Category Archives: Reviews

REVIEW: I’m Not Okay — An Emo & Pop Punk Dance Party at High Dive (12-28-19)

SEATTLE — High Dive was host to an Emo and Pop Punk dance party called “I’m Not Okay” amidst the Emo revival that is sweeping the globe. Being named after their hit single, there is no doubt that some attendees came out to ease the pain of missing out on My Chemical Romance’s December 20th reunion concert in Los Angeles.

The animated DJ Baby Van Beezly led the night, appearing at home amongst the community — many whom were teenagers when the music spinning was new and permanently impacting them. Heard throughout the night were artists such as My Chemical Romance, Yellowcard, Blink-182, The Offspring, Panic! At the Disco, Paramore, Taking Back Sunday, Good Charlotte, The Used, Green Day, and more.

A sole band performed — MySpace Romance, who some may have assumed was strictly a My Chemical Romance cover band. Rather, they additionally covered the likes of Arizona’s very own The Format and Jimmy Eat World, along with Coheed and Cambria, The Starting Line, Fall Out Boy, Dashboard Confessional, and more. (Find the setlist in the photo gallery below.) The band had good energy and put on a delightful set for those that longed to experience these songs in live performance again.

Emo nights occur frequently nowadays, and there is certainly no shortage of them in Burning Hot Events’ home — Phoenix. The venues The Rebel Lounge, The Van Buren, and Pub Rock are some that have been host to emo nights, so keep an eye on their upcoming events. As for Seattle: “The Emo Night Tour” took place at El Corazon the same night as “I’m Not Okay”, but there is another opportunity to experience this event on February 22nd! Wherever you may be located, if you are a fan of the genre, do find an emo night nearby and experience catharsis, nostalgia, community, and the passionate energy that comes with this type of music.

Photo Gallery

Photography: Katherine Amy Vega

I’m Not Okay – Emo & Pop Punk Dance Party – High Dive 12-28-19

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

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

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

1. Purple Mountains:

Purple Mountains

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

Spotify

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




2. Jenny Lewis:

On the Line

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

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

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

Spotify

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




3. Dave Hause:

Kick

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

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

Spotify

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


4. Laura Stevenson:

The Big Freeze

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

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

Spotify

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


5. The Mountain Goats:


In League with Dragons

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

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

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

Spotify

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


6. Alex Lahey:

The Best of Luck Club

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

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

Spotify

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




7. New Pornographers:

In the Morse Code of Break Lights

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

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

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

Spotify

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




8. Wilco:

Ode to Joy

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

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

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

Spotify

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


9. Control Top:

Covert Contracts

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

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

Spotify

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




10. Spiral Stairs:

We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized

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

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

Spotify

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

REVIEW: Authority Zero Celebrates 25 Years with Friends at the Marquee (12-28-19)

Tempe, AZ — Authority Zero has reached a milestone that all bands aspire to: a quarter of a century of putting out incredibly great music — in their case, punk rock. To celebrate 25 years, they threw a bit of a party, inviting their fans as well as four local bands to join them in celebration. Madd Dog Tannen, Skull Drug, Black Mountain Moonshine, and ZeeCeeKeely all preceded Authority Zero, playing to a rowdy and energetic crowd.

To the uninitiated — those who have never had the joy of attending a punk, ska, or reggae show — it would be easy to be a bit puzzled as to how all three are related. The first wave of ska formed in the 1950s, and reggae evolved from ska in the 1960s. Punk’s roots are also in the 60s, stemming from the garage band scene, and was focused mainly in England and New York, while ska and reggae got started in Jamaica. Ska punk, closely associated with third wave ska, blossomed in the 80s and 90s. The punk scene from the start was anti-establishment, and that carries into today. There is a sizable underground punk scene in Arizona, with smaller venues such as Yucca Tap Room, Pub Rock, Chopper John’s, Last Exit Live, Rebel Lounge, The Underground and others playing host to some loud and fun concerts on a weekly basis.

This underground scene does not get the recognition it deserves; there are many massively talented local bands and artists that play every week, but they rarely rise to the level of national stardom that some ought to. This show was a duality of a celebration of a band that rose to fame, and the introduction and showcase of local bands that are hidden gems.

There was a buzz around Marquee Theatre as the crowd started to trickle in with eager anticipation of the night ahead and the experience of Authority Zero. This is a band who has worked hard to get where they are and appreciate the fans and those that come behind them.

ZeeCeeKeely

The first band was a reggae band from Tucson: ZeeCeeKeely. They were the perfect choice to start the night off. Their music is excellent, albeit a bit calm compared to what the rest of the night had in store. But they are still a loud, energetic, and fun reggae band to watch.

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

The short 7-song set included a very nice surprise: a reggae version of “Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd. With great vocals from Zachery Keely and a group of talented musicians that will soon include horns, this band is one you should catch if you enjoy reggae. They will perform on February 23rd, 2020 at Rawhide during the Arizona Roots festival.

ZeeCeeKeely Online:

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Spotify

Black Mountain Moonshine

After a quick stage change, the second band, Black Mountain Moonshine, took the stage. Shortly after they started, a staple of a punk show formed: a mosh pit — a unique and nearly sacred place where total strangers can run into each other and pummel one another, and at the end of the night, hug each other and leave exhausted and elated.

Ethan Minney (Vocalist, Mandolinist), Black Mountain Moonshine
Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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The lead singer Ethan Minney plays an electric mandolin, a piece that is not often seen in a punk band, and plays it very well. Their sound is also unique: at points it sounded like they were about to launch into a country song, while at others, you would swear that Flogging Molly was on the stage. Currently, they have no shows showing as scheduled, so following them on social media is a must to find when and where you can catch this unique, talented band.

Blue Mountain Moonshine Online:

Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Bandcamp

Skull Drug

Skull Drug was up next, and it immediately became apparent that we were in for an incredible set. When asked before the show how to identify lead singer Evan Williams, the band manager described him as looking like he had murdered a muppet. This was accurate, as Williams had bright red hair, a green shirt and blue plaid pants.

The set unfortunately did not start smoothly, but this did not keep them down. While working through technical issues with Williams’ guitar, the guitarists Justin Waldrop and Roger St. John kept the crowd entertained and bantered with them until everything was worked out, including asking the crowd, “Are you ready to party?” Party they did, launching into the loudest and most entertaining set of all the openers. 

Evan Williams (Vocalist, Guitarist), Skull Drug
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

All three are amazingly talented guitar players, backed by an incredible drummer in Wyatt Clark. They also have a stage presence and can get the crowd involved to work them into a frenzy. The set felt extremely short, even though it was over 30 minutes long. The style is loud, in- your-face, and impossible to not want to move to it in some way – either by bobbing your head, by running into your neighbor in the mosh pit, or by dancing. All three of those scenarios played out that night. Williams and Waldrop danced around the stage nonstop during this set, and kept the party going after their set ended. Waldrop was spotted crowd surfing during the Authority Zero set while Williams was in the crowd next to the mosh pit. 

