Friday
Jul282017

Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express @ Dublin & Belfast -July 2017

 

The Errigle Inn - 26th July 2017

Glorious late afternoon sunshine suggested a relaxing road trip from Dublin to The Errigle Inn on the Ormeau Road in Belfast for the return to Ireland of Chuck Prophet and his regular touring band The Mission Express. Or so I thought. On approaching Belfast, a colossal rain storm seemed to appear from nowhere with deafening thunder and spectacular fork lightning as if to announce that Prophet had hit town. As it happened it was a fitting precursor to an enthralling and energetic show that exploded into action shortly after 9pm and continued relentlessly for the best part of two hours.

Prophet is gifted with the ability to write killer songs that tackle difficult issues and struggles whether social, political or personal yet always tinged with humour and an ‘let’s get on with it folks and try and treasure the good moments’ attitude. His current album Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins, is his most political recording since Let Freedom Ring in 2009 and possibly his most sardonic, moving and uplifting. The album tackles political issues, laments the many lost musical icons in 2016, questions ongoing racism and class distinction in his home city, gun control (or lack of) and conspiracy killing. However, it’s an album that leaves the listener pensive rather than depressed or downbeat. It’s no surprise that his set this evening includes a large chunk of the album together with his customary crowd favourites and the odd killer cover to complete the setlist.

Prophet’s characteristic stage presence, often tongue in cheek, has all the moves, shapes, facial expressions and antics that makes his shows every bit as much a visual delight as a musical feast. Behind this window dressing is a guitar player to equal any in his genre and a band to match in The Mission Express -"the longest Mission Express line up that Stephanie and I have ever had and one that we want to last forever" he explains early in the show. He is of course referring to his wife Stephanie Finch (keyboards, vocals), James De Prato (guitar), Kevin T White (bass) and Vicento Rodriquez (drums) whose combined interaction is faultless throughout the show, as are Prophets frequent guitar solos, more often than not extended from the studio songs versions, delivered on his trusted white fender which he often comments can play the licks unaided at this stage it’s been around so long. 

The hilarious Jesus Was A Social Drinker, which got one of the biggest cheers of the night, had to be included in the set given the lyrics "Jesus wasn’t Irish, just imagine if he was. He might have written poetry and verse, And enjoyed a pint of Guinness every day for lunch." It’s funny, it's clever but also includes some serious input from Finch from her robotic cowbell intro to her brilliant keyboard solo which Prophet encouraged be played a number of times while he casually corrected a loose lead in his guitar amp.

The set had started off with an instrumental intro before launching (1-2-3-4!) into Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins and kicking on with Fast Kid and Rider or Train. A maestro in terms of audience participation, only a few songs into the set list and he demands a call and response to Temple Beautiful  and from then on  has the crowd eating out of his hands encouraging or rather demanding people to get of their chairs and move.

Bad Year For Rock And Roll is dedicated not only to the musicians that passed away last year but also fittingly to Mohammed Ali, Harper Lee and the politically non-democracy that worryingly prevails, particularly in his resident country. He recounts how he was approached by an elderly gentleman after a recent show in Berlin who tapped him on the shoulder and simply enquired "Mr. Prophet, we’ve created history by taking down walls, why would your people even consider building walls."

Fittingly Barely Exist follows with Prophet reminding us of the hopelessness facing so many people on the southern borders of America and questioning why on earth they should not strive for a better existence by crossing borders to the prospect of basic survival for them and their families.

An extended adaption of In The Mausoleum (written for the deceased Alan Vega of electronic duo Suicide) features Finch sharing vocals with Prophet, who mid song slips his Fender over her shoulders encouraging her to let rip with some beautifully distorted feedback. We Got Up And Played, slowing things down for the only time in a full on set, is introduced as a true story of how unglamorous and difficult touring can be, sound men not showing up, loading in equipment on cold winter nights, long drives in cramped vans and poor crowds. A cover of Rank & Files Amanda Ruth also has Finch centre stage in front on the microphone again before a lengthened Summertime Blues with Prophet and De Prato splendidly sharing guitar licks. You Did with it’s expected audience input rolls on for the best part of ten minutes including a ripping solo by Prophet. Wish Me Luck see Prophet demanding the audience to vocally do exactly that and isn’t content until they drown out his vocal with good luck gestures and Willie Mays Is Up At Bat, a favourite of the baseball loving Prophet and always played in his shows, closes out the show.

