Nov. 27th, 2009
Cache Creek, Brooks, CA
Any chance we can get to check out the legendary Ronnie Montrose live is a real treat. Having been diagnosed with prostate cancer two years ago, many fans thought they might never see the 63-yearl old guitarist in his glory again. Yet, tonight he looked surprisingly fit and played with all the skill and dexterity of a true rock star. “I just want you all to know,” he said from the stage before launching into “Rock The Nation”, “that I’ve kick cancer’s ass!” With that the man ripped into high gear and delivered a scorching set that contained nearly every song off his first two Warner Brother records (1973-74) including monsters, “I Got The Fire,” “Space Station #5” and “Rock Candy.” Joined by lead singer Keith St. John and a rhythm section that nearly stole the show, a rejuvenated Montrose harnessed the power of his Gene Baker guitar and piped one classic riff after another through his Bogner amps.
A couple years ago we were lucky enough to see the original Montrose reunion with Ronnie, Sammy Hager, bassist Bill Church and drummer Denny Carmassi. Although the five-song set was history making it was far too short to really appreciate what Ronnie can do with a guitar, after all, he’s credited for bridging the gap between Led Zeppelin and Van Halen. What makes Montrose unique as a player is his passion for the tone and feel of the instrument and his ability to craft big open riffs and catchy hooks. A fan of Jimmy Page and Edger Winter, Montrose would take his overdriven Les Paul Florentine with Bigsby tailpiece and run it through Ampeg V4 stacks to produce a heavy, somewhat distorted, yet completely controlled mammoth sound. A good example is Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” that combines a thunderous, crunchy tone with foot-stomping rhythm.
“Tonight we’re gonna get you dancing,” St. John shouted to the sold-out crowd as the ring of “Good Rockin’ Tonight” shook the rafters. Fronting the band for almost ten years, St. John looked like a young, curly-haired Hagar in his prime and equally sounded the part. He has perfected the former singer’s nuances from the blues edge to the grunts between verses. With bellbottoms and a tan-fringed leather jacket one could easily imagine it was 1973. The chemistry on stage between the four-piece was magnetic. Drum and bass locked in the pocket allowing the guitarist and singer to prowl and strut. “Rock Candy” boomed with sonic might as the front two rows rushed the stage. Montrose handed out several orange signature picks to members of the audience as a dozen buxom blondes bounced to the bass beat at stage edge.
Pacing himself, the guitarist slowed into an elaborate instrumental mixing jazz, funk, blues and rock. Having started his career playing with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Van Morrison, Box Scaggs and Spooky Tooth’s Gary Wright before joining the Edgar Winter Group, it’s no surprise his chops were astounding. The crowd chanted, “I Don’t Want It” which was next in line and blazed the way for the air guitar fantasy “I Got The Fire” easily one of the greatest rock songs ever written. A thundering “Paper Money” showcased the double kick drum before the rare appearance of “Dancin’ Feet” and “Twenty Fight Rock” off 1975’s Warner Brothers Presents both giving the show that “wow” factor. “Space Station #5” with its hair-raising space chicken loop got the fists in the air as the guitarist conjured up the meanest guitar tone of the night. Our ears were still ringing when the band left the stage.
No Montrose (or Sammy Hagar) show would be complete without “Bad Motor Scooter.” Indeed, that’s exactly what the band returned for with the roar of the crowd encouraging Ronnie’s sizzling slide intro. His guitar whined as he revved up the engine, then shifting gears he sent the whole band into overdrive as the pedal hit the metal. St. John was in rare form, accentuating every lyric and embracing the performance as a theatrical work of art. As chills ran up my spine I knew this was a show above the rest. Montrose continued to wail extending the song way out past its four-minute mark. Eventually only his feedback was heard as the lights faded. Yes, Montrose had an impressive run with Gamma releasing four albums and his solo records number at least ten but it those first two Montrose records that we all love to hear over and over again. Thankfully tonight we got one more chance.
Ronnie has reissued the inspiring and extremely rare CD Bearings. The disc is 14 tracks of lively and spirited acoustic arrangements originally released in 1999. Some of it borders on flamenco, some country and some melodic progressive phrasing. Delicately crafted with keyboards, percussion and mandolin, it calls to mind the three Steve’s: Steve Howe, Steve Morse and Steve Stevens. The disc is sold at any Montrose live gig. Buy one!
Montrose set list:
Rock The Nation, Good Rockin’ Tonight, One Thing On My Mind, Rock Candy, I Don’t Want It, I Got The Fire, Paper Money, Dancin’ Feet, Twenty Fight Rock, Spaceage Sacrifice, Make It Last, Space Station #5
Bad Motor Scooter
Website: Ronnie Montrose