HAREM SCAREM AT THE OSHAWA MUSIC HALL TURNS INTO AN EPIC EVENT
Date: September 30, 2017
Venue: The Music Hall Night Club & Concert Theatre
Location: Oshawa, Ontario, Canada
Reviewer: Tyson Briden
Photos: Ron Del @ Way Hot Graphics
Have you ever been to a music event that you think about after the fact with a huge smile on your face? It just so happens that Harem Scarem at the Oshawa Music Hall this past weekend is one of those such events. Being that Oshawa is my hometown, it was really nice to jump into an Uber vehicle and within five minutes reach the final destination of the evening.
Right from my point of arrival at the venue, I ran into someone I knew. This would be the start of a common occurrence all evening. Digging into my background a bit, I will admit that I played guitar in a Bon Jovi tribute band for many years, so over that time I met a lot of great people who I am still very happy to run into today. Also writing for Sleaze Roxx the last 10 months, I have made a few new friends. One of the bands that I have really gotten to know over this time is Toronto’s Punishment. It just so happens that they would be on this evening’s bill.
As we walked in the doors of the Music Hall, an old friend, former bandmate and the evening’s promoter Shamus Black of Black Moon Entertainment was there to greet us. Standing right behind him, with a pile of tickets in his hand was Punishment drummer Pat Carrano. As Carrano saw me, he quickly passed me two tickets that had a sticky note on top with my name on it. Thank you Punishment for always taking good care of me. You guys are the best. We shook hands. I wished Carrano good luck and we proceeded into the doors of the venue. Just before doing so, I also noticed bass player Andy Narsingh from Juggernaut who were on the bill as well. Andy and I said a friendly hello. My wife and I proceeded to the bar.
As we approached the bar, I quickly noticed Punishment guitarist Kevin Gale chatting with a familiar face. Could this be? Nicholas Walsh and Gale conversing? Hmmm, very interesting turn of events. Could this be the beginnings of a Slik Toxik reunion? The first band Crossdockers were just leaving the stage. Sorry gentlemen, I missed your show. Gale turned to us and said hello. It would be minutes before Gale would take the stage. At this point, my wife and I made are way closer to the stage.
What can I say about Punishment? Interesting point. Well, let me tell you. Punishment are different from everything else out there today. Vocalist Brad Searl has such an impact on that stage. He sings like a seasoned pro. His voice is more baritone with a sweet sense of intensity. “Once Were Gods” starts off this amazing set. I am quickly singing along. Gale on the guitar I quickly notice has a great bottom end tone. Gale’s use of chording is genius. For those who are unaware, Gale tunes his E string very low, giving the band’s sound a distinct heaviness but with a catchy sensibility. Bassist Mark Johnston keeps the heavy groove going as he pounds on his five string bass. As for drummer Carrano, he is a machine on that drum kit always creating the perfect groove. Together as Punishment, the four are a force to be reckoned with. The band is a tight, cohesive unit of professionalism. Punishment‘s set consists of songs from their recent release Remnants of Things Left Unsaid and their 2009 E.P. “Southernbound”, “Hyprocrisy” and “The Bridge” hit the audience right where it hurts. There are many people congregating towards the stage. Very nice to see for an early opener, but not hard to believe considering the intensity of the material. The next two numbers are ones that I am very fond of. “A Little Dodgy” shows off Searl’s great prowess as a lead vocalist. “Cocaine” is the covers of all covers. This Eric Clapton classic has been reworked to suit the style and swagger of this great band. Well done as usual.
What is left to come of this performance you may ask? Well, two words will define what occurs next — Nicholas Walsh. If I didn’t see it myself, I wouldn’t believe it. So as you’re reading you’re probably thinking, so which Slik Toxik song will the band be performing on this evening. Not to be my friends. As Punishment breaks into “Colours & Skeletons”, Walsh and Searl trade off vocals. It’s very cool to hear because Searl‘s singing in his lower register as Walsh belts out high pitched harmonies. A perfect end to a perfect performance. Wow!!!
01. Once Were Gods
04. The Bridge
05. A Little Dodgy
07. Colours & Skeletons
Between Punishment and the next band Carbon, we make our way back to the bar. Suddenly I am told Slik Toxik drummer Neil Busby is in attendance and standing right beside me. Now isn’t this a great turn of events. I quickly introduce myself. Bus as he’s known in the Slik Toxik circle and myself have conversed occasionally on Facebook. It was a thrill to finally meet the man in person. Now this was turning out to be quite the eventful evening. Not sure what could become of it, if anything at all, but I know a lot of people in Toronto and surrounding area having been asking for a Slik Toxik reunion for many years. Me being one of them of course. My feeling is that this could be a huge boost to the local Toronto scene. Just another kick in the ass that music needs in the Greater Toronto Area. I will make this mention though, if a Slik Toxik reunion were to happen, I would hope that it does not interfere with Punishment. I would hope that Gale would carry on with both bands. So we will call this segment of the review… To Be Continued!!!
Unfortunately, Carbon are a band I was unfamiliar with, but with that said, they did impress me. I was not able to attend the set of material they played on this evening, but I will say this… In terms of sound and musicianship, Carbon were not out of place. If I had to catergorize Carbon’s sound, I would say it borders on the feel of Kingston band The Headstones. I think that’s not a bad comparison whatsoever. I did end up taking a copy of Carbon’s CD home with me thanks to ’80s hair rock afficianado and friend, Shawn Baker. So next time I see Carbon, I will be a little more in tune to what they have to offer. Thanks Shawn!!!
When it comes to local musicians, Juggernaut are comprised of three of the best in the area. Not taking anything from what they may do outside of the Durham region, I just mean this in the context that the three members can be found regularly playing in the local establishments throughout the region. The band is comprised of singer/guitarist Michael Vassos, singer/bassist Andy Narsingh and drummer Dave Langguth. As the show went on, I would also come to discover that singer Nicholas Walsh would also be the guest vocalist on the evening. Juggernaut would start their amazing set with three originals all sung by Vassos. What will I say about these originals? Fantastic. “Freak Machine,” “Just Got Back” and “Sometimes” sounded fresh and were executed perfectly. From there, Narsingh would take over on vocals to cover the AC/DC classic “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.” Purely magical. The musicianship of this tight band was purely amazing. Having seen Vassos and Narsingh a few months back at a jam night that Punishment drummer Pat Carrano invited me to, I knew what to expect. Vassos as a guitar player truly impresses me. This guy can play anything and really owns it when he performs. As for drummer Langguth, it had been sometime since I had seen him play. I will admit this, I was on bill at the Rockpile a few years back where both of us were performing with country artists. Langguth is truly amazing. You compound that with Narsingh’s stellar playing, this becomes an absolute supergroup of sorts.
It was at this time in the show that Walsh would enter on vocals. The opening of Zeppelin’s classic “Good Times, Bad Times” would begin and you knew right away Walsh had the pipes to make this song sing like no other. The remainder of the set would be made up of covers sung by Walsh. The man showed his vocal versatility as Juggernaut plowed through “Moonage,” “Daydream,” Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded” and the Alice In Chains classic “Man In The Box.” What a killer band to warm the audience to what was to come next — Harem Scarem.
01. Freak Show
02. Just Got Back
04. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
05. Good Times, Bad Times
08. Hot Blooded
09. Man In The Box
It had been many years since I had last seen Harem Scarem perform. I believe it was July 1, 1993 on the second stage at Molson Park in Barrie, Ontario, Canada. On the first stage you may ask? Van Halen and Vince Neil. There were other bands on the bill whose names seem to escape me at this time. Harem Scarem would grace the second stage as I believe Sass Jordan or Alannah Myles were taking the stage. It was one of those female Canadian artists that at the time were not hair rock enough for me to partake in seeing. Let’s fast forward 24 years and if I had the chance to see them now, I would be more inclined to taking part. But still with that in mind, if Harem Scarem were on the second stage, I’d still miss either artist. That day all those years ago was so amazing. I recall meeting M.E.A.T. magazine mastermind Drew Masters at his merch table. I believe I even bought a M.E.A.T. t–shirt. Where that shirt is today is beyond me. I remember meeting Harem Scarem guitarist Pete Lesperance at the M.E.A.T. table. I believe The Headstones were also there doing promotion for their debut album. As I think back on that day, I feel somewhat disappointed knowing that Molson Park is no longer there only to be replaced with a huge shopping outlet. They say change is good, but in my eyes, certain things should always remain the same.
