PHOENIX — Time and again, rock n’ roll has proven that it’s a genre that staunchly refuses to die. Two good reasons for this phenomenon were proudly on display this past Tuesday evening at Crescent Ballroom in downtown Phoenix; the opening act of the night, Seattle rock band Thunderpussy, and the incomparable two-man rock powerhouse known as Black Pistol Fire.
The evening couldn’t have kicked off better as Thunderpussy took the stage by storm, captivating the audience immediately with their slick style along with some effortlessly proficient musicianship. Lead vocalist, Molly Sides (a Tucson native) had undeniable charisma and grace from the moment she strode across the stage towards her iconic Elvis-style microphone.
Donning a vibrant, glittery and flowing outfit, she was the centerpiece that completed the unmistakably rock n’ roll spectacle the band was giving off. As her darkly-colored vocals soared to the stratosphere with an excellent cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love”, she dazzled fans with her fluid dancing that seemed far too natural to be choreographed.
The charisma didn’t stop there either; it comes pouring out of each member as you see them thoroughly enjoying themselves on stage. Lead guitarist, Whitney Petty opened the show wielding a violin bow, grazing it across the strings in ways that would make Jimmy Page’s jaw drop. The rhythm section could easily hold their own with the best of them as Leah Julius’ bass and the battering proficiency of the drums made up a rock-solid foundation supporting the rest of the music. The band was an excellent choice for an opener and definitely one to keep your eyes on as they inevitably ascend to greatness.
Black Pistol Fire
As palpable as the excitement in the room was for the main attraction, it was still hard to imagine the night getting much better. However as soon as singer/guitarist Kevin McKeown and drummer Eric Owen rushed the stage, it was obvious that the night had only just begun.
Ripping into the first lines of “Suffocation Blues”, you could feel the desperation behind every note being bent out of McKeown’s beautiful SG guitar. Deeply rooted in the blues and garage rock of the dirtiest varieties, Black Pistol Fire must feel right at home back in the thriving Austin, Texas music scene. As a rock duo featuring no bassist, the superficial comparisons to other famous rock duo groups like The White Stripes and The Black Keys are inevitable, but don’t be fooled; Black Pistol Fire brings many unique qualities to the table in a genre saturated with copycats.
Owen’s creative contribution of playing the synth bass while he simultaneously drums with one arm is a sight that must be seen to be fully processed. This is not something that can be pulled off easily but he makes it look like the easiest thing in the world, which is a testament to his raw musical talent. Shockingly, this also does very little in simplifying his drum parts because his merciless whacks on the toms and snare drum are just as strikingly heavy as if someone were playing with two burly arms.
McKeown’s vocal and guitar chops are both solid, with attitude aplenty. It’s so powerful to see how the themes behind the lyrics of songs like “Hipster Shakes” directly translates through his guitar into this emotional downpour of soulful distortion. The songs exude this fiery, sensual energy that’s simply magnetic and is sure to make anyone loosen up a bit. He screams with this begging and pleading tone that perfectly complements the gyrating motions he does on stage. It’s almost as if you’re watching someone go through an exorcism the way he shakes, tearing away at the pain of past experiences and shedding them from existence. There was even a moment when McKeown’s exorcism took him off the stage and into the crowd with the help of a dedicated stagehand. This personal journey of his took him all the way from the back end of the room onto the bleachers, all the way to standing on top of the bar as the bartender proudly handed him a splash of whiskey, all during the same guitar solo.
Crescent Ballroom proved to be the ideal venue for the performance of both bands, balancing high sound quality with the intimacy that only it’s dark walls can provide. The light show was also complimentary without it being too blinding or distracting for the audience. The reactions you gather from watching both of these bands are visceral ones and each of their reputations are definitely elevated because of it. Black Pistol Fire and Thunderpussy are as rock n’ roll as they come.
Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Black Pistol Fire & Thunderpussy – Crescent Ballroom 7-16-19
PHOENIX — On the cusp of their sophomore album release, Chase Atlantic and opener Lauren Sanderson celebrated at Crescent Ballroom with contagious energy. Touring the US from coast to coast with 29 stops, and their self-produced PHASES set to release on June 28, the alt-pop three-piece have played to sold out venues in Pittsburgh, Nashville, Charlotte, Ft. Lauderdale, and now Phoenix.
“This album feels as though it is truly a work of astronomical measures,” says lead vocalist, Mitchel Cave. “It’s the first time we were able to honestly and openly hone into something so monumentally special and raw without compromising even an inch of our integrity as artists. We’ve developed a completely new sound within a matter of months that has never been tapped into before. Chase Atlantic is now dwelling within a realm of its own; it’s both scarily isolating and blissfully euphoric at the same time. Welcome to a whole new era.”
Lauren Sanderson, an Indiana native with a huge Twitter following of over 100,000 people, gave her first Ted Talk, titled “Stay Positive N’ Stay You”, only a year after graduating high school. Shehit the stage with a bright smile and a burst of energy that set the table for the main course of the night: Chase Atlantic.
During the intermission between Sanderson and Chase Atlantic, the music kept the audience energized and singing along as they played one of Lauren’s songs, to the crowd’s delight.
When the lights went out, the crowd went wild with anticipation. The back LED screens came on, and a fantastic and electrifying drum solo by Jesse Boyle got everybody screaming. A few seconds later, the shouts intensified as frontman Cave walked onto the stage, followed by band members Christian Anthony, Clinton Cave, and Patrick Wilde.
Mitchel yelled to the crowd, “Make some noise if you came with a friend!” The crowd roared and the song “Angels” began a night of jumping and motion that could practically induce seasickness.
During “What U Call That”, “Her”, “The Walls”, “Friends”, and “StuckInMyBrain”, the madness continued with nonstop singing, jumping, and partying like the world was about to end.
As they hit the stage again, following a quick and well-earned interlude, they made the announcement everybody was waiting for: their new album PHASES was just made live a day early, and Cave encouraged the whole crowd to open up their cell phones and download the song right then and there. He even asked to get a thumbs-up once each audience member had finished the transaction. An ocean of cell phone screens lit up the inside of Crescent Ballroom as the download frenzy went on for a few moments, to the delight of the band. Thumbs started to go up enthusiastically and smiles filled the faces of the musicians.
The crowd was rewarded for their instant downloads with one of Chase Atlantic’s most popular and well-known songs, “Swim”, followed by “Love Is Not Easy”, then by Cave and Anthony taking off their shirts suggestively right before their song “Lust”.
Cave’s statement matched that of the opener by saying that “this has been the best show of their whole f***ing ride.”
“Drugs & Money” kept the energy as high as it had been since the opening and continued with “Heaven And Back”, followed by Anthony asking the crowd, “Who feels like a rockstar?”, then pointing towards Cave and telling him, “I know you do,” then playing “Like A Rockstar”.
During their last song, “Uncomfortable”, Cave took a cell phone from the audience to take a selfie with the crowd, then carefully returned it to the fan without breaking or slowing down the energetic performance.
As they walked offstage, they said to the crowd, “We can play a f***ing encore if you want one more!” The crowd chanted incessantly and, over the speakers the band instructed everyone to scream “F*** yeah!” in unison. The crowd again obliged and chanted until the band returned to the stage.
