(image: Chris Servia postulating The Ivory Theory)
Many years ago I caught a keyboardist/singer/songwriter on his way up the pop-rock fame-ladder in, of all places, DeKalb, Illinois performing in a small, dark, overly-warm, low-ceilinged and very crowded venue on the campus of Northern Illinois University...he walked out onstage, barefoot, alone, with a sixpack of beer and slammed it onto the baby grand piano while holding another freshly opened can of brew in his other hand...he was wearing blue denim coveralls, no shirt and had these really huge oversized pop-bottle-thick-lensed-tinted-glasses on, looking unshaved and pretty rough...but then I was there to catch an electric rock violinist (Jean Luc Ponty) that had just recently joined this guy's band on a pre-release tour promoting the group's forthcoming 5th album and wasn't really there to here this bespeckled piano-man play...besides, I didn't know what to make of this guy...when he sat down and started plunking on the ivories, sailing into a self-written lyric-rich song with sincerity, emotion and ease, I suddenly became enamored of his music...then the rest of the band joined him onstage...however, I'll finish that story later.
I had a sense of déjà vu the other night of this same whole scene...I was at the small, dark, overly-warm back-bar-stage venue at North Beach in Downers Grove (August 7, 2010), reminiscent of the one I had been to so many years ago...was primarily attending to catch the up and coming rock artist Val Halla, but discovered that several other bands were going to be there prior to her onstage appearance and one of them was the Till Death group's keyboardist (formerly a member of the band MoXXy) showcasing his talent as a singer/songwriter accompanied by his band, The Ivory Theory...his name, Chris Servia. I had been to North Beach a few times prior to this and only knew him as a bartender there. Just thought he was a guy happy being a barman...didn't know he was into music...didn't know he could play keyboards...didn't know he could sing...didn't know he could write songs...didn't know he had his own band...didn't know he was a musician of such high caliber...just thought he was another kid working at the club. Hmmm...never judge a book by its cover...never make assumptions...never consider things at face value. Nope. Never.
(images below: in order of appearance...Mike Styrczula, Timothy Flynn, Tim Eads, Chris DiDomenico, Joe Chavez)
Chris Servia & The Ivory Theory was quite a surprising tour-de-force for me...a tuneful musical delight to be reckoned with...they gave an excellent show performing about nine songs all original and all written by Chris Servia from what I understand. I know musicians hate to hear the "sounds like" references, especially when they are presenting originals and are as talented as "Chris & The Theory" are...but on some of the tunes Chris's vocals reminded me of Joe Cocker's vocals, on others...the piano-man I had listened to in a time-zone way back there in my memory...Servia's voice at times similar to Cocker, a little throaty but good (maybe due to the cigs Servia smokes)...giving some extra texture to the song (unfortunately I did not get the name of that particular tune). In fact, the band has so much talent in addition to Chris, that some of it was recruited for Val Halla's band to help finish out the last 15 tour dates with Ted Nugent (who she is currently on tour with)...so Mike Styrczula was going on the road with Val Halla, leaving The Ivory Theory minus a lead guitar for the time being. But no matter...Chris took it in stride as he was telling me while patting Styrczula on the back saying he was really happy for Mike to get the chance to go on the road and have the experience of working on a tour with bands like Ted Nugent and Val Halla. Chris also had (I believe it was Timothy Flynn) a guy filling in for the band's regular bass player Tim Eads who was missing in action for this particular show.
In spite of all the changes going on with the band that night, Chris gave a great display of his talent. At one point Servia did two tunes solo (without the band onstage), one moment arched down over his keyboards, the next, reaching up to the microphone caressing it with the lyrics from his heartfelt original songs...working through the musical theory with an introspective contemplation of the ivories that he had such great technical command of, causing me to recall that piano-man experience I had so long ago...they were very soulful ballads leaving you with a sense of...being.
Chris Servia & The Ivory Theory's best tunes were "Fallen World" and the final tune to close the show, "One Last Time" (which is to be the theme song for a new ABC-TV show, "Check Please"). Aside from Mike Styrczula's great lead guitar work there was the ever-present driving beat on all these tunes provided by Chris DiDomenico's drums...both musicians showing evidence of a heavy metal background in their music-related experience and sound...yet toned down somewhat to accomodate Chris and his vocals. But the tune that brought me right back to that long ago concert I had experienced and which had caused me to conjure up all this memory was one that Chris was debuting this night entitled "No Time". It made me think to myself that Chris and his band were just like that other young aspiring musical artist I had seen so many years before. Showing so much promise, enthusiasm, originality, youthfulness, and love for pop-rock music and lyric-laden song.
The keyboardist/singer/songwriter piano-man from so long ago? Elton John...the year? 1972...the album that they were previewing to the audience live prior to release? "Honky Chateau". If Chris Servia & The Ivory Theory endure and get the elusive big break that every upcoming band out there dreams of, especially a band as good as this one surely deserves...then...dare I say it? It looks like pop-rock musical history is about to repeat itself. 'Nuff Sed.
Mike Styrczula-lead guitar
Tim Eads-bass (Timothy Flynn was filling in for the show I reviewed?)
Here is the show-closing tune from the North Beach performance of Chris Servia & The Ivory Theory...in action: