Categories
Screen Reviews

Bush: Live In Tampa

Bush: Live In Tampa

directed by Milton Lage

starring Bush – Gavin Rossdale, Chris Traynor, Corey Britz, Nik Hughes

MVD Video

I was never a huge Bush fan. I always enjoyed their music when it came on the radio (yes, radio). However, I never bought any of their CDs (yes, CDs), or went to any of their concerts. Maybe it was latter day grunge backlash. Maybe it was being focused on finishing undergrad and starting grad school. Whatever it was, I knew very little of Bush beyond their hit singles going into this Live in Tampa set.

The hit singles are here, of course. “Machinehead” starts the show off with a bang. “Everything Zen” shows up early, along with a huge thanks to everyone who has been supporting the band since the beginning. “Glycerine” and “Comedown” close out the show. In between we are treated to lesser known tracks from their early albums and singles from their more recent work, including “Bullet Holes” from the John Wick 3 soundtrack.

Gavin Rossdale (lead vocals/rhythm guitar) has been leading the band since their formation before debut album Sixteen Stone. Lead guitarist Chris Traynor joined the band on tour in 2002 shortly before their hiatus, and bassist Corey Britz joined in 2010 after they reformed. Drummer Nik Hughes joined in 2019. As a group, they have gelled well onstage. Rossdale exudes rock frontman energy, bouncing round the stage like a guy half his age, engaging the crowd with patter between songs. During “Little Things,” he stagedives then runs into the crowd to the lawn seats and back. Unlike a lot of singer-guitarists, the guitar isn’t just a prop for him. While Traynor definitely does the heavy lifting, Rossdale more than competently supports the rhythm section, and deftly nails key riffs in both the recognizable hits and the catalog songs. Flanking him, Traynor and Britz stalk the stage like predators, getting the spotlight when appropriate, but always in the pocket. Unlike most drummers, Hughes is well-lit on a decently sized riser in front of the giant projection screens, so you can see him having an absolute blast throughout the set, especially while John Wick is having gun fights behind him. The sound mix is practically perfect, with the right amount of crowd noise to remind you this is a live show, but never overwhelming the performers.

The set includes a Blu-Ray, DVD, and CD of the concert. The videos include interstitial clips of Rossdale backstage, discussing his youth and the early days of the band. While informative, I was hoping for some stuff with the rest of the band. Interestingly, the audio from the first of these interstitials is included on the CD, but none of the others are. I assume this was to keep the time down to one disc, but why include any of them, when they were already cutting some of the onstage patter between songs? Other than those quirks, the overall package is very well done – three discs and a booklet featuring high quality photos from the show. Special features include the full eleven-minute interview with Rossdale, a slideshow of pictures from the show, and the trailer for this show, along with several other discs including The Pretenders, Jane’s Addiction, and Sheryl Crow.

If you are a Bush fan, you should definitely pick this up, if you haven’t already. If you are like me, and have only been exposed to Bush via their early singles, I urge you to give Live in Tampa a look and listen. It’s a great showcase of a rock band that is still putting on a lively show in front of an excited crowd and works better than just another greatest hits collection. In addition to the three-disc set, a limited-edition vinyl set and a basic digital download of the audio is available on their Bandcamp website.

bushmusic.bandcamp.com/album/live-in-tampa

Categories
Event Reviews

Collective Soul

Collective Soul

Busch Gardens, Tampa, Florida • February 29, 2020

Tampa, Florida’s Busch Gardens Food & Wine Festival Series kicked off its 2020 concert lineup with a bang as ’90s alternative darlings, Collective Soul, played to a packed audience on a very chilly evening. The temperature may have been cold, but the music was red-hot. Freshly purchased Collective Soul swag including zipper hoodies could be seen all about, a smart purchase for many underdressed patrons. Founding frontman, Ed Roland (who now goes by E Roland) and the rest of the post-grunge group offered up 80 minutes of their signature heavy riffs and catchy hooks that have long endeared the multi-platinum rockers to a very loyal fan base. There’s a good reason for that, too.

Dean Roland

Michelle Wilson
Dean Roland

Collective Soul is one of the few acts that successfully blends the heavy stuff with the pop crackle to create an aural triumph. But it’s even more than that. They own the stage from the moment they appear. E Roland’s easy rapport with the crowd combined with the high energy and genuine smiles on stage makes it obvious that these guys still love every minute of what they do. The Georgia-based collective also includes Roland’s brother, guitarist Dean Roland, and bassist Will Turpin, both also original members, as well as guitarist Jesse Triplett and drummer Johnny Rabb.

Will Turpin

Michelle Wilson
Will Turpin

Taking the stage at 8pm after Elvis Costello & The Attractions’ “Pump It Up” engaged the crowd, the band members took their places including the flamboyant frontman, who sported a yellow plaid suit with a black tee shirt and a white cowboy hat. Kicking off strong with “Heavy,” “Why Pt. 2” and “Shine,” everyone was up on their feet dancing and singing along. Roland sat down at the piano and played a beautiful intro to “Shine,” bringing enormous cheers. It happened to be Johnny Rabb’s birthday, so Roland offered Happy Birthday wishes and joked, “leave it to Johnny Rabb to be born on leap year.”

Jesse Triplett

Michelle Wilson
Jesse Triplett


Johnny Rabb

Michelle Wilson
Johnny Rabb

Culling from their career-spanning archives, the Peach State entertainers treated the theme-park throng to such hits as “Better Now,” “Precious Declaration,” “December,” “AYTA (Are You The Answer?), ” “She Said,” “The World I Know,” “Gel,” “Where The River Flows,” and “Run.” Also featured were two tracks off their latest release, Blood (2019), including “Over Me” and “Right As Rain.” E Roland played acoustic guitar on several of the songs. The original show set list had a new tune, “All Our Pieces,” but it was not played at this show.

E Roland

Michelle Wilson
E Roland


Jesse Triplett, E Roland, Will Turpin

Michael Yanko
Jesse Triplett, E Roland, Will Turpin

Paying homage to fellow Georgia boys, Roland and company did an incredible cover of REM’s “The One I Love.” “We’re from Atlanta, Georgia and growing up these guys were our idols. They are only six or eight months older than us,” joked Roland. He explained that they really wanted to do one of their songs because it was very important to them as a band.

Johnny Rabb, Jesse Triplett, Will Turpin, Dean Roland

Michelle Wilson
Johnny Rabb, Jesse Triplett, Will Turpin, Dean Roland


E Roland

Michelle Wilson
E Roland

As a writer and photographer, Collective Soul is one of my absolute favorites to cover. The consummate musicianship and unfeigned stage camaraderie paired with sincere fan interaction all add up to a show that never disappoints and always concludes on a positive, uplifting note. As a concertgoer, you walk away just a little bit lighter than you came in, and that’s a great feeling. Don’t miss Collective Soul if they come through your area. It will be money well spent.

