–Fall 2014 Concert Recap: Pentagram, Carcass, Arch Enemy

•February 19, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Pentagram Last-Days-Here-Poster

–Fall 2014 Concert Recap: Pentagram, Carcass, Arch Enemy

Yes, I know. This post is a long time coming, and sometimes it’s better never than late. Wait, that’s not quite right. Or maybe it is, depending on your taste in bloggers. Either way, I have a perfectly reasonable excuse for not writing a prompt update: I’ve been far too busy working and wasting time with all my sundry entertaining hobbies and excursions. That said, it’s never too late to offer a brief recap of the last quarter of the fantastic musical year that was 2014. O contraire, my hard rocking friends, the first of the Neue Jahr/mid-February is the all-too appropriate opportunity for such a posting.

Firstly (my, that was an annoying and awkward transition), one must find Doc Brown and the silver Delorian and travel backwards in time to Oct. 25th. That would be the precise date the legendary stoner-metal vocalist Bobby Liebling and Pentagram performed at The Pyramid Scheme here in Grand Rapids. Liebling, who’s been championed in the doom-metal underground for decades, has benefited from a surge in popularity in recent years due to the popularity of the 2011 documentary, Last Days Here. That film chronicled the Pentagram singer’s struggle for sobriety and relevance after 30-plus years of floundering in severe drug addiction. Like a proverbial rising Phoenix, albeit in Virginia rather than Arizona, Liebling has risen from the rubble of addiction and is enjoying the resurrection of his beloved band.

This past fall, doom fanatics here in the U.S. were also able to enjoy the ultra-rare opportunity to witness the almighty Pentagram on tour. With longtime guitarist Victor Griffin back on board, alongside bassist Greg Turley and drummer Sean Saley, Pentagram decimated our Northern eardrums with a punishingly heavy performance. In fact, their sound was so loud it distorted speakers and seemingly rattled the dinosaur mural right off the Pyramid’s Scheme’s walls. Pentagram and their classy brand of doom methodically crushed us with their brutal riffing, even as they wooed us with their infectious vocal melodies. As for Mr. Liebling himself, his no-frills mid-range voice was on fine display, as well as his bizarre and freaky stage demeanor. His icy, zonked-out stare and frenetic movements belie any negative effects of his 60-some years of hard living. He also evidently still possesses the seductive charms on the ladies, but that’s perhaps best left to the reader’s imagination. Seeing Pentagram live may be a once-in a-lifetime chance, and Liebling and co. didn’t fail to create some mystical doomy magic.

Pentagram performed many favorites from throughout their four-decade career, including: 1.) Deathrow 2.) All Your Sins 3.) Sign of the Wolf (Pentagram) 4.) Sinister 5.) Forever My Queen 6.) Frustration 7.) Review Your Choices 8.) Lay Down and Die 9.) The Ghoul 10.) Walk in the Blue Light 11.) Broken Vows 12.) Relentless 13.) Nothing Left 14.) Be Forewarned 15.) When the Screams Come.

Carcass Surgical SteelSpeaking of once-in a-lifetime opportunities, anybody ever hear of a little band called Carcass? Back on November 11th, Liverpool England’s grindcore geniuses graced the oh-so-not-worthy The Intersection audience with a sublimely masterful performance. Yes, I’ll gladly admit I am prone to dramatics and hyperbole (life’s more fun that way, ha!). But that doesn’t change the fact that Carcass delivered one of the heaviest and tightest 90-minute sets I’ve ever seen. This was a full-on blitzkrieg, a sensory onslaught that rendered this humble listener physically and emotionally exhausted. That’s not some mere “Corporeal Jigsore Quandary”, folks. It’s the dishonest to Ares truth.

Carcass steamrolled through the best material of their 30-year career, focusing primarily on the prime melodic death metal of their mid-‘90s Michael Amott-era. Songs off the Necrotism and Heartwork albums sounded infectious and cutting, but the several cuts off their fantastic 2013 release Surgical Steel were no slouches either. Bassist/vocalist Jeff Walker was on-target vocally with his mid-range rasp, while original guitarist Bill Steer aptly delivered the guttural growls. The band, also featuring guitarist Ben Ash and drummer Daniel Wilding, barely let up for air as they plowed through their unique sonic concoction: punishingly brutal riffs melded with orgasmic guitar melodies. If anything, Walker’s soft-spoken and good-natured banter between songs only contributed to the brutality of the affair. Light only darkens the shade by way of contrast, right? Bravo, guys!

–Approximate setlist: 1.) 1985 2.) Buried Dreams 3.) Incarnated Solvent Abuse 4.) Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System 5.) Noncompliance to ASTM F 899-12 Standard/ This Mortal Coil/ Reek of Putrefaction 6.) The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills 7.) Unfit for Human Consumption 8.) Genital Grinder/ Pyosisified (Rotten to the Gore)/ Exhume to Consume 9.) Black Star/ Keep On Rotting in the Free World/ 10. Captive Bolt Pistol 11.) Corporeal Jigsore Quandary/ The Sanguine Article 12.) Ruptured in Purulence/ Heartwork 13.) 1985.

Arch Enemy War Eternal

Then, just a little over a week later, the Swedish barons of melodic death metal, Arch Enemy, followed Carcass’ brutal footsteps to that same Intersection stage. In fact, Thursday, November 20th marked a triumphant display of international metal with German thrash titans Kreator sharing the stage with AE, alongside American opening acts Starkill and Huntress. My brother and I entered the halfway full venue midway through Huntress’ set, who were playing second on the bill. The L.A.-based band impressed the Grand Rapids crowd with their aggressive brand of melodic metal, led in no small part by singer Jill Janus’ dynamic and operatic vocals.

I admit I am no expert on Kreator’s back catalog, though I thoroughly enjoyed their Coma of Souls album back in the early ‘90s. Their aggressive-yet-concise brand of German thrash holds up well over all these 30 years, with guitarist vocalist Mille Petrozza’s technically precise rhythm guitarwork continuing to be a signature component of the band’s sound. Kreator’s pummeling thrash-tastic rhythmic assault, coupled with their catchy hooks and intriguing socio-political lyrics, made for a captivating set. And when Petrozza entreated the enthusiastic audience to part waters down the middle of the floor to create a massive circle pit, the controlled violence was, to quote a hyperbolic adjective from How I Met Your Mother’s Barney, legendary.

Arch Enemy has remained one of my favorite bands ever since their second album, Stigmata, won me over back in 1998. Their hyper-melodious style of extreme metal has thrived and subtly progressed over the years in the face of two singer changes and several moves at guitar opposite Mike Amott. In fact, recent lineup shifts in the Arch Enemy camp make the backstory for this particular tour all the more intriguing. Not only did Canadian (and ex-The Agonist) singer Alissa White-Gluz replace longtime long-time front woman Angela Gossow last year, but the band announced that shredder extraordinaire Jeff Loomis would be joining the band for the upcoming European tour. In the meantime? That’s right, longtime guitarist Christopher Amott would briefly be returning to fill in for just a few shows, including right here in G.R. Now the excitement factor was amplified even more.

The lights dimmed in accompaniment to the “Tempore Nihil Sanat (Prelude in F minor) intro from the new War Eternal album, and we diehard AE freaks pushed as close to the stage as we could. Heat rose, the pungent scent of sweat permeated the air, and the almighty Arch Enemy plunged straight into speedy juggernaut “Enemy Within,” off their 2001 classic Wages of Sin album. Unsurprisingly, the band sounded was an impeccably-timed heavy metal machine, with the dual guitar interplay of the Amott brothers leading the charge. Their rhythm playing was crisp and precise, while their harmonized leads sounded just as awe-inspiring and melodious live as on record. Bassist Sharlee D’Angelo and drummer Daniel Erlandsson provided the withering pulse for the proceedings.

White-Gluz commanded the stage with the confidence and charisma of a 20-year metal veteran. If her guttural growl sounds a bit forced on record, her energy and enthusiasm on the stage screamed AUTHENTICITY. Arch Enemy’s fans will not forget Gossow anytime soon, but White-Gluz’s inspired performance proved that their vocal position is in very capable hands. Their setlist this time around drew heavily from both Wages of Sin and the new album, with a nice mixture of fan favorites from throughout the Gossow era sprinkled throughout. It would have been nice to hear another song or two from the first three albums, but one can’t have everything. Regardless, the unadulterated truth remains: Arch Enemy dominated The Intersection, and they left a pandemic of emotional exultation in their wake.

–Approximate setlist: 1.) Tempore Nihil Sanat (Prelude in F minor) 2.) Enemy Within 3.) War Eternal 4.) Ravenous 5.) Revolution Begins 6.) My Apocalypse 7.) You Will Know My Name 8.) Bloodstained Cross 9.) Under Black Flags We March 10.) As the Pages Burn 11.) Dead Eyes See No Future 12). No Gods, No Masters 13.) Dead Bury The Dead 14.) We Will Rise. Encore: 15.) Khaos Overture 16.) Yesterday is Dead and Gone 17.) Snow Bound 18.) Nemesis 19.) Fields of Desolation (ending instrumental section only) 20.) Enter the Machine.

Cheers until next time, and as always, keep it LOUD!–Jonathan Kollnot

 

–ALICE COOPER: School’s Out (1972, Warner Bros.)

•December 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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–ALICE COOPER: School’s Out (1972, Warner Bros.)

“Well we got no class
And we got no principles
And we got no innocence
We can’t even think of a word that rhymes”

I can’t either. As an impressionable 15-year-old, listening to his new cassette copy of Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits, the hit single “School’s Out” was as humorous and fun as it was rebellious. It was a revelation for this nascent hard rocker, who immediately fell in love with the Alice Cooper Group’s inimitable mix of witty lyrics, catchy riffs, and seamless song craftsmanship. Alice Cooper immediately became one of my favorite bands, and I quickly gobbled up masterpieces such as Love it to Death, Billion Dollar Babies, and the shock rock/horror thrill ride that is Killer. While it’s impossible for me to choose one favorite Cooper record, perhaps much like the old cliché of choosing a favorite child (though I have no children), School’s out – the album – always resonated with me in a particularly personal manner.

Repeat readers of this blog will recognize that I typically celebrate my favorite albums that I believe deserve extra recognition, usually because they are either obscure or oft-maligned by media or popular opinion. School’s Out falls into neither category, yet the phenomenal songs on the album as a whole tend to get overlooked in the annals of the hard rock canon. Yes, “School’s Out” undoubtedly is a brilliant and iconic single, and I can’t even argue that it doesn’t deserve more recognition than any other song on the record. But the glory of School’s Out is about so much more than its ubiquitous title track. On their fourth album, the band’s impeccable musicianship, and Bob Ezrin’s crisp and clear production, coalesced on this terse yet emotionally-resonant collection. These songs have heart, they have theatrical flair, and they have the drastic peaks and valleys that still ignite the passions of the disaffected teenager in all of us.

