Sinead O’Connor Live at the Beacon Theater – Concert Review by James Campion

 

Aquarian Weekly 9/13/97

REDEMPTION
Sinead O’Connor Beacon Theater 8/26/97

New York City

It is not particularly unusual to find the sheer raw talent of a singer stripped naked by the glare of the spotlight with her only weapon a wonderful voice piercing through a darkened hall like a siren of distinctionSinead O'Connor. It is only unusual if you consider Sinead O’Connor’s tempestuous career, filled with songs raging in blatant discourse, an appearance and demeanor of raucous rebellion, and questionable tactics budding from an unforgettable aura. Yet, on this night, an oblique, if not attractive woman; draped in an elegant white dress moving sinuously around the stage, served as a testament to a body of work as diverse and edgy as any hard-driving punk outfit.

Having seen O’Connor at the genesis of her bald-headed, black-army booted, in-yo-face run seven years ago, it was quite a change. Gone were her demonstrative movements declaring an inner rant which bore clarity to the ugly truth of her lyrics. Only the sting of the lyrics remained, buoyed by the beauty of the melodies and the incredible range and control of a voice that could raise goose bumps on a cadaver.

Sinead O'ConnorA six-piece band, including cello and accordion, enabled O’Connor to stand guitar-free, clutching her ever-present controls for an ear-monitor she uses as a crutch for perfection. The four-piece band known as The Screaming Orphans from Northern Ireland opened the show and more than ably slid into their roles as back-up singers for the evening. At key points their five-part harmonies lifted otherwise dreary dirges into sweet moments of orchestra, culminating in the vortex of an Irish folk revival.

Swerving through her entire, new six-song collection, Gospel Oak, and touching on choice numbers from her last two original studio works, O’Connor was visibly overwhelmed by the roof-raising ovations she received from the more than capacity crowd (both side aisles were jammed with people standing and applauding throughout). Responding with a wave, a giggle, and a brush of her hand through now a full head of brown locks, Sinead O’Connor put away the tantrums and overt displeasure her songs evoke, to merely sing them. And to those who recall her being mercilessly booed off the stage at the Bob Dylan tribute five years earlier, it was the best kind of redemption.

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Quadrophenia Show 1996 – Concert Review by James Campion

 

East Coast Rocker 7/30/97

RESURRECTION
Quadrophenia Madison Square Garden 7/16/96

New York City

For whom it may concern; Pete is God.

Of course that is the kind of statement that might have spewed forth from my days of raucous adolescence when passionate angst coursed through my burgeoning hormones. But for a few hours, during the opening night Pete Townshendperformance of The Who’s Quadrophenia last Tuesday, that is exactly where I returned.

Townshend, (the aforementioned Pete) songster, guitar-smasher, and part-time publisher, fresh from his success with the resurrection of Tommy on Broadway, and his last theatrical composition, Psychoderelic, took the time to relive arguably his finest work. And for six nights at the Garden last week he, the other to surviving members of Who–Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle–and a sixteen piece band, including four background singers, a full brass section, and percussionist, presented his magnificent musical story like never before.

When The Who released Quadrophenia in 1973, playing its intricate arrangements with four musicians turned out to be a Herculean task never quite conquered. The double album, (they had records in those days, as you may know) with its well-timed sound effects, tape loops, and involved orchestrations, had always been beloved and revered by Who fans and the rock community, but could never be properly performed.

However, from the opened notes of “The Real Me” amid the booming strains of an angry ocean and full screen of visuals, The Quadrophenia Show set the musical record straight.

Daltrey, dressed casually in a tank top and jeans, was in full voice and sounding better than even the distant past. Aided by a monitor earpiece, his vocals on such challenging numbers as “I’ve Had Enough” and “Love Reign O’er Me” were near perfection, and in some cases a newer and sharper voicing could be heard. Entwistle, still looming and stoic on stage left, lent interpretive bass lines long buried in the psyche of what Townshend himself has always said was “the last great Who album.”

The band, including Ringo Starr’s kid, Zak on drums and Pete’s brother Simon on rhythm guitar, did their homework. Culling every key lick and chop from this extensive collection of songs, they provided a meticulous backdrop for the emotional theatrics of the story.

