Sunday, March 9, 2014

Cheap Thrill - Mississippi Moon Bar

At some point in one's life we are presented with the opportunity to get a "cheap thrill."  Whether it be an unexpected chance meeting with a personal hero or celebrity, or watching a car chase on TV, the experience of a cheap thrill is the same.  One could even consider the Janet Jackson appearance, and her wardrobe "malfunction" as a cheap thrill but never discount the affects of a cold and rainy night in Iowa as to providing its own "Cheap Thrill."

March 7th, 2014 presented itself much like any late winter / early spring day in the Tri-State area for me.  The forecast was for ice, snow and rain developing into freezing rain (I didn't make that forecast up, it came from the National Weather Service) add into that cold temperatures coupled with "cabin fever" the entire night a seemed to be a wash of ickyness.  Fortunately enough for us is the fact that just 12 miles from our home was a potential bastion of mirth and merriment at the Mississippi Moon Bar, located in Dubuque, Iowa.

The Moon Bar is possibly one of the best locations to see music acts within a one hundred mile radius and they always seem to have great acts appearing weekly.  On that chilly March night, the MMB became a home for two acts, "Naughty, Naughty," and "Cheap Thrill" thus providing a way to escape the weather.  In the earliest stages of the "era of hair" stood a band that made its mark with gravely sounding vocals, kick ass music and songs that really seemed to grab you by the heart and guide your emotions directly in the lyrics themselves.  That band was called "Cinderella."

The success of Cinderella clearly lies on the vocals of Tom Keifer and the backbone of Eric Brittingham and Jeff LaBar.  The blister guitar work of LaBar and the deep guttural sound of the bass of Brittingham drove that band to the top of '80's royalty.  With thirty years of performing together it really should be no surprise that when these two guys perform together the band runs like a well oiled machine.

As we go back in the music time machine to the early to mid '90's we get to a point where music "changed forever" as we ushered in the era of "grunge."  Bands like "Nirvana", "Stone Temple Pilots", and "Pearl Jam" came in and "crushed" that iteration that was "hair metal."  Sitting on my soap box I can tell you that in my opinion grunge didn't do squat to "hair metal," and the sound of grunge rock simply was around for ages.  I've climbed off the soap box but another band cannot be forgotten or excluded in that era: Collective Soul.  The band Collective Soul created some incredible music, including one of my all-time favorites, so with the edition of "Cheney Brannon" (drummer) to the ranks of "Cheap Thrill" the band solidified its foundation.

In recent history a vast majority of popular music is always accompanied by vocals, strong vocals, and unless you are sitting in an elevator humming along with the canned, vocal free versions of Bon Jovi and Black Sabbath (I have indeed heard such a version), vocals are THE thing that we remember.  With the horsepower supporting the band that is the performers I mentioned previously, the band needed a voice that could not only stand up to the music but one that would pair perfectly with it.  Within those parameters the logical choice is Brandon Gibbs, of the Gibbs Brothers Band.  With few exceptions do I say without pause that an artist that isn't the original singer can not only pull off that material but actually own that music.

I have to admit that when it came to the band "Cheap Thrill" I had some advanced notice as to their capabilities and skills as they had performed at the MMB about six months earlier.  That little bit of insight was helpful because I knew how much I liked the band at that earlier date but I couldn't imagine how much better they were.  Please don't misunderstand that statement, they were amazing the first time but they flat out brought the butt-kicking with  them on March 7th, 2014.  First of all the MMB has this incredible feel to it, in fact in talking with Jeff LaBar after the performance they "love this venue!"  That's a pretty incredible statement from a guy that has probably played in every possible type of venue and does lend credence to what I have been saying since I began this journey.

The material that this band performs is a conglomeration of their other musical endeavors,  some original music intermixed with some surprises of other performers.  I will preface the next statement by saying the original artist of the NEXT surprise is overrated, criminal and flat weird but...  With the introduction of the song "Billie Jean" to the crowd with little fanfare or explanation of the song came one of the largest surprises and one of the BEST versions of the song I have ever heard.  Following the song by the owner of the artificial nose came a song that I have always liked, and a performer that really is part of the fabric of pop and R&B, Mr. Stevie Wonder.  Of Wonder's music resume lies the song "Superstition" and Cheap Thrill took it on, slayed it and kept moving.  I sincerely wish the band would record both of these songs because I would buy them in a heartbeat.

With the pedigree that this band has it's no wonder the energy that the band put forth was so strong and subsequently captivated the audience.  As I watched the crowd I saw people singing along, dancing about and streams of people going from their comfortable seats to the GA standing.  Those fans fed off of the energy of the band and in turn the band used the energy and gave a beast of a performance.

Everyone takes away different emotions and nuances that remind them of a performance but for me I took away some conversations that I had with a couple members of the band.  I talked with Jeff LaBar after the show for about 15 minutes and I found him engaging, down to earth and attentive.  The best description for LaBar would be just a good guy in general.  The same can be said for Brandon Gibbs as well.  In fact after the show Gibbs came out and talked with his fans until it seemed he talked with everyone.  The conduct of just these two proves to me that this band isn't in it for the money but they are in it for the love of their craft and their fans.

Bands like "Cheap Thrill" are a rarity.  The band is personable and in a setting like the MMB that's important.  Some bands may feel that smaller crowds seem to be either intimidating or not worth their time.  There are also times when the "stars" of the band just don't find it worth their time so they sic the other members of the band instead of showing up themselves.  That is the beauty of this band.  I was able to meet and talk with every member of the band and they just seemed like they wanted to be there.  When a band shows that type of respect and the talent level in which they perform should be welcomed with open arms.  Do what you have to do to see this band you will not be disappointed.

Great guys, great music, great guys!  Amazing job

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