Harem Scarem took to the stage on this night with the opening track from their amazing new album United. The opening guitar riff for the song of the same title is so infectious. Only Pete Lesperance plays like Pete Lesperance. Watching Lesperance play is mesmerizing. His use of melody throughout a song is astounding. Lesperance was playing a Gibson SG, which seemed odd at first, but as the show went on, it just became a part of him. Vocalist Harry Hess sounded great. The band quickly went into another track from United, “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” which features a chorus sung by all four members of the band. Red Dragon Cartel singer, and Scarem drummer Darren James Smith filled out the high harmony parts of the vocal as only Smith can do. Bassist Stan Miczek, the newest member of the band although he has been playing with Scarem since they reunited a few years back, adds such a solid foundation to this already killer line-up.
It would be at this time that Hess would pick up a guitar and proclaim that the band went too fast into the previous song for him to pick it up. “Hard To Love” quickly engaged the almost sold out crowd. Upon hearing this song, it was a reminder of all those years ago that I was first introduced to Harem Scarem. It was quickly becoming a memorable and epic evening. The band’s second album Moodswings would be on display next as the band broke into “Stranger Than Fiction.” From there, Hess let the audience know that Smith would be taking over on vocals for “Sentimental Blvd.” As Smith sang the lead vocal, all three members harmonized from the front of the stage. “Bite The Bullet” — yet another track from United — would keep the crowd’s attention. As the song drew to an end, I wondered who would sing the ending vocals provided by Jeff Scott Soto on the studio version. Would it be Hess or Smith? Low and behold, Hess killed it and it did not sound out of place. “If There Was A Time” from Moodswings would slow the mood down slightly, but still kept the audience’s attention. “Slowly Slipping Away” and “Distant Memory” from the debut album really drew the audience in. After all these years these are still the songs you expect from Scarem.
“Change Comes Around” may be one of my favorite Scarem tracks up till United was released, but we will get to that later. This is just one of those songs that captures the essence of Harem Scarem in the early ’90s. Let’s be honest, Moodswings was a departure from the melodic slick sound of the debut album. Scarem became more themselves. They became an edgier, dynamic band incorporating the melodic-ness with a more musical type sound. “Mandy” is up next. A perfect way to incorporate a guitar solo. It’s not over the top shredding. It’s sweet and melodic. It keeps the flow of the show moving. “Garden Of Eden” is the only representation off the band’s last album Thirteen. It sounds amazing although I will admit this was the only Scarem studio album that I do not own. Don’t ask me why. I think at the time of its release, it got lost in the shuffle for me. Time to add it to the list of many albums I need to purchase. Great middle guitar section by Lesperance that leads into the solo. “One Of Life Mysteries” — another United cut sounds great as it does on the album. As the band breaks into “No Justice”, it becomes apparent that the show may soon be over. The band executes the song perfectly. The final song of the night, well at least until the encore is another representation from United. What I love most about Scarem’s setlist on this evening is the fact that they played multiple songs from this terrific album.
It’s at this point in the evening that’s where things go a little off kilter. My wife turns to me and says “I’m not feeling good, I need to eat!” Huh? Are you kidding me? She reiterates this statement a few more times before I actually acknowledge what is being said to me. As she’s saying this, I’m trying to have some empathy for her situation, but Harem Scarem are about to come back on. Well it turns out I am to miss the encore and head to Smoke’s Poutinerie up the street. Great!!! As we discussed the situation a few days later, I voice my displeasure in leaving the show and missing two of the best songs “Saviours Never Die” and my ultimate favorite Scarem track “No Regrets” from of course the United album. It’s at this point that she reminds me of the Rick Springfield show a year prior in Coney Island, New York where I convinced her that “Jessie’s Girl” would not be played for some time so we could head up to the VIP room for a smoke and another beer. So just as we’re standing in the VIP section, we faintly hear what we think is “Jessie’s Girl.” Low and behold, yes, it’s the song my wife had so wanted to hear being vaguely heard behind a wall of thick concrete. So I guess payback is a bitch. The happy ending in all of this is that in two weeks, I will be catching Harem Scarem again in Ottawa. Under no circumstances will be missing one second of that show. Just to be clear to my wife (in a nice way)!!!
Harem Scarem playing at The Music Hall Night Club & Concert Theatre in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada on September 30, 2017:
Harem Scarem @ Oshawa Music Hall Sat. Sept. 30 2017