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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: STEEM hungry, hot in live concert in Green Bay

Critic At Large

Michael Bailey, Steve March-Tormé and band

STEEM in action Thursday on the Meyer Theatre stage. (Warren Gerds)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – In the midst of a concert that’s a smorgasbord of styles, a song is introduced.

First, musician Steve March-Tormé says our region is rich with good groups, which he names. For continuing his career, he says he wants to connect with a band with singers.

Next, a musician from his chosen group – headed by Michael Bailey – play-acts like he’s in the Solo and Ensemble Music Festival. In mock stiffness, the 19-year-old player introduces the singers and tells an “interesting” tidbit about the song.

And then comes the song – five-part harmony in a cappella. What happens is like parting the sky. Amid the evening’s flurry of luster and spicy moments and energy and want-to performing Billy Joel’s “For the Longest Time” pours out. The sound is smooth and rich like honey.

The gem is a highlight of the concert by STEEM, a collaboration consisting of Steve March-Tormé of jazz/R&B note and Michael Bailey and some of his associates of the power group Vic Ferrari. Many highlights arise during the concert Thursday night at the Meyer Theatre.

Meyer Theatre 3.4.2021. (Warren Gerds)

What is different on Thursday night: Michael Bailey sums it up by telling what his past year has been like. He talks about a TV channel, HGTV (Home and Garden Television), and its array of homey stuff and how So-and-So are no longer on the air and other fan-centric chat. That was his year, he says. So this is his first live gig in a year. Talk about eager to play… How about starving to play?

Throughout the show, happiness to play again is mentioned time and again. So is gratitude to the audience, which is spread out throughout the theater because of COVID-19 regulations. That audience is eager and hungry, too… to hear live music by adept players from our region. By the way, the musicians on stage do not wear masks.

The opening is great. After a flourish of drumming, Steve March-Tormé, seated at a keyboard, flows into the Stevie Wonder song “I Wish.” His voice is immediately “on” – flexible, firm, strong – especially sliding through key phrases.

The chorus is this: “I wish those days could come back once more. Why did those days ever have to go?”

How smart is Steve March-Tormé?

Other songs he chooses have meaning, too. Like the show’s finale, of another Stevie Wonder song:

Everybody’s got a thing

But some don’t know how to handle it

Always reaching out in vain

Just taking things not worth having but

Don’t you worry ‘bout a thing

Don’t you worry ‘bout a thing, mama.

Uplifting, affirming.

The show has structure fit to this time.

How smart is Steve March-Tormé?

Highlights abound in the concert. Here are some from here and there:

+ Other harmonic vocals. Crosby, Stills and Nash. “Judy Blue Eyes.” Ken Skitch puts down his bass to join Michael Bailey and Steve March-Tormé, now on guitar, on which he is terrific in the middle of the vigorous stream of tight vocals.

+ Michael Murphy. He plays guitar like many players wish. The concert is like an introduction of him. His singing solo is “Only the Beginning” by Chicago. It’s kind of an aural acrobatic act, and he lands on both feet. The audience response to him is immediate: I like. I like a lot.

+ Another response. Steve March-Tormé starts into an Elton John trilogy. Dead silence. Rapt silence. This is hallowed material to the audience.

+ Something new to me. The presence of a Brown County sheriff deputy. He did a walk-through in the mezzanine during the show and was in the lobby afterward. For whatever reason, an extra caution was taken at a show that was not head-banger rock.  

+ Michael Bailey getting personal. He says he quit college in 1981 to play in a rock band, and his father gave him $10,000. Michael Bailey did become a music teacher, but that unfettered support was golden. He sings Dan Fogelberg’s “The Leader of the Band” with meaning. By the way, the next gig for Michael Bailey, with his Vic Ferrari: Symphony on the Rocks, is sold out (with audience limited to 300 something) Saturday night at the Meyer Theatre.

+ The encore. The full freight yard is playing – three winds, drums, steel guitar, keys, added keys, percussion, bass, a couple of guitars – as Steve March-Tormé leans into the Beatles’ “Back in the USSR.” Live music with knowing players in front of an in-person audience can’t be beat.

Next gig for STEEM: April 9 at The Grand Oshkosh.

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