Tuesday, September 26, 2017

LIVE REVIEW - Lita Ford: Tupelo Music Hall, 9/15/17

Photo by Gene Kirkland

If you want to gauge the power of a true rocker, catch them on a less-than-perfect night.

By the time Lita Ford hit the stage with her solo band at the Tupelo Music Hall in Derry, NH on September 15, she had spent hours dealing with the kinds of headaches that only touring musicians fully understand. After seeing her classic white double-neck guitar getting roughhoused by airport staff as she stood and watched powerlessly from a terminal window, Ford was informed upon landing at her destination that her prized instrument had somehow been misplaced by Delta Air Lines and wouldn’t arrive until after that evening’s performance. To elevate her stress level even more, she caught a frog in her throat that would later agitate her vocals throughout the evening.

At 59, Ford has built a life out of being tough. As part of The Runaways in the 70s, she battled and overcame everything from sexism to the industry’s doubts over her playing abilities to establish a career that continues to thrive after nearly 45 years. Does anyone honestly think that a shaky voice and bad experiences with airports were going to stop her? Undeterred by the things that would unhinge less experienced road travelers, Ford went out in front of the crowd with backup guitars (including her black Hamer from the Runaways days), plenty of vodka for her pipes and the determination to thoroughly kick her bad fortune in the ass.

Armed with a set list that included everything from Runaways classics “Cherry Bomb” and “Black Leather” to a cover of Elton John’s “The Bitch Is Back” and a slew of solo scorchers (highlighted by the fierce “Can’t Catch Me” and “Playing With Fire”), Ford didn’t let up for an instant. Never one to shy away from saying exactly what’s on her mind (as my interview with her last year clearly demonstrated), Ford’s between-song banter was often as entertaining as her music. She regaled the audience with tales of the day’s events – and even threw in a delightful, family-hour story of when her young son presented her with a penis ring he found and asked her to marry him. (Best part of the night: “Am I supposed to swear in here?” she asked her fans after already delivering an avalanche of f-bombs. When the crowd responded in the affirmative, our mistress of ceremonies exclaimed, “That’s fucking awesome!”)

New Hampshire-based musician/producer Gary Hoey (who worked with Ford on her 2012 album, Living Like A Runaway) joined the band onstage for several numbers. His presence was perhaps most felt on an extraordinary version of 1988’s “Back To The Cave,” which saw Ford and Co. gradually build the song from a subdued vibe to an explosive string attack bolstered by fellow guitarist Patrick Kennison and bassist Marty O’Brien.

Kennison, whose musical escapades include a stint with early-2000s should-have-beens The Union Underground, was the night’s secret weapon, flawlessly alternating between blazing on his six-string and delivering powerful vocal support – including his bulletproof rendition of Ozzy’s parts from Ford’s 1989 single, “Close My Eyes Forever.” Full marks also go to veteran drummer Bobby Rock (Vinnie Vincent Invasion/Nelson/Nitro), whose weightlifter build and percussive finesse kept the freight train charging ahead. 

By rising above the calamities that plagued her day and unleashing one of the best live performances this writer has seen in quite some time, Lita Ford illustrated something that many of us already know: Great music can get a person through anything.  

As she told the crowd towards the end of the night, “It's been a shitty day; you guys brightened it up.”

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com

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