Monday, August 5, 2013

Mickey Hart's Superorganism at the Showbox in Seattle

Mickey Hart Band still surprises and delights, in fact, the experience keeps getting better and better. His "Superorganism" tour pulsed and throbbed at the Showbox in downtown Seattle on Saturday night, with the highest quality music and musicianship, while--get this--a three-dimensional real-time electronic image of Mickey's brain rotated on the backdrop. I kid you not! Whether the electrode cap Mickey donned was actually connected to the computer or not, I wasn't sure, and at some point I didn't care one way or another--the music was so moving, so brilliant.

As if that weren't enough, the new bassist, Reed Mathis, absolutely owned the lower register like no one I've seen, except for maybe Phil Lesh or Robyn Sylvester. Reed plays that nice old P-bass full-throttle, as if he were a lead guitar player on a Strat, picking intricately, or outright whaling, whatever the music required, and more. His playing drew me in, melodic and modulating, and then POW! Power. Reed's band, Tea Leaf Trio, opened the show with a half-hour set that elevated the experience and set the stage for the transformation to come. 

Guitarist Gawain Matthews reminded me a lot of Jon Herington, who plays with Steely Dan--young, wiry, with a delicate touch and rich warm tone, like a younger, spryer Walter Becker. Sound images of David Gilmour at times--you know how David plays: spartan, with incredible feeling, but just the right note at the right time. 

I have to also call out the superb singer, Crystal Monee Hall. One of those deep, rich, yet melodic voices you very rarely come across--she was the perfect complement, her driving voice surfing the polyrhythmic waves.

A long-time fan, I enjoyed every minute of the show. The energetic though mellow crowd danced and grooved, and yet seemed to truly listen. Mickey's love for the music and his humor and humanity shine through in everything he does. I appreciated Mickey's message to the audience at the end, when we were all glowing and spent: "Take this vibe and do good with it."

The Mickey Hart Band consists of Grammy-winning percussionist and longtime band mate Sikiru Adepoju, super-fantastic singer Crystal Monee Hall, singer and multi-instrumentalist Joe Bagale, drummer Greg Schutte, guitarist Gawain Matthews, bassist Reed Mathis (Tea Leaf Green), and keyboardist/sound designer Jonah Sharp.

In celebration of Mickey's 70th birthday in September, many of the upcoming SUPERORGANISM tour dates will feature guest musicians and friends of Mickey's. Special guests the Tea Leaf Trio (Trevor Garrod, Reed Mathis, and Cochrane McMillan, of Tea Leaf Green) will open the majority of the dates. Mathis will perform double duty each night playing with both the Tea Leaf Trio and the Mickey Hart Band.

Monday, February 25, 2013

WOW! WOW! Echoes Channels Pink Floyd Live

 The next Echoes show: May 21

Donny Evo doing "Wish You Were Here" 

Mysterious northern lights green and purple on the backdrop, instruments glinting, gem lights glowing like molten eyes, the hum of amplifiers, ready, waiting, and the band takes the stage to wild cheering and clapping...that haunting, unmistakable opening note... From Shine On You Crazy Diamond through The Wall, Breathe, Hey You, Cigar, Time, and others, to the last note of the fantastic encore, we were wowed and completely mesmerized by Echoes.

I've heard people say "all Pink Floyd cover bands are good." That comment is understandable: to play Floyd's complex compositions takes mastery of musicianship, total belief, and loads of time and dedication. This Pink Floyd cover band is great, and I was keen to understand what sets them apart.

Donny Evo's dedication to the intent and soul of Pink Floyd music is apparent--Donny breathes the music, and throughout the show he would tweak a pedal, adjust the controls, and signal the sound board, to get the feeling just right. His guitar playing itself shows years of experience and craftsmanship, but it's more than that, too. There's a powerful intent--call it Soul--that manifests in the haunting tones Donny gets out of each guitar he plays. The lead singer, Nick Denke, who also plays excellent guitar, drives the songs through sheer vocal prowess and charisma. I say he's a better singer than anyone in Pink Floyd ever was! Incredible timbre, tone, and passion. His innate sense of showmanship is just that: intrinsic to the very best possible live performance of the music itself; Nick leaves it all on the stage. It's a beautiful thing.

