VELVET is the fourth studio album by singer Adam Lambert. He had intended to promote the September 2019 release in 2020, starting with a five date residency in Las Vegas, followed by a European tour. The postponement of these performances resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Praising Lambert’s work on VELVET, Variety’s A.D. Amorosi wrote, “Perhaps tired of being Queen’s plus one, or smoothing over his rougher vocal edges, the 38-year-old out singer goes for something less glamorously amorously entertaining and more grimily soulful and sleekly funky than we’re used to hearing from him…” “…Adam Lambert has made “Velvet” a testament to finding his way, personally and professionally, in what is his most accomplished solo work to date.“
It’s been 45 years since the golden voice of a “kid from Chicago” hit the Top 10 with the song “Lady” and propelled the band Styx into the worldwide spotlight. Now, at age 73, crooner Dennis DeYoung shows no signs of slowing down with the release of his new solo CD entitled 26 East: Volume 1. The songs are refreshingly original and yet instantly familiar while the lyrics are peppered with some very poignant statements about the world today and the roles we each play.
There is some expectation for great songwriting from the man who penned such top 10 hits as “Mr. Roboto”, “Show Me The Way”, “Come Sail Away”, and reached Number 1 with the definitive rock ballad “Babe.” The odds doubled when DeYoung decided to collaborate with another Number 1 songwriter: Jim Peterik, who’s known for chart-topping successes from “Vehicle” (#2 for Ides of March), “Caught Up In You” (#10 for 38 Special), and the rock anthem “Eye of the Tiger,” a number 1 hit for his former band Survivor. Although past success is no guarantee of future results, the DeYoung/Peterik team delivered five solid tracks that are textbook for well crafted songs. “We collaborated from the get go,” said DeYoung, “happily and seamlessly and at this time we have written nine songs together of which five will be on Volume 1. Just two Chicago guys doing what they do best, making music and having a laugh.”
Out of the gate, 26 East begins with “East of Midnight,” a big production of melodic rock with the signature stacked harmonies, soaring synthesizers balanced with crunchy guitars, and that strong voice that keeps classic rock radio stations in business. There’s a hint of “Grand Illusion” here and a nod to “I’m OK”, but it’s definitely not a regurgitation of the past. The song is a reminiscent journey back in time to the humble beginnings of DeYoung’s music career when the nucleus of Styx began with him and the Panozzo twins, Chuck and John. The album’s title “26 East” was the address where DeYoung grew up in Roseland on the far south side of Chicago, and the cover artwork features three locomotives traveling through space, representing the original members leaving Chicago on their journey to the stars.
There are two other guests on this album that add to allure. First is Julian Lennon, whose harmonies seamlessly blend with DeYoung’s on their collaboration “To The Good Old Days.” DeYoung indicated that he hadn’t met Julian before recording this song, but their words seem so sincere as they sing about raising a glass to toast all of the memories of their past together and all the good and bad times that they’ve survived.
The second guest is guitarist/vocalist August Zadra, who may only be mentioned briefly in the liner notes, but presumably contributed significantly to the “band” sound of the record. Zadra is a dynamic force in the Dennis DeYoung live show where he takes on the lead and harmony vocals originally voiced by Tommy Shaw. His work shines on the rocker “Damn That Dream” that talks about the reality of a dream-come-true turning into a charade that leaves you “lost and torn apart.”
DeYoung’s music is diverse and culled from the “boom child” musical inspirations from his youth through to the songs of his modern contemporaries. The track “You My Love” feels like an homage to the love ballads of the 1950’s — so much so that you might believe that it is a cover of a song that might have been earmarked for the Grease soundtrack. Even the vocal styling is on point for this period of music.
From the Styx classic “Suite Madame Blue” to “Turn Off The CNN” from his last solo record, One Hundred Years From Now, DeYoung has never shied from making political points with his lyrics. 26 East boasts a trilogy of politically themed songs that starts with the campy “With All Due Respect.” It’s definitely a fun song about the incompetence of our bi-partisan government, but the chorus sports the childish jabs, “With all due respect, you are an asshole” and “With all due respect, plug up your pie holes” that are hard to take seriously. The following song, “A Kingdom Ablaze,” is a haunting melody with lyrics that foretell an end to our nation if we don’t correct our ways. The music is reminiscent of “Castle Walls” from the Grand Illusion album laced with a subtle shuffle, ominous Gregorian chants, and the foreboding message, “When our greed becomes our need, all will bleed.” “The Promise of This Land” is the third song in the trilogy that comes later in the track list. It is a song of hope, and DeYoung’s theatrical spirit shines as brightly on this song as it did on the wonderful collection of show tunes from his 1994 release, 10 On Broadway. This song is full of references to our founding fathers and the dreams they had for this newly launched nation.
There are certain formulas for writing timeless “hit” songs and DeYoung and Peterik have their own recipes. The standout songs that have potential for chart topping success are “Run For The Roses” and “Unbroken.” Both start softly with the mood of a minor key and then soar to dramatic heights in major keys and layered harmonies spreading a positive message. Each song would be comfortable in any of the past five decades. Though the odds are stacked against DeYoung for chart success in the current climate of much younger artists, you never know when he might catch lightning in the bottle again (like the time “Show Me The Way” was spurred on as an anthem during Desert Storm). Who would have expected his recent rendition of “The Best of Times,” sung at his home during the COVID-19 pandemic, would go viral (no pun intended) and reach over a million views.
Speaking of “The Best of Times,” 26 East wraps up with yet another reprise of the “A.D. 1928”/”A.D. 1958” from the end of the Paradise Theater album. This time it is called “A.D. 2020” and features DeYoung playing an accordion, the instrument that got it all started for him. If you have been a fan of the music of Dennis DeYoung throughout the years, this short bookend to the album will tug at the heart strings as he seems to accept the notion that his music will last long beyond his years. He has shared his soul here in sonic form for you to listen to, relate to, and most importantly, to let it move you.
And so my friends I’ll say goodbye For time has claimed its prize But the music never dies Just listen and close your eyes And welcome to paradise
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26 East: Volume 1 Track List
East of Midnight (Dennis DeYoung, Jim Peterik, John R. Melnick)
With All Due Respect (Dennis DeYoung, Jim Peterik)
A Kingdom Ablaze (Dennis DeYoung)
You My Love (Dennis DeYoung)
Run For The Roses (Dennis DeYoung, Jim Peterik)
Damn That Dream (Dennis DeYoung, Jim Peterik)
Unbroken (Dennis DeYoung, Jim Peterik)
The Promise of This Land (Dennis DeYoung)
To The Good Old Days (Dennis DeYoung, Julian Lennon)
A.D. 2020 (Dennis DeYoung)
26 East: Volume 1 Line-Up
Jim Peterik: Guitar, Bass, Keyboard, Vocals and Vuvuzela
August Zadra: Electric Guitars, vocals
Jimmy Leahey: Acoustic and electric guitars
Craig Carter: Bass, vocals and invocations
Mighty Mike Morales: Drums and all day sound checker
John Blasucci: Keyboard’s
Mike Aquino: Electric Guitars
Kevin Chalfant: backing vocals
Matthew DeYoung: Drums on “To The Good Old Days”
Ed Breckenfeld: Drums on “Unbroken”
Zoe and Austin Orchard for Ring Around The Rosie
The Chicago Children’s Choir and conductor Josephine Lee
Dennis DeYoung: Keyboards, fake drums, fake bass, fake news and some vocals. Oh and Vuvuzela
Mastered by Dave Collins, DaveCollins Mastering. L.A.
PHOENIX — Singer-songwriter Mark Greenwalt took the opportunity to make a music video during the government mandated stay-at-home policy. With a crew of one, he propped his prosumer camera on a tripod to film himself at the piano and behind a guitar playing his original song, “Don’t Cry Angel.” The video was released on his YouTube channel on April 4th, Greenawalt’s 53rd birthday.
The Making of the Video
He co-wrote the song with songwriter Angel Pizzaro in 2011. Pizarro presented the heart-felt lyrics about a personal friend of his who had tragically passed away. The songwriting team crafted the story to discuss the relationship between a new angel and the grieving friends and family they have left behind. “It seemed to have a message,” he said, “for people to relate to who are suffering from losses during our current pandemic.”
The chords and melody of the song were developed while Pizarro sat with Greenawalt at his piano nearly ten years ago. The opportunity to record the song came from a mutually beneficial relationship with the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences (CRAS) in Phoenix, who needs bands and musicians to help their students learn the ropes of professional recording techniques. The core players in the session were Pizarro on drums, Webb Pickersgill on bass, and Greenawalt on keyboards, guitars, and vocals. Student engineer, Daniel Armijo, later stated that he ended up getting a grade of 97 on the project and a song was born.
While in the studio, Greenawalt had shot some video of Pizarro playing drums. “It wasn’t the greatest of quality,” he said, “but it seemed to be a good way to get started on the music video.” There wasn’t any usable footage of Greenawalt and Pickersgill from the studio, and at this point Pickersgill had moved to Colorado to be a game director with Deck Nine (Life Is Strange). Pickersgill, however, was very interested when asked if he would be willing to film himself playing the song. “I’ll bring my bass to work”, he said, “and just ‘Milli-Vanilli’ a few takes on video for you.”
When it was time for Greenawalt to perform his sequences, he envisioned singing in front of a stained glass window. At a loss for where to find one that he could record in front of, he went to YouTube to find a DIY way to make his own. After a trip to the hobby shop to get glass paint and faux leading, he created a mosaic image of angel wings with sun rays reminiscent of the Arizona state flag.
Watch Mark Greenawalt’s Time-Lapse Video
Another project behind the scenes was getting the overhead shots of the piano. For this, Greenawalt build an iPhone carrier and hung it from fishing string over a raised backdrop stand. The raising and lowering was accomplished by reeling the string around a rotating electric drill bit. “It seemed to be a good idea,” said Greenawalt, “but most of the footage was shaky and unusable. It was worth a try and a few clips actually made it into the video.”
“I wanted to include an aerialist in the video who would be spinning up high in hoop,” he said, “And I envisioned filming them over water and wearing angel wings. With the quarantine if full swing, it didn’t seem like I was going to have the opportunity to get that footage.” The eureka moment came when he found a video on a friend’s page on Facebook that was as beautiful as he had envisioned. I wasn’t over water and aerialist Dakoa O’Kane wasn’t wearing angel wings, but the imagery was stunning. He reached out to videographer Glen Goldblatt for permission to use the footage was thrilled when it was granted. This footage ended up being the bookends of the fade in and fade out of the video.
Greenawalt had a guest vocalist come to his home studio to record some harmony vocals on the song after the initial recordings at CRAS. She also “sang” some angelic whispers saying, “Goodbye, I’ll be waiting for you.” This was such a feature in the song that it seemed important to have it performed in the video. Keeping social distancing to a minimum, Greenawalt reached out to his daughter-in-law Savannah Greenawalt to play the part of the angel in the video. There were just a few short takes of her behind the stained glass and some extreme closeups of her singing the harmonies and it was a wrap for Savannah on the home “set.”
The rest of the shots were self performed and filmed by Greenawalt in his living room including a “martini shot” of him playing a “keytar” in the recently renovated tile bathroom. He culled on his knowledge from his day job as a lighting designer to successfully illuminate the sets and his brief education from film classes at The Film School at Scottsdale Community College for the editing process.
The video was completed in time for a premiere on the evening of his 53rd birthday where friends and family joined in on the chat to speak with songwriters Greenawalt and Pizarro.
“Don’t Cry Angel”
Written by Mark Greenawalt and Angel L. Pizarro Jr.
Future-Class X Publishing, ASCAP
Faded Periwinkle Publishing, ASCAP
Mark Greenawalt is both a Senior Concert Photographer and part-time Music Journalist for Burning Hot Events!See his concert photography here, and writing here.
PHOENIX— This day had a solemn beginning as the news announced that the legendary drummer for Rush, Neil Peart, had passed away. Styx keyboardist Lawrence Gowan took the opportunity to pay tribute to his fellow Canadian musician by singing and playing a beautiful acoustic piano cover of “Limelight”. The lyrics pulled at the heartstrings and the chords and melody were hauntingly mesmerizing. As the song faded and commiserating fans’ cheers resounded, Gowan declared, “Thank you for one of the greatest drummers and certainly one of the all-time greatest lyricists, Neil Peart.” This was a highlight of the evening and made this particular show very special.
Drummer Todd Sucherman provided a link to a fan’s video on Facebook and wrote:
The show kicked off on a high note as the song “Gone, Gone, Gone” electrified the theater-in-the-round. This song also opens the latest Styx studio album, The Mission, which was released two and a half years ago and put Styx back on the radio as it rose to 45 on the Billboard 200. There was no opening act, so Styx had time to unleash all of the “classics” and still sprinkle in a few more songs from The Mission: “Radio Silence”, “Red Storm”, “The Outpost”, and the classically influenced “Khedive” piano piece. Veteran guitarist James “JY” Young hinted at the fact that there may be new Styx music coming our way in 2020. The die-hard Styx fans were thrilled to hear this, but everyone went wild when they launched into the evening of hits, beginning with that classic Hammond organ intro to “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights).”
Most bands have a “lead” singer, but at a Styx show, the lead vocals (and bantering duties) are shared between the three frontmen in the band: guitarist Young (original member since the inception of the band in 1972), guitarist Tommy Shaw (who replaced John “J.C.” Curulewski in 1975), and keyboardist Gowan (who replaced Dennis DeYoung in 1999). Replacing DeYoung meant filling some big shoes, since his iconic voice and hit songwriting abilities were equally as important as his talent on the keys. But for the past twenty years, Gowan has held his own with studio albums and touring worldwide. Gowan’s keyboard and vocal skills were put to the test with the next pair of songs penned by DeYoung: “The Grand Illusion” and “Lady.” The keyboards were spot-on. The vocals were noticeably different from DeYoung’s, but very strong, confident, and blended wonderfully with signature Styx harmonies.
The original rhythm section of Styx was comprised of twin brothers Chuck and John Panozzo on bass and drums respectively. Tonight, Chuck would make several guest appearances, but it was Ricky Phillips on the Imola 5-string bass for most of the evening. Phillips was was best known as the bassist for The Babys and later a founding member of Bad English, but then joined the band in 2003. Chuck is still a current member of Styx, but he has limited his playing time due health issues related to HIV. Sucherman has held the drum throne since 1995, taking over for John Panozzo, who was battling cirrhosis of the liver and subsequently passed away in 1996. Gowan introduced Sucherman and mentioned that his mother was in the audience that night, and also dropped a bit of trivia that last year, Modern Drummer Magazine listed him as the number one Classic Rock Drummer in the World.
Danny Zelisko had Styx here at the Celebrity Theatre exactly one year ago for a two-night stand and welcomed them back tonight and tomorrow night to do it again. Last year, both nights appeared to be sold out; tonight, there were only a handful of seats that seemed to be open. It is such an intimate venue for seeing a band, and the sound is always crisp and clear. The rotating stage allows more people to feel closer to the front of the stage. The novelty wears off at times when the stage is facing away during a favorite song, but Styx did a pretty good job of running around the stage when they weren’t stationed to a microphone. One notable exception was on the song “Red Storm”, when the stage stopped rotating for the whole song, presumably because Phillips was perched up high on a riser behind the drum set (author’s note – of course, they were facing the other direction from me for this whole song).
As the stage got its groove back, JY stepped up to the mic to introduce the next song. He reminisced about the old days of lighting lighters for certain songs, but conceded that there were dangers. “We can approximate that with the cell phone camera light…” he said, “…Let’s approximate the way those stars might look and LIGHT IT UP EVERYBODY!” It was exhilarating to be immersed in a sea of LED lights throughout the entire theater as the band broke into “Light Up,” one of only two songs played from the Equinox album from 1975 (the other one was “Suite Madame Blue” to top off the first set).
Chuck Panozzo made his first appearance on stage during “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man).” He had played the powerful yet simple quarter notes on this Tommy Shaw anthem from The Grand Illusion Album released on 7-7-77. The crowd gave a very warm welcome as Shaw introduced him as “Our original bass player, Mr. Charles Panozzo,” and he stepped into the stage lights looking dapper in a navy blue sports jacket and wielding a black Rickenbacker bass. Instead of leaving the stage, Phillips picked up a double-necked guitar with a 12-string and a 6-string neck and joined in on the massive sound.
There was a brief 20-minute break before the second set. There was a fundraiser with a giveaway guitar benefiting Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock Foundation that was introduced by Tim and NeanderPaul from KSLX radio station.
The second set contained some of the usual suspects from the vault of hit songs, including “Come Sail Away,” “Too Much Time On My Hands,” “Miss America,” and the definitive power ballad “Crystal Ball.” There were also brief reminders to pick up the newest album, which featured “The Outpost” and “Khedive,” but the song that was a pleasant surprise for the evening was the title track from Pieces of Eight. This song is a fan favorite, but was overshadowed by “Renegade” and “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)” from that album and was not released as a single. Noticeably absent from the setlist was anything from the Cornerstone album, including their only number one single, “Babe” nor anything from Edge of the Century (“Love is the Ritual” nor “Show Me The Way”, which charted at number three).
The song “Mr. Roboto” had been absent from the setlist for many years although it also charted at number 3. This wasn’t surprising since it may be the defining song that put a rift in the band dynamic. More importantly, it polarized fans into either the rocker camp that thought of Styx in terms of “Renegade” and “Miss America,” or the pop music camp that thought of Styx in terms of “Babe” and “Best of Times.” Fortunately, there is a lot of crossover (or at least no hostilities that lead to disowning the band). What caused more controversy was when the song returned to the setlist a little over a year ago, even though DeYoung wasn’t there to petition for it. The live version is a little amped up, and the good news is that it was well received by fans, finding its way into the coveted encore position.
However, there was still one song left that even “Mr. Roboto” couldn’t upstage and that was the aforementioned “Renegade.” This is the song that starts with soft and haunting vocal by Shaw: “Oh mama, I’m in fear for my life from the long arm of the law.” At this point, everyone’s hand raised to their chest as they mimicked the heart beats that still echo to this day from John Panozzo’s kick drum. There was even a wash of red light over the massive drum set that kept time with these beats. Another line. More heartbeats. Silky three-part harmony for the next line. More heart beats as more of the crowd joined in. More harmonies. One beastial scream and the crowd was in the proverbial palm of their hands as the hardest rocking song of the Styx catalog closed the show.
Styx was flawless. The talent in the band is simply overwhelming. It is so hard for a band that is branded a “classic” rock band to be relevant in a world where “classic rock” stations won’t play anything new from their “classic rock” artist roster. Meanwhile, new rock stations tend to ignore new music from bands that are considered classics. Yet Styx has maintained a growing fan base by continuing to be road warriors and taking the music to every corner of the planet, continuing to write and record music that is true to their roots and diverse style.
Check out The Mission to form your own opinion if you haven’t heard it yet. Here’s to great new music from them in 2020, and hopefully yet another return trip to the Valley of the Sun to see them again.
PHOENIX — Whether you are on team Stark, Lannister, Targaryen, or that one guy that is on team Bolton, this show transported you to world of Westeros through the songs and scenes of the characters we’ve grown to love and hate. This was the third tour that graced the stages of Arizona for the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience. This time the immersive journey through the show’s music, eloquently crafted by composer Ramin Djawadi, would include the songs from the eighth and final season. The majesty of the show was slightly scaled down for this round and Djawadi was noticeably absent for the Comerica show in downtown Phoenix. Conductor Michael Sobie took the reigns for this stop of the tour and did a fantastic job coraling the myriad of instruments, but anyone expecting to see Ramin Djawadi at the helm were sadly disappointed. (See tour dates)
As the crowd shuffled in, the anticipation was high. The room felt a little cold; maybe winter was coming. A rotation of slides featured Dragonstone, Old Town, Winterfell, The Sept (before the wildfire), and other locales developed by producers David Benioff and DB Weiss. The amplified speakers droned an ominously disturbing symphonic ambiance that was void of melody or cadence.
The house lights dimmed. It was time. The stage was bathed in blood red light except for the iron throne in the midst of the empty orchestra seats, which was the target of a beam of light as blue as the glint off Valyrian steel in “stark” contrast to the red. Unlike the shows that hide the orchestra in the “pit”, this show revered the musicians as the protagonists as they staked claim to center stage. Yes, they were supposed to be the stars of the show, but the inanimate giant screen still upstaged them and it’s almost sad to admit that our collective eyes would be spending more time focused on the GOT scenes than on the live “band” that was breathing life into the video. That screen was now engulfed with the face of Drogon, the alpha male of Danery’s three dragons (or could it have been Viserion, they’re hard to tell apart sometimes). Fireflies of brimstone danced around his menacing stare as the musicians took their seats and tested their instruments.
Finally the undeniable voice of Queen Cersei (actress Lena Heady) filled the room with the ground rules for the show:
“Lords and ladies, eh, peasants, thank you for joining us tonight. I know some of you have come a long way to see your queen and your obedience touches me deeply. (pause) Silence your phones. Those who violate these rules will be boiled alive in the blood of their children. I do hope you enjoy the show and if you should see me afterwards do not approach. I find contact with my subjects extremely distasteful.”
And so it began. This show kicked off with the theme song that kicks off every episode HBO series. It’s less than two minutes long and affectionately known as “Main Title,” but it is the melody that everyone could hum along to. We were warned that there would obviously be spoilers ahead and I’ll relay that sentiment that there may be spoilers coming up in this article. Though I doubt you would have read this far if you didn’t already know that Ned Stark didn’t make it past season one. Sobie polled the audience to ask who has never seen an episode of the show and there were dozens in the audience that responded. They would be treated to a first class “Cliff Notes” introduction to the entire show.
It was obvious that the majority of the audience were on the other extreme, hadn’t missed an episode of the show, and had probably read all of the books and watched all of the behind-the-scenes footage they could find on YouTube. As the orchestra played through a medley of the house themes, there were varying intensities of cheers as the sigils on each banner crossed the screen. The montage of each house was edited to seemingly reveal all of the characters from the entire series.
The musicians on stage were comprised of a team of seven soloists who were part of the touring cast and the rest of the orchestra and choir seats were filled by local talent in each city of the tour. There were about three dozen Phoenicians in the orchestra and fifteen in the choir. The cello that is dominantly featured throughout Djawadi’s scores was played by Cameron Stone who dressed for the part in a sleeveless robe revealing pauldron armor and a necklace reminiscent of a maester’s chain.
Rock shows often feature dueling virtuoso guitarists and this experience mirrored that element with Stone on cello and his counterpart, Molly Rogers, on violin. Rogers has played with many of the top names in the music business and rose to prominence in this show suspended on wires several stories high above the stage while playing the gentle melody of “Goodbye Brother”. The video screen played season one scenes of Winterfell while Roger’s dress extended from stage to proscenium in the guise of a weirwood tree with red leaves snowing from the gridiron.
The next soloists to be featured were the percussion team of Alan Mark Lightner and Davey Chegwidden. While the cello cried out a phrygian melody, a scale that the ancient Egyptians may have borrowed from the Dothraki, Lightner and Chegwidden provided the cadence on taiko and djembe for “Love In The Eyes.” Lightner was spotlighted later too as he played the hammer dulcimer for the theme dedicated to Arya Stark, “Needle.”
Vocalist Nayanna Holley earned her spot on center stage from a diverse resume of performances on tours and television (see her link below). Dressed in a flowing red gown, Holley delivered the second famous song of the series entitled “The Rains of Castamere,” accompanied by Hsin Huang on keys. The lyrics for this song were actually written by Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin in the book A Storm of Swords and then Djawadi later set it to a haunting melody in the key of D minor.
And who, are you, the proud Lord said, That I must bow so low? Only a cat of a different coat, That’s all the truth I know. In a coat of gold or a coat of red, A lion still has claws, And mine are long and sharp, my lord, As long and sharp as yours. And so he spoke and so he spoke. That lord of Castamere, But now the rains weep o’er his hall, With no one there to hear. Yes now the rains weep o’er his hall, And not a soul to hear.
The song packs an emotional impact to fans of the show who remember hearing the song sprinkled throughout the series, most notable at the Red Wedding. This was arguably one of the most shocking scenes of the series and we went back in time to relive it again while the orchestra intensified the already intense scenes with “The Lanisters Send Their Regards.”
Shifting from Westeros to Essos, we left the Lanister-Stark rift and rejoined the Daenerys Targaryens story arc for the songs “Dracarys” and “Mhysa.” The audience revealed their love of the character and Emilia Clarke, the actress who played her, as she gave the command “Dracarys” that gave Drogo the permission to burn slaver Kraznys mo Nakloz to a crisp. This song was the heavy metal segment of the setlist and the distortion on the cello sounded like a mix between a Les Paul through a Marshall stack and the spine-chilling roar of a dragon. Pyrotechnic flame cannons erupted on stage. Exciting!
Act one continued with John Snow dying and being resurrected, the Battle of the Bastards, and then wrapped up with the first song of the series to feature piano, “The Light of the Seven.” Conductor Michael Sobie proved his skills as a pianist which is his main task when Djawadi is conducting. The video played out the entire scene of Cersei’s trial that never comes to pass. The quiet piano passages evolved into organ chord progressions inspired by the horror of The Phantom of the Opera while the Phoenix choir was voicing chilling Gregorian chants…I guess they’re actually Valyrian chants. The act ends with the green wildfire imploding the Sept and the stage filled with smoke cannons immersed in lime green illumination.
Even for those who had seen the previous tours, Act Two was new. It was all carved from the episodes of season eight. There was a lot of controversy about how the series wrapped up in the final season, but there was no controversy regarding the music that was unanimously praised. The songs culled up the scenes of the reunions at Winterfell, battles on the Narrow Sea, live dragons above the clouds and undead dragons below the ice, Arya’s dagger plunge to end the war, and of course the unbridled rage of another mad Targaryan.
Djawadi captured the spirit and the tempo of this myriad of emotions in the confines of the same twelve notes used by his childhood hero Elmer Bernstein. In an HBO behind the scenes featurette, Djawadi shows the humble beginnings of this larger than life music forming in his relatively small studio. He shares his process of finding the right tones and instruments, recording them in the computer until the filming is locked, and then, he says, “I go in and record it with real musicians and I feel that’s the most rewarding thing. I still get goosebumps when I hear them play the music.” So did we.
One highlight for the second act was yet another song for which George R.R. Martin started the lyrics in the book A Storm of Swords, called “Jenny of Oldstones.” The song was featured on the series as Podrick Payne sang it before the massive “dark” battle and Florence and the Machine version sounded in the closing credits. The thirteen song set ended with a reprise of the main theme and the soloists lining up at the front of the stage for a final bow. As all of the musicians ghosted off the stage, the screen once again grabbed everyone’s attention and played a slide show of all of the major and minor characters from the Game of Thrones series. Finally the epic night of music and visual stimulation moved on to become additional audio-visions that will ever enhance our memories of A Song of Ice and Fire.
Phoenix, AZ — On June 26 of this year, Sir Paul McCartney brought an evening of legendary music to Talking Stick Resort Arena. Exactly two months later, Ringo Starr became the second Beatle to grace the stages of Arizona. This is the 30-year anniversary of this touring rock supergroup, Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band, with a shifting lineup that has included legends such as Joe Walsh, Todd Rungren, Clarence Clemons, Peter Frampton, John Entwhistle, and so many more (see list below). Starr is really the only constant member.
This year’s line up is no exception to Starr’s history of building a stellar lineup:
The dueling guitarists were the unlikely pairing of Steve Lukather (Toto) and Colin Hay (Men At Work). These two master songwriters brought along their biggest hits to add to the already incredible setlist. Fans were treated to Toto’s “Rosanna”, “Africa”, and “Hold The Line” and Men At Work’s “Down Under”, “Overkill”, and of course “Who Can It Be Now.”
