Rocking Thanksgiving Eve With Music Of The Mighty Zep

Get The Led Out Bring A Whole Lotta Love to New Brunswick Debut

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What could be a greater way to kick off a long Thanksgiving weekend than with a rock & roll party featuring the music of Led Zeppelin? As a longtime fan of the band, I can’t think of any! Last night, I got exactly that with Get The Led Out bringing the music of the mighty Zep to State Theatre of New Jersey (STNJ) in New Brunswick. My one word to sum it all up? Damn!

I’ve known about this terrific band from Philly for some time. When I saw a few weeks ago they were gonna groove right in my backyard, I instantly decided to see them. Calling themselves The American Led Zeppelin, Get The Led Out or GTLO doesn’t want to look like or impersonate their heroes in any other way on stage. Instead, the band wants “to bring the studio recordings of Led Zeppelin to life in concert,” according to their website. And since Zep like many other bands relied on overdubbing to enrich their recordings with multiple instrumental and vocal tracks layered on top of each other, it takes more than four musicians to replicate this sound on stage: Six in GTLO’s case.

Get The Led Out on Stage

With Zep’s fairly sizable catalog, GTLO has plenty of material to choose from. In fact, they make it a point to never repeat the same set back-to-back to keep things fresh. That way they can also perform more of the band’s songs. So what did they play last night? In case you haven’t noticed yet, the above photo collage includes an image with the line-up of tracks, which I shamelessly grabbed from the band’s Facebook page, along with a cool shot of the audience. The 2.5-hour spectacle included two sets divided by a short intermission and a terrific three-track encore – really can’t complain about that!

After all this introduction, it’s finally time to get to some music. And how better to do this than by featuring some YouTube clips. First up: The mighty Rock And Roll from Zep’s fourth studio album Led Zeppelin IV, released in 1971. The tune is credited to all four members, John Bonham, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Robert Plant, and was a perfect opener to last night’s show.

GTLO did a great job mixing some of Zep’s furious rockers with acoustic gems. Among the latter, I thought the highlight was The Battle Of Evermore, another track from Led Zeppelin IV, written by Page and Plant. For this tune, the band brought out their terrific special guest vocalist Diana DeSantis.

With so many great songs GTLO performed last night and fortunately plenty of clips available on YouTube, it’s hard to decide what to include in this post. After kicking off the second set with a strong rendition of In The Evening, the time had come to feature the band’s kick-ass drummer Adam Ferraioli. Playing the parts of Bonham, who undoubtedly was one of the best drummers in rock history, must be pretty daunting. How did he do? Check out this clip of Moby Dick, the furious instrumental credited to Bonham, Page and Jones, which appeared on Led Zeppelin II in 1969.

Another highlight from the second set was Kashmir, the bombastic 8.5-minute tune from Physical Graffiti, Zeppelin’s sixth studio album from 1975. I will openly admit this track was an acquired taste for me, as was Zeppelin overall – somewhat hard to believe from today’s perspective! Initially, I felt Kashmir was way over the top and completely overproduced. But over the years I’ve come to dig this song, which was written by Bonham, Page and Plant. So here’s GTLO’s rendition. It was the final tune of their second set, which of course begged for more!

The three-track encore started with Over The Hills And Far Away. Written by Page and Plant, the tune appeared on Houses Of The Holy, Zep’s fifth studio album from 1973.

At that point, the show was well beyond the two-hour mark, and the time had come for GTLO to play the big enchilada I’m sure many fans had been waiting for: Stairway To Heaven, yet another tune from Zeppelin IV, credited to Page and Plant.

And since it is so much fun listening to these guys, I’m throwing in yet another clip: The final song of the night, Whole Lotta Love, the iconic opener to Led Zeppelin II. As Zep did on various occasions, parts of the song were adapted from another tune, in this case Willie Dixon’s You Need Love, recorded by Muddy Waters in 1962. Unfortunately, it took a lawsuit that was settled in 1985 to have Dixon being added to the credits, which also list Bonham, Jones, Page and Plant.

Founded in the fall of 2003, GTLO went through some changes in their early years before their current line-up: In addition to the previously mentioned drummer and percussionist Ferraiolo and guest vocalist DeSantis, the band’s members include Paul Sinclair (lead vocals, harmonica), Paul Hammond (electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin), Jimmy Marchiano (electric and acoustic guitars), Phil D’Agostino (bass, vocals) and Andrew Lipke (keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars, vocals, percussion).

A look at their bios reveals, these guys are not only true Zeppelin fans, but bring a substantial amount of talent and experience to the band. Listening to them also makes it obvious they have played together for a long time. The attention to detail is really incredible. But after all these years, the band still strives to get even closer to perfection in replicating the sound of Zep’s oftentimes complex studio recordings.

