Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Concert Review; John Fogerty; Friday July 20/07, Molson Ampitheatre, Toronto

John Fogerty has probably visited Toronto more often in the last 10 years than he did in the 25-odd years since Creedence Clearwater Revival folded. The leader of that legendary band wrote and recorded almost as many hits as the Rolling Stones, and all within a few frantic years starting with the band’s 1968 self-titled debut. For almost two decades, he refused to perform C.C.R. songs in public, until Bob Dylan met John Fogerty, and joked that the world might only remember “Proud Mary” as an Ike & Tina Turner song. Since that legendary club meeting and live jam in 1987, John Fogerty, the writer and voice of C.C.R. has played many of his hits in concert. The man can still sing very well, and his band is as good as Creedence ever was. Like C.C.R, they still rarely jam or improvise on stage, preferring to play the songs straight. Fogerty’s band works as a tight, well rehearsed live juke box, and the hits pour out nightly.

John Fogerty kicked off with “Travellin’ Band”, postponing his standard opener, “Born On The Bayou” until later on. He played the odd vintage surprise, such as “Ramble Tamble” from the first Creedence record, but Fogerty mostly stuck to a rather conservative set list. There were a few “Centerfield” cuts, along with the well received “Déjà vu (All Over Again)” from 2004, during which the video screen displayed the coffins of American soldiers returning from Iraq.

That was followed by “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”, one of the few songs that featured some stretching out among band members, although even this rendition virtually matched the 1969 extended Creedence version. The guitar playing was split between John and Billy Burnette, while drummer Kenny Aronoff held the dueling guitars together.

John introduced the next song, a new one from his forthcoming release, and dedicated it to his daughter. The new song “Don’t You Wish It Was True?” is classic Fogerty- irresistibly catchy and easy to remember. It was played on the P.A. system at the end of the night for good measure.

From here, the band launched into the old C.C.R. finale “Keep On Chooglin’”. This was a surprisingly short version too, but it did give the band one more chance to show off just a little bit. Tonight’s version was surprisingly short, but the band was perhaps wary of the 11 p.m. curfew in effect at the Ampitheatre.

The cowbell in the follow-up could only have been the start of “Down On The Corner”. These were followed by a couple of songs from the 1986 record “Centerfield”- the title track, “Rock and Roll Girls”, and “The Old Man Down the Road”.

On the 2004 “Vote For Change” tour, “Fortunate Son” was practically dedicated to George W. Bush. That political slant was replaced tonight by a lot of “God Bless You’s” between songs, but it was still a treat to hear John sing that particular song. In fact, it sounded more energetic than the brief finale of “Bad Moon Rising” and “Proud Mary”. John Fogerty’s current touring band naturally consists of well seasoned players, and one wonders if John is needlessly resisting any urge to change some of the live arrangements of the songs they perform. Surely he has heard the Ohio Players’ deep, slow, thick-as-molasses funky version of “Proud Mary” or Gene Harris’ gospelized version of “Green River”? Still, Fogerty’s voice and playing have survived the last few decades largely intact, and that alone is no small feat.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Mini Review; The Black Lips, Lee's Palace, Toronto, Spring 2007

In the wake of so many pretty-boy punk bands hyped by the music industry in an ever increasingly desperate attempt to remain current, I was prepared to dislike this Atlanta-based group. Instead, the Black Lips were surprisingly energetic, and used their sheer nerve to overcome obvious comparisons to fellow hard rocking Stooges disciples like Thee Hypnotics. In fact, they showed a few of us aging cynics that there are bands still eager to rock hard, without pretending to be hardened street punks.
The Black Lips' high energy music is complemented by raucous performances, although the antics that are becoming part of their reputation generally took a back seat to the music tonight. There were occasional moments of gratuitous silliness, which was only mildly distasteful, but thankfully the band seemed more intent on getting across with their music instead of the odd bit of spitting or drooling. With respect to stage antics like this- either do something crazy or don't, but mere drooling between verses is hardly shocking or necessary at a show that is rocking in it's own right; the band didn't seem particularly inebriated and the audience was with them from the first song. Altogether, the Black Lips put on a pretty hot set at Lee's Palace, although in retrospect their slot as the opening act perhaps ought to have been reversed.

Note; I slapped this quick review together, saved it with notes on a different topic altogether, and came across it while looking for something else entirely. Pictures of this entertaining night are at in the 'Live Pics' set.

