From the ear-splitting buzz saw guitar licks of Ted Nugent and the dulcimer soprano of Joan Baez to the southern California feel of The Eagles and Jackson Browne and the Jersey influence of The Rascals, veteran acts dominated regional concert stages this summer. And despite their advancing years, these artists all proved they still have what it takes to deliver top flight performances.
At the same time, many of those acts also commanded astronomical ticket prices, with The Eagles (ranging from $95 to $199), and Black Sabbath ($95 to $125) among those tipping the scales against fans who nonetheless emptied their wallets for the opportunity to catch these tried and true artists in concert.
Beside checking out acts at Wallingford’s Oakdale, the intimate confines of the Fairfield Theater Company, the gritty charm of Toad’s Place and the expansive Mohegan Sun Arena, this reviewer’s summer concert junket also led to Bethel Woods, N.Y. — site of the original Woodstock concert — for two very special events.
It took 47 years for Joan Baez to get “back to the garden,” when she arrived at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, on the grounds of that historic 1969 festival, greeting four generations of fans June 22 with a friendly, “Welcome home.”
She also brought along a stellar group of supporting musicians including her son, Gabe Harris, who was that “baby on board” when his mom played Woodstock. Rounding out the ensemble were multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers (Indigo Girls), along with their very CSN-like backing band The Shadowboxers.
At 74, Baez was effervescent from the moment she hit the boards. With close cropped gray hair and twinkling eyes, she recaptured some of the magic of her appearance nearly a half-century ago, reprising the heartfelt labor ballad “Joe Hill,” and the spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” which she dedicated to her late mother who recently passed at age 100.
(Check out Joan Baez and Indigo Girls from their 2013 tour by clicking here.)
Honoring Richie Havens
The next trip to Bethel Woods on August 18 was for a very different and decidedly sadder occasion: celebrating the life of Richie Havens, who passed away earlier this year. The iconic folk artist whose powerful voice and improvised mantra of “Freedom” immortalized him as the opening act at the Woodstock Festival, was figuratively laid to rest August 18 as his ashes were scattered across the original concert fields.
For more than two hours ahead of that final activity, about 300 additional friends, celebrities and former bandmates joined together for what several described as a party, to pay final tribute to the soft-spoken but much beloved Havens. Among them were Jose Feliciano and Havens’s former Greenwich Village stomping mates John Sebastian and John Hammond, along with actors Danny Glover, Louis Gossett, Jr, as well as Woodstock co-producers Michael Lang and Joel Rosenman.
Listening to each of the 18 Black Sabbath numbers — as three of its four original members took the stage August 8 at Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Arena — fans of the genre could easily extract many musical stylings that served as foundation blocks for thousands of heavy metal acts that have come along since.
Ozzy Osbourne, bassist Geezer Butler and guitarist Tony Iommi, along with the perfectly matched drumming of Rob Zombie/Alice Cooper/Ozzy alum Tommy Clufetos, kept a multi-generational crowd virtually hypnotized with a retrospective of the band’s career.
From their 1969 debut, devotees heard title track “Black Sabbath,” along with “N.I.B.” and the sinister “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” featuring a brief but thundering bass solo from Butler. And from their sophomore effort, the only other charting Black Sabbath album until this year’s “13,” fans were obviously thrilled to hear “Paranoid” and “Iron Man.”
Other favorite classics from the show included “Fairies Wear Boots,” “Snowblind,” and the main set closer “Children of the Grave,” but it seemed that a lot of fans were already very familiar with the sampling of new material from, 13, and were eager to hear the material in concert.
Each of the four new numbers performed — “Age of Reason,” “End of the Beginning,” “God is Dead?” and “Methademic” — saw audience members singing along and responding with thunderous appreciation at the end of each. This may have been one of those shows where Sabbath could have even gotten away playing one or two more new songs, but time constraints and the desire to hit as many buttons with fans as possible prevented it.
(See Black Sabbath perform “Into the Void” from their 2013 tour here.)
Jackson Browne (Toyota Presents Oakdale Theater, July 9)
Singer-songwriter Jackson Browne made his 2013 return to the Oakdale Theater with a full band and two robust sets that dwelled heavily on his more popular hits, as well as taking a nice sampling of material from his 1986 album, Lives In the Balance.
For his second consecutive appearance at the Oakdale, Browne seemed a bit under the weather, with his voice a bit raspier than normal. But he still plowed through a 22-song setlist that included favorites like “Call It a Loan,” “Looking East,” “Your Bright Baby Blues” and “The Pretender.”
Cuts from Lives in the Balance included show opener “Black & White,” a beautifully performed “In the Shape of a Heart,” the powerful second set opener “For America,” and a provocative “Lives in The Balance.”
Introducing the Danny Korchmar tune “Shaky Town,” from the Running on Empty album, Browne observed, “It took a Jewish kid from New York to write the best trucker song I ever heard.”
Despite the number of uptempo numbers, the audience still responded best to Browne’s ballads. “Sky Blue & Black,” in particular was beautifully rendered with Browne fingering the delicate piano lines, and his full band rendition of “For a Dancer” was equally affecting.
(Click here to see Browne perform “Sky Blue & Black” from earlier this year.)
Paula Cole (Fairfield Theater Company, July 12)
Despite a dismally small audience who came out to support Grammy-winning songstress Paula Cole at the Fairfield Theater Company, she still put on a show worthy of a sold-out arena.
Dipping into her catalog, Cole performed hits including “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone” and “I Don’t Want To Wait,” along with covers of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and surprised the crowd with a highly appealing take on Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig In The Sky.”
Cole also picked up a guitar, which she said she was learning to play, to accompany herself on one of several new tunes from her Kickstarter-generated new album Raven. She also showcased several other new tunes including “Manitoba,” “Strong Beautiful Woman” and “Eloise.”
(Check out Cole performing her Pink Floyd cover by clicking here.)
The Eagles (Mohegan Sun Arena, July 18)
The nearly three hour extravaganza of popular ‘70s and classic rock era favorites performed during the History of the Eagles concert earlier this summer in Uncasville was as much a celebration of enduring songwriting as it was about exceptionally versatile live musicianship.
Though they have played most of these songs thousands of times dating back to their first meeting in 1971, band co-founders Glenn Frey and Don Henley managed to keep almost every one of the 27 numbers they are performing during this retrospective sounding fresh and vital.
With a few amps, touring cases and a small drum kit dotting the apron, that older but still-dynamic duo shuffled on stage to open the show and set the mood by crooning the lovely “Saturday Night,” before welcoming old-time Eagles alumni Bernie Leadon to the stage. Leadon contributed harmonies and precise re-creations of key guitar hooks for most of the remainder of the first set.
Joe Walsh, a more recent alumni of the band, was welcomed to the stage for much of the first set as well. That first set dwelled heavily on the earliest Eagles material, and the bulk of their first greatest hits package was performed, along with a health dose of album cuts from Desperado, One of These Nights and On the Border.
The audience got to sit back and enjoy deeper cuts like “Doolin-Dalton” and the “Doolin-Dalton/Desperado Reprise,” along with a beautiful rendition of “Tequila Sunrise,” “Best of My Love,” “Lyin’ Eyes” and the set-ending “Take It To The Limit.”
The second set showcased Walsh, who performed “In The City,” his James Gang hit “Funk 49,” “Life’s Been Good” and “Rocky Mountain Way.”
The balance of the second set was on fire, with the aforementioned Walsh numbers interspersed with Frey taking to the piano for “New Kid In Town,” and the stellar “I Can’t Tell You Why,” which was Steuart Smith’s best song of the night.
The second set also featured “Hotel California,” “Love will Keep Us Alive,” with Timothy B. Schmit’s soaring tenor lead vocals, “The Long Run,” and “Life In the Fast Lane.”
“Those Shoes” was another unexpected but well-played tune from the later part of the band’s hit-machine era. But The Eagles returned to their freshman and sophomore efforts to close the show as Frey belted out “Take It Easy,” and Henley took the spotlight to send folks home with the monster ballad “Desperado.”
