Everything I review, I review it for you.

I reviewed Bryan Adams for the second time in three years last night, doing pretty much the same thing he did the first time around – presenting stripped-down, acoustic versions of his hits. It made me think about how MTV needs to bring “Unplugged” back, because when it’s the right artist, a look at the skeletons of their songs can be revelatory. Bryan Adams isn’t one of those artists, of course (he did do an “Unplugged” set in 1996, regardless). His songs are simple, sugary pop numbers beefed up with punchy guitars and that strong, sandpapery voice – when you strip away the window dressings, there ain’t much left. Except for lyrics like “It’s so damn easy making love to you” and “Let’s make a night to remember/From January to December.” Adams needs the trappings of ’80s rock stardom for his music to make sense; the intimate acoustic thing just isn’t meant for him.

While doing a little research before the show, I stumbled upon a video of Adams’ performance with Nelly Furtado at the Winter Olympics opening ceremonies. It’s a huge, lip-synced mess (if you don’t believe me, check out Adams missing his backup vocal cue around 32 seconds in).

My last review of this guy inspired some vitriol from the Adams faithful. I’ll let you know if the sequel gets them just as riled.

Let me off!!! LET ME OFF!!!!

I had the unenviable task of reviewing Train on Tuesday night, a band whose hyper-polished, pseudo-spiritual rock has made for some of the worst singles of the last decade or so. I went in with an open mind, though, hoping that their live set was a more organic and enjoyable thing – if those ubiquitous melodies were executed in an honest way, it could have made for a bit of a good time. Not so, sadly. Not only was Train going through the motions during their Town Ballroom set, but its singer, Patrick Monahan, fancied himself a sarcastic card with a voice of an angel. He began the horrifically saccharine ballad “When I Look to the Sky” by asking the crowd to quiet down so he could sing a cappella, without a mic. It was a nice idea, don’t get me wrong – a gift from a singer to his fans that you rarely get at big rock shows. But when it’s done with this kind of material (“Sky” is clearly inspired by Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting”), it’s just gross. When it comes to every aspect of the artistic process, from songwriting to recording and performing, Train isn’t interested in leaving the cozy confines of their modern rock station.

Paid Tha Cost To Be A Fan: Snoop Dogg’s Late-Night Gig

When Snoop Dogg wrapped up his smooth, electrifying set around 12:15 on Sunday night, I booked it for my car – and realized that my legs weren’t working so well. As I stumbled down the Town Ballroom’s tiny staircase on my way out, my ears ringing from the slithering funk beats of classic Snoop, I was torn by mixed feelings. On the one hand, I had just seen a hip-hop legend absolutely tear up the stage of an intimate venue. On the other, I had to stand around for four hours before it happened, during which a screening of Snoop’s straight-to-DVD turd of a superhero movie insulted my intelligence, and opening act The Constellations assaulted my ears with their half-baked acid rock. But as my review will reveal, the glass was definitely half full on this night. And it’s all due to Snoop’s still-top-notch vocal abilities.

That “Walking In Memphis” Guy

My review of last night’s Marc Cohn concert can be seen in today’s paper, or right here. While the guy’s style is way too squeaky clean for my taste, he has an awfully rich voice, and his humble, intimate set was a pleasant thing. The opener, Kristina Train, showcased a voice of a special caliber – most of my thoughts on her set were cut for space reasons, so I’ll paste ’em here: “Cohn was preceded by the singer/songwriter/fiddle player Kristina Train, whose smart, soulful performance grabbed the crowd’s attention from note one. As the Savannah, Georgia, native delivered tunes off her debut record “Spilt Milk,” her honest, bluesy voice filled the room, sounding like Feist if she had a little Gladys Knight in her diet. And while the originals were good, Train’s rendition of Carolyn Franklin’s “If You Want Me” was the high point – a playful burst of genuine R&B.”

Please sir, may I have some Mo’?

Mom and dad,

I’ve been requested to post links to my Buffalo News reviews, as opposed to plopping the text in here. So here’s a link to my review of Keb’ Mo’s performance at the Seneca Niagara Casino this past Monday. I always knew the guy was talented, a true bluesman, but was surprised at how straight-up beautiful some of his songs can be. After seeing this show, the first thing I did was download “Life is Beautiful,” and it’s been on a loop all week long. Check it.

