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Diana Ross / Rhonda Ross (concert review)

Diana Ross / Rhonda Ross – Rose Music Center – 8/3/16 (concert review)

The lady that put the “D” in “Diva” still has it

Legendary vocalist Diana Ross entertained a near-capacity crowd under a hot, midwestern sun at the Rose Music Center in Huber Heights. “I’m Comin’ Out” made a perfect opener; that funky number from 1980 got everyone to their feet.  Then, she went through a rapid fire set of early Supremes’ smashes – “My World is Empty Without You,” “Baby Love,” “Stop in the Name of Love,” “Come See About Me,” and “You Can’t Hurry Love,” all featuring Ross’ still-soaring vocals.  Her band featured a baritone sax, and you realize just how crucial this instrument was to her early singles.  An extended version of “Love Child” had a Caribbean feel and gave Ross a chance to switch costumes.

The wardrobe change also signaled a different direction – the remainder of her set featured songs heavy on funk – “The Boss,” “It’s My House,” and especially “Upside Down” really grooved in a way you might not expect from a lady who turned 72 in March.  The latter song gave the band a chance to stretch out and warranted another change in costume from Diana.

“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” really gave her an opportunity to show that she can still bring the heat – this was the highlight of her show.  Ross also grabbed several interesting cover songs – Spiral Staircase’s “More Today Than Yesterday,” Frankie Lymon’s “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” and the surprise show closer, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” – a statement of purpose for her long career.

Diana’s daughter, Rhonda Ross, opened the show with a high-energy set that spotlighted songs from her just-released In Case You Didn’t Know album.  “Nobody’s Business” really sounded great in the live setting, while “Summer’s Day” featured a snippet of the Emotions’ hit “Best of My Love.”  “Breathe” was slinkier than the version on her record, while “Drumbeat of Life” paid homage to Marvin Gaye at the end.  She cleverly wove elements of “Killing Me Softly” and “Uptown Funk” to add some familiarity.  There was a magnetic quality to her storytelling that really made you want to listen.  This truncated set left you wanting an entire concert of Rhonda Ross on her own.

Although the entire show lasted less than 90 minutes, there was an energy that emanated from the stage that few classic artists still possess.  Despite the heat, Diana smiled throughout, constantly thanking the crowd for their support over the years.  And, for those keeping score – four costume changes in an hour, each containing a color-coordinated fan she used to beat the heat.  —Tony Peters

Heart / Joan Jett / Cheap Trick (concert review)

Heart / Joan Jett & the Blackhearts / Cheap Trick – Klipsch Music Center, IN,  7/17/16 (review)

Heart headlines a stellar lineup that defies time

The bands on the Rock Hall Three For All tour have several things in common.  The obvious one is that they have all recently been inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.  But, there’s another, less apparent reason – until you actually see them in concert.  All three acts play with an energy that few artists, no matter what their age, are capable of.

Cheap Trick took the stage promptly at 6:45pm with “Hello There,” asking the musical question “are you ready to rock?”  Their 60-minute set contained a healthy dose of tracks from their multi-platinum, live At Budokan set, all played at maximum volume.  Robin Zander’s voice is still amazing, especially on their hit ballad, “The Flame” – how can he still hit those high notes?  A spirited version of the Move song “California Man” was a highlight.   An odd choice was “I’m Waiting For the Man,” originally done by Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground, with bassist Tom Petersson on vocals.  Their set closed with the trifecta of “I Want You to Want Me,” “Dream Police” and “Surrender.” They left the stage with  “Goodnight,” giving guitarist Rick Nielsen a chance to bring out his five-neck guitar.

Joan Jett came out in a purple-sparkled outfit and rocked another solid hour.  Highlights were Gary Glitter’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me,” her only #1 hit, “I Love Rock n’ Roll,” and her cover of Tommy James’ “Crimson & Clover.”  She acknowledged her Runaways’ roots with “Cherry Bomb” and the band’s first single, “You Drive Me Wild.”  The “Blackhearts” all looked young enough to be her own kids, and played with a youthful vigor.  “I Hate Myself For Loving You” is a great song that radio has forgotten.  And, leave it to Jett to provide the surprisingly poignant moment of the night – a cover of  Sly Stone’s “Everyday People” – a plea for everyone to just get along.

