By: Jim Price
Although Spring officially starts later this month, it appears that winter has already started relenting, which has permitted me to see a number of noteworthy live music performances in recent weeks.
One highlight for me in the past month was catching my first look at Canadian folk/Americana group The Wailin’ Jennys at State College’s historic State Theatre. Three multi-talented women provide the core of this group: singer and stand-up bassist Heather Masse; guitarist, percussionist and singer Nicky Mehta; and singer, banjo, guitar and accordion player Ruth Moody. Assisting these women this night were Ruth’s brother Richard Moody on viola, and acoustic guitarist Adam Dobres. Together 16 years, The Wailin’ Jennys showcased wondrous vocals and harmonies, as well as tasty, ear-pleasing arrangements on an assortment of original songs and select covers. Their sound combined elements of folk, Celtic, bluegrass, country and rock as they performed songs from their five CD’s, including their latest album of cover songs, Fifteen. Although each of their songs this night qualified as a highlight, standouts for me included their intertwining voices on the a cappella “These Blues” and Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning,” Heather’s jazz-rooted “Cherry Blossom Love,” the audience sing-along “Oh Sweet Peace,” and – as this show happened the day after the Parkland school shooting in Florida – the solemn show-closer “One Voice.” The Wailin’ Jennys also performed renditions of Emmy Lou Harris’ “Deeper Well” and “Boulder to Birmingham,” Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me in Your Heart,” Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” and the traditional “Old Churchyard.” During their current tour, The Wailin’ Jennys have teamed with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – this night, the group invited audience members to make donations to NAMI during intermission. Everybody who donated any amount received a raffle ticket to win The Wailin’ Jennys’ entire five-album CD catalog and a T-shirt. (I’m now the proud owner of those items, as my ticket was drawn!)
A popular adage suggests that a man’s worth is not measured by his possessions, but by the number of friends he has, and friends who remember him when he’s gone. The late Tom Petty won the hearts of many with his music, and a wall-to-wall crowd packed McGarvey’s in late January for a special “Petty Crime” tribute featuring a cast of area musicians. The assembled cast of singers Brian Elliott, Todd McKeone and Aislinn Feathers, guitarist/mandolinist Mike Wertz, guitarist/keyboardist Jarrett Bickel, bassist Hunter Karns and drummer Sam Thurau performed two sets of pure Petty, touching on many of his best-known numbers and a few deep cuts. After a strong opening set by Ed N’Born, the Petty Crime cast cut loose with “You Wreck Me” to open their first set, and did Petty favorites such as “Running Down a Dream,” “The Waiting,” “You Don’t Know How It Feels” and “Refugee.” Aislinn then sang the Stevie Nicks lead on “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” before the group dug out a few Petty deep cuts such as “Honey Bee,” “The Apartment Song” and “Lover of the Bayou.” Next was “Don’t Do Me Like That,” before Ed N’Born’s Sean Osborn joined in on acoustic guitar for the set-ending edition of “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” The crowd remained festive as the cast launched into their second set with “I Need to Know,” Petty hits and favorites filled out the duration: “I Won’t Back Down,” “Breakdown,” “Handle with Care,” “Into the Great Wide Open,” “Learning to Fly,” “Wildflowers,” “Yer So Bad,” “Even the Losers,” “It’s Good to Be King,” “American Girl,” and – to end the night – “Free Fallin.’” The performance was strong and enthusiastic from start to end, and it was clear that this assembled cast did their homework and had these songs down before hitting the stage. The mood was happy throughout; this celebration of Tom Petty and his body of work made for a memorable night.
I saw a number of shows at McGarvey’s in the past several weeks…Another recent highlight there was a night of blues headlined by all-female New York-based blues quintet Jane Lee Hooker. This was an excellent night of blues and blues rock, with the Rogan Allen Project kicking things off early. Flanked by Bill Smith on bass, Nathan Beatty on keys and trumpet, and Randy Servello behind the drum kit, Rogan sang and jammed guitar on a mix of original tunes and select blues-rooted covers. One of Rogan’s originals was the catchy “Warm Beer and Cold Women,” and he and his bandmates finished with Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.” Felix & the Hurricanes followed with their strong set of original tunes and covers. Namesake, singer and guitar meister Felix Kos, singer and bassist Jeff Clapper and drummer Bob Watters served up a few original songs I had not heard in a while, such as “Free” and “I Just Had to Play the Blues,” as well as favorites like “Walking a Straight Line,” “Beale Street,” “Keep On Rockin’” and more. Guest Steve Oswalt hopped onto the stage to belt out voice on “It’s All Over Now,” and the Hurricanes also did numbers from the Allman Brothers, ZZ Top, Robben Ford, and the lid-slamming finisher, Focus’ “Hocus Pocus.” Jane Lee Hooker then came, saw and conquered the Altoona audience with their fiery set of blues and blues-rock, serving up original songs from their two CD’s and a select remake or two. These five women brought it all, from fast-firing boogie and blues-driven rockers to slow heart-ripping blues tunes. Their base sound tapped Bonnie Raitt and the Rolling Stones influences especially, but they also opened with Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man” and did a fiery version of Bobby Bland’s “Turn On Your Love Light” (which they cover on their latest album, Spiritus). Singer and keyboardist Dana “Danger” Athens displayed a high-flying, powerful voice, passion and all-out energy from start to end; guitarists Tracy Hightop and Tina “T-Bone” Gorin demonstrated chunky riffs, slick solos and even some harmony leads, and bassist Mary Zadroga and drummer Melissa Houston set the strong rhythms and foundation behind it all. Jane Lee Hooker had the house howling and cheering from the get-go, and left much of the crowd picking their jaws up off the floor by show’s end.
