Review by John Jeffrey. Photos by Scott Brown
Amherst, NY - Last Friday night, Jake E Lee's Red Dragon Cartel returned to the Western NY area for the third time within the past 2 years. Ironically, each visit has featured a different band lineup. This show featured the RDC core of Jake E Lee and drummer Jonas Fairley, along with new members Anthony Esposito and temporary, fill-in vocalist Michael Beck. Beck was tapped to perform the first leg of the tour (8 shows), as Jake E Lee has been fighting the stigma of being a show canceler, and decided to fulfill his touring obligations by utilizing a handful of select fill-ins, in hopes that one of these temporary singers will pass 'the' audition period and be "the guy." Although the original Red Dragon Cartel material (sung by drummer-turned-vocalist Darren James Smith) doesn't seem too hard to replicate, or even the Ozzy material for that matter, it seems to be the daunting task of finding someone with the ability to the duplicate the one of a kind sonics produced by Badlands vocalist Ray Gillen (R.I.P.).
Due to the typical Buffalo music scene politics (which reeks of the essence of everyone wanting to be the one horsed cowboy in the one horse town), the show wound up being booked at the Forvm this time around. Many seemed to be indifferent about the show being held there, although it is an adequate venue, it's not the typical place where classic rock or hard rock bands usually play around here. Regardless, the light turnout for the legendary Jake E Lee were an enthusiastic bunch and showed their appreciation as the band slowly meandered through their 10 song set.
Red Dragon Cartel's stage presence was loose and relaxed, which helped create a real organic vibe that the fans definitely tapped into. Instead of robotically hammering through set lists plastered all over the stage - like you would see with most bands - they methodically called out the songs and interacted with the crowd, with infectious smiles everywhere.
New bassist Anthony Esposito locked in with Fairley's drumming perfectly, not trying to be a 'lead' bass player like others in the past have attempted. Jake E Lee's guitar playing was not about precision, but all about attack and tone and shredded all night with reckless abandon. While the musician's - musicians and guitar enthusiasts got off on the Badlands material, it was the classic Ozzy material that got the biggest crowd pops of the night. While casual fans are still getting accustom to the RDC material, it was funny to watch the befuddled faces in the crowd when the band tore into the heavily inspired Sabbath song, "War Machine," when they realized it wasn't actually "N.I.B." - once the vocals kicked in.
Although Beck had progressed - being the 6th show into the tour - he didn't seem to connect with the other band members, musically. Lee, Esposito and Fairley played like a determined 3 piece band, with Beck just happening to be an incidental person onstage. Until Red Dragon Cartel finds their definitive lead singer, perhaps this is the best approach for the band to take? Just the fact of being able to see the one of a kind guitarist that Jake E Lee is, still performing in 2015, in itself is a luxury, and anything else is just icing on the cake.
The Ultimate Sin
Shout It Out
Sun Red Sun
Shot in the Dark
Dreams in the Dark
Bark at the Moon
For more on Red Dragon Cartel, please visit www.reddragoncartel.com
Special thanks to Anthony Esposito.
Our EXCLUSIVE interview with Anthony Esposito