Tag Archives: music journalism

REVIEW: Robert Mason Hits All The Notes at Intimate Cactus Jack’s Show with Drop D (4-15-22)

PHOENIX— Valley local and current lead singer for Warrant, Robert Mason, performed at Cactus Jack’s Bar and Grill Friday night in Ahwatukee. What is special about this show is the intimate setting and interaction with the artist that is so rare and delightful, you never forget it. Mason recruited metal cover band Drop D from Tucson, Arizona to share the stage both April 15th at Cactus Jack’s, and again April 16th at Encore in Tucson for a show benefiting Women Warriors, a non-profit group supporting female veterans. 

Robert Mason singing and playing the keyboard
Robert Mason (Vocalist, Keyboardist)
| Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Mason on keyboards and lead guitarist for Drop D, Thomas Bach, kicked off a brief set with an incredible duet of Bob Seger’s song “Turn the Page”. Mason proved quickly why he has no problem heading such bands as Warrant, Lynch Mob, Big Cock Band, and even vocal support for Ozzy Osbourne. His incredible vocal range with a touch of grit would be a great fit for any band. Next up was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man”. Mason wasn’t shy about using his phone as a teleprompter for the lyrics, saying, “Skynyrd used one at bike week too,” with a grin.

Robert Mason (Vocalist)
| Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Mason played a solo guitar and vocal version of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Mama I’m Coming Home” after sharing a story about the call from Sharon Osbourne that led to him touring on Ozzy’s 1995-96 Ozmosis Tour. This led into Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home”, and ended the first set.

Guitarist Thomas Bach of Drop D performing
Thomas Bach (Guitarist), Drop D
| Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Drop D’s Facebook page cites the band as “Tucson’s hard and heavy cover band”. There is not much information online about the band, but they are a fun foursome with lots of energy and a nice variety of songs in their set. They are definitely worth a watch when they come back to the valley. Members include previously mentioned Thomas Bach on lead guitar, KJ Padilla on vocals and rhythm guitar, and Corey Candray on bass. Drummer Bob Allen could not make it, but in his stead Ando Miller literally “lit up” the stage with his color-change drum kit.

Drummer Ando Miller performing with Drop D
Ando Miller (Drummer – filling in for Bob Allen), Drop D
| Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

An audio clip of “We Are the Champions” by Queen was the intro for the band  whose set began with The Outfield’s “Your Love”. Padilla quipped they would play some more “songs older than I am” before covering Cinderella’s “Somebody Save Me” and Queensryche’s “Empire”. The “sound man Tommy” for Cactus Jack’s was invited up on stage and given a set of drumsticks to help play cymbals on Candlebox’s “You”. Van Halen’s “Unchained”,  Skid Row’s “Youth Gone Wild” and Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me” set the tone for the next set.

KJ Padilla of Drop D
KJ Padilla (Vocalist, Guitarist), Drop D
| Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

The final ten songs included both Drop D’s full band and Mason himself on vocals. A great set it was, considering the band claims to have had “no practice” prior to the pairing. Bach jokes that Mason was “just tolerating us”, but Mason chose this band to play these two shows with for a reason: talent, and lots of it. From Deep Purple’s “Highway Star” to Mötley Crüe’s “Kickstart My Heart”, Mason impressed again with his incredible talent behind the microphone. He then covered Dokken’s “It’s Not Love”, then stopped the show. His request? That the audience “engage in this moment” and put away cell phones, get out on the floor and dance.

Robert Mason performing with Drop D
Robert Mason (Vocalist) performing with Drop D
| Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Mason gave a toast to the audience in their honor, and thanked everyone for their support throughout his extensive career, then encouraged the crowd to sing along with Warrant’s beautiful ballad “Heaven”. He said he was grateful to be able to perform such amazing songs written by such amazing writers over the years. Wrapping up the set were the highly anticipated “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “Cherry Pie”, both big hits for his current band Warrant. Mason joined the crowd at the end of the show for photos and autographs, which thrilled the fans and Mason alike. 

Robert Mason performing with Drop D
Robert Mason (Vocalist) performing with Drop D
| Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Robert Mason, 57, has had an extensive career as a vocalist. He joined glam-metal band Warrant in 2008 and remains their lead singer present day. George Lynch’s Lynch Mob Wikipedia page shows his years active as 1991-1994, 2003-2006, and 2018. Robert says he moved to Arizona at the behest of George Lynch back when Chandler and Gilbert were “pig farms” that were turned into housing developments. His local “sleaze” band, Big Cock, wasn’t mentioned out loud by name because the band name “upsets my mom”. He appeared on 3 of their albums as lead vocalist: 2005’s Year of the Cock, 2006’s Big Cock and 2008’s Motherload albums, according to Heavy Metal Wiki’s page on Mason. 

Robert Mason smiling behind a microphone
Robert Mason (Vocalist)
| Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

With endless stories about rock-and-roll life, Mason’s show was full of witticisms and talent, mixing music and tales of the road and his extensive career. He even encouraged a heckler who shouted out “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” after every song, assuring him he would get to that in the last set. We learned about tour life, Budokan, his friends and not-so-friendly acquaintances in the music business. We learned what it was like being a “hired gun” in the industry too. It was like visiting an incredibly talented old friend to share stories and a night of timeless music. 

Photo Gallery

Photographer: Mark Greenawalt

Robert Mason & Drop D – Cactus Jack’s 4-15-22

Photography © Mark Greenawalt.
All Rights Reserved

REVIEW: System Of A Down & Korn Help Phoenix Get Lost in the Grandeur (1-31-22)

PHOENIX — In 2020, System Of A Down announced a massive tour co-headlining with Faith No More and Korn, with support from Helmet and Russian Circles. As the pandemic progressed, the shows were postponed a total of three times, with the final postponement due to Serj Tankian (frontman of System of a Down) contracting COVID in October. Faith No More also announced that they would be canceling the concerts so Mike Patton could step back to handle mental health issues. Korn had dropped out, but once Faith No More canceled, Korn returned. To the delight of the metal faithful in Arizona, it was also announced that this line-up (excluding Faith No More and Helmet) would be playing a show at an arena in Phoenix now known by many names. This arena, built in 1992, is now known as Footprint Center and is now on it’s 6th name. The arena just completed a much needed remodel, which brings the once dated arena firmly into the 21st century.

The show started off with Russian Circles, a group that was founded by two childhood friends, Michael Sullivan and Dave Turncrantz, who play guitar and drums respectively. They are joined by Brian Cook, who is the bassist, baritone guitarist, and keyboardist for the instrumental band. Surprisingly, the set was only 18 minutes and 3 songs, but in that short timeframe the post-metal band impressed the audience with their highly technical prowess. If Russian Circles is billed as an opener, it is well worth your time to arrive early enough to catch this trio’s excellent mastery of crescendos and crashes of bass and drums.

Jonathan Davis of Korn in concert at Footprint Center
Jonathan Davis (Vocalist) – Korn
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

With a “Here we go!” from lead singer Jonathan Davis, the first bars of Korn’s “Here to Stay” began, spotlights flashed from the stage, and strobing lightboxes backlit the band. Throughout the night, the unmistakable voice of Davis was replaced many times by the audience, as he solicited audience participation. When performing live, Korn has an underappreciated ability to echo the sound of their studio recordings, and it speaks to the vast talent of not just Davis, but guitarist Brian “Head” Welch, guitarist James “Munky” Shaffer, drummer Ray Luzier, and Ra Diaz (who is filling in for Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu while he takes time to “heal and reflect at home”). 

Brian Welch of Korn in concert at Footprint Center
Brian Welch (Guitarist) – Korn
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Korn is well known for their staggeringly large discography, with 13 studio albums having been released, and a 14th out on February 4th named “Requiem”. The audience was treated to the live debut of the song “Start the Healing”. As part of the upcoming album release, Korn will be playing a “Requiem Mass” on the evening of February 3rd at Hollywood United Methodist Church, which will be live-streamed worldwide.

Jonathan Davis (Vocalist) & Ray Luzier (Drummer) – Korn
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Three songs later, Davis came out on the stage with his bagpipe, playing the intro to “Shoots and Ladders,” the third single from their eponymous debut album. This, predictably, caused the crowd to erupt, much to the delight of Davis. There is a connection and love between Korn and the audience, which takes the shows to another level. Davis is 4 months removed from his battle with COVID, which saw him have to sit on a throne and use oxygen while performing during a show on August 27th. It is a relief to watch him move around with no noticeable side effects from his battle, which he said scared him shitless.

