By Jacqueline Monahan
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SoulAviv Concert Comes to Las Vegas for One Night Only

SoulAviv, a four-person vocal group from Santa Barbara, California, performed at Temple Beth Sholom on Sunday November 9, 2008.  With music that can be described as high energy soul, gospel, folk (even some reggae) mixed with Jewish heritage, spirituality, and life celebration, the songs are by turn joyous, emotionally moving, and participatory.  Audiences are encouraged to dance, clap their hands and sway to the music.

Formed in early 2007, SoulAviv’s band members include Las Vegas native Erin Berkowitz, who attended the Boston Conservatory of Music before performing for several years in New York City. Jamie Green is a successful solo artist on her own with two award winning CD’s to her credit.  Liat Wasserman (born in Israel) is the granddaughter of a Cantor on one side and a Rabbi on the other.  How’s that for a musical pedigree?  Rob Raede is the group’s music director, whose songs have appeared in motion pictures, TV shows, and music videos.  SoulAviv released their first CD in May 2008.

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Concert night happened to fall on the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, (Night of the Broken Glass) the state-sanctioned Nazi assault that resulted in the destruction of Jewish synagogues, homes and businesses in 1938.  SoulAviv chose to commemorate the tragic event with a performance that accentuated freedom, unity and perseverance that spoke to the strength of the Jewish people and the optimism of an enlightened future.

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Backed by Las Vegas band Live Wire (Adam Shendal, Keith Nelson, Jeff Minor) on drums, bass guitar and keyboards, SoulAviv launched into their large and varied repertoire of songs, beginning with We Just Sing Together and Wade in the Water.  An A Capella intro of By the Waters of Babylon segued into Bob Marley’s anthem to tolerance, “One Love.”

A Shabbat song, Make a Joyful Noise, was sung by Wasserman followed by Berkowitz covering Pete Seeger’s “O Had I Golden Thread.”  Greene’s lovely voice led an original song inspired by the high holidays and written by Raede entitled “I stand In Awe’, dedicated to the power of change brought about by as little as two people or as many as an entire community standing together.  Wasserman sang the haunting Naomi’s Song, also an original composition.

Standards included Put A Little Love in your Heart, Lean on Me and Are You Ready.  Singalongs were encouraged and obligingly crooned by charmed audience members.


The group’s harmonies are heavenly, as if the women channel the product of their vocal chords from angelic sources.  Even their hairstyles were in various versions of celestial ringlets in a mimic of ethereal cherubic splendor.  In flowing garb, and keeping time with the folksy rhythm of Raede’s guitar, the quartet smoothly sailed through over a dozen arrangements, some original, some cover, all customized to reflect the group’s celebratory message of strength, community, friendship and love.

An appreciative audience stood up no less than three separate times to give SoulAviv a loud and lengthy ovation before attending an elegant dessert reception where they could actually chat with group members and extend personal kudos.

The temple itself is a glorious space in which to showcase the group.  Arched stained glass windows look down on the ample seating of the main room with its sophisticated lighting system and cream colored walls.

The ceiling is high, giving the impression of a large space that must be filled.  This was no problem for SoulAviv, whose vocal talent more than matched the height and width of the room, filling it with a joyous sound that one would imagine could find its way to heaven easily.  One could further imagine God listening to an audition and proclaiming, “Now that’s what I had in mind when I created those guys!”

Viva SoulAviv.

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Lordi Delivers Monster Rock at House of Blues

Finnish monster metal band Lordi roared into the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay on November 12th for a musical adventure that featured a costumed stage show, an axe, a chainsaw, a mummy and kneepads in the shape of dead faces adorning the lead singers lower legs.


The award winning rockers (2006 Eurovision Song Contest) took the stage after hour-long performances by tour mates Stolen Babies, a ghoul-themed quintet featuring a corpse-like female lead singer who can carry a shriek and wail on a mean accordion; and Lizzy Borden, a five-person wild ride of musical mayhem and head bangin’, long- haired rock riffs that had your humble correspondent jumping around on a steamer trunk like she had some moves.  Both bands were impressive for their original concepts, melodic angst and the liveliest approximations of morgue-dwelling musicians you’re likely to see in any venue.