Get The Led Out Members
From left to right: Paul Hammond, Andrew Lipke, Paul Sinclair, Adam Ferraioli, Phil D’Agostino and Jimmy Marchiano

During a recent podcast with STNJ, Lipke talked about GTLO’s meticulous approach. “It’s a constant process of refining and distilling.” The following excerpt nicely illustrates his point. Referring to Stairway To Heaven, which he said the band has performed more than 600 times, Lipke added, “but even a year ago, we were listening again…and realized, ‘Wait a second, that’s not a single 12-string playing that part, it’s a double 12-string. Now let’s figure out who’s gonna play that other 12-string.”

GTLO has a heavy tour schedule that’s posted on their website. Between their next gig in Lakewood, N.J. this Sat, Nov 25 and the end of March, the band is scheduled for some 40 shows in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts and ten additional US states, and even Mississauga, Ontario, which is close to Toronto. That’s great news to all Zep fans out there!

Sources: Get The Led Out website and Facebook page, NJST “All Access” podcast, Wikipedia, YouTube

Decade Blows Stone Pony Away With Music Of Neil Young

Tribute band’s recreation of Young rock and acoustic classics is labor of love

Decade impressed me right away when I saw them for the first time at Rock the Farm Festival in Seaside Heights, N.J. in September (see related post here). I also caught them again just one week later at the Colts Neck Rockfest 2017 in Colts Neck, N.J. On both occasions, these guys did an incredible job in recreating the music of Neil Young. With tight sets, they focused on some of Young’s best known rock songs. Last night, the band was also able to include a great acoustic set as the headliner at The Stone Pony, the storied live music venue in Asbury Park, N.J.

At Colts Neck Rockfest, I had a chance chat with the band’s lead vocalist John Hathaway, who has been playing Young’s music for the last 30 years. He truly knows the ins and outs of Young’s guitar work, has a very similar voice, and even somewhat resembles his idol. Hathaway told me about the scheduled Stone Pony gig and was clearly excited. Frankly, being the headliner at a venue where the likes of Southside Johnny, Little Steven and Bruce Springsteen played in their early days is pretty cool! Oh, and according to its website, The Stone Pony has also attracted many other famous artists over its 40-plus-year history, such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Ramones, Blue Öyster Cult and Gregg Allman.

Decade at Stone Pony Poster

Back to Decade. In addition to Hathaway (middle), the band’s current line-up includes Joey Herr (lead and rhythm guitar, backing vocals; far left), Lou Perillo (bass, backing vocals; second from left), Steve Cunniff (keyboards, backing vocals; second from right) and Johnny Burke (drums, percussion; far right). All of these guys are clearly veteran musicians and do an outstanding job backing Hathaway. Having played myself in a band many moons ago, I believe I can confidently say that!

In addition to performing many of Young’s best known songs, Decade played some deep cuts most of which I didn’t know myself. Among the rockers were Like A Hurricane, The Loner, Cinnamon Girl, as well as the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young classics Woodstock and Ohio. Some of acoustic gems included Sugar Mountain, After The Gold Rush, The Needle And The Damage Done and Harvest Moon. I have to say I’ve always loved the acoustic side of Young, oftentimes even more than his rock anthems. Decade also threw in a great tribute to Tom Petty, Listen To Her Heart. I’m still somewhat in disbelief he’s gone!

Since smartphone videos oftentimes come out with mediocre quality, I didn’t try to capture any live footage. Luckily, I found a few clips from Decade on YouTube. I hope there will be more soon, including some of their excellent acoustic renditions.

Cowgirl In The Sand

Written by Young, Cowgirl In The Sand first appeared on his second studio album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, released in May 1969. The tune is also featured on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s first live album 4 Way Street, which appeared in April 1971.

Cortez The Killer

Cortez The Killer, which was written by Young, initially appeared on Zuma, his 1975 album with Crazy Horse. The tune is also included on Young’s 1977 compilation album Decade, which presumably inspired the band’s name. Last night, Hathaway told the audience it was Burke who came up with it before he actually became the band’s drummer.

Ohio

A Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young classic, Ohio initially was released as a single in June 1970. Written by Young, the tune was also included on the band’s 4 Way Street live album as well as on the Decade compilation record. BTW, the clip was recorded at the above mentioned Rock the Farm festival.

Woodstock

Woodstock was the lead single from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s iconic second studio album Déjà Vu from March 1970. The song was written by Joni Mitchell, who included it on her third studio record Ladies Of The Canyon, which appeared around the same time as Déjà Vu. Apparently, the clip was captured during a previous performance of Decade at The Stone Pony earlier this year.

