(Magic Bag, Ferndale, MI - October 23rd, 2016)
For those not in the know, Security Project started performing in 2012 in recognition of the 25th anniversary of the release of the album Security by Peter Gabriel. The band performs Gabriel's early progressive repertoire, generally taking material from his first four albums. Well known members of the band include drummer Jerry Marotta (who played on those first four albums and toured with Gabriel for 10 years), Warr guitarist Trey Gunn (who was a member of progressive band King Crimson), and guitarist Michael Cozzi (who was a member of Shriekback, himself replacing Fuzzbee Morse).
Add to that both David Jameson - keyboards, Eigenharp - and the extraordinary Gabriel-vocal styling of Brian Cummins, and you had a touring band that not only did eloquent justice to Gabriel's work, but with Cummins' unique, spot on perfect Gabriel inflection, brought it all to life on their first two recordings (Live 1 & Live 2).
But, since then, and just weeks before the release of Live 2 and these subsequent touring dates, Cummins quit the band. The voice that channeled Gabriel was no longer and so the Security Project hastily turned to a beloved friend of theirs to take the lead role - Happy Rhodes. Well known and highly respected within the industry, Rhodes duly learned all the lyrics and took over the vocal reins therein.
But, and as witnessed here tonight on just their third live gig together, things did not go well. Worse yet, Rhodes, being female, just doesn't have either the vocal inflections required to sing these songs, nor is her stage presence anything to write home about. Not her fault, having been thrown in at the deep end, sure, but to head this third reinvention of the Security Project they needed another male in the Cummins vocal mode. What they ended up with was a band that now comes across as nothing short of a mid-afternoon casino lounge bar band.
And so, in a small, darkened club, on a black stage with a black backdrop, electric instruments abound, seemingly making it hard for any musicians to find a space to stand. At precisely 7.45pm, the band comes quietly out, semi-unnoticed as the house music still plays. With Rhodes now center stage, the crowd begin to look at each other, also seemingly unknowing of Cummins having left the band. Rhodes, a songwriter, instrumentalist and electronic musician with a four-octave vocal range, begins the first half of the set with the spoken word introduction to 'Lay Your Hands On Me', but it's very obvious looking around at the hushed hand whispers that a lot of the audience are bemused by her presence.
And, to be fair, rightfully so, for as much as this is a celebration of Peter Gabriel's work, when the Security Project had Cummins' vocals bringing forth the spirit of Gabriel, all you had to do was shut your eyes and the great man was there on stage. Rhodes doesn't have that range, that allure, and so her voice simply cannot resonate; replicate even, Gabriel's. Again, and I can't stress this enough, that's not her fault given the circumstances, but it was a massive let down for me on the night - and for the majority of the gathering also.
Moving on, and under blue then yellow spotlights, we next get the dark slow funk bass opening to 'Intruder', with the pleasant storytelling of 'Family Snapshot' along next. Then, due to Gunn's screeching Warr guitar we lurch into 'No Self Control' which, when done right, is a gem of a song. But as Rhodes seemingly isn't invested, the passion of the song is sorely missing. Which was an ongoing theme here tonight. Thanking the crowd, she then asks for the smoke machine to be turned of as it was affecting her voice. It was then that I realized that she was seemingly embarrassed at having had to actually speak. A running theme as it turned out for almost all the night, there was no chit-chat, no idle banter, no behind-the-scenes info on why certain songs were written. Nope, save for late in the show when Marotta took over the mic for promotional purposes, there was no interaction with the audience at all.
Under red and blue lights a gentle introduction is brought forth and we are into the beautiful 'Blood Of Eden', which upon completion, allows Rhodes to go backstage for a glass of water. Soon back and we stroll into the dark, moody 'The Family and the Fishing Net' which allows Jameson to vacate his upright keyboard and bring his stand alone Eigenharp out for us to view. Lit up by different colored little lights, it is just the most perfect instrument to engage the sounds needed for one of my own personal Peter Gabriel favorites, 'I Have The Touch'. Bathed under yellow lights now, it seems that Rhodes has finely found her smile, for she not only dances in subtle, quietly programmed shapes on stage, but she literally has a broad smile on her face for the upbeat song.
"Thank you for coming out and seeing us tonight," Rhodes says. "We very much appreciate you being here," and with that, and to an oboe opening that bleeds into a dulcet piano, 'Wallflower' is then with us. The weakest song of their entire set, the Eigenharp is now out again, along with both Cozzi and Gunn standing in front of their very own solo drum heads to drum out a regimented beat to 'The Rhythm Of The Heat'. A definite fan favorite they stand to applaud at its end. Their first act is subsequently brought to a close with that song, and as they walk off backstage through the draped black curtains, with the lights now up, a lot of people are now seen nose deep in their iPhones; one can only assume Googling the band to try and learn more about what had happened to Cummins.
As the second part of the show opens, we find just Rhodes, solo with an acoustic guitar taking center stage as she, without any guff nor puff, begins to gently play David Bowie's 'Ashes To Ashes'. A nice enough song, sure, and played and sung well enough, but it has zero connection to the Peter Gabriel show that these fans had come to see. Next, and with only Gunn by her side, she puts on her best Kate Bush vocal tone, which happens to be a damn great one, and brings us Bush's 'Mother Stands for Comfort'. A beautiful rendition of a Bush song, sure, but, and again, nothing to do with why the fans were there tonight. Indeed, it was plainly obvious that the Security Project guys were simply giving her a mid-set chance to "introduce herself" to the audience; so they knew she could do other things - and better.
Up next is possibly my all-time favorite Gabriel song, 'I Don't Remember' that heard through the vocals styling of Rhodes, unfortunately fell flat and exhausted on the stage at her feet. Complete with a low static feedback throughout, that seemingly only Jameson could hear (on stage), Rhodes, once again, forgets words, looks more than a little nervous, and has an expression that begs for the show to be over.
"And that's how it's done," bellows Marotta from back behind his drum kit, the song now over. "I've been keeping quiet back here, but not any more," he adds as he stands up and proceeds to walk to center stage. "That song ... how many times have I played it? We've only been doing it for a couple of years and I still get so excited about playing it. And we had a great version already, then she came along", [he says, pointing at Happy] "and we kinda all fell back into it again," he says, as the crowd applaud his heartfelt sentiments. Then, for the next four minutes, Marotta (over) sells the merchandise they have for sale, relentlessly going over and over the items, before adding something else. "We're gonna now do a song, it's one of Happy's songs ... here it comes," he adds, finally now back behind his drum kit.
After yet another Rhodes promotional moment, the song bleeds (rather perfectly, as it turns out) into 'Red Rain', but Rhodes is visibly not feeling the heart of the song. Her static stage presence is barely registering the beat, her vocals now hers, not even trying to emulate Gabriel's any more. The Eigenharp is out again, this time to fall in line with the jingly introduction to 'San Jacinto', before the atmospherically loud 'Moribund the Burgermeister' is performed. With a Gunn bass line that veritably pounds through your chest, after a drum solo it fades out, allowing Rhodes to pick up her acoustic guitar, and we are soon propelled into 'Fly on a Windshield', and then 'Broadway Melody of 1974'.
Up next is 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway', a classic among classics, and done very well tonight, it has to be said. The wild piano introduction, inclusive, one assumes, of a little solo moment for Jameson, ensures a vibrant, upbeat song is sung by Rhodes. A song that, once again, allows a smile to come to her face, creating a noticeable bounce to her shaped movements. "Thank you for coming tonight," she addresses the crowd afterwards. "We appreciate it more than you know." The group all then come front and center for a bow, before Marotta once again takes the mic. "I've played here before," he reveals. "I love this place. I really do. Sorry, but I have a tendency to talk with a microphone in my hand," he laughs. "I'm so happy to be here, on the planet, first of all", he again laughs. "I see people I recognize here. I love playing this music and I love the addition of Happy Rhodes on this tour."
Marotta then goes off on a small rant about the lack of people that had come out to see them tonight, asking us, nay begging us to bring someone along with us next time, and to spread the word for him. Although he also admitted that they might never be offered the chance to come back after tonight! He tells everyone again that they should go buy the bands merchandise and that if they do he'll be up there to whisper some secrets about his playing days with Peter Gabriel to them. He talks about some of the songs that they don't usually get to play, such as both 'Wallflower' and 'San Jacinto' and then announces that they are now going to play a little more. Also thanking us for all coming out, he adds one final notification about all the tour merchandise they have for sale, and then the barefooted drummer is finally back behind his kit.
'Games Without Frontiers' is the one and only "encore" song and, once again, Rhodes just doesn't have the chops for it, sadly. It has a wonderful lead in, and is inclusive of a band jam session that sees Rhodes slide off to side stage several times, before it is all brought to a close. In what was one of the highlights of the night, to see the band jam like that for six minutes, now it was all over. "Thank you, once again," Rhodes says. "Have a great night. Thank you for coming out tonight," she adds, as the band come to the front and bow again, before waving themselves off stage for the last time.
Review: Russell A. Trunk
Photos: Gil Goodrow
Security Project @ Facebook