King Crimson – Live at Center Stage

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One King Crimson to Rule Them All!  Or, so the thought occurred to me while enjoying their Tuesday performance in Atlanta.  Looking at the audience, it was clear that some who attended enjoyed KC during their early years.  I was a relative latecomer when I saw the mid-period band play in June, 1984, and I didn’t see them again until their 2003 Power to Believe tour.

Both of these concerts were undeniably good, the former generally “strange” as contrarian as it was to the current music trends, the latter focused on their 2000’s “industrial” work.  There’s a lot of history to their lineup changes, but suffice it to say that while I enjoyed Adrian Belew’s guitar, I found his voice, at best, curious or, at worst, distracting.

Currently, the band has eight members who are more than capable of playing music from any of their various periods and with a singer, Jakko Jaksyzk, who does justice to any of them.  Thus, One King Crimson…

This show was their second in Atlanta, well attended by people who had seen the show the evening prior.   I had read some of bassist Tony Levin’s road diaries over the years, and this was my first concert with the three drummer line-up.  Sound… interesting?  Well, then imagine putting all three drummers at the front of the stage.

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As one may expect, it was a percussion-heavy performance, but not one that lacked for visuals.  Actually, the remaining members were fairly static, so the drummers were the visual focus through much of the show.  My son pointed to “poly-rhythms;” I just absorbed three drummers mostly playing different things at once, fascinated not only by musicians who knew when to play but also when not to play.  A little reading finds that they practiced separately well before the full band began rehearsals for the tour.  This was not a surprise given the deftness of trading parts even as they all three played. 

Center Stage is a great venue, without a bad seat in the house.  However, there are worse seats.  We were next to the back row (Row L, hardly a far distance) in the amphitheater styled seating.  Those to our far right would be blocked from seeing Robert Fripp, the leader/guitarist mainstay since the band’s founding in 1968.  Likewise, those that paid for the pricier seats on the floor may have hardly seen anything beyond the front line of drums.  In the cheap seats, we had a clear view of all.

Worth mentioning, the sound was excellent.  Intermission comments from those around us indicated that the sound level was good the prior night but much better for this show.  No complaints here, except that Tony Levin’s bass/stick were difficult to decipher particularly during the first set.

And about that, yes, sets.  The last time I saw them, they played 12 songs and a three song encore.  This time around, there were nine songs in the first set, 10 in the second, plus a two song encore, encompassing about three hours.  This gave the songs ample room to stretch out, though just a “hello” to the audience would have been appreciated. 

Fripp did comment on their policy of no photos until the end of the show, which was enforced to several folks’ discontent (spotlight with a bonus of Fripp pointing to the offender).   Even those who activated their cell phones for messages were confronted by ushers.  That said, it was nice not be distracted by all the camera/phone screens, and this was an evening of music that required concentration by both the band and the audience.  That attention was most obvious in quieter sections, when not a word was heard from the crowd.

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Highlights.  As much as Robert Fripp was the draw, our vantage didn’t allow watching his hands on the frets, but that was okay – he was clearly heard, at times with blistering guitars and quite frequently on keyboards.   He has an evolved kit to shape his guitar so that were you not watching him, you might assume the notes were from a keyboard.  Time and again there was a beautiful handoff from guitar to Mel Collin’s brass that melded perfectly.

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And Collins stole the show.  Sax, flute, whatever – his was the extra dimension that was missing from the previous versions of the band I had seen.  After a particularly splendid solo following preceding hours of great play, the audience gave their approval to which Collins grinned and tugged his bowtie in minimalist appreciation. 

As for the drummers, I don’t know enough about the art to comment about the various styles, but visually, Gavin Harrison seems to inhabit his drums as opposed to “masterfully play,” “command” or other words I might put to it.  There’s a beauty in just the way he wields his drumsticks and owns the space. 

