South Florida’s current music scene was encapsulated during a three-night, three-tribute act pub crawl through southern Palm Beach County in late July. The results included a wide variety of musical styles, settings, instrumentation, audiences, and ticket and cover charges.
First up was Solid Brass (www.solidbrassband.com), the area eight-piece act that’s been saluting the groove-based music of the 1970s, particularly iconic bands with horn sections like Blood, Sweat & Tears or Chicago, since 2011. The location was the outdoor back patio of Rudy’s Pub in Lake Worth Beach, where that Paradise Building’s downstairs venue alternately shares the stage with dance and reggae club the Bamboo Room, located upstairs.
Rudy’s also has an indoor stage, but needed the additional space outside on this night. Even a $10 cover at an establishment where there’s usually free admission didn’t dissuade a near-capacity collection of mostly baby boomers to attend, and Solid Brass didn’t disappoint with its pre-approved selections, even if the sound system lacked a bit of the oomph required for such rhythmic material.
Highlights included “Vehicle,” the title track from the 1970 debut album by the band The Ides of March. Listeners often wrongly assume the hit was by Blood, Sweat & Tears (because of lead vocalist Jim Peterik’s comparable growl to that of David Clayton-Thomas) or Chicago (because the group was also from Illinois). Yet Solid Brass lead vocalist Timothy D’Andrea, keyboardist Antti Roiha, and the horn section of saxophonist/vocalist Pete Sarfati, trumpeter Ransom Miller and trombonist Marcus Sandoval did justice to a ‘70s classic that’s unfortunately best-known for such confusion.
Chicago’s relentless “25 or 6 to 4” was also a gem, as the rhythm section of bassist/vocalist Kent Demonbreun and drummer/vocalist Jim Gray pushed guitarist Jeff Chafin (subbing for original member Steve Rowley) during the song’s climactic choruses. Ditto the titanic guitar solo by the late Terry Kath, whose short life was a tale of what might have been. Hailed by Jimi Hendrix, Kath died at age 31 in 1978 from a self-inflicted Russian roulette gunshot wound. Without his grit, Chicago eventually slipped from rock into adult contemporary and yacht rock terrain.
“Jeff did a very good job subbing for Steve,” said Demonbreun. “He played really well, and even found some parts in our vocal harmonies and filled those in nicely.”
Solid enough to energize additional chestnuts from Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “Spinning Wheel” and the Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Runnin’” to Spiral Staircase’s “More Today Than Yesterday” and Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” Solid Brass even incited occasional dancing among the 60-somethings in attendance, at least until the heat and humidity caught up to most of them mid-song. But in saluting a sub-genre and nostalgic sound rather than a specific band or artist, the octet at least has the advantage of not having to get tired of mimicking the same catalog show after show.
(See Solid Brass on the outdoor stage at 8 p.m. Saturday and November 18 at Rudy’s Pub, 21 S. J St., Lake Worth Beach (561-602-5307, $10), and at 3 p.m. November 12 at Waterways Park, 3301 NE 213th St., Aventura (305-466-8008).)
Things got more British from there on. Next up was Roll the Stones (www.rollthestones.com), the seven-piece Rolling Stones tribute act with a growing reputation over the course of the past several years in South Florida. The setting was the Funky Biscuit, the Boca Raton club that recently celebrated its 12th anniversary. The indoor venue often features touring, ticketed blues, rock and jazz/fusion acts, mostly on weekends, with locals usually playing for free on weeknights. Area husband-and-wife duo Twocan Blue (singing multi-instrumentalist Richie Schmidt, keyboardist/vocalist Tess Schmidt) performed as such during happy hour, effortlessly reinterpreting songs by Led Zeppelin, The Who, and Neil Young.
After the duo’s performance ended around 7:30 p.m., the happy hour patrons largely filtered out, and were replaced by a sellout crowd that had paid $25-$40 to see Roll the Stones. Lead singer Oscar Ferrer, guitarists Dave Jacobs and Ron DeSaram, saxophonist/harmonica player Doug Treen, keyboardist Mitch Packer, bassist Henry Laplume and drummer/vocalist Paul Green thus successfully charged what national artists playing original material at the club do — even if that meant having plenty of free hours between the band’s 3:30 p.m. sound check (so as to not bother patrons when dinners start getting served at 5 p.m.) and 9:15 p.m. downbeat.
“At least I had plenty of time to tape all of my cords down on the stage,” DeSaram said beforehand. “Oscar moves around a lot, and I don’t want him tripping over them.”
That proved to be an understatement, even if Ferrer pulled a true Mick Jagger by making a fashionably late appearance on stage as the group launched into opening “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” Ever on the move and prowling like a fitness trainer, Ferrer missed some cues and figuratively tripped over some lyrics early, but he and the band settled down as the evening continued. Few artists successfully maintained relevance as recording artists while spanning the ‘60s through ‘80s — the Stones have essentially become a touring tribute act to themselves for the past 35 years — but Roll the Stones effectively blended the mostly glorious periods from their first three decades.
Highlights ranged from an early hit cover of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” (with Green playing the signature, Bo Diddley-inspired beat), the anthemic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Monkey Man,” with a stinging slide guitar solo by DeSaram, and “Brown Sugar,” with Treen nailing Bobby Keys’ tenor saxophone break. Those all stemmed from the Stones’ first decade in existence, but tribute was also paid to the 61-year-old group’s subsequent fruitful years. There was the rollicking “Dance Little Sister” from the 1974 release It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, a strong reading of the 1978 hit “Miss You,” with Treen impressively switching to harmonica to recreate Sugar Blue’s solo, and latter-era gems like “Harlem Shuffle” (from Dirty Work, 1986) and “Rock and a Hard Place” (Steel Wheels, 1989). Slightly younger women within the boomer crowd danced in place (since it was all they had room for), especially to the more Jagger-esque late ’70s and ’80s material, helped by the climate-controlled temperature.
Ferrer can certainly move like Jagger, and has a similar variety of vocal ranges at his disposal (with the exception of the pristine falsetto); DeSaram nailed the Keith Richards role, and Jacobs capably captured the different guitar nuances of Brian Jones, Mick Taylor and Ron Wood. Packer and Laplume were solid; Treen impressive as a multi-instrumentalist, and Green replicated Charlie Watts, particularly the deceased drummer’s crisp latter-era work. The sound at the venue was quality as always, and Green’s backing vocals were also strong, although one more voice was needed to match the Stones’ barrage of Jagger, Richards, Wood and backup singers. If one more musician efficiently steps up to the mic, this collective can truly roll.
(See Roll the Stones at 7 p.m. Saturday at Galuppi’s, 1103 N. Federal Highway, Pompano Beach (954-785-0226), and at 7 p.m. October 27 at Bungalows, 99010 Overseas Highway, Key Largo (866-801-0195).)
Third up was Maiden Steel, South Florida’s tribute to English metal band Iron Maiden. Consisting of lead vocalist Jay Zito, singing guitarists Anthony Alfano and Randy Kreuzer, bassist Jerry Lee, and drummer Brian Scott, the three-year-old quintet was making its debut at Mathews Brewing Company in Lake Worth Beach. Free admission offset 90-degree temperatures on the venue’s outdoor, chickee hut-covered stage and patio, and a near-capacity crowd attended. Strains of Judas Priest, Ozzy Osbourne and yes, even Iron Maiden wafted through the PA speakers as the band prepared to take the stage.
“I guess that means we can’t play this one,” Alfano quipped before its opening set. Iron Maiden, still active, became a phenomenon after forming nearly 50 years ago. Bassist and songwriter Steve Harris has been the constant throughout multiple personnel changes, and its classic lineup — with vocalist Bruce Dickinson, guitarists Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers, and drummer Nicko McBrain, who lives in South Florida — remains in place. The group has impressively sold more than 85 million records without getting the substantial radio airplay of many of its contemporaries.
Iron Maiden is known as much for its guitar harmonies as individual soloing, and Alfano and Kreuzer (who resembles Dixie Dregs and Deep Purple guitarist Steve Morse) did both in making two guitars sound like three on “2 Minutes To Midnight” (from the 1984 album Powerslave) and “Revelations” (Piece of Mind, 1983). Unlike many competitive guitarists, this duo consists of team players who provide strong vocal harmonies, smile, laugh and make eye contact with each other in appreciation. Zito has the range and power of Dickinson, enough so that a few of his soaring octaves proved too much for the occasionally overmatched PA system. He also has the theatrics, donning a mask and hooded robe for “Phantom of the Opera,” a track from Iron Maiden’s self-titled 1980 debut. And as Lee capably demonstrated on “Killers,” the title track from the band’s 1981 sophomore release, he’s mastered Harris’ impressive, requisite, cramp-inducing three-fingered picking style.
“Here’s one for all the old die-hard Maiden fans,” Zito said to introduce the Edgar Allan Poe-inspired “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” from Killers. “This song literally takes my breath away, partly because it’s long, and partly because there are a lot of words.”
The vocalist awkwardly had to search for some of those words on his mounted iPad, but Alfano and Kreuzer’s interplay accurately created the classical music influence of the original. Tempo-shifting title tracks from The Number of the Beast (1982) and Fear of the Dark (1992) then included the metal band’s vintage light and shade; fire and frenzy. By then, a number of fans were at the foot of the stage dancing — or at least doing the Caucasian pogo — largely because of the insistent grooves of Lee and Scott, a rhythm section that injects hypnotic pulses into metallic themes. The crowd skewed youngest of the three tribute acts, although there was still a surplus of boomers, even if few to any were recognizable at more than one of these three tribute shows.
Maiden Steel plays Iron Maiden’s complex, accelerated music the only way it can be delivered and taken seriously — with precision and intensity. It’s a band without a crimp in its chain, and Lee is the key harmonic link between its melodic and rhythmic prowess. That’s because his bass playing is strong and versatile enough that he can effectively function as its third guitarist, and let the propulsive Scott carry the rhythm, whenever it’s called upon to recite passages in lockstep with Alfano and Kreuzer. It’s one of many reasons Maiden Steel is becoming one of the most popular tributes from South Florida to Orlando, metal or otherwise.
(See Maiden Steel on Nov. 19 as part of a multi-band animal rescue benefit at Piper’s, 960 N. Federal Highway, Pompano Beach, and at 7 p.m. Dec. 30 at Mathews Brewing, 130 South H St., Lake Worth Beach. Visit maiden-steel.com for future tour dates.)