Categories
Music Reviews

Kate Bush

Kate Bush

Before the Dawn

Kate Bush has always done things her own way. I remember seeing her singing about the characters from Wuthering Heights on Saturday Night Live. It was like nothing anyone else was doing at the time. There were ties to the world of art rock in the theme and musicianship, yet the attitude felt akin to the emerging new wave. In the decade that followed, Kate Bush has never done anything by the established playbook. She toured for a bit in 1978 and 1979 to support her first album, The Kick Inside, but then gave up roadwork. She fully exploited the then emerging medium of the music video to promote her albums.

It was a huge surprise when, 38 years after giving up touring, Bush announced she was returning to live performance. She still wasn’t touring. She wasn’t taking her show to theaters around the globe. If the world wanted to see Kate Bush, they would have to come to the Hammersmith Apollo in London for one of the 22 shows that are documented on Before the Dawn.

Perhaps it’s best that Bush didn’t try to tour the show. The staging was a multimedia event drawing on theater, film and dance in addition to singing and the playing of instruments. At the heart of the show were two suites, “The Ninth Wave” (from the Hounds of Love) and “A Sky of Honey” (from Aerial). The dramatic, narrative nature of the concert was acknowledged by a special Editor’s award, presented at the London Theatre Awards. Before the Dawn is the only contemporary music performance to have won such an honor.

The three discs of Before the Dawn play out as three one act plays. Disc one comes closest to being the greatest hits festival fans may have been hoping for. The set includes “Hounds of Love” and “Running Up That Hill” along with deep cuts such as “Joanni” and “King of the Mountain”.

Disc two is the staging of the “Ninth Wave”. The songs are the thoughts of a woman lost at sea. It is here that the missing visual elements are felt the most. The vocals for “And Dream of Sheep” were recorded in a giant water tank at Pinewood studios while filming the video that became the focal point of the set. While the performance is impressive, the narrative feels a bit confused. The spoken passages probably made more sense in the theatre.

“A Sky of Honey” on disc three celebrates an idyllic summer day. The suite drifts like a breeze on through a meadow. Field recordings of birdsong slip though the mix as fellow musicians. On “Painter’s Link” and “Tawny Moon”, Bush hands over lead vocal duties to Albert McIntosh. The suite concludes with just Kate and her piano on the meditative “Among Angels”. In a nod to rock concert tradition, the show ends with the her hit “Cloudbursting”.

In the liner notes, Bush states that no overdubbing or post-production fixing were used to embellish the sound. That is quite a testament to Bush and her team of collaborators because the sound is immaculate. Before the Dawn demonstrates that Kate Bush is still a formidable artist. So now what I want to know is, what comes next?

www.katebush.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Dance Gavin Dance

Dance Gavin Dance

with The Contortionist / Hail the Sun / Good Tiger / The White Noise

The Social / Orlando, FL • 10.17.16

400 fresh-faced, enthusiastic young people recently packed downtown Orlando’s iconic hotspot, The Social, to witness a spirited hard core / post core / math core / pop core / grind core / prog core collective – a spectacular shredfest that resulted in non-stop shredding vocals, relentless shredding guitars, countless shredded sticks and numerous shredded eardrums.

The White Noise

Diana Cannon
The White Noise

Possessing the finesse of an awkward 13-year-old school boy struggling to score with that girl in science class, So-Cal’s garage punks, The White Noise, stepped up to the lab table and dropped a spider right down her shirt. While acting pissed, spewing foul language and spitting on the crowd will definitely get you noticed, sometimes you gotta buy candy and flowers in order to close the deal – especially when you’re the opening, opening, opening (opening) act.

Good Tiger

Diana Cannon
Good Tiger

Driven by Telecaster-dueling Safety Fire shredders, Dez Nagle and Jo Ardiles, Good Tiger delivered – in spades. The global-based supergroup overcame a dreadful front-of-house mix to serve up savory slices from their debut album, A Head Full of Moonlight – with balls-on precision. Despite being practically inaudible, frontman Elliot Coleman succeeded in connecting with fans and offered a much-needed frequent melody factor to the festivities, while drummer, Alex Rüdinger’s masterful performance provided one of the evening’s shiniest highlights.

