Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mark Knopfler, Academy of Music, Philadelphia, 10/17/2015, An Evening With Mark Knopfler, He Did It His Way

Mark Knopfler - Your Latest Trick, Academy of Music, Philadelphia

Mark Knopfler brought his North American tour to Philadelphia on Saturday, October 17th to play a concert at the Academy of Music. By all reports, the show sold out in about fifteen minutes.

Billed as "An Evening With Mark Knopfler" (there was no opening act), the two plus hour show was packed with mostly songs from Knopfler's lengthy solo career with some tasty nuggets from Dire Straits mixed in. After saying that he was glad to be here and that he had already had some Philadelphia cheesesteaks, he didn't say much to the audience preferring, I guess, to let his guitar do the talking.

Even though I never got a good handle on his last release, the double album Privateering, I quite enjoyed hearing him do the title track. The show's highlight for me was an amazing "Your Latest Trick" (watch video above) from the Dire Straits' classic Brothers In Arms album. Then, he did an exceptionally sweet nine minute version of "Romeo and Juliet".

This show was really loud which would ordinarily be fine, however, the combination of sound level and the sonic depth of the bass and drums caused the balcony in the one hundred plus year old Academy of Music to physically shake. You can plainly see the vibration in the videos which were shot with the camera mounted to a c-clamp tripod device attached to the arm of the seat. During "Sultans of Swing", the lead vocal and most of the lead guitar were buried in the mix by the bass. If you watch the video, you will hear more of the vocal and the lead guitar than could be heard in the venue as he played it. Apparently, the subwoofer frequencies that shook the building were below the range of the camera's internal microphone. This little camera never ceases to amaze me. It is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20. It has a 20x optical zoom lens and, although it's not a video camera per se, it shoots beautiful high definition video. All that and it fits in your shirt pocket. Considering that Knopfler is booked to play mostly orchestra halls this tour, I'm surprised that they don't fine tune the sound system to provide perfect sound commensurate with the nature of the venue.

If Knopfler did nothing else in his career but the song "Brothers in Arms", he would still be my number one guitarist of all time. As it is, he's also way up there among favorite singer-songwriters. His career has been remarkable; after disbanding Dire Straits, he has been able to have it entirely his way with an enormous amount of worldwide success. As Knopfler introduced his band, he stated how long each musician has been with him. It quickly became clear that the distinction between Dire Straits and his solo career is completely subjective. This band could just as easily be the current version of Dire Straits playing the music he chooses.

This time around there were a number of nice surprises. For the record, of the seventeen song set, three were from Tracker, two from Privateering, two from The Ragpicker's Dream, and one track each from Sailing To Philadelphia and Shangri-La. Completely unexpected, Knopfler included two songs from his movie soundtracks; "Father and Son" from Cal and "She's Gone" from Metroland. He played five songs from the Dire Straits' catalogue, starting with "Your Latest Trick", "Romeo and Juliet", and "Sultan's of Swing". Another highlight of the set was "On Every Street"; Knopfler said that they added it because of sax player Nigel Hitchcock and noted that he had not performed it in the last 23 years. He encored with "So Far Away". The final encore song was another surprise, "Piper to the End" from Get Lucky, which included the traditional Scottish instruments, a perfect set-ender.

Many thanks for the photo and video assistance:
Camera - Beverly Kates
Video production - Amy Hockstein and Lindsey Mitchell

See more videos from this show: Click video links on setlist below (setlist courtesy of

1. Broken Bones
2. Corned Beef City
3. Privateering
4. Father and Son
5. Hill Farmer's Blues
6. Skydiver
7. She's Gone
8. Your Latest Trick (Dire Straits song)
9. Romeo and Juliet (Dire Straits song)
10. Sultans of Swing (Dire Straits song)
11. Mighty Man
12. Postcards from Paraguay
13. Marbletown
14. On Every Street (Dire Straits song)
15. Speedway at Nazareth
16. So Far Away (Dire Straits song)
17. Piper to the End

Photos by Beverly Kates

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Halsey - New Americana, [Earworm Alert] Report From the Front Lines of Pop, The Next Generation Is In Good Hands, Debut Album Badlands Is Out Now

The other night I received the following text, "Halsey is on the radio right now on 104.5. I think she's from around here. Her voice is really good, check her out!!"

WRFF-FM, also known as Radio 104.5, is playing a song in heavy rotation called "New Americana" by an artist who goes by the name of Halsey. When they play it, they are also airing a station promo which says something like "This is Halsey and you're listening to Radio 104.5, the station I grew up listening to." Halsey was born Ashley Nicolette Frangipane in Washington, New Jersey. She thinks it's cool that the station she grew up on is playing her song, but this is hardly a local phenomenon. Now you have to hear "New Americana"; this chorus has a hook that's undeniable.

"We are the new Americana,
High on legal marijuana,
Raised on Biggie and Nirvana,
We are the new Americana."

Halsey - New Americana

The chorus is somewhat biographical. Halsey's parents played lots of music as she was growing up; Biggie Smalls was one of her dad's favorites while Nirvana was one that her mom played a lot.

Explaining the video, Halsey recently tweeted " touches on a few subjects: police brutality, the martyr-ship of artists and the paradox of how an artists supporters more often than not save THEM, and the power of a youth collective and how they can make a change and become victorious when organized for a united cause. Its political, racially charged, and mildly disturbing. But not to mention incredibly beautiful and visually stunning."

The video suggests a number of parallels to the revolution in the Hunger Games' fictional dystopian future. "New Americana" really should be the soundtrack theme for the new Hunger Games movie that is opening this Thanksgiving, Hunger Games - Mockingjay Part 2.

"New Americana" comes from her remarkable debut album Badlands, actually one of the best pop albums I've heard this year. The first thing that strikes you about Halsey is the sound of her voice, so fresh, so strong, so soulful. The production places her vocal right up front and it is never upstaged by the music. It's all about her voice, the lyrics, and the music always amplifies the emotions in the songs, heightens the drama, but even when the musical fireworks are going off, it always knows when to get out of the way. Filled with great songs, Badlands has plenty to say, and never succumbs to pop cliche. She says, "I am Halsey. I will never be anything but honest. I write songs about sex and being sad."

Take the opening track "Castle". I'm not sure about the implications of "now my neck is open wide, begging for a fist around", but taken in another light, with or without a Game of Thrones consciousness, this song serves up the perfect metaphor for Halsey's place in the music universe.

"I'm headed straight for the castle.
They wanna make me their queen.
And there's an old man sitting on the throne that's saying that I probably shouldn't be so mean.
I'm headed straight for the castle.
They've got the kingdom locked up.
And there's an old man sitting on the throne that's saying I should probably keep my pretty mouth shut."

I've listened to this album a number of times and there is a lot to consider. I'm not quite sure what she's going for in "Hold Me Down", whether she means the song literally, or if it's a fantasy, or it's a metaphor for something else entirely. On the other hand, Halsey's got some love songs which strike a different note, they're flat out romantic. The lyrics to "Roman Holiday" are all so good it's hard to pick a few lines. It opens with:

"Do you remember the taste of my lips that night,
I stole a bit of my mother's perfume.
Cause I remember when my father put his fist through
the wall that separated the dining room.
And I remember the fear in your eyes,
The very first time we snuck into the city pool.
Late December with my heart in my chest and the clouds of my breath
Didn't know where we were running to.
But don't look back."

There are two versions of Badlands, there is an eleven track standard version and a sixteen track deluxe version. The album is good either way. It seems like there are more explicit songs on the deluxe but either way, the lyrics serve the songs; the explicit language is never used for the sensationalism of the language itself. Compared to other top selling explicit albums, Halsey's explicit lyrics are downright sweet. Otherwise all originals, the deluxe version has a cover of "I Walk the Line" by Johnny Cash. This totally unexpected treat sounds so much like a Halsey song that most of her listeners may not realize that this song is over 50 years old.

