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REVIEW: Snoop Dogg Makes Show a Personal Block Party at The Van Buren (12-11-19)

PHOENIX — This past August, Snoop Dogg released his 15th studio album: I Wanna Thank Me. In the now 27 years since he first burst onto the scene alongside Dr. Dre, Snoop has never slowed down. He’s never stopped hustling, he’s never stopped releasing bomb-ass albums, and he’s never left the conversation for the greatest rapper alive. Simply put, Snoop is timeless and is a true hip-hop living legend. Now out on the “I Wanna Thank Me” tour with support from Trae Tha Truth, RJMrLA, and Warren G, Snoop brings his own personal party to every city he plays. To see him at The Van Buren, though, offered a rare chance to see him up close and personal: a megastar in a more intimate setting. 

Trae Tha Truth

Trae Tha Truth

Touring in support of his just-released album Exhale, Houston hip-hop veteran Trae Tha Truth opened the show. His rapid-fire chopper-style vocals, which date back in hip-hop to Kool Moe Dee’s days with the Treacherous Three, got the crowd moving. Throughout his 20-minute set, the bass in his tracks was like a hip-hop defibrillator. “Long Live The Pimp,” his 2012 collaboration with Future, was one of the high points in the set. With the rest of the night putting a spotlight on the West Coast, Trae’s Texas flavor was the perfect counterbalance.    

RJMrLA

RJMrLA

Brought out by DJ Goofy, the Los Angeles-born RJ (sometimes RJMrLA) rode the wave of momentum with the crowd, as he put his new spin on West Coast hip-hop. His opening track “On One” from his recently released Oh God, featured the line “I was taught to fear no one,” which feels like it should be RJ’s mantra. If “On One” was the ignition, “Flex” from his 2013 debut O.M.M.I.0 3 was the blast-off. Hip-hop is about the boast, and “Flex” was the ultimate boast in his short but explosive set.   

Warren G

Warren G

It is incredible enough to see one legend in Snoop Dogg live in concert, but to have Warren G as one of the openers is an undeniable bonus and a rap fan’s dream come true. His debut album, 94’s Regulate… G Funk Era was an instant classic of West Coast hip-hop. Even 25 years after its release, Warren G still has the same smooth vocals that made him an immediate star, and they were on display throughout his 30-minute set. Opening with “This D.J.” from his debut, the crowd jumped on the hook, “It’s kind of easy when you’re listening to the G-Dub sound/Pioneer speakers bumpin’ as I smoke on a pound.” 

With the crowd feeling it, he immediately launched into “Do You See,” with the crowd again singing along, as they waved their hands from side to side. Missing from the song was the departed Nate Dogg, Warren G’s long-time collaborator and friend. His presence hung over many of the songs, and he was honored by both Warren G and Snoop Dogg (the three started out together in the hip-hop group 213 in 1990). 

Warren G
| Photographer:
Andrea Stoica © All Rights Reserved

A late-set request from the audience brought one of the night’s more spontaneous highlights. Following “Summertime in the LBC,” he asked the crowd if anyone had a lighter, and as soon as the words left his mouth, the stage was instantly showered with lighters thrown from every spot in the crowd. Jumping out of the way of a seemingly steady stream, he laughed and reminded the crowd he just needed one. He retrieved one of the lighters, and after lighting up, he tossed it back to its owner, a man named Luke. “Luke? Like Luke Skywalker,” he asked the man, before leading the crowd in an impromptu acapella sing-along of 2 Live Crew’s “We Want Some Pussy,” before launching into 213’s “Mary Jane.” 

Following “Nobody Does It Better,” Warren G closed out his set with the timeless “Regulate.” If hip-hop has a list of greatest sing-along songs, “Regulate” would be high on that list. When it came time for Nate Dogg’s vocals, instead of just playing it from the track, the crowd sang his parts, with prompting by Warren G. It may be celebrating its 25th birthday, but the song sounded as good as ever and was the best way he could close out his set. 

Snoop Dogg

View Setlist

Snoop Dogg
| Photographer:
Andrea Stoica
© All Rights Reserved

You may have seen some artists you truly love live in concert and felt that surge of excitement when they walked out to start their set, but Snoop Dogg is a certified living legend. When we talk about a person who is exceptional in any field, oftentimes they are described as a “rock star,” which instantly denotes that they have that certain extra something that defies simple categorization or explanation. Have no doubt about it, Snoop is a rock star, and when he came to the stage at The Van Buren, he did it with a swagger many of us wish we could have in our day-to-day lives. When Snoop came out, with his blinged microphone in hand, the atmosphere in the room instantly changed. While some people can make a party, Snoop is the party. 

Opening with “What U Talkin’ Bout” from his recently released 15th studio album I Wanna Thank Me, from which the tour got its name, the energy in the room instantly changed. The new songs stood proudly alongside the classics from across his career, and what commenced for the remainder of the evening was a party, Snoop style.

Snoop Dogg
| Photographer:
Andrea Stoica © All Rights Reserved

His stage set up, with DJ Premium flanked on both sides by picnic tables and a large fire hydrant in front of his table, was immediately reminiscent of a block party, and that was the vibe Snoop brought upon his entrance. However, this wasn’t just any block party – this was Snoop Doggy Dogg’s block party. So in addition to those picnic tables and fire hydrant were two poles, each positioned at the far edges of the stage, with dancers on them on and off throughout the night. 

In his set, Snoop mixed his own songs with verses from his many guest appearances on other rappers’ tracks. His set was a mix of nearly every hit in his long career. His work with Dre was hit early, with “Next Episode” and  “Nothin’ But A ‘G’ Thang’” played back to back. His groundbreaking debut Doggystyle was best represented with “The Shiznit,” “Ain’t No Fun” (with Warren G coming back out to drop his verse), “Gin and Juice,” and “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?” all making appearances in the set. “Countdown,” “P.I.M.P.” (his 2003 collaboration with 50 Cent), and “Sexual Eruption” were all set highlights. 

As he closed out his main set with “Snoop’s Upside Ya Head,” D.J. Premium told Snoop that since he didn’t have time to cover all of his hits in one night, he would play a mix of them, while Snoop took a break. With Snoop off the stage for a moment, Premium cut a mix of The Doggfather’s hits and guest appearances on other rappers’ tracks, while video snippets played on the screen behind him. 

After ten minutes, Snoop re-emerged and started his encore with “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” his 2004 hit. Following it up with “Snoop Dogg (What’s My Name Part 2)”  and “Take Me Away,” he then blew the roof off with his verse from D.J. Khalid’s “All I Do Is Win,” which for a crowd already hype, it was little an extra shot of adrenaline straight to the heart. 

