Love is a Battlefield, but Spyder Saves the Day

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Walking in early to the historic, gorgeous Cascade Theater, I was trying to get a sense of what Pat Benatar fans were like. Being an aspiring jazz-fusion bassist in the late 1970s, I never really followed rocker Pat or her producer/guitarist husband Neil Giraldo.

At the venue, what I assumed would be a routine concert prelude turned out to be anything BUT routine.

(Cue the screeching pre-train-wreck sound effects.)

After the crackerjack staff at the Cascade found our misplaced backstage passes, we were ushered to a “meet and greet” line. If you didn’t know, a meet and greet group is a bunch of people who usually pony up a lot of extra cash or win an opportunity to meet and greet their favorite stage-bound idol right before a show. Sounds cool, right?

Meet and greet line, against the wall.

Well, most in our group of 15 were excitedly anticipating what it would be like to get to meet Pat and Neil backstage – and many in our group eagerly held their favorite vinyl record albums and copies of Pat Benatar’s recent book, all sure to be autographed by Ms. Benatar and Mr. Giraldo.

(Bang-crash!)

We were told by Ms. Benatar’s handlers: “There will be no autographs. Ms. Benatar doesn’t like photos, so no pictures. No questions. No noise. No getting out of the line. No calling ‘Neil, Neil.’ He likes to be called ‘Spyder.’ Just stand in line and wait for your photograph to be taken by our house photographer.”

NO-NO, NO-NO-NO! (The lyrics from “Heartbreaker” were pounding into my brain.) So much for my chance to write a fun little review of the backstage magic most people rarely get to see.

“Next!” came the call.

(Mooooo … and I ambled forth as called.)

I nervously walked up to Mr. Giraldo for my prescribed slot to have a photo with him. But, I’ve been around celebrities most of my life. I was there for the questions and maybe a little story!

I stepped up to the photo-plate as ordered and personally welcomed Neil (doh! ‘Spyder’) to Shasta County and I mentioned he had a packed house looking forward to the show. He smiled brightly at me and just said, “thanks.” I asked him if they had done anything fun or special while they were in town. Smiling widely again he said, “no.” (Poof!)

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I then started to quickly ask him what new projects he had coming up–

“NEXT!” came the interruptive call as I was ushered back into our humbled line for a photo slot with Ms. Benatar.

“No?” “Thanks?!” So much for my chance to warm up Neil Giraldo for quick interview. I waited uncomfortably for my marching orders to face Ms. Benatar.

Maybe she just had a bad day. Maybe this was the 5,000th meet-and-greet she’d had to endure this summer. Whatever it was, Ms. Benatar did not appear to be in the backstage-magic-kind-of-mood. I dutifully sank back into my herd and began to think the worst while quietly mooing my discontent. Then, right before my eyes: real magic …

I was standing in line behind a charming young mother-to-be, Ms. Nicole Schwerdt, who works at US Bank. Neil, I mean, Spyder, briskly walked by our line on his way to smartly wash up his hands after glad-handing our lot. And before I could pounce on him for that pesky question that got away, he looked at Nicole and politely said, “Hi. Excuse me for asking, are you going to have a child?” Nicole mentioned that she was about 7 months along.

Seemingly concerned, Spyder then asked if she was sitting close to any of the low-frequency producing sub-woofers. She wasn’t sure. Mr. Giraldo then asked to see her ticket. He noted that Ms. Schwerdt was just three rows in front of the booming speakers. Neil and Nicole had about a five-minute conversation about the potential effects low-frequency sound waves could have on a mother-to-be and her child. Spyder was so genuinely concerned for this mother and child that he instantly arranged with the great Cascade management and staff to order up a much better seat further from the subs and closer to the show. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing! Backstage magic: REAL MAGIC!! I mentioned to Spyder that I thought it was a really cool thing to do for Nicole and I asked why he took the time and trouble to do that. He looked at me square in the eyes and smilingly said, “I’m a father, man – and I’m a Godfather. Of course I should do that!” As a totally committed dad myself, I really started liking that guy a lot. Only after he knew the situation was safe, Spyder walked off to the calm of his dressing room with 15 pairs of beaming and admiring eyes following him as he left. I guess I really shouldn’t whine too much about my raw hide in the meet-and-greet trough. It was worth witnessing that level of humanity from a real-life rock legend named Spyder!

But what about Pat?

