Category Archives: Music

My 2015 in Review

Looking back on 2015, I had quite a good reading year. While my stats below don’t seem that impressive, I was happy with the quality of books and the array of literary gems I found. I’ve never been a speedy … Continue reading

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Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band in Vancouver, B.C.

I’m still excited about seeing Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band in concert on Monday night at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C. It was a big treat to myself and at some expense to go, but of course in the end it was totally worth it.

I’ve been a fan since probably the “Born to Run” album in 1975 and have seen him numerous times over his long career; the first time being in 1981 at the L.A. Forum. A friend of mine urged me to go this time saying you never know how much longer the E Street Band will be touring. So with that thought in mind I had to go, and of course I wasn’t disappointed. It was just so excellent a show, I don’t know where to begin.

Bruce played songs off of every album and kept his set list spontaneous and fresh, often taking requests from signs in the audience. He has always mingled with his fans and let people participate, but this time it was more than ever. He used a stage that went far into and around the floor to sing and dance and get people into it. He even crowd-surfed all the way back to the main stage at one point, which isn’t bad for a 63-year-old.

I still don’t know how he does it all. The energy, the songs, the passion! He plays nonstop for hours and is in his element every step of the way. I don’t think he’s ever let a fan down. Maybe he didn’t play “Atlantic City” or “The River” or “Born in the USA,” but he plays so many great songs that you’re blown away more than you could ever know.

If I try to think of a personal highlight to the show, there’s almost too many to single out. Was it when he pulled an 80-year-old onstage to dance with him during “Dancing in the Dark”? Or was it when a young girl in the audience sang with him on “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day”? Or was it the touching tribute he gave to deceased band members Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici? Or was it when he sang “Racing in the Street,” “Because the Night,” or his signature song “Born to Run”? Or was it any of the rest of his fantastic songs? I was pretty thrilled during the whole three plus hours, a tingling bunch of adrenaline dancing to every moment.

I didn’t even have a ticket before the show but wound up scalping and got a close seat diagonal to the stage. It was amazing. I could see the Man so closely, his face, his expressions, his sweat, the band. He seemed to be having a total ball, as was I. So if you get a chance to see the E Street Band even these days, don’t pass it up, even if it’s out of town. He plays a fair share of both the new and the old. So it’s just right. And the band is as good as ever, with special recognition to Mighty Max on the drums for putting it all on the line and to Jake Clemons for playing the sax just like his dad used to. Below are the songs Bruce sang in order – if you can handle them.

Set list:

Shackled and Drawn
Out in the Street
Hungry Heart
We Take Care of Our Own
Wrecking Ball
Death to My Hometown
My City of Ruins
Spirit in the Night
Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?
Red Headed Woman
Streets of Fire
Because the Night
She’s the One
Cover Me
Darlington County
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
Raise Your Hand
The Rising
Badlands
Land of Hope and Dreams
* * *
Racing in the Street
Radio Nowhere
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
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The Be Good Tanyas in Concert

I thought the Be Good Tanyas had broken up years ago and were done for good, but apparently they’re baaaack! I saw them in concert last evening, and they have other tour dates planned as well. The Vancouver folk-bluegrass trio had gone on hiatus around 2007/2008, after touring extensively behind the group’s three popular indie albums: Blue Horses (2000), Chinatown (2003) and Hello Love (2006). After that, the girls burnt out and opted for individual projects. Last night they seemed back in old form: Trish on the banjo and guitar, Samantha often on the mandolin and Frazey at the vocals helm (they were backed by a bass player and a drummer as well). The girls were a bit disorganized between songs, but played old favorites soulfully and as if they were happy to be back. I recognized most of their songs, though it had been a while. They produce a folky cool sound, though you often can’t understand all their words because of their impressionistic, mumbled renderings, but nonetheless the songs’ feelings shine through. Here is the set list from their May 17 concert in Calgary:
1) In Spite of All the Damage
2) Only in the Past
3) Reuben
4) Ootischenia
5) Colorado Girl (Townes Van Zandt song)
6) The Littlest Birds
7) Human Thing
8) One More Cup of Coffee (Bob Dylan cover)
9) Dogsong (aka Sleep Dog Lullaby)
10) Horses
11) Birds (Neil Young cover)
12) Waiting Around to Die
13) September Field (new song)
14) For the Turnstiles
15) Song for R.
16) Here Comes the Sun (Beatles cover)
17) A Thousand Tiny Pieces
18) Light Enough to Travel Continue reading

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In Memoriam

Levon Helm (1940-1912) with The Band; a sad day losing such a legend in music.

No matter how many times I listen to The Band’s music or see the concert film “The Last Waltz,” (which I did again last night), I can’t seem to shake my focus from Helm’s voice and his playing and how he infused the music with so much. His singing on “Up on Cripple Creek,” “The Weight,” “Ophelia” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is simply magical and forever near the top in the annals of rock-n-roll.

For two fascinating interviews with Levon, check out the 1993 and 2007 talks he had with NPR’s Fresh Air here. Continue reading

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Rachael Yamagata at the Birchmere

Combine an awesome venue like the Birchmere with a talented songwriter with an awesome voice and you get a splendid evening. Such was the case Tuesday night with Rachael Yamagata. Her deep, sultry voice and her sad loungey-sounding songs were perfect for the intimate atmosphere of the club. She played with just two other band members in a more striped down version of her tour that is out and about backing her most recent album “Chesapeake.”

Onstage, she mixed the generally strong new material with older favorites and played especially beautiful on keyboards, lending poignancy to her often heartrending lyrics. Unsurprisingly her cover of Annie Lennox’s killer-sad song “Why” fit right in with her repertoire. The only drawback perhaps to the evening was that she had already sung earlier in the day outside at the National Cherry Blossom Festival and by the end of the Birchmere show her normally gorgeous voice was pretty whipped. Still, it was a pretty great show, so if you get a chance to see her at a small venue, don’t miss it. Here is the set list that she played on March 27:

Even If I Don’t
Why (Annie Lennox song)
Saturday Morning
Sunday Afternoon
Elephants
Starlight
Worn Me Down
Duet
Be Be Your Love
You Won’t Let Me
Dealbreaker
Meet Me by the Water
Reason Why
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Wrecking Ball

Leave it to Bruce to knock Adele out of the No. 1 album spot last week with “Wrecking Ball.” He is the Boss after all. Certainly the legion of his fans (including me) are listening to his latest LP, which rails heavily against fat cats and bankers for bringing down the economy and empathizes as usual with the blue-collar workingman. It’s an album that ruminates angrily about the state of the union and takes on a weightiness in about every song.

I guess first off I almost have to recuse myself from even discussing “Wrecking Ball” since I’ve been such a huge Springsteen fan since the early days with “Greetings From Asbury Park.” He is a national treasure no doubt and has so many classic, classic albums and songs. Who could ever count or measure them? He and the E Street Band are much beloved and his concerts over the years have been more than amazing.

So it’s interesting to note that the new songs have created a bit of a stir. Some such as David Fricke of Rolling Stone have given the album five out of five stars, saying it’s up with the best of his work, and yet others feel it’s heavy-handed, preachy and self-righteous and isn’t as good as many of his other efforts.

With time, the album has been growing on me. I didn’t take to the new songs immediately. For one thing, some of the album’s upbeat music seemed incongruous with its downtrodden words. The Irish/Celtic musical elements on a few songs particularly threw me. Also there was less storytelling in the songs, and I wasn’t hooked right away on the melodies. Maybe even some of his words and imagery seemed like he had used them before.

And yet the album is still good. I’m sure Bruce is held to a higher standard than mere mortals; after all we judge him by his greatness. In terms of his recent albums, I think “Wrecking Ball” compares favorably to “Magic” (2007) and “Working on a Dream” (2009), both of which I liked quite a bit, and it has the “Seeger Sessions” (2006) populist, anthemic feel to it, but it’s no “Rising” (2002) album or perhaps even “Devils & Dust” (2005), both of which I played into the ground. I give “Wrecking Ball” about 3 or 3.5 stars.

About half the songs on “Wrecking Ball” I like, and the other half not as much. Here is my list of likes:
Wrecking Ball
This Depression
Jack of All Trades
We Take Care of Our Own
Easy Money
Rocky Ground
We Are Alive

And Misfires?:
Swallowed Up
Death to My Hometown
American Land
Shackled and Drawn
You’ve Got It
Land of Hope and Dreams

Feel free to disagree and forward your complaints and list.

And if you haven’t heard Bruce’s colorful keynote speech at the South by Southwest festival, you must take a listen. Continue reading

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The Latest Albums by Sinead O’Connor & Kathleen Edwards

It’s quite nice now that Academy Award season is officially over and the hoopla can die down. Along with Valentine’s Day and the Super Bowl, February is now safely in the rearview mirror. Even Uggie (at left) seems relieved; as well he should be after “The Artist,” which he starred in, took home gold.

I’ve been enjoying two albums that came out recently. Have you heard the latest LP by Sinead O’Connor, “How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?”? Wow, she still seemingly has the voice and power of her former days. I’ve been a delinquent fan of her music and haven’t listened to much of it since her very first albums, “The Lion and the Cobra” (1987) and “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got” (1989), which I must have played completely into the ground on my Sony Walkman back then. Though I also remember her “Universal Mother” (1994) album fondly with “Fire on Babylon” and a cover of Kurt Cobain’s “All Apologies.”

It’s good to see the Irish singer back, with an album that’s reminiscent of those remarkable early days. She was just 21 back during “The Lion and Cobra” and now she’s 45. Obviously much has been made of her life, struggles and outspoken statements over the years, which I can’t say I’ve followed closely. No doubt, she seems to bring a lot of it on herself but also at times receives a bad rap for following her heart, conscience and spirituality. Can’t blame her much for that. But one can dig the music on this recording without being born again or caring much about her personal life on the Twitter-sphere.

