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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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”.
“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.
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 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 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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.“
“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 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.
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 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.
Photography: Kara Blakemore
Nickelback & Brantley Gilbert – Footprint Center 7-12-23
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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”.
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.
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.
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.
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 Mireleased 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
PHOENIX — Thinking of the history of popular music, especially rock ‘n’ roll history, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of people who were “there.” Every legendary artist started small, as even the biggest artists of all time had those early shows before it all blew up, and inexplicably there were people — average everyday people — who were lucky enough to be “there” to see those struggling performers before they turned into superstars.
Still walking around are those who saw Elvis play local shows in Memphis, Bob Dylan play coffee houses in New York or, most mind-blowing of all to me, The Beatles play The Cavern Club in Liverpool. For the rest of us, those artists existed bigger than life, playing the biggest stages in the world. Unless you were one of those lucky individuals in The Cavern Club, or The Star Club in Hamburg, they only existed as mega stars, playing the biggest venues the 60’s had to offer.
We would never get as close or as intimate as those lucky individuals who were there for those early days before they were legends, that is unless you were lucky enough to catch Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band at Celebrity Theatre on one of two nights at their Phoenix stop on the tour. The Celebrity Theatre is a rare wonder that has no such thing as a “bad seat,” with its smaller intimate setting in the round with a rotating stage dead-center. It is certainly the most up-close anyone is likely to get to any of these legends since they first began their careers in bars and small clubs.
Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band
The “All-Starr Band” concept was originally conceived in 1989 by Ringo, with the idea that he would put together a band, not just of professional hired guns to help him perform many of his hits across his storied career from The Beatles to his many incredible solo records, but instead pack the band with fellow legendary performers who also had a bottomless well of hits from which to pull.
Over the years, the Ringo’s All-Starr Band has included members of The Band, Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band, The Eagles, The Who, Dr. John, Todd Rundgren, Peter Frampton, and the “fifth Beatle” Mr. Billy Preston. This, the 15th iteration of Ringo’s All-Starr Band, included Edgar Winter, Hamish Staurt fromAverage White Band, Steve Lukather from Toto, and Colin Hay from Men at Work. The band is rounded out with Warren Ham who has played with Kansas and Toto (nice pairing) on saxophone, flute, and keyboards and Gregg Bissonette, who has played with seemingly everyone (seriously, look him up) on all things percussion.
What of course makes the All-Starr Band so fun is that any given member could step up to the microphone and have enough hits at their disposal to play the show all by themselves. All of this results in a kind of jamboree of fun, as members take turns stepping into the spotlight for a song, only to then pass the spotlight to the next member, as the show rotates around the already rotating stage (if you’ve never been to the Celebrity Theatre, you need to get there for a show).
Ringo opened the show with a raucous cover of Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox,” a staple of The Beatles early live shows and later showing up as a single off of the Long Tall Sally EP. It was followed by “It Don’t Come Easy,” arguably Ringo’s most soulful vocal performance from his solo records. After blazing through “What Goes On” from The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, Ringo seceded the spotlight and moved to the drums.
This began what makes the All-Starr Band concept so much fun every time: each performer taking turns stepping up to the microphone to perform one of their own hits. Leading off was Edgar Winter who played his now 51-year-old hit “Free Ride,” which sounded as fresh and fun that night as it did the first time any of us played it in our cars with the windows down and the volume up.
This was followed by Steve Lukather leading the band through “Roseanna,” with the crowd spiritedly singing along and pumping their fist in time with the chord changes, Hamish Stuart playing a ripping version of Average White Band’s “Pick Up the Pieces,” and Colin Hay taking the band through an extended version of Men At Work’s hit “Down Under” that included a fun call-and-respond with the crowd. “I wrote this song in forty minutes, and it’s sustained me for forty years,” he told the crowd prior to starting the song.
At that time, Ringo returned from behind the drum kit for a run through of “Boys,” his first vocal performance on The Beatles first album Please, Please Me, “I’m the Greatest” from Ringo (a song written for him by John Lennon), and “Yellow Submarine,” which a quick scan of the theatre revealed that every generation of fan in attendance — from those who were there from the start with The Beatles to little kids who have since grown up with the band through their parents and grandparents love for them — was joyfully and exuberantly singing along. Following this, as the crowd was still on their feet, cheering and clapping, Ringo waved to the audience and left the stage. “Don’t worry. He’ll be back,” Edgar Winter playfully reassured the crowd.
With Ringo gone, the band performed Average White Band’s “Cut the Cake,” the title track from their third album. “I’m going to hand it over to Edgar Winter now to unleash the beast,” he said at the song’s closing. Winter’s performance of instrumental classic “Frankenstein” allowed the band to have fun on what turned out to be a jam session that impressively highlighted the drumming skills of Gregg Bissonette. Throughout the song, which stretched to nearly ten minutes, Bissonette worked in drum breaks that steered the song into a range of hits by other artists, including “Come Together” by The Beatles, “Rock ‘N’ Roll” by Led Zeppelin, and appropriately enough, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” — the seventeen-minute Iron Butterfly classic in which the recognizable drumming comes during the lengthy instrumental break in the song. By the end of the jam, Bissonette, very deservedly, got one of the biggest pops from the crowd.
Ringo returned to the stage, and before going into “Octopus’s Garden” (rivaling “Yellow Submarine” for one of the most crowd-pleasing moments of the night), he introduced each member of the band, heaping praise on them as he did. It was followed by his solo hit “Back Off Boogaloo.” Next up was Colin Hay to perform Men at Work’s ode to anxiety “Overkill.”
“Every song we’ve played tonight is one you know, but I’d like to debut my 30-minute jazz odyssey,” Steve Lukather joked with the crowd, adding, “If you get really stoned first, you might just get into it,” before launching into “Africa” — Toto’s mega-smash that will live on for generations to come. The performance featured some incredible backing vocals from Colin Hay.
After going one more round with each performer, including Hamish Stuart with the Isley Brothers’ “Work to Do,” and Ringo playing The Beatles’ “I Wanna Be Your Man.” Edgar Winter took a moment to pay tribute to his brother Johnny Winter before playing “Johnny B. Goode,” a song the brothers used to play together growing up, as they each first learned to play the guitar. It was immediately followed by Colin Hay playing “Who Can It Be Now?” and Steve Lukather on Toto’s “Hold the Line.”
The evening closed as it began, with the tour’s namesake Ringo Starr on vocals for his solo classic “Photograph,” the Johnny Russell hit “Act Naturally”, made famous by Buck Owens and even more famous by The Beatles version on Help!, and finally and very fittingly given the vibe of the tour and the mutual respect and camaraderie amongst the performers, they closed the evening “With a Little Help From My Friends.” As the song came to a close, they shifted to a cover of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” to send the crowd home happy, still singing along in their own acapella as they exited the Celebrity Theatre and out into the warm Phoenix night.
PHOENIX — M83, an electronic group from France named after the galaxy Messier 83, performed at The Van Buren with experimental artist Rachika Nayar opening the show in a line-up consisting of only the two acts. The night of focus here is April 10, which was the original tour launch date scheduled in Phoenix and became the second night after it sold out, resulting in an add-on of April 9.
Opener Rachika Nayar, a composer and producer from Brooklyn, New York, set an ambiance that helped prime the audience for the vibes of M83. With the stillness of the crowd that portrayed an uncertainty of how to behave during this sensory electronic set, and a respectful patience, the performance came across almost like a pre-show DJ set.
Nayar has a muted stage presence, and she remained stationed at her equipment throughout the set, not speaking until the end when she expressed gratitude in an unassuming tone and wished a friend in the audience a happy birthday.
Touring in support of Fantasy,which was released last month, M83 opened with the deeply relaxing and ethereal “Water Deep,” continuing with the chill vibes emanated by Nayar, unlike many other acts that will typically burst onto a performance as they start their set.
Fronted by 43-year-old Anthony Gonzalez, M83 has existed for about 24 years. Gonzalez is not a glamorous showman, yet his prowess shines for him. More than just a singer, he is a renaissance man responsible for lead vox, guitar, synths, keys, bass, percussion, mixing, arranging, and producing.
M83 transitioned to a danceable energy with the upbeat title-track from Fantasy, which was the 8th song in a setlist of 20 (including the encore). “Fantasy” hearkens back to the primary energy of the Junk album — a personal favorite that I have kept on heavy rotation after being lucky enough to experience it live on their April 13, 2016 tour stop at Comerica Theatre (which, while I knew of M83 before that point, was what impacted me so much as to cement me as a fan).
It was during “Fantasy” that Joe Berry stepped away from the synthesizers and pleased the crowd with the EWI. The stage lights brightened and bathed the band in many more colors, and it was especially in that moment that the slow-roll of the night proved worth the wait. Though I may be biased as a sax player myself, I am confident in my opinion that anyone would be in agreement that the show really gets ripping once Berry starts wailing on the saxophone.
Kaela Sinclair commands attention as the siren of a soprano vocal that is a signature and integral part of M83’s sound. You can also catch her sultry, haunting, and powerful vocals outside of M83 as a solo artist.
The band’s show ebbs and flows from there, following “Fantasy” with “Laura”, which channels the 80s prom night air that much of M83’s music exudes. Afterward, they brought some of their highest energy with “Don’t Save Us From the Flames.” “Noise” from 2003 release Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts served as a segue to “Wait” from Hurry Up We’re Dreaming (2011). Delightfully, “Solitude” from Junk was next, and the bopping “Sunny Boy” from Fantasy after that.
The tracks that go heavier on the guitars for a dramatic electronic-meets-rock sound are absolutely soul igniting. The live band is rounded out with Julien Aoufi on drums, the skills of guitarist Théophile Antolinos, and bass rhythms from Clément Libes. These 3 musicians were shrouded in smoke and lights in the background as the front of the stage was filled with the synths and keyboards, along with Gozales, Sinclair, and Berry.
It comes as no surprise that the crowd’s energy climaxed during the encore as the group launched into the highly recognizable “Midnight City”, which has received heavy radio play since its release in 2011. If you are a regular listener of ALT AZ 93.3, you’ve heard it a lifetime’s worth. One can only long for more of M83’s superior tracks to hit the mainstream to give respite from the overabundance of formulaic, forgettable, and overplayed tracks of other artists that pervade popular music today.
This night of music was nourishing to the spirit with a perfect blend of chill time and outright fun, which was quite apparent by the invigorated energy that was effortlessly perceptible from the crowd leaving the venue following “Outro.”
