that unites fans of all ages.
PHOENIX — Whether you are on team Stark, Lannister, Targaryen, or that one guy that is on team Bolton, this show transported you to world of Westeros through the songs and scenes of the characters we’ve grown to love and hate. This was the third tour that graced the stages of Arizona for the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience. This time the immersive journey through the show’s music, eloquently crafted by composer Ramin Djawadi, would include the songs from the eighth and final season. The majesty of the show was slightly scaled down for this round and Djawadi was noticeably absent for the Comerica show in downtown Phoenix. Conductor Michael Sobie took the reigns for this stop of the tour and did a fantastic job coraling the myriad of instruments, but anyone expecting to see Ramin Djawadi at the helm were sadly disappointed. (See tour dates)
As the crowd shuffled in, the anticipation was high. The room felt a little cold; maybe winter was coming. A rotation of slides featured Dragonstone, Old Town, Winterfell, The Sept (before the wildfire), and other locales developed by producers David Benioff and DB Weiss. The amplified speakers droned an ominously disturbing symphonic ambiance that was void of melody or cadence.
The house lights dimmed. It was time. The stage was bathed in blood red light except for the iron throne in the midst of the empty orchestra seats, which was the target of a beam of light as blue as the glint off Valyrian steel in “stark” contrast to the red. Unlike the shows that hide the orchestra in the “pit”, this show revered the musicians as the protagonists as they staked claim to center stage. Yes, they were supposed to be the stars of the show, but the inanimate giant screen still upstaged them and it’s almost sad to admit that our collective eyes would be spending more time focused on the GOT scenes than on the live “band” that was breathing life into the video. That screen was now engulfed with the face of Drogon, the alpha male of Danery’s three dragons (or could it have been Viserion, they’re hard to tell apart sometimes). Fireflies of brimstone danced around his menacing stare as the musicians took their seats and tested their instruments.
Finally the undeniable voice of Queen Cersei (actress Lena Heady) filled the room with the ground rules for the show:
“Lords and ladies, eh, peasants, thank you for joining us tonight. I know some of you have come a long way to see your queen and your obedience touches me deeply. (pause) Silence your phones. Those who violate these rules will be boiled alive in the blood of their children. I do hope you enjoy the show and if you should see me afterwards do not approach. I find contact with my subjects extremely distasteful.”
And so it began. This show kicked off with the theme song that kicks off every episode HBO series. It’s less than two minutes long and affectionately known as “Main Title,” but it is the melody that everyone could hum along to. We were warned that there would obviously be spoilers ahead and I’ll relay that sentiment that there may be spoilers coming up in this article. Though I doubt you would have read this far if you didn’t already know that Ned Stark didn’t make it past season one. Sobie polled the audience to ask who has never seen an episode of the show and there were dozens in the audience that responded. They would be treated to a first class “Cliff Notes” introduction to the entire show.
It was obvious that the majority of the audience were on the other extreme, hadn’t missed an episode of the show, and had probably read all of the books and watched all of the behind-the-scenes footage they could find on YouTube. As the orchestra played through a medley of the house themes, there were varying intensities of cheers as the sigils on each banner crossed the screen. The montage of each house was edited to seemingly reveal all of the characters from the entire series.
The musicians on stage were comprised of a team of seven soloists who were part of the touring cast and the rest of the orchestra and choir seats were filled by local talent in each city of the tour. There were about three dozen Phoenicians in the orchestra and fifteen in the choir. The cello that is dominantly featured throughout Djawadi’s scores was played by Cameron Stone who dressed for the part in a sleeveless robe revealing pauldron armor and a necklace reminiscent of a maester’s chain.
Rock shows often feature dueling virtuoso guitarists and this experience mirrored that element with Stone on cello and his counterpart, Molly Rogers, on violin. Rogers has played with many of the top names in the music business and rose to prominence in this show suspended on wires several stories high above the stage while playing the gentle melody of “Goodbye Brother”. The video screen played season one scenes of Winterfell while Roger’s dress extended from stage to proscenium in the guise of a weirwood tree with red leaves snowing from the gridiron.
The next soloists to be featured were the percussion team of Alan Mark Lightner and Davey Chegwidden. While the cello cried out a phrygian melody, a scale that the ancient Egyptians may have borrowed from the Dothraki, Lightner and Chegwidden provided the cadence on taiko and djembe for “Love In The Eyes.” Lightner was spotlighted later too as he played the hammer dulcimer for the theme dedicated to Arya Stark, “Needle.”
Vocalist Nayanna Holley earned her spot on center stage from a diverse resume of performances on tours and television (see her link below). Dressed in a flowing red gown, Holley delivered the second famous song of the series entitled “The Rains of Castamere,” accompanied by Hsin Huang on keys. The lyrics for this song were actually written by Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin in the book A Storm of Swords and then Djawadi later set it to a haunting melody in the key of D minor.
And who, are you, the proud Lord said, That I must bow so low? Only a cat of a different coat, That’s all the truth I know. In a coat of gold or a coat of red, A lion still has claws, And mine are long and sharp, my lord, As long and sharp as yours. And so he spoke and so he spoke. That lord of Castamere, But now the rains weep o’er his hall, With no one there to hear. Yes now the rains weep o’er his hall, And not a soul to hear.
The song packs an emotional impact to fans of the show who remember hearing the song sprinkled throughout the series, most notable at the Red Wedding. This was arguably one of the most shocking scenes of the series and we went back in time to relive it again while the orchestra intensified the already intense scenes with “The Lanisters Send Their Regards.”
Shifting from Westeros to Essos, we left the Lanister-Stark rift and rejoined the Daenerys Targaryens story arc for the songs “Dracarys” and “Mhysa.” The audience revealed their love of the character and Emilia Clarke, the actress who played her, as she gave the command “Dracarys” that gave Drogo the permission to burn slaver Kraznys mo Nakloz to a crisp. This song was the heavy metal segment of the setlist and the distortion on the cello sounded like a mix between a Les Paul through a Marshall stack and the spine-chilling roar of a dragon. Pyrotechnic flame cannons erupted on stage. Exciting!
Act one continued with John Snow dying and being resurrected, the Battle of the Bastards, and then wrapped up with the first song of the series to feature piano, “The Light of the Seven.” Conductor Michael Sobie proved his skills as a pianist which is his main task when Djawadi is conducting. The video played out the entire scene of Cersei’s trial that never comes to pass. The quiet piano passages evolved into organ chord progressions inspired by the horror of The Phantom of the Opera while the Phoenix choir was voicing chilling Gregorian chants…I guess they’re actually Valyrian chants. The act ends with the green wildfire imploding the Sept and the stage filled with smoke cannons immersed in lime green illumination.
Even for those who had seen the previous tours, Act Two was new. It was all carved from the episodes of season eight. There was a lot of controversy about how the series wrapped up in the final season, but there was no controversy regarding the music that was unanimously praised. The songs culled up the scenes of the reunions at Winterfell, battles on the Narrow Sea, live dragons above the clouds and undead dragons below the ice, Arya’s dagger plunge to end the war, and of course the unbridled rage of another mad Targaryan.
Djawadi captured the spirit and the tempo of this myriad of emotions in the confines of the same twelve notes used by his childhood hero Elmer Bernstein. In an HBO behind the scenes featurette, Djawadi shows the humble beginnings of this larger than life music forming in his relatively small studio. He shares his process of finding the right tones and instruments, recording them in the computer until the filming is locked, and then, he says, “I go in and record it with real musicians and I feel that’s the most rewarding thing. I still get goosebumps when I hear them play the music.” So did we.
One highlight for the second act was yet another song for which George R.R. Martin started the lyrics in the book A Storm of Swords, called “Jenny of Oldstones.” The song was featured on the series as Podrick Payne sang it before the massive “dark” battle and Florence and the Machine version sounded in the closing credits. The thirteen song set ended with a reprise of the main theme and the soloists lining up at the front of the stage for a final bow. As all of the musicians ghosted off the stage, the screen once again grabbed everyone’s attention and played a slide show of all of the major and minor characters from the Game of Thrones series. Finally the epic night of music and visual stimulation moved on to become additional audio-visions that will ever enhance our memories of A Song of Ice and Fire.
Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Game Of Thrones Live Concert Experience – Comerica Theatre 10-1-19
Mesa, AZ — Flogging Molly, closing their “Life is Good” tour, and Social Distortion, about to hit the studio again, put on a spectacular show of endurance and exuberance for an all ages crowd at the Mesa Amphitheatre. Together, they demonstrated that punk’s not dead, but alive and well, with new albums and more tours to come for future fans in attendance that were not even born yet.
Openers — Le Butcherettes & The Devil Makes Three
The opening bands, Le Butcherettes and The Devil Makes Three, did a fantastic job at getting the crowd pumped and ready for the headliners. With spastic moves and strong vocals, Le Butcherettes surprised and impressed the audience with their style and polished delivery. Then, the bluegrass punk mix brought in by The Devil Makes Three brought in their excellent performance, gaining fans throughout the audience that came in early enough to be rewarded by their unusual, yet fantastic musical talents.
Social Distortion’s Mike Ness and his 40 years of rock and roll experience kept the crowd cheering and fired up during their energized performance. Early into their set, Ness thanked the openers one by one, encouraged the crowd to cheer for them, as he then also shared how the Mesa crowd was so far superior from all the other ones, especially the recent night in Las Vegas. There were nonstop mosh pits during Social Distortion’s performance, staying true to the punk tradition of chaos and high energy.
Halfway through the set, Ness made an announcement that their fans were ecstatic to hear by saying, “I have some great news! Social Distortion is going into the studio in January to record a new album.” Since their last album release was Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes back in 2011, the crowd went crazy. Social Distortion rewarded their fans’ loyalty with a new song called “Over You” from the not-yet-recorded new album.
Ness connected with the audience between every song, telling stories about his musical journey and pouring his all into each song. One of the stories that stood out the most was about an assignment he received while in high school back in September of 1980 where he was told to read about WWII. Ness, with a smile, commented that he spent that time writing a song, and shortly after he dropped out of high school because it was getting in the way of his rock and roll life. That song is called “1945”.
As their set was nearing its end, they were joined by band members from The Devil Makes Three and Flogging Molly for the song “Sometimes I Do”. Social Distortion closed the last stop of their tour with an appropriate song for their 40th anniversary tour; “Story of My Life”.
Flogging Molly hit the stage to end what, for them, has been long 3 years of constant touring. Their well-deserved break will include a couple of weddings and international trips: Spencer Swain, who plays the mandolin, banjo, guitar, and vocals, is to be married within a week of the show’s end; Nathen Maxwell, who plays bass guitar and vocals, is also getting married within a week after the show; finally, band leader Dave King — their lead vocalist who plays the acoustic guitar, and bodhrán, and his wife Bridget Regan, who provides backing and lead vocals and plays the violin and tin whistle, were going on a trip to Ireland almost immediately after the show at 7:30 the next morning.
King and company rocked the stage and brought a performance to Mesa that was a prime example of fun, energy, and professionalism, demonstrating their 22 years of experience and true dedication to their fans.
A memorable moment arose in the middle of their set as King wanted to give a special shout-out to a fan that flew all the way from Tokyo, Japan, just to see them play here. King greeted this young fan, Kazu, in what seemed to be fluent Japanese, causing an explosion of cheers and clapping from the audience. Flogging Molly played one of their most popular songs, “Tobacco Road”, for this traveling fan.
As Flogging Molly played the energetic, musically and lyrically powerful song “Crush,” King stopped mid-song and said, “On the last day of our tour, after 3 years without emptying our suitcases, let’s have some fun,” and started to sing “We Will Rock You” by Queen with the crowd chanting loudly, then seamlessly went back to the song “Crush”.
King then introduced each one of the 7 Drunken Pirates, as the band members call themselves, one by one and thoroughly thanked the entire crew. He stated that after touring for years, this was the best crew they’ve ever had — “except for this asshole right there,” he jokingly said while pointing towards the backstage area without specifically singling anybody out.
“If I Ever Leave This World Alive” was their last song, powerfully and beautifully performed from the stage to a cheering crowd that didn’t want to see this show end. These fans had been gifted with phenomenal performances from two of the most recognizable punk bands of our time.
As their last song came to an end, the speakers began to play the theme song of Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, a British comedic classic, with their positive and uplifting message: “Always look on the bright side of life.” The stage began to fill back up with the members of Flogging Molly and The Devil Makes Three as they said goodbye to their fans, throwing guitar pics, drumsticks, playlists, and anything else they could find to give away while King waved away his fans, ready for their well-earned break.
PHOENIX — Toto’s “40 Trips Around the Sun” world tour in support of last year’s eponymous greatest hits collection, and in celebration of their milestone 40th anniversary, came to the Celebrity Theatre. The theatre’s circular structure with its round center stage means there’s not a bad seat in the house, with every spot offering a close vantage point. This was perfect for the night’s show because it removed the feeling of barriers from the fans who so love a band that so clearly loves their fans in return.
Before the show started, the audience was promised that it was going to be two hours long, “with no opening act and no intermission,” and that we wouldn’t want to miss a minute — practically an understatement for the night to come. This tour has been a well-earned victory lap for Toto. The audience was not only filled with long-time fans, but also with younger fans who were new to the band; finding them through an occurrence of events starting just as they were making plans for the then-upcoming release and tour.
Toto’s signature song, and most enduring hit, “Africa” features one of pop music’s greatest hooks: “I bless the rains down in Africa.” A perfect storm occurred on the cusp of Toto’s 40th anniversary that reignited them, restored their proper place in popular culture, and reminded everyone exactly how incredible of a band they have always been. In December of 2017, nearly two months to the day before Toto would release their career-spanning greatest hits collection, a young Weezer fan began tweeting the band asking them to cover Toto’s “Africa.” When Weezer finally relented and performed the song on Jimmy Kimmel Live, with a guest appearance from Totokeyboardist Steve Porcaro, a new generation of fans flocked to Toto to discover what so many of us already knew: Toto is one of pop music’s most consistent bands, churning out catchy, crowd-pleasing songs for 40 years.
As soon as Toto emerged on the ramp and took their spots at their instruments at 8 o’clock, the energy they brought to the round stage in the center of the theatre was palpable. The show’s opening number was “Devil’s Tower,” a previously unreleased gem originally recorded during the sessions for Toto IVbut left off. It felt fresh and immediately energized the crowd that was ready to pop in anticipation of Toto’s arrival.
The second song of the set, “Hold the Line,” from their self-titled debut, brought the crowd to their feet for the first of many times in the night. It was during this moment that the stage began to rotate, as they played through a rolling wave of audience members singing the chorus of “Hold the line, love isn’t always on time.” What made this moment truly special was to see the fans in attendance who had been with the band for all 40 of those trips around the sun, singing the song alongside their own children, who are new converts.
Joseph Williams: Lead Vocals
Steve Lukather: Guitar and Vocals
Steve Porcaro: Keyboards
Lenny Castro: Percussion
Warren Ham: Saxophone, Harmonica, and Flute
Shannon Forrest: Drums
Shem von Schroeck: Bass
Dominique “Xavier” Taplin: Keyboards
Keeping with the tour’s mission statement, Toto’s setlist was a journey through their history with stops at every album along the way. “Lovers in the Night,” from their 1982 landmark album Toto IV,was followed by the brand new track “Alone” from last year’s greatest hits collection; a song whose foot-tapping rhythm seated it firmly alongside so many of their classic songs.
After runs through “I Will Remember” from 95’s Tambu and “English Eyes” from 81’s Turn Back, they cut loose on the extended bluesy jam of “Jack to the Bone” from 92’s Kingdom Of Desire. With the crowd energized, and the musicians clearly having a good time on stage, they next went into “Rosanna,” also from Toto IV, and arguably Toto’s second biggest hit. With the stage turning, and the crowd rocking, singer Joseph Williams made stops with each part of the crowd to let them have their moment to sing the infectious chorus “Meet you all the way, meet you all the way, Rosanna, yeah.” They kept the song going well past its album length, so that everyone had a chance to have their moment with the band.
As “Rosanna” closed out, chairs were brought out on stage, and the show took an intimate turn, as members told stories of the origins of a couple of the songs, in a style reminiscent of VH1’s classic series Storytellers. Founding member Steve Lukather told the story of keyboard player David Paich writing “Georgy Porgy,” and though Lukather at first thought the song was a little silly, it ended up being the first vocal he recorded for Toto and one of the staples of their live shows ever since.
Next, keyboardist Porcaro told the story of picking his daughter up from school, on the same day Toto was recording “Africa,” and she was crying because a boy had pushed her off the slide. As he drove her home, she asked him repeatedly through her tears, “Why?,” and though he tried his best to explain to her that the boy probably liked her, she kept asking “Why?” By the time he dropped her off and got back to the studio, her question of “Why?” had given way to a chorus of, “Why? Why? It’s only human nature,” and would turn into the song “Human Nature” written by Porcaro and performed by Michael Jackson on his album Thriller. On this night, they played a lush rendition of the song, with Porcaro singing the words inspired by his heartbroken daughter.
At this point, the chairs went away, and the musicians ran through the thematically-linked 1-2-3 punch of “I’ll Be Over You,” “No Love,” and “Stop Loving You,” before all members briefly left the stage. Meanwhile, touring keyboard player Dominique “Xavier” Taplin, filling in for original member David Paich, played what initially felt like a piano interlude but gave way to a longer, beautiful arrangement that left the crowd in awe. Taplin had previously played in Prince’s last touring band and this solo piano performance made it evident why Prince had enlisted his talents.
“Lion” from 1981’s Isolation was followed by a brief story of writing music for the David Lynch film Dune and trying to make the music sound “as David Lynchian” as they could. The ensuing performance of “Dune (Desert Theme”), so fitting for Arizona’s own dry landscape, showed the song was vintage Toto, even if they were trying to make it sound Lynchian. Lukather talked briefly of their 2002 album Through the Looking Glass, a collection of cover songs by artists that had either influenced the band early on or of whom they were fans. Identifying George Harrison as both his first guitar hero and later his friend, Lukather led them in a cover of The White Album classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” that both paid loving tribute and also featured some Toto flourishes, including Lukather adding an extended guitar solo to the end of the song.
After playing “Make Believe,” them gave the crowd the moment they wanted: “Africa.” It should be noted here that song’s reputation is well-earned, as it is indeed truly a pop masterpiece. On a night where it was obvious how much fun Toto was having on the tour, this was the moment you could tell they relished the most. The performance was note-perfect, and set up the final moment of goodwill and love between a band and their audience, as they turned the singing over, giving the crowd one more chance to come together and show their love for Toto. With everyone on their feet, singing and dancing, Toto played on but stepped back from their mics, and the audience took the final chorus. One by one, the founding members left the stage, leaving the touring members to keep the groove going, while the crowd sang on. Percussionist Lenny Castro, who has played with Toto from their early days, took the lead on congas to accompany the crowd.
When Toto returned to the stage for the encore, a rollicking performance of “Home of the Brave” from a 1988’s The Seventh One, the end of the show and the band’s choice for a closer felt like a parting piece of advice to the crowd. Just as Toto has made their 40 trips around the sun, staying true to the ethos they established for themselves on trip number one in 1978, this moment was a reminder to all to keep themselves moving forward with each of their trips, and that we are in charge of our future and our fate with the show’s final lyrics: “You gotta remember, you don’t have to be afraid. You still have the freedom to learn and say what you wanna say. You gotta remember, don’t let ’em take away the land we call the home of the brave.”
PHOENIX — Reviews commonly found on Burning Hot Events cover shows of performers who are on tour and simply visiting the Valley of the Sun for a night or two. However, there is nothing more refreshing than finding a talented band right in our own backyard. Such was the situation on Saturday evening at Copper Blues Live at Desert Ridge Marketplace. Spark Jack Daddy ignited the stage, making people dance all night.
The night began with the packed-out dining area filled with football fans watching the Nebraska Huskers pummel Northern Illinois. Once the clock ran out, the massive projector screen lifted to reveal an army of musicians.
The fourteen-wide lineup included a quartet of vocalists (each singing lead and harmony), a four-piece horn section, a dueling pair of guitarist (who also sang lead/harmony vocals), a rhythm section of bass and drums, all topped off with a keyboardist and percussionists. They poured out a wide variety of hits from yesteryear and today, ensuring that the diverse crowd remained engaged for their 3-set, 35 song performance.
Folks danced in their seats, next to their tables, and sang along between sips of beer and hefty nibbles on enormous nachos and other delicious bar fare while Spark Jack Daddy gave a memorable performance.
Soulful and familiar songs permeated the room that ranged from Bruno Mars to Chicago, Stevie Wonder to Maroon 5. Additionally, attendees had the distinct pleasure of hearing an original Spark Jack Daddy song written by Burning Hot Events’ own Mark Greenawalt, who is typically behind the lens or the other kind of keyboard that contains the alphabet.
If you missed the entertaining performance, don’t fret; Spark Jack Daddy, led by singer, guitarist, and founder Marty Lucas, will be gracing the stage at the Four Peaks Oktoberfest at Tempe Town Lake on October 13 at 2:00pm. One thing is for certain: you’ll definitely have a good time, as Spark Jack Daddy is one of the most entertaining acts in the valley, and their wall of sound is a must-see.
SEATTLE — Like a gentle breeze, The Paper Kites brought in a soothing and refreshing performance to Neptune Theatre, accompanied by special guest Harrison Storm. Purely cathartic, The Paper Kites’ dreamy indie/folk rock music serves as a lullaby, the stitches that mend broken lovers, escapism for the weary and hopeless.
Held in a historic theatre with ornate Renaissance-influenced architecture and folding chairs, there seemed to be some ambiguity as to whether the crowd should handle themselves formally or casually, whether they should keep silent in reverence or cheer, sit or stand. Singer-songwriter Harrison Storm helped assure the audience that they had permission to applaud, although the presence of chairs still persuaded all to stay planted in their seats for most of the night.
Storm was a good lead-in for The Paper Kites, with a personal and minimalist style. He will be parting ways with the band following their September 20th show in San Luis Obispo, and embarking on a headlining tour in the UK and Europe beginning on October 11.
Being a performing arts venue, Neptune Theatre didn’t have overhead lighting directed toward the band, and the lights on the edge of the stage were low, leaving The Paper Kites mostly backlit. This lent itself to the midnight mood of their music, and also often illuminated drummer Josh Bentley and bassist and synthist Sam Rasmussen more than the others.
Sometimes the combination of blue and magenta lights resembled the neon sign on the cover of twelvefour, creating an even deeper sense of immersion.
The lone woman of the group, keyboardist and guitarist Christina Lacy, has a humble stage presence despite the prominence of her vocals within the harmonies in their songs. On this night, her entrancing vocals, along with those of Dave Powys, were nearly as soft as a whisper.
Powys entranced onlookers when he played the lap steel, an instrument that many had undoubtedly never seen.
Frontman Sam Bentley brings authenticity to the stage, sharing endearing stories that brought some levity, and visibly drawing on his emotions as he sang verses and held notes like a long, slow yoga exhale. Seeming to channel a trance-like state, each musician in the five-piece band performed with otherworldly control and subtlety.
We often like to impose our own lives onto the music we listen to, giving it particular relevance to ourselves, but it was interesting to hear some of the tales behind the songwriting that Bentley shared that night. The meaning behind the lyrics is often so much more interesting and creative than what you would assume. Some of the best parts of the show were a couple of times when every member of the band came together to sing into a single microphone. One of the most shining moments for Bentley’s vocals was the climax of “Give Me Your Fire, Give Me Your Rain” off of On the Corner Where You Live — the second of a two-part album release in 2018. They closed out the night with all five on a guitar (incl. bass) for “Standing in the Rain” from the first 2018 release On the Train Ride Home. Including the encore, The Paper Kites performed a 16-song setlist.
Beginning in British Columbia, this was the second stop on The Paper Kites’ 2019 fall tour that will be traveling down the United States and passing over Phoenix, Arizona — home of Burning Hot Events. They will be making stops in the south, working their way north up the eastern seaboard, visiting the Midwest, and heading back up to play their last date in Alberta. In 2018, they toured in support of their two releases that year. The 2018 fall tour was concentrated primarily in California, Canada, and the northeastern US, so Phoenix wasn’t privy to this tour either, whereas Seattle had the privilege of being slated for both tours. However, Seattle holds a special place in their hearts, being that it was a location they ventured to in 2015 to record the one and only twelvefour. On this night at Neptune Theatre, Bentley called Seattle a “second home”.
It seems that Arizona was last graced with their presence in 2017 when they performed at Club Congress in Tucson. Since they have performed in landmark venues such as Club Congress, Seattle’s Neptune Theatre, and San Francisco’s The Fillmore, perhaps one day they will be hosted by The Van Buren in Phoenix — converted from a historic vintage auto dealership. Good luck Phoenix… You could use a chill night like this.
Redmond, WA — CAKE, Ben Folds, and special guests Tall Heights seemed to be right where they belong as they performed amidst the tranquil atmosphere of Marymoor Park. The Seattle Eastside amphitheatre is surrounded by trees, and the crowd was content to sit and chill on the lawn from the get-go. This is the second time CAKE and Ben Folds have commenced on a summer co-headlining tour accompanied by Tall Heights. Summer of 2018 saw the joint tour spanning the east side of the country, and this year it was along the west coast. This 2019 tour wraps in Grand Prairie, TX, which makes it slightly surprising that they’re not stopping in Phoenix between Los Angeles and Austin. Following the final date, CAKE is headed to France, and Folds to Milwaukee, WI.
This isn’t the first time electro-folk duo Tall Heights has toured alongside Ben Folds — Burning Hot Events reviewed their concert at Marquee Theatre in September of 2017. “Spirit Cold” is one of their most recognizable songs, and it was that very song that I could hear in the distance as I approached the amphitheatre after getting stuck in the concert traffic, reminding me of CAKE’s “Long Line of Cars.”
Their soothing folk vibe and harmonies could not have been more perfect for an outdoor show closing out the work week. With their discography currently comprised of three albums, their most recent release was Pretty Colors for Your Actions on October 5, 2018. It is moving to know that they have come this far from their beginnings of busking in Boston.
When Ben Folds hit the stage, Tall Heights continued to perform in his live band alongside him. Folds casually yet energetically strolled onto stage with a demeanor that read like we are all old friends. He began his set with upbeat “Annie Waits” — an uplifting contrast to the gentleness of Tall Heights’ music. Despite this, Tall Heights paired with Folds seamlessly, and it was apparent how much fun they have up there with him. The accompaniment is demonstrative that despite going solo, Folds loves to perform as a group.
