Melodic Rock Fest is a spectacular event that gathers artists that continue to carry the flame for classic hard rock. In case you’ve forgotten what “classic hard rock” is, it’s music that combines great melodies with great singers that sing in front of lots of groove and guitar. You know, “old school.” In a world of synth-pop, over-the-top metal, and classic rock radio that refuses to play anything made in the last 20 years, this festival is a revival for rockers trying to keep plain and simple rock and roll alive.
On a night that thrilled the crowd with the vocal prowess of Jeff Scott Soto and his band W.E.T., and legends of the genre like Jimi Jamison, it was a band named Heaven & Earth that really blew the roof off of this giant Chicagoland club.
Guitar guru Stuart Smith brought his band onto the stage, and they attacked it as if they had been caged for months. Working with a fill-in bass player and no sound check, the band simply plugged in and exploded. Standing near the foot of the stage, I heard gasps from those around me when drummer Richie Onori punched all of us in the chest with his bass drum. You could taste the exhilaration in the air, and this was before singer Joe Retta ever sang a note. Retta is a powerful vocalist with range and as much swagger as Jagger. When he delivers his first line, “It’s electric in the air” from “Victorious,” the first track from their critically acclaimed album Dig, I could’ve sworn a lightning bolt shot through that place. His power, combined with the Hammond organ sound of Arlen Schierbaum and the guitar mastery of Smith, made people at the back of the venue stand at attention and converge on the stage. With everyone’s full attention, the band launched into its first single from Dig, “No Money No Love.” With Schierbaum’s organ complimenting Smith’s trill-infected soloing perfectly, you knew this thing was getting to the point of musical climax. The first climax came during the third track of the set, with the riff heavy “House Of Blues.” I actually looked at my arm during this song. Could this be goosebumps I see? Yep. Stuart Smith’s guitar solo, followed by Arlen Schierbaum’s organ solo, made intensity and emotion ooze down the front of the stage. As the crowd was now swimming in the sea of musical ejaculation, Schierbaum got on top of his keyboard. Writhing in musical ecstasy, fans could only stare in disbelief. Every note he played was causing his body to jolt out of control, and you couldn’t help but feel what he was doing. It was simply electrifying.
After “House Of Blues” I had to wonder if the band could keep the pace. It had been full throttle for the first three songs, with a climactic occurrence. It turns out that the band is capable of multiple musical orgasms though, and the rest of the set never let up.
On the Dig CD, “Man & Machine” is a song that features Richie Sambora and his signature talkbox effect. Richie wasn’t at Melodic Rock Fest 3, and the talkbox effect was also absent, but the muscle and intensity of the song was definitely present. As the band started playing their second single from Dig, the passionate ballad “I Don’t Know What Love Is,” I just remembered that they had been playing with a substitute bass player. Tony Morabito was playing bass lines that veteran player Chuck Wright (Quiet Riot, House Of Lords) laid down for the album. Wright has some difficult and inventive passages to play, and Morabito did a fine job in bringing them to life.
As Retta introduced a song from the band’s past (“Heaven & Earth”), he made a point to say what an honor it was to sing a song that was originally done by the great Joe Lynn Turner. The class Retta showed as an admirer of Turner, was only foreshadowed by his classy performance of the song. As the band finished their set with the raucous party tune “Good Times” from Dig, and the ripping blues of “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” they left no doubt in anyone’s mind that they were major players on the music scene today.
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