Category Archives: Live

Al Scorch’s Winter Slumber

Have you ever seen a bluegrass band that includes cello? How about a French horn? If that concept catches your attention, you’ve got to check out the music of Al Scorch.

Al and his band played an afternoon gig last Sunday at the Empty Bottle in Chicago, a monthly winter series dubbed Al Scorch’s’ Winter Slumber. It’s free, it’s fun and if you’re in the area, highly recommended.

Scorch’s music is bluegrass at its core, but driven by the energy of punk and the courage to mess around and see what works. Scorch dubs his ensemble as “country soul,” and that works, too—these days it’s tough to classify music. The point is, there was a tone of soul and spirit driving the show we saw on Sunday.

Continue reading Al Scorch’s Winter Slumber

Mavis Staples Tribute

Last night (Nov. 19) I was lucky enough to attend a special concert in Chicago celebrating the 75th birthday of Mavis Staples. Man, that was an experience—one that was unique to Chicago and showcased a huge range of American music from the past 50 or 60 years.

The show was being taped for a DVD release, so it had issues with flow and continuity—too many stops and starts to feel like a ‘real’ concert experience, which got a little frustrating after a while. It ran one ‘episode’ at a time, with a special guest (or two or four) taking the stage, usually backed by a crack 13-piece band that included stunning vocalists the McCrary Sisters and bassist/musical director Don Was.

But ultimately it was a spectacular experience.

Continue reading Mavis Staples Tribute

With ‘Antiphon,’ Midlake Grows Up and Moves On

Like a lot of Midlake fans, when news broke that lead singer and longtime bandmember Tim Smith had left the band, I was worried that the group’s sound and songs wouldn’t hold up.

After listening to the new album Antiphon, though, any worries are laid to rest. It’s a fantastic album with strong songs and a sound that shifts the band back toward a psychedelic sound — yet still retains the wonderful melodic structures and vocal harmonies that have long been identified with the band.

Seeing Midlake live, too, only brings this experience home — this is still very much the same band.

Continue reading With ‘Antiphon,’ Midlake Grows Up and Moves On

Metallica live in Moscow, 1991

In 1991, Metallica was on the “Monsters of Rock” tour, travelling through Europe with the Black Crowes, Pantera, AC/DC. In the fall there was a coup in the USSR, and Gorbachev was briefly overthrown. It didn’t last long, but it sent the country into turmoil — and eventually lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the re-emergence of Russia.

Once the turmoil of the coup was over, the Monsters of Rock artists decided to add Moscow to their itinerary. And so in October of 1991, they came to Moscow and put on a free concert.

It was an intense experience–free concert, half a million people, Soviet helicopters buzzing overhead, tens of thousands of soldiers. I happened to be visiting friends in Moscow at the time, so I got to go. It was one of the craziest concerts I’ve been to in my life. I was working at the SF Bay Guardian at the time, and was able to make my way backstage using my homemade Bay Guardian press pass.