Oh, what an exciting night this was. I was fortunate enough to be given the assignment to cover the Strange Days festival at the Tommy Hilfiger Jones Beach Theater due to my close proximity to the venue. As most of my writing assignments in the recent past have been related to various different genres of heavy metal, this assignment was a nice little diversion. The thought of seeing not one, but five great bands was indeed exciting. The Doors of the 21st Century, Steppenwolf, Vanilla Fudge, The Yardbirds, and Pat Travers were all on the bill of what turned out to be a fun trip down rock and roll memory lane.
Sea of Tranquility's Jack Toledano reports with his full coverage of the event!
Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, I was unable get my complimentary tickets in time, so I missed Pat Travers. I will, however, be reviewing the forthcoming CD of Travers & Appice – Live At The House Of Blues for SoT, so stay tuned for that.
The first band that I did see was the legendary Yardbirds, featuring original members Chris Dreja (rhythm guitar) and Jim McCarty (Drums), along with newer members John Idan (Lead Vocals, Paul McCartneyesque violin bass), Jerry Donahue (Lead Guitar), and Billy Boy Miskimmin (Harmonica, Percussion). My situation had not yet been resolved as The Yardbirds first took the stage, but I was able to hear the opening tune "Train Kept A Rollin" in the background. From the outside, I could hear The Yardbirds go right into the famous "Heart Full Of Soul", always a Yardbirds favorite of mine. After that, The Yardbirds played 2 songs of which I did not know from their most recent release, "Birdland". Once I got to my seat, the rest of the Yardbirds set was very enjoyable for me, as they played "Shapes Of Things", "Over Under Sideways Down" (for all you car commercial types), "For Your Love", a medley of "Still I'm Sad" and "Dazed & Confused", and rounded out the set with "I'm A Man". New lead guitarist Jerry Donahue did a very admirable job doing his best Jimmy Page impersonation during "Dazed & Confused", minus the string bass bow. Billy Boy gave it a Yardbirds personal touch by adding the harmonica. John Idan was excellent as a young frontman for the group. Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty were great as the nostalgic link to The Yardbirds of yesteryear. All in all, it was a real treat for me to see the Yardbirds for the very first time, as I always appreciated the heavy blues groundwork that they laid for years to come, so my generation could enjoy all that bands like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple had to offer. The Yardbirds get 4 ½ stars out of 5.
Next up was Vanilla Fudge. As I had two complementary tickets, I brought my friend and neighbor Paul Caputo along to the festival. As it turns out, Paul was very helpful in guiding me through the Vanilla Fudge setlist, as he is a longtime fan of both the band and drummer Carmine Appice. I was not very familiar with Vanilla Fudge up until recently, when Paul played a few snippets of Vanilla Fudge for me. I was very excited to see them however, when I learned that all 4 founding members would be together for this tour for the first time in 20 years. Boy, what a pleasant surprise it was, as keyboardist Mark Stein, guitarist Vinny Martell, bassist Tim Bogert, and drummer Carmine Appice just absolutely blew me away, with their great vocal harmonies, their late 60's quirkiness of start and stop timing, that great Hammond organ sound that I love so much, and their overall tight play. Their setlist consisted of "Shotgun", "Take Me For A Little While", "People Get Ready", "She's Not There", a Carmine Appice drum solo followed by "Season Of The Witch", and "You Just Keep Me Hangin' On". As always, Vanilla Fudge made their fame and fortune by doing covers of famous popular songs, namely "She's Not There" by the Zombies, "Season Of The Witch" by Donovan, and of course The Supremes "You Just Keep Me Hangin' On". What some people of later generations may not know is that Vanilla Fudge was highly influential to bands like Yes, The Who, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin. It certainly showed in their spectacular performance tonight. I give Vanilla Fudge's performance 5 out of 5 stars.
