Vampire Weekend Kicks off Summer in Cleveland

Vampire Weekend was lucky to get what could only be described as a perfect summer concert night as they took the stage at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica on Friday, June 14. Cleveland summer weather has been less than ideal, to say the least, but the rain managed to hold off for an evening of dancing, fun, and summer bliss.

It’s safe to say Vampire Weekend has grown since their last time in Cleveland, way back in 2012 at House of Blues. Growth in both a literal and figurative sense! Yes, the group has ‘grown’ not only in popularity, but in number of bodies on stage, too! Founding members Ezra Koenig, Chris Baio, and Chris Thompson were joined by guitarist Brian Robert Jones and guitarist/keyboardist Greta Morgan, and a second percussion player to create a more full and complete sound, along with the use of different instruments.

The band performed a balanced mix from their four-album discography, but of course, paid special attention to their latest release ‘Father of the Bridewhich dropped last month.

Their stage backdrop featured a giant inflatable globe, the same that graces the cover of FOTB, but that didn’t mean their other albums didn’t get some love as well. Fan favorites of the night included “Unbelievers,” “Diane Young” “Holiday,” and “One (Blake’s Got a New Face).”

Another big treat on the night was a cover of Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” [See Video below]

Courtesy of YouTube user Adam Tabor

Surprisingly, the fan favorite of the night was not a closing song or encore, but thrown right in the middle of the set. Clevelanders out boating in the Cuyahoga River could likely hear the screams and feel the energy of fans when the band played, “A-Punk.”

As the night went on it was clear this group was not getting tired any time soon, and they pushed the limits of curfew to the max. Their encore was a whopping six songs in length, including the audience requested “Ottoman” and “How Long?” from girls in Budweiser and tie-dye bucket hats respectively. They attempted to include a third request, but “Flower Moon” was cut short as curfew drew closer and closer. Somehow, as if time stopped, the band managed to squeeze in two final songs to close out the night, first “Worship You” and finally closing the night with “Hey Ya”.

Vampire Weekend provided some feelings of summer for an otherwise gloomy month of June. The energy at Nautica that night made it clear that vans are looking for more nights like the one Vampire Weekend provided, and hopes are high they’ll be back in town soon to bring the same summer happiness.

Zac Brown Band – The Owl Tour (Concert review)

Zac Brown Band concert review Blossom 2019

Country megastars Zac Brown Band performed their Owl Tour at Blossom Music Center last night (Friday, June 14).   The seats in the pavilion hardly seemed necessary, as the reserved seat holders spent the night standing in unison with most of the 13,000+ patrons on the lawn for this sold-out show, for what seemed like the duration of the 2.5 hours + set. (Not including a 20-minute intermission)   Brown and company wowed the crowd with crowd-pleasing hits, new material from his yet-to-be-released album (rumored for a 2019 release) and, as always, covered some great country and cross-genre hits.  Hell, ZBB even debuted a brand new song, “The Woods,” a never-before-performed tune.

Zac Brown has put together an amazing 8-piece band with great musicians that communicate extremely well, including studs like Jimmy De Martini, who can play great fiddle, violin AND lead guitar (all adding terrific depth to the already deep band).  Several of the musicians onstage with Brown provide backing harmonies that compliment Zac flawlessly. 

zac brown band concert review blossom 2019
Zac Brown Band performing at Blossom on June 14, 2019 (Photo: Tim G Fenner / CleveRock)

The Atlanta natives not only have an extensive repertoire of original music, but performed covers ranging from James Taylor to Rage Against the Machine! Few (dare I say none?) other country acts are brave enough to tackle tunes so far out of their comfort zone.

Just before the intermission ZBB performed three acoustic songs.  One of those songs was selected by a young guest spinning a James Taylor Wheel (which is exactly what you think it is!).  The wheel stopped at “You’ve Got a Friend.” So…they played it!

Zac Brown Band concert review blossom 2019
A young fan spins the “James Taylor Wheel” during the Zac Brown Band concert (Photo: Tim G Fenner / CleveRock)

Other highlights on the night included Zac Brown Band’s (arguably) biggest hit, “Chicken Fried,” to close out the second set (pre-encore), covers of Charlie Daniels Band’s “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade,” and the aforementioned special debut of “The Woods.”

Brown supports the charity Camp Southern Ground, a camp for children ages 7 to 17.  This camp helps children of all backgrounds with learning and attention disabilities as well as social or emotional challenges. Brown announced the band donates three dollars per ticket sold to this worthy cause.

Zac Brown Band has made an effort to stop at Blossom for three consecutive summers and, hopefully, 2020 will bring the streak to four, giving fans a chance to come back and see one of the few country bands who mix things up every night, as well as welcome newcomers who have learned their lesson about snoozing on tickets.

Opening for ZBB was Drake White.  White also has excellent musicians that played’s a high energy 10 song set to warm the sold-out crowd.  White’s band is very active on stage with a touch of ZZ Top style with guitarists lining up and moving in sync.  

Dear Evan Hansen…Your show was incredible!

Evan Hansen’s letters to himself were never meant to be seen, but they changed the lives of thousands around the world. The messages of self-acceptance, hope, love, and the power of social media have resonated with people of all ages, and now they’re touching the lives of Northeast Ohioians as the show runs at Playhouse Square through June 30.

Evan Hansen is about to get the one thing he’s always wanted: a chance to finally fit in. Evan is an outcast in every way and finds himself constantly on the outside looking in. But after a series of events and a big lie, Evan finds himself surrounded by friends, the family he wished he always had, and the popularity he always dreamed of. What he didn’t expect was the stress, pain, and confusion that would come along with it all.

While Evan’s story is one where mental health is a prominent theme, the story is about much more. Suicide and the struggles of being a teenager are also addressed. The show highlights other important topics including family dynamics, communication in a digital age, the impact of social media, and the coming of age journey of finding your voice. Evan has to navigate the confusing world of being a teenager which includes the woes of high school, the struggle of having a single parent who is working hard to support a family, the confusion of social media, the stresses of dating and everything in between.

Christiane Noll as ‘Cynthia Murphy’ and Jessica Phillips as ‘Heidi Hansen’ in the First North American Tour of Dear Evan Hansen. Photo by Matthew Murphy. 2018.

The cast of this national tour is jam-packed with talent. Ben Levi Ross leads the troupe as Evan Hansen, and his impressive vocals left the audience awe-struck. His vocal range was beyond impressive, and the emotion he was able to convey could be felt from the front row to the upper balcony. Most nights, his love interest Zoe Murphy is played by Maggie McKenna, but for this particular show, we were wowed by the talent of her understudy, Ciara Alysa Harris. Harris is a recent graduate from Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, making the Dear Evan Hansen tour her first national tour debut. Being an understudy didn’t stop Harris from shining bright, and her emotional performance as the confused, but “not the grieving girl,” sister brought audience members to tears.

Other notable performances came from Jessica Phillips, who played Evan’s mom, Heidi, who beautifully portrayed the struggling but loving single mother. The love, hopelessness, and desire to help her son I’m sure pushed audience members to make sure they said their “I love you’s” that night.

Christine Noll and Aaron Lazar, who played Mrs. and Mr. Murphy respectively, also brought memorable performances as they showcased the various emotional states that come with the loss of a child. Both of them have impressive theater backgrounds playing a wide range of characters, and their performances in Dear Evan Hansen showed a deep level of compassion and understanding of these characters that you need to experience in person to truly appreciate and understand.

Tickets for all remaining shows are on sale now and can be purchased RIGHT HERE.

Experience this Tony Award winning show and experience this deeply personal and incredibly moving contemporary musical about life and the way we live it.

A Bronx Tale sets the stage as “One of the Greats”

Playhouse Square’s Conner Palace Theater opened the Broadway play A Bronx Tale on April 23. This is the third iteration of this play. The story is based on the author’s Calogero Lorenzo Palminteri’s (who now calls himself Chazz Palminteri) real life.  This semi-biographical story is about a young boy (Calogero) living in the Bronx in 1968.  He is the loving son of a bus driver, Lorenzo and befriends a powerful local mobster named Sonny.  The story continues into Calogero’s young adulthood, growing and learning from these two father figures in his life.  Calogero’s father is a modest man hoping his son will learn the value of hard work, honest living, and trust.  Sonny is a wise-guy mob boss who believes in much the opposite of what Calogero’s father teaches.  Sonny says “The working man is a sucker” and believes you need to lead by fear rather than kindness and love.  Calogero takes more of a liking to Sonny than his actual father.   Both of these father figures have one thing in common, to help Calagero (or “C,” as Sonny calls him) succeed in life.  As Calogero’s father Lorenzo says; “the saddest thing in life is a wasted talent.”

The first iteration of A Bronx Tale was performed in the late 80s.  The only cast in this play was Palminteri himself.  Chazz performed this play in Los Angeles to sold-out audiences for years. Chazz even had the opportunity to turn the play into a film, but he never received an offer that met his only demand: Chazz wanted to play himself in the film.

It wasn’t until years later where Robert De Niro saw the play and was so impressed helped develop the second iteration of the story, an American crime drama motion picture also titled “A Bronx Tale.”  Chazz Palminteri played the part of the top mobster Sonny in this film. De Niro played the role of Chazz’s father, Lorenzo, as well as directed the film.

