Thursday, October 29, 2009

Shinedown with Sick Puppies, CAVO and Adelitas Way

House of Blues
San Diego, California
September 30th, 2009

Traveling for work this week in beautiful San Diego, I had to make time to squeeze in a show for the Music Binge. Feeling a little under the weather and tired from traveling, the thought of spending a late night at a show was less than appealing. Regardless, I scoured the local entertainment rags and quickly narrowed my options down to either seeing British indie rockers The Horrors at the Casbah on Tuesday night or radio rock staples Shinedown at the House of Blues on Wednesday. Quite honestly, my first choice would have been the former, but due to my work schedule, I ended up at the House of Blues. Bare with me on this one, I’ll try and be nice.

Before I even get to the bands that played on Wednesday night, I first need to mention a few things about the venue. Once I got inside the sold out building, I was quickly shuffled downstairs with the rest of the over-21 crowd as the poor youngsters were corralled into the upstairs, balcony area. Apparently at the House of Blues, you’re not allowed to inter-mingle those who are able to legally drink with those who aren’t, so the kiddies aren’t even permitted to be on the same floor as the stage...bummer for them.

After grabbing a drink from the bar and scoping out a good spot to watch the show, I pulled out my camera (point and shoot, not professional) to snap a few pictures of the interesting artwork adorning the walls. Within seconds, the security was on top of me, warning that there are no cameras allowed and that mine would be confiscated if they saw me taking anymore pictures. So, because of the Nazi security guards at the House of Blues, you won’t be seeing pictures of the opening acts from this show (Note: I did manage to sneak a few shots of the headliners…take that House of Blues…\m/).

Adelitas Way
My fears were realized as soon as openers Adelitas Way took the stage: I was in for a night of pure, unadulterated cock rock. This is the kind of band that you’d see on Cruefest or hear on Octane (for you satellite radio folks out there). Vocalist Rick DeJesus (I’m stifling a Big Lebowski joke right now) actually introduced one song as being played at WWE (that’s professional wrestling my friends) and on Monday Night Football. Ugh! Talk about selling your soul. DeJesus had all the typical rock star poses down pat as he repeatedly punched his mic stand into the air at all the right moments in the songs…the smell of cheese was officially in the air. One positive takeaway from the Las Vegas band’s set was guitarists Chris Iorio and Keith Wallen, who both managed to display some impressive chops. Adelitas Way, rounded out by bassist Derek Johnston and drummer Trevor Stafford, weren’t terribly inventive, but I’ll give them credit for being good at what they do.

Next up was four piece, CAVO from St. Louis, MO, who picked up right where Adelitas Way left off. Their set was chock full of chunky riffs, sprinkled with a couple of ballads. Vocalist Casey Walker had no problem pimping his band’s success by mentioning that one of their songs is featured on the Transformers 2 soundtrack. I don’t know which would embarrass me more, having a song on the soundtrack to a terrible, summer blockbuster movie or having one played on WWE…yikes! Bassist Brian Smith strutted around the stage playing a 5-string bass that I’m pretty sure was more for show than anything else, as I didn’t hear anything truly complex enough to warrant the extra string. CAVO, who's lineup also includes guitarist Chris Hobbs and drummer Chad La Roy, closed their set by introducing the song "Champagne" as their "current single". These guys are true salesmen! I hadn’t heard of the song before, but I am apparently out of the loop as the rest of the crowd seemed to know every word. Next…

Sick Puppies
Thankfully the next band, Sick Puppies from Sydney, Australia started to shift away from the monotonous radio rock that had permeated the House of Blues so far tonight. The three piece, made up of vocalist/guitarist Shimon Moore, bassist Emma Anzai and drummer Mark Goodwin, had more energy and emotion onstage than the previous two bands combined. The band plays an upbeat brand of rock with a rather obvious nod to Green Day (specifically when they used the music from Brain Stew during their hilarious cover of Destiny Child’s "Say My Name"), and at times, Moore’s vocals reminded me of the very distinct style of Raine Maida from Our Lady Peace. The singer demonstrated a lot of charisma on stage and did an amazing job of engaging the audience and really working the crowd.

The band wasn’t perfect however, as they too felt the need to hype their own success as Moore bragged that the Sick Puppies have "the number one song on rock radio", before they launched into "You’re Going Down". The band also committed the cardinal sin of rock shows (at least in my eyes) when the singer requested that the crowd hold up their cell phones during one of their slower numbers. If you haven’t seen this, it’s the next generation of holding up a cigarette lighter, and it looks about as asinine as it sounds. Despite the few missteps however, the Sick Puppies were far and away the highlight of the evening thus far.

When headliners Shinedown hit the stage, they made it evident that this was their show. The stage was packed with lighting rigs and amplifiers that looked like they belonged in a stadium, not a small theater like the House of Blues. With his straight, black hair parted down the middle and overdone eye makeup, singer Brent Smith bared an uncanny resemblance to Ozzy Osbourne. Guitarist Zach Myers and bassist Eric Bass weren’t shy with the makeup either and I’m not sure I understood drummer Barry Kerch’s decision to wear a bandana around his face. Images aside though, Shinedown sounded great.

At the conclusion of their opening song, Smith did something I’ve never seen before at a rock show. He stopped the music, had everyone in the crowd look left, then right and shake the hand and/or high five their neighbors. It was an awkward, yet hilarious way to open things up and I nearly heard myself say "peace be with you" as I shook the hand of the guy next to me. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the only time that Smith stopped the concert to address the audience. During the hit song "45", the singer noticed a fight breaking out near the front of the stage, stopped his band-mates mid-song and addressed the two would-be pugilists. After reminding us that "we’re all friends here", the band got back to business.

Shinedown were in full stride when, like Sick Puppies, they got derailed. For the second time tonight, I had to witness the woeful cell phone salute as Brent Smith asked the audience to hold em' up during the hit "Second Chance", which by the way I had no idea was a Shinedown song. The band recovered however, closing the show with another familiar tune, this time the hit single "Devour". This particular show wasn't necessarily my thing, but I witnessed a fun performance by a very talented band who obviously understands what they're audience wants and ensures that they give it to them.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

She Wants Revenge with Kill Hannah and Paper Route

The Black Cat
Washington, D.C.
September 22nd, 2009

The show tonight at the Black Cat was a perfect example of two things: 1) why you should always show up early and catch opening acts and 2) how important it is for young bands, like Kill Hannah and Paper Route, to play in the opening slot before an established act, rather than tour on their own. Regarding number 1, there have been so many times when I’ve shown up early for a show and just been blown away by an opening band who I either didn’t know at all or had heard very little of prior to the show. As for number 2, too often, I have gone to shows where the main act is touring off their debut album (or maybe even their sophomore release) and they just don’t have enough music and/or enough of a fan base to support their own tour. Tonight’s show was a perfect example of why both of these tenets are true.

Paper Route
Unfortunately for me, I nearly flubbed number 1, showing up just in time to catch the last two songs of Paper Route’s set. Regardless, I was immediately impressed by this band from Nashville, TN. Despite only having five people onstage, the shear number of instruments and depth of the sound made it seem like you were watching twice that many people create the dense, dreamy pop music that filled the venue. Aside from the full size drum set that sat center stage, the band also had a separate, stand-up bass drum sitting to the left and a smaller, almost toy-like drum set on a riser set off to the right. In addition to these instruments, there were two guitars, a set of keyboards and an effects machine (if that’s what you call it?) onstage. Bottom line, there was so much filling the Black Cat’s main stage, it barely left room for the band members. And when the band’s drummer scaled that riser to wail away on the smaller, toy-like kit, he was nearly hitting his head on the club’s ceiling. These guys had literally packed the stage to the rafters. Regarding the music, let me just say this, in the course of two songs I was driven to buy Paper Route’s LP, EP and a t-shirt. These guys were incredible. I understand they're heading out on the road with Paramore next, so hopefully they’ll get the recognition they deserve on that tour. They definitely earned a new fan with me.

Kill Hannah
This band was a perfect example of point number 2 from above. Kill Hannah are a band that I’ve heard quite a bit on alternative rock radio, but quite frankly never had much interest in what I was hearing. Had these guys been on their own tour, I more than likely would not have paid to see them. However, given that they were opening for She Wants Revenge, here I stood front and center as they took the stage, and my impression after seeing them in a live setting has changed dramatically.

Upon seeing the five band members as they took the stage, my very first thought was that they must be from Chicago and lo and behold, I was right. These guys just have that old school industrial; Wax Trax Records look to them, a la Sister Machine Gun. Vocalist Mat Devine marched to the beat of his own drum, wearing a white hoodie (with hood up), suspenders and red boots. The rest of the band members, guitarists Dan Wiese and Gil Baram, bassist Greg Corner and drummer Elias Mallin were clad in black and sported arm bands that depicted a heart in crosshairs. I have to mention that the guitars and bass all had bright white lights installed inside of them, giving an eerie glow that shot back into the crowd at all times…nice touch boys.

Being unfamiliar to the band, save for the few songs I’ve heard on the radio, their music struck me as a kind of industrial pop. The sound was incredibly thick and heavy, which made Devine’s sensitive vocal styling stand out. Speaking of the vocalist, his crowd interaction and presence were incredible as he stalked the stage, holding hands with the occasional front row female as he sang twisted lullabies like the hit “Lips like Morphine”. Mat couldn’t pass up a photo op either, as he snatched a camera from one girl, leaned down beside her and snapped a picture of the two them, all without missing a single line of the song.

The band’s set was heavy off their forthcoming album “Wake up the Sleepers”, as they played “New York City Speed”, “Strobe Lights” and the first single “Radio”, which Devine explained is about their decision to finally leave their hometown of Chicago. My eyes were glued to the stage for the entire set and for the second time tonight, I found myself becoming a fan of a band I had otherwise not known much about. Kill Hannah’s energy and confidence onstage were undeniable, so much so that it was hard to believe when Mat Devine mentioned this was the first time in 6 and a half years of touring that his band had played the legendary Black Cat. Let’s hope it won’t be that long before they return.

She Wants Revenge
Unfortunately, headliners She Wants Revenge weren't able to match the energy of their two openers. Having seen this band open for Depeche Mode a few years back in a much larger venue, I was left feeling a little disappointed seeing them in this setting. Whereas in the larger venue, the focus was more on their ethereal, yet danceable rock, at the Black Cat the band's lack of stage presence became painfully evident. This, combined with the fact that She Wants Revenge were intent on playing songs off two independantly released EP's (2008's "Save Your Soul" and this year's "Up and Down"), which the crowd (including myself) seemed unfamiliar with, led to a somewhat lackluster experience.

When the band did decide to play tracks off their two full length albums, noteably hits like "These Things", "Tear You Apart" and "True Romance", the crowd came alive, dancing, jumping and flailing around like you would expect. She Wants Revenge seemed as though they were trying to shed the two-man electronica style that they've become known for, replacing it with a more traditional, organic guitar/bass/drums type of rock sound. At times when listening to vocalist/guitarist Justin Warfield and keyboard/programming/vocals/everything else player Adam Bravin, I felt like I was hearing a slightly heavier version of Prince. The results were sadly underwhelming. I really wanted to like this performance because I'm such a huge fan of the band, but at the end of the night, I was just thankful that I'd gotten to see Paper Route and Kill Hannah. Not a good sign if you're the headliner.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ballyhoo! with Black White Radio (Aaron Crawford), Monako and Prettier In Person

Jammin' Java
Vienna, Virginia
September 17, 2009

So a friend and I were running some errands in Vienna, Virginia on Thursday night and knowing I still hadn’t seen a show that week for the Music Binge, she mentions a venue close by that neither of us had ever heard of or been to before. When we arrive, I find that the place is a combination bar/coffee house/music venue, aptly named Jammin’ Java. It turned out to be the perfect setting for the show I was about to see. In terms of size, it fell somewhere between the main stage and the back bar stage at the Black Cat, which is to say it probably holds around 400 or so people. And as a side note, the veggie chili at this place was ridiculously good!

Prettier In Person
The show for tonight was a local showcase of sorts, starting with Vienna’s own Prettier In Person, who were playing only their second show together as a band. Led by androgynous vocalist/guitarist Dayzey, they had a punk meets glam rock meets metal sort of sound, kind of like the evil spawn of the New York Dolls and AC/DC. The three piece were having a blast onstage, despite the late arriving crowd at Jammin’ Java, and their energy was undeniable as they launched into a cover of The Donnas’ “Take It Off”. Bassist Big T, looking as though he came to the show straight from his day job, sweated right through his white button down shirt. The highlight however, was Prettier In Person’s drummer, Nickel, who flailed around behind his kit, beating the skins so fast that all you saw was his mop of red hair flying this way and that. For only their second show, this band was impressive…a surprisingly fun start to a random night of rock n’ roll.

The second act of the night was Monako, who are apparently comprised of members of several other D.C. area bands. This four piece owes an awful lot to reggae rock radio staples like Sublime and Sugar Ray. Vocalist/guitarist Matt Waller was by far the highlight of the set and the centerpiece for this band. He and bassist Ken Barnum harmonized beautifully on songs like “Sticky Situation”, “Undertow” and the title track from their debut album, “Amnesia”. The rhythm section, consisting of drummer Jared Barnum and bassist Joe Owens were more content to take a backseat to the other two. On a side note, it was often difficult to get past Ken’s incessant and irritating gyrations (dance moves?) during the songs and color commentary between them. I kept hoping someone else in the band would politely ask him to stand still and shut up. With the Prettier In Person guys watching from the front of the stage, the show was really starting to take on the feel of a good old fashioned showcase for local bands. Fun!

Black White Radio
The third set of the evening, billed as Black White Radio, was actually a solo/acoustic performance by Aaron Crawford, formerly of Sterling Park, Virginia band Rude Buddha. The crowd really came alive during Aaron’s set, especially during “Bar Song”, apparently a local favorite from his old band. The cozy, local feel continued as someone from the crowd handed Aaron a shot between songs, which he casually drank down before letting out a nice, long belch into the mic. Crawford, who sat perched atop a bar stool with one foot propped on a monitor, displayed a lot of confidence and a cool demeanor throughout his brief set, which turned out to be the highlight of the evening in my eyes…his closer and the namesake of his moniker, Black White Radio, being the hallmark moment. In the song, Aaron sings “I want to know…can I add color to black/white radio?” Well Aaron, in my opinion, radio is a lost cause these days, but your performance at Jammin’ Java was colorful to say the least…kudos my friend.

Unfortunately, by the time that headliners Ballyhoo! took the stage, the crowd had dwindled considerably. The Aberdeen, Maryland foursome could have easily been mistaken for a bunch of Southern California surfers, thanks to the palm tree tucked inside their band logo and vocalist/guitarist Howi Spangler’s bleach blond hair and penchant for wearing surfer clothes (not to mention the guys are signed to Surfdog Records). The funky, energetic set from Ballyhoo! would have fit perfectly in the late 90’s/early 00’s nu-metal scene. However, despite the inclusion of turntables in their lineup, the band thankfully owed more to the funk infused rock of 311 than the white boy rap/rock of Limp Bizkit. The loyal Ballyhoo! fans who hung around seemed perfectly content with the nostalgic sound as they jumped and danced as if it were 1999.

Overall, aside from show openers Prettier In Person, nostalgia for the late 90’s seemed to be the theme of the evening. The concert was full of energetic rock with a funk/hip-hop vibe. I felt like an outsider who had stumbled into someone else’s high school reunion, but was welcomed with open arms. I discovered four great new acts and one new venue…a good night for the Music Binge.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Black Crowes

American Music Festival
5th Street Stage
Virginia Beach, VA
September 6th, 2009

The Black Crowes headlined the American Music Festival in Virginia Beach on Sunday night, bringing their soulful blend of gospel infused blues and straight forward rock & roll to the massive, beachfront 5th Street Stage. Lead vocalist Chris Robinson, sporting a lengthy beard and looking as shaggy as ever, wasted no time getting down to business when he led the band into “Good Morning Captain”, the first song from the Crowes’ latest offering, “Before the Frost…”. At first, you could forgive Chris and brother/guitarist Rich Robinson for their lack of crowd interaction as the band attempted to squeeze as much as possible into their allotted two hour set time (according to the festival's schedule anyway). For a band accustomed to spending a 3rd of that time jamming on one song, this was no small feat.

If you’re familiar with the Black Crowes, you know that their set lists change from show to show, so you never know what you’re going to get. They’re just as likely to break into an obscure (to the casual fan) track like “Nebakanezer” off their 1996 album “Three Snakes and One Charm” as to play their most well known hit, “Hard to Handle”. Tonight, the Crowes raced through favorites like “Soul Singing”, “Wiser Time”, “Jealous Again” and “Remedy”, while leaving plenty of room in their set for cuts off their new album like “Appaloosa” and “I Ain’t Hiding”. The band even found time for Rich and somewhat new guitarist (as of 2007) Luther Dickinson (also the vocalist/guitarist of the North Mississippi Allstars) to show off their unbelievable chops during an extended jam session on “Poor Elijah – Tribute to Johnson”. Likewise, drummer and only original member outside the brothers Robinson, Steve Gorman gave the rest of the band a breather by pounding his way through an impressive solo. The rest of the Crowes ever changing lineup, currently rounded out by bassist Sven Pipien, keyboardist Adam MacDougall and a duo of unbelievable sounding gospel singers, were equally impressive.

The set was all over too soon though and as great as the Crowes sounded, the Virginia Beach crowd (myself included) was left feeling somewhat unsatisfied, as was evident from the smattering of boos that could be heard when the band failed to return to the stage for an encore. When the house lights came up after the final notes of “Been a Long Time (Waiting on Love)”, it was like a rude awakening for the crowd who were anticipating a much longer set. Whether it was a Virginia Beach curfew to blame is unclear, but for a band who typically play sets that are nearly double the length of this one, the early ending was a real disappointment. The real shame is that you got the impression that the Black Crowes were just getting warmed up.

Having seen this band multiple times in the past, I know that they are typically much more interactive with their audience. This set reeked of a “business trip” mentality for the boys from Atlanta...a get in and get out type of affair. The enthusiastic crowd deserved at least a “thanks for coming out”, but had to settle for a subtle wave goodbye from Chris Robinson as he left the stage (after an hour and a half). Don’t get me wrong, I love the Crowes and will certainly go see them again, but perhaps they would do well to remember who pays their bills.

Set list:
Good Morning Captain
Soul Singing
Wiser Time
I Ain't Hiding
Goodbye Daughters Of The Revolution
Poor Elijah - Tribute To Johnson
Thorn In My Pride
Jealous Again
Thick N' Thin
Been A Long Time (Waiting On Love)

Thursday, October 8, 2009


American Music Festival
5th Street Stage
Virginia Beach, VA
September 5th, 2009

Legendary Seattle band Heart headlined the American Music Festival on Saturday night. For an hour and a half, they ran through hit after hit after hit, to the delight of the 20,000 plus fans who packed themselves in front of the beachside stage. The crowd roared as the familiar, opening riff to "Barracuda" blasted forth from the amplifiers and set the tone for the evening. It was evident from the start that sisters Ann (vocals) and Nancy (Guitar) Wilson, along with the rest of Heart, were here to rock.

If there was ever any question as to whether Ann Wilson possesses one of the greatest voices in rock n roll history, let it be said that she proved it tonight. And Nancy's guitar playing was unreal as she stormed around the stage, kicking her boots to the heavens as if she were a member of the Rockettes. It's no wonder this band was honored at the VH1 Rock Honors show in 2007 and ranked number 57 on the channel's "100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock".

Rounded out by guitarist Craig Bartock, bassist Ric Markmann, keyboardist Debbie Shair and drummer Ben Smith, the current incarnation of Heart ripped through mainstays from the 70's like "Crazy On You" and "Magic Man" and 80's power-ballads like "Never", "These Dreams", "What About Love" and "Alone". But make no mistake, Heart weren't content to play the role of nostalgia act. The fact that the band was playing music spanning three decades was hardly noticeable as the timeless songs flowed together seamlessly.

Highlights of the evening included the two Led Zeppelin covers, "Immigrant Song" (with Nancy Wilson on mandolin) and "Going to California", which due to Ann Wilson's vocals, would have impressed the Golden God himself (perhaps Robert Plant should throw in a Heart cover or two on his next solo album). Debbie Shair's keyboard playing was phenomenal and well, entertaining to say the least. She bobbed her pigtailed head up and down and never stopped grinning throughout the entire set. It was evident that she was thrilled to share the stage with such rock royalty.

Music festivals like this one often bring out the one hit wonders and acts that are trying to re-create the magic of a lost era. Heart's inspired set ensured they didn't fall into the latter category and the sheer number of hits certainly proved they weren't part of the former. Here's to hoping Ann, Nancy and the rest of the crew continue doing what they do for another decade!