Archive for the ‘Live music’ Category

With blend of influences, Valerie June stands on her own

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

From the Cape Cod Times, Aug. 22, 2014

NORTH TRURO — “Minnie Pearl meets Diana Ross,” said Kathy.

“That’s funny. I was thinking Macy Gray meets Dolly Parton,” I said.

“How about Tracy Chapman meets Zooey Deschanel?” asked Tracy.

We’d just seen Valerie June’s eccentric talent and personality on display at the Payomet Performing Arts Center. Add up our summaries and we had her pretty well captured.

June’s 2013 CD, “Pushin’ Against a Stone,” was one of the year’s best. On the disc, Tennessee-born June sounds like an Appalachian Macy Gray on one song, a ’60s girls group on another and Alison Krauss on another. It’s rock-solid stuff.

On that debut CD, June got some help from legendary keyboard player Booker T. Jones and guitarist Dan Auerbach of the blues-rock duo the Black Keys, among others. In her show Wednesday night, she was on her own, except for her guitar, her banjo and her “baby,” a banjo ukulele.

June describes her mixture of country, folk, blues, rock and soul as “organic moonshine roots music.” She added some country flavor to the traditional gospel song “This World Is Not My Home.” She sang her own “Rain Dance” as a twangy scat song, accompanied by some jangly guitar.

On the blues chestnut “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” her banjo strumming picked up speed, like a train accelerating on a downhill track. On other songs, including “Workin’ Woman Blues,” she attacked her guitar strings with the ferocity of folk-punk player Ani DiFranco. At the end of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me,” she coaxed the (willing) crowd into a sing-along.

Her vocals were served up with a mix of Memphis twang and old bluesman growl that sometimes made it hard to decipher the lyrics, but the emotions came through. You get the sense that June is still exploring the songs and not just churning them out the same way every night.

June played 16 songs, some of them barely two minutes long, during her 85-minute show, filling the rest of the time with stories, talking about cooking in her apartment in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn or scribbling down notes in the blank back pages of a novel when some song lyrics came to her in the middle of the night.

She said her CD title, “Pushin’ Against a Stone,” was a tribute to those who’d helped her along the way. “The more you go up the hill, the more dust that stone gathers. You push it a lot and it rolls back. You get people helping you, you get all these hands, and you end up rolling it pretty good.”

June wore spangly sandals, a blue polka-dotted skirt and a red leather jacket, with her massive dreadlocks in a gravity-defying tower. Lifting the banjo strap over her hair is “the hardest part of the day,” she said. “When you like your job and your hair, you just roll with it.”

June has too much energy to release it all through her vocals and strings. She finished one song with a short rooster-strut dance step. On another, she sat on a stool but kicked one or both legs while she played guitar.

Two-thirds of the way through the show, it struck me that June is a wiser, music-world version of the movies’ manic pixie dream-girl character, with her eccentric, at times girlish personality (think Deschanel in “500 Days of Summer”). Time spent with June is time well spent.

 

Parkingtons and Spampinatos caught up in sibling revelry

Friday, July 19th, 2013

parkingtons spampsphotos by Suzie Glover: from left, Ariel Parkington, Sarah Parkington, Nora Parkington and Rose Parkington; Lou Cataldo, Aaron Spade, Joey Spampinato and Johnny Spampinato

 

Imagine a bar with a jukebox that plays Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Easy to picture a joint like that, right? Now imagine a jukebox that plays Leadbelly, Dolly Parton, Prince and Radiohead. It’s a bit harder to picture what that bar would look like, but if you’re musically adventurous, it’s one you’d want to check out.

The Spampinato Brothers are the personification of the first jukebox, and the Parkington Sisters recreate the second one. Both Cape-based bands performed Thursday night, and a few lucky folks were in the audience for both shows.

Born in the Bronx (but we’ll forgive them for that), Joey and Johnny Spampinato are among the Cape’s rock royalty. Bassplayer Joey was a founding member of NRBQ and has performed with Berry, Keith Richards and Eric Clapton. Guitarist Johnny is a member of the Incredible Casuals and was a longtime member of NRBQ. Aaron Spade of the Casuals joins them on guitar. At Thursday’s show at the gazebo at Nauset Beach, Lou Cataldo, who’s played with the Freeze and a zillion other Cape bands, sat in on drums.

The Spampinato brothers play good old, power-pop rock ’n’ roll – kind of like the great British group Rockpile but with some American grittiness thrown in. (And if you’re not familiar with Rockpile, whose only studio album, the classic “Seconds of Pleasure,” came out 33 years ago, well, it’s never too late to catch up.)

In Thursday’s show, they played a mix of Spampinato Brothers originals (“Let Him Think on That” with Everly-Brothers-by-way-of-the-Beatles-style harmonizing and the goofy “A Bear Is a Bear Is a Bear”), some NRBQ gems (“It’s a Wild Weekend” and “That I Get Back Home”) and classic covers (Frankie Ford’s “Sea Cruise,” Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” and the Beatles’ “You Can’t Do That”).

The Spampinato Brothers show was part of the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod/TD Bank series of free concerts, which continue at 6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays in eight towns through Aug. 1.

Two towns over and a couple of hours later, the Parkington Sisters performed a hometown throwdown at the Wellfleet Beachcomber.

Opening for the Parkingtons was the Sacred Mounds, a hipster-rock duo that’s a weird combination of mostly Ween and a little White Stripes. Their set included a song about the pro wrestling world of 1986.

Classically trained musicians, the Parkingtons perform what’s been described as “indie-folk.” That’s not quite right. On stage, they are less restrained and less delicate than they can be on CD. They rocked. This is, after all, a band that has toured with the Dropkick Murphys, a Boston-based Celtic-punk group.

The Parkingtons’ is not the traditional rock lineup. They performed violin (Ariel, Sarah and Nora), viola (Sarah and Ariel), electric guitar (Sarah and Rose), acoustic guitar (Rose), percussion (Nora, Rose and Sarah), keyboards (Rose and Ariel), strap-on Roland synthesizer (Rose and Nora), solo vocals (all of them) and harmonizing vocals (all of them).

“Cruel,” a gonzo, funky country ballad, was an early highlight. The earnest folk ballad “Me Oh My” was made extra intense by Ariel and Nora’s violin work. “Drowning in Blue” sounded like what would have happened if Sinead O’Connor in her primal rock days had tried to make a disco song (and succeeded).

The second half of the show leaned more on covers, including Parton’s “Jolene,” Dan Auerbach’s “Trouble Weighs a Ton” and Leadbelly’s “In the Pines,” which started more like the “O Brother, Where Art Thou” sirens than Kurt Cobain’s tortured version, but slowly ratcheted up in tension.

Younger sister Lydia, a former member of the group, came on stage near the end of the show to sing lead on “Sailor,” which was delivered as part country stomp, part sea chantey.

The Sacred Mounds joined in for the last few songs, including the Parkingtons’ “Deerheart,” a ballad that featured six vocalists; Prince’s “Controversy,” which was somewhat sloppy but still stellar; and Radiohead’s “Karma Police,” a show-closing audience sing-along.

By year’s end, I’ll have seen some bigger names perform, but I doubt I’ll have seen a better show.

Brandi Carlile raises hell

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

photo by Frank Ockenfels

Some musicians basically have two songs – a fast one and a slow one – and everything they do is a variation on them.

Brandi Carlile is not like that.

She opened her Friday night show at the Cape Cod Melody Tent with “Raise Hell,” a new song with a KT Tunstall feel. “Pride and Joy,” a song from a few years back, sounds like it was inspired in part by “High and Dry” and a couple other Radiohead songs. Her best-known song, “The Story,” is a country-rocker with the quiet-loud-quiet dynamic perfected by the Pixies and Nirvana. Her vocals can make you think of Patsy Cline, Amy Ray or Adele.

In lesser hands, that might be too many musical personalities, but Carlile is a rising star with the ability to hop genres. Named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of 10 “artists to watch” when her self-titled debut CD came out in 2005, Carlile continues to merit that attention.

The set fell into four segments: a bunch of country-rockers, a batch of rootsy songs (including one of the night’s highlights “Caroline”), two covers (a snippet of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and a fun no-holds-barred version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”) and then a half-dozen songs that displayed her full range of talents, from the pretty ballad “Turpentine” to the rocking “Dying Day.”