It was probably about 7:00pm when Folds started. He told the crowd that he thought he was going on at 8:00pm, so he was performing in the clothes he slept in. He said that he had let himself go, and asked the audience who else had let themselves go. Oddly enough, a majority of the crowd honestly raised their hands and there was laughter all around. He even improvised a “Let Yourself Go” song later on in his set. With the use of his quirky sense of humor, Folds has a gift for generating a feeling of camaraderie at his concerts.
During the following song, “You Don’t Know Me,” Folds encouraged the audience to fill in for Regina Spektor. It would have been amazing to hear Spektor singing the parts herself, but it was quite enjoyable to participate in the sing-a-long.
The sun went down as his set progressed, and strings of lights surrounding the stage lit up. It was a beautiful environment. Even this, however, was not without some typical aggro displays amongst the crowd in which some of the concertgoers that obviously don’t attend shows often yelled at others that wanted to stand during the concert because it was preventing from seeing while they sat on the ground. It’s expected to see this type of aggression in the Arizona heat, but less so in the more passive and down-to-earth Seattle area. It just goes to show there’s one in every crowd.
But there were also bemusing moments where some women danced along to Ben Folds in a completely mismatched style — as if they were dancing in a nightclub. It was heartwarming to see a female security guard subtly bobbing along to the music, and a male fan passionately singing along. Folds also made a touching statement about having to pinch himself for being able to tour with CAKE.
In April 2018, Rolling Stone recorded high praise from each of the co-headliners directed at the other. CAKE’s frontman John McCrea was quoted, including the sentiment, “In a culture often conflicted about its relationship to melody, and songwriting generally, Ben continues unapologetically to provide melodic clarity and musicality.” Folds stated, “Cake – my rough contemporaries, comrades and heroes – to me, they make universal, poetic, identifiable music with a groove.” Both artists were sure to make mention of Tall Heights, and the last sentence in McCrea’s quote summed things up rather well, when he said, “This co-headline line up seems like a good combination of musical styles-disparate but not antithetical to each other-and it should be a solid evening of music.” The fact that they decided to tour together again the next year shows that their feelings remained unchanged after they joined up the first time.
Two songs from Ben Folds Five were included in the setlist: “Battle of Who Could Care Less” and “Do It Anyway,” both of which were everything they should be with the backup vocals lent by Tall Heights. It would have been nice to have a video camera on Folds’ hands when he was playing, with the footage displayed on a screen, especially on a song with the impressively high-speed tempo of “Do It Anyway.” One of the best parts about his stage presence, though, is that his dynamic movements at the piano help compensate for the lack of visibility of his bandaged fingers.
The contribution of the cello and harmonica to the new song “Moscow Mitch,” unambiguously inspired Mitch McConnell’s new nickname, added great layers to an otherwise simple song.
WATCH: Musician Ben Folds unveils new song ‘Moscow Mitch,’ inspired by @JoeNBC‘s coining of the phrase.
A personal favorite moment was during “Rockin’ the Suburbs” when Folds emulated the vocals of Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine, and he did it surprisingly well — even better than on the album. Despite his debut solo album Rockin’ the Suburbs being released in 2001, the song’s topic of “white boy pain” is apropos in current times. There seemed to be a consensus amongst the crowd as they laughed knowingly during his dialogue leading up to the song about unnecessarily angry suburban white guys. Good Charlotte’s “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” (released in 2002) has a very similar theme, and even a similar chord progression.
Although he has released multiple LPs, the album the most songs were taken from was Rockin’ the Suburbs. Folds closed out his 15-song set with “Not the Same”. He stood on his piano gesturing grandly toward the crowd like a conductor, bringing his set to an engaging and dramatic finale.
CAKE had an epic lead up to their entrance with the entirety of the song “War” by Vince DiCola from the Rocky IV soundtrack. The venue was buzzing with excitement for a one-of-a-kind band that many had been waiting seemingly an eternity to see live. Thankfully they were able to perform, despite the fact that 5 of their instruments were recently stolen by some heartless heathens in Portland.
“Originally formed as a somewhat antagonistic answer to grunge, CAKE’s democratic processes, defiant self-reliance, and lucid yet ever-inventive music has made them a nation-state unto themselves, with no obvious peers, belonging to no school.”
The band opened with “Sheep Go to Heaven” from their third album, Prolonging the Magic. A disco ball added eye candy behind them, on and off throughout the night. The signature sound of the trumpet and the vibraslap bring about a certain sort of familiar comfort that’s rooted in the simpler times of the 90s.
CAKE has released 6 studio albums, with the most recent one, Showroom of Compassion, having been released in 2011. The singles “Sinking Ship” and “Age of Aquarius” were released within the past year. While McCrea has discussed an eventual album release, no date or title have been provided as of yet.
CAKE and their pithy music still remains very much of its time even in 2019. Their politically-charged social media presence has divided fans, driven some away, and drawn others closer. McCrea donned a white t-shirt with the Kool-aid Man busting through a brick wall with barbed wire at the top, and it read, “FUCK YOUR BULLSHIT WALL!” Amusingly, after having the crowd at the concert battle in a loudness war, he made the punchy comment, “There’s good people on both sides,” which was responded to by many with, “BOOOO!”
It was nice to experience something fresh from CAKE as they performed “Sinking Ship,” their first new original song in 7 years, which laments a self-inflicted apocalypse. Interestingly, Showroom of Compassion was recorded in a solar-powered studio. In between songs, their environmental consciousness was displayed after McCrea said he could not concentrate until they gave away the tree sitting next to him onstage. CAKE has a tree map on their website under a “Forest” tab. The website offers no explanation regarding the map, but a great many know what it’s about since they’ve been giving away trees at their concerts for over a decade.
During the tree contest, fans shouted to McCrea, and he responded to one man saying, “That’s not your tree yet. That’s called white male entitlement.” The crowd roared with laughter, and he followed with, “No he’s just having a good time.”
It turned out to be a honeycrisp apple tree, which was won by a woman named Josie, who guessed the type of tree correctly. McCrea continued to elicit laughter as he called to her, “Get up here and get your damn tree… Don’t jump up and down and hug your friend. Come and get your tree.”
The duality of the monotonous vocals with sarcastic lyrics versus Vince DiFiore’s vibrant trumpet and upbeat music is an interesting experience, and CAKE gives a show that feels enthusiastic overall despite McCrea’s somewhat deadpan nature. He breaks out of that mold as he raises his guitar in the air, gestures and raises his arms toward the crowd, and it seems that he greatly enjoys playing the vibraslap and pointing it at individuals in the crowd.
With a somewhat laid-back stage presence, CAKE’s performance seemed effortless during their 12-song set and they sounded perfect. Their last 5 songs were arguably some of their most popular: “Love You Madly,” “Never There,” “I Will Survive,” “Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” and “The Distance.” I would have loved to experience one of my personal favorites: “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lifestyle,” which was actually their very first single, released in 1995.
At one point, McCrea mentioned that he once spoke with a physicist that said, “hope is something you have to do,” it doesn’t just happen to you. This message resonated strongly as a reminder that we must make cognitive effort and take action if we want to improve our lives. There is always a different kind of impact from a show that is more than only rock ‘n’ roll. This wasn’t a concert for those that are totally intolerant of leftist leanings, and it was otherwise a show that was impressive, communal, light-hearted, nostalgic, and cathartic. CAKE, Ben Folds, and Tall Heights at Marymoor Park was an experience that brought excellent entertainment value and generated lingering positive energy. We’re looking forward to the announcement of CAKE’s album release date, and a first listen to their newest compelling lyrics.
Tempe, AZ — Supergroup Angels & Airwaves headlined an amazing night, supported by The New Regime and Charming Liars, at an absolutely full Marquee Theatre.Angels & Airwaves is led by singer Tom DeLonge (blink-182), who is accompanied by David Kennedy (Box Car Racer) on lead guitar, Matt Rubano (Taking Back Sunday) on bass, and Ilan Rubin (Nine Inch Nails, Paramore, The New Regime, Angels & Airwaves) on drums.
This show commenced with Los Angeles rock band Charming Liars, who just released their new EP, Bare Bones on August 2nd.
The audience’s engagement crescendoed, beginning with a feeling of curiosity and enthusiasm and ending with full crowd participation of chanting and clapping. The pumped-up fans were rewarded by a visit in the pit from vocalist Kiliyan Maguire.
Next up was The New Regime, led by child prodigy and Guinness World Record holder Ilan Rubin. Rubin brought years of experience and tremendous talent and dedication to the stage. He served double duty as the drummer for Angels & Airwaves, and he was recently called “Nine Inch Nails’ secret weapon” (Metal Injection) and “one of rock’s most in-demand drummers” (Louder).
In addition to his world record for being the youngest musician to ever play at Woodstock, Rubin contributed his talents to Beck & Paramore’s Grammy-winning albums, and he closed The Grammy Awards with Nine Inch Nails, Queens of The Stone Age, Dave Grohl, and Lindsey Buckingham. He has toured with Muse, The Killers Nine Inch Nails, Alice In Chains, The Used, and The Joy Formidable.
The New Regime performed tracks off of their forthcoming album Heart Mind Body & Soul, which will be released in four installments between the end of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020; Heart is part 1 of this album.
Despite technical issues during the third song of The New Regime’s set, “Turning A Blind Eye” from Heart, the band gracefully handled the hiccup with a sense of humor. They joked that the song “should sound like this” and the crowd erupted with laughter.
Closing their set, The New Regime led them in a chant of “I want your heart, mind, body, and soul,” which echoed throughout the venue above the throng of happy concertgoers.
As the dark theater lit up to welcome Angels & Airwaves to the stage, Tom DeLonge appeared and the sold-out crowd sang along with him to every song.
After singing their fifth song, “Everything’s Magic” from I-Empire (For Puretracks), DeLonge finally addressed the audience, making fun of himself for not yet giving an introduction. This showed how engaged and dedicated to their music the band was. He then announced the hit song “Paralyzed” and the crowd went crazy.
He poked fun at the heat in the Valley of the Sun by explaining that his friend visited the Sahara desert and stated that it was almost as hot as Tempe. DeLonge then began to engage the audience much more often, sharing his experiences while growing up in the punk scene and his love of his music and the opportunity to share a positive message with his fans via his lyrics.
Phoenix was the first stop on Angel & Airwaves’ comeback tour, their first in seven years. They performed an ambitious setlist of 21 songs with friendly crowd engagement throughout, and a quick encore of the final 2 songs: “Do It for Me Now” and “Heaven.” Angels & Airwaves demonstrated the next-level show that a culmination of great established artists brings, and it was well-worth the wait to watch them grace the stage of Marquee Theatre.
