The Professor’s “Live Reviews” – February 2023


This month’s article will be a rare short one from me, as the combination of wintry weather and a nasty throat illness limited my opportunities to see live music in recent weeks. 

I did get to ring in New Year 2023 with the PennSoulvanians, who hosted a Masquerade Party at McGarvey’s in Altoona. The masked and costumed cast of singer and guitarist Chet Denny, MC Michael “DuVille” Thomas, guitarist Nate Nagle, keyboardist Brett Fanelli, sax player Lyndsay Reilly, bassist Aaron Kenawell and drummer Randy Sciarrillo guided the festive audience toward the stroke of midnight with two sets of their captivating, multi-flavored original songs; including numbers from their recently-issued self-titled debut EP. Highlights were numerous, including favorites such as “Hustle Til the Morning,” “Day Has Come,” “PennSoulvania,” “Bounce Back” from the EP, “40 Acres,” plus “Crime to Be Curious” and the reggae-toned “Pilgrimage” from the EP. After the clock struck midnight, The PennSoulvanians returned to close out the night with three more songs – their edgy number about accountability and living up to one’s word, “Swagger,” along with “Third Time” and their fun nightlife ode “Last Call” to end the night. Again, musicianship, melodies and chemistry between the band members was excellent throughout the night, and The PennSoulvanians’ distinctive blend of styles and infectious grooves kept the New Years Eve revelers happy from start to end. The PennSoulvanians will provide the entertainment for the second annual African American Heritage Festival Prom Night fundraiser, happening February 10 at The Casino at Altoona’s Lakemont Park.

The first band I got to see in 2024 beyond New Year’s Eve was The Warped Band, making its first visit to McGarvey’s. Evolving from State College punk cover group SouthPaw, The Warped Band celebrates the music of bands and performers who have played in the Warped Tour. The house was jam-packed as singer, guitarist and ringleader Drew Zimmerman, guest singer Ryan Sharp (of western PA’s Midnight Lights), drummer Austin Weaver and bassist Justin Levendusky lit up the crowd with high-octane tunes from Rancid, Blink-182, Good Charlotte, Panic! At The Disco, Jimmy Eat World, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Bowling For Soup, Wheatus, The All-American Rejects, NOFX, Green Day and more. The Warped Band kept the energy level high through it all with constant movement on stage, and Drew frequently rallied the crowd into sing-along and jumping frenzies. The Warped Band won many new fans this night, and they will return to McGarvey’s on May 4. 

The Kevin Briggs Blues Experience from State College brought strong-sounding blues to McGarvey’s last month. Namesake Kevin sang and played guitar; flanked by the group’s newest member, Steve Branstetter on guitar, plus bassist Chris Gallagher and drummer Sean Hershey. This group mixed up a wide range of blues sounds spanning classic and traditional blues to blues-rock, country blues and more. Kevin delivered a soulful and gritty voice up front, and he and the band delivered tight grooves as they performed numbers from Jimmy Reed, Bobby “Blue” Bland, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Otis Redding, Hank Williams, J.J. Cale, Elmore James and more. Some song highlights included renditions of Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House,” Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City,” Bob Dylan’s “Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat,” Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killin’ Floor,” Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” the traditional favorite “Deep Elem Blues” and more. Kevin and Steve frequently engaged in exciting guitar jams and duels to keep things exciting through the course of the performance. If you’re a blues connoisseur, make a point to check out the Kevin Briggs Blues Experience on area stages; you won’t be disappointed!

I caught up with Altoona favorites Shallow 9 a couple of times last month – first as the group had a packed house partying down at Altoona’s 4D’s Lounge. Nate Nagle handled guitar duties this night in place of Greg Larrimore, who stepped away from the group at the end of last year. Nate joined lead singer Erika Machiel; guitarist, keyboardist and singer Ryan Weaver; bassist Mitch Neuder and drummer Todd Harshbarger in generating the feverish dance party. Shallow 9 kept the busy dance floor churning with plentiful rock, soul and pop favorites – everything from The Cranberries’ “Zombie” to the Jackson 5’s “ABC” to Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock’n’Roll” to Cee-Lo Green’s “Forget You” to Alanis Morisette’s “You Oughta Know” to the night-closing version of The Darkness’ “I Believe In A Thing Called Love,” medleys and much more. The energy between band and crowd was constant, and smiles were abundant throughout the night. Shallow 9 returns to the 4D’s on February 17.

And Shallow 9 provided the music during the annual Central PA Humane Society’s Chili Fest and Wings fundraiser at Altoona’s Bavarian Aid Society upstairs hall. Attendees savored and voted for their favorite chilis and wings from area eateries and cooks, before burning off those calories on the dance floor as Shallow 9 – this night with Greg Folsom handling guitar duties opposite Ryan Weaver – played a variety of current and classic pop, rock, funk, hip-hop and other favorites. Proceeds from the event helped out the shelter animals at the Humane Society.

Altoona-based hard rockers Maul returned to action last month after a nearly two-year absence, headlining a band triple-bill at McGarvey’s. Toy the Band had already completed their opening set by the time I arrived. Walkney took the stage next with their set of lively, melody-geared alternative rock. Singer, guitarist and group mainstay Derek Mrdjenovich, lead guitarist Nate Nagle, bassist Nik Mik and drummer David Applas played through an assortment of original songs. Derek introduced new numbers such as “Future Desire” and “Log Jam,” and he and the group kept the energy constant throughout the set. Maul then finished the night with their strong return. Singer Todd McKeone, guitarists Eric Prindible and Nate Nagle (yes, Nate is everywhere!), bassist Tanner Thomas and drummer David Applas played modern-edged, riff-rocking original songs. This group again displayed interesting melodies and song hooks, brought to life with powerful arrangements and tight execution. I didn’t catch too many song titles, but did recognize one of my favorites from before the group’s layoff, “Keep That Light Inside.” Maul plans to resume work on their debut recording; keep an eye out for Maul sightings in the coming months.

Sweet Desire and Half Tempted joined forces for a fun night of classic-flavored rock at Altoona’s Kryptonite Nightclub last month. Half Tempted kicked things off with their reliable mix of hard-hitting classic rock. Singer, guitarist and group ringleader Ron Dalansky, guitarist Jim Mincin, bassist Todd Batzel and drummer Doug Stephens played numbers from Ozzy-era Black Sabbath, Kiss, Mountain, Thin Lizzy, Pink Floyd, Bad Company, and – of course – AC/DC. Few can sing Bon Scott-era AC/DC the way Ron can, and he demonstrated that with versions of “The Jack” and “Highway to Hell,” with Sweet Desire guitarist Kenton Lewis joining in on the former. Sweet Desire then followed with their strong set, mixing select classic rock covers with a number of original songs. Singer Jordan McCaulley, Kenton on guitar, bassist Joshua Simpson and drummer Trey Boore opened with an extended jam edition of Eric Clapton’s “After Midnight,” and proceeded with a Doors triple-shot medley of “Roadhouse Blues,” “Break On Through” and “Back Door Man,” versions of Rufus Thomas/Aerosmith’s “Walkin’ the Dog,” the Rolling Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash” and the Aerosmith-popularized “Train Kept A Rollin.’” Sweet Desire did plenty of their own songs as well, including their new self-titled single to close out their set. The group again demonstrated their ability to escalate songs into powerful and intense crescendos, with all four members going all-out. When the large Kryptonite crowd called for more, Sweet Desire responded with their version of Cactus’ “Evil” to close out the night.

News and Notes…Parrot Heads unite, as Cousin Mike and Ryan Matthew will perform during a special tribute to Jimmy Buffett on Feb. 3 at Hollidaysburg’s U.S. Hotel, with proceeds going to the American Cancer Society…The Pines and Felix & the Hurricanes will again team up to provide the music during the second annual Nicholas Foreman Overdose Awareness Benefit, which will take place on Feb. 10 at the Gallitzin American Legion…Nanty Glo-based hard rockers Emmy & the Geriatrics have added a new bass player, Jon Henry, and are also contemplating a name change…Popular Buffalo, New York rock group the Ozone Rangers – who were frequent flyer performers on central and western PA stages during the late 1980s and 90s – decided to call it a day after a 44-year run…The area music scene was saddened by the passing of Ed Decker on January 4 at age 82; Ed was an original member of Altoona area bluegrass group Mountain City Grass, where he played guitar and sang tenor…The area music scene also mourned the passing of Mario Crocetti on January 24, just days after he celebrated his 96th birthday. Mario was known as a longtime accordionist, and taught accordion and guitar lessons for several decades. 

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. SUPPORT LOCAL MUSIC!