Rock N Skull Festival 2016 (Day One) Concert Review

WILL THIS BE THE BEST DAY OF THE FESTIVAL?

Date: October 28, 2016
Venue: The Tree Of Joliet
Location: Joliet, Illinois, USA
Reviewer: Olivier
Photos: Olivier

rock-n-skull-day-1Day One of the Rock N Skull Festival started off with some disappointment as Tigertailz announced that they would not be making it across the Atlantic Ocean due to singer Rob Wylde‘s visa that apparently got revoked at the last minute. Rock N Skull organizer Justin Murr — who you can’t seemingly blame for this mishap — wasted no time announcing that a replacement had been found but the actual band or artist that will be doing the replacing has yet to be announced. Rumours have been swirling as to whom the replacement will be but I certainly hope that it is the “replacement” band that I just heard about this morning at breakfast. Time will tell!

The second issue of the day was that only a few hours before doors were supposed to open, Murr notified concert attendees via Facebook that doors were opening at 5:00 pm rather than 2:00 pm. It turns out that there is a law office on top of The Tree Of Joliet venue which invariably is open on a Friday until presumably 4:00 or 5:00 pm. Who would have known? Obviously, this is something that both the venue and Murr should have known about and planned for in advance. The regular schedule for Day One  — prior to the start time change from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm — had the headliner L.A. Guns scheduled to play at Midnight. This was definitely going to be a problem with the Day One start time being delayed by three hours and some sort of City noise by-law apparently stipulating no more noise or at least noisy concerts after 2:00 am. The solution? Unfortunately, the solution was reduced set times for just about every band as the new posted schedule near the soundboard indicated that about half the bands would only be playing for 30 minutes rather than 45. 

American Bombshell:

img_0134The first band up was American Bombshell. I was really looking forward to their set after having the pleasure of discovering their debut album No Regrets a few months prior. The Indiana, USA based rockers did not disappoint tearing up the stage with their heavy and sleazy originals. Now, this is the kind of music that I just love. Singer Jay Cee was quite the sight with his big mohawk hair, eye lashes and tattoos. He looked more like a punk rocker than anything but I thought that he sounded great. In terms of unison look, the American Bombshell band members definitely clashed a little bit. In addition to singer Jay Cee, one guitarist had a bald look with a beard and red pants, the other was bald with a little moustache and some facial hair on the chin, bassist Dustin Green had long hair and a beard and drummer Jason Carr looked like Anthrax‘s Scott Ian. Whatever the case, American Bombshell put on a fantastic opening set. I recognized seemingly every song that they played and the highlights were their opening track “Tattooz ‘N’ Booze,” their single “No Regrets” and (I think) set closer “Another Dead Rockstar.”

American Bombshell playing “No Regrets” at Rock N Skull on October 28, 2016:

American Bombshell – No Regrets (Live @ Rock N’ Skull Festival 2016)

Live @ Rock N’ Skull Festival 2016 @ The Tree of Joliet in Joliet (IL, USA); October 28, 2016

House Of Shakira:

img_0143Next up was a band that I was not familiar with at all even though the singer Andreas Novak advised the crowd that House Of Shakira had been around for 25 years! House Of Shakira played their melodic brand of music to an appreciative audience. I was surprised that I had never heard of these guys until Novak advised that this was only the band’s second time (I think) playing in the United States of America. Hearing that made House Of Shakira‘s set that much more special. Novak unfortunately did do a faux pas addressing the crowd as Chicago numerous times even though that city is about an hour away from the city of Joliet where the event was being played. It was fun to see Novak kind of ask or confirm with Anders Lundström, one of the two original members in the band (along with guitarist Mats Hallstensson), which album that the early tunes came from. I definitely liked the heavier songs from House Of Shakira over their more melodic ones. Overall, I thought that the band put on a good performance.

Ammunition:

img_0161The surprise of the night was definitely Ammunition. Wow! What a great band! Leading up to this year’s Rock N Skull, I simply did not have time — or did not make the time — to find out about all the bands that I did not really know that were playing this festival. One group that I completely over looked was Ammunition who, as the third band out of ten, were quite low on the the Day One bill. It wasn’t until our ride from Toronto, Canada and surroundings to Joliet, Illinois, USA on October 27th that I heard music from Ammunition and found out that Eclipse guitarist and lead vocalist, Erik Mårtensson, plays guitar in the band. Well, that just brought instant credibility to the band in my eyes because it seems that whatever Mårtensson touches these days (may it be Eclipse‘s stellar last album Armageddonize or Nordic img_0154Union‘s very good debut album) is simply awesome. I had also heard that Mårtensson puts on a great live performance so the chance to see him play in both Ammunition and Eclipse at Rock N Skull was cause for celebration. The first album that I purchased upon arriving to Rock N Skull yesterday was Ammunition‘s debut album Shangaied.

