You know summer’s just around the corner when Marc’s Great American Rib Cook-Off takes over Nautica in the Flats.
The annual grub-and-grooves fest kicked off Memorial Weekend 2015 in proper patriotic fashion with a Friday night show headlining show at Jacobs Pavilion by multi-platinum recording artists America.
Known for their 70s soft-rock hits and ‘80s pop masterpieces, America thrilled its Cleveland constituency with ninety minutes of familiar radio fare and back-tracks hailing mostly from their eponymous 1971 debut and follow-up ‘70s LPs, most of which start with the letter H (Homecoming, Hat Trick, Holiday, etc.)
Still fronted by cofounders Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell, the band eased into its set with a breezy “Tin Man,” broke out electric guitars for “You Can Do Magic,” and indulged their country side on “Don’t Cross the River.” Beckley handed off his 12-string acoustic guitar to a crewmember and slid behind a Roland electric piano for “Daisy Jane,” but then went straight back to strumming unplugged on “Riverside” and “I Need You.” “Woman Tonight” undulated to an island reggae vibe.
As if to underscore the fun everyone was having, the Goodtime III cruise boat motored down the Cuyahoga River behind the stage scrim as the gents rolled into “Ventura Highway.” Lead guitarist Bill “The Kid” Worrell ripped into a crackling solo with his Telecaster on new cut “Driving” (from Lost and Found).
“He’s our cougar catcher,” Beckley joked of the young gunslinger. “Every band’s got one!”
Dipping into their 2011 covers disc Back Pages, Bunnell and Beckley saluted Joni Mitchell with a shimmering rearrangement of “Woodstock.”
“Joni’s not feeling so good these days,” noted Bunnell. “So we wish her well from Cleveland.”
The Yasgur’s Farm retrospect wasn’t the only instance of creative borrowing: America dusted off Gin Blossoms smash “Till I Hear It From You,” describing the popular 1995 number as an acoustic classic they wish they’d written. Back on keyboard, Beckley got everyone in earshot singing along to the Mamas & Papas’ “California Dreaming.”
The mash-up of “Cornwall Blank” and “Hollywood” was spacey and psychedelic—and was accompanied by swirling, kaleidoscopic pinwheels on an overhead video screen. “The Border,” “Only In Your Heart,” and “Lonely People” featured more stellar work by Beckley and Bunnell on their Taylor acoustic guitars—but Hat Trick’s “Green Monkey” called for three electric guitars (with Beckley pitting his Gibson Les Paul against Worrell’s Fender Tele). Bunnell said Ohio native Joe Walsh (The Eagles, James Gang) performed the song’s guitar solo on the original recording.
The sinister “Sandman” saw Vietnam-era images flickering on the backdrop. Huey helicopters and Kent State protesters brought Nautica onlookers back in time to the turbulent Nixon administration and served as visceral reminders of how far the country’s come in 40 years, and yet how little has changed—despite all our cultural revolutions.
Beckley invited everyone to join in on the upbeat “Sister Golden Hair” as bassist Richard Campbell locked in with newcomer Ryland Steen (Reel Big Fish) on drums.
How’d everyone get home Friday night?
On America’s “Horse With No Name,” naturally. The ’71 desert ditty proved a fitting finale to a family-friendly show.
The Saturday marquee gig by L.A. glam-rockers Steel Panther was—in stark contrast—not conducive to young audiences. Signage posted outside Jacobs Pavilion even warned parents that some of the band’s material wouldn’t be suitable for children.
They weren’t kidding.
You may know Steel Panther from their T.V. appearances a few years back: The head-bangers played themselves on The Drew Carey Show and (as Danger Kitty) hawked Discover Card with their hilarious “Love Rocket” commercial.
The campy quartet has since found fame on its own terms, juggling Motley Crue-style hair metal with lascivious, Howard Stern-like humor. One need only scan Steel Panther’s album sleeves (Hole Patrol, Balls Out, All You Can Eat) for a sampling of their deliberately scandalous oeuvre.
It wasn’t long into the May 24th set that they paused for some bawdy banter involving body fluids and prophylactics. It was irreverent, filthy…and very funny.
If you asked singer Michael Starr whether he kisses his mother with that foul mouth of his, he’d probably retort with a rascally, “No, but your mother has no complaints!”
Combining the best visual elements of Bret Michaels (Poison) David Lee Roth (Van Halen), and Axl Rose (Guns ‘n’ Roses), Starr shined on “P-Whipped,” “Party Like Tomorrow is the End of The World,” and the outrageously insensitive “Fat Girl.” Craning his back to strike on Adonis-like pose, Starr dispensed some dirty dating advice on “The Shocker”—then rescued buff (and bouffant) guitarist Satchel, who locked up his back trying to cop some of Starr’s swaggering stage moves.
Satchel said he plucked Starr to be the band’s vocalist years ago on the strength of his Rob Halford-like wail. The singer acknowledged admiring the iconic Judas Priest singer when he was growing up, but then his dialogue with the gutter-minded guitarist devolved into a microphone-defiling discussion of Halford’s homosexuality.
Panther bassist Lexxi Foxx is the foursome’s resident narcissus. Renowned for his constant primping, the four-stringer was proud to debut his new peacock spandex pants (and handheld vanity mirror). Foxx enjoyed a spotlight moment seven songs in when he thumped his hot pink bass beneath drummer Stix Zadinia’s riser—but it was more “hair solo” than bass solo: Satchel and Starr used leaf blowers to pump hot air at their companion, sending his photogenic blonde locks flying.
The political incorrectness continued with “Gloryhole” and “If I Was King.” Starr even pulled a few ladies onstage to dance during “Seventeen Girls in a Row.” Satchel’s guitar solo demonstrated that he—like his mates—can play with the best of ‘em. He said he recently earned an endorsement from the Kramer guitar company:
“I get a new guitar every five years!” he announced. “For just three hundred dollars!”
Jokes aside, Satchel can shred, and his endorsement deal is legit—just like his guitar chops. Steel Panther’s stage pseudonyms, anachronistic attire, and toilet talk are all part of the act—but there’s no faking their musical finesse. The lyrics are tongue-in-cheek.
Or (in this case) out-of-cheek.
Panther kept the party rolling with the mockingly misogynist “Girl From Oklahoma” and fan-favorite “Asian Hooker.” Other Feel the Steel throwbacks rounded out the ribald soiree: “Community Property” and “Party All Day” had the floor-squatters grinnin’ and the bleacher creatures groovin’.
Hometown hero Michael Stanley regaled the crowded Pavilion on Sunday.
“There’s a basketball game going on about a mile from here,” he said, referring to the Cavs / Hawks match-up underway across the river and up the hill at Quicken Loans Arena.
The NBA Eastern Conference Finals might’ve depleted the attendance at Stanley’s show, but the Ghost Poet didn’t hold it against Lebron and the boys. On the contrary, he kicked off his concert by dusting off his ‘80s Cavaliers theme song, “Tonight’s the Night.” Heck, he even altered the lyrics to reflect the team’s contemporary colors (wine and gold instead of orange and blue).
But then it was straight into the classics for Michael and his Resonators, who tore through “All I Ever Wanted,” “In Between the Lines,” and “Midwest Midnight” with enthusiasm and expertise.
Guitarists Danny Powers and Marc Lee Shannon sizzled. Drummer Tommy Dobeck dominated. To his right, percussionist Rodney Psyka handled congas and shakers. Saxophonist Paul Wolf Christensen had several solos, each one more smokin’ than the last. To Dobeck’s left, bassist Eric “Eroc” Sosinski ratcheted the rhythms and added background vocals. Beneath Sosinski (to Stanley’s left), keyboardist Bob Pelander manned the electric piano / organ on delicate Bee Gees cover “To Love Somebody” and the gritty “Just Another Night in America.”
Our vote for the night’s MVP goes to longtime Resonators vocalist Jennifer Lee, who looked sharp as ever in spite of an uncomfortable-looking leg brace (she apparently underwent surgery recently). A real rock ‘n’ roll trooper, Lee dismissed roadies who offered her a seat for the show and dispensed her usual high harmonies on MSB ballad “Falling in Love Again” and early ‘80s heat-seeker “In the Heartland.” She eventually settled on a stool, but the fact that she was up there holding her own when she could’ve easily gone on injured reserve was a testament to her tenacity.
Stanley himself was in sound voice and positive spirit, belting like his old Stage Pass and Cabin Fever days at Blossom, Richfield Coliseum, and The Front Row. “Rosewood Bitters” took fans all the way back to Michael’s self-titled blue album from 1973.
Longtime Stanley producer / collaborator Bill Szymczyk was one of many Michael confidantes and associates on hand to witness “Lover” and “My Town” for the Nth time. Szymczyk teamed with star-turned-98.5 WNCX drive-time D.J. Stanley on the new 3-CD compilation album Michael Stanley: The Solo Years 1995-2014, which assembles key tracks from latter-day Line Level discs like Eighteen Down, American Road, The Soft Addictions, and Shadowland.
The Resonators were winners again–as were the Cavs, who pulled through in overtime.
America, Steel Panther, and The Resonators weren’t the only entertainment options at the Cook-Off.
A slate of local talent from Lakewood, Cleveland, Willoughby, and Akron kept parking lot patrons happy during the afternoon and early evening hours. Simpletons singers Tony Lang and Frank Camp delivered a stellar acoustic set on Saturday. Electronic-rockers Hawkeye (featuring Erika Lauren from WMMS’s The Alan Cox Show) played songs from their forthcoming Killbox CD. So Long, Albatross brought Black Sabbath-style mayhem to the riverfront. Punk rockers Future Villains opened for Panther on the main stage with an amalgam of over-the-top originals and crafty covers (Aerosmith, Boston, Led Zeppelin). Troubadour Chris Allen (Rosavelt, Ohio City Singers) delighted on Sunday, as did Cities & Coasts, who thrilled with songs from their Postcards from the Great Lakes (and The Beach Boys’ “Do It Again”).