Category Archives: Photo Galleries

REVIEW: Unveiling the Power of Humanity – The Intimate Journey of Victoria Canal and Lucy Clearwater at Valley Bar (3-28-24)

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In an era where the encroaching presence of AI threatens to overshadow human creativity, encountering a live performance that seamlessly blends storytelling with musical prowess feels like a breath of fresh air. Such was the experience at Valley Bar, where best friends Victoria Canal and Lucy Clearwater embarked on a joint tour, reminding audiences of the profound connection that human creativity fosters. Valley Bar, nestled beneath a building slowly transforming into the Cornish Pasty, sits at the corner of Monroe St and Central Ave, providing an intimate setting for the evening’s festivities. Clearwater kicked off the show, later smoothly transitioning into Canal’s performance as a member of her band.

Lucy Clearwater

Clearwater assumed the spotlight, strumming her acoustic guitar; later, she would accompany Canal on guitar, as well as showcase her skill on the violin. Clearwater’s multifaceted talent is evident; while many turned to baking sourdough or online tutorials during recent times, she delved into learning German, becoming not only fluent but also a singer in the language with her EP Augenlieder. With her upcoming EP April on the horizon, Clearwater captivated the audience with her ability to evoke nostalgia for experiences yet to unfold, effortlessly blending voice, lyrics, and anecdotes.

Lucy Clearwater performing with acoustic guitar at Valley Bar
Lucy Clearwater (Vocalist, Guitarist)
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Clearwater is exceptionally talented: while the rest of the world learned how to bake sourdough or used YouTube tutorials to learn how to knit during the COVID-19 pandemic, she delved into learning German, becoming not only an excellent speaker, but also a singer in the language with her EP Augenlieder. Perhaps she was inspired by Canal, who although Spanish-American, was born in Munich, Germany. Clearwater is a California native who can claim something almost no one else in the world can: she was born in a cookie factory in Northern California, according to the bio on her website

Lucy Clearwater singing closeup
Lucy Clearwater (Vocalist, Guitarist)
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

With her upcoming EP April on the horizon, Clearwater captivated the audience with her ability to evoke nostalgia for experiences yet to unfold, effortlessly blending voice, lyrics, and anecdotes. At one point, she asked if the audience was ready to go on an emotional rollercoaster with her, immediately apologizing as she recognized she had already started it before performing the first “angry song” she had ever written, “Reconciliation,” which is about her grandfather. 

Lucy Clearwater with shinng emotional eyes
Lucy Clearwater (Vocalist, Guitarist)
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

This show marked the eve of the release of “When You’re Down” as a single, set to debut the following day – March 29, 2024. The song served as a poignant response to the heartfelt tribute Canal had penned for her in “Chamomile”. Clearwater’s endearing vulnerability was palpable when she briefly stumbled over the lyrics of “When You’re Down,” only to be swiftly rescued by Canal from the side-stage. As she concluded her performance, Clearwater sealed the moment with a tender gesture, blowing a kiss to Canal, thereby emphasizing the profound bond they share.

Victoria Canal 

A masterful storyteller in her own right, Canal possesses a voice that effortlessly communicates the essence of life through her music. With Clearwater added to the stage, alongside bassist James Quinlan, a synergy ignites. Canal charmingly engages with the crowd, who bask in the warmth of their bond.

Victoria Canal (Vocalist, Guitarist) & Lucy Clearwater (Vocalist, Guitarist)
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Canal is well connected, name dropping Coldplay’s Chris Martin – explaining that he challenged her to write a song at a songwriting camp before removing his shirt in front of her and finishing his laps. He has hailed her “Swan Song” as “one of the best songs ever written” and even collaborated with her on a duet rendition. She has also worked with plenty of other artists and songwriters, such as the legendary Kylie Minogue, Gavin DeGraw, and Adele, and has put out an impressive body of work already. 

Victoria Canal emoting strongly while singing
Victoria Canal (Vocalist, Pianist)
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Despite being born with a limb difference, she defies limitations, impressively playing both piano and guitar. In an interview with Gay Times, Canal said, “My limb difference is the least interesting thing about me.” This sentiment was evident in every song she performed, as each was preceded by a heartfelt backstory, inviting the audience into her world with candid vulnerability. Through her narrative and music, she fearlessly delves into topics such as body dysmorphia, gay culture, and the journey of embracing her authentic self in her sexual identity.

Victoria Canal playing guitar with her limb difference visible
Victoria Canal (Vocalist, Guitarist)
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Together, Canal and Clearwater exuded a synergy that elevated their performance to unparalleled heights. As they interwove their narratives and melodies, it became evident that their friendship was not only the foundation of their tour but also a driving force behind their creative expression. As the evening drew to a close, it was clear that in the face of technological advancements, it is the human spirit, embodied by artists like Canal and Clearwater, that continues to illuminate the path forward.

Photo Galleries

Photographer: Katherine Amy Vega

View Separately on Flickr:
Victoria Canal | Lucy Clearwater

Victoria Canal & Lucy Clearwater – Valley Bar 3-28-24

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

Extreme Reemerge At The Top Of Their Game at The Van Buren (2-23-24)

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Phoenix, AZ — Living Colour could be described as a funk band infused with hard rock, and Extreme, a hard rock band infused with funk. The fusion of these two bands playing the intimate Van Buren venue was magical. The first couple of songs from each band solidified the notion that they were bands that comprised elite musicians with chemistry and executed every musical nuance with collaborative precision. This leg of the “Thicker Than Blood” world tour started with U.S. dates in January, and they’ve had night-after-night to perfect their performance before their arrival in Phoenix.

Both groups emerged on the scene in that bygone era known as the 80s, and their timing couldn’t be better for their resurgence among music lovers craving this nostalgia. It wasn’t just the classic songs that sparked interest in this show. Extreme is touring in support of their new album, SIX, released last June, which has been met with an unexpectedly warm reception. Even the band has been surprised at the response that has shot the album into the top ten in some countries (peaked at 67 in the U.S. so far), and given their music videos millions of views on YouTube. 

Extreme's SIX black LP
SIX double vinyl

The music industry may have turned its back on guitar heroes, but the people have spoken. This was a sold out show. They came out en masse to see two of the finest guitarists on earth (and beyond): Vernon Reid of Living Colour, who sets the pace, and the great Nuno Bettencourt, who exceeds all speed limits.

Living Colour

Corey Glover (Vocalist), Living Colour
Corey Glover (Vocalist), Living Colour
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Guitarist Vernon Reid was the first to grace the stage as he strolled out like a long-lost friend, greeting everyone with a smile and a wave, and wearing a Salvador Dali T-shirt and a scally cap hat. Next, singer Corey Glover sauntered onto the stage dressed to the nines, with colorful dreads for days. Next was bassist Doug Wimbish (also known for his Sugar Hill recordings), wearing his signature hat and primed to slap his signature Spector Euro 5-string bass. Noticeably absent was drummer Will Calhoun, but filling in for him was James ‘Biscuit’ Rouse, whose résumé includes stints with Usher, Pharrell, Chic, Stevie Wonder, and more. According to the Living Colour website, Calhoun had some previous commitments for a handful of dates, and this was one of them.

Corey Glover singing at The Van Buren
Corey Glover (Vocalist), Living Colour
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

They opened their set with “Middle Man” from their 1988 debut Vivid, and “Leave It Alone” from their 1993 release Stain. Opening thoughts were that Glover’s voice was in top form and so very soulful, and that Reid can get a multitude of sounds from a pedal board that looks like the showroom of a music store. He then takes those sounds and turns them into sonic freight trains of blistering solos and iconic style.

Vernon Reid (Guitarist), Living Colour
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

A couple of cover songs landed in the set: The first was “Kick Out The Jams” by MC5, and it improved on the original. Glover’s voice gives more melody to the verses, but keeps the growl as needed for the payoff lines. Then, they performed a medley of hip hop songs from the Wimbish-led Sugar Hill label, including Melle Mel’s “White Lines (Don’t Do It)”, Sugar Hill Gang’s “Jump On It”, and Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message.”

Doug Wimbish (Bassist), Living Colour
Doug Wimbish (Bassist), Living Colour
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Living Colour wrapped their set up with the Grammy Award-winning “Cult Of Personality,” their breakout hit from 1988 with the music video that introduced them to crossover audiences. It was fantastic to see them back on the stage, doing this song and the handful of other songs that defined their unique brand of fusion rock/funk. They’ve still got it.

Extreme

Gary Cherone (Vocalist), Extreme
Gary Cherone (Vocalist), Extreme
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

This band hits the stage with all cylinders firing. Extreme’s high-energy music is amplified by the incomparable showmanship of frontman Gary Cherone, who left no area of the stage untouched. He even climbed the amplifier stacks for higher vantage points, commanding attention with exceptional charisma. His voice seems to have not aged and continues to possess the range for soft, low ballads to the primal screams that teeter on the verge of breaking.