Snoop Dogg
| Photographer:
Andrea Stoica © All Rights Reserved

While “All I Do Is Win” is the perfect track to summarize Snoop’s career of hit after hit record, he wasn’t there just to remind the crowd of his greatness. On a tour named to celebrate his long career and with a multi-generational; multicultural crowd of fans there to help him do so, Snoop turned the attention away from himself and shined a spotlight on the many friends and contemporaries lost over the years, sharing his love for those lost with the crowd who loved them too. His mini-tribute set, included love for Eazy-E (“Boyz In The Hood”), Notorious B.I.G. (“Hypnotize”), and Tupac (“Gangsta Party”). 

The most poignant moment on a night that took time to honor so many gone-but-not-forgotten hip-hop legends came when Snoop honored his dear friend Nipsey Hussle with a moment of silence, while a video tribute to him played. Following this moment of silence, Snoop hit his verse from K2 Tun’s “One Love” for everyone lost. 

Snoop returned to the party atmosphere of the night, as he moved to close out the show with “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?,” his debut single from Doggystyle. “I love you Phoenix, and Snoop Dogg will keep coming back here any motherfucking time you want me to!” Though he didn’t play “I Wanna Thank Me,” the song is about honoring yourself for the positives and appreciating hard work and accomplishments. Over the 27 years since he first gained national attention with his verse on Dr Dre’s “Deep Cover (187)” in 1992 and across 15 albums, Snoop has earned every accolade and every bit of love the crowd gave to him and that he gave back. 

Snoop Dogg
| Photographer:
Andrea Stoica © All Rights Reserved

Phoenix, we about to get out of here, but before we go, sing along with me,” he implored, as he closed out his set with his 2011 collaboration with Wiz Khalifa and Bruno Mars “Young, Wild, and Free.” If any song should be hip-hop’s answer to any number of show-closing ballads from across the history of pop music, it’s “Young, Wild, and Free.” After 27 years, Snoop Dogg is an institution, still the gold-standard for what it means to be eternally cool, and his music will always serve as a fountain of youth for his audience. To see Snoop live is to be transported to a place where the party never stops and the vibes are always good because Snoop is the party from the moment he steps on stage to when he steps off of it.

Photo Gallery

Photographer: Andrea Stoica

Snoop Dogg – The Van Buren 12-11-19

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Setlist

  • “What You Talkin’ ‘Bout?”
  • “Next Episode” (Dr. Dre cover)
  • “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang” (Dr. Dre cover)
  • “Countdown”
  • “P.I.M.P.” 
  • “The Shiznit”
  • “Wrong Idea” 
  • “Focused” 
  • “Sexual Eruption” 
  • “I Wanna Love You” (AKON cover)
  • “D.O.G.’s Get Lonely 2”
  • “Smile Bitch” (Lil Duval cover)
  • “Ain’t No Fun” (with Warren G)
  • “I’m Fly” (with Warren G)
  • “Snoop’s Upside Ya Head” 

ENCORE

  • “Drop It Like It’s Hot” 
  • “Snoop Dogg (What’s My Name Part 2)” 
  • “Take Me Away” 
  • “All I Do Is Win” (DJ Khalid cover)
  • “Boyz In The Hood” (NWA cover)
  • “Hypnotize” (Notorious BIG cover)
  • “Gangsta Party” (Tupac cover)
  • “Gin and Juice” 
  • Nipsey Hussle Tribute
  • “One Love” (K2 Tun cover)
  • “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?” 
  • “Young, Wild, and Free” (Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa cover)

Photography © Andrea Stoica.
All Rights Reserved.

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REVIEW: New Politics, The Mowgli’s, Plain White T’s — 3 Dimensions of Music Come to The Van Buren (12-1-19)

PHOENIX — The weekend after Thanksgiving can be a bit of a challenge when it comes to energy levels. Between possibly overindulging on turkey (or tofurkey) and pie, grinning nervously through family dinners, and running through the aisles of the local electronic store, it is indeed easy to feel completely worn out by the time Sunday night rolls around. However, this year there was a cure for the fatigue: The “3 Dimensional Tour” at The Van Buren. Triple-headlined by the New Politics, The Mowgli’s, and Plain White T’s, it was a night filled with energy and noise, and a perfect antidote to the anecdotes you heard over the helpings of holiday fixings.

Plain White T’s

Plain White T’s started the night, as a backdrop lit up with the cover of their latest album Parallel Universe, before drummer De’mar Hamilton came out and sat down to set the tone for the rest of the night. Hamilton is an exceptional drummer, and it was truly fun to watch as he laid down a solid beat throughout the set. As the first notes of “Light Up The Room” were played, lead singer Tom Higgenson strode to the microphone with a huge smile on his face and said, “What up Phoenix?! Let’s have some fun!” Higgenson and the rest of the band delivered on that promise, with Mike Retondo deadpanning “Thank you for liking my bass,” as Higgenson asked the audience to applaud Retondo after “Rhythm of Love”. Higgenson interacted and joked with the audience extensively throughout the night, taking time to thank everyone for coming out, and taking notice that “It looks like you’re having a good time! Everyone in the front is smiling!

Tim Lopez (Guitarist), Plain White T’s
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

Indeed, it is hard not to feel jovial at a Plain White T’s show, as Higgenson keeps smiling throughout the night. As the set started to wind down – entirely too soon, it seemed – Higgenson and the band started to play “Hey There Delilah,” the song they are best known for. The crowd took over singing for him as he backed away from the microphone with a look of joy and gratitude on his face. After “Our Time Now,” he thanked the audience once more and the band left the stage.

The Mowgli’s

After a quick stage change, The Mowgli’s came out while a video played in the background, showing clips from movies meshed with scenes that gave a bit of a psychedelic vibe to the start of the show. In fact, the video continued throughout the set, and at certain points, it displayed the lyrics of the songs. As the first song “Spacin’ Out” started, the shift in energy was very apparent: where the Plain White T’s generate the audience energy through engagement with fans and having fun, while The Mowgli’s generate energy via the audience by turning the stage into a massive dance party. 

Katie Earl (Vocalist, Percussion), The Mowgli’s
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

Vocalist Katie Earl never once stopped moving, even imploring the audience multiple times to dance along. It was a challenge to stay still as they played songs like “Real Good Life,” “I’m Good,” and “San Francisco,” and so the crowd gladly obliged her requests. She also talked about the need to talk through the tough conversations to come to an understanding with another person. The Mowgli’s have quite a bit of fun on stage. At one point during “Talk About It,” — off of their latest EP American Feelings — almost the entire band switched positions, with everyone playing a different instrument. As the last notes of “San Francisco” faded, Hogan and Earl jumped off the stage, high-fived some in the crowd, and shook hands with others. There was a great deal of appreciation from the band toward the audience.

New Politics

The show ended with a loud, chaotic set from the New Politics. David Boyd pranced onto the stage while rapping the opening lyrics to “Unstoppable,” the first song off of the new album An Invitation to an Alternate Reality. Boyd has a stage presence that is unforgettable, as he prowls and dances like an uncontainable bundle of energy around the stage. At one point during “Yeah Yeah Yeah,” Boyd jumped over the barricade and had the audience gather around and jump together with him.  Those in the crowd were visibly exuberant as they interacted with Boyd and circulated energy amongst each other.

David Boyd (Vocalist), New Politics
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

During another song break, he promised everyone that the band would sit in the back after the show and sign everything that was purchased at the merch table. While it became a bit difficult to see the stage at some points due to the amount of smoke, the show was incredibly high energy, even when things didn’t quite go as planned. Guitarist Soren Hansen threw his guitar into the air, and while it didn’t hit the stage, it also apparently didn’t do what he had hoped it would do. He recovered quickly, brushing off the mishap as if nothing had happened. 

David Boyd (Vocalist), New Politics
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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Part of the magic of a New Politics show is the apparently inexhaustible front man: As the show came closer to the end, Boyd seemed to only become more energetic — At one point, right before “Harlem” started, Boyd started breakdancing, ending up on his head in an impressive pose. As the last notes of “Everywhere I Go (Kings and Queens)” faded, Boyd stood on the drum kit — his back to the audience — and did a backflip, sticking the landing and getting a massive cheer from the astonished fans.It was the perfect end to a night of noise and energy, a night that saw three extremely talented bands take the stage and leave the audience energized, with the food coma of the recent holiday in the rearview mirror. The “3 Dimensional Tour” wraps in Sioux City, IA on December 20th, and is a show that should not be missed. (View Tour Dates)

Photo Gallery

Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo

View Separately: New Politics | The Mowgli’s | Plain White T’s

New Politics, The Mowgli’s, Plain White T’s – The Van Buren 12-1-19

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Photography © Reagle Photography
All Rights Reserved

REVIEW: ‘Juliana Hatfield Sings The Police’ — A Worthwhile Covers Album

At one point or another, we’ve all lovingly paid tribute to our favorite artists by covering an entire album of their work, but it was usually done alone in the car or at home and far away from a judging audience. Actual cover albums, however, are left up to the audiences and critics, and are weighed against the original. In short, they are a tightrope walk. At its worst, the covers are so faithful to the originals that it leaves the listener wondering, “So what’s the point?” At its best, a covers album sees an artist putting their own fresh spin on the music in a way that honors the source material while also creating something unique. With the recent release of Juliana Hatfield Sings The Police, Hatfield has managed to do just that: taking songs we’ve all heard countless times over the years and melds each with her style to make it much more than just a covers album.

Juliana Hatfield
| Photographer:
David-Doobinin

With a career that dates back more than 30 years, Hatfield has been one of indie-rock’s most prolific singer-songwriters. She debuted with Nicely, Nicely, from her first band, college-rock legends Blake Babies. The band dissolved following four albums, and she has subsequently released sixteen solo albums, two albums with The Juliana Hatfield Three, two albums with Some Girls, and a reunion album with Blake Babies. (View Discography)

Even for someone already as productive as Hatfield, her signing with American Laundromat Records in 2017 marked the beginning of her most prolific period, releasing five albums (four solo and one with a reunited Juliana Hatfield Three) in just two years. While she’d previously released an album of cover songs — 2012’s self-titled Juliana Hatfield (featuring songs by Foo Fighters, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Led Zeppelin, amongst others) — it was with the 2018 release of Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John that she made one of her most interesting career choices: taking on an entire album of music by another artist, whose selection might have initially surprised even her long-time fans. Last month’s release of Juliana Hatfield Sings The Police marks the second in a hopefully ongoing series of albums honoring her musical influences. 

Just as Hatfield has made a career out of defying expectations with her many side projects and cover albums, she does the same with The Police songs she chose to cover for this album. While many beloved hits are present on the album (“Roxanne,” “Every Breath You Take,” and “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”, for example), she pulled the rest from points across the band’s catalog, with tracks from each of their five albums. 

Track List

  1. Can’t Stand Losing You
  2. Canary in a Coalmine
  3. Next To You
  4. Hungry For You (J’aurais Toujours Faim De Toi)
  5. Roxanee
  6. Every Breath You Take
  7. Hole In My Life
  8. De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da
  9. Murder By Numbers
  10. Landlord
  11. Rehumanize Yourself

Most noticeable from the opening track, “Can’t Stand Losing You,” is that Hatfield eschews The Police’s groundbreaking hybrid of new wave and reggae, reimagining each song in her own style. While the original track from The Police’s first album Outlandos D’Amour had a sadness at the heart of it, Hatfield’s vocals seem to recast the narrative as more defiant, with a tone more of “good riddance” than “please don’t go.” 

Throughout the album, Hatfield plays with the tempos of the original tracks, slowing them down where the band hit the accelerator. On the second track, “Canary in a Coalmine,” and the third track, “Next To You,”  she slows down the original tracks’ frantic pace. In doing so, both tracks have a more playful tone to them versus the intensity they possessed before. Juliana Hatfield’s vocals have always had a sweetness to them, even when the lyrics are sorrowful. 

Two of the standout tracks on the album are the one-two punch of two of The Police’s biggest hits: “Roxanne” and “Every Breath You Take,” with each revisited through a different lens. “Roxanne,” Sting’s romantic ode, now feels like a dirge, with its crashing guitar riffs. Hatfield’s almost desperate pleading is balanced by her own harmonized backing vocals, almost angelic in stark contrast. 

On her career-spanning greatest-hits album, Gold Stars 1992-2002: The Juliana Hatfield Collection, Hatfield previously covered “Every Breath You Take,” which had a brokenhearted yearning to it, like the song’s narrator is making a last-ditch effort to will back an ex. While much has been made of the implied meaning of the original song, Hatfield recasts it as a genuinely sweet romantic ode.

For all the beauty she infuses into “Every Breath You Take,” she takes the opposite approach to “Hole in My Life.” Her focus here is squarely on the pain in the lyrics, and she tones down the song’s tempo to match its mournfulness. Where The Police balanced the heartbroken lyrics with an almost bouncy rhythm, Hatfield lets it wallow in its own dejected misery.

In her take of Synchronicity’s “Murder By Numbers,” she does away with the sing-songy rhythm and soulful vocals of the original in favor of a fuzz-guitar sped-up punk. You can feel the Boston punk scene Hatfield grew up around in the 80’s in its style: now a foot-stomping, fist-pumping moshing classic that is one of the album’s standout tracks. Just as she did with her tribute to Olivia Newton-John, she manages to straddle the line of honoring the original material expertly, while also breathing new life into each song by layering herself into them. Though …Sings The Police is the second in her series of cover/tribute albums, it stands on its own as an album uniquely belonging to Juliana Hatfield.

Juliana Hatfield Tour Dates:

1/16 Evanston, IL @ S.P.A.C.E.
1/17 Indianapolis, IN @ Hi-Fi
1/18 Nashville, TN @ The Basement East
1/19 Birmingham, AL @ Workplay Theater
1/21 Dallas, TX @ Granada Theatre
1/22 Austin, TX @3Ten at ACL Live
1/24 Phoenix, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom
1/25 Pioneertown, CA @ Pappy + Harriet’s
1/27 Los Angeles, CA @ The Echoplex
1/28 San Francisco, CA @ Slim’s
1/30 Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
2/01 Seattle, WA @ Tractor Tavern


Connect with Juliana Hatfield

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REVIEW: Lindsey Stirling Enthralls in Hometown Show at Comerica Theatre (11-23-19)

PHOENIX — There is an age-old argument over when exactly the Christmas season starts. Some would say that the day after Halloween is the official date that you can start preparing for Christmas, and others argue that the day after Thanksgiving, and not a day before, is the proper date to throw some Christmas music on and start feeling festive. It should be postulated that neither of these are correct: The first day that it officially feels like Christmas is the day of the first concert in Lindsey Stirling’s annual winter tour.

The tour is in its third year now, first named “Warmer in the Winter” in 2017, “The Wanderland Tour” in 2018 and now “Warmer in the Winter” again. Stirling, an Arizona native, noted during the show that the name came from all of the warm winters she spent here in Arizona. “The Wanderland Tour” bypassed Arizona, which may possibly explain why the tour changed names last year.

Arizona winters are indeed warm, and this one was no exception up until earlier this week. As the doors opened and the public began pouring into Comerica Theatre in Downtown Phoenix, there was a chill in the air, one that announced that winter actually does come to Arizona. In the moments leading up to the first wisp of smoke from the machine on stage, the audience filtered into the theatre and found their seats with a growing buzz of anticipation, as excited conversations built toward a crescendo as showtime drew closer. All ages had come out to see Lindsey Stirling, from the wide-eyed young girls who wore dresses that looked much like the dresses that Stirling wears in her music videos, to the older fans who looked like they were ready for a Sunday morning church service. For the young, they had come to see their hero. For the older, to see an artist who has redefined what it means to be a violinist. No one left disappointed. 

Lindsey Stirling
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

The “Warmer in the Winter” tour was a delight in every way possible. From the first few moments after the smoke machines kicked on to announce the start of the show until the final notes of the last song, “I Wonder While I Wander,” each and every second was packed with magic. Stirling and her dancers moved effortlessly through incredibly difficult maneuvers, drawing the crowd in. She is well known for her violin skills and her dancing, but she is also an incredible singer with a wicked sense of humor. Backed by a talented band including Kit Nolan on the keyboard and Drew Steen on the drums, Stirling danced, sang, and cracked jokes throughout the night. 

Lindsey Stirling
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

The production includes special effects, props, and costuming that inspire awe and joy. The backdrop was a massive screen, which was one of the key elements to the show. Throughout the night, it would be used to show a clip of Stirling’s alter ego Phebla, become a backdrop of the universe while she played “Between The Twilight” from her newest album Artemis, and finally to have us fly through a field of mushrooms as a nod to Alice In Wonderland during “Carol of the Bells.” She explained that she named the album after Artemis because Artemis is the Goddess of the moon, and the moon brings light into the darkness. 

Her concerts are always an inspirational and moving experience because heartfelt speeches in between songs are a regular part of the show. She told the audience, “I want you to think about how amazing you are, because I think that’s something you may not tell yourself enough…every single person in this room is incredible and powerful…as I play this song, maybe even close your eyes and see yourself for how beautiful you are and for your own light, because the world needs every single person to shine.” As she started to play “Between The Twilight”, the spotlight turned off, and the screen behind her showed the universe, or the stars in it at least. The ethereal sound took the audience on a journey of light, of sound, of beauty.

Stirling is also a fierce advocate for her fans. After a visually stunning “We Three Gentlemen,” She gave an emotional speech, talking about her journey to get where she was. She then told the audience “Nobody else can write your story. Never let anyone else tell you what you can do, what you can’t do, what you’re good at, what you’re not good at — because you’re the only one who knows what you can do, what’s inside of you.” She admitted that her insecurities had not changed from before she found fame until now. 

Lindsey Stirling
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Stirling spoke at length, her voice quivering a bit as she talked about losing her best friend to cancer 4 years ago, and her dad 3 years ago. It was an emotional, vulnerable speech. She spoke about angels and how she felt they surrounded her. This led into “Angels We Have Heard on High,” during which she stood at the top of the stairs in front of the screens with a mesmerizingly beautiful light that followed her every move with her bow. It was the most impactful song of the show. 

She spoke with gratitude of how much she appreciated the shows in Arizona, saying that she looked forward to them because, “I feel like this is my family.

“Thank you guys so much for coming! It’s only because of you guys and the support I had from home from the very beginning that I am here. Thank you.” 

Lindsey Stirling
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

During Stirling’s “favorite song to play,” “Hallelujah,” the tone switched away from happy, jovial, and infectious. The entire venue was utterly captivated by the otherworldly beautiful sound of the violin and backing guitar. There were some in the audience wiping away tears as the last notes faded away and Stirling again thanked everyone.

There are those that dedicate their life to the mastery of the violin, and others who train to lead the dance troupe at the theatre. To be able to do both at once – and do it well – is rare indeed. As the show started it became apparent the immense amount of planning and attention to detail that went into each and every step of this spectacular display. Each costume change was so well-planned that it would not be noticed or delay the show, and each dance move was tightly choreographed. Stirling has a zest for performing, a love for the fans, and a respect for her craft that lends itself to a show that would be hard to equal. 

Lindsey Stirling
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Everyone had gathered for a concert, but those in attendance received so much more than that. Viewing the show through the eyes of one who has seen many, it was an incredible, exciting show — one that lingers in the back of the mind. She is a wonderful role model to the young that view her as a giant. They aspire to one day reach her greatness after witnessing the impact of her beauty and grace.

Lindsey Stirling
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Stirling has a self-awareness that gives strength and power to those around her, saying what people need to hear before they even know they need to hear it. She is, in a word, rare. She is a once in a generation talent who has captured the imagination of the young, inspires the broken and gives peace to all who hear her. As the show ended and we walked into the cold night air of her hometown, it was hard not to feel refreshed and ready to celebrate the season. And that, in the end, is the magic of Lindsey Stirling.

