Friday, February 3, 2017

“Elvis Lives” at The Kirby
Tribute show magnificently celebrates The King

By ALAN K. STOUT
MUSIC ON THE MENU
FEBRUARY 3, 2017

WILKES-BARRE – This year marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. It’s hard to believe The King has been gone for nearly four decades, especially when you consider what an incredible force he still remains within the confines of pop culture. I realized a few years ago that it’s still hard, even after all of these years, to go for more than just a few days without hearing his name. And what’s even more remarkable, when you really think about it, is that although Elvis has now been a household name for more than 60 years, he actually only lived about 20 years of his life in the public eye. He came into people’s lives on the radio, and on television, and on the big screen in a way that was both revolutionary and unique, and then, in a flash, he was gone.

But, as we all know, Elvis lives. He lives on through his music and his films and through the groundbreaking impact and influence that he had on rock and roll music. He lives on through the more than half a million people that visit his former home, Graceland, every year. And, thanks to “Elvis Lives: The Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Event,” he lives on in concert halls across America.

“Elvis Lives: The Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Event” visited the F.M. Kirby Center on Wednesday. And for fans of The King, it was a highly-entertaining musical and visual experience. The show featured Dean Z., Jay Dupuis and Bill Cherry, three of the best Elvis tribute artists in the world. And if for some reason the term “Elvis tribute artist” makes you think of an old pot-bellied guy with lamb-chop sideburns and wearing a way-too-tight jumpsuit fumbling through “All Shook Up” at your local karaoke bar, think again. These three men were each winners of The Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest, an annual event held in Memphis that is officially sanctioned by Elvis Presley Enterprises. Each singer performs with respect, charisma and a genuine flair for representing The King at his very best.

The show was broken into several segments and moved forward in the proper chronology of Elvis’s career.  It began with a video montage of his early years and his initial recording sessions at Sun Studio. Dean Z. then offered fabulous renditions of “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Later, wearing a shiny gold blazer, he tore through some of Presley’s early RCA hits, including “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Love Me Tender.” His voice was about as Presley-like as Elvis himself, his dance moves were fabulous and even his laugh and smile seemed to channel The King. His performance, like most of the show, was also shown on a large video screen behind the stage, and even with such tight close-ups, it felt as if you were actually watching Elvis.

Next came a section that paid homage to Presley’s love for gospel music, with Jay Dupis offering passionate performances of “Peace In The Valley” and “Crying in The Chapel.” He then led the show through a section dedicated to Elvis’s film career. This included performances of “Return To Sender” “Bossa Nova Baby” and a few duets from “Viva Las Vegas” featuring the sultry Carol Maccri as Ann-Margaret.

Dean Z. then returned for an epic tribute to Presley’s most famous performance: his 1968 television show which is now known simply as the "’68 Comeback Special.”  With the vocalist dressed in black leather and with staging that offered an exact replica of the set used on the TV special, one once again felt as if you had been transported back in time to the very day that Presley reclaimed the throne of rock. “Heartbreak Hotel” grooved and “Hound Dog” rocked, while “Jailhouse Rock,” “One Night With You” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love” also respectfully displayed some of Elvis’s best work. Dean Z.’s uncanny resemblance to Presley and his gift of completely mastering his mannerism only made it better.

The show ended with a tribute to Elvis’s performing career in Vegas, which he began to do regularly in 1969 and he continued until his death. It was also during those years, in 1973, when he performed live via satellite from Hawaii before an estimated billion people. And it was during those years that he also frequently toured across America. And make no mistake: Presley’s glitzy jumpsuit era also featured some great songs. And they were delivered flawlessly by Bill Cherry. These numbers included “Burning Love,” “Kentucky Rain” and “Suspicious Minds.” During the closing number, “American Trilogy,” Cherry, Dupis and Dean Z appeared on stage together for the first time. Whether there was symbolic intention or not was unclear, but it did seem fitting, as all three vocalists, through the course of the evening, perfectly represented Elvis’s own American trilogy. (The three major eras of his career.) And that in itself made the show special ...

Elvis’s own concerts usually only ran for about an hour. And because he always had an affinity for new songs that he heard on the radio or new songs that he had recorded, he never really gave a full two-hour-plus show packed with his own great hits. “Elvis Lives: The Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Event” did just that. 

I’ve seen all of Elvis’s concert films, I’ve got about 90 of his songs on my iPod and I have visited Graceland. I am a fan. But perhaps the best review of this show came from my 10 year-old daughter, who joined me at the event. I was the exact same age that she is now when The King passed away, and at one point, while she marveled at Dean Z. dazzling up the stage, she turned to me and said: “Wow. Elvis does live!”

Yes he does, darlin’.

Yes, he does.


(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs every Sunday night from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River. Reach him at musiconthemenu@comcast.net)   

  




Thursday, September 15, 2016

GEORGE WESLEY: LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD


2016 STEAMTOWN MUSIC AWARDS


Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of the “Steamtown Music Awards” and, especially for asking me to be one of the presenters of George Wesley’s “Lifetime Achievement Award.” I think It’s important to note that though this award is being presented tonight to George’s family, posthumously, the decision to present this award to George was made several months ago, long before any of us knew that he wasn’t well. I was fortunate enough to be one of those involved in those discussions, and we were all excited about the idea of having George here tonight and presenting it to him. Ironically, the very same week that George was informed that he would be the recipient of this year’s “Lifetime Achievement Award” was the same week that we all first learned that he was ill. But tonight, I suppose we can all take some comfort in knowing that George was aware of it, and that he appreciated it.

We, or course, appreciated him.

We appreciated his gifts as a musician and a songwriter. He could play the guitar as well as anyone and with songs such as “Thank You” and “Strong,” he could truly inspire. He performed in this region for more than 30 years, he recorded so many fine albums and, to us, he was the true reggae master. He was the king. He sang from his heart and his soul and there was an undeniable spirit to every single performance.  It was true. It was genuine. And it was incredibly passionate.

George was also innovative. He always had great bands, but as most working musicians know, for some gigs, you don’t always need a full band. The club or venue might just want you to perform solo. George was cool that. He was all about working and gigging. But George - even when playing solo - wanted to sound big. He wanted to sound like his records and like a band. And with his loops and his effects he was indeed an orchestra all onto himself. He was amazing.

I once introduced George Wesley on stage as the “coolest human being I have ever met." I'm glad I said it when he was standing right next to me and that he knew how I felt. And it was true. Whenever you were around him, you just felt better. It seemed he was always happy. Always centered. Always relaxed. Much of that came from his spirituality, which, like music, was a very important part of his life. He was also always there to help others and probably played more benefit shows than any other musician in our home region.

He loved Northeastern Pennsylvania. And Northeastern Pennsylvania loved him.

Like all of us, I wish to God - or Jah  - that George was here with us tonight, but I am grateful that I had the chance to know him, to spend time with him, and I know I speak for all of us when I say we are all grateful for the music that he left us.  And there could not possibly be a more worthy or deserving recipient of “The Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Rest easy, old friend.

And Maximum respect.

Maximum respect. 

                                                                                                 - Alan K. Stout
                                                                                                   September 15, 2016











Friday, September 2, 2016

KISS legacy spans the generations


‘Hottest Band In The World’ dazzles Allentown

By ALAN K. STOUT
MUSIC ON THE MENU
September 2, 2016

ALLENTOWN - “How many of you are at your first KISS concert?” asked Paul Stanley on Thursday night at the Allentown Fairgrounds. The venue was jam-packed on what was a gorgeous September night, with more than 7,000 fans in attendance. And considering it’s been 42 years since KISS released its first album, and considering the group had played Allentown and nearby Philadelphia and Scranton many times over the years, you might have expected Stanley’s question to have been answered with mostly silence. But that was not the case. There was a loud roar. And that, in 2016, is a huge part of the legacy of KISS.

