Live music reviews

John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett play for the sake of the song

Massey Hall, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, February 13, 2008

For one night, to quote their brother in song – the late, great Townes Van Zandt – John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett sang “for the sake of the song.”

Two songwriter’s songwriters, a sparse stage, and four trusty acoustics, that’s all these acoustic amigos needed to wow a sold-out crowd of music lovers on a magical February evening.

The minimalist stage featured a black curtain, two chairs, two mics and a couple of extra guitars. When you have two strong storytellers, as the pair showed, there’s no need for any distractions.

Shortly after 8:10 p.m., the lights went out and the two sauntered onto stage, one in denim (Hiatt) and one in black. What followed was more than two hours of the pair’s finely-crafted, storied songs. Despite no intermission, few in the audience left their seats as Hiatt and Lovett played and played.

Casual conversations about everything from Elvis movies and turntables to Valentine’s Day and the stories behind their songs were the subjects of witty banter between songs exchanged by the artists throughout the evening, drawing laughter and adding to the intimate affair.

Following a chat about an Elvis movie with Mary Tyler Moore Hiatt had watched that afternoon in his hotel room, the Indiana son opened the show with his classic “Tennessee Plates.”

Lovett then offered “Skinny Legs” from his disc I Love Everybody. From these two strong songs, the tone was set for the magic to come. After the Texan strummed the last chord, Hiatt applauded. This mutual admiration was apparent throughout the night as the songwriters shook hands often and shared smiles.

Hiatt took the opportunity to showcase some new songs, from his forthcoming album, scheduled for release in May. All of which were well received.

Lovett’s “Fiona” was one of highlights of his set of songs, along with the barn-burnin’ bluegrass stomp “Up In Indiana” and featured Hiatt singing and strumming along, adding some extra texture and harmony to this fine cut. This was later followed by equally classic country-blues: “She’s No Lady,” which prompted Hiatt to slyly remark, “That’s one of my wife’s favorite songs!”

The Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Robertson was in attendance and Lovett dedicated the fun bluegrass double-entendre song “Keep It in Your Pantry” to his Canadian friend.

On the eve before Valentine’s Day, Hiatt followed with the apropos song Bonnie Raitt made famous, “Thing Called Love” and the tender “Have a Little Faith in Me.”

Since this night was all about the song, 150 minutes and several encores after this love-in for words and music began, Lovett and Hiatt appropriately finished the evening with a nod to fellow songwriter Jesse Winchester and his classic “Brand New Tennessee Waltz.”

In a hustle and bustle world of BlackBerrys, the two-minute lunch, and unused vacations, it was refreshing to see people get out of this frenetic space, sit back and lose themselves for a couple of hours in the treasured songs of these talented troubadours.

– published at Country Standard Time

Shakira

ACC Toronto

One concertgoer’s T-shirt at the Shakira show Sunday night summed up the evening: “Everybody Loves A Spicy Latina!”

On this night, there was no denying that love — Latino-style — was in the air. The Colombian celebrity showed the full range of her talents, showcasing not only her sensual belly dancing and vigorous hip-shaking, but also her knack for writing spicy and poetic songs.

Patriotic fervour was in the ACC air. Colombian flags were draped from the 300-level balcony and attendees dressed in the South American nation’s tri-colours (yellow, blue and red) danced, waved their glow sticks and sang along in Spanish.

Wyclef Jean opened, and proclaimed he isn’t “your typical rap boy!” A DJ started things off with two turntables and a microphone and got the crowd singing and waving their hands for Jean, who arrived immediately after and boomed, “You are at a concert, no sitting on your butts.”

The lively musician then proceeded to go into the crowd and brought up a woman who hadn’t heeded his call. Within seconds, she was dancing and waving her arms along with the rest of the crazed crowd.

