The thrill of this package tour was hearing guitarist extraordinaire Steve Howe float effortlessly from his self-described "hard pounding guitar" in AOR gods Asia to the fluent, progressive rock orchestrations of Yes. Asia had its original core lineup intact (something Yes missed by a couple members) and were more than a perfect warm up, but this night definitely belonged to Howe's other baby.
For Yes, Howe took over the entire stage right with his world of guitars, gadgets and noisemakers. Longtime keyboard legend Rick Wakeman had sent in a replacement for the show -- his son Oliver. Chris Squire gracefully alternated between solid bass foundations and four-string lead counter melodies. Besides Squire's trademark growling low end, the defining sound of Yes has always been the high-pitched vocals of Jon Anderson. So it was with baited breath that the high-paying and hopeful crowd sat, shall we say, close to the edge of their seats waiting to hear how newcomer, Canadian Benoit David, would fill Anderson's shoes.
The strain and illness that sidelined the founding member last year lead to the dream job for David. When the former Yes tribute-band singer belted his first lines in the adventurous "Siberian Khatru," those in the audience who knew it wasn't Anderson sat back and breathed a sigh of pleasure as they heard their band sound more fresh and inspired than they have in ages. Those who didn't know the band had a new front man could just as easily clap along obliviously. Benoit hit every high and pranced around the stage with his tambourine and a smile befitting of the luckiest cover band singer to hit the gig lottery ... at least since Journey and Boston's current leading men did the same last year.
The most pleasant surprise of this night wasn't how accurate and passionate the vocals sounded, or even the perfect outdoor festival weather with Pittsburgh's skyline as backdrop. The best surprise of the evening was an outstanding set list that struck a perfect balance between radio staples like "I've Seen All Good People" and "Roundabout," and underground proto-metal classics that haven't been performed in eons, like the musician's paradise "Tempus Fugit" and doomy epic "Machine Messiah." The latter pair resurfacing as a silver lining in the sans-Anderson lineup, since he never sang on those songs, nor has he been keen to "allow" them into subsequent set lists in the years that followed his first, brief hiatus from the band. Howe may not relish playing the band's biggest hit, "Owner Of A Lonely Heart," since it occurred during his mid-career departure era, but he makes it his, keeping the riffs straight, and customizing the leads to his bizarre fashion.
Were it not enough that Howe opened and closed the show, he also served as its intermission: the acoustic came out, and this guitar hero payed homage to his own idol, Chet Atkins, as well as mingling in his own command of the six string for a relaxing recital. The rest of the band returned to the stage after their break and continued to own the night, ending with an encore of "Starship Trooper" that unleashed young Wakeman's nimble fingers for a mid-song synthesizer flourish. The finale's swirling, phaser-drenched crescendo was a perfect exclamation point on a statement echoed by many a satisfied fan filing out of the riverfront event:
Did the ol' Brits still have what it takes to retain their crown as kings of the art rock pantheon? The answer -- a resounding yes!
Welcome to another installment of MP3 Monday! This week we've got Knot Feeder for ya. You might remember last winter, when the band released their first LP -- I wrote about it here. The band, made up of ex members of Don Caballero, Tabula Rasa, and Southpaw, is a must-listen for fans of guitar rock -- heavy, complex, interesting.
Last night's show at Mr. Small's may have been the only live-music performance I've attended wherein an opening band played longer than the headliner. I understand it's tough to put together a generous set list when you've got a one-LP repertoire, but geez, Yeasayer -- that was short! So short that an encore would have been awkward.
I'd like to say that opener Ponytail had a really innovative sound, but I was too busy flinching at the piercing acoustics to tell for sure. The electrifying guitar parts, jungle-bird vocals and chaotic crescendos probably would have made for some seriously danceable mayhem had it just been turned down a few notches.
Nobody in Ponytail wore a ponytail, including its lead singer Molly Seigel, but she did wear a tie-died Americn Idol T-shirt and pink soccer shorts. Seigel is an interesting specimen all around: She stands about 4'10”; her eyes roll back in her head when she shouts and squawks into the mic; and she bounces around like she's wearing anti-gravity sneakers. During the last number, she stepped down from her perch and danced with some of the more enthusiastic audience members.
And then it was Yeasayer time. I counted eight songs and I don't think I'm missing any. Duration qualms aside, Yeasayer was a great band to see live, because it satisfied the cravings of two very different breeds of show-goers, often within the same song. Like "Wait for the Summer" -- it had swaying, spacey vocals for those cagey types that express enjoyment by hugging themselves, but it also had funky hand claps and tambourine for those show-goers who came to freakin' dance, man!
Yeasayer played several unidentified new tracks, all very '80s-sounding, all with shiver-inducing harmonies and jaunty Celtic undertones. Fans should kick off the countdown to the band's sophomore release immediately.
