Firehouse kicked off its national tour with its one and only club show -- at the Silver Dollar Saloon, sponsored by Sound Efx. The band opened with "Get a Life" from its newest album 3, followed by the popular hit "All She Wrote." The entire set, in fact, showcased Firehouse's club rocking, ear splitting, crisp, clear, energetic brand of melodic hard rock, including hits "Baby Don't Treat Me Bad" and "Reach For the Sky" and my personal favorite from 3, "Somethin' 'Bout Your Body." But Firehouse's biggest hits have been its ballads; the band wowed its fans with "When I Look Into Your Eyes," "Don't Walk Away," "I Live My Life For You," and the acoustic version of "Love of a Lifetime" that will be featured on Firehouse's upcoming CD, GOOD ACOUSTICS, slated for a fall release. In addition to reworked, acoustic versions of fan favorites, the album will feature some new songs. Firehouse performed one in the middle of its set -- a track entitled "You Are My Religion." The smallest venue of the band's tour kicked it off in style -- and Lansing heard some good ol' crisp, clear, melodic rock 'n roll.
I caught a few songs from Tree House during a brief visit to Rick's. The band's acoustic-driven, mellower rock made a nearly empty mid-summer off night at Rick's feel like a sort of Holiday Inn piano bar. Very odd.
I caught one act each at the "Rock" and "Folk Extravaganza" stages the first weekend at the Michigan Festival. Storyville rocked the former with its brand of uptempo, catchy college rock. (No, I wouldn't call it "alternative.") The latter stage was inhabited by Dave Barrett, whose set included the country music song title/subject-inspired "If I Were You I'd Fall in Love With Me" -- a catchy song that's an absolute riot -- and the peppy instrumental "Simple Joy."
During Weekend Two, the Michigan Festival's "Country" stage opened with Al Lopez. Al and his band's showmanship and ability to make covers as much their own as their originals wowed the audience and likely lured some to catch Al opening for the Texas Tornados on the Main Stage that evening. Next up was Kathy Ford. From Shania Twain to Mary Chapin Carpenter to Vince Gill, the songs performed by Kathy and her band covered a broad range -- and the band chose to merge the country songs with rock tracks whenever possible. Also included was the Kathy Ford original "Sorry No Vacancy," featuring really fancy keyboarding (from Ricky Nallett) and a reasonably uptempo, powerful chorus that's accented by softer verses. John Patrick was up next, featuring lots of energetic fiddling and diverse, full, powerful vocals on "Ride That Train," the assistance of a slide guitar to help the bassist's voice evoke emotion on ballad "I'm Amazed," and some amazing fiddling on a fast-paced version of the PINK PANTHER theme -- all scheduled to appear on the band's upcoming disc. Higher Ground completed the day with a fun, energetic, contemporary country set -- contemporary all the way down to its original "Love Lasts Forever," a slightly quicker tempoed slow song that is as solid as the band's originals. Covers included a full-tilt rendition of "Be My Baby Tonight" and a touching performance of Tracy Byrd's "Keeper of the Stars."
I caught three of the bands in the Capital Area Blues Talent Competition on one of the Michigan Festival's daytime stages. The Mike Espy Blues Band with Yakity Yak treated an overflowing crowd to guitar-driven, energetic, straight-up rockin' blues. Female-fronted Mama's Hope played slow, oozing blues, featuring two Clapton tunes and James Taylor's "Steamroller." And the two songs I caught from The Microtones were a mid-tempo blues number and "Petty Betty," a fun, very uptempo, rockin' blues song (similar in tempo to "Sweet Home Chicago").
The MSU On View stage hosted The Hansons, a three-piece with a commercially accessible style of rough-edged, mildly alternative rock. Of note: "I'm Fine Here" is ready for prime time; "Jealousy" is a standard, softer touch song whose bridges make it stand out -- once a blues guitar bridge, once a "drum corps"-type bridge. At one point during the set, The Hansons' sound came across uncannily like R.E.M. As I said, widely accessible; just mildly alternative.
