By Ray Shasho
Thursday night’s Montrose concert was superlative. The Largo Cultural Center arranged the seating cabaret style and once inside the venue allowed to sit anywhere you pleased. The ambience was intimate without a substandard seat in the house. A bar was conveniently placed at the back of the hall and you could meander up at any time during the show. The Largo Cultural Center staff was benevolent. Snapping photos during the show was never an issue.
When Ronnie transposed into his first guitar solo an exhilarated audience scrambled their chairs up against the stage to catch an impassioned glimpse of the legendary guitar virtuoso. Montrose genuinely had fun with the audience while playing their setlist to its perfection.
The show began at 7:30 with the amazing Michael Lee Firkins. The Nebraskan guitar slinger animated the audience by using his impressive hybrid picking techniques. Firkins also plays slide while using his whammy bar. His slide rendition of Black Sabbath’s classic “War Pigs” frenzied the Cultural Center gathering. The guitar wizardry of Michael Lee Firkins was a momentous start to a perfect evening.
At 8:30 right before Showtime I greeted Ronnie and Leighsa Montrose backstage. Leighsa is an incredible lady. She handles the day to day management duties for the band and also owns a floral and event design business in San Francisco.
There were still remnants of Michael Lee Firkins fog machine drifting through the air and Montrose lead singer Keith St John became a bit concerned that it would affect his singing voice. Amazingly moments later it all vanished. Backstage technician’s tweaked last minute preparations while shouts of “Ronnie! Ronnie!” echoed throughout the packed hall.
Then a pumped and elated Ronnie Montrose nonchalantly struts on stage to cheers of accolade and emotion from the Montrose faithful. It was like watching a boxer entering the ring for a championship bout. And witnessing the anticipation from behind the scenes was an incredible milestone.
Once onstage and in full crowd view it was time to “Tear it up!” Montrose immediately erupted into “Rock the Nation” the first track from his self titled debut album of 1973.
The evening symbolized back to hard core rock and roll basics and the audience ate it up.
Ronnie showcased his elaborate guitar wizardry next on the tune “I Got the Fire” from his second album Paper Money. At one point during the show someone yelled out “You look good Ronnie!” perhaps referring to his absence from the music scene for several years due to a bout with Cancer. Ronnie immediately replied “I feel even better!” The Largo audience responded with cheers.
The hard-driven pace slowed a bit with “Make it Last” another tune from the Montrose debut album of 1973. A period which witnessed Ronnie Montrose exit a commercially successful Edgar Winter Group with huge hits like “Frankenstein” and “Free Ride” still looming on the airwaves.
“Twenty Flight Rock” originally performed by 50’s rock and roll pioneer Eddie Cochran was next on the playlist followed by “Space Age Sacrifice” and it was apparent that Keith St John's voice was not disturbed by remnants of Michael Lee Firkins drifting fog. Keith St John is an impeccable rock and roll singer. His range and energy are incredible. St John constantly prances around the stage and incites his audience. And let’s face it, if you’re carrying on a tradition that began with legendary voice Sammy Hagar than you’d better be a great singer. And Keith St John is an exceptional vocalist.
The entire band was tight and flawless. Dan McNay’s awesome reverberation on bass and Steve Brown’s rigor thunder on drums rounded out a mind-blowing rock and roll machine.
In 1978 Ronnie Montrose formed the band Gamma with Davey Pattison (current lead singer with Robin Trower) at the helm. Ronnie featured his electrified mastery on the Gamma classic “Voyager.” A surreal tune with incredible guitar licks that borders on fusion and progressive rock. There were earlier cries of “Gamma!” from the audience so after the tune was played to its perfection everyone arose to their feet.
The following four tunes played were all from the illustrious Montrose debut album. So it was back to the hard rockin’ basics with “I Don’t Want It” followed by the biggest crowd pleaser of the evening, the hard, sweet and sticky signature composition “Rock Candy” bringing the crowd to its feet once again.
The evening concluded with St John's proficient wailing and Ronnie’s electrified brilliance on Space Station #5 and Sammy Hagar penned Montrose classic “Bad Motor Scooter.” Michael Lee Firkins joined Ronnie on stage for the explosive conclusion to a flawless event.
The band took its final bow and then off to a meet and greet with their fans in the lobby.
Photographer Mark Weaver has collaborated with me on numerous gigs. Mark arrived earlier on Thursday for the bands Soundcheck. When he climbed out of his car at the Largo Cultural Center parking lot he ran into an old friend Raven Mitchell who is a technician and just so happened to be working the Montrose show. Once inside Weaver introduced himself to Ronnie and Leighsa Montrose and then observed Mitchell changing the strings on Ronnie’s guitar. Ronnie Montrose had forgotten to bring his slide from the hotel room. He asked to try several of Michael Lee Firkins slides but none had the right feel.
Weaver who is also a guitarist told Ronnie that he had several brass slides at home and offered to bring them to the Soundcheck. When he returned back to the venue Ronnie Montrose decided to use one of Mark’s slides because it was polished and created for a better tone. Long story short, Mark Weaver’s slide was featured on the Montrose classic “Bad Motor Scooter” on Thursday night. Pretty cool stuff!
MONTROSE is a great band that provided plenty of sheer rock energy on stage in Largo on Thursday night. Welcome back Ronnie we missed you!
Ronnie Montrose Official Website http://www.ronniemontrose.com/
Largo Cultural Center Official Website http://www.largo.com/department/?fDD=15-0
Leighsa Montrose Official Website http://www.branchoutflowers.com/
Michael Lee Firkins Official Website http://www.michaelleefirkins.com/
Special thanks to Ronnie and Leighsa Montrose
Rob Mondora and the entire staff of the Largo Cultural Center
Don’t miss The Pat Travers Band on New Years Eve at the Largo Cultural Center.
And don’t forget to order author and columnist Ray Shasho’s great new book Check the Gs –The True Story of an Eclectic American Family and Their Wacky Family Business. If you love rock and roll you’ll love the story. Order today at amazon.com, iuniverse.com, barnesandnoble.com or borders.com.
“Ray Shasho has quite a memory, especially when it comes to what songs played on the radio during important times throughout his youth. Combining his nostalgic recant of Billboard’s Top 100, like some infomercial for a Time-Life Oldies CD collector’s set, along with his detailed whimsical recollections while growing up, and you have the “soundtrack” for a truly enjoyable story called “Check the Gs”~~Pacific Book Review
Contact Ray Shasho at firstname.lastname@example.org