Her richly talented five-man band joined her for the first encore song, “Pride and Joy.” Carlile switched to piano for “That Wasn’t Me,” joined by twins Tim and Phil Hanseroth on vocals, and finished the show alone on acoustic guitar with the forceful ballad “That Year.”

Carlile can be a bit restrained on her CDs, but there was no such problem at the Melody Tent. She can easily switch moods and styles, doing it with plenty of charm and stage presence.

Opening the show was Andy Hull, taking a break from his duties as lead singer of the Manchester Orchestra, an Atlanta-based rock quintet. Playing alone with an acoustic guitar, he came across as a less-engaging version of Damien Rice. His set included songs from a CD trilogy that a press release says is about “a sailor who, upon discovering his wife cheating on him with his brother, runs away to sea and gradually descends into a vengeful rage,” which sounds like it would be better served by the full-band treatment.

Carlile’s set list

1. “Raise Hell”  (from the “Bear Creek” CD)

2. “Dreams”  (“Giving Up the Ghost”)

3. “What Can I Say”  (“Brandi Carlile”)

4. “Hard Way Home”  (“Bear Creek”)

5. “Before It Breaks”  (“Giving Up the Ghost”)

6. “100” (“Bear Creek”)

7. “Caroline”  (“Giving Up the Ghost”)

8. “Keep Your Heart Young”  (“Bear Creek”)

9. “Save Part of Yourself”  (“Bear Creek”)

10. “Josephine”  (“The Story”)

11. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (Bonnie Tyler cover)

12. “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Queen cover)

13. “Turpentine” (“The Story”)

14. “Dying Day” (“Giving Up the Ghost”)

15. “The Story”  (“The Story”)

Encore:

16. “Pride and Joy” (“Giving Up the Ghost”)

17. “That Wasn’t Me”  (“Bear Creek”)

18. “That Year” (“Giving Up the Ghost”)

Rickie Lee Jones: quirky characters and sweet love songs

Monday, July 30th, 2012

The King of Pop. The Queen of Soul. The Duchess of Coolsville.

OK, Rickie Lee Jones doesn’t have quite the international acclaim of Michael Jackson or Aretha Franklin, but Jones, who won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1980 (beating out the Blues Brothers, Dire Straits, the Knack and Robin Williams), has her own devoted following, including the folks who filled the tent for her July 29 show at the Payomet Performing Arts Center in North Truro.

Jones performs without a predetermined set list. Good thing, as she had to adapt right from the start. A bit of feedback came from her acoustic guitar when she took the stage, so she switched to the piano for her opening song, a cover of the Band’s “The Weight.”

Mavis Staples also covered that song when she opened for Bonnie Raitt at the Cape Cod Melody Tent last month. Staples performed with a full band; Jones did a more stripped-down version with Ed Willett on cello. But more striking was the different vocal styles of Staples and Jones. Staples comes from a gospel background, while Jones’s pop music is rooted in jazz. Staples sings with force and clarity, letting you hear the words and react to their meaning. Jones stretches out notes and slurs words, playing with the sounds and interpreting the emotions for you. Different techniques, equally powerful.

Jones’s technique also made for an interesting comparison on “Reason to Believe,” a song composed by Tim Hardin that’s best known for a cover on Rod Stewart’s smash 1971 album “Every Picture Tells a Story.” Stewart’s version is bitter and punchy, while Jones slowed it down to make it somber and teary. Again, two different approaches, both of which work.

“The Weight” and “Reason to Believe” were among six songs Jones played from a CD of cover songs, “The Devil You Know,” coming out Sept. 18. Sunday’s show was about looking ahead, to that album, and looking way back, with eight songs from Jones’s first two albums, which are filled with quirky characters, sort of a West Coast answer to Bruce Springsteen’s Asbury Park oddballs. Just four songs came from the studio albums between those early years and the new one.

Most of the songs on the new CD, including the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” were very familiar to the AARP-eligible hipsters in the audience Sunday night, but one of the highlights of the show was a lesser-known song. “Masterpiece” by Ben Harper, who produced Jones’s new CD and supplied guest vocals on her last one, is a gorgeous love ballad. Jones’s rendition was slow and bluesy and perfect for cuddling.

