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Dweezil Zappa (Zappa Plays Zappa) @ The Tower Theater, Fresno CA 05/03/17

The first Frank Zappa song I ever head was “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow.” I was attending college at the time and broadening my musical horizons. This introduction to the Zappa Universe was thanks to a certain infamous file sharing program. The first time I heard this bizarre, hysterical and musically acrobatic “song,” I think I stared at my computer screen and blinked, not knowing what the hell just happened. I dove into this music thanks to the likes of Steve Vai, Warren Cuccurullo and Dream Theater. And any song that begins with “Dreamed I was an Eskimo” had to be crazy special and deviously clever. It was, and it was merely a preview of the eccentric brilliance that was out there in the Zappa catalogue. Several purchases later and a couple chance encounters with Mike Keneally and Steve Vai (a Martin Guitar Clinic and NAMM appearance), I found myself itching to somehow experience Zappa’s music in a live setting. Behold, Zappa Plays Zappa is born, brainchild of Dweezil Zappa.

This leg of the tour was in part a celebration of the Freak Out! album and entitled “50 Years of Frank: Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F@%k He Wants – The Cease and Desist Tour.” The name of the tour is a response to the trademark dispute that has occurred between Dweezil Zappa and the Zappa Family Trust (Ahmet Zappa/Executor). The trust ordered that Dweezil cease using the “Zappa Plays Zappa” moniker and to cease using images of his father, Frank Zappa, on all merchandizing. The details of this dispute can be found elsewhere and it’s a very sad read. Frank Zappa passed away in 1993 and left a mountain of a musical legacy behind. He was regarded as a genius, an avant-garde innovator that was never afraid to break the rules. He was also one hell of a guitar player. Dweezil Zappa has carried on this legacy by presenting the music of Frank Zappa at his live shows. It is only fitting that Dweezil, an accomplished guitarist in his own right, honor that heritage and with stellar musicians, many of whom were part of incarnations of Frank’s touring bands. For this touring cycle, the group would present selections including songs from Freak Out!, the debut album by The Mothers of Invention, Frank Zappa’s first rock combo.

The Freak Out! tracks are the wackiest, and yet some of the most brilliant music pieces you’ll ever experience. It didn’t sound like anything that was around at the time and still doesn’t sound like anything that’s out now. It’s freaky, complex, intricate, fun, jazzy, zany, it grooves, it boogies, it rocks, it sways, and it’s just one giant amalgamation of bizarre sound and eccentric brilliance. The vocals dart from spoken word narration, to lounge singing, to doo-wop, to soulful crooning, and on and on and on. It’s madness. But there’s something amazingly entertaining and musical about it. Only a certain breed of power musicians can pull off this crazy, impossible to play music with heart AND expert precision. The current line-up is no exception. They’re like musical super heroes. The Zappa musicians have always been untouchable players and unusual characters: Odd, weird, funky, freaky, cool, but above all…freaking geniuses. And at the core of this line up is a mellow and low-key guitarist in jeans and a black V-neck, armed with a gentle smile and a Gibson SG. There’s a calmness and serenity to Dweezil when he’s onstage, it’s spellbinding watching him, seeing him lay down his parts with nurturing care, then seeing how he glances over at his bandmates with equal parts pride and a quiet joy.

