All posts by Ryan Novak

High School Teacher at San Tan Foothills and Adjunct English Instructor at CGC. Record collector, comic book nerd, one-time textbook author, and retired record store clerk. Loves hiking. Lindsey’s husband.

REVIEW: AJJ’s Good Luck Everybody — An Apropos Album for a Pandemic

When you think of albums that are specifically “of their time,” so to speak, it usually evokes folk protest anthems of the 60’s, such as early Dylan songs or maybe the way New York punks at CBGB tapped into a growing angst in America. More recently, I think of Springsteen’s The Rising album, which was not written about 9/11 and yet seemed to speak to much of the pain and sadness in America in the immediate aftermath. In moments of our history that are so big and uncertain (as overused as that word now feels), music is our anchor, providing stability and a sense of relief. Though released on January 17th of this year, AJJ’s Good Luck Everybody feels like an album that was meant precisely for our current reality of social distancing and shelter in place. It feels like an album written at home in search of a comfort that we have all been robbed of as our world has been turned upside-down, and as a reprieve from the constant sense of dread we have been left with.

On this, their seventh studio album, Arizona’s own AJJ – a folk punk band – has captured the anxiety and anger and angst and fear of life in the midst of a pandemic. Written and produced by AJJ’s core duo of vocalist/guitarist/founder Sean Bonnette and bassist Ben Gallaty, alongside lead guitarist Preston Bryant, cellist Mark Glick, and returning long-time engineer Jalipaz Nelson (who has worked on the majority of the band’s releases), it’s an album that yearns for a return to normality and seeks shelter from the storm, while also wanting to run out into the open and yell curse words at the sky just to let out every bit of pent-up anger and frustration. Even as the album works through so many conflicting emotions, it feels like it’s all coming from one place: the anger we feel at forced uncertainty. Even the title Good Luck Everybody, feels like a final parting line to a group of people marching into potential doom. The album still wants to feel hopeful, even as everything surrounding us screams that all hope is lost. 

Following the opening track, and the album’s first single, “A Poem,” which seems almost apologetic of the meaningless of art in our current reality, the album gets down to business on the second track. “I can feel my brain a-changin’, acclimating to the madness / I can feel my outrage shift into a dull, despondent sadness / I can feel a crust growing over my eyes like a falcon hood / I’ve got the normalization blues / This isn’t normal, this isn’t good,” starts out the second track, “Normalization Blues,” which is a slice of vintage 60’s protest Dylan, when he still wanted to be the next Woody Guthrie. Think of it like a modern-age “Talkin’ World War III Blues” for a generation weaned on social media and streaming services, except now the World War we’re all living through is being fought in the midst of smartphone-addiction-fueled indifference on our parts and gaslighting by our leaders. Even the closing line, the album-titular “good luck everybody”, feels like it’s being said with a resigned sigh, rather than with an ounce of hopeful conviction. 

It might seem hyperbolic to say that this album in some way predicted the storm that lie just ahead for our country upon its release, but  “Body Terror Song” comes replete with the refrain “I’m so sorry that you have a body.” Since the album was released, and especially in the whirlwind “shelter in place” of the last couple of months, it almost seems to detail the creeping fears many of us, willingly or otherwise, have developed of our own bodies, wondering if every cough or short breath means we have “it.” Our fears have given way to a constant feeling of dread at the one thing we can’t avoid: ourselves.  “One that will hurt you, and be the subject of so much of your fear / It will betray you, be used against you, then it’ll fail on you my dear”, Bonnette sings, but as he himself noted about the song in a Reddit AMA, “Music is made to project your own experiences onto,” so maybe I’m just projecting my own insecurities here. However, I do think that the line “But before that, you’ll be a doormat, for every vicious narcissist in the world / Oh how they’ll screw you, all up and over, then feed you silence for dessert, is still pretty spot-on for the current climate. 

Whatever perceived political intentions that might be read into some of the tracks aside, the plaintive piano ballad “No Justice, No Peace, No Hope” addresses the catastrophic political elephant in the room directly, admitting to the feelings of hopelessness in it all, as we are daily bombarded by seemingly nothing but bad news. “I used to comfort myself with the myth of good intention / I can’t believe that I believed that goodness was inherent” is a relatable sentiment. Still though, Bonnette seemingly can’t give up hope, as he winds down the song with “Again we’ve slipped inside a pit of absolute despair / That’s where we live / Until we don’t”, choosing to read this, of course, as a sliver of hope and not an acceptance of defeat. 

“Mega Guillotine 2020” is a love song for a glorious end to all the chaos, with a campfire sing-along cadence. The lyrics are straightforward and sung like someone watching an asteroid hurtling towards earth that decides instead of panic, it is a better idea to just chill out and accept the inevitable fate. If hopeless is hurtling towards us, what’s the point in dodging when there is nowhere to dodge? However, it is exactly when things are the darkest, and our faith in salvation is being tested that we find a reason to keep going, which is to say that sometimes we need to take pessimism for a test drive in order to find our optimism. We may welcome the guillotine, but we’re ready to pull our heads away at the last possible moment. 

While much of the album expresses frustration with the current state of our world, “Psychic Warfare” takes a direct shot at the chaos caused by the “commander-in-chief” and his daily assaults on reality. Its anger is palpable and mirrors the overwhelming sense of anguish so many have felt every day. “For all the pussies you grab and the children you lock up in prison / For all the rights you roll back and your constant stream of racism / For all the poison you drip in my ear, for all your ugly American fear,” are lyrics you might want to scream into a pillow when it all gets to be too much. It is a song that’s right there with us, with a boiling rage of “f— all this b.s.!” 

The album closing track “A Big Day for Grimley” acknowledges that we have far to go before life resumes a true sense of normalcy. “Now I don’t suffer any more bullshit gladly / Even though everything’s bullshit now, here in 2019 / And you can bet it’s gonna be a bunch of bullshit too out in sweet 2020 / Or whenever this album’s released,” may seem designed to leave the listener on down note, but AJJ is not a band that thrives on hopelessness, and instead leaves us with a hope for a better tomorrow, wishing for “Solitude for the stoic / Mirth for the merry / A quiet room for the overwhelmed / Arcades for the ADHD / Health for the sickly,” and leaving us with the album title once more, this time sung with the conviction missing in its previous appearance: Good luck, everybody.

As Bonnette said of the album upon its release: “I really hate explaining myself, but since I think it’s important I’ll make the theme of this album explicit: Basic human connection is the path to our collective return to sanity.”

AJJ

Though we are sheltered in place, human connection is still possible. Music connects us and reminds us that we are still alive, even when we each may be hitting the point where it feels like we’re bouncing off the walls. There is no more unifying of an experience than singing along with a song we love so deeply and so personally at a concert, which unites us with every other person at the show who joins in. In those moments, we are one with each other. Now, we will unfortunately be robbed of live music for a while, but that doesn’t mean we are robbed from connecting through music. This is an album of songs that could double as mantras in a pandemic: we are still alive and we will survive this, no matter how grim it might feel. Put on Good Luck Everybody, and sing along and know that out there somewhere, a stranger is unwittingly joining you in the moment. What more could we ask for from an album?

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REVIEW: Horrorpops Deliver Psychobilly Rock from Denmark to a Sold Out Nile Theater (2-1-20)

Mesa, AZ — Hailing from Denmark with a sound that blends punk and rockabilly into something wholly unique, Horrorpops steadily built a following over the course of their three albums in the mid-2000’s (2004’s Hell Yeah!, 2005’s Bring It On, and 2008’s Kiss Kiss Kill Kill). Just as they were reaching their apex, the band went into a period of inactivity. They released no new albums, and aside from a few shows here and there, they didn’t even play live that often. While the band may have gone on a brief hiatus, it didn’t stop their fan base from growing. With the announcement of a new tour, shows instantly began to sell out, and one of those sold out shows was Nile Theatre (“The Nile”). Kicking off the previous night in San Diego, The Quakes and Franks & Deans will accompany the Horrorpops for the entirety of the 13-date tour. 

Robert DeTie (Vocalist, Bassist), Franks & Deans
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

Franks & Deans

We’re Franks & Deans, and we’re here to fuck up your grandmother’s favorite music!” Wearing matching tuxedo t-shirts and playing matching sea-foam-colored instruments for a set comprised of punk covers of old standards (okay, and the theme song to the 1967 Spider-Man cartoon), Las Vegas’ Franks & Deans opened the night. Comprised of bassist Robert DeTie, guitarists Hoss and Sampson, drummer Cam Callahan, and burlesque dancer and hula-hoopist Nickole Muse, they were an immediate shot of adrenaline the moment they came through the door. 

Nickole Muse (Burlesque, Hula Hoop) with Franks & Deans
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

Their sound – two parts punk and one part bar band – started the show off with the exact right kind of fun party music atmosphere you’d want on such a night. While their set may have been built around songs from the various classic Vegas performers. “This next song is by my favorite member of the Rat Pack: Mike Ness!” The Social Distortion’s frontman’s misattribution as a member of Sinatra’s Rat Pack was a running joke throughout their set, with other Rat Pack “members” including The Reverend Horton Heat and Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra. As they mentioned during the closing of their set, they have a regular Wednesday night Weenie Roast residency at Double-Down Saloon in Vegas. For any AZ residents who find themselves visiting Sin City mid-week, it’s a worthwhile stop. 

Franks & Deans, Nickole Muse (Burlesque, Hula Hoop)
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

The Quakes

Fronted by founding member and guitarist Paul Roman and backed by slap bassist Wes Hinshaw, and drummer Juan Carlos, Arizona’s own The Quakes played second. Thirty-year veterans, the band’s sound can best be described as neo-rockabilly. Roman played with the furious intensity of Johnny Ramone from the Ramones classic-era. If Roman’s guitar is punk-rock fury, then the rhythm section of Hinshaw and Carlos served as the perfect anchor, both keeping pace and holding the track together. 

The Quakes
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

From their blistering take on the Stone’s “Paint It Black” to open, their 13-song, 30-minute set was a musical buzzsaw. “I Miss You” by the band’s 2005 album Psyops drew a huge crowd reaction. The Quakes have a three-prong attack and seem to intuitively feed off of each when they’re on stage. 

Juan Carlos (Drums), The Quakes
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

Horrorpops

With the stage set up with white sheets and assorted decorative skulls, you could feel the building excitement for the Horrorpops. With a legitimate max capacity crowd of long-time fans, many of whom were seeing the band for the first time, anticipation built to a fever pitch just as the lights went black. The reaction from the audience to darkness alone is the kind of pop some bands would kill to have. Henrik Stendahl was out first, taking his place behind the drums. He was quickly followed by guitarist Kim Nekroman, looking cool as ever. Arriving last, you realize immediately exactly what kind of icon Patricia Day has become, as she was greeted like psychobilly royalty. 

Patricia Day (Vocals, Standup Bass), Horrorpops
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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Picking up her massive stand-up bass, adorned with buzzards and a black skull and crossbones, and went right into “Julia” off of Hell Yeah! One crowd favorite was followed by two more: “Thelma and Louise” from Kiss Kiss Kill Kill and “Kool Flattop” from their debut. The opening trio hit hard, and by the time the band paused and Patricia Day addressed the crowd for the first time, you could feel the crowd needing to take a breather. 

I can only think of one thing… okay two things,” Patricia told the crowd. “1. Why the hell did we stay away for so long? The second is that the greatest show we ever played was right here in Arizona! Anyway, it’s been too long!” Too long it may have been, but you’d never know it had been that long. Even with several years off from regular touring, the band showed no sign of rust, on just their second night of the tour. From the opening chords of “Julia,” they sounded just as tight as ever.

Kim Nekroman (Guitar), Horrorpops
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

The band was on a tight schedule because The Nile had to close at midnight, and their set didn’t start until 10:45, which left them only 75 minutes. The time constraints didn’t detract from their set but instead gave it a blazing intensity. Somewhat ironically during “Hit ‘N’ Run” from 2005’s Bring It On!, Day casually dodged a beer can launched at the stage, with her nonchalant dodging being noticed and vocally appreciated by the crowd. Day’s stage presence combines punk-rock bravado with a kind of effortless grace. She took a brief moment to give her own appreciation: “Thank you so much for singing loud and oh-so-fucking proudly!” 

Patricia Day (Vocals, Standup Bass), Horrorpops
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

While Horrorpops has a particular aesthetic that combines elements of goth with classic rockabilly, with a sound that incorporates both in a punk-rock blender, what often gets lost is that their song-writing revisits so many classic themes. Day and Nekroman are married, and many of their songs, as noted by Day, are love songs because even psychobilly punk rockers need love. 

If their songs were about love, the show – and presumably the entire tour – is a love song to performing live. With Paul Roman from the Quakes joining them on guitar and Nekroman taking over bass duties from Day, they launched into crowd favorite “Psycho Bitches Outta Hell,” as they were also joined on stage by Kelly (their merch girl) who did a synchronized dance routine with Day. 

Horrorpops, Kelly (Merch)
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

At this point, time was starting to run out on the night, so the band improvised. “This is the time in the set when we would normally yell ‘Goodnight!’ and leave the stage and make you clap for us so we can come back out and play more songs that we already planned on playing, but we’re on a tight curfew tonight…” The lights were briefly turned out, as the band stayed on stage. The crowd relished the chance to play along with this joke, chanting “One more song!’ before the lights were promptly turned back on. “Alright, we will!” They closed out the night with “Walk Like a Zombie” and “Miss Take.” “We got time for one more song, and then it’s curfew!

They closed their set with “Where I Wander,” took a bow, and exited the stage almost perfectly at midnight. The set may have been a tight 75 minutes, but they gave the crowd everything they had. And their adoring fans, so many who have waited years to finally see them live, gave it right back. Though Horrorpops may be from Denmark, they have a clear love for Phoenix. Hopefully it won’t be another ten years before they return!

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Horrorpops, The Quakes, And Franks & Deans – Nile Theater 2-1-20

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YEAR-END LIST: The Top Ten Albums of 2019, According to Ryan Novak

For 13 years, I worked at a record store. Not only was it the most fun I have ever had at a job, but it also supplied me with a constant flow of new music. Few things could beat the moment when an album would come in from a new artist, and we’d play it in the store. While there were a great many forgettable albums given a chance during those closing shifts, every now and then you hit a glorious moment of paydirt: an incredible album from an emerging artist.

Now, approaching three years removed from my last shift behind the counter and ten years into being a school teacher who is increasingly feeling the generational divide between me and my students (try as I might, I just don’t get their music), it’s harder for me to find new music. Going into 2019, I challenged myself to check out new artists and add some new blood to the usual list of bands that I have loved since college.

1. Purple Mountains:

Purple Mountains

Both a triumphant comeback and tragic swan song, the self-titled debut from David Berman’s post-Silver Jews band Purple Mountains showed that his ten-year hiatus hadn’t caused him to lose a step. As a songwriter, Berman’s greatest gift were always his lyrics. It was nearly impossible to listen to any of his albums, whether the original six Silver Jews albums or the lone Purple Mountains album, and not find a lyric that could cut to the emotional core of the listener. On the eponymously-titled album, Berman reflects on the changes in his life over those ten years, including the separation from his wife and the heartbreak he feels over it. Though several songs deal with his sadness over the separation, the album’s true emotional heartbreaker is “I Loved Being My Mother’s Son,” about the passing of Berman’s mother, with whom he was very close. Though Berman’s own untimely death shortly after the album’s release may hang over it, the work stands on its own as one of the finest of his career. 

Spotify

Standout Tracks: “All My Happiness Is Gone,” “Darkness And Cold,” and “I Loved Being My Mother’s Son”




2. Jenny Lewis:

On the Line

On her fourth solo album, Jenny Lewis has settled into her role as a modern-day torch singer, with songs that would sit perfectly alongside the best work of Carole King, Carly Simon, and Joni Mitchell. A known perfectionist, five years separated On the Line and her previous solo record — 2014’s The Voyager — but the wait was well worth it. 

There is a smokiness and soulfulness to the songs, like wandering into an after-hours bar and hearing someone playing the piano and singing their heart for only themselves to hear. Lewis is at her best when she embraces her troubadour tendencies and eschews the temptation to embrace some of her pop sensibilities. 

The protagonists on her songs are hopeless romantics and daydreamers, and Lewis is the perfect storyteller. Whether it’s her reminiscing about a romance that never quite was on “Heads Gonna Roll” or the poppy dissection of a squandered childhood on “Wasted Youth,” with it’s doo doo doo doo doo doo mid-chorus refrain, she takes the listener on the journey with her, until the truth buried in the emotion is finally reached.  

Spotify

Standout Tracks: “Heads Gonna Roll,” “Wasted Youth,” and “Rabbit Hole” 




3. Dave Hause:

Kick

Since going solo from The Loved Ones, Dave Hause has established himself as punk rock’s all-American singer-songwriter. His music is equal parts early Bruce Springsteen or Tom Petty records mixed with The Replacements. The results of that, though, are uniquely his own. Though his first three albums (2011’s Resolutions, 2013’s Devour, and 2017’s Bury Me in Philly) are all incredible albums in their own right, Kick makes the case for being his most mature album to date. 

Since Bury Me in Philly, Hause has gone through some big life changes, which has led to his growth as a songwriter (he found love, moved west, and became a father to twin boys) and resulted in songs of aching beauty of a life recovered from a period of wandering in the dark. On “Fireflies,” the song’s protagonist thinks back on the beginning of the love of his life and those early days of the relationship when everything was new and exciting, but it’s sung with the tone of someone who remembers those days fondly because they led into the deeper love that’s formed over time, as both partners survive life’s challenges together. Dave Hause has always been in incredible songwriter, but on Kick, he’s finally grown up.

Spotify

Standout Tracks: “Saboteurs,” “The Ditch,” and “Fireflies” 


4. Laura Stevenson:

The Big Freeze

My introduction to New York singer-songwriter Laura Stevenson came via her duet with Matt Pond “The Ballad of Laura and Mike” from the final Matt Pond PA album, 2017’s Still Summer. Though all of her albums impress upon the listener that she is a talent worthy of wider attention, The Big Freeze, released in March, represents a huge step forward sonically. 

Recorded without a proper studio in her childhood home in Long Island, Stevenson’s vocals and guitar are at the forefront, as her lyrics seem to allow her to dissect the pain of her past. To that degree, the album serves as a therapeutic song-cycle, as she processes so much of her life’s experiences as a form of reckoning with where they’ve led her as an adult. “Living Room, NY,” is an ode to someone who is exhausted from travel and being everywhere but a home and longs for nothing more than a simple life. Stevenson has found that from all of life’s struggles, peace is found in the sanctuary of love and a quiet life. 

Spotify

Standout Tracks: “Lay Back, Arms Out,” “Living Room, NY,” and “Dermatillomania” 


5. The Mountain Goats:


In League with Dragons

John Darnielle, the primary songwriter and sole original member of the band, has a way of writing songs that are built around a specific concept (the band’s 2015 album Beat the Champ featured songs about professional wrestling) and yet they are written in a way that the audience can still emotionally connect to the song’s protagonists and their respective struggles. 

