(Live Review) THE ARTIMUS PYLE BAND + HEAD EAST - The Arcade, Illinois (8/20/23)
By The Beard & Little Johnny
Tonight, your tireless review team of The Beard and Little Johnny record yet another milestone as we attend our 50th show of the 2023 season. Tonight, will also be bands #228-229 on our yearlong The Reviews Never Stop Tour.
In an early show this fine Sunday, we will be heading to The Arcada Theater for 1970’s classic rock staples, The Artimus Pyle Band and Illinois' own Head East. Johnny says it’s a 5:00pm show because guys this old go to bed by 8:30. Johnny is, of course, a smart ass. Although indeed a 5:00PM starting time IS early, the Beard does not have a problem with getting home before midnight on a show night for a change.
Openers Head East were formed in the early 1970’s and reached their peak that same decade. Much like April Wine & The Sweet (who we covered earlier this year right here at the Arcada), most of the legitimate Head East members have long since headed east themselves to greener pastures, (or in a couple instances that great gig in the sky), but keyboardist Roger Boyd remains soldiering onward as he has since 1969. (Johnny just asked if they had electricity back then. Drink your beer and shut your mouth, Johnny.)
Although Head East released an album a year between 1975-1982, only four songs ever charted in the top 100, and only their self-titled release ever cracked the top 100 albums in both the USA & Canada. For those who may not realize it, Head East recorded in South Pekin Illinois (making them a legitimate home state band). Head East was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, so they do have standing.
Head East came out to a cover of Canadian 70’s rock band Trooper with “Raise a Little Hell”. (Ed: Just a little - don't want to make those old hearts beat too fast!) Decent voice by vocalist Darren Walker, (who with his long grey/white-blonde hair certainly looked the part of a 50+ year old rock band, although he has only been with them since 2006). Guitar work from Mark Murtha, who is brand new to the band having only joined in 2022, was good and he was able to incorporate the AOR 1970’s sound. Of course, band leader, original member and keyboardist Roger Boyd, worked hard at pulling all the energy he could from about a 2/3 full room. (Ed: The rest of the crowd slept in?)
The music was 70’s era classic rock but had a pretty high vocal range from Walker who could get his voice into the higher register for screams and big notes. The song list was largely drawn from their 1975 album Flat as a Pancake, and the Beard found them fitting in between a harder rocking Marshall Tucker Band and a less rocking Molly Hatchet. Nod, and points to the song “Old Elijah” which was heavier throughout both in terms of music and vocal delivery. That was a good song and my favorite of the ones I had never heard before.
Apparently, Head East have plans to release a new album called Full Circle in October and they played a song from that forthcoming piece about Native American shapeshifters called "Prisoner". This was a good song for a 50-year-old band and didn’t sound tired or like a retread. Good for them finding something new and creative to release. The Beard may have to look up Full Circle when it comes out.
In the “you’re never too old to learn something new” category, The Beard was unfamiliar that the rock classic hit “Since You've Been Gone” was actually an Argent original that was covered by Head East in 1978, a year before Rainbow did it in 1979. Although I was only familiar with the Rainbow version, the Head East version was also good, although, if pressed, the Beard still chooses the Blackmore led heavier sound of Rainbow.
Of course, everyone knew the closer, "Never Been Any Reason". As expected, that one got the biggest pop with the crowd enthusiastically assisting with the chorus while Boyd exited from behind the stationary keyboard to play while wearing a strapped-on mobile keyboard. (Ed: I was afraid you were going to go somewhere else with that one.) Once again, like Nugent or Tommy Shaw already this year , sometimes rock stars can defy their age. Roger Boyd is spry for a man in his 70’s.
In conclusion, Head East presented us with a solid set of classic rock and even my resident smart lipped partner had to admit that once again, “Those old guys are pretty good Beard.” Damn right Johnny.
