On Stage (Extra): Just say ‘Yes’ to classic rockers

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By Denny DyroffStaff Writer, The Times



Area music fans that enjoy pop/rock music with beautiful vocals, tasty arrangements, heartfelt emotion and a bit of classical music in the DNA are in for a treat over the next week.

Yes, the iconic prog/symphonic rock band from England will be performing on July 31 at Sands Bethlehem Event Center (77 Sands Boulevard, Bethlehem, www.sandseventcenter.com/e).  Then, singer/songwriter/vocalist extraordinaire Josh Groban will visit the area on August 3 for a concert at BB&T.

In recent years, Yes has been visiting America during the summer months to perform shows featuring a couple of the bands classic albums performed in their entirety.

Founded in 1968 by Chris Squire and Jon Anderson, Grammy-award winning recording artists Yes have created some of the most important and influential music in rock history, such as iconic pieces “Roundabout,” “Close to the Edge,” “I’ve Seen All Good People,” “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” “Starship Trooper,” and countless others.

The group’s albums, including “Fragile,” “ Close to the Edge,” “Tales from Topographic Oceans,” and “90125,” have been certified multi-platinum, double-platinum, platinum, and more by the RIAA, and have sold over 50 million records total in a career that has so far spanned almost five decades.

This year, Yes will be travelling around North America on its summer tour billed as “The Album Series: Drama + Topographic 1 & 4.”

The 1980 album “Drama” — Yes’ 10th studio album — marked a new sound and more aggressive direction for the band with the use of modern keyboards and a vocoder. The album peaked at #2 in the UK and #18 in the US and features the single “Into the Lens.” Released as a double album in December 1973, “Tales From Topographic Oceans” is a concept album comprised of four interlocking pieces, ranging between 18 and 22 minutes. As the band’s sixth studio album, it reached #1 in the UK for two weeks — where it was the first UK album to qualify for Gold certification based on pre-orders — and peaked at #6 in the US.

Following the album performances, the current Yes lineup — Steve Howe (guitar), Jon Davison (vocals), Alan White (drums), Billy Sherwood (bass) and Geoff Downes (keyboard) — will also perform a selection of the band’s greatest hits.

 “For the past few years, we’ve been doing these album series tours each summer,” said Downes, during a phone interview Wednesday morning from a tour stop in Columbus, Ohio.

“We’re working our way through the catalog. ‘Drama’ was an important album for me. It was my first album with the band.”

In 1980, pop duo The Buggles (keyboardist Geoff Downes and singer Trevor Horn) acquired Brian Lane as a manager. The pair had had a worldwide hit with the single “Video Killed the Radio Star” and were working in the same rehearsal complex as Yes. The duo already had a song called “We Can Fly From Here,” which they thought would be suitable for Yes and which they consequently pitched to the band.

At this point, the departure of Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman, which had been kept secret from everyone outside the Yes inner circle, was revealed to Horn and Downes and it was suggested that they join Yes as full-time members.

Horn and Downes accepted the invitation and the reconfigured band recorded “Drama,” which was released in August 1980. The record displayed a heavier, harder sound than the material Yes had recorded previously.

“There were definitely changes when we recorded ‘Drama,’” said Downes. “Yes went from a band that was known for playing these long pieces to being more of a rock band. When John Anderson and Rick Wakeman left, the other guys were looking in different directions for the band. I think it helped propel Yes into a whole new genre. I think we injected a whole new technical aspect — not just in sounds but also in writing. That album showed that Yes could expand into a new musical style. In our 1980 tour, we played three or four tracks off the album. It’s a great album to play because there’s a lot of lively music in it.”

“Tales From Topographic Oceans” is one of Yes’ iconic classics.

“It’s very much a Holy Grail,” said Downes. “We can’t do it all in this show because it has four sides. 1 and 4 were the most representative sides of the album. We knew we wouldn’t have the time to play the entire album so we use the bookends. It enables the audience to go on a journey. It’s nice for audiences to hear it in its original form. It’s important for us to stay faithful to the original because fans expect to hear the songs as they know them.”

The most recent album by Yes is “Heaven & Earth,” which came out in 2014.’

“We’re not playing any songs from the latest album but we play a lot from albums over the course of the band’s career,” said Downes. “We play about six or seven of the band’s most popular songs. It makes for quite a long show — about two hours and 45 minutes with an intermission.’

The tour hit a recent snag but was not derailed.

The trek will proceed as originally announced in light of the health update issued yesterday (7/18) from drummer Alan White, who recently underwent a successful surgery to repair an injured disc in his lower back.

As White noted in a letter penned to the fans on www.yesworld.com, with rest and physical therapy, he will be rejoining the band as soon as physically possible. Until then, White’s good friend Jay Schellen will sit in and perform with the band.

Video link for Yes — https://youtu.be/XMyx-Oc0S_I

The show at Sands Bethlehem Event Center will start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $45, $55 and $65.

grobanJosh Groban will bring his “Josh Groban: On Stage Tour” to the BB&T Pavilion (1 Harbour Boulevard, Camden, New Jersey, 856-225-0163, www.livenation.com) on August 3. He is touring in support of his Gold-certified album “Stages,” which was nominated for a 2016 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.

“Stages,” which is the seventh studio album by Groban, consists of favorite songs from Broadway musicals. Some of the featured tracks are “What I Did for Love” (from “A Chorus Line”), “Bring Him Home” (from “Les Misérables”), “Over the Rainbow” (from “The Wizard of Oz”) and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (from “Carousel”).

“This is an album I had in the back of my head since I was young,” said Groban, during a recent phone interview from a tour break in Los Angeles.

Groban’s first album was a self-titled disc released in 2001. His first four solo albums have been certified multi-platinum, and he was charted in 2007 as the number-one best selling artist in the United States. He has entertained fans across the globe with his multi-platinum albums and DVDs (over 35 million sold worldwide), electrifying live performances, and comedic film and television appearances.

The 35-year-old Los Angeles native is the only artist who has had two albums appear on the Top 20 Best-Selling Albums list of the past decade, according to Billboard. He has appeared in the feature films “Crazy,” “Coffee Town,” and “Muppets Most Wanted,” as well as on TV shows such as “The Office,” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”

“Seven albums later, a lot of paths are taking me through musical theater. ‘Stages’ was a passion project. It’s been well-received and I’ve been touring it over the last year. It took about eight months to make. The unsung heroes are the arrangers and the orchestras. It took awhile to find what songs were right for me — for my age and my voice. I had about 30 songs at the start and recorded 18-20 of them.”

Co-incidentally, Groban is headed to Broadway later this year.

“Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet” will open on Broadway this fall, starring Josh Groban as “Pierre’ and Denée Benton as “Natasha” in their Broadway debuts. Created by Dave Malloy (“Preludes,’ “Ghost Quartet”) and directed by Rachel Chavkin (“Small Mouth Sounds,” “Preludes”), the show will open at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre on October 18.

The musical “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet” is billed as “a theatrical experience like no other”. Malloy’s inspired adaptation of a 70-page slice of “War and Peace” puts the audience just inches away from Tolstoy’s brash young lovers as they light up Moscow in an epic tale of romance and passion. 

“Back when I was recording ‘Stages,’ I didn’t know that I’d be going to Broadway,” said Groban. “I love this role. It’s going to be a really nice feather in my cap. ‘Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet’ was an Off-Broadway show that now is totally transforming the Imperial Theatre into a Moscow supper club.

“The music is by Dave Malloy and it has a real genre-bending way of telling stories. It’s exciting to bring a new show to Broadway. I always knew I would do Broadway at some point. It was in the back of my mind since college. It was my original dream. After 15 years of touring and recording, I had to put on the brakes to do this show. It’s a big commitment so you have to be passionate about it — and I am.”

Video link for Josh Groban — https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=61DiWi00d2w.

The show at the BB&T Pavilion will start at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices range from $28-$152.50. He will also be performing at the Borgata in Atlantic City on August 5.