Together since 2010, it would not be a stretch of the imagination to see Skull Drug headlining their own tour at some point in the very near future. Their set, from their stage presence to the music, was every bit as memorable as Williams’ hair. You can catch them on January 4th at Yucca Tap Room. They also have an album coming out sometime next year called Your Government and God Won’t Save You.

Skull Drug Online:

Facebook | Twitter | YouTube |
Bandcamp | Spotify

Madd Dog Tannen

Madd Dog Tannen took the stage next as the final opener. For those who think that the name sounds familiar, it should if you are a Back to the Future fan. All members were a bit of a contrast to the previous bands: well-dressed, looking more like they were about to close a business deal with you than melt your face off with some amazing punk music. As they did a quick sound check before their set, Brian Willey (lead singer) comically tried to lead the crowd in a rendition of “Deck the Halls”. 

Brian Willey (Vocalist), Madd Dog Tannen
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

Willey and his band quickly jumped into a fantastic set, at times bringing out a younger guitar player as their fifth band member. They are veterans of the music scene, playing since 2006, and have opened for Authority Zero in the past. Willey is an imposing figure on the stage as he puts everything he has into the performance. He is entertaining to watch and produces great power with his voice. While mainly a punk band, there was some ska mixed into the music. As they wrapped up their set, they played a cover of “When I Come Around” by Green Day. They, too, are a band that should be followed on social media to hear about their next dates. You won’t regret tracking them down to see their shows.

As Madd Dog Tannen left the stage, the anticipation built for Authority Zero. The chant “We want Zero!” started right before the band took the stage, growing in volume until they got what they wanted. 

Madd Dog Tannen Online:

Facebook | ReverbNation | Spotify

Authority Zero

To the delight of the band, the crowd exploded as they walked onto the stage. Lead singer Jason DeVore greeted the crowd with a grin and launched into “A Passage in Time,” from their first album. The opening bands had slowly cranked the intensity up to 10, then Authority Zero quickly cranked it up to 12 and never slowed down. DeVore seems to be utterly indefatigable, a force to be reckoned with after nearly a quarter of a century as the lead singer of Authority Zero. He delivers each line with fury and passion, and yet looks out at the crowd awestruck that he’s lucky enough to keep doing this.

Jason DeVore (Vocalist), Authority Zero
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

While DeVore is keeping the crowd pumped up with his incredible delivery, drummer Chris Dalley is tasked with keeping the beats going in the unimaginatively fast songs that are the staple of Authority Zero’s catalog. He seems to do this effortlessly. Rounding out the band are guitarist Dan Aid and bassist Mike Spero, both of whom are incredibly talented and fun to watch. 

Dan Aid (Guitarist), Authority Zero
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

As the set progressed, the mosh pit showed no signs of slowing down and the crowd surfing started. DeVore repeatedly reached out to the crowd surfers to help them as they were being set down, giving a couple of high fives, pointing to crowd members and acknowledging them throughout the night. He announced that they were going to use that night as a New Years Eve party, which hyped up the rambunctious fans. DeVore has apparent and enormous appreciation for the fans and the bands who opened for them. 

Jason DeVore (Vocalist), Authority Zero
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

It would be fair to say that this was not just an early New Years Eve party, not just a celebration of the 25 years of making music, influencing and inspiring the Arizona and national music scene — it was something more. It felt like a love letter to the fans, the people who have faithfully shown up even when the venues were tiny, when the sound wasn’t great, when the band was struggling. DeVore held the mic out to the crowd, asking them to sing lines in the song, gesturing for them to be a bit louder, and all in all, making sure that every single person walked away from that show happy. He also repeated “Thank you Arizona!” more than once, obviously meaning it from his heart every time.

Mike Spero (Bassist), Authority Zero
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

As the night drew to a close and after returning to the stage for the encore, DeVore called out onto stage a young fan, one who is known for his incredible music talents. His name is Recker Eans, a name that I believe we will hear many more times over the years, and he played the drums for the song “Mesa Town”. It was a great way to end the night, almost the passing of the torch to the next generation, though I believe we will have many more great years to look forward to with Authority Zero.

The night was one for the ages. It is also a night that happens weekly around the valley, albeit on a much smaller scale than what was at the Marquee on Saturday. The punk scene is alive and thriving, and there are many, many great bands out there who deserve to have you stop by and listen to their music, to watch their shows. There are hidden gems playing in small venues, bands that love their craft and love their arts. The appreciation that these bands all have for each other is clear, and the love for Arizona and the punk scene that Authority Zero has was on full display on a magical night — a celebration of the upcoming new year, and the birthday celebration of an influential and great band.

Authority Zero Online:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Photo Gallery

Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo

View Separately:
Authority Zero | Madd Dog Tannen | Skull Drug
Black Mountain Moonshine | ZeeCeeKeely

Authority Zero 25th Anniversary – Marquee Theatre 12-28-19

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REVIEW: Snoop Dogg Makes Show a Personal Block Party at The Van Buren (12-11-19)

PHOENIX — This past August, Snoop Dogg released his 15th studio album: I Wanna Thank Me. In the now 27 years since he first burst onto the scene alongside Dr. Dre, Snoop has never slowed down. He’s never stopped hustling, he’s never stopped releasing bomb-ass albums, and he’s never left the conversation for the greatest rapper alive. Simply put, Snoop is timeless and is a true hip-hop living legend. Now out on the “I Wanna Thank Me” tour with support from Trae The Truth, RJMrLA, and Warren G, Snoop brings his own personal party to every city he plays. To see him at The Van Buren, though, offered a rare chance to see him up close and personal: a megastar in a more intimate setting. 

Trae The Truth

Trae The Truth

Touring in support of his just-released album Exhale, Houston hip-hop veteran Trae the Truth opened the show. His rapid-fire chopper-style vocals, which date back in hip-hop to Kool Moe Dee’s days with the Treacherous Three, got the crowd moving. Throughout his 20-minute set, the bass in his tracks was like a hip-hop defibrillator. “Long Live The Pimp,” his 2012 collaboration with Future, was one of the high points in the set. With the rest of the night putting a spotlight on the West Coast, Trae’s Texas flavor was the perfect counterbalance.    

RJMrLA

RJMrLA

Brought out by DJ Goofy, the Los Angeles-born RJ (sometimes RJMrLA) rode the wave of momentum with the crowd, as he put his new spin on West Coast hip-hop. His opening track “On One” from his recently released Oh God, featured the line “I was taught to fear no one,” which feels like it should be RJ’s mantra. If “On One” was the ignition, “Flex” from his 2013 debut O.M.M.I.0 3 was the blast-off. Hip-hop is about the boast, and “Flex” was the ultimate boast in his short but explosive set.   

Warren G

Warren G

It is incredible enough to see one legend in Snoop Dogg live in concert, but to have Warren G as one of the openers is an undeniable bonus and a rap fan’s dream come true. His debut album, 94’s Regulate… G Funk Era was an instant classic of West Coast hip-hop. Even 25 years after its release, Warren G still has the same smooth vocals that made him an immediate star, and they were on display throughout his 30-minute set. Opening with “This D.J.” from his debut, the crowd jumped on the hook, “It’s kind of easy when you’re listening to the G-Dub sound/Pioneer speakers bumpin’ as I smoke on a pound.” 