Lacking in the evening’s set list were two standouts played the night previous, “Larks’ Tongue in Aspic” and “One More Red Nightmare.”  That’s okay – we didn’t suffer, but I’d happily trade “Neurotica,” the misfit of the night, for just half of either one.  That said, “Islands” hadn’t been played on tour since 1971 – it’s too rich a catalogue for one night.

In any case, it was a phenomenal show.  They rarely play Atlanta, and I’ll probably have to travel to see them again (and go consecutive nights to maximize the opportunity).  And, per the set list below, what a finish to a show!  Draw the line where you like, but from the start of Set Two going forward… wow.


Set 1:
  • Hell Hounds of Krim - Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind, 2016
  • Pictures of a City – In the Wake of Poseidon, 1970
  • Cirkus – Lizard, 1970
  • Neurotica – Beat, 1982
  • Lizard (Battle of Glass Tears, Dawn Song, Last Skirmish, Prince Rupert’s Lament) – Lizard, 1970
  • Epitaph - In the Court of the Crimson King, 1969
  • Meltdown – Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind, 2016
  • Level Five – The Power to Believe, 2003
  • Islands – Islands, 1971
Set 2:
  • Drumson Outbreak of Wonderment, Joy & Bliss Arising - New
  • Discipline – Discipline, 1981
  • Fallen Angel – Red, 1975
  • The Letters – Islands, 1971
  • Indiscipline – Discipline, 1981
  • Easy Money – Larks’ Tongue in Aspic, 1973
  • Breathless – Exposure (Fripp Solo album), 1979
  • Moonchild - In the Court of the Crimson King, 1969
  • The Court of the Crimson King - In the Court of the Crimson King, 1969
  • 21st Century Schizoid Man - In the Court of the Crimson King, 1969
Encore:
  • “Heroes” – David Bowie track on which Fripp originally played, 1977
  • Starless – Red, 1975


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Garth Brooks–Live at Mercedes Benz

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Full Disclosure:  This was a free ticket for me, and I’m not a Country/Garth Brooks fan.  Going into this show, I’d seen him on TV and knew he was a good showman.  He’s also the #1 selling solo artist in U.S. history, with 149M albums sold.  My wife has his Greatest Hits CD, but it never gets played. 

The ticket did cost a friend $150, though.  Here’s the view – lower bowl, sort of corner end zone.  For a stadium show, this is a pretty good seat.  It’s Thursday, a weeknight, and traffic in downtown Atlanta is its usual hell.  Ergo, the stadium fills slowly.  The opener was Mitch Rossell, an enthusiastic performer fairly overwhelmed with the opportunity and the space.  Regrettably, though visibly enjoying his performance, the sound was much like listening in over a Public Address speaker.  We quickly became worried about the sound prospects.  The second opening act, Karyn Rochelle, was similarly muddled, though she was at least more visible by playing to our side of the up-to-now curtained in-the-round stage.  Still, ‘twas awful audio.

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Speaking of a PA, an announcement is heard that Garth will be recording the show, and the audio folks need our help in setting levels.  The crowd cheers as instructed.  Translation, they turned the volume up when Garth took the stage.  That entrance was electric.

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It’s a huge stage.  The center core is surrounded by floor seats, with runways that reach towards the end zones.  Garth is an energetic guy; he’s going to play to the crowd.  Helpfully, from this distance, the Mercedes Benz circular graphics board helps zoom in on the action, else most folks would be left with “just” the audio.  Oops, rather, just the “audio.”

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Curiously, the “halo” video ring at the top of the stadium was pretty well synced with Garth, while the video in his own stage was a tad behind.  In any case, it didn’t freaking matter.  The music reverberated in Atlanta’s now hallowed structure, taking any musical enjoyment out of the experience.  All it left was Garth, warming to crowd, soaking in its adulations, and energetic presentation.  That would have to be good enough.

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I went for a beverage and found other people similarly complaining.  One in the upper deck actually said she came down to a lower level – the speakers around the perimeter were not functional.

