Ten Years Gone: Vinny Appice pays tribute to the late, great Ronnie James Dio on the 10th anniversary of his death

 

VINNY LIVE

“This is your life
This is your time
What if the flame won’t last forever?
This is your here
This is your now
Let it be magical”

When Ronnie James Dio sang those words in 1996’s “This Is Your Life,” he couldn’t possibly have imagined how affirming they would be to a kid from Western New York whose friends never shared his love of heavy metal. He was simply delivering another sermon of hope and self-reliance just as he always had, but, to me, his sentiment was exactly what I needed to hear at a time when my lifelong struggle against The Extrovert Ideal was reaching its boiling point. I was beginning to shed whatever adolescent desire for acceptance I had left while the music of Dio, Black Sabbath, and Motorhead provided the soundtrack, which meant that plenty of futile exchanges with middle school teachers were on the horizon.

Despite the establishment’s attempt to frame the genre as something that people grow out of once they transition from the classroom to the boardroom, Dio’s work was a shining example of how to make mature metal that had just as much to say about man’s inhumanity to man as any protest music from the 1960s. He wrote about a cruel world where people in power blind your eyes and steal your dreams, and displayed such a versatile vocal range that he deserved to be mentioned among the greatest singers of his era regardless of style. His physical flame may not have lasted forever, but the legacy that he left behind for his family, friends, fans, bandmates, and the heavy metal community at-large is indeed magical.

I caught up with his longtime drummer/friend/collaborator Vinny Appice this week to discuss a tribute video that he and his brother Carmine put together to honor Ronnie on the 10th anniversary of his death. I know that we’re all suffering from concert withdrawal at this point, so, if you want to pay your respects from home, feel free to watch the video with your horns up.

MNOD: How did the idea for this tribute video come about?

VA: I was talking to my brother about 10 days ago and we decided to use a song we did from a few years ago called “Monsters and Heroes,” which was all about Ronnie. It was the most commercial song from the “Sinister” album and it fit the concept well. May 16 marks the 10th anniversary of his passing, so we decided to release the video that day as the perfect tribute.

MNOD: What do you remember about the first time that you met Ronnie?

VA: The first time I met him, I was struck by how nice and down-to-earth he was. How much he cared for his fans and the music was amazing to see. We were playing arenas and he always wanted to take time out for the fans. I remember one time Ronnie and I were in a limo and there were a bunch of fans hanging out by the gate trying to see the band. All of a sudden, Ronnie said ‘Stop the car’ and he got out to sign autographs and take pictures with everyone out there. It was cold out, but he didn’t care. He wanted to meet and talk to everyone, which was how he was all the time.

MNOD: Did you find it intimidating at all when you first stepped into the Black Sabbath fold given that they were already established as legends?

VA: Not really. I’ve always had a professional attitude and I knew that I had a job to do. I had to learn the songs and be ready to deliver them on stage every night. The process is the same with anything I do, because it’s about doing the best job that I can do.

MNOD: What were the differences between Ronnie’s approach to Sabbath and how he worked once the original Dio band took off?

VA: Both groups were easy, because he was so creative and always had ideas flowing about how a certain song should be. With Sabbath, there weren’t as many suggestions obviously, because they already had an established sound and vibe. He would always be singing along with us while we played to give us that inspiration. We would usually lay the drums down first and then bring the bass in. The goal was to make it sound dark and evil. With the original Dio lineup, he was always open to input from all of us and we were always trying different things to see what worked.

MNOD: Of the seven Dio studio albums that you were a part of, which one stands out as your favorite?

VA: “Holy Diver” is definitely the one. The songs were so high energy, the band was playing really well, and we just had a great time making that record. I think the music reflects that. It’s almost 37-years-old and it still sells and people still play it everywhere.

MNOD: The 2007 reunion tour for Black Sabbath under the Heaven and Hell moniker is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Was it easy for you guys to find that chemistry again after being apart for a while?

VA: It was like the band never ended. I went to Tony’s house in England and pretty soon we were getting along just like old times. I started recording some stuff that was already written and then we had a bunch of dates booked in addition to the new material. That tour was fun, because we were playing great and all getting along really well. Then, Ronnie got sick and we weren’t able to continue for as long as we wanted to. I would spend a lot of time with Ronnie as he was going through treatment and we all thought that, if anyone could beat this, it was him. He had such a big personality and was always full of life, but, sadly, he never got better.

MNOD: Do you remember the last time that you spoke with him?

