Morgan Wade• March 15, 2023• The Commonwealth Room
Reviewed and Photographed by Kevin Rolfe
Morgan Wade is a country singer on the rise. She self released her first album Puppets With My Heart in 2018. Despite pandemic restrictions she’s continued to steadily make her assent into Country Music stardom. In 2021 Wade released Reckless and had subsequently continued releasing singles and acoustic versions of songs. She is currently nominated for a CMT Award in the Breakthrough Female Video of The Year category for her video of “Wilder Days”. Morgan Wade sold out The Commonwealth Room here in Salt Lake City on March 15, 2023. I feel like it might be the last time we see her in such an intimate venue for a long while.
When it was announced that Rayland Baxter would be playing The Commonwealth Room in Salt Lake City, there was no doubt that it would be a sold out show. Baxter is well liked here and it’s also been a while since he’s made a stop in Utah. Of course, we all know how the COVID-19 Pandemic put live music and touring to a halt. So that was an obvious reason why we hadn’t seen Rayland in a while. The other was he was working on an album. In 2022 Rayland Baxter released If I Were A Butterfly. So not only were we finally going to see Rayland Baxter perform live again, but we were going to get to hear some of these songs performed for the first time in Salt Lake City.
The English Beat w/ The Mad Professor• April 29, 2022• The Commonwealth Room
Reviewed by Kevin Rolfe
There are times when I’ll see a concert on the calendar and know without any doubt that it’ll be a good time. That’s exactly how it was when I saw The English Beat on the schedule. I grew up with The Englis Beat, or The Beat, as they’re known in England being played on early MTV and on my brother’s record player. The songs are so familiar and always take me back to that young time in my life. As I’ve aged, (boy have I aged!) I’ve been able to appreciate the music more and more. They were one of the major bands of the ska music revival in England and a huge player in the New Wave, Post Punk generation.
The English Beat has a dedicated fan base here in Utah. They’ve played everywhere from Red Butte Gardens to the Complex to Soda Row in Daybreak. Their shows are always well attended and the crowd is always a lively bunch.
As I pulled into The Commonwealth Room parking lot on March 11, 2020, to cover JOSEPH, I could already tell things were different. So different that I parked within the first three spots next to the venue.
Just a little under a week earlier I was at The Commonwealth Room. I was watching The Lone Bellow perform in front of a sold-out room. There were a couple of masks being worn, but the place was packed and people were standing shoulder to shoulder. I walked up to the box office to get my ticket and photo pass and asked, “How’s it looking in there?”. “Well, it’s definitely not a full house. This show was almost sold out.” It was clear to me that people were already beginning to practice what we would hear so much in the following year, “social distancing”.
Sons of Apollo are a supergroup consisting of members of Dream Theater, Guns N Roses, Mr. Big, and Journey. Sons of Apollo will be in Salt Lake City on January 28, 2020 at The Commonwealth Room. I had the opportunity to speak with lead singer Jeff Scott Soto recently leading up to their tour promoting their latest release MMXX. Jeff has been associated with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Queen Extravaganza, and most notably Journey. I’ve been impressed with Jeff’s versatility and ability to continue to work in an industry that is ready to kick you to the street on your first setback. I really enjoyed visiting with him. Here’s our conversation.
This Friday was a great one for me because I was able to see the great Brent Cobb in action. I was completely blown away by his performance! Personally, country music generally isn’t quite up my alley, but nonetheless, I enjoyed every moment. I’ve never experienced a country concert before, I wasn’t really sure what to expect going into it. I’ve heard only good things, that it only takes one show to get hooked on them. That rumor definitely held up! The overall atmosphere seemed so welcoming, almost as if you were just catching a show with all of your friends. Looking out at the audience, all I saw was a sea of flannel and it was great. I especially lucked out with having the opportunity to see the one and only Brent Cobb for my first ever country concert.
With mechanical butterflies flying in circles ethereally on the stage, London-based Honey Harper (aka William Fussell) warmed up the crowd in Salt Lake City for the first time ever. Fussell was accompanied by Mick Mayer on harmony, flute, and keys, Alana Pagnutti on harmony and keys, and bassist Gus Appleberg. The group played a short set that included both released and unreleased tracks, a cover of Jackson Browne’s “These Days,” and a song Fussell told the crowd was loosely inspired by the Genesis album Selling England By the Pound. With a sound excellently true to his records, Fussell’s vocals serenaded on tracks such as “Vaguely Satisfied” and “Secret” as an eager crowd observed the “glam country” presented onstage. At the end of the main set, Honey Harper became a party of one, and the band began to pack up equipment behind Fussell as he launched into a triumphant karaoke-style version of Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” first taking off his hat and then stripping down to an undershirt, the crowd hooting and howling the whole way.
After this dramatic conclusion, the venue settled down and the crowd’s eagerness was palpable while waiting for Temples to take the stage. The lights suddenly dimmed and something like a mashup of an Indiana Jones theme+a 30’s Mighty Wurlitzer+gothic UFO music filled the space. Drummer Rens Ottink then sat down at his kit and led the rest of the group into “The Howl” from the album Hot Motion, released late last month on ATO records.
Write a prescription for “seventies rock band” and it may include bell bottoms, fringe, platform boots, bangs, and at least shoulder length hair. When Temples appeared on stage, they looked the part—no doubt about it. Their performance, however, was anything but prescriptive. After the resounding cheers that met the end of “The Howl” died down, lead singer and guitarist James Bagshaw told the crowd they were going to play the “OG one.” Satisfied shouts seemed to agree with the song’s status when the band played the first notes of “Certainty,” from their sophomore record Volcano. Rhythm guitarist Adam Smith multitasked on keys and with one’s eyes closed, the Commonwealth Room sounded like it was host to Foster the People, Cage the Elephant, and The Clash all at once.
Bassist Tom Walmsley laid out the rhythm for “You’re Either On Something” and embossed the chorus of “Colours to Life,” which had a 70’s psychedelic rock vibe and a synth that bridged the gap in the time-space continuum between The 5th Dimension and Spendtime Palace. With “Hot Motion” and “The Golden Throne,” Bagshawset the tone with his guitar by playing it in a way that made the crowd feel like they could take part in the performance too, leaning out into the audience with each solo. Before the next song, he told attendees that the group would require complete silence. When you could have heard a pin drop, they began “Atomise.” Live, the song truly was business in the front and party in the back, with a controlled slow burn that lasted a few moments before the group took a more intimidating turn.
Bagshaw’s subtle dedication to putting on a quality show was highlighted with his between-song banter, occasionally alluding to the band’s song titles in his obligatory anecdotes. He did this to lead the group into “Context,” which spotlighted the whole group’s instrumental talent and lyrical quality: Fool carry the wise / Are you divine? / Fool carry the wise / Are you afraid of being defined? / When you put it in context it makes sense. A single “f*ck yeah!” from the audience amongst the applause after the song ended encouraged Bagshaw to mention the lack of such a response from English crowds—by the time the group had finished “The Beam” and “Oh the Saviour,” most of the audience had made it known they weren’t English. Between the “The Beam’s” distinct nod to 70s counterculture supplied by Walmsley’s echoing vocals and “Oh the Saviour’s” resonating rhythms, inescapably catchy chorus, and wicked electric twang, “f*ck yeah” really did seem like the only appropriate reaction.
Following “Keep in the Dark” from their first record Sun Structures (which was punctuated with some headbanging provided by Ottink), the whole crowd reacted with hands in the air and approving shouts to Bagshaw’s playing to begin “Shelter Song.” Take a little Cage the Elephant from before, mix in a bit of the Everly Brothers, add a dash of The Monkees, and you might have something that comes close to “Shelter Song.” Even though the audience clearly would have been satisfied with a set that ended there, Temples then played “Holy Horses,” off of Hot Motion, before exiting the stage.
The room filled with a chant of “PLAY MORE SONGS,” with claps accompanying the words. Suddenly there was a rhythmic sound that mixed in with the chant as if the claps were being looped from the audience and over the speakers. When the band reappeared and the clapping changed rhythm, it became clear that this sound was actually the recorded introduction to their encore, beginning with “A Question Isn’t Answered.” The group took full advantage of the room’s energy, with Smith taking up a tambourine and Bagshaw turning the mic stand towards the audience, inviting them to sing along. Temples then pivoted to “Mesmerize,” with Walmsley structuring the bassline to accompany Bagshaw’s vocals and keep a steady beat for the entire duration of the song. He led the way for what turned into a ten-minute rendition of the recorded three-minute track. Bagshaw and Smith roamed around the stage minutes 4 through 6 before launching into a rock and roll breakdown that relied only on the synchronicity of the instruments and the shouts of the crowd to finish out the night.
Temples can be summed up in three words: do not miss.
The moment I walked into The Commonwealth Room I could feel the energy swirling throughout the venue. The buzz of excitement and anticipation was nearly tangible. The venue was sold out, and the audience was ready for the extremely talented Jenny Lewis to take the stage. The photographers were given their final instructions and we were escorted to the pit in front of the stage. As I walked through the doors to the main room I as big a crowd as I’ve ever seen at The Commonwealth Room. Once into the pit, I enjoyed a brief but entertaining conversation with some of the other photographers and a couple of people resting on the railing in the front row. But then that moment we all wait for when the venue goes black to signal the start of the show. It’s one of the least spoken about moments in a concert, but the drama and excitement it provides creates one of my favorite moments in live music.
In a darkened venue we began to hear a familiar tune. It was Tommy Tune’s 80s gem “867-5309/’ Jenny” playing through the speakers as the band started to walk on stage. I looked to a photographer next to me and we both smiled and stated how perfect that was. Jenny later in the show joked about it suggesting it was silly. But I thought it was pretty clever.
The Young Dubliners and Salt Lake City have had a love affair that started from the early stages of the band. Lead vocalist, Keith Roberts, mentioned a number of times how much he loved playing Utah, and how good Salt Lake City has been to the band. He even mentioned playing two sets one night at the long gone, Zephyr Club downtown. The band plays Utah pretty much every year, sometimes twice if there is a festival involved. Still they pack in a warm and friendly crowd no matter the venue. It was obvious the moment I walked through the doors that the audience was excited to be there and hear some Celtic Rock.
Friday night’s venue was The Commonwealth Room. This venue has existed just over a year, and it’s becoming one of my favorite concert spots in Utah. It holds less than a thousand people so there isn’t a bad spot in the room. The sound is great. And so far they have pulled in great talent, which seems to bring in the best and most appreciative audiences.