Seriously Irreverent Musings

Category: Concerts (page 1 of 3)

Not A Twain Wreck

I should have known it it all along.  Most likely, Pam did.  We went to see Shania Twain at Staples last night, and, frankly, I did not know what to expect.  We had never seen her perform live before.  Sure, we knew, and loved, her vintage music.  We are not alone, as she probably is the biggest selling female country music artist of all time, though I suspect Taylor Swift would eclipse her if she stayed country.  But all of that is moot.  Recently, Shania has had personal tragedies that have kept her out of the limelight and possibly affected the quality of her voice.

These events definitely affected her music.  In the 90s she was the queen of pop country, turning out one extremely pleasant song after another.  Songs that were fun to listen to with light lyrics and catchy tunes.  Songs that were so good that they even inspired guys to sing about feeling like a woman.

Recently, she released Now, her first album in years.  We received a copy of it several months ago, as it came with the tickets to her show.  The first time each of us listened to Now we were unimpressed.  Gone was the sweet, high pitched voice.  Gone were the catchy tunes and simplistic lyrics.  Gone was the country, though there was never a ton of country in her anyway.  Gone was the pop.  In its place was a cathartic expression of life accompanied by a deeper, more mature voice.

After listening to Now several times in preparation for the show, we realized that Now also had substance.  It grew on us, as we kept listening to it.  We just weren’t sure how it would translate to a live show, and how it would coexist with her earlier works.  We also were concerned that her new, lower voice would not work when she sang her older material.  It turned out we had nothing to worry about.

Her show was spectacular, in all senses of the word.  Maybe, just maybe, the 100+ shows she did in Las Vegas several years ago had something to do with that, as this was a production with a capital P.  Every aspect of it was superb.  From the staging to the sound and the visuals, from the backup singers to the dancers and the band, everything was perfect.  The mix was remarkable, enabling all vocals and instruments to be heard clearly and distinctly, not something we usually experience.  Her entrance was fitting of Rocky Balboa or Apollo Creed.  It was a focused assault on our senses, fueled by drummer Elijah Wood’s rhythmic, spiritual beating on drums located at the back of the arena, providing all the pulse pounding accompaniment Shania needed for her long walk through the audience before getting to the stage.

As she sang the opening bars of her first song, Life’s About to Get Good, we had a feeling we were in for a treat.  And by the time she got through Come on Over and Up!, a couple of songs later, we knew it.  So did everyone else in Staples.

Pam loves productions like this.  For her, last night was a party, an exuberant expression of art and music.   I am usually a bit less enthusiastic about productions like this.  Generally, I like stripped down, acoustic performances.  Generally, I like the absence of costume changes.  Generally, I avoid shows with dancers, as they usually take away from the music.  Not last night.  Shania’s show featured everything I profess to disdain, including umpteen costume changes.  I liked, no loved, it, despite, and maybe because of, its production quality and the showmanship she possesses.  And, yes, she can still sing.


Sugarland At The Greek

The other night Pam and I went to the Greek to see Sugarland.  It was our first time.  It was a long time coming.  It was worth the wait.  I hope it will not be our last time.

I have been a fan of Sugarland for years but never saw one of their shows.  Then the leaders, Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush, decided to take a break from Sugarland and pursue solo careers.  Thankfully, they decided to reunite and collaborate on new music and tour again.

Jennifer Nettles is one of the most amazing lead singers I have ever heard.  We saw her perform live at the Wiltern Theater when she was solo.  At the time, I realized just how good a singer she was, though I did not enjoy or relate to her solo efforts as much as I did when she was paired with Bush as part of Sugarland.  The other night, the duo, backed up by the rest of their band, put on a spectacular show, singing a mix of their new and classic material.  Pam and I enjoyed it from the outset.

The Greek is one of our favorite venues.  It is small.  It is comfortable.  The sound is good.   The issue we have with it is getting there.  It is a pain, so we only go about twice per year.  It is  about eight miles from our house, but it feels like it is about 25.  There is no easy way to get there.  Parking is always an issue.  Thankfully, Pam has developed a good strategy for dealing with getting in and getting out.  We get there early.  Park in an overpriced lot.  Eat while sitting in our car.  Continue to sit in the car and watch people streaming by, either on foot or in cars, until it is time to enter the venue .  Lastly, we leave a tad early.  Relatively minor concessions to ensure that we have  good time and want to go back.

