Rick Keene Music Scene – Top Ten Concerts of 2013

Obviously – I cannot be everywhere. If that were the case, my shoe bill would be sky high!

Seriously folks  –  it is difficult enough to choose ten shows as the best in Montreal during the course of a year. If I could be everywhere, the list would consist of the top one hundred. I would be deaf and broke. Thankfully, I am not deaf. Realistically – I am broke. One out of two ain’t bad ( What’s that? Sorry you have to speak up).

Experiencing  shows in Montreal is an experience unlike anywhere else. Every musician I speak to – from Jerry Mercer of April Wine to Holly Cole does admit; there are no crowds in the world like Montreal. Savvy, emotional and passionate. Three adjectives ripe in truth. For these reasons – artists are quickly reminded if and when, their shows are good, great or soaring into other atmospheres.

Montreal – the perfect odometer for the racing pulse of visiting and local musicians.

The Jazz Festival. The best in the world, brought some fantastic acts this past summer season. Xavier Rudd, Holly Cole, Mo Kenney, Lyle Lovett and Chris Isaak, Molly Ringwald and Dr. John to name very few. A pure delight for the music fan – rain or shine ( please visit the archive section for a recap of the Jazz Festival).

Without further ramblings ( or shoes) – here is my Top Ten List of the 2013 concerts of which I attended. Agree to disagree or agree. One thing is certain, every musician deserves to be on the list …

10. Micheal Kaeshammer 

One of the most talented pianists this country boasts. German – born, Canadian-raised ( half his life), Kaeshammer delivered an old school lesson in Boogie Woogie, Jazz and Zydecho-based Blues and Rock n Roll. Kaeshammer was in Montreal on November 1st at L’Astral promoting his latest disc; ‘Tell You How I Feel’ ( a homage to Alain Toussaint). Michael awed the crowd with his non-stop banter, piano playing and (mostly) hard driving tunes. The type of show, no one wanted to end. In fact – Kaeshammer played beyond his time limit and came back again and again.

9. Steve Earle

The one man who can give Keith Richards a run for his millions in the bad boy category. A survivor of drug addiction, alcoholism and jail time – Earle brought his act to Montreal at the Corona Theater on August 9th.

He was in town promoting his 15th studio album; ‘ The Low Highway’. Steve Earle & the Dukes (& Duchesses), the best band Earle ever had ( according to Earle), brought a high caliber – all music show to Montreal.

Most artists, young and old get caught up in self-importance and either banter too much or indulge in the ‘greatness’ of their music. Not Earle. His show is strictly business. Not show business. A treat to hear songs such as ‘Guitar Town’ and ‘ Copperhead Road’ live. A treat to hear the man along with  husband and wife multi-instrumentalists Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore and the rhythm section of  Kelley Looney and Will Rigby, tear the venue apart with truisms both lyrically and musically.

8. Lee Rocker

The former ( current?) Stray Cat double Bass player was here on Aug.29th to open up the 9th annual Red Hot and Blue Rockabilly Festival at The Rialto Theater.

Rocker performed songs from his new disc; Night Train to Memphis along with classic Stray Cat tunes and classic tunes period. The hardest working double bass player in North America delivered ‘Rumble in Brighton Tonight’, ‘Stray Cat Strut’, ‘Night Train to Memphis’ and ‘Rockabilly Boogie’ the way Carl Perkins and Scotty Moore would have.

Combining Country, Rock and the hard driving sounds of guitarist Buzz Campbell, guitarist/slide player Brophy Dale and  drummer Jimmy Sage, Rocker delivered an excellent blend of showmanship and a hard-earned, natural talent for his instrument. Once the show started – everyone danced. And danced … and danced…

7. The Damn Truth

Montreal’s own band-on-the-rise, played a few times in the city. The throwback sound of the glory days of Rock from the early seventies – along with the incredible vocals of Lee La Baum, set and continues to set Montreal on fire.

Songs such as ‘ Montreal’, ‘Kinda Awkward’ and ‘ I Want You ( He’s a Lightweight) – showcasing Tom Shemmer’s ‘ guitar work, Dave Traina’s primal drums and David Masse’s complimentary bass. In concert – Lee La, Tom and Masse never stand still enough to get a good picture.

Combine Led Zeppelin, The Kinks and Janis Joplin – the sum of all parts equals The Damn Truth. The Damn Future of Rock in Montreal …! Arcade who …?

6. Heart

Ann and Nancy Wilson – arrived in Montreal on the 25th of March at Le Centre Bell. Two of the pioneers of women in rock …

Given the fact the ladies have not really had a hit for decades – plus the fact they are closing in on collecting pensions, it was easy to enter the arena poised with cynicism. Well – nobody told the Wilson sisters!

Ann’s voice on ‘Alone’ – alone, made the entire night special.

Singing like the year was 1977 – Ann delivered the Heart songbook impeccably. Combined with Nancy’s vocals and experienced guitar playing; hits like ‘Magic Man’, ‘Dreamboat Annie’, ‘Barracuda’ and ‘Crazy on You’ brought several standing ovations to the crowd. With lead guitarist Craig Bartock,  keyboard player Debbie Shair, bassist Kristian Attard, and drummer Ben Smith along for the ride – the Wilson’s delivered at times, a rock n roll show circa 1978. Including covers of Led Zeppelin and The Who’s ‘ Love Reign O’er Me ( with Pete Townshend’s brother Simon), no doubt the world has not heard the end of Heart’s heart …

5.The Specials

Performing as part of The Montreal International Jazz Festival – the English band made everyone stand up and take notice at Metropolis. They were special …

The British ska legends, formed in 1977 – performed for the first time in Montreal following a thirty year absence. That abyss made the heart grow fonder for fans and the Festival walk-ins. Staples such as  ‘Do the Dog’,  ‘A Message To You, Rudy’, ‘Little Bitch, ‘Ghost Town’, ‘Concrete Jungle,’ ‘Rat Race’ and ‘Too Much Too Young’ – amazed the senses.

A glance around the club was truly an inspiring sight. Fever-pitched dancing was addictive. Partly because of the music and partly because of the band members themselves. Rarely does an entire band dance around the stage and rarely do men their age have that type of energy. The group made everyone realize what music is about.

Smiling and dancing. Two ingredients that made at least one evening at The Jazz festival – very special …

4. The Rolling Stones

The bad boys of Rock n Roll played in Montreal at The Bell Center on June 9th. They rolled into town as part of their Fifty and Counting Tour.The question on everyone’s mind? Do Mick, Keef, Charlie and Ronnie ( Darryl Jones) still have it?

A conundrum this greatest Rock n Roll band in the world. Judged against past tours, past hits, past bad behavior and (for the first time in their history) over-the-top ticket prices. Somewhere – among all this, is a band performing on stage. Four guys who have written the book on ‘How to Be  Rockstars’.

Ask someone who is not over fifty, question the early twenties contingent who have just seen a Stones’ show for the very first time; ‘How was the show?’ This is where the only real answer arrives to get a take on The Stones circa 2013. A non judgmental musicologist who just wants to party, move their feet and listen to tunes while under the influence of God-knows-what …

Ironically like the over sixty crowd did when they saw the band in the sixties. Or – the over fifty people who saw them in the seventies. The plus forty group who saw them in the eighties. Get my point?

The Stones were never technically sound even at their peak. One night in 1962 – 69, ’72, ’75, ’78, ’81’, ’89’, ’94, ’97, 2002 and ’06 – they were the worst sounding band heard this side of Tiny Tim. On the same tours – the greatest ever heard on a selected and presumably sober ( non sober) night. That is the beauty of Rock n Roll. That is the beauty of The Rolling Stones.

On June 9th, ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, ‘Satisfaction’ and twenty-odd more classic songs were performed by men who are the royalty of Rock. Was it the best show they have put on? No. Was it the worst performance of their ‘long and winding’ careers? No.  It was Rock n Roll delivered by legends. Pirates. Pioneers. Saints and sinners. Men who have forgotten more than David Grohl will ever learn. Richards may be having difficulty playing with his arthritic – laced fingers ( knobs), yet Mick, Ronnie and Charlie amaze with their ability to play and perform like the young Rock n Roll rebels they once were. Former guitarist Mick Taylor appeared on Midnight Rambler to remind everyone of possibly the greatest Blues-based Rock n Roll song the world will ever know.

and we like it, like it … yes we do …!

3. The Eagles

Do you know the History of The Eagles? Sit down and have a listen …

That is what happened on the 4th of November at Le Centre Bell. People sat and they listened to the soundtrack of the seventies – Country / Rock style.

As with Heart – when a group or solo artist disappears from the top one hundred, it is easy to dismiss their legacies and skills with reminders of their not-so-good stuff which appeared to be the reason they left; exit stage left. Out of nowhere, they return and as was the case of The Eagles – the songs and the talent astound the masses and create new fans.

With former member Bernie Leadon  joining Don Henley and Glenn Frey in an acoustic trio to start and Joe Walsh completing ‘the circle’ later on – the 14,400 Bell Center show really did go ‘full circle’.  First the songs. ‘Desperado’, ‘Hotel California’, ‘One of These Nights’, ‘The Long Run’ …etc etc. Performed with the vinyl perfection of the records which made women croon and men get in touch with their feminine sides they never knew they had.

Wistfulness embraced the Bell Center in November. A sing-a-long to end all sing-a-longs. As each song was introduced; lights went on in people’s eyes. Beams of remembrance. Beacons of times gone by and moments lost. The Eagles’ story contains many ballads and just when that legacy risked placing the crowd into ‘Bedtime for Bonzo’ mode – Joe Walsh saved the day.

‘Life’s Been Good’ for Walsh and he injected much needed life into the second half. ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ – played by Walsh by Walsh circa 1977.  The man is a Rock n Roll guitarist and will always be that rebel. A treat to witness him, Frey, Henley et al.

A treat to re- read The History of the Eagles …

2. Styx

What is with these bands everyone thought were dead? In the case of Styx – arguably, dead in the water until Gowan joined in 1999.

There is a reason why Styx are one of the most consistent and money – making acts on tour in North America for the past three decades. The show. It’s all about the show combined with a catalog unmatched by many. ‘Grand Illusion’, ‘Lady’, ‘Come Sail Away’, ‘Sweet Madame Blue’. Three tunes which provide so much energy. A trio of songs when added to Gowan’s own ‘Criminal Mind’ and ‘Strange Animal’; a five-some of classic rock done by pioneers of prog rock – North America style.

The Olympia show on the 17th November was not about the songs or Tommy Shaw and James Young. It was about the atmosphere and anticipation felt in the sold-out show. It was the type of feeling that once upon a time engulfed this city before a show at The  Montreal Forum, Le Moustache or the old Maples Inn. An electricity filled the air. Enough wattage to power Young and Shaw’s guitars.

Gowan, the ever -theatrical Gowan, more than replacing Dennis DeYoung in the band with his contagious energy. Enveloping the crowd with his own personal stamp of approval. Sure the band no longer writes any hits. Sure the band delivers straight, hard-edged rock and synthesizer sounds straight from the hair days of the eighties. Sure the band delivers tunes as sickening ( for Rock purists) as ‘Too Much Time on My Hands’. For the money – Styx put on a ‘Rock Show’ that McCartney and Wings would be proud of …

Styx continue to be ‘Renegades’ …

1. Bonnie Raitt

Raitt appeared at Theatre St. Denis on the 14th of November. Everyone in attendance will remember that date as if it were the 14th of February. A love -affair …

Performing classics such as ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’, ‘Something to Talk About’, ‘Angel from Montgomery’ and ‘Love Sneakin’ Up on You’ – Ms. Raitt demonstrated the classiness, the sexiness and the rawness of Blues the way Blues should be played. In town – on the heals of her 2012 album ‘Slipstream’, a disc which won Best Americana Album – Raitt along with guitarist George Marinelli and organ and keyboard player Mike Finnegan, set the tone for a a show. 

Keyboardist Mike Finnigan got the spotlight for a blues vocal on “I Got News for You’ and may possibly be the best in the business at doing what he does. Jaw-dropping as was opening act Marc Cohn’s duet with Raitt in the encore. The pair delivering Van Morrison’s soulful ‘Crazy Love’. Cohn set the mood ( and the bar ) high as the opener. In his set, Mr. Cohn exchanged pianos and guitars  as he sang  Dylan’s ‘Perfect Love’,  Ray Charles’ ’29 Ways’ and paid homage to the late great Band singer Levon Helm on the moving “Listening to Levon.”

Raiit is at the point in her life ( sixty – four) where she does not need to impress anyone. This comes across in her behavior. No nervousness. No pretentiousness. Just a gal singing and playing at the top of her game to songs such as ‘Thing Called Love’, ‘Million Miles’ and ‘Dimming of the Day’. Nobody plays slide guitar like Raitt or as effortlessly.

For Raitt, a survivor and pioneer among women Blues singers – it’s all about the jam. She has played with everyone who was and is everyone in the Blues scene. Hooker, Buddy Guy, Taj Mahal, Clapton, the Stones. Following a career going on forty -two years, it is easy to see Raitt is a student intent on giving to the fans what some legendary artists have given to her …

Honorable mentions

 Tedeschi Trucks Band

Rod Stewart

Buddy Guy

John Scofield Trio

Jill Barber

The Cat Empire

Lyle Lovett / Chris Isaak

Gino Vannelli

Grace Potter and The Nocturnals

Joe Louis Walker

April Wine

Bettye Lavette

Terez Montcalm

Thanks to all the musicians both local and afar.

Styx; Making It Look Easy …

Remember the days when a Rock n Roll show was a Rock n Roll show?

In Montreal, ‘back in the day’, the anticipation could be felt hours before the show in Atwater Park. A green-space dotted with empty beer bottles, tossed – away ‘clips’ of joints and concert goers in various stages of sobriety.The only thing ‘straight’? The white line dividing East and West bound traffic on Atwater street itself …

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The festivities would easily carry over to The Montreal Forum once the doors of the fabled hockey shrine opened and invited people in. The atmosphere inside – a gathering of people wanting to have a good time. Frisbees, Beach Balls and a cloud of smoke shadowed the crowd on the floor while the folks in their seats – enjoyed  the entire scene with a grain of salt ( or a line of coke).

It was all about anticipation. Awaiting the band to come on. It was magical. No previews via Youtube of what the group looked like or sounded like the night before in ( insert name here),U.S.A. No Facebook pages with status updates from Jimmy Page or Humble Pie. No tweets from Tiny Tim. No nothing. That is what made a concert so exciting. ‘Live music’ from ‘live musicians’. The pinnacle of the music world performing the pinnacle of songs and the only place to witness it was live …

Last night, at The Olympia on Ste Catherine St. East – that anticipation was felt inside the venue. An excitement loomed overhead like the fog of marijuana smoke once did at the storied Forum.

There were two reasons for this. Most important,  Styx was ‘in the house’. Montreal audiences have a love affair with the band dating back to the days of ‘Sweet Madame Blue’. That song became a huge hit in Montreal before anywhere else in the world. That – combined with Montreal’s affection for prog-Rock bands such as Genesis, Yes and Marillion, gave the audience a ‘buzz’.

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The other principle reason for everyone getting their ‘undies in a bunch’ – is the city’s and the Province’s love affair with Lawrence Gowan. Starting with his appearances at Le Moustache (a club across the street from The Forum) and ending with his monstrous hits; ‘Strange Animal‘ and ‘Criminal Mind’ – Larry, Lawrence or Gowan is a household name in Montreal. Two acts – one heart. One love affair. Placing  Styx and him together? A combination worthy of anticipation. Peanut Butter and Jam. The ‘munchies’ for a crowd ‘stoned’ in nostalgia.

The excitement evolved into bliss with Gowan’s best Dennis DeYoung impersonation on the evening’s second song; Grand Illusion. The opening keyboards as obvious as Liberace’s penchant for all things non-female. The audience was hooked. Receiving what they came for and enjoying everything that came after.

“Fooling Yourself’ was no joke. Another tune from The Grand Illusion disc delivered with almost the same uniqueness of the studio version. Following a brief introduction of original guitarist – turned bassist; Chuck Panozzo, Gowan sent shivers down the spines of everyone with the opening words to ‘Lady’. The group’s hit from 1975. Many in attendance realizing it was that song which gave the opportunity for a slow dance back in high school. A song which has not only stood the test of time, a song  relevant more than ever in an era of disrespect towards …um …everyone.

gowan copy

‘Lights Out’ came next followed by ‘In the Wilderness‘, the latter also from The Grand Illusion. An album which the band has played in it’s entirety ( along with Pieces of Eight) on recent tours. ‘In the Wilderness’ should have stayed ‘In the Wilderness’. Following more known songs – ‘Wilderness’ set the tone back except for the die hard Styx fans. A nonsensical choice that every cover band can do in their sleep. Inappropriate unless the Grand Illusion album was played out fully (which it was not).

‘Sweet Madame Blue’ and ‘Crystal Ball’ continued the party with the entire audience singing along  to a pair of songs which (arguably) placed Styx on the Rock n Roll map. ‘Miss America’ returned the group to ‘Wilderness’ levels once more – somehow losing whatever melody it had on vinyl to outright distorted guitars in concert.

Gowan to the rescue …!

‘Criminal Mind’ elevated the band from it’s corny prison routine and introduced Gowan to the crowd as the solo artist they once knew. A haunting song which made it’s way around the room like a ghostly presence. A homecoming of sorts for the man who loved Montreal so much – he recorded an album in French.

‘Stephanie’, Gowan’s hit ‘en Francais’ – followed a respectful jaunt to the time when  Styx started to lose fans. ‘Too Much Time on Your Hands’ is great in concert and annoying anytime else. A crowd-  pleaser unless the crowd happens to contain prisoners with a penchant for Primus. A fluffy piece of music meant for …?

Once more – Gowan to the rescue…

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The funnest part of the evening had Gowan (alone) do a medley. A ‘montage’of great songs from the past starting with his own hit; Moonlight Desires‘. Roughly thirty seconds of the subsequent songs carried out – much to the joy of the crowd. ‘Sweet Dreams’ by The Eurythmics, ‘Changes’ by Bowie, ‘Tiny Dancer‘ by Elton John and’You Can’t Alway Get What You Want’ by the Rolling Stones. Each choice gaining sing-a-long status from the crowd with Gowan’s urging. The Stones’ ballad receiving the loudest and longest rendition. ‘Fat Bottom Girls‘ (Queen) and ‘Another Brick in the Wall ( Pink Floyd) led Gowan into the night’s biggest moment …

Come Sail Away.

The eruption, the sing-a-long, the joyous reaction and the memories- all in your face! An anthem delivered. A typical Styx ballad -turned rocker. The ORIGINAL Styx crowd pleaser done with so much heart – so much 70’s flavor – it was perfect as the final song of the show. Leaving the audience begging for an encore. ‘Renegade’ kept the fires burning long enough, hard enough for Styx to not be lumped in to the ‘nostalgia act’ category.

Oldie acts do not have the energy Styx generated last night.

Over- the – hill acts do not put on a Rock n Roll show …!

Highlight of the Night; No Mr. Roboto!

Lowlight; No Babe?

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