Photo Gallery

Photographer: Mark Greenawalt

Lindsey Stirling – Comerica Theatre 11-23-19

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Photography © Mark Greenawalt
All Rights Reserved

REVIEW: The Building Brings Soothing Vibes to Downtown Phoenix Bar (11-13-19)

PHOENIX — In the middle of downtown Phoenix is a nondescript alley with a door halfway down it. Over that door is a neon sign with the words “Valley Bar” spelled out. It casts a stark and yet warm glow into the alley. It is not an easy venue to find, but it is absolutely worth the trek if you’re looking for great music. For this particular event, Heather Woods Broderick and The Building was playing on a Wednesday night.

Valley Bar entrance sign
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved.

The Building is fronted by Anthony LaMarca, a talented and accomplished music veteran. He is currently the guitarist for the band The War on Drugs, and has played drums for St. Vincent on tour. He also has his own record label, named Primary Records. Broderick has toured with Sharon Van Etten as part of her backing band and has also played in bands such as Horse Feathers. To be able to see musicians as talented as these two in a venue as intimate as the Valley Bar is indeed a treat.

By the time the show started just after 8:00pm, the entire audience had shown up. There were fewer than 20 people in attendance — likely due to a somewhat hard to find venue and a midweek show. For those of us fortunate enough to be in attendance, we were treated to a downright solid show.

Heather Woods Broderick (Vocals, Guitar, Keys)
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved.

Heather Woods Broderick

Broderick took the stage first with Andrew Carlson on the bass guitar, and Dean Anshutz on the drums. Carlson and Anshutz would be on stage for most of the evening, since they play in The Building as well. Broderick started with an acoustic guitar. Her fingers flew across the strings as a nearly ethereal sound came from the guitar — a sound that would be present for much of the evening. Her otherworldly vocals are enough to find your mouth agape. There is a beauty in the melancholic, enthralling tone of Broderick’s music.

While most of the songs are slower, she turned up the tempo with “Quicksand” from the album Invitation, which is a song that is rather drum heavy and a very nice change of pace. Anshutz was a joy to watch during the show because of his precision on the drums and how much he gets into it, but he was even more so during this song. Broderick also played “I Try” and ended the show on “Invitation”. With the voice of an angel and impressive control, Broderick yodeled through the closing notes of the final song, which is a delight that can only be experienced live since these fluctuations are not heard on the studio recording of the song.

Mid-show, she mentioned that she was surprised at how warm it still was outside and what there was to do in downtown Phoenix. Later on, she also spoke about touring with The Building, and said “They’re very sweet people and I love hearing them play their stuff every night.” It was also mentioned that there was a week and a half left in the tour.

The Building

The Building took the stage shortly after 9:00pm, and LaMarca greeted the audience with “We’re called The Building, we’re from Youngstown Ohio, thanks for being here!” and launched into the first song. He seemed to forget the lyrics after the first line of the song, but instead of powering through and going to the next line, he stopped the song and cracked a joke about the mistake. He noted that it was better to acknowledge the mistake and fix it, saying “It’s like when you go to a sandwich shop and you order turkey on a sandwich but instead they give you fish and it’s just not as good.” The song was restarted, and the night was back on track.

Anthony LaMarca (Vocals, Guitar) & Dean Anshutz (Drums), The Building
Photography: Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved.

There is a bit of a wistful feeling to these songs, perhaps owing to the fact that the drums were rarely used throughout the set. Watching Carlson play the bass grants a new appreciation for how precise each note needs to be. There is also a mellowness to the songs that feels a bit like quiet reflections in musical form. The soothing mood of the music would pair well with The Paper Kites on a relaxation playlist. 

Midway through the show, LaMarca stopped to chat with the audience. He noted that this was their first time in Phoenix and then asked if anyone had any dogs. Surprisingly, only one person indicated she did, and they had a conversation about the three dogs she owned. The latest album is named after LaMarca’s dog Petra, a German shepherd. There is a story on their website about the name of the record and his dog Petra, and it is one we highly recommend reading.

As the night drew to a close, LaMarca announced the final song as “Peace’s Eternal Truth Renews All,” or “PETRA”. Each of the songs off of the latest album are quite personal, as he has battled Multiple Myeloma twice in the past few years and this was written and recorded during his latest battle, but PETRA feels more personal than the others. As the last notes faded, the show ended, and the few of us fortunate enough to be there made our way up the stairs and back into the alley in downtown Phoenix. Watching LaMarca and The Building in such a small venue is not an opportunity that should be taken for granted. All members of the band are extremely talented, and as such, the music was excellent.

The Building Online:

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Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo

The Building & Heather Woods Broderick – Valley Bar 11-13-19

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REVIEW: DIVISIONS — STARSET Takes Us on a Journey Through the Future

Released on September 13th, 2019, DIVISIONS is the third studio album by STARSET. Fronted by Dustin Bates, STARSET is known for their elaborate shows and their detailed, cinematic rock albums. To watch STARSET live is to watch a spectacle of light and sound that leaves you in awe. There is an augmented reality app, aptly titled STARSET, that was first meant to be used during the live concert. This has since been updated to have some functions outside of the concert setting. During the “Immersion: Part One” tour, Bates and his bandmates wore spacesuits. Bates, in fact, has a significant tie to space: he was a teacher at the International Space University Space Study Program at one point, and has solidified his image of being both an extremely imaginative and talented musician and an accomplished scientist.

DIVISIONS — set on Earth in 2049, in a dystopian future that involves mind control via an implant. Four music videos were released in the lead-up to the album release: “MANIFEST,” “WHERE THE SKIES END” “STRATOSPHERE,” and “DIVING BELL.” Watching them helps understand the story behind the album, which in turn is linked to their show.

You do not listen to Starset —
you experience them.

As you travel through the journey that is DIVISIONS, you will hear more than just the songs. “WHERE THE SKIES END,” for example, is bookended by audio clips from a video called “A New Horizon” that played at the 1939 Worlds Fair in New York. The name of the exhibit was “Futurama,” and was a vision of the future – a future that came true in many ways. Ronald Reagan can be heard in “STRATOSPHERE,” taken from a speech he gave in 1987 to the UN about war, in which he said “I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing a threat…From outside this world.

The first track is only Bates speaking with synth playing, building until the end of the song. “A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FUTURE” lays out the rest of the album:

This place is a desert for the mind
Devoid of emotion and barren of thought
No real thought, at least
It’s no surprise
Most minds here have long since atrophied from lack of use
They wait in flatline for the next rushing jolt of synthetic stimulation
The real world can’t compare, even if it were allowed to
Contemplating the real world leads to seeing the world for what it is: a prison... (Continues)

MANIFEST” is a mix of heavy rock riff and poppy sounding choruses. It leaves you off balance a little, though it is a very enjoyable song, and it just takes a couple of listens to get used to the genre switch. It showcases the genius of Bates: as the music switches between rock and pop, the lyrics describe a love that seems to be a bit unstable:

Every time I’m onto you
You change it up‚ you always do

The song ends with a cadence of crashing guitars and drums, leaving the listener with a second or two of silence to regroup a bit before the synth beginning of “ECHO”.

“Echo” is a symphonic song, soaring behind lyrics that seem to be steeped in Greek Mythology. From the mention of the Odyssey at the beginning, up to and including the lyrics:

I call and I can hear you sing
But oh, it’s only my echo
It’s only my echo

In Greek Mythology, Echo was cursed by Hera to only be able to repeat the last words that another would speak. She met, and fell in love with Narcissus, who fell in love with himself. That ended rather poorly for both of them. The song seems to be more than just the story of Narcissus, it indeed seems to be told from the viewpoint of a narcissist:

I thought it was destiny
I was gonna conquer the sky
Then plummet to the ground and be
Anchored by your side
But when every time I found myself upon new heights
I would climb again and leave you in the moonlight

It should be noted that the person referred to here followed the singer silently for most of the song, so the accusation of giving up early toward the end rings quite false. It is, again, a well-crafted song by Bates.

WHERE THE SKIES END” seems to be a near defiant look at the future, a musing that is sung over music that alternates between a heavy riff and synth. The lyrics speak of the change between the current and the previous generations — one that could possibly apply to today as well:

These aren’t the dreams of our fathers
There’ll be no wishing on stars
We are the sons and the daughters
Let them come test who we are

PERFECT MACHINE” is far more synth heavy, the music slowing down a bit, and seems to be a tragic song in some ways. In the first verse it becomes quite apparent the protagonist is not exactly the nicest person in this scenario; in fact, they sound downright manipulative:

And if I bend just right
I can make it
I didn’t want you
I wanna watch you change
From a butterfly and into chains

By the end of the song, the subject seems like they have reached the point where they have acknowledged their faults and are trying to protect the other person from them. 

As the outro plays, you can hear what sounds like a subway, or perhaps a bus station, and a disembodied voice in the background repeating propaganda. It is a masterful touch to remind you that this is set in a dystopian future

TELEKINETIC” is absolutely connected to “A Brief History Of The Future”. This is a heavy, heavy song, reaching past the rock genre and going into the metal, with a scream punctuating the song. One cannot help but to be reminded of the band RED during this song. Bates weaves in a comparison of being a puppet and voodoo, and in between it all, the mention of the hit of the chemicals in the brain that popped in the first song.

Fake
I’m just a puppet in your play
You pull the strings and I obey
High, that oxytocin hit me just right there
It’s counterfeit
Zombie, zombie, could it be a hex?

As the song ends, as your ears are possibly still ringing, “STRATOSPHERE” starts. This is the first true pop rock song on the album. In the first half, the drum kick is the heaviest element of the song, unless you listen closely to the lyrics. It is indeed a beautiful, tragic song; a song of longing and missing someone that you once loved.

There is duality between “STRATOSPHERE” and “FAULTLINE,” with the latter sounding more like a sarcastic, angry song about a hurt partner pushing back against the other in the relationship:

First you gotta know
How to play the victim
Hate to tell you so
But you repeat the symptoms like an aftershock
And I only want to make it stop

It is such a sharp contrast in music style and lyrics that it feels out of place, and yet it will resonate with anyone who has ever gone through a rough breakup, and indeed with anyone leaving an abusive relationship.

SOLSTICE” has a bit of a heavy sound to it, with a great beat with some EDM behind it, though it quickly becomes very repetitive. Musically it’s a great song, lyrically it leaves one wanting more. It is the least impactful song on the album, though it is still an enjoyable song musically.

TRIALS” is, quite simply, a song of defiance — a story of looking straight into the teeth of the darkest days and triumphing. Set over a driving drumbeat, it is another song that reminds me a bit of RED and moves closer to metal and away from rock. 

WAKING UP” shares the same kind of driving drumbeat, though the message changes quite a bit. There is a near EDM feel to this song as well, and seems to be more about the message of someone throwing off the mind control device. It is truly enjoyable, though there is some repetition.

OTHER WORLDS THAN THESE” is one of the most enjoyable songs on this album, both in music and in message. There are many concepts being explored here, one of which is a mind that has been awakened and is now contemplating the vastness of the universe, and that there may indeed be other worlds out there.

DIVING BELL” is a beautifully juxtaposed song. It feels relaxed, but has an urgent question

If I stare into the abyss
Will it stare into me?  

It is not often that you witness the process of living with depression and trying to push away from those who love you. It is a perfect end to one of the most well-put-together albums of 2019.

STARSET is amidst their “DIVISIONS: 2019” tour in support of this album, and unsurprisingly, the show looks just as incredible as previous tours. Finishing the U.S. leg of the tour in Newport, KY, they will be embarking on a European leg starting February 8th, 2020.

View tour dates: HERE

Get the album, allow your imagination to take you on the journey that STARSET has laid out before you, and then go see them live.
You will not regret it.

STARSET Online:

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REVIEW: Surviving — Jimmy Eat World’s Subtle Masterpiece

Released on October 18th, Surviving is the tenth studio album by Jimmy Eat World. Available in every imaginable format; it can be streamed, purchased as a download, a CD, vinyl pressing, and if you really wanted to throw it way back (as frontman Jim Adkins loves to do) it can be found as a cassette tape. Surviving is an expertly crafted journey, one that explores the time Adkins spent battling depression and self-doubt. There are ten songs on the record — a theme, perhaps, given the release in the tenth month of the year.

From the first notes of the driving guitars, before the kick of the drums, before the ever-recognizable voice of Adkins kicks in, it is apparent that this will be familiar but new ground. The first lines of the title track “Surviving” appear to confirm this:

Don’t hide your face, what you were before
it doesn’t have to be you anymore

The song “Surviving” could be considered a confrontation of sorts. One could interpret it as the singer confronting his past, and simultaneously the listener could perceive it as a confrontation of their own past. It is relatable in every line, and because of that, powerful.

“Criminal Energy” was my favorite to watch live at the Crescent Ballroom a few weeks ago, and the album version is just as good, if not somewhat muted compared to the live version. That is not to say it is bad in any way; rather, this is a song that is designed to get the blood pumping and the crowd dancing. And it is delightful — Adkins’ voice soaring behind the crashing guitars and drums. Just as quickly as it comes, it fades to a softer, slower song in “Delivery”.

While “Delivery” is paced more slowly than “Criminal Energy”, it is deep. There is a subtle beauty in the lyrics, an essence of yearning for the love of the years gone by. This is the genius of Adkins: the ability to relate to each listener even without meeting them, and to draw a picture in such a way that they don’t always realize the scope of the art. 

