When working up a list of the most memorable Rock bands to emerge from the UK in the 1960s, England’s The Yardbirds most certainly should be a part of the conversation. Influenced by Rhythm and Blues, combined with a love for Rock-n-Roll, they are one of the pioneers of a harder, edgier version of Hard Rock music. Raw, real, and at times heavy, The Yardbirds are rightfully celebrated as one of the most important bands of all-time.
Still going strong 55 years since their inception, The Yardbirds has been actively touring around the USA, and on May 3rd kicked off their latest run of shows. Mixing it up and visiting different spots, on Sunday, May 6th, they arrived a good 30 miles east of New York City, set to perform at Long Island’s NYCB Theatre at Westbury. A night stacked with music from the start – featuring support from Blue Magoos, Canned Heat, and The Mark Stein Project – it was a Rock-n-Roll historian’s fantasy come true.
A comfortable and inviting venue, constructed in a round style, on this night it would be setup in a half-round, bringing the crowd closer to the action. Pleased to arrive on time, men and women of all ages promptly took their seats as Blue Magoos revved up their amps. Also a part of the ’60s Rock movement, the Blue Magoos are pretty local, hailing from the borough of The Bronx. A Psychedelic band with a rich history, it was just in 2014 that they released their first album in more than 40 years, Psychedelic Resurrection.
Inspired to rock and roll, the lineup of Peppy Castro (vocals and guitar), Ralph Scala (organ and vocals), Geoff Daking (drums), Peter Kohman (bass), and Mike Ciliberto (guitar), kicked off just after the 7 PM hour with songs including “Pipe Dream,” “There She Goes,” and “There’s a Chance We Can Make It.” Energetic, they enticed the audience to bop their heads to the groove as they went through other songs, such as “Sometimes I Think About,” before favorites including “(We Ain’t Got) Nothing Yet” and their cover of John D. Loudermilk’s “Tobacco Road.” Having a blast, they truly epitomized the meaning of Garage Rock – looking relaxed, as if this was a jam session at home with friends – and that is why the Blue Magoos are well worth either rediscovering or discovering for the first time.
Keeping the show on schedule, little time lapsed as Canned Heat took the stage next. Originally come together in the mid ’60s out in Los Angeles, California, Canned Heat are arguably one of the more popular bands to emerge from the hippie era. Known for their Blues sound and various renditions of Blues classics, fortunately for fans they continue to keep the music coming in 2018. While main members of the band have passed on – Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson in 1970, Bob “The Bear” Hite in 1981, and Henry “The Sunflower” Vestine in 1997 – the music is kept alive thanks to longtime members Larry “The Mole” Taylor (bass, vocals), Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra (drums, vocals), along with Dale “Kingfish” Spalding (guitar, harmonica) and John Paulus (live guitar).
Together, the musicians wasted little time and went into a set that had many eager to dance along. A band which played the original Woodstock concert in 1969, fast forward nearly 50 years later and Canned Heat still have the magic. Playing songs such as “On the Road Again,” the memorable “Going Up the Country,” before “Shake It and Break It,” they were not without humor, cracking jokes that, at this point, if they shake it, they will break it. Keeping the mood fun and celebratory of good music, they wrapped up with Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Stick Together” and a freeform jam session amidst “Fried Hockey Boogie.” Seemingly gone in the blink of an eye but well worth it, Canned Heat will be out on the road all summer, so do not miss them.
Again, moving forward like a well-oiled machine, before you could bat an eye, it was time for The Mark Stein Project. Famously known as Vanilla Fudge’s lead vocalist and keyboardist, Mark Stein is an accomplished musician with vast experience. Beyond writing and performing with Vanilla Fudge, once upon a time, Stein worked with The Tommy Bolin Band, Dave Mason, and Alice Cooper as well. That in mind, while very active with his band Vanilla Fudge in recent years, Stein decided to change it up in 2018, going out on some solo gigs, or as he would like to call it, the Mark Stein Project.
What exactly is The Mark Stein Project? Obviously led by Mark Stein, his handpicked cast consists of Guitarist/Vocalist Mark Hitt (The Robin Zander Band, The Tubes), Bassist Jordan Steinberg, and Drummer Charlie Zeleny (Joe Lynn Turner from Rainbow/Deep Purple, Derek St. Holmes). Why should you know who they are? Well, this is a pretty damn good mix of musicians, combining veteran performers with youthful, newer talent. That said, the combination was nothing less than electrifying as Stein led the way on keys and vocals.
It was a set that engaged the senses as Stein played Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out,” Dave Mason’s “We Just Disagree,” as well as Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Knife-Edge,” in tribute to the late, great Keith Emerson. Normally just chalked up as covers by some listeners, what was really cool about each song picked to perform was Stein actually had something to do with each of them – performing with Alice Cooper and Carl Palmer, but also collaborating with Dave Mason in the past. Giving the songs an extra weight, original tunes also shined bright, including the beautiful, newer Vanilla Fudge tune “Let’s Pray for Peace.” Fun, lively, and rocking hard, The Mark Stein Project was a pleasant surprise and a must see, so look out for more dates.
With three quality supporting acts complete, the time came for The Yardbirds to take over. A band that was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 1992, their historic timeline is pretty intriguing. Most already know the Yardbirds, at different times, featured Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck. All three guitar legends, one could say the Yardbirds helped launch their careers.
Beyond such fun tidbits of information, the band have always and forever been appreciated for their live performances. A factor that became evident right from the start, when their first official release came in the form of the 1964 live album, Five Live Yardbirds, thereafter, they would produce four more highly-charted records in the ’60s before 2003’s Birdland. Looking forward to present day, the Yardbirds are led by founding Drummer Jim McCarty along with Vocalist John Idan, Lead Guitarist Johnny A, Bassist Kenny Aaronson, and Singer/Harpist/Percussionist Myke Scavone.
Together, a very tight, well-rehearsed band, they quickly grabbed the audience’s attention with the haunting Rock classic “Heart Full of Soul.” A bold move to open up with one of their most recognized hits, it set the tone for an equally powerful performance with songs such as “Drinking Muddy Water” and “Little Games.” Each an important part of the band’s legacy that began in the 1960s, the current lineup delivered flawless renditions. In fact, Idan’s singing was really quite wonderful, offering a vivid recollection of the band’s past. After all, Idan has been a part of the band for over 25 years and did perform lead vocals on their Birdland record.
Additionally, the rest of the band had their own unique qualities to offer with rich musicianship and a personality that beamed from their playing. Then there was McCarty behind the kit, now at 74 years of age and rocking as hard as ever before. Like lightning on the drums, and offering backing vocals, McCarty was not merely going through the motions, he was very much locked into the music. He was also open and conversational between songs, proving to be a true leader of the storied Rock-n-Roll band.
As for the music itself, there was no shortage of great cuts from “Shapes of Things” to “Lost Woman” and Box of Frogs’ “Back Where I Started.” Then, bringing on even more Blues, there was Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning” before the easily distinguished “For Your Love,” irresistible “Over Under Sideways Down,” and their trippy rendition of Jake Holmes’ “Dazed and Confused.” Yes, Led Zeppelin may have the most popular version of the latter track, but The Yardbirds’ version is certainly as equally captivating in a different way.
Overall a dazzling selection of songs joined together well, The Yardbirds capped it all off with their unmistakable version of Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man” to a generous amount of applause. An energy that was felt through the set, The Yardbirds put on one hell of a show that is a must see. When else will you get a chance to see such a legendary band live in the flesh? Oh, and if you need even more of a reason to get up and get out there – anyone lucky enough to be in Lynn, Massachusetts, on Thursday, May 10th – get to see The Yardbirds share the stage with Eric Burdon of The Animals! In enough words, do not waste the opportunity to witness history, and be sure to see The Yardbirds as their tour continues through June 23rd.