Not really knowing what to expect and mere hours after seeing Cinderella frontman Tom Keifer in Rockford, Illinois, I trekked out to Janesville, Wisconsin to go see his Cinderella bandmates Eric Brittingham and Jeff LaBar along with drummer Cheney Brannon (John Corabi band, Collective Soul) and singer Brandon Gibbs (Gibbs Brothers). The Back Bar is a nice venue with nice sound and a good vantage point of the stage pretty much wherever you are inside the building so myself and the better half took up residency halfway back, front and center. Up close enough to clearly be paying attention but far enough back to not feel like groupies.
Cheap Thrill hit the stage while people were still filing in front out front, smoking, grabbing beers and generally picking ass. At first, I was unsure of what song they were playing. I knew it was hard rock, I knew it sounded good and then suddenly my tired ears finally locked in with my eyes watching Jeff LaBar crank out the familiar riff to Cinderella’s “Somebody Save Me”. From that moment, I was instantly aware that Cheap Thrill has a shitload of potential. Brandon Gibbs sang the vocal expertly, all the while sounding absolutely nothing like Tom Keifer. The band rocked this song incredibly hard on this particular evening, as if to say, “We’re here….deal with it”.
Brandon Gibbs continued to erase any doubts or preconceived notions I may have admittedly had about him or his seemingly under the radar status. The guy is a star. As in a “Jani Lane in his prime” quality frontman, the rare singer with the ability to sing his ass off, hit every note and still find the time to be an all-around self-effacing, crowd uniting front man. Jeff LaBar told me that Brandon would prove to be the star of the show and indeed he was almost understated in saying that. If you have the chance to go see Brandon live, whether it’s solo or with Cheap Thrill, you would be best advised to get your ass out and see him.
Mind you, the entire band was tight as a fist and entertaining during their set of Cinderella songs, Brandon/Cheap Thrill songs and covers. Drummer Cheney Brannon took a song like “Home Sweet Home” which I could frankly live without ever hearing Motley sing again, let alone another band and made his performance absolutely electric. It was amazing to see Jeff and Eric cut loose, smile, joke loudly onstage and just seem to have a good time during the entire set, free from the confines of playing the exact same Cinderella set night after night. I have seen Cinderella a few times and was always blown away but maybe never noticed exactly how great Eric Brittingham is handling the additional vocals. I was not at all digging much of the cover material, despite their playing a particularly amazing version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. It just seemed to kill the mood for us and a few others when the band played songs by Foo Fighters and some of the other newer bands they handled like Paramore. Gibbs is just too talented of a singer/songwriter to even have to worry about performing covers his band or he didn’t personally write.
Having said that, this minor complaint was more than made up for every single time they played a Gibbs/Cheap Thrill song like “This Town” or a Cinderella song. The band is more than aware that a lot of the crowd wants to see Eric and Jeff play some Cinderella and the fact is, they absolutely KILLED on the songs they chose. Jeff LaBar should be arrested and taken straight to jail for what he did to his guitar during each and every lead break on “Nobody’s Fool”. Evil. Brandon’s vocal on that song, as well as “Heartbreak Station” were nothing short of breathtakingly, jaw dropping good. With all due respect to Tom, who put on a great show the night before, I actually preferred the Cinderella songs that Cheap Thrill chose to play. Jeff had also mentioned that they would possibly be performing some of his solo material and maybe they did and I just didn’t catch the intro. I will say that every single song they played that I didn’t recognize was totally kickass and every bit as good as the Cinderella stuff. I only wish they played even MORE originals. The guys cracked jokes about their band name and their self-described “crappy t-shirts” and made it a point to be totally fun the entire time they were in town. Not sure how many bands I can honestly say that about so it goes without saying that Cheap Thrill is already a success story in the making. I would go see this band again in a heartbeat and buy anything that they or Brandon put their name on.