Concert Review: Jeff Beck, Paul Rodgers, Ann Wilson, August 1, Budweiser Stage

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Ann Wilson wasted no time upon taking to the stage Wednesday night, immediately launching into a cover of The Who’s “The Real Me” to start things off and following that up with “Barracuda,” the lone Heart composition she would play during her set.

Taking a break from her main gig with Heart after a falling out with her sister Nancy over some family conflicts, Wilson was touring in promotion of her upcoming solo album Immortal, a collection of songs by artists who have died, but whose music will live on long after them – hence the name. With Wilson covering everyone from Leonard Cohen to Amy Winehouse to Chris Cornell on the album, it looks to be an eclectic song selection and she noted that when choosing songs, she went for what she thought were the best ones, rather than just the obvious hits. Highlights of her set included a cover of the Yes song “Your Move” (which she described as being “pure light”) and a beefed up version of Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me.”

“You made the right choice this evening,” she said to the crowd, adding that we would get a good night of music “if you come in with your soul open and your ears open.” It almost felt like she was giving a sales pitch for the show with these comments, which seemed a bit odd to me. Everyone’s already paid to get in, Ann. You’re kind of preaching to the choir here.

Speaking of choirs, Paul Rodgers followed Wilson with a set full of hits from throughout his time in both Free and Bad Company that got the crowd singing along, most notably during set closer “All Right Now.” Rodgers has one of the quintessential rock voices and it was great to hear him belting out classic rock anthems like “Can’t Get Enough”, “Shooting Star”, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy” and “Feel Like Makin’ Love.”

Closing out the night was Jeff Beck, an impressive guitarist, but also a man of few words. Having seen Beck a few years ago during his co-headlining tour with Brian Wilson, I knew this coming in, but it seems he spoke even less this time around, addressing the crowd only once at the end of the night to thank them for coming and to briefly introduce his band. Still, the people weren’t here to hear Beck chat them up – they were there for some guitar heroics, and on that front, Jeff Beck certainly delivered.

Concert Review: Sarah Longfield, July 29, Hard Luck Bar

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While perusing the concert listings for something to see this past Sunday night, Wisconsin guitarist Sarah Longfield‘s name stood out on a bill filled with much more typically metal sounding monikers like Archspire, First Fragment and The Kennedy Veil. Upon further investigation, her music stood out as well – in a good way.

Backed up by a three piece band, Longfield put on a brief yet impressive show that put her guitar skills on display. While not fitting into the tech-death template of her tourmates, Longfield’s mostly instrumental music – technical, kind of proggy, kind of jazzy – definitely still fit in quite nicely as part of the Archspire-headlined Tech Trek tour. To put it simply, she shreds.

Check out the videos for “The Salient Voyage” off of her latest full length Collapse//Expand as well as non-album track “Stay Here” below:

Song Of The Day: Ovlov – Fast G

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Connecticut indie rockers Ovlov are back. Bandleader Steve Hartlett has revitalized the project for Tru, their first album in five years. It’s great collection that hearkens back to the ’90s sounds made by the likes of Dinosaur Jr. and Built To Spill. “Fast G” is one of the highlights off the album – it’s a punchy little blast of energy with a driving riff. Check it out:

Concert Review: Yanni, July 21, Budweiser Stage

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I will admit that going into Saturday night’s Yanni show, I had very little familiarity with the Greek musician and composer. Sure, I knew that Live At The Acropolis, the 1993 concert and subsequent live album which he and his band were celebrating 25 years of, was kind of a big deal back in the day, and that Yanni himself was still a big enough deal with some folks that he can fill the Budweiser Stage, but other than that, not so much. I’d spent very little time actually listening to his music and knew of Yanni as really more of an abstract concept, he of the synthesizer solos and the moustache and flowing hair. But I figured life is all about taking chances and since I had the chance to see Yanni live, I might as well take it, even if the prospect of a three hour concert of almost entirely unfamiliar instrumental music seemed like it might be a bit of a chore going in.

Taking the stage grinning from ear to ear and looking like he just stepped off the set of Miami Vice with his white pants and open white shirt over a bright blue t-shirt, Yanni and his orchestra launched into their set and he kept that grin on his face for pretty much the entire show. Dude’s been doing this for decades and still clearly loves doing what he does. As did the audience. There were solos galore almost from the first note they played and nearly every minute of the set was devoted to Yanni giving his band members (all of them talented musicians) time to shine, so he’s nothing if not a generous bandleader. Although I did notice that of the three violinists onstage, one of them didn’t seem to get the same opportunities to solo and be in the spotlight that the others did. Maybe he’s the new guy or something. Who knows?

While Yanni put on an impressive enough show, his music still doesn’t really do all that much for me (I did not feel any of the so-called “Sensuous Chill” for which he named his most recent album, but I will give a shout out to drummer Charlie Adams for a lengthy solo that was one of the highlights of the night). Yanni himself did kind of win me over though – he’s a bit of a character onstage, from the amusing little “woohoos” he did into the microphone every now and then to his enthusiastic boosterism for his bandmates in the form of constant finger wagging and other emphatic gestures of approval to the somewhat dramatic yet entirely sincere statements he would make throughout the night such as “Tonight we’re celebrating – first of all we’re celebrating life itself – but also the 25th anniversary of Live At The Acropolis” or “he’s captured the essence of the piece of music but he’s also I believe captured the essence … of life” when praising one of the violinists after they played a duet together on “Until The Last Moment.” A little corny perhaps, but clearly Yanni’s not afraid to get a bit corny. I mean, he did name an album Sensuous Chill after all.

Yanni also announced that his one hope for the evening was that he could bring the audience close to the emotions that he and his band were experiencing when they performed at the Acropolis all those years ago and while you know that he must say that at every single show, there’s no doubt that he definitely means it all. And while an amphitheatre by the Lakeshore doesn’t quite compare to an ancient Greek citadel that overlooks the Parthenon, based on the reaction of many in attendance, he at least brought them somewhat close to that feeling.

And now, because I’m sure you were all wondering where he stands on the matter, here’s Yanni’s reaction to the whole “Yanny or Laurel” debate: