By: The Professor Jim Price
Since I now officially have no rooting interest whatsoever in the Super Bowl, February means only one thing to me…Millennium! This live music-a-holic is counting down the days until the 17th annual Millennium Music Conference, taking place Feb. 14-17 at the Radisson Penn Harris Convention Center in Camp Hill. My “working vacation,” I’ll again be there representing with the Pennsylvania Musician contingent, eager to partake in the panels, seminars, keynote addresses, trade show, showcasing performers, touching base with friends I don’t get to see the rest of the year, late-night hotel lobby jam sessions, Dr. McGillicuddy…what’s there NOT to like? What bands or performers will catch my attention on the trade show acoustic stage or during a showcase performance? I’m anxious to find out!
Winter has been relatively kind to the area music scene so far, and this enabled me to catch some good shows during the holiday season and January. Live local music took the spotlight last month at Altoona’s historic Mishler Theatre, on a special night that helped raise money for the St. Vincent DePaul Food for Families kitchen. The Mishler Bands Together for Charity concert featured a wide variety of area musical talent. Joking that the last time he was in the Mishler was when Frank Sinatra was popular, State College favorite Tommy Wareham and his friends kicked off the night. Tommy on vocals and guitar, Dave Zettner on bass and Professor Steve on cajon did classic hits from The Boxtops, Elvis Costello and Orleans. Area solo favorite Steve Summerhill told the audience he wanted to pick out songs that appealed to a variety of generations, and chose to perform Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” and Dave Mason’s “We Just Disagree.” With sound engineer Pat McGinnis on bass and Dave Villani joining in on keys, the Hurricanes then entertained the Mishler audience with versions of Jimmy Martin’s “Freeborn Man,” Eric Clapton’s “Louise” and their original favorite “Walking a Straight Line.” One of the heart-touching highlights of the night happened next, as Matt Wagner and his 6-year-old daughter, Kaedyn, took the stage. After a duet version of The Lumineers’ “Ho Hey,” Matt handed the limelight to Kaedyn, who fearlessly displayed her voice on Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” One Brick Shy then rocked the Mishler stage with a blend of new and classic rock, starting with Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl,” continuing with the Five Finger Death Punch spin on “Bad Company,” and entering Golden Earring’s “Twilight Zone” for their homestretch. Show organizer and emcee Dr. Vic Rizzo then introduced Sister Paula from St. Vincent DePaul, who thanked the audience for their support and explained how their donations helped feed the needy of the community. The first half of the concert then closed with 7th Gear, showcasing the developing talents of singer Michelle Galo. Michele displayed a potent voice on renditions of Veruca Salt’s “Volcano Girls,” (Lady GaGa’s “Edge of Glory” and Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker,” before Vic Rizzo joined her for the duet version of Bon Jovi’s “Who Says You Can’t Go Home.” After a brief intermission, Tyne & the Fastlyne resumed the music with distinctive Americana treatments of “House of the Rising Sun” and Blackfoot’s “Train Train,” plus an original song penned by Erin Condo called “Odessa.” Tyne Palazzi captivated the audience with her passionate, gritty voice and stellar banjo picking talents. The Backyard Rockers continued with two songs, Rich Dasch’s original song ode to his daughter on her wedding day, “Tara’s Song,” and a rousing edition of Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road.” Last Stand, a collaboration featuring the father and son tandem of Rick and Eric Wertz on guitar and bass, Will Jones on drums and Mary Villani on keys, then elevated the audience’s spirits with uplifting versions of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” CSNY’s “Southern Cross” and a singalong version of Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” Telling the audience he grew up just a short distance from the Mishler, Ryan Matthew sang and strummed out renditions of Counting Crows’ “Round Here” and Sister Hazel’s “All for You,” setting up for Flight 19’s action-packed finale. The group’s harmonies kicked off Styx’s “Renegade,” before the “Party Plane” achieved full festive altitude with Sly Fox’s “Let’s Go All the Way,” and an all-star jam edition of REO Speedwagon’s “Roll with the Changes,” where they were joined onstage by Vic Rizzo, Steve from One Brick Shy, and Rich and Dave from the Backyard Rockers. When the house demanded an encore, Flight 19 responded with Toto’s “Hold the Line” to end the night. This initial night of local live music at the Mishler was a success, and more such shows are being planned.
