It takes a lot of skill and commitment to deliver a high-energy glam rock show without seeming over the top, but The Struts pull it off so flawlessly it’s like part of their anatomy. From the way all four members lay into each and every endlessly catchy song, to the way frontman Luke Spiller’s perfectly tailored raiments swish and shift with him as he glides across the stage, The Struts are a machine so well-oiled you’d swear they were born to do exactly this.
We overheard another concertgoer having heated dialogue about it, echoing our own sentiments: “This guy! This guy!” he exclaimed, “He’s like Freddie Mercury and Mick Jagger rolled into one!” It’s true, and he can command an audience just as well. Not everyone can pull off a successful call and response session; or get a sweaty, sardine-packed crowd to jump and clap along. But last night’s fans were emboldened.
I used to talk in my articles about how Cleveland crowds are stoic and not easily impressed. Most bands are lucky to get a half-hearted golf clap after their songs. But not Struts fans. Oh no. These fans screamed, yelled, cheered, sang along at the tops of their lungs, raised their hands in the air, and gave back every ounce of energy the band put out to us.
The Struts took notice, too, declaring it their best Cleveland show to-date. Even new songs off their forthcoming album got the same warm welcome. “Is it good? Or is it shit?” Luke asked. I assure you, it’s every bit as good as anything off Everybody Wants. I certainly can’t wait to hear the rest of the album, and can’t wait to see them again.
Under the giant, illuminated Goodyear logo located east of downtown Akron, the polished granite, red brick and concrete exterior in the center of the rubber company’s former corporate campus looks fairly unassuming. But after walking through the doors into the Goodyear Theater, it’s easy to see why it’s attracting a diverse array of artists, including The Cult, Jason Isbell, Primus, Smashing Pumpkins and Dwight Yoakam. The spacious main hall and balcony of the latest addition to Akron’s growing musical culture captures the grandiose allure of a vintage orchestra stage hall. The character of this amazing venue was perfectly suited for one of England’s most enduring modern rock bands, Squeeze.
Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford have toured separately and together as a duo in the past, but this tour marks the return of Squeeze as a full band. Drummer Simon Hanson and keyboardist Steven Large have been performing with Glenn and Chris since the most recent formation took shape in 2007, and the recent additions of Yolanda Charles on bass and Steve Smith (from UK electronic remix outfit Dirty Vegas) on percussion helped keep the upbeat energy going between everyone on stage and in the audience.
Squeeze played a finely curated mix of trademark favorites mingled with cuts spanning their entire career. They started their set with Please Be Upstanding, a song from The Knowledge, their 15th studio album, released in October. The songs from the new album continue to showcase Tilbrook and Difford’s songwriting tandem of new wave British Soul, from upbeat pop tunes to heartfelt ballads. The new material definitely has their unique vibe as much as their past libraries of work, and adds more colors to their musical landscape. The country slide guitar on Patchouli, the operatic vocal solos of Rough Ride, and the bongo beat percussion of Albatross show Squeeze expanding and are not satisfied by standing creatively still.
With the second song of the set, they promptly moved into their classic hit, Pulling Mussels (from the Shell). Their set included a majority of songs from their 2010 album Spot the Difference, where they re-recorded their greatest hits in identical detail to the original recording. Squeeze’s live performance lived up to the same perfection with every song. They haven’t lost an ounce of the energy and vibrancy that has attracted music fans for decades.
Squeeze packed the last leg of their set with an all-star lineup of their biggest hits. The rhythm section took to the front of the stage for a rousing rendition of Take Me I’m Yours, with hand drums, marching snares, and accordion that got the crowd out of their seats. They kept the fans on their feet by bringing the show home with a rally of their best songs, including Tempted, Goodbye Girl and Up the Junction, and ultimately building up to the rapid disco keyboard melody of Slap and Tickle.
After a brief rest from their marathon performance, Squeeze returned to the stage to deliver an encore with two more of their most popular hits, Is That Love? and Black Coffee in Bed. During the final breakdown of Black Coffee in Bed, Glenn and Chris took time to introduce everyone in the band and gave them a moment to shine. The entire crowd stayed on their feet and helped end the night with a bright and soulful call and response of the song’s chorus. With a final gathering at the front of the stage, the band joined together for a final bow to Akron’s appreciative and devoted fans. Squeeze hasn’t lost a step in their stage and songwriting game, and the great response from their new material and their memorable catalog will have an incredible and expanding impact on music fans for a long time.
