Thursday, September 15, 2016

GEORGE WESLEY: LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD


2016 STEAMTOWN MUSIC AWARDS


Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of the “Steamtown Music Awards” and, especially for asking me to be one of the presenters of George Wesley’s “Lifetime Achievement Award.” I think It’s important to note that though this award is being presented tonight to George’s family, posthumously, the decision to present this award to George was made several months ago, long before any of us knew that he wasn’t well. I was fortunate enough to be one of those involved in those discussions, and we were all excited about the idea of having George here tonight and presenting it to him. Ironically, the very same week that George was informed that he would be the recipient of this year’s “Lifetime Achievement Award” was the same week that we all first learned that he was ill. But tonight, I suppose we can all take some comfort in knowing that George was aware of it, and that he appreciated it.

We, or course, appreciated him.

We appreciated his gifts as a musician and a songwriter. He could play the guitar as well as anyone and with songs such as “Thank You” and “Strong,” he could truly inspire. He performed in this region for more than 30 years, he recorded so many fine albums and, to us, he was the true reggae master. He was the king. He sang from his heart and his soul and there was an undeniable spirit to every single performance.  It was true. It was genuine. And it was incredibly passionate.

George was also innovative. He always had great bands, but as most working musicians know, for some gigs, you don’t always need a full band. The club or venue might just want you to perform solo. George was cool that. He was all about working and gigging. But George - even when playing solo - wanted to sound big. He wanted to sound like his records and like a band. And with his loops and his effects he was indeed an orchestra all onto himself. He was amazing.

I once introduced George Wesley on stage as the “coolest human being I have ever met." I'm glad I said it when he was standing right next to me and that he knew how I felt. And it was true. Whenever you were around him, you just felt better. It seemed he was always happy. Always centered. Always relaxed. Much of that came from his spirituality, which, like music, was a very important part of his life. He was also always there to help others and probably played more benefit shows than any other musician in our home region.

He loved Northeastern Pennsylvania. And Northeastern Pennsylvania loved him.

Like all of us, I wish to God - or Jah  - that George was here with us tonight, but I am grateful that I had the chance to know him, to spend time with him, and I know I speak for all of us when I say we are all grateful for the music that he left us.  And there could not possibly be a more worthy or deserving recipient of “The Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Rest easy, old friend.

And Maximum respect.

Maximum respect. 

                                                                                                 - Alan K. Stout
                                                                                                   September 15, 2016











Friday, September 2, 2016

KISS legacy spans the generations


‘Hottest Band In The World’ dazzles Allentown

By ALAN K. STOUT
MUSIC ON THE MENU
September 2, 2016

ALLENTOWN - “How many of you are at your first KISS concert?” asked Paul Stanley on Thursday night at the Allentown Fairgrounds. The venue was jam-packed on what was a gorgeous September night, with more than 7,000 fans in attendance. And considering it’s been 42 years since KISS released its first album, and considering the group had played Allentown and nearby Philadelphia and Scranton many times over the years, you might have expected Stanley’s question to have been answered with mostly silence. But that was not the case. There was a loud roar. And that, in 2016, is a huge part of the legacy of KISS.

KISS concerts are now a rite of passage with a fan base spanning several generations. And no one seems to be more aware of that Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, as well as guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer. And thus the KISS spectacle – big, loud and proud – remains intact. If someone first saw the band in 1976, 1986 or 1996, they’d still be satisfied with Thursday night’s performance. And if it was their first show, everything Dad may have told them about KISS was right there.

The legacy continues.

KISS opened the set with a driving performance of “Detroit Rock City” and followed with a pounding rendition of “Deuce.” Musically, the band was tight and crisp. And though the staging initially appeared to be stripped down and more streamlined than past tours, the 2016 show, billed as the “Freedom To Rock Tour,” came with KISS’ largest video screen ever. Mammoth in size, it provided crystal clear close-ups of the band throughout the show, as well as some fitting conceptual videos that helped accent the mood of certain songs.
           
“Destroyer,” arguably KISS’ finest studio album, which is noting its 40th anniversary this year, was properly represented by performances of not only “Detroit Rock City,” but also “Shout It Out Loud,” “Beth” and “Do You Love Me.” During the latter, video images spanning the band’s entire career were shown, including clips from the group's 1983-1995 non-makeup years. It was a perfect touch. Simmons flew high above the rafters for a performance “God of Thunder,” also from “Destroyer,” and the rarely played “Flaming Youth” – another gem from the 1976 album – was a welcome surprise.

“I Love It Loud,” one of Simmons’ best arena anthems, had the crowd chanting along and Stanley, during the number, not only allowed a young female fan to come on stage, but also helped her strum along on his guitar. Thayer later offered a rollicking rendition of 1977’s “Shock Me” and 1998’s “Psycho Circus,” a song that sounds as if it were written with the concert stage in mind, was another nice surprise to the set-list.   

Other highlights included a churning rendition of “War Machine,” a groove-laced performance of “Cold Gin” and an extended, fun and jammy rendition of “Lick It Up.” Stanley, one of rock’s all-time best frontman - and whose voice gained strength deeper into the show - also flew across the audience, performing “Love Gun” and “Black Diamond” from an elevated platform near the soundboard. In the spirit of the “Freedom To Rock Tour,” KISS also brought some local veterans to the stage, thanked them for their service, led the crowd through the recital of the “Pledge Of Allegiance” and made a $150,000 donation to the Wounded Warriors Project. The show ended with “Rock and Roll All Nite,” Stanley smashing his guitar, and so much confetti it looked like a September blizzard.

Still, after all these years, remarkably impressive? Absolutely. And equally remarkable is that for KISS, it’s still just a day at the office.

The legacy continues.

(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His music-related  stories appear in The Electric City and his weekly radio show airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on 105 The River. This was his 34th KISS concert.)