VA: I remember talking to him on the phone and his voice was raspy, which was odd, because he always had such a powerful voice. He fought it with everything he had and  always tried to remain positive throughout.

MNOD: I know that you’re involved in a number of different projects other than this, so how have you been dealing with the shutdown?

VA: I’ve been doing some drum lessons on Skype and catching up on a lot of movies. I’ve never watched so much Netflix. I’ve also been finding stuff that I didn’t know I had like boxes of stuff from the road and scrapbooks. Anything that I’ve been wanting to do for a while, I’m now getting to do, because I’m not on the road. I had some dates scheduled with Last in Line, the band I’m in with Vivian Campbell, but those have been pushed back until the end of the year. I’m also still doing the Resurrection Kings project with ex-Dio member Craig Goldy, so I’m hoping that things will get back to normal soon and everyone can get back out there.

The Appice Brothers will release their video tribute to Ronnie James Dio on Saturday, May 16, 2020 on YouTube and the Internet in general. 

http://www.vinnyappice.com

 

The Quarantine Collection Part II

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Last month, I shared a list of pop culture items that I felt could make your time in isolation a little less maddening. Not much has changed since then, so I’ve decided to offer another one to hopefully carry you through until the government decides what the next step is.

Enjoy.

Movies –

“Videodrome” – David Cronenberg’s 1983 television satire was ahead of its time then and remains one of his finest works.

“Match Point” – Regardless of how tarnished Woody Allen’s personal reputation has become, this 2005 psychological deconstruction of the British upper crust is a late-career gem.

“Uncut Gems” – I first saw this back in early December, but watching it again made me appreciate Adam Sandler’s performance that much more.

Albums –

Fiona Apple – “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” – Best thing I’ve heard yet in 2020.

Pearl Jam – “Gigaton” – I know plenty of people who dislike everything after the first three albums, but Vedder’s urgency on this one really grabbed me.

The Flying Burrito Brothers –  “The Gilded Palace of Sin” – I rediscovered this one while doing research for an article and it proves that The Eagles cashed in on a lot of what Gram Parsons had already done.

Books – 

Liz Phair – “Horror Stories” – An unconventional memoir from a woman whose contribution to the ’90s alternative scene doesn’t get talked about enough.

Machiavelli – “The Prince” – A perfect encapsulation of what living in America feels like in 2020.

Jim Ross – “Under the Black Hat” – I ordered my copy last week and can’t wait to dive in.

TV – 

“Dark Side of the Ring” – Even if you’re not a fan of professional wrestling, the creators of this docuseries tackle each story with such unflinching humanity that you’ll be thinking about it well after it’s over.

Any of George Carlin’s HBO specials – They’re all on Amazon Prime Video and each one is a gift that keeps on giving.

“The Last Dance” – Michael Jordan is my favorite athlete of all time and this project actually made me want to watch ESPN again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The legacy of The Burrito Brothers lives on

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Gram Parsons died in 1973, but the legacy of what he and the rest of the original members of The Flying Burrito Brothers created on their first two studio albums is impossible to deny. Everyone from Glenn Frey to Elvis Costello to Emmylou Harris has cited Parsons as an influence and his contribution to the annals of American music serve as a reminder of what country rock can be when it isn’t filtered through the prism of pop sensibility.

Their 1969 debut, “The Gilded Palace of Sin,” is a bona fide masterpiece of any genre, so, upon hearing the band’s latest release, “The Notorious Burrito Brothers,” I was pleased to hear that they remain committed to keeping the spirit of that album alive. I caught up with current vocalist/keyboardist Chris P. James recently to discuss the new project and whether or not the current pandemic has hindered the band’s ability to reap the benefits of all their hard work.

Even if you’ve never heard of them and are just in need of something to immerse yourself in while stuck at home, The Burrito Brothers have got you covered.

MNOD: How have you been dealing with the isolation thus far?

CJ: This is definitely a weird time. It’s almost science fiction-like, because we’ve pretty much been isolated since the whole thing began. My wife and I are both slightly older, so we haven’t had any visitors and have only left the house for groceries a few times. She has Crohn’s Disease, which puts her at a higher risk than other people. A lot of people are suffering out there, but, hopefully, we’ll all get through it OK.

MNOD: Does it feel odd to have a new album out at a time when fans aren’t going to shows or having a lot of extra money to spend on entertainment?

