Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Devil Went Down To Pittsburgh

Zac Brown Band, Burgettstown, July 15, 2012

The Inky Jukebox would like to open this review of the Zac Brown Band by saying that it was, by a long shot, the loudest show we’ve been to in recent years. And by “recent” we mean since the mid-nineties, say. What liquid gold was poured into the engineer’s pocket to make it so? Let us tell you how loud it was: a raucous capacity crowd of 23,000 screaming people could not be heard above the music they were singing lustily along with. That’s damn loud. From way out on the lawn, it was deafening. The folks under the canopy probably staggered out and fell over afterwards.

This is not a problem, however. Why? Because the Zac Brown Band (ZBB hereon in) are musician’s musicians: each and every member can sing and play their hearts out, and are allowed their own moment (or two, or several minutes) in the spotlight to demonstrate this. Indeed, it is when individuals are allowed to shine that the crowd goes wild, and with good cause. If you’ve been to a ZBB show before, you’d know to expect some guitar fireworks from Clay Cook, and Holy Moly, he brings them — but you might not have been prepared for how far along fiddle player Jimmy DeMartini has come in terms of being comfortable in his own space on the stage. The solo he delivers during “Neon” is nothing short of astonishing.

Be patient and watch until the end of the clip

The Inky Jukebox has tried to find a good clip of it on the YouTube, and this one sort of shows you, but only towards the end. This one’s a year old; at last night’s show, his solo has been extended and made even crazier, so that he literally tears up the stage and sets it on fire. OK, not literally. But he might as well have: you never saw a fiddle player exert so much energy or play so fast in your life — and if you closed your eyes, you’d swear it was a blistering electric guitar. Dude makes a violin sound for all the world like a Gold Top. It’s something to behold and worth the ticket price alone.

Clay Cook, meanwhile, runs from the front of the stage to the organ and piano perched above, stage left, the all-wound go-to guy for basically anything that needs doing. He clearly relishes the attention and the camera, and being an unlikely axe man who could give ANY of the greats a run for their money. His “America The Beautiful” intro is a highlight for the crowd, who, patriotic as they always are, sing along with gusto. He takes turns leading the fray with Zac Brown himself, who’s no slouch when it comes to picking. He can play FAST.

Crowd favorite “It’s Not OK” is delivered by be-whiskered John Driskell Hopkins, complete with a moment of utter silence in the middle of the song when everything comes to a stop so everyone can imagine crickets chirping. Before the encore, the percussionist, Daniel de los Reyes and drummer Chris Fryer engage in an epic rhythm battle that leaves you breathless.

At this point, you know that they are saving “Chicken Fried” for the encore, and you’d expect to hear “Highway 20 Ride” in there too, but it isn’t. Perhaps they have simply shifted it to make room for “Colder Weather,” which appears earlier in the set, to much delight from the crowd. The Inky Jukebox was surprised they didn’t play “Sweet Annie,” which seems like an obvious candidate to be a single off their new album Uncaged, and that they didn’t take advantage of Sonia Leigh, who opens for them, to perform together.

Speaking of which: this was a Hillbilly Hippie bunch, oh Lawdy. There was tie-dye, there was reefer wafting in the night air, there were beach balls a-plenty. And before any of it, there was a group of already drunken backwoods boys in unlaced work boots, falling apart Wranglers, torn shirts, cammo ballcaps and grizzled beards who approached the party in front of The Inky Jukebox who were rather more upscale. The girl was petite and immaculately groomed; her boyfriend looked maybe 16, and like he was about to go off to college in the morning, in 1955. “What up, Nigger Motherfucker!” one of the grizzly boys proclaimed, leaning in to give Mr. Varsity a bro-hug. It could have been a comic scene, except for the deep aroma of sheer terror emanating from the clean-cut crew. It was very clear they had never met. The preppy folks gamely entertained the Mountain Men, standing for awkward photos, as if they were afraid they were about to slip into a Deliverance moment. One of the sweaty, gimpy bears got nacho cheese all over the girl’s iPhone, which the boyfriend endeavored afterwards to wipe off studiously with his shirt.

That’s love.

(Note to Clay Cook: When in the Pittsburgh region, don’t wear a Braves shirt. It incites the natives to belligerence.) 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

This Lion Does Not Sleep Tonight: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

Hear Me Roar

Let there be no mistake: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are a hard rock band. If you have been confused by Potter’s collaboration with Kenny Chesney into thinking she’s a country chick, you are wrong. Not that Country chicks can’t be long-legged, flying-V playing, high-heel wearing firecrackers, because Lordy knows, they can. But Potter lends her invincible energy and considerable vocal talents to music that draws from a deep well of 70’s era rock. I’m thinking the Ram Jam Band and Heart my have been a big influence.

If you look at the kind of songs they cover, you see a smattering of Blondie, Grace Slick and ZZ Top, no slouches when it came to tearing it up on stage with red-hot licks. Potter is helped along by what appears to be a heavy hand on the echo machine, but this merely serves to bring her voice up to compete with the screaming guitars.

