Posted by Stephen Smith on 01/26 at 03:18 PM
Last Saturday night, the concert hall of Café 210 West was packed with people to see Dave Joyce and the Slow Pitch Band perform. The audience seemed receptive to the performance for the most part. But overall, as with most late-night weekend bar shows, it functioned only as a soundtrack to a night of good times in downtown State College.
I arrived about 30 minutes before the start of the show as the band was beginning to set up. Their mood was relaxed and professional, but the usual hum of pre-show excitement was dulled to a tinge. After the band had finished setting up, frontman Dave Joyce took the stage to try to rile up the crowd. Only the people closest to the stage turned to face him with excitement. The mass of detached people in the middle waited patiently for the music to start.
Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” was the first of many classic rock songs to be played that night. A strong rhythm section gave the crowd the instinctive beat they were looking for. The more attentive listeners could hear the nearly perfect vocal harmonies that are the mark of a band focused on craftsmanship. The array of pink, white, yellow, and purple lights behind the set added to the show’s visual appeal. But due to the size of the band (seven members) and the small stage, the performance lacked movement, which hurt their stage presence.
Their second song—“Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand—was one of the few modern pop rock songs on their setlist. Again, the rhythm section was strong with solid bass work by Jeff Downing and concrete drumming from Shawn Riley. They also performed The Killers’ “Somebody Told Me” and Gavin Degraw’s “I Don’t Want To Be,” also from the modern pop rock archive. The latter song was the worst one performed on an otherwise solid-sounding evening.
Pop-rock aside, the setlist was dominated by late 60s and 70s rock songs such as The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly,” The Knack’s “My Sharona,” and Cream’s “Crossroads.” Their rendition of “The Wall” by Pink Floyd displayed their command of special effects and brought the mood of the act to another level. It was one of the few times I was able to see some original personality come through the curtain of covers.
The Heavy’s “How You Like Me Now” was by far their best performed song. The horns section, comprised of Joe Tombasco, Nick Rudenko, and Chris Garguilo, gave this cover a much needed brass umph. Dave’s voice matched Kelvin Swaby’s perfectly and I noticed energy level rise throughout the hall.
At the beginning of the set, I spoke to a friend of lead guitarist Tim Vitullo who stressed not only Tim’s musical prowess, but his ability to express soul through his solos. Although all of Tim’s solos were very technically proficient, it was only when he did his best Hendrix imitation during “All Along the Watchtower” that I could see what his friend meant. This highlight solo added another dash of personality that could only help the band if featured more.
Unfortunately, most of the covers were note for note. There was little in the way of improvisation, interpretation, or reinvention on the part of the band. Dave’s vocals, though strong throughout the night, did not add anything to the covers and actually conflicted with the tone of some songs. For instance, after the intermission, Dave came onstage to perform a solo version of the Foo Fighters’ “Everlong.” His voice lacked the grittiness necessary to siphon emotion out of Everlong’s lyrics. Likewise, in their version of “Tainted Love,” the absence of Marc Almond’s British flair severely flattened what should have been a fun song to perform.
What bothered me most was that their song choices showed a catering to commercial demands, rather than trying to establish and differentiate themselves. Granted, they knew their audience and played what the audience wanted to hear. But even if the audience demands covers, they could still use tactful alterations, creative instrumentation, or even changed-up beats at unexpected times. These would add variety and personality to a music scene already flooded by cover bands.
Overall, Dave Joyce and the Slow Pitch Band was technically proficient and had a solid, professional sound. However, it was deprived of uniqueness or genuine excitement. The band played to be heard, rather than demanded to be listened. Whether this is the fault of the band’s or the audience’s expectations is up for debate. As for this show, all that can be said is that they played to the venue.
Author: Stephen Smith
Bio: Stephen Smith is currently a senior English major at Penn State. In his free time, he enjoys playing Xbox, drumming, playing his guitar, and writing fiction. His favorite genres include alternative rock, emo, indie, metal, and most anything played acoustically. His favorite bands include Say Anything, Counting Crows, City and Colour, and Daphne Loves Derby.
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