When Bill Bieloh passed away in September of last year, the Moondance Jam nearly went with him. The festival promoter died suddenly of a heart attack just weeks after last year's show, sending his family and fans from all over the Midwest into shock. Rumor had it that his wife Kathy might fold the festival, but after a mourning period and months of meetings, the family decided to carry on with the 20th anniversary edition of the four-day festival and celebrate Bill's life. With the biggest crowd in festival history gathering on Friday to see KISS and record crowds all weekend, it appears the rock version of this show (there's a country show as well) will be green-lit for 2012.
The pre-Jam party is well underway when my good buddy Brad (Phil Collins to the educated) and I pull in off Highway 371 and into the Jam parking lot. Mountain Ash, our buds and one of the upper Midwest's best party bands, is onstage tearing up songs by Rod Stewart, Judas Priest, Pink Floyd and The Who. Hairball, a wonderful tribute act that features rotating lead singers who dress up as the 80's best front men (Gene Simmons, Dee Snider, Jon Bon Jovi, Steven Tyler, etc…) hammers out every great 70's and 80's hair band hit with a crack unit that can play just about everything from that era. The Jam is off to a great start with one of its biggest Wednesday crowds.
You could not hire two more disparate bands to headline a festival than Three Doors Down and KISS. We all know what KISS does (more on that later), but 3DD is the polar opposite. Led by regular looking guy/nice guy/vocalist Brad Arnold, the band (guitarists Matt Roberts and Chris Henderson, bassist Todd Harrell and drummer Greg Upchurch) basically plays the 17 songs without much choreography or movement. The real stars of this show are the great melodic rock songs and the crowd, which sang every song like its very existence depended on it.
3DD does very well in the States because the band sold a ton of records the first time out of the gate, buoyed by the spectacular single, "Kryptonite," a song played so many times on the radio back in 1999 that my mom used to hum it in the kitchen. Since then, the group has toured regularly and put out three more solid yet unspectacular records (the quintet has had five number one rock songs and 10 Top 10 songs in the last 12 years), but figures to increase its audience again this year with the release of its spectacular new album, Time of My Life, which is easily the band's best record since the debut.
The group featured five new songs in its set on Thursday, and it's amazing how well these songs went over live, since the album didn't come out until Tuesday, July 19. The title track opener set the pace, while singles "When You're Young" and "Everytime You Go" are already well-known to mainstream radio followers.
But those songs couldn't compare with the biggies, songs like "Kryptonite," "It's Not My Time," "Loser," "It's Not Me," "Here Without You," "and "When I'm Gone," which had the massive crowd singing along with the group, which was making its first appearance at the Jam and no doubt savored the reception.
.38 Special is still one of the tightest and well-rehearsed acts on the road. Letter perfect renditions of the band's greatest hits (and a few surprises) were played out over 90 minutes by the six-piece unit, still featuring lead vocalist Donnie Van Zant, vocalist/guitarist Don Barnes and bassist Larry Junstrom, and augmented on the road by guitarist Danny Chauncey, keyboardist Bobby Capps and drummer Gary Moffatt. Every time I've seen these guys over the years I've been amazed at how tight they were, and this night was no exception (the band has a new CD/DVD package of its live show coming out on August 30, so you can see for yourself).
The band is a much better proposition with Barnes fronting, however, no matter how good the Max Carl material (think "Second Chance") was during Barnes' leave of absence from 1988-94. Barnes writes all the hit songs, and sings them with a sweet voice that very few musicians from the South have ever had. Van Zant has his moments, but Barnes is easily the star of this band, both vocally and on guitar. Aside from Barnes and the expert musicianship, the setlist was the real highlight on this night. Opening with "Rockin' Into the Night" and shutting down the main set proper with an epic "Caught Up in You," the band hit on just about every big song it's ever released, even putting together a seven-song medley to fit everything into the 22-song set. The encore was a stormer, with "Chain Lightning" and "Hold on Loosely" leading into "Living in the USA" and a final romp through CCR's "Traveling Band."
