FIREHOUSE TURN UP THE HEAT IN LEESBURG
Date: Friday, June 3, 2022
Venue: Tally Ho Theater
Location: Leesburg, Virginia, USA
Reviewer: Jeff Onorato
Photos: Jeff Onorato
To the occasional listener and those perhaps unfamiliar with the band’s broader sonic resume, FireHouse are best known for their big radio and MTV hits “Don’t Treat Me Bad”, “Love of A Lifetime”, “I Live My Life For You” and “When I Look Into Your Eyes.” All of which are perfectly crafted, polished AOR classics, but really just the tip of the iceberg when stacked up against the veteran outfit’s heavier, stellar offerings throughout that era and the music that followed in subsequent years on albums such as Category 5, Prime Time and O2. For the uninitiated, diehards (such as myself) will be quick to point out that the quartet deserves far more credit than they’re allotted for the bounty of kickass, hard rock masterstrokes that they’ve knocked out of the park since that brilliant debut album was released 32 years ago. It’s an album that, to this day, still sounds relevant and custom-written for the concert stage. It’s hard to believe, but their sophomore release, Hold Your Fire, turns 30 later this month (on June 16th). Dear God, I feel old just typing that.
On a Friday night in early June, I travelled to northern Virginia to see the band perform in what was a rare theater show that kicked off their June touring itinerary with a stop at the Tally Ho Theater in historic Leesburg, Virginia. Most FireHouse concerts in recent years are part of large festivals, fairs, casinos, cruises, and package bills playing in front of significantly larger crowds. Seeing the band perform in a more intimately sized venue such as this is a real treat for fans. And since this was a headlining gig for the band, I was hopeful that perhaps it would afford them the opportunity to play longer and showcase more of what they have to offer than a typical appearance does. An opportunity to delve deeper into those “stellar offerings” that I previously spoke of. More on that in just a minute….
The band’s big return to the concert circuit turned out to be a very cool experience for both the novice and enthusiasts of the band’s lengthy career. As previously mentioned, I was hoping that the band would take advantage of this opportunity to dig into their history a bit and perform songs that we don’t often hear at a FireHouse show. With a soon-to-be packed house ready and waiting at the doors, this would be a textbook occasion for the band to dust off a few seldom-heard cuts spanning their six studio albums of original material (Good Acoustics and Full Circle excluded from that statement). Fans young and old began lining up early on this steamy Friday evening to secure a prime spot to watch the show once the venue opened. By the time that ticket scanning began around 7:00 pm for premium ticket holders, I’d estimate there were collectively around 100 people standing in the separate general admission and VIP lines that each snaked down the small-town block in opposing directions. Easily one of the highest-attended events that I’ve seen at the Ho.
Those that arrived early would reap the benefit of seeing openers Streetlight Circus plow through their set and whet the audience’s appetite for even more great rock n’ roll to follow as the night progressed. The Tally Ho is a great place to catch a show of this scale, but also caters to various musical formats – not just rock and metal. Regardless of your taste in music, you’d be hard pressed not to find something that you like when checking out their calendar of entertainment. There is general admission, which almost guarantees that you’ll be standing throughout the show, or pricier VIP admission to the large balcony in the back of the theater. While you will sacrifice an up-close and personal view of the stage, the balcony offers a nice, roomier vantage point to look down on the show from and they have a private bar as well with ample seating. Depending on who you’re there to see and how you want to experience the show, these two options are very different, but each have their own perks.
New York City’s Streetlight Circus made the trek down to Virginia to kick down the door on the place and brought plenty of attitude, energy, and New York groove with them. When I initially saw that they were serving as direct support on the bill, I was pleasantly surprised to see such a cool band opening for one of my favorite headliners since their sound is highly compatible with what FireHouse does. Apples to apples, not a hard sell. I’m reluctant to even call Streetlight Circus an opening band in the true sense of the term because they’re a huge draw in their own right, and I’ve spotted a lot of fans there specifically to see them on both occasions that I’ve caught their show. I haven’t seen the band live since last July’s M-Pre Party in Hanover, Maryland so you could say that it’s been a minute!
While my live introduction to Streetlight Circus was almost one year ago, it was a show that I look back on fondly. Just as they were then, they’re a tight band with a good stage vibe and instantly accessible songs that are crowd pleasers from the very first listen. There’s also a lewd edge to them that always makes for a fun, unbridled set from the band. Their music is catchy, but with an eye on melody and musicianship that still packs a punch. You’re not likely to hear a ballad at a Streetlight gig and that seems right in line with the general aura of the band. As was the case at the show I attended in 2021, the Circus drew in a respectable number of attendees that were there in great anticipation of hearing them do their thing. It always renews my faith in rock n’ roll to see fans passionate about their favorite band at the grassroots level, and Streetlight’s fans are definitely that.
Taking the stage at around 8:00 pm, the band was bookended by two large backing banners depicting their insignia and a suggestive circus-y graphic. I suggest you check it out. All joking aside, a lot of opening/on-the-rise bands that I see put little effort into their stage setup and appearance, and my philosophy on that is that everything matters. Regardless of the crowd level or size of the stage, there’s always someone that will take notice of what you’re doing and every effort that you make is an advantage to make a good impression on an audience and score new fans. Granted, Streetlight Circus are a nationally-touring, established act. Head and shoulders above that level of burgeoning status that I speak of, but they still remain mindful of seizing every opportunity to scoop up new converts and capturing as many professional facets as possible into their show that they can.
The Streetlight Circus band members don’t take themselves too seriously and strutted into position on the dimly light stage as their short intro of the Bee-Gees‘ “You Should Be Dancing” grabbed eyes and ears. They quickly got down to business with “The Sad Café”, a burner off of their 2016 CD Needle Down. It was one of four songs that they played from the album, with several new tunes from the forthcoming Super Fine Sugar LP representing a good portion of the show as well. It can be a roll of the dice for artists to focus their set on yet-to-be-released material, but the band must have been confident in doing so and I’d say that their gamble paid off.
When I last saw the band in 2021, they were hard at work on this follow up to Needle Down and their set list included several in-the-works cuts from the still-in-the-works album such as “Cherry Cola”, “Take Me To The River” and “Zero To The Bone.” All solid and showed signs of great potential for the forthcoming LP, which the band is close to announcing the official release date for in the near future. “Zero To The Bone” didn’t make it into the Leesburg setlist but the band did play the new title track off of the album and I can say with certainty that fans of Needle Down will find a lot to like with these new songs. If the four cuts that I’ve heard collectively (at varying shows) are any indication, Super Fine Sugar sees the band expanding on their strengths and maximizing the elements of their sound that work well for what they do. The new songs stack up nicely against the familiars and there wasn’t any ghosting by the audience when the band threw out the newer stuff.
In a celebratory tribute to Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins who passed away in March, a larger-than-life memorial was displayed on the huge screens behind Streetlight Circus as the band ripped into a moving cover of “This Is A Call” from the Foo Fighters’ 1995 debut in honor of the fallen musician. It was followed with a somber “Rest in peace, Taylor” from frontman David Shaw. Without a doubt, it was a moving highlight of their performance. The band’s eponymous song “Streetlight Circus” was another of those, which also showcased the vocal talents of guitarist George Giannoulis as he traded off verses with frontman/bassist David Shaw at the microphone.
The encore of “Ghettoblaster” came as no surprise since it’s one of the band’s catchiest and most popular tracks. With good reason, it’s got that enticing chant and groove that will firmly embed the tune into your brain for hours after the concert is over. Much like a tractor beam, the song scours the audience for new listeners and reels them into the fold without fail. I consider Streetlight Circus to be an opener well paired to a band like FireHouse. Their music is unpretentious, hard rocking, and radio friendly with plenty of emphasis on verbose guitar licks, snappy choruses and bombastic percussion by drummer Erik Fehrenbach. Mark your calendar – Streetlight Circus will be appearing at Wisconsin’s Rock Fest this summer on Friday, July 15th. It’s a four-day festival that also features the likes of FireHouse, Lita Ford, Warrant, John 5, Butcher Babies, Halestorm, Black Veil Brides, Evanescence and Lamb of God (among others).
Streetlight Circus’ setlist:
01. The Sad Café
02. Super Fine Sugar
03. Take Me To The River
04. Cherry Cola
05. This Is A Call (Foo Fighters cover)
06. Give Up The Ghost
07. Streetlight Circus
08. The House Is On Fire
To the familiar stomps and arena-rock chants that open their anthemic “Rock On The Radio”, the mighty FireHouse were greeted by a roaring crowd as they then kicked things into even higher gear. Frontman C.J. Snare appeared in affirmation of the band’s return to fighting form and ready to rock following his recent sidelining necessitated by medical issues. As any trained singer will attest, proper vocal technique is heavily centered around breathing, sustainment and a hard “push” from the abdomen. Not the ideal activity while on the mend from abdominal surgery. I couldn’t detect any struggle on his part to deliver the high caliber of vocals that fans expect at a FireHouse concert. That is, the extraordinary range and power to his voice with a precise attention to melody and tone. Just the opposite, in fact. Snare’s pipes sounded as powerful and on-point as ever as the band unleased this steamroller of a song onto the hungry masses pressed up against the barricade. He hit the piercing heights of his range numerous times throughout the band’s performance and particularly at the beginning of “Overnight Sensation” and once again later in the set during “Don’t Treat Me Bad”. It just wouldn’t be FireHouse without C.J.’s distinct, mind-blowing vocals.
But with the strong backing vocals that the rest of the band wield, hopefully any underlying physical limitations are kept at bay as the band continues along on their summer concert schedule. Both drummer Michael Foster and guitarist Bill Leverty have taken over the mic on FireHouse albums through the years, with Foster’s contribution on “Door To Door” and Bill Leverty tackling lead vocals on “I’m In Love This Time”. The harmonies that they provide on the Good Acoustics CD are but a further testament to the vocal prowess within the band that few bands can rival.
“Shake And Tumble” was like dynamite in the first quarter of the show. It’s heavy, it’s dramatic and it’s highlighted by Snare’s high-pitched wail at the beginning of the song that also gives drummer Michael Foster a chance to demonstrate what a beast he is behind the drum kit. The guy hits fast and hard, like a jackhammer busting concrete while singing backup vocals to just about every song throughout their show. Seeing it all go down from the pit area gives you an appreciation for the level of physical endurance that must go into a typical, high-energy rock show such as this. Following “Oughta Be A Law”, the frontman announced that “after having off for the month of May, this is the warmup for our summer tour”. It was then that a young fan in the front row caught his eye with her handwritten poster announcing that it was her tenth birthday, and she was celebrating it with FireHouse. He wasted no time in bestowing her with one of Foster’s splintered, semi-destroyed drumsticks as a cool keepsake from the night. As the face of the band and a seasoned performer, C.J. is keenly aware of the importance in that connection with the crowd and the band members seem to genuinely appreciate their fans. When it was time for “Home Is Where The Heart Is”, a retrospective homage to the band’s career played on the big screens behind the band, taking us on a trip down memory lane to the days when FireHouse were just starting out.
It’s worth noting that the band has a keyboard onstage for use on the ballads “Love of A Lifetime” and “When I Look Into Your Eyes”. I mention this because they elect to play these parts live rather than using backing tracks, which is commendable and further speaks to the degree of musicianship that they put into their performance. Following the latter, a brief but astounding series of drum, bass and guitar solos followed before melding into a short instrumental jam. Guitarist Bill Leverty may have looked low-profile and incognito shadowed under the brim of his baseball hat, however he let the music do the talking and his playing spoke volumes as he unleashed one blazing solo after another throughout the fourteen-song set. I consider him one of the true greats of the era with great substance over style and gimmicks. His playing and songwriting talents are a foundational aspect of their arsenal and this music that we’ve enjoyed through the years. The same musical accolades can be said of the band’s bassist, Allen McKenzie, who doled out one pummeling bass line after another while remaining focused and locked into the grooves of the songs from his wing of the stage. Each member of the band is truly what you might consider a “musician’s musician” in that their playing abilities, performance, and delivery onstage are 100% spot-on and professional at every show.
In keeping with current practice, FireHouse radared in mostly on cuts from their first LP with the crowd pleasers from Hold Your Fire and 3 thrown in for good measure. As a fan of their later career works in addition to the self-titled and Hold Your Fire CDs, I’m always just a bit remiss to see their more current music unrepresented in the setlist but I try to remain cognizant of the reality that those first two albums are what 95% of the fans want to hear. It’s no different than any other classic rock / legacy band. I’d love to see FireHouse open a show with “Call of The Night” from their O2 album. This song is on the heavier side for them, features phenomenal playing by all members of the band, and fits in stylistically with the music on their first and second albums which anchor their shows. It’s an overlooked gem and hearing the song takes me right back to that very same magic found on their first record. The combination of the band’s awe-inspiring musicianship in tandem with the superb songs of their early era made it difficult to be mad about their more recent LPs remaining off the grid this time around.
It was one of those concerts that was so much fun. It seemed to go by in a minute and had me wishing that the band could have played for another hour. For devotees of those first two FireHouse albums that perhaps haven’t caught up to where the band is in 2022, I encourage you to check them out. I’ve seen them countless times over the years, and I’ve never caught a show when the band wasn’t at the top of their game. Songs like “Shake And Tumble”, “Reach For The Sky”, “Lover’s Lane” and “All She Wrote” absolutely rip as they’re blaring at top decibel from the PA. I couldn’t believe that this show marked the first time that I have seen FireHouse live in almost three years. Granted, one of those was a year that no one was really seeing any live shows but still too long of an absence, nonetheless. Seeing the band play a lengthier, headlining set renewed my enthusiasm for what they do – they play loud, infectious, masterfully executed good time rock n’ roll that is 100% live. Don’t let their melodic rock guise of their chart-toppers fool you — FireHouse are an incendiary live band at the head of their class.
01. Rock On The Radio
02. All She Wrote
03. Shake And Tumble
04. Oughta Be A Law
05. When I Look Into Your Eyes
06. Lovers Lane
07. Home Is Where The Heart Is
08. Don’t Walk Away
09. Overnight Sensation
10. Love of A Lifetime
11. Hold Your Fire
12. I Live My Life For You
13. Don’t Treat Me Bad
14. Reach For The Sky
FireHouse performing “I Live My Life For You” live at the Tally Ho Theater in Leesburg, Virginia, USA on June 3, 2022 (video from AL Mallari‘s YouTube page):