Snuck up on me – back very soon.
Snuck up on me – back very soon.
Gone is the golden voice that belted out the songs of many people’s youth. Lou Gramm (vocals) and Mick Jones ( Guitar, Keys, vocals) wrote collectively or individually a Rock n Roll catalog which placed the band as one of the biggest selling bands of all time. Gramm may be gone but Mick, his new band and the songs remain.
Foreigner 2.0 is led by what a front-man should be. Kelly Hansen has the chops to rival Gramm. Kelly Hansen has the energy to rival Mick Jagger. Kelly Hansen has the comedic banter to earn a position at Just For Laughs. Tunes like JukeBox Hero, Cold As Ice and Urgent are delivered with power, tightness and adrenaline. In short – Hansen makes it feel as if the (over forty) patrons in attendance are back in high school and worrying about pimples.
Jones (who was taught how to play ‘Hey Joe’ by Hendrix himself) is a legendary figure. Not many men or women can grace a stage with such a pedigree of tunes. Waiting For a Girl like You, Dirty White Boy, Hot Blooded, Feels Like The First Time and I Wanna Know What Love Is – all part of a Rock n Roll catalog which has stood the test of time. Rock n Roll purists cringed at the music of Foreigner in the eighties along with most of the eighties’ bands. Listening to Foreigner 2.0 in the present day makes the case for Rock n Roll 2019 being ‘dead’ ring true.
With many 2019 Rock bands, it is all about melancholy and Zeppelin – like screaming. Too many bands called Rock n Roll lack songwriting, harmonies and swing. Too many bands lack diversity. Foreigner and Foreigner 2.0 may have a sound that makes people aware who they are immediately yet within that sound is talent on many platforms. Within that sound is something that is essential to Rock n Roll. Saxophone.
Jeff Pilson (bass), Bruce Watson (lead guitar), Michael Bluestein ( keys) and Chris Frazier (drums) are powerhouses in their own ‘homes’. Collectively, released upon the masses, they are a band of gypsies hungry to rape and pillage musical souls with conviction. Foreigner 2.0 are kicking at the door of becoming Foreigner 6.0. Like the iPhone – Foreigner may change but the ‘apple’ remains close to the tree.
All the great bands in history have included Sax or horns on their records and live. Sax is what made the transition of Jazz ( Rock n Roll in popularity once upon a time) to Rock so smooth. The transition of Blues to Rock so smooth. The transition of Country music to Rock so smooth. Saxophone brings soul and a grounding to the guitars. It is a leash to harness the errant solos or the runaway singers. Tom Gimble last night at Place des Arts was the gatekeeper. Filling in and breathing out at the proper time.
Foreigner 2019 may not be your Father’s Foreigner but they are are not dead nor are they disabled. Foreigner 2019 are alive, well and making your son’s band look bad.
Once a year, Pete Varvaro ( aka Smoke Meat Pete) leaves for a month. Once a year – people don’t get the Blues.
Smoke Meat Pete ( both the restaurant and the man ) not only provide the best Smoke Meat in Montreal, Pete is the only guy in the city providing live music seven nights a week. In a landscape filled with more and more live venues closing, a real tip of the hat must go to Smoke Meat Pete.
Pete’s birthday marks the reopening of the restaurant every year following a much deserved vacation. It is an occasion to not only eat cake and celebrate the man ( soon to be legend), it is also an opportunity to showcase some of the best Blues players in the city. On March 9th 2019 – patrons were blessed.
Fuel Junkie took the stage at 1pm. The band, in a relatively short career thus far, have already graced the stage at The Montreal International Jazz Festival and The Tremblant Blues Festival. They also were very close to winning the Quebec to Memphis Blues Challenge which would have sent them to Memphis to compete among the elite of the world. Smoke Meat Pete attracts the best of the best.
Led by Mark LeClerc, Fuel Junkie are a wall of sound. Horns complimenting a hard rhythm and piercing guitar solos. Vocals, harmonies and songwriting. Not a weak link within the band (which is often not the case with new bands). Fuel Junkie are (literally) schooled musicians with experience beyond the members’ relative young ages. The walls shake and keep on shaking long after Fuel Junkie have left the building. As an added bonus, young guitar phenom Justin Saladino joined Fuel Junkie which for many was a marriage made in Blues heaven. Justin beat out Fuel Junkie at the Quebec to Memphis challenge so an indication of how local musicians help one another – a signal of a healthy musical future soars high in the Quebec sky.
