IT’S THE REAL THING FOLKS!
There is nothing better than seeing the real thing. Imitations — from cover bands to departed band members using their former band’s name — are nice but they never make up for the real deal. As L.A. Guns frontman Phil Lewis pointed out to the crowd at the Rockpile East in Toronto, you are seeing the real thing!
About two years ago, guitarist Tracii Guns finally put to rest his ever changing rendition of L.A. Guns. Although it was fun seeing Guns‘ version play a couple of years ago (click here to read that review), that band did not hold a candle to the real thing — which is the Phil Lewis and Steve Riley led version. Accordingly, I was really looking forward to seeing the ‘real’ L.A. Guns play once again, and this time an expanded set from what I had heard from the sleaze rock pioneers about two months before at the M3 Rock Festival (click here to read that review).
I was also really looking forward to seeing Reverse Grip, whom I had recently interviewed (read the interview here), and who ironically had opened for Tracii Guns‘ L.A. Guns in Toronto more than two and a half years ago. The truth is that I give a lot of credit to Reverse Grip, because it was when I saw them play during that show that I realized Toronto had at least one excellent new young rock band that could carry the sleaze rock torch. In the next two years, I would go on to realize Toronto is a hotbed of amazing and talented rock/metal bands, the list of which is now too long to outline.
By the time that fellow Sleaze Roxx writer Mark Horvath, his girlfriend Christine and I made our way to the Rockpile East, we caught the last song from an opening act called Skull Kandi. Since the band’s last song was a cover of Ratt‘s “Round And Round”, and with no visible CDs (but some cool looking t-shirts) to purchase at their merchandise table, I could not tell whether the band simply played covers or actually had some original songs. In any case, they played a good rendition of “Round And Round”.
Next up was Reverse Grip, who despite the limited stage area, ended up displaying more of a stage decor than the headliner L.A. Guns — in fact, just about every band did. After what seemed like a short intro, the band launched into what was presumably a new song called “Freak Parade”. Out of all of the groups emanating from Toronto these days, Reverse Grip — along with Diemonds — truly epitomize sleaze rock at its finest. Surprisingly, their second song of the night was a cover of KISS‘ “Love Gun”. I chalk that one up to the band deciding on the spur of the moment to throw in a cover to get the audience going, as frontman Dru Broda had described that they sometimes did that to get the crowd going during his recent interview with Sleaze Roxx. Whatever the case, I think the cover worked well and the band’s energy filled movements brought some excitement and urgency to their set.
The last time I had seen guitarist Sean Broda, two and a half years ago, he had long flowing blond hair and a little bit of beard stubble — this time around he was almost unrecognizable. If I did not know better, I would have thought I was seeing a young Grizzly Adams, albeit with better hair and a shorter beard. Nevertheless, Sean Broda was still playing the same catchy guitar licks that are a staple of the Reverse Grip sound. The one guy that did not look familiar at all was the drummer. At first I thought they had got a replacement for older brother and drummer Dylan Broda for the night, but later on Dru announced that this was the first gig and “initiation” of their new member Kris Lamb. I was surprised that this was not revealed during their recent interview with Sleaze Roxx, but Dru did eventually explain to me (with a bit of prodding on my part after the show) that they couldn’t reveal that information at the time and that Dylan had recently moved to Finland. In any case, I will now perhaps have to make sure to include some sort of general open-ended question along the lines of “Any new developments with the band?” for any future interviews that I do — but that is an issue for another day.
It was nice to see the Reverse Grip guys, and in particular Dru and bassist Kramer White, move around on stage rather than stay in one position. The frontman was particularly adept at covering as much stage as possible while providing some rock star poses along the way. My favorite tracks played by Reverse Grip on this night were “The Fire”, “Sold My Soul” and the show closer and sped-up version of the catchy “Nasty Reputation”. The one thing that did not seem to work that well was when Dru would talk through a speaker phone into his microphone — I can’t remember which band has done that in the past but I have never liked it. Reverse Grip ended their set on a bang with Dru Broda climbing on the drum kit before jumping down at the end of “Nasty Reputation”. Overall, they put on an excellent energy filled performance shock full of sleaze rock — just the way I like it!
The next band that was scheduled to perform is one that I narrowly missed two times in the last month and a half. The first time will not be mentioned in any detail, as I am a tad embarrassed about what transpired. The second was because I showed up too late for their set when they were one of the opening bands for Stryper. It seems that in the last few months, Second Pass have been opening for just about every band coming to the Toronto area. Frankly, the only reason that I was going to listen to them on this night was because they were playing in between Reverse Grip and L.A. Guns. I even missed the beginning notes of their opening song, which I later learned was called “My Life”. However, when lead singer Veronica McNamee started singing, I was simply blown away. Within one minute of hearing her voice, the consensus between Horvath, his girlfriend Christine and I was that she had an amazing voice. I spent the rest of Second Pass‘ set mesmerized by not only how good McNamee sounded, but also how good that the rest of the band played when delivering their Led Zeppelin influenced old school, but cleaner, ’70s sound.
