Category Archives: Concerts

Review: Underoath Warms Up “Erase Me Tour” at Marquee Theatre, Captivates Crowd (11-09-18)

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Underoath - Erase Me album artwork

Tempe, AZ — Underoath, touring in support of their latest release Erase Mebrought remarkable energy to Marquee Theatre.  When asked about one of the opening bands, The Plot in You, local fan and concertgoer, Curtis said, “I’ve never seen a band play so hard,” which is an apt description for every band that took the stage on this night. In addition to The Plot in You, Underoath’s supporting acts on the “Erase Me Tour” include Dance Gavin Dance and Crown the Empire.

 

Dance Gavin Dance stunned the audience with one of the most polished, musically proficient, and engaging sets of the night. It wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to say that they stole the show with their absolutely commanding presence on the Marquee stage. Lead clean-vocalist Tilian Pearson and unclean vocalist John Mess made an excellent team, trading off between Pearson’s angelic high notes and Mess’ primal, guttural screams. Their body language couldn’t be more different and yet it’s so complimentary to the other performer that it comes off as a natural contrast. Pearson dances across the stage with a snake-like charm, moving his body in fluid motions reminiscent of Michael Jackson while Mess stands firm like a monument, tightly focused on the crowd and his microphone and he delivers his powerful vocals.

Dance Gavin Dance - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Dance Gavin Dance
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Guitarist Will Swan was an indisputable highlight in a band full of unrelentingly talented musicians. His hands move so fast as to seemingly blur at times and aside from throwing his head back and forth in bobble-head like fashion to the music, he stands completely still. For a performer to remain almost entirely stationary while still bringing so much energy to the band’s sound is truly an incredible feat. His effortless transitions between finger tapping on “Chucky Vs. The Giant Tortoise” to speedy flurries of dissonant power-chords hint at a subtle mastery of his instrument.

Dance Gavin Dance - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Dance Gavin Dance | Photography: Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Before leaving the stage, Pearson thanked the crowd for being so welcoming and quickly added “you guys are f*cking crazy!”. This was apparent being in the crowd and witnessing what some concert-goers were capable of without getting thrown out of the show, although this was nothing compared to what came next.

As stagehands went to work striking the other band’s props and equipment, people marveled at the visual spectacle coming to life before their eyes. The drums and keyboards sat atop a giant riser on stage-right and left respectively, which was illuminated by ubiquitous screens that covered most of the stage. Dozens of rotating lights mounted on stage trusses strongly indicated that the audience was about to witness epileptic-rainbows of flashing color fill the room.

Underoath | Photography: Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

As Underoath’s set begin, the lights went dark and shortly thereafter, the screens and lights came to life. The screens cast blindingly-delightful floods of color into the retina of adoring fans who screamed their hearts out. The electronic hum of Christopher Dudley’s keyboards set the foreboding tone of the hour as drummer and vocalist, Aaron Gillespie began the intro to “On My Teeth” at machine-gun speeds. The energy was increasingly palpable as lead vocalist, Spencer Chamberlain ran on stage so fast as to almost fly into the crowd upon entering.

The night continued with this level of energy until it suddenly increased at an unstoppable pace when the band broke into an old favorite, “In Regards To Myself”. People lost their minds and formed mosh pits that felt tumultuous yet far friendlier and safer than most. Eventually following this were other notable song highlights in “Desperate Times, Desperate Measures”, “Reinventing your Exit”, “Rapture”, and “It Has To Start Somewhere”.

Underoath - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Spencer Chamberlain (Vocalist), Underoath
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Chamberlain commanded the crowd with the ease of a sorcerer manipulating matter as he moved his hands in a circle and instructed them to mosh. He also had an admirable way of engaging the audience on deeply, personal levels when he went into a beautiful speech about his own experiences with drug addiction and how he used music as one form of therapy and a creative outlet for his emotions. He credited Gillespie as the one he called first when he was at his lowest point in life and realized he needed to get help. After that he implored the audience to applaud as he expressed his heartfelt gratitude to his bandmate and close friend. It all felt really genuine and inspiring as he concluded his speech with “You’re not weak for seeking out help when you need it.”

Underoath - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Underoath | Photography: Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Overall, Underoath and Dance Gavin Dance both proved beyond a shadow of doubt that they are musical forces to be reckoned with and can still draw enthusiasm from crowds after 10+ year careers doing what they obviously love to do. It will surely be exciting to see what the future holds and what comes next from each of these talented bands.

Photo Album

Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo

Underoath & Dance Gavin Dance – Marquee Theatre 11-8-18

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Photography © Reagle Photography
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REVIEW: Splashes Of Beauty — Celebrating 9 Years Of Hot Local Music At The 2018 Apache Lake Music Festival (Oct. 26 & 27)

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Day 1 — October 26

Roosevelt, AZ — As the pavement came to an abrupt halt on Apache Trail, it became apparent to me that my Mustang probably wasn’t the best choice of transportation for my journey to the Apache Lake Music Festival. This would be my first trip to the annual event celebrating it’s ninth anniversary in 2018. Every year, hundreds of attendees brave the treacherous cliffside dirt road winding through the mountains over single lane bridges to get to the Apache Lake Marina. The drive is excessively bumpy and requires near constant brake pressure during the 10 mile descent through the second half of the journey.

I arrived late Friday morning around 9:45 am. Pulling up to the venue was a relief, considering I was still physically shaking from fishtailing around a hairpin corner mere feet from an impossibly high loft on the mountain just minutes before my arrival.  Being my first time, I wasn’t really sure where to go or what to expect.

Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Apache Lake Marina
Photo Credit:
Nick Gonzaga

After scouting the least densely populated area of the beach, I settled on a spot atop the boat ramp. In the parking lot, a house boat sat atop the pavement overlooking the beach. It didn’t appear as though it was placed there recently, making it seem almost perfectly normal. I couldn’t tell if it was a prop at first or if someone lived there full time. It was definitely occupied so I figured it was probably the safest place to park. I began the endless back-and-forth walk from my car to the site to set up my tent and fill it with my belongings. Blankets, pillows, snacks, pot, pillows, backpack, microphone, laptop, more pot, more pillows, chapstick, mandolin…

Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga

As I finished setting up my tent and dumping my gear into the unzipped opening, I heard the sound system up the hill come to life on the main stage. Cell service is almost completely devoid in the area due to its remote location, so I couldn’t pull up the schedule online to see who the first act was. I decided to drop what I was doing, to trek up the hill to try to find a program or flier with a lineup and check out the first act. This would become a theme throughout the weekend; the back-and-forth up and down the thigh-murdering hill, to and from the main stage.

Apache Lake Music Festival 2018 Poster - Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Apache Lake Music Festival 2018 Poster
Photo Credit:
Nick Gonzaga
Click to Enlarge

Several groans later and I was back at the venue, heading down the short hallway from the entrance toward the sound system outside the rear doors. Haley Green was checking sound. The engineers were adjusting levels. All of the usual warm-ups were in play as more familiar faces began to appear.

Sara Robinson was on the patio of the cantina sitting across from Tempe music legend, a hatless Paul “PC” Cardone. She arrived early in the morning after heading out at 11:00 PM the night before, recounting a veritable Murphy’s Law of road trips along the way. After chatting a bit, Sara and I made plans to meet later before her performance to gift my plus one ticket to a friend of hers who couldn’t afford to come.

Sitting just a few feet away was the ever-present and always friendly Ryan Edmonds, longtime doorman at the legendary Sail Inn of Tempe and Cactus Jacks in Ahwatukee. After catching up a bit, the thirst was too much to bear. I badly needed a four-dollar gallon of water, and the convenience store was more than happy to oblige. I soon realized I forgot my phone at my campsite and headed back to drop off the water and grab some Fig Newtons.

Back at my campsite, I retrieved my cell phone and began rearranging my sleeping gear for maximum comfort. I figured this was the perfect time to smoke that J that had been burning a hole in my pocket, so I sat on the edge of the boat ramp and lit up. It was an absolutely serene day. Seventy-four degrees and not a cloud in the sky. The lake was stunning. After I finished medicating, I did the dumbest thing possible in that situation… I laid down. The temptation to sprawl on my bevy of pillows was simply too much to ignore.

