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The Professor’s – “Live Reviews”

By Jim Price

For much of last month, I thought I would be opening this writ with a farewell to these pages, as my editor, Robin Noll, announced the pending final chapter of Pennsylvania Musician Magazine, and that this month’s issue would be the swan song. However, thanks to Robin and Whitey Noll’s son, Josh Noll, stepping up to take the reins, PA Musician continues on, and so does this column! Thanks Josh for continuing this magazine and its legacy! And thanks to Robin and Whitey for their 36-plus years of building that legacy!

In the days that followed Robin’s initial announcement, many musicians, readers and fans approached me to show appreciation and share memories of their own experiences with PA Musician. Memories varied from musicians recalling their first-ever write-up or “Hot Shots” on these pages, to appreciation over remembrances to fallen area musicians, to the general appreciation that PA Musician has always been here as a central hub and database where readers can learn about the state’s music scene; its musicians, bands, venues, shows and news. On behalf of Robin, Whitey and my fellow writers and staff, thanks to everybody for the kind words!

Live music is starting to head back outside…One of this spring’s first outdoor shows was Penn State Altoona’s second annual “Ivyside Off the Rails: Glow On” music and arts festival last month at Altoona’s Railroaders Museum. Penn State Altoona students, via voting and a local “battle of the bands” event during the winter, selected the performers for this year’s concert. The Roof won the opening slot as the local battle victors, and did an impressive job in setting the tone for the evening, warming up the student audience with their blend of rock, folk, blues and R&B flavors. Singer, guitarist and bassist Frank Musaraca, guitarist and bassist Ivan Zvorsky, guitarist Jake Finkbiner and drummer Skyler Scholl performed original songs such as “Trouble in My Veins,” “Alan’s Song,” “Kindle,” “The Drought” and “Moving to the Country,” and also pulled out versions of the Grateful Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias” and their set-ending edition of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” Next was Brooklyn-based, Danish-born New Politics, who delivered a crisp and exciting blend of punk-based pop and rock flavors. This group was fun – singer and breakdancer David Boyd, guitarist, singer and keyboardist Soren Hansen and drummer Louis Vecchio drilled airtight, catchy melodies with nonstop action. Some of their songs included “Everywhere I Go (Kings and Queens),” “Girl Crush,” “Love Is a Drug,” “Dignity,” “Tonight You’re Perfect” and more. David provided constant movement on stage, suddenly giving a breakdancing clinic in the middle of one song, and then – on their set-closer “Harlem” (which presented an unexpected Bay City Rollers flavor) – David executed a back flip off the top of the bass drum on the riser, and stuck a perfect landing on the stage that would have earned him a gold medal in Olympic gymnastics! Capping the night was rap artist Waka Flocka (Flame) with his group, who instantly had the entire student audience excitedly in front of the stage. Waka and his crew delivered visceral, pulsing beats and rhymes that often had the crowd chanting and grooving along. I didn’t know much of his song library, but some of Waka’s numbers this night included “Trap My Ass Off,” “Big Dawg” and “No Hands,” and he also briefly referenced DJ Snake/Lil’ John’s “Turn Down for What.” Crowd enthusiasm hit a feverish pitch several times, with the show interrupted briefly as audience members were instructed not to climb up on speakers and sound gear. Positioned before the last week of classes and finals week, Ivyside Off the Rails provided a needed stress reliever for students (and at least this faculty member) alike.

Indoors, the current edition of British Invasion-era legends The Zombies performed in late March before a sold-out house at State College’s historic State Theatre. Opening the night was New England native and indie folk artist Don DiLego. Don performed a short selection of original songs, with touches of humor thrown in between. He playfully acknowledged his role as the opener, and jokingly told the audience he was honored to let The Zombies close for him. And as he led into the song “Step into the Fire” – an ode to his mother having his back throughout life – he called his mom from the stage and let the audience cheer greetings to her. Some of Don’s other original songs included “Go Pack Your Suitcase,” “Television Sun” and the new song “Great Escape,” and he also stepped from the microphone to sing the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody” directly to the audience, which turned into an audience sing-along. The Zombies soon came out and delivered a stellar set that featured songs from throughout their career. Founding members Rod Argent on keys and Colin Blunstone on lead vocals, plus guitarist Tom Toomey, drummer Steve Rodford and bassist Soren Koch performed all the essential hits, plus newer songs from their 2015 album Still Got That Hunger, curios and more. Some of their songs from the new album included “I Want You Back Again,” “Moving On” and the jazz-toned “Edge of the Rainbow.” They performed “I Love You,” a Zombies original that became a 1968 hit for the group People, and they did their own big hits, “Tell Her No,” “She’s Not There,” and – as part of a trio of songs from their celebrated 1968 album Odessey and Oracle – “Time of the Season.” They also performed “Care of Cell 44” and “This Will Be our Year” from Odessey and Oracle, the samba-flavored “Sanctuary,” and a strong rendition of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Bring It On Home.” My favorite part of the night happened when the group broke into a nearly 10-minute version of “Hold Your Head Up,” the biggest hit from Rod Argent’s self-named band Argent. Now 72, Rod totally went for broke on his keyboards with an extended solo display that had the State Theatre crowd rocking. When that crowd demanded an encore following “She’s Not There,” The Zombies responded with another Argent original – “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” (a song later redone and popularized by Kiss). For both being 72 years of age, Rod and Colin still brought abundant energy, enthusiasm and grace as they sounded sharp and established a pleasant rapport with the audience, giving insights and memories on their various songs. Some of this month’s featured performers at the State Theatre include Pink Floyd tribute group The Machine on May 11, and singer Bettye Lavette on May 20.

McGarvey’s in Altoona provided the “pulpit” for two “Reverends” to perform in recent weeks. In late March, Indiana (state)-based roots performers Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band electrified a packed house. Work duties prevented me from witnessing the two opening acts; the swan song performance of local roots quintet Nobody’s Heroes and Shane Speal & the Snakes. I arrived shortly into the headliner’s set, and witnessed as namesake, singer and guitarist Rev. Peyton, washboardist and backing singer Washboard Breezy Peyton, and drummer and backing singer Maxwell Senteney delivered fire-and-brimstone country, traditional and electric blues. Rev. Peyton sang with a hearty, boisterous howl and exhibited slide guitar mastery on a variety of instruments, including electric, cigar box, resonator guitars and even a stringed ax! All three band members whipped up the frenzy on original songs and select remakes from throughout their career; songs this night included “You Can’t Steal My Shine,” “Clap Your Hands,” the new song “Poor Until Payday,” “Saints Go Marching In” and more. Their energy, enthusiasm and personable stage presence kept the crowd happy and cheering for their entire performance. Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band performs at Pittsburgh’s Rex Theater on May 4 and Harrisburg’s Appalachian Brewing Company on May 5; and they will return to McGarvey’s in September.

Several days later in early April, the Reverend Horton Heat returned to McGarvey’s with their brand of fire-and-brimstone music. Likewise, work duties prevented me from catching the opening acts this night, including the first-ever Altoona appearance of Igor & the Red Elvises and Unknown Hinson. But the Reverend Horton Heat was heating up the house as I arrived with their fast-firing blend of punk-fueled roots rock, country and rockabilly. Frontman Jim “Reverend Horton” Heath, his longtime upright bass-playing cohort Jimbo Wallace, new drummer Arjunas “R.J.” Contreras and keyboardist Matt Jordan cranked out songs from throughout the group’s career. The group was in the midst of “Let Me Teach You How to Eat” when I first got there, and they also did numbers such as “Bales of Cocaine,” “400 Bucks,” “Galaxy 500” and their own torrid take on Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” to end their primary set. When the packed house demanded an encore, “R.J.” returned to the stage first to deliver a drum solo display, which found him eventually stepping away from his kit to tap on Jimbo’s big bass strings, the stagefront wooden crowd fence and more. The rest of the musicians then joined him to musically declare “It’s Martini Time.” Then Unknown Hinson, who had joined in with the group earlier, rejoined the band onstage to sing and play guitar on one of his numbers, “King of Country Western Troubadours,” to close out the night. The energy between band and crowd was continuous, resulting in a rowdy, happy-go-lucky time.

Another Ramone graced McGarvey’s stage in late March, as Richie Ramone – who played drums for the Ramones during the 1980s – headlined a four-band bill. One Adam 12 and Pittsburgh’s Filthy Lowdown kicked off the night, followed by long-running New Jersey-based punk rockers Bigwig. Four members strong, Bigwig generated high-velocity, melody-geared punk rock original songs that kept the packed house excited; some of their anthems this night included “Waste,” “One Side,” “Sore Losers,” “Friends,” “Moosh,” “Dreams Are Dead,” “Alone in New Jersey” and “Counting Down.” Splitting time between his drum kit and the lead microphone, Richie Ramone and his band closed the night with a blistering set that blended his own original songs with select Ramones classics. Flanked by bassist and singer Clare Misstake, lead guitarist Glenn Gilbert and rhythm guitarist Ben Reagan (who took over behind the drum kit when Richie stepped out front), Richie did Ramones numbers such as “Smash You” (which he wrote for the group), “I Don’t Care,” “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Judy Is a Punk,” the Ramones take on CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” and the night-closing “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker.” Richie’s own original music spanned fast and furious punk rock numbers like “I Fix This” to slower, rock and metal-toned assaults.