Unsurprisingly, Side One kicks off with the hit title track, which features one of the most well-known riffs in rock history. As familiar as this song has become, it’s impossible to deny the universal appeal of that monstrous riff and infectious chorus. It is no shock that Cooper still ends his concerts with this famous ode to the last day of school, sporting a top hat and popping the giant balloons that float high above the audience. Thankfully, “School’s Out” the song is only the beginning of this powerful and diverse roller coaster of an album.

Next, the band shoots right out of the gate with the driving and captivating rocker, “Luney Tune.” One of the album’s undeniable masterpieces, the song features a sleek and sinister main riff, intricate interplay between guitarists Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce, and some thought-provoking lyrics from Sir. Alice on one of his favorite themes: insanity and institutionalization. “Just a little insane/a couple shots I can’t feel no pain/Hey where have I been/and who are these scary men?” In retrospect, these lines feel a little like musical foreshadowing of Cooper’s own harrowing rehab experience as portrayed on his 1978 concept album, From the Inside.

Bassist Dennis Dunaway showcases his impressive chops in the rousing first half of “Gutter Cat Vs. The Jets.” Dunaway’s slowly descending bass line morphs into a raucous tour de force of infectious riffs and tongue-in-cheek, virile machismo. “She made my eyes bug out, my tail stand up, and I ain’t even in heat for a month.” Meanwhile, the ensuing retort by the rival Jets gang manifests itself in the familiar rallying cry of the “West Side Story” theme as performed masterfully on synthesizer by Bruce. Dunaway seizes the limelight once again with the frenetic ascending bass loop that comprises the brief instrumental interlude, “Street Fight.” Alice Cooper shifts down into second gear, and perhaps left field, with the mellow lounge jazz of “Blue Turk.” Featuring such un-rocker-like musical elements as walking bass lines, clean jazz guitar tones, saxophone and trombone solos, and understated vocal melodies, this beautiful song highlights the diversity and sheer musical proficiency of the Alice Cooper Group.

Side Two is where things really get interesting, so to speak. At the risk of committing unpardonable crimes of hyperbole, “My Stars” just may qualify as the greatest masterwork of the entire Cooper catalog. The tune is dramatic and emotive, a veritable sucker punch that leaves the listener seeing “stars” of his or her own. Riding its tidal wave of ascending chromatic runs and Alice’s scat-like vocal melodies, “My Stars” nearly steals the show on this last day of school. That’s not to diminish the impact of the tasty prison-confessional rocker “Public Animal #9,” or the plaintive and nostalgic semi-ballad, “Alma Mater,” which evokes the bittersweet remembrances of the end of a high-school career. The aptly-dubbed “Grande Finale” is the grandiose fireworks extravaganza School’s Out deserves. This bombastic symphonic instrumental is as melodically irresistible as it is overblown. Really, would there be a more appropriate way to end this record?

School may literally be out for most of us, but the curriculum on this class schedule is as balanced and satisfying as it gets. Crank it loud, and be sure to revisit this timeless hard-rock yearbook as much as possible.—Jonathan Kollnot

–Tracklisting: 1.) School’s Out 2.) Luney Tune 3.) Gutter Cat Vs. The Jets 4.) Street Fight 5.) Blue Turk 6.) My Stars 7.) Public Animal #9 8.) Alma Mater 9.) Grande Finale

–ACE FREHLEY: Space Invader (2014, eOne Music)

•November 5, 2014 • Leave a Comment

ace-frehley-space-invader-cover

–ACE FREHLEY: Space Invader (2014, eOne Music)

The Space Ace has many cosmic tales to tell. For the second time in the last five years, Ace Frehley has decided to return to the relative comfort of Earth’s atmosphere to regale his fans with rocking tunes of galactic voyages and wild loving. It’s no hyperbole to say that Space Invader, Frehley’s follow-up to 2009’s outstanding comeback effort, Anomaly, is one of my most anticipated new releases of 2014. While Space Invader may not quite match the heavyweight punch and inspirational songwriting of its predecessor, it is still quintessential Ace – that is, more Kiss than Kiss itself.

That’s just the way Ace likes it. Kiss’ original lead guitarist certainly has been to Hell, or, Mars and back throughout his 40-plus-year music career. He survived the multiple contentious stints with Kiss and decades of substance abuse to record arguably one of the best hard rock records of this millennium in Anomaly. With that album, Frehley re-asserted his relevance within the Kiss canon and proved he can still write fun and innovative rock music. That Anomaly is better than the recent work of his former bandmates says as much about Frehley’s rediscovered inspiration as it does about any mediocrity on Kiss’ part. Yes, Anomaly is that good.

On its follow-up, Frehley indeed proves that its predecessor actually wasn’t, forgive me, an anomaly. Space Invader finds him encompassing myriad moods and tones from all eras of his solo career, and diehard fans of albums such as his 1978 self-titled debut, 1987’s Frehley’s Comet, and Anomaly will find plenty to enjoy here. That said, Space Invader is more of a light-hearted party record, and it lacks the heavy crunch and inspiring melodicism of Anomaly’s best tracks. But enough about Anomaly; Space Invader is a fun journey all its own, and it’s well deserving of praise and financial support.

Diversity is the theme and straight-ahead is the vibe of Frehley’s solo career, and Space Invader doesn’t disappoint on either front. The album boasts bright and powerful production values that highlight his comforting sing-talky vocals and inimitable lead guitar work. Hearing just a few notes of Frehley’s telltale trebly and wide-vibrato licks warms the heart and inspires a strum or two on the ol’ air guitar. Such nauseating sentimentality aside, Space Invader works because it rocks hard without pretensions.

The album opens in promising fashion with the anthemic title track, which is reminiscent of the punchy groove of “Outer Space” off Anomaly. Those who dig rollicking, old-school Kiss’n’roll will find plenty to like in tracks such as “Gimme a Feelin’,” “I Wanna Hold You,” “Toys,” and “What Every Girl Wants.” But Frehley is at his best here when he slows down the tempos and digs deep into his well of catchy riffs and introspective melodies: songs such as “Immortal Pleasures” and the quasi-ballad “Past the Milky Way” are especially satisfying. His hard-hitting cover of Steve Miller’s “The Joker” is no joke, of course, while the chiming arpeggios and beautifully hypnotic strains of album closer “Starship” recall his timeless “Fractured” series of instrumentals.

The bottom line – Space Invader delivers a little something for the hibernating space traveler in all of us, and it’s an Apollo blast-off of a rocket ride.–Jonathan Kollnot

–Tracklisting: 1.) Space Invader 2.) Gimme a Feelin’ (Radio Edit) 3.) I Wanna Hold You 4.) Change 5.) Toys 6.) Immortal Pleasures 7.) Inside the Vortex 8.) What Every Girl Wants 9.) Past the Milky Way 10.) Reckless 11.) The Joker 12.) Starship

 

 

–2014 Update: Iced Earth, Anvil, Black Star Riders, Warriors of Metal Fest VII, Motley Crue/Alice Cooper

•August 27, 2014 • 6 Comments

Hello my fellow rock-heads and brain-bashers,

I hope this note finds you all happy and well. As this cool and pleasant Michigan summer is winding down, I find myself pondering upon another fantastic year in hard rock and metal. There’s also the lame and unfortunate fact that I haven’t posted anything in something like six months. Yes, there’s that. While I could try to fabricate or exaggerate some sort of excuses as to how, “I have been so busy, life’s so nutty, blah-de-dah-de-dah,” I figure that’s neither here nor there now. There’s only today, and that’s the whole-hearted truth, folks. So, instead I’m going to attempt to briefly summarize some of the highlights of my 2014 (thus far) in music. Here goes nothing…

Jon Schaffer and Iced Earth destroy Grand Rapids.

Jon Schaffer and Iced Earth destroyed Grand Rapids.

First off, there’s the many great national shows that have come through Grand Rapids, beginning with Iced Earth on April 4th. Mr. Jon Schaffer and the almighty IE corps absolutely decimated The Intersection when they kicked off their U.S. leg of the “Plagues of Babylon” tour right here. The I.E. boys have never sounded finer, despite the fact they were playing with a brand new drummer, who didn’t miss a beat and also added some fresh percussive flavor to the songs. They enthusiastically ploughed through a varied set that favored their most recent Plagues… and Dystopia albums, as well as ‘90s classics off the popular The Dark Saga and Something Wicked… records. Once again, Stu Block reiterated his versatility as a metal vocalist by shifting from the Matt Barlow lows to the piercing “Ripper”-esque highs with equal aplomb. Then, of course, there’s Schaffer’s rhythm guitar work, which sounded brutal, loud and as cutting as a scythe. When I think of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen, Iced Earth is always right up there. Setlist: Plagues of Babylon, Apocalypse Segue, Democide, V, If I Could See You, The Hunter, Burning Times, Red Baron/Blue Max, Blessed Are You, Vengeance Is Mine, Cthulhu, My Own Savior, A Question Of Heaven, Dystopia, Watching Over Me, Iced Earth.

Then there’s Anvil. Oh yes, the inimitably goofy and glorious Canucks made a suprising appearance at The Stache Lounge on May 14th. With such an imposing blast of classic metal power coming to town, who was I to dare miss it? When my brother, Jeff, and I arrived in the lobby of the venue, which is attached to The Intersection, drummer extraordinaire Robb Reiner and the Anvil boys were just hanging out over by the merchandise stands. Needless to say, we met them and exchanged a few pics before the show started, proof positive that kindness and humility is alive and well among the heavy rock scene. As for the show itself, it was heavy, exhilaratingly fast at times, powerful, and, of course, LOUD. Legendary guitarist/vocalist Steve “Lips” Kudrow gave the fans all the zany theatrics Anvil is known for, including the opening “jamming in the crowd” bit and the hilarious dildo-as-pick guitar solo that never fails to invoke smiles and cheers. If there’s an overriding theme to an Anvil show, it is “Life is fun, and so is metal.” Anvil delivered on all counts. Approximate setlist: March of the Crabs, 666, School Love, Badass Rock’n’ Roll, Winged Assassins, On Fire, This Is Thirteen, Mothra, Thumb Hang, Swing Thing, Hope In Hell, Eat Your Words, Metal On Metal. Encore: Forged In Fire, Running.

