July 18, 2009 – It was hard to believe that the last day of the Moondance Jam had finally arrived, but alas it had. Saturday’s stage features were tribute bands Ozzmosis and ThundHerStruck, classic rockers Grand Funk Railroad, and a solid conclusion with Asia and Yes, progressive rock’s finest. The weather was finally on the rebound after two days spent in the middle 50s with cloudy skies. There was hope that the sun would shine once again before the festival reached its end. The recent cancellation of Thin Lizzy forced a re-arranged schedule with ThundHerStruck bumped up to 5:00 and Ozzmosis brought in to fill the 3:00 spot. The Ozzy Osborne tribute act was very convincing, with dead-ringer Jeff Wise on vocals and Jason Coots on guitar. Had Wise sung with less clarity in his voice, there would have been very little difference from the real thing indeed.
The true “wow” factor arrived an hour later when the all-female tribute to AC/DC rolled onto the stage. ThundHerStruck first appeared at the Jam in 2007 and became a fast favorite. With the sound and the moves of the band mastered, the group is just plain fun to watch and be around. Guitarist Tina Wood brings the Angus Young persona to life, while Dyna Shirasaki switches gears between Bon and Brian. No tribute act can draw such a large crowd at Moondance, and their show the previous night in the Saloon was also well attended. While they may not be the real deal, ThundHerStruck’s chemistry on stage is very real and genuine. There’s something else that’s very special about the ladies in ThundHerStruck – they made the sun come out. After three days of solid clouds, the sun rolled out just as they hit the stage – and it stayed. The blistering namesake for the band rounded out the storming set and had nearly everyone shouting “THUNDER!”.
Switching gears just slightly, Grand Funk Railroad brought a classic set with great variety. Consisting of two original members and three relative newcomers, the band is a melting pot of sorts. Wearing a more rugged outfit, Bruce Kulick looks a bit out of place on stage with the rest of the band, which is understandable considering he was a member of KISS for 12 years. The show was largely focused on Kulick’s playing ability, along with drummer Don Brewer, a founding member of Railroad. Guitar solos and drum solos were the name of the game, with “The Loco-Motion” as a major highlight of the show.
Singer Max Carl shared lead vocal duties with Brewer for a drawn out version of “Some Kind of Wonderful“, and also treated the audience to “Second Chance“, a song from his days in 38 Special. Carl can still cover the high notes with clarity, and after nearly a decade of touring with the same lineup, Grand Funk Railroad has become a very well-oiled machine. American flags had been handed out at the Moondance gates prior to the show, and so when Don Brewer brought the real thing on stage for “We’re an American Band“, the flags began to fly all over. Grand Funk is a fun band that knows how to get a crowd going.
The crowd gathered at Moondance for the last two bands of the night was noticeably smaller than it was on the two previous nights, but that didn’t stop Asia from delivering a charged set of their famous pop tinged progressive rock. With four studio albums to draw from, along with songs from each band member’s previous musical history (Asia is a supergroup after all), the songs were chosen carefully. “Wildest Dreams” opened the set, but it was the second song “Only Time Will Tell” that drew large applause from the crowd as Geoff Downes took ownership of his position surrounded by nine keyboards. The moody track also gave vocalist John Wetton a chance to show off the fact that his husky voice is still intact. A new song from the previous year’s album Phoenix followed, shortly before Wetton took the microphone (and the megaphone) for “Video Killed the Radio Star”, a hit song penned by Downes during his tenure with The Buggles.
The instrumental piece “Fanfare for the Common Man“, a staple at the group’s live shows, gave way into a drum solo by Carl Palmer. Shining throughout the set and particularly during the solo, Palmer’s aggressive drumming ability at the age of 59 is nothing short of stunning. Guitar master Steve Howe keeps a much lower profile on stage, and although he may not always show it, he is surely excited about being on the road with both of his bands. He drew yells of “Steve!” from die-hard fans in the crowd throughout the show. The only disappointment during the set was an acoustic version of “Don’t Cry” – an amped up version of the song would have suited the festival much better. Cheers were loud, however, for the signature piece “Heat of the Moment“, which saw Geoff Downes suddenly removing the top element of his stacked keyboards to reveal a shiny white keytar. The rest of the song saw the band more active on stage than ever before, almost as if a game of “follow the keytar” was in progress. It was the last song of course, so even the very reserved Howe kicked it up a notch in enthusiasm and delivery. Asia stood a fragmented band for two decades after their breakup around 1985, but everything seems right once again now that all four founders of the band are once again giving the world a taste of technical proficiency and great music.
Yes boarded the stage with the confidence you might expect from a band that has been performing off and on for over 40 years. The symphonic “Firebird Suite” sounded the band’s entrance onto the the Moondance stage as the final band of the festival, and the intricate “Siberian Khatru” allowed a breaking into their element as the kings of progressive rock. The masses were ready to sing along to “I’ve Seen All Good People” – whether they were gathered close to the stage or scattered upon the hill in lawn chairs. Chris Squire worked tirelessly in leading the audience to clap in between hits on his bass guitar. Thanks in part to Squire, Yes has an infectious groove on stage and sported what was possibly the best sound mix of all Moondance acts.
The band also welcomes two new members into the fold following the illnesses of Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson. A replacement for Anderson has been found in Benoit David, a french Canadian who previously lent his vocals to a Yes tribute band. David’s singing style is very similar to that of Anderson, and he bursts with charisma on stage. Singing continually in a very high register is a critical part of the Yes catalog, and he does so with ease. Wakeman’s son Oliver takes control of the keys and follows his father’s technical tradition.
Two songs from 1980′s Drama saw play in the set – “Tempus Fugit” and “Machine Messiah“, both executed strictly to album sound. In between the two lurked the crowd favorite “Owner of a Lonely Heart“. The song broke Yes to a new generation of fans on MTV in 1983, and perhaps to an even newer generation at the Jam. While it may be the preferred song for any given crowd, Steve Howe doesn’t take particular joy in playing it since the song was written during his absence from the band to be a part of Asia. He alters the solo significantly, and it’s not necessarily a change for the better. “Roundabout” finished off the main part of the set in energetic fashion, and saw a jam between Howe, White, and Squire with Benoit David cutting loose on the tambourine in the middle. They took a bow but came back for an encore before the Moondance Jam reached its very end.
Moondance Jam 2009 was another great adventure and saw Walker once again becoming the perfect place to enjoy the sights and sounds of beloved bands. Covering the festival was a real treat for me personally, as was working with its organizers and others behind the scenes. It really is a paradise for music, and I already can’t wait for next year.
You can view our gallery of Saturday’s Moondance bands by clicking the thumbnails below.