Starz; Sellersville Theater 1894 10/1/10

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Starz; Sellersville Theater 1894 10/1/10

Postby jimmy19029 » Thu Oct 07, 2010 7:48 am

I LOVE Sellersville Theater! It's a little home away from home that's now like a time machine, enabling me to enter and be thrown back in time to see bands that were only around for a short period but broke up before I had the chance to see them.

Starz were one of many groups in the 1970s that seemed destined to make it big. They had a look that borrowed from the glam rockers as well as the heavy metal outfits, a sound that combined Aerosmith/Stones with the Beatlesque pop of acts like Cheap Trick and the Raspberries and were managed by Bill Aucoin, who'd helped take Kiss to the top. How could they miss?
Unfortunately, they did miss and were gone by the beginning of the 80s.

I remember hearing their one and only hit, Cherry Baby, on the radio during my senior year of high school and really being blown away. After they disappeared from the scene a few years later, I always regretted that they hadn't gotten their due and, worse, I'd never been able to see them live.

In 1989 I had the privilege of meeting guitarist Richie Ranno at a record collectors' show and was able to tell him how much I enjoyed his music. During the next couple of years after that, when I would see him at further shows, Richie would tell me that Starz were back together and working on a new album. He would give me updates on its progress each time our paths crossed.

After not hearing anything about the project for awhile, I finally ran into Richie again and he smiled, pulled out the new Starz CD, Requiem, and handed it to me. I excitedly purchased it but there was a bittersweet tone when he spoke to me about it. He had been unable to get a record company to release it, so he'd put it out himself and was now selling it mostly at record shows. And worse, it looked like that was it for Starz. No reunion shows, no more projects.

Fast forward to 2003. A British promoter wants to have the band reform and play some shows over there across the pond. Ranno is able to locate all surviving original members and they all say YES! But the deal falls through. No matter. The group decides to play a set of warm up shows they'd already scheduled in New Jersey, bringing in Starz fanatic George DiAna to replace their late bassist, Pieter Sweval.

And so it continues to this day. And now...FINALLY.....they were coming to my area!

Original guitarist Brendan Harkin opted out of doing any further shows in 2005 and has been replaced by his original 1978 replacement Bobby Messano and the band continues to play a small handful of shows each year for fun.

Like most the other concerts that have drawn me to Sellersville, this one was pretty sparsely attended with people scattered here and there throughout the various sections of the theater rather than all up in the first several rows. Richie still looks pretty much the same as he did 30 years ago and drummer Joe X. Dube still has that great waxed mustache of his, though it's now grey. Lead singer Michael Lee Smith I would not have recognized at all if it wasn't for that unique voice of his. He still sounds great! No, he didn't hit those high notes in Cherry Baby and Rock Six Times, but on tapes of shows I've heard from the Starz 70s performances, he didn't then either, choosing instead to re-phrase around them(like Freddie Mercury of Queen and others would do on occasion).

Blues rockers Jim George Band did the opening honors and Jim had an appealing voice that was in the Steve Marriott/Rod Stewart vein.

At 9:05 Starz hit the stage to the strains of their own Is That a Streetlight or the Moon on tape. Michael began to sing along to the tape, then the group slammed into She. Michael kiddingly announced their third song in the set as Detroit Rock City since Detroit Girls has always been compared to it. The group actually wrote it before the Kiss tune was ever recorded and Smith jokingly told us it was about Richie's constant visits to clinics after his encounters with girls all over the country...specifically Detroit Girls. He always gets a kick out of the rabid, enthused response the song gets from Detroit audiences.

Michael was sounding great and doing his usual fine job as the MC who set up the story behind each song. Outfit, he explained, was about a 16 year old girl who would always come to watch the boys rehearse at their rehearsal hall in Queens back in the mid-70s. "She wore the tightest most hottest clothes", Michael recalled, "But, we were always very respectful of her and for some reason, we never laid on a finger on her...AHH, but those OUTFITS she used to wear! WOW"! He sighed at the memory of her. "And the 70s was the era in which we all did stuff and didn't have to worry about the consequences. Also, during that era, medical science progressed to where people could die but be kept alive on a machine." This last comment was a setup to their song Pull the Plug.

When I saw Richie bring out his doublenecker 6 string/12 string guitar, I knew that it was time for CHERRY BABY! All through the show guitarist Bobby Messano and bassist George DiAna provided wonderful high harmony vocals while Richie handled the mid and lower harmonies.

Michael also teased us by taking requests then saying, "No, we're just going to do the next song on our list." And he pretended that the show was done after the band finished the set with the scorching pairing of Coliseum Rock/It's a Riot, only to return to take more requests before confessing that the choices would be So Young So Bad and Violation...the planned encores.

After the concert, the band emerged pretty quickly for autographs as we lined up outside on the theater's outdoor deck. Joe X. Dube was happy to talk to me about his days in the band Looking Glass (of Brandy, You're a Fine Girl fame) and was shocked to hear me tell him I'd once seen a quote from Steely Dan's Donald Fagen that they were considering maybe adding Looking Glass singer Elliot Lurie to Steely Dan since they liked his voice. Richie and the others had never heard of that quote either but admitted that it made sense. Bobby was thrilled when I mentioned how much I loved his 80s band Franke & the Knockouts. I told him I'd love to see a reunion. He told me he would too and that Franke was a very RICH man now with all of the successful songs he's had in movies, like Dirty Dancing. Finally, I approached Michael who signed my Violation CD but seemed like he was pretty beat and ready to collapse. A few days later, I sent him a message on Facebook and he graciously thanked me for coming to the show and politely answered my various inquiries about the band.


Is That a Streetlight or the Moon(backing instrumental on tape)
Tear it Down
Detroit Girls
(She's Just a) Fallen Angel
Rock Six Times
Subway Terror
Johnny All Alone
Cherry Baby
Pull the Plug
Boys in Action

Coliseum Rock/
It's a Riot
So Young So Bad
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Location: Essington, PA

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