According to Decade’s website, they can next be seen at the Walt Street Pub Bar and Restaurant in Red Bank, N.J. on November 4, December 9 and January 19.

I’d like to finish this post with a couple of quotes from Hathaway, which are on the band’s Facebook page. Commenting on Young, he notes, “He’s the reason I learned to play…It’s what I was born to do [laughs].” Having seen him three times now, I believe it!

“The guitar work and vocals have to be dead on or we will be dismissed as just another bunch of hacks…We’re re-creating album recordings. We’re not kidding around here. Anything less would be a disservice to the fans coming to see us. I want people to leave thinking they just saw the best thing next to Neil Young in person.” It’s a high standard, but Decade truly lives up to it.

Sources: Wikipedia, Decade Facebook page and website, The Stony Pony website, YouTube

 

Bringing to Life the Magic of Steely Dan

An evening with The Royal Scam at Trumpets Jazz Club in Montclair, N.J.

To people who know me and readers of the blog, it won’t come as a big surprise that Steely Dan is one of my all-time favorite bands. The amazing writing and craftsmanship of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker created timeless music that is simply in a league of its own. While unfortunately I never got a chance to catch one of their shows, I probably came as close to it as possible last night at the Trumpets Jazz Club in Montclair, N.J. with The Royal Scam. It was actually the second time I saw this outstanding Steely Dan tribute band.

Named after Steely Dan’s fifth studio album from 1976, The Royal Scam have been faithfully playing the music of Fagen and Becker for 25 years. Lead vocalist Michael Caputo, who does a beautiful job of capturing Fagen’s smooth voice, told the audience they spent the first year with rehearsals before going on the road. This careful prep and the band’s long-time live experience clearly showed. Their attention to the details of the music was incredible, a true labor of love. Another Steely Dan fan who was sitting close to me and has actually seen them put it this way: “They are spot on.” I couldn’t have said it better!

The Royal Scam

The intimate setting of the Trumpets Jazz Club was a perfect venue to enjoy the music of Steely Dan up close, and there was plenty of it. Between two sets, each lasting more than 90 minutes, The Royal Scam played a great mix of Steely Dan classics like Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, Reelin’ In the Years, Hey Nineteen and Deacon Blues, as well as some deeper cuts I wasn’t as familiar with.

Since smartphone videos oftentimes have mediocre sound quality, I didn’t try to take any footage last night. Fortunately, there are some nice clips of the band on YouTube. Following is a selection.

First Up: Hey Nineteen, from 1978’s Gaucho album. It appears this clip was captured during a gig a few months ago in Linden, N.J., where I saw The Royal Scam for the first time.

Here’s another tune from the same concert: Rikki Don’t Lose That Number from Pretzel Logic (1974), which became Steely Dan’s biggest hit climbing all the way to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1974.

The Aja album clearly is The Royal Scam’s favorite Steely Dan record, and who can blame them! They usually perform all or most of the tracks from this 1977 gem during their shows. Here is a very cool clip of the band playing side 1 of the album in its entirety: Black Cow, Aja and Deacon Blues!

Next up: Dirty Work from Steely Dan’s 1972 debut Can’t Buy A Thrill – a stellar rendition of one of my favorite early tunes from Becker and Fagen.

And what could be a nicer last clip then more songs from Aja. In fact, how about all of side 2? Here it is, also taken from the band’s website: Peg, Home At Last, I Got The News and Josie.

In addition to Caputo, the band’s current line-up consists of Gino Amato (keyboards and synth programming), Don Regan (guitar), Keith Droz (drums), Larry Chavana (bass), Joe Montini (saxophone) and vocalists Carla Culkin and Wendi Gordy. The Royal Scam will be back at Trumpets on March 10, 2018. Their schedule of upcoming shows is here on the band’s website, along with news and other info.

After they had played their final song of the night, Do It Again from Can’t Buy A Thrill, Caputo thanked folks for coming out and supporting live music. He rightly pointed out that nowadays there are fewer and fewer places like Trumpets where people can enjoy great music up close. While I’ve been to many music events, typically, they haven’t been in an intimate setting. Last night was a great reminder that the music club experience is something that should be cherished.

Sources: Wikipedia, The Royal Scam website, YouTube

Note: This post was updated on November 19, 2017 with some new YouTube videos of the band to replace previous clips that are no longer available.

Little Steven’s “Soul-Meets-Rock Thing” Comes Alive

The man with the bandana and his Disciples of Soul play historic theater in Staten Island, N.Y.

