Rock N Skull Pre-Party 2016 Concert Review

L.A. GUNS STEAL THE SHOW!

Date: October 27, 2016
Venue: The Tree Of Joliet
Location: Joliet, Illinois, USA
Reviewer: Olivier
Photos: Olivier

rock-n-skull-posterThank God for L.A. Guns! They more than salvaged what was an otherwise a bit of a slow start to the Rock N Skull 2016 edition. But before I get in all the gory details, let’s talk about Rock N Skull a little bit. To me, Rock N Skull is for the diehards of the sleaze rock / melodic rock genre. You’ll get to see bands at Rock N Skull that you will likely not see anywhere else all under one roof. The casual hair metal fan will likely not be enticed by the Rock N Skull line-up because there are too few “big name” bands in the line-up.

When I initially decided to attend my inaugural Rock N Skull festival back in January of this year — my decision came after deciding to bypass a repetitive M3 Rock Festival line-up later that spring — the bands that truly enticed me to attend were Dokken (one of my favorite bands), Stryper (a great live band), Babylon A.D. (I had never seen them live before) and Roxy Blue (who were scheduled to reunite for the first time in a long time). There were also some other bands that were added or rumoured to be added to the line-up that I was looking forward to see such as Hurricane and Brand New Machine. I even purchased those two bands’ albums to familiarize myself with their music (in Hurricane once again after not having really heard them since the late ’80s/early ’90s) in advance of Rock N Skull. Fast forward to this coming weekend and only one of those six bands is still in the line-up for the Rock N Skull festival line-up. Granted, there were a few bands that had been added to the roster that I am excited to see such as Tora Tora‘s frontman Anthony Corder and Jetboy.

rock-n-skull-pre-paetyThe journey from the great metropolis of Toronto in Canada to the seemingly small city of Joliet, Illinois, USA was exactly that — a journey — or more like a 9.5 hour drive. I was surrounded by the “enemy” — friends really — given that I was making the trek with three rival website Decibel Geek writers (two of them doubling up as photographers as well), namely Rich Dillon, Shawn Irwin and Brian Ronald. Kudos to Mr. Irwin who drove the whole way with zero sleep in his system given that he insisted on leaving very early (likely to avoid the horrible Toronto rush hour traffic) as he departed his home to pick everyone up at 2:10 am! There were definitely a lot of breaks including what seemed like an eating break every two hours or so but we made it to our destination safely and in good spirits. Kudos again to Mr. Irwin who booked us some excellent spacious accommodations — an important feature given that there are five of us sharing the hotel room. We were joined in the afternoon by yet another Decibel Geek writer — Mikael Svensson — who flew all the way from Sweden to attend Rock N Skull this year. What dedication! Turns out that there are a few people that came from even further since there were a few people from the Land of Oz (Australia) in attendance.

img_0066We arrived before the doors had opened at the Tree Of Joliet venue in sleepy downtown Joliet. It was fun putting some faces to names including Rock N Skull organizer Justin Murr and Kivel Records principal John Kivel. I also got to briefly meet the Livesay members (who are playing on day 2) and had an interesting chat with guitarist Gregg Livesay about the group’s change in musical sound. The stage set up was an interesting one as there was a large sectioned off portion right in the front of the stage with two rows of seats for the people that paid for “Front Row” VIP seating or another VIP offering, the name which escapes me. The stage was quite high in the air giving just about everyone in the venue a good look at the stage performers. In addition, the ceiling was two floors high for the most part and the second floor surrounding the stage and a good portion of the floor also gave great vantage points for anyone up there. Needless to say that I was pleased with the venue and clearly, a lot of work had been done to organize the festival. 

Drivin’ Rain:

Drivin’ Rain kicked off the festivities to a half empty venue as it was obvious that all concert attendees for the Pre-Party had yet to arrive. It is a bit of a shame because Drivin’ Rain put on a spirited performance and did a good job to kick things off.

img_0064Drivin’ Rain singer Timexx Nasty (what a name) looked like a slightly bigger version of Twisted Sister‘s singer Dee Snider and although he did not possess the same charisma as Snider, he still had a lot of stage presence just like Snider does. Bassist Skully Shemwell looked like a young Jason Newsted as he seemingly portrayed the same intensity and grimaces as the former Metallica bassist. I definitely enjoyed his intensity and passion on stage. I assume that the stoic guitarist with the great solos was Kevin Strong. I am not sure what is the drummer’s name but I loved how the younger looking lad seemed to be headbanging while drumming away. Drivin’ Rain were also joined onstage by Becca Williams who apparently flew in from California for the gig. I was not familiar at all with Drivin’ Rain‘s songs but enjoyed most of their songs. My favorite song of theirs was “Radio” (I think that was the title). I was surprised by how many songs they played — I believe ten songs — and as it would turn out, that seemed to be roughly the amount of songs that every performer played including the headliner on this night.