Adkins continues this in “555”. The art could be lost if you got lost wading through the shock that longtime Jimmy Eat World fans will undoubtedly feel: the shock of a song that sounds more like it came from M83. However, it fits with the message from this song so very well. The expectation of Adkins, and in turn Jimmy Eat World, is that there will be an album that sounds much like what has been done before. There is a danger in that expectation, and it is daring to break it. That is exactly what they do, with synth clapping as the backing and one of the oddest and yet entertaining videos you will ever see.

“One Mil” starts the ramp up back into the heavier songs on the album. The story of wasted chances will resonate with the masses, though I would argue that most of them have never fallen for a camera girl.

Camera girl, you still there?
If I look you’ll disappear
Worse, you might wanna talk
I’m so underprepared

To some it is the classic story of the introvert attempting to find love and upon finding a chance at it, wasting it. To others, it is like a remnant of teenage love, which we would all like to think that we eventually grow out of.

Wish I had mastery of wit, luck and fearless confidence
Then shred majestically to your heart

This story changes in “All The Way (Stay)”, a song that is raw, raw in sound and lyrics, the clang of a guitar and then the echo of a snare drum your only companions at first. It is not comfortable in the first 30 or so seconds, and that discomfort draws you in to listen to lyrics like:

 We get discouraged by the pointlessness
And we’re pretty quick to judge things pointless
There’s what I want and what I need
And the latter takes a while to see

Behind it all, you realize that this is again urging the listener to show who they really are, to allow others, or possibly just one other, to see under the layers where you hide. While the song starts with a crashing drum that may force you to shift uneasily, by the end you will find yourself swaying to the catchy beat and powerful vocals. It is a great lead into a song that has a far more comfortable feel, “Diamond”.

“Diamond” is the song you didn’t know you needed to help you through a really rough time. Hopes, dreams and careers take time, and it’s easy to want to take the easy way out and get a quick payout. After over a quarter of a century playing with Jimmy Eat World, Adkins can say with the utmost confidence in the lyrics:

That’s how a diamond grows, yeah
Give yourself the right chance over time
Don’t believe them
If they try to sell you something quicker, yeah

This theme extends to “Love Never”, where Adkins vocals are on display second only to “555”. This is another life lesson, this time a reminder about love, set over a near frantic beat. Depending on your stage in life, it either serves as a warning for those who still romanticize the ideal love and the idea that cute, fat angels will shoot you with an arrow shortly before you meet the perfect match, or a reminder that love looks a whole lot more like you summoning the strength to not murder your partner for not picking their socks up. At any rate, it is a fantastic, underrated song on this album. 

“Recommit” feels like something that all of us have wanted to sing, or yell really, at that one person in our lives who sits on the fence when push comes to shove. To some, the music may feel a little underwhelming in comparison to the rest of the tracks. However, one can appreciate its beachy pop revivalist vibe that flows and ebbs from the verses to the contrasting heavier chorus that barrels in between them.

The album closes out with “Congratulations”, a song that seems so far out of place that it is a bit jarring. Unlike much of the rest of the album, this seems to almost take a political stance, with lyrics such as:

Suspiciously, through editing
The facts are disappearing
With discipline and message
You’ll take awkward possession
Of nothing you really wanted
Welcome, congratulations

The defiance and air of dissonance present throughout the rest of the album melts into the background, as sarcasm seems to run rampant in this unusual and yet enjoyable song. It should also be noted that Davey Havok of AFI and Dreamcar lent his vocals to this song, something subtle you can pick up on once you know to listen for him.

Surviving is an incredibly solid album overall. It harkens back to the energy we all bore witness to in the fantastic journey that was Bleed American (later re-released as Jimmy Eat World). Adkins is a master of self-awareness, weaving life lessons into the verses in much the same way a master weaver would work threads into a rug. While the frontman has been given much praise in this review, the entirety of the band deserves recognition for this album. While it is the norm for the music world to decide to try to build an architectural masterpiece like the Empire State Building, often falling far short of that lofty goal, Adkins and his bandmates decided to build a comfortable mansion in the Midwest overlooking a lake. The band succeeded in doing exactly what they set out to do, giving the world a sometimes odd but overall enjoyable work that will stand the test of time.

Featured photo (top) by Oliver-Halfin


REVIEW: Tool Prove to be Sharp as Ever In Latest Comeback (10-23-19)

Glendale, AZ — Tool stopped in Glendale night to play the Gila River Arena to an ocean of patiently adoring fans that could not have been more excited to hear the band rip into their ear drums. However, little did everyone in attendance know that what transpired next would be far beyond even what their lofty expectations could prepare them for.

One might think after a 13-year hiatus from recording new music, that a band might be well past their prime but fortunately for Tool, they’re clearly an exception to the rule. With the release of their latest album, Fear Inoculum, this is a band that has proven they won’t compromise their artistic vision for the sake of putting an album out every two years or so. They take their time perfecting a raw, mysterious sound that fans have come to revere over the years.

UK veterans Killing Joke kicked off the night and proved to be an excellent opening act, getting the crowd pumped up with their whiplash-inducing brand of quasi-metal and goth rock sounds. They were definitely an interesting choice for the opening band, but Tool has always brought their friends and greatest musical influences along with them on tour. It was fascinating to observe and clear how Killing Joke’s unique take on music clearly influenced Tool’s own iconic sound as their set went on. Notably, Killing Joke has had many lineup changes throughout the years. But recently, all of their original members are officially back in the band. This brought an inspiring energy to the night that would only flourish in intensity as the time grew closer for Tool to take the stage.

Tool fans awaiting the band’s entrance.
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Fans of Tool know very well the law of the land at their concerts: no photos or videos. One might find this to be disappointing, but in many ways, it enhances the concert experience as people allow themselves and others to become fully engaged in the moment. As the lights fell to black, the sounds of cheering cut in front of the ambient noise with the swiftness of a starving octogenarian jumping to the front of the line at an early-bird dinner buffet. You could reach out and touch the energy in the room, and just when it seemed like the arena would burst from the crowd’s anticipation, guitarist Adam Jones played the opening swells to the new album’s title track, “Fear Inoculum.”

Maynard James Keenan (Vocals), Tool
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

This was a very good choice for the opening number, not only because it’s the first song on the new album, but also because it represents the first example of new music they presented to the world after a 13-year drought. The song was recreated beautifully in the live setting, and it was accompanied by some of the most impressive Alex Gray-inspired visuals to date. Incredibly long threads formed around the stage in a circular formation as intensely colorful images were projected onto the screen towering behind the band. These threads also allowed the images projected on stage to glide across them in a pseudo-3D effect that was nothing less than spectacular for  lucky enough to capture it firsthand.

