Elvis Costello & the Imposters/Forest Hills Stadium/July 24, 2019

Born in London, Declan MacManus was the son of a jazz trumpeter who sang with the Joe Loss Orchestra and who later performed as a solo cabaret act. The youth’s first broadcast recording was with his father on a 1974 television commercial. Also in 1974, the son formed a pub rock band called Flip City, which remained active until 1976. As a solo artist renamed Elvis Costello, he became associated with the first wave of the British punk and new wave movement that emerged in the mid-to-late seventies. His debut album was released in 1977, after which he formed a backing band and became Elvis Costello & the Attractions until 1986; the band reunited briefly several times in subsequent years. Formed in 2001, Elvis Costello & the Imposters presently consists of two former Attractions, pianist Steve Nieve, and drummer Pete Thomas, plus bassist Davey Faragher. Costello and the Attractions were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003 and Costello was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2019 for services to music. Recording rock, country, jazz, and classical music throughout his career, Costello returned to pop with his 25th and most recent album, Look Now, released on October 12, 2018.

Co-headlining with Blondie at Forest Hills Stadium, Costello and the Imposters performed only two songs from his most recent album; the rest of the concert pivoted largely on his best known and most rocking songs. Many of these songs were from his punk rock period in the late nineteen-seventies; Costello tempered his anger in the early eighties, so the vintage songs were given a lighter tone but were nevertheless built for rocking. The set began with “Pump It Up,” and Costello did just that. He continued with signature songs until he introduced a newer song he co-wrote with Burt Bacharach, “Photographs Can Lie,” followed by “Mr. & Mrs. Hush,” a song he said he wrote for a forthcoming musical. While Costello’s crooning was executed well, he temporarily seemed to lose his audience with these bland mainstream endeavors. “Watching the Detectives” re-engaged the audience, as did “Everyday I Write the Book,” where Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee moved from their back-up vocalist positions to flank Costello center stage in soulful call-and-response singing. Much of the concert featured close-up footage and clever graphics on large screens, reaching a peak with the night-closing song, a cover of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” which was accompanied in part by a slide show of Costello’s family members in military uniform. Costello can record all the pop, country, and jazz albums he wants, but the public demonstrated that what they craved most was Costello the rocker.

Scott Stapp/Sony Hall/July 25, 2019

Scott Stapp fled his childhood home as a teen in Orlando, and while attending university in 1993, formed the band Creed with his old schoolmate, Mark Tremonti. Creed became one of the major acts of the post-grunge movement of the late nineteen-nineties and early two-thousands, selling more than 50 million albums worldwide. In 2001, Stapp and Tremonti also earned a Grammy Award for Best Rock Song as the writers of the Creed song “With Arms Wide Open.” Beginning in 2002, Stapp made ongoing headlines due to a fight with members of the band 311, public intoxication, attempted suicide, and other incidents. Creed split in 2004 and Stapp launched a solo career in 2005. Creed reunited in 2009, releasing a fourth album and touring sporadically. In 2014, MusiCares connected Stapp to therapeutic resources and Stapp received treatment for depression and addiction near his home outside Nashville. In 2016, Stapp replaced the late Scott Weiland as the lead singer of Art of Anarchy, recording an album with the group and performing 18 live concerts before leaving the band. Stapp’s third and most recent solo album, The Space Between the Shadows, was released on July 19, 2019.

At Sony Hall, the stage lights flickered, and fog bellowed as the musicians took their places and began playing the eerie instrumental introduction to the Creed song “Bullets,” complete with Stapp’s spoken lyrics. Stapp paced rapidly back and forth across the small stage with the energy of a rocket ready to launch. The atmospheric intensity increased until Stapp howled. Guitarists Yiannis Papadopoulos and Ben Flanders, bassist Sammy Hudson, and drummer Dango Cellan then fed the crescendo with big, powerful thunder. Weaving between eight Creed songs and seven of Stapp’s solo songs (six of which were from his most recent album), the performance was both a view to the past and a call to the future. Stapp unleashed his trademark baritone and it was rich, solid, and compelling. Stapp’s distinctively dark vocals were so strong that everything he sang was explosive. Stapp’s newer lyrics fixed him in a more positive space; he seemed healthier, happier, and more grateful. Stapp’s fan base diminished in recent years, but those who give his current concert tour another chance would be very pleased.

The Struts/The Rooftop at Pier 17/July 27, 2019

As a child in Bristol, England, the only music Luke Spiller heard at home was gospel. At age seven he discovered pop music, at age 11 gravitated to hard rock, and at 16 Spiller began singing in local bands. After relocating to nearby Clevedon, in 2009 he met Derby-based guitarist Adam Slack, who similarly had been playing in bands since his teens. Spiller moved to Derby where he and Slack formed the Struts. After success in the United Kingdom, the Struts relocated in early 2015 to Los Angeles. The band quickly gained the attention of major rockers and opened concerts for the Who, Guns N’ Roses, Mötley Crüe, and the Foo Fighters. The Struts presently consists of Spiller, Slack, bassist Jed Elliott, and drummer Gethin Davies. The Struts’ second and most recent album, Young & Dangerous, was released on October 26, 2018.

The Struts played The Rooftop at Pier 17 as if the venue was a stadium. You want spectacle? Spiller started the performance by riding a mint Harley-Davidson motorcycle to center stage. Throughout the set, Spiller’s swagger, from which the band drew its name, was lavish and mesmerizing. Spiller’s larger-than-life showmanship and the musicians’ professionalism matched in outsized proportions, as Spiller’s multi-octave vocals soared for the skies and the band played booming riff-heavy anthems. The band’s high fashion attire was part of the glam and Spiller gave it more wham with plenty of sparkle and spangle in his wardrobe changes. Fortunately, the presentation was not all in the visual; the songs, mostly taken from the Struts’ two albums, featured the best components of classic rock composition, including flashy leads and sing-along choruses, and the band rocked them well. The Struts studied Queen very carefully and could become successors to that royal throne for a new generation. In short time, the Struts will be huge.

Rob Thomas/The Beacon Theatre/July 29, 2019

Rob Thomas was born into an American military family stationed in Landstuhl, West Germany. The family returned to the United States when Thomas was six months old. His parents divorced when he was two years old, after which his mother took him to Lake City, South Carolina, then Sarasota, Florida, before finally settling in the Orlando area when he was about 11-years-old. Around this time, Thomas received his first musical instrument, a keyboard. Thomas started writing and performing music, but life got in the way—he dropped out of school, went to jail, was homeless, and experimented with drugs. He played in several bands before forming the multi-platinum Matchbox 20, later renamed Matchbox Twenty. In 1999, Thomas sang “Smooth” on Santana’s comeback album, winning three Grammy awards. Thomas launched a solo career in 2005, often singing songs that were rejected by the other members of Matchbox Twenty. Thomas released his fourth and most recent studio album, Chip Tooth Smile, on April 26, 2019.

At the first of two consecutive nights at the Beacon Theatre, Rob Thomas exhibited a softer pop side that distinguished itself apart from his more rocking Matchbox Twenty catalog. With the spotlight squarely on Thomas as a solo artist, his strength was in the carefully-selected word interplay in his impassioned, life-affirming lyrics and his likeable, heartwarming stage persona. He worked the stage and charmed the audience with his personal anecdotes between songs, and his band gave punch to his performance. Thomas’ emotive vocals were pleasant and sincere, yet rather on the light side, suggesting that other artists with more powerful voices might better interpret these same songs. The set consisted of songs from his solo albums, his Santana hit, plus three Matchbox Twenty songs and a surprise left-field reworking of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” Expect a different experience at a Matchbox Twenty concert.

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