Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fitz and the Tantrums, performing at the Ace of Spades, Sacramento

Fitz and the Tantrums made sure that the Ace of Spades was full to the brim, to the gills, overflowing, bursting at the seams with people last night. Completely sold out!

Fitz and the Tantrums, Sacramento
Fitz and the Tantrums, Sacramento
From the start of the evening, it was obvious that it was going to be a good show: the sound levels were just right, the crowd was excited and early, queuing all around the block to get in, long before the doors opened; and the opening acts, The Colourist and Hunter Hunted were both very good.

Fitz and the Tantrums, Sacramento
Fitz and the Tantrums, Sacramento
Fitz and the Tantrums music is a refreshingly-melodic and energetic sound; reminiscent of both Motown/soul and pop, but rocky too. There's no lead guitar, and you don't miss it. The blend of Fitz's (Michael Fitzpatrick) and Noelle Scaggs' vocals and energy make you smile and want to dance. Easy to listen too, and to watch, but not-at-all simplistic: just easy in the way that the Eurithmics were the first time you heard them. As if you've been listening to them for a long, long time, even though you've just begun.

Fitz and the Tantrums, Sacramento
Fitz and the Tantrums, Sacramento
The one band Fitz and the Tantrums reminded me of: Paul Weller's one-time, mid-eighties band, The Style Council. Both Fitz and the Tantrums, and The Style Council, pull strong influences from R&B, Motown, soul; both make great use of keyboard, brass, tambourine... and both drive you to your feet to dance. Yet Fitz and the Tantrum's sound is something more ethereal, something happier. It's a big sound and it's fully happy.

Fitz and the Tantrums, Sacramento
Fitz and the Tantrums, Sacramento
The new album, "More than just a dream", is available now   If you didn't make it to the show last night, I suggest taking a listen.

There were so many photographers in the pit... usually there's a couple of us at the Ace of Spades, and that's about it. Last night, there were more than a dozen, and the space is tiny, a couple of feet between the edge of the stage and the barrier and front-row fans. I stayed in there one song only, then spent the next two songs wriggling through the crowd to better viewpoints, and to try to capture some of the atmosphere of the fans and the full venue.

Fitz and the Tantrums, Sacramento
Audience, Fitz and the Tantrums, Sacramento
My only disappointment: I had to leave before the very end of the show, due to a 6 a.m. meeting the next day. I wanted to stay!!! Darnit... next time please make it a Friday night!

More photos from the show can be found in the Toon's Tunes Fitz and the Tantrums gallery.

Band Facebook:

Band website:

Ace of Spades venue:

I hope to see Fitz and all the Tantrums again soon--they are a band worth queuing to see.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Fitz and the Tantrums... just a preview

Fitz and the Tantrums, supported by The Colourist and by Hunter Hunted: sold-out show tonight at the Ace of Spades. More pics and a review tomorrow. Had to rush home as I have a six-am start tomorrow. This is one show that I really wish had been on a Friday evening...

Full review and link to pictures for Fitz and the Tantrums.

More on The Colourist

More on Hunter Hunted

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Debbie Harry retiring?

blondie-2012-35 by alison.toon
blondie-2012-35, a photo by alison.toon on Flickr.
News breaking today that Debbie Harry might be ready to retire... but Blondie is preparing a new album for release, and "nothing is finalized".

She and Blondie put on a very enjoyable show last year in Citrus Heights, at the Sunrise at Night show. Would be a shame not to continue. At least, in some form. You don't have to tour 300 days a year when you're an iconic star!

More photos from the Citrus Heights show

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Trolls and copyright and a waste-of-my-time-and-energy

Spent part of my much-needed weekend, tracking down the management of a vicious gossip "forum" website, where people think it's OK to copy and post other people's copyright photographs, stories, news articles, etc. etc. etc., despite it being clearly stated in the membership agreement that they must not do so. And then twist words into their own narrow view of the world.

Not only did "they" steal my work, they used it to defame someone whom I'm sure they have never met, don't know, and are never likely to know. Why do people do that???