The monsters kept on coming when the Black Star Riders, or the current incarnation of my all-time favorite band, Thin Lizzy, hit The Intersection on June 1st. Now featuring veteran TL guitarist Scott Gorham as well as talented Irish vocalist/guitarist Ricky Warwick, BSR made the small-but-devoted Intersection crowd almost feel like we were witnessing Phil Lynott & co. circa 1976. Yup, the band sounded tight and dynamite with the TL patented twin-guitar harmonies on sublime display. Warwick’s soulful vocals sound almost like a dead-ringer for Lynott at times, which added to the authenticity of the overall performance. The BSR performed with plenty of urgency and drive as well, so classic TL rockers such as “Are you Ready,” “Bad Reputation,” Massacre and “Don’t Believe a Word” really packed a most welcome wallop in the gut. Their setlist drew heavily from their debut BSR All Hell Breaks Loose album, as well as most of their 1978 Live and Dangerous disc. I’ve gotta say, when Gorham and the boys eased into the soaring opening harmonies of the gorgeous quasi-ballad “Southbound,” I was in Thin Lizzy heaven. To close the set with monstrous versions of “The Cowboy Song” and “Whiskey in the Jar” was just the maraschino cherry on top of a dream come true of a show. Approximate setlist: All Hell Breaks Loose, Are You Ready, Bloodshot, Bad Reputation, Hoodoo Voodoo, Jailbreak, Kingdom of the Lost, Hey Judas, Massacre, Valley of the Stones, Emerald, Bound for Glory, Cowboy Song, The Boys Are Back in Town. Encore: Whiskey in the Jar.

George Call and Dallas metal monsters ASKA, supporting their sixth-full length Fire Eater, reduced Columbus to rubble.

George Call and Dallas metal monsters ASKA, supporting their sixth-full length Fire Eater, reduced Columbus to rubble.

During the last week of June, the 26th-29th, I journeyed 315 miles to the southeast for the 7th Annual installment of Datis Alaee’s Warriors of Metal Festival in Columbus, Ohio. After enduring a series of frustrating spinal-tap moments (who would have thought one could experience a flat tire and a broken clutch in their car all in one day?), I finally arrived at O’Schecky’s Live in Columbus at 11:30 on Thursday night, just in time to miss most of the Pre-Fest Showcase. While that was unfortunate, after my harrowing 14-hour odyssey I was just relieved to have finally arrived. One of my main purposes of attending the WOM Fest for vacation this summer, other than the obvious benefit of getting to hear over two dozen fantastic underground bands, was to be able to reunite with some old online pen-pal buddies. I was very blessed to meet for the second time my friend George Call from ASKA, as well as for the first time my good friends Kit and Jen Ekman from Alabama and Craig Wisnom from Arizona, all of whom were fellow members of the small “Craig’s Metal Board” list on the Prodigy service and email during the ‘90s and 2000s. It’s hard to explain how great a time a time I had hanging out, catching up and sharing our love of metal all weekend with such wonderful friends, new and old alike.

Of course, it’s impossible to do justice to all the great music featured at WOM VII in such a brief and belated summary. But the fest was an efficiently run and well-organized showcase of highly professional power, speed, thrash and traditional metal, headlined by Dallas true metal legends ASKA on Friday and Houston’s technical speed metal gods Helstar on Saturday. While the fest featured plenty of different styles of metal to please most fans, it also focused heavily on the bombastic and “happy” European brand of power metal. I generally don’t care much for that type of metal, but plenty of other attendees love it and support such bands enthusiastically, so more power and respect to them. There were still plenty of bands I enjoyed and recommend, such as Noble Beast (Minnesota), Valhalla (Indiana), Shallow Ground (Connecticut), Burning Shadows (Washington D.C.), Lords of the Trident (Wisconsin), Zephaniah (Indiana), the almighty ASKA (Dallas), Crusader (Chicago), A Sound of Thunder (Washington D.C.), Darker Half (Sydney, Australia), Benedictum (California) with Leather Leone, Helstar (Houston) and many more I may have missed or forgotten. If indeed this was the last WOM Fest, Datis and Leah Alaee have plenty of impressive accomplishments to feel proud of. Here’s to their tremendous love and dedication to the music. =)

On the way home from WOM Fest, I accidentally stumbled upon the infamous Alrosa Villa Lounge where Dimebag Darrell was murdered. So I stopped for a few minutes and made a short, solemn video in tribute. R.I.P. Dime, and thank you for all the great music and inspiration.

Finally, Jeff and I witnessed Motley Crue and Alice Cooper kicking off their 2014 Tour at Van Andel Arena here in G.R. on July 2nd. Alice’s performance, as usual, was flawless and inspiring. His six-piece band now features the six-string heroics of Iron Maidens guitarist Nita Strauss, and they tightly and brilliantly played 50 minutes of classic Cooper. Some of the highlights included the opening of “Hello Hooray,” “Poison,” “Billion Dollar Babies,” and the epic, stirring “Ballad of Dwight Frye” played in its entirety. All the guillotines, straight jackets, electrocutions and giant Frankensteins never fail to entertain, either.

Following Alice’s impressive and highly professional show, Motley’s “farewell” appearance in West Michigan was a tad disappointing by comparison. The first half of their set was plagued by multiple technical glitches, such as Tommy Lee’s broken bass-drum head and Mick Mars’ in-ear monitor problems, as well as the inexcusable and embarrassing instance of having to start a song over (“Too Fast For Love”) due to Tommy’s brain fart about how the song goes. Additionally, the P.A. was cranked so loud that many of the familiar tunes such as “Wild Side’ sounded so distorted they were hard to recognize. That said, Motley is still the indomitable Motley, and they refused to relent despite all the mishaps. They recovered from the adversity during the second half of the set and presented a fun and thrilling performance, and Tommy’s loop-the-loop drum solo from the ceiling was especially jaw-dropping. By the time the lights went dark and the band ventured over to a suspended, piano-laden stage at the back of the arena, it was time for Motley Crue to go “Home Sweet Home.” Thanks for the memories, boys. Appoximate setlist:  So Long, Farewell (intro), Mutherf***er of the Year, Wild Side, Primal Scream, Guitar Solo, Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S), Looks That Kill, On With The Show, Too Fast for Love, All Bad Things, Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room, Without You, Saints of Los Angeles, Anarchy in the U.K., Too Young to Fall in Love, Drum Solo, In the Beginning, Shout at the Devil, Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away), Live Wire, T.N.T. (Terror ‘N Tinseltown), Dr. Feelgood, Girls Girls Girls, Kickstart My Heart. Encore: Home Sweet Home, My Way (outro).

