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Ben Folds – North Carolina Symphony – Meymandi Concert Hall

I had perfect balcony seats to watch Ben Folds “phone it in” this past thursday night at theMeymandi Concert Hall. It was the first of a two night stint with the North Carolina Symphony. I was looking forward to some surprises in the song selection since the initial press release announced that a totally different set will be played each night. I’m not sure what he played at friday’s performance but on thursday night, he pretty much played all the usual suspects that he normally performs at these symphony gigs. (EDIT: **wtf, I just got word from someone who attended friday night’s show and said that the setlist was very similar to thursday’s. only one or two songs were changed out. for shame. that’s not how these two Live Jasmin performances were being promoted.**)

At one point during the evening, Folds mentioned that he just flew in from Nashville where he’s been busy recording new material with the re-formed Ben Folds Five. This pretty much explained to me why Folds was just going through the motions this evening. His mind was most likely on the new material from http://www.jasminlive.mobi as well as the on-going session work and he probably considered this some sort of obligation that he committed to long before this reunion thing got going.

Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad. The NC Symphony along with conductor Sarah Hicks did a phenomenal job with the material. The symphony is top-notch and the music they were making was simply breathtaking to listen to. But, I personally was expecting a bit more from this collaboration especially since he performed a similar set with the symphony approximately two years ago in this same exact concert hall. Perhaps Folds and/or Hicks & Symphony didn’t have enough time in their busy schedules to rehearse new arrangements, songs, etc? who knows.

Around the middle of the set, Folds seemed to recognize that things were getting stale and proceeded to switch up the running order of the songs which in turn sent orchestra members scrambling to find the right sheet music. It was amusing to watch. The concert started to build momentum from this point on. Ironically, what also might have “awakened” Folds that night was an obnoxious fan that wouldn’t take Folds’ direction during the “audience participation” bit in “Not the Same”. The guy was singing loudly and off-key which ended up inspiring Folds to improvise “One Lonely Douchebag” on the spot. It was neat to see Folds guide sections of the orchestra to play certain parts during the song. Definitely the highlight of the evening… thanks to the drunk audience member. Not totally sure if he was actually a fan. I mean, why pay to attend a show and then ruin it for those around you by acting like an ass??

Anyway, despite this being a “by the numbers” Folds show, hearing a full symphony perform elaborate arrangements for songs like “Smoke”, “Steven’s Last Night in Town” and “Narcolepsy” was still worth the price of admission. random thoughts:

- the vocal choir was a great addition to the show. The tight harmonies were like icing on the cake. kudos to the choir and the choir director.

- Sarah Hicks is the rock star of conductors! she’s got style.

- I love “Not the Same” but the three-part singalong schtick is getting old.

- a bit sad that Ben wouldn’t come out for a second encore even though the majority of us stood there yelling and clapping for what seemed like forever after his “solo percussion piece”. I mean, why end a concert with a guy roaming the back of the stage hitting random percussion instruments?

- personal wish list: The Luckiest, Time, Still Fighting It, Still (the full orchestra version… yes, from Over the Hedge) and Magic (yes, I know he didn’t write it but it’s a great BFF song).

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Journey – Greatest Hits Vol. 2 CD review and giveaway

After 23 years and over 25 million copies sold, Journey’s Greatest Hits finally gets a second volume. It’s pretty much a no-brainer to release a “sequel” to one of rock’s best selling compilations. I’m just surprised it took the record label this long to do it. Anyway, the new release is titled, what else, Journey – Greatest Hits Vol. 2.

I’m happy to report that the new release doesn’t appear to be some sort of haphazardly put-together “money-grab”. In fact, none other than the great Steve Perry was on-hand for the remastering of this release. It has been said that Perry still has approval rights for anything related to Journey’s back catalog. Even though he hasn’t been the frontman for the band since 1996, it’s the Perry fronted-era that matters most, at least in terms of sales. And so just like the first volume, volume 2 focuses on Perry related material. Nothing from 1996 onward.

