Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Toon's Tunes best of 2013: concerts, albums, audience and more

It's the last day of (another) year, and as everyone else does, I suppose I'd better create a "best of" the year that was (only limited by my opinion, and my experience!) It's a tough one, as it's been a year packed full of diverse and different and new and wonderfully-faithful things. And I'm sure I've missed some... you can always look back through Toon's Tunes for more. Lots of links to click below!

BEST WEEKEND, BEST LIVE VIDEO, MOST TRAVELLED FANS and BEST FAN EXPERIENCE all have to go to Marillion for the bi-annual conventions or "Marillion Weekends". Wonderful, wonderful concerts. The Wolverhampton, UK weekend was the third of the three held this year. In 2015, I hope to attend all three. So many fans from so many countries, coming together to see and hear their favourite band of all time. The live video--or rather, videos: first, Clocks Already Ticking, the world-record-breaking recording and publishing of a live concert, from the first night of the Wolverhampton weekend. And second, the live video of Brave in its entirety. Both beautifully played, recorded, mastered and produced.
ALISON TOON: Marillion Saturday &emdash; Marillion weekend Wolverhampton 2013 Brave live

I've seen many other music videos this year, but none live up to the quality of these two. Also, the Marillion fan experience through the website, Facebook page and other interaction has created, over time, a huge-yet-personal global family. People who have come together through a love of the music, and who have grown together into a close-knit group who will support each other in times of need and in times of innovation. (Example: Steve Rothery's project is just one.) Other bands, take note and learn from some true masters.

ALISON TOON: Marillion Saturday &emdash; Marillion weekend Wolverhampton 2013 Brave live

BEST ALBUM and BEST ALBUM ARTWORK:  Lux, by Gemini Syndrome. I had the pleasure of seeing Gemini Syndrome twice this year: once in Nevada, once at Aftershock in Sacramento. Lux is at the top of my new-in-2013 album list because every single song is a gem. See the full review of both Lux and Gemini Syndrome at Aftershock and if you haven't heard it yet, what are you waiting for???

ALISON TOON: Gemini Syndrome in Sparks &emdash; Gemini Syndrome live Sparks 2013

Other very, very noteworthy albums from 2013: Orthodox by Beware of Darkness, and the stunning two-release set from Five Finger Death Punch, The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, volumes one and two.

Which leads me to my SURPRISE BAND OF THE YEAR: a band that I really hadn't listened to much before Aftershock's lineup was announced, but who I have been playing non-stop ever since: Five Finger Death Punch (5FDP, FFDP) of course. Added to the list of bands-who-I-will-travel-a-long-way-to-see.

ALISON TOON: Five Finger Death Punch &emdash; Five Finger Death Punch (FFDP, 5FDP) live at Aftershock Festival 2013

BEST FESTIVAL OR CONCERT SERIES:  Monster Energy Aftershock 2013. Just amazing. What a lineup. Stunning. Can't wait for Aftershock 2014. If you need a summary, go watch Aftershock TV on the Aftershock 2013 website.

MOST ENTERTAINING AUDIENCE: Without a doubt, the People of Aftershock. Awesome job guys, truly awesome!
ALISON TOON: People having fun &emdash; People of Aftershock 2013

BEST TRIPJamaica! Not only was it a wonderful vacation, but the month before and after was filled with reggae shows, making it so much more than a trip to the beach. Leading the reggae shows this year, the Wailers on February 9th. And I'm looking forwards to seeing them again very soon; playing all of Legend, here in Sacramento, March 20th.

BEST OLDIE-BUT-GOODY: Blue Oyster Cult who performed at the Sunrise at Night concert series in Citrus Heights. I really, really enjoyed their show.

BEST COUNTRY SHOW: OK I didn't see many, but my favourite has to be Trace Adkins. His down-in-the-cowboy-boots voice just does something special. Maybe I'll explore Country further in 2014: Trace and LeAnn Rimes really opened my ears in 2013.

ALISON TOON: Trace Adkins &emdash; Trace Adkins live 2013

BEST MUSIC BOOKS: While I have read (or tried-very-hard to read--more on that later) many musicians biographies/autobiographies this year, and looked at a lot of concert photographers' publications, two books really stand out as the best I've seen in 2013. 9:30 to Fillmore, photographic memories which was published in 2013 and which is a beautiful documentary of a US tour, and Roger Steffen's Reggae Scrapbook, which was not published in 2013 but which I only saw and read after his storytelling at the Wailers' concert. So while it doesn't really count in this list, but I have to mention it again, as it's a true work of art in both documentation and unique presentation.

Remember: all of Toon's Tunes' concert photography can be viewed at http://alisontoon.com/music There are many more photos than can be included in individual reviews. Any band looking for a promotional photoshoot, go to http://www.alisontoon.com/contact.html

2014? What will you bring? I'm looking forwards to finding out. Happy New Year, everyone!

Monday, December 30, 2013

And now for something completely different...

... no, not Monty Python, but something else in my quest to experience American culture. We never had this in England when I was a kid, nor anywhere else I've lived... it's going to be quite a show and a brand new experience for me! What is it? It's Monster Jam.

With names like Grave Digger(R), Bad Habit and Bounty Hunter, you might think I'm going to see a few heavy metal bands, but no... it's Monster Jam, and it's coming to Sleep Train Arena on January 17-19. Tickets are on sale now starting at $20 for adults and $5 for children (as posted on the website today). And you can get pit passes too!

 I'll remind you about it closer to the time. Anyone want to come with me? I'll write a review after the event and there should be some photos, too. If you see that I've then replaced my truck's tyres and jacked it up, you'll know I'm hooked.

