Tag Archives: concert photography

REVIEW: Styx Rocking In The Round, Their First Night at Celebrity Theatre (1-11-19)

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PHOENIX — Celebrity Theatre was a fitting venue for the return of Styx to the Valley for a two night engagement on January 11th and 12th. Located at 32nd Street and Fillmore, the legendary theatre in the round has hosted the cream of music royalty since it first opened as the Phoenix Star Theatre in 1964. The unique circular, rotating stage and intimate atmosphere have made the Celebrity a staple music hall in Phoenix for nearly six decades. Not one seat in the venue is more than 70 feet from the stage.

The show on January 11th started a little late, most likely a result of the parking delays. The line of cars snaking southbound down the right lane of 32nd street moved at a snail’s pace leading up to the entrance. Folks of all stripes were milling around the theater, ordering drinks and chatting excitedly under the catwalk above the stage. Others lingered outside, chain smoking or vaping, listening for a sign to run back inside for the start of the concert.

From their humble Chicago beginnings in the early 1970’s, to their outlandish high production theatrical arena shows of the 80’s, Styx has been a familiar voice on the radio for generations, with a career spanning over half a century. As the first band to have four triple platinum albums in a row, they are an integral part of the soundtrack of many people’s lives. Their importance to rock music as a whole has been unfairly marginalized for years, and in the words of Julian ‘Frankenstein’ McGrath from Big Daddy (1999), only catching “a bad rap because most critics are cynical assholes.”

The current lineup includes veteran Tommy Shaw on lead guitar, with founding members James “J.Y.” Young and Chuck Panozzo on guitar and bass respectively, with Chuck performing on a more limited basis. Chuck’s twin brother and co-founding member of Styx, John Panozzo, originally played drums, but sadly died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1996. Since then, Todd Sucherman has been the band’s drummer. Playing backing guitar, bass, and vocals is Ricky Phillips of Bad English and The Babys, who joined the band in 2003. Vocalist and keyboard virtuoso Lawrence Gowan is a high-energy showman, but you would have to be in order to replace estranged former frontman Dennis DeYoung, as he did in 1999. A band with a history as rich as Styx merits such a historic venue as Celebrity Theatre.

The house lights suddenly dimmed, eliciting hoots and cheers from the audience. As soon as the spotlights kicked on, the band flew right into “Gone Gone Gone from their latest album The Mission, released in mid-2017. From the first frenzied notes played on the dueling guitars, the crowd was on their feet. Fans young and old danced in the aisles while others rushed to their seats, full beers in hand. The song does not sound at all unlike the old Styx — high-energy and fun.

Not a moment after the first tune ended, the iconic organ riff of “Blue Collar Man” sternly commanded the grateful crowd’s attention.  Each band member’s precision assured the crowd that Styx had not lost a step from their golden age.

Lawrence Gowan (Vocalist) and Ricky Phillips (Bassist), Styx
Photography: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved.

Next was their hit “The Grand Illusion”, the title track from their 1977 album. Every flawless note rang out true to the recording, and there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for that: Styx is a band that is perpetually on tour. According to the band themselves, they only take occasional breaks for short periods. Anybody touring that frequently is going to perform their catalogue masterfully.

After performing “Fooling Yourself,” Gowan spoke: “What a wonderful way to ring in the new year!” Standing at the foot of the stage, he remarked, “My, you’re all so close,” as he addressed the theater’s intimate layout.

The spotlight settled on him at the keyboard as and an iconic piano riff pierced the crowd, igniting their collective nostalgia. “Lady” is one of those songs that everyone imagines will be playing in the background when they lay their eyes on their soulmate for the first time. Again, it’s eerie how well Gowan embodies Dennis DeYoung, both vocally and instrumentally. It was not the first song the whole theater sang in unison, nor would it be the last.

Lawrence Gowan (Vocalist, Keyboardist), Styx
Photography: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved.

When Shaw approached the mic, he explained the origins of their 16th album, The Mission, before introducing “Radio Silence” for the waiting ears of all in attendance. The opening synth has that instantly recognizable Styx DNA. That this was not a radio single is baffling. In fact, Shaw himself has expressed frustration with the neglect that great classic rock bands experience in the new age of the music industry. It is almost prophetic of the band that you cannot hear a song called “Radio Silence” on the radio. It is a fantastic track and deserves more attention.

The next tune was off of 1975’s Equinox. “Lorelei” seems like one of those songs that everyone knows but has no idea what it is called or who sings it, like an old friend you ate lunch with at work, but never learned their name. Young absolutely nails the lead vocals in place of DeYoung’s  studio recording. Another striking revelation was that the bands harmonies were pristine. These are men in their early to late sixties, the oldest being founding member Panozzo at seventy years old.