McGarvey’s hosted the fast-firing triple-bill of Dragline, The Flannels and The Filthy Lowdown in late January. Alle-Kiski Valley trio Dragline brought full fury to the stage to lead off the night, performing unapologetic, blistering hard rock and roll. Singer/guitarist Jimmy, bassist/singer Mike and drummer Jay mixed elements of rebel country, southern rock and rockabilly into their high-powered, Motorhead-rooted sound. Some of their highlights included originals like “Mommy’s Got Bacon, Daddy’s Got Beans,” “Whiskey and the Devil,” “Rock and Roll Machine,” and their fiery set-ending cover of David Allan Coe’s “Tennessee Whiskey.” The Flannels then fired off their set of short, sweet, blistering, melody-rooted punk rock numbers. Their tunes were fast and furious, but tight and tuneful – singer John Brehm, guitarists James McNulty and Mike Lanzendorfer, bassist Chet Lafferty and drummer Josh Ryan drilled tunes such as “My Way,” “Song About You,” “Be There for Me,” “Feet So Cold” and their established closer, “10-28.” The Flannels kept their foot on the accelerator and never let up, and their set kept the energy level high from start to end. Pittsburgh’s The Filthy Lowdown slammed the lid on the night with their high-velocity, whiplash-inducing punk and metal-geared rock. This band was a speed trip from start to end, with guitarists Max Snyder and Brandon Habera, bassist Charlie Kowalski and drummer Dan Kelly setting the rampaging backdrops for singer Abe Like Lincoln to do his manic thing – often wrapping his mic cord around his face as he barked and snarled tunes from the group’s original song arsenal. Some of The Filthy Lowdown’s tunes this night included “308,” “Punk Rock and Roll,” “Hydroplane” (which is currently getting some Pittsburgh radio airplay), “Dog in Heat” and more. The Filthy Lowdown was fast, furious, intense and focused, and their set provided the perfect blowout finale to the night.
McGarvey’s also featured longtime New Jersey-based rockers the Hudson Falcons, who headlined a triple-bill last month. Greg Burley performed his acoustic show before I arrived, and I got there just before the Rik Golden Band took the stage. Namesake Rik on lead voice and guitar, guitar man Rick Ramsey, bassist Steve Seymore and drummer Todd Harshbarger cranked out their set of high-octane, punk-infused original tunes and select covers. Rik and company did longtime original tune favorites like “Jonny Leatherjacket,” “The Gig Is Up,” “Something Else (In Mind),” “Brown Eye Mary” and one from Rik’s Full Time Kings stint, “Don’t Bother Me.” They also broke out versions of Elvis Costello’s “Radio, Radio,” the Rick Ramsey-fronted take on the Ramones’ “The KKK Took My Baby Away,” a Descendents number and more. Paying their first visit to the McGarvey’s stage, the Hudson Falcons – in the midst of their 20th anniversary tour – tore it up with their mixture of raw, slamming punk and rock’n’roll. Their first few songs demonstrated all-out, reckless abandon, blue-collar-themed punk rock, but gruff-voiced frontman Mark Linskey and the group – guitarist Chris Lynn, bassist Jim and Alyson Cina on drums – then showed another twist on their persona, mixing in some melody-based, thoughtful numbers with a Bruce Springsteen edge – such as “Be There With You,” “Interstate Bound” and “Long Live the King.” There were also several boisterous odes that championed working class struggles, such as their set-opener “Revolution,” “We’ll Fight Back” and more. The Hudson Falcons also threw in a few select covers, including a Devil Dogs number and their closing take on the Dictators’ “Stay With Me,” which infused snippets of CCR’s “Travelin’ Band” and Buddy Holly’s “Oh Boy.”