E Roland

Michelle Wilson
E Roland


Check out the full gallery of photos from Rock Legends Photographers.

rocklegendsphotographers.smugmug.com/ROCK-CONCERT-PHOTOS/COLLECTIVE-SOUL-Busch-Gardens-Tampa-FL-2-29-2020

www.collectivesoul.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Paul Rodgers, Jeff Beck and Ann Wilson – Stars Align Tour

Paul Rodgers, Jeff Beck and Ann Wilson – Stars Align Tour

with Deborah Bonham

Midflorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, Tampa, Florida • August 26, 2018

It was a typical humid, somewhat rainy Florida evening when the Stars Align Tour kicked off its last show of the summer in Tampa. The music, however, was anything but typical. There are some shows that are just pure magic, and this was one of them. Iconic recording industry veterans Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company, The Firm), Jeff Beck (The Yardbirds) and Ann Wilson (Heart) treated fans to a cornucopia of aural delights as they each wowed the crowd with their individual sets. As fans streamed into the venue, they were notified that the General Admission lawn seat area would be closed and seating would be provided for them. This was definitely a “seasoned” crowd and likely a welcome turn of events.

Deborah Bonham

Michelle Wilson
Deborah Bonham

Opening the show at 6:35pm with a short but powerful 20-minute set was Deborah Bonham, younger sister of late Led Zeppelin drummer, John Bonham. Joined on guitar by Ian “Tat” Hatton, Bonham’s incredible vocals and impassioned performance provided the perfect prelude to a memorable event. Many people were no doubt surprised and impressed by the British singer’s existence, myself included, not familiar with her before this evening. After hearing her powerhouse voice, however, it is clear that she could have given Robert Plant a run for his money on Zep vocals. It was a privilege to hear her sing “The Old Hyde,” a haunting, bittersweet ballad about the family farm property purchased by and dedicated to her late brother and the home where she grew up, a home he helped build. I have every confidence that Bonham gained many new fans after this concert.

Ann Wilson

Michelle Wilson
Ann Wilson


Ann Wilson

Michelle Wilson
Ann Wilson

At just past 7:00pm, the mighty Ann Wilson and her band took the stage as she belted out eight glorious hits, six of them covers. Wilson focused on her new record (released 9/14), the aptly named Immortal, an album of covers from musicians who have passed on. Kicking off her set with The Who’s “The Real Me” and following it with Heart’s “Barracuda,” the 70s rock chick quickly made her vocal presence known and never stopped. Backed by guitarist Craig Bartock, bassist Andy Stoller, drummer Denny Fongheiser and keyboardist Daniel Walker, Wilson plunged headfirst into her blues-drenched composition, “Fool No More” (co-written with Bartock) before slaying five staggering covers, and making them completely her own. Playing acoustic guitar and tackling Audioslave’s “I Am The Highway” (for Chris Cornell), Wilson then took “Back to Black” (for Amy Winehouse) into unchartered territory with dark and heavy killer vocals that did the late Ms. Winehouse proud. “This is my gothic version,” Wilson joked, but she was quite serious and heartbroken when she mentioned Amy. She described her as a little girl of immense talent with a tortured soul, who had too much too soon and didn’t know how to handle it, but left us with an amazing expression of her soul.

Ann Wilson

Michelle Wilson
Ann Wilson

She then took Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” to new heights with a heavier rock sound, particularly with Bartock’s killer guitar. It was a major statement piece for its time from a singer who, as Wilson put it, was a 17-year-old in 1963 who had three or four big radio hits with light, safe, fun songs, and then all of a sudden, she came out with this – a “gutsy, ballsy move in 1963.” With everything going on in the world today, Wilson brought it out again to “offer respect” and to “cover all types of people.” Honoring the late Glenn Frey, who Wilson described as “one of the greatest songwriters of his era,” she mentioned how The Eagles’ “Life In The Fast Lane” truly described what it was like in the “sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll party days era of the 70s” and launched into her own fabulous version. Bookending the set with another cover from The Who, Wilson tore it up on “Won’t Get Fooled Again” as only she could. A recent Florida transplant, she thanked everyone as one Floridian to another for coming out in the rain. She mentioned what an honor it was to be part of this show and graciously praised Deborah Bonham.

Jeff Beck

Michelle Wilson
Jeff Beck


Jeff Beck

Michelle Wilson
Jeff Beck

It was surely a thrill when The Maestro himself, Jeff Beck, appeared front and center at 8pm to crank out a smokin’ 75 minutes of mind-blowing guitar prowess and searing solos. Mesmerizing to say the least, Beck is one of the most revered guitar players in the world. He makes it look effortless as he bends his strings to achieve the perfect sound. His tight touring band included long-time bassist Rhonda Smith (Prince), iconic drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (Frank Zappa, Sting, Herbie Hancock), singer/harp player Jimmy Hall (Wet Willie) and cellist Vanessa Freebairn-Smith, and the interplay among them was a joy to watch. Whether it was Rhonda beaming from ear to ear while laying down the groove or Freebairn-Smith rockin’ out while caressing notes from her cello, there was a whole lotta fun happening on that stage.

Rhonda Smith and Jeff Beck

Michelle Wilson
Rhonda Smith and Jeff Beck

The diversity of song choice ran the gamut and showcased Beck at his best. Set staples included “Little Wing” (Jimi Hendrix) and “Superstition” (Stevie Wonder), both with Hall on vocals, “A Day In The Life” (John Lennon/Paul McCartney) and of course, “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” (Stevie Wonder). Other standouts included “You Know You Know” (Mahavishnu Orchestra), “Morning Dew” (Bonnie Dobson) and “I Have To Laugh” (Otis Rush), both with Hall on vocals, “Lonnie On The Move” (Lonnie Mack) and “Mná na h- Éireann” (The Chieftains) and “Brush With The Blues” (Tony Hymas/Jeff Beck). “I’d like to play a little short tribute to Jeff Buckley,” said Beck, and then he absolutely slayed “Corpus Christi Carol” (Buckley used the Benjamin Britten version for his interpretation on his 1994 debut album, Grace) while a rapt audience remained unusually but thankfully quiet as the doleful notes floated through the air. Just as the under-two-minute tribute was wrapping up, Hall and his harp reemerged to finish it out with Freddie King’s “Goin’ Down” (Don Nix). It was a fantastic set from a living legend.