Hail The Sun

Diana Cannon
Hail The Sun

To say that West Coast powerhouse, Hail the Sun, faced audio challenges would understate the severity of the situation. In fact, the combo’s set was, in a word – heartbreaking. With veins bulging from his neck, lead vocalist / drummer, Donovan Melero, “urged” sound techs “passionately” to kill the stage monitor wedges umpteen times, as mega-decibel, low-end feedback enveloped the band’s entire mix throughout much of the 40-minute frenetic performance. However, even in the face of tremendous adversity, the recent Warped Tour alumni forged ahead, exuding total professionalism – and with guitarist, Shane Gann, sparkling like a diamond all the way.

The Contortionist

Diana Cannon
The Contortionist

Diana Cannon

There are shredders. There are virtuosos. And then there’s The Contortionist. Oozing mystique, the six-piece ensemble commandeered the night’s proceedings unobtrusively, as an instrumental intro blasted through the P.A. at approximately 10pm – by 10:01, the blackened stage had erupted in a storm of seizure-inducing, strobe-like LED lighting. Best described stylistically (by me) as Pink Floyd-meets-Rush-meets-King Crimson at a Type O Negative revival hosted by Voivod, the dynamic Indiana-based prog purists annihilated the masses with their self-described, unique style of warped time signatures, percussive mathematics and spider-fingered fretwork. Frontman, Mike Lessar, proved a convincing (and compelling) storyteller throughout, while guitarist, Robby Baca, treated fans to his seemingly limitless Gilmore / Fripp-like, shredmaster ability. And for my money, seeing drummer, Joey Baca, that up-close and personal, was well worth the price of admission.

Dance Gavin Dance

Diana Cannon
Dance Gavin Dance

The biggest bummer about the event was the mind-numbingly long switchover time between bands. And as the clock (now) passed 11pm, even Dance Gavin Dance drummer, Matt Mingus, could be seen yawning onstage while prepping for his band’s headline slot. And be sure, these kids from Cali were most definitely the headliner. Near uncontrollable chaos ensued as Dance Gavin Dance (finally) hit the stage. Opening the show with “Chucky vs. the Giant Tortoise,” the six-man battalion stormed through a blazing set – visiting each of their proper studio albums, from the 2007 debut effort, Downtown Battle Mountain to the newly-released record, Mothership. And although dual frontmen Jon Mess and Tilian Pearson connected with the crowd mightily, it was founding guitarist and indie record mogul, Will Swan, who brought the bona fide star power, as the enormous, loveable-looking tan teddy bear shredded his sunburst Les Paul effortlessly from start to finish.

Dance Gavin Dance; The Contortionist

Categories
Music Reviews

Waco Brothers

Waco Brothers

Cabaret Showtime

Bloodshot Records

With the welcome news that Chicago’s punk cowboys, The Waco Brothers are releasing their first “proper” release in ten years- Going Down In History at the end of February, Jon Langford and crew stuck this little gem out there before the holidays. A limited edition of 500 numbered CDs, with the cover art created and screened by Langford himself, this 10 cut release showcases the band’s renowned cover songs. From the opener “Tiger by the Tail” from Buck Owens, followed by Gram Parsons’ “Ooh Las Vegas”, this is a beery good time. T Rex gets a spin with “20th Century Boy” and “Wanted Man” is a fine homage to the Man in Black himself.

The record ends with Langford’s “Merry Xmas to Me”, but not before a live rendition of “Folsom Prison Blues” concludes with a harrowing pass thru “Intersellar Overdrive” from Pink Floyd, as only a bunch of English punks transplanted in the Windy City can muster. All in all, this is a great collection of one-offs, and a fine primer before the bands “real” release. Get it, son!

www.bloodshotrecords.com/album/cabaret-showtime

Categories
Music Reviews

Oryx & Crake

Oryx & Crake

Marriage

Deer Bear Wolf

Been a long time since an album blew me away like Marriage from Atlanta’s Oryx & Crake -or have I encountered a band as unclassifiable as they. Strains of “baroque folk” trade verses with Radiohead/Pink Floyd electronic landscapes, gorgeous harmonies infuse tracks such as “The World Will Take Care of Me”, atop a pulsing Moog, as if the Beach Boys sang backup on an Air song.

