Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Reunion Tour at Rock in Roma!

The Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Reunion Tour at Rock in Roma!

Very few bands over the years have given me the pure, unadulterated listening pleasure of the Beach Boys. As a child growing up in the UK, I remember always listening to the Beach Boys with my sister at the start of the school summer holidays - this joyous pop music would somehow herald the start of the summer for us. As an adult I discovered the more sophisticated side of the Beach Boys and Pet Sounds quickly made its way into my list of top ten favourite albums. When I heard that after years of legal wrangling the original band members had seemingly buried the hatchet and would be performing again in a 50th Anniversary Reunion Tour I knew that this really was a chance to see musical history in the making and a rare opportunity to see my musical heroes live on stage! On Thursday evening the band brought this amazing show to the Ippodromo delle Capannelle as part of the 2012 Rock in Roma festival.

The reunion concert tour opens every night with the eminently appropriate Do It Again, the first of a staggering 45 song setlist which spans 50 years. From the pure pop of the early 1960s classics celebrating California surf and car culture - Little Honda, Catch a Wave, Surfin' Safari, and Little Deuce Coup to name but a few - right up to this year's brand new single That’s Why God Made the Radio, the tour takes us on an exhilarating journey through the musical history of one of the most important bands of all time. There were also nods to the 1950s and the influence of Doo-wap with excellent covers of the Dell Vikings' Come And Go With Me and Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers' Why Do Fools Fall in Love, as well as a tribute to 1960s close harmony group the Mamas & the Papas with a wonderful California Dreamin'.

At the beginning of Be True to Your School, the band joked about their ages as Mike Love dropped to his knees to sing an extra long opening note, only to be then “helped” to his feet by his band mates to the sound of creaking noises! Indeed, with most of the Beach Boys approaching their seventies, they could be forgiven for any slight vocal imperfections, but in fact, they are all still in very fine voice. Mike Love and Al Jardine took the majority of the lead vocals during the evening, with the gregarious Love also acting as emcee for the evening, playing to crowd and clearly loving every minute of his time on stage. His distinctive baritone sounded great on I Get Around, whilst Jardine belted out a stunning Cotton Fields, as well a wonderful All Summer Long, which segued into the foot stomping crowd pleaser Help Me Rhonda. Bruce Johnston was on keyboards for most of the evening, but he took a turn on lead for Wendy, whilst guitarist David Marks, whose Chuck Berry inspired guitar licks on Fun Fun Fun and Surfin' Safari are so much a part of the Beach Boys sound, provided a gorgeous lead vocal on Getcha Back. Brian Wilson, the undisputed Beach Boys genius sat rather impassively behind the piano for much of the show, but the moments when he sang lead were truly very special indeed: the poppy You're So Good To Me; a marvellous Sail on Sailor; the concert highlight, Heroes and Villains, which saw the Beach Boys on stage together at last performing a track from the legendary SMiLE album, with its complex multi-part harmonies; and an achingly lovely God Only Knows from Pet Sounds, where Brian Wilson sang his late brother's Carl's part. In My Room was a show stopping demonstration of how all their voices still fit so well together.

The Beach Boys were augmented on stage by a formidable backing band of nine extra players with very nearly honorary Beach Boy Jeff Foskett adding a perfect falsetto on Don't Worry Baby, whilst Darian Sahanaja sang a cracking version of Darlin', another Carl Wilson number.

Wouldn't It Be Nice, the opening track from Pet Sounds literally brought the house down, with the swirling magic of Good Vibrations coming in quick succession, followed by the iconic California Girls. It was a dizzyingly brilliant setlist! After two hours and forty odd songs, the Beach Boys left the stage, briefly, before being cheered back for a three song encore – Kokomo, Do You Wanna Dance? and a final Fun Fun Fun. The entire extended band took their bows to deafening cheers and applause, and left the stage to the sound of the crowd still singing the falsetto from Fun Fun Fun! An truly unforgettable night!