Steven Van Zandt had not been on my radar screen as a solo artist until recently. Things changed in May when he released Soulfire, his first solo album since 1999. It quickly became one of my favorite new records this year, which I previously reviewed here. When I found out he was kicking off a tour at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, N.J., that show in late May – his only scheduled U.S. gig at the time – was already sold out! So I was glad that after a European leg, he brought the tour back to the U.S. Last Thursday, I was able to see his great show at the St. George Theatre in Staten Island, N.Y.

Unlike the Count Basie Theatre, the venue wasn’t sold out; in fact, I would say only half of the seats were taken, which was unfortunate. But it didn’t seem to have an impact. Little Steven and his top-notch band The Disciples of Soul delivered a powerful performance that lasted for close to two and a half hours. And while the audience wasn’t the biggest, people certainly were engaged.

The show kicked off with the soul classic Sweet Soul Music. Written by Arthur Conley and Otis Redding, the tune was first released by Conley in 1967. This was followed right away by Soulfire, the title track from Van Zandt’s above mentioned latest album. In a Rolling Stone interview ahead of the record’s release, Van Zandt noted he co-wrote the song with a member of Danish rock and soul band The Breakers, which first released it on their eponymous album in June 2011. Here’s a clip of Soulfire captured in Leipzig, Germany back in June.

Tunes from almost the entire Soulfire album were sprinkled throughout the show, and I have to say those were the tracks I generally liked the most. One of the highlights of the record that was also a standout of the show was Blues Is My Business, a great cover of an Etta James tune included on her 2003 album Let’s Roll. Here’s a cool clip.

Another great song from Soulfire and highlight of the set was Down And Out In New York City. Written by Bobbie Chandler and Barry De Vorzon, the track was first recorded by James Brown for the soundtrack album of the 1973 blaxploitation crime drama Black Cesar. The performance showcased the band’s terrific five-piece horn section, with each musician playing solo back-to-back. Here’s a nice clip of the tune recorded at another gig earlier this month.

In addition to Soulfire, Little Steven also played songs from his earlier solo records with The Disciples of Soul, especially their debut Men Without Women (1982) and Voice Of America (1984). Among these tunes was Angel Eyes, written by Van Zandt and included on the 1982 record.

And then there was of course Van Zandt’s previous work with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. He was a co-founding member and produced various of their records. The set included three tunes from that band: I’m Coming Back and I Don’t Want To Go Home, two Van Zandt tunes that also appear on the Soulfire album, and Love On The Wrong Side Of Town, which he co-wrote with Bruce Springsteen. Here is a clip of I Don’t Want To Go Home, the title track of Southside Johnny’s 1976’s studio debut. It was part of the encore.

This post would not be complete without further acknowledging the musicians of The Disciples of Soul, a mighty 14-piece and truly amazing band. The line-up includes Marc Ribler (guitar), Charley Drayton  (drums), Everett Bradley (percussion, backing vocals), Lowell “Banana” Levinger (piano, mandolin), Andy Burton (organ, strings, accordion), Jak Daley (bass), Eddie Manion (baritone saxophone), Stan Harrison (tenor saxophone, flute), Clark Gayton (trombone), Ravi Best (trumpet), Ron Tooley (trumpet), and backing vocalists Jessica Wagner, Erika Jerry and YahZarah.

According to the tour schedule posted on Little Steven’s web site, the band will continue touring the U.S. throughout October. In early November, they are scheduled to return to Europe for another six weeks, with shows in England, Scotland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Italy and Spain.

Sources: Wikipedia, setlist.fm, Rolling Stone, Little Steven’s website, YouTube

Another Weekend Brings Another Great Rock Festival to New Jersey

Colts Neck Rockfest 2017 featured close to 30 bands from the Garden State

To folks who know me and regular readers of the blog, it’s not a big revelation that I greatly enjoy going to music concerts. I’ve certainly been maximizing the live experience so far this year, especially with outdoor events over the summer, ranging from famous to not so famous artists. I must have seen more than 30 acts, and overall the quality has been pretty impressive. Most importantly, I had a great time, which is what music should be all about. And guess what? I’m still hungry for more!

The latest in a long series of outdoor events I visited happened yesterday: The Colts Neck Rockfest in Colts Neck, N.J. Until a few days ago, I had never heard of this annual music festival, even though the venue is fairly close to my house, and this was the 10th year they put it on. I found out about it through a Facebook post from Decade, a terrific Neil Young tribute band I first saw last weekend at Rock The Farm, announcing they would play Colts Neck Rockfest.

Colts Neck Rockfest 2017 Lineup

Unlike Rock The Farm, about which I previously posted here, the Colts Neck Rockfest focused less on tribute acts. Of the 28 bands that performed there Friday night and Saturday, only two fall into that category: Decade and Snow Dog, a tribute to Rush. Instead, most of the performers were cover bands, while the remaining acts mixed original material with covers.