Chase Atlantic closed the show with their last song, “Okay”, commanding the crowd in a way seasoned musicians do. The band coerced the whole crowd get down low, almost lying on the ground, and brought them back up to dance and jump. They welcomed Lauren Sanderson back to the stage for a high-octane rock n’ roll sound with heavy guitar riffs and powerful drum beats, and the night ended by leaving the audience exhausted and excited, as only great and memorable shows can do.
PHOENIX — Paul McCartney delivered the soundtrack of our lives in a three-hour marathon performance at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The sound was perfect and the light show was amazing, but the magical and elusive ingredient was the way McCartney could make everyone feel the songs. This stop on his “Freshen Up Tour” was an emotional rollercoaster that took a nostalgic journey down memory lane and then ventured back to the more recent entries into the most incredible catalog on earth. The tour kicked off last September in Canada and has literally traveled the world including stops in Asia, Europe, South America, and finally back to North America. Phoenix is so fortunate to be included in such a short list of international dates.
Pulling from a catalog of hits by the Beatles, Wings, and solo material that everyone knew and loved, McCartney modestly proved why he is the world class entertainer all others aspire to. There were happy moments where the audience was giddy and singing along to “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” like drunks in an Irish pub. But there were also more solemn moments when McCartney became the storyteller and reminisced about some people that we have lost – people we know as celebrities, but he knew as friends.
There was excitement in the air when the gentle verse of “Live And Let Die” exploded into a shocking display of pyrotechnics that brought out the inner child, wide-eyed and watching a finale of fireworks. At the opposite end of that spectrum was a simple rustic shack stage set for the performance of a stripped-down acoustic set of songs that included Beatles classics “From Me To You”, “Love Me Do”, and all the way back to The Quarrymen song “In Spite of All The Danger.”
There is no denying that McCartney is a class act, and it was evident from the moment he walked on stage wearing a stylish black jacket, white shirt, black pants and wielding the iconic Hoffner bass guitar for a splash of color. The jacket lasted eight songs before he announced, “This will be the one-and-only wardrobe change,” and revealed the white shirt, in stark contrast to the rest of the band dressed in all black.
Cast for the Evening
Paul McCartney – Lead vocals, bass, acoustic guitar, piano, electric guitar, ukulele, mandolin
Paul ‘Wix’ Wickens – Backing vocals, keyboards, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bongos, percussion, harmonica, accordion
Abe Laboriel Jr. – Backing vocals, drums, percussion
Rusty Anderson – Backing vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar
Brian Ray – Backing vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass
Plus guest appearance by 3-piece horn section
The band included the dueling guitar team of Rusty Anderson (on McCartney’s right) and Brian Ray, who takes on the role of playing bass when McCartney transitions to tickling the ivories. Paul ‘Wix’ Wickens was the multi-instrumentalist who was predominantly on keyboards, but also shined on harmonica. Drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. was the highly animated and always entertaining drummer who has been with McCartney since the 2001 Concert for New York City. Laboriel brought some levity and comic relief to the stage as he performed goofy dance moves behind the stoic McCartney singing “Dance Tonight.” And to add icing to the already delicious cake, McCartney introduced a 3-piece horn section that elevated the authenticity of songs like “Hey Jude” while we sang the “Na-NaNa-NaNaNaNa” part and the uplifting “Got To Get You Into My Life.”
McCartney’s narration paid tribute to the late Jimi Hendrix (telling the story about Hendrix playing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” live at a show in England the day after the song was released) and to the late Sir George Martin who is often cited as the fifth Beatle. But the two most touching tributes were to the two fallen Beatles.
He recalls a story of sitting with George Harrison and showing him that he had learned the Harrison hit “Something” on ukulele. He mentioned how Harrison was a great “uke” player and said “Let’s hear it for George.” The crowd responded with a swell of cheers as McCartney raised his hand in the air for a moment of reverence and then started into the song playing a ukulele that Harrison had given him. Any song on ukulele seems light hearted and “cute”, but when the band orchestration kicked in for the guitar solo and the images of Harrison filled the screen the emotions cut deep. Many tears were shed in the audience at that moment. “Thank you George,” said McCartney as the music faded, “for writing such a beautiful song.”
The other tribute was, of course, to John Lennon. One can only imagine the loss that McCartney felt when he lost his co-writing partner and friend to a senseless act of violence that brought the world to a standstill in 1980. Reflecting back on their time together he shares a message with the audience that sometimes we don’t tell friends what they really mean to us. If you have something nice to say about someone, say it. He advised, “Sometimes it’s too late and you wish you had said it.” As he introduced a song he had written for John shortly after he died, he called it a “conversation that they never got to have.” Then with just an acoustic guitar and his emoting voice he delivered the beautiful tribute “Here Today,” and everyone old enough to remember Lennon alive recalled all of those precious memories.
At 77 years old, you might expect him to have the feeble voice of an old man. Although there may have been a few moments where time revealed itself on the vocal cords that have been singing songs like “Helter Skelter” and “Maybe I’m Amazed” for decades, his voice was still powerful, eloquent, and mesmerizing throughout the three-hour marathon. The focus of the show was on the songs, so the physical stage antics were kept to a minimum, but this doesn’t mean that there was any loss of showmanship. McCartney commanded the stage as he glided from bass on songs like the opener “A Hard Day’s Night” to the Yamaha grand piano for an epic rendition of “Let It Be” that could be described as a spiritual experience.
Even the casual McCartney fan knows most of the songs on the setlist from “back in the day,” but McCartney has continued to produce music that hasn’t necessarily made it into heavy rotation on radio stations. McCartney said they know which songs the audience wants to hear by looking into the audience and seeing a sea of cellphone lights when a classic Wings or Beatles song begins to play. “When we play the new songs,” he said, “It’s a black hole.” Then with a cheeky grin he said they are going to play them anyway as they dove into “Fuh You” from the album Egypt Station released last year. Not sure if it was guilt or just some brilliant power of suggestion, but before the first verse was complete, there was a sea of cellphone lights illuminating Talking Stick Resort Arena. Brilliant.
A Hard Day’s Night
Can’t Buy Me Love
Got to Get You Into My Life
Come On to Me
Let Me Roll It
I’ve Got a Feeling
Let ‘Em In
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
Maybe I’m Amazed
I’ve Just Seen a Face
In Spite of All the Danger
From Me to You
Love Me Do
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
Band on the Run
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Let It Be
Live and Let Die
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
Carry That Weight
The setlist contained 38 songs, and each one was worthy of a paragraph in this review, but for the sake of relative brevity, here are just a few highlights. “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” with it’s spooky carnival melody has some of the most visual and strange lyrics. McCartney said he’s often asked where the ideas for songs come from and he said for this one they quite literally saw a poster for an upcoming circus with the tagline, “Being for the benefit of Mr. Kite there will be show tonight on trampoline…” Earlier in the show, McCartney dedicated the song “My Valentine” to his wife and mentioned that she was there in the audience with us in Phoenix. This song also has a hauntingly beautiful melody and the jumbo screen played a black and white film of Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp doing sign language while the song played. Another highlight was for the song “Black Bird.” The stage rose several stories high and revealed a video wall of a starfield of lights in the form of an animated bird on a black background. At the top of the stage, high over the audience, McCartney delivered the song that has inspired singer/songwriters all over the planet to pick up a guitar and learn to play these challenging chords. To be present this night and hear it straight from the source was truly moving.
