Archive for in performance

in performance: george thorogood and the destroyers

george thorogood.

After he and the rest of his road schooled Destroyers band had ripped through the boogie-centric bounce of “Get a Haircut,” George Thorogood took a moment to flash the electric grin that has become as synonymous with his live shows as his slide-savvy guitar work and bask in the fevered response a crowd assembled earlier tonight at the Lexington Opera House was awarding him.

Amid the ovation, one crowd patron began shouting out song requests with a hint of agitation that suggested it was time for the music to proceed. Thorogood would have none of it. Remarkably fit and tirelessly jubilant at age 67, he knew the moment was his.

“It took me 40 years to get up here, partner,” Thorogood replied to the fan. “I’m going to enjoy every sweet second of this.”

As well as should. But the 90 performance, which never faltered from its thundering, smartly paced and potently rhythmic flight pattern, was no indulgence. Thorogood has long been a disciple of the blues and boogie pioneers that came before him, having fashioned several of their staples into streamlined, loud-and-proud rock ‘n’ roll party pieces for a younger and – let’s just go ahead and say it – whiter generation. That explains how a jump blues gem like Rudy Toombs’ “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” first popularized by Amos Wilburn in the 1950s and more famously by John Lee Hooker in the 1960s was essentially appropriated by Thorogood in the 1970s. Tonight, it was still a boogie tune at heart. But the carnival-like rock spirit the guitarist continues to invigorate the song with has lost none of its immediacy or accessible cheer.

Ditto for Hank Williams’ “Move It On Over” and Elmore James’ “Madison Blues,” two very different roots music treasures Thorogood all but made his own four decades ago as celebratory showcases of untrendy, forthright performance machismo.

Mostly, though, a Thorogood show is about groove. As guitar heavy as tonight’s program was, the electricity summoned was very elemental. Songs were constructed around riffs, hooks and a level of rhythmic propulsion that prided itself on being uncomplicated. Sometimes the groove was so inherent in the song that Thorogood and the Destroyers simply hitched a ride to the obvious melodic gusto. Case in point: the insatiable beat behind the Bo Diddley classic “Who Do You Love?” that was piloted largely by longstanding Destroyers drummer Jeff Simon. Other tunes, like Mickey Bones’ “Twenty Dollar Gig,” the only work Thorogood put down his guitar for, yielded a more ensemble-generated drive.

Thorogood, of course, played the role of party host as readily as he did that of groove merchant. Early in the show, he joked how the Destroyers were all out on bail for the evening. Near evening’s end, he remarked how a talk with “management” during the encore break resulted in the Opera House’s performance curfew being lifted.

Nice try, George. That comment prompted a glance at the watch, which read 9:02. Youthful as the show was in spirit, it turned out there was one inevitability of age even rock ‘n’ roll couldn’t mask.


in performance: darrell scott

darrell scott. photo by jim mcguire

Darrell Scott walked onstage last night at Willie’s Locally Known with zero sense of ceremony. Performing without a band, he strapped on an electric guitar and casually test drove a few licks with a sensibility far jazzier than what we might expect out of such a championed Americana stylist. Then the tune veered into swing and the groove, still decidedly jazzy, became more fluid. The packed house slowly began to realize Scott wasn’t soundchecking and curtailed their chatter. What resulted was a summery invitation called “Head South,” the first tune from the first album (1997’s “Aloha From Nashville”) released by the Eastern Kentucky native.

But any seasonal sentiment darkened with the two songs that followed – a stirring and still harrowing “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive,” steeped in sturdy blues and empowered by the startlingly natural guitar play that distinguished the rest of the two hour concert, and a considerably more reflective “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The latter served as a dual eulogy for Texas songsmith and longtime friend Guy Clark, who died a year ago Wednesday, and Chris Cornell, who Scott shared a recording session with. He died two days ago.

All that came just within the first 20 minutes of the performance.

The rest of the evening was devoted to a loose-fitting array of songs with vivid folk and storytelling imagery colored by extended, intricate exhibitions on electric and acoustic guitar that enforced the fact Scott remains as potent an instrumentalist as he is a songwriter.

Several of his compositions possessed a gorgeous simplicity, but perhaps none more so than the title tune to 2010’s “A Crooked Road” album. Dressed with a melody that initially suggested The Beatles’ “Blackbird” (“if you steal, steal from the best”), the tune quickly revealed a more markedly wistful lyricism that gently supported the worldly but affirmative feel of the narrative (“I see the straight and narrow when I walk a crooked road”).

From the other side of the road came a ghostly reading of Hank Williams’ “Ramblin’ Man,” where Scott’s voice would rise like an incantatory yodel and then fade like the “old train rollin’ down the line” depicted in the song’s opening verse.

Scott turned to fretless banjo for the finale version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” summoning a light, antique feel that merged the performance’s generations of sounds and style into a sing-a-long full of back porch intimacy.


in performance: peter rowan/john jorgenson bluegrass band (j2b2)

peter rowan. photo by ronald rietman

Given the thematic distances separating Peter Rowan and the John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band (J2B2) on their newest recordings, one might assume the only thing their co-billed appearances earlier tonight at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour had in common would have been an arsenal of stringed instruments. In the end, though, one inherently shared sound brought both acts together.
Any supposed distance was suggested by the songs Rowan shared from his new “My Aloha” album, a record that explores links between Hawaiian and American roots music. If his performances had adhered more to the Honolulu recording sessions with noted native artists that made up the album, then, yes, this would have been an evening of contrasts. But as Rowan performed either by himself or with members of J2B2 as accompanists, what you heard was far more in line with the bluegrass-bred Americana music Rowan has cultivated for decades.
Sure, one of the newer tunes, “My Aloha (Appalachian Mountain Home)” reached out from one shore to another in its storyline to become possibly the only song ever written to reference Mother Maybelle Carter and Queen Lili’uokalani side by side. Similarly, “My Blue Hula Girl,” aided by J2B2 guitarist Patrick Sauber, sported a high, spirited Rowan vocal that suggested the yodeling that has frequented his more Americana inclined songs through the years.

john jorgenson. photo by piper ferguson.

Jorgenson’s crew, aided by veteran West Coast songsmith (and the bandleader’s one-time co-hort in the Desert Rose Band) Herb Pedersen, covered all the bluegrass essentials, from the three part harmonies that drove “Beautiful Sound” to the brisk instrumental sparring during “Ridin’ on the L&N” (with guitarist Jorgenson playing predominantly on mandolin). But other tunes – Paul Craft’s “Midnight Flyer,” the Emmylou Harris/Guy Clark eulogy “Bang the Drum Slowly” and even Pedersen’s oft-covered, road weary weeper “Wait a Minute” steered J2B2 closer to a very natural, folk-fueled country blend.
With all the promotional focus on new albums, it was a treat to hear Rowan toss in two of his signature tunes, “Panama Red” and “Midnight Moonlight,” as full collaborations with J2B2. Rowan could have sleepwalked through both works if he chose to and still won over the crowd. But whether it was the fresh instrumental fire Jorgensen’s crew triggered or Rowan’s own ageless performance vigor, both songs reflected a sense of onstage camaraderie that no stylistic or thematic demarcation could dilute.

The John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band (J2B2) performs again on May 9 at the Kentucky Coffeetree Café, 235 W. Broadway in Frankfort (7 p.m., $25).


in performance: roughhousing

jack wright of roughhousing.

About the only hint of definition Jack Wright offered prior to last night’s Outside the Spotlight performance by Roughhousing at Broomwagon Bikes + Coffee was that the group was equally at home spelling its name with either one word or two. Beyond that, the free jazz trio was presented as a blank canvas that was soon painted with color and noise over two Derby evening sets played against the storefront’s windows, outside of which a spectacular post-rain sunset offered artful décor all its own.

A veteran saxophonist and improviser from Philadelphia, Wright was perhaps the most accessible voice within Roughhousing. With acoustic bassist Evan Lipson (who was also with Wright at his last OTS concert, an April 2015 date with the trio Wrest) and guitarist Zachary Darrup coercing a vocabulary of abstract and essentially unnatural sounds out of their instruments by slapping them, punching them and inserting all manner of devices over and under their strings, Wright sat quite placidly in the center conjuring more patient musicality from soprano and, eventually, alto saxophone. As each set was entirely improvised, any lyrical or even compositional sensibility was absent. But his tone was remarkably inviting all the same. There were a few dissonant honks and corrosive whispers, but mostly the reed music sounded like a fractured mantra with rolls of notes that bounced about briefly before being recalled, reshaped and sent on their way again. Wright varied his tone on occasion by playing the open bell of the sax against his leg. But the meditative feel of his playing never wavered.

Lispon, though a far more aggressive player, often seemed to play in tandem with Wright, especially through elongated, bowed lines that oddly complimented the alto sax passages near the end of the first set. In contrast, Darrup seemed in his own universe, using the guitar more as a percussive device. His ideas for coloring the trio’s soundscapes were discarded almost as quickly as they were triggered. Add to that a constant tinkering with the amplifier and what resulted sounded tentative and often intrusive – an uncertain electric jolt to a more naturally uneasy acoustic exchange that probably would have worked equally well, if not better, had guitar been jettisoned altogether.


in performance: jason isbell and the 400 unit/william tyler

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, from left: Jimbo Hart, Derry deBorja, Sadler Vaden, Jason Isbell and Chad Gamble. Photo by Danny Clinch.

There is nothing unusual in a national performer namedropping a regionally friendly reference to gain favor from the audience he happens to be playing to on a given evening. Jason Isbell didn’t really need that kind of ceremony last night at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond. The very human narrative of his songs, their broad stylistic appeal and the effortlessly forthright manner in which they were placed on display more than heartened the sold out crowd. But Isbell, an Alabama native now residing in Nashville, still had a neighborly whopper of a yarn to share. While no amount of detail here would do it justice, the story dealt with meeting Kentucky native Wynonna Judd in a state of sobering flamboyance and then recounting the tale to an unsuspecting (and disbelieving) Supercuts barber in Richmond yesterday afternoon.

The saga was a detailed and curious interlude during a performance that roared very efficiently for 1 ¾ hours, from the opening electric rumble of “Go It Alone” to the full tilt encore finale of “Super 8.” The framework was very much rock ‘n’ roll, but with considerable dynamics and dimension, like the Cajun accents that offset the wayward characterizations of “Codeine,” the breezy but bittersweet lyrical momentum of “Alabama Pines” and the comparatively blunt jams that circulated through “Never Gonna Change,” one of three tunes pulled from Isbell’s more reckless days with Drive-By Truckers.

But the sentiments and, quite often, sensibility of Isbell’s tunes – especially recent ones from his “Southwestern” and “Something More Than Free” albums, which accounted for over half of the setlist last night – fell closer to country. Specifically, they hinted not so much at an embrace of rural heritage, but the fear of losing it. You heard it echo within the descending power chords of “Outfit” (another Truckers favorite) and in the more summery makeup of “If It Takes a Lifetime.” “I got too far from my raising,” he sang in the latter amid one of the evening’s gentler country melodies before a more personal sense of salvation took over.

In terms of performance, the entire blend was delivered with considerable clarity. Some vocal passages were blurred, especially at the start and conclusion of the performance. That was a modest annoyance, perhaps, as live rock shows go, but noticeable nonetheless because of the very complete sense of storytelling that runs through Isbell’s songs. But there were also times when you couldn’t help but follow the concert in purely musical terms, as when Isbell’s jolting slide guitar solo ignited “Decoration Day” or a stark acoustic intro set up the hurricane strength intensity of the vocal lead that fortified “Cover Me Up.”

Most telling of all was “Hope the High Road,” a cross between a Jackson Browne confessional and a vintage blast of John Mellencamp-style, Americana imbued rock. The song was one of two preview works off of Isbell’s new “The Nashville Sound” album, due out in June. The joke, of course, was that for all of the program’s inherent country inspiration, what resulted was far too earnest in design and intent to be mistaken for anything that has been spewing out of Nashville of late. Maybe what we heard last night in Richmond was a serious step in redefining that sound. Here’s hoping.

Guitarist William Tyler opened the evening with an inviting 45 minute set of trio-based instrumental music. While a few turns on acoustic guitar (including “Kingdom of Jones”) reflected a sense of Americana primitive that wasn’t far removed from the playing of such folk journeymen as John Fahey, a selection of electric compositions emphasized rhythm in arpeggio-like phrasings that bordered on minimalism. Then again, the set closing “The Great Unwind” began with Celtic-flavored solemnity before warping against a slight-of-hand groove that was more in line with the music of modernists like Bill Frisell. It nicely completed an intriguing, inviting preface to Isbell’s more expansive Americana joyride.


in performance: peter evans septet

Peter Evans Septet, from left: Levy Lorenzo, Peter Evans, Jim Black, Tom Blancarte, Mazz Swift, Ron Stabinsky and Sam Pluta.

“Start living.” That was the advice Peter Evans gave at the onset of his Outside the Spotlight performance earlier tonight at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center. Depending of your perspective, such a preface could be seen a sign of assuredness or an invitation to arrogance. Perhaps fittingly, the music the New York trumpeter unveiled in the 80 minute program that followed was a bit of both.

To begin with, the entire concert consisted of one extended, untitled (or, at least, unannounced) piece that balanced composed sections with improvisational passages that ebbed and flowed with the sometimes weighty involvement of the former approach and the more intriguing spaciousness of the latter.

The primary exponents introduced early in the set were electronics – the kinds of oscillating, neo-industrial colors that gave the performance a seething pulse at some points and a more intrusive, robotic feel at others that flew in the face of the more organic improvisations. That two of the septet players were devoted to these designs – Levy Lorenzo (who doubled on percussion) and Sam Pluta with a keyboardist, Rob Stabinsky, who regularly dabbled on synths – might suggest textures of sounds were in the making. But with few exceptions, the electronics had a largely leaden feel.

In direct contrast was violinist Mazz Swift, bassist Tom Blancarte and, to a lesser extent, Evans himself, whose collective sounds morphed more readily as the work flirted between dissonance and groove. Swift was masterful at this, blending unobtrusively with the electronics but also creating an appealing harmony with Blancarte when the latter played with a bow.

It was especially interesting hearing Evans in this kind of setting, as the sounds he summoned on trumpet and piccolo trumpet (often in quick succession) seldom sought out the horns’ expected tonal range, favoring percussive punctures and breathy scratches just as often. But as the piece began to wind down, Evans let loose and soloed off a groove established by Swift, Blancarte and Lorenzo (on, of all things, triangle), largely shedding the cold electronic stagnation that often loaded down the septet for music that was lighter and more approachable, but no less adventurous.

After the many lulls, builds and deconstructions, the piece came to no apparent conclusion and stopped cold.

“We hoped we helped you,” Evans offered as a parting message, ending the evening in a manner just as offsetting as the one that started it.


in performance: california guitar trio

california guitar trio: paul richards, hideyo moriya and bert lams.

“You are about to witness a very strange thing,” remarked Paul Richards as he, Bert Lams and Hideyo Moriya – collectively known as the California Guitar Trio – were about to embark on a journey down what was being promised as an unexpected musical offramp.

But little about the CGT could be considered an expectation – not the unassuming stage demeanor that offset a wildly versed and versatile technical command and certainly not the instrumental makeup of three acoustic guitars that last night at a packed but still intimate performance at the Kentucky Coffeetree Café in Frankfort mixed slyly subtle original works with tunes popularized by The Beatles, The Ventures, Ennio Morricone, The Shadows, J. S. Bach, Dave Brubeck and more. Not even the trio’s seemingly non-descript moniker revealed much. Though the CGT formed in California in 1991, its members hail from Utah, Belgium and Japan.

So what constituted “strange” in Richards’ estimation? Try the realization of the CGT taking on country music. But what unfolded wasn’t country by any contemporary definition. Instead, the resulting “Buckaroo” – the Bob Morris instrumental that became a huge 1965 hit for Buck Owens – stretched its vintage Bakersfield feel to approach jazz and swing. As with everything the CGT served up during its 90 minute program, the rendition was harmonically and compositionally complete without any semblance of a traditional rhythm section present as aid.

The stylistic moods would shift regularly, from Moriya’s spacious and gorgeously contemplative title tune off the trio’s new “Komorebi” album to a take on the 1962 Shadows’ surf hit “Wonderful Land” (complete with the choreographed “Shadow walk” that took the three even further away from their often stoic stage stance). But the CGT’s internal chemistry revealed itself time and time again, whether it was in the way Richards, Lams and Moriya effortlessly juggled lead melodies during original compositions like “The Marsh” and “Cherry Trees,” the manner in which the Bach “Prelude Circulation” was passed from one player to another a single note at a time or the blending of Astor Piazzolla tango inspirations with the modern minimalism of Philip Glass on the ultra clever mash-up “Glass Tango.”

But there were also remarkable dynamics at work. The evening’s most moving moment was also one of its quietest – a pastoral delivery of “Spiritual,” a Josh Haden work recorded by his late father, the great jazz bassist Charlie Haden. Working off a Lams solo that bowed briefly to the blues, the song moved with a slow, cyclical feel peppered by melodic phrases that sounded like chimes and/or chants. What emerged was a piece of subtle, sonic beauty that completely hushed the audience, especially as the tune concluded with an eerily natural sounding fadeout. It was a blissful gem of a moment slipped within a performance full of reserved and, yes, “strange” brilliance.


in performance: ben vereen

ben vereen.

In referencing a career retrospective video that prefaced his “Steppin’ Out” performance last night at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville, Ben Vereen seemed almost apologetic. The opening turned back the years to when the singer/dancer/actor’s younger self was deftly moving and grooving in Broadway musicals, cabaret outings and even television programs.

“All that dancing and carrying on you saw there… there will be none of that tonight,” Vereen said later in the evening. Turned out that wasn’t much of an issue.

At age 70 and with back surgery just a few months behind him, Vereen had earned the right hold off on the hoofing. But that hardly meant the veteran performer settled for a subtle evening. Backed by a jazz trio, Vereen offered songs and stories as “gratitude” for audience support during his 50-plus year career in a performance that ran tirelessly for two hours without an intermission.

This newest version of “Steppin’ Out” is essentially a large scale cabaret show with equal measures of song and talk. But there were curious differences in the program and typical cabaret sets. Opening with “Magic to Do,” a signature tune from “Pippin,” which earned Vereen the second of his two Tony Awards, the set was surprisingly loose in design. But the rest of the show wasn’t entirely the kind of overview the opening video suggested. There were obvious nods to his Broadway tenure, from a medley of tunes featured in “Hair and “Jesus Christ Superstar” to an efficiently moving “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked,” which Vereen served in a decade ago. But some of the music and a lot of the talk strayed from his own career to broader streams of inspirations. Just one quick tale from his work with Bob Fosse? That seemed a bit of a crime, but Vereen seemed to connect with the crowd through stories of personal and professional survival. Guess we can add the title of motivational speaker to his extensive list of occupations.

The show highlight was entirely unexpected – a duet of “Misty” with drummer Marc DiCianni adding lone accompaniment mostly through hand percussion. In was a moment of reflective, reserved beauty in a show that displayed its emotions as openly and brightly as a Broadway marquee.

in performance: justin hayward

justin hayward.

Pockets of patrons within the audience at the Lexington Opera House last night let out a chorus of groans when Justin Hayward remarked how his favored decade within a 50 plus year tenure as a member of the Moody Blues was the 1980s. His reasoning? Simple. “That’s the period I can remember.”