Encores include the Howard Tate soul tour de force Shoot Em All Down and the Bobby Fuller classic Let Her Dance with Prophet coming off stage and finishing his solo among the audience. The closer Shake Some Action is proceeded by a tale of seeing the Flamin' Groovies for the first time at the age of fifteen, hearing the best ever power pop song ever written and at that moment deciding what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

Chuck Prophet, and this can’t be said of many artists, managed to transform a dull, wet Wednesday night into a New Year’s Eve celebratory type evening with a performance that ticked every box you’d hope for in a live show. Great songs, exceptional playing and no end of humour to a very large, appreciative and engaging congregation. I was still grinning from ear to ear when I arrived home after a five-hour round trip that was worth every minute and mile.

Support act John Blek also deserves a worthy mention. An artist that is just as comfortable with the fuller and rockier sound of his work with John Blek & The Rats as he is with his more folk/traditional solo work. Night & The Liquor, Ruby Blood, Lightness Vs.Weight and Little Sparrow from his excellent solo album Cut The Light all featured in a slot that was particularly well received. 

Review and Belfast photograph (above) by Declan Culliton

Whelan’s 28th July 2017

If the round trip to Belfast could only be tackled by our dedicated scribe Declan, with plenty of positive energy and stamina reserves, then my short trip into Whelan’s was a complete breeze.

The best recommendation I can make is a Chuck Prophet show If you like to rock out and forget the daily routine. The Mission Express, as a band, really kicks up a storm – with both the noise level and their full-on adrenalin attack. Members Stephanie Finch, Kevin White, Vicente Rodriguez and James DePrato play in perfect unison and produce a compelling support behind Chuck, who is the consummate front-man.

He struts and poses over the audience as he cajoles a reaction from all those faces staring up at him. He has a magnetic charm as a performer and the avid crowd hang on his personal anecdotes. His defining quality after you strip everything down is his quality on guitar. Searing solos and wonderful dual play with James DePrato remind me of Allman Bros or Thin Lizzy when they dove-tail together for some extended workouts during the set.

The songs were very much the same as Belfast so I won’t repeat the running order as already outlined above by Declan. Suffice to say that every song is played like it is the first and last time it will ever be heard; total commitment and intensely honest delivery. The inclusion of a Linda Ronstadt song in the encore, Different Drum, was sung by Stephanie and created a pleasant moment of calm amid the tornado that spilled off the stage and into the packed crowd tonight. Fantastic show!

Review by Paul McGee  Dublin photograph (at the top) by Vincent Lennon

Tuesday
Jul252017

Bob Wayne and the Outlaw Carnies @ Thomas House - Sunday 23 July 2017

Welcome to Wayne’s world -  a world of outlaw carnies, trucker’s caps, drinkin, cussin’ and of course some pretty hardcore country music. Though the audience was small enough they made up for it in enthusiasm. Not too many locals though with fans from such diverse countries as Canada and Norway in attendance. They had a good time and Mr. Wayne delivered the goods in a nearly two hour set. 

This time out he was ably supported by the rhythm section of Elmer Johnston on upright bass (with it’s White Trash Dating Service sticker on the side), Drummer John Keeley and Matthew Thomas on upright steel and Telecaster - often played simultaneously. It was Thomas’ birthday and he celebrated by playing his ass off. These guys can grace any stage from a small club to a festival and the evidence is on YouTube. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yK2wj-SKwlE)

Wayne has a way on stage that despite the image is friendly and fun. He has a big voice that give his songs a depth in the somewhat stripped down live setting. His Andy Gibson produced albums have a broader range and a more subtler delivery at times but here there is some raw energy to contend with that rarely lets up.

He has just released a new album Bad Hombre from which several songs were played including Hell Yeah, Stll Truckin’ and Mr. Bandana which sat alongside songs from his covers album that were examples of the Wayneification of such classics as Eric Clapton’s I Shot The Sheriff, Sympathy For The Devil from the Stones and Zeppelin’s Rock ’n’ Roll. There were a host his own songs from his albums as well as Workin’ Man, which was recorded by Hank 111 on his Damn Right, Rebel Proud album much to Wayne’s pleasure. 111 is an obvious hero. These were all well received as was Love Songs Suck which he said was the closest he had to a love song. This and other songs showed  a disregards for the law (Fuck The Law being a case on point) and the laws of being PC. A word of warning - don't go if swear words offend you.

The joys of drug abuse were celebrated and condemned with Dope Train and Everything's Legal In Alabama (the latter with the advisory note of “just don’t get caught”). As well as  a selection of road warrior songs from Till The Wheels Fall Off, Spread My Ashes On The Highway, Sam Tucker through to Hillbilly Heaven and the final song of the night the tale of murder and retribution that is Hanging Tree.

The band gave it loads despite having a power failure in the middle of the gig which did not seem to faze them as they picked straight back up when it came back on. Throughout we got his, by now, trademark Truck Horn sound as well as a number of "Hell Yeahs." Bob Wayne has made Europe his second home and hopefully will come back to play in Ireland again. His is an entertaining and effusive night out and again, it should be mentioned, that the band were right up there with him making everything happen in a way we don’t see to often. This was not the pose of the latent hair-metallers who graced the C2C stage but some real country music taken to the edge and delivered with passion. Hell yeah.

Review and photography by Stephen Rapid

Tuesday
Jul252017

Song Writer’s Circle @ DC Club, Dublin - Fri 21st July 2017

 

Take a bunch of musicians outside the headlight glare of the media and put them together on a small stage in intimate surroundings; well, you just might stand a chance of some magic happening ... Such was the case on this night of great musicianship, storytelling, variety and just plain ole’ craic.

Bouncing increasingly off each other’s talents as they settled into the pace of things, the writing styles and the lyrical perspective of each song-writer comes to the fore and gives a balance to the overall tone of the evening, which sees 2 hours of swapping songs fly by in what seems like half that time.

Buddy Mondlock is a frequent visitor to these shores and has played many venues across our fair land over the years; tonight, he is joined by the excellent Mike Lindauer on 5-string fretless bass, an instrument that really sings in the hands of this very accomplished musician.

On the Irish side of the stage are Nick Kelly, talented songwriter and filmmaker, not seen in public very much these days but giving a timely reminder of the enduring talent that gave him success in the Fat Lady Sings and subsequently as a solo artist.

Sean Millar is the final songwriter on display tonight and his friendship with Nick over the years has seen him also develop as a singer-songwriter, playwright and poet. Sean was known by the name of Doctor Millar, and both he and Nick were media darlings in the 1980’s who wrote individual, idiosyncratic songs from a finely-honed creative perspective. Sean is joined by his daughter Faith on harmony vocals for the evening and her pure vocal is a sweet counter-balance to the four male voices that differ in delivery and tone.

I counted somewhere in the region of 25 songs shared across the guitars and microphones, including a solo debut for Faith when she delivered a lovely version of Through the Morning, Through the Night (Alison Krauss) -a very appropriate choice!

Buddy is such a strong storyteller and his popular body of work endures over the years. Tonight, we are given some new songs to whet the appetite for a new release and both Filament and Come Back First sit nicely into his set of songs which also include fine renditions of Let Me Go, Break the Cup, The Ugly One, The Dark (co-written with Guy Clark), No Choice and a final sing-along encore of I Count You My Friend. His high pitch vocal delivery gels comfortably with his quietly impressive rhythmic guitar playing and the superb touches added by Mike Lindauer really help to elevate the songs to a higher plane.

Nick Kelly is very personable onstage and smiles easily. His stories are always told with due respect to other creative sources and his joy at being in a live environment is plain for all to see. We are given a taste of Baby, a song from the film, The Drummer And The Keeper, due for release in 2017. He talks about placing objects into songs instead of the usual subject-matter around our emotions and then proceeds to deliver a very clever discourse on washing machines with the song Small Loads. Tennis legend Arthur Ashe is celebrated in a song of the same name while Infrastructure is also included from his recording days as Alien Envoy.

Holy Show revisits his second solo release, Running Dog. Sam And Andre is particularly poignant as it reflects on the friendship between Samuel Beckett and Andre the Giant, a most unlikely topic but one that is steeped in gentle understanding of fragility and love. Republic is a really strong song from the 1997 release Between Trapezes and performed with real passion. World Exploding Touch from the Fat Lady Sings release Jonhson (1993) also sounds fresh and born-again.

Sean Millar has released six solo records over the last twenty years but his influence in Irish music circles runs much deeper than this output. He describes himself as a theatre-maker and as a composer he has gained international acclaim for his theatre show Silver Stars and his work on BrokenTalkers The Blue Boy which have both toured the world.

Tonight we are treated to songs with titles that challenge the graphic designers of the music business, such as I’ve Never Loved Somebody This Much Before In My Life, Hard Years In The Big City, All I Want Is Your Love Girl, Tarzan’s Ambition and Unnatural Bleeder (not just a boxing metaphor) … One song is a particular highlight, Happy Can Be, and has the attentive audience, along with his fellow musicians giggling away to the clever lyric and up-tempo arrangement.

As an experiment, musicians in the round does not always work but when the chemistry is right then the song-swapping and story-telling are a joy to witness. Everyone certainly left the venue smiling broadly and hoping for similar nights of celebrating the creative process.

