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Rock Smites Infidels
By Bill Ketzer

Deep Purple, Joe Satriani, Thin Lizzy
Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Aug. 18

‘But if ye will not drive out inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell.” Numbers 33:55.

The air is splendid this side of the Hall of Springs, the recent remnants of Hurricane Charley having scrubbed its lofty pines into a watery bouquet. Unfortunately, this land is now occupied by the Fear, and has been since Michael Powell became the head of the FCC. There has been placed, in this land of VLTs and polo and impish dining prudence, a pox upon all who seek to experience rock & roll at its most raw and brazen state. The Fear will find their way into your e-mail, your television, your left ventricle, and there is precious little you can do about it now. I witnessed a biker getting arrested for peeing by the back fence, as if every mammal on the planet doesn’t piss in the woods. I watched in horror as security continuously ordered lawn patrons to stand behind the last white line of the stairs to the amphitheater (“Not that one, that one!” the employee commanded the befuddled young girl in stretch jeans). Yes, stay off the stairs. As long as tort reform eludes us comrades, we must keep them scared, like infants in the kettle. Bash them with Maglites if they resist.

Thin Lizzy then diverted my irksome mood by absolutely bombing the stage with “Jailbreak” as my friend Scotty Mac spied us in the 14th row. He ran over gleefully and threw his arms around us, but they were watching, and they were unhappy. “You cannot stand in the aisle,” one of them said. “Go to your seat.” He was the only one in the aisle. The sun still sat on the horizon and most had not entered the venue yet. We grabbed him and plopped him in a seat as Lizzy, led by the American Scott Gorham and Reading’s John Sykes proceeded to destroy our lot with portrait-quality renditions of “Black Rose,” “Are You Ready?” and “The Cowboy Song.” Since I’ve last seen the band, Randy Gregg of Dee Snyder and Angel fame now anchors the band along with drummer Michael Lee on drums. It occured to me that the last time I saw Lee was in 1987 at a Pat Travers show at JB’s Theater, before the fear, before the ear-bud army of yellow (or are they brown?) shirts were commanded to ensure maximum profit and minimal resistance. While at first blush calling this band Thin Lizzy without its late great founder Phil Lynott at the helm might seem a bit pretentious, in reality this incarnation is a fitting tribute to the mad Irishman who wrote some of the best drinking and fighting songs ever. Ever. Sykes handles the spotlight respectfully and the unit brings the floor to its feet with such fertile, endearing, femur-cracking goodness.

But then came the lag. Joe Satriani took the stage with his team of technicians, and let’s be clear: The man knows his way around an axe like Aldous Huxley knows his way around a genetic assembly line. It is a ridiculous prospect, watching the man noodle away at the thing. But for all his syrupy prowess, the art is pure poop. I can’t drink it. I can’t fight it. And I certainly can’t fuck it. The lengthy compositions sounded like a Yamaha soundtrack to an ’80s action B-movie, which produced a horrible memory in my mind of my buttery lip on the couches of friends in early blackout hours, as Cinemax was left on in some inadvertent Clockwork Orange experiment or perhaps to keep me company as I experienced delirium tremens. For all his talent, he still managed to act like every other sophomoric rock star, weedling his way up the neck to end every run and cutting the volume to gawk wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the crowd, thereby eliciting the obligatory blow-job cheer. This was not music. This was a 45-minute orgasm coming from a guy that looks like a Halloween rendition of Paul Schafer with the chops of Mozart. Eww.

After being herded into the beer garden like sheep (“Don’t go towards the trees!” the Fear shouted to my companion as he walked away from the line to find the bathroom) I switched tickets with a friend and made the fourth row in time for the legendary Deep Purple, and immediately a civil informant, resplendent in yellow Izod and sandals, notified me that I was in his seat, which I was not. Rather, I was standing a bit in front of his seat because frontman Ian Gillian had just bounded onstage in angelic white pajamas, his bare feet bouncing at times in a pugilist shuffle, others in some sort of tantric side-step, and I was transfixed. This is the kind of human that the Fear produces. The overdone predatory sense of entitlement that wrecks the intellect and creeps into the very essence of sex, work, death . . . everything. I pondered popping his bulbous nose with the heel of my hand or crushing his instep with my boot (How can a man possibly kick ass in sandals? What is wrong with men these days?) but he had a fat young cherub-faced lad with him who seemed to be enjoying himself and far be it from me to deny him the full Purple experience.

It was a good choice, for now we tasted the band, as it were. Former Dixie Dregs guitarist Steve Morse appeared to be having the time of his life with Gillian, Paice, Glover and company, who appeared—despite 30-plus years in the business—to be fit, tanned and still relevant. Longtime Ozzy/Rainbow keyboardist Don Airey (replacing Jon Lord for this tour) looked like he was about 30 years old, to my surprise! Yet to be sure, this is “old money” rock, mimosas in the morning and personal trainers in the afternoon, and God bless them after three decades of hard living. At almost 60, Gillian had no trouble hitting the high notes of “Highway Star” and “Space Truckin’,” the air raid siren still piercing as he strutted about, waving to fans and looking right into their eyes. And our eyes witnessed some gems, including “Strange Kind of Woman” and “Speed King” as well as later material like “Perfect Strangers” and “I’ve Got Your Number.” They were loud, bewitching, robust and high-minded, washing away all ill-will and replacing it with their time-tested pedagogy. Gillian, his hair shorn into a salt-and-pepper mop, made it a point to personally greet and thank the entire front row before returning to deliver the 1968 classic “Hush.” We were then forcibly asked, nay, commanded by the inhabitants of the land before us to leave the band’s rich textures, the brief hallucination besmirched, to re-enter the Brave New World of community, identity and stability. Because we have not driven them out, like common household pests.

Liquid Language
Photo by: Joe Putrock

The show must go on, foul weather be damned! Songstress Suzanne Vega came to Albany on Monday night for a free performance in Washington Park, only to be greeted by the oncoming remains of Hurricane Chuck. The concert was wisely moved indoors to the Palace Theater at the last minute—OK, the decision was actually made early that morning—where Vega and her band treated an enthusiastic audience to a 90-minute-plus set that spanned her 20-year career, including many of the songs from last year’s Retrospective collection.

Good Old Boys

Hector on Stilts, Rob Skane
Lark Tavern, Aug. 14

It seems like there’s a trend in the area to secrete music away in nooks and backrooms, away from the bar—the upstairs at the Larkin, for example (after the little second-floor bar disappeared) or the backrooms of the Ale House or Lark Tavern. Whether separating the audience from the lumpen barroom proletariat is a good idea or not is debatable (and, of course, it’s often born of necessity). But in this case, it certainly doesn’t grant a band the opportunity to convert a crowd of unsuspecting new listeners.

And given a crack at all in attendance at the Lark Saturday night (and not just those sequestered at back tables) Berkshires residents Hector on Stilts would have won a lot of new fans. A few patrons from the busy barroom moved into the causeway for various spells, perking up their ears a bit, drawn in by the sound. But Hector on Stilts aren’t a forceful band and need a little space and time to sneak up on you with their smooth washes of sound, bright guitars and lifting harmonies. “Winterland,” which came late in the set, is demonstrative of the band’s appeal, offering a cryptic suggestion over easy, melodic heartswells (“I turned a grain of sand into a winterland. . . .”) then letting the words fall away and bursting wide open into a gorgeously pulsing landscape of sound (early Coldplay is too easy and not wholly accurate a reference, but there’s something to it).

Cousins Jeb (primary singer, really tall, darkhaired) and Clayton (average height, fairheaded) Colwell wove songs in a suggestive and nuanced manner, blending smoothly in vocal harmony and using guitars for color rather than bluster—whether it was Jeb’s ascending line on the clever “Same Height Relation” (a cheekily wistful reference to his towering height) or Clayton’s subtle and strong touches throughout the night. The group—in full-band mode, abetted by a dynamic performance from Suggestions drummer Jason Schultz—inhabited a world of smooth and atmospheric pop-rock hinged on strong, interesting arrangements. They occasionally pitched into something with more of a rock bite, skirting into brightly clever power-pop (a la XTC) or even fuzz-walled, blazing rock (the extended coda to the humorous “Furry Friends”). “Tears,” meanwhile, came off in a folk-poppy vein, like some of the Rembrandts’ work. They also dipped into some Latin-rock territory.

Jeb and Clayton grew up in Tucson, Ariz., and a few years back took up residence near Pittsfield, where they are the first rock group to be involved in that city’s compelling Storefront Artist’s Project (in which creative types rent out abandoned store spaces as studios, the glass front providing a glimpse into the workings of their process). Recently Hector on Stilts have also been at work on an album, and the tracks made available sound promising, particularly the aforementioned, heart-achingly pretty “Winterland.” They haven’t played in Albany recently, but you may have caught them a few years back at the Larkin (at MotherJudge’s late-lamented open mic and their own gigs).

Local singer-songwriter (and former Lawn Sausages guitar hero) Rob Skane opened up with a solid, too-short set of his edged acoustic fare (like alt-rock peeled back to the heartwood and packed with clever, often caustic lyrics). Bravely soldiering on through PA issues and some needlessly excessive chatter toward the stagefront, Skane stuck to his relatively mellower stuff (“Troubadour Extraordinaire,” “Let It Be Me”) only offering up the anti-Bush “You Preach Peace” as witness to his more delightfully scathing work. Skane is also hard at work on a new album, and having heard some excellent early demos, I look forward to that one as well.

—Erik Hage

Gone Phishin’
Photo by: Joe Putrock

Phish fans—sorry, that’s Phishheads—sure do have an odd way of mourning the loss of their favorite band, don’t they? Phish finally reached the end of the tour last weekend, calling it quits after 21 years with the ginormous Coventry festival, named for the Vermont town taken over by the band and its fans. A crowd of more than 65,000, and an unusually high number of garden gnomes, turned out to experience one last jam (the band chose “The Curtain With” to close their career). Meanwhile, almost 5,000 cars were abandoned along Interstate 91 as fans hiked to the muddy concert grounds.

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