Live: Rocky Velvet and Surfer Joe at the Hangar
Written by Amy Modesti on April 21, 2019
It was surf and rockabilly night at the Hangar on The Hudson on Friday, April 5. Music fans of the “It Came from Cropseyville” rockabilly group, Rocky Velvet, were wearing their Rocky Velvet t-shirts in preparation for their return to The Hangar stage. For this one-night only show, Surfer Joe, an Italian lead guitarist/ vocalist from Italy, opened for local favorites, Rocky Velvet.
Unlike previous local groups that open for the headlining act, Surfer Joe, featuring members Lorenzo “Surfer Joe” Valdambrini (lead guitar/vocals), and California musicians, Jonpaul Balak (bass, Venice, CA), and Chris Roberts (drums, North Hollywood, CA), opened for Rocky Velvet. Out of all the events that I’ve attended at The Hangar on The Hudson, this was my first time to see a headlining act open for a local group.
Surfer Joe, who was touring in the United States for the past few weeks, was funny, witty, and entertaining. For just a three-piece surf band, this group was extremely tight in their song arrangements, mainly instrumentals, that were performed in their set. I was in awe watching their bassist move and groove along to the rhythm of his bassline that was heard in each song. Balak was very animated on stage, along with Surfer Joe who brought out his guitar tremolo at times to get that surf sound that he was feeding out to his new fans.
Most of the instrumentals that Surfer Joe performed were from his current album, “Swell or Dwell”, that was for sale. Each song, Surfer Joe paid homage to other international and nationally known surf bands and artists that remained influential in the music that he wrote. Listening to his traditional surf song, “A Day on the Beach”, it had some brief hints of both Santo and Johnny’s “Sleepwalk” and the instrumental version of “Sleigh Bells” that one would hear during the holiday season. The opening riff of “Pipelines” paid homage to The Champs’, “Tequila”. “El Senor Surf”, the title song to his previous album, “El Senor Surf”, payed homage to “Wipeout”, with just the beat of the drumming by Roberts.
“This is surf music. You don’t get this with any other genres. You know, this is nice,” said Surfer Joe as he tested out a guitar riff that he played with his guitar tremolo. He asked Graham Tichy for his opinion on the tone that he had performed. Tichy liked the tone and Surfer Joe continued to perform some more music. The group later covered “Dark Eyes” a Russian love tune written by Eddie Bertrand in 1962 that he performed for the audience. He made his guitar sound like a bee buzzing along The Hangar during the song’s instrumental solo.
Surfer Joe is intrigued by culture, especially Japanese culture. Surfer Joe and Balak have toured Japan three times and the band will return to the country next year. Valdambrini dedicated his song, “Hiroshi No Subarashi Ramen”, to his Japanese musician friend that took him out to eat while he was on tour. The song was inspired by both The Ventures and his love of ramen noodles.
I was impressed by Surfer Joe and his band. When you think of surf music, one would normally think of “The Beach Boys”, “Santo and Johnny”, “The Ventures”, “Jan and Dean”, or even the local surf band, “Big Fez and the Surfmatics”. Surfer Joe and his band take surf music to a whole new level while keeping up with the traditional style of the genre from past surf bands. Their music had you captivated and dancing throughout their set.
Rocky Velvet fans crept close to the stage to get into position to dance and listen to local rockabilly favorites, and headlining act, Rocky Velvet. The last time I heard my hometown band perform was at a summer concert held at the Brunswick Community Center possibly over 8 years ago during my college days. I remember my parents and I purchased their cd, “It Came from Cropseyville” after their show ended. Come to find out at the time, the drummer (now my friend), Jeff Michael, was from my hometown too, in Cropseyville!! Watching them perform at The Hangar on The Hudson after Surfer Joe’s set was a long time coming for me.
Rocky Velvet featuring Jay Bird Gorleski (upright bass/vocals), Ian Carlton (acoustic guitar/vocals), Jeff Michael (drums/vocals), Graham Tichy (guitar/vocals), and guest saxophonist/vocalist, Justin Birk, put on a fantastic show. They had the entire audience dancing to their cover tunes and their songs from their albums, “It Came from Cropseyville” and “Shuckin The Corn: The Great Lost Album”. From their set, I can see why my hometown band would be the headlining act of this epic show.
“It’s like riding a bike,” called out Carlton as he introduced Rocky Velvet, after performing “I’m Giving You A Come On” and “Mr. Big Wheel”. It’s been three years since the band performed together at The Hangar. Although Tichy admitted that they were just winging it from song to song, asking each other what song they were going to perform that they could remember, the band had a blast being a part of this show with Surfer Joe.
Twenty years later, Rocky Velvet released their second album, “Shuckin The Corn: The Great Lost Album” this year. This album features 17 cuts that were recorded from 2000-2001. The album was available for purchase at their show. Even Carlton gave a fan a free copy of the CD during their set. From the new album, the band performed their old classics, “Shuckin The Corn”, “King Kong” (with some monkey noises from the group), “Don’t Take My Picture Down”, and “Can’t Stop” (a song that they used for their sound check).
“It Came from Cropseyville” also made a resurgence. Towards the end of their set, the group relived the days of teenage angst in their instrumental tune that they first recorded for their album. Reliving more songs from their high school days, one by one, the fun continued to keep going as they performed more tunes from “It Came From Cropseyville” with, “One and Only”, “Move Around”, “I’m Seeing Blue All Night Long” (with great soloing from Tichy), “Hot Water”, “Justine”, among others.
Besides performing their originals, each band member was able to shine alone on their covers. Taking a break from singing, Michael rose to the occasion to sing a great cover of “Susie Q” (C.C.R.) before Gorleski sung solo on another song that the crowd encouraged him to sing. Burk later joined the band to perform two back to back songs, including standing out in his soloing in “Red Hot” (Billy Lee Riley), followed suit by Tichy’s covers of “ I Got A Rocket in My Pocket” (Jimmy Lloyd) and for the finale encore, a cover of “Surfin Bird-Bird is the Word” (The Trashmen).
It was certainly a blast from the past to watch Rocky Velvet, with all its original members, perform once again since their show at the Brunswick Community Center. It was a concert that you certainly didn’t want to miss out on this year. With great surf and rockabilly from two great acts, it was a fun, epic show with lots of great talent all around.