Daltrey and TownshendThe sound, a stark separation of vocals and intricate instrumentation, was flawless; pumping at top volume without the loss of clarity needed in the dramatic renderings of such songs as “Dr. Jimmy”, “The Punk and the Godfather,” and the haunting “Is It in My Head?” Guest appearances by Garry Glitter as the gruff Rocker and Billy Idol as the pretentious, yet sad, Ace Face helped breathe renewed life into heretofore uncharted character development. And to move the plot along Townshend and co-producer/manager, Bill Curbishley recruited the acting talents of Phil Daniels, who played the protagonist, Jimmy in the 1979 movie, as narrator.

It was a show for the rabid fan as well as the interested observer, doing the haunting libretto and sonic orchestration proud. Due to the cohesive aspect of the work, and the consistent pace of the show, there were few specific highlights save for the explosion of audience and act during Quadrophenia’s cornerstone number, “5:15.” It was one of the rare times a rock show captures the essence of the material and translates it to perfection.

Townshend, who through the years has been known as a hard-ass perfectionist and whining pessimist when approaching his work, could be seen grinning during the band’s four encores, which combined sweet nostalgia with hard-edged force. With an acoustic guitar slung over his shoulder, he was in fine voice and ecstatic temperament; singing and cavorting throughout the show with a fervor rarely seen in his more recent performances, solo or with the group.

For many fans of the genre, including myself, Townshend’s second and most endearing full-length “rock opera” is his greatest legacy as a composer. The universal story of a confused teenager railing against the hypocrisy of society, which helped many of us get through our similar quandary, has resonated for two decades. To see it revived as a road show could’ve been disappointing at best, but was brilliant and entertaining at the very least.

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Counting Crows and The WallFlowers Live at PNC Arts Center – Concert Review by James Campion

 

Aquarian Weekly 7/28/97

IN THEIR PRIME Counting Crows / The Wallflowers PNC Arts Center 7/14/97

Holmdel, New Jersey

Rarely do headlining rock acts take a step to the side to allow for shared equality in popularity. But with the rise of Bob Dylan’s kid and his nostalgic combo, The Wallflowers, Counting Crows leveled the playing field for one balmy night in New Jersey. Both bands received similar ovations, producing inspired encores, while slicing into the pocket of understated licks and subtle energy to pump out two sets of uneven intensity.

Duritz & DylanJakob Dylan led his five-piece band through an hour-plus set of their second CD, Bringing Down The Horse, which has sold over three million copies and has been pumped through modern rock and pop radio ad nauseum for close to a year. Almost forgettable in appearance and nearly devoid of any stage histrionics, the band was tight and extremely composed while sounding eerily like a 90s’s version of The Band, who ironically backed his dad’s initially maligned and eventually oft-celebrated first electric phase during the mid 60s’. This was made abundantly clear during a fine rendition of the classic group’s biggest single, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”,  which served as a highlight, along with a soulful reading of The Wallflower’s first hit, “6th Avenue Heartbreak” with accompaniment by Counting Crows’ lead singer, Adam Duritz.

Although looking frighteningly close to his father’s once imposing stage presence, Dylan, now considered the latest in a line of reluctant sex symbols, seemed a little embarrassed by the screams from the predominantly female audience; going as far as to playfully berating them for not standing and dancing.

The Counting Crows, also touring their second effort, Recovering The Satellites, which unlike The Wallflowers disc has been a commercial step back to its riveting predecessor, August And Everything After, eased slowly into the evening’s proceedings with broad and humble strokes. With wonderful texture and remarkable dynamics, the more energetic of the two bands looked to be in their prime; moving through a healthy catalog of lyrically packed musical vignettes.

No band outside of the 60s’ era, and certainly none in the cookie-cutter age of video, so consistently reinvents a song like Counting Crows. There was no better example than on this night. Beginning with many new songs including, “Daylight Fading” and “Catapult”, through emotionally dynamic renditions of fan favorites like “Anna Begins”, “Rain King” and the enigmatic, “Mr. Jones” the audience was treated to a band in constant creative motion, like an open jam or private rehearsal stripped bare and caressed with smooth melody. Unlike The Wallflowers set, which seemed to drag in the mire of mid-tempo, there were moments of spontaneous beauty as in the closing numbers, “Round Here” and “A Long December”, when singer and primary songwriter, Duritz pranced around poetry and overt longing to explode into pure adrenaline and purpose.