While McNamee looked the part with huge tattoos on both arms, the rest of the band did not. Both bassist Andrew Buntain and guitarist Steve Pass simply wore ball caps, jeans and dark shirts. They may not have had the rock and roll look like Reverse Grip before them, but Second Pass certainly delivered some amazing hard rock grooves highlighted by one amazing voice. At one point McNamee, who I later learned hails from Bolivia, announced that she was going to sing in Spanish. Normally, that would be my time to “tune out”, but her voice was so good that I enjoyed “Payaso Pintado”. Second Pass was so entertaining that I rushed to their merchandise table after the set to pick up their CD just in case that they might sell them out after such a performance. It turned out that there was no real need to rush, and I even had to wait a little bit as no one was manning their merchandise table. In any case, Second Pass was definitely the surprise of the night — in a great way!
Around 11:30 pm L.A. Guns finally made their way to the stage. By that time, the crowd around the stage had thickened and I had to stand a little bit to the side to get closer to the band. L.A. Guns had a no frills looking setup, with no banner of any sort and simply Riley‘s drum set with some amps on each side. Both the opening bands had more of a stage show than the sleaze rock veterans! However it did not matter, as L.A. Guns delivered an excellent set with a lot of old-school songs. The band launched from one classic to the other — starting strong with “No Mercy”, “Sex Action” and “Never Enough” — before Lewis even stopped to address the crowd.
Lewis was pretty funny when he did finally acknowledge the crowd. He emphasized a couple of times that everyone was seeing “the real thing” and was visibly joyful that the other version of L.A. Guns had disbanded. He compared the “real” and “fake” renditions of L.A. Guns to a woman having a real Coach purse compared to some knock off from China. Another time, the frontman pointed out that the band had played their two biggest hits right off the bat, so it was “all killer and no filler”. Around the latter stages of the night, Lewis announced that the band would be playing a Black Sabbath cover but it would not be something like “Paranoid” or “Iron Man”. I was secretly hoping to hear “Fairies Wear Boots” and that is exactly what L.A. Guns ended up playing!
Guitarist Michael Grant had already been quite impressive up to that point but he simply dominated with his performance and all around cool looks during the Black Sabbath song — what a great guitarist! Unlike many of his contemporaries, Grant hardly looked at his guitar strings while playing. This simply results in a better live performance as he is able to look out into, and interact with, the audience while playing. One easy comparison is when you hear someone public speaking — it is always boring to have someone reading from their notes, it is much more captivating when that person has memorized at least part of their speech and is making eye contact with the audience. I have always preferred having a musician make a few mistakes while playing if they are making good eye contact with the crowd, rather than have an axe slinger play perfectly with his eyes glued to an instrument. Horvath even thought that Grant stole the show — while I would not go that far, he was definitely very impressive.
After L.A. Guns‘ stunning cover of “Fairies Wear Boots”, Lewis was back to his funny self paying homage not only to the Hells Angels motorcycle riders but also to people riding mopeds before the band launched into my favorite L.A. Guns tune of all time — “Electric Gypsy”. After they ended their set with the obligatory “The Ballad Of Jayne” and “Rip And Tear”, the band surprisingly came back to play a few extra songs. Lewis explained that they usually didn’t do this and to bear with them as there might be a few mistakes while they continued playing. The crowd was treated to “Vampire”, from ‘Tales From The Strip’, and I believe “Don’t Look At Me That Way”, from ‘Waking The Dead’. At the end of the show Lewis promised that L.A. Guns would not take so long before returning to Toronto again, and that is simply great news as I can’t wait to see the sleaze rock veterans once again. As Lewis rightfully pointed out, there is nothing better than the “real thing”!
Later on in the early morning hours, Grant was apparently arrested for drug possession while trying to cross the border from Canada back to the USA. The only time that Grant had spoken to the crowd during the show, he thanked someone in the audience for supplying him with what sounded like drugs. I am not sure whether that had anything to do with his subsequent arrest, but a little more caution on Grant‘s part about what he says to the audience might be a good idea in the future.
01. Freak Parade
02. Love Gun (KISS cover)
03. Tease Me
04. The Fire
05. Dancing On A Bullet
06. Quick & Dirty
07. Sold My Soul
08. Nasty Reputation
Second Pass setlist:
01. My Life
02. Last Man
04. I Have A Name
05. Outcome Or Will
06. Payaso Pintado
07. Biting My Tongue
L.A. Guns setlist:
01. No Mercy
02. Sex Action
03. Never Enough
04. I Wanna Be Your Man
05. You Better Not Love Me
06. Over The Edge
08. Kiss My Love Goodbye
09. Eel Pie
10. One More Reason
11. Fairies Wear Boots (Black Sabbath cover)
12. Electric Gypsy
13. The Ballad Of Jayne
14. Rip And Tear
16. Don’t Look At Me That Way