Fighting Gravity grooves through flavorful concert

Fighting Gravity, which got its start in 1986 at Virginia Tech, is now on tour to support a 28-track album entitled Hello Cleveland – a look back at the band’s career.

Fighting Gravity delivered to the sold-out crowd at The Garage Feb. 4 what can only be called fusion. You could see it in the light show, which flashed from murky and tranquil to bright.

The songs bounced with energy from with the bass-thumping reggae of Dave Petersen and sonic styling of guitarist Michael Sauri. The band’s front man Schiavone McGee gyrated, spiritually singing to the ceiling to getting down for the crowd. You could try to pin down the ska-inflected group as two-tone, but Fighting Gravity showed that it was five or six-tone.

From the beginning the eager crowd was served live, eclectic electricity. Surrounded by a red mist, the band took the stage with an unpredictable thunderous sound, and a burst of horns that floated over like a mutated Tijuana Brass. Then, out of the smoke, appeared McGee, magical and simple. Clad in jet black, McGee was dressed to prove that he didn’t have to disguise himself in the usual rock frock to use his voice and body. But while McGee was dancing his ass off, the rest of the band also was hard at work.

In an interview before the show, drummer Mike Boyd said he was mainly influenced by big-band jazz, and this came across in his approach. Perched in the back, he seemed perfectly at ease hammering out the beat. Saxophonist Steve Norfleet and trombone players Stefan Demetriadis and John Utley fired off some intense solos. Utley also doubled on flute, which gave the jams a truly bohemian edge.

In the undulating light, a love vibe circulated throughout the joint, making it possible to deal with the hot and pushy crowd. This was a band that could engage the audience, funk it up, let it ride, ornament it with pop hooks and take it to a deeper level. The group personifies the rewards of live music.

Unless you’re totally not a live act, I’ll be more impressed by just seeing you live, just kicking it, Boyd said. We see so many bands that perform live, big-name bands, and the record sounds great, but then they can’t deliver live. That’s such a let down. You should be able to just put it out. So we’re very live-oriented.

So live-oriented that Fighting Gravity cranked out The Clash’s White Man in Hammersmith Palais and The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows like the band composed them. The group was never self-indulgent, and it loved the feedback of the D.C. crowd. If he wanted to, vocalist McGee could have ventured out on the crowd and surfed their hands back to the bar to get something to quench his thirst, but instead he clung to the microphone, spitting the words out and entrancing the stiffest with his raw emotions.

The band took the stage at 11:30 p.m. and was still banging it out at 2 a.m. But the audience still wanted more – more passion, more fun.

We can start this show right over again if you want to McGee would tease them, and the audience wanted him to. After Fighting Gravity left the stage after playing for almost two hours, the crowd began to chant one more song!, one more song! The band waited it out, but the applause grew stronger.

The band members happily returned to their instruments to pump out another dance-hall number. But the crowd wasn’t satisfied and chanted again. Then the band gladly crumbled and picked it up one more time, finishing off the night with a rump-shaking cover of Men at Work’s hit Land Down Under.

After the lights went out, it was apparent that Fighting Gravity had reminded everyone what it means to see, to hear, to feel – and to be alive.

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