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At this point you may well ask, but what about the show, for crying out loud?! Well, after the photo round-up at the Cascade Corral, we were instructed to walk to the back of the theater and wait in the dark to be seated. While waiting to be ushered forth I got the chance to quietly and quickly chat with the effervescent James Mazzotta of Enjoy Magazine fame. After going through that backstage gauntlet I felt much safer hanging out with James. I asked him the pedestrian question: if he liked Pat Benatar. He said to me that the first record (45 RPM single) he ever bought was when he was in the fifth grade and that it was Pat Benatar’s, “We Live for Love.” Wow. He was an equally enthused fan of Pat Benatar … just like the hundreds of others I was about to meet. In a BIG way!

During the first power-chorded assaults, we struggled to dig out her lyrics, which seemed quite sunk in the mix. Yet, I can’t remember too many times when I saw a standing ovation after the first song. Clearly, this was a loyal Benatar crowd. But that was just the beginning of where Ms. Pat Benatar’s real magic lies. It’s with her fans. And especially when she’s interacting with them!

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After the sound snapped into lock step during the second song with Pat, she received thunderous appreciation from the sold-out house. I could see Ms. Benatar tapping into a new energy and wanting to reciprocate to her seemingly newfound Shasta County friends. Pat let loose, “Cause we’re feeling pretty good right now, we’re going to pretty much play everything for you tonight!”

Opening up the night further with their sharp-shooting songs like “Shadows of the Night” and “In the Heat of the Night,” they seemed to really rally the fans. Then Pat gave a heartfelt tribute to our troops and veterans by offering up a song called, “Invincible”:

“This bloody road remains a mystery

This sudden darkness fills the air

What are we waiting for? Won’t anybody help us?
What are we waiting for?
We can’t afford to be innocent

Stand up and face the enemy

It’s a do or die situation – we will be invincible.”

Pat then reminisced. “We used to write observational songs about someone else’s pain … Once in a while, a personal one sneaks through. This one is called ‘Promises in the Dark.'” The crowd fell in love all over again.

The Cascade ushers were like secret service agents on steroids, trying in vain to keep everyone respectful of the mandate: No Pictures! Respecting the protocol and the hard working volunteers of the Cascade, I was probably the only person in the theater NOT taking pictures. Then … it happened! Pat and Neil asked the loving crowd to pull out their cell phones and light em’ up! “Go ahead and take pictures. We don’t care.” Pat and Spyder went on and asked the crowd to hold up their cell phones and cameras and sway their little liberal lights to the music under Spyder’s conduction. Our secret service ushers seemed to welcome the break.

Their acoustic set was really fun and included some storytelling, book-promoting and cool trivia facts about the band’s history. In keeping with their promise, as long as there are children being abused they will keep singing “Hell is for Children.” That tradition and tribute has been ongoing for many years now. From 8 to 80, the multigenerational Benatar Army was growing.

It was really fun to watch Pat and Spyder, her husband for over almost 30 years, romantically build each other up while sharing heartwarming stories of their rich professional artistry of more than 30 years. With only an occasional electronic loop thrown in here and there, the music was absolutely flawless, polished and unexpectedly huge for a three-piece band with a singer. The bassist, Mick Mahan, was rock-solid — and probably sent Nicole into an early labor in spite of Spyder’s gallant intervention. The drummer, Myron Grombacher, was an absolute ANIMAL! What a colorful, heart-stopping, meter-master player he was! Wow!!

The real star of the night was the Pat Benatar Army! It was a mutual jam the whole night long. The crowd sang along and Pat loved it.

Set List:

All Fired Up
Shadows of the Night
Somebody’s Baby
Invincible
Promises in the Dark
You Better Run – Acoustic
I Don’t Want to be Your Friend – Acoustic
We Belong – Acoustic
Hell is For Children
Hit Me With Your Best Shot
Love is a Battlefield

Encore:

Let’s Stay Together
Heartbreaker

In this reviewer’s freshly humbled opinion, Pat Benatar’s performance at the Cascade Theater truly proved that her exceptional vocal range is as intact and powerful as ever – and reminiscent of her dynamic “Crimes of Passion” album. How the heck a tiny, five-foot-nothing, 57-year-old chick can sound like she is 12 feet tall and 19 years old can only be explained with a word: Magic.

For more info on this love story, check out the fan club website.

