Photos by Brittany Boote
WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — Five Northeastern Pennsylvania-based acts joined together to perform in the FM Kirby Center’s Chandelier Lobby on Friday, Dec. 30, for the Holiday Reunion Concert, and judging by the breadth and quality of the music as well as the enthused reactions from the 300 fans, it was a smashing success.
The event, co-presented by Highway 81 Revisited and the Kirby, kicked off with a high-energy, bluegrass-inflected set of roots rock by the Tony Halchak Band, before The Five Percent reminded listeners why its brand of poppy rock was a popular draw in the bar and club circuit in NEPA and beyond. Woodwind player extraordinaire Nick Driscoll helped drive the band’s melodic and fun set.
Up next was quite a different act, Aaron Fink and the Fury. Fronted by Fink, the former Breaking Benjamin guitarist who is about to release his third solo album, the band played a powerful and well-received set that drew inspiration from ’90s alternative rock but sounded fresh rather than dated. Fink and standout guitarist Pat Flynn form a formidable two-guitar lineup, and Vince Saracino’s synths added atmospheric layers.
Bret Alexander, known for his tenure as the chief songwriter in The Badlees as well as his production work, played a solo acoustic set but had no trouble commanding the room with his spirited performance. A few sneaky covers of Van Morrison’s “Caravan” and Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” as well as Fink joining in for part of the set were welcomed bonuses.
The bar was raised high for Underground Saints, but the 4-piece had no trouble meeting it in its first show in nearly five years. Balancing intensity and intricacy, the group — John Smith (vocals, guitar), the aforementioned Flynn (guitar, vocals), Mark Kiesinger (bass) and A.J. Jump (drums) — charged through its 45-minute set, with Smith’s soaring vocals and Flynn’s shimmering guitar work at the fore. None of that, however, would be possible without the rock-solid rhythm section of Kiesinger and Jump, who play with both power and precision.
It’s worth noting the spirit of collaboration throughout the show as well. Jump, who organized the show, drummed for The Five Percent as well as with the Saints; Flynn played with both Fink and the Saints; Saracino guested with the Saints in addition to playing with Fink’s Fury; and Fink, as noted, joined long-time associate Alexander during the latter’s set.
The band Death Valley Dreams, which was originally on the bill, did not perform.