Continuing my look back at 2016, here's a music roundup. I went to so many concerts last year that I broke this into section. Catching Up With Old Friends offers '80s and '90s favorites, including Belly, a David Bowie tribute, Duran Duran with Nile Rodgers and Chic, Go-Go's, and Sting and Peter Gabriel. Hanging with the Cool Kids includes jazz and hip-hop greats, such as Esperanza Spalding, Jason Moran and Charles Lloyd, Buster Williams, and Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def). Remembering the Classics reviews two concerts with the National Symphony Orchestra at The Kennedy Center, Forever Gershwin and House of Cards in Concert. Browse the list below and read up on whichever peaks your interest. Enjoy!
Catching Up with Old Friends...
Belly (930 Club)
Belly is a '90s guitar-heavy band, whose most famous song might be "Feed the Tree" from their album Star. That album is still one of my favorites, which is why I was excited to see them at 930 club so many years later. This show had a fun, party-like atmosphere. We were all there for the same reason; we remembered how great this band was, and we were ready to hear them. Belly seemed genuinely happy to see us too. After a long day stuck in traffic, the relieved band appreciated our contagious enthusiasm, and we all sang the songs together. Aside from "Feed the Tree," they plays so many other great tunes, including "Dusted," "Slow Dog," "Low Red Moon," "Gepetto," "Full Moon, Empty Heart," "Angel," and "Stay." Thanks for visiting, Belly. Come back soon!
David Bowie Tribute (Wolf Trap)
When I mentioned David Bowie during dinner with a friend, I got invited to tag along with her and her fiance to a tribute concert at Wolf Trap. I'd never been to Wolf Trap, mainly because it's not easily accessible without a car. It's a great outdoor venue, suitable for picnics. In fact, my friends weren't so familiar with David Bowie and just picked this show randomly to have something to listen to while enjoying a summer evening. They made a great choice! This concert played one of David Bowie's best albums, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, in its entirety, followed by a selection of greatest hits. The album includes classics, like "Starman" and "Suffragette City" and the greatest hits spanned from "Changes" to "Modern Love." The professional cover band was good, and some mourning fans in the crowd were dressed like Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane. At one point, it began thundering and a few sporadic drops of rain threatened to dampen our good time. I'm convinced this was just Bowie directing the show and voicing his approval.
Duran Duran with Special Guest Nile Rodgers with Chic (Verizon Center)
On the day of this show, I decided I couldn't pass up seeing Duran Duran at Verizon Center, which is walking distance from my apartment. I bought my ticket an hour before showtime and got an great seat next to a group of millennials who had VIP passes. While they were busy taking selfies, I really enjoyed this show, which opened with two special guests. Newcomer Shamir, whose song "On the Regular" I somehow recognized, was odd yet interesting, but I was most excited to see the guest to follow – Nile Rodgers with Chic. (The video bio on the homepage is fantastic!) I've known Nile Rogers from his work with David Bowie and Duran Duran in the '80s. He's also participated in Sting's rainforest benefit concerts before. Coincidentally, I had just seen an old recording of him performing with Chic and thought they'd be really fun to see live because of the dance-party atmosphere they create. And that's what happened: we were all on our feet dancing from the start, when they played a few of their own disco hits, like "Le Freak" and "Good Times." They finished off the set with a slew of impressive chart-toppers that Nile Rodgers cowrote with other people, including Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" and David Bowie's "Let's Dance." Paying tribute to Bowie, he said, "This man changed the whole course of my life. If it wasn’t for David, I don’t know where my life would be right now. So we dedicate this to him.” Duran Duran also saluted Bowie, injecting a bit of "Space Oddity" into "Planet Earth," while displaying a young photo of him that I'd never seen before on the Jumbotron. These things made me happy.