Alan Ernesto Phillips is a proud son of Shasta County, a proud father of two daughters, and a local musician. He is a parenting educator, chemical-dependency counselor, victim-awareness counselor and developmental-asset builder and trainer. He also is a Clio and Telly award-winning filmmaker who produced and directed political campaigns for congressmen, senators, governors and one president (Ronald Reagan). His clients also included Coca-Cola, NIKE, CBS News and NOVA documentaries. He is a current board member and public affairs officer for the Northern California Hispanic Latino Coalition.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment.

Alan Ernesto Phillips
Alan Ernesto Phillips is a son of Shasta County and proud father of two daughters. He is a Clio and multi-Telly award-winning filmmaker who produced and directed political campaigns for congressmen, senators, governors and one president (Ronald Reagan). His national clients also included Coca-Cola, NIKE, CBS News and NOVA documentaries. He is a former Board Chairman and Public Affairs Officer for the Northern California Hispanic Latino Coalition. Alan currently serves as Director of the 27th District Agricultural Association and as a north state liaison to the Hate Crimes Task Force under the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento.
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10 Responses

  1. Avatar Philbert says:

    Alan! Great piece! What a multi-talented guy… Pat Benatar is lucky to have such a fan. Great pictures, too.

  2. Avatar Linda Gutierrez says:

    I am Alan Phillips girlfriend and was there at this event with him including backstage. And yes, it was pretty crazy! I was not really impressed with the backstage meet and greet but like Alan said, Spyder was really pleasant and nice. The stage show was certainly a lot better than the backstage mess!

    Nice Job Alan!

  3. Avatar A Brady says:

    I am thrilled that you mentioned her voice is holding up. So many singers, from these far-past decades, have abused their voices and sound terrible. Carly, Bette, Kris K., James and others cannot seem to hear that their voices are in need of retirement. Rita Coolidge is an exception to this– I heard her recently, and she was as great as she was 30 yrs ago.

    Pat really had music that I could identify with during my youth even though I was brought up in a small town in a large middle-class family. So happy that she is still rocking!

    • Avatar Alan Ernesto Phillip says:

      Your take on Pat Benatar's (et als') ability to stay strong was very thought provoking, A Brady! Unlike some of the others you mentioned, it seems to me the greats that have stayed in the game – so to speak – have also kept their "chops" up by touring and recording regularly. Talent is one thing. Keeping the brain, nerves, heart and muscles up is another.

      I heard from a couple of very knowledgeable music-aficionados that a concert this year with Carly Simon, James Taylor and Carol King was unexpectedly well performed!

      Thank you for reminding me to think about the other greats that are still up on their chops like: Rhonda Vincent, Geoff Tate, Merle Haggard, Mellisa Etheridge, Tom Jones, Rob Halford, Tony Bennett, Robert Plant (although soprano/falsetto-disabled), Rita Cooledge, Aretha Franklin, and the list could go an and on. I am also reminded about our own, local talent too! Thanks A Brady – you rock too!! Oh, Sh**t (er, shoot)! Time for Doni's radio show – gotta run!!

  4. Avatar Mike says:

    Nice article Alan, You sure painted Benatar and Spidy in a positive light. Like you , I was excited to see the show as well. My wife was even more excited as she was more of a fan than I back in the 80's. But I honestly have to say that we were very disappointed with the evening. Maybe I should learn to manage my expectations a little closer, but when you pay top dollar to see a seasoned performer you would expect them to sound better that a bar band. From where we were sitting,( for the first 4 songs,) I could see Benatars mouth move , but no voice coming out!
    Having performed over 30 times at the Cascade myself I decided to go investigate and talk to Todd, the house sound guy. ( who by the way is a wonderful sound man) Todd informed me that it was Benatars people running the show, and to paraphrase: they were a pain in the ass to work with. Combined that with the drummer set up behind Plexiglas and Spidy having all 3 of his half stacks active, not to mention playing a Telecaster guitar for rock music? Please !! The sound was absolutely horrible !
    Now adding that to the meet and greet story I feel like another" wham bam thank you mam" victim. You would think that they would have a little more respect for their fans that have put food on their table for the last 30 years. Boy " The times ,they are a changin'

    • Avatar Rock God says:

      By all recent accounts "Spyder" uses a GMP Tele w/humbuckers which is NOT a Tele. He.runs that into a POD PRO so the amps weren't doing the overdrive work.

      "…a Telecaster guitar for rock music" – uhh Jimmy Page was in a County band?

      Amplified music will never sound good in The Cascade until some major acoustic re-designing is done. There's always a few spots in the room that sound OK but that leaves the other 95% or so out of luck.