Jean’s sweaty 30-minute set was explosive. He rapped in five languages and played electric guitar behind his head and with his teeth, a la Jimi Hendrix. The highlight was a cover of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” where the Haitian got a little political, chanting mid-song, “If anybody sees George Bush… Toronto, Toronto, tell him to stop the war, stop the war…”

Following a 45-minute break, the spotlight focused on a sole musician plucking a Middle Eastern instrument. Then the curtain dropped and Shakira came bouncing onto the stage barefoot and sporting loose black pants. She wasted no time breaking into the catchy “Estoy Aqui” from her debut disc, Pies Descalzo.

Backed by a tight seven-piece band, Shakira showcased songs from her vast catalogue. To the delight of the Latin lovers in attendance, she leaned more toward her Spanish repertoire. A highlight of the opening string of songs was “Antologia,” which she wrote when she was 17. This slow track was delivered coffeehouse style at the front of the stage, with Shakira sitting on a box and accompanied by guitar, bongos and lap-steel guitar.

“Ojos Asi,” her most Arabic-influenced song, was also one of the night’s best. Here, Shakira showcased her trademark gyrations. A few other standouts were “Si Te Vas” and “Ciega, Sordomuda,” with its Mariachi-style horns and upbeat rhythms.

An hour-and-45-minutes after Shakira slinked onstage, she invited Jean to join her. The pair performed their recent hit, “Hips Don’t Lie.” The throng of thousands pumped their hands in the air and Shakira gave the fans one final dance lesson as paper confetti rained down.

– published at Chartattack.com

LIVE: Elton John Takes Trip Down Memory Lane
Air Canada Centre
September 7, 2005
Toronto, ON

At 8:10 p.m., as lightning bolts exploded on the big screen, Elton John climbed the riser to the ACC stage and got cozy on the bench of the Yamaha Grand Piano where he would spend the better part of the next three hours conducting an Ironman-like piano pounding session.

Joined by an eight-piece choir — The Voice Of Atlanta — which sang on his most recent disc Peachtree Road, John began the evening with an entire set of songs from his latest album. Sporting dark sunglasses and a cross earring dangling from his right lobe, Captain Fantastic was dressed in a pin-stripe coat tail suit with a ruffled shirt — a pretty tame wardrobe compared to his past costume choices.

But, this more subdued stage attire exemplified the mature 58-year-old musician and showed how being in love can revitalize and refocus one’s musical career. After battling drugs and alcohol for many years, John admitted to the crowd that it was no wonder none of his relationships worked. Now, the only drug he’s addicted to is his Canadian partner. John dedicated “My Elusive Drug” from Peachtree Road to the love of his life.

While the front-row fans gave John a standing ovation for all the new songs, the rest of the crowd was a little less attentive as they patiently awaited the hits that were sure to come. At 8:45 p.m., the gospel singers left the stage and Sir Elton kicked the show up a notch. He started pounding the keys and broke into the Who’s classic “Pinball Wizard” as the front-row faithful pumped their fists. Midway through the song, John left the piano bench and mimicked Pete Townshend’s famous guitar windmills.

A standing ovation ensued, and with that, the archives were unearthed.After a short bow, John broke into “Benny And The Jets.” Throughout the show, the songsmith’s nimble fingers flew across the keys and his tight backing band accompanied him with spirited solos. Next was “Daniel,” then “Take Me To The Pilot” that featured an electrifying introductory solo where John used most of the piano’s 88 keys and looked like a kid showing off at a recital for his proud parents.

The climax occurred a little more than an hour in when John played a 10-minute version of “Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going To Be A Long, Long Time)” that felt like it never was going to end with decrescendos and crescendos.

With this song, John was fully charged and so was the audience for another hour of hits that included: “Tiny Dancer,” “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues,” “Sad Songs (Say So Much),” “Philadelphia Freedom,” and “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word,” which John dedicated to the late Ray Charles.

After a rousing “Saturday Night’s Alright (for Fighting),” John left the stage and then reappeared a few minutes later and spent time signing autographs for fans in the front row before sitting back down at the grand piano. “Crocodile Rock” was the first encore and this got people from the 500-level suites to the floor seats up and dancing in the aisles.Returning for the second encore and dressed more casually in a track suit, John ended this trip down memory with “Your Song,” dedicating to every person in the audience and wishing them health and happiness.

Farm Aid 2005

20th anniversary

September 18, 2005

The Tweeter Center

Tinley Park, Illinois

By David McPherson

A little controversy, a little polka music, and some good old fashioned rock ’n’ roll: the 20th anniversary Farm Aid concert this past weekend had it all.

On the eve of Farm Aid’s 20th anniversary concert in Tinley Park, Illinois — a suburb southwest of Chicago — a Chicago Tribune journalist looking to make a name for himself wrote a front-page story that questioned the efficacy of Farm Aid’s fundraising efforts.

As the official Farm Aid press conference kicked off at 11 a.m., Neil Young, dressed in a black cowboy hat and blue sport coat, clutched a Tribune in the crook of his arm. When it came time for the grizzled rock ’n’ roller to speak, he lambasted the scribe for his shoddy homework.

“This is the sickest piece of journalism I have ever seen!” Young said. “The Tribune needs to be held responsible for this piece of crap!”

With that classic Young line delivered, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer then waved the rolled up Tribune in the air, and proceeded to rip it into a dozen pieces. He then disgustedly tossed the remnants of the offending newspaper into the front row of the press gallery. Willie Nelson, sitting beside Neil, gave his buddy a handshake and the press tent erupted in a standing ovation.

Even before the first guitar strings were plucked, Young made it clear that the spirit of Farm Aid was alive and well.

Later in the afternoon, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco echoed Young’s sentiments during their energized set. “Chicago Tribune, you should be ashamed of yourself,” he said to the sold-out crowd. “I don’t care if you write one nice word about us ever again. You fucked up!”

For 20 years, Farm Aid has carried on this spirit of responding to its critics and responding to farm disasters such as the foreclosure of family farms and severe droughts. The charity has also advocated for homegrown, organic food as the consumer’s choice.

The Tribune journalist questioned how much money Farm Aid gives directly to family farmers and he quoted that only 20 cents from each dollar goes directly to the farmers. The reality, according to Farm Aid, is that 80 cents from every dollar goes to helping keep farmers on the land through grants to local advocacy groups and they also respond to other natural disaster’s that affect family farmers such as Hurricane Katrina that hit Louisiana and Mississippi. Farm Aid was one of the first group’s to respond to this natural disaster, pledging $30,000 to several of its partner organization in the southeast.

One of the first performers, songwriter James McMurtry was introduced by John Mellencamp and made the most of his single song set with an impassioned political song (“Can’t Make It Here Anymore”) that touched on poverty, greed, corruption and other evil vices of corporate America.

Roots’ artist Kathleen Edwards was the only other Canuck besides Canadian born Young on the bill this year. Backed by her touring band that includes husband Colin Cripps and Jim Bryson, the rising star made the most of her three songs, kicking off with “Six O’Clock News.” Dressed in a black tank top and faded blue jeans, Edwards’ energetic renditions of “In State” and “Back to Me” surely won over some new fans south of the border.

Catching up with her after her set near the backstage area, waiting for her bandmates to bring her a beer, she revealed how she ended up on the star-studded bill.

“I toured with Willie [Nelson] this past summer and I told him that if he ever needed anyone for Farm Aid I would love to play,” Edwards said. “It’s a cause that’s close to my heart because my grandparents were farmers in Western Manitoba and Saskatchewan and my dad grew up on a farm.”

The concert also paired a young guitar slinger (John Mayer) with an old blues king (Buddy Guy). This combination proved to be one of the day’s many highlights as Mayer and Guy had their Mojo working — trading guitar licks, sharing smiles and egging one another on as girls screamed from the front row. The dazzling duo left the stage tossing guitar picks to these front row admirers. This late afternoon set kicked the concert into high gear for the evening to follow.

Emmylou Harris took the stage in the early evening and showed that while her hair is grey, her voice has aged well. Joined by Nashville songwriter Buddy Miller, the two created some magical harmony on some of Harris’ hits, including a stirring rendition of “Orphan Girl.”

Farm Aid board member Dave Matthews’ stirred things up himself a little later with a rare solo acoustic set that featured some frenetic percussive guitar playing, especially on the closer “All Along the Watchtower.” The songwriter admitted he was a little nervous, and felt “naked” performing alone, but he was also humbled to share the stage with his “big brothers” Willie, Neil and John.

Shortly before 11 p.m., Neil finally strolled onto the stage, dressed nattily in a black cowboy hat and blue suit. After a few words about the Farm Aid cause, Neil strapped on his acoustic and broke into Fats Domino’s “Walkin’ to New Orleans” in homage to the city recently devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Backed by the Fisk University Jubilee singers and the Memphis Horns (both of whom played on Young’s upcoming Prairie Wind CD), Young was on the top of his game. Following this soft, gospel flavored opener, the legendary songwriter strapped on his famed electric guitar (known as Old Black) and proceeded to deliver one of the most impassioned and fiery versions of “Southern Man” of his career. If there was any question following Young’s brush with death when he had surgery to remove a brain aneurysm earlier this year that his music career would be slowed down, this powerful performance showed that he’s definitely back.

Neil’s shortened six song set also included a couple numbers from Prairie Wind, the reflective “When God Made Me,” performed on the grand piano, and a heartfelt homage to his Hank Williams’ guitar, aptly-titled “This Old Guitar,” for which Young invited old friends Harris and Nelson to join him.

As Nelson readied to finally take the stage, rumors began to fly that Bono was in the house and would make a surprise appearance, but due to the late hour, this guest showing never occurred.

The sole complaint of this fund-raising concert was that some acts could easily have been taken off the bill — allowing the headliners such as Young and Nelson more time since both these artists’ sets felt rushed. Even the concession stands were closed as the 71-year-old Nelson continued to pluck his weathered guitar Trigger and jam on with his family band late into the night.

As the 30,000 that gathered at the Tweeter Center showed last weekend, 20 years later, after raising more than $27 million to date to help promote the family farm system, the spirit of Farm Aid is still alive and well. Led by the likes of Neil Young, the organization will continue to respond to its critics and continue to take on the good fight against factory farms and the plight of the small family farmer.

– published at Chartattack.com

Live: Sinead O’Connor Gets Reggae Right
December 3, 2005
Kool Haus
Toronto, ON

With the smell of ganja permeating the Kool Haus air, you knew from the second you walked in that this was a reggae show.

Down by the lake, 38-year-old Sinead O’Connor — the recently converted Irish Rastafarian — warmed up a crowd of 1,900 strong with a spirited set of reggae covers drawn mainly from her new disc, Throw Down Your Arms, which was produced by legendary Jamaican session musicians Sly (Dunbar) and Robbie (Shakespeare).

Sly & Robbie got the crowd groovin’ and jammin’ with a tight 45-minute set. Midway through this warm-up, one of their band members yelled to the crowd, “Are you feeling irie?” The response was an overwhelming, “Ya mon!”

O’Connor, dressed in a white blouse, and wearing a black bandana to cover her shaved head, jogged onto stage at 8:45 p.m. to keep the reggae party and festive mood going. The soulful singer, who’s had more musical makeovers than Madonna, showed off her most recent transformation at the show — she’s taken on Rastafarian God Jah as her new prophet and reggae as her new musical form. Backed by Sly & Robbie and eight other musicians, O’Connor swayed and sang her way through her entire new disc.

The audience members up front were a mix of dreadlock and denim-wearing hipsters waving Ethiopian flags, while baby boomers sat around the club’s outskirts looking to capture some of the reggae rhythms that first seeped into their souls when Bob Marley caught their ear more than 25 years ago.

O’Connor said little throughout her 115-minute, four-encore set, but as her rock-steady rhythmic dancing and permanent-smile showed, she was definitely comfortable in her new skin. She let her strong voice deliver her message of peace and love contained in her choice of reggae covers, which ranged from the aforementioned Marley to Peter Tosh (“Downpressor Man”) and Lee Perry (“Vampire”).

It’s not surprising that the Marley classic “War” got some of the loudest applause of the evening, as did a rendition of The Melodian’s hit, “Rivers Of Babylon,” which everyone sang along to.

Longtime fans who were excited to see O’Connor make her way to Hogtown for the first time in eight years and longed to hear hits like “Nothing Compares 2 U” might have left the Kool Haus disappointed. But judging from the smiles on the faces of audience members, who had extra lilt in their steps as they danced out on to Lower Jarvis Street, O’Connor was successful in passing on her case of Reggaemylitis (the “disease” — coined by Peter Tosh in his song of the same name — that gets into your bones, blood and ankles, and makes you dance and forget about your troubles for a while).

Live: Barenaked Ladies Kick It Holiday Style
November 24, 2005
Massey Hall
Toronto, ON

The fireplace was glowing and the stockings were hung by the chimney with care: one for Tyler, one for Steve, one for Jim, one for Ed and one for Kevin. With a Christmas tree tucked in the corner and Santa Claus waiting in the wings, the stage was set for the Barenaked Ladies to sing some holiday music at Toronto’s Massey Hall.

Hip-hop trickster Buck 65 opened the show with an entertaining set. His vaudeville act was met with lukewarm applause, though, as BNL fans were more intrigued by his announcer sidekick “Joe” than Buck’s raps and vinyl scratching. His 30-minute set drew some laughs, but most of the audience sat with confused looks on their face trying to figure him out.

Dressed in white pants and a blue blazer, the Halifax songwriter blazed through a half dozen raps and rants, working on two turntables and a microphone. Joe had the crowd clapping and got the loudest applause with his accompanying act. The highlight was a bluegrass-infused number where Buck 65 sounded like a redneck auctioneer. Buck closed his set by picking up a big red book and, backed by some bass-heavy beats, recited the classic: “Twas The Night Before Christmas.”

A mere 20 minutes after Buck 65 left the stage, an all-girl choir got the crowd into the holiday spirit with a couple of traditional songs. Then, to raucous applause, the Barenaked Ladies came out from a makeshift door stage left strumming guitars like minstrel singers and broke into “I Saw Three Ships.” Before the talented choir left, Ed Robertson asked the wide-eyed girls if they had practised “Frosty The Snowman,” testing them before cutting into “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”

Following an opening “coffee-house” set of songs, where the five band members crowded around a mic at the centre of the stage, the next two hours were a mix of holiday favourites and BNL hits, all with the Ladies’ trademark wit and wackiness.

From drummer Tyler Stewart’s Vegas lounge act rendition of “Feliz Navidad,” to guest Stephen Lewis strumming Ed Robertson’s electric guitar on a version of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” the show offered something for everyone to enjoy. Lewis was invited onstage following the band’s take on “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and Steven Page presented the humanitarian with a cheque.

The crowd was on its feet for most of the show, singing along to such BNL favourites as “Brian Wilson” and “One Week.” BNL also used this holiday concert to showcase some new songs. Later, with ubiquitous anthem “If I Had A Million Dollars” out of the way, Page blew kisses to the crowd and sang a version of “Silent Night” that sounded like it was being performed by Adam Sandler’s Opera Man character from Saturday Night Live.

Following two encores, during which people danced in the aisles, the crowd flowed out onto Shuter Street and the winter wonderland that awaited — filled with visions of holiday cheer thanks to the Barenaked Ladies.

Daniel Lanois
Massey Hall, Toronto, Ont.
Friday, November 14, 2008

A veritable venue and a deep, old soul made for the perfect musical marriage when Daniel Lanois played Massey Hall for the first time Friday night.

The last time Lanois was at Massey was when he sat front row for a Miles Davis show in 1969. It’s hard to believe the 10-time Grammy-winning producer had never played these hallowed halls. Massey is filled with the ghosts of so many legendary musicians and throughout his sizzling set the 57-year-old repeatedly referenced these ghosts.

Shortly after 8 p.m., Lanois, clad in black comandante hat, leather jacket and jeans, arrived on stage to a standing ovation; he opened with his biggest hit, “The Maker.” He took this spiritual song and fleshed it out to a 10-minute meandering powerhouse featuring some inspired guitar solos and wonderful three-part harmony, setting the stage for what was to come.

Lanois was backed by a tight band that included drummer Brian Blade, bassist Marcus Blake and rhythm guitarist Jim Wilson. Over the next 110 minutes, Lanois and this talented trio offered soul-searching songs and candid conversations, all the while paying homage to his electric guitars. Lanois and his band looked like teenagers jamming away in their parent’s garage.

Earlier in the day, Lanois spoke on CBC radio 2 about his love for harmonic interplay; this was evident in the communication on stage. Lanois led his bandmates along on a sonic journey; like a conductor, he would wave, smile and nod to get them to follow his path or encourage them to grab the lead and take him down an unexpected road. This interplay was especially evident with Blade on the song: “The Collection of Marie Claire.”

The current tour marks 20 years since Lanois’ first solo record (Acadie), which was recently remastered, so no surprise the songwriter leaned heavily on this disc, along with tunes from his most recent record Here is What Is – the companion soundtrack to the film of the same name, which premiered at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival. A highlight that showed his mellower side was “Jolie Louise,” which he dedicated to his mom.

Cinematography by Adam Vollick (who co-produced Here is What Is), strobe lights, and water-based fog added to the atmosphere. Vollick showed off his artistic talents by filming the four musicians, using inventive camera angles, a steady-hand, and other techniques to tell this sonic story that filled the screen behind the stage in black and white.

The electric performance was probably not what many in attendance were expecting from this spiritual soul, but Lanois showed he can still rock and make his guitar sing with the best of them. He played with so much reckless abandon that he broke a string early in the set, which he admitted was rare. The multi-instrumentalist also offered a brief atmospheric interlude on his pedal steel guitar.

Now he’s finally graced Massey Hall’s stage, Lanois can add his name to the list of legends that haunt the famed dame. His debut was one for the ages.

This concert will be broadcast on Monday January 26, 2009 at 8 p.m. on CBC Radio2’s show Canada Live. – David McPherson

– published in Exclaim!

Live: Eric Clapton with The Robert Cray Band

Sunday September 24, 2006

Air Canada Centre

Toronto, ON

By David McPherson

Call it a classic case of Clapton.

For two hours, the sold-out ACC crowd was treated to an up close and personal portrait of a love affair between one man and his guitars.

From the trademark licks on Clapton’s trusty Stratocaster on “Pretending,” which kicked off this sizzling set, to the endless solos, which saw his nimble fingers fly freely on the lowest frets, one thing was clear: the man can still make his instrument sweetly sing.

With each subsequent song, Slowhand found long lost licks and discovered newfound note combinations, all the while grooving on the oriental carpet placed at centre stage.

Clapton did not speak much, other than the token thank-you as his sizzling solos came to a close, but he could be forgiven since he was getting over a sore throat that caused him to cancel his crime of passion the previous evening. And, whether he spoke to the crowd was irrelevant since his guitars are his voice anyway.

The 61-year-old carried on these electrifying conversations with fearless fingers flying up and down the frets with reckless abandon, eyes closed, letting his soul get lost in his playing prowess.

Five-time Grammy winner Robert Cray was his co-conspirator on this evening, opening with a candid, convincing and soulful conversation of his own.

Clapton was also aided and abetted by a tight six-piece band, and two powerful backup singers. The band included a couple of young guitar gods in waiting: Derek Trucks on slide and Doyle Bramhall II on lead. Clapton allowed this pair to shine throughout and these disciples delivered — putting on a clinic of their own.

Throughout the hypnotic guitar clinic, Clapton “Shot the Sheriff” early, brought out his leading lady late (“Layla”), jammed it out on the J.J. Cale classic “After Midnight” and dabbled in a little “Cocaine” as a climax. “Layla” brought the crowd to its feet for the first time as the baby boomers in attendance were awakened by this classic rock anthem. He also paid homage to mysterious bluesman Robert Johnson, with a sweet sounding cover of “Little Queen of Spades.”

In between these charged conversations, Clapton switched weapons and gave a four-song unplugged session, offering such songs as “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” and “Running On Faith.” Later, he told the concertgoers they looked “Wonderful Tonight.”

In case these electrifying pieces of evidence were not enough to confirm Clapton is still a guitar god, for an encore he headed down to the “Crossroads” with Cray.

Appropriately, Clapton left the last word to his guitar, showing the passion and power his trusty companion creates shows no signs of fizzling out 40 years on.

– published at Chartattack.com

Live: February 6, 2006
Massey Hall
Toronto, ON
by David McPherson

The power of TV and the influence of reality programming was witnessed last night at Massey Hall, where Canadian Rock Star: INXS winner JD Fortune blended in with his new Aussie bandmates, displaying just the right mix of bravado and attitude that befits a young, cocksure rock star in the making.

Anticipation for the TV-created version of INXS was high even before the sold-out crowd was seated. Downstairs at Centuries bar, four female friends held court and did their part to get the pre-concert crowd ready to rock. Dressed in black and each with a letter that spelled out INXS stitched onto their T-shirts, the foursome toted a white banner that read “Welcome Home JD.” Meanwhile, outside the bar, people crowded the merchandise table, eagerly awaiting their chance to shell out $35 for a T-shirt or $20 fora pair of monogrammed INXS underwear.

Rock Star: INXS runner-up Marty Casey and his Chicago hard-rock band, The Lovehammers, warmed up the crowd with an over-the-top, energetic 40-minute set. Everyone was seated and pumped for Casey’s set even before it began, which is a rarity for most opening acts. Give Casey credit for making the most of this opportunity. The singer, who looked at times like a spastic puppet, danced endlessly around the stage and got the crowd to throw up their fists. He even climbed up the Marshall stacks and into the lower balcony forpart of one song as his Converse sneakers buffed the front-row railings.

The crowd stood and sang along to “Trees,” and the band ended with a rousing rendition of the Johnny Cash classic, “Ring Of Fire.” Following a short intermission, a five-minute countdown on a black curtain placed in front of the band’s gear signaled the headliners were coming. As AC/DC’s “TNT” faded from the speakers, the drape dropped and INXS broke into “Suicide Blonde.”

Fortune —sporting an all black ensemble: shades, gloves, jeans and leather jacket — wasted no time in bringing the crowd to its feet. It stayed that way for most of the night. Surprisingly, many of the songs from the band’s new disc Switch were almost as well received as the mega hits from INXS’ back catalogue.

The strongest of the new tracks were “Devil’s Party,” which featured some great sax solos, the acoustic ballad “Afterglow” and first single “Pretty Vegas,” which held its own against “Kick,” “New Sensation” and “Mystify.”

During “Vegas,” Fortune strode down the right-hand aisle, flanked by security, as fans rushed from their seats to feel the singer’s sweat. Throughout the sweltering set, Fortune’s new Aussie amigos were all smiles as they fed off their new frontman’s youthful exuberance.

Fortune didn’t even try to replicate the swagger of the late Michael Hutchence. Instead, he added his own persona and stamp to the older songs, pulling them off with poise and passion. His stage presence and intense vocals demonstrated that, while no one can replace Hutchence, Fortune has given the band a new lease on rock ‘n’ roll, seamlessly switching from reality TV idol to real-life rock star.

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