Wow, this post has gotten ridiculously overblown. How about I catch up on the great local metal scene and new music releases in separate entries? It’ll give me some concrete goals to keep me focused and towing the line with this writing thing. Cheers everyone, and as always keep the great music blasting and flowing through your souls.—Jonathan Kollnot

–Makeup To Breakup: My Life In And Out Of KISS, by Peter Criss with Larry “Ratso” Sloman (Scribner, 2012)

•February 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment

 

 

Peter Criss book

Makeup To Breakup: My Life In And Out Of KISS, by Peter Criss with Larry “Ratso” Sloman (Scribner, 2012)

“Have you ever tasted the barrel of a .357 Magnum that’s halfway down your throat?”

Woah. Talk about an attention-getting opening to a rock-star autobiography. After he grips the reader by the throat by talking about the gun that he had stuck halfway down his own throat, Peter Criss has already partially achieved his mission. Who would have the audacity to put his book down after a thrilling beginning like that? The former KISS drummer’s shell-shocking opening anecdote sets the tone for a book that’s as gritty and emotional as the roller-coaster life of the man himself. Having just endured the devastation of the 1994 Los Angeles earthquake 12 hours earlier, Criss felt like his life couldn’t have reached straits more dire. Here he was, sitting in the wreckage of his decimated apartment, feeling lonely and desperate following two failed marriages, a stalled solo career and a fortune lost. Criss stood at the brink of that proverbial precipice and, fortunately for his readers and legions of fans, survived.

If there’s a single theme that could be applied to Makeup To Breakup, it would be perseverance against adversity. This tough-yet-sensitive street kid from Brooklyn, New York epitomizes the mythologized rag-to-riches tale of the American Dream, and Criss makes it crystalline clear he always did things his way. Makeup To Breakup is a fun and lively read throughout, even during its darkest and most intense moments. When a seven-year-old Peter poked his face into the food dish of a friend’s dog, a trip to the emergency room ensued when the dog tore his lip half off. The incident resulted in Criss’ lifelong fear of dogs, but it also further cemented his close and endearing relationship with his mother. In 1982, when strung out on cocaine and threatening to shoot his friend Sean in front his second wife Deb and daughter Jenilee at his Connecticut estate, Criss stared down a squadron of police and SWAT teams in full riot gear. This frightening event did not result in an extended prison stint for the disillusioned former KISS drummer, but rather a successful and enlightening time in rehab. He emerged from this dark period to mostly kick hard drugs for good and to demonstrate the unlimited power of resiliency. As Criss demonstrates, when one summons the courage to face his/her fears and learn from mistakes, life’s possibilities are boundless.

Criss’ trip to the top of the rock and roll gravy train, of course, was anything but simple and easy. The oldest of five in a working class Italian-Irish family, he suffered years of abuse at the hands of the nefarious nuns at Transfiguration Catholic School and the violent youth gangs on the hard streets of Brooklyn. By his teenage years, he had joined a gang himself, but soon enough his new gangs became the numerous rock and roll and R&B bands he played in on the local club circuit. Gene Simmons has long disparaged Criss’ drumming ability, but the evidence Criss presents here of his tireless work ethic during his years in the trenches of the New York music scene seems to contradict those negative assertions. When Criss finally joined KISS in 1972, he already was a seasoned veteran compared to his bandmates and a married man, though he admits he was far from settling down. Along with his equally wild and mischievous KISS partner Ace Frehley, Criss indulged heartily in the promiscuous sex and substance abuse that largely defines the rock sub culture. But the underlying thread of the KISS story is diligence, and it is hard to imagine a harder-working band in the 1970s than KISS.

Readers always take away their own distinct impressions from these books. Also, it would be pointless and futile to summarize an entire book in a review. So, to avoid rehashing the facts of Criss’ life verbatim, I’ll leave a few examples of passages and points that moved me personally as a reader and fan. It was surprising to learn about how much original manager Bill Aucoin and band coach/choreographer Sean Delaney helped to shape KISS’ image and stage show. In fact, Criss gives plenty of credit to all the tour managers, stage managers, body guards, crew members, and record label execs who built the foundation for KISS’ monumental success in the 1970s. Criss also makes it clear that Simmons and Paul Stanley like to take far too much credit at the expense of the rest of the KISS family, including himself and Frehley. It should come as no shock then that Criss partially blames Simmons’ and Stanley’s manipulative and controlling behavior on the breakup of the original band. Criss also reveals the heartbreak and deep sorrow that marked his turbulent relationship with his second wife, Playboy Playmate Debra Jo Jensen. He expresses regret that he ignored the red flags throughout his relationship with Jensen, which was based primarily upon wild sex, substance abuse, and insatiable lust:

“This was not true love. My dick was in love, not my heart, and drugs didn’t help. I didn’t want to start touching her or kissing her. I couldn’t stand the thought of her leaving.”