KISS concerts are now a rite of passage with a fan base spanning several generations. And no one seems to be more aware of that Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, as well as guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer. And thus the KISS spectacle – big, loud and proud – remains intact. If someone first saw the band in 1976, 1986 or 1996, they’d still be satisfied with Thursday night’s performance. And if it was their first show, everything Dad may have told them about KISS was right there.

The legacy continues.

KISS opened the set with a driving performance of “Detroit Rock City” and followed with a pounding rendition of “Deuce.” Musically, the band was tight and crisp. And though the staging initially appeared to be stripped down and more streamlined than past tours, the 2016 show, billed as the “Freedom To Rock Tour,” came with KISS’ largest video screen ever. Mammoth in size, it provided crystal clear close-ups of the band throughout the show, as well as some fitting conceptual videos that helped accent the mood of certain songs.
           
“Destroyer,” arguably KISS’ finest studio album, which is noting its 40th anniversary this year, was properly represented by performances of not only “Detroit Rock City,” but also “Shout It Out Loud,” “Beth” and “Do You Love Me.” During the latter, video images spanning the band’s entire career were shown, including clips from the group's 1983-1995 non-makeup years. It was a perfect touch. Simmons flew high above the rafters for a performance “God of Thunder,” also from “Destroyer,” and the rarely played “Flaming Youth” – another gem from the 1976 album – was a welcome surprise.

“I Love It Loud,” one of Simmons’ best arena anthems, had the crowd chanting along and Stanley, during the number, not only allowed a young female fan to come on stage, but also helped her strum along on his guitar. Thayer later offered a rollicking rendition of 1977’s “Shock Me” and 1998’s “Psycho Circus,” a song that sounds as if it were written with the concert stage in mind, was another nice surprise to the set-list.   

Other highlights included a churning rendition of “War Machine,” a groove-laced performance of “Cold Gin” and an extended, fun and jammy rendition of “Lick It Up.” Stanley, one of rock’s all-time best frontman - and whose voice gained strength deeper into the show - also flew across the audience, performing “Love Gun” and “Black Diamond” from an elevated platform near the soundboard. In the spirit of the “Freedom To Rock Tour,” KISS also brought some local veterans to the stage, thanked them for their service, led the crowd through the recital of the “Pledge Of Allegiance” and made a $150,000 donation to the Wounded Warriors Project. The show ended with “Rock and Roll All Nite,” Stanley smashing his guitar, and so much confetti it looked like a September blizzard.

Still, after all these years, remarkably impressive? Absolutely. And equally remarkable is that for KISS, it’s still just a day at the office.

The legacy continues.

(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His music-related  stories appear in The Electric City and his weekly radio show airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on 105 The River. This was his 34th KISS concert.)   

  

        

Monday, August 29, 2016

Area musicians show ‘Maximum Respect’ to George Wesley
Tribute show for late musician set for Friday at River Street Jazz Cafe


By ALAN K. STOUT
FOR THE ELECTRIC CITY
September 1, 2016 

George Wesley died on July 19. He was only 62. It was only a few weeks prior when most people learned that the local music icon was battling cancer, and a benefit show was already being planned for September at the River Street Jazz Café.  The hope of those planning the event was that Wesley – who had always been there to help others at such benefits - would be feeling better by then and would be able to attend. But it was not to be. And many of Wesley’s fellow local musicians, and many of his fans, were devastated.

It was soon decided, however, that the show would go on. And “Maximum Respect: A Tribute To George Wesley” will take place at the River Street Jazz Café on September 2. All monies raised will be donated to Wesley’s family to help offset medical costs incurred during his illness. And, equally important, the event will serve as a celebration of the life and the music of one of NEPA’s most beloved and respected musicians.

Tom Flannery, who was a close friend of Wesley’s and who will perform at the tribute, says the reggae master was simply an irreplaceable figure within local music community.

“He’s our man in black,” says Flannery. “You know what the world says about Johnny Cash? Well, NEPA can say the same things about George. If we had a musical Mount Rushmore in the valley, his might be the only face on it. And the face would be 60 feet long, and the beard would hang down until it dipped into the Susquehanna.”

In addition to his talent, Flannery says it was Wesley’s warm and caring personality for which he’ll always be remembered best.

“People didn’t just say, ‘I knew George.’ They’d say, ‘George was a friend of mine.’ That’s two totally different things when you think about it,” says Flannery. “He died an exceedingly rich man.”

The name of Friday’s tribute, “Maximum Respect,” comes from a phrase Wesley often used. When he said it to someone, it was a gesture of thanks, or as a kind compliment.  Flannery says every musician in NEPA respected Wesley.

“Last year we started writing some songs together,” he says. “We planned on making a record. I had all these lyrics and he came over one night and, one at a time, he’d read them. And a melody would fall out of him. Not in an hour. Or a few minutes. Immediately. It was instantaneous. Music was as natural to George as exhaling. We were friends for over 20 years and I never stopped being in awe of him.”

John Shemo, who will perform at the benefit with Mother Nature’s Sons, agrees.

“George brought reggae music to this area,” says Shemo. “He was also a pioneer, locally, with looping music. George sounded like an orchestra every time he played - looping guitars, bass, drums, horns, marimba, steel drum, etc. He was truly the ‘Small Axe Orchestra.’ And every time he stepped on the stage, he was the ultimate professional. He was also a good soul and a very kind person who truly cared about his friends, family and most of all, his audience. He always gave his best performance and wanted people to enjoy his music and leave their troubles behind. He was inspirational and motivational.”

One of Shemo’s favorite memories of Wesley is quite poignant.

“I’ve played many shows on stage with George, but I’ll never forget when he asked me to join him, with acoustic guitars, to play for patients in the hospital,” he says.  “He brought smiles to many faces with songs like ‘You Are My Sunshine’ and ‘Three Little Birds,’ spreading encouragement and hope. While he loved to rock out on stage, he was also kind and compassionate.”

Other Wesley stories are simply funny, such as this one from bassist Terry Cummings of Strawberry Jam, who will also perform at Friday’s tribute.

“I was out on the road for about a six-month stint with George,” says Cummings. “George had generously offered the gig, so I was very grateful and respected the fact that he was the boss. He was totally cool, but it was his band, so I would have played or done whatever he wanted. We were playing a gig in upstate New York - a big outdoor festival with a great crowd. I was playing bass through two 18" cabinets stacked on top of each other, powered by a big PA amp. Volume knobs only. It was so beefy and loud that it vibrated my clothes. I started thinking that George was going to turn around and tell me to turn it down. Just then, George looked at me, looked back at my amp, looked at me again, looked back at my amp again, and yells, ‘Turn it up!’ I yelled back, ‘I love you man!'

“I can't believe he's gone,” adds Cummings. “I'll always love and miss him. He should have been world famous.”

Christopher Condell, who served as Wesley’s drummer for nearly 12 years, says Wesley had a way of bringing people together.

“His legacy is unity,” says Condell. “He always respected all musicians. Rock, metal, blues, country, pop, polka, and of course, reggae. We've had all types of musicians sit in with us. He did not discriminate who you were or what type of music you played. It was all music to him. No genres, no boundaries - just music.”

Bret Alexander, formerly of The Badlees and currently a member of Gentleman East, also sees Wesley as someone that could play any type of music and still inspire people.

“I was playing at an open-jam at a place on Lake Sheridan,” says Alexander, who will also perform on Friday. “Tiny place. Way out of the way. In walks George. I wouldn't have expected to see him there.  He comes up on stage and grabs an acoustic guitar. I'm thinking, ‘OK, we are going to do some reggae.’ But no. He breaks into a true-to-form rendition of  ‘This Land Is Your Land.’  A pure folk version. We all laid into it and the place went nuts. So you have bikers, hippies and hillbillies all singing along to a Woody Guthrie song with a guy with the inflections of Peter Tosh. It was one of the most ‘American’ moments I have ever experienced. If I was from another country and I witnessed that performance, I would have moved here immediately.”

Bryan Tomzak of the band Lonesome Road also remembers Wesley as someone always willing to help others, noting that Wesley had performed at several benefit shows which he had organized. “He was giving, both personally and professionally,” says Tomczak. “And he wasn't just a reggae player. He was talented all around.” Tom Borthwick, the owner of SI Studios in Old Forge, says, “George’s legacy was his creative vibe. Music flowed from him like a river. He enjoyed life and had a very warm soul.”  Blues artist Phyllis Hopkins, who was a close friend of Wesley’s and had recorded with him, also marveled at his creativity.

“His greatest musical legacy is his incredible songwriting and musicianship,” says Hopkins. “And that comes through on the CDs that he left for us.  I remember George as a kind, warm-hearted person who always wanted to make other people feel good. He had a great sense of humor, too. Every time I saw him, I was inspired.”

Perhaps no one is feeling the loss of Wesley’s passing more than his son, James, who had drummed with his father and who will also perform at Friday’s tribute. He says his family has been overwhelmed by how many people have reached out to them since his father first became ill.

“I thought that I was prepared for the love and support after his death, but the response was far greater than I had anticipated,” he says. “I got calls, texts and e-mails from all over the country. In fact, they're still coming in. The heartbreak that I feel after his loss is somewhat softened by the beautiful stories I hear from countless colleagues and fans. NEPA really pulled through for him and my family and I couldn't be more grateful. Please know that the people of NEPA helped make his last days much easier and his last thoughts were about trying to get back on stage to show his appreciation the only way he could - with his music.”




What: Maximum Respect: A Tribute to George Wesley
When: Friday, September 2
Where: River Street Jazz Café, 667 N. River Street, Plains Township
Music: 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Performing: Don Shappelle, Bret Alexander & Eddie Appnel, Strawberry Jam, Lonesome Road, Stingray Blues Band, Bobby Clark, Tom Flannery & The Shillelaghs, Mike MiZ, Phyllis Hopkins Electric Trio, Mother Nature’s Sons.
Raffle items: SI Studio, Saturation Acres Recording Studio, Photography from Jim Gavenus, Photography from Brittany Boote, The Pennsylvania Blues Festival, The Pennsylvania Music Festival, Gallery of Sound, Wayne's World, The Woodlands, Oyster, Bartolai Winery and more.
Donation: $10
Info: (570) 822-2992





Wednesday, July 20, 2016

McCartney takes Hershey on magical mystery tour

By ALAN K. STOUT
MUSIC ON THE MENU
JULY 20, 2016

HERSHEY - When Paul McCartney walks on to a concert stage, one is immediately struck by just his mere presence. He is, without question, the world’s greatest living rock star. Bigger than Bruce. Bigger than Bono. Bigger than anyone. Of course having been a member of a little band called The Beatles has much to do with that, and when he puts a set-list together featuring not only songs from his time with the Fab Four, but also his work with Wings and his solo material, it can make for a remarkable night of music.

McCartney, at age 74, did just that on July 19 at Hersheypark Stadium. He delivered a whopping 38 songs, he had the crowd of 30,000 feeling both entertained and inspired, and he seemed to do it all with great ease. For Sir Paul, it was simply a day at the office.

McCartney opened the show with the mop-top era “A Hard Day’s Night” and followed with 2013’s “Save Us.” He then addressed the crowd for the first time.

“Good evening, Hershey,” he said, English accent intact. “I have a feeling we’re going to have a lot of fun here tonight. We’ve got some old songs, we’ve got some new songs, and we’ve got some in-between songs.” He then led his band into a fun rendition of “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

Other highlights early in the set included Wings’ “Let Me Roll It,” which ended with a fiery jam that included a few riffs of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady.” He also offered fine performances of The Beatles’ “I’ve Got A Feeling” and “Here, There Everywhere” and 2012’s  “My Valentine,” which he dedicated to his wife, Nancy.  He also displayed great wit throughout the show.

“That was the big wardrobe change of the whole evening,” quipped McCartney after casually removing his sport coat. He also shared humorous stories about Jimi Hendrix, his songwriting partnership with John Lennon, and meeting various Russian dignitaries during a performance in Moscow.

“I wrote this one for Linda,” he said when introducing a soulful performance of “Maybe I’m Amazed.” He then offered “We Can Work It Out” and the harmony-laced and country-favored  “In Spite of All The Danger,” which he introduced as the very first song ever recorded by The Quarrymen, the pre-Beatles band that also featured John Lennon and George Harrison. A string of Beatles favorites followed: “You Won’t See Me,” “Love Me Do,” “And I Love Her” and “Blackbird,” which he sang alone atop an elevated stage.  

McCartney frequently changed instruments throughout the show, sometimes playing bass, sometimes guitar and sometimes piano. His  four-piece band was stellar and his staging was grand. Enormous video screens provided close-ups of the group throughout the night and also helped provide fitting images that perfectly accented various songs. Perhaps the most moving use of video occurred during McCartney’s performance of George Harrison’s “Something,” which he played on a ukulele that was given to him by Harrison. Throughout the number, wonderful candid photographs of McCartney and Harrison working in the studio  together were shown.

“Thank you, George,” he said, “for writing that beautiful song.”

McCartney also acknowledged Lennon, performing “Here Today,” a beautiful song written shortly after Lennon’s death that not only speaks honestly of their complicated friendship, but also of his love for the fallen Beatle. “If you want to say something nice to somebody, don’t delay,” he said. “It might be too late.” He also paid homage to Lennon by performing Beatles numbers such as the show’s opener, “A Hard Day’s Night” and “For The Benefit of Mr. Kite” that were originally sung by Lennon.

McCartney’s more recent material such as “Queenie Eye,” “New” and “FourFiveSeconds” was well-received, but numbers such as “Eleanor Rigby,” “Fool On The Hill,”  “Lady Madonna” and “Back In the U.S.S.R” were met with the loudest roars. “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” resulted in a full sing-a-along, “Live and Let Die” came with so much pyro you could feel the heat coming off the stage and a spirited performance of “Band On The Run” - one of McCartney’s most brilliantly arranged numbers – was perfectly on target. The set ended with and emotional performance of “Hey Jude” during which all 30,000 sang along. Encores included “Yesterday,” a roadhouse-rock style rendition of Wings’ “Hi, Hi, Hi” and “Birthday.” The show ended with “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight” and “The End.”

McCartney is a larger-than-life presence. He is the world’s biggest rock star. And when you watch him perform on stage, you are keenly aware that you are listening to a Bach or Beethoven of our times and that his music –perhaps more than any other music that has come from the rock era – will be the music that will far outlive all of us. The fact that he still tours frequently and plays for three hours a night is remarkable in itself. And anytime that you have the opportunity to see him, you should.

He is still quite Fab.



(This review also appeared on the570.com, the official website of The Electric City.)   


  





Sunday, July 10, 2016

Billy Joel has them ‘feeling alright’ in Philly
                                                                                                                                                                                       (Photo provided)
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer dazzles crowd of 40,000 at Citizens Bank Park

REVIEW

By ALAN K. STOUT
MUSIC ON THE MENU

PHILADELPHIA – “It’s a pretty good crowd for Saturday … ”

So sang Billy Joel in Philadelphia on Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park during his signature song, “Piano Man.” And just as he sang those words, the large video screens that graced the stage showed images of the crowd of more than 40,000.

A pretty good crowd, indeed. But for Billy Joel and Philadelphia, that’s par for the course. The town has been one of his favorite stops for decades. If Billy plays, they will come. Always. And those that did on this warm July night certainly got what they came to see and hear. Joel’s two and a half hour set was loaded with the songs that have made him one of America’s most cherished artists. And whether it was with an edgier pop/rock number or a timeless ballad, he always brought the right touch to the ivories.

Joel opened the show with the epic “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway).” The sound of his piano alone was piercing and the images of New York City shown on the large video screens only enhanced the power of the song.  A zingy rendition of “My Life” – peppered with a section of Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy” – followed. 

“Good evening, Philadelphia!” said Joel. “It’s good to be back in the ‘City of Brotherly Love.’ I’ve been coming here since day one.” He then joked that, “I don’t have anything new,” referencing the fact that he has not released an album of new pop material since 1993. That didn’t seem to matter to his fans, as a gorgeous rendition of “Just The Way You Are,”  featuring some tasteful sax work from Mark Rivera, was met with a roar. Joel’s good humor surfaced again following the romantic number, which speaks of a life-long commitment, when he quipped, “And then we got divorced.”

The string of favorites continued with “The Entertainer,” “New York State of Mind” and “Angry Young Man,” which Joel had not performed live in seven years and during which he dazzled on the piano. Throughout the show, Joel kept a fly-swatter on stage and frequently took playful swings at swarming bugs. “We’ve got some mighty fine insects up here,” he said with a smile. “But don’t worry. I’m armed.”

Joel’s body of work is as diverse as it is good. Soft and moving numbers such as “And So It Goes” and “She’s Always A Woman” were among the show’s highlights, while “Don’t Ask Me Why” and “Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)” displayed his gift for pop/rock. Joel also connected well with the crowd. He asked if anyone in the audience was from the nearby Lehigh Valley before launching into “Allentown” and, as is his Philadelphia tradition,  he placed the dark “Captain Jack” in the middle of the set. Early in his career, Philly’s WMMR-FM was the first radio station in the nation to play the track, which Joel has not forgotten.

“We only do that song in this town anymore,” he said. “You’re sick and twisted people. But we like it.”

Joel also introduced “Sometimes A Fantasy” by revealing that the song was inspired by a girl from Philadelphia that he “had a thing for” back in the seventies. Later, however, he turned more serious:

“I guess I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what a horrible week it was in our nation,” he said. “If I had a gun, I’d shoot the TV. But we’ll get through this ….

“We just have to keep the faith.”

He then performed his 1984 hit, “Keeping The Faith.”

There was also a extended, soulful and jammy performance of “River of Dreams,” which briefly segued into a few verses of The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.”  And at 67, Joel remained in fine voice throughout the performance. In fact, his vocals only got stronger as the show progressed and songs such as “I Go To Extremes” and “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” were delivered with zest. The set ended with “Piano Man” and the encore section of the show was lengthy: “We Didn’t Start The Fire,” “Uptown Girl,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me,” “Big Shot,” “You May Be Right” – featuring a few fiery verses of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” – and “Only The Good Die Young.”

Billy Joel is indeed a musical treasure. Whether it’s with his mastery of the ivories, his always on-target vocals, or his gift for storytelling as a songwriter, he remains a remarkable entertainer. At this show, he acknowledged that Philadelphia had always showed him much love over the past four decades and he expressed his thanks for that. The audience, in turn, cheered even louder, as if to thank him right back.

It was a pretty good crowd for a Saturday.

And it was a pretty horrible week in this country.

But the piano man did it again. He had them, as the song goes, forgetting about life for a while.  He had them feeling alright.



(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His music-related stories appear in The Electric City. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs every Sunday night from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River. Reach him at musiconthemenu@comcast.net)   






Thursday, July 7, 2016


 

Maximum Respect: A Benefit for George Wesley




 
Local Music Community Uniting to Support One of Its Own
 
 
By ALAN K. STOUT
MUSIC ON THE MENU
July 7 2016
 
A few months back, the people who organize the Electric City Music Conference and the Steamtown Music Awards dropped me a line. They were making plans for this year’s event, and they asked if I had any suggestions for the recipient of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award. I’ve been covering music in NEPA for almost 25 years, and I was the recipient of that same award two years ago, so I guess that has earned me a vote. It is much appreciated.

My suggestion came quickly and easily: George Wesley.