Similar to Rock The Farm, there were relatively few people in the beginning. I suppose Saturday during the day, when many folks do their shopping and run other errands, is a tough proposition. When I got to Colts Neck in the early afternoon, there were perhaps 20 people (not counting the musicians). One guy I spotted right away was John Hathaway, the “Neil Young” from Decade.

Usually, I’m a bit reluctant to approach performers, figuring they may not necessarily like it, especially prior to a gig. But Decade’s performance wasn’t slated until much later in the afternoon, so I figured ‘what the heck.’ John turned out to be very nice guy. We ended up chatting for 15 minutes about his passion for Young, how long he has been doing this, his guitar, etc. I also exchanged a few words with the band’s great lead guitarist Joey Herr and learned his cool-looling Gibson SG is from ’71. It was a pleasant experience.

Like at Rock The Farm, the sets yesterday were very tight, so Decade once again didn’t have the time to switch to acoustic. But I learned they will do a much longer gig including an acoustic set at the end of October at The Stone Pony, a well-known music club in Asbury Park. That’s where artists like Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny started out. In fact, Southside Johnny and his Asbury Jukes played The Stone Pony in July. The city continues to be a stronghold in the local Jersey music scene.

Following I’d like to highlight four of the bands I saw yesterday, which I enjoyed in particular.

Sam Sims Band

The Sam Sims Band combines original music written by singer-songwriter Sam Sims with covers. I think their Facebook page nicely characterizes their style as “acoustic-based folk-rock with melodic guitar, soulful ukulele and authentic vocal lyrics.” According to the band’s website, Sims has been writing original songs since we was 14. The now 37-year-old, who plays ukele, guitar, dobro and harmonica, has released four studio albums and one single since 2009. Born in Huntsville, Ala., Sims currently resides in New Jersey. Other members of the band include Kyle Ward (guitar, backing vocals), Dimitris Kulaga (drums, percussion, backing vocals) and Aaron Manzo (bass, backing vocals).

The Sam Sims Band

To me the band’s set included two highlights: An incredible acoustic version of Dire Straits’ Sultans Of Swing, during which 21-year-old Ward absolutely killed it; and an original song, Positive Vibration. Apparently, Sims released this beautiful tune earlier this year as a single. Here’s a clip of the studio version.

Colossal Street Jam

Colossal Street Jam is a rock and blues band from Asbury Park, playing original music that reminds me a bit of The Black Crowes. According to Beato’s Blog, they initially started in the early ’90s and released two albums before they split in 1994. The band reunited in late 2013 and released its third album Living Free in October 2016. The current lineup of Colossal Street Jam consists of Gene Potts (vocals), Sal Marra (guitar, electric piano, vocals), Tony Flora (bass), Dave Halpern (drums, percussion) and Eric Safka (keyboards).

Colossal Street Jam

Since I didn’t know their music and they didn’t do much in terms of making announcements, I can only point to two songs they played yesterday. Both are from the Living Free album: Won’t Last This Way and Be Good To Yourself, a tune recorded by Scottish rock singer-songwriter Frankie Miller. Here’s a clip of Won’t Last This Way.

Xol Azul

Xol Azul is a Latin rock band that also hails from Asbury Park and was formed in 2002. They released an album of Spanish rock music in 2008 called Sale Et Xol. They also play covers in English and Spanish from other Latin artists like Santana and Mexican rock band Maná, as well as other bands. To this day, Xol Azul performs in its original lineup, which includes Gidalthi Guillen (bass, vocals), Gil Cruz (guitar), Fabian Rojas (keyboads) and Javier Medel (percussion).

Xol Azul

Yesterday’s set was a mix of English and Spanish tunes. Since I sadly know next to nothing about Spanish rock, predictably, the only songs I recognized were the English covers. Among others, those included Santana’s Evil Ways and Smooth, as well as Miss You by The Rolling Stones. Here’s a clip of a live performance of Evil Ways, one of my favorite early Santana tunes.

Moroccan Sheepherders

Moroccan Sheepherders is a very unique band, not only because of their peculiar name. They play classic rock jams and their own music. According to their Facebook page and website, the band’s origins date back to 1996, when Steve Warendorf (guitar) and Scott Burton (bass) met and shortly thereafter started making music with Craig Smith (drums) and Kyle Spendiff (percussion). The band’s website lists the following additional members: Herbi Freeman (vocals, percussion), Alan Manzo (vocals), Kendall Scott (keyboards), Adam Glenn (keyboards), Pat Murphy (vocals), Laura Johnson (vocals), Darren Johnson (vocals), Mike Sakowski (drums), Aaron Manzo (Bass) and Christopher Allen (saxophone). Apart from all of the aforementioned members, yesterday’s lineup included three additional horn players, making this act a true army of musicians.

Moroccan Shepherders

The band has released two albums with original music, Everybody Needs To Be Herd (2002) and Waves (2007). They describe this material as a mix of genres “ranging from tribal ambient trance to hard-core, blue-eyed blues-rock” – sounds pretty heavy to me. Last night was all about classic rock covers, which the band delivered with an incredible energy. Especially vocalist Laura Johnson was a standout to me. Some tunes of their great set included Won’t Get Fooled Again (The Who), Feelin’ Stronger Every Day (Chicago), The Wanton Song (Led Zeppelin), So Lonely (The Police), Sympathy For The Devil (The Rolling Stones) and L.A. Woman (The Doors). Here’s a nice clip of Feelin’ Stronger Every Day, which was captured at Colts Neck Rockfest 2015. 

In addition to being Moroccan Sheepherders’ guitarist, Warendorf is also the founder of Colts Neck Rockfest. “I had the idea to have a little free concert with a few musical acts at Bucks Mill Park in Colts Neck,” he told Community Magazine during a recent interview. “It was basically a backyard barbecue held at the park with about 30 people in attendance. It’s interesting to note that this was the Moroccan Sheepherders’ very first NJ cover music gig, as we were an original act from 1996 until then.” The annual event that started out in 2008 with only a handful of bands has grown into an impressive festival. Assuming there will be a Colts Neck Rockfest 2018, I could definitely see myself go back there next year.

Sources: Sam Sims Facebook page and website, Colossal Street Jam Facebook page and website, Beato’s Blog, Xol Azul Facebook page and website, Moroccan Sheepherders Facebook page and website, Community Magazine, YouTube

Recreating Iconic Rock Festival That Never Was

Fourth Annual Rock the Farm brings 10 hours of rock & roll and tributes from Beatles to Young to Jersey Shore

In addition to seeing my rock & roll heroes live in action, I enjoy concerts featuring tribute bands to the music I love. While I wish I could go to shows of all the original acts, there are way too many music artists, not enough time and, let’s face it, not enough money – in particular nowadays with ticket prices oftentimes being out of control! To me tribute bands can be a great and very affordable way to address this conundrum. Yesterday, I got ten hours of exactly that, at the fourth annual Rock the Farm festival in Seaside Heights, N.J.

Also called Faux-Chella, an apparent clever allusion to the Coachella Music and Arts Festival, the event brought together an impressive lineup of tribute bands: One Fine Tapestry (Carole King), Mike Martin & The Beautiful Mess (Johnny Cash), Decade (Neil Young), Rainbow Full of Sound (Grateful Dead), The Weeklings (The Beatles), Light My Fire (The Doors), Hotel California  (Eagles), Glimmer Twins (The Rolling Stones), TUSK (Fleetwood Mac) and Echoes (Pink Floyd). Apart from these tribute acts, who performed on two main stages set up right next to each other, there were a few other bands playing on a side stage.

Faux-Chella 2017 Poster

The festival, which also featured food trucks and some merchandise stands, was organized by the CFC Loud N Clear Foundation, a New Jersey nonprofit community organization that provides support to individuals and families struggling from addiction to opioids, alcohol and other substances. All festival proceeds went to the group; in fact, over the course of the afternoon and evening, they raised more than $10,000 to support their programs! So it really was all about combining great music and a great cause – what’s not to love about it?

Following I’d like to highlight four of the above bands. In June, I already posted about the Glimmer Twins, an excellent Rolling Stones tribute, which is why I’m not including them here.

Decade

This New Jersey band primarily pays tribute to Neil Young. According to their Facebook page, the group includes John Hathaway (lead vocals, 6 and 12-string acoustic guitars, electric guitar, harmonica), Joey Herr (lead and rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Lou Perillo (bass, backing vocals), Steve Cunniff (keyboards, backing vocals) and Johnny Burke (drums, percussion). Hathaway, whose voice sounds remarkably similar to Young and who also has some visual resemblance, has studied his idol for the last 30 years.

Decade

“The guitar work and vocals have to be dead on or we will be dismissed as just another bunch of hacks,” Hathaway notes on the band’s Facebook page. “I want people to leave thinking they just saw the best thing next to Neil Young in person.” To this he could have added the reenactment of typical Young postures during live performances.