Nearly 11 years since going their separate ways, Backstreet Law reconvened for two reunion performances last month. I attended the first of the two, which took place at The Arena in State College. The Arena was a packed mass of humanity by the time I arrived, just as the opening group was concluding their set. Pittsburgh-based rock foursome Haven State soon took the stage, introducing an intriguing style that merged elements of progressive rock, funk and metal. Their songs featured detailed melodies with tempo shifts, interesting time signatures and unexpected twists and turns. Singer Josie Banks displayed a soaring, siren-like voice up front, backed by guitarist Cody House, bassist Brendan Mickoloff and drummer Lucas Martucci. Haven State showcased several original songs, including numbers from their debut EP Stratus such as “Broken Life,” “Dead Dog,” “Peachy Keen” and more. The packed house quickly escalated into frenzy as the reunited Backstreet Law roster of singer Matt Goodreau, guitarist Jeremy Edge, bassist Jamie Morral and drummer Tony Esposito launched into “Hockey Helmet,” and reprised their signature brand of hard rock and rap-edged metal. They proceeded through multiple crowd favorites, including “Falling,” “Party in the Parking Lot,” “Frustrated,” “Till December,” “Hollow,” “Sharks,” “Sorry,” “Open Your Eyes,” “For Dead” and more. They also broke out their popular heavy send-up of Madonna’s “Like A Virgin,” and closed their set with the Jamie-fronted rendition of Pantera’s “Walk.” Almost immediately, the Arena crowd started yelling for the encore, and repeating the title of one song they had not heard yet – “Seat Belt! Seat Belt!” Backstreet Law shortly resurfaced, and launched into the song’s trademark opening beats, turning the stage front dance floor area into a pulsing, moshing ocean of humanity. This night clearly showed that fans have not forgotten Backstreet Law or their music; this was one rowdy party!  

The Arena and 105.9 Qwik-Rock crowned a new champion to cap their second annual Battle of the Bands competition last month. When the dust settled on the Battle finals on April 14, Altoona’s Fyre outscored second-place finishers Traverse the Abyss from Scranton, third-place finishers 86 Bullets from Baltimore, State College’s Making State and Bedford County’s Rest in Peace; winning a paying gig at The Arena plus other prizes. I caught two more of the preliminary rounds leading up to the finals…The third round qualifier featured Fyre, along with Altoona’s PennSoulVania, Williamsport’s Ic.a.Nikki and Altoona’s Maul…And the fourth round qualifier featured 86 Bullets, Lewistown’s Psycho Prophecy and Clearfield’s Deadside.

The Flight 19 “Party Plane” will park in the hangar permanently after June, ending a nearly 20-year run on area stages. The group welcomed past members during their final appearance at Altoona’s Four Dees Lounge last month. The group’s current edition – singer Brian Thomas, guitarist and singer Rogan Allen, bassist Joe George, keyboardist and singer Phil Steele and drummer Paul Caracciolo – filled the Four Dees’ dance floor with their uptempo variety of rock, country, funk and dance favorites. The show’s key highlight was a reunion of the original “Party Plane” crew – Brian, guitarist and singer John McKelvey, bassist and singer Scott Imler, bassist Jim Phillips and drummer Darin Hand – to perform a set that featured the group’s early cover and original song favorites, including their signature party anthem “Hands.” Following the reunion, the current Flight 19 kept bodies gyrating until night’s end with tunes from Prince, Walk the Moon, Stevie Wonder, Three Dog Night, Toto, the Black Crowes, Love and Theft, Wild Cherry and many more. Area fans will have one more chance to see Flight 19, as their final public concert will take place on June 8 at downtown Altoona’s Heritage Plaza.