I am also going to take this time to thank the Decibel Geek guys who had loosely arranged an interview with Mårtensson prior to coming to Rock N Skull. They were nice enough to contact Mårtensson to see if I could interview him as well for Sleaze Roxx. A few of the Decibel Geek guys ended up interviewing Mårtensson during American Bombshell‘s set, which I did not want to do. I therefore asked Mårtensson if it was alright to interview him after Ammunition‘s set and the affable Swede was more than accommodating. Thank you Erik and Decibel Geek.

img_0152Although I had heard part of Ammunition‘s debut album on the ride from Toronto to Joliet, I did not remember any of the songs during the group’s Rock N Skull set. That really did not matter as whatever songs that Ammunition played during their set seemed instantly likeable. I was even singing along to these songs that I was pretty much hearing for the first time. Mårtensson was all smiles and seemed super tall as he played his Eddie Ojeda like red bullseye guitar. Lead vocalist Åge Sten Nilsen sounded absolutely amazing and reminded me of Helloween‘s Andis Deris in the way that he expertly addressed the crowd in his Scandinavian accented English. Sten Nilsen had great stage presence and he seemed to have a good wave of communication with the audience. The rest of the band was solid as well. Every song seemed to be better than the next. Highlights included the instantly likeable tracks “Take Out The Enemy (Hallelujah)” and “Road To Babylon.” One surprise was seeing Danger Danger singer Ted Poley make an appearance on stage during a small portion of one of Ammunition‘s songs.

Ammunition performing “Take Out The Enemy (Hallelujah)” plus drum solo at Rock N Skull on October 28, 2016:

Ammunition performing Take Out the Enemy live at Rock N Skull 2016 + drum solo

Ammunition performing Take Out the Enemy live at Rock N Skull 2016 + drum solo. First live USA show!

Ammunition performing “Road To Babylon” at Rock N Skull on October 28, 2016:

Ammunition – Road to Babylon – live Rock N Skull 2016

Ammunition – Road to Babylon – live Rock N Skull 2016. 1st USA show.

Due to time constraints, Sten Nilsen eventually did a quick poll with the audience on which last song that they wanted to hear. The finalists were “Silverback” and “In My Dreams” with the latter receiving louder cheers so that is the song that Ammunition ended their absolutely stellar set with.

Ammunition performing “In My Dreams” at Rock N Skull on October 28, 2016:

Ammunition – In My Dreams – Rock N Skull 2016

Ammunition playing their last song of the evening, In My Dreams, at Rock N Skull 2016 in Joliet, IL on October 28, 2016

Johnny Lima:

Given that I was not familiar with Johnny Lima‘s music, I elected to skip his set in order to interview Mårtensson at a nearby Italian restaurant. Mårtensson and I were supposed to leave right after Ammunition‘s set but then the very polite img_0166Mårtensson advised me that he had to go to his group’s merchandise booth and asked if it was alright to delay things by about five minutes. Of course! This turned out to be a blessing because I was able to catch a few songs of Lima‘s set. I ended up being quite impressed with Mr. Lima and it was a bit of a shame that I would miss the rest of his set but the opportunity to chat with and interview Mårtensson in person was too much to pass up! I am not sure which songs that Lima started off with but they were quite good and I enjoyed his strong stage presence. One notable thing about Lima‘s set was that it was funded by a Facebook group by the name of Melodic Mafia. Clearly, Lima has some dedicated and loyal fans out there. Getting Mårtensson out of the venue turned out to be challenge as he was simply accosted by one fan after another wanting to get his autograph or a photo with him. Mårtensson dealt with each fan with a smile, time, patience and seemingly a lot of class. 

Johnny Lima performing “Caught In The Middle” at Rock N Skull on October 28, 2016:

Johnny Lima: Caught in the Middle

Live at Rock ‘N Skull 2016 at the Tree of Joliet 10/29/16

The Fifth:

img_0186My enjoyable time with Mårtensson ended up lasting longer than expected as after the interview, we chatted about many enjoyable but some surprising topics (to me) including kids, religion, US politics and getting Eclipse to play in Canada. I should have kept my recorder going! In any case, it was a lot of fun chatting with Mårtensson, which caused me to miss a portion of The Fifth‘s set. I ended up catching the last few songs of The Fifth‘s set and they did not disappoint. The Fifth had strong stage presence with imposing bassist Franko, long haired and skinny guitarist Icky Jim (I wonder how he came up with his name) and singer Roy Cathey, who previously played with former Keel guitarist Marc Ferrari in Cold SweatCathey advised the crowd that The Fifth would be ending their set with a cover from Black Sabbath‘s Heaven And Hell album, and truth be told, I was dreading yet another cover of the classic but overplayed song “Heaven And Hell.” Luckily, The Fifth finished off their set with a really good rendition and cover of Black Sabbath‘s “Children Of The Sea.” 

The Fifth performing “No Going Home” at Rock N Skull on October 28, 2016:

The Fifth: No Going Home

Live at Rock ‘N Skull 2016 at The Tree of Joliet 10/28/16

Todd Poole, the voice of Roxy Blue:

Roxy Blue singer Todd Poole was next with an acoustic guitar. You may recall that one of the initial attractions for me to attend the 2016 edition of Rock N Skull was to see Roxy Blue reunite. As it turns out and for reasons that I can’t recall at this img_0189time, Roxy Blue were taken off the Rock N Skull 2016 roster and replaced with Poole doing an unplugged acoustic set. The good news is that Poole announced that Roxy Blue would definitely be playing the 2017 edition of Rock N Skull. The bad news is that — and no offence to Poole because he sang his heart out — Poole‘s set felt kind of flat to me and a downer after five solid plugged in performances. I think it would have been better to have Poole and perhaps the acoustic set from Tora Tora‘s frontman Anthony Corder at the beginning of the night. As it turns out, I ended up going out for food mid-way through Poole‘s set. My lack of familiarity with Poole‘s Roxy Blue material certainly played a part in my not really enjoying his set. That being said, I was told that Poole played a number of cover songs including Seal‘s “Crazy” (which I was there for but did not recognize), an Allman Brothers song and Phil Collins‘ “In The Air Tonight.” Hopefully, Roxy Blue deliver a stronger performance next year.

Anthony Corder, the voice of Tora Tora:

One band that I absolutely loved growing up was Tora Tora. The group’s two albums, Surprise Attack (1989) and Wild America (1991), that were released back in the day still get regular rotation among albums that I like to listen to from the ’80s / early ’90s. img_0194I was pleased a number of years ago when FnA Records finally released Tora Tora‘s long lost album Revolution Day along with three other albums of demos. No need to say that all those albums are in my record collection. There is also no need to say that I was completely stoked to hear Corder play his acoustic set. It would have been much better to have Tora Tora play a plugged in set but given that this was my first time seeing any member of Tora Tora play live, the late addition to the Rock N Skull of having Corder play an acoustic set was still a highly anticipated event for me.

Corder‘s voice was still very good after all these years. He did seemingly bypass a few notes that he would have sung on songs from one of Tora Tora‘s first two albums but then again, he did play an acoustic set so the song arrangements were a bit different. Corder seemed VERY appreciative to be up on img_0195stage and was all smiles when he was hearing the crowd sing along with him. Corder ended up playing two songs from each of Tora Tora‘s three studio albums. The highlights were definitely “Nowhere To Go But Down” (from the criminally underrated Wild America) and the final two punch of “Phantom Rider” and “Walkin’ Shoes.” What a fantastic acoustic set from Corder! I am appealing right now to Rock N Skull organizer Justin Murr to get Tora Tora to play the 2017 edition of Rock N Skull!

Anthony Corder’s setlist:
01. (Unidentified song from Revolution Day)
02. Rescue Me
03. Nowhere To Go But Down
04. As Time Goes By
05. Phantom Rider
06. Walkin’ Shoes

Anthony Corder performing “Walkin’ Shoes” at Rock N Skull on October 28, 2016:

Anthony Corder: Walkin’ Shoes

Live at Rock ‘N Skull 2016 at the Tree of Joliet 10/28/16

Babylon A.D.:

One group that I actually discovered later in life is Babylon A.D. and I don’t know why because they play the kind of music that I just love. After having given Babylon A.D. a glowing review of their live album Live@XXV, there is no need to say that I was img_0199really looking forward to their set. Babylon A.D. took the stage and proceeded to kick everyone’s ass in the audience. They were that good. The band members exuded tons of energy and had great stage presence. It helps to have simply amazing songs to play. I would have liked to hear a few more songs from 1992’s Nothing Sacred, which was largely ignored on this night but I get that people identify and enjoy the songs from the band’s self-titled debut album. I also understand that “Bad Blood” from the Nothing Sacred album may have not been played due to time constraints.

It was great to see the original line-up that played on Babylon A.D.‘s inaugural album playing together. How many times does that happen? Babylon A.D. singer Derek Davis, img_0209guitarists Danny De La Rosa and Ron Freschi, bassist Robb Reid and drummer Jamey Pacheco put on a great performance and along with Ammunition, were the best of the evening. 

Babylon A.D.’s setlist:
01. Back In Babylon
02. Hammer Swings Down
03. Shot O’ Love
04. Maryanne
05. So Savage The Heart
06. Bang Go The Bells
07. Sally Danced
08. Desperate
09. The Kid Goes Wild

Babylon A.D. performing “Bang Goes The Bells” at Rock N Skull on October 28, 2016:

Babylon A.D.: Bang Go The Bells

Live at Rock ‘N Skull 2016 at the Tree of Joliet 10/29/16

Babylon A.D. performing “Sally Danced” at Rock N Skull on October 28, 2016:

Babylon A.D.: Sally Danced

Live at Rock ‘N Skull 2016 at the Tree of Joliet 10/28/16

Babylon A.D. performing “The Kid Goes Wild” at Rock N Skull on October 28, 2016:

Babylon A.D.: The Kid Goes Wild

Live at Rock ‘N Skull 2016 at the Tree of Joliet 10/28/16

Jetboy:

I was shocked to hear that Jetboy have been around since 1983. The original band members still looked fairly young looking to me or at least not like your typical 50 year olds. The original band members — singer Mickey Finn and guitarists Fernie Rod and Billy Rowe — all had great energy and looked quite fit. They were joined by younger drummer Alex Serrato and former Faster Pussycat and Angels In Vein bassist Eric Stacy, the latter who played confidently and as if he had been in the years img_0229for decades. Finn advised that he had flown all the way from Hawaii to play Jetboy‘s Rock N Skull gig. Highlights included “Going Down (Above The Clouds),” “Rock N Roller” and the set closer “Feel The Shake.”

Jetboy’s setlist:
o1. Locked In A Cage
02. Make Some Noise
03. Bad Disease
04. Going Down (Above The Clouds)
05. Bullfrog Pond
06. Rock N Roller
07. Moonlight
08. Heavy Chevy
09. Feel The Shake

Jetboy performing “Feel The Shake” at Rock N Skull on October 28, 2016:

Jetboy- Feel the Shake

10-28-16 Rock N Skull Day 1 The Tree Joliet, IL

L.A. Guns:

Last but not least were L.A. Guns, which I believe started a little after 1:00 am. That was bad news given that they would have to img_0235stop playing prior to 2:00 am. Singer Phil Lewis advised the crowd that the band would keep playing until the organizers pulled the plug on them. Accordingly, L.A. Guns sped through their set playing seemingly their usual set. I was kind of surprised — and then again not surprised — that L.A. Guns ended up playing seven songs (out of ten) that Lewis and Grant had played the previous night with Tracii Guns. That was a bit disappointing since it would have been nice to hear some different L.A. Guns tunes on this night. I thought that the energy level and enthusiasm from Lewis and Grant seemed a tad higher the night before. It just seemed that there was something really special and magical to see Lewis, Grant and Tracii Guns play together, which was not present on this night. Nevertheless, L.A. Guns always put on a great performance and this night was no exception. Guitarist Michael Grant was his usual ultra cool, Lewis is a solid frontman, and img_0247it was nice to see bassist Kenny Kweens and drummer Steve Riley back in the line-up. 

L.A. Guns’ setlist:
01. No Mercy
02. Showdown (Riot On Sunset)
03. Sex Action
04. Never Enough
05. I Wanna Be Your Man
06. Over The Edge
07. Hellraisers Ball
08. Electric Gypsy
09. The Ballad Of Jayne
10. Rip And Tear

L.A. Guns performing “Showdown (Riot On Sunset)” at Rock N Skull on October 28, 2016:

LA Guns- Showdown (Riot on Sunset)

10-28-16 Rock N Skull Day 1 The Tree Joliet, IL