Whatever the circumstances of his early passing, Ronnie Montrose’s music spoke to larger things — to outer-limits explorations on the guitar, to rafter-rearranging loudness, to fun. The forthcoming Concert for Ronnie Montrose captures all of that, as it chronicles a tribute show held at San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom in the days after the ailing guitarist committed suicide last year.
Most of Montrose’s musical family tree was on hand, most notably collaborators like Sammy Hagar (who fronted the ground-breaking initial incarnation of Montrose), Neal Schon and Steve Smith (both of Journey fame), Ricky Phillips (Styx, the Babys) and Marc Bonilla (Keith Emerson, Glenn Hughes). Special guests also included Joe Satriani, who took over for Ronnie when the reformed Montrose band took the stage to close out this emotional event.
Due on December 10, 2013 and featuring a sparkling 5.1 surround mix, the concert film begins with flame-throwing fashion, with Schon — joined by Smith, Ed Roth (Rob Halford, Glenn Hughes, late-period Montrose), and Phillips — taking apart the title track Montrose’s 1978 solo album Open Fire. In perhaps the best tribute of all to the night’s honoree, the track retains both its muscular power and the rangy jazz influences that led Tony Williams to invite Montrose to tour with him after this album was originally released. The group then slips seamlessly into a thunking version of Gene Pitney’s “Town Without Pity,” from the same 1978 project.
Modern-day Kiss members Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer are joined by Phillips, along with singers Keith St. John (another late-period member of Montrose) and Eric Martin (Mr. Big) for the crunchy blues of “One Thing On My Mind” from 1973’s Montrose debut. Drummer Jimmy Paxson (Stevie Nicks) sits in for a brisk runs through Edgar Winter’s “Free Ride” and “Frankenstein” — the last of which, of course, originally featured an absolutely monstrous riff from Montrose.
A reformulated edition of Montrose’s late-1970s prog-rock amalgam Gamma — featuring Davey Pattison (Robin Trower), Denny Carmassi (Montrose, Heart, Whitesnake) and Glenn Letsch (Trower) along with Bonilla (who memorably worked with Ronnie on 1993’s American Matador) — is featured on a tough take of 1979’s “Thunder and Lightning,” too. Bonilla absolutely flies through “Ready for Action,” also from the Gamma 1 debut, and that may be the best tribute of all. Elsewhere, there are heartfelt moments in song featuring Jeff Watson (Night Ranger), members of Tesla and — in a second bonus disc highlighted by “Rock Candy” — a group including Mario Cipollina (Huey Lewis), Tal Morris (Creedence Clearwater Revisited, Sons of Champlin), members of Y&T and others.
But the evening was inevitably highlighted by a closing performance from the remaining members of Montrose, with Hagar’s current Chickenfoot bandmate Satriani filling in on guitar. Carmassi and Bill Church join them here for a fun-loving, though too-brief set which more than lived up to the DVD’s billing as “A Celebration of His Life in Music.” They offer a thunderous “Rock the Nation,” and then “Space Station No. 5,” which begins with a perfectly done moment of feedback from Satriani. The only complaint is that this reunion lasts but for two songs on the disc.
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