Category Archives: Concert Reviews

The Neal Morse Band – Highline Ballroom NYC: A Mind-Blowing Musical Theater Experience

the-neal-morse-band-highline-ballroom-2-2-17

By Adam Waldman

There are some shows where your expectations are sky high before you even enter the venue.  Knowing the talent in The Neal Morse Band, and The Similtude Of A Dream (the band’s masterpiece concept double album), the expectations for this show were as high as they were for any other show that I’ve attended in recent memory.  Before the first song was over, and long before Morse ever addressed the crowd directly, I knew that this was going to be a night where the high bar that was set would be cleared with room to spare.

One of the things about live music shows that I’ve always enjoyed is the chance to experience the studio recordings of songs in a different way.  With rare exception, that usually means accepting the imperfections that inevitably crop up during a concert.  I’ve attended shows where the songs sounded so much like the record that they ended up feeling sterile, but that was not the case here.

It is said that there’s no such thing as perfection.  I’m sure that Morse and his band of virtuosos (Eric Gillette – guitars and vocals, Bill Hubauer – keyboards and vocals, Randy George – bass, and of course, the inimitable Mike Portnoy on drums and vocals) probably could point out a flaw or two, but for those of us in attendance, this show was perfect.

You couldn’t design a better venue than the Highline Ballroom in NYC for a musical theater show like this.  Yes, others may call this a concert, but to do so wouldn’t do it justice.  This was a theatrical experience, a rock opera that didn’t need any fancy stage set-up, costumes or intricate lighting.

The screen behind the band provided all of the complementary footage necessary, but it was Morse’s charismatic, captivating persona that carried the story and left you so fixated on him that you had to force yourself to look away to make sure to soak in all of the musical brilliance on one stage.  Aside from the screen behind the band, the only other obvious theatrical accoutrement was Morse’s two hooded shirts (one black, one white).  When he needed to draw attention to himself for the purposes of the story, he did so with a small flashlight under his chin, the same way that people telling ghost stories around a campfire would do.

Sometimes less is more.  Morse didn’t need anything else to mesmerize the crowd and work them with the mastery of an orchestra conductor.  The Highline Ballroom features different levels of dining room style seating, with only a moderate amount of standing room.  The venue was filled to capacity (approx. 700 people), which may seem small, but the energy created by a room full of diehard fans was palpable.  At times, it felt an off-Broadway play where the audience is part of the show.  I feel lucky to have been a part of this intimate cast of characters.

Throughout the night, a few thoughts kept racing through my mind.  The first was “how in the world is Neal Morse not a household name, and by extension, the rest of his incredible band (excluding Portnoy who is known by the masses)?”  My second thought was “how is this tour not being held in significantly larger venues?”  Though the intimacy of the venue definitely enhanced the experience, this performance was arena-worthy.

Sonically, the show couldn’t have been better.  It was loud, but so clean that it didn’t leave me with ringing ears even though I was positioned right below one of the speakers.  The final thought that kept running through my mind during the performance was “what am I doing here?”  Allow me to explain…

Although I feel blessed to have been in the audience, and am thrilled to share my experience with the world, this show sells itself.  Morse’s fans are as dedicated as they come, and this ticket was as hard to come by on the secondary market as any other show that I can recall.  I have to imagine that this will be the same around the world (though I could be wrong).  If you get the opportunity to catch The Neal Morse Band anywhere within a 4-5 hour radius, I would suggest making the trip.  The show is simply that good.

What makes The Neal Morse Band different than any other show that I’ve ever seen is the immeasurable talent on the stage feeding off of each other with the precision of Blue Angels fighter pilots.  The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and the parts in this case are all at the top of their game.

It feels like there should be a stronger word than “dynamic” to describe this performance.  Throughout the night, I was in awe of the band’s ability to seamlessly transition between power and graceful beauty.  One moment they were raining down like an apocalyptic thunderstorm, the next like a sweet sun shower.  One moment they were barreling down on you like a freight train, the next they made you feel like you were adrift on a sailboat in a lake of serenity.  All the while, they made perfection look simple.  The musical and vocal chemistry between all of the members was equally impressive.

With this kind of virtuosity on display, and a story to be told, you might expect the band to be all business, but they’re not.  There was a playful, even joyous, element to the performance (especially from Morse who smiled often throughout the evening as he engaged the crowd).  When it was time to get serious, Morse took on the characters like a seasoned actor.  The melding of the two worlds was most notable as Morse playfully portrayed the sloth character (to the crowd’s delight).

For over two and a half hours, The Neal Morse Band delivered a musical theater experience that is second to none.  The entire band left everything that they had on the stage, and left Morse emotionally spent as his eyes welled up with tears as the story came to a conclusion.  As I looked around the audience, I noticed that other grown men had tears in their eyes as well.  It was as if we had all gone through a religious experience together.  In some ways, it was just as powerful.

If you’re reading this review, you are most likely already a fan of The Neal Morse Band, but you don’t have to be to appreciate the magnitude of this performance.  I was with someone who didn’t know any of the music, but was left with the same appreciation as longtime fans, so much so that she purchased the double album and commemorative shirt before leaving the venue.

Understandably, the merchandise table was left with limited supplies by the night’s end.  Who wouldn’t want a memento from a show this good?  Even as a reviewer, I felt the need to take home a piece of the show, so I purchased the tour poster to frame and hang in my office.

It’s only February, but unless something unexpectedly mind-blowing happens during the course of the year, The Neal Morse Band will go down as the top live performance of 2017.

Zakk Sabbath: The Ultimate Tribute Band

zakk-sabbath-brick-by-brick-san-diego-2017

By Randy Falk

Over the past two years, Zakk Sabbath – a holy trinity of metal masters – has paid tribute to the founding fathers of metal, Black Sabbath.  This is no ordinary tribute band, not by a long shot. Zakk Sabbath is fronted by Zakk Wylde (who handles lead vocals and guitar), Blasko on bass and Joey C on drums.

This week, the band announced their first headlining tour dates.  I recently saw the show at a small club in San Diego called Brick by Brick, an intimate venue that is basically a dive bar with a capacity of a few hundred people.  It was an amazing way to see legends of hard rock and heavy metal who normally play in much larger venues around the globe.

Wylde is an incredible frontman, with a commanding larger-than-life presence (both on stage and off).  You can feel his love for Sabbath and Tony Iommi with every note and power chord that he plays.  It doesn’t hurt that he was Ozzy Osbourne’s lead guitarist for over 20 years, or that he has fronted Black Label Society for the past 19 years.

Blasko is no stranger to playing with Wylde, since he has served as Ozzy’s bassist since 2006. He does Geezer Butler proud with a thick, pounding bass that drives home the Sabbath sound, especially when paired with the crushing drum assault of Joey C (known for his work with Queens of the Stone Age and Danzig).

As you watch the band perform, you can clearly see that this trio is having fun paying tribute to the heroes that have had a tremendous influence on them.  The sold-out audience was treated to a crushing rendition of classic Black Sabbath material throughout the show.

An ominous backdrop featuring a reaper-like figure clad in a crimson cloak hung behind the stage (appropriate imagery keeping in tradition with the occult overtones of Black Sabbath).  Wylde’s guitar of choice for the evening was a gorgeous, purple and black vertigo known as “the Barbarian.”  The color scheme of the guitar is a nod to Black Sabbath’s classic Master of Reality album cover.

As the blistering set opened with “Children Of The Grave,” the crowd went crazy, and a mosh pit erupted almost immediately.  It would remain for most of the night.   The audience roared in approval as Zakk Sabbath launched into “Snowblind” and “Supernaut.”

Throughout the incredibly energetic set, the band gave their all, delivering a stadium-worthy performance.  In between songs, Wylde playfully held his hand to his ear to get the audience roaring even louder, at times beating on his chest like King Kong or the Viking Berserker that he personifies.

Blasko dominated his side of the stage, headbanging and hamming up for the constant barrage of cameras from both the audience and the professional photographers and videographers who were documenting the show.  Joey C was a whirlwind behind the kit, delivering the goods and smiling as he pounded the skins.

A definite highlight of their set was when Wylde left the stage, walking through the crowd and performing a guitar solo as he was surrounded by hundreds of fans in the center of the room.

So far, there have only been a handful of Zakk Sabbath tour dates throughout California, and a short run supporting Clutch, but they just announced a headlining tour for 2017.

CLICK HERE for tour dates and ticket information.

SETLIST

  • Children of the Grave
  • Snowblind
  • Supernaut
  • Lord of this World
  • War Pigs
  • Into the Void
  • Wicked World
  • Fairies Wear Boots
  • Behind the Wall of Sleep
  • N.I.B.

Top Live Performances of 2016

Joe Lynn Turner - Revolution - Amityville, NY - 2-27-16 - Hard Rock Daddy

By Adam Waldman

The calendar has finally flipped to 2017, but the scars of 2016 remain.  2016 may be remembered for the deaths of several musical icons, but there were some truly memorable live performances that proved that rock and roll is very much alive and well, most notably, Joe Lynn Turner’s stellar solo show.

As rumors swirled that Ritchie Blackmore was ready to step back into the rock arena for a “Rainbow reunion,” JLT seemed like a slam dunk to take center stage once again.  Not only was he the frontman featured on some of the band’s biggest hits, but he also is the only singer to have also fronted Deep Purple.  If Blackmore was ready to rock again, the first call should have gone to JLT.  Inexplicably, it didn’t.

