It was a hot Thursday night in July, and the Chicago humidity had been relishing the agony it was causing to the entire city. A Chicago heat wave in July is a real bitch. So, when my wife walked through the door at 6:30, I was more than ready to just sink into the cushions of the couch for the rest of the night. But, there were rock legends calling my name. Ron Keel&..Keel&..the hard rocking hair metallers from the late 80's. Singer Ron Keel had left the metal world for greener pastures (pastures littered with cattle and fertilizer) in the 90's, and made his way into the world of Country music. I was extremely curious to see what Ron was going to deliver to a rabid rock 'n' roll crowd that was awaiting Y&T. Ahh yes, Y&T &Yesterday & Today&&wow&.they're one of those I remember from my childhood. The debut record from 1976 is one that has been etched upon my memory for decades. This is a band that followed me through my high school years as well, with their 1985 hit "Summertime Girls" supplying me with more than just one or two memories. After some thought, I figured that I owed the band some support. So, I got motivated to hop in the car and pay the boys a visit.
On the way to the show, I was cranking out The Best Of Y&T at dangerous volumes, and I still think "Open Fire" is the greatest song ever to open a show. When I heard the tune I drove a little faster, envisioning myself pressed against the stage with my fist in the air as the band exploded onto the stage with this song. I was pumped up and ready to go. When I arrived at the club in time to suffer through the local act, the place was already filling up quite nicely, so I assumed my position in front of the stage. When Ron Keel made his way out onto the stage with the Garth Brooks-like headset mic and an acoustic guitar, I was a bit frightened. I wasn't frightened for me or my ears, but afraid for Keel's well-being if he chose to play a set of twangy cowboy songs. It turns out that Keel came out and thrilled the crowd with sharp and powerful vocal abilities and a range of songs that spanned his entire career everything from the legendary Steeler material to his latest solo release "Alone At Last." Mind you, this is a guy that had Yngwie Malmsteen as his first guitar player (Steeler), had Gene Simmons (Kiss) produce his band Keel, and he even did a three day stint as a member of Black Sabbath! During his set, he would do acoustic versions of Patti Smith's "Because The Night," Bad Company's "Shooting Star," and Black Sabbath's "Heaven & Hell." He would also do songs from each of the projects that he has been involved with over the years, including songs like "Tears Of Fire" and "The Right To Rock." All of these songs were presented with great storytelling technique that made Ron Keel a real pleasure to listen to.
With the stage blackened and all of the gear simplistically placed on the stage, the time had come to see the band that I had come to know so well throughout my life. And as I mentally prepared for Y&T to mow me down with their red hot concert opening song "Open Fire," I started to ask myself what I should expect from this show. Should I expect a career spanning set that dates back to the debut record? Should I expect a short or long set of music? Well, of course, I was hoping to hear a two-hour set packed with songs from just about every record, but I had to be realistic. This is a band that has been together for over 30 years, and they are playing a sports bar in the suburbs of Chicago. I was thinking I'd be lucky to get the 80's "heyday" stuff for little more than an hour. Well, I should've thought twice. From the opening cries of the instrumental "From The Moon," and the surprising placement of "Hang 'Em High" instead of "Open Fire" that followed it, I got a set so hot it made the weather outside seem frigid. I admit I was slightly disappointed when I didn't immediately hear "Open Fire" kick in, but the band tore through "Hang 'Em High" with an intensity that challenged me to pump my fist fast enough to keep up. This was a band that came ready to go. With drummer Mike Vanderhule appearing to be the second coming of Carmine Appice in both look and style, and talented rhythm guitarist John Nymann sporting better hair than Pamela Anderson, guitarist/vocalist Dave Meniketti and bassist Phil Kennemore have put together a well oiled machine.
One thing I started to realize as I watched this amazing two-hour set unfold, was just how underrated Dave Meniketti is as a guitar player. This was one of the most impressive performances that I'd ever seen. Meniketti took every opportunity he had to strangle, bludgeon, caress and bond with his instrument. His powerful technique and soloing savvy reminded me of a guitar animal named Frank Marino. He is a take-no-prisoners kind of player that plays every note with sweat and soul. He also showed his years of experience and professionalism when he had a cord disconnect from one of his pedals during a song early in the set. He motioned discreetly for his roadie to get him going again, and never flinched while continuing to sing. The guy was electrifying to watch.
A tight band is always the key element of a successful concert a must have. Y&T was tighter than tight on this night. Another key element is the set itself complete and lengthy is always good. Y&T's offering, for the most part, was more than sufficient on this night. And lastly, I think the level of enjoyment being had by the band is a major contributor to the enjoyment of its audience. Y&T never stopped smiling on this night. Between bassist Phil Kennemore practically laying on a female fan during one song and poking his bass through the revolving ceiling fan blades that hung over his head on another, to Meniketti adding fan requests to the set list and inviting Ron Keel up to sing backup vocals on "Summertime Girls," I don't think I've ever seen a band enjoy their set as much as this one did. Their roadie even joined in on the fun by donning a Japanese headband for the song "Midnight In Tokyo." I don't think it would be possible for anyone to come away from this one without a smile on their face.
It wasn't until the encores that the band treated me to "Open Fire," and it was energetic and exhausting. The energy level never dropped the smallest iota, from the beginning of the set right until the very end. I'm still in awe of these guys for the effort they put forth for this show. Now, don't get me wrong, there were a couple of things that were a bit disappointing to me. I do wish that "Go For The Throat" and some of the classic Yesterday & Today material, such as "25 Hours A Day," would've been included in the set but that's kind of like asking for a Ferrari when someone gives you a Cadillac. Let me just say that I feel very fortunate that I got the Cadillac, and I hope to take it for a spin again real soon.
From The Moon
Hang 'Em High
Don't Stop Running
Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark
Lonely Side Of Town
Barroom Boogie* (most of the song)
Winds Of Change
Contagious* (played half of the song by fan request)
Eyes Of A Stranger
Midnight In Tokyo
I'll Cry For You
Summertime Girls (w/Ron Keel)
I Believe In You
Sail On By
* indicates songs that were added to the set during the show.
Photos by Scott Itter
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