Tag Archive | Set List

Matt Johnson’s The The Reemerge With Comeback Tour and New Documentary!

Band On Stage In Shadow
The The Onstage at NYC’s Beacon Theater (All Photos By Gail)

Nostalgia doesn’t have to look a certain way. My first memory of nostalgia as a movement, or social phenomena, is from the 1980s, when the States experienced a massive wave of sentimentality for the pop culture of the 1950s. Suddenly, modern trends were pushed aside as the populace indulged a compulsion to revisit and appropriate the music, fashion and lifestyle of that era. It seemed like a big deal at the time, but as I get older I understand that the experience of nostalgia need not take place on such a grand scale. It can be drilled-down to keenly personal moments: a favorite scent, a photograph, or even a song can carry with it the power of full transportation to the past.

Nostalgia for ‘80s New Wave and Post-Punk Rock is big among many friends my age — especially those I met when we were all doing college radio together — because, when those songs were brand new, our immersion in the music scene was inseparable from the way we were living our lives. Music. Was. Everything. When I think about what my life was like in 1983, the year I graduated from college and was facing a litany of consequential life decisions, Soul Mining by the English band The The is the album that soundtracks those memories. I was 22 years old, and so was Matt Johnson, the singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and essential brain trust of The The.

The The Soul Mining CD Cover
Soul Mining CD Cover Signed By Matt Johnson

Comprised of eight all-killer-no-filler tracks, Soul Mining is a lyrically existential, aurally cinematic album that I would describe as a well-oiled juggernaut of emotional and sensory catharsis. While it can be interpreted as a loose concept album, two songs have always, for me at least, stood out from the pack. “This Is The Day” — arguably The The’s most famous song — employs Dylanesqe word economy as the song’s narrator welcomes a hard-reboot of a life looked-back-on with expansive disappointment. With its sublime wistfulness, “This Is The Day” manages to be both melancholy and inspiring simultaneously. It is also the only pop song I can name on which the lead instrument is the accordion. And then there’s “Uncertain Smile,” a song about an unrequited love affair whose pensive lyrics read like the bedsit rumination of a middle-aged loser, despite the fact that Matt Johnson wrote the song when he was just 19 years old. Those two songs are like a time machine for me: when I hear them, I can recall and visualize full chapters of my youth whose details would otherwise be unavailable to me. The power of music.

I admit I hadn’t listened to Soul Mining in (easily) twenty years when I got an email at the end of August announcing that Matt Johnson had put together a new line up of The The, and was embarking on a tour called The Comeback Special. The tour would coincide with screenings, in every US city on the itinerary, of an enigmatically-titled new documentary film, The Inertia Variations, of which Johnson is the subject. Somehow, I managed to score tickets to both events. The rest of this post is about the film, which I saw on a Saturday, and the concert, which I attended the following Monday.

Inertia Variations Poster
The Inertia Variations Movie Poster Photographed Outside of Theatre 80 in NYC

The Inertia Variations is not so much a documentary about The The’s music as it is an intimate expose — with a distinct home movie-vibe — of Matt Johnson and his 16-year hiatus from writing pop songs, recording new The The material, and touring. What was he doing all that time? You are about to find out. Filmmaker Johanna St. Michaels is Johnson’s ex-girlfriend, and the two have a now-grown son together. While freely admitting that they were pretty dysfunctional as a romantic couple, they have obviously become very close friends and behave like brother and sister around each other. The nature of their friendship was no doubt a huge factor in the finished film being not only quite candid and personal, but also full of warmth and humor, and absolutely rampant with moments of nostalgia-inducing heaviness.

Though the documentary, by nature, is unscripted, Johnson provides an inner-monologue voice-over throughout, which is culled from a book of poetry that gives the film its name, The Inertia Variations, in which poet John Tottenham muses on themes such as regret, procrastination and failure. That Johnson can add “gifted actor” to his laundry list of talents is apparent, as he makes Tottenham’s prose resonate as if the words were his own most confessional thoughts.

Much of the film’s central action involves a 12-hour live radio show — broadcast from Radio Cineola, a station based in Johnson’s home — which takes place during the most recent British election cycle. Johnson is clearly passionate about geopolitics and his desire to inform people about political events in a way that isn’t done on the news has become his prime motivator. Following a kind of live marathon format, the broadcast includes assorted musical guests performing live, and Matt taking calls from fans who have dialed-in from around the globe. It is really quite engaging.

What everyone really wants to know, of course, is when will he resurrect The The and make more music? Johnson admits he has no idea, because while he has been very successful writing music for films, as he has not been able to complete the lyrics to a pop song in over 12 years! His inertia is the symptom of a ridiculously prolonged battle with writer’s block: the muse for writing pop songs has utterly deserted him. Even more surprising, Matt reveals that he has not even sung a pop song in over a decade.

The Inertia Variations is also about familial relationships, death, loss and grief.  Johnson opens up at length about the death of his younger brother, Eugene, who passed unexpectedly in 1989 (it is never revealed how) at the age of 24. Eugene’s premature death inspired the song “Love is Stronger Than Death,” but Johnson’s grieving process also stunted the momentum of the band. Ten years on, his mother, who Johnson admits never fully recovered from Eugene’s death, passes away. Her death coincides with the writing and recording of the final The The album, NakedSelf, released in 2000.

Johnson’s eldest son, his father, and one of his two surviving brothers, artist Andrew Johnson (who designed album covers for The The, among other bands) also appear in the film.  Andrew and Matt are shown in the process of collaborating on a book, which will include Andrew’s illustrations. Tragically, Andrew is diagnosed with brain cancer and dies, during the making of the film, in January of 2016. It is Andrew’s death that provides the catalyst for Matt to finally pen lyrics, inspired by and dedicted to his brother’s memory, and set them to music, for a song he titles “You Can’t Stop What’s Coming.” If that title isn’t golden, I don’t know what is.

At the film’s end, there isn’t a dry eye in the room as Johnson performs the song (marking his first public performance in 15 years), in his home studio for family and friends. “You Can’t Stop What’s Coming” is as amazing a song as any classic in The The discography, and Johnson’s voice sounds like no time has passed at all since he was in peak performance mode. The Inertia Variations is a remarkable work of filmmaking, giving the artist personal closure, while also providing a platform from which to launch the next chapter in his life, which is the Comeback Special Tour. The Inertia Variations should be available for home streaming at some point in the near future. (You can get a sneak peak by watching the trailer at the end of this post!)

The New York screening was followed by a Q&A with Johnson, St. Michaels and musician James Eller, who is the bassist and musical director for The The’s current line-up. This session was lots of fun, as the relatively intimate gathering included many diehard fans whose lives have been profoundly affected by Matt Johnson’s music. Some audience members had traveled not only from cities within reasonable driving distances from Manhattan, such as Stamford and Boston, but from as far away as Northern Ireland and Mexico to attend one of the shows, see the film, and have a rare opportunity to meet Matt — who stuck around to sign and take photos — in person. My favorite question came from one fan who spent a few minutes heaping the praise on Soul Mining before asking Johnson if that was his favorite The The album. Hilariously, he admitted that not only is Soul Mining not his favorite album, but in fact he doesn’t think of  it much, because he was 21 when he made the album and he is a different person now. I’m not sure people were ready to hear that, but at least he was honest.

Now, let’s go to the show!

Beacon Theater Maquee Front Only

Behold: The Beacon Theatre Marquee, Above, and My Ticket, Below!

The The Ticket Stub

I really loved the movie, and with a couple of days to digest it and come down off the little cloud I was on from having Matt ask me my name before signing my copy of Soul Mining, I felt like it was a good primer for the show at NYC’s fabulous Beacon Theatre. The The’s full band lineup for the live shows features a member from each of the three previous The The world tours: James Eller on bass (representing the Versus The World tour), DC Collard on keyboards (representing the Lonely Planet tour) and Earl Harvin on drums (representing the Naked tour). They are joined by seasoned touring and session guitarist Barrie Cadogan, who was recommend to Johnson by Johnny Marr, and whose eponymous band Little Barrie wrote the song that’s used as the Theme from Better Call Saul! As an aside, Little Barrie is one of my top two favorite bands!

Band On Stage In Shadow
The The Take The Stage

Johnson has stated that for this tour, he wanted to strip-down many of the songs and reduce the sonic palette, so the band wouldn’t be using any samplers, click-tracks, sequencers or synthesizers. It would just be five musicians, performing reinterpretations of The The’s back catalogue. He also announced to the crowd that, since the band were limiting their use of electronics, he would really appreciate it if the audience did the same and put their phones away.

Matt With Gold Backdrop
Drummer Earl Harvin and Matt

I was happy to comply, so all of my photos were taken on a point-and-shoot camera from halfway back on the floor. While they are not great, at least you can get a feel for what it looked like inside the Beacon that evening.

Band On Stage

“The songs are not intended to be reproductions of the album versions, and many of them don’t sound like they do on the old recordings. Some of the songs do, but if people really want to hear the albums, they should just put on headphones and listen to the albums.” — Matt Johnson

Band On Stage

Matt has also stated, on The The’s newly resurrected website, that they have intentionally limited the amount of sounds at their disposal, so the band has to work a bit harder since they can’t rely on recreating the exact sounds from the album (for example, there were no accordions on stage), and decisions are therefore based on creating new arrangements. What is most important is that the emotional force of the songs continues to shine through. In this way, favorite songs (which to my ears were still highly recognizable) felt less like cliched ’80s signifiers, and more like tools being used to excavate emotions from the past. The band was so tight, Matt’s vocals were ridiculously on-point, and the entire set was perfect.

Enthusiastic Audience Member
Somebody Got Excited

Matt with Keyboard Player
Matt and Keyboardist DJ Collard

Matt With Guitar

Audiovisual collage artist Vicki Bennett (aka People Like Us), created the kaleidoscopic video installation for the tour, and backdrop visuals also included page after page of pen and ink drawings from Andrew Johnson’s sketch book, which I recognized from having seen them in The Inertia Variations.

Matt and Barrie
Matt and Barrie Cadogan

The band’s much-anticipated performance of “This Is The Day” was all the more emotionally charged when coupled with the official video for that song (from 1984), which appeared behind the band in sync with Matt’s vocals. Most people probably don’t realize that both of Johnson’s parents and all three of his brothers appear in that video. At the very end of the song, his family members appear one at a time to mouth the line, “This is the day” before fading into the next frame.  With both of his parents now gone (Johnson’s father passed away this summer) and two of his brothers also deceased, an already deeply powerful song served as a symbolic family requiem. There were some wet eyes during that song, and two of them were mine.

The The Setlist for the Comeback Special Tour at Beacon Theatre, New York City

1. Global Eyes
2. Sweet Bird of Truth
3. Flesh and Bones
4. Heartland
5. The Beat(en) Generation
6. Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)
7. We Can’t Stop What’s Coming
8. Beyond Love
9. Love Is Stronger Than Death
10. Dogs of Lust
11. Helpline Operator
12. This Is the Night
13. This Is the Day
14. Soul Catcher
15. Bugle Boy
16. Slow Emotion Replay
17. I Saw the Light (Hank Williams cover)
18. Like a Sun Risin Thru My Garden
19. Infected
20. I’ve Been Waitin’ for Tomorrow (All of My Life)

Encore:
21. True Happiness This Way Lies
22. Uncertain Smile
23. Lonely Planet

Check Out the Trailer for The Inertia Variations Below!

James and Matt
James Eller and Matt Johnson

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Yoshiki Classical Special at Carnegie Hall

Yoshiki at Carnegie Hall
Yoshiki Hayashi Performs at Carnegie Hall (All Photos Courtesy of MSOPR, Los Angeles)

Drummer, Pianist, Composer, Record, Producer, Entrepreneur: there is not much at which Japan’s most famous Rock Star, Yoshiki Hayashi does not excel. On January 12 and 13, 2017, Yoshiki added one more impressive accomplishment to his extensive resume, when he made New York City’s legendary Carnegie Hall feel like an intimate venue. Accompanied by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, Yoshiki performed for two sold-out nights at the famous concert hall’s Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage as part of his Yoshiki Classical Special World Tour, and what a fantastic evening it was!

Yoshiki at Carnegie Hall

While Yoshiki is not exactly a household name stateside, his level of renown continues to grow thanks to the recently released, award-winning documentary film, We Are X, which tells the amazing true story of X, the groundbreaking heavy metal band Yoshiki founded in the 1980s, which continues to perform today, including a sold-out concert at Madison Square Garden in October of 2014, which I was fortunate to attend.

Yoshiki at Carnegie Hall

The evening’s two-hour program featured many original compositions including modern classical pieces, themes for TV and film (including the Yoshiki-penned Golden Globes Theme) and songs he has preformed with X, such as “Hero” and “Endless Rain,” which were presented here with alternate, classical arrangements. Also included were popular pieces by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, which have special, personal meaning for the pianist.