Jonathan Davis (Vocalist) – Korn
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

The crowd, at the urging of Davis, held up their middle fingers collectively during “Y’All Want a Single” – a song written in response to Sony asking for them to “write a radio hit.” This likely is not at all what the poor sap who made this request expected to get, but it has become a fan favorite. Other hits included “Freak on a Leash,” “Did My Time,” and “A.D.I.D.A.S.” As Korn wrapped up, Davis thanked the fans, and almost ominously said, “…we’ll come back and fuck this motherfucker up one more fucking time.”

As the opening notes of “X” played, System Of A Down was silhouetted against the curtain in the moments before it dropped. Serj Tankian – vocalist and keyboardist – was center stage, flanked by guitarist Daron Malakian to his right, bassist Shavo Odadjian to his left, and drummer John Dolmayan almost directly behind him. “Prison Song” was performed next with an arsenal of nearly blinding strobes that assaulted the audience. An extraordinarily intense light show, designed to match the intensity of their music, would persist through the night.

Serj Tankian of System Of A Down in concert at Footprint Center
Serj Tankian (Vocalist, Keyboardist) – System Of A Down
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

To watch System Of A Down play is like watching one of the great Renaissance masters paint. A great painter must carefully select their canvas, their paint, and then they must be able to combine these quality pieces in such a way that it withstands not only the test of time, but withstands the test of the taste of that particular moment. System Of A Down does this with an ease that defies the expectations of a band that has only released 2 new songs in the last 16 years. Tankian’s voice is the paint over the music that stands in for the canvas, and we in the audience are the viewers who do not necessarily realize what beauty we are witnessing in the moment.

Serj Tankian of System Of A Down in concert at Footprint Center
Serj Tankian (Vocalist, Keyboardist) – System Of A Down
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Tankian has one of the greatest vocal ranges in all of metal at 4 octaves. This was on full display in “Chop Suey,” one of the songs that landed them squarely in the mainstream limelight, though the metal community was made aware of the band a few years before with the release of their first album and the success of “Sugar” and “Spiders.” While lavish praise should be heaped on Tankian for his immense vocal talent, the same praise should also be heaped onto Odadjian and Malakian, as they make highly technical and rather difficult riffs look absolutely effortless.

Imagine how incredible it would have been if Tankian and his would-be tour mate, Mike Patton of Faith No More (who boasts an unbelievable 6 octave range) accompanied each other for one song.

It is impossible to discuss System Of A Down and their impact without discussing their political contributions. Tankian in particular acts as a prominent voice for the downtrodden and the less fortunate, both in lyrics and in his personal capacity. The two new songs, “Genocidal Humanoidz” and “Protect the Land,” were released in response to the Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020. The two singles raised about $600,000 for the Armenians who were affected by the devastating war. Both songs were played separately during this concert, with Malakian first thanking the audience for the last year, and then starting to explain what the song “Protect the Land” was about, only to turn to Tankian to ask him to explain the song. Tankian turned to the audience and said, “This one goes out to all the indigenous people in the world that are fighting for their rights. For all of the people in the world protecting their families against evil and injustice. We are all united, and we are one.” As the band launched into the song, the lights behind the band lit up in the colors of the Armenian flag.

Shabo Odadjian of System Of A Down in concert at Footprint Center
Shabo Odadjian (Bassist) – System Of A Down
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

It could be argued that the mark of a great show is that it alters the perception of the passage of time. In this case, by the time the band played the opening notes of “Sugar,” their first hit that made the metal world take notice of the band with Dadaist lyrics, a distaste of the exploitation of the less fortunate, and a lyrically devastating take on war – both the wars between countries and the war on drugs – it felt like only moments had passed, when in reality it was an hour and a half set.

Serj Tankian of System Of A Down in concert at Footprint Center
Serj Tankian (Vocalist, Keyboardist) – System Of A Down
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © All Rights Reserved

Earlier in the night, Davis had said, “It’s so good to be back up here, y’all. The world has been going through some crazy shit, and this is where I get to forget all about it. I want y’all to do me a favor tonight: I want you to just forget about everything. We got System Of A Down coming up, and I want you guys to do this for me: just forget and have a good fucking time!” This challenge was accepted by the enthusiastic crowd, who spent 4 hours losing themselves to the sounds of these masters of metal as they performed their greatest hits.

Photo Gallery

Photographer: Katherine Amy Vega

System of a Down & Korn – Footprint Center 1-31-22

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Photography © Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design
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System Of A Down Online:

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Missing Concerts? So Are We!

Missing Concerts? So Are We!

Covid has cancelled all of the tours that our concert photographers were set to shoot. Any support you can offer to help offset our loss of income stream during this unprecedented time is truly appreciated by our talent staff of photographers and journalists. Consider contributing to our Patreon account so that we “Get Back To Where We Once Belonged!”

(Pictured: One of our team photographers- Mark Greenawalt – who has been able to have dreams come true over and over with the opportunity to shoot all of his favorite classic rock artists for Burning Hot Events – including the legendary Sir Paul McCartney!)

REVIEW: Hollywood Vampires — The Undead Awaken at the Pool (5-18-19)

Scottsdale, AZ — It’s a sad truth that some of the best musicians are no longer with us; they found their way to rock ‘n roll heaven. However, they did leave a hell of a legacy in music. Hollywood Vampires is a band formed by Alice Cooper, Joe Perry of Aerosmith, and Johnny Depp in 2015 to pay tribute to the musicians that are no longer with us from the 1970s. Hollywood Vampires is a brainchild from Cooper, who used to hang out in the Rainbow Bar in Hollywood, California in the 1970s. That’s where Cooper and the original Hollywood Vampires followed their mission statement: drink until no one could stand up. Some of the members to this motley crew of drinkers were Keith Moon of The Who, John Lennon and Ringo Starr of The Beatles, Micky Dolenz of The Monkees, and Elton John.  

On a strangely cool night — perhaps the undead bring a chill to the air — Hollywood Vampires came to Talking Stick Resort to play some classic rock by the pool. Co-Op warmed up the crowd — a band formed by Alice Cooper’s son Dash Cooper, who is on lead vocals.

Dash Cooper, CO-OP
Dash Cooper (Vocalist), CO-OP
| Photography
: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Their backdrop was a skull logo with a red left eye that changed to green for certain songs. As they began to play their second song, Cooper shouted, “Let me hear you howl!” It was fitting as they played under a full moon. The crowd wasn’t too loud, and Cooper once again spoke, trying to liven everyone up, “You’re going to need to be louder to wake the undead. We’re from right here in Phoenix!” One of their final songs was called “Silent Skies,” which Cooper said was a tribute song for a friend of his who committed suicide, and he encouraged the crowd to remember that there’s always help out there.

CO-OP
CO-OP
| Photography
: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

All the lights went off as a spooky recorded voice-over said, “Listen to them, the children of the night!” Cooper came out, first armed with his cane and mic. Perry and Depp followed with their guitars. The rest of the touring band filled the stage around them: Tommy Henriksen on rhythm and lead guitar, keyboards, and backing vocals; Glen Sobel on drums; Chris Wyse on bass; and Buck Johnson on keyboards, rhythm and lead guitar, and backing vocals.

Hollywood Vampires
Alice Cooper (Vocalist), Hollywood Vampires
| Photography
: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Before addressing the nearly sold-out crowd, Hollywood Vampires played “I Want My Now,” “Raise the Dead,” and “As Bad As I Am.” Before going into a tribute song combo with “Five to One / Break On Through (to the Other Side)” Cooper said, “We’re the Vampires. Paying tribute to our friends who are gone, The Doors.”

As the rift to “The Jack” by AC/DC filled the air, Cooper said, “We lost Malcolm from AC/DC.” As Cooper sang, he did his stage antics with his cane, walking hunched over going back and forth. As he walked he’d slowly pull jack playing cards from his jacket and would show the crowd the card for a few moments before throwing the card at eager fans.

Hollywood Vampires
Joe Perry (Guitarist), Hollywood Vampires
| Photography
: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Perry took the mic, saying to fans, “How are you all doing? It’s time for a ballad. This song is by a good friend of mine who died a long time ago, Johnny Thunders.” Perry sings Thunders’ song “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory.” As the song plays, pictures of Thunders flashed on the backdrop mixed in with Hollywood Vampires’ logo changing in colors.

Hollywood Vampires
Alice Cooper (Vocalist), Hollywood Vampires
| Photography
: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Cooper took back the mic, singing “My Dead Drunk Friends,” as pictures of Cooper’s fallen buddies, including musical icons such as Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, took turns coming across the backdrop, showing how happy they were to be on stage in their prime. Before singing the next song, “Baba O’Riley” by The Who, Cooper said, “There wouldn’t be the Vampires without Keith Moon.”

