Greetings Keyboard peeps! Robbie Gennet checking in from Southern California and posting on the new Keyboard Magazine blog to fill you in on the latest and greatest concerts I've caught down here in the LA area. Los Angeles has no shortage of live shows and it's been an amazing summer for concerts so far. I've also traveled up to Santa Barbara for a few shows at the Santa Barbara Bowl, which is a great place to see a show. I caught Incubus up there in July and they really rocked the house. I had forgotten how many radio hits they have until they unspooled them all in one show. Their keyboard player/DJ Chris Kilmore was multi-tasking to say the least, adding live keys and record scratching ever so tastefully. He's been with the band a long time and definitely has his flow down. He had an awesome upright rack chock full of Moog pedals and though I wasn't up too close, I could swear he used em all! Had a cool conversation with guitarist Mike Einziger after the show regarding quantum physics, which he studied last year at Harvard. You know, rock star conversation topics...
Soon after that rock spectacle, I went to see No Doubt in Santa Barbara and man, what an amazing show they put on! Again, I kinda forgot how many hits they had and they knocked ’em out, one after another. There were two dedicated keyboard/horn players on the sides of the back riser (long time touring members Gabrial McNair and Stephen Bradley) but the band themselves rock synths for some of their later hits like "Hella Good," filling the SB Bowl with a whole lot of keyboards. They definitely looked and played like pro superstars and I have a whole new appreciation for them as a band. On a side note, Gabrial McNair is in a terrific band of his own called Oslo.
I finished my triumvirate of Santa Barbara shows by seeing The Fray and Jack's Mannequin at the Bowl a few weeks ago. Keyboard featured the Fray and Jack's Mannequin in the mag recently and this was a good chance to see both in one night. I hadn't seen the Fray before, but I did catch Jack's Mannequin at a sold out Troubadour show not long ago and singer/pianoman Andrew McMahon really rocked the crowd. That was a hell of a sing along too, as his fans are dedicated and know all the words to his heartfelt songs. If you're a fan of piano-fronted rock and haven't heard their latest record The Glass Passenger, you are missing out.
The show started off with a new band called Vedera, fronted by keyboard-playing singer Kristen May. Their music was very listenable and perfectly suited for the opening slot on the Fray tour, maybe more so than Jack's Mannequin, who laid the rock on thick. McMahon is an energetic stage performer and he delivered his songs with passion, flair and a dedication that the audience really responded to. He set the bar pretty high for Isaac Slade and the Fray, who delivered a solid set of their own. However, the music of the Fray doesn't lend itself to the kind of exuberant crescendos that Jack's Mannequin's music does. That's not a knock on the Fray, whose solid performance was wrapped in a super light show and thousands of fans singing along to their songs.
Before I tell you about a few more spectacular shows I caught, I have to give a shoutout to a show that I missed: The Bigfellas, who came up from San Diego to play Ghengis Cohen here in LA. For some reason every time they're here, I'm out of town, which is a shame because they have some great tunes and a fun piano playing frontman, Charlie Recksieck. Be sure you hear their most awesome rap about golf, "On the Green" or my other personal fave, "4:20." The Bigfellas were voted San Diego's Best Local Band in a readers poll so if you're down that way, check em out!
So to balance those three shows in Santa Barbara, I saw three very different and excellent shows in the LA area. First off, I caught Eric Hutchinson headlining the El Rey and he put on a great show. I had first seen him at the El Rey a year or more ago when he opened for the reconstituted (and also awesome) Blind Melon. Since then, he's really grown into the consummate stage performer and luckily, he's got some great songs to sing. Hutchinson's Sounds Like This album is a long lasting LP full of indelible melodies and music that should be accessible to pretty much anyone and everyone. He has a great live band which he fronts mainly on keys with a little guitar thrown in for good measure. The crowd was packed in tight and seemed really familiar with his music. If they weren't beforehand, the definitely had a few tunes in their head on the way out.
Fast forward a few weeks to a night out at Spaceland in Silverlake, which is always a cool and slightly intimate place to see a show. Eric Dover's band Sextus was doing an all too rare show and I didn't want to miss it. Dover may have Jellyfish and Imperial Drag on his resume but he isn't resting on laurels. Sextus' music is glam rock at its finest and Dover's lyrics and melodies are captivating to say the least; there were more than a few ladies down in front hanging on his every word and possibly drooling a little. On keys was the uber-talented Mitchell Sigman, who handled the live parts, samples and vocodered vocals without breaking a sweat. Ok, he broke a sweat but it was from rocking! Sigman played an important role in the live band and did a top notch job all around.
Lastly, I got to witness a great show from one of the all time greats, the legendary Steely Dan. They played 4 separate nights here in LA; on three nights they did an entire album plus hits and on the fourth night, they played a request only show, which must have been neat to see. I picked the Royal Scam night and was royally pleased at the results! Though Donald Fagen's voice was a little rough, his Rhodes playing was super tight and the band was slamming. Drummer Keith Carlock is a crowd favorite and he really lit up the kit. And special guest Larry Carlton, who played on a lot of these tracks on record, joined in for the night and was absolutely smoking on tracks like "Kid Charlemagne," which was voted by Rolling Stone as the 3rd greatest rock guitar solo of all time and 80th out of 100 on greatest guitar songs of all time. He got a heros welcome and delivered a heroic set of guitar playing on his own original solos and parts. We had initially been a little mournful that we couldn't see the Aja night but much to our surprise, the band played 4 of the 7 tunes off Aja and gave us a treat! Seeing Carlock whip through the song "Aja" = priceless.
On a riser behind Fagen, talented keyboard player Jim Beard sat behind a black grand piano, flanked by a rack of two keyboards, which I believe were a Hammond XK3 and a Nord of some sort. I couldn't afford the front seats and didn't have my binoculars so I didn't get a good look unfortunately. However, his playing was exceptional and when he got a chance to stretch out and solo, he gave the crowd a taste of his copious talents. I got a copy of his latest solo CD Revolutions which was recorded with Vince Mendoza and the Metropole Orchestra. I also have to give a MAJOR shoutout to Sam Yahel and his band who opened the Steely Dan show and really grooved hard. Yahel's brand of organ jazz has elements of funk all throughout and his playing was tasteful and understated. Yahel is quite a talent on the Hammond and we'll surely be keeping an eye on him.
So that's the LA report for now; stay tuned to this blog for future postings and go see some live music! See you at the shows....