Danny Carey (Drums), Tool
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Familiar clay aliens and faceless men in business suits adorned the screen as fans were treated to the corresponding music videos for each of the band’s older songs. One particular highlight included a full live rendition of “Parabol/Parabola” in all of its 9-minute glory, to the uncontainable delight of many fans in attendance. The drums punched through the mix with a primal fury not seen from many other bands around today, thanks to the incomparable Danny Carey behind the monstrous kit. His effortless playing and ad-libbing enhanced the songs without it sounding too busy or as if he was showing off. Every single drum strike was as tasteful as the last, which is no small feat when you have such a large kit at your disposal to tempt a less stoic individual into overplaying.

Adam Jones (Guitar), Tool
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor were also both in exceptional form throughout the night, proving their playing only continues to improve. The ear-piercing squeals of Jones’ dark Les Paul mixed with Chancellor’s thunderous yet melodic bass lines are truly a match made in heaven.

Justin Chancellor (Bass), Tool
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Other notable highlights of the night included the second song of the set “Ænima”, introduced by singer Maynard James Keenan happily declaring “Alpha Omega. AZ. It’s good to be home. We just got back from LA.” Immediately followed by the familiarly breathy “hey” repeated throughout the intro of the song about a great flood of biblical proportions consuming the entirety of Los Angeles in all of its perceived decay and decadence. This was followed by excellent performances of “The Pot”, “Jambi”, and “Schism”, with the latter incorporating an unexpectedly sped-up bridge section that had to be heard to be believed.

Maynard James Keenan (Vocals), Tool
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Tool have achieved what so many other bands who have been together for as long as they have only dream of doing successfully: standing the test of time. So many bands of yesteryear lapse into obscurity or worse yet, self-parody, as they make their comebacks. Tool is not one of them. They continue to deliver unprecedented, phenomenal live shows and mind-blowing visuals that only get better as time flows onward. If you get the chance to see them live, do yourself a favor by not missing out, because they deliver every single time.

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Tool – Gila River Arena 10-23-19

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REVIEW: AWOLNATION Conquers the Coliseum at AZ State Fair (10-23-19)

PHOENIX — AWOLNATION returned to Phoenix after a nearly year long absence, playing at the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum for the first time. The energy and the noise that AWOLNATION brought with them felt like it would bring down the Coliseum. AWOLNATION took a bit of a break from touring in 2019, only playing a total of four concerts all year thus far. This does not mean they sat back and took a year off; rather, they used this time to record. A teaser clip of “The Best” was released on social media on October 15th, and it will be released on November 5th. Next year’s tour dates should be released soon, and per frontman Aaron Bruno, will include another stop in Phoenix. (UPDATE: Despite Bruno’s comments during the concert, Phoenix was not included when the tour dates were announced.)

The Arizona State Fair concert series are unique in that they are shorter, are often only a single band and under an hour and a half in length. AWOLNATION only needed 70 minutes to nearly shake the roof off the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. There was a small crowd on hand when the lights dimmed and Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” started to play. Halfway through, it was cut short by the start of “Run”, creating a juxtaposition of the peaceful and the loud, of the lyrics, “And I think to myself what a wonderful world,” and, “I am a human being, capable of doing terrible things.” It was attention-grabbing. it was jarring. It was fantastic.

AWOLNATION
| Photographer:
Andrea Stoica © All Rights Reserved.

There are very few artists who can control the energy of an audience like Bruno does. He spoke to the crowd throughout the show, inviting them to dance right before launching into “Hollow Moon (Bad Woof)”. Right after finishing up “Kill Your Heroes”, he announced that he, “Came to party with you tonight!”, as the first notes of “People” were being played. It was indeed a party, a dance party to be precise: “We’re trying to throw a dance party tonight! I’m looking for the best dancer in the building, someone doing something I’ve never seen before!”

If one were to scan the crowd while “Not Your Fault” was playing in the moments after that pronouncement, they would find the old and the young doing everything they could to show him something that he had not seen before. He slowed the dance party down from an all-out frenetic dance to what he called a “perfect opportunity to have an old school slow dance” with Table for One” — a slower track that lends itself to just that.

Aaron Bruno (Vocals), Michael Goldman (Bass), Isaac Carpenter (Drums), AWOLNATION
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Andrea Stoica © All Rights Reserved.

AWOLNATION did not keep the energy down for long, quickly bringing it back up with “Miracle Man”. Bruno had another request midway through this song: “I want everybody to jump with me. You don’t have to, but it’d be a lot cooler if you did.” In a matter of seconds the stands were shaking.

Zach Irons (Guitar), AWOLNATION
| Photographer:
Andrea Stoica © All Rights Reserved.

While much of the focus is on Bruno and his ability to connect and energize the fans, it is very important to note that the rest of the band is incredibly talented. In fact, Bruno seemed to insist that we recognize this, stepping out of the spotlight a couple of times so the entire focus was on the band. The first was “The Buffoon”, a song that starts slow and works the tempo up until one must wonder if it is humanly possible for Isaac Carpenter to play the drums much faster. The second was for a cover of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”, with Zach Irons absolutely shredding on the guitar, leaving many mouths agape.

The show ended with “KOOKSEVERYWHERE!!!”, played for the first time in concert since mid-2017, and finally Bruno looking out at the crowd and saying, “So. What should we do now?” “Sail”, of course. The song that really introduced the world to AWOLNATION closed out this incredible show.

If you missed out on this concert, fear not. AWOLNATION made it very clear that they will be back next summer, and you will not want to miss this one. Keep an eye out for the tour announcement, and buy your tickets to see this amazing band as soon as they go on sale.

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Photographer: Andrea Stoica

AWOLNATION – Arizona State Fair 10-23-19

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REVIEW: Aesthetic Perfection’s Heavy Sonics Nearly Bring Down Seattle Bar (10-15-19)

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

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.

LAZERPUNK
| Photographer:
Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design
© All Rights Reserved
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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.

Empathy Test

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.

Isaac Howlett (Vocals), Empathy Test
| Photographer:
Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design
© All Rights Reserved
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Aesthetic Perfection

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.

Daniel Graves (Vocals), Aesthetic Perfection
Photographer:
Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design
© All Rights Reserved
Photo Gallery

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.

Daniel Graves (Vocals), Aesthetic Perfection
Photographer:
Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design
© All Rights Reserved
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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.

Elliott Berlin (Keys, Bass), Aesthetic Perfection
Photographer:
Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design
© All Rights Reserved
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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.

Joe Letz (Drums), Aesthetic Perfection
Photographer:
Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design
© All Rights Reserved
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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!

Daniel Graves (Vocals), Aesthetic Perfection
Photographer:
Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design
© All Rights Reserved
Photo Gallery

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.

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by Katherine Amy Vega

View Separately: Aesthetic Perfection | Empathy Test | LAZERPUNK

Aesthetic Perfection, Empathy Test, LAZERPUNK – Highline Bar 10-15-19

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Photography © Kataklizmic Design
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