We had seen Sugarland’s two opening acts, Clare Bowen and Brandy Clark, before.  Clare Bowen is angelic when she sings.  She has a beautiful voice, and she is really nice and endearing.  I am just not moved by her music, which I find way too slow, uninspiring and unengaging, though she delivers it flawlessly.  Sort of like the way I feel about Adele.  The other night was no exception.  She was, well, Clare Bowen.

Brandy Clark, on the other hand, is one of my favorite singers.  Generally, performers need a shtick.  Most great ones have a charm, a charismatic style, a ton of energy that pulls the crowd along with them.  There are several notable exceptions to this, including Eric Clapton and Chris Stapleton, who can almost stand motionless while they play without losing their audience.  Their music is that good.  Brandy Clark is a singer, not an entertainer.  Though she sings about crimes of fashion, we generally see her perform in basic black.  She is almost as motionless as Stapleton and as expressionless as Clapton when she plays, though she does have a nice rapport with the audience when she chooses to use it.  In my opinion, she is totally captivating without moving around on stage, and I could spend hours listening to her perform.

Pam and I have seen her four previous times.  The first time, ironically, was when she opened for Jennifer Nettles at the Wiltern.  As I have written about before, I loved her voice, lyrics and music that night, and I still do, though I prefer to see her when she performs with just an acoustic guitar.  I believe that Brandy Clark has the perfect female country voice, pure and twangy.  An acoustic guitar for melody is all the accompaniment she needs.  The other night she performed with her band and did a great job.  But……

And then it was Jennifer time.  If Brandy Clark is statuesque in a literal sense and drab in a fashion sense.  Jennifer flits around stage like tinkerbell with a wildly colored cape, taking away some of the joy I experience while listening to her.  Many times the other night I found myself listening to Jennifer Nettles and watching Kristian Bush, as he stood there strumming and singing with an expression of absolute enjoyment on his face.  Kristian Bush is a great artist.  He is great guitar and mandolin player and a great songwriter.  I like listening to his solo music—maybe more so on my computer than live.  I would, though, jump at the chance to see him perform an acoustic set in an intimate venue.  One of the highlights of the show for me was when Kristian sang Trailer Hitch, one of the songs on his solo album.  He performed it with Lindsay Ell, who made a surprise guest appearance.  I love listening to Lindsay Ell.  Moreover, I love watching Lindsay Ell shred on the guitar.  The other night was no exception, as she and Kristian ripped the trailer hitch right off the bumper with their guitar playing.

But at the Greek, it was really Jennifer’s show.  She dominated the vocals with her voice.  You knew Kristian was singing because you could see his lips moving and once in a while you actually heard him.  Though it was not obvious, you knew he was contributing to the vocals and overall sound, making it better by balancing it with his smooth baritone notes.  Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush are good solo artists, but when they are together on stage, they are amazing.

Paisley At Staples

Pam and I went to see Brad Paisley at Staples at the end of January.    It was his first stop on the extension of his Weekend Warrior World Tour.  When it was announced that he would be playing in Los Angeles, there was no doubt in our minds that we would be going.  We did not care that we had just seen him in mid-December when he put on an acoustic show at the intimate Saban Theatre.  We did not care that we already had tickets to see Justin Moore at the Microsoft Theater the very next night.   We did not care that he would be performing at Staples, arguably our least favorite venue.  We only cared that we were going because we love Brad Paisley shows.

Brad Paisley is one of the greatest natural entertainers we have ever seen.  He may not write the deepest songs.  In fact, many of his songs, like Alcohol, I’m Still A Guy, I’m Gonna Miss Her, Crushin’ It, and Ticks,  could be construed as sophomoric at best and disturbing at worst.  He may not have the best, most melodic country voice.  He may not be the best guitar player (but he is damn close).  But none of that matters.

From the opening notes at a Brad Paisley show, it is obvious that he is in his element when he is on stage.  His shows are fun.  He has enough thought provoking, sensitive songs, including Waitin’ On a Woman, We Danced, Last Time For Everything, He Didn’t Have To Be, She’s Everything, to balance the sophomoric ones.  His voice, though not overwhelmingly great, is really good, and he rarely misses a note.  His band is spectacular.  Then there are his videos and animations.  They are unique.  They are a work of Brad.  He has a great sense of humor and is happy to share it with the audience.