Truth to tell, the storied repertoire of his fabled band – “The Moodys,” as he tagged his mates – made up only half of this engaging 90 minute performance. As this was a performance billed under his name, Hayward, 70, balanced ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s tunes from the past with comparatively newer material cut as a solo artist. In doing so, the performance featured not a band but a pair of accompanists – guitarist Michael Dawes (who also opened the evening with a set of layered, percussive instrumentals that recalled Michael Hedges) and keyboardist/harmony singer Julie Ragins.

Such a configuration understandably gave the program a lightness that both suited Hayward’s voice – still clear in tone but a touch thinner with age – and the material itself, which leaned heavily on ballads. Among the more arresting solo entries fitting this bill was 2013’s “The Western Sky,” a song that recalled the more modestly sentimental flair of the Moody Blues’ early ‘80s music. But the show stealer was 1978’s “Forever Autumn,” a tune paired down from its orchestral blueprint version on Jeff Wayne’s “War of the Worlds” adaptation into a bittersweet folk-pop reverie.

Initially, the Moody Blues songs sounded a touch safe. “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Lovely to See You,” both dispensed with early in the show, were presented in swift, truncated versions. But in the biggest back catalog surprise of the evening, “Watching and Waiting” (the finale tune to what arguably remains the band’s finest album, 1969’s “To Our Children’s Children’s Children”), the dark melancholy of the Moodys beautifully emerged.

Hayward’s signature tune, 1967’s “Nights in White Satin,” closed the set. If there was a career hit one might suspect would be given perfunctory treatment simply by the fact the song has been performed so often, this would be it. But Hayward fully invested himself in this lean trio arrangement. With Dawes recreating Ray Thomas’ familiar flute solo on steel string guitar, Hayward’s voice sounded strong and assured, making the work sound not just valid and emotive, but unexpectedly youthful.


in performance: rene marie and experiment in truth

rene marie. photo by john abbott.

After an extended suite-like composition called “Lost” took her from bossa-driven bass to subtle swing to multiple codas of the blues, jazz songstress Rene Marie took a moment at the Norton Center for the Arts’ Weisiger Theatre in Danville last night to collect her thoughts and catch her breath. While regrouping, she encouraged patrons to ask questions of her band.

“Where did you all meet?” was one query.

Marie answered in a deadpan whisper, a marked contrast to the steady exuberance she displayed during the one hour, 45 minute performance. “In a bar.”

The audience, almost expectedly, laughed at the matter of fact reply. Though it turned out to be the truth, the fact such an alliance was struck up so casually seemed to fly in the face of the music that wound up on display. Indeed, among the many extraordinary aspects of the concert was the musical symmetry Marie shared with pianist John Chin, bassist Elias Bailey and drummer Quentin E. Baxter, collectively known as Experiment in Truth. All were accomplished instrumentalists who drove the music’s giddiest extremes, the most buoyant of swing passages and the most intimate levels of phrasing. But it was how all four players clicked together that triggered the biggest and most natural fireworks.

You heard it in the way Chen’s bright, artful solo complimented Marie during “If You Were Mine.” It surfaced regularly in the fat, rubbery bass sound Bailey conjured at the onset of “Stronger Than You Think.” Similarly, such simpatico was apparent in the summery, percussive support Baxter designed for the Italian homage “Certaldo.”

Marie, of course, was always the ringleader. A singer of considerable range, she was not a belter, choosing instead to cater her crisp vocals to the songs’ specific emotive casts. The combustible confessions at the heart of “Go Home,” for instance, took passages of hushed vocal grace to bursts of high register desperation. But for the finale of “Joy of Jazz,” her bright and beautifully clear tone matched the trio’s South African inspired groove.

It should be noted that with the exception of a gorgeous take on Duke Ellington’s “Solitude,” which was included as a eulogy for her mother-in-law who died earlier yesterday, the concert was devoted exclusively to original material from Marie’s 2016 album, “Sound of Red,” which is up for a Grammy Award next month.

To offer a repertoire of largely unfamiliar compositions was an atypically bold move for a singer devoted to straight up jazz. But the resulting performance was so technically and emotively engrossing that Marie’s songs quickly became as accessible as the obvious simpatico the singer shared with her remarkable band.

Not bad for a bunch of artists who met in a bar.


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