Ricky Phillips (Bassist), Styx
Photography: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved.

Shortly after “Lorelei”, Shaw recalled a conversation he had with Young in 1975, and explained how he came to join the band. Taking Young up on his offer to come to Chicago, Shaw brought a song he had been working on. It was a great song, but “it wasn’t a Styx song” according to Young, who Shaw calls “The Godfather of Styx”. From that story, the audience learned how “Crystal Ball” was written, and Shaw was only too happy to demonstrate how beautiful his two-tone sunburst Fender 12-string acoustic sounds. With impeccable timing, a roadie hopped up onto the stage to hand over a Les Paul for the solo before swapping the Jumbo back for the outro.

As expected, the band played a couple more hits with “Light Up” and “Man in the Wilderness” before closing out the first half of the show with another anthem from the Paradise Theater album, “Rockin’ the Paradise.” It wasn’t long before the house lights came back up for a short intermission, when Young promised another hour of music after they returned.

The second half of the show kicked off with another Young-led hit from The Grand Illusion, “Miss America.” Styx is currently rehearsing for a special show in Las Vegas where they will play the entire The Mission album from start to finish. Fans attending this show were treated to a sampling of what is to come when they debuted six of those songs in order from the second half of the album. The suite of songs began with “Time May Bend” and continued through “The Outpost” and this night was the first time they had ever been performed live. They even welcomed the album’s producer and co-writer, Will Evankovich on stage to contribute to the instrumentation and vocals.

Tommy Shaw (Guitarist, Vocalist), Styx
Photography: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved.

Eventually a roadie produced Shaw’s vintage Fender Electric XII and it’s a dead giveaway to the guitar-savvy fans that “Suite Madame Blue” was coming, and it was impeccably played from start to finish. Immediately after, the fans were finally treated to what many were waiting for… “Too Much Time On My Hands” (watch the Paul Rudd and Jimmy Fallon shot-for-shot remake) from 1981’s Paradise Theater. The maniacal keyboard part of the song is indicative of the genius that Dennis DeYoung endowed upon the group; however, this does not imply they are lacking anything from his departure. This band is so well-oiled that his absence is hardly noticeable.

As the applause died down, most of the band left the stage, but Gowan remained and took the spotlight to turn the venue into a “piano bar” with a pair of fantastic covers. The first was a phenomenally accurate rendition of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” for the appreciative audience. The second cover was a beautiful recitation of the intricate operatic section of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and the entire crowd once again sang along to every word. They are truly a fortunate group to have stumbled across such a talented frontman. Gowan alone should be a major factor for anyone even considering going to a Styx show. He alone is absolutely worth the cost of admission.

Still alone on stage, Gowen started into the piano intro to possibly their most famous hit, Come Sail Away, which was also featured on The Grand Illusion. The band shuffled back out to bring it home and it seemed to be the perfect crescendo to end the show with, guitars blazing and fans jumping up and down. As the last note is struck from the guitars, and the last cymbal smashed, the band removed their straps and handed off their instruments to the roadies while they made their way off the stage before turning around amid the raucous applause and walking right back out for an encore.

To thunderous applause, they opened back up with “Mr. Roboto,” the drum fills echoing throughout the small space with noticeably fewer audience members, many of whom ran out to their vehicles when they believed the show was over. This is a big deal for one simple reason: They had never performed this song on stage with the full band before this tour. Previously, Dennis DeYoung had always sung a version of it with pre-recorded tracks. Once he left, the band abandoned it for the following decades. The fact that they are playing it as an encore now is kind of ironic.

James “J.Y.” Young (Guitarist), Styx
Photography: Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved.

The fitting final number of the evening was the signature rocker song “Renegade”, Shaw’s self-penned hit from 1979’s Pieces of Eight.

“Oh, mama, I’m in fear for my life from the long arm of the law…”

The acapella opening lines beckoned the crowd once more to accompany the band, offering a fitting and crowd-unifying conclusion to a consistently powerful and nostalgic evening with a gargantuan pillar of classic rock. As any great performers are wont to do, Styx left the Phoenix audience delighted and fulfilled, yet eager for more. Fans might have had their thirst satiated if they bought tickets to the show the following night at the same venue. And if the rock gods will it, perhaps Arizona will be graced with a future performance from the legendary American musical mainstay.

Photo Gallery

Photographer: Mark Greenawalt

Styx – Celebrity Theatre 1-11-19

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Photography © Mark Greenawalt. All Rights Reserved

REVIEW: Puddles Pity Party Treats the Crowd Like Royals in Mesa (12-7-18)

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PHOENIX — Many of us have been invited to a pity party and more than likely, we have no desire to attend. When Puddles the sad clown hosts one, however, I recommend you RSVP and make it a priority on your calendar.

