In a perfect world Ronnie Montrose would have been sitting in the balcony of the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco on Friday night to watch first hand the love, reverence, and admiration the bay area rock community has for his body of work.
This of course is not a perfect world and Montrose who struggled with alcoholism and depression for many years, and a difficult fight with prostate cancer, killed himself March 3rd at his home in Brisbane.
The show, like Montrose’s music was something to behold. Calling it an all star affair might be stretching it a bit, but many of the people Montrose worked with in many different eras were on hand to play Montrose songs and celebrate the life of the gifted guitar player who played a role in the birth of modern day heavy metal.
The biggest draw, and highlight of the show was the original Montrose band, led by Sammy Hagar on vocals, Denny Carmassi on drums, and Bill Church on bass with Joe
Satriani on guitar in place of Ronnie Montrose. Although Hagar said they had only practiced once for an hour the band was tight and delivered most of the influential first album with an excitement and vigor that was somewhat of a surprise.
This was no halfhearted run through. Opening with “Good Rocking Tonight” it was clear this was going to be special. Playing songs that launched a thousand metal bands Hagar was in top form, his voice sounded better in some spots than on the 1973 record. He was a bit subdued compared to his beach dude persona he has crafted in the last decade, which would be expected at this kind of and event, but he told stories of writing the classic track “Rock Candy”, and knocking on Montrose’s door with the songs “Make It Last”, and the first song Hagar ever wrote “Bad Motor Scooter” in his hand. All three of those songs were delivered with all the young man bravado they possessed when they were first released.
One revelation about that first Montrose band is the power and precision of the rhythm section made of Carmassi and Church. During the ending of “Space Station #5”, they pumped the beat out so fast thrash titans Anthrax would have been impressed.
Montrose’s late seventies progressive hard rock band Gamma opened the show with a
Impressive performance of minor radio hits. Opening with “Thunder and Lightening” the guitar of Joe Bonila was sharp, and focused, with a tone that could have been coming from Montrose himself. It didn’t take the band long to gel, with the “Razor King” creating a funky grove that captured the crowd and allowed the band to find an early groove in their short set.
The final portion of the show was the billed as The Ronnie Montrose All Star Band that started off a bit slow, as a lot of these type of shows do but hit a high point when members of Sacramento band Tesla lit into “I Got The Fire”, one of the two songs from the first album that the Hagar led band did not do. Tesla also played their radio hit “Little Suzy”, saying that Montrose once told them he loved the song.
The show closed with two Edger Winter hits that Montrose played on, “Free Ride”, and an intense rocking version of the classic rock chestnut “Frankenstein”.
With all this great music, superbly played on this night, you had to believe that Ronnie was in fact looking over the proceedings. Lets hope it gave him some comfort that was so hard to find in this world.