Just What We Needed

Whitesnake they ain't, but Y&T is hard to beat for regional rawk nostalgia.

Nostalgia Euphoria Overload can strike you at the oddest times. For example, when you’re standing in an overcrowded, boiling-hot Concord comedy club, reeling from the sonic wake of an opening act AC/DC cover band, as a dangerously unstable scrum of sweaty, beefy, besotted, invariably goateed dudes breaks into an arm-tomahawking fistfight every five minutes or so as we impatiently wait for a thirty-year-old hair metal band to take the stage, preferably before our last precious reserves of deodorant are pulverized entirely.

The catalyst for my NEO? Why, the Cars, of course. The PA chose to blare, at this volatile juncture, the band’s self-titled 1978 debut, the vinyl liner notes to which I would clutch to my four-year-old chest as I joyfully ran around the living room in tight, concentric, endless circles like a human Spirograph. The Darth Vader dread of “Moving in Stereo” and the Skywalking joy of “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” are my earliest musical memories, and back they flooded as I held my ground in the belly of the beast of Tommy T’s, as a similarly besotted pack of ladies behind me giddily sang along to “My Best Friend’s Girl.”

It was rad.

It was not why I was there. As to that, I will simply recite the back of a nearby soaked-through T-shirt: “Y&T Forever. East Bay Rock. Established 1974.”

The real AC/DC. Ozzy Osbourne. Aerosmith. Mötley Crüe. The crews and Crües for whom Y&T has warmed a stage for more than three decades tell the band’s story far better than frontman Dave Meniketti and Co’s own smiley, workmanlike cock-rock-for-guys-who-aren’t-cocks, loaded with riffy tales of man-eating women and the polite men who’d much rather eat them first. The dudes never managed the atomic-bomb pop hit or lipstick-smacking sexpot image necessary for Fame and Fortune, but Regional Fame and Fortune (with the usual inexplicable adoring legions in Japan) will do nicely, thank you.

The tightly packed crowd for this extravaganza wasn’t the offensively stereotypical mullets ‘n’ NASCAR mob as our fair nation’s Franz Ferdinand fans would imagine — just stoic, well-fed dudes and even-better-fed dudettes, Raider Nation sans the makeup and homicidal edge. A warm, comforting cocoon in which to curl on a Friday evening. Perhaps a bit too warm. Tommy T’s was blazin’ hot from start to finish, instantly turning your Old Spice into Ancient Decay and providing something else to worry over besides the long-ass will-call line and the club’s bizarre sightlines. Unless you shoved your way forward into Tomahawk Fistfight territory front-and-center, viewing the mashed-in-a-corner stage from a distance is like peering through the wrong end of a telescope.

Still, it’s an intermittent rock club in a rock-starved part of town, and it’s deftly avoiding pigeonholes — the very next night Digital Underground took over, providing an abrupt enough shift in crowd demographic to leave your flaming transmission bouncing down the Interstate.

But tonight, we open with Powerage, the fake AC/DC, participant in a crowded “tribute band” racket in which success is measured entirely by how closely your lead guitarist resembles Angus Young. Verdict: thumbs down. Nice devil-horns hat, buddy, but your schoolboy shorts are way too long and baggy. This is not the NBA. Furthermore, your frontman is the real-life equivalent of Nelson from The Simpsons. (HA-ha.)

But ah, the crowd hooted lustily as Powerage blasted through “You Shook Me Till Midway Through Saturday Night Live,” “A Woefully Inadequate Amount of Rosie,” “Highway to Danville,” “Dirty Deeds Done at a Locked-In 72-Month Zero Percent APR Financing Rate,” and “(It Seems as Though They’re Constantly Showing Roadhouse on) TNT.”

Actually, they changed “TNT” to “Y&T”: nice touch.

And with the Cars epiphany behind us, here comes Y&T now, fortysomething-at-best dudes with teased-out hair and faux-sexy shiny shirts, grinning like maniacs as they fire up “Mean Streak” and settle in for ninety minutes of minor-key woman-done-me-wrong-but-I’d-do-her-again-anyway hard-rock fist-pumpin’. These songs won’t change your life: Lyrically they stick to sordid tales of the “Dirty Girl” who cut “Straight Thru the Heart” and booted you to “The Lonely Side of Town,” where you sit around moanin’ “Rescue Me” until some sympathetic lass says “I Believe in You.” It’s all very sub-Def Leppard. The optimum word here is “workmanlike”: okay riffs, okay solos, okay energy, but obviously lacking that intangible mind-blowing quality that might’ve turned these dudes into Van Halen or, y’know, Whitesnake. Y&T’s “Winds of Change,” while older than the similarly named Scorpions tune — cue whistling melody that’ll be stuck in your head for the next three hours (sorry) — is vastly inferior in terms of Bic-lighter-draining anthem power, but no one at Tommy T’s seemed inclined to point this out.

After all, sub-Def Leppard can still be pretty righteous. It’s weirdly inspiring to see a large group of people enthusiastically responding to capital-R RRRRock music that isn’t drenched in Darkness-like irony and insincerity. It’s also enjoyable when said RRRRock, while not exactly epoch-defining, doesn’t suck either. And maybe Y&T has blasted off an anthem or two in thirty years: The set climaxed with “Summertime Girls” (You make my whole world go ’round), as raucous and exhilarating a rush as you have any right to expect in Concord. The encore ended with “Dirty Girl,” but the band’s fervent belief in the healing power of Rock and Attractive, Nubile Ladies remained intact. And so did ours.

Peeling out of the Tommy T’s parking lot, I flipped on the radio and caught “Vertigo,” the new “leaked” U2 single: rock ‘n’ rollin’ old-timers trying their damnedest to sound fresh and fun and enthusiastic again. And, just like Y&T, mostly succeeding, rescuing us, at least momentarily, from the lonely side of town.

Let the okay times roll.

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