As I was listening to "Control", I couldn't stop thinking that this artist does not seem to have a problem with self doubt, "and all the kids cried out, please stop, you're scaring me', I can't help this awful energy. Goddamn right, you should be scared of me. Who is in control?" The vocals on Badlands are so strong, so self-assured that this is a most accomplished debut. It's kind of cool that Halsey is just all of 21 years old. In late 2014, she released Room 93, a five song EP on the Astralwerks label. In 2015 she released her debut full length, Badlands. The song "Ghost" first appeared on the EP; it's also included on the album. Watch the video.

Halsey - Ghost

Continuing the "Castle" analogy, Halsey does, indeed, seem headed for the castle. A look at her tour dates reveals that almost every show is sold out. She has been getting excellent exposure, such as touring earlier this summer with Imagine Dragons, as their opening act. Just last Friday night (October 9), Halsey appeared on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert and performed "New Americana".

Regarding lost soundtrack opportunities, "Drive" really should have been playing at the end of the finale episode of the first season of Fear the Walking Dead. [spoiler alert] I can hear this song as the boat sails away from LA.

Halsey got her start DIY, posting live cover songs to YouTube. She was one of the lucky ones to make it, but it's clearly not all luck. Regarding the stage name Halsey, she has said in interviews that "Halsey is an anagram of my first name, Ashley. I grew up in New Jersey, and I would always take the train into New York, and I was getting into a lot of trouble. When I was 17 I was seeing a guy who was 24 and he lived on Halsey Street in Brooklyn. That’s where I first starting writing music and where I started to feel like I was a part of something bigger than my town in middle of nowhere New Jersey. Halsey is kind of like a manifestation of all the exaggerated parts of me [Ashley], so it’s like an alter ego." -Nylon Magazine

In this Vevo Q&A video, meet Halsey and hear her answer some interesting questions from fans.

Photos courtesy of Halsey

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Thursday, October 08, 2015

The Grateful Dead - 30 Trips Around the Sun, Massive 80 Disc Box Set Celebrates the Dead's 50th Anniversary, Yes I Did, Updated With Unboxing Video

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead, will release a ginormous 80 disc live box set, entitled 30 Trips Around the Sun. The set includes thirty complete concerts, one for each year that the band was active; they have selected the best show of each year (all shows previously unreleased). I may be in the minority here, but since first hearing The Dead in 1969, I have always been in it for the music.

I tie-dyed my speakers after seeing The Grateful Dead's first annual dance marathon at the Manhattan Ballroom in NYC (1971). The New Riders of the Purple Sage opened, then after what seemed like an hour of tuning, the Dead started their set, around 11PM as I recall; they were still playing at 4AM when we left. In the 80's, I saw them at the Philadelphia Spectrum with my younger brother who had followed the Dead on tour, selling grilled cheese sandwiches in the parking lot, etc., etc. In 2004, I took my daughters to the Tweeter Center in Camden, NJ to see the Dead, the post-Jerry band that featured Warren Haynes; I wanted them to experience the phenomenon, and it surely was, with a virtual city outside the venue selling anything and everything. The Dead culture had come a long way since grilled cheese sandwiches.

