All posts by Ryan Novak

High School Teacher at Hamilton High School 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: Ben Folds Creates More Beautiful Moments with Tall Heights for Die-Hard Fans in Mesa (8-15-23)

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Mesa, AZ — In the moments before the start of Ben Folds’ performance at the Mesa Arts Center with support from Tall Heights, the line for the merch table stretched back through Ikeda Theatre’s lobby and out the door. As the audience poured in for the evening’s show, so many eras of Ben Folds’ career was present across t-shirts, some clearly dating back the 28 years of his career (one attendee was sporting an early Ben Folds Five t-shirt that was surely coveted by many of the long-time fans). Special shoutout to the Ben Folds glasses-cleaning set, the most audience-specific piece of merch sold, this side of Taylor Swift friendship bracelets and Cypress Hill rolling papers. Throughout the entryway, die-hard fans shared memories of their favorite Ben Folds show, detailing their favorite moments. 

Tall Heights

Tall Heights
Tall Heights with touring member Paul Dumas (Drummer)
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Boston’s Tall Heights pulled double duty, serving as both the opener for Folds and also as a part of his backing band. The two-piece group, consisting of guitarist Tim Harrington and cellist Paul Wright, has been building a steady following since their 2009 debut album on the strength of their gorgeous melodies and the duo’s lush harmonies. They opened their set with “Back to Autumn” and “Murmuring State” before introducing themselves to the crowd and making note of the delicious empanadas they’d eaten that day – presumably at downtown Mesa’s gem Republica Empanada less than half a mile away from the venue. 

Paul Wright of Tall Heights
Paul Wright (Singer, Cellist), Tall Heights
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

The duo covered Blink-182’s “Dammit” – a captivatingly ethereal rendition that surprised, amused, and delighted the audience. They released their reimagined version of this song in 2022. After playing “Only,” the duo talked about getting to tour with Folds and how they were recruited by him to play on his latest album, which in turn inspired them to get to work on their own new album.

Tim Harrington of Tall Heights
Tim Harrington (Singer, Guitarist), Tall Heights
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

They then debuted a brand-new song “Still Feel the Same,” so new in fact that they had the lyrics printed and out on stage with them. When the crowd immediately embraced the song and gave it a long round of applause after, Harrington laughed and said “you are so sweet. I was shitting my pants the whole time, and it was not because of the empanadas!” 

Tall Heights
Tall Heights
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

After a haunting rendition of their “Spirit Cold,” Harrington implored the crowd, since “Still Feel the Same” was so new, “If you took a video of the song, don’t post it on social media, and you already have… you know what? Fuck it. We’re not famous enough for anyone to care if something gets leaked early.” They closed their set with a completely unplugged, standing performance of “To Be Young.” 

Ben Folds

Ben Folds with touring band, including Tall Heights
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

For being such an incredibly dynamic performer, Folds is so humble and gracious in between. Even his arrival on stage came with a brief pause at the front of the stage for a quick smile and nod before he went to his piano, and opened his show with “Exhausting Lover,” “Winslow Gardens,” and “Clouds With Ellipses” from his new record What Matters Most (his set would feature eight of the album’s ten songs), all of which sounded great. The new album is a must for those who don’t already have it. 

Ben Folds
Ben Folds
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

After “Losing Lisa” off of Rockin’ the Suburbs, Folds shared with the crowd that during the pandemic he had an online song-writing course he taught and that one assignment involved students in the class using headlines to inspire songs. He himself got two songs out of it: “Fragile” (inspired by a story of a would-be burglar who was caught by the family, started to cry, and then gave them $200 before quickly leaving their home) and “Kristine from the Seventh Grade” (drawn from an article by a woman explaining why she wouldn’t remove her shoes in homes that ask you to remove shoes). “This is funny,” he added before starting the song, “but I put it in a minor key.” Indeed, it was amusing, eliciting laughter throughout, as it told the tale of a former school friend. She had given herself over to online conspiracy theories and near-constant anger at the world.

Ben Folds
Ben Folds
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

One of the reasons why Ben Folds’ fans are so loyal is in part because of his incredible song writing. While his songs can be many things: funny and sad, uplifting and sorrowful, heartwarming and heartbreaking, they are all deeply rooted in an unmistakable humanity. Though we may at times laugh at his protagonists, be they him, a surrogate, or a character he’s created, it is in response to something we can all connect to and understand.

Ben Folds
Ben Folds
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

“Still Fighting It,” a song written about his son Louis, has been a live-show staple for years and always a highlight. I mean, who of any age can’t relate to the line: “Everybody knows it sucks to grow up”? “What Matters Most,” the title track from the new album, and “Landed” both deal with missing friends, whether from death or confusing estrangement. These songs were performed back-to-back, making for a poignant one-two punch.

Ben Folds with touring band, including Tall Heights
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

“If you know Regina’s parts, go ahead and sing along,” prompted Folds before playing “You Don’t Know Me,” his duet with Regina Spektor from Way To Normal. The audience took Folds’ cue and responded majestically. One of the hallmarks of any Ben Folds show is audience participation. For a time after the release of Rockin’ the Suburbs, his first album away from Ben Folds Five, he embarked on a solo tour that featured only him and a piano each night. He made the audience a part of the show, directing them to add harmonies or, in the case of “Army,” stand in for the trumpet and trombone parts.

Ben Folds
Ben Folds
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

As Folds and the band arrived at the first instance of Spektor’s vocals, it clearly surprised and delighted Folds to hear her parts sung so loudly and enthusiastically from all corners of the Mesa Arts Center, even briefly stopping the song at one point to express how much it pleased him. “How cool is that?!” he marveled. Following a spirited run through of Way To Normal’s “Effington,” Folds ran the audience through a quick three-part harmony rehearsal to accompany the performance of “Not the Same” — Folds’ ballad of a high school friend who dropped acid at a party and climbed up into a tree where he stayed all night before climbing down the next morning and promptly becoming a born-again Christian. Throughout the song, Folds stood, playing many of the parts one-handed so he could keep his right hand free to direct the audience through the harmonies. For a song that is somewhat somber in tone, it managed to be one of the evening’s highlights, especially as a scan of the audience revealed universal expressions of glee. 

Ben Folds
Ben Folds
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

As Folds began to set up “Moments,” the final track on the new album and what would be the pre-encore closer, an audience member called out “Rock This Bitch,” Folds’ long-running live show staple improvised song. Folds obliged the request, playing an Arizona-specific version of the song and once more assigning the audience vocal parts. Folds came back out and performed “Annie Waits” solo (eventually joined by Tall Heights, who added some of their incredible harmonies at the tailend of the song). They followed with full-band runs through “Still” and “Zak and Sara”. 

Ben Folds
Ben Folds
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

“Moments” was the evening’s pinnacle. It was, after all, a night about living in the moment, being present for life. As the lyrics go “We try to hold these moments as they glow/We’ll breathe them in and then we’ll let them go.”

Ultimately, it is these moments — shared moments with strangers — that are what matter most (yeah, that’s right, I worked in TWO references to Folds’ stellar new album in one sentence). There is something so real, so uplifting, and ultimately something so life affirming about a Ben Folds concert that it should never be missed. Despite arriving as strangers and departing as strangers, a Ben Folds audience in between is a community drawn into the experience, singing along to every word, providing harmonies, laughing, crying, and being present. We held in the moments like one of life’s most precious breaths before letting it go into the night, a community forever but strangers once more.

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Photographer: Katherine Amy Vega

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Ben Folds & Tall Heights – Mesa Arts Center 8-15-23

Photography © Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design
All Rights Reserved.

REVIEW: Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band — a Memorable Evening of Rock ‘N’ Roll Intimacy at Celebrity Theatre (5-20-23)

PHOENIX — Thinking of the history of popular music, especially rock ‘n’ roll history, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of people who were “there.” Every legendary artist started small, as even the biggest artists of all time had those early shows before it all blew up, and inexplicably there were people — average everyday people — who were lucky enough to be “there” to see those struggling performers before they turned into superstars.  