Paul Rodgers

Michelle Wilson
Paul Rodgers


Paul Rodgers, Rich Newman and Pete Bullick

Michelle Wilson
Paul Rodgers, Rich Newman and Pete Bullick

As if all of this wasn’t awesome enough in its own right, the final act of the night absolutely stole the show, and the show was pretty darn amazing already. Paul Rodgers graced the stage with his presence at 9:45pm looking and sounding phenomenal, with little chatter and big vocals. His band, Free Spirit, included guitarist Pete Bullick (who also happens to be Bonham’s husband), bassist Ian Rowley, drummer Rich Newman and keyboardist Gerard “G” Louis. The main set list was comprised of hit after hit from the vast Free and Bad Company catalogs, including “Little Bit of Love,” “Wishing Well,” “The Stealer,” “Mr. Big,” “Woman,” and “Fire and Water” from the Free era. “Can’t Get Enough,” “Feel Like Makin’ Love” (with Rodgers on harp), “Ready For Love” (written by Mick Ralphs and originally performed by Mott the Hoople, his prior band, before founding Bad Company with Rodgers, who mentioned that Mick wrote it and that he “says he is doing well” – Rodgers also dedicated it to his wife, Cynthia), “Movin’ On,” and a spectacular rendition of “Shooting Star” covered the Bad Company material. Louis traded keys for acoustic guitar on “Shooting Star” and engaged the audience in a sing-along. Rodgers followed by gracefully thanking all the bands on the tour. “It’s been a great tour and we even had a full moon tonight. Talk about stars aligning! Thank you for being part of our Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy tonight!”

Paul Rodgers and Rich Newman

Michelle Wilson
Paul Rodgers and Rich Newman

Closing it all out with Free’s “Alright Now,” this musical extravaganza came to a phenomenal end at 10:50pm, and I have every confidence that no one walked out disappointed. This was undeniably a top show of the year. Rock on, indeed!

Check out the full galleries of photos from Rock Legends Photographers.

Paul Rodgers photo gallery

Jeff Beck photo gallery

Ann Wilson photo gallery

Deborah Bonham photo gallery

www.paulrodgers.com, jeffbeck.com, www.annwilsonofheart.com, www.deborahbonham.com, www.badcompany.com, www.freetheband.co.uk, “>www.heart-music.com/&end;

Categories
Event Reviews

Chicago

Chicago

with REO Speedwagon

Midflorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, Tampa, FL • July 21, 2018

Living in Florida, we are so privileged to have no shortage of fabulous outdoor venues that offer a variety of musical acts to appeal to every fan. The double bill of REO Speedwagon and Chicago at Tampa’s Midflorida Credit Union Amphitheatre brought out a huge crowd for these long-time favorites. It was a typical Florida evening – hot and humid, with a gorgeous cotton-cloud sunset backdrop.

REO Speedwagon

Michelle Wilson
REO Speedwagon

 

The back lawn held a sea of people and the seated area was packed when REO Speedwagon took the stage at 7:35pm to play just over an hour-long set. Frontman Kevin Cronin still has the pep and zeal of a man half his age, and the vocal chops too. In fact, he has never sounded better, and the band is still having a ball doing what they do, throwing picks, engaging the crowd in clap-alongs and sing-alongs, and offering up major bang for the buck. Backed by founding keyboardist Neal Doughty, bassist Bruce Hall, guitarist Dave Amato and drummer Bryan Hitt, the band packed more punch into their sixty-five minute than most bands do in a full show. The high-energy was contagious, and people were on their feet dancing and singing along for the entire set. Cronin was in high spirits and quite talkative. “We love it here in Tampa! You people surely make us feel right at home!”

REO Speedwagon

Michelle Wilson
REO Speedwagon

REO Speedwagon

Michelle Wilson
REO Speedwagon

REO Speedwagon

Michelle Wilson
REO Speedwagon

 

Opening with “Don’t Let Him Go,” “In Your Letter,” “Keep Pushin’,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Tough Guys,” Cronin paused to reminisce about the early days. “I remember in those days in Florida in the ’70s there was only one song in the entire set that anyone knew, including the band! We milked it for everything it was worth and saved it ’til the end. When the beginning chords would hit, it caught fire. You could feel the vibe change and the feeling in the room changed. We thought, some day we will come back to Tampa, Florida where everyone can sing along to every song we play.” Then the familiar opening notes of “Take It On The Run” wrapped the crowd in a warm, fuzzy blanket and no doubt took everyone back in time to the first moment they heard the song. Amato killed it on guitar as the crowd belted out the lyrics. “Time For Me To Fly” was next and Amato broke out the double-neck guitar for this one, followed by band intros from Cronin.

REO Speedwagon

Michelle Wilson
REO Speedwagon

REO Speedwagon

Michelle Wilson
REO Speedwagon

 

“The people are expecting us to deliver some of that meat and potatoes rock ‘n’ roll. We are about to break out the REO secret weapon, Bruce, who now lives in Orlando,” shared Cronin. Hall gleefully shared his signature song, “Back On The Road Again,” with platinum blond hair blowing in the breeze while he played his bass. “Back on the road, all the way to Tampa, baby!” Cronin joked, and then the band did “Ridin’ The Storm Out.”

“Looking back on your life, you think about minutes that can change your life. In the spring of 1980, we needed a special song. I woke up from a dead sleep at 4am with three chords. I knew it was something special. I grabbed a Sony Walkman tape recorder to make a demo tape. It’s a good thing I did because our lives have never been the same since,” admitted Cronin, as he played the opening piano notes of “Keep On Loving You” with loud cheers from the crowd. “Keep on loving you, Tampa!” shouted Cronin as it ended. They segued into “Roll With The Changes” featuring outstanding Hammond B3 work from Doughty, and Hall’s young son playing a mini-snare drum towards the end. “Do we have time for one more? Look at these people – ok start rockin’, Tampa!” as Cronin pretended to push his guitar tech away. “One of my favorite rock bands is from right here in Florida, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. Tom was my neighbor in Encino, California.” REO closed out their set in tribute to the late Tom Petty with “Listen To Her Heart.”

“We are REO Speedwagon. We love you and we always will, Tampa! Now get ready for our friends in Chicago!” It was a stellar set from beginning to end.

Chicago

Michelle Wilson
Chicago

 

At 9pm, Chicago’s mighty ensemble took the stage while the crowd went down nostalgia lane as photos and footage of the band’s early years flashed on the big screen. There are still four original members of the band left (Robert Lamm/keys/vocals, Lee Loughnane/trumpet, James Pankow/trombone and Walt Parazaider/saxophones/flute), although Parazaider no longer tours. Rounding out the remainder of the band are Ray Hermann/saxophones/flute, Keith Howland/guitar/vocals, Lou Pardini/keyboards/vocals, Brett Simons/bass, Walfredo Reyes, Jr./drums, Ramon Yslas/percussion and Neil Donell/vocals/acoustic guitar.

