January 2nd, 2012
The Tractor was filling up early. I’d figured it would sell out given the bill and so wanted to find myself a good spot early on to set down my beer and my notebook, plant myself somewhere so I could write without being jostled by a sellout crowd. At the Tractor, there is a row of seats to the left of the stage, and I noticed two were saved with signs that read “Reserved for Friel” so I camped there standing next to the seats and thinking I knew who would be sitting in them later. By 8:30, the place was nearly full, and why not? Shadow was playing.
Before there was Pearl Jam, you see, there was Shadow, Mike McCready’s first band. In the early 80′s, they played a brand of Seattle metal inspired less by punk and more by Kiss, Angel City, and TKO. After friend Duff McKagan moved to LA and had a measure of success, Shadow followed suit and headed south in 1986, but they didn’t fare as well. When they played the Roxy, they had to pay $700, and though McKagan showed up, few others did. So they eventually made their way back to Seattle, back to their old practice space in Mrs. Friel’s house (She’s the mother of drummer Chris and bassist Rick), but the neighbors complained this time, and by 1988, they broke up.
They reunited last week in Seattle though. They organized a show to benefit Carbon Roots International, and when I heard about it, my first thought was that it was very cool a guy like McCready still knows his old band mates, still hangs with them, still jams with them. How cool it must be for everyone involved to have the opportunity to play the old songs again, and for fans old and new to see someone from the likes of Pearl Jam step on the small stage of the Tractor. Chris Friel was kind enough to get me and photographer Stacy Albright (see the new Chris Cornell album cover) on the guest list, and when the 27th rolled around, I found myself at the Tractor at 8:30 next to those reserved seats that were now occupied by Mrs. Friel and Kim Virant, Chris’ wife.
As I’d suspected, Star Anna was one of the special guests, but first McCready played a few songs on his own. He played a TKO song and “Too Far Gone” by Neil Young. He said, “My band, minus the singer, did a tour with Neil Young.” He didn’t say Pearl Jam, he said rather, “My band“, and it struck me to hear such a casual reference to a globally known group. When I got another beer at the bar, I noticed Duff McKagan in line behind me, and I thought it cool that he would come out to see Shadow all these years later after that Roxy show. Star Anna stepped onto the stage then and played one of her songs and a beautiful acoustic cover of “Call Your Girlfriend” and apologized for not knowing the dance moves. As always, her voice was amazing. If you haven’t heard her with the Laughing Dogs, you need to. Then McCready said, “We have one more special guest,” and Duff McKagan stepped onto the stage, and they played Johnny Thunders “Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory”. The song paused at one point for some sing along instructions and eventually drifted in to G-n-R’s “Patience” with McKagan calling out a couple chord changes (“F … G”) for McCready. See the video below. It was a cool moment, the kind looked for on such evenings.
When Shadow took the stage, Rick Friel called out to his mom, “Hi, mom.” She was pleased. McCready pointed out the Shadow banner on the wall and thanked the woman who made it over two decades ago, an artist named Suzy Hutchinson. Mrs. Friel then told me the band had been at her house on Christmas Eve, and with the show looming, they’d fished the banner out of a box in the basement, and McCready said, “We have to get this thing in the Tractor.” That was another cool thing. McCready was with these guys Christmas Eve. Their friendships had indeed lasted all these years, perhaps even grown stronger, and here they were finally on stage again.
Their first song, “Shadow”, reminded me of old Iron Maiden stuff. I don’t know if they’d list Maiden as an influence, but it was there, and it was good. I was hooked. Iron Maiden was the second band I ever saw, and I knew if I’d heard Shadow back in the 80′s, I would have liked them. The set continued with a good stream of rocking numbers, fun stuff, Kiss-like sometimes, another Maiden moment. One time I wrote, “reminds me of Kingston Wall” but these guys pre-dated Kingston Wall so maybe it was the other way around. Still, Shadow were themselves. Their sound would not have been something new back in the 80′s, but it was them. It was Shadow, and music doesn’t have to be groundbreaking to be good. It just has to have a bit of the essence of life, some energy, some force. It did. I liked them. I sang along, “Don’t … count the tears” to what McCready later said was their one hit “…at least it was in our minds.” Laughs from the audience.
There were times when guitarist Danny Newcombe would be soloing with McCready playing rhythm, but they held each other’s gaze with expressions that said, “Yeah, this is FUN!” Again, how cool it must be for these guys to reunite all these years later, to step on stage playing songs they thought would never again see the light of day, to have people like Duff McKagan and Star Anna and many other notable Seattle musicians in the audience, to have sold out the Tractor. I asked Kim Virant how Chris felt about the opportunity. “Out of his mind with joy.” I know the feeling. I did a reunion show once back in Detroit with an old band of mine, and that had only been two years after breaking up, and no one had any shred of fame, but still, we gathered for a benefit, and we cut loose, we ripped it. The old fans came out in droves. There’s nothing better.
Before one song, McCready told the story of how Chris Cornell had once auditoned for Shadow and been rejected. Chris Cornell rejected. Said McCready, “Oops!” My how that might have changed the landscape of things had Cornell joined Shadow. And Cornell remembered it later when Temple of the Dog was recording, “Man I wasn’t sure what to think about you since you were one of those Shadow guys.” They’re friends now, but I can’t help but wonder what music we might have heard if McCready and Cornell had teamed up, if Pearl Jam and Soundgarden had never been. You never can tell which way things will go, if that person you meet and reject today might someday do something spectacular. In an odd way, it’s good that the stars just weren’t aligned for Shadow to make it big back then. We got Pearl Jam instead, and Soundgarden. And all these years later, we got Shadow once again. And the audience loved it.
After the show, the band hung out with the crowd. There we lots of introductions and photos and talk of music. They’d played a song (“No Secrets”) by Australian band, Angel City, and I mentioned that I’d thought for years that I was the only one in America who knew anything about Angel City, that I have two of their records, that “Fashion and Fame” was one of the first songs I taught myself how to play on the guitar. The response collectively from Shadow was pretty much, “We love those guys.” And Mike McCready was quite approachable, saying hi, shaking hands, giving thanks to the fans, and posing for pictures. It’s what you hear about the guys in Pearl Jam all the time. Good people. The same goes for the guys in Shadow, and I even got a kiss on the cheek from Chris.
When I asked Rick Friel if they had any recorded material I could have to listen to while writing, he told me that there were only a few casettes, and unfortunately, none could be lent. He also told me that there was some talk of releasing something on Pearl Jam’s Monkey Wrench label. Again, how cool is that? All these years later we might get some Shadow recordings. So who knows? Maybe they will finally make it big after all.
Mike McCready and Duff McKagan video: