The Bam Team’s 5 Favorite Shows, Albums & Songs of 2019

Kali Uchis at Smokin Grooves Fest - Rochelle Shipman


Kali Uchis at Smokin Grooves Fest // Showbams’ Photo of the Year, by Rochelle Shipman

Um, that’s it? Another year in the rear-view mirror? Where the hell did the last 12 months go? Time sure does seem to fly when there’s so much good new music out there to enjoy.

With that said, it’s once again time for us to share our annual “Best of” lists like we have done the past few years (see our 2018 picks here). From new emerging artists to reunion tours to the return of rock ‘n’ roll, this year had a little bit of everything for both the casual and passionate music fan. And even if you didn’t have the time to listen to every album that came out (neither did we), that’s why we’re here: to help point you in the right direction whenever you do finally get the chance to dig in.

So, without further ado, Showbams presents The Bam Team’s five favorite shows, albums and songs from 2019.

See our favorite performances from 2019 here.

Listen to The Bam Team’s favorite songs of 2019:


The Chemical Brothers at Shrine Expo Hall - Josh Herwitt


The Chemical Brothers at Shrine Expo Hall // Photo by Josh Herwitt

Josh Herwitt // Los Angeles

Top 5 Shows of 2019
1. Tool at Staples Center – Los Angeles, CA – October 20th & 21st
Unlike the delay on Tool’s fifth album Fear Inoculum, I thankfully didn’t have to wait 13 years to see my favorite band perform live. It was only a couple of years ago when I caught the boys at The Gorge, earning top honors as my favorite show in 2017, and subsequently a week later at Glen Helen Amphitheater for an all-day affair with Primus, Clutch, Fantômas, Melvins and The Crystal Method. Perhaps my tastes haven’t changed all that much since then, but even in a year that saw me attend half as many concerts as I usually do, Tool are still finding new and innovative ways to enhance their live show. Whether it’s tinkering with their stage production to incorporate a see-through curtain at times or adding surround sound throughout the arena, a Tool performance has evolved into a spiritual, meditative and almost out-of-body experience over the last decade. It’s no wonder why scoring tickets remains a trial of good fortune.

2. The Raconteurs at Santa Barbara Bowl – Santa Barbara, CA – July 27th
3. The Chemical Brothers at Shrine Expo Hall – Los Angeles, CA – May 15th
4. Jim James & The Claypool Lennon Delirium at The Wiltern – Los Angeles, CA – July 3rd
5. Foals at Shrine Expo Hall – Los Angeles, CA – March 24th

Top 5 Albums of 2019
1. Tool – Fear Inoculum
When a three-time Grammy-winning band takes more than a decade to release its next album, it’s only natural for expectations to go through the roof. And I’ll be the first to admit that there was a small seed of doubt in my mind when it came to just how epic Tool’s latest sonic voyage in the studio could and would be. But upon first listen, any uncertainty I had about the merits of Fear Inoculum was quickly dispelled. The title track lures you in from the onset, building to a higher place as Maynard James Keenan (vocals) and company — Adam Jones (guitar), Justin Chancellor (bass) and Danny Carey (drums, percussion) — take listeners on an 80-minute rite of passage that holds up as some of the quartet’s best material in its entire catalog. I just hope they got at least one more LP in them, even if it takes another 13 years to make.

2. The Raconteurs – Help Us Stranger
3. Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1
4. The Chemical Brothers – No Geography
5. Black Pumas – Black Pumas

Top 5 Songs of 2019
1. Tool – “Descending”
If you’re still reading, you’ve probably gotten the hint by now that I’m a big fan of Tool. After all, it only seemed fitting that my top song in 2019 should also come from my No. 1 album of the year by my favorite band over the last two decades. I have seen Tool perform a shortened version of “Descending” several times since 2014, before it ever had an official title, so when Fear Inoculum arrived back in August, there was no track I anticipated hearing more. In fact, at more than 13 minutes long, it’s one that requires your full, undivided attention, which can be a significant amount of time to dedicate in a world of three-minute pop songs and endless distractions now. But for prog-rock enthusiasts like myself who are more than willing to take the ride, “Descending” delivers a total rush of blood to the head that ultimately leads to pure unadulterated euphoria.

2. Bon Iver – “Hey, Ma”
3. Hot Chip – “Hungry Child”
4. Foals – “On the Luna”
5. Karen O and Danger Mouse – “Turn the Light”


Cate Le Bon - Reward

Kevin Quandt // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2019
1. Stereolab at Primavera Sound – Barcelona, Spain – June 1st
Primavera Sound has always had a knack for booking reunions (i.e. Pulp, The Avalanches and Pavement) to its “musical mecca” on the Balearic Sea. 2019’s iteration featured the first proper show in nearly a decade from the anti-capitalist art-pop darlings Stereolab. “Come and Play in the Milky Night” on 1999’s Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night would open the evening to the international consortium of aging music nerds who undoubtedly knew that they were about to be treated to a “best of” set from the English-French outfit. Better yet, their politically themed lyrical content seemed more relevant in 2019 than it was around the time of their creation a quarter-century ago.

2. Mike Dillon’s New Orleans Punk Rock Percussion Consortium at The Music Box Village – New Orleans, LA – April 26th
3. BLACK MIDI at Rickshaw Stop – San Francisco, CA – November 21st
4. Amen Dunes at August Hall – San Francisco, CA – January 10th
5. Ween at Desert Daze – Perris, CA – October 12th

Top 5 Albums of 2019
1. Cate Le Bon – Reward
What a banner year for the Welsh artist as she created her most highly acclaimed LP to date. Le Bon has truly honed her craft over the last decade as she has collaborated with a laundry list of indie-music royalty before writing the whimsical and austere Reward that employs an array of fresh sounds swirling around her haunting, pixie vocals. 2020 will see Cate jump on tour alongside Kurt Vile in a solo capacity, but we can’t wait to see what she produces next.

