Concert Review – Michael McDonald – Lawrence, Kansas

 

REVIEW AND PHOTOS BY DAN LYBARGER

 

Michael McDonald

The Lied Center, Lawrence, Kansas

August 12, 2018

 

If there is a way to age gracefully, it might be to simply admit you’re no longer young.

Throughout his 90-minute set at the Lied Center at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., on August 12, Michael McDonald made no attempt to pass himself off as anything other than a 66-year-old man.

When he introduced vocalist Drea Rheneé, the former Doobie Brothers singer and keyboardist praised her chops and that she relieved the crowd from the “middle-aged ugliness” of the rest of the band. He added, “You’ll notice I said ‘middle-aged.’ Who am I kidding?”

With a crowd that was primarily within throwing distance of that number, that wasn’t a problem. Part of the reason McDonald can still put on a good show is that he and his tunes were always for grownups. In both his solo work and his songs with his former band, McDonald has always sung about heartbreak that’s long removed from the teenage experience. In “Real Love” and “What a Fool Believes,” McDonald softly laments he or someone else has broken up and that it has happened many times before.

This may explain why the songs still sounded good last Sunday night and why people who aren’t trying to recapture their youth can listen to him without embarrassment. McDonald’s smooth as marshmallows delivery doesn’t deserve the label of “yacht rock,” because his roots are in St. Louis where the river vessels look a little different.

As he performed new tunes from last year’s Wide Open album like “Hail Mary” and “Just Strong Enough,” McDonald’s voice cracked just enough to prevent his band from slipping into easy listening. For the latter he even stood up from his piano stool for a few seconds, giving the song a feeling of vitality that wouldn’t occur if he were sitting like the audience.

It also helps that McDonald still has his vocal chops and nimble fingers. When he broke into familiar tunes like “Minute by Minute,” he’d begin them by adding jazzy touches to keep the arrangements from seeming too robotic.

He also avoided hogging the spotlight. He’d usually leave the showiest solos to guitarist Bernie Chiaravalle, sax player Mark Douthit and keyboardist Pat Coil. The three put just enough of a sting in the arrangements to keep the songs from being mellow enough to induce napping.

Rheneé had the unenviable task of replicating Patti LaBelle’s verses during the Burt Bacharach/Carole Bayer Sager hit “On My Own,” which may be most ironically titled duet ever. Fortunately, she easily kept up with LaBelle’s vocal gymnastics.

McDonald’s midwestern drawl is surprisingly clearer than his singing voice, but his stage banter was remarkably sincere. Having grown up in the St. Louis suburb, Ferguson, Mo., his later performance of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” was expectedly moving, and he was clearly aware the issues Gaye lamented are sadly still with us.

Thankfully, so is McDonald, who helped open the Lied Center’s 25th anniversary on a high note.

Set list:

Yah Mo B There

Here To Love You

I Keep Forgettin’

Find It in Your Heart

Just Strong Enough

I Can Let Go Now

Sweet Freedom

On My Own

Hail Mary

Beautiful Child

Half Truth

Minute by Minute

What a Fool Believes

Encore

What’s Goin’ On

Taking It to the Streets

CD Review: The Lawrence Arms “We Are The Champions Of The World”

“We Are The Champions of the World”
The Lawrence Arms
Fat Wreck Chords
Tracks: 29

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The Lawrence Arms have scoured their entire discography including their releases on Asian Man Records, Epitaph Records, and FAT to bring listeners “We Are The Champions Of The World”. The album serves as both a retrospective and an introduction to the Chicago institution with the track-list being handpicked by the bassist/vocalist Brendan Kelly, guitarist/vocalist Chris McCaughan, and drummer Neil Hennessy. The 29 track release,(which include 5 never before release tracks from the 2006 “Oh! Calcutta!” sessions) showcases how these three friends went from making gritty, lo-fi records to becoming some of the sharpest songwriters in all of punk.

Even before hitting play I knew my ears were going to be in for a treat as the albums expansive 29 track listing combines selected tracks from the bands 6 studio albums. What makes this release really unique is that it combines songs from albums which weren’t all released by just one label giving the listener a true look/listen into the bands nearly 20 year career. Though I was partial to tracks like “100 Resolutions”, “Beautiful Things” and “Brick Wall Views” which feature guitarist Chris McCaughan on lead vocals, Bassist Brendan Kelly had a fair share of tracks like “The Ramblin’ Boys of Pleasure” and “Like A Record Player” which did a great job showcasing his gruff almost Lars Frederickson like vocals. Having two lead vocalists can sometimes hinder a bands performance and impact an albums sound however Kelly’s grittiness and McCaughan’s melodic delivery go together almost perfectly. For a great example of this check out the tracks “Quincentuple Your Money” and “You are Here”.

It doesn’t matter if you are a long time fan of The Lawrence Arms or just checking them out for the first time as “We Are The Champions of the World” is a great collections of songs which offers a little something for everyone. For new comers the albums first twenty four songs will quickly get you up to speed while the albums five unreleased songs including the band’s latest single “Warped Summer Extravaganza (Turbo Excellent)” will help quench the thirst of the more seasoned fans and even though I would have liked to have heard some new material aside from some unreleased demos I still think the release is a solid addition to any punk rock music library.

Track Listing:
1. On with the Show
2. Great Lakes/Great Escapes
3. Alert the Audience!
4. 100 Resolutions
5. The Devil’s Takin’ Names
6. Beautiful Things
7. Quincentuple Your Money
8. The Slowest Drink at the Saddest Bar on the Snowiest Day in the Greatest City
9. Are You There Margaret? It’s Me, God.
10. Right as Rain Part 2
11. Seventeener (17th and 37th)
12. Chapter 13: The Hero Appears
13. The Ramblin’ Boys of Pleasure
14. Light Breathing (Me and Martha Plimpton in a Fancy Elevator)
15. Like a Record Player
16. You are Here
17. Boatless Booze Cruise Part 1
18. Brick Wall Views
19. Sixteen Hours
20. Turnstiles
21. An Evening of Extraordinary Circumstance
22. The Northside, the L&L and Any Number of Crappy Apartments
23. Porno & Snuff Films
24. Demons
25. The Rabbit and the Rooster
26. Catalog
27. Black Snow
28. Laugh Out Loud
29. Warped Summer Extravaganza (Turbo Excellent)

 

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Styx’s Lawrence Gowan talks about the band’s “Soundtrack of Summer” 2014 tour with Foreigner & Don Felder

Lawrence Gowan is the lead vocalist/keyboardist for the legendary rock band. Earlier this year, they announced their 2014 summer tour titled “Soundtrack of Summer”, which will feature a co-headline with Foreigner and former Eagles guitarist Don Felder. Media Mikes had the chance to speak with Lawrence Gowan about their upcoming tour, creating new music and his thought’s on being a member of Styx for 15 years.

Adam Lawton: Can you give us some info on the bands upcoming tour?
Lawrence Gowan: We will be out this summer with Foreigner and Don Felder. We have toured the states with Foreigner in some time. We did some shows with them over in England and we realized that the pairing of the two bands was just really great. We wanted to add a little more to the bill like we had done last summer bringing Ted Nugent out with this. This year were brining Don Felder formerly of the Eagles. It’s a great night of entertainment when you can add a third element that takes things over the top. We had done a show last year with Don and it was fantastic. The fact that he has written so many of those Eagles classics that people know is great but he also has an amazing band as well. We added him to the mix and now fans will get 3 hours of music that they know all the words to. The tour is being call the “Soundtrack to Summer” tour and I think that is very fitting. It definitely describes our experiences from playing in the U.S. and Canada. I think people will probably be tired from singing after it’s all over.

AL: The last tour featured Styx performing the “Pieces of Eight” and “Grand Illusion” albums in their entirety. Will the band be picking different albums to perform for this tour?
LG: I don’t think it will be this time. The evening is very much hit driven so I think people will be hearing all the songs they know. Having performed albums in their entirety I have found this to be a curious thing. The big thing is that audiences seem to keep getting younger and younger. So many people seem to have discovered classic rock in the last 10 years. At our shows we see younger people enjoying the experience of hearing some of our albums in their entirety. They seem to share their enthusiasm for both our hits and other tracks from the various albums that don’t get as much play. One of those tracks is “Man in the Wilderness”. That song was never released as a single and it has become a huge favorite. Of course we will be playing “Come Sail Away”, Blue Collar Man” and Renegade” as they are some of our corner stone’s but we can change our set a little to hit some of those more obscure songs which have become peoples favorites over the years. There’s going to be diversity in the night with an element of cohesiveness among the three bands.

AL: Being this is not the bands first time out in a multi-band tour format how do you go about keeping the shows fresh and new from year to year?
LG: That’s our task. It just so happens that we are band who is up to that challenge. We love hearing from fans that the show was even better than the last time they saw us. We are always trying to figure out ways to elevate the show and play the songs better than we have before. A song is a living thing. It’s not stagnant piece of music that stays the same. Every time we play one of our songs it’s going to be a little different. Each night songs take on new meaning for us when we play them. Each day is new and it’s another opportunity to try and get the song right. There is a lot more going on with the music than just being a collection of notes. There are feelings and emotions that need to be navigated every time you play a song. That’s our challenge. In addition to that Styx is a band of 5 front men. Everyone on stage is a great entertainer and musician. I think that’s why the audience is so engaged in what we do. We have a tremendous connection with the audience and we are certainly aware of that. The combination of the band, the song and the audience is infectious. We love what we do and constantly want to do it better.

AL: As an artist I am sure you always want to be creating new material however, does the fans wanting to hear the bands previous catalog make it tough to introduce new material?
LG: There is definitely a balance. We did a full album about 10 years ago that we are still trying to play as much as we can. It hard to squeeze a song in to the set but when we have the chance we will do that. We also had a cover album come out where we did a cover of “I am the Walrus” and that ended up being a big hit with classic radio stations. We try and get that one in there whenever we can. We have been trying to put out some new pieces when we can. We also have re-recorded some of the classic Styx songs and added new pieces to those. We always look for the opportunities to add something new. We also have to try and grapple with the reality of the music industry right now. The one thing that can’t be downloaded or replicated in any way is the live experience. That’s what people are drawn to.  Every show is different and its own separate experience.

AL: This May will mark your 15th year as a member of Styx. When you first joined the band did you ever envision being where you are today?
LG: I have had a really fortunate career. I had a successful solo career in Canada prior to joining Styx and was able to garner a big enough audience to where I could one day perform with Styx in 1997 when they came to Montreal. That led to the second half of my career where I get to be a part of this legendary band. Not many people can make a claim like that. My career has gone backwards in that I had the long solo career and then a lengthy band career. I really have enjoyed the whole thing. There is always something more you want to accomplish but when I am beating myself up about that I look at where I am and see how fortunate I am. It’s a very unique situation and I am so grateful to be part of this.

Sharon Lawrence talks about new Season of “Rizzoli & Isles”

Nominated for four Emmy awards, Sharon Lawrence is probably best known for her six seasons on “NYPD Blue.” Since leaving the show she has kept busy with roles in both film and television, including the upcoming new season of “Drop Dead Diva.” This week Ms. Lawrence begins a run as Dr. Hope Martin on “Rizzoli and Isles.” Recently Ms. Lawrence graciously took time out to talk with Media Mikes about her new role as well as her strong support for the Women in Film movement.

MIKE SMITH: Can you tell us about your character on “Rizzoli and Isles?”
SHARON LAWRENCE: I play Dr. Hope Martin, Maura Isles (Sasha Alexander) birth mother, who she believed was long lost and had given her up from birth. But by the time my character arrives at the medical examiner’s office after being called in to consult on a case, the audience is aware that the mother didn’t give her up at birth but had thought the baby had died. This character is also a scientist and she shares the same passion for a particular type of forensics. Maura is the first to know that this woman working alongside her in the lab is the mother she has always wondered about and longed for. But Hope is not aware. So it’s a very interesting dynamic to play. And it’s played so masterfully by Sasha Alexander, who had to play such a complex balance of awareness and longing and joy and pain. And to unlocking the secret that Hope is the key to understanding who she is.

MS: How did you get involved with the show? Did they come to you because they felt you were the right actress for the part? Were you a fan of the show before hand?
SL: Yes to both! (laughs)

MS: I have a question that I also asked Angie Harmon, who of course appeared on “Law and Order.” After having appeared for six seasons on one of the greatest television shows ever, “NYPD Blue,” does that effect your choices as an actress when you’re asked to do television?
SL: Well I certainly agree with you that it was one of the greatest television shows ever made and it certainly stands the test of time. I just saw an episode recently. But I’m a different person now. I could never base my choices and things that are decades in the past. I play different things now. I have different wisdoms. I have different experiences. I have a different role to fill in any story. And I’m so gratified that now I get to play mothers to these remarkable women. Whether it’s to Sasha on “Rizzoli and Isles” or on “Drop Dead Diva,” a delightful show that has a magic realism about it. I’m really fortunate that my career is not held in the past or held to one particular type of character or stage in a woman’s life. And what’s also very exciting is that I’ve been working with Women in Film for the past ten years. It’s a group that’s not just for networking but for promoting women in the executive and creative capacity of our business. And now I see so many women that are creating the material and telling the stories from their perspective. Whether it’s as show runners or writers or as directors, it’s nice to see that these women are building careers and not just one-offs. Knowing that there are female executives at networks like TNT and Lifetime that understand the complexity that we expect to see in our stories and that really resonate with us. So yes, “NYPD Blue” was glorious and these stories that we’re telling now are very exciting too.

MS: Since you mentioned Women in Film, do you have any interest in going behind the camera? I know you’ve produced in the past but do you want to take on more, perhaps as a director?
SL: I’m developing a movie about the breast cancer survivors who, just recently, after 20 years together as the first Dragon Boat racing team, was invited to be part of the Queen’s flotilla for the Jubilee. It’s an exciting process to get to interview those women and doctors and to prove that women not only can survive a diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer but grow stronger.

MS: Besides “Rizzoli and Isles,” what else do you have coming up?
SL: “Drop Dead Diva” begins in August and I’m also in a feature film called “The Middle of Nowhere,” which just won the Best Director Award at Sundance, which was a first for an African-American director. I’m also in a feature with Kathleen Turner called “The Perfect Family.” It’s currently out on DVD. And again, it’s all female writers, director and producers. I’m happy to help support them.

 

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