LIVE MUSIC: West of 5 to take stage May 30 at Humphreys
by Bart Mendoza
Published - 05/15/13 - 03:26 PM | 4907 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Together since 2002, the lineup of guitarist Frank Sanchez, keyboardist Bruce Walker, drummer Michael Aguilar  and bassist Frank Cicero, with singer Angel Phipps make up West of 5, which performs at Humphreys Backstage Lounge on May 30.                            Courtesy photo

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While it’s often perceived that performing in a cover band is taking the easy way out for a musician, nothing could be further from the truth. From exacting fans who want to hear every note in place to the bands themselves trying to avoid the same song choices as other bands on the circuit, there can be much to consider.

Most bands implode fairly quickly, losing the magic that comes from a group of musicians plying their trade for a significant length of time. Given enough stage and rehearsal time together, a group of musicians can become near telepathic.

Such is the case with West of 5, which performs at Humphreys Backstage Lounge on May 30. Together since 2002, the lineup includes guitarist Frank Sanchez, keyboardist Bruce Walker, drummer Michael Aguilar and bassist Frank Cicero, with singer Angel Phipps coming aboard last September.

“Our goal is to find an interesting mix of cover songs that includes the usual favorites and some hidden treasures,” said Cicero. “Our inspiration is to play these songs as well as we possibly can, always searching for those magical moments when everything clicks.”

He said it’s important to rise above the typical bar band set list.

“Our songs range from classic rockers like Journey and Heart to newer material like Bruno Mars, Adele, Duffy and Franz Ferdinand,” Cicero said.

“We try to find some ‘hidden treasures’ that other bands don’t play,” he said. “We don’t want to play the same songs that everyone else does … and the crowd doesn’t want to hear that either. We tend to start out with more of our classic-rock material earlier in the night and rock a lot harder in the last set of the evening when people are more amped up.” 

He cites the band’s takes on Journey and Heart, as well as a scorching version of Rolling Stones’ classic “Gimme Shelter,” as particular crowd pleasers.

“We always get a great response to Frank Sanchez’ guitar solo in ‘Black Magic Woman.’ Some nights, it is hard to get people dancing,” he said. “You’ll see them dancing in their seats. Then, some nights, in places where there is none, they’ll make their own dance floor and go nuts. A couple of times, people have fallen onto the stage by accident. One time, it knocked over a microphone, almost knocking the tooth out of my mouth.”

Cicero said he has staked his reputation on his bass playing, but originally he tried out the guitar.

“I've always loved the sound of guitar,” he said. “I briefly tried it, but I kept finding myself gravitating toward the bass line. I took my high school graduation money and bought a Gibson EB-3 bass. I basically tinkered around, learning a few things by ear.”

His indoctrination into the band scene came soon after.

“I had a good friend who’s a great guitar player, who I’d jam with once in a while. He would show me a few things, but I really only knew a few simple songs,” Cicero said. “Then, one day, out of the blue, he called me up and asked me if I wanted to play in his band. I said, ‘Sure.’ He said, ‘Good, we've got a gig in three weeks.’ That was a crash course for sure. I was barely, barely passable.”

For his first paid public performance at age 21, he selected some unusual tunes.

“It was at some dinky small town pub. The only song I remember doing at that time was some Ted Nugent instrumental that I thought was cool. Plus, I do remember doing La Grange, which is, like, three notes in the whole song,” he said.

Cicero performed for a bit longer before taking a break.

“I started playing in rock cover bands in college and for about five years after that,” Cicero said.” I quit for a while, but the itch to play live music was just too, too strong.”

He points out that all the members of West of 5 are avid music fans, playing in multiple bands.

“All the other members in our band are also in other groups. Angel sings in Super Nacho. Frank Sanchez is in the original Spanish rock band Castillo. Bruce Walker and Michael Aguilar are also in Bottomline, who play both originals and covers,” Cicero said.

Now, with decades of experience behind him and currently part of one of the city’s better-known cover bands, Cicero said he considers the road his musical career to still has a ways to go.

“The journey is endless,” he said. “There’s always more to learn. I feel that I’m continuously improving.”

• West of 5: Thursday May 30, at Humphreys Backstage Live, 2241 Shelter Island Drive. 7 to 11 p.m. $5.
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