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The House of Blues is like one big ornate wooden cellar, incorporating religious icons, large video screens, and a wide stage that this night had a dark forest backdrop, with red and blue merged lighting creating a purple cast.  There’s a tired decadence about the place and the audience is as varied as the artwork that covers the walls.  From skeletal to obese, chic to Poindexter-pocket protector, buzz cuts to Rapunzel-length locks for both sexes, you never can tell who a fan might be.  Tonight, it seems, all these human variations craved the macabre and the reassurance of musical monstrosities.

Once the headliners, or more appropriately, head hunters, took the stage, theatrics were ramped up ten-fold to accommodate the intricate hand-sewn costumes and towering presence of the five unique individuals (all with alter-egos) that comprise Lordi.Lead singer Tomi Petteri Putaansuu, aka Mr. Lordi, designed the costumes for his gang of monsters: lead guitarist Amen the unstoppable mummy, keyboardist Awa the vampire countess, bassist Ox the hellbull, and drummer Kita the alien manbeast.

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Mr. Lordi himself looks like a massive, deranged Viking of death and destruction, who sings like an American but speaks with a slight accent that serves to endear you to the massive madman.  He likes to spray the audience with water, like when he dressed up as Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to perform “The Doctor is In”; the chainsaw was actually a custom water rifle, dousing the front rows.  Mr. Lordi likes to throw things and balls of large confetti were tossed into the crowd during one deafening number, while a bucket of severed body parts sat in a corner like a trophy.

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Lordi is like one big Goth fairytale full of monsters and mythology.  Pounding through numbers with titles like “Blood Red Sandman”, “Would You Love a Monsterman?” and the crowd pleasing favorite “The Devil is a Loser”, during which Mr. Lordi’s wings unfolded in all of their eight foot glory.  “Bite It Like a Bulldog” was performed on Late Night with Conan O’Brien on November 6 so you can bet Mr. Lordi made it bite this audience as well.

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Another aptly named tune, “They Only Come Out at Night” had fans holding up the classic “horns” sign, made by raising up the index and little finger of one hand.  Even Mr. Lordi joined in, forming his four-inch talons into the familiar configuration.  Of course, if you left your thumb sticking out, you inadvertently make the I Love You sign in American Sign Language.  Lordi fans are fierce, so maybe that was an appropriate error after all.

The encore song, “Hard Rock Hallelujah” had the audience joining in the chorus, ironically singing a celestial word in conjunction with a devilish act.  Such is the allure and creative originality of Lordi.  With music that literally pounds out of the speakers, I got a full back massage just by leaning against a wall while the band wailed away on their respective instruments.

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The band has criticized efforts by the European press to photograph them without makeup and want to maintain anonymity in their ordinary incarnations (remember those Kiss press conferences that showed the band with their faces covered with scarves?)  You can’t blame them.  Revealing an average kisser to fans who are used to you being a manbeast or a hellbull would be such a letdown.

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The release of Lordi’s new album DEADACHE on October 28 is being followed with a U.S. tour.  The band has been given their own credit card though Finland’s Sampo Bank, their own candy and their own soft drink – Lordi Cola. Books and graphic novels have been created to tell the band’s unique story.  Mr. Lordi has even opened a ROCKtaurant in his hometown of Helsinki, selling – among other menu items – Rudolph’s Last Stand (reindeer burgers).  A Dungeons & Dragons type role-playing game has been created with the band as its main characters called Deliverance, and a Lordi movie called Dark Floors was released on October 14th.

No less a venerable publication than the New York Times has said of Lordi that the band “expresses the warrior spirit of the Vikings.”

They may be Finnish but from the looks of it, Lordi’s just getting started.

Upcoming U.S. tour dates:

November 20th      Gothic Theatre                    Englewood, CO
November 22nd      House of Blues                    Chicago, IL
November 23rd       House of Blues                    Cleveland, OHNovember 24th      The Fillmore (Irving Plaza)      New York, NY

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