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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Small world, growing smaller...

In my last Frank Blank Music entry, I wrote about a performance by Sons of Cream, a powerful tribute to a powerful power trio that includes Kofi Baker on drums, son of the legendary Ginger Baker.

Sticking to the percussion realm, I also read in the latest Hot Rod Magazine about an interesting guy named Jordan Hill. Naturally most drummers like to bang on stuff, but Hill’s a drummer who’s around car parts a lot. So it was perhaps inevitable that he would develop a percussion kit out of - what else? Car parts.

Jordan Hill, ready to rock.

One of the interesting things about the kit is that Hill has assembled a truly musical instrument, with parts that are tuned to allow the creation of melodies and contrasting musical movements.

So why did I mention Kofi Baker at the beginning of this piece? It turns out that Jordan Hill has co-written a book with Kofi about drumming, The Forgotten Foot.

If Hill’s approach to kick drums and hi-hat is as inventive as his use of car parts as musical components, your feet will surely be breaking new ground on those pedals.
Follow this link for a look at the components making up one of Jordan Hill’s kits:

Friday, March 22, 2013

Fresh Cream

Last night I embarked on a trek south to Millville, New Jersey, for a 90-minute set by Sons of Cream.
The band is appropriately named, as the bassist is Malcolm Bruce, son of Jack, and the drummer is Kofi Baker, son of Ginger. Can you guess the repertoire? Yes, it’s the music of Cream. Holding down the role of young Eric Clapton is Godfrey Townsend. While not a blood relative of Cream band members, Godfrey has played with Jack Bruce, as well as musicians ranging from Dave Mason to John Entwistle. He’s also held down the music director duties for the very successful Hippiefest tours.
Godfrey Townsend and Malcolm Bruce dig deep into the sound of Cream.

There are those who say bands like Sons of Cream are just retreading material. I counter that great songs are entities that benefit from a modern-day airing out. That argument was given weight by last night’s performance, which checked into all aspects of the great power trio Cream’s heritage. From a concise “Sunshine of Your Love” to expansive passages in “N.S.U.” and “I’m So Glad,” Sons of Cream breathed life into songs that been dormant too long.
Malcolm is highly-accomplished, like his father able to weave through song structures and emerge with unexpected accents. Baker, now on screens in the film documentary about his volatile father Beware of Mr. Baker, brings a more rock-oriented foundation to Cream’s music that works well, though his long solo in “Toad” displayed ample passages of the jazzy swing and African influence inherent in Ginger’s approach. Townsend, as his resume might indicate, is a musical chameleon. Armed with a Gibson Les Paul, a Paul Reed Smith, and a replica of Clapton’s famed Gibson SG painted by the Dutch collective “The Fool” more than four decades ago, the guitarist was a commanding presence immersed in Eric’s stylistic approaches heard during that incendiary phase of his career.
The fresh new interior of the Levoy Theatre in Millville, NJ.

Millville’s newly-renovated Levoy Theatre was a perfect setting for this concert. Originally opened in 1908 with a theater on the ground floor and a dance hall upstairs, the Levoy eventually expanded the theater aspect to feature silent films and Vaudeville acts. But by the 1950s the theater began to slowly descend into disrepair, eventually closing in 1976.
Now, after a determined renovation effort, the theater is launching its first new season since shortly after the original Cream split up. Seating just under 700, the theater has great sightlines, comfortable seating, and the sound was excellent during Sons of Cream. With restaurants and bars in close proximity to the Levoy, as well as a number of interesting shops, this venue looks capable of playing a major role in the vibrancy of Millville’s Glasstown Arts District. And a nice, small theater is always a welcome addition to the tri-state music scene.
You can learn more about the Levoy Theatre, and its lineup ranging from Joan Osborne to Dave Mason, at

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Fun while the flakes fly…

On October 10, 1979, the city of Philadelphia had its earliest ever measurable snowfall when just over two inches of snow accumulated on the streets during a surprise autumn storm. That night, a band from Texas called Fandango headlined at the Bijou Café. Yes, with Fandango’s presence it marked the first time vocalist Joe Lynn Turner graced a Philadelphia stage, long before he went on to sing with Blackmore’s Rainbow, Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force, and Deep Purple. But the night was also memorable because of the opening band, a young quartet from Ireland called U2, who attacked the stage as if they were headliners in a much larger venue than this small club. As neither band was well known, the inclement weather held the crowd down to a mere dozen, including yours truly - although hundreds now claim to have been downstairs off Lombard Street that cold night.

Last night, well into March, Philadelphia experienced one of its latest snowfalls on record. And though the accumulation was negligible, once again there were musical fireworks among the flakes. This time the venue was the small upstairs room at West Philadelphia’s World Café Live complex.


Leogun: hair, volume, and rock!

First on stage was Leogun, a London-based trio managed by Elton John’s Rocket Music firm. The band released their first EP in October on a new label created by Yamaha instruments (Yamaha Entertainment Group), and the four-song self-titled disc is a calling card for a full LP soon to come. But perhaps the best calling card Leogun has is their live set. Power trio sightings have been few and far between in recent years, but Leogun flies the heavy flag with pride, near equals with legendary forbearers like Humble Pie. And if they aren’t quite as scruffy as Motorhead, that’s only because their interests lean more to the weightier offerings of Led Zeppelin, where song craft is as important as the throttle being wide open. Leogun bears watching, without a doubt.


What turned out to be a little snow did not scare off a packed house.

Los Angeles’ Vintage Trouble was the sold-out show’s headliner, fresh off a second stint with The Who. Over and over I’ve read comments from people unaware of this band who, after seeing them open for the British legends in cavernous arenas, fell hard for them. I can now tell you that in small clubs the intensity of Vintage Trouble is far more powerful.


Vintage Trouble brings it on home Upstairs at World Cafe Live.

In these bizarre days when banjos and self-pity have stormed the charts, Vintage Trouble is a tight rock and roll band, one with a solid R&B influence that flavors its charismatic presence. While reports from the Lumineers recent headlining show at the Tower Theater indicate they had difficulty filling a full hour, playing the mind-numbing “Ho Hey” twice in the short set, Vintage Trouble conveys the spirit that this is a band with no shortage of substance. New material made up part of the near 90-minute show, and it was easily as good as their increasingly-known songs from the band’s debut album The Bomb Shelter Sessions.

Ty Taylor works the crowd, and he works it so well.

Singer Ty Taylor is the band’s live focal point, a true showman whose stage presence is undeniable, whether dancing up a storm center stage or rambling out into the crowd to make sure everyone’s having a good time. He’s best described as the polar opposite of “aloof.” Guitarist Nalle Colt takes on one of the riskiest jobs in rock - playing the only lead instrument. Mostly wielding a Les Paul, Colt is up to the task, widely varying his style from subtle soulful accents to hard rock assaults. And the rhythm section cannot be denied - drummer Richard Danielson and bassist Rick Barrio Dill thrust the songs forward with undeniable groove, but also instantly adapt to any curve balls thrown their way by Taylor.

Anyone who wants a quick peek into what Vintage Trouble is capable of need look no further than the band’s December appearance on David Letterman’s show (see video below). Like Jimi Hendrix’s assault on Monterey, this video shows a band going for the throat to make the most of an opportunity. Perhaps the most amazing thing seems to be that this is what they’re like every night.



Monday, March 4, 2013

So what?

I’m a big sucker for – errr… fan of – the so-called superdeluxe album packages. Generally released to commemorate a recording’s anniversary, for a listener who likes to know who the third engineer was during recording sessions or who provided transit support on the European tour these editions are a blast.

The So superdeluxe edtion, excessive or essential depending upon your point of view.

Peter Gabriel last year released a 25th anniversary observance of his classic title So. The album turned Gabriel into a somewhat unlikely superstar, considering it came between two experimental Gabriel soundtrack efforts for Alan Parker’s Birdy and Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. The heavy box contains many standard superdeluxe features, ranging from multiple discs offering insight into Gabriel’s recording strategies to a large-format hard bound book, including many photos of the quite rustic Real World Studios outside Bath, England.

One of the most interesting inclusions in this So retrospective is a DVD presenting a two-hour performance of Gabriel’s road band. Recorded in Athens, Greece in 1987, and remixed into 5.1 surround, the DVD is a flashbackward look at an incredibly forward-thinking artist.

Peter Gabriel on stage in Athens, Greece, in 1987.

While theatrics were nothing new for Gabriel in light of his colorful history fronting Genesis, by the time this show took place his performance was nearly sublime in its refinement. Choreography is used as a tool to communicate the emotional core of his songs, and Gabriel’s repeated interaction with his lighting rigs – looming high over the singer or rushing down over his cowering figure in a claustrophobic encounter – conveys everything from streaming lights of the heavens to terrifying resignation. It’s stunning to see even decades later, retaining a sense of cutting-edge staging.

The moment of trust: Peter Gabriel falls into the Athens crowd at the climax of "Lay Your Hands on Me."

 If Gabriel and the band’s clothing bears a slight of-its-time vibe, despite an attempt then to present a unified futuristic sense, the music is simply timeless. Playing tracks from the then-new So or running through a review of the stunning Security album, the band – the towering Tony Levin on bass, keyboards, and Chapman Stick, former E Streeter David Sancious on keyboards, David Rhodes on guitar, and the powerful Manu Katche on drums and percussion – manages to take the complex studio recordings and translate them into vibrant live entities. The interplay between the four musicians, occasionally supplemented by Gabriel’s keyboards, is intuitive and tight.

I saw the So tour twice at Philadelphia’s Spectrum, and have always retained a mind’s-eye memory that Peter Gabriel’s performances in that era were both exceptional and incredibly innovative. It’s nice to see that in a view from 2013, these recollections are far more substance than nostalgia.