A shot of Teshtosterone

tesh

Mom and dad,

I saw John Tesh last Saturday, and it was as painful as live music gets. Remember when Uncle Mike sang “Brick House” in a speedo at the Sweeney Summer Picnic? This was worse.

A tsk-tsk night for tepid Tesh
October 11, 2009, edition of The Buffalo News

Saturday, Oct. 10, marked the birthdays of David Lee Roth, Brett Favre and Ben Vereen.

This is the kind of information you used to be able to get from John Tesh. Now, after leaving his gig as co-host of “Entertainment Tonight” for a wildly successful career writing and performing dentist’s office music—or instrumental pop or new age, whatever you prefer— Tesh has found fame in yet another arena, as the host of a hugely popular syndicated radio show.

Called “Intelligence for Your Life Radio,” the show combines self-help talking points, fun facts and music, and judging by its success—it’s on 300 stations nationwide—a lot of people believe they aren’t intelligent enough, and that John Tesh is the man to make them smarter.

His concert Saturday night in Buffalo State College’s Rockwell Hall was a mix of his radio show schtick and music. It opened with some little self-help nuggets projected on a screen that said watching the news before work will make us more likely to have a bad day, and that hugging our kids will stimulate their brain cells and make them smarter.

Then, Tesh took the stage backed by a three-piece group of considerable ability. And they started off with a bang (at least considering the context of what was to follow). “Barcelona” brought Tesh’s sound closer to the realm of prog-rock, pairing classical piano flourishes with big guitar licks and lots of stops and starts.

This was followed by the solo piano instrumental “Heart of the Sunrise,” a song that could be described as “pretty,” only because it’s a softly played mash-up of major scales that ends with a big, high-octave trill. Tesh knows and loves this genre of playing, and I don’t, so it’s a bit unfair to criticize his style. All I’ll say is, what it possessed in accuracy, it lacked in nuance. This is fine for background music, but for something under a spotlight?

Tesh’s set continued, with some nicely delivered personal stories and pieces of intelligence for our lives. It’s no coincidence that the guy has found massive success in multiple mediums — he’s charming, deep-voiced and sure of himself, and knows how to work a crowd. One of his intelligence bits included a listing of things that are full of germs that we can’t avoid touching — e. g. hotel room remotes, restaurant menus, elevator buttons. How this is going to help me, I’m not sure.

After giving a really good tutorial on the fretless bass, explaining why it’s both a difficult and freeing instrument, Tesh played “Garden City,” another vanilla instrumental.

A few songs later, we were treated to “Trading My Sorrows,” an abysmal attempt at Springsteen-ish pop that perpetuates the stereotype that all Christian rock stinks. As Tesh sang, “Yes, Lord!” over and over again, and a hip-hop dancer did his robotic moves on the side of the stage, I must admit I was confused. Maybe if my parents had hugged me more. . . .

My mustache is true

DSCN0488My wife and I saw Elvis Costello on Saturday night, down in the Chautauqua Institution. He, along with his percussion-less band The Sugarcanes, was riveting. The country & western bent of his unfortunately titled Sweet, Profane & Sugarcane was the order of the day, and the arrangements were worthy of a Grand Ole Opry showcase. Even when the mustachioed, purple-hatted Costello dipped into his back catalog, the mix of mandolin, fiddle, dobro, guitar and accordion felt natural (“Mystery Dance,” “Blame It On Cain” and “Indoor Fireworks” being highlights for me). And a bluegrassed-up rendition of the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale” was surprisingly effective. Costello’s records aren’t quite what they used to be, but at 55 years old, he’s as endearing and talented a performer as ever.

Oh, and a memo to anybody that wants to stop for a drink at the Chautauqua Institution before a concert – you are Beezlebub himself. We sat down at a place called The Season Ticket, asked for a wine list and were treated like we had propositioned the waitress for sex. “Institution rules” state that you can’t buy an alcoholic beverage without also ordering food. And the menu listed cosmos, Bloody Marys and the like, but they all had an asterisk next to them. The corresponding asterisk let us know that all of these drinks were wine-based. A wine-based Bloody Mary? That’s just unholy.