The journey was a little rough as we departed Shawn “Animalize” Irwin‘s house in Oshawa Ontario at 2am. Roaddog The Meister probably had the worst of it. He was at the Tracii Guns show at the Rockpile Toronto on Tuesday night. Then proceeded to go basically straight to work for a 16hr day to turn around and go right back to meet Irwin. All by public transit, I might add. First, Shawn and Meister collected Olivier, our good buddy from competing website Sleazeroxx in Etobicoke Ontario. After that, it was off to Brantford to add photographer extraordinaire Brian Ronald into the mix.
On the Way
Irwin handled the 11 plus hour drive (including the extra time as we got off track missing an exit. Cue Alice Cooper‘s “Lost in America”). And surprisingly the noxious gas was not present during the trip this year. I guess he was embarrassed with Olivier in the car. So maybe Brian and I should count our blessings that Olivier is with us. Not surprisingly, Meister slept for a good portion of the journey. Awaking every three hours only to be told that we had one hour to go according to GPS.
Arriving at the hotel well before the check in time we were fortunate that the room was prepared already. Thanks, Quality Inn! A quick refresher in the hotel and we were off on the search for food. Boston Market, a place we had never heard of, provided some well-needed sustenance. Back to the hotel after some supply purchases and a bank run, we cracked a beer and awaited Decibel Geek YouTube guru Rockin’ Ron Runyon to deliver the Swede. Ron was living at a different hotel, nearby, but it was his job to secure “the package” from the airport. “The Package” I’m referring to is Swedish Decibel Geek Mikael “The Lionsheart” on his first ever trip to North America. Unfortunately, what sparked him into coming was one of his favorite bands Gypsy Rose who were a roster casualty.
Heading over to the Tree of Joliet venue in downtown Joliet, Illinois and trying to find parking was an adventure in which we got separated from the second car. The lineup to enter The Tree was not overly long but also did not move with any great speed. I.D. checks at the door made it a little slower.
Last year’s Rock n’ Skull took place in Pekin, Illinois, and a different venue. I have to say right off, that venue was far superior layout wise to The Tree. Entering the door quickly spilled patrons into a convoluted area with little floor space and a couple of merch tables. Once clearing that small area, things opened up a bit but this is a much smaller venue than last year overall. Oh, look Rock n’ Skull tees….we require one of those…..and CD’s too, well let’s take a look. A stop by the Kivel Records booth netted CD purchases, Tango Down Bulletproof of course. But there are some other notables on Kivel Records like LaValle‘s Dear Sanity (Decibel Geek album review), and Livesay‘s Frozen Hell.
The layout at The Tree sees about three rows of seating at the front of the stage for VIP. Olivier, only attending one festival per year unlike the rest of us, has a higher budget for Rock n’ Skull and so has one of those VIP seat tickets. Thankfully the actual stage is quite high off the floor so sightlines are still wide open even for a short ass like me at the back of the room by the bar. Beers flow, prices are actually reasonable even, as compared to other shows back home.
Drivin’ Rain launched off the Rock n’ Skull pre-party fantastically. Not knowing them previously, they sounded good and I’d like to hear more or buy a CD but didn’t see one for sale. Unfortunately, however, I did not give Drivin’ Rain the attention they were due. Being the first band on stage is always a tough gig and I fell prey to the trap right here. With all the excitement of the show underway and folks and friends arriving from around the world, it was hard to pay attention to Drivin’ Rain. Which is a real shame.
I found a couple used CD’s that I’ve been searching for myself for awhile! Drivin’ Rain continued to provide the soundtrack with some heavy thumpers. I was able to catch a little more of their set towards the end. “Radio”, “Wild Woman” and the GnR cover “You Could be Mine” all stood out.
It seemed that we had basically marked our territory at the back by the sound booth. Actually, a great spot that provided sightlines as aforementioned and a ledge for drink holding with the bar directly behind us. Ron had his video camera working as he captured live performance videos soon to appear on the Decibel Geek Youtube channel. Brian and Shawn of course in their absolute glory running around with cameras shoved tight to their faces. Promoter Justin Murr, fantastic as he has been time and time again with his patrons and customers at Rock n Skull, granted our Decibel Geek boys full access to go anywhere they wish to shoot photos. He took care of it professionally and quickly, making sure to introduce the guys to stage managers and security personnel. Thanks Justin for supporting Decibel Geek!
Keith St. John was up next after some rather quick set adjustments. Unfortunately, this time it was not the crowd that took my attention away but it still wandered due to my distaste for acoustic sets. St. John from Burning Rain/Montrose occupied one stool while another gentleman sat next to him. The talent was clearly there, but acoustic just can’t hold my attention. And let’s not forget I’m beyond tired…the Roaddog Meister is gettin’ old folks!
The stage lighting seemed a little dark and the photo gurus were complaining about the spotlights not being on. Turns out there were some technical issues preventing their operation. Thankfully partway through Keith St. John the situation was rectified…let there be light!
Karaoke Johnny was next on the bill. Karaoke what you might ask. Well, Johnny Gioeli, frontman for Hardline and Axel Rudi Pell among other projects was up for an acoustic set. He brought nothing on stage except his i-Phone. Hence Karaoke Johnny.
It seemed a bit weird, especially at first, as Johnny cued up songs on the phone and sang along to them. Let me tell you, he sold it all the way! His voice and charisma on stage is literally all you need. I was fortunate enough to see Hardline at Sweden Rock a couple of years back and also again at Rock n’ Skull last year, but for those seeing Gioeli for the first time were absolutely enthralled.
