DVD Review: Ronnie Montrose – Concert for Ronnie Montrose: A Celebration of His Life in Music

DVD Review: Ronnie Montrose  Concert for Ronnie Montrose: A Celebration of His Life in Music
All Access Rating: B+

Ronnie Montrose - Concert for
Ronnie Montrose - A Celebration of
His Life in Music 2013
Many tears had been shed over the March 3, 2012 passing of guitar legend Ronnie Montrose. On this night, however, mourning his death was not encouraged. This was an occasion to toast a mercurial and sublime talent, to send him off in a manner befitting his groundbreaking work and highly influential legacy.

Almost a month and a half after American hard rock lost one of its leading architects, an all-star lineup congregated at the venerable Regency Ballroom in San Francisco to pay homage to someone who always marched to the beat of his own drummer, a restless artist who never stayed in one place too long and avoided the limelight as much as possible.

As a guitarist, his keen playing had both sizzle and substance. Never ostentatious, Montrose's industrious salvos resembled the man himself, his heady riffs rough and heavy and his solos beguilingly understated, but also lively and gripping. Writing the iconic guitar riffs to Van Morrison's "Wild Nights" and the Edgar Winter Group's "Free Ride" and "Frankenstein" wasn't enough for Montrose. That session work predated the formation of his band Montrose, who rewrote the rule book for hard rock with a smashing, full-blooded 1973 debut that, despite its limited commercial success, showed the way forward for Van Halen and others who found magic in classic songs such as the ubiquitous "Bad Motor Scooter." And when Montrose felt that progressive-rock needed a good, swift kick in the ass, he created Gamma, a vehicle for further experimentation and reinvention, something Montrose never tired of as he later dabbled in jazzy, instrumental complexities further on down the road.

Packed to the rafters, the Regency Ballroom provided a rich, ornate setting for this warmly filmed and recorded tribute, now out on a DVD that doesn't include, or need, a lot of bells and whistles. Distinctly analog, with the focus placed squarely on Montrose's music, the film – interspersed with a few insightful interviews to contextualize his career – keeps the sentimentality to a minimum mostly. When it comes, it is tasteful and meaningful, as when Tesla singer Jeff Keith expresses how grateful he and Tesla were for Ronnie's interest and belief in them. Unfortunately, Tesla's rather tepid and awkward reading of its hit "Little Suzi" is one of the low points of this concert. A vocally mangled, though instrumentally sound, version of "Free Ride" is a bit disconcerting as well. On the other hand, Tesla guitarist Frank Hannon leads a mercenary group of musicians in a spirited romp through "I Don't Want It," off that great first Montrose album, and the crew responsible for "Frankenstein" awakens the monster, enthusiastically kicking it into overdrive and giving it even more sonic crunch.

Even more heartening, though, are a series of searing performances from a reformed Gamma, with Davey Pattison, Glenn Letsch and Denny Carmassi playing alongside the dazzling guitartist Marc Bonilla, breathing new life into "Thunder and Lightning," "Razor King" and "No Tears," and the remaining members of Montrose, with Joe Satriani on guitar, thundering through high-voltage, razor-sharp takes on "Rock The Nation" and "Space Station No. 5."

Perhaps the most affecting moments, however, are reserved for guitarist C.J. Hutchins, percussionist Jimmy Paxson and keyboardist Ed Roth, who offer beautiful, lush acoustic renderings of "Lighthouse" and "One and A Half" that turns a raucous crowd quiet and thoughtful. They were awful noisy though in roaring their appreciation for Roth joining Journey guitarist Neal Schon, one-time Journey drummer Steve Smith and Styx bassist Ricky Phillips for heated, well-articulated versions of Montrose instrumentals "Open Fire" and "Town Without Pity." A bonus disc of Dave Meniketti, members of Y&T and other performers tearing into songs like the Montrose staple "Rock Candy," "Good Rockin' Tonight" and "Wild Nights" completes the collection, and they give six tracks a good, vigorous workout, even if there's no audience but the camera operators around to enjoy it.

Ronnie will be missed, but at least his music lives on. This concert film, shot with a real appreciation for the skill of the musicians taking part and Montrose's catalog, only serves to cement Montrose's place in music history.
– Peter Lindblad

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