Dingbatz, Clifton, NJ August 25th, 2006
The Saint, Asbury Park, NJ August 28th, 2006
Don Hill’s, New York, NY September 1st, 2006
I cannot begin to tell you how excited I was when I first heard one of my all time favorite bands was getting back together to play a few select dates in late August/ early September. It’s been almost 14 years since SPREAD EAGLE was burning up stages
from coast to coast before taking their final bows in early 1993. Back then, they were
on MCA Records and were getting opening slots for acts such as VAIN and a VERY young ALICE IN CHAINS but they just never seemed to get the support and press they deserved.
I remember them getting compared in the media to the likes of GUNS ‘N ROSES and was always like, “Whaaat?!? I have never heard GUNS ‘N ROSES sound like this!” SPREAD EAGLE had a sound all their own and while their aggressive, powerful sound may have been in the same league or genre as “GUNS” from time to time, there was really no comparison. The dominating and dynamic vocals of Ray West alone were enough to blow your socks off but when you add the predominant guitar playing of Paul DiBartolo and a hair-raising rhythm section composed of bassist Rob De Luca and drummer Tommi Gallo, any monkey could hear this was NO GUNS ‘N ROSES!
So here we are… almost 14 years later and a lot of things have changed. After the demise of the band, Rob De Luca went on to pursue his career playing with the likes of Joan Jett, George Lynch and most recently Sebastian Bach of SKID ROW fame. Paul DiBartolo continued on composing scores for movies and television… his most famous being the them song to “VH1’s Behind The Music.” Paul now lives in India, goes under the name KAML and is still writing and recording his own music. Ray faded out of the spotlight for a while but got involved with various other types of projects, which even included some stage acting. For the past few years, however, Ray has been keeping himself busy in his own studio in Florida writing and recording new music and as far as Tommi goes, well… no one really knows for sure.
With all this “drama,” you have to wonder to yourself if these guys have anything left or would be able to reach that pinnacle which made SPREAD EAGLE a force to be reckoned with so many years ago. I was about to find out…
Now with Chris Caffery (SAVATAGE/ TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA) on guitar and the brilliant John Macaluso (Yngwie Malmsteen/ TNT/ STARBREAKER) back on the skins joining returning members Ray and Rob, SPREAD EAGLE has taken flight once again. I was fortunate enough to not only witness one, but THREE stops on what promised to be one HELL of a ride and my first stop was right here in Jersey at a little club called Dingbatz.
A lot of our own ROCKEYEZ staff turned out for this one. My wife Judy and I drove up to Clifton with Brian & Stephanie Rademacher to be joined shortly by another one of our staff writers Mark Balogh. We got there at roughly 8:30… a little early and we would soon find out a little TOO early. The doors weren’t even open yet so as we stood outside, we were hoping to catch the attention of one of our old friends, Rob or Ray but we found out after a quick cell phone call that THEY weren’t even there yet. They were off doing radio promotions and such for the evenings events.
So there were stood with about five or six other people when the thoughts started crossing our minds that maybe the show wasn’t promoted enough or maybe the fans really didn’t remember the band that use to pack in almost capacity crowds at the old Studio One, Club Bene, or Cricket Club venues. Those thoughts were soon remedied as more and more people poured into the club throughout the evening. This was really exciting and we were all very happy to find out all the people that DID remember the band that use to kick their ass… back in the day.
But there were still a lot of other questions yet to be answered. Will the band sound as good and be as tight as they use to? Will the additions of Caffery and Macaluso change the music at all, for better or worse? What would their set list be like? Will they be able to excite the crowd and their fans the way they use to? Will Ray’s voice still be as powerful after all these years? All these questions and more were about to be answered.
After waiting for what seemed to be an eternity watching local band after local band, SPREAD EAGLE finally hit the stage shortly after midnight. The crowd was really into
it as their screams and applause intensified as one by one John, Rob, Chris and Ray stepped out onto the stage against the giant, red Dingbatz “bat” silhouetted in the background.