Chicago

Michelle Wilson
Chicago

Chicago

Michelle Wilson
Chicago

 

In stark contrast to REO’s crowd-pleaser, Chicago left many fans disappointed and frustrated with their somewhat gratuitous offering of Chicago II (1970) in its entirety. The mammoth double-album is rife with socio-political themes of the day (“We were young and stupid and we felt we had something to prove.”) and meant to be heard sequentially, however, they played it out of side order. They opened their set with Side 2, which features “Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon,” the 7-song opus that spawned the hits “Make Me Smile” and “Colour My World.” I “kinda” get why they did it, since opening with “Make Me Smile” immediately got the crowd on-board – but it was short-lived. Rabid fans had to wait until the SEVENTEETH song for the band to throw them a bone – “25 Or 6 To 4” – the other hit from this record. At least it was a good one, and one they knew. But it was way too late in the game. The issue wasn’t really that they played the record; it was that they played it in order, without mixing in the hits. That’s just not something fans want to choke down, even diehards. In fairness to the band, it WAS publicly announced that this was their intention, and that they would play “the world’s longest encore” after the intermission (although this show didn’t have one).

Chicago

Michelle Wilson
Chicago

Chicago

Michael Yanko
Chicago

 

One of the real highlights from Chicago II was the beautiful Terry Kath-penned “Memories Of Love,” with Pankow offering these heartfelt words before the song: “A big part of us was Terry Kath. He’s not with us anymore. Terry was the heart and soul of the band. He left us but left behind a little for us.”

Guitarist Howland’s blistering solo at the end of “Where Do We Go From Here” took the band into the last two songs of the second album, “It Better End Soon” and the Lamm classic, “25 Or 6 To 4,” with the new vocalist, Donell, slaying the erstwhile Peter Cetera vocals.

Chicago

Michelle Wilson
Chicago

Chicago

Michelle Wilson
Chicago

 

Finally through the second album, founding keyboardist/singer Lamm came down from the riser and addressed the audience. “So my name is Robert Lamm. I’m a founding member of Chicago.” After he went through the long list of band intros, the long-awaited stream of hits arrived for which the faithful flocked out. “This one goes out to my wife and kids and you.” And with acoustic guitar in hand, he launched into “Beginnings,” followed by “Dialogue (Part I & II),” “Call On Me” and “If You Leave Me Now.”

Chicago

Michelle Wilson
Chicago

 

“Are you having fun Tampa? [A strategically placed question because many in this crowd definitely were NOT having fun a few minutes earlier, in fact there was a steady stream of people heading for the exit.] “It’s about the music, the fans and you. These next two are two of our favorites,” and they launched into “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” and “You’re The Inspiration,” followed by the Steve Winwood/Jimmy Miller/The Spencer Davis Group hit, “I’m a Man” with incredible drum/percussion solos, “Just You and Me,” “Hard For Me To Say I’m Sorry/Get Away,” “Saturday In The Park” and “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day.” The band is not doing an encore on this tour but just playing the hits straight through to the end.

Overall, it was a great night of music for those who chose to stay until the end. Musically, both bands are still in top form and continue to draw huge crowds to their shows.

Check out the full gallery of Chicago photos from Rock Legends Photographers.

Chicago photo gallery

chicagotheband.com, reospeedwagon.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Goodbye Mr. Ringling.

Goodbye Mr. Ringling.

Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus

Amalie Arena, Tampa • January 30, 2017

Circus Day was a semi-holiday when I was a kid. The Shrine Circus came to Grand Rapids every spring. Circus Day was a get out of school free pass. We’d take the bus downtown and go to the old Civic Auditorium to see the show. The Shrine Circus wasn’t Ringling Brothers. They played smaller venues, but they had everything you’d expect. Lions, elephants, high wire acts, trapeze artists, a brass band and a Ringmaster introducing all the acts. Even when I got to be a sophisticated 5th grader, I still went to the circus because, well, it’s what you did in the springtime.

I have to admit, I haven’t gone to the circus many times since those days in elementary school. Circus Day didn’t extend to middle and high school, so there wasn’t the incentive of a day off from school anymore. Besides, I was a sophisticated teenager. Circus was for kids.

Much later, I caught the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus in St. Petersburg. The Circus is part of the cultural lore of the Tampa Bay area. Venice, Sarasota, Gibsonton are all permanently linked to the circus. I was dating a woman with a young child in the early ’90s and that was my excuse to finally check out The Greatest Show on Earth.

Times change and the circus isn’t what it used to be. There is a lot more competition for the entertainment dollar. Where once, the only place to see crazy people doing death defying acts was the big top, now you have You Tube. Once the main draw at a circus, animal acts have been recognized as often cruel and have been disappearing. The elephants are retired now. In just a few months, The Greatest Show on Earth will be no more. So on January 30th, I joined some friends to see the very last performance by the Ringling Brothers Circus in Tampa.

Circus Extreme is the name of the last Ringling production. The name gives a hint at the changes that have come to the circus in the decades since cut school to see the show. Circus Extreme borrows from X Games with BMX stunt riders replacing the lion tamer. The influence of the modern Cirque movement is everywhere, from the story thread that runs through the show, to the merging of acts for more of a sensory overload to the rock band replacing the old brass band.

It was different, but it was still a Ringling Circus. Kristen Michelle Wilson, the first female ringmaster was more than just the MC is a fancy jacket. She spun the story uniting the acts. Narrating the adventure of searching for the best acts from around the world using story and song. She did an amazing job.

Some of the acts looked tired. The tigers were the only real old school animal act, and they looked ready to retire. Their trainer said that his captive born tigers have been with him for 12 years. The tigers looked cute and a little bored, like they knew their time in the ring was almost over. Tigers being cute are a world away from the death defying daring of a classic big cat act. By comparison, the poodle act that followed seemed energized and appropriately comic. The tiger trainer took a few minutes at the end of his act to acknowledge that this was the last time he’s ever performing in Tampa. Ringmaster Wilson also acknowledged the passing of an era at the end of the show. It’s the end of a 146-year-old tradition. The circus train will never be back in Tampa.

Well, that may not be exactly true. Circus is a culture unto itself. Back in the 1950’s the death of the circus was announced when Ringling gave up the tent show for arenas. While the biggest show has folded tent for the last time, other shows carry on. And while the traditional circus has been fading, modern variations like Cirque du Soleil have been steadily gaining in popularity. So while January 30th was the end of the Ringling era in Tampa, some form of the show (circus) will go on.

www.ringling.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Big Guava Festival featuring Outkast, Vampire Weekend, Foster th

Big Guava Festival featuring Outkast, Vampire Weekend, Foster the People

with Cake, Tegan & Sara, Twenty One Pilots, Girltalk, Violent Femmes, HAIM, Grouplove,

Tampa, FL • May 2-4

As I first gazed upon an artist line-up for the inaugural Big Guava Festival, I found an interesting mix of bands old and new — a large indie showing to pique my interest, plus enough established acts that already had it. Perhaps my new favorite band might be lurking just offstage! However, as Friday, May 2 rolled around, so did a nasty system from the Gulf that proceeded to belch rain in record amounts for most of the day. Halfway across the state I nearly aborted the mission, but realizing the show would go on I stayed the course.