Yoshiki at Carnegie Hall

Despite playing for such a large crowd, Yoshiki kept fans engaged by taking frequent breaks (between nearly every piece), to chat with the audience, sharing fun anecdotes about his life and his career. Adele does this same kind of thing at her shows, and it makes the concert so much more personal and memorable. Plus, Yoshiki is so charming and adorable, he was stealing hearts right and left.

Yoshiki at Carnegie Hall

Yoshiki at Carnegie Hall

Yoshiki at Carnegie Hall

Clips from We Are X occasionally appeared on the stage as a backdrop, as a means to illustrate a song’s importance, or as a way for Yoshiki to pay homage to departed loved ones. Above, you can see Yoshiko performing in X with former bandmate, Hide, who took his own life in 1988. The song “Without You” was dedicated to Hide’s memory as well as that of Yoshiki’s father, and another bandmate, Taiji, who died under mysterious circumstances in 2011. Yoshiki talked about how he still feels inspired by all of these people today.

Yoshiki at Carnegie Hall

Yoshiki at Carnegie Hall

Here is the complete set list:

Yoshiki Hayashi Classical Special at Carnegie Hall
January 12 & 13, 2017
Musical Selections

1st Set
1. I’ll Be Your Love (Theme for the World Expo Japan)
2. The Last Song
3. Forever Love (Theme for the animation film X)
4. Golden Globe Theme (Theme for the Golden Globes®)
5. Hero (Theme for the animation film Saint Seiya)
6. La Venus (Theme for the film We Are X)
7. Moonlight Sonata (Beethoven)
8. Anniversary (Theme for the Emperor of Japan 10 Year Anniversary)

2nd Set
9. Tears (Theme for the TV drama Nikushimi ni Hohoende)
10. Miracle
** extra song: Star-Spangled Banner – new arrangement by Yoshiki Hayashi
11. Bloom Like A Rose (Theme for the TV drama Seisei Suru Hodo Aishiteru)
12. Say Anything (Theme for the TV drama Lullaby Keiji)
13. River of the Light
14. Swan Lake (Tchaikovsky)
15. Without You
16. Kurenai
17. Transition
18. Art of Life
19. Endless Rain (Theme for the film Zipang)

Yoshiki at Carnegie Hall Orchestra
Members of the Orchestra cross their arms to indicate “We Are X” — a gesture of solidarity!

Yoshiki at Carnegie Hall

Yoshiki next performs with X Japan at London’s Wembley Arena on March 4th, 2017. Visit This Link for tickets and more information!

Yoshiki at Carnegie Hall

X Japan at Madison Square Garden: Best Concert Ever!

X Japan Billboard
X Japan Billboard, Corner of 34th Street and 7th Avenue (All Photos By Gail)

Here in New York City, it is no secret that you can have a magical adventure if you are just willing to take a leap of faith into the unknown. This is what happened to me when I accepted an invitation to see Japan’s most famous heavy metal band X – known here in America as X Japan, owing to another band in Los Angeles that happens to also have that name. Prior to this past weekend’s concert at Madison Square Garden the only things I knew about X was that their drummer, Yoshiki had been immortalized in a comic book by Stan Lee, and one song, “Jade” – which, prior to Googling the lyrics, I thought was called “You Are Beautiful” due to its only discernible English lyrics.

X Japan Stage Logo
As You Can See, Their Stage had a Catwalk, Which Every Rock Stage Should Have.

Since I had no previous familiarity with X Japan’s music, this review will be based on my experience as someone who was seeing and hearing the band for the first time.  I would say that X Japan is going to appeal to your musical taste if you like any of the following:  Big Arena Rock, Heavy Metal, Glam Metal, Dream Theater, Megadeth, Iron Maiden and any 80s Metal Band. It’s probably due to my affinity for that latter, much maligned genre that X Japan resonated with me right away, and I would (probably) still rather listen to  the cheesiest ’80s Metal for 100 million billion years than to any charting modern band for 15 minutes.  Just being serious.

Please enjoy my pictures and commentary!

First, let’s meet the members of X Japan.

Toshi Lead Vocals

This is Toshi, lead singer and founding member. He and Yoshiki have known each other since they were four years old (45 years ago), and started their first band together when they were eleven.

Yoshiki on the Kit

This is Yoshiki, X Japan’s drummer, pianist, and resident Sex God.

Yoshiki Hair

When his hands aren’t busy playing an instrument, Yoshiki touches his hair 60 or 70 times a minute.

Pata Guitarist

Here we have Guitarist Pata, who has been with the band the longest next to Toshi and Yoshiki.

Heath Bassist

This is Heath, on Bass Guitar.

Sugizo Violin

Sugizo plays the Violin.

X Band on Stage

A female string quartet added to the atmosphere of their sometimes symphonic metal songs.

Besides the band sounding and playing great, there was a ton of visuals to keep your eyes entertained and your brain engaged, such as:

Skulls Stage Shot

Crazy Visual Projections!

Fire Background Stage Shot

X Red Fire wirh Prop

Giant Stage Props! In the above photo you can see the two halves of the letter “X” coming together from across the stage.

X Prop Stage shot

Here it is again!

X Japan Stage Prop Pink Fire

P1050663

Laser Lights and Fire Bombs!

Confetti Bazooka

Confetti Bazookas!

X Japan Wrist Band

When we first entered the arena, ushers gave everyone this wrist band thing. We wondered what it could be for, but a couple of fans told us it was probably something that was going to factor into the show, and that we should be sure to wear it. That was excellent advice because look what happened with those wrist bands about an hour into the nearly-three-hour show:

Lit Up Wrist Bands

Lit Up Wrist Bands

It was amazing!

Yoshiki on Drums

At one point during the show, Yoshiki’s drum riser actually moved down the Cat Walk and then rose up into the air over the crowd!

Yoshiki Rising Drum Riser

It was just insane!

Yoshiki at Piano

Yoshiki steps away from his massive kit to play piano many, many times during X Japan’s set. He even played a bit of Swan Lake! Here, he prays for everyone to have fun at the show. Prayers answered!

X Japan have been together off and on for 30 years. Here are some photos of what they looked like back in the day:

X Japan Old School

X Japan Old School

Two former members (not necessarily pictured above) have passed on. RIP!

Lyrics to Hero

They did a new song called “Hero” with the lyrics projected on the screen so fans could sing along.

Lyrics to Hero

“Hero” managed to be both uplifting and sad simultaneously.

X Band on Stage with Banner

Finally, it was time to say goodbye, as the members of X Japan gathered at the edge of the Catwalk and pulled this banner from the a fan in the audience. Yoshiki proceeded to wrap himself in it. Cute!

X Band on Stage Farewell

Goodbye X Japan and thanks for the crazy fun show!

THE SET LIST

MIRACLE   (INTRO)

JADE

RUSTY  NAIL

SILENT  JEALOUSY

BENEATH  THE SKIN

PATA   +   HEATH  SOLO

DRAIN

SUGIZO  VIOLIN  SOLO

KURENAI

HERO

BORN TO  BE FREE
·∙

ENCORE 1

PIANO  SOLO

DRUM  SOLO

FOREVER  LOVE

I.V.

X
·∙

ENCORE  2

ENDLESS RAIN

ART OF LIFE  (PIANO)

Blake Morgan Debuts New CD at NYC’s The Cutting Room

Blake Morgan Diamonds in the Dark Cover

Armed with only his acoustic guitar and a soaring vocal range, singer/songwriter Blake Morgan celebrated the July 30th release of his latest CD, Diamonds in the Dark, with an engaging set played to a packed house at Manhattan’s Cutting Room.

While the unplugged set was missing the lusher aspects of Diamonds in the Dark’s expanded instrumentation, Morgan’s delivery and on stage charisma did each song full justice. This CD is really fantastic! Morgan’s adept guitar playing fondly recalls that of the late great George Harrison, while his voice varies between comparison to the adult contemporary mellowness of hit-maker Duncan Sheik and top-shelf Seventies pop greats such as Andrew Gold. And what’s not to like about that?

Morgan draws his subject matter from his past romantic relationships, and while the songs are obviously deeply personal, he keeps the message universal and accessible. Tuesday’s set featured nine cuts from the just-released Diamonds, including a few of my favorites like the opening number, “Haunt Me,” “Best Bad Idea” and “I Can Hear You Say.” I enjoyed Blake’s humorous between-song banter (where he revealed many of the details behind each song) and it was a fun evening for all! Diamonds in the Dark is available now wherever fine music is procured, and you can find out more about Blake by visiting This Link. See the set list below!