2. Wand – Laughing Matter
3. (Sandy) Alex G – House of Sugar
4. The Murder Capital – When I Have Fears
5. Omni – Networker

Top 5 Songs of 2019
1. Foals – “Sunday”
As Foals teeter on the edge of being rock’s next big headliner, the British group semi-quietly unleashed a pair of albums entitled Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1 and Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 2. While their style continues to hover around math, dance and indie rock, they dig into a deeper realm of sonic atmosphere as frontman Yannis Philippakis questions, even laments, the state of our current times. “Sunday” tends to borrow a tad from the grandiose nature of their fellow Brits in Coldplay before dropping into a four-on-the-floor section that was rather well-received during their March stop at the Fox Theater in Oakland.

2. Crumb – “Ghostride”
3. Vampire Weekend – “Sunflower” feat. Steve Lacy
4. Oh Sees – “Henchlock”
5. Allah-Las – “In the Air”


Rochelle Shipman // Los Angeles

Top 5 Shows of 2019
1. slowthai at Lodge Room – Los Angeles, CA – September 4th
Shortly after releasing his debut album Nothing Great About Britain in May, Tyron Frampton played a few intimate U.S. shows several months later. My guess is that those were probably the last ones he’ll do if the UK rapper out of Northampton continues to rise and deliver, just like he did for much of 2019. Part Johnny Knoxville-type grime smart ass, part brilliant gritty-crust punk, slowthai shook the roof off LA’s Lodge Room, which turned out to be a warm-up show before he returned to play Camp Flog Gnaw in November. Frampton certainly came to please, setting the energy level at 11 and even performing his rowdy hit “Doorman” twice in the set. He could’ve run through it 15 times and the crowd would’ve left just as satisfied.

2. Little Simz at The Echo – Los Angeles, CA – June 13th
3. Taking Back Sunday at Hollywood Palladium – Los Angeles, CA – April 11th
4. Night Moves at The Echo – Los Angeles, CA – September 21st
5. Usher at Smokin Grooves Fest – Long Beach, CA – June 15th

Top 5 Albums of 2019
1. Little Simz – GREY Area
The production. The flow. The bars. The BALLS. Little Simz absolutely brings it on GREY Area, leaving no space for second-guessing, sexist bullshit or honestly anyone else at all. This latest studio album from the British emcee is all her, and you can feel it with every breath she takes. We should all be so lucky to come into our confidence the way that she did on this record, but most of all, we should just be grateful “Simbi” trusts us to keep her deepest secrets — and that they sound so, so good.

2. slowthai – Nothing Great About Britain
3. Shura – forevher
4. Ari Lennox – Shea Butter Baby
5. White Reaper – You Deserve Love

Top 5 Songs of 2019
1. slowthai – “Doorman” (with Mura Masa)
This song technically dropped in 2018, but its spotlight was shone even wider with slowthai releasing his debut LP this year. The Mura Masa-assisted cut pulses with adrenaline, carries the air of a movie soundtrack in only three minutes and has a beat that will take you all the way to the moon and back. In the words of Lizzo, it’s a whole damn meal!

2. Kari Faux – “Latch Key”
3. Billie Eilish – “bury a friend”
4. Little Simz – “Venom”
5. Smino – “Trina”


Tool - Fear Inoculum

Andrew Pohl // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2019
1. IDLES – Fillmore – San Francisco, CA – October 10th
After putting out one of my favorite albums from 2018 and missing their show earlier this year, I was thrilled to finally catch IDLES live. To say that these English punk rockers put on a good performance would be a true understatement. They had the energy of an out-of-control freight train but were able to contain it while proving to be an incredibly fun act to see live. Frontman Joe Talbot engaged with the audience in a very authentic way, talking and singing to fans, not just at them. There were crowd-surfing guitarists, mosh pits and sing-a-longs … it was wild.

2. Punk Rock Bowling 2019 – Las Vegas, NV – May 23rd-27th
3. Judas Priest at The Warfield – San Francisco, CA – June 24th
4. Van’s Warped Tour 2019 at Shoreline Amphitheater – Mountain View, CA – July 20th-21st
5. ITCHY-O at Cornerstone – Berkeley, CA – November 23rd

Top 5 Albums of 2019
1. Tool – Fear Inoculum
Well, after all of the waiting and speculation, Tool have done it again, in a really big way. Fear Inoculum is everything that I was hoping it would be, and then some. HUGE-sounding drums, guitars and bass wrap your head in a warm prog blanket while Maynard does what he always has so well. It takes the best parts of their previous albums and combines them to showcase a band that has clearly not missed a step in the 13 years since 10,000 Days.

2. Bad Religion – Age of Unreason
3. Brittany Howard – Jaime
4. Catbite – Catbite
5. Plague Vendor – By Night

Top 5 Songs of 2019
1. The Hammerbombs – “I Hate Cars”
The Hammerbombs are an undersung Bay Area pop-punk group that have written some of the catchiest and fun songs I have heard from the East Bay scene in a long time. Their 2019 release Goodbye, Dreamboat made my top 10, and this track is the hands-down standout on an album chock-full of toe-tappers. It’s a heartfelt song written by singer and bassist Jen Louie, who has a knack for crafting some really fantastic tunes. The chorus is saccharine sweet, and you can’t help but sing along.

2. Lizzo – “Juice”
3. Bad Religion – “Do The Paranoid Style”
4. Ceremony – “In The Spirit World Now”
5. Lagwagon – “Surviving California”

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Gov’t Mule honor Tom Petty & more at The Wiltern

Gov't MuleBy Josh Herwitt //

Gov’t Mule //
The Wiltern – Los Angeles
September 11th, 2018 //

It’s hard to believe that summer is already over. Just a few months ago, we were celebrating the start of the season at Arroyo Seco Weekend (read our festival review here) with modern-day guitar royalty as Jack White, Gary Clark Jr., Neil Young and more highlighted what was mainly a rock-centric lineup in Pasadena.

Thus, it was only fitting that we closed out summer the same way we started it, with another legendary guitarist soothing our souls. Warren Haynes has been prolific in every sense of the word, whether he’s playing with The Allman Brothers Band, the Grateful Dead or his primary band Gov’t Mule, and watching him work his Gibson Les Paul onstage always feels like a rare treat as he nears the age of 60.

Gov't Mule

Touring in support of their 11th studio album Revolution Come…Revolution Go that came out last year, Gov’t Mule made their return to LA on a Tuesday night with a solid crowd showing up at The Wiltern. The Southern rock act has been at it for almost 25 years, and even though they’ve been working together for a decade now, Haynes (guitar, vocals), Matt Abts (drums, percussion, vocals), Danny Louis (keyboards, guitar, trumpet, vocals) and newest member Jorgen Carlsson (bass) have offered no signs of slowing down of late. In fact, Mule have put out a new release every year since 2013, and while they haven’t disclosed any plans to do so before the end of 2018, it’s always possible that could change once they’re off the road soon.

Unlike what they did four years ago in LA when they played the Orpheum Theatre, Haynes and company paid tribute to a smaller list of heroes this time around, most notably the late Tom Petty with a cover “Breakdown” coming during an extended version of their The Deep End, Volume 1 track “Beautifully Broken” before transitioning into covers of The J.B.’s and finally Al Green to end the second set. Ann Peebles’ “I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home” with a special guest appearance from “Conan” band leader Jimmy Vivino on guitar brought us all the way home, serving as just another reminder that every show Gov’t Mule plays these days feels like a special one.

Setlist:
Set 1
Bad Little Doggie
Broke Down on the Brazos
Rocking Horse
Pressure Under Fire
Scenes From a Troubled Mind
Revolution Come, Revolution Go
Million Miles From Yesterday
Easy Times
Time to Confess

Set 2
Slackjaw Jezebel
Mr. High & Mighty
Steppin’ Lightly
Mother Earth (Memphis Slim cover)
Beautifully Broken (>)
Breakdown (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers cover) (> “Beautifully Broken” reprise)
Doing It to Death (The J.B.’s cover) (with Doug Woolverton)
I’m a Ram (Al Green cover)

Encore:
I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home (Ann Peebles cover) (with Jimmy Vivino) (with “Will It Go Round in Circles” lyrics)

Dancing the night away with Cut Copy in LA

Cut CopyBy Josh Herwitt //

Cut Copy with Kauf //
The Wiltern – Los Angeles
September 7th, 2018 //

Cut Copy are no strangers to LA. If you didn’t know any better, you might think the synthpop outfit that spawned out of Dan Whitford’s solo DJ project actually lived in the City of Angels.

But the Australian four-piece undoubtedly enjoys coming to California every time it drops a new album, and with the release of their fifth LP Haiku from Zero nearly a year ago now, the past 12 months have been action-packed for Whitford (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Tim Hoey (guitars), Ben Browning (bass, vocals) and Mitchell Scott (drums, vocals).

Cut Copy

For those in LA who missed Cut Copy 10 months ago when they visited the Shrine Expo Hall with De Lux, Palmbomen II and Cooper Saver also on the bill, their headlining performance last Friday at The Wiltern was another chance to dance the night away upon hearing several classics such as “Need You Now”, “Free Your Mind”, “Future”, “Hearts on Fire” and to close, “Lights & Music”. In fact, the last time that we caught them back in March, a mini downpour erupted at Shaun White’s Air + Style (read our festival review here), but it didn’t phase them. Who said playing — and dancing — in the rain isn’t fun anyway?

Nevertheless, Cut Copy always know how to throw one of the best dance parties in the biz, and though they just finished their latest tour with three West Coast shows in LA, Berkeley (supporting Phoenix) and Portland last weekend, it’s plausible that these Aussies could be back in the states next year for some more dates, particularly once festival season officially returns. Until then, this one should hold us over.

Setlist:
Need You Now
Black Rainbows
Visions
Nobody Lost, Nobody Found
Airborne
Living Upside Down
Free Your Mind
Counting Down
Future
Pharaohs & Pyramids
Hearts on Fire
Standing in the Middle of the Field
Take Me Over
Out There on the Ice

Encore:
Meet Me in a House of Love
Lights & Music

Deafheaven continue their evolution at The Wiltern

DeafheavenBy Zach Bourque //

Deafheaven with Drab Majesty, Uniform //
The Wiltern – Los Angeles
August 18th, 2018 //

Bay Area black metal genre benders Deafheaven stopped through The Wiltern last Saturday in support of their latest album Ordinary Corrupt Human Love. Echoing the band’s newly evolved sound were two unique openers that each brought something fresh to the table.

New York industrial-punk duo Uniform took the stage first, with the band’s striking logo of a crucifix intersected by a sickle serving as its backdrop. If that’s not “goth,” then I don’t know what is. The two-piece act composed of guitarist Ben Greenberg and vocalist Michael Berden belted out fast, energetic punk with an industrial twist. Adding to the overall experience was a live drummer who did his best imitation of a drum machine. What a time to be alive. While the venue was still mostly empty at this point in the night, Uniform undoubtedly made their mark on everyone in attendance with a startling sound that left a mark — even if it wasn’t to everyone’s liking.

Drab Majesty couldn’t have been more of a tone shift from the aggression of Uniform. Donning white face paint and platinum blonde wigs, the LA duo made up by Deb Demure and Mona D filled The Wiltern with a dense, 80’s-inspired new wave sound that remained dark and gothic. Drab Majesty were shrouded by giant flumes of fog throughout most of their set, which fueled an already dream-like atmosphere that felt at once out of place and right at home opening for Deafheaven. Slower tracks like “39 By Design” off their 2017 sophomore LP The Demonstration sounded particularly incredible live with The Wiltern’s high ceiling.

Uniform


Uniform

Few bands have evolved with the confidence of Deafheaven. What began as a twosome consisting of vocalist George Clarke and guitarist Kerry McCoy has grown into a nearly undefinable force in heavy music that has gained popularity and notoriety worldwide. Deafheaven’s second album Sunbather in 2013 made many throughout the black metal community blush with its trademark bright pink cover art and quite a few unorthodox elements sonically, including post-rock ambience and emotional lyricism.

