It felt like the heyday of British blues-based rock ‘n’ roll on Saturday night, as the Yardbirds ripped through a high-energy set in front of a roaring crowd in the South Shore Room at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe.
Original band member Jim McCarty looked and sounded like he was having a blast onstage, leading the band from his drum kit in the rear, and singing lead and backup vocals with gusto, tearing through Yardbirds mainstays such as “Over, Under, Sideways, Down” and “Train Kept a Rolling.”
“Does anyone like blues? Anyone like the blues here?” he called to the crowd at one point before a soulful tune. “We’re going to do some blues called ‘New York City Blues’ here.”
New lead guitarist Johnny A. has some mighty big shoes to fill, taking a seat previously occupied by Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Page. Fortunately, he was up to the task, tearing through the entire pantheon of blues guitar skills, with feeling.
Massachusetts native Johnny Antonopoulos has collaborated with Delaney & Bonnie, Peter Wolf from the J. Geils Band, Doug Clifford with Creedence Clearwater Revival and Bobby Whitlock with Derek and Dominos. Sporting a quintessential Gibson Les Paul with a cherry sunburst finish, he kept the audience captivated from center stage, wailing, crunching, and shredding his way through the evening. Among other outstanding solos, he put on a solid display of Les Paul’s resonance during the driving tune “The Nazz are Blue,” plucking a low note and letting it hang for upwards of 20 seconds, the classic warm, over-driven tone pulsing and reverberating off of the high walls of the South Shore Room.
Myke Scavone provided signature blues harmonica, both rhythm and lead, along with backing vocals and a variety of percussion. Scavone’s searing tone on “Train Kept a Rolling” and other tunes got cheer after cheer from the crowd, and he and Johnny A. sounded killer when doubling melody lines on harp and guitar, which they did on a number of tunes.
A particular crowd favorite was colorful bassist Kenny Aaronson, who received a number of rousing ovations during the evening. Brooklyn-born Aaronson’s resume reads like a who’s who of rock and roll. He’s played with Johnny Winter, Dave Gilmour, Steve Cropper, Bob Dylan and the supergroup HSAS (Sammy Hagar, Neil Schon, Kenny Aaronson, Michael Shrieve).
Clad in tight black jeans, black short-brimmed hat, and a swashbuckling black jacket, Aaronson brought an aggressive edge to his instrument, often planting his feet in a determined stance and wielding his bass aimed straight out at the audience like a spear. He routinely turned his back on the crowd to jam directly with McCarty, and the music always experienced an immediate uptick in intensity when he did so.
Frontman John Idan, who sang lead on most songs and rocked rhythm guitar on a beautiful honeyburst-colored Les Paul. But onstage, something about him strongly evoked the character David St. Hubbins from classic cult film “Spinal Tap.” While his hair is more reminiscent of Nigel Tufnel’s, he bears something of a facial resemblance to St. Hubbins and sounded almost exactly like him, particularly when he spoke in between songs. He certainly did not evince the mind-numbing stupidity of the duo, but seemed strikingly similar in appearance and voice. It was pretty awesome.
Idan got a memorable cheer from the crowd when he commented on Lake Tahoe’s natural beauty, filling a brief pause between numbers as Aaronson replaced a newly broken “A” string on his bass.
“The first two times I was here were never during daylight, so I never got to see anything,” he said to the waiting crowd. “It’s quite mind-blowing, isn’t it?”
“Tahoe loves you!” a woman shouted back.
And the crowd did indeed.
Related story: Gregg Allman’s epic performance at Tahoe. LINK
To see Larry Sabo’s images of the entire set, click the LINK