Concert Review; Dennis Coffey, Saturday July 14/07, Harbourfront, Toronto and the Orbit Room (with The A Team)

After playing regularly for years around Detroit, the ex-Motown session guitarist Dennis Coffey has played a few rare of out-of-town shows. He rocked the South By South West festival in Austin earlier this year, and at long last a Toronto date was arranged for a show at Harbourfront.
It was a fine Saturday evening to enjoy Harbourfront, but once again the drawback to free concerts here is the number of curious bystanders who often come and go, with cell phones and loud children in full effect. Luckily, Dennis Coffey seemed to have attracted a more pensive element, because the crowd was paying attention to the music. One other drawback is the strict deadline imposed by the city, requiring the last notes at outdoor concerts be played by 11 p.m. sharp. As an opening act, Dennis Coffey had only an hour to show Torontonians what we've been missing, and he made the most of it. Dennis was augmented by a few local musicians, recruited by a local bass player introduced only as "Adrian". Together, they performed about a half dozen instrumental tunes.
The audience was able to get into the groove right away with the infectious opening number, "It's Your Thing". Dennis' cover of this song is on his first solo record, "Hair and Thangs". There was virtually no talking between songs, save for a couple of "Thank You's" for the audience and the backing band, who did an excellent job.
After a meandering instrumental, Dennis Coffey returned to familiar ground, when he played "Just My Imagination". For all the intense sounding guitar effects he still uses, Dennis Coffey led the band with a surprisingly subdued sound. The resulting guitar sound is almost reminiscent of Eric Clapton with Derek and the Dominoes, when he was still willing to cut loose, but not in his Cream style, with the guitar as loud as possible.
Dennis introduced his next number, the funk/ blaxploitation classic "Black Belt Jones". While replicating the distorted, effects laden vocals on this song would be next to impossible on stage, Dennis substituted that motif with a tight jam, bouncing between his guitar and the Moog and Fender Rhodes keyboard flourishes. Not surprisingly, the set's closer was Dennis' biggest solo hit, "Scorpio", from the 1971 Detroit Guitar Band record "Evolution". This track was both a certified dance floor smash back in the proverbial day, and it also joined a select few instrumentals like "Apache" in creating the base for the beginnings of hip hop. While samples of music from James Brown and P-Funk eclipsed "Scorpio", this instrumental was an integral part of the seventies hip hop parties that took off in the Bronx before taking over the world. Tonight's version was in the Dennis' current jazz-funk groove, rather than the hard funk that characterized much of those Detroit Guitar Band records. Dennis Coffey played as well as ever, before he thanked the crowd, and "Adrian", who did a commendable job in assembling the back up band. Adrian also got an opportunity to demonstrate his own considerable capabilities during this final number. Altogether, this was a damn fine and overdue debut from one of Detroit's finest session guitarists.
"Scorpio" wrapped up his Harbourfront set, but Dennis wasn't finished playing to Toronto funk fans; word quickly spread Dennis would likely drop in at the Orbit Room later on this Saturday night.

Dennis Coffey and The A Team; Saturday July 14/07 Orbit Room, Toronto.

This was a huge treat, and a surprise until word started getting around at Harbourfront that Dennis was ready to play some more. Local band The A- Team was the scheduled act, but they were lucky to have been playing this popular little spot on the same night Dennis Coffey was in town, and dropped in with his new bride (they married last weekend) and a couple of friends. The A Team's guitar player, as capable as anyone else in this tight band, was gracious enough to lend Dennis his guitar when Dennis broke a string.

After the band played a few eighties R&B covers, Dennis got up on stage while they were playing Chuck Brown's classic "Bustin' Loose". Dennis certainly did bust loose in here, bringing the funk on harder than he did earlier for the Harbourfront audience earlier this evening. A packed, sweaty club should be funkier than an outdoor stage, in front of a seated audience, in daylight. Sure enough, Dennis didn't disappoint. He went through an array of his effects, throwing all manner of licks, notes and riffs at the appreciative crowd. The extended jam morphed into Terrence Trent D'Arby's eighties pop hit "Wishing Well", and even that soft song rocked with Dennis' help. While he was only on stage for two songs by definition, the protracted demonstration of guitar-led funkiness that Dennis laid out for us was as gratifying as his earlier set. The notion of playing one show, and going to jam later at another venue has all but died out in recent years, so let's also thank Dennis Coffey for reminding us of that grand tradition as well.

Pictures of both concerts can be seen at

Concert Review: Various Artists- Afrofest, July 7-8, Queen's Park, Toronto

How appropriate that Toronto's first big, free, summer music party comes right after Dominion Day. There are always plenty of events competing for folks' attention, from the re-named Steelback Indie to the official Yonge Street party, but that is what makes Afrofest one of the city's best loved music events among Africans and the sonically adventurous, and one of Toronto's best kept secrets, simultaneously.
For the nineteenth year, Music Africa have once again excelled in booking a wide array of talent featuring African music (with a dash of samba on Saturday) from the continent and more locally sourced grooves. There were no less than three stages set up at Queen's Park, including one for hand drummers looking to do their thing with like minded people. There was also the "Village" full of food and souvenir vendors, selling everything from incense to dvd's to large exotic insects preserved as paperweights. This is also one of the few truly all-ages events in this city, where all ages usually means "all" of those years from 16 to 18, or else family events geared more for little children than anyone else. Afrofests brings out families, singles, couples, and people of all ages and colours seeking a good time. Once again, the entire event was broadcast live on CIUT 89.5 FM ( online), complete with between-set interviews with some of the artists.
Saturday saw a few local acts demonstrate their dancing and drumming, and local act Samba Squad fit right in despite their obvious Brazilian-inspired sound. Cameroonian singer Nya Soleil led his band through an upbeat set of melodic, almost gentle African grooves with his band. Unfortunately, so few people in the audience spoke French, so basic stage chatter like introducing the band and inviting the audience to sing along were largely lost on the crowd. HAJAMadagascar and The Groovy People followed Nya Soleil, playing even more upbeat music for the growing mass of spectators. Dancing in the crowd picked up during HAJAMadagascar's set, creating what the Afrofest Official Guide describes as "a real riba satrana"- or dust ball, referring to the dust that kicks kicked by dancers on the ground. HAJAMadagascar (sic) is a musicologist and multi-instrumentalist who led his band The Groovy People through different genres of Malagasy music. This was yet another excellent Canadian debut for an African artist performing at this festival. It is also likely one of the few places in North America where one can expect a decent turn-out of people from the home countries of most Afrofest performers, from Madagascar to Morocco. Saturday night's final performance ended at 11 p.m. as required by law, but not before the Mali-Quebec collaboration Abdoulaye Diabate and Source played a rousing set that kept everyone on their feet. Their Afro-fusion sound was augmented by Japanese keyboardist Emi Yabuno, and the band was led by Abdoulaye Diabate and Quebecois musician Sylvain Leroux, who stood side by side for most of the performance.
Sunday started at a leisurely pace, with a dance performance getting things underway. Pekoce, a keyboard player and M.C. from the Democratic Republic of Congo went over particularly well with the younger members of the audience. Isaac Akrong & African Dance Ensemble followed, featuring a percussion section backing a dance, which was choreographed by musicologist Isaac Akrong for Music Africa to celebrate fifty years of Independence in Ghana. This ensemble included a large, cubic, drum, which one could hit from the side, or straddle while playing the front surface. In a weekend packed with exotic drums, this one stood out in particular.
Maroc'N'Real followed with Hassan El Hadi, who is one of Morrocco's best loved oude players. Singer Sabah Lachgar's vocals maintained a North African feel to the music, which was complemented by flute playing from Marie Saintonge. Their music was enjoyed, but the audience's excitement rose palpably between sets, with the anticipated arrival of the Cape Verde singer, Lura.
It was a mere coincidence that Brazilian rhythms would return for a second day at Afrofest, but Lura's Bossa Nova sound was very enthusiastically received. Despite the sudden rain, Lura danced around the stage and seemed to enjoy herself. Her songs, in Portuguese, are apparently in the Cape Verde Batuku style that describes local issues, but like calypso and reggae, one can talk politics and keep the groove flowing, as Lura demonstrated.
Samba Mapangala and Orchestra Virunga closed Afrofest with another drum-heavy set that inspired the crowd to keep on dancing despite the long day. The Congolese born Samba Mapangala got his musical start in Uganda and later in Nairobi, Kenya. With his group Orchestra Virunga, Samba recorded a number of African hits through the 1980's. He has since relocated to Maryland, but he brought several Virunga alumni for this appearance. Queen's Park was by now filled with eager fans dancing away, but the show still ended on time.
Next year, Afrofest turns twenty. It has slowly but steadily grown into one of the most musically reliable events of the season, despite bringing in acts which few people outside the various African and World Music communities have even heard of. This is a challenge which is only compounded by recruiting acts which would normally be prohibitively expensive for promoters to bring to Toronto. Adventurous music fans who missed Afrofest this year should keep this festival in mind for 2008.
Pictures of Afrofest are posted at, check under the "Live Shots" set.

