GIG REVIEW: SEETHER, THE WINERY DOGS & EZRA Live at Freedom Hill Amphitheater, Sterling Heights, MI
The evening of July 3rd 2016, in Sterling Heights, Michigan saw a crowd eagerly awaiting a rock show. Celebrating the 4th of July weekend, Freedom Hill amphitheater hosted a ‘Stars and Stripes’ event which featured rock bands for the masses to enjoy. Three bands graced the stage; all of whom I had never seen live before.
Getting the crowd warmed up was Ezra, a local band who recently regrouped after a thirty-year hiatus. With three original members and a new lead singer, this band was musically in tune, but it blatantly showed the singer needs some seasoning as he needed an iPad for what I suspect was to remember song lyrics. Sounding like various bands of the 70’s/80’s era, they tore it up ending their set, covering a Led Zeppelin song thatmade some audience members stand and applaud.
It was still daylight out, and next on stage was The Winery Dogs. I was hooked the moment these guys hit the stage. It’s hard not to get into the music when a band consisting of Billy Sheehan on bass, Mike Portnoy on drums and Richie Kotzen on guitar and lead vocals are dishing out some sweet, sweet sounds. Sheehan is a master on bass guitar and shows no signs of slowing down; aging like a fine wine, he attributes his vitality to a low-carb diet, which has virtually eliminated any chance of arthritis to interrupt his playing. The chemistry between these three guys is amazing as they all shine with their talents, and the result is a fun and engaging rock n’ roll show.
Portnoy roused the crowd with his energy behind the drum set, always smiling and interacting with audience members. Kotzen is a vocal delight and a bit quirky, but he had just as much fun as the other guys. The crowd was vibing on the music, with Sheehan’s funky bass and occasional bass vocals (which was kind of comical in a good way), Portnoy tossing out drumsticks and sometimes calling and hitting his marks, and Kotzen wailing away on guitar in unconventional fashion. By the end, The Winery Dogs made a fan out of me. Having only been around since 2012 and with two albums to their credit – a self-titled album released in 2013 and ‘Hot Streak’ in 2015 – we can only hope this is the beginning of a long run for this band. Catch The Winery Dogs in concert if you want a good rocking time.
Daylight held on as Seether stepped on stage to headline the show. The crowd was ready for more rock, and the venue was full to the brim with late arrivals. I noticed lead singer Shaun Morgan walk his dog up to a waiting person near the front side of the stage, as he took gracious puffs of a cigarette before taking his place in front of the microphone. The crowd roared as Morgan and co. ripped into the first song. I’m honestly not a fan of Seether, but their fans sure do love them and they love the fans. Seeing the look of pure joy on bassist Dale Stewart’s face said it all, and his dancing was also evident of that. It wasn’t my kind of rock, but these guys did rock, and rock well. John Humphrey on drums was a bit of madman, with his hair whipping around as he pounded the skins. Touring guitarist Bryan Wickmann kept the riffs going in tandem with lead singer Morgan’s guitar.
I was puzzled at one moment during the show when one song ended and I heard a guitar playing, but with no band member playing their instrument. It reminded me of conversations I’ve had with others about bands using recorded music during live shows. This made me question if their instruments were even actually plugged in. The crowd didn’t seem fazed by it however, as the next song was belted out. Stewart was a ball of energy as he was all over the stage from end to end, enticing the crowd. As the sky darkened and fireworks lit the air, Seether continued to rock on. During the last song, Morgan got down in front of the barricade to play right in front of the delighted fans. The sound Seether emits doesn’t interest me, but they sure can pack a venue, so obviously they have plenty of fans to fuel them for as long as they care to keep rocking together.
All in all, it was a good night of rock n’ roll and celebrating America’s independence. Rock on, my fellow rock n’ rollers.