On Saturday night, September 7th, a charity fundraiser was held at the Copernicus Center, on Lawrence Ave. in Chicago, to benefit the families of Chicago Police Officers (The Chicago Police Memorial Foundation) and Firefighters (Ignite the Spirit Fund). Ignite the Spirit (www.IgniteTheSpirit.org) began in 2003 as an organization to help Chicago Firefighters in need, those who on the job have fallen victim to life’s unjust hardships. The Chicago Police Memorial Fund (www.CPDMemorial.org) is a not for profit organization dedicated to honoring the lives of fallen Police Officers. The Foundation provides support and assistance to the families of Chicago Police Officers who were killed or catastrophically injured in the line of duty. Two worthy causes indeed!
The idea of a battle of the bands between police and fire started as a simple conversation at a retirement party. Officer John Garrido took the initiative and assembled a team to make it happen. Fellow Police Officer Russell Schultz (RAS Communications) and friend Dan Mahoney (Fort Knox Studios) joined forces with John and the notion became a reality.
The premise was that there were three bands from the Chicago Fire Department (had to have a Firefighter in the band) and three bands from the Chicago Police Department (obviously also having to have a police officer in the band) which would all perform before a panel of four “celebrity judges” who would then rate the bands. The top rated Police band would then face off against the top rated Fire band in a “playoff” and the overall winner selected by a vote of the judges. The judges were William Ludwig III (third generation owner of Ludwig Drums), Amy Jacobson (morning radio talk show host on the “John and Amy Show” on 560 AM), John Garcia (ABC 7 News), and your humble rock reviewer for Rock Chicago, myself.
There was great support for this event from the start with a flood of people eager to volunteer to be sure it was a success. The bands all donated their time to be part of this event for such a worthy cause. The Copernicus Center donated their venue, Ron Weiss at Shirts Our Business created a great t-shirt design, Chris Stone from Guitar Center contributed some awesome gear for the raffles, and Stan Wozniak from Trophy and Awards, Inc. provided amazing plaques for the winning “Rock Stars.” There were many other sponsors and donors who helped to make this fundraiser something special.
But let’s now talk about the music! The show opened with a recording of “The Star Spangled Banner” performed by Madison Rising. The six bands then each performed a forty minute set, with the judges’ scores collected immediately after each performance.
The Differents (Fire Band). Dan Garrity (drums), Chris Meziere (bass), Lou Hallwas (vocals and guitar), and Tony Richards (guitar). They had the tough draw as the opening act and did a pretty good job. It was a solid performance playing straight ahead rock, but the songs were not familiar to me and I suspect it was some original music. The lead singer had a very good voice and the band displayed good musicianship, they were enthusiastic, however, it did not carry over to the audience and they received a tepid response.
Pimp Slap (Police Band). Allison Clark (vocals), John Skibicki III (guitar), Tom Finnelly (guitar), Daniel Finnelly (bass), and Darin Hoeger (drums). This band describes themselves as “Loud. Fast. Rude. Fun.” When they took the stage they stated, “We have the most controversial name in all of band-dom” (I agree). They were a great rocking band and were indeed loud and raucous. Both guitarists were very demonstrative and were fun to watch. The rhythm section was solid with intense bass playing and solid drumming. I thought their musicianship was very good. They really played off the crowd and interacted with them, which made the set very enjoyable. Where the band was hurting was with the lead vocals. I do not know if Allison was nervous or just off a bit, but her vocals came off a bit flat and were not up to the standard set by the band. That being said, in the final song, which was a tribute to fallen Firefighters and Police Officers, she hit it and sounded absolutely great. At times she seemed to be channeling Stevie Nicks….if only she had started out as strong.
Northside (Fire Band). Rebecca Bolluyt-Presas (lead vocals, keyboards), Louie Kritikos (lead guitar), George Skoubis (guitar, backup vocals, keyboards), Bob Spilios (bass), and Chris Stamos (drums). This band is a Rock and Roll cover band, covering music from the 1970s to the present day; and cover it they did. It was a superb performance highlighted by a long classic rock medley, “20 in 25 Montage” where selected parts of 20 songs were played back-to-back in 25 minutes…it was great fun. Once again, the band was a solid group of musicians and seamlessly moved through the medley, as well in their other selections. However, the highlight of this band was their lead singer, Rebecca, who was an absolute dynamo on stage. She had a great stage presence, great vocalist, and played keyboards as well. She was really something to watch as she pranced around the stage, jumping, or gyrating furiously to the music. She drew the audience in and amped them up, ably backed by her equally enthusiastic band mates. When they had started out she stated, “I don’t care if we win or not, we just want to have a good time.” That they did! They were outstanding.
It’s About Time (Police Band). Terry Mullins (drums), Ray Hayes (bass, vocals), Fred Borek (guitar, vocals), Tony Callaghan (guitar, lead vocals), Madeline Callaghan (vocals), and Mary Callaghan (keyboards, vocals). As was the case with the other Police bands the crowd was very enthusiastic and crowded the stage. They were a very good cover band with solid musicianship, but it did not wow the crowd. Perhaps it was the music, which were classic songs from the sixties and seventies…..they were well done and a pleasure to listen to, the audience was dancing to the music, but after Northside, there was a definite vacuum of intensity. A definite highlight was when the Callaghan sisters wonderfully sang Leonard Cohen’s classic “Hallelujah.” Their uncle, the lead singer Tony, made a comment that made me cringe, introducing this beautiful piece of music as being FROM THE MOVIE SHREK. Well, yes it was, technically, but when I think of it, I think of all the wonderful covers by other musical icons and the very emotional version of Leonard Cohen, himself……oh well. This band played my favorite music and performed it well, but as I was judging the actual performance it was very good, but did not knock my socks off like Northside did….but I could definitely go out and listen to this band perform in a club setting.
Imposter Radio (Fire Band). Mark Dziwulski (vocals, harp), Joe Love (guitar), Pete Hart (guitar, keyboards), Scott Groves (drums), and Lori Stassen (bass). This band’s catalog contains massive hits from just about every era of the history of Rock and Roll, flowing from gritty 60’s rave-ups, through 80’s dance pop, 90’s rock anthems, and today’s current chart toppers. This band lived up to the advance billing, drawing on music from all eras, even performing a couple of oldies, Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and the Animal’s “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” mixed in with other contemporary songs. This band is a group of first class entertainers and accomplished musicians. Each and every band member was jumping around, pogoing, you name it, anything to crank up the crowd…and that they did. They had the most significant audience response of any band all night. The lead singer was an absolute maniac, running back and forth across the stage, mugging and posing for the audience, jumping around…I was amazed he did not get winded as I was watching his hyperkinetic actions. Being a prog rock/60s-70s classic rock fan, I have to say I thoroughly was drawn in by their performance and though not familiar with some of the contemporary songs, thought they were the best of the night based on their enthusiastic performance.
Jenny Rockis Trio (Police Band). Jenny Rockis (lead vocals, drums, guitar), Paula Marr (bass, vocals), and Jason Mallow (guitar). Following the intensity of Imposter Radio, the Jenny Rockis Trio took the stage. I thought how can a trio compare to a band like that. What a pleasant surprise. When I heard the vocals of Jenny, I was instantly on board…she had the best vocals of the night, strong, clear, and outstanding. She was a bit hampered as she was playing the drums and stuck behind the drum kit, so she could not prowl the stage. (Kind of reminded me of Karen Carpenter when she first started, singing and playing the drums). Her band mates, however, were great musicians and very demonstrative with their playing, dancing around, posing, interacting with the audience. They had an eclectic music set and it was well-received by the crowd. But it really was tough to compare to the intensity of the Imposter Radio.
After the bands had performed there was a lull as the scores were being totaled. To my surprise, and that of the entire large crowd, Mancow walked on stage. Needless to say he was typical Mancow for the few minutes he was up on stage, to the delight of the crowd.
The results were then announced. Imposter Radio was chosen as the best Fire band, but I know Northside had to be a close second. The best Police band was the Jenny Rockis Trio, an obvious choice. There was an ensuing “playoff” with each band performing a 20 minute set, the winner to be determined by the judges’ scores.
Jenny Rockis Trio led off with a solid set, followed by Imposter Radio with their typical barely controlled pandemonium on stage. In fact, when the set was done, they wanted to keep playing encores but as the show was tightly controlled time-wise they were prevented from doing so.
Imposter Radio was crowned the winner, pretty much based on their absolutely outstanding performance in all aspects, vocals, musicianship, stage presence, and the ability to work the crowd into a frenzy. Jenny Rockis Trio vocally was better, was solid musically, but could not meet the intensity of the crowd reaction created by Imposter Radio. That being said, I would be more likely to purchase and listen to a recording of the Jenny Rockis Trio; that is how much I enjoyed her vocal abilities. Overall, these were two outstanding bands.
Red Rebel County (the Aftershow Band). Mark Crowley (vocals), George Vanderschoot (guitar, vocals), AJ Shamus O’Simek (guitar, vocals), Gabe Lipari (bass), Rob Nedinger (drums), Nate Wilson (fiddle), Dan Sito (banjo, mandolin), Doug Crowley (bagpipes, vocals), and Steve Coyne (bagpipes, vocals). For the aftershow there was an amazing collection of disparate instruments and performers, an indescribable band. They had originally got together to play some fun Irish music and eventually turned into a nine person “tour de force.” They have sold out countless shows, played in front of thousands for various high profile Chicago Police/Fire Department benefits. Their repertoire is all sorts of party tunes, a handful of traditional barroom tunes and original music.
I watched the band begin preparing to perform on stage and was amazed, men in kilts, red ties, bag pipes, banjos, mandolins, guitars, drums…what the heck is this? When they began performing you could sense this was just a good old party type band. They were having great fun on stage, which swept over the audience who responded in kind. It was a very entertaining way to end the evening.
I would like to say on a personal level, I was honored and pleased to have taken part in this outstanding charity event for such a great cause. These first responders have dedicated themselves to keep us safe and I deeply appreciate them and we all owe them a debt of gratitude. It is also nice to see them “let their hair down” and slip into the persona of rock stars when they play with their band. (Much like my alter ego as a rock critic, when my “real job” is that of a veterinarian!)
There was a great turnout and I know it was a successful fundraiser, a testament to John Garrido, his volunteers, and his sponsors. I know with this success in 2013 we can be looking at an eagerly anticipated annual event. It was great fun, especially buoyed by the fact that it supported such a great cause.
Review and Photos by Peter S. Sakas