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The Altar Billies make crowd glad to go along

The Main Place, Orange, Cal., July 4, 2021

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

Somewhat sadly, the kids getting face-painted and playing with balloon animals, while accompanied by snack and burger-munching parents, had no idea the rockabilly band ripping it up for about an hour or so was led by Christian rock royalty. Mike Stand, also known as the leader of the groundbreaking, similarly named Altar Boys, completely looked and sounded the part of the Sun Records (and others) aficionado he is while performing on a temporary stage in a church parking lot. Recognized or not, The Altar Billies gave the audience some of the best American music on this 4th of July evening.

Opening with an instrumental take on "Blue Moon of Kentucky," The Altar Billies proceeded to share ample tastes of Eddie Cochran songs, Elvis and Carl Perkins numbers and even put The Who's "Pinball Wizard" to the melody of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." Yes, there was a train song (as was to be expected), but the three-piece also incorporated three songs from the act's upcoming "All In" album, which the group joked would be out in some future year or other.

Stand differentiated himself from his punk persona with his slicked back hair and rolled up jeans. Serving notice that these guys came to rock, unlike the bilingual worship group that took the stage before them, Stand also separated himself from his Altar ego by playing a more expansive guitar style. Punk rock requires little more than three chords and the truth, while Stand filled these vintage songs with plenty of tasty lead licks.

While the group's setlist was not obscure, "Shake, Rattle and Roll" was one of the few very familiar selections that had the audience shaking, rattling, rolling and singing along. Stand mentioned how Bill Haley and his Comets popularized the song, but Elvis (as he often did) did it much better.

The pandemic has come between live music and music fans for far too long, so it was so good to watch a rock group raise a joyful ruckus again. While The Altar Boys don't play live nearly as much as they used to, The Altar Billies get out often to car shows, hip barbershops and even church holiday celebrations. They have a lot of fun playing these wonderful rockabilly favorites and originals, and this show proved The Altar Billies are a must-see act. When they kicked off by singing, "Come on, everybody," we were all so glad we went along.

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