Band Together III - Starland Ballroom Disaster Relief Benefit Concert
Starland Ballroom, Sayreville, NJ
October 15th, 2005
Flashback to the 1990’s. It’s a decade where bands like NIRVANA, PEARL JAM, SOUNDGARDEN, and RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS controlled the air waves. BRITNEY SPEARS, CHRISTINA AGUILERA and BACKSTREET BOYS topped the pop charts and a new evolution from rap to “hip-hop” had begun. Yes, it was a sad decade indeed! Not that there weren’t glimmers of hope such as SMASHING PUMPKINS, GOO GOO DOLLS or ALICE IN CHAINS, but overall… it was a sad time in the music industry and the once mighty “METAL GODS” were now all but forgotten and shoved aside like a plate of calf’s livers.
Yet there was one club in New Jersey that didn’t forget these once mighty giants and offered the survivors a place to go. A place where metal still ruled and actual talent, musicianship and showmanship still reigned supreme! A place where leather pants and mini-skirts were the norm and fans (both guys and gals) could feel free to wear their hair long, play air guitar and scream at the top of their lungs while the sounds of heavy guitars, pulsing rhythms and powerful voices filled the night air. And finally, a place where bands like AMERICAN ANGEL, DOKKEN, XENON, SPREAD EAGLE, DIO, SLAUGHTER, TESTAMENT, T.T. QUICK, DANGER DANGER, etc. could STILL call home. That place, of course, was the Birch Hill Nite Club in Old Bridge.
Now the year is 2005 and, like most real rock clubs of the last decade, the Birch Hill is no more. But, following in its footsteps is the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, just a few towns away from where the mighty Birch Hill once stood and on Saturday October 15th there was a very special reunion, of sorts, for a very special benefit entitled “BAND TOGETHER III.” A lot of the old performers from the “Birch Hill days” like Ted Poley from DANGER DANGER, Randy Jackson (ZEBRA), XENON, AMERICAN ANGEL, Tony Harnell from TNT, Russell Arcara w/ FRICTION, Jack Frost w/ SEVEN WITCHES, EDGAR CAYCE featuring Mark Tornillo and Dave DiPietro from T.T. Quick and event coordinator Dale Toth and his band RATTLEBONE were on hand donating their time to help the victims of “Hurricane Katrina.” ROCKEYEZ staff members Brian Rademacher, Judy Latham and myself were also in attendance to witness the festivities and help support this worthy cause.
First up was Dale Toth who began with a short introduction to the benefit as well as his “thank you’s” to all the fans and performers in attendance. He then got things rolling with and acoustic rendition of THE ANIMAL’s classic “House Of The Rising Sun” leading straight into Zakk Wylde’s “In This River.” Not a bad start to an incredible evening of music.
Next was Randy Jackson from ZEBRA who started off his acoustic set with the ZEBRA classic “Tell Me What You Want” which made just about everyone in the place’s jaw drop. What an incredible voice he still has and being a New Orleans native himself, it wasn’t hard to figure out that this benefit was hitting just a little more closer to home than for most of the other performers on the bill. After “Tell Me…,” Randy paused for a moment himself to once again thank everyone and tell the audience about his own experience to the devastation in New Orleans. It was a very heat-felt moment that he even made a tad comical by ending with how his refrigerator ended up in his den, but it was a very gripping moment none the less. After this it was back to business as usual as Randy’s powerful voice echoed through the venue as he belted out two more ZEBRA favorites “Bears” and “Don’t Walk Away” before concluding his set with a cover of LED ZEPPELIN’s “Four Sticks.”
That marked the end of the acoustic sets for the evening as the next band on the agenda was just about as far from acoustic as you can get. Loud, raunchy and in-your face, Jack Frost’s SEVEN WITCHES hit the stage shortly before 10:00pm. Now I must admit, I had heard a lot about these guys but never really heard their music so it was very exciting to finally witness them up-close and personal… and boy did they impress. This was actually their first show with new lead vocalist Alan Tecchio (HADES, NON-FICTION) but you would never know it. These guys were tight and Alan was brilliant and, I guess, the best way to describe his voice is a cross between that of James Hetfield of METALLICA on the low end with just a touch of GEOFF TATE (QUEENSRYCHE) on the high. Very strong, very powerful and it definitely demands your attention.
SEVEN WITCHES set included two songs from their “Xiled To Infinity and One” release, “Warmth of Winter” and “Metal Tyrant,” and two songs from their forthcoming CD “Amped,” “West Nile” and “Dishonor Killings.” The set also marked the first appearance by TNT vocalist Tony Harnell who joined the band for their closer… a cover of JUDAS PRIEST’s “Diamonds and Rust.” Watching Tony and Alan go back and forth combined with Frost’s glaring guitar work was truly one hell of a set ender.
Shortly after the SEVEN WITCHES set, Brian, Judy and I were all invited to the backstage area where we had the pleasure of meeting some of the performers who were more than willing to extend their hospitality by taking photos, signing autographs and just simply chatting. Jack Frost was on hand fresh from his performance as was Tony Harnell who is absolutely one of the most professional and down-to-earth individuals I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. As a matter of fact, it was Tony who invited us back there in the first place and was extremely friendly and gracious to all those on hand. But I can absolutely NOT forget to mention Ted Poley who went above and beyond to make us all feel welcome. Between jumping in on the photo ops (which can be viewed here on the site), trying to force pizza on us that was there for the performers and actually leading me to another office all the way upstairs just so he could have a good pen to sign my stupid stuff with, Ted presented himself not only as a superior musician, but a superior human being as well. Thanks guys! Your hospitality meant a lot to all of us…now, ON WITH THE SHOW!
I got down just in time to witness one of the first, true highlights in an evening FILLED with highlights… AMERICAN ANGEL. Now I had seen them a few months back when they opened for FIREHOUSE at the Wreck Room in Wallington and, as I said in my review, I thought they had a bit of an “off” night. Damn! What a fucking difference! These guys were definitely “ON” tonight and lead singer Rocco Fury’s voice never sounded better. It was a riveting performance to say the least and really brought back a lot of memories of the AMERICAN ANGEL shows I witnessed back in the day. Their set included AA favorites like “Balcony” and “After The Laughter” as well as covers of “American Band (which they opened the set with)” and “Lay It Down.” Finally bringing it all together was “How Can I Miss You” which had everyone in the house begging for more. It was an amazing performance by one of Jersey’s finest.
Now speaking of Jersey’s finest, not only one of my favorite Jersey bands but one of my FAVORITE bands was up next… XENON. I cannot say enough about this band and one of the things that STILL gets me to this day is how a band like this fell through the cracks. Fronted by phenomenal vocalist Joey Fiamingo who is joined by dueling guitarists Ronny Smith and Bob Specht and the incredible rhythm section of bassist Irene Kuhl and drummer Tony Capobianco, XENON has a sight and sound all their own. Even after all these years, their live show was still a scintillating experience as their set included songs such as “Holding On,” “Cry In The Night” and one of my favorites, “Tip Of My Fingers”… all from their debut release “America’s New Design.” The only thing I wished they had played was “A Night To Remember” which, in my opinion, is one of the most unique and original arrangements I have ever heard by ANY band. But then again, this was a benefit and they were only able to play a few so, hopefully I’ll hear it when they play Double D’s in Morristown on Thanksgiving Eve!
Now the crowd was in for a real treat. Former DANGER DANGER vocalist Ted Poley hit the stage with his new band and proved, once again, that he is one of the best front men in the business. Not unlike the David Lee Roth of old, Poley’s energy and antics absolutely command your attention and combined with his inextinguishable voice... you get a performance that’s pure adrenaline. After a short intro covering the EDGAR WINTER GROUP’s “Frankenstein,” with ease, Poley tore through DANGER DANGER hits like “Bang Bang,” “I Still Think About You,” and “Naughty Naughty” as well as “Lately” from his BONEMACHINE release “Disappearing Inc.” Finally, joined by Russell Arcara (PROPHET, ARCARA, FRICTION) and Joey Fiamingo from XENON, Poley brought the house down with a cover of the JOURNEY classic “Any Way You Want It.” What a performance and what a show! ...but it ain’t over yet!
Here I thought I had just about seen it all on this particular evening but the night absolutely peaked when EDGAR CAYCE hit the stage. Featuring guitar phenom Dave DiPietro, the band kicked right into high gear with two VAN HALEN covers, “Hot For Teacher” and “I’m The One” before inviting up Russell Arcara for an extraordinary rendition of RUSH’s “Red Barchetta.” It was a very impressive performance and I liked the fact that they went for songs that were not only very difficult to play but also not covered that often… but the best was yet to come. Tony Harnell then joined the band for two equally unique covers of AUDIOSLAVE’s “Cochise” and ALICE IN CHAINS’ “Man In The Box.” Harnell’s vocals excelled to absolute perfection as he was able to not only showcase his range but his versatility as an artist as well. But it STILL wasn’t over!!! Mark Tornillo finally joined the band opening with, in his own words, a very “appropriate” version of “When The Levee Breaks” which was made popular by LED ZEPPELIN in the early 70’s before the band took their final bows with AC/DC’s “Have A Drink On Me” and GUNS N’ ROSES’ “Welcome To The Jungle.”
At this point, it was just after 1:00am and with two bands still left on the bill, FRICTION and RATTLEBONE, we decided to call it a night. Yeah, Brian and Judy were getting tired and started bitching about how late it was so I got dragged out. Being the “youngin’,” of course, I was WIDE awake and ready for more! Ok, ok… maybe not but I do regret not taking in the last two performances but I think we ended the evening on a high note right after the EDGAR CAYCE set… it was hard to imagine it getting much better than that.
All in all it was an incredible evening of music. After speaking with Dale via email, I am very happy to announce that BAND TOGETHER III was a great success and raised upwards of $7,000.00 in donations to benefit the AMERICAN RED CROSS, AMERICA’s SECOND HARVEST and THE UNITED ANIMAL NATION’s DISASTER RELIEF FUND. Also, donations of hygiene and non-perishable foods are still being accepted at Midland Motors located at 926 Harrison Avenue in Kearny, NJ - so if you happen to be in the area, please stop by and donate to the many people still in desperate need of these essential items.
On behalf of Brian, Judy, myself and the entire ROCKEYEZ staff, I would just like to congratulate everyone involved with the benefit, all the artists AND the fans who came out for making it such a great success. You ALL make a difference and thanks for letting ROCKEYEZ come along for the ride.