Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Fight For My Soul

Although the phrase "fight for my soul" makes a good mantra it's actually the name of the most recent album by Jonny Lang, which hit number one on the Billboard Blues chart this past winter.

Only someone who is a blues legend in the making at the ripe young age of 33 can write songs like he does about his journey through life in the music business and sound like a wise older guide but with a youthful and optimistic slant. Fight For My Soul addresses some of the darkness in his past with a clarity that one can only have looking back on it much later. He spent years in his teens and twenties in the throes of the wild (and sometimes dangerous) party life on the road but came out of it on the other side almost a decade ago, stronger and better than ever. They say one of the hardest industries to maintain your integrity and sense of self in is the music business. Must have been especially hard for someone who entered it at age 14, certainly not a man, barely a teen. But as I said he has long since earned the title of survivor.
“Music is one of the greatest conveyers of ideas and emotions, and in a sense that doesn’t have as much to do with the individual performing, but the power of the connection...And if Fight For My Soul can help somebody by making them feel better or that they’re not alone, that’s my idea of success for this album.” - Jonny Lang

There's no artist I like to hear, see perform, or write about more than Jonny Lang. I caught him last month, as I always do now when he's in town, this time at The Railhead.  As usual he seemed to stop time with his 90 minutes of no intermission musical immersion, powerful voice, energy and phenomenal guitar. Jonny always makes such a casual and humble entrance, then proceeds to  instantly exceed expectations only a few seconds into his opening number, which this time was "Blew Up the House."  I would love to know what he does to prepare for a show because I'm sure it starts longggg before showtime.  His voice and energy take his audience somewhere special without ever leaving the room! Few musical artists can do this. Beyond talent it requires tremendous physical and spiritual energy. Many performers could work their whole life and never have this kind of effect on an audience, but Jonny has had it from the very beginning and it has only grown since.

Jonny Lang...2014...Photo by Evil Robb

“The inspiration for the songs on the record vary widely.  Some are about personal struggles, some are focused on injustices I have seen. ...... I’ve wanted to make this album for a long time.  Creatively, I think there is a lot more going on inside of me than I’ve been sharing on recordings.” 

Now that he is a 20 year music industry veteran, here is a little background on his amazing career so far. Lang started taking guitar lessons at age 13 from blues guitar player Ted Larson and shortly after was not only asked to join his band but it was renamed Kid Jonny Lang and The Big Bang...He took off into the music business and another life from his small town upbringing in North Dakota, moving first to Minneapolis. There he released his first album Smokin'. Then at age 16 when most of us are just learning to drive, he was on to his second and first major studio album with Lie to Me, in 1997 which went multi platinum. I know I listened to mine so much I wore it out and ended up buying another copy.

Then at the age of 17 when most of us are just graduating high school came the Grammy nominated Wander This World in 1998. It was a 5 year stretch until his next album Long Time Coming in 2003. Finally, after overcoming serious personal and addiction issues came the much deserved Grammy Award for Turn Around in 2006. Shortly after this he decided to become an independent artist and left the major label life, with less security but more freedom, a career defining decision and a big one for a 27 year old. In 2009  he released Live at the Ryman. Then he and his wife started a large family, and now Fight for my Soul in 2013 working with producer Tommy Sims. With this album Jonny has said he is entering a chapter where he has found his true voice.

"I would say all of those voices steering you away from questionable decisions, 
listen to them, they are right." - Jonny Lang 

Five to download...these are my top five fave Jonny Lang singles

Breakin In
Fight For My Soul
Red Light
Quitter Never Wins
That Great Day

Jonny and Jimi Hendrix.....In addition to the international solo tours with his band Jonny Lang has toured with the Experience Hendrix Tour now for several years. Next American tour starts on Sept. 19th and goes through Oct 18....24 performances in 30 days! Some of the most legendary guitar players to ever jam onstage are all in one place and many of the venues are outdoor.

Experience Hendrix Tour, September 19 - October 18, 24 cities nationwide in 30 days..............

Jonny Lang Band...Barry Alexander, James Anton, Akil Thompson, Dwan Hill, Missi Hale vocalist

My two past articles about Jonny Lang...







Anna Wendt Copyright 2014

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Magic in the Moonlight

Written and directed by Woody Allen, Magic in the Moonlight is a tale about a famous magician played by Colin Firth, who is skeptical of clairvoyants. Known for exposing them as fakes, he sets out to prove Sophie (Emma Stone) is just that. Ironic, considering a magician is himself in many ways, a fake. 

Emma Stone and Colin Firth
Setting aside the lush and elegant location in the south of France, to me, this story, taking place in the late 1920's is more like a play that just happens to be on film, than a motion picture. Perhaps Mr. Allen is reaching back into his playwright days, and it works for this film.

Woody Allen is showing his age in this movie. By that I mean his themes are less focused on the neurosis and anxiety suffered by many of us in our daily lives but instead on the larger questions we ask ourselves about the meaning of life in general. Questions such as is there a God and a spirit world, can it be accessed by certain people, does prayer work, do our lives hold more meaning than just what we see, do we live more than once....

If you either like Woody Allen movies or are fond of classic films you'll probably enjoy this one.  If not, you may be better served by one of his non Woody Allen type pictures such as "Match Point."

Of course I won't give away the ending. I will say though that this story criticizes those who perform "tricks" of various kinds, but it also equally gives them credit and explores our need to believe in something other than what we can see and explain.

Emma Stone, Woody Allen and Colin Firth on the set.... "Magic in the Moonlight"


For a complete listing of Woody Allen films go to:


Copyright Anna Wendt 2014

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rock Vault Reloaded

With so much entertainment in Vegas to choose from on any given night, the pressure is on for productions to keep things alive and interesting. A noticeable recent trend is to give a show some room to grow and allow varied performers and production revisions as needed. With this approach, Raiding the Rock Vault continues to be a Rock N' Roll fantasy come to life.

I checked it out for a third time recently as I'd heard they've made some changes. Although I will miss John Payne who departed this spring and was replaced in the line up, his mark will last in his own way as co-creator of this super group....Having said that,  Rock Vault has taken on a life of its own which I predict will last even beyond its creators or current members.

Raiding the Rock Vault....Photo by Erik Nielsen

In addition to band changes, some of the production has been pared down. The extraneous opening and a few of the skits have been cut or shortened letting it shapeshift  into more of a true musical and concert experience.  I like this. They've also amp'd up the dancers a bit, and I must say I was impressed. A couple of them were so hot they almost turned me gay for a minute! This time I went on a Monday night, which was interesting because the audience seemed more reserved than on the weekend nights, at least in the beginning. One guy even told me to sit down at one point. I did because I knew that wouldn't last long and the VERY next song he was on HIS feet...as everyone eventually always is at this show!

I know for a fact the more high energy the crowd is, the more we give the performers on stage to work with. However I noticed with the Rock Vault performers, having seen them three times now, that they always seem to give it their all even on a Monday night. They emit rock n' roll out of every pour every moment on stage and it's palpable....probably not easy to do five nights a week.

In addition, the lighting for RTRV is as much a part of the impact of this show as anything else.  It's truly fantastic!...I don't know who does it but it blows me away. Why would I mention lighting? There's a saying in the biz that "lighting is everything".....this is true to a certain degree. Because when done right it enhances a production in ways that are noticeable and also in ways that are nuanced. Oh, and I don't know who their stylist or costume designer is, but I could do a story on just that alone. It's all it should be and more and befitting of the various personalities onstage.

The show is still housed in Elvis Presley's former showroom at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino.

Doug Aldrich & Howard Leese, Photo by Erik Nielsen

The group has released two albums of their music, both in CD and downloadable form (see below).
I hope they someday release a Rock Vault concert DVD.

Paul Shortino & 2 hot dancers,  Photo by Erik Nielsen

Although I mentioned Carol-Lyn Liddle in a previous article I have to take a minute to say Carol, you are a vocal goddess and now one of my fave singers, (along with Shakira and Stevie Nicks). Stephanie Calvert I still haven't yet heard do her thing.

Carol Lyn Liddle....photo from Raiding the Rock Vault Facebook Page

Raiding the Rock Vault Line Up...

Howard Leese -Guitar (Heart, Bad Company)
Doug Aldrich -Guitar (Whitesnake)
Robin McAuley -Lead Vocals (MSG, Survivor)
Paul Shortino -Lead Vocals (Rough Cutt, Quiet Riot)
Jay Schellen -Drums (Hurricane, Asia)
Andrew Freeman -Lead Vocals (Offpsring)
Michael T. Ross -Keyboards (Lita Ford)
Hugh McDonald -Bass (Bon Jovi, Ringo Starr)
Carol-Lyn Liddle -Lead Vocals (Masters of Rock)
Stephanie Calvert -Lead Vocals (Starship)

The show's current actors...Ryan Mueller, Sarah Jessica Rhodes, Scott Kinworthy and Christine Richards.

Songs from the Vault....Volume I and Volume II now both available on iTunes and other music sites...

Songs From the Vault Volume I


Songs From the Vault Volume II


My past blogs about Raiding the Rock Vault:



Anna Wendt Copyright 2014

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sydney After Dark

"Do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura...behind the curtain, behind the aura?" 

- Lady Gaga

To borrow a question from one of the songs performed last night in Sydney After Dark, I think the audience answer would be yes...Tonight at 9:30 is the last performance of the limited run of Sydney After Dark at Planet Hollywood's PH Showroom. I checked it out last night with some friends and we had a great time. The ladies have talent and the music was so high energy at times I was wishing there was a dance floor!

Natalie Conway, the lead singer is a force all her own and it was wise of the production to highlight her vocal talents and personality, not to mention she can really rock a chrome bikini!

Also notable were the two aerial acts, which were a nice surprise and thoroughly enjoyable albeit more sensual than acrobatic. The group and solo dance to "Darling Nikki" straddled the fence perfectly between bondage inspired and tasteful.

The roping routine to AC/DC's Thunderstruck was exciting, but I couldn't tell if they were using the actual recording of the original band, or a recording of an impersonator, which distracted me from that act a little.

A true "pro" never misses a beat, and this was evident in the few moments during an audio glitch when they lost sound and just kept on going until it returned. 

Most of the ladies of Sydney have worked together for five years all over the world, London, Paris, L.A., Tokyo, etc., and it shows. Watching them perform, their energy and mutual respect is palpable so it doesn't seem like just nine bodies in motion, but  a private party, in which the audience is invited.

However, as some before me have said Sydney After Dark is held in too large of a venue and would be better served in a more intimate setting. I agree. The venue's title, the "PH Showroom" is misleading, as it's actually not a showroom but a very large multilevel theater. The performers when not downstage seemed sometimes quite far away and it felt a bit detached at times. The stage is also rather cavernous and the nine ladies when not near each other were spread a little too thin thereby lacking a comfortable focal point from the audience perspective.

One last note, I wish they'd publish these ladies names somewhere so proper credit can be given, because I couldn't remember them all from the introduction and wasn't able to find them anywhere online or otherwise, except for the lead singer.

Whether or not they stay in Vegas in a different venue or return later, I would see their show again.



Creative direction and costume design by Belinda Chapple

Choreography by Miss Ame Delves & Wil Sabin

Sydney After Dark Photos are used for editorial purposes only

SPI Entertainment www.spientertainment.com

Related articles:

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bringing Change to Mind....Again

Because the suicide of internationally known actor Robin Williams has brought a lot of attention to the subject of depression, I decided to re-post this article I wrote last year, and share again the information within. - AW

In the film, Silver Linings Playbook, the main character Pat, struggles with the effects of mental illness along with his new friend, Tiffany, who also has mental health issues. For Pat, as is common with this disease he does not realize how his behavior is affecting other people. The things he does make sense to him....at the time.

At what point do you tell someone they are not making sense? And why is it so hard to tell that person?....to cross that boundary and say, "you're not okay, my friend".

A real friend tells you the truth. Too often though we fear hurting someone's feelings so we let them get sicker emotionally or mentally because we are afraid or don't know what to do.

This happened to me a few years ago with a long time friend of mine. She is someone who always made sense, was logical, responsible. Then she wasn't, in a big way. It scared me. I wanted to call her husband and see what he thought but worried that was a betrayal to her. So I am ashamed to say I didn't do anything. About a year later she was taken in for psychiatric help. It should have happened sooner. At that time I promised myself I would never be silent again when it came to this issue. Especially because most conditions just get worse over time and not better, like schizophrenia and Alzheimer's Disease, for example.

When a similar situation arose with a family member not long ago I did speak up and try to help. I know that's what he would have wanted. Two family members stood by me. Unfortunately nobody else was comfortable doing so. I understand that, but I don't agree. For me, my previous mistake gave me courage. Of course things came to a head when his behavior landed him in the psychiatric hospital. This is an issue in probably every family at some point or another and in society in general.

If a friend or family member had a physical problem like a wound or growing tumor we'd say something, so why is this any different? I sincerely hope if it were ever to happen to me someone would love me enough to say something to me so I could get help sooner rather than later.

The actress Glenn Close is a founder of and Chairperson of the organization, BringChange2Mind, which is working to end the stigma of mental illness, and offer resources for those who suffer, and their families.


Glenn was motivated to do this because her sister, Jessie,  suffers from bipolar disorder.

Glenn and Jessie....Bingimages.com

Most mental health professionals agree there is a shortage of resources available, but they ARE out there. The more aware and educated we all are, the better chance our friends and family who suffer have of living a quality life.

Here are several films that shed some light on the issue of mental illness and disorders:

A Beautiful Mind, (schizophrenia)

Away From Her, (Alzheimer's disease)

Awakenings, (mental illness)

Rain Man, (autism)

What's Eating Gilbert Grape, (autism spectrum disorder and food addiction)

Snowcake, (autism spectrum disorder)

Grey Gardens, (agoraphobia)

As Good as it Gets, (obsessive compulsive disorder)

The Aviator, (obsessive compulsive disorder)

Silver Linings Playbook, (obsessive compulsive and bipolar disorder)

The Prince of Tides, (post traumatic stress disorder)

Born on the Fourth of July, (post traumatic stress disorder)

The Perks of being a Wallflower, (post traumatic stress disorder)

Sylvia, (bipolar disorder)

The Hours, (bipolar disorder)

A Single Man, (clinical depression)

 Change A Mind about Mental Illness....song donated by John Mayer...1:10 length

NPR.org/Glenn Close's Family on Coping with Mental Illness...2012 interview

Copyright Anna Wendt 2013