Heart took the stage with “Wild Child,” which builds in intensity and makes a great show opener.  The band did an excellent job of balancing the 70’s classic rockers like “Magic Man” and “Crazy on You” with 80’s ballads like “What About Love” and “These Dreams,” which featured Nancy Wilson on vocals and mandolin. Two new songs showed off the band’s continued versatility – “Two,” a light ballad written by R&B sensation Ne-Yo, and “Beautiful Broken,” a fierce rocker, which sounded particularly good in a live setting.   Album cuts like “Bebe Le Strange” and “Kick it Out” kept the die-hard fans happy.  “Straight On” was surprisingly funky while “Barracuda” was played at a slow, menacing tempo.

The real show-stopper was “Alone.”  With light keyboards and guitar (from Nancy), the lights dimmed, focusing everything on Ann as she belted out this heartfelt number.  There are very few artists that are capable of evoking this kind of raw emotion in a large concert setting – it was truly a moment full of chills.

After hitting all their personal high points during their set, Heart actually saved the best for last – a riveting performance of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” – again reminding everyone that Ann Wilson is THAT good.  It left the crowd buzzing on their way to their cars.

Rarely does a triple bill deliver such impressive performances – Rock Hall Three For All is a tour you definitely need to catch this summer.  —Tony Peters

Def Leppard, REO Speedwagon (concert review)

Def Leppard / REO Speedwagon / Tesla – 7/5/26 – Riverbend Music Center – Cincinnati, OH (review)

A trio of bands play familiar favorites

At first glance, these three bands together seem like an odd pairing for a concert.  But, after a closer look, they all share several things in common.  One is their ability to write hook-laden, memorable rock songs.  The other is that they all have hugely-successful power ballads to their credit.

Tesla took the stage first, opening with a couple of lesser-known tracks – “Rock Me to the Top” from their debut Mechanical Resonance, and “Edison’s Medicine” from Psychotic Supper.  They made sure to play their cover of Five Man Electrical Band’s “Signs,” which is surprisingly Tesla’s biggest Top 40 hit.  Their power ballad, “Love Song,” was the only point in the set where vocalist Jeff Keith seemed to struggle – everywhere else, he sounded great.  Their short set closed with a raucous version of “Modern Day Cowboy.”

REO Speedwagon began their slot with “Don’t Let Him Go,” the opening track on their insanely huge Hi Infidelity album.   LP cuts like “Keep Pushin’” and “Back on the Road Again” sounded great in a live setting.  Kevin Cronin’s voice has definitely thinned out, especially apparent on their cash-in power ballad “Can’t Fight This Feeling,”  but sounded better on “Ridin’ the Storm Out.”  “Keep on Loving You” got everyone singing, while “Roll With the Changes” made a fitting closer to their set.

Sporting the same stage setup as 2015’s show (read review here), Def Leppard opened with a new song, “Let’s Go,” before launching into “Animal,” one of six cuts from the their multi-platinum Hysteria album.  “Let it Go” is one of the band’s most underrated songs (from High n’ Dry) and they turned in a blistering rendition.  Their so-so cover of David Essex’s “Rock On” has been in their setlist for a while now, while their power ballad, “Hysteria,” brought out old photos of the band through the years on the video screens.  “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak / Switch 625” is another live standout.

Besides a pair of new songs, “Let’s Get Rocked” was the only post-Hysteria song they tackled.  Despite getting one of the best crowd responses all night, you’d be hard pressed to find a radio station in the country with that one in rotation.  The main set closed with their stripper anthem, “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”  Their encore was two key tracks from Pyromania, “Rock of Ages” and “Photograph.”

It was great to see guitarist Vivian Campbell, who’s been battling Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, still plugging away.  His solos were a welcome change from main lead guitarist, Phil Collen, whose lead work can be shrill and over the top at times.  Singer Joe Elliot sounded surprisingly good considering his age.  And if there ever was a symbol of determination, it’s drummer Rick Allen, who’s now played with one arm for over thirty years.

