Amidst the non-stop action of
a gambling venue, the Wolf Den in Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Casino is
an area of relative calm. While the perimeters are clearly defined, the
venue itself is open to both the audience inside and the thousands of
people walking through the casino.
Shortly after 8 pm Survivor took the stage for their fourth show since original lead singer Dave Bickler joined forces with Jimi Jamison, the man who replaced him. The question of the night would be whether the decision by founding band member Frankie Sullivan to bring Bickler back, was a good one. Not long after “Eye of the Tiger” became an anthem for having guts and taking no prisoners, Bickler was forced to leave the band after throat problems made it impossible to continue the heavy tour schedule. In what was a relative no-brainer, Jamison freshly out of Cobra, was hired to take over the lead vocal position. With Jamison, the band recorded many of the hits in the Survivor catalog, and has been the vocalist with the most tenure in the band. Now they would be sharing the same stage and trading vocals
“Can’t Give It Up” brought Jamison to the front, and was the first example of the tightness the band would display this night. Aside from the change in vocalists, the core of Survivor has a few years together under their belts, and it shows.
A crowd favorite and easily the most recognizable song up to this point, “High On You” had a slightly faster tempo than the studio version. With four songs done, the band took its first breather as Sullivan told the story of how “Rockin’ Into The Night,” which he co-wrote with former bandmate Jim Peterek, came to be a hit for .38 Special.
“It’s The Singer Not The Song” is indeed one of those songs where as
the lyrics say “if there’s magic in the music, it’s the singer not the
song.” Vocally, it can be a challenge, but not this night. Both Bickler
and Jamison managed the full range of notes and musical changes, leading
Jamison to remark at the end of the song, “this is fun.”
Going beyond the lead singers, the band worked well together. Sullivan has become more disciplined in his guitar solos, and is in fact, a really good guitarist. His fingers move quickly as his eyes look toward the sky letting his precision and experience shine through. Drummer Marc Droubay, who has been with Survivor nearly from its inception, plays tight, hard and focused. Keeping up with Droubay in keeping the beat is bassist Billy Ozzello. Talented, and animated onstage, Ozzello lets his presence be known. Multi-instrumentalist Walter Tolentino has created an exquisite keyboard introduction into the best known ballad of the band. Alone on stage, he creates a tranquil segway, leading the way for Jamison to shine on “The Search Is Over.” And on this night, he shined brightly.
“Summer Nights” brought Bickler up front again and featured some well worked harmonies. When one vocalist is not singing lead, he takes his mic stand and fades into the background, giving full stage to the lead. It works well and creates a better focal point for the crowd.
As the singers took a break, this night’s jam started with a little bit of Hendrix. “Voodoo Child” was the starting point for an interesting give and take between Sullivan and Droubay. As it ended, the familiar melody of “I Can’t Hold Back” began. Having a real good night, Jamison vocal was powerful in both strength and feeling.
The evening ended as it always does with the song which marks the Survivor legacy, “Eye Of The Tiger.” As the original vocalist Bickler, led it off then exchanged verses with Jamison.
The answer to the question… yes, the dual vocalists work. Jamison and Bickler trade off each other pretty well, seem to be comfortable with each other onstage at this point, and it gives them each a breather. Still feeling their way through adding an additional member, the band after only four shows, is definitely working in the right direction. With Bickler returning, it opens up the entire Survivor catalog. While that is a good thing for hard-core fans, time constraints mean they won’t be playing every hit. However, on this night, no one seemed to mind.
Written by Kath Galasso