Friday, March 21, 2008

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band; Monday, March 3/08 Copps Coliseum, Hamilton

If there is one Canadian city Bruce Springsteen has never visited, but should play at least once, it’s Hamilton, Ontario. The city shares many traits with American rust belt towns; places where too few employers wielded too much influence over an entire region, before leaving behind a trail of toxicity and unemployment lines.

Luckily for local fans tonight, scalpers were taking a big hit outside Copps Coliseum. The rain didn’t help them, nor did the fact that upcoming tour stops in Rochester and Buffalo kept many American fans at home tonight. This was to be a show for local fans, which was most promising, after a less than brilliant performance by Springsteen in Toronto last October. While Toronto has its share of Boss fans, we also have too many well connected people who end up attending big ticket concerts, only to talk through the show and spend more time coming and going with food and beer than actually watching the concert. While the alleged aloofness of Toronto audiences is overblown, quite a few music fans who regularly attend shows in other cities have described the A.C.C. as a cold place for concerts. Tonight, in Hamilton, the vibe would be different.

Copps Coliseum slowly filled up until the show began. The Boss led the temporarily reformed E Street Band on stage at about eight thirty. They kicked off with a one-two punch of “No Surrender” and “Radio Nowhere” which have been prominent on this “Magic and Loss” tour. “Magic” was sung with a subtle falsetto, reminiscent of Roy Orbison. This is usually performed as a duet with Patti Scialfa, but Springsteen’s wife and E Street back-up singer was absent on this stretch of the tour as was Danny Federici. Bruce explained Patti had to “make sure the house doesn’t burn down” and that Danny’s spot was being filled by keyboard player Charles Giordano. Giordano recorded and toured with Bruce for “The Seeger Sessions”, so he was naturally familiar with the material and a good fit with the band.

Bruce wailed on his harmonica introduction to the souped-up boogie of “Reason To Believe” which kept the crowd on it’s feet. A searing version of “Because The Night” followed, which featured some of the most intense guitar playing one still hears from Miami Steve and Nils Lofgren. Bruce is a fine guitar player too, but he doesn’t play those shredding assaults that he used to pull out. After “She’s the One”, Bruce introduced a new song, “Livin’ In The Future” with a few words about the rapid erosion of civil rights in the United States these days. The song itself borrows liberally from the classic “10th Avenue Freeze-Out” on the 1975 classic “Born To Run” album.

“The Promised Land” and the title track of Springsteen’s 1978 “Darkness At The Edge of Town” record followed. There were a few more vintage songs about disillusionment during hard times, which went over well in this crowd. Much of the audience kept sing along with tunes like “The Promised Land” and especially “Badlands” while they kept quieter for songs like “The River”. Bruce sang in his mournful falsetto for end of “The River”, to a great response from the audience.

After the sing-along blow-out of “Badlands”, Springsteen dedicated “The Girls In Their Summer Clothes” to the ladies of Ontario, although it’s been hard to imagine anybody wearing summer clothes around here, lately. We were treated to a rare performance of one of Bruce’s seminal finales from the old days; “Kitty’s Back”. The old time fans recognized the opening immediately, and those who were unfamiliar with this song caught on soon enough that this song is works really well in a live setting.

Baritone sax player Clarence Clemons, “The Big Man”, has kept a lower profile on recent tours, resulting in much speculation about his health. The man is 66 years old, but when he sauntered out to centre stage for jams like the middle part of “Kitty’s Back”, there was no doubt the man can still blow. Much of the “Wall of Sound” that people mention when describing the production and band sound of the “Born To Run” album borrows as much from the Motown sound as Phil Specter’s style. The follow-up to “Kitty’s Back”, “Born To Run” kept Clarence and the audience busy. While the days of three and four hour concerts are behind them, the E Street Band still brings an amazing amount of energy to the stage. They played encores of “Dancing In The Dark” and the tour’s finale “American Land” before the house lights came on. The show lasted almost two and a half hours, and the crowd was thrilled through out tonight’s concert. The E Street Band should come here more often. If only…

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Concert Review; George Clinton and P-Funk; Monday, February 25/08 Phoenix Theatre, Toronto

On a good night, nobody else playing on any stage can top these guys. Their off nights are usually pretty impressive as well. Unfortunately, George Clinton and P-Funk (also known as Parliament and Funkadelic and both, as a compound word) almost never visit Toronto, the city they once called home. Those who wanted to party Monday night and those who wanted to get knocked down by some deep funk all got together and filled the Phoenix for a long, hot and sweaty night.

Tonight was a special treat for die-hard fans. The band tore into a searing version of “Red Hot Mama” which was followed by an extended oldies jam of “You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks”, “I’ll Bet You” and “I Got A Thing”.

The horn section has been reduced to a section of one, but Greg Thomas makes the most of his moments in the spotlight. His playing was devastating through the James Brown tribute led by one of several back up singers, Gene “Poo Poo Man” Anderson. This was worked into “Up For The Down Stroke” which kept the house moving with the music. Kendra, one of the newer singers in the band, led the charge through “Bounce To This” and Belita Woods sang a couple of songs as well. Michael Clip Payne is still the master of ceremonies, introducing members as they came and went from the stage.

Michael Kidd Funkadelic Hampton took charge for a typically intense guitar blow out on “Maggot Brain” which George Clinton dedicated to The Hawk’s Nest, Ronnie Hawkins’ long gone Yonge Street bar where the band used to play when they lived here. Drummer Rico was on duty for “Maggot Brain”, and he stayed with Hampton for the duration. Rico is a great addition to drummer Kash Waddy, no slouch himself. Lige Curry still plays bass and sticks mostly in the background. The man isn’t always easily seen, but he could be heard loud and clear all night long. While many funk bass players get carried away with slapping and plucking like Les Claypool, Lige fills the bottom of the band’s already dense live sound. He doesn’t get in the way of the rest of the band, like a lot of bass players who too often sound like frustrated guitarists playing funk.

The 1978 hit “One Nation Under A Groove” started off as a slow a cappella number before the band kicked in and brought out the usual arrangement. One thing that helps the band’s stage longevity is their willingness to try different styles of playing old songs. They are acutely aware that they are certain to remain a bigger concert draw than a music-retailing powerhouse.

P-Funk stayed on the late seventies tip for the rest of the set with the exception of George’s “Ludicrous” rap. “Knee Deep” featured all hands on deck, as Belita Woods came back out to sing “Sentimental Journey” before the guitars restarted their night-long duel. With Garry Shider taking over some of George Clinton’s stage directions, the band was still as funky as ever. George came and went from the stage while the band ran through “Bop Gun”, “Gamin’ On Ya” and “Undisco Kidd” and “Flashlight”. They wrapped it up with their regular “Atomic Dog” finale. This usually ends with a sizable portion of the crowd dancing on stage. Happily, most of the crowd stayed on the floor instead of crowding the stage. I wish George Clinton had faith in some of the band’s other material to pull out as their closing song blow-out. P-Funk were definitely having a good night, but “Atomic Dog” has become an almost anti-climactic ending for their shows; it’s one of their few songs which you know pretty much what to expect for the remainder of the gig. “Atomic Dog” sounded just fine, but if they segued into another tune, newbies and long time fans alike would certainly embrace the change. As it was, the concert left everyone in an exhausted, sweat-drenched state of funky euphoria. So few acts can still pull off three and a half hours of hard funk on stage, one can forget P-Funk are still such a hot act. Their last local appearances have been either three hours away at the Kee to Bala or the short set they delivered at the CNE a few years ago. Now that the Canadian dollar is hovering around par, one might hope there is now an incentive to bring up bands like P-Funk more often.


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Friday, March 7, 2008

Concert Review- New York Dolls; Monday, February 18, 2008- Phoenix Theatre, Toronto

Cashing in on a well-past-one’s-prime reunion tour used to be generally derided by serious rock fans, and punk fans in particular. These days, the Spice Girls can fill the A.C.C. night after night on their reunion tour, the Eagles' first reunion tour still deserves credit for pushing concert ticket prices through the roof, and one band after another has reunited to great acclaim. The New York Dolls started out trading on youthful exuberance more than on musical dexterity. Their songs were not as catchy as the Rolling Stones', but they were certainly as sloppy as the Stones ever were on stage. They tempered their Stones-clones approach with harder edged songs and took effeminate flamboyance to a whole new level for straight guys. This earned the Dolls a place in music history, by inspiring the seventies punk bands who would have been reluctant to have cited contemporary arena rockers like the Stones as an influence. The New York Dolls finally fell apart around 1975, but David Johanson and Sylvain Sylvain played together in the David Johanson Band after the Dolls were done. One could argue this is a David Johanson Band reunion as much as a Dolls reunion, now that three fifths of the band have passed on. One could not be faulted for having lo expectations of the reunited New York Dolls, especially after a lackluster performance from some British festival was released to an underwhelming response.

Tonight was the second time around for the current incarnation of the Dolls. Their last c.d. has one of the best titles for a reunion effort, the self deprecating “One Day It Will Please Us Even To Remember This”. As it happens, this is one reunion effort that has proven to be more solid than most; and the Dolls’ career in this millennium will have lasted longer and surely have made more money than the original band ever did. After all these years David Johanson still looks and moves like Mick Jagger, but given the historically campy nature of his stage persona, this is not a bad thing.

There were two surprises waiting upon entering the Phoenix tonight; first, the New York Dolls packed the place on a Monday night, and second, David Johanson’s voice has defied the odds and improved since the band first got back together. The band put on a surprisingly good show, and sounded tighter and better rehearsed than the original band ever did.

Sure, guitarist Steve Conte looks and acts like Johnny Thunders, but he can sure play those riffs. Sylvain Sylvain’s guitar playing still has its bite, and took a few opportunities to cut loose and play some of the Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” along with other chunky rock nuggets. The band tore through Dolls favourites with energy that must have been feeding back and forth between them and the contingent of hard core fans in attendance tonight. They still do a good version of Bo Diddley’s “Pills”, and the show gathered momentum as they played “Subway Train”, “Jet Boy” and a particularly loud rendition of “Trash”. The “first finale” of “Dance Like a Monkey” proved the Dolls can still come up with a decent song (preferable to the ballad sung for Johnny Thunders) and when they came back out, they ran through a raucous take of “Personality Crisis”. Who’d have thought the ’08 Dolls would be so damn good?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Concert Review; Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings- November 2007 Phoenix Theatre, Toronto

A little after the fact, along with the next few reviews as I dig through my hard drive and upload some more...