Dead in the center of the Rumba Cafe stage, surrounded by guitars resting on amps in a sea of wires and cables, stood Shondra. The well-worn upright piano’s wood frame is tattooed with travel character and bears scars from years of delightful punishment under the hands and heels of Low Cut Connie‘s frontman, Adam Weiner. This esteemed partner in musical crime played host as the crowd slowly filled the front of the room. It was clear to see that everyone was excited to catch the infectious energy of a Low Cut Connie stage show. This Philadelphia five-piece is known to pull off some serious antics on stage. Several fans in the crowd pointed to the large steel structural beam running overhead, extending over the center of the stage’s very low ceiling. Would they be able to rock out to maximum effect without causing serious cranial damage?
Will Donnelly (rhythm guitar), Luke Rinz (bass), Larry Scotton (drums), and Jimmy Everhart (lead guitar) filed onto the stage, limbered up, and settled into their instruments. Adam Weiner strode to center stage and straddled Shondra’s bench. After tuning up, he immediately climbed the face of Shondra and stood as tall as he could on her top, cautiously testing his head clearance.
“People of Columbus,” he shouted as he pointed to the steel rafting above him, “If I die here tonight, you’ll know why!” Then a few moments later, to cheers in the affirmative, “Are you ready to get weird tonight?!”
Everyone in the crowd was getting down as soon as Adam, Jimmy, and Will laid into their first chords. Their bluesy garage boogie sound distills the best elements of rock ‘n’ roll’s finest roots and delivers with a blast of frantic heavy soul. The entire band kept the energy high from the start and didn’t let up the duration of the set.
Low Cut Connie’s blistering set featured a solid selection of songs from Dirty Pictures, Part 1, their new album due out May 19, including Dirty Water, Am I Wrong, and the album’s first single Revolution Rock n Roll. Mixed between this tour-de-force were fan favorites from their past three albums, including Shake It Little Tina, Me N Annie, Boozophilia, and Rio.
Adam Weiner commanded the stage as he pounded, stood upon, leaned across, and backbended over Shondra’s sturdy frame. His daring keyboard acrobatics recall the showmanship of Jerry Lee Lewis combined with the glitter blues style of David Bowie, Marc Bolan, and Elton John. Adam conquered the crowd with the same outrageous intensity of Mick Jagger mixed with the soulful sex appeal of Prince. He didn’t hesitate to join the party on the floor and get down with those in attendance. The whole crowd was totally into the whole vibe for the entire night. They grooved and danced with smiling partners, sang along to nearly every song in the set, and lifted their glasses in cheer and praise.
It was hard to believe that this was Low Cut Connie’s first time in Columbus. Based on the incredible reaction from everyone in the room, it was easy to see that their music knows no bounds. The band took a moment to thank the welcoming support from long-standing and new fans alike, and the local radio station for their continued support to “help us little guys.”
“Without you,” said Adam, “we can’t compete with Bieber and Twenty One Pilots.” He reached his hands out to the crowd and shared some gospel truth: “Columbus, I swear to you, I swear to everyone here, if you stick together, if you stick with LCC, you’ll never lose!”
The night drew to a close, but Low Cut Connie showed no signs of letting up. “We’re gonna do something kinda fucked up,” Adam said, with a wry smile. “Something from my favorite band in New Jersey, who got together for like five seconds.” And with that, they launched into a ferocious rendition of “Where Eagles Dare” by The Misfits, chanting the chorus, “I ain’t no God damned son of a bitch,” at the top of their lungs. Following that surprise, they laid into the staccato, funky rhythm of the classic Prince hit, “Controversy.” The rest of LCC continued to jam out as Adam jumped down to spread his sexy mojo into crowd, giving hugs and high-fives in every corner of the floor.
Low Cut Connie once again made a new congregation of freaky believers to spread their lively message far and wide. With their upbeat groove and electrifying stage presence, don’t miss an opportunity to see this band live. You won’t regret it.
