The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones
Oracle Arena
Oakland, CA
May 5, 2013

The two main narratives regarding the Rolling Stones’ 50th Anniversary tour are: 1. Man, those old guys are old and 2. Man, those pricy ticket prices are pricy!  Never let it be said that critics don’t grasp the obvious.  Yes, those guys are old, it’s their 50th anniversary tour.  That’s 50 years, not 50 days.  The Rolling Stones were touring the US before I was born.  Mick Jagger &Co. were a fact of life from when I was learning to crawl.  And, yes, $2000 for VIP tickets is a lot of money.  Good thing it was my birthday and I have a girlfriend who likes to rock!  Actually, we didn’t pay $2000 ($86/song) or $1500 for the tongue pit in front of the stage ($65/song) or even $600 for the floor ($26/song) or even the lowest price $175 tickets since they were all sold out.  Instead, we joined the lottery for $85 tickets ($3/song).   The lottery system could be an entire blog post on its own; suffice to say we didn’t win the lottery and were ensconced rather high up in the arena.  But we could see fine and it was The Stones and it was My Birthday.  So, party on, Garth!

So, yes, the Rolling Stones are old guys.  Older than the US Supreme Court.  Though I don’t know anyone who would pay $2000 to see Antonin Scalia do the rooster.  For old guys, they are more than a little spry.  Mick Jagger has got the moves like Jagger.  He’s got the moooooves like Jagger.  Mick’s dance style with seal claps, and jabby pointing and spinning has always vaguely resembled an old guy trying to get down and now he actually is an old guy getting down.  He scampered back and forth across the stage and around the catwalk nonstop.  It’s no small accomplishment for him to sing at the same time and with the same defiant and teasing voice as when he was 20. I was tired just watching him.  

I also don’t know how Keith Richards is still standing but he is.  At times, he seemed to teeter precariously close to just collapsing on stage.  And his playing certainly isn’t what it once was.  Thankfully Ronnie Wood is back with the gang and can still play a mean guitar.  Of course, KR’s main contribution to The Stones’ history has always been the unforgettable hooks and he can still provide that.

Tom Waits and the Stones
Mick Taylor returns
Also joining The Stones on stage was Tom Waits for Little Red Rooster.  Let me repeat that:  Tom Waits joined RS for Little Red Rooster.  Awesomeness!  Many people can’t handle his very gravelly voice but it was perfect for the tiny scarlet fowl.  And his appearance was probably the highlight of the night when they played a number of less known bluesy tunes.  One more much anticipated guest joining in the fray later in the show was former Stones guitarist Mick Taylor who kind of wandered around the stage a little lost but was enthusiastically greeted by all the band and the audience.  It would have been great to have guests throughout the night.  

There was a monster screen behind the band that was used well: showing videos, live shots and, at one point, a montage of old R&B artists that influenced the Stones during their 50 years.  It’s hard to think of a current band that could do the same.  Will Vampire Weekend or My Morning Jacket be playing shows after 50 years?  I doubt it.  There are plenty of acts past their prime playing Vegas, locked in a time capsule performing parodies of themselves, but The Stones have avoided that trap.  Their longevity is a testament to their once in a generation quality.  There will never be another Rolling Stones.

There isn’t much that can be said about the Stones that hasn’t been said.  Many of their songs have been overplayed by FM radio which is understandable because they are rock and roll canon.   At Sunday’s show, they added new life to one big hit after the next including Gimme Shelter and Brown Sugar and Sympathy for the Devil and You Can’t Always Get What You Want and Tumbling Dice.  The 50th Anniversary tour has all the hallmarks of a farewell tour and the band seemed in some ways to recognize the unlikelihood of another outing when taking their curtain call, savoring the cheers and each other's company.  Having accomplished all they have and survived this long, I can only say, well done, lads.

Los Amigos Invisibles: Fun, Fun, Fun

Los Amigos Invisibles
The Fillmore
San Francisco, CA
April 24, 2013

There aren’t many bands more fun to see live than Venezuelan band Los Amigos Invisibles.  Los Amigos play Gozadera music which translates as Merrymaking or Good Times music which is definitely true. They put a lot of effort into their shows which are one long party.  There is a lot of energy between the audience and the band.  No one stands still at a Los Amigos show.  There are no ballads, no breaks.  There is barely a pause from one rocking, funking, discoing, latin rhythm dance song to the next.  They come on stage, hit the groove and the party starts.  Any band that has been around for 20 years is going to know how to play and that is definitely true of Los Amigos.   For a taste, check out: MentirasDiablo.