(In exchange for my blogging about Monster Jam, Feld Entertainment has provided me with complimentary tickets to the show. All opinions on Toon's Tunes are totally and utterly mine unless stated otherwise, and that has never happened.)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Beware of Darkness lighten-up Sacramento: unorthodox Orthodox

Yesterday, Rolling Stone magazine reviewed Beware of Darkness' just-released video, All Who Remain. But on Sunday evening, we saw them performing live here in Sacramento, at the Ace of Spades, last date of their current tour, ending a very-musical and successful year in which the indie-rock band saw their first album released ("Orthodox"), tours with Skunk Anansie and Smashing Pumpkins, nominations as best new band (Classic Rock Magazine), and performances at the UK festivals in Reading and Leeds.

ALISON TOON: Beware of Darkness 2013 &emdash; Beware of Darkness live in Sacramento

ALISON TOON: Beware of Darkness 2013 &emdash; Beware of Darkness live in Sacramento
Their show on Sunday just made me want to continue hearing and seeing more of them. From the first time seeing them at Aftershock 2012, and then hearing Orthodox, and again live this week, their talent just continues to grow. Kyle Nicolaides unmistakable voice leads the three-man band through rock ("Howl") to something as quietly beautiful and solo as "Hummingbird"--a range of tempos and melodies that most bands wouldn't dare after ten years on the road. 

Yet here we have three young men--Nicolaides with vocals, lead guitar, and keys, Daniel Curcio so tranquil on bass, and Tony Cupito like Animal on drums (and yes, that is the ultimate drummer compliment).

ALISON TOON: Beware of Darkness 2013 &emdash; Beware of Darkness live in Sacramento

If you need a last-minute Christmas gift for someone, go buy them Orthodox from your usual online store. It's not too late. For all your music-lover friends... rock, indie, R&B... heck even the Leonard Cohen fans will get a kick from the lyrics.

ALISON TOON: Beware of Darkness 2013 &emdash; Beware of Darkness live in Sacramento

Seriously... this is a band with a future. Keep listening.

Thank you guys for another wonderful show. Hope to see you again soon.

For more pictures from the show at Sacramento's Ace of Spades on December 22nd, see http://alisontoon.com/bewareofdarkness2013 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Robb Torres, new solo EP: Something About You Ain't Right

I first heard Rob Torres play guitar when Trapt came to town last year. Since then, he's moved on to something better, gone solo, and recently released an EP: Something About You Ain't Right.

Five songs: the title track, Something About You Ain't Right, Girl I Wanna, Out Here, What Do You Believe In, and Little Too Late.

Smoother, kinder and more rock'n'roll/old-school rhythm'n'blues than Trapt, this is very much Rob's own music. My personal favourites are Out Here, as it gently swells in intensity, and the more folorn Little Too Late.

The EP is available on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/something-about-you-aint-right/id726690123 and here's a quick preview:

Carol of the Bells: this is how you make a carol your own...

Marillion just released Carol of the Bells as a single. You can buy it on iTunes or Amazon. (I've linked to the USA version--you'll need to go to your local site.) Please do go and buy a copy: the money is going to a very good cause.

And go to Marillion.com for a better way of life!

For other Christmas (or "holiday", if you prefer) recordings, see http://alison-toon.blogspot.com/2013/12/trace-adkins-kings-gift-christma-carols.html. And maybe check out Rob Halford's Winter Songs while you're at it too.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Jack Russell's Great White, Sacramento 13th December--a review

Great White are another of those major American rock bands that I somehow missed out on during their hair-band heyday.

I didn't listen to Guns N' Roses much either back then, nor the other bands that were of the same genre: Poison, Aerosmith, Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Cinderella... I was probably too busy listening to Sisters of Mercy instead. So, hearing that Jack Russell was coming to town, with his new band, but playing legacy and familiar songs, I wanted to be there and see what I'd missed--and to see another on-stage survivor in action.

Jack Russell's Great White live in Sacramento 2013

Jack looked, and sounded, good. His signature high-register vocals and Rod-Stewart-esque microphone manipulation. His interaction with his new, strong and musical young band members. His stage presence. This was the real show that I'd been waiting for, all evening. He made the wait worthwhile.

Shame there wasn't a bigger audience.

Jack Russell's Great White live in Sacramento 2013

I was hoping to photograph a happy Jack on stage, making his good music: my perception of the man and his music, not a tabloid story. I know he's been through hell, and he's not the only one. There are far-too-many stories out there, people and writers handing out their version of the truth. I'm not going to rehash any of that here. Every day is a new day.

And indeed, Jack Russell was that happy guy last night, on stage at the Ace of Spades in Sacramento.

For more photos from last night's show at the Ace of Spades, Sacramento, go to the gallery: http://alisontoon.com/jackrussellgreatwhite

Jack Russell's Great White live in Sacramento 2013

Jack Russell's Great White in Sacramento: the supporting bands

I almost didn't stay for Jack Russell's Great White show last night. <--Click that link for the show.

If I had not promised to cover Jack Russell's show here, on Toon's Tunes, with photos, I would have left--run, even--during the first support act. I'd have left during the second support act... and even if I'd made it that far, I would have left during the third support act. I could have been at home in the warm, watching Brave Live or some BBC crime series on TV and drinking a mug of hot chocolate.

It was seriously the worst set of supporting bands I've seen in a very long time, and I was really happy I'd remembered my earplugs and the way to the restroom to hide.

