[ATTENDED: January 15, 2016] Vanilla Fudge
I had never seen Blue Öyster Cult even though I’ve been a pretty big fan since college. So when I saw they were playing at the Wellmont, I had to go see them. As it turns out Vanilla Fudge was going to be the opener.
I have known of Vanilla Fudge, but I realized that I had no idea what they sang. And when I looked them up, their biggest hits were all covers. It turns out, that’s what they are–the world’s most successful and unusual cover band (Led Zeppelin opened for them in 1969, and Deep Purple got their organ sound from Vanilla Fudge).
Although they do covers, their sound is very much their own. They don’t so much cover songs as transform them into their own style. And that style is psychedelic and very heavy.
The band released five albums from 1967-1969 and then broke up. They reunited and recorded an album in 1984. Then split up. And reunited in 2002 (with a different singer) and released an album of rerecorded old Vanilla Fudge as well as a cover of a Backstreet Boys and an N’Sync song (!).
Then the original lineup reunited in 2007 for an album of all Led Zeppelin covers called Out Through the In Door. And then last year they released a new album called Spirit of ’67 (a collection of songs from 1967). This featured all of the original members except the bassist who has retired.
So, here it is almost 50 years later and the original lineup (sans bassist) is still touring. And they sounded amazing.
Pete Bremy is the youngster in the band (only 63) and he played some great bass and awesome harmony vocals. It must be hard to step into the shoes of the guy who has left the band, but he was great.
And then there was Carmine Appice. I have known of Appice for decades. He has played with everyone from Vanilla Fudge to Rod Stewart (he co-wrote “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”) and a half dozen metal bands. And, man, he was a beast up there. He was loud and fast with double bass and tons of smashing. It was really inspirational to see him up there at 69 playing so amazingly well.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from them, and I was really delighted with the set. First off, they were really loud! Louder than Blue Öyster Cult. And Carmine’s drums in particular were really impressively loud.
They opener with the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer,” which they play so differently that when I played the snippet for Sarah she did not recognize it. Even though I love the original, I really like the way Vanilla Fudge has turned it into something else entirely. They followed that up with the Doors’ “Break on Through.” I liked this one less, I think because I really like the original, so this modification is unsettling.
One of the fascinating things about seeing a band who has been around for this long, is that when they played “People Get Ready,” (from their debut in 1967), Mark Stein talked about playing it right after Martin Luther King had been shot, as a kind of rallying cry. WOAH! (And this concert was MLK weekend). I admit I didn’t love this song as it was really slow. But Carmine sang it and he sounded great too–hitting some really great notes.
It was during “Gimme Some Lovin'” that I felt a little bad for the band. The theater was about 3/4 full (clearly a BÖC crowd). So when Carmine asked everyone to sing along to Gimme Some Lovin’ he was met with a resounding silence. In fairness, their version is not exactly like the original, so it was a little hard to sing along to. By the end with them saying “I can’t hear you.” people did sing along.
Then during ‘Season of the Witch” that I also felt bad but decided that the band was too good to care about the empty seats. This is a song I know sorta, but their version is outstanding–heavy and psychedelic with some great drums and that awesome Hammond sound. But most impressive was Vince Martell’s guitar solo. It must have lasted 6 minutes. He walked into the audience (thank you wireless technology). He walked to some empty seats on the right side (quite a few actually) and stood on the chairs and just wailed. Then he climbed down and walked to the front row where there were four empty seats and he stood on those and continued his solo. The only bad thing about this is that the spotlight either wouldn’t or couldn’t follow him, so he was in the dark the whole time. There was no way I could get a good picture. But this song was at least ten minutes and it was great.
They had a brief bit of confusion as Carmine started to introduce the next song but then Mark interrupted to say they were going to play “Let’s Pray for Peace,” a new song from Spirit of ’67. It’s a good sentiment, but a merely okay song and it was also pretty long. It kind of took some momentum away especially since when it was over Carmine asked if we were ready to rock.
He then said that “we played this song on the Ed Sullivan Show,” which also blew my mind. They played “Shotgun,” a song I didn’t know, but which was really good.
This led into Carmine’s drum solo. Yes. 69 year old Carmine played an ass-kicking drum solo (if you like that sort of thing). I can’t embed my video but you can see 15 seconds of it at instagram. His drum set isn’t very big but he has dopuble bass (with his name on the heads, of course) and he played fast and loud for a good five minutes. It was really impressive. He even had a fun moment where we were supposed to shout Hey after he did–call and response and all that. And by the end, his “Hey” turned more into “ay!” coz he’s from Brooklyn. Carmine was definitely the joker of the band, and his humor was silly but appreciated.
They ended with a fantastic version of “You Keep Me Hanging On.” It was a perfect ending to their show. And I realized that this is what I loved best about Vanilla Fudge. I love when they take a song that I like but which isn’t one that I love and they turn it in to their own. This was slow and psychedelic and heavy ans anything. And for this song the crowd was really into it and we all sang along. And it was great.
The band hung out for autographs after their set and I got all four of them, which was cool. I even got to shake Carmine’s hand. He wasn’t especially nice (actually none of them were, but whatever), which was only disappointing since he was very chatty with the (much older) guy in front of me. But I still wish I had his mustache. (And his energy).
Still, a great set and an amazing show.
|I’m a Believer|
|Break on Through
|People Get Ready
|Take Me for a Little While
|Gimme Some Lovin’
|Season of the Witch|
|Let’s Pray for Peace
|You Keep Me Hangin’ On|