Doing It Right
I have been checking out Liza Colby for ages now.
No. That is not what I meant. I mean I have been checking out the Liza Colby Sound, the band, for ages now. But yeah. . . That does indeed include Liza. No doubt.
Lately though it is the band’s tunes finding their way onto my play list. Tunes ranging from rockers such as “Try Me” and “Shake Me” from the latest album, Object to Impossible Destination. And it is not just the latest album. No, there is “Sugar”, the last track from their debut EP dating back to 2011. another one that is cool as it mixes thing up is “White Light” from their Draw EP.
What you see in each of these to various degrees is a play between seventies hard rock and R&B. Imagine swapping out Robert Plant with Tina Turner and you have a glimpse. But there is more to it than that. It is not just vocal styling that gives it that R&B component. Liza’s voice is a big component, but not all of it. No, there is more going on here than just a different vocal take.
Looking back, the connection for me was Jane Lee Hooker, which I was routinely checking out back in the day. I first saw that band in 2010? So it was after that. Perhaps 2011 or maybe 2012? I recall a few times traveling out to Brooklyn to what I think was the Rock Shop (sadly gone now). Checking out both of those bands – Liza Colby Sound and Jane Lee Hooker. It was a cool bill. Then later on I got turned onto Revel in Dimes. doing their own eclectic mix of blues, R&B and rock. I am guessing that was like 2016. I do need more of that band.
It was about that time also that I was introduced to Berlin on Avenue A. I saw both Revel in Dimes and Liza Colby Sound there a few times. I love te indiscreet door on the side of the building, bringing you down these stairs. It is dark. and then you open the door. I am guessing a solid oak door. Solid. And there before you are these chandeliers over this huge bar and the stage in the corner opposite.There really is no stage. The band and crowd co-mingle in that corner. It is tight, but they got it pretty much right.
But back to the Liza Colby Sound. There were of course a bunch of shows at the Bowery Electric. One night in fact, somewhere around that time – 2016, LA Guns even passed through. The Liza Colby Sound shared the bill with them on the Bowery Electric stage. That must have been a show, and a loud one at that I am sure. I missed it sadly. Would have loved to have seen Michael shred that room.
So , a bit of history there. Some fun nights, some good shows. Here is the thing though. It was fun. They were great nights, but musically for me it was a question. For me it was a good dose of classic guitar rock, some Humble Pie and Thin Lizzy’s Rocker. And the same for Jane Lee Hooker doing all those blues classics. It is cool that I found bands who were doing such tunes, but that whole original versus cover thing kind of haunted me. Blah blah blah.
I thought I had dealt with that in my youth. It turns out, however, that it never really goes away. and then you realize there are varieties of it. It just gets more complicated. So yeah when I went to see Liza Colby Sound and Jane Lee Hooker, I was going for some old tunes, to check out Liza and just enjoy two solid bands tear it up.
As I pondered the above, the Liza Colby Sound dealt with something a little more serious. Adam Roth, the band’s guitarist, was in October 2015 diagnosed with cancer. He passed that December. And this was a band. This group was pretty much the group from the start. There were no revolving doors. They had played together for roughly six years. Adam had a history dating back to the 80’s. He had started with the Del Fuegos and along the way worked with the likes of David Johansen, Jim Carroll and others.
He and the Del Fuegos were from Boston. and it was in Boston that he came to know and work with Denis Leary. Both him and Denis were from Boston and the guitarist and comedian / actor did stay in touch. They were more than in touch, they were close friends and for Leary’s recent projects, well up until 2015, the music was often provided by Roth. Of course Leary’s recent series, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, was right up Adam’s alley. Adam all but appeared in the series, though his guitar work was in fact there. Likewise, I believe it was Liza Colby’s voice. Sadly, the show did not survive.
When I went to those earlier Liza Colby Sound shows, and Adam was on stage; I just enjoyed his playing. It was clean. Crisp. He was a pleasure to watch and listen to. A pleasure to watch as he just did it. No mess, No thrills. He was a professional, he was there, he was digging it, but it was Liza’s show. It was Liza who just came at you. That has not changed. For me Adam just had this quiet presence. And musically he had it covered. He would tear up Humble Pie and Thin Lizzy, but his guitar accentuated, emphasized, and complimented Liza’s vocals.
After Adam, Liza worked with a few guitarists. I want to say that Jay Shepard, the current guitarist was perhaps the third guitarists to audition for the role? And audition is probably not the right term. I want to say these were more extended courtships. Tom McCaffrey was also doing guitar for awhile before Jay found his way. Tom is even credited on the latest album, Object to Impossible Destination.