The show at Staples was no exception.  The opening acts, Lindsay Ell, Chase Bryant and Dustin Lynch were all really good.  Though I sometimes have issues watching Dustin Lynch perform, I thought he did a really good job, and when I shut my eyes, I thought he did a better job.  I was surprised at how well Lindsay Ell and Chase Bryant could shred on the guitar.  They were great, and each had an opportunity to accompany Brad as he wailed on his guitar.  They were really fun to watch and listen to.

But we went to see Brad Paisley, and we were not disappointed.  His show was stellar. and we enjoyed it tremendously.  Studies have shown that endorphins are released while attending a concert, which can affect your sleep, as it does to me.  Hence, I usually rate a show by how well I don’t sleep when it is over.  Thankfully, I slept like s**t after the Brad Paisley show at Staples.

That was the good news.  The bad news was that Pam and I had to rally to go see Justin Moore the next day.  We went and were glad we did, as he also put on a great show.

High Valley At The Troubadour

It is hard to define.  It is impossible to teach.  It defies logic.  It is palpable.  It is real.  It hits you right between your eyes, and it is hard to miss. There are words for it.  Charisma.  Presence.  Charm.  They do not do it justice.  You cannot read about it.  You cannot describe it.  You have to experience it.  Last night High Valley brought it to the Troubadour.  And they brought it in spades.

Pam and I love the Troubadour.  We love the energy and the intimacy of it.  When I heard that High Valley was going to headline the Sirius XM Highway Finds Tour and that they were going to play at the Troubabour, I was instantly interested.  I had heard them on the radio and enjoyed their music.  I convinced Pam we should go, though she was not as sold on the idea as I was, a fact she not so subtly reminded me of as we were walking to the venue.  She simply said, “I am going on record that this is your pick.”  This was a thinly veiled reference to the last time I had a unilateral pick, which did not end so well.

The show started with a very nice acoustic set by Brown & Gray.  They have a really pleasant sound, and we enjoyed listening to them.  Their most popular song, Top Down, resonates with me, despite the fact that they use a Mustang convertible instead of a Porsche Targa in their video, which appears to be shot in and around Malibu.  After their set, I knew I would gladly listen to them again, and I said to Pam, “So far, so good.”  She agreed.

Adam Doleac came up next.  He was great.  I really enjoyed listening to him sing his songs.  He has a great style, great personality and lots of talent.  I didn’t even have to comment to Pam after he was done.  I knew she had loved his performance, too.

Which brings me to High Valley.  As they set up for their act, Pam and I could feel a change in the venue.  Both of the opening acts were quieter acts.  They let their talent speak for itself.  Unlike many young acts they did not try to use volume to impress the audience.  Before High Valley took the stage, the Troubadour kicked the background music volume up, way up.  Pam and I were leaning against the back wall and could feel the bass as it reverberated through the wall and massaged our backs.  We knew High Valley would not be quiet.  We just hoped they were astute enough to mix their sound so that their vocals were not drowned out by the drum beat, the wailing of the guitars and the deep bass notes.  It turned out we should not have worried.

High Valley, led by brothers Brad and Curtis Rempel, put on an amazing show.  They did not miss a trick.  They are experienced, well trained, professional musicians.  Though they are new to the US, they have years of experience playing in Canada where they are from.  The band is genre conflicted, with equal parts country, Christian and bluegrass, and to my untrained ear, more than a trace amount of rockabilly.  They employ a collection of electric and acoustic guitars, a dobro, a banjo and a mandolin, combined with great vocals, to create a unique sound.  But that does not really define them for me.  What defines them is their energy, their presence, their absolute commitment to bringing the audience into their fold and pulling them along in an almost evangelical way.  On stage they are a force of nature, repetitively plying their shtick, schmaltzy as it could be construed, willing the audience to have a great time.  And we did.

We hope we get the chance to see them again.  The next time will not be a unilateral decision by me.  Pam will be fully committed.  Selfishly, we hope it will be at the Troubadour, though we suspect it won’t be.

Paisley At Saban

This was not the first time Pam and I had seen Brad Paisley perform at the Saban Theatre.  We fervently hope it will not be the last.  The Saban is a small theatre, seating about 1,900, on the eastern edge of Beverly Hills.  We go there whenever we can, especially when Brad Paisley is performing.

