Concert Review – Young the Giant, Fitz and the Tantrums & COIN at the LA Forum

I don’t attend all that many concerts, as I live in a desert – both literally and culturally. Despite the fact I live in the Coachella Valley – home to one of the most important music festivals on the planet – in order to see most musical acts under the age of 60, I must travel to Los Angeles. So, when I do see a concert, it’s a pretty big deal for me. On Saturday, August 10, I made the two and a half hour drive to West Los Angeles to see a fantastic lineup of bands at the historic Forum. (Former home of the L.A. Lakers, the Forum opened in 1967 but is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, due to its groundbreaking engineering and structural design.)

It was a great double bill consisting of Young the Giant and Fitz and the Tantrums, with COIN opening. I’d long wanted to see Fitz and the Tantrums in concert, but had never gotten around to it, so when I saw they were performing with another of my favorites Young the Giant, I wasted no time getting tickets. The Forum seats approximately 17,500, and this show appeared to be nearly sold out.

LA Forum
The Los Angeles Forum

The concert started promptly at 7:00 pm when COIN took to the stage and immediately got the audience revved up with their high-energy alternative pop/rock. I wasn’t very familiar with their music, but when I saw in advance they were the opening act, I checked out several of their songs and really liked their sound. Based in Nashville, COIN formed in 2012, and currently consists of Chase Lawrence on lead vocals & synthesizers, Ryan Winnen on drums, and Joe Memmel on lead guitar & backing vocals. Since 2018, they’ve been joined on their tours by bassist Matt Martin.

The stage was set up with a series of vertical panels upon which various graphics and light displays were projected for all three acts. COIN’s visuals were simple, consisting only of the word “@coin” that would appear one line at a time on five of the panels, as if repeatedly typed on a keyboard and displayed on a computer screen. Once all five panels were filled with @coin, the words would disappear, then the process was repeated over and over. It was kind of interesting at first, but eventually grew rather tiresome.

COIN-Forum
COIN

COIN’s music and performance, however, were anything but, as their catchy, upbeat music and lively on-stage personas were quite entertaining, especially their animated front man Chase Lawrence, who bounded about the stage as he sang. They started their set with their dance-pop hit “Growing Pains”, then followed with “Simple Romance”, “Boyfriend”, and their latest single “Crash My Car” – all terrific songs. Lawrence engaged the audience a bit between songs and they continued with “Cemetery”, “I Want it All” and their big hit “Talk Too Much”, finally ending with “Fingers Crossed”. Here’s their exuberant performance of “Boyfriend” that I managed to film most of:

After a brief intermission, Fitz and the Tantrums made their entrance onto the stage to thunderous applause, and quickly got the crowd’s blood pumping with the foot-stomping “Get Right Back”, one of the tracks from their third self-titled album Fitz and the Tantrums. Before I get into their performance, I’ll provide a bit of background and personal perspective.

Fitz & the Tantrums-Forum
Fitz and the Tantrums

The Los Angeles-based band consists of front man/vocalist Michael “Fitz” Fitzpatrick, the lovely and talented Noelle Scaggs (vocals & percussion), saxophonist extraordinaire James King, as well as Joseph Karnes (bass), Jeremy Ruzumna (keyboards), and John Wicks (drums). They formed in 2008, but the first time I learned about them was in late summer 2013, when I heard their fantastic synth-pop ear worm “Out of My League”. I quickly fell head over heels in love with it, becoming an instant fan of theirs, and caught myself up on their back catalog of songs that were included on their debut album Pickin’ Up the Pieces, as well as purchasing their second album More Than Just a Dream, which I played nearly to death for the next several months.

Their early songs were described as neo soul, somewhat of a modern twist on the classic Motown sound, but with indie and jazz overtones that gave their music a distinctive sound. A particularly noteworthy aspect of their music is that they have no guitarist! Their sound took on more of a pop sensibility on More Than Just a Dream, generating a little backlash from some of their earliest die-hard fans. But overall, it’s an outstanding album containing some great songs like “Out of My League” and “The Walker”, both of which reached #1 on the Billboard Alternative Chart, as well as some other standouts like the soulful “6am” and “Break the Walls”, both of which prominently feature Noelle’s wonderful vocals.

In early 2016, they released “Hand Clap”, the lead single from their self-titled third album, and I was immediately underwhelmed. The song was too poppy and formula for my taste, and I was somewhat disappointed in the new direction their sound was taking. Also, Noelle’s vocals were not being utilized nearly enough. My feelings about the third album are mixed, but there are a few gems like the aforementioned “Get Right Back” and “Burn It Down”. I’ve softened a bit on “Hand Clap”, as it’s so damned catchy, but I still think it’s a mediocre song. OK, now back to the show!

Fitz and the Tantrums kept the energy flowing as they launched into the hard-rocking “Spark” from More Than Just a Dream, then sang one of their earliest songs “Don’t Gotta Work it Out”, which they followed with “Out of My League”, still one of my personal favorites. In between songs, Fitz was very engaging, sharing his thoughts and providing tidbits of background about the band and the songs they performed. He’s now 49 years old, but exudes a more youthful demeanor on stage.

