It’s almost 48 hours later, and I’m still dumbfounded by the show that I saw Tuesday night. Chickenfoot showed up fully prepared to defend the label of “supergroup.” Not that any of these guys really need to…they’ve all had superstar careers, and don’t require anyone else’s approval. Nonetheless, they appeared hungry, invested, and as energetic as any band 20-30 years their junior.
Everyone was completely “on” for the entirety of the show. Both Sammy and Michael’s voices were at 100% of capacity; there were no notes dropped and their famous two-part harmonies were laser-perfect throughout the night. It’s amazing how great Sam’s voice sounds, especially given that he’s what – sixty-four? Satriani was en fuego with his fretwork, and Kenny Aronoff (who is the touring drummer while Chad Smith fulfills his Chili Peppers responsibilities) destroyed everything in his path (it should be noted that Kenny has been hitting the gym…his arms look like tree trunks).
I have to admit that while I’ve enjoyed both Chickenfoot albums, neither one fully convinced me that they marked the beginning of a new band that would be a must-see show. In other words, I questioned how well the material would translate to a live show. Well, the boys in Chickenfoot made me eat that concern. With hot sauce. In fact, I will go so far as to say that the songs actually work much better live than in the studio…I found myself appreciating a lot of dynamic subtleties during the show that I missed on the albums.
Song-wise, I think that there is something interesting at work here. At the end of the day, Chickenfoot’s songs sound like really good Sammy Hagar solo material when he was at his peak (say, from the late 70s through the late 80s). That is, they’re full of fire and emphatic statements, and relatively simple in structure. What this does is give guys like Michael Anthony and Joe Satriani something they’ve never really had before in a live setting: an open canvas, so to speak. The solid-but-straightforward structural influence of Hagar allows these guys to take the songs wherever they need to go live, to play off of one another, and also back off to let someone else shine. It turns the show into a constant team effort.
And that’s something else that was apparent throughout the show: these guys are a team. They love playing together. It’s simply obvious when you see them on stage. And this love for the music and playing it together bleeds directly into the audience…they spent a lot of time interacting with the crowd, coming right to the edge of the stage, singing directly to people, shaking hands, signing souvenirs, and generally feeding off of the crowd’s energy.
It’s also the first time that I ever saw the great Satch make a mistake in a live show. At one point, he played completely the wrong chord, and several of us down front noticed…he just laughed, fixed it in half a second, then shrugged and laughed again. And honestly, when you think about it, it makes sense: he’s winging a lot of stuff here. This is very different from his solo material where every note has to be exactly in place because of the extreme sort of writing he does. But in Chickenfoot, he has a general song structure and lots of open space in which to play, meaning that sometimes he plays what’s on the record and sometimes he just goes to town off of the top of his head and nods at the guys when he’s wrapping it up. So, he spaced out and flubbed a chord. It was great to see that he’s human after all, and not some kind of nuclear-powered guitar android. He really has proven that he knows how to shred but then just step back and play some crunchy chords when called for – he’s playing to the betterment of the song and not just constantly showing off (which is a big deal – I could probably name 8-10 highly-regarded guitarists that have a hard time doing this).
A good balance of material from both albums was covered. They basically did everything that I expected to hear with the exception of Avenida Revolucion (which I kind of missed, as I think that’s a pretty badass song). Sammy also took the time to give nods to some of the rockers that we’ve lost this year (Levon Helm, Donald “Duck” Dunn, etc.) with, of course, a special mention of the guy who helped him launch his career, Ronnie Montrose. The band did a killer rendition of “Rock Candy” as a fitting tribute to Ronnie. Satriani kept very true to Montrose’s parts, showing a lot of respect for both the song and Ronnie. Sammy even came out and played some guitar toward the end of the show, trading licks with Joe…and he sounded great.
This was an arena-quality show on a medium-sized stage. Those of us who are concert veterans know that this is one of the best scenarios you can possibly have when you go to see a show (especially if you get there early and spend the entire evening 20-25 feet away from the band, as I did). At this point, I’m not sure why I had any concerns in the first place, as I’ve seen all of these guys multiple times with their other respective acts, and they’ve always been great. Regardless, any questions I may have had about this band have been erased – permanently. It’s official: Chickenfoot rocks.
Final word: this was one of the best shows I’ve seen in the past couple of years. If you have the opportunity to catch Sam and the boys on the road, do not miss it. If you don’t have a good time, I will personally question whether you have any rock and roll in your soul.
Show rating: A-freaking-plus