Haley Green - Photo Credit: Joel Ekdahl
Haley Green
Photography:
Joel Ekdahl, Orange Grove
© All Rights Reserved

As I lay on my back staring up at the silhouette of mesquite branches, I began to drift off to the sound of Haley’s docile tones with the sun kissing my cheeks and the breeze bouncing off the cool water of Apache lake, wafting through the mesh of my borrowed palace. There were drum circles in the distance, dogs barking and people laughing. I never quite lost consciousness, but I was in that in-between phase of sleep when something stirred me to my senses. The most beautiful voice started to fill my tent. I immediately bolted upright, put my shoes on and once again, trekked up the hill.

House of Stairs is a Jazz collective from Phoenix. Vocalist and looping artist Holly Pyle has the voice of an angel, reminiscent of the late Cranberries songbird Delores O’Riordan. The soulful vibe of their music is befitting of the environment. The keys danced through the criminally small crowd witnessing this performance, but drew even more attendees in from the parking lot. Soon, a handful of people were swaying in front of the stage. Call it the “medicine”, but I was absolutely transfixed. Before long, their set was over, and I’m convinced it was far too short. It also seemed too early on the first day of the festival to put a group of this calibre on stage as there wasn’t quite a large enough audience yet to appreciate their brilliance.

House of Stairs - Photo Credit: Joel Ekdahl
Holly Pyle (Vocalist), House of Stairs
Photography:
Joel Ekdahl, Orange Grove
© All Rights Reserved

Soon after they left the stage, The Edisons were up next checking sound, and I abandoned any attempt at taking halfway decent photos with my iPhone. From my distant place at the lone picnic table, I spotted Joel Ekdahl of Manic Monkeys and Exploding Oranges at stage right taking photos. I was relieved to find shade in the VIP area backstage, but more importantly, FREE WATER. The Edisons performance was equally as impressive as House of Stairs. Indie Synth Rock becomes my flavor of the day.

The Edisons - Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
The Edisons
Photo Credit:
Nick Gonzaga

I eventually went back at the tent, attempting to make spotty communication with my festival host, Banter lead vocalist Kim Capria. Ali A and The Agency were killing it in the background as I cursed Verizon because my service was worse in the building than it was on the beach. Kim left Tempe with lead guitarist (and one of Burning Hot Events’ music journalists) Brandon Biallas around 1:00 in the afternoon, and I was growing a bit concerned. This was when I learned there were two routes one could take to Apache Lake. The shorter treacherous route or the longer, safer route. They had chosen the latter. Once we had established that they would be arriving shortly, I thought it would probably be a good idea to be there to greet them when they arrived. So again, it was up that damn hill.

Seriously, how did Brandon Biallas get System of a Down for his first concert review?! Dude can write, so check him out.

At this point, it was close to 4:00 PM. Playing inside at the cantina was the perpetually shoeless Tommie Victor, sliding his socked toe across the synth board that compels his guitar toward the ethereal. I met Tommie at a Future Loves Past show at Yucca Tap Room years ago when I was in the midst of creating a cartoon with an animator friend of mine. I had a character I was developing at the time and I thought he would be the perfect voice for it. The cartoon fell flat, but I was glad I added Tommie on Facebook. He’s truly a talented artist, albeit a little eccentric. This is a guy that really does move in whatever the direction the wind is blowing. Tommie has also performed on my radio show “Gonz After Curfew” twice, and we’re anxious to get him back in the studio again for a third appearance. The Banter trio was scheduled to play at 4:30, and still no sign of Kim. At about ten after, I finally get a text, “Here!”

Kim and Brandon walked in at exactly 4:15, just 15 minutes shy of their performance. They were still awaiting drummer Spencer Ferrarin. We hugged our hellos and mutually bitched about the journey, and before I know it, Spencer materializes and is pretty much ready to go. Bassist Miles Tippet sat out the trio performance, but was milling about the grounds somewhere. The Banter’s set was fantastic. Kim was on point and the boys were in tune. “This is probably my favorite performance ever,” she tells the crowded bar. After they finish up, we made plans to go down to my tent and move it to their campsite. Luckily, it wasn’t that far at all.

Banter - Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Kim Capria (Vocalist/Guitarist), Banter
Photo Credit:
Nick Gonzaga

I was relieved that the tent I borrowed basically folds up into a compact log, making it easier to carry down to the beach. I was a little disappointed though. The Sugar Thieves were on and I really wanted to see them, but it was getting dark and we didn’t have much daylight left. My late father was a fan of theirs before I was. He introduced me to their music at Blues Blast one year. Although he passed away a couple of years ago, I still try to make it to as many of their shows as I can. I could still hear Mikey’s growl echoing through our shanty town as we worked feverishly to unload trunks and inflate blow-up mattresses, so it wasn’t a total bummer. After a brief rest and quick change, we were back up the hill again for The Woodworks.

The Woodworks - Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Meghan “Solo” Lounsbury (Vocalist/Guitarist), The Woodworks
Photo Credit:
Nick Gonzaga

Lead shredder and belter Meghan “Solo” Lounsbury was in the VIP area getting ready to take the stage. I drank more free water and suddenly noticed a prop staring at me. It was a giant baby’s face with a traffic light for a torso, on a pair of mannequin legs. It’s perfect. The Woodworks are one of the more unique staples in the music scene, bringing only the crunchiest of grooves. Solo dressed Cleopatra-esque, complete with Egyptian headdress. To open the show, the band brought up Future Exes guitarist and solo artist in his own right, Page the Village Idiot, kicking things off with his own personal brand of weird. If you’ve never seen him, you’re definitely missing out. This was around the time that things got a little hazy.

Page the Village Idiot - Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Page the Village Idiot
Photo Credit:
Nick Gonzaga

“These uh mah shoes,
and thissa mah hat…” 
– Page Davis

 

The day had been long, the hikes longer. I was exhausted. I stayed for the entire incredible performance but I don’t remember how or when I got back to camp. I vaguely remember an Adam climbing the walls of the indoor stage, but I don’t recall if it was during The Psychedelephants. What I do recall was that they played an amazing set in that hot room wearing long sleeves. Spencer beat the drums like they owed him money, and Miles left enough sweat on the stage to put out a fire. Danger Paul kept the rhythm, and Calin Gross shredded faces.

At some point, we were all just kind of “there” again, sitting in a circle on the beach. By that time, Miles had also materialized. He began plucking his acoustic bass as Brandon strummed away on my mandolin, and it progressed into a full on jam session with Kim singing the lyrics of a song I’ve never heard before. Throughout the night, there were conversations on topics ranging from individual band performances to our preferences of dying by falling off a cliff versus being eaten alive.

A random kayaker, who stumbled upon the festival and got too drunk to paddle back to where he launched, slept next to the fire that Scott and Max started with his help. The stars never looked brighter and campfire never smelled so good. Out on the lake, the swaying beacon of an anchored sailboat cast a singular blue glow as the inhabitants hooted and whistled to beachwalkers in the moonlight. Everything seemed perfect. This is exactly the spirit this festival seeks to inspire. The same laughter, chatter and spontaneous acoustic jam sessions from my nap earlier echoed through the night from the other campsites across the marina as we all sporadically fell asleep to the water lapping at the shores under the vast sky.

Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga

 

Day 2  — October 27

I slept in the next morning. I didn’t wake up until close to 10:00 AM. Anyone who knows me, knows that this is highly unusual. I’m a restless sleeper and an early riser. I felt so at peace out there that I kind of just let my surroundings awaken me. Kim made bratwursts for breakfast on a borrowed camping stove and served up cold brew coffee with almond milk for anyone who needed it. After two full cups, I made the two dollar sacrifice at the convenience store for a third cup of coffee with plenty of powdered creamer and sugar.

Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga

Back at camp there were more jokes, jams, philosophies on life and chocolate salty balls — as a journalist, I think it’s important to note that Brandon put them in his mouth. I was told they were delicious. Apparently they were made of oatmeal but I never got an opportunity to confirm. Spencer reemerged and declared that he still hadn’t gone to sleep. We laughed some more and basically spent an exorbitant amount of time just being lazy. One of my favorite things about these weekend-long events is how amazed everyone is to see one another the next morning.

Nick Gonzaga
Nick Gonzaga

“Dude, oh my god! You were soooo out of it last night, man…”

Photo Credit:Nick Gonzaga
Brandon Biallas, Spencer Ferrarin, and Calin Gross
Photo Credit:
Nick Gonzaga

Once I had regained my motivation, I made a point to trek back up to see Future Exes. Something that isn’t immediately apparent to many festival attendees is that a lot of the staff is comprised of volunteers; some of those volunteers are actually band members. Roni Marie is the lead vocalist of Future Exes, and one of the lead event volunteers and organizers. Throughout the entire weekend Roni was omnipresent, sporting the yellow vest and walkie talkie. She’s one of the people making sure all of the gears are turning and everything runs smoothly.

