Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Solid State School Night

Last Thursday night, I headed to Karaoke Night at the Wild Wing Cafe in suburban Alpharetta with a couple of my P-Council friends. I must admit that I had never to my recollection been to karaoke in a public setting, so I was somewhat intrigued. When the local band Rock Mafia opened the first set by launching into Metallica's "Enter Sandman", one of my favorites, I found myself drawn (with the assistance of an enthusiastic friend who literally pulled me) to the stage to watch them close up and to feel the kick of the bass drum and the insistent drive of the amplifiers. It was not the first time I'd done this.

Back in the 1970's, I played guitar with a mess of garage bands and one regular crew in Memphis. In those days, amplifiers such as my big old Kustom, covered in padded black Naugahyde, had gone "solid state", which meant that there were no vacuum tubes to blow out and ruin a performance. Back then, I got a taste of how it felt to get up in front of a crowd when you knew exactly what you were playing, when the amps were cranking and there were no shorts in the cabling, just driving it and feeling the response from the audience. It's an extreme rush, to say the least. But I digress.

Thursday's karaoke experience was, shall we say, lively. It's been a while since I've been inside a place quite that crowded. Wild Wing wasn't exactly Bob's Country Bunker in The Blues Brothers, but it wasn't that far removed, either. There was no chicken wire in front of the band, so I suppose you could say that it was reasonably safe overall. We only had one untoward experience, and the perpetrator eventually apologized for his rather bizarre comments to us, so that was all good in the end. I thought for a moment that things might get out of control and that I would perhaps witness a barfight, but fortunately, that did not come to pass.

We were treated to performances ranging from the sublime to the outright odious. A young lady did a very passable interpretation of Guns 'n Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine", and then shortly thereafter some guy shouted "Let's do metal!" and launched into what I think was a Fuel song. An Asian kid accentuated his vocal performance with some bizarre gyrations, all the while his pants chains swinging in time to the music. Someone sang Aerosmith's "Dream On", which I probably have not heard in twenty years. Through all of this, Rock Mafia did not miss a beat; in fact, I was quite impressed when the band not only knew when to play, but when not to play, the mark of truly good performers.

If you can stand a place like this, you really do see some terrific musicians. Today's guitar players are privy to tons of gadgets which we didn't have in the old days. Every once in a while, I head down to Guitar Center to check out all the technology and while there, I see kids who can play the hair off a dog -- it is truly amazing. So it's reassuring to see a band like Rock Mafia, young guys giving it their all and performing truly decent covers of music all the way back to the 70's, playing it with the same passion that we did. Nicely done, Rock Mafia.

Oh, and by the way, I never have worn chains on my pants.