Every Saturday night at 6pm (and on his Birthday), Pete picks up the guitar along with a few select musicians and has the time of his life. They say passion surpasses all boundaries and Pete’s passion for The Blues has transformed Pete from a ‘beginner guitarist’ to more than adequate in a very short time.
Pete’s partner in crime on Saturdays (and his birthday) is the imposing Hawk on vocals and harmonica. Nobody sings the Blues with as much power and force in Montreal as Hawk. The type of performer that leaves none indifferent. Whether it is belting out the Willie Dixon classic Little Red Rooster or Gloria by Van Morrison, Hawk etches his voice into your soul and months later – it continues to haunt. Like any talented vocalist, love him or hate him; his mark has been left.
Joining Hawk and Pete on stage for the birthday bonanza were Jo Hell ( guitar), Stephen Rudinsky (drums) and Ciro Scott (bass). Hell along with Hawk – the originators of live music at Smoke Meat Pete many moons ago.
Hawk’s and Hell’s showmanship may have been the lightning rods yet it is Rudinsky’s firm metronome drumming and Ciro’s bass which keeps things from falling apart. Every player in any good band needs the battery section to fall back on. It is easy for a front-man or a soloist to lose their way. Rudinsky (a veteran and much sought after session player) never wavers. His timing impeccable. The frame of the band remains strong even if the body may have some rust. Rudinsky maintains the frame with enough oil and polish to keep it on the road but adding the necessary swerves.
Dawn’s star has never been so bright in her long and winding career. Not only did Watson win the Quebec to Memphis Challenge, Dawn won the IBC International Blues Contest in Memphis. Add several Maple Blues nominations and awards – Dawn has established herself as the premiere female vocalist in Quebec among the newer generation of singers.
One of the reasons Dawn has jumped ahead of her peers is the talents of her backing band. The Ben Racine Band. Ben’s songwriting and arranging talents have pushed Dawn into truly ‘finding’ herself. Ben on guitar (also winning at Memphis for guitar player of the year), combines the artful balance of modern day chops with old school sensibilities. It is all about the spaces with Ben and his band. Spaces which allow Dawn to not only breathe – to discover the creative voice inside and to paint the room in fabulous colors.
Dawn Tyler has a vocal range which can caress or levitate. The Ben Racine Band’s horn section can do the same. The group’s rhythm section can do the same. Together – Watson et al become a wall of sound as smooth as Billy Holiday’s bottom. As silky as a satin cloth or chunky as a chocolate chip cookie. Tunes from the album Jawbreaker taking the punters on a journey filled with tears, joy and spiritual awakenings. All elements of all humanity’ s life experience on display via Dawn Tyler Watson and The Ben Racine Band.
Once a year, Pete Vavaro ( aka Smoke Meat Pete) comes back after a month. Once a year – people get treated to an (almost) entire day of the Best Blues in Montreal.
Whitehorse took center stage at Montreal En Lumiere at L’Astral and demonstrated professional music without the usual ‘polished’dog and pony act attached.
Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland – the husband / wife duo are more comfortable than they should be. The chemistry both musically and spiritually was very apparent as they performed on the heels of their latest disc; The Northern South Vol. 2.
That album is the second installment of an homage to Blues’ classics. Make no mistake about it, on disc and live – the tunes are all Whitehorse.
Combining Rockabilly / Rock / Ballad sensibilities with Country ‘twang’ is not the only thing that separates Whitehorse from most. The harmonies between Luke and Melissa are both magical and soulful. Luke’s energy balanced by Melissa’s calmness. Luke’s Yin and Melissa’s Yang. White and the Horse.
Once upon a time – the pair did it all live. Both Luke and Melissa are multi-instrumentalists who took turns on stage filling musical gaps. Drums, guitars, bass – all interchanged through their own individualistic talents. Loops and programmed sounds were also added to fill the room with Whitehorse’s sound. Currently – a band has been added to ease the workload and place the spotlight on vocals, guitar and bass playing. Luke and Melissa focused? A force.
At L’Astral – their catalog was displayed properly. No runs of songs from the same album. Whether it was John the Revelator from their latest disc or Achilles’ Desire from The Fate of The World Depends on This Kiss. The tunes fit seamlessly in a show filled with appreciative fans. Whitehorse’s following growing more and more with each passing year. Whithorse’s experience growing with each passing album.
Every band or artist should pay attention to the duo’s success. Songwriting and musicianship done the old fashioned way is the key to both an enjoyable live experience and successful albums. It is not rocket science. Keeping it simple with enough talent and hard work is Whitehorse’s recipe for a climb which should be very high.
Rivercat was established more than two decades ago. Principle songwriter and leader Mark Rivers honing his New Jersey-bred craft under the bright lights of New York City. Just like the Big Apple itself – Rivercat is a blend of everything. Just like The Big Apple itself – Rivercat is filled with attitude.
The first thing you hear within Rivercat on their new album 52 Saturday Nights is that Coney Island ‘noise’. Garland Jeffries has it, Lou Reed had it and anyone who has breathed that air – has it. The sound from Rivercat cannot be easily described nor can it easily be duplicated.
New Night – the first tune on the disc feels subdued. The guitars and vocals trapped under a sewer and clawing to escape the ‘muddy waters.’ Like a slow moving Demon – the tune gathers strength and breaks into a comfortable jam. The chemistry within Rivercat obvious. A feeling the best is yet to come on the disc; a given. New Night brings the foreplay.
Red Lipstick, the second tune – combines a rockabilly beat with a punk sound. In between – the vocals and chorus swoon like alternative birds. The music and the voices not quite connected which gives the song an edge and a view of the outside looking in. Intentional or not, a feeling of The Stones from Some Girls shines through. A real kick in the gut at loud volumes.
Perhaps the most radio friendly tune on the album – Down in the Streets, has swagger. A chaos which is neither Rock nor Punk. A Reggae feel with sloppiness. A first listen pinches the curiosity. A second go embeds the tune into a never ending session. If only all songs could be written this way.
Drive is Rock without the Roll. Guitar heavy and no sloppiness. A sign that Rivercat can do what it wants and do it well. A straight on tune with no messing around. An interesting precursor to the next tune on the disc – The Rain.
The Rain journeys into the 80s and 90s sound. Harmonies akin to the band Journey and rhythms which Chrissie Hynde would be proud of. The connotations within the lyrics on all songs – typical of New York. Keys on the song bring to mind a little Pink Floyd. The guitar solo simple but profound. Rivercat as we have heard thus far non existent. A tip of the hat to the band who are so diverse in their craft.
In Suzie’s Bullet, the band hits it’s Coney Island persona full tilt. Almost spoken lyrics ( hello Lou Reed?) evolve into hard riffs and a hard story. Once again – Rivercat harnessing energy. Teasing with bursts of what you can have if Rivercat wants you to have it. The ebbs and flows are sensational and fit the mood of a love tale gone bad.
Bourbon retains the swagger of Rivercat. The swagger of New York. An off kilter track which gives attitude through perfectly placed guitar riffs, background vocals and in your face shots of rhythm. The entire sound gets you prepared for the second catchiest tune on the disc; Shake This House.
If you look up Rock N Roll in the dictionary – Shake This House should be there. Your toes start tapping. Your heart starts pounding. Your brain hears the rebellious lyrics and then one of the most catchiest choruses kicks in. You are dead from the waste down or head up if Shake This House does not end up on your playlist or you do not end up on the dance floor.
Rivercat combine old school sensibilities in their tunes. Country acoustic popping up between electric riffs and Southern Blues. A Muscle Shoals ‘live on the floor’ gospel fuddled sound. Drawls and slurs appearing relentlessly through a spurned lover banging on the glass with a rose in one hand and a bottle of Jack Daniels in the other..
The final two tracks on the album are anthems of sorts. Somebody 2 Rock commences with a teasing, slow moving beckon and then slaps you almost immediately with a powerful two punch. Guitars singing behind the words like a hurt animal giving the tune an added dimension not heard in the first ten songs on the disc. Live – this could be the first tune or the encore. Either way – it is another tune from the disc bound to end up on a playlist in the swampy landscape of pure Rock N Roll. Calling all nations …
One After 909 has the feel of a Beatles’ song because it is. One of the earliest Lennon / McCartney tracks and released on Let It Be almost ten years after it was written. The tune predates the Beatles’ Boy Band commercial career start with a predominately penned Lennon ‘Cavern’ song. Rivercat fittingly end 52 Saturday Nights with Rock n Roll although once more with a held back energy. The album starts and ends with a band forlornly in control of their sound and capabilities. Holding the reins of a trip everyone must take.
The (now) landmark album by Miles Davis was ahead of it’s time. A precursor to 1970’s Funk, Rock and eventually Hip Hop. Miles – as usual, ahead of his time and ahead of the times.
Dave Liebman was on that album with Miles and it gave Jeff Coffin (Dave Mathews Band, Bela Fleck and The Flecktones) an idea. Coffin assembled an All Star band to do a live performance of On The Corner. A ‘gig’ that thankfully was recorded and a ‘gig’ that one day may be considered historic in itself.
Please listen below to my chat with Jeff about the album, Miles and The Dave Mathews Band.