Zappa Plays Zappa is no stranger to Fresno. Fortunately for us, the group has performed in this area once or twice previously. Kudos to the group and booking agents for not forsaking our little neck of the woods. From the moment the group came onstage we knew we were in for an unmatched experience, variety and virtuosity. From the netherworldly bounce of “Transylvania Boogie,” to the vocal hilarity and madness of “It Can’t Happen Here,” the soulful “How Could I Be Such a Fool?” to the creepy waltz of “Who Are the Brain Police?,” it was an insanely wild roller coaster ride. During a pause, many in the audience began shouting song titles. Someone shouted “Watermelon!” Dweezil with a playful smirk said something like “Requests? You’ know what we’re gonna do? We’re gonna stick to the fucking setlist, that’s what we’re gonna do,” and the group powered on. David Luther on lead vocals, guitar, keys, and bary sax, was an eerily perfect match for this group. That deep voice is a striking resemblance to Ike Willis, Napoleon Murphy Brock and Frank Zappa’s vocal style. “It Can’t Happen Here” is a great example of that zany vocal delivery. “What Will This Evening Bring Me This Morning?” saw vocalists Cian Coey and Scheila Gonzalez harmonize and sing the hell out of that song. It was an exercise in power soul. The set had transitioned from Freak Out! era tracks to 200 Motels. And then the band reduced itself to a power trio, with Dweezil, Ryan Brown and Kurt Morgan ripping into a bitchin’ version of “Apostrophe,” the title track of the same album. You could feel and hear the great Jim Gordon and Jack Bruce in their playing. Bassist, Kurt Morgan, was awesome to watch. His facial expressions, nonverbals, mannerisms, his movements onstage. The way he curled his lips and bobbed his head when he locked into a tight, thunderous groove. And damn, no one, I mean NO ONE can rock cargo shorts and orange socks like that man. Throughout the concert, Kurt was playing insane bass parts, singing backgrounds, AND having an incredibly euphoric time while doing it. You could see the musical joy on that man’s face. And the way he played that bass during “Apostrophe,” I’m amazed those strings didn’t fuse onto the fretboard with all the kinetic energy and heat going on. About drumming power-house Ryan Brown, wow, everyone in this group has a legacy of big shoes to fill. The drummers in all the Zappa groups have always had the distinction of being an “it” guy, drummer’s drummers. One has to continue a legacy built upon and including Jimmy Carl Black, Ansley Dunbar, Vinnie Colaiuta, Terry Bozzio, Ed Mann, Chester Thompson, Chad Wackerman and Joe Travers. Bottom line, the drummer had better be a bad ass drummer. Ryan was able to easily channel the spirits of all the Zappa alums that came before him, and laid down a kicking groove while keeping all the intricacies and nuances needed to pull off those complex parts. And then there’s the striking Scheila Gonzalez, who can’t be a real person.She has to be some kind of musical virtuoso android fem-bot sent from the future. She’s an accomplished, award winning multi-instrumentalist, able to play flute, sax, keys, and sing like her life depended on it. She possesses a powerful voice, husky and throaty, and it gels well with Cian Coey’s raspy yet soulful diva vocals. Main keyboard player and violinist Chris Norton brought it all together, gluing the group together and anchoring it with complex leads and great background singing as well. KILLER line-up. At one point during the set, Dweezil made reference to these songs, the bizarre qualities of the music and how it all must have freaked out parents in the 60s. Dweezil expressed “This isn’t music from the past, it’s music from the future. We just haven’t caught up with it yet.” The group continued to faithfully execute pieces like “Inca Roads,” “Zomby Woof,” “Doreen/You Are What You Is,” “Keep It Greasy,” “Packard Goose,” and of course the lovely and tender closer to Joe’s Garage (and my biggest reason for attending this concert), “Watermelon in Easter Hay.” It gently murmurs its way into the world, delicate and dreamy, with a guitar tone that borders between space rock and surf rock (think of Santo and Johnny’s “Sleepwalk”). I have this deeply sentimental connection to that song. When I think of that melody, I think of my young kids, and snapshots of the joy and color of their growing up comes to mind, I’m not sure why. The song is regarded by many, including Dweezil, as Frank Zappa’s greatest guitar solo. There are several videos showing a composed yet emotional Dweezil Zappa, performing that song with great care and reverence as tears roll down his face. I think this Fresno gig had him just as nostalgic. Side note: Duran Duran performed a version of this song during a 1994 New York City concert, with Warren Cuccurullo on guitar (a Zappa alumnus, kind of young, kind of wow). The show continued with encores and the final closer, “Muffin Man.” This was an insanely great concert, performed by master musicians. It deepened my appreciation for Zappa’s brand of weird but devastatingly awesome music. I’m so fortunate I was able to see these guys close to home. If you have even the slightest inclination to go see this group, please do, you won’t regret it. Just watch out where the huskies go.

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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 🙂

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

Spring Fling: Cage the Elephant/Silversun Pickups/Foals/Bear Hands @ Save Mart Center, Fresno CA 03/11/16

MAJOR props to the promoters and KFRR New Rock 104.1 for bringing the Spring Fling to the Central Valley, and for an amazingly reasonable price too. We enjoyed excellent reserved seats for around 40 bucks each. The Fresno Save Mart Center is the newer arena in the city. Most people are familiar with Selland Arena downtown. Save Mart Center is the more modern facility situated near the Fresno State University campus, home of the Bulldogs. It’s a 10,000 seater but the upper deck was curtained off for this show, and it seems to be the trend for most rock artists that roll through there. I’m estimating that left the ticket pool to around 6,000. From my perspective, the floor and lower level were mostly full by the time the headliner took the stage. Consequentially, curtained off area made the arena appear a bit cavernous. Some have called Save Mart Center an odd choice of venue (many feel that it’s more appropriate for pop and country acts), but I think it’s the only venue that can accommodate such a large floor GA crowd while offering reserved seating too. I personally prefer this arena to Selland, however, Selland offers a bit more leg room in the seated areas. This was an alternative rock quadruple bill. While this package featured 4 alt-rock artists, an impressive amount of variety could be found with each group. The first opener was Bear Hands from Brooklyn, NY. This group is one those new beacons of light in the genre. They have a wealth of critical and fan support online, with many bloggers and columnists hailing them as one of the new heroes of Indie Rock. Dylan Rau’s voice and the group’s quirkily accessible songs have given Bear Hands a unique identity in the Alt-Rock world. Personally, my only exposure to this group up to this point were the singles “Agora,” “2am” and the breakout “Giants.” Ted Feldman’s guitar part was the first thing that grabbed me about “Giants,” the group’s first single off the Distraction album. It was a quirky but catchy tune – it was like the group put a bunch of (seemingly) unrelated musical ingredients into a blender and out popped this tasty indie flavored brew. There was the rhythmic electronic intro, choppy, staccato-like vocals, an ODB name check, a funky bass hook, spacey keys, and a guitar riff that took me somewhere…where, I’m still not sure, but damn it was cool. Live, it was even more enthralling. I wasn’t the biggest fan of “2am” when it was first released but it translated well in a live setting, that throbbing bass groove was so cool, something to chill out to, smoke out to, etc. The group played a very convincing set, setting the bar pretty high as openers. The group’s set was a brief 30 minutes but they were talented and entertaining. I wished I’d caught a headlining show at Strummers a year or so ago. This set was a great appetizer.

Next up was Foals from the UK. The group rocked it, their atmospheric yet hard hitting music struck a deep chord with the audience. I keep seeing Facebook posts from attendees saying “Foals killed it,” “bring back Foals,” “Foals were awesome, we had no idea who they were,” etc. etc. While Bear Hands provided more traditional indie stylings, Foals offered a more sophisticated and musically proficient set (with a bit of bounce). Of all the groups performing this night, Foals boasted trickier arrangements, dramatic stops/starts, changing dynamics, catchy keyboard hooks, celestial guitar sounds, longer song lengths, a passionate singer, and one hell of a drummer…while incorporating sick bass grooves and dance rhythms (just check out “My Number” and try NOT to move to it.) It was like hearing the best of new wave, alternative and progressive rock. Their singer, the Greek born Yannis Philippakis, had one of the most compelling voices: gentle and melodic at times, low and brooding on other occasions, and then that scream that comes out of nowhere. Damn. Back to their drummer, which I love, it’s refreshing to see a talented drummer who can play tightly while also being able to groove. Technically proficient drummers have the bad habit of sounding boring. More isn’t always a good thing. Not Jack Bevan, who can lay down challenging parts while keeping a heart pounding and memorable groove, “Snake Oil” and “Inhaler” for example. Best snare sound of the night also goes to Jack Bevan, high pitched and full sounding without that metallic tinny quality. The entire kit sounded so focused with great attack, it had to be a Tama Starclassic Birch set, very hi-fi sounding. And that snare, wow. It had cut as well as tone. Regarding their set, “My Number” had won us over, but the center piece of the set, and pretty much the moment that FLOORED Erica and myself, was the mesmerizing “Spanish Sahara.” It was more like a music piece, rather than a song in the traditional sense. The alt-rock epic was like a slow burning flame, growing ever brighter and more intense. The song was also very cinematic, the sounds took you to a place, mentally. And the slow building tension rose up like a wave while Yannis delivered his plaintive, sorrowful vocals. When I think of “Spanish Sahara” I also think of songs like U2’s “Bad,” King Crimson’s “Starless” and Radiohead’s “Exit Music.” Slow building, sentimental and dramatic. It grabs you and it’s hard not to pay attention and become enveloped by the sound. The entire set was impressive, with other standouts being the key track “Mountain At My Gates,” as well as “Providence,” “What Went Down” and the emotional “Give It All.” At the close of their 30 minute set, much of the crowd chanted “WE WANT MORE, WE WANT MORE!” as the techs hurriedly tore down the band’s equipment. There was little chance the band would come back out given the tight time schedule, but I hope the chanting brought smiles to the guys in the band. We would love to see these guys again. I can see how they make festival crowds go nuts.

The third act onstage was the Grammy nominated Silversun Pickups. Honestly, I was still trying to figure out why so many people have so much love for this group. To me, this group writes underwhelming music. I should like it, I mean they have obvious similarities to 90s alt-rock icons like Smashing Pumpkins, but I still wasn’t convinced. I initially didn’t have high hopes for this Spring Fling gig after a lackluster performance I saw as openers for Muse in 2011. That performance wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t necessarily good either. Sure they were in Muse territory, but the group still appeared listless and uninspired, like they were barely trying. Brian Aubert just stood there and the rest of the group didn’t leave an impression. This time around, the LA based group cranked it up a few notches and delivered an entertaining and spirited performance. Brian Aubert was having a great time. He strolled up and down the stage, interacted with the crowd and laid down his guitar parts with soul and sang with a ton of heart. He was all smiles and delivered a quality performance. The other band members also laid it down. Nikki Monninger on bass was a unique sight to see, her glittering dress acting like a shiny human shaped mirror ball. She provided backing vocals, additional keys and percussion while also trading lead with Brian on the spellbinding “Circadian Rhythm.” Joe Lester on keyboards played it cool, laying down his parts with an elegant and gentle flair. Chris Guanlao on drums was like a one man show onstage. His drum kit was unique, with his main crash positioned super high, well above his head and at a flat 180 degree angle. He also used multiple snares on his setup, with the main snare being lower in pitch with loose tension on the snare wires, making for a more rattley sound that blended well with the other band members. It was cool seeing Guanlao so into the performance, his mop of hair wildly thrashing around while pounding out his drum parts. The band had fun, with Aubert teasing Nikki Monninger before they eased into “Circadian Rhythm,” saying ‘Ok everyone, pay attention to Nikki on this one, you’re going to wanna watch her…ok Nikki, don’t fuck up!’ Silversun’s set was lower key in comparison to the first two groups, however they performed their brand of alternative rock with conviction and passion. They were very well received by the crowd, even filling in on the ‘We want it!’ sections of “Night Light.” They won my respect and I couldn’t help but feel like I witnessed something special this time around. They performed for an hour and stand out performances included “Panic Switch,” “Night Light,” “Latchkey Kids,” Wild Kind,” and “Lazy Eye.” I was looking forward to hearing “Bloody Mary” but it didn’t make the set this night. Great set and a great addition to this quadruple bill. I’ll never bad mouth Silversun Pickups again.

The final group on the bill was Cage the Elephant, also Grammy nominees. The band hit the ground running the moment they jumped onstage, opening with a trio of high energy rockers “Cry Baby,” “In One Ear” and “Spiderhead.” Singer Matthew Schultz constantly grooved and slinked across the stage, barely stopping to rest. I have no idea how the man can move like that and still have good breath control, but he pulled it off and made the audience crazy. It was a very cool surprise to see how commanding the group was and how rabid the fan reaction was, proving themselves more than worthy of the headlining slot. CTE is touring as a 6 piece with additional help on keyboards. Nick Bockrath is playing lead guitar and pulled off his parts with ease and looked very much like a confident, capable lead player. The whole group had great stage presence and were having a great time, especially the Shultz brothers, while bassist Daniel Tichenor enjoyed the show from his position with a laid-back coolness. Jared Champion’s drum performance was very unassuming, very reserved, but those aren’t bad things. He laid down his parts, no frills and bull-sh*t free. With music like theirs, Champion has to keep the train rolling and he did so without a single clam. Hailing from Kentucky, CTE’s style was loose, bluesy, funky, with a grittiness that set them apart from the three previous groups. Theirs was a raw sound with a Southern vibe kind of in keeping with early Kings Of Leon, but with a lot more swagger. You could hear classic rock in the vein of Skynyrd and The James Gang in there too, with a bit of punk and glam. They reminded me of a LOT of different groups, even The New York Dolls and Bowie. This hodge podge of sound made CTE uniquely versatile, in a way much different from say, Foal’s sense of versatility. They used a twin guitar formula, perfect for sweaty romps like “Aberdeen,” “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicket” “Shake Me Down,” Sabretooth Tiger” and “Mess Around.” Even deep into their live set, Matthew still had a super human amount of energy. To say his performance was energetic would be a massive understatement. The group played a massive headlining set, around 20 or 21 songs in length. They were relentless. And while they could pound out rockers and punk inspired numbers, they could also effectively dial things back and perform a gentle piece like my favorite song of theirs, “Cigarette Daydreams.” Matt’s vocals are so soulful on that number, with this sweet vulnerability. You think his voice is about to crack while crooning those sentimental lyrics, but he keeps it together, sweet and honest. This was a surprisingly awesome package tour. I knew it would be good but underestimated how great it could actually be. There’s nothing like being there and the music becomes something else in a live setting. We enjoyed the show and were fortunate enough to catch it that Friday evening. Several fans posted on KFRR 104.1’s Facebook page, applauding the station for helping to get a show like this to our little area. So long as people go and support this kind of thing, hopefully the same acts and similar groups will make a stop in Fresno and the Central Valley.

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Trivium @ Fulton 55, Fresno CA 02/02/16

Weeknight shows are tough to attend and I had missed out on seeing trivium the last occasion they were in the Valley, a Modesto gig with Volbeat. Attending this particular show was a no brainer: local and super inexpensive, with early bird tickets costing around 10 bucks and full price coming out to 19 after fees, leaving more cash for shirts and drinks. Local FM station 105.1 The Blaze was promoting this show and provided an onstage intro. Trivium to me, are equal parts Iron Maiden, Megadeth and Opeth – power metal with seasonings of thrash and Swedish black metal…sophisticated black metal, teetering on Progressive Metal. You can hear the aggressive, guttural characteristics mixed with the epic, sweeping qualities, with a strong playing ability. There are growls, screams, and actual singing. Personally, I prefer the songs with clean vocals, Matt Heafy has a great singing voice. Add a triumphant hook and you can’t help but raise your fists and sing along. I was hoping to get a semi-decent position at this gig, unfortunately the venue was mostly full by the time I arrived. Fulton’s a flat room and the stage isn’t elevated all that high, there was going to be a lot of neck straining. After the opener’s set, I managed to squeeze my way up to the 5th or 6th row. Just my luck, I was stuck behind a guy that smelled like a meth head, that sour odor that’s a cross between ammonia, burnt plastic… and cat urine. There was no way I was going to enjoy that show, so I resigned myself to the very back of the venue. There I enjoyed the occasional fresh breeze from the main entrance doors opening and closing. The show kicked off with Iron Maiden’s “Run To the Hills” on tape. And of course, a rousing sing-along ensued. We added a lot of nut to the operatic “ruuun foorrrrr youuurrrr liiiii-iii-iiiiives!” part.

Trivium’s set was blistering. It was an aggressive set they put on, with lots of chunk. The redeeming factor to moving to the back of the venue was the sound mix. The sound was unique at the rear of the venue. The rhythm section stood out, with Paul’s drums coming in with a thunderous amount of punch and clarity. Every nuance and ghost note could be heard. The micing as well as the room made for a unique sound, making everything about the drum mix excellent, the kicks, snare and hats especially. That double thumping backbeat got us going, and the snare sound was sick, nice and tight but natural sounding. Mic’d snares can sound so dead at times, the drummer may as well be pounding away on a cardboard box or a bucket. On the contrary, I could hear Paul’s snare in all its glory. But if there was one piece of gear that I coveted it was the hi-hats. Damn, they sounded so crisp and had an almost trashy quality to them. Paolo’s bass rumbled with the same clarity and power. Those bass lines practically galloped, reminding me of the way Steve Harris plays for Iron Maiden. With all this glorious low-end, consequentially, Matt and Corey’s guitars and vocals were semi-burried by the bass and drums but it didn’t take away from the performance. Matt and Corey played their tails off and executed their guitar parts with an impressive amount of dexterity, while trading off on the growls and screams on songs like “Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr.” Their riffing and soloing was eye-opening, the sweep picking and harmonized parts especially. The guitarists in the group have this thing for playing technically impressive solos that end in compelling harmonized parts, like a cherry on top. Paolo provided the clean backgrounds, often singing in counter to Matt’s vocal lines as well as harmonies. I’ve read criticism about Paolo’s backgrounds and even Matt’s lead singing. While they’re not always executed perfectly like that on record, they’re still quite strong considering the guitar and bass work they’re doing while singing. High points for me were witnessing “Strife,” “Built To Fall,” “Into the Mouth of Hell We March,” and of course “Until the World Goes Cold.” Power and emotion, no other way to describe those songs live. I tend to like bands that possess a lot of technical ability. But MORE isn’t always a good thing. Technical ability and wankering can become boring, uninteresting and lacking in soul. Not Trivium. Their playing ability doesn’t stand in the way of well-crafted songs. This group has a knack for fusing chugging metal with guitar wizardry, as well as memorable and catchy hooks. Great recipe.

