(Magic Bag, Ferndale, MI - January 28th, 2020)
Simply put, growing up in the UK, ever since 1983 I have wanted to see China Crisis play live.
Sure they tour all the time in Europe, but having only been to North America once before in nearly 40 years, and with me having lived here nearly 30 years myself, well, my opportunities were dwindling.
But then, out of the blue, a small North American tour was announced and better than that, the band were going to play just ten minutes away from me in a small club in the heart of town!
So, and with a friend in tow, we headed down to the Magic Bag in Ferndale to witness live a duo (formed in 1979) from Liverpool that achieved UK chart success throughout the eighties (inclusive of two albums certified Gold in the UK).
Cometh the hour cometh the band, for in a small, darkened club, on a black stage with a black backdrop, at 9.00pm promptly China Crisis (Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon) quietly took to the stage from behind the black backstage curtain.
Joined by a superb duo for extra sax and keyboard backing, this traveling band of musical minstrels then proceeded to give us a quite wondrous two hour set of music and chat.
Brought forth in much the same vein as the old VH1 Storytellers, from the off it was clear that this was going to be no ordinary play-the-hits-and-run live show!
Beginning the evening with their very first single, African and White, afterward it was Eddie who broke bread with us first. Howdy, Detroit. Home of the great Motown ... and Devo! (Note: Devo actually hail from Akron, Ohio, but that is neither here nor there).
The pair chat a bit about Devo, with Gary mulling the possibility that he believed one of Devo’s songs had been used in the new Quentin Tarantino movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Anyway, he adds, breaking from that train of thought, it is lovely to see you all.
He then puts his hand up to shade his eyes from the spotlights, and taking in the criminally under-attended small venue, the seats left empty, he adds, Most of you are of a certain age so you could not stand up for too long anyway, and laughs.
Gary then reflects back on how the band have been going for nearly 40 years now, how they were originally signed off the back of just three songs, and that keeping their sound alive for so long has made their songs still sound moist!
Talking more about their early days alongside other bands from their city of Liverpool, such as OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) and Teardrop Explodes, Gary reminisces about China Crisis opening for OMD, but how these days he (sarcastically, of course) felt like they should be opening for them.
Continuing the theme of playing tracks from their albums in release order, Red Sails from Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms, Some People Think Its Fun to Entertain is up next. Afterward, Gary reveals that the song only came to because Eddies mum bought them one of the very first keyboards ever produced, from a catalogue via monthly payments.
With the stage now lit in a beautiful orange haze, Temptations Big Blue Eyes is brought forth and showcases Eddies immaculate work on the acoustic guitar. Gary then talks about their choice of album title, how it was an extension of a Human League album, and how the CC album had purposely drawn a lot of its inspiration from the HL one.
Gary then reveals that when they tour in the UK and Europe they are a seven-piece band, but here touring North America they are a slimmed down four-piece, which actually enables them to do more electric music than they normally would live.
As we then get introduced to tracks from the second album (Working with Fire and Steel - Possible Pop Songs Volume Two), Gary confesses that the next track was actually a cut that never made it onto it.
Revealing a connection between Its Never Too Late and Mike Oldfield, afterward Gary talks about the different schooling experiences both he and Eddie had, and about how an experience with Shakespeare helped create the next track, The Soul Awakening.
Moving on into their third album, Flaunt the Imperfection, and straight off Gary tells their incredible story of how Warner Bros. Records in the US suggested they work with the late, great Walter Becker (Steely Dan).
Blown away by the fact that Becker (a man Gary adds was the closest they ever got to a genius) even knew them, let alone had one of their albums in his own collection, they sent him their instrumental workings and he did the rest.
Ergo, the wistful and yearning Danesque Bigger the Punch I’m Feeling is a true highlight of the show and sung as a tribute to Becker could not have sounded any better than it did tonight.
Suggesting that every album has to have a reggae song, next up is the beautiful hipsway of Strength of Character.
After a little Eminem breakdown, Gary admitted that they had been using the same drum machine as Human League at one point, and then flopping one side of his hair forward akin to a Phil Oakey look, he then explains to us their live version of a lucky dip - before dipping back into Difficult Shapes and playing Some People I Know to Lead Fantastic Lives.
Exploring Fire and Steel more, Gary then reminisces about opening up for Simple Minds back in 1984 and that even though they were never at home back then, how their writing was always based within a UK life perspective.
Here Comes a Raincloud, a quite beautiful and thoroughly underrated track is next, and after a brief story about how the band are big in Cuba and how Puerto Rican’s have their own China Crisis dance, the stage becomes atmospherically smoky for another highlight, the mesmerizing Its Everything (from their fourth album What Price Paradise).
