The Roots Report: Starship Fails to Blast Off and The Guess Who Left Me Scratching My Head

Mickey Thomas of Starship

Mickey Thomas of Starship

Okee dokee folks… The other night I went to check out a show featuring two classic rock bands at Twin River’s Event Center. The bands were Starship, featuring Mickey Thomas, and The Guess Who. I have never had the chance to see these bands live before, but have seen a few of the original members of the original line-ups in separate circumstances. While I am not a huge fan of Starship, I was a fan of its former incarnations, The Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, and I do very much enjoy the music of The Guess Who.

The concert on Saturday night I felt was heavy-handed and left me wondering what I had just seen. Of the 11 musicians between the two bands, there was only ONE founding member in their rosters: The Guess Who’s drummer, Garry Peterson. The new members, or “hired guns,” seemed out of place and took liberties that one should not do when presenting classic rock. It almost seemed as if members of Spinal Tap had taken over the two bands.

The one shining star of the evening was Starship’s Stephanie Calvert. Her look and voice filled the Grace Slick void very well, though at times she seemed to be trying too hard to sound like Slick. While Mickey Thomas has earned his place in Starship and is the voice of the classic song by Elvin Bishop “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” his pipes, at 68, are getting a tad rusty though they still pass. Starship’s rendition of that song was tainted by the aforementioned heavy handedness of the band members, and the signature solo was insulted by John Roth’s attempt to replicate it. Starship played a 12-song, 50-minute set. It covered the songs the band and all of its other forms made popular, including “Jane,” “Sarah,” “Nothing’s Going to Stop Us Now” and “Stranger.” As Mickey Thomas noted, they went back a long way to the roots of the band and performed “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” These songs let Stephanie Calvert take the lead on the vocals and she forced her voice into the shape of Grace Slick’s. While it was close, as the saying goes, “no cigar.” “Find Your Way Back” brought the main set to an end and Mickey Thomas mentioned that they wouldn’t go off stage and “we’ll go right into the encore,” which was “We Built This City.”

Now Casino shows are usually shorter than your normal concerts and generally do not exceed 90 minutes. I figured that this one would clock in around two hours including changeover. I was wrong. The changeover took 45 minutes. I have worked set changes of huge, national bands and it never took 45 minutes. The set change should have taken 15 minutes, 20 if they were having issues. It was hard to believe considering all the gear was already on stage and in place.

Derek Sharp of The Guess Who

Derek Sharp of The Guess Who

The Guess Who took the stage at around 8:45 following the playing of Bugs Bunny’s “Overture” (the whole show started at 7pm) and went into a riff of the “Peter Gun Theme.” They ran their set, which was highlighted by the hits “Shakin’ All Over,” “Undone,” No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature,” “Hand Me Down World” and “Share The Land.” They ended the set with “American Woman.” At least they didn’t Lenny Kravitz it. They came back for a three-song encore of “In America,” “These Eyes” and “No Time.”

The Guess Who are a band that had most of their success in the mid-’60s and early ’70s. This is where the fan base started and the love of their classic rock sound was based. The Guess Who that performed at Twin River, though touting original member, drummer Garry Peterson, is a far, far cry from The Guess Who we are familiar with. Sure, they play the songs and the singer sort of sounds like Burton Cummings, but that is it. This is where the real heavy handedness of the night comes in. The “new” members, though some are Canadian boys like the original members, seem to want to be a metal band. Hell, they even have bassist Rudy Sarzo, a former member of Quiet Riot, Whitesnake and a few other metal bands. The lead singer, Derek Sharp, has a great voice, but at times he seemed to forget that it is The Guess Who he is part of, not Whitesnake like he seemed to want to be in. At this point in this band’s existence, they should be playing the hits, make folks happy, have fun playing, collect their checks, smile and go home feeling lucky, but they are not.

The band released a NEW CD this year and performed THREE songs from that disc. WHY??? These unmemorable songs “Haunted,”,“In America” and “Playin’ On The Radio” were the low points in the evenings set. If this band wants to play new music, then they should assume a new identity and break new ground on their own merits and not the merits of the band members that came before them. The new material is an embarrassment to the memory of the band’s classic music. It surely seems that they don’t care, they just want to be rock stars and play hard and heavy and throw their guitar picks out to the fans. Stick a fork in them, I think The Guess Who are done, or at least should be.

Starship, well, they managed to pull it off, but barely. They should think about packing it in as well. I know that many fans will not agree with me, loved the music and think the show was fun. I did not and I know I was not alone as I overheard a few people talking after the show. Respect the music, it’s not yours, play it right … and with feeling!

These type of classic rock bands have become mere tributes to their former incarnations. They are mostly composed of a band member or two who may have been part of one of the previous versions and rounded out by music industry hired guns. This can be fine and enjoyable if the bands stick to the sound that made the original bands famous. While the average person may not notice the nuances, I do. Most folks have a cocktail or 10 and wiggle their butts and have fun. That’s fine. But in my opinion if you are going ride the coattails of a legendary band, at least pay them the respect of faithfully representing the sound. We don’t care if you can scream like a banshee or Eddie Van Halen the hell out of your guitar during a song. Unless it was originally done that way, please don’t do it. Most of these musicians are either trying to milk a future solo career out of these gigs or find their next hired gun gig.

Thanks for reading.

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