CJ: I’m just glad that we were able to finish the album before everything went down. We’ve always been more of an album-oriented band, so not playing live every night doesn’t really affect us that much. We’d like to play certain dates here and there, but regular touring isn’t our thing. The band is based out of Nashville now and just having the support of a label behind this album has been amazing. We’re proud of the finished product, because this record fits in nicely among the first two albums that The Flying Burrito Brothers ever released.

MNOD: Were you guys able to record all in the same room?

CJ: Yes, we had to. There’s a feeling you get from all being together that can’t be captured any other way. I always look to the drummer to set the groove, which doesn’t work when you’re playing to a click track.

MNOD: How did you first come to join the band?

CJ: I officially joined the band in 2010, but I started playing with them back in 1986. I was a part of the Nashville Tribute to Gram Parsons. No one has ever auditioned for this band. Vacancies were always filled by guys that the band was already familiar with and knew would be the right fit. When the deal was struck with Curb Records back in the ’80s, the encouraged the band to drop the ‘Flying’ in the title and adopt a shorter, catchier direction with pop hooks. Marketing was a big thing and the songs that were released on Curb were different than the original sound, so this new album is definitely more akin to “The Gilded Palace of Sin.” I’ve always considered The Burrito Brothers to be a progressive rock band that incorporates country music, which is exactly what this new album is. Something happened in the ’80s with MTV where everyone wanted to be on the charts and present a certain image, but we’re in the mindset of making classic concept albums. It’s a complete statement and a fully conceptualized piece. When I finally joined, they all said ‘What took you so long?’ and, since then, we’ve returned to the original sound. There have been so many members of this band over the years that I think they’ve had different personnel on every album.

MNOD: Who were some of your influences as a younger musician?

CJ: I was 13-years-old when “The Gilded Palace of Sin” came out, so I was in the perfect age group for that record. I also loved The Byrds, The Beatles, and The Monkees. It’s funny, because a lot of talk at the time was about how The Monkees shouldn’t be taken seriously as a band. Now, people have acknowledged just how much talent there was in the band and how the songs were quality records. That era of the ’60s and ’70s was really the golden age for music.

MNOD: Are there any current bands that you believe carry on the tradition of The Burrito Brothers?

CJ: I don’t know if I’m the best person to judge that, because I don’t really listen to a lot of new stuff. A lot of younger people will listen to something and think it’s good, but their frame of reference isn’t necessarily as wide as mine. It’s hard to hear something that hasn’t been done before, because so much of what comes out today is derivative. I don’t want to say that I’m jaded. I’m just not the target audience for a lot of what is popular today and I’ve never paid much attention to trends. We were all influenced by something and we came together to create our own hybrid of those influences. I’d like to direct people to the band’s web site, which contains a song-by-song blog for the new album and dives into what a lot of the hidden meanings behind the songs are. We’re really proud of this album and how it takes the listener back to the classic era of the band.

Check out http://www.theburritobrothers.net for more information regarding the band and how the new album fits into the overall catalog.

“The Notorious Burrito Brothers” is available now wherever music is disseminated, but do us all a favor and pay for a physical copy.

 

 

 

 

 

Sass Jordan hits the sweet spot on “Rebel Moon Blues”

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My relationship with the music of Sass Jordan began when I was a teenager. Rather than indulge in whatever drivel was being peddled by Top 40 radio in the early ’00s, I sought out artists whose work reflected a deeper understanding of what really matters in the grand scheme of things. Thus, the uncompromising rawness of Jordan’s 1994 album “Rats” became an ideal alternative to the tedium of Coldplay’s “A Rush of Blood to the Head.”

Her voice was a revelation, and, the more I listened, the more I found it  incomprehensible that she wasn’t huge in America. I only discovered “Rats” and then 1992’s “Racine” later on, because I happened to live in a border town that had access to Canadian radio. Here was one of the finest rock singers, male or female, I’d ever heard and the amount of acclaim she received was but a fraction of what the inconsequential pop stars of the day were getting with very little effort.

It is my hope that her new project, “Rebel Moon Blues,” will bring her the respect she deserves beyond just the longtime fans. I spoke with her via telephone recently about the album and how she’s been navigating through these crazy times, so, if her Oct. 10 date in Buffalo goes down as scheduled, it promises to be one hell of a show.

MNOD: With the world in a constant state of flux due to COVID-19, how have you been dealing with the isolation?

