"The Local Scene -- Grand Rapids, MI"

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Caught in the Act...

...by Amy McClees

A tight, well practiced 8-piece Celtic band is what the crowd enjoyed at The B.O.B. in Grand Rapids on 3/15/97... The Lash. Their original songwriting in the Celtic flair rivals the appeal of the Irish folk/protest/story songs that they play. Their songwriting is so close to the original folk, you could say that they're a chip off the ol' Emerald Isle, except for the fact that they are really from the Lansing area. The Lash is also reminiscent of The Commitments -- their stage flair, that is. If you saw the movie, then the parallel is easy to draw. This well dressed and audience friendly group really had the dance floor filled, including a guy sporting a kilt. The Lash began on St. Patrick's Day of 1996 as a tribute band for the Pogues. Bookings for the group keep growing, as they are getting more well known and many fans spread the word to friends and family to catch their show. Their line-up includes Mike Lynch on accordion & guitar, Jessie Soriano on bass, Jason Portier on mandolin, Tai Degen-Repas on flute, Rob Kladja on banjo, Tom Myers on drums, Matt McDonald on guitar and guest vocalist Tim Marzorati (if the name rings a bell, it's because he's the bassist for 19 Wheels). Their performances will not go out of style, even if it is way past St. Pat's revelry.

NOTE: Due to space constraints, the following reviews were not included in the print edition of the RENEGADE. They are only available here in the online edition.

About a month ago I saw Willamena play at Sluggo's. The band first caught my ear when they opened up for The Why Store at Club Soda in Kalamazoo. Being from Kalamazoo, they hadn't had too much exposure yet in Grand Rapids. Their style is definitely alternative rock. Pearl Jam, etc., is what you can draw a parallel to. In fact, the lead singer borrows so much from Vedder that he could tone it down a bit more and still be convincing as a front man for an alterna-rock band. Don't get me wrong, he's a good singer, but he needs to develop more of himself into the performance. The specialty here is that they, Nathan Dynak on drums, Chris "Yes, I have been told I look like the dude from the Spin Doctors" Newman on bass ,and also a producer, Chad Hendrickson, and Tim Bengtsson on guitar and Vedder interpretive poseur Lukas Ross on vocals. The outstanding thing about this group is the range of songwriting talent. They have a dearth of original songs to choose from to perform. The tie that binds is the Neil Young influence for all. The tie breaker will be their creative differences if they don't work/play in a more amicable fashion. An interesting tidbit to add to the mix is the mandolin, played with strength and sincerity on select tunes. Yeah, but can they play "Mandolin Wind" by Rod Stewart?

After a year and a half off the road to record an album, Little Texas is performing in more intimate venues. The band played at the Howlin' Moon Saloon in Grand Rapids, MI on April 6th. Local favorite Solid Ground opened for them while backing the "Jim Beam National Country Talent Contest" winner, James Cameron. Little Texas was greeted by a standing room only crowd. The fans were out in full force, complete with cameras in hand to capture the moment. "Grand Rapids must be pretty quiet tonight 'cause all the hell raisers are here!" rallied Tim Rushlow. They plunged into their older better known hits, such as "Amy's back in Austin," but also let the crowd know what they did with the year and a half that they were off the road -- write songs.

They played their new BILLBOARD chart climbing hit, "Bad For Us," with an intensity and musicianship that showed the crowd that they have matured in their songwriting skills. They have a flair for being a little flamboyant with their head thrashing and lining up at the edge of the stage. This performance looked a little like an '80s Bon Jovi concert with the splash and dance of lighting and the guitar theatrics displayed. Their fans obviously loved it, so they gave the crowd more. After all, once the band is happy with its music, if the group wants to kick up their heels a little and have a good time, that's their business. Little Texas country music business, that is.

The Joker's Ball: The Joker (aka Steve Miller) had the crowd at the Van Andel on their feet and dancing through the entire performance. This concert on April 24th at the Van Andel Arena had everybody rockin'. Every song was somebody's favorite, complete with a trip down memory lane for the mostly over 30 crowd. Maurice appeared in black shirt, jeans and shades to open The Joker's Ball with the highly danceable, signature tune, "Swingtown." An impressive performance that showcased his vast hit song catalog, he told the crowd, " We'll take you from the '60s to the '70s, '80s & '90s," which is exactly what he and his well tuned band did. Gordy Knudtson on drums and keyboardist Joseph Wooten were on pedestal stages up against the back drop of colored blobs and lighting on angled drapes of white. Harmonica player and 20+ year member of the band Norton Buffalo, clothed in leather frontier wear, gave the expressive and heightened touches to the songs that only he and his harmonica could. Second guitarist Kenny Lee Lewis and bassist Billy Peterson, brought out that straight ahead guitar rock along with Miller. Examples of "Rock N' Me," "The Joker" and bass jumpin' "wah aww wha n wha" of "True Fine Love."

The spacey keyboard sounds of "Fly Like an Eagle," "Winter Time," "Serenade" and "Wild Mountain Honey" were recreated very well. The acoustic ceiling panels in the arena deserve a little credit, also. Miller's solo acoustic guitar opened "Dance, Dance, Dance" -- "My grampaw he's 95/and he keeps on dancin'/he's still alive/My grammaw she's 92/she loves to dance and sing some too/I don't know but I've been told/if you keep on dancin' you'll never grow old..." and so the acoustic melded with the electric and the hoedown, country pickin' song commenced. Rock classics "Jungle Love" and "Jet Airliner" in the encore closed out the show. And a good show it was.

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