The Smashing Pumpkins shine bright at Gwinnett Arena

The 90s alternative scene is now legendary, with no band quite as beloved as The Smashing Pumpkins. With iconic songs such as “Tonight Tonight,” “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” and “Cherub Rock,” the Pumpkins have created music that transcends decades, and is truly one of a kind. The band stopped in Duluth, GA July 22nd for the Shiny and Oh So Bright Tour, featuring an epic 30-plus set list that spanned the Pumpkins’ career.

As soon as the lights went down, the energy in the room was simultaneously excited and hesitant of what to expect from the long-awaited reunion of (most of) the original members of the band. As the curtains parted, bright white light flooded the audience, and Billy Corgan walked onstage to roaring applause, going into “Disarm,” the much loved track from 1993’s Siamese Dream, while photos of young Billy flashed on screen behind him, with captions such as “Broken Boy.” Corgan, or WPC to use his preferred moniker, was dressed in what appeared to be a half-skirt or kilt, a theme of halves making wholes that would continue through the night.

Founding members James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin joined Corgan on stage for “Siva” and “Rhinoceros,” before planets and stars appeared on screen, and Corgan climbed to the top of a staircase in the center of the stage to begin “Space Oddity,” a cover of the classic Bowie song. Fan favorite “Zero” got fans to their feet, while the gorgeous “33” calmed them.

The epic set was split into threes, with very theatrical and entertaining interludes featuring Mark McGrath (of Sugar Ray) along the way. Things quieted for a beautiful piano set including “For Martha,” and  “To Sheila,” also featuring dancers on screen in perfect keeping with the music. All of the albums from the ‘90s got coverage, from the 1991 debut Gish to 1998’s Adore, with several covers in between. “Landslide,” originally by Fleetwood Mac, was my personal favorite, with Corgan putting his own unique spin on the song. “Stairway to Heaven” was a somewhat surprising cover, but the band pulled it off well.

Pumpkins fans might have been a little worn out at this point, but the band pushed on, never losing the ability to captivate the audience. “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning” was a great example of this, as the stage flooded with red light and set the mood. “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” was definitely the highlight of the night, during which the entire venue—sleepy or not—got to their feet to sing along.

Before playing the last song of the set, the band broke its long silence in a completely random way, with James Iha rapping about Duluth and “Hotlanta” with (something of a) straight face. Billy Corgan took the time to truly thank the audience, saying, “literally, emotionally, and spiritually, we wouldn’t be here without you. See you on the other side.”

Overall, the performance was nostalgic, theatrical, colorful, a bit weird, and captivating, which describes the band itself in my opinion. I’d definitely recommend catching this tour, just be sure to bring comfortable shoes, your voice, and an open heart.

 

Dashboard Confessional (5)

Dashboard Confessional’s “We Fight” Tour at Buckhead Theatre March 23

Dashboard Confessional’s We Fight Tour made a stop in Atlanta March 23 at Buckhead Theatre, with guests Kississippi and Beach Slang. The tour follows the February release of Dashboard’s new album, Crooked Shadows, which is the band’s long-awaited eighth LP, featuring the current, anthemic single “We Fight.”

Early concert-goers were treated to Kississippi, an indie/folk five-piece out of Philadelphia. Lead vocalist Zoë Allaire Reynolds’ stunning voice had the crowd captured as the band performed songs from its 2015 EP We Have No Future, We’re All Doomed, including “This Song Used to be About You,” as well as current single “Cut Yr Teeth,” from the forthcoming album Sunset Blush.

Up next was Beach Slang, also out of Philadelphia, who grabbed the crowd’s attention from the start of their fun and energetic set. Front man James Alex, who described himself as if “Angus Young and Harry Potter had a kid,” led the band through songs such as current single “Dirty Cigarettes” with a spunk reminiscent of 90s-era alternative such as The Pixies. The band even did a throw-back medley to the 90s, with a mash-up of Marcy Playground’s “Sex and Candy,” Smash Mouth’s “All Star,” and “Where Is My Mind” by the aforementioned Pixies.

By the time Dashboard Confessional went on stage, the theatre was packed with fans waiting to see the unofficial pioneer of emo perform. Chris Carrabba took the stage solo, all smiles as he launched into “A Brilliant Dance”,  the opening track from 2001’s The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most. The rest of the band joined him for “Don’t Wait,” with Carrabba encouraging fans to “whoa-oa-oa” right along with him during the song. The band’s 18 plus year career was beautifully represented for the rest of the set; Places got more recognition with “Saints and Sailors,” and “The Best Deceptions,” while Crooked Shadows held its own with “Belong,” “Catch You,” and “Heart Beat Here.” The band threw it way back with “The Sharp Hint of New Tears,” the lyrics of which spawned the band name, from 2000’s debut album The Swiss Army Romance.

Before introducing the new song “We Fight,” Carrabba took a moment to talk to the audience, letting them know that the song was for everyone, regardless of race, political association, sexual preference or religion. With lyrics such as “We never learned to keep our voices down, no we only learned to shout,” and “We earned what we could from the ground up, try to lift the whole damn crowd up,” it’s the perfect concert sing-a-long with a message.

The band saved the best for last, in true Dashboard Confessional fashion, with back-to-back hits “Screaming Infidelities,” (which the crowd pretty much sang for Carrabba), “Stolen,” “Vindicated,” and the iconic “Hands Down.”

Kississippi

 

Beach Slang

Dashboard Confessional

Radio 105.7’s Holiday Spectacular feat. Portugal. The Man & X Ambassadors

The Coca-Cola Roxy hosted Radio 105.7’s holiday spectacular show December 1, featuring Portugal. The Man and X Ambassadors, with support from Welshly Arms.

Portugal. The Man has recently made the leap from indie underground to mainstream radio with the hit song “Feel It Still,” a one of a kind song that defies genre. With a trippy backdrop behind them, the band took the stage to an unexpected cover of Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” revving up the crowd before going into another cover, this time Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2.” Portugal. The Man delivered songs from latest album Woodstock with a suave, laid-back performance that boiled down to just guys on stage playing songs and having fun. “Feel It Still” had the entire venue dancing before the band got into some older material, such as “Purple Yellow Red and Blue,” “Evil Friends,” and “Modern Jesus.” The band closed out the set with a reprise of “Feel It Still,” and yet another cover, this time Oasis’s “Don’t Look Back in Anger.”

X Ambassadors is another band that has experienced seemingly overnight fame, after the release of the song “Renegades” in 2015 and the following album VHS. The album was a huge hit for the band, spawning several hits, including the incredible “Unsteady,” and the hand-clapping, foot-stomping “Jungle,” which started off the set. Frontman Sam Harris did a fantastic job keeping the crowd engaged throughout the night, giving his attention to those on the floor as well as the higher seats, making it seem like one big family all enjoying the music together. Sam’s brother Casey was inspiring to watch on the keys, his passion radiating throughout the entire room. VHS got a lot of love, with “Hang On,” “Loveless,” and “Low Life.”

The band also performed several new songs, including “Don’t Stay,” featuring Sam’s amazing vocal range on the chorus, and a truly heart-wrenching song called “Joyful.” “Unsteady” had the entire venue singing along with their hands in the air before Sam introduced the final song. “This song is for everyone,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, LGBTQIA, Christian, Muslim. You do not have to be afraid. This song is for you.” The band then launched into “Renegades” to close out an incredible night of music.

Portugal. the Man

 

X Ambassadors

‘Live At The O2 Arena + Rarities’ by Alter Bridge


 

Earlier this year, I had the honor to cover one of my favorite bands, Alter Bridge, at a concert they were playing nearby.  When I arrived, the line was wrapped around the block, and that was five minutes after the doors had opened.  And this wasn’t an arena show!  So, I can only imagine how long the lines must have run outside of the O2 Arena in London when the band came to town.  But what occurred outside the arena is not my concern, but rather the events which unfolded inside.  I was given the opportunity to listen to the upcoming three-disc (or “that’s a lot of mp3s!” digital) collection entitled “Live At The O2 Arena + Rarities,” out Sept. 8, and I’m here to give you my minimally biased opinion – minimally, since I am a fan of the band.

Far be it from me to step on anyone’s toes, but I’m going to start with my least favorite part of this release first and work my way up.  And this isn’t “least favorite” in the fanboy-sense of “it just wasn’t long enough!” Rather, there are moments, mainly during some of the heavier tracks, where the production on the guitars comes across rather muddy, or perhaps Mr. Tremonti simply lays into the wah pedal a hair too generously.  This is quite noticeable in “Metalingus,” which was released as one of the promotional singles for this album.  Luckily, however, this is neither a continuous nor frequent issue, and hardly takes anything away from the overall experience.

So let us broach the great and the grand now, shall we?  The meat and potatoes of this collection is the two-disc live release.  For those of you who are die-hard fans, you have probably already pre-ordered this album, or are sure to do so unless I say the most egregious of things.  However, for those of you who have never listened to Alter Bridge and are looking for a pooling of some of their best songs, I’d say this is a great way to jump in.  While most of the tunes come from the newest studio album, The Last Hero, there is a healthy dose of the previous LP, Fortress, and their sophomore release, Blackbird.  The latter even sees the appearance of its title track, weighing in at nine minutes flat and standing out to me as one of the finest moments of the whole collection with its overwhelming emotionality.  Also approaching the top of my list, is Myles Kennedy’s solo guitar rendition of “Watch Over You,” featuring a fully-animated audience taking control of the vocals for a portion of the song.  And after all, audience-participation is the ultimate point of a concert, isn’t it?

“…I had no f*#!ing idea it was going to end up here,” admits Kennedy, in the 30 minute documentary which comes with the Earbook edition (limited to 1000 copies), beautifully put together by Sturge Media in association with Napalm Records.  He is referring, of course, to the band’s exponential growth into an arena act over its 13 year career.  And it’s wonderful to have such a video included, interviewing not only the band, but members of their road crew as well.  From lyrical direction, to guitar masterclasses, to fan meet and greets, it bounds about and does a nice job showcasing the human element behind the culmination of over a decade’s worth of music.

Speaking of culminations, I can’t forget that we’re also treated to a whole album’s worth of rarities.  Perhaps most interesting to hardcore fans will be two songs which have been unreleased up to now, “Cruel Sun” and “Solace,” both of which were recorded during sessions for the debut, One Day Remains.  The other nine tracks have found their way onto special editions of each studio album released thus far, but it’s nice to see them brought together here for those who might have missed them the first time around.  I honestly hadn’t realized that “Zero” and “Home” from ABIII were bonus tracks, as I’ve been wearing that disc out for years and can’t imagine the record without them.  The rest of the tracks are new to me, and it’s been a welcome occasion to get better acquainted with them.

Thinking back to my own live-in-concert Alter Bridge experience, I can’t help but smile as I listen to these songs.  Myles, Mark, Brian Marshall, and Scott Phillips aren’t just “musicians’ musicians” – to quote their drum tech, Shane Hall – they’re also great songwriters.  And the greatness of the songs isn’t simply a melodic twist, a crazy solo, or a wicked bassline (though those certainly help), but how each of these things coalesce with meaningful lyrics which resonate with their fans.  And for them, the live show isn’t about getting smashed and slamming into one another, though mosh pits have their place, but rather it’s a cathartic experience where their own inner demons dissipate with thousands of like-minded individuals, each unique in their struggles, but bonded by the shared love of these pieces.  You may not personally have anything approaching a religious experience when listening to these tracks, but take the time to check out the songs, absorb the lyrics, and perhaps you’ll understand the enjoyment and connection that an entire arena in London shared on Nov. 26, 2016.

 
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Mastodon’s Brent Hinds Proposes at Iron City

Although based out of Atlanta, Mastodon’s concert at Birmingham’s Iron City was a homecoming celebration. Vocalist/lead guitarist Brent Hinds is a Birmingham native and his family was in attendance. His mother spent the show hopping up and down, leaning against the balcony and his 90-year-old grandmother sat in a chair on stage and danced with members of both Mastodon and Eagles of Death Metal during the show.

Fans turned out in full force and filled with enthusiasm. The audience packed in tight such that making your way from one side of the venue to the other was a harrowing journey. The crowd met nearly every song with dancing, fist pumping, sing-alongs and the occasional mosh pit.

“You guys are really incredible,” said EODM front man Jesse Hughes. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a reception like this.” Both EODM and Mastodon echoed this sentiment several times during the evening. Of course it’s the sort of canned response that most bands spout at every show, but it felt sincere given the high capacity, high-energy audience.

After Russian Circles warmed up the crowd with a quick opening set, Hinds joined EODM on stage for its first few songs after introducing his grandmother. The band’s feel-good dance rock only contributed to the festive vibes of the night. Hughes strutted around the stage like a redneck Mick Jagger and rocked out with a cover of Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” amid the regular set list. Josh Homme rarely tours with the band and this night, unfortunately, was no different. But the touring band put on an excellent performance and Homme’s absence was barely noticed.

Mastodon’s stage show was no-frills/all business, which is fairly typical for the band. Four vertical monitors were positioned around the back of the stage and displayed dissected, colorful, psychedelic images as the band played. With the exception of the arrays of colored spotlights, the stage lights were kept low to emphasize the colored, whirling patterns. The only other form of theatrics was Hinds’ dancing granny.

Mastodon opened with “Sultan’s Curse” and proceeded to play nearly every track off the new album, Emperor of Sand, during the course of the night. The set was still filled with plenty of fan favorites like “Oblivion” and “Blood and Thunder,” but the new songs received as many whoops and cheers as the established hits. Crowd surfers were a frequent occurrence during Mastodon’s performance but mosh pits seldom appeared, spontaneously breaking out during heavier numbers like “Blood and Thunder” only to quickly peter out by the next song.

“You want an encore?” Hinds asked at the end of the night. The audience was still in high spirits and called for more. “Well how about this for an encore?” Hinds stepped backstage, reached for his girlfriend, Raisa Moreno, and led her onstage. He knelt and proposed to her. It was a bigger encore than the audience could’ve anticipated, a one-of-a-kind show. Hinds’ mom shouted from the balcony while her son and new daughter-in-law embraced. The band didn’t try to follow that with another song.

The concert was an intimate experience shared with fans. It was the sort of show that fans talk about for years. “Were you there the night Mastodon’s guitarist had his grandma dance onstage and then proposed to his girlfriend?” It was a treat to hear the band play the new songs and it’s definitely worth catching this bill on tour, but the remaining tour dates won’t compare to seeing the Iron City show.

Beth Hart Brought ‘Fire on the Floor’ 2017 Tour to Atlanta’s Center Stage on Feb. 11

Beth Hart embarked on the first official stop of her Fire on the Floor 2017 North American Tour at Atlanta’s Center Stage on Saturday, February 11 for a dynamic bluesy filled night with Rachael Sage in support. I love powerful, strong women who tell stories. Not just about love, betrayal or heartache, but songs that are political – that make a statement about the world we live in, and that’s is exactly what Rachael Sage does, especially with her brand new song “This Darkness” it’s a song about the trials and tribulations of what the people at Standing Rock are enduring. Both Rachael and Beth are fierce women with fire running through their veins.

Beth feels more like the living embodiment of Janis Joplin mixed with a splash of Billie Holiday and a dash of Etta James, simply speaking Hart is utter undiluted rawness. Hart is out in support of eighth solo studio album, Fire on the Floor, which made its North America release debut on February 3. The 13-track album illuminates Hart’s bluesy rock, jazz infused funk that is filled with heart, compassion and empathy – and that is exactly what you get when you see her perform live. First and foremost, you get honesty blended with the joy of love and all the perils of heartache to match.

Center Stage was the perfect place to host an intimate Beth Hart experience, as she performed a collection of songs that transcended her career, from “Rhymes” to “One Eyed Chicken” to the sensual as hell “Close to My Fire” and of course no Beth Hart show would be complete without “La Song,” the song that put her on the map in the late 90s. From compassion to pure blues, the set felt like a love letter to the past, while still embracing the now with “Jazz Man” and “No Place Like Home.” Hart divulges pieces of her soul, not only through her lush smoke-infused golden voice, but each night she gets on stage to perform, she let’s out all her demons and gives a hell of a performance.

Seriously this woman is one of my all-time favorite artists. Beth is fierce, unafraid at the depths at which she rawly exposes her flaws and embraces them as truth; not only on stage but in real life as well, with a fire-lit performance that leaves you wanting more, yet thoroughly sated by the knowledge that you’ve spent an evening with greatness. And that is exactly what Beth Hart is, she is the embodiment of passion, with a brazen heartache and redemption all rolled together. From playing in Los Angeles clubs in the early 90s to traveling around the world to sold out shows with greats like Joe Bonamassa, this is a woman who is finally comfortable in her own skin. And there is nothing more glorious, than to see an artist fully come into their own.

Beth Hart is an artist you need to see, she will set your blood on fire with pure saturated goodness. Her voice is honey-tinted shades of bits of heaven as she mesmerizes you with pain, love and the journey of life. How this singer-songwriter expresses herself through her music breath-taking, and a must see. Don’t miss out on The Fire on the Floor 2017 Tour, it runs through March 25, ending at The Chicago Theatre.

Full Photo Coverage of Beth Hart

Full Photo Coverage of Rachael Sage