JLT didn’t let Blackmore’s misguided decision stop him from giving the people what they wanted.  His show at Revolution on Long Island is everything that you could have asked for in a Rainbow show (even without the enigmatic guitarist present).  Not only did JLT deliver brilliant performances of the songs that he made famous with Rainbow, he also did so with the songs that pre-dated him joining the band (while throwing in Deep Purple and Yngwie Malmsteen classics for good measure).

JLT didn’t get nearly the hype that Blackmore got for his Rainbow/Deep Purple live performances, but he deserved it.  Amazingly, JLT’s vocals are as strong today as they were over three decades ago when he rose to fame.

CLICK HERE to read the full concert review.

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

SOTO

Jeff Scott Soto has a tremendous resume, but he still manages to fly under the radar.  In an intimate show on a cold winter night, JSS and his band SOTO delivered an inspired performance, showcasing chemistry that you usually find in bands that have been together for decades.

CLICK HERE to read the full concert review.

 

SONS OF TEXAS

The first time that I heard “Baptized In The Rio Grande” on SiriusXM’s Octane, I was instantly hooked.  With a seasoned sound that goes well beyond their years, the boys from a small Texas town near the Mexican border live up to the saying…“everything’s bigger in Texas.”  One of the best newcomers onto the hard rock music scene, Sons Of Texas showed that they are going to be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come.

CLICK HERE to read the full concert review.

 

ANTHRAX*

Anthrax’s inclusion on this list comes with an asterisk because it wasn’t actually a concert, rather a four-song, show-stealing performance at the recent Epiphone Revolver Music Awards.  It’s a testament to the band’s greatness that the crowd was as enthusiastic about the two new songs (“Breathing Lightning” and “Monster At The End”) as they were about the classics (“Caught In The Mosh” and “Indians”).

CLICK HERE to read a full recap of the event.

 

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Sons Of Texas Concert Review

Written by Adam Waldman

On Friday, September 16, 2016, Sons Of Texas took to the stage at The Chance in Poughkeepsie with no fanfare.  If you didn’t know who they were, you would have thought that the guys tuning the instruments were part of the road crew.  For some odd reason, the band wasn’t even announced.  When they were ready, Sons Of Texas just launched into a music assault that, by all rights, should have brought the crowd to an immediate fever pitch.

Having been on the Sons Of Texas bandwagon since hearing “Baptized In The Rio Grande” on Octane when it first came out, I just assumed that others would be familiar with them as well.  However, because radio has inexplicably dropped the ball on Sons Of Texas since their debut single, the boys from McAllen, TX were fighting an uphill battle for crowd enthusiasm for most of the night.  That is an indictment of the audience, NOT the band.

On a late summer night, Sons Of Texas was an up-and-coming opening act in a club that holds around 1000 people.  However, the sound and performance that they delivered was worthy of an arena headliner.  And though hard rock and metal arena shows have become something of a dinosaur these days, if this was 30 years ago, Sons Of Texas would eventually be headlining arenas.  They’re that good!

With a precision live sound and incredible chemistry, you would think that Sons Of Texas is a band that has been playing together for many years.  In reality, however, this is a band of all-stars from a small Texas town on the Rio Grande that has only been together since 2013…a testament to their talent and dedication to be the best that they can be.

Sometimes, a lower energy crowd can bring down even the most veteran acts, but Sons Of Texas never took their foot off of the gas pedal from the opening note to the last.  Bursting with energy, frontman Mark Morales continuously worked the crowd, encouraging them to “make some noise.”  While he never got the full-throated response that he was looking for, you didn’t see even a hint of frustration, the sign of a true professional.

Throughout the evening, Sons Of Texas delivered a sound that was so powerful, that you could feel it coming at you like a freight train.  The dual guitar attack of Jes De Hoyos and Jon Olivarez, combined with bass player Nick Villarreal, was visually reminiscent of classic Judas Priest, albeit with a lot more groove.

With a guitar duo like De Hoyos and Olivarez, you might expect Villarreal to have a difficult time getting noticed, but like Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris, you can’t help but fixate on his dynamic playing, which combines the metal elements of Harris with the funkier, slap elements of Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers).  Perhaps he is able to be front and center and still lock in perfectly with the intense drumming of Mike Villarreal because of their brotherly connection.

In a live setting, Sons Of Texas delivers the intensity of bands like Pantera and Hellyeah, the groove of bands like King’s X and Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the blistering dual guitars of bands like Megadeth and Lamb Of God.  Morales showed that he can growl with the best of them, but also sing with the hauntingly melodic, southern flavored style of Zakk Wylde.  He was perfectly complemented by the backing vocals of De Hoyos, who knows just when to infuse shredding solos and when to pull back and stay in the pocket.

Even if you didn’t know any of Sons Of Texas’ songs, you couldn’t help but be blown away by their performance.

From “Baptized In The Rio Grande” (the song that turned me on to the band), to “September” (a deep-meaning track that was recently featured on Music Discovery Monday), to “Blameshift” (a vastly underrated single that was featured on HRD Radio Report back in April), Sons Of Texas showed a versatility and professionalism that rivals the most well-established bands in hard rock today.

Although Sons Of Texas is a high-intensity band, they also know how to tap into the more debaucherous side of rock and roll that is synonymous with Buckcherry (the evening’s headliner).  The band showed a more lighthearted side with their two closing songs, “Slam With The Lights On” and “Texas Trim.”  It was during the two closing songs that the band finally got the enthusiastic response from the crowd that was deserved throughout the performance.

As impressive as Sons Of Texas was on stage, equally as impressive was the true gratitude that the band showed to everyone who came to meet with them at the merch table after the show.  This is particularly true of Morales, who seemed to go right from the stage to the merch table (the perk of not having to load out equipment).  Not only did he hug every fan that came up to him and thank them for their support, he also happily took pictures with anyone who requested.  What really stood out though, was the care that Morales took after signing autographs, literally blowing the ink dry for each person to make sure that it didn’t smudge.  Gestures like that will go a long way towards creating lifelong fans.

Don’t wait to hear Sons Of Texas on the radio before going to see them perform live.  Radio is a political game that (often times) doesn’t favor the truly deserving.  Make sure to catch them when they come to your area.  Someday, you’ll look back with pride at having been one of the early adopters of one of the most kickass bands in rock today.

The Power of Music – Washing the Blues Away with Pink Slip Blues Band

Pink Slip Blues Band - 3/12/16 - Brian's Backyard BBQ

By Adam Waldman

Life is filled with highs and lows, happy memories and sad ones, bittersweet moments and serendipitous ones as well.  This day is always one of the more difficult ones of the year, celebrating yet another of my father’s birthdays without him here.  The passage of time has lessened the raw emotions of this day, but it doesn’t stop me from wondering…“what if?”…a simple two-word question that has tremendous power.

On top of the expected blues that arrive each March, this year, the question of “what if?” has taken on an even greater meaning, as political turmoil threatens to tear at the fabric of the country.  Thankfully, I found the perfect escape to wash the blues away – if only for a moment – by immersing myself in the music of Pink Slip Blues Band.

You may not have heard of this band before.  Truth be told, I only discovered them about a week ago when Jay Jay French (Twisted Sister) mentioned the show on his Facebook page.  French is the leader of this all-star band that plays only one show each year.  This year’s lineup also featured guitarist extraordinaire Joel Hoekstra (Whitesnake), who was playing his first show with the band.  It wouldn’t be much of stretch to think that this was going to be a nostalgic ‘80s hard rock music experience given the two names prominently featured on the sign outside of Brian’s Backyard BBQ, a hidden gem nestled on a country road in Middletown, NY.  However, that was not the case at all.

Pink Slip Blues Band is about a few things, none of which has anything to do with ‘80s hard rock.  This band is about paying homage to the blues music that inspires each of the members, and celebrating a number of meaningful classic rock songs in a fun way.  French was as much the emcee of the night as he was a guitar player or singer, regaling the intimate crowd with music history nuggets and a number of jokes about musicians.  It’s fitting that his performance took place not far from an area that was known as the “Borscht Belt” once upon a time.

When you lose someone close to you, the temptation is always there to look for signs that they are still with you on earth.  If ever there was a sign, this show, in this venue on this date certainly fits the bill.  Although Pink Slip Blues Band took the stage the day before my father’s birthday, the set lasted well into the beginning of the 13th of March.  The number “13” has always held significant meaning for me because of my dad.  Was it a coincidence that Hoekstra – whose solo project is called Joel Hoekstra’s 13 – just happened to be playing with the band for the first time ever?  Was it a matter of chance that the show took place in the shadow of the place where my family spent so many winter breaks?  Maybe, but I took comfort in it just the same.

Adding to the serendipity of the moment was the fact that the performance took place just down the road from the record store where I purchased Twisted Sister’s legendary Stay Hungry album back in the summer of ’84.  Although Pink Slip Blues Band didn’t perform any Twisted Sister songs, their set included a number of songs that brought back fond memories.

I can certainly appreciate the blues songs that the band performed, but for me, the highlights were the classic rock songs that have always been personal favorites:  “Bell Bottom Blues,” “Can’t Find My Way Home,” “Whiter Shade Of Pale,” “The Weight,” “Rocky Mountain Way” and “Brown Sugar.”

Although I’ve covered Hoekstra’s work on Hard Rock Daddy, and have interviewed him on a few occasions, this was my first opportunity to see him play live and to meet face-to-face.  As impressive as he is on record, seeing him perform live brought my appreciation for his talent to another level, and it wasn’t just his guitar work.  One of the coolest songs of the night was an edgy version “Sunshine Of Your Love,” highlighted by Hoekstra’s metal-influenced vocal delivery.

Every fan of rock and roll is well aware of the fact that 2016 has seen the loss of a number of rock icons, perhaps none greater than David Bowie.  French acknowledged Bowie as one of his biggest influences before the band launched into a rousing rendition of “Suffragette City.”  The entire set was made up of songs that featured musicians who have passed away, something that French discussed in a somewhat lighthearted (but respectful) way.

By the time that Pink Slip Blues Band completed their two 11-song sets, I was left with a sense of peace from the blues that always accompanies this day.  Being amongst a collective group of like-minded people who were all sharing this moment in time, thoughts of political turmoil never even entered my mind.  Washing the blues away by seeing a blues band may seem counterintuitive, but Pink Slip Blues Band reminded me that music has great healing power, and for that…I am extremely grateful.

Operation: Mindcrime Concert Review – The Evolution of Geoff Tate…

Operation Mindcrime - The Chance - Poughkeepsie, NY - 3-5-16

By Adam Waldman

Nostalgia has a way of making us all long for days gone by.  The passage of time tends to enhance memories in such a way that the present has an almost impossibly high standard to compete against.  Like dominant athletes, Geoff Tate set the bar so high for himself years ago, that today, he is often times judged against unrealistic standards (at least in the eyes of the nostalgia crowd).

It certainly doesn’t help matters that his parting with Queensryche ended up in a public battle that, sadly, left fans choosing sides between the two factions as if they were children of divorce choosing between parents.

Those who cling to nostalgic memories of the Queensryche of yesteryear, tend to mistakenly dismiss Tate because he no longer spends most of his time in the upper register that left jaws dropping back in the day.

At a recent show at The Chance in Poughkeepsie, NY, Tate proved that the voice that mesmerized a generation of fans still exists, especially with the songs from the Rage For Order and Operation: Mindcrime albums.  However, as is the case with every dominant athlete, Tate has evolved through the years, writing and performing songs that play to his strengths.  To put it in baseball terms, Tate doesn’t rely upon blowing people away with a 95 mph fastball these days, but he is still one of the best in the game.  And, he has surrounded himself with some outstanding teammates (his band), which only served to make the live experience of Operation: Mindcrime something to behold.

Anchored by longtime lead guitarist Kelly Gray, Operation: Mindcrime’s touring band is a powerful unit.  Featuring Scott Moughton (rhythm guitar), Randy Gane (keyboards), Tim Fernley (bass) and drummer Simon Wright (AC/DC, DIO), the band captures the essence of classic Queensryche…and beyond.

Those who think of Operation: Mindcrime as a “poor man’s Queensryche,” would be dead wrong in their assessment.  This band is a force to be reckoned with, and more unique than you might expect.  Their distinctive style was particularly evident during the acoustic portion of the show, and during the original songs that were performed from The Key (Operation: Mindcrime’s debut album).

It’s understandable why the crowd favorites were the Queensryche hits, but there was something special going on when Operation: Mindcrime played original songs, because they stood on their own with no basis for comparison.  You could almost sense the freedom of expression coming from the band, and of course, from Tate as well.

Truth be told, as much as I love hearing Tate perform Queensryche songs, I’m actually looking forward to a time when there are more Operation: Mindcrime songs in the set.  If you had somehow never heard of Queensryche, and just witnessed the songs from The Key, you would be left raving about this new band that you got to see in a club.  In fact, you’d probably be wondering how a band with a sound this big wasn’t playing larger venues.

My history with Tate goes back to 1984 when I saw Queensryche open for Kiss in support of The Warning.  Having seen him perform several times since then, it’s hard to think of a show when he looked to be enjoying himself as much as he did with his new band.  With no elaborate stage show to adhere to, there was more of a freeform feeling to the experience.  Whereas the Tate of old was mostly known for dazzling audiences with the high notes, one of the most notable elements of his performance this time around was his ability to do the same with charismatic low notes, and lighthearted banter between songs.

For those who are still stuck in the ‘80s, seeing Operation: Mindcrime in a live setting does not specifically cater to your nostalgic memories.  But for those who believe that there is more to Tate’s brilliance than vocal gymnastics, you will be in for a treat from an amazing band that is inexplicably underrated.

Joe Lynn Turner Live – A Rainbow “Revolution”

Joe Lynn Turner - Revolution - Amityville, NY - 2-27-16 - Hard Rock Daddy

By Adam Waldman

Life is filled with missed opportunities that end up in regret.  I’ve missed out on a number of concert opportunities through the years, but the one that has haunted me most was not seeing Rainbow on June 19, 1982 at Madison Square Garden.  As a parent, I can understand why my parents didn’t let me travel into New York City from Long Island to attend the concert.  However, it ended up being one of the greatest disappointments of my teenage years.  Although I got the chance to see Joe Lynn Turner fronting Deep Purple, it wasn’t the same as seeing Rainbow.

