WHITFORD ST. HOLMES - Deja Vu All Over Again
November 26, 2015, 2 years ago
September 1981. Senior year of high school had just began and was thrilled my favorite band, Blue Öyster Cult would be stopping by the smoke strata and Frisbee dodging Spectrum, along with Foghat and a heretofore unknown opening band, Whitford St. Holmes. Nobody explained WHO these guys were: (at that time) ex-Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford and former Ted Nugent singer Derek St. Holmes. Aerosmith had all but broken up, in a haze of drug addiction, accidents and no longer being relevant, while the vocalist had run afoul of "The Nuge," who was also struggling in the New Wave era. The original project was short lived, releasing one album, prior to the current nine song Reunion. Wasn't till later, I found out precisely who they were, a little milestone in what's become an extensive career of attending live shows, seeing thousands of bands.
Fast forward 34 years, shoehorned into one corner of Havana, a Cuban themed table and chairs supper club in New Hope (a sleepy artist commune about an hour's drive north of Philadelphia) plays host to the last of the duo's exclusive 12 date tour. Takes a big pair to pull off playing nine new/unheard songs (the album, while on sale at the venue, won't be available elsewhere until early 2016), making the crowd practically beg for the four cuts off the debut, before ending with two each from their better known employers. Looking like Tom Petty's older brother, the bespectacled Whitford, in pork pie hat, wore a denim vest atop black jacket and leather pants. Whether last night of the tour dress down, or the sudden arrival of cooler fall temps, Derek kept his denim jacket on throughout, a scarf and multiple crucifixes dangling from his neck, topped with a black dress hat (later removed, revealing his completely bald head).
Their kindred spirit goes beyond the matching gray mustache/goatee, these two, birthdays a day apart, are like-minded thinkers (both having ended up in Nashville), happy to be out of the shadows, freed of a creative yoke imposed by established artists: Tyler/Perry are recognized as the songwriting team for Aerosmith and no one tells the Motor City Madman what to do. Judging from earlier Facebook and YouTube clips, tonight was the smallest venue/stage played, the band just a foot above the crowd, who stood stageside. Whitford, who didn't move much. Was nearly obscured by one of the tripod mounted speakers, while St. Holmes did his best, in tight constraints, to be the frontman, occasionally wandering beyond the monitors, especially tough with a guitar slung over his shoulder. For the opening “Shake It”, St. Holmes was predominately just a singer.
The Rolling Stones inspired “Rock All Day” saw the keyboards (courtesy of Aerosmith's Buck Johnson) tuned to an electric piano for the honky tonk number that also featured harmonica. Derek claimed “Hot For You” was "For the ladies," the first of many such dedications. There were a few women in the middle aged crowd, most with their husbands/boyfriends. If anyone under 30 walked in (seriously doubt there was any "youngsters", apart from the workers: wait staff and bartenders), they'd have seen "two old guys playing guitar," but most here were transported back to their youth, heads nodding in time to the music, a few fans dancing in place. “Catch My Fall”, with its repetitive titular chorus, soon had a large portion of the audience chiming in, even though it was the first time they'd heard the tune, Whitford handling backing vocals.
Despite the hard rock pedigree, this wasn't a night of screaming guitars, rather grooving, mid-tempo, blues based rockers. Case in point, “Gotta Keep Movin”, with St. Holmes pointing into the crowd. Name checking what cities were represented in the house, St. Holmes launched the rollicking “Hells On Fire”, a shit kicking old school rock ‘n’ roller, the singer standing center stage, like an evangelist with a guitar. It ends with ever fading sustain. Having completed the new material, they opt for a quartet off the original LP, beginning with an almost poppy “Shy Away” and then “Every Morning”. “Whiskey Women” has a classic ‘70s sound, complete with "whoa" backing from Brad. I might just be old, but certainly can tell which ones are new, just by the tone. Derek leads an overhead clap-along, as Brad takes a guitar break. Oddly, afterwards, Whitford switched from his red Strat, for just one song. The drum introduced (by Tesla's Troy Lucketta) “Sharpshooter” was the first real guitar jam of the night, Brad getting a chance to showcase, as Derek moves closer to the audience for a brief lead, before it switches back to his guitar partner.
St. Holmes makes sure everyone has a drink, as they toast "This hot band." In the key of C (or so he claimed), it was dual guitar blues, a rendition of Hendrix's “Red House” (not mentioned on the setlist), an F-bomb in the lyrics, for good measure. Bunch of drunk white guys & gals yelling for the blues! Once the solo subsides, Derek on slide, the reprise switches lead back to Whitford. Back near the bar, diners on the enclosed patio are nearly as loud as the band. Kids have no respect these days! It's time for the portion of the show many have come to see/hear, a medley of their past lives (albeit lesser known gems, apart from the finale). Rather than the full song, each snippet lasts just a couple of minutes. St. Holmes has the lyrics to the Aerosmith tracks taped to the floor, more as a guide (just in case) than a written teleprompter. “Hey Baby” segues into “Last Child”, Johnson leaving the keys to sing that one, along with Whitford's backing. “Train Kept A Rollin’”, the oft covered ‘50s tune, popularized by The Yardbirds and later part of the Bostonians early days, commences with a squeal of guitar. Whitford takes the leads, as the abbreviated version (basically one verse) sees Derek serenaded by crowd, especially on the chorus, adding their voices to the "All night long" refrain. For “Stranglehold”, the lone time the two six-stringers could actually be side-by-side tonight, Derek played the opening riff, then lets Brad take over. Oh that sustain!
This tour was about testing the waters and trying out the new material live. Given the rousing success, on both fronts, a more extensive series of follow-up dates are already being solicited, after a period of time when Reunion has been widely available. Watch for Whitford-St. Holmes in your area in 2016.