# Sunday, 26 March 2017

AlStewart2017I was 16 years old when I got my first real job. The day I received my first real paycheck, I drove from work to the bank to local record store and bought Al Stewart's Year of the Cat LP. I took it home and played it repeatedly, memorizing every word of every song on both sides.

Nearly 4 decades later, I finally had a chance to see Al Stewart live - Thursday evening at the City Winery. And here's the kicker: He played the entire Year of the Cat album! Every song, in the same order as on the album. It was like getting a visit from an old friend. The concert transported me back to my teen years, listening to my LP on my parent's Wi-Fi at top volume in the family basement.

In between each song, Stewart explained something about the song's meaning or told a story of its origin. He was surprised that a song about the Rhodesian civil war (On the Border) would become a top 40 hit; All airplane metaphors in Flying Sorcery are about the ending of a relationship; Broadway Hotel often inspires each audience member to attempt to seduce the attractive stranger next to him or her.

Stewart was backed by the local Chicago band Empty Pockets, which also opened the show with a short set of their own. They were joined by Marc Macisso on flute, harmonica and saxophone - most notably saxophone which he wielded with power and passion.

AlStwesart and Me The band played a few songs before and after the complete Year of the Cat set, including his other hit Time Passages. But it was the re-playing of the album that we all came to hear. And that we all enjoyed.


More photos of this concert

Sunday, 26 March 2017 17:14:35 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, 25 March 2017

KrisKristoffersonI took a chance. The show had been sold out for over a month. But I drove to the City Winery in the West Loop anyway. And I was rewarded with a ticket close to the stage. And I was not disappointed.

Kristofferson played for 2 hours with a very brief (maybe 10 minutes?) intermission. He played

He didn't bring a band. Just himself and his guitar and harmonica. It was enough.

At 80 years old, Kris Kristofferson still carries an impressive stage presence. There were a few missed notes on his guitar, and a few missed high or low notes in his vocal range, but his wit and charm more than made up for any shortcomings brought on by his age.

For Kristofferson, it has never been about his singing or his playing. It was always about his music and his storytelling. And he captivated a packed house Wednesday night on stage. He sang love songs and drinking songs and ballads and each one struck the audience as if the story were written and sang only for each of us.

My only complaint is that he apologized too much for any lapses in his musical technique. The audience didn't care. They wanted to hear him sing his stories.

And he did.

And I'm glad I was there to see and hear it.


Photos of the concert

Saturday, 25 March 2017 16:52:30 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Sunday, 12 March 2017

DelbertMcClintonDelbert McClinton has recorded dozens of albums over the past 45 years, but it was always his live shows that brought him the most praise.

Friday night, McClinton brought that live performance to S.P.A.C.E. in Evanston. For over 2 hours, he entertained a packed room with a mix of originals and cover songs.

McClinton has a devoted audience and all night long this crowd shouted requests and sang along to lyrics they had memorized.

Now, in his 70s, McClinton still has the powerful, gritty voice that made him the ultimate Texas roadhouse singer. What he has lost in range he makes up for with emotion.

For this show, Delbert's only instruments were his voice and his harmonicas. But he was backed by an outstanding 7-piece band, highlighted by Bob Britt on guitar, Kevin McKendree on keyboards, Dana Robbins on saxophone, and Quentin Ware on trumpet. This was a group of top-notch musicians who complemented one another very well. Instead of an intermission, Delbert stepped off the stage for 10-15 minutes in the middle of the show and allowed his band to play a trio of songs without him.

Delbert McClinton is often cited as the definitive Texas roadhouse musician. And Friday, he showed us why. Powerful vocals, a tight band, and a connection with the audience in an intimate venue made me glad I finally saw him live after listening to his recordings for years.

Sunday, 12 March 2017 19:55:56 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Thursday, 09 March 2017

MarciaBallBandMarcia Ball rocks. Her songs rock. Her band rocks.

And Tuesday night in Chicago, she and her quintet rocked the City Winery in Chicago's West Loop. For over 2 hours, she played her Texas mix of stride piano, boogie-woogie, rockabilly, and the blues. Lots of blues

Ball showed off a powerful voice that could not possibly come out of his tall, slender woman. But even more impressive were her keyboard skills. When she sits at a piano, she owns it. Her band wasn't far behind, led by excellent guitarist Mike Schermer and outstanding saxophonist Eric Bernhardt. Each stepped to the front frequently for skillful solos.

MarciaAndDavid Ball sang mostly originals from throughout her long career and from her latest album – The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man; but she mixed in a few cover songs, such as Randy Newman's Louisiana 1927 and Frankie Ford's Sea Cruise.

This was the last night of a long tour before she and her band head home; but they brought energy that night and the crowd fed off it.

If you get a chance, go see Marcia Bell. You will not regret it.