On the Hammond organ was none other than Gregg Rolie (Santana, Journey) who chipped in the classic Santana songs “Evil Ways”, “Black Magic Woman / Gypsy Queen”, and “Oye Como Va”, but unfortunately nothing from his days with Journey.
Bassist Hamish Stuart (Average White Band) was back after his stint in the lineup from 2006 to 2008. He switched over to guitar when the band dove into the Average White Band standards “Pick Up The Pieces” and “Cut The Cake.”
Gregg Bissonette on drums and Warren Ham on… well, everything else (saxophone, flute, keyboards, percussion, etc.) rounded out the lineup. Both have toured extensively with major recording acts, such as Bissonette’s time with “Diamond” David Lee Roth during the “Eat ‘Em And Smile” era, and Ham’s contributions to Kansas and Toto (now that’s an ironic combo of band names).
All that talent on the revolving stage of the Celebrity Theater culminated in the focal point of the evening; a man who’s former band is arguably the most famous band in the history of rock & roll. And yes, Starr brought a few songs to the setlist from his days with the Fab Four, starting with the only song credited to Lennon–McCartney–Starkey, “What Goes On.” Ringo Starr is the stage name of Sir Richard Starkey, knighted by Prince William on March 20, 2018. The two most popular Beatles songs that featured Starr’s voice where the whimsical “Yellow Submarine” and the song he sang in the guise of the one-and-only Billy Shears, “With A Little Help From My Friends.”
Starr’s credentials make him a legendary musician, but he seemed very unassuming. There was no fabricated swagger or false bravado in his delivery. He was reverent of the talent of his bandmates while clearly letting loose to have fun on stage. Even his attire hinted at high fashion with a jacket and black leather pants, but they were offset by a pair of comfortable sneakers and a rhinestone shirt that said “Peace Rocks”. The peace sign proved to be a prevalent theme throughout the show, from holding up the hand sign for peace to wearing peace necklaces. Starr looked spry and healthy wearing his signature sunglasses and sporting the kempt beard and mustache. Though he is 79 years old, there was nothing lethargic or geriatric about this performance. It was quite the opposite: an energetic and youthful performance from start to finish.
Although there are some Ringo Starr hits embroidered in the fabric of our collective memory, it takes a show like this to remind us of just how many there have been. Eight songs from his solo career broke the top 10 in the US charts and two hit number one (“You’re Sixteen” and “Photograph”). Between 1970 and 2017, Ringo has released 19 solo studio records. The second song of the set started the audience down memory lane with “It Don’t Come Easy” from the 1975 album Blast From Your Past.
Starr shared the spotlight and lead vocal duties with the singers that made their respective songs famous. It was like a karaoke dream where everyone sounded exactly like the record. One highlight was hearing Rolie breathing life into “Black Magic Woman,” and then hearing Lukather shredding on the soulful solos of Carlos Santana, was magical. As the song transitioned to “Gypsy Queen”, it was Gregg Bissonette’s turn to shine as he vamped on the drumset.
A majority of the crowd were old enough to remember the quirky videos of Men At Work on MTV’s heavy rotation in the early 80’s. There were possibly a handful of people that didn’t recognize Colin Hay playing guitar on stage, but everyone recognized that distinctive voice singing “I come from the land down under,” Ham obviously broke out the flute to play the infectious solo on “Down Under” and then later in the show played the famous sax line on “Who Can It Be Now.”
While out of the spotlight, Starr was still an archetypal presence as he rose to his drum throne and commandeered the instrument that he is best known for. The bass drum of his Ludwig drum kit that once sported The Beatles logo, now has a symbolic star and lotus flower logo, presumably in support of the Ringo Starr Art Lotus Foundation.
Being the drummer in the back typically garners less notoriety, especially when you’re standing on the shoulders of giants like Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison. But throughout his career, he has received 9 Grammys, and has twice been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, first as a Beatle and then as a solo artist. Starr played in perfect synchronicity with Bissonette and reminded all of the musicians in the room why he is considered by many to be included in the category of best rock drummer of all time.
The wonderful evening of hit music was capped off with a resounding message of peace when Ringo and the boys joined in on the anthem “Give Peace A Chance,” the anti-war chant that John Lennon and Yoko Ono voiced 50 years ago from room 1742 that still needs to be heard today.
Mesa, AZ — Songwriters doing “rounds” is a staple in the Nashville music scene, but it is a rare treat to the Metro Phoenix area. The CMA Songwriters Series launched in 2005 and has brought a little of that Music City culture to cities all over the world. The CMA website claims that the series has featured nearly 200 gifted storytellers who collectively have 100 CMA Song of the Year nominations. The 2019 season show that graced the intimate Piper Theater stage at the Mesa Arts Center was a stellar all-female cast.
Leading off the rounds was Liz Rose, who also acted as the MC for the evening. She has one of those 100 CMA Song of the Year nominations mentioned above for co-writing Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” (which just so happened to also win the category).
Rose introduced the other songwriters; Mickey Guyton, Ingrid Andress, Jillian Jacqueline, and Marti Lynn Dodson, and then kicked off the music with a song that she wrote with “a little girl named Taylor”. The song was the Grammy Award winning “White Horse”, and of course the little girl was Taylor Swift.
Batting second, Texas native Mickey Guyton launched into her latest release, “Sister” (Capitol Records Nashville). Guyton has a powerful and alluring voice and an incredible knack for writing relatable songs. Her energy and emotions were on full display as her face lit up hearing great hooks, and as her tears fell after hearing Rose singing the emotional “When You’re My Age”.
An audience favorite was her new song, “Rosé” that was a fun drinking song for a more sophisticated palate. The ladies shared the fact that their drinks on stage were not exactly just water, which added to the vivacious atmosphere.
Rose and Guyton were accompanied by a guest acoustic guitarist, the sole male sitting upstage of the main line up. Ingrid Andress, however, was playing her Nord Stage 3 keyboard for her own piano accompaniment. Andress has writing credits with Sam Hunt and Alicia Keys, but it was obvious that she has that special style and presence to be a star in her own right. Her lyrics are fresh and honest and cater to her generation more than most modern country songs. Andress shared the stories behind “We’re Not Friends” and “Both”, each song being unique and candidates for crossover audiences. On the other hand, she proved that she has a firm foundation in country songwriting too as she played “More Hearts Than Mine”, her first single released after being signed to Atlantic Records / Warner Music Nashville.
Next up was Jillian Jacqueline who poured her heart and her angelic voice into each of her songs. It is so interesting to hear the stories behind the songs. Jacqueline shared the entertaining story of sitting on the floor at Keith Urban’s house working on “If I Were You”, a song on which he sang harmonies and played guitar.
Her well crafted lyrics on songs like “Sad Girls” and “Hate Me” brought the “feels” to room. Jacqueline commanded everyone’s undivided attention with the stripped down sound of her voice and her Gibson acoustic guitar, the ideal definition of a singer/songwriter.
Rounding out the lineup, wearing a beautiful flowing dress and stunning red shoes, was Marti Lynn Dodson who founded and fronted the band Saving Jane. Among her song selections was the Saving Jane hit “Girl Next Door” which had fans of the song tapping their feet and singing along. Dodson played an Epiphone acoustic guitar that sounded amazing.
Tucson Musicians Hall of Fame inductee, LeeAnne Savage was in the audience and is a long-time fan of Dodson. Savage noted, “The song “Cheerleader” was one of my favorite bops of 2000, however her song “Quarterback” takes the listener on a journey involving date rape, social media bullying, and the imbalance of power between victim and perpetrator. Great songwriters hold up a mirror to society in an effort to create dialogue around difficult topics. This song does just that.”
There were plenty of songwriters in the audience that were basking in the glow of this group of women who have honed their craft and found success in a very tough field. Songwriter Angel Pizarro said, “I loved the experience of being so close to songwriting greatness along with the feel of being at a friend’s living room; and as a songwriter I appreciated the value of being there, learning while being entertained. I’ll never forget this evening!”
Setlist for the Evening
Liz Rose – “White Horse” (recorded by Taylor Swift)
Mickey Guyton – “Sister”
Ingrid Andress – “We’re Not Friends”
Jillian Jacqueline – “Hate Me”
Marti Lynn Dodson – “Breakers” (recorded by Thompson Square)
Liz Rose – “When You’re My Age”
Mickey Guyton – “Brand New”
Ingrid Andress – “Both”
Jillian Jacqueline – “If I Were You” (recorded by Jillian Jacqueline feat. Keith Urban)
Marti Lynn Dodson – “Quarterback” (recorded by Kira Isabella)
Bailey Claywell (student songwriter) – “I Will Rise”
Liz Rose – “You Belong With Me” (recorded by Taylor Swift)
Lourde Childs (student songwriter) – “Faithful”
Mickey Guyton – “Rosé”
Ingrid Andress – “Lady Like”
Jillian Jacqueline – “Sad Girls”
Marti Lynn Dodson – “Girl Next Door” (recorded by Saving Jane)
Liz Rose – “Girl Crush” (recorded by Little Big Town)
Mickey Guyton – “Better Than You Left Me”
Ingrid Andress – “More Hearts Than Mine”
Jillian Jacqueline – “God Bless This Mess”
Marti Lynn Dodson – “Things I’ll Miss”
The touring group of ladies and the sponsor US Bank made a stop earlier in the day to visit with the teachers and students at The Phoenix Conservatory of Music (PCM) and give a master class in songwriting. The visit was part of U.S. Bank’s Community Possible giving and engagement platform and its Places to Play partnership with the CMA Foundation. Many of the students and teachers came out to attend the show and two exceptional students were even granted the opportunity to share the stage and play their original songs. Bailey Claywell was accompanied by keyboard player Michael Rodriguez as she sang their original song, and later Lourde Childs brought the house down, singing and playing guitar on his original. The students received a well-earned standing ovation.
Each of the featured writers were able to play four of their songs as they took turns showcasing their personal favorites. The highest energy and audience engagement occurred as Liz Rose sang her second Taylor Swift song of the evening, “You Belong To Me”. Everyone in the room, on-stage and off-stage, was singing along to the infectious chorus. One especially enthusiastic fan of the song was even pulled out of the audience to come up and sing on stage with the group.
It was a great evening with a diverse array of songs from some truly gifted songwriters. As the end of the evening approached each writer saved their best song for their last round as they each said their good-byes.
Jon Iger, the President of the Arizona Songwriters Association, was in attendance and had this message for CMA Songwriting Series participants:
“Thank you ladies of CMA for a very inspiring day! A day of amazing writing and performing talent! The same goes for the PCM students! We (Arizona Songwriters Association) have worked on several events with PCM, and they are doing outstanding work with their students and the music community! And being a long time member of CMA, I know the great work they continue to do with schools! Hope to see you again real soon!”
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.
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.
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! View Setlist
Cast for the Evening
Michael Wilton – lead guitar (1980–present)
Eddie Jackson – bass, backing vocals (1980–present)
PHOENIX — If there was any doubt in your mind that Shania Twain could ever make a comeback after being out of the limelight for over a decade, rest assured, she’s back. There are over 18,000 seats in Talking Stick Arena, and it was filled to capacity. The roar of the crowd made them oblivious to microburst thunderstorm hovering overhead outside. Their focus was on the stage waiting for their queen of “country pop” to appear. Queen’s “We Will Rock You” was pounding through the PA, foreshadowing the next surprise. The music stopped and the lights went down, but there was no one on stage. The We-Will-Rock-You beat filled the room again as a spot light landed on a second stage in the middle of the arena, where drummer Elijah Wood flailed her blond hair along with her drumsticks. The sleight of hand continued then as Twain magically appeared, coming down the steps at the back of the arena, greeting her majesty’s minions as she crossed the distance to the stage.