Between Dick's Picks, Roadtrips, and all of the various vault releases, I certainly have more recorded Grateful Dead shows than I will ever have time to listen to in this lifetime. Still, I find this box set completely irresistible, and the fact that these shows will not be released any other way is not the only reason. Read the full scoop from below. And if you have any idea of ordering, they are almost sold out. This set is due to ship September 18th with a limited run of 6,500 and of that less than 500 cd sets remain as of Monday, and there were less than 250 USB drives left. Full information is at

Photo courtesy of Retro Rebirth

10/08/2015 Update: In late August, informed purchasers of the box that there were production delays and that in order to make the box as good as possible, shipping could be delayed up to a month. This morning's email brought the following news:

"We are pleased to inform you that the beautiful sold out 30 TRIPS AROUND THE SUN boxed sets are beginning to ship (yep, finally)! In the spirit of the 50th anniversary and giving back to the fans, we've also included a couple of surprises. Along with the aforementioned book and scroll, you will find an original Grateful Dead concert ticket and backstage pass from the UCSC Grateful Dead Archives included as a token of our appreciation for your patience."

A mere few hours later, the package arrived. Watch's official unboxing video.

The following is from
"When we began discussing audio projects to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead back in 2012, we knew we wanted to do something completely unprecedented. We could think of nothing more exciting or ambitious than a career-spanning overview of the band's live legacy focused on what best tells the story: complete concerts. Our first criterion was the very best live music to represent any given year in the band’s history. We wanted to make sure that there were not only the tent-pole shows that fans have been demanding for decades but also ones that are slightly more under the radar, but equally excellent. For those who listen to the entire box straight through, chronologically, the narrative of the Grateful Dead's live legacy will be seen as second to none in the pantheon of music history." - David Lemieux

We are more than pleased to announce the Grateful Dead's most ambitious release ever: 30 TRIPS AROUND THE SUN. Available as both an 80-disc boxed set and a custom lightning-bolt USB drive, the collection includes 30 unreleased live shows, one for each year the band was together from 1966 to 1995, along with one track from their earliest recording sessions in 1965. Packed with over 73 hours of music, both the boxed set and the USB drive will be individually numbered limited editions.

The 80-disc boxed set is individually numbered and limited to 6,500 copies, a nod to the band’s formation in 1965. Along with the CDs, it also includes a gold-colored 7-inch vinyl single which bookends the band’s career. The A-side is “Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks)” from the band’s earliest recording session in 1965 with the B-side of the last song the band ever performed together live, “Box Of Rain” recorded during their final encore at Soldier Field in Chicago on July 9, 1995.

The box also comes with a 288-page book that features an extensive, career-spanning essay written by Nick Meriwether, who oversees the Dead archives at the University of California, Santa Cruz, along with special remembrances of the band submitted by fans. Also included is a scroll that offers a visual representation of how the band’s live repertoire has evolved through the years.

The USB drive version will be shaped like a gold lightning bolt with the Grateful Dead 50th anniversary logo engraved on the side. The drive includes all of the music from the collection in both FLAC (96/24) and MP3 formats and is an individually numbered limited edition of 1,000 copies.

GRATEFUL DEAD: 30 TRIPS AROUND THE SUN will not be available in stores or from any other online retailer - only at Shows will NOT be sold individually on CD. This exclusive is sure to sell out quickly so pre-order your copy today and stick around as we will be revealing a mighty fine selection of music, art, and much, much more right here. FREE STANDARD U.S. SHIPPING ON PRE–ORDERS ONLY.

Kacey Musgraves - Trocadero, Philadelphia, 10/03/2015, Kacey Enthralls the Sell Out Crowd

Kacey Musgraves - Merry Go' Round

Kacey Musgraves dazzled the sold-out Trocadero in Philadelphia, Saturday night 10/03. This was a stop on her Pageant Material tour. She drew most of the 21 song set from her latest album, Pageant Material, as well as from her major label debut, Same Trailer Different Park (2013). The Trocadero became a center city burlesque house from 1940 until it closed in the late 1960's. The theater, which dates from 1870, was beautifully renovated for it's current use as a concert venue. The stage, set to look like a beauty pageant complete with backdrop of shiny red fringe, looked right at home here. She brought an excellent band with her; the pedal steel gave many of her songs the flavor of old school country. There is nothing old fashioned about Musgraves' music, save for her penchant for clever wordplay in her lyrics.

