IS WOLF HOFFMANN IN THE HOUSE?
Date: March 5, 2022
Venue: The Opera House
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Event: Boonsdale Fest 2022
It had been more than two years since I had been to a concert so you can imagine my excitement at going to see one after all that time. Sure, there had been a few close calls where I thought that I might see a concert in those two years but either the shows would get postponed or in one case, I elected to skip the concert (Dokken with George Lynch opening in Buffalo, New York, USA) given the ever changing requirements to cross the US-Canada border and the sudden surge of the Omicron variant at that time. I didn’t know what to expect when I got to the majestic venue — The Opera House — in terms of mask and proof of Covid vaccine requirements. Things seem to be changing all the time with the rules significantly relaxed for the province of Ontario this month. I noticed that everyone was wearing a mask to go into the venue so assumed that there would be lots of people wearing masks throughout the show. To my surprise, I didn’t need to show my vaccine “passport” even though for what seemed like the last eight months or so, you couldn’t stay at an indoor facility without showing some kind of proof of the Covid vaccine. The fact that you didn’t need to show any vaccine proof made me realize that there would likely be many unvaccinated people in the audience. That’s not a bad thing but keep in mind that I hadn’t been to any indoor facility with unvaccinated people without masks since the start of the masking mandate almost two years ago (or whenever it started).
To appease my wife, I promised her that I would wear a N95 mask during the concert and I stuck to my word. However, my assumption that there would be lots of people wearing masks inside the venue turned out to be quite incorrect. All of the staff members at The Opera House were seemingly wearing masks but probably 95% of the patrons were not. Funny enough, as I am writing this review, The Phoenix Concert Theatre (which is just a few kilometres away from The Opera House) posted an update on “health policies” which indicated that as of March 1, 2022, the Ontario (provincial) government was lifting capacity limits in all remaining indoor public settings and also lifting proof of vaccination requirements for all settings. Interestingly, businesses and other settings can choose to continue to require proof of vaccination but masking requirements remain in place at this time.
Like I mentioned, 95% of the patrons inside The Opera House weren’t wearing any masks so the venue must have qualified for some sort of food or drink establishment exception. The morning after the concert, I took one of my daughters to a swimming lesson and everyone inside that facility was wearing a mask so at best, the Ontario government’s masking requirements seemed quite inconsistent and almost conflicting. You might be wondering why am I spending so much time covering masking requirements in this review? This was my first time attending a concert with a mask, which was rather unpleasant and which certainly impacted my overall enjoyment that evening, and towards the end of Striker’s set, I almost got into an altercation that I think could have easily been avoided and/or diffused had I not been wearing a mask. I’ll get to that at the end of this review.
For me, wearing a mask at the concert made sense simply because I didn’t want to have to self-isolate or impact my family in any way due to a positive Covid diagnosis derived from my Boonsdale Fest 2022 concert attendance. I realize that during the last few months, many of my friends and acquaintances have tested positive for Covid with most reporting very mild to no symptoms. However, all of them ended up having to isolate for five to 10 days or whatever the time period is these days. Obviously, contracting Covid these days seems to be nothing compared to what it once was earlier on in the pandemic. There have been quite a few people that have lost their lives due to Covid including people in the music industry and that I have personally met or corresponded with such as Rock N Skull promoter Justin Murr and HighVolMusic principal Bill Chavis.
But enough about the mask mandates, I got to The Opera House around half way through the second opening act of the festival. Lutharo are fronted by a female vocalist and play heavier music with almost growl like lead vocals at times. Definitely, not my cup of tea so there is really no point in commenting on their live performance since I didn’t like what I heard.
I was looking forward to finally checking out Villain live. The group was founded a couple of years ago by former Midnight Malice frontman Caleb Beal and although the band had played quite a number of gigs in the greater Toronto area, I had never caught them live. I was actually more familiar with Midnight Malice given that their debut full-length album Proving Grounds finished at #10 on the Sleaze Roxx’s Top Ten Albums of 2014. I also had interviewed Caleb a couple of times during his time in Midnight Malice including an in person interview way back in May 2014. I actually used to do many interviews in person but these days, everything is done over the telephone. In fact, I think that my last in person interview dates back to when I interviewed either Eclipse frontman Erik Mårtensson or Babylon A.D. lead vocalist Derek Davis at the Rock N Skull Festival back in late October 2016. I mention this because I can still vividly remember any in person interview that I have ever done including exactly where I was at the time but I cannot say the same thing for telephone interviews. All this to say that I remembered my encounter with Caleb quite well and I was intrigued to see him perform in Villain.
