The Iron City Houserockers took it to church Saturday night, playing a righteous reunion gig on the pulpit at Altar Bar in the Strip.
The band's towering frontman Joe Grushecky used to hit his head on the stage at their old homebase, the Decade. No worries of that at Altar with its cathedral ceiling, where parishioners in the packed house circled the loft for a good view.
The original six Houserockers hadn't taken a stage together in 16 years, but they played so often for so long between 1976 and 1984, muscle memory prevailed on Saturday night.
The Houserockers lived up to their billing as "the best bar band in the country" with a fearsome frontline of Grushecky, guitarist Eddie Britt, blues harmonica master Marc Reisman, pianist Gil "Duke" Snyder and the air-tight rhythm section of Art Nardini and Ned Rankin.
In some ways the spotlight was on Britt, the hold-out in past reunions, and he delivered with one searing lead after another.
The Houserockers opened with "Blondie" and "Sweet Little Sixteen," then treated the faithful to fist-pumping anthems like "Pumpin' Iron" and "Don't Let Them Push You Around."
Snyder donned his accordion and belted out a raspy "Old Man Bar," in honor of "godfather of rock," the Decade's Dom DiSilvio, and then Grushecky and company ripped right into "Junior's Bar," about the girl who's barely 17 (they might wanna raise that age a few years).
They closed the set with a pair of songs that have taken on new poignancy: "Have a Good Time (But Get Out Alive)" and "We're Not Dead Yet." Not only are they not dead, but they all looked pretty good up there.
Throughout the set, it was fun watching Grushecky's son, Johnny, carry on in the wings. For that last song, he brought that energy to the stage, along with Rankin's son Anthony, who were both part of the impetus for the reunion.
The Houserockers encored by going back to their first single "Hideaway," during which I saw one member of the Decade family wipe away a tear.
The whole thing was too good for them to not do it again, and Reisman said Monday morning to watch out for a possible outdoor gig summer.
He said for the band "it was just like riding a bicycle. There was some sloppiness, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. You don't want to see a band play things note for note. Some wonderful things happen when it gets a little sloppy."
Photos by John Altdorfer
Top: Marc Reisman, Joe Grushecky, Anthony Rankin, Art Nardini.
Bottom: Eddie Britt, Johnny Grushecky, Joe Grushecky, Anthony Rankin.