"Mama's hooked on Mary Kay.
Brother's hooked on Mary Jane.
Daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down.
Mary, Mary quite contrary.
We get bored, so, we get married
Just like dust, we settle in this town."
(Merry Go 'Round)

Musgraves' did a solo version of Merry Go 'Round that positively enthralled the audience. In the video (above) you can clearly hear the crowd singing along, even before Musgraves' gave the audience a chorus. The crowd actually sang all through the show, especially on songs like "It Is What It Is". It's almost eerie, Kacey is singing and it sounds like she is being accompanied by a choir, then you realize it's the audience singing along. That happened again, majorly, when she sang the most touching version of "Follow Your Arrow" that I've heard yet. It got really emotional when she sang:

"Say what you think.
Love who you love.
'Cause you just get.
So many trips 'round the sun.
Yeah, you only
Only live once.
So make lots of noise.
Kiss lots of boys.
Or kiss lots of girls.
If that's what you're into.
When the straight and narrow.
Gets a little too straight.
Roll up a joint, I would.
And follow your arrow.
Wherever it points, yeah.
Follow your arrow.
Wherever it points."

The songs from her two albums were all good to hear, but things got even more interesting when Kacey sang her own composition "Mama's Broken Heart", which was a hit for Miranda Lambert. She busted out some cool covers too, like TLC's "No Scrubs" and Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots are Made for Walking". Late in the set she sang "Happy Birthday" to a four year old audience member named Lyric. She ended the show by bringing her band back onstage to sing "Happy Trails".

I haven't seen many country superstars, but when I saw Martina McBride last year, you could definitely feel that you were in the presence of one. It may be too early in her career to use that term for Musgraves, but I was getting that same vibe Saturday night at the Trocadero. Kacey Musgraves is for sure a country star of the highest magnitude.

Many thanks to the Trocadero for excellent sound and light.
Many thanks to Bev Kates for the camera work.
Many thanks to Lindsey Mitchell and Amy Hockstein for the video production assistance.

See more video from this show:
Step Off
This Town
Good Ol'Boys Club
No Scrubs
It Is What It Is
Western Jam/High Time
Follow Your Arrow (Live at Floore's Country Store, Helotes, Texas, 5/02/2015, Courtesy of Nick Miller)

Kacey Musgraves Website
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Photos Courtesy of Kacey Musgraves

Sugar + The Hi-Lows - Jackson

"We're Sugar + The Hi-Lows from Nashville, Tennessee. And we are currently on the best tour we've ever been on in our lives". That's how Sugar + The Hi-Lows introduced themselves when they took the stage to open the show for Kacey Musgraves with an energetic set. This group is a partnership between Amy Stroup and Trent Dabbs. Stroup has four albums to her credit, including Tunnel, one of my favorite releases of 2013. Dabbs is a multi-talented singer-songwriter from Nashville with a catalogue of eight albums. Dabbs has been the guiding force behind the group Ten Out of Tenn, which I've seen perform in Nashville and also in Austin at SXSW. According to Sugar + The Hi-Lows' website "They say when you know, you know. At least that was the case for Sugar & The Hi-Lows. Both solo artists in their own right, Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup had done hundreds of co-writes together through the years. Maybe on this particular co-writing session it was the vintage Gretsch amp that Trent had recently purchased or the conversation around classic, iconic music. Whatever it was, that day the two effortlessly penned their song, “This Can’t Be the Last Time,” and from there, Sugar & The Hi-Lows was born."

Their set was very enjoyable, though short. Watch videos of "Two Day High", "Right Time to Tell You", and "I've Got You Covered". They also did a cool cover of "Jackson" by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood (see video above). It was interesting to hear Nancy Sinatra covers in both sets that night.

Sugar + The Hi-Lows Website
Sugar + The Hi-Lows Facebook
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Photos Courtesy of Sugar + The Hi-Lows