Mike McCready has been publicly battling Chron’s disease for decades. Ten years ago he got together with some friends — Tim DiJulio (guitar), Gary Westlake (bass), Mike Musburger (drums), Ty Bailie (keyboards) and Paul Passereli (vocals) to be specific — and formed the UFO tribute band Flight To Mars. The group plays annual fund-raising concerts in Seattle that benefit Chron’s and Colitis Foundation and this year they took their show on the road for a brief eight-date west coast tour.
Wednesday night the Flight to Mars gang capped off that tour with a show that celebrated its 10-year run of raising money and awareness for the CCFA while rocking out at the Showbox. The evening featured several guest appearances and lots of exciting moments. More on those in a minute. First, the opening act, Chris Friel Orchestra, deserves some ink.
Friel described the set as a “plugged-in Hootenanny” in reference to the Hootenannies for Haiti and a Healthy Gulf from 2010 and he was dead on. The set was all covers and the vocalists were a rotating cast of friends including Left Hand Smoke’s Ben Mish, Star Anna (who is now a blonde), Sweetwater’s Adam Czeisler, the always excellent Kim Virant and a few others. Selections from Montrose, Judas Priest, T Rex, The Ramones, The Stooges and other classic rock icons were in the fold.
Speaking of icons, McCready hopped on stage near the end of the set and performed two quick songs. The first was “Little Wing” with Virant on vocals. McCready riffing on a Hendrix song is always excellent and it’s nothing new (“Yellow Ledbetter” anyone?) but what made the cover an exceptional one was Virant, whose voice was nearly as powerful as McCready’s guitar (video below).
Following that song former Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin joined McCready to perform Mad Season’s “River of Deceit.” It was the first time in more than 17 years that the two surviving member of Mad Season shared a stage and they both appeared to be enjoying themselves. Loaded guitarist Jeff Rouse handled vocals and Rick Friel played bass. Rouse did an exceptional job filling Layne Staley’s shoes (it wasn’t his first time filling in for Layne) and hopefully he’ll be singing on the new Mad Season material that is expected to be released.
Flight To Mars, the main attraction of the night, was pumped up 1970s stadium rock crammed into the small confines of the Showbox complete with heavy use of a smoke machine, lasers and a gong. The entire band seemed to play into their roles well and it was highly apparent that while musicianship was important the main emphasis was on having fun. That’s not to say the musicianship wasn’t top-notch. It was quite the opposite as the band was as tight as any tribute band I’ve seen. The rhythm section of Westlake and Musburger was solid, Passereli relished his role as Phil Moog and DiJuio, who seriously has to be one of the most underrated guitarists in Seattle, laid down some serious facemelters.
Of course when your tribute band contains a member of Pearl Jam a lot of the focus is going to be on him and for his part McCready delivered quite a show. McCready is a relatively animated guitarist when playing with Pearl Jam but the music often doesn’t afford him many opportunities to let loose. In Flight To Mars a slightly more playful side of McCready is visible. He’d point to the sky after laying down a few notes on a Flying V (an axe he doesn’t play with Pearl Jam), dip his guitar in the faces of those lucky few in the front row and literally leap into solos. It was near impossible to catch a moment of the show when McCready wasn’t smiling. His grin likely had a little to do with how happy playing with FTM makes him.
The night closed with an encore which featured Ann Wilson joining FTM for covers of Zeppelin’s “Ramble On” and “Rock and Roll” During the latter McCready really seemed to come unleashed with guitar jumps aplenty and even going so far as to drop to his knees and shred in front of Wilson while practically on his back. It was a playful, in-the-moment move I don’t think I’ve seen him pull of with his other band and it displayed the essence of fun that surrounds Flight To Mars. The four-song encore ended with “Let There Be Rock” and several blasts from confetti cannons, providing a fitting end to a celebratory show.