Oryx & Crake, which are husband and wife Ryan Peoples and Rebekah Goode-Peoples along with a cast of characters such Matt Jarrard (cello), Karyn Lu on violin, Bryan Fiedlen on drums and bassist Keith Huff. Marriage is their second album, (the bands self-titled debut was released in 2010). Named for the Margret Atwood dystopian sci-fi novel, I first heard of the band from a rather unique event they played in town, Porchfest, where, true to the name, bands perform on people’s porches. Afterward I looked them up, and was captivated by the video for “The Show“, and the rest of the album doesn’t disappoint. In some ways they remind you of Mercury Rev (“Too Many Things Went Wrong Too Often”) or a more organic XTC. The simple acoustic guitar of “Stolen Summer” meshes with a lovely string arrangement (and I’m a sucker for cellos in rock/pop music) while the beat-driven “Everybody’s Waiting” sounds like a hit waiting to happen.

In fact, Oryx & Crake should be huge, but you know how that goes. In the meantime, let Marriage be your own private pleasure. We won’t tell.

www.oryx-and-crake.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Midge Ure

Midge Ure

Fragile

Hypertension Music

Scottish singer/songwriter Midge Ure boasts a rich and varied history with bands such as Visage and Thin Lizzy. Ure also cofounded Band Aid with Bob Geldof in 1984 and co-wrote “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” with him, raising awareness and funding for Ethiopia’s famine-ravaged population. But the true zenith of his career came as frontman of underrated 80s synth pop darlings, Ultravox, who birthed such vocally soaring classics as “Reap the Wild Wind,” “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes” and the breathtaking “Vienna.” With multiple solo albums under his belt, Ure returns with his first new release in over a decade, Fragile.

Fusing a dark, contemplative style and sweeping progressive melodies peppered with an 80s electronica sound, Ure serves up a ten-track collection mixed, produced and written or co-written by him. For the most part, the tone is so subdued with minimal guitar work and the vocals are so far down in the mix that it’s challenging but not entirely implausible to appreciate the sound. The opener, “I Survived,” is a strong, clearly formed message song with beautiful keys and inspiring vocals from Ure, a recovering alcoholic. “Dark, Dark Night,” co-written with Moby who also provides keys and programming on this one, is extremely reminiscent of Depeche Mode’s “Waiting For the Night,” while the title cut, “Fragile,” smacks so strongly of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” that the lyrics are interchangeable. For my money, the gem here is the instrumental prog nugget, “Wire and Wood,” one of two non-vocal pieces on the record.

While this may not represent the most commercially appealing material, it certainly showcases Ure’s capable versatility to reinvent his sound and experiment with a wide variety of styles.

www.midgeure.co.uk

Categories
Music Reviews

Backhand

Backhand

Through the Turbulence

Melodic Revolution Records

Progressive rock fusion band Backhand spent three years honing and crafting its February 2014 release, Through the Turbulence, and the result is nothing shy of brilliant. The seasoned combo is comprised of an uber-talented Venezuelan quartet featuring keyboardist Adrian van Woerkom, guitarist Pablo Mendoza, bassist Oscar Fanega and Adolfo Herrera on drums and percussions, as well as American/ Canada-based Phil Naro, whose soaring Jon Anderson-like vocals lend the finishing touch to this 12-song collective of sweeping, epic tracks. Backhand has created something quite spectacular, an effort not overlooked by Orlando, Florida-based Melodic Revolution Records, the band’s newly-signed label.

Comprised of a series of shifting sections that showcase the individual skills of each player, the 11-minute instrumental, “IntrospeKtion,” solidly kicks off the record, from the opening Metallica-like drums and the Sisters of Mercy/”This Corrosion” goth-choir sound to the Dream Theater, Yes and Pink Floyd-inspired chunks.

With hints of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” during the opening guitar work, “Hold the Light” features Naro’s unrivaled vocals and van Woerkom’s alluring piano work throughout.

The politically motivated “The Big Red Wall” focuses on the band’s rejection of illegal dictatorship. Naro begins by beseeching the listener with a Middle-Eastern sounding chant as heavy guitars and bass support the breakdown of political boundaries.

One of the many gems on the record comes in the form of “A Million People Crying” (Pts I and II). Less frenzied and boasting a more melodic array of instrumentation than many of the other songs, Pt I with Naro’s golden voice lends itself well to a global entreaty – “A million people dying and we’re doing nothing.” Hauntingly beautiful with accompanying strings, piano and acoustic guitar comingled with strong bass, Pt I segues into Pt II’s darker, stronger, heavier piano/bass interplay.

“Tears From the Sea,” another heavily Pink-Floyd inspired instrumental, boasts underemphasized rather than overt sounds and slowly builds into a final overture.

With heavy echoes of Jon Anderson/Yes and even some opening Kansas influences, “Crime Story” returns to Naro on vocals with an introspective piece that revisits painful memories and moments of regret. Mendoza’s guitar work is outstanding as is van Woerkom’s Kansas-style keyboard sound.

Closing out the record in perfect juxtaposition to the prior powerhouse anthems is the ethereal, acoustic-driven “Me, Myself and I,” so vastly understated yet joyfully compelling. Naro outdoes himself vocally while Mendoza and van Woerkom shine magnificently on guitar and keys.

There’s nothing about this record that is either amateur or unprofessional. The stellar musicianship offers a myriad of sound and color interwoven with a high-quality mix, and the more you listen to it, the more hooked you will become. Progheads, get your hands on this one as soon as possible.

www.backhandband.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Justin DiFebbo

Justin DiFebbo

Turn Out the Light, Turn on the Stereo

Dim the lights, fire up some candles, and get ready for Justin DiFebbo. Philadelphia-based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer DiFebbo has been on the music scene for years in a band context, but he finally decided to break out on his own with his debut solo record, Turn Out the Light, Turn on the Stereo. The seven-song offering, released earlier this year, is a refreshing collection of Beach Boys/Simon and Garfunkel/Pink Floyd/Beatles-influenced material all woven into a magically unique tapestry that is clearly DiFebbo’s. While seven songs may sound a bit short, it seems to work cohesively in this mellow context.

Difebbo’s list of credits on the record include vocals, guitars, bass, ukulele, mandolin, piano, organ, keys, flute and percussion. There’s even a glockenspiel — yes, a glockenspiel. Additional bass is provided by Michael DiFebbo Jr., guitar by Avery Coffee, and drums by Zil, while Brian Cullen and Todd Oakes offer accompanying vocals. Morphing from a Wallflowers-inspired sound into a dreamy Simon and Garfunkel “The Boxer” groove, “Coffee” sets the tone for the rest of the album.

“Play It Slow” starts out with a fun, upbeat Wall of Voodoo-esque “Mexican Radio” style to the lyrics, countered by heavy Pink Floyd-ish “Wish You Were Here” guitar work in the harmonious chorus. There are chords that smack strongly of “Wish You Were Here” but with their own unique flair. The song was written about Beach Boys founding member, Brian Wilson. “Many years have passed since when, he used his mind and not his pen. To change the state of rock again, in six part harmony.” Brilliant.

With hauntingly beautiful music and lyrics, “She Refused” is rife with Beatles undertones and conveys the tragic story of an unloved daughter who bears the psychological scars of being raised by indifferent parents. “She feels better when she drinks. Helps her cope or so she thinks. It’s so tragic that her life is on the brink… She doesn’t want to be a queen. What she wants and what she needs, is someone who can guarantee she won’t be alone.”

Offering a personal perspective into organized “religion,” “Stained Glass Window” is another solidly Simon and Garfunkel-influenced track. It rejects the supposed hypocrisy of “religion” but maintains an open mind to some form of faith while being true to oneself. “Well I’d rather be an honest man, than suffering fool who thinks he can hide behind his stained glass window.”

Starting out with a “Hey There Delilah” sound to it, “Storm” quickly evolves into a dark and heavy breakup song. DiFebbo successfully incorporates the glockenspiel into this deep, contemplative piece, and he rounds out the end, once again, with a distinctively Pink Floyd “Time” guitar riff.