SJ: Well, you know, it’s not really that different from what I normally do during a break from the road. I live such an outward life when performing, so, when I go home, I like to collect my thoughts and have time to myself. This is just an extended period of that. If you pay attention to the news or any mainstream media, there’s a constant barrage of information that can make you squirelly after a while. It’s really challenging to know what’s true and what’s not, because we’re living in such a surreal reality.

MNOD: How frustrating has it been to have this stellar new album out and not be able to share it with people in a live setting?

SJ: Not really. What I like about it is that it’s giving people time to get to know the album and become familiar with it. That way, when I do return to the live shows, the songs will be more fun for the audience and they’ll feel like an old shoe that they’re used to. I want to do a live stream soon, but it’s hard to predict when that will be.

MNOD: What inspired you make an entire blues record this time?

SJ: I was asked to do it. I was initially resistant, but then I said ‘Who gives a crap what anyone else thinks?’ Never Mind the Bollocks, as they say in England. The more I looked into it, the more I realized that it’s not all that far removed from what I’ve always done. The style is something I’m extremely close to. “Still Got the Blues” is the song that started the whole thing, because I started discovering all these other songs that never occurred to me before. There were no hard and fast boundaries.

MNOD: How did you decide which songs to cover?

SJ: They just sort of came to me. I would be driving, hear a cool song, and then do some research on YouTube, which of course is a rabbit hole. The more songs that I looked up, the more suggestions it would give me as to other songs I might enjoy, so I followed that. There are eight songs on the record and seven of them arrived almost with a light around them to signal that they were perfect for me.

MNOD: What did you bring to this material as a female voice that is different than the original versions?

SJ: I would say that it’s more about my personality than gender, because anyone singing these songs would bring themselves to the process. The energy is what comes through the most, so the fact that I’m a woman doesn’t affect it that much.

MNOD: “One Way Out” became popularized when The Allman Brothers Band released a live version of it on 1972’s “Eat a Peach.” What did you do to make the song your own?

SJ: I’ve always loved that song, so I think the same answer applies here. I chose it, because I like it. I brought my own personality to the song.

MNOD: “The Key” is the lone original composition on this album, but it’s a knockout. How did this one come together? 

SJ: I wanted to write at least one original song for the album and this one came together so quickly. Derek (Sharp) came up with the chord progression and the words just sort of happened. The whole thing only took about 30 minutes to take shape. A lot of people think that successful songs take a long time, but that’s not always the case.

MNOD: Have you found that your other successes followed that same philosophy?

SJ: 1000% yes. Things that work or become really successful are usually things that come together incredibly quickly. They just sort of happen out of nowhere. For me, I know that, if I spent ages working on something, I would start to second guess myself the longer the process went on, so it’s better to just go with your instinct. The thing about this album is that there were no obstacles or impediments along the way. Everything fell into place for an extraordinary experience.

MNOD: “Am I Wrong” is a track that not a lot of people are familiar with, but I loved your take on it. How did that wind up on the album?

SJ: My guitar player and I have a disagreement as to who discovered it first, because he claims that he suggested it and I believe that I found it on YouTube first. He says that he sent me the link, but, in my reality, I found it while researching.

MNOD: Because of how well this album turned out, would you like to do another blues collection in the future?

SJ: 1000% yes. I love it, because, right now, having the album out there is the best way for me to reach as many people as possible. Sometimes, things happen during the course of an album that you have to figure out or find your way around, but nothing like that happened here. It all came together perfectly. Even the picture on the cover was perfect. It was taken by a Dutch photographer who happened to be taking pictures during a show. I didn’t even know he took it, but then he shared it on Instagram. Normally, I can’t stand pictures of me while performing, because they either get you with your tonsils hanging out or looking like 50,000 tons, but this photo is fantastic. I told my manager about the shot and we agreed that it would be perfect for the cover, so the photographer sold it to us and it worked. With the smoky blue color scheme on the vinyl release, it looks like an old-school blues or jazz record, which I love.

MNOD: Your Buffalo date appears to have been rescheduled for Oct. 10, so hopefully we’ll see you then.

SJ: Yes, I look forward to seeing you and everyone else who wants to come out to the show when all of this craziness is over.

Sass Jordan plays the Showplace Theater on Oct. 10 with special guest Jessie Galante.

See http://www.sassjordan.com or http://www.theshowplacetheater.com for details.

“Rebel Moon Blues” is available now wherever music is disseminated, but do us all a favor and pay for a physical copy.

 

 

What Happens When Things Fall Apart?

