Musical Legends Grace The Stages On Arroyo Seco Weekend’s Second Day REVIEW: ARROYO SECO WEEKEND JUNE 24, 2018
PASADENA, CA- Arroyo Seco Weekend was a festival that seemed designed as a family friendly music festival. With a line-up that featured both sophisticated and legendary musical acts, the weekend certainly catered to a generally older demographic, but it’s hard to deny the fact that if you were there to appreciate music that has stood the test of time, or even dramatically effected the path of certain musical genres, then there was plenty to choose from.
With three stages that offered constant selection of diverse musical offering throughout the day, I took the opportunity to both revel in some nostalgia and dip my toe into the sounds of a handful of some very capable upstarts.
I’ve been following Allen Stone for a while. Ever since I saw/heard his acoustic performance of “Another Break Up Song” on Park City Television in 2011, I was hooked (and I still haven’t found a physical or digital copy of that track to purchase, which is driving me nuts). “A hippie with soul,” his original compositions evoke the kinds of classic soul sonics and emotions from days gone by with a modern twist.
His performance at Arroyo Seco Weekend would be the fourth time I’ve seen him in concert, and all I can say is that each time is a spiritual experience. Perhaps it’s his past growing up in a religious family (his father was pastor), but each time I see him perform I can hear and feel his soul in every note that he sings. He admirably worked the crowd to feel the joy in music by exchanging playful some playful banter that elicited cheers of support. “I’m so pale I glow in the dark, hopefully by the end of this set I find a way to your heart.”
His set consisted of a solid mix of new and old songs, including his popular cuts “Upside”, “Unaware” and “Contact High”. In a clearly unplanned moment of his performance, the middle seam down the back of his slacks split during some inspired dancing. “I like to move my hips. That act like I don’t know who owns them,” he smiled.
He performed a handful of new songs that he has planned for his forthcoming album including “Brown Eyed Lover” rounded out his performance with a bonus track from his 2016 album Radius; “Voodoo”. His performance had an infectious energy that was undeniable, was a definitely the perfect kick off for the rest of the day.
“Thank you for letting me be myself, Pasadena,” he humbly smiled. Any time, Allen.
Another singer/songwriter that I was keen on catching was Margaret Glaspby. L.A. born but Brooklyn Based, Margaret came back to Los Angeles to sing her emotionally poignant melodies for the Arroyo Seco Weekend masses.
I won’t lie, I was pretty smitten with her rough around the edges, plainspoken truths. She’s cited Joni Mitchell as an influence, and I could hear that in the tone o her voice and the drive in her lyrics. Performing in support of her recent 3 song EP, Born Yesterday, she- as far as I can recall- performed all three cuts from the EP.
Her presence on stage when she wasn’t singing seemed reserved and coy, but when sings it’s an confidently powerful experience. When she softly growled lyrics and deceptively shreds her guitar, you’re drawn into her musical narrative, and it’s hard not to have your attention completely focused on her and the things she’s emoting.
I can’t lie. I had a huge crush on Susanna Hoffs when I was in middle school. When I saw the video of “Eternal Flame” on MTV for the first time, with Susann Hoffs’ face lit by a candle … oi. That was love at first site. Seriously.
But The Bangles were more than just Susanna Hoffs. This group recorded some of the catchiest songs of the 80s, and their critical and commercial success is a testament to just how good their music was. From the aforementioned “Eternal Flame” to the infectious, dance-craze inducing “Walk Like An Egyptian”, to the totally relatable “Manic Monday”, The Bangles pretty much dominated the radio waves with hit after hit. They even took a Simon & Garfunkle’s “Hazy Shade Of Winter” and recorded a version that I, dare I say it, is better than Simon & Garfunkle’s version.
Theirs was a performance that had every Gen Xer in the crowd singing and dancing along, men and women alike. A good pop song is a good pop song … period … and whether they were dancing like and Egyptian, or commiserating another manic Monday, Susanna, Vicki Peterson, Debbi Peterson, and the the band’s original bassist, Annette Zilinskas, rocked the Arroyo Seco Weekend to an adoring crowd.
With the original line-up in tow, The Bangles dove into rarely performed cuts from their self-titled EP, before closing out the set with “Eternal Flame” and “Walk Like And Egyptian.” As long as they keep performing together, theirs is a flame that will never go out.
The first huge rock concert I ever attend was at the Irvine Meadows when Alanis Morissette was dominating the radio and album sales charts with her third studio, and Grammy Award winning, album Jagged Little Pill. That album took post-grunge and pop rock, infused with a massive amount of pent up aggression and yielded a series of chart topping singles that pretty much dominated radio between 1995 and 1996; and at Arroyo Seco she played them all.
If you thought The Bangles chart topping setlist was golden, you’d have to call Alanis’ set diamond. Every single song she performed, even if it wasn’t derived from Jagged Little Pill, was a chart charted around the world, and it was clear that everyone in attendance sang along to every song.
There was so much love for Alanis in audience. As I looked around during the performance, I noted that I was surrounded by mostly women; each of whom were mouthing the lyrics to every song. You could see it in their eyes that gazed intently at the stage. The air was thick with memories, and you were overwhelmed with nostalgia when familiar choruses were shouted at the tops of lungs.
Each song was a story about the trials of a youthful love, and was- clearly- intimately relatable with Arroyo Seco Weekend attendees, who spent that performance revisiting old memories of broken hearts and the emotions tied to them. I didn’t need to ask anybody about what they were feeling. You could see it in their eyes.
Performing on the main stage as the sun slowly set in the west was the Texas guitarist Gary Clark, Jr., and his performance during the golden hour couldn’t have been more … well … golden.
A virtuoso on the axe, Gary’s skills have been compared favorably to other guitar legends. He lays the blues on thick in his playing, and he made sure to let those unfamiliar with his playing know that they weren’t just listening to another guitarist.
While he does sing as well, it’s the way he makes his instrument sings that really steals the show. As he pulled a riff with his eyes closed, lips pursed and eyes tightly clenched, you can feel all of the pain, passion or pleasure oozing out of his fingertips and onto his guitar. It was fitting that he included “Ain’t Messin ‘Round” in his set, and he clearly wasn’t. He also treated the audience with a new song (click on the image to above to go to the page with some found video of the track).
Midway through his performance he addressed the crowd with a, “Do you feel alright now?” Based on the cheers of the audience, I we were feeling pretty damn good.
Irma thomas is the “unrivaled Soul Queen of New Orleans”. While she never achieved the kind of commercial success as her contemporaries like Aretha Franklin and Etta James, she is revered by music lovers as one of THE female voices soul.
If you love classic soul, then there is no doubt that you have heard Irma Thomas’ voice. “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)”, “With Someone Would Care”, “Good To Me” … those are her gems.
At 77, Irma’s voice was still on point. The smile that exuded from her face was effervescent and she was a musically playful like a child. When her band was riffing a lick, she would scat along with her voice, proving that her instrument was as well oiled as ever.
Midway through her set, she asked how much time she had, and casually let it be known that she, “usually take[s] requests from the audience, but [her] time [was] limited.”
Just then, the a gentleman behind me shouted “Old Records”, and Irma looked over gave the gentleman a coy smile.
“Well, all right,” she beamed, “I’m gonna have to use a cheat sheet for that one.”
As she sang “Old Records”, the crowd swayed back and forth under the shade of the large tent. At the song’s conclusion, the man next to me sighed with contentment and said, “I never thought I’d hear that song live.” Wow. That got me right in my gut.
Irma concluded her set with “Time Is On My Side”, and all I could think was, “I sure hope so, Irma. Long live the Soul Queen of New Orleans”.
I found it slightly odd that Robert Plant and The Sensational Space Shifters wasn’t the featured headlining act to close out the weekend’s festivities. After all, it’s Robert Plant we’re talking about. Lead singer of Led Zeppelin and one of the greatest rock and roll vocalists of all time … OF ALL TIME! He is a living legend, so I would have thought that he would be the finale for Arroyo Seco Weekend.
But as many of the attendees probably had to go back to work early next morning, perhaps the earlier set time was all by specific design, letting the young ‘uns who were still on summer vacation from school/college rock the night away with Kings Of Leon later in the evening, while giving their elders an out to get back home for a good night’s sleep.
At 69, Robert Plant is still as rock and roll as they come. Performing a set that included songs from his solo career (“The May Queen”, “Carry Fire”, “Turn It Up”) Led Zeppelin classics (“The Lemon Song”, “What Is And What Should Never Be”, “Four Sticks”) and various covers (Joan Baez’s “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” and Bukka White’s “Fixin’ To Die” among others), it was a performance that gave his fans a little bit of everything.
It was absolutely appropriate that he performed Led Zeppelin’s “Going To California”. In fact, everything he did on stage seemed appropriate. Whether he was swinging his mic stand around or undulating to the rhythms to a song as if he was summoning spirits from his guitarist’s instrument, he presence on stage was absolutely mesmerizing. It’s a presence that only a man of Robert Plant’s stature can exude. It’s the stuff of legends.
Arroyo Seco Weekend not only got the Soul Queen of New Orleans, but they also got another inimitable New Orleans voice to grace their stages. Though he currently resides in upstate New York, Aaron Neville’s unique tenor vocals and the musical legacy that he established with his brothers (the Neville Brothers), helped establish a New Orleans sound that draws from an amalgam of musical styles.
Clocking in at 77 years old, Aaron may have been the oldest performer of the weekend, but with his ever present biceps, colorful tie-dyed shirt and mellifluous voice, you would have been hard pressed to think he was even a day over 50.
His performance focused mostly on music made popular during the earlier part of his career. He performed a covers of moving covers of “Stand By Me” and “A Change I Gonna Come” and also some of his own popular singles like “Don’t Cry” and “Tell It Like Is”.
But at the end of the day, it really didn’t matter which songs Aaron sang. His voice … his delicate tenor voice … that light and seductive falsetto … alone was enough to get lover in the mood. It was hard not to notice couples holding each other in tight embraces sharing public displays of affection with no reservations. I”ll be honest with you … if I had had a date with me during his performance of “Tell It Like It Is”, I’d have been making out myself.
But the love making aside, Aaron’s set was highlighted by throw backs to that NoLa sound towards the end of his set. As he concluded with a raucous rendition of “When The Saints Go Marching In” and had the audience join him in a call and response of “Who Dat?”, I couldn’t help but think that spirit in the tent at that moment was what Aaron Neville was all about.
Closing out the music festivities at Arroyo Seco Weekend were the modern rock chart toppers Kings Of Leon. Their eighteen song, 80 minute set was filled with with all of their hit singles and fan favorites and definitely appealed those was stuck around catch their set.
While “Use Somebody”, “Sex On Fire”, “Waste A Moment” and “Supersoaker” are all extremely “recent” hits, I was pleasantly surprised that included a handful of cuts from their first three albums Aha Shake Heartbreak, Youth & Young Manhood and Because of the Times; “The Bucket”, “California Waiting” and “Arizona” respectively.
By the time Kings of Leon took the stage, a good amount of the Gen Xers had left the festival grounds. But after a weekend of legacy artists taking the stage, Kings of Leon’s performance was really more of an afterthought for the kiddies who bought tickets than really any thing else. The target demographic of the festival had been fully satisfied an hour earlier after Robert Plant left the stage. The Kings of Leon was a just little something extra.