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I Shot the Band: XSNRG - Chicago's UFO Tribute

Band: XSNRG

Song: "Lights Out"

YouTube Added Date: July 14, 2008

Shooter: Jamazz36

Locale: Berwyn Centennial Festival.

Video Quality: Excellent

Sound Quality: Excellent

Creativity: Better than average. Although members of XSNRG remain relatively stationary, Jamazz36 uses appropriate zooming action during smoking Michael Schenker sound-alike guitar solos.

Difficulty: Nil. Unfortunately, XSNRG didn't draw much of a crowd so there was little jostling. The result is very steady camera work. Not Kubrick-steady, but definitely Beachwood-steady.

Overall Beachwood Shaky-Cam Rating: 9 (out of 10)

Comments: The Berwyn Centennial and a UFO tribute band . . . It's just too delicious of a combination for me to resist. I make no damn apologies.

And I mean that only semi-ironically. The British metal band's live album Strangers In the Night, I am only somewhat ashamed to admit, underpinned an entire, dubious of way of life for me at a particularly critical juncture around 1980 or so. The double-slab o' hard guitar rock has a lot of meaning for me. Teetering on the precipice of British blues-rock authenticity and the hair-metal cheese that was to come, UFO's magnum opus reflected a tipping point in rock . . . and in my own life. My obsessive interest in all things Michael Schenker led me about as deep as I'd ever get into a lifestyle that was indeed "Too Hot To Handle." Luckily I didn't have enough of a self-destructive streak to "Let It Roll" or I would have been yelling "Doctor Doctor" while seeing "Mother Mary" before my eyes, the last step before it's "Lights Out."

Oh yeah. I loved UFO way too much. I'll admit it was wrong. But, on the other hand, they're just one of so many things that now seem horribly cliched or inconceivably dumb. Stranger nowadays is almost always characterized as "a lost classic" and "the most underappreciated and greatest live rock album of all time" - that's pretty accurate. Schenker, Phil Mogg, Pete Way and Andy Parker - they had so much potential. They were the best. Why didn't anyone understand? It was like Def Leppard was the undeserving Salieri who took everything that rightfully belonged to UFO's Mozart. Rock 'n' roll is dangerous and cruel, and obscurity is our lot, it seems.

It took me a long time to get over that.

The thing that most people remember about UFO, of course, is the absolute guitar wizardry of Michael Schenker. He had a unique ability to combine clear, ringing individual notes with blazing speed and always-interesting phrasing, bringing what was then a new level of sophistication to the hard rock axe. He played a Gibson Flying V (still does, actually), adding a way-impressive visual element to his tremendous knack for always going in an exciting direction musically, no matter how predictable the group's blues-rock patterns might seem to be at the beginning of each new song. He could blast away in tremendous crescendos on songs like "I'm a Loser" or become about as sensitive as a Spinal Tap role-model can possibly be, such as on "Love to Love."

Given all this, I was highly excited when I discovered, through my exhaustive YouTube research for I Shot the Band, that Berwyn - Berwyn! - has a UFO tribute band, and a highly respectable one at that. They're called XSNRG, and judging from the three YouTube videos (courtesy of Jamazz36) of their performance at the June 18 Berwyn Centennial Festival (direct from the parking lot behind Cermak Plaza), they don't really have the excess energy of the original UFO - in fact, they're pretty stationary. But their instrumentation sounds just like 'em.

Especially Joe Mazzuca. He's the leader of this band of Berwyn boys and from what I can see on these YouTube files he's a dead ringer for Schenker himself. His guitar playing, that is . . . no long blonde mane, no leathers, no Flying V. No, like all tribute bands, Joe and the rest of the group pretty much look like the elementary school parents they probably are. But when they strap on the tools of rock, it's like they're transformed into 1975-vintage, larger-than-life stage gods hurling bolts of angry sound from a Satanic altar in Jimmy Page's breakfast nook. Mazzuca, in the video of "Lights Out" below, takes Schenker's complex solos and spits them out like a pro. Well done!

This is from Joe's bio:

"Joe grew up in Berwyn and started playing guitar at the age of 12. He took guitar lessons from the original guitar player of Styx, the late John Curulewski. Joe totally immersed himself in playing and at times practiced up to 8 hours a day! His hard work and dedication paid off; by the age of 15 he was playing out at shows and had won several 'Battle of the Bands'.

"Unfortunately, the amount of time he dedicated to playing took its toll and Joe walked away from playing. In the beginning of 2006, a childhood friend convinced him to pick it up again. Immediately the zeal resurfaced and again he's finding it difficult to put his guitar down, even bringing it with him on business trips. Joe's current profession is a tax man. He jokingly tells people that when his day job ends, his night time job begins, practicing and learning new songs! Joe's greatest influence was Michael Schenker, the former lead guitar player from UFO.

"Joe is divorced with an eight year-old son. He has a loving, understanding, and gorgeous girlfriend, Carol, who is Joe's number one fan!"

After listening to him do MS proud, I'm putting myself right up with Carol in my nascent Joe Mazzuca fandom.

Now as to the video itself. Well, Jamazz36, you can tell, didn't just happen to be at the Berwyn Centennial gala with his camera, saw an interesting band, and started shooting. You can tell this because his YouTube favorites page has a slab of other UFO and Michael Schenker videos on it. And some NHL Hockey clips of the "World's Greatest Injuries" variety. Hockey and heavy metal - the two cultural arenas where it's still OK to wear a mullet. God bless 'em.

Jamazz's camera work is very capable, zooming in on Joe Mazzuca usually when appropriate, although he does focus a bit too much on, what to my way of thinking, is the XSNRG's weak point - the singer, who does only a fair job of channeling Mogg. But he has his moments, too. And the sound is excellent, so crank up the volume and transport yourself from Cermak & Harlem to the International Amphitheater, Oct. 13, 1978, the night UFO recorded Strangers In the Night.

-

Previously in I Shot the Band:
* Company of Thieves: At Welles Park covering OutKast.
* Funhouse: At Kankakee County's famed fish fry.
* Lady Tramaine Hawkins: High praise from the Pritzker Pavilion.

-

Contact Don!



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Posted on July 21, 2008


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