Concert Review: Fastball, Cherokee Casino in West Siloam Springs, Okla., June 22, 2017

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Bob Dylan. The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. Chuck Berry. Jimi Hendrix’s work both inside his Experience and Band of Gypsys groups.

The still-popular catalogs of these Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees will live on for eternity, simply because they put the songs first and technical prowess second, according to Fastball singer/mult-instrumentalist Tony Scalzo. All of the aforementioned performers certainly possessed the instrumental chops to deliver top-shelf sounds and vibes to seemingly countless listeners — Hendrix remains the most beloved electric guitarists for many fans, while the lyrics of Bob Dylan and the unshakable ensemble playing of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones are, in many fans’ hearts, are the best of the best in music, he said.

“Bob Dylan, with his songwriting, his singing and his deliver, he’s an absolute best for me,” said Scalzo during a backstage interview following Fastball’s concert June 22 at Cherokee Casino in West Siloam Springs, Okla. “And The Beatles also are among my favorites.

Photo by Scott A. Smith

“And I don’t say that lightly about The Beatles,” he added. “You can draw from The Beatles’ well for years — no, for centuries to come. It’s a very broad, very deep well, and I think you can draw from their well just like you can draw from Bach and Michelangelo.”

In many ways, The Rolling Stones are equally important as The Beatles and Hendrix, according to Scalzo.

“The Rolling Stones synthesized American culture with those songs,” he said. “The Stones brought the greatness of African-American music and rhythms to the masses.”

Scalzo half joked that he’s a rock-and-roll scholar, admitting that he reads “all of the time.” He can tell you details about the very last concert Hank Williams performed. Scalzo’s mind frequently traces the steps of the singers, songwriters and musicians who came prior to Fastball’s debut hit single “The Way” back in early 1998.

“Other bands — God bless them all — they don’t seem to know crap about music that came years before us,” Scalzo said. “They might go a generation back, or maybe two, but that’s it. They don’t quite get what Chuck Berry did, and all of the blues music that came before Chuck Berry.”

Scalzo then smiled.

“I actually write songs all of the time,” he said. “I just started a brand-new song today. It’s called ‘Rock and Roll Family Tree.’ It’s something I’m working on right at this very moment.”

Two hours earlier, Scalzo and his Fastball compadres — singer/guitarist Miles Zuniga, drummer Joey Shuffield and touring bassist Bobby Daniel — shot through a blistering set as openers for Everclear and Vertical Horizon. The Grammy-nominated, Austin, Texas-based band served as openers for Everclear and Vertical Horizon, but they commanded the stage the way an evening’s headliner no doubt does. Shuffield’s drumming was assertive, had swagger and was the perfect fit for the sometimes hard-hitting, always melodic guitar interplay taking place between Scalzo and Zuniga

Like all great bands, Fastball mixed in brand-new songs with the older, smile-inducing songs “The Way,” “You’re An Ocean,” “Out of My Head.” Pulling compositions from their recently released album, “Step Into Light,” Fastball pitched perfect takes of “I Will Never Let You Down,” “Love Comes in Waves” and “Frenchy and the Punk”

“Frenchy and the Punk,” the closing number on the new “Step Into Light” long player, came late in Fastball’s set, and it was an outstanding display that balanced precision playing and improvisation. Two minutes before Fastball played the song, Zuniga introduced a guest saxophonist, who took his place at center stage.

“This is our uber driver, and he’s from Fayetteville,” Zuniga spoke into the microphone before the crowd cheered and whistled its approval. “He’s going to play a little saxophone with us on this next song.”

Traces of Supertramp’s pop-meets-progressive-rock flavor danced throughout portions of “Frenchy and the Punk.” The uber driver’s tasteful sax playing stood as a nice compliment to the guitars of Zuniga and Scalzo.

All of the efforts from Fastball’s camp were edgy yet in control, passionate but never sloppy. (It’s absolutely unreal that the West Siloam Springs show was only Daniel’s eighth time to play with Fastball; the soft-spoken musician sounds like he’s gigged with Fastball for years.) There was a fantastic, Who-like aggressiveness during many moments of the show, and Fastball never lost their grip on melody. Their concert sounded like a wonderful aural cocktail of “Help!”-era Beatles, Big Star and Badfinger.

And that sound is by design, according to Scazlo.

“You always build up the song; you always make it about the song,” he said during the post-concert interview. “You don’t show off, because the song is what is important. That is what Fastball is all about, absolutely.”

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