Some of the tracks on “How About I Be Me” are quite uplifting; she sounds happy; others are blunt with indignation. Favorite tracks on the album include: “The Wolf Is Getting Married,” “Reason With Me,” “4th and Vine,” “Old Lady” and “Queen of Denmark.” Check them out.

Perhaps on the flip side of that is an album I’ve been listening to by Canadian Kathleen Edwards, now 33, called “Voyageur.” Man, it’s smooth. It sounds a bit of a departure and more polished than her more country-roots-sounding albums “Failer” (1999) and “Back to Me” (2005). “Voyageur” is a journey through one troubled relationship; apparently Edwards began recording the album just months before her divorce from her musician-husband. She lays it down on the album, sounding open and vulnerable. The upbeat, opening track is especially good as she sings “I’m moving to America, moving to America, moving to America, It’s an Empty Threat.” Other favorite songs on “Voyageur” include “Mint,” “Change the Sheets” and “Chameleon/Comedian.” It’s an album that’s too good to miss. Continue reading

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Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs in Concert

I was lucky to get in to see Ray and the Pariah Dogs as it was sold-out and nobody looked to be selling any tickets. It seemed to be the most coveted concert of the summer in Calgary because the place was packed and people had no seats to spare. Fortunately, at the last minute, a couple had an extra ticket for sale, which turned out to be my golden ticket. It was dead-center orchestra about 12 rows back; hallelujah, it was amazing! I had missed the opening act, but it wasn’t Brandi Carlile, who had started some of the shows on the tour. It was someone else. But it didn’t really matter, the crowd was rowdy and geared for Ray. He and the Dogs didn’t disappoint; they blew the lid off the intimate concert hall with a soulful, heartfelt performance of many of his classics. He said a few thank-yous during the show but otherwise kept pretty quiet, in typical Ray-style. He let the songs speak for themselves, which they did wondrously and clear. Below is the setlist from last night’s show. My favorites were: For the Summer, Jolene, and Shelter, though it’s hard to really pick from such a great set. Keep playing the tunes!

Burn
For the Summer
Beg Steal or Borrow
Hold You in My Arms
Repo Man
Achin’ All the Time
Blue Canadian Rockies (cover)
Shelter
Devil’s in the Jukebox
Are We Really Through
New York City’s Killing Me
God Willin’ & the Creek Dont Rise
(Unknown song)
Trouble
Old Before Your Time
Jolene
Henry Nearly Killed Me (It’s a Shame)
Like Rock & Roll and Radio Continue reading

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Chris Isaak in Concert

I haven’t seen much of Chris Isaak in recent years, but I once saw him in concert three times in a week in 1992. Back then, he opened for Bonnie Raitt at Red Rocks, and a handful of us in the crowd got to come onstage to dance. I was smitten. I recall he wore bright, fancy suits and his shows were amazing. Fast forward to 2011, and Chris and his band are still playing great music and shows! It’s a good time to see him too since he’s playing at some smaller venues. Here’s his song setlist (below) from Aug. 19, 2011 at the Century Casino in Calgary, where I saw him from the 4th row. You’ll notice along with his hits he played some covers of classics from Sun Recording artists, and those covers will make up his next album out in October. If you get a chance, don’t miss him!

Beautiful Homes
Dancin’
Somebody’s Crying
Don’t Leave Me on My Own
I Want Your Love
San Francisco Days
Wicked Game
Speak of the Devil
Western Stars
You Don’t Cry Like I Do
Go Walking Down There
American Boy
Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing
Ring of Fire (cover of Johnny Cash)
Dixie Fried (cover of Carl Perkins)
How’s the World Treating You (cover of Elvis)
It’s Now or Never (cover of Elvis)
Miss Pearl (cover of Jimmy Wages)
Great Balls of Fire (cover of Jerry Lee Lewis)
Blue Hotel
Big Wide Wonderful World
Can’t Help Falling in Love (cover of Elvis)
Oh, Pretty Woman (cover of Roy Orbison)
Forever Blue Continue reading

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Lilith Fair in Calgary

I caught the last four acts of Lilith Fair tonight at McMahon Stadium, the kickoff of the new Tour, the first since it was discontinued after 1999. Erykah Badu, Sheryl Crow, Sugarland and Sarah McLachlan put on a great show! Here is the set list from Sheryl and Sarah.

Sheryl :

Our Love Is Fading *(new album)
Every Day Is a Winding Road
Can’t Cry Anymore
Strong Enough to Be My Man
Favorite Mistake
First Cut Is the Deepest
Summer Day *(new album)
Sign Your Name Across My Heart (cover of Terence Trent D’Arby)
If It Makes You Happy
Soak Up the Sun

Sarah :

Angel
Loving You Is Easy
Building a Mystery
Stupid
World on Fire
I Will Remember You
Really Happy * (new album)
Adia
Possession
Sweet Surrender
Your Love Is Better Than Ice Cream Continue reading

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