Review by Paul McGee

Photograph by Vincent Lennon 

Sunday
Jun252017

Cast Of 'Nashville' Live @ The 3 Arena, Dublin - 19th June 2017

 

Almost one year to the day since the popular tv series Nashville rolled into Dublin to play a live concert of hits from the show and more. The cast who make the trip are pretty much the same as last year with Charles Esten (Deacon Claybourne), Sam Palladio (Gunnar Scott), Chris Carmack (Will Lexington), Clare Bowen (Scarlett O’Connor), Jonathan Jackson (Avery Barkley) along with others.

A number of the songs played tonight as part of the set list are repeats from the show last year, but this is not a criticism per se, as the material stands up very well and deserves a repeated listen. Each performer takes the stage in a solo capacity for a few songs before being joined by another of the principal actors, either to sing together or to take over for the next section of the show.

This diversity creates an interesting variety and adds to the overall atmosphere, with each performer staying only long enough to achieve maximum reaction from the audience before handing over the microphone to the next in line. Each of the main characters is so comfortable with live musical performance that one has to wonder which talent came first – the acting or the music?

The first half of the show contains 13 songs that are all played with great energy and commitment. The backing band of 5 musicians includes the talents of Fats Kaplin and Colin Linden.

Jonathan Jackson steals the show with two passionate deliveries; Love Rescue Me and Unchained Melody. His voice is pure and strong and his timing in delivery is everything to move the appreciative crowd into a standing ovation.

Chris Camack is very personable and a really fine guitar player as his various performances prove. His blues playing on Texas Flood (Stevie Ray Vaughan) is quite superb, as is his delivery of favourites What If I Was Willin’ and Pieces of You (despite forgetting the words, for a verse…)!

The early part of the show is dogged by poor sound as Buckle Up, with Charles Esten, suffers from microphone problems on the vocals and later, Jonathan Jackson is drowned out by an overly loud backline and keys delivery on Keep Asking Why. These are really just small observations as the entire performance over 2 hours plus is one of celebration and positive energy as Clare Bowen implores the die-hard fans to celebrate the light and not dwell in the darkness of all that is weighing us down in these uncertain times.

Indeed, she is a sensitive flower who flits across the stage in her faerie dress and later completes the outfit by adding wings...! Her voice is beautiful and on her performance of Fade Into You with Sam Palladio, you could hear a pin drop. Equally, when she sings with Brandon Young on Longer she really takes control before following with Little By Little, a new song that acknowledges a positive attitude to living. Later in the show Clare kills it once again with great versions of When The Right One Comes Along and Black Roses.

Sam Pallidio plays his excellent song, Wake Me Up In Nashville which is a big favourite from last year and the story behind the song is one to break many hearts. He also puts in a stellar performance with guest singer Una Healy on their co-written single, Stay My Love.  He also turns in another fine performance on I Will Fall, with Jonathan Jackson on piano and then, with Chris Camack on the hard rockin’ Headed For The Fire.

The audience are surprised by a visit from the artists with Charles Esten and Clare Bowen performing You’ve Got A Hand To Hold on the floor of the arena and later, when Chris Camack and Clare Bowen return to the audience to dance and pose for photos during Stand Up which speaks of love, unity & strength.

The finale features the ever-popular Charles Esten who performs Everything To Me and He Ain’t Me before the entire cast take the stage for a rousing version of David Bowie’s song Heroes. One More Song follows and then a rendition of Danny Boy which blends into the show-stopping A Life That’s Good.

There is no doubting the sincerity of the performance or the earnest comments of the main performers and the crowd love every minute. This show is so popular here and the performers have every right to make the crowd feel special as they face a return to reality and the working day. Tonight brought many smiles to numerous faces and after all, isn’t that what entertainment is really all about? 

Review by Paul McGee with photography by Ronnie Norton

Sunday
Jun182017

Jackson Browne @ Vicar Street, June 2017

"Legend" is a word that gets misused regularly in connection with artists who have spent relatively little time basking in the midday sun of the media glare. Not the case when you consider Jackson Browne and his expansive career that has covered 5 decades of musical highs in tandem with his ideals and involvement in conservationist and political activities. Arriving back in Ireland after an absence of 7 years, he thanks the capacity crowd for making him feel so welcome on his return, together with his band of sublime players who have travelled for this sold out 4-night residency at the always impressive Vicar Street venue.

We are looking at musicians with massive experience and consummate talents and a backing singer that can lift the song arrangements to a new height when she is given flight. Accompanying Jackson are long-time bandmates Val McCallum (guitar), Mauricio Lewak (Drums), Jeff Young (keyboards), Bob Glaub (bass), Alethea Mills (Vocals) and the acclaimed multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz (guitar, lap steel, pedal steel). In a word, stunning.

