TORONTO GETS ITS ASS KICKED
Show Date: August 7, 2014
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Venue: Izakaya Sushi House
Band Websites: www.hesslerchicago.com – www.rusted.ca
Getting to see Hessler play live was easily the most anticipated concert of the year for me since the M3 Rock Festival back in April. Why you may ask? What is so special about Hessler? First and foremost, the Chicago rockers have been my favorite band of the last eight months, ever since I found out about them at the beginning of the year. Secondly, the group’s recently released ‘Ghost Dance’ EP is my choice as record of the year thus far (click here to read my review). Finally, from the few videos that I had seen, the band appeared to play in a high energy and spirited fashion, which usually translates into one great live show.
When I heard that Hessler were going to do a tour that would include Canada for the first time during the summer months, I was hoping not to miss the ‘Hess Express’ as I had a family vacation pretty much set in stone for the month of August. I previously had the pleasure of interviewing founder, leader and guitarist Igz Kincaid — along with new lead vocalist Jessikill (click here to read the interview) — so I contacted him to find out exactly when the band was planning on playing in Toronto. I admit that it was a tad presumptuous on my part to assume that Toronto would be on the itinerary, but really, how could it not? Kincaid‘s reply was that they were shooting to play here on August 8th but nothing had been finalized. This was quite disappointing for me since my wife had already meticulously planned for us (and the kids) to leave for vacation that evening! Given these circumstances, I later inquired whether there might be some tour dates at other nearby cities in the days prior. Shortly after, the schedule for Hessler‘s second leg of their ‘Ghost Dance Summer Tour’ was released, and lo and behold, they were going to be playing in Toronto on August 7th! There is no need to say that I was thrilled with that date.
However, the band was scheduled to play at a sushi house — a sushi house? A quick check on the internet confirmed that the Izakaya Sushi House was a restaurant/bar with a concert “hall” in the back of the establishment. From what I gathered, the “hall” was most likely used for karaoke purposes. Nevertheless, I was just happy that Hessler were playing in Toronto and it is always cool to check out a new live venue.
When the tour schedule was released I noticed that the majority of dates included a band called Rusted. By the time that Hessler and Rusted rolled into town, I had become very familiar with the latter’s music (click here to read my review of their ‘Rock Patrol’ CD) and even scheduled an interview with the band to take place about five hours prior to their show. Funny enough, I arrived at the Izakaya Sushi House before the Rusted band members — and the venue owner seemed very friendly and even let me hang out in the concert “hall” while waiting, for what turned out to only be five to ten minutes, for the band to arrive. The venue felt like a small older school gym with a low to regular height ceiling. Due to the venue configurations, I noticed immediately that anyone who was not in the front row of the general admission area would have their sightlines at least slightly impeded unless they were very tall.
For that reason, I showed up at the venue when the doors opened at 9:00 pm. This was the first show organized by Neurotic Entertainment, which is spearheaded by the ambitious and ’80s metal fan Karina Davy. The Izakaya Sushi House was transformed from a small gym to a legitimate cool looking concert hall with a Christmas feel to it with all the lights. As what seems to be happening more and more in Toronto, the order in which the bands were playing did not seem to mirror each band’s experience and notoriety. Hessler were scheduled to open the festivities, followed by Montreal based Rusted, and then by the “headliner” and local band Ammo, whom I had never heard of until the show was announced.
With the familiar (to me) intro words “What a Rush”, from wrestling’s legendary Road Warriors, Hessler hit the stage and proceeded to play one of the highest energy sets that I have ever seen. The band was on fire as they ripped through three tracks from their new EP ‘Ghost Dance’: the title track, “Never Lost My Way” and “Darker Secrets”. The stage setup had some nice touches with a logo backdrop and little skulls similar to the ‘Ghost Dance’ cover. The audience included a veritable who’s who of the Toronto metal scene with Skull Fist frontman Zach Slaughter (in particular to Jessikill‘s delight), Diemonds lead vocalist Priya Panda and bassist Tommy Cee, Reverse Grip bassist Kramer White and drummer Kris Lamb, and Midnight Malice manager Craig Rose, being among the people that I spotted. Clearly Hessler have made a lot of friends in the industry and have earned the respect from a lot of their peers. Aside from the all-out high energy that the band was displaying, what firmly stood out was that Jessikill simply has one incredible voice — it was almost shocking just how good she sounded. She must be the female equivalent of Iron Maiden‘s Bruce Dickinson.
Hessler then started delving into their back catalog of songs including “Confessions”, from their ‘Come With The Territory’ CD, and “Windy City Wild Child”, from the ‘Bad Blood’ EP — the latter dedicated by Kincaid to Toronto’s now infamous mayor Rob Ford. One of the highlights for me was when the band played an excellent cover of Iron Maiden‘s “Hallowed By Thy Name”, which really got the crowd singing along. I have not seen too many bands cover Bruce Dickinson era Iron Maiden material, and the reason for that seems to be that mastering his vocal parts is no easy feat. However, with a singer as good as Jessikill, Hessler simply breezed through the song.