Future Exes is always a great band to see. Page is an amazing guitarist, and Roni is one of the most sultry singers in the community. After the festival, she tells me, “There’s much more [work] behind the scenes before, during, and after the event that most people don’t see… We are all for sure proud of this year’s event and our music community as a whole. There’s so much love!”  Their daylight performance on day two was as awesome as it always is. During one tune, Roni stepped off the stage into the arms of PC in one of the more memorable moments of the festival. These are all people that absolutely love and care for one another and it shows.

Future Exes - Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Roni Marie (Vocalist), Future Exes; and Paul “PC” Cardone
Photo Credit:
Nick Gonzaga

After finishing their set, the band welcomed Hyperbella up to the stage, and as ashamed as I am to admit it, this is yet another band that I have totally overlooked. Like House of Stairs, they’re soulful, funky, and sophisticated all rolled into one. Vocalist and guitarist Cassidy Bates strokes her Gibson Firebird like a feline extension of her arm. Her harmony with Carly Bates on the keyboard is heart-melting, and it doesn’t hurt that they’re both insanely beautiful women. All swooning aside, drummer Marcus Leatham and bassist Brenden McBride (also of Wyves) are no slouches either. As a whole, they’re tight and in sync with an almost Bobby Caldwell-like essence, and they absolutely left me wanting more. I spoke briefly with Cassidy after their performance and she couldn’t have been more humble. Don’t make the same mistake I did with this band. Do NOT sleep on them. They’re one hundred percent worth whatever the cover is at the door if you can catch them.

Hyperbella - Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Cassidy Hilgers (Vocalist/Guitarist), Hyperbella
Photo Credit:
Nick Gonzaga

Back at the cantina, another performance from Tommie Victor with a fantastic cover of Megadeth’s “Symphony of Destruction” for an appreciative audience. Joel Ekdahl took a break from his camera to play an acoustic set shortly before the Banter’s second performance of the weekend. Kim wore her Kill Bill jumpsuit and several people remarked “She really does look like Uma Thurman!” With exhaustion once again creeping in and increasing pain crawling up my legs, I wandered back outside to the mainstage as the sun was disappearing on the horizon to catch the next act.

Banter - Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Banter, feat. Calin Gross of The Psychedelephants on Slide Guitar Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga

Wyves has just come off the release of their second studio album R U OK? Cory Gloden, guitarist for Dry River Yacht Club, is ever the frontman, pumping the tired and inebriated full of newfound energy. This is the point where I completely gave up moving for awhile, and take a seat backstage to watch them absolutely murder it. Not only do they sound amazing, but they have so much style. These guys are legit rock stars. Looking over to my right, I saw that Page had the same idea and was looking worn out in a seat of his own. I attempted to take a photo of him before he pointed to my lens and asked “Are you watching me melt?’ with a hearty laugh.

Wyves - Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Nick Sterling (Guitarist/Vocalist), Wyves
Photo Credit:
Nick Gonzaga

During one of their last songs, I suddenly realized just how full my bladder was and I slowly made my way indoors to the mensroom. Upon opening the door, another man rushed past me and I was hit with a wall of odor that stung my nostrils. Guys were covering their eyes at the urinals and making faces like children who had just bitten into a lemon for the first time. It literally smelled like piss and vinegar. I noped right around into the other direction and took my chances outside in the wild. The smell was so bad I had to pee in the bushes. When I returned, Wyves had sadly finished up and Banana Gun was now lugging their gear onstage. From a laughable distance I saw the familiar glow of an afro and I knew that Marc Norman had arrived.

Banana Gun is one of those bands that makes it impossible not to embarrass yourself because you can’t resist the urge to dance. Their most recent album Dance Monkey Down in Faux Town is phenomenal. It’s also available on vinyl. Seriously, go buy it. I had to pick one up in person at a sweltering show at Yucca Tap Room this summer to get mine. You can order it directly from their website, so you have no excuse. Kevin’s dreads hang ankle length and swing like whips across the stage at times. Kyle’s sax punctuates every song like an exclamation point. This band is seriously just too good. From the first notes of their set, the whole place is up and jumping once again but the soles of my feet are getting the better of me and I remain seated.

Banana Gun - Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Kevin Lloyd (Vocalist/Guitarist), Banana Gun
Photo Credit:
Nick Gonzaga

A few of us regrouped and decide to headed back down to camp. I knew in my heart that there was just no way I would be able to make it back up once we settled back down at the beach. I was so thoroughly sore. The moment I laid down on the army cot in the center of camp, I knew it was over and started to drift off, but something awoke me as I was on the cusp of my slumber. It was the sound of heaving. I had no idea where it was coming from until I decided to go investigate. Standing next to our campfire was the same kayaker who had crashed at our site the night before. He brought a friend who had apparently partaken in way too much of the festival.

When things settled down and I was sure our new stowaway was ok, I went back up the hill for the closing of the festival, because nobody wants to watch another guy puke up pot brownies. I just couldn’t bring myself to miss out on the closing acts. Xixa (pronounces “Tsitsa”, not “Sheesha”) from Tucson did an amazing job, but I feel bad that I was too exhausted to truly appreciate it. I went into the cantina to catch Marc’s show, only to find out that it didn’t last long and I had missed it. From there, I waited for Page to close out the bar, but he never showed. I went into the next room to the indoor stage to try to catch Japhy’s Decent, but it was so crowded and hot that I gave up and went back to my tent for good.

Or so I thought.

The one we called “Tiffany” half of the time woke us all up when she got back to camp, trying to get anyone she could to come to the hotel party with her. After pretending to be Brandon by throwing my voice in the dark for some time, I finally relented and accompanied her to the party. I’m glad I did. It was really an amazing thing to see such a group of artists sitting around, playing music with each other, talking about life and the creative process. Drum and guitar notes bounced off the canyon walls like a symphony, settling on the water. I was very lucky to be there, and to be welcomed by a truly loving collective of independent artists. I’m not sure how long I stayed, but it was long enough to smoke a joint with these beautiful souls and get back in bed shortly before 4:00 AM.

 

Packing Up

The very next morning I was stirred from my sleep once again, but this time by the most beautiful smell known to man. As I unzipped my tent and poked my head out, our camp mate Alisha asked if I wanted a piece of bacon. “Yeah, I need a piece of water too,” I replied. With her dreads in a tower atop her head, she peeled a couple of pieces of the sweet pork flesh off of her plate and handed them to me. I ate them with my bare hands. Soon, everyone began to exit their tents like Who people in Whoville on Christmas morning. Bacon had saved us all.

My initial plan was to pack it all up get on the road post haste, but once again, we were having such a great time talking and recounting the weekend that my sense of urgency to leave had faded, if it was ever there at all. I overheard someone say, “I feel like Marc Norman looks. My inner Norman is strong.” Calin played slide guitar on an old, painted acoustic that sat untouched for much of the weekend, Miles was at the shore teaching Tracy how to skip stones, and Spencer packed bowls and passed them around. My heart was impossibly full.

 

“No, but that was the right motion! You almost got it.” – Miles Tippet

 

As all good things, the Apache Lake Music festival had to come to an end, and as much as we lamented, it was time to leave. Something I neglected to think about is just how hard it is to get dirt out of a tent. It’s like trying to get a pick out of an acoustic guitar. After making one more sweep of our campsite for trash, we were in our cars and I was following Kim’s car out of the the marina. I decided to give the long route out a shot since the short way in was so nerve racking. For the most part it remained wide enough for two lanes, save for a bridge. After reaching the Roosevelt Dam and getting back on the main highway, we made a quick pit stop at an IGA grocery store to use the restroom and clean our windshield. Getting out of the car was physically painful. My thighs were on fire. Standing and walking have never been so difficult.

Shortly after our collective relief, were back on the road. Once we made the left turn onto highway 87 toward Mesa, I immediately burned out and left Kim and Brandon in my rearview mirror. My need for a shower was far too great to further soak in anymore scenery. From the Bush Highway to Usery Pass, I was soon back on the 202 southbound, heading toward my home in Gilbert, reliving the sights and the sounds I had consumed that only the Apache Lake Music Festival can deliver.