As they opened with “It (‘s A Monster)” and “Decadence Dance” from their double platinum album Pornograffitti, Cherone was dressed in a black snake-skin-pattern sports coat, donning sunglasses with an ‘X’ over the right lens, and sporting his signature headband. His bold look and remarkable stage presence evoked elements of the great Motown performers, and he even mixed in a couple of lines from Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” somewhere in the night.

Gary Cherone (Vocalist), Extreme singing at The Van Buren
Gary Cherone (Vocalist), Extreme
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Fans were anxious to see if guitarist Nuno Bettencourt could pull off the scorching guitar riffs that he had perfected in the studio, and they were not disappointed. He had set the bar pretty high, yet made it look effortless as his left hand (the one with the black fingernail polish) blurred across the high frets of his Washburn N4 guitar. When “Rise” was released (the first single from SIX), the news spread like wildfire that ‘you have to check out Nuno’s new guitar solo!’ …Did he nail it live? It is a resounding yes, but we had to wait until the encore to hear it. It was worth the wait.

Rick Beato (Everything Music Channel) interviewed Bettencourt on his podcast about the massive response and it’s a great interview.

Nuno Bettencourt (Guitarist), Extreme
Nuno Bettencourt (Guitarist), Extreme
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Extreme was not resting on their laurels and playing all catalog hits. “#Rebel” was the first of six new songs to be sprinkled into the setlist. Cherone led the audience to sing-along with the angsty lyric “Hey, you got something to say? You talking to me as you’re walking away?” 

Pat Badger (Bassist), Extreme
Pat Badger (Bassist), Extreme
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Bassist Pat Badger and drummer Kevin Figueiredo may not have been the focal points of the limelight, but their contributions to the Extreme sound and their stellar musicianship did not go unnoticed. Plus, they both multitask with singing vocals while performing their instrumental duties and helping to build the wall of harmonies that elevate each chorus.

Kevin Figueiredo (Drummer), Extreme
Kevin Figueiredo (Drummer), Extreme
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

The four-part harmonies were spotlighted on the intro to the second song released from the new album, “Banshee,” when they covered Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls.” So cool. It’s clear that Queen had some influence on their individual musical journeys. They also included a bit of “We Will Rock You” during their performance of “Play With Me” that goes way back to their debut album. Check out their 20-minute Queen medley from the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness on April 20, 1992.

Gary Cherone (Vocalist) and Pat Badger (Bassist) of Extreme
Gary Cherone (Vocalist) & Pat Badger (Bassist), Extreme
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Another musical reference that percolated throughout the evening was the mighty Van Halen. To some, Gary Cherone is just a footnote to the historic singers of Van Halen that comprised Diamond Dave and Red Rocker Sammy Hagar. However, his one ill-fated album with the band did go gold, and he had the opportunity to work with the incredible Edward Van Halen. Bettencourt paid homage to Van Halen with a rendition of “Eruption” before transitioning into “Am I Ever Gonna Change.” Later, during the encore, he played the intro to “Woman In Love” and reverently pointed to the heavens, put his fist to his heart, and said, “Happy Birthday, King Edward!

Gary Cherone (Vocalist), Extreme performing at The Van Buren
Gary Cherone (Vocalist), Extreme
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

There were two acoustic moments during the performance. The first included the whole band doing renditions of the new “Other Side Of The Rainbow” and the classic “Hole Hearted.” Bettencourt put on his $7,000 cowboy hat and told the story about buying it in Nashville. Later in the evening, Bettencourt and Cherone did an even more stripped down acoustic montage that showcased their diverse songwriting skills.

As he took a seat with his acoustic guitar, Bettencourt gave a heartfelt thank you to Living Colour and praised the musicianship of guitarist Vernon Reid. He joked that when he realized that Reid would be going on before Extreme, he called Reid before the tour and asked him to ‘pull it back a little bit.’ He also spoke to all of the aspiring guitarists in the room with this motivational speech:

“Man, I just need to tell you one thing. Whether you’re doing this up here or in a fucking arena or a stadium or a club or whatever it is, that shit don’t mean anything. What matters is that you are playing this guitar. Whether it’s in your basement, whether it’s in a garage, whether it’s online, whether you’re a fucking great cover band… don’t worry about that shit if you’re doing it for the love of it. The success is playing this instrument right here! …This is like a super power, man. Nobody can fuck with you when you have this thing on, I’m telling you right now. And you can hit somebody hard with it if they do try to fuck with you. (smiles) Give it up for all the guitar players in the room keeping guitar alive, especially all you youngsters out there as well.” – Nuno Bettencourt

Then, he proceeded to give a master class on acoustic guitar prowess by playing the acoustic solo, “Midnight Express” from the Waiting For The Punchline album. Bettencourt then introduced the next song from the new album, called “Hurricane.” He discussed the universal experience of losing someone near and dear to us and mentioned that someone in the audience had lost their mother earlier that day. He dedicated the song to that audience member and anyone else trying to heal up from loss in their lives. The emotional lyrics culminate in the chorus, “My heart is in a hurricane, an eye of emptiness and pain, is this the storm before the calm?” 

Gary Cherone (Vocalist) & Nuno  Bettencourt (Guitarist) of Extreme
Gary Cherone (Vocalist) & Nuno Bettencourt (Guitarist), Extreme
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

The mood subtly switched from somber to celebration as the familiar chords of “More Than Words” filled the room. This is the number 1 song that everyone knows, and everyone is singing along with their cell phones raised. Through these two songs, Cherone and Bettencourt traded lead vocal segments, but the magic was in their signature harmonies. Definitely a highlight of the show.

The high-velocity slingshot back into high gear with “Banshee” and the country-hoe-down-on-steroids, “Take Us Alive” that melted into yet another throwback to the Elvis hit “That’s Alright,” another song perfectly suited for Cherone’s persona. Guitar solos throughout the night satisfied the legions of Nuno followers, but the pinnacle show stopper was his blazing shredding on “Flight Of The Wounded Bumblebee” that seems like a million notes in just a minute and a half. This kid is ah-mazing!

Nuno Bettencourt performing at The Van Buren
Nuno Bettencourt (Guitarist), Extreme
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

The night was seemingly coming to a close as they launched into their signature song from the 80s, “Get The Funk Out.” This was the one that first thrust them into the world stage and heavy rotation on MTV. It was fantastic and the harmonies were fun, with a few expletives added for good measure. The only thing missing was the horn section. As the song ended, the cheers went up and the lights went down as they left the stage. Many assumed that that was the end of the show since it was their obvious show closer… But the house lights did not come on. Some fans started to trickle out of the venue, but the die-hard fans just cheered louder till eventually the quartet returned to the stage.

It is almost unheard of for a band to do new material during their encore. It’s a ballsy move, but boy did it ever pay off. The encore started with the Eddie Van Halen tribute mentioned above, and then continued with “Small Town Beautiful” infused at the outro chorus with the anthemic “Song For Love” from the Pornograffitti album. Had people still carried lighters, the room would have been aglow with their flickering flames. Ultimately, the show closed with rocker “Rise,” featuring the extraordinary guitar solo and the fist-pumping “EXTREME” groove that is absolutely infectious. No one would disagree that this was the perfect choice of an anthem to end the deluge of great music.

Badger, Cherone, & Bettencourt of Extreme live at The Van Buren
Pat Badger (Bassist), Gary Cherone (Vocalist) & Nuno Bettencourt (Guitarist), Extreme
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Witnessing bands genuinely expressing their gratitude towards their fans at the end of the night is always heartwarming. Extreme spent several minutes thanking the crowd and tossing out picks, sticks, and setlists, before finally lying down on the stage to take a selfie with all of us fans. Well played, Extreme, well played.

EXTREME Setlist
| LIVING COLOUR setlist

Photo Gallery

Photographer: Mark Greenawalt

Extreme & Living Colour – The Van Buren 2-23-24

Photography © Mark Greenawalt.
All Rights Reserved

REVIEW: Tool‘s Epic Showmanship Takes Fans on a Sonic Odyssey for Night Two at Footprint Center (2-10-24)

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PHOENIX — On an unexpectedly brisk February evening, amidst the peculiar backdrop of lightning streaking across the Arizona sky, an eager audience gathered to experience the second night of Tool in Phoenix, accompanied by special guests Elder, on their simply-named “Winter Tour.” It comes as no shock that Tool effortlessly filled their hometown venue for two consecutive nights. These performances were a delight for fans of progressive rock, as both bands firmly reside within this genre’s realm.

Elder

Elder’s journey began as a trio in 2006, in a quaint seaside town in Massachusetts before eventually relocating to Berlin, Germany. Evolving into the present-day roster of 4 members, lead vocalist and guitarist Nick DiSalvo stands as the sole remaining founding member. The group boasts an impressive discography, including, but not limited to, six full-length albums. 

