Janelle Monáe: Electrifying [Tempe Marquee Theater Recap]

janelle1

This woman is one of a kind. The Electric Lady, the title of Janelle Monáe’s latest album, is no joke. Electricity surges through her on stage: in the manic dance moves that channel James Brown, Michael Jackson, Prince, and Elvis; in the instant, interactive connection she makes with her audience; in her powerful, silky smooth singing; in that smile… in that Stage Presence. Wow!

Yeah, Janelle owned the stage last night for a good hour and 45 minutes at the Marquee Theater in Tempe – my first, and definitely not my last time, seeing her live. A truly great performer is backed by a top notch, talented backing band, and Janelle brought one along: a powerful nine piece pop/soul/rock/funk outfit consisting of two backup singers, two horns, a drummer, a percussionist, guitarist, bassist, and keyboardist. Janelle and her band had the crowd, a couple thousand strong, buzzing from the start. It was the kind of eclectic crowd you’d see at a Prince show – black, white, young, old, gay, straight (“black, white, Puerto Rican everybody just a freakin’ good time..”as Prince once sang).

You just can’t pigeonhole Janelle into a category. It’s not straight R&B, soul (or neosoul) or pop/rock. It’s a grab bag of all of these styles and influences. The supercharged pop of  “Dance Apocalyptic,” one of my favorites, made an early appearance, along with the down tempo R&B of  “Give Em What They Love” and the straight ahead funk of “Q.U.E.E.N”.  She ripped through “Tightrope” (from her great debut full-length, The ArchAndroid), along with a cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.”

The real magic, the full-circle realization that you’re seeing someone truly special, came during the four song encore. After coming back out to smooth out the crowd with “Primetime” (a ballad she sings with Miguel on Electric Lady), she launched into Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” which I first saw her perform during the 2010 BET Awards tribute to Prince (which you should watch here). If there’s any performer who’s fully qualified to cover the tune, it’s Janelle Monáe, with her manic intensity.

And then came the highlight of the night for me and I’m sure most of the crowd: “Come Alive (War of the Roses).” The song, about 3 and a half minutes long on the ArchAndroid album, turned into a 10-15 minute clapping & dancing & shaking interactive workout. At one point as the band broke it down, Janelle motioned everyone to get down low, and damned if she didn’t have almost the whole crowd in the room crouching down low for a good three minutes (give or take a few too-cool-for-school audience members, who received jokingly glaring looks from her). There was the interactive call and response between Janelle and the crowd. There were the high energy band solos, as each of them got a chance to showcase their talents for 20 seconds or so… and then there was Janelle, finally jumping out into the crowd, surfing her way a good twenty feet in (see the pic above)…

It was one of those live music moments every fan hopes for: when you say goodbye to reality for a few minutes and lose yourself in the moment. A deep connection with a performer that, when it’s all over, you realize you’re standing there with a huge smile plastered across your face.

There are very few live performers who can channel into that space and establish that core connection with the audience. I’m lucky to say I’ve returned to see Prince and Springsteen do that to me more than two dozen times…

Janelle Monáe has that magic too. I saw it last night.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_0gMYq6Odw&w=640&h=360

Recap: Los Lobos at Ovations LIVE! Showroom, June 15th

Have I ever mentioned that I love Los Lobos? I have? Well, I’ll say it again: I love Los Lobos. Last night, they stopped into town at the Wild Horse Pass Casino outside Phoenix, playing the relatively new and impressive Ovations Live Showroom (pat-on-the-back mention: no money spent on gambling!).

There are few things in this life that I enjoy more than listening to and watching David Hidalgo, Cesar Rojas, Louie Perez, Steve Berlin, and Conrad Lozano play their music (not to mention new drummer Enrique “Bugs” Gonzalez – whose infectious energy clearly rubbed off on the rest of the band).

The diverse crowd was charged up (plenty of quality people watching, both inside the showroom and especially outside in the smoky expanse of the casino floor), pretty ladies were dancing in the aisles, and all was right with the world…

Set List…

Los Lobos
Ovation Live Showroom
Wild Horse Pass Casino
Chandler, AZ
June 15, 2012

La Pistola y El Corazon
Las Ojos de Pancha
Arizona Skies >
Borinquen Patria Mia
Teresa
Sabor a Mi
Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes
The Neighborhood
Chuco’s Cumbia
Come On Let’s Go
Wicked Rain
Yo Canto *
Papa was a Rolling Stone > *
I Can’t Understand > *
Oye Como Va *
Volver Volver
Bertha

Encore:
La Bamba >
Good Lovin >
La Bamba

* Marcos Reyes from War on percussion

Upcoming: 2012’s McDowell Mountain Music Festival

WHAT: The 2012 McDowell Mountain Music Festival
WHEN: Friday, April 13th – Sunday, April 15th
WHERE: The Compound Grill, 7000 E. Mayo Blvd, Phoenix (N. Scottsdale Rd & the 101)
TICKETSSingle Day | 3 Day Passes
LINEUP: See bottom of this post.

Somehow it’s April already, which for me means it’s time to gear up for another installment of my favorite Arizona music festival. The McDowell Mountain Music Festival is back for its ninth consecutive year, kicking off this Friday (the 13th) at the Compound Grill in north Phoenix/Scottsdale.

This will be the third year in a row that the Compound has been the locale. In 2010, the organizers decided to move from the more spacious Westworld complex to the Compound (owned and operated by some of the same folks that run the MMMF). Although I miss all the space (and camping) that Westworld offered, the new location makes up for it by offering a more intimate experience – closer vantage points to the stage & musicians, real sod laid out in the parking lot that surrounds the Compound, and just a cozier feel overall. But at the same time, there’s also ample space to break away if you want (not to mention the cool, A/C-cranked confines of the Compound Grill, where the Creamy Radio Stage features local bands all weekend).

The lineup this year does not disappoint. Friday’s theme is clearly Funk/Jam/Rhythm Dance Party, featuring local electronic/dance jam collective Endoplasmic, L.A. latin/world group Ozomatli, New Orleans funk party band (and Mardi Gras staple) Galactic, and Colorado afrobeat and rhythm masters The Motet. This is going to be some opening night. Pace yourself, big weekend ahead!

Saturday’s lineup rocks and jams out with another New Orleans artist, Anders Osborne (who I’ve been waiting years to see), SoCal’s Trevor Hall (pop/acoustic/reggae), headliners Dark Star Orchestra (who recreate complete Grateful Dead shows), and probably the most commercially successful artists of the weekend, long time rock outfit Big Head Todd & the Monsters. Like a lot of you, I spent a good deal of time with the Stratagem and Sister Sweetly albums back in the day. Can’t wait to see these guys.

Late night inside the Compound, electronic jam duo EOTO (made up of Michael Travis and Jason Hamm) will melt minds from 11pm to 1am. All this madness kicks off at high noon with local band The Nameless Prophets, followed by Tramps & Thieves (also locals). The Arizona bands are solid year after year, and I look forward to checking ’em out.

And then there’s Sunday, and Sunday is no slouch lineup-wise. It all starts at noon with Carolina Chocolate Drops, who reeled in a Grammy earlier this year for Best Traditional Folk album. This old-timey trio will make you smile, make you move, and blow your mind with their mastery of traditional instruments and vocal sounds. I saw them last year at the Newport Folk Festival, and I can confirm that you do not want to miss their early 90 minute set.

Austin’s Bob Schneider is up next at 2:00 with another 90 minute set of his eclectic music – from pop to funk to bluegrass and beyond.

At 4:00, it’s time for the organ-driven soul/jazz of Soulive, a super-talented trio from the Northeast. Then, finishing off the weekend of music are Sunday headliners The Travelin’ McCourys featuring Keller Williams – bluegrass meets one-man-jam band Keller Williams. It should be something to see (and hear).

Long story short – this is an AMAZING weekend of music in a laid back & hassle-free setting (and totally kid friendly – everyone under 12 gets in free). Always a great vibe to the McDowell Mountain Music Festival – there’s a reason this will be my sixth straight year of taking it all in. Come on down…

TICKETS: Single Day | 3 Day Passes

WEB SITEOfficial Site of the McDowell Mountain Music Festival

LINEUP:

Friday:
5:00 – Endoplasmic
6:30 – Ozomatli
8:30 – Galactic
11:00 – The Motet (inside the Compound, extra ticket required)

Saturday:
Noon – The Nameless Prophets
1:00 – Tramps & Thieves
2:00 – Trevor Hall
4:00 – Anders Osborne
6:00 – Big Head Todd & The Monsters
8:30 – Dark Star Orchestra
11:00 – EOTO (inside the Compound, extra ticket required)

Sunday:
Noon – Carolina Chocolate Drops
2:00 – Bob Schneider
4:00 – Soulive
6:00 – The Travelin’ McCourys feat. Keller Williams

RDIO PLAYLIST

Lenny Kravitz Live in Phoenix

Lenny in Phoenix (from Lenny's Facebook)

This is short and simple. Last Sunday night, I saw Lenny Kravitz in concert at Comerica Theater in Phoenix. Is there a cooler motherf*cker than Lenny Kravitz? Not many, bud. Swagger, sex appeal, and pure and unadulterated rock star cool.

A set list full of hits, past and present…
An intimate rapport with the crowd of 2,200, which included a trip through the seats for some high fives and hugs during “Let Love Rule.”

“Are You Gonna Go My Way” was my personal highlight, as populist or cliche as it might sound. The whole crowd was whipped into an absolute euphoria. It was one of those otherworldly moments I experience in very few live shows – Springsteen, Prince, Tom Petty being among the few. A musical moment in time that lifts an entire audience out of reality into some dreamlike state. Pure rock & roll.

It’s been 4 full days and I’m still coming down.

During “Let Love Rule”, Lenny invited the crowd to come close to the stage. My friend Jen and I accepted the invite. I shot some quick video to capture the moment.

Lenny Kravitz: just an absolute rock & roll badass.

Sunday was also the day after the world lost Whitney Houston. Lenny dedicated “Push” to her and posted it to his YouTube channel after the show…

How’d You Like That, How’d You Like That, How’d You Like That…I Liked It!!! [The Kooks at First Ave]

“How many bands can you name that have only three albums out and, after a 21 song set, you still want more?

Not many. But that’s the beauty of Brighton’s The Kooks. The recently released Junk of the Heart is yet another example of how Luke and the East Sussex lads are extremely gifted when it comes the composing pure pop songs. Like their first two releases (Inside In/Inside Out, Konk), every track on their third offering is fantastic.

Last Sunday night, the Main Room at First Avenue saw the Kooks bring their uncanny knack for the 3 minute, insta-catchy tune to town. Their set list included tracks from all three of the records.

THE SETLIST
Is It Me?
Always Where I Need To Be
Sofa Song
Matchbox
Rosie
She Moves In Her Own Way
Sway
Runaway
Eskimo Kiss
Killing Me
Seaside (Acoustic)
Tick of Time
See The Sun
How’d You Like That
Mr Nice Guy
Ooh La
Shine On
Do You Wanna
Encore:
The Saboteur
Junk Of The Heart (Happy)
Naïve

Highlights for me were some of the new songs (“Rosie,” “Runaway,” “Junk of the Heart”) as well as the ever sturdy “Sofa Song,” “She Moves In Her Own Way” and “Sway.” “Eskimo Kiss,” a track from the new record, was really a treat and managed to capture a Simon and Garfunkel sentiment both thematically and stylistically. Luke ran around the stage doing his best to capture all our attention with his Jim Morrison-esque affectations.

After asking the question posed above at the end of the 75 minute set, my favorite show companion and I started listing the songs we wished they had done as well.

“Eddie’s Gun?”
“Yep.”
“Love It All?”
“Oh, that would have been mega!”
“Jackie Big Tits?”
“No doubt!”

We kept going until we had named all their songs on all their albums and singles.

The Kooks are heading out west which includes a stop on December 9th at the Wild Horse Pass Hotel and Casino in Chandler, AZ for our esteemed host. Catch them if you can!

Here’s the video I took of the last song of the night, “Naive.” I apologize for the bumpiness…I was dancing around and being pleasantly jostled.

Recap: John Prine at the Orpheum Theater in Phoenix

photo

Pardon me while I enjoy this warm afterglow I’m feeling – the afterglow that comes from seeing living legend John Prine perform live.

It was a Saturday night, and the setting was perfect – the ornate 82-year old Orpheum Theater in downtown Phoenix. Loudon Wainwright III‘s hour-long opening set was filled with his brand of humor and songs “about death and decay.” Songs like “The Shit Song,” “Heaven,” and a request from promoter Danny Zelisko, “Dead Skunk,” were nothing short of hilarious; but he also offered up some introspective tunes with a melancholy edge, like “Thanksgiving”, a quiet ballad about dysfunction around the Turkey Day table. Having never truly explored Loudon’s music, the set made me want to dip back into his catalog and see what I’ve been missing all these years.

But the night, after all, belonged to John Prine. At 9pm, John and his trio took the stage and didn’t stop for two solid hours. The songs covered his 40 year recording career from his first 1971 self-titled album to his last studio offering, 2005’s Fair & Square.
In fact, he played eight out of the thirteen songs from his first album.

The anti-war “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore” was introduced by telling the audience the song was so old, he couldn’t remember which war it was about.

“Angel From Montgomery” featured a beautiful mandolin opening by guitar/harmonica man Jason Wilber, who ended the tune with some great electric slide.

“Sam Stone”, about a heroin-addicted war veteran, started off with John solo acoustic. Then bass player Dave Jacques walked out and joined in with a bow on his standup bass – and finally Wilber walked out and joined in on some quiet electric.

The contributions of Wilber and Jacques can’t be understated. Their years of experience backing up Prine have made the three a single organism. They know when to add the slightest nuance and embellishment to a tune, adding sweet, quiet notes to John’s acoustic classics like “Far From Me” and “Hello In There” – yet they can crank it up to power trio volume on folk rockers like “Bear Creek Blues,” “Picture Show, ” and the fun ditties like “Fish and Whistle.”

Prine and the band have re-worked some tunes into some fantastic new arrangements too. “Ain’t Hurtin’ Nobody”, the opener from 1995’s Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings, was transformed into something dark & funky, with Wilber playing these low slide riffs that added an edge to it. “Lake Marie” also was reworked, but not losing its entertaining but slightly sinister vibe.

Wilber and Jacques left the stage for a few tunes, leaving John and his guitar to strum out “Crazy As A Loon,” “Dear Abby,” and one of my all-time Prine favorites: “Blue Umbrella.”

Earlier in the set, Prine dedicated “Souvenirs” not only to his late friend and songwriting partner Steve Goodman, but to the doctor who cleared him of cancer a decade earlier, who was in the audience.

Since discovering his music in my late teens, John Prine’s music has helped me navigate the challenging, sometimes absurd path of life. His songs are honest, funny, wry, and comforting. Some folks you just trust, and look to in life to help show you the way. John Prine is one of those people for me (and for countless others, many in the audience last night). Throughout the night, I found myself closing my eyes, savoring the experience of spending time with one of my heroes.

God bless John Prine.

Set List

Spanish Pipedream
Picture Show
Humidity Built the Snowman
Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore
Six O’clock News
Souvenirs
Grandpa Was a Carpenter
Far from Me
Christmas in Prison
Fish and Whistle
Long Monday
Glory of True Love
Angel From Montgomery
Crazy As A Loon *
Dear Abby *
Blue Umbrella *
Sam Stone [solo & band]
Bear Creek Blues
Ain’t Hurtin’ Nobody
Hello In There
Lake Marie

Encore:
Paradise (with Loudon Wainwright)

*John solo

Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses – Live in Munich

Everyone I’ve met who has seen Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses in a live setting has one thing in common: they all rave about the experience. I’ve always seem to just miss him when he comes through town or plays at a festival. The closest I came was at the ACL Festival a couple years ago – I think I opted for getting a good spot for Band of Horses.

Thanks to the ACL webcast on Youtube earlier this year, I got a free show at the house. The channel still has a few songs posted from the performance. The set finale was “Bread and Water.” Tell me this doesn’t sum up Ryan and his band in a few short minutes…

(dead youtube link, sorry)

Raw, gritty, real.
Rock, country, folk, blues.
Charm, good looks, charisma.

Not that’s how you carry yourself as a frontman. I know Ryan’s married now, but man, he must’ve reeled them in back in the day. He was a pro bull rider when he started writing songs and playing guitar. This is a man’s man if there ever was one. And has he ever turned into one hell of a songwriter.

Here’s a full show from a stop in Munich, Germany over this past summer. It’s from a radio broadcast, so the sound is pristine. Enjoy it…

Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses
Live in Munich, Germany
June 17, 2011

[Download the whole show]

Dollar a Day
Depression
The Other Side
Dylan’s Hard Rain
Southside of Heaven
Hallelujah
Tell My Mother I Miss Her So
Hard Times
Liam Blues
Direction Of The Wind
band intro
Bluebird
The Poet
The Weary Kind
Malaguena
Sunshine
Bread and Water

———-

Ryan Bingham – vocals, guitar
Matthew Smith – drums
Corby Schaub – guitar, mandolin
Elijah Ford – bass

Recap: Dawes and Blitzen Trapper at the Crescent Ballroom

Hallelujah, there’s a killer new live music venue in my home town!! The Crescent Ballroom, open for just a week now, is a mid-sized room (able to accommodate 400-500 people) in a cool 1917 brick building located at 2nd Ave. and Van Buren in downtown Phoenix.  Great atmosphere, friendly staff, really good food in their patio lounge/restaurant, Cocina 10 (I recommend the bean & cheese burrito paired with a Moscow Mule – tasty).

Dawes

Last night, the Blitzen Trapper / Dawes traveling roadshow hit the Ballroom for a few solid hours of rock n’ folk. The tour is just getting started, having kicked off just a few days ago in Petaluma, CA.

After a very mellow but pleasing opening set by British guitar/vocal duo Smoke Fairies (Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies), Dawes hit the stage, and, as expected, immediately won over the Phoenix crowd. Hard to tell, but it seemed like most of the crowd were new to the L.A. band, and it wasn’t long before the passion and earnestness of the four – especially frontman Taylor Goldsmith, won them over. Taylor is as genuine as they come, and a brilliant, evocative songwriter. In every song he sings, he makes sure the listener hears every word, pouring every ounce of his heart and soul into it. His brother Griffin (on drums) shares that passion and enthusiasm – his facial expressions alone are something to behold: his mouth in varied contortions of agony and ecstasy with every beat and fill. Bassist Wylie Gelber and keyboard/organ man Tay Strathairn round out the quartet, and it’s clear why they’ve been selected over the last year to back up the likes of Robbie Robertson, Jackson Browne and M. Ward. Such a cohesive, organic, and talented band.

The 10-song set drew from both of their studio albums – North Hills and Nothing Is Wrong. There were some great moments – the build up and crescendos of “Fire Away”, Taylor’s fiery guitar solo on “Peace in the Valley” – but the emotional peak came with the 1-2 punch of “A Little Bit of Everything” and “When My Time Comes.” I appreciate and enjoy “A Little Bit of Everything” more and more with each listen, and Taylor’s detailed, story-telling delivery gave me goosebumps throughout the tune. Then, of course, the anthemic “When My Time Comes” whipped the crowd up, and they were primed to belt out the chorus when Taylor turned the microphone around toward the end.

Taylor and Wylie of Dawes

Since discovering Dawes in mid 2010, I’ve had the chance to see them four times now, and they just keep getting better and better. Last night’s set was another thrill as a fan.

→ Dawes Set List

Since finding out about the co-headlining tour with Blitzen Trapper, I’ve dug into the Portland indie-folk band’s catalog, and the music has definitely been growing on me. Now, after watching them live, I can call myself a fan. I love the dynamic of these guys. It’s a hard-to-peg grab bag of influences… I hear Grateful Dead, Zeppelin, 70’s folk, 70’s rock, Dylan… but all unique and original in their own right. Lead singer/guitarist/keyboardist Eric Early has an unassuming, shy demeanor between songs, but man, can that guy sing and shred.

Eric Early of Blitzen Trapper
Blitzen Trapper

Speaking of shredding, I got off on watching lead guitarist Erik Menteer tear it up on his Les Paul. The rest of the band chipped in on some great harmonies, but Erik was off to the side just killing on guitar (and occasionally keys).

Erik Menteer of Blitzen Trapper
Blitzen Trapper

Marty Marquis, off to stage left on guitar & keys, is the laid back jokester of the band, offering up most of the between song banter (thankful for the nice weather, unlike their last visit to Phoenix, when they “melted”).

I’ve been listening a lot to their new record American Goldwing, and they drew heavily from it, with tunes like “Fletcher,” “Astronaut,” “Your Crying Eyes,” and one of my faves, “Love the Way You Walk Away.” And then there was the sheer Zeppelinesque force of “Street Fighting Sun,” also from the new album. Loud, thrashing, arena rock size rock n roll absolutely filling the small Crescent Ballroom.

The encore was a triple treat too: Eric Early solo acoustic on “The Man Who Would Speak True” followed by an unrecorded song called “Jericho” (full band), and then, to add an exclamation mark to the evening, the finale – Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times.”

Blitzen Trapper. Count me in.

→ Blitzen Trapper Set List

As I mentioned, the tour is just getting started. Some of my buddies back east are checking out the show soon. Even if you’re not familiar with either band, one live experience will convert you – guaranteed.