“Certain Company” wins hands-down for understated, beautiful vocals, lyrics and guitar work. The bridge is completely Pink Floyd-infused, but again, DiFebbo bends and twists it to become his own.

Rounding out the bunch nicely is the Jason Mraz-esque “Float Down River,” where we are treated to a ukulele, flute and the return of the glockenspiel. Light and bubbly, it is a perfect way to finish off this stellar grouping of songs.

Turn Out the Light, Turn on the Stereo — available now in CD or digital format at cdbaby.com and Amazon.com, and as a digital download from iTunes.

Justin DiFebbo: justindifebbo.bandcamp.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Ben Watt

Ben Watt

Hendra

Unmade Road

It has been 31 years since Ben Watt released his debut solo album, but he is finally back with his sophomore effort, Hendra. Known primarily as one half of Everything But the Girl with wife Tracey Thorn, and also as a renowned London club DJ, the multi-talented musician has worn many hats since returning to his folk roots. Wrestling with the emotional turmoil of his sister’s unexpected death, the tormented artist retreated to his basement to write. Describing the 10-song collection as “a folk-rock record in an electronic age,” Hendra was the cathartic result. Folksy, introspective and dark yet hopeful, he weaves a flowing stream of songs in muted colors drawn from life’s harsh experiences. Thematically, they are songs about perseverance in the wake of tragedy and the courage to forge on.

Produced by Ewan Pearson and recorded in London and Berlin, Watt collaborates with former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler to achieve the perfect guitar mix.

Kicking off with the title track, “Hendra” boasts both haunting guitar work and graceful lyrics. Perfectly segueing into the reflective “Forget,” we are reminded of the fragility of life: “You can push things to the back of your mind, but you can never forget.” The more upbeat, Beatles-esque “Spring” brings a sense of hope and renewal, and “Golden Ratio” strongly echoes the Everything But the Girl sound that Watt and Thorn perfected in the ’90s. In fact, I was expecting to hear Thorn’s voice at any moment.

“Matthew Arnold’s Field,” a deeply personal song about traveling to scatter his father’s ashes, is accompanied by appropriately mournful electric piano. Continuing in that vein and despite the subject matter of a boy who is accidentally killed, “Nathaniel” offers an upbeat, blues-inspired groove, whereas “The Gun” is rife with social commentary: “His family lives out in a gated community. Makes them believe in a magic immunity.” Watt boasts the delightful coup of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour on subtle slide guitar and backing vocals on “The Levels,” a dreamy, graceful piece concluding with strings accompaniment.

Wrapping up with the starkly introspective “The Heart is a Mirror,” Watt varies between acoustic and electronic sounds. “Always set on high alert. Thinking that you will get hurt, when so much of love is so neutral and so misread… The heart is a mirror where it’s easy just to see your own face.”

Admittedly, this is a heavy, deeply contemplative batch of music that really requires the right mood, but the stripped-down, soul-searching style is worth a listen.

Ben Watt: benwatt.com

Categories
Screen Reviews

Going Underground

Going Underground

starring Joe Boyd, Robert Wyatt, Mick Farren, Barry Miles, John “Hoppy” Hopkins, Eddie Prevost

Pride DVD

This fascinating look at the London of the 1960s shows us the how and the why of those riotously creative times and the people that propelled popular culture to its limits. The UK of the early ’60s was lumbering out from the austerity of the 1950s and ridding itself of the “mono-culture of British life” with a small group of forward thinkers that had discovered the works of the New York Beat Generation writers and the avant-garde works of American composer John Cage. Nothing was out of bounds, and coupled with the rise of LSD, artists such as Paul McCartney began to look underground for inspiration. They found it in Barry Miles’ Indica Gallery and Bookshop, a common ground of experimental work and fellowship which was patterned in some aspects on the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. Miles led McCartney to artists such as composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, whose groundbreaking works of electronic music gave rise to McCartney’s “Tomorrow Never Knows” on Revolver.