Sigh. I don't like writing that; I prefer to be English and to say "sorry" and to be indirect with criticism that might be misconstrued as positive feedback. This is emphatically not positive, but I'll try to make it direct.

Let's try again.

First band: the young woman guitar player had the right idea; some Yngwie-like riffs on a seven-string, and a calm but confident stage presence. The bass player, however, made me want to quickly scribble and hold up big signs saying, "Find out how to play the darn instrument, before you play-out the Rock Star", or, "Rip your shirt off AFTER you've been to the gym, not before. Please.", or "Friends don't let their bass player leave them stranded on stage". Please...  go back to the garage. Stay there. Please.

Second band were more mature, more fun, and obviously had long-time fans in the small crowd. OK maybe I wouldn't have left during their act. My opinion had just been tainted by what had come before. They played decent old-school rock. A bit like you used to find in Working Mens' Clubs in the UK on a Saturday night.

Third band: strong vocals and a bass player who knew how to play the stage and the audience. But overall, they just didn't do much for me, at all. I couldn't find the melody. I'm not sure that the band did, either, at least not all the way through the set.

Sigh... I wasn't even interested enough to work out which-band-of-the-three-was-which. And as none of them except the second band clearly introduced themselves, and not one labeled their drum kits like most bands do, I guess it really wasn't that important to them, either.

Sorry. (British sorry.) My fault. I'll do better next time. Sorry...

(I will put photos of these bands up on http://alisontoon.com/music once I work out who is what and which is which. Might not be today or this week.)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Ed Kowalczyk: from doughnuts (donuts) in Denver to acoustic in Sacramento

I first heard Ed Kowalczyk's voice in May 1995.

It was my first-ever trip to the USA. I'd left behind a vivid and vibrant green spring in Grenoble, France, and arrived to find a bleak, grey, bare-tree and wintery Denver. I'd left the warm conference hotel to explore the city and to buy breakfast, and I'd just experienced the stupid-customer treatment from the woman in the doughnut store. ("I'd like a coffee and a doughnut, please," I said, quite innocently, British accent and all. Where I came from there were two types of doughnuts: those with a hole, and those without. "Yeah, right. A donut. You want a donut." She looked at me like something that had just hatched and wasn't cute. I was obviously a foreign idiot who not only talked weird, but didn't know how to buy breakfast. I looked down in embarrassment, and only then noticed that there were a million different donuts and cakes (I know now they are "muffins") on display: frosted and sugared and chocolate-covered and sprinkled and cinnamon and apple and goodness-knows-what else...

ALISON TOON: Ed Kowalczyk &emdash; Ed Kowalczyk at the Assembly, Sacramento, 2013
Intimidated, I chose the most familiar-looking ball of fried dough. Then we had to repeat the whole process all over again, this time for a simple coffee. In France and England at that time, a coffee was just a coffee. It wasn't a grande-latte-decaff-nofat anything. It was just coffee. Black or white? Sugar? Simple binary choices with direct and simple answers.

(I hadn't yet experienced asking for salad. The salad-dressing-list-of-confusion was being saved up to ambush me later in the week.)

Bear with me: I'll get to the point of this review in a moment.

Suitably chastened, and clutching my hard-earned coffee (house, black, no sugar, tall) and donut (plain, sugared, in a bag), I retreated somewhere much safer--the music store on the other side of the downtown pedestrian street. It was warm, it was familiar... and it was filled with a really great voice and a song that was immediately familiar, even though I'd never heard Live or Ed Kowalczyk before.

The guy in the music store was much more helpful than Ms. Donut. I left the store with copies of both Throwing Copper and Mental Jewelry. (Either Live hadn't been heard in Europe then, or I'd somehow missed them... and they became firm favourites for many years. I still play them to this day.)

ALISON TOON: Ed Kowalczyk &emdash; Ed Kowalczyk at the Assembly, Sacramento, 2013

Last night, Ed Kowalczyk performed alone, with no band, no accompanist, no-one on stage with him, bringing a new meaning to "I Alone". Just Ed, two microphones, and a set of guitars. He entranced the enthusiastic audience at Sacramento's Assembly, performing songs from back-in-the-day Live right through to those from his latest solo album, The Flood and The Mercy. He warned of "era whiplash" as he jumped from new to old to new again: Mental Jewelry, Seven, Pain Lies on the Riverside, Angels on a Razor.. his version of Springsteen's "I'm On Fire"... Holy Water Tears from the new album, Heaven, I Alone. Overcome. Selling the Drama. Dance With You. And to finish an excellent show, Lightning Crashes. Bare bones: one man and his guitar. And it was just right.

ALISON TOON: Ed Kowalczyk &emdash; Ed Kowalczyk at the Assembly, Sacramento, 2013

Then entire show, Kowalczyk was bathed in pale, turquoise light like the water which flows so strong through many of his lyrics. He kept the audience engaged, responsive: some of whom will no doubt be making the trip down to San Francisco today, to see the next show of the tour.

ALISON TOON: Ed Kowalczyk &emdash; Ed Kowalczyk at the Assembly, Sacramento, 2013
The Assembly was the perfect setting for this show. It's small enough to be intimate, but big enough not to be cramped, with a large open floor area, wide bar, and comfy booths. The seating in the booths above-and-behind the bar gives a wonderful, close-to-the-stage view in comfort. The sound is really good: every word was clear (mostly due to Kowalczyk's annunciation, but credit must also be given to a very well set-up sound system, much appreciated by my ears!). There was a warmth in the interaction between performer and crowd. Serious fans from when Kowalczyk fronted Live, and new fans too.