He was also quite funny with his phone as he quipped on how it was better than a band as it never complains, it doesn’t require a hotel and doesn’t try to get all the pussy at the end of the show either. The show encompassed Hardline tunes as well as Axel Rudi Pell and even a Crush 40 track. For the Crush 40 selection, “Sonic Heroes”, Gioeli invited two fans wearing Crush 40 shirts up on stage to help him. Gioeli even threw in a Queen cover, although as he said he “would never try to compete with Freddie“.
To close was, of course, his best-known track, Hardline‘s “Hot Cherie”. For this one he engaged in some further audience fun, calling up about 5 or 6 fans to sing with him. While it was super fun (I’ve been in that situation before, so I know) I felt that they did more singing than he did almost. I want hear Karaoke Johnny, not other karaoke singers, but it was fun and closed on a high note.
Time to refuel! Food, I mean, not beer! Shawn, Mikael and I ventured out of The Tree in search of food. Inside the venue, they offer only nachos (well chips and melted plastic-like cheese) and hot dogs. Not good hot dogs mind you, just a small boiled wiener in a tiny generic bun for a four dollar price tag. We spotted quickly the Italian restaurant/sports bar across the road, Juliet. But we continued searching for something with a perhaps lower price tag and faster turnaround so we could get back in quickly although none of us 3 were high on Enuff z’ Nuff.
Another bar down the mostly deserted streets (this town, Joliet, seemed extremely sleepy even in this downtown core and basically desolate, wouldn’t be surprising to see tumble weeds pass us). We entered and I immediately choked on the air quality in this place. It smelled like urine. A lot of stale urine. Kinda like breathing through mustard. And incredibly Shawn continued in asking the bartender if they sold food as Mikael and I turned blue from lack of breath….what was he thinking? I can’t breathe in this dump never mind eat…if the food is even safe! Back to Juliet. Juliet of Joliet.
A little expensive but fantastically good burgers in a comfortable setting did the trick. We ran into Johnny Lima quickly, thanking him for his Rock n’ Skull acoustic gig last year. He told us to “just wait for this one!” It’s electric, so I’m 100% down for that!
With Enuff z’ Nuff on stage as we returned, it was back to our chosen stomping grounds by the sound booth. We had a great chat with promoter Justin Murr as he enlightened us on some of the ins and outs of promoting this kind of event and the bad press of the Farm Rock debacle. As I’ve said before, I much prefer a smaller show such as this, it’s just more intimate and I wholeheartedly support Justin and those like him. Hopefully, the whole Farm Rock debacle doesn’t damage these types of shows/promoters too much as they try to keep the music alive just as we at Decibel Geek do. Thanks again to Justin for taking quite some time to chat with us.
Justin was extremely personable, open and humble during the chat and he even took a special note to apologize sincerely to Mikael after hearing of his travel all the way from Sweden for the early casualty of Gypsy Rose. Justin also made a point to mention to Ron how he was looking forward to the live videos hitting the Decibel Geek Youtube channel….this guy follows and supports all Decibel Geek ventures apparently…..he needs a DBG shirt – done!
Next and final act of the Rock n’ Skull pre-party was Tracii Guns/Phil Lewis. What a historic moment to see these two L.A. Guns members of the classic lineup on stage together. Having seen the Lewis fronted incarnation of L.A. Guns several times through Monsters of Rock (just a few weeks earlier in fact) and Sweden Rock and such, I was thrilled to see Tracii Guns version in Toronto just on Tuesday past. And now a melding of both versions.
Tracii Guns / Phil Lewis
Not surprisingly Steve Riley was absent for tonight, so now we have three versions of L.A. Guns rolling around, I guess. There was not a lot of stage chatter, they just smashed through the best of L.A. Guns early material starting off with “No Mercy”. In quick succession flew “Sex Action” , “Never Enough” and “Electric Gypsy”.
“Over the Edge” led us through to a three-pack of rare tracks, two from the first album. On stage with Guns and Lewis we saw Michael Grant, guitarist from the Lewis L.A. Guns incarnation. Drumming was someone unfamiliar by name of Shane and bass was held down by Johnny from Pretty Boy Floyd. Grant sat out for this three-pack of “Hollywood Tease”, “Bitch is Back” and the Montrose classic “Rock Candy”, hiding behind the stack smoking. I found it a little humorous that “Rock Candy” was played earlier by Keith St. John and jokes ensued of requesting each and every band to play it. Perhaps unbeknownst to us, there’s a band competition of who plays “Rock Candy” the best!
The whole audience was in top singing form right in line with Lewis for “The Ballad of Jayne”. Another singer joined the stage for the final song, “Rip and Tear”. That singer was Michael O’Mara from the awesome band Talon who is currently fronting Tracii Guns‘ band which is the reason that Talon could not play here this weekend. O’Mara did a fantastic job in Toronto on these classic tunes, but here the mike was perhaps too low and he was hard to hear at first. Nonetheless, it was a great set, albeit too short at 45 minutes. I assume there was just not enough time to rehearse more material, also probably the reason Grant sat out the three-pack perhaps.
Looking Ahead to Day 1
Great night one at Rock n’ Skull 2016 and a crystal ball vision into what’s coming up as the festival opens full swing starting Friday. I personally can’t wait for tomorrow leading off with American Bombshell, House of Shakira, and Ammunition. After a start like that, you could almost go home…but that would be stupid as it just gets better from there.