Drivin’ Rain performing cover of Guns N’ Roses‘ “You Could Be Mine” at Rock N Skull Pre-Party on October 27, 2016:

Drivin Rain – You Could Be Mine

Live @ Rock-N-Skull 2016

Keith St. John of Montrose and Burning Rain:

img_0074Next up was singer Keith St. John of Montrose and Burning Rain fame. He was accompanied by a guitarist whose name escapes me. Being that I am not a big fan of acoustic performances, it was unfortunate that their performance was an acoustic one. That being said, it provided me an opportunity to really appreciate St. John‘s voice. I hadn’t realized what a good singer that he is. I get why the Rock N Skull festival is bringing in a few well known singers to do acoustic performances as that way, it saves money by not having to bring in and pay the entire band. St. John had one huge smile while sitting up on a stool on stage and he engaged the audience while constantly tuning his guitar on stage. St. John spoke amongst other things about love and finding your soulmate. Well, that’s all I can remember the next morning. Again, I was not familiar with St. John‘s work in Burning Rain so I did not recognize any of the songs that he played until he finished off his set with two Montrose tracks including the often played “Rock Candy” (more on that later in this review). Overall, St. John and his friend put on a good performance but I would have much rather liked having them do a plugged in performance.

Johnny Gioeli, the voice of Hardline:

img_0078The surprise of the night for me was Hardline‘s lead vocalist Johnny Gioeli who on this night was also referring himself as “Karaoke Johnny.” “Karoake Johnny” you may ask? Yes. To my horror, Gioeli showed up on stage with his iPhone providing the music as his backing band. Now normally, I would be almost disgusted in seeing that. However, once Gioeli started singing, all of my negative thoughts about his upcoming karaoke performance evaporated. The reason why? Gioeli may well be the best singer that I have ever heard live. Wow! Can that man sing! Not only can he sing just about any song including a cover from the almost untouchable deceased Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, he also had great stage presence and interaction with the crowd. It was also the first time in the evening that the audience seemed really into the performer as I could loud cheers for Gioeli whenever he finished a song. Gioeli took his karaoke situation in stride. He commented how he missed his “big Puerto Rican guitarist” to his left and “little Alex” (while mimicking Alessandro Del Vecchio playing keyboards) to his right. He then jokingly advised that he preferred his iPhone given that there was no bitching and moaning, no flights to pay and no one trying to pick up pussy at the end of the night!

img_0075Once again just like for the two previous performers, I was not familiar with Gioeli‘s material although I had heard some of his Hardline material and Axel Rudi Pell songs in the past. I’ve always been more of a sleaze rock and/or metal fan with melodic rock being a genre that I appreciate but that I do not pine for. Whatever the case, Gioeli could have sung any track on this night with his karaoke backing iPhone and it wouldn’t have mattered. His voice is simply out of this world and he simply nailed it on every song that he sung. Gioeli mentioned that Hardline had been around for 25 years and that he was “old” but he looked pretty young looking to me. Gioeli also apologized for not wearing the customary leather and studs, and simply wearing a t-shirt and jeans but as he explained, that’s just him. The talented singer’s smile lit up the room and he simply could do no wrong it seemed. It was fun when Gioeli brought two fans on stage with him to sing a Crush 40 song. However, I could have done without his finale for the night when he invited another series of fans onstage to sing the Hardline classic “Hot Cherie.” After all, I wanted to hear Gioeli sing, and especially with his absolutely killer voice! Once again, all I can say is wow! Gioeli has one of the greatest voices that I have ever heard live!

Johnny Gioeli performing “Who Wants To Live Forever” at Rock N Skull Pre-Party on October 27, 2016:

Johnny Gioeli – Who Wants To Live Forever – Rock N Skull 2016

Johnny Gioeli performs Who Wants to Live Forever (Queen) at Rock N Skull in Joliet, Illinois on October 27th, 2016.

Enuff Z’Nuff:

Next up was Enuff Z’Nuff led by long-time bassist Chip Z’Nuff who is now also handling the lead vocals. Once again, this is another band that I have never gotten into. You might be thinking why is this guy even at Rock N Skull this year but it will img_0088become more apparent as the Rock N Skull festival goes on. Enuff Z’Nuff took to the stage playing their at times Beatles-esque songs. Frontman Chip Z’Nuff had a bunch of new band members with him on this night with former Ultravox singer Tony Fennell on rhythm guitar, Tory Stoffregen on lead guitar and younger looking Daniel Hill on drums. I was surprised to hear Chip Z’Nuff announce that Enuff Z’Nuff had released 20 albums over the course of their career, which is quite impressive in some ways. Not being into drugs myself, I found Chip Z’Nuff often mentioning drugs in his addresses to the crowd a little odd. For instance, the frontman advised that L.A. Guns guitarist Tracii Guns was smoking up in the back, his bandmate Fennell had done a lot of drugs in his Ultravox days and to make sure that crowd members hid their drugs when entering or while at the Tree Of Joliet venue. To each his own I guess.

img_0081Enuff Z’Nuff seem to be one of those bands that you either love or hate. The band certainly had a good portion of the crowd really into their songs. At the same time, I know a certain cast of characters that left to get something to eat during Enuff Z’Nuff‘s set. For my part, I enjoyed Enuff Z’Nuff‘s performance although I likely won’t be buying any of their previous albums in the foreseeable future. The band was quite energetic on stage whenever possible. I say whenever possible because Chip Z’Nuff was seemingly glued to the ground when singing his vocals but did do a few David Lee Roth like kicks (what remarkable flexibility!), hopped around at times and moved around whenever not singing. Fennell and Stoffregen seemed really into the music and moved around quite a bit adopting the “trade spots shtick for a small portion of the song” that Airbourne rhythm guitarist David Roads and bassist Justin Street always seem to do when performing live. The two songs that I did recognize during Enuff Z’Nuff‘s set were “Fly High Michelle” and set closer “New Thing.” Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with Enuff Z’Nuff.

L.A. Guns featuring Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis:

img_0111Luckily, the best was saved for last. I knew that Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis would be playing a plugged in performance together under the banner L.A. Guns but I did not know who  they would be playing with (aside from knowing it would not be drummer Steve Riley). I was pleased to see L.A. Guns guitarist Michael Grant prior to the band hitting the stage because the man always puts on a killer performance and seems to be the epitome of cool on stage. It would simply be awesome to have both Grant and Tracii Guns playing together. L.A. Guns featuring Lewis and Tracii Guns hit the stage running. The energy was through the roof right away and they simply proceeded to blow the rest of the acts off stage. Playing only L.A. Guns tracks from the LewisTracii Guns era, there was simply nothing that the band could do wrong on this night (with perhaps one slight exception — more on that later). All of the recognizable L.A. Guns staples were there from the set opener “No Mercy,” the classic “Sex Action,” my favorite L.A. Guns track “Electric Gypsy,” and the amazing “Never Enough.” The band slowed things down a bit for “Over The Edge” and that is one song that I could have lived without as there were many other L.A. Guns songs that could have been played instead (“Long Time Dead” would have been nice!). 

L.A. Guns featuring Phil Lewis and Tracii Guns performing “Sex Action” at Rock N Skull Pre-Party on October 27, 2016:

LA Guns – Sex Action – Rock N Skull 2016, Joliet, IL

Phil Lewis and Tracii Guns playing Sex Action at the Rock N Skull 2016 pre-show party on October, 27th, 2016

L.A. Guns featuring Phil Lewis and Tracii Guns performing “Electric Gypsy” at Rock N Skull Pre-Party on October 27, 2016:

LA Guns – Electric Gypsy – Rock N Skull 2016, Joliet, IL

Phil Lewis and Tracii Guns playing Electric Gypsy at the Rock N Skull pre-show party in Joliet, IL on October 27, 2016

img_0106L.A. Guns‘ set was already fantastic by the time that they finished the five aforementioned first songs but it got even better when Lewis announced that Tracii Guns had suggested that they play a couple of tracks not often played from the self-titled debut album. What a fucking treat to hear “Hollywood Tease” and “Bitch Is Back.” That simply made my night! The one surprising inclusion was L.A. Guns‘ cover of the Montrose classic “Rock Candy.” An odd choice given that the band should have figured out that St. John would be playing it given his connection to Montrose. Whatever the case, L.A. Guns played a cool cover of the song which featured an extended solo from Tracii Guns. I suspect that Grant did not have the opportunity to practice those latter three songs because he did not play those three songs. It was cool seeing Grant behind the speakers enjoying listening to the band play the latter three songs, and joking and laughing with Lewis during “Rock Candy.” That is what band camaraderie is all about.

L.A. Guns featuring Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis peforming “Bitch Is Back” at Rock N Skull Pre-Party on October 27, 2016:

L.A. Guns: Bitch Is Back

Phil & Tracii Live at Rock ‘N Skull at The Tree in Joliet, Illinois 10/27/16

L.A. Guns closed the evening with the obligatory “The Ballad Of Jayne” and a kick ass rendition of “Rip And Tear” which had singer Michael O’Mara (who is touring with Tracii Guns as his singer) join in and Grant put on a guitar clinic on how fast his fingers could move on his guitar towards the end. L.A. Guns capped off the Pre-Party evening in style and I am now fully img_0113ready for the main course.

L.A. Guns’ setlist:
01. No Mercy
02. Sex Action
03. Never Enough
04. Electric Gypsy
05. Over The Edge
06. Hollywood Tease
07. Bitch Is Back
08. Rock Candy (Montrose cover)
09. The Ballad Of Jayne
10. Rip And Tear

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