Tom Ross: Steamboat’s Chief Theater hosting series of tributes to Neil Young
January 23, 2014
Steamboat Springs — The best thing about catching a live show at the Chief Theater in downtown Steamboat Springs is that the audience gives its full attention to the music — there's nobody standing next to you cheerfully shouting about the last epic powder day as if there weren't a concert going on.
That was the case Tuesday night when I caught a rockin' tribute to Neil Young performed by Steamboat's own Easy Peaces. Watching a band from the comfortable seats in the Chief is very different from watching the same band in a local night spot, or at a free summer concert, where at least half the crowd is typically more intent on what they have to say than what there is to hear.
Long live the Chief, where the music comes first! In case you are hearing about the Chief Theater for the first time, it is the historic movie house built at 813 Lincoln Ave. in 1926. The Chief originally was owned by "Chief" Harry Gordon, a prominent Steamboat resident and member of the Miami Indian tribe. Although locals affectionately called him "The Chief," Harry Gordon was not a tribal leader.
The Chief was chopped up into several tiny cineplex screens in the 1980s and ultimately purchased by a not-for-profit, Friends of the Chief, in October 2012. It re-opened as a single performance theater in spring 2013.
The Chief has been converted into an intimate little performance auditorium with a big stage and top-notch sound and lighting systems. It's the kind of place where you can converse with the performers, assuming they're comfortable with it. And Easy Peaces is comfortable with it.
There's also good news for any of you who regret missing this week's Neil Young tribute — the band will revisit the music of the legendary country rocker from Canada again Feb. 4 and 18, March 4 and 18, and April 1. And if you're old enough to have purchased Neil Young's original 33 1/3 record albums like Harvest Moon, there's more good news — the shows begin at 7 p.m. and the second set wraps up in time for you and the band members to go home to bed by 10 p.m.
You can make up your own mind about whether you think the Easy Peaces borrowed its name from the Eagles' "Peaceful Easy Feeling," or the Jack Nicholson film "Five Easy Pieces." What matters more is that the musicians are so good, you'll forget that the Easy Peaces is by definition a cover band. I walked out into the cold night air on Lincoln Avenue after the show with one of those natural buzzes that comes from taking in a concert by a major act.
Guitarist and vocalist Kip Strean possesses a clear tenor that is appropriate for Young's music and he knows how to reproduce the electric guitar sound that was the signature of Young's early work with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. He's got the acoustic licks down, too.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Neil Young tribute without the harmonica, and Easy Peaces drummer Dave Allen has somehow mastered the art of blowing on a mouth harp in a neck holder while keeping time on the drum kit. I'll never understand how he does that.
The wild card among the five members of the Easy Peaces comes in the form of the power vocals of Laura Lamun, who can truly belt. Listening to Lamun sing "Keep on Rockin' in the Free World," makes me wonder what might have happened if Neil Young had ditched Crazy Horse for Ann Wilson, of Heart.
Add the steady thumping bass of Willie Samuelson, who probably has performed with more local bands than he can recall, plus the flowing keyboards of newest Peaces member Kevin Williams, and you have a very capable quintet.
If you're fortunate enough to attend one of the band's upcoming Neil Young shows, check out Williams' electric piano intro to Joni Mitchell's original version of "Woodstock." You're right, that's not a Neil Young song, but as Strean quipped this week, "Neil was probably there when it was written."