Archive for September, 2015

the waite-ing man

john waite. photo by jay gilbert.

john waite. photo by jay gilbert.

During the mid ‘80s, John Waite was one of the kings of the pop world. With the mammoth single Missing You a monster hit and an earlier tenure with the charttopping British band The Babys behind him, he sat down to iron out the next phase of his star career with Epic Records.

The label was ecstatic to have Waite on board. They loved his voice. They loved his appeal. Then they told him he couldn’t write.

Seriously? Missing You, which Waite co-penned, became a No. 1 smash in 1984, was covered by everyone from Tina Turner to Brooks & Dunn and was eventually recut by Waite in 2007 as a country duet with Alison Krauss. One might assume all that would cement Waite’s credentials as a songwriter for life.

“It was an interesting meeting,” recalled Waite with a laugh of his sit-down with Epic. “It was real record company stuff. They were like, ‘We love you. We love The Babys. By the way, the bad news…’ The A&R (artists and repertoire) guy said I couldn’t write and that he was going to find all these great songs for me. I just looked at him and thought, ‘Well, that’s a shame.’”

But as Waite has done repeatedly through a four decade career, he discovered a golden detour within a bump in the road. Instead of balking for Epic, he recruited one of his Babys bandmates (bassist Ricky Phillips), a pair of heavy hitters from Journey (guitarist Neil Schon and keyboardist Jonathan Cain) and formed the ‘80s supergroup Bad English.

“I thought, ‘If I put a really great group together, we would just come out swinging. So hence, Bad English. I mean, David Bowie had done that with Tin Machine, so it worked as a way to sidestep the record company.”

Though the band splintered after two albums, its 1987 self-titled debut record scored a string of major hits that included Diane Warren’s When I See You Smile and the Waite/Cain-composed Price of Love. The album also became a platinum seller.

Of course, The Babys, Missing You and Bad English are all but chapters in a pop adventure that continues to this day. While those career milestones were all heavily pop driven, the roots of this Lancaster, England born performer reach back to folk, rock and even country inspirations from both sides of the Atlantic.

“My brother and I went in half on buying the (1961) Shadows EP called The Shadows to the Fore. That was when I was about six. I also remember my cousin Cal playing me Everybody Loves Me But You by Brenda Lee and that just killed me. Lonnie Donegan and all the great skiffle guys were important, too. The Shadows, though, were pretty heavy.

“But it all came from cowboy music for me. That’s why I always have some sort of country element in the writing. I remember looking at Marty Robbins’ (1959) Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs album through the window of a shop when I was about 5 or 6 years old. There he was on the front, going for his gun. I was transfixed. It was this whole myth of America and the cowboy. That just led completely and seamlessly into rock ‘n’ roll for me. I didn’t even know I was making any choices. I was just listening to music constantly.”

More recent projects for Waite include the 2011 studio album Rough & Tumble, (the title tune of which became a No. 1 single on Classic Rock radio), a re-release of the 2010 concert recording In Real Time and a 2014 indie acoustic EP titled Wooden Heart.

“It’s a joy to be in the studio writing songs. But the real sustenance of the career is still playing live, as it should be. You’re recording what’s happening when you’re making a record. But it’s what’s happening onstage that really matters.”

John Waite performs at 9:35 p.m. Sept. 19 at the Christ the King Oktoberfest, 299 Colony Blvd. Admission is free. For more info, go to ctkoktoberfest.com.

keeping up with the bodeans

BoDeans: Kenny Aronoff, Sam Hawksley, Kurt Neumann, Jake Clayton and Stefano Intelisano.

BoDeans: Kenny Aronoff, Sam Hawksley, Kurt Neumann, Jake Clayton and Stefano Intelisano.

The BoDeans have a longstanding performance history with Lexington. It runs from club shows at long defunct venues like Breeding’s on Main St. during an era (the early ‘90s) when songs like Good Things were all over rock radio, to 2012, when the band brought music from its then-new American Made album to the more recently demised Buster’s.

But as it returns for a headlining Christ the King Oktoberfest performance on Friday, the Wisconsin-bred band has one colossal memory to brag about. It runs back to 1987, when the BoDeans played before – and in many ways, upstaged – an ailing U2 at Rupp Arena. With Bono battling voice problems, BoDeans co-founder Kurt Neumann stepped up with an arsenal of elemental, Midwestern-grown rock ‘n’ roll and, as the saying goes, hit one out of the park.

“We were pretty young still,” Neumann said of the experience. “That whole tour was a good education in hitting another level of big time music and witnessing the big rock ‘n’ roll/rock star world that those guys were living. We got to see it behind the scenes. They were very, very nice people and could not have been more accommodating to us. Because they were such a great band themselves, they liked having a band like us along that hopefully was helping and inspiring them.”

Neumann is the lone holdout from the original BoDeans. That became very obvious at the 2012 Dame show, the band’s first local outing since the departure of co-founder and co-frontman Sammy Llanas. He left the band immediately after the release of its 2011 album, Indigo Dreams.

“From the inside, it wasn’t that hard,” Neumann said of Llanas’ departure. “I had been the guy who was putting the records together and the bands together, rehearsing people and hiring new musicians for tours. That was always my job. Sammy was never part of that. I had kind of been left alone down in the studio with the last four or five records before he left. So from my perspective, it wasn’t that different.

“It was harder for people outside that had a different perspective on it. To them it seemed different, so it was more about overcoming their perception of the group than anything else. What they noticed, when we walked out onstage, was somebody was missing. That was the biggest thing, to overcome those preconceptions.”

But while one key BoDean is gone, another is back in the fold. The Oktoberfest show will feature a familiar presence behind the drum kit – Kenny Aronoff. A celebrated musician from his ‘80s tenure with John Mellencamp to his current duties with John Fogerty (and a ton of session work in between), Aronoff has been a collaborator of Neumann’s for close to two decades.

“Kenny is a great spirit. More than ever, I like playing with musicians that have a great energy and a great spirit about what they do.

“People think of Kenny as a great rock drummer with a great history, and he is. But he’s also a great person with a really positive energy. That has been great because there was a lot of negative energy in the band during the ‘90s. So it was a focus of mine to keep everything positive and work with positive people. Kenny is at the forefront of that. He’s always there to lift you up.”

Aronoff also figures prominently on a new BoDeans album – its fourth record in six years and its 12th studio effort overall. The title largely reflects Neumann’s tireless work ethic in maintaining the BoDeans over the last three decades – I Can’t Stop.

“We’re not the latest, hippest pop thing going on anymore,” he said. “But I think that opens you up to freedom, to do things you want to do musically and not feel like you have to fit into any one thing. In my mind, I’m open more to experimenting than ever. I’d like to do more of that on the next few records and just see what happens.”

The Bodeans perform at 9:30 p.m. Sept. 11 at the Christ the King Oktoberfest, 299 Colony Blvd. Admission is free. Call (859) 268-2861 or go to ctkoktoberfest.com.

family life on the road

Lady Antebellum: Dave Haywood, Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley.

Lady Antebellum: Dave Haywood, Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley.

As Lady Antebellum’s current arena tour heads into its final weeks, Hillary Scott’s thoughts turn to family. Actually, she stays pretty focused on that on and off the road. But Thursday’s concert at Rupp Arena by the multiple Grammy-winning country trio she co-founded with Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood, brings three aspects of family into keen focus: the one she comes from, the one she brings with her on the road and the one she has helped forge from nearly a decade’s worth of rigorous recording and touring.