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A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their own homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so.”
― Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

How we handle ourselves in a crisis tells the rest of the world everything it needs to know about us as people. Times of trouble have a way of bringing all of our ethics, morals, hopes, fears, and latent insecurities to the surface, leaving us with nothing but a “deep, dark, truthful mirror” to gaze into and determine whether or not we’re proud of what we see. While most of us would like to believe that we’re inherently good, the onslaught of positive COVID-19 cases and subsequent shut-down of everything we’ve come to take for granted as a “First World” country have demanded that we prove it.

For some, this is easy, as they just keep on doing what they’ve always done and commit themselves to trying to lift up their fellow citizens at a time when politicians on both sides are still trying like hell to keep everyone divided. For others, this has proven to be more difficult as of late given the amount of hoarding, price gouging, and general disregard for decency that has been widely reported.

Sure, it’s natural for humans to go into self-preservation mode whenever their way of life is being threatened, but there has to be a way to take care of your own without impeding others’ ability to do the same. The fact that companies have to limit purchases to ensure a level playing field is sad not due to the limit itself. It’s sad, because it never occurred to people to impose the limit on their own terms. I’m sure that some hoarders would make the argument that they’re simply taking advantage of preexisting loopholes in the system, but I highly doubt that they would be too happy being on the other end of that scenario.

Beyond the trials of everyday people like you and I, certain celebrities have revealed themselves to be desperate for attention by any means necessary. For example, Gal Gadot recently pieced together a well-intentioned yet tone-deaf video featuring stars singing John Lennon’s “Imagine,” but listening to a bunch of millionaires ponder life without possessions when we all know that their conditions while in quarantine are different from the rest of us doesn’t come off well.

Musicians, however, have provided the most earnest form of respite I’ve seen yet, because many of them have begun streaming impromptu concerts via social media in an effort to elevate the spirits of those for whom live music qualifies as an “essential service.” Because someone’s creative drive or innate need to express themselves through art doesn’t just shut off during a work stoppage, the fact that they’ve found a productive way to keep the music alive at a distance should be supported just as any necessary retail establishment would be.

In the past week, I’ve seen Brad Paisley perform before a couch full of stuffed animals, Colin MacDonald of The Trews try to sing in his living room without disturbing his neighbors, and Robin Wilson of Gin Blossoms use this time to recapture what it felt like to play before a sparsely occupied bar room. They may not be feeding off the immediate reaction of an audience, but they’re delivering performances worthy of a sold-out crowd simply because that’s what they do as artists committed to the cause.

Who cares if some of their events have been hindered by technological glitches beyond their control (i.e. Garth Brooks)? At this point, anything is better than nothing, so I implore you to continue to support them as much as you can.

Thinking, writing, and obsessing about music has been a significant part of my life for more than a decade. Just like the musicians I interview, my need to express myself through my work doesn’t stop during a moratorium on public gatherings. I’ve simply altered my coverage for the time being in an attempt to keep my audience engaged with what we’re all going through.

Chinua Achebe was right when he said that people don’t come together for any other reason than it is good to do so, because there are intangible benefits to be gained from positive social interaction that can’t be duplicated through a screen. Even a lifelong introvert like me can admit that. How long this quarantine lasts is ultimately up to forces greater than any of us, but we should take care of each other in the meantime so that, when things do get put back together again, the damage isn’t irreparable.

The Quarantine Collection

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Western New York has been effectively shut down for a week now, and, if you’re anything like me, you’re committed to doing whatever it takes to satisfy your craving for entertainment. Books, records, movies, shows, etc. Things have gotten so dire that I’ve even considered seeing what all the fuss is about “Game of Thrones” for the very first time, but I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that.

Instead, I’ve been diving deep into my record collection and rediscovering albums that I haven’t spun in quite some time for whatever reason, which can be a cathartic experience in times of extreme social distancing.

Because of how uncertain the remainder of WNY’s 2020 concert season is, I’ve put together a list of pop culture items new and old that might make the next couple months a little more bearable.

Movies –

Disappearance at Clifton Hill” – An unsettling, old-school noir that was filmed just over the border at a place we all know.

Parasite” – The Academy named it the Best Picture of 2019 for a reason, so, if you still haven’t seen it, now’s the time.

Candyman” – Before Nia DeCosta and Jordan Peele’s update drops this                              summer, revisit the terror and caustic social commentary of the original.

Music –

Sass Jordan – “Rebel Moon Blues” – The Canadian songstress is back with one of the finest releases of 2020 thus far.

Etta James – “Queen of Soul” – I recently acquired an original copy of this on vinyl, and, in the immortal words of Rick Jeanneret, it’s scary good.

Ozzy Osbourne – “Ordinary Man” – Nothing about Ozzy’s present circumstances would lead one to believe that he’s capable of such vibrant work at this stage, but this one deserves your attention.

Books –

Phil Collins – “Not Dead Yet” –  Vital for fans of both Genesis and solo Phil.

Colson Whitehead – “The Nickel Boys” – I can’t decide what’s more devastating. The novel or the fact that Whitehead’s appearance in Buffalo was nixed due to COVID-19.

Keah Brown – “The Pretty One” –  Supporting a local writer is great, but it’s easy when the book itself is so full of life.

TV –

Twin Peaks” – We’re approaching the 30th anniversary of the two-hour pilot and it’s still unlike anything that’s ever aired on a major network.

How to Get Away With Murder” – As the series draws to a close, let’s go back and acknowledge the ongoing greatness of Viola Davis.

High Fidelity” – Nick Hornby himself has given this project his stamp of approval, which is really the only endorsement needed.

 

 

 

 

 

To go or not to go: The $125,000 Question

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“What’s Your Number?” is a dreadful 2011 romantic comedy starring Anna Faris that centers around a thirty-something woman being inspired to re-evaluate her sex life after reading a magazine article about how women who have had 20 or more partners are less likely to be marriage material. In the film, the number in question has to do with sexual partners, but, in the case of myself and everyone else for whom live music is a way of life, our number has to do with how many concerts we’ve been fortunate enough to experience in our lifetime. We wear it like a badge and wait with bated breath for the next year’s crop of performances to be announced so that we can add to the total.

That number appears to be in jeopardy, however, as concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19 have threatened to dismantle an entire industry built on welcoming people of all ages, races, nationalities, sexual orientations etc. together in a public space. Social distancing is becoming the new normal and, while I can’t fault anyone for taking precautions, only time will tell if the hysteria is justified.

Personally, I’ve never been one to panic and engage in the mass consumption of select consumer goods at the behest of the media, but washing your hands and using common sense when traveling are things that anyone can get behind.

Is it a hoax? No, but the danger of politicizing everything in 2020 isn’t a hoax either.

People on all sides of the political spectrum will claim to know how the pandemic should be handled and social media will continue to feed into the negativity. Liberals will believe that everything Trump says on the issue is bullshit while conservatives will try to convince themselves that he has everyone’s best interests at heart despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

If the last four years have proven anything, it’s that those on the Left can be just as mean-spirited and intolerant of alternative viewpoints as anyone, so expecting a sensible scientific solution to emerge from either side when they’re blinded by hatred doesn’t sound promising.

The reality is that people shouldn’t rely on the government to decide what’s best for them and their family. They should take it one day at a time and avoid making decisions in a heightened emotional state.

As of this writing, there are yet to be any documented cases in Erie or Niagara County, so, if John Waite takes the stage as planned at The Riviera Theatre next Saturday night, I’ll be there.

If you won’t, no one should hold it against you for doing what you feel is best.

 

Geoff Tate steers a stellar re-creation of “Rage For Order” and “Empire” at Town Ballroom

 

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Reactions to Geoff Tate’s decision to pair Queensrÿche’s ominous 1986 release “Rage For Order” with its more commercially accessible 1990 smash “Empire” all in one evening differ depending on the source. Some fans with whom I spoke were prepared to revel in the intricacies of “Surgical Strike” and “Neue Regel,” while others couldn’t wait to hear “Silent Lucidity” performed just as they remembered. The one thing everyone inside Town Ballroom this past Sunday could agree on, however, is that Tate and his band captured the essence of both records beautifully.

Vocally, Tate sounded as sharp and committed as ever, which shouldn’t have been surprising to anyone familiar with his work since exiting the band in 2012. He’s considered one of the greatest hard rock/metal vocalists of all time for a reason and seeing him in such an intimate venue afforded the audience an opportunity to experience a master at work. His takes on “I Dream in Infrared” and “I Will Remember” were fraught with emotion from the opening notes, and his stories regarding the inspiration behind many of the album’s deep cuts provided casual listeners with context in the event that they were hearing them for the very first time.

Because dual guitar harmonies were a hallmark of the Queensrÿche sound, it was critical that the musicians Tate surrounded himself with were up to the task. Guitarists Scott Moughton and Kieran Robertson formed a killer tandem whose strength lied in the ability of both parties to trade licks with ease. They nailed the staccato rhythms and overall heaviness of the material so soundly that it was easy to see why a 15 minute intermission was needed before they returned to tackle “Empire.”

When I interviewed Tate in the days leading up to the show, he noted that the contrast of dark and light was what intrigued him most about this pairing, and, after seeing it for myself, I couldn’t agree more. The mindset one needs to be in when delivering songs about government intrusion, tracking devices, and the dangers of artificial intelligence would have to be quite different than the one required to summon the energetic vibe of “Best I Can,” “The Thin Line,” and “Another Rainy Night (Without You),” but the shift didn’t just occur on stage.

The whole crowd felt re-energized coming out of the break, as evidenced by the deafening singalong that accompanied both “Jet City Woman” and “Empire.” Sure, the universal familiarity of these songs was nice to see, but a dramatic rendering of “Della Brown” and one of the finest versions of “Anybody Listening?” I’ve ever heard stood tall as the peaks of the second set. On “Anybody Listening?” especially, Tate’s soaring lead was bolstered by backing vocals that were as strong as anything you’ll hear on the original recording.

An encore of “Last Time in Paris” and “Eyes of a Stranger” brought the house down one final time before the band called it a night, but the echoes of this show lingered long after the lights went up. Tate returned to Western New York for the first time in three years and gave one of the finest performances we’ve seen in 2020 thus far.

Kasim Sulton’s Utopia comes to The Tralf on March 8

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Photo via Kasim Sulton’s facebook page

If you weren’t fortunate enough to catch Utopia during its 2018 reunion, bassist Kasim Sulton has you covered. His latest project, Kasim Sulton’s Utopia, is coming to Buffalo on March 8 for an evening of rock, pop, and prog classics played exactly the way you remember.

I caught up with Sulton earlier this week to talk about the tour and why the music of Utopia continues to resonate with audiences 35 years after the last studio album was released. As someone who has only ever seen him with Todd Rundgren’s solo band and Blue Öyster Cult, I can’t wait to see how he leads his own band through this material.

MNOD: What inspired you to organize a tour of the Utopia catalog on your own?

KS: Well, Utopia had been broken up for the longest time and we finally got back together in 2018 for a quick run of shows. I spent years playing with those guys, but you never really know how the reunion will go until you’re in the middle of it. The tour was really well-received and everyone said that Todd, Willie, and I sounded better than ever, so I thought that bringing these songs back out on the road with my own project was a nice way to give back to the fans who had been so loyal to us. I got back into the Todd world in the ’90s and toured with him while also contributing to his solo records, but I never got tired of the question of Utopia getting back together. A lot of what I’ve learned as a musician I learned while being in that band and I wanted to bring these songs out again and do them right.

MNOD: Utopia released 10 studio albums between 1974 and 1985. How do you pick what material you’ll be playing each night?

KS: There are a few songs I’ll be playing on this tour that Utopia didn’t get around to during the reunion, but there’s only so much you can pack into a two-hour show. Todd wanted to celebrate the band’s entire career in 2018, not just the ’76-’85 period when I was in the band. There will also be some songs that have never been played live before such as “Fix Your Gaze” from P.O.V.

MNOD: “Mimi Gets Mad” is a great cut from “P.O.V.” that doesn’t get talked about a lot. Will that find its way into the set?

KS: We’re not playing it on this leg, but there’s always a chance that we’ll add it in later on.

MNOD: When the idea for this tour first arose, how easy was it for you to assemble the band you’ll be playing with?

KS: When I decided to do it, I spoke with the guys to see if they could keep 3-4 weeks open for me in February and March. I have Gil Assayas on keyboards, who took over for Ralph Shuckett on the 2018 Utopia tour, and a great drummer named Andy Ascolese, who has been playing with me for a while. Our guitarist was originally going to be Jesse Gress, but he became ill in December and wasn’t going to be ready for the tour. He won’t be with us this time, but his replacement is Bruce McDaniel, who was in The Ed Palermo Big Band and is a great player.

MNOD: Utopia is considered a groundbreaking project when it comes to production and the use of video technology. What is the legacy of the band for you?

KS: Personally, I’ve talked with a lot of people over the years, and I’m always honored when they say how much the band meant to them. I was only with them for 9 or 10 years, but my contribution to the band has always been appreciated by real musicians. The highest compliment for me is when I talk to guys like Richie Sambora or Paul Gilbert and they tell me how much they loved my work in Utopia.

MNOD: What was it about the chemistry between you guys that worked so well?

KS: That’s the mystery. We’ve all done things outside of Utopia, but there was something about our work together that stands out to people. Having said that, Todd has obviously had a brilliant solo career and was successful in many different areas, so it would be unfair of me to say that the success of Utopia wasn’t duplicated. We all our own talents within the band, and, when we came together, that’s when the magic happened. People often wonder why Daryl Hall was never hugely successful outside of Hall & Oates and the reason is that there was something about that pairing that worked like nothing else could. What they did together was greater than the sum of the parts. My solo music is important and I’m always working on things, but the magic of Utopia was real.

MNOD: When you reunited in 2018, did that chemistry come right back or did it take a little to get into the swing of things?

KS: Yeah, it was a challenge. I think in 1992, we did a short Japanese tour, but even that was 26 years before that. We had to re-learn a bunch of stuff and shake the cobwebs off. After our initial rehearsal, I remember thinking ‘Oh god, what did we do?,’ but playing music is what we’ve all done since our 20s and 30s, so we just had to get back on that bicycle.

MNOD: What was the biggest difference between Utopia and the other bands you’ve played with?

KS: Utopia was a true working democracy. We were all equal partners and had a say in what happened withing the confines of the band. When I played with Joan Jett, it was whatever Joan wanted to do. When I played with Meat Loaf, it was whatever Meat Loaf wanted to do. They made all the decisions, because that was the nature of the group. Utopia was different, because we all contributed to the overall product.

MNOD: Is there an album from Utopia that you believe separates itself from the pack?

KS: I would say that ‘Oblivion’ is my favorite. Songs like ‘Too Much Water,’ ‘Love With a Thinker,’ ‘I Will Wait,’ and Crybaby’ are all excellent. A lot people will say that ‘Adventures in Utopia’ is their favorite, because it was the biggest selling record. But, for me, ‘Oblivion’ is the best.

Kasim Sulton’s Utopia plays The Tralf Music Hall on March 8.

Showtime is 8:00 p.m. See http://www.tralfmusichall.com or http://www.kasimsulton.com for details.

 

Carl Dixon leaves The Riviera Theatre shakin’ all over

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You wouldn’t know that Carl Dixon recovered from a life-threatening car accident not too long ago, because the way in which he fearlessly tore through The Guess Who songbook last Friday evening was indicative of an artist whose best is yet to come. He’s been given a second chance at performing the music he loves with a group of guys that are as passionate and proficient as any version of his former band out there in 2020, so each show serves as both a celebration of his past and a reminder of what continues to be a productive present.

Because we’re living in an era where multiple incarnations of a band can tour simultaneously without the audience batting an eye, Dixon wasted little time establishing the credibility of his current project. Bassist Bill Wallace, who joined The Guess Who in 1972 and co-wrote “Clap For the Wolfman,” and guitarist Laurie MacKenzie, whose run with The Guess Who overlapped with Dixon’s, did their part to ensure that these songs were infused with the respect they deserve.

“Bus Rider,” “Star Baby,” and “Glamour Boy”  enlivened the crowd early on, the last of which allowed Dixon to stun with his sublime vocal handling of a song that never got the American exposure of the others despite being inspired by David Bowie. What worked about his approach was that he wasn’t trying to be Burton Cummings, he simply sang in his own voice and allowed the intangible sway of the music to come naturally. While he especially shined on other ballads such as “Laughing” and “These Eyes,” he nailed the snarling attitude behind “American Woman” and “No Time”  just as well.

The collective power of the lineup was most pronounced during “No Sugar Tonight” and “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon,” tunes that rock hard and leave plenty of space for instrumental interplay. Dixon and MacKenzie traded licks in much the same fashion that Kurt Winter and Don McDougall did circa 1972, so their on-stage chemistry was in full bloom.

Other highlights included Bill Wallace delivering an inspired vocal on “Hand Me Down World” and 97 Rock Jock Carl Russo doing his best Wolfman Jack on “Clap For the Wolfman.” Dixon and company closed out the show with the title track from 1970’s “Share the Land,” which, coincidentally, is the same way Burton Cummings chose to conclude his solo set at the Molson Canal Concert Series back in 2011.

Having now interviewed and seen Carl Dixon perform in the span of two weeks has left me convinced that he was never going to let the accident get the best of him. His talent and commitment to the music are too vast to let the inequity of life bring him down, so, if he happens to make his way to our area again soon, don’t miss out.