If you aren’t aware of my love of music yet, you haven’t been paying attention. This past weekend, the missus and I went to check out a double-bill that was not the usual J-Fell fare. Oh yes, a Tribute Band would be taking the stage, but the opening act was an original act. However, it was made up of a who’s who from the Tribute community, one of the nicest (and a seriously talented) drummers in the world, and a very talented photographer/bass player. The show at Doug Fir was Bad Ellie and Unchained.
Their description (from their Facebook page) describes Bad Ellie as “Bad Ellie is a bitchin’ Pop Punk / Rock band from Portland that can bite your hand or pee on your shoe…while stealing your heart at the same time!” I wish I had the set list…even better, a CD or MP3 of their music to play while I work here in my office. The energy these guys bring to the stage is viral. Evan Berry is at his vocal best with a musical vehicle. Tribute fans know him from Shoot to Thrill, but don’t expect his Bon Scott or Brian Johnson AC/DC growl here. This is very different, and right in his wheel house. He knocks every song out of the park as Evan Berry. Also from Shoot to Thrill (as Angus) is Evan’s dad, Ted Berry. A whirling dervish on guitar, he has the energy of three men. Michael Killian holds down the other guitar slot (from Appetite for Deception–The World’s Greatest G-N-R Tribute Band). Simply put, Killian oozes rockstar personality the moment he takes the stage. Paul Brown is on bass. Regulars of the scene might not recognize him without his camera pressed to his eye. If you have been to any J-Fell event, you have likely walked past him many times. He gets to unleash a little more of his unique style as part of the rhythm engine of Bad Ellie. The other part of that engine is another face you have seen a thousand times without realizing you were looking at a very talented drummer. Keith Parkhurst holds court over his kit while adding backing vocal depth, no easy feat. (He will be my drummer when my ZZ Top Tribute Band gets off the ground…stay tuned.)
Bad Ellie is pure energy from the moment they take the stage, a little All-American Rejects, a dash of Fallout Boy’s humor and flash would be the best way I could describe them, but the best way for you to really understand is to check them out yourself. I highly suggest finding their social media platforms on Facebook and Instagram to keep tabs on them. You won’t want to miss their next show.
After a performance like that, the audience was primed for something special. It would come in the form of Unchained. This is strictly the David Lee Roth era version of the band, and make no mistake, this foursome sinks into their roles. “Diamond” Donnie Lee struts, leaps, spins, and backbends while screaming in ways that will make your own spine pop. His swagger is never lacking, and this particular show brought back memories of the Women and Children First concert back in the 80s. Something about this night in particular, maybe it was the venue and its incredible sound, but DDL was had the ladies eating out of the palm of his hand, and the guys wishing they could body-swap with him for just one night…one song even.
No longer able to really be considered new, Jim “Top Jimmy” Smoltz has grown visibly more comfortable in his role as Unchained’s Eddie Van Halen. His guitar solo touched on every one of EVH’s studio album solos, ending with the fan favorite and blistering Eruption. Between flashing that mega-watt smile and doing that little EVH jump, Top Jimmy has won the hearts of the Unchained crowd not only with his effortless play, but that shy-bordering-on-frisky persona that the classic 1980’s Eddie was famous for. I think it is safe to say the part is now officially his. The crowd certainly let their voices be heard this past Saturday.
Harry “Taz” Bower is the perfect Michael Anthony. He might be one of the few people who really appreciated Anthony’s backing vocals enough to study and practice until he had it down. One of the often overlook parts of the Van Halen sound were the harmonies under Roth. Bower probably doesn’t get noticed enough for that aspect, but any VH fan would notice the moment he was not adding his voice. His bass playing is like a machine and syncs with the drum kit with perfection even when he is staggering across the stage to give a playful nudge to Diamond Donnie or Top Jimmy. He is also skilled at ducking the many flying splits and spinkicks DDL performs.
Dirk Ward is the quiet one…until you get him behind the drum kit. From the opening number (Panama on this night) to the closer (Hot for Teacher), Dirk is everything a band could want in a drummer. He is the rudder that keeps everything on course. All coolness with his dark shades, his sticks are a cyclone, but instead od leaving a path of destruction, he is the order in the chaos of the party.
This was a lengthy set for the Unchained gang. They covered the gamut, and pulled out a few gems during this show (some might call them B-sides, but not true Van Halen fans). Songs like Take Your Whiskey Home–perhaps my favorite song by the “Punks from Pasadena”–Hear About it Later, and Drop Dead Legs (perhaps in homage to the other band that Top Jimmy Smoltz honed his EVH chops) made aup a concert experience that would satisfy any Van Halen fan.
As always, after the show, the bands made their way out to the crowd to pose for pictures, shake hands and just hang out for a bit. There is a connection between the performers and the audience at the J-Fell shows that is unique and special. If you still haven’t attended one of the shows, it is time to seek one and take your own trip in the Wayback Machine.