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Hey, what’s there to do in a terrible sounding concert?  Surf.  Thanks Twitter.  It isn’t just me, and it wasn’t just those in the upper deck, per a perfunctory post-concert announcement by Mercedes-Benz operators that “we have heard some fan concerns about sound quality in certain sections of the upper concourse…” 

Well, let’s look at that upper concourse.  If you’ll click the picture below to expand it, you’ll see many empty seats (red) for this sold out show.  Ample tickets were available up to the start of the show in the $30-$40 range, which suggests that many, many seats were originally bought by resellers (no evidence for this, but seat licenses for stadiums are gold mines for resellers), without anyone to grab them. 

"Two Pina Coladas" graphics scrolling by.

I’m not going to place the blame fully on the stadium.  Garth shares in the lousy sound audio.  Though intended for sports audiences, the facility was built with an expectation of hosting concerts as well.  Whatever acoustic properties you consider in a concrete and steel structure, they either were not good enough or were not related adequately to Garth’s audio team.

On Garth’s part, his stage is obviously built for basketball arenas.  In the cavernous Benz, it looks small, and the speakers that surround it are pointed towards the floor and level audience.  By other reports, the sound quality on the floor was sterling.  Some people got their money’s worth, at least.  But I’ll refrain from a show there until I hear of a few that people actually compliment.  None of those people were on the MARTA train home – everyone seemed thrilled to have seen him and deeply disappointed that it wasn’t a concert to remember.  Fondly, or as fondly as the should.

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On the plus side, the stadiums graphics were sizzling, the seats are generously sized and comfortable, and I’d hop, skip and jump back there for a sports event.  Speaking of Garth, he may have done just the same getting to the ends of the stadium.

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I can see why people like Garth.  He writes good songs, everyone, it seems, can relate to them, and most of those gathered knew the words and could sing along.  He’s not like most performers who settle for a “Hello, Atlanta!” and “Here’s one you might remember.”  Instead, almost every song was introduced in some context, and his appreciation for his audience seemed both gigantic and heartfelt.  There’s a lot to like about a celebrity who interacts that way.

His wife, Trisha Yearwood, took the stage for a couple duets and solo songs, surprisingly giving wa to an honorary Georgian award presented by Jimmy Carter.  Not every concert features a Presidential address, but it was a good one, as well as seeing him spryly descend a ladder without assistance.

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Other notes:  I enjoyed the solo-acoustic songs, “The River” song/cellphone lightshow, his “I got a guitar to hide my gut… but I did learn four chords” – intro to “Friends in Low Places,” a rocking “The Thunder Rolls,” and the familiar but appropriate “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

Oh, and Der Biergarden pre-show!  Good friends, audible conversation.

Setlist:

  • Devil Went Down to Georgia
  • Rodeo
  • Two of a Kind, Workin’ of a Full House
  • The River
  • Two Pina Coladas
  • Papa Loved Mama
  • Ain’t Goin’ Down
  • Unanswered Prayers
  • That Summer
  • Ask Me How I Know
  • The Thunder Rolls
  • In Another’s Eyes (with Trisha Yearwood)

Trisha Yearwood:

  • XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl)
  • How Do I Live
  • Prize Fighter
  • Georgia On My Mind
  • She’s in Love With the Boy

Garth Brooks:

  • Callin’ Baton Rouge
  • Friends in Low Places
  • The Dance

Encore:

  • She’s Every Woman
  • The Change
  • The Red Strokes
  • Piano Man
  • Standing Outside the Fire

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Alison Krauss–Live at Chastain Amphitheater

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I receive many emails from promoters and venues regarding upcoming concerts.  I saw one that mentioned Alison Krauss at Chastain and immediately plotted my entertainment plans.  The only problem was that my wife isn’t really a country or bluegrass fan, but the opener, David Gray, was a seasonal favorite back in 1999 when “Babylon” held sway on the radio.  I also knew that my stepmom was a fan, so invited her and my dad; a foursome was made.  Now committed, I joined her website fan club to get a presale code, which paid off.  Good seats! 

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Fast forward. 