With the crowd feeling it, he immediately launched into “Do You See,” with the crowd again singing along, as they waved their hands from side to side. Missing from the song was the departed Nate Dogg, Warren G’s long-time collaborator and friend. His presence hung over many of the songs, and he was honored by both Warren G and Snoop Dogg (the three started out together in the hip-hop group 213 in 1990). 

Warren G
| Photographer:
Andrea Stoica © All Rights Reserved

A late-set request from the audience brought one of the night’s more spontaneous highlights. Following “Summertime in the LBC,” he asked the crowd if anyone had a lighter, and as soon as the words left his mouth, the stage was instantly showered with lighters thrown from every spot in the crowd. Jumping out of the way of a seemingly steady stream, he laughed and reminded the crowd he just needed one. He retrieved one of the lighters, and after lighting up, he tossed it back to its owner, a man named Luke. “Luke? Like Luke Skywalker,” he asked the man, before leading the crowd in an impromptu acapella sing-along of 2 Live Crew’s “We Want Some Pussy,” before launching into 213’s “Mary Jane.” 

Following “Nobody Does It Better,” Warren G closed out his set with the timeless “Regulate.” If hip-hop has a list of greatest sing-along songs, “Regulate” would be high on that list. When it came time for Nate Dogg’s vocals, instead of just playing it from the track, the crowd sang his parts, with prompting by Warren G. It may be celebrating its 25th birthday, but the song sounded as good as ever and was the best way he could close out his set. 

Snoop Dogg

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Snoop Dogg
| Photographer:
Andrea Stoica
© All Rights Reserved

You may have seen some artists you truly love live in concert and felt that surge of excitement when they walked out to start their set, but Snoop Dogg is a certified living legend. When we talk about a person who is exceptional in any field, oftentimes they are described as a “rock star,” which instantly denotes that they have that certain extra something that defies simple categorization or explanation. Have no doubt about it, Snoop is a rock star, and when he came to the stage at The Van Buren, he did it with a swagger many of us wish we could have in our day-to-day lives. When Snoop came out, with his blinged microphone in hand, the atmosphere in the room instantly changed. While some people can make a party, Snoop is the party. 

Opening with “What U Talkin’ Bout” from his recently released 15th studio album I Wanna Thank Me, from which the tour got its name, the energy in the room instantly changed. The new songs stood proudly alongside the classics from across his career, and what commenced for the remainder of the evening was a party, Snoop style.

Snoop Dogg
| Photographer:
Andrea Stoica © All Rights Reserved

His stage set up, with DJ Premium flanked on both sides by picnic tables and a large fire hydrant in front of his table, was immediately reminiscent of a block party, and that was the vibe Snoop brought upon his entrance. However, this wasn’t just any block party – this was Snoop Doggy Dogg’s block party. So in addition to those picnic tables and fire hydrant were two poles, each positioned at the far edges of the stage, with dancers on them on and off throughout the night. 

In his set, Snoop mixed his own songs with verses from his many guest appearances on other rappers’ tracks. His set was a mix of nearly every hit in his long career. His work with Dre was hit early, with “Next Episode” and  “Nothin’ But A ‘G’ Thang’” played back to back. His groundbreaking debut Doggystyle was best represented with “The Shiznit,” “Ain’t No Fun” (with Warren G coming back out to drop his verse), “Gin and Juice,” and “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?” all making appearances in the set. “Countdown,” “P.I.M.P.” (his 2003 collaboration with 50 Cent), and “Sexual Eruption” were all set highlights. 

As he closed out his main set with “Snoop’s Upside Ya Head,” D.J. Premium told Snoop that since he didn’t have time to cover all of his hits in one night, he would play a mix of them, while Snoop took a break. With Snoop off the stage for a moment, Premium cut a mix of The Doggfather’s hits and guest appearances on other rappers’ tracks, while video snippets played on the screen behind him. 

After ten minutes, Snoop re-emerged and started his encore with “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” his 2004 hit. Following it up with “Snoop Dogg (What’s My Name Part 2)”  and “Take Me Away,” he then blew the roof off with his verse from D.J. Khalid’s “All I Do Is Win,” which for a crowd already hype, it was little an extra shot of adrenaline straight to the heart. 

Snoop Dogg
| Photographer:
Andrea Stoica © All Rights Reserved

While “All I Do Is Win” is the perfect track to summarize Snoop’s career of hit after hit record, he wasn’t there just to remind the crowd of his greatness. On a tour named to celebrate his long career and with a multi-generational; multicultural crowd of fans there to help him do so, Snoop turned the attention away from himself and shined a spotlight on the many friends and contemporaries lost over the years, sharing his love for those lost with the crowd who loved them too. His mini-tribute set, included love for Eazy-E (“Boyz In The Hood”), Notorious B.I.G. (“Hypnotize”), and Tupac (“Gangsta Party”). 

The most poignant moment on a night that took time to honor so many gone-but-not-forgotten hip-hop legends came when Snoop honored his dear friend Nipsey Hussle with a moment of silence, while a video tribute to him played. Following this moment of silence, Snoop hit his verse from K2 Tun’s “One Love” for everyone lost. 

Snoop returned to the party atmosphere of the night, as he moved to close out the show with “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?,” his debut single from Doggystyle. “I love you Phoenix, and Snoop Dogg will keep coming back here any motherfucking time you want me to!” Though he didn’t play “I Wanna Thank Me,” the song is about honoring yourself for the positives and appreciating hard work and accomplishments. Over the 27 years since he first gained national attention with his verse on Dr Dre’s “Deep Cover (187)” in 1992 and across 15 albums, Snoop has earned every accolade and every bit of love the crowd gave to him and that he gave back. 

Snoop Dogg
| Photographer:
Andrea Stoica © All Rights Reserved

Phoenix, we about to get out of here, but before we go, sing along with me,” he implored, as he closed out his set with his 2011 collaboration with Wiz Khalifa and Bruno Mars “Young, Wild, and Free.” If any song should be hip-hop’s answer to any number of show-closing ballads from across the history of pop music, it’s “Young, Wild, and Free.” After 27 years, Snoop Dogg is an institution, still the gold-standard for what it means to be eternally cool, and his music will always serve as a fountain of youth for his audience. To see Snoop live is to be transported to a place where the party never stops and the vibes are always good because Snoop is the party from the moment he steps on stage to when he steps off of it.

