Monday, April 28, 2008

Asia at the House of Blues Cleveland 19 April 2008

Classic rock fans got what they paid for and then some last Saturday as the four original members of Asia played at the House of Blues Cleveland. Guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Carl Palmer, bassist/vocalist John Wetton, and keyboardist Geoff Downes put on an outstanding show that included the hits from their landmark early 80’s albums; fresh new material from their just recently released CD Phoenix; and even went back into the past of this once “super group” with a some songs from their original bands.
They opened with crowd pleasers “Daylight,” “Only Time Will Tell,” and “Wild in the Streets,” with the first of several extended Carl Palmer drum solos. Over the course of the evening other songs from their first two albums included “Look into Your Eyes” that closed the first set; “The Heat of the Moment” which closed the second set; and “Don’t Cry” and “Soul Survivor” which were the encores.
The highlights for many in the audience were the tunes that went back to each players roots: “Roundabout” with Steve Howe’s great guitar intro and Wetton more than respectiably subbing for Jon Anderson on vocals; A jazzy arrangement of ELP’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” featuring Carl Palmer’s percussion skills; and King Crimson’s “In the Court of the Crimson King” with Wetton on vocals and Downs playing all sorts of keyboards to fill out the sound. There even was a fun version of “Video Killed the Radio Star,” a song Downes was involved during his pre Asia days.
The songs from their new album sounded good and were received well by the audience, the best being “Never Again” and “Extraordinary Life.”
By the reaction of the crowd, and the freshness and quality of both old and new songs, Asia might be making another run at stardom. It was terrific show. For more info on Asia and their new CD visit Amongst the shows coming up at the House of Blues are the B52’s on April 29, the Average White Band on May 8, the Breeders on June 3, and Mahogany Rush on July 15. Check out for more info.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Southside at the House of Blues 5 April 2008

Except for Michael Stanley and the various outfits he has fronted (MSB, Ghost Poets, Resonators), no one has played more venues in Northern Ohio over the last thirty years than Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. Starting with the old Agora, the Coliseum, Blossom, the Front Row, the Odeon, the new Agora, Nautica, Tower City, Cain Park and who knows where else over the years.
Last Saturday he did his first show at the House of Blues Cleveland, and it went like all the rest of the Cleveland Southside shows have gone over the years. He starts out doing his usual show, and believe me when I say this because I have seen him more than a few times in places other than Northern Ohio, it is different than a Cleveland show. But when he plays here by the sixth or seventh song the set list is trashed and he pretty much stays with the material from his first three albums, back when his popularity in our area put him on the some level as Bob Seger and other rockers of the era.
This time Southside brought an eight-piece band of old and newer Jukes, and they gave a solid and enthusiastic performance. Besides the material from the first three albums there were a few surprises and some newer material.
The most recent material included “In the Harbor” and “On the Beach” from recent albums. The surprises included a spirited cover of the J.Geils Band’s “Looking for Love”; a soulful version of Sam Cooke’s “Bring it on Home”; and a jazzy arrangement of the Frank Sinatra standard “Luck be the Lady.”
But it was the old songs the audience came to hear and the Jukes responded, including “Take it Inside,” “Love on the Wrong Side of Town,” “”Without Love,” “I Don’t Want to go Home,” “The Fever,” “Walk Away Renee,” “This Time It’s for Real,” and “We’re Havin’ a Party.”
Southside and the boys will probably resurface in Northern Ohio sometime this summer, they usually do. You can check out their tour schedule The House of Blues as always has a lot of good things coming up. I’m really looking forward to the Asia show on April 19, featuring all four original members of the early 80’s super group.
The House of Blues was perfect for the Southside show. It was crowded but not packed, there was enough room to dance, sing along, and to “reach up and touch the sky.”

Erin Bode at Nighttown 2 April 2008

All of the smaller music venues around town that book national acts have favorites that come back over and over. Erin Bode is one of my favorites, and she played her third show in three years at Nighttown last week. The jazz vocalist from St. Louis was once again backed by a three piece band, featuring Adam Manass on piano, who is also co writer of much of their original material.
What separates Ms. Bode from a lot of the current crop of jazz singers is her song writing and unusual selections of covers. She opened the first set with songs coming from an untitled album coming out this June. “Out of Time” featured a great bass introduction, and Bode added a little scatting to the lyrics. “I Won’t Be Chasing After You” is one of the several originals about broken relationships. She opened the second set with “Holiday,” one of the better songs from her 2006 album Over and Over.
This time around she gave her band a little more room to work, and it gave an overall better sound. The best instrument in the band, however, is Bode’s voice, either as a train whistle in the background or grinding out a lyric ala Ella Fitzgerald. Her range is terrific and she uses it to its potential.
Amongst the covers she did were two from Paul Simon, “Born at the Right Time” and “Graceland”; a wonderful almost naked version of U2’s “With or Without You”; a jazzed up version of Bob Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll be Staying with You”; and a beautiful version of Irving Berlin’s “Count All My Blessings.”
I really like Erin Bode. She has a great voice and is backed by a solid band, and her original material is very good and she does a great job with covers. Her stage presence is compelling, and the fans she does have adore her. She has spent the good part of the last few years fighting with her old record label and has just signed with someone new. Let’s hope putting those problems behind her will allow her to concentrate on the music in the near future and allow her to spread her popularity to a larger audience.

Shelby Lynne at Beachland 30 March 2008

A pop album that has been getting a good buzz in the media recently has been country singer Shelby Lynne’s Dusty Springfield tribute Just a Little Lovin’. She came to Cleveland last Sunday in support of the album, and backed by a quartet of seasoned Nashville musicians put on a well received show at the Beachland Ballroom.
Including encores, the nineteen songs set split almost evenly between the Springfield album and her own compositions. Lynne’s singing voice is almost similar enough to Dusty’s that she didn’t have to try to sound like her, and she hit the phrasing, for the most part, right on the nail. She opened the show with the title track, and followed with a half dozen more songs off the album. Amongst the highlights were a beautiful version of “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” with Lynne opened up by singing the first verse acappella, the Randy Newman penned “I Don’t Want to Hear it Anymore,” and the pop standard “I Only Want to be with You.”
For her own songs she strapped on a guitar, alternating between an electric and an acoustic. She touched on songs form all four of her earlier releases, including “When Johnny Met June,” “Jesus on a Greyhound,” and “Alabama Frame of Mind.” All of it was good stuff, and blended in well with the Dusty Springfield material.
It was my third sit down in seats show in recent memory at the Beachland, and it was a perfect venue for the show. The audience was very attentive, and showed genuine appreciation for the show. The only negative was the “I Love You Shelby/Thanks for coming to Cleveland/Please come back” self centered concert idiots who think they have a one-on-one personal relationship with whomever is on the stage. This also happened at Raul Malo and Marcia Ball at the Beachland recently. I remember it also happening at a Dianna Krall show at the Palace a few years ago. What can we do to get rid of these ‘self-important no one else really cares’ fans?
As always there are a lot of good shows coming up at the Beachland, check out their website at

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Brian Auger at Nighttown 28 March 2008

Brian Auger and his current Oblivion Express returned last week for their annual stand at Nighttown in Cleveland Heights, and once again gave old and new fans alike four outstanding shows of keyboard driven jazz/rock. One of the true legends of that wonderful time when commercial rock radio actually played artists from the jazz world (Auger, Tom Scott, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and George Benson to name a few), Auger was once again backed by a trio that featured his daughter Savannah on vocals and son Karma on drums.
They played four shows over two nights, and each eighty-minute set featured music from all stages of Auger’s career. The early show on the second night featured three songs from his landmark Closer to It album from 1973, a great version of “Season of the Witch” which showed off Savannah’s vocal range, and even went back to a jazz arrangement of a late 1800’s piece by classical French composer/keyboardist Gabriel Faure. And, of course, the band closed each set with a spirited version of “Compared to What.”
As always, Nighttown has a lot of great show coming up, including this Wednesday, April 2, with St. Louis vocalist Erin Bode returns. For more on shows at Nighttown visit

Pride and Prejudice at the Cleveland Playhouse 27 March 2008

It’s a big job making a stage adaptation of a classic period piece novel like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. You have to cram a large novel into two hours of stage time, not to mention getting the language and costumes of the time period right. The current production at the Cleveland Playhouse, directed by Peter Amster, comes from Chicago’s Northlight Theatre where it was nominated for several regional awards. Most of the principal cast came along from Chicago with Amster, supported by third year acting graduate students from Case Western Reserve University.
For the most part things come together well on the stage of the Bolton Theater, where the Playhouse will be presenting Pride and Prejudice until April 13. Using primarily an adaptation by British playwright James Mawell from the 1960’s, the current production shows the fun and romantic side of Austen’s story, filled with wit and irony. The staging is almost perfect (lead by scenic designer Robert Koharchik), and the costumes are even better (coordinated by costume designer Gail Brassard).
The story is about Mr. and Mrs. Bennett and their five single daughters, all looking to move up socially and economically through marriage. Judith Day is the best of a very good cast as the mother, while Bill McGough is enjoyable as the father. Charon Cross as Elizabeth Bennett gets much stage time as both a character and a narrator. The script, as well as the staging and the costumes, give all the actors a little elbowroom with the characters, and they all run with it in the right direction. The play holds up quite well, even after over two hours of stage time and two intermissions.
Up next at the Cleveland Playhouse is their third annual Fusionfest, this year featuring the world premier collaboration with the Louisville Actors Theater of “All Hail Hurricane Gordo.” Check out for more information on Fusionfest ’08 as well as their 08/09 season.