One big difference right off the bat between Midnight Malice and Villain was the gear worn by Beal on stage. While I believe that he simply wore the standard headbanger gear of jeans, t-shirt, jean jacket and running shoes in Midnight Malice, he was wearing what appeared to be football pads over his shoulders and torso, and from his knees to his feet. This alone gave him a bigger more menacing look. Oddly though, the rest of his bandmates did not follow suit and wore more traditional clothes onstage so it really made Beal stand out, which is a good thing. One thing that hadn’t changed is that Beal was seemingly still in great physical shape as it certainly appeared that the man works out or at least does some sit ups from time to time. You could tell that Villain definitely had a fanbase in Toronto because the crowd approached the stage when the group started playing and a lot of people seemed familiar with their material. That was a sharp contrast to the reception that the next group Thunderor received mainly because the latter is a new band and might have been playing its debut gig as far as I could tell. In any case, the crowd seemed into Villain‘s set.
After playing one original tune, Villain played a cover of Judas Priest‘s sublime “Riding On The Wind” which I think got the crowd going even more. It was interesting to hear “Riding On The Wind” with only one guitar but Villain pulled it off. The rest of Villain‘s set consisted of three more songs from their self-titled debut EP (“The Ride”, “Breaking Free” and “Fires In The North”) and presumably three new tracks (“Venus Mound”, “Too Late For Heaven” and “Razing Hell”). All of the songs in Villain‘s set were good ones and I wondered how come Sleaze Roxx had not covered the band at least a little more over the last few years. However, as I am writing this review, I went on Villain‘s Bandcamp page and I think I saw the reason as the EP cover just didn’t seem in line with the music that I was hearing live. This was definitely a case where the EP cover felt much heavier and darker than the music that I had heard from the band at The Opera House. Whatever the case, I really enjoyed Villain‘s set.
After the band finished playing, Beal could be seen from the stage tapping people’s hands in the front row of the general admission area. Someone asked him for a setlist but the singer advised that everything was “in his head.” Later on, I reached out to Beal to find out what was Villain‘s setlist and he was kind enough to respond positively. I should note that the Boonsdale Fest 2022 consisted of five Canadian bands including four groups located within one hour of Toronto. It made me proud to have so many Canadian bands on one bill.
01. Hopes End
02. Riding On The Wind (Judas Priest cover)
03. The Ride
04. Breaking Free
05. Venus Mound
06. Too Late For Heaven
07. Razing Hell
08. Fires In The North
The night in question was a special one for Thunderor as the Boonsdale Fest 2022 served as their debut album release show. Thunderor are a relatively new band consisting of Skull Fist drummer JJ Tartaglia (who also handles lead vocals and keyboards), Jonny Nesta on guitar and Oscar Rangel on bass who had just released their debut record Fire It Up on February 25, 2022. I believe that Tartaglia is affiliated with Boonsdale Records in some way and is presumably the architect behind the Boonsdale Fest 2022, which explains the prominent spot for the new band on the festival’s line-up.
Clearly, concert attendees seemed more familiar with Villain than Thunderor when the latter hit the stage since there was a bit of a gap between the stage and where the audience was standing. That didn’t stop the Thunderor band members though from putting on a great set. Nesta was all smiles and jumped around covering a large portion of the stage. Rangel had a more intense look to him. Tartaglia was handling double duty playing drums and lead vocals, which I thought was really impressive. The only other time that I can recall seeing a drummer handle the singing duties was when I had seen Night Ranger and for that band, drummer Kelly Keagy only handled the lead vocal duties for about half the songs since bassist Jack Blades handled the rest. In addition, I suspect that the Night Ranger songs might be a little easier to sing since the songs are simply slower and more melodic than the Thunderor material. All that to say that I was very impressed with Tartaglia playing drums and handling the singing duties at the same time for Thunderor‘s entire set.
