Review: Queensryche – Queensryche

If you left the earth after Queensryche’s Empire or Promised Land album, came back in 2013, went into a record store and bought their current release Queensryche you’d hear exactly what you’d expect: a modern sounding Queensryche record with good lyrics, great riffs, grooving bass lines and of course Rockenfield as Rockenfield on drums. All non-time travellers had to suffer several some so-so albums but should trust all reviews out there, rejoice and make sure to catch the Todd La Torre-fronted Queensryche on their upcoming tour (I know I will, even if I have to go to f*cking Quadrath-Ichenau… seriously, who finds these places in the woods).

My favorite older album is Empire and I can say exactly what won me over on this record: Bass guitar and drums are grooving in sync again. You don’t have to listen farther than the second track and make it to the verse to understand what I mean. If you were worried about the new frontman don’t be – he can actually sing, and does which feels genuinely refreshing, compared to the last albums with Geoff Tate (who’s turd of a record Queensryche – Frequency Unknown features 1-2 nice songs but only one track that fits under the label Queensryche).

I’d say the new Queensryche definitely delivered and if that is what will convince the judge, so be it. I for one can’t bend my head around the fact that a judge would hold back his verdict on such an integral part as a band’s name for almost a year, but hey, I am no judge…

Review: Joe Satriani – Unstoppable Momentum

About three weeks ago Joe Satriani released his 14th studio album, Unstoppable Momentum. It is a beauty. I say this with the listening experience of all albums, being a fan since the The Extremist album.

Coincidentally, The Extremist is also the album that Unstoppable Momentum reminds me most of sonically. From the opening bars of the opening track with the same name, Unstoppable Momentum is a very dense record melodically while giving you a huge sound range, inviting you to lie back and enjoy the ride just like the track Why did on the mentioned Extremist.

Rhythmically one can find the classic straight Satriani tracks as well as the syncopated beats that The Mystical Potato Head Groove Thing suggested and many songs on the 1995 Joe Satriani answered. Especially during the latter kind of songs drummer extraordinair Vinnie Colaiuta, first time playing on a Satriani record, really shines.

The band. In the Behind the recording YouTube video(s) Satriani explains how the band came about and how every take was special. I think you can hear it. In the drum intro to Can’t Go Back, in the break beats that work as foundation for Lies and Truths, in the groove that powers Jumpin’ In and Jumpin’ Out. This was not a track by track recording process (meaning first click, then drums, then bass, then guitars) but “let’s roll the tape and see if we catch the magic”.

Unstoppable Momentum is a really good record and maybe the best Satriani record since Joe Satriani.

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.

My Ibanez Jem 555 switch-job: out with the Lo-TRS II – in with an original Floyd Rose Tremolo as replacement

So, about 8 weeks ago I saw a used Ibanez Jem 555 in my music shop and as luck would have it I was actually looking to buy one.
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It looked old, had some stains on the hardware and the original Lo-TRS II tremolo didn’t stay in tune face with ‘regular’ abuse, but it played like a dream and the sound was overtone-rich even without amplification, the neck resonating beautifully with the body.
The status of the trem wasn’t enough for my playing though so after I bought it I immediately researched options on jemsite.com: there was a Dremel solution to make an Edge tremolo fit but I wasn’t kidding myself to believe I had the skills to do this mod. However, an Original Floyd Rose supposedly was just a swap, out with the old, in with the new. Not thinking much further I went on ebay and bought one.

Out with the old was not a problem and I took the opportunity to clean it too…
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As you can see: quite some use on the old parts, the edges jaded very bad, no wonder it didn’t stay in tune.
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Putting in new strings with no springs and then noticing that my new strings had higher pull than the previous ones took some adjustments and time (as you probably have figured out: I am not a pro guitar tech) but the end result is worth it. The new all black block looks great, stays perfectly in tune, and sounds great as well:

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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.

What a musical year ahead: Releases by KSE, Satriani, Soilwork, Adrenaline Mob, Sebastian Bach, Dream Theater

At one point last week I began collecting album release dates from bands I like and I have to say, 2013 is going to be a big year:

March 1st Soilwork
March 8th Bon Jovi
March 11th Amplifier
March 12th Adrenaline Mob
March 26th Sebastian Bach, Sevendust
April Spock’s Beard
April 2nd Killswitch Engage
April 8th Mike Tramp
April 23th Queensryche (with Geoff Tate)
May 7th Joe Satriani
May 27th TesseracT
June 11 Queensryche (with Todd La Torre)
July 16th Aristocrats
July 23rd The Winery Dogs
August 31st Bleu
September 24th Dream Theater
September 13th Sharron Levy
October 15th Trivium
November Dream Theater Live DVD

Plus Steel Panther, Flying Colors coming with unspecified dates.

Call me excited!