AUDIENCE COUNT DOES NOT MATTER FOR AUTOGRAPH
In the last few years Toronto has really picked up in terms of supporting hard rock and heavy metal live events. Sometimes you might get three great bands playing in one week, and at the very least you can often catch a great show every two weeks — if not every week. A lot of credit has to go to the two Rockpile clubs that cater to that genre of music and its dedicated fanbase. However, Toronto as a whole is still a far cry from being able to support live shows at different venues in one night.
That is exactly what happened on Saturday, May 10th when there were not one, not two, not three, but four hard rock and metal shows within a twenty kilometer radius. The first concert that I was originally going to see was the Metal On Ice show at The Opera House brought by Sean Kelly and featuring many Canadian icons including Lee Aaron, Helix‘s Brian Vollmer, the Headpins‘ Darby Mills, Coney Hatch‘s Carl Dixon and ex-Slik Toxik and current Famous Underground frontman Nick Walsh. The second show I considered seeing local favorites Last Bullet at the Underground Garage as part of the Canadian Music Week 2014 — but the band’s start time of 2:00 am was a definite deterrent. One show that I was not considering but that was an option for heavy metal fans was Mastodon headlining a bill at the Sound Academy. The concert that I eventually elected to see was Autograph‘s performance at the Rockpile West based on the band’s excellent and surprising (to me) performance at the M3 Rock Festival a couple of weeks prior (click here to see that review). It should be noted that Autograph‘s show that night was the only one taking place at a venue well outside the downtown Toronto core.
A small warning sign of things to come appeared early on when Autograph posted the following FaceBook message at around 9:00 pm, “Ready to take the stage here in Toronto, Canada!!!” Given that Autograph were not scheduled to perform until 11:00 pm, this simply made me think that not many people had yet arrived at the Rockpile West to watch the first opening band. Usually for Rockpile events I do not arrive until a little later given that there are often three to four (sometimes unknown to me) opening bands — the exception of course is if there is an opener that I know and want to see. I had previously seen Twitch open for Anvil back in October (click here to see that review), and seeing as I had been quite impressed by them I elected to show up earlier than usual to catch their set.
I arrived at the Rockpile West at around 9:45 pm and the first thought that came to my mind was that I must have gone to the wrong Rockpile club — there is a Rockpile East club in the east end of the city — given the few cars in the parking lot. Nevertheless, I parked and waited to meet Twitch bassist Steve McDonell so I could buy a ticket from him for the show. From what I understand, any opening band at a Rockpile event gets a certain amount of tickets that they need to sell, and if they don’t they might end up ‘buying’ the unsold tickets. When I entered the venue my heart sort of sank as the turnout was well below norm for such an event. I was easily able to find my buddy The Meister chatting to an interesting and very big Autograph fan named Alex Simpson — who had the band’s first three albums with him on vinyl, ready to be autographed — at one of the bars as the final song from one of the first openers Three Quarter Stone played in the background.
Twitch was next, but unlike the previous time I had seen them there was, unfortunately, no one in the general admission area aside from a few ladies dancing away during a few rather heavy songs. Whatever Rockpile patrons were there were hanging out back at the bars, seated in chairs, or perhaps outside on the patio. I was guilty of being in the back as well, having not moved from the bar area that I initially went to. I counted only about 75 people in the entire place which had the effect of making Twitch look like they were playing to hardly anyone and the band’s performance was overall, and understandably, not as energetic and electrifying as the first time that I had seen them. I can totally understand why the group might be feeling a tad deflated, as surely they were expecting a larger crowd based on the headliner’s reputation and clout.
Not being familiar with Twitch‘s songs — or Godsmack, the band that they apparently sound a lot like — I found myself often not knowing what was an original song and what was a cover. Twitch did play several originals including “Revolution”, “Wicked”, and apparently their most popular song “Walk”. Covers that I knew included KISS‘ “Deuce” and Metallica‘s “Sad But True” — the latter as the show closer. My favorite songs played by Twitch on this evening were “Wicked” and their cover of Godsmack‘s “Awake”.
By the time Autograph came on stage I had secured a great spot near the front of the stage and the general admission area seemed to be filling up (based on peeking over my shoulders a few times). You certainly could not tell that the Autograph band members were disappointed in any way from the rather poor turnout as frontman Simon Daniels, lead guitarist Steve Lynch, and bassist Randy Rand were all smiles from start to finish. The band kicked off their show with “Deep End” from their debut album ‘Sign In Please’ — which was well represented with five other songs being played from that ten track album — and they sounded tight and the harmonies were excellent. Early on, there were shouts from the audience about playing “Turn Up…” which was obviously a reference to Autograph‘s biggest hit “Turn Up The Radio”. After hearing one of the many requests, Daniels jokingly said something along the lines that they do not play that song anymore and that they would be “testing” about ten new songs on the audience that was serving as “guinea pigs”.
Every song that Autograph played was a good one and I am definitely a fan of the new line-up that has ditched the keyboards for a more guitar oriented sound. Frankly, Autograph‘s songs seem to follow the same formula to a large extent and they are pretty “poppy” and commercial sounding even without the keyboards. What struck me was how happy the original band members Lynch and Rand seemed to be while playing the show. Rand even spoke on a microphone at one point and said, “This beats working!” The fact the bassist did not consider playing a live show to be “work” spoke volumes of how he perceives his Autograph gig more than 25 years after the band’s glory days. It is hard to pick one song over the other, but my favorites for the night were “Bad Boy” and “Blondes In Black Cars”. About mid-way through, or towards the end, of the group’s set more people dropped in to the Rockpile West as the Metal On Ice concert ended earlier on.
One thing that struck me about Autograph is that the band seems to have a different business model than many other bands of their era playing clubs with a similar capacity — they appeared to have absolutely no merchandise for sale and there were no guitar picks on any microphones. I noticed that the band members — at least Rand and Daniels — were using bland blue guitar picks with no logos whatsoever on them — I know because I found one on the stage floor near the end of the night. I also noticed that Rand was taking his picks from his pockets. Clearly Autograph was not spending a lot of money on merchandising and maybe have figured out that it is cheaper not to invest in that area of things and potentially get stuck with lots of unsold goods. At the end of the day I don’t really care, as whatever keeps Autograph touring is fine with me.
Autograph closed out their spirited set with their smash hit “Turn Up The Radio”. Probably for the first time in my life, it felt like I was hearing the song from both the front and back given that I could hear Daniels‘ vocals but also all the words to the song being sang by audience members behind me. Daniels‘ vocals seemed almost drowned out a little bit due to so many people singing along to the hit song — there is no doubt that it must be a very cool feeling for the band members to play that song every night. As the consummate professionals that he and the rest of the Autograph guys are, Lynch announced to the crowd that he and the rest of the band hoped to have a couple of drinks with everyone in the audience after the show — and from what I understand, since I did not stick around myself, they did not disappoint meeting everyone and signing everything that came their way.
It is too bad that there were not more people to see Autograph, as the three other hard rock and metal shows that night in Toronto surely took a sizeable number of concert attendees away. Had Autograph been the only show in town that night, I think they could have packed the place. Nevertheless, what I have to conclude is that whether there are only 75 people or thousands upon thousands of people in the audience (like at the M3 Rock Festival), Autograph always puts on a great show. I look forward to seeing them play again and hope that they soon return to Toronto.
01. Bad Religion (Godsmack cover)
02. Lies (Primal Groove cover)
03. Deuce (KISS cover)
06. Awake (Godsmack cover)
07. Hey Brother
08. Gettin Out
10. Sad But True (Metallica cover)
01. Deep End
02. Dance All Night
03. Loud And Clear
04. Bad Boy
05. Blondes In Black Cars
06. When The Sun Goes Down
07. All I’M Gonna Take
08. Send Her To Me
09. Cloud 10
10. My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend Isn’t Me
11. She Never Looked That Good For Me
12. Crazy World
13. That’s The Stuff
14. Turn Up The Radio