Heafy was super appreciative of the turn-out, noting that the show was a sell-out. He went on to say that Fresno has been a longtime supporter of Trivium and thanked the audience for their dedication and love. Fulton 55 was packed to the gills, making for a sweaty, humid environment inside, a crazy contrast to the 38 degree frosty weather outside. Despite the cramped conditions, a pit erupted during several selections. It amazes me how within a couple seconds, the audience parts and a human turbine erupts. Props to the petite chick who jumped in and took part in the mayhem. How she didn’t get thrown around like a rag-doll or punted onto the stage, I can’t be sure. These pits weren’t for the faint of heart. As physical and aggressive as the moshing was, no one got hurt, everyone seemed to support each other, for the most part. It’s a turn off when a pit isn’t a pit and just a collection of drunk douche bags with an excuse to get rowdy. Props and respect to the security staff, they were definitely on their game and ejected a couple people who had too much to drink. PD was called in midway through the show and made contact with some of the offenders. The security staff are very active and conscientious, they always ensure a safe concert experience at Fulton 55. Quality group with a very strong live show, perfect for an intimate club date where the band is practically in your face.

  1.  Silence in the Snow
  2. Into the Mouth of Hell We March
  3. Strife
  4. Rain
  5. Tread the Floods
  6. Built to Fall
  7. Like Light to the Flies
  8. Insurrection
  9. Dead and Gone
  10. Becoming the Dragon
  11. Down from the Sky
  12. Until the World Goes Cold
  13. Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr
  14. In Waves

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Exodus @ Strummer’s, Fresno CA 11/04/15

I’m proud to say that I survived an Exodus show. This is classic Bay Area thrash. It’s grimey, dangerous and powerful. The music goes between brief doses of punky, musical rage as well as more epic, technically proficient pieces. And you can’t help but get into the chaos. Steve “Zetro” Souza said it best and I paraphrase, this is music to help let off some steam, to engage in a bit of violence. Souza is once again singing for the group, this tour in support of Blood In, Blood Out, is his first since leaving the band around 2004. Back is the classic impish shriek that’s a cross between Bon Scott and, well…some kind of satanic minion. It’s the perfect kind of vocals for such nether-worldly music. The group has played Fresno in the past and I kept hearing about how they put on an excellent show. What I couldn’t figure out is how a smaller club like Strummer’s can contain that kind of mayhem. Later I would find out that a full club can comfortably house the audience, while opening up to accommodate a pit. I don’t know how it happened, but a split down the venue occurred and the audience parted, erupting in a mosh pit. It was like watching a spinning blade, violently twirling around but no one got hurt. Props to the guys (and girl?) who could hang, but I’m definitely too old for that kind of crap.

The group brought it and then some. Most of these guys are nearing their 50’s and they can still kick ass. After “Blood In, Blood Out,” Steve mentioned that at his age he can’t drink and still do this night after night, and added “but I can still smoke a sh*t load of weed!” This is demanding music to perform. It’s aggressive, fast paced and complex, requiring a great amount of stamina and dexterity to perform. That’s probably why the set was shorter by most standards, around 15 songs in length and clocking in at around 90-100 minutes. That kind of brutality and precision can take a toll, and I’m betting that tendonitis is a regular pain for some of the guys up there on stage. So for this kind of music, 90 minutes or so is pretty damn good. Gary Holt is absent from this tour due to his commitments to Slayer. Kragen Lum is filling in for Holt on this tour and he’s been involved with the touring lineup since 2013. Lee Altus, Jack Gibson and Tom Hunting played effortlessly. The set was heavy with classic offerings from 1984’s Bonded by Blood as well as the new album, Blood In, Blood Out, which sounds like classic Exodus but with modern production. It’s a very good album, surprisingly good, especially for a non-‘fan’ like myself. Glad to catch these guys live and with Souza singing. I missed out on seeing them with Rob Dukes when they did a show with Megadeth and Testament. This gig definitely makes up for it but it would be cool to see Gary Holt performing again. I tried desperately to take some pics but a spot light kept screwing up shots 😦

  1. Exodus
  2. Black 13
  3. Blood In, Blood Out
  4. Impaler
  5. Deranged
  6. Children of a Worthless God
  7. Piranha
  8. Body Harvest
  9. A Lesson in Violence
  10. The Ballad of Leonard and Charles
  11. Beyond the Pale
  12. Blacklist
  13. Bonded by Blood
  14. The Toxic Waltz
  15. Strike of the Beast

Kevin Hart @ Save Mart Center, Fresno CA 10/28/15

This was our second time seeing Kevin Hart perform and the first time in an arena setting.  A group of us got in on the Livenation presale and purchased low level seats, third row, near the end of the arena. A tip for people buying more than 4 seats: Most presales have a limit of 4 tickets per order. I was able to use a combination of the Livenation AND venue presales, that way we were able to purchase 5 tickets instead of 4, and the seats were together. I made sure to indicate that I wanted the same price and section, I think that’s how we were afforded 5 seats together and not split apart. I’m betting the soulless scalpers and ticket brokers already use that method to buy a shit-ton of tickets before they go on sale to the general public. Three very good openers warmed up the show, all part of the Plastic Cup Boyz, including the very funny Joey Wells, Spank Horton, and Na’im Lynn. After a brief wait, Kevin came up next to a very loud and receptive applause.

