King Crimson, Steely Dan, Buckingham / McVie + Others: Preston Frazier’s Best Concerts of 2017
Preston Frazier takes a look back at the best concerts of 2017, including tours by Ben Harper, Steely Dan, Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, Jose James and King Crimson.
No. 5. BEN HARPER AND THE INNOCENT CRIMINALS, May 6, 2017, Tabernacle in Atlanta, Georgia: A hipster band playing to a hipster crowd, but did they play. Ben Harper and his long-time band were supporting the overlooked 2016 album Call It What It Is album, and they brought the fire. Harper’s voice has never sounded better and he has never seemed more passionate. The Innocent Criminals were obviously happy to be reunited with Harper, and they conveyed both old songs and new with a zest seldom found in rock music. That earns Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals the opening spot on my Best Concerts of 2017 list.
No. 4. STEELY DAN, April 29, 2017, Opaline Theatre at the Venetian in Las Vegas, Nevada: Was this the best Steely Dan concert ever? Probably not, but it was a great one and given the passing of a lot of musical heroes recently, it was much appreciated by the audience. Steely Dan played hit after hit, leaving the audience – as the late Walter Becker quipped – “rode hard and put up wet.” Truly, it’s a show I will never forget. More than that, it was the next-to-last show Becker would ever play and, given the ongoing litigation, it may be one of the final Steely Dan shows ever.
No. 3. LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM AND CHRISTINE McVIE, June 21, 2017, Chastain Park in Atlanta, Georgia: There is something to be said when veterans dare to make new music, and then have the guts to play almost all of it live. (That’s one reason why the Chicago / Doobie Brothers tour is nowhere near this list of Best Concerts of 2017.) Lindsey Buckingham / Christine McVie was one of the strongest pop-rock releases of the year, building off a 40-year partnership. On the subsequent tour, all the quirky, pop elements on the album were present, along with Buckingham’s insanely innovative guitar and McVie’s smoky, yet still-effective alto. New songs such as “In My World” and “Too Far Gone” were just as impactful as the classic hits “Go Your Own Way” and “You Make Loving Fun.” Good thing too, since they played 8 of the 10 songs on Lindsey Buckingham / Christine McVie.
No. 2. JOSE JAMES, March 16, 2017, Center Stage Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia: Neo-soul artist Jose James started his 2017 tour in Atlanta, but you wouldn’t know it. Armed with only his box of samples, a red Telecaster guitar and the legendary drumming of Nate Smith, James played new songs from his 2017 release Love In a Time of Madness, and also hit on his expansive jazz and pop catalog. Jose James’ voice never ceases to captivate as he effortlessly switched from techno to jazz to soul with the ease of a musical alchemist. Smith’s support was astonishing, as he coaxed sounds out of his drum kit and box of samples which truly mesmerized. I don’t recall a two-man show ever being this compelling.
No. 1. KING CRIMSON, October 24, 2017, Center Stage Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia:No, this is not your father’s King Crimson. Founding guitarist Robert Fripp, long-time bassist Tony Levin and drummers Pat Mastelotto and Gavin Harrison jwere oined by guitarist/vocalist Jakko Jakszyk, sax legend Mel Collins, drummer/keyboardist Jeremy Stacey and keyboardist Chris Gibson produced a mighty and incendiary, yet precise sound. Songs like “Easy Money” and “Starless” were given new life. Even David Bowie’s “Heroes,” the title track from the latest King Crimson EP, sounded invigorated during this top entry in my Best Concerts of 2017 list. Jakszyk’s vocals eclipse those of Adrian Belew and challenge those of the late John Wetton, while his guitar work is the perfect foil to Robert Fripp. The front line of Mastelotto, Harrison and Stacey are simply astounding. After hearing this edition of the band play “Starless,” I was convinced it was totally natural to have three drummers. Perhaps King Crimson is the world’s greatest progressive-rock band!
BEST CONCERTS OF 2017 HONORABLE MENTIONS
YESTIVAL, August 7, 2017, Pier Six Pavilion in Baltimore, Maryland: The Yestival included Yes, Todd Rundgren and Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy – and combined, they were fantastic. Palmer’s power trio, featuring Simon Fitzpatrick on bass and Paul Bielatowicz on guitar, simply amazed as they pumped more life into Emerson Lake and Palmer classics than ever thought possible. Rundgren brought along a killer band which featured Greg Hawkes of the Cars on keyboards (and a spandex-clad backup vocalist). Together, they served up hit after hit – as well as new songs from his latest release White Knight, with a musical heft surpassing the album. Yes performed a song from each of their first 10 albums. After a tentative start, this musically muscular version of the band – Dylan Howe was on drums, along with Alan White – dished out deep cut and hits, one after another. The band left no doubt that they are Yes.
DONALD FAGEN AND THE NIGHTFLYERS, August 16, 2017, Symphony Hall in Atlanta, Georgia: Of the two Donald Fagen concerts I saw that week, this one was the best. Fagen played like a man possessed, and the Nightflyers added a youthful enthusiasm while not trying to recreate every Steely Dan nuance and note. Would I have liked at least one song from Morph the Cat? Yes. Would I have liked one more song from Sunken Condos? Of course. Was it an excellent show? Without a doubt. Donald Fagen and the Nightflyers more than delivered. Fagen has the problem of too much great material – and it’s a good one to have!