Phoenix, AZ — On June 26 of this year, Sir Paul McCartney brought an evening of legendary music to Talking Stick Resort Arena. Exactly two months later, Ringo Starr became the second Beatle to grace the stages of Arizona. This is the 30-year anniversary of this touring rock supergroup, Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band, with a shifting lineup that has included legends such as Joe Walsh, Todd Rungren, Clarence Clemons, Peter Frampton, John Entwhistle, and so many more (see list below). Starr is really the only constant member.
This year’s line up is no exception to Starr’s history of building a stellar lineup:
The dueling guitarists were the unlikely pairing of Steve Lukather (Toto) and Colin Hay (Men At Work). These two master songwriters brought along their biggest hits to add to the already incredible setlist. Fans were treated to Toto’s “Rosanna”, “Africa”, and “Hold The Line” and Men At Work’s “Down Under”, “Overkill”, and of course “Who Can It Be Now.”
On the Hammond organ was none other than Gregg Rolie (Santana, Journey) who chipped in the classic Santana songs “Evil Ways”, “Black Magic Woman / Gypsy Queen”, and “Oye Como Va”, but unfortunately nothing from his days with Journey.
Bassist Hamish Stuart (Average White Band) was back after his stint in the lineup from 2006 to 2008. He switched over to guitar when the band dove into the Average White Band standards “Pick Up The Pieces” and “Cut The Cake.”
Gregg Bissonette on drums and Warren Ham on… well, everything else (saxophone, flute, keyboards, percussion, etc.) rounded out the lineup. Both have toured extensively with major recording acts, such as Bissonette’s time with “Diamond” David Lee Roth during the “Eat ‘Em And Smile” era, and Ham’s contributions to Kansas and Toto (now that’s an ironic combo of band names).
All that talent on the revolving stage of the Celebrity Theater culminated in the focal point of the evening; a man who’s former band is arguably the most famous band in the history of rock & roll. And yes, Starr brought a few songs to the setlist from his days with the Fab Four, starting with the only song credited to Lennon–McCartney–Starkey, “What Goes On.” Ringo Starr is the stage name of Sir Richard Starkey, knighted by Prince William on March 20, 2018. The two most popular Beatles songs that featured Starr’s voice where the whimsical “Yellow Submarine” and the song he sang in the guise of the one-and-only Billy Shears, “With A Little Help From My Friends.”
Starr’s credentials make him a legendary musician, but he seemed very unassuming. There was no fabricated swagger or false bravado in his delivery. He was reverent of the talent of his bandmates while clearly letting loose to have fun on stage. Even his attire hinted at high fashion with a jacket and black leather pants, but they were offset by a pair of comfortable sneakers and a rhinestone shirt that said “Peace Rocks”. The peace sign proved to be a prevalent theme throughout the show, from holding up the hand sign for peace to wearing peace necklaces. Starr looked spry and healthy wearing his signature sunglasses and sporting the kempt beard and mustache. Though he is 79 years old, there was nothing lethargic or geriatric about this performance. It was quite the opposite: an energetic and youthful performance from start to finish.
Although there are some Ringo Starr hits embroidered in the fabric of our collective memory, it takes a show like this to remind us of just how many there have been. Eight songs from his solo career broke the top 10 in the US charts and two hit number one (“You’re Sixteen” and “Photograph”). Between 1970 and 2017, Ringo has released 19 solo studio records. The second song of the set started the audience down memory lane with “It Don’t Come Easy” from the 1975 album Blast From Your Past.
Starr shared the spotlight and lead vocal duties with the singers that made their respective songs famous. It was like a karaoke dream where everyone sounded exactly like the record. One highlight was hearing Rolie breathing life into “Black Magic Woman,” and then hearing Lukather shredding on the soulful solos of Carlos Santana, was magical. As the song transitioned to “Gypsy Queen”, it was Gregg Bissonette’s turn to shine as he vamped on the drumset.
A majority of the crowd were old enough to remember the quirky videos of Men At Work on MTV’s heavy rotation in the early 80’s. There were possibly a handful of people that didn’t recognize Colin Hay playing guitar on stage, but everyone recognized that distinctive voice singing “I come from the land down under,” Ham obviously broke out the flute to play the infectious solo on “Down Under” and then later in the show played the famous sax line on “Who Can It Be Now.”
While out of the spotlight, Starr was still an archetypal presence as he rose to his drum throne and commandeered the instrument that he is best known for. The bass drum of his Ludwig drum kit that once sported The Beatles logo, now has a symbolic star and lotus flower logo, presumably in support of the Ringo Starr Art Lotus Foundation.
Being the drummer in the back typically garners less notoriety, especially when you’re standing on the shoulders of giants like Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison. But throughout his career, he has received 9 Grammys, and has twice been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, first as a Beatle and then as a solo artist. Starr played in perfect synchronicity with Bissonette and reminded all of the musicians in the room why he is considered by many to be included in the category of best rock drummer of all time.
The wonderful evening of hit music was capped off with a resounding message of peace when Ringo and the boys joined in on the anthem “Give Peace A Chance,” the anti-war chant that John Lennon and Yoko Ono voiced 50 years ago from room 1742 that still needs to be heard today.
Photographer: Mark Greenawalt
Ringo Starr And His All Starr Band – Celebrity Theater 8-26-19