Stephane Wrembel

Stephane Wrembel

Area fans are always treated extremely well by French jazz guitarist/composer Stephane Wrembel. They love him and he loves them back. It’s a muscle love affair that shows in his area performasnces

Last year at the World Café Live, Wrembel brought his special “Django A Gogo 2015: Made in France” show to Philly as one of the few stops in the North American tour.

It was a tribute to gypsy guitar legend Django Reinhardt.

On July 30, Wrembel will perform with his band at The Venetian Social Club (8030 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, 215-380-2588, http://www.hotclubphilly.com). This show is hosted by the Hot Club of Philadelphia as part of the Chestnut Community Concert Series.

Since 2002, Wrembel has released seven CDs.  His most recent recording, “Dreamers of Dreams,” was released in 2014 as the follow-up to his international success “Origins,” the album that includes “Bistro Fada.”  

On “Dreamers of Dreams,” Wrembel channeled all of his musical influences and blended them with his experiences in Africa, Asia, Europe, Central America and the United States to create a musical adventure into the realm of dreams.

“In my live shows now, it’s just my music,” said Wrembel, during a phone interview Monday afternoon from New York, his adopted hometown for th3e last 16 years. “At times, I do play some Django.

“The Philadelphia show will be something different. It’s acoustic — a trio with two guitars and bass. I love to do the trio thing with the acoustic side of the music. It is a history of Django’s music in chronologic order.

“It shows the evolution of Django’s style from the start to the late 1940 and early 1950s. I do this show very infrequently. The concert in Philadelphia will be the only time I do the show this year.’

Born in Paris and raised in Fontainebleau, home of impressionism and Django Reinhardt’s music, Wrembel was classically trained in a music conservatory starting at age four. His life took a decisive turn in his late teens when he first discovered the music of Django Reinhardt and the Gypsies.

He spent the next ten years of his life learning, playing, and expanding on this musical tradition. This hard work gave Wrembel the technique, but the time spent playing around the campfires and trailers of the Gypsies gave him the soul — both necessary ingredients for him to master his art form.

Wrembel has done a lot on his own to keep Reinhardt’s music alive. Several years ago, he staged a tribute show in New York called the Django A Go-Go Festival. The event was a huge success and has become an annual event in Manhattan. In 2011, Wrembel took the show on the road – including a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

“I learned the music of Django in France – in gypsy camps near Paris,” said Wrembel. “I learned it the traditional way — by being with the people and hearing the music being played. The music brings people together.

“I started playing guitar when I was 15. One of my earliest influences was Pink Floyd. I discovered Django when I was 18 or 19. I grew up in France where Django worked his art. I really discovered how incredible he is.”

Video link for Stephane Wrembel — https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=aUnBY8PNB8U.

The show at the Venetian Social Club July 30 will start at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $22.

With Philadelphia being the city where the first female presidential candidate was nominated, it seems only fitting that there is some great music by female acts being performed live in the area this weekend — Garbage and Kristin Kontrol at the Fillmore, Joan Jett and Heart at the BB&T Pavilion and Sarah Jarosz at the Ardmore Music Hall.

On July 30, Kristin Kontrol will open for Garbage (fronted by Shirley Manson) at Fillmore Philadelphia (1100 Canal Street, Philadelphia, 215-309-0150, www.thefillmorephilly.com).

Kristin Kontrol

Kristin Kontrol

Kristin Kontrol is the new project from Kristin Welchez –formerly known as Dee Dee, leader of the internationally-acclaimed rock band Dum Dum Girls.

Dum Dum Girls was Welchez’ guise for the best part of a decade. After posting her bedroom recordings online, she caught the ears of Sub Pop, assembled a group of badass, black-clad cadets and toured the world. Over the course of three albums, four EPs and numerous singles, Dum Dum Girls morphed from the “girl group gone band” to a plush noir-pop group.

Last year, Welchez put the name Dee Dee in limbo, reassumed her given name Kristin and recorded a killer album titled “X-Communicate” with producers Kurt Feldman and Andrew Miller.

