Reviews of shows from the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts and other local venues published by the Los Cerritos Community News. The writer and paper are in their twentieth year of covering these events.

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Location: Fear City, Ca., United States

"My name is Addison DeWitt. My native habitat is the theater. In it I toil not, neither do I spin. I am a critic and commentator. I am essential to the theatre - as ants to a picnic, as the boll weevil to a cotton field." George Sanders in "All About Eve"

Monday, March 24, 2008

Robert Cray Band April 22, 2008

Robert Cray Band: Done Wrong, Done Right at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

The Robert Cray Band came to Cerritos and did not waste much time on a Saturday night making the hall sit up and bite off big chunks of the blues. The taste was deep and dark, filled with longing, heartache and some bittersweet wisdom. Somehow you don’t mind taking your lessons from a real master and Maestro Cray is certainly a bone fide professor of the genre, holding up that blazing Stratocaster and shouting long and low, those songs of the anguished and downhearted. You don’t have to have a broken heart to understand these songs but if you’ve been there they have a wonderful way of connecting your pain with everybody who has wallowed there and suffered it through. One of the reasons this unique American form is so beloved is because of this universality. When he sings it, you feel it and when he makes that guitar tell its tale that feeling reaches right into the deepest part of your soul. The poet says that pain carves the heart out to make room for joy and there were plenty of both on this night. Robert Cray is one of the new voices that have become old school in saving the precious music and keeping it vibrant and meaningful. He plays so hard and with such passion, an assistant brings him a fresh and freshly tuned ax after each and every song.
Those of us who may do some cubicle You Tube surfing when we are supposed to be working may have seen dozens of amazing Robert Cray solos but when he opened the show with “Bad Influence,” the amazingly edgy “Twelve Year Old Boy” and the espresso dark “Back Door Slam” he gave us enough astounding Fender notes to have filled an ordinary concert. He can sting the strings on individual notes, then blast into a rapid strumming that is almost orchestral, all the while leaving room for the extraordinary Robert Cray Band to strut their marvelous stuff. Here and there you can marvel at the towering keyboard skills of the wonderful Jim Pugh, along with the thundering backbeat of bassist Karl Sevareid and drummer Kevin Hayes. While Cray is a real blues man he does break out often in the show and the optimistic “Bouncin’ Back” was like a drink of ice water in the set which then returned to the trio of winners in the desperately sad “Where Do I Go From Here,” the traditional sounding “Phone Booth” and a contemporary cautionary tale about life on the streets called “Poor Johnny.” Pugh’s solo on “Where Do I Go” was just the first of several that could have stood as a show on their own. The man looks like my accountant and plays organ like Jimmy Reed.
Even though this performance is about the blues and Cray’s incredible guitar skills he gave time to the song “Twenty” which is a powerful anti-war song that placed in context with the repertoire made it even more potent with that message. The bell lap of this performance was a four hundred meters of blues comprised of “The One in the Middle,” the old beauty “Sitting On Top of the World” and encores comprised of the nice “Time Makes Two” and the true grit of “I’m Walking” that almost melted a guitar in its superior execution. As the song says “the blues aint nothing but a good man feeling bad.”

Monday, March 17, 2008

Gipsy Kings March 15, 2008

Gipsy Kings
Conquer Cerritos

By Glen Creason

I can’t recall a more enthusiastic crowd or more passionate response to music in the Performing Arts Center this season than that of the packed house towards the Gipsy Kings on Saturday night. A beautiful group it was; that audience who stayed on their feet dancing for much of the show. Despite the rather monolithic onslaught of music, one pounding anthem after another, neither side seemed to tire. This is exciting music, a good-time soundscape that is richly colorful but no heavier than one tomato gazpacho. The ten men on stage strike a hypnotic groove, filled with strumming guitars and double percussion laid up on a bass foundation that rumbles right through mere flesh and blood. This is rumba catalana, the popular hybrid of traditional flamenco.
“Rumba Tec,” “La Tounga,” “Hacemos Amor” lead off in the Kings formula, just putting it into about second gear where they paused before putting the hammer down. “Avanssa” just put you around the campfire at the caravan, gulping heavy red wine and smoking gauloises while the raven tressed ladies whirl into the night. Certainly the best number in the first half was the fiery “Lleva Me” featuring another smoky vocal by Nicholas Reyes that began like a pop song and wandered deep into flamenco territory. The best moments are always when Tonino Baliardo stands stage center and takes his guitar to task at the head of five other such instruments with passion and control that is inspiring. Such was the case in “Inspiration” that was the natural follow up to the pop sound and introduction to the wailing flamenco vocal in “Un Amor” that had many of the lovelies swaying in ecstasy. “Tristessa” took the Gipsy sound into overdrive and by the time the first half closed with “Jobi Joba” there was only one man sitting in the hall. After intermission the show alternated between plaintive flamenco ballads and those driving instrumental forces of Gipsy King nature. The sentimental ones were “Sol Y Una,” “Mi Corazon” and the curtain raising “Camargue” that focused on the vocals of Nicolas, Canut and Andre Reyes. The rest was full-out Romany rocking, especially “Si Tu Mequires,” the quite tasty “La Dona,” “Pueblos” and “Pena Penita” that brought the crowd up for good. They stayed and danced through a rollicking ride with “Sabroso” filled with the band showing off their best licks in extended, exhausting jams. The huge bass of Bernard Paganotti creates a sturdy platform for the guitars and the group is blessed with two outstanding percussionists in the inexhaustible Jorge Trasante on drums and Rodolfo Pacheco on congas. With ten men wailing as one, the crowd joined to form a unified mass of gyrating, Gipsy fever. The wildly popular “Volare” followed with an entire hall standing, singing and clapping in rhythm in an amazing display of audience participation. Finally there was the totally rip-snorting finale of “Bamboleo” that seemed to last forever, and gave us one last gaze at the many gyrating Gipsy-loving beauties who proudly showed their moves and went home excited and happy, singing “bamboleo, bamboleo porque mi vida yo la prefiero vivir asi”

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ramsey Lewis Trio March 8, 2008

Ramsey Lewis Trio Not So Surprising Talent at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

You had to wonder if anyone had wandered into the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday to hear some good old 1960’s R&B nostalgia provided by the Ramsey Lewis Trio. After all, they were responsible for one of all-time feel-good singles, climbing toward the top in 1965 with “the In Crowd” that boomed from juke boxes and 45 record vibraphonic car stereos for years after. Yet, the rather sophisticated crowd at this event did not look like that type. Instead, they were there to see and hear one of the most gifted jazz pianists in the world; the humble, elegant and quietly brilliant Ramsey Lewis. The rest of the trio is right up at this lofty level and Lewis gave both bassist Larry Gray and drummer Leon Joyce Jr. plenty of time and space to strut their sizeable chops. Lewis may be in his 70’s but his hands and musical instincts seem to be absolutely timeless. He can take any idea from any genre and make it sing on that big Steinway. This is a man who chooses to make his jazz accessible but never predictable or strictly conventional. As a matter of fact the prime example on this night was most certainly what the group did with that aforementioned pop chestnut “the In Crowd” which took flight for over twenty minutes of astounding sonic highways and bi-ways.
The evening was full of discoveries and musical wonders which flowed from Maestro Lewis’ liquid fingers. Several sweet tunes were drawn from a collaboration with the Joffrey Ballet’s dance performance of “To Know Her.” Lewis opened with “to Know Her Is to Love Her” which made a statement of equality in the trio and preceded the fresh and easy pop of “The Way She Smiles” from the ballet. Larry Gray’s bowed bass solo and just one of many fine drum interludes from Joyce set the tone for the entire concert. The classic Beatles song “In My Life” was transformed from a delicate and sweet ride on Lewis’ piano musings to an up tempo middle punctuated by an avant-garde preamble and swinging finish. Stepping outside of pop or jazz the trio played a piece destined to be performed with the Turtle Island String Quartet that was dreamy, almost new age in content but blending perfectly with the introspective explorations of tone and color that followed. The first half finished with the stimulating “Wade in the Water” which evolved into plain old driving pop that in context was amazing. The second half was short and truly inspirational with an electrifying improvisational journey through the gospel on which Ramsey Lewis cut his musical teeth. The “spiritual medley” included “Amazing Grace,” “Precious Lord,” “Come Sunday” or “Deliver Me” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” that showcased every bit of the trios skills and put the entire hall on its feet at the finish. The wonderful “In Crowd” included samples of all kinds of great memories including Jimmy Reed amongst others. The encore of a blood pumping “Oh Happy Day” made for a perfect finish to a terrific show.

Monday, March 03, 2008

John Hammond and Marcia Ball March 1, 2008

John Hammond and Marcia Ball Have a Natural Ball at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

The full and fiery show, sizzling on the boards of the Performing Arts Center on Saturday night was a perfect example of the beauty of this versatile hall. John Hammond and Marcia Ball, a sort of indefinable pair of roots artists showed off great musicianship and superb taste in songs for a jammed packed two hours before a delighted audience. Hammond and Ball are the consummate veteran professionals whose names are not splashed on billboards nor are their mugs on tabloids but their skills are remarkable and the lessons they teach about great old music are indispensable. Not to be forgotten along with the musicology is the plain fact that they both just rocked the hall and had the chair dancers bopping in sections up and down the theater. The Center has that welcoming glow for such acts that brings the best music out of somewhat unsung artists such as these.
Hammond, who looked and played fantastic for a guy who has been howling out the blues for over forty years offered up an eclectic set featuring many new songs from his latest CD “Push Comes to Shove” that resonated like the gems from yesteryear. “Heartache Blues,” “Take a Fool’s Advise” and “You Know That’s Cold” stood out for this set. The old blues tunes included Jimmy Roger’s “Goin’ Away Baby,” Little Walter’s “Everything Is Going to Be Alright,” and Lightening Slim’s “Mean Old Lonesome Train.” There was also a tribute to the master Mose Allison in “Eyes Behind Your Head” and two perfectly done Tom Waits songs “Buzz Fledderjohn” and “Cold Water” that might have actually improved on the originals. Hammond demonstrated throughout his half that blues played with this kind of dedication and passion will never lose their luster, they just keep on shining when placed in the hands of a master.
Marcia Ball came out meaning business in the second half, picking up on the high energy created by Hammond and roaring through the first six songs in rapid, barrelhouse piano-sweetened succession. “Let’s Have a Natural Ball” “I Got My Red Beans Cookin’,” “Just Kiss Me Baby,” Peace Love and Barbecue” and the ecstatic “Right Back at It” made that howling audience loosen up all the Louisiana music muscles they had. While this is certainly a high energy, good-time show the highlight was probably the one serious song in the set. The emotional ballad “It’s a Miracle” allowed the crowd to get a little introspective and to give room for Ball’s powerfully expressive voice to reach peaks and blues valleys. Only Randy Newman’s towering “Louisiana 1927” slowed down the pulse-rate after that but the party pauses were worth it in spades. The finishing sprint featured lots of feel-good Louisiana material including “Party Town,” “That’s Enough of That Stuff,” “Crawfishin’” “Down the Road” and “Play With Your Poodle.” The blues found their place in a moving “Count the Days” and a funky gutbucket take on “Same Old Blues.” Of course, it is Long Tall Marcia Ball’s flying fingers that wring the maximum out of every tune. Her solo on “Crawfishin’,” had folks in the hall shaking their heads in absolute awe but it was just one of many. Encores flowed, the standing crowd roared and Miss Marcia made her triumphant exit, having proved the wonder of that good old roots music once again.