No one knew David Bowie was dying. When he assembled Tony Visconti and jazz saxophonist Danny McCaslin in 2015 to work on the album Blackstar, he kept his growing cancer a secret from his band. He insisted on recording live with the full band. His mouth opened up with the now classic lyric from Lazarus: “Look up here/I’m in heaven,” and the band played on. Whatever doubts, questions, regrets or fears he felt as cancer shut down his liver, he expressed as he said everything in his life through music. Mystery and excitement were the hallmarks of a wide and varied recorded and performance output. But then, within days of Blackstar’s release, the unavoidable happened to the surprise of friends, fans and collaborators.
No one who has seen Brian Wilson on this most recent tour will be surprised.
This was my sixth time in the last twenty years seeing Brian Wilson in concert, hereafter referred to affectionately by just his first name. Brian, the sad, chubby guy at the piano, singing about surfing for half a century. Brian, with melodies and harmonies that came straight from God. Brian, who when he looks in the mirror, sees his late brothers every day. Brian, whose songs have dug themselves into my heart since birth. My parents were fans, and played his music often growing up. His expression of innocence is my own innocence. I like “Fun, Fun, Fun.” I’ve covered Surfer Girl with my band. Caroline, No hit me right as I discovered girls could be sad.
I include these things in the preface to draw out a distinction between Brian and pretty much every other artist in existence. You listen to Brian with your heart. Sure, in attendance last week were those old rich people who will see any live act to cross them off a bucket list. They were listening with their wallets. Also, there were maybe a couple of nerdy music students who can parse out every harmonic interval and key change, and appreciate them for the innovations that he brought to early 1960s 1-4-5 pop music. They listen to Brian with their well-trained ears.
But I think Brian really lives in the hearts of people who love his songs. I think of my mom, who when she hears the intro to I Get Around starts waving her hands to the beat and start singing, even if she can’t get up to dance any more. There is a purity in her joy that grew from the seed Brian planted. Being my mother’s son on many different levels, I can’t say I reacted any differently last week, dancing in my seat, and bringing an embarrassed smile to my wife. I love these songs, and his band is able to execute them in such a way that hits that button reliably, year after year. There’s a lot of people like my mom out there.
She couldn’t make it this time. My mom has been sick for a while, and in all honesty, will probably be this sick until she dies. I wheeled her to that 2012 Beach Boys reunion show at Blossom, and she couldn’t stay the full time, so we left early. Even in the parking lot, she could hear the distant strains of Do You Wanna Dance? and thought about staying a little longer. I told her I was going to this show last week, and some part of her thinks maybe she could have managed to go, somehow, someway, but decided against it.
Brian had to be walked out to his piano. I’m pretty certain he didn’t actually play the thing. He often started songs, with a voice pure but short, and then handed off the second verse to a younger singer. He’s sick. Any armchair doctor could suggest possible diagnoses, but who cares? He can’t walk, he can barely sing. He’s going to die.
The disconnect between Brian’s sadness and the sunniness of the Beach Boys sound is a turning point. When you unlock that mystery, the world opens up a little more; it’s a little fuller, more real. The program was a complete performance of his 1966 album Pet Sounds with its aching centerpiece I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times. He mostly spoke the lyrics, but his heart was heavy. He’s waited fifty more years, and it’s still not his time. It’s important to note the distinction between “sadness” and “darkness.” Another great legend of song who left us last year, Leonard Cohen, said until the very end “You want it darker.” That’s never true for Brian. As sad as he can be, confronted with abuse and drugs and death, he never let darkness pull him. His music continues to be filled with love and joy.
Is Brian being exploited? It wouldn’t be the first time. Leonard Cohen resumed touring in the 2010s because bad managers left him broke and touring was the best source of income. Brian’s struggles with managers, starting with his own father Murray and continuing on to Eugene Landy, are also well known. Under his wife Melinda’s guidance, he appears to be financially stable, but there might be more people with their livelihoods tied to the Brian Wilson touring industry.
I bring this up because I think the answer hints at why this show last week was so great. I think Brian was up there not to make money but because he loves us. I can clearly see the scene in my mind. Brian gets some bad health news, and he says to his family “I think people want to hear these songs one more time, and if I can give to them, I should do it.” He knows it’s going to be hard. He knows his voice isn’t what it used to be. But he’s a giver, and when faced with hard times, he does what he knows he can do.
