Alabama Shakes | Hollywood Palladium | July 17th, 2013

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What is it with me and female fronted bands these day? It seems that I just can’t seem to get enough of them. On July 17th, 2013, I went to the Hollywood Palladium to check out the Athens, Alabama-based quartet Alabama Shakes. I can’t pinpoint the time I first heard their music, but I remember that the song I first heard was “Hold On”. It was a Southern rock/blues tune that sounded modern enough for today’s radio, but also seemed rooted in classic 60-70s soul as well. But stylistic impressions aside, it was the lead singer’s voice that pierced through the music and into my psyche. I bought their debut album, “Boys & Girls” sometime August or September 2012 (I remember this because I bought their album the same time I bought The Heavy’s “The Glorious Dead” which came out around then).

I pressed play on “Boys & Girls”  in my car, it kept playing the rest of the day while I drove around town running my errands. For a debut album, I was smitten with their sound, and definitely one of the better albums I had bought in 2012. After watching Brittany Howard perform a tribute to Levon Helm with with an all-start cast (including Elton John, Mavis Staples, Zac Brown, Mumford & Sons, etc), and Ms. Howard showing EVERYBODY up,  Alabama Shakes quickly became a band that I put down on my list as “must see live”. Fast forward to 3:30 of the video below to see what I’m talking about. 

IMG_2194I met up with some friends,and after giving each of them their ticket, we head inside inside the venue. While my friends got some drinks, I walked over to the merchandise booth to purchase a special poster that band had printed for their two gigs at the Palladium.  A limited edition, signed by the artist, and numbered (167/200) poster that’s going to find a nice spot somewhere in my crib once it’s been properly framed. It’s probably one of the cooler posters I’ve purchased this year.

We had just missed the first of the two opening bands perform and we floated about in the venue to find decent spot to watch the next band, Fly Golden Eagle, take the stage.  As my friends and I were meandering the GA area to find a spot to stand, I noticed someone very familiar looking around for a place to watch as well. Holy, shnykies. It was Brittany Howard. I’m a total photo slut when it comes to snapping pictures with musicians I’m into, and having done this on several occasions before, my body seem to go in to autopilot.

DSC02045As I handed my camera off to a friend, I whispered to Brittany that I was huge fan, and whether I could snap a quick picture. She looked hesitant, and I assured her that I would keep it on the “down-low”. My friend snapped the picture, and the flash went off. So much for on the “down-low”. I could tell that Ms. Howard reluctantly took the picture (I think her biting her lip kind of tips it off), so I apologized, thanked her and told her to “break a leg” … but I still got a picture! Woohoo! It also goes to show how awesome Brittany Howard is for wanting to support her fellow musicians by actually hanging out in the General Admittance area to watch the other bands play just like all of the other concert-goers in attendance.

Having blown her cover, Ms. Howard and her friend scurried away to blend back into the crowd. Fly Golden Eagle started playing and I think most everybody else was focused on the stage. I didn’t notice others swarming around her for photos, so I think that I kept it on the “down-low” as much as I could.

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Fly Golden Eagles set was solid. A band based out of Nashville, their music seems to touch upon classic-rock and psychedelic vibes.  The lead singer’s vocal delivery had a friend of mine comment that he had a Dylan-ish sound (translation: sounded kinda like Bob Dylan).  I agreed. I liked the band, and I’ve checkout some of their older music and they are a solid “add” on facebook. 

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The only part of the show that I could have done without was the wait between sets. Wanting to get up as close as I could to see the Alabama Shakes do their thing, I thought that I’d be able to float closer up front after Fly Golden Eagle closed their set. Nothing doing. It appeared that everybody wanted to be up close to the Shakes, and people were guarding their space, not moving a square inch, for the 40 minutes between sets. C’est la vie. If you are a fan, and you want to see YOUR band up close and personal, you’ll stay in the same spot for as long as it takes. Kudos to those staked their territory.

The Alabama Shakes took to the stage, and amazed. Their set list was as follows:

  1. Rise
  2. Hang Loose
  3. Hold On
  4. Always Alright
  5. I Found You
  6. Heartbreaker
  7. Boys & Girls
  8. Be Mine
  9. I Ain’t The Same
  10. Worryin Blues
  11. Mama
  12. Itch
  13. On Your Way
  14. Gimme All Your Love
  15. You Ain’t Alone

Encore

  1. Gospel
  2. Heat Lightnin’
  3. Heavy Chevy

The band is a well-oiled machine, and can jam with the best of them, but this band is Howard’s. At 24 years old, her voice is way more mature than her years, with every word sung from her mouth coming from something deep inside her soul. I don’t know about her past, but it certainly felt like she was singing from place of entrenched memories, whether painful, angry or joyful. Her performance is one that makes concert goers feel like they are there in the here and now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the venue lost money on drinks during their set because you would have been a fool to stop watching.

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Sometime during the set she bantered with the audience for a minute and concluded by stating, “You got to give a little to get a little.” Brittany and the band gave us their souls, and we gave them our fan loyalty. I think that’s a fair trade. 

Rodrigo y Gabriela | Hollywood Bowl | July 14, 2013

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Most of the time, my lust to see a band perform live is satiated once it happens.  After all, the costs of concert going these days can get quite expensive, and I typically like to use my hard earned cash experiencing something new, rather than retread the same territory. There are a handful of acts that I’ve seen perform live, however, that I would gladly pay what I could afford to see perform. One of those acts is Rodrigo y Gabriela .

On July 14, 2013, I went to see them for the third time; the second time at the Hollywood Bowl– one of the best concert going venues in Los Angeles. The other time I saw them perform was at the Orpheum Theatre.  And for the third time, they blew me away. It was another KCRW sponsored concert event.

My friends and I boarded the Hollywood Bowl shuttle from Westwood, prepared with our evening picnic essentials (sandwiches, wines, cheese, crackers, etc) and settled into out seats adjacent to the box seats.  The angle and view was terrific, and I couldn’t have asked for a better location.

