Saigon Kick bring back ‘Water’ to Clearwater, FL

Live Review

Saigon Kick. Photo by Chyrisse.

By Chyrisse Tabone, Rock At Night Tampa

Review: Saigon Kick at Bilheimer Capitol Theatre, Clearwater, FL – May 24, 2024

Shawn Kyle. Photo by Chyrisse.

I was intrigued when I heard Saigon Kick would be performing at the Bilheimer Capitol Theatre on May 24th.  I lived in Miami between 1990 and 1992 (I just missed Hurricane Andrew), and Saigon Kick was the “big thing” at the time. Not many rock bands from Miami made it into the MTV circuit (I know Miami Sound Machine, but they are Latin pop). Saigon Kick performed frequently in the arena club scene in South Florida, Tampa, and Orlando. There used to be huge indoor venues that catered to the “disco sucks” crowd by playing hard rock and hair metal. Most were in strip centers that are now retail outlets and restaurants. Saigon Kick was one of the high-quality bands that entered the 90s (like a personal favorite Extreme), whose timing was off. Grunge music was king, and hard rock and metal dissipated.

Jason Beiler of Saigon Kick. Photo by Chyrisse.

Just as Saigon Kick was gaining traction in the early 1990s, lead singer Matt Kramer left the band during a recording session in 1993. Guitarist Jason Beiler took over on vocals, and they produced the albums Water (1994) and Devil in the Details (1995). By the Millennium, more lineup shakeups occurred until the band finally called it quits. By then, band members, like drummer Phil Varone, moved on to other projects, like the band Skid Row.  

Saigon Kick reunited in 2013 and continued to play gigs on the festival and rock cruise circuit through 2017. The band did not perform again until April 2024, when they kicked off their 30th Anniversary of Water tour in Chicago—sans Matt Kramer. If you read interviews with Beiler and Kramer, there is no love between them.

Phil Varone of Saigon Kick. Photo by Chyrisse.

Friday night’s concert in Clearwater, Florida, was special, especially since Saigon Kick appears to perform sporadically. The band now consists of Beiler, Varone, and Steve Gibb (yes, related to a ‘Gibb’) on bass. Local musician Shawn Scheller is also part of the band, and his technical skills on guitar and vocals were impressive. Keyboardist Aiden Kane rounded out the whole band.

Two things stood out as I entered the venue: 1) the number of people in their 50s wearing studded leather vests with fringe, platform shoes, and mini-skirts, and 2) the vast mixing board and sound system the band set up for the concert. There was very little space for the operators to stand.

The evening’s concert began with local musician Shawn Kyle performing a solo set with acoustic guitar and vocals. Some in the area may know him as the manager of the Floridian Social Club, a St. Petersburg venue. His music was very Dylanesque and created the intimacy of a coffee shop musician. The lyrics were raw and poignant as he sang about New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina.

Shawn Scheller of Saigon Kick. Photo by Chyrisse.

As soon as the band came on stage and began performing “One Step Closer,” the punters rose. Yes, and they never sat for 90 minutes. There was a lot of energy in the air; people sang along and whistled. A loud, screechy voice from the back repeatedly yelled, “We love you, Phil!” The odor of marijuana was in the air, although I didn’t observe anybody smoking.

During the concert, Beiler was very chatty and humorous with the audience. He praised Phil Varone as an “unsung drummer” and eluded to their bromance on social media. He noted that the concert celebrating the album Water comprised “50% of the original lineup.” He continued, “People see us and say ‘they look nothing like the guys on MTV.’” With his farmer overalls and man bun, Beiler looked more like he had just come off of a cannabis farm.

Steve Gibb of Saigon Kick. Photo by Chyrisse.

There were plenty of barbs directed at Kramer. He noted that during the Stockholm recording session, the band’s “blue-eyed blond frontman took off.” Recalling that period, he thought that would be the end of the band until he remembered other bands had similar situations, saying, “Peter Gabriel left. We’ll be like Genesis.”

After finishing the Water album and having Atlantic drop them, the band discovered that the song “On and On” was a massive hit in South Asia. Their new label, CMC International, informed them, “You all are the Led Zeppelin of Indonesia.” The band then performed the song, which has more of a disco sound than most of their catalog.

Highlights of the evening were the songs “Water, with its distinctive Middle Eastern riff, David Bowie’s “Space Oddity, which had the audience clapping on cue, and “My Heart, with its tribal drum beat and melody. The band’s full sound (now I know why they have top-notch equipment) brought the live performance sound to the next level. The harmonies between Beiler and Scheller were stunning on the ballad “Love Is On the Way, and “All I Want Is You.“The Lizard and “Torture were hard rock gems that show the band’s diversity.

I came to the concert not knowing what to expect and left a fan. I have been listening to Lizard and Water in the car all weekend. I hope they continue performing live and even producing new music.

PHOTO GALLERY

 

 

Chyrisse Tabone, Ph.D.
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