Ah, the “supergroup.” A much bandied-about, loosely used term and an omnipresent entity throughout rock n’ roll’s lengthy history, many times the “super” part of the compound word can be interpreted rather lightly. Usually comprised of several members of recently-defunct bands coming together to form a singular collective, these supergroups normally have a shelf-life of three or fewer albums. The “Heat of the Moment” passed Asia by in under 15 minutes, while both British “bads”, Bad Company and Bad English faded away like shooting stars. In spite of their duly-noted status as catchy pop-rock bands, neither group went straight to the heart of the Billboard charts.
Nevertheless, supergroups, for all their fleeting glory, often bring together the best of several worlds in the realm of rock. Stepping into the Not-So-Way-Back Machine with Damn Yankees’ 1992 concert from the Rocky Mountain Jam in Denver, Uprising is a well-filmed flurry of tight pants, short skirts, big hair, and bigger riffs. The strong musicianship of the band and a large, nostalgia-craving fanbase make this timepiece such a viable commercial option, even 15 years after the real deal went down.
Best known for scoring a major radio hit with the power ballad “High Enough”, Damn Yankees featured both bassist Jack Blades of Night Ranger and guitarist Tommy Shaw of Styx on lead vocals. Their dual vocal duties and melodic harmonies made Damn Yankees something of a unique fixture on the split-septum singer scene that defined much of the vocal landscape of rock in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Occasionally pitching in on vocals and serving as the band’s musical backbone on lead guitar was the irrepressible Ted Nugent, right at the cusp of when he was known more for his manic music and dalliances with minors, before fully lapsing into his career nadir of right-wing politics and shilling beef jerky. And finally, Michael Cartellone, a touring and studio musician who had worked previously with Tommy Shaw, was brought in to round out the quartet on drums. A heavy hitter and all-around solid drummer, Cartellone is far from flashy, but compliments the more experienced members styles and capably holds his own behind the kit.
Owing to the fact that Damn Yankees only had two albums worth of songs to fill a show, the group throws in some home video footage to beef up the DVD. The intermittent backstage hijinx and vignettes seem to be half-real, half-fake in a Spinal Tap mockumentary style. These clips fed in between live songs—as per the norm for rock band home videos of the era—are a little hokey, however, Nuge seems to be rather aware of this, actually referencing Tap at one point during the DVD. Drummer Cartellone seems to make a big production out of the fact that he’s the youngest member of the band, a fact which becomes a running gag during the mockumentary moments of the disc.
All of the other usual staples of home video rock concerts are present and accounted for from the dual-tiered stage, perfect for running up and down ramps and adding to the frantic antics of onstage performances to an appropriate level of crowd shots and the wealth of gratuitous posterior and crotch shots from both band and several umm… “endowed” fans of both genders. In addition to the sock-stuffing shenanigans is all of the live magic of seeing the ubiquitous “o-faces” during most of Ted Nugent’s guitar solos. Once again, Nugent ironically references this during a pre-taped segment in which he expounds on the faces blues guitarists make when they’re “feeling” the music.
And then there’s the fashion quotient of this gem of a period piece. Everything is gloriously early ‘90s with Nuge resplendent in a cow print jacket (which you have to wonder if he shot, skinned, and tanned himself) and Tommy Shaw nodding to the oncoming Seattle storm with cut-off flannel shirt and similarly cut-off shorts.
All reminders of some of the cheesier aspects of the previous decade aside, Damn Yankees pack a lot into their relatively short headliner set on this live DVD. The band shines on slower ballads in a live setting and gives an energetic effort throughout. Their hit, “Where You Goin’ Now” showcases an arrangement that remains faithful to the album/radio version, but possibly sounds even better live—as per the silent testimonial of an almost-crying 20-something male in the audience during the song’s performance.
Damn Yankees do a good job of mixing up the pacing, intermingling both up-tempo rock and power ballads. Both Blades and Shaw seem to be incredibly comfortable with the higher, upper-register vocals, hitting every note with pitch-perfect clarity. To have not one, but two highly-skilled lead vocalists in a rock band is a rarity, particularly in a live setting. Oddly enough, Shaw seems to have a tough time and strains himself vocally on the lower-notes than he does with the higher range. On the other hand, the more well-rounded Blades seems to be more comfortable with the faster-paced, bottom heavy rock vocals and almost equal to Shaw in the falsetto category. Nevertheless, both singers have great command of expertly blending their voices, particularly near the end of their set with “Coming of Age”. The band keeps going strong with sexually charged harmony and with the normally subdued Shaw really gets into the heat of the song.
The Nugent-sung “Uprising,” has a feel to it that is more ‘70s than ‘90s. Conversely, Damn Yankees’ rendition of his classic, “Cat Scratch Fever”, is updated with more of an early ‘90s guitar feel as opposed to channeling its original ‘70s squeal.
As much as I wanted to roll my eyes at his incessant mugging, gum chewing, and ass-shaking, whether he’s behind the mike or hamming it up on guitar, Ted Nugent is quite an entertainer. Nuge is having a great time and as far as he’s concerned, that’s all that matters. His (sometimes groan-worthy) stage antics and unfettered enthusiasm are so contagious, it’s hard not to enjoy watching and listening to him play.
While the band doesn’t have much to cull from Damn Yankees’ two-album catalogue, they make the most of their material and throw in renditions of songs from their solo careers or prior outfits. Shaw’s choice, the Styx song “Renegade” particularly makes good use of Nugent’s blues-rock background and of his vocal partner-in-crime Blades’ sense of harmony, bringing the band full-circle and putting a unique, group-spin on individual members’ material. On Uprising, Damn Yankees prove their mettle and earned their “supergroup” status.
- Damn Yankees Multiple Tracks
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.
// Short Ends and Leader
"Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is a darkly funny and philosophical cyberpunk locked-room thriller that tangles with the greatest sci-fi puzzle: What does it mean to be human?READ the article