I don't read gossip magazines, I don't watch "reality" TV. (Folks, it's not reality. It's not real. The characters in those programs are ACTORS. It's all DRAMA generated to make you watch, and so that you crave and buy the things you see, and feel left-out if you can't afford it.) Your own life is reality: not mine, not some celebrity, not the guy's down the street.)  I don't care about politicians sex lives or what they do with their phones. As long as the guy down the street isn't abusing his wife or kids, and the politician isn't hoping for my vote, that is.

The gossip forum in question doesn't have an owner published through WhoIS; their site registration was done via a registration proxy; there's no contact telephone or "About Us" on their website, just a form for logging questions.

After several notices via the form, to the company that managed the registration process, and to the proxy registration service, the copyrighted photos and text have been removed from the forum. No doubt the people who hang out there will continue to spout their cruel opinions... I just do not appreciate having my blog and photos used in that type of "conversation".

Music photogs and bloggers out there: keep an eye on where your web traffic is coming from.

Now... back to the real weekend. Full of nice things... like last night's Queen Nation show, fresh tomatoes from the garden, and one more day of the State Fair.


... "Or you can love. You can love."

Queen Nation, performing at the California State Fair, 26th July 2013

Before I begin: three things that you need to know. One: I'm very, very wary of tribute and cover bands--I want to see, and hear, the real thing. Two: I grew up in England, Queen on the radio, Queen as the highlight of "Live Aid", and I consider Freddie Mercury to be one of the greatest vocalists who ever lived, and while I love Queen's music, it was really Freddie's singing that made it something very, very special. And three: Brian May's hair was as much a part of the band as his guitar playing. Seriously!!!!

So there were a few barriers that Queen Nation had to break down. And it took a couple of songs. At first I was just laughing at Brian's hair. Yes, Brian May's hair was there. That was a good start!

But when Gregory Finsley (as Freddie) sang "Love of My Life", I knew I was listening to more than just a few guys covering Queen songs. They were much, much better than that.

The show just got better and better. Queen Nation not only plays Queen songs--very well: they also become the band members, carrying the personas of Freddie Mercury (Gregory Finsley), Brian May (Mike McManus), John Deacon (Parker Combs) and Roger Taylor (Peter Burke) in mannerisms, personality, style. (Though Brian May becomes left-handed when performing with Queen Nation. I wonder how he does that???)

Gregory Finsley can seriously carry Freddie Mercury's vocals: there will never, ever, ever be another Freddie, but... it's really good to hear someone who can do this so very well.

"My Best Friend", "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Don't Stop Me Now"... and many many more.

It was a darn good show. And the state fair audience loved it! Singing along, dancing, and really having fun.

(I hear they are looking for someone to play Freddie in an upcoming movie, as Sacha Baron Cohen has decided he doesn't want to do it any more. Any volunteers???)

This was one of the completely-free shows at the state fair this year. You didn't have to line up and wait for a wristband, you just walked in. And it may have been one of the most fun and enjoyable shows of the fair.

Lots more photos on Flickr, including some crowd shots. If you were there and want to share them with your friends, use the Flickr "share" function and don't copy. I'm still hunting down the folks who stole an earlier post--and if you wonder why I have to say this (again), see the earlier post on copyright.  So just push the "share" button, OK?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

LeAnn Rimes, California State Fair, and my Country baptism...

I have a confession to make.

I have lived in the USA since July, 2000. I have visited many places here, lived on both coasts, enjoyed California summers and New York winters (or vice-versa). I've been to heavy metal, world music and jazz festivals, rock concerts, and classical performances. I've seen rap and hip-hop performers. Yes, I've been here for over thirteen years, but had never been to a country music event. Not a single one. Really and truly, not one... until 23rd July, 2013. Just how bad is that? This is the country of Country! OMG.

But why? Why the lack of interest or motivation? Maybe I'd just dismissed Country as it's-all-the-same-song-about dead-dogs, broken-down trucks, Ruby-taking-her-love-to-town, and calling your boy-kids stoopid names. Like Sue. And wearing cowboy hats and boots even if you've never even seen a horse in real life.

So what changed?

Another confession. Guilty secret. I watched Nashville. Every episode. Some of them more than once. It opened my ears. And mind. (When does the next series begin??? If you're wondering, the soundtrack stands up--the actors all do their own singing, and the production is wonderful.)

