Monthly Archives: June 2016

Buckethead @ The Tower Theater, Fresno CA 06/23/16

One of the weirder gigs I’d ever attended (weird in a good way), and definitely the most unique rock guitar instrumentalist I’d ever seen. Seriously, who is this guy!? Buckethead, better known to the IRS and his immediate family as Brian Patrick Carroll, is a sight to behold. He’s a lanky white guy with a mop of curly hair, with a Michael Myers mask and white bucket atop his head. He’s like a ghoulish apparition but with a gorgeous alpine white Les Paul Custom in his hands. Buckethead uses his own signature Gibson, a unique beauty with white pickups, no fret markings and red “arcade style” kill switches. It’s like there’s arcade buttons on that guitar. He’s a prolific recording artist and very well regarded within the guitar world, with connections and collaborations with acts like Iggy Pop, Bootsy Colllins, Guns N’ Roses, Serj Tankian of System of a Down, Mike Patton of Faith No More and Les Claypool of Primus. He’s released over 250 albums (!!!!!!) and composed and performed music for various films including Saw II, Ghosts of Mars, Last Action Hero, the Mortal Kombat movies, and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers??? In short, Buckethead is…something else. And definitely jaw dropping.

Watching him onstage, he’s a cross between a ninja assassin, a robot dancing wiz, a guitar virtuoso…and Santa Claus. Not only can buckethead shred, but can do so while doing the robot. It sounds silly as hell at first. But seeing it in person just adds to the man’s funkiness and gloriously weird stage presence. And then there’s the nunchuk portion of the show. A martial-arts fan, Buckethead went into an impressive nunchuk routine while EDM music blasted in the background. Just like his guitar playing, Buckethead is a master at fluid motion and efficiency of motion, making his dance and nunchuk routines appear elegant and gravity defying. It was like watching an emotionless mannequin come to life. His fret work was just as fluid and precise, even at blazing speeds. Definitely one of the fastest players ever, Buckethead’s style of playing is more accessible, more groove oriented than the likes of Vai, Satriani, Gilbert or Petrucci. His guitar lines grooved, rocked, went up to the stratosphere, and came back down for lovely, soulfully melodic playing. The epitome of that magical combo was “Soothsayer,” prompting hoots, hollers, devil horns and a standing ovation at the end. That song slayed. It began with a gentle groove and a lovely arpeggio, then picked up momentum and went into a fist pumping groove and shred fest. But it wasn’t simply a rock instrumental. It was also an emotionally satisfying piece of music. Other tracks performed included Jowls, Gory Meat Stump, Jordan, Lebrontron, Buckethead and Friends, Giant Robot, as well as sections of John Williams’ Star Wars Theme, Hendrix’s Purple Haze and Pure Imagination from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The set was around 100 minutes total and included surprises like the audience coming up to the front to demo the kill switches on the Gibson. At another point in the show, Buckethead and a crew member pulled out a sack and handed random gifts and stuff to audience members. As far as the stage production goes, the man has little to no overhead. There’s no backing band, no elaborate light or video show, just the artist, the backline rig, and one guy with a pony tail. Buckethead’s the show, what more do you expect or need. The crowd was very diverse. I enjoyed chatting with the guy to my right, we talked about Santana and how he’d seen a show at the Fresno Fair Grounds back in ’88. It’s always cool to see the different t-shirts at shows like this, you get to see the love for other artists. I spotted tour shirts by Megadeth, Mastodon, Godsmack, Rush, and of course I wore my Dream Theater Astonishing Live shirt. About the venue, the Tower is essentially a seated concert hall with no balcony, classic movie theater set up with a moderne art deco design. The Tower Theater is a historical landmark and it’s the visual and symbolic anchor for the Tower District itself and surrounding neighborhood. It seats around 750. It was tough to say how full the venue was, not a sellout but there was definitely a strong turnout, impressive for this kind of niche artist, musician’s music as some have said. At $35, attending this show was a no-brainer.