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Photographer: Andrea Stoica

Snoop Dogg – The Van Buren 12-11-19

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Setlist

  • “What You Talkin’ ‘Bout?”
  • “Next Episode” (Dr. Dre cover)
  • “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang” (Dr. Dre cover)
  • “Countdown”
  • “P.I.M.P.” 
  • “The Shiznit”
  • “Wrong Idea” 
  • “Focused” 
  • “Sexual Eruption” 
  • “I Wanna Love You” (AKON cover)
  • “D.O.G.’s Get Lonely 2”
  • “Smile Bitch” (Lil Duval cover)
  • “Ain’t No Fun” (with Warren G)
  • “I’m Fly” (with Warren G)
  • “Snoop’s Upside Ya Head” 

ENCORE

  • “Drop It Like It’s Hot” 
  • “Snoop Dogg (What’s My Name Part 2)” 
  • “Take Me Away” 
  • “All I Do Is Win” (DJ Khalid cover)
  • “Boyz In The Hood” (NWA cover)
  • “Hypnotize” (Notorious BIG cover)
  • “Gangsta Party” (Tupac cover)
  • “Gin and Juice” 
  • Nipsey Hussle Tribute
  • “One Love” (K2 Tun cover)
  • “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?” 
  • “Young, Wild, and Free” (Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa cover)

Photography © Andrea Stoica.
All Rights Reserved.



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REVIEW: New Politics, The Mowgli’s, Plain White T’s — 3 Dimensions of Music Come to The Van Buren (12-1-19)

PHOENIX — The weekend after Thanksgiving can be a bit of a challenge when it comes to energy levels. Between possibly overindulging on turkey (or tofurkey) and pie, grinning nervously through family dinners, and running through the aisles of the local electronic store, it is indeed easy to feel completely worn out by the time Sunday night rolls around. However, this year there was a cure for the fatigue: The “3 Dimensional Tour” at The Van Buren. Triple-headlined by the New Politics, The Mowgli’s, and Plain White T’s, it was a night filled with energy and noise, and a perfect antidote to the anecdotes you heard over the helpings of holiday fixings.

Plain White T’s

Plain White T’s started the night, as a backdrop lit up with the cover of their latest album Parallel Universe, before drummer De’mar Hamilton came out and sat down to set the tone for the rest of the night. Hamilton is an exceptional drummer, and it was truly fun to watch as he laid down a solid beat throughout the set. As the first notes of “Light Up The Room” were played, lead singer Tom Higgenson strode to the microphone with a huge smile on his face and said, “What up Phoenix?! Let’s have some fun!” Higgenson and the rest of the band delivered on that promise, with Mike Retondo deadpanning “Thank you for liking my bass,” as Higgenson asked the audience to applaud Retondo after “Rhythm of Love”. Higgenson interacted and joked with the audience extensively throughout the night, taking time to thank everyone for coming out, and taking notice that “It looks like you’re having a good time! Everyone in the front is smiling!

Tim Lopez (Guitarist), Plain White T’s
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

Indeed, it is hard not to feel jovial at a Plain White T’s show, as Higgenson keeps smiling throughout the night. As the set started to wind down – entirely too soon, it seemed – Higgenson and the band started to play “Hey There Delilah,” the song they are best known for. The crowd took over singing for him as he backed away from the microphone with a look of joy and gratitude on his face. After “Our Time Now,” he thanked the audience once more and the band left the stage.

The Mowgli’s

After a quick stage change, The Mowgli’s came out while a video played in the background, showing clips from movies meshed with scenes that gave a bit of a psychedelic vibe to the start of the show. In fact, the video continued throughout the set, and at certain points, it displayed the lyrics of the songs. As the first song “Spacin’ Out” started, the shift in energy was very apparent: where the Plain White T’s generate the audience energy through engagement with fans and having fun, while The Mowgli’s generate energy via the audience by turning the stage into a massive dance party. 

Katie Earl (Vocalist, Percussion), The Mowgli’s
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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Vocalist Katie Earl never once stopped moving, even imploring the audience multiple times to dance along. It was a challenge to stay still as they played songs like “Real Good Life,” “I’m Good,” and “San Francisco,” and so the crowd gladly obliged her requests. She also talked about the need to talk through the tough conversations to come to an understanding with another person. The Mowgli’s have quite a bit of fun on stage. At one point during “Talk About It,” — off of their latest EP American Feelings — almost the entire band switched positions, with everyone playing a different instrument. As the last notes of “San Francisco” faded, Hogan and Earl jumped off the stage, high-fived some in the crowd, and shook hands with others. There was a great deal of appreciation from the band toward the audience.

New Politics

The show ended with a loud, chaotic set from the New Politics. David Boyd pranced onto the stage while rapping the opening lyrics to “Unstoppable,” the first song off of the new album An Invitation to an Alternate Reality. Boyd has a stage presence that is unforgettable, as he prowls and dances like an uncontainable bundle of energy around the stage. At one point during “Yeah Yeah Yeah,” Boyd jumped over the barricade and had the audience gather around and jump together with him.  Those in the crowd were visibly exuberant as they interacted with Boyd and circulated energy amongst each other.

David Boyd (Vocalist), New Politics
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Band Photo Gallery

During another song break, he promised everyone that the band would sit in the back after the show and sign everything that was purchased at the merch table. While it became a bit difficult to see the stage at some points due to the amount of smoke, the show was incredibly high energy, even when things didn’t quite go as planned. Guitarist Soren Hansen threw his guitar into the air, and while it didn’t hit the stage, it also apparently didn’t do what he had hoped it would do. He recovered quickly, brushing off the mishap as if nothing had happened. 

David Boyd (Vocalist), New Politics
| Photographer:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
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Part of the magic of a New Politics show is the apparently inexhaustible front man: As the show came closer to the end, Boyd seemed to only become more energetic — At one point, right before “Harlem” started, Boyd started breakdancing, ending up on his head in an impressive pose. As the last notes of “Everywhere I Go (Kings and Queens)” faded, Boyd stood on the drum kit — his back to the audience — and did a backflip, sticking the landing and getting a massive cheer from the astonished fans.It was the perfect end to a night of noise and energy, a night that saw three extremely talented bands take the stage and leave the audience energized, with the food coma of the recent holiday in the rearview mirror. The “3 Dimensional Tour” wraps in Sioux City, IA on December 20th, and is a show that should not be missed. (View Tour Dates)

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Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo

View Separately: New Politics | The Mowgli’s | Plain White T’s

New Politics, The Mowgli’s, Plain White T’s – The Van Buren 12-1-19

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Photography © Reagle Photography
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REVIEW: ‘Juliana Hatfield Sings The Police’ — A Worthwhile Covers Album

At one point or another, we’ve all lovingly paid tribute to our favorite artists by covering an entire album of their work, but it was usually done alone in the car or at home and far away from a judging audience. Actual cover albums, however, are left up to the audiences and critics, and are weighed against the original. In short, they are a tightrope walk. At its worst, the covers are so faithful to the originals that it leaves the listener wondering, “So what’s the point?” At its best, a covers album sees an artist putting their own fresh spin on the music in a way that honors the source material while also creating something unique. With the recent release of Juliana Hatfield Sings The Police, Hatfield has managed to do just that: taking songs we’ve all heard countless times over the years and melds each with her style to make it much more than just a covers album.