During the weekend before Christmas, end-of-the-world hysteria reached its peak, and end-of-the-world parties took place to send the planet out on a festive note…if that actually would have come to pass. Aldo’s partied like there was no tomorrow with their late December End Of World Party, which featured an end-of-world food buffet, a paper bag survival kit featuring bottled water, toilet paper, a book of matches and some edibles, and live music from Stereo Frenzy and The Hope Fallacy. Stereo Frenzy launched the night with a set of all original punk-based sounds. Singer/guitarist/pianist Luke Pfister, guitarist/singer James McNulty, bassist/singer Chris Lawson and drummer Adam Smith introduced a number of songs that will be on their forthcoming debut CD, such as “Angels Falling,” “Fall from Grace” and “Dance with the Dead,” and also broke out a version of the Misfits’ “Hybrid Moments.” As a midnight toast was served up to celebrate the apparent continuation of the world, The Hope Fallacy delivered two sets of party anthems and original songs. Singer/bassist Eric McCrum, guitarists/singers Adam Mueller and Adam Pielmeier, lead guitarist Evan Fredo and drummer Trey Carruthers mixed it up between original song favorites like “Behind Closed Doors,” “Over and Out” and “Up All Night,” and hits from Sublime, Ram Jam, Nena, Outfield, Def Leppard, Rehab, Tom Petty and more.
Since the world didn’t end the previous night as originally forecast, I was able to witness The Syrins in action in late December at Altoona’s Family Pizza and Pub. Now the trio of guitarist Tom Fronauer II, bassist Mike Furry and drummer Chris Conrad (all three sing), The Syrins kept the Family Pizza audience captivated with their interesting blend of ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s hits and classics. They seamlessly gearshifted between ‘60s gems from the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Van Morrison; ‘70s numbers from the Cars, Badfinger and Tommy Tutone; and ‘80s favorites from Hall & Oates, Loverboy, Genesis, ZZ Top and more. All three members sounded good in their respective singing roles, and their arrangements and instrumental execution were sharp. Approaching the completion of their first decade on area stages, The Syrins continue to offer fresh updates on time-tested classics; watch for their return to Family Pizza soon.
The Ozone Rangers stepped on Pellegrine’s stage for the first time in 18 years during Christmas week in late December. This night featuring lead Ranger Bob Muhlbauer on guitar and vocals, fill-in bassist/singer Jason Davis and drummer/singer Brendan Komenda; the Ozone Rangers did what they do best, playing plentiful classic rock favorites. Their middle set reprised their infamous tribute to ZZ Top, with the group playing both ‘70s and ‘80s era classics from the Texas trio. On either side of that set, the Ozone Rangers broke out a variety of classic and some modern rock favorites from names such as Neil Young, Marshall Tucker Band, Black Keys, Aerosmith, Joe Cocker, Cheap Trick and more. During their third set, the group reprised another ‘tradition,’ their “Medley in E,” during which they strung together 20 different songs in the key of E to end the night. Through it all, the Ozone Rangers displayed stellar instrumental chops, while continually keeping the show fun and never taking themselves too seriously.
Chris Vipond & the Stanley Street Band provided a grooving homestretch to 2012 during their late December New Year’s Eve eve performance at the Belmar Hotel. Joined on guitar this night by Chris Vipond’s and Mike Stanley’s former Neogumbo bandmate Paul Johnson, Chris and the Stanley Street Band generated a continuous grooving, romping, funk-i-fied party with their mixture of original songs and tasty remakes. The group fused Aretha Franklin’s “Think” (with its “Freedom” choruses) together with their own original song “Freedom.” They also broke out inventive and fresh-sounding takes on Bill Withers’ “Use Me,” Terrence Trent D’Arby’s “Wishing Well,” Led Zeppelin’s “Trampled Underfoot,” and Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride,” which incorporated Phish’s “First Tube” into the midsection. Namesake Chris on vocals and keys, Mike on bass, Phil Wagner on guitar, Randy Servello on drums and guest Paul also tapped their original song arsenal for “Be,” “Shine” and more. The group kept the mood upbeat and fun, resulting in a busy dance floor throughout the night. Chris Vipond & the Stanley Street Band return to the Belmar Hotel Feb. 2.