Cutting Room Set List

Haunt Me
Black Into Blue
Suspicious Bliss
Water Water Everywhere
Best Bad Idea
Don’t Want To Let You Go
I Can Hear You Say
We Left Off
So Scared And Happy

Joseph Arthur Debuts The Ballad of Boogie Christ at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom

Joseph Arthur Bowery Ballroom 5
All Live Photos Courtesy of According2G.com

Joseph Arthur’s tenth (tenth!) studio album dropped this past Tuesday (June 11th) and it is once again proof that the New York-based, wildly prolific musician and multi-media artist never runs dry of engaging ideas. Joe performed The Ballad of Boogie Christ front to back (with a few old favorites thrown in at the end) at the Bowery Ballroom last evening, and fans came out to pack the room despite a cold and windy rain working up a frenzy on the streets outside.

For a fan like me, who’s been following Joseph’s career since his 1997 debut, Boogie Christ is a bit more of straightforward “rock” album, bolstered by strong Bob Dylan influences, that still dips into the arena of Arthur’s gorgeous, subtly nuanced ballads.

Joseph Arthur Boogie Christ Cover
The Ballad of Boogie Christ Cover Art

Although it’s always a kick to experience Joe’s one-man-band performances, last night he was accompanied by a full band – including a saxophone! – which allowed him to rock out a bit more, being freed up from carrying the entire evening on his nevertheless very musically capable shoulders.

Joseph Arthur Bowery Ballroom 2

Joe will be touring nationally througout the month of June and you can find tour dates in your area at This Link. He’ll also be performing on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno on Friday June 21st, so be sure to tune in or set your DVRs!

See the setlist and more photos from last night’s show, plus check out an awesome HD video of Joe performing the title song from the album, at This Link. The Ballad of Boogie Christ is available from Joseph Arthur Dot Com and wherever fine music is procurred.

Black Stone Cherry at NYC’s Beacon Theater

Black Stone Cherry Press Photo
Image Source

A publicist recently asked me what bands I’m currently listening to – and I know she expected me to name some “new” bands, but I had to confess that the bulk of music I’ve been loading on my iPod or adding to my collection in recent months is music from the 1970s. Because, from The Beatles through Glam, Prog Rock, Classic Rock, Hard Rock, the onset of Electronica, Punk Rock and New Wave, the Seventies really had it all. This realization actually brought back an awkward memory of the time an editor (whom I still affectionately refer to as Iron Nuts) accused me of being “desperate to like a modern band.” Okay, guilty as charged. Still, I’m not going to apologize for it.

One modern band that I do like a lot is Black Stone Cherry. I’d own all of their records even if I didn’t get them for free from their label, and I try to see the band play live when they come to New York City. So, I felt very fortunate to get on the guest list to see these remorselessly southern rockers from Kentucky kick out a super tight but exhilarating 45 minute set last week, in support of the Sammy Hagar-fronted all star contingent Chickenfoot. Making sure to please both faithful and new fans, Black Stone Cherry’s three albums (2006’s eponymous debut, 2008’s Folklore and Superstition and 2011’s Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea) were equally represented within an eclectic 10-song set list.

Black Stone Cherry maintain a gritty enough modern edge to do battle with the fiercest head bangers, but what they remind me of at their creative core is The Allman Brothers with a touch of Hendrix. Surely no one could find fault with that. And any doubt of the veracity of this groups’ southern rock roots is laid to waste with Deep Blue Sea’s exceptional cover of The Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See,” on which Black Stone Cherry pay deep homage to the original tune while completely making it their own. It’s easy enough to casually toss out a phrase like “The Real Deal” when describing a blues-based rock band, but I’m not fronting when I say that Black Stone Cherry does their old school mentors proud in their ability to rock out and entertain without the need for any added bells and whistles. These guys just love music; and it shows. Front man Chris Robertson, who effortlessly tackles lead vocals and lead guitar owns a seasoned but fluid voice that delivers both rockers and ballads with equal power and finesse. As a front man, he’s cute but also burly and masculine. I dig his vibe. While bassist Jon Lawhon stays mostly anchored to the stage, his fretwork is top shelf, and it’s a lot of fun to watch rhythm guitarist Ben Wells work the stage, tirelessly leaping atop monitors, engaging the audience and heightening the energy of the room. But for me, the superstar of the band is drummer John Fred Young, who channels the thunder power of John Bonham in his attack on the kit while fully capturing the showmanship of a crowd-pleasing player like Tommy Lee. Young’s arms never stop moving. I could watch him play drums all day. Plus: Hot.

