Monday, December 29, 2008

A Real Live One

CRACK THE SKY – Recher Theatre, Towson MD – December 27, 2008 – For a band I’ve really dug, it had been a long time since I saw CRACK THE SKY. This Pennsylvania crew issued 3 of the most fantabulous records of the ‘70’s (“Crack The Sky,” “Animal Notes” & “Safety In Numbers”) back in the latter part of that decade. Hard rock? Sure, but taken from such a unique perspective both musically & lyrically that they were probably much too good to be recognized by the masses. Whether it be the vertebrate-fracturing off-time rhythms, the searing dual guitar leads or the shrewdly written, mega-thoughtful lyrics of John Palumbo, it was an incendiary mix that I stumbled onto and gladly embraced. After that initial trio, the band went on in various formats to release a series of albums over the years that, while often diverging in style, were at least always interesting. Funny thing was, I sorta lost track of ‘em during that time. I think some of it may have been due to the fact that I was stuck on the original line-up and, in truth, the last time I brushed with CTS in the live format was at Painters Mill Music Fair (Maryland people, remember that?!) in the ‘80’s. So, when Rick & Roll from suggested I join him on a venture to witness CRACK in Towson, I was only mildly interested at first. It was after going online & finding out that, yes the band did feature Palumbo and original guitarist Rick Witkowski, it also had seen bass master Joe Macre return to the fold last year, as well as drummer Joe D’Amico back on board. I too was onboard! (So are guitarist Bobby Hird, not an original but he’s been with ‘em forever now, and keyboardist Glenn Workman).

I won’t beat around the bush (I’ll leave that to Angus…although, not much beating going on with “Black Ice” but that’s another story) but 2 nights ago at the Recher, CRACK THE SKY kicked ass! I have to admit, being in the dark on their activities for some time, I had no idea what to expect from 2nd guitarist Bobby Hird. Suffice it to say, he is a perfect friggin’ match for Rick W. By the time the 2 of them had finished singing the ears off the side of my head with the massive Christmas-song interlude in “Surf City,” I was in the Hird herd! The set list did nothing to disappoint, featuring all the stuff you’d pick out of your first hat like “Hold On,” “Mind Baby” and “She’s A Dancer” not to mention ones I’d kinda hoped for, such as “Rangers At Midnight,” “Nuclear Apathy” and “Wet Teenager.” When the Sabbath-y opening of “Maybe I Can Fool Everybody Tonight” took wing on the guitars of Witkowski & Hird, this ol’ CTS junkie was smiling pretty wide. Other highlights included (of course) “Ice” (with a breathtaking piano solo by Glenn Workman), “Lighten Up McGraw” (complete with a face-melting guitar exchange from Bobby & Rick) and “L’Acte Patriote” (the striking epic from the band’s outstanding new album “The Sale”). Even better yet was beholding the chemistry of old guard Palumbo, Witkowski, D’Amico and Macre, turning back the years and proving that they are anything but a cabaret act, something too many groups with ‘70’s origins are these days. The way Hird & Workman fit in this band is remarkable as well, for a prodigal son like me who’s new to them. The absolute pinnacles of the night for this scribe, however, was twofold in nature. First, watching Palumbo, who looks fantastic, commanding the stage with every bit as much panache as he did in 1977 was a true gas. The 2nd thing that I really got off on was the playing & stage presence of bassist Joe Macre. My memories from the old days always placed him high on my list of favourite bass players and now I’m convinced that if I ever start a band, I’m calling this guy to see if he has some extra time (yeah, right!). Joe was an absolute Mack truck, marauding the stage and pulling out some of the most show-stopping 4-string ripping I’ve seen since the vintage days of Geezer, Geddy or Stanley Clarke all the while fusing with partner-in-crime D’Amico to form a rock solid bottom. No knock against some of the interim bassists CTS has employed, like Carey Ziegler, etc., but this guy is THE SHIT!

Anyway, what a great show and a great time for me to get back heavily into a band who should have been huge but were simply too good for the general population. My only recommendation would be for anyone reading this who’s into killer, hard-assed & intelligent music to check into CRACK THE SKY. Even some 32 years after their debut, it’s not too late…they’re still here!

Highly recommended:

“Crack The Sky”
“Animal Notes”
“Safety In Numbers”
“White Music”
“From The Greenhouse”
“The Sale”


Michael said...

This is exactly why I dig this blog: it turns me on to bands like CRACK THE SKY who I would never, ever bother with left to my own devices. And now, I'm botherin' - thanks mate.

raysrealm said...

Yeah, definitely check out the records I mentioned, particularily start with the first 3 if you can. Very little sounds like these, wonderfully original.