Steve Perry’s First Album in 24 Years: Traces

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Have you ever waited a long time for one of your favorite recording artists to release new music? What’s the longest you’ve ever had to wait between album releases? Two years? Five years? For me and my fellow Steve Perry fans, the wait has been 24 years. That is not a typo! Steve Perry’s last album was released in 1994. Traces, which will officially be released Friday, is indeed his first new album in 24 years.

The day that the new album was announced and made available for preorder, I immediately placed my order for an autographed copy via his official online store. Today, two days earlier than the official release date, I received it in the mail and felt like a kid on Christmas when I opened the mailbox. I am thrilled to inform you that the album does not disappoint.

I could barely contain my excitement when Steve Perry showed up at last year’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. I cried just to see him standing on the same stage as the rest of his former Journey bandmates. Then he delivered an impassioned speech, but alas did not sing with the band. Was it because he couldn’t sing anymore? That was the fear of some fans, but I am thrilled to tell you that Steve’s voice is just fine. In fact, it’s way better than fine. It is still quite amazing.

When one of my favorite  artists releases a new album, I always listen to the album uninterrupted from front to back, in its entirety. That’s exactly what I did this afternoon when Traces arrived.  Steve’s voice is still powerful and soulful, capable of delivering highs and lows that even younger singers would struggle to hit. More importantly, you can still feel the emotion in his voice on every single track.

This album is primarily about love and loss, and the eternal struggle to move on and attempt to heal after losing someone you love. In the many interviews promoting Traces, Steve talked about the inspiration for this album, the love of his life, Dr. Kellie Nash. He lost her to breast cancer in 2012. He also explained why we had to wait 24 years for new music. The simple reason was that he was burned out and his heart was no longer in it. After Kellie’s passing, he felt the calling to make music again. The result is a beautiful, emotional collection of songs.

Rather than present a song-by-song examination or do an injustice to his work by trying to paraphrase Steve’s beautiful, heartfelt lyrics, I’d like to simply tell you that this album is great from start to finish and let you experience the magic on your own. It’s a beautiful, soulful journey that explores love and loss in a majestic way that only Steve Perry and his unique voice can. I’m sad that it took such heartbreak to bring Steve Perry back to music, but I’m also happy that he truly found the love of his life and that she was able to — in Steve’s own words — enable him to “have a complete heart.” Speaking further about the album he said, “Kellie taught me many things in our time together, but one of them was that it really is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.” That, more than anything else, is the theme of Traces.

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Above: The tracklist for the deluxe version of the Traces CD, which contains five bonus tracks not included on the standard version.

PRINCE: PIANO & A MICROPHONE 1983 Limited Edition Deluxe Set (Includes CD, 180G Audiophile Vinyl LP, Exclusive Print, and 12-page booklet)

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Today’s the day! I have been eagerly anticipating this release since it was announced back in June. You might ask, “So is this that new unreleased Prince album I keep hearing about?” Well, yes and no. This is indeed  a physical release presented on a CD and an LP, but it’s not really an “album,” in that this is not a series of professionally recorded studio songs sequenced together with the idea of them being released to the public for sale. This 35-minute recording from 1983 is quite simply Prince messing around playing his piano and singing in what was his home at the time, his house on Kiowa Trail in Chanhassen, Minnesota. The source of the recording was a TDK C60 audio cassette that was found in Prince’s vault after his passing. The tape features Prince playing and singing for no other reason than for the love of playing and theoretically to capture some musical ideas onto tape for future reference. The Revolution member Lisa Coleman says in the liner notes, “This is definitely a work piece. It’s Prince exploring ideas, having some fun, and opening himself up to whatever might happen.”

The TDK C60 cassette is a consumer-grade blank tape that anyone could have bought in a retail store at the time, as opposed to a studio-grade reel-to-reel tape that musicians would record on when planning to professionally release a studio album. The fact that Prince recorded this private home performance on a simple consumer-grade cassette is evidence enough that he never had plans to release it to the public. However, it is very fortunate for his fans that this recording is still intact. It gives us a fascinating insight into what it might have been like to be sitting in the same room as Prince (as vocalist Jill Jones did according to her comments in the liner notes) and listen to him in his most relaxed, unguarded moments, when the sheer brilliance of his musicianship truly shined. We’re all aware of what a fantastic musician Prince was whether he was playing guitar, piano, bass, or countless other instruments, but it is in these rare intimate moments, when Prince is just messing around, that we truly realize what a masterful musician he was. For aspiring musicians, it’s scary to think that someone could be this good  — never hitting a wrong note — when just messing around. That was part of Prince’s genius.

It was inevitable that I would use the phrase “intimate moments” above, because it brings up another interesting story about this recording. Some fans like myself have had copies of this cassette for many years, obtained from either a network of Prince fans who trade tapes (and later CDs, then digital files) or from various record conventions through the years. It was most famously bootlegged on a CD called “Intimate Moments,” so that phrase was on my mind constantly while listening to the new Piano & A Microphone 1983 release. The great news is that unlike that bootleg recording which suffered from barely listenable sound quality, this new release features much-improved sound quality, direct from the source tape. There is still a prominent tape hiss heard throughout the recording, but it does not hinder the enjoyment of the listening experience. I am grateful that Warner Brothers did not try to use noise reduction or any other editing effects on this release. The bootleggers seemed to use noise reduction techniques on their CD, and it damaged the sound quality terribly. This new release, although not up to typical recording studio standards, preserves the performance intact without altering it. The tape hiss and infrequent incidents of tape flutter are probably in the master recording itself.

Piano & A Microphone 1983 is simply a medley of songs and musical fragments, and could almost be viewed as one track, as opposed to the nine tracks listed on the CD and LP. With the first seven songs, each song runs into the next, as one continuous performance (but are indexed on the CD as separate tracks), without any breaks in between the songs, which is exactly what Prince performed. At the end of “Wednesday,” you can hear Prince ask someone, “Wanna flip it over?” This clearly indicates that they were flipping the tape, so it appears that “Cold Coffee & Cocaine” and “Why The Butterflies?” were on side two of the source tape, although we don’t know if those two songs are presented in the order in which they were performed.