Comparisons abound between Elder and Tool, and while Elder tends to lean more toward the classifications of doom metal and stoner rock, there are undeniable similarities between the two groups. The 4-song, 40-minute set, which felt more like a mesmerizing jam session by a highly skilled and technically proficient ensemble, seemed to defy the passage of time. The band does not do very much that would be considered new, but what they do is done extremely well. 

Nick DiSalvo of Elder performing at Footprint Center
Nick DiSalvo (Vocalist, Guitarist), Elder
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Even without the elaborate visual show that Tool brings to the table, Elder’s performance—accompanied only by their name on the screen behind them—was very enjoyable. It served as a compelling example of why you should show up early to witness the openers. In fact, DiSalvo thanked the crowd for coming early to see them. They are worth catching when they come to town, and one can only hope they will swing by again sooner than later.

Tool

Among the fans in the arena, there was a palpable sense of anticipation, steadily mounting as the clock ticked towards 8:30. Nearly every attendee had settled into their seats about 15 minutes before the lights dimmed, all eager for what was to come—and with good reason. The opening sequence offered a tantalizing glimpse of the extraordinary spectacle about to unfold before their eyes.

The lights dimmed, the crowd erupted into cheers, and a heartbeat from “Third Eye” began. As Tool’s widely-acclaimed drummer Danny Carey climbed behind the kit, a massive skull moved across the screen from right to left in an arc. A second pass gave the skull muscles and blank eyes, a third and final pass gave it skin, irises, and pupils. By this time, guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor had walked out, taking up their places in front of Carey.

Maynard James Keenan (Vocalist), Tool
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Tool sets the stage in an unconventional way: The bassist and guitarist stand in front of the elevated drummer, who has quite the legendary kit surrounding him. On each side, slightly set back, are platforms mostly shrouded in darkness. Behind Carey, there is a walkway, serving as the domain of vocalist Maynard James Keenan, who adamantly prefers not to be at the forefront of attention. He has been known to face away from the audience to immerse himself in the right mindset for certain songs, but he did not do so this evening.

As the notes for “Fear Inoculum” began, Keenan could be seen pacing in circles on the stage-right platform. Keenan rarely stops moving during the show, and can be seen frequently crouching down as if he is preparing for an unseen opponent he could employ his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills against, given his black belt proficiency. He also rhythmically slaps his legs or pounds his chest to the beat when not singing. In essence, Keenan is a spectacle unto himself, captivating the audience with his dynamic presence.

Maynard James Keenan (Vocalist), Tool
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

There is an old adage that everyone knows by now: The only things certain in life are death and taxes. But nowadays, it seems almost incomplete without adding a third certainty: Maynard James Keenan’s disdain for all manner of cell phone usage at concerts. No matter which side you fall on the issue, there is no denying that as a concertgoer in these times, you are likely to partially watch the show through the lens of someone in front of you as they hold up their phone to record a video. Keenan has no problem letting you know how he feels about this, and in fact he insists that venues eject people who have their phones out. 30 or so people were reportedly kicked out during the prior night’s show for violating this rule, and at least 4 were spotted being escorted from the floor on this night. 

After “Fear Inoculum” ended, Keenan addressed the ban on cell phones by laying into the culture of addiction to false connections, informing people if they could not put their phones away for 2 hours, they should seek help. His reasoning was that he—and the band—wanted everyone to be present in the moment as they were taking the crowd on a journey. With the exception of the few who discovered that yes, it was still chilly outside, and yes, security was dead serious about enforcement of the policy, the audience as a whole respected the artists’ wishes. 

Maynard James Keenan (Vocalist), Tool
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Keenan was not using hyperbole when discussing the journey to come. The show truly is a transformative experience, with visuals that sometimes evoke the sensation of a particularly intense trip on psychedelic mushrooms. A prime example occurred when the screen behind the band abruptly showcased towering, 40-foot-tall aliens peering out at the crowd. Overall, the visuals behind the band are absolutely incredible to see, and there is no denying that they immensely enhance the experience. It should also be noted that Jones is an accomplished makeup artist and set builder—including work on Jurassic Park—and as such, some of the visuals came from him. 

Adam Jones (Guitarist), Tool
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Tool has a decent-sized body of work, with just over 50 songs in total, but the shows tend to have somewhat sparse setlists due to the length of their songs. This show was no exception, with just 11 songs, five of which came from 2019’s Fear Inoculum. There was a 12-minute intermission after the first 7 songs, where seemingly the entire arena made a mad dash to offload trash, visit concessions for some more food or drinks, and/or make a pitstop in the restroom. 

For those who managed to return in time, they were treated to the sight of Carey—sporting a personalized Phoenix Suns jersey and basketball shorts—standing before a colossal gong. After gently massaging the gong’s surface with his drumsticks, Carey took a mallet, pointed back toward the crowd, and delivered a resounding strike. Following this striking display, he settled behind his drum kit and unleashed a multi-minute drum solo, captivating the audience as it was magnificently showcased on the towering screens behind the stage.

Danny Carey (Drummer), Tool
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Carey’s drumming prowess is unparalleled, a true maestro behind the kit. It’s not only enthralling to watch but also a delight to listen to him weave his rhythmic magic. 

Next up was Chancellor, who delivered a relatively swift bass solo. Despite its brevity, witnessing him coax sounds from the bass that seem impossible was incredibly impressive.

Justin Chancellor (Bassist), Tool
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Lastly, but certainly not least, was Jones, who effortlessly shifts between styles, making it a bit more challenging to emulate him. However, witnessing someone defy “traditional” styles in such a remarkable manner is truly awe-inspiring. It’s a sheer pleasure to observe this trio craft music in ways that most can only dream of replicating. 

Adam Jones (Guitarist), Danny Carey (Drummer), & Justin Chancellor (Bassist) of Tool
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

There would be a total of 4 more songs, including “Flood,” which saw confetti dropping from the ceiling during the intro. Right before the final set, Keenan informed the crowd – almost resentfully – that since they had been good, they could film the final song. He also brought up the fact that he would be touring with A Perfect Circle and Puscifer, with a return to the valley in April. He then told the audience that they could take out their “stupid” phones, but warned that if they used their flash while taking photos or had their light on while filming, he would come down and “kick them in their vaginas.” As if on cue, someone immediately held up their phone with the light on, which drew Keenans’ wrath, as well as the attention of security.

What other song is better to close the show with than one of the most recognizable songs in rock, “Schism”? The opening notes may not be quite as recognizable as the riff, but almost any rock fan is immediately going to recognize those notes. It is fun to watch Tool live; every facet of the show is nothing short of entertaining, and the journey that Keenan promises to take the fans lives up to his word. As the final notes faded, Keenan left his perch for the first time, fist bumping each of his band mates before exiting the stage and allowing them to take the final bows they deserve. Keenan is an anti-star, if you will, and yet he certainly has the gravity of one. 

Maynard James Keenan (Vocalist), Tool
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Do yourself a favor and go see Tool next time they come to town. And if you are able, go see Puscifer and A Perfect Circle with Primus in Phoenix on April 16th or 17th (SOLD OUT) as well. Especially considering it will be Keenan’s 60th birthday celebration, we have every confidence they will not leave you disappointed. More Tool and Sessanta tour dates on Live Nation.

View Tool’s Phoenix Setlist (Feb. 10) on Setlist.fm

Photo Gallery

Photographer: Katherine Amy Vega

Tool & Elder – Footprint Center 2-10-24

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

REVIEW: The HU’s Thunderous Finale of the Warrior Souls Tour at The Van Buren (10-26-2023)

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PHOENIX — On a late October evening in Downtown Phoenix, in a venue named for the street it sits next to – Van Buren – an audience gathered to witness an incredible night of musical diversity, and the final stop on the “Warrior Souls” tour. Three dynamic bands would take the stage this evening, bringing the desert night to life with powerful metal riffs and the pulsating rhythms from these unique bands: The HU, Blind Channel, and NERV. The HU is renowned for blending Mongolian tradition and metal, transporting the audience to far off horizons. Finnish nu metal band Blind Channel ignited the stage with incredibly kinetic music, and the hybrid genre band NERV left a lasting impression with their performance. It was an evening where boundaries were transcended, and as a result, the crowd was left craving more.

NERV

NERV performing at The Van Buren
NERV
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

NERV bills itself as a genre-bending rock band, which is an apt description, as their music crosses boundaries between emo and metal, and some pop mixed in for good measure. Formed in 2016, the Sacramento, CA-based band is rather new to touring life, as they have only toured three times since forming. They released their first album We’re All Patients Here in October of 2022. However, while newer to the touring life and new to the majority of the audience, the band managed to do something that all openers dream of: win over an audience who has never had any exposure to them. 