Sharon Jones and her incredible back up band revisited Toronto back in October. They put on another excellent performance, steeped in the James Brown soul-funk tradition they have been reviving for most of this decade. Their live reputation has spread largely by word of mouth and the occasional t.v. appearance, but that was enough for Amy Winehouse to hire them for recordings and live dates. While the Dap Kings’ Lee’s Palace and Horseshoe concerts will surely be remembered as some of this city’s funkiest moments in recent years, Sharon Jones and company have ‘moved up’ (spatially, at least) to the Phoenix where they played to an enthusiastic house last time they were in town.

Adhering to the live Revue tradition, the band started things off with an instrumental, and Binky Griptite sang a slow groover before Sharon came on stage and kicked off her heels. Unfortunately, her microphone was turned off, and when the sound man did activate the microphone, it sounded terrible. Sharon made a joke about not being a rock singer, and asked him to change the sound. It took a while for the club to get their microphones working properly, but Sharon was good natured about it.

They performed a solid set which was heavy on new material and some of their earlier cuts, but for some reason they largely ignored their brilliant 2005 c.d. “Naturally”. The new material like the title track of “100 Days” is strong, but Sharon Jones and the band passed over much of their best-loved material tonight. There were certainly a few tried and true crowd pleasers like “How Do You Let A Good Man Down?” and “That’s the Way It’s Got To Be”. Altogether, it was an excellent performance, running almost two hours, including their standard encore set which usually includes a couple of James Brown nuggets. Tonight, we got “It’s A Man’s World” rolled into the encores, and Sharon delivered a blistering rendition. The audience put out a warm reception, and the band still seems to enjoy them selves in this city. Let’s hope Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings keep Toronto as a regular tour stop. If you like soul music, especially in the James Brown and Stax/ Memphis tradition, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings hold their own on stage and off, against many well loved and respected soul veterans.


Photos can be seen at-

Concert Review; Hugh Masekela and the Chissa All Stars- Friday, February 15, 2008; Phoenix Theatre, Toronto.

This is a special tour for Hugh Masekela, a man who has played tiny clubs and packed stadiums from Canada to South Africa. For a rather small number of dates in the States and in Toronto and Ottawa (his only Canadian stops) Hugh has brought along a few artists from his recently revived Chisa label, now with an extra ‘s’, forming the Chissa All Stars. Hugh has probably done more for South African music than any other single person. His hybrid of Township and American jazz sounds, swaying deep into each territory (and beyond) through his fifty year career, has inspired audiences and musicians around the world. Hugh’s accompaniment this time included an excellent horn player who took on some intense solos, and a violin player who added a new element to the band’s sound. There were also a couple of guest singers; Busi Moholgo and Kwaito singer Corlea, who proved to be an audience favourite. Often described as African hip hop, a lot of Kwaito music has more in common with modern R&B than any rap I ever listen to.

The most stunning of Hugh’s guests tonight was a lady he introduces as his sister, Sibongile Kuhmalo. She performed with Hugh at Harbourfront about eight years ago, and her voice is as powerful as ever. Her operatic style brought the house down with the sheer strength and control of her voice. She even seemed to have caught some of her band mates off guard, tonight.

The Phoenix was packed tight, and this was created by somebody’s plan to place seats across most of the club’s floor space, leaving only the perimeter of the room for standing. While the band was well received from the start, nobody encroached upon the bare patch of floor in front of the stage until Hugh invited the ladies in the house to do so. It was still pleasing to see such a strong turn out, especially after Hugh’s sparsely attended concerts at the Comfort Zone some years ago.

Hugh alternated between singing songs about his homeland, where he grew up in a Township shebeen (an illegal bar which are common in South African Townships which pay off the police to stay in business), and simply playing trumpet or flugelhorn or leaving the stage to let various Chissa All Stars take over. While they sounded unmistakably African, the band features decidedly western instruments including a giant bass guitar and a set of timbales in the back, near the drum kit.

“Grazing In The Grass” turned into an extended jam that thrilled the crowd. I wish Hugh would perform “Riot”, his follow-up single, but the brass interplay through “Grazing In The Grass” was such a treat, that one can easily forgive Hugh for ignoring much of his late sixties output.

The African continent was well represented both on and off stage. As Hugh called out the home towns, countries and townships of each of the Chissa All Stars, some people in the crowd hollered back in recognition, every time.

Before announcing the encore “Bring Him Back Home”, Masekela’s 1987 tribute to Nelson Mandela, Hugh cited Toronto as a stronghold of anti-apartheid activism. Many in the audience sang along with this finale, and the crowd, at least those who weren’t still seated, danced one last time. Hugh Masekela doesn’t play here that often, making this night all the more special.

Pictures can be seen at;