Wednesday, July 20, 2016

McCartney takes Hershey on magical mystery tour

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.


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



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 weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs every Sunday night from 9-10 p.m. on The River. Reach him at   

Thursday, July 7, 2016


Maximum Respect: A Benefit for George Wesley

Local Music Community Uniting to Support One of Its Own
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.

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
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