I took a very informal survey of about two dozen randomly selected concert-goers at the Corning Preserve’s Riverfront Park in Albany just prior to the start of the first of the free weekly Alive at Five concerts last Thursday.
I asked a simple, straight-forward question: Can you name Vertical Horizon’s No. 1 hit song?
No one could name it. Most of them didn’t even bother to try. And at least a half dozen weren’t even aware that Vertical Horizon was that band that was headlining the first Alive at Five concert of the 2011 summer. The show that was scheduled to start in about 10 minutes. The show that they were at.
So much for the concept of paying big money to try to bring in major-league name acts to draw folks down to the riverfront. Let’s face it, the bread and butter of the Alive at Five concert series is acts that are quite decidedly on the downhill slide from their career peak.
And the main reason that folks attend the shows is not that they love the band that’s playing (if they even know who it is that’s playing). It’s simply the place to go to see or be seen. It’s a people-watching bonanza. And, of course, there’s beer.
Which was a very good thing last Thursday because Vertical Horizon was just about the most generic, faceless band that I’ve ever seen at an Alive at Five concert – and I’ve been going to them pretty regularly since Richie Havens launched the series way back when on a portable stage on North Pearl Street in front of Jonathan’s Pizza, the first of at least different downtown locations to have hosted the concert series.
Here are a few of favorite quotes from vocalist-guitarist Matt Scannell, the only remaining original member of the band:
“I’ve always been suspicious of love songs. I always thought they were cheesy. It made me angry. Then I fell in love…” – the intro to “The Lucky One’
“It’s just a fun song. Every once in a while you write a song that doesn’t mean much. This doesn’t mean much at all.” – the intro to “Send It Up”
“I wish I didn’t have to write it, but I did.” – the intro to “Carrying On”
“I wrote this song with a 104-degree temperature. There’s a line in it, ‘Maybe tonight/It’s gonna be alright/
I will get better.’ But really I just wanted some freakin’ Advil.” – the intro to “I’m Still Here”
“This is just a bit of whimsy…” – intro to “Won’t Go Away”
“That’s the pre-chorus. That’s the part that matters least. It turns out, I’m not Paul McCartney.” – intro to “Best I Ever Had”
“Why would I want to write a No. 1 song that’s going to change the rest of my life. I’d rather sleep.” – intro to Vertical Horizon’s No. 1 song “Everything You Want”
Fortunately, Mirk was there to save the day. Formerly known as Mirk & the New Familiars, the seven-piece served up a fab, 65-minute opening set that neatly balanced a firm funk foundation with undeniable pop hooks. Led by vocalist Josh Mirsky, they uncorked a delightful OutKast/Gnarls Barkley sound (yes, they pumped out a fine cover of “Hey Ya”), but they’ve definitely got their own thing going.
They had the crowd chanting along, “I get the Mirkin’ feeling that you’re Mirkin’ around,” and guitarist Mike Thornton chugged a bottle of beer at one go, while simultaneously reeling off a particularly hellacious one-handed guitar solo. They eased through some of their old favorites (“Forbidden” is still one of the best songs to ever come out of Nippertown), and sneak-previewed some mighty fine stuff like “Away” from the upcoming new album, “Grind.”
And, oh yeah, any band that wants to mash up Timbuk 3’s “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” with Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night” is AOK in my book.
Can’t wait to hear the new album…
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
VERTICAL HORIZON SET LIST
All Is Said and Done
The Lucky One
Send It Up
I’m Still Here
Won’t Go Away
The Middle Ground
Best I Ever Had (Grey Sky Morning)
Save Me From Myself
Everything You Want