The music of the Georgia Satellites has never been what you would call scholarly stuff. Packing an well-amped roadhouse sound built around Chuck Berry hooks, Rolling Stones riffs and a generous touch of rural country soul, it was the ultimate ‘80s bar band, a unit as forthcoming about its often streamlined musicianship as it was about the inevitable sense of fun that surrounded its shows.
Last night, at the first of two free evening concert bills at the Christ the King Oktoberfest, the Satellites held court as if nothing had changed since the band’s late ‘80s heyday. Of course, plenty had. Only guitarist Rick Richards, the key architect of the Satellite’s fat, cranky barroom sound, remained from the old days (bassist Rick Price is still a member but is on sabbatical following a family bereavement). That left guitarist Fred McNeal, bassist Bruce Smith and drummer Todd Johnston (the latter a 20 year veteran of the band) to bolster the vintage Satellites sound and attitude.
For the most part, all four members did a commendable job. None came close to dangerous performance drive and giddiness of co-founding songwriter and vocalist Dan Baird, who left the Satellites in 1990. As a result, the set suffered somewhat in the singing department. But oldies like Battleship Chains (sung by Richards), Railroad Steel (sung by McNeal) and, of course, the signature hit Keep Your Hands to Yourself (sung by Smith) were still every bit the loose, lively grinds they were decades ago.
The surprises came when the repertoire slipped past tunes from the Satellites’ self-titled 1986 album. Since the band has done so little recording since Baird’s departure, it opted to bolster its setlist with cover tunes. A few of them, like the set-closing take on the Swinging Blue Jeans’ Hippy Hippy Shake, have been part of the band’s shows since the ‘80s (they cut it for the Cocktail soundtrack in 1988). But the Stones’ No Expectations? The Beatles’ Don’t Pass Me By? The encore of Chantilly Lace? Those were perhaps less obvious avenues for the band and steered closer to creative filler.
But perspective prevailed. This was a free outdoor show on a balmy evening that served as a coda to summer. Beer, pizza and a catholic church made up the surroundings with the mix of rock nostalgia and roadhouse fun guiding the music. Even the predicted rains, by and large, held off. Hard to argue with all that.