So... I just had to go and see LeAnn Rimes at the California State Fair. And I am so very glad I did. (Not that LeAnn is part of the Nashville TV series: rather, due to Nashville, I now truly wanted to see country music, live, in person. And LeAnn's life history, from child star to now, reminded me that musicians are all human, like the rest of us. And LeAnn puts her whole being into her songs, and that, to me, is what makes music real.)

LeAnn brought tears to my eyes, three times: that's emotion in the music.

First time: when LeAnn saw the little girls dancing just in front of the stage. The look of pure joy on LeAnn's face was contagious, beautiful.

Second time: when LeAnn sang "Borrowed", from her new album, "Spitfire". Must have been hell to write, hell to go through, and hell to replay every time you sing it. Much applause.

And third time: almost at the end of the show, when LeAnn sang "Summertime". IMHO, very few people should attempt, or even think about attempting, that song. I didn't think anyone had the voice, since Janis Joplin, to do it. LeAnn does, and did, and I'm so very glad I was there to hear. (While LeAnn's "Summertime" is very much based on the Joplin version, rather than going back to the roots of the song, it is still unique.)

LeAnn sang other songs from "Spitfire" and earlier recordings: "Blue", the major hit from when she was just thirteen years old (and how the heck does a thirteen-year-old cope with that kind of public exposure?): a cover of Elton John's "Rocket Man", (I sang along, I did!): "Just a Girl Like You", "Spitfire", "How Do I Live", "What Have I Done?", and more. She is emotional, open and natural, with a big vocal range and real power in her voice.

LeAnn drew the biggest crowd I've seen so far at the State Fair concerts this year. People were massed outside the enclosure. Some were asking, "who is this?" because they had come to the fair for the rides, hadn't checked the concert schedule, and were just drawn by her voice. LeAnn has some new fans to add to the ones who have been with her since day one.

Anyone who has only listened to her earlier recordings--go listen to "Spitfire". I think you'll enjoy it. I do.

Thank you, LeAnn and Nashville both, for opening my ears. Hope you come back to Sacramento soon! And my mind. I haven't bought any cowboy boots yet, but I have been hanging around horses a lot...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Mile Till Dawn, on stage at the State Fair!

Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing A Mile Till Dawn playing live at the State Fair. They are a very talented group of young musicians, they play loud rock, they work at it--and you can tell.

Vocalist Kate Robinette, guitarists Colyn Bowman and Daren Wheeler, bassist Gabe Cheng, and Shawn Council on drums.

They've been playing around town recently: the Boardwalk in Orangevale last Friday, for example. Look out for them--you'll be seeing (and hearing) more! (See their website or Facebook for info on upcoming shows.)

Website and music:


Press contact:

Booking agent:

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Marillion, WebUK magazine, and that photo...

"My" first-ever magazine cover photos... and it's a Marillion, standing-ovation, show-them-how-much-we-love-them, Wolverhampton-Civic-full-of-fans, wrapped around the WebUK magazine.

 WebUK is published four times a year, and this edition focuses on the biennial "weekends": three nights of Marillion music, fans arriving from all over the world, the "conventions" that I'm already saving up for for 2016.

So exciting to see a "Toon" on the cover. There are a few more from yours-truly inside, too, along with many other great photos from other photographers, from all three weekend conventions, including photos from Andy Wright (of 9:30 to Fillmore fame). And the amazing story of how the world record was made for recording and filming a live show and having it on sale. Overnight. A very short night. On sale really early in the morning. Its called, Clocks Already Ticking and it's on sale from Racket Records and it includes a performance of all of Radiation, plus a whole second set.

I am feeling both proud (that my pictures are being seen by a lot of people), and very very humbled (without Marillion, without their amazing and hard-working management team, without the awe-inspiring relationship between the band and the fans built of many years of trust, and, of course, without the music, the wonderful music, we photographers would never ever capture anything worth looking at, not at all).

That cover shot? It was at the end of Brave, played in its entirety, the Saturday night in Wolverhampton, England. (It helps when you know and love the music, it helps that Marillion's management let us shoot throughout the performance, and more than anything, it's the band that inspire such a reaction from the audience. It's a feeling that stays with you--part of me is still in Wolverhampton, reliving that weekend.) It was a performance that brought many of us to tears. Brave is a "concept album", the story of a tragic life, and yet it's hope. It's Brave. And later this year, we'll be able to buy a DVD of Brave, recorded live, in concert, at this year's Marillion weekends. Want a preview? See-hear!