Juliana Hatfield
| Photographer:
David-Doobinin

With a career that dates back more than 30 years, Hatfield has been one of indie-rock’s most prolific singer-songwriters. She debuted with Nicely, Nicely, from her first band, college-rock legends Blake Babies. The band dissolved following four albums, and she has subsequently released sixteen solo albums, two albums with The Juliana Hatfield Three, two albums with Some Girls, and a reunion album with Blake Babies. (View Discography)

Even for someone already as productive as Hatfield, her signing with American Laundromat Records in 2017 marked the beginning of her most prolific period, releasing five albums (four solo and one with a reunited Juliana Hatfield Three) in just two years. While she’d previously released an album of cover songs — 2012’s self-titled Juliana Hatfield (featuring songs by Foo Fighters, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Led Zeppelin, amongst others) — it was with the 2018 release of Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John that she made one of her most interesting career choices: taking on an entire album of music by another artist, whose selection might have initially surprised even her long-time fans. Last month’s release of Juliana Hatfield Sings The Police marks the second in a hopefully ongoing series of albums honoring her musical influences.

Just as Hatfield has made a career out of defying expectations with her many side projects and cover albums, she does the same with The Police songs she chose to cover for this album. While many beloved hits are present on the album (“Roxanne,” “Every Breath You Take,” and “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”, for example), she pulled the rest from points across the band’s catalog, with tracks from each of their five albums.

Track List

  1. Can’t Stand Losing You
  2. Canary in a Coalmine
  3. Next To You
  4. Hungry For You (J’aurais Toujours Faim De Toi)
  5. Roxanee
  6. Every Breath You Take
  7. Hole In My Life
  8. De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da
  9. Murder By Numbers
  10. Landlord
  11. Rehumanize Yourself

Most noticeable from the opening track, “Can’t Stand Losing You,” is that Hatfield eschews The Police’s groundbreaking hybrid of new wave and reggae, reimagining each song in her own style. While the original track from The Police’s first album Outlandos D’Amour had a sadness at the heart of it, Hatfield’s vocals seem to recast the narrative as more defiant, with a tone more of “good riddance” than “please don’t go.” 

Throughout the album, Hatfield plays with the tempos of the original tracks, slowing them down where the band hit the accelerator. On the second track, “Canary in a Coalmine,” and the third track, “Next To You,”  she slows down the original tracks’ frantic pace. In doing so, both tracks have a more playful tone to them versus the intensity they possessed before. Juliana Hatfield’s vocals have always had a sweetness to them, even when the lyrics are sorrowful. 

Two of the standout tracks on the album are the one-two punch of two of The Police’s biggest hits: “Roxanne” and “Every Breath You Take,” with each revisited through a different lens. “Roxanne,” Sting’s romantic ode, now feels like a dirge, with its crashing guitar riffs. Hatfield’s almost desperate pleading is balanced by her own harmonized backing vocals, almost angelic in stark contrast. 

On her career-spanning greatest-hits album, Gold Stars 1992-2002: The Juliana Hatfield Collection, Hatfield previously covered “Every Breath You Take,” which had a brokenhearted yearning to it, like the song’s narrator is making a last-ditch effort to will back an ex. While much has been made of the implied meaning of the original song, Hatfield recasts it as a genuinely sweet romantic ode.

For all the beauty she infuses into “Every Breath You Take,” she takes the opposite approach to “Hole in My Life.” Her focus here is squarely on the pain in the lyrics, and she tones down the song’s tempo to match its mournfulness. Where The Police balanced the heartbroken lyrics with an almost bouncy rhythm, Hatfield lets it wallow in its own dejected misery.

In her take of Synchronicity’s “Murder By Numbers,” she does away with the sing-songy rhythm and soulful vocals of the original in favor of a fuzz-guitar sped-up punk. You can feel the Boston punk scene Hatfield grew up around in the 80’s in its style: now a foot-stomping, fist-pumping moshing classic that is one of the album’s standout tracks. Just as she did with her tribute to Olivia Newton-John, she manages to straddle the line of honoring the original material expertly, while also breathing new life into each song by layering herself into them. Though …Sings The Police is the second in her series of cover/tribute albums, it stands on its own as an album uniquely belonging to Juliana Hatfield.

Juliana Hatfield Tour Dates:

1/16 Evanston, IL @ S.P.A.C.E.
1/17 Indianapolis, IN @ Hi-Fi
1/18 Nashville, TN @ The Basement East
1/19 Birmingham, AL @ Workplay Theater
1/21 Dallas, TX @ Granada Theatre
1/22 Austin, TX @3Ten at ACL Live
1/24 Phoenix, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom
1/25 Pioneertown, CA @ Pappy + Harriet’s
1/27 Los Angeles, CA @ The Echoplex
1/28 San Francisco, CA @ Slim’s
1/30 Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
2/01 Seattle, WA @ Tractor Tavern


Connect with Juliana Hatfield

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REVIEW: Lindsey Stirling Enthralls in Hometown Show at Comerica Theatre (11-23-19)

PHOENIX — There is an age-old argument over when exactly the Christmas season starts. Some would say that the day after Halloween is the official date that you can start preparing for Christmas, and others argue that the day after Thanksgiving, and not a day before, is the proper date to throw some Christmas music on and start feeling festive. It should be postulated that neither of these are correct: The first day that it officially feels like Christmas is the day of the first concert in Lindsey Stirling’s annual winter tour.

The tour is in its third year now, first named “Warmer in the Winter” in 2017, “The Wanderland Tour” in 2018 and now “Warmer in the Winter” again. Stirling, an Arizona native, noted during the show that the name came from all of the warm winters she spent here in Arizona. “The Wanderland Tour” bypassed Arizona, which may possibly explain why the tour changed names last year.

Arizona winters are indeed warm, and this one was no exception up until earlier this week. As the doors opened and the public began pouring into Comerica Theatre in Downtown Phoenix, there was a chill in the air, one that announced that winter actually does come to Arizona. In the moments leading up to the first wisp of smoke from the machine on stage, the audience filtered into the theatre and found their seats with a growing buzz of anticipation, as excited conversations built toward a crescendo as showtime drew closer. All ages had come out to see Lindsey Stirling, from the wide-eyed young girls who wore dresses that looked much like the dresses that Stirling wears in her music videos, to the older fans who looked like they were ready for a Sunday morning church service. For the young, they had come to see their hero. For the older, to see an artist who has redefined what it means to be a violinist. No one left disappointed. 

Lindsey Stirling
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

The “Warmer in the Winter” tour was a delight in every way possible. From the first few moments after the smoke machines kicked on to announce the start of the show until the final notes of the last song, “I Wonder While I Wander,” each and every second was packed with magic. Stirling and her dancers moved effortlessly through incredibly difficult maneuvers, drawing the crowd in. She is well known for her violin skills and her dancing, but she is also an incredible singer with a wicked sense of humor. Backed by a talented band including Kit Nolan on the keyboard and Drew Steen on the drums, Stirling danced, sang, and cracked jokes throughout the night. 

Lindsey Stirling
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

The production includes special effects, props, and costuming that inspire awe and joy. The backdrop was a massive screen, which was one of the key elements to the show. Throughout the night, it would be used to show a clip of Stirling’s alter ego Phebla, become a backdrop of the universe while she played “Between The Twilight” from her newest album Artemis, and finally to have us fly through a field of mushrooms as a nod to Alice In Wonderland during “Carol of the Bells.” She explained that she named the album after Artemis because Artemis is the Goddess of the moon, and the moon brings light into the darkness. 

Her concerts are always an inspirational and moving experience because heartfelt speeches in between songs are a regular part of the show. She told the audience, “I want you to think about how amazing you are, because I think that’s something you may not tell yourself enough…every single person in this room is incredible and powerful…as I play this song, maybe even close your eyes and see yourself for how beautiful you are and for your own light, because the world needs every single person to shine.” As she started to play “Between The Twilight”, the spotlight turned off, and the screen behind her showed the universe, or the stars in it at least. The ethereal sound took the audience on a journey of light, of sound, of beauty.

Stirling is also a fierce advocate for her fans. After a visually stunning “We Three Gentlemen,” She gave an emotional speech, talking about her journey to get where she was. She then told the audience “Nobody else can write your story. Never let anyone else tell you what you can do, what you can’t do, what you’re good at, what you’re not good at — because you’re the only one who knows what you can do, what’s inside of you.” She admitted that her insecurities had not changed from before she found fame until now. 

Lindsey Stirling
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Stirling spoke at length, her voice quivering a bit as she talked about losing her best friend to cancer 4 years ago, and her dad 3 years ago. It was an emotional, vulnerable speech. She spoke about angels and how she felt they surrounded her. This led into “Angels We Have Heard on High,” during which she stood at the top of the stairs in front of the screens with a mesmerizingly beautiful light that followed her every move with her bow. It was the most impactful song of the show. 

She spoke with gratitude of how much she appreciated the shows in Arizona, saying that she looked forward to them because, “I feel like this is my family.

“Thank you guys so much for coming! It’s only because of you guys and the support I had from home from the very beginning that I am here. Thank you.” 

Lindsey Stirling
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

During Stirling’s “favorite song to play,” “Hallelujah,” the tone switched away from happy, jovial, and infectious. The entire venue was utterly captivated by the otherworldly beautiful sound of the violin and backing guitar. There were some in the audience wiping away tears as the last notes faded away and Stirling again thanked everyone.

There are those that dedicate their life to the mastery of the violin, and others who train to lead the dance troupe at the theatre. To be able to do both at once – and do it well – is rare indeed. As the show started it became apparent the immense amount of planning and attention to detail that went into each and every step of this spectacular display. Each costume change was so well-planned that it would not be noticed or delay the show, and each dance move was tightly choreographed. Stirling has a zest for performing, a love for the fans, and a respect for her craft that lends itself to a show that would be hard to equal. 

Lindsey Stirling
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Everyone had gathered for a concert, but those in attendance received so much more than that. Viewing the show through the eyes of one who has seen many, it was an incredible, exciting show — one that lingers in the back of the mind. She is a wonderful role model to the young that view her as a giant. They aspire to one day reach her greatness after witnessing the impact of her beauty and grace.

Lindsey Stirling
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Stirling has a self-awareness that gives strength and power to those around her, saying what people need to hear before they even know they need to hear it. She is, in a word, rare. She is a once in a generation talent who has captured the imagination of the young, inspires the broken and gives peace to all who hear her. As the show ended and we walked into the cold night air of her hometown, it was hard not to feel refreshed and ready to celebrate the season. And that, in the end, is the magic of Lindsey Stirling.

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Photographer: Mark Greenawalt

Lindsey Stirling – Comerica Theatre 11-23-19

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Photography © Mark Greenawalt
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REVIEW: The Building Brings Soothing Vibes to Downtown Phoenix Bar (11-13-19)

PHOENIX — In the middle of downtown Phoenix is a nondescript alley with a door halfway down it. Over that door is a neon sign with the words “Valley Bar” spelled out. It casts a stark and yet warm glow into the alley. It is not an easy venue to find, but it is absolutely worth the trek if you’re looking for great music. For this particular event, Heather Woods Broderick and The Building was playing on a Wednesday night.

Valley Bar entrance sign
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved.

The Building is fronted by Anthony LaMarca, a talented and accomplished music veteran. He is currently the guitarist for the band The War on Drugs, and has played drums for St. Vincent on tour. He also has his own record label, named Primary Records. Broderick has toured with Sharon Van Etten as part of her backing band and has also played in bands such as Horse Feathers. To be able to see musicians as talented as these two in a venue as intimate as the Valley Bar is indeed a treat.

By the time the show started just after 8:00pm, the entire audience had shown up. There were fewer than 20 people in attendance — likely due to a somewhat hard to find venue and a midweek show. For those of us fortunate enough to be in attendance, we were treated to a downright solid show.

Heather Woods Broderick (Vocals, Guitar, Keys)
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved.

Heather Woods Broderick

Broderick took the stage first with Andrew Carlson on the bass guitar, and Dean Anshutz on the drums. Carlson and Anshutz would be on stage for most of the evening, since they play in The Building as well. Broderick started with an acoustic guitar. Her fingers flew across the strings as a nearly ethereal sound came from the guitar — a sound that would be present for much of the evening. Her otherworldly vocals are enough to find your mouth agape. There is a beauty in the melancholic, enthralling tone of Broderick’s music.

While most of the songs are slower, she turned up the tempo with “Quicksand” from the album Invitation, which is a song that is rather drum heavy and a very nice change of pace. Anshutz was a joy to watch during the show because of his precision on the drums and how much he gets into it, but he was even more so during this song. Broderick also played “I Try” and ended the show on “Invitation”. With the voice of an angel and impressive control, Broderick yodeled through the closing notes of the final song, which is a delight that can only be experienced live since these fluctuations are not heard on the studio recording of the song.

Mid-show, she mentioned that she was surprised at how warm it still was outside and what there was to do in downtown Phoenix. Later on, she also spoke about touring with The Building, and said “They’re very sweet people and I love hearing them play their stuff every night.” It was also mentioned that there was a week and a half left in the tour.

The Building

The Building took the stage shortly after 9:00pm, and LaMarca greeted the audience with “We’re called The Building, we’re from Youngstown Ohio, thanks for being here!” and launched into the first song. He seemed to forget the lyrics after the first line of the song, but instead of powering through and going to the next line, he stopped the song and cracked a joke about the mistake. He noted that it was better to acknowledge the mistake and fix it, saying “It’s like when you go to a sandwich shop and you order turkey on a sandwich but instead they give you fish and it’s just not as good.” The song was restarted, and the night was back on track.

Anthony LaMarca (Vocals, Guitar) & Dean Anshutz (Drums), The Building
Photography: Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved.

There is a bit of a wistful feeling to these songs, perhaps owing to the fact that the drums were rarely used throughout the set. Watching Carlson play the bass grants a new appreciation for how precise each note needs to be. There is also a mellowness to the songs that feels a bit like quiet reflections in musical form. The soothing mood of the music would pair well with The Paper Kites on a relaxation playlist. 

Midway through the show, LaMarca stopped to chat with the audience. He noted that this was their first time in Phoenix and then asked if anyone had any dogs. Surprisingly, only one person indicated she did, and they had a conversation about the three dogs she owned. The latest album is named after LaMarca’s dog Petra, a German shepherd. There is a story on their website about the name of the record and his dog Petra, and it is one we highly recommend reading.

As the night drew to a close, LaMarca announced the final song as “Peace’s Eternal Truth Renews All,” or “PETRA”. Each of the songs off of the latest album are quite personal, as he has battled Multiple Myeloma twice in the past few years and this was written and recorded during his latest battle, but PETRA feels more personal than the others. As the last notes faded, the show ended, and the few of us fortunate enough to be there made our way up the stairs and back into the alley in downtown Phoenix. Watching LaMarca and The Building in such a small venue is not an opportunity that should be taken for granted. All members of the band are extremely talented, and as such, the music was excellent.

The Building Online:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo

The Building & Heather Woods Broderick – Valley Bar 11-13-19

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REVIEW: DIVISIONS — STARSET Takes Us on a Journey Through the Future

Released on September 13th, 2019, DIVISIONS is the third studio album by STARSET. Fronted by Dustin Bates, STARSET is known for their elaborate shows and their detailed, cinematic rock albums. To watch STARSET live is to watch a spectacle of light and sound that leaves you in awe. There is an augmented reality app, aptly titled STARSET, that was first meant to be used during the live concert. This has since been updated to have some functions outside of the concert setting. During the “Immersion: Part One” tour, Bates and his bandmates wore spacesuits. Bates, in fact, has a significant tie to space: he was a teacher at the International Space University Space Study Program at one point, and has solidified his image of being both an extremely imaginative and talented musician and an accomplished scientist.

DIVISIONS — set on Earth in 2049, in a dystopian future that involves mind control via an implant. Four music videos were released in the lead-up to the album release: “MANIFEST,” “WHERE THE SKIES END” “STRATOSPHERE,” and “DIVING BELL.” Watching them helps understand the story behind the album, which in turn is linked to their show.

You do not listen to Starset —
you experience them.

As you travel through the journey that is DIVISIONS, you will hear more than just the songs. “WHERE THE SKIES END,” for example, is bookended by audio clips from a video called “A New Horizon” that played at the 1939 Worlds Fair in New York. The name of the exhibit was “Futurama,” and was a vision of the future – a future that came true in many ways. Ronald Reagan can be heard in “STRATOSPHERE,” taken from a speech he gave in 1987 to the UN about war, in which he said “I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing a threat…From outside this world.

The first track is only Bates speaking with synth playing, building until the end of the song. “A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FUTURE” lays out the rest of the album:

This place is a desert for the mind
Devoid of emotion and barren of thought
No real thought, at least
It’s no surprise
Most minds here have long since atrophied from lack of use
They wait in flatline for the next rushing jolt of synthetic stimulation
The real world can’t compare, even if it were allowed to
Contemplating the real world leads to seeing the world for what it is: a prison... (Continues)

MANIFEST” is a mix of heavy rock riff and poppy sounding choruses. It leaves you off balance a little, though it is a very enjoyable song, and it just takes a couple of listens to get used to the genre switch. It showcases the genius of Bates: as the music switches between rock and pop, the lyrics describe a love that seems to be a bit unstable:

Every time I’m onto you
You change it up‚ you always do

The song ends with a cadence of crashing guitars and drums, leaving the listener with a second or two of silence to regroup a bit before the synth beginning of “ECHO”.

“Echo” is a symphonic song, soaring behind lyrics that seem to be steeped in Greek Mythology. From the mention of the Odyssey at the beginning, up to and including the lyrics:

I call and I can hear you sing
But oh, it’s only my echo
It’s only my echo

In Greek Mythology, Echo was cursed by Hera to only be able to repeat the last words that another would speak. She met, and fell in love with Narcissus, who fell in love with himself. That ended rather poorly for both of them. The song seems to be more than just the story of Narcissus, it indeed seems to be told from the viewpoint of a narcissist:

I thought it was destiny
I was gonna conquer the sky
Then plummet to the ground and be
Anchored by your side
But when every time I found myself upon new heights
I would climb again and leave you in the moonlight

It should be noted that the person referred to here followed the singer silently for most of the song, so the accusation of giving up early toward the end rings quite false. It is, again, a well-crafted song by Bates.

WHERE THE SKIES END” seems to be a near defiant look at the future, a musing that is sung over music that alternates between a heavy riff and synth. The lyrics speak of the change between the current and the previous generations — one that could possibly apply to today as well:

These aren’t the dreams of our fathers
There’ll be no wishing on stars
We are the sons and the daughters
Let them come test who we are

PERFECT MACHINE” is far more synth heavy, the music slowing down a bit, and seems to be a tragic song in some ways. In the first verse it becomes quite apparent the protagonist is not exactly the nicest person in this scenario; in fact, they sound downright manipulative:

And if I bend just right
I can make it
I didn’t want you
I wanna watch you change
From a butterfly and into chains

By the end of the song, the subject seems like they have reached the point where they have acknowledged their faults and are trying to protect the other person from them. 

As the outro plays, you can hear what sounds like a subway, or perhaps a bus station, and a disembodied voice in the background repeating propaganda. It is a masterful touch to remind you that this is set in a dystopian future

TELEKINETIC” is absolutely connected to “A Brief History Of The Future”. This is a heavy, heavy song, reaching past the rock genre and going into the metal, with a scream punctuating the song. One cannot help but to be reminded of the band RED during this song. Bates weaves in a comparison of being a puppet and voodoo, and in between it all, the mention of the hit of the chemicals in the brain that popped in the first song.

Fake
I’m just a puppet in your play
You pull the strings and I obey
High, that oxytocin hit me just right there
It’s counterfeit
Zombie, zombie, could it be a hex?

As the song ends, as your ears are possibly still ringing, “STRATOSPHERE” starts. This is the first true pop rock song on the album. In the first half, the drum kick is the heaviest element of the song, unless you listen closely to the lyrics. It is indeed a beautiful, tragic song; a song of longing and missing someone that you once loved.

There is duality between “STRATOSPHERE” and “FAULTLINE,” with the latter sounding more like a sarcastic, angry song about a hurt partner pushing back against the other in the relationship:

First you gotta know
How to play the victim
Hate to tell you so
But you repeat the symptoms like an aftershock
And I only want to make it stop

It is such a sharp contrast in music style and lyrics that it feels out of place, and yet it will resonate with anyone who has ever gone through a rough breakup, and indeed with anyone leaving an abusive relationship.

SOLSTICE” has a bit of a heavy sound to it, with a great beat with some EDM behind it, though it quickly becomes very repetitive. Musically it’s a great song, lyrically it leaves one wanting more. It is the least impactful song on the album, though it is still an enjoyable song musically.

TRIALS” is, quite simply, a song of defiance — a story of looking straight into the teeth of the darkest days and triumphing. Set over a driving drumbeat, it is another song that reminds me a bit of RED and moves closer to metal and away from rock. 

WAKING UP” shares the same kind of driving drumbeat, though the message changes quite a bit. There is a near EDM feel to this song as well, and seems to be more about the message of someone throwing off the mind control device. It is truly enjoyable, though there is some repetition.

OTHER WORLDS THAN THESE” is one of the most enjoyable songs on this album, both in music and in message. There are many concepts being explored here, one of which is a mind that has been awakened and is now contemplating the vastness of the universe, and that there may indeed be other worlds out there.

DIVING BELL” is a beautifully juxtaposed song. It feels relaxed, but has an urgent question

If I stare into the abyss
Will it stare into me?  

It is not often that you witness the process of living with depression and trying to push away from those who love you. It is a perfect end to one of the most well-put-together albums of 2019.

STARSET is amidst their “DIVISIONS: 2019” tour in support of this album, and unsurprisingly, the show looks just as incredible as previous tours. Finishing the U.S. leg of the tour in Newport, KY, they will be embarking on a European leg starting February 8th, 2020.

View tour dates: HERE

Get the album, allow your imagination to take you on the journey that STARSET has laid out before you, and then go see them live.
You will not regret it.

STARSET Online:

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REVIEW: Surviving — Jimmy Eat World’s Subtle Masterpiece

Released on October 18th, Surviving is the tenth studio album by Jimmy Eat World. Available in every imaginable format; it can be streamed, purchased as a download, a CD, vinyl pressing, and if you really wanted to throw it way back (as frontman Jim Adkins loves to do) it can be found as a cassette tape. Surviving is an expertly crafted journey, one that explores the time Adkins spent battling depression and self-doubt. There are ten songs on the record — a theme, perhaps, given the release in the tenth month of the year.

From the first notes of the driving guitars, before the kick of the drums, before the ever-recognizable voice of Adkins kicks in, it is apparent that this will be familiar but new ground. The first lines of the title track “Surviving” appear to confirm this:

Don’t hide your face, what you were before
it doesn’t have to be you anymore

The song “Surviving” could be considered a confrontation of sorts. One could interpret it as the singer confronting his past, and simultaneously the listener could perceive it as a confrontation of their own past. It is relatable in every line, and because of that, powerful.

“Criminal Energy” was my favorite to watch live at the Crescent Ballroom a few weeks ago, and the album version is just as good, if not somewhat muted compared to the live version. That is not to say it is bad in any way; rather, this is a song that is designed to get the blood pumping and the crowd dancing. And it is delightful — Adkins’ voice soaring behind the crashing guitars and drums. Just as quickly as it comes, it fades to a softer, slower song in “Delivery”.

While “Delivery” is paced more slowly than “Criminal Energy”, it is deep. There is a subtle beauty in the lyrics, an essence of yearning for the love of the years gone by. This is the genius of Adkins: the ability to relate to each listener even without meeting them, and to draw a picture in such a way that they don’t always realize the scope of the art. 

Adkins continues this in “555”. The art could be lost if you got lost wading through the shock that longtime Jimmy Eat World fans will undoubtedly feel: the shock of a song that sounds more like it came from M83. However, it fits with the message from this song so very well. The expectation of Adkins, and in turn Jimmy Eat World, is that there will be an album that sounds much like what has been done before. There is a danger in that expectation, and it is daring to break it. That is exactly what they do, with synth clapping as the backing and one of the oddest and yet entertaining videos you will ever see.

“One Mil” starts the ramp up back into the heavier songs on the album. The story of wasted chances will resonate with the masses, though I would argue that most of them have never fallen for a camera girl.

Camera girl, you still there?
If I look you’ll disappear
Worse, you might wanna talk
I’m so underprepared

To some it is the classic story of the introvert attempting to find love and upon finding a chance at it, wasting it. To others, it is like a remnant of teenage love, which we would all like to think that we eventually grow out of.

Wish I had mastery of wit, luck and fearless confidence
Then shred majestically to your heart

This story changes in “All The Way (Stay)”, a song that is raw, raw in sound and lyrics, the clang of a guitar and then the echo of a snare drum your only companions at first. It is not comfortable in the first 30 or so seconds, and that discomfort draws you in to listen to lyrics like:

 We get discouraged by the pointlessness
And we’re pretty quick to judge things pointless
There’s what I want and what I need
And the latter takes a while to see

Behind it all, you realize that this is again urging the listener to show who they really are, to allow others, or possibly just one other, to see under the layers where you hide. While the song starts with a crashing drum that may force you to shift uneasily, by the end you will find yourself swaying to the catchy beat and powerful vocals. It is a great lead into a song that has a far more comfortable feel, “Diamond”.

“Diamond” is the song you didn’t know you needed to help you through a really rough time. Hopes, dreams and careers take time, and it’s easy to want to take the easy way out and get a quick payout. After over a quarter of a century playing with Jimmy Eat World, Adkins can say with the utmost confidence in the lyrics:

That’s how a diamond grows, yeah
Give yourself the right chance over time
Don’t believe them
If they try to sell you something quicker, yeah

This theme extends to “Love Never”, where Adkins vocals are on display second only to “555”. This is another life lesson, this time a reminder about love, set over a near frantic beat. Depending on your stage in life, it either serves as a warning for those who still romanticize the ideal love and the idea that cute, fat angels will shoot you with an arrow shortly before you meet the perfect match, or a reminder that love looks a whole lot more like you summoning the strength to not murder your partner for not picking their socks up. At any rate, it is a fantastic, underrated song on this album. 

“Recommit” feels like something that all of us have wanted to sing, or yell really, at that one person in our lives who sits on the fence when push comes to shove. To some, the music may feel a little underwhelming in comparison to the rest of the tracks. However, one can appreciate its beachy pop revivalist vibe that flows and ebbs from the verses to the contrasting heavier chorus that barrels in between them.

The album closes out with “Congratulations”, a song that seems so far out of place that it is a bit jarring. Unlike much of the rest of the album, this seems to almost take a political stance, with lyrics such as:

Suspiciously, through editing
The facts are disappearing
With discipline and message
You’ll take awkward possession
Of nothing you really wanted
Welcome, congratulations

The defiance and air of dissonance present throughout the rest of the album melts into the background, as sarcasm seems to run rampant in this unusual and yet enjoyable song. It should also be noted that Davey Havok of AFI and Dreamcar lent his vocals to this song, something subtle you can pick up on once you know to listen for him.

Surviving is an incredibly solid album overall. It harkens back to the energy we all bore witness to in the fantastic journey that was Bleed American (later re-released as Jimmy Eat World). Adkins is a master of self-awareness, weaving life lessons into the verses in much the same way a master weaver would work threads into a rug. While the frontman has been given much praise in this review, the entirety of the band deserves recognition for this album. While it is the norm for the music world to decide to try to build an architectural masterpiece like the Empire State Building, often falling far short of that lofty goal, Adkins and his bandmates decided to build a comfortable mansion in the Midwest overlooking a lake. The band succeeded in doing exactly what they set out to do, giving the world a sometimes odd but overall enjoyable work that will stand the test of time.

Featured photo (top) by Oliver-Halfin