When Ritchie Blackmore started dropping hints that he was thinking about playing rock music again, I had no doubt that he would do so with Turner (the only singer to front both Rainbow and Deep Purple).  Like the rest of the rock world, I was shocked when Blackmore announced the members of the band that he put together as a “Rainbow reunion.”

All hope that I had of finally seeing one of my favorite all-time bands seemed to have been lost.  But on February 27, 2016, at Revolution (a Long Island rock club), I finally got the opportunity to see the show that I had missed out on nearly 34 years ago.

Although this was not a Rainbow reunion per se, seeing JLT perform a number of classic Rainbow songs in an intimate setting might have been even better (in some respects) than seeing a full-blown reunion in a large venue.

Steve Brown (Trixter) didn’t try to copy Blackmore’s signature guitar sound, but he nailed every song, and showcased an entertaining stage presence.  “Nailed” would also be an accurate description of Charlie Zeleny’s thunderous drumming, which helped to set the tone for a high octane version of Rainbow.  Rob Demartino’s bass playing provided a heavy bottom, and Paul Morris’ keyboards added another layer of depth to the overall sound.

Of course, the star of the show was JLT himself, who is every bit as good today as he was back in 1982 (when I missed out on seeing Rainbow), and in 1991 (when I saw him fronting Deep Purple).  From the stellar vocals to the engaging showmanship to the deep connection with the fans in attendance, JLT proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that age is nothing more than a number.  He is a true rock star in every sense of the word.  For his sake, I wish that Blackmore’s decision-making wasn’t so misguided, but selfishly speaking, I couldn’t have asked for a better Rainbow concert experience.

Even though the performance took place in a modest sized rock club, this truly was the type of show that made you feel like you were watching an arena concert from the glory days of hard rock.  Had this been an actual arena show, the experience would have been much different.  I certainly wouldn’t have been close enough to get hit with any droplets of spit as JLT belted out a setlist comprised of numerous personal favorites.  But there I stood, dead-center, bellied-up against the stage, singing along with the rest of the frenzied crowd to the collective soundtrack of our youth with JLT only inches away from me.

To my right, was a girl who was noticeably swooning in the presence of one of her rock heroes.  In between songs, we shared our enthusiasm for the show, and she told me that “it was like having an outer body experience.”  Words can’t accurately portray the glow on her face when JLT handed her a copy of the setlist as a souvenir.  I would come to find out later that her husband and 13-year old daughter were standing right behind her.  It’s hard to think of a better family night out than seeing JLT up-close-and-personal.  She too was forbidden by her parents to attend the Rainbow concert in June of 1982.  Imagine, two strangers sharing an incredible bond over the music that we love, and the disappointment of missing out on seeing the same Rainbow concert at Madison Square Garden.

It would be impossible to highlight the best moments of the show because there was never a dull moment.  However, a few moments stood out for me on a personal level.  The first was when JLT talked about all of the recent rock star deaths, and then paid a heartfelt tribute to his friend (and fellow Rainbow alum) Ronnie James Dio, before launching into an energetic version of “Man On The Silver Mountain.”  Having had the opportunity to have lengthy conversations with both RJD and JLT, I found this tribute to be particularly poignant.  After JLT bowed his head and then looked up to salute RJD, he gave me a fist bump.  It was as if he felt the meaning that the song had to me.

One of the things that you have to love about JLT is his willingness to be outspoken about the problems of the world.  Now, more than ever, his introduction to “Can’t Happen Here” really hit home, as our country is in a state of turmoil.  It also happens to be the song that started me on my Rainbow journey, so it had special meaning for me that goes beyond the troubled world of politics.  It was serendipitous that he was introducing this song in a club called Revolution (a point that he made to the crowd).

The show, affectionately dubbed “Boys Night Out” by JLT (to describe playing with the band), not only featured a collection of Rainbow hits, but also some classic Deep Purple songs and a powerful version of “Rising Force” (Yngwie Malmsteen).

Although I had hoped that I would get to see a true Rainbow reunion, it wasn’t in the cards because of Blackmore’s decision to form an entirely new band.  The disappointment of that decision, and the missed opportunity to see Rainbow in 1982, have both been alleviated by seeing JLT deliver a performance that will be remembered for many years to come.  If you’re a true Rainbow fan, do whatever it takes to see this show.

Top 10 Reasons Why You MUST Go See SOTO Live

SOTO Poughkeepsie NY 2-13-16

By Adam Waldman

Jeff Scott Soto is one of the most talented singers in hard rock, and has been for some time.  Yet somehow, he still flies under the radar of many.  If there is any justice, his latest project will open the eyes (and ears) of the masses.  Like Van Halen, DIO and Dokken, SOTO is a band that bears the name of its founder.  What makes SOTO so special is the talent that JSS has surrounded himself with at this point in his career.

