- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2005

So your freak flag won’t fly, your magic bus is out of gas and you can’t get no satisfaction. Not to worry. The VH1 Classic Rock Reunion at the 9:30 Club on Tuesday night offered just the tonic to relight the fire for aging rockers.

Pick your poison: You could idiot dance to Canned Heat doing their Woodstock anthem, “Going Up the Country,” you could pump your fist to Mountain’s pile-driver riffing on “Mississippi Queen,” or just settle back and let your eardrums be turned into putty by the supersonic, psychedelic-soul assault of Vanilla Fudge on Jr. Walker’s “Shotgun.” You could even boom, boom turn off the lights with Pat Travers.

For those doing a nose count of original band members, however, the concert was a bit like the TV reality show “Survivor.” The dead and missing-in-action nearly outnumbered the featured attractions.

Taking it on the chin the worst from Father Time was Canned Heat, which has definitely sprung a serious leak. The original band is now represented only by drummer Fito de la Parra (and even he joined in 1967, a year after the band debuted). Al Wilson (suicide, 1970), Bob Hite (heart attack, 1981) and Henry Vestine (heart and respiratory failure, 1997) are all jamming at that great gig in the sky.

So this was, in essence, a good covers band, with Dallas Hodge capably handling Mr. Hite’s low-down, blues-belter vocals on tunes like “Let’s Work Together,” while Stan Behrens did justice to Mr. Wilson’s idiosyncratic, high-pitched vocals and harp work on “Time Was” and “On the Road Again.” Mr. Hodge and Don Preston alternated lead guitar duties, with the former being much truer to Mr. Vestine’s distinct, buzzing sound.

Is this current version of the Heat to be saluted for keeping the spirit of a great blues-rock band alive, or is it just milking a dead horse that should be — albeit with reverence — laid to rest? Perhaps a bit of both.

Mountain still boasts the great Leslie West, whose air-raid siren vocals may not pack quite the punch they once did, but he’s still got a more-than-serviceable banshee bellow. And his crunching power chords and nimble lead guitar runs were still much in evidence on such tunes as “Never in My Life.”

After slimming down for a few years, Mr. West is back to his normal, heavyweight proportions and looked trash-chic in his fringe vest over a knee-length T-shirt and baggy pants.

Original Mountain drummer Corky Laing’s playing was even more aggressive than in 1970, as he stomped out double-pedal patterns on a single bass drum and bounced sticks all over the auditorium, even knocking his floor tom off the riser during his second drum solo.

Tragically, bassist and co-lead vocalist Felix Pappalardi was shot and killed in 1983 by his wife, Gail Collins. Filling in was Ritchie Scarlet, whose arena-style posing was a bit much.

Mr. Scarlet traded vocals with Mr. West on “Goin’ Down,” while Mr. West did the honors for his absent band mate on the Jack Bruce-penned “Theme From an Imaginary Western.” He also unplugged to do a solo acoustic turn on Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

Half a plate of Vanilla Fudge was served up, with only drummer Carmine Appice (also for many years Rod Stewart’s drummer) and bassist Tim Bogert carrying the banner from the original, 1967 flagship. One of rock music’s most powerful and dynamic rhythm sections, they still thunder as in their prime.

Original organist and singer Mark Stein and guitarist Vinnie Martel are still active in music, but weren’t part of this version of the band, their places being taken by Bill Pascali and Teddy Rondinelli (respectively).

The Fudge leaned almost entirely on their first album, which consisted of heavy, progressive reworkings of soul and Beatles’ hits of the day. “You Keep Me Hanging On,” “Take Me for a Little While,” “People Get Ready” and “Ticket to Ride” were all pretty faithful to the highly unfaithful Fudge album versions.

Unfortunately, the Fudge’s set was bedeviled by technical glitches, as Mr. Bogert’s bass amp repeatedly blew fuses.

Mr. Travers closed the show, which was to have started at 7 p.m. but didn’t get rolling until 8 p.m., so no band was able to play much more than 40 minutes. Much of the audience (including this writer) had to leave to catch the last train home just before midnight, prior to Mr. Travers’ set.

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