Fitz & the Tantrums
Fitz and the Tantrums

The vertical panels that previously displayed @coin during their set now displayed colorful, rapidly-changing imagery and graphics. Fitz and the Tantrums played for more than an hour, performing 18 songs, including crowd favorite “Moneygrabber”, five from More Than Just a Dream, five from Fitz and the Tantrums, and six from their upcoming fourth album All the Feels, due out in September. One of the tracks they performed from that album was the lead single “123456”, which I didn’t much care for when I first heard it, but it sounded better live. In fact, I found that many of their more recent songs sounded much better live, which is perhaps a testament to their engaging on-stage personalities and musicality. At the very least, those attributes certainly make for a highly entertaining and enjoyable live performance, and I loved every second of theirs!

They closed with a rousing performance of the deliriously catchy “The Walker”. I loved how the home town crowd cheered when Fitz sang the line “I wake up to the City of Angels“.

The intermission following Fitz and the Tantrums’ performance was longer, giving us ample time to use the restroom, get some obscenely overpriced adult beverages, and for our excitement to build in anticipation of seeing the headliners Young the Giant. When they finally appeared on stage, the crowd roared and cheered with delight. They opened their set with “Oblivion” from their fourth and most recent album Mirror Master, then performed one of my favorites “Something to Believe In”, from their critically acclaimed 2016 third album Home of the Strange. Next up was their current single “Heat of the Summer”, another terrific song from Mirror Master.

Young the Giant
Young the Giant

Young the Giant started out in 2004 as a band called The Jakes, with two of the current founding members guitarist Jacob Tilley and vocalist Sameer Gadhia, when they were high school students in Irvine, California. They changed their name in 2010 to Young the Giant while recording their debut album of the same name, and have never looked back. In addition to Tilley and Gadhia, the current lineup includes Eric Cannata (guitar), Payam Doostzadeh (bass), and Francois Comtois (drums). They’re an amazing and talented collective of musicians with a totally unique sound unlike no other, thanks to their exquisite instrumentation and also Gadhia’s gorgeous and distinctive vocal style.

He’s also a strikingly handsome man, with a charismatic on-stage persona. His athletic and sometimes even flamboyant body movements were at times quirky, but always riveting. He appeared on stage wearing a long saffron-colored jacket over dark trousers, and danced about the stage, his jacket flowing about him as he sang. They continued with the beautiful track “Apartment” from their first album Young the Giant, then followed with four tracks from Home of the Strange – “Amerika”, “Nothing’s Over”, “Home of the Strange” and “Titus Was Born”. Next up was the lovely “Firelight” from Mind Over Matter, followed by one of their signature songs and crowd favorite “Cough Syrup”.

They performed three more songs, then said ‘Goodnight’ and walked off stage. They still had not performed some of their biggest hits, so I knew (hoped) they’d return for an encore. They soon reappeared, Gadhia now wearing a sparkly dark blue cape as they sang the song I’d been dying to hear them perform, the beautiful “Superposition.” They followed with the bouncy dance number “Tightrope”, then the sexy “Silvertongue” before closing their set with an electrifying performance of their hard-hitting first single “My Body”, at which point the crowd went wild.

I found it interesting that they performed six songs from each of their two most recent albums, but only three from Young the Giant and two from Mind Over Matter. I was a little disappointed they didn’t perform one of my favorite songs of theirs, the hard-rocking “It’s About Time”. That said, I loved hearing all the songs they did perform, and enjoyed their set immensely. In fact, I love them and their music even more after seeing them live, which is something I think most, if not all, of us feel when seeing artists and bands we like in concert. It’s a special thing to see our favorite artists and bands play their music live, giving us a greater connection to them and their music.

Concert Review – THE HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES

I hate to admit it, but I really didn’t know much about supergroup Hollywood Vampires until a few days ago, when a friend asked me if I wanted to go with her to see them perform at one of the local casinos. I knew that Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp were in the band, but not much else. I’m so glad I went, because they put on a fantastic show!

Hollywood_Vampires

For those as unaware as I was, Hollywood Vampires was formed in 2015 by rock legends Alice Cooper and Joe Perry (lead guitarist of Aerosmith), and actor Johnny Depp to honor the music of the rock stars who died from excessive lifestyles in the 1970s. The band name comes from the drinking club called The Hollywood Vampires that was created by Cooper in the early 1970s. The club, which besides Cooper included such rock legends as Elton John, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson and Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees, used to meet at the famed Rainbow Bar & Grill on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. Their main objective was to drink until no one could stand up. Thankfully, Cooper and the other surviving members eventually cleaned up their act and are alive and well today.

Hollywood Vampires just completed a brief Spring Tour, which began in Las Vegas on May 10, and ended last night (Saturday, May 18) at the Fantasy Springs Resort & Casino in Indio, California (30 miles SE of Palm Springs). They were the only act on the bill, so we didn’t have to sit through any opening acts. They appeared on stage around 8:15 pm and played their asses off for nearly two hours, proving that age is only a number (Cooper is 71, Perry 68 and Depp will turn 56 in June). It was nice seeing a band where most of the members are older than me for a change LOL!

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Along with Cooper, Perry and Depp, the other touring band members included Chris Wyse on bass, Tommy Henriksen on rhythm guitar, Buck Johnson on keyboards and Glen Sobel on drums. They’re all seasoned musicians who played as a tight unit, and clearly enjoyed themselves on stage. Their infectious energy easily transferred to the audience.

They played a mix of classic songs and covers, original songs from their 2015 debut album Hollywood Vampires, and five new songs from their forthcoming second album Rise (set for release on June 21st), opening with “I Want My Now” from the new album. They followed with the head-banging “Raise the Dead” from their 2015 album, and now had the audience nicely worked up. Even though I wasn’t familiar with those first two songs, I was really digging them big time!

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Alice Cooper in action

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Joe Perry working his magic

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Is there anything Johnny Depp cannot do?

Cooper was very engaging, and talked with the audience a bit between songs, doing a bit of reminiscing as he introduced some of the old songs. Some of the highlights for me were their covers of the Doors’ “Break on Through (to the other side)”, Aerosmiths’ “Sweet Emotion”, The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” (during which drummer Glen Sobel blew us away with a phenomenal drum solo), and David Bowie’s “Heroes”, in which Johnny Depp did great justice to Bowie’s memory by doing a fantastic job singing lead vocals. He’s really a fine vocalist; I loved his singing in the film musical “Sweeney Todd”, and I think he’s also pretty good at singing rock too.

Here’s a terrific video of the band performing “Heroes” that was shot by Joe Schaeffer, a photographer/videographer who also happened to be at the concert, and has graciously allowed me to include it in this review.

And here’s some footage of the band performing “Baba O’Riley”, showcasing Sobel’s amazing drum solo. I apologize for the poor quality of the sound on my video.

Among the other new songs they performed from Rise was “The Boogieman Surprise” a great, hard-driving track. Here’s the official video of the band performing the song at another show:

The guys kept playing song after song with scarcely a break, finally ending with their cover of Tiny Bradshaw’s “The Train Kept A-Rollin'”, then walked off stage. The crowd applauded wildly and repeatedly yelled “oncore!” To our collective delight, the band returned to finish off with another new song “We Gotta Rise”, and a rousing medley of the crowd-pleasing Cooper classic “School’s Out” and Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”. It was an awesome show, and we all left happy.

Set List
1.  I Want My Now
2.  Raise the Dead
3.  As Bad As I Am
4.  Five to One / Break On Through (to the Other Side) (The Doors cover)
5.  The Jack (AC/DC cover)
6.  Who’s Laughing Now
7.  The Boogieman Surprise
8.  You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory (Johnny Thunders cover)
9.  My Dead Drunk Friends
10. Baba O’Riley (The Who cover)
11. Sweet Emotion (Aerosmith cover)
12. Heroes (David Bowie cover)
13. Git From Round Me
14. I’m Eighteen (Alice Cooper cover)
15. People Who Died (The Jim Carroll Band cover)
16. The Train Kept A-Rollin’ (Tiny Bradshaw cover)

Encore:
17. We Gotta Rise
18. School’s Out / Another Brick in the Wall

BRAIN APE to Release Live DVD “Brain Ape: Live at the Unicorn”

One of the joys of being a music blogger is being exposed to all kinds of music across a wide range of genres. More recently, it seems an increasing number of artists and bands are fusing together multiple influences and creating music that spans across numerous genres, rather than sticking to only one, which is making for some really unique and interesting sounds (I even heard a discussion of this the other day on my local National Public Radio station). A band who’s done this quite nicely is Brain Ape, a talented, inventive and slightly crazy London-based outfit who skillfully fuse punk, stoner rock, grunge, noise rock and shoegaze to create their unique sound they’ve dubbed “Scratch Rock.” As the band state in a recent YouTube interview: “Scratch Rock is an anti-genre. If you’re a punk band, then for your next record you’re not allowed to make a heavy metal record. It’s stupid that you’re not allowed to decide what you want to make if you’ve been labeled something. So why not label yourselves something that means nothing. And therefore, your next record could be jazz. It gives us freedom.

A self-described “Scratch Rock, spot popping, guitar smashing, headache inducing band from London, England,” Brain Ape was formed on New Year’s Day 2012 by front-man/guitarist Minky Très-vain and bassist Sol Alex Albret. They’d been friends since meeting in middle school when they both lived in Belgium. They soon released their first single “Cipramil,” and in 2014 released their debut album Dara O’. About that album, the band states they “established themselves as a group unafraid of releasing material very unsuited for mainstream radio. The record, with its lo-fi production, received no critical acclaim and went unnoticed by the world, much to the band’s delight.” Didn’t I say they were slightly crazy?

Brain Ape2
Photo by Nuri Moseinco

The band eventually added drummer Jacob Powell, and in August 2017, dropped their second album Auslander, which was released through Schlimbum Records, an independent record label started by Tres-vain and Dydy Haynes. Auslander is an ambitious work, containing 12 brilliant tracks with some of the best titles I’ve heard, and running nearly 55 minutes in length. You can read my review here. Powell eventually left the band due to other commitments, and Jamie Steenbergen joined the lineup in early 2018 as the new drummer. He quickly got up to speed learning to play the band’s repertoire of songs, as they embarked on a tour to promote Auslander, playing throughout Southern England and in Europe.

It was one of these concerts – at The Unicorn in Camden, England on the night of July 21st – that turned out to be an especially fateful show. They were opening for the band Ethyrfield, and excited to be performing at one of their favorite venues. Unbeknown to them, footage of the show was being simultaneously filmed by Galina Rin, Nuri Moseinco, and The Unicorn venue itself. Brain Ape played their set that night as they do every other, giving it their absolute all. After the show, they were approached by the promoter who told them they had footage of their performance, and it just so happened that a few videographers had filmed it too. So they obtained the footage, spliced the best pieces together to record their entire performance, and once they saw the edited version, they thought it was far too good just be used as a YouTube “throwaway.” It was then they decided to make it into an actual DVD release – “Brain Ape: Live at the Unicorn.”

Brain Ape Live at The Unicorn [Front Cover]

Brain Ape Live at The Unicorn [Back Cover]

The live video showcases the entirety of Brain Ape’s July 21, 2018 performance at The Unicorn. Both the sound and visual quality of the video are pretty outstanding, considering the footage was filmed by three different people. Furthermore, the video editing is seamless and near-perfect, and every bit as good as any other concert video I’ve seen. Brain Ape’s performance is tight and flawlessly executed, and they’re a joy to watch. Their live performances bring their songs to life, and it’s clear the guys greatly enjoy playing them for us. The physical DVD is scheduled to be released on the 13th of December, where the band will be performing a release show at The Dublin Castle in Camden. The DVD may be pre-ordered at http://www.schlimbumrecords.com/shop

Track-listing:
Information in square brackets indicate the timestamp where the relevant track can be found within the live video. Information in round brackets indicate which album the relevant track was originally released on.

1. Meanwhile    [00:00]   (Dara O’)
2. Blood Blister    [02:04]   (Auslander)
3. The Quick Brown Dog Jumps Over The Lazy Fox    [05:43]   (Auslander)
4. Respect Your Icons    [10:19]   (Auslander)
5. Give Me My P45    [13:43]   (Auslander)
6. Stop Sulking    [17:02]   (Auslander)
7. Das Krokodil Will Barfuß Sein    [21:04]   (Auslander)
8. Rig It    [23:13]   (Dara O’)

Here is a video clip from the DVD of the final song performed in their set – “Rig It,” which is the first track on Dara O’.


Interview with Brain Ape

I recently asked the band some questions to learn a bit more about their sound, creative process and love of performing, and all three happily provided some thorough and very entertaining responses. Enjoy:

EclecticMusicLover:  Hi guys. Thanks for wanting to discuss your music and new concert DVD. We’ve followed each other on social media for more than a year now, and I know a bit about you and how you formed as a band. But before we get started, I do have one question for you Minky. I love your name, and am wondering if Minky Très-vain is your actual given name, or is it your artistic name?

Minky: A bit of both, really. ‘Très-vain’ is my actual surname, but ’Minky’ has been my nickname since I first saw the light of day, so it’s almost my given name by this point. Nobody ever really calls me by the name on my birth certificate, so there’s no real point going by it.

Jamie: I didn’t even know his ‘real’ name until about six months ago.

Nuri Moseinco Photography - Minky Très-vain [Live in Luxembourg 11.18] (2)
Minky Très-vain – photo by Nuri Moseinco

EML:  You guys have a unique sound that really sets you apart from most other bands I’ve heard, partly due to your use of unorthodox melodies and song structures, but also because of your wonderful, distinctive voice Minky that sounds like no other singer. That’s a good thing, as it makes your songs instantly recognizable as Brain Ape, unlike some bands who, while putting out good music, can sound indistinguishable from a lot of other bands. Any thoughts about your uniqueness?

Minky: Sol and I have very, very similar voices when we sing, the only difference being that he impersonates Eddie Vedder, whereas I impersonate my inner turmoil. All jokes aside, whenever Sol does any backing vocals on Brain Ape material, or I’ve done backing vocals on A Twisted Carnival tracks, it’s very difficult to mix them in a way that they don’t blend in with each other to the point where we’re unsure of who’s singing what. It’s a really strange thing; when they’re soloed, they sound completely different and Sol’s quite recognisable in his own right. But for whatever reason, when we track them and lay them on top of each other they blend quite nicely.

Sol: When it comes down to “unorthodox melodies and song structures”, I think it’s because Minky and I never came from a formal music background. I’m shit. I dropped out of Music GCSE.

Minky: We get bored of ‘Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus, End’. So we make our material interesting for us to play, and it just so happens that a lot of the time that means that the structure follows its own path.

Jamie: At first it did take me a while to get my head around the songs, but that’s perfectly normal when you join any new project and you’re filling in for someone else. You’ve got to do the other musician’s parts justice, but make them your own. Now all of the structures are second nature. I don’t really need to think, anymore.

Sol: We’ve kind of clicked together.

Jamie: Yeah, we’ve got good chemistry. The song structures make perfect sense now.

Minky: We never force our writing to be unorthodox. We write whatever comes naturally. It’s not as if we set out to write a tune, and we say “right, we’re going to do a verse, a chorus, and then change the key, and then upset the tempo, and then trick the listener into going somewhere completely different”. In fact some of our tunes, like ‘Give Me My P45’, have a far more conventional structure.

Sol: But even that tune switches it up slightly at the end, because as we were writing it felt right to have the outro change up the entire feel of the song.

Minky: We’re not completely against orthodoxy. But if we were to do a whole album of that, we’d get kind of bored. It would kind of feel like going from ‘Rubber Soul’ to ‘Beatles For Sale’. Not to say that dumbing down music is inherently a bad thing, because the whole reason things like the early Ramones kicked off was because the tunes were simple enough that they were relatable, but… I dunno… We don’t really think about it, in all honesty. We just kind of do what happens. And what happens we kind of stick to.

Jamie: You want to be different, but there’s a difference between wanting to be different and –

Minky: Forcing that difference.

Jamie: Yeah. “I have to create something new”. We’re not reinventing the wheel of music. We’re just taking our influences and putting them together.

Minky: We think our material sounds well-worn. We haven’t explored any new territory, I don’t think.

Jamie: The sound is kind of familiar.

Minky: We kind of feel like we’re just paying homage to sounds that came out twenty years ago, but people seem to think that it sounds…

Jamie: Fresh.

Minky: Yeah. Well we feel like we’re adding at least something to it, otherwise there’s no point in doing it. And people seem to think that we sound distinctive, which I guess is a good thing. If only we could market that, you know. We might have been millionaires by now.

Julian Newton Photography - Sol Alex Albret [Live at The Unicorn] (1)
Sol Alex Albret – photo by Julian Newton

EML:  You released your most recent album “Auslander” in August 2017. Tell me a little about your creative process for that album. Specifically, where did your inspiration come from for the creation of your songs, and how long did you spend writing and recording the album?

Sol: Recording the album, that’s the easy bit to answer. In studio time, it took us about two weeks to record. But we had to space that out because of various commitments we had.

Minky: Conflicts of calendars.

Sol: Exactly. But we were able to record it quickly because we rehearsed the material so much that we could literally go into the studio and bash it out.

Minky: We rehearsed incessantly. Every track, except ‘Blood Blister’, was either caught in one or two takes. In fact there were tracks that surprised us because we thought we were going to have to really work on them. ‘P45’ was one of those. We got that down in one take. ‘Blood Blister’ was the only one that, for whatever reason, we had to do eight or nine takes of. We just had a day in the studio where we got very frustrated and felt like we weren’t delivering. But then when listening back days later we ended up using take three or four, so it ended up not being that big of a deal and wasn’t that catastrophic. We just weren’t feeling it on the day of recording.

Sol: The feel of that song had to be done right.

Minky: But it wouldn’t be on the record if we’d felt like we hadn’t delivered the take that we actually wanted to etch into a CD.

Sol: The writing however… Minky writes the material at first, and then my process comes in a little bit later. It takes us a long time to write material that we want to put out.

Minky: We took a step back after our first album because we didn’t want to write the same record twice. So I went on to produce Sol’s record with his band A Twisted Carnival, which was a nice change of pace and kept things interesting for us. There were some strong similarities between that album and the first Brain Ape record, but it was different enough that we felt like we were still moving forwards rather than regressing. And then the year after that, I ended up doing an album with a duo I’m in called the oRaNGUtaNZ which was a complete change of scenery. It leans a lot closer to electronic music, which was really good fun to write. And at the same time I was also working on my sister’s first EP, which blends all sorts of genres. So by the time I’d started writing new Brain Ape material, I’d done so much different work that I felt comfortable that the material wasn’t just going to be a rehash of ‘Dara O’’. During that time, Sol had been travelling around the world and when he came back to England I was ready to show him what I’d come up with. So he moved in with me, and once you’re living under the same roof it’s a very easy and natural process to write music together. So we did that for about a year, and then we turned our attention to finding the right drummer for the job. Luckily for us it was around about that time that we were introduced to Jacob Powell. Once he’d joined the process it took maybe a further six months to just go over it again and again, which we did over one long summer in 2016. After that, we went up to Scotland and we recorded the album. There’s a ‘documentary’ about that bit, which you can watch here on YouTube.

EML:  I read in another interview you did with Teri Morris for her Music Matters blog that you guys have spent a good deal of this past year touring around Southern England and in Europe. I know that touring is important for bands to get their music heard and try to connect with fans, but it can also be a stressful experience. How was it for you guys? And did the connection with and reaction from fans make it worth your while?

Sol: Fuck yes.

Minky: I don’t think we’d be doing it again if it wasn’t worth our while. We’ve just been back out to Europe for the third time this year, which was hugely successful. A good friend of ours runs a booking agency out there called UphillBookings, so if you’re looking to play Europe hit him up. Nice bloke, treats bands well.

Sol: The connections and reactions from the fans this past year… For me at least I love just getting on stage and playing loud music, and having people enjoy that is one of the best experiences.

Jamie: You can play music for yourself, but it’s more important to do it for other people.

Sol: It adds a new level to it.

Jamie: Obviously, it’s good fun for us. We have good laughs going out on the road, but performing and sharing the music is the most important bit. People connect to that, and they enjoy the tunes. It’s great for us to see new places too, and that’s all part of the fun and games for us. But we wouldn’t do it if it weren’t for the people who enjoy our music.

Minky: It’s unanimous in this band that music did so much for us when we were growing up. It’s really, really lovely to be able to offer that same service to other kids.

Jamie: We’ll never know the true effect, really.

Minky: I’m going to repeat myself between interviews here, but it’s not just kids either. It’s people of all ages, and if we can help anybody through tough parts of life… I’m not going to go into specifics, but in this band we’ve had a rough couple of weeks and playing music has helped us through it. So if we can help other people through rough times then it’s worth it.

EML:  In addition to seeing and hearing you play your songs live, the thing I like most about your performance on the DVD is how you guys really get into your ‘zone’ and seem to have fun, not to mention your on-stage charisma. Do you find you get more energized performing your songs on stage as opposed to in a studio setting?

Sol: I like to try and make a studio setting feel like an on-stage performance. It helps translate the studio work to a live environment later on.

Minky: When we recorded our first album, I refused to let anybody sit down while they were tracking. You can hear the difference, especially with vocals, when someone’s going through the motions without particularly paying attention to it, compared to when they’re completely committing to what they’re doing. Posture changes how you play. We weren’t quite like that on ‘Auslander’, though, because we approached that album very differently than we did ‘Dara O’’. For our first record, we’d written it and rehearsed it and then went into the studio and only did one take for virtually everything. We had an ethos of “even if you make a mistake, that’s what happened at that point in time”. We treated that album almost like a photograph. It was supposed to be very spontaneous, regardless of ugly faults and flaws. But we didn’t have that approach at all for ‘Auslander’. We wanted to capture exactly what we thought we were about. Rather than take a picture of the band, we wanted to paint a painting. Which is why some of the song titles and lyrics reflect that.

Sol: To be more specific to your question, though, while we make both environments similar I definitely get more energised performing on stage. It’s a blast. You get feedback from an actual audience, and you get feedback from your fellow musicians. I’ll look over and I’ll see Minky going crazy and that makes me lose it, too. Then I’ll look over at Jamie and he’s not even looking at anything in particular because he’s lost in the music. It’s great.

Minky: When you’re playing with what the crowd are giving you, it makes a huge difference. It doesn’t matter if it’s thirty people or thirty-thousand people. Having someone lose themselves in the music, the moment, owning that. It’s fantastic. Life’s too short not to. You’ve got to never let that go, because you’ve only got one shot.

Sol: Do not miss your chance.

Minky: Spaghetti.

Jamie: But I think we’ve got good chemistry. Even in the rehearsal studio, we bounce off each other. That’s just what we do. It comes from playing together a lot, and rehearsing a bunch. There’re little things that Minky will do live that Sol and I have to deal with –

Sol: But we keep eye-contact and it works.

Minky: I must give you guys credit, to be fair, because I can sometimes be quite predictably unpredictable –

Jamie: We know.

Sol: Yes, we do.

Minky: But you guys keep the foundations rock solid. I couldn’t do it without you. It would just all fall apart.

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Jamie Steenbergen – photo by Nuri Moseinco

EML:  Are there any challenges in getting your songs to sound their best when played live?

Jamie: Getting a good sound-man.

Sol: People shutting down our show for being too loud. It’s tough to get our songs sounding their best when people are turning down our music.

Minky: I’m enjoying playing stuff from the first album at the moment because we’re having to reappropriate four-piece material into a three-piece setting, so I’m having to take what two guitarists had written and make some sort of hybrid out of it. To me, it’s new and almost like rewriting material. Our first album turns five years old next year, so we’re so far removed from who we were as people when we wrote it that I’m really enjoying revisiting and rearranging stuff so that it’s still contextually relevant for us as musicians. But it’s a bit of a struggle sometimes. Some of the tracks from the first album, we still haven’t worked out how to do with our current line-up. But the more we get to play with Jamie, the easier that’ll become. The setlist that we’re taking on the road at the moment –

Jamie: Is a mystery.

Sol: Wrapped in an enigma.

Minky: But we’re playing quite a few old tunes which we haven’t visited for years. We’re opening our sets with one of them and it’s been a lovely surprise to breathe new life into that track. A track that means a lot to us, as well.

Jamie: Having a decent drum kit helps me play live, too. And it also helps to hear myself. The hilarious thing at The Unicorn was that you guys came up to me after the show and were like “That was sick”, and it was but I couldn’t really hear during the show. It wasn’t the ideal sound for me. I was struggling to hear during the show. When that happens you kind of just pretend like you can hear the band. You just go for it, but it’s tough sometimes. Sound at a venue plays a big factor as to how a show goes.

Minky: Gear surviving tours is also a huge challenge.

Jamie: Especially when you smash guitars.

Sol: That is a challenge. Keeping gear intact is very difficult for some.

Jamie: Especially if you’re a Mustang.

Sol: Those things are so fragile. You have to be very careful.

Jamie: Expensive as well.

Sol: Very.

Minky: I feel like this has turned into something quite focused in my direction. And to be fair to me, there’s stuff I can’t help breaking as well. Like my bloody gate pedal not working anymore, so now I have to play slightly differently in order to –

Jamie: Guitar straps?

Minky: Yeah, okay. Fine. My gear breaks… But regardless, I think if you watch the DVD it’s clear that we wouldn’t get up on stage if we didn’t feel like we were translating our studio material properly. When you watch the show on that shiny purple disc, you’ll see that the material sounds very close to how it sounded on record. In fact we played ‘Blood Blister’ as the second track during the set, and during the credits at the end of the DVD I think ‘Blood Blister’ was used as well. Yes they sound different obviously, because one’s a studio recording and the other is from a live environment, but it’s so close that it made me quite happy the first time I saw it. I think it just highlights how well the songs translate from recording to stage.

