Salem Hill, September 3rd/4th, 1998
Ziggy's, Winston Salem / Meredith College, Raleigh, USA

By MB Sheppard

First up was the Salem Hill/Life Trip show in Winston Salem on Thursday night. The venue was a small rather unique club called "Ziggy's." The club was a cross between a standing structure and a circus tent with open air at the sides, and a canvas roof. Unfortunately, the remnants of Earl blew in full force Thursday night pouring buckets of rain on the now leaking Ziggy's roof. It was cold, wet and clammy, but once the music began all was forgotten. Life Trip opened the show with their unique blend of jazz/fusion/rock. Sometimes sounding like The Grateful Dead, and at times Jethro Tull (from which they did a cover song), Life Trip played an hour long set of music from their new CD Mental Travelers, and their previous cassette only release Adobe Ride. They received a lukewarm reception from the audience who seemed mainly there to see Salem Hill.

Salem Hill took the stage around 11:30, and were in top form right from the get go. Playing tracks from their first 3 releases, their trademark tight sound and 3 part vocal harmonies once again showed what a bright future should lay ahead for this conglomeration. The addition of second keyboardist Mike Ayres gave them a richer fuller sound. This allowed group leader Carl Groves the opportunity to concentrate more on his guitar work (both electric and acoustic), and act as master of ceremonies for the evening. Guitarist/vocalist Michael Dearing played and sang splendidly adding his clown prince stage antics that helped to lighten up some of Salem Hill's more dark and serious subject matter. Drummer Kevin Thomas and bassist Patrick Henry were solid as a rock except for one missed intro that was quickly corrected. The early part of the set featured several older songs, and a few favorites from the Catatonia album. Highlights included the lengthy Judgment, and the bouncy Peculiar People. Half way through the set the band was joined by former Kansas violinist David Ragsdale for a complete run-through of the latest album The Robbery Of Murder. Robbery is what most of the audience had come to hear, and they were not disappointed. The album was performed from start to finish with some very nice additional instrumental augmentation not heard on the studio disc. Ragdsdale was brilliant as usual adding just the right touch of violin virtuosity to complement the material without hogging the spotlight. Salem Hill has come a long way from their 1997 Progday appearance, and the crowd at Ziggy's showed their appreciation with a standing ovation. The band returned to the stage to perform the classic Yes track South Side Of The Sky with Dearing soaring on vocals and Henry tearing up Chris Squire's signature meaty bass part.

Friday dawned with Hurricane Earl moving out into the Atlantic, and the threat of more rain going with it. It was time to catch two more very different shows by Salem Hill. First, a short acoustic set at Borders bookstore in Cary, and then a full electric outdoor show at Meredith College in Raleigh. The hour long acoustic set featured a stripped down version of Salem Hill doing a set of material from their catalog. The set really showcased Carl Groves ever blossoming role as frontman for the band. His between song chatter, and interaction with the audience gave a nice "folksy" type feel to the proceedings. The set also featured some very nice vibe work by percussionist Kevin Thomas.

On to the evening and the electric show at Meredith Collage. Although sparsely attended, the show was in a beautiful outdoor amphitheater on the Meredith campus. A few sound problems plagued the band that caused things to start a bit late. Despite the small turnout the band gave it their all, several songs were featured from from their early recordings that had not been performed before. The encore of The Beatles Tomorrow Never Knows was the perfect cap on the evening. Guitarist/vocalist Michael Dearing did not appear at either of the Friday shows due to a subsequent engagement.  



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