freebeerandchicken, Valentine’s, Albany, NY- 12/20
On Friday night, kicking off a weekend celebration of promoter Greg Bell’s final shows at the venue before it closes, freebeerandchicken did not disappoint. While the group did go through a Spinal Tap-like lineup of drummers, this was the first time in almost 15 years that the classic lineup of Damian Ubriaco (guitar/vocals), Kirk Juhas (keys, harmonica, vocals), Ken Juhas (bass), Chris Sullivan (guitar/vocals), Seth Rostan (saxaphones), and Pat “Skatman” Bayles (drums) have been on stage together. This lineup had done the most extensive touring in the band’s history during the 1996 – 2001 era. Though the band had been together long before that (the core four of Kirk, Ken, Sullivan and Damian have known each other since elementary school), and evolved after that into Okemah, this was the lineup responsible for the 1999 CD, Fruition. They played many of the songs from “Fruition” as well as several others from that time period. Smiles were everywhere and the dancing in the crowd was driven by many old friends.
After a great set from Wreckloose (also a reunion of sorts), the slow-build instrumental ‘Woman’ opened the night in great fashion with sax/guitar doubled lines and a peak jam bringing the opening number to almost 10 minutes. The guys eased into four tracks from Fruition, starting with an 8 minute version of ‘Sugar Plum” displaying their memorable harmonies and solos from Kirk and Sully. They slowed it down for ‘Living in the City’, only to speed it up again and feature Kirk’s harmonica on the foot stomping ‘Going Away Blues’.
‘Take it Easy’ has always been a crowd favorite, with smooth solos from Sullivan on his Fender, they did not let us down. Damian then strummed the opening chords to the environmental ballad ‘Green’ (the shortest song of the night at just over 4 minutes), only to speed up again into the FB&C anthem ‘Country.’ containing the line “Life was meant for livin’ and I’m gonna have some fun!” and it certainly looked like they were having fun being back together.
The B3 organ started ‘Epic’, (named for the story that it tells and not necessarily the 14 minute length, though that could be arguable) which highlighted many shows at Wetlands and other great venues over the years. This lead into The Band’s ‘Ophelia’, which they had switched up, so that Kirk and Damian shared vocals on alternating sections.
The night got even funkier when the younger Juhas twin, Ken started the bassline to Jaco Pastorius’ ‘Chicken’ giving way to a great sax lead by Seth Rostan. It then slowed down again for the slow-jazz of ‘Shine.’
The two-hour set closed with a rocking version of ‘Rattlesnake,’ featuring Kirk on vocals and alternating between the electric piano and B3. The band nailed the starts and stops in this great tune, showing that they can still play like the old days. As they walked off stage, Skat saluted the crowd for a job well done from both sides of the stage.
The encore was “a traditional song, about a young man, with a hammer…” according to Damian. ‘John Henry’ ended with a great “Cool Drink of Water” vocal jam, which had been the way that that the band closed with many nights at the Monopole in Plattsburgh. You could see the smiles on many of the now older friends in the crowd originally from places like 7 South Catherine Street and Albany alike, many of whom traveled from NYC to catch this reunion (not to mention the soundman, Dennis Horton, who came in from San Diego for the event.) It was a great night, which we will hopefully get to re-live again in some form or another.