Concert Review; Antibalas; Friday, June 29, 2007, Opera House, Toronto.

Bands that rise slowly and steadily are few and far between these days. It seems more efficient to hype somebody into large venues, and hope to get at least one or two high-earning tours out of them before a new flavour hits the scene. Antibalas went from playing to a handful of us at their Lee’s Palace debut, to packing the Horseshoe, and this time they played to a rather full Opera House. They have worked hard on the road to present the tight Afrobeat Orchestra which has earned a dedicated following. Their c.d.’s might not be monster sellers, but their presence in your town is as safe a bet as any for a stellar live performance.

Tonight, Martin Perna led the band through one longer set rather than the two shorter sets they used to spring on unsuspecting audiences. Despite cutting their playing time, their performances are so good that nobody leaves an Antibalas show frustrated at the end of the night.

As the band’s catalogue has grown, they have dropped the Fela covers in favour of their own songs. These have grown beyond Afrobeat to include the jazzier sounds on their current “Security” c.d. and the Latin jams they now bust into, along with those spacey flourishes from organist Victor Axelrod.

They played songs like “Filibuster XXX” from the new disc, and older Afrobeat jams from the band’s early days after their brief incarnation as The Daktaris. Singer Amayo still sings almost all the songs, filling in with the percussionists during the instrumental passages. Everyone keeps busy on Antibalas’ stage, which is no small feat when dealing with thirteen odd performers, including a full horn section. This time out, band leader Martin Perna stepped further away from the spotlight while some of the other members cut loose and take turns fronting the band. Jordan McLean vamped and played trumpet and flugelhorn for an extend jam, while Amayo was supporting the percussion section.

The audience seems to recognize more of the band’s self-penned tracks, particularly songs with a catchy chorus, such as “Government Magic” from a 2005 release of the same title. The final encore tonight, the irresistible “Che Che Cole” also comes from this release, but the vocals for the live version come from guitarist Marcos J. Garcia.

The Fela influence can never leave a band dedicated to the genre he pioneered, but Antibalas have diversified their sound, especially in the last few years, to go beyond that of Afrobeat revivalists. Stateside, they might be passing that torch to fellow Americans such as the Chicago Afrobeat Project and Ann Arbor’s Nomo. Antibalas consistently put out intense, musical energy through their concerts, and tonight was no exception. The added bonus is the band, while moving in new directions, is not abandoning their cherished Afrobeat sound, but adding to it. If the new “Security” c.d. sounds a little subdued, fear not; Antibalas’ concerts are the same high-energy events they always were.


Pictures are at

Brian Auger & Oblivion Express; C.D. Review; Looking In The Eye Of The World (Fuel 2000)

This latest offering from the English Hammond B3 King finds him on familiar ground. Brian Auger’s current incarnation of Oblivion Express features his daughter Savannah and his son Karma on vocals and drums respectively. There are a few different bass players Brian recruits, for touring, but Dan Lutz is handling bass duties on "Looking In The Eye Of The World". Featuring thirteen tracks and clocking at just over 70 minutes, this is a rather ambitious release.

The disc opens with the short, mood setting “Happy Overture”. The keyboards are funky, while the entire band remains in a subdued groove.

Savannah displays a versatile singing through the disc, from smooth cooing of “Butterfly” to the raspier, sensual approach which she uses effectively on a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man”.

Much of the disc veers between jazzy funk and funky jazz, as has been Brian Auger’s style for many years. The tight arrangements sometimes sound reminiscent of the Kudu record label’s seventies output. Brian’s organ playing is still funky, and a lot of the riffs he casually drops over the course of "Looking In The Eye Of The World" would work well as hip hop samples.