Wesley is an icon within the musical community of NEPA. He is insanely talented, and he’s been making fine records for more than 30 years. He’s also always stayed true to his musical roots and ideals, and he’s done it all with grace and humility. I once introduced him on stage as “the coolest human being I have ever met in my life.” And within our own music scene, he has always been the reigning king of reggae.

Of course, the folks at the Steamtown Music Awards said that they, too, had Wesley in mind. And it was soon decided that he would be the one to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award on Sept. 15 in Scranton. Right around the same time this was first announced, just a few weeks ago, we also got word that Wesley is not well. He is battling cancer. And apparently, it hit him fast and hard. Immediately, the good people at Mountain Sky, a gorgeous outdoor venue north of Scranton, put together a two-day benefit show for Wesley. I was able to attend and, I must say, it was very well done and there was much love for Wesley there. Billed as “One Love: A Benefit for George Wesley,” it raised a significant amount of money. And on behalf of everyone who knows Wesley and cares about him, we all say thank you to Mountain Sky.

If there is one place, however, that is almost synonymous with Wesley, it is the River Street Jazz Café. It is Wesley’s home base. It is where he has held his CD release parties, his birthday parties and his anniversary parties, and where he has entertained thousands of people over the past 20-plus years. It is his room. And thus, shortly after the most recent benefit, a few of us who also know and care about Wesley began planning something for him there. And to say that it all came together quickly and easily would be an understatement. And that is simply because of how much people love and respect him.

“Maximum Respect: A Benefit for George Wesley” will take place on Friday, Sept. 2, at the River Street Jazz Café, 667 N. River St., in Plains. Artists confirmed to be performing are Mother Nature’s Sons, Strawberry Jam, Mike MiZ, Tom Flannery & The Shillelaghs, Bret Alexander & Eddie Appnel, Stingray, Bobby Clark and the Phyllis Hopkins Electric Trio. There will also be raffle items from SI Studios, Saturation Acres Recording Studio, Wayne’s World, Rock Street Music, Gallery of Sound, The Pennsylvania Blues Festival, The Pennsylvania Music Festival and photographer Jim Gavenus. More music and raffle items will likely be added. And as you would expect with any musical event that involves Wesley, there will be some jamming.

Whether you’re simply a fan of his music or someone who has gotten to know him personally, it seems everyone has a Wesley story. Some of mine are funny. Some are poignant. All are good. For me, more than anything, he has always just been there. I remember when I first started covering music in NEPA, one prominent club owner had a framed, painted portrait of Wesley hanging in his office. That was almost 25 years ago, but even then, he was legendary. I’ve interviewed Wesley many times over the years for newspapers, and for his last record a few years back, he invited me to his home for the interview. I play his music on my radio show all the time, he has been a guest on my show, and he has played at the live monthly music series I host several times, both at The Woodlands and at Breakers. He also played at the former “Concert for a Cause” several times and contributed songs to the annual album, and when I organized the “We All Shine On: A Tribute To John Lennon” event at the River Street Jazz Café, I asked Wesley to close the show. He did. And everyone else on the bill got up on stage with him at the end of the night and sang “Instant Karma.” It was, to this day, one of the coolest things I have ever seen.

They say it’s hard to do a benefit show on a Friday night because that’s a night most bands are out making their living. And that is true. But again, this one came together easily. So many of Wesley’s musician friends simply said, “We will be there.” That says a lot about how much they love him.

“Maximum Respect.” That has always been one of Wesley’s favorite expressions. When he says it to you, it is a great compliment. And on Sept. 2, that’s what we all hope NEPA will show him. Lord knows how many benefits he’s played over the years to help others in need. Probably hundreds. Now, it’s time for us to give back something to him. And when he picks up that big award of his in September, we all want him feeling better and knowing how much he means to us.

Maximum respect, George.

Maximum respect.


 
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Maximum Respect: A Benefit for George Wesley
Where: River Street Jazz Cafe, 667 N. River St., Plains Township
When: Friday, Sept. 2, 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Donation: $10
Info: 570-822-2992
On the web: facebook.com/musiconthemenu