Paper Gods, the band revisited signature songs that span Duran Duran's entire catalog of awesomeness, including "Hungry Like the Wolf," "A View to a Kill," "Ordinary World," "Come Undone," "Girls on Film," and "Rio." Nile Rodgers joined Duran Duran on stage for two songs he helped produce, "Notorious" and the new "Pressure Off." Some surprises, like the band's cover of Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel's "White Lines (Don't Do It)," had everyone jumping in the aisles in unison. During the encore, lead singer Simon Le Bon dedicated "Save a Prayer" to the victims of the Bataclan nightclub massacre in Paris. "Music should bring people together," he said. "We feel people are good, and music brings people together, so we play this as a protest against those people who want to dim the light." In solidarity, a sea of cellphone flashlights swayed along to that song. By the end of the show, my voice was hoarse from singing, my throat was scratchy from cheering, my feet were sore from dancing, and my face hurt from smiling. Duran Duran still got it.
Go-Go's (Warner Theatre)
Go-Go's at Warner Theatre, another venue near my apartment. I snatched a great fourth-row seat, as the show began with two opening acts. Kaya Stewart reminded me of Gwen Stefani and Madonna while Best Coast felt more like a Liz Phair type band. I liked them both, especially Best Coast, who had an super-fan in my row, snapping photos and gazing longingly at the lead singer. I appreciated these performers' girl-power energy and planned to look into their music when I got home, but I was also annoyed that the main attraction didn't come on stage until around 10 p.m. While I waited, I continued to survey the crowd. Like seeing millennials at Duran Duran's show, the audience members attracted to this concert was baffling, as I noticed people of all ages, shapes, and sizes. I guess I assumed everyone would be from my generation and look like my sister and me, but the Go-Gos did play older songs I didn't recognize and newer songs I never bothered to learn. Hearing those that I know by heart, however, was exhilarating: "Tonight," "This Town," "Skidmarks on my Heart," "Vacation," "Our Lips Are Sealed," and "Head Over Heals." By the time they ended their set with "We Got the Beat," a song I've loved since grade school, I was delirious.
Sting and Peter Gabriel (Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio)
After sharing the stage with Paul Simon during his last tour, Sting invited his old friend Peter Gabriel to tour with him this year. Like the concerts with Paul Simon, these shows included their individual bands playing on stage together, creating all-encompassing sound. My sister and I attended the Rock Paper Scissors tour's opening show at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, which had a Japanese-themed décor with large video screens that looked like handmade paper and even a back-up singers dressed in a kimono-inspired outfit. I've lost count how many times I've seen Sting, but I've never seen Peter Gabriel before; my sister and I were excited!
So, including "Red Rain," "Don't Give Up," "In Your Eyes," and "Big Time." During "Sledgehammer," everyone on stage did the dance from the famous video. Peter Gabriel dedicated his own "Love Can Heal" to Jo Cox, the recently assassinated Parliament member, whom he'd met years before as a young activist. Sting dedicated his song "Fragile" to the victims of the recent night-club shooting in Orlando. His selected songs spanned his Police and solo years. I was excited to hear the Police songs "Invisible Sun" "Driven to Tears," and "Walking in Your Footsteps" and solo tunes, like "If I Ever Lose my Faith in You," and "Hounds of Winter." Granted, I've loved both of these headliners since the '80s, but the collective musicianship and showmanship brought together for this concert was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Hanging Out with the Cool Kids...
Esperanza Spaulding (930 Club)
Esperanza Spalding on The Late Show with David Letterman. I was impressed with her voice, her bass-playing, and her wild hair. Since then, she's shown up in all sorts of places, including Sting's rainforest benefit concert at Carnegie Hall, World Jazz Day at the White House, and Smokey Robinson's Library of Congress Gershwin Prize concert, playing and singing all sorts of music. Although her usual genre is jazz, she showed up at 930 club in support of her latest rock-laden concept album Emily's D+Evolution. I didn't listen to this fantastic album enough before the show to fully understand what was happening on stage. Not only did Esperanza sport a new look of long braids, big glasses, a crown, and a colorful jumpsuit that reminded me of Steven Tyler, but the performance included storytelling with three other singers in specific roles, puppetry, and choreography. Some people who were there because of Esperanza's jazz background were disappointed and confused by this new incarnation, but I knew there had to be a reason behind booking 930 club instead of Blues Alley. Even if we didn't fully grasp the story, the music – which showcased her voice and musicality – made it worth it. Esperanza is ahead of her time and always trying new things that will take her further. We're lucky to be along for the ride.