Gary then calls for all backing vocalists in the audience to help them out, sarcastically adding that if you can not sing, please do not join in,, and with that the stunning Arizona Sky is next up.
Under a deliciously supple mist of light blue, Black Man Ray takes us graciously by the heart into the last lap of the show. In what turns out to be a veritable mini-greatest hits package, that is then seamlessly backed by a delightful Wishful Thinking.
Then, and after Gary recounts a passionate Freddie Mercury Live Aid memory, adding that they would now try and recreate that euphoric feeling via their very own bonsai moment, one of their joyously poplicious singles, King in a Catholic Style is unveiled.
Gary then informs the audience that after this last song they will break for a minute and then come back for another, before talking about the loss of his two family cats, how he had been staring at the venues logo of a cat all show, and then culminates all that with a few bars of Auld Lang Syne.
That segues rather nicely, believe it or not, into their biggest UK hit, the always pleasing to hear dulcet mellowness of Christian, and then, and without even leaving the stage, Gary not only dedicates the show to all the Detroitian’s gathered tonight, but also pays a generous tribute to the Philippines, and all their Filipino fans.
Bringing the two hour show to a close bang on 11pm with the divine musical brilliance of Tragedy and Mystery, afterward Eddie thanks the audience for coming out to see them, whilst Gary ends with Thank you, everybody. Thank you, Detroit. We will see you again soon.
Review by: Russell A. Trunk
Live Photo #2 by: Derek Fowler
Live Photos #3 & #4 by: Eric J. Wertanen
China Crisis @ Facebook
(DTE Energy Music Theatre, Clarkston, MI - June 12th, 2019)
When compiling a list of things that are uniquely Michigan, any good indexer would include Bob Seger.
And if evidence is wanted of his Detroit Music Legend status, one would have to look no further than the sold-out, six-show run at DTE Energy Music Theater, located, as of early June, at 33 Bob Seger Drive.
And it was the third of these six shows that I, my mother, a few friends, and a couple thousand fans had the privilege of seeing last Wednesday.
Absolutely insane construction traffic saw us arrive late to the venue, missing the opening act altogether. Pity. I am sure they were excellent. The upshot, of course, was that there was less time to wait until the main event.
Bob Seger took the stage sporting the Casual Grandpa look a t-shirt, jeans, and all-white hair. Opener Shakedown featured killer horns, but the music seemed quiet, like maybe the speakers were not working.
But you could tell Seger was having fun up there, pumping his fists along to the music, clapping his hands, and baring down on the microphone like the rockstar he is.
His first address to the crowd was an enthusiastic Michigaaaaaan! met with lots of cheers.
Thats our boy.
Saxophone player extraordinaire Alto Reed crushed Main Street, a number for which Seger strummed an acoustic guitar. Old Time Rock and Roll was the first of the crowd pleasers, inciting lots of over-the-head clapping and singing.
All the singing seemed to suit Bob, who relied on us on and off throughout the night, making up for an occasionally waning voice. But you cannot fault a guy for being a little quiet when he has so much enthusiasm and sheer joy of performing.
After plugging a love of motorcycles, he gave us Roll Me Away and the best vocal performance of the night thus far. At this point, I noticed a father and daughter a little ways down the row; she could not have been older than ten, and they looked like they were having a great time. Props to them.
Come to Poppa was an old blues cover which hit me in a weird spot because my own Papa a huge Seger fan could not make the show. Next came Like a Rock, which had originally been written as a reflection on Bobs high school track and field career before Chevy turned it into an ad spot.
Seger played to the height of his ability, knocking it completely out of the park. The set list was sprinkled with fun tidbits of behind the scenes information, like that Youll Accompany Me had not been played live in thirty years. And the band sounded great!
It was right around this time that Bob donned a hilarious black sweatband, looking like he could just as easily lead an exercise class as give us the second half of a rock show.
I also found out that Weve Got Tonight is not only Mama Segers favorite tune, but apparently an excellent couples skate song. The band stole the show on Travelin Man and Seger was in good voice for Beautiful Loser.
But it paled in comparison to what came after. Turn the Page is my personal favorite Bob Seger song, and the delight at hearing it done live, and done so well, was immense.
Everyone else was just as excited, too, because they sang loudly and early beating Bob to the opening lyrics by a measure or two. There was Alto Reed again, with that iconic saxophone line that pushed this bittersweet ode to the touring musician over the top. Phenomenal.
