One of Billings’ longest running on-again/off-again musical pairings has kissed and made up once again. Singer Al Jordan and guitarist Chuck Holland played a full set of melodic rock covers with a new lineup of Perfect Stranger at Yellowstone Valley Brewing’s Garage Pub last Saturday night.
Bassist Horacio Cantu has played his five-string Alembic bass with Jared Stewart in the past, and drummer Tony Horton has played in cover bands with his father, Ron Horton, as well as having sung for legendary local band Krunk.
While they played songs from some of their shared favorite bands, Perfect Stranger chose songs that don’t normally get played in cover bands. From classic hard rock by AC/DC, the Cars, the Eagles and Rush, to more melodic rock by Ambrosia, Little River Band, Player and Poco, they performed with an ease and command that belied this being only their second performance.
Half of the set were songs that debuted that night; Jordan jokingly referred to the show as a “rehearsal.”
Jordan (known to many as “Little Al”) and Holland (often billed as “Chuck Holland the Legend”) have played as an acoustic duo called Chuck & Al, with Holland’s sequenced backing drum, bass and keyboard tracks as Rock in a Box, and in earlier decades as Big Trouble.
In whatever combination of musicians or songs they’ve played as, their comedic interplay is always present. They compliment - and jokingly insult – each other like brothers.
Jordan continues to be one of the most talented singers in the Billings music scene; he most recently did a few doo-wop shows as part of the Calamity Entertainment group. An in-demand teacher at Hansen Music, Holland is the guitar instructor to many of Billings’ young players – including the talented and successful singer/songwriter Hana Pestle.
One of Holland’s most recent charges, Lyric Horton, took to the stage to perform one of her own compositions, “Dear John.” Anyone would have been forgiven for assuming it was a cover tune by one of today’s top singer/songwriters.
The real surprise came when Jordan informed the crowd that Lyric was merely 12 years old! Her grandparents, Ron and Kim Horton (both talented veterans of the Billings music scene) were beaming as much as her dad was. This talented young lady also plays both saxophone and violin in her middle school band and orchestra. Keep a lookout for her at local open mics.
Jordan also gave up the mic to Lyric’s dad Tony, who sang Stone Temple Pilot’s hit, “Plush,” and to Holland, who sang an impressive Bon Scott impression for AC/DC’s “Let There Be Rock.” While that song provided an opportunity for Holland to show off his legendary guitar licks, he also pulled out his favorite instrumental tour-de-force, “Summer Song,” by Joe Satriani.
But most notable was when Holland dug out (literally, from “deep in his garage”) his Talk Box to provide Joe Walsh’s distinctive riff for the Eagles’ “Those Shoes.”
Perfect Stranger rounded out the show with a variety of songs from the ’70s “Candy-O” (The Cars), “Closer to the Heart” (Rush), “That’s How Much” (Ambrosia), a rocked-up “Low Rider” (War), “Reminiscing” (LRB), “Crazy Love” (Poco), Aerosmith’s “Toys in the Attic,” and one from a few years ago, “It Started with a Whisper” (Neon Trees).
Having missed the first few songs of the set, I can’t say if they played the Deep Purple song that provides the band with its name. I did hear that they played “Player’s only hit,” which I assume was “Baby Come Back,” which went to No. 1 in 1978.
The show displayed why Chuck and Al have both appeared multiple times on Tuney Award ballots. Be sure to check them out for yourself to see and hear why.
I had to leave after a few songs by the Greg Utterback band, but they are also a promising new band full of Billings music scene veterans. The blues band is led on guitar, vocals and harmonica by Utterback, who many will recognize as playing bass with mash-up band Battlestar Kramden and harmonica with old-time warblers Spur of the Moment.
Billings legend Brad Edwards plays drums; Antoine Stockton plays bass; and both keyboards and tenor sax are played by Thomas Burke. They play a mix of covers and standards and display a strong instrumental command. I’m sure there will be much more to be heard from this group.