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Mega 97.9 Summer Jam @ Selland Arena, Fresno CA 06/17/16

This show was fun for a mess of reasons. The nostalgia, the beats, the booty shaking, etc. etc. This was an old school hip-hop/electro package. It was an evening filled with Roland 808 drum beats, new wave synths and classic grooves. We’re not exactly hip-hop fans, but there are some songs that for one reason or another became a part of our youth and make-up, just as any other important memory or experience would. As for this tour, every once in a while these 80s/90s packages roll through the country, usually billed as “old-school parties” or “Old School Jams.” Some packages lean heavy towards freestyle artists while others focus on classic hip-hop acts. This particular bill featured 90s hip-hop hit makers Sir Mix-A-Lot, Coolio, Tone Loc, and headliner Vanilla Ice, with classic acts Sugar Hill Gang, Grandmasters Furious Five, Rob Base, JJ Fad and Newcleus in support. Each group was allotted 20 minutes each or so. Newcleus opened the show for the early birds. 7:30 had rolled around and the crowd was incredibly sparse. The audience continued to fill in by the time Newcleus closed their set with the infectious “Jam On It.” Try NOT to sing that opening bass line. JJ Fad, the all-girl rap combo from Rialto, was the second act to go onstage. JJ Fad were connected to NWA and their manager Jerry Heller. They’re considered THE first successful female rap group. Eazy E’s label, Ruthless Records, owes its financial beginnings and first success to JJ Fad and their first single, “Supersonic.” Supporting JJ Fad on the turn tables was none other than Arabian Prince, one of the founding members of NWA. Arabian Prince was introduced to the audience and it was at that moment that he began spinning Eazy-E’s “Boyz N’ Tha Hood.” The place went nuts. The group did a verse and a chorus before going into “Supersonic.”

Grandmasters Furious Five and Sugar Hill Gang were the next two acts on the bill. Man oh man did they transport us back to the 80’s with tracks like “The Message,” “Apache” and “Rappers Delight.” It was also at this point where the volume went through the roof. I’d never gotten a headache at a gig before, well besides a Heaven & Hell show, but it got pretty damn loud. It was still awesome to hear these songs performed on stage like that. Tone Loc was next up and we witnessed full versions of “Funky Cold Medina,” “Get Low” and “Wild Thang.” And damn if they sounded just like the studio originals. Loc’s baritone sounded spot on. Crowd response was good and we were having a great time hearing this stuff live. The man was sweating like it was 100 degrees in the venue, the lights and valley heat were getting to him, and the heat wave hadn’t even hit yet. Loc’s set went over well. Rob Base soon followed. Out of all of this night’s performers, Rob Base has the sole distinction of being the only true crooner. Rob is one half of the classic duo that was Rob Base and DJ EZ-Rock. Sadly, EZ-Rock passed away years ago of a diabetic seizure. He was only in his forties. His set was brief and featured a medley of old school covers plus “Joy & Pain” and ending with “It Takes Two.” The man has a very good singing voice and the festive mood continued. Then came Coolio. Oh shit, Coolio’s set bordered on catastrophe. It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Props to Coolio for being the only act with an actual backing band. However his guitarist/vocalist had a tough time initially but finally got his shit together by midset. His guitar player’s vocals were off key and lacked power, especially during the opening medley, “All the Way Live” and “Fantastic Voyage”. Those backing vocals made us cringe and his harmonies just weren’t coming together. Things got worse for Coolio during “C U When You Get There.” What should have been a soulful ballad turned into a unintelligible, distorted, bass-heavy mess. We couldnt understand any of Coolio’s lines, it was just a shitty mess of low end and the crowd wasn’t responding. Coolio may as well have been performing to an empty room, and his frustration was visibly increasing. Erica was worried that he was going to pull out his piece and start capping chubby hoochies, simply because there were so many of them, easy targets. It wasn’t until the sax solo leading into “1,2,3,4 Sumpin New” that the group was able to pull the audience back in. That’s when everything jelled and all the players including Coolio recomposed themselves and brought their A game. I’m convinced the sax player saved their set. It woke everyone up and hypnotized the crowd, and then the momentum picked up and the group finally received a spirited audience response. The backing vocalist pulled off the choruses to “Gangster’s Paradise” with power and soul. Glad that Coolio and his backing band were able to get it together.