I was one such lucky attendee amidst several thousand others that packed the Ikeda Theater at Mesa Arts Center. Not knowing what to expect of the next 110 intermission-free minutes aside from a sweet serenade from the 6’8” baritone crooner in a clown costume, I kept my mind, ears, and eyes open.

Three minutes before the show was set to begin, the house lights were still up as people shuffled to their seats. There appeared to be commotion on the mezzanine level as several audience members looked up to see the unmistakable giant, cuddly clown making his way through the sea of people giving hugs, handshakes, and posing for photos. He effortlessly hurdled the chairs and made a concerted effort to greet as many of his party “guests” as he could, before making his way down to the ground level where he popped through the back doors and dashed to and fro, greeting attendees as he made his way up to the stage.

Puddles Pity Party - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Puddles Pity Party
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Puddles Pity Party is anything but predictable, and after enthusiastically giving high fives to some of the folks in the front rows, he hoisted himself up onto the stage and awkwardly rolled to his feet despite the fact that there was an accessibility staircase not 10 feet to his left. It was at this moment I realized that things were going to be shaken up into a concoction of splendor and entertainment that would take all of us on a wild adventure of fellowship and laughter.

The festivities began with Puddles amusingly popping a whopping amount of gum into his mouth and loudly chewing as he read an AARP magazine featuring Kevin Costner.

Puddles Pity Party - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Puddles Pity Party
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Much like other aspects of the show, these pieces may have seemed trivial at the time, but became integral parts of his act. Perpetually animated and childlike in his movement at times, Puddles — brought to life by Mike Geier — scoots about the stage on his stool and takes his sweet time getting to center stage to watch a montage of his trials and tribulations while appearing on America’s Got Talent. The sad clown with the golden voice sang his rendition of R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”, only to be abruptly stopped by a loud buzzer and a giant red X like the one he received while performing for the show. Despite this, Puddles pressed on.

Puddles Pity Party - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Puddles Pity Party
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

The irony was not lost in respect to a silent comic entertainer who uses only his vocal ability to belt out emotional tunes; however, the heartfelt depth of his singing left the partygoers absolutely stunned. Puddles performed “The Sound of Silence” to a video of ASL translator, Zoey Stormes, signing a moving performance. Though he is a sad clown who expresses tremendous variety of emotion, from melancholy, to gratitude, to wonderment, it’s virtually impossible to be sad while in his presence. Laughter and words of encouragement from the crowd consistently permeated the silence.

Puddles Pity Party - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Puddles Pity Party
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Puddles has several obsessions that attendees learn throughout their time with him, two of which are Kevin Costner and coffee. Never have I attended a party that entailed a coffee break, but there is a first time for everything. In fact, Puddles Pity Party contained many firsts, which takes the Vaudevillian style act from being a show to a full-fledged experience. I lost count of how many times Puddles left his wad of gum behind on his suitcase of goodies and plucked it back up to resume chewing. Additionally, I lost count of how many times he rolled himself off the stage to interact with the audience and bring a new friend up to be a part of the show. Attendees were swept away, transformed into an environment where excitement is found in the simple and absurd.

It was when I oddly caught “the feels” from hilarious snippets of robots falling over to the sound of Puddles’ emotional rendition of Coldplay’s “Fix You” that I realized the power and magnitude of this king-sized clown’s voice. No love song directed at a cup of coffee will ever feel so pure and heartfelt as it did in that theater.

Partygoers were just as much a part of the show, and were brought into Puddles’ world of make-believe. One woman transformed into a wolf that Puddles waltzed with. A gentleman enthusiastically sang the karaoke version of “All By Myself”. Another got to be a rocket scientist, and yet another got to stuff his face with cupcakes while being reminded that the word “stressed” spelled backwards is “desserts”. Puddles even had one of the party attendees summon Kevin Costner, albeit after a failed attempt that accidentally summoned Kevin Bacon.

Puddles Pity Party - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Puddles Pity Party with concertgoer
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

Other celebrities were attending in spirit, as it was impossible to miss the homages to Axl Rose, Freddie Mercury, and the King himself, Elvis Presley. Puddles’ prowess as an accomplished musician was made apparent through performing on his cardboard guitar that asserts “Do Good Work”, to his various beats on both real and video game drum sets, to his unique song mashups.

Geier, affectionately known as “Big Mike”, who has run a burlesque performance troupe out of Atlanta and also performs with the Kingsized Jazz Trio, has the performer gene coursing through his veins. Traveling with Puddles Pity Party, he has made audiences giggle and laugh warmly all over the world while wearing his endearing heart on his ruffled sleeve.