THE ARTIMUS PYLE BAND
Headliner The Artimus Pyle Band might be little known to some, but Artimus Pyle played drums on many of the most formative Lynyrd Skynyrd albums, and he was a survivor of the infamous plane crash in 1977 (that killed singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, backing vocalist Cassie Gaines and both pilots). In addition to his role in Lynyrd Skynyrd, Pyle’s legacy also includes session work with both The Charlie Daniels Band and The Marshall Tucker Band. Like many of the “seasoned” acts the Beard has reviewed this year, it’s largely perspective and semantics on what I’m actually watching, but with all of them, I evaluate what’s being done that night in that venue.
To his credit, Artimus Pyle doesn’t claim to be Lynyrd Skynyrd (even though with Gary Rossington's death this year, Pyle is the last surviving member of what was the 1970’s classic line-up and probably has as much claim to the name as any).
His current band is a five piece that is essentially a Lynyrd Skynyrd cover band with an original (or at least prominent) drummer. Vocalist and keyboard player Brad Durden certainly looks like a man who belongs in Skynyrd except a bit cleaner cut with trimmed hair and goatee. Vocally, I thought initially he lacked that distinctive Van Zant drawl, but as the set went on, I admittedly was won over by his talents on several numbers. The music was also fine, and I would enjoy them in any club in Chicago. I understand that doesn’t mean I saw Skynyrd (and to be fair, they never said they were, so they get more credit than Foreigner.)
(Ed: "It's your fault! No, it's your fault!" The band trying to lay blame for its existence. Heh, heh.)
“What’s your Name” which was about seventh in the set list, was the first one where I thought “damn that was really close to absolutely spot on.” Not every song was that way, but full credit on that one. The keys, the guitar leads, the vocals all were right there. Pyle himself showed all evening that drumming these classic songs was second nature as (even at 75) you couldn’t catch him out of time or missing spots. His personal solo was short, (again the man is 75 years old), but tasty and had enough of those Skynyrd fills and rolls to make the fans nod appreciatively. After the solo, Pyle dismounted from the kit and walked across the stage with acknowledgement and waves to the crowd in order to introduce Durden and "Tuesdays Gone".
“Tuesdays Gone” was also light and soulful without over-the-top leads anywhere in it. The song was sweetly sorrowful and Durden's voice did win me over there. To my ears, it was exactly what it was supposed to be. Now, while the Beard enjoyed hearing Skynyrd songs that were new to me, such as “The Ballad of Curtis Lowe” or “All I Can Do Is Write About It”, because to me in not knowing them, it very well could have been Skynyrd playing them. After an hour had passed in this set, a collection making up the younger aspects of the crowd were getting antsy and began shouting for “Freebird” after every number. When Johnny observed this, he asked me why and I told him because the band this drummer was from legitimately wrote “Freebird”. Johnny found this an interesting fact and was excited that he’d get to hear it live with a touch of authenticity.
In the meantime, "Sweet Home Alabama" was a crowd favorite, and young and old sang loudly on the choruses. Of course, "Freebird" ended the set, (with a very-cool-to-see collage of old Skynyrd pictures from back in the 70’s), and the Beard can now say he saw it played by the last surviving member of the men who wrote it, so that’s a check off on the old bucket list. The solos at the end were competently performed by Scott Rainer and Jerry Lyda, with Dave Fowler holding down the bass.
Overall, the Beard is calling The Artimus Pyle Band a solid 86/100 and fittingly "Freebird" was a great way to end show number 50 of this 2023 season.
It was then time to gather Little Johnny and depart for home once more. Fifty shows and 229 bands are in the books, but there’s still many more to go as The Reviews Never Stop Tour 2023 rolls on. Remember to check out all the videos on either Facebook (if you are a friend and follower), or TIKTOK for hundreds of minute long video clips of every band we have reviewed this year. You can find those by searching thebeard0728 or of course #thebeardandlittlejohnny
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THE MIGHTY DECIBEL
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