Full setlist:
  1. Do It Again
  2. Little Honda
  3. Catch a Wave
  4. Hawaii
  5. Don't Back Down
  6. Surfin' Safari
  7. Surfer Girl
  8. It’s OK
  9. Getcha Back
  10. You're So Good to Me
  11. Then I Kissed Her
  12. Please Let Me Wonder
  13. Wendy
  14. Come And Go With Me (Dell Vikings cover)
  15. Why Do Fools Fall in Love (Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers cover)
  16. When I Grow Up (to be a Man)
  17. Darlin'
  18. Cottonfields
  19. Be True to Your School
  20. Don't Worry Baby
  21. Little Deuce Coupe
  22. 409
  23. I Get Around
  24. In My Room
  25. California Saga (On My Way to Sunny Californ-i-a)
  26. Sail On Sailor
  27. All This is That
  28. Good Timin'
  29. Heroes and Villains
  30. That’s Why God Made the Radio
  31. California Dreamin’ (The Mamas & the Papas cover)
  32. God Only Knows
  33. Sloop John B
  34. Wouldn't It Be Nice
  35. Good Vibrations
  36. California Girls
  37. All Summer Long
  38. Help Me Rhonda
  39. Rock and Roll Music (Chuck Berry cover)
  40. Barbara Ann
  41. Surfin' USA
  42. Encore
  43. Kokomo
  44. Do You Wanna Dance?
  45. Fun Fun Fun

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Patti Smith rocks Luglio Suona Bene!

Patti Smith on stage at Luglio Suona Bene

Patti Smith may have been dubbed the high priestess poet of punk and rock over the years, but whenever she performs in Rome, as she does most years, she is welcomed back to the Eternal City as nothing short of a goddess! Few bands in these difficult financial times in Italy are able to completely sell out a venue, but the open air Cavea at the Auditorium Parco della Musica was absolutely packed on Friday evening. And few artists are greeted with such thunderous, eardrum splitting cheers of adoration as they take to the stage. We love Patti and Patti, looking totally relaxed and waving and smiling, clearly loves Rome.

Opening the evening with two classic tracks from her back catalogue - Redondo Beach from her debut album Horses, followed by a stunning Dancing Barefoot from Wave - it was clear that the 65 year old Patti Smith was in fine voice. In fact, she is one of the few singers whose voice has actually improved with age - she has never sounded better! I've become quietly addicted to her absolutely wonderful new CD Banga over the past few weeks, so was thrilled when she launched quickly into one of my favourite tracks, the achingly lovely song about Amy Winehouse This is the Girl. April Fool, the most poppy sounding track on the album was followed by her haunting prayer to the victims of the Japanese Tohoku earthquake and tsunami Fuji-San.

Distant Fingers (from Radio Ethiopia) isn't performed often on tour, but the Rome audience was given a chance to hear this rare live treat, after an exhilarating Free Money with some amazing guitar work by Lenny Kaye. In a perfectly paced setlist that shifted up and down the gears, the next song turned the pace down a little with Patti on acoustic guitar on My Blakean Year, which was preceded by what sounded like a new poem set to music, in which she told the story of visiting Raphael's tomb in the Pantheon that morning and then her distress at turning into the adjacent square and discovering that the Elephant and Obelisk had been restored, removing the “tear stains” that had streaked the elephant's face. It was a lovely, intimate moment.

With Friday evening's concert happening just hours after the tragic Denver cinema shootings at the screening of the new Batman movie, she made an impassioned plea for gun regulation in her country: “nobody should be able to go into a store and buy a f***ing automatic weapon in ANY country in the world!” A show stopping version of Beneath the Southern Cross seemed to echo her feelings of anger and frustration about this event.

And then something extra special happened. Whilst her backing band - Tony Shanahan on bass and keyboards, guitarist Jack Petrucelli, Jay Dee Daugherty on drums, and long-time collaborator Lenny Kaye on guitar and vocals – launched into a medley of covers, she wandered over to a small group of fans who had broken ranks and started dancing, sat down on the edge of the stage and in a moment had jumped down and started dancing with them, and the deluge of people who suddenly rushed to get close to her!

The poignant and reflective Maria was next, her tribute to an old friend, the actress Maria Schneider, who died last year, followed by an absolutely gorgeous vocal on Pissing in a River. She teasingly introduced the next piece as an “Italian folk song” - there was an immense cheer when the first notes of her iconic signature tune Because the Night rang out instead! A reflective Peaceable Kingdom slowed the pace just for a moment, before a blistering performance of Gloria, ending with a final G-L-O-R-I-A...R-O-M-A brought the concert to a stunning close.

Deafening applause, foot stomping and cries of Patti! Patti! Patti!, however, brought her back out for an encore. Strumming an acoustic guitar and singing a few lyrics from Wave, she paid tribute to her “favourite pope” Papa Luciani (Pope John Paul I), explaining that he was a revolutionary pope, with a wonderful smile, who sadly did not live long enough to carry out his revolution. A fabulous version of Banga, the title track of her new album and new single, followed – a one chord song “so easy even a dog could f***ing play it” - thrashed out on distorted guitars, before the final anthem People Have the Power brought the evening euphorically to a close, with us all singing loud enough to raise the roof – or rather, to reach the stars, in the open air venue.

