Any Toronto area rock fan can relate to a post from The Rockpile’s Steve Hoeg on Facebook when he says “Anyone ready for a show announcement?” It gets our adrenaline pumping in anticipation and excitement. However this day, never in a million years did I expect that announcement to be RIOT. Holy Shit! I immediately asked fellow Decibel Geek staffer Rich “The Meister” Dillon if I could do the show including the write-up. Not normally a writer I said I owe it to these guys. They were and still are a big part of my life. They were at every party, in every car stereo and every roller rink. They are part of who I am today. In fact, they played a major role in making me the fanatical musical nutcase that I am.
Let’s rewind for a minute back to 1978. I used to visit my local Sam the Record Man – in most cases just to browse. Remember this was smack dab in the middle of the disco invasion so finding any album rock related was rare. Most current rock bands were doing their own “dance” stuff – Rod Stewart, KISS, Aerosmith just to name a few. Anyways, I had a couple albums on my radar for a while until I had enough money. With cash in hand, I raced and bought both RIOT – Rock City and Van Halen – 1. I had heard nothing from either – this was based solely on the fact that they both had great covers and looked like they may have rock potential. I still look back to that day and think that at that moment in time they were both on equal ground. Well, we all know how that story unfolded. And to be honest I still give the (slight) edge to Rock City!
Bad record deals, poor management, and turnover played a big part in their lack of success despite huge underground rumblings of them being that next big thing, Hell; they even played the inaugural Castle Donnington – Monsters of Rock festival. Another one of their roadblocks to success was the success of Quiet Riot. It was bittersweet for me at the time because I was such a huge, huge Slade fan growing up. When QR released “Cum on Feel the Noize” and “Mama Weer All Crazee Now” I was ecstatic. However, I knew even at the time that people would confuse the two with RIOT getting swept under the rug. Comments like “You mean Quiet Riot?” “NO, I mean RIOT goddammit!!!” I took it personally! QR’s success was yet another nail in the coffin for RIOT.
Nowadays it’s classic rock folklore how underrated RIOT was. What were we thinking, what went wrong? Why were these guys not rock heroes? Why did they not get played on the radio? After all the voice of Guy Speranza was enough to seal that deal. To this day he is still one the greatest voices ever. And Mark Reale, wow what an amazing talent. He was a terrific writer and incredible guitar wizard. Not to mention his years of dedication on keeping the RIOT machine rolling through thick and thin.
For anyone wishing to catch up on RIOT’s catalog or for that matter, any iconic classic rock, start with what I call the big three. Rock City, Narita, and Fire Down Under are ground zero. The desert island would not be so bad with those three on it.
I did manage to see RIOT live in 1982 on their Restless Breed tour when they stopped at Toronto’s legendary El Mocambo bar. Rhett Forrester was now the lead singer. It wasn’t Guy and the boys but it was still RIOT. I never thought it would be the last time I’d see them live until tonight!
34 years later here I am at The Rockpile pumped with excitement to once again let RIOT put it into “overdrive”. After two sizzling opening sets by local rockers Chemical Burn and Sinburn, it was time for the main act. The stage was decorated with a huge RIOT V banner at the back and two huge poster boards on each side with the RIOT seal bent on action. But the real trophy was Mark Reale’s guitar case that was placed at the base of the drum kit center stage. Was his presence among us?
After a small soundtrack of “Narita”, RIOT blasted onto the stage with “Flight of the Warrior”, “Ride Hard Live Free” and “Fight or Fall” before hitting high stride with the iconic “Alter of the King” from 1981’s Fire Down Under! Now we are talking. Immediately I was blown away by guitarist Mike Flyntz. A member since 1989, his playing was clean and crisp and couldn’t help but think “Man, Mark (Reale) would be real proud about now hearing this”. A true master of the guitar was standing in front of me.
“Johnny’s Back”, “Fire Down Under”, “Hard Lovin’ Man”, “Metal Warrior” and “Sign of the Crimson Storm” were next in the assault to the ears. The pounding drums of birthday boy Frank Gilchriest along with Don Van Stavern (adorned the infamous Fire Down Under shirt) kept the rhythm section flowing. Van Stavern retains the longest tenure in the band going back to the Thundersteel album. It was then time for another classic in “Outlaw”. The surprisingly large crowd for a Sunday night was into it now – singing out loud and head banging with fists in the air. Next up was “Black Leather and Glittering Steel”, “Angel Eyes” and “Bloodstreets” before doing my fave off the latest CD “Take Me Back”.
Guitarist Lance Joseph Barnewold showed us he wasn’t to be outdone and showed off a few blistering solos of his own. I had the set list on the stage in front of me so I knew the final 4 songs would build to a fantastic finish!! Brace yourself!!
Animated vocalist Todd Michael Hall (RIOT‘s 5th vocalist of all time – hence the name RIOT V), was on top of his game as “Road Racin’” and “Warrior” were near perfection! Instead of leaving the stage for the traditional encore, they just plowed into “Swords and Tequila”! A crowd favorite as everyone went crazy! Equally insane was the fantastic finale of “Thundersteel”! Wow! I knew tonight was going to be special but what a treat it was. In fact, my head (and ears) are still abuzz as I write this. Were there more songs I wish they sang? Of course but I’ll take the 18 songs that they did sing and run!
I hope this happens again – real soon!!
I always wondered what the significance of the baby seal that graced every album cover was. When I reflect back maybe it was its delicate vulnerability just like the band itself had over the years.
In today’s world of classic rock bands still touring, there are always the comments and questions about their credibility. How many originals?
Shine on; shine on, in all of your glory.
Shield all your fears, release all your fury.
Shine; shine on, through the darkness and the pain.
Shine, shine on, Warrior.
Shine; shine on, through the wind and the rain.
Shine, shine on, Warrior.
Flight of the Warrior
Ride Hard Live Free
Fight or Fall
Altar of the King
Fire Down Under
Hard Lovin’ Man
Sign of the Crimson Storm
Black Leather and Glittering Steel
Take Me Back
Swords and Tequila
Wally Norton‘s review of opening band Chemical Burn: Get Off The Couch, Rock is Alive and Well!
Andy Lafon‘s review of RIOT V‘s Unleash the Fire album: Unleash the Fire is Unleashing Greatness
Mikael “The Lionsheart” Svensson‘s review of RIOT V at Sweden Rock Festival 2015: Riot Live at Sweden Rock