Thankfully, the fairgrounds were nicely laid out with two stages covered and two outdoors. Most commuting could be done via pavement, thereby avoiding a Woodstock-esque bog. We were greeted by an awesome mid-way with rides, games, giant stuffed animals, and funnel cakes. Local food trucks and craft beer vendors provided ample options for food and drink. Sadly, they may have been most affected by Friday’s deluge.

The rain did let up somewhat for the opening acts at 4pm — Betty Who and NONONO kicked off on the outdoor stages followed by Smallpools, a recently formed four-piece indie pop/synth performing songs from their EP “Have a Great Summer!”. The set included their breakout hit “Dreaming” and a cover of New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give”.

Sleigh Bells

Phillip Haire
Sleigh Bells

I ducked into the Expo hall (Nectar stage), to check Twenty-One Pilots and dry off a bit. This was my first glimpse at a highly anticipated act whose fans had been in wait nearly two hours. The duo emerged in their trademark masks, settling to a piano and drum set for openers “Guns for Hands”, “Migraine”, and “Ode to Sleep”. Once unmasked, Pilots took on Tears for Fears classic “Mad World”, an apparent staple at their live shows. The high-energy set also featured members launching and back flipping off the piano, “dueling drums”, and a drum kit into the audience (yes, they held Josh Dun AND the platform), all whilst Tyler Joseph is rapping/lamenting “Semi-Automatic”, “Fake You Out”, and others. “Trees” served as an encore. I now feel I am in the groove of this Guava weekend and Mother Nature can suck it!

Brooklyn’s Sleigh Bells had the distinction to open the main (Big Guava) stage, and did they ever! With towers of light, volume at eleven, and Alexis Krauss’ powerhouse vocals on deck, we were treated the “heavier” side of Guava. Sleigh Bells’ music is woven through many corporate channels (Apple, Dr Pepper, movie and TV), yet they maintain a rock core while enjoying mainstream success.

Cake

Phillip Haire
Cake

Moving back to Nectar, I was on high alert for Cake, who had eluded me all these years until now. Although difficult to squeeze twenty years of music into an hour set, John McCrea and Co. did a nice job of weaving through their seven albums. “Rock & Roll Lifestyle” kicked things off and “Sheep Go to Heaven” allowed for some crowd involvement. “Its Coming Down” plus a nod to Willie Nelson’s birthday, the classic “Sad Songs & Waltzes” took us back to 1996’s Fashion Nugget. Cake’s last release, 2011’s Showroom of Compassion, generated several including “Mustache Man”, “Long Time”, and “Sick of You”. McCrea, Vince DiFiore on trumpet, and the band sounded great as they finished off with “Never There” and, of course, “The Distance”.

Finally, back to the Big Guava stage for tonight’s main event, the twentieth reunion tour of Outkast! Having reunited for Coachella and an ensuing world tour, this was a rare opportunity for a live performance from a duo eager for airplay during my time as a college radio DJ back in the day. The only thing to prep us for the show was a large, draped cube center stage. As the lights dropped, a red glow overtook the cube and quickly dropped to show the silhouettes of Andre’ 3000 and Big Boi sitting at a small table, reminiscent of their days in Big’s Georgia kitchen. They launched into “B.O.B.” and exited the cube where we first see Andre’ in a puffy jumpsuit with F#CK 3000 on the front and a “price tag” attached reading “for sale” on one side and “sold out” on the other, completing the ensemble with a short white wig. WTF?!? Big Boi pretty much sported basic rapper attire (shorts, hat, chains). We were treated to a solid opening set which featured a couple album title tracks — “ATLiens” and “Aquemini”. “Rosa Parks”, “Ms. Jackson”, and “Skew it on the Bar-B” also got the stage treatment with Andre’ in constant motion, twisting and contorting all the while. I thought sure he would make a wardrobe change as he was dripping sweat from the humidity and activity, but alas he kept it going as we moved to a solo set by each.

Outkast

Phillip Haire
Outkast

Big Boi’s consisted of a killer trio starting with “Kryponite”, “Ghettomusick”, and rapper Sleepy Brown joining in for “The Way You Move”. While Big gets his break, ‘Dre drops “She Lives in My Lap”, “Prototype”, and firing up the crowd with “Hey Ya” — all this going on along with an incredible visual backdrop, most times with scantily clad ladies and trippy graphics. They take a moment to talk about the old days starting out, practicing after school, getting their first break, etc before kicking some older material like “Crumblin Erb”, “Players Ball”, and “Elevators” among others. The final blast was epic! “Roses”, “So Fresh, So Clean”, and an homage to all their old school heroes that paved the way for Outkast success. An Underground Kingz tune. “International Players Anthem”, proved a fitting finale.

Considering the weather, turnout was respectable and those who showed were treated to some incredible first day talent!

Saturday brought steady rain all morning and thoughts of a potential wash-out. We were graced again with a gradual slackening throughout the day and spirits were not about to be dampened.
-bm I got to many acts the next two days, but the reality of festival going is you can’t see it all and I can’t transcribe it all. Therefore, in an attempt to get in as much as my legs would carry me, and my notepad would remind me, I hope to share, and stay true to, the total experience. And, away we go…

Up first, Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas from Detroit. Their short set basically consisted of their Demon EP and a few others. I think this is one to watch– Hernandez has the vocals covered and the band has a tight horn section to compliment the rocking sound. Speaking of rocking, Miami’s Jacuzzi boys had the most straight-ahead, stripped down rock sound of the entire festival. Dug it! I caught fleeting glimpses of American Authors, who drew a nice crowd (of young girls). A charismatic group with an upbeat approach, they also integrate banjo and mandolin to maintain a fresh sound. I was able to hear them do “Best Day of My Life”, one of their most popular, and a few others from the album Oh, What a Life. Civil Twilight, on the other hand, had a bit more moody jam-band feel that I really enjoyed. Anchored by South African brothers Steven and Andrew McKellar, Civil Twilight is riding a wave of success from constant touring and usage of their music in television. There was a cool synergy in the falsetto vocals, keyboards, feedback, and lush sound they produce — something that could easily become a hot mess without the proper elements in place.