Still walking around are those who saw Elvis play local shows in Memphis, Bob Dylan play coffee houses in New York or, most mind-blowing of all to me, The Beatles play The Cavern Club in Liverpool. For the rest of us, those artists existed bigger than life, playing the biggest stages in the world. Unless you were one of those lucky individuals in The Cavern Club, or The Star Club in Hamburg, they only existed as mega stars, playing the biggest venues the 60’s had to offer. 

We would never get as close or as intimate as those lucky individuals who were there for those early days before they were legends, that is unless you were lucky enough to catch Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band at Celebrity Theatre on one of two nights at their Phoenix stop on the tour. The Celebrity Theatre is a rare wonder that has no such thing as a “bad seat,” with its smaller intimate setting in the round with a rotating stage dead-center. It is certainly the most up-close anyone is likely to get to any of these legends since they first began their careers in bars and small clubs. 

Celebrity Theatre’s illuminated sign welcoming concertgoers to the sold out Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band show on 5-20-23
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band

The “All-Starr Band” concept was originally conceived in 1989 by Ringo, with the idea that he would put together a band, not just of professional hired guns to help him perform many of his hits across his storied career from The Beatles to his many incredible solo records, but instead pack the band with fellow legendary performers who also had a bottomless well of hits from which to pull. 

Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band
Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band
| Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Over the years, the Ringo’s All-Starr Band has included members of The Band, Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band, The Eagles, The Who, Dr. John, Todd Rundgren, Peter Frampton, and the “fifth Beatle” Mr. Billy Preston. This, the 15th iteration of Ringo’s All-Starr Band, included Edgar Winter, Hamish Staurt from Average White Band, Steve Lukather from Toto, and Colin Hay from Men at Work. The band is rounded out with Warren Ham who has played with Kansas and Toto (nice pairing) on saxophone, flute, and keyboards and Gregg Bissonette, who has played with seemingly everyone (seriously, look him up) on all things percussion. 

Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band
| Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

What of course makes the All-Starr Band so fun is that any given member could step up to the microphone and have enough hits at their disposal to play the show all by themselves. All of this results in a kind of jamboree of fun, as members take turns stepping into the spotlight for a song, only to then pass the spotlight to the next member, as the show rotates around the already rotating stage (if you’ve never been to the Celebrity Theatre, you need to get there for a show). 

Steve Lukather, Warren Ham, Ringo Starr
Steve Lukather, Warren Ham, & Ringo Starr
| Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Ringo opened the show with a raucous cover of Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox,” a staple of The Beatles early live shows and later showing up as a single off of the Long Tall Sally EP. It was followed by “It Don’t Come Easy,” arguably Ringo’s most soulful vocal performance from his solo records. After blazing through “What Goes On” from The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, Ringo seceded the spotlight and moved to the drums. 

Ringo Starr (Vocalist, Drummer)
| Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

This began what makes the All-Starr Band concept so much fun every time: each performer taking turns stepping up to the microphone to perform one of their own hits. Leading off was Edgar Winter who played his now 51-year-old hit “Free Ride,” which sounded as fresh and fun that night as it did the first time any of us played it in our cars with the windows down and the volume up.

Edgar Winter
Edgar Winter (Vocalist, Keyboardist)
| Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

This was followed by Steve Lukather leading the band through “Roseanna,” with the crowd spiritedly singing along and pumping their fist in time with the chord changes, Hamish Stuart playing a ripping version of Average White Band’s “Pick Up the Pieces,” and Colin Hay taking the band through an extended version of Men At Work’s hit “Down Under” that included a fun call-and-respond with the crowd. “I wrote this song in forty minutes, and it’s sustained me for forty years,” he told the crowd prior to starting the song. 

Steve Lukather
Steve Lukather (Vocalist, Guitarist)
| Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

At that time, Ringo returned from behind the drum kit for a run through of “Boys,” his first vocal performance on The Beatles first album Please, Please Me, “I’m the Greatest” from Ringo (a song written for him by John Lennon), and “Yellow Submarine,” which a quick scan of the theatre revealed that every generation of fan in attendance — from those who were there from the start with The Beatles to little kids who have since grown up with the band through their parents and grandparents love for them — was joyfully and exuberantly singing along. Following this, as the crowd was still on their feet, cheering and clapping, Ringo waved to the audience and left the stage. “Don’t worry. He’ll be back,” Edgar Winter playfully reassured the crowd. 

Ringo Starr (Vocalist, Drummer)
| Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

With Ringo gone, the band performed Average White Band’s “Cut the Cake,” the title track from their third album. “I’m going to hand it over to Edgar Winter now to unleash the beast,” he said at the song’s closing. Winter’s performance of instrumental classic “Frankenstein” allowed the band to have fun on what turned out to be a jam session that impressively highlighted the drumming skills of Gregg Bissonette. Throughout the song, which stretched to nearly ten minutes, Bissonette worked in drum breaks that steered the song into a range of hits by other artists, including “Come Together” by The Beatles, “Rock ‘N’ Roll” by Led Zeppelin, and appropriately enough, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” — the seventeen-minute Iron Butterfly classic in which the recognizable drumming comes during the lengthy instrumental break in the song. By the end of the jam, Bissonette, very deservedly, got one of the biggest pops from the crowd. 

Gregg Bissonette
Gregg Bissonette (Drummer)
| Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Ringo returned to the stage, and before going into “Octopus’s Garden” (rivaling “Yellow Submarine” for one of the most crowd-pleasing moments of the night), he introduced each member of the band, heaping praise on them as he did. It was followed by his solo hit “Back Off Boogaloo.” Next up was Colin Hay to perform Men at Work’s ode to anxiety “Overkill.”

Colin Hay (Vocalist, Guitarist)
| Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Every song we’ve played tonight is one you know, but I’d like to debut my 30-minute jazz odyssey,” Steve Lukather joked with the crowd, adding, “If you get really stoned first, you might just get into it,” before launching into “Africa” — Toto’s mega-smash that will live on for generations to come. The performance featured some incredible backing vocals from Colin Hay. 

Ringo Starr (Vocalist, Drummer)
| Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

After going one more round with each performer, including Hamish Stuart with the Isley Brothers’ “Work to Do,” and Ringo playing The Beatles’ “I Wanna Be Your Man.” Edgar Winter took a moment to pay tribute to his brother Johnny Winter before playing “Johnny B. Goode,” a song the brothers used to play together growing up, as they each first learned to play the guitar. It was immediately followed by Colin Hay playing “Who Can It Be Now?” and Steve Lukather on Toto’s  “Hold the Line.”

Hamish Stuart (Vocalist, Bassist) with Colin Hay and Edgar Winter
| Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

The evening closed as it began, with the tour’s namesake Ringo Starr on vocals for his solo classic “Photograph,” the Johnny Russell hit “Act Naturally”, made famous by Buck Owens and even more famous by The Beatles version on Help!, and finally and very fittingly given the vibe of the tour and the mutual respect and camaraderie amongst the performers, they closed the evening “With a Little Help From My Friends.” As the song came to a close, they shifted to a cover of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” to send the crowd home happy, still singing along in their own acapella as they exited the Celebrity Theatre and out into the warm Phoenix night.

Ringo Starr
Ringo Starr (Vocalist, Drummer)
| Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

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Photographer: Mark Greenawalt

Ringo Starr & His All-Star Band – Celebrity Theatre 5-20-23

Photography © Mark Greenawalt.
All Rights Reserved

REVIEW: Taylor Swift Kicks Off Hotly-Anticipated Eras Tour at State Farm Stadium (03-17-23)

Glendale Swift City, AZ — In the five years since her last tour, Taylor Swift has released four albums and, according to her banter during the show, six re-recorded albums, with Red and Fearless already released and the remaining four presumably forthcoming. Her tour kick off at State Farm Stadium, with support from Paramore and Gayle, wasn’t just a concert but an immersive experience. Is there any other artist whose opening night would have Variety posting song-by-song tour updates on Twitter?

It is hard to put this in perspective, but think of the biggest artist you can and they arguably could not touch the massive scale and grandeur of this show. To put it more directly, Taylor Swift is the biggest artist in the world right now. No one can touch where she is at this point in her career. While it was a night celebrating the various eras of her career, Swift spent the night honoring her massive fan base, using wristbands given to everyone in attendance to not only light up every corner of the show, but to put a mini spotlight on every one of her fans. 

