Amy Burger's Posts

Amy Burger's Photo I'm a life-long music fan and freelance writer/publicist. My work has appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Kids Magazine and City's Best St. Louis. Visit me on Facebook.

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Concert review: Galactic (with Latyrx) gives Valentine’s Day a funky New Orleans kiss at the Pageant, Thursday, February 14

Corey Glover of Galactic at the Pageant. Photo by Amy Burger.

Valentine’s Day may be the day of love and romance, but for those in attendance at the Pageant on Thursday, it was a night to get funky, with or without a partner.

New Orleans’ own funk/jazz fusion jam band Galactic heated up the night with a no-holds-barred, two-hour set that started out high energy and never waned for a moment.

Before they took the stage, however, alternative hip-hop masters Latyrx got everyone’s hearts thumping with the dynamic, rapid-fire deliveries of Lateef the Truth Speaker (Lateef Daumont) and Lyrics Born (Tsutomu “Tom” Shimura), veterans of the San Francisco Bay-Area hip-hop scene. The duo bounced lyrics off each other in perfect sync, backed by a live drummer and DJ Shadow on the “wheels of steel,” old school scratching from dual turntables. They featured material from their new album, “Disconnection,” including “Gorgeous Spirits (Aye, Let’s Go!)” as well as a few songs from Lyrics Born’s previous solo efforts, including politically charged “The Last Trumpet.”

The crowd was somewhat sparse and hesitant at the beginning of their 45-minute set, but by the end of it, the main floor of the Pageant began to fill in nicely and the audience was getting into it, pumping fists in the air and calling out lyrics on cue.

Then it was time for the real magic to happen. Galactic took the stage around 9:30 p.m., leading off with an instrumental jam highlighting solos of each member, proving immediately that this group is a true collaboration, each bringing an unmistakable element to its sound. Over the years, the core quintet of guitarist Jeff Raines, bassist Robert Mercurio, drummer Stanton Moore, keyboardist/Hammond organist Richard Vogel and saxophone/harmonica player Ben Ellman have been joined by a rotating series of guest vocalists and musicians. The current lineup is sweetened by the addition of two Coreys — standout trombone player Corey Henry (of the Rebirth Brass Band) and legendary rock vocalist Corey Glover (of Living Colour).

Along with its rotating musicians, the band’s sound has evolved over the years to go beyond classic New Orleans funk and embrace other musical elements from hip-hop to jazz and even more recently, electronica. But funk is clearly the core, and there was plenty of it at Thursday night’s show. Unlike many bands that would place them more in the background, the horns take center stage at a Galactic show, and Ellman and Henry have perfect chemistry, eagerly sharing their deserved place in the spotlight.

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Concert review: Mac Lethal joins local MCs Trak Masta Tom, Baytron and Farout for a hip-hop throwdown at 2720 Cherokee on Friday, January 25

Mac Lethal at 2720 Cherokee. Photo by Amy Burger.

The crowd was sweaty (and drunk) and the beats were thumping at artsy-grungy venue 2720 Cherokee last night as Kansas City-based, YouTube-sensation rapper Mac Lethal (aka David McCleary Sheldon) followed three local, rising hip-hop artists with an hour set of his rapid-fire rhymes.

A long-time lover of rap and hip-hop, I have a soft spot for nerdy white-boy rappers (hey, I grew up on the Beastie Boys), so when I first discovered Mac Lethal, I was instantly smitten. The 32-year old has been generating buzz in his hometown scene for years, but rose to quick fame when he began posting his raps on YouTube, particularly one in which he speed-raps over Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now” while cooking pancakes in his kitchen (it now has more than 27 million views). I first saw Mac Lethal on actual TV, when he appeared last year on the pilot episode of AMC’s advertising-industry reality competition show “The Pitch,” when winning agency McKinney commissioned him to write a rap about Subway breakfast sandwiches.

Watching his YouTube videos and listening to his albums, one quickly realizes what sets Mac Lethal apart from many others in the genre: his subject matter. While much of today’s rap and hip-hop content still revolves around gangsta images of guns, drugs, violence and degrading women, Mac Lethal focuses on more cerebral topics like stupid people arguing on the Internet, misusing “you’re” vs. “your,” and his latest tirade against the gay-bashing, funeral-protesting Westboro Baptist Church. He balances the heavier stuff with a good dose of intelligent humor.

Admittedly, I haven’t been to many rap shows, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the evening, which promised Mac Lethal headlining at midnight, preceded by three locally-grown MCs: Trak Masta Tom, Baytron and Farout. I pictured something like the battle scenes from “8-Mile,” but in reality, the scene was more like a snapshot from some weird ’90s rave. Scrawny white boys sporting glow-stick gloves, hats and necklaces writhed around the dance floor creating a schizophrenic light show as drunken young hipster girls spilled beer and hung off of their necks.

We arrived just as first act Trak Masta Tom was finishing up and in time to catch a great set from Alton, Ill. rapper Baytron (aka Matt Beatty). To put it simply, this guy is good. Backed by a variety of samples and beats from his laptop, he pumped up the crowd with his deft skills and well-composed raps. Baytron has a rich and powerful tone to his voice reminiscent of some of the great old-school rap stars like Grandmaster Flash, Ice-T and Kurtis Blow.

Next up was St. Louis-native Farout (aka Eric Farlow). Admitting that he was missing his usual backing by DJ Mahf and had to rely on his iPod, Farout seemed a bit off his game, starting then stopping a couple of songs after botching lyrics. By mid-set, he got into his groove, though and continued to get the crowd moving and ready for the main event.

At midnight, with little fanfare, Mac Lethal made his way to the stage, backed by fellow Kansas City MC Alvie Nelson and another St. Louis native, Patric Brown providing the beats. The dance floor was suddenly packed, everyone waving their hands in the air as he began spitting his raps furiously. Mac Lethal is a study in “don’t judge a book by its cover.” The balding, slightly paunchy Irish kid with glasses doesn’t necessarily look the part of a badass MC, but when he gets going, he raps faster and with more precision than just about anyone I’ve heard. But don’t compare him to Eminem (he’s disparaged that notion in interviews and song lyrics). There’s really not a lot of similarity other than both being white and rapping really fast. Mac has a style all his own and he may well be rap’s next big star.

He packed his hour set with a variety of songs from his albums and YouTube videos, focusing on upbeat crowd-pleasers like “Calm Down, Baby,” “Jihad!” and “War Drum,” as well as tunes from his most recent album, 2011′s “Irish Goodbye,” including “Aviator” and “Jake + Olive,” a sweet song about his grandparents’ undying love. “Black Widow Spider,” an ex-girlfriend revenge song with a catchy harmonica hook sample, afforded another highlight.

About mid-set, he introduced the song that rocketed him to YouTube fame, the pancake rap, saying “Everyone says I sold out when I made this song, but I disagree. I think the lyrics on this song are great.” Brown beatboxed while Mac impressed the room with his lightning-speed delivery. He gave the YouTube fans another treat with the aforementioned Westboro Baptist Church bashing-rap, “Oh My God.”

It’s difficult for me to review a rap show – I can’t wax poetic about transcendent guitar solos or keyboard riffs or vocal harmonies. So when all of that is stripped away, it’s clear what it’s really about: the beats and the lyrics. Rap is poetry – a verbal expression of self, set to rhythm – and Mac Lethal has the skills of a poet laureate, carefully observing and absorbing the world around him, turning it into art and spitting it back at us with a vengeance and a smile.

Concert review: Like a virgin no more, Madonna plays first show in St. Louis, Scottrade Center, Thursday, November 1

Madonna, the undisputed Queen of Pop, brought her live spectacle of sight and sound to St. Louis for the first time on Thursday before a packed house at the Scottrade Center, eliciting widely mixed reactions amongst her faithful followers.

The MDNA Tour rolled in with a fleet of luxury tour busses, dancers and costumes galore, lots of lights, props and moving parts, and of course, Lady M herself — a pop music ninja in a petite, five-foot-four-inch frame.

Before I delve into the details of a two-hour Madonna assault of the senses, I want to address some of the complaints about this show I have seen flying around the Internet and offer a defense of the top-selling female artist of all time:

Complaint 1: “She started two-hours late. She didn’t come on until 10:30 p.m.”

The show was listed as starting at 8 p.m. There was an opener for the show (DJ Paul Oakenfold). If you are aware there is an opener at 8 p.m., then of course the headliner is not going to start until well after — we call this Concert 101. Also, as widely publicized on local media outlets and from past tour reviews, 10:30, p.m. is Madonna’s standard start time. Any basic Google search on the MDNA tour to prepare for the concert-going experience would have relayed this information. So anyone who was shocked and offended by it simply didn’t do the homework; that’s a rookie mistake.

Complaint 2: “She didn’t play a lot of her ’80s hits.”

I love the ’80s and I love ’80s Madonna, too. Would I have liked to have heard more of those hit songs of my high school and college days? Sure. Was I expecting to hear more of them? No. The tour is not called the “Greatest Hits of the ’80s tour.” It’s called the “MDNA Tour.” The name of the album is “MNDA.” Based on the entire history of concerts, it follows that she is going to focus her live material on the album she is supporting. I actually think it’s a pretty good album. It doesn’t sound like Madonna in the ’80s. You know why? Because it’s 2012 and, like most of the rest of us, Madonna has evolved.

Okay, now that we’ve cleared that up, here’s my opinion of the night: I really enjoyed most of the show and it did live up to my expectations. I will say up front that I am somewhat biased. I’m a lifelong fan and I was lucky enough to score one of the tickets/wristbands to Madonna’s coveted “Golden Triangle,” a small area of the floor directly in front of and surrounded by the stage. They give the Golden Triangle tickets away via a lottery through her fan club and a select lucky few get to enjoy the show from the middle of the action. It would be hard for anyone NOT to enjoy a performance of this magnitude standing just mere feet away. Everyone else in the Golden Triangle seemed to enjoy it as well.

I can safely say I have never seen a show quite of this magnitude. A Madonna concert isn’t simply a concert; it’s a performance of epic proportions, bigger than Broadway and Vegas combined. No, she didn’t sing every single note, but the ones she did sounded good and the rest was still amazing to watch, from the second the curtain fell to reveal dancers dressed as monks, with a giant thurible swinging from a rope over the stage and then Madonna herself, entering via a curtained, gothic confessional booth and speaking the intro to “Girl Gone Wild.”

Though the thumping of the bass was almost painfully intense at times, I enjoyed most of the “MDNA” material, particularly the upbeat, dancey “Turn Up the Radio,” “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” and “I’m a Sinner” (which she had to stop and start over due to a sound/technical issue, but handled with total professionalism). “Gang Bang” was a bit over the top with a fake motel-room set and “gun battles” complete with screens splattered with blood that seemed uncharacteristically violent.

Madge gave her long-time fans — many clad in lace gloves, skirts, hair bows and stack bracelets in tribute — a taste of the “old Madonna” they desired with hits like “Papa Don’t Preach,” “Open Your Heart” (sing-along style), “Vogue” and “Human Nature” among others. She performed “Like a Virgin” as a ballad, lounge-style atop a piano. She donned a majorette outfit, backed by dancers clad as cheerleaders and marching band drummers, for a mash-up of “Express Yourself” and Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” after which she chanted “She’s not me!” in a not-so-subtle diss to Gaga’s extremely similar tune.

Madonna pretty much invented reinventing yourself, and showed her many faces throughout the show with costume, hair and attitude changes. She brought out her ever-controversial sex symbol side for “Justify My Love” and “Candy Shop”/”Erotica.”

Enough can’t be said about the incredible talents of her backup dancers, who leaped, flipped, bumped, grinded and even bounced on flexible elastic tightropes. Plus, there was one very special dancer — her 11-year-old son, Rocco (with director Guy Ritchie). The proud mama gazed on as her boy did head spins on the stage and he gazed right back as she commanded the praise of nearly 20,000 fans. It was pretty adorable.

For me, the absolute highlight of the show was the performance of “Like a Prayer” with a full choir (including Rocco) and the whole stadium singing along and clapping. It truly was a religious moment, and one I won’t soon forget.

For some, Madonna’s show didn’t live up to expectations (or exorbitant ticket prices). She certainly wasn’t without flaws (such as her reference to being in Minnesota, rather than Missouri, or lip-syncing during the trickier dance numbers); but overall she was a blast to watch, perfectly pleasant, warm and personable — grateful for and deserving of the audience’s praise. Tickets were crazy expensive, but the cost seems more reasonable when you consider that a production of that level with that many players costs a great deal more to put on than a standard rock show.

As for me, I just couldn’t believe I stood that close to her, soaking in her raw energy. For the first time in my life, I was truly and absolutely star-struck. And I had a hell of a good time.

Concert review: Retro rock rules the Pageant with the Psychedelic Furs and the Lemonheads, Friday, October 12

The ’80s reigned supreme last night at the Pageant as the Lemonheads and the Psychedelic Furs played a doubly nostalgic bill.

As the Lemonheads took the stage, the crowd was still surprisingly sparse, with only the floor and table seating areas moderately full and the balcony closed. And something, or rather someone, was starkly absent.

The Lemonheads had initially billed their St. Louis stop, the first on their tour, as including bassist Juliana Hatfield. Apparently “unforeseen circumstances” led to her canceling her dates with the band — a notice she tweeted on October 2. Though the band and venue removed her name from digital mentions of the show, it seemed most fans had not received this information in advance, as a wave of disappointment clearly swept across the crowd.

Lead singer Evan Dando looked a bit worn, keeping his head mostly down and sporting an oversized plaid flannel shirt and khakis plucked straight out of 1989. The band’s set of broody alt-rock seemed a bit of a downer, really. Even the hit, “It’s a Shame About Ray,” elicited little enthusiasm from the crowd, save for one very excited fan in the front of the floor. Admittedly, I have never been a big fan, and I found them to be an odd pairing for the richer, more upbeat, post-punk sound of the Psychedelic Furs.

The Pageant’s main floor filled up quickly as the Furs finally took the stage, the majority of the crowd (not surprisingly) over 40, with many gray heads present. At 56, lead singer Richard Butler has aged fairly well. Though he sports shorter hair and a few more wrinkles, his gruff yet melodic voice seems to have changed little in more than 30 years. Love it or hate it (I personally love it), his vocals are so unmistakably his own and so iconic of his era.

Wearing a basic black suit and thick-rimmed glasses, he grinned widely as he began crooning the opening notes of “Only You and I,” a heavier and darker cut from the band’s 1982 classic “Forever Now.” A treat for die-hard fans, the Furs played a vast majority of tunes from that seminal album, including “Love My Way” (featuring the first of many great solos by saxophonist extraordinaire Mars Williams), “Run and Run,” “Danger,” “No Easy Street” and “President Gas.”

Ever present at Richard’s side was his bassist brother, Tim Butler, and guitarist Rich Good. Drummer Paul Garisto and keyboardist Amanda Kramer subtly did their thing in the background as Williams worked the crowd with his sax.

Just as at the band’s last St. Louis show over a year ago, they were also joined mid-set by St. Louis guitar star Richard Fortus (formerly of local bands the Eyes/Pale Divine, Richard and Tim Butler’s post-Furs band Love Spit Love and Guns n’ Roses), who shredded on heavy jam “Mr. Jones,” then stayed on stage for the majority of the show.

Butler looked like a giddy child, jumping up and down between songs and gesturing theatrically to his own lyrics. He showed his softer side on mellow favorites like “Ghost in You,” “Heaven” and “Heartbreak Beat.” I’ve always found the Furs’ versatility to be one of their most amazing qualities. They so easily transition from loud, punk-driven anthems to sweet rock ballads and perform both to perfection.

Though the band’s biggest mainstream hit, “Pretty in Pink,” brought droves of fans to the dance floor, it felt a tad lackluster in comparison to the other deeper material the Furs took on.

The encore was a true treat, with the much anticipated and politically charged “President Gas” followed by “India,” a raw and heavy track from the band’s self-titled 1980 studio debut, during which Butler encouraged Williams to take his sax solo up higher and higher, culminating in a piercing wail.

The show was more than satisfying and the Furs proved that they aren’t simply some has-been ’80s band phoning it in on tired old hits. Quite the contrary, the Butler brothers and company provided fresh and fierce renditions of some of the best rock songs of the post-punk era. Mostly, they seemed to be having a great time doing it — and the fans responded in kind.

The energy and musicianship they bring to their seemingly timeless body of work makes this fan yearn for a new Furs album. Who knows — maybe after all the touring they will get back in the studio and deliver. I hope so; but until then, I’ll “let it stay forever now.”

Concert review: Phish cranked out the old-school jams to a packed house at Chaifetz Arena, Tuesday, August 28 / Dave Vann

King of all jam bands, Phish, made its triumphant return to St. Louis last night — its first summer tour stop here since appearing at the Fox Theater in 2009.

After playing such an intimate and acoustically perfect venue, it was a touch disappointing that they chose the somewhat sterile Chaifetz Arena for this go-around; the band, however, was anything but sterile, putting on a jam-packed show that harkened back to the band’s early ’90s heyday.

With a first set that lasted nearly two hours, Phish catered to its diehard fans by concentrating on some of its oldest material (the exception being the seemingly out of place “Ocelot” from its 2009 album “Joy”). Starting out strong with “Punch You in the Eye,” the crowd could sense that the band was ready to bring its A-game. The scene was set as hundreds of neon glow sticks flew through the air, from the upper levels down to the packed floor, and the audience began to undulate, like one giant, groovy creature.

Frontman and guitar virtuoso Trey Anastasio threw down one of the night’s many incredible solos during the upbeat “Runaway Jim,” supported by bassist Mike Gordon, keyboardist Page McConnell and drummer/percussionist Jon Fishman (in his signature polka-dot muumuu). Classic “Reba” was inspired, taking fans on a journey through its quirky, rapid-fire lyrical story into its catchy chorus and moving into the long instrumental jam that is one of the best examples of Phish’s true essence.

Fishman stepped out from behind the drum kit to play his signature Electrolux vacuum cleaner solo on “I Didn’t Know,” Anastasio introducing him as the “John Coltrane of the vacuum cleaner.” The deep reverberations spread through the crowd like a roll of thunder before the band moved into the opening notes of “The Curtain.” Phish showed off its jazz instrumental roots with a cover of Frank Zappa’s “Peaches En Regalia,” and the room’s energy hit a crescendo during catchy favorite “Sample in a Jar.”

After the grand final notes of that tune, I was almost certain it was time for a set break; but the band had other ideas — continuing to push on full-steam ahead with three tunes that pre-date their earliest albums, “The Sloth,” “Camel Walk” and “Possum,” during which McConnell was killing it on the keyboards like the second coming of Jerry Lee Lewis. As if that all wasn’t enough, they closed the set with a happy-go-lucky cover of Bob Dylan’s “Quinn the Eskimo.”

In addition to the great music pouring from the stage, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Phish’s light show, which is quite possibly the best in the business. With literally hundreds of lights in a spectrum of colors constantly moving and changing formations in perfect time to the music, their shows are a feast of sight as well as sound.

After about a 30-minute set break (during which most fans expressed sheer awe at the first set), Phish returned to provide another full hour of non-stop jams, picking up right where they left off with “Chalkdust Torture.” The band showed its funky side during much of this set, digging into heavy grooves like the highly danceable “Sand” and “Julius.” A cover of James Gang’s “Walk Away” was pure classic rock fun.

The evening hit its peak during “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (aka the theme from the film “2001: A Space Odyssey”), Phish repeatedly building up the crescendo of this classical Strauss piece, then laying it down hard into the funkiest of jams. There didn’t seem to be a single butt in a seat at this point (or at any point, really) — everyone from the floor to the rafters on their feet moving to the rhythm.

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Concert review and set list: Chris Robinson Brotherhood unleashes psychedelic freak rock on the Pageant, Saturday, August 18 / John Margaretten

Anyone who showed up at the Pageant Saturday night hoping to hear a rehashing of the Black Crowes‘ greatest hits from the band’s former frontman, Chris Robinson, was probably disappointed.

But those who showed up to hear the fresh sound of a new chapter in Robinson’s career were pleased to see that the concert more than lived up to expectations.

With a sound more akin to the Grateful Dead than the Black Crowes, Chris Robinson Brotherhood defines its music as “Psychedelic filling in a Folk Blues pie.” That’s a pretty perfect description. Starting promptly at 8 p.m., CRB began a three-hour musical journey with two complete sets of its special blend of Southern-tinged psychedelic blues-rock.

Though the band bears his name, Robinson isn’t the only one with an impressive musical resume. He brought with him Black Crowes keyboardist Adam MacDougall. Standout guitarist Neal Casal has a successful solo career as well as a long stint with Ryan Adams and the Cardinals. Drummer George Sluppick, a Memphis native, earned his chops on Beale Street and has played with the likes of B.B. King, Albert King and Carl Perkins, as well as a five-year stint with Jacksonville, Fla. blues-rock band J.J. Grey and Mofro; and bassist Mark “Muddy” Dutton was a member of hard-rock band L.A. Guns.

The fact that they never came near a Black Crowes song is a clear sign that Robinson has moved on to greener pastures. The more mellow, peaceful tone of CRB’s music could be an indication of his own more relaxed attitude, free from his long-tumultuous professional and personal relationship with his brother, guitarist Rich Robinson.

The band played most of the songs on its just-released album “Big Moon Ritual,” particularly in the first set. Lengthy, Dead-like jam “Tulsa Yesterday,” featured one of the evening’s numerous guitar solos by Casal, seeming to channel Jerry Garcia himself at times with his sound. Other mellow hippie jams from the album included “Star or Stone” and “One Hundred Days of Rain.”

The band gave a nod to the obvious influence with a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Bertha,” and also did a groovy cover of the Three Dog Night song “Never Been to Spain.” Tunes from Robinson’s solo album “New Earth Mud,” were also woven throughout, including the hard-edged “Mother of Stone” and heavy ballad “Train Robbers,” on which his signature, soulful vocals simply shined.

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Concert review: Royal Southern Brotherhood brings ‘The Soul of the South’ to the Gramophone, Thursday, July 5

Rick Priest

St. Louis-native blues guitarists Devon Allman and Mike Zito brought their new star-studded band, Royal Southern Brotherhood, to the Gramophone for a hometown show Thursday night that packed the house and raised the roof.

Marrying the “royal” musical bloodlines of Allman (son of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Gregg Allman) and the Neville Brothers’ Cyril Neville, along with Zito, bassist Charlie Wooten and drummer Yonrico Scott (who has performed with Gregg Allman, Allman Brothers Band and Derek Trucks Band), The Royal Southern Brotherhood is a musical force with a sound of its own that combines the best of all its players.

While Allman and Zito bring their signature blues style, Neville and Wooten spice it up with some New Orleans soul and funk, and Scott keeps a heavy rock and roll beat. Self described as “The Soul of the South,” the group lived up to its expectations, putting on a no-holds-barred set that had the small Gramophone rocking like it probably never has before.

They worked through selections from their just released, self-titled debut album (produced by Jim Gaines), with Allman, Zito and Neville taking alternate turns on lead vocals. Kicking things off with “Fired Up!” they got everyone on the floor singing along, “all fired up and ready to go!”

Neville, the elder statesman of the group at age 63, stood center stage looking very fit and sounding great as he sang and beat his drums, clad all in black (aside from a bright red Kangol cap) and decorated with puka shells and assorted necklaces.

Zito showed his own vocal prowess on the soulful “Hurts My Heart,” and he and Neville dazzled on their Blues Music Award-winning song “Pearl River” from Zito’s 2009 album of the same name.

The highlight of the show for me was the band’s sensational cover of the Grateful Dead’s epic jam “Fire on the Mountain,” which was one of the best versions of the song I’ve heard performed (including the many times I saw the Dead perform it). It ended in an all out jam including a transcendent guitar duel between Allman and Zito that left the crowd screaming and clamoring for more.

Giving the other guys a break, bassist Wooten got some alone time onstage for a funky solo, and then was joined by Scott, showing off his drum skills. The rest of the band returned for the upbeat “Sweet Jelly Donut.”

After the main set, Allman and Zito, who met each other while working at Guitar Center in the ’90s, engaged in a playful exchange to give the audience a taste of what their days were like working at the store — taking turns showing off with legendary riffs from songs like Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” Van Halen’s “Eruption,” and the Allman Brothers Band’s “Jessica,” to which Zito noted, “Hey, my dad just worked at the brewery, he didn’t write famous rock songs.”

They closed out the show with a nod to Allman’s famous pop, performing two Allman Brothers Band staples, “Whipping Post” and “One Way Out.”

With a different and more diverse sound than Allman’s three-piece blues group Honeytribe, this new “supergroup” of sorts is giving him the opportunity to explore his many musical sides and collaborate with some of the finest musicians playing today. The result is as fun to listen to as it is to watch. Their passion comes through in every note.

Festival review: Rockin’ and rollin’ on the river at the Beale Street Music Festival, May 5 and 6

Buddy Guy at Beale Street Music Festival. Photo by Joanna Kleine.

Thousands of music fans made their way to the “land of the delta blues” last weekend for the annual Beale Street Music Festival. This was my fifth time attending the long-running fest, part of the city’s month-long Memphis in May celebration in Tom Lee Park on the banks of the Mississippi River.

The violent storms and flooding of the past two years were replaced this year with sweltering heat and humidity, having fans wallowing in sweat instead of mud. The temperatures weren’t the only thing that was hot, however — the lineup was pretty amazing too. Unfortunately, we had to miss the opening night of the festival, which included heavy-hitters like guitar legend Johnny Winter, jam kings My Morning Jacket and indie diva Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine.

Arriving Saturday afternoon, we made it to the Bud Light Stage just in time to see our own hometown heroes Son Volt bring a little slice of the ‘Lou to Memphis. A decent crowd of Farrar loyalists gathered up close as the band took the stage — Jay looking a bit like Johnny Cash, clad all in black with thick sideburns. The band fought some loud feedback as they began, but it was quickly rectified as they eased into “Down to the Wire” from the band’s most recent album, “American Central Dust,” the twang of Mark Spencer’s pedal steel guitar cutting through the thick, humid air.

Son Volt played for just over an hour, turning out a comprehensive set spanning its catalog of material, including a suite of songs from the acclaimed debut album “Trace” to the delight of old school fans. A set highlight was the gorgeous “Highways and Cigarettes” from 2007′s “The Search,” featuring Spencer’s pedal steel married with Gary Hunt’s mandolin and Farrar’s haunting vocals. Farrar humored Uncle Tupelo fans by closing out with the classic “Chickamauga.”

In Memphis, music and BBQ go hand in hand, and the festival offers many options for local fare. We opted to singe our taste buds with some of Uncle Lou’s Famous Sweet and Spicy fried chicken, licking the fiery sauce from our fingers as blues legend Buddy Guy tore up the Orion Stage behind us. At 76 years old, Guy can still shred on the guitar and work the stage like the pro he is — even coming down into the crowd to play for a bit to the delight of fans. In addition to his own classics, he played inspired covers of “Fever” (appropriate considering the heat) and Cream’s “Strange Brew.”

Next we headed back to the Bud Light stage to check out ’80s Brit rockers the Cult. Lead singer Ian Astbury looked out of place in the sweltering Memphis sun in a thick black jacket and jeans, two fluffy foxtails dangling from his belt. His voice sounded relatively unchanged and guitarist Billy Duffy proved he is still worthy as well on classics like “Fire Woman,” “Wild Flower,” “She Sells Sanctuary” and “Love Removal Machine.” A few tunes from the band’s brand new album, “Choice of Weapon,” seemed to fall flat with the audience, however, including the dark “Lucifer.” Having grown up on the Cult, it was fun to hear some of these songs played live again, but overall, they seemed to be trying a bit too hard to at times to relive their glory days.

With the sun finally setting and the full “super moon” rising above the trees, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals took to the stage. I admit, I’d never seen Potter before, though many have told me how great she is live. She indeed lived up to the hype. Alternating on the guitar and keys, tossing her long, blonde hair around as she belted out songs like her hit “Paris (Ooh La La),” Potter and her band proved they can hold down a festival crowd of thousands in addition to the smaller venues they play more frequently.

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