Opening an arena shows for rock icons is often an unenviable task. Gritty SoCal soul band Vintage Trouble has shared stages with Bon Jovi, Queen guitarist Brian May, Kiss, and for the past several months, The Who. But rather than worry about facing a crowd caught between indifference and hostility, they think about what got them there in the first place.
“Headliners say, ‘Our audiences will like you,’ and it’s our job to prove them right,” said singer Ty Taylor recently. “If you believe in me, I believe in me — then we spend the next 45 minutes making that happen.”
Bass player Rick Barrio Dill has a word for the band’s ability to win over fans waiting for Quadrophenia with a brash roadhouse sound that evokes Otis Redding fronting Bad Company.
“We call it the transformation,” he said. “There is a point where the energy catches fire. … If you can pipe into that and make it dance across the rest of the room, you’ve got a party.”
Formed in 2010, VT came up in the L.A. club scene, playing residencies and getting tight until über-manager Don McGhee found them. McGhee, who guided the early careers of Mötley Crüe and Bon Jovi, told them to pack for Europe, where they spent most of 2011. Audiences there were the first to hear The Bomb Shelter Sessions, the band’s debut album, and they loved it – seven U.K shows at the end of the run were all sellouts.
The overseas move was an eye-opening experience for the band – Taylor, Gill, drummer Richard Danielson and guitarist Nalle Colt.
“There’s a level of passion they have for the lineage in the music where we come from,” said Gill. “There’s a whole depth of listener that just pulled us in, and that was something. … I learned right away it was a great place to be.”
Fans aren’t the only ones enamored, Taylor said, recalling a recent backstage conversation with Roger Daltrey.
“He said he’d told his friends that if he hadn’t been doing The Who and he’d heard our band back then, he would have left his life and gone on the road to follow us.”
VT will head back across the pond for the European leg of Quadrophenia when the U.S. tour ends. There’s a reason why a young retro soul band fits so comfortably on a classic rock tour. Remember, The Who billed itself as “Maximum R&B” in its early days. Townshend and Daltrey knew their way around more than a few Motown covers.
“If you trace back to the musical roots, we all share a lot of the same admiration for those early artists,” said Gill.
Many of Vintage Trouble’s musical cues come from the early ‘70s sound of performers like Curtis Mayfield, The Isley Brothers and Al Green, pre-reverend.
“It was such a spirited time,” said Danielson. “Rock and blues and soul were all kind of fusing together. It was so raw and pure. … We like to take from that; we really like to capture the spirit of that era.”
“It was more sexy and just felt more alive and dangerous,” Taylor said.
The Stax/Volt sound is a particular favorite; this made a recent Conan appearance more than special. The group performed the rip-roaring single “Nancy Lee” accompanied by keyboard legend Booker T. Jones. Jones first visited them after a show at L.A.’s Wiltern Theatre.
“He walked into the dressing room and we just sort of fell to our knees in disbelief,” said Gill.
The band expects to release a DVD chronicling its European experiences later this year. 80 Shows/100 Days is a tour travelogue turned unexpected documentary, said Gill.
“We went from no notoriety to headlining our own 1,000-seater shows. … It’s important for other bands to see so they can understand what can happen in a hundred days.”