Apache Lake Music Festival - Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga
Apache Lake Music Festival | Photo Credit: Nick Gonzaga

REVIEW: Christina Aguilera Fights Turbulence, Comes Through for Phoenix 10-29-18

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PHOENIX – Christina Aguilera brought her Liberation tour to Comerica Theatre on October 29, 2018. This is the first tour for Aguilera since her “Back to Basics” tour in 2007. The last time she had a show in Arizona was on February 28, 2007, at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale — now renamed Gila River Arena. There have been quite a few bumps for Aguilera on the Liberation tour; two dates were postponed due to illness, and one postponed due to production-related safety concerns at the venue.

Big Boi opened for Aguilera, also known as Antwan André Patton. Big Boi is an American rapper, songwriter, record producer, and actor. He’s best known for being a member of Outkast, an American hip hop duo, alongside André 3000. With Outkast, he produced six studio albums. In July 2010, Big Boi’s solo debut Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty was released. Hip-hop didn’t seem to be everyone’s go-to genre in the audience, but there were clusters of fans that got up to dance to the beat. Toward the end of their set Patton addressed the crowd, “Welcome to the Liberation tour. Where it gets louder after every song!

It was rumored that Aguilera was to take the stage at 9:15 pm, but that time came and went. The crowd grew restless around 10:00 pm, and some randomly cheered in hopes of making Aguilera appear, while others did the wave to keep their energy alive. Fans were talking amongst each other, concerned that Aguilera wouldn’t show at all. Seventy-five minutes passed by and the crowd booed.

Finally, “5 minutes” popped up on the screen that hid the stage. It switched to a giant face of a clock, with the hands turning counter-clockwise as it counted down the minutes. The concert began with images of Aguilera holding various timepieces. Fans stood when a video played, showing Aguilera in a red dress and a flowered crown, and a little girl wearing the same, wandering through a house as if Aguilera was chasing her past self.

The screen went black, and the word “Liberation” appeared in bold white letters. A dancer came on stage, smelling flowers and then dropping them as she danced, before suddenly running off stage. Then, the word “Searching” displayed on the screen. As the lights brightened, Aguilera stood tall on an elevated stage. The screen and background were of clouds, making Aguilera seem like she was in the sky as she sang the opening lines of “Maria” from her 2018 studio album, Liberation.

Embed from Getty Images

Aguilera had a perfect mix of old and new songs in her setlist. The second song was “Genie in a Bottle” from her first studio album self-titled, Christina Aguilera. That lead track from the album was a trendy pop and R&B song in 1999. It peaked atop the Billboard Hot 100, and among other charts in twenty other countries. It has sold over seven million copies, making it one of the best-selling singles in the world. During the song, images of past albums appeared on the starry background as her dancers twirled red umbrellas around her. Aguilera wore a robe reminiscent of Disney’s Mulan, from which her debut single “Reflection” came.

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Throughout the show, Aguilera would have videos play before she sang her well-known songs. During the song “Dirrty”, from her 2002 studio album Stripped, Aguilera wore a red and black leather outfit much like the assless chaps she wore in the “Dirrty” music video. On one sleeve was “2018” and on the other sleeve was “XTINA”. Her dancers wore black assless chaps as they backed her up during the song.

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Aguilera finally addressed the crowd and explained why she was so late coming on stage.

“I’m here you guys. I climbed and scratched my way here. I had two planes both have mechanical failures and that’s freaking scary shit. I’m sorry. I was like ahhh, what! I was so freaking scared. So the third plane (third time is the charm), the third one came through and I was able to get here on time to be here with you guys, but I made it, I made it to the stage tonight, but it took a little longer. Lord in Heaven. That played some scary stuff on my nerves, and you know, I get some bad anxiety sometimes. That was not fun today. You know, I’m going to unleash some of that on stage tonight. Get it out of my system.”

She laughed and continued, “But it feels so good to be back here after so long and getting to be in some beautiful theaters, oh I’ve never done that before. It’s just so beautiful, so intimate, so wonderful to see you all up close, and personal. It’s just so amazing after all this time. It means so much my loyal, amazing fighters.”

She patted herself on the chest, adding, “I’m not going to cry tonight, but you guys have brought me to tears before. This love has meant so much to me. It really has, you guys. Allowed me to raise my family and be there for my kids because being a hands-on mom is important to me. But also being on this stage, because you know this has been in my life since I was seven. We got some old stuff, older stuff you might remember and we have some new stuff. So let’s see if you guys remember this one.” Aguilera then started to sing lines to “What a Girl Wants” from her self-titled album.

Aguilera sang songs from her past in order, explaining her career. After “What a Girl Wants” she moved to sing some of “Come On Over Baby (All I Want is You)” and addressed the crowd again. Aguilera said, “It’s the show I have right before Halloween too. That’s extra fun. We actually have a Halloween treat for you later. I love Halloween. It’s kinda like Christmas, so it’s insane. And I see some costumes tonight, that’s really cool. Yes. So after, umm, after ‘What a Girl Wants’ and after ‘Come On Over’ I was tired of playing by everybody else’s, you know, the label and suits’ rules, and I had things I wanted to say. It came a time when, you know, my sophomore album I wrote a record called Stripped. — Which just had its sixteenth birthday and it was a very special record for me because, you know, it was the first time I got to tell my stories, talk about some of my pain and struggles and that’s really important, you know, I think that makes the best people and sometimes builds the best character. And I thank you guys for sharing your stories with me; it really inspires me as well and there’s no shame in coming from hard places at all. It means you’re a strong person.

This next song I wrote for the album, there’s quite a few of them, but you know, about standing your ground and in face of adversity or someone says you can’t do something. This song was never a single, but sometimes those are the best ones to me. And I still get a lot of requests for this. This one, you know, no matter what people say, no matter what people tell you what you can’t do. You gotta keep doing you. This one is called ‘Keep On Singin’ My Song,’ sing along if you know it.”

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During the songs “Deserve” and “Accelerate”, both from the Liberation album, Aguilera and her dancers wore S&M-styled outfits and mimed an occult-like ritual at a long table with candles that they danced on. One male dancer had on a spiked mask, and the other a pig’s head. The female dancers had different masks covering their faces. Aguilera wore a bondage headpiece that went from the top of her head and down her nose with a bejeweled black top, fishnets, and a thin black skirt. After “Deserve” a quote appeared on the back screen. It read: “‘If you’re going through hell, keep going…’ –X’cess”. During the song “Accelerate”, Aguilera introduced her dancers, who each had their own moment to showcase their skill on the table in the center of the stage.

For “Lady Marmalade” (a LaBelle song famously covered by Aguilera, P!nk, Mya, and Lil’ Kim for the Moulin Rouge! soundtrack) Aguilera wore a white coat, and her dancers matched as they circled around her with ivory fans in their hands. A video of a close-up of Aguilera in red played on the backdrop.

Aguilera’s next songs were “Ain’t No Other Man” from her 2006 Back to Basics album, “Say Something” by Great Big World, “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” a James Brown cover, and “Fighter” from her Stripped album. Following each video, Aguilera would change her outfit to fit the mood of the song.

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After “Fighter”, the videos stopped working. Aguilera came out with a mic in hand. “Sorry,” she told the crowd. She looked behind her to her band. “Are you ready for me?” She laughed, “Sorry. I know. I’m ready for you and you’re ready for me.” The crowd cheered for her. “Thank you very much,” she said, with a big smile. “I told them to cut to a certain video and it’s not playing right now and I’m upset about it. So I’m sorry. Oh well. The show goes on and I’m here. It’s been an insane day.”

A fan in the crowd yelled “I love you” and she replied, “I love you too. That’s why I’m here, but not without some anxiety. I’m kind of a nervous flier, but it’s Halloween so it’s a special time. Thank you guys for coming out tonight. And your patience for the last ten freaking years. Thank you so much. But my soul was suffering, my soul was hurting and it sometimes takes us a while to figure it out, and I was scared of having children. ‘How am I going to juggle this?’ And also for them not to feel like they are living in my shadow and stuff like that.

Honestly, it’s been such a great experience, and to feel your love and give this to my children as an experience as well. Show them what mama does for a living and what I do for the love. It brought them into this world. Thank you so much for giving me an opportunity to get back on the stage. This is for all of you guys. For all my fighters. It’s a weird night, but whatever. So this song is appropriate.” Aguilera than started singing “Beautiful”, and fans sang along waving their hands or phones in the air.