A truly memorable night!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Standing ovation for Tony Bennett at Luglio Suona Bene!

Tony Bennett at Luglio Suona Bene
If ever a performer deserved the title “living legend” it is surely Tony Bennett. Revered alongside the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett is considered one of the greats of American jazz, and at almost 86 years of age and with a sixty year career behind him, seems in no hurry to retire from show business. In fact, the recent chart successes of his Duets and Duets II albums in which he recorded with newer stars such as Amy Winehouse (tragically, her final recorded vocal performance), and Lady Gaga, have helped to introduce him to a younger generation. And most amazingly, his unmistakeable voice is still as warm and wonderful as ever, as he demonstrated on Sunday evening at the Luglio Suona Bene festival to an adoring public in a packed Sala Sinopli at the Auditoium Parco della Musica.

Tony Bennett's daughter Antonia opened the show with a handful of numbers, which included a delightful song by Noël Coward called Sail Away, which I'd never heard before, and Lucky Guy which she dedicated to her father waiting in the wings. The audience responded warmly at the end of her set, but when Tony Bennett appeared on stage, dapper in an off-white jacket, and beaming a huge smile, the audience raised the roof with cheers and applause, with many on their feet before he had even sung a note! Complete hush descended once he started to sing, and it was instantly clear that this would be a very special evening indeed.

Dazzling us with a variety of jazz classics, standards and show tunes, every song was a potential showstopper – from the heartbreaking delicacy with which he sang Just The Way You Look Tonight, Charlie Chaplin's Smile, or Hank Williams' Cold Cold Heart, to the soaring vocals that reached the rafters in the finale of Maybe This Time, or the effortless cool of One For My Baby – there really was something, as they say, for everybody. His signature tune I Left My Heart in San Francisco brought cheers, and I particularly loved his mesmerising performance of his first ever recording Boulevard of Broken Dreams. At one point, he even obliged a shouted request for a song and with a nod to his four man combo, sang Because of You, whilst the Neapolitan song 'O Sole Mio was dedicated to a special guest in the audience, Italian composer Manuel De Sica, who Bennett introduced as the son of an “old friend” of his – Italian film director Vittorio De Sica.

Tony Bennett's nonchalant singing style may have earned him the nickname King of Cool, but he was in a playful mood on Sunday evening, delighting us with dance steps and even the odd twirl. The love affair between Bennett and his fans is clearly a two way relationship – many times during the show he would point at the audience whenever the word “you” was uttered in a song. The absolutely superb backing quartet comprised a roll call of jazz greats - Count Basie's legendary drummer Harold Jones, Marshall Wood on the double bass, Lee Musiker on piano, and guitarist Gray Sargent – with each musician given brief and enjoyable solos during several songs.

The power of Tony Bennett's voice is still formidable. During the evening he would often move the microphone far away from his body, but the spine-tingling highlight of the evening was surely the moment when he set aside his microphone completely at the end of the show, and sang Fly Me to the Moon a cappella, his voice easily carrying to the furthest reaches of the auditorium. Stunning! A standing ovation and chants of Tony! Tony! Tony! brought him back out on stage for one more song, before sending us on our way after a truly unforgettable performance!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A spectacular close to Japanese Music Fest with GOCOO

GOCOO Tokyo Tribal Groove Orchestra on stage in Rome
An utterly thrilling performance in the Cavea by the GOCOO Tokyo Tribal Groove Orchestra brought the inaugural edition of the Japanese Music Fest to a close yesterday evening at the Auditorium Parco della Music in Rome. Organised in conjunction with the Japan Foundation, the three day festival explored themes of tradition and innovation in Japanese music and culture, and in particular, the point at which tradition and innovation merge. Who better, therefore, than GOCOO, an eleven-member Tokyo percussion band playing over 40 Taiko Japanese drums, in a hypnotic fusion of musical influences ranging from classical Japanese Taiko to hardcore techno dance, to bring the party to a close!

Autographed by Kaoly
Founded in 1997 in Tokyo by charismatic lead drummer Kaoly Asano, GOCOO are now hugely popular on the International festival circuit, and their utterly unique sound has also used been used in movie soundtracks (Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions) and in computer games. Hypnotic, trance, techno, even Taiko-Trance – the band's music, with its pulsating, perfectly synchronised and often complex drum beats, ultimately defies categorization, and instead taps into something deeply primeval in all of us. The Auditorium's Cavea, an open-air amphitheatre under the stars, was the ideal setting – it would be hard to imagine the sheer immensity of GOCOO's sound in the closed environs of a theatre.