Today's featured MP3 is "Riding Coach" by The Takeover UK, a brand-new song available as a free download exclusively on the CP Web site. The local rock band is in the midst of writing and recording new material at its home studio, which you can read more about here.
At their show at Mr. Small's Theatre last Friday, the band played some of its new songs, such as "Across the Car," but not "Riding Coach." Guitarist and vocalist Nic Snyder told me they haven't quite figured out how to play it live yet; capturing the song's layered groove would seem a daunting task with just guitars, bass and drums. Until they solve that puzzle -- and I'm sure they will -- enjoy this sneak peek into the band's musical experimentation.
As promised, only slightly later, here are a few videos from last week's CP Remixed. Thanks to everyone who came out; for those of you who couldn't make it, the vids give a taste of what you missed. Performers, in order, are: Slim Cessna, Endless Mike & the Beagle Club, The Cynics, Karl Hendricks Trio.
This week’s mp3 comes from old-timey Lawrenceville denizen Slim Forsythe, who recently celebrated the release of a new album. I liked it rather a lot, noting that "Forsythe's classic-country sounds are a window into an alternate reality; with Bury Me Up On That Northern Tier, his new full-length, Forsythe has mined his own history to forge a unique Northern honky-tonk mythos." You’ll likely enjoy taking a swig of this "False Hope Chaser" as well!
Monday afternoon we should have video uploaded from last night's CP Remixed, which was a great time. In the meantime, enjoy these photos, courtesy of our friend Hugh from the Hugh Shows photo blog.
I love a band that knows how to set the mood with its wardrobe, and Camera Obscura's threads radiated a smoky-lounge-with-asymmetrical-furniture vibe into every corner of Mr. Small's this past Tuesday. The boys in the band sported either sleek vests or subdued button-downs, and the girls rocked dresses -- lead vocalist Tracyanne Campbell brooding in all black, Carey Lander shimmering in a sultry '80s prom dress.
Even better than a band with style is a band that doesn't neglect old favorites when putting together a set list. The Scottish band favored selections from My Maudlin Career, but mixed it up with "Books Written for Girls" and the jaunty "Teenager." They even brushed the dust off of "Eighties Fan.
But it wasn't until they played a coy-yet-moody "Tears for Affairs" that I realized why I love these twee folks so dearly. As I listened, I had the sense I was rebelling against my tomboy upbringing, where first-person shooter games were the go-to prescription for heartbreak -- it was quite liberating. And it's good to know there's a band that makes it cool to cry over dumb boys when virtual violence just won't cut it for catharsis.
Listening to Campbell live is like discovering a poetic, tear-stained diary with elaborate gel pen doodles in the margins -- a lachrymose, but captivating read. This is a girl who falls in love hard and falls out of it even harder. Her eyes are sad, her smiles rare, but she has stories behind her melancholy, and a crystalline voice to sing them.
The final encore, "Razzle Dazzle Rose," seemed like the perfect way to end -- something like the odd calm that follows a particularly intense sob session. The trumpet sounded weepy as ever, but a frolicking bass line and a minute-and-a-half crescendo that had the sextet strumming (drumming, plucking, etc.) until blue-faced, kept the exiting mood, for the most part, optimistic.
Okay, so it's only 70 degrees out there today, but in theory, we're into the heat of the summer -- and that means outdoor concerts. In addition to the Allegheny County Parks concerts (Steve Earle at South Park on July 17 is one of the highlights of the remaining schedule) and the newly revamped Amphitheatre at Station Square, there are a few alternative outdoor venues.
WYEP just hosted its annual summer music festival last Friday at Schenley Plaza in Oakland and, like last year, I sat there on the lawn dreaming of a summer when decent rock shows happened in that park every week. I'm not quite getting my wish, but the radio station DID unveil yesterday its plans for a Final Fridays concert series at the plaza, featuring shows on the last Friday of the next three months. All of the shows take place at 7pm and are free; the schedule is:
July 31 -- Scott Miller & the Commonwealth
August 28 - Great Lake Swimmers
September 25 - Jessica Lea Mayfield
The shows are all free; more info here.
On the North Side, the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh is again hosting its free Solar Concert Series, Wednesdays at 12:15 p.m., featuring local musicians performing acoustic sets on a solar-powered sound system. Rounding out July in that series are:
July 15 -- AppalAsia
July 22 - Jerome Hawk Freeman
July 29 -- Julia & Alex Voris
And in the Kinda Weird Place to See That Show category is the Riverplex Amphitheatre at Station Square, being booked by Joker Productions for a few shows this summer. July 31 is the notable kickoff featuring Neko Case and Grandaddy's Jason Lytle. John Legend and India.Arie appear there August 3.