Saturday, April 28, 2018

Wishbone Ash Rocks Sacramento - If Rock 'N' Roll Is Dead, Andy Powell Didn't Get The Memo

Going into yesterday evening's show at the B Street Theater in Sacramento, California, I knew it would be good. Andy Powell has always insured a high quality product, but honestly, I was not expecting what I witnessed. This latest iteration of Wishbone Ash is as powerful as any lineup the band ever fielded, and it may even be the best. One of the best shows I've witnessed in the last five years, a band at its apex.

Lineup changes for rock bands are a funny thing— it's a delicate business of factors that can lead to discussions of musical compatibility to the ability of beings to live together on a tour bus. A lineup change can fail disastrously and alienate a fanbase, or in some cases, it can give a band new life.

One of the great examples of this in recent times is the tremendous fire that Ritchie Faulkner lit under Judas Priest when he joined the band. He invigorated a lineup that was running the risk of becoming too entrenched in its own past, and Faulkner did an amazing job to rekindle the fire that fuels the metal foundry that is the Priest.

This year's Ritchie Faulkner Award (remember this a year from now!) is going to the newest member to join Wishbone Ash, and the bands' ninth guitarist, Mark Abrahams.

I can't honestly tell you the last time a guitarist new to my realm held me so enthralled. This cat exudes stardust. First, above all things other, he knows, loves, and respects the music of Wishbone Ash. This band features some of the most challenging arrangements in the world of guitar rock, and Abrahams knows them back to front. Second, he looks equal parts like he's thrilled beyond dreams to be in a band with Andy Powell, but he also looks equally like he could not care less. He is one of those players who makes what he is playing his own— he sticks to the arrangements, but his tones, his phrasing and incredible vibrato are all his own. I just wish I could have seen the look on Andy Powell's face when they first played together with the band. Powell has hired a lot of great players over the years, but I saw him shake his head and smile more than a few times last night as his younger charge took the ball and ran with it.

Wishbone Ash— I last saw them in 2013, and it was an excellent performance. Powell has never settled for less in a lifetime labor of love that has now been running for forty-eight years, but the band I saw last night has evolved from being an excellent outfit to greatness. No disrespect to any player that came before him, however, Abrahams playing and energy are reminiscent of a younger Gary Moore, and the effect is not terribly dissimilar to the effect Moore had on Phil Lynott's group when he would show up with Thin Lizzy. Abrahams is the ideal fourth corner and his presence should insure that Wishbone Ash not just maintains its place in the world of rock, but it may just be that the third act might be the bands' best. I can't wait to hear what this outfit does in the studio.

Andy Powell runs a tight ship— this band is amazing in its ability to turn on a dime and change direction through complex arrangements, yet still maintain the emotion and subtly of the myriad dynamic changes and complex melodies and harmonies. Bob Skeat is one of the most solid, powerful bassists in rock, jumping from finger to pick and back, and he also supplies the harmony vocals that are such a huge part of the bands' history. Drummer Joe Crabtree is still behind the kit and he's playing more explosively than ever, and he brings a great sense of musicality to the proceedings, a factor that is a make or break factor with musical greatness. Crabtree's subtle stick work is a big part of what makes these complex arrangements easy to digest for the listener.

Speaking of Andy Powell, it looked last night like he was having the time of his life. The crowd was fantastic, the band surprisingly energized for the last night of an American tour, and Powell was the perfect host and ringmaster. His guitar playing, while never less than excellent, is being elevated by the presence of the new kid on the block, you can viscerally see the effect and inspiration he's getting from their six string dialogues, and he knows just how to make it work. Powell is a very underrated talent with a voice that delivers night after night, and a melodic guitar style that has resonated with audiences since the days of Woodstock. I would be remiss if I did not mention that Andy Powell also authored on of the finest rock autobiographies I've ever read, entitled Eyes Wide Open (link below).

If rock 'n' roll is dead, someone forgot to tell Andy Powell and Wishbone Ash. It looks to me like they're just getting started. Long live Wishbone Ash.

Thanks to the entire band for what they brought. Two hours of joy in times that are so often less than joyous. You guys made a lot of people happy last night.