Kevin Hart is one of the greatest story tellers out there. His act revolves around these ridiculous but hilarious life events. His previous routines have involved his family life, personal relationships, experiences in show business, etc. So while he doesn’t have a repertoire of jokes per se, he has a set full of original stories, and his outlandish story telling, delivery and use of recurring characters (his dad, uncle Richie Jr.) propel the show into side-splitting hilarity. He takes his time in setting the story up but there is no lull, no downtime. Kev’s routine just keeps going and it’s amazing that he keeps coming up with new stories, new material. The tour is called “What Now?” As in, well, what now, Kevin? What are you going to do and say next?” Props to Kevin for coming up with an hour of original material that easily stands next to the older material from past tours and TV specials. And in efforts of keeping the material fresh and preventing leaks, there is a tour policy of no phones for video or pictures, anyone caught using a device will be escorted out of the venue, a policy he’s enforced on previous tours. And wouldn’t you know it, several people were ejected with no refunds. Put the phones and cameras away, enjoy the moment. But one live picture would have been nice 🙂

This material was unique. It included bits about Kevin’s new home life, how private school is f*cking up his kids, Kevin’s fear of the dark, the lady with one shoulder, his dad and his lady friend coming to live with him for a bit, his daughter becoming the master of hide and seek, oh and the raccoon problem. Not raccoons, but raccoon (singular). The raccoon was the recurring character for this routine. Evidently there’s a raccoon that taunts Kevin. It points at Kevin, motions “BLAM BLAM” as if it’s shooting a gun (keep in mind it has no thumbs), grabs its d*ck, then runs off into the darkness. All of this sounds more hilarious live of course. Kevin is now tied with Fluffy (Gabriel Iglesias) for my favorite comedian. Awesomely funny show.

Mastodon @ The Soroyan Theatre, Fresno CA 10/23/15

FYI this is primarily a Mastodon review. I’ve been wanting to see the Grammy nominated Mastodon since 2010 or 2011. At that time they were doing a co-headlining tour with Opeth, another one of my favorite acts. When I found out that Priest’s Redeemer of Souls tour would make a surprising stop in Fresno, I practically jumped out of my chair. Popular metal and hard rock acts that perform in the Central Valley are becoming fewer and fewer, so I couldn’t miss Mastodon, even if they were allotted a mere opening set. Although Judas Priest was the headliner this tour I was more stoked to see Mastodon. The Mastodon sound is muscular, complex and impressively diverse. It’s so much more than typical hard rock or metal. It’s chest pumping, fist raising hard rock for sure. But it’s also challenging and exotic, much like the music of Judas Priest (not counting “Turbo Lover” of course). At times it has the mid-tempo, brooding stomp of groove metal like Pantera and Corrosion of Conformity. Other times it has the southern inspired sludge metal like Eyehategod and Down. Then add the virtuosity of prog rock like Dream Theater and Opeth, but without the keyboards. They primarily use harsh, death metal inspired vocals but there’s also the compelling clean vocals on the more uplifting sections of their songs. Additionally, Mastodon possesses a mysticism to their work which can be found in their album artwork, song titles and music, something that’s becoming rarer in regards to a group’s culture and identity.

Mastodon left an enormous impression on the Fresno audience. By the end of their set the capacity crowd gave a spirited and appreciative applause, many metal-heads offering a standing ovation. These guys are extraordinary players, with guitarist Brent Hinds and drummer Brann Dailor soaking up much of the limelight. Hinds is a shockingly good guitar player, playing the majority of the lead work while Bill Kelliher provided most of the rhythm parts on second guitar. Hinds is very skilled, pulling off complex solos that never veered into the ludicrous like many other shredders are guilty of doing. Each member of Mastodon provides lead vocals, with Hinds and bassist Troy Sanders providing the bulk of vocals. Hinds’ vocals were guttural and very much like grindcore and death metal vocals while Sanders shouted most of his lines without the deathy growl that Hinds would usually use. To contrast those harsh stylings, drummer Brann Dailor provided the clean, anthemic singing parts, often soaring above the thick layers of crunchy and sludgy riffs. Dailor’s drumming was crazy good. His playing style is heavy handed with a lot of cut on the snare, while flying across the toms with frequent paradiddles and fills, reminiscent of Neil Peart’s playing style…and while singing! Dailor’s strokes were so forceful that I could see him shaking out his hands in between songs, I hope he’s able to avoid tendonitis. Sanders and Dialor were very appreciative of the crowd response. Dailor stepped up to the center microphone and applauded the crowd, saying “Fres-no? More like Fres-yes!” It was a heck of a treat to finally see these guys live. I would loved to have seen the group perform “Curl of the Burl” and “Colony of Birchmen,” but I’ll take what I can get. The band was able to fit an impressive amount of songs within 60 minutes, playing a good deal of material from their new album Once More ‘Round the Sun. The highlights for me included “Tread Lightly,” “Crystal Skull,” “Blasteroid,” “High Road,” “Blood and Thunder,” and of course my new favorite, “Ember City.” I hadn’t heard “Ember City” until the show and it was cool as heck to hear. I even prefer the live versions over the studio version. The vocals on the studio version are effects laden. The live vocals are purer, and Brann Dailor sounds better without the studio effects all over his voice. This group has been criticized in the past for out of tune vocals, but I think with years of practice they’ve finally resolved that issue. Sanders’ and Dailor’s harmonies on “Ember City” were great and their voices complimented each other well. I think I’ll blast “Ember City” now. Priest’s set unfortunately didn’t possess the awesome qualities like that of the 2011 Bakersfield performance. This set was reduced by 1/3 in comparison to the Epitaph shows, with a set timing clocking in around 80 minutes. Mastodon’s set was a great consolation to this. Plus I was able to score an autographed poster!!!