On In League with Dragons, inspired by Dungeons and Dragons (and other role-playing games), the band uses the concept of the old wizard to stretch beyond the initial images of Gandalf the Grey to reach anyone who once was magical but has since lost their touch. While four of the songs on the album do connect to the album’s cover art, which looks like it could have been lifted from a dungeon-master’s guide, Darnielle’s wizards range from baseball players (“Doc Gooden,” about the legendary New York Mets’ pitcher, as he remembers his glory days) to mythical rock stars (“Passaic 1975,” sung from the perspective of Ozzy Osborne). 

Musically, as with each subsequent album, Darnielle moves the band farther and farther away from the early albums that leaned heavily on acoustic guitar to produce some of the most lush arrangements on any Mountain Goats album. The message of course is that even the greats lose their touch and fade away and therein lies the heartbreak. 

Spotify

Standout Tracks: “Younger,” Passaic 1975,” and “Doc Gooden”


6. Alex Lahey:

The Best of Luck Club

In the last few years, there seems to be a wave of female singer-songwriters and female-fronted bands that are generating all the excitement. At the forefront of that movement is Australian-born singer-songwriter Alex Lahey. For as incredible as her 2016 EP B-Grade University and 2017 full-length debut I Love You Like a Brother were, she raised the bar for herself with The Best of Luck Club, which proved to be a huge step forward from the already immensely talented Lahey. 

The piano-driven “Unspoken History” features a protagonist making a last-ditch broken-hearted plea for a love to stay; one that is made knowing the person has plans that have nothing to do with them. On an album that almost feels like a thematic song cycle about figuring out your life in your mid-twenties, “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself” stands out as the anthem we all could have used at that time in our lives. The song is also notable for including saxophones, as Lahey starts creatively spreading her wings on the track. With a stellar sophomore album now under her belt, Lahey continues to solidify her position as the songwriter of the moment, as she lives her life out loud. 

Spotify

Standout Tracks: “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself,” “Let’s Go Out,” and “Unspoken History” 




7. New Pornographers:

In the Morse Code of Break Lights

With what may have originally seemed like a one-off side project from its participants with their 2001 debut Mass Romantic, The New Pornographers, a sort of indie rock answer to the Traveling Wilburys, have carried on now for 18 years; producing 8 albums in that span. 

With In the Morse Code of Break Lights, the Candian supergroup continues with their particular brand of power-pop, but with a noticeably darker turn. With Carl Newman now the primary songwriter on all the tracks, the group has embraced what Newman has always done so well, both with the group and on his solo albums: present the sorrow of life through the poppiest of filters. 

On “Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile,” Newman laments, “Too many soapboxes, not enough violins/Too many shipwrecks, not enough sirens”, and you can feel his disappointment in the turn the world is taking where everyone has an opinion but not the motivation for action. Regardless of the darker tone, The New Pornographers are still anchored by Newman’s songwriting and vocalist Neko Case, a once-in-a-generation singer who could sing my spam emails to me with such power and conviction that by the end I’d be compelled to give up my checking account and social security number. That’s a one-two punch few groups can boast. 

Spotify

Standout Tracks: “Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile,” “The Surprise Knock,” and “You’ll Need a New Backseat Driver”




8. Wilco:

Ode to Joy

A band nearing their 25th anniversary, who have released 10 albums in that time, could be forgiven for settling into a place of serving their fan’s expectations to stick to the same old same old. Wilco, on the contrary, has made a career out of defying expectations, avoiding easy categorization, and following their own muse with each album. 

On Ode to Joy, the band is still experimenting and not afraid to take changes, but more than ever, they embrace the quieter moments of life. Perhaps it was from writing his memoir Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) last year, but frontman and principal songwriter Jeff Tweedy seems to be reflecting on his life and enjoying the beauty of it as he grows older. While the lyrics find beauty and reflection on a life lived through pain and struggle, the band, unchanged since 2007’s Sky Blue Sky, has never sounded tighter. Each member is confident and talented enough to know when to let loose on a track and when to reel it in, and they all shine on the album.  

They are capable of letting a song build to a gorgeous crescendo before collapsing onto itself, like the music is imploding, such as on “Quiet Amplifier” and “We Were Lucky.” As the band heads into their 25th anniversary in 2020, they have managed to go from the rowdiness of youth on their debut A.M., to appreciating the quieter moments, even when they are found amongst the chaos of life. 

Spotify

Standout Tracks: “Before Us,” “Everyone Hides,” and “Love is Everywhere (Beware)” 


9. Control Top:

Covert Contracts

I grew up a punk-loving kid, but at a certain point, there was a paradigm shift in punk music and suddenly punk meant something different and became about being funny or cutesy. Punk became more about a style aesthetic than it became about an attitude. That’s what makes Control Top and their debut Cover Contracts so special: it’s a callback to an era of punk long gone but dearly missed. To put it in terms easily digestible, Covert Contracts feels like the best vocal moments of Corin Tucker on early Sleater-Kinney or Kathleen Hanna at the peak of Bikini Kill fronting a Damaged-era Black Flag. Like the best of punk’s bygone era, Control Top has targets for each of its songs. 

On “Office Rage,” the frustrations of the working class expressed through the growing frustration of anyone making it paycheck to paycheck, and the title track locks in on the anger that comes with having too much information in a world where no one wants to do anything with it or about it. On “Betrayal,” they show that no one is exempt from scrutiny and that both sides shoulder some of the blame. Punk may have long ago turned pop, but Control Top’s debut reminds us that we have a lot left to still be pissed off about. 

Spotify

Standout Tracks: “Chain Reaction,” “Type A,” and “Office Rage”




10. Spiral Stairs:

We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized

As the term indie rock continues to evolve and change with each passing year, the heyday of the term seems lost to the history books or at least record guides. One of the era’s last true vanguards, however, has been Pavement founding member Spiral Stairs. After the band broke up in ‘99, Spiral formed a new group (Preston School of Industry) and released two great albums (All This Sounds Gas and Monsoon), but when that chapter came to a close, he finally stepped out on his own and began releasing solo albums that produced his strongest songs to date: The Real Feel and Doris & The Daggers

Like all of his output since the early days of Pavement, Spiral wears his influences proudly, ranging from Echo & The Bunnymen to The Fall to Swell Maps, and his latest effort is no different, save for that it couples those with his position now as an indie rock elder statesmen in our current political landscape on tracks like “Swampland” and “Fingerprintz.” He’s at his best, though, with the psychedelic “Hyp-No-Tized,” the jaunty “The Fool,” and the reflective “Diario.” Therein lies the strength of the album: the songs speak to a time in music long past as a place of comfort in an increasingly polarizing political and social world. 

Spotify

Standout Tracks: “Hyp-No-Tized,” “The Fool,” and “Diario”

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

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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: ‘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

Website | Twitter | Instagram

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REVIEW: Temperatures Rise — Arizonan Summer’s Stylistically Eclectic Debut Album

In the seemingly-bygone-but-dearly-missed era of the cross street of life and music, summertime meant a great many things, but cherished most of all were the words, “I’ll make you a tape.” As mixtapes gave way to mix CDs, which in turn gave way to mp3 playlists and eventually music streaming, the idea of a mixtape seems to have faded from the public consciousness for a while. Perhaps though with the resurgence of cassette tapes (Mutemath and Jenny Lewis, among many, many others have released cassette copies of their latest albums), there is still a place for lost nights of driving around listening to the perfect soundtrack of youth. Therein lies the charm of Alt-rockers Arizonan Summer’s debut album Temperatures Rise, as it instantly brings to mind such memories of late-night drives with friends in a time when you had nowhere important to be and life still lay somewhere far on the horizon as a worry for another day. 

Art of any kind begins with the artist trying his or her best to approximate their heroes before discovering their own voice. The band is fronted by Chris Reiswig, the 22-year-old singer/songwriter behind the Arizona-based band, clearly knows where he comes from, not just in place but in style, as he definitely wears his influences on his sleeve. Arizonan Summer’s bio describes their sound as “Progressive Indie,” but the deeper story of their music can be found in their admission that their sound gravitates towards “Art-Rock, Folk, Post-Punk, Funk and Psychedelia.” All of those influences can be heard on Temperatures Rise, and yet it proves to be so much more than that. Arizonan Summer’s bio describes their sound as “Progressive Indie,” but the deeper story of their music can be found in their admission that their sound gravitates towards “Art-Rock, Folk, Post-Punk, Funk and Psychedelia.” All of those influences can be heard on Temperatures Rise, and yet it proves to be so much more than that. 

In the album’s opening track, the simple acoustic “Aardvarks (Intro),” which recalls early Radiohead albums, you can feel Reiswig’s youth, as the lyrics recall that moment in everyone’s early twenties where they’re not a kid anymore, but also definitely not an adult. He sings of those directionless nights, in the song’s opening lyric “Keep your eyes to the stars/And your ear to the radio/You’ve got to get your kicks however you can/When fighting against this life on loan,” but it’s the song’s next line, from which the album gets its title (“Temperatures rise/it’s just a fact of life”), that comes the reckoning that the inevitabilities of life are coming for all of us, no matter how lost we feel. 

Where “Aardvarks” feels quiet and introspective, “Perpetual Slip” is a shot of early 90’s punk adrenaline. With vocals that recall The Offspring, a soaring guitar solo that feels like moving upwards in a tornado of music, and supported throughout by a rhythm that begins with foot tapping but ends with the urge to pump your fist in the air along with the song. If the opening track is like lighting a fuse, this is the moment when the album soars into the stratosphere and explodes for the listener. 

Chris Reiswig (Lead Vocals, Guitar), Arizonan Summer

While “Perpetual Slip” is the point where the album’s energy skyrockets, it is the third track, the righteous post-punk anti-love ballad “Anhedonia (I‘m Not In Love),” that emerges as Temperatures’ standout. At his age, Reiswig would be forgiven for filling the album with sappy declarations of love, but instead he uses a shredding guitar to share his nearly-exuberant acceptance of the end of a relationship. There’s no moping in the song, and not a hint of regret to be found, as he closes out the song with his pronouncement to the lover he’s leaving behind that he’ll rip them off like Nicorette patch. To whomever inspired this song, sorry, but he didn’t want to be with you, and he clearly couldn’t care less because he’s moving on. 

Displaying the album’s diverse range, “The Fever Age” features grungy guitars, and vocals that bring Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley to mind. The darkly-ambiguous spoken vocals of the song’s bridge creates images of a half-remembered ominous dream. 

Where Reiswig turns up the volume for a love he no longer wants, he turns it down for the heartbreaking “Shimmer” to sing about the love he does want but can’t seem to have. It serves as a bookend to “Anhedonia,” and has the feel of later regret when you realize at an awake-too-late hour that the love you had but didn’t want was what you wanted all along. Moving on in these moments is easier said than done, and Reiswig clearly knows this as he closes the song promising, “I promise you I’m still right here;” this is the last hope a lonely heart has before accepting and getting on with life. 

The coffee-house folk of “Idle Mind” continues the album’s theme of feeling stuck in the middle of indecision. Its simple guitar-strum melody and toe-tapping rhythm makes for a perfect sing-along moment of appreciating being directionless, as long as you’ve got someone with you, since the greatest memories are born not of intricate plans but what can happen when you don’t have anything in mind and let the moments happen. 

While Arizonan Summers may be a showcase for Reiswig’s songwriting, the nearly seven-minute “The Joy of Ulterior Motives,” serves as a showcase for the entire band – guitarist Dylan Ewing, bassist Erin Sperduti, and drummer Kash Filburn. The haunting track, reminiscent of “Mexican Moon”-era Concrete Blonde, sees Reiswig serving a warning to someone who has betrayed him, ending with the parting, “I know that you know pride comes before the fall,” amidst a wall of screeching instruments. 

Arizonan Summer

The album’s closer, the aptly named “This Must Be the End” begins with the image of an aimless drive on a full tank of gas. For an album that feels like the perfect mixtape for such a drive, this song has a shrug of acceptance that there are no sure things in life, and sometimes we aren’t guaranteed the happy ending we’re hoping for, but that’s okay. 

Chris Reiswig (Lead Vocals, Guitar), Arizonan Summer

With Temperatures Rise, Chris Reiswig and his talented band have positioned themselves as more than homegrown talents, and the album isn’t just some local kids giving it a go for the first time. No, this is an album that defies expectations by never settling into anything easy or overly sentimental. It is an album that lives on that cusp of life between being young and being old. It’s in the moments where we crash and burn, tell an unwanted love to get out, feel lonely when we realize it was a mistake, bond over the meaninglessness of it all, and finally accept our fate, turn up the radio, and drive off into the unknown horizon of our futures.

Buy & Stream Temperatures Rise

Amazon | Spotify | Google Play
Apple Music | CD Baby

Temperatures Rise Tracklist

  • Aardvarks – Intro
  • Perpetual Slip
  • Anhedonia (I’m Not In Love)
  • The Fever Age 
  • Shimmer
  • Paper Trails
  • Travel Sequence
  • Idle Mind
  • The Joy of Ulterior Motives
  • This Must Be The End

Arizonan Summer Online:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube



REVIEW: Bad Religion Brings Their Age of Unreason Tour to The Van Buren (10-5-19)

PHOENIX — Bad Religion’s concert at The Van Buren, with support from Emily Davis and The Murder Police and Dave Hause & The Mermaid, was more than just a legendary punk band giving a show at an intimate venue in support of a new album. It was a night where their legacy was felt not only in the crowd but on the stage, too.

Their recent tour is in support of the band’s 17th album, Age of Unreason, released earlier this year. The reason for the band’s longevity is that from their initial formation in 1980 and first release, 1982’s How Could Hell Be Any Worse?, they have stayed true to their ethos and written righteous punk anthems exploring many of the same themes recurring in our society across those 39 years. Any doubt of their staying power could be quickly dismissed with a quick sweep of the audience, where longtime fans of the band loudly sang along and pumped their fists in the air, alongside kids ranging from teenagers and younger. At one point, a father hoisted his daughter up on his shoulders, so she could rock out hard to “Generator” late in the set. 

Emily Davis and The Murder Police

The show’s opener was Emily Davis with her backing band The Murder Police, consisting of Jose Macias, Jorge Torres, and Tomas Tinajero. Davis has three previous solo releases, and is touring in support of her debut album with the band, 2018’s Same Old World. Hailing from El Paso Texas, Davis managed to flip the initial impressions given off by the country-ish twang of her vocals, as the songs would quickly explode into all out rockers. Davis describes her songs as “aggressive, introspective folk music,” which could be heard as she and her band tore through seven tracks from the new album with an intensity reminiscent of Neko Case fronting The Attractions, in place of Elvis Costello.

Emily Davis (Vocals) and The Murder Police
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
View Photo Album

Late in her set, she told the concertgoers what an honor it was to be touring with Bad Religion, adding that her introduction to them came via Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, which means “You” from their 1989 album No Control was her introduction to the band. She closed out her set with “Circles” and the album’s title track “Same Old World.” 

Dave Hause and The Mermaid

Up next was Dave Hause and The Mermaid, and if anyone didn’t already know his music (and you should), they might have been fooled by their sound from his quick soundcheck with his band, consisting of short bursts of riffs from songs by Lynyrd Skynyrd and Metallica, which drew some surprising whoops of approval from the punk crowd. When Hause (pronounced like pause or cause, for the record) and the band came back out to start their set proper, he took a moment to joke with the audience that despite their appreciation for the soundcheck, they wouldn’t be hearing covers from either band. “For the rest of the night, you’ll only be hearing songs by me and Bad Religion because this is a punk show!” The crowd roared in approval (although that didn’t stop someone from yelling out for Metallica mid-set). 

Dave Hause (Vocals) & The Mermaid
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
View Photo Album

Hause and his band are touring to support of Kick, his fourth solo album since leaving his previous band The Loved Ones in 2009. His set drew heavily from the new album, save for one track from 2017’s Bury Me In Philly. Prior to forming his backing band The Mermaid, Hause performed most of his shows solo with a guitar, bantering with the audience between songs. Since forming The Mermaid, the sound is louder, but the impromptu moments of interactions with the fans have remained.

The band features Hause´s brother Tim on lead guitar, Miles Bentley (the son of Bad Religion bassist Jay Bentley) on bass, and Kevin Conroy on drums. His stellar song-writing aside, Hause shines when it comes to instantly generating a rapport with his audience. Even when he encouraged everyone to put up a middle finger and direct it towards a particular politician in Washington, and an audience member booed the moment, Hause turned the moment around to something light: “Oh, do you not agree with me? That’s okay. We’re not always going to agree, so go start your own band and write songs about why you think he’s so awesome.” The crowd (including the person who booed) laughed, and Hause tore into “Dirty Fucker.” Hause closed out his set with Kick highlight “The Ditch.” He’ll be back to Phoenix to headline in February. 

Bad Religion

Any band that’s approaching their 40th anniversary would be excused if their live shows were a serving of pure nostalgia and built a set list around the songs the audience loved from years ago. While Bad Religion managed to cover points all along their discography, what stands out the most about one of their live shows is how prescient the songs feel, with thirty-year-old songs feeling like they were a three-minute prophecy of events yet to happen. All of this is because as a band, Bad Religion has railed against the same ills of society since the band’s inception. 

Led to the stage first by drummer Jamie Miller and guitarists Brian Baker and Mike Dimkich, original members bassist Jay Bentley and singer Greg Graffin came out last. Without a word, the band launched into “Them and Us” from 96’s The Grey Race. The song hit the room like an atomic bomb and sent everyone into a frenzy of moshing and crowd surfing. Security guards at The Van Buren earned their checks over the next ninety minutes, as they caught, set down, and guided out multiple people. 

Greg Graffin (Vocals), Bad Religion
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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We put out a new record this year, Age of Unreason,” Graffin exclaimed after “Them and Us” faded out,  “which is #17 for those of you who are counting, and we just wanted to get back to play for you before the end of history,” setting up a track from the new album. 

“End of History” was followed up by the to-the-point “Fuck You,” from 2013’s True North. Graffin complimented The Van Buren for being the perfect rock club. “How many of you have been to a lot of shows here before?” he asked. With everyone yelling out the number of shows they’ve seen, he joked, “Well, this will be the best one you’ve ever seen here!” This was followed by “Stranger Than Fiction,” the title track from their 1994 album, which in itself laughs at the absurdity of the real world. 

They next performed “Dichotomy,” “Recipe for Hate,” and “Chaos From Within,” before Graffin paused again to survey the sea of people, noticing the range of ages staring back at him. Spotting one kid in the audience, he asked how old they were, but after being told the kid was 12 and starting to say that has to be the youngest one, another kid called out she was only nine. Laughing for a moment, Graffin said, “Well, I’ve always said it’s the kids who are our future,” which might have been a double entendre, referring to either society or the band. The show’s next fifteen minutes was a sprint through the band’s catalogue, covering songs from 1989’s No Control through the recently-released Age of Unreason.

