Rocktember Festival 2015 Day One Concert Review

ROCKTEMBER FESTIVAL 2015 DAY ONE

Date: September 11, 2015
Venue: Grand Casino
Location: Hinckley, Minnesota, USA
Reviewer: Metal Headz Media
Photos: Metal Headz Media

Grand Casino in Hinckley, Minnesota held its third annual Rocktember Festival at their outdoor amphitheater on September 11th and 12th.  I want to take this time to thank Grand Casino and their staff (especially Dayna) for allowing Sleaze Roxx to have press/photo passes and the opportunity to have a couple of interviews with some of the artists in this year’s line-up. Grand Casino does have some great sound and a great stage for concerts. I would love to go see more shows at this venue, if the bills would be of interest to me.

Steelheart got things rockin’ in what was going to be a great weekend for rock n’ roll. Lead singer, Miljenko Matijevic, is the only original member of this band that released their first album in 1990. In 1992, Steelheart released their second full length, Tangled In Reins. Shortly after that, the band decided to call it quits, but that was not the end for Matijevic. In 2001, he was asked to do the vocals for Mark Wahlberg in the movie ‘Rock Star.’ Those four songs that he contributed to, played a major role in his setlist. Four of the seven songs he played that night, were songs he recorded for that movie. The first song of the night was “Blood Pollution.” If you are wondering, “does Matijevic still have the chops he had back in the day?” The answer is “Hell yes he does!” I was surprised that he was hitting all the notes and sounded amazing.

It wasn’t until the third song, “Stand Up,” that the crowd finally started cheering and enjoying the show. The next three songs were finally Steelheart tracks and the crowd did seem to know those more (especially “I’ll Never Let You Go”) than the songs from the ‘Rock Star’ soundtrack. The last song of the night was the sing-along rocker “We All Die Young.” Steelheart sounded great, but the one thing I felt was missing was the second guitarist. The guitars just didn’t sound as thick as they should because all the tracks Steelheart played were recorded with at least two guitarists. It probably doesn’t help that the songs Matijevic recorded for ‘Rock Star’ were done by Mr. Zakk Wylde, and we all know how phenomenal he is!

Steelheart’s setlist:
01. Blood Pollution
02. Livin’ The Life
03. Stand Up
04. I’ll Never Let You Go
05. Everybody Loves Eileen
06. She’s Gone
07. We All Die Young

Next up was Jack Russell’s Great White. If I was going to see any version of Great White, I am glad I got to see this one. I am not a fan of these bands splitting up and having the same name (L.A. Guns, Ratt, Queensryche, etc.), but Jack Russell IS the voice of Great White and I feel he owns every right to the name. Now, I know all the bands I just mentioned have all had court orders to change their name, but I am just fed up with bands still arguing over the names. The band came out and started to play the opening of “All Over Now.” As Russell made his way to the stage, I noticed he had a severe limp. We later found out (during our interview), that he recently had surgery on his foot. I am not going to lie, but it was kind of hard to watch him walk around stage like that. Before I could feel sorry for him, he started to sing and I forgot all about his limp.

Russell still has the voice and is sounding better than ever. This is a guy who has been through hell and back and is very thankful to still be playing music for his fans. He made that very clear later in his set. He told us that he is so blessed to have the fans that he does and is still able to play his music to the masses. He also commented that the ’80s was the best time for music. “There will never be women, hair, or music like that ever again,” he said right before they ripped into “Lady Red Light.” Earlier in the set, they played “Mista Bone” from the album …Twice Shy. In the middle of the song, Russell asked the crowd if they all knew what “Mista Bone” is. The crowd cheered in a fashion that gave him the answer “Yes we do!” They made this song into a medley of sorts by playing “Purple Haze” and “Voodoo Child” before they went into “Save All Your Love.” It would not be a Great White concert if they didn’t play one of their biggest hits “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” which ended up being the closing number for Mr. Russell.

Jack Russell’s Great White’s setlist:
01. All Over Now
02. Desert Moon
03. Mista Bone w/ Purple Haze and Voodoo Child
04. Save All Your Love
05. Guitar Solo
06. Lady Red Light
07. Rock Me
08. Once Bitten, Twice Shy

After Jack Russell’s Great White was done on stage, I had the honor of interviewing Mr. Russell. While I was interviewing him, Candlebox hit the stage. If there was one band on this two day bill that would make you turn your head and make sure you are reading the list of bands correctly, it would have to be Candlebox. This event is mainly geared towards ’80s glam metal, and to have a band that came out in the mid to late ’90s was a surprise to me. I am a huge Candlebox fan so I was excited to see them on the schedule, but I was a little bummed that I did miss some of their set due to the interview. When the interview was over, Candlebox were playing “Arrow” from their first album. This line-up is the first time I have seen them as a five piece. I have always known them to be a four piece, so I was surprised to see an extra guitar player on stage. I also know that  lead vocalist Kevin Martin is the only original member of the band.

Playing drums was Dave Krusen, and he is best known for playing drums on Pearl Jam’s Ten album. The band thought it would be fitting to play a track from that album, and they played “Alive.” Martin decided to leave the stage for this song and get right up front and start shaking hands with the people in the first few rows. He was doing everything he could to win over this ’80s glam rock crowd, and I think he did just that. I believe Kevin Martin has one of the best voices to come out of the ’90s “grunge” scene. He is a talented vocalist and lyricist and that is one of the reasons Candlebox are one of my favorite bands from that era. Instead of closing their set with a fast/heavy song, they decided to play their most popular song (which is a ballad) “Far Behind.” From the short set that I was able to see, they did not disappoint. The crowd seemed to really enjoy what they were witnessing.