The show was sponsored by KABC Radio and Peter Tilden. It benefited the Tom Sherak MS Hope Foundation.  Brad Paisley had graciously donated his time and talent for this organization many times in the past and was doing so again.  We were thrilled he was back.  The show itself was not a show in the normal sense.  There was no set.  There was no staging.  There was no band.  There was no fixed  set list.  There was no formality.  There was only Brad, an acoustic guitar and a stool.  And by any measure, that was way more than enough.

Brad Paisley is a truly gifted entertainer.   Pam and I have seen him perform in a “real” show at the Hollywood Bowl.  We loved it, and we will see him again in that kind of setting whenever possible.  Having said that, watching and listening to him in the Saban, just sitting on a stool and singing, was so much more entertaining.  It was amazing.

Not all performers are capable of putting on a show like this.  Some need backup singers.  Some need a band.  Some need staging.  Some need choreography and costume changes.  Brad Paisley doesn’t.  He has all the tools for an intimate show.  He is witty and charming.  He is an unbelievable guitar player. And he can crush it when he sings stripped down versions of his hits.

At the Saban, he played for an hour and a half or so.  During that time he sang lots of songs, kibitzed with the audience, asked for requests, and just had a good time, though I doubt he had as good of a time as we did.

Zac’s Back

Pam and I decided to roll the dice. Two years ago we went to the Hollywood Bowl to see Zac Brown perform.  We were enthralled.  We loved the show and marveled at Zac’s ability to perform live.  One of the highlights of the show for us that year was his cover of Bohemian Rhapsody.  We did not see that one coming, but it was amazing.

Last year we went to see him at the Forum.  We thought we would get a repeat performance of the show we loved the prior year.  Instead we got an earful of noise, Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters inspired noise.  Dark, deafening, distorted guitar sounds that drowned out all the melodic harmonies that make Zac, well, Zac.  After that show, we were not sure we ever wanted to see them perform again.

We discussed seeing him for a third time more than once.  Each time we were undecided.  Then Pam said she wanted to see him at the Bowl this year.  I said, “Sure.”  But I was not totally convinced.  We bought seats, and as the concert approached, we listened, with hope, to Zac’s new songs.  We wanted a return of Zac.  We definitely got what we hoped for.

The first act was Caroline Jones, an up and coming country artist with poppy and folky blends to her sound.    As her soft sounds wafted over us, I relaxed and enjoyed her performance.  She was a good opening act, and I think I will spend some time listening to her music in the future.

The second opening act was Darrell Scott, a singer songwriter I had never heard of.  Darrell Scott is more well known as a studio musician and song writer than a singer.  He has written songs that have been covered by Travis Tritt (It’s A Great Day to Be Alive), The Dixie Chicks (Long Time Gone), Faith Hill (We’ve Got Nothing But Love To Prove) to name a few.  His music tends to skew towards roots music, blues and Americana, genres I really enjoy.  To be honest, though, I just wasn’t connecting with him as he performed.  That all changed in a heartbeat.  After performing several songs solo, he brought some “friends” out to add some instruments to his songs.  Frankly, I was not paying attention, until Pam said, “I think that is Zac Brown’s fiddle player (Jimmy De Martini) on the stage.”  I took a closer look.  She was right.  Just as I saw that, Darrell had a few more “friends” join him on stage.  The “friends” included Zac and most of his band.  All of a sudden, Darrell Scott was amazing.  I thought it was pretty cool of Zac to be singing background for Darrell.  I was now pretty sure the Zac Pam and I love was back.

Shortly thereafter, Zac took the stage for real.  From the opening notes, the show was just about perfect.  It was Zac and his band at their best.  My only complaint was that he didn’t play Toes, arguably one of my favorite songs.  Pam and I had studied the set list from the night before and sort of expected it.  It never happened.  Instead, we got treated to another perfect cover of Bohemian Rhapsody, which we didn’t expect.  We also got an energetic shredding of the Allman Brothers’ Whipping Post, as Zac and the band paid homage to the passing of Gregg Allman earlier this year.

Zac performs so well live, and he is a joy to listen to.  He wowed us with his guitar playing, as he and the band really cranked up the tempo on a couple of numbers.  We felt so good after the show we were singing Zac songs and yacking about the concert all the way back to our car, which was parked 20 minutes away from the Bowl.   The next day we flew to Wailea for some much needed vacay.  That night we sat on our balcony, drinking Mai Tais as we enjoyed our ocean view and watched our first sunset of the week.  As we did so, we were still feeling good about the show.  So good that Pam played a steady stream of Zac YouTube concert videos on her iPad.  These is no doubt that we will see him a fourth time.


Rhett Miller At The Troubadour

Sometimes I take big risks when it comes to urging others to go to concerts, especially ones at small venues featuring somewhat obscure artists.  This was the case Saturday night, as I dragged Pam, on her birthday weekend no less, to the Troubadour to see Rhett Miller, the lead singer of the Old 97s, play a solo acoustic show.

Pam and I have seen Rhett Miller perform before, just not as a solo act.  The Old 97s played at the El Rey a couple of years ago, and I convinced John, Kris and Pam we should see them, as I liked their music but had never seen them live.  It did not turn out well.  In fact, John and Kris left after three songs.  Pam wanted to go with them.  I was more into it, so I made her stay two more songs.  Then she and I left.  The Old 97s have been together since 1993, and their music is best described as alt-country, which encompasses roots rock, bluegrass, rockabilly, honky-tonk, outlaw country, folk, and punk rock.  The night we saw them it seemed like they had forsaken every genre but punk, pure, loud punk.  Screaming loud punk.  Jumping around the stage punk.  Any notes that were sung on key were purely accidental, or so that is how we felt.  John, Kris and Pam have given me a much deserved ration of shit about them ever since.

That show, though,  did not change my view of the Old 97s.  I still listen to them, a lot.  I like their music, maybe not all the songs, but many of them.  They have a unique style and sound that resonates with me.  To be fair, they are somewhat of an acquired taste.  Maybe I should have made John, Kris and Pam listen to more of their music before the show.  Or maybe that wouldn’t have mattered.  Either way, there was no way John, Kris or Pam would acquire a taste for the Old 97s after the show.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw that Rhett Miller was playing an acoustic show.  Being somewhat foolhardy and still hoping I could get Pam on the Old 97s bandwagon, I asked her if she wanted to go.  At the time I am pretty sure I said the lead singer of the Old 97s was playing a solo show.  Then I told her, in error, it was at the Orpheum in downtown Los Angeles.  She said, “Not interested.”  The next day I told her that I was wrong and that the show was at the Troubadour.  She was okay with that.  At least she was okay with the venue.  We bought tickets and then waited.

As the show neared, I got nervous.  There was some chance, maybe more than some chance, that Pam had no idea that we were seeing the lead singer of the Old 97s.    I had also convinced myself that the show was on her birthday, which really ratcheted up my fears.    As such, I felt compelled to let her know again exactly who Rhett Miller was.  Of course, she cried out, “You never told me that is who we are seeing!”  Needless to say, she started grumbling.  The good news was that the show was not on her birthday.  I had gotten that wrong.  Not the date of her birthday, which I always remember, just the day of the week on which her birthday fell.  I felt better after that.  As I have mentioned before, Pam is a saint.  So even after I said we could just skip the show and do something else, she said, “No.  Let’s go.”

We planned our evening to include dinner at Amici, which is diagonally across the street from the Troubadour.  As there was some chance we would not stay for the entire show, we decided to just walk in a little after the doors opened and stand during the show instead of waiting in line before the doors opened to get a seat upstairs.  So we had a leisurely dinner and then walked over to the Troubadour.  Apparently, Rhett Miller does not have a huge following in West LA because the first floor was pretty empty and there were actually a few seats remaining upstairs.

The opening act, Kate Micucci, was okay.  She was more of a comic than a singer.  She has written a slew of funny songs with quirky lyrics.  She sung them in a sweet, little girl like voice.  And, for a while, they were fun.  She also had a few of her friends assisting her with some pure comedy shtick.  In total she had about 20 minutes of funny songs and comedy bits.  It was unfortunate that she crammed those 20 minutes into a 45 minute set, resulting in me wanting her to leave the stage well before she actually did.

Rhett Miller played for about an hour and a half and did a great job.  His set contained a mixture of his solo material and Old 97s songs.  Most of the songs were about failed attempts to get together with the opposite sex or about drinking too much.  His lyrics are dark, but upbeat in a bizarre sort of way, making me want to keep listening for more, convincing myself that a positive lyric is just a few chords away, sort of like eating an almost good dessert and waiting for the taste to kick in.