Black Stone Cherry had me and the rest of the crowd on our feet for most of their set (impressive for an opening act), and I love all of their songs, but the most memorable tune of the evening, I think, was “Blame It On The Boom Boom,” which, despite being somewhat dorky, keeps the decadence of the Rock Star Lifestyle alive with its message about the joys of bonking and getting wasted, or something like that. I doubt that any of these guys are Motley Crue-level partiers, but it certainly wasn’t lost on me that they chased “Boom Boom” with few bars of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” – a song I would love to see them cover on a future album.

See the Set List after the Jump!

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The Left Banke at BB King’s NYC

Left Banke Promo Photo
The Left Banke, Photo By Melissa Davis

It can be said that a decades-dormant “classic” band reuniting on the strength its potential appeal as a nostalgia act is only as good as the material it reunites to resurrect. In the case of a legendary sixties-era group such as The Zombies – a band whose debut album still ranks among the greatest pop albums ever released – the inclusion of just two original members bolstered by several additional seasoned musicians makes for a live show that’s every bit as amazing as it was when the band played out in its original incarnation. Another band whose popularity piqued in the late sixties is New York’s The Left Banke. Even if you don’t know their name, it would be almost impossible to have any kind of musical consciousness and not know the group’s two most famous songs, “Walk Away Renee” (their first release and a #2 chart topper) and “Pretty Ballerina.” As stellar examples of the power of the minor chord in pop music, both songs are indelible classics, covered endlessly and still lauded for their compositional perfection.

That these two songs have attained “Satisfaction” or “I Want to Hold Your Hand” status is not to insinuate that The Left Banke were One (or two) Hit Wonders, but rather to emphasize the out of control songwriting talents in a band that basically coined the phrase “Baroque Pop” for its inclusion of string arrangements and multi-part harmonies. The Left Banke is unarguably an important entry in the history of American Rock that provided inspiration for innumerable pop bands that arrived in its wake. A few years ago, The Left Banke reunited with two of its original members and is now performing live again with a band comprised of some of the most versatile and experienced musicians on the east coast. If you happen to live in the tri-state area, where the group seems to be booking most of its shows, I suggest you would in for quite a treat if you were able to check them out live. I had the chance to see The Left Banke recently when they played at BB King’s in Times Square and everyone in the packed house experienced a magical evening.

The reunited Left Banke includes original band members George Cameron (originally the group’s drummer) providing vocals and hand percussion, and Tom Finn on guitars, vocals and bass. They are joined in this new – and expanded –line up by gifted vocalist and frontman Mike Fornatale, guitarist Paul Alves (formerly of Drill), bassist Charly Cazalet, Keyboard player Mickey Finn (Boss Hog), Drummer Rick Reil (guitarist for The Grip Weeds and Wyld Olde Souls) and a three piece string section. Cameron and Finn can still play and sing well, and their passion for music and performing for fans has not cooled at all in the intervening years. The band maintains a lush and rocking sound with Mike Fornatale’s mellifluous voice providing spot on renditions of classic songs from the band’s first two albums.

The guys promised the crowd that the evening would hold some “Surprises” and a highlight of the evening came very early in the set, when original Left Banke keyboardist and songwriter Michael Brown joined the band on stage to play piano for a faithful rendition of his composition, “Pretty Ballerina.” This was certainly something that no one in BB King’s expected to see, and Brown, who is visibly frail and had to be helped on and off the stage, played beautifully, receiving a standing ovation from the enthusiastic crowd. Rick Brand, guitarist with the band from 1966-67 was also in attendance but did not perform with the band.

The evening’s lively performance featured a comprehensive 22-song set list including favorites like “She May Call You Up Tonight,” “Desiree” and “Goodbye Holly,” and also showcased a new song called “City Life,” sung by Tom Finn, which rocked hard but still captured the essence of the classic band’s sound. Visit The Left Banke’s Official Website for upcoming show listings and to purchase the band’s music.

The Left Banke Set List for April 29th, 2012 at BB King’s in NYC:

She May Call You Up Tonight
I’ve Got Something On My Mind
Pretty Ballerina
Dark is the Bark
Goodbye Holly
Let Go Of You Girl
Heartbreaker
Sing Little Bird Sing
Nice to See You
My Friend Today
Shadows Breaking Over My Head
I Can Fly
Love Songs in the Night
Lazy Day
Bryant Hotel
Two By Two
Evening Gown
I Haven’t Got the Nerve
There’s Gonna Be a Storm
Desiree
Walk Away Renee
City life