All you would have to do is go on YouTube and search “Puddles” to encounter countless videos of the sad clown with the golden voice. One of his most captivating being his rendition of Sia’s “Chandelier”, which partnered with Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox and also performed on America’s Got Talent to agape jaws and an uproarious standing ovation.

The party on Friday was no exception and the crowd had their phones out to record video of his most notable serenade, as is encouraged. This did not stop Puddles from giving his adoring fans the up-close and personal show they were hoping for, as he grabbed one phone to sing to it and place it in the hand of another individual while picking up their phone and passing it on until there were multitudes of attendees who had incredible footage of Puddles and the cell phone of their fellow party-goer. The laughter that ensued afterward while people scrambled to find each rightful owner was memorable. If anyone can bring people closer together with their fellow man, it’s most definitely Puddles the sad clown.

Puddles Pity Party - Photo Credit: Rodrigo Izquierdo
Puddles Pity Party
Photography:
Rodrigo Izquierdo © All Rights Reserved

If you have the opportunity to attend a pity party put on by Puddles, I highly encourage it. How a sad clown can make everyone in a room light up with laughter is a special kind of magic that can only be felt and seen by experiencing it firsthand.

Photo Album

Photographer: Rodrigo Izquierdo

Puddles Pity Party – Mesa Arts Center 12-7-18

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Photography © Reagle Photography
All Rights Reserved

REVIEW: Minus The Bear, Tera Melos Give Tempe Fans A Lesson In Math Rock (12-7-18)

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Tempe, AZ —  At face value, thinking about a period of seventeen years does seem like a long stretch of time. Contrarily, Minus the Bear frontman, Jake Snider, has a different take on the idea because about halfway through the set on their farewell tour at the Marquee Theatre last night, Snider gave the audience some insight into their seventeen year-long career as a band, “Seventeen years feels like almost no time has passed. We appreciate all of you for being here. We’ve got the best fans of anyone.

Minus the Bear - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Jake Snider (Vocalist), Minus the Bear
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

This served as a beautiful footnote at the end of the influential band’s creative streak consisting of 6 studio albums and 12 EPs, as well as countless national and international tours. They’ve been highly influential in the math rock genre and are largely considered pioneers of the style, their beginnings predating many noteworthy math rock bands like This Town Needs Guns and Chon.

They clearly expressed their gratitude to the audience, and the feeling was undeniably mutual as the sounds of cheering and clapping rarely died down over the course of the evening. Every crowd has its black sheep though, demonstrated towards the end of the show as one inebriated concert-goer threw a full can of beer at bassist Cory Murchy. To the relief of many, the band didn’t hold the rudeness of one person against the rest of the audience as Snider calmy chimed in over the mic “Please don’t throw your f*ucking beer can at us. Thanks, we love you guys.

Tera Melos

The unforgettable night began with an excellent introduction of the complex music to come thanks to the opening act, Tera Melos. The Sacramento, California-based band pummelled the audience with a frenetic 40 minute set that never once let up in energy.

Tera Melos - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Tera Melos
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

It all began when Nick Reinhart, the guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist of the band, gave the other members a quick, nearly imperceptible glance, and then they were off with their first song, “Don’t Say I Know”. The band continued their set without uttering a word or letting out a breath between songs while only occasionally looking at each other for brief acknowledgement of what was coming next. This was astounding because of the technicality and otherworldly sounds emanating from Reinhart’s guitar; it takes incredible musicianship to even follow what’s going on as a listener, let alone a Tera Melos band member.

Tera Melos - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Nick Reinhart (Vocalist, Guitarist, Keyboardist), Tera Melos
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Interspersed between songs were spastic, electronic guitar lines that could often be described as computer beeping in 5/4 time. Some of these sounded reminiscent of dubstep while others bordered more along EDM territory. It was surprising to many fans in attendance that it was coming from a guitar, as well as those more familiar with the band as you’d frequently hear someone new shouting “What?!” or “How?!” from around the room as Reinhart stomped on a new combination of guitar FX pedals.

Tera Melos - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Tera Melos’ FX pedals
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Another highlight of their incredible set was “Slimed”, with Reinhart screaming “Something about my face, always makes me sick!” as the band followed along perfectly without missing a note. On these merits alone, Tera Melos is not, nor will they ever be, a band to be missed.

Minus the Bear

After fans had about 20 minutes to recover between sets from the mind blowing experience of Tera Melos, Minus the Bear picked up right where the opening act left off.

