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Soul Sirkus Live in Solana Beach, CA

By Junkman, On-Air Personality
Wednesday, May 25, 2005 @ 0:56 AM


Soul Sirkus Live at the Belly

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Soul Sirkus is a band consisting of a group of superstars from the rock music field. Composed of singer Jeff Scott Soto (who has sung with Yngwie Malmsteen, amongst others), guitarist Neal Schon (famous for his work with Journey, Santana, Bad English, HSAS, Hardline, Schon and Hammer -- I’m sure I left someone out!) bassist Marco Mendoza (who has played with Ted Nugent and Whitesnake, in recent years), and the incredible drummer Virgil Donati (who has toured with, among others, Steve Vai.) Right there, the background is enough to keep you interested. But years in the business have told me that for a band that looks good on paper, just like a sports team, you have to have chemistry and be able to pull it off in a live concert setting to be taken seriously.

The concert setting for this was the Belly Up Tavern, a small concert bar just north of San Diego. I’d been there before many times and it’s a good CD away from my house, (about an hour, one CD in its entirety) so, I naturally put their debut CD, World Play in my player to listen to on the way down to the venue. It’s a great CD with very strong songs, but I just felt that for the amount of talent involved in this band, the real show would be onstage, and boy, did THAT turn out to be an understatement!

Hitting the stage to a highly amped-up crowd, the band tore into the first two songs on the CD, “Highest Ground” and “New Position.” Singer Soto is quite the animated front man, never missing a note with an incredibly strong voice, all the while flipping his cordless mic in the air like a juggler. He seemed to be having the time of his life, and why wouldn’t he be, considering who was in his supporting cast.

Soto, if you didn’t already know, supplied the vocals for the fictitious band “Steel Dragon” in the movie Rock Star a few years back, and I was pleasantly surprised when Soul Sirkus revamped the song “Stand Up and Shout” into their set, and the crowd went crazy, especially the guy behind me who, just like the guy in the movie insisted on singing along at the top of his lungs trying to impress the band. Needless to say, if you are familiar with the movie, my buddy and I referred to this dude, the rest of the evening, as “Thor.”

Guitarist Schon, with his history as being in the business since the late sixties as a kid playing with Santana, played the opening notes to Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” and the band really rocked it up, adding bits and pieces from other classic tunes, segueing into Hendrix’s “Third Stone From the Sun” and ending it some riffs from some classic Santana stuff. The band was tight, lemme tell ya!

Bassist Marco Mendoza is a remarkable player. Switching from 5-string to fretless basses, he added some of his own Latin style “scatting” as he played a bass solo, and danced as he played, clearly having a ball. He also is quite a singer adding high harmony to most of Soul Sirkus’ songs along with Neal Schon AND drummer Donati. His bass solo ended as he started the notes to his old bandmate Ted Nugent’s bluesey shuffle, “Hey Baby,” and once again the crowd sang along… especially Thor.

After this it was time for Jeff Scott Soto to head behind the piano, as the rest of the band left the stage. What he proceeded to do for the next few minutes was a lesson on what you can do with vocal talent. He sang bits and pieces of various Steve Perry-era Journey songs along with some Sam Cooke stuff, highlighting his outstanding vocal range, accompanied only by his piano playing. It was a real treat, a real highlight of the show. The only downside was some girl sitting behind him on the side of the stage insisted on talking to her date the whole time, and even after Soto tried to get her to be quiet, the bimbo kept yacking away. But, like the pro that he is, Soto ignored her and finished to a well-deserved applause.

The band returned to the stage and immediately got back into the rock mode with “Another World,” another track from World Play. After leaving the stage, the crowd would not let them go away, stomping their approval of this incredibly tight unit. And for an encore? How about a killer version of the old Sly and the Family Stone rocker “I Want to Take You Higher,” which featured the incredible talents of drummer Virgil Donati, who does things with drums that you just have to see to believe.

Finishing the set with another song from World Play, entitled “Praise,” the band left the crowd in a frenzy, clearly pleased with what they had just witnessed. This is a band that I would recommend seeing live, and I hope that happens, although it wont be soon.

This summer Neal Schon will be on the road with Journey, Mendoza may or may not be with Whitesnake, but will be with SOMEONE for sure, Donati will be playing with his fusion band and Jeff Scott Soto promised to be on my show on KNAC.COM to talk about what he has planned for the future.

In a way it’s a shame that this band wont be on the road this summer, because I’m SURE that people would be impressed, just as I was. This band started off as a side project involving Neal Schon, paired along with Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony, who both left to tour on the recent Van Halen reunion shows. The fact that Schon was able to get people like Soto and Mendoza, as well as drummer Virgil Donati (who incidentally replaced Journey drummer Deen Castronovo in this project) to come together for such a tight-sounding band, is a credit to his eye for talent, and musicianship. Journey has a new CD coming out this summer and you bet I’ll be listening to it. More on that, some other time. But for now pick up a copy of Soul Sirkus’ World Play on Frontiers Records, and check out www.soulsirkus.com for more.

Setlist:

Highest Ground
New Position
Friends 2 Lovers
Periled Divide
My Sanctuary
Stand Up and Shout
Soul Goes On
Voodoo Chile
Hey Baby
Jeff - solo piano
Another World
Alive
Take you Higher/Praise


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