Depp paid tribute to David Bowie by singing the song, “Heroes” as images of Bowie appeared on the backdrop.

Hollywood Vampires
Johnny Depp (Guitarist), Hollywood Vampires
| Photography
: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

“It’s a fact most of the vampires have died, but one is still around,” said Cooper. The crowd cheered as they played Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen.” As Cooper sang the next song, “People Who Died” by The Jim Carroll Band, and people in the crowd raised their drinks into the air and sang along with the chorus line, “For the people who died, died.” The logo of the Hollywood Vampires would flash on the backdrop with gravestones inscribed with the names of fallen musicians.

The last song of the night was Cooper’s iconic “School’s Out” as the band played giant red and white balloons with the band’s logo on them were tossed into the crowd like beach balls. People hit them up into the air as others grabbed balloons to keep as souvenirs, and one person even fished their balloon out of the pool. Cooper wrapped up the show by introducing each member of the band. Cooper commented that Perry is one of the best guitar players that he knows.

Hollywood Vampires
Alice Cooper (Vocalist) & Joe Perry (Guitarist), Hollywood Vampires
Photography
: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

He put his hand on Depp’s shoulder and said, “You know him by many names, many characters, and now you know him as a guitar player.” Cooper talked about himself last, mentioning how he’s from Arizona and graduated from Cortez High School in Phoenix. The crowd cheered one last time before the lights went out and the Hollywood Vampires took to the night sky.

Hollywood Vampires
Johnny Depp (Guitarist) & Alice Cooper (Vocalist), Hollywood Vampires
Photography
: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

To see music legends Alice Cooper and Joe Perry together in a band with Johnny Depp is something no one at Talking Stick Resort is going to forget. As fans wandered about the property to the parking lot, went back up to their hotel room, or tried their hand at the slot machines in the casino they all had one thing in common: they knew they were never going to forget seeing Hollywood Vampires. The energy of the band as they jammed their songs and paid tribute to fallen musicians will live on inside them. That night was legendary.

Photo Gallery

Photographer: Mark Greenawalt

Hollywood Vampires – Talking Stick Resort

Photography © Mark Greenawalt. All Rights Reserved

REVIEW: The Return of Queensrÿche On “The Verdict” World Tour at Marquee Theater (3-26-19)

Tempe, AZ — There are very few rock bands that are truly unique, but Queensrÿche has blazed their own trail since their inception in 1980. The media has tried to pigeon-hole their signature style as progressive, hard rock, or even lump them into the derogatory hair-metal category from the 80’s. They stayed true to their sound, and legions of fans showed loyalty even after the heyday of MTV airing the videos that delivered their music to the masses. Fair-weather fans started to fade away once the radio stopped playing their songs, and even some of those who passionately believed that Operation: Mindcrime was one of the greatest albums of all time may not have “checked-in” since the Empire CD was released.

This month, Queensrÿche released their new fifteenth studio album entitled The Verdict and brought the world tour to the Marquee Theatre to show both the die-hard fans and the fans who have been on hiatus that although they never really left, they are back!

Openers

The evening started early with two local bands. It’s very commendable for a headliner to pay-it-forward and give new and upcoming acts such an opportunity.

Shadow Guilt - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Shadow Guilt
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Photo Gallery

Shadow Guilt

First up was Shadow Guilt, a four-piece band from Gilbert, Arizona. The crowd may not have expected a local act to amount to much, but they immediately commanded the stage and proved that they could hang. The songs were reminiscent of early Metallica and singer/guitarist Bryan Reid had a professional presence with a voice that soared from thrash to screamo.

Shadow Guilt - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Bryan Reid (Guitarist, Vocalist), Shadow Guilt
| Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved
Photo Gallery

Shadow Guilt Photo Gallery

Sectas

The second Arizona band was Sectas, a three-piece that again surprised everyone with a big wall of sound and driving songs. Christian Lee is a weapon on guitar and sings with controlled mayhem while shredding.

Sectas - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Christian Lee (Guitarist, Vocalist), Sectas
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Photo Gallery

Drummer Brian Regalado was entertaining to watch and seemed to have had the most fun out of any of the musicians all night. He poured his heart into each song until the last one, which was unfortunately cut short due to time constraints.

Sectas - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Brian Regalado (Drummer), Sectas
| Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved
Photo Gallery

Sectas Photo Gallery

Fates Warning

The third opening act was no stranger to Queensrÿche fans. Fates Warning also launched into progressive rock in the early 80’s and followed a similar trajectory. Their set began with “From the Rooftops” from their latest album, Theories of Flight — released in 2016.

Fates Warning - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Ray Alder ( Vocalist), Fates Warning
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Photo Gallery

The stage lights had apparently tripped a breaker, and singer Ray Adler said, “How about a little light up here?” into the dark crowd as the band continued to play. An unanticipated moment occurred when a sea of cellphones rose and illuminated the stage until the stage lights reengaged.

Marquee Theatre Crowd - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Crowd at Marquee Theatre lights up the room for Fates Warning | Photography: Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Original guitarist Jim Matheos was joined by the new guitar virtuoso Michael Abdow as they dove back in time to 1991’s “Life In Still Water” from the Parallels album and rekindled the audience participation. The band was rounded out with the longtime rhythm section of Joey Vera (bass) and Bobby Jarzombek (drums). One of the highlights of the 10-song set was watching Vera’s emphatic expressions and stage antics in contrast to the somber delivery from the other band members who poured the energy into surgically precise musicianship.

Fates Warning - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Joey Vera ( Bassist), Fates Warning
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved
Photo Gallery

Fates Warning played two more from the new album (“Seven Stars” and “The Light And Shade Of Things”), but went back to the classic Parallels album again to close the set with “The Eleventh Hour,” followed by “Point Of View”. It was a solid outing and they thanked Queensrÿche for the opportunity and Arizona for the support.

Fates Warning Photo Gallery

Queensrÿche

It’s only been a couple of months since Queensrÿche was in town in an opening role on the Scorpions “Crazy World Tour”, and Burning Hot Events was there to review that show as well (click here). That night, they performed a 9-song set with the reduced light show and sound afforded to all opening acts, but this night would be different. This time they were the headliner.

Queensryche - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Queensrÿche
| Photography
: Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Cast for the Evening

  • Michael Wilton – lead guitar (1980–present)
  • Eddie Jackson – bass, backing vocals (1980–present)
  • Parker Lundgren – rhythm guitar, backing vocals (2009–present)
  • Todd La Torre – lead vocals (2012–present), drums (2018 in studio)
  • Casey Grillo – drums (2017–present)

Before getting into the blow-by-blow, we might as well address the elephant in the room which is the band lineup. This is Queensrÿche led by frontman Todd La Torre, who has firmly planted his flag in the history of the band since 2012 and has now sang on three studio albums. He isn’t Geoff Tate, but he convincingly sings the entire Queensrÿche catalog with respect and command. Fans who can’t accept this change should give a listen to The Verdict to find out that they might be missing out. Guitarist Parker Lundgren, replacing the original guitarist and creative songwriter Chris DeGarmo, seems to be an easier pill to swallow since DeGarmo left willfully around the turn of the century, but this has also upset some purists. The one that may be the strangest now is that original drummer Scott Rockenfield is still the official drummer in the band, but he has been M.I.A. since the 2017 birth of his son. To add further confusion to this story, singer Todd La Torre played drums on the new album and kicked ass capturing the Queensrÿche sound and feel. Casey Grillo, the drummer from the band Kamelot, is the touring drummer, but not the official drummer for the band. It may sound like a dysfunctional family, but original guitarist Michael Wilton and bassist Eddie Jackson are the patriarch glue that is holding it all together to build a strong new regime.

OK, can we move on into the review finally?…

As the house lights were extinguished, the video screens on stage were ignited. Death, wearing a crimson hooded robe, was bidding the crowd to come forward. He was the “life”-size animation of the character on the new album cover. The anticipation continued to rise with more animated video while the intro music was playing the instrumental soundscape of “Launder the Conscience”. As the song faded, the video screens ushered in the spinning Tri-Ryche logo, and the fans were instantly connected to the hive mind.