In comparison, Sir Mix-a-lot brought it. He had to be the most appreciative of the Fresno crowd and was best able to identify with the audience. He recounted his first gig in Fresno at the old Wilson Theater (it closed and reopened as a church). Wrongly dismissed as a one hit wonder, Sir Mix-a-lot opened with the track that first brought him to the Central Valley, “Posse On Broadway,” and looked back on that show, how he set up in the alley behind the building and was paid $350 for the gig. He performed complete versions of “Posse On Broadway” and “Put It On the Glass,” telling the audience that he knows we didn’t come to here medleys and cover songs. And then the moment came when all the ladies lost their shit. “Baby Got Back” was next and it got LOUD and the bodies really started moving. Sir Mix-a-lot had one of the best responses of the night. Final act to go on was headliner Vanilla Ice. Ice’s set was the most abrasive and ventured into rap-rock territory. His vocal delivery was aggressive, with a style and attitude similar to Kid Rock and Insane Clown Posse. Ice was the only act to incorporate a true stage production with his own props and light rig. Ice also had his own scary clowns on stage doing dance routines and tossing water on the audience. The first few numbers were hoppin but it reminded me more of a rock show versus an “old-school” hip-hop show. Vanilla kicked off his set with “Dirty South,” “Turn It Up” and”Hit ‘Em Hard.” A brief drum solo was performed by Ninja Keith. Some blasts from the past were next. Portions of “Play That Funky Music” and the “Ninja Rap” were next, and finally came the Queen sampled bass line. The audience went ape-shit and Ice was all smiles, seeing the crowd react like they did. The group went through a version of “Ice Ice Baby” fairly close to the original and Ice spit his lines like what’s found on record. The set wrapped up and we got the heck out of Fresno pretty quickly. There were 9 acts total on the bill and we had very good seats for $45 each. We had to do one of these shows at least once, glad we caught it and had fun like we did. The people watching was an added bonus ūüôā

Paul McCartney @ Save Mart Center, Fresno CA 04/13/16

A Beatle. A Beatle came to Fresno (that’s the part where my head explodes). Like a local reporter had written, Fresno received the royal treatment from Sir Paul back on April 13th. Almost 3 hours of live music, 37 songs. 37 songs!! Not 17 like most groups, not 21 or 22¬†like some of the more generous acts, not 24 like U2 on their most recent tour, but 37!!!¬†Back in the mid 60’s when the Beatles¬†still did live shows, they could get off the stage after 20 minutes. Then the group broke up and George Harrison started hanging around with Led Zeppelin – Harrison saw them perform 3 hour shows and said “3 hours, fuck me!”¬†Inspired by Zeppelin’s stamina or not, McCartney is generously performing a TON of music spanning his entire career, including piles of songs from the Beatles and Wings catalogue, and at 71 years of age with no sign of slowing down. He still has¬†passion, energy, and a zest for performing live.¬†I often say that¬†“I’m blown away” at various concerts, but McCartney’s set in Fresno was on a totally different plane, a¬†higher level, and I still get excited thinking back on it.¬†The combination was just right, a legendary yet¬†down to Earth performer, a¬†wealth of¬†timeless songs, elaborate and entertaining production, and a wonderfully grateful crowd that made a 10,000 seat arena feel like an intimate little concert theater. It wasn’t just mind blowing, it was gloriously¬†life affirming. My dad and I felt like we¬†witnessed a once in a lifetime event. Initially when I had heard that McCartney would be playing Fresno (not just playing Fresno, but OPENING the One On One¬†Tour in Fresno), I was in disbelief and I might have started seizing. while I’m not¬†the biggest fan of McCartney, The Beatles or Wings, I still had respect for the man, he’s a global treasure and The Beatles provided a pop/rock blueprint that all others have followed.¬†My dad and I couldn’t NOT see him. The show. Wow, THE SHOW. It’s a finely tuned indoor show with just about every¬†arena trick imaginable.¬†Elaborate lighting, video, lazer, pyro, elevating platforms,¬†they used just about everything.

About song selection,¬†I’ve heard repeat McCartney concert goers complain about what has become a static set. For a repeat customer, ok, I can see how hearing the same material live would get old. For first timers like me and my dad, the set was tremendously awesome. So you can either have 3 hours of material or variety in the set from tour to tour, not both. For the price of the tickets, 3 hours¬†of Paul is fine by me. McCartney was so engaging and playful. He was talkative, witty and¬†happy to be performing. After the first couple selections he paused so he could survey the audience and said “I just want to¬†take a little¬†minute and drink it in for myself.” The Fresno audience was beyond ecstatic and joyously welcomed their legendary hero. The variety of music was impressive. Just like McCartney had mentioned, we’d be receiving old stuff, new stuff, and a bunch of stuff in between.¬†A Hard Day’s Night holds the distinction of never being performed by McCartney as a solo act. There were plenty of offerings from the mid 60’s material. The band was in ass-kicking form. Mutli-instrumentalist Paul Wickens has been with McCartney’s solo band since the late eighties. He plays keys, backing guitar, banjo, as well as accordion and harmonica. He’s been in McCartney’s solo band the longest. Axe-men Brian Ray and Rusty Anderson¬†as well as drummer Abe Laboriel have been performing with McCartney since 2001/2002, and they inject¬†a fiery amount of energy into the live¬†performances, electrifying the songs.¬†McCartney’s voice has held up well, though it is evident that¬†he’s put on quite a few miles, with some¬†mild trouble occurring¬†during the ballads. He sounds like an older guy on some of those ballads, well, because he’s an older guy. He can still make those songs work, but I’m surprised they haven’t altered the keys to¬†some of those songs to better accommodate his¬†current vocal range.¬†In spite of¬†his decades of experience, he can still¬†thrill and entertain.¬†Surprises for me occurred when McCartney did a tribute to George Harrison, performing Something on ukulele, with the band joining in midway. Other sweet, touching tributes occurred for John Lennon, Linda McCartney, current wife, Nancy, and his children. The video show was very well done, footage from various stages in McCartney’s career was tastefully used, the most sentimental and heart rendering being the footage of his family and his time in The Beatles. The show was more than phenomenal. And my dad and I were taken aback, floored by how McCartney can still amaze even after all these years.

  1. A Hard Day’s Night
  2. Save Us
  3. Can’t Buy Me Love
  4. Letting Go
  5. Temporary Secretary
  6. Let Me Roll It
  7. I’ve Got a Feeling
  8. My Valentine
  9. Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five
  10. Here There and Everywhere
  11. Maybe I’m Amazed
  12. We Can Work It Out
  13. In Spite of All the Danger
  14. You Won’t See Me
  15. Love Me Do
  16. And I Love Her
  17. Blackbird
  18. Here Today
  19. Queenie Eye
  20. New
  21. The Fool On the Hill
  22. Lady Madonna
  23. FourFiveSeconds
  24. Eleanor Rigby
  25. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite
  26. Something
  27. Ob-la-di Ob-la-da
  28. Band on the Run
  29. Back in the USSR
  30. Live and Let Die
  31. Hey Jude
  32. Yesterday
  33. Hi Hi Hi
  34. Birthday
  35. Golden Slumbers
  36. Carry the Weight
  37. The End

Dream Theater @ The Fox, Oakland CA 05/07/16

I hadn’t been this close to the stage since the Touring Into Infinity Shows back in 1998. To say that I was geeking out would be an understatement. We¬†had seats¬†at stage right, between Petrucci’s and Labrie’s positions. We sat down in disbelief, we were in the 5th row and I seriously considered pinching myself. A fan made his way ahead of us and said a cheeky “man, these seats suck!” We cracked up, mock agreeing with the statement. We looked up, behind, and all around. We couldn’t help but marvel at the lovely, ornate facades inside the Fox. It was a majestic¬†house and probably the nicest venue¬†my friend and I¬†had ever encountered. It shined. This venue was¬†rich with history and culture. It stood out like a little jewel in the odd mix of buildings in downtown Oakland. It was a cool venue and very appropriate for¬†the band’s ‘production.’ This album, The Astonishing,¬†was akin to a play, the way the story unfolded and the manner in which the music was formatted. The music dripped with classical references¬†and operatic vocals. It was heavy with piano, strings and acoustic guitar. The group even utilized the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra for¬†parts of the album and bagpipes are featured in “The X-Aspect.”¬†Vocalist James Labrie¬†performed multiple roles and sang in character, changing his tone and delivery accordingly. For the live show, the¬†group employed slender, cascading video screens that¬†brought the story to life in CG form while the band performed. The light show was elaborate and helped to give the visual story on screen more drama and spatial effects. Add a venue appropriate for a Broadway production and you have¬†THEE rock opera.¬†The group is called Dream Theater, after all. If I had to criticize anything it was the confusing audience configuration.

This was a seated gig, including the pit area (again, like a play). And as the gig progressed, it was hard to figure out what kind of behavior was appropriate at this kind of show. Can I hoot and holler like a standard DT gig? Can I be all raised fisted and devil horned? Can we stand up…at least during the aggressive and heavy parts?? It was hard to figure out how to¬†support our group. It wasn’t until “Hymn of a Thousand Voices” that we were prompted to stand.¬†Throughout the set, James and John would periodically approach the edge of the stage and they encouraged a response from the crowd, but what kind of response? We went crazy (as much as we could) while seated, but it was¬†weird and limiting in frustrating way. Although I hadn’t been too exposed to the new material, it was still an excellent concert. It was vastly different from the previous tours and there was the complete absence of older material, but it was still a compelling and entertaining show. As a fan, stamina and patience are definitely needed if you’re still not familiar with all 2 hours of new material. A portion¬†of fans have decried this tour because of the exclusive focus on the new. I’m still not sure how people missed the memo, but it was always my understanding that this tour would feature the new material only, in its entirety. Fans living under a rock and expecting¬†“Pull Me Under”¬†would be sorely disappointed. This reminds of the Tales¬†From Topographic Oceans Tour¬†that Yes put on in 73/74.¬†I for one enjoyed the focus of this tour,¬†but¬†truthfully I’m spoiled in that I’ve attended over a dozen shows on previous tours – I can see how the DT concert newbie would be frustrated at the current set. Performance-wise,¬†each band member was in excellent form, but what’s new?¬†Hands-down, the¬†performer of the night had to be vocalist, James Labrie. James was on his game. Labrie isn’t just another metal singer. He’s a melodic singer with classical voice training, incredible lung capacity and a diverse tonal palette.¬†Vocally, the new album is like a marathon. It’s two hours of demanding vocal acrobatics. Labrie is all over the place on that album, crooning and sighing on delicate ballads and gradually brining up the energy and on the anthems and heavy rockers, all while changing his delivery and approach to stay in keeping with the individual characters of the story, including a woman (Faythe) and a young boy (Xander). It’s like he pulled out everything in his bag of tricks. And Labrie¬†executed the parts¬†live, pacing himself and heading back for sips of hot water and honey throughout the show.¬†One of Labrie’s recurring criticisms, especially pre 2012,¬†has been his¬†grating tone when singing/shrieking in the upper registers. However, the last¬†couple albums¬†including The Astonishing have seen vocals lines that appear to be written to better accommodate Labrie’s midrange – upper midrange register, what I consider the creamy spectrum of his tone, smooth and rich sounding.¬†Backing vocals were piped in¬†during some of the songs¬†to flesh out the harmonies. Petrucci has a microphone set up so he can contributing backing vox, but I’m not sure how much of him we’re actually hearing.

The light show and video screens augmented the music in an awesome way.¬†It wasn’t exactly like there was a¬†movie playing in the background while the band performed. But¬†it was just enough to pull the listener in and help to visually deliver the story that is The Astonishing, a geeky mash-up of all dystopian sci-fi stories imagineable (just think Star Wars, Hunger Games, The Hand Maiden’s Tale…and 2112, all thrown into a blender), but fun nonetheless. My favorite moment of the show was the triumphant “Our New World,” a grooving¬†anthem that will¬†MAKE you join in on choruses. It’s one of DT’s most concise songs ever, flying over in just under 4 minutes and featuring some of John Petrucci’s finest soloing, and in a 7 beat…at least I think it’s a 7 beat. All in all, it was a different but very good concert. Now that the group would listen to me, but I’d make changes regarding the seating configuration. While I can see why the seated arrangement up front was used, I think it takes away from the crowd energy and just confuses a hell of a lot of people. And now imagine if they added an encore. I think a fitting closer would be “A Change of Seasons.” The group would probably pass out by show’s end…