Bon Iver: From Medford to Madrid in Five Short Years

by kel 28. June 2012 13:59

It's hard to believe that Justin Vernon's Bon Iver project originated a mere five years ago. What started as a solo flight has become more of a group effort with Vernon being joined by Sean Carey (drums, vocals, piano), Michael Noyce (vocals, baritone guitar, guitar), and Matthew McCaughan (bass, drums, vocals). That helped solve the problem of replicating the layered vocals for live shows — no long necessary was the audience participation that Vernon encouraged early on.

Within a few months of Bon Iver's July 2007 independent debut of For Emma, Forever Ago, the band had caught the favorable ear of Pitchfork and had landed on the CMJ Music Marathon stage, followed in short order by a deal with Jagjaguwar Records for an official release in the U.S. in early 2008 with 4AD handling Europe come May.

Critics from near and far fell over each other in their attempts to boast about the record. Mojo, Metacritic, Uncut, The Village Voice, Stereogum, Rolling Stone, and others all shouted Bon Iver's praises from their respective rooftops. Film and television placements — the likes of House, The United States of Tara, One Tree Hill, Chuck, Grey's Anatomy, and others — helped push things along,

With the live band fleshed out even further with Rob Moose (violin and guitar) and Mike Lewis (bass), as well as a horn section including Reginald Pace, Colin Stetson, and C.J. Camerieri, Bon Iver hit festivals like Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, Coachella, Sasquatch, Glastonbury, South by Southwest, and more.

In 2009, in the midst of all the hullabaloo, Bon Iver issued the Blood Bank EP which is comprised of four tunes that counter For Emma's wintry goodness with a sort of pulsing warmth. Then, as if they needed more street cred, Bon Iver collaborated with St. Vincent on “Roslyn” for the New Moon soundtrack in 2009. On top of that, to gain some truly mainstream recognition, they teamed with Kanye West on a couple of cuts in 2010 — “Lost in the World” and “Monster” from West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

By 2011, it was time for a new release and so was born Bon Iver, Bon Iver via the GOOD Music label. Each song of the cycle represents a place and a coinciding vibe, from “Perth” to “Calgary.” Vernon built the basic tracks and then allowed top-tier session players to fill them out as they would. The result debuted at number two on the Billboard album charts and earned Bon Iver four Grammy Award nominations — Best New Artist, Best Alternative Music Album for Bon Iver, and both Song of the Year and Record of the Year for "Holocene." The group took home trophies in the first two categories topping stellar acts like Radiohead, My Morning Jacket, and Death Cab for Cutie.

As 2012 wears on, Bon Iver has a bunch of tour dates in both Europe and the United States. From early July until mid-August, they will be overseas. Among the cities, Bon Iver plays Hamburg, Cologne, Paris, Luxembourg, Lisbon, Barcelona, and Lyon. Stuttgart hosts Bon Iver to close July, with Vienna, Helsinki, Gothenburg, and Oslo standing as the only dates slated for August.

The U.S. leg kicks off on September with Bon Iver in Providence. Boston, Columbia, Philadelphia, and Cooperstown get Bon Iver over the following five days.

Then comes a four-night stand at Radio City Music Hall as Bon Iver takes New York City by storm September 19-22. After about a month off, it's back to Europe for Vernon and the gang for performances in Lisbon, Madrid, Milan, Zurich, Antwerp, Copenhagen, Berlin, Amsterdam, London, Manchester, Glasgow, and Dublin, where they wrap up on November 12.

The Palacio Vista Alegre in Madrid, Spain, may be a long way from the cabin in Medford, Wisconsin, where Justin Vernon first visioned Bon Iver, but it's along a natural trajectory for someone so phenomenally talented.



Journey Keeps Their Great Songs Alive for Another Tour

by kel 25. June 2012 10:15

Great songs stand the test of time and can survive — even uplift — the sorriest of singers. But when those songs are built on the back of a great singer in a cool band, replacing said singer can throw the songs' into peril. Imagine the Rolling Stones doing “Satisfaction” or “Brown Sugar” without Mick Jagger. Or even the Bangles putting a voice other than Susanna Hoffs' on “Manic Monday” or “Eternal Flame.”

Still, time and again, rock bands replace their front men and hope no one notices. Some have worked out — think AC/DC, Alice in Chains, and Faith No More. Van Halen did okay bringing in Sammy Hagar to fill the gaping hole left by David Lee Roth ... until Diamond Dave made his return much to the delight of the purists. Same goes for Judas Priest using Tim Owens in Rob Halford's wake — it's just a better band with the original voice.

But some, like INXS, have pretty much missed the mark. Michael Hutchence's charisma can't be replicated. Sublime's replacement of Brad Nowell with Rome Ramirez after Nowell's death even crossed into legal implications, forcing the band to bill themselves as Sublime with Rome.

Another questionable recasting involves Journey. Despite all the best efforts, Steve Perry's soaring voice just can't be touched. Steve Augeri was the initial recruit in 1998 when Perry had to back out of a planned reunion tour due to an injured hip. During a 2006 tour with Def Leppard, Augeri got the boot and took his chronic throat infection with him. (Perry made it look easy, didn't he?)

Jeff Scott Soto served as a temporary fill-in voice for a year. Finally, in late 2007, Arnel Pineda signed on. Guitarist Neal Schon found him on YouTube covering Journey tunes with his band The Zoo. Although the band's first album with him, Revelation, debuted at number five on the Billboard album charts, the Filipino's presence at center stage brought out the racists among the fan base even though the very black Randy Jackson (yes, he of American Idol fame) had played bass with the group for a couple of years in the mid-80s with little backlash.

By most accounts, Pineda has done a decent job filling Perry's shoes. Revelation went platinum and their 2008 supporting tour was one of the highest grossing of the year. Eclipse followed in 2011 and entered the album charts at number 13. And, so, the songs endure, new and old, alike, as Journey carries the torch forward well into the 21st century.

Judge for yourself in Pineda is up to Perry's standards with these comparison performances:

Though next year will mark 40 years since their 1973 founding, Journey is pulling out quite a few stops this year by plotting a tour with Pat Benatar and Loverboy. The trek kicks off on July 21 and hits 24 cities. All three acts are on all but one date; Benatar will not appear in Sturgis, South Dakota.

Among the stops for Journey are San Bernadino, Stateline, and Paso Robles in California. Quite a few state fairs show up on the itinerary — five, actually. In addition to the California Mid-State Fair gig in Paso Robles, Journey hits Indianapolis, Louisville, Des Moines, and Saint Paul for state fairs.

Betwixt and between those performances, the Journey/Benatar/Loverboy tour plays The Gorge outside of Seattle on July 28, Jones Beach in Wantagh on August 10, and Waterfront Park in Bangor on September 29 as just a few of the very cool venues on the slate.

On October 13, West Palm Beach hosts Journey and company for the final show of the tour. No doubt the set lists for all of the concerts will feature such classic Journey tunes as “Don't Stop Believin',” “Open Arms,” “Girl Can't Help It,” and “Send Her My Love” because they are also great songs.



Fiona Apple Breaks Seven-Year Silence with 'The Idler Wheel...'

by kel 24. June 2012 11:07

A week ago on Twitter, LOST and Prometheus writer Damon Lindelof, among others, issued a barrage of tweets under the #BelievableFionaAppleRumors hashtag. Things like “Fiona Apple has a PC” bumped into jokes about the Garden of Eden. Lesser-known Twitter users chimed in with jabs about Fiona's son marrying Chris Martin's daughter, Apple, and the like.

It was all in good fun and all in response to the flurry of press and buzz marking the release of her new album — the succinctly titled The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do —and tour. It seems this song cycle was recorded a number of years ago and languished on the shelves of Sony Music. The Idler Wheel... follows on her last release, Extraordinary Machine, from seven years ago. Apple claims that an abundance of housework — vacuuming and laundry, specifically — keep her too busy to write and record very often. After all, she's only offered up four albums in a career than spans 16 years.

Melancholy, if not outright torment, has always defined Apple's music and The Idler Wheel... is no exception to that rule. American Songwriter used words like “brutal and true” to describe the collection that includes, in fact, at least one brutal truth buried in the tune “Valentine” — Fiona Apple used to cut herself to feel something. In an interview with Interview, she also confessed to biting her lip until it split and scratching her neck until it bled.

Despite — or, perhaps, because of — the darkness, The Idler Wheel... has been garnering glowing reviews as Apple has always been something of a critical darling. In addition to “brutal and true,” descriptors such as exquisite, confessional, temperamental, and eccentric dot the album's reviews.

And her upcoming Fall tour has her legions of fans standing at eager attention. Most certainly, Apple has come a long way since her 1996 debut at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. The shy, awkward 18-year-old has matured into something of a powerhouse, fearless and true. Come September 9, she'll sway any remaining doubters in the crow.

The trek begins with Fiona Apple in San Jose and ends 21 shows later with Apple in Pittsburgh on October 11. In between, she'll return to Austin — where she previewed some songs earlier this year at the South by Southwest Festival. This time, though, Fiona plays Austin City Limits at Moody Theater on September 20.