Fortunately, Deafheaven haven’t bowed to convention or criticism. Their fourth studio album Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, which ANTI‐ released last month, is their arguably their most experimental to date, spanning more than an hour over seven songs. There’s a sense of angst and nostalgia in the music that leans far more positive and hopeful than their previous work. There are still echoes of black metal at times, but you can feel this is a band that’s embracing its differences instead of defending them.

Seeing Deafheaven live reinforces that notion. While vocalist George Clarke still dresses the part in all black with black gloves, sunflowers were placed carefully all across the stage and home movies played in the background. Clarke himself appeared liberated onstage as he ran around and banged his head with a newfound energy in sharp contrast to his rigid and stoic look from years past.

Drab Majesty


Drab Majesty

A headlining show at The Wiltern is nothing to sneeze at, and this particular one most likely marked Deafheaven’s biggest LA show to date. Fortunately, the venue’s early vacancies were filled by the time Deafheaven stepped onstage. The fans were just as eclectic as the opening acts, with a mixed crowd ranging from goths to hipsters and everyone in between.

Furthermore, it’s hard to call an eight-song setlist short when each song is nearly 10 minutes long. Fortunately, Deafheaven spread the love evenly across their catalog on this night before the quintet capped things off with a monster encore that concluded with fan favorite “Dream House” off Sunbather.

Few artists or bands could pull together to create such a unique lineup like this one, and it was refreshing to see a metal outfit such as Deafheaven take a chance on Drab Majesty and Uniform. It was a gig that had something for everyone, one that stood as a metaphor for the band’s evolution and the scope of its fan base. With an upcoming show at Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown on October 19th, Deafheaven won’t be making their Southern California fans wait too much longer for another taste.

DEAFHEAVEN

Setlist:
Honeycomb
Canary Yellow
Sunbather
Brought to the Water
Worthless Animal

Encore:
You Without End
From the Kettle Onto the Coil
Dream House

DRAB MAJESTY

Setlist:
Induction
Dot in the Sky
39 by Design
Kissing the Ground
Not Just a Name
Too Soon to Tell
Cold Souls

Lucky to be alive, YG is celebrating life to the fullest

YGBy Joseph Gray //

Red Bull Sound Select – 30 Days in LA: YG //
The Wiltern – Los Angeles
November 29th, 2016 //

“They knew the code to my gate. That was awkward. Answer this: I got a million dollars. Who shot me?”

Before asking the million-dollar question, YG was wheeled onto the stage at The Wiltern in a stretcher covered by the haunting sounds of the real-life news reports from the night a bullet from an unknown assailant pierced his hip during a recording-studio shooting last year. The pitch-black building became illuminated with surgeons on an LED screen as we re-lived the “operation” on the Compton rapper. Nevertheless, YG assured the crowd this wouldn’t be a somber affair, rapping through paranoia toward the heavens with the brash resiliency and expanding maturation that’s led him to one of rap’s most improbable rises.

Did YG’s homies set him up? Was it the guy he knocked out during a past fight? Did a girl he was sleeping with tell her boyfriend about YG’s studio hideout due to fear? All of these still unanswered questions flow through the heart of the song “Who Shot Me?” This serves as the vivid crux of YG’s sophomore LP Still Brazy (released in June) and the opener for arguably the biggest name of Red Bull Sound Select’s 30 Days in LA series.

“Damn, I ain’t know it was gon’ happen like this … But I guess God has some other plans for me. ‘Cause that shit ain’t stop me,” recalls YG at the end of the song.

It was a thankful and brazen declaration extremely fitting for the 26-year-old who is still driving at top speed but maneuvering in directions many didn’t imagine. YG (born Keenon Daequan Ray Jackson) wasn’t expected to be here, let alone serve as the driving force in the resurgence of gangsta rap. It’s not too often that a major debut album comes 4-5 years after a breakout single, but such was the case for YG after the playfully crass “Toot It and Boot It” came and went without much of a follow-up from Def Jam. However, YG leaned on the same things he used to charm a horde of anxious fans drenched in red attire to match their favorite Blood rapper: self-awareness, survival and a new-age, authentic look into LA’s culture, with equal celebrations for the lucky-to-get-by days and champagne-spilling nights making for something we can all relate and party to.

This concoction, tied to an undeniably formidable rapper-producer connection with LA native DJ Mustard, helped form YG’s 2014 debut My Krazy Life that was a half-decade/lifetime in the making. A first-class concept album that offered some perspective to those who were unable to avoid gang life’s abyss, YG picked up where Grammy winner Kendrick Lamar left off with his own views on the “Hub City,” which has become a global name in the process.

YG

With his mind-bending suspicions briefly on hold, YG jumped back into the now-welcomed madness that proceeded it. He treated the crowd to the gigantic “BPT” before confessing — like all of us spectators — “I Just Wanna Party”, the standout track from My Krazy Life that features Top Dawg Entertainment’s ScHoolBoy Q and Jay Rock. While neither TDE member was in the house, that didn’t put a damper on the night’s energy or YG’s willingness to visit Bompton for as long as possible.

Playing to the Bloods’ longstanding vernacular — replacing C’s with B’s — that he has made mainstream, YG then went into “Bicken Back Being Bool”, showcasing how he can turn a robbery on an average day into something we can all boogie to. YG may never be mistaken for the world’s greatest lyricist, but he has a knack for sharp storytelling — something even the secret service had to take notice of during this past election season.

An ever-present voice and face of the streets, YG isn’t taking anything lightly. Police brutality and racial injustice are getting the same relentless attention that his escapades with women previously would, and that’s something the U.S. government can attest to.

This narrative was highlighted by “FDT”, the anti-Donald Trump anthem featuring LA rapper Nipsey Hussle that has grown even more relevant after this year’s U.S. presidential election. The secret service forced some slight edits to the record after some calls to Def Jam threatened its release, but that certainly hasn’t stopped YG’s momentum.

