Review: Steve Lukather live in Hamburg, Markthalle 03/24/13

Update: My comments on the overall sound in general and especially bass guitar sound obviously angered Steve which wasn’t my intention, and it’s only my observation – Sabine from Dream Out Loud had no issues with the overall sound, on the contrary. I went back to the text and made sure to be clear that the guitar sound was perfect and although the sound could have been better it was a great performance.

I have documented that Steve Lukather has a special place in my (guitar) education so it doesn’t come as a surprise that I pre-ordered his newest release as soon as it was available and – thank you Mascot Records – received it on the promised day.
The nine track-effort, labelled as the final part of a trilogy (2010’s All’s well that ends well and 2008’s Every changing times are the other two pieces) continues in his established style but with a more seasoned and relaxed approach. The opener Judgement Day for example features a simple melodic solo you could whistle along to, serving the song not any notes per minute ratio. Creep Motel feels like a highway song, the groove grabbing you to nod along, no doubt pushed also by the bass playing of Lee Sklar.
There is the classical power ballad in Right the wrong with epic chorus section and the much appreciated (almost) instrumental epic in Transition. It is the subtleness in his compositions that on the one hand make it easy on the ear and interesting to the listener who discovers layer after layer, e.g. percussion, monotonous piano, and background vocals in Last Man Standing. For all the simplicity of the recording process (Music Man Luke III, Bogner amplifier, Sure SM57) the record sounds great on small ear plugs, laptop speakers and the big system which I can’t say for every new release I heard this year.

Last night, Lukather and band (Steve Weingart on keys, Renee Jones on bass and vocals, Eric Valentine on drums) visited the Markthalle again, playing a little over 2 hours worth of tunes (no support band), with material from Transition, All’s well that ends well, Ever Changing Times, Candyman, Luke and the release with Carlton (here is the setlist).

Due to my interview duties I was at the venue when Steve arrived as he commented “I have a good feeling about tonight”, and it certainly showed. Lukather was in a very playful mood, but not in the “shut up, we know you can play” meaning. Rather, as on the latest record, he seemed to pour his heart into the songs. You can often tell how committed an artist is too a song and the audience when he’s more focused on the setlist tape or his hair. Luke was in the zone, with all the emotional ups and downs the stories of his songs tell At least that’s how I saw it. Very tasteful, just a great guitar player.
The rest of the band was following in his foot steps, most notably drummer Eric Valentine who’s a joy to listen to and look at, he brings a lot of energy to the band. Weingart was formidable and played great solos but that’s about all I can say because:

The sound was horriblenot as good as it should have been for the most part. It’s hard for me to understand how four people can sound worse than the eleven who were on stage at the same time when I saw Neal Morse/Flower Kings last month. Guitar and drums were audible but bass guitar basically non-existens (not helped by the cabinet being pointed rather to the side) and ‘rhythm’ keyboards drowning in the mix. And it wasn’t even that loud, so there must have been room for improvement, especially since the venue was packed and echoes thus manageble. And I don’t think it were my ears either: Renee Jones’ bass guitar was bad in the mix during Lukather’s November 11 concert so I was very excited to finally literally hear her but no. And I switched positions too, fearing I was in a dip or black hole of the venue but to no avail. Although I could clearly see her play the bass guitar was mostly nonexistent aside from the sections where Lukather and Weingart played with less volume (which apparently was a resut of a blown speaker).

Too bad reallyThat was a bit of a let down,  since Lukather was in prime time form and he and the band visibly enjoyed playing for a very receptive and thankful crowd which loved every minute of it (edit: added the Italics part). Of course I took some stupid cell phone pictures too, you can find them here.

Review: Neal Morse and Flower Kings live in Hamburg, Markthalle 2/25/2013

I had originally planned to interview Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy for Backstage in Hamburg but my request wasn’t even answered. So I changed plans, spent the afternoon with the kids, arranged with the neighbors to take the baby monitor once they were asleep and then headed to the Markthalle.
I did catch the last two songs by The Flower Kings and with the little time they had they have intrigued my interest. I will definitely revisit and spent some time with their albums on spotify.
I had seen Neal Morse only twice before: with Transatlantic 10 years ago and with Flying Colors last September but spent lots of time listening to Testimony 2 and the new album Momentum as well as the newest Transatlantic release plus of course the Flying Color album. To make the story short: I think his style of composition is marvellous and his music has – at least for me – the perfect mix of rock grooves and catchy melody lines. On most songs you can join in humming the chorus after one listen and realize they have already crept deep into your melodic memory. It’s uncanny really, especially adding in the fact that the lyrics are sometimes not the easiest to digest or accept.

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(as always I took many bad pictures, you can find them on flickr)

From the opening sequence of Momentum it was obvious that Morse and his band – Mike Portnoy on drums, Randy George on bass plus the YouTube-found threesome of Bill Hubauer on keyboards, violin, saxophone and vocals, Eric Gilette on keyboards, guitars and vocals and last but not least Adson Sondre on guitars and vocals – were there to have fun and had no place else to be. How refreshing when everybody brings the energy, his A-game and is totally in the moment. I had watched parts of the Momentum live DVD ahead of the concert and was fascinated by Morse’s openness, gratefulness and the moment of pure emotion when he had to wipe away some tears after a song had ended. On Monday there were some close calls but the whole experience showcased that he chooses to be a musician 100%. And the audience thanked him and the band for this attitude, singing along, rocking along, knowing the music and it’s nuances. Weathering Sky‘s epic chorus made it into every last corner of the room and people were very happy to hear Thoughts Pt 5.

Advertised was 1.5 hrs Flower Kings, 1.5 hrs Neal Morse and 30 minutes Transatlantic. Neal Morse’s setlist (linked is Cologne but HH was very similar I think) was heavy on the new album and the arrangeur Morse took full advantage of the versatility of his band in order to bring the album sounds to life, from 5-6 voices on Author of Confusion to slide guitar to Dregs-ish feelings when Bubauer brought out the violin. Every musician had a little solo spot as well, so it was a real band effort. I am not the die-hard Morse fan so I admit there was one part in the program where I wouldn’t have minded two shorter songs instead of the World without End Suite from the new album but that is really petty whining – I enjoyed all the melodies immensely, Morse is right there between the Beatles and Frank Zappa. No kidding!

A lot could be said about the Morse/Portnoy partnership, I think this picture of the two says enough.


In my book the song Momentum is in a way a little bit about Portnoy…

And in case you are a guitarist like me and were wondering: Adson Sondre played wonderfully, playing Paul Gilbert’s solo in Momentum with ease and a smile.

The Transatlantic encore did surprise some parts of the audience and turned into a great party – aside from the Flower Kings’ keyboarder, all musicians were on stage at one point and they had a great song selection covering all studio releases.

A lot of notes, for sure, but again, few composers in today’s music have the ability to write hook lines as catchy as Neal Morse. If you get the chance, go watch him and the band for a great live show.

Review: Flying Colors live in Hamburg, Markthalle 9/9/2012

I said in March that Flying Colors‘ new and first record would be a hot contender for album of the year and that still holds true. Last night they came to Hamburg to play only their third show, first show in Europe. And it was great! (See some bad photos here.)

I had to miss epic Beardfish’s support performance unfortunately but that’s ok, I saw them two years ago with PoS, but was positively surprised to see that the Markthalle was packed when I arrived. Judging from the audiences reactions both Portnoy and Steve Morse had a lot to do with the turnout, maybe Morse even more so than Portnoy.

As announced, the setlist was basically the album plus one track from each artists catalogue. Not to pick bones, but I would have picked different tracks for Portnoy, Morse and McPherson, but hey, it’s their show. Neal Morse’s track was an ace. As a newfound bass player I would have liked a separate song by LaRue as well, the small solo he played was exactly that.

Overall it was an awesome concert mostly due to two take-aways:
1. If anyone ever doubted Portnoy needed a break from Dream Theater (let’s put aside the fact that there was a point where he would have gone back) all you have to do is watch him with all his new projects. He seemed to really enjoy himself (same with Adrenaline Mob in June), lots of fun with his direct stage neighbors Neal Morse and Dave LaRue, and drumming that was very creative, improvisational (in a good way) and the old goof that was missing at times during the final DT shows (I have been to DT shows since 1995 and I think in hindsight that is a possible deduction). The band was received very warmly and it seemed as if they weren’t sure themselves that would happen. McPherson especially looked like he couldn’t believe his luck and Portnoy stood up from his drum chair looking at him and the crowd, saying to himself “told you (,) Casey (, it) would turn out great.”

2. When the line-up was announced and with it the info that the album would not be technical fusion-prog but Beatles-que people wondered. Amazingly, the beautiful vocal arrangements of the record held up live perfectly. Mc Pherson and Morse’s (Neal) voices compliment each other and Portnoy has improved so much from the early Falling into Infinity backings that it sounds awesome. The not so secret ingredient here is the songwriting-power of Neal Morse who has timed this tour beautifully with the release of his new solo album 😉 But in all seriousness, he knows how to write great hooklines that you won’t forget.