The marvelous Nick Denke

And back to my agreement with Charles Mingus' "Rotary Perception" theory (Google it), Nick absolutely nails the beat, driving, punching, leaping the line at just the right moment. Nick was the driving force holding down the beat, with help from the steady, bopping Gary Sparling on bass, who quietly, and With Authority, bopping on the balls of his feet, kept time.

Major love to the keyboard players, too. I was impressed by Marino Corriea's particularly tasty-sounding Hammond organ/Marshall amp pairing, filling the room with warmth. Then crisp, silvery highlights sparkled from the other set of keyboards, again demonstrating these seasoned players' attention to quality and detail. Wow. Only missing was Kellee Bradley, their fine vocalist, who has sung with national artists such as Messina and Mellencamp, among many others. Hopefully she will be back on May 21.

It was all over too soon. I could have listened to that bad-ass "Pigs on the Wing" from "Animals" for another hour or two!

Echoes is playing May 21 at Amante's in Issaquah. Make your dinner reservations now. 425-313-9600.

Support live music: Amante's Issaquah features live cover bands every Tuesday night 7:30-9:30. Reservations recommended.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

HEART: 2013 Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame Nominees

Heart was recently nominated (not for the first time) to be inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, along with a venerable group of nominees, including my picks: The Meters, Deep Purple, Albert King, and Rush. All truly remarkable, all memorable, all who have put their stamp on music history. And for the first time in history, fans themselves will have the opportunity to help determine who gets in. 
Between October 4 – December 3, 2012, YOU can vote for the five nominees you believe most belong in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. 
Voting ends December 3. Vote now!

Ann and Nancy Wilson
How do you know if a band truly belongs in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame? Is it the number of fans, number of hits, years on the road, recording revenue? Is it the number of tribute bands that have sprung up in its wake? 

Heart in 1977, the year "Dog and Butterfly" put them on The Map

Heart's original members, Ann and Nancy Wilson, Michael DeRosier, Roger Fisher, Steve Fossen, and Howard Leese, still rock on, influencing countless original songwriters, musicians, and tribute bands. The magic and whimsy of their creative songwriting pair with sheer rock chops--and that incredible Voice--powering their music on. Many of their songs are woven into the soundtrack of my life: Dog and Butterfly, Magic Man, Crazy on You, Barracuda, Little Queen…the list goes on. These sisters get my vote!!
The Wilson sisters rockin' out with Fergie. That's Nancy on guitar--and she can really Kick It Out!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Strange Tones Take Port Angeles

Crisp late summer day, perfect for a trip out to the Olympic Peninsula for the Port Angeles Blues Festival. As we cruised through a grove of sunlit fir trees and slid into the parking lot, we could hear the sound of rock music. Oh, I mean Blues, 'scuse me.

Strange Tones do it up at Blues Festival

That's the thing about The Strange Tones. They're one of those hip retro bands that easily moves between genres: rockabilly, blues, rock, pop, even a little country. Playing ALL THEIR OWN ORIGINAL MATERIAL! With so many tribute bands and cover bands out there, it was refreshing and very interesting to listen to a full set of original songs. And they can really write. The husband-wife team of Julie and Andy Strange (easy to name your band when "Strange" is your real last name) write a nice mix of catchy, danceable, and melodic songs that harken back to music you'd hear in those little surfside roadhouses in southern California.

And on top of the great writing, their musicianship is top-notch. Julie plays a rockin' turquoise blue Strat, while husband Andy holds and rolls it on bass, and Suburban Slim growls and scowls a fine rhythm guitar and vocals. J.D. is one of those fine (and rare) drummers who knows dynamics, with that tricky combination of soft hands and a pounding bass, making it look easy. But wait! Remember those Pete Townsend guitar moves? All three (including bass) strut and arch in a line-up, coming at the audience. Love it!!

Their disk "Crime-a-billy," recorded in a secret, under-volcano location "to protect and serve your ears," literally takes control of your shuck and jive dancing feet. I especially like the fun and funny song "Something Stinks" which reminded me of early Brian Setzer material when he was at his finest. Melodic while punchy, the song deserves a better name! Get their "Crime-a-billy" disk on Meteor Sonic Records.

From Portland, Oregon, this band tours from Vancouver to Southern California in the summertime. They're back in their secret studio recording now. I'll be looking for their next gig!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

LEED Zeppelin Wows Seattle

Why are there so few Led Zeppelin cover bands? Why are even fewer worth seeing? Because it's virtually impossible to nail Robert Plant's voice.

Enter Brandon Wisley, new lead singer for Leed Zeppelin. Brandon owns the experience with complete authority. With leonine swagger and curly locks, Brandon prowls the stage, waiting for the exact moment to unleash his tremendous vocal fury. Then, with artistry and modulation he woos such emotion out of Led's ballads, damsels beware. Not only does he nail the voice, but he exudes that Sex and Rock n' Roll animal magnetism with which Robert Plant was so mightily endowed.

The hair stood up on the back of my neck as I witnessed sublime and a heart felt renditions of some LedZepII material, which, in my opinion, is their zenith. To pull off a good Led cover, all the players have to be balls-out rock, and this band does it. Jeff Nelson on bass stoically rammed the beat home with Rich Rios and Chris Kiger. They are local boys, mostly from Black Diamond, with one member from another Led cover band called Kashmir, all superb.

Friend their Facebook band page, and check out upcoming shows.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mickey Hart's Big Bang

Photo by Michael Weintrob
Mickey Hart Band
featuring Tim Hockenberry, Crystal Monee Hall, Vir McCoy, Ian “Inx” Herman, Gawain Mathews, Greg Ellis, and Sikiru Adepoju.
Tractor Tavern, Ballard, WA
December 1, 2011

I didn’t need any convincing to go hear Mickey Hart and his new band play a tiny brick warehouse in Seattle last Thursday night. Only 200 people? To hear this legendary seeker and world traveler, who made 22 albums and performed 2,300 live concerts spanning 30 years with the Grateful Dead? Not surprising, the entire crowd was dancing and cheering from the first note on. There’s always a magical “je nais se quoi” around the music and members of the Grateful Dead.

In an article I read recently, Mickey explains his theology. I think it explains his reason for being, and his special passion for music:

“Speaking as Mickey Hart, Rhythmist, it's about the rhythm of things. Everything is interlocked. The world is rhythm. Everything in the world has a vibration. Anything that's alive and moves has a vibration. And if it has a vibration, it has a sound. And if it has a sound, there's an effect emotionally that it can have on you, spiritually perhaps. Whether it be through brain-wave function or something that makes you dance, it's all interconnected. Music is just a miniature for what's happening in the universe and deep space, from the beginning of time 13.7 billion years ago.”

Mickey has been digging deep inside his psyche to explore the frontiers of the cosmos for many years. Some of the Dead’s drums/space jams are legendary for his polyrhythmic sound sculptures. Like this one from June 14, 1989:

Grateful Dead Drums/Space June 14,1989

The show last Thursday night featured an amazing electronic drums-synthesizers cockpit, at the core of which Mickey buzzed, tapped, and pounded, all the while intently commandeering the sound. His set took up half the stage; the other half featured three fine--and previously unknown to me--musicians: a lead guitar player, a fabulous male singer (who did The Other One), and a rich soprano who made a few of us cry when she sang a slow, heartfelt Brokedown Palace. In the background hulked a Shrek-like bass player who at some key moments stole the show with his Lesh-like symphonic stylings.

The Other One from the other night

The band gleefully and comfortably stretched out to explore the vibrations of the Universe. Recently Mickey explained how he actually gathers sounds from space:

“I'm working with NASA and scientists like George Smoot, who won the Nobel Prize in 2006 for his discovery of the big bang. Pulsars, galaxies, supernovas, black holes, stars, planets—they all have a vibration. And since space is a vacuum, there's no sound. The only way those vibrations can travel is through light waves. Once we've gathered those with radio telescopes, I take the algorithms and make sound out of it. And that's what this band I'm touring with now is about. The band will be playing these sounds and having a conversation with the universe. You'll be hearing sounds that no human has ever heard before. The sounds that spawned you. These vibrations that are your ancestors.”