Great White is on the road this summer with XYZ vocalist Terry Ilous fronting the band, while Jack Russell is either a) home recovering from a bad back, or b) recovering from being Jack Russell. I know he won't want to hear this, but Ilous is no slouch and GW sounded better than they have in years with him singing. The band can actually play songs like "Lady Red Light" that had been taken out of the live set, and all the group's hits ("Face the Day," "Save Your Love," "Rock Me," "Once Bitten Twice Shy") sounded as good as ever with guitarist Mark Kendall, bassist Scott Snyder, drummer Audie Desbrow and Michael Lardie (guitar, keyboards) still along for the ride.
Candlebox is one of those early 90's rock bands that often gets lumped in as an alternative or modern rock band, but make no mistake, these guys can rock just as hard as anyone. If there is a comparison, it is Led Zeppelin, due to band's reliance on chunky riffs and heavy drums, but there certainly is some 90's era Seattle atmosphere bubbling in most of the group's songs. Vocalist Kevin Martin has a sweet voice and guitarist Peter Klett is as good as they get as a lead player. The band played what you might expect, with "Change," Blossom," "Arrow," "You" and "Far Behind" all included, but the boys also did a nice job of mixing in some classic Zep, Alice in Chains and Ozzy riffs to prove they had heroes as well. (Interesting note-bassist Adam Kury is also in 70's glam rock act Legs Diamond).
Opening band Cracker is known mostly for the massive hit "Low," but I was impressed with the delivery of the David Lowery-led band. Guitarist Johnny Hickman is a great player, and the band did a nice job leading things off, which can be a very difficult prospect at one of festivals. Most of the time, opening bands at 3 p.m. serve as an alarm clock for the hard partying festival goers, but it was nice to see a substantial amount of them up-and-ready for Cracker's college radio (think REM) sound. Lowery started his career in Camper van Beethoven and will release a new album with that band next year.
I didn't think I would ever say these words, but it's time for KISS to start thinking about the time to hang up the leather boots, put away the blood and fire, and shut down what was once the hottest band in the world, but is now just a couple of older rock star guys trying to hang on to past glories. And this is not coming from a fence sitter that has only seen the band once. This is from a guy that has been a fan since 1974, had blood spit on his arm as a 15-year old, has seen the group over 20 times and is full-fledged KISS army member. But like a good horse owner knows when to put down an injured thoroughbred, someone (Doc McGhee, perhaps) needs to put KISS down before the band's image is tarnished any further.
Want to get into the RNR Hall of Fame? It might take quitting, because right now it looks like this is all about money. The band made a substantial amount of dough for its 120 minutes onstage in Walker, and drew a lot of fans, but anyone who thinks this was the greatest KISS show in history is just lying to themselves.
I still dig all the songs, no matter how leaden the presentation or bad the sound, but a typical festival crowd only really knows 4-5 songs that KISS plays. "Detroit Rock City," "Beth," "Lick It Up," "Shout it Out Loud" and "Rock and Roll All Night" all go over well, but four hacks could get the crowd off with those songs and the amount of pyro and spectacle that go along with them. But look around during "Cold Gin," "Do You Love Me," Shock Me" of "Love Gun" and you'll find only a couple of guys with face paint and me singing the words-the rest of the crowd is waiting for those five listed songs, which were the last five songs of the set.
Would the band be better off if it actually embraced the period of 1983-96, when without make-up, the group actually had some chart success with "Heaven's On Fire," "Tears Are Falling," "Forever," "Unholy" or "God Gave Rock and Roll to You," all hits that this crowd would know. I understand that this band celebrates its earlier records and new songs, but with most of those songs just sort of laid there and died.
Aside from the songs, Paul Stanley has clearly lost a step (hip replacement will do that), and his stage raps have become so lame and juvenile that I could do without him talking at all. Bassist Gene Simmons, the world's newest reality television star, actually helped ground this show with his typical antics and actually being able to hit a note or two singing now and then. Substitute/stand in guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer are pros and could play in any band, but really, are Ace Frehley and Peter Criss that much worse than the other original guys?