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Aguilera ended the show by bringing a fan onto the stage to share her story. The woman talked about how Aguilera inspired her to be herself and how Aguilera’s music helped when life was dark after addiction and coming out as gay. She has since found a woman who is like a mother to her and is eleven years sober. She told Aguilera that, due to the addiction, she couldn’t remember Aguilera’s concert she last attended back in 2007, and she always thanks Aguilera or adds a song lyric in her grad papers. Aguilera was clearly touched and hugged the ladies, saying, “Thank you” and “I hope you remember this concert.” The last song of the night was “Let There Be Love”. The back screens turned over and became rainbow lights, while everyone on stage danced like it was a celebration.

The concert ended just a little past midnight, with delighted but tired fans pouring out of the venue. Despite the delay, video problems, and the bass being too loud to the point of sometimes cringing in pain, most fans left happy to see Aguilera on stage after all these years. She’s a fighter and she’s a pop music legacy not to be missed.

Featured Photo (top) by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation

REVIEW: System of a Down Mezmerize Phoenix Fans (10-16-18)

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PHOENIXFor a band as dynamic as System of a Down, one would expect their live performances to be equally, if not more engaging, than their studio releases. Gaining popularity from classic songs like Chop Suey for example, which features a quickly strummed acoustic guitar intro leading directly into a frenetic musical meltdown. This is arguably one of the defining attributes of the band and last night’s show at Talking Stick Resort Arena in downtown Phoenix was certainly no exception.

El Paso rock band, At The Drive In, set the tone of the night with energetic grooves and polished musicianship; a nice preview of what was to come later on. Their set wasn’t without its technical hiccups however, as lead vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala wildly gyrated his arms in an upward motion towards stage left during the first song. This was a clear indication that his vocals weren’t loud enough in the mix and he most likely couldn’t hear himself. The band didn’t miss a beat and continued on into the next few songs, but not without Bixler-Zavala interrupting himself mid-lyric to say “turn up the vocals!” He was obviously frustrated with the technical side of things, but this didn’t take away from their overall performance. With Bixler-Zavala and the rest of the band continuously powered through and made sure the people got what they came to see. Roaring reception from the crowd and an ever turbulent ocean of bodies in the open floor area indicated they were delivering on that promise for many fans.

Following Cedric’s politically charged closing announcement after the final song, that the band was “going backstage to hang out. Don’t call ICE on us,” there was a quick tear-down period as various stage hands took their gear away and made room for the main attraction. Soon after, the lights darkened and System of a Down broke into “Innervision”, a song I didn’t expect as an opening number but a great decision nonetheless. This song has a slow-burning intensity that served as an excellent preamble for what was about to hit the audience next.

Immediately after “Innervision”, lead guitarist, Daron Malakian hit the immensely-heavy opening power chord to “Prison Song”. As if this song alone wasn’t enough of a reason to get the crowd filled with excitement, the band faked everyone out by hitting the opening chord a few more times than expected which stirred up the suspense and generated added fervor.

It’s worth noting that by the time System of a Down took the stage, the sound was immediately dialed in and they sounded absolutely perfect. Every single instrument was balanced well with one another, and both Serj Tankian and Malakian’s vocals had achieved just the right volume levels to allow their harmonious vocals to soar and blend in beautiful ways.

From this point on, each song flowed smoothly into the next with virtually no time in between, allowing them to pack as many songs into the night as possible. The third song played was “I-E-A-I-A-I-O”, which was followed by yet another acronymic song “B.Y.O.B.” Behind the band was a giant jumbotron displaying many visually arresting images including bombs exploding, girls dancing in chorus lines, and inflamed cars driving down the highway at light speeds.

Bassist Shavo Odadjian and drummer John Dolmayan held down the rhythm section with machine-like musical precision while still remaining animated on stage and engaging with the crowd when necessary. Odadjian particularly stole the show at many points during the set with his excellent bass tone cutting through the mix and his charismatic dance moves.

Odadjian was not the only one who visibly enjoyed himself on stage either. Both Tankian and Malakian employed their own dance routines of hopping around on one foot and spinning around in circles. This struck me as particularly impressive when you consider how fast and technical each of their roles in most of the songs are. Malakian also had me laughing at multiple points during the show when he chose to introduce the song “Psycho #13” by singing his own rendition of “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John. He had a lot of excellent banter with the audience during other songs too, like chanting the words “everybody spin around” to the tune of the outro guitar riff in “Toxicity”. This gave way to a maelstrom of people swirling around in one of the biggest mosh pits I’ve ever witnessed. The power that the band and their songs have over their fans is undeniable and an incredible thing to witness in person.

Other notable highlights of the night were “Aerials”, “Question!”, “Deer Dance”, and especially the closing song “Sugar”; an excellent choice to cap off the night and a highly memorable setlist. System of a Down have proved once again that despite a 24-year music career, their enthusiasm has yet to wane. Over 10 years after the band’s last double album release Mezmerize/Hypnotize, they have teased new music with various contradictory information coming from different band members over time. However, one thing I certainly take comfort in is that regardless of whether or not we ever get to experience new music from the band, they’ve left a lasting musical legacy that has left an indelible impression on me, as well as many other fans from around the world.

REVIEW: No Throw-Aways With Garbage at Marquee Theatre (10-7-18)

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Tempe, AZ — On Sunday night, Garbage played at the Marquee Theatre as part of the “20 Years Paranoid” tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of their Version 2.0 album. Opening for them was Rituals of Mine, a Los Angeles-based duo previously known as Sister Crayon.

At the start of the show, it wasn’t clear that Ritual of Mine’s self-described electronic/downtempo R&B sound would appeal to the packed house of late-to-middle-age Gen Xers. But as Terra Lopez sang “To Show You Violence,” the mood in the theater shifted from one of silent, reserved judgement to silent awe. Her indisputably powerful and clear voice resounded throughout the theatre to the applause of a crowd won over.

Rituals of Mine - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Rituals of Mine |
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Rituals of Mine recently collaborated with Tricky and The Glitch Mob, and the duo is now working on their sophomore LP. They will also accompany Garbage throughout the entire U.S. anniversary tour. “This is a dream for us,” Lopez told the crowd. While Rituals of Mine isn’t a new act, the tour along with their recent collaborations could expose the group to a much wider audience.

Rituals of Mine - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Terra Lopez (Vocalist), Rituals of Mine |
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

It is a privilege to share our stage with them,” Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson said later during the show, “cause not all musicians are good people, you know what I’m saying?

When Garbage finally took the stage, they opened with “Afterglow,” followed by “Deadwood,” and “Temptation Waits”. To the delight of the audience, Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” was mixed in midway through “Wicked Ways.” By the time “Special” began to play, the crowd was fully amped.

Garbage - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Garbage |
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

This is an incredible surprise for us… We never ever know what we’re getting, and it is always extraordinary and it’s fun,” a breathless Shirley Manson told the screaming crowd. “We’re here to celebrate a record that was immensely influential for us as people. It took us all over the world.

Version 2.0, the band’s sophomore album released in 1998, was immensely successful, quickly gaining Platinum status in the U.S. and selling more than four million copies worldwide. It received two Grammy nominations, including “Album of the Year” and “Best Rock Album”. And in 1999, the single “Special,” was nominated for “Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal”.

Garbage has often credited Version 2.0 with solidifying their place in 90s rock music. In June, they reissued a special edition of the album that included 10 B-sides, several of which they played during their show at the Marquee, including “Lick the Pavement” and their cover of Big Star’s “Thirteen.” The group also has plans to record a new album for release in 2019.

One of Garbage’s last visits to the Valley was during a show at the Arizona State Fair to promote Strange Little Birds. Maybe it was the venue — the Veterans Memorial Coliseum has seen better days — or maybe it was just the changing state of affairs in the world at that time, but Manson seemed drained, world-weary and even a little sad. They delivered a powerful performance, but you couldn’t help leaving with the impression that maybe they weren’t coming back.  

By contrast, Garbage was more alive than ever on stage at the Marquee. Manson seemed to have a renewed energy and vigor that made you forget you were singing along to songs that are now 20 years old.

Garbage - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Shirley Manson (Vocalist), Garbage |
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

During “Push It,” nearly the entire front of the house was jumping up and down with Manson and screaming the chorus. The stage was backlit with playful rainbow hues for “When I Grow Up.” Then, at the end of “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine,” Manson joined Duke Erikson at the keyboard to play glissandos back and forth across the keys.

Despite what they will tell you, this is not a celebration of nostalgia,” Manson told concert-goers early in the evening. “It is a moment in which to collect you all in one space and feed off that mental energy that you just provided for us.

