LIVE: Moriah Formica @ Wicked, Clifton Park, 1/11/2020

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A packed crowd at Wicked Eatery & Pub in Clifton Park was treated to an hour plus long set from Moriah Formica and her band on Saturday night, 1/11, a warm-up gig in advance of her showcase at the NAMM conference in LA this week.

Starting with a one-two punch of her 2019 singles, “I Hate” and “I Don’t Care What You Think,” Formica launched straight into the set at full blast. With her powerful vocal soaring above the power chords, and guitar accents punctuated by Nick Stamas, she lifted her “voice up to be heard” in this high octane show starter.

A ferocious cover of Blondie’s “Call Me” enabled drummer, Tony Tirino – donning a Rush shirt in tribute to Neil Peart who’s death was announced the day before – to stretch his legs for an extended intro. Throughout the set, Tirino displayed his competency behind the drums in a way that served the songs, but let you know there was a fully stocked tool kit that he frequently pulled from.

Formica slowed the tempo for her original, “Broken Soul,” typically the emotional highlight of her performances:

“How did I get so lost, in this place that I never thought I could ever end up,
It’s just unreal, our love, this pain I feel,
Take it all away, take it all away, take it all away”

As her pain became all too palpable, Stamas mirrored the aching through a brief, crying guitar solo before Formica took over lead guitar duties. As the pair traded solo sections, ending in a unison run that dramatically built into another round of the chorus, Formica had you fully invested on this journey and you couldn’t help but be moved by the power and emotion she and the band brought to the piece.

With hardly a beat between songs, Formica tore into the intro guitar riff to the Heart classic from 1977, “Barracuda.” This chugging tale of female empowerment is right in Formica’s vocal sweet-spot, as she brought almost as much venom as Ann Wilson did to the original. She also tackled Roger Fisher and Howard Leese’s lead guitar work from the original with just a slight re-arrangement to accommodate for one guitar.

Dipping back into her pool of originals, Formica delivered the aggressive, “Back Off,” which paired well lyrically and musically with the angst and tension of “Barracuda.” Bassist Dan Zavadil provided a rock-solid groove with Tirino, interspersing some really sweet bass runs and keeping the group locked in all night.

She slowed the set down for the first of a trio of songs that have inspired her. The first, Evanescence’s “My Immortal,” was the emotional highlight of the night. Formica’s vulnerable vocal over a beautiful, yet melancholy musical bed by keyboardist Deb Hedley, provided such a stark contrast to the rest of the set and showcased another rich color Formica has at her disposal vocally. 

Lzzy Hale of Halestorm (“It’s Not You”) and Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge (“Isolation”) provided the next sources of vocal inspiration and she rose to the occasion on both songs.

It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking of Formica, who was a contestant on The Voice in 2017, as strictly a vocalist, but she knows her way around a fretboard as well. The set featured almost a 50/50 split of lead guitar solo duties between herself on a black snakeskin ESP guitar and Stamas wielding a Gibson Flying-V. 

Something new and something old rounded out the set: her brand new, New Year’s Eve release, in its first live airing, “Champion,” followed by the crowd favorite, “Slave,” from her 2016 EP. “Champion” has a brutally infectious riff kicking the song off and propelling it through lyrically-questioning verses into a head-bopping (or banging depending on your level of commitment) chorus, “Tell me how to fight this, tell me I’m not weak, make me a champion, help me beat defeat, out of the darkness can’t you set me free, make me a champion.” This could easily replace “Slave” as a set-closer in years to come with its anthemic punch.

The revved-up crowd wouldn’t let Formica leave without an encore, so after some on-stage discussion, they launched into the Led Zeppelin classic, “Immigrant Song,” leaving the crowd feeling as if they’d been stormed over by a steamroller by its conclusion.

The show started off with a set from Modern Day Music‘s, The Tony Garza Tribute Band, who ran through a 30-minute set sprinkled with covers and originals. The seven-piece band (vocalist, drummer, keyboardist, two guitarists, sax player, and bassist) kept the crowd entertained and featured a number of solo sections which showcased the guitarists and saxophonist. While never receiving a true step-out moment, the bass player shone throughout the set showing her ability to handle a number of different styles over the course of the show.

Second on the bill was the energy-filled, Side-B, featuring music from their EP, The Low Budget Romance, released last October, and a few covers. This band from Shaker High School brought a wealth of fun to the proceedings. From the Zeppelin “Good Times, Bad Times” set opener to the crashing Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle” cover, this five-piece looked like they were having a blast on stage and their enthusiasm energized the audience. Their tastefully crafted originals went over well with the audience, especially the set closer, “Funky Boi.”  

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