I will always be a huge KISS fan-I still love them, the songs, the shows, the history, and that will never change. But I know one day I will have to tell my mom that she isn't able to make Sunday dinner the way she used to, and I'll have to have my wife start doing it. Maybe it's time for KISS to take its own advice and put four guys up there who can sing, play and move like the original band once did.
Paul Rodgers is the only singer I can think of that has fronted three iconic bands-Free, Bad Company and Queen. He also has added his voice to The Firm, The Law and solo projects that have varied from rock to blues. But right now, it might be best for Paul to just be Paul and present a greatest hits show that spans his entire career, and that's exactly what he did here.
His show and presentation pretty much sealed KISS' fate-his professional delivery, selection of songs, set pacing and vocal talent showed just about any professional act on the road today how to do it. And the crowd ate it up. Opening with "Can't Get Enough," Bad Company's first big U.S. hit, and closing the 17-song set down with Free's mammoth "All Right Now," Rodgers managed to jam just about every great Bad Co. and Free moment into the 80-minute set, along with a Firm song and a great medley of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing/Angel."
His band, which featured former Heart guitarist Howard Leese, was able to play everything from the straight-ahead rock of "Honey Child," "Rock and Roll Fantasy" and "Fire and Water" to the bluesy stuff like "Mr. Big," "Ready for Love" and "Walk in My Shadow." There's always a band that shows up at these types of festivals and kicks everyone's ass, and at this year's MJ, it was Rodgers.
I remember the first time I saw Eddie Money. It was at Winterland in San Francisco, circa 1975, and it wasn't even a live set. The Bill Graham folks who ran the world's greatest-ever concert hall used to play back sets from previous shows held at the old ice palace, and one night Money's classic Sounds of the City set played back before a Montrose show. I can still remember how cool he looked, how good he sounded, and even though his debut album wasn't released for nearly a year, those great songs ("Don't Worry," "Wanna Be A Rock and Roll Star," "Gambling Man") used to ring in my head long before they were available.
36 years later, and Money still looks cool, sounds great and has a whole slew of great songs in his now sizable playbook to break out when he tours. Money has obviously aged-he reminds one of Ozzy Osbourne at times, like a boxer who's taken too many punches, but his physical abilities didn't seem to bother him on this night. Eddie was in fine voice, and with guitarist Tommy Girvin acing the solos, drummer Glenn Symmonds and bassist Lee Beverly keeping the bottom, and keyboardist Chris Grove adding touches to the hit parade, the 75-minute set just flew by. Just take a look at the set list, and it's easy to see that Money wasted no time or energy on filler—"Baby Hold On," "I Wanna Go Back," "Take Me Home Tonight," "I Think I'm in Love," "Two Tickets to Paradise," "Shakin'"—all huge hits, and all still sounding great.
Another surprise act at this year's festival was The Outlaws, the six-guitar army from Tampa, Florida that continues to wow audiences across the country with its blazing guitar attack. Now featuring guitarist Henry Paul and drummer Monty Yoho, the band plays all of its best songs ("There Goes Another Love Song," "Hurry Sundown," "Gunsmoke") with aplomb, but its the long guitar workouts like "Green Grass and High Tides" that really send the crowd into a frenzy. The band did not plan an encore for Friday, but after tearing the house down with a 15-minute version of "Green Grass," the crowd wouldn't let the band go. The quintet obliged with "Ghost Riders in the Sky," another lengthy guitar orgy that reminded us that this was, is and always will be one the best guitar acts in rock history.
Ever since ABC announced it would be shutting down "All My Children" and "One Life to Live," soap fans have been wondering what will replace those iconic daytime shows. I have an idea-how about just following Stone Temple Pilots around? This is rock's biggest soap, and nothing else I've seen comes close. The band doesn't do a meet-and-greet or any pre-show interviews, because it would be hard to coordinate all of this activity from the band member's four different buses (that arrive on site at 9:15 for an 11:00 p.m. show). Are these guys that rich that they can afford to travel on four different buses? Must be, because they do, and I find it amusing to watch after the set ends as all four guys (lead singer and ring master Scott Weiland, guitarist Dean DeLeo, bassist Robert DeLeo and drummer Eric Kretz) all wave to each other as they get on the departing vessels, which leave the site before the amps have stopped ringing.
So, after seeing this, and with the group members' evolving drama concerning drug addiction, rehab, divorces, in fighting and musical difference, is it any wonder that the band is a dicey live proposition? The last time I saw STP, I basically swore them off forever because they sucked. Weiland was either indifferent to the actual idea of singing or high (he swears he's been sober nine years, but he was definitely off on that night four years ago). That's one side of the Pilots. Luckily, we saw the other side at MJ-the band was great. Big, ballsy, loud versions of every major hit ("Plush," "Big Empty," "Between the Lines," "Sex Type Thing," "Dead and Bloated," etc…) were played out if front of one of the festivals best sing-along crowds, and the band turned out to be a great Saturday night headliner. No big show, no pyro, just songs, singing, drinking and heat-the MJ recipe for success
So, is STP back as a vital touring and recording band? Or will the band soon have a show on ABC at 1 p.m. EST? Really, it all depends on Weiland, because I've seen him great, late and terrible with STP, and great, late and terrible in Velvet Revolver. None of this is a secret, and it's up to him folks (the others in the band tend to feed off his energy and play up to his mood), if the band is going to be great, late or terrible.
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (make sure you print all of that, you can't just say Joan Jett, folks) played a typical Joan Jett and the Blackhearts show in front of a typical Joan Jett and the Blackhearts crowd. Still opening with "Bad Reputation," "Cherry Bomb," "Light of Day" and "Do You Wanna Touch," the quartet, featuring Jett, guitarist Dougie Needles, drummer Thommy Price and new bassist Acey Slade, blazed through 17 songs in 70-minutes that hardly changed time or tempo-aside from "Crimson and Clover," it was straight ahead, sleazy rock from one of rock's original female rock stars, and the Blackhearts. Jett and the Blackhearts even played a couple of other Runaway songs, "You Drive Me Wild" and "I Love Playing With Fire" to appease the large crowd, and the version of "I Love Rock and Roll" has to be heard to be believed.
Fuel is one of my favorite bands of the past 15 years, and Brett Scallions is one of my favorite frontmen of that same period. I've seen Fuel without Brett, and it doesn't work-Fuel can exist with Brett and three other guys, but it can't exist without Brett, no matter who sings. One day, according to Brett, we may see a Full-fledged Fuel reunion (they don't seem to hate each other-it's more of a business thing), but until then, Scallions and his crack band (former Buckcherry guitarist Yogi, former Shinedown bassist Brad Stewart and former Candiria drummer Ken Schalk) lay down note perfect renditions of Fuel's greatest hits ("Last Time," "Sunburn," "Jesus or a Gun," "Shimmer" and "Hemorrhage") while Scallion literally shreds his vocal chords getting the sound to the furthest reaches of the campsites. Scallions will never be one of the world's most accomplished singers, but he is a great front man and he tries harder than anyone I know. And he's helluva nice guy to boot.
Burton Cummings was always going to be an interesting choice to open on this day, but he did a fine job playing all of the Guess Who's best songs ("These Eyes," "Laughing," "American Woman," "No Time") with a great band and a huge hometown following from Winnipeg that offered support for both Cummings and the province's new hockey team, the returning Winnipeg Jets.
Ah, Thunderstruck. The mascots of Moondance. The wild women from Los Angeles have become a must-see act here in Walker, and the crowd loves them. The all-female AC/DC tribute act plays both Bon Scott and Brian Johnson-era songs, and the crowd laps it up like a cold beer (which they do very well here also). When the festival closes Saturday on a side stage, its Thundherstruck closing down the packed bar with another great set of those classic songs.
Once again, thanks must go to Mark Kirkhoff, Kathy Bieloh, Bernie, the Mountain Ash guys, Thundherstruck, Brad, Phil and all the others who make this such a memorable happening. Hope to see you all again next year!