EML:  What dream band would you most like to open for or tour with?

Jamie: Queens of the Stone Age.

Sol: Foo Fighters.

Minky: You guys are shooting pretty high.

Sol: Massively.

Jamie: I would have loved to open for Soundgarden.

Sol: I love the old, golden grunge scene.

Jamie: Same.

Sol: But there’s a revival coming around that I’m loving, too. Mantra are great for example.

Minky: Yeah, I’d love to go on tour with mates of ours like Mantra. Or Sundrifter. They’re a band from Massachusetts and they’re fucking sick. I’d love to play with them.

Jamie: Black Stone Cherry. They’re pretty sweet.

Minky: You wanna tour with Black Stone Cherry? Again, you’re shooting pretty high.

Jamie: Yeah, mate. Why not?

Sol: We do have dreams to go on tour with the big bands of our generation, but that’s not to discount any of the smaller bands that we’re at the same level with.

Minky: There’s quite a few good bands around at the moment.

Sol: There’s a Belgian band called Raketkanon, for instance, who are awesome.

Minky: Going on tour with Raketkanon would be wicked. On a complete tangent, I caught a really good band the other day called Mice on Mars. They’re from Britain and they’re cracking. I don’t think we could ever share the stage just because we’re very different types of music, unless it was a festival setting or something, but they’re a great band. I really enjoyed their set. Fiende Fatale are another one. If you get a chance to catch them, they’re quite good.

EML:  Are you now working on new music for a possible future album? And are you contemplating any directional or stylistic changes for your music or sound?

Sol: As we’ve said in every single interview, there’s stuff bubbling but we’re not at the stage where we can start talking about it.

Minky: “We’re keeping the top on the pot”.

Sol: We’re keeping the top of the pops.

Jamie: Top of the pops brewing.

Sol: We’re still touring with our previous album.

Minky: There’s no point making any false promises. We’re not going to be ready to tell people until we think the material is ready.

Jamie: It doesn’t really happen until you have something worth having.

Minky: No matter what we do, though, it’s not going to sound like ‘Auslander’ because we’ve done that already and we don’t want to do the same thing twice. It won’t sound like the first album, either. It’s going to sound like its own thing.

Jamie: It’s going to be different.

Sol: Stay in the present. The future’s for another day.

EML:  Anything else you’d like your fans and followers to know that I’ve neglected to ask?

Jamie: We now have badges and stickers. Put a sticker on your skateboard, kids.

Minky: Fucking sick nosegrab, dude.

Sol: In all seriousness, thanks for your time and we hope you enjoyed the DVD.

EML: Thank you Minky, Sol and Jamie, and I surely did!

Minky: Cheers, Jeff.

Connect with Brain Ape:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

Concert Review: ADELITAS WAY & DISCIPLES OF BABYLON – Jan. 27, 2017

I recently had the pleasure of seeing two bands that I love in concert on the same bill, at The Slidebar in Fullerton, California. LA band Disciples of Babylon, whose debut EP Welcome to Babylon I reviewed a year ago (which you can read here), opened for Las Vegas band Adelitas Way. (Varna was the other opening band, but I missed part of their set so am not including them in this review.) Adelitas Way played several gigs up and down California in late January, including at The Slidebar on January 27, and will resume touring throughout the Western U.S. in early March.

The Slidebar is a pretty small venue with no seating, so everyone stands to watch artists perform. I would guess the room held no more than 200 people, so it was quite intimate, and great to be able to see the bands up close and personal. Unbelievably, the concert was free! Disciples of Babylon, a four -man rock band consisting of Eric Knight on lead vocals, Ramon Blanco on lead guitar, Gui Bodi on bass, and Chris Toeller on drums, were first to perform.

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The guys look a bit tough in their promotional photo, but in reality are kind, generous and funny, with a great appreciation for their fans. This was their second gig I’ve attended, and they deliver 100 percent. Their set, which lasted approximately 40 minutes, included a number of new songs that will be featured on their upcoming full-length album, currently being mastered and planned for release in early Spring. They also sang their fantastic hit song “KARMA” and “The Great Pretend” off their debut EP, as well as an awesome cover of the David Bowie classic “Fame.” I filmed a portion of that song but, unfortunately, the sound quality isn’t very good (the music and bass were extremely loud in the small venue, so the sound is distorted in the audio recorded by my phone). Still, one gets a good feel for their dynamic sound and stage presence.

Adelitas Way came on stage around 10 pm, and by that time the room was filled to capacity, with anticipation running high. The band’s current line-up includes lead vocalist Rick DeJesusTre Stafford on drums, Robert Zakaryan on lead guitar and backing vocals, and Andrew Cushing on bass. The guys put on an exhilarating live show, and DeJesus is a crazy man on stage! He’s a big guy, and stalks the stage like a lion, his charisma and incredible energy charging up his audience.

