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: 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