LAST BULLET GO OUT WITH A BANG!
Date: January 27, 2018
Venue: Horseshoe Tavern
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
It was a real shock for me when I found out that Last Bullet were calling it a day in mid-December 2017 and would honour their last booked show at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto as their final gig. While it was a shock, it wasn’t that much of a surprise. That makes no sense you might say. Let me explain before I get to Last Bullet’s historic final gig.
Why Last Bullet calling it a day was a shock but not a surprise:
I first became aware of Last Bullet through their hard work. After seeing Slash featuring singer Myles Kennedy (along with opener Diemonds whom I heard and saw play for the very first time) tear the roof off of the Phoenix Concert Theatre in March 2012, I was handed a free CD from a gentleman on my way out the venue. I assume that this gentleman was one of the Last Bullet band members. At that time, I was not in my current role of Sleaze Roxx editor and really wasn’t writing many reviews at that time so the CD was going to get a very brief — and I mean very brief — listen before I decided whether I should just throw the CD away. As it turns out, I was hooked right from the opening guitar riff on the EP and Last Bullet‘s frontman Bryan Fontez ended up being the third artist that I interviewed for Sleaze Roxx (after Diemonds and Shock).
What struck me while speaking to Fontez that first time in April 2013 was that not only was Last Bullet really putting their heart and soul into their music but it was an expensive endeavour to keep the band going. I recall how much passion that Fontez exhibited when speaking about how he came up with the song “Jet” and when he let me listen to his cell phone where he recorded the idea for the song. Fast forward almost two years and I was interviewing Fontez at a Thai Express fast food joint (my interview locations can be unconventional) after Last Bullet had just completed a month long cross-country tour of Canada driving more than 2,800 miles one way while playing 26 shows. While I am sure that there were some packed and exciting gigs along the way that tour, Fontez did mention that Last Bullet drove 10 to 14 hours straight to play one show in Whistler, British Columbia (in Canada) where no one showed up. Fontez mentioned that very gig again last night at the Horseshoe Tavern when he mentioned that the group decided to give the bartender (the only person there that night) the best show that he/she had ever seen. Character building? Absolutely, Discouraging? Yeah, that too.
About a month later in early 2015, I witnessed Last Bullet put on one of my favorite concerts of all-time on Valentine’s Day at The Hub Bar & Grill in Oshawa, Ontario (in Canada) where I proclaimed that Last Bullet were the best live act from Toronto that I had ever seen. Rather than release their third album (after 2011’s debut EP Last Bullet and 2012’s EP Love.Lust.Illusion), Last Bullet decided to release singles instead with the emphasis being placed I believe on radio airplay. This was my first glimpse to how Last Bullet really wanted to break through while getting the most value for their money invested into the band. A lot of thought had clearly gone into what was the best strategy to break through and it was decided that radio was the best way. The first single “Sin” was released in November 2015 and showed a departure for the band sound wise. Gone were the easy to sing along ’80s type guitar riffs and melodies along with witty lyrics, and in was a darker heavier sound more akin to more ’90s type music (to my ears). After getting as much mileage of their single “Sin” as possible, Last Bullet released their next single “Southern Lips” (my favorite song of their six new songs on their latest EP 80-69-64 and the closest to the ’80s sound that I love so much) almost a year later in October 2016, which I understand unfortunately didn’t do the commercial damage that the band was hoping for.
It was back to the drawing board so to speak for the band. When I saw them play at This Ain’t Hollywood in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada in early 2017 (I always tried to see Last Bullet play live once or twice per year given that the band always seemed to put on a great live performance), the group appeared a bit burned out or stagnating a little bit. You’ll note that I didn’t expressly say that in my concert review since the performance was still a good one but I did mention it felt like I could predict the order of all of the next songs during the band’s set by the fourth song played. In mid-May 2017, Last Bullet announced that they would be releasing a new EP titled 80-69-64 with a new look, new merch, etc. Add to that some different sounding songs and it was obvious to me that the band was making changes to try to achieve its coveted breakthrough. The fact that the lead off single was “Gimme Time” which was a total departure sound wise for the band from its previous efforts was further proof that the group was basically trying something new to reach its goals.
Considering that Last Bullet‘s EP release party for 80-69-64 (along with four other independent bands) drew 800 people (I am now kicking myself a little bit for missing Last Bullet‘s set that night having opted for the concert double of The Iron Maidens and Diemonds instead) seemed proof that Last Bullet were on the verge of breaking through. The group’s new EP 80-69-64 was getting rave reviews from just about everyone except me (to which Fontez returned the favour criticizing my review in our last interview together). Having an inkling of how bad that Last Bullet wanted to breakthrough, it was a shock to see them calling it quits only six months after the release of 80-69-64 but it wasn’t a surprise because the group had seemingly gotten quite frustrated while throwing everything but the kitchen sink to make it within the confines of the band members’ own finances. You got to respect that.
Last Bullet’s historic final gig:
Knowing that Last Bullet had sold out quite a few smaller venues throughout Toronto during the last few years and drew (along with four other bands) 800 people at the Phoenix Concert Theatre about seven months ago, I made sure to purchase a ticket in advance for the group’s final gig at the Horseshoe Tavern. At first, I thought that Crown Lands would be headlining and closing the night based on how the gig was being advertised. That was a bit of a pity because that meant Last Bullet would only play for likely 45 minutes or so. I was very pleased a few hours before the show when I found out the set times to see that Last Bullet would be closing the evening meaning that they would likely get an extended set for their final gig. I am not sure if it was always going to be the case but if Crowns Land decided or agreed to switch slots with Last Bullet, I want to thank them for doing that. The bad part about Last Bullet closing the night was that it was going to be another late evening. Crown Lands were slated to play at 11:30 pm while Last Bullet were slotted at 12:30 am.
Having been told by new Sleaze Roxx writer Mark Gregory (whose debut interview along with Sleaze Roxx writer Mark Hovarth with Greta Van Fleet singer Josh Kiszka is the interview with the most hits in Sleaze Roxx‘s history since mid-February 2016) that Last Bullet‘s final gig was sold out, I decided to depart earlier than expected and got to the venue by 11:00 pm or so. It had been a long time since I had been at the Horseshoe Tavern and I had forgotten that the venue was actually split into two. The first part is a long bar with a pool table near the washrooms and halfway through the venue is a separate area which is where concerts are held. That latter portion was absolutely packed with people. After the gig, I read via Facebook that one gentleman was refused entry into the concert portion even though he had purchased a ticket in advance. There is something seriously wrong if that happened and a refund is absolutely no consolation or compensation in that regard. In any case, after reading about that gentleman’s plight, I was quite happy to have made it into the venue (even though I purchased a ticket in advance).
I arrived just as Ready The Prince were playing their last song. There must have been 15 rows ahead of me by that point with the crowd tightly packed. Luckily for me, the crowd started dispersing after Ready the Prince‘s set and I was able to get within two rows of the front of the stage. As I patiently waited for Crown Lands to hit the stage, I chatted briefly with a very proud mother who turned out to be Crown Lands drummer and lead vocalist Cody Bowles‘ mom. New Sleaze Roxx writer Mark Gregory had highly recommended Crown Lands to me so I was curious to check them out.
For those who don’t know, Crown Lands consist of only two band members — Bowles on drums and lead vocals and Kevin Comeau on guitar and keyboards. The crowd was packed to see them play. Bowles and Comeau were all smiles and hugged each other before starting to play. There’s not many drummers out there who also handle lead vocals so that was neat to see right off the bat. Bowles had a nice clear voice and had a pretty boy look to him. Comeau was the bearded long haired crazy man on stage jumping around whenever he could on the small stage made even smaller with all of the Last Bullet gear behind them. Athough Bowles was the lead vocalist, it was mostly Comeau who addressed the audience between tracks. While the songs were definitely enjoyable on a first listen, the music did seem a little thin in that you only heard the guitar, the drums or the guitar and drums together. I didn’t know any of the songs except the spirited Rush cover at the end of “Working Man.” My one pet peeve was the extended drum solo during “Working Man” which seemed to break the band’s momentum towards the end.
Overall, Crown Lands put on a spirited and energetic performance. A large part of the audience around me was clearly into the band. Definitely a group to watch out for in the future.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Last Bullet but I had read in advance via the group’s Facebook page that there were a few surprises in store for the final gig. After setting up their gear, the Last Bullet band members stepped off the stage to have their intro music — the short instrumental “March Of The Cowboy” off Love.Lust.Illusion — play. From then on, it was full speed ahead with “Cowboy.” Although the song has generally been one of my favourite Last Bullet tunes over the years, this time around, there were many others on this night that would eclipse it. Next up was “Can’t Move On” from the band’s debut self-titled EP, which I was surprised to hear. It became obvious that Last Bullet would be playing some deep cuts on their final gig. How deep? I would find out soon enough. By this time, it didn’t seem that Last Bullet had hit their stride yet. Perhaps nerves due to their last gig ever as a band? I don’t know. However, by the time the group launched into “State Of Confusion” and “Jet”, the crowd seemed to really be into it and frontman Bryan Fontez started dominating the night with his intensity, witty comments, strong stage presence and control of the audience.
After a spirited performance of “Jet”, Fontez advised that Last Bullet’s original drummer Leo Defina would be joining the band on stage. Current drummer Chris Galaz gave up his spot to Defina while Last Bullet played one of my favorite songs of theirs that I actually never thought that I’d ever hear played live — “Carefree.” I was surprised by how many people knew most of the lyrics to the song (including myself). Clearly, the audience was pro Last Bullet and most of the people around me were singing along with Fontez. One of the newer features of the Last Bullet show had been that rhythm guitarist Michael Silva would address the crowd. I didn’t realize that Silva was or used to be one of the primary songwriters for the band but he advised writing the next song about a “girl” getting the “girl” and still having the “girl” to this day. “What Is Meant To Be” was next. Funny enough, even though I criticized the track in my review of Last Bullet‘s debut EP, it sounded pretty damn good live!
Last Bullet live at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on January 27, 2018:
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I think that it’s around that time that Fontez announced to the crowd that Last Bullet intended on playing every song that they had ever recorded live on this night. Wow! What a fucking treat!!! Fontez also debated whether to divulge the meaning of the title for the band’s latest EP 80-69-64. Silva quickly interjected not to do so and you could see lead guitarist Brenden Armstrong firmly shaking his head “no” to Fontez‘s suggestion. After joking that the title 80-69-64 referred to a lock combo, Fontez advised the audience that we would never know what it would mean! Next up was the Black Sabbath influenced “Smoke & Ashes” followed by “Runnin’ Out Of Time” which was featured as a video back in early 2014. I almost have to eat my words for the next song. After heavily criticizing Last Bullet‘s change in musical direction on 80-69-64 and in particular the song “Gimme Time”, I was floored by how good it actually sounded live and how much I enjoyed it. To me, Last Bullet have always been a band that you need to experience live and the songs on their albums sound even better after experiencing the band live. The only other group that comes to mind in that regard is Steel Panther and that is high praise in my mind because I consider Steel Panther and Last Bullet to be two of the best and most consistent live bands that I have ever seen.
By this time, it seemed that the crowd seemed to get crazier and noisier for each song. Fontez was particularly adept at addressing the crowd between songs. One time, he advised that people must think that he’s on drugs to which he advised with a smile: “I’m not.” Fontez also joked that he was thinking how he shouldn’t drink alcohol prior to the gig and stay “professional” but he said “what the fuck” or something to that effect and had a few before the band’s last gig. Fontez was playful with the audience as he even mouthing the words “It’s kind of lame” to me (I believe) when he saw me clapping one hand to my camera while most of the audience members were clapping with both hands over their heads. The comic tandem of Silva and Fontez worked well whenever they decided to banter between themselves. Silva gave shit to Fontez for forgetting the setlist order. When Fontez started his usual schtick for the track “Southern Lips” where he tells the crowd about the “serious” subject that the band was tackling, Silva jumped in saying that was not necessary on this night before telling the crowd the song was about “pussy.” This is one aspect of the Last Bullet live gig that I would have liked to be more developed. The comic duo tandem of Silva and Fontez could have really been something.
Clearly, this was an emotional night for the Last Bullet band members. Silva who was wearing sunglasses throughout the entire band’s performance got chocked up at one point when addressing the crowd to the point that I believe that Fontez took over for him. Later on in the evening, Fontez would advise the crowd that he promised himself that he wouldn’t cry on stage on this night so he had ensured that he shed all of his tears at the band’s last practice the night before. How many lead singers can say that while retaining all of their machismo? Likely not many but Fontez pulled it off admirably. The great unexpected tracks kept on coming with the songs “Last Bullet” (which was only released as a single but did not make it on any of the group’s EPs) and the surprisingly very good “Love Song To Rock” (which at the end had Fontez leading the crowd through some cool “Na, na, na” chants). Next up was “Rock ‘Til We Die” which Fontez dedicated to an audience member (a tall bald and slim gentleman with a goatee) that I have seen I believe at every single Last Bullet gig that I have ever attended). I have always absolutely loved this song and it seemed to really get the crowd going to a fever pitch.
I should not fail to mention how electric that the atmosphere and audience felt throughout the night. As much as I am sure that Last Bullet will remember their last gig, it will be firmly embedded in my mind as one of the greatest concerts that I have ever attended. I obviously can’t speak to how the entire audience felt but for me, the atmosphere in the audience near the stage was absolutely electrifying. After “Rock ‘Til We Die”, Last Bullet were informed that they only had ten minutes left to play so Fontez advised that there would be no more talking as the band would rush through the rest of its set. Fontez almost forgot to introduce the next guest appearance — Justin James Johnson of In My Coma — who joined the group for the song “Sin.” It was full speed ahead as Last Bullet then played a spirited version of “Little Miss Filthy.” It appeared that Last Bullet were now past the 2:00 am curfew but the band kept playing with Fontez advising that they should keep playing since it was their last gig ever. There was even a plea from Fontez to the sound man to keep things going. Last Bullet ended an amazing and their historic evening with “Forget The Rest” and their cover of Elvis Presley‘s “Jailhouse Rock” which had Fontez go into the audience and headbang with a number of people in the crowd. Last Bullet ended up skipping “Girl’s Gone Wild” which might be the first time that the group did not play that song live.
Last year around this time, I got to see former Accept singer Udo Dirkschneider perform a setlist of Accept classics and the general consensus among concert attendees seemed to be that we had just seen the concert of the year as the atmosphere and concert were off the charts. As it turned out, that did end up being my concert of the year for 2017. I feel the same way about Last Bullet‘s gig at the Horseshoe Tavern. It was an exceptional performance from a band giving its all ’til the last possible note and will likely end up as my concert of the year for 2018. I just don’t see how another concert will be able to top Last Bullet‘s performance at the Horseshoe Tavern this year. I am also going to give a shout out to Fontez whom I consider one of the great frontmen in rock n’ roll who on a good day I would place second to only the ultimate frontman in rock n’ roll — Twisted Sister‘s Dee Snider.
Last Bullet — thank you so much for your music (which will live on), your sacrifices, your electrifying concerts and the great memories. You are in my eyes the greatest live act to emanate from Toronto. The band may now be disbanded but it will never be forgotten by this writer.
Last Bullet’s setlist:
01. March Of The Cowboy
03. Can’t Move On
04. State Of Confusion
06. Carefree (with Leo Defina)
07. What Is Meant To Be (with Leo Defina)
08. Smoke & Ashes
09. Runnin’ Out Of Time
10. Gimme Time
11. Bright Lights
12. Last Bullet
13. Love Song To Rock
14. Southern Lips
15. Rock ‘Til We Die
16. Sin (with Justin James Johnson)
17. Little Miss Filthy
18. Forget The Rest
19. Jailhouse Rock (Elvis Presley cover)
I usually don’t do this but I leave you with this post-concert Facebook post from Last Bullet‘s frontman Bryan Fontez which sums up quite nicely the absolutely electric atmosphere at the Horseshoe Tavern throughout Last Bullet‘s final set.
“This is what a hot, sweaty, drunken, sold-out Horseshoe Tavern looks like at 2am filled with the most passionate and loyal fans you could possibly ask for…
Last Bullet has sold out and played some of the best venues in Toronto. For an independent band with no management, no record label and no booking agency that’s practically unheard of. If we didn’t succeed in our goals then it certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying. We gave everything we had on stage and off.
Regardless, last night was one of the most amazing nights of my life. I didn’t have to sing half the lyrics because all of you were screaming them at me. Every single one of your faces brought back a different memory and because of you I couldn’t stop smiling and reminiscing as I played these songs on stage for the very last time. You have all individually helped us create memories that we’ll keep with us for the rest of our lives. Thank you to all of you for the support over the past nine years.
Most people don’t have a clue how difficult it is being in an independent rock band. It’s a business model that involves an unbelievable level of sacrifice and investment with zero guarantee of any return. Rock bands need your help right now more than ever. Go to shows, buy merch, pay for tickets and share your passion for the music with all your friends and family. It’s the only way a band can grow and survive.
Thank you to everyone who came out last night. Apologies to the horseshoe for going past 2am. Thanks for all the memories”