Mike Dimkich (Guitar) & Jay Bentley (Bass), Bad Religion
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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To watch a Bad Religion show, you wouldn’t instantly know how long they’ve been playing together, as they bring the same energy to every song now as punk-rock elder statesman, as they did as kids starting out. Pausing after “Automatic Man,” Graffin looked around and asked the crowd where he was. “Oh yeah, that’s right: Phoenix! No matter where we all are, this is still the new dark ages,” as they played “New Dark Ages” from 2007’s New Maps of Hell, an album whose cover art and title served as a knowing nod to their first album How Could Hell Be Any Worse?, on its then-25th anniversary. 

Taking a jab at himself, Graffin mused that he was born in the 1980’s and was only two when he wrote the next song. Guitarist Brian Baker chimed in that he was born in 1981. The song was the timeless “We’re Only Gonna Die,” from that first album, a song that shows no signs of being a now 37-year old song. It was quickly followed by “No Control,” which reignited the crowd. “Generator” and “Conquer the World” were played with the same fervor as when they were new releases.

While playing “21st Century (Digital Boy)” from their 1990 album Against the Grain, there was a moment that showed just how much their music has connected to everyone in the grade, both young and old: As the crowd sang along, a kid no more than 15 crowd surfed while screaming the lyrics “I don’t know how to read, but I got a lot of toys!” like the song was written only for him and his generation, even as he passed over the heads of men and women easily three times his age who sang it with the same energy. Bad Religion is still here because their music doesn’t age. There’s no nostalgia in their set. Songs from their debut all the way through the new album live in the moment, just as each member of the audience experienced them the first time. 

Brian Baker (Guitar, Backup Vox), Bad Religion
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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We’ve reached the climax of the show, and after you’ve reached the climax, you move into a refractory period. In this moment, we want to dedicate this next song to our favorite people: You!” After the No Control classic and “Paranoid Style,” Graffin told a story about their first album: “Back in the 80’s there wasn’t a whole lot of color choices, so we chose red with the shadowy figure of Los Angeles in the background, and we asked a simple question: How could hell be any worse?” The band’s original anthem led into “Sorrow” from 2002’s The Process of Belief, which was another sing-along across the generations in the crowd. As the song closed out, each member walked off the stage one-by-one, led by Graffin. 

For the next two minutes, the fans cheered, clapped, and called out for one more song, before the band emerged for an encore. “I could get all sentimental about Phoenix,” said Graffin, “It was the second city we ever went to play a show. This song is about you and me.” The band closed out the show with “Infected” from Stranger Than Fiction, and “American Jesus” from Recipe for Hate. Before leaving the stage, they took one final moment to acknowledge the audience, pulling up their set lists and giving them to the kids in the crowd, and solidifying the next wave of fans who will continue to carry them on as a band who defies time and continues to produce powerful, relevant music that unites fans of all ages. 

Bad Religion will return to Arizona on March 28, 2020
with Alkaline Trio at Marquee Theatre.

Tickets

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Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo

View Separately: Bad Religion | Dave Hause & The Mermaid | Emily Davis and The Murder Police

Bad Religion, Dave Hause & The Mermaid, Emily Davis And The Murder Police – The Van Buren 10-5-19

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Bad Religion Setlist

  • “Them And Us”
  • “End of History” 
  • “Fuck You” 
  • “Stranger Than Fiction” 
  • “Dichotomy” 
  • “Recipe” 
  • “Chaos From Within” 
  • “Los Angeles Is Burning” 
  • “Anesthesia” 
  • “My Sanity”
  • “Automatic Man” 
  • “New Dark Ages” 
  • “Lose Your Head” 
  • “Suffer” 
  • “Only Gonna Die” 
  • “No Control”
  • “Modern Man”
  • “Do What You Want” 
  • “Generator”
  • “Conquer the World”
  • “21st Century (Digital Boy)”
  • “You” 
  • “Paranoid Style”
  • “Fuck Armaggedon”
  • “Sorrow”  

ENCORE

  • “Infected”
  • “American Jesus”

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Photography © Reagle Photography
All Rights Reserved



REVIEW: Toto’s “40 Trips Around the Sun” Takes Them to Circle Inside Celebrity Theatre (9-21-19)

PHOENIX — Toto’s “40 Trips Around the Sun” world tour in support of last year’s eponymous greatest hits collection, and in celebration of their milestone 40th anniversary, came to the Celebrity Theatre. The theatre’s circular structure with its round center stage means there’s not a bad seat in the house, with every spot offering a close vantage point. This was perfect for the night’s show because it removed the feeling of barriers from the fans who so love a band that so clearly loves their fans in return. 

Joseph Williams (Lead Vocals), Toto
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Before the show started, the audience was promised that it was going to be two hours long, “with no opening act and no intermission,” and that we wouldn’t want to miss a minute — practically an understatement for the night to come. This tour has been a well-earned victory lap for Toto. The audience was not only filled with long-time fans, but also with younger fans who were new to the band; finding them through an occurrence of events starting just as they were making plans for the then-upcoming release and tour. 

Toto’s signature song, and most enduring hit, “Africa” features one of pop music’s greatest hooks: “I bless the rains down in Africa.” A perfect storm occurred on the cusp of Toto’s 40th anniversary that reignited them, restored their proper place in popular culture, and reminded everyone exactly how incredible of a band they have always been. In December of 2017, nearly two months to the day before Toto would release their career-spanning greatest hits collection, a young Weezer fan began tweeting the band asking them to cover Toto’s “Africa.” When Weezer finally relented and performed the song on Jimmy Kimmel Live, with a guest appearance from Toto keyboardist Steve Porcaro, a new generation of fans flocked to Toto to discover what so many of us already knew: Toto is one of pop music’s most consistent bands, churning out catchy, crowd-pleasing songs for 40 years. 

As soon as Toto emerged on the ramp and took their spots at their instruments at 8 o’clock, the energy they brought to the round stage in the center of the theatre was palpable. The show’s opening number was “Devil’s Tower,” a previously unreleased gem originally recorded during the sessions for Toto IV but left off. It felt fresh and immediately energized the crowd that was ready to pop in anticipation of Toto’s arrival.

Toto
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

The second song of the set, “Hold the Line,” from their self-titled debut, brought the crowd to their feet for the first of many times in the night. It was during this moment that the stage began to rotate, as they played through a rolling wave of audience members singing the chorus of “Hold the line, love isn’t always on time.” What made this moment truly special was to see the fans in attendance who had been with the band for all 40 of those trips around the sun, singing the song alongside their own children, who are new converts. 

Band Lineup:

  • Joseph Williams:
    Lead Vocals
  • Steve Lukather:
    Guitar and Vocals
  • Steve Porcaro:
    Keyboards
  • Lenny Castro:
    Percussion
  • Warren Ham:
    Saxophone, Harmonica, and Flute
  • Shannon Forrest:
    Drums
  • Shem von Schroeck:
    Bass
  • Dominique “Xavier” Taplin:
    Keyboards

Keeping with the tour’s mission statement, Toto’s setlist was a journey through their history with stops at every album along the way. “Lovers in the Night,” from their 1982 landmark album Toto IV, was followed by the brand new track “Alone” from last year’s greatest hits collection; a song whose foot-tapping rhythm seated it firmly alongside so many of their classic songs. 

After runs through “I Will Remember” from 95’s Tambu and “English Eyes” from 81’s Turn Back, they cut loose on the extended bluesy jam of “Jack to the Bone” from 92’s Kingdom Of Desire. With the crowd energized, and the musicians clearly having a good time on stage, they next went into “Rosanna,” also from Toto IV, and arguably Toto’s second biggest hit. With the stage turning, and the crowd rocking, singer Joseph Williams made stops with each part of the crowd to let them have their moment to sing the infectious chorus “Meet you all the way, meet you all the way, Rosanna, yeah.” They kept the song going well past its album length, so that everyone had a chance to have their moment with the band. 

Joseph Williams (Lead Vocals), Toto
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

As “Rosanna” closed out, chairs were brought out on stage, and the show took an intimate turn, as members told stories of the origins of a couple of the songs, in a style reminiscent of VH1’s classic series Storytellers. Founding member Steve Lukather told the story of keyboard player David Paich writing “Georgy Porgy,” and though Lukather at first thought the song was a little silly, it ended up being the first vocal he recorded for Toto and one of the staples of their live shows ever since. 

Next, keyboardist Porcaro told the story of picking his daughter up from school, on the same day Toto was recording “Africa,” and she was crying because a boy had pushed her off the slide. As he drove her home, she asked him repeatedly through her tears, “Why?,” and though he tried his best to explain to her that the boy probably liked her, she kept asking “Why?” By the time he dropped her off and got back to the studio, her question of “Why?” had given way to a chorus of, “Why? Why? It’s only human nature,” and would turn into the song “Human Nature” written by Porcaro and performed by Michael Jackson on his album Thriller. On this night, they played a lush rendition of the song, with Porcaro singing the words inspired by his heartbroken daughter. 

Dominique “Xavier” Taplin (Keys), Warren Ham (Vox), Shem von Schroeck (Bass), Steve Lukather (Guitar), Steve Porcaro (Keys); Toto
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

At this point, the chairs went away, and the musicians ran through the thematically-linked 1-2-3 punch of “I’ll Be Over You,” “No Love,” and “Stop Loving You,” before all members briefly left the stage. Meanwhile, touring keyboard player Dominique “Xavier” Taplin, filling in for original member David Paich, played what initially felt like a piano interlude but gave way to a longer, beautiful arrangement that left the crowd in awe. Taplin had previously played in Prince’s last touring band and this solo piano performance made it evident why Prince had enlisted his talents. 

“Lion” from 1981’s Isolation was followed by a brief story of writing music for the David Lynch film Dune and trying to make the music sound “as David Lynchian” as they could. The ensuing performance of “Dune (Desert Theme”), so fitting for Arizona’s own dry landscape, showed the song was vintage Toto, even if they were trying to make it sound Lynchian. Lukather talked briefly of their 2002 album Through the Looking Glass, a collection of cover songs by artists that had either influenced the band early on or of whom they were fans. Identifying George Harrison as both his first guitar hero and later his friend, Lukather led them in a cover of The White Album classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” that both paid loving tribute and also featured some Toto flourishes, including Lukather adding an extended guitar solo to the end of the song. 

Steve Lukather (Guitar, Vocals), Toto
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

After playing “Make Believe,” them gave the crowd the moment they wanted: “Africa.” It should be noted here that song’s reputation is well-earned, as it is indeed truly a pop masterpiece. On a night where it was obvious how much fun Toto was having on the tour, this was the moment you could tell they relished the most. The performance was note-perfect, and set up the final moment of goodwill and love between a band and their audience, as they turned the singing over, giving the crowd one more chance to come together and show their love for Toto. With everyone on their feet, singing and dancing, Toto played on but stepped back from their mics, and the audience took the final chorus. One by one, the founding members left the stage, leaving the touring members to keep the groove going, while the crowd sang on. Percussionist Lenny Castro, who has played with Toto from their early days, took the lead on congas to accompany the crowd. 

Lenny Castro (Drums), Toto
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

When Toto returned to the stage for the encore, a rollicking performance of “Home of the Brave” from a 1988’s The Seventh One, the end of the show and the band’s choice for a closer felt like a parting piece of advice to the crowd. Just as Toto has made their 40 trips around the sun, staying true to the ethos they established for themselves on trip number one in 1978, this moment was a reminder to all to keep themselves moving forward with each of their trips, and that we are in charge of our future and our fate with the show’s final lyrics: “You gotta remember, you don’t have to be afraid. You still have the freedom to learn and say what you wanna say. You gotta remember, don’t let ’em take away the land we call the home of the brave.

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Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo

Toto – Celebrity Theatre 9-21-19

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Setlist:

  • “Devil’s Tower”
  • “Hold the Line”
  • “Lovers in the Night”
  • “Alone”
  • “I Will Remember”
  • “English Eyes”
  • “Jack to the Bone”
  • “Roseanna”
  • “Georgie Porgy”
  • “Human Nature” (Michael Jackson cover)
  • “I’ll Be Over You”
  • “No Love”
  • “Stop Loving You”
  • “Goodbye Girl”
  • “Lion”
  • “Dune (Desert Theme)”
  • “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (Beatles cover)
  • “Make Believe”
  • “Africa”
  • ENCORE
  • “Home of the Brave”

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Band Lineup:

  • Joseph Williams: Lead Vocals
  • Steve Lukather: Guitar and Vocals
  • Steve Porcaro: Keyboards
  • Lenny Castro: Percussion
  • Warren Ham: Saxophone, Harmonica, and Flute
  • Shannon Forrest: Drums
  • Shem von Schroeck: Bass
  • Dominique “Xavier” Taplin: Keyboards

Photography © Reagle Photography
All Rights Reserved