Set List:

Eyes Wide Open
Way Down South
The King Will Come
Throw Down The Sword
Leaf and Stream
Wings of Desire
Standing In The Rain
Jail Bait


Faith, Hope, and Love
Blowin' Free

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Michael Schenker Fest - Lights Out in San José!

photo by Robert Lio
Michael Schenker Fest played to a nearly sold out, loving crowd at the San José National Civic Center on Saturday night, but as much fun as the audience had belting out lyrics with their favorite Schenker vocalists and being mystified by their hero's heavy licks, I think the most fun was actually had by the eight hard rock legends who make up the Fest.

I don't believe that I've ever seen a band have more fun onstage. The four singers (Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet, Robin McAuley, and Doogie White) came across more like a hard rock version of the Four Tops than competing metal myths, and their fun was both contagious and inspiring.

With the exception of some one off shows, it is most unusual to see a working band featuring both singers and musicians from various eras of a popular band's career, the Michael Schenker Fest is a hell of a template for future tours. This tour sees Schenker and company playing for crowds that are four times as large as we have been seeing in recent years, and this band was tailor made for large rooms. They are incredibly powerful and melodic.

Michael Schenker has seen more lives than the average cat, and he's never played better or been seen having such a great time onstage. The night's setlist featured a mini-set by each vocalist in the order of their time with MSG that is parsed with an instrumental number strategically placed between each singer's appearance. At various times, each singer is joined by their contemporaries, and their ribald humor often evokes a memory of Marx Brothers' road shows. No egos, no competing, just collaboration and sharing the love between four veterans who have served well.

Geoff Ketler/Aces High Photography
Schenker is playing like a man possessed, and he's on the short list of the greatest guitarists of his era. His dexterity and speed are not hampered by the years (or the ravages), and he is now improvising more than he has in the past, and seems to be having great fun doing so. There has never been a better time to be a Schenker devotee!

Four sets of solid history from Barden, Bonnet, McAuley, and White, are followed by an excellent set of UFO classics from the band's legendary live album, Strangers In The Night. Also, the tracks the band plays from their new Resurrection album fare very well in a live setting.

Kirstine Walton Photography
I'd be remiss if I didn't speak of the band. This is truly a greatest hits version of various Schenker ensembles, and the Fest features the always excellent Steve Mann (Lionheart, Sweet) on second lead guitar, vocals and keyboards (and it was great to see the band perform the hit "Anytime" from 1989), drummer extraordinaire Ted McKenna (SAHB, Rory Gallagher), and on of my favorite rock 'n' roll bassists, Chris Glen. These fellows rage through the setlist (see below) like a runaway train, and their power and precision is majestic.

If you have chance to see this tour, DO NOT MISS IT! I've been closely following Michael Schenker since the mid-70s, even working for the band as a guitar tech for a brief time during the McAuley/Schenker years, and I must say that there has never been a better time to see this man weaving his six-string magic, and to have him joined by so many brilliant musicians from his storied history might just make this the tour of the year.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Lance Lopez - Tell The Truth - An early contender in its class for 2018

Lance Lopez overwhelmingly succeeds in his quest to bring sizzling blues rock to the masses once again with his latest full length release, Tell The Truth, currently out on Mascot Label Group.

Tell The Truth is that rarest of beasts, a well thought out blues rock record. In a genre which can become stiflingly repetitive, Lopez, along with producer Fabrizio Grossi, avoid the usual pitfalls by bringing to the forefront some elements too often found absent in so many youthful displays of six string exuberance common to the breed.

This is apparent right out of the shoot as "Never Came Easy" starts off the proceedings with a dropped D tuned acoustic guitar and an effected vocal that sounds as close to Nashville as it does to Texas, but where you would imagine the song would then kick off into the predictable guitar histrionics, a sultry electric piano that sounds as if it just found its way out of 1973 and a growling, throbbing, greasy bass line come in to accompany Lopez's gritty vocals. This song set is strongly autobiographical, and when Lopez breaks into his silky slide guitar solo the soulful background vocals paint the picture to great effect. Song based blues rock - Lopez hits the nail on the head, and he keeps it between the ditches for the entire ride.