When he chooses to use it, he has a great bluesy, Americana voice that sounds really good live.  At some point in many songs he would wind up his arm, strum the shit out of his guitar, and just let loose with some primal sounds, making for nice a contrast in styles.  He was really comfortable on stage, with the ability to tell engaging, funny stories in between songs.  I had a great time.

During the show, I snuck a few looks over at Pam.  I am pretty sure she knew I was looking, but she just ignored me.  From my vantage point she looked like she was enjoying it.  After the show was over, Pam admitted he was much better than she expected.  She also admitted that she would see him perform live again, just not with the rest of his band.  Maybe if I stock her iPod with lots of Old 97s songs, she might change her mind.



Tim and Faith at Staples


John Lygate, the English poet, penned the phrase, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”.  Despite the obviousness of this quote, people continue to test the veracity of it, and they continue to find out just how true it is, even applied to small, reasonably homogenous groups, like concert goers.

Why bring this up?  Because Pam bought us tickets to see the Soul2Soul tour with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, each a luminary in country music in their own right.  It has been over a decade since they toured together.  We saw them in August of 2006, one month shy of 11 years ago.  At the time, I liked country music, but Pam had little or no interest in it, and she humored me by going to the show, which we were invited to by a business contact.

This time around, Pam wanted to go more than me.  I am somewhat of a Faith Hill fan.  I love listening to her sing live, as she has a tremendous voice, even though I am not a huge fan of many of her songs.  I have always tolerated Tim McGraw songs, as I find them a little too produced, synthetic and sappy for my tastes.  But turnaround is fair play, so I readily agreed to go to the show.

The show itself was fun.  The opening act, Rachel Platten, was really a bit out there for a country show.  She performed like a teeny bopper, despite the fact that she is in her mid 30s.  Her songs were a mix of pop and indie pop genres, and I am not a fan of either.  Unfortunately for me, she truly loves her bass.  I, however, do not.  I usually gripe about the bass rattling through my torso and up into my head.  For some reason, it lodged in my right shin at the show.  That did not make it any better, and I swear I had a shin splint in my right leg the next day.  Having said that, she is a good entertainer with an excellent voice.  She put on a good show and finished it with Fight Song, which is a great underdog anthem and is near and dear to Pam.  Pretty soon it was Tim and Faith time.  They came out together.  Sang songs together.  Sang songs separately.  Sang songs together.  Left the stage together, we think, because we snuck out just as the encore started.  Each song was good, but something was amiss.  Something was a little off.  Maybe it was crowd energy.  Maybe it was chemistry on stage.  Maybe it was genre conflict.

As Pam and I drove home we discussed the show.  We both liked it, but neither of us loved. it.  We weren’t sure why.  Faith just nailed it.  All her songs were delivered perfectly.  Tim sort of nailed it, sometimes sounding really pinched as he drawled out some of his less gritty material.  At times he was amazing, especially when he sang Live Like You Were Dying, a song I love.  I got the sense that he was performing more for himself than for the audience.  This came as no surprise, as I felt that way I when I saw him perform last time.  So that did not explain what was amiss.

Pam likes to listen to KKGO, the only country station on the radio in LA.  She follows their Go Girls on social media, and when we got home she began reading some of the posts.  No doubt that many people loved the show; however, many were nonplussed.  At first, Pam and I were sort of surprised about how many less than stellar comments were posted.  Most of the people who were not overwhelmed with the show complained that there was not enough Tim in it.  Very few complained that there was not enough Faith in it.  As they were playing two successive days in Staples, Pam checked out more of the Go Girls posts the next day.  She noted that the same comments were made about the second show.

One of the millennials at work went to the second show.  Her feelings about the show echoed the ones we had read.  She liked it, but did not love it.  She wanted more Tim, especially his older songs.  She was surprised, though, at how good a singer Faith Hill was.

I kept replaying the show in my head.  As I did, I realized that when Tim and Faith sing a duet, Faith’s voice, which is so strong, just overpowers Tim’s.  As a result, the show comes off as more of a Faith Hill show than a Tim McGraw show, despite the fact that Tim McGraw was, and still is, a bigger star with a bigger fan base.  This seems to account for lots of the lukewarm comments.  My suspicion is that if it was either a Tim or a Faith show, the comments would have been spectacular.  Instead, it sort of fell flat, proving just how astute John Lygate was.