But there was something undeniably nostalgic about the sound clips from familiar old movies interspersed between each song. Before “Hammering in My Head,” a clip of Rutger Hauer’s iconic monologue from the final scene of Bladerunner played: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. … All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.” And before “Medication” they played a clip of HAL 9000 repeating: “Take a stress pill and think things over.”

Garbage - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Shirley Manson (Vocalist), Garbage |
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Perhaps the most poignant messages of the night came after Garbage returned for their encore. “No life is very easy,” Manson told concertgoers. “Remember that today’s just a day. Tomorrow will be better. And if tomorrow isn’t better, maybe the day after that might be,” Manson said before dedicating “The Trick Is to Keep Breathing” to any fans who might be struggling.

They followed it with one of the band’s latest singles, “No Horses,” which Manson took some time to speak about.

We must focus on the things that are precious. Not the things that are of the most financial value, but the things that are truly truly precious that make our world beautiful, that make us want to live, that make us want to breath and thrive. And this is what this song is about, Manson said.

It is about the fact that we must never fuck up our planet and our beasts and our animals and the things that don’t make money and that, above all else, human beings are our biggest and most important resource.

Garbage - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Shirley Manson (Vocalist), Garbage |
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Garbage closed the show on a high note with “Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go),” a song that Manson called their ode to the LGBQT community, which she has been a very vocal supporter of over the years.

It’s good to be free, and it’s good to be a nonconformist.
So this one goes out to you.

Photo Album

Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo

Garbage & Rituals Of Mine – Marquee Theatre 10-7-18

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REVIEW: Goo Goo Dolls Celebrate 20 Years With a Sold Out Show at The Van Buren (9-30-18)

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PHOENIX — The Valley of the Sun was transported back in time to the halcyon 90’s Sunday night as Goo Goo Dolls kicked off their “Dizzy Up the Girl” Anniversary Tour at The Van Buren. The four-time platinum certified album contains thirteen songs, four of which made it into the top 40. As the tour name suggests, Dizzy Up The Girl was the primary focus of the show, taking up the entirety of the first of two sets from the band, being played from beginning to end. It certainly did not feel like two decades had passed since its release, as thick crowds of people covered every square inch of the venue for this sold out show.

There was a tangible current of excitement in the air, and people were becoming antsy and murmuring to one another about their impatience for this much anticipated show to start. Each time a new melody would boom from the speakers, or a guitar was tweaked backstage, the excitement could be felt as it was mistaken for the beginning of the show.

The lights dim and the stage goes dark. A melody begins to play as lights begin to dance in unison to the music across the platform, engulfing the instruments in various colors as vocalist Johnny Rzeznik, bassist Robby Takac, and current touring members: guitarist Brad Fernquist, keyboardist Jim McGorman, and drummer Craig Macintyre moved slowly towards them. A sea of light from cell phones rose up from the crowd to capture the initial moments of the show. As each found their way to their place on stage they wasted no time heading straight into the opening chords of the albums first song “Dizzy.”

Goo Goo Dolls - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Johnny Rzeznik (Vocalist/Guitarist), Goo Goo Dolls
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved

Following an intense performance of the first song, they effortlessly flowed into the following song on the album which also happens to be the second most popular song, coming in at #9 on Billboard’s Top 100 Pop list from 1992-2012. The beginning notes of Slide glided out of the speakers and it was like a fire had been lit inside the venue. Screams and cheers rang out as Rzeznik sang the words that any true Goo Goo Dolls fan would know. Goo Goo Dolls exuded a palpable “rockstar” energy. At points during the song, the audience was so jazzed up and into the music that they began to drown out the band with their singing. Not wanting to be outdone, this caused a chain reaction of events as the five progressed powerfully through the next seven songs on the album without any breaks in between.

Dizzy Up the Girl album cover

While talking about the anniversary of the album, Rzeznik tells the audience about the iconic girl on the album cover, saying that everyone wants to know who she is. Thinking there would be an intricate story involved, he surprises everyone by saying they have no idea who she is, other than the assistant of the photographer despite casting models for the shoot. Even without a great story, the crowd loved it and snapped right back into their trance as they sang their hearts out from song to song, dancing with the strangers next to them and thrusting their drinks and hands in the air. This was the general reaction throughout their set, with a vibrant light show and dozens of black latex balloons floating around during another hit single, “Black Balloon.” Set one was brought to a close at the conclusion of the last song on the album, “Hate This Place.”

Goo Goo Dolls - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Brad Fernquist (Guitarist) & John Rzeznik (Vocalist/Guitarist),
Goo Goo Dolls
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved

“Thank you! Hang on a sec, we’ll be right back,” Rzeznik said as the band left the stage for a short intermission. Before long, the musicians were back on stage ready to keep the party going for the second part of their set. Already having played thirteen songs, the band proceeded to double the experience and play thirteen more for set two, entitled “Deep Cuts”. Fans went down several paths of memory lane while the band played some of their biggest hits outside of their most popular album. “Better Days”, “Can’t Let It Go”, and “Two Days in February” were all played with acoustic guitar, evoking a range of emotions from their followers.

Goo Goo Dolls - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Robby Takac (Bassist), Goo Goo Dolls
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved

The remainder of the show was more amped up, wanting to bring the audience back to full volume before they ended with a two-song encore including “Big Machine” and a mindblowing performance of “Flat Top”. Right before that, though, Takac addressed the audience a final time with a simple “Thank you guys for coming out to celebrate with us tonight. Truly truly truly means a lot,” no doubt with mutual feelings in the hearts of fans. As the show ended after 26 songs, people could be overheard talking all around about how wonderful the show was and how much it meant to them to be there for it. For over twenty years the Goo Goo Dolls have brought several beautiful songs to life, and if this tour has anything to say about them, no amount of time can weaken the love their fans have for them, or their music.

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by Katherine Amy Vega

Goo Goo Dolls – The Van Buren 9-30-18

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REVIEW: Death Cab for Cutie Fans in Phoenix Are Left Thankful for Today (9-29-18)

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PHOENIX — For the fourth stop of their Fall 2018 tour, Death Cab for Cutie returned to Phoenix to promote their ninth album, Thank You for Today. In the first album since 2015, the band comes back strong in their signature indie pop songwriting and foggy vocals. The band has already released three singles since the August 2018 album release date, building anticipation for their tour. Death Cab for Cutie added two new members to the band after the departure of guitarist and producer Chris Walla. The two new members, guitarist Dave Depper and keyboardist Zac Rae, seem to bring a new cohesive energy to the band, which made for a polished and low-key performance at the sold out music venue in Phoenix.

Charly Bliss - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Eva Hendricks (Vocalist/Guitarist), Charly Bliss
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved.

When the show started at 8:00PM, opening power-pop band Charly Bliss welcomed the crowd. Lead vocalist Eva Hendricks bounced around the stage, swinging the white fringe from her short shorts. Her spunky attitude infused the crowd with energy, starting off the night with a positive jolt of indie pop rock, reminiscent of the early 2000s.

Charly Bliss - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Eva Hendricks (Vocalist/Guitarist), Charly Bliss
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved.

Joining her on stage was guitarist/vocalist Spencer Fox, drummer Sam Hendricks, and bassist/vocalist Dan Shure. At the end of their set, they generously thanked the audience and anticipation crescendoed for the main act, Death Cab for Cutie. Charly Bliss’ debut full-length album, Guppy, was released in April of 2017.

As the stage washed with ambient purple light, the four members of Death Cab for Cutie took the stage clad in  black.

Death Cab for Cutie - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Death Cab for Cutie |
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved

Lead vocalist Ben Gibbard jumped right into their new song “I Dreamt We Spoke Again”, washing the audience in his unique melancholy vocals. Guitarist/vocalist Depper complemented Ben’s voice in creating a beautiful harmony, while drummer Jason McGerr, bassist Nick Harmer, and keyboardist Rae rounded out the sound; making for a solid performance that reflected the band’s years of refinement.

Death Cab for Cutie - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Zac Rae (Keyboardist/Guitarist/Vocalist), Death Cab for Cutie
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved

Without pause, they began “Summer Years”, and then picked up the pace with the following song, “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive.” After the third song, Gibbard addressed the audience, introducing the band and briefly thanking those in attendance.

After a few more new songs, they went into “Gold Rush,” the fresh-sounding first single released from their new album. Recognizing the song from heavy rotation, the crowd erupted in cheers and voices rising up in unison. Reactions were similarly enthusiastic when the well-known notes of “Title and Registration” from  Transatlanticism reached their ears.

