Concert Review: Roger Steen Band Live - Fenix Supper Club, San Rafael, California

SAN RAFAEL, CALIFORNIA - My friends Patrick, Rocky and I went to Marin County to see the Roger Steen Band at the Fenix Supper Club in San Rafael on a Thursday evening in March. It was a warm, nearly spring evening. We anticipated what the band might play that evening as we drove over the Richmond-San Rafael bridge towards our exit on Fourth Street.

Review by Camden Barbour * Photo courtesy of Roger Steen Band

We are big fans of RSB and we had an idea of what to expect. We love Roger's self- titled 2013 solo CD, Roger Steen. We discussed which Tubes songs he might cover, if any, and wondered what surprises he might play from his extensive repertoire.

Roger Steen is a guitar player/song writer and a founding member of the San Francisco theatrical rock band, the Tubes. Roger has a long list of songwriting credits, some of which Billboard magazine posts in the top 100 songs. “Don’t Want To Wait Anymore” made top 50 and “She’s a Beauty” went to the number 10 chart positions.

The Fenix supper club is an elegant space with the stage showcased at the head of the narrow room. The tables and booths are comfortable and set up to face the performers. There is a small dance area in front of the stage. The ceiling is tall and the colors of the walls are warm, the textured surface behind the stage is a deep blue with the supper club’s name and logo etched in the surface... I don’t know why they spell the name the way they do.

On the stage waiting for us is the band’s equipment. A small shiny drum kit, on it painted brightly is the Roger Steen Band logo. Next to it stands the bass on the right and guitar on the left. Two tiers of red keyboards stand nonchalantly, quietly on the right hand corner of the stage. Erected around the drum set is a clear plastic acoustic screen to control the sound of the you know the place is classy!

The four piece band step onto the stage from an area near the second bar at the back of the room. They fit nicely on the slightly elevated stage and look as crisp and as clear as any of the decor elements in the room. The Roger Steen Band looks to be at home.

They play two new songs which keeps me on my toes. The sound of each instrument is clearly heard and well mixed for the room. The band is approximately 40’ or less from our table which is the furthest away from the stage. There is not a bad seat in the place. Even the bars in other parts of the restaurant can see the show via the three closed-circuit television cameras mounted from the ceiling. (Archived shows are available on line)

Everyone in the Roger Steen Band takes a turn with the lead vocals. Hank Gibson sings a cover of the Steely Dan song, “Black Friday” and Janice Kang does a splendid job with her cover of Bonnie Raitt’s song, “Used to Rule the World”. Next, Roger steps up with, “Show Me a Reason” which is a Tubes song only available on their 1978 live album recorded at the (then) Hammersmith Odeon.... but I digress.

“Show Me a Reason” is a rocking love song that was not made for supper clubs. The lovely patrons inside the Fenix were oblivious to what they were absorbing with their baby heads of lettuce and medium rare steak. They watched politely as Roger Steen sang his lungs outs. A number of people danced. I don’t think the Thursday night dinner crowd appreciate the epic-ness of this song. Roger is a professional entertainer with an extraordinary amount of stage time. The band delivered the best elements of Roger I’ve ever seen and it was only the 5th song into the first set.

Hank Gibson, on bass and Bill Walker on keyboards bring forth a wicked version of “Part Time Man”. Bill slaps the keys to add the Hammond organ sound on which Roger overlays the guitar. It is great fun to see the band work this music up until the sound becomes bigger and bigger, reaching out and taking hold of the room by their starched lapels.

Janice covers “Monkey TIme,” a song the Tubes also cover. Hank, Bill and Paul Bevilacqua sing harmony. Roger covers the funky break and Janice adds her own howl at the end. By the end of the song the entire room was dripping with monkey groove.

Another cover, “ Take Me To the River” was blissfully done with Bill singing lead, Janice, Paul and Hank singing like angels. Roger Steen added yet another dimension to the sound on the guitar. His small Mesa Boogie cabinet powered by the even smaller Mesa Boogie amplifier create a stunning sound. His good time, obvious on his face was infectious.

“Monkey Pants” is an original composition from Bill Walker. The organ music starts off reminiscent of a carnival calliope and seems innocent enough. It seems playful enough and you want to hang on for the ride to see what is around the corner. Soon the song builds into a jazz break so slick Steely Dan wished they had written it, as you realize the wonderful excursion the band has just taken you on. If you look closely, you will notice that Roger Steen plays as though he has twelve fingers on his left had.

“Life is Pain” is a composition Roger sings. The riff-heavy song is like a brontosaurus thundering through the supper club with guitar and drums pounding along side. Roger sings this song with his signature vocals. His throat opens, his mouth opens, you can see the notes emerge from the fiber of his being. “Stand Up and Shout” is another cover of a Tubes’ cover. The song literally invites you to stand up and shout. Like golf applause, I offered my Dinner Club rowdy dance quietly in my seat.

After a short break, the RSB returned and went into an instrumental version of “Come As You Are”. Bill coaxes the grand piano sound from one of the tiers of keyboards and again Roger delivers the best Roger Steen available. His guitar sounds different in each song and in this song, his guitar covers the melody with as much power as if the vocalist was in the arrangement.

The song was a show stopper and again, they had just started the second set. It is a good thing there were no Todd Rundgren fans in the audience or there would have been a gang fight following this song. (Todd gets a writing credit on this song and has covered it live. There is some debate, however petty as to who does the song in a more pleasing fashion)

Next, Roger sang “Ophelia” from his CD and Hank covered a blues song to which Bill, Paul and Roger added their solos. Bill twists and turns, banging the notes from the keyboard, Paul adds the double bass kick drum and the song goes into overdrive.

Roger introduces a new song, which has a Grateful Dead sound and showcases each member of the band. Hank covers, “Alyson” then the band goes into an instrumental jam with a funky keyboard break. Again, the guitar carries the melody, the double kick bass drum and the Hammond organ sound sends the room into the stratosphere.

Roger then introduces “Long Time” which has a rocking verse line. “Tempted” by Squeeze is a song probably rendered asunder by wedding singers and bar bands across the universe, but fits nicely in the Fenix.

Roger sings, “I Should Have Waited” and then “Love Me Baby” which builds into a hypnotizing blend of guitars, bass, drums and keyboards. I am floating above the votive candles on the tables and don’t realize the show is over until the band leaves the stage and the dinner crowd tips their waitress.

The Roger Steen band is Roger Steen on guitar and vocals, Hank Gibson on bass and vocals, Bill Walker on keys and vocals, Paul Bevilacqua on drums and Janice Kang on vocals and percussion.