Lady Amazing At The Bowl


Lady Antebellum has always been an enigma to me.  I have never understood their name or their music.  I mean, I get that antebellum generally refers to pre-war years, most often the pre-civil war years, though half the time I have to force myself to remember that ante means before not after.  As I am fundamentally a literalist, meaning I abhor modern art and adore landscapes, I have always expected Lady Antebellum to be a solo female artist backed up by a supporting band, kind of like Debbie Harry in Blondie.

Lady Antebellum has a tremendous female lead singer, Hillary Scott, but they also have Charles Kelley, who sounds like a lead singer to me.  And he isn’t a lady.  But I never thought that the name related to issues between the lead singers.  Having said that, when I replayed their music in my head, Hillary was the only one singing.  So maybe she won the war.

As for their music, I have never really gotten into it.  I have always felt it was too smooth for my tastes.  Too produced.  Too poppy.  Not edgy enough.  I never downloaded any of their music.  I would never ask for it on Pandora or Spotify.  It was highly probable, that I would change the channel when I heard them on the radio.  I didn’t dislike them.  I just didn’t feel the need to listen to them.

Then Pam asked me if I wanted to see them at the Hollywood Bowl.  I said, “Sure, why not?”  So Pam got us seats.  With the inducements of tequila and doughnuts, I was able to sit thru an entire Adele show last year.  I knew enough about Lady Antebellum to know those inducements were not needed to get me to see them perform, but I really did not expect much.

I did not know many of their songs.  After Pam bought the seats, I fixed that by downloading several Lady Antebellum albums and proceeded to listen to them in the background as I worked on my computer.  After several weekends, I had to admit their music was listenable, really listenable.  It was not exciting, but it was really pleasant.  I found myself looking forward to seeing the show.

The show opened with Brett Young and Kelsea Ballerini.  As a singer, Brett Young is huge – literally.  He stands about 6’6″, making him the biggest performer I have ever seen.  While he sounds good on the radio, I had some issues with his live performance.  Hopefully, as he matures as an artist, his live delivery will improve.

This was the second time I had seen Kelsea Ballerini perform.  The first time was when she headlined her own show at the Wiltern.  She was good then.  She is better now, as her performance skills keep improving.  I thought she did a great job, though I did want to scream in frustration just before she began her performance, as her band let loose with an ear splitting, bass laden screech that drove me to drive my fingers into my ears in a desperate act of self-preservation.  Thankfully, the blast of noise ended as she took the stage and did not return.  She did a great job, and she sounded great.  I look forward to seeing her again.

Then it was time for Lady Amazing.  I was ready to relax and just enjoy their performance.  I was not ready for just how much I would enjoy it.  Nor was I ready for just how great they sounded or how energized their performance was.  Lady Antebellum was off the charts good.  While I still do not understand their name, I do understand what makes them great.  They are not a female let group.  They are not a male led group.  They are not at war.  Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott are great singers individually, but when they sing together, it is magical.  I doubt I have ever heard better harmonizing between male and female voices.  Without meaning to gush, I was truly stunned by how much I like them and the show.  They were just amazing, with a capital A.

I am not sure why this had not come across to me when I heard them on the radio or played their recordings.  Maybe it was the addition of the horns section to their band for the tour.  Maybe it was their return to the stage after a two year hiatus.  Maybe it was Charles Kelley strutting around and not missing a note.  Maybe it was the fact that they were at the iconic Hollywood bowl, ticking off one of their bucket list items.  Maybe it was some of their new music, which I really like,  Maybe it was the concert mixes of their material.  Maybe it was the fact that I love live music, but I doubted that was enough to change my perspective.  Whatever it was, they were a different band than I expected before they took the stage.

Before they finished their first song, I was hooked.  By the end of the second song, I knew I would never change the channel again when I heard them on the radio.  By about the tenth, I sat their wishing I could see again in the very near future.

Chris Stapleton At The Forum


Pam and I had tickets to see Chris Stapleton at the Forum.  Unfortunately, Pam was under the weather the day of the show, so I went with Kim, my younger daughter.  I am lucky that Kim, at 29,  still wants to spend time with me, and we have several interests in common, including cars and exercise.  Many times we see the world the same way, and Pam likes to quip, “There they go, four arms and one brain!”