To his credit, Duritz effectively toes the line of pretension without sinking into helpless melodrama,thanks in no small part to a band made up of excellent musicians and even better interpreters of sense and style.

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Ani DiFranco Live at the Capitol Theater – Concert Review by James Campion

 

East Coast Rocker 4/5/97

A FIERCE GRACEAni DiFranco The Capitol Theater 3/21/97

Porchester, NY

It is the angry angel serenade; this fireball of female seduction with an Ani DiFranco acoustic guitar slung over a round shoulder below the spray of bright blue hair. She welcomes the bulging audience like a whimsical lover; crossed between reason and distraction. Ani DiFranco has spent the decade, seven albums, and a touring life proving she is arguably the finest singer/songwriter today. Her latest show is quite simply a gorgeous example of this.

With her usual passion and purpose she stalked the relatively empty stage of the small venue, save for the drums (Andy Stochansky) off to stage left, and bass (Jason Mercer) on the right. The ambiance of the classic theater, and the sparse accompaniment, lent a surreal intimacy to her signature jerky movements in and out of the multicolored spotlight which radiantly reflected her distant stare. No performer demands such total attention when winding through an impressive catalog of musical stories as when DiFranco is face first in the swirl of her talent. On this night, only the fifth date of a five-month tour through the U.S. and Europe, she slid effortlessly through her more recent numbers with a fierce grace. The highlights included a slithering version of “Shy”, a soulful rendering of “Untouchable Face”, and a riveting exhibition of her brilliant, “Dilate” which ended in an explosion of applause.

Ani DiFrancoDiFranco explored the many layers of her growth from a 19 year-old folkie to the original meld of punk, hip-hop, and lyrically driven rambles; resting easily in the various rhythmic changes. The aisles would eventually be filled with dancing kids caught in the rapture of sexually charged songs like “Shameless”, which drives off the pulse of DiFranco’s unique picking/strumming style. The woman wields the finest right hand since Pete Townshend jammed his wrist through the whammy bar of an abused Stratocaster. All the while her voice hovers, roaming her register for notes, and the noteworthy, scraping around a quirky shrill with an assault of phrasing.

Not since Dylan had a prime has one artist captured the displaced voice of the “other side” quite like Ani DiFranco. When she sings, “The butter melts out of habit, the bread isn’t even warm”, the irony induces a smile and a tear. When she sings, “I am a work in progress”, you anxiously await the next phase.

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Prince at the Roseland Ballroom – Concert Review by James Campion

East Coast Rocker 1/25/97

UNLEASHING BEINGS
The Artist Formerly Known As Prince
Roseland Ballroom 1/11/97

New York City

It was sometime around 10:30 PM huddled behind a sizable sound board amidst the screaming throng, when a bolt of memory crashed into the side of my skull with the sheer force of a gale wind. It was something Tori Amos had told The Chicago Tribune in response to a question about the source of creativity.

The words jumped off the page that day as clearly as they rammed a particularly tender side of my brain, which was being throttled by the second hour of another high-octane show by The Artist, the first musical event staged in New York City since the appellative death of Prince Rogers Nelson. ““This is what my life is”,” Amos said. ““These beings. They come in and out like fragments.””

My eyes were transfixed by the five-foot dynamo dressed in a black pinstripe outfit with tails and a high collar, who hadn’’t stopped moving to the push and pull of the rhythms pulsating from his five-piece band, as if he were willed by the music like a marionette dangling from invisible strings.

Surely The Artist had reinvented himself for the duration of his 17-year career, changing fashion and hairstyle with the same schizophrenic passion as David Bowie, but most of all he had continually transformed himself musically; crawling inside various genres and striking its muse like the second and third comings of Frank Zappa. These songs, hundreds a year, were pouring out of him like separate beings, many fragments of one man.

