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Firehouse Sets Peppers Alight!

FIREHOUSE / ROUGHHOUSE / KATSU @ Peppers Plex Arena, Berwick

It was a chilly summer night in Berwick and the rain was coming down in bucketloads, but that didn’t stop a packed house at Peppers Plex Arena from welcoming back FIREHOUSE (whose members hail from Brazil, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Lock Haven Pennsylvania!) to Pennsylvania for the first time in almost four years!

I didn’t see much of openers KATSU due to the fact that my girlfriend spilled her drink all over her pants two songs into the show and we had to go out and dry them with the heater in the van (true story, I swear!), but we did witness ROUGHHOUSE entertain us with material from both their late 80’s Columbia self-titled release as well as favorites from the old TEEZE days which some around here may remember. Titles such as “Hellraiser”, “Somewhere, Someway”, and “Party Hardy” sounded just as vibrant today right alongside tunes like “Teeze me Pleeze Me” and “Love or Lust”, both CDs being set for re-release by the reunited band later this year. The reunion includes all original members (Luis Rivera, Dave Weakley, Greg Malack, and Mike Natalini) with the exception of Rex Eisen who is currently a member of Static X and formerly of Dope. The show was a veritable time warp back to the late 80s and the crowd enjoyed every minute of it.

FIREHOUSE first burst onto the national music scene in 1990 with their self-titled debut double-platinum debut CD, riding the tail end of the over-crowded 80s hair band wave. While they certainly looked the part of the 80’s hair-rock god at the time, that’s where the similarity ended. unlike many of their contemporaries of the time, FIREHOUSE was a band of style and substance, clearly surpassing their hair-band predecessors in musical and vocal precision and certainly exceeding the lowering standards being set by the early 90’s alterna-rock “grunge” movement. In fact, they emerged victorious over all of them by garnering a 1991 American Music Award and to this day maintaining a successful career as an international hit-making touring act in places such as Southeast Asia and Japan. America, however, wasn’t so kind and time was their greatest enemy. Had they hit it big a few years earlier they may have become mega-stars like Bon Jovi and Def Leppard, but changing trends (people no longer cared about hooks, melody, and perfectly layered vocal harmonies) forced the band underground and into smaller clubs to play basically to whoever decided to show up. But that didn’t stop them from firing on all cylinders this particular night in Berwick, Pennsylvania. About 11:30 the lights went down and the familiar “Rock on the Radio” intro from the self-titled FIREHOUSE CD rang through the PA signaling the arrival of none other than FIREHOUSE. This is an admittedly biased review because it is no secret that FIREHOUSE is my favorite band; not only do they in my opinion have the greatest and most dynamic lead vocalist ever in CJ Snare but they remain the tightest and most accurate live unit I have ever witnessed, capable of reproducing every lick and four-part vocal harmony from their recordings with ease – and without the benefit of samplers or tracked vocals. Along with the anticipated favorites such as opener “Lovers’ Lane”, “Shake and Tumble”, “All She Wrote”, and “Don’t Treat Me Bad”, they wowed us with their interpretation of “We’re An American Band” with Snare sharing vocal duties in a trade-off with guitarist Bill Leverty, who was sporting a “Killer Dwarfs” T-shirt (talk about a blast from the past!). Brazilian-born new bassist Dario Seixas proved he had what it takes to succeed two other dynamite bassists before him by providing all the high harmony vocal work, delving into some slap-bass funk work, and displaying some flashy guitar strap strangling techniques a’la Cinderella! Drummer Michael Foster held down the fort and not only sang his heart out, but treated us to a drum solo in tandem with Leverty and Seixas following an extended blues jam at the conclusion of “Don’t Walk Away”, giving Snare some breathing space to come out and nail what has to be the longest high note ever recorded on the intro to the rocker “Overnight Sensation”. (and unlike some vocalists, he didn’t shorten it live!) Snare also demonstrated his ivory tickling abilities on ballads “When I Look Into Your Eyes” and “Love of a Lifetime” as well as providing an atmospheric texture on “Hold Your Fire”, the title track from their second album.

New material was present as well in “Take It Off”, a sexy groove song from the 2000s “O2” sounding comfortable alongside 1990 classic “Shake and Tumble”, providing the many scantily dressed “80s chicks” in attendance the required sexual energy! Instead of leaving the stage and coming back for an encore, the band played right through and ended the show with “Reach for The Sky” and the mandatory “Don’t Treat me Bad” before coming back ten minutes later, as promised, and hanging out with everyone in attendance, signing items and posing for pictures in the process, something more bands should try because obviously, it’s what keeps people coming back time and time again.

Styles may have changed and trends may have come and gone, but this is a band that has remained true to themselves and deserves to be supported, if for no other reason than their dedication, precision, and commitment to their fans. You could sense a genuine appreciation that these guys have for the people who still stick with them through thick and thin, and Snare commanded the mic with the assurance of a frontman who knows where’s he’s been, where he comes from (he made no bones about saying it loud and clear. Lock Haven, PA !) and hopefully where he’s going. and most importantly, he knows who the people are that put him on that stage in the first place..the fans! All four members clearly understand this through their willingness to meet and greet “everyone in the building until they kick us out!” whether they have a backstage pass or not.

At a Firehouse show, EVERYONE has a backstage pass! http://www.firehousemusic.com

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