GREAT WHITE, Firehouse, Nelson
Penn's Peak, PA
Sept. 20, 2008
Review and photos by Johnny Rogers

The weekend of Sept 20 brought two things to the Pennsylvania Mountain area--first, a drop in the temperature for our first feel of Fall, and second, much contrary to the temperature drop, a red hot rock and roll show. Tonight's show is at the great venue in Jim Thorpe, PA, Penn's Peak.

The bands on the bill tonight are all on tour as part of the The ‘80s Invasion Tour. The first band to hit the stage at approximately 7:30 pm was Nelson. Nelson, to me, is one of those bands that was unfairly labeled and disposed of at the end of the whole hair-band era. I've had the pleasure to see this band many times, both in the beginning of their career and now. They have always been a tight, melodic, and yes, hard-rocking band, delivering solid musicianship, showmanship and most definitely extreme vocal talent. I've also always thought that their writing ability was equivalent to such great bands as The Eagles, Hall and Oates, Styx, and Def Leppard. On each new release, they always grow in the ability to further the talent of intertwining amazing vocal harmonies with very tasteful melodic hooks. I am definitely a fan and would urge everyone to check the twins out, either as an acoustic act or with their full band.

Another great part of the Nelson show tonight was to see the return of original drummer Bobby Rock who delivered a solid, hard-hitting performance all night. Also on board with the band tonight was Neil Zaza on lead guitar. Neil seemed to me to be a bit of a heavy metal shredder mixed with a ton of melody. The boy definitely displayed speed and difficult technique, making it all seem easy. He was comfortably in the zone at the front of the stage with the spotlight on him. Fans of Paul Gilbert, Richie Kotzen, and Reb Beach would definitely be into this guy. On keyboards was Todd Rogers doing a great job coloring in all the melodic tapestry needed to make the Nelson sound complete. Last but not least, Matthew Nelson on bass guitar and lead vocals and Gunnar Nelson on lead vocals and guitar. All night long, the band entertained the crowd with a killer, hard-rocking set featuring all the hits from their career and a few new songs that I look forward to hearing on the new CD that the band is busy recording.

One very cool part of the night featured a Bobby Rock drum solo that led into Neil Zaza and Todd Rogers rejoining him on stage for an instrumental version of the Deep Purple hit "Space Truckin'," just tearing it up with smoking guitar solos and Bobby hitting the drums like mallets for hands. The twins were in perfect vocal form with all harmonies nailed just like the records. They also had a great interaction with the crowd who were giving them their undivided attention. All together the band played for about an hour and then came out to sit down and do a meet-and-greet with fans who were lined up in the back. As usual, the guys were very humble and down-to-earth, taking time out to talk with all the fans.

Nelson set list: Ghost Dance, More Than Ever, Invisible Man, Girl Like That, Evermore, Love And Affection (drum solo), Space Truckin, Time Will Tell, I'm Alright, After The Rain, It's All About You

Next up on the bill was Firehouse. Firehouse consists of CJ Snare on lead vocals, Bill Leverty, lead guitar, Allan McKenzie, bass guitar, and drummer Michael Foster. Firehouse is once again one of those bands labeled and thrown away for having a sense of melody and long hair, and once again this band consistently delivers live as well as on CD hard, melodic hook-filled songs that send you away singing the songs days after the show. Tonight was no exception. The guys laid down a tight set consisting of mostly material from their first two releases and also a few from their later records. All together the band has eight CDs. All night long vocalist CJ Snare had the crowd in the palm of his hands and also gave a stellar performance vocally not missing a single note from any of his higher ranged vocal lines. Bill Leverty was in great form and is definitely in my mind a very under-rated guitar player who plays with a lot of passion and fire, reminiscent of players such as Neil Schon and Brian May. The rhythm section of the band delivered a tight bottom punch setting the grounds for the band's hard rock attack throughout the set. For me a highlight of their set was a killer version of the song "All She Wrote" off of their debut CD. After about an hour and fifteen minutes and a great performance, the band once again did a meet-and-greet, taking time out to talk and take photos with the fans.

Next up on the bill, Great White. Jack Russell and the boys took the stage at approximately 9:45 pm. The band looked to be in great shape and ready to deliver a blues-based rock 'n roll extravaganza. Great White, to this day, is still just a hands-down no holds barred, straight ahead rock 'n roll band, dripping with the influences of rock 'n roll greats such as Humble Pie, The Who and the apparent favorite Led Zeppelin. Jack Russell carries the crown for great British blues singers such as Steve Marriott and Robert Plant. At times, he sounds so similar to these guys that if you closed your eyes, you may think it was either of them in person covering Great White songs. The band's set was full of their hits and a few very cool surprises such as "Down on Your Knees" from the first record. When they played this, I could not help but smile as I remembered being a teenager and blasting this song while driving along in my Plymouth Fury.

These guys over the past 25 or more years have always managed to bring on some of the coolest blues-rock 'n roll of our time. Tonight, the band featured all members of their heyday, including Michael Lardie, layin down keyboards, guitar, blues harp and backing vocals; drummer Audie Desbrow, guitarist Mark Kendall, bassist Scott Snyder and of course Jack Russell on lead vocals. One of the coolest things about the set was how the band almost made you feel as if you were a party of friends at a small venue. Jack has the ability to make it feel as if he is talking directly to you as he tells his stories between the songs. One of the funniest points of the night was when Jack made a reference to drinking and smoking and he got a cheer from the audience and he cracked up laughing, stating “’80s people are so predictable," but then going on to add, "that if you missed the '80s, you missed out," and that is so true.

The band continued to lay down many of the songs that gave them great notoriety during the '80s and '90s. Audie Desbrow did a fine job of keeping the rhythm strong and tight with Scott Snyder keeping in perfect sync with him. Another great part of the evening was the guitar work of Mark Kendall. Mark Kendall is the co-founder of Great White along with Jack. Mark is a seriously gifted guitar player laying down riffs that bleed with emotion and great feel. I kid you not, when I say that his sound is very close to blues great Eric Clapton. You can tell when you watch him play that he is completely immersed in the song and feeling every note that pours from his hands. After all these years still playing with the same fire as when he first started. Hats off to you, Mr. Kendall.

Next thought...Michael Lardie is a musical genius. “Michael, is there any instrument that you cannot play?” And play well because that is what he does all night long. With each song changing texture, color and feel, Michael interprets every one on each instrument perfectly, giving each song the perfect nuance that it needs. Once again, Jack Russell is hands-down one of the great blues rock 'n roll singers of our time. He emits just enough of every vocal element for each song, be it a rough raspy tone, a clean low blues croon, or a mid-ranged punch, all belted out with a power that consistently drives the band to great heights.

Website: Great White, Firehouse, Nelson