Let’s start with the latter, which is Lady Antebellum itself. The trio sold over 11 million albums before its current platinum selling platter 747 (and its massive radio single Bartender) hit stores a year ago. For Scott, a Nashville-born singer passed over twice during early competition rounds for American Idol as a teen (“They were like, ‘You’re not the right fit. You were pretty pitchy.”), the familial bond with Kelley and Haywood sits at the heart of the trio’s lasting popularity.

“We’ve learned so much and have grown closer together as business partners, as friends and as bandmates,” Scott said. “All of these different milestones that we’ve hit in our careers and in our personal lives have truly just brought us closer together.

“I’m the youngest in the band, so when we started Charles and Dave really helped me grow. I was still in college and, like, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll figure all this out.’ I had my moments of that, but they kept spurring me on. That’s what good friends do. So this isn’t just our job or our career. This is our life. So we’ve brought on every other part of our lives into this life.”

That leads us to Scott’s actual family, which accompanies her on tour. But husband Chris Tyrrell pulls his own weight. He has served as Lady Antebellum’s drummer since 2011. That makes taking care of two year old daughter Eisele an easier and more portable undertaking.

“Working and living like this has become such a luxury, because, honestly, I don’t think I could do it and leave her at home. I know I couldn’t – not as the mama. There is that maternal instinct and that list of responsibilities that is just different, obviously, than the dad’s. I’m very, very grateful. All three of us in the group have worked together really hard to allow our families the abilities just to be out when they want to be out or be home when they want to be home.”

But Scott’s Thursday performance will also make her the second of two generations from her family to play Rupp. Her mother, country singer Linda Davis, performed alongside Reba (McEntire) several times at the arena during the ‘90s. Scott clearly revels in the opportunity to, quite literally, follow her mother’s footsteps on a Rupp stage.

“Watching my mother navigate the music business and learning from her and how graceful she is in her everyday life is such an inspiration. She takes care of the people around her, whether it’s her band members or me and my dad and my little sister or my daughter. My mom is the epitome of grace. She has a beautiful heart.

“I’ve gotten to watch her live that out from the time I had memories of growing up. She truly understands everything I’m going through on all sides because she’s traveled a lot. She has performed in all of these incredible places, so it’s always a really special experience to know that I’m in a room where she has gone before me. There is a real peace that comes over me along with the excitement of knowing I’ve joined her in making a memory there.”

Lady Antebellum, Hunter Hayes and Sam Hunt at 7 p.m. Sept. 10 at Rupp Arena. Tickets are $29.75-$59.75. Call (800) 745-3000, (859) 233-3535 or go to ticketmaster.com.

double duty for the mastersons

the mastersons: chris masterson and eleanor whitmore.

the mastersons: chris masterson and eleanor whitmore.

Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore have a thing about home life – mostly because they experience so little of it.

The husband and wife team that perform as the aptly named Americana duo The Mastersons has spent so much time on the road– primarily through touring of their own and as members of Steve Earle’s long-running Dukes band – that any sense of conventional domesticity, as least when it comes to where they lay out the welcome mat, has evaporated from their marriage.

As soon as a stretch of road work concludes that promotes the pop-laced Americana songs of The Mastersons’ two New West albums – 2012’s Birds Fly South and 2014’s Good Look Charm – a run with Earle ensues. On Tuesday, the couple will do double duty, as they have regularly since teaming with Earle in 2010, by opening his Opera House concert tonight and then serving primarily as instrumentalists and harmony vocalists in the Dukes for the rest of the evening.

“They’re kind of long days, I guess,” Masterson said. “It’s definitely two different head spaces and two different skill sets at work. We enjoy them both. I love standing stage right and accompanying a great artist. I always have. That’s something I’ve done a lot longer than work as a front person. When you’re a front person, you’re trying to pace the evening and engage the crowd.”

The accompanist roles Masterson and Whitmore have played over the years – the former as a guitarist for Son Volt, Jack Ingram and Wayne Hancock and the latter as a violinist/vocalist for Regina Spektor and Kelly Willis, among others – predated their professional and personal partnership, as did separate solo careers. In fact, Birds Fly South was largely the result of each artist composing on their own. Good Look Charm solidified a greater group dynamic that has since carried over to their own gigs (the duo has played Lexington several times outside of shows with Earle) and subsequent recordings (a third album is in the writing stages with an eye for a summer release in 2016).

“We definitely wanted to have Good Luck Charm be about having both of our voices together,” Whitmore said. “We kind of hinted at that with a song on the first record called Crash Test where we sang everything together as one voice. That informed our process for writing tunes. But I also wanted to expand the subjects we were writing about. Our last record had a lot of broken relationship songs. This one definitely moves forward in terms of different themes.”

Then there is Earle, the champion songsmith whose music has shifted dramatically over the past three decades to touch upon insurgent country (1986’s Guitar Town), renegade rock ‘n’ roll (1989’s Copperhead Road), artful personal reflection (1996’s I Feel Alright), political musings (2004’s The Revolution Starts… Now), a Grammy-winning folk tribute (2009’s Townes) and a fine blues-hued adventure (2015’s Terraplane). Now, where do The Mastersons fit in with all of that?

“As an artist and as a producer, Steve is fearless,” Masterson said. “But he’s not one to micro-manage or be picky. He just wants his records to sound good. A lot can be learned about making records that way. We’ve made the last two Steve Earle and the Dukes records (Terraplane and its 2013 predecessor The Low Highway) really fast, as in five or six days. In doing that, you just have to play and be sure of yourself. It’s a delicate balance because you might not get another pass at a song.

“If Steve gets a take that he likes, he might say, ‘Alright, great. Moving on.’ As a soloist that can be nerve wracking sometimes because you don’t ever want to play it safe on a record but you also don’t want to get too far out on a limb. That approach to the studio is why his records sound like they do. But what might seem nerve wracking in the studio usually yields something that ages really well.”

Steve Earle and the Dukes/The Mastersons perform 7:30 tonight at the Lexington Opera House. Tickets are $44.50, $48.50. Call (859) 233-3535, (800) 745-3000 or got to www.ticketmaster.com.

in performance: five finger death punch/papa roach/in this moment/from ashes to new

five finger death punch. from left: jason hook, ivan moody (squatting), chris kael, zoltan bathory and Jeremy spencer.

five finger death punch. from left: jason hook, ivan moody (squatting), chris kael, zoltan bathory and jeremy spencer.

You began seeing them file into Rupp Arena around quitting time yesterday. They were wearing black t-shirts with a design based on the old Kiss Army logo from the ‘70s. But the insignia on this gear read differently: Kael’s Army.

The occasion was Lexington native Chris Kael’s performance debut at Rupp as a member of the Las Vegas metal band Five Finger Death Punch. The shirts, as it turned out, were donned by a battalion of family and friends, including the bass guitarist’s uncle, Ron Sprinkle.

“Chris said he was going to get a tattoo of his bucket list and playing here was going to be on it,” said the Russell Springs truck driver, who was watching his nephew perform with Five Finger Death Punch for the first time.

The full Kael’s Army turned out to be a tireless legion of 5,600 fans prone to moshing, crowd surfing and cheering on the four band/five hour bill Five Finger Death Punch co-headlined with Papa Roach. Each act, including show openers In This Moment and From Ashes to New, were rooted in metal but tempered with varying degrees of rap, arena rock and even pop. So while the bulk of the music was at crunch level all night – much to the delight of the festival seating floor crowd that celebrated the evening like it was New Year’s Eve – the show seldom turned static.

Five Finger Death Punch quickly established an imposing presence during its closing set. Having singer Ivan Moody roam the stage on the show-opening Jekyll and Hyde brandishing what looked like a baseball bat will do that. But Moody soon softened by donning a University of Kentucky basketball jersey (specifically, one for Rajon Rondo) six songs in. He also offered a solemn tribute to Kael (which referred to Rupp as “Chris’ battleground”) and dedicated a cover of Bad Company heavy on the thud in the bassist’s honor.