Although JSS is far from a household name, his resume alone would lead you to believe that he would have some semblance of a road crew on his current tour.  However, the man that owns the stage and the crowd once the lights go down, works tirelessly to keep the show on the road (so to speak) during his “off hours.”

JSS and I have gotten to know each other through the features that I’ve done on Hard Rock Daddy, but never got the chance to meet face-to-face until this past week when SOTO rolled through town.  To say that the night of the concert was frigid would be an understatement.  It was the type of bitter cold winter night where many choose to stay home rather than braving the elements, but for SOTO, the show must go on.

In speaking to JSS before the show, I asked if the setlist was going to exclusively feature songs from the two SOTO albums, to which he replied (with a smile on his face)…“I can’t tell you that…you would lose the element of surprise.”  He was right.  I was guilty of exhibiting the instant gratification mentality that has become all too common these days.  It is that same mindset that will cause some of you to skim this article looking for the Top 10 Reasons Why You MUST Go See SOTO Live.

So, here goes…

  1. Divak
  2. Brooklyn
  3. Inside The Vertigo
  4. Brazil / Spain
  5. W.E.T.
  6. Steel Dragon
  7. Talisman
  8. 5-Part Vocal Harmonies
  9. Musicianship/Chemistry
  10. Steel Panther

The above list is cryptic by design.  If I learned anything from my conversation with JSS, it is that it is better to forgo instant gratification and embrace the element of surprise.  Those who are truly interested in the journey (and not just the destination) should read on to find out why you MUST go see SOTO in a live setting.

One of the true signs of a professional is playing with the same passion and intensity for a club crowd as you would for an arena or stadium show.  It didn’t take long to see that SOTO is a band of true professionals.  From the first song to the last, SOTO delivered a night of pure entertainment, despite the fact that they were playing on a tight stage with limited lighting and no soundcheck prior to performing.

While many frontmen with JSS’s resume would have felt slighted, he owned the moment by joking about the situation to the intimate (but passionate) crowd.  Though the setting was the equivalent of being part of a group of friends watching a private show, the brilliant performance was the stuff that legends are made of.

The entire performance was as diverse as the career of JSS, ranging from heavy rockers to melodic ballads to cool grooves to acapella.  All of the songs and styles worked equally well, which is a true testament to the players that JSS has assembled around him from different parts of the world.

As you watch the lead guitar work of Spain’s Jorge Salán, you can’t help but wonder how he (like JSS) has managed to fly below the radar of the masses.  With Salán, it goes well beyond shredding (which he can do with the best of them).  It’s the Slash-like musicality that really sets him apart from many others.

Although JSS calls California his home now, he is originally from Brooklyn, which happens to be the hometown of bassist David Z.  Often times, bass players don’t get much of the glory, but because Z. is such a showman, he shared the spotlight with JSS and Salán.  This was no easy feat given the cramped quarters on a stage with a limited spotlight.  You can see why JSS tapped Z. for this band.  The duo’s personalities play off of each other perfectly, and his incredible 6-string bass playing adds another layer to an already deep band.

Out of the spotlight (both figuratively and literally) were the Brazilian duo of BJ (keys/guitars) and Edu Cominato (drums).  Like the rest of SOTO, this duo not only added to the incredible chemistry of the band musically, but vocally as well.  In fact, it’s hard to recall seeing another band with five singers as talented as the members of SOTO.

If you took a time machine back to Sunset Strip in the mid-‘80s to see SOTO perform in a club, you would swear that you were witnessing a band about to break out to the next level to do arena shows.  In 2016, arena shows barely exist in the hard rock and metal genres, but if you are lucky enough to catch SOTO perform live, you will be treated to an arena-like concert in an intimate setting.

Because JSS was right about the element of surprise being something that you should look forward to, I will not share the setlist here.  The truth of the matter is that you don’t need to know one song to enjoy SOTO live.  All you need is an appreciation for outstanding musicianship.  Suffice it to say that the band performs a wide variety of songs and styles from different time periods of JSS’s career, all of which are equally entertaining.  Simply stated, this is one of the best club shows that I’ve seen in many years.  When you get the chance to experience this kind of band in an intimate setting, grab it!  You will NOT be disappointed!

CLICK HERE for SOTO tour dates.

 

The Winery Dogs “Double Down” as the Top Live Performance of 2015

The Winery Dogs - Top Live Performance of 2015

By Adam Waldman

There were a lot of outstanding live performances in 2015, but one stood out above all others – The Winery Dogs.  It’s fitting that the band’s second tour in support of their latest album (Hot Streak) is dubbed the “Double Down” tour, given that this power trio has now been named the Top Live Performance of the Year for 2014 and 2015 by Hard Rock Daddy.

It wasn’t until their last American tour date in 2014 that I got the chance to see the virtuoso supergroup that redefined what live music is all about.  By that time, Mike Portnoy, Richie Kotzen and Billy Sheehan had played around 100 shows together, and the chemistry was unlike anything that I’d experienced before, particularly in a club setting.