  1. Tread Lightly
  2. Once More ‘Round the Sun
  3. Blasteroid
  4. The Motherload
  5. Chimes at Midnight
  6. Aqua Dementia
  7. Halloween
  8. Blade Catcher
  9. Black Tongue
  10. Ember City
  11. Crystal Skull
  12. Blood and Thunder

 

Mana @ Save Mart Center, Fresno CA 06/16/15

I love the fact that this group continues to perform in the Central Valley. They can still put out quality material, for the most part, and their live shows are always a riveting experience. Spanish language rock acts that tour this area are few and far between. La Ley and Molotov graced this area with gigs in October and December of last year…that was a long time ago. La Barranca also did a gig somewhat recently, but since that time, The Valley has been pretty dry, for more reasons than one. Fortunately, Mana’s new offering, Cama Incendiada, is actually pretty good and waaaaaay better than Drama Y Luz. Drama Y Luz is better used as a coaster or a paper weight. Granted, I was pretty hard on the group the last touring cycle, but a stronger album also means a stronger tour. So I was excited to pick up some decent tickets, $100+ a piece, lower level. The last two Mana gigs we had seats up in the rafters, so it was time to experience the group from a closer vantage point. Went the extra mile and made the player move of arranging transport by Limo for the girls and I. We enjoyed the limo company’s alcohol, stopped at In n’ Out for some grub and arrived at the venue with no trouble at all. Props to our driver for finding an alternate route, free from traffic congestion. We entered Save Mart Center through the Shaw entrance and didn’t even have to wait in line. We had a pretty good view from section 107 in the lower rows. We found our seats easily and enjoyed some tall ass frozen margaritas and waited for the show to begin. There was no opener scheduled and we anticipated Mana to go around 8:45. The entire evening was unfolding effortlessly and all the planets seemed to be aligned.

The group appeared and one could tell that Fresno missed them IMMENSELY. The reception was warm and it looked like the entire venue was on its feet. The band performed tightly as always and the new songs have been very well rehearsed. The light and video show were unique and very different from the last couple tours. The band used X-shaped lighting rigs that were suspended from the wings. The rigs would elevate and lower depending on the song choice. And the lights housed within the X-rigs moved independently, bathing the stage and the crowd with brilliant shades of color from multiple directions or in synchrony. The accompanying videos were a great touch, coloring the songs with collages of images, adding to the mood and vibe of the songs. A tribute to rainforest activist Chico Mendez was used during “Cuando Los Angeles Lloran” and a video of colorful sugar skulls were used during “Me Vale,” for example. Video of a burning bed was used during “Cama Incendiada” and the official video for “Mi Verdad” was projected onto a giant white curtain while the band performed behind. A b-stage was again used at the rear of the venue for the acoustic section. The mini stage was made to look like a bed, complete with a white bed skirt and metal, ivory colored head and footboards. About the band’s performance, Fher was flat on a couple occasions but no big mess-ups. Unfortunately the mix was very boomey with lots of low end. Fher’s vocals had a lot of echo to them and it was difficult to make out what he was saying during his monologues with the audience. Alex’s vocals came through more clearly on the other hand, especially when he introduced the local guest guitarist right before “Me Vale.” Overall, the sound wasn’t bad but it could have used some tweaking and improvement. I don’t think there’s any such thing as a bad Mana performance. Personally, I was underwhelmed by Alex’s snare drum and stripped down kit. He created some buzz before the tour began by mentioning DW was designing a new kit for him and he was very excited about it. The kit from the last two touring cycles were more bad-ass in comparison: they sounded and looked beautiful, sexy even. The main snare was thuddy and too low pitched for my tastes, more appropriate for softer selections. A second snare, a piccolo, was to the left of the high hat and used sparingly. And the kit was reduced to one rack tom, a 12 inch. A single timbale, two floor toms and four Octobans to the left of the hi-hat completed the drum setup. I appreciate Alex trying different snare sizes and tunings, but this band’s music demands the commanding snap of a piccolo snare or a standard sized snare tuned way the hell up. The music sounds more exciting that way. Alex’s drum solo had added flare to it, literally. Pyrotechnics were used, with flames shooting out from around Alex’s kit while he laid down his solo. Similar performance from the last couple tours, but the snare was all wrong, damn it. Juan Calleros did his thing, and oddly enough he was hooded the first half of the set, I wasn’t sure if it was even him on stage. But the stance was definitely his, the lean that he does while laying down his bass parts, and the man never moves! And Sergio Vallin did great guitar work as always and had a brief solo spot. His tone was fiery on “Corazon Espinado” and his playing overall was flawless. The songs went over very well but there hasn’t been much change to the arrangements the last few tours. To change it up,”Oye Mi Amor” was used to start off the encore section, this time with a remixed, EDM styled intro. “Clavado En Un Bar” was played early in the set instead of the usual set ending slot.