Dillon Jones - lead singer of NERV - singing in Phoenix
Dillon Jones (Vocalist), NERV
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Lead vocalist Dillon Jones and guitarist and back-up vocalist Scott Buchanan took turns bantering with the audience, with Buchanan immediately gaining fans by wearing a Steve Nash Phoenix Suns jersey on-stage – unfortunately, the Suns would fall to the Lakers shortly after the NERV set ended – and both Jones and Buchanan made sure there was never a dull moment or awkward pauses during their set. Buchanan brought up the Arizona Diamondbacks’ improbable World Series run, which drew loud cheers. Jones also mentioned that singing karaoke until 2 in the morning was a really bad idea, apparently alluding to an incident earlier on the tour where the group had a little too much fun – if that’s even possible. 

Buchanan and Jones are joined onstage by guitarist Jordan Grokett and drummer Tyler Clark, and the band put together a 30 minute set that was, in short, extremely enjoyable, and left many hoping for more from the group. Jones has vocals that switch from a buttery-smooth emo style to a gritty sound that would fit in well with Breaking Benjamin, as well as other giants of metal. There is a bright future for this band, and if spotted on a bill as an opener, it is well-worth your time to show up early. You will not be disappointed.

Blind Channel

Blind Channel
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Up next was Blind Channel, a Finnish nu metal band that formed in 2013, and represented Finland in the 2021 Eurovision contest. They would finish in sixth place in the competition with their song “Dark Side.” The organizers of the Eurovision contest asked the band not to flip the audience off – something that did happen during this show, with both the audience and the band playfully flipping each other off – as the Eurovision contest is a family friendly show, so to get around this, the band painted their middle fingers red. 

Niko Moilanen (Vocalist), Blind Channel
Niko Moilanen (Vocalist), Blind Channel
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The show started off with “Happy Doomsday,” sung to the tune of “Happy Birthday,” with the band wasting absolutely no time in cranking the energy all the way up to 11 as soon as they started the show off. The band was heavily influenced by Linkin Park, and watching co-vocalists Joel Hokka and Niko Moilanen sing using screams that would have made Chester Bennington proud, it becomes very apparent just how influential Bennington and Mike Shinoda were.

In fact, “Scream” from their 2018 album Blood Brothers was dedicated to Bennington following his tragic passing. The lyrics make it very clear just how much they admired Bennington: “My hero, where did you go?/You still echo deep inside my bonesYou gave a choice to those who wanted to bleed/You gave a voice to those who wanted to scream.” The band also did a cover of “Numb” on video, but the song was never released as a standalone. 

Hokka and Moilanen are joined onstage by guitarist Joonas Porko, bassist Olli Matela, drummer Tommi Lalli, and DJ/percussionist Aleksi Kaunisvesi.

Blind Channel's vocalist Joel Hokka head banging
Joel Hokka (Vocalist), Blind Channel
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The band expressed gratitude for being in town, for being on the tour, and made sure to inform everyone where they came from. The band is known in the EU, but had not made a name for themselves stateside. They call themselves the “Backstreet Boys of the metal scene,” and in fact ended their show with a short singalong to the song “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” which may have been a bit confusing to anyone who is unfamiliar with the band and unaware of their nickname. There is a bit of a boy band element with the group, so it does fit, but they are far more than a boy band. 

Blind Channel performing in Phoenix
Blind Channel
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Blind Channel, like NERV, should be a must-see when spotted on a bill. The blast of pure energy and fun that comes from this group had a profound effect in bringing up the energy level of the crowd. You could not help but have a great time with these guys. The stage presence, the interactions, the ability to get the entire room to do what they asked with absolutely no hesitation (at one point asking the entire audience to crouch way down until given the word to go back to normal), were remarkable. It is just genuinely fun music with a band that is very good at what they do.

The HU 

The HU performing at The Van Buren
The HU
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To say the crowd was buzzing, ready for The HU would be a bit of an understatement. The HU (which translates to the Mongolian root word for “Human being”) burst onto the scene in 2016 and has grown steadily in popularity ever since.

They are unique in that they only sing in Mongolian, including their Metallica covers, which are arguably significantly better than the originals due to the depth of sound that the traditional instruments provide, as well as the throat singing that provides a unique sound that builds on the growl of James Hetfield. Part of this success comes due to their extensive touring, including quite a few tours throughout the US. They are relatively frequent visitors to Arizona – frequent, that is, for a band that is based in a country half a world away from the Sonoran Desert. The band visited twice in 2022, once this year, and will undoubtedly be back many more times. 

Enkush (Vocalist, Morin khuur), The HU
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The band expands on tour, from the four core members up to a total of eight, which allows them to bring their immense depth of sound to life. The band uses traditional Mongolian instruments and Tuvan throat singing, or Khöömei, as well as the more modern electric guitar and electric bass. 

Temka (Tovshuur), The HU
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The core band consists of:

  • Galbadrakh “Gala” Tsendbaatar, the lead vocalist and one of the throat singers, who also plays the morin khuur. This instrument is known as the national instrument of Mongolia and is sometimes called a horsehead fiddle.
  • Nyamjantsan “Jaya” Galsanjamts, another throat singer, who plays the tsuur, an important instrument in Mongolian music culture, as well as the tumur hhuur, which is similar to a jaw harp in the US.
  • Enkhsaikhan “Enkush” Batjargal, who is also a throat singer and plays the morin khuur.
  • Temuulen “Temka” Naranbaatar, responsible for backing vocals and playing the tovshuur. The tovshuur is a handmade instrument with two or three strings and may resemble a guitar at first glance.

The four touring members include:

  • Unumunkh “Ono” Maralkhuu, who plays percussion, tumur hhuur, and provides backing vocals.
  • Jambaldorj “Jamba” Ayush, the guitarist and backing vocalist.
  • Nyamdavaa “Davaa” Byambaa, the bassist and backing vocalist.
  • Odbayar “Odko” Gantumur, the drummer.

The HU played a 15-song set, drawing mostly from their 2022 album Rumble of Thunder, including “Black Thunder,” “This is Mongol,” and “YUT Hövende,” which they dedicated to the indigenous people around the world, but especially to those affected by the Maui wildfire.

Jaya (Vocalist, Tumur hhuur, Tsuur), The HU
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The lyrics of their songs are often about war and the old ways, with references to war in the song “Wolf Totem.” The wolf is a sacred symbol in Mongolia, with the Mongols considering them the messengers of heaven, and folklore holds that the great Chinggis Khaan – known to the west as Genghis Khan – came from a union between a wolf and an elk. As such, the song sounds like a war chant, one that would strike extreme fear into the hearts of any unfortunate foe who happened to hear it coming over the horizon, while simultaneously giving the army the ability to run through walls for their leader. 

Gala (Vocalist, Morin khuur), The HU
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Throat singing was banned during much of the 20th century by the communist regimes that held the areas that the Mongolians call home due to the fact it was considered “backwards,” and the desire to eliminate all traditions and rituals from a culture before being forcibly assimilated by every communist regime in history. This changed in the 80s, and there has been an explosion of throat singers since the ban was lifted, allowing the general public to once again take part in their traditions. 

There is another layer to the greatness that is The HU: The music videos are absolutely gorgeous, showing off the beauty of the Mongolian steppes, telling an incredible visual and audio story. Each music video, each song leaves you wanting more. 

The same can be said about the shows: they are loud, they are fun, and if you are a fan of metal, you will absolutely have an amazing experience. The show ended with a cover of Metallica’s “Sad But True,” the only song in the encore, and the perfect end to an incredible show. 

The HU performing at The Van Buren
The HU
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The HU and NERV have not yet announced new tour dates, but Blind Channel will spend much of spring 2024 touring Europe. While there are no current tours or local shows announced, it is well worth your while to listen to the catalogs and music videos from these extraordinary bands.

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The HU, Blind Channel, & NERV – The Van Buren 10-23-26

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REVIEW: Babyklok Tour 2023: An Unforgettable Night of Metal Madness with Dethklok and BABYMETAL in Phoenix (10-10-23)

PHOENIX — On a mild mid-October evening, with the first signs of fall evident throughout town – as seen in the changing colors of license plates, and the exchange of the brutal dry heat for a slightly less intense dry warmth – a crowd assembled at Arizona Financial Theatre in downtown Phoenix. Next to fine examples of how architecture should not look (brutalist architecture is the unsalted saltine cracker of the construction world) sits the theater. The crowd gathered here this evening had braved the traffic and lack of downtown parking to bear witness to a metal show like no other: Dethklok and BABYMETAL teaming up as co-headliners on the “Babyklok” tour, with Jason Richardson opening the show up. Dethklok – a fictional band that is surprisingly very real – was touring in support of their newest album, Dethalbum IV, and the new movie Metalocalypse: Army of the Doomstar. BABYMETAL was touring in support of the latest album The Other One, released earlier this year. 