Bear Hands

Phillip Haire
Bear Hands

Bear Hands are one of the bands I was eager to see live and they did not disappoint! I, like most, had heard their breakout song “Giants” and wanted to see how they would bring it live. We were treated to most of the Deception album, which delves into many real-life issues the band has experienced. “Bad Friend” and “Crime Pays” come to mind! They translate it through an infectious punk/psychedelia. Hopefully, some of the delays that have hindered the band to date are behind them and they can keep moving forward!

I stated previously my new favorite band may be about… After seeing them live, Band of Skulls get the nod! This English trio is for real, folks, and they earned it the hard way — touring their ass off and letting their music to the talking! We got a sampling from all three Skull’s records — “Devil Takes Care of Its Own”, “Death by Diamonds and Pearls” and “Asleep at the Wheel”, all provided a straight-ahead rock experience.

Haim

Phillip Haire
Haim

The Big Guava stage’s first familial gathering was with HAIM, three multi-talented sisters whose accolades are no joke. I was impressed with how seamlessly they seem to float through songs, and harmony — no easy task. Not shying away from comparisons to Fleetwood Mac, “Oh Well” found its way into the playlist along with most songs from Days Are Gone. I enjoyed the undeniable catchiness of “If I Could Change Your Mind” and the more headstrong “Let Me Go”. -bm Brothers Justin and Jeremy Furstenfeld bring alt-rock group Blue October to stage next. Formed in the mid-nineties, they had plenty of material to pull from. I remember the song “Hate Me” (which they performed), along with material from their latest, Foil. Some cool, moody rock infused with violin and cello.

Tegan and Sara

Phillip Haire
Tegan and Sara

As our family continues to expand, we move to Canadian sisters Tegan and Sara, who drew quite a crowd and wasted no time, opening with “Back in Your Head”. Their pixie looks and charm were fun and relaxed. Tegan did most of the banter, speaking of being in Florida’s heat and sis Sara’s mansion purchase in Boca Raton (Sara says she lives in Orlando). After several songs, they gave a shout-out to Tiesto and played “Feel it in My Bones” followed by, as Tegan said, an alt-country song “Living Room”. They moved through many songs before ending with “Closer”. Tegan and Sara were a great prep for the remaining three bands of the evening.

Slightly Stoopid brought their Cali-drenched rhythms to the Grove Stage, of course encouraging the fans to “fire up & join in!” I, however, soon had to make a break to check out Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience! Zep is where I lived as a teen so this was not to be missed. There was a suprising turnout of both young and old to witness Jason’s commanding presence on center stage, sporting the three-ring symbol synonymous with his father.
-bm The band was right on point as they belted out “Rock and Roll”, “The Ocean”, and “Thank You”, a personal wish from Jason to the crowd as he recalled many special moments with his father while in-state. Killer versions of “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, “When the Levee Breaks”, and “Kashmir” highlighted the power of Bonham’s drumming prowess, naturally finishing with “Stairway to Heaven”–just enough time to haul ass to the main stage for Vampire Weekend.

Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience

Phillip Haire
Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience

I had seen Vampire Weekend live shortly after their debut release blew up on college radio. It was a fresh, pure sound that captured us as they played the entire record, a couple covers when Ezra Koenig politely declared, “that’s all the songs we have for now, we’ll keep working on more”. Fast forward to current indie darlings who are headlining tours, festivals, etc worldwide! VW have stayed true to their sound almost to a fault in my opinion. Sure, there was the grand stage set-up, smoke machines, khaki shorts, and the rest, but the live performance is rather one-dimensional. They mixed songs from all three albums nicely through the set, starting with the newer “Diane Young”, moving to “White Sky” from Contra, then to “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” from the debut. The band is tight, no doubt, and they exhibit the range from “Everlasting Love” to “A Punk”. The hour and a half set also featured “Ya Hey”, “Oxford Comma” and “Obvious Bicycle”, which led us to a short break before the encore. “Hannah Hunt” opened followed by “One (Blake’s Got A New Face), and a spirited version of “Walcott” to send us dancing into the night.

Vampire Weekend

Phillip Haire
Vampire Weekend

Sunday opened with sun, glorious sun! The final day was sure to be hopping and proved to be so with many bands of the day presenting a synth-poppy feel, definitely attracting a younger, following. Among them, Magic Man, St Lucia, Walk the Moon, and Timeflies, who had an EDM vibe working at Big Guava stage.

I was impressed by an early performance from MS MR. The duo delivered the goods from their Secondhand Rapture release showcasing a cool, vintage sound. Stay tuned for new music from MS MR!

Rap/Hip-hop was also represented today — while I missed the Earl Sweatshirt set, I made time for Chance the Rapper. Chance has been getting a lot of exposure in the last year or so from his acclaimed Acid Rap mix-tape and festival circuit. I felt Chance lived up to the hype with his rhymes and backing band, complete with horn section. Most in the audience were line for line with him, a testament to his following as he burned his nervous energy off on “Juice”, “NaNa”, and “Smoke Again”.

Back at the Big Guava stage, Grouplove presented themselves as a real contender via Hannah Hooper’s vocals and strong instrumental backup. Mostly in support of last year’s Spreading Rumors release, “Im With You” opened the show, with a heavy synth backbeat., followed by more fun, melodic rock. “Rasberry”, “Shark Attack”, and “Hippy Hill” were also highlights from the new record. Grouplove had some fun with a Beyonce’ cover “Drunk in Love”. Their early hit “Colours” closed the set.

Violent Femmes

Phillip Haire
Violent Femmes

I now face a festival quandary–two bands overlapping, what to do?!? I opted for the entire Violent Femmes set, of course! As the “elder statesmen” of alternative, they wisely chose to play their self-titled album in its entirety, encompassing many Femmes “hits” — “Blister in the Sun”, “Add it Up”, “Kiss Off”, and “Gone Daddy Gone”. Victor DeLorenzo, a recent addition on perecussion, provided an energetic beat to Gano’s simple, stoic delivery. Although amicable enough, with some light banter, he was mostly running through songs to fit within the hour confines. The Horns of Dilemna were present to really accentuate the songs. Former Stooges sax-man Steve McKay even made the tour and sounded great! “Give Me the Car” and “American Music” rounded out this much-anticipated set.

A mad-dash over to Nectar Stage found Girltalk already wreaking full-on party mayhem. A stage filled with people dancing and giant inflatable feet and hands extended upward as if on your back, Gillis held court with his endless mash-up of samples mixed seamlessly as if he is an other-worldly wizard. Having seen Girltalk live before, I am no less amazed at his skill and prowess to keep everything controlled amid the chaos of balloons, confetti, and toilet paper guns. His set was from 7-8:15pm–much too early! The energy and enthusiasm he generates would best be served as a closing act. “It will be hell for Foster the People to follow up an act like that”, shaking my head as the show came to a climatic finale.