Death Cab for Cutie - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Ben Gibbard (Vocalist/Guitarist/Pianist), Death Cab for Cutie
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved

The next few songs were a mix from earlier albums, including “Company Calls,” “No Sunlight,” and “What Sarah Said.” The chill vibes of their show would make for a great date night, or an escape from the work week. Gibbard occasionally dances about the stage facing the drummer and side stepping to the beat. While their performance was strong and their live sound comparable to their albums in every sense, the band’s minimal audience interaction and dependance on old songs might cause a loss of interest in newer listeners. There seemed to be a lack of connection that was sorely needed between the band and the audience. All members could benefit from some storytelling. Their lyrics are so beautiful and meaningful, the audience would surely love to hear some stories behind writing them.

A piano was rolled onto the stage for, “I Will Possess your Heart,” and Gibbard temporarily switched his guitar for the keys. The following song, “Autumn Love”, includes some beautiful lyrics such as, “If there’s no beacon tonight to guide me, I’ll finally break the shackles of direction and let the headlights lead me anywhere that they wanna go.” The depth of their latest album was described in a Facebook post on the date of release, which refers to it as “a record that reflects upon and asks questions of the past”, and “also a record about the future. Looking forwards and backwards simultaneously, from summer to autumn.”

Death Cab for Cutie - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Dave Depper (Guitar/Keys/Vocals), Death Cab for Cutie
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved

As they finished out the set they finally addressed the audience once again, giving a big thank you to Charly Bliss for being a great opening band. Of course they had to play one of their biggest hits, “Soul Meets Body”, and the crowd went wild, nearly everyone singing along. At the end of the song, Gibbard triumphantly held his guitar up in the air like a trophy. The last song, “Marching Bands of Manhattan”, left the audience still wanting more, cheering into the emptiness as the stage went black.

It only took a few minutes before Gibbard returned, playing an acoustic version of their hit “I’ll Follow You Into the Dark.” It was at this moment that Gibbard opened up to the crowd with some cheerful banter, and he asked the audience to sing the second verse of the song. Afterwards, the rest of the band joined Gibbard on stage and played not one more, but three more songs: “Your Hurricane”, “Crooked Teeth”, and they finished the night with “Transatlanticism”.

With a generous 24-song setlist, Death Cab for Cutie brought a unique and beautiful energy to The Van Buren, and a recording-quality sound. The title of Thank You for Today no doubt resonated with die-hard Death Cab for Cutie fans.

PHOTO ALBUM

by Katherine Amy Vega

Death Cab For Cutie & Charly Bliss – The Van Buren 9-29-18

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REVIEW: Mommy’s Little Monsters, Second Generations, & New Beginnings: Social Distortion Fall 2018 Tour Launches in the Valley of the Sun (9-10-18)

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Tempe, Ariz. — Social Distortion are no strangers to touring, and after a one and a half months long summer tour and 8 weeks of recuperation, they were back at it again and kicking off their Fall 2018 tour to a sold out Monday at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe. Known for bringing along with them some promising new talent to get the crowd revved up before they make their grand entrance, this tour is no different. Accompanying the band for their September shows is Justin Townes Earle, as well as Valley Queen, to be followed by Will Hoge and Pony Bradshaw for the month of October.

Half an hour before the theater doors were set to open, and the parking lot was nearly full. With hopes of snagging a great vantage point, several generations of Social D fans braved the 100 degree heat while standing in line, donning their page boy caps, Black Kat Kustoms shirts, tattoos, and multi-colored hair.

The Los Angeles-based group Valley Queen were the first to take the stage, giving fans a sampling of songs from their recently released debut album, Supergiant.

Valley Queen - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Natalie Carol (Vocalist), Valley Queen
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

The four-piece group, with an excellent energy and apparent cohesiveness, seemed to truly enjoy what they do. With a voice reminiscent of Sinead O’Connor and a carefree flit about the stage, front-woman Natalie Carol lit up the room with an unparalleled vibrance. Not long into their second song, amidst the sound of Shawn Morones’ slide guitar and Neil Wogensen’s energetic bass licks in alignment with Mike DeLuccia’s drumbeats, Natalie broke a string for the very first time on a guitar she stated she’d had for over 6 years and chalked it up as an omen of great things to come.

Next up was singer/songwriter Justin Townes Earle, who connected with the audience on a level that few musicians are known to do. With a smirk and eye contact with the folks up front, he touched on the motivation behind each song he’d written before he performed it.

Justin Townes Earle - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Justin Townes Earle
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Accompanying him were bassist Mike Luzecky from Denton, TX, and drummer Bill Campbell from Brooklyn, NY, who had only met that day and had one rehearsal prior to playing together — not that anyone would be able to tell, however, which is a true testament to their talents. It is apparent that this second generation music star is definitely forging his own successful path in the industry; from the fun, upbeat “Champagne Corolla” and “Short Hair Woman”, off of his most recent album Kids in the Street, to the deeply genuine “White Gardenias”, from his album titled Single Mothers. “White Gardenias” was preceded by a shout out to Billie Holiday and all others affected by the opioid epidemic.

The roadies took to the stage to ensure everything was perfectly set as the crowd inched closer to the front in anticipation of Social Distortion’s arrival. Impatient fans gained some visual stimulation from strategically placed items around the stage, like signs that said “funeral, no parking” and “inmates stand here,” as well as boxing gloves, a RCA dog statue, and mannequin parts with lingerie.

Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Social Distortion stage props
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Without a warning, the band swiftly took to the stage and went right into their opening song, “Reach For The Sky”, followed by “Highway 101” and “Don’t Take Me For Granted”, all from the 2004 album Sex, Love, and Rock ‘n’ Roll. The seemingly endless sea of rowdy fans swayed as Mike Ness, Jonny Wickersham, Brent Harding, and David Hidalgo, Jr. entertained with seamless precision, as Social D is known to do.

Social Distortion - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Mike Ness (Vocalist, Guitarist), Social Distortion
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Preceding the 12th and final song of the set, frontman Ness opened up in a heartfelt monologue about having written the next song in 1994 about racism and dedicated “Don’t Drag Me Down” to the Chicanos in the audience.

No show is complete without an encore performance, and Social Distortion did not disappoint. After their flawless performance of “Angel’s Wings”, Ness explained his friends’ unfavorable reactions years ago when he told them he was going to record a Johnny Cash song. He said they all asked, “Why?” to which he quipped, “because it’s cool and I want to,” and asserted that Johnny Cash deserves to be back on the top where he belongs. The crowd roared as the band finished up with a double dose of Cash with “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Ring of Fire”.

Social Distortion - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Social Distortion
| Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Though Ness did mention that he doesn’t know a whole lot of places that Social Distortion could sell out on a Monday night, it seems evident that with the fervor of the fans filing in to see them perform live, it’s bound to happen more often than he may think.

Photo Album

Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo

Social Distortion, Justin Townes Earle, & Valley Queen – Marquee Theatre 9-10-018

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Photography © Reagle Photography
All Rights Reserved

REVIEW: Butch Walker & Greg Holden Celebrate The Last Days of Summer, Starting at Crescent Ballroom 9-7-18

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PHOENIX — While Journey and Def Leppard were “on fire” at Talking Stick Resort Arena, Butch Walker and opener Greg Holden ignited their own explosive show at Crescent Ballroom just a little more than a mile away. As is often the case, Phoenix was the tour kickoff location of Walker and Holden’s tour, and they would thereafter embark on the 17-date “The Last Days of Summer Tour” (2018). While some dedicated fans had even flown in from out of state to see the show, no one was prepared for just how hype this show would get; apparently not even Walker himself, who likened coming out to perform again like getting back into your old prom clothes.

Greg Holden

Greg Holden - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design
Greg Holden
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved

Greg Holden, who recently interviewed with us prior to the concert date, performed at acoustic set, which as you would expect, was chill and low-key. But while Holden generally presents a fairly serious demeanor overall, he cracked a number of smiles while engaging with the vocal crowd, and joking during stage banter.

Greg Holden - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design
Greg Holden
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved

Of course, many fans recognized his “claim to fame”; the infectious hit song “Home”, written by Holden and chosen by American Idol finalist Phillip Phillips. Solidarity and warmth were felt with a strong cheer from the audience as he reached the end of the heart-wrenching song “Boys in the Street”, about the strained relationship between a father and his gay son, and finally growing to acceptance.

Holden’s “On the Run” was actually produced by headliner Butch Walker, who has an impressive list of work as a producer; including the likes of Katy Perry, Panic! At The Disco, Weezer, Pink, Fall Out Boy, The Maine, and many more.

Butch Walker

Anyone unfamiliar with Butch Walker was in for quite a surprise when he and his live band took the stage, as the shift in energy was immediate and palpable. Walker is not a country artist. Despite a name that might suggest as much, and Butch Walker’s charming southern roots poking through his stage presence, the more dominant and effortless image and energy he exhibited conveyed his background of a music career in glam metal (SouthGang) and pop punk/post-grunge (Marvelous 3). Walker has 8 studio albums under his belt — the most recent being Stay Gold, which was released in August of 2016.

Butch Walker - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design
Butch Walker
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved

The 48-year-old, who shared his age with the crowd himself, seemed almost surprised, and definitely pumped, that as the night went on, his solid and seasoned musical prowess had no problem kicking into high gear. Not to be taken for granted or uncredited, Walker’s live band matched his enthusiasm and skill perfectly as they danced and jammed with a fury.

Butch Walker - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design
Butch Walker
| Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega
© Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved

As his set was coming to a close, his performance climaxed after a medley of magnificent covers of David Bowie that couldn’t have felt like more of a worthy tribute, which segued into Walker’s “Hot Girls in Good Moods”. With his shining sense of humor, he began a drawn-out activity amidst the crowd that built anticipation and inspired nearly all, save for the wallflowers on the bleachers in the back of the venue, to participate and, “GO CRAZY!” Confetti and streamers popped out over the thrilled concertgoers.

The duality between Walker and Holden’s performances indeed complemented each other perfectly, and the show was unforgettably dynamic and downright mind-blowing. We highly recommend picking yourself up and heading out to this show in a city near you, because it is so worth it.

PHOTO ALBUM

by Katherine Amy Vega
(View separate Butch Walker & Greg Holden photo albums)

Butch Walker & Greg Holden – Crescent Ballroom 9-7-18

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REVIEW: Journey & Def Leppard Rock Phoenix for Ages 9-7-18

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PHOENIX Historic classic rock duo Journey and Def Leppard put on a massively vivacious performance Friday night at their sold-out stop at Talking Stick Resort Arena on the North American tour (2018). It’s been twelve long years since Def Leppard and Journey co-headlined a tour, with rumored signs of an aging sound. On the contrary though, this arena setting was more than fitting, as the show proved to be impressively larger than life.

Def Leppard

The crowd continued to pour in by the thousands even as Def Leppard took the stage, erupting in a phantasmal melting-pot of emotions from fans of all ages when their vocalist, Joe Elliott approached the crowd.

Def Leppard - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Joe Elliott (Vocalist), Def Leppard
| Photographer: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

With his hands held high, Elliott teased the rippling stadium, loosely conducting the opening instrumentals to “Rocket” with closeups of the band members flashing in-and-out of 2-D televisions seemingly stacked above and behind the stage. Def Leppard’s energy was as contagious as ever, coaxing fans along to hit after hit beneath blaring blankets of velvety light that morphed into everything from hypnotizing geometric patterns to a striking laser show.

Def Leppard - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Joe Elliott (Vocalist), Def Leppard
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Each song seemed to ignite even more elation than the last. Fans sang along to every word of “Animal”, “Foolin’”, “When Love and Hate Collide”, and “Let’s Get Rocked” as the stage transformed again, almost magically, from a wall of vintage neon signs into thick rotating rays of foggy light before turning to a dim, red glow that illuminated the buzzing audience. Elliott could be seen thrusting the mic stand back and forth across the stage as the first few notes of “Armageddon It” rumbled out from beneath the speakers.

Def Leppard - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Rick Savage (Bassist), Def Leppard
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Def Leppard’s current and longest-lasting lineup to date also includes Rick Savage (bassist), Rick Allen (drummer), Phil Collen (guitarist), and Vivian Campbell (guitarist); and like Elliott, none of them showed any signs of slowing down. Their British heavy metal style is as alive and well as ever, complete with leather and tight pants, sweat-glistening, guitar shreddin’, and an incredible one-armed drum solo.

Between nostalgic performances of the David Essex cover “Rock On”, “Two Steps Behind”, and “Man Enough”, Elliott introduced each member of the band while offering a small bit of history on each iconic track to follow. “We’ve been touring for 38 years,” he announced, speaking briefly on the group’s English background and how they got their start. “All we ever wanted was to make music.”

Def Leppard - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Phil Collen (Guitarist), Def Leppard | Photographer: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Without all the fancy high-tech showmanship, it would have been easy to forget that we were seeing Def Leppard 20 years post multi-platinum success of Hysteria and Pyromania – which ranked at #384 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003. “Love Bites”, “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak”, and “Switch 625” were up next, each accompanied by its own light display and related imagery glowing boldly in the background.

Speaking of multi-platinum, Def Leppard definitely knew what they were doing when they saved “Hysteria” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me” for last, but not of course without the explosive encore we’d been dying for – “Rock of Ages” and “Photograph”. What more could a Def Leppard fan ask for, right?

Journey

After a refreshingly brief set change, it was time for Rock n’ Roll Hall-of-Famer, Journey, to steal the show with their own non-stop marathon of legendary greatest hits. Despite having been noted as “one of the world’s best-selling bands of all time” – No. 96 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time to be exact, Journey’s continued evolution has left some critics wondering how things could ever sound the same.

Arnel Pineda (Vocalist), Journey
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Current vocalist Arnel Pineda put those rumors to rest with a heart-wrenching opening performance of “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” from chart-topping album Frontiers (1983). Despite not being a man of many words, Pineda undeniably uplifted the crowd with his infectious, positive energy as he jumped, kicked, and bounced across the stage. The entire arena followed in suit, immediately pointing their phone flashlights and lighters to the sky and singing along to every word.

Pineda was overflowing with a spectacularly excitable stage presence, making sure to run the full perimeter of the platform while high-fiving everyone within reach during emotional renditions of “Only The Young”, “Escape” and “Stone In Love”. Meanwhile, psychedelic album art filled the towering screens surrounding the stage while flashes of bright white light spliced across the arena. Closeups of Neal Schon (lead guitarist), Ross Valory (bassist), Steve Smith (drummer) and Jonathan Cain (keyboardist) could also be seen rotating in and out, with big smiles on their faces.

Journey - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Jonathan Cain (Keyboardist), Journey
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Each member boasted their own bit of personal wardrobe style as well. Cain could be seen with an old school Suns jersey peeking out from behind his jacket. Fans belted out the lyrics to the ever-popular tracks “Chain Reaction” and “Be Good To Yourself” before Pineda finally addressed the crowd. “How are you doing Phoenix?!”, he echoed. “Thanks for coming out and seeing us tonight!

Journey - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Neal Schon (Guitarist), Journey
Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Schon stepped into the spotlight to set the mood with a smooth-and-sultry, otherworldly guitar solo before launching into “Lights” with Pineda once again. Time seemed to slip away as listeners lost themselves in the music, rocking out to “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’”, “Who’s Crying Now”, “Open Arms”, and “Ask The Lonely”, followed by “La Do Da”, and “Any Way You Want It”. From lovestruck couples to lonesome onlookers, it was clear why Journey’s music has achieved such timeless success.

Schon stepped forward once again to introduce “Wheel In The Sky”, a song he composed along with Robert Fleischman and Diane Valory – wife of bassist Ross Valory. He went on to say, “That’s when I realized we were family. We all love the same way. I’d like to dedicate this song to a man that just had a birthday recently, our vocalist, Mr. Arnel Pineda. And to the fans who stayed over the years.

As one might have guessed, Journey concluded the night with that one track that hits us all right in the feels – “Don’t Stop Believin’”, which crescendoed to a climax of strobing light, squealing guitar, and eruption of glittering white confetti that combusted into a weightless cloud drifting out over the audience. It was a feeling of total bliss and slight overstimulation, of not wanting the night to end, while also being so incredibly satisfied, overjoyed, impressed, and amazed. That’s the thing about bands like Def Leppard and Journey; they’ve not only carved out a place in our memories, but in the depths of our hearts as well.

Journey - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Journey
| Photographer:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Pineda stepped forward to address the crowd for the last time,
Arizona, you are magic tonight.

Photo Gallery

Photographer: Mark Greenawalt

Journey & Def Leppard – Talking Stick Resort Arena 9-7-18

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Photography © Mark Greenawalt. All Rights Reserved