      The author writes "the sound snapped into lock step during the second song " but it took 4 songs for you to hear the vocal. I rest my case.

      House Sound always criticizes Tour sound.

      They should put the whole stage behind Plexiglas..

  5. Avatar Michael Howard says:

    Very insightful article Alan. I have had M&G's with Pat/Spyder at the PatFest 2001 in Atlantic City, and 3 months later in Lake Tahoe, but never had to go what you went through. I was there with the Pat Benatar Fan Club in Atlantic City and it was not as "organized" and more open to getting pic/autographs, and got to go back stage in Lake Tahoe and spend about 20 minutes with Pat/Spyder before the show.
    I have been a BIG fan from day one, after buying "In The Heat of The Night" album, and listening to "Heartbreaker" over and over again.
    I have my ticket to see the Aug. 12th show at the House Of Blues in Dallas, TX. and it will be going to the Pat Benatar book signing earlier that same day.
    So, thank you for sharing your story and experience with the rest of us fans!!!!!!!!

  6. Avatar Debbie Ellison says:

    Alan – what a great piece! I felt I was standing right next to you and Neil, sorry, Spyder! I did not attend, but my neice did and said the sound system was off, but the show was fantastic.

    I look forward to reading more from you

    Thank you

    Debbie Ellison

  7. Avatar Alan Ernesto Phillip says:

    Pat Benatar was never on my musical radar. But I came to appreciate the loyalty of her fans – the real stars of the show to me… and I really do have to acknowledge the strength of the P.B. franchise formula!! Thank you all for your comments: Great observations, too!!

    In spite of the bad experiences, I was trying to find some good things to write about. For example – were I a better, professional reviewer, I probably would have felt braver about bashing the usher-gentleman for giving me an armpit-yamaka while he dove for a lady sitting in the row in front of me. Instead, I felt more struck to say the ushers were like secret service agents on steroids. If I were a braver, more arrogant reviewer, I probably would have been a bit more exacting about the audio problems and said, "… the sound BEGAN to snap into lock step during the second song with Pat…" You get the idea. I really must thank local photographer James (James Fossen) and Lisa for their amazing work behind the insane-scenes – WOW!! I should have bylined James for the snaps of Pat & Spyder with me… [See? I suck!!]

    I REALLY loved what Doni and Jim Dyar were saying last Sunday on their radio talk show, something to the effect of: "…there're so many good things about Shasta county to write and talk about…"

    There's enough bashing and polarizing for me these days. And if I want to hear non-stop bashing I could just flip on Fox news for a minute – and then, I'm done. All in all, when I write, I try to express a positive light by using a contrasting background. I really don't want to bash anyone based upon my personal or professional preferences to get a laugh. While some people truly test my mettle… I do TRY.

    Many moons ago…
    With a super-great engineer, Web Staunton, I live-engineered, recorded and live-produced an album called, the "Epic Collection." It was for a local picker/sanger, name of Merle Haggard, The man who OWNED me for that concert walked back into my mobile control-room smoking a cigarette. Without a second thought I quite kindly and professionally asked him to put his smoke out because tobacco smoke is also harmful to ridiculously-expensive, professional recording equipment.

    I handed Mr. Haggard an ashtray… Merle looked at me sharply with those ice-pick eyes of his. He slowly looked around at the several "yes-people" following him all about. He looked back at me, steelier. He looked at the smoke. At that moment in time the control room was quieter than soundproof and I began hearing my heart beating blood tightly through my neck as I was wishing I could reel back in those sorry, slippery words. Merle looked back at his rose-throwing entourage, stared back at me and said, "I'm glad that SOMEONE around me has some spine!" He looked at his smoldering stick and pumped it dead out. Whew! He didn't kill me… Fuzzy Owens, Merle Haggard and I chewed the fat quite a while before the live show was recorded. I… changed my pants after they all walked out for more yeses, autographs and nicotine.

    You know? My ears aren't what they used to be, yet my experiences have been tremendous and humbling. If ANewsCafe and you readers will have me, I'll continue to try and find the cool-highlights and hot-shadows for you… I want to thank all of you for your comments: ALL of them! And I want to thank Doni, Kimberly and Jim (et al) for the help and opportunity to share my observations and thoughts…

    • Avatar Laura Gibson says:

      You're soooool kewl, Mr Rockstar, etc….GREAT ARTICLE!!! I really did LOL so I can say it, well I guess I just did, anyway, good job my pal.