We'd hardly know that ex-TNT frontguy Tony Harnell was Cali-raised and metal-schooled; the last time he sang in L.A. was, like, 2001 -- in similar acoustic circumstances, with another notable guitarist. That time the phalanges belonged to Mark Reale of Riot, Harnell's foil in the wondrous pop-metal band Westworld; Reale died from complications of Crohn's disease exactly a year ago. This time the goofy plucker on the stool was Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal, a longtime Guns N' Roses cohort considered by many to rank as World's Speediest. For extra good measure, Harnell also showcased his current violinist, Cassandra Sotos.
Since this was a NAMM pre-party, and the Tonyfoot connection dates from recent vintage (they're putting an album together), the trio worked mostly covers, which didn't sound thrown together even if they were. I can't remember which Queen song they did ("Somebody To Love"?), but maybe now I can guess why Harnell's soft-rock band is called Mercury Train. The Beatles' "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" gave Harnell a chance to whip dramatically up and down the scale the way he does. Led Zeppelin's "Ramble On" brought out his shriekin' side. Boston's "More Than a Feeling" -- oh well, who else can hit those high notes? The Roses tribute arrived with "Sweet Child o' Mine," to which Harnell brought more emotional sugar than Axl harvests. And Alanis Morrisette's "Uninvited" always gets a sing-along going. No attempt at coolnesss, thank the Lawd, and if anybody could enrapture an audience by singing the Civil Code, it's Tony.
While Harnell garners universal worship for his pipes, he gets insufficient credit for his own exceptional songwriting, so he ticked off a few reminders. From his laid-back 1994 "Morning Wood" album, he waxed optimistic with "Not Scared Anymore." Flying into somber skies, "I Don't Want Anything" was the perfect acoustic selection from his brilliant 2008 EP, "Cinematic," which you should grab if you can find it. Harnell was not about to walk off without wailing his biggest hit, TNT's "10,000 Lovers (In One)," from 1987, a time when MTV ruled and "American Idol" hadn't evolved the advanced gold standard of meaninglessness. Perspective is depressing.
Completely recovered from a thyroid-cancer debacle four years ago, Harnell commanded full range and tone, while presenting his characteristic modesty and almost shyness. He looked trim and healthy in his poet locks and beard, bright-eyed despite having just skidded clubward from the airport in the rain. Effortless six-string virtuosity belied Bumblefoot's geeky grin, and Thal even dredged up some authentic blues, a form that seems nearly lost. Sotos' searing lines, smoldering attitude and showgirl leggage scored points all over the place. A promising collaboration.
So. Don't make it another 11.3 years, okay?
Tony Harnell & Bumblefoot play the TC Helicon booth at NAMM on Sunday, January 27, 4pm.
PHOTOS BY FUZZY BEERK.