Criss implies a warning to his readers about the dangers of being entangled in unstable and superficial relationships, a lesson he learns well later in his life. He has a knack for learning from his past failures, exemplified by his assertions of having stayed clean and in-shape during KISS’ reunion tours, contradicting Simmons’ earlier claims that Criss was drunk and unable to perform. Oh, the mud-slinging and parleys among jilted musicians seem endless.

Makeup To Breakup is by no means a barrel of laughs or a chuckle-fest, like Frehley’s book, No Regrets. But Criss comes across as far from the brutish, miserable complainer that his former bandmates accuse him of being. Yes, he is street tough and hard-headed at times, but he also is caring, sensitive, and deeply reflective. There is an overarching sense of brooding that shapes and colors Criss’ life story, but at no point does this story become dismal. The Catman speaks up loudly and proudly, and it is a hell of a fun roller-coaster to ride. —Jonathan Kollnot

 

–RUSH: Live at Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, Mich., 06-30-13

•July 30, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Rush 2013 tour

–RUSH: Live at Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, Mich., 06-30-13

We have all heard the pithy cliche: the only things one can count on in life are death, taxes and cockroaches. And Lemmy will outlast them all, permanently planted on his favorite stool at the Rainbow Bar And Grill while drinking whiskey and playing his computer slots game, or whatever it is. Mr. Kilmister is the man, indeed. But there is another timeless, invincible entity that cannot be thwarted or killed, and that is Rush. The band, that is.

Yes, the inimitable Canadian power trio is still drinking from that proverbial fountain of youth four decades into their career. While they have been labeled everything from “hard rock” to “prog rock” to “metal” to the Tooth Fairy (alright, may NOT the Tooth Fairy), Rush is one of that rare bands whose music is truly beyond classification. The fact that drummer Neil Peart, guitarist Alex Lifeson and bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee are still delivering their music to their rabid fan base at an extremely high level is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Last month’s Rush show right here in Grand Rapids was no exception, though they introduced some changes this time around that may have left some heads a-scratching.

First off, Rush’s 2013 “Clockwork Angels Tour” was billed as a showcase for their most recent 2012 release, to the point that they would be playing most of the new album live. On hand for that live performance was the “Clockwork Angels String Ensemble,” as well as a whole slew of turn-of-the-century, steampunk-style video images and stage props (such as the infinite popcorn machine) that were as colorful and artful as they were bizarre. As usual, the show consisted of two full hour-plus sets, and “This Evening With Rush” concept always provides the fans with more than our money’s worth.

Secondly, the setlist, aside from the Clockwork Angels portion of the show, of course, was as diverse and unpredictable as that any of the classic touring acts. This stands in direct contrast to say, Iron Maiden, who generally play the same five “old” songs every tour. Sure, the early obligatory ‘80s hits such as “Limelight,” “The Spirit of Radio,” “YYZ” and encore opener “Tom Sawyer” were on grand display, much to the joy of the jam-packed Van Andel Arena crowd. Additionally, during “YYZ” victorious Grand Rapids Griffins hockey players brought their Calder Cup championship trophy out onto the stage to riotous applause from the hometown fans.

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But the set eschewed nearly all of Rush’s 1970s albums in favor of the synth-heavy ‘80s cuts and more obscure tracks from the early ‘90s. For example, Rush opened the show with the iconic synthesizer riff to “Subdivisions,” and this infectious crowd-pleaser was followed with more of the light-weight ’80s songs such as “Big Money,” “Force Ten,” and “Grand Designs,” among others. This is not to imply that these songs were in any way inferior or performed badly; it’s just a matter of personal taste in terms of their catalog. It seems that Rush is focusing almost exclusively on a certain era of their history with this first set of their show, and the head-banging fans, like myself, are missing out on hearing songs such as “Working Man,” “Fly By Night,” “Bastille Day,” “Passage to Bangkok,” “Xanadu,” “Farewell to Kings,” “Hemispheres,” “The Trees,” “La Villa Strangiato,” etc. Yes, I realize Rush has many albums to draw from and only so much time to play, and choosing a fair setlist must be an unenviable and daunting task. Fans of their heavier and more progressive older material would just prefer a more balanced setlist, that’s all.

That being said, Rush is still Rush, and their performance was flawless and professional. Reports of Lee’s voice having lost its range and luster are greatly exaggerated, as his vocals were right on point all night long. His bass playing is still technically staggering yet impassioned, while Lifeson effortlessly plied the guitar riffs and solos with a three-mile smile permanently implanted on his face. And Peart, the veritable Shakespeare of rock drumming and lyric-writing, dazzled the audience with no less than three (yes, three) drum jaw-dropping drum solos. As for the Clockwork Angels portion of the second set, Rush perhaps scored the most brownie points here for song choices. Although many fans lament it when classic bands feature a whole slew of new material in concerts, in this case Rush had the last laugh. These heavy, riff-driven and uplifting songs invoked plaintive reflection and high energy from the audience, and I applaud the band for taking such a bold step in their show. The Clockwork Angels String Ensemble, in turn, added a lush symphonic touch that melded these fantastic songs with the dazzling video imagery on screen.