Grillo was firmly planted on the drum throne when the band floated in from the wings to center stage. The cheers from the crowd had topped out, and then they were drowned out after a single hit to the snare drum took the night from zero-to-60 in seconds flat with the opening riff for “Blood of the Levant”. The guitarists took to their perches on opposite sides of the stage: Lundgren on the left wearing sleeves of tattoos and a leather vest, playing the white Orbit FX; Wilton on the right wearing a black leather jacket and playing the skull and crossbones limited edition ESP. Jackson joined Lundgen on the left wearing an unassuming black tee and playing a black custom 5-string Mike Lull bass. The sound was full of energy but the expressions and lack of stage antics announced that this band was here to deliver the perfect sonic backdrop for the main event and the freak of nature known as Todd La Torre.

Queensryche - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Todd La Torre (Vocalist), Queensrÿche
| Photography
: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Out of the gate, La Torre was like a raging bull exploring the stage, bracing for attack, and then allowing that Queensrÿche sound to emanate from his soul. If there was any doubt when you walked in, there was no doubt now that this band has reached a new pinnacle and the chemistry was working. This was a strong opening song and there was no need for comparisons… This was the lineup that played the song on the album (well, except for Grillo, since La Torre did the drums on the album). La Torre even took a few moments during the middle-8 to play some percussion and give a glimpse of his prowess with drumsticks.

Queensryche - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Michael Wilton (Lead Guitarist), Queensrÿche
Photography
: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

The setlist was an interesting mix of songs from all eras of the band’s history, but there was some emphasis on songs from The Verdict. “You can’t create new classics,” said La Torre, “if you don’t play the new shit, right?

Their second song from The Verdict was “Man the Machine” but before that they inserted two songs for the die-hard fans with “I Am I” from Promised Land and way back to 1984 for “NM 156” from The Warning. “Condition Hüman” is a beautifully crafted song and the performance was moving, but a look around the crowd told the story that very few knew the songs from this 2015 album.

Before the wind could completely leave the crowd’s sails, Michael “Whip” Wilton took center stage and laid into “Queen of the Reich,” and suddenly the fists were in the air.  (Author’s Note – I still have my vinyl copy of this EP and this song still gives me chills.) This would be the proving grounds for La Torre with the elder statesman in the Queensrÿche army. Can he hit that note, hold it, turn on the vibrato, and own it? Yes, he did.

Queensryche - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Todd La Torre (Vocalist), Queensrÿche
| Photography
: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

The follow up song was something completely different, and one that everyone knew from the first three notes. It was the iconic ballad “Silent Lucidity,” written by founding member Chris DeGarmo. This was one of the few songs that didn’t shy away from using backing tracks in lieu of bringing an orchestral ensemble.

The next set of four songs seemed like the breath in before the big finale.  All good songs, but lesser known to the masses. La Torre introduced “Open Road” as one of the first songs he wrote with the band, and that was followed by two more from The Verdict; “Propaganda Fashion” and “Light-Years.” Then it was back to 1986 for “Screaming in Digital” from Rage For Order.

Queensryche - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Parker Lundgren (Guitarist, Vocalist), Queensrÿche
| Photography
: Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Those old enough to remember the song “Take Hold of the Flame” when it was in rotation can probably remember where they were when they first heard it. It’s that kind of song. The best way to hear the flanged guitars on the intro is to listen with headphones, but a close second way is to hear the duo of Wilton and Lundgren play it live.  Journey found the needle in a haystack when Arnel Pineda replaced the “irreplaceable” Steve Perry, and Queensrÿche followed suit when they found Todd La Torre to replace Geoff Tate.

It’s important to mention the incredible songwriting talent that DeGarmo and Tate contributed to the legacy of Queensrÿche. “Take Hold of the Flame” is a perfect example, but perhaps some of their best collaborations can be heard on the Operation: Mindcrime album. Tate is now the only one that can perform this album in its entirety after the legal battle, but it is surprising that the the setlist only included one song from this album. They ended the set with the classic that brings back memories of the music video that documented the album’s concept – “Eyes of a Stranger”. It. Was. Awesome.

Queensryche - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Eddie Jackson (Bassist), Queensrÿche
Photography
: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Eddie Jackson was flawless all evening, but it seemed he quite often slipped into the shadows and let the limelight fall on his bandmates. However, as the band returned to the stage for the encore, Jackson laid claim to center stage and delivered the legendary bass intro to “Jet City Woman” from the 1990 Empire album and the crowd went nuts (another gift from the DeGarmo and Tate songwriting team). La Torre returned to the stage sporting sunglasses and led the audience in the sing-along to this song which is ingrained in our collective memory.

Alas, it was time for the final song of the evening which would be the title track from the Empire album. This song featured Wilton on lead guitar and left fans satiated.  The music industry has changed so much but through the years Queensrÿche has followed their muse and continued creating great music. The night was not only a trip down memory lane to get reacquainted with the songs of our youth, but also an invitation to reconnect with an old “friend” who is thriving with a new album and an incredibly talented line up. Check out The Verdict and find out what your verdict is! View Setlist

Cast for the Evening

  • Michael Wilton – lead guitar (1980–present)
  • Eddie Jackson – bass, backing vocals (1980–present)
  • Parker Lundgren – rhythm guitar, backing vocals (2009–present)
  • Todd La Torre – lead vocals (2012–present), drums (2018 in studio)
  • Casey Grillo – drums (2017–present)

Setlist

  1. (Intro Tape) Launder the Conscience (The Verdict, 2019, Wilton/La Torre/Lundgren)
  2. Blood of the Levant (The Verdict, 2019, Wilton/La Torre/Jackson)
  3. I Am I (Promised Land, 1994, DeGarmo/Tate)
  4. NM 156 (The Warning, 1984, DeGarmo/Tate/Wilton)
  5. Man the Machine (The Verdict, 2019, Wilton/La Torre/Jackson)
  6. Condition Hüman (Condition Hüman, 2015, Wilton/Jackson/Lundgren/LaTorre)
  7. Queen of the Reich (Queensrÿche EP, 1984, DeGarmo)
  8. Silent Lucidity (Empire, 1990, DeGarmo)
  9. Open Road (Queensrÿche, 2013, Rockenfield/La Torre/Wilton)
  10. Propaganda Fashion (The Verdict, 2019, Jackson)
  11. Light-years (The Verdict, 2019, Jackson)
  12. Screaming in Digital (Rage For Order, 1986, DeGarmo/Tate/Wilton)
  13. Take Hold of the Flame (The Warning, 1984, DeGarmo/Tate)
  14. Eyes of a Stranger (with Anarchy-X outro) (Operation: Mindcrime, 1988, DeGarmo/Tate)

    – Encore –
  15. Jet City Woman (Empire, 1990, DeGarmo/Tate)
  16. Empire (Empire, 1990, Tate/Wilton)

Photo Galleries

Photographers: Mark Greenawalt & Rodrigo Izquierdo (Reagle Photography)

Openers: Shadow Guilt | Sectas | Fates Warning

Queensrÿche – Marquee Theatre 3-26-19

Photography © Mark Greenawalt & Reagle Photography, Respectively.
All Rights Reserved

Featured (top) photo by Mark Greenawalt

Setlist

  1. (Intro Tape) Launder the Conscience (The Verdict, 2019, Wilton/La Torre/Lundgren)
  2. Blood of the Levant (The Verdict, 2019, Wilton/La Torre/Jackson)
  3. I Am I (Promised Land, 1994, DeGarmo/Tate)
  4. NM 156 (The Warning, 1984, DeGarmo/Tate/Wilton)
  5. Man the Machine (The Verdict, 2019, Wilton/La Torre/Jackson)
  6. Condition Hüman (Condition Hüman, 2015, Wilton/Jackson/Lundgren/
    LaTorre)
  7. Queen of the Reich (Queensrÿche EP, 1984, DeGarmo)
  8. Silent Lucidity (Empire, 1990, DeGarmo)
  9. Open Road (Queensrÿche, 2013, Rockenfield/La Torre/Wilton)
  10. Propaganda Fashion (The Verdict, 2019, Jackson)
  11. Light-years (The Verdict, 2019, Jackson)
  12. Screaming in Digital (Rage For Order, 1986, DeGarmo/Tate/Wilton)
  13. Take Hold of the Flame (The Warning, 1984, DeGarmo/Tate)
  14. Eyes of a Stranger (with Anarchy-X outro) (Operation: Mindcrime, 1988, DeGarmo/Tate)

    – Encore –
  15. Jet City Woman (Empire, 1990, DeGarmo/Tate)
  16. Empire (Empire, 1990, Tate/Wilton)

REVIEW: Styx Rocking In The Round, Their First Night at Celebrity Theatre (1-11-19)

PHOENIX — Celebrity Theatre was a fitting venue for the return of Styx to the Valley for a two night engagement on January 11th and 12th. Located at 32nd Street and Fillmore, the legendary theatre in the round has hosted the cream of music royalty since it first opened as the Phoenix Star Theatre in 1964. The unique circular, rotating stage and intimate atmosphere have made the Celebrity a staple music hall in Phoenix for nearly six decades. Not one seat in the venue is more than 70 feet from the stage.