GOCOO's eleven core members - seven female and four male – were supported on stage by guest musician GoRo, a didgeridoo player. The deep, rumbling drone of the instrument added extra texture to GOCOO's pounding drums and was the perfect compliment. He also sang an exquisite traditional Japanese song dedicated to the children of the world in remembrance of the recent earthquake in Japan, accompanying himself on a Japanese thumb piano, and another instrumental piece played on the Jew's harp. This beautifully-measured two song interlude gave both audience and GOCOO slight pause before the final songs of the evening – 1997, a track to celebrate the creation of the band that year, and a final mesmerising piece that blended traditional cymbals, with GOCOO's increasingly frenetic drum sounds.

The Rome audience absolutely loved GOCOO - people were on their feet, clapping and dancing for the exhilarating encore, and eagerly gathered around the performers as they signed autographs immediately after the show. A hugely entertaining band – catch them if you can on their European Tour!

Monday, July 9, 2012

An Intimate Evening with Joan Baez at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome

Gabriel Harris, Joan Baez, Marianne Aya Omac and Dirk Powell on stage in Rome

When folk music legend Joan Baez last played at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome a little over five years ago something rather special happened: after the close of the show, when the house lights were up and many people had already left the theatre, she returned to the stage and led the remaining members of the audience in a sing-along a cappella version of We Shall Overcome. It was one of those magical you-had-to have-been-there moments that one treasures, so much so in fact, that I had, rather foolishly as it turned out, almost feared that seeing Joan Baez in concert again might in some way prove disappointing, or mar the memory of that past event. Fast forward to this year's Luglio Suona Bene season of open air concerts in the Cavea and Ms Baez was back at the Auditorium on Friday evening in a show billed as “An Intimate Evening with Joan Baez”. And it turned out, of course, to be another truly wonderful concert.

Joan Baez at Luglio Suona Bene 2012
Rome audiences clearly adore and respect Joan Baez. Applause for the singer began even before she took the stage; starting as a ripple when a handful of people spotted her in the wings, it broke into thunderous whoops and cheers as she made her way to the spotlight at the centre of a simply dressed set, which included a sofa and reading lamp. She opened with a newer song - Steve Earle's lovely God is God from her 2008 album Day After Tomorrow – and we were all instantly captivated, from the very second she started to sing. Her pitch-perfect chrystalline voice may be a little huskier nowadays, yet it has lost none of its soaring power, and if anything, has gained a new warmth and depth over the years. Be Not Too Hard and the Dylan classic Farewell Angelina were next up before she quite literally kicked off her shoes and called her band on stage – a pared-down two man affair she jokingly referred to as her “mega band” - her son Gabriel Harris on percussion and cajon box drum, and multi-talented musician Dirk Powell on accordion, banjo, mandolin, and keyboards. They instantly displayed their refined musicianship, and easy affinity with Baez, in a wonderful version of the traditional folk ballad Lily of the West.

Beyond the odd smattering of “ciao” and “grazie”, and the occasional “buona sera”, very few artists who play in Rome make much of an effort to address the audience in Italian. Joan Baez instead, in a gesture of enormous generosity towards her audience, and as befits a singer of songs with meaningful, often political, lyrics, read Italian introductions to almost all the songs she performed. She also sang two songs in Italian – Gianni Morandi's 1960s hits Un mondo d'amore and C'era un ragazzo che come me amava i Beatles e i Rolling Stones, to the obvious delight of the audience. Explaining that during the tour the band had supported Italy and Balotelli during the recent European Football Championships, she laughingly apologised when she was joined by her extremely talented French guest performer Marianne Aya Omac and said that they would be singing in Spanish! This enjoyable interlude with Latin American music was followed by a Tunisian song - Jari Ya Hamouda – which she dedicated to those involved in the Arab Spring.

Showcasing the singer's entire career, the setlist was a dream selection, with too many highlights to mention, her choices markedly demonstrating how Joan Baez has always managed to take an iconic song that is synonymous with its author - The Boxer, Suzanne, Imagine, and Blowing in the Wind, to name but a few - and some how borrow it for those moments and truly make it her own.

I lost count of precisely how many encores Joan Baez performed at the end of the show to a standing ovation – the cheers and applause were deafening and she kept coming back out to sing song after song! Saving the most exquisite moment for almost the very end, Friday evening's version of Diamonds and Rust was heartbreakingly beautiful, with its updated lyric “50 years ago I bought you some cufflinks” adding to the poignancy. Then, at the very close of the show, rather as had happened five years ago, Joan Baez let us sing the final chorus of Donna Donna. The perfect end of a perfect evening.

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