A few more tour dates in California and Canada, and then some with a full band in Australia and New Zealand coming soon. See the Tour page on Ed Kowalczyk's website for more details.

See more photos from last night's show at the Assembly in Sacramento: http://www.alisontoon.com/edkowalczyk

 (If you are not aware: Kowalczyk split with Live a while back, it wasn't a fun 'divorce', but it seems sorted now. I'm only writing about the music here.)

ALISON TOON: Ed Kowalczyk &emdash; Ed Kowalczyk at the Assembly, Sacramento, 2013

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Consumable Online--taking me back: early internet and music reviews

Once-upon-a-time, in the dim-dark-days of the early internet, when most things were still in batch mode with ListServ and stuff like that, I was a writer for the first online music publication--or "zine" as we called them--Consumable Online. Consumable was run by a hard-working editor, out of Hoboken, New Jersey, and had correspondents in the US and overseas--including yours truly, in France at that time.

Consumable stopped publication in August, 2001. Take a look: remember this was mostly an emailed publication, plain text, sometimes photos, but no flashy websites and certainly not loads of advertisements. 

Here's an example of what a subscriber received:

(My bit's at the end, about Sisters of Mercy.)

Amazingly, a lot of the publication is still available online: http://www.westnet.com/consumable/ 

Here are a few of mine:

So yeah, I've been doing this for longer than you knew. Under various names. Who'da thunkit?

Trace Adkins, The King's Gift, Christmas, carols and comfort

After falling in love with Trace Adkin's voice earlier this year, and really enjoying his show here in Citrus Heights, I was really looking forwards to his Christmas release, "The King's Gift". After all, it's not country, it's a set of some of my favourite Christmas carols, with a Celtic twist, and it's Trace's wonderful, deep, hearty voice, like black treacle in song.

("O come o come Emmanuel" is one of the most beautiful songs, religion aside, ever. It has a special place in my heart, entwined with memories of home and family and visits to Israel and to a family history that includes several generations of Emmanuel Bonnets, blacksmiths... and simply because I love the song, its melody, its tonal changes. It has to be something really, really special.)

I have to admit, on first listening, I was disappointed. I wanted, and expected, this non-country recording to absolutely blow me away on first hearing. It didn't. It was very nice. Really.... nice. But I don't do "nice". I do raw and soulful and heartfelt and bleak and beautiful and painful and cursed and reborn. I want emotion and passion. I want wild landscapes and wolves and a fire to keep them away.

ALISON TOON: Trace Adkins &emdash; Trace Adkins live 2013
Trace Adkins, Citrus Heights, Sunrise At Night concert series 2013
But this was nice. Melodic, gentle, comfortable, warm and snug like an inglenook fireplace on a snowy day. 

So I listened to The King's Gift once the day it was released, and then went back to Marillion and Gemini Syndrome and Five Finger Death Punch and well, it's not Christmas yet anyway, is it???

And then I see lots of reviews celebrating The King's Gift. Was I missing something? Time for another listen.

It's still nice. In fact, it's quite beautiful. Trace's voice melds with the Celtic sound. The Chieftans help out. It's very, very different to his usual country sound--and for his country-only fans, this is a huge step outside of the country-cowboy-comfort zone. It's classic holiday-season music, with a twist, and will no doubt be playing and playing in bookstores around the USA between now and January 1st (at least, it should be). The more I listened, the more I came to appreciate the gentle and unique subtleties of Trace's versions of these precious songs. And I'm convinced it will continue to grow on me, and that it will become one of my annual Christmas classics.

If you are lucky, you can see Trace on tour with his Christmas show: http://traceadkins.com/tour 

(But now that you've taken this step away from country,Trace, will you jump even further, and go heavy metal? Something that will really push from comfortable to absolutely amazing? I'd really like to hear that... you've played with Muppets after all... and of course,  I'm still waiting to see you play Reacher!)

For those of you interested in a version of O' Come O' Come Emmanuel that really did blow me away on first hearing, this is it: 

For more pictures from the summer Trace Adkins' show in Citrus Heights, CA, see http://alisontoon.com/traceadkins 

Dedicated to those of you waiting in line at the DMV... best wishes, Fitz and the Tantrums

(I had a great-uncle named Walker. I love that name.)

In case you missed their show earlier this year in Sacramento, the pics are here: http://www.alisontoon.com/fitzandthetantrums   And the review: http://alison-toon.blogspot.com/2013/07/fitz-and-tantrums-performing-at-ace-of.html

ALISON TOON: Fitz and the Tantrums &emdash; Fitz and the Tantrums live 2013
Fitz and the Tantrums at Sacramento's Ace of Spades

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pandora rant, and an out-of-the-box road trip

I have to learn how to use Pandora properly.

I have the version without ads (the ads would drive me insane). And I know how to create stations, "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" songs, and skip songs... but Pandora can quite obviously only read my mind occasionally.

I replaced my old, 2001-model 5-CD player in my truck last week (it had eaten a CD and refused to regurgitate it) with a new tuner/Bluetooth player that easily connects up to my Windows phone (and which provides additional sport with voice-to-text... results are hilarious when using a US-English voice-to-text engine with an English-English voice like mine: if you receive a weird-but-amusing text from me, you'll know I'm yelling in the truck.) The new tuner latches on to Pandora on my phone and it's rather cool.


I just can't listen to the Pandora Marillion station. Even though Pandora's website says it has all the wonderful recent Marillion albums, it only plays one or two tracks from "Real to Reel". Heavily intermingled with Genesis, Pink Floyd, Fish and other really-old-school so-called "prog" stuff. So I try all the thumbs-down and skipping, then Pandora tells me I can't skip any more this hour cos they pay for the music and tough, you're stuck with another darn Genesis song, and you can't fix this without pulling over and messing about with the phone and there's a string of traffic behind you and a cop car watching so you just have to turn the volume down or fall asleep at the wheel.

If you want to sample the real-and-up-to-date Marillion, go here: http://marillion.com/music.htm

(I've never been into Genesis, apart from the one really-non-Genesis-like single from around 1975 about wardrobes... Fish does nothing for me since he left Marillion many many many years back, though I know a lot of Marillion fans who do love his solo music... Pink Floyd is wonderful on occasion, but is really not drive-time music. "My" prog is H-era Marillion, Peter Hammill, Van der Graaf Generator, maybe some King Crimson. Pandora, why can't you read my mind????)

So I switch to the Gemini Syndrome Pandora station. Now that one works: all the tracks from Lux, many of my favourite Five Finger Death Punch songs, lots of Stone Sour, some Breaking Benjamin... and I can about tolerate one Disturbed song an hour. Great for a long road trip. It's only when Pandora gets bored with itself and starts adding totally-unrelated bands that I change back to the Marillion station... and find it plays only wailing Phil Collins and another-boring Fish song, and no recent Marillion whatsoever.

Sigh... next road trip I'll remember to bring my CDs along.

(More about this road trip coming soon.)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Gemini Syndrome on tour, headlining, East coast and more... don't miss!!!~

My East Coast friends, here's a treat for you: Gemini Syndrome are headed your way. See all the tour dates on the Tour page of their website http://geminisyndrome.com or Facebook.

Long Island:  Amytiville, December 10th.  OK?? It's just down the road!

Aaron Nordstrom, Gemini Syndrome, Aftershock 2013
Aaron Nordstrom, Gemini Syndrome, Aftershock 2013
In case you missed it, here's my review of Lux: http://alison-toon.blogspot.com/2013/09/aftershock-review-gemini-syndrome-and.html... and all the photos from this year's Aftershock Festival in Sacramento.

See. You should have been there. Next year?

Alessandro Paveri, bass, Gemini Syndrome, Aftershock 2013
Alessandro Paveri, bass, Gemini Syndrome, Aftershock 2013
More from other Gemini Syndrome showss in the Toon's Tunes Gemini Syndrome gallery.

HR Giger and Korn

While I considered Korn vocalist Jonathan Davis' mic stand was a beautiful work of art... and that it reminded me of H. R. Giger's work... duh.... I didn't realise that it actually was H. R. Giger's work!

In case you didn't either, here's the story on Giger's website.

Jonathan Davis, vocals, Korn, Aftershock 2013

Monday, November 25, 2013

I'd like to hear more of this... wouldnt you? You can help!

Find the Steve Rothery Kickstarter project here: http://kck.st/17XvZCG

And hear here:

And less than 24 hours from launch... IT'S FUNDED!!! You can still use the link to pre-order your music, CD, ticket to the launch show, etc. What a wonderful example of music and musicans being sponsored by the fans. And yet another example of Marillion fans being a worldwide family. Nice job everyone!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A band of orcs, doing what orcs do best. Oh and a little heavy metal too.

A Band of Orcs live 2013
A Band Of Orcs
(I apologise for taking so long to publish these. It was a hectic week, that week, believe me.)

I first read Lord of the Rings when I was nine years old. (Yes, I was that annoying kid-bookworm.) Blame it on Mr. Scott. Mr. Barry Scott, if I remember right. Used to ride a racing bicycle to school and back every day. Mr. Scott read us The Hobbit, one chapter a day, in class, and once he'd finished the book I had to go to the library and find and read the Lord of the Rings, all of it, all six books, and pore over the maps of Middle Earth and discover Orcs and Black Riders and Strider and Treebeard and Mordor.

If you're still out there Mr. Scott, thank you, I hope you enjoy these Orcs too!

A Band of Orcs live 2013
A Band Of Orcs, Ace of Spades, Sacramento
Having been introduced to Orcs at such an early and impressionable age, imagine my excitement seeing them walk on stage at the Ace of Spades to open the show for GWAR! And to do real Orcy stuff, like lurk in the dark, play real death-thrash-reallyreally-heavy metal, and drool all over the photographers and front line of the audience! Wow! A Band of Orcs!!! (Tolkien kept the musical skills of Orcs hidden. We might have been too sympathetic to them. But now... the truth is out. Orcs really rock!!!)

(These guys totally cracked me up. I can't remember any of the songs that they played, other than that they were loud, heavy and metal, but they were incredibly and thoroughly entertaining. Made my night. Go see them if you dare!!!)

A Band of Orcs live 2013

According to their Facebook page, A Band of Orcs are Gogog Bloodthroat (vocals and a lot of growls), Cretos Filthgrinder (lead guitar),  Hulg ElfR.I.P.per ("Crunchy" guitars... crunchy???), Gronk! (shamanic bass) and Oog Skullbasher (war drums).

See all the photos from the show in the Toon's Tunes gallery of A Band of Orcs.
A Band of Orcs live 2013

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Review: Five Finger Death Punch, The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, volume 2

On public release on 19th November, my copy of Five Finger Death Punch's new album, The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, volume 2, arrived early that morning, the music accompanied by a live performance DVD and a coupon for a free T-shirt. I'd been looking forwards to hearing this since seeing FFDP live at Aftershock earlier in the year, and had avoided listening to the album streaming the week before, preferring to wait until the recording was truly and physically here. (No matter how high-def the radio or streaming is, I still prefer a solid, physical recording for my archive.)

