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Lively folk rock band celebrates two decades on the stage

By January 29, 2009

Enterprise music critic

Surviving 20 years in the music biz is cause to celebrate.

The folk rock band Tempest has been at it since 1988, and isnÕt stopping any time soon. Tempest recently released ÒPrime Cuts,Ó a career retrospective of the bandÕs most requested songs and a two-hour DVD of live performances throughout the years.

The DVD provides a taste of the live Tempest experience, but nothing compares to the real thing. Catch the band in action Ñ teamed up with the Celtic folk band MollyÕs Revenge Ñ at 8 p.m. Saturday at the VeteransÕ Memorial Theater, 203 E. 14th St., Davis. Tickets, at $20, are available at DeColores Trading Company, 713 Second St., (530) 758-9417.

By fusing traditional Irish, Scottish and Norwegian folk with classic rock, Tempest is in a class all its own. The band consists of singer and mandolinist Lief Sorbye, drummer Adolfo Lazo, fiddler Michael Mullen, guitarist James Crocker and bassist Damien Gonzalez.

Sorbye, the bandÕs founder, was born in Oslo, Norway. He began playing guitar at age 7 and occupied his teen years with various garage bands. He spent the 1970s ÒbuskingÓ (playing music on the streets) in Copenhagen, Amsterdam, London, Geneva and Venice.

In Õ79, Sorbye moved to San Francisco and joined the Celtic folk band Golden Bough. After eight years, he left that group and formed Tempest with the idea of combining traditional folk with rock ÕnÕ roll.

ÒBack then, it was innovative,Ó Sorbye said, during a recent phone chat.

He laughed. ÒNow itÕs as common as bread and butter.Ó

At the time, though, folk purists werenÕt keen on this new style.

ÒIt was like, ÔYou canÕt do that to folk music because itÕs pure,Õ Ó Sorbye said. ÒWeÕre not in the business of presenting museum pieces; weÕre interested in playing what we love. The Internet finally killed the purists. Now people learn from each other: beg, borrow and steal from all cultures. ItÕs all up for grabs.

ÒRock audiences were easy to win over. Heavy metal fans were the easiest. They embraced us early on.Ó

Sorbye is particularly proud to have introduced people to traditional folk.

ÒWe turned a lot of people onto it … not because we were the greatest, but because we introduced them to it. They could relate to a backbeat and electric guitars.Ó

He laughed again.

ÒWe won over a lot more people than we annoyed.Ó

Tempest plays original songs alongside traditional folk tunes. It all flows seamlessly, making it difficult to separate ÒoriginalÓ from Òtraditional.Ó

ÒThatÕs how we want it to be. A lot of bands that dabble in this style, their originals donÕt mix well with the traditional. We want to add to the traditional and keep it alive.Ó

Obviously, Sorbye has made it work.

ÒYou Jacobites by NameÓ is a perfect example. ItÕs an old song from the Jacobite rebellion in Scotland; Tempest kicks it up a notch and turns it into a hard-rocking anthem.

ÒThatÕs one of our signature songs,Ó Sorbye said, Òand our arrangement works pretty well. I added a metal riff to it; people keep asking for it.Ó

Aside from being an innovator in folk rock, Sorbye also has created new instruments. He invented a double-necked mandolin, which besides being functional, looks really cool on stage.

ÒMy acoustic instrument couldnÕt compete with the electric instruments,Ó he said. ÒI was looking for solid body electric versions of my acoustic instruments. I have an electric mandola and mandolin. I thought, if I could put both on the same body, I could carry one instead. I could switch from one to the other when I perform bigger soundscape, and have more range to work with.

ÒI love having great instrument makers grab these ideas, and put them into the physical universe. I can express myself. The instruments are so specialized, they wonÕt compete in the music store.Ó

He paused.

ÒAlthough I have gotten some commissions over the years.Ó

Sorbye warmed further to the subject.

ÒNow I make acoustic instruments that can compete with electric instruments. You have to have good pick-ups, with a warmer wood sound. I like the heavy guitar sound with sparkly mandolin; it adds depth.Ó

Unfortunately, Sorbye fears that the new generation doesnÕt know what good sound is.

ÒThey have no idea. MP3s on computer speakers donÕt do it justice. I miss records: the touch, feel and smell, the concept of an album as opposed to downloading. Music has lost its value. People donÕt want to pay for it.Ó

On the flip side, though, Sorbye pointed out that Òlive music is better than ever. People always want to see real people with instruments.Ó

To see an example of great live music, watch the ÒTempest through the AgesÓ DVD from ÒPrime Cuts.Ó The DVD is an excellent assortment of performances for the novice and hard-core fans. You can see the bandÕs progression, starting with live performances from the late 1980s, when the sound was influenced heavily by classic prog rock, through the Õ90s and to the present day.

ÒMy sister in Norway got the DVD for Christmas,Ó Sorbye laughed, Òand her kids wondered about the hairstyles.

ÒIt was fun to put that together. We wanted to do this for our fans, for our 20th anniversary. Instead of putting out some slick, polished DVD, we went through the old archives and picked some fun moments.

ÒWe wanted to keep it light.Ó

The band watched it for the first time on a big screen at the Acorn Theater in Michigan.

ÒI was laughing really hard,Ó Sorbye admitted. ÒWe put in some embarrassing moments, to spice it up. ItÕs how the band is: lifting your spirits and having fun. It shows the bandÕs development: where weÕve been, what we sounded like and looked like.Ó

After 13 albums and thousands of shows, Sorbye still loves performing.

ÒThe band is as enjoyable now as back in the beginning. We all still love it.Ó

While Tempest has had many line-up changes through the years, original members Lazo and Mullen remain.

ÒThree out of five for 20 years is pretty good,Ó Sorbye said. ÒWeÕre not tired of it; weÕre just scratching the surface. Everyone is bursting with ideas, and we have lots of new material coming up.Ó

Sorbye looks forward to returning to the VetsÕ in Davis.

ÒWeÕre keeping our tradition of playing January shows at the VetsÕ. WeÕve been doing this since the mid-Õ90s. The members of MollyÕs Revenge are friends; weÕll do a song together in the finale.Ó

Tempest unites fans from a wide range of genres: Celtic, folk, classic rock, prog rock and metal. If youÕre not into the aforementioned genres, youÕre still guaranteed a great time.

And donÕt worry if you saw Tempest in early 2008.

ÒThis show will be completely different,Ó Sorbye promised.

ÒOne heck of a fun show!Ó

Ñ Stay up-to-the-minute with local live music by visiting www.davisenterprise.com and clicking on ÒClub Crawl.Ó Bloggers and bands with inquiries or information can contact Landon Christensen at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com

Landon Christensen

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