Unlike a few of the other area record stores, Black & Read doesn't have many shows. So when a band does play at the store, it's kind of a special occasion, especially when it features legendary '70s psychedelic hard rock band Medusa. This was one of only a handful of shows the band has played since coming back into being after something like a 38-year hiatus.
Medusa set the northwest corner of the store, with an audience standing between record racks. The band has already earned wide acclaim for its 1975 debut album, First Step Beyond, which wasn't released until 2013. With leaders Gary and Donna Brown being in their 60s at this point, the show could have been tame, but it really wasn't. You could feel the enthusiasm and verve in Donna's shouts and Gary's smoothly fiery leads. It didn't feel like people reliving old glory. It felt more like a new band, excited about its music.
There was an intricacy and delicacy of melody mixed in with the heavy riffs that was distinct and obvious live. Like a darker Jethro Tull, Medusa let the music stretch out without crossing over into the self-indulgent. But it had more of an edge than Tull, resembling the kind of group that many doom rock bands of the early 2000s were aiming to become. Except that Medusa did it without getting stuck in the sludge.
Kameron Wentworth and Gary complimented each other so well it was difficult to tell when Wentworth did take a lead. And Gary's mastery of the wah gave the music a serpentine quality that contrasted with its heaviness. Randy Bobzien nailed the vibe of the older music with his vocals. Dean McCall's style was like the tide coming in on the coast --fluid, subtly expressive and powerful. Donna's keyboard work was lively and haunting. Medusa brought to the record store a real sense of getting to see something more than the couple of dozen people that showed will eventually actively seek out.
What made it even more special was how completely unpretentious the band really is. There is no real heavy metal image involved. But if you talk to Gary or Donna you know they're rockers who have some history that goes further back than ten or even twenty years. And not just because they were there at some shows but because they lived it, but also because they don't have to show off. They know this second chapter of the band's life is something of a very fortunate fluke, and they are just enjoying it for what it is and not taking it for granted that more and more people are getting into what they've done and will do. More legendary bands should be like that.
Bias: There are few uncovered legends in rock and roll at this point. Medusa is one and the story of how its album finally came to light is one of the most amazing stories in rock in recent years. And that the band could put together not just a viable but impactful live show just adds to the legend of this group.
By the Way: Medusa has a handful of upcoming shows in the next two months including dates at the hi-dive and 7th Circle Music Collective. The show at the latter is essential a mini-tour kickoff ending with a date in Medusa's town of origin, Chicago.
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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.