Vinnie Moore / Gus G / TD Clark
Date: 02nd December, 2017
Venue: The Forge
Ticket: $28 (€24)
There is no better way to start the last month of the year than attending a great concert. In this instance, it was Vinnie Moore with Gus G visiting The Forge at Joliet, IL in context of the rather limited North US run, named ‘Gunslingers Tour’. Having two six-string virtuosos on the same billing may seem like a Black Friday deal exclusive for all the guitar-aficionados and for all the air-guitar experts (like myself), but no, this is not a ‘sit and watch’ the fingers of these two gentlemen running up and down the guitar neck just for showing off purposes. I mean, Vinnie Moore has a unique way of adding catchy melodies and impossible to resist grooves to his instrumental tracks, while Gus G is well-known for his Hard Rock foundations which always shine on all the studio releases with his name on the cover/lineup. And to make the deal even sweeter, Gus G had Dennis Ward handling bass and vocals, and if his name does not ring the PINK CREAM 69 and UNISONIC bells (among others), then there are some serious gaps in your Heavy Metal / Hard Rock education.
Before getting to this show, The Forge seemed like rather big to host the two Gunslingers because the guitar-friendly crowd is not that big in the Metal scene. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the number of people standing in front of the stage as Gus G was ready to start shredding. And it was a great mix of people; from the Hard Rock veterans who have been following Vinnie Moore from the mid-‘80s (of course add UFO to the equation) to the youngsters who were excited to see their guitar idols within arm’s reach (well, not literally). But no matter the age, everyone had one thing in common; the love for great music and amazing musicianship from two guitarists who have a great sense of melody and solid Hard Rock foundations.
I already knew that Gus G would work great with Dennis Ward in the studio considering how great the last FIREWIND album turned out to be, but I had no indication on how those two would do onstage. But it did not take much time to understand the great chemistry between the two musicians, as the setlist opener “My Will Be Done” sounded absolutely awesome. Yeah, even though the original was recorded with Mats Leven behind the mic, Dennis did justice to this heavy and groovy rocker. Even though, there were three musicians onstage the sound was massive and the main guitar groove had the right amount of oomph to get the people moving. Based on the reaction of the security guy on the venue’s door when he saw my ID, there were a lot of Greeks inside The Forge and in fact, there was a quite loud party in front of Gus G’s stage spot boosting up the overall energy. Without stopping, “Burn” came pounding and right there, I started feeling quite excited that Gus G is already working with Mr. Ward writing new music for the upcoming GUS G LP because the synergy between them is Rock solid. Yeah, Dennis’ Hard Rock background and Gus G’s Hard Rock influences combined with his Power / Heavy Metal modern twists make a great recipe.
Gus did a potpourri of trademark riffs and licks from VAN HALEN to AC/DC getting more people involved (you can’t go wrong with the classics) just before the hard-hitter “Brand New Revolution”. I really love how the bass sound of the studio version was delivered from the stage especially after getting out of the photo-pit. And then, during the Hard Rockin’ “Eyes Wide Open” I realized how much Dennis’ bass playing style reminded me of Kip Winger. I guess his grey hair helped to boost this resemblance...
It was back to the heavy sound with the massive “Vengeance” with the full double-bass sound which was the perfect “excuse” for some headbanging. Gus introduced the band (which I think will also record his solo album) and then asked for the audience’s permission to do a FIREWIND song from their latest album “Immortals”. Again, Dennis performed the singing duties at ease on this headbanger which saw a more powerful reaction by people inside The Forge. And that’s the trio’s success for working on the crowd which was not 100% FIREWIND fans.
We had definitely found a groove by then and “I Am The Fire” came to underscore this with the audience’s participation in a not quite-synchronized sing-along... but who is nitpicking, especially with that impossible to resist groove this song possesses. “We have another song for you” Gus G said putting an end to what it seemed like as excerpt of a setlist... You see, 8 songs were just not enough especially after spending the first three ones just to get more people involved, and once this happened, the show was over. Anyway, the last one out was not a song but the instrumental hard rockin' “The Quest”. Oh, the double-bass drum explosion and the guitar shredding dropped the curtain on the highest of notes and I am sure will be hearing more from this trio soon, and hopefully with a brand new recording under the belt.