Then the intro tape began… which was actually the intro to the opening track (“Devil’s Road”) off their second release “Open to The Public” and Ray began his short banter telling the tale of the once mighty SPREAD EAGLE. With this, Caffery began the opening riff to “Broken City.” Now I guess my biggest concern about this whole reunion thing was: “Would Chris Caffery be able to capture the essence of Paul DiBartolo?” After all, he’s got some pretty big shoes to fill but literally within seconds, you could tell everyone was really impressed. And it wasn’t just “Broken City”… “King of the Dogs,” ”Back On The Bitch,” ”Switchblade Serenade,”… you name it! Caffery performed brilliantly and despite not having the dark-haired, grungy, city-look of DiBartolo, Caffrey proved once and for all a more than suitable replacement.
I hate to sound cliché, but the old phrase “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone” couldn’t have fit any better into the night’s festivities. The more and more the set went on, the more memories flooded through my head. I guess I never realized just how much I missed this band and these songs… it was so great to hear them all again and despite how late it was, I really didn’t want it to end.
The whole band was just amazing. The addition of John Macaluso enhanced just about every song… but he’s really no stranger to this band to begin with because he actually filled in for Tommi on several tracks off “Open To The Public.” He even gave the rest of the guys a short break in the middle of the set and performed what can only be described as an absolutely INSANE drum solo. You see drummers in other bands and in bigger venues perform and it’s usually a “bathroom break” cue to most people. But let me tell ya, when you can pull off a drum solo like his in a venue of this size, it’s just a surreal experience. All I have to say is, “Heeeeeeeeyy Macaluso!”
As for Rob you ask? Well… this guy is just irreplaceable. There is just no bassist I can think of that could ever perform these songs with the drive and intensity of Rob De Luca. It’s such an experience watching him play. His professionalism, facial expressions and sound capture you and his backing vocals make his presence unmistakable. SPREAD EAGLE would never and COULD never be SPREAD EAGLE without Rob De Luca.
Then there’s “the voice”… the man behind the microphone. The uncompromising, the unequivocal and incontrovertible voice of Ray West. Not only has his voice withstood the test of time, but also he has one of those rare voices that actually sounds better! No longer can this man be labeled as just a “screamer.” While he maintains that same, distinct style and is still able to hit those heart-palpitating screams and high notes on songs like “Scratch Like A Cat,” “Suzy Suicide” and “King Of The Dogs,” on other songs like “Dead of Winter,” “Thru These Eyes” and “Faith” his true, melodic and powerful vocals absolutely shine making them sound even better now than they did over a decade ago.
The set list itself was very impressive and I was pleasantly surprised at the mix between the first and second albums. Although I must admit, I missed hearing “Shotgun Kiss” and their anthem “Spread Eagle,” the song selection was more than enough to please all these die-hard fans that came out this night.
After “Broken City,” the band ripped into two of my favorite tracks off “Open To The Public”… “Rhythm Machine” and “King of the Dogs.” What an opening! You could tell the band was truly in rare form this evening and Macaluso was absolutely going “ape shit.” It was a tremendous start and really got everyone in the place’s adrenaline kicking into overdrive. “Devil’s Road,” the theme song to this tour “Back On The Bitch” and “Revolution Maker” followed this up before a short break where Macaluso took center stage and just totally went off… as I talked about earlier.
What happened next was totally unexpected… A NEW SONG! Well, not really… just a short little tongue-in-cheek melody I can only describe as “I Like Boobies.” Funny as Hell and not only showed off the bands lighter side, but put a smile on everyone’s face as well… but back to the set.
Actually the next song WAS a surprise but more than welcome change of pace. They actually did “Dead of Winter” which I found was looked over a lot in their earlier sets from back in the day. Always one of my favorites, its haunting melody pierced the night air and got everyone back down to business. And boy did they need that concentration as one of their heaviest, fastest, double-bass pounding tracks “Suzy Suicide” leaped from the amps and pounded through your chest like a jackhammer. Ray was all over the place and got the crowd so into it that it almost felt like the place was going to explode!
As the sweat and pulse racing began to subside, the band (and audience) took a moment to re-coop as Ray toasted the crowd and his band mates with a shot of “JD” and before long; they were back into it with “Faith.” This particular song never sounded better. From Ray’s vocals to Caffery’s guitar, it was just an extraordinary rendition mixed with some very heart-felt appreciation fueling the fire that would burn through the rest of the performance. The regular set winded down from this point with some old crowd favorites starting with a stellar rendition of “Switchblade Serenade” and ending with what “should” have been SPREAD EAGLEs classic (with some record company support… hah!) “Thru These Eyes.”