The only reason this works is because whatever Brian has given us, has given me, we’ve all repaid him more. What hope exists in this man? What faith? To launch his sadness into the void with just some pretty chords and harmonies. But it’s worked every time. His voice has landed on my fertile ears, who return not just the adoration of a rock star, but true genuine love.
The set last week closed with Love and Mercy, the title of a recent biopic, but the song is from the 1980s. He’s closed with it the last few times I’ve seen him, and I think that’s by his design. It’s a piano ballad about a dopey man going through his day, watching movies and getting dinner and trying to make people happy. Brian has always put himself openly and completely in everything he’s done, but this is Brian 2017. “Love and Mercy to you and your friends tonight.”
Best known for his talents as the lead singer and songwriter of Toad The Wet Sprocket, Glen Phillips has continued to perform as an independent artist focused on honest storytelling and compelling songwriting. The latest stop on tour in support of his latest album, Swallowed by the New, was to a packed but chilly crowd at Cleveland’s Music Box Supper Club. The biting cold and rain on a wintery March night couldn’t stop his passionate fans from sitting in on this show.
But first, wrapped in comfy scarf, blue dress and rose cowboy boots, Amber Rubarth took the stage and warmed up the icy crowd with a selection of acoustic numbers. The comforting blend of indie country and folk rock from her upcoming new album Wildflowers in the Graveyard were lovely and her light, soft voice captured the intimacy and strength of her songs. Even her gentle spin on REM’s Losing My Religion recast the classic song in a new light. Later in the set, the crowd got a preview of Glen Phillips as he joined Amber onstage for a stirring guitar and vocal duet. Amber will be returning next month for the Cleveland International Film Festival in support of her starring role in the movie “September 12th.” The film discusses people’s compassion and coming together following the events of September 11th. Amber and co-star Joe Purdy will perform after the screening in Tower City on April 1st and 3rd.
Glen Philips was excited to finally feel better for once. After just getting over a recent bout of sickness, he was finally able to let loose, bringing smiles and laughs to the crowd and his friends onstage. Joined by talented musicians/songwriters Amber Rubarth and fellow Toad collaborator Jonathan Kingham, Glen featured a majority of the tracks from Swallowed by the New, while taking time to weave their stories and settings between songs. At one point, he told the story of how Baptistina was named for the original source of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, only to find out the source was later disproven.
Even though Phillips’ songs are emotional, the night was filled with fun and good spirits. His priceless reaction after his mention that the tour would be ending in Pittsburgh the following night was met with jeers and boos. “Is it a sports thing?” he asked innocently, before getting briefly educated about the infamous rivalry between the two cities. He started a new song, only to stop and remark, “You know, back in the day, this kind of hate was reserved for someone else breaking into your town and stealing all your sheep or something.”
The standout moment of the night belonged to Jonathan Kingham. Before turning the stage over to Kingham for a song, Phillips asked the crowd what they wanted to hear him play. Unanimously, we voted for “funky freestyle,” which Kingham obliged with a solo acoustic version of Every Little Step by Bobby Brown, complete with dance breakdown and off-the-dome freestyle lyrics. Bars included having the meatsweats from his pre-show shortrib dinner, and apologizing to the guy stage right for having to pay full price for a seat with a direct view of his ass all night. “You won’t normally see that at a Glen Phillips show!” he quipped at song’s end.
Glen’s voice is still as distinct and expressive as ever, with touching and tragic lyrics about love, loss, faith, his divorce, and hope combined with his signature folk-inspired songwriting. Even while Glen admitted on stage that “my songs are mainly about how sad I am,” each song of the evening’s set illustrated a wide range of feeling: from the forlorn lighthouse love song in the album’s opening song Go — which muses that sometimes the most loving thing you can do for someone is to let them go — to the closing inspirational, stomping, hymnal chorus of Held Up. Glen also played several popular songs and fan favorites from his Toad The Wet Sprocket years, including All I Want, Walk On The Ocean, and an encore crowd request of Crowing that got the room singing along and ended the evening on a high note.