The camaraderie between Hessler and Rusted was in full display during the Chicago band’s set (and later during Rusted‘s performance). The Rusted band members were in the front row singing along and even provided shots to all of the Hessler band members while they were playing — this was then reciprocated by Hessler throughout Rusted‘s set. It was nice to see considering that this was the final night when both bands would be playing on the same bill during this tour.
Unfortunately a few of the Hessler members, most notably Kincaid and bassist Erik Michael, had to deal with instances of strings breaking throughout the set. Nevertheless, the band handled the unexpected technical glitches quite well. At one point during “Hallowed By Thy Name” Kincaid even pretended to be playing while furiously headbanging while waiting for someone to get him another guitar, so as not to break the flow of the song. There is no need to mention names, but I have recently seen at least one much more established band handle similar situations like these in a much poorer fashion and really ruining the show in the process. Hessler ended their stellar but short set with spirited versions of “Crash ‘N Burn” and “Waste Away”.
Obviously I would have liked to hear more than eight songs from Hessler, and more from the recent ‘Ghost Dance’ EP, but the amount of time they had seems to be the norm for bands like theirs in smaller Toronto venues. I later learned from Kincaid that all of the various guitar strings breaking meant that they shortened their set by not playing “Kamikazi”. Usually when I attend a show, I try to keep track of the setlists but I was having so much fun during Hessler‘s set that I elected to ask them for it after the show. I had already been impressed with Kincaid in the lead up to the Sleaze Roxx interview about six months prior and he did it again. When I asked to doublecheck Hessler‘s setlist with him after the show he handed me a copy of it that he had already set aside for me. The man is truly one of the most organized and thoughtful rockers that I have ever met.
Next up was Rusted who I thought had a hard act to follow. The band members started their show by doing a little huddle around drummer D.Izzy‘s kit. The massive Rusted banner, consisting of leopard prints and the band’s name in red print (does it get any more ’80s than that?), took the whole length of the stage. Just like Hessler, Rusted had some nice touches to their stage set with various skulls of bulls and people adorning the stage. It reminded me a bit of what a Motley Crue stage set might have looked like before they made it big. Lead singer Tony Rust warned the crowd that they were about to get their asses kicked. After the ass kicking performance that Hessler had just put on, I did not have much left to be kicked — but Rusted finished me off with their own ass kicking performance.
Mainly playing material from their solid ‘Rock Patrol’ CD, Rusted provided a high energy and fun filled set. Their songs sounded a lot heavier live than on their albums, which was a good thing to my ears. Opening with “Partners In Crime” and “Just A Dream”, Rusted powered through their set. The constant smiles on the faces of bassist Mark Shark and guitarist ManiaK spoke volumes of what a great time that Rusted were having playing live.
Every song that Rusted played was a good one. During the band’s power ballad “Last Stand”, it seemed that I was seeing a much younger looking Bret Michaels as Rust played an acoustic guitar while wearing a cowboy hat over his headband. The band ended really strongly with their last three songs of the night. First up was “Tsunami”, which is tailor made to be played live and elicited a lot of crowd response and singing. Next up was “Rock Patrol”, which really has all of the elements of a great song wrapped into one and again provided lots of sing along opportunities for the crowd during the chorus. Rusted then ended their set with the catchy “Young, Wild & Free”. Both before and after the show, Rust expressed concerns to me that his voice was suffering from singing for the tenth night out of the last eleven — but I thought that he sounded good throughout the set.
After hanging out a little bit after Rusted performed, I ended up taking off and missing Ammo‘s set. Prior to the show, I had tried to find some music from Ammo on the internet but could not uncover any. Had I been able to hear, and presumably like, what Ammo had to offer prior to the show I would have likely have stuck around. However, with the thought of a very full work day ahead of me and a 15 hour drive starting in less than 24 hours, getting at least a few hours of sleep seemed like the better option. Maybe next time Ammo!
The best news of the evening came when Kincaid advised me that Hessler were planning on touring Canada again in November! In addition, when I “discovered” and began listening to Rusted a couple of weeks ago, I eventually realized that they were one of the scheduled opening acts for an upcoming Blaze Bayley show that I was planning on attending in October. This means that I will most likely get the chance to see both groups play live again before the end of the year. If you are able to catch a show from either band, I highly recommend that you do so!
01. Ghost Dance
02. Never Lost My Way
03. Darker Secrets
05. Windy City Wild Child
06. Hallowed By Thy Name (Iron Maiden cover)
07. Crash ‘N Burn
08. Waste Away
01. Partners In Crime
02. Just A Dream
03. Two At A Time
05. Last Stand
06. Scream In The Night
08. Rock Patrol
09. Young, Wild & Free