“For me, what was most important was to find a vehicle3 to move forward with,” said Kriston Kontrol, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from New York. “I knew when I started writing in last July that I was going to write and record an album that wasn’t going to be Dum Dum Girls.I used to have songs that I wrote that didn’t fit with Dum Dum Girls — songs that I would use for solo projects. Garage rock and girl groups — I didn’t want to be pinned down to that.”

So, Kontrol took control.

“I wanted to finish an album the way I wanted and then do shows,” said Kontrol. “Instead of guitar, this time I was writing on keyboard. I wrote about 40 songs that I then abandoned. I realized I was trying too hard to write differently. So, I went back to writing on guitar. It was liberating to be able to do what I wanted to do. After the last Dum Dum Girls record, I knew I wanted something that wasn’t more of the same. I had reached a ceiling about how far I could go with Dum Dum Girls and have people accept it — how far you can go when you have a band that is locked in an aesthetic. With Dum Dum Girls, I knew what I could do within the parameters and I remembered that. With the new project, it took awhile until I figured out what I was trying to do. It was about including all I wanted. With my current landscape, there is a lot of crossover in genres.

“I can do play all the new songs live. But, on this tour, I only have a 30-minute set. So, I’m having the experience of chiseling it (set list) down to what works best.”

Video link for Kristin Kontrol — https://youtu.be/I6KvbQoOy3A.

The show at the Fillmore, which features Garbage as the headliner, will start at 9 p.m.

Tickets are $40.

joan jett heartThere are a lot of female-fronted rock bands these days. In addition to the two acts at the Fillmore, there are acts such as Sleigh Bells, Tegan and Sara, Pretty Reckless and the Mynabirds — to name just a few.

One thing they all have in common is how much they owe their existence to the two acts that will be performing at the BB&T Pavilion on July 31– Joan Jett and Heart.

These acts featured females fronting male bands — Ann and Nancy Wilson in Heart and Joan Jett. These were ladies who could not only sing, they could rock as hard — or harder — than their male counterparts. Both were major factors in the 80s era of the MTV-fueled music scene.

How hard did they rock?

Joan Jett’s list of signature songs included “Bar Reputation,” “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” “Dirty Deeds,” “Love Hurts,” “I Love Rock and Roll,” “crimson and Clover,” and “Do You Wanna Touch Me?”

Heart’s long and impressive list of hits featured big-sellers such as “Barracuda,” “Alone,” “What About Love,” “These Dreams,” “Magic Man,” and “Crazy On You.”

They rocked in the 1980s and they’re still rocking now. And, they’re still rocking as hard as any band out there — without testosterone.

The show at the BB&T Pavilion, which also feature Cheap Trick, will start at 6:30 p.m. Tickets range from $25.25-$100.

Sarah Jarosz

Sarah Jarosz

If you want to go out on July 31 and hear a female singer whose music is more on the softer side, consider the show by Sarah Jarosz at the Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com).

“I’ve been around music for as long as I can remember,” said Jarosz, during a phone interview Thursday afternoon from a tour stop in Alexandria, Virginia. “I’ve been singing my whole life — ever since I was a little girl growing up in Wimberley, Texas.”

Jarosz as earned her credibility in the world where contemporary folk, Americana and roots music intersect. She is a talented multi-instrumentalist (mandolin, octave mandolin, guitar, and banjo), an expressive and distinctive vocalist, and an accomplished songwriter.

A frequent guest on “A Prairie Home Companion,” Jarosz has appeared on “Austin City Limits,” the BBC’s “Transatlantic Sessions,” “Conan” and “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.”

She has been nominated for multiple Grammy awards including two from her third album “Build Me Up From Bones,” as well as several Americana Music Association Awards. Jarosz just released “Undercurrent,” her fourth album for Sugar Hill Records.

“I picked up mandolin when I was nine and I got obsessed with it,” said Jarosz. “Later, I also started playing guitar and banjo. I had heard mandolin on records from my dad’s collection and always liked the sound.

“I saw a music video for Nickel Creek at CMT and that made me really want to get a mandolin. A family friend lent me a mandolin to play. I liked it so much that my parents bought it from them and gave it to me as a Christmas present.