Foster the People

Phillip Haire
Foster the People

I had only limited exposure to Foster The People, save for the cross-over hits “Pumped Up Kicks” and “Don’t Stop”, both brilliant, catchy songs. As they emerged live, I witnessed a much more talented and well-rounded group, with a confident namesake/vocalist Mark Foster at the helm. Sure, they have the looks and coiffed hair, enough to sustain similar indie pop groups, however, FTP crafts songs very effectively using keyboard/synthesizer as the base for Foster’s multi-range vocals. Opening with “Life on the Nickel” from the debut Torches, FTP had it all: big stage show, lights, presence, and fan base! They got in about a dozen songs before the encore — Much of it taken from Supermodel, “Ask Yourself”, “Coming of Age”, “Are You What You Want to Be?”, an acoustic “Goats in Trees” to name a few. The obligatory encore was entirely from Torches — “Helena Beat”, “Pumped Up Kicks”, and a rousing “Don’t Stop” proved an appropriate close the 2014 Big Guava.

While there are shortcomings to the “festival format”, the beauty lies in exposure to many bands to whom you would either not get access, or have to chase down individually, spending tons of time and dough in the process. Big Guava opened my aged eyes to many new bands on the cusp of “big-time” or currently enjoying the peak of their popularity. My thanks go out to Live Nation and Florida State Fairgrounds staff for a great job hosting what I hope will become a bigger, juicier Guava in 2015!

Big Guava Festival: www.bigguavafestival.com

Categories
Info

Big Guava Festival

Big Guava Festival

Tampa, FL May 2-4, 2014

The inaugural Big Guava Festival opens an exciting new chapter for Central Florida’s music scene! Taking place over three days, (May 2-4 2014), at the Florida State Fairgrounds and Mid-Florida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa, Big Guava brings four stages of top live acts plus a Monster Midway of free and unlimited carnival-styled rides.

Headliners include Vampire Weekend, one of the most critically acclaimed bands on the scene today; recently reunited hip-hop duo Outkast, Foster the People, whose catchy indie sound has garnered mainstream attention; Cake will bring their unique sounds as will sisters Tegan and Sara. Lay back to the dubbed out rhythms of Slightly Stoopid, then cut loose with the high octane mash-up maestro, Girl Talk. Venerable cult band and fan faves, Violent Femmes, also make an appearance.

Additional performers like Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience, Chance the Rapper, Band of Skulls, Bear Hands, HAIM, Grouplove, and more will showcase a variety of genres and talent at one amazing event! In addition to great music and thrill rides, Big Guava is stepping it up with more than just funnel cakes and cheap beer. Food trucks from all over the Tampa Bay area will bring multiple culinary options while craft beer gardens will provide refreshing libations to the most discerning palates.

For complete artist information, line-up schedules, and to purchase tickets, go to:

www.bigguavafest.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Merchandise

Merchandise

Atlantic Nightspot; Gainesville, FL • April 9, 2013

In another (not too distant time), a Merchandise show would be heralded by the likes of Tony Wilson or Alan McGee screaming at us to WAKE THE FUCK UP, Stone Roses or Echo and the Bunnymen-style, and that this is the real deal. And indeed, there were so many points during their Gainesville set where I felt myself on the verge of a swoon. Merchandise’s recent album, Children of Desire, was deeply romantic music, and played live with total abandon, well, it’s the kind of thing that can make you fall in love with guitar music again. Were there hints of Morrissey at his early ’90s best? Yes, there were, as was a lingering whiff of The Chameleons. It was that kind of a night.

Matthew Moyer

Merchandise is that rarest of Florida music phenomena, a hometown band on the rise that everyone doesn’t hate the fuck out of. So many musicians that I know have stories of this or that member of the band who let them crash at their pad, booked them a show, etc. And the various members of Merchandise have logged serious time in the deep Florida underground, with other projects like Cult Ritual, Church Whip, Volcanic Slut, and Bloodwave. Indeed, they treat these “side” projects (a somewhat unfair designation) as equally important to the main entity. Even stranger, it’s all quality music, and it’s all being released at an astonishing rate in stark defiance of marketplace maxims.

But does it rock? Dude, yes it does.

Matthew Moyer

Three of the best songs from Children Of Desire form the jeweled spine of the set. “Time” and “Become What You Are” are the undisputed highlights of the night. Everyone in the room gets all choked up and starts slow-dancing with themselves as these numbers unfold, and they’re HUGE songs. These are the missing pieces from ’80s soundtracks that Richard Butler and Ian McCulloch are fucking kicking themselves for not writing, with choruses made to be scrawled on sweaty love notes. God! They close the night with a number off the new album, Totale Nite, mastered by Sonic Boom (points for rock history knowledge), on Night People Records — just the fact that they’re still releasing records on smaller, passionate labels over “indie” giants is somewhat a statement in itself — and it’s a mindfuck. Imagine the Smiths crossed with FunHouse-era Stooges. It’s a jagged mantra, building without cresting, complete with their own Steve Mackey-esque sax player. Intense.

Matthew Moyer

But did you ever get the feeling that maybe things are getting too good? (I miss the drum machine!) Merchandise’s music is increasingly anthemic (almost effortlessly so) and the crowd pressed up against the band sways back and forth ecstatically in a way that I haven’t seen since Morrissey’s Your Arsenal tour a couple of decades ago. Will they be swallowed whole by the entertainment industry borg? Is resistance futile? I don’t know for sure, I’m hoping not. Their heads, and more importantly, their hearts are in the right place, so maybe the good guys will win for once.

Merchandise: merchandisetheband.wordpress.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Tegan and Sara

Tegan and Sara

with Holly Miranda, Steel Train

Tampa Theatre, Tampa, Fl • February 20, 2010

Pushing the indoor estrogen levels to a dangerous degree, Tegan & Sara brought their current tour to a sold-out crowd at the Tampa Theatre. It may come as a surprise to some, but these cute-as-buttons Canadian, guitar playin’, indie folk song singin’ twins have got one hell of a rabid fan base. So much so that the venue brought in added security, just in case the ladies in the audience got a little too raving fan on the pixies onstage.

Tegan and Sara

Jen Cray
Tegan and Sara

You know how pre-teen girls go absolutely NUTS for whatever teenybopper heartthrob is gracing the magazine covers at the moment? Tegan & Sara are like the Twilight hunks for lesbians. It can be intense. Luckily, the night passed without incident, other than a few breaking hearts and happy tears, and the twins made it through with their clothes intact.

Sara Quin

Jen Cray
Sara Quin

Before the night’s guests of honor stepped into the light, early sets by Steel Train and Holly Miranda went over reasonably well. The lobby remained crowded with the mingling masses and beer drinkers lined up for their chosen poisons, but enough stayed in their seats to give the two openers a fair listen.

Tegan Quin

Jen Cray
Tegan Quin

Both the lobby, the bars, and the seats were soon to be emptied. “You guys look like a crowd that would rather be standing up. Please, feel free,” Tegan Quin announced before strumming her first note. Bottoms peeled off of the cushy chairs and fans rushed to the front of the stage and down the aisles, throwing all pretense of assigned seats to the wind. Faster than you could say “I’m sure glad I didn’t buy a front row ticket off of eBay for $1,000,” the room took on the free-for-all feel of a general admission show.

Sara Quin

Jen Cray
Sara Quin

With an arsenal of perfect pop songs to pull from — think early Ani DiFranco mixed with The Butchies and smoothed out with a little Rilo Kiley — Tegan & Sara had little trouble putting together a mouthwatering setlist. Starting with a trio of songs off of their latest — and best thus far — release, Sainthood, the pair casually played through a nearly two-hour set of music mixed with dear diary worthy anecdotes — told mostly by the chattier twin, Tegan. Fans were let in on the details of everything from the girls’ karate tournament past, Monopoly games taken way too seriously, and failed attempts at surf lessons.

Also confessed was Tegan’s obsession with the cult classic ’90s TV series, My So-Called Life. “That’s (my) barometer that (I) compare everything in my life to… when I think back to high school, I get confused because I think about my experiences and then I think about Jordan and Angela.” Though entirely off point and unrelated, not only to the following song (“Red Belt”) but to this review, its worth noting for two reasons: 1. a Tegan & Sara show involves a lot of rambling, and 2. this little ’90s refugee can FULLY relate to Tegan’s My So-Called Life addiction! Thank you, Tegan, it needed to be said!

Tegan Quin

Jen Cray
Tegan Quin

Between tales from the Quin household, the duo played the new album pretty much in its entirety as well as choice tracks from their most popular past records — only delving deeper than 2004’s So Jealous for the encore, “Living Room,” which dates back to 2002. “The Con,” “Back in Your Head,” and “Walking With a Ghost” elicited extra special applause, even though these older hits pale in comparison to the likes of the newer material like “The Cure,” “Hell,” and “The Ocean” which show a maturity both in songwriting and voice.

Tegan and Sara

Jen Cray
Tegan and Sara

Dramatic spotlights, songs that rip at the heart strings with a world-weary sense of humor, teary-eyed faces staring adoringly at the stage, and the impossibly complementary harmonies that came from the stage helped make this one well spent Saturday night.

To see more photos from this show, and others, go to www.jencray.com.

Tegan and Sara: www.teganandsara.com

Categories
Event Reviews

U2

U2

with Muse

Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL • October 9, 2009

Beneath the October night sky, grounded within a football stadium, yet a mere phone call away from outer space, nearly 75,000 fans united for the grandest rock concert in history courtesy of the biggest band in the world, U2. Their sole Florida date at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa was less of a concert and more of a moment shared between strangers. The Gulf breeze, the planes passing overhead, the never-ending waves of people that reached up to the heavens, and the music of a band at the top of its game suspended reality for all in attendance, if only for a couple of hours on a Friday night.

U2, lookin' pretty fly for a bunch of white guys.

Jen Cray
U2, lookin’ pretty fly for a bunch of white guys.

Joining the Irish quartet on this, its biggest tour since 1997’s Popmart, was Muse — a band that is only beginning to get the kind of recognition here in the States that they’ve long been receiving in their native England. Because of a strict no-reentry policy, my Muse experience was limited to what I could hear from the backstage press area, however the performance was impressive enough to win over my girlfriend who had, up until this night, been a staunch Muse non-fan. The powerful, fan-turning trio closed out its set with “Time Is Running Out” as the cheers reached a crescendo that must have warmed the band members’ hearts dearly. Muse has, at long last, landed in America.

Bono, busting veins with or without you.

Jen Cray
Bono, busting veins with or without you.

What was initially dubbed “The Claw” has since become known as “The Spaceship” due to its out-of-this-world scope. Walking under, between, and inside of the beautiful monstrosity that is the U2 360º Tour stage, it is easy to get lost in the epic scale of not just the stage but the production as a whole. A credit to the band is that they manage to not get lost inside of it themselves. The Spaceship serves as not only an all-encompassing setting for the stage, but as a sound system so state of the art that it can clearly be heard, and seen, from the parking lots that surround the stadium. With all of its bells and whistles, moving bridges, and flexible video screens, there was surprisingly little in the way of schtick on this tour. Unlike Popmart, with its golden arch, Lemon ship, and Bono’s muscle man suit, the performance was pretty straightforward. The band took their turns around the oval-shaped catwalk, putting them closer to the fans further out, but for the most part they just played their songs and played them well.

The Edge, under an Indian Summer Sky.

Jen Cray
The Edge, under an Indian Summer Sky.

As the lights fell and the ship ignited in a visual smorgasbord of color and video, David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” blared through its 200 speakers, and drummer Larry Mullen walked out in a cloud of smoke to play the opening notes of the evening’s flawless set. Space was a third-party player behind the band and the audience, from the cloudless sky that peeked inside the Tampa Bay Buccaneer’s home turf, to the live video chat that Bono had with Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté who was orbiting Earth in the International Space Station at the time. You read that right. Bono called Outer Space.

Don't do it, Bono!

Jen Cray
Don’t do it, Bono!

Opening up with a pair of songs from their latest album (their twelfth) No Line on the Horizon, before falling into a trio of ear-pleasing favorites that included the first classic of the night, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” the two-hour plus set was piled up with all of those songs you’d expect the band to play (“One,” “With or Without You,” “Where the Streets Have No Name”). But what was most impressive was how quickly the songs from the last few albums are falling in line between those greatest hits. “Stuck in a Moment,” “Elevation,” “Walk On,” and “Beautiful Day” evoke the same chills and choke me up just as easily. The Edge’s unmistakable guitar sound swims around inside of Bono’s soulful approach to rock vocals, and quietly holding down the fort is bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Mullen. Not only does this band sound better than ever and look not a day over 40, but they’re making some of the most exciting music of their career. The brand new songs still have that indefinable U2 quality that makes you want to cry and laugh all at the same time.

Bono

Jen Cray
Bono

Thirty three years into their career, they’re still making music that touches. They don’t need a 150-foot high stage that requires 120 trucks to transport it from gig to gig, but the mere fact that they still feel the need to challenge themselves and give their fans something extra is one more testament to the special something that music lovers have in a band like U2.

To see more photos from this show, and others, go to www.jencray.com.

U2: www.u2.com