Our musical tastes, however, are not the same.  Pam and I love country music.  Kim, not so much.  And she had had very limited exposure to Chris Stapleton before the show.  So I was excited we were going, but I was a little concerned that she might not connect with his music.  It turns out I shouldn’t have been.

We got to the show early, partly because I hate traffic, partly because I love opening acts, and partly because our tickets included a few pre-show extras, like whiskey tasting, something Kim and I seem to have in common, too.  Once we had our whiskey, we got some food, settled into our seats, and waited for the first opening act, Lucie Silvas, to begin.  While we waited, I wondered why Lucie Silva was the opening act.  Lucas, one of my co-workers who was also going to the show, had played a snippet of one of her songs the other day, and I could not get a handle on the genre.  Nor could I fathom how her music fit within the musical space inhabited by Chris Stapleton and by The Brothers Osborne, the second opening act.  Days after the show ended, I found out the relationship, but by then I didn’t care.  Lucie Silva is an excellent musician.  She has a great voice, and she put on a great performance.

The Brothers Osborne are not a mainstream country act.  Neither is Chris Stapleton.  Though both get labeled as country, The Brothers Osborne, and to a lesser extent Chris Stapleton, can be labeled as outlaw country acts.  What is interesting to me is that traditional Nashville has embraced them.  Of course, traditional Nashville has loosened quite a bit from the original outlaw days of the 70s and early 80s personified by Willie, Waylon, Johnny, Merle, Kris and others.  While the loosening is way more noticeable in the hip hop and rap infused, bass laden “country” songs put out by the likes of Sam Hunt, Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan and others, it is also noticeable in the rise of alternative acts like Chris Stapleton and the Brothers Osborne.  While I bemoan the former, I cherish the latter.  As far as my musical tastes go, Chris Stapleton and The Brothers Osborne are right down the middle of the fairway.  I was excited to see both of them perform.

I saw the Brothers Osborne last year when they opened for Miranda Lambert at the Greek, and they were great.  At the Forum, they just killed it.  They came out and were spot on from the opening notes to the closing ones.  They have a unique sound, a unique style.  It’s not mainstream, but it sure works for me.  I hope to be seeing them more in the future.

Which brings me to the reason I was sitting in the Forum, Chris Stapleton.  Like many artists I enjoy, Chris Stapleton is genre conflicted.  When someone asks me what kind of music I like the best, I usually respond, “Americana.”  That response usually results in a puzzled expression.  That’s because Americana is not a pure form of music.  It is a mélange of genres, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, rhythm and blues, and blues.  Americana artists range from household names like Bruce Springsteen,  Bob Dylan, Bob Seger, John Mellencamp, John Fogerty, Mumford & Sons, Bonnie Raitt and The Band, to more obscure artists like The Old 97s, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Lucinda Williams, Roseanne Cash, Robert Earl Keen, and Neko Case.

To call Chris Stapleton a country act, which he is for award categories and cocktail party conversation, is a gross miscategorization.  Chris Stapleton is a quintessential Americana act.  He is equal parts bluegrass, southern rock, outlaw country, country blues and probably a host of other genres.  His music resonates with me completely.  He plays the kind of music that I just like to listen to with my eyes closed and absorb without any distractions.  And that is what I did at the Forum.  I sat there with my eyes closed and listened.

Chris Stapleton is a musician’s musician.  His performances was pure, unadulterated, raw, and I was able to shut my eyes without missing a thing.  He was totally focused on delivering high quality music,  No gimmicks.  No shtick.  No selfies.  No cameras.  No glitz.  Not many words of introduction.  No costume changes.  No strutting.  No playing to the audience.  Not even too many guitar changes.  Just a steady stream of absolutely perfect music.  Eric Clapton, arguably the greatest guitar player and musician I have ever seen live, is not an entertainer, either.  He is not dramatic.  He is not flamboyant.   What he is is good.  Damn good.  Chris Stapleton comes as close to Eric Clapton in terms of pure musicianship as I have ever seen.  He was just that damn good.

I loved the show.  So did Kim.  I felt bad that Pam did not get to go, but that, not that I need it, just gives me a good reason to see him again.







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