“Early on, it was bluegrass. I went to a weekly bluegrass jam in Wimberley. I fell in love with the people, the community and the music. It took me a year or two to get proficient on mandolin — being obsessed and practicing non-stop. My earliest influences were Nickel Creek, Tim O’Brien and Gilliam Welch.

“I made my first album when I was still in high school. I signed with Sugar Hill when I was 16 and made my first album when I was 17. I kept making albums and going to school. I recently graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music.”

Jarosz, even when a student, still found time to record her own albums and get involved with side projects.

“With ‘Undercurrent,’ I took some time off after touring a lot and working on other projects like I’m With Her and ‘A Prairie Home Companion,’” said Jarosz.

“I had a lot of time to build up songs — about two years. “This time, I wrote mostly on guitar. I had a lot of new music ready to go when I went in the studio.”

Video link for Sarah Jarosz — https://youtu.be/ofNDjpsVtYw.

Donovan Woods

Donovan Woods

The show on July 31 will also feature Donovan Woods as the opening act.

JUNO Award-nominated singer/songwriter Donovan Woods will release a deluxe edition of his fourth album, “Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled,” in the United States on August 12.

The critically-acclaimed album recently garnered a 2016 Polaris Music Prize nomination, an award given to the best full-length Canadian album based on artistic merit and selected by a panel of music critics. Featuring 10 original compositions, the deluxe edition includes four live tracks recorded as part of a live show at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre.

“I started recording the album last July,” said Woods, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon from Toronto. “I made the album at a studio in Toronto called The Lincoln County Social Club.

“I moved to Toronto after growing up in Sarnia, Ontario. Now, I’m living in both Toronto and Nashville. I had been going to Nashville for a week every month for a few years so I decided to get a place of my own there — especially since I got a publishing deal with Warner Chappell Music.

“I’ve always been into songwriters. I had a dad who really liked songwriters. I just had an urge to write songs from a really young age. It took me 20 years to finally get it down.”

Woods’ first album, “The Hold Up,” was released in 2007. His song “Brand New Gun” was featured in the movie “Numb” starring Matthew Perry. His song “Wait and See” was featured on “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” and his song “My Cousin Has a Grey Cup Ring” was used in commercials for the Grey Cup.

His second album, “The Widowmaker,” was released in 2010, and his third album, “Don’t Get Too Grand,” came out in 2013. Woods’ song “Portland, Maine” (co-written with Abe Stoklasa) has also been recorded by Tim McGraw. His song “Leaving Nashville” (also co-written with Stoklasa) has been recorded by Lady Antebellum singer Charles Kelley.

“I grew up with country music and gravitated back to it — with a little more Americana,” said Woods, who also grew up playing the uniquely Canadian sport of curling.

“The new album was recorded over a four-week period. I’m a stickler about being sure there are 11 goop options before I go into the studio. A lot of the songs were written with guys in Nashville. And, I road test songs a lot. It’s an obvious barometer.”

Video link for Donovan Woods — https://youtu.be/HlHYoqKSZkk.

The show at Ardmore Music Hall on July 31 will start at 7:30p.m. Tickets are $22 in advance and $26 day of show.

The house will be rocking on August 2 at the Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) when then venue in Montgomery County presents a show featuring George Thorogood and the Destroyers with the Mike Eldred trio as the opening act.

The Mike Eldred Trio is a roots supergroup with Eldred (formerly with Stray Cat Lee Rocker) fronting a band with bassist John Bazz (from The Blasters) and drummer Brian Fahey (from The Paladins). The band is touring in support of its new album “Baptist Town.”

Recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis, “Baptist Town” is steeped in the rich history of the South and the folklore that is so important to American culture. The catalyst for the record is the small neighborhood outside Greenwood Mississippi where legendary blues guitarist Robert Johnson was murdered in 1938.

The track “Somebody Been Runnin’” references the final chapter of Johnson’s “deal with the devil” made at the crossroads — and some say fulfilled — in the tiny community of Baptist Town the night he died.

The record also focuses on the poverty and racism of the past, and still existing in the Deep South today. Baptist Town remains mostly as it did in Johnson’s time and offers a stark contrast to the surrounding city of Greenwood, Mississippi.

“We recorded ‘Baptist Town’ in June 2013,” said Eldred, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon as he travelled from Phoenix, Arizona to Irvine, California.

“It took a long time to come out because we were looking at labels to put it out. We got turned down a lot. They had too much on their plates and told us we weren’t a widely-known band.

“Then, Sony popped up and they were into it. There were a couple guys at Sony who were also musicians and they were into it. Al Moss, an Americana radio guy, told us to send it to them and it was good advice.”

Sun Studio is a legendary studio in Memphis that was owned by Sam Phillips. The long and impressive list of acts that recorded there includes Elvis Presley, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Roy Orbison, James Cotton, Carl Perkins, Rufus Thomas and Jerry Lee Lewis.

“We were only in Sun two days,” said Eldred. “You can’t record there during the day because they have tours. You have to go in during the evening, set up, track until dawn and then take down.

“I produced the album and the engineer was Matt Ross-Spang. He’s been working there for awhile. Certain areas of the room just sound different. It depends where you stand. There’s no isolation. We all played live. You can’t play loud — even though it sounds loud.

“I had done a lot of pre-production for the album. We had to practice a lot playing all the basic tracks. It’s all analog there and most of the songs were first takes. That gave us time to add some vocals.”

Video link for Mike Eldred Trio — https://youtu.be/KSLzFBpSEdk.

The show at the Keswick will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $49.50 and $69.50.

Dominick Farinacci, who will be performing on August 3 at South Jazz Parlor (600 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, http://www.southrestaurant.net/), is one of America’s top young jazz trumpeters.

Ironically, trumpet was not his instrument of choice when he was getting started in music

“My uncle was a professional drummer in Cleveland and I wanted to be a drummer too,” said Farinacci, during a phone interview Friday afternoon from Cleveland.

“I had a drum set and was all ready to go. But, when I was joining the school band, they really needed a trumpet player. So, I started to play trumpet.”

It was obviously a great choice — even though he may not have known it back then.

“I started playing trumpet in sixth grade,” said Farinacci. “I started listening to jazz when I was really young — Louis Armstrong and Harry James. I heard a recording of Louis Armstrong’s ‘A Kiss to Build a Dream On’ and that was my introduction to my life in jazz. I also got into Errol Garner, the great piano player. Then, I was listening to the be-bop guys like Clifford Brown. When I heard Clifford Brown the first time, it changed my world.  After that, I was listening to players like Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. That helped build a really solid foundation.”

When he was 17, Farinacci performed a festival in Cleveland, opening for Wynton Marsalis and his big band. Marsalis was impressed with Farinacci and invited him to New York a few months later to perform as a special guest with him on a live PBS broadcast.

“When my high school band opened for Wynton, we got to go backstage,” said Farinacci, who has won numerous international awards and compettitions.

“I played a couple songs for him and we had a jam session that night. He helped create a new jazz program at The Juilliard School and invited me to enroll. He became a great mentor to me.”

Farinacci just released his Mack Avenue Records debut album “Short Stories,” which was produced by legendary producer Tommy Lipuma and featured performances by Christian McBride, Jacob Collier, Steve Gadd and Gil Goldstein.

The band he will be performing with will be different but the music translates to an incredible live show that comes from Dominick’s experiences overseas as the first Global Ambassador for Jazz (Jazz at Lincoln Center). 

“We started to plan for the album four years ago,” said Farinacci. “We ended up recording the album in two days. The pre-production was everything. It was an involved and intense process and having a great producer like Tommy really helped.

“I’m playing all the tracks from the album in my live show now. The live band is different — piano, bass, drums and percussion — but it is a band that really gets the music”

Video link for Dominick Farinacci — https://youtu.be/IjRbg6xr_ek.

The show at South Jazz Parlor will have show times at 7 and 9 p.m. Tickets are $20.

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