Before I get to the next band at Strange Days, I thought of a fun little trip down memory lane for those that are into vintage musical equipment. I thought of this while watching the roadies set up Steppenwolf's equipment. Being that this is a festival of late 60's-early 70's bands (with the exception of Pat Travers, who released his 1st album in 1976), it was amazing to see the bands using their old vintage equipment. Granted, some of it may not really be old, such as John Idan's violin bass guitar, but it still had the old look. The Yardbirds were indeed sporting some of their old VOX amplifiers, while Jerry Donahue played what looked like a vintage Telecaster. Of course, there was the 1960's model Hammond Organ used by Mark Stein of Vanilla Fudge. There was the vintage wooden Leslie Speaker cabinets, connected to another Hammond Organ, used by Steppenwolf. Also used by John Kay of Steppenwolf was a Rickenbacher 381JK signature model guitar (after the 381V69 original), harkening back the days of use by the likes of George Harrison, John Lennon, Pete Townsend, etc. Lastly, there was what appeared to be an early 1960's Gibson SG, played by Robbie Krieger of The Doors, complete with aluminum stopbar on the bottom., and a whammy bar, which is not common these days for an SG.
Getting back to the festival, Steppenwolf was next up. Other than old favorites "Rock Me Baby", "Magic Carpet Ride", and "Born To Be Wild", there was not much worth writing about, as Steppenwolf played too much obscure and new material, not in keeping with the spirit of the Strange Days festival. In addition, I found that their sound mix was below par, as it seemed like guitarist Danny Johnson was mixed too low, while keyboard/bassist Michael Wilk was mixed too high, especially the bass, which was generated automatically by his keyboard. The two cool moments came when Michael Wilk came out from behind the keys to play a guitar shaped keyboard, and when Danny Jackson played his guitar right up against the Marshall stack for additional distortion (old school style) to begin "Magic Carpet Ride". Steppenwolf gets 3 out of 5 stars for their performance earlier this evening.
Lastly, there were The Doors of the 21st Century, led by longtime keyboardist Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robbie Krieger. Non original members consisted of drummer Ty Dennis and bassist Phil Chen. Of course there is Ian Astbury, who was absolutely superb in filling probably the most difficult shoes to fill in rock and roll history. Not that anybody actually can fill the immortal Jim Morrison's shoes in the first place. But his look, his mannerisms, his penchant for speaking poetically during songs, and for slamming percussion instruments and mike stands all over the stage, made me forget for a moment that Jim Morrison really wasn't in the building earlier tonight. Who knows, maybe Val Kilmer climbed into Ian Astbury's window, like in the movie. However, as the leaders of the group, it was Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger who addressed the crowd most. Musically, what more can any lover of classic rock ask for? Manzarek and Krieger sounded superb, as though it were 1969 all over again. The bass and drums were handed very well by Dennis and Chen. Ian Astbury was very good vocally, while nobody in the building expected him to sound exactly like Jim Morrison. As for the setlist; "Peace Frog", "Break On Through", "Not To Touch The Earth", "Alabama Song", "Backdoor Man", "Five To One", "Touch Me", and "LA Woman". For the encore, I finally got to see Pat Travers, as he and Billy Boy Miskimmin came out for an all out jam of "Roadhouse Blues". The Doors of the 21st Century then ended the evening with "Light My Fire". What can I say except that it was a dream come true to see even a segment of the original members of The Doors play their music so perfectly. The only thing that prevents me from giving The Doors of the 21st Century 5 stars was the fact that I thought their set was a bit short considering all the great music they made years ago, so I will give them 4 ½ stars.
All in all, the Strange Days fest was a very enjoyable event. It is something that any 30 to 50 something classic rock fan would not want to miss. The fact that Pat Travers, The Yardbirds, Vanilla Fudge, Steppinwolf, and the 21st Century Doors were all on the bill means that there is a little something special for everyone. It was a bit sad to see the entire upper tier at Jones Beach completely empty, as well as a few scattered empty seats in the mezzanine, but the Baby Boomers that did make it had the time of their lives.
Also, a special thanks to Jamie Roberts, a member of the Tommy Hilfiger Jones Beach Theater management team, who went above and beyond the call of duty to help me resolve my ticket issue.
A Special Thanks to Randi Savron for the concert photographs!