There are not many things that would get me to leave my quiet little sanctum here in New Jersey on a blustery cold and windy February evening and cross the Hudson River into that 8-mile long, God-forsaken traffic Hell they call Manhattan... especially on a Saturday night! But tonight was a very special night indeed. The great Tony Harnell along with his latest project THE MERCURY TRAIN were to play
the Rockwood Music Hall on the lower east side, a place that has become quite familiar to this former TNT front man over the past several months and since this would probably be one of my only chances to actually see him and the band perform, I sucked it up and headed up to Kearny to hook up with fellow staffer Mark Balogh to head into the city. Hey, you didn't expect me to drive did you?
I arrived at Mark's place just shy of 6:00PM and as we programmed the address into his GPS, we got our biggest laugh of the evening... 11.6 miles/ 19 minutes! Yeah, ok... ya know someone REALLY needs to make a realistic GPS for the Tri-state area because if they did, that little 11.6 mile/ 19 minute drive would be more like 11.6 miles/ 70 minutes (if you're lucky!). Well... all things considered, I guess we were lucky because that's just about how long it took from door to door but the REAL fun was just about to begin... parking! Unlike mid-town, parking garages on the lower east side are few and far between which means you have to circle every block within a mile radius over and over and over again just praying to God that someone will be pulling out JUST at that moment when you are coming down the street AND there's no one else around!
Finally, we ended up landing a spot just around the corner on the other side of the club and after a short walk, we were there! The Rockwood itself was a pretty nice place... it had that whole NY bar/ NY jazz club atmosphere to it with a small stage in the upper left corner, rows of long, tightly packed tables aligning it, a small open area just behind where the waitresses could move back and forth from the bar on the right wall and a small staircase just to the right of the bar which lead up to a small, balcony-ish area. It was the kind of place you might imagine seeing Phoebe from "Friends" playing... but none the less, very nice and we would soon find out the sound was just amazing for a room like this!
I must admit, I went into the evening not knowing really what to expect. I imagined that since he was playing with THE MERCURY TRAIN, they would be playing a lot off their debut album "Round Trip." To my pleasant surprise, it wasn't like that at all and while they did include several selections from the recording, the set also included more obscure stuff ranging from Tony's solo "Cinematic" EP to "MORNING WOOD" to even some very tasteful covers. This wide variety of excerpts flowed brilliantly into one another so much so that it was one of those rare moments where a set list just blended in such harmony that it made the entire performance that much more powerful and impressive.
This was a world-class vocalist at his best. Tony performed what can only be described as a "vocal clinic" all night long. I can't say enough about what a brilliant and professional performer this man is and even after all these years, his voice hasn't skipped a beat. From flawlessly nailing the high notes on "Somebody Told You" or "One Way Ride" to showing off his smoother, tender side on songs like "Northern Lights" or his absolutely incredible rendition of the under-valued QUEEN classic "Love Of My Life" to rockin' the house with songs like "Lonely Nights" or a mind-blowing version of FLEETWOOD MAC's "The Chain," Tony Harnell to this day is still one of the greatest voices in not only the "rock" industry but the music industry itself... period!
But before I get too carried away here, let me say this... yes, Tony is an amazing, amazing vocal talent BUT after seeing him live with THE MERCURY TRAIN, I can only surmise that even though the worst Tony could ever sound is "great," it's his merging with this group of extraordinary musicians that makes his performance even that much more astounding. Bassist Brandon Wilde is a world-class musician and song-writer in his own right. His song "Any Other Way" which he performed as a duet with Tony was, in a word, superb and still teamed-up with his old band mate Chris Foley on guitar, these guys are the driving force behind this locomotive. But lest we forget the exceptional musicianship of guitarist Jason Hagen who is not only an accomplished singer and guitar player but arranger as well, the cool, precise percussion rhythms of Brad Gunyon behind the skins and, of course, the angelic voice of Amy Harnelll. Now what could be better than that? Having your own wife up there right next to you on stage? Well... of course, as long as you're name isn't Yoko Ono but we all know that story. Together, this band is the fuel behind this machine and the chemistry between Tony and all of them gels like oreos and milk... just perfect together.
Some other highlights of the evening included and acoustic rendition of "Underneath a Falling Sky" from Tony's work with STARBREAKER... a surprising and awesome addition to the set, a duet of one of his MORNING WOOD favorites "Not Scared Anymore" with one of his students and incredible vocalist in her own right Kjersti Kveli, and an awe-inspiring rendition of Band On The Run. This was just a perfect, perfect performance all-around... even when it wasn't perfect! One little "flub" was during the opening lines to "Long Way To Go" when Tony momentarily forgot the lyrics for a second but being the true professional, the band kept playing and he kept singing to the lyric "...and I don't know the words to my own song, oh yeah!" which was just hysterical and if you didn't really know any better, the words actually almost seemed to fit! But, and no "flubs" here, the song that really sent chills up my spine was "The Show" from Tony's Cinematic" EP, what an incredible, incredible song and arrangement....
This was one night I don't think either Mark or I will soon forget. A performance like this goes to show you don't need a million dollar light show, flashy dancers or pyrotechnics to pull off a performance of a lifetime. This was just an incredible, incredible performance from some of the best musicians in the business. I am so, so glad I got to witness it all first hand and despite the commute, parking and weather, I would battle it all again anytime to just hear one song from these unsung heroes. Thanks for the ticket to ride on the MERCURY TRAIN.