On Thursday night, the Greater Lansing Symphony Orchestra treated the Michigan Fest's main stage audience to a pops concert that included a James Bond medley, the STAR WARS theme, and John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever." I look forward to this show every year -- it's my one chance to urge you to see the GLSO. (Without the Mich Fest backdrop, it just doesn't fit our format.) Gustav Meier and company are a first class outfit befitting a city much larger than Lansing. Sharing the stage with the symphony for the second half of the night were The Four Aces, who crooned through old favorites like "Three Coins in the Fountain," "Heart of My Heart," and a fine rendition of "My Way." The following night, the Goo Goo Dolls and the Gin Blossoms displayed why some bands should play big outdoor festivals while others should stick to small, smoky clubs. First up were the Goo Goo Dolls. Ouch! Their weak, rough vocal style and thin, raw guitarwork may play well on an album or in a small room, but they disintegrate over the expanse of Munn Field, leaving a sound irritating even to some of us who like this band. The Gin Blossoms, on the other hand, produce a fuller, richer sound that probably carried for blocks without losing its tunefulness. The Blossoms' tuneful, catchy brand of mid-tempo, guitar rock was contagiously fun, a fitting reward for all of us who survived the opening act.
Dr. Zapp played the Alpine in Charlotte recently, and, despite the odd moniker and a slightly overenthusiastic attempt at showmanship, played a strong set of modern rock, mixing metal and classics into the set as well. The vocals were excellent, the playing efficient, and the playlist pleasing... worth checking out, but the ought to lose the excessive stage antics.
N.E. Thing Goes played Potterville recently, and they kept the dance floor busy most of the evening. A predictable mix of classic rock, from Clapton to ZZ Top, perfectly suited a night of drinking and dancing, but offered nothing to the performance enthusiasts.
The Last Hippie Band was the "house" band at Mac's Saloon for several months, and I caught a few performances. Despite losing their keyboard player, the band played on without a hitch. Combining both hits and obscurities from the psychedelic sounds of the '60s and '70s, this band is a treat to hear and see. Covers from Hendrix and The Doors to Trower and The Who, complete with strobes, slides, and black lights.
If you'd like Shane to catch your show, call him at (517) 694-5625.
The 1996 Annual North Lansing Heritage Festival got going Friday June 14 with up and comers Rusted Faith playing a set of good, original alternative rock. Atchraforia blasted its way through a set of crunchy, thrashing bliss. Comfort Road played a good set of mid-tempo rock and country classics. Blade's Brigade gave us all a great set of blues oriented rock 'n roll. Friday's headlining attraction, Saginaw's own Larry McCray, played a fabulous ninety minute-plus set of original electric blues which left everyone thoroughly drained.
Saturday, June 15 saw the Habibi Dancers shaking and shimmying up on the stage, with The Microtones giving us some good ol' rock 'n roll. Jim Cott & the Silver Sun played a set of original rock 'n roll, and the Aristocrats gave the crowd a taste of the big band music era. Colt 45 played a damn good set of new and old country goodies. The Blues Express wowed us all with a fine set of blues, and Mike Espy (with Yakity Yak on vocals and harmonica) kept us feeling pretty good throughout his blues-tinged set. Power Light impressed The Wild Card with its own brand of Motown-influenced soul. Saturday's headliners Marquee got us all a-going with its very impressive set of alternative and classic rock covers.
Sunday, June 16 was marked by Mystic Shake's fabulous (and fun-filled) collection of originals and cover tunes. Stan Budzynski played a set of original rock 'n roll, and the African Masquerade Dancers danced their hearts out. The Heritage Festival finally came to a close after a very impressive set by rockers Boys Night Out, and The Wild Card finally got to cop some serious z's. Wow! What a weekend!
