The Best Concert Year Ever

In addition to local history and classic literature, I also love popular music, particularly classic rock, sixties pop and early Rock and Roll.  I love listening to it, researching its history and learning how to play it on the guitar and drums.  I especially love listening to live music, so I try to attend as many concerts in Pittsburgh or within a reasonable driving distance as possible, depending on my schedule (and finances!).   I was thrilled to discover that my top five favorite groups and artists were touring throughout 2012 and I would be able to see them all, in addition to an unexpected reunion tour.  It was the best concert year I’ve ever had and one I will never be able to repeat.

The Beach Boys
Benedum Center in Pittsburgh, PA
May 11, 2012

The Beach Boys - May 11, 2012

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

I never thought I’d see the day when all surviving Beach Boys, including the legendary Brian Wilson would reunite on the same stage.  But they did, to celebrate the group’s 50th anniversary and brand new album, That’s Why God Made the Radio.  I highly recommend their new album, with it’s outstanding production (duh, Brian Wilson), beautiful pop compositions and gorgeous harmonies.  The group’s vocals sound as fresh as they did when these guys were in their early 20s and the songwriting is still strong.  It’s an incredibly joyous album that it makes the listener feel just as joyous.  It was a pleasure to see these guys together (with dearly departed band members Carl and Dennis Wilson fondly remembered) and hear some of the greatest and most beautiful pop songs in history performed live.

Neil Diamond
Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, OH
July 1, 2012

Neil Diamond - July 1, 2012

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

He’s the Jewish Elvis… and probably the only instance where my musical taste and my sister’s musical taste cross.   As a Pittsburgher and die hard Steelers fan,  it really takes something special to get me to drive to Cleveland (enemy territory) and Neil Diamond is something special.  I’ve seen him several times and each time I am struck by the look of gratitude on his face as he gazes out into the crowd after performing each of his songs.  His eyes sparkle just as much as his legendary sparkly shirts.  He truely conveys how much he loves his vocation and appreciates his audience.   He’s such an geniune singer-songwriter; his compositions are truely touching with their honesty and intimacy and his voice is so warm and honeyed.  It’s a wonderful experience to join Neil and thousands of rapt fans in a “Sweet Caroline” singalong.  My sister and I both agree he is “so good, so good, SO GOOD!”

Rush
Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, PA
September 11, 2012

Rush - September 11, 2012

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

I love being in the female minority when it comes to being a fan of the band Rush.  I feel very unique and privileged to be connected to the musicianship and wordsmithing that characterizes the progressive rock band’s catalog of music.  While I love the primitive driving rhythms and simply lyrics of early Rock and Roll, I equally love the intelligent, thoughtful, creative compositions of Rush.  The band has constantly evolved throughout their long career yet remained consisted in their musical integrity.  I wasn’t immediately drawn to their most recent album Clockwork Angels until I heard it performed live – the best execution of a new musical work – but it had me as mesmerized as the anthems you expect to hear at a Rush concert such as Tom Saywer and Subdivisions.   Their musicianship has inspired countless drummers and guitarists (on tangible and air instruments alike); their album-centric storylines have solidified their rock as art.

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, PA
October 27, 2012

Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band - October 27, 2012

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

The first band I ever remember listening to was Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.  At five years old, I sat in front of my dad’s stereo, repeatedly listening to a cassette tape of Born in the USA that my uncle had made.  The first songs I even remember hearing were “Dancing in the Dark” and “I’m On Fire.”  At five years old I had no idea what those songs were talking about, but I loved the sound of the music and I loved Bruce’s voice.  25 years later I had the thrill of hearing my earliest musical memory played live and understanding the message within those powerful, emotional lyrics.  Springsteen’s superhuman endurance and exuberance on stage and absolute committment to his music and his audience are overwhelming.  It’s always a party in Pittsburgh when The Boss is in town and that October night was complete with crowd-surfing, microphone stand-straddling, epic guitar solos and a touching tribute to the badly-missed Big Man, Clarence Clemons.

The Who
Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, PA
November 11, 2012

The Who - November 11, 2012

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

Let’s keep it simple: The Who are the greatest rock band in history.  I knew when I heard that my favorite band of all time, would be performing my favorite album of all time, Quadrophenia, in my hometown of Pittsburgh that this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity and not even an act of God would keep me from the show.  From the 12th row I was bombarded with the lush, orchestral, pounding rock that tells the story of Jimmy the Mod in post-World War II England and his struggles to reconcile his four personalities and musical themes that reflect the four individual personalities of the Who.  I found myself not only dancing to the music, but conducting along with it.  The first time I saw Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend live on stage I was taken aback by the fact that these men were actually not immortal gods, but simply regular hard working people who accomplished amazing things using their musical talents and sheer determination and perseverance.  It’s the way Townshend captures universal experiences, emotions, struggles and celebrations in the group’s “power slop” rock and the way Daltrey bares his soul on stage with his roaring vocals that really overwhelms me whenever I see these two live.  I was equally touched by the duo’s inclusion of their dearly departed bandmates through piping in John Entwistle’s epic bass solo on “5’15” and Keith Moon’s vocals on “Bell Boy.”  It was an unforgettable evening of “organized chaos” and a display of one of my favorite characteristics of The Who’s music: their combination of powerful rock and emotional honesty.

The Monkees
Lakewood Civic Auditorum in Lakewood, OH
November 17, 2012

The Monkees - November 17, 2012

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

Once again, it must be a pretty unique event that draws me to the Cleveland area, especially when it involves driving to and from that city in the same night (thank you energy drinks).  When I heard that Mike Nesmith was joining his former Monkees bandmates Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork for a short tour in tribute to the late Davy Jones, I knew I had  to find a way to the closest show.  The Monkees were my first pop culture obsession and Davy was my first teen idol.  I’ve seen Davy solo, Davy and Micky, and Davy, Micky and Peter, but never had to chance to see the elusive Nesmith perform until now.  It was such a treat to hear some of the group’s Nesmith-penned tunes performed by him, a selection from their cult movie Head and their quintessential hits.  I teared up as the audience took the lead on “Daydream Believer,” a song that no Monkee could sing in place of Jones.  It was a special, emotional night, and I’m proud to say that I have now seen all four Monkees in concert.

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Good Vibrations

Tonight I saw all surviving Beach Boys on the same stage together, celebrating the group’s 50th anniversary. I can’t believe it.

2011 Concert Season: My Amazing Journey With Roger Daltrey

Roger Daltrey Performs The Who’s Tommy
Newark, NJ– September 18, 2011

Out of all of the bands I follow religiously, I would travel anywhere and pay anything to see The Who.  “I Can’t Explain” how deeply they have impacted my life (haha, sorry…).  Over the years, I have traveled the most to see either The Who or Roger Daltrey (Washington D.C. twice for the Who; Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Newark for Daltrey).

Roger Daltrey Presents TommyThis past September, I traveled seven hours by car and train in order to attain enlightenment from that deaf, dumb and blind boy, Tommy Walker.  While touring the rock opera Tommy, Daltrey and his band stopped at the Prudential Center in Newark, which is less than an hour train ride from where a college friend of mine lives on the New Jersey shore.   I was planning on visiting herRoger Daltrey anyways, so I decided to combine trips and take a short detour to see my hero.  I made sure I arrived at the venue two hours early just in case I had any travel difficulties, as there was no way in hell I was going to be late or miss this show.  I had a fantastic seat – sixth row center on the floor – that gave me a perfect view.

Finally it was showtime.  Without any fanfare or grand introduction, Roger Daltrey casually walked out onto the stage and greeted a rapt audience with a huge grin on his face, as if he were greeting old friends.  This is why I love and admire this man: underneath his many layers as a tough guy, a rock God and a sex symbol, he is just a regular person who has worked hard to accomplish an extraordinary dream.

Roger Daltrey

The first musical work billed as a rock opera, Tommy tells the story of a traumatized deaf, dumb and blind boy who connects with the world through sensations (and the game of pinball) in order to reach true enlightenment.  The album is truly a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – and Daltrey agrees, as he rediscovered his appreciation for Tommy this past spring and decided finally present the rock opera as the Who never did – as a complete whole.

Roger Daltrey“I rediscovered Tommy in March, just by accident, just did a one-off charity show with it and I suddenly realized how original the original work was, how unique. And it dawned on me that the Who actually never ever played it properly on stage…It was an organic thing from the band and it really does need to be respected,” said Daltrey.

Considering the heavy topics woven into the story  – war, murder, childhood trauma, psychosomatic disabilities, bullying, prostitution, drugs, pedophilia, fanaticism – Pete Townshend defied the conventional form and content of rock and pop music when he composed Tommy, which was released in 1969.  Ultimately, Tommy tells a hopeful story of the human condition, which is why the album has remained relevant for over 40 years. Tommy Walker is Everyman. We are all blind, deaf and dumb until we allow ourselves to drown out all of the distractions and truly connect with the world through our senses.  Music such as Tommy certainly helps us to go on an amazing journey and learn all we should know.

“People have always asked me, ‘What does it feel like to have played Tommy?’ and I say to them, well, I’ve never actually seen Tommy as an individual. It’s always been, it’s about our spirits.  We’re all Tommy.  Tommy is the story of our human condition; it’s what we go through in life.” – Roger Daltrey  

Daltrey sounded fantastic that night, Roger Daltreythanks to a top notch physician who helped reinvigorate his voice (after vocal chord surgery to remove a precancerous growth prior to The Who’s Super Bowl performance).  If you are familiar with The Who’s history, Tommy is the album where he developed his voice as one of the greatest rock singers of all time (THE greatest, in my opinion).

From the opening chords of “Overture” to the epic climax of “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” Daltrey and his band took his disciples on an Amazing Journey that Sunday night.  Whirling his microphone around like a tornado, Daltrey commanded the stage as the various characters in the canonical rock opera, including the messianic Tommy, the snarly Cousin Kevin, and the lecherous Uncle Ernie.  We all saw him, felt him and listened to him.  As promised, the small band did justice to the original album, which was a rich yet sparse enough composition for the original foursome to recreate on stage when they originally toured it.

My highlights from Daltrey’s performance were all of my favorites from the original album: the “Overture” (blending together all of the various musical themes); “1921” (I love the call and response part of this song); “Amazing Journey” (especially the instrumental break); “Pinball Wizard” (I can’t wait to eventually learn how to play that famous acoustic guitar intro), “Go To The Mirror” and of course “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”  But I loved it all, even the creepy “Cousin Kevin” and “Fiddle About.”

After introducing his band – lead guitarist and musical director Frank Simes, rhythm guitarist Simon Townshend (Pete’s little brother), bassist Jon Button, keyboardist Loren Gold and drummer Scott Devours – Roger launched into his second set.  A mix of Who songs, solo tunes, a Johnny Cash medley and some charming, witty banter with the audience, had me singing, dancing and crying throughout the rest of the 2 1/2 hour show.

Roger DaltreyI’ve always enjoyed Daltrey’s selections of Who songs to perform – he always includes a carefully considered combination of expected anthems and obscure or surprising tracks, often with alternate arrangements.  Stuttering and scatting through the slow groove of “My Generation”, Daltrey howled through a feverish version of Mose Allison’s “Young Man Blues, ” with Simes shredding along.  It was hot in the arena after that one.  Some may chuckle at the irony of 67-year old Daltrey singing about not dying before he gets old and lamenting the problems of a young man, but that was no old man shaking and shimmying on stage.

Daltrey’s solo career was also highlighted by “Days of Light,” from his terrific 1992 album Rocks in the Head as well as the the Leo Sayer tune ‘Giving it All Away” from his first solo album.  Daltrey warned that the latter was “a bloody high song,” but he hit those notes!  Blown away, I shouted, “That was awesome, Roger!” after the song ended.  To counteract those high notes, Daltrey’s performed a brilliant medley of Johnny Cash tunes (“I’ve Got Stripes,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “There You Go,” “Train of Love” and “Ring of Fire”) that highlighted his voice’s resonant and soulful lower register.

“Johnny Cash was where I started when I was fifteen years old, bashing out bits of tin all day with a load of guys, making up a rhythm, and Johnny Cash rhythms were great to bang bits of tin to.  So I’m just gonna do a medley for Johnny, because he means so much to me, his music and the man himself…” – Roger Daltrey

Roger Daltrey

I was so engrossed in the concert that I forgot to wonder where my favorite Who song was.  All of sudden, bathed in light, a bare-chested Daltrey froze with microphone raised while the first power chords of “Baba O’Riley rang through the arena. Epic.

You’d think the show would have ended on that climactic song, but no, Daltrey followed with an unofficial three-song encore.

“This is a song that really sums up the way I feel about you, my audience, and the people that have supported me and the Who all these years.  We never want to be part of you, we are you, you are us.  And this one says it all: “Without Your Love.” – Roger Daltrey

The song that actually brought me to tears was  “Blue, Red and Grey,” which Daltrey performed alone on ukelele, with stand-up bass accompaniment.  It’s one of Townshend’s most beautiful songs, my opinion, appearing on The Who’s 1975 album The Who By Numbers.  I love how The Who can be both loud and soft, beautiful and ugly – that makes great Rock ‘n’ Roll.  Anyways… I was not only touched because of Daltrey’s beautiful delivery of “Blue, Red and Grey” and my own personal relation to the lyrics but also because of Daltrey’s nostalgic attachment to it.

“I love this song mostly, not only the sentiment of it, but I love it because John Entwistle did the silver band arrangements that accompany this song.  And it just conjures up a memory of a time that I grew up, which is same as in this country, you know, the steel belt and all those places, the coal mines, they all had silver bands, they all had their communities. And it’s a kind of blue-collar working class thing and when I hear it every time, I just think, ‘Where the f*** did it all go?’… China!” – Roger Daltrey

The group finally left the stage after squeezing out one more powerhouse song – the crowd Roger Daltreyfavorite “Naked Eye.”  All in all I spent a fabulous night in Newark with Roger Daltrey, which I will never forget, thanks to an official recording of the concert I was able to download a few days later.  Preserved live music is the best souvenir ever – it’s an audio slice of history.  Thank you Roger for an amazing memory!

Roger Daltrey rose from blue collar roots in the working class suburbs of England, discovered Rock ‘n’ Roll and successfully dedicated his life to music.  All the while he has retained a passion for music, an awareness of personal and cultural history, an appreciation for everyone who has enabled his success and love for the audience that has stood by the Who over the last half century.  I  hope that when I’m 67 years old, I possess the same character traits that I see in Daltrey: passion, fearlessness, strong work ethic, optimism and an overall appreciation for life.  I hope I’m as successful a writer/archivist/historian as he is as a musician.

I also hope the Who embark on the rumored Quadrophenia tour next year… I’m ready for another amazing journey.

Set List & Videos

I recommend  watching Roger Daltrey perform Tommy in its entirety HERE! (I love YouTube!)

Set One – Tommy
1) Overture
2) It’s a Boy
3) 1921
4) Amazing Journey
5) Sparks
6) Eyesight to the Blind
7) Christmas
8 ) Cousin Kevin
9) Acid Queen
10) Do You Think It’s Alright?
11) Fiddle About
12) Pinball Wizard
13) There’s A Doctor
14) Go To The Mirror!
15) Tommy Can You Hear Me?
16) Smash The Mirror
17) Sensation
18) I’m Free
19) Miracle Cure
20) Sally Simpson
21) Welcome
22) Tommy’s Holiday Camp
23) We’re Not Gonna Take It (includes See Me, Feel Me/Listening to You)

Set Two
1) I Can See for Miles
2) Behind Blue Eyes
3) Gimme A Stone
4) Pictures Of Lily
5) Giving It All Away
6) Johnny Cash Medley
7) Who Are You
8 ) My Generation
9) Young Man Blues
10) Baba O’Riley
11) Without Your Love
12) Blue, Red and Grey
13) Naked Eye

2011 Concert Season: The Monkees 45th Anniversary Tour

An Evening with The Monkees: The 45th Anniversary Tour at Stage AE
Pittsburgh, PA – June 22, 2011

Hey hey, they’re The Monkees and they came to my town this summer!

The Monkees are celebrating their 45th anniversary this year by touring the United Kingdom and North America for the first time in ten years.  As soon as I heard Pittsburgh was a stop on the reunion tour, I immediately made plans to go.  It’s been ten years since the first time I saw Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork perform together at the South Park Fairgrounds during their Monkeemania Tour.  Unfortunately, I’ve never gotten the chance to see Mike Nesmith, since the last time he reunited with the other Monkees was for a string of UK tour dates in 1997.

Not only did Davy, Micky and Peter deliver a fantastic and entertaining show, but I ended up standing so close to the stage I could have reached out and pulled Davy into our little mosh pit of fan girls.  Don’t worry, I refrained!

When The Monkees put together the 37-song set list for their tour (no that’s not a typo), they catered to their fans.  From what I’ve read and heard, the majority of fans were thrilled about the mixture of classic hits and deep cuts in the set list.  I know I was – we heard the best of both worlds.  Some uninformed critics may not speak very highly of these deep cuts, but I don’t think you can scoff at the song-writing talents of giants such as Neil Diamond, Carole King/Gerry Goffin, Neil Sedaka, Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart… or Mike Nesmith.

Along with the expected classics such as “I’m a Believer,” “Last Train to Clarksville” and my favorite, “Pleasant Valley Sunday,”  The Monkees treated us to some awesome deep cuts – delving into the soundtrack from their 1968 cult classic film Head (“The Porpoise Song,” “As We Go Along”) , some Nesmith-penned tunes (“Listen to the Band,” “Mary, Mary”) and tracks from their 1967l album Headquarters where they asserted greater creative control in the studio (“All of Your Toys,” “Shades of Gray”).

It was great to hear Micky’s powerful pipes still in full force, belting out “Randy Scouse Git” and scatting on “Goin’ Down.”  I honestly think he has one of the best and most underrated voices  in pop music.  I loved watching Peter bounce back and forth between the guitar, keyboard, french horn and banjo – what an amazing musician!  Davy exuded so much energy on stage and still flashed those stars in his eyes as he crooned those love songs.  I remembered much I was enamored with him!

I feel like that many fans of The Monkees have to resort to “rescue criticism” when discussing the band’s significance in popular music.  There are a lot of preconceived notions about the band because of their origins and their television show.  However, when you actually study their careers, musical backgrounds and their groundbreaking accomplishments on their television show and albums, you can hardly dismiss their influence on pop culture and popular music.   I especially have a problem with the “Monkees didn’t play their own instruments” nonsense.  It’s a fact that they did.  Also, many groups and producers back in the 1960s used and shared session musicians like the famed Wrecking Crew  to record albums, The Monkees were no different than The Beach Boys or The Mamas and the Papas, for example.

Between Mike’s song-writing, Peter’s musicianship, Micky’s rock star vocals and Davy’s charisma, you have a legitimate band who held their own against other contemporary pop groups of their day.   Although we were missing Nez that evening, the three Monkees celebrated the youthfulness and joy of their music on that stage.

Setlist

  1. I’m a Believer
  2. Mary, Mary
  3. Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)
  4. The Girl I Knew Somewhere
  5. When Love Comes Knockin’ (At Your Door)
  6. Randy Scouse Git
  7. Valleri
  8. Papa Gene’s Blues
  9. Saturday’s Child
  10. I Wanna be Free
  11. That Was Then, This is Now
  12. I Don’t Think You Know Me
  13. All of Your Toys
  14. What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?
  15.  She Hangs Out
  16. Sometime in the Morning
  17. Someday Man
  18. Can You Dig It?
  19.  As We Go Along
  20. Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again?
  21.  The Porpoise Song
  22. Daddy’s Song
  23. For Pete’s Sake
  24. Cuddly Toy
  25. Words
  26. She
  27. Shades of Gray
  28. Goin’ Down
  29. It’s Nice To Be With You
  30. Your Auntie Grizelda
  31. Last Train to Clarksville
  32. A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You
  33.  (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone
  34. Daydream Believer
    Encore
  35. Listen to the Band
  36. Pleasant Valley Sunday
  37. I’m a Believer (Reprise)

Videos

Kick ass medley from Head featuring “Can You Dig It,” “As We Go Along,” “Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again,” “Porpoise Song” and “Daddy’s Song.”

Here’s a YouTube video featuring Micky nailing “Goin’ Down.”

Micky busted out the timpani on “Randy Scouse Git.”

I waited until the encore for my favorite song: “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”

We can’t forget “Last Train to Clarksville.”

Headquarters was well represented with “All of Your Toys” and “Shades of Gray.”

2011 Concert Season: Chicago

Chicago at Trib Total Media Amphitheater in Station Square
Pittsburgh, PA – May 24, 2011

I have really slacked off on my concert posts! Here’s hoping I can catch up and get back into the swing of things…

Watching the dark clouds loom over Pittsburgh from my office windows, I was pretty nervous about the spending the evening of May 24 exposed to the elements down at the Trib Total Media Amphitheater.  Fortunately, the clouds dispersed, leaving me to enjoy a gorgeous evening at the Station Square riverfront.

ChicagoTechnically, it wasn’t summer yet, but it sure felt like it, with the sticky Pittsburgh weather and the hot sounds of Chicago – that “rock and roll band with horns”-  entertaining us that evening.   Not even the freight trains speeding past the amphitheater could drown out the band’s classic hits as they heated up the the stage.

As the evening wore on, the weather eventually cooled down, but Chicago’s nine-member group never did, strutting and bouncing around the stage with their exuberant music.  All original members of the brass and woodwind section were out in full force – Lee Loughnane on trumpet, Walter Parazaider on sax and flute and Jimmy Pankow, the self-described “pelvis of the brass section,” on trombone.

When I hear Chicago’s music – classic hits such as “Beginnings,” “I’m a Man,” “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” –  I immediately picture myself driving down highway on a bright summer day, with windows open and music blasting, miles behind me and still many more miles to go.  The concert was a good way to welcome my impending summer chock full of fun plans.

The set list ranged from their earlier recognizable hits (“Saturday in the Park,” “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It is?”) to pop-infused love ballads from the Peter Cetera era, (“Baby What a Big Surprise,” “If You Leave Me Now”).  Bassist Jason Scheff nailed Cetera’s vocal range with ease.  I generally prefer the 70’s era in their catalog, but the live versions of these 80’s ballads really sounded fantastic live – not a bit cheesy.

The jubilant audience was on their feet and dancing during the final song – “25 or 6 to 4,”  It felt like we were all waiting for that jam to really let loose and celebrate.

The one song I was anticipating was “Beginnings” – my favorite Chicago song.   Taking a break from the keyboard, founding member Robert Lamm moved to center stage with acoustic guitar in hand, belting out the track from Chicago’s first album.  He voice was as deep, soulful and robust as ever.  These lyrics pretty much encapsulate how I feel about many experiences in my life, whether it’s when I have a crush, when my writing makes an impact on one of my readers, or when I’m simply enjoying a beautifully crafted piece of live music: “Only the beginning, of what I want to feel forever…”

Set List

1. Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon
2. Make Me Smile
3. So Much to Say, So Much to Give
4. Anxiety’s Moment
5. West Virginia Fantasies
6. Colour My World
7. To Be Free
8. Now More Than Ever
9. Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
10. Dialogue (Part I & II)
11. Alive Again
12. Call on Me
13. Old Days
14. Along Comes a Woman
15. If You Leave Me Now
16. Wake Up Sunshine
17. (I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long
18. Baby What a Big Surprise
19. Hard Habit to Break
20. You’re the Inspiration
21. Beginnings
22. I’m a Man
23. Just You ‘n Me
24. Saturday in the Park
25. Hard to Say I’m Sorry
26. Feelin’ Stronger Every Day
27. Free
28. 25 or 6 to 4

Videos

Here’s a YouTube video of “Saturday in the Park.”

2011 Concert Season: Crosby & Nash

Crosby & Nash at Carnegie Library Music Hall
Munhall, PA – April 29, 2011

Crosby & NashLast Saturday night, our Carnegie Library Music Hall was a very, very, very fine hall, with two folk rock heroes on the stage, and it wasn’t hard to hear these veteran musicians put musicians one-third of their age to shame.

Their white hair might indicate the length of their music careers, but the voices of 69-year old David Crosby and Graham Nash remain ageless.

The duo harmonized for over two hours, joined by James Raymond on keyboards (Crosby’s son), Dean Parks on guitar, Kevin McCormick on bass and Steve DiStanislao on drums.

I almost missed these guys.  Tickets sold out before I decided to buy them.  However, a few single seats opened up about a week or two before the show.  I grabbed 13th row center on the floor before somebody else did.

Founding members of The Byrds, The Hollies and Crosby Stills & Nash (& sometimes Young), the duo brought a jubilant audience to their feet after each of the 26 songs on their set list.

While the set list did not include any Hollies songs, The Byrds were represented with the psychedelic opening number “Eight Miles High.” Nash alluded to his legendary love affair with and subsequent heartbreak over singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, his sweet, clear English voice piercing the air with the beautiful “Our House” and “I Used To Be A King.” Crosby let his freak flag fly, belting out classic CSNY anthems  like “Almost Cut My Hair” and “Wooden Ships” with as much gusto as he’s ever had.