OK, heady stuff for sure. And very cool in theory. In practice, I was a bit relieved to find that the sounds were a lot more accessible cerebrally than I thought they would be. In fact, strangely familiar and danceable. Rich and multi-layered, and very interesting. Distant cousins of techno-world-jazz-fusion-rock. It was also interesting how these primordial sounds so easily slipped into recognizable songs, like a seal into water: did Mickey know some of my favorites are Scarlet Begonias, The Other One, and Brokedown Palace? Or do they just have the vibrations that Mickey (and I) resonate with most?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Union Jack: Rolling Stones Tribute This Saturday

Stu Gordon on bass, with Mick Zimmerman

Albert Ceccacci tears it up on "Can't You Hear Me Knocking"

Union Jack - Last Show of the Year this Saturday 9:30 p.m.!
Celebrating the re-issue of "Some Girls"

at BB McGraw’s
440 16th st NE, Auburn, WA 98002

“I still want to be Keith Richards,” said a guitar-player friend of mine recently. We were talking about tone, and how certain musicians not only get great tone out of their guitars, but create their own signature sounds that are recognizable as their own from the first note.

That signature tone is one of the reasons it’s so hard to nail the Stones’ sound, and why there are so few Rolling Stones tribute bands worth seeing.

Enter Union Jack, stage right. Great, danceable Rolling Stones music that’s so ultimately cool. And they really do nail it with the right sound, great musicianship, and a touch of showmanship. That would be enough for me, but the band goes the extra measure and provides a dramatic impression by dressing and acting the parts of the members of the original Rolling Stones band. Watching their “Keith” played by Ciggy Cater, I’m almost transported back to 1978 when I first saw the Stones, playing Anaheim stadium (Peter Tosh and Prince opened).

Raw guitar work, scorching solos, and that oh-so-right feedback. Albert Ceccacci, who literally and musically “plays” the Ronnie Wood part, looks a lot like Ronnie under the black rock’n’roll hair. Mick Zimmerman makes a great “Mick” front man, with scarf-swashling struts and flourishes.

But, I have to say my favorite is the understated Stu Gordon, who plays the Bill Wyman bass part. No small feat: Stu brings all the touch and elegance of Bill’s genius bass compositions, along with the Power of a long-time bass-playing veteran. And even as the original Wyman-Watts rhythm section was the bedrock upon which the Stones’ sound was laid, Stu and now-drummer Bruce Ericson drill deep.

Union Jack, this Saturday 9:30 p.m. – 1:00 a.m.

BB McGraw’s
440 16th st NE, Auburn, WA 98002

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Robben Ford is Golden

Robben Ford, Triple Door, Seattle, October 19, 2011

Robben Ford does not disappoint. Whether playing his beautiful vintage Gold Top, or cream-colored Tele, he alternately woos and bullies the most fantastic tones out of his guitars.

With a past studded with legendary music stars, Robben brings it all to every show. You can hear the influences haunting his playing. Robben has toured with such jazz greats as Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Miles Davis, Bill Evans (Miles’ saxophonist), and John Scofield, and pop and rock legends George Harrison, Phil Lesh, Darryl Jones (Rolling Stones’ later bassist) and Bob Dylan, among others.

Robben plays at a “Wow!” level, right up there with Pat Metheny and Larry Carlton.  In fact, his Gold Top guitar was a gift from Larry. And he makes it shine.

His current trio, performing last night in front an intimate audience of 250 lucky people, absolutely mesmerized. Each artist was distinctly and insanely great, from Robben’s soulful singing and masterful playing, to drummer Gary Novak’s pin-point sticks and boom, to bassist Jimmy Haslip’s artful architecture and never-wavering pulse. Robben writes much of his material, but it’s often hard to tell he’s doing a cover; his unique character and style makes the song his own.

Visit for tour dates and information about his instructional “guitar dojo” and clinics.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Billy Shew Band

Shew Fetish

Go and see Billy Shew and you will be humming melodies and tapping toes for days. Billy is one of those rare guitarist/songwriters who gets into your head and lingers. Maybe it’s the fact that he writes his own original material and does his own vocals—his music is delivered straight from the heart.

It doesn’t hurt that he has mastered his instrument and makes it look easy. Or that his playing is bright and musical. Billy isn’t hard on the ears or the eyes. But what truly engages is his ability to do what good movies do, and that is to “suspend disbelief.” Meaning, he takes you away, and for a brief time you’re removed to a magical place all his own making. Don’t pinch me, I don’t want to wake up!

Billy Shew lead vocals and guitar, Doug McGrew on drums, and Hank Yanda on bass,
doing a mystical "Feels Like Rain"

Billy’s new album, called Look at Me Now provides a clue to his enigmatic appeal. Starting with the punchy How ‘Bout Now? he’s right there, and, you realize instantly, so are you. With surprising chord progressions, nice fat bass, great lyrics, and tasty embellishment licks, Billy is all about being in the moment. He exudes a sense of gratitude and yet longing. The poignant “Is This Real?” shows a childlike awe and wonder. His stellar band brings rich harmonies and depth to the arrangements. A special shout-out to his bassist, Hank Yanda, one of the best around. Love the old ’62 jazz bass, smooth as velvet.

Get the new Billy Shew CD “Look at Me Now” only $10

Look for show dates on Billy Shew’s Calendar

Monday, August 29, 2011

Guitarist Robben Ford to play Seattle

photos by George Wells
Guitar Hero Robben Ford

For those of you who know who Robben is, or have seen him play, you know what I’m talkin’ about. This guy’s discography reads like the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame roster. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of experiencing Robben’s musical genius live on several occasions. And a lucky audience will have an opportunity again:

Robben Ford, with guitarist Mike Landau, bassist Jimmy Haslip, and drummer Gary Novak, Triple Door, Seattle, October 19

Robben has played with artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Witherspoon, Miles Davis, George Harrison, Phil Lesh, Larry Carlton, Bonnie Raitt, Claus Ogerman, Bob Dylan, John Mayall, Greg Allman, and many others.

Robben recently started his Guitar Dojo, a learning center where he shares his experiences and musical discoveries. Here, follow along as Robben gives you personal and comprehensive lessons through high quality streaming video. You can also virtually visit sound checks and other live recordings.

A little history from his website:

He began to teach himself guitar at age thirteen upon hearing the two guitarists from The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Michael Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. In the late 1960’s, Ford frequented the Fillmore and Winterland Auditoriums in San Francisco to see Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Albert King, B.B. King and all of the progenitors of blues. “It was an incredible time for electric guitar,” Robben recalls.

On his interest in jazz, Robben says, "I fell in love with the sax-playing of Paul Desmond and The Dave Brubeck Quartet, and before long found Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp, Yusef Lateef, Roland Kirk, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, and of course, Miles Davis.”

Robben’s first attempt at forming his own jazz quartet was picked up by legendary blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon, who brought Robben to L.A. He toured the U.S. and Europe with Witherspoon and was seen by Tom Scott and members of The L.A. Express, who were about to begin a promotional tour with Joni Mitchell for her recording “Court and Spark.” Robben was invited to play guitar on the tour and played on two recordings with Mitchell and The L.A. Express. “The two years I spent with Joni were the most formative of my musical life. Joni was just brilliant and very accessible.”

Beatle George Harrison invited Robben to join him on his “Dark Horse” tour of the U.S. and Canada…”

After moving to New York, he was called to play with musical icon Miles Davis. “Producer Tommy LiPuma played Miles my work with the Yellowjackets, then three days later, Miles called me personally to join his band. Shocking!”

 “Tiger Walk” is an instrumental recording produced in New York with Keith Richards' rhythm section…”

In 2000 Robben was invited to tour with Phil Lesh and Friends, co-billing with Bob Dylan, and reuniting him with Billy Paine and Paul Barrere of Little Feat, as well as drummer John Molo. “This experience gave me new respect for Jerry Garcia as a musician and songwriter. The songs and musical context were pure pleasure--real guitar music!"

In 2002, he released “Blue Moon” [I highly recommend this album]. His third release for Concord was entitled “Truth”. “I feel this is the best work I have done in terms of a solo recording. It is my most realized work as a songwriter, and I feel like I am reaching higher ground as a guitarist. [I second that!]

Robben has been touring the world off and on with the legendary guitarist Larry Carlton, the two producing “Live in Tokyo”, and an “unplugged” DVD from Paris. Collaboration seems to be the current M.O.-- projects with John Scofield, and touring and recording with fellow Miles Davis alumni saxophonist Bill Evans, as well as Randy Brecker and Rolling Stones bassist Darryl Jones.

Most recently (2010) Robben released “Renegade Creation,” with a group of musical friends who have played in different combinations and contexts over the years and decided to focus on a project together recording for Mike Varney’s Shrapnel label. This is a rock band, Robben’s first, and the results have people talking: “Dare I say everyone who hears it, loves it!” The other members are guitarist Mike Landau, bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Gary Novak. [This is the line-up playing at Triple Door Oct 19 !!!]