Thunderor‘s brand of music felt a little bit more progressive compared to the music played by Villain or Striker, and I thought sounded better live than on their album. Tartaglia has a rather high pitched and distinctive voice that took a little bit of getting used to. Given that it seemed that the drummers in the various bands were using the same drum kit throughout the evening (making for less down time from one band to the next), Tartaglia was unfortunately a little further back than he should likely have been for the person handling the lead vocals. Certainly, when I had seen Night Ranger play live, Keagy‘s drum kit was placed closer to the audience and a little bit sideways so that presumably the audience members could get a better glimpse of him when he was singing. I suppose that as Thunderor move up the ranks or start headlining more shows, they can remedy this situation and place Tartaglia‘s drum kit a little closer on the stage to the audience so that he receives a larger share of the spotlight.
I enjoyed Thunderor‘s set and look forward to seeing them play live again in the future. The group has some rather cool and sometimes high profile gigs coming up including a show at the Spillestedet Stengade in Copenhagen, Denmark on June 7th and a spot on the México Metal Fest in Mexico City, Mexico (which includes U.D.O.) on June 17th. The day after the concert, I reached out to Thunderor to get their setlist so thank you to Tartaglia for the speedy response / information.
01. Fire It Up
02. On the Run
03. All Or Nothing
04. Dangerous Times
06. How We Roll
Before long, Western Canadian heavy metal rockers Striker were on stage. I believe that they came on at around 11:30 pm or so. I had seen Striker play live for the first time back in June 2019 when they opened for Steel Panther and I was looking forward to hearing a full headlining set from them. Striker have undergone some major line-up changes since I had seen them play live given that long-time members Adam Brown (drums) and Chris Webber (guitar) are no longer in the band and have been respectively replaced by drummer Jonathan Webster and returning guitarist John Simon Fallon. Webster joined Striker back in November 2019 and seemingly took the last two plus years to grow his hair long as he had short hair when he initially joined the band but was sporting long locks this time around. Fallon on the other hand had just rejoined the band less than two months ago after a prior tour of duty from 2015 to 2017.
Fallon is actually the subject of my concert review headline “Is Wolf Hoffmann in the house?” As I was watching the guitarist play live, I was thinking that there was something so eerily familiar about him. For the longest time during Striker‘s set, I was just looking at Fallon and thinking he looked so familiar. It wasn’t until the show was over that it dawned on me that Fallon reminded me of a younger but shorter Wolf Hoffmann (of Accept fame) with his bald head, cleanly shaven face and huge smile. Fallon fit in quite well with the rest of the band members an it was always neat seeing him play harmonies alongside guitarist Tim Brown.
To say that the Striker band members were happy to be there would be an understatement. You could see wide grins on each of the Striker members’ faces. The only time that I saw some looks of concern came from Webster given that on two or three occasions, I saw him look at one of his drumsticks in disgust before tossing it and finding a new one. Well, Webster apparently busted quite a few drumsticks given that he ran out of them early on (I believe by the fifth or sixth song in Striker‘s live set). I even overheard Webster exclaim that he didn’t have any drumsticks left as he had gone through every drumstick that he had brought for the tour. There was then a short pause while Webster went hunting for additional drumsticks. I believe that Thunderor drummer JJ Tartaglia came to Webster‘s rescue offering him his carefully packed drumsticks. A gentleman that looked like a roadie had also secured some drumsticks so Webster was all set for the rest of Striker‘s set.
Brown seemed to be really happy to be back playing live and at one point early on in the show proclaimed that “Heavy metal beat Covid.” Striker lead vocalist Dan Cleary then cheekily told everyone that this would be the last factual comment provided by Brown for the evening, which I took as Cleary‘s friendly message to Brown to “shut the fuck up.” It wasn’t said in any negative way so I don’t want you to think anything of this because all of the Striker band members seemed to really enjoy each other’s company while on stage. Bassist Pete Klassen, who is also the frontman for the Japan based Tokyo Spandixxx, made lots of poses from flexing his muscles to some dramatic poses near the drum kit. Klassen is a great singer in his own right and I encourage you to check out Tokyo Spandixxx‘s two EPs — Kick Big Ass (2017) and Give A Loud F*ck (2019). I am not sure what is going on with Tokyo Spandixxx these days but hopefully, there will be some new material from them in the future and presumably when Covid subsides.
