Thursday, May 12, 2016

Firehouse - Mystique Casino April 16th, 2016

What defines us?  Are we defined by our personality?  By our choices?  Or are we defined by just random events and traits?  Those are fair questions but I would tend to think that for each of us we can't be defined the same way as any other person.  It's like the old adage "never judge a book by its cover" because until you open that book you can't make an accurate judgement and if you try to and you are wrong then you risk being judged yourself.  Right?

Think for a minute about a person you have met in your life that you might have thought was not a good person or even about a person you might have thought was going to be really interesting only to learn they were the exact opposite.  It happens all of the time, to all of us so its a fair assumption that we have felt really bad when we discovered the truth.  Don't think for a minute that these assumptions only happen when we are young or just as we "mature" because that too would be quite wrong.

Music isn't immune to those assumptions, in fact it is just as common.  Many people assume that because someone has long hair they have to be into heavy metal, or if they have a mullet they love "Southern Rock," or because a person has dreadlocks they are into Bob Marley, okay that one is probably true, just kidding but you get the picture.  It is just so easy to say that we have to conform to those stereotypes but anyone that strives to be an individual understands the nuances that make life easier.  Sure we can think that all country music is full of rednecks, punk music is full of cretins (the Ramones did have a song called "Cretin Hop" so maybe), and "screamo" bands make no sense but that is shortsighted.

If we learned nothing from the '80's music scene its that there is music out there that are guilty pleasures and they go across genres all of the time.  When I was writing this it was announced that Prince had died and the number of people that I would have never expected expressed their sadness.  That shows a blind assumption that I made that really that was very shortsighted and points out I am far from immune.  It is easy to venture a guess that it is some type of human nature issue that leads us to do that but I am not a sociologist.  The same really is true about band's from the '80's and the music that propelled them into the national spotlight.

Music of that era was incredible across genres but those bands of  the genre of hard rock / metal were particularly good.  The music was full of romance although at times it could be a little high on the cheese factor and occasionally incredibly sexual, but the lyrics came from a place that would transcend all of that.  While it was easy to discount everything there was a real sense of purpose behind the words.  The problem that lies within is that a handful of songs could cast the strongest bands in a role they could never seem to get out of.  In the movie / television world its is called "typecasting" and unfortunately it exists in music as well.  It felt like at times the only thing that some bands tied their horse to were a ballad or two and they fed off of that, acting as if it was their only creative outlet.  It wasn't always true and one band that had some classic ballads, really great love songs and had so much more, that band is FireHouse.

FireHouse formed in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1989, began their musical quest right as the aforementioned "era of hair" was on its death bed.  While the other bands were dropping off into the abyss, FireHouse seemingly went on the attack.  Remember that in the late '80's and early '90's a new "genre" of music was formed, they called it "grunge."  Grunge was an edgy name for college music, or alternative or even "punk with flannel" (I like that one the best, I came up with it), but the fact of the matter is it was already done by thousands of artists before them.  Regardless of the name hard rock and/or hair metal bands died like potted plants at my house but the fact of the matter is that FireHouse didn't just survive they thrived.

When FireHouse released the self-titled "FireHouse" in 1990 the album was steeped with great rock songs and a ballad ("Love of a Lifetime" #5 Billboard Hot 100).  The album went double platinum, one song ("Don't Walk Away") was used in the movie "The Wrestler" and "Overnight Sensation" was in the soundtrack to a video game (Brutal Legend).  That's an awful lot of great stuff to happen to any band!  It never stopped either, FireHouse released eight studio albums, one live album and three compilation albums plus eight singles with two in the Top 10 of the Billboard Top 100 and over seven million records sold.

It goes without saying if a band survives 25 + years and is still producing and performing great music then the band is far from a "one trick pony."  That is quite true when describing FireHouse, they never seemed to take a break and after that first album was released the band just kept on going.  Of the band three of the four original members still remain in the band to this day, and those three continue to create great music.  Isn't that the thing that legendary bands do, stay together?  There are so many bands touring that consist of "the voice of..." or they are a band made up of the founder and the rest are just plug-ins don't get me wrong that isn't necessarily a bad thing but FireHouse seems to be the exception to the norm.