Other highlights included early Jones songs “We Belong Together” and the show-closing “Last Chance Texaco,” on which Jeff Pevar played slide guitar. Pevar, who has performed with Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett and Crosby, Stills & Nash, was an essential part of the trio, playing guitar, mandolin and organ. Willett on the cello, meanwhile, provided dramatic flourishes on “Living It Up,” struck some discordant notes on “Sympathy for the Devil” to convey Satan’s dirty work and plucked strings for a heartbeat rhythm on “It Must Be Love.”

Jones introduced her next-to-last song by saying, “I do this song, it’s a nice song, but I still haven’t reconciled the journey it’s taken me on.” That would be “Chuck E’s in Love,” the 1979 Top 10 hit that introduced her to the world and is still by far her biggest hit. It must be odd to have an early song overshadow the rest of a rich and sometimes daring career, but Jones seemed to have fun performing it.

Counting Crows and friends at the Tent

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Counting Crows calls their latest tour the Outlaw Roadshow.

Now bear in mind that The All Music Guide described Counting Crows’ debut CD as “modern music for people who don’t like modern music” – and that was almost 20 years ago. So “outlaw” is maybe overstating things a bit. The Crows mostly play it safe, not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

The July 19 show at the Cape Cod Melody Tent featured three opening acts, which is definitely a bit out of the norm.

Brooklyn-based We Are Augustines, the trio that opened the show, sounds like an Americana-version of “Joshua Tree”-era U2 with a huskier-voiced singer. On a ballad, lead singer Billy McCarthy’s vocals were in the general neighborhood of early Tom Waits. The band’s CD, “Rise Ye Sunken Ships” is worth a listen.

Next up: Kasey Anderson and the Honkies, who come across as a grungy version of the Wallflowers, with a bit of a cowpunk/garage vibe on one song. When they slowed it down on “Your Side of Town,” the song could have passed for a Drive-By Truckers ballad. The band’s “Like Teenage Gravity” is one of the tunes that Counting Crows recorded for a recent CD of cover songs, but the Honkies drew the biggest response with set-closer “Two More Bottles” (chorus: “It’s alright / It’s midnight / And I have two more bottles of wine”).

Out of the three strong opening acts, it is Field Report that has the most potential. In concert, they sound like Jackson Browne fronting an ultra-mellow Wilco (on recordings, singer Chris Porterfield’s vocals are more like David Gray’s, but again, a lot more mellow). The six members create a captivating groove. Porterfied used to be the pedal steel player in a band that also included Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver), but I won’t hold that against him. Field Report got major buzz at this year’s South By Southwest, and I’m eager to hear the band’s debut CD, coming out Sept. 11.

The Counting Crows’ 85-minute set covered most of the group’s career, with the odd exception of the band’s most recent CD of original material (“Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings,” which came out in 2008).

Four songs came from the band’s latest disc, “Underwater Sunshine (or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation), a collection of cover songs. One of them was a lively version of Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere.” Head Crow Adam Duritz had brought out the guys in all three opening acts for “hanginaround,” the closing song of the main set and they all came back out for Dylan song, the first of two encore songs, which had about a dozen people crowded around the microphones.

The other three covers were “Start Again” by Teenage Fanclub, “Hospital” by Coby Brown and “Untitled (Love Song)” by the Romany Rye – and you’re really keeping up with things if you’re familiar with all three of those performers. All in all, Counting Crows did a good job on “Underwater Sunshine” (and in concert) of putting their own sound on a wide-range of covers, but for the most part, the covers were less satisfying than the band’s originals.

And what is the Crows’ sound? The band’s debut came out when Nirvana and Pearl Jam were in their prime. For people who preferred the Band and Buffalo Springfield, the Crows’ debut was “modern music for people who don’t like modern music.” That quote sounds like it could be an insult, but it’s really just a clever description. Counting Crows’ debut was a bit of a throwback, but it was a throwback to some classic stuff.

Lyrically, the Crows can be a little too focused on waiting and traveling, and sunlight and rain. But their vibe on the upbeat songs is spirit-lifting; their vibe on the downbeat songs is perfect for repeat plays on dismal days (whether it’s the weather or your mood that’s bleak).

Musically, the Crows draw back on some classic folk-rock sounds, but they were also a little ahead of the their time, or maybe right on time, with an alt-country sound that’s not too far from Uncle Tupelo or the Jayhawks, bands that had more of a hip factor. They might not have the most original sound, but two decades later Counting Crows are still putting together a mighty good roadshow.

Counting Crows set list:

Intro (“Lean on Me” by Bill Withers)

“Round Here”

“Untitled (Love Song)” (The Romany Rye cover)

“High Life”

“St. Robinson in His Cadillac Dream”

“Hospital” (Coby Brown cover)

“Black and Blue”

“Catapult”

“Start Again” (Teenage Fanclub cover)

“Omaha”

“If I Could Give All My Love -or- Richard Manuel Is Dead”

“Children in Bloom”

“Goodnight L.A.”

“A Long December”

“Hanginaround”

Encore:

“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” (Bob Dylan cover)

“Holiday in Spain”

Doing the blues the Raitt way

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

What happens when a blues singer falls in love? In the case of Bonnie Raitt, she dedicates the closing song of her concert, a cover of Elvis Presley’s “A Big Hunk o’ Love,” to her new boyfriend.

The rest of her June 24 show at the Cape Cod Melody Tent included familiar Raitt songs in a range of styles: feisty pop (“Thing Called Love”), flirty soul (“Come to Me”) and forlorn blues (“I Can’t Make You Love Me”).

Among the highlights were songs that showed off Raitt’s gift as an interpreter. Not only can she pick out some great songs, she manages to make them her own, whether it’s John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery,” Bob Dylan’s “Million Miles” or Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line.” The last two were among five songs she played from her new CD, “Slipstream.” Raitt’s version of “Million Miles” is sexy and bluesy. Her reggae-blues take on “Right Down the Line” is a clever reinvention of a ’70s classic-rock song.

Raitt is among the few women inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame for both instrumental and singing ability. Her slide guitar work on “Love Sneaking Up on You” and “Thing Called Love” showed why she made it onto Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 100 greatest guitarists.

Raitt kept things moving but still managed some between-song chatter, including several reminiscences about the days when her father, Broadway singer John Raitt, performed at the Melody Tent. Her set list stuck closely to recent shows on the East Coast.

In response to requests, she said, “I see a couple signs up there for really obscure songs. I wish I still knew them.” But the 16 songs she delivered in a 105-minute show included plenty of crowd pleasers, among them “Something to Talk About” and “Have a Heart.”

As happy as she may be, Raitt was at her best when singing about heartbreak and heartache. She delivered the first verse of “Angel From Montgomery” a cappella before the band kicked in. Her vocals on “I Can’t Make You Love Me” got more than a few eyes teared up. That’s why they call it the blues, right?

Mavis Staples, making her Melody Tent debut, opened the show. She got her start in her family’s gospel group, the Staple Singers, when she was 10; 62 years later she performs with inspiring energy and passion. Like Raitt, she crosses genres. Sunday’s show included a funky version of the traditional gospel song “Wade in the Water” and a soulful cover of the Band’s “The Weight,” which drew the first of the evening’s many standing ovations.

Raitt joined Staples for a rousing cover of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Staples closed her eight-song set with a blast from her family’s past, a rendition of the Staple Singers’ 1972 No. 1 hit, “I’ll Take You There.”

Memorable shows in 2011

Friday, December 16th, 2011

The best show I saw all year was the Cape Cod Christmas Cavalcade. As usual, Chandler Travis collected an impressive assortment of local talent. Highlights included the Swains Sisters and the Blood Siblings on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reinder,” Christine Rathbun’s monologues, Greg Greenway’s “Psycho Santa” (done to the tune of Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”), Polka Dan’s Beetbox Band’s “Here Comes Santa Claus” and Chandler and Zoe Lewis’ duet on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

Some other great ones:
— Garland Jeffreys at the Narrows Center for Arts in Fall River
— the Drive-by Truckers at the House of Blues in Boston
— Elvis Costello at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis
— Tinariwen at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston
— Wilco at the Wang Theater in Boston
— Eddie Vedder at the Providence Performing Arts Center
— Alison Krauss at the Cape Cod Melody Tent
— the Lemonheads at the Wellfleet Beachcomber
— the Ticks, the Greenheads and Earth Junior at opening night at the Beachcomber
— the Flakes at the Woodshed in Brewster
— Daddy-O at the House of Bud’s in Hyannis
— Tripping Lily at the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis
— Taylor Swift at Gillette Stadium

And then there were the nighly campfire sessions by Darryl Purpose, Trace Wiren and others at the 25th anniversary reunion for the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament (in Ventura, Calif.).

Blind Boys and Dr. John at the Tent

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

If you went to Dr. John’s concert at the Cape Cod Melody Tent Aug. 28 and arrived too late to catch the opening act, you were in the right place at the wrong time.

The show openers, the Blind Boys of Alabama, weren’t just the best opening act I’ve seen among dozens of shows at the Melody Tent over the years. The gospel group put on a performance that was better than anything I’ve seen by all but one or two headliners at the Tent. At the end of their hour-long set, I said to the person next to me, “If they came out and said Dr. John had the flu and the show was over, I’d still feel like this was an amazing show.” He agreed.

But we got to see Dr. John, too. More on that in a moment.

The Blind Boys of Alabama formed in 1939 at the Alabama School for the Negro Deaf and Blind in Talladega, Ala. Since then the group has recorded on everything from 78s to 8-tracks to CDs, with an evolving membership. Jimmy Carter is the last founding member to tour steadily (Clarence Fountain goes on the road as his health allows). They’ve recorded with everyone from Solomon Burke and Aaron Neville to Ben Harper and Lou Reed

The three vocalists these days are Carter, “Bishop” Billy Bowers and Ben Moore (they and drummer Eric “Ricky” McKinnie” are blind). Each of the singers has a distinctive style. Bowers is a soul belter, Moore is more of a smooth soul & R&B singer, while Carter has a more gritty sound. They take turns on lead vocals and back each other up with some harmonizing that shows the results of years of touring together.

The opened with “Up Above My Head (I Hear Music in the Air),” which appeared on last year’s “Duets” CD (on the disc, they perform it with Randy Travis), but things really took off with the next song, a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.” From there it was just one jaw-dropper after another: a rocking version of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky,” a funky twist on Tom Waits’ “Way Down in the Hole” (used as the first-season theme music for HBO’s “The Wire”), a mind-blowing version of “Amazing Grace” set to the tune of “The House of the Rising Sun.”

During one song, an aide helped Carter off the stage and he made his way up and down aisles and across rows, shaking hands and singing all the while. It was impressive and inspiring stuff.

That’s a tough act to follow, and Dr. John’s laidback effort was a letdown after the high energy of the Blind Boys of Alabama. His delivery of “Right Place Wrong Time” was far less frenetic than the recording that was a Top 10 hit in 1973.

Dr. John and his band, the Lower 911 (he called them “the funkiest band this side of heaven”), opened with “My Indian Red,” turning it into a medley with snippets from “Iko Iko” and “Down By the Riverside,” offering an instant introduction to his style of New Orleans R&B. “The show-closing “Potnah,” one of four songs from the recently released “Tribal” CD, had a cool “Take Me to the River” vibe.

Five years after Hurricane Katrina and months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, “Save Our Wetlands” and Black Gold, two protest songs on Dr. John’s 2008 CD, “The City That Care Forgot,” have more resonance than ever. He got more playful later in the show with “Let the Good Times Roll” and “Accentuate the Positive.”

It was a solid performance, but it was one of those rare nights when the opening was so startlingly good that the headliner ended up being a second thought.

Frampton at the Tent

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Last night’s Peter Frampton concert kind of reminded me of hanging out in a van when I was in high school. There were some people I knew, some people who looked kind of familiar and some people I’d never seen before. Most of the guys around me were playing air guitar. There was the smell of pot in the air, at least until some guy wearing way too much cheap cologne sat next to me.

But high school was a long time ago. How long ago was that? I was in high school biology class when my best friend told me about this great new album – a double album! – his older brother had bought, something called “Frampton Comes Alive!”

And how long ago was that? Frampton’s bass player, John Regan, has played with him for 31 years, but still joined Frampton’s band too late for the glory years.

Not that there haven’t been some high points along the way. Frampton’s 2006 CD, “Fingerprints,” won a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album. Frampton played four songs off that CD, including a cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” that was one of the night’s highlights.

Frampton drew from the start and most recent parts of his career. The show began with a Humble Pie song (“Four Day Creep”) and ended with another (“I Don’t Need No Doctor”). Along with the songs from “Fingerprints,” Frampton played two from “Thank You, Mr. Churchill,” a new CD released in April. “Restraint,” he says, is a song about “greedy pigs,” and it’s a little heavier sonically and lyrically than anything on “Frampton Comes Alive!” while “Vaudeville Nanna and the Banjolele” is a sweet memoir about his youth.

But of course, what people came to hear were the songs from his monstrously successful 1976 double album, and he delivered, playing eight of its 14 songs during two hour-long sets. Frampton seemed a little sluggish during some early songs, and it wasn’t until the fifth song, “Lines on My Face,” that (to borrow a phrase) Frampton came alive.

As talented as he is, Frampton’s not a show-off. His keyboard player, Rob Arthur, who played a third guitar on some songs, offered more dramatics than his boss. Frampton let backup guitarist Adam Lester play the lead parts at times. Drummer Dan Wojciechowski also deserves a nod for his sometime frenetic playing.

While Frampton engaged in some amusing chatter, he seemed happiest when he was letting his guitar do the talking; the extended shredding on “(I’ll Give You) Money” was another of the show’s highlight. The audience went nuts when he used the Framptone talkbox on “Show Me the Way,” “Black Hole Sun” and “Do You Feel Like We Do.”

Frampton doesn’t go for visual flash. He wore blue jeans and a black T-shirt with a large grey peace sign on it. His hairline is receding and what remains is closely cropped and white. He looks like any other semi-gracefully aging Baby Boomer.

But all you had to do was close your eyes and it was 1976 all over again.

Thorogood at the Tent

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

I was a rock and roll guy before I started listening to George Throrogood. When I was a teenager, about the only blues song I knew was B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.”

But then the Boston radio stations started playing Thorogood’s first two LPs and through his blues-rock I became familiar with Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon, Elmore James and John Lee Hooker, who became one of my blues favorites.

Throrogood went on to break out of the Boston scene. He toured as an opening act for the Rolling Stones in 1982 (a live recording from a post-tour show back in Boston was recently released by Rounder Records), the same year that his “Bad to the Bone” became a monster MTV hit.

Nearly three decades later, “the worldwide touring machine” (as he was introduced) still knows how to win over a crowd. In front of me at the Aug. 4 show at the Cape Cod Melody Tent, two young women who spent the night doing sultry dances to the music had seats adjacent to a family of four that included a father and son wearing matching “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” T-shirts.

Thorogood took the stage wearing sunglasses (which he took off midway through the first song), a bandana, a black sleeveless shirt, black pants and white cowboy boots – an outfit that pretty much screams “I’m a badass musician.” And if you didn’t get the point, he moved around with duck walks and twirls and jabbing steps. It’s barely an exaggeration to say he had a different gesture for every note he played.

Midway through the show, he stared into the reflection of the bass drum, combed his hair and pursed his lips. He introduced “Born Lover,” a Muddy Waters song that’s on Thorogood’s latest CD, “The Dirty Dozen,” by saying his guitarist dedicated the song to all the ladies in the house, his bass player and drummer dedicated it to all the girls in the house, but he dedicated it to all the women in the house. Bad to the bone, indeed.

Thorogood doesn’t just expect an audience reaction; he demands one, using hand motions to coax a little more noise from his fans. He served up “Who Do You Love” with rattlesnake tongue flicks and mock stuttered his way through the “bad” in “Bad to the Bone.” While he saved that song for last (“Foreplay is over. It’s time to get down to business,” he said as an introduction), it was an earlier song, “Move It On Over,” that was the highlight of the night, as his band, the Destroyers, provided a churning backdrop for Thorogood’s guitar fireworks.

Opener Tom Hambridge has worked with Thorogood, Buddy Guy, Susan Tedeschi, Meat Loaf and others as a writer and producer. One of his songs, Gretchen Wilson’s version of “I Got Your Country Right Here,” is being released as a radio single this week.

Hambridge played a nice range, from some blues-rock in the styles of Thorogood and ZZ Top to the Lynyrd Skynyrd-esque “Nineteen.” His backing band, the Rattlesnakes, included Sal Baglio (formerly of Boston legends the Stompers) and Jim Scoppa, who added some swampy style on one song. Judging from the line at the merchandise booth after his set, Hambridge made a big impression on Thorogood’s fans.