Minus the Bear - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Minus the Bear
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

The band’s embrace of classics like “Pachuca Sunrise”, “The Fix”, and “The Game Needed Me” from their second album Menos Del Oso scattered throughout the set among more recent favorites, such as “Last Kiss” from their final 2017 release, VOIDS served as an anachronistic tribute to their incredible evolution as a band over time. It was a nice touch and always kept you guessing as what was to come next. The band’s sound was also finely tuned to the venue’s sound system, a huge relief considering anything less would have proven unacceptable for a band so musically polished themselves.

Minus the Bear - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Dave Knudson (Guitarist), Minus the Bear
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

Guitarist Dave Knudson was a finger-tapping machine, only taking both his hands off the guitar neck to kneel down and adjust knobs on his plethora of FX pedals. If Knudson and Reinhart were to face off in a gladiator-esque guitar FX duel, it would be impossible to tell who would come out on top. Knudson and keyboardist Alex Rose were the icing on the cake of the intricately layered music, as bassist Murchy and touring drummer Joshua Sparks provided a solid backbone for the songs to breathe new life into the hearts of many listeners.

Minus the Bear - Photo Credit: Mark Greenawalt
Alex Rose (Keyboardist), Minus the Bear
Photography:
Mark Greenawalt © All Rights Reserved

While farewell tours will always carry bittersweet connotations, this inspiring show served as a proper send-off for some of math rock’s founding fathers with the grateful support of an up-and-coming math rock band. It’s hard to picture it going any better than it did, and many fans stayed until the very end of the show, absorbing every beautiful moment. The legacy of Minus the Bear will live on through not only their own music, but in the hearts and minds of fans worldwide and other math rock bands reinventing the sound that was so new only seventeen short years ago.

Photo Gallery

Photographer: Mark Greenawalt

Minus The Bear & Tera Melos – Marquee Theatre 12-7-18

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Photography © Mark Greenawalt. All Rights Reserved

Photos: THE FAIM Takes the Stage by Storm at Crescent Ballroom (12-7-18)

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PHOENIX — Hailing from Perth, Australia, The Faim dropped into Crescent Ballroom on headliner Hands Like Houses’ “U.S. Tour 2018”. With a whopping 5-band line-up (including Arlington, The Faim, Devour the Day, Emarosa, and Hands Like Houses), Phoenix was treated to an explosive set of just 30 minutes, which left the crowd hungry for more! On the dimly-lit stage, the band brought an unanticipated level of energy and a performance undoubtably worthy of headlining at an even bigger venue.
 

Burning Hot Events has had The Faim on our radar since they dropped their debut single and total earworm “Saints Of The Sinners” in February of this year. We had the pleasure of interviewing lead vocalist Josh Raven in March: INTERVIEW: Next Big Aussie Band The Faim Talks About Their Rapid Rise & Inspiring Musical Journey

With a big sound and big backing, it was entirely evident that The Faim will be going far, and doing it fast. At the time of our interview, it was still unknown when the band would grace Arizona with their presence. Since then, The Faim has released multiple songs and music videos, their Summer is a Curse EP (released September 7th), toured the states, and are embarking on a world tour in 2019. Current tour dates can be found on their website.

Following the performance, I met with Raven to praise him for his unreal, 200% stage presence, to which he humbly and graciously replied that he’s just happy to be doing what he loves.

PHOTO ALBUM

by Katherine Amy Vega

The Faim – Crescent Ballroom 12-7-18

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© Kataklizmic Design. All Rights Reserved.

REVIEW: Justin Courtney Pierre Gets Intimate With Fans at Valley Bar (11-30-18)

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PHOENIX — Justin Courtney Pierre returned to Arizona for an intimate underground show at the historic Valley Bar Friday night, revitalizing fans with a colloquial performance of his latest solo-album In The Drink. Since Motion City Soundtrack’s “So Long, Farewell Tour” in 2016, it had been unclear when and if Pierre would continue making music in the future.

Post-MCS I just really wanted to focus on the art,” Pierre told Billboard during a recent interview, “so, I built a team of people around me that I can utilize for all the other stuff – the production, the business. What’s nice about this is I don’t have to ask anybody for permission or get four people to agree on whatever we’re doing. I can just do my ideas whether they’re stupid or not, for better or for worse. I thought, ‘OK, so if this is the only record I ever do, great. I’m just gonna do it exactly the way I want it.’

In The Drink album cover

Produced by Motion City Soundtrack bandmate Joshua Cain, In The Drink is heavily influenced by the sound of the 90’s, classic guitar and, as Pierre puts it, (in direct reference to noted inspirations Swervedriver, Polara, Guided By Voices, and Frank Black’s “Teenager of the Year”) “a lot of movement going on”.

