Live Review – FireHouse – The Longbranch, Raleigh NC – 2/22/13

Also featuring “Brooks Paul”

FireHouse are one of those iconic bands most often associated with the 80s, which is only just true, since they formed in 1989, releasing their namesake debut album in 1990, which by rights disqualifies them from being truly classed as an 80s ‘hairband’. However, no matter what you want to label them, the first two FireHouse albums (“FireHouse” and “Hold Your Fire”) are amazing slices of class rock/metal and certainly in my collection were subject to literally being played to death (I think “FireHouse” is just about the only CD I have actually worn out from overplay and had to buy a second copy!).

FireHouse have continued to be successful over the years and despite the grunge scene pulling the rug from most similar bands, FireHouse have continued to release records and tour the world, particularly finding great success in Asia. All credit to the band for keeping at it and making a living doing what they love doing. To date FireHouse has a discography that totals eight studio albums and one live offering.

This particular concert was an all ages special event, since it was a benefit concert, meaning many folks, FireHouse included, donated their services and time, essentially for free. However this blog isn’t a campaign platform, no matter what cause and how worthy, so moving on to the music, we had a total of four bands appearing, namely “Brooks Paul”, “Out Of The Cellar (Ratt tribute band), Mostley Crue (Motley Crue tribute band) and FireHouse. I’m not really a big ‘tribute band’ fan to be honest, so I’ll keep my thoughts on the middle two bands to myself, but first a word or two about Brooks Paul who opened the evening.

So, Brooks Paul? Who the heck is that? I’m sure the majority reading this haven’t the faintest idea… well let’s start with the eye-popper first: Brooks Paul is 11 years old. Yes! Next… This kid can SING. Really sing. I first became aware of Brooks through a friend posting links to videos of him singing classic rock songs including Led Zep, Foreigner and Journey on YouTube, and he was nailing them. Then some live videos started appearing where the real story was laid bare, and, yes, the kid really can deliver. Having said that, this would be the first chance I had to see Brooks in the flesh, so let’s get to it.

Brooks plays with a full band of adult musicians (which is a good thing in my book), but I can’t help but note that they are not exactly spring chickens. I haven’t really figured out whether this helps or hinders, but the impression visually is a little odd. Brooks himself hit the stage with mirror shades, bandana and blonde hair almost to his waist, and image-wise he’s already hit the nail on the head. Clearly it hasn’t escaped the notice of a few young ladies that he’s as cute as a button and by the end of the first verse there was a clutch of early teen (and younger) girls giving Brooks adoring looks and swooning… nothing wrong with that at all, and perhaps a marker for what is more or less sure to come as his career progresses. I will note though it wasn’t just young ladies watching and the area front of the stage was packed with rock and metal fans of all ages – young to old.

I didn’t keep a track listing and forgot to grab a setlist, so I won’t attempt to list off all the songs Brooks ran through, but we were treated with a selection of Led Zep, Guns’N’Roses (“Welcome To The Jungle”), Journey, and AC/DC (“Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”). This latter song was for me the best of the night and was as near perfect as you could hope without AC/DC themselves being up on stage.  Brooks obviously is hugely talented and has a natural affinity with the stage and performing. And to wrap this up, included in the set was a Brooks Paul original song, “Rock This Town Tonight”, which is a solid blues-based number, now available on CD as a single. If you want to check this out it’s available on Amazon > http://amzn.com/B009JDUPW2 .

So, to close the Brooks Paul section of this review, I can only say, “watch this space”! Baring some oddity (not impossible with the music industry), I predict seriously great things for this young man. For me he comes over vocally as a cross between Axl Rose and Bon Scott, minus the bad attitude and affection for a drink or three (Doh! Well obviously…), with a drop of Lou Gramm for good measure. Obviously at age 11 there is a lot of growing up to come, but all the signs are there for stardom. If you get a chance to see Brooks definitely take it.

So, turning to the headliner of the night, there was a definite uptick in anticipation from the crowd as the lights dropped and as the intro for “Hold Your Fire” kicked in over the PA I was certainly ready to be rocked. With not much more than a blink of an eye Allen McKenzie (bass), Bill Leverty (guitar) and Michael Foster (drums) were pounding out the opening riff and there was the man, CJ Snare sounding exactly like he did some 21 years back when the album Hold Your Fire was released. Despite the fact that the band had not played for at least 2 months, everything immediately slotted into place sounding tight and polished.