The other words which came to mind just then were the ones written in bold print on the press pass folded in the breast pocket of my winter coat: EMANCIPATION CELEBRATION. The show was in every sense an outpouring of freedom and intense expression from the opening note of “”Jam Of The Year”,” which by no coincidence is the overture to The Artist’’s latest collection of “beings.” The 36-song opus, arguably his finest and most consistent body of work since the brilliant, Sign ‘’O’ The Times nine years ago, marks the end of his epic battle with Warner Bros. and supposedly heralds the long-awaited DAWN; first promised on the inside jacket of his most popular record, Purple Rain.

“This is not a promotion for anything,” The Artist told the eclectic, sold-out crowd. “From now on this is all about love for one another.” This prompted even the most cynical among us, who might have raised an eyebrow or two when first hearing about the man’’s name becoming a self-styled symbol, to feel the effusive energy and burning spirit.

What was more of an impromptu show than his polished tours, it pulsated without the usual pretense. Unlike the stage epics I’’d seen in the past, dating back to the original Revolution, this was an isolated event, less contrived and vibrating with a looser array of songs and jams.

The latest incarnation of The Artist’’s New Power Generation band featured two keyboards, drums, and exceptional female guitar and bass players. Tight as a glove and responding to the slightest movement of The Artist’’s hip grind, or wave of his hand, this musical ensemble, like so many of his in the past, was akin to a collection of sonic pinball ornaments throwing around staccato breaks and flowing changes in key and tempo. Each song segued perfectly into another with The Artist as the disc-jockey; conjuring up an invisible conductor to some triumphant symphony in his head. He jumped onto piano, guitar, and bass, to initially spice up the musical soup, but would inevitably explode over the top as if the entire song was written for its purpose.

The unexpected treat of the relaxed atmosphere was the passionate rediscovery of older numbers like “”Purple Rain”,” and B-side rarities like “’17 Days”,” and “”How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?”” The latter becoming an all-out gospel rendition complete with searing organ yelps and jazzy chords played by The Artist, who leaned purposely over a powder-blue baby grand piano while playfully camping with the audience. Having disdained his bulging catalog the last few years there seemed–on the night– to be also an emancipation of fan favorites like ““If I Was Your Girlfriend”,” ““The Cross”,” ““Sexy MF”,” “Take Me With You”,” and “”Raspberry Beret”,” to which he let the crowd sing the infectious chorus and asked genuinely surprised, “”You remember this?””

The highlight of the memory-lane portion of the show rested in a soulful and sexually charged medley of The Artist’’s finest romantic ballads, beginning with a 10-minute instrumental wherein every member of the band took a solo. The almost half-hour ride through songs like ““Do Me Baby”,” ““Adore”,” and ““Scandalous”” presented a side of The Artist which is often taken for granted, since these are the tunes he can seemingly pen during a lengthy yawn. But the joint truly imploded whenever one of his new songs would crash the party with a savage kick drum and an ungodly groove, illustrating some of The Artist’’s slickest and funkiest licks in years. Through each scorching number he looked reborn, not just as an artist, but as a person; removing the screen he’’d so carefully built between himself and the audience for so many years.

Songs like “”Get Yo Groove On”,” ““Right Back Here in Your Arms”,” and ““Mr. Happy”,” which recall the sounds of James Brown, Stevie Wonder, and Earth Wind an Fire, still leaves his stamp in the equation; proving his exceptional songwriting prowess, while exhibiting why he is the perfect performer; an amalgamation of talent and gall enough to carry an abuse of boundaries to a new level.

Before the night was over he took a moment to address his new “Love 4 One Another” foundation, which will help the needy while imploring everyone to leave a better person. This may be commonplace at a Bruce Springsteen outing, but is downright shocking coming from a man who has had his share of positive messages draped with flash and metaphor.

There was a moment during the particularly scathing “”Face Down”” in which he rapped vitriol against the cold, bottom-line of the music business, but by leading the audience inside his fight for creative freedom of expression, the fragments became one. He was free, at least that’’s what he kept telling us; developing brand new counter melodies and rhythms by coaching us through sing-a-longs and chants. It was then, allowed to peer into the mind of one of pop music’’s true geniuses, those lucky enough to attend could clearly see all the fragments and beings forever binding the music with the composer.

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