Gayle

Take a moment and remember where you were or consider where you’ll be at 18. If you’re Nashville-by-way-of-Plano, Texas singer Gayle, you are stepping out onto a massive stage, both literal and figurative, in front of 70,000 people on the opening night of the most highly anticipated tour in several years – perhaps decades – and performing with a confidence that artists a decade older only wish they could possess. She opened with the punk-beat driven “Everybody Hates Me,” and her set covered the various singles she’s released since 2020 and included a blistering cover of Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.” She closed her set with her latest single, the anthemic “abcdefu.” Mark it down now: Gayle is going to be huge some day. Her set was nothing but a preview of that because while she may have been opening the show last night, someday that stage will be hers. 

Paramore

To scan the dates on this tour, across the board, Swift has a murder’s row of openers, including Haim, Phoebe Bridgers, Beabadoobee, Muna, and Girl in Red. Glendale was blessed to get Paramore, making the evening an unofficial Nashville celebration between Gayle, Paramore, and Taylor Swift, as all three were born of Music City. They opened their set with “This is Why,” “Hard Times,” and “This is What You Get,” with singer Hayley Williams moving all around the massive stage and down the runway that extended well-past what would be the 50-yard line if the stadium was set up for a football game. 

Stopping before the next song, Williams spoke about the honor of opening for Swift on this tour. “We’re here tonight to celebrate Taylor, but we’re also here to celebrate… Vampires?” With that, the band launched into their song “Decode” written for Twilight. Afterwards Williams told a story about meeting a woman in Nashville many years before who told her about her daughter who was getting into music; the daughter who turned out to be Taylor Swift. Williams had her number for years and finally reached out to her following the now-notorious MTV Video Music Awards incident in 2009. 

During the band’s performance of “The Only Exception,” the audience used their cell phones to light up the stadium in a spontaneous and gorgeous moment. They followed it up with “Still Into You” and “Rose-Colored Boy.” Williams made her way down the catwalk once more, before stopping and turning to the band. “Let’s play that one song we said we’d never play again”, she instructed the band. “You know the one”, she added before they played “Misery Business.” With that, Williams thanked the audience and reminded everyone that we were all there together to celebrate Taylor Swift. They closed their set with “Ain’t It Fun.” As Paramore exited the stage, the massive screen switched to a tour graphic of a collage of Swift’s various eras. 

Taylor Swift

Setlist

While tours can start anywhere, it felt like Glendale had an honor bestowed upon them by Swift choosing it as the kick off for this tour: her first tour in nearly five years (her Reputation Stadium Tour ran from May to November in 2018) and her first live performance since she played the City of Lover album release concert in Paris on September 9, 2019. There was not one person out of the 70,000 people in attendance who took for granted how special these moments were. While many people took the break between Paramore and Swift to try to rush to the merch stand (which was practically decimated by the end of the show) to snag a tour shirt or the sweet tour poster that was exclusive to the opening night, when the graphic switched from the collage to a two-minute countdown, accompanied by a giant clock approaching midnight, everyone rushed back to their seats. 

The cheers started with the countdown and grew louder and louder with each passing second. When the timer hit zero, the clock struck midnight, and the stage went briefly black, there was a roar that likely eclipsed any the stadium had heard before, even at the Super Bowl – which the stadium hosted just a little over a month ago. Individually appearing, various rooms hinting at the different eras of Taylor Swift’s career filled the screen. As each room materialized, the audience recognized it with a pop of excitement before it floated away, making way for the next one, providing a tantalizing glimpse into the evolution of her music. 

Finally, a large door in the center of the stage rolled up, pouring out white light, and from it came a parade of Swift’s dancers covered by a large sails swooped over their bodies that they then each unfurled, one by one, into giant peacock-like tails. As they moved in cadence to the center of the massive catwalk, they encircled a portion of the stage, collapsing in the sails for a moment before pulling back to reveal Taylor on an ascending riser as she went into the first song of the tour: “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince” from Lover. This was her first live performance of the song – in fact, her set included 12 songs making their live debuts. 

Photography: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management

Though some might argue this point, Taylor Swift is the biggest artist in the world right now. She has moved into a rarified position of success that places here alongside luminaries such as Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, and Beyoncé; artists whose tours will sell out the moment tickets are available, and artists whose tours are more than just live performances of their catalogs but something more akin to a cultural event. “I just want to welcome everyone to the Eras Tour,” she greeted the crowd after her performance of “Cruel Summer” from the Lover era portion of the show. “We are going on an adventure, one era at a time, across the 17 years that I’ve been making music,” she told the crowd. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for making it here tonight,” she added, acknowledging the effort fans went to to get tickets to the show. Demand was so high that this night ended up being the opening night of the tour, after tonight’s show on March 18th sold out so fast that she added last night’s show. 

Though it is difficult to process this, primarily because she seems so forever young, Taylor has been releasing albums for 17 years now, and the tour is called the “Eras Tour” because across those 17 years are distinct eras of her career. If you want to talk about the company she keeps, how many artists have had a career so long and so successful that it can be defined by distinct eras of the career? That would be Madonna, Bowie, and Prince, but beyond that, though, there are no others that immediately come to mind. “I’ll be your host this evening. My name’s Taylor.” 

Even if she had simply built the tour around playing songs from each album, from each era, it would have been an incredible concert experience, but her stage show cannot be understated. It was the most singularly impressive stage show, perhaps ever. Every aspect of it was designed to add depth and nuance to the performance of each show. From the massive screen that projected visually stunning videos to accompany each song to the catwalk that was so long and so wide it felt like an airplane could have safely landed upon it. In fact, as she heaped praise on everyone involved with the production of the show, she regularly mentioned the crew, who deserved a moment to take a bow themselves, as the show featured multiple massive set pieces and some of the quickest costume changes any artist has pulled off without missing a beat in the show. 

Of the many impressive set pieces, during the Evermore era, an exquisite grand piano, covered in moss rose up from the stage in front of a grandiose willow tree onscreen. As Swift took a seat at the piano to perform “Marjorie,” and even her microphone at the piano looked like it was a part of a tree branch, fashioned into a microphone. What other artists have that attention to detail? “We have so much to catch up on,” she said to the crowd after the song faded. In the five years since her last tour, Taylor has released four records, which in itself is an impressive feat to marvel, and three of the first four eras covered during the concert spotlighted some of those albums: Lover, Evermore, Reputation, and re-recorded versions of Red and Fearless, with many of the songs making their live debuts. 

For “Tolerate It” a full dining room table was brought out the video behind it projecting an impossibly long dining room descending deep into a vanishing point of blackness, emphasizing the distance between Taylor and a lover in a quickly-fading relationship. She sang at one of her dancers, standing in for this disengaged boyfriend, as he looked everywhere but at her. She sang at him, crawling across the table in an aggressive plea to get his attention. Her show is made up of so many living music videos. Next up was the Reputation era, with electric performances of “…Ready for It?,” “Delicate,” “Don’t Blame Me,” and “Look What You Made Me Do,” before a brief stop in the Speak Now era for “Enchanted.”

Photography: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management

Though there was no point of the show that lacked for even a second in vibrancy and emotion, the Red era was nonetheless a highlight of the show, with even Taylor acknowledging how special it was, “You might be able to tell by the aggressive color blocking, but we are now in the Red era,” she told the crowd after “I Knew You Were Trouble.” She also made light of her re-recording of it as a part of her “Taylor’s Version” series of albums, as she reclaims her early albums that in effect had been stolen for her. “I’d like to play one more song from it, if you have 10 minutes to spare.” The mention of “10 minutes” made clear what was coming, as she closed out this era with a gorgeous solo performance of the new 10-minute version of “All Too Well,” from the “Taylor’s Version” of Red. Though it would be hard to pinpoint exactly, it felt like a pinnacle emotional moment for Swift and every person in attendance. 

