LIVE: The Sharks / Johnny Rabb and the Jailhouse Rockers @ The Hollow, 04/09/2022
The Sharks cast a pretty long shadow in Capital Region music history. Like, really long. The enthusiastic and sellout crowd in attendance last night at the Hollow surely understood that. But time marches on, people move on, and memories tend to get fuzzy and sometimes lost. That the Sharks’ “golden era” of the eighties was pre-internet only amplifies this. It’s hard for younger generations to discover and perpetuate their music when it exists primarily on hard-to-find albums and cassettes in your father’s (or grandfather’s) man cave. And that is a shame, because some forty years on (in some cases), the music still shines.
To give some context to the Sharks’ history, I have to rely on my own sometimes shaky memory. The Sharks emerged on the Albany scene in the early eighties, and what first resonated were the horns. The music scene at the time had a heavy new-wave bent, and while the Sharks definitely have that in their DNA, they also had horns. And that made them different – simultaneously progressive, yet classic. They could move from rock to ska to new wave to honky tonk almost effortlessly. That imprint and versatility remain today.
My earliest memory of them was hearing their ska version of “Downtown” on the radio. Commercial radio – this was back when radio was less homogenized, and it was possible to have legitimate regional “hits”. “I Won’t Be Happy”, “Arm in Arm”, and others also got significant play. The Sharks were on your radio. When Stevie Ray Vaughan played the Palace, the Sharks opened the show. When you went to Larkfest or Tulipfest, the Sharks were your headliners. Back when Albany still had a First Night celebration, the Sharks rang in the new year with thousands of your neighbors. In short, the Sharks were known – they wrote great music, drew crowds, and were as legit live as they come.
Last night, the classic 7-piece lineup (sans saxophonist Tom D’Ambrose, who sadly passed in 2019) reformed for the first time in over 30 years. From the opening notes of “Too Late to Go Back”, it was clear that everybody – band and audience – was in for a good time. Trombonist Jeff Roberts immediately reminded us of the same thought we all had forty years ago – why isn’t there more trombone in today’s music? He and lead singer/keyboardist Mike Kelley were particularly sharp from the first notes, seemingly needing no acclimatizing. Kelley, for his part, seemed completely at ease – singing with eyes closed, voice still as full as ever. He clearly still enjoys singing these songs.
The band proceeded to roll through the first half of their set, and if you paid attention, you could see the individual members “click in”. Guitarist Jerry Yaroschuck was grabbing your attention with his leads by the second song (“I’ll Follow You”). A half dozen or so songs in, the instrumental “Bien Vendido” showcased Bob Button’s trumpet in glorious fashion. “New guy” Marcus Benoit on sax more than held his own between Button and Roberts. The band got stronger and stronger with each song, jamming particularly hard on “With Your Love”, about halfway through their set.
The Sharks then switched into a two-song “acoustic mode”, performing “Moving to America” and a very solid interpretation of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”. It was after this that the band truly caught fire. Drummer Bob Assini propelled them through a relentless four-song run, starting with “Little Yeeti” and culminating with a devastating “Good Old Days”, that featured a near-perfect drum solo. In the middle of these two, the honkytonk-ish “Rehabilitation Blues” was another standout. This was the band firing on all cylinders.
They closed out their set with the wonderful “Arm in Arm”, before (almost immediately) launching into a two-song encore of “Downtown” and “I Won’t Be Happy”. There was no pretense of leaving the stage in between, as the adoring crowd was having none of that. Indeed, they brought them back for a mini-reprise of “I Won’t Be Happy” as a second encore.
Tricky things, reunions. The desire to relive past glories creates an environment where you don’t actually need to be that good in order to be appreciated. Easy to rest on your laurels, and perhaps phone it in. The Sharks are clearly not that type of band. Tight, infectious, and most of all – damn good. That’s what a Sharks show in 2022 is.
A little less than halfway through their set, Sharks’ trumpeter Bob Button joked “never follow Johnny Rabb”. A joke, yes, but a joke steeped in the truth. Johnny Rabb and the Jailhouse Rockers opened the show with an absolutely killer hour-long set of what Johnny does best – playing classic rockabilly and rock and roll and reminding you that, yes, this might still be the best music ever made. A ridiculously natural rock ‘n roll showman, Rabb continues to add to his already-legendary status on the local scene. The Jailhouse Rockers include “the best father-and-son rockabilly team in all of Rensselaer County” (as John Tichy jokingly quipped at one point), and that moniker doesn’t do them justice. Graham Tichy is a force of nature on guitar, yet doesn’t make a huge fuss about it. Dad John Tichy more than holds his own and will crack you up in the process of doing so. And Chris “Gringo Starr” Sprague on bass is yet another ringer, talented enough to easily headline his own show at the Hangar the next night.
They blistered through about a dozen and a half songs in their 60 minutes on stage. High points included a searing version of “His Latest Flame”, “Ready Teddy”, “Wooly Bully”, and “My Gal is Red Hot”. But truth be told, there wasn’t a clinker in the mix, from the opener to the last notes of “Suspicious Minds”. Johnny Rabb and the Jailhouse Rockers are a killer show any night of the week, and they keep getting better and better. Follow them at your own risk.
Setlist (The Sharks)
- Too Late to Go Back
- I’ll Follow You
- Change Your Tune
- Take What You Get
- Please Say yes
- Payday Bues
- Bien Vendido
- She Never Feels the Same
- Too Good for Words
- Baby Don’t Know It
- How Can I Give You
- With Your Love
- Moving to America
- Baba O’Riley (The Who cover)
- Little Yeeti
- Rehabilitation Blues
- Everybody Wants to Know
- Goold Old Days
- Arm in Arm
- Downtown (Tony Hatch cover)
- I Won’t Be Happy