If you were there, you understand there is no way to put into words how wonderful this show felt. You may be able to find clips or maybe even the entire concert on YouTube, and that might give you a glimpse of how the songs sounded and what was generally happening on stage, but there was an immersive blanket of sound and laser lights that just can’t be captured on any media. Sir Paul McCartney was talking to us like we were his friends and passing down stories like an elder might share with the youth to keep the stories alive for future generations. The end of the night was drawing near as McCartney addressed the audience saying, “We’ve had a great time, but there comes a time when we’ve got to go home…and it ends up the same time you’ve got to go home too.” He took a moment to thank the traveling stage crew, many of them he even thanked by name, and then closed the night with the apropos medley of “Golden Slumbers”, “Carry That Weight”, and “The End”.
(Author’s Note – I used to sing “Golden Slumbers” as a lullaby to my kids when they were babies, so this song was very special to me.)
The last lyric of the night seemed to sum up the overarching positive message from Paul McCartney to the world:
“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
Amid a rain of red, white, and blue confetti and streamers the show came to a physical end, but the memories of this chance encounter with a legendary icon will live on in our hearts and minds.
Photographer: Mark Greenawalt
Paul McCartney – Talking Stick Resort Arena 6-26-19
Scottsdale, AZ — It’s a sad truth that some of the best musicians are no longer with us; they found their way to rock ‘n roll heaven. However, they did leave a hell of a legacy in music. Hollywood Vampires is a band formed by Alice Cooper, Joe Perry of Aerosmith, and Johnny Depp in 2015 to pay tribute to the musicians that are no longer with us from the 1970s. Hollywood Vampires is a brainchild from Cooper, who used to hang out in the Rainbow Bar in Hollywood, California in the 1970s. That’s where Cooper and the original Hollywood Vampires followed their mission statement: drink until no one could stand up. Some of the members to this motley crew of drinkers were Keith Moon of The Who, John Lennon and Ringo Starr of The Beatles, Micky Dolenz of The Monkees, and Elton John.
On a strangely cool night — perhaps the undead bring a chill to the air — Hollywood Vampires came to Talking Stick Resort to play some classic rock by the pool. Co-Op warmed up the crowd — a band formed by Alice Cooper’s son Dash Cooper, who is on lead vocals.
Their backdrop was a skull logo with a red left eye that changed to green for certain songs. As they began to play their second song, Cooper shouted, “Let me hear you howl!” It was fitting as they played under a full moon. The crowd wasn’t too loud, and Cooper once again spoke, trying to liven everyone up, “You’re going to need to be louder to wake the undead. We’re from right here in Phoenix!” One of their final songs was called “Silent Skies,” which Cooper said was a tribute song for a friend of his who committed suicide, and he encouraged the crowd to remember that there’s always help out there.
All the lights went off as a spooky recorded voice-over said, “Listen to them, the children of the night!” Cooper came out, first armed with his cane and mic. Perry and Depp followed with their guitars. The rest of the touring band filled the stage around them: Tommy Henriksen on rhythm and lead guitar, keyboards, and backing vocals; Glen Sobel on drums; Chris Wyse on bass; and Buck Johnson on keyboards, rhythm and lead guitar, and backing vocals.
Before addressing the nearly sold-out crowd, Hollywood Vampires played “I Want My Now,” “Raise the Dead,” and “As Bad As I Am.” Before going into a tribute song combo with “Five to One / Break On Through (to the Other Side)” Cooper said, “We’re the Vampires. Paying tribute to our friends who are gone, The Doors.”
As the rift to “The Jack” by AC/DC filled the air, Cooper said, “We lost Malcolm from AC/DC.” As Cooper sang, he did his stage antics with his cane, walking hunched over going back and forth. As he walked he’d slowly pull jack playing cards from his jacket and would show the crowd the card for a few moments before throwing the card at eager fans.
Perry took the mic, saying to fans, “How are you all doing? It’s time for a ballad. This song is by a good friend of mine who died a long time ago, Johnny Thunders.” Perry sings Thunders’ song “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory.” As the song plays, pictures of Thunders flashed on the backdrop mixed in with Hollywood Vampires’ logo changing in colors.
Cooper took back the mic, singing “My Dead Drunk Friends,” as pictures of Cooper’s fallen buddies, including musical icons such as Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, took turns coming across the backdrop, showing how happy they were to be on stage in their prime. Before singing the next song, “Baba O’Riley” by The Who, Cooper said, “There wouldn’t be the Vampires without Keith Moon.”
Depp paid tribute to David Bowie by singing the song, “Heroes” as images of Bowie appeared on the backdrop.
“It’s a fact most of the vampires have died, but one is still around,” said Cooper. The crowd cheered as they played Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen.” As Cooper sang the next song, “People Who Died” by The Jim Carroll Band, and people in the crowd raised their drinks into the air and sang along with the chorus line, “For the people who died, died.” The logo of the Hollywood Vampires would flash on the backdrop with gravestones inscribed with the names of fallen musicians.
The last song of the night was Cooper’s iconic “School’s Out” as the band played giant red and white balloons with the band’s logo on them were tossed into the crowd like beach balls. People hit them up into the air as others grabbed balloons to keep as souvenirs, and one person even fished their balloon out of the pool. Cooper wrapped up the show by introducing each member of the band. Cooper commented that Perry is one of the best guitar players that he knows.
He put his hand on Depp’s shoulder and said, “You know him by many names, many characters, and now you know him as a guitar player.” Cooper talked about himself last, mentioning how he’s from Arizona and graduated from Cortez High School in Phoenix. The crowd cheered one last time before the lights went out and the Hollywood Vampires took to the night sky.
To see music legends Alice Cooper and Joe Perry together in a band with Johnny Depp is something no one at Talking Stick Resort is going to forget. As fans wandered about the property to the parking lot, went back up to their hotel room, or tried their hand at the slot machines in the casino they all had one thing in common: they knew they were never going to forget seeing Hollywood Vampires. The energy of the band as they jammed their songs and paid tribute to fallen musicians will live on inside them. That night was legendary.
Mesa, AZ — The 2020s are eight months away, and what better way to usher in a new decade than by paying homage to the former that gave us one of America’s greatest musical art forms: jazz.
Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ) is an expert at evoking nostalgia with the musical styles of bygone eras with contemporary artists’ songs. PMJ brought a party filled with glamour, gin, and jazz to the Ikeda Theater at Mesa Arts Center on Wednesday night with their “Welcome to the Twenties 2.0“world tour.
Vocalist Robyn Adele Anderson opened the night with a 1920s take on “I’m So Fancy,” originally performed by pop artist Iggy Azalea. She was accompanied by tap dancer Matthew Shields who tapped in time to the beat and showcased his fancy footwork.
Master of Ceremonies and vocalist Dani Armstrong was a sight to behold in her black and gold art deco dress and magenta hair. Armstrong wiggled her way around the stage with a sensuality and naughty coyness as she performed a jaunty rendition of “Oops, I Did it Again” by Britney Spears, accompanied by jazzy trombone and saucy clarinet.
She introduced the six-piece band comprised of Jesse Elder on piano; Adam Kubota, one of the original members of PMJ, on upright and electric bass; Dave Tedeschi on drums; Jacob Scensney on trombone; Mike Chisnall on guitar and banjo; and Chloe Feoranzo performing on woodwinds.
PMJ introduced some new faces and fresh voices on this tour. Ryan Quinn, who was a contestant on the The Voice, performed Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine” in a low and soulful baritone voice, emphasizing the lyrics, “Where do we go? Where do we go now?”
And newcomer David Simmons Jr. was PMJ’s 2018 talent search contest winner, performing on his very first tour with the group. He entered the stage smartly outfitted in a silver vest and jacket and punchy red bow-tie, performing a jazzy “Something Only We Know” by Keane. For this piece, Kubota swapped his upright bass for an electric bass, Chisnall traded his banjo for an electric guitar, and Feoranzo traded her clarinet for the saxophone.
Armstrong once again took the stage after changing into a sensual black and red gown to perform Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” as a punchy, swing-time jazz number, including scat lyrics and a wailing trombone.
Shields came out to tap dance for the number, keeping time during a break in the song and showcasing his skills. Armstrong and Shields’ flirtatious antics brought heat to this already sexy song.
The show moved quickly and seamlessly, keeping the audience enamored with the energy, vocals, and music of the performers, despite the simple lighting and lack of any modern special effects.
Every song was a treat with unexpected hilarity. Anderson walked out on the stage in a white floral swing dress, with Quinn and Simmons in tow. She sang lead vocals, covering Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” with Quinn and Simmons singing back up. The gentlemen’s animated antics and girlish falsetto when responding to Anderson’s, “Hey Ladies!?” had the crowd laughing.
Afterwards, Simmons treated the audience to a slowed-down version of Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle,” transforming the song into Motown soul, with his vocals akin to that of The Four Tops.
Right before the intermission, five musicians commanded the audience’s rapt attention by leaving their posts and coming front and center with their instruments. They started playing an acoustic set and Anderson sashayed across the stage in a slinky satin leopard mini dress. She began singing Meghan Trainor’s “All About that Bass,” and was joined by Armstrong’s powerhouse vocals for the chorus, including some yodeling as she worked the stage in her tiger striped wiggle dress.
During this set, Feoranzo stepped out from behind her clarinet and approached the microphone, surprising the audience with her perfectly pitched vocals in addition to her multifaceted musical talent. It was empowering to watch a talented trio of women representing a variety of shapes and sizes.
The men created comic relief with Shields tapping to the beat and Quinn putting his arms around his chest, spinning his fingers to mimic twirling tassel pasties. The audience was clapping along and reeling with laughter. It was a great way to conclude the first half of the 120-minute performance.
Kubota talked about the raw beginnings of PMJ: how it all started in Scott Bradlee’s basement apartment in Queens, and how they were paid in falafel. It was the brainchild of Bradlee to put these musical reconstructions on YouTube in 2009, so people with “really, really, really fantastic taste would watch and share and come out to see the shows.”
PMJ knows how to cater to their audience with references to modern pop culture. After the intermission, Elder brought the audience back to focus by playing the Game of Thrones theme song on the piano with force and bravado.
As the audience quieted, Armstrong commanded their attention, floating across the stage in a stunning black and white gown, then lifting the top layer of the skirt like wings above her head. She opened the second act with a dark, operatic rendition of Sia’s “Chandelier.” Armstrong’s vocal range for this set was mind-blowing. The audience gave her a standing ovation.
Now, it was Quinn’s turn once again to transport the audience through time. His ability to mold with the group’s aesthetic so effortlessly couldn’t have been more perfect. He performed a Sinatra-esque rendition with scat vocals of “Lean On” by Major Lazer & DJ Snake. As he left the stage, Armstrong instructed the audience to, “blow a kiss to seven feet of gorgeous!”
As the audience watched Quinn leave, Simmons took the stage quietly, now donning a navy three-piece suit. Anderson emerged in a sparkling silver gown and black opera gloves. They performed a flawless, intimate duet of “Say Something,” originally performed by A Great Big World & Christina Aguilera. The way they looked into each other’s eyes as they sang made it feel as if, for a moment, they were the only ones in the theater.
Their performance tugged at the heartstrings, and to bring the energy back to the show, Shields tap-danced out to center stage and announced, “It’s-a me!”, imitating the character Mario from Nintendo. He then tapped out the Super Mario Bros. theme, accompanied by Elder on the piano.
Exhausted halfway through his tap set, Shields walked back to the piano, chugged the rest of his beer as Elder played the power up jingle, and miraculously, he was back! Shields finished out the tap sequence to the music played at the end of a Super Mario level, finishing with a mimicked jump on a flagpole as Mario would do at the end of a level.
Anderson came out in a black and blue brocade strapless gown and her elbow length opera gloves. Her soft, sensual voice tantalized as she sang, “…Never gonna dance again the way I danced with you,” from the song “Careless Whisper,” originally performed by the late George Michael. Feoranzo stepped forward and performed a stunning sax solo, paying homage to the original, but expanding on the song’s film noir vibes.
“The decade before the 1920s was full of conflict and upheaval. But without that, we wouldn’t have gotten all the great art, dancing to hot jazz, and drinking bootleg gin!” Armstrong exclaimed.
Feoranzo closed out the show as the last solo vocalist, performing “No Surprises” by Radiohead, with her clear, angelic voice. She was joined in gentle accompaniment by the piano, guitar, upright bass, and drums, and then stepped in to play her clarinet.
The 11-person ensemble wrapped up the show with everyone on stage singing a medley of songs blending from one right into another, starting with The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights,” then Haddaway’s “What is Love?” and finishing with The Isley Brothers’ “Shout!”
It was a free-for-all on the stage: Shields was tap-dancing his heart out, Elder cartwheeled across the stage then somersaulted back to his piano for the finale, the musicians moved freely, and the crowd got on their feet to dance to this final number.
Kubota said this is the group’s third time playing out in Mesa and that they can’t wait to be back. And gauging the audience’s turnout and participation, it can be confidently said that they will always be welcome, with their nostalgic take on modern pop and high energy performance that emulates the vaudevillian lounge acts of bygone times.
To usher in the 2020s, Postmodern Jukebox will circumnavigate the globe on their 2019 “Welcome to the Twenties 2.0” tour.
Tempe, AZ — There are very few rock bands that are truly unique, but Queensrÿche has blazed their own trail since their inception in 1980. The media has tried to pigeon-hole their signature style as progressive, hard rock, or even lump them into the derogatory hair-metal category from the 80’s. They stayed true to their sound, and legions of fans showed loyalty even after the heyday of MTV airing the videos that delivered their music to the masses. Fair-weather fans started to fade away once the radio stopped playing their songs, and even some of those who passionately believed that Operation: Mindcrime was one of the greatest albums of all time may not have “checked-in” since the Empire CD was released.
This month, Queensrÿche released their new fifteenth studio album entitled The Verdictand brought the world tour to the Marquee Theatre to show both the die-hard fans and the fans who have been on hiatus that although they never really left, they are back!
The evening started early with two local bands. It’s very commendable for a headliner to pay-it-forward and give new and upcoming acts such an opportunity.
First up was Shadow Guilt, a four-piece band from Gilbert, Arizona. The crowd may not have expected a local act to amount to much, but they immediately commanded the stage and proved that they could hang. The songs were reminiscent of early Metallica and singer/guitarist Bryan Reid had a professional presence with a voice that soared from thrash to screamo.
The second Arizona band was Sectas, a three-piece that again surprised everyone with a big wall of sound and driving songs. Christian Lee is a weapon on guitar and sings with controlled mayhem while shredding.
Drummer Brian Regalado was entertaining to watch and seemed to have had the most fun out of any of the musicians all night. He poured his heart into each song until the last one, which was unfortunately cut short due to time constraints.