Snowy conditions on a Saturday night last month couldn’t thwart me from seeing Syracuse, New York rockers The Spring Street Family when they paid their first visit to McGarvey’s. This band was impressive as they mixed hard rock, funk, reggae and hip-hop. Rage Against the Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers served as primary reference points for their sound, but there were also hints of Led Zeppelin, Parliament-Funkadelic and even a touch of jam rock present. Singer Ryan Vendetti brought the fury, from Zach de la Rocha-flavored raps to scathing howls and more, and lead guitarist Ben Blujus did some wild stuff on the guitar strings, with bassist Dennis Lingel and drummer Mike Redmond providing strong rhythms behind them. The Spring Street Family did a number of original tunes, including songs off their self-titled CD such as “Putting the Biscuits in the Basket” and more. They also broke out covers from Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Cake and others – I especially liked their mash-up salvo of DJ Snake/Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What” into Rage’s “Bulls on Parade” and “Know Your Enemy.” The inclement weather stunted the crowd at McGarvey’s this night, but the Spring Street Family will likely return later this year.
The live music dance party machine known as Shallow 9 fired on last month, even as a key component of the group was missing. Regularly-scheduled lead singer Erika Marino wasn’t available for the group’s performance at McGarvey’s, as she was out of town becoming Erika Marino Ankeny. (Yes, she got married – Congratulations!) In Erika’s absence, though, a few other voices stepped up, including guitarist Ryan Weaver, the group’s frequent-flyer soundman Mike Stanley, and – returning to the lead microphone role after ‘retiring’ ten years ago – former Silver Sunday singer Cathie Stultz. These three platooned singing duties throughout the night, joining guitarist Tucker Landis, bassist Mitch Neuder and drummer Todd Harshbarger. This piecemeal edition of Shallow 9 delivered the hits, keeping the dance floor busy with modern and classic rock, pop, funk, hip-hop and dance favorites. Cathie belted out voice while frequently venturing off stage to serenade the entire room on numbers by Elle King, Fallout Boy, Alanis Morisette, Lady Gaga and others. Ryan fronted the group on hits from Blink 182 and Billy Idol. And in his multitasking role, Mike stepped to the stage between mixing duties to lead Shallow 9 on funk/hip-hop medleys; he led the group on one mash-up medley that fused together House Of Pain’s “Jump Around,” Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Baby I Got Your Money,” Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady” and Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Brain,” and another that put together tunes from Outkast, Commodores, Wild Cherry, Bruno Mars and more. With Erika back at the microphone, Shallow 9 will be busy this month with shows in Maryland and central PA, including performing at the annual Mac’s Irish Bash fundraiser for the McEldowney Academic Scholarship Fund, happening at Altoona’s Jaffa Shrine on March 16.
A rising name on area stages is From Down The Road, who made their first appearance at McGarvey’s last month. Comprised of singer Guy Mauro, lead guitarist Ben Eberhart, bassist Eric Baker and drummer Tyler McEvoy; From Down The Road were all over the road musically, playing everything from classic 1960s and 70s rock to 1990s alternative, touches of punk and metal, and original tunes as well. Each of their original tunes had a different vibe – “Anywhere But Here” displayed a Jim Morrison/Doors flavor, and tunes like “The Word,” “Take It From Me,” “Summer Journey Into the Sun” and “Magic Rug” also displayed unique flavors. Their cover selection ran the gamut from Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and the Misfits’ “Last Caress” to the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer,” the Black Sabbath double-shot of “Paranoid” into “War Pigs,” Modest Mouse’s “Float On,” plus tunes from the Raconteurs, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, the Cars, Sublime, Jimi Hendrix, Jet, Weezer and more. With their wide variety of flavors and influences, it will be interesting to see where From Down the Road takes their music in the months ahead.
I couldn’t get enough of them on New Year’s Eve, so I enjoyed the happy vibes of D.D. & the Pub Crawlers again early last month at McGarvey’s. This band again delivered upbeat fun as – eight members strong this night – they mixed up a variety of rock, soul, swing jazz, blues, ska and more. With bassist Art Martino, guitarist Jim Howsare, keyboardist Tim Boland and drummer Todd Harshbarger providing the group’s steady backbone, singer Dana “D.D.” Martino belted out lively and happy-go-lucky vocals, while the trio of trumpet player Adam Lingenfelter, sax players Lyndsay Reilly and Anthony Martino added the brassy spice. It was all fun, as D.D. & the Pub Crawlers did songs from CCR, Stevie Wonder, Ides Of March, the Eagles, A-ha, Wilson Pickett and more. Some highlights included the group’s swinging medley of Louis Prima’s “Jump Jive and Wail” into the Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” and – to end the night – the group’s modern swing medley of Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ “Zoot Suit Riot” into Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s “You and Me and the Bottle Makes Three Tonight.” D.D. & the Pub Crawlers bring their festive music and stage show throughout the region, and they return to McGarvey’s on April 13.