Hate Grenade celebrated the release of their second full-length CD, The King Is Dead, with a CD-release party early last month at McGarvey’s. Everett-based metal rockers Paradigm opened the night before my arrival, followed by Johnstown’s Darkness On The Radio. These guys roared with their signature skull-crushing metal sound, performing pulverizing original tunes like “Sons of Devilry,” “New Murders Old Crows,” “Judas Take the Wheel” and more. The commanding, monstrous wall of sound levied by lead howler and guitarist Jason Straw, lead guitarist Jay Snyder, bassist Greg Hatch and drummer Jason Kirchner filled the room and brought everybody to full attention front and center. Hate Grenade then pulled the pin and detonated their set, mixing songs from the new CD with previous tunes. Frontman Jeff Glace, guitarist Chuck Lavera, bassist Donny D and drummer Mike Powers opened with the new CD’s title tune, “The King Is Dead,” followed by the first single “Burn,” and other new numbers such as “Reborn,” “Temptress,” “Watch Your Back,” “Rue,” “Come With Me” and more. Hate Grenade’s presentation was explosive from start to end, as the group pulled all stops to keep the audience charged and cheering. Hate Grenade will open for Butcher Babies and Nonpoint at Reverb in Reading on May 7.

Lansing, Michigan-based rockers The Devil’s Cut made a return visit to McGarvey’s last month, with special guests Phobos Anomaly. Unveiling their second full-length CD, Good Luck of a Giant, Phobos Anomaly kicked off the show with a set that mixed songs from the new CD with material from last year’s self-titled debut CD. Singer and bassist Mark Holland, guitarist and singer Jon Spearly and drummer Damien Page demonstrated innovative melodies with hard-hitting arrangements and tight execution, and kept the music constant for the duration of their set. The Devil’s Cut reestablished their hard-hitting sound, which merges edgy, punk-toned rock with blue-collar lyrics and a slight hint of Bruce Springsteen. Singer and guitarist Joe Fox, guitarist Corey Staley, bassist Pat Hogan and drummer Derek Vaive mixed original songs from their latest album, People Let You Down, with select cover tunes. They did songs from the CD such as “Forty Two Arrows” and “Old Ghosts and Classic Cars,” and pulled out spirited renditions of Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” and the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers.” Joe displayed a hearty voice up front, and he and the rest of the band gave a spirited, enthusiastic performance for the small audience in attendance this night.

I fulfilled one of my New Year’s resolutions last month, finally paying my first visit to Speal’s Tavern in New Alexandria to see the Jukehouse Bombers in action. Speal’s has become a popular venue in western PA for the blues, and houses the Cigar Box Guitar Museum, with multiple cigar box guitars and other unique blues instruments on display. A favorite at this venue, the Jukehouse Bombers lit up the room with their boisterous brand of electric blues. The triple-guitar army of the father/son tandem of Jimmy and Joe Roach plus Kirsch, along with Troy Laney on bass and the group’s newest member, former Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing drummer Josh Williams, cranked out original tunes from their two CD’s, plus some blues and southern rock covers. Highlights were abundant, from watching Joe switch off between various guitars, including his own cigar box guitar, to watching Josh’s powerhouse drumming and the nuances and fills he threw into the mix. Song highlights included the group’s original tunes such as “My Dues Ain’t Ever Paid,” “Born to Hard Time,” “Rooster Gets to Crowin,’” “Burnt Biscuit,” “Winding Our Way Back Home” and more. Their cover selection included a hard blues-rock makeover of Charlie Daniels’ “Long Haired Country Boy,” the James Gang’s “Funk #49,” Blackfoot’s “Highway Song,” the Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” the Allman Brothers’ “Soulshine” and more. Speal’s Tavern was a highlight as well; this room has a great atmosphere for live music, as folks here are into the music, and paid undivided attention to the Jukehouse Bombers from start to end.

Thickhead Productions presented the double-bill of Baltimore’s Deaf Scene and State College’s DopplerPoppins last month at Zeno’s. I caught the tail end of DopplerPoppins’ set, as they generated soulful, funk-rocking grooves on original numbers and an extended jamming rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire.” Deaf Scene – guitarist Dave Fullerton, bassist Eric Courtney and drummer Brett Schatz – took the Zeno’s crowd on a cosmic instrumental joyride; merging elements of progressive and indie rock, jazz-styled fusion, jam improvisation and 1960s-styled psychedelic rock into a style uniquely their own. Dave incorporated a freewheeling variety of guitar effects and distortion into each number, with Eric and Brett generating moving, versatile rhythms. Deaf Scene performed original instrumental compositions such as “Rijal,” “Godzilla Skin,” “Three-Pound Universe,” “Zealot,” “Nebula” and “Acid Fight,” and also did renditions of Tool’s “Schism” and “Sober,” plus a Foo Fighters “Everlong”-rooted jam excursion to finish the night. Deaf Scene will perform later this month at the 9th annual Domefest festival at the Port Royale Farm near Bedford on May 17-19.

