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One last look back at 2011

Here’s my 2011 list of concerts.  A little shorter than some years, but I had a lot of work distractions in the past year, so it’s actually a pretty good tally all things considered.  There’s a lot of quality there and a few once in lifetime shows.  I’ll make a few individual notes where appropriate  (But, of course there’s a review of each if you’re so inclined to read more.

Phil Vassar – A nice little private show at the PCMA conference for people with a CMP designation.  Fun and loose show.

Robert Randolph & the Family Band

Chromeo – A bit of a letdown, but I’m still hoping to see them again and see how they evolve.

Richard Cheese & Lounge Against the Machine

Delgado Brothers

Jeff Beck & Imelda May – Once in a lifetime and one of the best shows I saw all year.

Prince – Another show that for all the hype was a bit of letdown.

Doheny Blues Fest – Tedeschi/Trucks, John Fogerty, Experience Hendrix, Mavis Staples, The Blasters, Funky Meters, Big Head Blues Club, (Plus others) – Two great days on the beach.  A couple misses, but mostly hits. Tedeschi/Trucks being the very best of day 1 and the Blasters the best of Day 2

KSBR Birthday Bash – Brenda Russell, Kieko Matsui, Brian Bromberg, Dan Siegel, (Plus others) – A really cool gift from my friend Eliott.

Eels – Confounding and complex.  It was great in some very unexplainable ways.

U2 & Lenny Kravitz (2x) – Night 2 was the better of the two nights, both were strong but night 2 has the edge (pun intended).

Weird Al

Kansas & Blue Oyster Cult – Not very good, one of the most disappointing shows of the year for me.

Rock Candy Funk Party – Going back in January, a top five evening and surprisingly it’s not once in a lifetime, looking forward to it very much.

Barenaked Ladies – Good, but not great.  More and more I miss Stephen Page.

Return to Forever & Zappa Plays Zappa – I’d say that along with Jeff Beck this were the most amazingly talented musicians I saw all year…or in many years.

Frank Turner – My best find of 2011.  Seeing him in February once again!

Fountains Of Wayne – I wanted this to be better, bit it wasn’t up to the pervious levels I’d seen them perform at.

Airborne Toxic Event – Another cool find of 2011 and this was the Filmore show in SF that was really cool.

Big Head Todd w/Ruthie Foster and Charlie Musselwhite – Again, a sort of letdown show and slightly disappointing overall.

Airborne Toxic Event, Tokyo Police Club, Built to Spill – Good headliner, the rest of the bill was hit and miss.

Bob Segar – Just reviewed, the man still has it!  Great show.

So there you have it.  My 2011 in a nutshell.

Looking ahead to 2011 I already have four shows slated.  Joe Bonamassa, Frank Turner, Social Distortion and Roger Waters.  Plus, I know Springsteen is touring.  So, lots to be excited about in the coming year.  Thanks as always for reading!  Happy New Year!


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LA101 Fest – LA Weekly – Gibson Amphitheater – October 23, 2011

Continuing with my theme of reviewing out of order (and late)…mostly because I had time to do the bulk of the review at the show on my phone before I got home.  Here is the review of my second Airborne Toxic Event show in five days.  (Of course it’s taken me almost a week to wrap this up to actually post.)

A quiet laid back So Cal Sunday was the start to my last of five shows in less than two weeks. Combined with work travel I was pretty worn down and decided not to worry about arriving in time for the 3:00pm gates and the earlier outdoor acts. The fact that I’d just seen one if them up at the Fillmore (The Drowning Men) and wasn’t that impressed helped the decision a bit.

I rolled up and parked around 5:30 and grabbed a quick Tommy burger at City Walk. When I entered at about 6:15 there was a band called: Electric Guest playing. They weren’t horrible, nor were they memorable. The lead singer had a weird sort of vocal style that did nothing for me.  I stayed for a couple songs, but wasn’t feeling they were going to improve much, I decided to wander a bit.

I walked the rest if the Festival Area in from of the Gibson.  It was an odd mix of charities, food trucks and oddball exhibits. McDonalds was giving free Smoothie samples in-between the National Dodgeball Association and a charity to save the Los Angeles River (such as it is I guess…)  They also had a couple ping pong tables if you were so inclined.  To me it just felt tossed together and sort of half-assed.  Much like the promotion had been for the show itself.  I scanned the LA Weekly website a few days before the show and could find any good info….no list of bands playing outside, no list of exhibitors.  It was a very weak effort on their part and that was reflected in the weird mix and vibe outside.

The doors opened at 6:30, so I went inside to await the 7:15 start, which thankfully was right on time. As a bonus, the engineer seemed hooked on the Beatles, so a nice soundtrack to wait with…certainly better than Electric Guest outside (sorry boys, keep at it and maybe things will improve.)  Inside the Gibson was less a festival and more a straight ahead rock show.  The only trace of “festival” was the crawl of sponsors on the screen between acts.

Delta Spirit was up first.

I had picked up their CD “History from Below” to try and get a sense of them going in.  They (on CD and live) were a grungy mix of country rock…a dash of Fogerty, a smidgen of Neil Young.  The first song “Bushwick Blues” showed them off to decent effect.  They had a cool sort of dual drum sound where the keyboard player would move over and play a small kit in front of the drum riser.  But, they showed off two new songs that they announced as “Torn in Two” and “Tear it Up”.  Both seemed a little trite lyrically and didn’t seem headed in a good direction if they represent their new material.  Not the worst band by far, but a long way still from being compelling enough to climb the bill…or to convince me to head back and see them again.  Their set was a tight 45 minutes and really about the right length for what they had to offer.  (A polite way to say they didn’t leave me wanting more….)

Here’s a live version of “Bushwick Blues”…again, they weren’t awful, they just need some work.

Built to Spill was up next:

Honestly, at an hour they played too long.  The mix was bad, and the lead singers faint and wistful vocals were buried under a wall of three droning guitars.  They have a great reputation, but they were a bad fit for this bill (judging from the bored looks of those around me) their set was lost on the majority of the half filled amphitheater.  They would fit right in with Pavement or Modest Mouse….

This song “Conventional Wisdom” had a cool jammy sort of feel to it.  But, by the end of the set they’d lost me to stand up and stretch my legs in the lobby.

Third on the bill was Tokyo Police Club:

They were ernest and energetic…and somewhat average.  I realized that so many of the “indie” bands basically have a very similar sound and in fact are not very “independent” at all.  The weirder ones, go too far off the map the the more mainstream ones end up sounding alike and sort of boring.  I’d bought Elephant Shell and listened to it a few times.  But, there just wasn’t much to set them apart.  In a weird way they made me think of Two Door Cinema Club who I saw at Glastonbury and liked…but, without some key ingredient (Glastonbury, I suppose?) in their case.  And for no particular reason, I also thought they were a bit like what the cast of Big Bang Theory would look and sound like if they somehow formed a band.

They had some challenges getting the audience engaged as well, even though the arena was about 2/3 full at this point.  They tried a sing along and got a fairly tepid response on “Elephant Shell”…but even worse, near the end they did a “ooooh ooh ooooh ooh oooooo” sing along that tread dangerously close to “Bob and Doug – Take Off to the Great White North” territory….I don’t think that was the sound they were looking for…even if they are from Toronto….

Here’s their second song, “Nature of the Experiment”

Which brings me to Airborne Toxic Event and the second show in less than a week.  At this point the hall was about 3/4 full, not a bad turnout and about three times the size of the crowd I’d seen them at in San Francisco.  They were stellar, as good as the Fillmore, but in a slightly different way.

The biggest change was the addition of an orchestra, yep a full orchestra for about half of the show.  (The Herb Alpert Orchestra and actually there was a small girls choir on some songs as well).  As you can imagine, the addition of so much musical firepower added some layers of depth and color to some of the songs.  Yet, I actually think the smaller Fillmore had brought out the best in the band as a straight ensemble.  Plus, the thought the Fillmore selections, which were slightly different were also slightly better.

Starting once again with “All at Once” into “Half of Something Else” and then inserting “Wishing Well” into the set before “Letter to Georgia”.  (The orchestra departing after Wishing Well).  “All for a Woman” was missing a little bit of the sharpness from San Francisco and didn’t connect for me as well as it had at the previous show.  “Happiness is Overrated” replaced “Numb” in the set and “Does this Mean You’re Moving On” and “Changing” swapped places.  Papillon was dropped.

The orchestra rejoined for “Welcome to Your Wedding Day” which soared to an epic level beyond the great Fillmore performance (I credit the huge sound with some of that “epic-ness”.  But, my notes from here out were pretty direct….”Sometime Around Midnight” was simply “stirring” and “All I Ever Wanted” was noted as “epic”.  The set closer of “Innocence” was jotted down with a quote of the song lyrics…”Oh my god”….

Brilliant stuff.

The encore started as it had in San Francisco, a solo version of “The Graveyard by the House” that built and built until it was a full roar.  The closing song “Missy” feature the same snippet of “I Fought the Law” along with introductions and solos by each section of the orchestra as well as the band.  A nice move that brought attention to the kids of the orchestra and seemed like a very cool and respectful thing for the band to have done.  They ended moments before midnight and I walked out with a buzzing and happy crowd.

It was a memorable set by a group that seems to be totally growing into larger and larger venues.  It wasn’t a perfect evening, but it with the the band at the top of bill being so compelling, it was at least a darn good one overall.

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Airborne Toxic Event – The Fillmore – October 18, 2011

This one will run out of order since I started most of it while at the show via my phone and since it’s nearly done I’ll post it before the Fountains of Wayne review that is still to be cleaned up and finished before I can post it…so many shows…so little time…


A business trip to San Francisco and a check of pollstar….and suddenly I’m at a historic venue that I’d always wanted to see. The historic Fillmore West at Geary & Fillmore Streets in San Francisco.

I ran the gauntlet of panhandlers and grabbed a quick cab ride from my hotel to the Fillmore.  The Fillmore is one of those temples of rock music that I really wanted to check off my list of venues.  I grabbed my ticket at will call and climbed the steps up to the main lobby where I was greeted by the traditional greeting of “Welcome to the Fillmore”  I was offered an apple from the huge tub which had Bill Graham’s original “Dance Hall Permit Application” framed and displayed.  (It’s dated March 15, 1966).  The lobby os filled with large photos of acts who have played (mostly recently, but some of Clapton and Big Brother & the Holding Company also jumped out at me.)

I was invited to go upstairs to the bar and look at the amazing poster collection….it was really too much to even take in.  You could spend a full day trying to read each one.  There were some awesome photos up there too….the Clash backstage at a “Day on the Green” show with the Who.  The Sex Pistols…The Who.  Hard Rock may have the displays of stuff….but this place had the actual history in place.  You could feel the room resonate with the ghosts of so many bands.

I was actually thinking about how many people had played there…and not just the huge acts that we all know.  (The Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Santana, The Who, Elton John, The Allman Brothers, Cream, Pink Floyd and even Miles Davis).  Can you imagine the Who or Cream in that tiny room with the faux elegant chandeliers, a crazy light show and piles upon piles of speakers roaring out “Young Man Blues” or “Sunshine of Your Love”?

But, I was also thinking about the unsung acts too, the guys maybe just above garage band level who fit into a slot way down the bill, but who trod that same stage with the same passion and emotion of the headliners that we still all talk about.  I figured that a conservative number would be thousands of musicians have played that room and I wondered if playing the Fillmore was maybe a highlight of a short career that ended with them back working in a retail store or having a “normal” non-musical life.  Something about the room just allowed your imagination to run away….maybe that’s why it’s so legendary?

I have to also call out the staff of the place as some of the nicest folks at a venue that I’ve ever dealt with.  From the first greeting, you felt like you were hanging out with friends at a place where music was played.  It was just a vibe that the staff there really love, appreciate and respect the place too.  Honestly, after one show it became one of my favorite places to see a concert.

And speaking of the concert….all praise aside for the room, I guess I should mention a couple bands played.

First up was the Drowning Men, a San Diego band with an “indie” sound and not much more that really caught my attention.  They played well enough…they threw in a Theremin solo (as with an accordion solo, a Theremin solo is always a plus in any rock show)….they seemed ernest and nice and appreciated the crowd.  But, nothing ever really set them apart to my ears where I would want to go buy their stuff.  It just didn’t resonate much with me.

After a short break Airborne Toxic Event took the stage.  There was a huge jump in the energy of the room and a tighter sound than the opener.  “All at Once” followed by “Something New” leading into a more rarely played “A Letter to Georgia”.  BY the time they had reached the fourth song “All for a Woman” things had really clicked into place for me.  They were tight, had a great mix and the band really played off each other well.

It was at this point I caught a faint whiff of someone smoking pot, which just totally completed the picture for the show and the venue.  I also realized just how “arena ready” their material was.  They write in a very big and anthemic way.  I’d be surprised if their career path doesn’t keep pushing them to larger and larger venues.  I some ways I thought of the Killers as a good reference point.  Not really the same sound, but the same aspirations and reach in they way they write.

They covered pretty much all of both CD’s they’ve done: “Numb” and “Changing” led to a really fun sort of group drum solo that was a fresh and fun way to mix a percussion break into the show.  “Missy” and “Gasoline” were latter set highlights, but the best of all was “Welcome to Your Wedding Day” which was not only their most political song, but performed razor sharp.

The set closed with “All I Ever Wanted” and even more pot smoke wafting around me…it was exactly the vision you’d have of a concert in San Francisco.  Perfect ending of an excellent show.

Encore time….They started with a nice solo version of “The Graveyard by the House” that built to a full band and then led to an excellent cover of “The Book of Love”….Peter Gabriel may give them a run for their money on that song, but it was quite good and I really was happy they added it in (They did a version of it on their live CD as well).

The last encore payed homage to some of my favorites….Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire”, “I Fought the Law” and then a great punk-ish take on “Folsom Prison Blues”…I even appreciated the play out music…”California Stars” by Woody Guthrie.

I hung around as the crowd cleared and just soaked in the room and the vibe.  I’m not sure if the venue made the concert special, or if the band did…I guess I’ll find out when I see them at the Gibson Amphitheater on Sunday, I wonder if the more familiar venue will change my focus to the music and if I’ll like it as much?  At the same time…it will be a huge homecoming show for the band, so I wonder if the setlist will change?  It’ll be fun to see.

But, for now I’d say they are very much worth seeing…a band with ambition and a big sound on their way up and still hungry is a powerful sight to see…

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