Saturday, September 2, 2017

Sting transforms Bethel in a field of gold

Former chief of The Police offers perfect set



BETHEL, N.Y. – The fields that surround the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts are the most historic fields in the history of rock music. They are the fields where, in 1969, Woodstock took place. Sting was only 17 years old at that time and was living on the other side of the Atlantic, but when he performed at Bethel Woods on Friday – and the sounds of his music echoed over those same fields - he, too, created something special.

They became, for the receptive crowd of 8,000, fields of gold.        

The former leader of The Police and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer offered a remarkable set at Friday night’s show. So remarkable, in fact, that some of the gold records that line his walls were not represented at all, and yet somehow, one would have hardly noticed. It was an engaging mix of solo material and Police material. And it did not disappoint.

Sting opened the show with the rocking  “Synchronicity II”  and followed with an extended version of “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You,” which featured thumpy bass, a rhythmic jam and perfect vocals. A funk-fueled performance of “Spirits in The Material World” and a fun rendition of “Englishman In New York” followed. (The New York state crowd gave a loud cheer during the chorus, as if to warmly welcome its British guest. Sting smiled.) Next came a fabulous performance of “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.”  

“It’s great to be back in Bethel,” said Sting, prior introducing his tight and polished band. The unit featured his son, Joe Sumner, and members of the group The Last Bandoleros, both of which also served as opening acts on the bill. The musicians helped bring a fresh energy to songs such as  “She’s Too Good For Me” and a perfect touch to “Not The Shape Of My Heart,” both from 1993.       

In addition to retaining his fine vocals, Sting also remains an accomplished bassist and simply watching his fingers slide about the fret board is enjoyable. And, he has great wit. He introduced “Mad About You” as a song that was inspired by the Bible, King David and Bathsheba. “He fell in love with a married woman,” he said. “Problem was, she was married … It ended badly.”

“Petrol Head,” from Sting’s latest album, “57th & 9th,” came with the same zing and swagger of early Police, and “50,000,” also from 2016 album, served as a tribute to fallen musicians such as Prince, David Bowie and Glenn Frey and offered a look at mortality through the eyes of a rock star. “Desert Rose,” from 1999, offered a glimpse at Sting’s interest in Middle-Eastern music and came with a tribal flare and a gorgeous performance of “Fields A Gold,” perfectly accented by some stirring instrumentation, served as one of the show’s highlights.

Still, for every soft moment, such as with “Fields of Gold,” Sting was also willing to celebrate his own pop/new wave roots, particularly with a torrid and driving rendition of “Message In A Bottle.” The guitars soared and the songwriter seemed delighted at how a song that he had written 40 years ago was still able to energize the crowd.

“Thank you!,” he said with a broad smile. “I love it when you sing. It makes me happy.”

The reggae influence on Sting also remains evident, and numbers such as The Police classic “Walking On The Moon” served as a nod and wink to that influence. “So Lonely,” from 1978 - with its burning guitars and pounding drums - sounded as fresh on Friday as it did when it first appeared on the band’s debut album. And with the set’s closing number, “Roxanne,” Sting showed that he can still hit the high notes and - by seamlessly segueing into a few verses of Bill Withers’  “Ain’t No Sunshine” – that he’s not afraid to tweak the arrangements of even some of his signature songs.   

Encores included “Next To You,” “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” and “Every Breath You Take.” The show ended with “Fragile,” which Sting dedicated to the people of Houston.

Sting, as a solo artist and with The Police, has sold more than 100 million albums. That is indeed a lot of gold records. On Friday night in Bethel, he offered a set that didn’t even include any material from “Dream Of The Blue Turtles” (“If You Love Somebody Set Them Free”) or “Zenyatta Mondatta” (“Don’t Stand So Close To Me.”) The only way an any artist can do something like that is if they have so much quality material that it doesn’t matter. Sting is such an artist. And he did not disappoint.

Fields of gold, over Bethel.

(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in NEPA since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu” airs Sunday nights from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. His commentaries on music and concert reviews are published by the Bold Gold Media Group.)




Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Elvis remains King

40 years after his death, his legacy reigns supreme 


He’s been gone now for almost as many years as he lived. Elvis Presley died 40 years ago today. He was only 42 years old. He spent about 20 of those years living a remarkable life in the public eye. He was the biggest superstar the world has ever seen.

Lots of things come to mind when I think of Elvis. Some of my first memories of my life are of sitting with my grandfather and listening to Elvis Presley records. By the time I was in the first grade, I was already a fan. I recall watching his legendary “Aloha from Hawaii” concert on television, which was the very first satellite concert of its kind and was reportedly watched by more than a billion people around the world. At age 6, I was one of them. And I remember, just a few years later, on August 16, 1977, when my mom had to tell me that Elvis had died. 

Seeing the public’s reaction to Elvis’s death, though I was just a kid, is something I’ve never forgotten. To this day, four decades later, I’ve never seen such shock and grief over the death of a celebrity. I recall, on the night that he died,  watching some of the extended news coverage on television and feeling a great sense of loss. And when I think back on that now, and about all of those people who were at the time, 20 or 30 years older than me, and had literally grown up with his music, I guess I can see why. He was their brightest star. He was the one that gave them rock and roll. He was still making hit records and touring the country. And suddenly, like the supernova that he was, he was gone.

Thankfully, however, his music was not. And since he has passed on, I’ve discovered so much more of it, and today I’ve got about 90 of his songs on my iPod.  At Sun Studio, he gave us “That's All Right" and "Mystery Train." When he first signed with RCA, he gave us "Heartbreak Hotel," "Don't Be Cruel" and "Jailhouse Rock." Not long after that, at the height of his career, he got drafted and served in the United States Army.  And as soon as he got home, he gave us some his best work, including "His Latest Flame," “It’s Now Or Never” and "Are You Lonesome Tonight." He spent much of the ‘60s as a movie star, but towards the end of the decade - when he got back to making great music - he gave us "Kentucky Rain," “Suspicious Minds” and "If I Can Dream.” His stunning rendition of  "Bridge Over Troubled Water" just might be his finest vocal performance, and even just weeks before his death, he was still nailing challenging songs such as "My Way" in concert.

Elvis's health, due to his own vices, failed him.

His voice never did.

Let’s remember that. And let’s remember, on this 40th anniversary of his death, that Elvis Presley was a good man. Let’s remember the man who, even after his burst of fame, still referred to people as "ma'am" and "sir." Remember the man who, while serving in the Army, asked for no special treatment and quickly befriended the men in his unit. Remember the man who loved to share his wealth - a man who would buy friends and even strangers automobiles, and, if you admired a piece of jewelry he was wearing, would often take it off and give it to you. Remember the man who was always quick to give credit to the unheralded black artists which influenced his early sound and led to the true birth of rock and roll.

John Lennon once said, “Before Elvis, there was nothing.”  It’s a funny quote, because there was, of course, plenty of civilized societies long, long before Elvis. But I get what Lennon was saying. Some of the things that I love the most in this life – such as music – which resonates with me and speaks to me like nothing else ever has, would not be the same without Elvis. All of those years that I worked at a newspaper writing about bands and covering concerts and interviewing rock stars would not have happened – and I am quite certain of this – if it were not for Elvis. The radio station that I work at today would not exist if it were not for Elvis. So many things that so many of us enjoy every single day would not exist if it were not for Elvis. And the truth is, if you enjoy rock and pop music in any way at all, you should thank him. 

The words "changed the world' are grossly overused. They are used far too often when discussing people and events that surround pop culture. Very few things actually change the world. Elvis Presley did. And by offering everything from rock to pop, country, blues and gospel in his music, he showed that music, at its best, should have no boundaries.  

When Elvis first walked into Sun Studio, they asked him who he sounded like.

"I don't sound like nobody," was his answer.

He was right.

I finally made it down to Graceland a few years ago.  I toured Elvis’s  house and saw his stage outfits, his cars and his airplane. And I placed a flower on his grave. Today, they are expecting up to 100,000 people there. Just think about that for a moment. How many artists today, doing a live concert, could draw that many people? It’s a very short list. And yet today, that many people will gather simply to pay respect to a man who has not sung a song in 40 years.  And, by sharing some of my thoughts on him here today, that’s what I’m trying to do as well. Show him some respect.

He’s been gone now for almost as many years as he lived, and though Elvis Aaron Presley may have left us 40 years ago today, so much of what he was will never really die. He is with us now and forever in music. And he will always be our one and only King.

(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in NEPA since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu” airs Sunday nights from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. His commentaries on music and concert reviews are published by the Bold Gold Media Group.)

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Stewart wears it well at Bethel Woods

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer remains primed and polished  



BETHEL, N.Y. – If we could all make a deal with the devil to look as good as Rod Stewart still does at age 72, we’d probably consider it. The legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Famer still brings a youthful bravado to the concert stage. And when he brings his timeless songs with him – an endless stream of big hits going back some 45 years – it makes for a wonderful concert experience.

Stewart was in fine form on Friday night at the Bethel Woods Center for The Arts. His voice was strong, his band was tight and his stage show was glitzy yet tasteful. Dressed in a gold blazer, he opened the show with a zesty performance of “Infatuation” and followed with “Some Guys Have All The Luck,” both from 1984.

“Good evening my dear friends,” he said, following the second number. “Welcome!”

He then added how much he loved Friday nights, and that whatever those in the  crowd of 12,500 had to do to get to the show, such as arrange for a babysitter, it would be worth their while.  And he did not disappoint.

The show’s opening act, Cyndi Lauper, joined him on stage for a fun performance of “This Old Heart of Mine” and  Stewart then ditched the blazer and led the band through a terrific rendition of “Tonight’s The Night,” which had the entire crowd singing along. The band, which featured three female backing singers and several multi-instrumentalists, was another highlight of the show. Some songs offered triple-percussion, some came with fiddles, some with saxophone, some even came with harp. Whatever the case, the music shined.     

 “May you stay “Forever Young,’ ” said Stewart when introducing the song, from 1988, which has  become one of his staples.  He later dedicated “Rhythm of My Heart “ to those who have served in the armed forces. With wartime images gracing the large video screens behind the stage, Stewart noted that he himself was a “war baby,” and he thanked those that have served for giving him the opportunity to live the life that he has lived. The video also included images of Steward being knighted at Buckingham Palace – an honor he received for his contributions to both music and charity.

“Young Turks” kept the fun flow of the show rolling, and though Stewart introduced “Can’t Stop Me Now” – which he wrote about his late father – as a “ a song many of you might not know,”  it was a highlight of the set. Stewart, with his English accent intact, also frequently peppered the show with his great wit. When introducing a soaring, saxophone-fueled  performance of “Downtown Train,” he noted that songwriter Tom Waits has thanked him many times for covering the song, and that his version helped Waits “put a new roof on his house and build a new swimming pool.” He then noted, more seriously, that Waits is a “great, great songwriter.”

With Stewart and the band seated on stools near the front of the stage, the show then shifted gears, offering a few acoustic-based numbers. These included “The First Cut Is The Deepest,” "Ooh La La"  - from his days with The Faces – “Reason To Believe,” “You’re In My Heart” and “Have I Told You Lately,” which was delivered with emotion and sentiment. Things then got rocking again with a cover of CCR’s “Proud Mary,” which was performed by just the band, sans Stewart, then “Maggie May” and “Stay With Me.”  For the latter, Stewart – as is his custom – kicked soccer balls into the audience.  “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”  followed, during which Steward donned a cowboy hat. (And yes – judging from the reaction of the women in the audience - he looked good, or sexy, in it.) The show ended with “Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think).”

Though Stewart has aged gracefully and remains a vibrant performer, he also deserves credit for not trying to defy his years. His wardrobe changes throughout the show were funky yet impeccably Rod, and by allowing the members of his band moments to shine throughout the show, and adding the acoustic section, he’s able to pace himself remarkably well. Father time spares no one. We do not stay forever young. But music - or at least some music - is indeed timeless, and such is the case with the music of Rod Stewart. And though he’s not trying to fool anyone – he’s a proud war baby – he showcases all of his years in show biz with style and grace. Or ... to borrow from the title of another fine number performed on Friday night ... he wears them well.

(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in NEPA since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu” airs Sunday nights from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. His concert reviews are published by the Bold Gold Media Group.)

Friday, February 3, 2017

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

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