Out of the 33 songs performed tonight, only two were recent, which means there was plenty to sing along to.  A great rock n’ roll show.  —Tony Peters

Def Leppard, Foreigner, & Night Ranger (concert review)

Def Leppard, Foreigner, & Night Ranger – Value City Arena – Columbus, OH – 10/14/15

Good rock shows like this don’t come around that often anymore

At a time when many rockers are leaving the genre for the more lucrative country market, three bands showed that, pardon the pun, “You Can Still Rock in America.”

Night Ranger took the stage promptly at 7pm and played eight classic songs, highlighted by a raucous version of “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me.”  Probably the biggest surprise was “Touch of Madness,” which originally came from their album Midnight Madness.  Three members remain from the original lineup: Jack Blades was in fine voice, while guitarist Brad Gillis was as flashy as ever.  Drummer Kelly Keagy got his chance to step out in front for the ubiquitous ballad, “Sister Christian.”

Foreigner was next.  Their nine-song set relied heavily on their first four albums.  Guitarist Mick Jones is the only remaining member, yet despite recently battling health issues, his playing was very melodic.  Vocalist Kelly Hansen did a decent job – he doesn’t quite capture original singer Lou Gramm’s soulful delivery, but he makes up for it in his vocal range.  “Jukebox Hero” was a crowd-pleaser, while both “Urgent” and “Dirty White Boy” were nice surprises.  The lighters (and cellphones) came out for the ballad “I Want to Know What Love Is,” while a searing version of “Hot Blooded” closed their set.


Def Leppard opened their 17-song set with a brand-new tune, “Let’s Go.”  The lyrics are perfectly suited for the occasion: “welcome to the carnival / welcome to the party / welcome to the edge of your seat.”  That was followed by Pyromania’s “Rock Rock Til You Drop.”  They jumped back and forth between their two mega-selling albums 1983’s Pyromania and 1987’s Hysteria.


It’s great to hear a couple of tracks off 1981’s High n’ Dry – “Let it Go,” and “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak” followed by the instrumental “Switch 625.”


The band has made it a tradition of pulling out at least one cover – and here they did an electronic-heavy version of David Essex’s “Rock On.”  Another highlight was singer Joe Elliott playing a solo acoustic version of the ballad “Two Steps Behind.”


Their show closed with a pair of stone-cold classics – “Rock of Ages,” and “Photograph,” the two songs that cemented their fame thanks to the early days of MTV.


Not enough credit goes to these guys who, after years of tragedy, have had the same lineup now for 23 years.  Guitarist Vivian Campbell, who has been battling cancer, was introduced as “happy and healthy.”  And drummer Rick Allen still played great with one arm.


You can take your trendy cowboy hats and boots and put them you know where.  Def Leppard, Foreigner and Night Ranger still know how to rock.  —Tony Peters

Devon Allman – Columbus, OH (review)

Devon Allman – Park Street Saloon – Columbus, OH – 9/25/15 (review)

A concert full of feeling is good for the soul

I had forgotten what is was like to experience a great rock n’ roll show;  it had been so long.  No electronic Tom Foolery, no Auto Tune, no JumboTron – just a no-frills, kick-ass concert.  Devon Allman delivered, and then some.

Yes Devon is the son the famous Allman that used to front the Allman Brothers Band.  And, while he’ll never be mistaken for the virtuosos that have occupied the lead guitar slot in that legendary group – he more than makes up for it in pure feeling. I’ve never seen a guitarist that played with that much emotion, yet completely ignored the flashiness; every note he played seemed to come directly from his soul.  And, man what great tone he got from his guitar!

Allman came out in black shirt, jeans, and a very cool hat, with his Gibson Les Paul strung over his shoulders.  He was augmented by bass, drums, keyboards, along with young sensation Bobby Schneck, Jr on lead and rhythm guitar.  This kid barely looked old enough to drive, yet – when given the opportunity would dazzle with his supple playing.