If the show had ended there, I would have been perfectly content, but it was not even close. A cover of Bob Dylans Forever Young featured a video montage honoring some of rock and rolls recently deceased Prince, Tom Petty, and hometown heroes Aretha Franklin and Glenn Frey, among others.
Speaking of Mr. Frey, it was mentioned that the late Eagle had sung back-up on every recording you have ever heard of Ramblin, Gamblin Man. Seger introduced his all-star Silver Bullet Band to many applause for each. Several had been nominees or recipients of various Big Deal Awards, which was very cool.
As the night wore on it was approaching 10:00pm lightning began flashing in the sky, prompting some folks to head for the exit. But did Bob Seger care a lick about an approaching thunderstorm or your early wake-up call the next day?
We are gonna move Against the Wind, whaddaya say? he asked by way of introducing the first of two encore sets. We cheered, of course. The intro to the subsequent, stellar Hollywood Nights was just as epic: Alright, Michigan! Road trip! That is just great, right?
In the end, the lightning got the better of us, and we listened to the final few numbers from the parking lot. During the last, he sang, So now sweet sixteens turned seventy-four.
Based on the show I had just seen, I would say he was thirty-one every time it mattered the most.
The bottom line: Rock and Roll Never Forgets and neither do Detroit music fans.
Review by: Ashley J. Cicotte
Photos by: Robin Buckson & Ryan Garza (of the Detroit News)
(Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, MI - May 29th, 2019)
The Who changed my life when I was 11 years old. That sounds lofty, I know, but it is true. My Dad played Tommy for me for the first time that year, and I have never thought of music in the same way since.
So when I told my Dad that our mutual favorite rock band was playing what could well have been their farewell tour (they christened it Moving On), we both knew that we had to be there.
And we were.
At Little Caesars Arena in Detroit last Tuesday, surviving members Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, along with the rest of the band that comprises the Who these days, gave us the show that we had been hoping to see.
But before them came the Arkells, a band from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. They were an eight-piece outfit who were kinda groovy with a lead singer that reminded me a bit of The Tragically Hips Gord Downie.
The Arkells played to an enthusiastic house that was about two-thirds full, which can only be explained by the outrageously long lines at the merch tables. We see you singing along, their front man told us. We appreciate that.
The band played through half an hours worth of material, most of which suffered from lack of song identification; I was able to pick out Peoples Champ, though, only because I had read before the show that Peoples Champ was written as a protest song against the current American Presidential administration.
By the end of their set, I was able to draw exactly three conclusions about the Arkells:
First they delivered mightily on their pledge to do our best for you tonight.
Second the small section of horns in the band could have easily moonlighted in the orchestra that would play later in the evening.
Third I would absolutely check out their studio stuff. Maybe then I had find out useful information like the names of songs or the names of the musicians.
The Arkells went off, and it was set change time. Normally set changes can be boring, but this particular set change included a photo montage of the Who, promos for the Teen Cancer America foundation that Daltrey and Townshend patron, and a very special tribute to the lately deceased Russ Gibb, head honcho of the Grande Ballroom; the legendary Detroit venue that hosted the Who in some of their earliest American gigs.
Before too long, though, it was time.
The Who took the stage to thunderous applause, and maestro Pete gave a lovely little welcome, cheering on the progress that Detroit has made. You are gonna get it right, he told us.
But enough talk. The 1969 masterpiece Tommy was up first, and the orchestra that had been the Fun New Thing for this tour dove straight into the Overture.
Orchestral arrangements are everything that Pete Townshends grand works demand, and my hands could barely take notes they were shaking so much with pure excitement and ecstasy at hearing my favorite album already done so well.
Amazing Journey (personal album favorite) brought Daltrey’s trademark microphone spins, which was further proof that he just owns the stage.
Drummer Zak Starkey and the orchestra masterfully took the lead in Sparks.
The Tommy set was abbreviated, so we skipped right ahead to Pinball Wizard and the audiences collective mindfreak. Even further on, Were Not Gonna Take It seemed very much a 2019 disillusionment anthem, and the majestic See Me, Feel Me/Listening to You at the end of the song was absolutely transcendent.
It was here that Pete let loose a proper series of guitar windmills, a fitting end to that portion of the show.
And honestly, if that had been the end of the entire show, I would have been completely content a testament to how effin good it was. Pete addressed the crowd once again, expressing gratitude for all of us taking the time and money to come out and support them, recognizing that this was not a cheap gig.
Whatever. If the Who showed out like this each time, I would pay more than the cost of my ticket, that is how effin good it was!
A string of radio hits came next. Who Are You had everyone singing along like it was an episode of CSI, and Eminence Front got an inexplicably loud cheer.