I imagine two things going on. These guitarists had big shoes to fill. And I think also Liza and her mates, Alec Morton on bass, and Charles P. Roth on drums figured lets up the ante. They wanted more than someone who would adequately play Adam’s stuff. They were I am sure also looking to the future. They were looking for someone who brought something more to both the stage and to their writing and to their recordings. And of course, someone they could work with. That is always a good thing. Rarely found.
Jump ahead to 2019. The Drop EP had been released back in 2017. Object To Impossible Destination is released. Specifically, it was July of 2019 that it came out. So the band has continued. Today it is Liza on vocals, of course, Jay Shepard now on guitar, and as it has been since the start I believe Alec Morton on bass, and Charles P. Roth on drums.
Live, it is not the same band. Live is a little more crazy today. And it has to do everything to do with the guitar. Oh I have seen Jay with the band multiple times over the past two plus years but this show at the Bowery Electric stands out. Tonight you see the contrast. It was there all along but tonight it hit me. No doubt we have two different players, Jay and Adam.
That night in July you could see what they were aiming for. It was always there but that night the spotlight was on that transition. And it was simple. It was no master scheme. That night was over the top, drowning in reverb, wah-wah pedal and distortion.
It had been awhile since the band had played and all were more than ready to go at it. You saw it in the performance. It was just a pleasure for all of us, both band and crowd, to be back at the Bowery doing it one more time. So it was fast. It was rough. It was loud and through the din it was Jay’s guitar and Liza’s voice that were front and center. No doubt, driven by the Charles’ drums and Alec’s bass, but it was the front of the stage that one focused on. Granted, at the Bowery Electric there is no vast distance between the front and back of the stage.
So this was a show after a few months of being off, of doing different things, and it could be seen. It could be heard. I was loving every swell, every bit of sustain. And Liza was in the midst of that chaos, part of that chaos, her voice, her zebra stripes that night. Her thrusts. Her shakes. She was, however, at moments just covered in that blanket of sound. Almost hidden, concealed, almost. Oh she was there, but. . .
And that is the challenge. Everything louder than everything else is the goal, yes? I believe it was Ian Gillan’s line, though he is not the only one with such sentiments. Regardless, Here, it was Jay’s Gibson that grabbed me, it’s scream, it’s wail. It was overdone, it was excessive, and that was the point. His guitar, Liza’s presence, and Charles and Alec who kept the whole thing on track. Consumed.
So that is the challenge. To find that space where the guitar is brought up front. It is there, in your face, but not overpowering. It will never overpower Liza. It can’t. Even if Jay’s guitar roars and competes with her voice, her vocals, there is still that visual. That energy.
You are at such a show just left with the sound washing over you, consuming you. The bass, the drums, the over-heated blur of the guitar, and Liza’s voice attempting to rise above it all, trying to be heard. And Liza there in the midst of it. With the skin tight zebra skin. Her voluminous platinum blond hair and what, Four? five inch heels? Regardless, she twists, struts, crawls. Demanding to be seen, heard. There is something to just being sensually overwhelmed by such. Being in the midst of all of it. Seeing and feeling all of it. Just pulled deeper into it.
Jump to September 19th. The summer is winding down. Tonight they are at Lola on Avenue A. What was Coney Island High. Another intimate setting down in the Lower East Side. This show is largely the same set but totally different. That gig in July was good, it was rock n roll, but this one was more.
What changed? Well this was two months later. It was not, unlike the July show, the first show after a few month break. Some rehearsal time had happened. This show was simply more than that delicious feedback, sustain and wah-wah I savored at the first. Don’t get me wrong, I could listen to that shit all night, but this show offered more.
Over the weeks I have procrastinated over this piece, and always arrive back at the same thought I had on the way home that night. It was the silence.
It was just that hint of quiet. Fractions of a second. Quiet. Balance. Yeah, it was still the drums, bass, the guitar, and the Liza’s vocals. And just a hint of quiet.
This night in September they did not just take you. They heightened the affair. They allowed you to gaze down before taking you higher. Before taking the plunge. You heard the soul, the angelic, the demonic in Liza’s voice, only to be pulled back again by Jay’s guitar. Back and forth. Taken to the heights before going back down and under the sheets, down to the floor. Feeling the hard wood beneath you.
The Liza Colby Sound can be found on the web at: https://www.thelizacolbysound.com/
And on Facebook too. . . https://www.facebook.com/thelizacolbysound/