The Last Hippy Band's Last Stand (For Now): Their final evening at Mac's Saloon was marked by special guests Randy "Bird" Burghoff of Rare Earth and Silver Sun head honcho Jim Cott, who both gave the Steppenwolf classic "Born to Be Wild" a run for the money. The Last Hipsters also offered up memorable renditions of "Pictures of Matchstick Men," "Eve of Destruction," and a medley which started out as CCR's "Susie Q" but which also included snippets of "Day Tripper," "Satisfaction," "I Can See for Miles," and "Bo Diddley."
Johnny Socko at Rick's Cafe: Even though there was no giant robot in sight, these guys were huge. They started smoothly with a well crafted sound check/song. Some of the horn section seemed a little self-conscious until the third or fourth number (third or fourth beer). Then things started to liven up. Horns, guitars, and vocals all took turns at the helm making fluid transitions in tempo and style. The horn section performed what can only be described as stupid band tricks with bottles of beer, lights, and skirts. (Use your imagination.) The only exceptions to an otherwise tight performance were when someone was goofing off for the sake of entertainment. I was dragged away before the end of the last set, so I can't verify that the show just got better and better as it went. What I can do is tell everyone who's looking for a fun band to party with and dance to, go see Johnny Socko.
At the Small Planet in East Lansing, I took in a performance by local faves Uncle Chuck. I arrived too late to see the opener, Stone Mary, but the boys from Chuck laid down a solid slab of modern heavy rock. They delve deep into their metal roots and serve it up in your face!
I checked out Dr. Zapp at the Alpine in Charlotte. This band operates in full medical drag as they deliver a mixture of classic and modern covers. (A few originals, too.) Same place, same weekend, I saw The Dixie All-Stars. Featuring former members of Blackfoot and Molly Hatchet, they laid out a full night of Southern boogie. Their repertoire covered about any Southern band you could have thought of, all of it delivered with the spirit of the originals. I'll bet Jack Daniels sales went up 200%.
Downtown at the Rock House, I caught Edith Johnson with their polished but loose jamming, served up with a consistency of practiced performance. If you want to see a quality cover act, check these guys out. Same place, different weekend, Darkside played. For most of the evening, I was having flashbacks to the '80s. It was a trip to hear the heavy metal of my high school days again. (Oops! Did I date myself?)
I wandered down Washington avenue to Mac's and saw a performance from Marquee. They kept the crowd happy with sets of covers that ranged from grunge to classic rock. By the way, their guitar player can really shine when he wants to.
If you'd like Patrick to catch your show, call him at (517) 669-7124.
Monday night at the Michigan Fest brought back many memories for all the aging old hippies of Lansing. Waves of people with greying hair were totally enthralled with the pounding drums, piercing guitar solos, and the all so familiar vocals of the Doobie Brothers. The line-up was pretty much pre-Michael McDonald with Patrick Simmons, John McFee, Keith Knudsen, Chet McCracken, Tiran Porter, and Tom Johnson. The sound was more guitar based with lead vocals mainly shared by Tom and Patrick with a super back-up job by John and Tiran. For all of us who liked the Doobies before M.M., this was our night. Gone were the mushy melodies like in "Minute By Minute," but they were replaced with the driving sounds of "China Grove," "Lone Train Runnin'," "Black Water," and my favorite, "Jesus is Just Alright." The harp player (didn't catch his name) was fantastic. He added a lot of punch to the Doobies' new CD tunes and created a new sound to the old. The acoustic set was a nice touch, as it was quite a change of pace. It sounded like John McFee brought in a heavy influence from his old band Southern Pacific. The only thing missing from this Doobie concert was the ever-present sweet smell permeating from the crowd. This old hippie was completely satisfied.
If you'd like Bob to catch your show, call him at (517) 622-1451.
If you'd like Kevin to catch your show, call him at (517) 482-7613.
We're in need of a couple new local scene writers to fill this section.
If you're interested in covering Lansing's local music scene, contact the Renegade at (517) 332-7648. As a "Local Scene" writer, you choose the clubs and the bands you cover. All you have to do is meet the writing deadlines. This is your opportunity to help expose Lansing's best bands to a broader public and to the music industry. No pay. Great perks. Call for details.
Stone Mary: "Original hard rock.