Though this show was described by Hayley Williams as “a celebration of Taylor,” Swift used it in many ways to celebrate her fans who have loved and supported her across those 17 years. A recent Forbes article identified her fanbase as being “mostly” white female millennials, but to look around the 70,000 fans packed into State Farm last night, you realize truly what makes Taylor’s appeal so special: it isn’t just one thing. Just before her performance of “All Too Well,” she took a moment to greet the crowd, saying “Welcome all my guys and gals and non-binary pals,” which elicited a huge cheer from the crowd. Her shows have potentially the most-inclusive audience in music at the moment. Everyone felt equally represented and equally welcome at the Eras Tour. From those white, female millennials to every gender, race, nationality, orientation, and so on. Spotted in the crowd, at one point was a tattooed man with a sparkly, sequined shirt that said “This Hardcore Dad 💓Taylor Swift,” as he walked to his seat with his wife and children.

It was indeed a celebration of Taylor but most definitely a celebration of the fans. To understand the relationship she has with her fans, as one fan put it, “Taylor manages to communicate and really connect with her fanbase on such a personal level, making her one of the most relatable and inspirational artists of our generation.” These sentiments were felt and echoed from every corner of State Farm Stadium. 

During the Folklore era, Taylor told the crowd about starting to write the album “about 2 seconds into the pandemic,” and treated the writing process like a living journal of her life and experiences during that time. My albums have been excruciatingly autobiographical, she added with a laugh, before the more serious acknowledgement that this often meant her work was “dissected like a live public autopsy,” being minded for details about her personal life. 

Her Folklore era was performed on one of the night’s most impressive set pieces: a full cabin that she performed in, around, and on top of throughout the songs from that album. She performed “Invisible String” while sitting on the roof of the house, like a woman staring at the stars and contemplating life. After coming down to the second story of the cabin (yes, it had an up and downstairs), she told the crowd about how she’s spent her career trying to teach men how to apologize in one of the funnier but true moments of the show. “If they’d only listen, I have laid out for them in three minutes exactly how to do it,” before her performance of “Betty.” 

The 1989 era had some of the biggest dance numbers of the night. Of the many people who deserve a mountain of credit, Taylor’s dancers brought an extra kick of life to each song throughout that era. It should be noted at this point that she had well past the two-hour mark of the evening and had played 30-plus songs of her catalog, ranging from the hits to some deep, deep cuts, with all gracefully appreciated by the crowd who sang along and cheered every number. In this stretch of the show, even the most-recently converted Swifties were singing and dancing along to “Shake It Off” and “Bad Blood,” which was accompanied by fire bursts from different points in the arena adding a shot of warmth felt by all. 

Never one to stick to a particular style or tone, she followed the adrenaline kick of the upbeat 1989 bangers with two solo acoustic numbers. With the dancers off the stage, she pulled on her acoustic guitar and told the crowd that on each stop of the tour, she intended to play a different song during this portion of the show, so that each crowd got something special. The tour kick off Glendale crowd were treated to a beautiful take on “Mirrorball” from Folklore. She followed it up with her sole song from her 2006 self-titled debut “Tim McGraw.” 

Afterwards, in one of the most impressive moments in an evening full of them, the sounds of incoming flood waters poured from the speakers around the stadium, growing louder and closer with each wave. Taylor, with a brief worried moment on her face, said, “Uh-oh,” and dove forward, disappearing on the stage. An aerial camera ran the length of the catwalk showing Taylor “swimming” beneath the incoming flood waters. On the big screen were images of tidal waves crashing down on the stage and signaling the final era of the evening: the Midnights era. 

Photography: John Shearer/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management

As this was the kick off of the tour, the seven songs making up this era were all making their live debuts. It also brought back her impressive array of dancers who went for it on every song with joy spread across their faces. As the show surpassed the three hour mark and passed 40 songs, Swift, the dancers, and her backing band showed no lack of energy and enthusiasm, as they ripped through “Lavender Haze,” “Anti-Hero,” “Midnight Rain,” “Vigilante Shit,” “Bejeweled,” and “Mastermind.” At 42 songs, she asked the crowd, “Do you have time for one more?” The cheers indicated that of course they all did, and honestly would have stayed all night if she just wanted to finish performing the rest of her discography that she hadn’t gotten to yet. She closed out the evening with “Karma” and took a final bow with the dancers before finally exiting the stage. 

Taylor Swift has had a 17-year career and still somehow feels like she has not yet reached her apex mountain. Even some of the most successful artists had their time in the spotlight come and go in less than 17 years and have moved into the legacy point of their career, but not Taylor. She is firmly in the conversation for biggest artists of all time. She is truly, firmly in rare company in the history of pop music across all eras. This is her moment and yet it is still just the next era of her career. No doubt, she still has yet to peak and will for sure some day play another Eras Tour to celebrate the next 17 years. The crowd at State Farm Stadium will line up for those tickets too for sure. She might have to add a third night for it.

Setlist

REVIEW: Distant is Out to Destroy Everything in Their Path with the New Album Heritage

Heritage, the album released today by five-piece downtempo deathcore band Distant, is the band’s third album, and the second with their current line up – joined by Jan Mato on drums and Eise Smit on guitar in 2020. While their second album Aeons Of Oblivion showed what the band was capable of, especially on the four-part “Ritual,” an almost deathcore suite, Heritage is the band at their full power. 

Distant album "Heritage" cover art
“Heritage” album artwork

While the band is legendary for the brutality of their music, the opening track “Acid Rain” is almost beautifully melodic with an undercurrent of doom, like a fairy tale that starts with a welcoming path in the forest but portends darkness buried deep in the woods. 

That darkness erupts on “Paradigm Shift,” and if a paradigm shift is a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions, then the song represents that for the band. Building off of “Acid Rain,” the track announces the band’s new direction, like their first two albums were the hunt, and now with Heritage, they’re here for blood. 

The third track, “Born of Blood,” builds slowly, propelled by guitarists Vladimir Golic and Nouri Yetgin’s twin-assault pulverizing riffs. In the background of the song, though, is a swirling rhythm pulling the listener upwards with the song. Alec Grnja’s vocals seem to swirl throughout the song’s vortex before casting you out of the apex into the ether. 

The centerpiece of the album is “Agent Justice,” a seven-minute epic that sounds like the score for an cult-classic horror film. The video for the song sees the band performing live, trapped behind a staticy red and black color palette, like you’re seeing it on a channel you’re not meant to watch, and the band is fighting through the static to the surface. While everyone shines on the track, Jon Mato’s blast beats are so relentless that it is astounding to realize a human being is capable of maintaining such a persistent beat. The song is a rollercoaster, taking you to its very peaks and then dropping you, screaming face-first into an almost-calming piano interlude that only gives to another sharp climb. Grnja’s vocals threaten to tear you in half as they run at you full force. 

Tracks such as “A Sentence to Suffer” and “Human Scum” are played at such furious intensity that you can feel blood dripping from the tracks, with each member of the band going hard on both songs. The one-two punch of closing tracks “Orphan of Blight” and “Plaguebreeder” both start with the same kind of haunting, almost orchestral sound that then pulls you down sharply into an audio demolition derby, throwing you around and around until the merciless conclusion. 

For a band that describes their own sound as “bone-crushing, thick-as concrete heaviness,” Heritage might as well be a hydraulic compactor, the kind that could pancake a military vehicle. The band has never sounded tighter and more in tune with each other than ever before. Grnja’s vocals are intense, working in conjunction with Golic and Yetgin’s guitars – which would be intense enough on their own, but combined with Elmer Maurit’s steady basslines and Mato’s blast beats, they are out to destroy everything in their path. Distant is at the forefront of European deathcore for a reason, and Heritage moves them firmly to the top of the mountain .Heritage was released on February 10th on all platforms, with physical copies available on Distant’s website, including a badass limited edition Heritage vinyl pressing on marbled white and red smoke – with only 500 copies available.

Be sure to catch the band when they play The Underground in Mesa on March 13th, along with Bodysnatcher, AngelMaker, and PALEFACE (CH).

More tour dates here.

