Mike McCready is used to playing sold-out arenas as the lead guitarist for Pearl Jam, but there were maybe 250 people in the audience when he took the stage with Flight to Mars. It was a bit surprising since the gig provided an opportunity for Pearl Jam fans to see McCready perform in an intimate environment, and also disappointing since the show was part of a seven-city West Coast tour to raise money and awareness for Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disorder that McCready has battled for 25 years.
Despite the small numbers, Flight to Mars, a tribute to ’70s hard rockers UFO, didn’t scrimp on effort. The six-man band took the bulk of its set from UFO’s Strangers in the Night, performing 11 of the 13 songs off the landmark 1979 live album. McCready, a huge fan of celebrated ex-UFO guitarist Michael Schenker, even played a Gibson Flying V in his honor.
The gig wasn’t just a showcase for McCready, though. Second guitarist Tim DiJulio took the lead on “Mother Mary” and served up a fiery solo to close the epic “Love to Love.” Singer Paul Passereli kept the crowd engaged with his exaggerated gestures, often holding his mic out to the audience, and Ty Bailie’s keyboards added another layer to each song.
Sound problems with McCready’s guitar sucked much of the energy out of the classic “Lights Out,” but order was restored before the band’s dynamic, 10-plus-minute rendition of “Rock Bottom.” After raffling off some items, including a signed Gibson guitar and an autographed McCready bobblehead, the band returned to the stage, closing with Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On,” Cheap Trick’s “Goodnight” and AC/DC’s “Sin City.” McCready then signed autographs and posed for photos until every last fan was satisfied, ensuring that this Flight to Mars was a well-received if not lucrative mission. ★★★☆☆