Now, it’d be hard for any band to top those 16 tracks from the first jasminelive compilation. There’s just no-denying the power of classics like “Don’t Stop Believin’”, “Who’s Crying Now”, “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” and “Open Arms”. So, Volume 2 is a bit of a step down in terms of actual bona-fide “hits”. But as a companion piece to the first Greatest Hits disc, it actually works. Songs like “Stone in Love”, “After the Fall”, “Escape” and “Suzanne” stand up pretty well with the previous volume. There are a couple of odd choices that I personally would have changed out though. I would have chosen “Message of Love” instead of “When I Think of You” from the album “Trial by Fire”. And maybe something like “Why Can’t This Night Go On Forever” in place of “Good Morning Girl”. But it’s nice that “Little Girl” was included since it’s on the often overlooked soundtrack album “Dream After Dream”.

As for the remastered sound – there’s noticeable EQ changes on some songs that help bring out some of the low end and soften some of the harshness of the high frequencies. For example “Suzanne” always sounded a bit “bright” on the original CD with not enough bottom so this remaster corrected this and now sounds more evened out. I wouldn’t say this is the “definitive” remaster in terms of Jasminlive audio quality but sound engineer Robert Hadley along with Steve Perry succeeded in achieving a cohesive sound over all the various tracks on this compilation.

So, if you have GH Vol. 1 and want to go a bit deeper into Journey’s catalog, Greatest Hits Vol. 2 is a great buy. As for longtime Journey fans, you probably have all these tracks in your music library but you might still want to check it out for the updated remastered sound.

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Peter Gabriel – New Blood Live in London – DVD review

The companion piece to Peter Gabriel’s recently released studio album New Blood is out in stores now. It’s a new concert DVD titled New Blood Live in London. I’ve enjoyed listening to the studio album over the last month so getting the new DVD was a natural progression for me. And I’m happy to report that the live orchestral performance captured at the Hammersmith Apollo last March is even better than the studio album. Yes, the album probably has better clarity and sonics but the excitement and vibe from the live show takes the material to a whole ‘nother level.

There’s a lot happening on stage during Gabriel’s show and the director, Blue Leach, does a great job in capturing all of that without overwhelming the viewer with fast edits. The live show features huge movable video screens displaying streamate cams visual effects for each song. On stage, along with Gabriel and his female backup singers is the massive 46 piece orchestra. The new arrangements are breathtaking and breathe new life into old familiar tunes like “Red Rain”, “In Your Eyes” and “Intruder”.

Peter Gabriel looks pretty relaxed on stage and his vocals sound amazing as does the orchestra. I’m sure the live shows were a huge undertaking but Gabriel seemed to be enjoying himself during the show especially on “Solsbury Hill” where he’s all smiles.

Notably absent from the setlist are Gabriel’s biggest hits “Sledgehammer” and “Big Time” but that’s understandable since they both relied heavily on drum machines. It’s an intriguing setlist though with lesser known songs like “Darkness”, “San Jacinto” and covers like “The Boy in the Bubble” and “The Book of Love”. Since the orchestral tour had a limited run, the DVD/blu-ray is a must for any Peter Gabriel fan. I haven’t heard if Gabriel will continue to do any more of these types of shows so this might be the only way we’re going to be able to see these orchestra versions live.

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Todd Rundgren review - Carolina Theatre of Durham

This gave me a chuckle today. I just stumbled across an old concert review I posted back in 2003 over on the TR Connection, a Todd Rundgren fan site run by Roger Linder. This was during Todd’s “have gun, will travel” tour which made a stop at the Carolina Theatre in Durham. I’m a bit surprised I gave a pretty positive spin of the concert since “Todd on stage all by his lonesome” is not really my cup of tea. I personally prefer to see him with a band. I’m pretty positive even Todd himself got sick of the “solo acoustic” type gigs since he stopped doing those types of shows after 2005.

Thankfully his return to the Carolina Theatre in November will be with a full band, the 1974-era UTOPIA no less. I’ll post more about the Utopia concert later on but first here’s my original review of Rundgren’s February 8, 2003 concert as found on the TRConnection. I went into the show thinking that since this was the last official stop on his winter mini tour-of-the-south that I’d have a better chance in seeing a more polished Todd show this time around (you know, Todd had the whole tour to “practice” the piano) Well, better luck next time I guess. The show was pretty much typical Todd in terms of piano flubs, forgotten lyrics and technical difficulties.

Todd started out well performing Love of the Common Man but had to stop mid-way through due to breaking THREE guitar strings. He had this “oh no not again!” look on his face since something similar to this happened the night before in charlotte. It seemed that Todd had a rough time recovering from this initial incident the rest of the night which may explain the shorter set list compared to other stops on this tour. some notable songs MIA this night: Love In Action, Black and White, Hawking, It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference and There Goes My Inspiration. I didn’t get a good read on Todd tonight. Couldn’t tell if he was glad this was the last stop on this leg of the tour and was eager to move on or if he felt this was an “off night” and decided not to push his luck by playing more than he had to. Todd wasn’t that chatty tonight which was kind of a bummer as well. The show was over by 10:30pm which was just TOO early. I was waiting for him to play on….. at least to hear him sing Hawking. But just my luck, it wasn’t meant to be this night.

Even with all the flubs and mind farts, I still enjoyed the show (yes, i know it surprised me too). There were several moments of pure bliss where Todd would sing a line so sweet and perfect, it’d take you to another place and time. Those moments really made the show for me. highlights for me include: tonight’s version of Compassion (spine tingling), the mp3-backed bossa nova set (although the abrupt way the “with a twist” instrumentals end is kinda jarring…..I wish he’d modify the tracks…), a sweet version of I Don’t Want to Tie you Down,Love of the Common Man (in the second run through of the song, Todd seems real determined to get it right this time and he definitely came through!), a solid performance ofCliche and the Wheel, and a surprisingly enjoyable version of Bang on the Ukelele Daily(personally I think I was more receptive to it tonight mainly b/c it came after the crash and burn of Hello It’s Me on piano.)

Overall Todd’s voice sounded great. And at times he seemed to really get into it. lowlights: in addition to the cring-worthy performance of Hello It’s Me, Todd barely made it through A Dream Goes On Forever. Afterwards Todd remarked that he couldn’t let the night end like that so he strapped on the guitar one last time to send us home with One World. I was pleasantly surprised that he sang “Chapel Hill to Tokyo!!” in the song since I live there. cool! As for the venue: kudos to whoever booked this tour. they picked some great places for Todd to play and the Carolina Theatre is definitely one of them. pretty intimate and great sound. And I was real glad to see such a great turnout. The place was packed. A big thanks to the management of the Carolina Theatre, STAR-FM and the News and Observer for getting the word out about Todd’s show. I think it made a big difference in terms of the size of the crowd.

Another highlight of the evening came early on: the opening act (an acapella group from NC State) ended their set with a great version of Todd’s Hodja. To sum up: even though the show wasn’t as polished as I had hoped, I still came out of the theater with a big smile on my face. Thanks Todd. Come back and visit soon!!! (actually that just might be the case since Todd announced last night that Rex will be playing with the Greensboro Bats this season which is about an hour away from Chapel Hill! cool!).

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Todd Rundgren’s Utopia tour – Something’s Coming!

I’m sure it has been a bit difficult for promoters to properly market these upcoming Utopia gigs. Any advertising would have to reach the casual fan since most “diehards” would already have tickets to the shows by now. And there-in lies the confusion. From a marketing perspective, you have to remind the general music fan at large of the fact that Todd Rundgren is the guy behind songs like “Hello It’s Me” and “Bang on the Drum All Day”. But when you mention Rundgren’s familiar hits in your ads, you wind up with concert goers expecting syrupy ballads like “Can We Still Be Friends” and “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference”.

Take the case of what’s written up on the website for the show I’m going to at the Carolina Theatre: Rock’s ultimate cult hero, Todd Rundgren is a prolific and talented musician and producer who has created a staggering amount of sounds and styles over the last few decades, everything from Beatles-inspired pop to a cappella recordings. His 1972 double album Something/Anything?, showcased his genius better than any other Rundgren record before or since, with such radio hits as “Hello, It’s Me” and “I Saw the Light.”

That’s all fine and dandy but there’s NO MENTION of the fact that this is the long-awaited reunion of the 1974-era members of Todd’s prog-rock band Utopia. And because this is a “UTOPIA” gig, I’m pretty certain “Hello It’s Me”, “Can We Still Be Friends” and the like will not be played at any of these shows. Hopefully the “casual fans” going to these gigs will be informed enough to know what they are getting into.

But for the diehards, these gigs are a dream come true. Even a couple years ago, no one would have imagined that they’d actually see Moogy Klingman, Kevin Ellman, Ralph Schuckett, John Seigler playing “The Ikon” on stage with Todd ever again. But it’s happening!! And as far as we know, only at these 12 shows. …Well, if these shows do well in terms of ticket sales then who knows…there could be more…

As for what they’re playing – Todd mentioned in a recent interview that they’ll be playing most (if not all) of the 1974 album Todd Rundgren’s Utopia and the 1975 album Another Live. So expect to see the full 30-minute rendition of “The Ikon”!! as well as “Freak Parade”, “The Wheel”, “Seven Rays” and “Just One Victory”. We’ll know for sure after the first gig at the Hard Rock in Florida on November 2nd. I’ll probably update this post with a setlist on the 3rd. So check back here if you want spoilers.

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Weird Al Yankovic – Durham Performing Arts Center

I took the kids to see Weird Al Yankovic at the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) this past sunday. Just want to make it clear that I went to the concert for MY KIDS. Certainly not for myself since I’m a sophisticated music blogger and all. *ahem*. …OK, who am I kidding?Weird Al and his band put on a great live show and the kids and *I* had a blast. There I said it. I enjoyed the Weird Al show, OK? Why should I feel embarrassed for admitting that? The guy is a pop culture icon. Yankovic has managed to sustain a 30 year career out of making song parodies. I mean, he’s outlasted a long, long list of bands and artists that have come and gone over the years. Plus he’s got his live shows down to a science – which includes lights, video screens, a couple cheerleaders, stormtroopers, Darth Vader and a slew of costume changes.

Yankovic’s show is a well-oiled machine that’s scripted, well-rehearsed and synchronized with the video feeds. So there’s not much spontaneity here but in the world of Weird Al, there’s no need for such things. OK, ok, fans might argue that Weird Al does alternate playing “You Make Me” with “Frank’s 2000 inch TV” from show to show and he mentions a local coffee shop during his spiel in “Craigslist” but they’d be missing the point. A Yankovic concert is more like a broadway musical than say a Phish concert where setlists differ from gig to gig.

But enough about that. All that really matters is that the kids and I enjoyed seeing Weird Al. His fans pretty much packed the DPAC which holds around 2,500. Luckily we got our tickets early and were close enough to get splashed with water during his Nirvana spoof and be able to notice his double-chin becoming unglued at the end of “Fat”.

I love all his rap parodies so I was delighted to see him do “Another Tattoo”, “Amish Paradise” and “White and Nerdy”. The Star Wars encore was another highlight of course. The “oldies” Medley hit all the right notes but I personally would have like a few more “oldies” in the setlist. Another memorable bit was during “Wanna B Ur Lovr” where Yankovic, dressed up in a tiger-striped suit, went around and air-grinded a few “lucky” women in the audience.

With all the wardrobe changes the guy has to do each night, I have to say that Al sure does work hard for his fans. Oh, and big props to his band – Steve Jay, Jon Bermuda Schwartz, Ruben Valtierra and Jim West. they can pull off any genre with ease which isn’t as easy as it looks. they sounded pretty tight.

All in all, a fun night out with my kids. I’d definitely catch Yankovic again the next time he comes through. And after seeing all the grinning faces at the end of the night, I’m pretty sure most if not all would do the same.