Why "Volume 2"? Because they had so much good material it didn't all fit on Volume 1 (released July 30th). And because the two volumes fit together: not as a concept album or a major theme, but just because the songs all work together and fit together and flow together.

Ivan Moody and Jason Hook, Five Finger Death Punch, Aftershock 2013
Ivan Moody and Jason Hook, FFDP, Aftershock 2013

They have fast become one of my favourite bands of all time. Hard to imagine that, this time last year, I'd heard very little of their music. (And how I'd missed out. Why? Remind me to find that article I wrote a while back, about only finding music in the USA when you know what to look for because no radio station is going to introduce you to it. Remind me to reminisce about Old Grey Whistle Test and John Peel and others, and to once-again acknowledge that my roots are showing.) Anyway... Five Finger Death Punch's music is intense, deep, angry and very, very real. It's not commercial and it's not-at-all shallow; there are musical depths that many heavy metal bands wouldn't ever dare to plumb. Jeremy Spencer's powerhouse drumming, Zoltan Bathory's virtuoso guitar, and Ivan Moody's vast vocal range make sure of that.

I've had "Cold" playing on repeat for hours now. It's a classic. It's a song that I'll listen to for a very, very long time. It's melodic and it's raw and it's Moody.
Ivan Moody, Five Finger Death Punch, Aftershock 2013
Ivan Moody of Five Finger Death Punch, performing at Aftershock Festival

If you assume that you know the character of Five Finger Death Punch from a few song titles, from the words "American Patriot" and "War is the Answer", and haven't taken it any further... you're missing out on something wonderful. And you may also be missing the subtleties of some dry, almost British humour...

I am so very glad that I had the opportunity to see these guys live in Sacramento this year, at Aftershock. Absolutely obvious that each and every member of this band is a master musician.

Final track on WSHRSH-vol2 is The House of the Rising Sun. Five Finger Death Punch take some liberties with the lyrics--New Orleans becomes the City of Sin, which makes sense today, where New Orleans is synonymous with Katrina, not houses of ill repute--and it's a song that so many people have tried to make their own, from Woody Guthry to the Animals to Bob Dylan and Tracy Chapman. But this new version is stunning. It's made new again, like it was made new by the Animals; and it's a classic all over again. And as a classic, it also embodies all Five Finger Death Punch's trademarks. If you've never heard them before, start right there.

Lots of press around Five Finger Death Punch this week: an interview with Jeremy Spencer in Rhythm magazine (along with an interview with another great drummer, Ian Mosley of Marillion); a front-cover and article in Metal Hammer magazine (intriguing interview with Zoltan in this one). Look out for more. And thank goodness for the British music press (which also dominates the magazine stands here in California).

Chris Kael, bass, Five Finger Death Punch, Aftershock 2013
Chris Kael, Five Finger Death Punch, Aftershock 2013
(I do have to remember to think before singing along to the Five Finger Death Punch songs playing in my head. There are times when it's fine and appropriate to do so. There are times when doing so will get you fired.)

If you like Five Finger Death Punch, you should also check out Gemini Syndrome, who have been touring with them this year, and their album Lux.

(All photos in this article copyright Alison Toon and taken at this year's Aftershock Festival in Sacramento, California. More photos from Aftershock can be found at in the Toon's Tunes music photo gallery )

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Aftershock retrospective: Megadeth

(Bear with me... trying to find the best way for search engines to index images.)

ALISON TOON: Megadeth &emdash; Megadeth-Aftershock2013-5178-HR

A face in the crowd (Aftershock 2013)

One of my favourite crowd shots from this year's Aftershock Festival in Sacramento. If you're that guy, let me know.

ALISON TOON: People having fun &emdash; People-Aftershock2013-1502

Aftershock website: http://aftershockconcert.com/ 

Why don't Google and/or Bing index images?

I'm a tad peeved by the slowness, or failure, of search engines to index images correctly.

So once again, I've worked on and resubmitted all metadata and site text etc. etc.

Yes I know search engines can only index text.

So search engines, take a look at this link again:  http://alisontoon.com

And in particular:  http://alisontoon.com/music

Playlist for the first autumn rain, and Apple is no Genius

Sometimes "shuffle" amazes me, by its apt selection and segue-ing of songs. Yesterday afternoon, as I was working on a business presentation, this is what it found to keep me company. I'm calling it the Rainy Day playlist.

If I Had a Tail: Queens of the Stone Age
Going to a Go-Go: Smokey Robinson
July Morning: Uriah Heep
Wedding Celebration: The Bottle Dance, from Fiddler on the Roof
A Headlong Stretch (4): Peter Hammill
Jersey Girl: Tom Waits
Song for Janie:  Tim Buckley
Swing: Tabitha's Secret
So Far Away: Dire Straits
When You Smile: Calvin Russell
You Do Something To Me: Paul Weller
Remember Everything: Five Finger Death Punch
Holidays in Eden: Marillion

There was a time I could have created the play list on iTunes, then shared it with you. However, some Genius (sic) decided to remove the iMix function from iTunes version 11 onwards... so I've added links above to the source album for each of the songs on Amazon.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue

It wasn't the usual crowd at the Ace of Spades last night. There was no barrier separating the crowd from the stage, there was no crowdsurfing and no mosh pit. Extra seating was set out around the floor. People were dressed up, not down, the women carried handbags, and the men were dashing. The age range was on the higher end of the scale... which really surprised me, given that Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews is so darn young. Young, and extremely talented. Young, and very hard-working.