The third opening act was no stranger to Queensrÿche fans. Fates Warning also launched into progressive rock in the early 80’s and followed a similar trajectory. Their set began with “From the Rooftops” from their latest album, Theories of Flight — released in 2016.
The stage lights had apparently tripped a breaker, and singer Ray Adler said, “How about a little light up here?” into the dark crowd as the band continued to play. An unanticipated moment occurred when a sea of cellphones rose and illuminated the stage until the stage lights reengaged.
Original guitarist Jim Matheos was joined by the new guitar virtuoso Michael Abdow as they dove back in time to 1991’s “Life In Still Water” from the Parallels album and rekindled the audience participation. The band was rounded out with the longtime rhythm section of Joey Vera (bass) and Bobby Jarzombek (drums). One of the highlights of the 10-song set was watching Vera’s emphatic expressions and stage antics in contrast to the somber delivery from the other band members who poured the energy into surgically precise musicianship.
Fates Warning played two more from the new album (“Seven Stars” and “The Light And Shade Of Things”), but went back to the classic Parallels album again to close the set with “The Eleventh Hour,” followed by “Point Of View”. It was a solid outing and they thanked Queensrÿche for the opportunity and Arizona for the support.
It’s only been a couple of months since Queensrÿche was in town in an opening role on the Scorpions “Crazy World Tour”, and Burning Hot Events was there to review that show as well (click here). That night, they performed a 9-song set with the reduced light show and sound afforded to all opening acts, but this night would be different. This time they were the headliner.
Cast for the Evening
Michael Wilton – lead guitar (1980–present)
Eddie Jackson – bass, backing vocals (1980–present)
Todd La Torre – lead vocals (2012–present), drums (2018 in studio)
Casey Grillo – drums (2017–present)
Before getting into the blow-by-blow, we might as well address the elephant in the room which is the band lineup. This is Queensrÿche led by frontman Todd La Torre, who has firmly planted his flag in the history of the band since 2012 and has now sang on three studio albums. He isn’t Geoff Tate, but he convincingly sings the entire Queensrÿche catalog with respect and command. Fans who can’t accept this change should give a listen to The Verdict to find out that they might be missing out. Guitarist Parker Lundgren, replacing the original guitarist and creative songwriter Chris DeGarmo, seems to be an easier pill to swallow since DeGarmo left willfully around the turn of the century, but this has also upset some purists. The one that may be the strangest now is that original drummer Scott Rockenfield is still the official drummer in the band, but he has been M.I.A. since the 2017 birth of his son. To add further confusion to this story, singer Todd La Torre played drums on the new album and kicked ass capturing the Queensrÿche sound and feel. Casey Grillo, the drummer from the band Kamelot, is the touring drummer, but not the official drummer for the band. It may sound like a dysfunctional family, but original guitarist Michael Wilton and bassist Eddie Jackson are the patriarch glue that is holding it all together to build a strong new regime.
OK, can we move on into the review finally?…
As the house lights were extinguished, the video screens on stage were ignited. Death, wearing a crimson hooded robe, was bidding the crowd to come forward. He was the “life”-size animation of the character on the new album cover. The anticipation continued to rise with more animated video while the intro music was playing the instrumental soundscape of “Launder the Conscience”. As the song faded, the video screens ushered in the spinning Tri-Ryche logo, and the fans were instantly connected to the hive mind.
Grillo was firmly planted on the drum throne when the band floated in from the wings to center stage. The cheers from the crowd had topped out, and then they were drowned out after a single hit to the snare drum took the night from zero-to-60 in seconds flat with the opening riff for “Blood of the Levant”. The guitarists took to their perches on opposite sides of the stage: Lundgren on the left wearing sleeves of tattoos and a leather vest, playing the white Orbit FX; Wilton on the right wearing a black leather jacket and playing the skull and crossbones limited edition ESP. Jackson joined Lundgen on the left wearing an unassuming black tee and playing a black custom 5-string Mike Lull bass. The sound was full of energy but the expressions and lack of stage antics announced that this band was here to deliver the perfect sonic backdrop for the main event and the freak of nature known as Todd La Torre.
Out of the gate, La Torre was like a raging bull exploring the stage, bracing for attack, and then allowing that Queensrÿche sound to emanate from his soul. If there was any doubt when you walked in, there was no doubt now that this band has reached a new pinnacle and the chemistry was working. This was a strong opening song and there was no need for comparisons… This was the lineup that played the song on the album (well, except for Grillo, since La Torre did the drums on the album). La Torre even took a few moments during the middle-8 to play some percussion and give a glimpse of his prowess with drumsticks.
The setlist was an interesting mix of songs from all eras of the band’s history, but there was some emphasis on songs from The Verdict. “You can’t create new classics,” said La Torre, “if you don’t play the new shit, right?”
Their second song from The Verdict was “Man the Machine” but before that they inserted two songs for the die-hard fans with “I Am I” from Promised Landand way back to 1984 for “NM 156” from The Warning. “Condition Hüman” is a beautifully crafted song and the performance was moving, but a look around the crowd told the story that very few knew the songs from this 2015 album.
Before the wind could completely leave the crowd’s sails, Michael “Whip” Wilton took center stage and laid into “Queen of the Reich,” and suddenly the fists were in the air. (Author’s Note – I still have my vinyl copy of this EP and this song still gives me chills.) This would be the proving grounds for La Torre with the elder statesman in the Queensrÿche army. Can he hit that note, hold it, turn on the vibrato, and own it? Yes, he did.
The follow up song was something completely different, and one that everyone knew from the first three notes. It was the iconic ballad “Silent Lucidity,” written by founding member Chris DeGarmo. This was one of the few songs that didn’t shy away from using backing tracks in lieu of bringing an orchestral ensemble.
The next set of four songs seemed like the breath in before the big finale. All good songs, but lesser known to the masses. La Torre introduced “Open Road” as one of the first songs he wrote with the band, and that was followed by two more from The Verdict; “Propaganda Fashion” and “Light-Years.” Then it was back to 1986 for “Screaming in Digital” from Rage For Order.
Those old enough to remember the song “Take Hold of the Flame” when it was in rotation can probably remember where they were when they first heard it. It’s that kind of song. The best way to hear the flanged guitars on the intro is to listen with headphones, but a close second way is to hear the duo of Wilton and Lundgren play it live. Journey found the needle in a haystack when Arnel Pineda replaced the “irreplaceable” Steve Perry, and Queensrÿche followed suit when they found Todd La Torre to replace Geoff Tate.
(Intro Tape) Launder the Conscience (The Verdict, 2019, Wilton/La Torre/Lundgren)
Blood of the Levant (The Verdict, 2019, Wilton/La Torre/Jackson)
I Am I (Promised Land, 1994, DeGarmo/Tate)
NM 156 (The Warning, 1984, DeGarmo/Tate/Wilton)
Man the Machine (The Verdict, 2019, Wilton/La Torre/Jackson)
Queen of the Reich (Queensrÿche EP, 1984, DeGarmo)
Silent Lucidity (Empire, 1990, DeGarmo)
Open Road (Queensrÿche, 2013, Rockenfield/La Torre/Wilton)
Propaganda Fashion (The Verdict, 2019, Jackson)
Light-years (The Verdict, 2019, Jackson)
Screaming in Digital (Rage For Order, 1986, DeGarmo/Tate/Wilton)
Take Hold of the Flame (The Warning, 1984, DeGarmo/Tate)
Eyes of a Stranger (with Anarchy-X outro) (Operation: Mindcrime, 1988, DeGarmo/Tate)
– Encore –
Jet City Woman (Empire, 1990, DeGarmo/Tate)
Empire (Empire, 1990, Tate/Wilton)
It’s important to mention the incredible songwriting talent that DeGarmo and Tate contributed to the legacy of Queensrÿche. “Take Hold of the Flame” is a perfect example, but perhaps some of their best collaborations can be heard on the Operation: Mindcrime album. Tate is now the only one that can perform this album in its entirety after the legal battle, but it is surprising that the the setlist only included one song from this album. They ended the set with the classic that brings back memories of the music video that documented the album’s concept – “Eyes of a Stranger”. It. Was. Awesome.