Candlebox’s setlist (from what I saw):
01. Arrow
02. Best Friend
03. Cover Me
04. You
05. Alive (Pearl Jam cover)
06. Far Behind

Skid Row were one of the bands I was most excited to see because of their new lead singer, Tony Harnell from TNT. I am not familiar with TNT, so I was not excited to see him because of that, but because of all the excellent reviews he has been receiving. I did get to see Skid Row a few times with Johnny Solinger. I thought he did a great job singing their catalog of songs, along with the first album he recorded with them, Thickskin. I was a little surprised to hear that he left/got fired, but if he was not into it anymore, I don’t blame either party for splitting ways. Skid Row are here to prove they are not going anywhere and with Harnell’s help, they hope their fan base will continue to grow or they are at least trying to earn some fans back. If their live performance is any indication, they will be around for a long time. “Slave To the Grind” got things going like a slap in the face. It was full force rock/metal that would make anyone stand up and start head banging. They kept things going with “Big Guns,” and filled the rest of their set with songs from all their albums but Subhuman Race. All of the comments about how great Harnell sounds as the new lead singer for Skid Row are absolutely true. He is no Sebastian Bach (I don’t know if anyone can compare), but he sounded amazing and stayed true to the original songs.

One member of the band that I was totally blown away by, was guitarist Scottie Hill. After watching him live, I want to say he is one of the most underrated guitar players to come out of the ’80s. I have never really paid any attention to his guitar playing on the albums, but I could not keep my eyes and ears off of his guitar playing. He was killing it on stage. The only song that Harnell did not handle vocal duties on was “Psycho Therapy.” Rachel Bolan did the vocals on the B-Sides Ourselves album, so it was only fitting he sang it live. Bolan was the only one during the whole night to acknowledge that it was 9/11 and we should honor those who lost their lives during that tragedy and that we still need to be strong and united as a country. When the song was over, the tech brought out the acoustic guitar on a stand. Once the crowd saw that, we all knew what song was going to be played next, “I Remember You.” After numerous attempts to get the guitar to play over the speakers, they took it away and Dave “The Snake” Sabo played the beginning of the song on his electric guitar. It actually didn’t sound too bad, and the crowd was loving it. Skid Row closed out their set with the high octane songs “Monkey Business” and “Youth Gone Wild.” Up next to close out night one of Rocktember was Bret Michaels.

Skid Row’s setlist:
01. Slave To The Grind
02. Big Guns
03. Let’s Go
04. Piece of Me
05. 18 And Life
06. Give It The Gun
07. Riot Act
08. In A Darkened Room
09. Thick Is The Skin
10. Makin A Mess
11. Psycho Therapy
12. I Remember You
13. Ghost
14. Monkey Business
15. Youth Gone Wild

I remember my first exposure to Poison. I was at a wedding with my family and my brother told me to ask the DJ to play Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me.” I didn’t understand what he was saying because I was so young, but I did it anyway. I can remember the first licks of the guitar coming from the speakers and seeing my brother and his friends start to rock out. Right at that moment, I was in love with rock n’ roll. Poison have and will always be my favorite band, but I can’t say I enjoy watching the Bret Michaels band live when they come to town. It just frustrates me that all they do is play Poison songs and none of his solo material. My feelings would be different if he did play mostly his solo material and maybe a couple of Poison songs in his set list, but he doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, Bret Michaels is an outstanding front man that gets the crowd energized and ready for a “good time” (pun intended) every single time that he is on that stage. After all the health issues that Michaels has faced in his life, I am still amazed he is able to do what he does day in and day out. He is up on stage running around like a mad man and jumping all over, singing his heart out. This why it hurts me to say anything negative about this man.

The show kicked off with “Talk Dirty to Me” then went right into the first song he ever wrote with Poison, “Look What the Cat Dragged In.” Before the next song, he was telling the crowd “I have nowhere else to be, but up here on this stage kickin’ your ass! I will be up here all night.” I just had to shake my head, because I know when he tours solo, his set is only 10-11 songs. So I knew he would only be on stage for another 30-40 minutes. When someone tells me they will play for us all night, I am thinking another 2 hours, not 40 minutes. Another thing that bugged me was that Michaels would always introduce his songs as a cover song he did for his new album, True Grit. He basically re-did Poison songs with other musicians for that record, but plays them live the way Poison performs them (which is the way I want to hear those songs played). I was glad that he took out the song “What I Got” and replaced it with “Ride the Wind.” I am not a fan of his cover of the Sublime song. I do appreciate that he is trying to branch out his musical library, but that cover does nothing for me. The only non-Poison song that made the setlist was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” This song has been a staple in his live performance since I can remember.

Bret Michaels is one hell of a stage performer and sounds amazing live and he can outperform the best of them, but I just wish he would do shows with Poison and not his solo band. No disrespect to the band, they are all great musicians and performers, but if you are going to play Poison songs, just get the band back together! I feel this way because I am such a huge fan, and all I want to see is Poison back up on stage doing what they do best, kicking our ass! Not just Bret Michaels kicking our ass.

Bret Michaels’ setlist:
01. Talk Dirty To Me
02. Look What The Cat Dragged In
03. Ride The Wind
04. Sweet Home Alabama
05. Your Mama Don’t Dance
06. Something To Believe In
07. Unskinny Bop
08. Drum Solo
09. Every Rose Has Its Thorn
10. Fallen Angel
11. Nothin’ But A Good Time