On April 16th, 2016 I traveled to the Mystique Casino in Dubuque, Iowa to see FireHouse perform and I have to be honest it was a unique experience for me.  The venue is relatively close to my home, in fact I travel to Dubuque several times a week but this event was special, it was the first time I had attended a concert at this venue.  I have been to quite a few shows at the Mystique for hypnotists, comedians, psychics and mediums and a "battle of the bands" once but none of those bands could hold a candle to how loud this show could be.  The "battle of the bands" was an event for local bands and although one of those bands was a "metal band" I knew an accurate comparison couldn't be made for the acoustics of the venue or for the size of the potential crowd that FireHouse would bring.

The venue at the Mystique Casino, the Cabaret as it is called, is a smaller room but it is a venue that people that love General Admission events will adore.  With a full bar on one side and a smaller mobile bar on the opposite side it is quite easy to get your favorite beverage without much effort.  Any event can be difficult to have staffed but I have to tell you for this event the staff was flawless.  It was easy to get in and out of the event and overcrowding wasn't an issue, I love this venue!  It seems that the management at the Mystique must see the necessity to bring high-quality live music because they appear to be bringing in more and more national acts interspersed with some great local bands as well.

When FireHouse took the stage I wasn't sure if they would sound "washed out," or muffled but the acoustics of the room are incredible.  You could feel the bass hitting you in the chest, the vocals were clear and at no time did there appear to be any major acoustic flaws in the room, it held up impeccably!  Sound is paramount for any band because if they sound really bad you will not want to see them again, that simply goes without saying.  What a killer job the sound people had controlling the room.

Earlier I said that FireHouse is made up of three original members (C.J. Snare - vocals/keyboards, Bill Leverty - guitar, and Michael Foster - drums) leaving only Alan McKenzie on bass.  McKenzie is an interesting member of the band, he has served in the military and at one time he was in the solo band of the late Jani Lane, former lead singer of Warrant.  McKenzie is what I see when I think of a bass player.  He has that confidence about him that shows in the way he holds himself while just looking the part, with skills that transcend all of that. Earlier I alluded to the fact that McKenzie isn't the original bass player of FireHouse it just seems like he is.  He is flawless in the way he performs really making you feel like his fingerprints are all over the catalog of music that FireHouse has released.  That is a testament to how good McKenzie is, what a treat to watch!

When I was younger I loved a television show called "The Muppet Show," partially because one member of the band "Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem" more specifically the drummer, Animal.  I loved Animal so much that a family friend once made me a puppet of "Animal" of which I still have to this day but what I loved about that character was the beast he seemingly portrayed as a drummer.  Obviously the reason he was called "Animal" was because of how he beat the tar out of those drums and watching Michael Foster play the drums for FireHouse it is safe to assume he could be called "Animal" as well.  Foster is a beast in his own right, he beat those drums so hard one of his own drums, the snare, was beaten into oblivion forcing a quick replacement.  He plays the drums like they owe him money and they are refusing to pay him.  I look to the drum solo Foster performed whereby I seriously thought I was watching a man that thought he was the aforementioned "Animal."  This ladies and gentlemen, is my new prototype for a drummer, he is incredible.

Ask yourself a question, what does a "rock" guitar player look like?  The obligatory answer would probably be long hair which they flip throughout the performance, leather pants, maybe ripped jeans, and the attitude of everyone is beneath them but is that accurate?  The right answer is maybe, sure some guitar players ARE befitting that stereotype but not Bill Leverty.  Leverty began performing in his own band called "White Heat" in 1984 where he auditioned and hooked up Michael Foster to be his drummer and later he hired a certain lead singer (more on him to come).  Leverty does not look like the stereotypical guitar player I mentioned earlier.  When I saw Leverty at the Cabaret room at the Mystique Casino he was wearing blue jeans, a shirt with a collar and he was sporting short hair, he looked as if he just got off of work as an accountant but don't let that analogy fool you, he's no accountant.  Leverty is INCREDIBLE on guitar, he is the maestro if you will, he is in control and knows exactly what to do to leave you speechless as a performer.

One couldn't expect less from a guy that is one of the founders of the band, he has been and is a major contributor, co-writer to much of the music of FireHouse and Leverty has had a successful solo career as well.  Leverty is one of the real exceptions to what one might think a rock guitar player should look like but he doesn't play like anything but rock royalty.  This is definitely a man that can out perform anyone you hold him up against.

It's time for a brief '80's - '90's rock music lesson, what is the one thing you remember most about lead singers during that time period?  The answer is: Hitting the high note.  Yes high notes, it seemed as if every band had at least one song where it sounds as if you just kicked the lead singer firmly between his "bass drums."  No one has ever said that I have the voice of an angel but I have tried to hit a note that high and I can assure you all that I ever "eked" out was something that made me unable to talk for a couple of days but that era was chock full of those that could.  When Leverty saw C.J. Snare perform in the band "Maxx Warrior" he became determined to merge his band White Heat with Snare and his band forming FireHouse.  It is with some curiosity that I wonder if one of the things that was so striking for Leverty and Foster was the fact that Snare could hit that high note.

Snare is a special singer, he can do so much with his voice even to this day.  All too often lead singers of that era think they can still swing for the fences and hit those notes but few can.  Snare has one other thing that many of the other lead singers of that era didn't: Great songs.  Snare is co-author of many of the FireHouse songs (along with his bandmates) and because of that you can see his attachment to each one of them.  Snare is energetic, he holds the crowd in the palm of his hand, he is engaging and he can still sing like all get out.  What I find incredible that after all of this time and all of the successes that the band have had, Snare still loves his fans.  As an example while at Mystique he engaged with some fans that just expressed how much they loved their music.  He actually made eye contact and talked TO them, not blindly over the crowd.

The $64,000 dollar question must be whether or not Snare can still hit that high note isn't it?  I assume that because I mentioned it earlier and I can tell you with confidence that he can still sing better than a vast majority of his contemporaries.  The man has an incredible voice, he knows how to take care of it on stage and when it is called for Snare will hit those notes with relative ease.  It is with a certain amount of trepidation that I can safely say we all have more than likely seen a band or two where the lead singer tries to do too much and they act like they have to over sing every song but that just isn't the case with Snare,  He is phenomenal!

FireHouse is the prototypical rock band.  I think I could easily compare them with bands like "April Wine" and "Nazareth" because of their comparative bodies of work.  Both of those bands are known for classic ballads but at the same time they were first and foremost rock bands just like FireHouse.  It's wrong to assume that this band was anything other than a great rock band with incredible staying power.  There are few bands that came from that era that can say they have three-quarters of the band still actually IN the band and it is reflected in the continuity and success of FireHouse.  Really that foregoes any other condition or description, a stupid title means nothing when you know that their fans understand what the band is and stands for.

It would be easy to attempt to discredit anyone or anything because it happens daily in the lives of the ordinary person.  For FireHouse fans the only thing they know is that this band has been playing great hard rock music since its inception, since the two bands White Heat and Maxx Warrior merged into one of the greatest bands in the late '80's and early '90's, heck that isn't fair either because this band passed that time frame and continued on.  The band FireHouse is so much more than a title they are dedicated to their music and their fans.

When I traveled to Mystique Casino on April 26th, 2016 to see FireHouse I knew their hits, I knew their catalog and I knew their fans but that one night was so much more.  I saw a band that educated each and every person at the Mystique Casino and at the same time I saw the fans show their appreciation for the band that has given so much to hard rock since its earliest days.  Ladies and gentlemen I highly recommend you take the time to brush up on your FireHouse, then take the time to dig into their schedule, find a venue and see them live.  I promise you beyond the shadow of a doubt that you will be blown away!

What an incredible job by Snare, Leverty, Foster and McKenzie!  Thank you for one heck of a performance!

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