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James Blunt, Air Canada Centre, 11/27/2008

Sometimes when you go out to eat, you order an appetizer instead of entrée. It's similar to going to a concert where you're more interested in seeing the opening act instead of the headliner. This is how I felt in August, when I went to see Sheryl Crow in Philadelphia. I mainly went to see one of her opening acts, the appetizer. I really wanted an entrée. I had the opportunity to have the main course on Thanksgiving night in Toronto, Ontario, Canada at the Air Canada Centre.

This evening's appetizer was Canadian act Luke Doucet and The White Falcon ( I was sitting in the front row among Canadians who were not familiar with Luke Doucet. It was a late arriving crowd, apparently they wanted to skip the appetizer. It's a shame, they missed the chance to hear one of their own. Luke Doucet and The White Falcon came on stage promptly at 8 pm and did an 8-song, 45-minute set. The White Falcon was comprised of Melissa McClelland on vocals/guitar, along with a drummer and bassist.

Luke did a couple of songs from his 2005 solo release "Broken (and other rouge states)", "Broken One" and "Vladivostok". A song for all the people who go to concerts alone "Cleveland", ending with "First Day", both from his latest release "Blood's Too Rich". Luke has a haunting, heavy guitar sound, reminiscent of Chris Isaak. Reading from his arm, Luke let us know he would be back in Toronto in February and out in the concourse of the arena signing CD's during the intermission. I hope the black ink washed off.

At 9:15 pm the entrée was served. The lights dimmed, the 4-piece band went to their places and James Blunt made his entrance. The 34-year old British singer-songwriter has an amazing amount of energy. The experience of touring across the globe seems to have given James the confidence to use the whole stage, even the whole arena during his show. He has a menu of about 2-dozen plus songs (mostly found on 2-studio albums "Back to Bedlam" and "All The Lost Souls"), yet he was able to mix in some unfamiliar songs with his most well known tunes. The performance had good pacing with fan favorites and new songs interspersed. Most of the changes between numbers went smoothly, with little down time, helping to keep the momentum moving forward. James alternated between the guitar and piano.

The show began with a set of some of his slow, and often thought of as, depressing songs. He decided to change the mood, by singing a song about drugs "Give Me Some Love". I confess, I love to sing along with that one when I'm alone in the car. And sing along we all did, mostly without added encouragement. Although when James debut a new song called "Love, Love, Love" he said if he forgot the words, then well we couldn't help him. He mentioned being stationed in Alberta before singing the somber "No Bravery" at the piano.

Images were projected behind the tiered stage; the lighting and lasers were creative. During "Shine On", James was bathed effectively in green lasers. From the stage he began "Coz I Luv You" (a cover of the Slade song from the 70s) and he finished it in the middle of the arena floor. Jumping off the stage, over the temporary wall, walking on seats to get to a piano that seemed to rise from the floor. At this point the crowd stood up and stayed on their feet for the remainder of the show. Green lasers projected "M-M-M" onto the upper levels of the arena seats during "I'll Take Everything".

"You're Beautiful" was not saved to the very end. I've been to a few concerts this year where the performer's biggest hit, wasn't necessarily used as the last song or part of the encore. I like this trend of giving the audience what they came to hear and then continuing to build from there. James ended with "Same Mistake", the video for which was filmed in Toronto. The 1-hour and 25-minute set was followed by a 20-minute 3-song encore. "One of the Brightest Stars" was sung in the dark with the twinkling of stars on the stage. The final song was "1973", transporting us all back to a discothèque. Silver and later red, white and blue streamers filled the air, while a disco ball rotated above, giving quite an amazing visual image. At the end of the song, James climbed on his upright piano, which didn't seem too steady under his feet. When he came back on stage, he used his own camera to get a photo of his audience; seeming to be genuinely grateful for the applause and support shown throughout the evening.

Out of curiosity, I've been reading the newspaper reviews on line of the Canadian shows as James has made his way across the provinces. Generally the reviews have been favorable, but they've noted that maybe a hockey arena is too large of a venue; that his show would be more suited to a smaller place. I think a respectable number of seats were filled in the ACC. After James played a few songs on a piano in the middle of the arena floor, he convinced me that he could make an arena feel intimate as he brought the entire audience into his performance. Also, those of us in the front row, one by one, got up to lean along the temporary wall that separated us from the stage, just to get a better view. Reflecting on it later, it reminded me of the photos I've seen of The Beatles fans reaching out across the fences trying to get closer. I'm not suggesting that James' career will parallel that of The Beatles or an Elton John, but I think his slice of the musical pie will only keep growing. I've heard that it's hard to really classify his music. Maybe this is part of the reason his popularity in the USA doesn't mirror that of other countries.

During this time of giving thanks, I'm thankful for the music of James Blunt.

Check out the rest of my photos:

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host



This is a concert review from a figure skating event for charity.  Normally, I don't really care who is providing live accompaniment, as I'm there to watch what's moving on the ice.  This time, the artist almost out-shined the World and Olympic skaters.

It was the 9th An Evening With Scott Hamilton and Friends in Cleveland.  The featured musical guest was Kenny Loggins along with The Cleveland Pops Orchestra, Carl Topilow, Conductor.

The stage is at one end of the ice.  The skaters perform routines to the live music.  You've seen this format on TV.  The only difference is, these annual shows that Scott Hamilton hosts are one-time only live events that are not taped for future broadcast.

When you see Kenny Loggins perform you realize how many songs he's written that have become hits.  From the Electric Prunes to Loggins and Messina and a successful solo career with many movie theme songs to his credit, Kenny Loggins' career has spanned over three decades.

Kenny didn't really need to encourage the audience to sing along.  Many of us grew up listening to his music on the radio.  You instantly recognized songs like "Celebrate Me Home" or "Your Mama Don't Dance".  Kenny got one of the skaters (Caryn Kadavy) to sing along with him on stage.  Even though I was watching the skater's routines, I was singing and clapping.

Kenny has a lot of energy and brought with him a four-piece band, who also provided backing vocals.  Kenny, at center stage, had the best view of the skaters interpreting his songs on the ice.  The Cleveland Pops Orchestra (especially the strings) provided a richer sound to Kenny's music.  Kenny did a song from his most recent CD "How About Now", which was just exquisite with the orchestra.  He did a couple of songs from his 1991 release "Leap of Faith" which were very well received.

The 60-year-old singer-songwriter still knows how to entertain an audience, even when the main focus is not on him.  It was a very pleasant 90-minutes listening to Kenny Loggins while watching my favorite sport.

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host



Joan Osborne came back to Pittsburgh after a long absence and hopefully she will return soon to do the songs she didn’t have time to get to in her 16-song, 1-hour and 20-minute set.

The 46-year old singer, by my count, did at least five songs from her latest CD “Little Wild One” which was released in September.  The song that seemed to get the loudest applause was “Hallelujah in the City”.  She did a nice duet with her opening act, Matt Morris, on “Cathedrals”.  Joan’s 7th studio album has a lot of the mid-tempo type songs that she’s known for.

With Joan was a 4-piece band consisting of a drummer, bassist, guitarist and keyboardist (who, like Joan, also played harmonica).  There was also lighting that made effective use of the high ceilings in the former church.

Most of Joan’s songs had a beat, although she slowed things down at one point with a Grateful Dead song  Joan, of course, did “One of Us” near the end of her set and I can still hear it in my head.

Joan came back on stage for a 3-song encore, which included a song she sang at the Grand Ole Opry that was co-written by Roy Orbison.

Matt Morris, the son of country music’s Gary Morris, is a singer-songwriter who has had his songs recorded by Reba McEntire, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake.  He opened the show with a 45-minute, 9-song set that included his own songs as well as a cover of The Beatles “Help!”.  It was Matt’s first appearance in Pittsburgh and he commented that he liked the “public radio listening audience.”  Matt performed at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival this year and plans to release his first full length CD soon.

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host



To me he's not just the younger brother of James Taylor.  He's been performing for 40 years and has more than earned the right to no longer be in the shadow of JT.

Livingston Taylor brought four-decades worth of experience along with a guitar and piano to The Carlisle Theater in historic downtown Carlisle, PA.  During week days Liv guides young talent at the Berklee College of Music; while in the evenings and weekends he instructs the rest of us what it's like to command an audience.  Going to a Livingston Taylor show you learn from the master who has honed his craft and continues to perfect it.

I had a front row center seat, which isn't always the best seat in the house.  When Liv was singing at the piano, I only saw his face from the nose up.  So my focus turned to his feet.  Liv kept time, like a pendulum, with his feet.  I was fascinated.  He looked very comfortable wearing his brown Swede shoes and keeping time to the music.  Liv also moved his feet while he was standing and playing his guitar.  I also enjoyed watching Liv's facial expressions, especially his eyes.

The 90-minute show began with Liv going to the piano to sing "December 1903 (The Wright Brothers Song)".  One of my favorite songs that Liv has yet to put on a CD.  Liv had on his trademark bow tie, with a colorful sweater vest over a long-sleeved blue shirt and khaki pants.

Throughout the show Liv would go from Broadway tunes by some of his favorite lyricists to his own compositions, many of which he presented seamlessly in a medley form.  Although the best response from the audience came when he did quirky songs with titles like "Railroad Bill", "The Dollar Bill Song", "I'm Not As Herbal As I Oughta Be" and a song about wishing he was born gay.  I don't think there was a set list, instead it seemed to be whatever struck Liv's fancy or what types of songs were receiving the loudest applause.  He rotated between playing the piano and guitar.  Liv even brings the audience into a sound check, by singing "Testing 1-2-3" into the microphone.

Another highlight was his song about the Civil War called "Last Letter".  Liv came out for an encore, ending with a song that has been a part of his repertoire for many years "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

As his usual custom, Liv strolled out into the theater lobby after the show to sign CD's (they always sound better signed, he's fond of saying) and pose for photos.

Now if only the powers that be (and you know who you are) could get Livingston Taylor back to Pittsburgh for a show.  Summers don't seem complete any more without Liv here to entertain us.

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host



Once a guy who was playing his guitar while singing in front of a store met a gal selling flowers who needed her vacuum to be repaired.  They ended up making beautiful music together.  Only a good plot for a movie?  Maybe not.

Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova and The Frames came to Pittsburgh as The Swell Season.  Glen and Marketa were greeted with applause as they took the stage and began singing "Into the Mystic".  Usually performers save their most well known song for near the end of a show or even the encore, building momentum throughout the set.  The 2nd song they did was "Falling Slowly", and the concert managed to soar upwards from there.

Glen has the craft of building a song and false endings perfected.  He's very entertaining, engaging, endearing; in addition to being gifted with a great sense of humor.  Some performers wear their hearts and emotions on their sleeves, Glen can't keep his emotions contained.

Being a Presidential election year, Glen could not resist encouraging us to all go out to vote, and then suggested a candidate to cast our ballot for (and it sounded like the audience, for the most part, agreed with his choice).

All the musicians had their time in the spotlight.  Glen and Marketa showcased their talents together and as soloists.  Glen often encouraged us to sing along (and we did!).  Each song was well received with generous applause.

It was a 65-minute show, with a standing ovation, followed by a 35-minute encore.  The Frames were in a semi-circle on the stage with lights behind them at stage level, essentially framing them.  When Marketa was at the piano, her back was turned to the audience.  She did take center stage with the guitar to sing a couple of times and Glen went to the piano.  The Frames violinist shined on many songs throughout; he was given a chance during the encore to shine on his own.

Glen seemed to appreciate the response from the audience and recalled how they are now able to play bigger theaters thanks to the success of "Once".  They sang many songs from that soundtrack, plus songs from The Frames as well as a couple of brand new songs, which may soon become fan favorites.

What a swell evening of music.  I can't wait to hear more from Glen, Marketa and The Frames in the future. 

Bill Callahan (also known as "Smog") opened the show.  He sang and played electric guitar; accompanied by a drummer for his 45-minute set.

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host

P.S. Glen's local musican friend who joined him on stage is Mark Dignam:



A full harvest moon, a full club (with electricity!) and two talented singer-songwriters.

Shawn Mullins made his second appearance in Pittsburgh this year, opening for Dar Williams.  Shawn came on stage at 8 pm in blue jeans, white shirt with a tie, sport coat and hat.  Still out in support of “honeydew”, which was released in March, he sang a few songs from that CD, including the tragic true tale of “The Ballad of Kathryn Johnston” and the song that was heard in the TV show “Scrubs” “All in My Head”, adding his thanks to WYEP for the airplay.  Shawn remembered Rosebud across the river and said “Beautiful Wreck” was inspired by playing in such venues.  He reminded us that he was briefly in a group called The Thorns, with Pete Droge and Matthew Sweet (who he noted will be coming to Pittsburgh soon).  When Shawn talked about The Thorns CD, I clapped in recognition, not realizing I was the only one who was acknowledging the CD.  Shawn looked in my direction and said that his parents bought a copy of the CD and now he knows who bought the other copy.  Here's my copy of The Thorns CD, which I got signed by Shawn years ago (and it reminds me I should get Pete and Matthew’s signatures someday too). 


While Shawn was in high school, he took one of those career education courses.  One day Amy Ray (now of the Indigo Girls) performed for the class, and this apparently helped to inspire Shawn.  Amy even wrote Shawn a 10-page letter to encourage him.  I love it when singer-songwriters tell stories about their songs, even ones they did not write.  Normally I’m not a fan of “covers”, but Shawn’s version of “House of the Rising Sun” (written by a female and sung from that prospective) is a natural fit.  Shawn wrapped up his 65-minute acoustic set with his Australian hit “Shimmer” and a medley :) of his hit “Lullaby”.

Shawn Mullins and Dar Williams have been friends for years, so it’s only natural that they are now touring together.

Dar Williams came with her guitar, a percussionist, and a keyboardist to tell us that Pittsburgh is one of her favorite cities.  In fact if she had six houses, one would be in Pittsburgh.  Dar is an engaging performer who seemed genuinely enthusiastic about her music.  Almost bubbling over.  Dar mentioned a couple of times she was disappointed that she could not play at WYEP that afternoon (due to the power outage) and that she sent an email to her management company to book another show in Pittsburgh along with a visit to WYEP (she mentioned maybe in January).  Dar only played a couple of tracks from her new CD “Promised Land”, including the first release the catchy “It’s Alright”.  Requests were shouted from the audience, and Dar obliged her fans a couple of times.  Her back-up group gave the songs an even fuller sound from the small stage.  Dar’s blend of “folk-pop” was mostly up-tempo during her 95-minute set, except when she sent her band off-stage so she could sing a couple of songs without accompaniment.  She also returned to the stage alone to do one song for the encore.

A full moon shined down on the South Side, as we were treated to over 2-1/2 hours of music by 2 amazing singer-songwriters.

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host



As the sun was setting over Burgettstown, John Mayer and his seven-piece band (including sax and trumpet) entered the dark pavilion stage to perform a two-hour show.

The fans at the John Mayer concerts seem to be getting younger.  Or, maybe, I’m just getting older.  The young ladies in the crowd were screaming loudly how much they loved John - I’m sure I will regain my hearing soon.  We have family in town from CT, and my 17-year-old nephew (who will be seeing John in his home state of CT) seemed impressed that I not only knew who John Mayer was, but that I was attending my 3rd John Mayer concert.  Maybe old Aunt Barb is more hip than he originally thought.

The fans seemed to know every word of every song that John sang.  I just hope they are getting the message too.  John’s lyrics are quite sophisticated for someone who will be turning 31 in October.  In the 2 years since I’ve last seen John live, he has matured as a performer, but there’s still some polishing left to do.  The pregnant pauses in between songs could be a bit shorter.  Yes I realize they’re changing guitars and setting up for the next song, but it breaks up the “Continuum” of the show.  In 2007, John was named one of the “New Guitar Gods” and nicknamed “Slowhand, Jr.”, and he showed why he deserved that honor during his 16-song set.  Nice additions to the band were sax and trumpet players.  The lighting on stage was also very effective.

One of the songs I was hoping to hear was “Free Fallin”, which John sang and gave credit to Mr. Tom Petty (do the young fans even know who Tom Petty is?).  I was also thrilled to hear the new release “Say”, which really comes to life live.  Another highlight was “Stitched Up”.  It was a very nice touch for John to sign someone's program before leaving the stage, prior to the encore.

During the show, John did not talk to the audience much, but he made up for it during the encore.  The Grammy Award winner shared insights about the final three songs.  On John’s website, the fans are invited to “pick the encore” song they would like John to sing.  The top vote getter for Burgettstown was “Man On the Side” (for the record, I voted for “Stop This Train”).  At first, it seemed that John didn’t remember how the song went (noting it was the 2nd song he wrote) and then proceeded to tell a story about meeting a girl in the Berklee College of Music cafeteria in Boston and how she stood him up.

Check out the set list here.

Perfect August weather, made it an even more perfect night for the music of John Mayer live.

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host



There's a free download of The Duhks "Mighty Storm" available on their label's website. Their new CD, "Fast Paced World", is being released on August 19th.

The Duhks will be in town in September!

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host


New Music

Sometimes you discover a song in the most unlikeliest of places – a figure skating exhibition.

Such was the case for me when I heard “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”.  It was a #1 hit in the UK for Baz Luhrmann in 1999.  Yes, you could cast a vote for it as one of WYEP’s Top 100 Songs of the 90s.

This lyric has quite a history.  The Sunscreen Speech goes back to a 1997 column in a Chicago newspaper.  A commencement address that never took place, but perhaps should have.  The essay actually called "Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young" was written by Mary Schmich and was popularized in music by Baz Luhrmann.  Mr. Luhrmann added the opening words to the song:  "Ladies and gentlemen of the class of '99".

The song just recently re-entered the UK Singles Chart.

Lines like this continue to hold true today:

The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing everyday that scares you.


Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts, don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.


But trust me on the sunscreen.

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host


Personal Picks

This is Edwin signing a CD and a program for me after the show...

This is Edwin signing a CD & program for me after the show ....

The Edwin McCain Acoustic Trio is comprised of:  Edwin McCain (vocals, guitar) and long time band members Larry Chaney (lead guitar) and Craig Shields (keys, sax).

Greenville, South Carolina’s Edwin McCain came to Greensburg to play his blend of folk, rock and soul for a small, but enthusiastic crowd.  In the intimate theater setting, for 90-minutes Mr. McCain told stories and even played some requests.  After years with long hair, the 38-year old has cut his hair, donating the locks to charity.

Edwin shined vocally when he held the long notes, which the audience graciously acknowledged each time with applause.  With 10 albums to his credit, Edwin ironically could not remember all the lyrics to “Write Me A Song”.  Edwin is a wonderful story teller, often adding humor to the history behind a lyric.

It was a relatively laid-back and mellow show, for this artist who made his independent recording debut back in 1991.  Edwin of course sang a few of his more memorable hits like “I Could Not Ask For More” and “I’ll Be”.  Highlights also included “Gramercy Park Hotel”, “Ghosts of Jackson Square”, “White Crosses”, “Let It Slide” and a very touching song he wrote about being adopted and never having the chance to meet his birth mother “Letter to My Mother”.

For the encore, Edwin did the tune “Let Them In” (Prayer to St. Peter) which was a WW II era poem that John Gorka set to music.

Pittsburgh singer-songwriter Christopher Laughrey opened the show with a 40 minute set of original and Irish tunes.

P.S.  Apparently Edwin had a good time in Greensburg - his comments can be found under the On The Bus section of his website (

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host




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