BEST OF 2018: Dan Hogan’s Top Eight Concerts
By Dan Hogan
Photograph by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Video and additional photograph by Dan Hogan
This was a great year for concerts! I went to eight this year and had only one real disappointment. There were a lot of others concerts I wish I had gone to, but if you have read any of my reviews this year you know I have become my parents – going to concerts surrounded by other gray hairs to spark memories of youth. My parents would watch Lawrence Welk and go see Jerry Vale, the Count Basie and Duke Ellington Orchestras/Big Bands with young stand-ins for the principals; I go see the Byrds and Blue Öyster Cult – without Gram Parsons, Clarence White or Alan Lanier. We used to snicker, but now we understand.
8. Gov’t Mule @ the Palace Theatre, Albany, April 23
This concert was by far the biggest disappointment of the year. Having attended the 50th Anniversary of the Last Waltz Tour and gone to a number of Mountain Jam Festivals, I had high hopes for this concert. John Barleycorn shattered those hopes and dreams. This was the drunkest audience I have seen since my first Rich Stadium Summerfest in 1974 where the people had a quarter keg of beer on a stadium seat next to me. Drunken people in suits. Drunken people in denim and drunken people in real and pseudo (Sons of Arthritis) biker colors. Drunken women and drunken men, fists in air doing rebel yells and crowding the isles or standing and talking – yelling – to be heard over the loud music. On the stage, an opening band that should have been called Southern Bluze Rock on Speed opening for Mule, who played an uninspiring set. The Revolution came and went pretty quickly, and I doubt 90 percent of the audience knew who special guests Reeves Gabriel or Hook Hererra were. Couldn’t hear them anyway. My friend who accompanied me left early.
7. The TnT Tour @ The Egg’s Swyer Theatre, Albany, November 8
When I got the notice this show was being moved from The Hart to the Swyer Theatre, I was surprised because that’s where I thought it was from the start. I could have guessed that the combination of Tinsley Ellis and Tommy Castro wouldn’t fill the big theater. That’s not a knock on either of these acts. I have seen Tinsley Ellis many times, and a recent excellent show at the Linda might have convinced the promoter that a double bill with Castro might be a big success at The Egg … Tinsley and Tommy are the ham and eggers of the blues-rock scene. Talented, great showmen they never got the right break to make it to the bigger leagues, and now they are elder statesmen of the club scene. So it was not unusual to feel like we were in a big club.
On the first night of the TnT Tour, Tinsley started the show. Playing as a guitar-bass-drum trio, Tinsley had a lot of space to fill. In the old days, like on his first Blues Cruise on Hudson back in the early 1990s, he did it with another guitar player and a Marshall half stack AND a Fender Super Reverb. It was a sonic assault by a cocky young player with great skills. It made me a big fan over the years.
On this night, he played through a Fender Deluxe Reverb Amp and minimal effects – a uni-vibe and wah pedal mostly – but he put on a tour de force of skill and dynamics. Starting with some original tunes, he soon shifted into the great songs from his 1994 album Storm Warning, such as “Cut You Loose.” It was great, and his voice, which often sounds stiff on recordings, was warm and flexible. Tinsley has aged well, and at times he had a bit of trouble filling all the space in the room, but it was great show.
Tommy Castro & The Painkillers were next. It was clear more people were here to see his band, and as he walked out on the stage the volume doubled. Tommy stomped on the gas pedal as his four-piece combo (keys, bass and drums) started an hour-long set of driving blues.
Siting in the front row, right in front of Tommy, I was shocked by his appearance. I haven’t seen him in more than a decade, and back then he was still a sort of greaser pretty boy who played party blues-rock, mostly on the neck pick-up of his ’60s Stratocaster. But this night all I could think of was a homeless man on his first night in the shelter. With his first hot meal in days, a shower, a dose of come-to-Jesus, a new pair of blue jeans and a black t-shirt, the new guy tells us he is a performer …
And that is what we got – an hour of urgent, driving music as though Tommy thought he had one more chance. His band was great, and every inch of sonic space was filled (too loud). The rhythm section followed his every lead, and the keyboard player, standing while playing the organ and piano each with one hand and looking like a redneck Rick Wakeman, provided appropriate accompaniment as the set chugged along. Tommy seemed out of breath after every song, but jumped right back in after a short bit of oxygen. The highlight was his cover of Buddy Miles “Them Changes” that got many people on their feet to dance and have a party in The Egg.
6. Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Beth Hart @ the Palace Theatre, Albany, July 27
I wrote a whole review on this show, and it was great. Kenny at the height of his powers, and Beth Hart with the single best moment of the whole year being her solo voice-and-piano performance of “I’ll Leave the Light On.” Also, this crowd proved that you could sell mixed drinks at a concert without widespread intoxication.
5. Dixie Dregs @ The Egg’s Hart Theatre, Albany, March 21
The original line-up of this “progressive” band from the late 1970s and early 1980s took the sold-out crowd on an instrumental odyssey that fused classical, country, rock and jazz. It was the first concert I went to in 2018, and it was wonderful. It lived up to all my expectations, and I wish I could find my notes to tell you more …
4. Truce @ the Sportsman Tavern, Buffalo, April 4
You could have knocked me over with a feather last year when I got Guitar Player Magazine’s “50 Women Guitarists You Need to Hear” issue in mail. Shocked to see that one of women featured was Nori Bucci, who is the fiancé of one of my best friends! What!?! That led to YouTube, where Nori’s work – especially with Buffalo progressive icons Gamalon – is well documented.
So when this show was announced, I bought tickets and headed out on I-90 to my native Western New York.
This show was a sort of Gamalon reunion with bassist Tom Reinhart, guitarist George Puleo and drummer Bene Torres joining Nori for a night of original instrumental shredding. I could go on and on, but I took a video … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPrJn1eFJaM of the song “Souvenirs.” Over the past summer when I saw Nori and her brother practicing at my friend’s house in Niagara Falls, she said she doesn’t want to be known as a great woman guitarist – just as a great guitarist. Mission accomplished!
3. Blue Öyster Cult @ the Empire State Plaza, Albany, August 23
Come on baby, don’t fear the cowbell. This was my 90th time seeing BÖC since the mid 1970s. Most of those shows were in clubs, including a number of incendiary shows at Northern Lights, the old Albany OTB Teletheater, Toads in New Haven, etc. Needless to say, I am a big fan.
To big fans, the current version of the band is called 2ÖC because the only original members are Eric Bloom and Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser. Alan Lanier passed away a couple of years ago, and the Bouchard brothers do their own thing now (they did all reunite before Alan died, which was great, but I missed it) and in their place are three fantastic young musicians: bassist Danny Miranda, drummer Jules Radino and Richie Castelleno, who plays guitar, keys and sings.
This was a great outdoor show on the nicest weather day of the year for a huge crowd who had a great time. Kristen Capalino revved the crowd up with an enthusiastic opening set of great guitar rock. BÖC played their big three songs and had a sing-along on “Burning for You,” “Godzilla” and “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” It’s clear that the whole “More Cowbell” SNL skit has brought them a legion of new fans, and there were many young families bobbing and singing along to the band that got their start in the early 1970s playing psychedelic hard rock in biker bars.
Eric’s voice ain’t what it used to be, so Buck sings more these days, but considering these guys are now in their 70s they rock pretty hard, and Buck Dharma is still my favorite guitar player of all time… Highlight of the night was a three-guitar rip through “Tattoo Vampire” from the Agents of Fortune album. It brought the whole crowd to their feet, which is better than on your knees.
One of the “fans” sitting in front of us that night spent the whole show hooting and giving the middle finger with both hands to the stage. (picture attached) When a young girl asked her mother what he was doing, the mother said “well, he’s umm…,” and I interjected, “He’s enjoying the band so much he’s giving them Half the Peace sign …”
2. John Hiatt & The Goners Play Slow Turning @ The Egg’s Hart Theatre, Albany, August 24
Bokonon’s review of this show said it all. Coming the night after BÖC at the Plaza, I just want to add this is really is a tie for first place, because it was just that good. This was the music of the courtship of my wife 30 years ago. We went and saw the same line-up at MASS MoCA on the original Slow Turning tour, and here we were 30 years later in a packed Egg seeing them again and holding hands. John Hiatt started the show with a solo acoustic rendering of “Your Dad Did” from Bring the Family that reminded me that song was prescient. The whole show was a joy.
1. Sweetheart of the Rodeo 50th Anniversary Tour featuring Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman @ The Egg’s Hart Theatre, Albany, September 18
Here again, I wrote a Nippertown review of this wonderful night. Although it’s a tie with John Hiatt for the show of my year, the lasting impact of seeing Marty Stuart & the Fabulous Superlatives makes me put it in the top spot.
What a band! How did I not know of them before this night? Last time I saw Marty Stuart, he didn’t have this band. This band truly is Superlative. Since this show I have watched as many Marty Stuart shows on RFD TV and YouTube as I can find. This is best performing band in America at this point in time. They are like a honky tonk Rolling Stones with the best guitar duo since Duane Allman and Dickie Betts. Kenny Vaughan is an alien life form, and Chris Scruggs – scion of country music’s Scruggs family – and Harry Stinson are great. Holding it all together is Marty Stuart, who is doing more to keep the honky tonk side of country music alive than anyone else I can think of now. Plus he married Connie Smith, one of the great voices of country music. WOW!!!
These concerts made me realize how fortunate we are to have The Egg and Palace. It reminds me that year after year, NYS OGS continues to provide some great entertainment at the Plaza for free. And thank you to Greg and Sara for Nippertown as well.
Happy New Year to all!