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The first act of the evening was a band Lord Huron, an American indie folk band based in Los Angeles. Lord Huron began as a solo project by Ben Schneider in the spring of 2010, and they have released several EPs and a full-length album since. Their sound was a perfect starter as the sun set into the hill behind us. Their music seemed to be a folksier and more mellow version of Local Natives and the audience seemed to appreciate the sounds as they dined on their picnic foods and sipped wine from their plastic cups.

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The second act was a band that I had just started to listen to name Devotchka. A quartet formed and based out of Denver, CO, their music was exotic and impassioned. Backed by a sting ensemble, their gypsy-tinged melodies added a certain flavor to the evening.  Almost like setting the stage for the exotic. The lead vocalist, Nick Urata had a certain swagger to his performance that made me think his musical personal was a cross between Andrew Bird and Morrissey. Free and light, like Andrew Bird at times, and deep and emotive like Morrissey at others. His suit and hair styling also may have influenced my first impression of him, but I digress.

Devotchaka’s style of music covered a wide gamut of styles, hinting at elements rock, folk, cabaret, eastern European, etc. It was an exotic set of sounds and music that proved to me that KRCW certainly knows how to put a concert bill together, as Devotchka seemed like a very appropriate appetizer for the main course. 

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The last time I saw Rodrigo y Gabriela at the Hollywood Bowl, they performed backed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Was I worried that they wouldn’t be able to fill out the sound of the Hollywood Bowl without the orchestral accompaniment? Not at all. In fact, they duet performance (altered as a trio with a keyboard for only several selections) showcased their unbelievable talent on the acoustic guitars.  On exhibit that evening, the audience saw their raw virtuosity and dexterousness around the strings of their guitars.

For me, there is something special about Rodrigo y Gabriela that makes them a band that I’ll always want to go see when they are in town. Their music, like Devotchka’s, is fusion of styles that are put together so masterfully, one can’t help by call it art.  Rodrgio y Gabriela are unlike any other band I can think of that mixes elements of metal, jazz, flamenco and psychedila so effortlessly. It’s music that appeals to such a wide audience.

Watching them perform is also treat.  One become mesmerized by they way they perform.  They perform with such intensity and such joy, that it’s hard not be transfixed in their motions. I would have loved to dance around to the music, but personally, I just want to watch them perform.

I wanted to watch Rodrigo take his rock-star, stride stance as he plucked away at the strings, nodding his heads like a metronome to the rhythm.  I wanted to watch Gabriela’s hands and fingers move about her guitar like spiders hopped up on speed, all while dancing and bouncing about on stage. Even on acoustic guitars, their performance had such aggressive feel; it reminded me of some heavy metal shows I’ve attended.  At the same time, the sounds that emanated from their instruments were the sublime of the sublime.

And how can one not be hypnotized at the dizzying speed at which they play? To me, it simply amazing that that music … that much sound … comes out of four hands.

When I go to concerts, I want to be amazed. If you amaze me beyond comprehension, I’ll go see you every time you’re in town. This is why I went to see Rodrigo y Gabriela perform for a third time, and that is why I’ll keep seeing them perform live whenever given the chance.

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Oh … and I love Gabriela. Just saying…

Young, Gifted & Nina: A Tribute to Nina Simone | California Plaza | July 5, 2013

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If Nina Simone were alive today, she would have celebrated her 80th birthday in April. Having passed away ten years ago, Grand Performances and KCRW organized a free evening concert in the heart of downtown Los Angeles celebrating her life. Hosted by KCRW DJ Tom Schnabel, it was an evening that touched on a wide selection of Nina’s vast catalogue. From the upbeat melodies “Ain’t Got No/ I Got Life”, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” and “See-Line Woman” to the soulful vibes of “Wild Is The Wind” and “Backlash Blues” to the anthemic “Young, Gifted and Black”, it was a tremendous evening of well rehearsed, beautiful music.

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There were females voices aplenty that helped bring Nina’s music to life: Georgia Anne MuldrowJimetta RoseJoi Gilliam (whose sheer red dress definitely caught everyone’s eye), Patrice QuinnSonja Marie, and Waberi Jordan. But it was perhaps the sole male vocalist who evoked the most oohs and aahs from the audience: Dwight Trible.

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With his robust baritone voice, Dwight Trible sang his two  selections with such soulful vigor , it almost overshadowed the rest of the musicians of the evening. He sang with such a pure sense of being in the moment, that it made audience members look to their neighbor in awe.

Grand Performances is a summer concert series that is open to the public. This was the first concert of this series that I have ever attended, and subject to me being able to get there early enough to snag a good location at the venue, I would plan on attending another Grand Performances event.  It definitely seemed to be  a well organized, family friendly event.

An Amazing Cover of The Who’s “The Real Me” by 12-14 Year Olds…. There’s Hope For The Future of Rock-And-Roll!!!

These 12-14 year olds are in a band called Breaking27, and they give me hope in the future of rock-and-roll. I’ve only seen this video, but it’s enough for me to proclaim that I’d actually pay a cover to see these kids play … covers. Let’s hope they keep it up. In my opinion, the skies the limit.

BET Experience | R. Kelly, New Edition & The Jacksons | Staples Center | 6/30/13

This blog entry about the BET Experience is continued from “BET Experience | Snoop, Kendrick Lamar & J. Col | Staples Center |6/29/30

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DSC01748Sunday was the final day of the BET Experience, and it had been the one-day that I was particularly looking forward too.  I got to the venue early (this time I actually had an artist pass!) entering the venue from the artist’s entrance.  I was able to freely walk around the Staple Center to check out it’s nooks and crannies when all of a sudden I noticed that R. Kelly was opening the evening.

DSC01752This was a bit confusing, as I thought he was billed as the headliner for the evening. I mean, don’t get me wrong, The Jackson and New Edition are popular, but c’mon … R. Kelly’s fan base tends to prove that he’s just a tad more popular, and should have been the artist closing the evening- and weekend- out. I had a feeling that the awkward lineup would result in the audience members leaving the concert early… but we’ll get to that later.