As she found her way to center stage wearing a black shimmering long dress, she asked, “Are you ready Phoenix?” Behind her was a projection screen that must have been more than 5-stories tall, so that even those in the nosebleed seats could see her up close. Twain kicked off the show with “Life’s About To Get Good”, the first single from her new album entitled Now.
The projection screen was retracted to reveal a truly impressive and dynamic stage set of larger-than-life video cubes. Throughout the song, the show’s cast began to populate the stage, starting with the backup singers and dancers. The musicians were introduced during the second song, “Come On Over” from her third album of the same name, released in 1997. This was the album that cemented her in country music history by going 18x platinum, and scoring three number 1 singles.
The video cubes doubled as riser platforms and Twain climbed the stairs to tower over the stage floor as she sang “Up!” Her vocals were flawless all night, and it was amazing how she replicated the recordings that were so familiar to our collective memories. Her signature sound, especially in the lower registers, was especially showcased when the energy level dropped for an intimate moment singing the heartfelt “Poor Me”. The song is a reminder of the tumultuous relationship with her ex-husband that seemed to hover like a cloud over her career, but her burgeoning success and musical independence should eventually overshadow that storyline.
Like a slow wave, everyone had taken their seats during the calm moment of the show. That all changed when the dueling fiddles began “Don’t Be Stupid (You Know I Love You)”. Hands were in the air and everyone was singing along (some more in tune than others). That ended the proverbial Act 1, led to a set change, and Twain’s first costume change.
In the video for “That Don’t Impress Me Much”, you may remember that she wore a sexy leopard print outfit (boots, hooded long jacket, long flared pants, and a little top that revealed her midriff). Well, that was nearly 20 years ago so she didn’t wear that, but she did pay homage with a leopard print dress with a flowing cape-like night robe.
The setlist included 7 songs from the Now album. Next up was “Let’s Kiss and Make Up”, which was reminiscent of her earlier material, and had a calypso feel. The song seemed well-received, and as the end faded, Twain was lowered into a trap door in the stage. A brief drum solo culminated into that We-Will-Rock-You beat again and the crowd was getting revved up. When the guitar riff started though, it was apparent that this was actually an Any-Man-Of-Mine beat.
Costume change number 2 produced Shania Twain in a black cowboy hat, a black leather jacket, a black dress with sheer sides and candy apple red boots. “Any Man of Mine” segued into her breakthrough hit, “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” The dancers two-stepped with mannequins made of spring coils that wore red cowboy hats and comically bounced to the music. “Honey I’m Home” continued the country music vibes.
With such a string of hits there is no question that Shania Twain is a gifted songwriter. The focus of the next two songs shifted from staged theatrics, to melody and lyrics, with “I’m Alright”and “Soldier” from the Now album. The first was a masterclass in weaving in and out of minor and major keys, and the second, a lyrical tribute to our troops that tugs at the heartstrings. She sang “Soldier” while suspended in the air, riding on a open acoustic guitar case, floating across the venue to the center stage by the soundboard.
This was a very special moment, and it gave the folks in the back a chance to be “up front” and see her next costume change into a white dress with a ruffled low-cut collar, a sheer black robe, and white boots inspired by ancient Rome. The great songwriting continued with her number one song “You’re Still The One”. She went back up above the crowd with her magic flying guitar case, but this time she took an acoustic along which reminded everyone that she plays guitar too. This performance was beautiful and moving.
Two lucky fans were picked from audience once Twain landed her flying trapeze, and were escorted with her up on stage for some light conversation and a once-in-a-lifetime selfie. This part of the show was a bit awkward, but we were soon back to the music and mischief as the Sun’s gorilla mascot came out and lifted Twain onto the piano as she broke into the song “More Fun”, another song from Now that hints of Beatlesque influences.
An amazing blue laser show filled the arena as the music began for “From This Moment On”. A video of an ever-evolving lotus flower played on the screen, while Twain emoted the lyrics, alone on the stage. It was like the best karaoke version ever without the band on stage, but it would have been even more fantastic if Bryan White would have been there to duet with her — no such luck. Another costume change had her in a glimmering black catsuit with a flowing black overcoat.
That was the end of the slow stuff, and the stage set became more robust as the video cubes would rise and fall and become characters in the show. Lasers and illuminated costumes for the dancers added to the festival of light as Twain belted out “I’m Gonna Getcha Good!”
Swiss singer/songwriter Bastian Baker was the opening act for the show, and Twain invited him back to the stage to sing the duet “Party for Two” with her, and then he stuck around to play guitar on “Swingin’ With My Eyes Closed”.
Twain removed her top layer and strutted around in her catsuit that looked like a superhero outfit and showed off her figure. She turned on the sex appeal with “(If You’re Not In It For Love) I’m Outta Here”, and ended it with a bang of graffiti canons that poured over the audience and left them in suspense for an encore. Panning around the arena, everyone was out of their seats and it didn’t seem they could get any louder…but they did.
Da-Da Da Da-Da Da-Da
Those seven notes that kicked off the anthem for women and lead into the line, “Let’s go girls,” produced 10,000 primal screams from fans. “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” did not disappoint. This was the last costume change, and it gave an appreciated nod to the video with all-black thigh high boots, long-sleeve gloves, a choker, and of course a short skirt. Like the massive eruption at the end of a fireworks display, this song left no holds barred as the lasers, video screens, dancers, musicians, and Shania Twain left it all out on the stage.