Additional take-aways:
– I’d never thought I would say this, but it wasn’t loud enough. Very ear-friendly, but I wish it would have tingled in the stomach a bit more…
– If you didn’t know, McPherson can sing. Following one of MPs best-of-20xx-lists I picked up the AlphaRev record which is a very cool album and he totally delivered live.
– @MPDrumTech had some work to do early on changing a broken cymbal. All during a song while MP just played on the other side of the set.
– Steve Morse looked old when the show started but turned back the clock with every song.
– I have yet to see a “guitar hero” who seems so low maintenance during a full concert. I might have missed it but I think he never changed guitars, just tuned the guitar himself. Met him once in the mid-nineties, still a nice guy it seems 😉
-They had the “Making of”-DVD on sale at the merch stand. Had I known I wouldn’t have ordered it online – still hasn’t arrived…

One small issue with the jazz police:
Infinite Fire has longish instrumental parts, during some of which McPherson played, at other times he had to wait which seemed unfair. Either give him a complete second line to play or just chords or no guitar at all. But during Sunday’s show it was a crazy mix that didn’t seem to justify his chops.

All in all, a highly recommended concert experience

Review: Dream Theater & Periphery live in concert in Hannover 2012

This was probably my 10th Dream Theater concert, give or take one, and this was in the top 3, along my first ever show back in Rendsburg for the Awake tour and probably one show during my ultimate fanboy-phase. Why? Probably because I was very much looking forward to it, after liking the new album more and more (best album of 2011), plus I had done some peeping at setlist.fm and found out that Awake’s opener 6.00 would be in the set as second song, quasi back to the roots. So I was already having real fun at that time and further on. Surrounded, A Fortune in Lies, The Spirit Carries on plus loads of songs from the new album made for a nice, nice concert night. Personally, I would have liked a different encore and I’m not a fan neither of Dark Eternal Night nor War Inside My Head/Test that Stumped them All, and I would have preferred a track from the last album. But – enough with the knitpicking, I had fun (and took some super pretty pictures of course).

Random observations for the band:

  • I have never seen John Myung move so much or seemingly showing so much fun.
  • John Myung strangely enough looks the oldest of the group.
  • John Petrucci’s biceps is getting bigger every year.
  • Don’t worry about Mangini, he can play. And I like the Vai’ish visual performance he adds to the band.
  • Jordan Rudess is showing signs of aging. He is counting/conducting along when he’s not playing 😉
  • LaBrie looked like a beast freed from restraints, visibly enjoying the limelight as the undisputed frontman.

Random general observations:

  • Why Hannover? The AWD-Hall wasn’t sold out, not even close. I was born in Hannover, but please, next time, travel the extra 150 miles to Hamburg and play a full-house.
  • Lots of fathers and sons. Some fathers brought their kids, some kids their dads.
  • I have never seen so many women at a DT concert that were not obviously metal.

Some observations on Periphery, the support band:

  • To quote Mama McFly: “That was very interesting music.”
  • Dare I say Wyld Stallyons?
  • Three guitars?

In short: The biggest display of talent on a stage without a musical red thread. If anybody should have a musical director, it is Periphery. Big chops, but hardly any melody to hum while driving home. The singer was super able to mix screamo, Killswitch Engage with regular singing in one line – but I couldn’t help but think ‘what’s the point’…

If you have the chance to catch Dream Theater on this tour do, they’re awesome 😉

 

Concert review: Pain of Salvation, Support Beardfish, 10/15/10 Hamburg

This was a concert I had been looking for a lot, since Pain of Salvation (PoS) is one of my favorite bands.
Summary: Beardfish started on time, with a couple of great tunes amd bass player was the unsong hero. As soon as he bandleader switched from keyboards to guitar, the songs suffered.
PoS played a solid 1st show of their European tour, unfortunately marred by technical issues, an only so-so setlist and the attempt to leave a production mark as headlining act which failed – they should have just played and left some of the theatrics at home. With just small alterations it could have been perfect for your humble author.
That being said, there are few bands who can perform complicated albeit truly listenable songs with such ease and frontman Daniel Gildenlow is one of the best of his trade.
Verdict: go see them if you can.

Update: Photoset and 30secs of encore “Hallelujah”