Monday, August 13, 2012
Concert Review: Rock at the Taste of Edmonds (Borrowed Time and Heart by Heart), Edmonds, WA, 8/12/2012
“The Grand Illusion” by Styx was one of the special favorites of my own little four-member music-nerd club when I was in high school (along with albums by Kansas and Rush, Roger Woodward plays Takemitsu, and the Shostakovich 8th – though I had initially told the others that the latter was the soundtrack to a Russian sci-fi movie because there was an idea going around that classical music was the same as muzak…) Anyway, with thirty-plus years of hindsight, a lot of recordings by Styx sound dated and overproduced, too reliant on (rudimentary) synthesizers, and (let’s face it) a little silly. Or so I thought. Albums by Styx might sound this way now, but individual songs, when played enthusiastically by a capable band, can still sparkle. This band, called “Borrowed Time”, did a particularly good job of the vocal harmonies in “Renegade” and the instrumental licks in “Angry Young Man”. They also played several tunes from “Paradise Theater” (without the saxophones) and they generally rocked the stadium. They didn’t play either “Babe” or “Castle Walls”, but one can’t have everything. They ended with the epic “Come Sail Away”, adding a drum solo (under the regular power chords for the song) in place of the prosaic fade-out. I might add that they sounded as much like Styx as a band that isn’t Styx could.
Then came the Heart tribute band, called “Heart by Heart”. They started off well with “Cook with Fire” (it sounded exactly like Heart’s recording of the same) but then something happened. Early in the show, they got off-key in the first ten seconds of “Magic Man” and never recovered. In fact, they got worse. In “Love Alive”, a song that relies on intricate syncopations for its effect, the guitarists couldn’t get the rhythms right and the drummer kept missing counts. They also made some aesthetic choices that left me scratching my head – the addition of fuzz guitar to “Dog and Butterfly” was an absurdity akin to playing Coltrane on a harpsichord (wrong instrument, dudes!). And on and on. As they got worse, they also got louder; at some point it became obvious (to me at any rate) that they were cranking up the volume so the music would just turn into a wall of sound and we wouldn’t notice how badly they were playing. In the end I gave up and left early. I didn’t wait around to see if they were going to play “Barracuda” or “These Dreams”, and I’d realized by the time I left that any of Heart’s more artsy songs – such as “Sylvan Song / Dream of the Archer”, or that wonderfully Zeppelin-esque tone painting, “Mistral Wind” – were simply beyond them.
Of course, there’s the argument that since rock-and-roll is just for fun, we needn’t hold it to the same standards as other types of music. Ask a rock musician for a second opinion about that. (And, if the same argument were made in other fields, I can imagine someone saying, “Ice cream is just for fun, so it needn’t have any good ingredients…” You can see my point.) It is just for fun, mostly, but it’s a lot less fun if it’s done badly. …and the real kicker here was that some of the members of this band were the original members of Heart. What has happened…? In their defense, the vocalist did sound a lot like one of the original Wilson sisters, and this may have been a mostly unrehearsed band (they announced at the beginning that one of the guitarists was from another band that had just finished playing elsewhere in the festival). So, I suppose I could cut them some slack. At least some of the other people there seemed to be enjoying the music.
So that was that. The food was delicious (I had a salmon piroshky and a salmon salad, ended with a dessert oddity – a deep-fried Snickers bar – just as weird but not as tasty as I’d expected) but it was expensive, and the place was hot and dusty and the music was mediocre. I can’t say if I’ll be back next year.