IN TUNE: Playing cover songs isn’t difficult, but playing them well is something else. Sometimes all it takes is a little Force of Habit: The moment the Bergen-based band hit the familiar opening bass notes of Golden Earring’s “Twilight Zone” this weekend at the Westside Grill, I had a feeling this was the real deal — the kind of bluesy rock-and-roll band that tempted us as teens to skip studies and dance all night.
And it was.
If you’re going to last as a cover band, your catalog can’t be just rich in popular numbers. Some people (like me) also want a bunch of really cool tunes that were once our funky little secrets.
“Smoking in the Boys Room” might not come as a surprise, but the Beatles’ “You Can’t Do That” certainly did. Lynyrd Skynard’s “Gimme Three Steps” is a nice touch, a perfect complement to The Black Crowes-styled Otis Redding tune “Hard to Handle.”
All of the musicians have been around for some time, and they’ve kept their chops polished. You can tell each has a few of his own personal favorites, although they all bounced through every song like a high-powered garage band. It kept the packed house at the West Paterson hotspot (OK, Woodland Park) loose and limber all night.
More than 25 years ago, guitarist/synth player (and Beatles aficionado) Rick Albanese roped drummer Joe “Joe Fed” Federico into a Fourth of July outdoor jam. What began as a simple one-off truly became a force of habit, as the pair picked up like-minded musicians — and truckloads of fans — along the way.
Lead singer John Koromhas is charismatic, the ultimate showman. He stirred things up Saturday night by venturing into the throng in a fake Santa beard, singing directly to people along the way. Greg Hudak slid smoothly from rock to funk to blues. And former U.S. serviceman Tony Ravenda’s solos — on a mellow-voiced Telecaster he built himself — were tasty.
Younger bands, through nothing more than inexperience, tend to jack up the guitar. But Ravenda artfully showed how less can be more. He and Albanese are almost of one mind, seamlessly playing off one another the way the best basketball players run a pick-and-roll.
Yet for all that craftsmanship, none of Force of Habit’s members takes himself too seriously. Yes, I know it’s a little hokey, but why not do ZZ Top’s “Tush” in long beards? It only made the mix of friends, relatives, friends of relatives and other fans party even harder.
I knew Force of Habit had me hooked when, as each song ended, I found myself waited anxiously for the opening notes of the next. The surprises were terrific — including guest singer Nick Raia belting out “Back In the USSR,” “A Hard Days Night,” and “I Saw her Standing There,“ and the band remaking BTO’s “Taking Care of Business” into “Getting Close to Christmas.”
Speaking of Christmas and guest appearances: Santa and Mrs. Claus (Tony’s daughter, Angela) showed up, along with an elf who was more than a bit on the tall side (fitting with the band‘s sense of humor). The visitors handed out candy canes, a nice touch that unleashed a flood of nostalgia.
That’s right. I’m not too proud to admit it: It’s fun hearing “We’re An American Band,” “Dance to the Music,“ “Soul Man,“ and all the other songs that contributed to the soundtrack of my youth.
That’s why we set out, weekend after weekend, looking for the best of the bunch — not just for you, but for us, as well. Face it: We all want to take that ride back to a less anxious time, a more carefree life. And what better way than to rekindle the music that once lifted our spirits so high?
Catching these guys again immediately found its way on my to-do list. I can easily see them becoming a Force of Habit.