“Meet Mr. Eddie” features Brian cutting loose on another keyboard excursion, using various effects while he maintains his steady Hammond B3 groove.

Savannah sings the often covered “Light My Fire” in a sultry, soulful vein which is complemented buy the restrained but still swinging arrangement. “Season of the Witch”, a song Brian covered in the late sixties with the singer Julie Driscoll, features Brian and the band playing the song somewhat differently while his daughter handles the vocals. It is a fine rendition, but it doesn’t render the Julie Driscoll version obsolete.

Bass player Dan Lutz gets to strut, in measured doses, on cuts like “The Night Town” and particularly on a track called simply “Soundcheck”. It has the feel of a live jam, but it certainly doesn’t sound like any mere sound check. The bass playing and drumming are tightly intertwined through much of this disc, which was produced by Brian Auger’s son and drummer Karma.

Despite the strong playing throughout "Looking In The Eye Of The World", it seems to run a little longer than necessary. If the disc was edited down to just under an hour, it would make a livelier c.d. and a fine record as well. Given how many of Brian’s younger fans are actually interested in vinyl records, this market deserves to be considered. Nonetheless, "Looking In The Eye Of The World" is a fine c.d. which works well as low intensity party music, or as something to play for a subdued mood.

Concert Review; Brian Auger & Oblivion Express at Healey's Roadhouse, Wednesday June 6, 2007

For people alive at the time, or those of us who scraped a little deeper into sixties British blues-rock than the Rolling Stones and the Animals, there were a few figures from the dawn of British blues who ran musical training camps for musicians who later rose to the top of the English music scene. John Mayall saw Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor come and go on to join huge acts; Brian Auger is another English band leader who has helped start the careers of singers like Julie Driscoll, and no less than two drummers who ended up joining seventies chart-toppers The Average White Band. In later years, he toured with fellow English soul-man Eric Burdon. They appeared at the enormous German Rockpalast Festival, and recorded a live c.d. about a decade later. So far in this millennium, Brian Auger has been touring and recording with his drummer and son Karma (to whom, along with his wife Ella, the 1975 album “Closer To It” is dedicated) and his daughter Savannah, who sings and sways to the music. They are also on Brian’s new c.d. “Looking In The Eye of The World” (Fuel 2000 label). Both would have a few opportunities to prove themselves on stage tonight, although the sound system had Savannah’s voice turned up too high for this medium sized room.

This rather under-attended show at Healey’s Roadhouse (a more elegant milieu than the former Healey’s at Queen and Bathurst) started early (the first set was finished by about 10:30), but late-comers could at least enjoy the second set. During the break, Brian Auger graciously signed a stream of autographs, and talked to everyone who had gathered around him. There were also c.d.’s and DVD’s for sale, including one of a live performance from 2005, which presented fans with something to have autographed.

The second set kicked off with Brian introducing “Whenever You’re Ready,” the opening cut from the “Closer To It” album, which is presumably one of Brian’s favourites as he regularly plays material from it. This steadily building funk jam allowed Brian to stretch out a little on the keyboards. His classic Hammond B-3 organ sound in full force, it was a treat to hear keyboard improvising that didn’t drown itself in a sea of synthesizers.

Bass player Ernest Tibbs, well regarded in his own right, was also given a chance to let loose during some passages. Drum solos by Karma Auger were kept to a minimum, as the drummer concentrated on providing the rock steady pounding deserved by Tibbs and Auger Sr. The set concluded with a slow burning cover of “Light My Fire”. The Oblivion Express treatment is paced almost like a slower rendition of Jackie Wilson’s version of this oft-covered hit, but Savannah’s sultry vocal delivery gives the song a sense of longing that few cover versions have effectively captured over the years. After a brief good-bye and walk-off, Brian Auger and Oblivion Express returned one more time for an encore of “Compared To What?” (also on the “Closer To It” record) which featured Savannah sending her voice soaring across the room, while she led the bad through the Eugene McDaniels’ soul-protest classic. While the house sound was less than stellar, Savannah’s powerful but still controlled voice was able to work with the poor mix. The concert was well received by the modest sized, older crowd. Toronto’s finicky concert-goers seemed to have stayed at home tonight, which is unfortunate because opportunities to catch live funky music in this city are already too few and far between.

NOTE; This review first appeared in Live Music Report.