Band of Friends–Live at The Vista Room

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“Are you with us?”  “Are you WITH US!?”  Bassist Gerry McAvoy raises his arms, beckoning the audience response, his voice increasingly forceful. “ARE YOU WITH US!!!!?”

In the context of a rock band and its audience, that could say it all, but for fans of this music, it’s so much more. 

There was a guitarist named Rory Gallagher.  Maybe you've heard of him.  Musicians can remark on his ability to shift between scales, his use of the pick, and general mastery of the fretboard, but for me, the translation of emotion to guitar sounds is unequaled.  He's connected in a way that most musicians can only dream about.  It's the ability to improvise regularly at a professional level, making the same familiar songs distinctive from night to night.  Pity the backing band that has to figure out where he's going and when he's going to stop.  It's the opposite of today's down pat live music that has to play to expectations or repeat the same song exactly to coordinate with visual or sound effects. 

Rory Gallagher

Anyway, the point is that there are many, many fans with deep knowledge of the “classic rock” era of blues based guitar gods – Clapton, Page, Beck, Trower, Hendrix – who have never heard a note from the guy.  Those guitar players who do know of him revere him. He was distrusting of record labels, managed his own career, wrote capable songs even if they had little commercial chance, and along the way managed to release 14 studio and live albums until he died in 1995.  For those who found him, his music can be enjoyed on those records and many others released posthumously, never mind a plethora of bootleg recordings.  My experience is that I loved his guitar solos first, then came to like the lyrics, which largely sets his mood for the next solo, and lastly his vocals, which if anything were true to his overall sound.

Band of Friends, then, falls close to being a tribute band, except that it has McAvoy, Rory’s bassist, who played on every one of his albums and was a key presence in the Rory “sound.”  No one plays like Rory, and that isn't necessarily the point.  The mission per the band is to keep his music and memory alive.

Gerry McAvoy

Back in his heyday, Gallagher would wind the song down to a hushed guitar tone, playing with the audience, then ask, “Are you with me?”  And again. And again, drawing the audience's emotion until he finally unleashed a rocking solo.  So it's apt that, McAvoy, who was usually found to the side and behind Gallagher, remains just as animated as he ever was but now owns the stage – but chooses to share the stage with his guitarist, Davy Knowles, in a sense respecting that it's the guitar that draws a crowd, but also sharing the stage in a way that it was never shared with him.  It’s now about “us” rather than “me.”  And what a blast it was to hear the music and see McAvoy enjoying himself so much.

Davy Knowles

Foremost, though, it’s just awesome to hear songs that only Rory played, live.  Nearby.  At an intimate venue.  By a band who cares deeply about the music.   And it’s even more rewarding, in having read McAvoy’s biography, to see the guy carrying on with the same spirit three or more decades later, calling his settled audience out of its seats.  Or hushing the din of conversation for Knowle's quieter licks.  Or demanding silence when he tells a story.  There's a presence in the room, really.  Part of that is McAvoy.  And the other is Rory's music.  Live, it isn't to be "listened to;" it's participatory.  The band obviously lives and loves their work, and that makes it fun for everyone.

Ask for Irish whiskey, you get Irish whiskey

Set list (or something close to it):
  • Messing with the Kid
  • Shin Kicker
  • Do You Read Me
  • Moonchild
  • Off the Handle
  • Bought and Sold
  • Double Vision
  • Homeland
  • Riverbed
  • A Million Miles Away
  • Tattoo’d Lady
  • Bad Penny
  • Shadow Play
  • Bullfrog Blues

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