As for that missing-in-action 1970s material? Rush closed the show with Parts I, II and VII of “2112,” which got the fists pumping and blood raging hard. All nitpicking aside, how should this 2013 live incarnation of Rush be remembered? To quote the timeless words of Randall “Pink” Floyd in Dazed and Confused, this Rush concert was “the top priority of the summer.”–Jonathan Kollnot

–Approximate Setlist: 1.) Subdivisions 2.) The Big Money 3.) Force Ten 4.) Grand Designs 5.) Limelight 6.) Territories 7.) The Analog Kid 8.) Bravado 9.) Where’s My Thing (including drum solo) 10.) Far Cry

(Set 2, with Clockwork Angels String Ensemble) 11.) Caravan 12.) Clockwork Angels 13.) The Anarchist 14.) Carnies 15.) The Wreckers 16.) Headlong Flight (including drum solo) 17.) Halo Effect (w/ guitar solo intro) 18.) Seven Cities of Gold 19.) The Garden 20.) Manhattan Project 21.) Drum Solo (The Percussor) 22.) Red Sector A 23.) YYZ 24.) The Spirit of Radio. Encore: 25.) Tom Sawyer 26.) 2112 Part I: Overture 27.) 2112 Part II: The Temples of Syrinx 28.) 2112 Part VII: Grand Finale

–This is Gonna Hurt: Music, Photography, and Life Through the Distorted Lens of Nikki Sixx (2011, HarperCollinsPublishers)

•June 14, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Nikki Sixx This is Gonna Hurts Book Cover

–This is Gonna Hurt: Music, Photography, and Life Through the Distorted Lens of Nikki Sixx (2011, HarperCollinsPublishers)

My favorite Twilight Zone episode is called “The Eye of the Beholder.” In it, the protagonist, a young blond woman named Janet Tyler, undergoes her 11th plastic surgery to repair her grotesque and deformed face. Her face is completely bandaged, but the doctors and nurses surrounding her are also wearing masks or are otherwise hidden from the camera. Eventually, her bandages are removed to reveal her beautiful (to us), Marilyn Monroe-like face, but the doctors complain that she has undergone no change at all. The camera pans back to reveal that the hospital staff bears bloated facial features and protruding, pig-like snouts. In this society, Janet is the grotesque freak, proving that beauty is all a matter of perspective.

This is precisely the premise of Nikki Sixx’s second book, This is Gonna Hurt: Music, Photography, and Life Through the Distorted Lens of Nikki Sixx. The Motley Crue/Sixx A.M. bassist devotes these pages to displaying his collection of unique photography and offering personal insights on life and the popular (mis?)conception of beauty. Throughout This is Gonna Hurt, Sixx argues, quite convincingly, that beauty can and should be seen in the most unusual of things and places. From the mysterious beauty of the black rose to the subtle grace of an elderly homeless woman on the streets of Moscow, Sixx wants us to look beyond the superficial exterior of what society tells us is beautiful. Many of his photographs and personal anecdotes champion the inner strength, dignity, and yes, divine transcendence of the outcasts, the oppressed, the crippled and the “freaks” of society. Sixx wants his readers to not just sympathize, but to empathize with all our fellow humans and look beyond the exterior to reveal the hidden beauty beneath.

Much like with his first book, The Heroin Diaries, Sixx is writing and sharing photos from a very personal place. But this book focuses more on his lifelong quest for creativity than trying to exorcise his most insidious demons. He explains about how as a young boy he would walk down the street with his mother, holding hands, and he would see an amputee walking by. He would smile at the amputee and stare. “Stop staring,” his mother would say. Sixx responded with a simple, “But why? She’s beautiful.” It is moving anecdotes like this that reveal Sixx’s authenticity and honesty, that he’s not just trying to appeal to people’s sentimentality by presenting an altruistic persona. His well-written and engaging stories explain how he traded in his substance abuse for an insatiable quest for art, namely, photography and music. During off days on Motley Crue tours he will often scour the streets of Vancouver, or L.A., or Moscow looking for the “dregs of society” to photograph. Indeed, he will often risk his own safety to venture deep into the seediest ghetto or skid row looking for addicts, homeless people and prostitutes to photograph. His efforts do not seem exploitative: he earnestly wants to champion the worth and beauty of all humanity.

Sixx spends a good chunk of these pages describing the ups and downs of the rock-and-roll lifestyle, from the grind of spending months on the road to the thrill of writing new music. He is forthright in his appraisals of his fellow Motley Crue and Sixx A.M. bandmates’ personalities and talents, but neither is he overly harsh or disrespectful, unlike other rock autobiographers. He also writes about his passionate but short-lived relationship with famed tattoo artist Kat Von D, who clearly holds a permanent death clutch on Sixx’s heart. Perhaps most impressively, Sixx reveals a profound sense of self-knowledge and self-critique that is rare among humans in general, much less hugely successful rock stars. He is well aware of his mistakes and shortcomings, and he wants to live each to the day to the fullest and be the best, most creative person he can be.

Many of the photographs presented in this book would be considered disturbing by many. For myself, someone who’s always been fixated on classical beauty and symmetry in nature and art, a lot of these images can be hard to look at. That’s Sixx’s point, and it’s well taken. I will let you check out the book and see for yourself rather than try to describe them all. These coffee table-type photo/text books are very popular, but I would always like to see more in-depth stories and text rather than tons of large photo spreads. Obviously, sharing his exquisite photography is his primary purpose for the book, so these criticisms are minor.

Nikki Sixx hopes this work will inspire someone to create something beautiful of their own, to make a positive difference in the world. After reading this, I was determined to review it, so I suppose he’s already succeeded in some small way. This is Gonna Hurt does not hurt nearly as bad as the title implies, and it’s a fantastic and joyful read on any lazy afternoon or evening. Like Motley Crue once sang, “Take me to the top, and throw me off,” just to get up and try all over again. Thank you for the inspiration, Mr. Sixx.–Jonathan Kollnot

 
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