In addition to recreating Young’s music, Decade also plays select songs from other ’70s bands, such as America, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Eagles and The Allman Brothers. Yesterday was all focused on Young, more specifically his rock side – I assume in part because of time constraints. Some of the tunes they played included Like A Hurricane, The Loner, Ohio, Southern Men and Cinnamon Girl. To paraphrase the maestro, I was getting blown away! Here’s a clip of Decade I could find on YouTube.

Hotel California

Hotel California is an outstanding Eagles tribute band from Toronto, Canada. According to their website, they have done this for almost three decades and it definitely shows – the harmonies, the music, it’s all spot on! The current lineup includes Andy Lapointe (bass, vocals), Mike Dimoulas (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboards, double-neck guitar, Talk Box, vocals), Dean Young (drums, vocals) and Rick Spyder (electric guitar, vocals).

Hotel California

The 60-minute set was packed with Eagles gems, such as One Of These Nights, Take It Easy, In The Long Run and, of course, Hotel California including the epic double lead guitar solo. They also threw in a couple of solo tunes from Joe Walsh (Rocky Mountain Way) and Don Henley (Dirty Laundry). The following statement from the band’s website nicely sums it up: “If you love the Eagles, then welcome to the Hotel California – you’ve just found the next best thing.” Think it’s an exaggeration? Take a look at this highlights reel. This is how they sounded yesterday as well.

TUSK

Hailing from Hunterdon County, N.J., TUSK is another true tribute labor of love. Similar to Hotel California and Decade, these guys have been faithfully capturing the music of Fleetwood Mac for a long time. According to the band’s website, their five members “have been making music together in various combinations and styles, from complete originals to covers, for over 30 years themselves.” TUSK is comprised of Kathy Phillips (vocals) as Stevie Nicks, Kim Williams (keyboards, vocals) as Christine McVie, Scott McDonald (guitars, vocals) as Lindsey Buckingham, Randy Atiglere (bass) as John McVie and Tom Nelson (drums) as Mick Fleetwood.

Tusk

In just over an hour, the band managed to play 10 Fleetwood Mac classics like The Chain, Rhiannon, Go Your Own Way and Don’t Stop, as well as Steve Nicks’ Seventeen. I have to say, their execution was pretty impressive, especially the harmonies, making TUSK one of the festival’s standouts. Again, a picture, or I should better say a clip, is worth more than a 1,000 words.

Echoes

Echoes, “the American Pink Floyd,” is a tribute band that according to their Facebook page is from Delaware and was founded in 1991. While recreating Pink Floyd’s music must be an ambitious undertaking, to say the least, I have to say it upfront: These guys did an amazing job! The band’s current lineup includes John Cassidy (drums, vocals), Kyle Frederick (bass), Dan Long (keyboards, sound effects, vocals), John Ratcliffe (vocals, guitar), William (Bill) Swezey (guitar, vocals), David Fox (guitar, lap steel), Andrew Bedell (saxophone), Michelle Sumler Hover (backing vocals), Chris Tuminello Duncan (backing vocals, keyboards) and Kat Pigliacampi (backing vocals).

Echoes.jpg

The close to 90-minute set featured Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Welcome To The Machine, Pigs (Three Different Ones) and what I thought was an interesting, less obvious choice I had to look up, since I didn’t recall the song’s title: Keep Talking, from The Division Bell album. But the highlight of the set was a performance of the entire Dark Side of the Moon, from the first note to the last.

While everybody on that stage was shining, the true standout moment came when backing vocalist Hover launched into the wordless vocal part of The Great Gig In the Sky, sung on the original by Clare Torry. Hover’s rendition of the part literally sent shivers down my spine, and I clearly wasn’t the only audience member who was wowed. Here’s a nice highlights reel from the band’s website.

Sources: Decade Facebook page, Hotel California website, TUSK website, Echoes Facebook page and website, YouTube

Blues, Shock and Rock Rumble New Jersey

Edgar Winter Band, Alice Cooper and Deep Purple blew off roof at PNC Bank Arts Center

What do you get when you have blues rocker Edgar Winter, Mr. Shock Rock Alice Cooper and hard rock pioneers Deep Purple on one ticket? Three-and-a-half hours of furious rock and possibly some hearing loss!

I cannot believe it took me more than 30 years after I first listened to Machine Head to see my favorite hard rock band live. Last night, that time finally came when Deep Purple played the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J. Also on the ticket were Alice Cooper and Edgar Winter, who opened the four-hour night including breaks for stage changes.

From the very beginning, the Edgar Winter Band felt like an engine running on maximum rpm the entire time – almost as if Winter, who is the younger brother of electric blues legend Johnny Winter, wanted to bundle the energy of Alice Cooper’s and Deep Purple’s longer performances in a much shorter set. If that was indeed his goal, he succeeded!

Winter’s five-track set included the 1973 Edgar Winter Group hits Free Ride and Frankenstein, as well as covers of Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Tobacco Road and Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo. He dedicated the last two tunes to his brother. In addition to Winter’s impressive vocal dynamics, he showcased his multi-instrumental skills, playing keyboards, saxophone and percussion. Here’s a clip of Tobacco Road captured during a performance in Atlanta earlier this month.

Next up was Alice Cooper. I only knew four of the sixteen songs he performed, but fortunately, there is setlist.fm. With a discography of 27 studio albums to date, Cooper had plenty of material he could draw from. The set spanned tacks from 1971’s Love It To Death until his last album Paranormal, which was released at the end of July.

Cooper’s gig started off with Brutal Planet, the title song of his 2000 studio album. This was followed by No More Mr. Nice Guy from his best-selling 1973 record Billion Dollar Babies, which hit no. 1 in the U.S. and the U.K. No More Mr. Nice Guy was the most successful of the four singles from the album, climbing to no. 25 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Here is a clip from a show in Nashville back in May.

The stand-out musician in Cooper’s band was lead guitarist Nita Strauss. The 30-year-old from Los Angeles is a quite a shredder. According to Wikipedia, one of her ancestors on her father’s side of the family is Johann Strauss II, the famous Austrian composer. Strauss, who became Cooper’s touring lead guitarist in 2014, was ranked no. 1 on Guitar World’s 10 Female Guitarists You Should Know. Here is a clip of a solo Strauss played during the show, which blends into Poison, another big hit for Cooper from his 18th studio album Trash, released in 1989.

Of course, a review of Cooper’s set wouldn’t be complete without the epic School’s Out, the title track from his fifth studio album, which appeared in June 1972. Perhaps not surprisingly, he kept it all the way until the very end as the encore. Here’s a clip from Appleton, WI from June.

And then it was finally time for Deep Purple, the main reason I was at last night’s show. The gig was part of the band’s Long Goodbye Tour, which supports their 20th and latest studio album Infinite. When Deep Purple announced the tour in December 2016, drummer Ian Paice told Heavyworlds, “It’ll be a long tour; it may be the last big tour, we don’t know…We haven’t made any plans, but it becomes obvious that you cannot tour the same way you did when you were 21.” In June 2016, Paice had a mini-stroke, which impacted his right hand and forced the band to cancel some shows in Scandinavia.

Last night, I have to say I thought Paice was in superb shape. There were no signs of any impairment. In fact, I was most impressed with him and keyboarder Don Airy. Singer Ian Gillan, on the other hand, seemed to be a bit subdued. At 72 years, he is the oldest member of the band. Plus, as a vocalist, changes are perhaps more obvious. Unlike a guitar you can tune, the voice is a natural instrument that changes over time. Gillan has been a singer for a whooping 55 years. Even though his voice isn’t quite what it used to be, it was still amazing to see him perform alongside his Machine Head compatriots Paice and bassist Roger Glover. Steve Morse, who at 63 is the youngest member of Deep Purple, is a very fine guitarist.

Deep Purple opened their set with two of their greatest songs, Highway Star and Fireball from Machine Head (1972) and Fireball (1971), respectively. I’ve always loved Highway Star’s organ and guitar solos on the studio version, which were played by the amazing Jon Lord and rock guitar virtuoso Ritchie Blackmore, respectively. Perhaps that version puts the bar impossibly high for a live performance. Here is a clip from a show earlier this month in Woodlands, Texas.

Machine Head was the best represented album in Deep Purple’s set. In addition to Highway Star, they played Lazy, Space Truckin and of course Smoke On The Water – frankly, I wouldn’t have minded if they had included all of the record’s tunes – each of them is great, in my opinion!

Songs from the Infinite album included Time For Bedlam and The Surprising. Deep Purple also played two tracks from 1984’s Perfect Strangers, Knocking At Your Back Door and the title song. I always thought Perfect Strangers, the first record after the band had disbanded in 1976, was a pretty good comeback album. Here is a clip of the title track, which was also captured during the above Woodlands concert.

Another great moment in Deep Purple’s set last night was Hush, which is from their 1968 debut Shades Of Deep Purple. By the way, Paice already was part of the band’s lineup then, making him the only member who has played on all Deep Purple records to date. Written by Joe South, Hush became the band’s first hit single climbing to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Here’s a clip captured a few days ago during a concert in Mansfield, Mass.

Last but not least there is what is probably the band’s signature song featuring a riff every guitarist learns: Smoke On The Water. It was the final tune of Deep Purple’s set and a great end to a terrific rock night. Here is a clip recorded in May at a show in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Sources: Wikipedia, setlist.fm, YouTube