Among the other stops, Fiona Apple hits San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and Oceanside in California, broken up only by a swing out to Las Vegas on September 15. Then it's across the lower regions of the U.S. After Mesa, Austin, and Thackerville, Fiona lands in New Orleans. She'll then jaunt up to North Carolina for two gigs before dipping back into Florida for three.

Louisville, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Buffalo host Fiona Apple just prior to her closing in Pittsburgh. Huge swaths of the country remained untouched by this round, including the Northeast, Midwest, and Pacific Northwest. It should be safe to assume that if all goes as well as hoped, those markets will get a taste of Apple soon enough.



Elton John, Neil Diamond, Other Pop Icons Keep Music Nostalgia at Bay

by kel 18. June 2012 17:16

With so many throwback acts on the road for the past few years – Def Leppard, Steve Winwood, Chicago, the Eagles, Ringo Starr, and more – it's easy to get oversaturated by the nostalgia. But, then, Whitney Houston, Dick Clark, Adam Yauch, Donna Summer, and Doc Watson die, and the nostalgia seems all-the-more warranted. Luckily enough, this summer's touring slate is chock full of old-timers come back around; so maybe it's time to take advantage of the opportunities to revel in the glory days one more time ... before it's too late.

Barry Manilow is finally starting to show his age, despite every possible effort to hide it. As Manilow creeps closer to his 69th birthday in June, he's finishing up a spate of tour dates, some of which had been postponed due to the hip surgery he had last December. His recovery took longer than expected, so a number of performances were jiggered about to accommodate his health. This was his second round of such surgery, having had both hips worked on back in 2006.

Sure, Manilow has been slowed a bit by the ravages of time, but he's still a consummate performer. Coming off a two-night stand at Radio City Music Hall last week and headed to the UK next, Manilow responded to the throngs of screaming female voices in the middle of a recent show in Oakland with “Yep, I’ve still got it.”

Neil Diamond turned 71 a few months ago but is still raring to go. The native New Yorker appeared at his first-ever Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade last fall, was among the recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors last winter, and has more than two months worth of tour dates booked for this summer. He also threw in a 23-song collection titled The Very Best of Neil Diamond: The Original Studio Recordings just for good measure.

And, just to show that he's as current as an old man can be, he used Twitter to proclaim,"Look out USA and Canada, here we come again! See you in Summer 2012, this is going to be the big one!"

Jimmy Buffett, who clocks in at only 65, seems downright youthful in this contingent – to the point that, just last week, he filled in for an ailing Eddie Vedder at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. After that, Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band will pick up where they left off on their Lounging at the Lagoon Tour. They recently added more 2012 dates to the trek with shows sprinkled across June, July, and August.

But that's not all Buffett has on his plate. His collaboration with the Zac Brown Band on “Knee Deep” earned him a CMT Music Award for Collaborative Video of the Year; he's made several guest appearances on the new Hawaii Five-O; he did a duet with Lionel Ritchie of “All Night Long” for Ritchie's lastest CD release; and he's opening a casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. That's a lot of working for a fellow well into his retirement years.

Roger Waters, at 68, is getting back to his roots and touring The Wall once again. Rare is the live performance of one of rock music's most iconic pieces. Upon releasing The Wall in 1980, Pink Floyd stage it live only 29 times. When the Berlin Wall fell a decade later, Waters resurrected the opus with a cast of non-Floyd performers. Then, after another two decades, Waters added another 120 notches to The Wall's belt.

That was over the span of 2010-11. In 2012, 69 more performances were being tacked on to take the total over 200 ... in some 32 years. Beginning back in February, Waters took The Wall to Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, the United States, and Canada. The trek runs into mid-July.

Elton John, also weighing in at the 65-year-old mark, has kept mixed company for the past few years of touring escapades. One year, he chose Leon Russell (70) as his partner in crime; the next, it was Billy Joel (62). Regardless of who sits at the piano across the stage from him, Sir Elton's music – and everything else about him – operate outside of time and space. He's a timeless classic that way.

Elton has filled his summer to fall calendar with a run of The Million Dollar Piano at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, nearly two months' worth of performances in Europe, and a bunch of shows in North America.

In the latter category, Elton John plays Jackson, Mississippi, on September 11, followed by a stop in Huntsville, Alabama. A few days later, Sir Elton hits Tampa, Florida, Savannah, Georgia, and Johnson City, Tennessee, all in a row.

The last performance in the Southeast finds Elton John in Wheeling, West Virginia, on September 18. Come October, He's back at the Colosseum for another string of Million Dollar Piano shows.



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