Dweezil Zappa vs. Roger Waters

December 7, 2010 at 11:33 am | Posted in Audio, Concert, Digital, Jazz, Rock, Theater/Theatre, Vocal | 3 Comments
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I wasn’t going to blog either of these shows, because they are both so epic that you really have to be there to get it. Then, I realized something. I’m not one of those people that uses the word epic on a daily basis; I must have something blog-worthy. So, here we go…

The Music
     Both shows feature decades old music written by highly respected, highly talented composers. Each features complex instrumental arrangements with uncommon instruments. Both feature horns, keyboards (analog and digital). Multiple vocal parts are present in each. Drums were tight, loud and crisply gated at each show. Both drummers were highly skilled. I’d say they are deft at keeping meter in both standard times, and random timings that only people with years of experience, or Master’s degrees in music, even know what it is called. 6/16th time with augmented triplets or some such…but I’m guessing. Guitar players are both highly capable. Dweezil got to show off a few more styles; due to the fluid nature of Frank Zappa’s composition – but the guys in Roger’s band played note for note as the album dictated. Overall music from each was an exceptionally clear sonic wall.

Both Winners.

The Visuals
     Roger Waters brings bleeding-edge projection technology to an arena and projects incredible animations from Gerald Scarfe, superbly edited movies, and pictures of soldiers from fans around the world; onto a giant wall which gets built brick by brick as the show progresses. The video projectors are capable of momentarily transporting you into another dimension, I’m pretty sure. There are video technologies in play at this show that I’m sure originated in Area 51.
     Dweezil Zappa had 3 screens that occcasionally projected time-synced (to the live concert) remastered film footage of his dad. The footage was great, the timing was perfect. The restoration work (or was it just great preservation?) on it was superb.

Winner: Roger Waters. Sorry Dweezil. Roger outgunned you massively on this one, but he was dealing with a much bigger venue. The scale leaned in his favor from the start, and I took that into consideration. Even with the scale handicap – he just plain outgunned you.

The Sound
     Impeccable. I can assure you I am intimately familar with The Wall. I must also admit that I was not very familiar with ‘ Apostrophe. I listen to a lot of Pink Floyd and Roger Waters. I only own one Frank Zappa Album; Quadiophiliac. However, it is in on DVD Audio; remastered by Dweezil in multi-channel surround, as was originally specified Frank.
     Everyone involved in projects by Waters or Zappa is the “cream of the crop”. Whether they be technicians, musicians, vocalists or personal assistants – I am positive they are held to the highest standards of excellence. I’m sure it doesn’t matter if they are making coffee or tweaking a knob on a 96/24 audio console; everything has to be spot on. There are no shortcuts. Dedication to audio perfectionism requires state of the art gear, tweaked by technical experts and massaged by audio artists. Both shows had this in spades. Since Dweezil was playing a much more intimate show, I can’t knock him for not bringing the Qadrophonic rig like Waters did. I’m not even sure Frank envisioned this material as multi-channel. The balls-on stereo imaging present at the Zappa show more than made up for the lack of quad.

Both Winners.

The Emotions
     Roger brings with him a personal tale of fear, regret, disconnectedness and an anti-establishment world view. I can relate to that. I get the story. I love the story. I’ve seen it on the big screen, small screen, mid-sized screens and now on Ultra-Huge screens. Great story. Emotionally charged. Power packed.
     Zappa’s tales are a bit more fun. Uplifting and whimsical at times. Dreamy and surreal. At one point, as Dweezil did a bit of improv on the guitar; he effortlessly played an instantly recognizable Jimmy Page riff. It was a fleeting, joyous moment. I felt a tear well up and roll out of the corner of my eye as I had an epiphany. Concerts at this level of musicianship aren’t always about the spectacle…they are about the music, and how it can transcend time and space.

Winner: Zappa

So, there you have it folks. Big vs Small. Grand vs Intimate. Composer against composer. A tie. All things considered; either of these shows beats out any other plans for the night you might have had. You really have to see them to believe them. I can’t describe just how well both of these guys were able to capture a moment in time, bottle it and preserve it to be released upon an unsuspecting (or anxiously awaiting) public decades later. They are both incredible shows. Zappa and Waters – I salute you both.
 

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Paramore? @YelyahWilliams. Hell Yeah, Hayley Williams.

September 16, 2010 at 2:20 am | Posted in Audio, Concert, Rock | Leave a comment
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All I can do is hope that Hayley Williams (known to me mostly as @yelyahwilliams on twitter) reads this.

This is an empire in the making, folks. Really.

I’ve been looking forward to this concert for a long time, and it finally arrived.  Why I looked forward to it, I’m not sure. The songs aren’t on my Ipod, the vids aren’t faved by me, I haven’t had the tunes drummed into my head via radio airplay…I just don’t own this music, yet. However, something inside me kept nagging that this was the concert to see at Dodge Theatre this year. (Frequent readers know I have season tickets to Dodge courtesy of a @LiveNation twitter contest)

Well, I can sum up this concert really fast. GO SEE IT. It’s the Honda Civic Tour 2010. Honda tossed some money into a tour that kicks ass. Period. Mind you, I’m not a car-show kinda guy, but I know Honda has “done their time” in the trenches of promotion, and they understand PR costs cash. Apparently, they also know what good money vs bad money is. Paramore headlining a music tour with their (Honda’s)  logo emblazoned everywhere is great money.  Bottom line.

How can I describe this to you? If you have read my previous reviews; you know I tend to applaud the musicianship (and denigrate lack thereof) whilst leaning towards documenting the technicalities of a show. I try to convey whether a show kicks ass or sucks ass;  giving kudos or criticisms to those behind the scenes.

This show kicked ass. Technically? Yes. Moving lights, check. Smoke, check. CD-quality audio, Check.  Cool video, hi def and lo-def, Check. Risers and interesting layout, check. Crisp highs, discernible vocals, and thundering bass, check.  Pyro, check. What didn’t this show offer from a technical standpoint? Damned if I know.

Okay, technicalities aside – was it any good? Ummm, have you seen Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger and Joan Jett? Imagine if those 3 were to have a crazy love child (yes I know there are problems with that – you are imagining, remember?) Imagine she grew up to front a band. Now, picture that she happens upon a bunch of guys that can play some rock songs really well, and can also play a fantasmagorical acoustic set. Imagine that they are down with things like couches being brought onstage during the set. Imagine that all that is set to awesome lighting with killer sound. Now, try and keep the goosebumps from happening.

Here’s the deal – I don’t know what to tell you… if you are on the fence about seeing this show, I can verify that the openers are worth listening to for sure. New Found Glory made me want to set up a show with them and Black Flag. They are a hot band. Tegan and Sara are like any Canadian group I’ve ever seen….great. The musicians from that country are unstoppable. I did not see the opening band, so can’t give an opinion.

This show rocks, beyond belief. See it. I can’t say much more. All of the stops are pulled out. Paramore Brings It.  Honda is a great sponsor of this tour (no, I did not get paid to say that).

(unfortunately my trusty phone decided to save all my photos as 320*240 images so I wont bother to upload those – lol)

Paramore rocks. I will buy their stuff. You need to hear them and see them. MAny reviewers say Hayley is a firecracker; She is more of a fuse that just doesn’t stop burning.  My reveiw in a nutshell? Paramore is my new favorite band (not counting Queensryche).

Scorpions at Dodge Theatre

July 28, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Posted in Audio, Concert, Metal, Review, Rock | 2 Comments
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Scorpions CrowdAs you can see from the quick cell phone shot here, the Dodge was completely “sold out” for the Scorpions final world tour. Every seat was paid for;  almost none of the ones on the floor got used, as people chose to stand up and rock all night.

You just can’t sit down when the Scorps are on stage.  They come out all guns blazing and stay there. In true metal style, all the tried and true crowd pleasers were in effect.

Smoke machines intensified the visual impact of the moving Martin lights while James Kottak pounded the skins atop a drum riser that lifted towards the stinger-shaped lighting trusses overhead. Pawel Maciwoda stood atop his bass cabinets and created a thunderous bottom end. Rudolf Schenker laid down the steely crunch guitar while Matthias Jabs skillfully cut through the thick air like a titanium drillbit sinking into a block of aluminum. Klaus Meine effortlessly laid his unmistakable German voice right atop the layers of metal music pouring from the speakers overhead and the crowd went wild.

These guys have been putting on world class rock shows for decades, and they never disappoint. Ever. From the state of the art sound and lighting systems, right down to each members slight changes in ensemble throughout the night, every detail just adds to the total overall impact of the spectacle. It might be stereotypical, but it seems to me that Germans are really great at getting details just perfect. From the custom made Dommenget guitars to the concept of putting LED video screens everywhere on the stage – its a well-designed package.

You might wonder if this level of detail is necessary in a metal show. In the case of the Scorpions, absolutely. Everyone in attendance knows the songs. They know the words and guitar notes from this year’s album and the album from 25 years ago. They are singing those songs while Klaus extends his microphone into the crowd, and following every note played by Matthias and Rudolf on their own personal air guitar. That gives everyone plenty of time to notice things like videos of speakers playing superimposed over speakers actually playing, or bright little rings of LEDs surrounding a laser-sharp beam of projected light even if they only take it in subconsciously. The ability to lift a drummer high in the air is an absolute necessity, in my mind, if you really want to drive home a crowd-participation drum solo. Yes, details matter.

They played all the hits, they played stuff you know and love but forgot that you know and love. They played a couple that you don’t yet know but will soon enough love. Since we are in Arizona, they played that one too. Complete with video of the state flag, the state motto and they even got some footage of the drummer out in the desert somewhere. Once again, details matter.

As I mentioned, many of the guitar screams you know and love were provided by axes custom made for Matthias and Rudolf. Other riffs were courtesy of the familiar Flying Vees , Explorers and Strats.

As for the drums, I stopped by the sound booth and peeked in to verify that some things just haven’t changed in 20 years. Those definitive kick and snare drum sounds are still being provided by some trusty ol’ Wendel Jrs.

Bottom Line: Details matter. Germans make good stuff. Scorpions rocked 25 years ago. They rock now.

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Tesla opened the show, and sounded great. They played their hits amidst a solid set of hard rock. The new stuff from the album Forever More sounds just as good as anything from The Great Radio Controversy or Psychotic Supper, which were both dipped into during the set. In fact, I even noticed that Edison’s Medicine features a theremin, a fact I was unaware of until last night.

Bottom Line: Hair metal is always fun. People love concert T-shirts, miniskirts, guitars and drums.

Speedwagon and Benatar; A Serious Rock Concert

July 25, 2010 at 3:39 am | Posted in Concert, Rock, Uncategorized, Vocal | 2 Comments
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REO Speedwagon Pat Benatar Ticket Stub

Rule 1 – Kick ass.

Rule 2 – Have Fun.

Rule 3 – Make sure everyone in attendance knows you are abiding by rules 1&2. (Involving them in the process helps immensely.)

Edwin McCain Review

Kevin Cronin of REO ran out to introduce this guy as his good friend while the house lights were still up. Those house lights were immediately killed and Edwin started to tell stories. Yes, actual stories. He talked to the audience. Why? Because, it turns out the guy is pretty easy to listen to, and his songwriting is awesome. It also tells stories. Good stories. Listenable stories.

Along with his long time buddy, Craig Shields, they told stories and played great songs that kept the crowd engaged the entire half hour that they were in front of us.  This guy grabbed my attention from word one, and captivated me through the last note.

REO SPEEDWAGON REVIEW

What can I really say here? If you  normally read my reviews, you know what it boils down to – they suck or they don’t.

This is different. This should be the encyclopedic definition of ROCK CONCERT.  Okay, aside from the fact that Dodge Theatre isn’t going to allow pyro, nor smoking inside the venue – this was a rock show by definition in any form.

Kicked ass.  Guitars made of solid pieces of wood and sporting fresh steel strings, wailing under fluid fingers. Turned to 11, I’m pretty sure. Drum beats were so solid, so tight that I can’t begin to tell you how great they sounded.

Kevin Cronin, the lead singer, sang the songs just like you always heard them. Whether you heard them on vinyl, CD, or 8-track; it doesn’t matter. That’s how you heard it live, assuming you heard a live version. 🙂

The players played. They interacted with one another like they had been friends for years. Probably because they have. They gave their stage techs a hard time over mis-tuned guitars or the inability to hear something through their stage monitors. It was all casual and fun, like friends ribbing each other over a mis-spelled word in a scrabble competition.

Seriously, the band was incredible. Sound mix was incredible.

The light show was awesome. Finally, a lighting operator that understands you can mix colors. Orange and purple – cool. Red and white – very cool. Move the color zones, very nice. Not everything has to be a wash of one color. Complementary and contrasting colors are put into a wheel in art school for a reason. This operator used those wheels well. Kudos.

I believe the stage and light setup was designed by Paul of Masterworks. Looked awesome, and you should give him credit for that. He is, apparently, a badass that doesn’t subscribe to the front/back  linear truss theories but likes triangular lighting designs married with a clean back line. I like that too. Cheers, Paul.

Bottom Line – REO Speedwagon Kicked Ass. No need to take our names.

