BRAIN: The Bug Jar, 7/10/04

blackblade at BHALLIGAN.COM blackblade at BHALLIGAN.COM
Sun Jul 11 16:44:03 EDT 2004

As a non-professional reviewer, I reserve the right to post my "interpretation" of the setlist. I'm just not that detail-oriented, okay? Sue me.

The full setlist looked something like this:
Rock 'N' Roll is Dead
Tattoo Vampire
Cities On Flame
Lady of the Harbor
Revenge of Vera Gemini
State of Emergency
Dominance & Submission

1st encore
The Red & The Black

2nd encore
Born to Be Wild

I walked into the Bug Jar around 11 as the UV Rays were setting up. So I spent a minute scanning the room for people in Surgeons T-shirts. Rich was there, a long time fan I'd met at a Buffalo gig a few years ago. There were also a couple rocker chics sporting the badass new skull 'n' crossbones style Ts. See:

My new wife had decided to stay home and catch some Zs after a long work week, so this time it was just me at the bar with a $4 Guinness and an anxiousness to see the UV Rays off the stage and the Surgeons up there with Ross the Boss. You know, the guitarist whose name is ever destined to be followed by "of The Dictators and Manowar."

The Rays are the kind of garage band/punk rock outfit that rules the Rochester music scene right now. Though what mostly drew my attention to them was the fact their their rhythm guitarist looks a lot like Burke Shelley from Budgie.... At several points in their set, the singer reminded us how we'd all get the chance to see Ross the Boss tonight. So as the Rays wailed away, I went to the bar area and spoke briefly with Al about the circumstances behind Ross becoming a Brain Surgeon.

While Al was editing the Helen Wheels Tribute DVD, he discovered that the most exciting moments were The Dictators set, and the two songs Ross played with the Surgeons. Al, Deb and David had been looking for a new guitarist and here was someone they already knew, who was a NYC rock legend in his own right, and who even knew some of their songs. It was a natural fit, and Ross was into it too. As Ross came over and I introduced myself, Al noticed that the UV Rays were playing a Dictators cover. Ross took off to catch the tribute and I followed him in for the rest of the set.

Next up was a band I've seen open for the Surgeons many times, both as Static Cling and as Helen Wheel's backup band: The Skeleton Crew. The Cling put in their usual high-energy set, with Cathi Lee Otis taking the front-person role instead of playing keys. I thought this worked out great. She has an ease at the mic contradicted by what seems like a touch of shyness at being front-and-center. She also has the knack for belting out hard rock anthems. She was especially powerful on Helen Wheel's "Room to Rage." Kim Draheim played his usual blistering guitar with all the technical flair and feeling great lead guitarists possess. At least, all my favorite guitarists.

Oh yeah, the Brain Surgeons played too. At about quarter to one Al's harmonica launched the band into a massive version of "Rock 'N' Roll" is Dead", to the yells and raised fists of an anxious crowd. This was the heavy, muscular sound we'd been waiting all night to hear. The Surgeons with Ross the Boss. Or as Deb yelled to the UV Rays at the front of the stage, "Ross the F*cking Boss!" So what did they pull out of their collective ass to follow such a stomping opener? "Tattoo Vampire." The crowd, including yours truly, completely lost it. I'd seen the Surgeons play Tattoo Vampire before, but this version was every bit as maniacal as the original--and then some. Of course, you could say the same about almost every song they played last night.

Al had told me that this was only the third time Ross had played or practiced with the Surgeons, and it led to some exciting interpretations. Every solo was Ross. Not Ross playing Buck Dharma, or Ross playing Billy Hilfiger/Pete Bohovesky. He found his way into every song and stamped it with his garage-fired speed metal. That didn't mean it wasn't messy at times. There was a moment or two where the band lost it, but they always got right back on track. When you're like me and have every note of these songs firmly planted in your brain cells, not knowing what's coming next makes every old song feel like the first time you've heard it. The crowd could feel it too. It was the most enthusiastic group I'd seen at a Surgeons gig since the first time they played Ithaca at The Haunt, when a bunch of Billy's family and friends were there and Jason "Bolts of Ungodly Vision" Scruton earned a "you rock!" for his all out freak-out dancing.

As for the venerable founders of this hard rock institution, (It's been 10 years since Eponymous, believe it or not.) they were dead-on as usual. David laid down his groovy "monster bass" lines under and around the twin-guitar crunch of Ross and Deb, and did his best Florence Ballard impersonation to Deb and Al's Diana Ross.

At her best, Deb is the Surgeon's middle finger. Five feet of concentrated New York attitude. Last night she had it all together, playing off the crowd with a smirk and shreading the paint off the walls on "Gun" and "State of Emergency" in particular. Her guitar rumbled with Ross's the whole set, with her comfortably taking the lead a couple times. She even got in a few literal guitar "licks" during "The Red & The Black."

Al is Al. That is to say there's nobody quite like him. His wild vocal takes on "Tattoo Vampire", "Cities On Flame" and "Dominace & Submission" were fun, funny and cool, while his drumming skills are already well known and appreciated here. So there's not much to add besides the fact he had at least one local drummer I know of nodding his head and raising his fist in acknowledgement of Al's talent.

Some other interesting moments included walking into the bathroom to find Al playing Astronomy on an acoustic guitar and singing in front of a small audience which I later found included John Weisenthal, the guitarist from Soft White Underbelly. Or at least that's what I thought I heard Al say as he had the band's picture taken with him during the set. Unfortunately, I couldn't hear him too clearly.

Another stand out moment for me was the crowd stamping and clapping for a second encore after the Surgeons' storming version of "The Red & The Black," which even inspired a mosh pit. Ross started playing the riff to Born to Be Wild and the band all looked at each other as if to say, "OK, let's go with it." Soon the whole club was singing along, jumping around, smiling and shouting. It was a show stopper to end all shows, and as this one came to an end Al said he hoped they'd get back here soon. I can't wait.

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