“Lyrics is everything to me…” The very thoughtful and contemplative Howard Jones, during his intimate solo show (“The Songs, The Piano, and The Stories) at City Winery Napa on Friday night, leading into his heartfelt hit song, “Life In One Day”. The lengthy set was split between his solo performance and stories about each song, delivered with warmth, honesty, and wit, in an authentic, humble manner. The format proved to be an amazing way in which to begin to get to know (funny enough) the man behind the music, which is something I always approach with a little trepidation (at least one favorite 80s icon proved to be a disappointment a few years ago – I wish I could “unexperience” that show). But Howard Jones proved to be a man the audience liked to get to know well… Mr. Jones is really not just an incredible artist, but an incredible man and I really appreciate his efforts to openly share about his fascinating life as well as pass along some life lessons. He does this in his traditional electric shows as well, but it’s not quite the same as him settling into his seat behind his keyboard with the mic volume set for discussion as well as playing, with an equally relaxed audience sitting around him. If you’ve ever seen one of Howard Jones’ electric live shows, I would highly recommend checking out one of these solo shows as well, as it is a totally different experience and maybe even more gratifying and entertaining. I loved every second of it, and plan to go to another one the next time the opportunity arises. My highest recommendation.
“I was going to save this one for later… just like me, I’m too excited, and I just can’t wait!” Dave Wakeling of The English Beat, teasing the crowd and then finally throwing down with popular hit “Save It For Later” not even halfway through their lengthy concert at City Winery Napa on Thursday night. After finishing that song, toaster King Schascha exclaimed: “We could not be saving anything for later… after that, we officially want to welcome each and every one of you to the Dave Wakeling workout program. Just that seven minutes right there is the best workout you’ve had all week. And you did it while drinking alcohol. More calories than ever. All you need to do for this membership is come to a Dave Wakeling Beat show.” King Schascha is one of several line-up changes in the band since I last saw them live back in January, and this is definitely my favorite modern-era incarnation of the band yet. They absolutely killed it on stage, and sounded better than ever with amazing energy and chemistry pouring into the sold out crowd (many of whom did get a great workout through the night). If how good a performance makes you feel while it’s happening was the only criteria for ranking a live show, I would have to say that this English Beat event was the concert of the year, and definitely the best I’d ever seen them, from the energy to the sound to the venue and atmosphere to the crowd, it all just came together beautifully. I’m actually now worried about seeing them again in the future, as it would be hard to measure up to this one show. Outstanding.
“I’m going to play really small tonight…” Kristin Hersh at the start of her special show at City Winery Napa. I would have to say that it was maybe the most quotable concert I’ve ever attended, filled with an endless number of interesting comments and observations throughout her set, which was a mix of poetry readings and music from her various projects recorded under her own name, Throwing Muses, and 50 Foot Wave. The setting within the beautiful, candle lit venue seemed perfect (Kristin’s first words coming out to the stage and mic was, “it’s so romantic here…”). Her comment about playing small was inspired by her own characterization of her setlist (“the tiniest setlist ever!“), which was about half the size of a Post-It Note, double-sided. But Kristin always seems to do things different; her own way… and sees the world I think a lot differently from the rest of us, which makes her works all the more compelling (in words, sound, and delivery). Quite the artist, it is interesting how she does not limit her expression to her incredible music, but also gives us glimpses into her world via words printed on paper (“I’m going to read books at you tonight…“). She has a sort of funny, quirky, open, and honest presentation which is somewhat disarming, in that she will then tear into a raw and emotional (powerful) song that is a shock to the system. A singular artist, I get the sense every show she does – even the “small” ones like last night – are quite unique journeys unto themselves. Certainly one of the more gifted and unique artists of her generation (and a real pioneer in terms of creating new pathways for women in music), she is definitely worth turning out to see live if you get the opportunity, and I would say the solo show is even more interesting than the traditional Throwing Muses concert (like the one I reviewed about a year ago).
“…I am extremely upset at losing Robin Williams – much more than I ever thought I would be when I first heard the news. It’s really hard to see someone with that kind of talent and love from all over the world destroy himself. And I’m not saying he’s wrong… I’m just saying it’s hard… So we pulled this song that you’ve probably heard before, because I think it is what I want to say to honor him tonight. This is for Robin.” A heartfelt and emotional intro by Terri Nunn of Berlin at City Winery Napa on Wednesday night, talking in a personal way about what has been on the minds of the masses around the world, as a preface to their special tribute cover of Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World”. All in all, it was a very intimate set, and probably the best I’ve seen them over the years. They have toured a bit more in 2014, in part to support their latest album, Animal. With their current sets comprised of a mix of old and new, it’s become more and more seamless as the rest of the band have made each of the classic songs their own over the years. And they are still full of surprises, last night playing “Like Flames” for the first time since 1987. They are one of my personal favorite live acts today, and each time I see them it inspires me to turn out for future shows.