by Robbie Gennet, senior contributor
Greetings from sunny Southern California, where the waves are up, the nights are long, and the music never stops! As always, there are too many great shows in Los Angeles and not enough time to see them all. That said, I've been able to see some great live bands and get some behind-the-scenes sneak peeks of some cool gear.
Last month, in preparation for our upcoming Heavy Issue (where we cover great and upcoming keyboardists in hard rock and metal), I visited the soundstage rehearsals for the upcoming Ozzy Osbourne tour to meet keyboardist Adam Wakeman, a fine gentleman who gave us a great tour of his gear and showed us how to play the classic parts from songs like "Mr. Crowley" and "No More Tears." Adam's got a sweet rig featuring a Korg SV-1, Triton, and M3 with a Yamaha Motif, plus a cool Bolt guitar rig and Motion Sound rotating speaker cabinet. Do check out our exclusive videos of Adam Wakeman teaching Ozzy tunes, which you can see here. Find Adam at www.adamwakeman.co.uk
On June 19th, I made the long drive out to San Bernardino to see the mighty Iron Maiden rock a huge outdoor crowd. Opening act Dream Theater laid down some serious prog-metal in the evening dusk as long-haired heads banged in unison across the crowd. Jordan Rudess had his spinning keyboard stand in effect with a new add-on: an iPad rack, so he could play his new app MorphWiz. It's not a toy, but it is really fun to play with, giving you a new paradigm to express your musical vision. Needless to say, it's pretty amazing and Rudess has moved the bar one more notch into the future. The band was well-received and you could tell they had some hardcore fans peppered throughout the audience. However, the night belonged to Iron Maiden, who rarely tours North America as much as they used to.
But before I tell you how the Maiden show was, let me mention a very special gentleman by the name of Michael Kenney. Since the early days of Bruce Dickinson-era Maiden, Kenney has played keyboards from behind the stage while helping out legendary bassist Steve Harris with his instruments. Kenney has been along for an amazing ride for almost 30 years and has some great stories to tell. Look for our story on Kenney and Maiden in the Heavy issue this fall and by all means, check out Maiden's new album The Final Frontier, which is coming out in August. If you're lucky enough to see them live, you will surely not regret it. They always deliver the kind of show that sets the bar high for all other bands, and this night was no exception. They played a set heavy on the best of the new-era records, which I enjoyed greatly as I have spun those records many times. Hearing songs like "Pachendale" and "Ghost of the Navigator" side by side with classic cuts like "Wrathchild" makes you realize the consistency of this band's output and energy. Though some in the crowd missed the old hits, there was not a head left unbanged nor a fist left unraised. Ending with an encore featuring "The Number of the Beast," "Hallowed By Thy Name" and "Running Free," the band capped off one of the most epic shows of the year and showed us all how real rock and roll is done. Up the Irons!
Fast forward to July 1, when one of North American's finest bands rocked the House of Blues on Canada Day. I am referring to the most-excellent Sloan, a band that is consistently top-notch live and completely and utterly underrated. If you don't have at least two or three Sloan albums, you're missing out on some of the best rock music this side of Nova Scotia. My favorite disc is 2006's Never Hear the End of It, a spectacular double-length album (on one CD) that holds up remarkably well years later. I really fell for the band off the 1998 album Navy Blues, which has some great piano playing all over it and some amazing songwriting. Every time I see them live, I discover some songs I somehow missed in their back catalog and wind up scrambling through my discs to rediscover tunes. Though they played a few popular tunes this time--"The Other Man" and "Money City Maniacs" among them--the set list was heavy on obscure cuts, featuring some rarely played songs that sounded pretty damn fresh to those who didn't know them. Keyboardist Gregory Macdonald met up with us to discuss what it's like to play with a band that some regard as Canada's Beatles. Macdonald admitted he was a fan before playing with them, so his familiarity with their music helped him integrate with their live shows, which can draw from a deep and ever-growing wellspring of tunes. Sloan will be commencing their next album this fall so we'll catch up with Macdonald during the process and bring you a long-overdue Sloan piece in the mag by 2011.
Mid-month I went to San Francisco to celebrate my birthday by body-boarding some cool breaks up in that vicinity, and I got to hang with Keyboard editor Stephen Fortner, who invited me to a show by a band called Moon Taxi. Little did we know we were about to be blown away. because these guys put on a super-tight rock show and really nailed their intricate tunes. The band reminded us of Rush meets Maroon 5, with some Phish and Allman Brothers in the mix, and each member really shined. When we chatted before the show, keyboardist Wes Bailey was pretty humble about his musical contributions; little did we know, he was about to kill it onstage. Way to lower our expectations before shredding, Wes! Their grooving 2008 CD Live Ride is worth picking up, but if you see them live, be prepared to see them step it up even higher. We can't wait to hear their next record and encourage you to check em out on the road. Get tour dates and info at www.ridethemoontaxi.com, and don't miss our exclusive video of the evening.
Last but not least, I want to mention the monthly Valley Ragtime Stomp that I've been attending the past year or two. To get together with a great group of people and play old-school piano tunes for each other is a grand pleasure. I always learn some new tips and tricks and hear some songs from artists I never would have discovered had I not gone to the Stomp; when was the last time you heard someone rock a Zez Confrey novelty rag? I thought so. If I may, I encourage you to seek out a gathering such as this or create one in your town and connect with other piano players. Whether you go to watch or go to play, it's a great time. If you're in the SoCal area, you can always come to the Stomp the second Saturday of every month (August 14th is the next one) from 1-4 P.M. at Henri's in Canoga Park, CA. You could also hit the Orange County Ragtime Society on the third Saturday of the month (August 21) from 1-4:30 P.M. or the Roseleaf Ragtime Club at the historic Aztec Hotel in Monrovia CA on the last Sunday of each month (August 29) from 2-5 P.M. All are free and a stomping good time. Don't think you have to be a ragtime expert to play!
A few cool vids from past gatherings to give you a taste of the music:
Nan Bostick, "Whoa Nellie Rag" (George Gould)
Andrew Barrett, "Farmhouse Blues" (unknown)
Gene Oster, "Temptation Rag" (Thomas Henry Lodge)
So that's the roundup for now~ I'm preparing for a David Cassidy concert this coming Friday and, considering I'm a huge Partridge Family fan, I am more than excited for this event. However, I know he won't dig deep for the tunes that I really want to hear; if you're up for some well-constructed '70s pop (courtesy of songwriter Tony Romeo) hit up iTunes, find the Partridge Family and download the following: "You Are Always on My Mind," "You Don't Have to Tell Me" and "It's One of Those Nights (Yes Love)." They just don't write em like that anymore. (Paging Greg Khin!) Great songwriting never goes out of style.
See you soon~ keep rocking the keys!
Los Angeles July 28, 2010