(To hear a little more about the relationship between the band, and the fans, take a listen to Mark Kelly's recent Ted talk about crowdfunding. Listen to the end, because the key is right there.)

Thank you again, Marillion. I'm so happy you're in my life. And other bands? You should take note. This is what you do, to keep fans for a lifetime. It's all about trust... both ways.



More pictures from the UK weekend:

Monday, July 15, 2013

When you're photographing a concert, there's always a guy who wants his picture taken

Someone in the audience, I mean. Someone other than the performers.

At the livestock show...

... it's always a goat.

Same thing happened last year.

(More about the livestock exhibits at the State Fair, over on my other blog.)

Bungee jumping at the California State Fair

ALISON TOON: More fun &emdash; Bungee jumping at the State Fair
SACRAMENTO, CA, JULY 2013: Bungee jumping at the California State Fair, Sacramento, from 130 feet above the ground. And yes, I know this is not music, but it sure is entertaining!

Age doesn't matter (but if you're under 16, you need your parent's or guardian's approval). Nor does height, shoe size or anything else apart from weight. There are minimum and maximum weight limits (which cover a vast range of human shapes and sizes). Different weights are accommodated with the different-colour bungee cords.

This is not something you'll see me doing. I'm happy just to document other people's jumps. Though I might be tempted to try the child's version (the one with the two elastics in a V-shape). But maybe not!

(I recommend that women who are planning to jump remember to wear a sports bra. You'll be handing upside-down and flung all over the place by the bungee cord... you work out what happens. Yes, it does, I saw it twice yesterday.)

State Fair info:

More photos of bungee jumping at the 2013 California state fair, and more:

More 2013 California State Fair photos:

Weird Al Yankovic at the California State Fair, Sacramento, 14 July 2013

I was introduced to Weird Al's music not long after moving to the USA, by a young friend--there's something in Weird Al's sense-of-humour that appeals to the pre-teen and adolescent boy, (no matter how grown-up that boy becomes over the years), and to be honest it's not just guys who find him funny, there were lots of women in the audience last night, I was cracking up too, and at one point I swear I saw a giant chicken a few rows back too... who can resist such naughty humour?

It's said that you know you've made it big when Weird Al parodies your music: Michael Jackson, Madonna, Nirvana, Eminem... And he does it so well that sometimes you find yourself singing Weird Al's lyrics along to the real thing.

The show last night at the California State Fair was a mix of live performance and big-screen videos: Eminem being interviewed by Weird Al (you know what I'm saying), some five-second movies, etc. The audience was packed. Weird Al Yankovic has become something of a ritual for State Fair attendees: he's performed here many times in recent years, and always to a full crowd, with people coming from way out in the valley, and further, to see him.

He's hilarious. He can see the part of a song, or a persona, and create lyrics that fit the poking-fun-finger like a glove. It's not offensive humour, it's OMG-why-didn't-I-hear-that-myself? fun. Most of the artists he parodies accept it in good grace. Heck, he's funny, and if you can't laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?

And this is really cool... the shows at the Golden One stage at the State Fair have a wonderful lady sign-language interpreter. I noticed her on Friday, at the Night Ranger show, but didn't realise that she was not only interpreting the announcers prior to the show, but also the lyrics from the songs as they were performed? I have never, ever, seen that done before. She was the star of the show for me. The announcer played jokes, making her sign how much she liked him. Weird Al crept up behind her. And throughout all the tricks and the tricky lyrics, she kept her cool and interpreted the words for those who understand sign language. (And it's a wonderfully animated language--it's not just hand signals, but the whole person, physical gestures and facial expressions, that convey what is being said. Or in this case, what is being sung. Wonderful job!)

More pictures of the concert:

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Night Ranger having big fun at the California State Fair, 12th July 2013

If there were a competition for the Happiest Rock Band On Stage This Week, these guys would have won it. Hands down. Take a look at the photos: happy, happy, happy! Big grins! On the faces of the crowd of fans, too. And that's what the State Fair is all about, right? Big fun!  (Yes, that is water under the stage: this is the Golden One concert stage, free concerts every night of the fair. You can buy tickets for premier seating at some of the shows, closest to the stage, as many people did for Night Ranger, but all the shows are free with admission to the fair.)