This musical (co-directed by De Niro and Tony® winner Jerry Zaks) tells the same story, Chazz’s real-life story.  Calogero (the name of the protagonist in the show) is a Sicilian American and played by two different actors.  The nine-year-old Calogero (Brigg Liberman) did an outstanding job with both dance and song. The older teenage Calogero is played by Joey Barreiro.  Barreiro not only plays the teen Calogero but also narrates the story from beginning to end. 

The musical tells a rather dynamic story effectively.  The language can be rough to keep the actors in character.  Fight scenes with baseball bats and guns, Molotov cocktails and huge explosions accentuate the performance.  The guns sounded quite real and the explosion was amazingly effective in scaring the audience with a HUGE ‘BOOM’ and a very bright flash of light. (I know this story from the movie and thought I was prepared for that, but jumped (almost leaped) out of my seat anyway.)  It’s best to leave the kids at home for this one!

The musical can move from a quiet scene to a violent one on a dime.  Calogero, falls in love with a young African American girl.  As in West Side Story, their friends have issues with a mixed relationship, which leads to violence. 

The music was centered in early-mid ’60s.  The dancers were energetic, very effective and the live orchestra sounded excellent. Both Sonny (Joe Barbara) and Lorenzo (Richard H Blake) had a Sinatra quality fitting the times.  Jane (Brianna-Marie Bell) also had an amazing voice and presence. 

(foreground, l to r) Haley Hannah, Joseph Sammour, Joshua Michael Burrage, Giovanni DiGabriele, Sean Bell, Kyli Rae. (background, l to r) Robert Pieranunzi, Michael Barra, Paul Salvatoriello and Mike Backes.
Photo: Joan Marcus

You don’t need to be a fan of the Soprano’s to enjoy A Bronx Tale! Though it has been called, “Jersey Boys meets West Side Story.” The story touches the hearts of anyone who understands the complicated nature between parents and their children or the challenges of love.

Chazz Palminteri comes out to speak to the Cleveland audience and tells them how closely the story mirrored his life growing up.
Photo: Tim Fenner

A surprise guest took the stage following the performance. Chazz Palminteri himself came out to speak to the audience and express how humbled and honored he is to be able to see this show grow to what it has become and how much respect he has for this cast performing it. He shared about his experience living the character he had performed for so many years. Then he thanked the Cleveland audience for coming out.

A Bronx Tale completes its stay in Cleveland on May 12th. Tickets are available here:

Chicago Concert Review | Northfield, OH | 04.07.19

at MGM Northfield Park
I think it was the Seventh of April
People dancing, people laughing
A man selling overpriced beer
People talking, really smiling
A man playing guitar (and other men playing horns)

And singing for us all
Can you dig it?

Yes, I can!

And, yes, the sold-out crowd did most definitely dig Chicago’s energetic show at the newly rebranded MGM Northfield Park’s Center Stage (formerly Hard Rock Rocksino’s Hard Rock Live), featuring tunes from their extensive (to say the least) catalog.

This review writer, 35-years-old, is pre-dated by Chicago by 17 years! Impressively, four of the founding members still perform with the band to this day, including keyboardist Robert Lamm, trumpet player Lee Loughnane, trombonist James Pankow, and Walt Parazaider on woodwinds. How many bands last 50+ years? How many of those acts went through no lineup changes and still have four originals left onstage? This is a true testament to the staying power and timelessness of Chicago’s music.

The band took the stage, placing drummer Wally Reyes, Jr. and percussionist Ray Yslas sandwiched between keyboardists Lamm and Lou Pardini on a platform centered on the stage, directly in front of a sizable video board that flashed fun imagery throughout the performance.

The other members of the band moved about the stage throughout the night. It was one giant party! Often described as “rock with horns” — it was, in fact, the horn players of Chicago that stole the show. The horns are what makes, and has always made Chicago’s sound a cut above their contemporaries.

Already reeling from the night that had already been, the two songs before the encore brought this review writer to elated status when Chicago performed their upbeat-feel-good-don’t-mind-if-i-dance-along tune, “Saturday in the Park” (which is horribly parodied at the beginning of this review).

The lyrics to this song summed up the atmosphere of MGM Northfield Park’s Center Stage. “People laughing, people dancing,” … “people talking, really smiling” … “A real celebration waiting for us all” … “And I’ve been waiting such a long time for the day.”

This classic, which was the highlight for many in attendance, was followed by the highlight for this reviewer, “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day,” which was the anthem of this writer’s mother as she recovered from a life-threatening disease. Post-hospital, this song played in her Florida home several times per day as she progressed through intense therapy and strengthening exercises, showcasing the true healing power of music.