(Click here to see a sample of the 2013 tour by The Eagles.)
Ted Nugent (Toad's Place, August 6)
Motor City Madman Ted Nugent roared into New Haven with his extreme, high-volume rock and roll, as well as plenty of harsh words directed at protesters who picketed as fans queued up for a sold-out appearance at Toad’s Place last month.
News of the the veteran rocker’s show may have remained limited to his aging ranks of followers and reality-TV devotees if it wasn’t for a throng of several dozen city and area residents who took issue with Nugent’s recent comments regarding the Trayvon Martin verdict, who took up positions picketing outside the club.
While those and other incendiary comments from Nugent over the years certainly mobilized protestors carrying placards and chanting just a few feet from ticket holders clamoring to get into the packed nightclub, it appeared those fans were much more interested in hearing foot-stomping classic rock than being unwitting players in a national political debate on a Florida court case.
Nugent hit the Toad’s stage about 9:45 pm with earth-shattering power chords, opening with “Gonzo.” Trading vocals throughout his 90-minute set with Detroit guitarist and longtime backing player Derek St Holmes, Nugent kept everyone pumped with a sampling from his nearly three dozen albums, sticking primarily to popular tracks like “Wango Tango,” “Turn It Up,” “Stormtroopin’” and “Fred Bear.”
It was only a couple of songs into his set before Nugent began referring to the controversy that had since dissipated out in front of the club.
“I knew I was special, but I didn’t know I was this special,” Nugent proclaimed before launching into “What the Doctor Ordered.”
He also proclaimed to be among the most reverent of his “black heroes,” ticking off a half-dozen names of great Detroit players and other African-American musicians he either played with or idolized over the past 50 years.
At one point, the self-proclaimed clean and sober Nugent proclaimed, “I’m drunk on freedom, and stoned on liberty,” before switching gears introducing one of his fan favorites, “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang,” as a “sweet love song.”
As Nugent’s set wound down, he pulled out double-barrel crowd pleasers “Cat Scratch Fever” and “Stranglehold,” both played with a level of energy harkening back to the days of massive coliseum shows.
The Rascals (Mohegan Sun Arena, August 30)
For fans of America’s pioneering rock and roll groups, the biggest news since last year’s Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Tour was revealed earlier this year when it was announced that all four original members of The Rascals would hit the road bringing their diverse and often blissfully optimistic catalog to concert halls nationwide this summer.
Eddie Brigati (vocals), Felix Cavaliere (keyboard, vocals), Gene Cornish (guitar) and Dino Danelli (drums) brought the band’s Once Upon a Dream Tour to Uncasville just a few weeks ago.
Produced and directed by Steven Van Zandt and audio/visual master Marc Brickman, the Once Upon A Dream experience is described on its website as a hybrid of a rock concert and a Broadway show.
In addition to the concert experience, the history of The Rascals, and the ‘60s, was greatly enhanced through their 30 song set by a combination of narration, filmed scenes of actors portraying key moments in the band’s history, news footage, and archival footage that played out across a stage-spanning video screen.
The Rascals, formerly known as The Young Rascals, performed all of their chart topping singles including “How Can I Be Sure,” “Come On Up,” “You Better Run,” “I’ve Been Lonely Too Long,” “Beautiful Morning,” along with their number one hits “Good Lovin,’” “Groovin’” and “People Got to Be Free.”
What is most interesting is how its members — a Doo Wop lover, a soul singer, a rockabilly guitarist and Big Band enthusiast — were able to create any chemistry in the first place.
But that chemistry was still alive and well during the band’s Mohegan Sun set last month. One of the other pleasant aspects of the show was the fact that most of the music was coming from the core four members.
While they brought along a second keyboard player and bassist, and three backup singers, the sound of The Rascals was not overwhelmed by a huge backing ensemble like The Beach Boys and other nostalgia acts seem to rely on to get their material across as it was originally performed.
(See the rascals perform “Groovin’” from the 2013 tour here.)