Unlike the 2012 Drama Y Luz gig I attended, this set flowed very well while featuring 4 of the new songs and a couple covers. There’s variety to this new album, Cama Incendiada, and the songs are memorable and anthemic, unlike the flaccid and forgettable crap on Drama Y Luz. The remainder of the set featured fair representation from most of the group’s back catalog. The older songs supported the new material and the tracks complimented one another very well. Absent from the set were most of the well-known rockers and jungle grooves, songs which I personally prefer. However this night’s set, although a bit low-key and pop rock, was still very entertaining. I have to accept that I will most likely never see “Selva Negra” or “Ana” performed live. Highlight of the night had to be Somos Mas Americanos, a corrido that brought out the Mexicano/Mexicana in everyone. The onscreen lyrics and visuals that went along with SMA were appropriate and very well done, making for a great connection and all-around performance. “El Rey” followed “Somos Mas Americanos,” an excellent and spirited 1-2 punch of Mexican standards. Continuing that vibe, a great cover of Los Bukis “Si No Te Hubieras Ido” was performed at the end of the acoustic set, inspiring a sentimental sing-along with the audience. While I feel this set was stronger than the 2012 Bakersfield set, I think this night’s Fresno crowd was a bit more tame and restrained in comparison to our South Valley brethren. I could see that Mana had the Fresno crowd to their feet. But in comparison, the Bakersfield crowd went nuts and lost their minds when the group performed. I’m thinking the Bakersfield crowd is more appreciative because let’s face it, they get jack shit in regards to big name concerts (besides the country superstars and say, Kelly Clarkson). This show was close to a sell-out, probably over 90% capacity. I could see clusters of empty seats up in the nose bleeds, as well as a few semi empty rows in the lower level at the rear of the venue. I’m speculating that the Tuesday night gig as well as economics played a factor in that. The group went on stage at 8:45 and didn’t stop until 11, not too shabby. See this group if you can, they’re not getting any younger. Amazingly, Fher and Juan Calleros are now in their 50s. Alex Gonzalez is 46 and Sergio Vallin is 41. Mana can still put on a great show. It was a very fun and entertaining night, definitely wouldn’t mind repeating that at again.

  1. La Prision,
  2. Corazon Espinado
  3. Cama Incendiada
  4. Cuando Los Angeles Lloran
  5. Amor Clandestino
  6. Eres Mi Religion
  7. Clavado En Un Bar
  8. Me Vale
  9. En El Muelle De San Blas
  10. Mi Verdad
  11. Somos Mas Americanos
  12. El Rey
  13. Drum Solo
  14. *Acoustic Set*  Te Llore Un Rio
  15. El Reloj Cucu
  16. Maripos Traicionera
  17. Bendita Tu Luz
  18. Vivir Sin Aire
  19. Si No Te Hubieras Ido
  20. Oye Mi Amor
  21. Labios Compartidos
  22. Rayando El Sol

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Molotov @ The Rainbow Ballroom, Fresno CA 12/06/14

Molotov are in a nutshell, the Mexican version of Rage Against the Machine. Rap-rock with socio-politically inspired lyrics. Add risqué subject matter, twisted humor, vulgarity and satire, and you have an aggressive yet very entertaining hard rock band. So to be more accurate, this group is like RATM with a somewhat perverse and playful smattering of Primus and Frank Zappa added to the mix. A good example of their unique brand of humor is the title of the group’s debut album, “Donde Jugaran Las Ninas?,” (Where will the little girls play?) which is a pun on Mana’s breakthrough album, Donde Jugaran Los Ninos. Molotov added to the racy title by including even racier cover art, which depicts a young female, dressed in a school uniform, sitting in car with her underwear pulled below her knees. Yikes. More seriously, the group tackles sobering subjects like Immigration and social inequality. I’m by no means a fan, but they actually booked a Fresno date and I just had to experience this group live.

The audience was just as entertaining as the group, if not more so. The crowd was young, student aged, with fans up to their 30s as well. And they were animated as hell. It was a sweaty show, full of movement, jumping and moshing. There were mostly dudes in the audience and a sprinkling of chicas in the mix, most of which could have used some fashion advice from the wifey, but oh well, it’s a Molotov show, not a Pitbull show. This was an impressive turnout, it was cool to see such support for a group that’s mostly underground, even for the Rock En Espanol movement. Molotov have churned out gold records in Mexico and Spain, but the North American market outside of Los Angeles can be tricky to gauge. Fortunately there’s an audience here and a strong market for Spanish language rock.

The gig began around 10pm and there was no opener. Sound quality was very good. However I couldn’t understand what the hell Tito Fuentes was saying! To be clear, the vocals were understandable. But whenever Fuentes addressed the crowd, which was frequent, it was a muffled, warbled mess. All I could get was “bwahbwahbwahbwahchingasumadrebwahbwahbwah.” The band members blew me away with their ability to change instruments and take over lead vocal duties. Randy “El Gringo Loco” would step out from his drum kit to play guitar AND he does lead vocals on a few numbers. The other guys, Tito, Paco and Miky, would also switch it up, trading lead vocals, guitars, basses and even filling in on the drums while Randy played guitar. Very talented bunch of guys. I’m not the most familiar with Molotov’s materials. The group performed for close to two hours. Songs they performed included Frijolero, Gimme Tha Power, Noko, La Raza Pura es la Pura Raza, No Existe, Parasito, Crazy Chola Loca, Chinga Tu Madre (love that title), Mas Vale Cholo, and closing with Matate Tete and Puto.

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