Returning for an encore, Chicago played another sing-along/dance-along tune, “25 or 6 to 4.” By this time, one could count on their fingers the number of folks who left early, while at the same time needing to bust out a calculator to add up the number of folks dancing (no easy feat at this crammed venue).

Cheers for Chicago! Cheers to the energetic fans! Jeers to the Rock Hall! Jury still out on the rebranded venue. And, if you missed this show, tickets will go on sale very soon for Chicago’s return to North East Ohio at the just-announced June 28 show at the brand new Youngstown Foundation Amphitheater. (Stay tuned to CleveRock’s concert calendar for more details!)

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A Final KISS Goodbye

Paul Stanley stands before a sold-out Cleveland crowd, thanking them for our years of love, support, and dedication. He told us all that they created KISS to be a band of regular people, people like everyone there that night and that the audience is also s part of KISS.

It’s St. Patrick’s Day’s in Cleveland and crazily dressed up people are both inside and outside the Q, but for very different reasons. While Clevelanders outside are dressed in green, the diehard fans inside are sporting their painted faces and vintage KISS Army shirts from the last 40 years.

Before KISS graces the stage, a sea of fans stand and cheer while they wait anxiously, with nothing but a staged sized KISS logo on a curtain standing between them. Lifelong KISS fans, fans in makeup, fans seeing KISS for the first time and everyone seeing them for their last time (allegedly) as the KISS – End of the Road World Tour makes its stop in Cleveland.

Paul Stanley (The Starchild), Gene Simmons (The Demon), Tommy Thayer (The Spaceman) and Cleveland native Eric Singer (The Catman) are tonight’s final KISS lineup, with Paul and Gene remaining the only constants throughout the band’s 46-year long amazing career. KISS has always been a band of theatrics. If there aren’t fireworks, explosions, giant screens, fire breathing, fake blood, killer guitar and drum solos, or adult men in costume, face paint and platform shoes, then it isn’t a KISS concert.

As the curtain drops, “Detroit Rock City” begins and the band, accompanied by flames, smoke, and fireworks are lowered onto the stage. This is the grand entrance fans have come to expect from this legendary band. All fans now on their feet would remain there until the end of the night. The characters the members of KISS embody are in full swing and they becoming something larger than the sum of their parts.

Gene and Paul love the camera.

The stage is much lower at a KISS concert than a typical arena show. The band wants to feel closer to their audience as they remember what it was like to be in that audience as fans of music themselves. It’s that feeling, they say, they want to make every show memorable and the best they can do. This night in Cleveland is no exception. From “Shout it Out Loud” to “Calling Dr. Love,” they made sure to cover a little of all the audiences favorites.

KISS drummer, Eric Singer was born in Euclid, where he slowly rose through the ranks of local stardom. He put in his time with Beau Coup to eventually replacing Will Ward in Black Sabbath which led him to becoming The Catman in KISS.

KISS – “Love Gun.” Paul flies over the audience.

Paul Stanley knows how to work a crowd and the crowd knows how to work Paul Stanley. Midway through the show, Paul asks the audience if they would like for him to “come out there” and join them. As the audience agrees, a rope and harness lower from the ceiling as Paul takes the rope and glides over the audience, guitar in hand, to the back of the arena. As Paul stands on a stage, it raises up so he can tower over the fans in the back for a few songs.

It’s almost overwhelming the many ways KISS’ giant stage performance takes over the area. Gene performs “God of Thunder,” complete with fake bloodied face, from a platform that raised him up into the rafters. Eric Singer during “100,000 Years,” was equally risen to the ceiling as his drum riser, covered in fireworks wowing the audience.

KISS wrapped up their final stay in Cleveland with what everyone expected them to, “Rock and Roll All Nite.” Even if you aren’t a fan of KISS, the song will make you sing along. As the song went on, Gene and Tommy strapped into ceiling mounted crane arms that raised and slowly swung them around the area, allowing them to be mere feet away from the upper deck seats. As flames, fireworks and rock and roll engulf the stage the crowd doesn’t know how to handle it all. The audience is witnessing their favorite band for the last time, they are hearing their favorite song and they are wrapping up a two-hour in your face set that included 46-years of rock music. As Gene and Tommy are lowered back on stage, and as Eric’s drum riser from down from the rafters the band thanks the audience for a wonderful career and great lives. They walk to center stage together for the last time, and take a final bow. Is this really the last time we’ll see KISS? Time shall tell, but if it is the last time, then at least they went out with a bang!

KISS Setlist Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH, USA 2019, End of the Road