Thursday, 09 March 2017 05:40:57 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Tuesday, 07 March 2017

20170304_214526In the 1960s Booker T and the MGs pioneered the Memphis Soul sound, recording numerous hit records. In the decades since, Booker T. Jones has recorded and produced countless records with the likes of Neil Young, Drive-By Truckers, Ray Charles, and Albert King.

Today, Booker T is in his 70s and still going strong.

I had the pleasure of seeing his current band at S.P.A.C.E. in Evanston. Although not a long show (about 80 minutes total), he delighted the crowd with a top-notch performance by him and his band.

Of course, they played the hits of the MGs, such as Hip-Hug-Her, Hang ‘em High, Soul Limbo, and their first and biggest hit Green Onions; And they played music he is associated with, such as Born Under a Bad Sign, which he co-wrote for Albert King, and Grandma's Hands, which he produced for Bill Withers; but they also performed a number of cover songs, spanning genres from Outkast's hip-hop hit Hey Ya to Muddy Waters's blues classic Mannish Boy.

I was surprised to see Jones step out from behind his signature organ and play some songs on guitar and perform lead vocals on some.

Jones's band - a quartet of drums, guitar, bass, and organ - is highlighted by his son Ted on guitar. Ted has an engaging stage presence and is a solid musician like his father. Booker and Ted performed a moving rendition of Prince's Purple Rain together as the other 2 band members left the stage.

Booker T Jones has received numerous honors throughout his career. He has been awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy and is a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

And Saturday night in Evanston, I finally got to see him perform live.

Tuesday, 07 March 2017 22:25:43 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Thursday, 16 February 2017

LMB01Last week, Ladysmith Black Mambazo brought a bit of South Africa to Chicago. The vocal group performed at The Old Town School of Folk Music Saturday February 11.

LBM was formed by Joseph Shabalala in Ladysmith, South Africa in 1964. Shabalala did not make this trip, but a number of his sons still perform with the 8-man group. Westerners learned of their talents in the 1980s when they recorded the classic "Graceland" album with Paul Simon; but they have been touring and recording on their own for decades. Their tight harmonies and blend of African and western music make them appealing to audiences all over the world.

LBM delighted the audience in a too-short (about 80 minutes) performance before a sold-out theater. They blended harmonies and melodies and humor and Zulu dancing to entertain us. There were no instruments because there was no need for instruments.

LMB02They sang some songs in English and some in the Zulu language. "Homeless" and "Diamonds on the Souls of her Shoes" from "Graceland" were crowd pleasers; but most of the night consisted of traditional African songs and their own compositions. For most songs, a different member of the band would step to the front of the stage to sing lead, while the remaining 7 harmonized behind him. Some songs were accompanied by coordinated Zulu dances.

The night concluded with a stirring rendition of "Amazing Grace".

Ladysmith Black Mambazo has long been on my list of bands to see live. Now I can cross them off the Bucket List. Until the next time they come to town.

Photos

Thursday, 16 February 2017 19:03:59 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Sunday, 22 January 2017

After all these years, Webb Wilder still knows how to rock.

Last night, during my first visit to Fitzgerald's in Berwyn, IL, I had my first experience seeing Webb live. The small club was packed, but I was lucky to find a seat with 2 friends who had an extra chair at their table. When the show started, I gave up my seat to an elderly woman and moved up to watch the show next to the stage.

For over 2 hours, Webb and his band - The Beatniks - showed off some amazing guitar work. They moved effortlessly between the rockabilly of “Ju Ju Man” to the psychedelic "Voodoo Witch" to the hard rocking "Sitting Pretty".

The band was an excellent collection of musicians. Just 2 guitars, a bass guitar, and drums filled the place like a much larger band. The lead guitarist (I cannot find his name online) manipulated a control panel at his feet to make it sound as if he were playing dozens of different guitars.

Now in his 60s, Webb Wilder still brings the energy of his shows at small clubs like Fitzgerald's. If you are a fan of roots rock, I recommend seeing him live.

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Sunday, 22 January 2017 19:32:44 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Tuesday, 13 December 2016

StanleyClarke (7)This is not the Stanley Clarke I remember. I remember Stanley Clarke in the 1970s and 1980s recording Jazz-Rock fusion and collaborating with the giants of the day, such as Chick Corea, Al Dimeola, and George Duke. He was all that was new and modern with his electric bass and his giant afro and his talking guitar.  The albums he recorded with Return to Forever are among the best of the genre.

Friday night at S.P.A.C.E. in Evanston, IL, Clarke began as the electric jazz hero. Now in his mid-60s, he no longer sports the afro, but he retains the energy of his early days.

StanleyClarke (32)Clarke began the show, electric bass in hand, playing songs reminiscent of his fusion heyday. But halfway through his set, he swapped the electric bass guitar for an upright bass. One song later, his keyboardist slid from an electric keyboard set to a baby grand and suddenly the jazz was more straight ahead. And more sweet. The music ranged from fusion to funk to bee bop, including a few bars of Coltrane's classic "A Love Supreme".

His quartet consisted of 2 keyboardists, a drummer, and Stanley himself. The 3 others were between a third and a half Clarke's age, but they blended really well and Clarke still brings the energy of his own youth.

Clarke ended with an frenetic encore that included a call and response with the crowd.

His drummer - Mike Mitchell, aka "Blaque Dynamite" - was especially impressive.

Based on the energy and enthusiasm I saw Friday night, I expect Stanley Clarke will be entertaining audiences for a long time.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016 10:33:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Tuesday, 14 June 2016

I was in high school the first time someone asked me to name my favourite band. and I had to think about it for a while before I decided it was Steely Dan. They set themselves apart from others making good music because I enjoyed all of their songs and because they played a variety of music and because their style of combining jazz arrangements over pop melodies was so different from what other artists of the last 1970s were doing. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen established themselves as one of the great songwriting pairs in pop music history and always surrounded themselves with top-notch studio musicians.

Decades later, Steely Dan remains one of my favourites; but, remarkably, I've never seen them perform live. That changed last night when I caught their performance at the FirstMerit Bank Pavilion in Chicago. They did not disappoint.

Steve Winwood warmed up - another artist I've always enjoyed, but never saw perform live. Winwood had a successful solo career in the 1980s and he performed the popular "Higher Love" from this era; but most of the performance was taken from his earlier bands, such as Traffic and Blind Faith. He closed with a rocking performance of "Gimme Some Lovin’", a song he wrote and recorded for the Spencer Davis Group in 1966 at the age of 18. 

Steely Dan hit the stage on a muggy night as the sun set and a breeze thankfully blew off nearby Lake Michigan. Steely Dan's core remains singer/keyboardist Donald Fagen and guitarist Walter Becker.

Fagen was the leader on stage, introducing most songs and singing lead. Becker is a great songwriter, but had little stage presence (although he did sing lead on "Daddy Don't Live In That New York City No More". But these limitations are easily ignored when one surrounds oneself with an excellent set of musicians.

And Becker and Fagen brought with them an excellent band which they referred to as "The Steely Dan Orchestra". The two highlights of this orchestra were drummer Keith Carlock and lead guitarist Jon Herington, both of whom have traveled with Becker and Fagen for over a decade.

The 3 female backing vocalist provided depth to most songs and sang lead on "Dirty Work", a song originally sung by David Palmer before Fagen took over all lead vocals.

I loved the live arrangements of their songs. Most did not stray far from the excellent studio arrangements that made Steely Dan famous in the first place, but they toyed with some songs, including a slow jam version of "Josie".

Seeing Steely Dan after all these decades of listening to their music was like meeting an old friend after a long absence - Familiar yet somehow new.

I fell in love with them at My Old School and now they had me reeling in my years.

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Tuesday, 14 June 2016 14:08:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Gary Numan was everything I did not expect.

GaryNuman (5) He came to Chicago for 3 nights  at Metro night club in Wrigleyville. Each night he promised to perform a different album from early in his career -  "Replicas" on Sunday; "The Pleasure Principle" Monday and "Telekon" on Tuesday. I chose to attend Sunday because his 1979 album "Replicas" has always been my favourite of his. This was an album I embraced in high school a year before the rest of America learned of Gary Numan with the release of "The Pleasure Principle" and its wildly popular "Cars".

For me, Replicas was always the definitive Gary Numan album. Its layers of electronic melodies and its lyrics about a dystopian future spoke to the adolescent me and the album still holds up decades later.

GaryNuman (2) Numan performed every song from the "Replicas" album and I was impressed by his enthusiasm for songs that he released 3 decades ago.

I don't recall ever attending a concert in which I knew in advance the songs the artist would play. But he surprised us - first by mixing the order of the original album and (more significantly) updating the arrangements.

The electronic music that made him famous is still impressive. "Down in the Park" and "I Nearly Married a Human" featured impressive keyboards and unusual sounds. But, he transformed "Me! I Disconnect From You" from a hypnotic synth-pop tune into a rock song that any post-punk garage band would be proud of. The guitar bass drums came to the fore on a number of his songs, making them more rocking and less ethereal.

Replicas I expected a stiff, robotic, stoic Gary Numan - similar to the mannequin pose on the Replicas album cover. Instead, the audience was treated to an energetic performer dancing to his songs and bringing a renewed passion to his old music.

The only downside was the venue. The fact that Metro only accepts cash was a disappointing surprise, but its General Admission format made it difficult for most attendees to see the stage. There are a limited number of tables one can reserve at more than double the GA price and I'm debating doing this when Echo & the Bunnymen play there in the Fall.

GaryNuman (3) But I found a bit of floor space to enjoy the show and enjoy it I did - from the music to the strobe lights. Thanks to Numan's energy this concert exceeded my expectations.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016 15:56:18 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)