Monday, April 04, 2016

UIC reunion and more as part of Mike Star tribute


Before Saturday night, the only other time I'd gone to Oshawa, Ont. to hear music was for a Bob Dylan show at the General Motors Centre in 2008. While no one who took part in a fundraising tribute concert to the late Mike Star will ever reach his iconic status, I can say without hesitation that their performances were more inspiring and less bewildering than that of Robert Zimmerman.

I never met Star (whose real last name was Shulga), never shopped in his Oshawa record store and never attended any of the concerts he promoted. I was a fan of many of the punk and garage rock bands he supported, however, and bought some of the albums he released on his Star Records label. But that's as close as a connection as I had to the man who passed away last September at age 64.

Most of the more than 200 people who came out for the April 2 concert at the Royal Canadian Legion in Star's honour had deeper bonds than that, and it was evident in the organization of the event, the live and video tributes offered at it, and in the sets played by the acts who took the stage.

What follows is a brief synopsis and photos from the tribute.

Bradley Boy MacArthur was the only artist on the  bill who I wasn't familiar with, but his solid one-man-band blues-rock performance got the audience warmed up as it grew in size early in the evening.

Bradley Boy MacArthur
"O Canada" is normally played at the outset of events, but Paul Irvine inexplicably performed it after MacArthur. It seemed a bit out of place, but his solo saxophone version was impressive.

I've been a fan of The Royal Crowns since the rockabilly group's inception. I've written glowing reviews of their albums (which are something we could use more of, by the way), seen a couple dozen of their performances, had the privilege of singing with them a few times, and was honoured to be asked to don my inherited Elvis jumpsuit and pay tribute to drummer/singer Teddy Fury for his 60th birthday celebration at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern last August.

I've never been disappointed by The Royal Crowns, whether it's Fury or guitarist Danny Bartley handling lead vocals or whether the trio is performing an original song or a golden nugget from the '50s. Saturday was no exception. The group was tight, the sound and vibe were perfectly vintage, and Fury's one-liners kept people chuckling between songs. I don't think I'll ever grow tired of The Royal Crowns.

The Royal Crowns
Teddy Fury

A video tribute followed and included lots of great 1980s footage from bands that played The Star Club, and Fleshtones lead singer Peter Zaremba showed impeccable timing by entering the hall just when an interview with him was being shown on the screen.

During a break in the action to set up for the next band, I found out that the legion had another large room where two guys were playing classic country songs for a couple of dozen senior citizens. Their countrified take on The Melodians' reggae classic "Rivers of Babylon" was particularly impressive, but that's not what kept me returning to that room. It was the $4.50 cans of Guinness.

I was a casual follower of Chalk Circle in the '80s, never buying any of the intelligent pop-rock band's albums, but appreciating several of their songs. It was good to see former Sam the Record man executive Jason Sniderman behind the keyboards, singer/guitarist Chris Tait was in good voice and songs like "Me, Myself and I" and "The Moralist" still sound fresh. The group ended with a faithfully rousing rendition of T-Rex's "20th Century Boy" that lacked The Waco Brothers' chaotically joyful interpretation, but was nevertheless entertaining.

Chalk Circle's Chris Tait

Singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer Bob Bryden was next up along with a female singer and dancer, and the able backing of Crummy Stuff for an illuminating long-form musical monologue titled "The Ballad of Mike Star."

Bob Bryden

Crummy Stuff, led by former Durango 95 and Purple Toads member Rob Sweeney on guitar and vocals, kept on playing their own songs after Bryden's departure. Lou Molinaro, a longtime friend of Star's who emceed the evening, joined the band for a song.

Crummy Stuff
Lou Molinaro with Crummy Stuff

Soon after, Zaremba and fellow Fleshtone Keith Streng joined the fray and … voila … Crummy Stuff became Peter Zaremba's Rock Delegation featuring Keith Streng. The black-clad Zaremba looked vampirish as he emerged wearing an identically coloured cape, which was eventually removed by two modishly attired young women.

Zaremba and the guitar-slinging Streng remain supreme showmen and party-starters and you'd be hard-pressed to ever see a more entertaining band than The Fleshtones. The group tore things up -- with the two men often jumping off the stage and into the crowd, and Sweeney laying down while still playing -- in a set that included "House of Rock," "Remember The Ramones" and a ripping cover of what Zaremba called his favourite song ever, Tommy Roe's "Sheila."

The Rock Delegation
Peter Zaremba
Keith Streng
Rob Sweeney lies down on the job.

Finally, it was time for the biggest reason that I attended the tribute (though I was also pleased that the money raised at the show went to the Mike Star Scholarship fund for Durham College's music business management program, for which I did a few guest lectures a number of years ago): a reunited UIC.

I was at what we thought was the Exeter, Ont.-formed rock band's final concert at Toronto's Lee's Palace on Jan. 14, 1995 (and have a VHS tape recording of it that hopefully will soon be converted to a digital format), and I've been friends with the guys in the band going back further than that, so this was a treat that I'd been looking forward to since I was first told about it in January.

Dave Robinson remains one of the most energetic and entertaining (and definitely the most missed) frontmen in rock and roll, and he was in as fine a form as when I last saw him strutting around on stage with his post-UIC band The Chickens a decade or so ago.

The rest of the band showed that their recent rehearsals paid off, and they delivered the expected thrills. Guitarist Fred Robinson, bassist Dan Preszcator, drummer Murray Heywood and new addition Dave Dysart on guitar celebrated the 30th anniversary of UIC's Our Garage debut album by playing songs off it and blissfully ignoring my joking calls to "play more new stuff."

It wasn't known if original guitarist Ted Triebner, who now lives in Saskatchewan, would make an appearance. But the band found out a couple of days before the concert that he would, and he strapped on the axe for a few songs as well.

Things were running later than they're supposed to at the legion, but that didn't stop the crowd from demanding an encore. It started with a cover of Tommy James' "I'm Alive," which was featured on both Our Garage and UIC's final album, 1993's Witches In Credible. Next up was The Stooges' "No Fun," which closed off that previous final show 21 years ago -- though this time I didn't jump on stage and join in like I did back then. Things came to a righteously rocking conclusion with a cover of The Ramones' "Rockaway Beach."

Dave Robinson
Fred Robinson
Murray Heywood
Dan Preszcator and Dave Dysart

And that was it. A night of great music and memories, rekindled friendships, and a giving spirit that was apparently ever-present in the man everyone had come out to posthumously honour.