My friends and I watched the end of the BET Awards that was being televised on the huge stage screens in the empty arena, and we made our way backstage once the doors had opened. Apparently, BET had scheduled it to have R. Kelly transition from his performance across the street at the Nokia Theater to his opening set at the Staples Center.

Backstage passes are cool, but they don’t always get you the best view. I was able to sneak myself in with the press corps for evening and stood with professional photographers with beautiful cameras and long lenses while I stood there with my pocket-sized Sony Cybershot G.

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Kelly took the stage, with a hit us with a chart topping catalogue spanning over 20 years.  For the next hour and 15 minutes, he gave us a little reminder as to how he’s been able to stay in the game for so long. It was a barrage of hit after hit after hit.

Starting from off stage singing a cappella, “Ooooh, are you ready for a show? If you’re ready put your hands up in the sky.” “Ignition (Remix)”, “I Wish”, “Bump N’ Grind”, “R&B Thug”, “12 Play”, “Step In The Name Of Love”, “I Believe I Can Fly”. He did snippets of ALL of his hits in the short time period he had.  He could have, and should have, had a full two hour set so that he didn’t have to cut a lot of the early songs in his set short.

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If there’s something to note about his live performance, Kelly never stops singing. Even in between songs, when he was thirsty and looking for water, he sang about it. When he was looking for a towel, he sang about it. And the amazing thing was that it all sounded like it was meant to be a song.

Up next was New Edition. Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky, Mike, Ralph and Johnnie too. They were all there. “N.E. Heartbreak was a cassette that got a lot of plays on my tape deck, and I was overjoyed to hear them perform a couple of the stand out tracks from that album (i.e. “Can You Stand The Rain”). I had to miss a couple songs from their set as I had to meet up with someone briefly for work, so I couldn’t get the best pictures or video, but I was still excited with what I saw.

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I was even more excited when each member(s) were given time to shine by singing their own solo hits.  Johnny Gill sang “My My My”. Ralph Tresvant sang “Sensitivity”, “Bell Biv Devoe” sang “Poison” and “When Will I See You Smile Again”. Bobby Brown sang “Roni”.  Now “Roni” got me for a minute, because I did have a summer school girlfriend with that name back  in the day. In that moment, I was really back in middle school/high school. The ladies I was standing next too got a pretty big kick of watching me sing along with all of the songs.

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I felt bad for the Jackson. The show had been running a little late to begin with, so when they started their set it was already 11:00pm. For the fans who stayed, the Jacksons performed spirited and moving numbers like “Blame It On The Boogie”, “I Want You Back”, “The Love You Save” and “Gone Too Soon”.  “Gone Too Soon” was particularly poignant as huge images of Michael appeared on the giant stage screens. I felt bad that a large chunk of the audience had head home, but it was late, and the weekend had been long. And although it may have felt a touch anticlimactic having them close it out, they still put on a hell of show and I can at least say that I was able to the brothers (sans Michael) perform together.

After the Jacksons, I had to meet up with my friends one more time at the Chairman’s Lounge. I was taking my sweet time getting there, hoping that I’d have some good last minute photo ops … And there was Bobby Brown.

DSC01838 I could feel that he wasn’t really down to take a picture, but I just kept talking about how I  used to date a girl when I was in middle school whose nickname was “Roni”, and how I used to sing that song all the time ad nauseum. I don’t think he was really paying attention, but I got the picture …. And with that, my BET Experience was complete.

BET Experience | Snoop, Kendrick Lamar & J.Cole | Staples Center | 6/29/13

This blog entry about the BET Experience is continued from “BET Experience | Beyonce | Staples Center | 6/28/13

DSC01704I woke up Saturday morning still in a daze from The Mrs. Carter World Tour performance that Beyonce put on at Staples the night before, but I still had two more full days of music ahead of me.

BET set up an outdoor venue they dubbed the “Music Matters Stage” where “the stars of tomorrow shine today”. Some of the acts in years past have included Miguel, Melanie Fiona and J. Cole, so I decided to take a look at the schedule to see who was performing that day. Ummm… Marsha Ambrosius at 1:15pm? Damn. I was actually a bit surprised to see her scheduled to perform because in my mind she’s already a Grammy Award-winning star of today, both as a member of Floetry and her solo career.

I checked my emails and noticed that there were some items that needed some attention, so after spending a greater portion of the morning and early afternoon slaving away at the computer, I realized that I wasn’t going to make it in time to see Marsha Ambrosius perform.

After I had pushed “send” on the last work email that Saturday, the Scorpio in me made a rather impulsive decision. “Gee,” I told my self, “it’s such a nice day! Why don’t I try taking public transportation from West Los Angeles to downtown Los Angeles? I could use the exercise”. I threw on my clothes and my credentials, and started the journey. One bus, one train without air-conditioning and an hour and a half later I got to my destination. Wasn’t so bad, but I did take a little longer that I had anticipated.

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Upper left: K. Michelle. Lower Right: Bridget Kelly

The area around the heart of the BET festival was buzzing with activity. I looked at my watch, and noticed that I probably could catch one or two acts before I had to head over to the restaurant for dinner. I walked to the Music Matters entry area and flashed my credentials, and thereafter made a b-line to the main stage where Bridget Kelly was performing. I wasn’t too familiar with her catalog, but I seemed to be the only one who didn’t as it everyone at the stage to watch her in the blazing summer heat were singing along.  She did sing a respectable cover of the Lauryn Hill classic “Ex Factor”. I knew that song.

The next artist who graced the stage was K. Michelle.  I never watched and episode of  Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta  , but apparently K. Michelle is a featured cast member.  After gaining media exposure through the reality show, she was able to land a deal with Warner Bros. Records. Like Bridget Kelly, K. Michelle’s fans were there in full force, standing in the sun, and singing along with almost all of her songs.

I had to leave the Music Matters Stage before K. Michelle finished up her set, but I was glad that I was actually able to make use of the “Event Staff” pass I had been wearing around my neck to enjoy some of the non-featured music being offered during the weekend.

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The artist pass that I had for 45 minutes. lol.

At dinner, I was given an “Artist Pass” for the Staples Center shows that evening.  Forty-Five minutes later, the powers that be asked for the pass back.  Apparently, a real artist needed it, so I had to surrender the laminate for the evening.  I guess someone else was “Derrick” for the evening. Lol. I wish the team had told me who it was.

Dinner took a little longer than expected, so by the time I got inside of the Staples Center, Schoolboy Q and Miguel had already finished their sets. By the time I had made my way to my seat, J. Cole took the stage.

DSC01663I know very little about J Cole, other than the fact that his latest album was released the same week as Kanye’s “Yeezus”, and that his record sales for that week second only to Kanye’s. I tried to get into the music, but I found myself being easily distracted with people watching or trying to figure what samples were used in his songs. It seemed that a lot of his crowd pleasers relied on familiar melodies. A few songs into his set, J. Cole looked around and wondered aloud, “Is this how Kobe feels?” The crowd went nuts and he continued his eloquent, if not somewhat monotonous, flow.

After J. Cole’s set, I quickly made my way to the “Chairman’s Lounge” (at least they didn’t take that ticket away from me) to get free drinks. I was sober the night before, but tonight I wasn’t driving, so I decided to double up on the beverages.

I was getting excited to seen Kendrick Lamar take the stage. For anybody who has asked me recently, I’ve been saying that my two favorite hip-hop album purchases in the past year have been Killer Mike’s “R.A.P. Music” and  Kendrick Lamar’s “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City”.  I remember the first time I popped in “Good Kid”.  It was the first CD I unwrapped in the Amoeba records garage, I popped it in, and started a weekend commute.  I didn’t have to fast forward over any tracks. After the disc restarted, I listed to the tracks 2-4 at least two more times:  “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”, “Backseat Freestyle” and “The Art of Peer Pressure”.  Solid production. Solid lyrics. Super dopeness.

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I saw on the stage monitors that Kendrick was starting his set, so I asked to get my scotch topped off, and I head back to my seat. I had heard from various people that Kendrick’s live show could be, at times, boring, but I would have to beg to differ. Based on what I saw that evening, I saw Kendrick perform with a sense of immediacy. Maybe it was because he was performing in front a hometown crowd, or maybe he’s just evolved his stage presence through the relentless tour he’s been on this so far this summer, but whatever the impetus, he was deep into the performance, spitting out lyrics and meaning with every breath. With the live band providing solid support, Kendrick killed his set. The comedic highlight when Mike Epps danced around on stage had everybody rolling off their seats.

DSC01688I again went back to the Chairman’s Lounge to get another drink. By this point, I’ll admit, I was pretty tipsy. As I was ordering my drink, I saw Warren G. I’ve been around him before, but I think the scotch may have gotten to me. I approached him and started to blab about how much I loved his music. I told him that I was a huge fan of his album “In The Mid-Nite Hour” and that the tracks with Nate Dogg, “I Need A Light” and “In The Mid-Nite Hour” were, in my mind, classics. I fumbled around with my camera and we snapped a picture when he looked up to the stage monitor and noticed that Snoop had taken the stage. Looking at the TV he announced, “I got to go,” and with that he left the lounge in a hurry. He made it back in time for “Regulate”… that was a relief.

DSC01694Snoop. He closed the night, and closed the night right. There’s not much I can say about Snoop’s sets.  I mean, when you open up with Dr. Dre and perform “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” and “Next Episode”, you can seriously turn the lights up and leave, but Snoop knows how to keep a party going, and he brought onto the stage guest artist after guest artist while going through the most popular songs from his hip-hop hall of fame repertoire.IMG_2050

He performed “Same Damn Time” with Future. He brought up Ace Hood for “Bugatti”. DPGC staples Daz Dillinger and Kurupt were on stage for “Ain’t No Fun” and “Who Ride Wit Us”.  Trinidad James and  Problem also performed their own current hits. Snoop invited Wiz Khalifa up to the stage to perform Wiz’s newest single, and also slipped in a mention of “High School 2”.

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It was the perfect way to close the evening. Snoop is one of the few hip-hop artists who can bring that much star power for an hour and a half set. It was probably more that most of the crowd expected, and Snoop made sure every damn of them got their money’s worth. Chuuuch.

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BET Experience | Beyonce | Staples Center | 6/28/13

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It was during my college years when Destiny’s Child released their first album. At the time, I was more invested in learning (and buying) R&B music from Motown’s “Golden Age”, I didn’t pay too much attention to that album, even though it had tracks produced by Wyclef Jean and Jermaine Dupri (big time producers at the time).  After I had graduated from undergrad, they released their second album, “The Writing’s on the Wall”, and you really couldn’t avoid them.

With songs like “Bills, Bills, Bills”, “Bug A Boo” and “Say My Name” on constant rotation on terrestrial radio (I don’t think digital radio existed at the time), and with their videos consistently on Total Request Live on MTV (back when they still played music videos), their music was hard too miss. I liked their sound, but truth be told, I suffered from, at the time, what I call “SGS” (Stubborn Guy Syndrome). After all, Destiny’s Childs songs tended to be anthems for women’s independence and solidarity. It may have also been more difficult for me to enjoy their music  when dates (at least one that I can remember) actually sang to me the hook of  “Bills, Bills, Bills”.  I seem to recall the dates with that particular person ending that night. But if there was one thing I could take away from that album, it was that Beyonce was the group’s focal point and so long as she was focus of the group, they would have a healthy career making records.

Three albums after “The Writing’s on the Wall” (which includes a holiday album), and with a slew of other hits including “Bootylicious”, “Survivor”, “Say My Name”, etc., the group disbanded and each member embarked on their solo careers. Each member of Destiny’s child has had success as a solo artist, but Beyonce’s success casts a very large shadow by comparison.

Beyonce’s first notable foray into her solo career was a feature on her husband’s, Jay-Z’s,  “’03 Bonnie & Clyde”. As a quick aside, one cure for SGS is a feature on an extremely hot rappers, huge, summer, single. And four-studio albums later, Beyonce has created an empire and fan base that matches her partner’s. Time passes, and we (hopefully) become more the wiser. I finally bought my first Beyonce CD in 2011 after hearing the song “1+1” on the radio during a late night drive.

I wasn’t expecting to get a pass to see Beyonce for her BET Experience “Mrs. Carter Show World Tour” concert on June 28th, 2013. I had a feeling that I’d get a ticket for the Snoop show on Saturday, but I when I was informed that a ticket would be held for me, I willingly decided to become a member of the “Bey-Hive”.

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Beyonce works hard for her fans, and her show was sensational. It’s interesting to note that all of her band members and performers were women, except for two male dancers known as Les Twins. Having been on tour internationally for over a month, her team was more than ready to wow their first States-side audience. Beyonce first acknowledged the audience after “Till The End of Time” when she told the Staples audience that she was, “looking forward to bringing this show to America.” Well… she did … with the lighting, pyrotechnics, choreography, staging, costume changes, set changes, video interludes … Beyonce was definitely ready for America.

My highlight, and low light, of the evening was when Beyonce started singing “1+1”, the song that made me buy her album “4”, sensually writhing on a grand piano. As a fan of music, I started to sing along with her and audience. As a music fan who thinks he knows more about music than he really does, sang the wrong lyrics to my friend who was standing next to me. Yeah, she got a nice laugh out of my embarrassing, mistake.  I refrained from singing anything the rest of the night. After all, I think that the Bey-Hive had that on lock regardless. But to top the beautiful singing, Beyonce got strapped into a harness and “flew” to the center of the venue, two rows away from me and my friends, WHILE singing. Amazing.

Another aside, I recently purchased a new camera that I used for the show. Ironically, the worst pictures that I took were when Beyonce was right in front of me. Go figure.

While at the center of the Staples Center she sang a few more songs, then gave thanks to Michelle and Kelly who I assume were in the audience. Everybody was looking around as you could feel the anticipation of surprise reunion, but alas, Beyonce sang “Survivor” before flying back to the main stage to close her set with big hits “Crazy in Love” and “Single Ladies.” She encored with a brief tribute to Whitney Houston (“I Will Always Love You”) and closed with “Halo”.

Beyonce’s show was a big-budget, theatrical experience that was truly inspiring and on a grander scale than any concert that I have ever attended. Ticket prices for the show, especially where I was sitting, cost a pretty penny, but I can assure you Mrs. Carter puts on a show that makes it worth it. If you were going to spend big bucks to see Mrs. Carter do her thing, I wouldn’t hate on that at all. And since I’m no longer suffering from SGS, I could be persuaded to see her perform again when she’s back in Los Angeles.

Set list (to the best of my knowledge):

  1. “Run The World”
  2. “Till The End of Time”
  3. “Flaws and All”
  4. “If I Were A Boy”
  5. “Get Me Bodied”
  6. “Baby Boy”
  7. “Diva”
  8. “Naughty Girl”
  9. “Party”
  10. “Freakum Dress”
  11. “I Care”
  12. “I Miss You”
  13. “Schoolin Life”
  14. “Why Don’t You Love Me”
  15. “1+1”
  16. “Irreplaceable”
  17. “Love On Top”
  18. “Survivor”
  19. “Crazy In Love”
  20. “Single Ladies”
  21. Encore:
  22. “I Will Always Love You”
  23. “Halo”

The blog entry for the BET Experience concerts featuring Snoop, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole is up! Check it out!

The blog entry for “BET Experience | R. Kelly, New Edition & The Jacksons | Staples Center | 6/30/13” is up! Check it out!

Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters | Shrine Auditorium | June 26th, 2013

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The first time I ever heard a Led Zeppelin song was freshman year of college. After procrastinating till the last minute, I was up late  pulling an all-nighter writing a paper for a class. At 5 or 6 in the morning, as the sunrise was creeping over the cold, frozen, Ithaca landscape,  I was listening to the radio when all of a sudden a peppy, spirited, guitar lick caught my attention. I kept writing, but had to take break to listen to the lyrics.  It seemed to be about a guy waiting for a his lover. It appears that he’s been stood up, but then you find out that he was waiting “on the wrong block” and thus is the “Fool In The Rain” (the title of the song). I thought that song was a light hearted, terrific, pick-me-up a bleary eyed writer, but more than the song, and being a singer in college, I was taken aback by the voice behind it.

After turning in my paper, I decided to walk to the used CD shop that was, at the time, in the heart of College Town- sadly, it’s no longer there- and I bought “Led Zeppelin II”, “Houses of the Holy” and “In Through The Out Door” with the money I had made pouring beers from a keg at frat parties. My interest and education in classic rock started with those three CDs, and Robert Plant immediately became my standard response to the question, “Who is the greatest rock vocalist of all time?”

I have a bucket list of acts that I want to see in concert. Led Zeppelin is on that list. Though there is/was speculation that the band would come back together for a reunion tour- with Jason Bonham taking the place of his lat father’s place on drums- it seems that the odds of that happening are dwindling.  When I received an email notice that Robert Plant was performing at the Shrine- that you, Internets!- I jumped at getting tickets.

I got to the Shrine but had to wait for my guest to arrive before going inside.  While I was waiting, I asked around to see if cameras were allowed into the venue.  Unfortunately, they were not. Nuts. I had just purchased a new “pocket-sized” camera and was looking forward to breaking it in with a legend.  I guess that that will have to wait for the next show.

IMG_1852When my guest arrived, we entered the architecturally, stunning venue- a Los Angeles landmark- during Grace Potter and the Nocturnals set. I wasn’t too familiar with their music, but for some reason I had the unfounded perception of them being mostly a blues band.  It turns out my preconceived notions were quite wrong. Grace Potter is rock and roll, and she and her band carried themselves as such. Grace Potter can sing.  I was impressed with her vocal ability, and even whispered to my guest that her voice and vocal stylings reminded me of Janis Joplin. I was duly impressed.  They closed out their set with a vigorous, group drum solo that got the crowds adrenaline pumping.

With the audience already riled up, the crowd was ready for the main act.

When the lights went low a little past a quarter after 9, a gentle guitar solo welcomed the crowd. “It’s good to have you back again,” Robert plant sang (“Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You”), and the crowd wild.

It was a solid set. I anticipated the order of the songs having looked up the set lists from his other recent concerts. As with a majority of the audience, I was looking forward to those Led Zeppelin tunes that I love so much. I wasn’t expecting much, if any, variations from the set list, but what impressed- and even surprised- me was the way he took those songs that I knew and “flipped” them. It’s one thing to do a faithful cover, which he did on “Going to California”, but its was quite inspiring to see him “remix” some of those classics by incorporating other musical elements.  A splash of blues here, world music there, and even techno (it should be noted that the keyboard player is/was the keyboard player for Massive Attack). And though you know that the band is well-oiled and rehearsed machine, it almost felt like the venue was their laboratory to create new sounds, and the audience was their muse.

IMG_1886The repertoire not only spanned Led Zeppelin hits, but also songs from his solo catalog (“In the Mood) and covers (Howl in’ Wolf’s “Spoonful”).

Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
In The Mood
Tin Pan Valley
Spoonful
Black Dog
Another Tribe
Going To California
The Enchanter
Please Read The Letter
Friends
Funny In My Mind (I Believe I’m Fixin’ To Die)
Bron-Y-Aur Stomp
Whole Lotta Love

Encore:

Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down
Rock And Roll

Perhaps the poignant moment of the show came toward the end when Robert Plant seemed to look into himself and addressed the audience stating, more or less, the following, “It’s been a long road. One year turns into another. 40 years ago tonight I was in Long Beach with my other band.”

I wasn’t alive 40 years ago, but I can only imagine what it could have been like. He may not be able to move around on stage like he did 40 years ago, but his musicality, and his voice, still hold true. Bucket list material. ‘Nuff said.

Nina Diaz | Hotel Café | June 9th, 2013

IMG_3511I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Nina Diaz’s solo gig at Hotel Café.  I’ve been a fan of the band that she fronts, Girl In A Coma , for several years now and having seen them perform live three times (including the day before at the Ink-N-Iron Festival , I guess I kind of assumed that she would be doing acoustic covers of their recordings from the past four albums. It wasn’t that.  It was so much better.

Before delving into her set, let me first get this out of the way: I’m in love with Nina’s voice. She is a tour de force. She can sing with sultry inflection or belt out punk choruses, and she does it with what seems to be the greatest of ease. I’m a grown ass man, but I’ll have to admit, after listening to songs like “Adjust”, “Smart” and “So” off of Girl In Coma’s album “Exits and All the Rest” , I fell in love with Nina’s voice like I did back in middle school when I heard Mariah Carey’s “Vision of Love” and “I Don’t Wanna Cry”. It’s comparing apple to oranges- their vocal styles are completely different- but I think that you get the picture.

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Autographed poster. I had two pens. You’ll notice that she signed it with both. LOL.

Nina’s set consisted of material that I’d never heard before. With just her voice, her guitar and a set of loop-pedals, she delivered a powerfully emotional set that really was something truly breathtaking to behold. Through her new songs, it felt as if she was telling the sold-out audience of 140 patrons about what she had been going through in her life. Yes, the songs were heavy- delivered with either pent up, fierce fury, or gentle, thoughtful, longing- but Nina engaged the audience in between her songs with playful banter to relieve any tensions her lyrics may have imparted.

Before the third song, she dedicated it to the Spurs, and wanted us to imagine the Spurs wearing nothing but spurs.  After another song, she explained that song and the lyrics “Do you really love me the way you say you do?” is actually about Karma… a very nice prostitute who’ll give you everything you deserve. She even made some lighthearted confessions about the music she had written, admitting when she used the same chord progressions on two separate songs.

But there is no getting around the heaviness of music. She wrote a song about those who go through bad stuff in life and keep it all in.  She wrote an empowerment song about not knowing what kind of person you truly are until you go through a bad break up (“Fall In Love”). She wrote another song that I think she called a “wedding singer song” about her ex- who she made a subtle jab at by calling him a dick … okay, maybe not that subtle- that had the defiant lyrics, “One last kiss, one that you’ll never miss […] all he seems to care about is friends, fame, name [.]”

Perhaps the most heartbreaking song she sang was the song she dedicated to her father, “Mortician’s Musician” (in case you didn’t know, or couldn’t tell, her father is a mortician). I had shivers run down my spine, and goose bumps pop up on my arm, when she sang the lyrics, “I’m not a fool for writing songs, I’m a fool for trying to get you to sing along.” <sob> I desperately want to hear that song again.

She closed her set with a cover of the INXS song “Never Tear Us Apart”- very apropos- but the audience wouldn’t let her leave the stage that easily. She agreed to sing one more song, and advised the audience that she hadn’t planned on singing a Girl In A Coma song, but ended up performing “El Monte” to close out the evening.

Afterwards, I met up with a friend I had invited to the show. The first thing she said to me was that it was the first time, in a long time, that a singer has ever made her laugh and cry at a concert. It went without saying. We experienced something magical that night.

I grabbed the set list from the stage, and went to the merchandise booth to say, “Hi,” to Phanie (drums for Girl in a Coma) and Jenn (bass for Girl In A Coma). I waited for Nina and got her to autograph the set list and the poster that I had ganked from the wall (just so you don’t think I’m a clepto, I asked the bouncer if I could first!). I chatted with some of her friends while her fans greeted her. Sneaking in during a lull, I bid my adieu and head off.

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Clockwise, upper left: Me and Nina, Nina and the autographed set-list (again, signed with both pens. hehehe).

On the 45-minute drive home, I tried to put into context what I had experienced. I’ve been to a lot of amazing shows this year, but this one was different. I got emotionally involved at this show.  And as cheese-ball as it may sound, with Nina sharing bits and pieces of her life, I had become emotionally invested in Nina’s story. In the intimate, dimly-lit venue, for the first time, I felt her frustrations, pain, heartache, longing, revival, strength … the gamut of emotions cover the spectrum. The fact that she performed alone on stage also added a certain gravitas and intimacy with her outpouring of personal history. It almost felt like she was confiding in us.

I plugged my phone into the car stereo and began playing the video clips I had taken. When the clip of “For You” started playing I started thinking of Jeff Buckley’s “Live in Sin-e” recordings. When you get me thinking about one my all-time favorite recordings, you’ve left an impression. Nina left an impression. Whether these new songs are recorded with Girl In A Coma, or whether she puts it out as solo material, people need to hear this music. If Nina ever has a solo gig in your neighborhood, you’d be a fool not to go. Puro heart. Puro rock and roll.

Below, I’ve included several snippets from the show. My only regret is that I wish I had taken more footage.

UPDATE: 11/14/13: God bless the soul who recorded Nina’s entire set and posted it to Youtube.  Now you can watch her amazing solo gig in its entirety.

Ink-N-Iron Festival | Queen Mary | June 8, 2013

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I don’t have any tattoos and I don’t know much about cars. I’ve always tossed around the idea of getting a tattoo, and it’s still a possibility at some point, but I’ll just put in a pin in it for now. That being said, I attended the Day 2 of the Ink-N-Iron Festival, and joined the party to celebrate some seriously good music.

It was my first time attending the yearly event, and I have to give the organizers some serious props for making it a day that I’ll remember.  Beautiful cars. Beautiful tattoos. Women in corsets and otherwise dressed up in pin-up outfits. It was clean. It was family friendly. It wasn’t too crowded. Very nicely done.

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I drove to Long Beach from West Los Angeles, and I was slightly worried that I’d arrive a little late to catch the first band I wanted to see perform: Girl In A Coma . I’ve been following this band for a few years now, and I always go out of my way to catch them perform whenever they come to town. I remember when I first heard their music. It was sometime November 2011 when I was up late watching TV.  I had “Last Call with Carson Daly” on, and they were the featured artists for the episode.  Their music snippets piqued my interest and I Googled their music. Boom. Instant fan.  You can check out the feature that I watched here: http://www.hulu.com/watch/302589 .

Thankfully, the Los Angeles traffic gods saw it in their good graces to get me to the Queen Mary on time.

It was an early afternoon 2:00pm set, and I joined their other fans up against the general admittance railing as they finished sound checking.  Even with a few technical difficulties, it was a solid set. They played songs from all four of their full-length albums ( “Both Before I’m Gone” , “Trio BC” , “Adventures In Coverland” , and “Exits and All the Rest”.

Before closing their set, Nina announced that the band was planning on starting recording for their new album at the end of the year. It sounded like they closed their set with new songs, and when I got the set-list from Phanie (drums) the following night when I went to Nina’s solo gig at the Hotel Café (which was amazing, by the way, and which you can read about by clicking this link… do it!) it looks like their last two songs were new. The video clips I took with my phone don’t do the band justice- I need to buy a good camera that takes good video/audio clips… any suggestions?  They are my favorite all-girl rock band.

The only criticism I had with the festival was that since it was so early in the day, the organizers should have let their fans into the VIP viewing area to watch the set. Other than that, no complaint.

  1. Intro
  2. Say
  3. 
One Eyed fool
  4. 
Adjust
  5. 
Slaughter Ln
  6. 
Si Una Vez
  7. 
She had a plan
  8. 
Joanie in the city
  9. 
Safe
  10. 
Invisible

 

I planned on visiting them at the artist merchandise booth to say, “Hi,” but having noticed that all of their other fans I was standing with announced that they were going to head over, I decided to hang back and walk around the festival grounds.  I’m sure glad I did.

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There was a band named Hopeless Jack & The Handsome Devil that also had a 2:00pm set time. I wasn’t planning on checking them out, and only stumbled upon their set when I decided to check out some cars at the Tiki-Drive-In Stage. As soon as I was within earshot of their music, I thought to myself, “Screw the cars, I need to see who the fuck is playing right now”.

It was raw, heavy, lo-fi, blues, garage rock.  Two guys, one drummer and one guitarist. I hate comparing artists to other artists, but if I had to, I’d say they were The Black Keys, high on adrenaline, and drunk on whiskey.  Simply based on what I was able to catch, which was only the last couple songs of their set, I was hooked. If you see the video below, there was some photo shoot going on, and for a minute, I didn’t want to get in the way.  I stopped the video when I noticed another photographer up at the front of the stage. I walked through the photo shoot, and was able to snap a few cool shoots of the band with my phone.

When they finished their set, I had to catch them to buy whatever music they had. I purchased one of their CDs and their newly pressed 7’’ single of “Firefly” and “Pack My Bags”. The drummer, “Smilin’ Pete”, was the first to greet those who wanted to meet the band. I wanted to get the guys to sign the vinyl that I purchased, and I asked him whether “Hopeless Jack” would be coming out. Smilin’ Pete assured me that Hopeless Jack would be coming out in a minute. He explained that Jack’s music come from and is written from a deep, dark place and he always needs a minute to unwind after a set. Completely understandable.

When Jack came out, Pete introduced us and I told them that though I was only able to catch the end of their set, what I did hear (and saw) really impressed me and got my blood moving. They both autographed my vinyl and snapped a pic.  Both guys were really humble and unassuming.  I’ve been listening to their CD “Shallow Hears – Shallow Graves” and spinning their 7’’ Single non-stop since that weekend.  I’m hoping they come back to the Los Angeles area for a gig so I can catch an entire set.

Afterwards, I head back to the main stage merchandise booth and the gals from Girl In A Coma were still taking pictures and signing autographs. I dropped by to say, “Hello,” and also to let them know I would be showing up the next day for Nina’s solo gig (which was amazing, by the way… wait, I said that already, didn’t I….), snapped a pic, then continued on with my day.

Due to Sharon Jones having to cancel her appearance due to a medical emergency, a few of the set times were switched around causing me to have to pick between acts for 5pm: Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears or Kaleigh Baker. I decided to walk around the venue and think about it.

ScanI checked out some of the vendors and marveled at some of the tattoos getting done. I hopped into an Ink-N-Iron photobooth that was free (very cool!) and walked onto the boat to explore the Queen Mary. It was getting closer to 5:00pm, and since I was already inside the boat, I realized that my musical choice was made for me: Kaleigh Baker it was.

I got up to the front of the stage and as the band was sound-checking, I had a brief conversation with a gentleman, probably in his late 50s-early 60s who asked me about Kaleigh’s music. We talked deep soul and early punk, and he suggested that I check out The Fleshtones. I suggested he stick around for Kaleigh Baker. We took each other’s advice.

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Kaleigh Baker can sing. Her voice and vocal ability is unreal. The way she emotes the lyrics, and controls her voice to express the lyrics of her music is truly, in my opinon, on par with some of the leading female singers of our time. Sure, my comparison may be a little premature- after all, I only have this one set and her newest EP, “The Weight of It All”, to base it on, but I’m willing to put it out there. She’s got the type of voice that makes you FEEL something. The way it lilts. The way it crescendos. The way it belts. I can’t wait for her to record more music so I can see which direction she takes it.

I was able to catch up with her and some of her band mates after the set.  Like the gals in Girl In A Coma, the guys in Hopeless Jack & The Handsome Devil, everybody in Kaleigh’s band, including Kaleigh, was extremely humble and appreciative.  I had a weird moment of deja-vu when I was introduced to the guitar and bass players, as for some reason I felt like I’d met or seen them before.  No … I wasn’t drunk. It was a sober day for me. And no, pretty certain that we had never crossed paths before.  I bought a copy of Kaleigh’s latest EP from the keyboardist/horn player of the band (who I didn’t get a picture with, but was really accommodating with me asking a bunch of questions) and had Kaleigh sign it. Black Joe Lewis who? … lol.

Again, my iPhone video doesn’t do Kaleigh justice.  Try Googling her.  Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

 

At that point, my phone was pretty much dead. I stayed in the boat to charge my phone. JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound were taking the stage, and as much I wanted to check his band out, I was relegated to sitting next to an outlet to charge my phone up.  It took his entire set for my phone to fully charge, but from what I was able to hear, it sounded pretty good. It was funky, indie soul.  From what I could hear, it almost sounded like they had Niles Rogers sit in with them for a song. Perhaps the unexpected surprise was when the band did a soulful/funked-up version of Blackstreet’s “No Diggitiy”.

My friends who were coming to the festival texted me that they were almost at there.  I texted them back and told them I was going to grab a bite to eat, and kick it for them.  When they arrived, and at the suggestion of the gentleman who I spoke with before Kaleigh Baker’s set, I suggested that we check out The Fleshtones.

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The Fleshtones were one of the original punks bands. Like the Ramones, the Fleshtones came out of Queens. Though I wasn’t too familiar with their repertoire, when it comes to being able to catch one of the “original” bands of a particular genre of music, you simply can’t pass it up. They certainly drew a decent crowd, and played some songs that I actually really enjoyed.

One of the highlights of the set was when the one of members made reference to The Dirtbombs- who were actually influenced by The Fleshtones-playing the main stage. One of the members of the Fleshtones addressed the audience, “Why aren’t we watching the Dirtbombs? […] You want quality! […] You got quality right here!”  It was a fun set, and I’m glad I checked it out.

In between the Fleshtones and The Dead Kennedys, my friends and I decided to check out the featured auto exhibit. I haven’t been into cars, but I’ll have to admit, I was impressed.

I’ll admit that I don’t know much about the Dead Kennedys music. In fact, the most I knew about the band was while in law school reading about the obscenity case against the artwork for their third album “Frankenchrist” Some of the songs sounded familiar, but I really felt like the levels were a bit off.  Not enough vocals, maybe?

My friends wanted to see the next main stage act, Rocket From The Crypt , another band that I was not all to familiar with.  They were quite popular when I was in high school, but I was kind of going through a Boyz II Men/Jodeci phase back then.  My phone was running out of juice again, so I opted to head back into the boat to charge up before Iggy and the Stooges.

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Iggy and the Stooges were schedule to open for Morrissey’s concert back in November last year, and I was really hoping to see them back then. Unfortunately, Morrissey  had some medical issues come up and that November show was rescheduled for the March, with Patti Smith replacing Iggy as the opening act.  Patti Smith was good, but she isn’t Iggy.

Iggy and the Stooges were awesome. I tried looking for their set list online, but I couldn’t find one.  It didn’t matter though. It was seriously a “best of” set, with a couple songs off their newest album.  “Raw Power”, “Fun House”, “Penetration”, “I Wanna Be Your Dog”. They did them all.

From the opening note, where I was standing, pictures and video shots were virtually impossible to take as a mosh pit had formed. During “Fun House”, Iggy started pulling up people from the crowd to dance on stage. It was a mad house on stage, and I pitied the stage-hand who had to make sure that women on stage didn’t molest Iggy while he was performing. A potential shit-storm turned into a raucous party.

Watching Iggy hump the speaker, throw his water bottles into the audience, and dance about on stage, was rock-and-roll incarnate. After most of the set, I needed to escape the crowd to find my friends. I bumped into Kaleigh’s band-mates on the edges of the crowd.  They were equally impressed with Iggy’s stage performance.

When the set ended, my friends left to catch a shuttle back to their parking structure.  I opted to hang out for a minute to decompress.  It was a full day for hard hitting, musical goodness. The one day pass was definitely worth the price of admittance, and depending on who’s  on the bill next year, odds are I will be attending again.