Gus G setlist:
01. “My Will Be Done”
03. “Brand New Revolution”
04. “Eyes Wide Open”
06. “Back On The Throne” (FIREWIND song)
07. “I Am The Fire”
08. “The Quest”
(click to enlarge)
The stage prepping time was kept really short and there was only some time for a merch table visit or for a beer refill. After all, it was a Saturday night, right? Without any bells and whistles, the intro started blasting off welcoming Vinnie Moore who started the guitar magic with “Into The Future”. Vinnie and Randy McStine were the only new faces onstage as Dennis Ward and drummer Richie Monica were doing double duty for this ‘Gunslingers Tour’. The guitar melodies of “Daydream” backed up by the massive sound immediately lifted everyone’s mood up and this 100% attributed to Vinnie music-writing habits. He has the unique ability to add catchy melodies in his Blues meets Fusion inspired guitar-playing while keepin’ the shredding at high dosages. After the Fusion-styled “With The Flow” it was time to bring some Classical-inspired guitar phrasing with “Morning Star”. Just before the latter one, Vinnie said greeted everyone and then introduced the song from the “Time Odyssey” album he did with Jordan Rudess of the DREAM THEATER fame.
Vinnie Moore falls into the rather small category of virtuoso players who make the guitar-playing look like child’s play. The way he performs looks so effortless and so smooth that makes one think “oh my, this looks so simple that I will try it once I am home”… of course this is a ridiculous statement but to my mind it underlines the talent of the musician and the way he performs as if the guitar is a physical extension to his hands. “The Maze” came out fantastically with all those catchy melodies and the melancholy lying behind the guitar leads. It was time for some vocals and the DEEP PURPLE cover “Maybe I Am A Leo” was the perfect occasion. Randy handled the singing and immediately it was party time. Not that seeing Vinnie doing instrumental tracks was not entertaining but if you add vocals then the audience can participate so this is another way to have fun. Then, it was back to the moody track “Rain” which despite the tempo/atmosphere change it did not disturbed the flow. In fact, I think the versatility of the songs made the entire experience even better because there were different feelings and mood swings involved in every tune. What remained constant was Vinnie’s passion and it was a pleasure watching him getting lost into the emotions coming from the six-strings. You see, it is an art making the guitar scream, cry or even laugh just like a human would react with different emotions. What I am trying to say is that it is “easy” to become a guitar virtuoso by melting your fingertips from relentless practicing but it is a whole different gameplay adding your personal flair and embedding your emotions into the performance.
Richie Monica stood up behind his drum kit and provoked the crowd to join in before start hitting the rim of the tom in the characteristic groove of ZZ TOP’s “La Grange”. It’s amazing how such a sound can get everyone going just by recognizing what is coming. Yeah, the guitar groove followed and it was party time event though there were no vocals. After all, with Vinnie handling the six-strings it is the guitar doing all the singing.
Vinnie was clearly in a top mood, and just before the kind of melancholic (that’s an antithesis right there) “Faith”, he joked about finding hairs on his guitar; "they are everywhere". And then, it was (again) change of mood with the up-tempo and foot-tapping “Ridin’ High” which the guitarist introduced by referring to a bass player who used to fall down in almost every show (no names were disclosed). “Meltdown” was the last song of the “regular” setlist but really, it didn’t take much time to see the band returning and that helped a lot to keep the groove going strong. The two-song encore started with an awesome version of RUSH’s “Working Man” that was immediately recognized by the first guitar phrases served by Mr. Moore. Watching the four musicians performing this one made it obvious the fun they had onstage and whenever this happens it’s contagious. For the last song of the night Vinnie invited Gus G and together they served a tasty cover on THE BEATLES’ “Come Together”. Of course this version was heavier, groovier (ok, this can be considered as an anathema but to my ears it was) and on top of everything featured a guitar lick exchange by the two guitarists which seemed almost unrehearsed to the point of improvisation/jamming. Watching them doing this guitar duel made me think how awesome it would sound if Vinnie Moore and Gus G collaborated in the studio and I am sure everyone who witnessed this would agree with me.
In theory, having two guitar aces on the same billing may seem unappealing from those who do not have “special feelings” for the six-strings but in this case the Hard Rock thread connecting the two guitarists, their sense of melody and the overall party-mood were more than enough to make this Saturday-night worthy material. If only the Gus G set had been a bit longer…
Vinnie Moore setlist:
01. “Prelude/Into The Future”
03. “With The Flow”
04. “Morning Star”
05. “Check It Out!”
06. “The Maze”
07. “Maybe I'm A Leo” (DEEP PURPLE cover)
09. “La Grange” (ZZ TOP cover)
11. “Ridin' High”
13. “Working Man” (RUSH cover)
14. “Come Together” (THE BEATLES cover)
(click to enlarge)