For us, this was the best day at Rock n’ Skull 2015, and definitely one of the top festival days of all time! A fantastic roster of bands, many of which we had been severely looking forward to, capping off with the headliner of Hardline. Our day began very similar to the previous ones here in Pekin Illinois, a little like watching the Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day even.
The essential day starter of Andy’s Diner was the first order of business once the vying for some semblance of wi-fi signal, huddled in the corner of the hotel room close to the door for reception got tiresome. From there it was back to the hotel to kill a few hours (which did see one of us climbing back into bed for a nap!) and lunch at the hotel bar McCritters (that name still kills me) until it was time to head over to the venue for the mid-afternoon start. This was the first day that we made it here on time and didn’t miss any of the bands.
Thank God we did as otherwise we may never have discovered Chrome Mollie. These straight-ahead rockers from Flint/Detroit Michigan presented an engaging and energetic set as we made ourselves comfortable right against the stage in a bid to maintain our now front row positions all day long. Check out a little more of Chrome Mollie with The Meister‘s Rock n’ Skull Spotlight: Chrome Mollie – All or Nuthin’
Bombay Black was the next victim, one fairly highly anticipated by Brian and Meister being familiar with the tunes. Bombay Black originated in 2003 hailing from Conway, Arkansas and have six full-length albums to their credit. 2014 saw Walk of Shame arrive as the sixth addition and it found it’s way into the rotation on our 12-hour trek to Rock n’ Skull thanks to Brian. Taking stage these guys, who incorporate a little of your rock heroes into their sound while still maintaining their own identity began with a double shot off of 2008’s Psycho Magnet, “Best Laid Plans” and “The Last Time”. Walk of Shame supplied “Everything You Wanted” before going to 2012’s Bullets & Booze for “Love Like This” and “Helluva Time”. Meister‘s favorite Bombay Black release, 2010’s Love You to Death was the platform for “Mojo” and “Demons Down”, but unfortunately “Smother” was overlooked. Oh well, they can’t play everyone’s favorite song! Bombay Black shut down their stage time with “Stand Up” a Steel Dragon cover from the Rock Star movie soundtrack. A stack of Bombay Black CD’s were to be making their way home with us thanks to Shawn‘s purchases after this awesome set.
Coldspell appeared next on the roster, but in an unfortunate border incident, the Swedish band was denied entry to the U.S.A., something only discovered a day or so prior to the festival! In a seemingly impossible feat, Rock n’ Skull promoter Justin Murr scrambled to secure a replacement. He succeeded rather quickly with Baton Rouge committing to the bill. After a 12-hour drive (we certainly know what that’s all about!) Baton Rouge hit the stage in an eclectic set. Bearing in mind that this was thrown together on extremely short notice, the mild debacle that preceded a few songs in the performance was 100% excusable. Baton Rouge frontman Kelly Keeling had brought with him original drummer and “The Wolf Brothers” as he often referred to the bassist, guitarist, and keyboardist. Once the songs got rolling the playing was top notch and sounded amazing led by Keeling‘s distinctive vocal prowess, but there was some confusion, uncertainty, and general discussion before several tunes. A couple of times we could hear phrases like “Let’s see what we got.” or “I’ll try, but I don’t really know it” etc. Considering The Wolf Brothers had learned the songs in the van during the drive, they were fantastic!
Kivel Records artist Tango Down took over the “not that high off the ground” stage next. With Tango Down‘s 2012 Identity Crisis CD, a high one on Meister‘s preference list, and their 2014 Charming Devil CD accompanying us during our driving adventure to get here thanks to Brian, all three of us were anxious for this one. The vocalist for those two discs had been David Reece, but with him moving on to front the German band Bonfire, who were initially one of the early roster dropouts for Rock n’ Skull 2015, Tango Down brought with them a new frontman. Wondering how this would go over as fans of Reece, we were instantly pleased to find out that Chas West would be leading the pack. You should know Chas from Bonham or Lynch Mob and he has a great set of pipes. Tango Down began with “Punching Bag” in a set that was loaded with backing vocal harmonies as bassist Axel Gessner and guitarist Scott Miller supported West. The Tango Down set didn’t include as much from Identity Crisis as I would have like, being nearly crushed upon looking at the setlist and seeing that “Crying to Me” was absent. But in the end it was OK as they took me out of my Identity Crisis comfort zone and got me hooked on more of their catalog. Tango Down are also set to issue a new album, Bulletproof, in early 2016. The setlist looked like this: “Punching Bag”, “Give Me a Reason”, “Bulletproof”, “Corners of My Mind”, “Carry On”, “I’m Done Loving You”, “Charming Devil”, “Change My World”, “Hearts Catch Fire”, with Lynch Mob’s “Wicked Sensation” to wrap up.
When Veronica Freeman became added to the bill I was not excited. I was not anything, aside from unfamiliar. A day or two before our journey I put Rock n’ Skull bands onto my MP3 player to “prep” for the event. During this, it dawned on me that Veronica Freeman went by The V and that I’d received a digital copy of her debut solo (also a member of Benedictum that I am also not really familiar with) album, Now or Never. I had dismissed the album without ever even listening to it, due to time constraints. If it hadn’t got lost in the shuffle I would have checked it out since I have a penchant for discovering new bands. I loaded it onto the MP3 still never having listened. On a walk to work the next day, MP3 on random play, the riffs of a song reached out and almost literally grabbed me! Looking at the MP3 window, I saw the song was “Roller Coaster” by The V. Right after work I spun the full album, what an idiot I had been to overlook this release! Veronica Freeman opened her set with a Benedictum track to stunned looks, more from the male crowd, as she drew everyone’s attention. Extremely tall and extremely busty, her throaty growl was well delivered throughout this set. Her eclectic looking band (very tall dreadlocked white bassman, a rather young looking drummer, a cool hip looking guitarist and wheelchair seated guitarist) blazed the trail for her gravelly vocals. Now or Never is still in rotation and this awesome set only served to drive my idiocy home harder. The V also made a good point saying that watching a YouTube video is not supporting a band…buy merch!
Speaking of buying merch, after Veronica’s set Brian and Meister relented and vacated the stage front spots abandoning Shawn with only his bottle of water and granola bars to sustain him. They ran across a Canadian friend near the merch tables who was absolutely overloaded with bags of merch from CD’s to t-shirts and more! Now that’s band support, great job! “This is the best day!” she cried, “Every band just keeps getting better!”
Pretty Boy Floyd was next up and Brian and Meister wandered back to stage front. Not regaining the exact spots, but a couple of people back was good enough, not being huge Pretty Boy Floyd fans. “Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz” got us going in what one may think as a strange opener as surely that’s their biggest song. Their salute to Motley Crue followed with the cover of “Toast of the Town”. The toes were tapping, the heads were bobbing, gotta stop saying things like “I’m not really a fan dammit,” this was sounding great! Pretty Boy Floyd led by vocalist Stevie Summers delivered an engaging set loaded with what one may say were Faster Pussycat similarities. Summers at one point for some reason passed a full, freshly uncapped beer to Shawn Irwin, who still maintained his vigil upfront. Too bad he’s a non-drinker and so forwarded the benefit onto a young lady next to him. Summers also wasted his fair share of beer as at various points throughout he would shake up bottles of Bud Light and spray his face with the barley liquid. If ya don’t wanna drink it, pass it to Meister, I never turn down a frosty beverage! The setlist also included “Good Girl Gone Bad”, “Your Mama Won’t Know”, “Wild Angels” (which had basically everyone singing along and also included Summers resting the mike on Irwin‘s shiny bald cranium for a few moments), “48 Hours” (another complete sing-along track), “Saturday Night”, “Rock and Roll Outlaws”, “I Wanna Be With You” and “Rock and Roll (Is Gonna Set the Night On Fire)” to wrap things up. Hey, ole Meister knew way more Pretty Boy Floyd than he thought, singing along to many tracks, best buy some CD’s now!
Heading away from the stage once again after Pretty Boy Floyd and outside to the food truck, a guy at the bar as Brian and Meister passed by pointed right at Meister‘s Rock n’ Skull (Johnny Gioeli autographed even) Hardline shirt. “Nice shirt”, he stated as we breezed by. A quick “about face” less than a second later as Meister recognized the guy as Josh Ramos, guitarist of Hardline, resulted in a quick photo with Josh and his brother before it was back to the food plan.