I don’t often spend many words on individual members of bands I am reviewing (since they are a band…duh!), but this time I’m making an exception. Firstly I must acknowledge just what an amazing drummer Michael Foster is. While the FireHouse recordings clearly capture the essence that Michael brings to the band, this kicks up several notches live. As a guitarist myself I rarely spend too much time focused on the drummer (sorry all you drummers out there…), but not so this time – Michael hits incredibly hard and is so tight timing-wise that he literally powers the band along. No slacking allowed. Unlike some others I could name, he’s not an extrovert in an overly flashy way, but even so he’s twirling sticks and throwing them up with the best of ‘em, but it’s the underlying drive he imposes that is so impressive. I believe he was introduced as Michael “machine gun” Foster at the opening of their set and that’s as good a description as any – certainly his double kick-drum work felt like a machine gun in delivery.

Turning now to Allen McKenzie on bass, we have the only non-original member, being the new-boy of the quartet, having been offered a permanent place in the band back in 2004. Basically Allen takes the foundation laid on the drum kit and adds groove – it’s hard to put into words, but it’s that toe tapping, head-bangin’ thing that ties the bottom end of a tight band together. I think it’s more apparent when this is missing from a band, but FireHouse has plenty. Another important contribution to the sound that is FireHouse comes from the backing vocals and again Alan has this nailed down. I will also add Alan contributed the only laugh of the night, when in the middle of “Here For You” (just after the guitar solo…) CJ stopped the track and announced Alan would now play “the shortest bass solo ever heard”, leading to an 8-note bass break. Ha!

As for Bill Leverty on guitar; he is an exceptional guitar player and, being honest, is much better in the flesh than I might have given him credit from the recorded works. Of course the guitar work on every album is impeccable in delivery and technique, but it’s only when you see him live will you truly appreciate how effortlessly Bill delivers every note. Despite the fact that Bill was on the opposite side of the stage to my vantage point, I followed every riff and every solo, and at least to my ears, he nailed every single song spot on. I had previously seen Bill perform some of his solo work when he opened another benefit concert late last year, and in that setting it was just Bill, his guitar and a backing tape, and, even in this rawest of forms, he all but tore the fretboard off the guitar.

Finally we turn to the front-man of FireHouse , CJ Snare. CJ is something an enigma when compared to many other lead vocalists from the same time period, but only in the most positive of senses – he still sounds exactly the same to this day as he did in 1990 on the debut record. Unlike many others that have run into painful vocal problems (Tom Keifer from Cinderella and Don Dokken, for example), or resorted to reality shows to keep relevant (hello Bret Michaels), CJ is still hitting the high notes and holding the audience in the palm of his hand with raw emotion when delivering tracks like “Love Of A Lifetime” and “When I Look Into Your Eyes”, and pumping it out on “Hold Your Fire” or “All She Wrote”. There is always a risk when the lead vocalist ties himself to the keyboard, but for the couple of songs where this happens it’s hardly noticeable and thinking back now it’s hard to remember any apparent change in momentum or focus.

Taking the sum of the parts, FireHouse delivered a performance that seemed to be just as much fun for the band, as it was for the audience and that is a great vibe to experience. One thing to point out is that FireHouse always come across as a much heavier band live, than you would necessarily think from their albums, particularly some of the more recent offerings. I believe FireHouse have plans for a full (World?) tour later this year so hopefully all reading this will have a chance to see the band. I know there are already some festival dates up on the band website including the M3 Festival in Maryland in May, which will be the next chance I personally have of catching up with the band, and I am really looking forward to it.

There have also been some mutterings about a new FireHouse recording and that would something I would look forward to with great anticipation. A number of other bands with similar backgrounds have turned out some seriously good albums in recent years (Winger – Karma, Night Ranger – Somewhere In California, etc) and I could easily see FireHouse pulling a similar trick. Something reaching back to the roots that gave us “FireHouse” and “Hold Your Fire” would be awesome.

To close, what did I score this show? Well my only compliant would be we didn’t get a long enough set… 9 songs was barely enough, but given this was a benefit concert and coming off a two month layoff I’ll give FireHouse a pass on that… 9/10. Don’t miss them given the chance!

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An over-exposed Allen McKenzie and CJ

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Michael Foster’s entire collection of drumsticks from the night (all signed – he is a true gentleman!) and setlist and poster signed by the entire band – thanks!

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One Response to “Live Review – FireHouse – The Longbranch, Raleigh NC – 2/22/13”

  1. David McGowan Says:

    I concur with every word written.

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