After 30-plus years of covering the area music scene, there are some things that – although I have seen them many times – still remain fresh for me. One of them is seeing the Giants Of Science pack dance floors with their trademark blend of 1980s-era pop and new wave classics – something this band has been doing since their inception in the 1990s! I witnessed this again last month during the Giants’ visit to The Arena in State College. As I watched this night, it was still cool to see these Giants – Mick on guitar and lead vocals, Scotty B on keys, keytar and vocals, Johnny 5 on bass and Steve on drums – quickly filling the dance floor with those ‘80s-era chestnuts…tunes like Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night,” Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance,” Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round,” the Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian,” Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax,” Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen,” Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” A-ha’s “Take On Me,” Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself,” Journey’s “Any Way You Want It” and “Don’t Stop Believin,’” and many more. Sans their popular white labcoats and facepaints, the Giants Of Science brought the party, and the dancers loved it. The Giants Of Science found their musical niche a long time ago, and they continue to keep dance crowds happy with it, maintaining a busy slate of shows across the state.
Buster Krow continues to bring their party to area stages. I caught the last set of the group’s performance early last month at Hollidaysburg’s Old Canal Inn. Singer John Bauman, guitarists/singers Pat Irwin and Jeff Rhodes, bassist J.R. West and drummer Brian Gearhart did a solid job mixing up favorites spanning the 1970s to present. A good-sized crowd cheered and danced to Buster Krow’s takes on numbers by the Proclaimers, Black Crowes, Radiohead, Billy Joel, Garth Brooks, Stray Cats, the Rolling Stones and more. Last set highlights included the group’s takes on Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up” and Stray Cats’ “Rock This Town,” and the crowd not wanting the show to end and coaxing at least three extra songs from the group to finally close the night. Buster Krow returns to the Old Canal Inn on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.
On the acoustic front, Bedford’s Dave Howsare made his first appearance at Altoona’s Family Pizza & Pub in late January. Dave performed a blend of mostly classic rock numbers, demonstrating detailed guitar work and innovative uses of looping and layering on several numbers. Some of his highlights included an extended workout on America’s “Horse With No Name,” his arrangement on the Classics IV’s “Spooky,” the Doors’ “Crystal Ship,” his night-ending take on the Bouncing Souls’ “The Pizza Song,” and a medley that merged together CCR’s “Green River,” Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy” and “Ice Cream Man.” Dave also performed songs by Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, Black Crowes, Buffalo Springfield, John Mellencamp and more. Dave received a good response from the audience, will return to Family Pizza soon.
Also at Family Pizza, I caught up with Conner Gilbert last month. Conner kept the dinner and bar crowd happy with his pleasant mixture of new and older favorites. Conner kept the music constant and nonstop as he sang and strummed acoustic guitar; doing numbers from Cheap Trick, Three Doors Down, Tom Petty, Bryan Adams, Michael Jackson, Walk The Moon, Eagles, Styx, Old Crow Medicine Show, Lynyrd Skynyrd and more. The most intriguing highlights for me included Conner’s take on Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy,” and his night-ending edition of Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis.” Conner has become a frequent flyer on Altoona area stages; he returns to Family Pizza & Pub on March 23 and April 8.
Other performances I have seen recently included various musicians during the weekly Tuesday Open Mic Night at D’Ottavio’s Gran Sasso in Hollidaysburg, and the weekly Wednesday Open Mic Night at the Unter Uns Musical & Entertainment Society, presented by the Live Music Preservation Society.
News and notes…Backstreet Law is reuniting for two shows on the weekend of April 13 and 14; on April 13 they will perform at The Arena in State College, and on April 14 they will perform at Goodfellas Warehouse in Pottsville…State College’s The Tommy Roberts has announced they will be going their separate ways after a four-and-a-half year run on area stages…Mysterytrain has added new rhythm guitarist Gary McCloskey, formerly of Cambria County acoustic group Punk Fiction…This Albatross is seeking a new bass player…Images Of Eden has signed with Pavement Entertainment, and will issue their new CD, Soulrise, worldwide later this year.
Please send correspondence and recordings to: Jim Price, 1104 S. Catherine St., Altoona, PA 16602. You can also e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’re into social networking, look me up on Facebook or Google+. SUPPORT LOCAL MUSIC!