An acclaimed electric guitarist since the early 1990s, Gary Hoey has been one of the few contemporary six-string virtuosos to score a Top 5 Billboard instrumental rock hit (his 1993 cover of the Focus hit “Hocus Pocus”) and create an expansive discography on his own terms.
But of all Hoey’s achievements, most bright are his trio of ’90s holiday releases and his annual “Ho Ho Hoey” Rockin’ Holiday Tour that has become a modern-day tradition. That was confirmed on Friday night, Dec. 18, when Hoey and his backing two-man rhythm section performed before a capacity crowd at the legendary Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, CA.
Time has been kind to Hoey’s blend of guitar craft, with his brew recalling a mix of Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai and Jefferson Starship legend Craig Chaquico that is truly the New England-based guitarist’s own. His 90-minute performance in Orange County was weighted heavily in favor of his original instrumental versions of Christmas material, with the arrangements both honoring and expanding the melodic scope of the selections. Hoey opened his set with a hard rocking take of “Twelve Days of Christmas,” memorable for Hoey’s focused guitar lines that even wove a bit of “Jingle Bells” into the tune. A similarly-satisfying approach greeted “Little Drummer Boy” with the involving arrangement finding drummer Matt Scurfield powerfully working the skins and all three musicians incorporating a dose of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” into the seasonal favorite.
In addition to the holiday-heavy approach of the setlist, Hoey also performed material off his latest studio album, 2013’s “Deja Blues,” and off a forthcoming album set to be released in spring 2016. The title track from “Deja Blues” provided Hoey to showcase his expressive touch on the guitar; later he premiered a new song (“The Ghost of Yesterday”), a heavy blues-styled rocker where Scurfield was able to work a mini-solo into the song’s arc.
Another secular highlight included the tender “Reminds Me of You” from his 2010 album “Utopia,” this track showcasing Hoey’s solid lead vocals.
But the night was mostly about spreading holiday cheer, and the colorfully decorated Coach House was the perfect setting as Hoey conjured up a bit of Chuck Berry exuberance on “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” showcased a medley of Christmas favorites highlighted by his work on “Carol of the Bells” and closed the night with the one-two punch of “Santa Clause is Coming to Town,” Hoey and company adorned with bright red Santa hats.
Opening for Hoey was the impressive Northern California-based progressive rock trio Points North. The threesome packed a solid and memorable punch, performing eight inspired instrumentals that astonished at every turn. Among the highlights of the trio’s set were the seven-minute prog-rock epic “Turning Point” (off the band’s new self-titled sophomore album), an energetic-and-faithful cover of the Rush staple “YYZ” and the set-ending “Steve’s Morsels.” The complexity and ambition of the material was matched by the breathtaking chops displayed by guitarist Eric Barnett, bassist Uriah Duffy and drummer Kevin Aiello (as evidenced by “Sky Punch,” where tight and impressive short solos helped propel the rocker).
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