Here is the track listing as shown in the booklet that comes with the deluxe LP/CD set:

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This is the kind of recording that you’ll want to listen to privately in a silent room with no background noise, at a loud enough volume to hear all of the nuances of Prince’s performance. Listening with headphones (but again, in a silent room with no background noise) would be another ideal way to listen. You can hear Prince stomping his feet. You can even hear him sniffling a few times during “Mary Don’t You Weep” and “Strange Relationship,” something you would never hear on one of his officially released studio songs. It’s a rare opportunity to sit back, close your eyes, and imagine what it would be like to be in the same room as Prince with only his piano and a microphone. It’s every fan’s fantasy, and thanks to this tape, a fantasy we can relive over and over again.

My First Springsteen Concert: Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia, August 15, 1985

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It’s hard to believe that I took the photo above 33 years ago today with my Kodak Disc Camera, but indeed that’s how long  it’s been since that long, hot summer night in 1985. My first concert was Prince & The Revolution at The Philadelphia Spectrum on November 24, 1984. I’ll remember that night forever, as it ignited the spark for what became my voracious appetite for concerts. It was also what I consider to be my funk & roll baptism. But my second concert, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia on August 15, 1985 holds an equally special place in my heart. It was my rock & roll baptism.

Prince and Bruce Springsteen remain my all-time favorite musical heroes. It’s quite fitting that they wound up being my first and second concerts, respectively, as they are the two artists that I have seen in concert more times than any other musicians. On that “Hot August Night” (I feel obligated to credit Neil Diamond any time I borrow that phrase) in 1985, Bruce and the band made my 14-year-old self a true believer in the life-affirming power of rock & roll. For me, it was a game-changing moment, a musical and spiritual awakening, proof that there was a magic in this world the likes of which I had never experienced before. I’m sure that I felt the same way watching Bruce that he felt when he witnessed his hero, Elvis Presley, perform on The Sullivan Show. Thanks to my Uncle Joe and Aunt Kathy, who took me to the concert, I witnessed many firsts that night: My first Bruce Springsteen guitar solo, my first Clarence Clemons sax solo, my first Roy Bittan piano solo, my first Danny Federici organ solo, my first time feeling the rumble of Max Weinberg’s drums and Garry Tallent’s bass in my chest, my first “Thunder Road,” my first “Born To Run,” and many other moments that I would go on to relive many more times at Bruce shows through the years. But most importantly, this night is eternally engraved in my memory as simply my very first Bruce show. You never forget your first.

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Springsteen On Broadway, May 16, 2018

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Back in October, I was extremely fortunate to experience what could have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Springsteen On Broadway. My post about that show appears further down in this blog. I won’t rehash all of the details about how fantastic the show is. Feel free to read that post for a spoiler-free review of my first Springsteen On Broadway experience. Because the October 2017 show was such a magical night, when the third round of ticket sales took place, I decided that I would do everything in my power to try to get tickets to the show again. I could not afford StubHub prices, so my best shot was using the Ticketmaster Verified Fan process. While that didn’t work for me, I always have multiple backup plans. My good friend, Joe, had received a code to buy tickets and I asked him to try for May 16, my birthday, and see if we got lucky. Not only did we get lucky, but the most affordable seats in the house ($75 balcony seats) came up. Thanks to Joe, my wife and I spent my birthday seeing Bruce.

Having sat in the last row (Row H) of the Right Mezzanine back in October, Row A of the Right Balcony seemed significantly higher to me than the Mezzanine. I’m nervous about heights, but adjusted pretty quickly, especially once the show began. If you’re considering Mezzanine seats over Balcony seats and you can afford the price difference, I would highly recommend the Mezzanine seats. If you can afford the floor level, even better. Having seen the Ghost of Tom Joad Tour from the second row in Philly at the Tower Theater, I can imagine how fantastic the floor of The Walter Kerr Theatre must be, but that’s a dream for another day.

I enjoyed the show just as much as the first time and was fascinated to see that although the show is essentially the same every night, Bruce continues to add improvised extra details to the stories and has even sharpened his delivery in some sections. There were also additional nuances in his musical performances. Having seen him many times, I am still in complete awe of his masterful command of the stage, the audience, and his craft. Just when I think I’ve seen it all, he keeps pulling new magic tricks out of his hat. With the show extended through December, I truly hope that everyone who wants to go gets to experience this show somehow.

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Above: The view from Balcony Right, Row A, Seats 18-20.

 

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Above: My wife and I on the Floor Level after the show.

 

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Above: Bruce during his curtain call.

PRINCE AND THE PURPLE RAIN ERA STUDIO SESSIONS 1983 AND 1984

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For a fan like me who loves Prince’s entire career but is especially fascinated with the Purple Rain era with The Revolution, this book is the holy grail of Prince books. Instead of simply giving us a list of studio sessions as a simple reference book, Duane Tudahl presents a compelling narrative (with quotes from Prince as well as those who worked closely with him) to give us a month-by-month — often day-by-day — account of Prince’s work schedule, discussing what was going on in Prince’s career and life during these sessions. The author draws upon previous interviews but also conducted many new interviews for this book, and the result gives the reader a unique new perspective never before captured in a book about Prince. There is no gossip or dirt here. The focus is on the music, as it should be. You still get glimpses into Prince’s personal life through the eyes and ears of those who worked closest with him, but respectfully so, and only in relation to how it influenced his music. In interviews and podcasts promoting the book, Tudahl talked about the years of his life that he spent devotedly and meticulously working on it, and his devotion is evident. It is clearly a labor of love. It was a huge thrill for me to read about what was going on in the studio during the Purple Rain era and thinking about what was happening in my life at that time, a time when I was a young teen and Prince’s music consumed me completely. For someone like me who discovered Prince in 1983 and has been obsessed with his music ever since, getting an insight into how this music was conceived and created is a gift that I never dreamed would be possible. During the time period covered in the book, Prince was working on his own music as well as music for The Time, Vanity 6, Appolonia 6, Sheila E., and others. The book covers what is arguably Prince’s most prolific time period and documents it in extreme detail while never sounding boring or too scholarly. It’s written in simple language that allows you to focus on the story and the songs and not get bogged down in an elaborate writing style or editorializing. The focus is on Prince’s music, which is why this book is such a joy to read. I sincerely hope that this book sells well because I would love to see additional volumes covering other eras in Prince’s career. Thanks Duane for a fascinating book!