Pat Benatar ReviewPat Benatar Logo

What do you want me to say? She subdued the video intensiveness of REO, preferring to go with primal colors and simple objects for the most part. The moving lights, that were so accentuated during REO, became bit players in a choreography that did nothing but drive her vocal abilities home.

Tonight proved that Patricia, as her husband and guitar player calls her, was not an MTV fluke. She didn’t sell millions of records because she looked cute. She sold them because she can belt out lyrics like nobody else, and present a story that is timeless.

Pat is a vocal powerhouse.  She’s a  girl with a voice 50 feet tall. I want to see her do a duet with Rob Halford, or Bruce Dickinson; perhaps Geoff Tate. I don’t know. She is in that class.  The waters where nobody wants to even tread.

Her hubby, Neil, is a guitar master. The two of them together have to be seen to be believed. Well, maybe not. You know the songs. They are just like that in real life, only better. She belts, he makes his guitar scream. It’s awesome to witness. The drummer is surrounded by glass, because his drum kit really is that badass. Of course, the bass player is up to par too. You really have to see the four of them onstage to really understand why MTV made theirs’ one of the first music videos ever aired. They rock.

Summary

Kick ass rock and roll. Go see them. Don’t miss them. Plan on being on your feet for at least 3 hours. This, my friends, is a rock concert. Moving lights, smoke, video, and above all awesome musicianship and vocal abilities that will keep your fists pounding and ass shaking. Rock on.

Queensrÿche at the Orpheum

May 21, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Posted in Burlesque, Concert, Dance, Metal, Rock, Theater/Theatre | Leave a comment
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Queensryche Aerialist

Queensryche Cabaret

What do you do when you are a multi-platinum metal band that’s been around since the hair metal days, but you aren’t a hair metal band? If you ask the members of Queensrÿche, I think they would say this: “Diversify and have fun doing it”.

In this case, that means things like start your own wine label a la Geoff Tate, or delve into creating your own craft beer as Michael “Whip” Wilton has done. It also might mean hiring your son-in-law to play guitar in your band, or have your wife, daughter, and some friends join the burlesque frivolities on stage for a limited engagement tour.

Yes, burlesque. That’s what the Queensrÿche Cabaret tour is all about. Adults only fun. Hard hitting rock ‘n’ roll and scantily-clad, but fashionably attired, ladies performing theatrical skits and aerial artistry. Throw in some jugglers and a couple of Vaudevillian performers to fill time between costume changes and you have the makings of a good show.

Not your normal metal show, for sure. No moving lights, no fancy projections, no pyrotechnics, no haze generators or smoke spewing here. Think fancy curtains and color washes. This is old-school entertainment boys and girls. People. Artists. Interacting with one another without a semi-trailer worth of fancy electronics. What a concept.

Of course, the band was as tight as ever. Not many bands can sound “so studio” live as Queensrÿche always manages to do. Hell, at one point Parker Lundgren had to deal with a malfunctioning guitar strap at least four times during one song. He managed well, only missing a couple of notes.

The set list wasn’t your usual ‘Rÿche, for sure. Yes, they played the hits. They played a couple new things obviously written for this new mini rock opera. They also managed to finesse some of those familiar “filler” tracks right into the story line.

Rock operas and concept albums are cool. Time has proven that. Some times you get lucky in life and get a chance to see Roger Waters do “The Wall” live. Sometimes, you get to see ‘Rÿche perform a cool little cabaret show in a beautiful theater from the ’20s complete with fancy red curtains and gold trim. Either way, you are enjoying music as it was meant to be…live and engaging. You should pull out the earbuds more often, and do just that.

Alice Breaks The Chains At Dodge Theatre

February 18, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Posted in Concert, Review, Rock, Theater/Theatre | Leave a comment
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I’m happy to report that rock ‘n’ roll as we know it is still alive and kicking ass.

Alice In Chains

Warm up act Creature With the Atom Brain sounded pretty tight with a solid back beat. However, the guitars and melodies were probably more suitable for an all day festival where you could really get into a nice groove a la Deep Purple. Their stage set consisted of nothing but a big black curtain behind them and 8 moving lights in the front which were limited to color and iris changes. But hey, as an opener even being allowed iris changes isn’t always guaranteed.

As their set ended a big white drape came down in front so the set change could happen in privacy. Turned out that it really wasn’t just a privacy screen. Alice In Chains used it to project their shadows on as they opened their show. Definitely caught me off guard, and looked really damn cool.

That shadow screen dropped to reveal what we called a rock concert back in the day. With Sean Kinney pounding the skins and Mike Inez on bass; an incredibly tight, awesomely loud vibe filled the room at Dodge. I’m sure that had a lot to do with the fact the pit chairs were removed for Standing Room Only GA Pit admission. Something we almost never see anymore.

Jerry Cantrell’s definitive guitar sound and new vocalist William Duvall let us know immediately that Alice In Chains is back in full force. That was a big relief, as I’m sure many of my fellow concert-goers were unsure that AIC could rock like they did before the loss of frontman Layne Staley in 2002.

Opening with old, familiar tunes brought even the seated crowd to their feet, where they stayed all show. Familiar material dominated the first half of the show before they threw in new material from Black Gives Way to Blue at us. even though the new stuff was unfamiliar to me I can tell you it kicks ass. William has a great voice for rock in roll, though he did let us know he was “sick as a fucken dog”.  That definitely accounts for his voice tiring a bit near the end.

Like I said above, this was definitely a rock concert. Moving lights were the order of the day. Looked like perhaps a mix of Vari-lites and some cool new stuff from High End Sytems including three DL-3 projectors and some fancy LED automated wash luminaires. I’ll have to see if Mike Baldassari can give me specifics. Update: Mike did get me some specifics. I was wrong on the Vari-lites. The majority of the movers used were actually Martin MAC 700’s. I knew something was different about their shape, but I didn’t grab any pictures – sometimes its hard to guess make/model numbers by memory.

Those DL-3’s are ultra-cool little units. They look like a standard moving light, but they pack some secret weapons. Namely, the ability to project and shoot full motion video. That means they can film the band and project them on any surface they can reach. They’re bright, so they can reach just about anything in the theatre, too.

Concert audio was supplied by the standard Dodge line array system (not sure of manufacturer – EAW perhaps? I’ll have to ask the guys next time) which, for the most part, sounded great because of all the standing people really tightening up the bass. It had some fleeting moments where the high mids broke up slightly and I’m starting to wonder if perhaps my “usual seats” might be a “weird spot” for those frequencies in particular, or if the system could use just a tad more headroom (insert standard soundman joke here).

All in all it was another great concert at Dodge Theatre. As usual, we took the light rail down there and I definitely encourage you to do the same as its very convenient and costs less than parking in the garages!

~~I’m throwing some photos up on the photo page but be aware that Dodge has a policy against ultra-zoom cams so these are done with a tiny pocket cam~~

Symphonic Zeppelin and Queen

January 30, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Posted in Concert, Photography, Review, Rock, Symphony, Theater/Theatre | Leave a comment
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Another night using the light rail to get downtown to Dodge Theatre has passed. This time it was to check out the music of Led Zeppelin and Queen with a full rock band and the Phoenix Symphony.

Stairway Symphony

The show was pretty amazing.  Symphonic rock bands are nothing new, but it’s always nice to go see and hear a symphony without having to get all dressed up beforehand.

I’m not sure why this is at Dodge and not Symphony Hall, but since I have season tickets to Dodge it worked out well for me. As well as can be expected without the orchestra in a proper pit anyhow. It’s really difficult to capture the nuances of an orchestra when a lot of their sounds are being sucked up by stage curtains and overshadowed by a lead guitarist. Don’t get me wrong, the guitarist was very good and has obviously spent a lot of time recreating the exact tones of Jimmy and Brian but last night’s performance was a little harsh on the ears in the high-mid frequencies. Not sure whether I should blame the player or the sound engineer there. Either could have alleviated that problem.

Conductor Brent Havens did a great job, considering he is touring around and working with a different group of musicians each day. He was also kind enough to step aside at one point and let an audience member come up and conduct a song! Her name was Morgan, and she did a pretty awesome job for an amateur maestro, so props to her.

The show is divided into two parts. The music of Queen and then Zepp after an intermission. All the players remain the same except for the lead singers.  Randy Jackson does Zeppelin and Brody Dolyniuk fronts the Queen portion of the show. At one point electric violinist, Allegra,  joins in on the fun. Powell Randolph, drummer, even pounds the skins bare-handed Bonham-style during the obligatory Zeppelin drum solo.

Phoenix Symphony Does QueenLighting and sound were minimal, but adequate. They tossed in some good effects from the movable lights, and did some nice guitar panning during key points of guitarist George Cintron’s shining moments.  The audience even showed its knowledge of symphony protocol by providing standing ovations a few times, and remaining seated the rest of the time. Of course, we all stomped and clapped along at the appropriate times and a few even brandished lighters, not cellphones, during the last song. That was a welcome sight. All in all – it was a pretty good show and I’ll definitely check it out when it tours again.

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