Night One: The first night is laced with songs that please everyone, young and old, with a first set taken mainly from more recent releases and the second set focused on old favourites. Jackson is in great spirits and communicates with ease between songs as he responds to audience requests. He has a keen sense of humour and the little boy still shines brightly from his eyes as he recalls stories from his past and explains the origins of songs played. There were 21 songs in total, including the cover song Walls & Doors (Carlos Varela), A Child In These Hills, I’ll Do Anything, Fountain Of Sorrow and a nightly encore of Take It Easy, the song that in some ways started his career all those years ago in 1970’s California

The seasoned touch brought to each song is just a joy to witness as the band play off each other in a knowing fashion that brings smiles all around. Twin guitarists Leisz and McCallum really shine when colouring the arrangements with dextrous solos and subtle touches while the inventive paying of Glaub & Lewak propel everything along with a rhythm and groove that is really impressive. Jeff Young adds rich keyboard swells in addition to providing high harmonies with Jackson on most songs. Jackson is singing really well and his performance on Late For The Sky is one of the best I have witnessed over the years of seeing him play live.

Night Two: We are treated to another set of 21 songs but on this occasion, there are 9 changes to the previous night, many as a result of audience requests. If anything, he runs the risk of letting the audience dictate too much and his changing mood to the numerous requests can lead to a few moments of confusion among the band members. In the main however he pulls it all off with consummate ease; after all, he is playing to a ‘home crowd’ and can do no wrong! My Stunning Mystery Companion, Something Fine, Our Lady Of The Well, Farther On and Lawyers, Guns & Money (Warren Zevon) all get a rousing reaction.

Sky Blue & Black is a real show stopper tonight and the reggae lilt of the Little Steven song I Am A Patriot has everyone wishing for a more rock driven direction with up-tempo material. As Jackson says there are moments when he can sense a crowd thinking "enough of this sensitive shit"…

When it comes to nailing the personal with a universal perspective then nobody comes close; he just hones his craft to produce beautiful words that mirror our own experience in the continuous struggle to walk this road of life with Everyman.

Night Three: Tonight 20 songs are performed and although there will be many cross-overs from the basic set there is still room for new renditions with 5 songs not played on previous nights. There is a particularly poignant tribute to his old friend Valerie Carter who passed away recently with the inclusion of Love Needs A Heart and That Girl Could Sing bringing a touchingly strong performance from all involved. Each night has seen Just Say Yeah and Long Way Around open the show and Doctor My Eyes, Your Bright Baby Blues, Boulevard and Somebody’s Baby are also ever-presents. The somewhat dubious pairing of Rosie and Red Neck Friend as back-to-back songs leave some in the audience smiling with a wry resignation, but the joy of hearing Barricades Of Heaven, Sky Blue and Black, Shape Of A Heart and Running On Empty all played in succession, as the performance built to its climax, more than made up for any dip in tempo previously.

Night Four: And those of us who have been ever-present are in the end stages of conflicting emotions as this richly indulgent experience winds down and we say goodbye to one of the icons in defining the musical map of so many who have been touched by his muse for so many years. Tonight sees 18 songs performed as the second set is shortened due to pressure in catching a ferry to England for the next part of the tour. This is a disappointment to the vociferous crowd who are, by a distance, the most noisy and boisterous of the four nights – uncomfortably so to many who paid good money to listen to the artist himself and not the inane conversations of those who repeatedly try to shout/talk above the songs…

Call It A Loan, The Pretender, For Everyman and I’m Alive are all played with power and majesty while Before The Deluge moves everyone to sing along with a special feeling of unison. A cover version of the Warren Zevon song Carmelita is a very welcome surprise as the set winds down.

The great song traveller is someone that Jackson referred to on his debut album and spoke about how his eyes were opened to the view. Well, he has become that very same great song traveller and has graced us with his humanism and empathetic perspective on our journey through this mortal coil.

He has been the ‘older brother’ for a generation of youth growing into maturity in the 1970’s; verbalising our doubts and fears as we matured into adulthood. Younger fans may see him as a knowing uncle who dispenses sage advice and wisdom. His more strident days of taking overt political stances during the show seem to be behind him now and we are seeing a more circumspect performer who wants to let his beautiful melodies and words do all his talking.

We can look back to realise that he is indeed the muse for so many lives that have followed his path of striving to care for our fellow man and trying to do the right thing by the planet we live upon.

It was a privilege!

Note: For those who want to see the full set lists on each evening, go to www.setist.fm where you will be rewarded!

Review: Paul McGee

Photography: Vincent Lennon & Paul McGee 

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