They played many of their hits, including “Criticize,” “Bad Reputation,” “Sick,” “Getaway,” “Invincible,” and “The Collapse,” as well as their new song “Ready for War (Pray for Peace)” that will appear on their upcoming fifth studio album. In between songs, DeJesus engaged the audience and spoke about the band, their music and future plans. It was obvious Adelitas Way has a large, loyal base of fans, and a few people in the audience had seen them five or six times. At the end of their set, the band members circulated among the crowd, shaking hands and posing for selfies with fans. I was impressed by the amount of time and effort DeJesus put forth in meeting and greeting his fans, and his interest in them was completely genuine.

Here’s a snippet of their performance of “Bad Reputation” and once again I apologize for the poor sound quality.

Adelitas Way kicks off their Ready For War Tour 2017 on March 2 in Las Vegas, joined by opening act Letters from the Fire. If you haven’t seen them live, I highly recommend you make the effort to see them on this tour.

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To learn more about Adelitas Way, follow them on Facebook and Twitter, and stream their music on Spotify. Likewise, follow Disciples of Babylon on Facebook and Twitter, and stream their music on Spotify.

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

Here’s a video of “The River”:

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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Here’s a video of Alessia singing “Scars to Your Beautiful”:

Despite the two ladies’ awesome performances, I and all the Coldplay fans were thrilled to see our boys finally take the stage at 9:05. They opened 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,” which I was able to film. The video and audio aren’t too bad, if I must say so myself.

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. Halfway through the set, they paid tribute to David Bowie with a decent cover of “Heroes.” 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 that was truly magical.

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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. What an awesome treat that was!

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.” They played for two full hours! All in all, it was a terrific concert experience and one that I’ll cherish the rest of my days.  I only wish I’d had a seat closer to the stage.

Connect with Coldplay:  Facebook /  Twitter /  Instagram

Connect with Bishop Briggs:  Facebook /  Twitter /  Instagram

Connect with Alessia Cara:  Facebook /  Twitter /  Instagram

Concert Review – twenty one pilots Emotional Roadshow World Tour

I had the pleasure of seeing my current favorite band twenty øne piløts in concert at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on August 2, and my already high expectations were greatly exceeded. Not only are they amazing performers who put on a fantastically quirky show, but I also loved the two bands who opened for them.

I have to admit that I was not looking forward to having to sit through two opening acts I’d never heard of before seeing Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun play.  But the instant the first band – Chef’Special from Haarlem, The Netherlands – appeared on stage and began performing their exuberant new single “Amigo,” I was smitten.  They play a fun, energetic mix of hiphop, funk, reggae and rock guaranteed to have you on your feet.  I honestly felt disappointed when, after their third song, band front man Josh Nolet announced the fourth and last song of their set. I followed them on Twitter, listened to more of their songs and am now a fan.

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After a brief intermission, the second opening band – MUTEMATH, a four-man band from New Orleans – took the stage and, once again, I was more than pleasantly surprised, not to mention shocked I had never heard of them, as they’ve been around for years and play totally awesome music!  Their lush, alternative synth/rock/jazz sound kept the audience – and me – at full attention and, as eager as I was to hear twenty øne piløts, I enjoyed every minute of their set. I was sorry they performed only six songs, including “Typical,” “Monuments,” and their gorgeous new single “Used To.”  We were all blown away by the powerful drum solos by band member Darren King, who attacked his drums with fierce abandon.  I’m now a big fan of MUTEMATH as well.

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When the lights dimmed and Tyler and Josh appeared on stage, the audience leapt to their feet and went wild. The guys were dressed in their signature black and red suits, their faces covered by black balaclavas, and opened with a medley of “Heavydirtysoul” and “Migraine,” then segued into “Hometown.” Halfway into the song, crew members pulled a tarp over Tyler and, 30 seconds later, he reappeared in the upper stands and finished the song and tore off his balaclava. From video footage I’ve seen from other concerts on the tour, this stunt is repeated at most, if not all, shows. They continued playing songs from their three albums “Twenty One Pilots,” “Vessel” and “Blurryface,” as well as their latest single “Heathens.”

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At one point, Tyler and Josh moved from the main stage to a secondary stage across from where I was sitting, and performed a medley of songs from their self-titled first album.  It was nice to be able to get a closer look at them, as I was sitting pretty far from the main stage.

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Afterwards, they quickly climbed down from that stage and returned to the main stage to continue their show.  Halfway through their set, Tyler pulled out his ukelele and led the audience in a singalong of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” then welcomed MUTEMATH and Chef’Special back to the stage, whereupon they all sang “Twist and Shout.” Next came performances of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” and Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” (with Josh abandoning his drums and playing a respectable trumpet solo), ending with a rousing rendition of House of Pain’s “Jump Around.”  It’s always fun when artists and bands choose to perform songs outside their comfort zones.  Here’s a snippet of “Jump Around”:

Here’s their awesome performance of “Tear In My Heart.”  I couldn’t help but sing along and, unfortunately, my off-key vocals are audible at times. Yikes!

Toward the end of the show, Tyler climbed into a giant red inflated hamster ball that reminded me of the bubble that transported Glinda the Good Witch into Oz, and walked it out onto and over the audience while singing “Guns For Hands.” Again, this was another crowd-pleasing stunt performed at every show. As they played their last song, millions of pieces of red tissue paper confetti were shot into the air and quickly spread out over the arena. It was a dramatic climax to an incredible concert experience.

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