The first set opened with the searing “Half the Truth,” off his very fine recent record, Ragged & Dirty, before moving to the Allman-esque “Can’t Lose Them All.”  He did several covers, including a fantastic take on Eric Clapton’s “Forever Man,” a crowd sing-a-long with Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry,” and a soulful but gritty run through of the Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around.”


The band took a brief break and came back out sitting on stools – he introduced the Brothers’ “Melissa” by saying “a friend of mine wrote this back in 1969.”  The real show-stopper was the extended instrumental “Midnight Lake Michigan.”  The album version of this slow-burner blues runs about nine minutes, but live it was extended even further – yet it surprisingly never got boring.  Credit it to Allman, who ripped off passionate solo after solo, before disappearing to let his band shine.  He reappeared several minutes later in the crowd, shaking hands in-between solos.


The encore was a ferocious take on “One Way Out” – while his band laid down the familiar blues groove, Allman sang and played his ass off, even bringing opener Erica Blinn back to the stage to blow some mean harmonica.


Speaking of Blinn – she and her band, the Handsome Machine were from Columbus and opened the show with a 40-minute set that meshed Black Crowes’ grit, and sprinkled in a little Lone Justice country attitude.  Talking after the show, Blinn mentioned to me that she and the band were moving to Nashville soon.  I’d say, watch out – the band is incredibly tight and Blinn makes a great front woman, especially with her prowess on the harmonica.


Allman actually at one point thanked the crowd for supporting live music, saying “we’re trying to keep this alive.”  I’d say they’re doing a hell of a good job.  A Devon Allman show in your area is a can’t miss.  —Tony Peters

Jeff Healey

Jeff Healey was an amazingly talented musician


Listen to my chat with Stony Plain Records president, Holger Peterson, about Jeff Healey


I was a huge Jeff Healey fan.  His debut album, See the Light, was released just as I was taking over as Music Director of my college radio station, WASU, at Appalachian State.  I think we went six cuts deep on that record – it was just that good.  Yet, it was still a surprise when a year later, “Angel Eyes,” the only ballad on the record, became a surprise Top Five hit in the summer of 1989.  The other thing I remember is having a great Arista radio rep – although I can’t remember her name!


She got us free tickets and backstage passes to Jeff Healey opening for Little Feat at Carowinds (not sure they still have shows there anymore).   I remember from the moment Jeff took the stage, standing in utter awe of his amazing guitar playing.  He played with the instrument on his lap, which gave him a unique ability to bend the strings like no one else.  In a live setting, he was phenomenal.  I remember the set closer being the scorching “See the Light,” where Jeff got up from his chair, started playing the guitar with his teeth, playing behind his back, and eventually started thrashing around the stage.  It brought everyone to their feet.


We got a chance to meet him afterwards, and the first thing I remember was that – he didn’t seem blind to me.  For a brief moment, I actually thought the whole thing was a farce.  Jeff walked around comfortably backstage, picking up a drink and carrying on conversations.  It was only when we were introduced, and we were talking one on one that I could pick out his blindness.  I got his autograph, which was really a hoot, since it was just a couple of scribbles.


Lastly, we went back out to watch Little Feat, but honestly it just sounded like noise.  After being blown away by Healey’s pyrotechnics, I didn’t want any part of this boogie woogie.


I continued to follow Healey’s career, but was disappointed in his followup, Hell to Pay.  “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” sounded like he was getting pressure from the record company to repeat his success.  When I moved on to full-time rock radio at WTUE, we played several of Jeff’s songs.  One Dayton note: he does mention the famed McGuffey’s club in his appearance in the movie Roadhouse.  I never got a chance to see him live again.  After that, he sort of faded from view.


I only discovered Jeff’s alter-ego of classic jazz & blues after his untimely passing in 2008.  This music is so full of positive energy – I’m sure it was incredible to see in person.  —Tony Peters

Peter Frampton / Cheap Trick (concert review)

Cheap Trick / Peter Frampton – Rose Music Center 8/9/15 – review

Two artists who built their reputation on their live show do not disappoint

Peter Frampton and Cheap Trick both had their biggest success from live albums.  In the case of the former, 1976’s Frampton Comes Alive was a mammoth seller, redefining what a live record could be, while the latter’s own Live at Budokan captured one of the most boisterous audiences in history, while introducing the band to the rest of the world.  It was fitting then that both bands are touring this summer, even though musically they seem to be an odd pairing.

Cheap Trick opened the show with the appropriate “Hello There,” the same song that kicked off the Budokan album.  Much of the band’s 70-minute set centered around their classic 1970’s material, with standouts including “Stiff Competition,” “Clock Strikes Ten,” and the Tom Peterson-led “I Know What I Want.”  The group dug out two seldom-played tracks off 1988’s Lap of Luxury – the Diane Warren co-write “Ghost Town,” and the band’s only number one hit, “The Flame.”  “Dream Police” and “I Want You to Want Me” got the entire crowd to their feet, while the band encored with two more Budokan moments – “Ain’t That a Shame,” and “Surrender.”

The group was tight, with guitarist Rick Nielsen clowning around, while switching guitars with every new song (eventually pulling out his patented five-neck monstrosity for the encore).  Peterson played his custom, twelve-stringed bass and provided some very nice basslines, and Dax Neilson maneuvered some much-needed muscle on drums.  The real standout was singer Robin Zander, who has amazingly not lost any of the high range in his voice – showcasing especially on the ballad “The Flame.”


Peter Frampton also relied heavily on his signature live record, opening with “Something’s Happening,” followed by “Doobie Wah,” “Show Me the Way,” and “Lines on My Face,” all staples of the 8-times Platinum album.  One surprise of the night was his rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” which was a hit for Frampton in 1977. He also did an instrumental version of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” where he dusted off his Talkbox.  “Baby I Love Your Way” and “Do You Feel Like We Do” were obvious high points.  Frampton encored with a couple of interesting choices – first came the Humble Pie nugget, “Four Day Creep,” which gave the entire band a chance to sing.  Then, he closed the show with a passionate take on the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”


Frampton did something unique that we could be seeing more of concert-wise: he posted a policy concerning the use of phones during the show – allowing the audience to take pictures or video of the first three songs ONLY.  At the end of his third song, he said – “now let’s enjoy the show and live in the moment.”  Very good idea indeed.


Frampton’s guitar playing was exceptional – his lead lines were always tasty, with an envious guitar tone.  Rarely does he get mentioned in the list of great guitarists, but he really should.


The was the first show I’d seen at the brand-new Rose Music Pavilion in Huber Heights – and I was very impressed.  The entire seating area was covered, so even with the threat of rain, there wasn’t any chance anyone would get wet.  The beer and food lines always seemed to move fast, and there didn’t seem to be a bad seat in the house.  And, probably the biggest plus – the line in the parking lot moved rather quickly and got everyone up on the freeway in no time.  All around a great first impression.  —Tony Peters

Davina & the Vagabonds (concert review)

Davina & the Vagabonds – Creekside Blues & Jazz Festival, Gahanna, OH, 6/21/15


Davina & the Vagabonds have released two stellar studio albums – 2011’s Black Cloud and 2014’s Sunshine, both of which feature New Orleans’ style jazz & blues played with reckless abandon.  But, the question is – can they deliver the goods live?


The answer is a resounding YES – and then some.

The Vagabonds featured trombone, trumpet, stand-up bass and drums, led by Davina Sowers on piano and vocals.  She sat front and center, her white skin and flowered dress seemed at odds with the sweltering Ohio afternoon heat (Sowers is from Minnesota, after all).  The band certainly packed a lot into their 90-minute set.  A nice mix of originals with clever cover tunes kept things moving along.  A rollicking version of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream” was a nice touch, while her own “Disappears” showed off a keen melodic sense,  and “Start Runnin’” was pure sass.

A pair of songs were the high points of the show and also showed off the band’s diversity:  First, Sowers did a stunning take on Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind,” where she poured a tremendous amount of passion into an already emotional song.  Then, there was “St. Michael vs. the Devil,” her own composition, which won a songwriting contest several years ago, and is an epic tale of good vs. evil.  That track featured some great interplay between the vocals and horns, and should be available on their forthcoming live record.


While Davina & the Vagabonds have put out some great records, they’re even better in a live setting, where the band can display their ferocious chops, and Davina can let loose her amazing voice. They were great in this afternoon festival setting; I bet they’re even better in a late-night club.  —Tony Peters

Heart – Fraze Pavilion (review)

Heart – Fraze Pavilion, Kettering, OH – 6/16/15

Do yourself a favor and go see Heart


I am convinced that Heart is the greatest classic rock band still playing live.  While that might sound like a bold statement, consider this: Ann Wilson is 64 years old, yet she is still at the peak of her powers – a real vocal force of nature.  Heart returned to the sold-out Fraze Pavilion and put on another phenomenal show.

The concert opened with one of their first hits, “Magic Man,” and never let up in intensity.  The rockers, like “Barracuda” and “Straight On,” were ferocious; played with an energy belying their years. And, those songs are full of incredibly high vocal parts, which Ann never shied away from.  The band pulled out album cuts like “Bebe Le Strange” and “Kick it Out,” which were nice surprises.  Their Eighties’ output was well-represented this time, with a nice addition being the Nancy Wilson-led “There’s the Girl,” a Top Twenty hit from 1987.

Heart has always been known for their clever cover tunes, and this time around they were particularly impressive – a version of Robin Trower’s “Day of the Eagle” was jaw-dropping, while the girls paid tribute to a band from their home state of Washington by unearthing “The Witch” – an obscurity from garage-rock pioneers The Sonics.


The set was heavy on guitar rockers, but sister Nancy did have a chance to play some tasty mandolin on “These Dreams.”  The show-stopper was once again Ann’s heart-wrenching “Alone,” which sent goosebumps throughout the crowd.


The band came back for a three-song encore of all Led Zeppelin songs – “Immigrant Song,” “No Quarter,” and “Misty Mountain Hop,” and why not?  The girls have always had an affinity for their English heroes, and no band can do Zep better justice than Heart.


Forget the Who, the Stones, and the Eagles – save your money and grab a ticket to Heart.  I have seen these veteran rockers three times and have never been let down.  —Tony Peters

The Who – Nationwide Arena (5/15/15) (Concert review)

The Who – Nationwide Arena – 5/15/15 – review


I saw the Who back in 1989…and they were old then.  That was the infamous “ahhh, my ears” tour, when Pete Townshend played behind a sound-proof wall to protect his hearing.  Needless to say, my expectations weren’t terribly high.  Here’s the amazing thing – the Who were actually better 26 years later.


Sure, there were times when the band showed their age.  They opened with a lumbering version of their first hit, “I Can’t Explain,” while “Who Are You” just sort of laid there. Roger Daltrey struggled through “Behind Blue Eyes,” then forgot the words to “My Generation.”  Yet, after a few songs, everything fell together.  A medley of highlights from Tommy, including “Amazing Journey” and “Underture,” was played with a ferocity that would make the Foo Fighters jealous, while Townshend showed off some incredible guitar chops on a searing run through of “Eminence Front.”  And, even Daltrey surprised on a passionate take of “Love, Reign O’er Me,” which was far better than the version I saw 26 years ago.


There were a few surprises in the set list – “You Better, You Bet,” “The Seeker,” and especially the 10-minute, mini-opera “A Quick One (While He’s Away).”  The great backup harmonies helped cover any imperfections of both Daltrey and Townshend, while Ringo’s son, Zak Starkey, filled in amicably on drums.  The show closed with a ragged version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” which featured a piped-in Daltrey scream at the end.  But, who cares?  This is a band that released an album called Who’s Last…in 1984!  The fact that they’ve stuck around this long is testament to their stubbornness to not go away quietly.


The show opened with a surprisingly solid set from the ageless Joan Jett & the Blackhearts.  Her 40-minute show was full of classic punk attitude like “Do You Wanna Touch” and the Runaways’ hit “Cherry Bomb.”  She looked and sounded great, and got the crowd into it with her closer, “I Hate Myself For Loving You.”  —Tony Peters