Their latest album, The Lion, The Beast, The Beat, opens with the title song, in which one can find the lyrics “someone let the beast out” — and that’s just what the track does. The record builds steam, so that the last two tracks, “One Heart Missing” and “The Divide” are full-on amp-up-to-eleven blasts of rock majesty. (They start out slow to get a running leap at the finale.)

Imagine U2 or Coldplay with a hot female singer

In concert, Potter noted that the closest thing to a ballad they have, a song called “Stars” is going to be their next single, and that they re-recorded it with Chesney. The Inky Jukebox isn’t sure why. It’s pretty darn good all my itself.

The only dud note on this amazing record is a track in the middle called “Loneliest Soul,” which The Inky Jukebox confesses not to have listened to, and in fact, to have clicked off on the iTunes because it opens with one of those jangly, off-key piano intros you only hear as music that signals the entrance of the scary clowns. You know of what we speak. I do not want to be startled into terror by these sounds. Perhaps the rest of the track is lovely, but I’ll never be able to stick around to find out.

Buy this album now. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Blisters in the Sun

Brothers (and Sister) of the Sun: Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw and Grace Potter, Heinz Field June 30, 2012

Heinz Field - great place to see a show
Early in Tim McGraw’s set, the woman sitting next to me leaned over and asked “do you think he goes tanning?”

The man in white
The Inky Jukebox opens with this because it seems to sum up something very interesting about the Brothers of the Sun tour — those compatriots being the aforementioned Mr. McGraw and his longtime pal Kenny Chesney. Billed as a co-headliner, the tour (and everyone attending it) nevertheless implicitly understands that there is no parity here — all is not equal under this particular sun. McGraw is opening for Chesney, and anyone who doubts that ought to come out and see for themselves.

A tanned Tim McGraw in his Christian Grey jeans
But back to the tanning. She asked this because of the deep chestnut color of McGraw’s skin, which was emphasized nicely by his choice of all-white, tight-fitting clothing. Surely this is a shade not achieved in nature? We do not think McGraw goes tanning, no. Not in the way she envisioned, in any case. Does McGraw care about his tan, however? Hells yes. The difference between McGraw and Chesney is that Chesney popped out of his center-stadium podium in a sleeveless grey shirt with a small sweat stain already darkening it — a few songs later it was soaked through. Did he change it? No.

Honey Badger don't care about being sweaty
It was odd seeing McGraw do his set in the sunlight — after years of closing shows in the prime spotlight, it was a bit sad to see him deliver “Live Like You Were Dying” without the dramatic assistance provided by darkness and lighting. (And by "sunlight," we mean scorching 100 degree solar glare. Hence the aptness of their cover of "Blister In The Sun.") His set was also weighted with too many unfamiliar tracks — ending with his new single “Truck, Yeah,” which is far too easy to simply call “Truck, NO.”

But lo, what light from yonder spotlight breaks? Why, 'tis a brother of the sun 
Add to that the fact that there were still too many yellow seats waiting for their tailgaters and the sheer volume of the crowd once Chesney appeared, and you got the feeling that the torch had been passed — and not just on this tour, but perhaps years ago.

Bring your beach balls, y'all
This show marked a historic precedent, which was marked by the presentation of an iron plaque celebrating Chesney’s sixth straight sold out show at Heinz Field. This is notable because although Chesney is obviously a friend of football, and has made stadiums his own stages all across the country, it genuinely feels as if the Heinz crowd responds in a special way. Perhaps this is also because Chesney has the gift of actually sounding genuine when he speaks to the crowd. It goes a very long way.

Raucous, drunken crowd enjoying the show
Chesney also knows a very significant thing about his audience: we come to have a good time, and to hear his greatest hits. This, he delivers, one after another, the entire show.

In the morning he'll be leaving, taking himself off to Cleveland, but for now he's mine, all mine

It is bookended by “Beer In Mexico” and “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy,” the opening violin strains of which whip the crowd into a frenzy.

Where's Kenny?
But the awesome spectacle of a Kenny Chesney concert was not necessarily the highlight of the evening — it was Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Because they haven’t had a hit single, and folks only really know of Potter through her duet “You and Tequila” with Chesney, it seemed odd that she would go on after Jake Owen, who has had numerous hits. But as soon as Potter strutted out on stage dressed in what looked like a low-cut black bathing suit and flimsy wrap, her ridiculously long legs amped up on heels, singing by herself, unaccompanied — the half-full stadium immediately sat up and paid attention. Her entrance was astonishing — as was the entire set, where she played keyboards, a sweet Flying V, and drums, all the while delivering a husky-voiced blistering serving of blues rock. By the time she shook her stuff to ZZ Top’s “Tush,” The Inky Jukebox was sold. What was this girl like in high school? Wow.

Country girls and boys gettin' down on the stage

Kenny Chesney delivers nothing but monster hits