Speaking of lead vocalist, Cleary has to be one of the top singers in heavy metal these days. What a voice! The man can certainly sing and sounds fantastic live! That being said, I understand that this was Striker‘s first gig in a long time and the first of their Deathwish Tour, which will resume on April 7th when they are one of the opening acts for Beast In Black‘s Dark Connection Tour 2022. I was a little surprised that Striker‘s setlist at The Opera House was quite similar although a little longer than when I saw them opening for Steel Panther back in June 2019. Striker played ten songs opening for Steel Panther and all of those songs were included in the former’s set at The Opera House along with two new songs (“Deathwish” and “Strange Love”), “Pass Me By” (from the Striker album), “Crossroads” (from the City of Gold record) and the only encore “Full Speed Or No Speed” (from the Eyes In The Night album). Overall, Striker ended top playing one song from Eyes In the Night (2010), one from Armed To The Teeth (2012), one from City of Gold (2014), three from Stand In The Fire (2016). three from Striker (2017), four from Play To Win (2018) and two new tracks.
Given that Striker have changed their sound somewhat and particularly with their last album Play To Win (which landed the #8 spot on the Sleaze Roxx’s Top Ten Albums of 2018) from mainly thrash metal to songs with more melodies and harmonies, I was a little disappointed that the band didn’t play more songs from Play To Win. hell, they could have played the entire Play To Win album from start to finish and I would have been a happy camper. I am not really into Striker‘s earlier thrash metal albums so even though only one song was played from each of their first three full-length albums, that was three too many in my view. I would have loved hearing Striker play an easy to sing along track such as “Hands of Time” or the title track to their last studio album Play To Win but that just did not materialize. So, as much as I loved seeing Striker play live, I think that a few tweaks to their live setlist could have made their set even better.
Throughout the show, I sported what felt like the Darth Vader look with my uncomfortable mask for the entire evening. Although most of the people in the audience were not wearing masks (I doubt that I’ll be wearing one at my next concert), it must have felt weird for the bands looking out into the audience and seeing people with masks hiding their nose and mouth. You can’t see those people singing along or anything. I think that it was ended up causing a problem with a gentleman who stood next to me in the general admission area near the side of the stage for what seemed like the last four or five songs from Striker‘s set.
Eventually and for some unknown reason, the man started taking an interest with me and tried to tell me something in my ear. Of course, I have no idea what he was trying to say given that Striker were playing right in front of us. The man kept wanting to “chat” and I believe asked me for what publication that I was working with (given that I had a camera with me). I told him but have no idea if he actually heard me. Before long, I could feel that I was being stared at and as I looked to my left a couple of times, I saw the man staring at me rather than looking at what was happening on the stage in front of us. Eventually, the man placed what looked like a torn piece of paper on my left arm that was resting on the edge of the stage. When I pushed the paper away from my left arm, the man seemed to take exception to this. All I could think of was this is some bizarre encounter that perhaps could lead to a fight if I didn’t diffuse the situation. I turned to the man and gave him a “thumbs up” suggesting that everything was cool between us. That didn’t seem to work. Had I not been wearing a stupid mask, I have to think that the man would have seen me smile and likely realized that there was no issue at all between us. Unfortunately, all he could really see were my eyes and my Darth Vader styled mask, which apparently did not inspire confidence.
Towards the end of Striker‘s last song, the man must have realized that I did not mean any harm to him. To his credit, he apologized for his behaviour. We introduced ourselves to each other and that was that. It was a rather odd way for me to end the evening and I decided not to linger too long at the venue. It was getting late in any case (perhaps around 1:00 am) and the Boonsdale Fest 2022 had lasted a lot longer than I expected and I knew that I had to get up early the next morning to take my youngest child to her swimming lesson.
Overall, Striker put on a great and fun set. I definitely felt like I got my money’s worth (less than $20.00 Cdn for the concert ticket) and I would gladly see Villain, Thunderor and of course Striker play live again.
01. Heart of Lies
02. Born To Lose
04. Former Glory
05. Strange Love
06. The Front
07. Head First
08. Out For Blood
09. On The Run
11. Pass Me By
12. Phoenix Lights
13. Too Late
14. Fight For Your Life
15. Full Speed Or No Speed