See the full M83 setlist from April 10, 2023 at The Van Buren here:
Burning Hot Events highly recommends catching this tour. There is ample opportunity to do so, as it has just started, and the band has dates scheduled all across North America up through May 16th. Check out the tour dates here:
Tempe, AZ — It was 2017 when Alter Bridge last took the stage at the Marquee Theatre. As the pandemic subsided, they released new music with Pawns & Kings in October last year and set out on a North American Tour. On this night the stop in Arizona included opening sets by Wolfgang Van Halen’s Mammoth WVH and Pistols At Dawn. Although the popular music scene seems to have forgotten how to play guitars, rest assured that the great American guitar heroes are alive and well in the rock world.
In fact, the night opened with a shredding solo from 22-year-old phenom, Will James, that brought the house down just minutes after the lights went down. The second act delivered the Van Halen 2.0 guitarist that wowed the world when he played his father’s solos at the tribute shows for the late Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters. And the icing on the cake was rock royalty, Mark Tremonti! Fans who love heavy guitar played by virtuosos were in their glory at this show and the decibels were sufficiently over 100dB as prescribed to make sure you heard and felt the music. The vocalists of the night were in top form for this show too as expected, but Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge was beyond outstanding and proved that he is arguably one of the best singers…ever. Some of his melodies that soared into the stratosphere brought cheers from the audience that rose above the volume of the PA system.
Pistols At Dawn
Sometimes the opening band makes you scratch your head and wonder why they are there, but Pistols At Dawn complemented the essence of Alter Bridge perfectly. They formed in Atlanta in 2015 and shuffled through several lineup changes while recording and releasing singles and a 7-song EP. Last year, the latest incarnation recorded their debut album Ascension on Megaforce Records with producer Sylvia Massy (Tool) and founding members Devin White (guitar) and Adam Jaffe (drums). The band was reinvented with additions of Cris Hodges (vocals), Sean Benham (bass), and the young Will James (guitar) mentioned above.
Ascension has an epic big production sound, which is typical and possibly necessary to complement their contemporaries, but their short set of five songs sounded better live than on the recordings. Hodges, with his day-glo sneakers and open sided muscle shirt, entertained while delivering a flawless performance. Burning Hot Events spoke with him after their set about his upcoming tour with Ugly Kid Joe and Fozzy, and he mentioned that he’ll be back in town for U-Fest as a guest singer for Chester Bennington’s former band Grey Daze.
They confirmed it on Instagram saying, “After many requests to perform live, we finally said yes! We will honor our original intention while still paying homage to Chester, by bringing in guest vocalist Chris [sic] Hodges @hodgesofficial to perform with us.” Before joining Pistols At Dawn, Hodges fronted a Linkin Park tribute band called In The End and guitarist James was playing his signature green neon-light guitar in a Bon Jovi tribute band called Shot Thru The Heart. They advanced from tribute band to touring with Alter Bridge shows. Dreams do come true.
You’d have to admit that you had your doubts when his dad let him play bass in the mighty Van Halen, but Wolfgang has won over all of the naysayers. When we finally heard him play guitar and sing, and then found out that he also played everything including drums, bass, and keyboards on the debut Mammoth WVH album, we all realized there is something really special in this kid. He inherited that captivating smile from his mother, Valerie Bertinelli, and a broad appreciation and mastery of music from the late Eddie Van Halen. But now he is blazing his own trail and there were no Van Halen songs in the set (or technically we can say that they were all “Van Halen” songs since he wrote every one of them).
In the music video for “Don’t Back Down”, they show four clones of Wolfgang playing all of the instruments, and while that would be awesome to see live, they had to get some hired guns to cover the parts that he didn’t play live. The guitarist on his right was Frank Sidoris who many in the audience recognized from Slash’s band with Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators. Ron Ficarro (I Am Ghost, Falling In Reverse) played bass, and Garrett Whitlock (who Wolfgang had played with in the band Tremonti) joined as the live drummer, and lastly the charismatic Jon Jourdan (To Whom It May) joined as a third guitarist. So Wolfgang didn’t get to play drums or bass on any songs, but he did play a little bit of keyboards in addition to his guitars.
The 8-song set flew by leaving the crowd wanting more, but they were at least able to include their first two singles which both went to number 1: “Distance” and “Don’t Back Down,” which closed their set. We were also treated to a new song that had just been released last week called “Another Celebration At The End Of The World” – a true crowd pleaser that drives hard and included a finger tapping speed solo that garnered a round of applause mid-song.
This four-piece leviathan keeps building on their foundation of stellar musicianship and rock-solid songwriting. It’s a full-on blitzkrieg from the top of the setlist with “Silver Tongue,” from the latest Alter Bridge release, Pawns & Kings to the closer “Rise Today” from the Blackbird LP.
Had it really been 6 years since they last came to town? Their loyal fans showed up in droves to welcome them back from the silence of the pandemic, and it was great to see them back on stage where they belong!
It was a packed house and they may have actually outgrown this midsize theater, but it proved to be the perfect intimate setting to showcase highlights from their 7 studio albums (note that no songs made the setlist from The Last Hero or Walk The Sky). It’s not unusual for bands to tell every city that they are the best audience, but Kennedy seemed to genuinely appreciate the fan engagement on this night and gave a heartfelt thank you to the Phoenician crowd.
Tremonti is the guitar hero and Kennedy is the vocal maestro, however they each showed their prowess at switching roles. Tremonti sang harmonies all night and then took center stage to sing the melancholy “Burn It Down” and did an incredible job. Most loyal followers were not surprised knowing that he sings lead in his self-titled band Tremonti and also on his incredible Mark Tremonti Sings Frank Sinatra solo album (seriously check this out if you haven’t heard about it).
And on the flip side, Kennedy is relegated to being “just” a phenomenal frontman singer when he is touring with Slash, but in Alter Bridge he contributes to the six-string shredding too. These dual talents shone brightest on the song “Blackbird.” He started the song in silhouette against beams of amber lights emulating angelic wings. An homage of the familiar chords of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” ushered in the somber chords of the title track from the Alter Bridge 2007 album of the same name.
The song begins delicately but ultimately crescendos into a symphony of sound bathed in violet lights as Kennedy plays the most soulful guitar solo of the night and then tosses the reins to Tremonti who adds his stamp of originality for this rock anthem. Few songs are truly “moving.” This is one. The ending was so powerful that it felt like the final encore as the crowd shouted their approval.
The four new songs were heavy. “Silver Tongue” and “Holiday” carried the traditional flame of fast and furious, while “Sin After Sin” was best received and had that epic slow march of classic metal. The title track, “Pawns and Kings” is a great song with meticulously crafted lyrics, but for some reason it didn’t resonate live (possibly the newness needs to become more ingrained or maybe it was the strobe lights aimed at the audience throughout the song).
There was a brief respite from the onslaught of loud guitars with a two-song acoustic set that was just stellar. For “Watch Over You,” Kennedy was alone on stage with his Taylor acoustic guitar and a microphone. With each lyric of the song he emoted the feelings of loss of a friend that is just beyond helping. You can’t “phone in” the vocals on a song like this, stripped down to just a guitar/vocal, you have to “feel” the emotions and Kennedy made us feel it too.
For the second acoustic song, Tremonti commandeered his Taylor acoustic guitar with the cutaway neck as they went back to their first album for the song “In Loving Memory.” Another beautiful song. Cheers arose as Kennedy held the soft falsetto note for 14 seconds effortlessly. Two guys in unassuming black T-shirts held the reverent gaze of everyone in attendance who came to rock-out, but communed in this peaceful moment. All hell would soon break out again with the aggressive Alter Bridge rockers “Isolation” and “Metalingus.”
After a 15-song set, they bowed and expressed their heart-felt gratitude to the fans who came out on this night to cheer them on. They left the stage, but the house lights refused to come up and the people began to chant “AL – TER – BRIDGE!” They wasted no time getting back on stage and began some banter with the audience. They apologized to one guy that wanted to come up and play drums with them, but offered maybe next time. Then some guy named Al got the coolest birthday present as Alter Bridge and all of us sang “Happy Birthday” to him.
To close the night they chose two iconic songs. First was “Open Your Eyes,” which is the first song that really put them on the map with heavy rotation on MTV (it was much later when most of us learned that Kennedy was that guy from the audience that got up and sang with Steel Dragon in the movie Rock Star). Kennedy let the audience chime in on the signature falsetto melody in the bridge and then proceeded to show everyone how it was really done…so impressive. The choice for the song to close the night was “Rise Today,” which most succinctly defined the Alter Bridge sound. The energy was still high and Tremonti banged his head all night (if not for his military haircut, his hair would have been flying all evening).
One last shout out to the rhythm sections for all three bands that aren’t as much in the spotlight, but contribute so much to the sound and presence of the stars they support. Brian Marshal (bass) and Scott Phillips (drums) have been working with Tremonti since their commercial success with Creed and they were absolutely phenomenal all night. It’s funny how you just expect them to be perfect so you might only notice their passionate playing if there were mistakes…and there were no mistakes that I noticed. They deserve all of the recognition as key components of Alter Bridge!
As the house lights came on and the recorded music came up, was that Frank Sinatra singing as the audience shuffled out? Or could it have been Tremonti?
Glendale Swift City, AZ — In the five years since her last tour, Taylor Swift has released four albums and, according to her banter during the show, six re-recorded albums, with Red and Fearless already released and the remaining four presumably forthcoming. Her tour kick off at State Farm Stadium, with support from Paramore and Gayle, wasn’t just a concert but an immersive experience. Is there any other artist whose opening night would have Variety posting song-by-song tour updates on Twitter?
It is hard to put this in perspective, but think of the biggest artist you can and they arguably could not touch the massive scale and grandeur of this show. To put it more directly, Taylor Swift is the biggest artist in the world right now. No one can touch where she is at this point in her career. While it was a night celebrating the various eras of her career, Swift spent the night honoring her massive fan base, using wristbands given to everyone in attendance to not only light up every corner of the show, but to put a mini spotlight on every one of her fans.
Take a moment and remember where you were or consider where you’ll be at 18. If you’re Nashville-by-way-of-Plano, Texas singer Gayle, you are stepping out onto a massive stage, both literal and figurative, in front of 70,000 people on the opening night of the most highly anticipated tour in several years – perhaps decades – and performing with a confidence that artists a decade older only wish they could possess. She opened with the punk-beat driven “Everybody Hates Me,” and her set covered the various singles she’s released since 2020 and included a blistering cover of Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.” She closed her set with her latest single, the anthemic “abcdefu.” Mark it down now: Gayle is going to be huge some day. Her set was nothing but a preview of that because while she may have been opening the show last night, someday that stage will be hers.
To scan the dates on this tour, across the board, Swift has a murder’s row of openers, including Haim, Phoebe Bridgers, Beabadoobee, Muna, and Girl in Red. Glendale was blessed to get Paramore, making the evening an unofficial Nashville celebration between Gayle, Paramore, and Taylor Swift, as all three were born of Music City. They opened their set with “This is Why,” “Hard Times,” and “This is What You Get,” with singer Hayley Williams moving all around the massive stage and down the runway that extended well-past what would be the 50-yard line if the stadium was set up for a football game.
Stopping before the next song, Williams spoke about the honor of opening for Swift on this tour. “We’re here tonight to celebrate Taylor, but we’re also here to celebrate… Vampires?” With that, the band launched into their song “Decode” written for Twilight. Afterwards Williams told a story about meeting a woman in Nashville many years before who told her about her daughter who was getting into music; the daughter who turned out to be Taylor Swift. Williams had her number for years and finally reached out to her following the now-notorious MTV Video Music Awards incident in 2009.
During the band’s performance of “The Only Exception,” the audience used their cell phones to light up the stadium in a spontaneous and gorgeous moment. They followed it up with “Still Into You” and “Rose-Colored Boy.” Williams made her way down the catwalk once more, before stopping and turning to the band. “Let’s play that one song we said we’d never play again”, she instructed the band. “You know the one”, she added before they played “Misery Business.” With that, Williams thanked the audience and reminded everyone that we were all there together to celebrate Taylor Swift. They closed their set with “Ain’t It Fun.” As Paramore exited the stage, the massive screen switched to a tour graphic of a collage of Swift’s various eras.
While tours can start anywhere, it felt like Glendale had an honor bestowed upon them by Swift choosing it as the kick off for this tour: her first tour in nearly five years (her Reputation Stadium Tour ran from May to November in 2018) and her first live performance since she played the City of Lover album release concert in Paris on September 9, 2019. There was not one person out of the 70,000 people in attendance who took for granted how special these moments were. While many people took the break between Paramore and Swift to try to rush to the merch stand (which was practically decimated by the end of the show) to snag a tour shirt or the sweet tour poster that was exclusive to the opening night, when the graphic switched from the collage to a two-minute countdown, accompanied by a giant clock approaching midnight, everyone rushed back to their seats.
The cheers started with the countdown and grew louder and louder with each passing second. When the timer hit zero, the clock struck midnight, and the stage went briefly black, there was a roar that likely eclipsed any the stadium had heard before, even at the Super Bowl – which the stadium hosted just a little over a month ago. Individually appearing, various rooms hinting at the different eras of Taylor Swift’s career filled the screen. As each room materialized, the audience recognized it with a pop of excitement before it floated away, making way for the next one, providing a tantalizing glimpse into the evolution of her music.
Finally, a large door in the center of the stage rolled up, pouring out white light, and from it came a parade of Swift’s dancers covered by a large sails swooped over their bodies that they then each unfurled, one by one, into giant peacock-like tails. As they moved in cadence to the center of the massive catwalk, they encircled a portion of the stage, collapsing in the sails for a moment before pulling back to reveal Taylor on an ascending riser as she went into the first song of the tour: “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince” from Lover. This was her first live performance of the song – in fact, her set included 12 songs making their live debuts.
Though some might argue this point, Taylor Swift is the biggest artist in the world right now. She has moved into a rarified position of success that places here alongside luminaries such as Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, and Beyoncé; artists whose tours will sell out the moment tickets are available, and artists whose tours are more than just live performances of their catalogs but something more akin to a cultural event. “I just want to welcome everyone to the Eras Tour,” she greeted the crowd after her performance of “Cruel Summer” from the Lover era portion of the show. “We are going on an adventure, one era at a time, across the 17 years that I’ve been making music,” she told the crowd. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for making it here tonight,” she added, acknowledging the effort fans went to to get tickets to the show. Demand was so high that this night ended up being the opening night of the tour, after tonight’s show on March 18th sold out so fast that she added last night’s show.
Though it is difficult to process this, primarily because she seems so forever young, Taylor has been releasing albums for 17 years now, and the tour is called the “Eras Tour” because across those 17 years are distinct eras of her career. If you want to talk about the company she keeps, how many artists have had a career so long and so successful that it can be defined by distinct eras of the career? That would be Madonna, Bowie, and Prince, but beyond that, though, there are no others that immediately come to mind. “I’ll be your host this evening. My name’s Taylor.”
Even if she had simply built the tour around playing songs from each album, from each era, it would have been an incredible concert experience, but her stage show cannot be understated. It was the most singularly impressive stage show, perhaps ever. Every aspect of it was designed to add depth and nuance to the performance of each show. From the massive screen that projected visually stunning videos to accompany each song to the catwalk that was so long and so wide it felt like an airplane could have safely landed upon it. In fact, as she heaped praise on everyone involved with the production of the show, she regularly mentioned the crew, who deserved a moment to take a bow themselves, as the show featured multiple massive set pieces and some of the quickest costume changes any artist has pulled off without missing a beat in the show.
Of the many impressive set pieces, during the Evermore era, an exquisite grand piano, covered in moss rose up from the stage in front of a grandiose willow tree onscreen. As Swift took a seat at the piano to perform “Marjorie,” and even her microphone at the piano looked like it was a part of a tree branch, fashioned into a microphone. What other artists have that attention to detail? “We have so much to catch up on,” she said to the crowd after the song faded. In the five years since her last tour, Taylor has released four records, which in itself is an impressive feat to marvel, and three of the first four eras covered during the concert spotlighted some of those albums: Lover, Evermore, Reputation, and re-recorded versions of Red and Fearless, with many of the songs making their live debuts.
For “Tolerate It” a full dining room table was brought out the video behind it projecting an impossibly long dining room descending deep into a vanishing point of blackness, emphasizing the distance between Taylor and a lover in a quickly-fading relationship. She sang at one of her dancers, standing in for this disengaged boyfriend, as he looked everywhere but at her. She sang at him, crawling across the table in an aggressive plea to get his attention. Her show is made up of so many living music videos. Next up was the Reputation era, with electric performances of “…Ready for It?,” “Delicate,” “Don’t Blame Me,” and “Look What You Made Me Do,” before a brief stop in the Speak Now era for “Enchanted.”
Though there was no point of the show that lacked for even a second in vibrancy and emotion, the Red era was nonetheless a highlight of the show, with even Taylor acknowledging how special it was, “You might be able to tell by the aggressive color blocking, but we are now in the Red era,” she told the crowd after “I Knew You Were Trouble.” She also made light of her re-recording of it as a part of her “Taylor’s Version” series of albums, as she reclaims her early albums that in effect had been stolen for her. “I’d like to play one more song from it, if you have 10 minutes to spare.” The mention of “10 minutes” made clear what was coming, as she closed out this era with a gorgeous solo performance of the new 10-minute version of “All Too Well,” from the “Taylor’s Version” of Red. Though it would be hard to pinpoint exactly, it felt like a pinnacle emotional moment for Swift and every person in attendance.
Though this show was described by Hayley Williams as “a celebration of Taylor,” Swift used it in many ways to celebrate her fans who have loved and supported her across those 17 years. A recent Forbes article identified her fanbase as being “mostly” white female millennials, but to look around the 70,000 fans packed into State Farm last night, you realize truly what makes Taylor’s appeal so special: it isn’t just one thing. Just before her performance of “All Too Well,” she took a moment to greet the crowd, saying “Welcome all my guys and gals and non-binary pals,” which elicited a huge cheer from the crowd. Her shows have potentially the most-inclusive audience in music at the moment. Everyone felt equally represented and equally welcome at the Eras Tour. From those white, female millennials to every gender, race, nationality, orientation, and so on. Spotted in the crowd, at one point was a tattooed man with a sparkly, sequined shirt that said “This Hardcore Dad 💓Taylor Swift,” as he walked to his seat with his wife and children.
It was indeed a celebration of Taylor but most definitely a celebration of the fans. To understand the relationship she has with her fans, as one fan put it, “Taylor manages to communicate and really connect with her fanbase on such a personal level, making her one of the most relatable and inspirational artists of our generation.” These sentiments were felt and echoed from every corner of State Farm Stadium.
During the Folklore era, Taylor told the crowd about starting to write the album “about 2 seconds into the pandemic,” and treated the writing process like a living journal of her life and experiences during that time. My albums have been excruciatingly autobiographical, she added with a laugh, before the more serious acknowledgement that this often meant her work was “dissected like a live public autopsy,” being minded for details about her personal life.
Her Folklore era was performed on one of the night’s most impressive set pieces: a full cabin that she performed in, around, and on top of throughout the songs from that album. She performed “Invisible String” while sitting on the roof of the house, like a woman staring at the stars and contemplating life. After coming down to the second story of the cabin (yes, it had an up and downstairs), she told the crowd about how she’s spent her career trying to teach men how to apologize in one of the funnier but true moments of the show. “If they’d only listen, I have laid out for them in three minutes exactly how to do it,” before her performance of “Betty.”
The 1989 era had some of the biggest dance numbers of the night. Of the many people who deserve a mountain of credit, Taylor’s dancers brought an extra kick of life to each song throughout that era. It should be noted at this point that she had well past the two-hour mark of the evening and had played 30-plus songs of her catalog, ranging from the hits to some deep, deep cuts, with all gracefully appreciated by the crowd who sang along and cheered every number. In this stretch of the show, even the most-recently converted Swifties were singing and dancing along to “Shake It Off” and “Bad Blood,” which was accompanied by fire bursts from different points in the arena adding a shot of warmth felt by all.
Never one to stick to a particular style or tone, she followed the adrenaline kick of the upbeat 1989 bangers with two solo acoustic numbers. With the dancers off the stage, she pulled on her acoustic guitar and told the crowd that on each stop of the tour, she intended to play a different song during this portion of the show, so that each crowd got something special. The tour kick off Glendale crowd were treated to a beautiful take on “Mirrorball” from Folklore. She followed it up with her sole song from her 2006 self-titled debut “Tim McGraw.”
Afterwards, in one of the most impressive moments in an evening full of them, the sounds of incoming flood waters poured from the speakers around the stadium, growing louder and closer with each wave. Taylor, with a brief worried moment on her face, said, “Uh-oh,” and dove forward, disappearing on the stage. An aerial camera ran the length of the catwalk showing Taylor “swimming” beneath the incoming flood waters. On the big screen were images of tidal waves crashing down on the stage and signaling the final era of the evening: the Midnights era.
As this was the kick off of the tour, the seven songs making up this era were all making their live debuts. It also brought back her impressive array of dancers who went for it on every song with joy spread across their faces. As the show surpassed the three hour mark and passed 40 songs, Swift, the dancers, and her backing band showed no lack of energy and enthusiasm, as they ripped through “Lavender Haze,” “Anti-Hero,” “Midnight Rain,” “Vigilante Shit,” “Bejeweled,” and “Mastermind.” At 42 songs, she asked the crowd, “Do you have time for one more?” The cheers indicated that of course they all did, and honestly would have stayed all night if she just wanted to finish performing the rest of her discography that she hadn’t gotten to yet. She closed out the evening with “Karma” and took a final bow with the dancers before finally exiting the stage.
Taylor Swift has had a 17-year career and still somehow feels like she has not yet reached her apex mountain. Even some of the most successful artists had their time in the spotlight come and go in less than 17 years and have moved into the legacy point of their career, but not Taylor. She is firmly in the conversation for biggest artists of all time. She is truly, firmly in rare company in the history of pop music across all eras. This is her moment and yet it is still just the next era of her career. No doubt, she still has yet to peak and will for sure some day play another Eras Tour to celebrate the next 17 years. The crowd at State Farm Stadium will line up for those tickets too for sure. She might have to add a third night for it.
Heritage, the album released today by five-piece downtempo deathcore band Distant, is the band’s third album, and the second with their current line up – joined by Jan Mato on drums and Eise Smit on guitar in 2020. While their second album Aeons Of Oblivion showed what the band was capable of, especially on the four-part “Ritual,” an almost deathcore suite, Heritage is the band at their full power.
While the band is legendary for the brutality of their music, the opening track “Acid Rain” is almost beautifully melodic with an undercurrent of doom, like a fairy tale that starts with a welcoming path in the forest but portends darkness buried deep in the woods.
That darkness erupts on “Paradigm Shift,” and if a paradigm shift is a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions, then the song represents that for the band. Building off of “Acid Rain,” the track announces the band’s new direction, like their first two albums were the hunt, and now with Heritage, they’re here for blood.
The third track, “Born of Blood,” builds slowly, propelled by guitarists Vladimir Golic and Nouri Yetgin’s twin-assault pulverizing riffs. In the background of the song, though, is a swirling rhythm pulling the listener upwards with the song. Alec Grnja’s vocals seem to swirl throughout the song’s vortex before casting you out of the apex into the ether.
The centerpiece of the album is “Agent Justice,” a seven-minute epic that sounds like the score for an cult-classic horror film. The video for the song sees the band performing live, trapped behind a staticy red and black color palette, like you’re seeing it on a channel you’re not meant to watch, and the band is fighting through the static to the surface. While everyone shines on the track, Jon Mato’s blast beats are so relentless that it is astounding to realize a human being is capable of maintaining such a persistent beat. The song is a rollercoaster, taking you to its very peaks and then dropping you, screaming face-first into an almost-calming piano interlude that only gives to another sharp climb. Grnja’s vocals threaten to tear you in half as they run at you full force.
Tracks such as “A Sentence to Suffer” and “Human Scum” are played at such furious intensity that you can feel blood dripping from the tracks, with each member of the band going hard on both songs. The one-two punch of closing tracks “Orphan of Blight” and “Plaguebreeder” both start with the same kind of haunting, almost orchestral sound that then pulls you down sharply into an audio demolition derby, throwing you around and around until the merciless conclusion.
For a band that describes their own sound as “bone-crushing, thick-as concrete heaviness,” Heritage might as well be a hydraulic compactor, the kind that could pancake a military vehicle. The band has never sounded tighter and more in tune with each other than ever before. Grnja’s vocals are intense, working in conjunction with Golic and Yetgin’s guitars – which would be intense enough on their own, but combined with Elmer Maurit’s steady basslines and Mato’s blast beats, they are out to destroy everything in their path. Distant is at the forefront of European deathcore for a reason, and Heritage moves them firmly to the top of the mountain .Heritage was released on February 10th on all platforms, with physical copies available on Distant’s website, including a badass limited edition Heritage vinyl pressing on marbled white and red smoke – with only 500 copies available.
Be sure to catch the band when they play The Underground in Mesa on March 13th, along with Bodysnatcher, AngelMaker, and PALEFACE (CH).
PHOENIX – In a city where history seems to be but a suggestion, where a shrinking number of hundred year old buildings sit in the shadow of cranes that throw tons of steel and glass into the arid desert air, hoping that unsuspecting outsiders fall in love with the 3 days of reasonable weather per year – which seems to work at an alarming rate – one can still find the echoes of the past, if you look hard enough. One of these echoes is a building on the corner of Monroe and Central Ave, where one door will lead to a dizzying amount of Cornish pasties, another will lead to a jewelry shop where you will be greeted by a 102 year old man who walked through those doors 68 years ago and hasn’t left yet, and yet another leads down a flight of stairs.
Down these stairs, you will find the destination for this evening: a music hall and bar that is collectively and aptly named Valley Bar. At the foot of the stairs, you can turn to the left and find the Rose room, named after the first female governor of Arizona, Rose Mofford, or go straight ahead and enter the music hall. Within the music hall, fans of Phantom Planet and AVIV gathered to witness a new piece of history: one of the seven different ZONA night events, put on as part of the brand new ZONA Music Festival. Both bands would make an appearance the next day at the festival, which they both noted, asking the fans to come join them the next day during their sets.
After a quick greeting, AVIV jumped into her set, immediately commanding attention. While she is not very well known in the US, the 16 year old has quite the impressive resume: She opened for Imagine Dragons during their tour through Canada at age 15, has appeared on TV as an actress (including a scene in American Gothic where she fires a crossbow at one of the main characters) and she toured with the Mini Pop Kids – a band well-known in Canada. To say she is an up and coming solo musician appears to be quite the understatement.
AVIV also recently released her first EP: an 8 song record titled Drowning in the Culture. Between her stage presence, vocals, and rather on-the-nose and relatable lyrics, she shows flashes of Billie Eilish while also charting her own course. After the first song, she thanked the crowd, and then told them, “I love it here! The last time I was in Arizona, I was 5 years old, so a little while ago, but I just remember for the next decade I talked about how it was the most extraordinary trip of my life.” She spoke about the beauty of the state – an opinion that perhaps changed after rain fell for almost 24 hours straight on the festival that followed over the weekend, turning it into a muddy pit of pure fun.
Afterward, she played “Girl in Red,” the song that garnered the attention of those in the music world, leading to her signing with a label. A few songs later, she stopped to discuss the songwriting process of “Sleep it Off.” She explained that the song was written in LA about a time in her life when she was “about 8 or 9,” when someone in her community passed away. The song was based on the reply her mother gave her, which was to “sleep it off.” As she began to explain the process, she wavered a bit as a man in the crowd decided to bless the entire room with his loud, one-way conversation with his apparent date, who did not seem overly impressed with his uninterrupted desire to talk. Fortunately, AVIV is quite the pro, and moved on quickly – hopefully this guy’s date followed suit.
AVIV moved around the stage with grace, dancing as she sang, moving to a keyboard, shining flashes of a superstar in the making. It is likely that those in attendance that night will look back and remember the time that they were fortunate enough to see a superstar in such an intimate setting. Before leaving, AVIV mentioned the ZONA festival, stating that she would be “on the stage under the bridge.” This was the Eddy stage (all four stages were named after local musicians) and it appeared to be the driest stage in the festival, while also being the smallest.
ZONA was held less than a mile from Valley Bar, in a park that was only made possible by another piece of Arizona, and, really, national history: On August 10th, 1990, on a brutally hot summer day, the final piece of the I-10 – a 2,500 mile highway stretching from coast to coast – opened up. This piece was the Deck Park Tunnel, a tunnel that isn’t actually a tunnel; it is instead 19 bridges side by side. On top of this not-a-tunnel sits Margaret T. Hance Park, named after the first female mayor of Phoenix. Who better to open this park than the first female governor of Arizona, the aforementioned Rose Mofford? Sadly, Hance passed away just a few short months before the park bearing her name opened, but her name and legacy will live on.
With the music hall now nearly full, Phantom Planet took the stage. Formed in 1994, the band chose their name from a movie that gained second life when Mystery Science Theater 3000 chose to use it in the 9th season of the show. They have taken two hiatuses over the years: The first lasting from 2008 to 2011, and the second was 2013 to 2019.
In between those breaks, they have done just about everything a band could hope to do: put out 5 albums,Alex appeared on two TV shows and a movie, and their song “California” became the theme song for The O.C.
In between all of that, they have had numerous songs show up in movies and TV shows, and have also toured extensively with a rather eclectic mix of bands, including Guns N Roses, Blink-182, and Panic! At the Disco. They have appeared on enormous stages, yet seem to remember the smaller ones more. They even mentioned the time they played in a smaller stage in Arizona, and while they couldn’t agree exactly where it was, however the general consensus was that it was at the Mason Jar, now the Rebel Lounge.
While they have the pedigree of major bands, they also are one of the more relaxed and tight-knit groups out there, and seeing them in a small space was quite the treat. As the evening progressed, the band joked with each other and the fans, at one point noting that a cable came unplugged during their song, which led to the joke, “Why do we always talk after this song? It’s supposed to be the next one!”
The night was rife with technical interruptions and quick thinking and fixes by the band. At one point, lead singer Alex Greenwald broke his guitar string, and a discussion onstage about how to handle it was rather amusing and charming. Lead guitarist Darren Robinson grabbed the guitar from Greenwald, handing Greenwald his guitar, and giving bassist Sam Farrar and drummer Jeff Conrad a break as Greenwald decided to move “California” from the encore to the middle of the set. Greenwald played solo, singing along, while Robinson quickly changed the string, tuned the guitar to the best of his ability, and handed it back to Greenwald upon completion of the song. More lighthearted banter would follow from the band, between each other and the fans who could not get enough.
The set – which lasted about an hour and 15 minutes – saw the band squeeze in an incredible 13 planned songs and two requests from the crowd at the end. At the height of the performance, the frontman entered the crowd and allowed fans to swarm around him as they thrust smartphones forward, recording video inches from his face. As the night drew to a close, he reminded the audience that Phantom Planet would be playing the next day at the ZONA fest on the Ronstadt stage – a day that might’ve had fans of the band singing “One Ray of Sunlight”. While the crowd cheered with great enthusiasm, the band members radiated smiles as they left the stage.
This night was a confluence of history: The forming of a new festival, the gathering in a building where history oozes from the walls themselves, and the memories made during the time the two immensely talented bands were on the stage. While it remains to be seen if 2023 will bring another ZONA Music Festival, the hope and plan is that it will. When it happens, one would be amiss to hesitate in purchasing tickets to see history made once again.