Although Portnoy, Kotzen and Sheehan had always maintained that The Winery Dogs were not a one-off project, many other supergroups have uttered the same words, only to be never heard from again.  Each member still performs outside of The Winery Dogs, but their second release (and subsequent tour) has proven that this is a band that is here to stay.

As geographic luck would have it, The Winery Dogs began the “Double Down” tour in the same area where they ended their first tour of America.  This time around, they were at the Ridgefield Playhouse in Connecticut.  With each member coming off of projects outside of the band, the opening show of the worldwide tour was meant to serve as reaquaintance of sorts, a place to work out any kinks that may exist.

There was something magical about being present in a setting that felt less like a finished product, and more like a work-in-progress.  Here are some observations from the performance…

After the band played their first five songs of the set, Portnoy discussed the pros and cons of attending the first show of the tour to the passionate, appreciative crowd.  The pro was that we would be the only ones to be truly surprised by the setlist.  The con was that the show might suck since they were still “learning” the songs (Hot Streak had just come out the day before the show).

With the talent and chemistry between three of the most talented musicians in the world, “suck” is quite a relative term.  While the band members might have noticed a mistake here or there, it certainly wasn’t detectable to the audience, who hung on every note played and every word uttered between songs.

Even though The Winery Dogs are in their infancy as a unit, the decades of experience that each member brings to the table makes you feel like you are watching a band that has been around forever.

What sets this band apart in a live setting from almost every other is the fact that the setlist is almost irrelevant.  Of course, everyone has favorite songs that they want to hear, but when it comes to The Winery Dogs, the setlist could literally change on a nightly basis and there would be absolutely no drop-off.  They leave you wanting more, but that would still be the case even if they played every song off of both albums (and then some).

As a lifelong fan of hard rock and metal, I never really understood why Bruce Springsteen fans would want to sit through a show that is several hours long or why Grateful Dead fans followed the band all around the country.  The Winery Dogs have made me understand both.

They’ll probably never play shows as long as Springsteen, but if they did, it would be an evening to remember.  It’s not logistically possible for me to follow the band around the country like a “deadhead,” but it would be a fun adventure if it was.  Suffice it to say that I would not miss any local show, and I would strongly recommend that you don’t either if given the opportunity to see The Winery Dogs perform live.

There are no bells and whistles, no elaborate stage show or pyrotechnics.  The real beauty lies in the simplicity of a band that embodies the phase…“let the music do the talking.”  And for that reason, The Winery Dogs once again have been named Hard Rock Daddy’s Top Live Performance of the Year.

CLICK HERE to read more Hard Rock Daddy reviews and feature stories about The Winery Dogs.

Summer’s Last Stand Tour: Lamb of God – PNC Bank Arts Center – Holmdel, NJ

Lamb Of God - PNC Bank Arts Center - 2015

Written by Tim Clark

Running, jumping, screaming and spitting atop the massive stage at New Jersey’s PNC Bank Arts Center like a possessed, dreadlocked preacher from another dimension, you’d think Randy Blythe is performing the last show of his career.  But he isn’t. And neither is the band he fronts, metal titans Lamb of God.  This is just how these five, self-proclaimed rednecks from “Richmond, mother-fucking Virgina” roll.

Even though Lamb of God’s brand of metal sounds as if it was created deep in the bowels of a furious hell, they have a lot to be happy about as they kick off the Summer’s Last Stand Tour with Slipknot, Bullet for My Valentine and Motionless in White.

Their latest studio album, VII: Sturm Un Drang, debuted at #3 on Billboard this week, and it’s admirable to hear them push their sound into (slightly) new terrain by deploying a bit of clean singing and adding a few guest vocalists.

But make no mistake, this is Lamb of God, and no matter how devastatingly heavy their studio efforts sound, it doesn’t hold a candle to experiencing them live. I am quickly reminded of this as they tear into “Walk With Me In Hell” off their 2007 effort, Sacrament.  The crowd of thousands roar in approval, throw horns and bang heads.  Following up with the classic, “Now You’ve Got Something To Die For” does little to quiet the masses.

And if you have your doubts about how the new stuff sounds live, rest easy.

“My hands are painted red/My future’s painted black/I can’t recognize myself/I’ve become someone else” growls Blythe as he does mad justice to “512” off of their latest album, inspired by his (unfortunate and unnecessary) time spent in a Czech prison.

The highlight of the show for this writer occurred when the opening, acoustic notes of “Vigil” wafted through the amphitheater before Blythe screamed at the top of his lungs just as a down-tuned, Sabbath-y riff kicked in:

“Our father thy will be done!”

On this night, Lamb of God is far from done.  This is a band at the top of their game.  And even though I consider As the Palaces Burn the group’s master work, their new album might be their strongest yet. Pick it up immediately and for, ahem, God’s sake, catch them live if you can.