BulletBoys drew a good crowd for their show, including peers Baton Rouge’s Kelly Keeling, Tango Down’s Chas West, and Talon’s Phil Keller among others, I’m sure. Shawn was still miraculously maintaining his vigil up front, (doesn’t that guy ever have to pee?) while Brian and Meister were not too far behind. The BulletBoys, led by only remaining original member Marq Torien issued a stellar new album, Elefante in 2015 and, fortunately, we were treated to two tracks off this recording tonight. “Rollover” and “Symphony” held their position quite well nestled in the middle of the classic BulletBoys tunes of “Born to Breed”, “Hard as a Rock”, “Hell on My Heels”, “THC Groove”, “For the Love of Money” and “Smooth Up in Ya”. The closer and arguably best song of “Smooth Up in Ya” was highlighted with the addition of Steve Summers on stage to help bring the set home. When BulletBoys were last in Toronto with The Armed Alliance Tour featuring (BulletBoys, Gunzo and Killer Bee) it was Priya Panda of Toronto’s Diemonds that jumped on stage to lend her vocal assistance on “Smooth Up in Ya”. Really the only thing missing from this, and any BulletBoys set I’ve seen in recent years is “Hang on St. Christopher” from the second album, Freakshow. Another excellent performance in a day of rock that just keeps ramping up the energy as we move forward!
It was time now for the final act of Rock n’ Skull Festival 2015 with Hardline. The Meister had seen Hardline before a couple of years ago during one of his Sweden Rock Festival excursions, even wearing the special edition Sweden Rock Hardline t-shirt yesterday, and they were fantastic then, but this was off the hook. This was a new experience for both Brian and Shawn, longtime fans. Unfortunately, two band members (bassist Anna Portalupi and keyboardist Alessandro Del Vecchio) were denied entry to the US, something to do with already working over here too much this year was what the rumor mill supplied as a reason. But the show must go on and Hardline obtained a couple of stand-in players, who were excellent! Who would ever have known, they were all so very good! Vocalist Johnny Gioeli and only remaining original member let us know after the opening song of “Danger Zone” that tonight was special. Each Hardline song is personal to him and so he wanted to give us a little history/insight into each one in this laid back setting. Laid back my ass Johnny, you guys were doing some heavy ass-kicking! The crowd and all of us were rocking hard, sweat pouring off band members and veins bulging out of Johnny‘s neck as he gave it all to his distinctive vocals. Johnny also made a point to shout out to a group of folks, longtime Hardline fans, that come from even further than we did for this event. He also took the time to introduce the crowd to a blind gentleman who was right down in front on the opposite side to us, feeling the music! “Takin’ Me Down”, “Dr. Love”, “Everything”, “In This Moment”, “Face the Night”, “Voices”, “In the Hands of Time”, “Bad Taste”, and of course “Hot Cherie” (Shawn‘s favorite, being his wife’s name and all) were all on the list following “Danger Zone”. Hardline were able to fit in a two-punch encore of “Rhythm from a Red Car” and “Love Leads the Way” to finalize their reign over Rock n’ Skull 2015!
With such an overwhelming end to an awesome weekend of rock and great friends, new and old, it is with heavy hearts that we rise early on Monday, October 19 and begin the arduous 12-hour journey back to our Canadian stomping grounds of the Toronto area. About two hours into the journey we randomly ran into the guys from Chrome Mollie at a rest stop along the highway just inside the Michigan border! As the journey continued a heavy silence perpetrated the musical selections, the elephant in the car perhaps. It passed between us without anyone really having to say the actual words, everyone thinking the same thing. But once it was voiced out into the open, the excitement for returning next year was absolutely immeasurable! Rock n’ Skull 2016 is to move locations from Pekin, Illinois to a larger venue in Joliet, near Chicago and with our tickets (including pre-party) already purchased, three Canadian Decibel Geeks will without a doubt be back! Who’s coming with us?
A photo gallery of Day #3’s highlights, as well as a live Rock n’ Skull video playlist, appear below.
Brian Ronald / Shawn “Animalize” Irwin / Rich “The Meister” Dillon
Decibel Geek’s Full Rock n’ Skull Festival Coverage: