Joe Lynn Turner
Support Act: Peter Baron's Thunderfarm
Sellersville Theater, Sellersville, Pennsylvania, USA May 7, 2017
I took a break from photographing concerts, just so I could be a fan and enjoy the final performance of Joe Lynn Turner's Spring 2017 US Tour on May 7th, capping off his longest tour as a solo artist on US soil in over a decade. And one I will not soon forget. Here is a musician whose music I have loved, for quite a long time, so much so, that it prompted me to travel across the country, twice during this tour. The first was for one and a half performances (note to self: never fly on the day of the show again) at the Iridium Jazz Club in midtown Manhattan on April 21st and 22nd. Thirteen days later, I flew cross-country again, this time on a red-eye flight, and then drove to the town of Sellersville, Pennsylvania, a place rich in beauty as well as history. Believe me; it was not easy to leave the camera equipment at home. But in choosing to make the trek as I did, all I wanted to do was to show my support of JLT and the current tour.
The rest of the band for this last gig in Pennsylvania included two of his core members - Dr. Gary Zappa on keys and Rob DeMartino on bass. On drums that night was Jules Radino, filling in for Charlie Z, who I had the pleasure of seeing him pounding out the rhythms for the first two Iridium shows. And rounding out the US edition of the Joe Lynn Turner Band was Angus Clark, who came into the group at the start of the tour with a great musician's resume (both on and off the stage). He was recommended to JLT by current Whitesnake guitarist, Joel Hoekstra, who was in the audience on the second night at the Iridium. The quality of musicianship JLT surrounds himself with, show in and show out, no matter where he is in the world, is bar none.
Just to give you a little background on the place where JLT played his final gig of the Spring 2017 US Tour; the town of Sellersville, Pennsylvania has two main attractions which are the Washington House and the Sellersville Theater next door. The theater was originally the Moyer Livery Stable built on the grounds of the Washington House at the end of the 19th century (1894). It later became a truck garage and in the 1950s, was converted into a movie theater. Once inside the theater, it is adorned with dark burgundy drapes situated on either side of the stage with its ornately designed quilted fabric, in-between pale green pillars with candle wall light fixtures, which lined the theater on either side of the aisles. In front are moveable cabaret-style tables and chairs, and behind them are twenty-one rows of anchored folding seats, going fourteen across, with a small gap of at least six feet separating the back of the tenth row and the beginning of the eleventh row. The sight lines from the vantage point of the stage were fair, but not great. According to one east coast online publication, the movie theater became a live venue hosting both local and national acts to the stage in 2002 and is "renowned for its sound quality and intimate shows."
However, that was clearly not the case of what I heard, especially when the opening act, Peter Baron's Thunderfarm, hit the stage to perform their set. In fact, the amplification and sound volume was louder from the stage than what I was accustomed to in hearing. So, to me, the theater lacked the liveness, clarity, and intimacy I was used to hearing in a concert hall setting. Even JLT himself, after singing the second song of his set, "I Surrender," told the crowd, "it's a very dead sound in here, so we got to make a lot of noise" which I am sure he and the band discovered during their soundcheck.
And so naturally, I was curious about this and wrote an email to Daniel Faga, Production Manager and Technical Director of Sellersville Theater about this, just a few days after the show. He responded to me and said, “a dead sound refers to the acoustic properties of a room.” And so, from my understanding, if the “sound (in the theater, for example) does not have a naturally occurring reverberation or echo, like in a recording studio,” the only thing JLT and his band could do was to “crank up their volume to fill the space with noise.” So, while my original seat was in the tenth row of the theater; I chose to stand and soon danced my way to the end of the twenty-first row at the back of the theater. From there, the direct sound coming from the stage was still loud, but not as taxing to my ears, so that I could hear the band comfortably and make out JLT's vocals clearly.
As the lights went down, with four-fifths of the band already on stage, the first thing I noticed was the presence of a large projection screen behind the drummer's riser displaying Joe Lynn Turner's name. Posted in-between "Lynn" and "Turner" was a new, updated logo with his initials encased in a sort of tilted half-moon frame. Upon seeing it, it prompted me to take a quick snap from my camera phone to capture the image. Around the same time, the band was playing the intro to "(Somewhere) Over the Rainbow." Then from stage right, as the first notes to "Death Alley Driver" began to play, in came JLT. He grabbed the microphone and then asked the crowd, "How are you doing out there?" before singing the song's first verse. When the song ended, the band quickly segued into "I Surrender." After "I Surrender" had finished, it was around this time that JLT began working the crowd to get them to become more involved. For some reason, they were not into it, except a brief exchange of banter going on between him and one of the female audience members sitting up front. I suppose to be fair to those who had attended, I saw a smattering of polite applause coming from the audience with an occasional standing ovation, but overall, I could not understand the lackluster response by the crowd to JLT's performance throughout. Of course, it wasn't until the encore when the entire audience finally stood up. I was annoyed by this and just shook my head in disbelief, as I remembered how active and responsive the audiences were who saw him at the two Iridium shows in New York City, just two weeks earlier.
A majority of JLT's songbook he would perform on stage that night contained songs from his days of fronting bands such as Rainbow, Deep Purple, and Yngwie J. Malmsteen's Rising Force. So, in one instance, I heard hard rock songs like, "Death Alley Driver," "Power," "Spotlight Kid," and "Rising Force." As well as bluesier numbers like Rainbow's "Jealous Lover" and "Blood Money," a song from one of his solo albums. Of course, a Joe Lynn Turner show ought to include at least one, if not both of his Rainbow power ballads, "Stone Cold" and "Street of Dreams." We had the privilege of hearing both in Sellersville.
JLT also included two Deep Purple songs (from the Mark II edition) into his set. "Perfect Strangers" was one of them, as the keyboard intro to the song was an excellent vehicle for the keyboardist, Dr. Gary Zappa, to showcase his solo skills. "Lazy" was the other and a perfect interlude to Rainbow's "Long Live Rock 'N' Roll," featuring the powerful solos of bassist, Rob DeMartino, and drummer, Jules Radino.
Speaking of the song, "Long Live Rock 'N' Roll," in my humble opinion, I believe that it is one of the quintessential rock anthems of our generation. At the time of publication, it has been seven years since (Ronnie James) Dio's death in May 2010. And for some years now, JLT has paid respects to the late singer's legacy by performing at least one, if not more songs from the first era of Rainbow and incorporate them into his set. And frankly, as a huge fan of all eras of the band, I have never minded it. In fact, it is quite touching to hear his dedication to the late singer. For example, from the stage at the Iridium Jazz Club on 22nd April, JLT said, "Ronnie was the kind of guy…a gentleman of rock…no egos. No bullshit...and he always had a warm hug and a cold beer for you...Every time I met him, he would say, Turner, we're from different camps…but I love ya." JLT continued in saying, "We were from different camps…he wrote about what he wrote…and I wrote about what I wrote…but we respected each other…and that is something very, very fair in this business."
JLT also provided a nice change to his song selection when he placed, "Spanish Castle Magic," into the set list for this tour. For those who do not know or remember this, JLT, is an equally talented guitar player, as he is a singer. He was first given a guitar by his father when he was around seven years old. Later, he was exposed to the music of The Beatles and became an accomplished guitarist as a teen learning from his biggest influence, Jimi Hendrix, who lit up and electrified the stage in the late 60s. His ax of choice? A Gibson SG Standard. He also had Gibson SG Specials as well, especially when he played guitar and sang in the bands, Ezra, and later, Fandango, in the 1970s. But for this show, JLT sang the song by adding his distinctive rock and soul vocal style into the mix, while his guitarist, Angus Clark, showcased his solo skills and provided his own guitar theatrics on stage.
Although I was enjoying the first half of JLT's set, with his vocal sounding incredible throughout, the song of the night for me by him, hands down, was "Dreamin' (Tell Me)" from the Yngwie J. Malmsteen's Rising Force album, Odyssey (1988). I shed a tear or two while listening to this song and thought how remarkable and ageless his vocal still is, especially in how he sang this almost thirty-year-old song. And luckily, thanks to an astute audience member who had the wherewithal to capture the performance on YouTube, the moment has been preserved on film, forever, I hope, for all the world to see.
And so, if you are a hardcore fan of JLT's music as much as I am, then you know that he has plenty of other songs to choose from for future set lists. We are talking about the material he has from ten solo records, various tribute songs he has guested on, as well as countless projects from years of collaborations with musicians from all over the world! And so, imagine for a moment, after a forty plus year career like he has had, how difficult it must be for a musician of JLT's caliber to pick and choose which songs he could potentially perform while touring here in the States or around the globe for that matter? It is not easy. Case in point, during the final part of the show in Sellersville, an audience member asked JLT, after he finished singing, "Can't Happen Here," if the band could play more. And while he jokingly quipped, "we'll be back tomorrow." He then said to the person who asked the question, "we got so many songs, it's difficult to do them all…so many songs we missed, which is about 397..we're sorry."
As far I am concerned, there was nothing JLT had to be sorry about. I am grateful to have gone to this concert in Pennsylvania and heard a total of fourteen and a half (the interlude, remember?) quality songs performed by an amazing band, sung by a phenomenal singer in the final gig of his Spring 2017 US Tour. I had a blast. I treated the night like there was no tomorrow, danced at the back of the venue, and cheered as much and as loud as I could. But then again, I am just a longtime JLT fan, who loves his music, and for one memorable night, I took a break from photography so I could write about it, instead.
- Julie Barela Mills
All Photos by ©Jeff Smith of ReflectionsNYC
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Support Act: Peter Baron's Thunderfarm
Peter Baron's Thunderfarm opened the show. According to his online bio, he "landed a spot as the second guitarist with Leslie West and Corky Laing of Mountain" when he was 17 years old and has played in other Leslie West related bands over the last several years. He also performed with Joe Lynn Turner as a lead guitarist and background vocals on stage and appears on JLT's third solo album, Undercover (1997) as a background vocalist on songs six, eleven, and twelve. He's also toured with Peter Frampton and KISS. Appearing with Peter on this night were Tony Lazzara on drums, Chris Tristam (House of Lords) on bass, and Ken Sidotti on keys (filling in for Paul Morris). I enjoyed their set. The band was tight. The songs were good, and I particularly loved hearing, "Killing Post," off his 2006 release Active.
Let It All Rock
We Don't Get Fooled Again (The Who cover)
Nantucket Sleigh Ride
Keep Up Your Head