Yolo Brewing Company
1520 Terminal Street, West Sacramento, Cal. 95691
Friday, July 21, 2017.
On the occasion of the one-year anniversary of this show ~
Warming up the expansive pub room with the opening theme from Stallone’s Rocky on the sound system, Kurzweil Pearl, a West Sacramento five-piece known alternately — when they use a banner — as Mask, continuing their long succession of Band In The Beer Hall events, entered from stage right, and slammed straight into an unusually synth-dommed “There’s Only One Way to Rock”, from the 1981 LP Standing Hampton, by a guitar s(l)inger with the same initials who badmotorscootered his way up from a foundational, and rudimentary, rock record, eight years prior. Supported from beneath by Natalie Chrisman’s meaty bass rumble; and serious dentition of well-controlled guitar leads from stage left, Jacob Stewart’s wicked solo manifests later in the number; their selection an apt tone-setter for a consistently hardrock-tanged, and more often than not, fanged, set of epic duration. Continuing the Sammy thread, and with little room for even applause, they went, thick with guitar chugga, over to a Van Hagar ballad from 1986, the band by this point already evidencing the practiced hand of tight cohesion more so than a lot of too-carefree adult bar bands; and when you’re playing covers, you can’t hide any nonchalance, not even rock that swaggeringly rhymes with… — ah, let’s just leave it at rock. Moving right along, Jacob whammies us a solo, vouchsafing competent show-off chops, even though the track itself isn’t in the category of songs-with-flash, it’s a number by Eddie & Co.; so the obligation is there. Jacob matches Eddie, and calls him, with capable ease. To the vocalist, meanwhile, Gracie Cann’s aptitude and power tends toward the lower register, a gritty contralto as we’ll see later.
For thirds, we find them owning the twice-released “Here I Go Again”, an ex-’Purple-Mark-3er’s song given a second life as a hit in ‘87, five years later. I’d say they covered the second, as it’s worthy of that preferable rendition, intonations fluently secured on the too-brief guitar solo, recorded last out by the worthy post-Teaser, inter-Vandenberg, Adrian; and Mask thus covered Whitesnake whilst the audience imbibed ale. From there, entering a very familiar tune with a telltale opening rich with piano melody, the guitarist seemed to skip the subtle tones that precede Schon’s early guitar centerpiece; though I did note Jacob’s hands were in position, and the prelude may have gotten buried in the crowd noise; but he nails the beautiful trill-like passage succeeding the word “a-ny-where”, and the requisite guitar neck throttle that follows, into a by-now-obvious hit, still early in the journey of their set, in one of many songs in which the bassist, Natalie, doubles on vocals, seconding the singer in the chorus. Up next, drummer David Chrisman opens the bass-featured wonder that is “Superstition”, the hit in their repertoire requiring the most retro-gearing on the wayback machine: 1972, the side-two opener from the album Talking Book, which finds keyboardist Dino McCord pulling a clav out of his Kurzweil; and if that sounds like a complicated operation, he turned it into a successful one; and you should have been there to appreciate it. Momentarily standing on the drum riser joining David, and, consistent with their set’s sonic ethos, Mask heavied it up. A late-in guitar takes us through a long and complex solo, ending as the clavinet returns — if it ever left; and David brings in the end with his opening stick clicks. No foreigner to bringing the right hits to the 4, next up, if you’ll picture the scene, we’re treated to a cool tune from the pens of Gramm/Jones, Natalie, with her fast fingers, pumping out the intro; then back on the riser for the latter part of the song; when, out of the jukebox, and into the ever-nimble digits of Jacob, a ker-azy guitar solo heroic follows, Dino joining him from the other end of the stage on rhythm. What the vocalist may lack in range, at this younger stage, she well makes up with sheer enthusiasm and stage presence; (though I have to add, since the other four know their parts, it might be an idea for her to ditch the lyric prompts from the stage floor, and make contact with the crowd, eh?). Another of many enthusiastic plaudits follow, whereupon the drummer jets into “I Love Rock and Roll”, saving us the dime. The band runs away with the song; as they do with the next, a certain vintage Bon Jovi number, initially a New Jersey local before it went worldwide as his band’s first hit, (two runaways in a row — what’s with these kids?) opened by by the staccato chords of Dino’s piano, and on into the too-cool twisty guitar-string bits that follow. From there, they beat it to the next number, with a bit of an awkward opening, tumbling into a hit from the album that sold a few copies in 1983, and a pretty handful more in subsequent years; a song in which guitarist Jacob, thrillingly, takes care of guest Eddie’s parsed phrasing, in his faithfully sectioned solo, quite nicely.
