Nodding to more recent rock

The Reals with guest guitarist Shaun Dragt (left). Also pictured, from left, are Dawn Selby, Barry Thomson Jason Andrew and Mali Sewell.

STAGE: The Long Road to Rock – Rhumbelow Theatre, Umbilo, Durban

DURBAN’S popular The Reals band has had a run of great shows of late, tributes to Rodriguez, Dire Straits and, most notably, Fleetwood Mac, having set the team up as firm, versatile favourites on the KwaZulu-Natal supper theatre scene.

The group’s latest showband entertainment, playing in Durban this weekend (May 19 to 21) after having previewed at the Rhumbelow’s Pietermaritzburg branch on April 23, marks the team’s commendable attempt to reach out to a largely untapped supper-theatre market – the under-45s – by showcasing mostly rock from more recent decades.

It’s an admirable effort and enjoyable enough, but, in my opinion anyway, not entirely successful. Seemingly more loosely conceived than usual, the show is something of a random mix of golden greats and some curiosities.

I was not alone in finding it something of an awkward hodge-podge – neither fully pleasing to the average over-50 (the majority in the Pietermaritzburg audience only truly came alive for The Who’s Pinball Wizard) nor the under-45, some patrons in this age group questioning choices in repertoire and musical direction.

Some under-45s were heard to mutter about keyboardist and musical director Dawn Selby handling occasional vocals. I was not as fervent in my disapproval, but do agree that songs chosen for this show would benefit from leaving all the vocals to the men. Hits like November Rain by Guns ’N Roses and the classic Nothing Else Matters by Metallica just do not have the same clout with a female vocal. Sorry.

Singer-guitarist Barry Thomson, bassist Jason Andrew and special guest guitarist Shaun Dragt handle most of the lead vocals in a show which, also featuring Mali Sewell on drums and vocals, features occasional video footage to the side of the stage.

The Long Road to Rock opens with a brief tribute to Muddy Waters, whom Thomson acknowledges as having paved the way for the rock era.

We then get a blast of ZZ Top before a bite of Bon Jovi – or, more precisely, and curiously, the Jon Bon Jovi solo hit, Blaze of Glory. It’s a country-infused, lesser hit which is not the choice I would have made to represent a group whose successes include such fun hair-tossers as Living On a PrayerIt’s My Life and You Give Love a Bad Name.

I quite enjoyed the first-half sequence in which Barry and Shaun trade cheerful banter about generation differences, and in which Barry reflects on more recent rock successes being built on three chords.

Numbers associated with Green Day, Blink-182, Foo Fighters and Lenny Kravitz crop up in the first half which ends on a high with a fine rendition of The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy with the Devil.

The second half opens with a lesser hit from Kiss, Rock and Roll All Night, then goes into The Who’s Pinball Wizard before a scoop of Pearl Jam, featuring some good Hendrix-esque guitar from Barry. Metallica and Alice Cooper also pop up in the second half, as does some Pink Floyd.

The show ends with Shaun and Barry in cheesey wigs for a sequence including so-so hits associated with big-haired posers Poison, Judas Priest, Skid Row and Motely Crue, before a finale of AC/DC’s rousing Highway to Hell.

Where was Nirvana (the Pietermaritzburg stage was dressed with a Kurt Cobain poster, after all)? Where was Slade, Van Halen, Red Hot Chili Peppers?

Sure, one can’t please everyone all the time, but considering some of the song choices, I believe The Long Road to Rock might have been better served with more obvious hits and a wider spread of acts saluted.

But that is just one opinion – and this team has sufficient followers to ensure this new show is likely to get good support.

Final performances of The Long Road to Rock are at 8pm on May 19, 20, 26 and 27, and 2pm on May 21 and 28. A 6.30pm performance on May 28 is also scheduled.

The venue, in Cunningham Road, off Bartle Road, opens 90 minutes before the show for a bring-your-own picnic dinner, but drinks have to be bought at the theatre pub.

Tickets cost R150 and booking is at Computicket outlets or by phoning Roland at 082 499 8636.

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