Jason Richardson

Jason Richardson took the stage first. Richardson first broke into the music industry at 17, when he took over for Chris Storey in All Shall Perish in 2009. Since then, he has played in Born of Osiris, Chelsea Grin, and currently plays in All That Remains, filling the massive hole left when Oli Herbert mysteriously and tragically passed away in 2018. He has toured as a solo act, and puts on an absolute masterpiece of a solo show. He played for around half an hour, playing a total of 7 songs, including “Tendinitis” and “Ishimura”.

BABYMETAL

BABYMETAL
BABYMETAL
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The history of BABYMETAL is an interesting look into the culture and entertainment of Japan. Formed in 2010 with then-13-year-old Suzuka Nakamoto (stage name Su-metal) as the lead singer, 11-year-old Moa Kikuchi (stage name Moametal), and 11-year-old Yui Mizuno (stage name Yuimetal), the group was a subunit of a group named Sakura Gakuin. Yuimetal left in 2018 due to an illness, and was replaced in 2023 by one of their back-up dancers, Momoko Okazaki (known as Momometal). The idea was to fuse the Japanese idol genres with heavy metal, with the result being a new type of metal called “kawaii metal”. There is a very strong J-pop sound to the vocals, layered over thunderous, earth-shaking metal music.

BABYMETAL executing precise choreography
BABYMETAL
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This is combined with choreography that has near military-like precision, with the trio seldom, if ever, being out of sync. The show is equal parts entertaining and organized chaos, and BABYMETAL fans enjoy every second of it.

The chaos began at exactly 8 p.m., with the words “BABYMETAL WORLD TOUR 2023” coming up on the massive screen behind the band. The introduction drew inspiration from Star Wars, with the opening lines being ‘A long time ago in a heavy metal galaxy far, far away,’ followed by a tale of how the FOX GOD chose the heavy metal spirits to make up the band. At the conclusion, the band erupted into a riff that would make Rammstein proud. Even with the band attempting to rearrange the molecules of the audience members with a sustained sonic blast, the cheers from the crowd could still be heard.

BABYMETAL with a bursting, sparkling image on a backing screen
BABYMETAL
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BABYMETAL has released 4 albums over the years, starting with 2014’s BABYMETAL, 2016 saw the release of Metal Resistance, 2019 brought Metal Galaxy and earlier this year the band released The Other One. They leaned heavily on BABYMETAL, opening the show up with “BABYMETAL DEATH”, and following that up with “Gimme Chocolate!!”.

BABYMETAL dancing while shrouded in blue light
BABYMETAL
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Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Su-metal and the band said little beyond greeting the audience and giving instructions that were eagerly followed, such as having the crowd turn their phone lights on, getting low (which, in most cases, simply meant taking a seat before jumping back up), and a couple of other actions. While little was said, it is clear that the band has mastered the art of stage presence and crowd interaction. It should also be noted that unlike many recent metal concerts, there was a circle pit from the jump at this show. Watching the dynamics of said pit when the screen showed an overhead view of the audience was also an interesting study. Watching fully grown men slam into each other at full speed while listening to kawaii metal is not something I thought I would write about.

Dethklok

Dethklok logo on the backing screen at their concert
Dethklok
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Dethklok answers the question, “What would happen if Weird Al were a metalhead who decided to write NSFW lyrics?” The answer is a bizarre and yet utterly enjoyable hour-long show. The birth of Dethklok came in 2006, when Metalocalypse premiered on Adult swim. The fictional band would soon release a very real album – The Dethalbum – in 2007, which shot to number 21 on the Billboard top 200 list. Lead singer and founder Brendon Small played all the instruments from 2006 until he was joined in 2007 by Gene Hoglan, one of the greatest metal drummers to ever grace the stage.

Dethklock performs at Arizona Financial Theatre
Dethklok
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While the premise may seem a bit odd to an outsider, don’t be fooled. It is pure, silly, and rather metal fun. The show begins with the band members walking to their positions in backlit darkness. Then, the screen behind them plays scenes from the Metalocalypse TV show, including scenes from the full-length movie Metalocalypse: Army of the Doomstar, which was released on August 22nd of this year, while the real-life band performs. If you are not familiar with the show, it can be summed up as an over the top world where the fictional band accidently murders thousands of people with every show, and is also a massive economic powerhouse, but they can’t buy groceries or cook a meal due to their incompetence.

Dethklok with an animation with gravestones on the screen behind the band
Dethklok
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None of that previous sentence is made up, and the over the top moments mixed with the over the top songs attracted a die-hard following that happened to have quite a crossover into the BABYMETAL fanbase. This should be no surprise, as both bands produce some face-meltingly amazing metal, with a twist.

Oh, and Facebones, an animated skull featured in concerts and the TV show, serves as a well-intentioned character, often tasked with providing guidance and explanations, but invariably finds himself unable to convey valuable information before things inevitably go completely off the rails. He makes a couple of appearances, reminding the audience about concert etiquette, such as the importance of not indulging in excessive pot smoking, as no one wishes to take on the role of caretaker.

It gets very weird very quickly, but that seems to be par for the course considering one of the song names is “I Ejaculate Fire,” with an incredibly bizarre music video that redefines the idea of how destructive an STD can truly be.

Dethklok appearing as a silhouette with a large fiery screen above them
Dethklok
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Your aunt is likely to pray for your immortal soul upon discovering your attendance at a Dethklok concert. You might feel a tad confused and uncomfortable, but the music is undeniably absurd in the best possible way, with a real-life band producing some of the finest metal sounds you’ll ever encounter. Just don’t pay too much attention to the lyrics, or you might realize you’ve been headbanging to a coffee jingle. Not that anyone could fault you; “Duncan Hills Coffee Jingle” is undeniably a banger that leaves you uncertain about whether to charge through a wall to get some coffee or flee, especially since the video playing behind the band strongly suggests the brand has mistaken “waking up” for “burning alive in a pool of superheated coffee.”

Dethklok performs in front of a large crowd of fans
Dethklok
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Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

The Babyklok tour ended on October 12 in the Los Angeles area, and while BABYMETAL will continue on with another touring partner in Europe, fans will have to wait for Dethklok to announce their next steps. It is, after all, a concept band that just released a film to conclude the Metalocalypse era and has wrapped up their first tour in 11 years. The fandom can only hope to see another tour or two, but if there are no more, it would be difficult to argue against the idea that they truly exited stage left on a high note.

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REVIEW: The Darkness Envelops & Excites Fans at Marquee Theatre… Again (10-7-23)

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Tempe, AZ — The Darkness returned to Arizona for a triumphant show as they celebrate the 20th anniversary of their debut album Permission to Land, and the special reissue collection that was released the day prior to the show: Permission to Land…Again. They last graced the Marquee Theatre stage in March of 2022 on their “Motorheart” tour. This October 2023 show was the 4th date of the US leg of the world tour celebrating their debut, and they played a setlist full of their biggest hits from that album and beyond. The Comancheros, a country/southern rock band from Missouri, opened the show with an infectious energy that warmed up the crowd for the high-octane headliner.

The Comancheros

The Comancheros perform energetically at Marquee Theatre
The Comancheros
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They began with their powerful song “Mississippi”, which electrified the room, and they followed up with a string of other hits, including “Long Hair”.

The Comancheros rock Marquee Theatre
The Comancheros
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The band asked the audience if there were any beer drinkers and hellraisers in AZ while holding beer cans up in the air, then drank it up and kicked into their song titled “Beer Drinkers”.

The Comancheros raising beer at their Tempe concert
The Comancheros
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They continuously engaged with the audience throughout their set and completed it  with the songs “We Own the Night,” “George Jones,” “Cowboy Song,” “Drum/Gun/Chariot,” “Shoot Me Down,” and “Bird/Time Machine”.

The Comancheros vocalist and guitarist Tanner Jones
Tanner Jones (Vocalist, Guitarist), The Comancheros
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Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

The Darkness

"Welcome to The Darkness" theatrical poster
“Welcome to The Darkness” theatrical poster

On October 2nd, just five days before this show, The Darkness announced the launch date of their feature-length documentary, Welcome to the Darkness, that adds to their extensive discography with seven studio albums since their start in the early 2000’s. The film will arrive in cinemas for one night only on November 9th, and will then be available on Blu-Ray and digital download on December 4th. 

The Darkness kicked off their set with a high-powered rendition of “Black Shuck.” Fans were immediately singing along and dancing fervently. The band followed that up with a string of their biggest hits, including “Get Your Hands Off My Woman,” “Growing on Me,” and “The Best of Me.”

The Darkness vocalist Justin Hawkins
Justin Hawkins (Vocalist, Guitarist), The Darkness
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Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Lead singer Justin Hawkins was in top form, delivering his vocals with power and precision. He showered the audience with guitar picks, ensuring the youngest fans got their concert memento by stretching and throwing as far as he could to get closer to them from the stage.