Eddie Jackson was flawless all evening, but it seemed he quite often slipped into the shadows and let the limelight fall on his bandmates. However, as the band returned to the stage for the encore, Jackson laid claim to center stage and delivered the legendary bass intro to “Jet City Woman” from the 1990 Empire album and the crowd went nuts (another gift from the DeGarmo and Tate songwriting team). La Torre returned to the stage sporting sunglasses and led the audience in the sing-along to this song which is ingrained in our collective memory.
Alas, it was time for the final song of the evening which would be the title track from the Empire album. This song featured Wilton on lead guitar and left fans satiated. The music industry has changed so much but through the years Queensrÿche has followed their muse and continued creating great music. The night was not only a trip down memory lane to get reacquainted with the songs of our youth, but also an invitation to reconnect with an old “friend” who is thriving with a new album and an incredibly talented line up. Check out The Verdict and find out what your verdict is!
Cast for the Evening
Michael Wilton – lead guitar (1980–present)
Eddie Jackson – bass, backing vocals (1980–present)
PHOENIX — Long-time American songwriter Laura Pergolizzi, also known as LP, brought raw energy and charisma to Phoenix. Originally booked at the Crescent Ballroom, LP sold out the 550 capacity room, forcing the show to move to The Van Buren’s 1800 capacity venue. The bold move proved beneficial as LP sold out the Van Buren, with fans still hoping to score tickets at the box office before the show.
LP may be news to the majority, but she has been gracing the music industry with her songwriting since the late 90’s, writing songs for artists like the Backstreet Boys and Christina Aguilera. Her hard work and consistency paid off big time when she released her first studio album, Heart Shaped Scar, in 2001.
It was clear within the first few moments of the show why LP and her band have fans scrambling for tickets, and promoters moving her show to venues three times the size originally booked. The simple explanation: she’s a star. She has a commanding presence, and the moment she lets that first note slip between her lips, you’re sold. In that moment, you know you’re watching someone born to be on stage.
Taking her time to walk out on the stage, lights dimmed as the band came out, the music began with a slow build creating tension in each eager audience member waiting to see LP and hear her bold voice. The intensity of the crowd matched the tension built from the music until the moment LP came out, and then it’s on. Beginning the show with “Dreamcatcher,” the first track off her latest album, Heart to Mouth, she quickly captured attention from all in attendance.
She gracefully glided across the stage, singing with her incredible range and compelling the crowd to move with her. The music flowed into an explosion of sound and dance. Her writing has an incredible balance of emotion and freedom from your former lover, while at times you can feel her broken heart as if it were yours.
It may take seeing the show live to understand the passion each song has to offer. The show takes each person through a story of heartbreak and raw, pure feelings with songs such as, “I Gave You the Great Unknown,” and her second hit single “Recovery. ” Her lyrics ask honest questions like, “Did you let me go?“, and make real statements like, “I can’t stop sleeping in your clothes.” Her powerful voice soars through the crowd, piercing through each member of the audience. The dynamic vocals are accompanied by a slight quiver in her voice that drives home that heartbreak.
LP not only has the songs to remind you of the love you lost, but she has the ability to get you dancing to the same heartbreak. Along with her great presence is a solid, passionate, and exhilarating band. The dynamism and musicianship they bring to the show support LP with a humility that reflects that they believe in the music they are playing and know they are in the right place.
If there is one takeaway for LP when she leaves the Valley, it’s that Phoenix wants her back, and it would be no surprise to see her in an arena when she returns. This is a show made for everyone: the broken-hearted, the healed, the happy, the lonely, the dancer, the dreamer — LP has something for you.
PHOENIX — Celebrity Theatre was a fitting venue for the return of Styx to the Valley for a two night engagement on January 11th and 12th. Located at 32nd Street and Fillmore, the legendary theatre in the round has hosted the cream of music royalty since it first opened as the Phoenix Star Theatre in 1964. The unique circular, rotating stage and intimate atmosphere have made the Celebrity a staple music hall in Phoenix for nearly six decades. Not one seat in the venue is more than 70 feet from the stage.
The show on January 11th started a little late, most likely a result of the parking delays. The line of cars snaking southbound down the right lane of 32nd street moved at a snail’s pace leading up to the entrance. Folks of all stripes were milling around the theater, ordering drinks and chatting excitedly under the catwalk above the stage. Others lingered outside, chain smoking or vaping, listening for a sign to run back inside for the start of the concert.
From their humble Chicago beginnings in the early 1970’s, to their outlandish high production theatrical arena shows of the 80’s, Styx has been a familiar voice on the radio for generations, with a career spanning over half a century. As the first band to have four triple platinum albums in a row, they are an integral part of the soundtrack of many people’s lives. Their importance to rock music as a whole has been unfairly marginalized for years, and in the words of Julian ‘Frankenstein’ McGrath from Big Daddy (1999), only catching “a bad rap because most critics are cynical assholes.”
The current lineup includes veteran Tommy Shaw on lead guitar, with founding members James “J.Y.” Young and Chuck Panozzo on guitar and bass respectively, with Chuck performing on a more limited basis. Chuck’s twin brother and co-founding member of Styx, John Panozzo, originally played drums, but sadly died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1996. Since then, Todd Sucherman has been the band’s drummer. Playing backing guitar, bass, and vocals is Ricky Phillips of Bad English and The Babys, who joined the band in 2003. Vocalist and keyboard virtuoso Lawrence Gowan is a high-energy showman, but you would have to be in order to replace estranged former frontman Dennis DeYoung, as he did in 1999. A band with a history as rich as Styx merits such a historic venue as Celebrity Theatre.
The house lights suddenly dimmed, eliciting hoots and cheers from the audience. As soon as the spotlights kicked on, the band flew right into “Gone Gone Gone”from their latest album The Mission, released in mid-2017. From the first frenzied notes played on the dueling guitars, the crowd was on their feet. Fans young and old danced in the aisles while others rushed to their seats, full beers in hand. The song does not sound at all unlike the old Styx — high-energy and fun.
Not a moment after the first tune ended, the iconic organ riff of “Blue Collar Man” sternly commanded the grateful crowd’s attention. Each band member’s precision assured the crowd that Styx had not lost a step from their golden age.
Next was their hit “The Grand Illusion”, the title track from their 1977 album. Every flawless note rang out true to the recording, and there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for that: Styx is a band that is perpetually on tour. According to the band themselves, they only take occasional breaks for short periods. Anybody touring that frequently is going to perform their catalogue masterfully.
After performing “Fooling Yourself,” Gowan spoke: “What a wonderful way to ring in the new year!” Standing at the foot of the stage, he remarked, “My, you’re all so close,” as he addressed the theater’s intimate layout.
The spotlight settled on him at the keyboard as and an iconic piano riff pierced the crowd, igniting their collective nostalgia. “Lady” is one of those songs that everyone imagines will be playing in the background when they lay their eyes on their soulmate for the first time. Again, it’s eerie how well Gowan embodies Dennis DeYoung, both vocally and instrumentally. It was not the first song the whole theater sang in unison, nor would it be the last.
When Shaw approached the mic, he explained the origins of their 16th album, The Mission, before introducing “Radio Silence” for the waiting ears of all in attendance. The opening synth has that instantly recognizable Styx DNA. That this was not a radio single is baffling. In fact, Shaw himself has expressed frustration with the neglect that great classic rock bands experience in the new age of the music industry. It is almost prophetic of the band that you cannot hear a song called “Radio Silence” on the radio. It is a fantastic track and deserves more attention.
The next tune was off of 1975’s Equinox. “Lorelei” seems like one of those songs that everyone knows but has no idea what it is called or who sings it, like an old friend you ate lunch with at work, but never learned their name. Young absolutely nails the lead vocals in place of DeYoung’s studio recording. Another striking revelation was that the bands harmonies were pristine. These are men in their early to late sixties, the oldest being founding member Panozzo at seventy years old.
Shortly after “Lorelei”, Shaw recalled a conversation he had with Young in 1975, and explained how he came to join the band. Taking Young up on his offer to come to Chicago, Shaw brought a song he had been working on. It was a great song, but “it wasn’t a Styx song” according to Young, who Shaw calls “The Godfather of Styx”. From that story, the audience learned how “Crystal Ball” was written, and Shaw was only too happy to demonstrate how beautiful his two-tone sunburst Fender 12-string acoustic sounds. With impeccable timing, a roadie hopped up onto the stage to hand over a Les Paul for the solo before swapping the Jumbo back for the outro.
As expected, the band played a couple more hits with “Light Up” and “Man in the Wilderness” before closing out the first half of the show with another anthem from the Paradise Theater album, “Rockin’ the Paradise.” It wasn’t long before the house lights came back up for a short intermission, when Young promised another hour of music after they returned.
The second half of the show kicked off with another Young-led hit from The Grand Illusion, “Miss America.” Styx is currently rehearsing for a special show in Las Vegas where they will play the entire The Mission album from start to finish. Fans attending this show were treated to a sampling of what is to come when they debuted six of those songs in order from the second half of the album. The suite of songs began with “Time May Bend” and continued through “The Outpost” and this night was the first time they had ever been performed live. They even welcomed the album’s producer and co-writer, Will Evankovich on stage to contribute to the instrumentation and vocals.
Eventually a roadie produced Shaw’s vintage Fender Electric XII and it’s a dead giveaway to the guitar-savvy fans that “Suite Madame Blue” was coming, and it was impeccably played from start to finish. Immediately after, the fans were finally treated to what many were waiting for… “Too Much Time On My Hands” (watch the Paul Rudd and Jimmy Fallon shot-for-shot remake) from 1981’s Paradise Theater. The maniacal keyboard part of the song is indicative of the genius that Dennis DeYoung endowed upon the group; however, this does not imply they are lacking anything from his departure. This band is so well-oiled that his absence is hardly noticeable.
As the applause died down, most of the band left the stage, but Gowan remained and took the spotlight to turn the venue into a “piano bar” with a pair of fantastic covers. The first was a phenomenally accurate rendition of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” for the appreciative audience. The second cover was a beautiful recitation of the intricate operatic section of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and the entire crowd once again sang along to every word. They are truly a fortunate group to have stumbled across such a talented frontman. Gowan alone should be a major factor for anyone even considering going to a Styx show. He alone is absolutely worth the cost of admission.
Still alone on stage, Gowen started into the piano intro to possibly their most famous hit, “Come Sail Away”, which was also featured on The Grand Illusion. The band shuffled back out to bring it home and it seemed to be the perfect crescendo to end the show with, guitars blazing and fans jumping up and down. As the last note is struck from the guitars, and the last cymbal smashed, the band removed their straps and handed off their instruments to the roadies while they made their way off the stage before turning around amid the raucous applause and walking right back out for an encore.
To thunderous applause, they opened back up with “Mr. Roboto,” the drum fills echoing throughout the small space with noticeably fewer audience members, many of whom ran out to their vehicles when they believed the show was over. This is a big deal for one simple reason: They had never performed this song on stage with the full band before this tour. Previously, Dennis DeYoung had always sung a version of it with pre-recorded tracks. Once he left, the band abandoned it for the following decades. The fact that they are playing it as an encore now is kind of ironic.
The fitting final number of the evening was the signature rocker song “Renegade”, Shaw’s self-penned hit from 1979’s Pieces of Eight.
“Oh, mama, I’m in fear for my life from the long arm of the law…”
The acapella opening lines beckoned the crowd once more to accompany the band, offering a fitting and crowd-unifying conclusion to a consistently powerful and nostalgic evening with a gargantuan pillar of classic rock. As any great performers are wont to do, Styx left the Phoenix audience delighted and fulfilled, yet eager for more. Fans might have had their thirst satiated if they bought tickets to the show the following night at the same venue. And if the rock gods will it, perhaps Arizona will be graced with a future performance from the legendary American musical mainstay.
PHOENIX — Many of us have been invited to a pity party and more than likely, we have no desire to attend. When Puddles the sad clown hosts one, however, I recommend you RSVP and make it a priority on your calendar.
I was one such lucky attendee amidst several thousand others that packed the Ikeda Theater at Mesa Arts Center. Not knowing what to expect of the next 110 intermission-free minutes aside from a sweet serenade from the 6’8” baritone crooner in a clown costume, I kept my mind, ears, and eyes open.
Three minutes before the show was set to begin, the house lights were still up as people shuffled to their seats. There appeared to be commotion on the mezzanine level as several audience members looked up to see the unmistakable giant, cuddly clown making his way through the sea of people giving hugs, handshakes, and posing for photos. He effortlessly hurdled the chairs and made a concerted effort to greet as many of his party “guests” as he could, before making his way down to the ground level where he popped through the back doors and dashed to and fro, greeting attendees as he made his way up to the stage.
Puddles Pity Party is anything but predictable, and after enthusiastically giving high fives to some of the folks in the front rows, he hoisted himself up onto the stage and awkwardly rolled to his feet despite the fact that there was an accessibility staircase not 10 feet to his left. It was at this moment I realized that things were going to be shaken up into a concoction of splendor and entertainment that would take all of us on a wild adventure of fellowship and laughter.
The festivities began with Puddles amusingly popping a whopping amount of gum into his mouth and loudly chewing as he read an AARP magazine featuring Kevin Costner.
Much like other aspects of the show, these pieces may have seemed trivial at the time, but became integral parts of his act. Perpetually animated and childlike in his movement at times, Puddles — brought to life by Mike Geier — scoots about the stage on his stool and takes his sweet time getting to center stage to watch a montage of his trials and tribulations while appearing on America’s Got Talent. The sad clown with the golden voice sang his rendition of R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”, only to be abruptly stopped by a loud buzzer and a giant red X like the one he received while performing for the show. Despite this, Puddles pressed on.
