The crowd in the Beacon Theater undulates to the booming earthquake of power chords and high-intensity scream vocals. Rock stars posture and gesticulate across the stage as they sing songs of cars, booze and women. Some of them are just as drunk as the audience.
Yes, ladies and gentleman, this is an American rock show if there ever were one.
The Beacon, with its neo-Grecian architecture and history in classic Vaudeville, seems like a strange place to house the air-guitar-shredding fans of both Black Stone Cherry and Chickenfoot. Nevertheless, on Monday, May 21st, the duo powers through their performances with the greatest of ease, as if the Beacon were built solely for their particular brand of visceral rock and roll that can be found in the jukebox of any local dive in North America. This is also possibly one of the only tours in which the phrase “hoochie coochie man” is sung in two different songs by two different bands.
It kicked off with an opening set from Black Stone Cherry, the world-renowned purveyors of Southern rock for the past decade. In fact, their rock is so down-home, mullet-swinging Southern, they practically wrench brown liquor onto the crowd straight from their Kentucky roots. Chris Robertson, lead singer/lead guitarist, explodes into bluesy solos over the crunching blast of Ben Wells rhythm guitar and backup vocals. Jon Lawhon, bassist, and drummer, John Fred Young, slap and bash out the steady rhythm.
They play a selection of songs from their first two albums, Black Stone Cherry and Folklore and Superstition, alongside a rock and roll rendition of Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man.” However, they focus more on their most recent album, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, with the radio-friendly hits “White Trash Millionaire” and “Blame it on the Boom Boom.” Finally, they bring it all home with the hard-hitting “Lonely Train” off of their self-titled album.
They’re great, no doubt about it, but in comparison to Chickenfoot, with regards to both experience and innate talent, is simply not a fair contest.
Chickenfoot bares the raw tendrils of rock & roll and tugs them until it screams. That scream is the harsh croon of on again/off again Van Halen vocalist Sammy Hagar over the piercing wail of guitar-guru Joe Satriani’s axe. The both of them, alongside Van Halen bassist, Michael Anthony, and Kenny Aronoff, sideman extraordinaire, on drums (sitting in for Chad Smith of Red Hot Chili Peppers), have rocked so hard in their past lineups, the band could be named “The Fluffernutter Quintet” and still pack out a stadium from reputation alone. Chickenfoot isn’t a band, it’s a force of nature best experienced from the driver’s seat of a ’69 El Camino.
The lights come on and up strikes Chickenfoot with “Lighten Up,” possibly one of the most galvanizing songs of the night. Satch’s guitar creeps through the Van Halen-esque intro and crashes the crescendo right into the gravelly howl of Hagar’s larynx. The song is off of their new album Chickenfoot III, cleverly named to avoid the dreaded “second album slump.”
They quickly follow up with “Alright Alright,” a catchy, but simple number that’s more than a bit reminiscent of old-school Van Halen flair. This is also taken from Chickenfoot III, as well as “Big Foot,” the next song up.
The rest of the set is a healthy mix of both Chickenfoot and Chickenfoot III, respectively, with hits like “Soap on a Rope,” “My Kinda Girl” and “Down the Drain.”
Satch swaps guitars like BFF teenage girls swap clothes and manages an unsurprisingly accurate emulation of Eddie Van Halen’s style of guitar mastery with his own personal flavor interspersed. In fact, Chickenfoot is practically Sammy Hagar’s personal faux Van Halen band, sans the Van Halen brothers. The lyrics, as aforementioned, reflect little else but cars, booze, women and rock and roll itself. Like many similar rock acts, simplistic (and sometimes downright dumb) lyrics seem to be merely a vehicle for the band’s outstanding musical talent.
Attempts at serious, non-boozing, non-speed racing, non-womanizing themes like, for instance, “Something Going Wrong,” a blues ballad about natural disasters and rough times, or “Future in the Past,” Hagar’s reminiscent pseudo-ballad, are very hard-hitting musically, but lack lyrical substance outside of simplistic allusions and overused 70s-80s rock tropes.
Yes, they’re c*ck-rock, but they know it. Their blatant embrace of the nature of their band makes them mighty. It allows them to focus on playing badass music to provide a soundtrack to life’s vices, which is what this show, and the band is all about.
Photos by Teddy Hernandez. Edited by Alan Hawkins