Come Back Alice and The Heather Gillis Band blow up St. Pete Saturday night

You just have to love it when you can fit two great shows at two great venues into one evening. We were able to make that work again Saturday, November 28, first hearing the Heather Gillis Band at The Ale & the Witch, then rolling down the street to The Ringside to hear Come Back Alice (both in St. Petersburg).

The Ale and the Witch just got even cooler, if that’s possible, with the opening of the Witches’ Den, a room upstairs that can stay open past the courtyard’s midnight curfew. Thanks, Brett Andress!!! The Screaming J’s were rocking downstairs when we arrived, barrelhouse piano and rollicking fun. They will be part of Hometeam New Year’s Rally. (Don’t miss it!)

I had never heard of Heather Gillis until I saw her perform with Col. Bruce Hampton (Ret.) at Magnolia Fest in October on two separate occasions. I was excited at the time and was truly looking forward to seeing her again, this time with her own band.

heather gillis poster

We were not disappointed. She is a great guitar slinger with a dynamic voice, and her band and she knocked out a wonderful set. Several tunes in, she threw down a blistering “Goin’ Down,” the Don Nix song. Tenor saxophonist Nyan Feder traded horn for guitar, and the two slugged it out. Kyle Chervanik, bass, and Gerald Watkins, drums, kept the rhythm rock steady all set. Donna observed how cool Watkins looked when he played with his eyes closed.

After “Goin’ Down,” Gillis pulled out her lap steel and demonstrated her prowess on that instrument as well. She delivered a chilling reading of “I’d Rather Go Blind.” During Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight,” everybody got a chance to solo, and solo they did! The excellent set closed with “Blind, Crippled and Crazy > I’ll Take You There.”

You’ll be hearing lots more from this 20-year-old Tampa lady working on graduating early from FSU.

We zipped down the street to the Ringside just in time to hear Tony Tyler get, well, a “Stranglehold” on the Ted Nugent opus. It was monstrous. And then it was set break.

Set two for Come Back Alice began, Allman Brothers Style, with “Ain’t Wastin’ Time.” Tony has always been a triple threat (vocals, Hammond B3 and guitar), but now he is a quadruple threat with his nasty electric piano. Dani Jaye was blowing it up on guitar. There was a vibe in the room, something special. Next was “Hit the Road, Jack,” Tony back on B3 for the Ray Charles classic.

“Along for the Ride,” one the band’s more recent compositions, went stratospheric as Tony hit clavinet (!!) while Dani wah-wah-ed away (is that a verb?). “Lorelei” and another incredibly hot tune (guitar and violin) followed.

And here is the point where the set first went intergalactic. The opening strains of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” emerged, and already Big Bad John Werner was living up to his name on bass while Yral ‘datdudeondrums’ Morris was absolutely manic. This band is comprised of four superb talents, and their collaboration is pure joy.

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Tony started out on guitar, then moved to B3, with Dani on guitar. “Liz” worked its way into a wicked jam, then “Hot ‘Lanta” (for Tami and Charles, obviously), into “Les Brers in A Minor,” back to “Hot ‘Lanta” and closing with “Liz.” OH DAMN.

In my notes, as they lit into “Fast Train Coming,” I scribbled ‘best set ever.’ I’ll stick with that. Ajeva‘s new keyboard player, Mark Mayea, joined them on B3 and had a brilliant solo.

There was actually some discussion about leaving before the third set, which would have been an enormous mistake. Because just WOW.

The set began with Leon Russell’s “Magic Mirror” — what a great song to cover! Then the Rev. Funky D, Godfather of the St. Pete scene, jumped on the B3 for the Band’s “The Shape I’m In.” And I am betting you have never heard a band segue from that into a monster “Love Rollercoaster!”

They were just getting warmed up! Suddenly “Billy Jean” washed over the packed house as Reed Skahill, singer and guitarist for Ajeva, grabbed the microphone and TORE. IT. UP. If you were lucky enough to see Ajeva’s Michael Jackson set at Gov-Fest in February, then you have some idea just how incredible this was. Dani had an amazing violin solo.

How do you top that? Tony said some people were asking for a Beatles tune? “A Day in the Life?” Really? REALLY! What a brilliant close to a brilliant night from the brilliant quartet from Sarasota.

Just WOW.

 

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Scott Hopkins
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