Then a pack of kids were invited onstage. There, however, Moody was no Mister Rogers. The song he serenaded to the young fans (and eventually initiated a furious crowd sing-a-long with) was Burn. Actually, that’s an abridged title. The full one we can’t print. Something suggests these young headbangers-in-training will be reciting a very intriguing chorus to their parents this morning.

The only real disappointment with the homecoming was that there were no Kael’s Army shirts on sale at the merch tables. I would have bought one of those bad boys in a heartbeat.

Papa Roach, the elder act on the bill, exhibited the greatest stamina of the evening with an 80 minute set of muscular, metal-tinged guitar rock with minimal frills. Singer Jacoby Shaddix led the extremely audience-friendly charge of the pop infused Where Did the Angels Go?, the grunge/rap savvy Last Resort and a slyly tense Gravity performed, as it was on the band’s 2015 album F.E.A.R., as a duet with In This Moment vocalist Maria Brink. The big surprise, though, was a very different duo setting – an acoustic reading of Scars with guitarist Jerry Horton, the only other band member outside of Shaddix to serve throughout Papa Roach’s full 22 year existence.

In This Moment and From Ashes to New seemed less interested in the more organic performance intent of the two headliners. Brink and In This Moment offered a set of metal-esque burlesque (with a touch of Alice Cooper thrown in) that seemed cloying given the campy dancers, set piece shifts and costume changes. A few songs stood out, like the thundering Sex Metal Barbie, but the theatrics heavily disrupted the set’s pace.

The six member Central Pennsylvania band From Ashes to New leaned more generously to rap than the other acts. But despite having the largest onstage entourage, its hybrid music was reliant on what sounded like samples and/or pre-set bits of vocals, percussion and synths. Such a mix clouded what little original identity the band brought to the party.

in performance: ken vandermark and paal nilssen-love

ken vandermark and paal nilssen-love.

ken vandermark and paal nilssen-love.

It was almost as though last night’s volcanic performance by Ken Vandermark and Paal Nilssen-Love at the University of Kentucky’s Niles Gallery was a set to a timer – a curious design for performance devoted almost exclusively to free jazz improvisation. But at the exact stroke of 9 o’clock, with the audience still casually chatting away, the Chicago saxophonist/clarinetist and the Norwegian drummer/percussionist tore into a ferocious and unyielding duet. The two didn’t spend time building an idea or riff, nor did they didn’t pace themselves into a gathering frenzy. They began at full force as equal engineers with a level of physical drive that was as expressive as it was fearsome. In short, the music didn’t simply seek and explore when it began. It detonated.

But while the stamina and intensity seldom subsided from these two longtime musical allies (and frequent visitors to Lexington’s Outside the Spotlight concert series, which also presented this concert), their musical vocabulary continually expanded. Nilssen-Love, for instance, began two of the evening’s three extended improvisations playing a snare drum with brushes. While the resulting sound may have been more subtle in terms of volume, the immediacy seemed just as vital as in the more thunderous sections. Those heavier segments, by the way, sounded even more torrential given the echo within the Niles Gallery. Both artists played without amplification, but the sound was atomic.

Vandermark shifted between tenor and baritone saxophones as well as clarinet and bass clarinet. While that certainly offered a wide musical palette for a duo configuration, it was the sheer force of his playing – whether he was responding to snippets of groove Love created or instigating broader reactionary blasts (especially on baritone) – that underscored the concert’s overall urgency.

Curiously, the dimensions offered within this often unrelenting performance were defined by the endings of the first and third improvisations. The first stopped on a dime with the same clarity and drama that began the set. The third, however, presented a very specific coda.

The audience had already applauded the preceding 12 minutes of rich chaos helmed largely by Nilssen-Love’s combustible playing. But then the music downshifted for one of the evening’s few plaintive moments. Nilssen-Love switched to mallets for a subtle percussive chant colored by tenor sax accents from Vandermark that sounded positively mournful in contrast to the sonic cyclone that shot through the room during the rest of the set. It was as though the duo has guided the audience through profound musical fury but chose to send them home with safe passage.

the art of duo

ken vandermark (left) and paal-nilssen love. photo by claudio casanova.

ken vandermark (left) and paal-nilssen love. photo by claudio Casanova.

How do you measure the level of musical possibility that can be sparked by only two instrumentalists? Before you answer, consider the sounds they create are totally improvised yet open to shifts in mood, style and approach. Finally, know these artists are longtime collaborators and friends and have reached across two continents for music that approaches jazz not as a hybrid of tradition and groove (although there is plenty of both in their playing), but as an open road headed to an uncharted destination.

This is the route Chicago saxophonist/clarinetist Ken Vandermark and Norwegian drummer/percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love have followed for well over a decade as a duo and even longer in a variety of ensembles that have regularly visited Lexington during the entire run of the 13 year old Outside the Spotlight Series.

On Thursday, though, the two will perform their first OTS show as an unaccompanied duo.

“The duo is a kind of reference point for all the things we’ve learned in other projects,” Vandermark said. “Because it has developed an ongoing thread over so much time through concerts and recordings, it has become a way to look at how things have developed in our own work apart from each other. It’s like a gauge.

“There tends to be an interest in velocity and high speed communications and changes in the music. That attitude, I guess, hasn’t changed. But what we’re making today has completely evolved and shifted over the years. Some tours, we’ll work on finding an area to explore and stay with that for almost a whole set. On other tours, every idea is like a slide show. It’s like, ‘Here’s an idea, here’s an idea, here’s an idea.’ It’s rapid fire. It’s not that the ideas don’t get developed, but it’s more like you touch on an idea that signals another idea.”

What that translates to on a series of fine duo recordings by the two, including 2011’s immensely engaging Letter to a Stranger, is music that may adhere to a rugged groove, engage in a tug-of-war of textural drama or explode into a passage of free improvisation. The title of the newest Vandermark/Nilssen-Love album, released in conjunction with their current duo tour, illustrates the immediacy that emerges out of such music: The Lions Have Eaten One of the Guards.

“Our focus is this idea of tension and intensity. But intensity can be silence. It can be the air of the room you sense when waiting for the next event, the next action, the next sound. Silence can be unbelievably intense. Paal and I are very aware of that range, from doing nothing as an action that has a lot of purpose – which sounds contradictory, but it’s very, very true – to full on activity.

“One thing that’s different about Paal and I when we improvise is how a lot of the music really works with grooves as opposed to free time. There is a pulse. There are phrases that happen in a groove, whether it’s a jazz kind of thing or a funk thing or a rock thing. Paal and I really enjoy working with that kind of time playing. Then there are instances when the music is completely open and there is no pulse, and we work that way, too.” Especially curious is the fact that this week’s duo performance follows OTS shows that had the two artists leading large ensemble groups – Vandermark’s Audio One in August 2014 and Nilseen-Love’s Large Unit as recently as May.

“The way I think when I’m playing with Paal is that we’re an orchestra, that the two of us carry equal amounts of melodic weight. In a totally improvised situation like the duo, it’s not that the circumstances are completely different from the larger groups. It’s just that it all has to happen in real time. That means the compositional process, the editing process, the structural process all have to happen immediately.

“To me, that’s the most exhilarating thing you can do when playing. There’s this sense of surprise in having to solve problems suddenly that you didn’t expect. To work like that with a person you have trusted for so many years is just an incredible gift.”

Ken Vandermark and Paal Nilssen-Love with Sick City Four perform at 8 tonight at the Niles Gallery of the John Jacobs Niles Center for American Music, University of Kentucky. Admission is $5. Call (859) 257-4636.

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