Simon: Piano Recital

Simon Trpceski
Hertz Hall, UC-Berkeley
Berkeley, CA
April 14, 2013

On a brilliant sunny Sunday afternoon, it is not easy to lure people into a quiet UC-Berkeley hall to listen to a solo performance by a classical pianist- even if he is one of the burgeoning talents of his generation.  Simon Trpceski has played with the finest symphonies in the world and been honored everywhere he goes.  In his homeland of Macedonia, they even had to virtually create an award for him, “National Artist of the Republic of Macedonia.”  On April 14, he performed Schubert’s German Dances and Fantasy in C major.  Both pieces were filled with lots of arpeggios- which are probably fun to play and show off his impeccable technique.  But when he reached the adagio of the second piece he demonstrated both his mastery and the sublime beauty of Schubert’s composition.  Simon is well known for his very expressive style of playing and could be mesmerizing just to watch .  Of course, most of the audience was waiting for the well-known Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Liszt that ended the program.  Simon also played three generous encores which were well-received.  In fact, the only flaw in the whole program was the inexplicable inconsiderateness of one audience member that drank water from a plastic bottle and loudly unzipped her purse which earned her a scowl from Simon.  Still a magnificent performance from a serious talent.  Check out Lizst’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.  

Alt-J: Indie Ambition

The Fillmore
San Francisco, CA
April 10, 2013

Alt-J only has one album in the books but is already scheduling tours at some of the biggest theaters in the country.  They are a much heralded and impressive British band in the mold of granddaddy indie band Radiohead.  There isn’t much else to compare them with- except maybe all the other bands that are trying to copy Radiohead.  I was impressed with their musicianship and ambition but I also thought that the band tended towards over-elaboration and cleverness for the sake of being clever.  It is nice to hear a band taking chances and the crowd clearly appreciated their musical skill but, at the end of the night, I left feeling excited and dissatisfied at the same time.  Their performance reminded me a bit of Minusthe Bear, all brain  
and no heart.  Still, they do know how to play even if their eccentric sound might not have mass appeal.  The performance was understandably short with only one album which I think is always a bit of a rip.  If you don’t have your own songs, you should throw in some others that you enjoy.  In the 1960s, when rock and roll was learning to walk, bands would play 20-30 minutes but those days are over.  It also doesn’t cost $5 to see a band anymore.   Bottom line: Alt-J is another new band to watch, it will just be a matter of time to see if they can live up to the hype and the acclaim.  

Afropop Party: Oliver and Fatoumata

Oliver Mtukudzi
Fatoumata Diawara
Zellerbach Hall
Berkeley, CA
March 30, 2013

As has been proven by previous postings, the Cal Performance series rarely fails to deliver and it rarely fails to rain when I go to one of their excellent shows.  And the evening of Afropop did not disappoint on either account.  The evening of all things African began with Malian Foutmata Diawara.  Her recorded music is kind of an African folk music with Afrocubist beats which is really a joy to listen to.  It makes me feel like I’m in Africa just by listening to it.  However, her live performance was much more energetic.  She spun and danced around the stage like a whirling dervish demonstrating the national dance style of different African countries, much to the delight of the Africans in the audience.  If there is any complaint about Fatoumata, it’s that she was too energetic and got the crowd too riled up before the more mellow stylings of Oliver Mtukudzi. Check out:  “Bissa” for an example of her amazing voice.  Go to 9:00 of the next link to see Fatoumata compare African dancing styles 
Oliver Mtukudzi is a national hero in Zimbabwe.  He plays a wonderful acoustic-based music that is hypnotic.  He really lets the groove flow during his music in a quiet but powerful way.  While Oliver’s music is very uplifting and just plain happy, it is not the same foot-thumping dance music of Fatoumata. The audience was up and ready to dance when Oliver got on stage but his music seemed too mellow for an audience ready to partay.  However, both Oliver and Fatoumata are class acts and if you’re interested in hearing what today’s African music is about, they are a good place to start.  Check out: Ndagarwa Nkaha