By Sam McDonald, email@example.com | 757-247-4732
December 30, 2012
On the Hampton Roads music scene, 2012 was a year of both forging ahead and looking back. It all started with a wild-and-woolly tribute to Bruce Springsteen's late sax player, Clarence Clemons. It ended with an electronic music mini-festival at Hampton Coliseum, featuring Bassnectar, that felt like a journey into the sound of tomorrow. In between, I heard some surprisingly vital retro rock and listened to a master songwriter shift his banjo deep into interstellar overdrive. In other words, it was never dull. Here's a look back at five of the most memorable musical moments of the year.
Clarence Clemons tribute concerts, Jan. 6 at The Attucks Theatre and Jan. 7 at The NorVa, Norfolk.
If the spirit of Clarence Clemons was hovering around Norfolk this weekend, it would have been one happy ghost.
Many of the late musician's friends and relatives came to his hometown for a two-night party packed with heartfelt tributes, abundant laughs and a megadose of loose, exuberant soul.
Bruce Springsteen's sax-honking sidekick was remembered fondly as a Big Man with a big heart. Rarely, though, did the proceedings feel mournful. This was a memorial in the New Orleans tradition. Musicians including Gary U.S. Bonds, Southside Johnny and John Cafferty joined E Street Band veterans Garry Tallent and Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez at the raucous party. It seemed that spirits were flowing freely backstage, too.
Both nights, affairs spun out of control when the whole crew converged at show's end for a climactic version of Springsteen's "Rosalita." A complex arrangement collided head-on with overindulgence to create an exciting mess. Southside Johnny, in particular, was fun to watch as he flung himself around the stage, mangling lyrics along the way. Musical integrity? Nah. Enthusiasm and uninhibited fun? A boatload.
Black Keys and Arctic Monkeys, March 23, Ted Constant Center, Norfolk.
In some ways, it was just like 1974. Two guitar-slinging rock bands — one British, one American — cranking up the nasty distortion and battering an arena packed with hard-partying, fist-pumping fans.
Unlike '74, though, there wasn't thick, weedy smoke hanging in the air. Instead, every other person seemed to be capturing the rock spectacle on a smartphone.
Mostly, though, the show at Norfolk's Ted Constant Convocation Center was a reassertion of big, loud guitar rock as a vital art form.
Neither the bluesy Black Keys or the punky Arctic Monkeys is reinventing the music, but both bring creativity to their shameless rehashing of familiar chords, tones and moods. If this was your first-ever rock show, you got a good, full-flavored taste of what's great and satisfying about the form.
You say the bands are derivative? Fair enough. They're also talented, gutsy, and eager to please.
"Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour" Cirque du Soleil, May 8, Hampton Coliseum.
Michael Jackson was a complicated guy, it's fair to say. Somehow, though, the creators of this acrobatic musical tribute managed to boil The King of Pop down to his magical essence.
Through masterful, imaginative stagecraft and technology, the show explored the late singer's inner world with a playful empathy.
It charted Jackson's rise and fall through a kaleidoscope of striking images, artful stunts and daring cut-and-paste versions of his greatest hits. The heart of the man seemed to beat behind almost every scene.
The show wasn't perfect. The climax felt clunky at times and the show lost momentum in the second act. Still, "The Immortal ..." succeeded in pulling audiences into Jackson's fabled Neverland where the singer's imagination and soul still shine brightly.
Emmylou Harris, Sept. 20 at Ferguson Center for the Arts, Newport News.
In Newport News, Emmylou Harris gave her audience a sweet, soulful taste of her classic mongrel country sound.
Harris' voice has changed over the decades. Her upper range isn't as pure and clear as it was in her youth. Plenty of power and grace still reside elsewhere, though. Her singing, raspy in places, still contains a blue streak a mile wide. She never failed to deliver an emotional punch.
"Bang the Drum Slowly," about her late father, was both somber and beautiful. The Buck Owens classic "Together Again" radiated unbridled joy.
It was great to see a full set from Harris, a singer whose long career has been built on integrity, creativity and soul.
Danny Barnes, Oct. 12, Hampton Taphouse.
The element of surprise is a big part of what makes live music special. Read all you like, watch all the YouTube you can stand. Sometimes, you'll still be ambushed in the best possible sense.
That's what happened when banjo man Danny Barnes played a solo show at the Hampton Taphouse. I had listened to his new album, "Rocket," recorded for Dave Matthews' label, ATO. I knew that Barnes was using electronics to bolster his live sound. I also knew he was a fine songwriter and singer and a banjo player who has stood toe-to-toe with greats like Béla Fleck and Dirk Powell.
Somehow, though, I hadn't put all the pieces of the puzzle together until Barnes started whipping up a freaky storm of sound at the Taphouse.
Over and over, Barnes used looping technology to layer banjo parts into a complex web of music. On that foundation, he played solos that spiraled into outer space.
The songs didn't get lost along the way, either. Jazzy, funky, sweet, righteously rocking, Danny Barnes does it all — and does it with humor and heart.
Copyright © 2013, Newport News, Va., Daily Press