One thing I can surmise from my recent evening with the Yardbirds and Vanilla Fudge at the Tralf Music Hall is that the so-called “hippie” generation has gotten stodgy.
What started out as a subculture predicated on peace, love, and understanding with a healthy dose of anti-establishment petulance added to the mix has aged into a group of ornery, by-the-book codgers for whom the phrase “Get Off My Lawn” doesn’t appear to be too far off.
I say this, because, in the middle of Vanilla Fudge’s opening number, a woman slapped me on the back and swore at me to get out of the way.
Now, with the congested nature of the room aside, I would expect a certain degree of civility to prevail when dealing with a mostly 55 and older crowd, but not everyone adheres to that standard.
Had she simply asked me to move, I would have complied without conflict, but her actions appeared to offer the impression that a 23-year-old writer had no business infringing upon her music scene. After all, people under the age of 25 only appreciate Justin Bieber and other disposable pop calamities anyway, right?
I won’t discuss that any further, because plenty of stirring musical wizardry occurred later on that all but erased that incident from my mind.
Vanilla Fudge’s drama-filled brand of psychedelic re-imagination was the star of the evening, as the band tore through gems such as “Ticket to Ride,” “She’s Not There,” and, my personal favorite, “Season of the Witch.” The audience ate up every morsel of the band’s sonic oomph, and having three of the four original members worked wonders for the show’s ability to make a lasting impact.
Vocalist/keyboardist Mark Stein, guitarist Vince Martell, and drummer Carmine Appice still play with the unflappable chemistry you’d expect from a band that has been together since 1966, and each of them has mastered their respective instrument to the point that crowd-pleasing solos are a constant part of the live proceedings.
Appice dazzled with his lightning precision behind the kit and Stein’s angelic vocal on “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” matched the recording note for note. As a guitar player myself, I found Martell’s scorching tone to be ideal given the size of the room, so the band gave Buffalo an all-around stellar evening of rock.
For those of you who consider the Yardbirds to be irrelevant without a certain trio of guitarists known as Beck, Page, and Clapton, perhaps your criticism is accurate to some extent. The band hasn’t exactly been a vital part of the American scene for quite some time, and original singer Keith Relf died in 1976, which for many bands could’ve been the kiss of death altogether.
The band’s 2012 incarnation features original members Jim McCarty and Chris Dreja along with Andy Mitchell, Ben King, and David Smale. Mitchell is an engaging vocalist with likeable stage presence, but I got the feeling that the crowd wasn’t on the same high as they were during Vanilla Fudge.
“Heart Full of Soul, “Over Under Sideways Down,” “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor,” and “Smokestack Lightning” still pack the same musical whimsy they always did, yet something felt different. While the band played well and stayed true to the material, the crowd’s energy didn’t match the band’s by any stretch.
Rounding out the band with young, hungry musicians is great for establishing chemistry, but the legacy of the Yardbirds carries with it an expectation that things will be just like they used to be. Despite having solid replacements, many of the people I spoke with were left yearning for that return to days past, which, in the end, they knew wasn’t going to happen.