During a coinciding interview with boutique pedal company ZVex, Pierre went on to explain the experimental nature of his work which he revealed, lead him to his newfound love affair with the ZVex Fuzz Factory 7, as well as the ZVex Effects Vertical Vexter ’59 Sound, which he utilized throughout Friday night’s performance. When it comes to guitar, this singer-songwriter prefers a more improvisonal approach – toying with different combinations until his fancy footwork yields a sound he likes.

Photography: Katherine Amy Vega
Justin Courtney Pierre
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design.
All Rights Reserved

Pierre’s tourmates for his latest solo album include old friend and master of effects – guitarist Thomas Rehbein, sensational vocalist and guitarist Lydia Liza, emotive bassist Shannon Burns, and relentless drummer David Jarnstrom.

David Jarnstrom - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
David Jarnstrom (Drummer)
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design.
All Rights Reserved

I’m listening to Flaming Lips in my headphones to drown out all this other bullshit”, Pierre joked before jamming out the opening notes to “I Don’t Know Why She Ran Away”, following opening tracks “Undone” and “Anchor”. “Just kidding!”, he laughed – noting that the night’s opener had been unable to make it due to an undisclosed transportation issue. As a result of that last minute change, the night became increasingly conversational. Fans shouted back and forth as Pierre responded between tracks from on-stage, speaking on everything from his struggles with alcohol, to new “dadhood”, and even his strong distaste for Burger King. Pierre casually guided the audience through an evening of impromptu storytelling between each new track from In The Drink, but not without some nostalgic surprises along the way.

Shannon Burns - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Shannon Burns (Bassist)
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design.
All Rights Reserved

Preceding the Farewell Continental portion of the evening, a tribute to Pierre and Rehbein’s passion project since 2008, “My Girl Margo” off a “special upcoming EP” got fans jumping for more. With the night’s energy at its peak, “Total Devastation” had diehard JCP fans weak in the knees.

Justin Courtney Pierre - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Justin Courtney Pierre
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design.
All Rights Reserved

Next up was a new Farewell Continental song that’s not yet been recorded. “It’s called ‘Tossing and Turning’”, Pierre told fans, “It’s a motif I’ve used before and I’m aware of that,” he laughed, “And I like to remind people, it’s supposed to sound like this.” Farewell Continental takes the undeniably esoteric undertones of In The Drink one step further, culminating a uniquely chaotic blend of power-pop-meets-classic-rock. The band finished out a lively performance of “Do You Wanna Tangle” also by Farewell Continental, before abruptly leaving the stage where only Pierre was left to tame the spotlight.

Justin Courtney Pierre - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Justin Courtney Pierre
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design.
All Rights Reserved

Without question, the moment we’d been waiting for since 2016 had finally arrived; it was time for a little Motion City Soundtrack. Pierre explained that since the band had chosen not to continue making music two years prior, he’d decided to play only MCS  songs which he’d “brought to the party” so to speak. Members of the crowd shouted out track after track in hopes of hearing their longtime favorites. Pierre responded by teasing onlookers with a candid rendition of “Stand Too Close” before breaking for a quick story – “The Caffeine Story” he called it: “Listen, listen. I haven’t had a drink of alcohol in over nine years, and a few years after that I quit caffeine. And now I have nothing.

As fans applauded, “Atonia” began rumbling out from the speakers. Fans sang along loudly as Pierre pieced together a nostalgic solo tribute session including “When You’re Around” and “LG FUAD”, to which the entire bar sang aloud. “Okay, now I am going to invite the band back to the stage,” Pierre announced before launching into a cover of Guided By Voices’ “Motor Away” which he credited as one of his favorite songs to date. “Some of these guys just heard it for the first time today,” he told fans as they hooted and hollered at Pierre to “do it again!

Lydia Liza - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Lydia Liza (Guitarist, Vocalist) & Justin Courtney Pierre
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design.
All Rights Reserved

The evening closed out with “Shoulder the Weight”, “In the Drink”, and “Goodnight Hiroyuki” – the last three tracks off of Pierre’s latest solo expressional, sending fans off with a phantasmal intermingling of sludgy, otherworldly tones. Rehbein could be seen sliding his guitar back and forth against everything from the guard rail to the speakers and even Liza’s guitar while her robust, angelic voice offered a sweet contrast to the whirlwind of instrumental experimentation unfolding on stage. “This is it. I love you all, except Kevin!”, Pierre exclaimed.

Thomas Rehbein - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Thomas Rehbein (Guitarist)
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega © Kataklizmic Design
All Rights Reserved

Following a staggering twenty track setlist, fans continued to swarm the stage in hopes of one more. Band members could be seen handing out copies of the setlist, and even notes from practice sessions to outstretched hands eager to claim their prize. Following the performance, Pierre stayed true to his reputation of being the down-to-earth artist we’ve all come to love and hung out to greet and take photos with anyone and everyone who chose to stick around. Although he was lacking in words (as he announced that he would not be speaking, in order to protect his voice), Pierre’s charismatic demeanor radiated off of him as fan after fan stepped up to meet the man of the hour.

After two years of wondering, Pierre took us back to the driving spirit and endearing authenticity behind what made Motion City Soundtrack great. It’s that permeating willingness – to care and connect with his fans, to tell the stories that need to be told, and if there’s one thing for sure, it’s that we absolutely cannot wait to see what this performer is up to next.

PHOTO ALBUM

by Katherine Amy Vega

Justin Courtney Pierre – Valley Bar 11-30-18

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REVIEW: A Perfect Circle Finishes North American Tour “On a High Note” in Phoenix (11-20-18)

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PHOENIX — A Perfect Circle ended “on a high note” for the last date on the third leg of their headlining North American tour, to the city that frontman Maynard James Keenan thanked for being the “marijuana-stinking cherry” on top. Dark electronic duo Night Club and trip hop artist Tricky supported the band starting from October 20th, leading up to this night at Comerica Theatre. A PerfeBetct Circle delivered a performance that repeatedly went from smoldering to bellowing, and took the transfixed audience on an escape of commiseration through hard rock.

This year, A Perfect Circle released Eat the Elephant, which is their first album release in fourteen years, and their fourth studio album. Today, A Perfect Circle released a limited-edition 7” vinyl single featuring the latest single, “So Long, And Thanks for All the Fish”. Included on the release is a B-side, a cover of AC/DC’s “Dog Eat Dog”. It is available exclusively from the Record Store Day Black Friday event at select brick-and-mortar record stores.

The tone of their performance in Phoenix was first set with a dark stage as they invisibly began the instrumentals of the title-track of their latest album, “Eat the Elephant”.  Anyone who has previously experienced A Perfect Circle live may have come to expect a giant white sheet shrouding the stage front leading up to, and remaining through the entirety of, the first song, before dramatically dropping to the floor. However, the sheet was absent this time around. Each band member was gradually backlit by just a bit of light, one-by-one, until all appeared as nearly pure-black silhouettes.

A Perfect Circle - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Jeff Friedl (Drummer), A Perfect Circle
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design © All Rights Reserved

A Perfect Circle - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Greg Edwards (Touring Keyboardist), A Perfect Circle
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design © All Rights Reserved

Blue and white rays of light and rising smoke backed them, in front of a curtain displaying their logo, and they were surrounded by white panels that would feature visuals catered to each song throughout the night.

A Perfect Circle - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
A Perfect Circle at Comerica Theatre
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design © All Rights Reserved

True to character, Keenan remained even less visible than his bandmates for the entire performance, on a platform in the back of the stage. Sometimes he blended in with the darkness and visuals so well that one might question whether he had left the platform, seeing that he remained stationed upon a second glance.

A Perfect Circle - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Maynard James Keenan (Vocalist), A Perfect Circle
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design © All Rights Reserved

When A Perfect Circle performed at Comerica Theatre in April of 2017, Keenan offered a few encouraging words. This time around, he almost seemed to be out of supportive messages.

Perhaps referencing the “despicable false claim”, in his words, made against Keenan earlier this year, he said, “Crazy, crazy, crazy, insane times we’re living in, wouldn’t you say? Insanity… People all mad at each other over a fuckin’ internet thing. It’s stupid… I’ve heard it said love is the answer… but because of all of the marijuana, I can’t remember the question.

However, substantial sentiments and motivational speeches may not be necessary every time, considering the volumes that the messages in their music speak, and how emotionally evoking the dynamics of the music are. As usual, A Perfect Circle performed with nearly album-quality sound. Often, elements of the songs that may go unheard when listening to recordings were clearly audible during this performance, bringing new life to the music and a deeper appreciation for the composition. Furthermore, hearing lyrics to new songs for the first time live, versus via studio recording, can cement a different impression of the song as the concert experience packs in the emotion emanating from the artist.

A Perfect Circle - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Maynard James Keenan (Vocalist), A Perfect Circle
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design © All Rights Reserved

Eight of the songs performed this night were from Eat the Elephant. Lyrics that really strike a chord in relation to the status quo, religion, and the political climate are contained in their songs, such as the following from “The Doomed” from the new album:

What of the pious, the pure of heart, the peaceful?
What of the meek, the mourning, and the merciful?
What of the righteous? What of the charitable?
What of the truthful, the dutiful, the decent?

