SOLD OUT HOMECOMING FOR RED DRAGON CARTEL’S DARREN SMITH
Back when Red Dragon Cartel concert tickets went on sale for their upcoming show in Toronto on April 10th, I thought that it would be wise to immediately purchase my ticket. This was due to a number of reasons, which included that Red Dragon Cartel were playing what I thought was a relatively small venue — with a capacity of only about 350 people — and taking into account that this was guitar legend Jake E. Lee‘s first band since his Badlands days and was lead singer Darren James Smith‘s homecoming show.
I am glad that I purchased my concert ticket early on, because when I got to The Rockpile West venue at around 10 pm the parking lot seemed completely full, and for the first time ever, I had to park in one of the few remaining spots in the back of the premises. When I entered the Rockpile West it reminded me of when Stryper last played the venue because the place was jam packed with people. It was difficult to get to within three rows of the stage even when one of the opening acts was still playing, and the various bands’ merchandise was being sold from a back room — it sure seemed like this was a sold out show!
Red Dragon Cartel hit the stage with the familiar sounds of Ozzy Osbourne‘s “The Ultimate Sin” and you could feel the energy in the crowd right from the start. With Jake E. Lee‘s extensive back catalog of amazing songs to choose from, including some that have not been played live in more than 20 years, Red Dragon Cartel has tons of excellent tunes from which to offer a stellar setlist. After all, Lee‘s musical career spans two underrated Ozzy Osbourne records, ‘Bark At The Moon’ and ‘The Ultimate Sin’, his excellent covers CD ‘Retraced’, along with three records from Badlands which includes their stellar self-titled debut album — one of my favorites, and frankly, one of the best debut albums of all time. Throw in some songs from the strong debut from Red Dragon Cartel and you have the making of one dream set list! This was my first time seeing Jake E. Lee play live and the first thing that struck me was how small the man seemed. Not that this mattered in any way, as it was a real treat to see one of the guitar greats play live!
The second song played was the best song that Red Dragon Cartel has to offer from their own repertoire in my opinion — “Deceived”. The pro-Smith Toronto crowd seemed to lap everything up. This is probably the only show on Red Dragon Cartel‘s tour where the crowd was chanting Smith‘s name on numerous occasions — “Darren! Darren! Darren!” rather than guitar legend Lee‘s name — call it the home court advantage if you will. Smith introduced the crowd as his “family and friends” to the rest of the band.
You got to hand it to Darren James Smith, he has a tough act to follow in tackling songs from one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time, Ray Gillen, but that is exactly what he does night after night. Although no one can replace Gillen, Smith did a good job singing the Badlands tunes, including one of my favorites and likely tougher ones to sing, “High Wire”. Perhaps Smith needed to recover after singing that song because he traded spots right after with drummer, and fellow Canadian, Jonas Fairley to let the latter handle the lead vocals on another long forgotten Ozzy classic “Rock ‘N’ Roll Rebel” from back in the ‘Bark At The Moon’ days. Fairley actually did a kick ass job singing the tune and he had a lot of presence whenever he ventured to the front of the stage while handling the singing duties. Of course, this was only possible because Smith is an excellent drummer in his own right, having previously handled holding the beat and rhythm for more than decade with Harem Scarem.
Funny enough, I noticed while Red Dragon Cartel‘s gear was being set up that one of the roadies advised The Rockpile West staff not to worry if the sound for the vocals wasn’t exactly right as surely Smith was going to let them know during the show based on the last comment, “You know Darren!”. Right on cue, and within a few songs, Smith was gesturing for the guitar as well as his own vocals’ sound levels to be adjusted. There is nothing wrong with being a perfectionist, as I thought that the sound was excellent overall on this night.
I actually enjoyed the first half of the show more than the latter half because I thought that the choice of songs towards the end could have been a lot better at times. Badlands‘ classics and faster rockers such as “Street Cry Freedom”, “The Last Time”, “Dreams In The Dark”, and even the gorgeous ballad “Winter’s Call” — yes, I am a big fan of Badlands‘ debut album — were bypassed for the ballad, almost acoustic rendition of, “In A Dream” and the bluesy and slower “Sun Red Sun”. Red Dragon Cartel‘s limited setlist — only eleven songs by my count — could have done without these two songs in particular. Indeed, after the slower “Rumblin’ Train” with what seemed like an extended solo from guitar maestro Jake E. Lee, a faster paced rocker would have been a welcome addition rather than “Sun Red Sun”. I get that some might have been pleased to hear something from the last Badlands record ‘Dusk’, particularly since the album was never released when the band was in actual existence, but when only four Badlands songs are being represented why not play the best ones? If you are going to blame someone for that it is likely only Lee, as Smith made it clear when I interviewed him a while back (read the interview here) that the guitarist was calling the shots on which songs to play live.
Darren James Smith was especially respectful of Gillen‘s legacy throughout the show, pointing or looking to the sky when playing “In A Dream” and taking the time to pay tribute to his own three daughters prior to the song. One poignant moment was at the end of that song when presumably one of his daughters came onstage to give him a hug. It was tough to tell from my vantage point, but I swear I saw some misty eyes from Smith right after that. Red Dragon Cartel closed out their set with “Feeder” from their new record before coming back for one encore — “Bark At The Moon”– which seemed to have everyone in the audience singing along. Once all of the band members had left, Jake E. Lee came out to shake and tap hands from the stage with whichever audience members were still there.
At the end of the day, Red Dragon Cartel put on a great show full of energy — although it was definitely a little on the short side. However, since I had a flight to catch in less than six hours after the show — meaning very little sleep — I actually did not mind the shorter set this time around. I look forward to seeing Red Dragon Cartel play live again later this month at the M3 Rock Festival!
Red Dragon Cartel Setlist:
01. The Ultimate Sin (Ozzy Osbourne cover)
03. War Machine
04. High Wire (Badlands cover)
05. Rock ‘N’ Roll Rebel (Ozzy Osbourne cover)
06. Shout It Out
07. In A Dream (Badlands cover)
08. Rumblin’ Train (Badlands cover)
09. Sun Red Sun (Badlands cover)
11. Bark At The Moon (Ozzy Osbourne cover)