The irony was not lost in respect to a silent comic entertainer who uses only his vocal ability to belt out emotional tunes; however, the heartfelt depth of his singing left the partygoers absolutely stunned. Puddles performed “The Sound of Silence” to a video of ASL translator, Zoey Stormes, signing a moving performance. Though he is a sad clown who expresses tremendous variety of emotion, from melancholy, to gratitude, to wonderment, it’s virtually impossible to be sad while in his presence. Laughter and words of encouragement from the crowd consistently permeated the silence.
Puddles has several obsessions that attendees learn throughout their time with him, two of which are Kevin Costner and coffee. Never have I attended a party that entailed a coffee break, but there is a first time for everything. In fact, Puddles Pity Party contained many firsts, which takes the Vaudevillian style act from being a show to a full-fledged experience. I lost count of how many times Puddles left his wad of gum behind on his suitcase of goodies and plucked it back up to resume chewing. Additionally, I lost count of how many times he rolled himself off the stage to interact with the audience and bring a new friend up to be a part of the show. Attendees were swept away, transformed into an environment where excitement is found in the simple and absurd.
It was when I oddly caught “the feels” from hilarious snippets of robots falling over to the sound of Puddles’ emotional rendition of Coldplay’s “Fix You” that I realized the power and magnitude of this king-sized clown’s voice. No love song directed at a cup of coffee will ever feel so pure and heartfelt as it did in that theater.
Partygoers were just as much a part of the show, and were brought into Puddles’ world of make-believe. One woman transformed into a wolf that Puddles waltzed with. A gentleman enthusiastically sang the karaoke version of “All By Myself”. Another got to be a rocket scientist, and yet another got to stuff his face with cupcakes while being reminded that the word “stressed” spelled backwards is “desserts”. Puddles even had one of the party attendees summon Kevin Costner, albeit after a failed attempt that accidentally summoned Kevin Bacon.
Other celebrities were attending in spirit, as it was impossible to miss the homages to Axl Rose, Freddie Mercury, and the King himself, Elvis Presley. Puddles’ prowess as an accomplished musician was made apparent through performing on his cardboard guitar that asserts “Do Good Work”, to his various beats on both real and video game drum sets, to his unique song mashups.
Geier, affectionately known as “Big Mike”, who has run a burlesque performance troupe out of Atlanta and also performs with the Kingsized Jazz Trio, has the performer gene coursing through his veins. Traveling with Puddles Pity Party, he has made audiences giggle and laugh warmly all over the world while wearing his endearing heart on his ruffled sleeve.
All you would have to do is go on YouTube and search “Puddles” to encounter countless videos of the sad clown with the golden voice. One of his most captivating being his rendition of Sia’s “Chandelier”, which partnered with Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox and also performed on America’s Got Talent to agape jaws and an uproarious standing ovation.
The party on Friday was no exception and the crowd had their phones out to record video of his most notable serenade, as is encouraged. This did not stop Puddles from giving his adoring fans the up-close and personal show they were hoping for, as he grabbed one phone to sing to it and place it in the hand of another individual while picking up their phone and passing it on until there were multitudes of attendees who had incredible footage of Puddles and the cell phone of their fellow party-goer. The laughter that ensued afterward while people scrambled to find each rightful owner was memorable. If anyone can bring people closer together with their fellow man, it’s most definitely Puddles the sad clown.
If you have the opportunity to attend a pity party put on by Puddles, I highly encourage it. How a sad clown can make everyone in a room light up with laughter is a special kind of magic that can only be felt and seen by experiencing it firsthand.
Tempe, AZ — At face value, thinking about a period of seventeen years does seem like a long stretch of time. Contrarily, Minus the Bear frontman, Jake Snider, has a different take on the idea because about halfway through the set on their farewell tour at the Marquee Theatre last night, Snider gave the audience some insight into their seventeen year-long career as a band, “Seventeen years feels like almost no time has passed. We appreciate all of you for being here. We’ve got the best fans of anyone.”
This served as a beautiful footnote at the end of the influential band’s creative streak consisting of 6 studio albums and 12 EPs, as well as countless national and international tours. They’ve been highly influential in the math rock genre and are largely considered pioneers of the style, their beginnings predating many noteworthy math rock bands like This Town Needs Guns and Chon.
They clearly expressed their gratitude to the audience, and the feeling was undeniably mutual as the sounds of cheering and clapping rarely died down over the course of the evening. Every crowd has its black sheep though, demonstrated towards the end of the show as one inebriated concert-goer threw a full can of beer at bassist Cory Murchy. To the relief of many, the band didn’t hold the rudeness of one person against the rest of the audience as Snider calmy chimed in over the mic “Please don’t throw your f*ucking beer can at us. Thanks, we love you guys.”
The unforgettable night began with an excellent introduction of the complex music to come thanks to the opening act, Tera Melos. The Sacramento, California-based band pummelled the audience with a frenetic 40 minute set that never once let up in energy.
It all began when Nick Reinhart, the guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist of the band, gave the other members a quick, nearly imperceptible glance, and then they were off with their first song, “Don’t Say I Know”. The band continued their set without uttering a word or letting out a breath between songs while only occasionally looking at each other for brief acknowledgement of what was coming next. This was astounding because of the technicality and otherworldly sounds emanating from Reinhart’s guitar; it takes incredible musicianship to even follow what’s going on as a listener, let alone a Tera Melos band member.
Interspersed between songs were spastic, electronic guitar lines that could often be described as computer beeping in 5/4 time. Some of these sounded reminiscent of dubstep while others bordered more along EDM territory. It was surprising to many fans in attendance that it was coming from a guitar, as well as those more familiar with the band as you’d frequently hear someone new shouting “What?!” or “How?!” from around the room as Reinhart stomped on a new combination of guitar FX pedals.
Another highlight of their incredible set was “Slimed”, with Reinhart screaming “Something about my face, always makes me sick!” as the band followed along perfectly without missing a note. On these merits alone, Tera Melos is not, nor will they ever be, a band to be missed.
Minus the Bear
After fans had about 20 minutes to recover between sets from the mind blowing experience of Tera Melos, Minus the Bear picked up right where the opening act left off.
The band’s embrace of classics like “Pachuca Sunrise”, “The Fix”, and “The Game Needed Me” from their second album Menos Del Oso scattered throughout the set among more recent favorites, such as “Last Kiss” from their final 2017 release, VOIDS served as an anachronistic tribute to their incredible evolution as a band over time. It was a nice touch and always kept you guessing as what was to come next. The band’s sound was also finely tuned to the venue’s sound system, a huge relief considering anything less would have proven unacceptable for a band so musically polished themselves.
Guitarist Dave Knudson was a finger-tapping machine, only taking both his hands off the guitar neck to kneel down and adjust knobs on his plethora of FX pedals. If Knudson and Reinhart were to face off in a gladiator-esque guitar FX duel, it would be impossible to tell who would come out on top. Knudson and keyboardist Alex Rose were the icing on the cake of the intricately layered music, as bassist Murchy and touring drummer Joshua Sparks provided a solid backbone for the songs to breathe new life into the hearts of many listeners.
While farewell tours will always carry bittersweet connotations, this inspiring show served as a proper send-off for some of math rock’s founding fathers with the grateful support of an up-and-coming math rock band. It’s hard to picture it going any better than it did, and many fans stayed until the very end of the show, absorbing every beautiful moment. The legacy of Minus the Bear will live on through not only their own music, but in the hearts and minds of fans worldwide and other math rock bands reinventing the sound that was so new only seventeen short years ago.
Photographer: Mark Greenawalt
Minus The Bear & Tera Melos – Marquee Theatre 12-7-18