Tuff is another one of those very talented hair metal bands that exploded on the music scene a little late to take full advantage of the Sunset Strip and the 80´s music scene. Their major label debut album What Comes Around Goes Around in 1989 is still an album that gets regular spins at my home and is a perfect party starter. One major problem with the Tuff career is that the debut album was never followed by a sophomore effort, at least not in due time. Finally, in 1994 the second album Religious Fix saw the light of the day with a revised line up and a heavier, grittier, more 90´s sound. This album was released at the height of grunge world dominance and had no chance of major commercial success.
At Rock n’ Skull, they had the challenging task of taking the stage just after Eclipse had thrashed the place with an excellent and energetic show. No easy task indeed. Usual frontman and focal point Steve Rachelle is this time surrounded by Religious Fix drummer Jimi Lord and he turns out to be a real beast behind the drums. Lord‘s intense drumming and stage antics are one of the highlights of the gig. Of course, there is Rachelle´s brother in arms Todd “Chase” Chaisson on bass. Rounding out the lineup is newcomer Billy Morris on guitar.
I caught Tuff in Sweden at Stockholm Rock Out Festival back in 2010 so this is the second time I’ve witnessed them in a live setting. I really enjoyed the Stockholm show so anticipations are high. The band is introduced by a Swedish fan saying that in Tuff they found out that there were other great bands in the Glam/sleaze genre besides Guns n’ Roses. Well, I would say there are a couple of more than Tuff and GnR. Personally, I discovered Tuff in the mid 1990´s when there was a shortage of great new melodic hard rock being released so you were sort of forced to take another look at albums you never knew about or had passed on for some reason. Trying to locate the CD’s was not an easy task, however, in those days before the internet. I always thought of them as the twin brother of the Jani Lane fronted Warrant with the same sort of humorous lyrics and a staple of great sing-a-long hard rock anthems.
Tuff hit the stage and start with the Religous Fix track ”God Bless this Mess”. To me, a somewhat surprising opener – I would have expected “Ruck a Pit Bridge” or anything from What Comes Around Goes Around. It still works well and Stevie seems to be in a good mood. They go on with another surprising track from the debut album called ”Spit Like This”. With his backward cap and large college shirt Rachelle looks very different to the music videos of the Tuff songs of the 1980´s. Imagewise he reminds me of rapper (without the chains though). His voice seems to have stood the test of time and sounds great. Todd Chase sports a large black mohawk haircut where he stands laying out the pumping bass lines. What really impresses me is the drumming from Jimi Lord that is real intense.
Things really get off the ground when they throw themselves into “Ruck a Pit Bridge”. I involuntarily start toe-tapping and my fist is in the air. It is impossible not to shout along to the chorus and the feelgood factor is in places it should be. Unfortunately, the gig loses tempo and I start looking for the next beer when the band slows it down and turn into a jam. Stevie starts singing parts of other hair metal anthems with the band jamming in the background. A part that should have been cut from the set, if you ask me! First of all, it brought down the momentum and it certainly took stage time for another great song being played. Personally, I would have loved to hear ”Forever Yours” or why not the melodic ”So Many Seasons”.
The gig stalls a bit further during the Religious Fix cut ”In Dogs We Trust” but it is followed by the definite gig highlight ”Good Guys Wear Black”. It is a song made for live shows with its shout-along chorus line and the Rock n’ Skull audience does just that. Without any thoughts of taking care of my voice, I shout along with Stevie on this one. As a matter of contrast, we are treated with the compulsory power ballad ”I Hate Kissing You Goodbye”. A song that would have been a perfect school dance closer in my youth where you got the opportunity to grab those elusive girls. At Rock n’ Skull, I settle for turning my light on on my I-phone instead. When it finishes my thoughts go when is ”American Hairband” coming on? Well, we will have to wait another moment as Stevie and the boys belt out ”Daddy´s Money” from the Religious Fix album. It is a good mid-tempo rocker. The rather short gig ends on a high again with the compulsory ”American Hairband” where Stevie gives us the complete hair metal story in five minutes and directs a boot towards the grunge wave. With an outfit that suits this rap-ish song Stevie belts out the funny lyrics and I leave for the bar with a smile on my face.
In summary, this was not a fantastic gig but the band always delivers a high-quality show. Some of the nonsense talking and jamming could definitely have been left out. In my mind, the short setlist leans a bit heavy to the weaker Religious Fix album.
The next day when I bought a Tuff T-shirt I spoke briefly to Stevie and took the opportunity to ask him if there was a possibility of any new music from Tuff in the future. It was answered by a short ”No”. Too bad because I think this band left us a bit too early with only two albums. The other compilations of unreleased archive material are left untouched during the Rock n’ Skull gig.
PHOTO CREDIT: Shawn “Animalize” Irwin and Brian Ronald