by Brian Hay
Usually the first thing that grabs attention is the musical dynamic a group has. This time it was the placement of the sound system and the musicians being spread across the entire back end of the store. Mostly players there seem to confine their activity to about half that space. The reasons are obvious. The business couldn’t function that way and the band would sound terrible if the volume overpowered the room. That wouldn’t be good for anyone but they had it controlled well. That was probably the doing of bassist Graham Dalley who’s also a sound man.
The next surprise was realizing ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ was their opener and it was followed by hearing how well guitarist Darren Diamond’s voice was suited to the piece. Warming an audience to what’s going on in the first few seconds of a set is the goal of any performer but it’s not usually done with the subtlety these guys employed. Rather than opening with a splash they used soft chord playing that got the ears prickling up the way a dog’s does at the hint table treats — “Dad, don’t forget me” — as the eyes start to widen. It sounded really promising even before the full band started playing and what followed delivered the goods.
Within a few moments it was clear they had an impressive musical dynamic. Drummer Gerry Ostrihon slid his work neatly inside Graham Dalley’s energetic and firm command of the melodic lines while guitarists Neil Whittle and Diamond pushed things back their way with splendid rhythm playing. That was a thing of beauty even before other things they did well surfaced. Whittle, Diamond and Ostrihon are all good lead vocalists. The timing and pitch in harmony work was splendid. Diamond laid out some tasty leads on the bulk of the material with some particularly good work on their cover of ‘Comfortably Numb’. Whittle kept his end of their dynamic anchored with great rhythm playing while Diamond soloed and filled in other spaces with strong work of his own. When he soloed Diamond held their end the timekeeping in place with equal flair. Ostrihon signalled changes with some great acrobatic flourishes.
It’s hard to think of surprises when sets feature some of the most well known music from the late 1960’s and the 1970’s but they managed it. ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ was followed by ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’ with meticulous attention paid to combining the song’s original flavour with their own style. A few pieces by Tom Petty found their way into things as did ‘Love Her Madly’ and a charged up rendition of ‘Whole Lotta Love’. That number featured a strong solo from Ostrihon, who never looked like he worked hard, but sounded great. His light touch kept the sticks springing effortlessly around the kit. The biggest surprise had to be their performance of Max Middleton’s ‘Freeway Jam’ from Jeff Beck’s LP ‘Blow By Blow’. It was recorded live a few years later and went on ‘Jeff Beck With The Jan Hammer Group, Live’ and has been played by Beck many times since, but never, in a million years, did I expect to hear it in a setting that featured mostly hits. That was an amazing treat and their performance of it kicked butt.
The Cheeky Monkey is one of the best places to find the doorway as to what level of musical talent exists in and around Sarnia. Roland and Mary Anne Peloza watch what local musicians do astutely and showcase events that feature seasoned performers and help promising newcomers blossom by playing live. Their events attract people who should be paid attention to. Dwayne Cloes, formerly of ‘Soul Patch’, was on hand to film the event. The CD they did a few years ago is excellent. Singer and writer Kathy Shortt came in as well. I’d never heard of her but was introduced by Dwayne and picked up her disc on his recommendation. It’s being listened to for the second time as this is being written and is leaving me floored. Her songs are great, she can belt them out, and the recording is produced beautifully. That’s just a few names on what’s fast becoming a longer and longer list.
There’s great talent here that doesn’t have to take a back seat anywhere. Roland and Mary Anne do more than everyone else to point that out.
This event took place at the Cheeky Monkey on Friday September 6, 2014. The article was written to convey impressions of what it was like to be there absorbing it all.
To view more photos from this First Friday CLICK HERE.