Royal Blood Shatter The Walls of the Observatory

Courtesy of Phrankenstein
In 2014, when Royal Blood dropped their debut album, the earth shook. This is why--with just two instruments, Ben Thatcher (drums) and Mike Kerr (bass/vocals) inject tender (and freaking sexy) vocals, scuzzy riffs, and pounding (yet methodical) drums. Their self-titled album doesn't just earn a + or heart shaped click on your Spotify or Apple Music accounts. Their entire album snuggles its way into its own private playlist. Yes, it's that savage.

Seeing this duo live was invigorating. Before they took the stage, fans stood with feet glued to the floor as Bass Drum of Death and Wakrat kicked things off. A man in the middle of the mosh pit stood with black shades, worn responsibly for flashing lights neurotically bounced throughout the venue in every color of the rainbow.

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Billy Bob Thornton and The Boxmasters Serve Up Some Musical Storytelling

Billy Bob Thornton and The Boxmasters perform at The Coach House. Image by Scott Feinblatt
Billy Bob Thornton is the first person to tell you that some people don't know what to expect when they come to see him perform with his band, The Boxmasters. "About three songs in," he explained to his middle-aged crowd, "about seven or eight people who were expecting us to play 'Mustang Sally' or see me act like Carl from Sling Blade start scratching their heads and going, 'What is this stuff?'" The fact of the matter is that Thornton has been playing music for 40 years. He explained to the intimate Coach House crowd that before he was discovered in an acting class, he was opening for such acts as Ted Nugent, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, and Humble Pie. On Thursday night, he proved that he, with his fellow Boxmasters, can still put on an outstanding, no frills rock show.

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Star Trek Takes Off In Irvine With Help From An Orchestra

Star Trek screening at Irvine Meadows. Photo by Scott Feinblatt
No matter how brilliant and familiar live classical music may be, unless the audience member is thoroughly versed in the genre or that particular piece of work, his 21st century attention span is probably going to wander off a bit during a concert. However, given the hyper-Romantic stylings of a film score (film scores usually focus on one to three themes, which are repeated over and over with variations), along with a screening of the film for which it was written, it is easy to keep an amphitheatre full of people rapt for two hours -- especially when that film is J.J. Abrams's Star Trek and the audience is full of Trekkies.

For someone who has not experienced an orchestral music performance (high school recitals don't count), the acoustics of a live orchestra put your embarrassingly overpriced Beats headphones to shame. Add an emotionally engaging score, and the effect is as enveloping as a siren song. In this case, the song was performed by the Pacific Symphony under the direction of Richard Kaufman. The symphony's resident musical director, Carl St. Clair, took the night off as the Grammy award winning Kaufman is the man for the job when film scores are to be conducted; Kaufman is frequently a guest conductor for orchestras around the world, where he leads orchestras in both traditional orchestral presentations as well as in synchronized film performances. This concert was part of the principal pops programming series, for which Kaufman has been the conductor for 25 seasons.

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The B-52s Should Be So Much More Than a Pop-Cult Act

The B-52's Perform at Pacific Amphitheatre. Photo by Scott Feinblatt
The B-52s
Pacific Amphitheater

When The B-52s first got started, in the late '70s, their stylistic trademarks included bouffant hairdos, the influence of '50s rock music, and nods to campy '60s movies. Though they retooled these elements into a wholly original concept which helped establish the New Wave movement, their act has become an anachronism of its own -- and a popular one, at that!

Middle-aged folks filed in from both the parking lot gate and the one accessible through the OC Fair fairgrounds to fill the Pacific Amphitheatre, while opening act The English Beat got the party started. To look at the scene, one would swear he was at a Zumba class from the way virtually every member of the audience frantically aerobicized to the 2 tone revivalist band's beats. By the time the band vacated the stage, the people who weren't suffering heat stroke from this dreadful heat wave were thoroughly energized and ready for The B-52s, who hit the stage after a 20 minute intermission.

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Alabama Shakes Steamroll The Greek

Alabama Shakes performing at The Greek Theatre, in Los Angeles. Photo by Scott Feinblatt
The evening started slowly at The Greek. A very small group of mostly 20 to 30 somethings huddled in front of the stage to experience opening act Blake Mills. The rest of the theater was sparsely populated while singer / guitarist Mills and his band gave an admirable performance, featuring a powerful, minimalist arrangement of Bob Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece." Roughly an hour and a half later, the entire theater had filled to its 6000-ish capacity, and the audience had begun to dance and rock in anticipation of the main act. When Alabama Shakes took the stage, any remaining beer-chugging, yahoo blowholes were swallowed up by a wave of energy that did not recede until the show ended.

Alabama Shakes's lead singer / guitarist, Brittany Howard, does not look like your run-of-the-mill rockstar; she looks more like the kind of person who bogarts the microphone at a PTA meeting, but to experience her stage performance is to be transported to another world where spiritual, blues rockers can capture your soul with their spasmodic facial contortions and the sound of their wailing. It may not sound pretty in print [or on your screen], but that's the point. The sound of Alabama Shakes transcends other modes of perception.

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NWLYWD Makes McClain's Coffeehouse Buzz with More than Caffeine

NWLYWD performs at McClain's Coffeehouse. Photo by Scott Feinblatt
This has been a big year for Sterling and Samantha Wilson, a.k.a. NWLYWD. After recording their first album, the husband and wife duo hit the road to play their tunes and promote themselves. On June 21, during Fullerton's Day of Music festival, they performed one set at Share & Do Good and another at the Plummer Auditorium. Since then, the Wilsons have been making their way up and down the West Coast, and on Friday they returned to Fullerton to perform a delightful two hour set at McClain's Coffeehouse.

To hear the sound of NWLYWD [that's Newlywed with no E's, pilgrim] performing from around a corner, one would imagine a band consisting of more than two performers. However, the versatile musicians create their full sound by playing multiple instruments at the same time. Sterling keeps the beat through electronic drum pedals, strums rhythm guitar, and sings; and while Samantha principally plays keys and sings, she also picks up a guitar for a number or two. Before each song, she dials up her midi keyboard presets on an Apple notebook, and the two are able to recreate the exact sound of their first CD, Tidepooling. For their album, they essentially used the same instrumentation; yet, the high quality of their relatively DIY production value belies the fact that it was literally recorded in their closet.

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Rush Entrances Audience at Irvine Meadows

Rush's Geddy Lee at Irvine Meadows. Photo by Scott Feinblatt
Rush has announced that their 2015 tour is likely to be their last, and if their desire is to go out with a bang, then they're doing it. In honor of their stop at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre [thank the gods -- the name has been reverted back from Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre], sixteen thousand fans packed the joint in a sold out show, and while the age of the fans predominantly tipped the scale towards forty and fifty-year-olds, the forty-year-old act put on a spectacular show that made this tour stop one to remember.

Actually, the band was formed in 1968, making the act forty seven years old, but since drummer / lyricist / songwriter Neil Peart joined bassist / singer Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson in 1974, when they released their eponymous first album, it is likely that their first tour together occurred forty years ago. Given that this is a legendary band, which has never since altered its line-up of amazing musicians, too much scrutiny should not be given to this matter. The fact is that they still perform like the incredibly gifted youths that have since inspired many other musicians and pop cultural icons.

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Skapeche Mode Lead a Glowing Local Roster at Slidebar

Skapeche Mode performs at The Slidebar Rock-N-Roll Kitchen. Photo by Scott Feinblatt
The great thing about seeing local bands perform at a local venue (apart from the likelihood that the concert will be free) is that you really get to weigh the band by its musical and performance merits instead of by its popularity or any major buzz that it may have developed. Even in the case of The Radioactive Chicken Heads and Skapeche Mode, which already have developed enough of a following to pack the back room at The Slidebar Rock-N-Roll Kitchen, in Fullerton, the bands must truly shine in order to cultivate, maintain, and expand their fan bases. On Friday night, Slidebar hosted the aforementioned bands as well as Tiktaalik and MELTED, and each band subsequently showed what they could do given around 30 minutes of stage time.

Tiktaalik performs at The Slidebar Rock-N-Roll Kitchen. Photo by Scott Feinblatt
The first up was Tiktaalik. This high-concept, "post-core," three-piece outfit sounded like the soundtrack of someone who was being chased through a junkyard by wind-up robots. The lyrics were not that clearly discernible, but the guitarist / lead singer's Cobainesque shouting at one point seemed to reveal something about voluntary exile into disenfranchisement. The bassist laid down the solid tracks of this roller coaster ride while the drummer's vicious percussive attacks cleared the roller coaster's path with the relentlessness of a wrecking ball.

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Imagine Dragons Breathe Real Fire at Honda Center

Categories: concert review

Imagine Dragons at Honda Center photo by Scott Feinblatt
In a musical world where genuine artistry routinely fights a savage battle with artifice and pop conventions, Imagine Dragons stirs the pot to keep industry players guessing and audiences entertained. When the lads from the Las Vegas band (by way of Provo, Utah) came to Anaheim's Honda Center, they brought with them Halsey and Metric as their opening acts, and the entire show -- all three acts included -- formed a sort of microcosm of the pop music world, with each act progressively demonstrating the evolution of the synthesis of pop and indie rock.

After her start as an Internet sensation, Halsey signed with Astralwerks and released her debut EP Room 93 last October. While she has a good voice, her posturing onstage while she ran through her seven similar sounding songs didn't do much for her street credibility and showed that she had about as much edginess as a snow globe (despite her blue hair). Still, for a 20 year old, who got this far on her own, she deserves some naches, and her song "New Americana" was a memorable number.

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Inglewood eXPERIENCES U2 at The Forum

U2 performing at The Forum. Photo by Scott Feinblatt
The Forum
May 26, 2015

[Editor's Note: Sources have confirmed that U2's longtime tour manager Dennis Sheehan died of a massive heart attack in his hotel room early this morning after the band's show last night. Sheehan,who was in his 60s, had worked with the Irish rockers since 1982. Our deepest condolences to the band and their crew.]

If T-shirts don't lie, then U2 sold out every US date on their "iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE TOUR." For, the words "Sold Out" are stamped next to the names of each of the seven cities listed on the official souvenir shirt for their current tour. Considering The Forum, in Inglewood, has a capacity of 17,500 people, and given that even people sitting in some of the lousier seating areas were paying upwards of $250 a pop, it is safe to say that this tour was a success before it began. Regardless, the band put on a great concert.

Visually, the show was incredible. A two-tier catwalk stretched the length of the stadium and was book-ended by two stages, and while both the upper and lower catwalks could be clearly seen with the house lights on, LED walls of imagery alternately concealed the upper catwalk and revealed specific spots along the way, where lead singer Bono would periodically strut. The imagery on the LED screens ranged from stylized artistic vignettes of small town neighborhoods (seen moving as though the audience was looking out the window of a moving train) to dynamic shots from the concert's closed-circuit video feed.

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