Distant online:

Distant deathcore band
Distant

REVIEW: Sad Night Dynamite Brings a Unique Spin on Trip Hop to Valley Bar (11-13-22)

PHOENIX — England’s Sad Night Dynamite has had two full length albums, both dropping in the last two years, but based on the fevered crowd reaction to their Sunday night concert at Valley Bar, with support from The Color 8, you might believe they are a group whose rabid cult-following stretches across decades and multiple albums. Valley Bar was the perfect venue for the show, as its location around the back of a building, and down an old staircase into the basement of the building felt like a secret show that only the coolest people know about. It’s a vibe that Sad Night Dynamite’s set kept going, in a set heavy with crowd interaction

The Color 8

The Color 8 - Valley Bar
The Color 8
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Phoenix’s The Color 8, for those unfamiliar, are a band that defies all expectations their first appearance may give an audience. From the first note of their opener “Galaxy,” one might expect a set of modern-day jazz-funk fusion, like The Meters’ Cabbage Alley album was pulled through a time warp and reimagined for a new generation. That on its own would have been incredible enough, but this is where The Color 8 swerves instead of staying any particular course. 

The Color 8 - Valley Bar
The Color 8
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

“Is it alright if we switch things up a little bit?” asked guitar player Kal (stage name Kal The Guitar Hero). With that, Kal and bassist Jeremiah Smith laid into a heavy (with emphasis on heavy) metal riff for the song “Whoa,” joined by drummer Wisco 3’s heavy beats. His jazzy tempo from “Galaxy” gave way to a drumming so intense it sounded like he was hitting the drums with cinder blocks instead of sticks. Ashton Vaughn Charles, who was playing the saxophone just a song before, let loose with vocals that felt like a cross between the metal of System of the Down’s Serj Tankian with a splash of the hardcore punk of HR from Bad Brains. It was gloriously intense. 

Ashton Vaughn Charles (Saxophonist, Vocalist), The Color 8
Ashton Vaughn Charles (Saxophonist, Vocalist), The Color 8
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

They followed up jazz-funk fusion and metal with the post-reggae island track “Know the Plan.” They invited the audience to join in with each track and be a part of the experience (the band are veterans of First Friday Art Walk, where they were routinely joined by a bevy of different musicians which has lent itself well to their eclectic style). The new song “No Sleep” was a set highlight, featuring some gorgeous harmonies in the shared vocals from Wisco 3 and Jeremiah. Following the metal track “Run It Back,” with more audience participation throughout the song, Kal joked to the audience “We’re a bit bipolar ‘cause we go up and down,” before they launched into the R&B-soul groove of “X.” They closed out their set with “Savage Season.” 

Sad Night Dynamite

Sad Night Dynamite - Valley Bar
Sad Night Dynamite
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Playing their first show in Phoenix, Sad Night Dynamite from Somerset, England immediately proved to have built a strong fanbase in The Valley of the Sun. With the house lights down, the duo of best friends Josh Greacen and Archie Blagden joined their band to the appropriately named track “Intro.” As soon as they launched into “Demon” from this year’s album Volume II, the audience collectively lost their minds. As the two traded off vocals and weaved back and forth around the stage, they were musical puppet masters, moving the crowd this way and that at even the slightest of directions. During the song and throughout the night, Greacen rapped through a megaphone into his microphone, which is never not cool. 

Sad Night Dynamite - Valley Bar
Josh Greacen (Vocalist, Guitarist), Sad Night Dynamite
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

For “Black & White,” Greacen played guitar while Blagden went into the crowd (shout out to the member of SND’s crew who stood on stage holding the mic chord high up, so that he could stand in the crowd without the mob of fans around him inadvertently unplugging the mic).  Following “Icy Violence” from their self-titled debut, it was Greacen’s turn to go into the crowd for “Smoke Hole.” As he waded out into the middle, he prompted the crowd with “Alright Phoenix, I want you to break my bones! On my count: 1, 2, 3… 4!” As Blagden and the band launched into the song, the crowd launched into Greacen, seemingly trying to follow through on his request, bouncing him around the circle pit like a pinball. Returning to the stage a little beat up, he jokingly opined “That’s more like a 10, Phoenix… I think I broke some ribs!” 

Archie Blagden (Vocalist), Sad Night Dynamite
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

“We’re from this sad little island called England,” Greacen told the crowd after recovering from his circle pit beating. “Do you know what’s good about England?… Sad Night Dynamite,” Blagden responded, with the crowd roaring in approval. Excluding The Beatles, Bowie, and Monty Python, Sad Night Dynamite certainly made a compelling case throughout the night. 

The duo changed the mood with the beautiful, atmospheric “Tramp” from Volume II, with Greacen on keyboards. Their 13-song set featured seven of the nine songs from their debut Sad Night Dynamite, and four of the seven songs from their new album. They closed out their set with the chill dance groove of their new song “What Does That Make Me?” and “Krunk”. Sad Night Dynamite traveled approximately 5,186 miles to play their first show in Phoenix, and for this crowd, they truly brought the best thing in England to the Valley Bar.

Photo Galleries

Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo

Sad Night Dynamite & The Color 8 – Valley Bar 11-13-22

Photography © Reagle Photography
All Rights Reserved

INTERVIEW: A Video Q&A with Goth Brooks’ Xiån “3pac” Austin & Mike Lee

Goth Brooks' "Freakabilly" album artwork
Goth Brooks’ “Freakabilly” album artwork

Welcome to the Record Room for the latest edition of Burning Hot Interviews. In this episode, host Ryan Novak talks with Xiån Austin [3pac] & Mike Lee of Goth Brooks about how they conceptualized the band beginning with the name, making multiple genres work within a song, wanting to compose a classical music and industrial metal hybrid symphony, the glory days of MTV, Christmas music, and carrying on after a tragic loss. Their new album Freakabilly was released on May 19th, and is available to download for free at GothBrooks.rocks.*

* Formerly GothBrooksBand.com – update your links and bookmarks!

Burning Hot Interview featuring
Xiån Austin [3pac] & Mike Lee of Goth Brooks

Q & A with music journalist Ryan Novak

View on YouTube

Download the New Album Freakabilly!


About Goth Brooks

Goth Brooks
Goth Brooks

Arizona’s own Goth Brooks is a band that defies easy classification. Its members, Mike Lee, Chris “3pac” Austin, and the late Jonah “Werm” Foree each represent different genres they individually bring to the group: country, hip-hop, and metal. The group’s sound, though, stretches each of those genres to their limits, melding country, Western swing, rockabilly, industrial metal, death metal, hardcore, and gangster rap, among still more, into a sound that is fun and wholly original.

Goth Brooks released their debut LP, Moonshine and Mascara, in early 2016.

In 2017, they won 98KUPD’s Playdio with “She Thinks My Hearse is Sexy”, which granted them the opportunity to create the theme song for the morning show, Holmberg’s Morning Sickness.

The band made a very brief appearance on America’s Got Talent when auditioning in 2018. According to a Facebook comment made by Foree, “We only got flashed for like 2 seconds… It was weird, because the filming crew literally pulled us aside, out of the long line, and spent over an hour filming us doing different things. But in the end, the producers put us on the cutting room floor… The tryout & trip to Vegas was still a blast though!

The Christmas in Black EP was released in August of 2021. Following the tragic passing of Foree, Goth Brooks released their second studio album Freakabilly on May 19. Just like their previous releases, the 13-track album is available to download from their website for free. It is also available to stream on Spotify in a 9-track form.

Goth Brooks online:

INTERVIEW: A Video Q&A with Crashing Cairo’s Robert Wax

On the cusp of the release of the Crashing Cairo’s next single “Souls”, frontman Robert Wax discusses how the Beatles and David Bowie made him fall in love with music, the importance of U2, full-circle moments, working with legends, drawing inspiration from a radio contest, and what the future holds for the band, in the inaugural Burning Hot Interview video.

Burning Hot Interview featuring
Robert Wax of Crashing Cairo

Q&A with music journalist Ryan Novak

Watch on YouTube

Crashing Cairo’s New Track “Souls” to Release on July 8, 2022


About Crashing Cairo

Monday Changed Everything album artwork

Hailing from metro Detroit, Crashing Cairo first broke onto the scene with their 2008 debut Monday Changed Everything, and the band has been going steady ever since. On their 10th anniversary, their EP At Speeds that Destroy brought some exciting new course for the group, as a shot-in-the-dark email by Wax gave them the opportunity to work with not one but two legendary producers. Wax is a modern-day renaissance man, as he is not only a singer and songwriter but also an actor, writer, and producer. 

Crashing Cairo’s “89HRS” Music Video

Listen to Crashing Cairo on KWSS
Listen to Crashing Cairo on “The Jaw Cairo Show” on KWSS, FM 93.9 in Phoenix

Crashing Cairo Online:

INTERVIEW: Brooklane – Now Celebrating the Release of “Breakaway”

"Breakaway" single artwork
“Breakaway” single artwork

Pop-punk band Brooklane recently released their new single “Breakaway” on April 28th of this year, and they are gearing up for a tour with details yet to be revealed (get notified here). Inspired by bands like The Story So Far, State Champs, and Neck Deep, they debuted with the Roll With the Punches EP during the pandemic in 2020. 

Burning Hot Events’ music journalist Ryan Novak and Brooklane discuss the new single, recording during the pandemic, cover art, mental health, new directions for the band, and more.

"Breakaway" on Spotify

Brooklane Interview

Q & A with music journalist Ryan Novak

RYAN: What was the recording experience like for your debut “Roll With the Punches” (2020)? Was it recorded pre-pandemic?

“The recording experience for “Roll With The Punches” was pretty standard for the most part until the pandemic hit. We had to find ways to finish recording safely. Luckily, we just had to add finishing touches and were able to release it during the pandemic.”

RYAN: “Roll With the Punches” was first released as an EP but is now listed as a deluxe LP released in 2021.

When was the decision made to expand it?

“We made the decision to expand it because we wanted to provide our fans with alternative reimagined versions, as well as softer songs to diversify our catalog.”

RYAN: I’m always fascinated by cover art. Your early singles and first album all featured color variations on the same image: of an arm preparing to throw a Molotov cocktail.

Roll With the Punches EP artwork
“Roll With the Punches” EP artwork

Was there a reason behind this specific image, especially with the political upheaval in America these last five years?

Honestly, that cover art has no greater meaning other than being reflective of our energetic and explosive sound, while staying true to our band’s visual aesthetic.

RYAN: The album has got some strong punk, pop punk, and hardcore DNA in it, which makes the tracks “Here to Stay” and “Empty Room” stick out to me. The slower tempo and acoustic guitars really highlight the heartbreak of the lyrics on each.

Were both songs always written to be more emotionally raw in that way?

Yes! Both of the songs were intentionally written to be more emotionally raw. We always try to pull from all of our personal experiences to help as many people as possible. Fun fact, “Empty Room” was never written for Brooklane and almost didn’t make the record.

Brooklane promo photo
Brooklane

RYAN: As a huge fan of punk and hardcore, what always drew me to it was that the music provided an emotional outlet for pent-up emotions. The best bands to do it always have lyrics that express these same feelings. “Here to Stay” and “Bite the Bullet” dig into dealing with a broken heart, and “Anxiety” deals with mental illness and reminds me, at least thematically, of The Offspring’s “Gotta Get Away.”

While a lot of people will share more freely about dealing with heartbreak or regret over a breakup, there’s still a societal stigma with mental health. Was it difficult being as open on “Anxiety”?

Anxiety is something that we all struggle with as band members and it is so important to us to be open and honest to our fans who may benefit from relating to what we are going through. We write these songs to help our personal healing journeys, but more importantly, for everyone else in the world who may be struggling. If we didn’t open up about these hard topics in the hopes to destigmatize these conversations, we would be doing a disservice as musicians with a platform.

RYAN: The deluxe edition of the album featured reimagined versions of “Anxiety” and “Ship Wrecked,” which highlights the melodies of each song even more.

What was the inspiration behind doing these reimagined tracks, and could they be a possible direction the band might take on future albums?

We really wanted to produce these reimagined tracks to further diversify our catalog and give our fans musical variety overall. We felt strongly like some of these more emotional songs should have more emotional instrumentals. We definitely hope to continue weaving these types of tracks into our albums in the future!

"Breakaway" single artwork
“Breakaway” single artwork

RYAN: I really like the new single “Breakaway” because it feels like the whole band leveled up on the song, especially because it has a great “firework” music moment with the sort of muted opening chords building to an explosion as the band goes full force into the song. Across the board, it feels like everyone really shines.

Was there a feeling during the writing and recording of the song that this would be something as special as it seems for the band?

“Breakaway” is a song that we all really love and all individually relate to as members as it was written based upon our own personal experiences. With that said, we really wanted to give it the spotlight it deserved as a single, especially during Mental Health Awareness month.

You just announced that you’ll be crowdsourcing your next album.

What motivated this decision to have direct support from your fans ahead of the release?

“We are headed into the studio with Andrew Wade next month to create our dream EP, and thought this would be a great opportunity to ask for support from our fans to help us in our mission to destigmatize mental health by utilizing our music to start important conversations so we all feel less alone in this world.”

BrooklaneLive01
Brooklane live in concert

What are you most looking forward to about playing on tour? Obviously “Breakaway” will get its first live performances across the cities…

“We have a ton of shows in the works for this year and can’t wait to finally connect with our fans in person.” 

Chief State and Brooklane tour admat

Brooklane Online:

REVIEW: Pearl Jam Puts on a Big Show With Small-Club Intimacy in Phoenix (5-9-22)

Glendale, AZ — Pearl Jam’s concert at Gila River Arena, with support from Pluralone, has been in the making for some time. You could say it’s been since the original date in May of 2020 as part of the Gigaton Tour, however, for me this show has been overdue since December of 1991, when I got a copy of Ten. I fell in love with Pearl Jam, only for the chance to see them live evade me for nearly thirty years, living in my mind through their MTV Unplugged performance, playing “Rockin’ in the Free World” with Neil Young at the MTV Video Music Awards, various talk show appearances, and multiple live albums and videos from over the years. At the show, though, I met fans who were well into double and even triple digits for seeing the band. I was assured repeatedly that it would be an unforgettable evening. 

Eddie Vedder

Considering his status in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, it was surprising for the show to open with Eddie Vedder strolling out alone without any undue fanfare and simply introducing himself to the crowd with, “Hi, I’m Ed.

Eddie Vedder - Gila River Arena
Eddie Vedder (Vocalist, Guitarist)
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Anyone who follows Pearl Jam’s setlists online for each tour stop would have been aware that he’s been doing this on the tour, treating the crowd, so far, to solo covers of Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me in Your Heart for a While” during the tour opener in San Diego, and a double dose of Tom Petty with “I Won’t Back Down” on night 1 in Inglewood and “Wildflowers” on night two. For Arizona, he played his own “Far Behind” from the soundtrack he did for Into the Wild. Vedder’s voice is so powerful, so transcendent, that even for those who might not be familiar with his emotional score for the film were quickly enveloped in its beauty. As he wrapped up the song, he gave an introduction to the show’s opener Josh Klinghoffer, heaping praise on him. 

Pluralone

I’m really excited to be here, but I’m gonna play a song that doesn’t sound like I am”, Klinghoffer greeted the crowd, following Vedder’s introduction. Billed under his project Pluralone, the talented multi-instrumentalist filled the arena through a variety of instruments, even if he took moments to jokingly chastise some of the more complicated electric instruments for not working properly. Mid-set, he gave a shout out to one of Arizona’s greatest bands, asking, “How can I be in Phoenix, Arizona without paying homage to the Meat Puppets?!”, before launching into a cover of “Backwater” from their 1994 album Too High To Die

Pluralone - Gila River Arena
Josh Klinghoffer (Vocalist, Multi-instrumentalist), Pluralone
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Most are familiar with Klinghoffer for his time with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but if you are not already, it is well worth your time to check out the music he is making as Pluralone. The sounds he is able to produce solo would leave anyone believing they were listening to a full band if they only closed their eyes as they took it all in. 

Pluralone - Gila River Arena
Josh Klinghoffer (Vocalist, Multi-instrumentalist), Pluralone
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

He closed out his set with a cover of John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band’s “Give Peace a Chance,” noting that it was Victory Day in Russia. I don’t know why they call it that since they’re the ones starting all the wars. 