Armed and rebooted with new guitar player Nate Nagle, Lies, Inc. returned to stage action in late December, playing at Aldo’s on a double-bill with Black Sun. Opening the night, Lies, Inc. quickly reestablished their stern musical turf of hard-hitting, female-fronted modern rock with their mix of older and new original song material. Nate displayed precision and intensity on his guitar leads, adding spark to the rumbling, busy rhythm barrages of drummer Ron Brode and bassist Kent Tonkin. Singer Lily Taylor quickly reaffirmed her vocal power and intensity, as she led Lies, Inc. through forceful established original songs like “Waking the Misery,” “Invertigo” and “Losing Ground,” along with newer assaults such as “Shadowland” and “Hell’s Angel.” Black Sun then followed with their distinctive, inventive heavy rock sound. Through their developing original song arsenal, singer Todd McKeone, guitarist Jason Feathers, bassist Dave Mollica and drummer Nate Woods generated a sound rooted in early 1970s hard rock and metal, but again introduced their own innovative slants. Oceanic arrangements, technical instrumental detail, and blues-rock flourishes reminiscent of early Robin Trower surfaced during this night’s performance; they also performed two Black Sabbath numbers.
NailDriver headlined a metallic triple-bill at Aldo’s last month. I arrived too late to catch show openers Up Your Arsenal, but eyewitness accounts reported that they represented well onstage. I did get to see most of Assault Method’s set; my first time witnessing this Williamsburg-based group in action. Guitarists Chris Dell and John Liebal, bassist Nick Bayer and drummer Cody Kensinger drilled punishing, powerful backdrops; providing the launching pad for frontman Mike Houck to roar out his lead vocals. Assault Method blended brutality and precision through original assaults such as “The Fury,” “Deaf and Cold” and “New Domination,” and also applied their terse metallic stylings to a version of Garth Brooks’ “Thunder Rolls.” This was the first I got to see NailDriver since the return of former drummer Kevin Siegel; the group sounded sharp and intense on their set of original songs and select heavy covers. Kevin, bassist Scott Bush, guitarists Scott Botteicher and Todd Dale served up aggressive, battering ram rhythms, atop which frontman Matt Watson sang and barked lead voice. NailDriver reprised established original songs like “The Enemy,” “Executioner” and “In God We Trust,” and introduced newer numbers like “Hypocrite Anthem.” NailDriver also drilled scathing renditions of Anthrax’s “Only,” Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper” and Budgie/Metallica’s “Breadfan.” When the Aldo’s crowd demanded more at set’s end, NailDriver responded with a new song, “Dawn of a New Day.” NailDriver returns to Aldo’s Mar. 9.
Hair Force One helped 30 Something main man Claudio mark three decades in the bar business last month. The current hair force of frontman Victor Synn, guitarists Michael J. Cox and Milo Nuttz, bassist Iva Biggin and drummer G celebrated the pomp and decadence of ‘80s rock and metal. They kept the 30 Something dance floor packed throughout the night with headbanging fare from Faster Pussycat, Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, Cinderella, Def Leppard, Poison, Twisted Sister, Guns N’Roses, AC/DC, Tesla, Skid Row and more. A steady parade of female audience members platooned on and off the stage to dance alongside band members, reminiscent of some of those ‘80s-era “Headbangers Ball” videos or TV rock/pop variety shows! Hair was flying, spandex was stretching, and the house was rocking from start to end. Late in the show, Hair Force One welcomed former Bad Daze singer Rob Carolus onstage to front the group on Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me,” and to duet with Victor on AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” When the crowd demanded one more, the group replied with Accept’s “Balls to the Wall,” capping an exhaustive good time. Hair Force One touches back down at 30 Something Mar. 9.
Closing in on two decades of bringing good rocking times to State College stages, Spider Kelly still goes strong. During one of their weekly Friday performances at Zeno’s last month, the current Spider Kelly cast of singers/guitarists Eric Bishop and Chris Hescox, bassist/singer James Miller and drummer Chuck Morrison struck up the party with a wide variety of song material, with an emphasis on forgotten ‘90s rock/pop gems. It was refreshing to hear Spider Kelly resurrecting lost classics like Fountains Of Wayne’s “Radiation Vibe,” Matthew Sweet’s “Girlfriend,” Spacehog’s “In the Meantime” and more. The group also mixed in numbers by the Black Keys, Beatles, Everclear, Social Distortion, John Denver, Deep Purple, Rancid, the Rolling Stones and more. Eric and Chris handled the lion’s share of singing duties, and they weren’t afraid to change up the sounds emanating from their instruments. It amounted to a fresh, fun show that kept fans content from start to end. See Spider Kelly’s weekly Friday Zeno’s shows, and catch them on other State College stages as well.
The Sitch continues to bring the party to an expanding range of local stages. During last month’s visit to Altoona’s Belmar Hotel, The Sitch provided an upbeat, festive show; as they mixed up a wide variety of rock and pop favorites from names like Buckcherry, Black Keys, AC/DC, War, Maroon 5, Beastie Boys, Doors, Cee Lo Green and more. The group also closed the night with one of their own songs, “Run for Your Life.” Singer Dustin Reisling displayed good voice and stage presence, working the stage area and welcoming the audience into the party. Bassist Ryan McCracken switched off to saxophone briefly during the third set on renditions of War’s “Low Rider” and the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues,” while guitarist Troy Bugash handled bass duties. Lead guitarist Greg Larrimore displayed clean solo work throughout the night, while Huck James provided the steady beats behind it all. The Sitch play throughout Blair, Bedford and Cambria counties; they return to the Belmar Hotel Mar. 30.
On the acoustic front, Rich Edmundson has been busy in the past two months; he married bride Krystle in December (Congratulations!), and issued his first CD last month, celebrating the release of Worlds Apart with a special show at Pellegrine’s. Through the course of the show, Rich showcased many of the songs from the CD, and explained the inspirations and stories behind each one. Some of his selections included “Try to Love Me,” “Guitar Man” (inspired by his uncle, the late Jim Rossi, who used to operate the U.S. Hotel in Hollidaysburg and front the U.S. Hotel House Band), “Fool’s Paradise,” and his unique hand-tapping-guitar instrumental “Percussive Guitar.” He also included the occasional cover song, including takes on CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
Wertz & Co. anchored a benefit night for the Rubies Rabid Responders Relay for Life Team last month in the upstairs 4D’s Lounge. The Music for Miracles benefit featured several guest performers along the way, including Frankie Rae, Jess P. (That’s What She Said) and more. Sharing singing duties, Eric Wertz and Matt Pletcher mixed old and new pop/rock favorites, with a few surprises along the way. Eric introduced a ukulele to perform versions of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Radiohead’s “Creep.” And the pair triggered busy dance floor action late as they did numbers from Flys, Old Crow Medicine Show, Temptations, Social Distortion, Eric Church, Clash, Flogging Molly, Steve Miller Band and more.
That’s What She Said reconvened last month at Pellegrine’s. The singing duo of keyboardist Adam D and acoustic guitarist Jess P alternated singing duties back and forth through much of the night, occasionally blending their voices on some duets. Along the way, both tackled some unexpected song selections, even crossing gender lines to do a song from the opposite gender. Jess’ selection included several Beatles numbers like “Norwegian Wood,” “Let It Be” and “Hide Your Love Away,” John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads” and Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” Adam took on Alanis Morisette’s “Hand in My Pocket,” as well as creative takes on David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” and Kansas’ “Hold On.” And as a duet, Adam and Jess blended voices on versions of REO Speedwagon’s “Take It on the Run” and Styx’s “Come Sail Away.”
And Punk Fiction continues to evolve their distinctive show. During last month’s appearance at Patton’s Thirsty Dawg Taverne, singer/guitarist Gary McCloskey and hand percussionist/singer Ed Hofer introduced a wide variety of song material; including original songs, and diverse numbers from John Lennon, Everlast, Incubus, O.A.R., Tom Petty, Guns N’Roses, Beatles, Mumford & Son and more. Highlights included a tropical-flavored take on Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” an inventive spin on Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice,” and the pair inviting guest guitarist/singer Rick Ramsey and a bongo-banging professor from the Backyard Rockers (modesty prohibits me) up to join in on a spirited version of Rusted Root’s “Send Me On My Way.” (Thanks guys!)
Other bands and performers I witnessed in recent weeks included Triple Threat at Pellegrine’s, Half Tempted at Teriz Place and Baltimore’s All Natural at the 4D’s Lounge; all celebrating or warding off the impending end of the world in December.
The area music scene mourned the passing of two musicians during January. Johnstown native and former area musician Chris Brailler passed away after a brief illness Jan. 12 at age 42 in his home area of Houston, Texas. Chris played guitar and sang with several Johnstown area bands including Primer Lime. And Damian Falcho passed away Jan. 8 at age 49 from diabetes-related causes. Damian played drums with a number of area bands, including Wayward Son, T-Minus and more. We at Pennsylvania Musician send our heartfelt condolences to the families, friends and musical associates of both men.
News and notes…Former members of Bad Daze and Stept On have come together in a new band project, Brand New Wings…former members of Represent The Lie have formed a new band project called Hate Grenade…After a year run on Northeast stages, Philadelphia’s The Next has transformed into a new band; singer Tyler Grady left the group after January to pursue other solo endeavors; the remaining members have enlisted former Steamroller Picnic singer/guitarist Paul Mullay and move forward with a new name, Alien Arcade…Drummer Steve Arnold announced that he will be leaving The Nightcrawlers later this spring and hanging up his drumsticks to start a family; the group is currently seeking a new drummer…Pittsburgh surf-rockers the Turbosonics have released their self-titled debut CD…Pittsburgh’s Joy Ike has issued her new album, All or Nothing…Happy Birthdays to Matt Day (Brand New Wings), Tyne Palazzi (Tyne & the Fastlyne), Jason Straw (10 Million Devils), John Scarfone (Zombie Butterflies), Chris Myers (Full Kilt), Jen Shuty (Flood City Brass), “Harmonica Dave” Baird (Backyard Rockers), Dan Lukens (Ganister), Kim Miller (The Runaways), Mike Clapper (Borrowed Time), Scott Mulligan (Sunset Strip), Molly Countermine (Pure Cane Sugar/Maxwell Strait), Jackson Monsour, Matt Pletcher (Wertz & Co.), Dana Martino (DD & the Pub Crawlers), Mike Stanley (Chris Vipond & the Stanley Street Band), Daryl Branford (Ted McCloskey & the Hi Fi’s), Lily Taylor (Lies, Inc.), Lloyd Rummell (One Adam 12), Peter Jogo (The Nightcrawlers), Dan Murphy (Sun King Warriors), Bob Gates (The Front), Conner Gilbert, Brian Cupples, Chris Kane, Steve Stuckey, Lisa “Esa” Smith and Jim Dickson.
Please send correspondence and recordings to: Jim Price, 1104 S. Catherine St., Altoona, PA 16602. You can also e-mail me at either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. For my weekly updates on area music scene happenings, check out JP’s Corner on the Rockpage forums area at www.rockpage.net, and my “Backyard Beats” blog on the Altoona Mirror’s website, www.altoonamirror.com. And if you’re into social networking, look me up on Facebook or Google+. SUPPORT LOCAL MUSIC!