Concert Review: Coldplay – A Head Full of Dreams Tour

I finally got the long-overdue opportunity to see one of my all-time favorite bands Coldplay in concert on August 21. It was the second night of two concerts they played to a crowd of 80,000 at the legendary Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, California, and they didn’t disappoint.  Chris Martin and his band mates Jonny Buckland, Guy Berryman and Will Champion put on a tremendously colorful and entertaining show, complete with laser lights, fireworks, confetti and huge floating balls. It was amazing!

There were two opening acts – singers Bishop Briggs and Alessia Cara – who were both awesome, and got the crowd energized before Coldplay took the stage. Bishop Briggs, who was born in the UK, raised in Japan and Hong Kong, and now lives in Los Angeles, sings a rather intense style of bluesy alternative pop-rock with an almost gospel quality. She performed her songs “Wild Horses,” “Pray” and “The Way I Do,” and finished up with an impassioned performance of her excellent torch song “The River,” which is currently #5 on the Billboard Alternative Chart.

Bishop Briggs

Next on stage was the 20-year old Canadian singer Alessia Cara, who immediately won me over with her warm, genuine personality, not to mention incredible voice. The only song of hers I was very familiar with was her big 2015 hit “Here,” but I found myself liking all the songs she sang, including “I’m Yours,” “Wild Things,” and her latest single “Scars to Your Beautiful” – of which she gave a tremendously moving performance. Unfortunately, I was not able to get a clear photo of her performance, so this one will have to do.

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Coldplay came on around 9:05, opening with “A Head Full of Dreams,” and the show took off with a bang, with fireworks and a dazzling light display.

Next up was an uplifting performance of the perennial crowd favorite “Yellow.”

Coldplay Yellow

Coldplay kept the energy flowing as they performed many  of their hits, including “The Scientist,” “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall,” “Viva La Vida,” “Fix You,” “Magic,” “Midnight,” “Adventure of a Lifetime,” and my personal favorite “Clocks.” Chris Martin is amiable and charismatic, with the energy of a 20-year old, running up and down the ramp and dancing about the stage.

We were all given plastic wristbands when we entered the stadium, and at various times throughout the concert they would all light up through remote controlled computers, creating an amazing light display throughout the stadium.

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Late into the concert, the band moved to a smaller stage at the north end of the stadium and performed a few songs, including another of my favorites “In My Place” from A Rush of Blood to the Head. We were then treated to a surprise visit by late night talk show host and singer James Corden, who joined Coldplay for a great tribute performance of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” It also happened to be Corden’s birthday, so a cake was presented, to tremendous applause from the audience.

The band returned to the main stage for the rest of the show, and sang “A Sky Full of Stars,” “Charlie Brown,” “Everglow,” and closed with “Up And Up.” All in all, it was a terrific concert experience.  I only wish I’d had a seat closer to the stage.

Artist Spotlight – ToxSyn

I recently stumbled upon the uniquely talented singer/songwriter/musician Rikki C. Ricci, who goes by the artistic name ToxSyn. Hailing from Toronto, Canada, ToxSyn plays a formidable mix of heavy metal, industrial goth rock and 90’s grunge, influenced by Nine Inch Nails and Alice In Chains,  among others.  He began playing bass at the age of 14, and has been making music for over 30 years, playing in metal bands Quick Trixx, Back Alley Boyz, Gangster, Bent, Hand Over Fist, Social Strife, SKROU, WAZP and Paranoid, as well as a number of tribute bands.

ToxSyn is Ricci’s solo project, and he writes his own music and lyrics, plays all instruments and sings all vocals. The most notable aspect of his music is the awesome guitar work. He coaxes some killer sounds from his bass that give his songs incredible force and depth. This is readily evident in the head banger “Crumble To Clay.” The monumental bass line is a thing of wonder.