He got the crowd to join in on the chorus and played around with the lyrics, even working in a tribute to the departed Taylor Hawkins with “Everybody talkin’ ‘bout Taylor Hawkins… Taylor Hawkins… man I miss Taylor Hawkins,” which elicited cheers from all corners of the arena. “This might be presumptuous of me, but I thought we’d just keep singing it until Pearl Jam comes out in 30 minutes. If you do, I’ll cover Jane’s Addition,” he jokingly offered before exiting the stage, leaving the crowd to solo acapella the final run through the chorus. 

Pluralone - Gila River Arena
Pluralone
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Pearl Jam

Every Pearl Jam show has a completely unique setlist. While a lot of bands are comfortable with having the same set night after night, with little variation, every Pearl Jam performance is completely fresh. This is why “Wash” was a shocker as a show opener. First appearing as a B-side on different editions of their first single “Alive,” it’s a darker song and not what you might expect from Pearl Jam, but it still crackled with an electricity, as the band performed bathed in a blue light. It was like a prayer cast from darkness and despair just hoping for salvation. As the song faded, they immediately launched into “Given to Fly” from Yield, which brought the few people who weren’t already standing to their feet. 

Eddie Vedder (Vocalist) & Matt Cameron (Drummer), Pearl Jam
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

After over 30 years, Pearl Jam is still anchored by founding members Eddie Vedder, Mike McCready, Stone Gossard, and Jeff Ament, and hasn’t had any changes since Matt Cameron took over the drums on the band’s fifth album Yield. The touring band is filled out by Boom Gaspar, a Hawaiin native Vedder met through C.J. Ramone, and by Klinghoffer pulling double duty throughout the tour. Collectively, they are as tight a band as you are going to find in this or any generation. 

Pearl Jam - Gila River Arena
Pearl Jam
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

I don’t know how it feels out there, but it feels pretty good up here,” an enthusiastic Vedder told the crowd. Pearl Jam’s performance came almost exactly on the two year anniversary of when it was originally scheduled, in May of 2020 to support their 11th studio album Gigaton. “Good things come to those who wait. My good friend Tom Petty used to say the waiting was the hardest part,” he added. Pearl Jam never makes any stop on their tour feel like just another show for the band and throughout the night, Vedder launched into several monologues with the crowd that showed how Phoenix was a special stop for them.

Eddie Vedder (Vocalist) & Matt Cameron (Drummer), Pearl Jam
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

 One such moment came when Vedder told the story of Tom and Avis. In 1988, when Eddie Vedder wasn’t “Eddie Vedder the lead singer of Pearl Jam and member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame” but was just a young, directionless kid like any of us at that age, he was driving through Arizona on his way back to San Diego and his car broke down in Gila Bend. Stranded and with no money, he was taken in by an older couple named Tom and Avis who gave him a place to stay while his car was being repaired. Today any of us would be more than willing to let Eddie Vedder crash at our place for a day or two, but to take in a broke, stranded kid named Ed Vedder speaks to the inherent good we sometimes forgets still thrives in the world, even when everything else seems, at times, to be relentlessly awful. 

The story of Tom and Avis was followed with a soulful rendition of “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” and quickly followed by “Corduroy” and “Quick Escape,” the latter off of Gigaton, showing that the new work stands toe-to-toe with the band’s back-catalog classics. 

Pearl Jam - Gila River Arena
Jeff Ament (Bassist), Eddie Vedder (Vocalist), & Matt Cameron (Drummer), Pearl Jam
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

“You have the freedom to fuck up and learn and grow from fucking up. If anyone tries to judge you for fucking up it’s probably because they’ve fucked up and are trying to divert attention form their fuck ups by making you feel bad for yours,” Vedder told the crowd; though attributing the words to Jeff Ament. They then dipped back into Ten, the band’s run through “Why Go,” which had the crowd air guitaring and shouting the lyrics into the rafters. Vedder shouted out the Arizona Coyotes for loaning the band their arena for the night and acknowledging Coyotes players Christian Fischer and Clayton Keller, who were at the show. He dedicated Gigaton’s “Superblood Wolfmoon” to them. “I figure Wolf is close enough to Coyote.” 

Pearl Jam
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

All across social media prior to the show was an ADOT highway sign reading “Even Flow on the gas. Keep left to pass,” which amused the band. “Shoutout to the pot-smoking employee who made that sign. Life’s incredible, so keep eating those edibles,” Vedder laughed. The moment of amusement was followed by the band performing “Even Flow,” which featured Mike McCready doing an extended mid-song guitar solo behind his head in one of the most awe-inspiring moments of the night. Following “Dance of the Clairvoyants,” Vedder talked about the band’s friend, retired astronaut Scott Kelly. At Kelly’s request, the band played “Black,” arguably Pearl Jam’s greatest song. 

Afterwards, Vedder talked about the band’s admiration for former state representative Gabby Gifford and her husband Senator Mark Kelly (twin brother of Scott Kelly). He then turned his attention to the recent Supreme Court decision on Roe V. Wade, punctuating his expression of frustration about the decision with a performance of “Daughter,” tagged with a rare performance of “W.M.A.,” (both from Vs), tweaking the lyrics to “Police shot my daughter again…” It was one of the night’s highlights. They followed it with “Porch,” which was the song the band closed their 1992 MTV Unplugged performance with and Vedder took a sharpie and wrote “Pro Choice” on his arm. 

Crowd at the Pearl Jam concert at Gila River Arena
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

With the crowd riding the high wave of “Porch,” the band exited the stage briefly, returning with haste. “We’re having too much fun to be gone for too long! Before playing the first song of the encore, Vedder put a spotlight, literally, on his niece who was at the show (missing her graduation from ASU to do so) and dedicated the No Code gem “Smile” to her. 

We lost so many wonderful people in the last few years, like my friend Tom Petty. We also recently lost Eddie Van Halen who was a friend.” This set up Mike McCready to show off exactly why he is one of the greatest guitar players of his generation, as he busted out a solo cover of Van Halen’s “Eruption.” Following “Do the Evolution,” Vedder told the story of a woman he had met who had lost her sister to COVID. With her in attendance, he dedicated a gorgeous rendition of “Better Man” to her. “This is for all the badass women out there and all the badass men who support them”, Vedder said as a set up to the band’s cover of Eddie Holland’s “Leaving Home.” 

Pearl Jam - Gila River Arena
05/09/2022 Photography: Rodrigo Izquierdo, Burning Hot Events www.BurningHotEvents.com

As “Leaving Home” faded out, they shifted into performing “Alive,” a song that seems to take on a special significance over the years as a reminder that even in the worst of times, to appreciate your continued survival. The crowd sing-along was the connective tissue of the night, bringing everyone together for a beautiful moment. In those moments, the personal, philosophical, political, religious, and whatever difference that tragically gets too much focus in our day-to-day existence vashined, as the chorus echoed from every corner of the arena and collectively rose to the heavens. If “Wash” started us in darkness and despair, then “Alive” pulled us out, refreshed, and renewed like a musical baptism. 

Pearl Jam and the backing audience at Gila River Arena
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

As they closed out the night with the grace and beauty that is “Yellow Ledbetter,” the “Jeremy” B-side-turned-beloved-live-show-staple and bonafide Pearl Jam classic, we were each sent out into the cool desert evening knowing that even in the most dire of times, there are the Tom and Avis’s of the world passing along simple acts of kindness to a stranger and there is a good fight to be fought, because even the smallest of us is capable of so much more than we think. It was a night worth the two-year wait. It was a night worth my 30-year wait.

