Sunday, August 18, 2013

Colfax Music History: Tommy Bolin Tribute Concert

August 23 & 24, 1996
REVIEW by Scott McIntosh
John (Johnnie) Bolin and Mike Drumm, of the Tommy Bolin Archives, Inc., produced this event at the Bluebird Theater near downtown Denver, Colorado on Colfax Avenue (a street labeled as one of the most dangerous streets in America by "The Rolling Stone" -- ha! I lived in Miami for 8 years, it's nuthin'!). The Bluebird, once a "porn palace", is now a refurbished 500-seat intimate venue -- perfect for this type of show. Although it would have been more gratifying to see HUGE numbers of fans for these awesome musicians paying tribute to another awesome musician, I'm actually glad it was a small and warm crowd of us real die-hard "Wild Dog" fans. Most of the seating was at tables, but there were also lines of chairs on the walls and near the kegs, and standing room was available in the erst-while "mosh pit". The scene was complete with an ample-sized bar area and attentive waitresses.
Merchandise was available at the door, including signed posters, hats, t-shirts, silk-screens, CD's, Videos, and anything a Bolin Nut could possibly want to spend money on. Also at the door were sign-up sheets for the Tommy Bolin Archives newsletter (I urge you to get it), and a raffle for a beautiful, white Fender Stratocaster -- signed by all the members of the Tribute Band. Some son-of-a... er.... lucky guy... won it at the end of the concert (wasn't me).

The stage was medium-sized, with an extremely small back-stage area. A huge black silk screen (tapestry) of Tommy (the cover shot from the "Teaser" album) provided the back-drop to the stage. After the intermission, a second drum kit was added so that Bobby Berge and John Bolin could play together and trade solos near the end of the set.

F5 and TRIBUTE BAND MEMBERS (Alphabetical):
Bobby Berge: Drums
John Bolin: Drums
Jeff Cook: Vocals
Ralph Patlin: Les Paul Guitar
Michael Reese: Fender Strat Guitar
Stanley Sheldon: Bass
Tom Stephenson: Keyboards
Gary "GQ" Wilson: Vocals

The Friday night, August 23 show was a wee bit of a blur for this reviewer! However, it can be reported that the mood of this "warm up" two-set show was loose and fun. The set list was almost identical to the more highly anticipated (and more highly acclaimed) Saturday night show (see below). All the band members came into the audience for mingling with fans after Friday's show, and were eagerly anticipating Saturday's recorded show. To a man, they all were pleasant and easily accessible to the fans.

The Saturday night show was videotaped with four cameras, and recorded for CD on a multi-track digital rig (the resulting video and CD will be available from "The Archives" for stocking- stuffers before Christmas -- or for use as one of your 8 Chanuka gifts). Quite decent in-house lighting was set up, with multi- colored flood and spot lights. The crowd was lookin'good: many fans had their black and white "Teaser" shirts on, and some fans had home-made Bolin shirts. Not just a few fans were sportin' Grateful Dead shirts, and many others the more generic Tie-Die. True fans came from all parts of the compass, including Minneapolis, Sioux City, Kansas City, New York, Boston, Miami, Dallas, San Francisco, and at least one mate crossed the waters from England! There are great stories about traveling to the show, and there are great stories about meeting each other at this concert. All true fans.

Before the show, John Bolin told the crowd that Tommy was watching, and would be pleased! He also pointed out that this date (August 24) was just the second anniversary of the death of Rick "The Pudge" Bolin (Tommy and John's younger brother in Sioux City, Iowa), who passed away at age 37. But, said John, tonight was definitely a night of celebration of Tommy's music, so let's have fun!

SET 1: The newly formed band, "F5"
Stan Sheldon had been so impressed with January's tribute concert (which celebrated the release of "From the Archives, Vol.I")., that he, Michael Reese, and Tom Stephenson have formed a new Energy-type band called "F5". The name refers to "Force 5", which is the most powerful category of Tornado. Stan lives in Kansas, and F5 is based there for now (as are Tornados). F5 is currently auditioning for a vocalist, and plan to have a CD of new material sometime in the coming year. The F5 line-up played the first set, which included a couple new originals and some great Billy Cobham stuff, and then "The Tommy Bolin Tribute Band" took over for the second set (see below). Alex somebody, from Kansas I believe, played drums for this set, and I apologise for not catching his name. He deserves credit, however, especially in light of his inspired drum solo on "Road to Machupichu". I can't spell that correctly, I'm sure, but I nick-named the song "Inna- godda-de-Bolin" anyway, in honor of Alex's solo! Stan said that's his favorite F5 song so far.
Stratus (Cobham's "Spectrum")
Lips (F5 original)
Red Baron (Spectrum)
Guitar Solo (Michael Reese)
Un-named (to this reviewer)
Ballad On the Road to Machupichu (F5 original)
SET 2: Tommy Bolin Tribute Band/"Energy Reunion"
John Bolin came on for the first part of the second set, while vocals were handled by Gary "GQ" Wilson (who sang "Red Skies" on "From the Archives, Vol I.") and Jeff Cook (Energy singer, and long-time songwriting collaborator with Tommy). Bobby Berge (prounounced "burgh'-ee") took over drum duties from John Bolin for a couple songs, and then they played out the set together.
People People
Shake the Devil
Wild Dogs
Red Skies
Homeward Strut
Rock Me Baby (With Otis Taylor on harmonica)
Marching Powder
You Know You Know
San Francisco River
Post Toastee (Including double drum solos)
Michael Reese, from Boulder, Colorado (now living in Kansas City) played guitar throught the show (he was one of 3 guitar players at the January gig), and is currently in "F5". His playing shows an excellent feel for "The Tommy Bolin Sound" -- complete with Echo Plex and slide stuff. He's been a Bolin fan since his youth, and getting this gig was a dream-come-true for him. Michael played a powder-blue Fender Stratocaster (right handed).

The "surprise weapon" at this show was another great guitar player who was heavily influenced by Tommy: Ralph Patlin, who is currently in a new band in California (sorry I can't remember the name, but "Archives" called it a "way cool world beat fusion band out of S.F."). Ralph was formerly with "The Call". Although he doesn't want to be considered a "New Tommy", he admits that Tommy's guitar sound helped him shape his current chops. After recording some material years earlier, Ralph more recently listened to it again and realized that it sounded a lot more like Tommy than he had remembered! So, he's been getting back into Tommy's legacy. Ralph played a black Gibson Les Paul (left- handed). Ralph, along with Michael, played the entire 2nd set.

Performances, which had been outstanding anyway on Friday night, were STELLAR on Saturday night. The guys were pumped, the crowd was nuts, the tapes were rolling. I noticed a few band glitches (like someone missing a cue, or an extra note at the end of a song), which I'm sure the guys will HATE to see and hear on the video (and read in this review). But, as an audience member, one can't complain about such gaffs because the raw Energy (pun intended) and technical mastery exhibited by this band MORE than made up for those inevitable live-show problems.

One "glitch" to watch for in the upcomming video: in Post Toastee, you will recall, there's a part of the song that gives the different instrumentation a chance to do a quick one-bar solo (you know... like before the vocals go "WHOOOOOOOO!!"). Anyway, it was the encore song so the band used this opportunity to introduce each member in turn, then that member would do their one-bar solo. Well, a couple times, two of the guys would think it was their turn (both Gary and Tom were trying to orchestrate, I think) and you'd hear both of their mini-solos at once. Actually, it sounded great anyway, but see if you can pick that out on the video!

In both "F5" and the "Tribute Band", Stan Sheldon was the on- stage leader. Keyboardist Tom Stephenson (Stan's cousin, by the way) and Stan communicate extremely well, and together they orchestrated the solos and all the funky breaks. Stan's bass (Fender Fretless) sounds as tonally clear and as distinctively "Stan" as it did on "Frampton Comes Alive" (if not more so), his soloing was top-notch, and his playing was solid all night.

Tom's keyboards (Kurtzweil) were mixed on-stage with the other instruments extremely well, and his soloing combined speed and accuracy. I wish he would have had more solos, but hey... this was a guitar kind of night, right?

As I said earlier, Michael Reese sounded Tommy-like on the Echo- Plex and slide parts, and his soloing was excellent. He has deft control of his whammy-bar, which gives a certain elusive and bending quality to his sound (kind of like you-know-who).

Ralph Patlin NAILED the tricky song "San Francisco River". The lead part, a kind of a "wha-wha" sound, is accomplished by using some sort of picking technique combined with keeping one finger working the volume knob. Ralph also shredded on all his solos! The two guitars complimented each other nicely, traded solo's well, and combined to make an excellent full sound that more than satisfied us "Wild Dogs" in the crowd.

Gary "GQ" Wilson, Energy's first vocalist, has a mighty voice and a great stage presence. His sound can be described as very "soulful" (which I hope isn't an adjective that he, as an African American, is loathe to hear applied to his work!), but it really does describe his approach to the high quality vocal job he did at this gig.

One fan thought "GQ" sort of "over interpreted" songs that we've known for years that have been sung one way, but I tend to disagree. I thought his artistic license didn't lead him too far astray, and his powerful rendition of "Teaser" certainly brought the crowd to their feet. His latest CD was also available at the door, by the way.

Bobby Berge, a power drummer, sounded monumental on solos and fills and provided a full sound whenever he played. He wore a big straw hat and the same easy grin that he had on the Zephyr album ("Goin' Back to Colorado"). He played Yamaha drums.

John Bolin, another power drummer (on Ludwig Drums), provided his trademark hard-driving and controlled foundation. It's a big, BIG sound! (Check out that "Chill Factor" CD for example!). He compliments this with some of the quickest-footed bass drum work you'll hear, and with very imaginative fills. John is currently in a group from Sioux City, Iowa called "Chill Factor", and their new release (available on Antipreneur records) "Some Like it Cold" is now out and was available at the door (I especially like the track, "Tonite the Nite").

Bolin and Berge traded solos a couple of times, and it was as fun to watch as it was to listen to. Both veterans were having a blast, and their skins were sounding phenomenal. They put so much Energy (yeah, yeah) into their performances, that after the show they were both Powdered Toast, Man!

In fact, ALL the talent looked completely devoured after the show, but they all wore grins. They enjoyed themselves, and it showed in their performances. And the crowd was left fulfilled.

At the start of the show, John Bolin told the crowd that Tommy watches all this stuff from above, and that he's gotta be smilin' right now at this show of support and love. After THIS show, even days later as I write this ................ I'll bet he's STILL smilin'!

Scott McIntosh 
Bluebird Theater, Denver, Colorado

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