ALISON TOON: Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue &emdash; Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue: live in Sacramento 2013

Yes, I really was surprised that there were fewer younger members of the audience. Why? Because this music is young. It's energetic. It's real and it's street-smart. They cover classics and make them supafunkarocking all over again. They make jazz/funk/blues/rock brand new.

ALISON TOON: Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue &emdash; Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue: live in Sacramento 2013

Guitar, saxes, drums, trombone and/or trumpet. Very happy energetic drummer. Great rapport between all of the band members. They were having a lot of fun, and so was the house-full of people!

ALISON TOON: Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue &emdash; Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue: live in Sacramento 2013
And wow.... We were treated to the longest sustained note I have ever heard a brass player voice. It must have been circular breathing... either that, or TS is training to swim the ocean. Underwater. I was ready to faint, automatically holding my breath in an empathetic and unconscious hour. (It felt like an hour. It might have been five minutes. It was definitely an age, as far as a wind instrument goes.)
ALISON TOON: Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue &emdash; Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue: live in Sacramento 2013

People were dancing. People were enjoying the very, very good "supafunkrock" that this band delivers. Fifth visit to Sacramento so far? Definitely should not be the last. Great show. Really really good.

See and hear more on the band's website: http://tromboneshorty.com/  Catch up with them later on the tour.  Latest album, "Say That To Say This", is available now.

For many more photos from the show, see the gallery: http://alisontoon.com/tromboneshorty

Sunday, November 17, 2013

... and also, The Attack were there too (Misfits tour 2013)

Supporting the Misfits throughout their USA 2013 tour, The Attack are from Florida, and play a loud mix of hardcore and punk. Read more about them on their website or Facebook page.

The website describes their music as "vintage melodic hardcore", early American punk, which again underlines for me the differences in the original British versus US punk/punk rock movements.

ALISON TOON: The Attack &emdash; The Attack live: punk from Florida

The Attack's tour with the Misfits continues through December with--wait for it--a gig in Patchogue, New York! That's just down the road from where I lived on Long Island. (Great to see that some major bands are hitting the south shore!)

ALISON TOON: The Attack &emdash; The Attack live: punk from Florida

More photos from Thursday's show at Sacramento's Ace of Spades are in the gallery: 


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Avenue Saints and punk in general--thirty-or-so years later

"In a land of sheep and shepherds, we need more wolves!" 

ALISON TOON: Avenue Saints &emdash; Avenue Saints performing live: Sacramento punk
The band that I enjoyed most, by far, on Thursday evening was Sacramento's own Avenue Saints. From the first moment on stage, they are provocative and different. Upright bass? Irish hat? American punk... really?

Many bands that are today categorized as "punk" are to me "happy punk" or "fun punk" and while entertaining, not punk rock as I know it.. While the rhythm and insistency might still be there, the origins are not. (And I do understand that American Punk was different to, and more mainstream/commercial than, the British punk of the late 70's and early 80's.)  Punk was rebellion: rebellion against authority, rebellion against mainstream music and commercialism (though there were plenty who later made it commercial); punk was anti-fashion (which quickly became a fashion in itself, safety-pins and bin-liners (garbage bags) and shocking hairdos and piercings); punk was angry and assumptive and aggressive and secular. It was abrasive and it was not-very-musical, at least to begin with, because people were grabbing guitars and forming bands before they knew how to play a chord. It was overtly political, because our lives at that time were overtly political. It was ordinary people taking a step out of their lives bogged-down with Thatcher, strikes, the greyness of mediocrity and racism and inner-cities and not-wanting-to-be-like everyone else. It was anarchism in its purest form, right before it became sellable. It was breaking-through the complacency and expectations of the upper- and middle-classes into a vacuum that could be filled with music. Remember the Sex Pistol's version of "God Save The Queen"? Do you, today, have any idea how wrong and shocking that was to the older generations? It really was.

ALISON TOON: Avenue Saints &emdash; Avenue Saints performing live: Sacramento punk

(Malcolm McClaren. Best-known face of commercial punk rock. Simon Cowell's activities reminds me of McClaren today. But don't dismiss McClaren as simply someone who redirected a bandwagon towards open wallets... listen to his "Paris" first. He was good. Here's a review I wrote of Paris, back-in-the-day under the pen-name Ali Sinclair, on Consumable Online, one of the first-ever online music 'zines.)

ALISON TOON: Avenue Saints &emdash; Avenue Saints performing live: Sacramento punk

But Avenue Saints? They reminded me all the way... but in their own unique style.

Three guys, one bass, one guitar and a drum kit. Loved their rendition of Elvis' "In The Ghetto"--watch out for a downloadable version soon on their Facebook page.

ALISON TOON: Avenue Saints &emdash; Avenue Saints performing live: Sacramento punk

"In a land of sheep and shepherds, we need more wolves!"   How very, very true.

I'm going to see Avenue Saints again. Soon.

To see more photos from the show, click on any of the pictures in this post, or go to the gallery:  http://alisontoon.com/avenuesaints

ALISON TOON: Avenue Saints &emdash; Avenue Saints performing live: Sacramento punk

Kill The Precedent at Ace of Spades

While I've been aware of their presence in the local music scene for a while, this was my first opportunity to see Kill The Precedent live. As one of the support acts for the Misfit's show, Kill The Precedent demonstrated why they were just voted Sacramento's best Live Act at the recent Sammies.