ToxSyn shreds his guitar to pieces in “Toxic Shock.” His furious, raw vocals and thrashing guitar convey the brutal aftermath of nuclear war. “Skin burning from atomic blast, biotoxic radiation. Toxic fallout happened so fast, nuclear eradication.”

The guitars in “Be My Evil” are so amazing that I actually prefer the instrumental version, where they’re on full display.  Again, the powerful bass propels the song forward, with layer upon layer of guitar riffs accompanied by pulse-pounding drums making this a sonically hard-hitting track.

Ricci told me he has more music projects planned, which I can’t wait to hear. He produces a series of documentary videos about his involvement with many cover bands, called “Rockin’ Adventures.” Here’s a recent one:

You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook, listen to his music on Soundcloud or Reverbnation, and purchase on itunes.

Top 20 Songs for August 21-27, 2016

1. HEATHENS – twenty øne piløts (1)
2. TROUBLE – Cage the Elephant (2)
3. BURN THE WITCH – Radiohead (3)
4. SEND MY LOVE (To Your New Lover) – Adele (7)
5. WAY DOWN WE GO – Kaleo (6)
6. ALL WE EVER KNEW – The Head and the Heart (8)
7. BORED TO DEATH – blink-182 (5)
8. DARK NECESSITIES – Red Hot Chili Peppers (4)
9. GOOD GRIEF – Bastille (9)
10. CHEAP THRILLS – Sia featuring Sean Paul (13)
11. SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN – Young the Giant (12)
12. YOU DON’T GET ME HIGH ANYMORE – Phantogram (14)
13. ASKING FOR IT – Shinedown (16)
14. WOW – Beck (17)
15. WAKE UP CALL – Nothing But Thieves (19)
16. HYMN FOR THE WEEKEND – Coldplay featuring Beyoncé (20)
17. CAN’T STOP THE FEELING! – Justin Timberlake (11)
18. BANG BANG – Green Day (N)
19. LIFE ITSELF – Glass Animals (N)
20. SAY MY NAME – (IAM)WARFACE (N)

EP Review: Peter Noreika – “Throw the Switch to Begin”

Peter Noreika is an accomplished singer-songwriter from New York state who started out as a guitarist for several heavy metal/thrash bands, but eventually put his music career on a back burner in order to make a living and start a family. One day his then 4-year-old son told Peter he wished his dad was a songwriter so he could stay home and play with him, instead of going off to work in an office. It was that life-altering incident that shook him back into doing what he loved – writing songs and playing music.  Remembering that being in a band was challenging and wrought with obstacles, he made the decision to go it alone.  With his background in heavy metal, but sensibilities now leaning more toward acoustic rock and folk, Peter spent his spare time writing lyrics and music, and practicing hours on end. Finally, in 2015, he recorded his highly acclaimed debut EP METACOUSTiFOLK.

Peter Noreika

Now Peter has released his follow-up sophomore effort, a great four-track EP titled Throw the Switch to Begin,  which dropped on August 19.  Our ears are once again treated to Peter’s nimble acoustic guitar and emotionally raw vocals, accompanied by Joe Garetti on drums.

The first track “Ride” declares the powerful need to escape a troubled existence by setting out on the open road:

“I can’t stand the way I feel. Trapped inside this cage again. I don’t wanna see the day begin. Driving much too slow, I’m moving with the flow. I’m not going to stay here trapped inside. I got to get on out and ride.”

The song starts out with a slow, driving drumbeat and a rather mournful guitar riff, then, halfway through, the tempo speeds up, beautifully conveying the feeling of sudden freedom. It’s my favorite track off the EP.

“You’re the One” addresses the enduring strength of real love:  “Another day in paradise. It all looks better when you are near. We watch the years go by us. My mind hides the mirror’s lines. The only one who knows me. The only one I wanna know.”

The third track “Win or Lose” is a catchy, fast-paced song with some pretty cool guitar riffs.

“Said it before and I say it again. It’s never to late to get up and begin. Talk the talk and walk the mile. I don’t care about what’s in style.  It’s up to you, to win or lose. Now you can choose to win or lose.”

Peter shows a more whimsical side with “Rocketship,” a fun romp of a tune told from a child’s perspective. The EP’s awesome cover photo is of Peter’s son sitting in his “rocketship” made of a decorated cardboard box and brightly-colored mailing tubes, and wearing a helmet as he gazes up to the skies.  “Hop right in, throw the switch to begin, in my rocketship.”

Peter’s music is available for purchase on Bandcampitunes and Amazon, or streaming on Spotify. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Album Review: Paul Iwan – “Reveal”

British singer-songwriter and multi-instumentalist Paul Iwan has been playing in bands since he was 14 years old. He’s toured the UK with various bands over the years, and played international festivals in Germany, France and the U.S. In 2008 he was mentored and championed by Ray Davies (of The Kinks) and continues to collaborate with other artists and friends across the UK.  After years of writing songs and perfecting his craft, he has finally created and self-produced his first album, and it’s a thing of beauty and a real tour-de-force!

Set to be released in September 2016, Reveal is – in Paul’s words – “a collection of songs exploring themes of truth, honesty, regret and rebirth. Evoking early Simple Minds, it channels the avant-garde artistry of Melt era Peter Gabriel via the soaring melodies of Vince Clarke to create a deeply personal yet uplifting body of work.”

Paul Iwan pic

Paul’s highly melodic music is primarily synthesized, with lush orchestration featuring multiple instruments.  The opening track, “I Come Alive” is an exuberant celebration set to gorgeous sweeping orchestration, throbbing bass and nimble guitar riffs. Paul’s high-pitched vocals soar along with the arrangement. The second track – and the first album cut to be released as a single – is the beguiling electro-pop gem “Dream Stealing.”  Once again, we’re treated to lush orchestration and dazzling guitar riffs. Take a listen:

Another great track is the lovely but bittersweet “Red and Gold.”  Set to a rather catchy, funk-infused beat, the song addresses the pain of a lost love. “I turn my face towards the sun, and it’s red and gold. And I slowly walk towards the shore, as the sea inhales. Yet there’s one thing I know, you will always be here. When I’m alone and crippled with fear, reaching out to nothing, thinking you’re hear with me.”

“My Heart Bursts Into Flames” and “Poles Apart,” are two of the more radio-friendly pop/rock-oriented tracks on the album, with gnashing guitars and assertive drums.  Paul turns things down a notch with “My Scars,” where his dramatic piano takes center stage. “The Sun In January” is a lovely, upbeat ballad about love and commitment, with some pretty neat jangly guitar. Paul dials it back up with the joyously uptempo “Midnight Angel,” where his vocals soar once again to great heights.  “How Far the Apple Falls,” is another fine song about regret over a failed relationship.

One of my favorites is the alt-rock instrumental “Something Came In With This Storm,” which has a bit of a Pink Floyd vibe, with a formidable, extended guitar riff.  The album closes with the beautiful, hopeful “Reborn,” which features great rock guitar riffs toward the end.  It’s quite evident that Paul poured his heart and soul into this extraordinary debut album.

Support Paul by following him on Twitter and Facebook, and stream his music on Soundcloud. Reveal may be pre-ordered on Bandcamp and, after September 16, purchased on itunes or Amazon.

 

Song Review: (IAM) WARFACE – “Say My Name”

When I first heard the epic new single “Say My Name” from the UK alternative/electronic rock band (IAM)WARFACE, I was hit by an atomic blast of music greatness. The kind that instantly blows you away, leaving you speechless and covered with goosebumps. I LOVE THIS SONG!

The exhilarating track begins with a snarling guitar riff, then explodes into an inferno of speaker-blowing drums, big synth chords, bombastic bass and thunderous shredded guitars.  Band front man Matt Warneford practically shrieks the opening lyrics, backing himself up with distorted, soaring choruses. He then alternates those high-pitched vocals with smoother but urgent, impassioned phrasing.

The song is four and a half minutes long, yet seems over in an instant – always a sign of an incredible song.  Take a listen, and turn the volume all the way up!

(IAM)WARFACE started out as a solo act by Matt Warface, who wrote and performed all the music, but he realized he needed a back-up band to perform live.  Those band members are Louis Matthews (who plays a guitar/bass hybrid), Matt Whitehead (backing track coordinator and keyboards) and Alex Whibley (drums and percussion). The band name is a metaphor for their style of bombastic high-energy music, and their influences include Muse, Big Black Delta, Nero, Queens of the Stone Age, Tears For Fears, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Black Keys and MGMT.

Follow (IAM)WARFACE on Twitter, like them on Facebook, and subscribe to their YouTube channel. Their awesome music is available for purchase on itunes or streaming on Soundcloud or Spotify.

Album Review: Chris Watkins & Drunk Poets -“Lights All Askew”

There are some singer/songwriters whose music stays with you long after hearing it, drawing you back for another listen. Chris Watkins and his band Drunk Poets make that kind of music, reminiscent of Bob Dylan, Shawn Mullins and Lou Reed – simple, pure and honest, but always with a compelling story. His smooth low-key vocals are incredibly soothing to the ear, yet at the same time quite powerful.  Following up on their superb 2015 album London Can Take It, Watkins/Drunk Poets dropped their latest album Lights All Askew in July 2016, and it’s another work of musical art.  Drunk poetry indeed!

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Hailing from Alaska, which he still calls home, Watkins formed his original version of the Drunk Poets band when he was just 16 years old. He has continued performing and recording under the band name Drunk Poets – with various members – throughout the years and up to the present.  (Currently, Drunk Poets consists of Watkins, Eric Cobb and Watkins’ niece, who provides the lovely backing vocals.)  They play a beguiling style of alternative folk-rock that’s primarily acoustic, with awesome guitar and harmonizing vocals.

The beautiful title track “Lights All Askew” is a rather somber ballad with a mesmerizing, repetitive guitar riff and gently crashing cymbals. In his smoldering voice, Watkins sings:

“Bright red and blue, lights all askew in the twilight. The snow on the sidewalk like wool from the December sky. The rumbles of headlights that shimmer in spite of the cold. Black witches burning in purity fires of old.  And the darkness is waiting for thee.”

Watkins told me the song was inspired by the Northern Lights, which he has the pleasure of experiencing in his home state.

My favorite track on the album is “Dark Old Houses,” a captivating song that seems – to me at least – to be about loss and the passage of time.

“Yesterday I saw a flock of geese over the rooftops. With snow on the wing and an auburn sun overhead.  Like businessmen in shoddy suits at a funeral. Running for public office in the rain. Carpenters under the gun. Wrestle hammers from the wall. Shingles shiver in the gust. When the winter comes to call, on dark old houses.”

Musically, the song features a pleasing guitar riff with an undercurrent of gentle violin. I literally had this on repeat a half dozen times while composing this review.

Another personal favorite is the anti-war song “Munich.” I love the lyrics “I never made it to the revolution. The taste of teargas took its toll.” and the chorus “Tell me when the heathens reach the wall; I need some information.”

The other songs on the album – “Lasses and Ladies,” “Cheerleader in Love,” “Looking Glass Life,” “Soldiers and Dogs,” “Ivory Towers,” “Broken Gate” and “Souls Midnight” – are all exceptional.

On a side note, in an interview with heathmusicblogger, Chris stated his very first album purchase was Meet the Beatles, which also happens to be my own very first album purchase. That, plus the fact that he’s a nice guy who’s extremely supportive to his fans and followers, makes him a legend in my book!

Support Chris & Drunk Poets by following him on Twitter, liking him on Facebook, and subscribing to his YouTube channel. His music is available for streaming on Soundcloud or Spotify, or purchase on itunes or Amazon.

Top 20 Songs for August 14-20, 2016

1. HEATHENS – twenty øne piløts (1)
2. TROUBLE – Cage the Elephant (4)
3. BURN THE WITCH – Radiohead (5)
4. DARK NECESSITIES – Red Hot Chili Peppers (2)
5. BORED TO DEATH – blink-182 (3)
6. WAY DOWN WE GO – Kaleo (6)
7. SEND MY LOVE (To Your New Lover) – Adele (8)
8. ALL WE EVER KNEW – The Head and the Heart (9)
9. GOOD GRIEF – Bastille (10)
10. SOUNDCHECK – Catfish and the Bottlemen (7)
11. CAN’T STOP THE FEELING! – Justin Timberlake (12)
12. SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN – Young the Giant (13)
13. CHEAP THRILLS – Sia featuring Sean Paul (14)
14. YOU DON’T GET ME HIGH ANYMORE – Phantogram (16)
15. ONE DANCE – Drake, Wiz Kid, Kyla (15)
16. ASKING FOR IT – Shinedown (17)
17. JUST LIKE FIRE – P!nk (11)
18. WOW – Beck (19)
19. WAKE UP CALL – Nothing But Thieves (20)
20. HYMN FOR THE WEEKEND – Coldplay featuring Beyonce (N)

Song Review: Neil and Adam – “Everything is Alright”

Neil and Adam are singer/songwriters Neil McCloskey and Adam Hilligardt, who hail from suburban St. Louis, Missouri (my previous home), and are the second St. Louis-based band I’ve featured on this blog.  The two men have worked together musically since high school, and make pleasing folk/rock/pop music that reminds me a bit like that of Gavin DeGraw and John Mayer. Their latest single “Everything is Alright” is an infectiously uplifting song that’s getting a lot of airplay on indie radio stations across the U.S., Australia, the U.K. and elsewhere.

The song’s hopeful lyrics speak to how inner beauty is more important than one’s appearance: “It doesn’t matter what you look like, look like, everything is alright, you’re still an open book. What makes you think he doesn’t want you, want you? Don’t you want to have another look?  What’s it gonna take to get into your heart?”

Musically, the song opens with an assertive drum beat, then Neil’s beautiful, plaintive vocals take over, with a great hook that immediately pulls you in. The strong drum beat continues, propelling the song forward, accompanied by Neil’s deft guitar and Adam’s gentle keyboards that add a lovely undercurrent to the song. The more I listened to “Everything is Alright,” the more I liked it. Take a listen to this gem:

Support Neil and Adam by liking them on Facebook and following them on Twitter and Soundcloud. You can stream their music on Spotify or purchase it on Googleitunes or Amazon.

Song Review: Partisan – “Juggernaut”

U.K. rock band Partisan dropped their awesome new single “Juggernaut” at the end of July, and it’s a real winner!  Following up on their previous stellar single “Two Lovers,” Partisan continues to amaze with their melodic, hard-driving alternative rock sound.  Formed in Manchester in 2013, Partisan consists of Stuart Armstrong (lead vocals and guitar), Dan Albon (bass guitar) and Rob Jones (drums).

“Juggernaut” achieves lift-off with the sound of jets flying, backed by a thunderous opening guitar riff and hammering drums. Nimble guitars abruptly take over, then alternate with a repeat of the thunderous riffs, accompanied by Armstrong’s beguiling vocals that rise and fall with the intensity of the music that’s propelled forward by Jones’ aggressive drums. This is one gorgeous rock tune!

Partisan is coming to America, with concerts scheduled for September 24 in New York, and October 1 at the Whiskey A Go Go in Los Angeles (which I’m excited about seeing). To learn more about Partisan, check out their website, follow them on Twitter, like them on Facebook, and subscribe to their Youtube channel. Listen to their songs on Soundcloud, and purchase them on iTunes, Google, Amazon and all other music sites.