I wanted to see Night Ranger because, while I had never heard them until seeing their name on the State Fair's website, everyone I mentioned their name to here in Sacramento grinned, and said, "Night Ranger! You don't know them?" No, I had to admit: no, I don't.

Made me wonder why there are some bands who make it big here in the USA, but who don't make a ripple in England. And vice-versa: major stars "over there", but never here. Why some become global heros... and some are huge in their own country, but nowhere else. Is there something very culturally-specific within their music that makes it a magnet for locals only?

Forgive me, America, but I don't know Heart's music, either. Nor Journey's. All good musicians; all relatively-unknown in the UK. At least, when I was growing up there. And I guess that the UK-in-the-1980's years and ears were filled with other sounds: lots of heavy metal; The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, Joy Division, The Smiths, the Eurythmics, Marillion, two-tone ska, post-punk-whatever-it-may-be... you get the idea. So no, I hadn't heard Night Ranger before. Even though Brad Gillis toured, worldwide, with Ozzy in 1982. (Mind you... when looking at this video, I might not have seen Brad but would have been transfixed by how ... OMG ... Ozzy looks! I would definitely have noticed the guitar work though!!! Ozzy... you really went on stage like that???)

"Sister Christiane" definitely sounded familiar... but could I pick it out and name the artist, everyone in the band, the year it was recorded? Nope. Not in a million years. Same with Heart and Journey, all but a couple of Boston's songs, and all but one of Chicago's albums (because someone close to me had Chicago in their vinyl collection.)

The band, America, however, of course! (But they made it big in England before their homeland.) That's the other side of the coin: Calvin Russell was a hero in France, yet little-known in his native Texas.

So what is the key? What is that magic connection in the musician's work, and the listener's psyche, that links the two?

It's not just exposure: there are bands who have come to the USA from Europe and vice-versa, whose music is huge on one side of the Atlantic; it's heard on the radio, live on tour, and still... it just doesn't click. Another example: Slade, my heros when I was many years younger... huge in the UK. Top of the charts, straight in at number one, year-after-year. Glam rock pioneers. They toured here.

And nothing happened. Nothing... apart from a ten-year-later, (IMHO) insignificant and paltry cover of "Cum On Feel the Noize"  by Quiet Riot (and gosh... that was the 1980's too. Maybe we just weren't talking to each other in the '80's?). The darn cover version which, as my American readers well know, went way up in the Billboard charts, with their album "Metal Health" reaching the very top. And I still hear that darn awful cover of Slade's genius song, playing in supermarkets, and it makes me stomp in annoyance, because it's missing the sheer exuberance of Slade's performance.

So if you have a clue to what this all means, please let me know.

In the meantime, look out for Night Ranger's concerts. They put on a fun and rocking show. Enjoy it!

Many more photos in the Night Ranger set on Flickr: click to see them. (If you're the guy who wanted his picture taken--that's where you'll find it!)

Cowboy and a THUG, performing at the State Fair, Sacramento


I'm so glad I was in the right place, at the right time, to see Cowboy and a THUG (or is it T.H.U.G.?) performing at the state fair. Think rap and rodeo can't work together? Think country and hip-hop just don't blend? You might be wrong!

These guys are hliarious. "Rodeo Hip-Hop". But they are talented and musical too. Makes you want to dance.

They have auditioned for America's Got Talent... watch out, America!

The Magical Midway: California State Fair 2013

California State Fair 2013, a set on Flickr.
The State Fair opened yesterday, 12th July, and runs until 28th July, and includes, as always, the "Magical Midway" fairground. It's huge: several big wheels, many vomit-induciing upside-down-round-and-round-very-very-fast rides, the beautiful giant chair-o-plane; more gentle rides for children, houses full of snakes and monkeys (monkeys???), fairground food, fairground music.

There's something magical about a fairground: whether you ride the rides, try to win a giant stuffed toy, eat the food, or just simply want to run away with them when they leave.

I will be adding more fairground photos to this set on Flickr between now and the end of the fair: