Preston Frazier’s Best Concerts of 2016: Stevie Nicks, Yes, Hiromi, Dolly Parton + others
Preston Frazier counts down the very best concerts of 2016, adding two key honorable mentions …
No. 5: Cyndi Lauper, Chicago Theater, May 16, 2016 – The veteran hipster was out promoting her well-received latest album, Detour – and promote it she did, covering about five of the songs from the country-tinged album. Lauper was backed by a crack rock band which included a pedal-steel guitarist. New material and Lauper classics were rendered with authority and authenticity. More importantly, Cyndi Lauper’s voice has only grown in range and expressiveness.
No. 4: Dolly Parton, Ravinia Park in Highland Park, Ill., August 7, 2016 – On her first tour in over two decades the actress, singer and songwriter did the unexpected. The concert was in keeping to the theme of her latest album, Pure and Simple. Parton appeared on a minimalist stage with a three-man band and drum machine. The ensemble never missed a beat, providing harmonies and the delicate playing that you would expect. Parton too has honed her chops playing electric guitar fiddle, acoustic guitar and banjo. Her voice has aged well and her story telling rivals the best of any genre.
No. 3: Hiromi Trio Project, Evanston Space in Evanston, Ill., April 10, 2016 – Hiromi is an unstoppable force on piano, displaying both precision and power. Add bassist Anthony Jackson and former Toto drummer Simon Phillips and the stage was full of the energy and grace of a bullet train. Jackson and Phillips provided more than a spark when accompanying Hiromi on songs from the album Spark. Hiromi always met the challenge of the powerhouse rhythm section, resulting in an experience which promises to be long remembered.
No. 2: Yes, Copernicus Center in Chicago, August 20, 2016 – How can a band with no original members, without its long-time drummer and playing half of one its most controversial albums put on a show that makes our Best Concerts of 2016 list? Well, the world’s greatest progressive rock band has proven time and again that they can overcome adversity. With back-up drummer Jay Schellen in tow, temporarily replacing an ailing Alan White, Yes made quick work of the Drama album in its entirely, played a few of its classics then proceeded to serve up two of the four sides of its epic Tales of Topographic Oceans with a gusto and dexterity beyond what the material deserves. I did see Anderson Rabin and Wakeman live this fall, but the answer to the obvious question, which band was better live? The answer is Yes.
No. 1: Stevie Nicks, Phillips Arena in Atlanta, November 6, 2016 – Stevie Nicks has balls. Kicking off this concert with “Gold and Braid,” one of her best rockers, the songstress was in full flight. Her long-term band, led by guitarist/bandleader Waddy Wachtel (fresh off his stint with Joe Walsh), hit every era of Nicks’ career – including Buckingham-Nicks material. For more than two hours, she weaved her magic in fine voice and high energy. Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders (the opening band) also gave a hand on “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” In the end, Nicks proved she still had a passion for her craft and the ability to enchant.
Timothy B. Schmit, City Winery in Atlanta, September 26. 2016 – Who would have thought that of the three remaining Eagles whom I saw in 2016, Timothy B. Schmit would put on the best show? Actually, Joe Walsh in September in Chicago almost made the list, but Schmit gets an honorable mention for his mix of R&B-flavored songs from the album Leap of Faith, classic Poco songs and big Eagles’ hits. Schmit’s backing band featuring his producer/guitarist Hank Linderman and drummer Herman Matthews III, as well as three backup singers, could shift on a dime, serving up all the genres on Schmidt’s albums. Schmit was in excellent voice and was also quite funny. Who know?
Kansas, Atlanta Symphony Hall, October 7, 2016 – It would be easy to say that new vocalist Ronnie Platt, guitarist Zak Rizvi and keyboardist David Manion brought fresh life to Kansas. But co-founders Phil Ehart and Richard Williams, along with long-time members David Ragsdale and Billy Greer, proved on their stop in Atlanta for the 40th Anniversary Leftoverture tour that everybody had plenty of remaining fire. The opening acoustic segment had listeners on their end of their seats. By the time the band ripped into “Icarus II” and about one hour of deep cuts, the audience was nearly euphoric. Oh, this is before Kansas played the Leftoverture album in its entirety. Carry on, indeed!