Monday, September 17, 2007

Harptallica - Live 9.15.07 - Virginia Beach, VA

Imagine sitting at the symphony and suddenly a mosh pit breaks out in the balcony. The scene during Harptallica’s set at the FM99 Lunatic Luau festival this Saturday was nearly as bizarre. There were no guitars on stage, no drums, no bass – just harps. “You are the first audience ever to crowd surf at a harp show,” announced Ashley Toman, founding member of the Metallica tribute band.

This was all she needed to say. Once she and bandmate Patricia Kline struck the opening notes of “Unforgiven”, the onslaught of crowd surfing was relentless. The girls were visibly distracted by the feet hurtling towards them and their costly instruments, but they recovered quickly and barely missed a beat. Ashley, clad in jeans and a Misfits t-shirt, got her whole body into the act, plucking the strings vigorously and shaking her head with eyes shut. Patricia’s method was more reserved but equally as skillful. When feedback reared its ugly head, the ladies pressed on unflinchingly.

In an arena filled with hard-rock fans, most likely there to see headliners Buckcherry, Papa Roach, and Hinder, it was admittedly surprising to witness the audience soaking in Harptallica’s approach to these familiar songs. As the only female performers at the Virginia Beach Amphitheater that day, they were in a presumably intimidating position. They took the challenge admirably, and the cry for “Encore! Encore!” after the finish of “Enter Sandman” was evidence that the festival-goers hadn’t yet had enough Harptallica. Unfortunately, due to the time restraints when several bands are sharing a stage, the girls were unable to give their admirers another sample.

While their live performance was impressive, the adaptations of these songs were the strongest evidence of artistry. Ashley has arranged hard-hitting anthems like “Battery” and “Master of Puppets” in a way that manages to capture that intensity on a harp, an instrument that is far from being considered “bad-ass.” It’s Metallica gone through anger management, and oddly enough, it works.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

MINK - Live 9.9.07 - Norfolk, VA

Most young musicians (and fans alike) can only dream about sharing the stage with one of their idols. Every once in a while though, the stars align and a band somehow breaks through the static.

Such is the case for MINK, the Australian/New York based group who has already performed with KISS and is currently touring with rock legend Perry Farrell and his latest outfit, Satellite Party. Add to this a debut album produced by veteran Sylvia Massy, and I think it’s safe to say MINK is off to a damn fine start.

While these are some pretty impressive accolades in print, it’s tough to determine talent until you witness it firsthand. On Sunday night in Norfolk, MINK gave me and my fellow Virginians a chance to do just that. As the house lights dimmed, the band quickly launched straight into their high energy “Madame Chung” and I felt my head begin bobbing instantly. MINK’s pop-infused punk rock sound is well suited to a midsize venue like the NorVa, and the band seemed completely at ease. MINK continued the intensity with their first single, the incredibly catchy “Talk To Me”, and I soon saw other audience members bouncing along to the beat as well.

At this point, I heard several people commenting on the percussionist. Personally, I can’t remember the last time I saw a female drummer, but I can say without a doubt I have never seen one as competent as Ms. Stella Mozgawa. With her ferocious rhythms, I believe she could give even the beefiest, burliest man on the kit a run for his money.

Lead singer Neal Carson comes across as a modern-day amalgam of classic rock frontmen – his strut reminiscent of Mick Jagger, his penchant for the mic cord akin to Roger Daltrey’s, and his tight pants evocative of Robert Plant. He definitely knows how to work the stage too, locking eyes with crowd members and occasionally grabbing their outreached hands. His vocals are an intriguing blend of fierceness and softness, simultaneously familiar and unique.

Bassist Grant Fitzpatrick and lead guitarist Nick Maybury provided some solid backing vocals throughout the first half of the set while the guitars remained relatively stripped down and unembellished. Then during “Pressure Pressure”, with the help of rhythm guitarist David Lowy, the three axe men totally stole the show. Nick seemed to realize, holding his guitar outward from his body as if he was channeling a higher power. The band rode this wave into the next number, “Jodi”, featuring a downright sexy bass and drum break (complete with red light effect.

The most passionate crowd response came with the surprisingly ballsy cover of Bowie’s “Suffragette City”, which really got the people singing and dancing along. Neal thanked us and the band closed out the set with “Pills” and “Get It Right”, two more fast-paced rockers from their recent eponymous release.

I thoroughly enjoyed my introduction to MINK. If you’re in the mood for some pure, fun, party-time rock and roll that makes you feel young again, look no further.