Jason Moran and Charles Lloyd (Kennedy Center) and Buster Williams (Blues Alley)
I'm lumping these two jazz shows together because I saw them during a jazzy weekend with my dad. Jason Moran, who took over as Artistic Director for Jazz at The Kennedy Center in 2011, has brought so many great shows at different price levels to the Kennedy Center, introducing audiences of all ages to the jazz. We had seen Jason Moran doing amazing things at the piano before, but we only knew saxophonist Charles Lloyd by name. When the 78-year-old shuffled on stage, we knew we were in for something great. While we didn't recognize the music, which we later learned was from their 2013 album Hagar's Song, we loved it. Charles Lloyd has a just-rolled-out-of-bed-and-started-playing coolness and years of hard work and talent to back up that reputation.
Seeing Buster Williams at Blues Alley gave me a similar feeling. You could tell this old bassist was enjoying himself and his happy spirit was infectious. But the reason we bought our tickets for this show was not Buster Williams; it was his quartet's drummer, Jeff "Tain" Watts. We'd seen Jeff Watts before, and like Buster Williams, he loves playing his instrument. Jeff Watts goes into a blissful zone, drumming along with a serene smile and blank gaze. He transports to a different world through his instrument, a world you can only imagine is the best place to visit.
Patty Larkin and Suzzy Roche & Lucy Wainwright Roche
Lucy Wainwright Roche, you might be hooked for life. She tells great, funny stories, like the time she and her mom, Suzzy Roche, performed a cover of the Eagles classic "Desperado" at "one of my dad's weddings" without realizing (until they started singing) that its lyrics were inappropriate for the event. She has a disarming demeanor on stage that feels like that of an old friend. Touring with her mom in support of their 2013 album Fairytale and Myrth, everyone at this stop at the Hamilton could see where she gets these endearing traits. (When Lucy announced she was going to sing some songs on her own, her mom decided to take a nap at her feet while she sang.) Between our bouts of laughter were wonderful songs. I've figured out that I love the Wainwrights not only because of their great voices and musicality but because of their ability to write sad songs to happy melodies. That's my kind of music.
Joining them on this tour was Patty Larkin, who I hadn't heard of before but has a well-earned 30-year career behind her and a loyal following in attendance. I liked many of her songs, but I was most impressed by her guitar playing. She played both acoustic and electric guitar with blurry speed and precision. She even used a violin bow on her electric guitar, creating sounds (and sights) I hadn't experienced before. This evening, led by these three powerful ladies, ended up being one of my favorites of the year.
Yasiin Bey, aka Mos Def (Kennedy Center)
The Kennedy Center, though, I couldn't miss it. I've always found Mos Def interesting and liked him as an actor. I also have a few of his songs from the great Lackawanna Blues soundtrack on my iPod. Luckily, I attended the concert with a friend who knew more about his music and could ask her questions. This show was improvisational and so laid back that, at times, it felt like a rehearsal to me. Also, throughout the concert, a French film from the '60s, featuring (I assume) African tribal characters, played silently in the background and was never explained. Still, we were all excited to catch Mos Def while we could before he heads off to Africa himself for a new chapter in his life, pursuing painting and focusing on his arts, culture and lifestyle collective, A Country Called Earth. I told you he was interesting.
Remembering the Classics...
Forever Gershwin (Kennedy Center)
George Gershwin music. Forever Gershwin, performed with the National Symphony Orchestra, caught my eye because of Jason Moran's involvement. Everything I've seen Jason Moran work on for The Kennedy Center has been special. Here, he premiered jazz-heavy variations of Gershwin classics, including three preludes, "Embraceable You" and "Fascinating Rhythm." I also really liked the show's introductory piece, "Cuban Overture," which I'd never heard before. You could feel Cuba's energy in it. The second half of the show was a selection of songs from Porgy and Bess, Gershwin's classic opera. I love some of these songs, like "Summertime," "My Man's Gone Now," and "It Ain't Necessarily So." Norm Lewis as "Porgy" had a wonderful deep voice and lots of personality, and Alicia Hall Moran (Jason Moran's wife) as "Bess" was fantastic too. To top things off, they were accompanied at times by the Heritage Signature Chorale, a massive group of voices that shook our seats. This was a night of great music, unaffected by my disappointing, expensive front-row seat that offered very little to see.
House of Cards in Concert (Kennedy Center)
The Kennedy Center on the day of the show. I kept seeing ads for it, and I also got Season 4, Disc 1 of House of Cards from Netflix that day. I didn't need any more hints and braved a July heat advisory to get there. I'm so glad I did. House of Cards is one of my favorite shows, even if it makes me feel slimy after every episode. Everyone knows I love Robin Wright, and her star turn opposite the equally amazing Kevin Spacey makes it all worth it! But I really went to this concert for the music. I love this show's theme song, and when they played it at the concert, I realized I wasn't alone. Everyone cheered when the signature trumpet notes played; our excitement was similar to hearing the Star Wars theme at the movies. For this performance, composer Jeff Beal created suites that capture the show's themes and characters. He served as conductor and played the trumpet every once in a while. His wife appeared during certain suites to add an operatic voice to it that I had always assumed was some sort of physical musical instrument. His son was in the orchestra playing bass (as he does for the show). The music was paired with snippets of scenes from the series, sometimes with bits of dialogue. I couldn't tell what was happening during the scenes from Season 4, but Jeff Beal was thoughtful about that, ensuring that nothing made too much sense for those of us who hadn't caught up on that season yet. (Thank you, but I also wanted to run home to find out what was happening!) Here's a trailer about the concert to help you see what it was like.
For an extra treat, some cast members (who were sitting in my row) joined Politico's Joe Schatz on stage for a panel discussion about working on the show. No, Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey were not there, but I was excited to see Michael Kelly (who plays Doug Stamper so creepily on the show and is so funny in real life), Michel Gill (President Garrett), Jayne Atkinson (who plays Secretary of State Catherine Durant and seems so nice and down to earth), Rachel Brosnahan (Rachel Posner, even though she didn't say anything), and Boris McGiver (Tom Hammerschmidt). Executive Producer Beau Willimon and Executive Producer, Author, and Original Book and U.K. Series Creator Lord Michael Dobbs were also there to offer their insights. I loved this immersive House of Cards experience! Bring on Season 5, please!
Wow, 2016 was really filled with music for me, and I'm not quite done! I'll wrap up my look back at 2016 with my next post, revisiting the latest Rainforest Fund Benefit Concert at Carnegie Hall in New York. For Sting, I travel.
Image credits: Belly: B.C. Kagan; David Bowie album cover: RCA Victor; Nile Rodgers and Chic and Duran Duran: Matt Condon; Go-Gos: Matt Condon; Sting and Peter Gabriel: Shawn Farrell; Esperanza Spalding: Josh Sisk; Jason Moran and Charles Lloyd: TVJazz.tv; Buster Williams: Paola Visone; Lucy Wainwright Roche & Suzzy Roche: unknown (courtesy of Eventsi); Patty Larkin: unknown (courtesy of The Hamilton DC); Yasiin Bey: Jati Lindsay/courtesy of The Kennedy Center); Forever Gershwin: unknown (courtesy of Access Granted Journal); House of Cards panel: unknown (Courtesy of cdninstrgram.com).