Doomed are the poor
Doomed are the peaceful
Doomed are the meek
Doomed are the merciful

For the word is now death
And the word is now without light
The new beatitude:
“Fuck the doomed, you’re on your own”

The lighting and visuals on the screens became increasingly dramatic, matching the intensity of the music throughout the night. They designed a setlist that felt narrative, which crescendoed and climaxed. Along with that, the colors shifted from cool and neutral, to bold and loud red, white, and black. Behind the band, the all-seeing eye displayed where their logo once appeared. The audience was united in a cathartic experience, as they let go and got lost in A Perfect Circle’s trademark indignation and disdain.

One fan in the audience was overheard saying, “I forgot how hard these guys rock!” and with unrestrained, unabashed love and respect for the band, he yelled louder than all around him.

“We’re gonna end on a high note here in Arizona. Off to Europe for about 3 weeks. So thank you very much for being the cherry on top. A marijuana-stinking cherry.”Maynard James Keenan

Before going into “Dog Eat Dog”, a tribute to the late Malcom Young of AC/DC, Keenan took a moment to introduce the band members. It was interesting to note the many other music projects all band members are a part of, emphasizing how much of a supergroup A Perfect Circle is. 

“Our rhythm section: from Beta Machine, Ashes Divide, Eagles of Death Metal, and Puscifer — Mr. Matt McJunkins, Mr. Jeff Friedl.” McJunkins (Bassist) is also a former touring member of Thirty Seconds to Mars.

A Perfect Circle - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Jeff Friedl (Drummer), A Perfect Circle
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design © All Rights Reserved

He continued, “Guitar & keyboards: from Autolux and Failure, Mr. Greg Edwards.” Edwards is filling in for James Iha, who is currently touring with Smashing Pumpkins. He was also a member of Lusk and Replicants in the past.

A Perfect Circle - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Matt McJunkins (Bassist) & Greg Edwards (Touring Keyboardist),
A Perfect Circle
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design © All Rights Reserved

“My partner-in-crime: Mr. Billy Howerdel,” he concluded. Howerdel (Lead Guitarist, Keyboardist, and Backup Vocalist) is also frontman of Ashes Divide.

A Perfect Circle - Photo Credit: Katherine Amy Vega
Billy Howerdel (Guitarist, Keyboardist, Backup Vocalist), A Perfect Circle
Photography:
Katherine Amy Vega, Kataklizmic Design © All Rights Reserved

Of course Keenan is also a member of multiple bands on top of A Perfect Circle, including Tool and Puscifer.

Some find the media policies for A Perfect Circle’s shows to be pretentious or mistreating to fans. Like a performance in a symphony hall, the band sends the message that it is a faux pas to raise up a phone in the air during theirs. Others feel that it not only preserves an important atmosphere that keeps integrity to the music and sets their performances to a different level than other rock concerts, but also actually appreciates their fans because the band wants to connect with them like they did in the days before smartphones. There were some in the crowd that could be overheard during the show actually expressing appreciation for the absence of cell phones in the air throughout the concert. The impression was that most, if not all, in attendance left satisfied and delighted.

Following the climax of the performance with four ferocious songs, A Perfect Circle closed out the concert with “Delicious” from the new album. It had the fitting mood of the falling action of the storyline, lyrically segueing into a resolution of sorts:

How inconvenient and unexpected and harrowing for you,
as consequences tend to be
For the rest of us,
so delicious to witness your dread.
Poetic justice consummate.

During these times, it is interesting to see swathes of artists such as A Perfect Circle, Cake, Otep, Eminem, Taylor Swift, and many more, using their platforms to speak out against or oppose President Donald Trump and the Republican Party. While some feel that entertainers should “stay in their lane” in topics such as these, it is undeniable that they historically have significant ability to influence the public, for better or for worse. With the success of their world tour, and the large attendance of a concert on a Tuesday night, it is evident that there are a significant number of people that aren’t repelled by their political leanings. In the current political climate, A Perfect Circle’s brooding music serves as an outlet, a beacon of intellect and sanity, and a unifier for like-minded fans that are equally frustrated, angry, and despairing.

While it would be unlikely that Keenan and his band would skip playing his home-state, Arizonans were undoubtedly grateful that they had the opportunity to experience A Perfect Circle live after getting some fresh music from them. Keenan stated in a June 2018 interview that “there should be” more albums in the future. Though Eat the Elephant has proven worth the wait, hopefully it will not be another fourteen years before the next release. Hopefully fans can be treated to another tour in support of the next release, or at least more Arizona shows.

Considering the solid quality and atmosphere of their live performance, the sizable setlist, the supportive experience, and love of their intense music, any fan that may hesitate to make the investment in a concert ticket can rest assured this one is worth it. A Perfect Circle’s show in Phoenix was not a buzzkill.

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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Photography © Reagle Photography
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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.

PHOTO ALBUM

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
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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
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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
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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
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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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