Live at Mexicali, Teaneck (NJ), May 21st 2010

Concert review and interview with band members

The Mexicali is a bar and restaurant where you can enjoy good food and a variety of regularly scheduled music. Located in Teaneck, New Jersey, it is not the largest such establishment but it is informal and friendly. If you like your rock hot and loud with plenty of atmosphere this is the place for you.

On this Friday night the Venue had the honor of presenting Fiona, who together with Bobby Messano, the guitarist who accompanied her on her first album, rocked the audience that had gathered to witness a historical event. It was a concert, which after so many years, brought back Fiona singing some of her traditional songs in their purest style.

The moment drew near and Fiona came on stage. It was dark with tiny lights that looked like stars. The singer was wearing a grey dress that enhanced her natural beauty and the atmosphere was filled with her charismatic presence. The audience began to see what they eagerly anticipated: Fiona was back!.

Her performance began with “Kiss the Boys Goodbye.” This song was the gateway to a nostalgic and beautiful trip down memory lane. A beautiful trip that would last just over 30 minutes, but a trip that rewarded her fans for having waited many years to hear her sing their favorite songs. Fiona’s voice was both firm and sweet at the same time, in exactly the same style that can be heard on her album “Squeeze.” Bobby and the band, including Steve Geller on bass and Mick Fumento on drums, supported her with excellent music and choral accompaniment that, it is fair to say, carried Fiona to her vital essence.

The adrenaline increased when the song’s final arpeggios gave way to Fumento; “one, two…” and his drums marked the introductory beats of “Hang Your Heart on Me.” That marvelous voice that performed this number so many times now sang it again. This song was nostalgic and had special meaning for many long time fans who had given their hearts to Fiona as adolescents. Messano delighted us with a solo that he performed with customary expertise. His solo made a lasting impression on the audience.

Fiona: Thanks for coming … this next song is called James …

The third song was “James,” a catchy number which made the audience enjoy themselves so much that they could not help following its rhythm. Fiona gave us her voice in no end of variations, according to the requirements of the song; in a continuous variety of attitudes that left no doubt that she is still in fine form. Her singing carried everyone away with its carefree sound and no one could stop grooving to the beat.

Fiona: OK, here’s a song I have never sung before, since the day I recorded it … It’s the ballad of tonight, no more ballads …

As she remarked, her fans had never heard this song on stage before. It proved we witnessed a special moment. The version began with a soft guitar introduction accompanied by a rhythmic beating of cymbals. Geller’s bass performed some new lines; it was a completely unusual beginning to the number. The result was brilliant and elegant as required by a song like “He’s On My Side.” Her clear, personal voice carried us to the moment when the lead up to the chorus broke out. Hearts melted at the presence of such beauty; perhaps enhanced by the personal memory of some young love.

Messano introduced a personal solo for this song that he had not recorded originally. Yet he knew how to give it his own personal touch in a melodic performance, supported every instant by Geller. The same happened at the end of the song, which was prolonged to show the talents of the band.

The atmosphere created at the beginning of “Keeper of the Flame,” proved to be somewhat mysterious and its peaceful rendition gave way in a few seconds to an avalanche of sound. This once more provided a contrast with the calm of the introduction. The song, originally composed by Fiona and Donnie Kisselbach, left behind the careful and synthetic production it relied on in the original album “Beyond the Pale”, where it was already partly performed by Messano, to appear here as a song that worked to perfection on stage.

Fiona: Right, we’re not going to skip this song …

The group took their time before beginning the next number which was none other than “Over Now.” It was another classic that brought us powerful sound and showed us the validity and the present importance of traditional rock. Together with Fiona’s vocal force, we were presented with a band that seemed perfectly together. With a delirious improvisation in the final stage of the song it also demonstrated once more the recognized brilliance of Messano at his creative best.

Fiona: I’d like to introduce Bobby, Steve and Nick. These guys are from New Jersey, just like I am, and we’ve rehearsed once, and I'm very glad we did. And now here’s a song you might be familiar with, maybe …

After introducing the band and creating an atmosphere of camaraderie with the musicians and the audience, Fiona sang the extremely well-known “Talk To Me.” In the eighties this piece took her to the top of the charts. On this occasion her rendition of this popular song was a version worth remembering. The work on the arrangements was impressive and gave the song a perspective that worked really well on stage. The Geller-Fumento duo appeared perfectly coordinated, the guitar took on a special role, and no one could miss the saxophone which sounded like the original recording.

FIONA: … and then STARZ will be over here … all right, here we go !!

All good things must come to an end, but the release saved for this finale moved everyone. “You Better Wait,” was a gift for all. A slight echo effect enhanced Fiona’s tone and showed off her beautiful voice. It took full advantage of the potential that the stage presents. Throughout the performance her vocal timbre was extremely pleasing. The performance was short but intense, leaving everyone with the hope that this concert will be the first of many, and that she will keep on delighting us with magical moments like this.

By David Garcia (2010).

Thanks to Jim S. (Hi friend !!)

Photographs property of Jennifer Bartram-Schmitt, used with the author’s permission (THANK YOU!!).

In their own words
(Many thanks to the band members for kindly agreeing to answer some questions)

Alongside Bob and Mick, you have started up a band for Fiona. Do you work together continuously, or do you only get together to rehearse for concerts?.

Geller: Bobby & I work together all the time. We're constantly on the road, traveling all over the U.S. Our album, "Live in Madison", was recently nominated for a Grammy in Best Contemporary Blues category! We can't always afford to bring a drummer with us, so we have drummers scattered all over the country that we use. Mick is one of our favorites. He's got a great feel, and he's a fun guy to hang out with.

Your work with Lily Sparks and that which you carry out with Fiona involve playing two different styles of rock, separated in time by years. Were you familiar with Fiona’s career, prior to agreeing to appear on stage with her?.

Fumento: I was familiar with Fiona's career but not really in depth with all of her music. I realy enjoy it now because of the intense listening being done to learn it. It is also fun playing with the members and Fiona as well. The music does come alive even more being played.

To prepare the songs from the repertoire that you perform with her, do you base yourself on Kisselbach’s original recordings, or do you work out your own arrangements?.

Geller: When I'm working with a singer, I always concentrate on providing a comfortable and safe environment for him or her to work in. With Fiona, I went back to the original recordings as a starting point. One thing I found, the sound and playing on those CDs was pretty dated. The one thing I didn't want was for the concert to feel like an 80s Nostalgia Party. So, I took those parts, and tried to bring a more contemporary feel to it, without getting too far from what was originally there.

As well as having taken studies in jazz percussion, you do teaching work as a music teacher. With which facet of your career do you feel most identified, as a frenzied drummer in a rock band, or in the tranquillity of the classrooms?.

Fumento: I love the stage as well as the class room both worlds mean alot to me I can say I really do have a career in music because I'm around it 24-7. I try to connect the experiences that I have made playing with the children in school it is all good. I will always play and try to play well, as I try to teach to my fullest.

Tonight has been the first time that Fiona has sung the song “He’s on my side” live, which means that you have been the first bassist who has performed it on stage. This is a fact that will be imprinted on the minds of all the fans. What is your favourite song from the repertoire that you perform with Fiona?.

Geller: That was the first time "He's On My Side" has been done live! That's great. I love playing ballads, and this is a terrific one. The challenge is always to not overplay, and to create a space for the singer to express the emotional truth of the song. I thought we all did a great job on this one. I would say that this one was my favorite song from the show. It certainly felt great from the stage!

You have been in the world of music for many years, and you have worked with many musicians; how do you feel on the stage with Fiona?.

Fumento: Is speechless. She is a great artist and she plays with a great group of people. She is a lovely person and a good spirit and the other two Bobby and Steve are more than great players they are my friends. I do look foward to playing with Fiona and the boys soon.