For evidence, look no further than his roaring hometown concertgoers at The Wiltern. This contingent included several who were randomly plucked from the audience — even the ones whom YG joked looked “like they work at Facebook” — to take turns beating a Donald Trump piñata before Bay Area rapper G-Eazy surprisingly appeared to rap his verse on the remix.

If extended album delays, a near-death experience and government censorship can’t stop YG, I don’t know what can. And neither does he.

Setlist:
Who Shot Me?
BPT
I Just Wanna Party
Word Is Bond (with Slim 400)
Twist My Fingaz
Really Be (Smokin N Drinkin)
My N***a
Toot it and Boot It
Left, Right
Don’t Tell ‘Em (Jeremih tease)
Why You Always Hatin’?
Who Do You Love?
Still Brazy
FDT (with G-Eazy)

Umphrey’s McGee keep the surprises coming while wrapping up their winter tour in LA

Umphrey's McGeeBy Josh Herwitt //

Umphrey’s McGee with TAUK //
The Wiltern – Los Angeles
March 6th, 2015 //

Umphrey’s McGee have never been ones to mail things in — and no, I’m not talking about if they use the postal service or not.

Yet, the sextet that formed at the University of Notre Dame close to 20 years ago have always made it a priority to keep each and every one of their live shows unique. Whether it’s through special guests, a never-ending list of covers or their distinct setlists, Umphrey’s know quite well how to keep their fans on their toes.

Last year, we asked if Umphrey’s were LA’s quintessential jam band despite them not being your typical “jam band” in the traditional sense (read our review of the show here). While that question still remains valid today, their popularity in the City of Angels hasn’t dwindled one bit. At The Wiltern last Saturday, fans from all over California and even other cities west of Chicago — the band’s second home after college for all intents and purposes — were in attendance for Umphrey’s winter tour finale. We actually met one from Salt Lake City in between sets, in fact.

Umphrey's McGee

Some might think it’s crazy to travel to see a band perform in another city, but not Umph fans — and it’s not that hard to see why. Take this latest performance in LA, for example. Six songs into the first set, Umphrey’s invited former Frank Zappa bassist Arthur Barrow up onstage to perform “Soul Food I” and “Glory”. And yes, of course there was a Zappa cover in the form of “Treacherous Cretins” from 1981’s Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar. Meanwhile, covers of both Mark Ronson’s “Daffodils” (the original features Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker) and R. Kelly’s catchy party track “Ignition (Remix)” would come later, during the second half of the show.

What has always made Umphrey’s so intriguing to me is their affection for progressive rock and heavy metal. Sure, most of their fans are more likely to listen to the Grateful Dead and Phish than say King Crimson, Yes, Iron Maiden or Guns N’ Roses, but what makes them so different is their ability to channel all of those rock bands while creating their own sound. After all, an Umphrey’s McGee show is something more than your average rock show — it’s one full of sharp twists and turns, over peaks and through valleys. Improvised prog rock, or “improg” (live improvisation + progressive rock) as some say, is what Brendan Bayliss (guitar, vocals), Joel Cummins (keyboards, vocals), Jake Cinninger (guitar, vocals), Ryan Stasik (bass), Kris Myers (drums, vocals) and Andy Farag (percussion) do best, and there’s really not any other bands out there doing it to this day.

TAUK


TAUK

That said, New York City four-piece TAUK proved to be an ideal opener for Umphrey’s. Their perfect fusion of instrumental rock and funk played well with what came after it, delivering a seven-song set highlighted by a cover of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”. Though still relatively young, TAUK have a promising future ahead and getting the opportunity to open for a band as respected as Umphrey’s should pay dividends for them down the road. As primarily an East Coast band, Matt Jalbert (guitar), Charlie Dolan (bass), Alric Carter (keyboards, organ) and Isaac Teel (drums) haven’t made it out to the West Coast all that much, but hopefully that’s about to change after their impressive hour-long slot at The Wiltern.

In many ways, booking Umphrey’s and TAUK together felt like a perfect marriage between two one-of-a-kind bands each doing their own thing, yet doing it extremely well at the same time. And in other ways, it was somewhat surprising not to see a collaboration between the two in some shape or form before the night was over. But with the kind of talent and musicianship both bands possess, I wouldn’t put it past them if they ever get to share a stage in LA again.


Set 1: Le Blitz > Educated Guess, The Crooked One > Example 1, Attachments, Soul Food I[1] > Treacherous Cretins[2] > Glory[1], Piranhas > Wizard Burial Ground

Set 2: 40’s Theme, Puppet String > Daffodils (Mark Ronson cover), Wappy Sprayberry > The Bottom Half, Hurt Bird Bath, Hindsight

Encore: Ignition (Remix) (R. Kelly cover), Upward > Puppet String

[1] with Arthur Barrow replacing Ryan Stasik on bass
[2] debut, Frank Zappa; with Arthur Barrow replacing Ryan Stasik on bass

Are Umphrey’s McGee LA’s quintessential jam band?

Umphrey's McGeeBy Josh Herwitt //

Umphrey’s McGee feat. special guest Joshua Redman //
The Wiltern – Los Angeles
March 6th, 2015 //

Los Angeles has never been known as a home for jam bands. For as well-rounded as its music scene stands today, LA hasn’t ever been a prominent city for jam bands quite like Denver, San Francisco and other smaller U.S. markets have.

While psychedelic rock thrived in the City of Angels five decades ago thanks to bands like The Doors and The Byrds, much of the counterculture that was born out of the 60’s and remains connected to today’s jam band scene isn’t one many LA bands strive to recreate, whether it be sonically or culturally.

So, in a city with as much music and creativity as LA, how is that there are no well-known jam bands, past or present, that officially call it home?

Maybe it’s because LA’s penchant for glitz and glamor has always been a major turnoff for most jam bands. Or maybe it’s the city’s high cost of living that is just too demanding for many to survive in nowadays.

But if there’s one jam band that could finally transform that notion here in La-la-land, it might be Umphrey’s McGee.

The six-piece originally hailing from South Bend, Ind., isn’t your typical “jam band” in the traditional sense. Umphrey’s, for one, have always had an affinity for progressive rock and heavy metal, with a long list of influences ranging from King Crimson and Pink Floyd to Iron Maiden and Guns N’ Roses. For that very reason, their fan base’s demographics remain fairly widespread — much like another well-known jam band by the name of Widespread Panic, coincidentally enough — from young, tie-dye-wearing hippies to 50-year-old dads with long, shaggy hair who just want to rock out.

Umphrey's McGee

That said, it isn’t hard to spot the group’s jam band qualities either. Over the course of their 18-year career, Umphrey’s have demonstrated quite a few of those characteristics, whether it’s been the band’s live improvisation, ever-changing setlists or open taping policy.

That’s not all, though.

With their repertoire of covers, nothing appears to be off-limits for Brendan Bayliss (guitar, vocals), Joel Cummins (keyboards, vocals), Ryan Stasik (bass), Andy Farag (percussion), Jake Cinninger (guitar, vocals) and Kris Myers (drums, vocals) these days.

Consequently, it’s a recipe that continues to draw more and more fans each time Umphrey’s play LA. After graduating from the House of Blues Sunset Strip to The Wiltern last year, the Chicago-based band returned to the historic, art deco venue on Friday night and had the 1,850-capacity theater packed from the front to the back. If the show wasn’t completely sold out, it felt damn near close. And really, when you think about it, that’s not bad for a band — let alone a “jam band” — that only plays LA once a year. Add in the fact that Cummins and now Myers live in LA, and it makes even more sense that Umphrey’s McGee could be well on their way to becoming LA’s quintessential jam band.

Playing two sets and an encore for a total of almost three hours, Umphrey’s performed a number of cuts from their upcoming ninth studio album The London Session, which was recorded in one day at Abbey Road Studios in London. Unlike the year before where they shocked everyone at The Wiltern with a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” there were no big surprises this time around. Instead, we were treated to classics like “Bridgeless,” “In The Kitchen” and “Miss Tinkle’s Overture” as well as a cover of The Police’s “Driven to Tears” to close out the second set, not to mention Joshua Redman’s jazzy saxophone lines at various points throughout the night.

Umphrey's McGee

Yet, what was also interesting to hear was Tool’s Ænima being played over the PA system in between sets. Whether that was Umphrey’s choice or the venue’s remains unknown, but the selection definitely said something about the type of music fans who occupied The Wiltern that night.

Formed in LA during the early 90’s, Tool has been one of the most respected rock bands over the last two decades. With multiple Grammy Awards and countless sold-out tours inked on their résumé, Tool’s prog-rock/alt-metal tendencies have won over fans both far and near, garnering one of the strongest cult followings in rock despite the fact that their last album 10,000 Days came out practically nine years ago.

As cultivators of “improg” (live improvisation + progressive rock) and fans of heavy metal, Umphrey’s McGee in many ways fall under the same musical tree, even with all of their “jam band” attributes. Sure, they likely won’t be selling out two nights at Staples Center — much like Tool did in 2006 — anytime soon, but with the audience they’ve been gradually building in LA, they may finally be on to something.

UPDATE: Umphrey’s McGee have confirmed to us that Tool was the band’s choice to play during intermission at The Wiltern.


Set 1: October Rain, Bridgeless > Gents > Bridgeless, Booth Love > Rocker Part 2, Professor Wormbog*, Made to Measure* > Bad Friday*

Set 2: Miss Tinkle’s Overture, Hajimemashite -> In The Kitchen, Wife Soup*, 1348* > Educated Guess* > 1348*, Driven to Tears

Encore: Plunger

*with Joshua Redman on saxophone

Elbow charms packed Wiltern in return to LA

elbow1_fixBy Josh Herwitt //

Elbow with John Grant //
The Wiltern – Los Angeles
May 28th, 2014 //

If you’ve ever seen Guy Garvey in action before, you may already know that the Elbow frontman enjoys engaging with the band’s fans quite a bit.

The 40-year-old Mancunian, after all, has never been shy when it comes to sharing his feelings with an audience during a live performance.

But with the English alt-rockers wrapping up their 12-date, North American tour in LA last week, Garvey was in quite the mood at the historic Wiltern.

“You have such a beautiful country here,” he proclaimed at one point in between songs.

It would be just one of several compliments Garvey would pay us over the course of the night, though none would be bolder than when he declared that the almost two-hour show was the quintet’s favorite of the tour “by far.”

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Whether it was just another lesson in crowd-pleasing from Garvey or actually a statement of sincerity, it’s hard to know for sure. But from the permanent smile plastered across Garvey’s face, I wanted to believe he meant every word he said.

Of course, it’s not all that often that Elbow gets to visit Southern California, with its last appearance coming more than two years ago in support of 2011’s Build a Rocket Boys!

So when Garvey and his four bandmates — Mark Potter (guitar, backing vocals), Craig Potter (keyboards, piano), Pete Turner (bass, backing vocals) and Richard Jupp (drums, percussion) — do get the chance to play in LA these days, they make sure to leave their fans with some lifelong memories.

On this latest pit stop, the 2008 Mercury Prize winners were in town to showcase the newest material in its catalog by way of The Take Off and Landing of Everything (read our review here), still plenty ripe after its mid-March release on Concord Records.

But Elbow’s sixth full-length studio album and its new record label haven’t been the only developments of late for a band whose members have all experienced significant changes in their personal lives — whether it’s been children, romance or breakup — over the past couple of years.

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Garvey, for one, has had plenty of emotional baggage to overcome after splitting up with his girlfriend of 10 years during the making of The Take Off and Landing of Everything, prompting him to even rewrite some of the lyrics he had prepared for the 10-track LP.

Yet, at the nearly sold-out Wiltern, you wouldn’t have ever known that from listening to Garvey, as he dedicated song after song to the crowd — including one to a couple on its first date — and later graciously offered his gin and tonic to an overzealous woman standing in the first row.

The band, meanwhile, navigated its way through a 15-song setlist that was highlighted more by a few favorites off The Seldom Seen Kid (“The Bones of You” and “Grounds for Divorce”) than by anything from The Take Off and Landing of Everything. Elbow, in fact, only played a total of four songs from its new album, spending just enough time introducing cuts like “Charge” and “Real Life (Angel)” before reacquainting us with its older, more established work.

That may not have been more evident than during the Manchester outfit’s encore, which opened with the deliberate, yet sorrowful “Lippy Kids” and climaxed into hit single “One Day Like This” for the final push of the evening. For those who were in attendance, it marked a special moment for a band that has emerged as one of the UK’s most successful rock acts for close to two decades now.

Because if this was all the Elbow we were going to get for the next two or three years, it was everything we could have possibly wanted.

Setlist:
Charge
The Bones of You
New York Morning
Real Life (Angel)
The Night Will Always Win
Fly Boy Blue/Lunette
The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver
Great Expectations
Scattered Black and Whites
Mirrorball
The Birds
Grounds for Divorce
My Sad Captains

Encore:
Lippy Kids, One Day Like This

VIEW PHOTOS FROM THE OAKLAND SHOW.

Ain’t no need for repeatin’ when My Morning Jacket play The Wiltern

By Pete Mauch //

My Morning Jacket //
The Wiltern – Los Angeles
September 11th-13th, 2012 //

When My Morning Jacket announced a three-night run at the historic Wiltern in LA, my initial reaction was I would only go to one or two shows at most. Then, I discovered that MMJ was folding the three shows into the “Spontaneous Curation Tour”, meaning fans could tweet or suggest on Facebook which songs they want to hear. Even upon hearing this news, I was still skeptical. Then, MMJ announced they would not repeat any songs at these three shows. So, I did what any like-minded person would do — I bought tickets for all three nights. I truly felt this was gift from the band to all the die-hard “Jacket” fans. Thank You.

Night 1: September 11th, 2012 // Setlist & photos

MMJ started night one with a powerful take on “Circuital”, which is the title track off their latest album. I really enjoyed the song placement of this track. It’s absolutely perfect for an opener because it builds into an amazing climax that had the crowd engaged from the start, and that’s not easy to do in LA. Jim James donned his classic jacket that looks more like a cape drapped over his back as he came out on stage. With his long curly hair, you can barely see his face as his beautiful voice bellows out to the crowd. After “Circuital” they dove head first into crowd favorite “It Beats 4 U” and they brought the heat with this version of the song.

One of the biggest surprises of the night was the Elton John cover “Rocket Man”. Anything this band touches has the capability of becoming instant gold, and “Rocket Man” delivered on that concept. They ended the set with one of the best three-song segments I’ve heard any band play: “The Day is Coming”, “Touch Me Im Going to Scream pt.2” and “Gideon” with the latter being the best version I’ve heard this band play. The lyrics to this song are still as powerful as they’ve always been. I found myself with arms as high as possible, screaming “Most of us believe that is wrong”. Absolutely nothing was wrong this My Morning Jacket show.

The encore started with the mellow “Butch Cassidy”, a song that invokes the Sundance Kid himself. It segued beautifully into “Wonderful”, one of my favorite MMJ ballads. The next song caught me by surprise, and I was standing there bewildered because they were actually playing “It Makes No Difference” by The Band. This rendition found James channeling the late Rick Danko, and I’m forever grateful to have witnessed this moment. MMJ moved past the first three slow encore songs and started the dance party up again with a sick rendition of “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” by all time great Prince. They ended the night with a song I’ve been waiting to hear live for a long time, and I knew I wasn’t the only one when the first chords of “Phone Went West” were struck. What a great song to end a near-perfect show.

Night 2: September 12th, 2012 // Setlist & photos

After such an wonderful opening night at The Wiltern, I couldn’t even begin to think of how MMJ could top such a performance. The best part about Night 2 is they didn’t try. Opposed to the sheer energy displayed night one, the group had a much more mellow vibe on Wednesday. If you’re a long time MMJ fan who has deep knowledge of their catalog, this show was for you. Now, if you’re a just a radio-friendly fan looking to hear the usual classics, then you might have left a little confused. As for me and my fellow Jacket followers, this show was a real treat.

MMJ started things off with two slow ones, “Rollin Back” and “The Way that He Sings” and kept this vibe pretty much the entire first section of the show. They picked the pace up a bit for the third song with a solid take on “First Light”. I’m a fan of this song, and I’ll welcome it almost any time at a show. They kept the momentum going when they jumped into “Aluminum Park” and had the crowd screaming “Come on baby! It’s a Big Big World” until they transitioned seamlessly into “What a Wonderful Man”. For anybody only familiar with the album Z, “What a Wonderful Man” was the only song they caught from that defining album on this night.

Jacket returned to the mellow motif of the night with a beautiful song “Picture of You” that I had never heard live. I’ve always known that Carl Broemel, lead guitarist and multi-instrumentalist, could play a mean guitar, but I never knew he could blow the saxophone so well, which he showcased throughout the night. Broemel really shined Night 2; if he wasn’t on lead guitar or sax, he was laying down beautiful textures on the pedal steel guitar. His moment truly came when James gave him the nod and Broemel took over lead vocals for his own tune titled “Carried Away”. Now absolutely no disrespect here, but I went to use the bathroom and grab a beer at this point. When I came back to my spot on the rail, I was pretty upset I had left, because the group was absolutely shredding on this track. I now know to never leave during a “Carl Song.”

The real meat of the show was the last four songs of the set, starting with a dark and twisted version of “Evil Urges”, the title track off their 2008 album. The next song, a beautiful take on Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone” was one of the highlights of the set for me. The lyrics at the beginning of the song are pretty much perfect for James to sing: “Every time you come around, you have to bring Jim, James, Paul and Tyrone.” So, as you see, James is actually singing his own name. You gotta love that!

After that amazing cover, MMJ decided to bring The Wiltern into a full-on dance party when they dropped into “Cobra”. This was my first time hearing this song live, and I had no idea this song oozes with such amazing dance-y grooves. I found myself turning to my “stiff” neighbors and telling them to start groovin’ because this wasn’t gonna be a quick one — and it wasn’t because the song clocks in at 24 minutes on their 2004 EP Chocolate & Ice. They teared into this great dance tune with serious power and didn’t let up, segueing right into “Run Thru”. At this point, I was in utter disbelief at what I was witnessing.

MMJ decided to keep the vibe of the show intact, and they did so by playing an angelic version of ‘Steam Engine’ that showcased Carl Broemel on pedal steel once again. For the next song, My Morning Jacket invited the opener, Iron and Wine, on stage for a beautiful cover of George Harrison’s ‘Isn’t It a Pity.’ Sam Beam from Iron and Wine really complimented James’s voice, which added to the unique take on the cover. They closed out the night with a fan favorite, which was probably a breath of fresh air for a lot of casual MMJ fans. ‘Mahgeetah’ is just a plain ‘ol fun song, and it was a raucous ending to an otherwise beautifully subdued show.

Night 3: September 13th, 2012 // Photos

Walking into Night 3 after experiencing two top-notch shows, I didn’t really know what to expect. The only thing I knew for certain was that “One Big Holiday” would probably close the night off. But other than that, anything was on the table. They got the set rolling with some slower songs, “At Dawn” and “The Dark”, which I thought was an odd choice for an opening pair of songs, mostly since Night 2 was dominated by a mellow vibe. That said, both songs were well performed.

They switched gears and slammed into “Off the Record”, which is a playful and energetic song, and it set the tone for the rest of the set. Also in the earlier part of the set, James and the band showed their gratitude for all the fans in attendance, especially those who made it all three nights, with a beautiful ballad “Thank You Too”. The next song that really struck a cord with me is the often played yet always well-received “Golden”. This song is beautiful and quite inspiring. It gives the listener the feeling that no matter what happens in this crazy world, you’ll always have that special someone by your side. “Golden” is one of those special songs that can harness spectacular emotion.

I’ve always been a fan of MMJ’s happy and danceable songs, but there’s nothing I enjoy better than a dark and haunting tune that has me clenching my fists and grinding my teeth. The song that delivers this feeling the most for me is “Dondante”. There’s no surprise that this song is about a dear friend of James’ who struggled with mental illness and ultimately killed himself. Every time MMJ plays this twisted tune, James walks to the back of the stage and says a few words for his buddy before he pays tribute to him in the best way possible: Music.

They gave the audience a breather after the scorcher of “Dondante” and played the ballad “Librarian”. My girlfriend got really excited because “Librarian” was the one song she asked for through MMJ’s Facebook account. She believes that this song was played for her, given how rare this song is these days, and I couldn’t agree more. Either way, it was a nice treat before they shocked the crowd with an amazing cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin'”.

The last part of the set was outstanding, starting with “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 1”, which had James leave the guitar work to Broemel while he danced around a la Jim Morrison and belted out the almost-awkward lyrics. He kept his mic handy while they went into a fun version of “Wordless Chorus”, followed by the funky “Highly Suspicious”. But MMJ didn’t play just any ‘ol version — this one had a full horns section to compliment the band. The horns section stayed on stage for the closer of “Dancefloors”, which literally had everyone in the house dancing on the floor. The encore that was to follow is one for the ages.

They came out blistering with the horn section on “Victory Dance”, and they kept the momentum up for “Holdin’ on to Black Metal”, which was where the horns section got the full attention they deserve. Then, it was time for a couple covers supported by the horns section, starting with “All Night Long” by Lionel Ritchie for the first time since 2010. Jacket wanted to keep that party vibe going to end the run, so they went into yet another dance-y cover song, “Movin’ on Up” by Curtis Mayfield. An unreal two-song-cover-combo had me and the crew going absolutely buck wild. We all knew “One Big Holiday” was coming, and when it did, the crowd responded with a huge uproar, especially with the line “Was a bad man from California.”

This was one of the best three–night runs I have seen any band perform, and I truly hope that My Morning Jacket makes these types of setlists, built by spontaneity and fan interaction, a regular concept. MMJ is one of the best rock ‘n’ roll bands on the planet, and I hope this signifies a rebirth for them.

PHOTOS: My Morning Jacket @ The Wiltern 9/12

By Pete Mauch //

My Morning Jacket //
The Wiltern – Los Angeles
September 12th, 2012 //

View the full photo gallery at the Showbams Facebook page.

Rollin Back
The Way That He Sings
First Light
Aluminum Park
What A Wonderful Man
Picture of You
Slow Slow Tune
Carried Away (Carl Broemel)
Heartbreakin Man
Smokin From Shootin
O Is the One That Is Real
Evil Urges
Tyrone (Erykah Badu cover)
Cobra
Run Thru

Encore:
Hopefully
I Will Be There When You Die
Steam Engine
Isn’t It a Pity (George Harrison cover) (with Iron & Wine)
Honest Man
Rock the Casbah (The Clash cover)
Mahgeetah

PHOTOS: My Morning Jacket @ The Wiltern 9/11

By Pete Mauch //

My Morning Jacket //
The Wiltern – Los Angeles
September 11th, 2012 //

View the full photo gallery at the Showbams Facebook page.

1. Circuital
2. It Beats 4 U
3. You Freak Me Out
4. Low Down
5. I’m Amazed
6. Lay Low
7. War Begun
8. I Will Sing You Sngs
9. Masterplan
10. Old September Blues
11. Rocket Man (Elton John cover)
12. Strangulation!
13. Evelyn Is Not Real
14. Easy Morning Rebel
15. Anytime
16. The Day is Coming
17. Touch Me Im Going to Scream Pt. 2
18. Gideon

Encore
19. Butch Cassidy
20. Wonderful (The Way I Feel)
21. It Makes No Difference (The Band cover)
22. I Could Never Take the Place of your Man (Prince cover)
23. Phone Went West