Crosby and Nash entertained the audience with a  blend of the past and the present:, featuring love songs and political protests; acoustic folk rock ballads and harder rock; CSNY classics and solo efforts; old and new songs equally relevant to current events.  I was struck by how many of their classic songs resonated with my life.

I felt the chemistry and friendship between the two rock icons, as they joked with each other and with the audience throughout the concert, tossing out their personal politics between songs to a crowd in full agreement.

Along with the customary poster I always buy, frame and hang on my wall as a reminder of each fantastic concert I’ve attended, I waited in line to buy a copy of THE ACTUAL CROSBY AND NASH CONCERT THAT I JUST WITNESSED!!!  Now I can relive the experience over and over!

Set List

Set One
1. Eight Miles High
2. I Used to be a King
3. Wasted On The Way
4. Long Time Gone
5. Lay Me Down
6. Just a Song Before I Go
7. Don’t Dig Here
8. Cowboy Movie
9. To the Last Whale: Critical Mass/Wind on the Water
10. A Slice of Time
11. Marrakesh Express
12. Deja Vu
Set Two

13. Almost Gone
14. Guinnevere
15. What Are Their Names?
16. In Your Name
17. They Want It All
18. Jesus of Rio
19. Delta
20. Cathedral
21. Our House
22. Military Madness
23. Almost Cut My Hair
24. Wooden Ships
Encore

25. Teach Your Children
26. Chicago

Videos

Here’s a snippet from “Teach Your Children Well.”

The final song of the night: “Chicago” –  The best part is that Graham Nash is playing without his shoes.  I have no idea if he had his shoes on the entire concert or not.

2011 Concert Season: Jeff Beck

Jeff BeckJeff Beck World Tour 2011
Pittsburgh, PA –
April 23, 2011

One of the songs Jeff Beck and his band played during their encore last Saturday night at the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland was Sly and the Family Stone’s “I Want to Take You Higher.”

Well Jeff, you did.

I was uncharacteristically on the fence about going to the Jeff Beck concert (as well as several others this year), after investing pretty heavily in concerts over the last few years (I probably should be more frugal).  However, I couldn’t pass up the two tickets my coworker offered me, since he was going out of town and had to miss the concert.  I won’t hesitate again.

Sporting his shaggy dark hair, occasionally flashing a gorgeous grin to the crowd, and exuding his English rocker cool, the 66-year old (!!!) guitar legend casually moved around the music hall stage, effortlessly coaxing his shiny white Fender Stratocaster to sing.  I guess that’s what happens after over forty years of perfecting his craft.

It wasn’t just the absolute skill that Beck displayed in his playing; it was also the power and passion that he conveyed through his instrument which really took me higher.

He made that guitar lie down, cry, plead and moan.

The four piece band – Beck on guitar, Rhonda Smith on bass, Narada Michael Walden on drums and Jason Rebello on keyboards – swelled the music hall with their enormous sound.  Normally I don’t respond to many female musicians, but Smith impressed me with the way she commanded her instrument with swagger and sensuality.  My eyes followed her as much as they followed Beck.

I loved Beck’s soulful and dynamic interpretations of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” the Impressions’ “People Get Ready” and The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.”  It felt like the walls were literally doing to tumble down when the band kicked it into high gear for “I Want to Take You Higher.”  Along with earlier songs from his catalog, he featured several songs from his 2010 album Emotion & Commotion (a fitting description for the show).   Beck’s final emotional rendition of Puccini’s aria “Nessun Dorma,” which added a unique classical element to the rock/pop/soul/blues mix, had the audience on their feet in adoration.  It was a diverse set list that really showed off Jeff Beck’s talent and combined a variety of songs in his catalog with tributes to his musical influences.

Set List

1. Plan B
2. Stratus
3. Led Boots
4. Corpus Christi Carol
5. Hammerhead
6. Mna Na Eireann
7. People Get Ready
8. You Never Know
9. Rollin’ and Tumblin’
10. Big Block
11. Over the Rainbow
12. Little Wing
13. Blue Wind
14. Dirty Mind
15. Brush with the Blues
16. A Day in the Life
Encore:
17. How High the Moon
18. I Want to Take You Higher
19. Nessun Dorma

Videos

Here’s an excellent YouTube video capturing three songs from the concert: “Hammerhead,” “Little Wing” and “I Want to Take You Higher.”

Here’s another video featuring “Nessun Dorma”.