I also highly recommend that you check out the two podcasts below, both of which feature interviews with the author. Michael Dean and Dr. Funkenberry are two of my favorite podcasters who cover Prince. Forgive me for not name dropping the other great Prince podcasters, but these are the two that I listen to most often and immediately come to mind as those who have interviewed the author. Here are the links to their interviews with Duane:

http://podcastjuice.net/duane-tudahl/

https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/the-dr-funk-podcast/e/52229132

You can purchase the book on Amazon here:

The Revolution at Sugar House Event Center, Philadelphia, PA, March 9, 2018

I wanted to write a blog post about last night’s show, but to try to use words to describe the energy and joy of this show would be an injustice. Instead, I’d like to share the video below with you so that you can see, hear, and feel the energy yourself. Enjoy!

 

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Above: With The Revolution

 

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Above: With Wendy Melvoin

 

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Above: With Brownmark

Max Weinberg’s Jukebox at The Landis Theater, Vineland, NJ, 11/18/17

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Max Weinberg’s Jukebox, a great band featuring E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg and members of The Weeklings, brought their show to The Landis Theater in Vineland, New Jersey tonight. The show featured a scrolling video screen listing various rock classics to choose from. The audience chose songs from the list and the band played them. Some of my favorite performances of the evening included Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes”, The Band’s “The Weight”, Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up”, and The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated”. It was amazing to watch Max switch gears from one song style to the next. His versatility as a drummer never ceases to amaze me.

Max has been offering a Meet & Greet package that includes an autographed drum head and the opportunity to have your picture taken with him. During the Meet & Greet, he was extremely generous with his time, spending at least half an hour talking with a small group of fans, signing autographs, taking pictures, and sharing stories from throughout his career. He went above and beyond making it an experience I’ll never forget. It was an amazing night and I crossed one more item off my bucket list. I have finally met Mighty Max!

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Some fans had the opportunity to join Max on stage for the closing number, “Glory Days”. Here’s a brief clip:

 

Springsteen on Broadway, October 19, 2017

 

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When the rumors started circulating that Bruce Springsteen would play a run of shows on Broadway, I laughed it off. After all, we’re talking about Bruce Springsteen. The Boss. My musical hero. The guy who calls his own shots. The master of the ever-evolving, always-changing setlist. The guy who brings you his very best, night after night after night after night, with no two shows ever being exactly the same. We’re talking about the Jedi Master of the audible, calling more of them than most NFL quarterbacks on any given night. Yes, that Bruce Springsteen. Broadway? A scripted show? A fixed setlist? Ticket prices that no mere mortal can afford without applying for a home equity loan? No way. Not my Bruce Springsteen.

When the official announcement came, I read the press release numerous times, scrutinizing every word, making sure it was from an official source. I had to be absolutely certain beyond any shadow of a doubt that this was not a ludicrous, yet witty joke. I had to be sure that this was not one of the brilliantly crafted pieces of original sarcasm drafted by one of those hilarious, genuinely creative comic geniuses from The Onion website. No, this was the real deal. It was from Shore Fire Media. It was official. I had to face the facts. The guy who spent the majority of his life on this earth writing beautifully inspiring, insightful, reflective, introspective, and sometimes raucous yet always joyous odes to the working class had in fact officially announced a top ticket price of $850. On Broadway. My Bruce Springsteen. The guy who repeatedly eschewed VIP seating and made sure that his ticket prices remained affordable until the concert industry’s new norm made it virtually impossible to continue to do so. The very notion that my musical hero — the master of the ever-evolving show, king of the audible, the guy who always gives you a different and special experience from one show to the next, always tinkering with the setlist — had quite possibly given into the dark side, settled in on Broadway, and priced tickets beyond my reach hit me like the proverbial, cliched ton of bricks. Big fuckin’ bricks! The moment had come. For the first time in my life, there was going to be a series of Bruce Springsteen performances that I might not be able to attend, or at the very least, would make my wallet a lot lighter if I dared to try. In the old days when I was single, I never even gave a thought to how much I was spending going to multiple Bruce shows. I’m now married to one of this planet’s most wonderfully understanding women who has always indulged my musical addictions, and we have an equally wonderful daughter. The concert budget is quite simply smaller than before. I still go to Bruce shows, but not nearly as many as I did when I was single. To put it simply, my Bruce budget is small these days.

I won’t rehash the controversial way in which the tickets to Springsteen on Broadway were sold via Ticketmaster’s “Verified Fan” process, as plenty has already been written about that. What I will tell you is that I tried to get tickets through that process and was one of the overwhelming majority of fans who were completely shut out. No ticket for me. Then the run of shows was extended through February 3. Another chance at tickets was followed by an identical defeat. No ticket for me. And so the waiting game began.

The waiting game I refer to is the Stub Hub waiting game. I kept an eye on Stub Hub prices as the preview shows began. Day after day, I checked the prices on the day of each show and noticed a familiar pattern. The closer it came to showtime, the lower some of the tickets prices dropped. Especially on weeknights. Still, the StubHub prices were not within my reach…yet.

During the early afternoon of Thursday, October 19 while I was eating lunch at work, the branches on that giant StubHub tree began to weaken almost enough for me to reach up and grab a pair of tickets. Almost, but not quite. I still couldn’t justify spending the money I was about to spend. Luckily my main partner in crime when it came to getting tickets, my aunt — who had planned on accompanying me to the show if or when we could get tickets — pulled the trigger on the pair of tickets we had been watching. We’d figure the money part out later. Life is short. Opportunities come and go. The chance to see Bruce in a 960-seat theatre might never come again. I had recently seen my other musical hero, Prince, die suddenly at the age of 57. We also lost Glenn Frey, David Bowie, and Tom Petty. Bruce is the picture of health, but hey, all of our days are numbered. You never know when it’s your time to go. These factors weighed heavily upon my mind. When rare life experiences present themselves, I tend to seize upon them now more than ever these days. The amount of money we had just spent was not going to change either of our lifestyles. Now that we had pulled the trigger, the initial pain of the ticket price instantly began to fade from my memory. In the proverbial blink of an eye, I was in my car, picking up my aunt, driving to the train station, and we were on our way to New York. To see Bruce Springsteen. On Broadway. Yes, this was real. The events of that initial press release that I had been so certainly convinced was a joke was now becoming a reality. My previous disbelief and confusion had evolved into wild expectations about the night to come. I couldn’t contain my excitement! I didn’t just drink the Kool-Aid. I dove into a giant swimming pool-sized ocean of it and let it consume me. I was once again a true believer. I was ready for Springsteen on Broadway.

I had been reading the headlines of the reviews in the weeks leading up to this day, but never the text of the reviews. I knew I was going to find a way into a show, I just hadn’t known how or when. But I knew the time would come. I always find a way. Always. Avoiding the details about what was to come would surely add to my enjoyment of the performance. I am glad that I avoided those reviews because although they were all glowing, I didn’t want to know specifics. All I knew about the show was that Bruce would be reading from his autobiography and performing songs that fit in with the narrative he was telling. The show would feature only Bruce, a guitar, a piano, a harmonica, and for two songs, his wife, Patti Scialfa, adding background vocals. I wanted Springsteen on Broadway to be a fresh surprise. A clean canvas awaited with no preconceived notions about the show, and I was ready to watch my hero paint upon it like a masterful renaissance artist about to create a fresh, new, instant classic. You might think it’s awfully presumptuous of me to assume in advance that the show would be so tremendous, but after all, this was my musical hero and he had never once let me down. Never. Whether he’s feeling healthy or sick, happy or sad, silly or serious, when Bruce steps onto that stage, he gives you his complete and total self from the time he says “Good Evenin’” to the time he says “We’ll be seein’ ya!” On an average night, he’ll spend over three hours on stage in between those two phrases. On some really special nights, it’s four hours…or more. For this Broadway run, it would be a pre-planned two-hour performance.

There are occasionally those days that sometimes materialize in which it feels as if every star in the universe has magically aligned to form an awe-inspiring chain of events that result in an actual, genuine, perfect day. This was one of those rare days. We arrived in New York just after 5 p.m., walked from Penn Station to The Walter Kerr Theatre, about a 15-minute walk, and grabbed a relaxed, leisurely, completely satisfying pre-show dinner at a restaurant around the corner from the theatre. No rushing around, just our own comfortable speed. We walked back to the theatre at 7 p.m., got in a brief line, and went inside. The perfect evening was about to begin.

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If you’ve read any of the reviews that talk about the intimacy of The Walter Kerr Theatre, the common thread is that no matter how small you envision the theatre in your mind, when you actually enter, it is even smaller and more intimate than you probably imagined. There is not a bad seat in the house. It’s as close to having Bruce perform in your living room as we’re ever likely to get.

Our seats were in the Right Mezzanine, Row H, Seats 22 and 24. This is the last row of the section, but our seats presented an unobstructed, full view of the stage. These seats would easily be considered some of the best in the house in a larger venue. No heads in front of us blocking the view, just a clear line of sight directly to Bruce and the entire stage. Our location allowed us to see every note Bruce was playing on guitar as well as a full view of the keys on the piano, which was a great bonus.

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I won’t tell you any specifics about the show itself, as I strongly believe it is best experienced with absolutely zero preconceived notions. That’s part of the joy in discovering the narrative and the musical journey that Bruce takes you on during the course of the evening. Even if you’ve already read his autobiography, the narrative presented here takes you on a new and somewhat separate journey. And you’ll have a great time during the ride. What I can tell you is that I felt deeply moved, excited, inspired, overjoyed, saddened, elated, and yes, during one part I cried tears of joy. My biggest takeaway from the evening is the feeling that Bruce has brought us into his world by reminding us that it is a shared world. Reminding us of the hopes, dreams and experiences that we share with one another in our short time here on earth. I — and I wholeheartedly believe the rest of the audience — left the theatre feeling just a little more hopeful about the days ahead and about life itself. As a storyteller, a songwriter, and a performer, Bruce delivered a first-class performance in each of those areas. His proficiency with his instruments, vocals, and storytelling continues to amaze me as I’ve watched him grow as an artist since I first saw him in concert in August of 1985 at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. I sat mesmerized during the Broadway show watching Bruce effortlessly pick chords on his guitar and play chord sequences on his piano while simultaneously reading passages from his book, and not just simply reading them, but reading them with great enunciation, enthusiasm, emotion, and inflection, all while meticulously providing a musical background by playing his instrument without missing a note or a beat.

Two other factors made the evening absolute perfection: the sound quality and the audience.

One aspect of Bruce’s arena and stadium shows that I’ve never been completely satisfied with is the sound quality. In arenas and stadiums, you’ll always have maximum volume, some shrillness, and — for me at least — a need for earplugs to protect my hearing from a severe ass beating. I can tell you with great joy that the sound quality presented in Bruce’s Broadway performance is stellar. I have seen hundreds of concerts over the years, and the sound quality for Springsteen on Broadway is the finest audio quality that I have ever experienced at any concert. Period. It is the absolute best listening experience that I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. No earplugs needed. Not even close. It’s pure, unadulterated music in its purest form. His guitar is crisp and clean with exactly the right amount of bass and treble for my personal listening pleasure. The sound quality is so good that I can easily envision even the most elitist of audiophiles walking away admitting that the sound was superior to almost anything they had heard before. The perfection of the sound makes the night even more magical. The sound is simply stunning.

As for the audience, I have always had a love/hate relationship with some — not all — of my fellow Bruce fans. What do I love? I love the way that a great crowd can bring out the best in Bruce in the same way that he brings out the best in his audience. I love that we share the common experience of having been affected by Bruce’s music in ways that made our lives more enjoyable and more complete. I love the way that a perfect stranger will high five me when Bruce plays a long lost song that we both wanted to hear. I love to see the smiles of children on adult faces at the end of his shows. There are many shows in which the audience itself could be considered a full-fledged member of the E-Street Band because it had collectively and genuinely contributed to the success of the evening as much as the musicians on stage.

What do I hate? I hate the behavior of fans who make way too many beer runs, yell during quiet songs, have long and loud conversations during those same quiet songs, and repeatedly bump into me in a drunken stupor and look at me like I’ve just done something wrong when I say, “excuse me.” It happens enough that those folks have ruined more than a handful of magical moments for me and other fans during Bruce’s shows over the years. But that’s part of the stadium experience and part of the arena experience. I am happy to report that for those who are accustomed to ruining magical moments, there is absolutely zero tolerance for that bullshit at Springsteen on Broadway. It says so right on the official website. The ground rules are laid out in plain sight for all to see. Frequent beer runs? Forget it. Blocking the view of the person behind you so that you can take grainy video from 100 feet away? Forget it. The no cell phone rule is fiercely enforced once the show begins. Seriously so. Don’t believe me? Take out your cell phone and see what happens. The only exception is at the end of the show when Bruce and Patti take their bows. This is a welcome addition that eliminates distractions and lets the audience enjoy the performance in full, in a more complete way than ever before possible at a Bruce show. The result is that someone like me who wants to hear every note, every inflection, every nuance, every breath, every single component of the performance, is granted that right. The result is the most enjoyable performance I have ever been lucky enough to attend.

The good news about the audience is that I was stunned at how perfectly behaved the audience was on Broadway. There was a lot of talk in the press and in fan forums that because of the high ticket prices, Bruce would be punished by having to play for the elitists in the infamous one percent. Well, if there were only elitist one percenters in attendance the night that I went, they were the most courteous, respectful, well-behaved one percenters I’ve ever encountered. We talked to multiple people we met that night. Some were fellow diehards and some were just casual fans. But I only met fans. I didn’t meet any elitists. I only met people who badly wanted to attend, and one way or another, like me and my aunt, had found a way. This is where I start to wonder if there’s a method to the madness in the higher-priced tickets. Is the audience giving Bruce total silence and the utmost respect because they are both figuratively and literally invested in the evening, both emotionally and financially? I believe the answer to be most definitely yes. I won’t say I’m happy about high ticket prices. Everyone who wants to see this show deserves to see it. But I can tell you one indisputable fact, at least on the night that I attended: the Broadway audience was the most respectful audience I have ever seen in more than 30 years of attending Bruce shows. The audience applauded when appropriate and gave Bruce complete and total silence where and when he needed it, in turn allowing him to give us his very best performance to an extent never before possible.

Springsteen on Broadway is not a concert. Nor is it simply Bruce reading from his book. Its both of those things — and more — mixed into a magical concoction of something new that Bruce hasn’t given us before. The small venue, the magic of Bruce, and the utmost respect from the audience resulted in the most enjoyable Bruce performance I have ever seen. If you haven’t seen this show yet, I hope that you get to, and if so, I hope you have the same perfect evening that my aunt and I did.

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Meeting The Revolution in Atlantic City, NJ, August 11, 2017

On November 24, 1984 I attended my very first concert, Prince & The Revolution at The Philadelphia Spectrum. All of Prince’s music has become a major part of my life over the last 33 years, but the music that The Revolution created with Prince remains my favorite recordings of his career. He had a special bond with The Revolution that in my opinion was never equaled in later years. Prince and The Revolution shared a unique chemistry and bond that would never be matched again. These five musicians — Wendy Melvoin, Lisa Coleman, Brownmark, Bobby Z, and Doctor Fink — are and will always be my Beatles, and last night in Atlantic City I personally got to tell each one of them this. Freezing a moment in time with your musical heroes is a precious, amazing opportunity. The smile on my face in the photo below shows how much this moment meant to me, more so than any words I could possibly combine to describe my emotions when I met and spoke with all five band members. They were gracious, funny, humble and genuine. I finally got to meet my Beatles, and I will never forget it.

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Garry Tallent at The Stone Pony, Asbury Park, NJ, May 12, 2017

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It’s hard to believe, but after all these years of following Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, I had never seen a concert at The Stone Pony — until now. When E Street Band bass player Garry Tallent announced he would bring his solo show to The Stone Pony, I decided it would be the perfect time to catch a show there.

Garry was in town to celebrate the release of his first solo album, Break Time, which I highly recommend. The album is a labor of love and features songs that pay tribute to Garry’s love of early roots rock and rockabilly. The show was fantastic and Garry was gracious enough to hang around long after the show ended to meet fans, take pictures and sign autographs.

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The Revolution at The TLA, Philadelphia, PA, April 30, 2017

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The Revolution’s second night in Philly was magical. The setlist was the same as the first night but the band seemed even tighter than it was for the first show. My favorite moment came during “Controversy” and “Mutiny”, when Wendy Melvoin really showcased her chops as one of the finest rhythm guitarists of all time. She and Brown Mark played off of each other’s cues beautifully and stretched out for one of the funkiest instrumental breaks I’ve ever experienced at a live show. The entire band kicked ass, but this moment was the high point of the evening for me. There are sometimes those rare, euphoric moments of sheer musical ecstasy that occur at concerts when you find yourself smiling ear-to-ear like a kid on Christmas Day. For me, this was one of those moments and it alone was worth the price of admission. There were many magical moments, but Wendy’s playing during “Controversy” and “Mutiny” will be one of those moments that I’ll be talking about for years to come. If you haven’t seen The Revolution before and you are lucky enough to see them soon, you’re in for a real treat!

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The Revolution at The TLA, Philadelphia, PA, April 29, 2017

fullsizeoutput_63ccThe last time The Revolution performed in Philadelphia was November 24, 1984 at The Philadelphia Spectrum. That show, with Prince leading the band, was my first concert and the spark that ignited my passion for live concerts. Last night, more than 32 years since that amazing show, The Revolution returned to Philly, this time in a much smaller, more intimate venue, The TLA on South Street. It was a funky, cathartic, energetic and simultaneously bittersweet evening that celebrated the music that Prince made with The Revolution.

The band has had some time to refine its setlist since I last saw them at First Avenue in Minneapolis back in September. Songs played last night that were not performed at First Avenue included “Automatic”, “Erotic City”, and the unreleased gems “Our Destiny” and “Roadhouse Garden.”

The Revolution was always a tight band when Prince was its leader. That has not changed, as Wendy, Lisa, Dr. Fink, Bobby Z and Brownmark are still tight and funky. Since reuniting after Prince’s passing, The band has had a year to grieve, join together and play as a group again, and their bond is unbreakable, which shows on the stage. Their performance was even more refined since the September shows. I was blown away when Wendy played the guitar solo on “Purple Rain.” She played it really well at previous performances, but she really nailed it last night. Prince would be proud. I can’t wait for night number two tonight.

 

Greetings From Freehold, NJ

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Anyone who knows me knows that Bruce Springsteen’s music has been a major part of my life. Ever since my awesome Uncle Joe and Aunt Kathy took me to my first Bruce concert in August of 1985 at Philadelphia’s Vet Stadium, I was hooked. Born the Run was the first album I played in the car on the day that I got my driver’s license. My 1999 summer vacation consisted of seeing 12 Bruce concerts at The Meadowlands (thanks to my equally awesome Aunt Lil and Uncle Steve, who let me crash at their house during the run of shows). When I proposed to my wife, “I Wanna Marry You” was on the turntable. I could provide many more examples of Bruce’s music as the soundtrack to my life, but these are just a sampling of the biggest ones.

Thirty-one years and over 100 Bruce concerts later, I finally experienced the magical moment above in Bruce’s hometown, Freehold, New Jersey at the local Barnes and Noble. It’s a moment that might never have happened if not for my Aunt Kathy’s text informing me she found out that Bruce would be making this appearance in support of his autobiography, Born To Run, released today. Thanks to her, I have the photo above to cherish for the rest of my life along with the beautifully autographed edition of the book pictured below. Bruce fans love to cite his song lyrics “faith will be rewarded.” For me and about 2,000 other fans today, that was truer than ever. Thank you, Bruce, for taking the time to do this. Thanks also to the amazing staff at the Freehold Barnes and Noble for all of your hard work. The event was superbly organized and extremely well run. I have never been to a high-profile celebrity appearance that was run so well. I might have been born to run, but after finally catching up to Bruce, I’m ready to stop running  — at least for a little bit — and just savor the moment. Thanks Bruce!

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My Three Nights with The Revolution at First Avenue September 1-3, 2016

Shortly after Prince passed away, The Revolution announced that they were going to get back together for some shows to honor Prince. I had only seen The Revolution live once before, in November of 1984 on Prince’s Purple Rain tour in Philadelphia at The Spectrum, but that one night changed my life. A major Prince fan ever since, I’ve seen him in concert many times (I stopped counting after 20 shows). He played with many talented musicians over the years, but in my opinion The Revolution remain the best group of musicians that Prince ever assembled. The music that Prince and The Revolution created together surpassed anything he could have created by himself. Sure, the music was always Prince’s vision and the end result was music directed by him, but he could not have created the masterpiece that is the Purple Rain album without this exceptionally rare combination of just the right musicians playing together with just the right material at just the right time. Whether or not they actually received official writing credits (they actually did receive songwriting credits occasionally, but probably not as often as they deserved them) The Revolution contributed in a songwriting capacity too. The whole of that group added up to way more than the sum of its parts. They were never a backing band, they were simply a band. And Prince was their leader. Even though they have rarely played together recently with the exception of a few benefit shows here and there, when they lost their leader on April 21, The Revolution mourned with the rest of the world. They soon announced that they would get back together for some concerts to mourn and celebrate Prince. They needed closure and they knew that Prince’s fans did too. I have heard a minuscule number of “fans” grumbling that these three concerts are simply a way for the band to cash in on Prince’s passing. To those critics, I simply say “bullshit.” The Revolution is not getting rich from a three-night stand at a venue that fits 1,500 people. I knew that these shows were planned from the heart by people who were right there with Prince during the period that many fans consider the golden age of his music. These shows would be heartfelt, emotional and special. I had to be there.

When the initial two Revolution concerts for September 2 and 3 (note: the September 1 show was added soon after the first two shows instantly sold out) were announced, I knew that I must make the trip from New Jersey to Minneapolis for these shows. There is no better way to celebrate the music that Prince left us than watching the musicians who (in my opinion) had been integral in helping him create the greatest music of his career. Growing up with the music of Prince and the Revolution in my most formative musical years, The Revolution had become family to me. If you add up all the time I spent listening to their music, it probably adds up to more time than I spent with most of my actual family. There was no way I was going to miss these shows. Tickets were nearly impossible to get, but I did my research and with the help of my online Prince family (you know who you are) I was able to get the password for what I called the “PRE-Presale.” I quickly had tickets for all three nights and for the last few months my friends and coworkers have probably grown sick of hearing me talk about my upcoming purple pilgrimage. But everyone knows how important Prince’s music has been to me, so they understood.

I arrived in Minneapolis the afternoon of September 1 feeling like a kid about to open presents on Christmas. After dropping off my bags at my hotel, I walked down to First Avenue to get a few pictures in front of the historic venue. A few shots in front of the marquee, a few with the poster for the shows, and a few standing next to Prince’s star painted on the building. I immediately found a group of fans doing the same thing. We talked about Prince, the importance of his music on our lives, and how excited we all were to be fortunate enough to make it to these shows. I met fans from Texas, Connecticut, New York, California, Virginia, Belgium, The United Kingdom and all over the world.

The first show was very emotional. You could hear a pin drop when the rest of the band left the stage leaving only Wendy and Lisa remaining. The two played a gorgeous new arrangement of Sometimes It Snows in April. Wendy broke down trying to make it through the song, but she fought through it. It was emotionally painful and inspiring at the same time. The majority of the show was a funky, rocking celebration of Prince’s life and music, but this moment stood out to me as the most touching. There were a few technical glitches on night #1. It was really difficult to hear Dez Dickerson’s guitar solo on Little Red Corvette. But for a band that hadn’t played together in years, they were tight.

The second night’s setlist was identical to the first, but the crowd’s pre-show energy (fueled by Questlove’s awesome DJ set of Prince music) seemed more rabidly excited than the crowd was on the first night. There were not many technical glitches. The band seemed to be tighter and the weight that came with the opening night seemed to be lifted from their shoulders. It was another amazing night.

The third show, in my opinion, was the best of the three nights. The band came out on fire and really let loose. Their onstage energy was fierce and relentless. They came out and played their asses off and blew the proverbial roof off the joint. It was one of the most magical concert experiences I have ever had.

A lot has been written about these shows already in the media, but most of the articles made the shows sound like funerals. The opposite is true. These shows were wildly energetic celebrations of Prince’s life and music. There were emotional moments throughout the stand, but overall these shows were way more energetic than portrayed in most of the reviews.

The icing on the cake on night #1 was getting Bobby Z, Brownmark and Dr. Fink to sign my original Prince and The Revolution ticket stub from my first concert on November 24, 1984. I’ll cherish this forever. I also had the opportunity to get pictures with Andre Cymone and Dez Dickerson, who were beyond gracious and generous. I would have loved to get pictures with Wendy and Lisa, but I wasn’t able to track them down during my stay. Luckily there was a beautiful poster sold at the shows that was designed by Kii Arens. It commemorated the three-night run and was hand signed by Wendy, Lisa, Brownmark, Dr. Fink, Bobby Z., and Dez Dickerson.

Even the weather cooperated, with not a drop of rain in sight for my entire trip. It was as if the heavens were watching over the engagement, but I like to think it was Prince.

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With Andre Cymone
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With Dez Dickerson

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Prince: A Celebration

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The news that Prince had died this morning hit me with the same gut-wrenching impact as losing a family member. When the news first broke, the only source being cited was TMZ, so my gut reaction was that they took someone’s internet hoax and ran with it. But then the rest of the media started to back up the story, and finally, Prince’s publicist confirmed the news. I would never again be seeing my musical hero in concert. There would be no more new Prince music. But to call this another “Day The Music Died” would be inaccurate because Prince’s music will live forever.

When 2016 started off horribly with the deaths of David Bowie and Glenn Frey, two of my other musical heroes, it was tough to take. I had grown up listening to their music for decades and it had become a part of my life. But with Prince, it hit me even harder. Everyone who knows me knows that I’m not only a music junkie, but that I have two all-time favorite artists: Prince and Bruce Springsteen. They are both #1 at the top of my list of musical heroes. If you haven’t been fortunate to see either of them in concert, you might say, “Come on, they can’t both be #1, who do you like better?” My reply is always the same: “It’s a tie. They’re both the best.” Both write their own material and are masters of their instruments and the craft of songwriting. In Prince’s case, he was a master of many instruments. My love of both artists is equal. It’s always been a tie. It always will be.

Hall & Oates, another of my favorite artists, were my first love as far as buying records. The Voices album is the first LP that I remember owning as a kid. They’re still one of my favorite recording artists to this day. But Prince? Prince was my first concert. You never forget your first concert. I’m not just talking about any old concert. My very first concert was Prince & The Revolution in Philadelphia on the Purple Rain tour.

In the summer of 1984, I was a typical 13-year-old kid still learning how to adjust to a different lifestyle after my parents had divorced a few years earlier, as many of my generation’s parents had. I had heard “1999” and “Little Red Corvette” on the radio as often as anyone else who listened to Top 40 radio in the early eighties. But then, one day in 1984, “When Doves Cry” hit the airwaves and I was changed forever. Here was a funky, soulful, addictive groove with a drum machine that didn’t even have a bass line to accompany it, and every word Prince sang sounded like he had put my emotions on paper and read them back to me in song. A great song. A song that sounded like no song that came before it, and none that would follow it in the future.

When the Purple Rain album came out in June of 1984, my life was changed forever. I played the album that summer more than any other album I owned. And I owned quite a few by that time. My dad took me to see the Purple Rain movie at least three times that summer, with the most memorable viewing being an afternoon matinee in a center city Philadelphia movie theater. The other two viewings were at a Deptford, New Jersey multiplex, but the Philly screening is the one I remember most vividly because we were two of only a handful of white people in the theater. Being a white kid from the suburbs, that was a new experience for me. At first, I felt the way I’m sure most African Americans felt when they were outnumbered in a white part of town. I had stepped into their shoes, and it felt weird. Not good or bad, just awkward… until the movie started. The Purple Rain logo hit the screen and Prince recited the now legendary line, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” Everyone in the audience was captivated. The musical sequences were electric. The music was pure genius. What left me in awe throughout was that the audience was a ball of energy that fed off of the electricity on the screen. The crowd went nuts for the songs and was practically dancing in the aisles. I could sense movement all around me. The energy was amazing. Then, near the end of the movie, when Prince waved his hands back and forth in the air during Purple Rain, the whole audience started doing it too. Even my dad got in on the act. I’d like to say I did too, but I was probably too enraptured to even move. I was spellbound. What I remember most vividly was that nobody in that theater seemed to care about black or white that day. All we cared about was Prince. He had brought us all together that day, and little did I know it, but this was happening all across the country, and even around the world.

Fast forward to November 24, 1984. It was a Saturday afternoon and I was spending it with my dad, as I often did since the divorce. I don’t recall much about the beginning of the day, but at some point I told my dad that Prince was playing The Spectrum in Philly that night. I had been playing the album all summer and into the fall, and my dad knew how much I loved Prince’s music. It was a rare day that he didn’t have to work one of his at least three jobs, so we drove to The Spectrum, ticketless, to a sold out concert. I remember us jockeying our way through the hordes of scalpers until my dad found someone selling a pair that wasn’t ridiculously expensive. Some cash changed hands and the scalper was gone. We had scored a pair of tickets on the upper level behind the stage just barely before showtime.

The rest is history. As a 13-year-old boy, I witnessed Prince & The Revolution live in concert on the Purple Rain tour. I knew the names of every band member the same way that teenagers in the sixties knew the names of John, Paul, George and Ringo. I pointed out Wendy, Lisa, Brownmark, Bobby Z and Dr. Fink to my dad as the spotlight hit each band member. The Revolution members were my Beatles.

The show remains to this day the most exhilarating concert experience I have ever witnessed. I still vividly remember what it physically felt like when the sound of the drums and bass hit my chest for the very first time and I realized the entire building was vibrating. The audience at the concert was much different than the audience that I was a part of in the Philly movie theater. By November, Prince was a worldwide phenomenon. The proverbial cat was out of the bag. The audience was – as Prince sang in his song “D.M.S.R.” – “whites, blacks, Puerto Ricans everybody just a freakin’.” It was a true melting pot of an audience. Race did not matter. Prince united us all with the magic of his music. A generation had just found its own musical hero.

After that show, I immediately went out and bought Prince’s entire back catalog and his music has been a major part of my life ever since. I’ve seen him in concert many times over the years, but the icing on the cake was spending my 2000 and 2001 summer vacations at Paisley Park. Prince had offered fans the opportunity to tour his legendary recording studio and attend various concerts during the trips. Not much of a social butterfly, I often hung back from the crowd like a wallflower, just taking everything in and enjoying what was going on around me. One night during my 2000 trip, being a wallflower paid off for me big. At one of the Paisley Park dance parties, I noticed Prince standing in the back of the room, just feet away from me, in a dimly lit area checking out the crowd. I had always heard horror stories about him not being approachable, but that night I was in a great mood and feeling ballsy, so I slowly worked my way over to Prince. It was his birthday, June 7, and I don’t think he had stopped celebrating birthdays yet at that point. Even if he had, I slowly approached him and said “Happy Birthday, Prince. Thank you so much for this experience. Your music means a lot to me,” and I extended my hand to him, even though I had heard that he didn’t like people touching him, but what the hell. How many times during your life do you get to be in the same room with Prince, much less stand right next to him? Wayne Gretzky always said that you miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take, and there was no way I was missing this shot.

What happened next I will remember forever. “You’re welcome,” Prince said. “Thanks for coming,” and he shook my hand. They always say “Don’t meet your heroes,” but Prince was genuinely gracious and kind. Soon another fan (who I believe was from Germany) approached him and also had a brief one-on-one conversation with Prince. Then, faster than you could blink, Prince was gone. I had taken a chance and it paid off. I got to shake hands with and thank my musical hero for the gift of his music. That moment will stay with me for the rest of my life, as will his music.

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Above: My first trip to Paisley Park, June 2000

To Wendy Melvoin, Lisa Coleman, Matt Fink, Brownmark and Bobby Z, if you happen to read this, I want to thank you all for giving me the greatest first concert of my life, and thanks of course for the music. You and Prince created music together that will never be equaled. I hope The Revolution can find the time to make some new music together soon. As 2016 has so cruelly shown us, life is all too short, and sadly sometimes it really does snow in April.

Don Henley at The Academy of Music, Philadelphia, PA, November 12, 2015

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     Don Henley played Philadelphia’s Academy of Music November 12 in support of his new album Cass County. If you already read my review of the album, you know that I was hoping for Henley to bring a set list stacked heavily with songs from the new release. I’m thrilled to say he did exactly that, which is a very bold move for an artist whose mainstream fans expect to see a greatest hits show.

     He still threw in seven of his most popular hits (“The End of The Innocence,” “New York Minute,” “Dirty Laundry,” “The Last Worthless Evening,” “The Heart of the Matter,” “The Boys of Summer,” and “All She Wants to Do is Dance”) and even covered a few songs that he didn’t write, such as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You,” which was a surprising highlight of the evening. It was on this song that I realized just how powerful Henley’s voice still is when he has complete command over it. His band truly shined on this track too, taking us from hauntingly low sounds to a powerful finish. Another unexpected cover was his take on the Tears For Fears classic and radio staple “Everybody Wants to Rule The World,” a song that I’m almost certain Henley felt driven to include due to today’s political climate. You might think that the song would feel out of place in a Don Henley show, but it felt natural, energetic, spirited, and almost as if Henley had written it.

     The show opened with a fun selection of song snippets and news soundbites that covered just about every year of radio history. As each recording played, a spotlight illuminated a different radio that was hanging from the rafters decoratively, shining a light on all of the different eras moving from one radio to another, just like you were tuning stations on the dial of a pre-digital-era radio. This was a creative, captivating opening that set the stage for a show that would adeptly travel all over the map of musical styles.

     As soon as Henley and his band hit the stage with a mostly a cappella “Seven Bridges Road,” (plus some acoustic guitar work) they demonstrated how powerfully their vocal harmonies were together and foreshadowed the great night of beautiful harmony that would follow for the rest of the evening. The Academy of Music’s gorgeous acoustics played a part in my enjoyment of the evening too. The sound was loud enough, but never distorted or overpowering. To my surprise, the overwhelming majority of the audience was quiet and respectful during Henley’s new songs and his storytelling in between. Some guy did eventually shout the Philadelphia Eagles cheer “E-A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES!” at one point, but it was actually funny because of the double meaning of eagles (the team and Henley’s other musical group). It was one of those rare nights where the show felt like a fantasy for me, as if one of my musical heroes had brought his band to my living room and said, “Hey, we’re going to play 22 songs for you and tell you a story about each one.” Truly awesome!

     The female singers in the band, who Henley assured the crowd were “not just up here for decoration,” proved him right with bold, beautiful harmonies all night long, and joined Henley in duets on more than one song, such as “When I Stop Dreaming” and “That Old Flame.”

     Usually I like to shoot a few photos with my iPhone as a souvenir from the concerts I attend, but the Academy’s staff was instantly on top of anyone who even held up a cell phone. The staff militantly policed the crowd all night, but the end result was that nobody was blocking my view or bothering the shit out of me the way that most people tend to when they try to take photos or videos at shows. Henley’s insistence on everyone keeping their damn phones in their pockets made the show more enjoyable. I’d like to see more artists start enforcing this policy. I’m sure that’s not a popular opinion, but it without a doubt kept distractions to a minimum, allowing fans to listen and watch with their full attention, which is a right that is all too often stolen from us by other fans behaving like asses. Bravo, Mr. Henley for putting together an amazing, superb night of music and giving your fans the ability to truly enjoy it.