A much-deserved break later, Mask return with a near-eastern-inflected, beautifully synth-rich opener, separating the ways between the first and second sets of the evening’s excursion, Dino and Natalie backing the vocalist on the second verse of the Perry/Cain-penned song; then the well — make that perfectly — paced guitar solo, the song finishing with a very cool alternate ending, one I honestly prefer to the original hit’s concluding strains. An introductory piece follows, Gracie presenting for our better appreciation, the band members, one by one, each followed by a quick showcase of expertise: David with one excellent series of snappy rolls; Natalie, an exemplar of skill, rumbling out a short summary of thunder rolls at her dexterous fingertips. Laying out his fine chordage on the keys, we next hear from Dino; after which Jacob lets loose with a quick bit of six-string dazzle; this ending with another member’s presentation of the vocalist, Gracie. Mask is given more deserved applause; immediately following which the crew brings us home to one sweet number, a ballad with all the theatrics and none of the pain, Natalie nicking Sixx-stringed bass-heaviness by dint of four, Jacob with guitar wranglings aplenty channeled from the god of war; Gracie’s voice, at first a little off-key in a not-in-vince-able high register, until she hits her strength in the lows, her voice annealing where the gravelly meets the bedrock ‘n roll; David in the lee of the others as all drummers must suffer, but his tommy-gun strikes not unheard; — now, how do you like that? — and Natalie’s bass, a continuum of rock solidity, underscores Gracie down to Dino’s polished and beautiful piano finish. Another round of appreciation from the audience and we’re off to the well-honed, too-toned tune that had phone’s ringing off the hook in a familiarly distant decade, for which the keysman and vocalist switch places, continuing the multi-instrumentalist theme, keeping the track totally rockin’, to which Dino and Natalie second on vocals, with a crowd sing along on every other recitation of the song’s natty numerics, made niftily mnemonic. The phone call ends, four of the band members leave the stage, mingling with the crowd while the lead vocalist takes over the piano, gracing us with a fine solo performance, a well-lit sojourn across an urbanscape, taking her audience on a short trip through the big city, hitting a nice high on the lyrical likes of “closer” (if not so much on the “whoa, oh-oh, oh”s). With well-spaced keyboard colorings, and easily the best in an evening of tiger-sized hits, Mask follows, in a manner consistent with their set’s unitary hardrock alignment, with a superbly rendered survival from 1981; and heads bop to the hook, all the way to the decisively finalizing crash!-ride!-crash! of David’s well-timed percussives. ~ Then, to a revival of Jinx Dawson horns sported affectionately by the audience, Gracie gets on the riser to stand up and shout something palpably prismatic; and, come the solo, the guitarist, a Stewart, carries on in the full Campbell, string-twisting, and pointy-note tradition, the guitarist making vivid applications to his piece while Dino effectively surrogates in the violin sound. Though I could clearly see every twist and turn of Jacob’s fingers. the leads were often a little muffled, the guitar having been too frequently mixed out to favor the keys. Skipping up to the next song, the band jumps to Van Halen’s number one, the bassist projecting powerfully, as always; the drummer nailing all his parts. As a synth-centric song, from his swivel sound-set, keysman Dino not only carries the piece, but brings it home. Having delivered herself of her lines, Gracie hops off the riser — but not as far as the scene that inspired the song, heh. Unwearied, proffering a rock relic with chorused vocal entry, the band carries on with a glimpse from the midwest, late 1975, in which these five take on the role of six; and no surprise: they’re fully capable. Dino slots in the organ to perfection; and while I never argue with a keyboard/drum call and response, as this song features multiple times, I nonetheless wish the guitar part was a little more audible in the mix since this tracks’ arguable highlights are those so very aculeate solos; nonetheless, this live performance grins. So there’s your prog amidst all the other, more standard, radio rock; but the 70s was the glorious decade of a prog norm, with the keys/guitar call and response bringing that out even more; and Jacob Kerrys on, leaving out none of Livgren’s many, and worthy, guitar solos, making them his own. Counting down to their finale, Mask does a first-rate performance, perhaps a little faster than the hit, with a great keys and guitar-blended bridge; amidst which Jacob smoothly whips off a guitar solo of definitive finality; and David, the man on the sticks, takes it out.
For all the numbers they used up in their twelfth song, they still have one left, and it’s a big five minute and fifty-five second encore of absolute rock royalty, crowned by being the only hit in Top 40 history to repeat none of its parts; — now how mercurial is that? Categorically. Opening the piece, Dino lets his piano flow; then a short glissando down, and the singer enters with the line, “Now I’ve gone and thrown it all away”, in her guttural best, as per Freddie; and one by one, the rest of the band joins together on the riser while their majesties May, Mercury, Deacon, and Taylor finish the middle of the song’s multi-tracks from the overhead; then Mask takes over, and bursts into heavy, worthily piling on the ponderous for the last part of the operatic behemoth that leaves one rapt amidst the rock and roll wrack of collateral jammage.
From a young band in the 13-15 age range — this was mid-2017 — you get far more for your beer than could reasonably be expected. From a momentary fumble or two, they recover directly; and no matter. Mask, when all is said and done, is a tighter, more practiced outfit at the end of the day than a large number of bands on the indy circuit, many too casual to earn more than faint and half-hearted claps; and when you’re doing covers, you can’t hide it if you haven’t got it. Mask has nothing they need hide; — and with such talent on offer, I submit they should annex ‘Zep ‘n ‘Lep to their rep; add to which Gracie has the voice to sing the likes of Sass Jordan (“High Road Easy”), Janis Joplin, Darby Mills (Headpins), Jenny Haan (Babe Ruth), Lee Aaron, Doro Pesch, Pat Benatar, Brian Johnson, Tony Martin (Black Sabbath), and maybe even Jorn Lande (Beyond Twilight). I credit the five of them for not repeating any songs as every adult two-set bands I’ve ever seen, do, (some, worse yet, even tripling); and that’s lame if you’re the fan that sits in for an entire show. So, extra thumbs-up kudos to Mask for treating us to a double-album worth of all-different songs. Their next audience should throw chocolate at them — because underwear is so last-year, and tennis shoes are still uncool.
In summary, whether the band’s setlist, taken together, might have ever been considered an oeuvre unto itself is neither here nor there. Mask, in a consonant handling of their varied selection, makes it as one. Were they to ever pen originals, I’d anticipate good things from their artistry; and more.
The hard working personnel: Brendan Trillo – soundman and roadie; David Chrisman – drums; Dino McCord – keyboards; Gracie Cann – vocals; Jacob Stewart – guitar; Natalie Chrisman -bass. Many of the band members doubled, as, in part, noted.
The Set List:
Sammy Hagar – There’s Only One Way to Rock
Van Hagar – Dreams
Whitesnake – Here I Go Again
Journey – Don’t, Stop, Believin’
Stevie Wonder – Superstition
Foreigner – Juke Box Hero
Joan Jett – I Love Rock and Roll
Bon Jovi – Runaway
Michael Jackson – Beat It
Journey – Separate Ways
Motley Crue – Home Sweet Home
Tommy Tutone – 867-5309
Journey – Lights (solo piano)
Survivor – Eye of the Tiger
Dio – Rainbow in the Dark
Van Halen – Jump
Kansas – Carry on Wayward Son
Europe -Final Countdown
Encore: Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
That’s 19 songs for the price of a beer or three. There isn’t a better deal.
-Forrest L. Woods
(May be reprinted, in full, with attribution.)