At this point, the band took their bows, said their good-byes and exited the stage. The house lights dimmed and the near capacity crowd roared. Even “Metal” Mike Chlasciak (HALFORD, TESTAMENT, Sebastian Bach), whom was in the crowd and a “little” more than half-inebriated, jumped up on stage to toast the return of SPREAD EAGLE. The crowd absolutely loved it and shortly thereafter, Rob, Ray, Chris and John came back out to shred through their debut single and video “Scratch Like A Cat.” What a performance and what a band. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… these guys NEED to be heard!
Thus ended a phenomenal night… but it wasn’t over yet! I still had two more nights to go, after all!
Their next stop was The Saint in Asbury Park, New Jersey. I’d absolutely LOVE to say the band was able to capture the same magic as the Dingbatz show, but it wasn’t… but not by any means because of the band itself. This was, more or less, a “fill in” show… anyone in a band can understand that. It was on a Monday night, all the way down in Asbury Park, it was raining and needless to say, the crowd turn out was less than spectacular… which was all right by me. Mark (Balogh) and I made it down to what
seemed more like a dress rehearsal than a show.
Still, for the people who WERE there (which included KINGS X drummer Jerry Gaskill), it was another great performance. SPREAD EAGLE still sounded tight but
just lacked the energy you have when you’re playing for a packed house. Regardless, they grinded through their full set and even took some time to hang out at the bar afterwards with Mark, Jerry and myself as well as CHEAP TRICK’s production manager Colin West (who actually use to roadie for the band in the early 90’s) and several other fans. It was a fun night… but NOTHING like Don Hill’s!
Four days later, the band was back in their hometown New York City for what would be the last show of this tour. The place was packed. This time, I was joined by fellow staff writer Rob Benaquista who had never witnessed a SPREAD EAGLE show before. Boy was he in for a treat! With virtually no promotion whatsoever, the hometown boys drew almost a capacity crowd and rocked Don Hill’s like never before. The band was totally on this evening and gratified the audience even more than at the Dingbatz show.
While remaining consistent with their set list, the energy level was just over the top. This was, without a doubt, the best performance of the tour… at least from what I had heard or witnessed myself. The whole place seemed almost completely mesmerized… especially the very “intoxicated” female fan at the front of the stage who constantly attempted to grope Ray any time he came near her and almost got thrown out on numerous occasions. Nevertheless, Ray and the band pushed forward and really delivered. Even I have to admit, the performance itself rivaled just about any SPREAD EAGLE show I have ever seen… new line-up OR old.
With the “EAGLE” finally coming to rest, the band once again parted ways. Rob left for Australia a few days later to perform with Sebastian Bach’s band over there for a few shows opening up for GUNS ‘N ROSES. John went back into the studio to wrap up his new studio release coming out in late October/ early November. Chris is currently gearing up for his yearly string of arena appearances with TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA and as for Ray; he went back home to Florida, took a well deserved vacation in Amsterdam a few days later and is currently working again on his own music as well as recording in a guest spot on Macaluso’s solo release that I mentioned earlier. The only difference with the band parting ways this time is that they WILL return and are looking to add more SPREAD EAGLE dates in the near future. Keep checking in here at ROCKEYEZ for dates because this is one band you don’t want to miss.
Welcome back guys! We’ve missed ya… The world NEEDS bands AND people like
you. Lets keep this “EAGLE” off the endangered species list once and for all.
- Ray West - Vocals
- Rob De Luca - Bass
- John Macaluso - Drums
- Chris Caffery - Guitar
- Broken City
- Rhythm Machine
- King Of The Dogs
- Devil’s Road
- Back On The Bitch
- Revolution Maker
- Drum Solo – Macaluso
- “I Like Boobies”
- Dead Of Winter
- Suzy Suicide
- Switchblade Serenade
- Thru These Eyes
- Scratch Like A Cat
Official Spread Eagle website: http://www.myspace.com/spreadeaglenyc