The show on January 11th started a little late, most likely a result of the parking delays. The line of cars snaking southbound down the right lane of 32nd street moved at a snail’s pace leading up to the entrance. Folks of all stripes were milling around the theater, ordering drinks and chatting excitedly under the catwalk above the stage. Others lingered outside, chain smoking or vaping, listening for a sign to run back inside for the start of the concert.

From their humble Chicago beginnings in the early 1970’s, to their outlandish high production theatrical arena shows of the 80’s, Styx has been a familiar voice on the radio for generations, with a career spanning over half a century. As the first band to have four triple platinum albums in a row, they are an integral part of the soundtrack of many people’s lives. Their importance to rock music as a whole has been unfairly marginalized for years, and in the words of Julian ‘Frankenstein’ McGrath from Big Daddy (1999), only catching “a bad rap because most critics are cynical assholes.”

The current lineup includes veteran Tommy Shaw on lead guitar, with founding members James “J.Y.” Young and Chuck Panozzo on guitar and bass respectively, with Chuck performing on a more limited basis. Chuck’s twin brother and co-founding member of Styx, John Panozzo, originally played drums, but sadly died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1996. Since then, Todd Sucherman has been the band’s drummer. Playing backing guitar, bass, and vocals is Ricky Phillips of Bad English and The Babys, who joined the band in 2003. Vocalist and keyboard virtuoso Lawrence Gowan is a high-energy showman, but you would have to be in order to replace estranged former frontman Dennis DeYoung, as he did in 1999. A band with a history as rich as Styx merits such a historic venue as Celebrity Theatre.

The house lights suddenly dimmed, eliciting hoots and cheers from the audience. As soon as the spotlights kicked on, the band flew right into “Gone Gone Gone from their latest album The Mission, released in mid-2017. From the first frenzied notes played on the dueling guitars, the crowd was on their feet. Fans young and old danced in the aisles while others rushed to their seats, full beers in hand. The song does not sound at all unlike the old Styx — high-energy and fun.

Not a moment after the first tune ended, the iconic organ riff of “Blue Collar Man” sternly commanded the grateful crowd’s attention.  Each band member’s precision assured the crowd that Styx had not lost a step from their golden age.

Lawrence Gowan (Vocalist) and Ricky Phillips (Bassist), Styx
Photography: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved.

Next was their hit “The Grand Illusion”, the title track from their 1977 album. Every flawless note rang out true to the recording, and there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for that: Styx is a band that is perpetually on tour. According to the band themselves, they only take occasional breaks for short periods. Anybody touring that frequently is going to perform their catalogue masterfully.

After performing “Fooling Yourself,” Gowan spoke: “What a wonderful way to ring in the new year!” Standing at the foot of the stage, he remarked, “My, you’re all so close,” as he addressed the theater’s intimate layout.

The spotlight settled on him at the keyboard as and an iconic piano riff pierced the crowd, igniting their collective nostalgia. “Lady” is one of those songs that everyone imagines will be playing in the background when they lay their eyes on their soulmate for the first time. Again, it’s eerie how well Gowan embodies Dennis DeYoung, both vocally and instrumentally. It was not the first song the whole theater sang in unison, nor would it be the last.

Lawrence Gowan (Vocalist, Keyboardist), Styx
Photography: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved.

When Shaw approached the mic, he explained the origins of their 16th album, The Mission, before introducing “Radio Silence” for the waiting ears of all in attendance. The opening synth has that instantly recognizable Styx DNA. That this was not a radio single is baffling. In fact, Shaw himself has expressed frustration with the neglect that great classic rock bands experience in the new age of the music industry. It is almost prophetic of the band that you cannot hear a song called “Radio Silence” on the radio. It is a fantastic track and deserves more attention.

The next tune was off of 1975’s Equinox. “Lorelei” seems like one of those songs that everyone knows but has no idea what it is called or who sings it, like an old friend you ate lunch with at work, but never learned their name. Young absolutely nails the lead vocals in place of DeYoung’s  studio recording. Another striking revelation was that the bands harmonies were pristine. These are men in their early to late sixties, the oldest being founding member Panozzo at seventy years old.

Ricky Phillips (Bassist), Styx
Photography: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved.

Shortly after “Lorelei”, Shaw recalled a conversation he had with Young in 1975, and explained how he came to join the band. Taking Young up on his offer to come to Chicago, Shaw brought a song he had been working on. It was a great song, but “it wasn’t a Styx song” according to Young, who Shaw calls “The Godfather of Styx”. From that story, the audience learned how “Crystal Ball” was written, and Shaw was only too happy to demonstrate how beautiful his two-tone sunburst Fender 12-string acoustic sounds. With impeccable timing, a roadie hopped up onto the stage to hand over a Les Paul for the solo before swapping the Jumbo back for the outro.

As expected, the band played a couple more hits with “Light Up” and “Man in the Wilderness” before closing out the first half of the show with another anthem from the Paradise Theater album, “Rockin’ the Paradise.” It wasn’t long before the house lights came back up for a short intermission, when Young promised another hour of music after they returned.

The second half of the show kicked off with another Young-led hit from The Grand Illusion, “Miss America.” Styx is currently rehearsing for a special show in Las Vegas where they will play the entire The Mission album from start to finish. Fans attending this show were treated to a sampling of what is to come when they debuted six of those songs in order from the second half of the album. The suite of songs began with “Time May Bend” and continued through “The Outpost” and this night was the first time they had ever been performed live. They even welcomed the album’s producer and co-writer, Will Evankovich on stage to contribute to the instrumentation and vocals.

Tommy Shaw (Guitarist, Vocalist), Styx
Photography: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved.

Eventually a roadie produced Shaw’s vintage Fender Electric XII and it’s a dead giveaway to the guitar-savvy fans that “Suite Madame Blue” was coming, and it was impeccably played from start to finish. Immediately after, the fans were finally treated to what many were waiting for… “Too Much Time On My Hands” (watch the Paul Rudd and Jimmy Fallon shot-for-shot remake) from 1981’s Paradise Theater. The maniacal keyboard part of the song is indicative of the genius that Dennis DeYoung endowed upon the group; however, this does not imply they are lacking anything from his departure. This band is so well-oiled that his absence is hardly noticeable.

As the applause died down, most of the band left the stage, but Gowan remained and took the spotlight to turn the venue into a “piano bar” with a pair of fantastic covers. The first was a phenomenally accurate rendition of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” for the appreciative audience. The second cover was a beautiful recitation of the intricate operatic section of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and the entire crowd once again sang along to every word. They are truly a fortunate group to have stumbled across such a talented frontman. Gowan alone should be a major factor for anyone even considering going to a Styx show. He alone is absolutely worth the cost of admission.

Still alone on stage, Gowen started into the piano intro to possibly their most famous hit, Come Sail Away, which was also featured on The Grand Illusion. The band shuffled back out to bring it home and it seemed to be the perfect crescendo to end the show with, guitars blazing and fans jumping up and down. As the last note is struck from the guitars, and the last cymbal smashed, the band removed their straps and handed off their instruments to the roadies while they made their way off the stage before turning around amid the raucous applause and walking right back out for an encore.

To thunderous applause, they opened back up with “Mr. Roboto,” the drum fills echoing throughout the small space with noticeably fewer audience members, many of whom ran out to their vehicles when they believed the show was over. This is a big deal for one simple reason: They had never performed this song on stage with the full band before this tour. Previously, Dennis DeYoung had always sung a version of it with pre-recorded tracks. Once he left, the band abandoned it for the following decades. The fact that they are playing it as an encore now is kind of ironic.

James “J.Y.” Young (Guitarist), Styx
Photography: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved.

The fitting final number of the evening was the signature rocker song “Renegade”, Shaw’s self-penned hit from 1979’s Pieces of Eight.

“Oh, mama, I’m in fear for my life from the long arm of the law…”

The acapella opening lines beckoned the crowd once more to accompany the band, offering a fitting and crowd-unifying conclusion to a consistently powerful and nostalgic evening with a gargantuan pillar of classic rock. As any great performers are wont to do, Styx left the Phoenix audience delighted and fulfilled, yet eager for more. Fans might have had their thirst satiated if they bought tickets to the show the following night at the same venue. And if the rock gods will it, perhaps Arizona will be graced with a future performance from the legendary American musical mainstay.

Photo Gallery

Photographer: Mark Greenawalt

Styx – Celebrity Theatre 1-11-19

Photography © Mark Greenawalt. All Rights Reserved

REVIEW: Justin Courtney Pierre Gets Intimate With Fans at Valley Bar (11-30-18)

PHOENIX — Justin Courtney Pierre returned to Arizona for an intimate underground show at the historic Valley Bar Friday night, revitalizing fans with a colloquial performance of his latest solo-album In The Drink. Since Motion City Soundtrack’s “So Long, Farewell Tour” in 2016, it had been unclear when and if Pierre would continue making music in the future.

Post-MCS I just really wanted to focus on the art,” Pierre told Billboard during a recent interview, “so, I built a team of people around me that I can utilize for all the other stuff – the production, the business. What’s nice about this is I don’t have to ask anybody for permission or get four people to agree on whatever we’re doing. I can just do my ideas whether they’re stupid or not, for better or for worse. I thought, ‘OK, so if this is the only record I ever do, great. I’m just gonna do it exactly the way I want it.’

Produced by Motion City Soundtrack bandmate Joshua Cain, In The Drink is heavily influenced by the sound of the 90’s, classic guitar and, as Pierre puts it, (in direct reference to noted inspirations Swervedriver, Polara, Guided By Voices, and Frank Black’s “Teenager of the Year”) “a lot of movement going on”.

During a coinciding interview with boutique pedal company ZVex, Pierre went on to explain the experimental nature of his work which he revealed, lead him to his newfound love affair with the ZVex Fuzz Factory 7, as well as the ZVex Effects Vertical Vexter ’59 Sound, which he utilized throughout Friday night’s performance. When it comes to guitar, this singer-songwriter prefers a more improvisonal approach – toying with different combinations until his fancy footwork yields a sound he likes.

Photography: Katherine Amy Vega
Justin Courtney Pierre
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design.
All Rights Reserved

Pierre’s tourmates for his latest solo album include old friend and master of effects – guitarist Thomas Rehbein, sensational vocalist and guitarist Lydia Liza, emotive bassist Shannon Burns, and relentless drummer David Jarnstrom.

David Jarnstrom - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
David Jarnstrom (Drummer)
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design.
All Rights Reserved

I’m listening to Flaming Lips in my headphones to drown out all this other bullshit”, Pierre joked before jamming out the opening notes to “I Don’t Know Why She Ran Away”, following opening tracks “Undone” and “Anchor”. “Just kidding!”, he laughed – noting that the night’s opener had been unable to make it due to an undisclosed transportation issue. As a result of that last minute change, the night became increasingly conversational. Fans shouted back and forth as Pierre responded between tracks from on-stage, speaking on everything from his struggles with alcohol, to new “dadhood”, and even his strong distaste for Burger King. Pierre casually guided the audience through an evening of impromptu storytelling between each new track from In The Drink, but not without some nostalgic surprises along the way.

Shannon Burns - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Shannon Burns (Bassist)
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design.
All Rights Reserved

Preceding the Farewell Continental portion of the evening, a tribute to Pierre and Rehbein’s passion project since 2008, “My Girl Margo” off a “special upcoming EP” got fans jumping for more. With the night’s energy at its peak, “Total Devastation” had diehard JCP fans weak in the knees.

Justin Courtney Pierre - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Justin Courtney Pierre
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design.
All Rights Reserved

Next up was a new Farewell Continental song that’s not yet been recorded. “It’s called ‘Tossing and Turning’”, Pierre told fans, “It’s a motif I’ve used before and I’m aware of that,” he laughed, “And I like to remind people, it’s supposed to sound like this.” Farewell Continental takes the undeniably esoteric undertones of In The Drink one step further, culminating a uniquely chaotic blend of power-pop-meets-classic-rock. The band finished out a lively performance of “Do You Wanna Tangle” also by Farewell Continental, before abruptly leaving the stage where only Pierre was left to tame the spotlight.

Justin Courtney Pierre - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Justin Courtney Pierre
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design.
All Rights Reserved

Without question, the moment we’d been waiting for since 2016 had finally arrived; it was time for a little Motion City Soundtrack. Pierre explained that since the band had chosen not to continue making music two years prior, he’d decided to play only MCS  songs which he’d “brought to the party” so to speak. Members of the crowd shouted out track after track in hopes of hearing their longtime favorites. Pierre responded by teasing onlookers with a candid rendition of “Stand Too Close” before breaking for a quick story – “The Caffeine Story” he called it: “Listen, listen. I haven’t had a drink of alcohol in over nine years, and a few years after that I quit caffeine. And now I have nothing.

As fans applauded, “Atonia” began rumbling out from the speakers. Fans sang along loudly as Pierre pieced together a nostalgic solo tribute session including “When You’re Around” and “LG FUAD”, to which the entire bar sang aloud. “Okay, now I am going to invite the band back to the stage,” Pierre announced before launching into a cover of Guided By Voices’ “Motor Away” which he credited as one of his favorite songs to date. “Some of these guys just heard it for the first time today,” he told fans as they hooted and hollered at Pierre to “do it again!

Lydia Liza - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Lydia Liza (Guitarist, Vocalist) & Justin Courtney Pierre
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design.
All Rights Reserved

The evening closed out with “Shoulder the Weight”, “In the Drink”, and “Goodnight Hiroyuki” – the last three tracks off of Pierre’s latest solo expressional, sending fans off with a phantasmal intermingling of sludgy, otherworldly tones. Rehbein could be seen sliding his guitar back and forth against everything from the guard rail to the speakers and even Liza’s guitar while her robust, angelic voice offered a sweet contrast to the whirlwind of instrumental experimentation unfolding on stage. “This is it. I love you all, except Kevin!”, Pierre exclaimed.

Thomas Rehbein - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Thomas Rehbein (Guitarist)
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design
All Rights Reserved

Following a staggering twenty track setlist, fans continued to swarm the stage in hopes of one more. Band members could be seen handing out copies of the setlist, and even notes from practice sessions to outstretched hands eager to claim their prize. Following the performance, Pierre stayed true to his reputation of being the down-to-earth artist we’ve all come to love and hung out to greet and take photos with anyone and everyone who chose to stick around. Although he was lacking in words (as he announced that he would not be speaking, in order to protect his voice), Pierre’s charismatic demeanor radiated off of him as fan after fan stepped up to meet the man of the hour.

After two years of wondering, Pierre took us back to the driving spirit and endearing authenticity behind what made Motion City Soundtrack great. It’s that permeating willingness – to care and connect with his fans, to tell the stories that need to be told, and if there’s one thing for sure, it’s that we absolutely cannot wait to see what this performer is up to next.

 

PHOTO ALBUM

Photographer: Katherine Amy Vega

Justin Courtney Pierre – Valley Bar 11-30-18

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

REVIEW: Christina Aguilera Fights Turbulence, Comes Through for Phoenix 10-29-18

PHOENIX – Christina Aguilera brought her Liberation tour to Comerica Theatre on October 29, 2018. This is the first tour for Aguilera since her “Back to Basics” tour in 2007. The last time she had a show in Arizona was on February 28, 2007, at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale — now renamed Gila River Arena. There have been quite a few bumps for Aguilera on the Liberation tour; two dates were postponed due to illness, and one postponed due to production-related safety concerns at the venue.

Big Boi opened for Aguilera, also known as Antwan André Patton. Big Boi is an American rapper, songwriter, record producer, and actor. He’s best known for being a member of Outkast, an American hip hop duo, alongside André 3000. With Outkast, he produced six studio albums. In July 2010, Big Boi’s solo debut Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty was released. Hip-hop didn’t seem to be everyone’s go-to genre in the audience, but there were clusters of fans that got up to dance to the beat. Toward the end of their set Patton addressed the crowd, “Welcome to the Liberation tour. Where it gets louder after every song!

It was rumored that Aguilera was to take the stage at 9:15 pm, but that time came and went. The crowd grew restless around 10:00 pm, and some randomly cheered in hopes of making Aguilera appear, while others did the wave to keep their energy alive. Fans were talking amongst each other, concerned that Aguilera wouldn’t show at all. Seventy-five minutes passed by and the crowd booed.

Finally, “5 minutes” popped up on the screen that hid the stage. It switched to a giant face of a clock, with the hands turning counter-clockwise as it counted down the minutes. The concert began with images of Aguilera holding various timepieces. Fans stood when a video played, showing Aguilera in a red dress and a flowered crown, and a little girl wearing the same, wandering through a house as if Aguilera was chasing her past self.

The screen went black, and the word “Liberation” appeared in bold white letters. A dancer came on stage, smelling flowers and then dropping them as she danced, before suddenly running off stage. Then, the word “Searching” displayed on the screen. As the lights brightened, Aguilera stood tall on an elevated stage. The screen and background were of clouds, making Aguilera seem like she was in the sky as she sang the opening lines of “Maria” from her 2018 studio album, Liberation.

Embed from Getty Images

Aguilera had a perfect mix of old and new songs in her setlist. The second song was “Genie in a Bottle” from her first studio album self-titled, Christina Aguilera. That lead track from the album was a trendy pop and R&B song in 1999. It peaked atop the Billboard Hot 100, and among other charts in twenty other countries. It has sold over seven million copies, making it one of the best-selling singles in the world. During the song, images of past albums appeared on the starry background as her dancers twirled red umbrellas around her. Aguilera wore a robe reminiscent of Disney’s Mulan, from which her debut single “Reflection” came.

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Throughout the show, Aguilera would have videos play before she sang her well-known songs. During the song “Dirrty”, from her 2002 studio album Stripped, Aguilera wore a red and black leather outfit much like the assless chaps she wore in the “Dirrty” music video. On one sleeve was “2018” and on the other sleeve was “XTINA”. Her dancers wore black assless chaps as they backed her up during the song.

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Aguilera finally addressed the crowd and explained why she was so late coming on stage.

“I’m here you guys. I climbed and scratched my way here. I had two planes both have mechanical failures and that’s freaking scary shit. I’m sorry. I was like ahhh, what! I was so freaking scared. So the third plane (third time is the charm), the third one came through and I was able to get here on time to be here with you guys, but I made it, I made it to the stage tonight, but it took a little longer. Lord in Heaven. That played some scary stuff on my nerves, and you know, I get some bad anxiety sometimes. That was not fun today. You know, I’m going to unleash some of that on stage tonight. Get it out of my system.”

She laughed and continued, “But it feels so good to be back here after so long and getting to be in some beautiful theaters, oh I’ve never done that before. It’s just so beautiful, so intimate, so wonderful to see you all up close, and personal. It’s just so amazing after all this time. It means so much my loyal, amazing fighters.”

She patted herself on the chest, adding, “I’m not going to cry tonight, but you guys have brought me to tears before. This love has meant so much to me. It really has, you guys. Allowed me to raise my family and be there for my kids because being a hands-on mom is important to me. But also being on this stage, because you know this has been in my life since I was seven. We got some old stuff, older stuff you might remember and we have some new stuff. So let’s see if you guys remember this one.” Aguilera then started to sing lines to “What a Girl Wants” from her self-titled album.

Aguilera sang songs from her past in order, explaining her career. After “What a Girl Wants” she moved to sing some of “Come On Over Baby (All I Want is You)” and addressed the crowd again. Aguilera said, “It’s the show I have right before Halloween too. That’s extra fun. We actually have a Halloween treat for you later. I love Halloween. It’s kinda like Christmas, so it’s insane. And I see some costumes tonight, that’s really cool. Yes. So after, umm, after ‘What a Girl Wants’ and after ‘Come On Over’ I was tired of playing by everybody else’s, you know, the label and suits’ rules, and I had things I wanted to say. It came a time when, you know, my sophomore album I wrote a record called Stripped. — Which just had its sixteenth birthday and it was a very special record for me because, you know, it was the first time I got to tell my stories, talk about some of my pain and struggles and that’s really important, you know, I think that makes the best people and sometimes builds the best character. And I thank you guys for sharing your stories with me; it really inspires me as well and there’s no shame in coming from hard places at all. It means you’re a strong person.

This next song I wrote for the album, there’s quite a few of them, but you know, about standing your ground and in face of adversity or someone says you can’t do something. This song was never a single, but sometimes those are the best ones to me. And I still get a lot of requests for this. This one, you know, no matter what people say, no matter what people tell you what you can’t do. You gotta keep doing you. This one is called ‘Keep On Singin’ My Song,’ sing along if you know it.”

Embed from Getty Images

During the songs “Deserve” and “Accelerate”, both from the Liberation album, Aguilera and her dancers wore S&M-styled outfits and mimed an occult-like ritual at a long table with candles that they danced on. One male dancer had on a spiked mask, and the other a pig’s head. The female dancers had different masks covering their faces. Aguilera wore a bondage headpiece that went from the top of her head and down her nose with a bejeweled black top, fishnets, and a thin black skirt. After “Deserve” a quote appeared on the back screen. It read: “‘If you’re going through hell, keep going…’ –X’cess”. During the song “Accelerate”, Aguilera introduced her dancers, who each had their own moment to showcase their skill on the table in the center of the stage.

For “Lady Marmalade” (a LaBelle song famously covered by Aguilera, P!nk, Mya, and Lil’ Kim for the Moulin Rouge! soundtrack) Aguilera wore a white coat, and her dancers matched as they circled around her with ivory fans in their hands. A video of a close-up of Aguilera in red played on the backdrop.

Aguilera’s next songs were “Ain’t No Other Man” from her 2006 Back to Basics album, “Say Something” by Great Big World, “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” a James Brown cover, and “Fighter” from her Stripped album. Following each video, Aguilera would change her outfit to fit the mood of the song.

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After “Fighter”, the videos stopped working. Aguilera came out with a mic in hand. “Sorry,” she told the crowd. She looked behind her to her band. “Are you ready for me?” She laughed, “Sorry. I know. I’m ready for you and you’re ready for me.” The crowd cheered for her. “Thank you very much,” she said, with a big smile. “I told them to cut to a certain video and it’s not playing right now and I’m upset about it. So I’m sorry. Oh well. The show goes on and I’m here. It’s been an insane day.”

A fan in the crowd yelled “I love you” and she replied, “I love you too. That’s why I’m here, but not without some anxiety. I’m kind of a nervous flier, but it’s Halloween so it’s a special time. Thank you guys for coming out tonight. And your patience for the last ten freaking years. Thank you so much. But my soul was suffering, my soul was hurting and it sometimes takes us a while to figure it out, and I was scared of having children. ‘How am I going to juggle this?’ And also for them not to feel like they are living in my shadow and stuff like that.

Honestly, it’s been such a great experience, and to feel your love and give this to my children as an experience as well. Show them what mama does for a living and what I do for the love. It brought them into this world. Thank you so much for giving me an opportunity to get back on the stage. This is for all of you guys. For all my fighters. It’s a weird night, but whatever. So this song is appropriate.” Aguilera than started singing “Beautiful”, and fans sang along waving their hands or phones in the air.

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Aguilera ended the show by bringing a fan onto the stage to share her story. The woman talked about how Aguilera inspired her to be herself and how Aguilera’s music helped when life was dark after addiction and coming out as gay. She has since found a woman who is like a mother to her and is eleven years sober. She told Aguilera that, due to the addiction, she couldn’t remember Aguilera’s concert she last attended back in 2007, and she always thanks Aguilera or adds a song lyric in her grad papers. Aguilera was clearly touched and hugged the ladies, saying, “Thank you” and “I hope you remember this concert.” The last song of the night was “Let There Be Love”. The back screens turned over and became rainbow lights, while everyone on stage danced like it was a celebration.

The concert ended just a little past midnight, with delighted but tired fans pouring out of the venue. Despite the delay, video problems, and the bass being too loud to the point of sometimes cringing in pain, most fans left happy to see Aguilera on stage after all these years. She’s a fighter and she’s a pop music legacy not to be missed.

Featured Photo (top) by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation

REVIEW: Goo Goo Dolls Celebrate 20 Years With a Sold Out Show at The Van Buren (9-30-18)

PHOENIX — The Valley of the Sun was transported back in time to the halcyon 90’s Sunday night as Goo Goo Dolls kicked off their “Dizzy Up the Girl” Anniversary Tour at The Van Buren. The four-time platinum certified album contains thirteen songs, four of which made it into the top 40. As the tour name suggests, Dizzy Up The Girl was the primary focus of the show, taking up the entirety of the first of two sets from the band, being played from beginning to end. It certainly did not feel like two decades had passed since its release, as thick crowds of people covered every square inch of the venue for this sold out show.

There was a tangible current of excitement in the air, and people were becoming antsy and murmuring to one another about their impatience for this much anticipated show to start. Each time a new melody would boom from the speakers, or a guitar was tweaked backstage, the excitement could be felt as it was mistaken for the beginning of the show.

The lights dim and the stage goes dark. A melody begins to play as lights begin to dance in unison to the music across the platform, engulfing the instruments in various colors as vocalist Johnny Rzeznik, bassist Robby Takac, and current touring members: guitarist Brad Fernquist, keyboardist Jim McGorman, and drummer Craig Macintyre moved slowly towards them. A sea of light from cell phones rose up from the crowd to capture the initial moments of the show. As each found their way to their place on stage they wasted no time heading straight into the opening chords of the albums first song “Dizzy.”

Goo Goo Dolls - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Johnny Rzeznik (Vocalist/Guitarist), Goo Goo Dolls
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved

Following an intense performance of the first song, they effortlessly flowed into the following song on the album which also happens to be the second most popular song, coming in at #9 on Billboard’s Top 100 Pop list from 1992-2012. The beginning notes of Slide glided out of the speakers and it was like a fire had been lit inside the venue. Screams and cheers rang out as Rzeznik sang the words that any true Goo Goo Dolls fan would know. Goo Goo Dolls exuded a palpable “rockstar” energy. At points during the song, the audience was so jazzed up and into the music that they began to drown out the band with their singing. Not wanting to be outdone, this caused a chain reaction of events as the five progressed powerfully through the next seven songs on the album without any breaks in between.

Dizzy Up the Girl album cover

While talking about the anniversary of the album, Rzeznik tells the audience about the iconic girl on the album cover, saying that everyone wants to know who she is. Thinking there would be an intricate story involved, he surprises everyone by saying they have no idea who she is, other than the assistant of the photographer despite casting models for the shoot. Even without a great story, the crowd loved it and snapped right back into their trance as they sang their hearts out from song to song, dancing with the strangers next to them and thrusting their drinks and hands in the air. This was the general reaction throughout their set, with a vibrant light show and dozens of black latex balloons floating around during another hit single, “Black Balloon.” Set one was brought to a close at the conclusion of the last song on the album, “Hate This Place.”

Goo Goo Dolls - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Brad Fernquist (Guitarist) & John Rzeznik (Vocalist/Guitarist),
Goo Goo Dolls
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved

“Thank you! Hang on a sec, we’ll be right back,” Rzeznik said as the band left the stage for a short intermission. Before long, the musicians were back on stage ready to keep the party going for the second part of their set. Already having played thirteen songs, the band proceeded to double the experience and play thirteen more for set two, entitled “Deep Cuts”. Fans went down several paths of memory lane while the band played some of their biggest hits outside of their most popular album. “Better Days”, “Can’t Let It Go”, and “Two Days in February” were all played with acoustic guitar, evoking a range of emotions from their followers.

Goo Goo Dolls - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Robby Takac (Bassist), Goo Goo Dolls
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved

The remainder of the show was more amped up, wanting to bring the audience back to full volume before they ended with a two-song encore including “Big Machine” and a mindblowing performance of “Flat Top”. Right before that, though, Takac addressed the audience a final time with a simple “Thank you guys for coming out to celebrate with us tonight. Truly truly truly means a lot,” no doubt with mutual feelings in the hearts of fans. As the show ended after 26 songs, people could be overheard talking all around about how wonderful the show was and how much it meant to them to be there for it. For over twenty years the Goo Goo Dolls have brought several beautiful songs to life, and if this tour has anything to say about them, no amount of time can weaken the love their fans have for them, or their music.

 

PHOTO ALBUM

Photographer: Katherine Amy Vega

Goo Goo Dolls – The Van Buren 9-30-18

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

REVIEW: Death Cab for Cutie Fans in Phoenix Are Left Thankful for Today (9-29-18)

PHOENIX — For the fourth stop of their Fall 2018 tour, Death Cab for Cutie returned to Phoenix to promote their ninth album, Thank You for Today. In the first album since 2015, the band comes back strong in their signature indie pop songwriting and foggy vocals. The band has already released three singles since the August 2018 album release date, building anticipation for their tour. Death Cab for Cutie added two new members to the band after the departure of guitarist and producer Chris Walla. The two new members, guitarist Dave Depper and keyboardist Zac Rae, seem to bring a new cohesive energy to the band, which made for a polished and low-key performance at the sold out music venue in Phoenix.

Charly Bliss - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Eva Hendricks (Vocalist/Guitarist), Charly Bliss
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved.

When the show started at 8:00PM, opening power-pop band Charly Bliss welcomed the crowd. Lead vocalist Eva Hendricks bounced around the stage, swinging the white fringe from her short shorts. Her spunky attitude infused the crowd with energy, starting off the night with a positive jolt of indie pop rock, reminiscent of the early 2000s.

Charly Bliss - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Eva Hendricks (Vocalist/Guitarist), Charly Bliss
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved.

Joining her on stage was guitarist/vocalist Spencer Fox, drummer Sam Hendricks, and bassist/vocalist Dan Shure. At the end of their set, they generously thanked the audience and anticipation crescendoed for the main act, Death Cab for Cutie. Charly Bliss’ debut full-length album, Guppy, was released in April of 2017.

As the stage washed with ambient purple light, the four members of Death Cab for Cutie took the stage clad in  black.

Death Cab for Cutie - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Death Cab for Cutie |
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved

Lead vocalist Ben Gibbard jumped right into their new song “I Dreamt We Spoke Again”, washing the audience in his unique melancholy vocals. Guitarist/vocalist Depper complemented Ben’s voice in creating a beautiful harmony, while drummer Jason McGerr, bassist Nick Harmer, and keyboardist Rae rounded out the sound; making for a solid performance that reflected the band’s years of refinement.

Death Cab for Cutie - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Zac Rae (Keyboardist/Guitarist/Vocalist), Death Cab for Cutie
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved

Without pause, they began “Summer Years”, and then picked up the pace with the following song, “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive.” After the third song, Gibbard addressed the audience, introducing the band and briefly thanking those in attendance.

After a few more new songs, they went into “Gold Rush,” the fresh-sounding first single released from their new album. Recognizing the song from heavy rotation, the crowd erupted in cheers and voices rising up in unison. Reactions were similarly enthusiastic when the well-known notes of “Title and Registration” from  Transatlanticism reached their ears.

Death Cab for Cutie - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Ben Gibbard (Vocalist/Guitarist/Pianist), Death Cab for Cutie
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved

The next few songs were a mix from earlier albums, including “Company Calls,” “No Sunlight,” and “What Sarah Said.” The chill vibes of their show would make for a great date night, or an escape from the work week. Gibbard occasionally dances about the stage facing the drummer and side stepping to the beat. While their performance was strong and their live sound comparable to their albums in every sense, the band’s minimal audience interaction and dependance on old songs might cause a loss of interest in newer listeners. There seemed to be a lack of connection that was sorely needed between the band and the audience. All members could benefit from some storytelling. Their lyrics are so beautiful and meaningful, the audience would surely love to hear some stories behind writing them.

A piano was rolled onto the stage for, “I Will Possess your Heart,” and Gibbard temporarily switched his guitar for the keys. The following song, “Autumn Love”, includes some beautiful lyrics such as, “If there’s no beacon tonight to guide me, I’ll finally break the shackles of direction and let the headlights lead me anywhere that they wanna go.” The depth of their latest album was described in a Facebook post on the date of release, which refers to it as “a record that reflects upon and asks questions of the past”, and “also a record about the future. Looking forwards and backwards simultaneously, from summer to autumn.”

Death Cab for Cutie - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Dave Depper (Guitar/Keys/Vocals), Death Cab for Cutie
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved

As they finished out the set they finally addressed the audience once again, giving a big thank you to Charly Bliss for being a great opening band. Of course they had to play one of their biggest hits, “Soul Meets Body”, and the crowd went wild, nearly everyone singing along. At the end of the song, Gibbard triumphantly held his guitar up in the air like a trophy. The last song, “Marching Bands of Manhattan”, left the audience still wanting more, cheering into the emptiness as the stage went black.

It only took a few minutes before Gibbard returned, playing an acoustic version of their hit “I’ll Follow You Into the Dark.” It was at this moment that Gibbard opened up to the crowd with some cheerful banter, and he asked the audience to sing the second verse of the song. Afterwards, the rest of the band joined Gibbard on stage and played not one more, but three more songs: “Your Hurricane”, “Crooked Teeth”, and they finished the night with “Transatlanticism”.

With a generous 24-song setlist, Death Cab for Cutie brought a unique and beautiful energy to The Van Buren, and a recording-quality sound. The title of Thank You for Today no doubt resonated with die-hard Death Cab for Cutie fans.

 

PHOTO ALBUM

Photographer: Katherine Amy Vega

Death Cab for Cutie & Charly Bliss – The Van Buren 9-29-18

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