The Darkness frontman throwing a guitar pick to the crowd
Justin Hawkins (Vocalist, Guitarist), The Darkness
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Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

He had the crowd in the palm of his hand with his witty banter and stage presence. Guitarist Dan Hawkins, bassist Frankie Poullain, and drummer Rufus Taylor were also on fire, playing with some truly impressive musicianship.

The Darkness performing at Marquee Theatre
The Darkness
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Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

During their performance, the engagement with the audience was ongoing, including a sing-a-long with a member of the audience, also named Justin (with Hawkins grinning after the audience member shared his name). The frontman also saw a group of 4 British fans in attendance, all dressed up in Union Jack patterned suits, with their companion in a full American flag outfit, wearing a bald eagle head mask that got thrown onto the stage. The drummer put it on and wore it while playing an entire song, before throwing it back to the audience member that threw it to the stage.

Fans of The Darkness in British and US themed costumes at Marquee Theatre
Fans of English rock band The Darkness donning British and US themed costumes at Marquee Theatre concert
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Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

They closed out their set with a rousing performance of their signature song, “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”. The crowd went wild, with smartphones raised from almost everyone in attendance, prompting Justin Hawkins to stop and playfully ask the audience to ‘place themselves in their place, and to not record the performance’ before starting back up and, delighting the audience with a fantastic show, giving it his all. 

Justin Hawkins of The Darkness doing a headstand in front of their drum kit
Justin Hawkins (Vocalist, Guitarist), The Darkness
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Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

For their encore, they emotionally played “I Love You 5 Times” before the vocalist announced they had one song remaining, and with a mischievous grin stating, “but is a pretty f***ing long song.” The Darkness closed the set with “Love on the Rocks with No Ice”. The shower of guitar picks continued as the band did their goodbyes, with no pick left behind. 

Justin Hawkins smiling widely as he plays the guitar, with Frankie Poullain playing bass in the background
Justin Hawkins (Vocalist, Guitarist) & Frankie Poullain (Bassist), The Darkness
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Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Overall, The Darkness put on an incredible show at Marquee Theatre. They played a setlist full of their biggest hits and deepest cuts, and they delivered a performance that was both energetic and entertaining. If you have the chance to see them on this tour, you will be lucky to witness one of the best live bands in the world, with (at the time of publication of this article) just 9 more dates left for the US leg, and 36 upcoming world tour dates before coming back to the US in 2024 for the Monsters of Rock cruise festival in Miami, Florida. 

If you’re a fan of rock music, then you need to see The Darkness live, and they’re sure to put on a show that you’ll never forget. Make sure to catch a screening of their feature documentary on November 9th, or look for it on Blu-Ray on on its December 4th release date.

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The Darkness & The Comancheros – Marquee Theatre 10-7-23

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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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“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
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“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
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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
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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
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“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

View Separately: Ben Folds | Tall Heights

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

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

REVIEW: Nickelback Ignites Footprint Center with Brantley Gilbert & Josh Ross (7-12-23)

PHOENIX – The “Get Rollin’ Tour” made a tour stop in Arizona last Wednesday night, featuring Nickelback, Brantley Gilbert, and Josh Ross. The music was a mix of country and rock, and fans of all ages came ready to party. The show was held at Footprint Center, which serves as home to the Phoenix Suns, Phoenix Mercury, and the Rattlers. The arena has had many names since opening in 1996. A few previous names that may sound familiar are Talking Stick Resort Arena, US Airways Center, and America West Arena. It was once the home of the Phoenix Coyotes in the late ’90s. It’s also the venue for various events such as professional wrestling, Disney on Ice, and concerts.

Josh Ross

Josh Ross is a Canadian country singer, and he opened the show and warmed up the crowd with his eight-song setlist. His cover of “Iris” by The Goo Goo Dolls had everyone singing along, with their phones’ flashlights waving in the air.

Brantley Gilbert

Brantley Gilbert - Footprint Center
Brantley Gilbert (Vocalist, Guitarist)
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Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

Brantley Gilbert is a country rock singer from Georgia, and he knows how to put on a show with flair. He opened with “Kick It In The Sticks,” and he brought the heat – pyro and fog continuously blasted on stage.

Ben Sims (Drummer), Brantley Gilbert
| Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

We live in a world where we can’t punch anyone in the face anymore. I went to my social media, but I forgot my passwords. So, I decided to write the trolls a song instead,” Gilbert said before playing “Bury Me Upside Down” from the album So Help Me God.

Before singing “Son of the Dirty South,” Gilbert explained how he wrote the song with Jelly Roll, and that they both take pride in being boys from the South. He aimed to transform Phoenix into the dirty South for a few moments – a vision readily embraced by the enthusiastic crowd.

Noah Henson ( Guitarist), Brantley Gilbert
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Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

Gilbert played seventeen songs in total, including five covers. The audience cheered and sang along with every song. His energetic performance and ability to connect with the audience were amazing. His voice is a perfect blend of rock-infused country music, and fans loved his raw and authentic stage performance.

Nickelback

Chad Kroeger of Nickelback
Chad Kroeger (Vocalist, Guitarist), Nickelback
Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

The Canadian rock band Nickelback formed in 1995 and is still going strong, despite anything their haters might say. Chad Kroeger is the band’s lead vocalist, Ryan Peake is their rhythm guitarist, keyboardist, and backing vocalist, Daniel Adair is the drummer, and Mike Kroeger is the bass guitarist. The tour is supporting their seventh and newest album, Get Rollin’, which was released in September 2022.

Mike Kroeger (Bassist), Nickelback
| Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

Before the band steps on stage, a yellow CGI van with a red stripe appears on the big screen. It’s the symbol of their current tour. Then posters of each band member flash on the big screen with the words “Wanted Dead or Alive.” The crowd is on their feet and screaming when the video ends, and the CGI van turns onto an exit, and the highway signs read, “Phoenix, 12 parsecs.”

The first song is “San Quentin” from their newest album, and the audience is ready to rock out. After the song, Chad Kroeger addresses the crowd, asking, “Let’s see if you remember the words to this one.” They begin to play “Savin’ Me” from their album All The Right Reasons.

Ryan Peake (Gutiarist, Backup Vocalist), Nickelback
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Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

The yellow CGI van returns to the screen, racing down a dark road before they play “Animals.” A guitar riff fills the air as a fiery phoenix lands on the CGI van and transforms it into a sexy muscle car. Blasts of pyro pop, and screams are heard all around the arena in excitement. As the song concludes, Chad Kroeger thanks the audience for their energy and excitement. He says, “It’s crowds like you that make me want to do this for the rest of my fucking life. Cheers.” He then drinks a shot with the crowd and adds, “It’s an honor and a fucking privilege to play for you.

Chad Kroeger (Vocalist, Guitarist), Nickelback
| Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

I’m going to play a song that would probably get us canceled today. But then again, they’ve been trying to cancel us for twenty years,” Chad Kroeger jokes, and they play “Figured You Out” from their album The Long Road.

Nickelback covers Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road,” and to surprise the audience, Gilbert and Ross return to the stage to sing along. The crowd eats it up, and the dark arena fills with phones filming the three singing and jamming together.

After playing “High Time,” Chad Kroeger chuckles and says, “We snuck a new one in on you. Has anyone heard it?” The fans respond with cheers, affirming their familiarity with the song. Proving after twenty-eight years that their loyal following still listens to and loves them.

Chad Kroeger (Vocalist, Guitarist) & Daniel Adair (Drummer), Nickelback
Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

Chad Kroeger picks a lucky lady from the audience to come up and sing a fan favorite, “Rockstar.” The woman is starstruck as she is welcomed to the stage and handed a mic. But she soon gets into the song, sings a bit, and dances as the band plays around her.

When playing “Those Days,” movies, TV shows, bands, and MTV logos from the ’80s appear on the big screen as the band reflects on the simpler times of growing up.

Mike Kroeger (Bassist), Nickelback
| Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

Chad Kroeger smiles at the crowd and says, “You’ve got my vote for the best crowd on tour. Phoenix is fucking amazing.” Just before singing “How You Remind Me” from their album Silver Side Up.

The band thanks the crowd and steps off stage for a few minutes while the crowd cheers and cries for an encore. Nickelback returns to applause and cheers before playing “Gotta Be Somebody” from their album Dark Horse.

Chad Kroeger (Vocalist, Guitarist) & Daniel Adair (Drummer), Nickelback
Photography:
Kara Blakemore © All Rights Reserved

Chad Kroeger speaks to the crowd a final time, saying, “I’m going to be honest with you, as I normally am, incredibly honest to a fault. Earlier today, we did an interview with somebody from a foreign country, and they just started asking us all these shitty fucking questions, and it absolutely ruined my fucking day until I got on this stage, and I heard you.” He pauses as fans cheer and fists shoot up into the air. He continues, “And you turned it all around. I want to thank you from the bottom of my fucking heart, Phoenix. Thank you. I want to take you with me to every fucking city so you can give lessons on how a rock ‘n roll crowd is supposed to behave. I’m in such a good fucking mood right now. Phoenix! Let’s have some fun!” They wrap up the night with tons of pyro and the powerful song, “Burn It to the Ground.”

The “Get Rollin’ Tour” was fiery and left the audience with memories they’ll treasure for a long time. This tour is the perfect blend of country and rock and should not be missed.

Photo Gallery

Photography: Kara Blakemore

Nickelback & Brantley Gilbert – Footprint Center 7-12-23

Photography © Electric Eye Photo AZ
All Rights Reserved

REVIEW: Music Legends Shaggy, TLC, & En Vogue Epitomize Hot Summer Nights at TSR Amphitheatre (7-7-23)

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PHOENIX — Talking Stick Resort Amphitheatre hosted the aptly-named “Hot Summer Nights Tour” last Friday, featuring Shaggy, TLC, En Vogue, and Sean Kingston. The tour’s July 7th stop in Phoenix was a 90s-infused R&B/reggae/hip-hop flashback enjoyed by a multi-generational and multicultural audience. The sexy and sometimes PG-13 rated gyrations on stage may have bumped that heat index up a notch or two, but the crowd was there for it, and the artists delivered. 

Sean Kingston

Sean Kingston - Talking Stick Resort Amphitheatre
Sean Kingston
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Miami, Florida-born Sean Kingston took the stage and promised to “take everyone to Jamaica on a first class trip”. Born Kisean Paul Anderson in 1990, he was raised in Kingston, Jamaica and brought not only his professional name but also his reggae-rich upbringing into his career. Kingston was not yet born when the other artists in the lineup were household names, but with his DJ Nyce Hitz driving the music and sharing in the vocals, he primed fans with a brief 17-minute set. Included in the setlist were the 2007 Teen Choice award-winning song “Beautiful Girls”, and his 2010 Justin Bieber collaboration “Eenie Meenie”.  

En Vogue

En Vogue - Talking Stick Resort Amphitheatre
En Vogue
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Oakland divas En Vogue opened the set with the classic ladies-empowerment anthem “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)”, stunning fans with on-point harmonies and forceful solos. Founding members Terry Ellis and Cindy Herron, along with longtime member Rhonda Bennett, looked stunning in short-length tiered floral dresses showcasing long legs, sporting retro-inspired updos and bling. The former foursome, now a trio, thrilled the audience with sultry choreographed dance moves and a fierce presence.

Rhonda Bennett (Vocalist), En Vogue
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Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Next up was “You Don’t Have to Worry” from their debut album Born to Sing – a fittingly titled album as these ladies were undeniably born to sing. As if twenty million records sold worldwide is not proof enough, throw in three Soul Train Awards, seven Grammy nominations, and two American Music Awards, and it’s no surprise we are sharing their songs with future generations.

Cindy Herron (Vocalist), En Vogue
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Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Each En Vogue “funky diva” was given the spotlight on “Give It Up”, allowing them to showcase their individually stylized solos. Herron said, “Ladies with a good man, raise your hands!” as the group jumped into their Salt-N-Pepa collaboration “Whatta Man” while fans joined them in an electric slide dance. “Free Your Mind”, their hit song about racial tolerance, followed next.

Terry Ellis (Vocalist), En Vogue
Terry Ellis (Vocalist), En Vogue
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Their 40-minute set also included Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy”, complete with air guitar, followed by a dynamic version of Curtis Mayfield’s “Something He Can Feel”. Showing appreciation to fans, Herron said, “It’s been 33 years now. Thank you for all the love and support.” 

TLC

TLC
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Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Multi-platinum artists TLC brought a dose of nostalgia to the stage. T-Boz (Tionne Watkins) still sports her asymmetrical locks, while Chilli (Rozonda Thomas) seems like she has not changed a bit. Four dancers and a live band provided support for the 90s R&B legends.

TLC’s live band and dancers
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

T-Boz said, “It’s hotter than h-e-double hockey sticks”, appealing to the compassion of the audience as they slowed things down a bit while she stood in front of a cooling fan. Their set kicked off with their debut hit “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” off their 1992 album Ooooooohhh, and included previously recorded raps by Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes (the “L” in TLC) who tragically passed away in 2002.

Chilli (Vocalist), TLC
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

“Baby-Baby-Baby” was next, and T-Boz’s signature gravelly voice transported the fans to the decade when MTV still played music videos and TLC was everywhere. Chilli sang while keeping in step with the four high-energy male dancers, showcasing dance styles from both the 90s and present day, while sporting iconic parachute pants from that era. To lead into the 1999 hit “Unpretty”, T-Boz remarked that social media is full of people trying to make everyone feel bad about themselves, and said the song should be listened to again. “Creep” was next, followed by solos from all of the dancers. While TLC took a cooling break, a DJ provided entertainment, playing mixed versions of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough”, Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling”, and the Dirty Dancing soundtrack hit “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”. 

T-Boz (Vocalist), TLC
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

On the stage’s backing screen, a video showed a guy riding as passenger in a car, along with a girl he aims to impress. Clearly leading up to “No Scrubs”, this hyped the crowd for the megahit from 1999’s Fanmail. T-Boz and Chilli turned their microphones to the concertgoers for the line “Can’t get wit’ a deadbeat ass” that they enthusiastically delivered. The screen then segued to footage of a high-contrast waterfall before their set ended with a performance “Waterfalls” from the CrazySexyCool album, which was released in 1994. Hearing the recording of Left Eye’s signature rap during this classic song while her bandmates performed it live was emotionally evocative. 

Shaggy

Shaggy - Talking Stick Resort Amphitheatre
Shaggy
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

While many expected TLC as the headliner, Shaggy was the final act on this night. His set kicked off with “Mood”, after which he apologized for his obviously hoarse voice in his thick Jamaican accent. The charismatic reggae-rapper, born Orville Richard Burrell, burst onto the music scene in 1992, winning 2 of his 7 Grammy nominations, and is known for collaborations with various artists in multiple genres, including Sting from The Police. Still over 100 degrees at 10 p.m. in Phoenix, Shaggy quipped, “I’ve never had to perform in this much heat in my life,” as he tossed his trademark oversized sunglasses to the side stage. 

Shaggy with his live band
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

His set included samples of Bob Marley’s “One Love” and UB40’s “Red Red Wine” before he exclaimed, “We’re going to turn this bitch up” and transitioned to “In The Summertime” from Boombastic. He then grabbed his phone and turned around, taking a selfie with the crowd to “put y’all asses on YouTube”. Shaggy’s dance moves included ample provocative hip grinding, at one point suggestively stroking his microphone.

Shaggy
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

He delighted the crowd with “Angel” (his reimagining of Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning”), along with “Boombastic”, “Strength of a Woman”, and “It Wasn’t Me”. Fans especially loved his reggae version of Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” from the Sting-produced album Com Fly Wid Mi released May 2023.

90s music enthusiasts, filled with nostalgic memories of MTV videos, cassette tapes, and oversized baggy clothes, braved the heat in full force while passing on their love for the “old school” to younger generations. This Phoenix stop was, hands-down, the epitome of everything the “Hot Summer Nights” tour represents.

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Photographer: Katherine Amy Vega

View Separately:
Shaggy | TLC | En Vogue | Sean Kingston | Nyce Hitz

Shaggy, TLC, En Vogue, & Sean Kingston – Talking Stick Resort Amphitheatre 7-7-23

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

REVIEW: AL1CE Enthralls Pub Rock Live, Closing the Shadows and Light Tour (5-13-23)

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Scottsdale, AZ — On a mild Saturday night – one of the last mild evenings before the Arizona summer heat really sets in – a crowd gathered at Pub Rock Live to watch the final show of LA-based band AL1CE’s “Shadows and Light” tour, with Portland-based Adrian H. and the Wounds and AZ local bands Don’t Panic and Mike and the Molotovs opening the show up.

The venue sits less than half a mile from the border of Tempe and Scottsdale, situated in a low slung strip mall, a victim of the questionable design choices architects tended to make over half a century ago. A quick glance tells the viewer that form and function stopped talking to each other halfway through the design process, and at some point, form was found badly beaten in the alley.

It is a minor miracle that this plaza has survived the development of South Scottsdale, something that could perhaps be attributed to being consistently filled with tenants. Today, one can visit and find an smorgasbord of eclectic tenants: two churches, two gyms, a mattress store, three restaurants – including one that is also one of the best places to buy fresh seafood in all of Arizona – and a barbershop that doubles as a time capsule. The interior appears to have had few upgrades since the early 80s, and the owner – Justin, who the shop is named after – will only charge you $12 for a haircut and a conversation.

Around the corner from the barber shop, one will find the destination for this evening. Above the doors, you will be greeted with a simple sign that says “Pub Rock,” with an old-timey radio microphone dividing the words. Below, to the left of the double doors, there is a warning that you’re about to enter the AZ (Kansas City) Chiefs Kingdom.

Pub Rock started life as Atomic Café in the early 90s. Grey Daze – with Chester Bennington – reportedly played there around 1995. In 1998, the name changed to Chasers, and the clientele and music styles changed as well. In 2012, Chasers was sold, and became Pub Rock, hosting some broadcasts from the very short-lived revival of KUKQ. You will now find an autographed Joe Montana jersey hanging over the bar, surrounded with plenty of other memorabilia. There is a wall of CDs next to the stage, and neighboring that, the merch table. You will also find a security guard who may very well ask you to pet her by the end of the show, as she is a Great Dane named “Gucci,” who is exceedingly well behaved.

Mike and the Molotovs

Mike and the Molotovs (MATM) took the stage first, with frontman Mike Lee saying “Let’s get this shit started! Give it up for AL1CE! Thank you guys for making it out here, we’re gonna close your tour out right.” Lee, for those who are not acquainted with his work, deals in satire. One of his previous bands is Goth Brooks, a Phoenix-based band with a sound that combines the goth metal/industrial and country genres. 

Mike Lee (Vocalist, Guitarist), Mike and the Molotovs
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Some of the work of MATM is slightly more subtle than other pieces, but the opening number lacked all subtly, and instead reminded you that he is also not the biggest fan of capitalism. The opening line contains the excellent advice of “Don’t let your babies work at Wal-Mart.” The band bills itself as “Spaghetti Punk,” an apt description for the style. There is an undeniable country undertone with a dose of Flogging Molly with the fiddle – played by special guest Tim Sadow – over the guitars. As the first song came to an end, Lee urged the crowd to come a bit closer to the stage, telling them “we don’t bite,” to which guitarist and back-up vocalist Ivan deadpanned, “I bite. Don’t get too close to me.

After informing the audience that they didn’t have a choice in if they wanted another song, Lee announced that the name of the next song was “If You Want To Be My Lover, The Two Party System Must End.” A glance at the song title may give one the impression that they are about to hear a cover of the well-known song by the Spice Girls named “Wannabe,” but nothing could be further from the truth. There are elements of “American Idiot” hidden in the first few bars of the song, and lyrics that are rather unlike the bubblegum pop that the Spice Girls were known for, save for the line “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want!” yelled by Ivan.

Mike Lee (Vocalist, Guitarist), Mike and the Molotovs
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

There were some surreal moments, including a song about Burger King that involved Ivan slowly ramping up to yelling, “Whopper whopper whopper WHOPPER,” into the microphone, much to the delight of the crowd. This is what makes seeing Mike and the Molotovs a fun event: the band has a message they take seriously, but they don’t turn it into an overly preachy event; instead you’ll have a bunch of fun with listening to a rather fun anti-capitalist band.

Don’t Panic

Don’t Panic took the stage next. Formed back in 2014, the band name is a reference to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This is reflected in their latest album – 42 – released in August of last year. If you are unfamiliar with “the Guide”, the number 42 is the answer to life, the universe, and everything. Unfortunately, no one knows what the question is. Why? Well, I would tell you, but I think you should read the book. 

Dylan Rowe (Vocalist), Don’t Panic
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

As the band took the stage, your eye could not help but to be drawn to the bejeweled mesh mask that lead vocalist Dylan Rowe wore. It would catch the light throughout the show, throwing it back into the audience, adding to the enchantment of the performance. Don’t Panic is a mix of genres, sounding a bit like rock some moments, then some dance, and weaving it all together is Rowe and the back-up vocalist Jeffery Robens, who is also the guitarist. Bassist Ryan Obermeit and drummer Jesse Mitchell round out the band.

Don't Panic live at Pub Rock
Don’t Panic
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

There is a bit of Evanescence hidden away in the band, with Rowe and Robens sometimes sounding a bit like Amy Lee and Ben Moody from the very early days of the band. One must also recognize those who do not get nearly enough credit as well: whoever programmed the light show. The stage was small, but the production value punched way above its weight class, and it is impossible not to be impressed by the ethereal short set, which leaves you yearning for an encore.

Adrian H. and the Wounds

Adrian H. and the Wounds joined AL1CE on their continent wide tour, marking one of their first tours since the pandemic began. The band has garnered a bit of a cult following locally in Portland, though they haven’t been quite as active as before the pandemic. They have played with AL1CE previously in October of 2020, and at festivals and internationally, but have been a bit quiet when it comes to touring for the last few years.

Adrian H. and the Wounds
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Their sound – according to their website – is sinfully soulful. It could also be described as darkwave, mixed with a bit of Nine Inch Nails. It was a nearly blackout, smoky set, with the fog machine getting a bit of a warmup for AL1CE. The band was backlit, with Adrian H hunched over the keyboard on stage left, and the rest of the band cracking out the paradoxically pleasant and yet somewhat monotone EDM and goth metal music. 

Adrian H. and the Wounds
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

One could not help but – at the very least – sway along to the music, if not join the others in the audience on what was now a dance floor. The final song of the set brought vitality to the performance as the frontman stepped out from behind the keyboard and had a much stronger stage presence than before. The band was enjoyable as it was, but the change in pace and flow elevated the finale. The set ended without much said, and while it was not the most overwhelming set of the night, they had joined AL1CE on a marathon of a tour and undoubtedly felt all of the miles they traveled. Adrian H. and the Wounds kept the dark atmosphere strong and served as a good segue between Don’t Panic and AL1CE.

AL1CE

AL1CE would finish the night off. In spite of a massive 25-day, 10,000-mile, 24-show tour, there was no indication of exhaustion throughout the set. Even though the band is based in the LA area, they have strong ties to the Phoenix area. Jonah Foree – a bandmate of Mike Lee in Goth Brooks, and the goth metal side of the band – was a prolific and well-loved musician who left us entirely too soon in 2022. 

AL1CE
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Foree, who was also a member of Ikonoklast and HARDWIRE, organized an annual free show called Mustache Massacre which fostered a collective bond of the gothic community for over a decade. It often featured his bands along with the AL1CE members’ previous project Mankind is Obsolete, and strongly supported other local industrial, metal, and punk music groups as well. This tour marked the first time AL1CE returned to Phoenix on tour after his passing, and a song written by Foree himself called “Drown” was played during tonight’s show. Vocalist Natasha “Tash” Cox was close friends with Jonah, and performed at the memorial show for Foree.

Natasha Cox (Vocalist), AL1CE
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

AL1CE is an experience. It is not just the music, it is also the feeling of being welcomed, of feeling like you know those on stage, even if you’ve never met them before. While one can eventually learn how to have a stage presence that will capture your attention, making the audience feel at home is not a talent that can be taught. There was nothing forced the entire night, nothing felt awkward or unnatural. Instead, you are welcomed into the venue, and you become a family of sorts with the band, even if you do not realize it at first. The band wears masks, they wear costumes, and it would be easy to think that they may be a bit different off stage, but that could not be further from the truth. 

Sasha Travis (Vocalist), AL1CE
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Cox is joined on stage by vocalist Sasha Travis, bassist and keyboardist Gordan Bash, drummer Steve Kefalas, percussionist Carl Garcia, and Scott Landes on the guitar. The band calls the music “dark electronic rock,” which is definitely true, but there is more to the band than just that. Their cover of “Land of Confusion” is nowhere near as abrasive as the Disturbed cover that most as used to, and is instead a heavy and enjoyable listen. Audience participation came halfway through the show, as a high hat was taken from the stage, put into the crowd, and those who wanted were handed a drum stick to hit the cymbal while one of the band members played a tambourine. While that may seem like a bit of a surreal experience, in context it made perfect sense, and was a unique experience.

Gordon Bash (Bassist, Keyboardist), AL1CE
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

AL1CE also performed an impressive cover of Bjork’s “Army of Me” in their unique and enthralling way. It takes talent to take a song, leave a major nod to the original artist, and yet add your own sound on top, a musical cake if you will. This is what this unique and lovely group of humans do: make music feel familiar in a show that feels like home. The show ended – this is the tragedy of all shows; they begin, and thus must also end – and the band stepped off the stage to mingle with those in the audience. And so, in that low-slung building that has witnessed history for the last half-century or so, another chapter closed, another show ends, and we all disperse into the night with gratitude for the memories made and the opportunity to remember Jonah Foree once again.

Photo Galleries

Photographer: Katherine Amy Vega

View Separately:
Shaggy | TLC | En Vogue | Sean Kingston | Nyce Hitz

AL1CE | Don’t Panic | Full Lineup

AL1CE, Adrian H and the Wounds, Don’t Panic, & Mike and the Molotovs – Pub Rock 5-13-23

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