From the Indica bookshop came The International Times or IT, the newspaper of the underground. Much like Ed Sanders Fuck You, A Magazine of the Arts in New York, IT was the home to poets, activists and artists who were ignored by mass consumption media of the day (until they were arrested, that is). Around the same time, producer Joe Boyd (Pink Floyd) and John “Hoppy” Hopkins began the UFO Club, a legendary cellar that gave rise to AMM, The Soft Machine, and Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd. It was at the UFO club that Timothy Leary’s mantra of “turn on, tune in, drop out” found a home in the UK, as Pink Floyd and others took rock music beyond the three-minute pop song, explored new concepts, and helped, along with the Grateful Dead in America, create an entirely new form of expression and mind expansion.

Although McCartney is not interviewed for this DVD, a wealth of notables from the era are present. Barry Miles, John Hopkins, and Joe Boyd give valuable insights to this age of experimentation, while Robert Wyatt, who got his start drumming for The Soft Machine, and Mick Farren, leader of The Deviants and writer for IT are featured. Sadly, this is most likely one of Farren’s last interviews, as he died after performing in London in 2013. The movie is an absorbing look at a heady time, when London, along with San Francisco, literally changed the world. Highly recommended.

Going Underground

Categories
Event Reviews

Between the Buried and Me

Between the Buried and Me

with The Contortionist, The Faceless and The Safety Fire

Plaza Live • Orlando, FL • September 17, 2013

It was a proverbial Progapalooza — a national touring collective featuring some of the most preeminent names on today’s metal scene. And although the show wasn’t to commence until 7:30 pm, a procession of black tees, pierced septa, and stretched lobes had begun to line up around Orlando’s Plaza Live by 6:00.

The Safety Fire

Christopher Long
The Safety Fire

London’s prog poster boys The Safety Fire opened the show with an animated, high-energy set that relied almost exclusively on choice cuts from the band’s newly-released record, Mouth of Swords. Frontman Sean McWeeney was charismatic and charming throughout TSF’s thirty-minute set, apprising the crowd that this was only the group’s second visit to Orlando and that they looked forward to returning soon. Along with bassist Lori Peri, drummer Calvin Smith, and guitarists Derya “Dez” Nagle and Joaquin Ardiles, McWeeney (man, it’s so hard to print that name without giggling) led the charge, delighting diehards with such fan faves as “Yellowism,” “Old Souls,” “Glass Crush,” “Huge Hammers,” and “Red Hatchet.” In short, The Safety Fire proved to be a unified, monstrous force — perhaps the highlight of the evening.

The Contortionist

Christopher Long
The Contortionist

After only a fifteen-minute backline switch, The Contortionist stormed the stage at 8:15. On the heels of its 2012 sophomore release Intrinsic, the Indiana-based combo has become a Van Halen-like revolving door for lead vocalists over the years, and current frontman Mike Lessar joined guitarist Robby Baca, bassist Chris Tilley, guitarist Cam Maynard, and drummer Joey Baca in spreading their unique style of “warped time signatures, percussive mathematics and spider-fingered fretwork.” But the group’s half-hour set was just too darn short for many fans, seemingly finished as quickly as it started. One minute they were on, the next minute they were diving into such recent tunes as “Geocentric Confusion” and “Cortical,” and the next minute they were off. But it was a spirited and skilled, raucous set.

Between the Buried and Me

Christopher Long
Between the Buried and Me

It was an all-star multi-band line-up, to be sure. However, this night belonged to the headliners, Between the Buried and Me. The estimated crowd of 2,000 sounded like 10,000 as the pride of Raleigh, North Carolina kicked off its show precisely at 10 pm. Considerably more melodic than the other acts on the bill, BTBAM could perhaps be described stylistically as “Roundabout-meets-Reign in Blood.” Co-founding vocalist/ keyboardist Tommy Rogers and guitarist Paul Waggoner, as well as longtime members guitarist Dustie Warring, bassist Dan Briggs, and drummer Blake Richardson all were in top form as they carved up selections from their latest record, The Parallax II: Future Sequence. Set against the backdrop of a state-of-the-art, Pink Floyd-style visual production, many of the band’s songs at times sounded as closely akin to “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” as to any of today’s modern metal staples, making for a band and show that remains head and shoulders above the competition.

The Safety FireThe ContortionistBetween the Buried and Me