Pearl Jam Setlist from Phoenix 5-9-22: 

  • Wash (tour debut)
  • Given to Fly
  • Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
  • Corduroy
  • Quick Escape
  • Why Go
  • Superblood Wolfmoon
  • Alright (tour debut)
  • Even Flow
  • Dance of the Clairvoyants
  • Black (with “We Belong Together” tag)
  • I Got Id (tour debut)
  • Red Mosquito (tour debut)
  • Sleeping by Myself (Eddie Vedder song) (tour debut)
  • Daughter (with “W.M.A.” tag)
  • Porch

Encore:

  • Smile (tour debut)
  • Eruption (Van Halen cover) (tour debut)
  • Do the Evolution
  • Better Man (“Save It For Later” tease)
  • Leaving Here (Eddie Holland cover) (tour debut)
  • Alive
  • Yellow Ledbetter

REVIEW: Ministry Brings an Intense, Primal Experience to The Van Buren (4-12-22)

PHOENIX — Ministry’s concert at The Van Buren, with support from Corrosion of Conformity and Melvins, has been a long time coming. Originally scheduled for July 29th, 2020 and featuring a completely different lineup (Ministry, KMFDM, and Front Line Assembly), the show was of course forestalled by the pandemic. Various attempts were made to reschedule with varying lineups, including a pre-Halloween show with Helmet and Frontline Assembly last October. Through these fits and starts, the show finally happened this past Tuesday, and it was worth the wait. 

Corrosion of Conformity

“How many of you fuckers here in Phoenix like heavy shit?” was how Corrosion of Conformity lead singer Pepper Keenan greeted the crowd, as the band launched into “Bottom Feeder (El Que Come Abajo)” from their 1995 album Wiseblood. Heavy was what was promised, and heavy was what was delivered. Pulling from nearly every album since 1991’s Blind, when the North Carolina band moved away from its earlier thrash/hardcore days with the addition of Louisiana native Keenan, their set covered everything from hits from their biggest selling album, 1994’s Deliverance, to the criminally underrated America’s Volume Dealer (2000). 

Pepper Keenan (Vocalist, Guitarist) & John Green (Drummer), Corrosion of Conformity
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

“Nice pipes, y’all”, Keenan said mid-set in response to the crowd’s fierce sing-along to “Shake Like You”, adding, “Thanks for getting here early. We appreciate that shit. I’ve been home sitting in my garage for two years, and that fucking  sucked.” In fact, the band was stepping in to replace the previously scheduled Helmet on the tour. CoC’s blend of hardcore and southern rock had the crowd in a frenzy, with the mosh pit never slowing down. 

Mosh pit for Corrosion of Conformity
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Closing out their set with the 1-2-3 punch of “Albatross,” “Who’s Got the Fire,” and an extended jam on their biggest hit “Clean My Wounds,” it was an instance where you wish every band on the bill could get a full set of time, as their set didn’t even get a chance to touch on recent albums IX or No Cross No Crown nor dip back into the early thrash records like Eye for an Eye or Animosity. Still though, as the crowd would obviously agree, 45 minutes of Corrosion of Conformity blows away 90 minutes of most bands. 

Crowd raising hands up at Corrosion of Conformity concert
The crowd is hyped for Corrosion of Conformity
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Melvins

“The Melvins are coming up next to bulldoze you,” Keenan had promised at the end of their set, and bulldoze they did. Opening their set with “The Kicking Machine” from 2008’s Nude with Boots, Buzz Osborne’s guitar stands out in the band’s sound. Osborne himself, whose large shock of white hair and stage outfits that have him resembling the leader of an alien race from a long-lost 1950’s sci-fi cult film, is the perfect visual representation of the band’s sound, as it manages to be at times trippy and psychedelic and then shift into something more heavy and dark.

Buzz Orborne of Melvins performing live
Buzz Orborne (Vocalist, Guitarist), Melvins
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

The rhythm section of drummer Dale Crover, whose drumming is so heavy you half-expect to see him using cinder blocks and not drum sticks, and bass player Steven Shane McDonald, whose own all-white outfit, long hair, and goatee made him look like a 1970’s transcendental meditation guru, fill out the band’s legendary sound. 

 Steven Shane McDonald of Melvins performing live
Steven Shane McDonald (Bassist), Melvins
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

For those not familiar with the Washington natives, Melvins’ experimental style has led people to compare them to bands as far-ranging as Black Sabbath to Black Flag (frontman Osborne, for the record, cites Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn as his biggest influence), and the band inspired so many other legendary bands from the Pacific Northwest, which is evident from their entire Tuesday-night set, as you can hear what elements of their sound other bands spent their whole careers trying to emulate.

Their set covered all eras of the band, with some nice surprises pulled from their mid-nineties classic albums: 91’s Bullhead (“It’s Shoved” and “Anaconda”), 93’s Houdini (“Hooch” and “Honey Bucket”), 94’s Stoner Witch (“Queen”), and 96’s Stag (“The Bit”). The band was joined by Ministry drummer Roy Mayorga for the two Houdini tracks, playing in perfect tandem with Crover. 

This summer, Melvins will be hitting the road again in June and July on their Electric Roach Tour, supported by Helms Alee and Harsh Mellow, stopping in Tucson on June 18th for their only Arizona date.

Ministry

With a chain-link fence set up across the front of the stage before their set began, Ministry had already set a specific atmosphere for their performance. Just moments before they came out, a visual was cast with the familiar blue and yellow Ukrainian flag and a message reading Ministry Stands With Ukraine across it. While other bands choose songs specific to their sound to walk out to, they elected to further drive home their message of solidarity by entering to the Ukrainian National Anthem.

Ministry - The Van Buren
Ministry
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Each member filed out one by one, with lead Al Jourgensen out last. As the band stood ready to perform, he stalked the stage, moving in front of the fencing like an animal who smelled fresh blood. He clawed at, banged on, and swayed the fence back and forth, all the while the audience in turn lurched forward in response, like an aggressive lion tamer goading the beast into action. With the band’s two-drum assault, this dance moved with the rhythm of each song, like watching a violent wash crash into a rocky promenade and then just as quickly recede back.

Al Jourgensen (Vocalist), Ministry
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

It’s hard to fathom that Ministry is approaching the 40th anniversary of their first release (1983’s With Sympathy), as their sound still feels eons ahead of its time. Having recently passed anniversaries for two of their greatest albums, they opened their set with “Breathe” from 1989’s The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste and “The Missing” from The Land of Rape and Honey. Their entire performance was a multimedia experience, as their backdrop featured images and video that thematically connected to each song, like witnessing a live music video. Mid-set, they broke out a trio of songs from Jourgensen’s many side projects, including 1,000 Homo DJ’s cover of  Black Sabbath’s “Supernaut” from Sabbath tribute album Nativity in Black and two songs from Pailhead, Jourgensen’s band with Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye. 

Ministry - The Van Buren
Ministry
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

The band has never shied away from its politics (their 2018 album AmeriKKKant features the track “Antifa,” for instance), and despite being now almost a 30-year-old song, their performance of “NWO” from Ministry’s landmark album ΚΕΦΑΛΗΞΘ (also known as Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed & The Way to Suck Eggs) seems more appropriate for the times than it did upon its initial release, in this era of increasing social and political upheaval and seems to speak even more so to the political tensions in the country in the five years, especially in light of their opening tribute and show of support for the people of Ukraine. They ended the night with an encore of “Alert Level”, “Good Trouble” (both from 2001’s Moral Hygiene), and a blistering cover of Iggy and The Stooges’ “Search and Destroy”.

Al Jourgensen of Ministry at The Van Buren
Al Jourgensen (Vocalist), Ministry
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Ministry alone is an intense, primal, and heavy concert experience, but when you add to it the Melvins and Corrosion of Conformity it enters an entire new realm. Yes, this concert has been two years in the making, but it was two years worth it. After all, after such a wait, we were all ready for some heavy shit.

Click thumbnail for setlist
Ministry Setlist - The Van Buren, Phoenix 4-12-22

Photo Galleries

Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo

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Ministry, Melvins, & Corrosion of Conformity – The Van Buren 4-12-22

Ministry Setlist – Phoenix, AZ 4-12-22

  • Breathe
  • The Missing
  • Deity
  • Stigmata
  • Supernaut (Black Sabbath cover)
  • Don’t Stand in Line (Pailhead cover)
  • Man Should Surrender (Pailhead cover)
  • Burning Inside
  • N.W.O.
  • Just One Fix
  • Thieves
  • So What

Encore:


  • Alert Level
  • Good Trouble
  • Search and Destroy (Iggy and The Stooges cover)

Photography © Reagle Photography
All Rights Reserved