Kill The Precedent, Sacramento

While more hardcore than punk, their huge energy kept the room thoroughly hyper and entertained. Partner front men, Twig the Exfoliator and The Ugly American, clad in blood-splattered scrubs, probably the doctors you'd least like to meet in a case of emergency.

Kill The Precedent, Sacramento

What you might want to do is catch them live: for more information about Kill The Precedent and upcoming shows, see Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/killtheprecedent   Their album, Dialogs With The Dead, is available now.

Kill The Precedent, Sacramento

More photos from the show:  http://alisontoon.com/killtheprecedent

Friday, November 15, 2013

Every day is halloween... if it's a Misfits show day!

Jerry Only, one of the co-founders of the Misfits, leading the band and still touring the world. They've been to Europe and are now part-way through the US leg... and last night, it was Sacramento's turn to be entertained by this rocky-horror-punk band which started way-way back, early-punk days, in New Jersey, and don't seem to be planning on changing or stopping any time soon. I don't think the fans will let them even think of that.

ALISON TOON: Misfits &emdash; Jerry Only of Misfits, live performance at the Ace of Spades, Sacramento, 2013
Jerry Only and one of the evening's skeletons
They brought a full house to the Ace of Spades last night, headlining a full evening of five bands, including local boys Kill the Precedent, Avenue Saints and The Secretions, and from Florida, The Attack, who are touring with the Misfits.

ALISON TOON: Misfits &emdash; Dez Cadena of Misfits, live performance at the Ace of Spades, Sacramento, 2013

The crowd arrived early for the show, suitably dressed in Misfits shirts and punk-tartan ("plaid", if you prefer), studs and leather and spiky hair. They were thoroughly entertained.

The set began with the sound of a thunderstorm... and then the show really began.

Everyone knows the Misfit icons: the grinning, leering skull-face; Jerry Only's devilock hairdo: but have you seen the range of merchandise, either on the tour merch table or the band's website? Collectible vinyls in gory splatter or pumpkinhead orange, (example... only 666 copies of orange-vinyl-with-yellow-haze "Misfits Meet The Nutley Brass" available for pre-order, only through the website), glow-in-the-dark skeleton shirts and gloves (I want those gloves), and exactly how many rows of teeth do those masks have???

ALISON TOON: Misfits &emdash; Misfits-AoS-14Nov2013-3395

To see more photos from the show, click on any picture above, or go directly to the photo gallery on http://alisontoon.com

Friday, November 8, 2013

On a dark night in November... thrash rules!

(Oh it was dark alright--both indoors, and outdoors. Even with a few lights on. I know, the photographer's complaining again... "where's the light???". Anyway...)

Four metal/thrash bands in one show, starting with locals Solanum, then another local band Krippler, with the main support band being Havok, and headliner Soulfly, fronted by Max Cavalera, who you may remember was with Sepultura until 1996.

SACRAMENTO, 6 NOVEMBER 2013, Solanum, performing at the Ace of Spades, Sacramento, 6th November 2013
The evening was off to a great start with Solanum's set: their brand of thrash includes some very talented musicians. Intense rhythm and drums. Really, really good guitar. Well worth checking them out when you get the chance. You can find out more about Solanum on Facebook.

Then Krippler... another local band with their set of fans in the crowd... but really not my cup of tea. I could only hear the depressingly-repetitive cuss words, not the music. Sigh... More about Krippler on Facebook, too.

SACRAMENTO, 6 NOVEMBER 2013, Krippler, performing at the Ace of Spades, Sacramento, 6th November 2013
Then Havok. And they rocked the room! Thrash, but happy. Heavy, but musical. Energy? In buckets. Great show!!! Of the four bands that played, Havoc I enjoyed the most. Especially the guitar...

SACRAMENTO, 6 NOVEMBER 2013, Havok, performing at the Ace of Spades, Sacramento, 6th November 2013
Havok looked, and sounded, as if they were having fun on stage. It's infectious. If you missed them and want to check out the sound, there's music on their website: http://havokband.com/merch/

(One of the first things that caught my eye when walking into the Ace of Spades on Wednesday, was a T-shirt on Havoc's merch stand. "No Karate in the Pit", it says, with a manic karateka on the front, and the blood-dripping white words on the back. I just had to buy one of those. Maybe I should wear it to the dojo...)

And then Soulfly!!!

Max Cavalera, Soulfly, Sacramento Nov 2013
Max Cavelera, Soulfly
I know my daughters would have loved to see Max Cavalera (after all, they used to deafen me with Sepultura regularly a while back), but one was on a plane back to New York and the other was studying, so I was there to represent them and to carry the family flag. Very cool to see Max's son, Zyon, on drums. Max's mic stand is a skinny skeleton. (I have to write about mic stands soon. Watch this space.)

SACRAMENTO, 6 NOVEMBER 2013, Soulfly, performing at the Ace of Spades, Sacramento, 6th November 2013

Security guy had to tap me on the shoulder, "get out of the pit" sign, at the end of Soulfly's first three songs. I can usually count to three all by myself... but the songs seemed to run into each other and I thought we'd only reached two. Ooops..

High energy crowd all evening, lots of space for the mosh pit. Lots of space for everyone, in fact. I was a little sad to see that the venue was by no means full. Wednesday nights can be tricky--I had a 6 am work call the next morning--but heck, Sacramento, surely you can do better than that...

Those who were there made up for those who were not. Soulfly, Havok: you have big fans here!

To see more photos from the show, click on the photos above, or go directly to the galleries:

Solanum, Krippler, Havok and Soulfly photos.