David Gray has a good interactive manner and a strong voice.  Despite a limited vocal range, he bleeds earnestness which is important as his songs generally center around relationship challenges which call for just that.  I had two problems, though. 

1) He has a consistent trait for taking a good 4:00 song and extending it with the refrain until the repetition dulls the senses.  Given Chastain’s aggravating but understandable 11:00 p.m. sound curfew on concerts due to its location in a residential area, after about the fifth or sixth song, I’m thinking, “Play ‘Babylon’ and exit the stage, please.”  Not so.  After playing unaccompanied for a while, he brought in several of Krauss’ band members to support him, which helped, though I was wondering why Krauss would share a pretty good light show on the opening act.  That’s typically not done.

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2)  That’s because he wasn’t an opening act.  It was a co-headlining tour, I find after the event.  This was not obvious in the marketing or evidenced by the slowly filling crowd during his set.  Had I known that I would get 1:15 of Krauss, I would have passed on the (not inexpensive) show. 

It is what is, right?  For one, it was a perfect, early fall night for watching an outdoor concert. 

So, David Gray.  Credit to him, he played like everyone was there to see him.  He’s an engaging performer, and on a song by song basis, he was pretty good. The unaccompanied songs featured his voice well, which does not seem to have suffered in strength over the years.  Still, one song like that is a treat, but by the time his band joined in (not Krauss’ obviously), the crowd was more than ready for a little pulse to his music.  He played pretty heavily from White Ladder, but most regrettably he included “Say Hello Wave Goodbye.”  At somewhere beyond halfway of his set, we agreed in post-concert thoughts that we were hoping that his long goodbye was his final song.   Not to belabor the point, but even on the record it’s 9:04 long.   In any case, “Sail Away,” “Please Forgive Me,” and “Babylon” were excellent.

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Through the intermission, the stage was changed over, including his stage lights (which were superior to Krauss’ minimalist presentation).  The house music, by the way, featured some old Herb Alpert tunes, which didn’t fit the music of either artist, but was kind of fun.  Amazon has a CD on its way… In any case, it was clear that we would not be getting the duration of Alison Kraus for which we hoped – but we didn’t know that we weren’t getting the show we had hoped for either.

Krauss managed to squeeze in a lot of songs.  Part of this is is due to the brevity of her songs.  The other is that she included a good number of traditional/spiritual songs which in addition to being brief were almost presented as a suite. 

Another disappointing aspect was that this is a tour without Union Station, her killer bluegrass band.  Her touring band shared two of those musicians, but the direction of this tour is more towards traditional songs, which would be obvious to fans who appreciate the Cox Family, who accompany her on this tour and were a large part of her early career.   Sadly, the show was absent much in the way of bluegrass instrumentalism or Krauss’ fiddle playing. 

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The show featured five songs from her new album, Windy City, which fit pretty well with her other latter era songs.  Krauss has a special voice, and every nuance could be heard clearly, but this is especially appreciated on unhurried songs that allow space for her voice to soar.  The sound system was crystal clear for both artists, but songs like “The Lucky One,” “I Never Cared for You,” “Stay,” and “Ghost in This House,” the last literally causing goosebumps, indicate that her recording engineers can just hit “record” and leave it alone.

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The concert ended with some irony, as clearly the fans were caught short on the co-billing, and her last song was cut short when the house staff pulled the plug. 

Hey, Chastain.  Maybe start shows a little earlier?

(Likely) Set list:

  • River in the Rain
  • I Never Cared for You
  • Stay
  • Forget About It
  • Baby, Now That I’ve Found You
  • Broadway
  • Ghost in This House
  • The Lucky One
  • Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us
  • It’s Goodbye and So Long to You
  • Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground
  • Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby
  • I Am Weary (Let Me Rest)
  • Down to the River to Pray
  • Restless
  • Gentle on My Mind
  • Losing You
  • Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues
  • When God Dips His Pen of Love in My Heart
  • Walk Over God’s Heaven
  • When I’ve Done the Best I Can, I Want My Crown
  • When You Say Nothing at All
  • A Living Prayer





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