Some lite string work at the beginning of Imagine a Man managed to turn a song I normally dislike into something excellent. And Join Together melded several elements of The Whos dynamic in general that I love the most: Multi-instrumentalism could in keyboardist Loren Gold rocking the mouth harp, crowd participation when Daltrey conducted the crowd in the singing of the chorus, and most importantly the sense of unity the band cultivates with their audience; it is this aspect that I have always appreciated the most.
The post-script to that particular number was a personal highlight, in which Pete shared an anecdote about the late, great John Entwistle and how unimpressed he always seemed, and how Pete echoes the sentiment by the time Join Together nears its end.
If you have not joined the band by minute eight, you are not getting any more promotions, he concluded, laughing. And we all laughed too.
It is that unity I had mentioned.
The orchestra took a well-deserved break, and the hits kept coming with only the band to supply them. If there was a lowlight to the show, it was a plunky false start on I Can See for Miles.
But even that was amusing as Roger sheepishly blamed it on a senior moment, while Pete pinned the misstep on Roger being creative. Needless to say, the banter was on point.
An acoustic Wont Get Fooled Again seemed a weird flex, absent all but Roger and Pete onstage, and missing the iconic bombastic scream near the end. But it certainly commanded the largest audience participation of the evening so far.
Tea and Theatre off of 2006s Endless Wire was another odd duck because, according to Pete, many of you have never f***ing heard it! But at the same time, he admonished us to listen to this one, it is nice.
And it was a quiet, pensive sort of song reflecting on the relationship between the guitarist and the singer.
The Quadrophenia set brought back the orchestra to play Petes other, 1973 magnum opus as the rock god had intended. And while the title track from the album would have been the best choice to make full use of the instrumentation, cuts like The Real Me, The Punk and The Godfather, and 5:15 did the job.
On the previous Who tours I have seen, the latter track featured a thundering video cameo by bassist Entwistle. Here, however, the interlude space was filled with an absolutely shredding guitar run by Simon Townshend.
Petes solo turn on vocals for Drowned was nothing short of excellent, while the instrumental The Rock was accompanied by a video montage showing mostly the lowlights of the last fifty years or so, which included among many, many other things Vietnam, Nixon, John Lennon, the Berlin Wall, Princess Diana, September 11, and the immigration crisis, mashed up with footage of the band and a raging sea.
The orchestra sawed through the song, becoming equally the cause and the cure for the splitting headache I had left the venue with.
The absolute highlight of the entire thing was the last song of the Quadrophenia set. Love Reign Over Me began with an absolutely stunning piano solo by Loren Gold, and only got better from there.
Daltrey took what has always been my favorite rock vocal to the absolute height of his limits, never once sounding weak or worn even after a two hour show.
He gave 1000% percent of himself to the song, and to us, more than earning the standing ovation we leapt up to give as the final notes crashed down. I wish I could link video of it to this review so that I could show you just how effin great it was!
Pete introduced the main band - Simon Townshend (guitars), Jon Button (bass), Zak Starkey (drums) - and gave a special nod to the orchestra, saying they would give us one more song, closing the whole thing out in a traditional way.
Baba ORiley was the perfect final touch, with the enduring lyrics about teenage wasteland and the skills and presence of lead violinist Katie Jacoby wrapped the whole evening up quite nicely.
The band took their bows, we cheered ourselves hoarse, and that was it. It was over. I will happily put my hand on my record collection and swear I have never been more disappointed to see the ending of a concert and I have been to many excellent ones in my twenty-seven years.
But this was next level. Was this the Whos final show in Detroit? I sure hope not. But on the off chance it is, to my all-time favorite band, all I can say is thank you.
Thank you for Tuesday, thank you for being the soundtrack to so much of my life, and for being the source of so many wonderful memories for my Dad and me.
Even if the Song is over, the Note is eternal.
Long Live Rock.
Review by: Ashley J. Cicotte
Photos by: to Elaine Cromie (Detroit Free Press)
Midge Ure & Paul Young
(Magic Bag, Ferndale, MI - June 14th, 2018)
Having been here to our shores, and indeed the very same venue for a few years now, Ultravox front man Midge Ure this time brought his fellow 80s pop star friend Paul Young with him to the Magic Bag in Michigan for the self-proclaimed The Soundtrack Of Your Life Tour 2018.
The Grammy and Brit Award winning musician kicked off his North American tour a few weeks back and here, on a very humid, yet very tolerable June night just outside of Detroit, the accomplished guitarist took to the stage as opener.
In a small, darkened club, on a black stage with a black backdrop, at 9.00pm Midge Ure quietly, semi-unnoticed, came from behind the black curtain. Joined on stage by his (and Young’s) traveling band of musical minstrels, dressed head to toe in black, Ure politely waves at the packed house, before opening the show with a stunning Passing Strangers.
How are you all doing?, he inquires to the devoted Ure fans in his midst. It is great to be back ... and I am bringing my old pal Paul with me this time, he adds, to rapturous applause. Next up comes a pair of his big solo hits, the first being Dear God, which he backs (Let us see if you know this one ...) with the monster chart topper If I Was.
Are you having fun so far, he asks the crowd, before jokingly adding, because I will soon stop that! This is something from my last album, Fragile, he continues, as he then launches into Become.
A simply stunning I Remember (Death in the Afternoon) is next and after Midge thanks the crowd once again, he then passively berates the fact that they, as artists on stage, are fighting a new era where when a song ends, people (like the one he points out in the crowd in front of him), instantly go to their cell phones to check Facebook and/or other forms of Social Media!
Introducing the next song as one for all those people, the Visage classic (that he co-wrote) Fade To Grey is up next. Then a classic Ultravox quartet (no pun intended) of hits come flooding through his still-amazing guitar work.
Starting off with a vibrant New Europeans, he then backs that seamlessly with Hymn, before the always-brilliant-to-hear Vienna is swallowed up whole by the adoring crowd.
But then comes the true highlight of the night, for me and most all the crowd, for Ure unveils an Ultravox song that, to my best recollection, he just does not perform live all that often; and yet it is a song that symbolizes the 80s just perfectly: All Stood Still. My goodness, bathed under the most perfectly-suited, densely green spotlights, it was both an audio and visual delight.
Bringing his set to a close (sadly) with the title track from his last solo outing, Fragile, and then (after a minutes worth of guitar creativity) powering up the monster Dancing With Tears in My Eyes, as the crowd sung along, Ure’s last moments on the stage were as prolific a musical genius in motion sight as they must have been back 30+ years ago.
But, come to and end it must, for 20 minutes later and with the backing band now returned, on strolled the enigmatic 80s crooner himself, the uber well dressed, suited and booted Paul Young.
Opening with Some People, between that and his infamous cover of The Four Preps Love of the Common People, he informs the audience that he is ... enjoying this little tour together (with Ure); and why would he not, let us be honest.
I mean, Young might not exactly be able to command a stage, or an audience, or even a vocal riff any more, but he is on a high profile tour of the US nonetheless!
Moving on and after thanking the audience for their applause, he admits that he made a mistake in not coming back to the US for 25 years, and that he was going to try and make up for that tonight. He did not, far from it, but watching him sing his drunken old man karaoke set was, however, highly entertaining!
His big hit of the day, the Marvin Gaye classic Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home) is up next and is appreciated by the now-thinning crowd, and then a song that he manages to passably crawl through, Everything Must Change is up next.
A totally butchered Senza una donna (the Zucchero duet) is up next before he dips into his recently released Good Thing album re: Memphis Soul tunes, for what turns out to be one of his best vocalized songs of the night, Gotta Get Back to You.
Thank you very much,, Young adds after the song, for as much as the crowd was now down to only half that watched Ure perform, the ones remaining were actually enjoying Young’s set. What Becomes of the Brokenhearted (Jimmy Ruffin) manages to sound half decent, given the obvious and severe lack of vocal range Young now showcases, and then we get a rallying cry from Young on a cover of his own Q-Tips ode to Southern soul singer Joe Tex, Get Em Up Joe.
Expertly backing that up with more Memphis Soul (which is truly where his vocals are now best suited) in the form of the vibrant Slipped, Tripped and Fell In Love, Young then sings (and I use that word very loosely) one of my own personal favorites (before tonight), I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down.
Man, oh man. Wow. Young just does not possess the lungs for this rock/pop vocal depth any more and it was a noticeably big mistake to try and bluster his way through it tonight.
Bringing the set to a close with both his big UK hit Everytime You Go Away (Hall & Oates) and a rangy, over-reaching Come Back and Stay, leaving the stage to an overly-generous amount of applause, he is soon back out though for a duet, of sorts, with Midge Ure on the thunderous Thin Lizzy cover (that Ure also co-wrote), The Boys Are Back In Town.
Sadly, Young’s vocals have all but gone at this juncture, but he tries to make his stage presence felt with some 80s mic stand spinning and cheesy lean-in poses with his guitarist. He fails, and as much as Ure was always going to be the stand out performer of the night, Young did at least give it his best shot; but came up well short, nonetheless. Sorry, mate.
Review by: Russell A. Trunk
Live Photos by: Eric J. Wertanen