CRACK THE SKY
Photos and Article by SumacSin
This article is not about how the band’s debut album CRACK THE SKY was voted “ Album of the Year” by Rolling Stone Magazine. Nor is it about said album being recently upgraded to one of “Top 50 Prog-Rock albums of all time”. It is not about their trials and tribulations with record companies throughout the years, the confusing lack of exposure outside of Baltimore, or even their interpersonal relationships, extracurricular activities and recent health issues (it’s not about Glenn’s feet either, already been covered, old news). If you want any of that, find it on the ‘net, ad nauseam.
This article is about Crack the Sky, the band, in its current configuration and how they continue to captivate and entertain their loyal fans at each and every show.
The most difficult thing to do is to explain their music to the uninitiated. Think of a Pink Floyd, Rush, Beatles, King Crimson mashup. The intricate nature of the arrangements and unpredictable progressions make them refreshing at every turn. They rock, they pop, they techno, they transition to a ballad, all seamlessly. The wildly original material performed by these masterful musicians sounds and feels like they are letting us in on their stream of consciousness. My faves, in heavy rotation currently, are Crack The Sky, debut album, White Music, Animal Notes, From The Greenhouse and Safety in Numbers (no particular order). Amazingly they are able to pull this off in a live setting, so much so that they eclipse the mastery of their studio work. It really doesn’t matter the nature of the venue, from outdoor festival to miniature cozy club, the energy is the same. Crack finds a way to keep the tunes fresh and innovative regardless of whether it was written 40 years ago or last week. I venture to state that they are better live than in a studio setting, an accolade reserved for few acts. The musicianship of the current incarnation is second to none. Several were there at the inception and a few have joined along the way. John Palumbo (guitar and lead vocals), the main inspirational visionary; Rick Witkowski (lead guitar, vocals), the uber-energetic self-described neurotic prog-rocker and Joe D’Amico (drums, vocals), the unflappable rhythm protector, were there in the beginning in the early 70’s. Bobby Hird (lead guitar, vocals) has been around over 30 years. Rounding out the band is Glenn Workman ( keyboards, vocals) and Dave DeMarco (bass, vocals). Each and every one of these artists is a virtuoso in his own right. Also, on occasion, the Crack Pack Horns, Barry Caudill (tenor sax), Dave Makowiecki (trumpet) and Jim McFalls (trombone) join in.
Recently, I attended four shows in four very different venues over a period of six months. The first two were without lead singer John Palumbo due to a critical medical issue. I couldn’t bring myself to complete an article without him. After countless hours spent reviewing their entire catalogue, my hope was to be able to convey the essence of the band. I realize now that their complexity makes my job difficult.
The Dundalk Heritage Fair, an outdoor venue close to Baltimore, MD, hosted Crack the Sky 7 July, 2015. With thousands of people in attendance on a warm summer night, the band was set to go on but suddenly without their lead singer, John Palumbo. Oh man…how was this going to turn out I wondered? I have been to dozens of their concerts since the beginning…how could they possibly…? Well folks, nobody complained. Not to minimize John’s indelible mark on all things Crack, but the band pulled it off beautifully. A real “The show must go on” attitude. Their professionalism and deep talent was evident that night. Glenn really showed up handling the bulk of the vocal load with everyone else taking turns on tunes that best suited them. The presence of the Crack Pack helped fill out the sound. Of course, the hard core Crackheads were aware of the void, but the majority of those in attendance simply experienced another fantastic live performance from the band that has been delivering for so many years. Way to pull it out, guys. We noticed.
Next up was the 1st Annual Wounded Warrior Benefit Concert held at Pier Six Pavillion, Inner Harbor, Baltimore, MD 8 August, 2015.* CTS was one of 4 bands, including The Ravyns, The Dave DeMarco Band and Midnite Run. A spectacular night of music on a gorgeous Baltimore summer evening overlooking the water for a worthy cause. Baltimore calls Crack their own, so it was a huge welcome, but sans John, again.
Rumor had it (ok, John reported on social media), that he would be in attendance at Club 66, Edgewood, MD to perform with the band on 15 January, 2016. Club 66 is an awesome one-of-a-kind roadhouse joint of a venue where all of the loyal fans can get up close in a casual, super-friendly BYOB joint. Nestled in an auto repair facility off the main highway, Club 66 is a throwback. Built as an American Legion in the 40s, it is 70’ long by 50’ wide and sports cathedral ceilings with wood crossbeams. The house was packed with standing room only… and barely any of that. The sound quality is noteworthy. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Foghat, Molly Hatchet, to name a few have performed there in the past…can’t imagine what that was like. The band clearly rallied around John, filling in where he needed them. John and the band sounded flawless. Can happiness be palpable? I felt it, John’s back!
The following two nights, CTS performed sold out shows at Rams Head On Stage, Annapolis, MD. A much more conventional venue with a more moderate yet loyal following, they filled the house to capacity. The band cranked out the hits for almost two hours non-stop as well material from their new release, The Beauty of Nothing.
Funny how you don’t realize how much you treasure something until it’s almost taken away. The two concerts without John were a great time, but it wasn’t the same without him. John’s voice and his writing is distinct, haunting even. He is complex and cerebral, commanding with a hint of FUCK YOU IF YOU DON’T GET IT flavor. That’s my observation, anyway.
The audience can feel it when the band performing is going through the motions. Not these guys. They love the music. Each and every one of them. Waiting to complete this review was a good call. I was afforded the opportunity to see a veteran group handle the pressure and carry on without their fallen leader. I also witnessed them rally ‘round John on his return and how much his presence meant to the fans, the group and especially him.
*Get your 2016 tickets here: www.piersixpavilion.com/event/1061017-crack-sky-baltimore/