I caught up with western PA hard rockers fAil last month as they rattled the rafters at Rocky’s Tavern in Johnstown. Singer Mike May, guitarist AJ Hamara, bassist Colin McCallay and drummer Frank Tomaselli brought full-fury hard rock, alternative and metal, much of it from the 1990s. Over the two sets I witnessed, fAil fired off tunes from Candlebox, Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Papa Roach, Slipknot, Breaking Benjamin, Marilyn Manson, Tool, Korn, System Of a Down and more. Their execution was strong; Mike’s voice brought the right blend of melody, grit and aggression, while A.J. displayed sharp solo work, and Colin and Frank provided the booming, battering rhythm section. Rocky’s Tavern was digging it, with a steady crowd of folks grooving in front of the band for the duration. When they demanded more at night’s end, fAil responded with Rage Against the Machine’s “Sleep Now in the Fire.”

I also caught up with Stormy as they performed last month at Hollidaysburg’s Argonne Cafe. The venue was full as Stormy – singer and harmonica player Mark Montrella, keyboardist Charlie Leiden, singer Carol Fedeli, drummer Ray Fedeli and guitarist Brandon Stewart – did a tasty mixture of classic rock, pop, folk and blues. I enjoyed their eclectic mixture; Stormy performed a lot of music you don’t ordinarily hear anyone else doing, from Traffic’s “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” and Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” to the Carol-fronted Carole King double-shot of “I Feel the Earth Move” and “It’s Too Late,” the Steely Dan pair of “Pretzel Logic” and “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” and Brandon growling out the voice on Tom Waits’ “Heartattack and Vine.” Mark kept the mood upbeat and happy, wailing some sinister harmonica a few times during the night, while Charlie tickled the ivories early and often with tasty solos and fills, and Ray gave each song just the right rhythmic touch, varying his drumbeats from soft underscores to upbeat and driving. Stormy delivered a pleasant time and kept the crowd happy, enough so that the folks called them back for an encore, and the group answered with a version of Elton John’s “Rocket Man.”

Other performers I saw recently included Felix & the Hurricanes, capping Easter Sunday at Altoona’s Black & Gold TavernBlind Liver – the alias of acoustic guitarist and singer Seth Shumaker – presenting his wide-ranging musical mixture at McGarvey’s in late March…and various open mic performers Tuesdays at D’Ottavio’s Gran Sasso in Hollidaysburg, Wednesdays at the Unter Uns in Altoona, and even a Thursday open mic at the aforementioned Speal’s Tavern in New Alexandria.  

News and notes…The 51st annual Blair County Arts Festival happens May 19-20 at Penn State Altoona; among this year’s performers are Stormy, Ride the Song, Jay Vonada Jazz Quartet, Stephen Johnopolos Trio, Camara Drum & Dance, Born & the Beanstalk, the Dave Villani Trio, R2B2, Lucia Valentine, the Altoona Brass Collective and more…Walkney, Chris Vipond & the Stanley Street Band, the Chrome Hearts and Tree will perform during this year’s Pints for Pets Brewfest on May 12 at Altoona’s People’s Natural Gas Field; proceeds benefit the Central PA Humane Society…Pittsburgh favorites The Clarks this month release their new CD, Madly in Love at the End of the WorldNatascha & the Spy Boys have released their first full-length CD, called …That’s the Hardest PartNegan releases their debut EP, Burnt Pages, this month…Simple Gifts presents their annual Folk College event May 25-27 at Juniata College in Huntingdon.

The area music scene recently mourned the unexpected passing of Eric Deamer on March 23. Eric was 48. Eric played guitar with a number of Huntingdon and Mifflin County-based rock bands during the past three decades, including Defiance, Thin Ice and others. And we also send our condolences to Priscilla “the Tambourine Lady” Gati after the passing of her husband, Robert Gati, last month at the age of 61.

              Please send correspondence and recordings to: Jim Price, 1104 S. Catherine St., Altoona, PA  16602. You can also e-mail me at jptheprofessor@gmail.com. And if you’re into social networking, look me up on Facebook or Google+. SUPPORT LOCAL MUSIC! 

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