RATT’S ‘NEW BREED’ LINE-UP BRINGING INTEGRITY BACK TO THE BAND NAME
Date: December 12, 2019
Venue: Showplace Theater
Location: Buffalo, New York, USA
Thirty five years ago at this time, Ratt topped my list of favorite bands and Out of The Cellar was on daily rotation. I could have never imagined how much of an impact that hard rock / heavy metal would have on my life and that I would be going to see Ratt play live 35 years later. Although Ratt were at one point “my favorite band”, I had only seen them perform live once before way back in 2007 when they opened for Poison at the Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It was a short set so I definitely wanted more Ratt ‘n Roll that evening. More recently, I got a chance to see Ratt frontman Stephen Pearcy perform live (two times in 2016 — once at The Rockpile in Toronto and once at the Rock N Skull Festival in Joliet, Illinois, USA). Both times, I thought that Pearcy was great so it was disheartening to see the singer struggle and falter through a series of shows during Ratt‘s first few months live with their current line-up of Pearcy, bassist Juan Croucier, drummer Pete Holmes, and guitarists Jordan Ziff and Chris Sanders.
With Pearcy struggling with some apparent severe knee pain and delivering some unfortunate subpar live performances in the fall of 2018, what should have been a triumphant moment for Pearcy and Croucier (after getting the band name back from Bobby Blotzer and putting the drummer’s version of the band to rest) was turning into a nightmare scenario with doubts that Pearcy could make it through the long haul. A couple of months later, Pearcy had his much needed knee surgery and in May 2019, Ratt embarked on their In Your Direction World Tour 2019-20 and all seemed well again in the world of Ratt. Some Ratt fans will say that it can’t be Ratt without lead guitarist Warren DeMartini in the line-up and I get that. That being said, it’s much better to have a Ratt line-up with Pearcy fronting it and firing on all cylinders than no band at all. I don’t know what are the true reasons why DeMartini is no longer in Ratt but it’s been long said that the guitarist did not want to tour and if that’s the case, I’d rather have Ratt keep going without him than have the entire band sit back on the sidelines once again. I’ve never been a fan of Bobby Blotzer‘s version of the band but if that was the only version of Ratt that would have been available, the drummer would have had my full support. Of course, that didn’t turn out that way and I’d rather have a Ratt line-up with Pearcy and Croucier than one spearheaded only by Blotzer when it comes to the band’s classic line-up members.
All this to say that I was thrilled when Ratt announced their XXX-Mas Tour for December 2019 and one of the tour stops was in Buffalo, New York, which is only about 1.5 hours away from Toronto (in Canada). For only about $44 US, I was able to purchase a “Pit” ticket, which would presumably mean a place near the front of the stage at the Showplace Theater in Buffalo. About a week prior to the concert, I realized that I didn’t have a ticket for the show even though I remembered purchasing my ticket online. Even though I always keep whatever e-mails that I receive confirming my concert ticket purchases, I just couldn’t find any e-mails with respect to the Ratt concert. It wasn’t until I reviewed my PayPal account that I found confirmation that I had indeed bought a ticket and with that information, I was able to track down one e-mail confirming my ticket purchase. I then contacted the Showplace Theater via Facebook on Saturday (December 7th) to inquire about my missing ticket and to my surprise, someone responded. Not only that, the gentleman that responded took the time to look for my purchased ticket and after a while, he confirmed that I indeed had purchased a ticket. The gentleman was also nice enough to add me to the media list.
I was all set! In my quest to obtain a press / photo pass, I had previously messaged the one and only Stephen Pearcy to see if he might able to help out in that regard. This is something that I rarely do. The singer offered to make himself available for an interview before the show and it was with great regret that I had to reply that I couldn’t get there that early. If you would have told me 35 years ago that I would be corresponding directly with Stephen Pearcy to interview him 35 years later, I would have thought that you were crazy but times have changed. Social media on the internet has made everyone much more accessible and In any case, I was bummed that I couldn’t meet Pearcy for the first time and interview him in person (having interviewed him twice before in 2017 and 2019) but my parental duties came first.
With a lot of coordinating, I was able to leave Toronto at 6:00 pm and drove down to Buffalo in pretty good time. It was an excellent opportunity to figure out where some of this year’s top albums would end up on the Sleaze Roxx’s Top Ten Albums of 2019 as hearing snippets of this year’s greatest album releases one after another is an excellent way for me to narrow down the top releases and rank them accordingly. I was shocked to see that Buffalo had quite a bit of snow compared to Toronto. For those who have never been to the city of Toronto during the winter, it is a bit of an enigma as the city core must be so hot with all the concrete because there can be hardly any snow in the city core but tons of snow throughout the suburbs or the greater Toronto area. I eventually arrived shortly before 8:00 pm and to my dismay, the Showplace Theater was already packed with people.
The venue was essentially one huge general admission room with a small balcony towards the back of the venue. Clearly, the sightlines would not be that great from the back of the venue so I inquired about my press / photo pass for the show. I eventually met the friendly gentleman who had found my ticket a few days ago and I was eventually directed to the venue owner. Both were quite friendly but without any answers about my press / photo pass. One of them did mention that since I had purchased a “Pit” or VIP ticket, I didn’t need a press / photo pass. At the time, I didn’t quite understand what he meant but once I got to the “Pit” area, I realized what they meant. The “Pit” essentially covered the first ten rows of people and was gated in. If you paid for the premium ticket, you had a solid view of the stage and for only $18.00 US extra, I am surprised that not everyone in the audience would have wanted to do that. From what I understand, the VIP area was sold out and in fact, it felt like the entire place was a sell out considering the sea of people inside the venue.
Initially, I thought that I was going to be seeing Jim Crean play live as one of the openers but it turned out to be his long-time covers band Hair Nation instead. I’ve never been a big fan of cover bands but I have to say that Hair Nation sounded fantastic. I recognized the rather tall bassist A.D. Zimmer right away. After quickly racking my brain on where I had seen the bassist before, I realized that he also plays bass for the band Maybe Never that I had seen play live in Rochester, New York last summer when they were opening for Faster Pussycat. I was curious to hear Jim Crean sing since the Hair Nation lead vocalist was at one point scheduled to perform with former KISS guitarist Vinnie Vincent, drummer Carmine Appice and bassist Tony Franklin at Vincent‘s comeback shows back in February 2019. Those two shows never happened once Vincent pulled the plug but I was still interested in hearing Crean perform live as he likely had a great voice to be able to presumably sing the Vinnie Vincent Invasion material.
As it turns out, Crean has a great voice and seemed to handle the songs covered by Hair Nation with ease. When you’re singing songs from singers with voices as different as Vince Neil, Kevin DuBrow, Steven Tyler, Brian Johnson, Ozzy Osbourne and Ronnie James Dio, it can be difficult to nail each one of those singers’ songs but Crean seemed to have no problem in that regard. The singer did mention that singing Ozzy‘s track “Bark At The Moon” was especially challenging but he did a great job with it. Hair Nation have apparently been around for about 20 years so it was no surprise that they sounded like a well oiled machine and very tight. It was fun to see drummer Colleen Mastrocovo singing along to every song while pounding her drum kit. Guitarist Dan Kaplin stood mostly on the other side of the stage from where I was in the “Pit” general admission area but he looked like he was really enjoying himself. Crean did a good job of getting the crowd going and I always like when a singer addresses the crowd between songs which he did.
Hearing Hair Nation open with the double Mötley Crüe punch of “Shout At The Devil” and “Looks That Kill” reminded me how great that the album Shout At The Devil really was and what a shame that Vince Neil can’t really sing those songs anymore. At least Crean was there to do justice to those classics. It would have been nice if Hair Nation played some more obscure covers but I guess those types of covers would likely not get the same kind of reaction as the popular tracks that made up their setlist. My favourite covers from Hair Nation were the last two — Dio‘s “Holy Diver” and Accept‘s “Balls To The Wall.” Overall, Hair Nation put on a lively and fun set.
Hair Nation’s setlist:
01. Shout At The Devil (Mötley Crüe cover)
02. Looks That Kill (Mötley Crüe cover)
03. Metal Health (Bang Your Head) (Quiet Riot cover)
04. Youth Gone Wild (Skid Row cover)
05. Dream On (Aerosmith cover)
06. You Shook Me All Night Long (AC/DC cover)
07. Bark At The Moon (Ozzy Osbourne cover)
08. Holy Diver (Dio cover) with “Heaven And Hell” snippet (Black Sabbath cover)
09. Balls To The Wall (Accept cover)
Hair Nation performing “Shout At The Devil” and “Looks That Kill” live at the Showplace Theatre in Buffalo, New York, USA on December 12, 2019:
HAIR NATION ~SHOUT AT THE DEVIL / LOOKS THAT KILL ~THE SHOWPLACE THEATER 12/12/19
After hearing some great tunes playing from the venue’s PA system — consisting of Black ‘N Blue‘s “Hold On To 18”; the triple Judas Priest shot of “Metal Gods”, “Breaking The Law” and “Night Crawler”; Ozzy Osbourne‘s “Rock ‘N’ Roll Rebel” and AC/DC‘s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” — while Hair Nation‘s stage set up got dismantled and everything was finalized for Ratt to take the stage, it was time for the main event. I knew that the band would sound tight. The only question mark was how Pearcy would sound. I was thrilled to hear that Pearcy‘s vocals sounded great! He was actually singing most of the time rather than kind of talking his way through the lyrics. Really, I was impressed with his singing. Pearcy will never be known as one of the top vocalists but he has a very distinctive voice that really defines the Ratt sound. With Pearcy in fine form vocally and looking physically fit, I knew that Ratt would pull off a great set and that’s exactly what they did. You have to hand it to Pearcy for looking like he’s in great shape at the age of 63 and especially compared to some of his contemporaries who will remain nameless (you know who they are!).
Ratt‘s setlist really had no surprises as it was virtually the same as when they played back in Houston in mid-October 2018. Of course, I had never heard Ratt or Pearcy play “Walkin’ The Dog” and “Lovin’s You A Dirty Job” in a live setting so those songs were really fun for me to hear in a live setting. Funny enough, although I had never heard Ratt or Pearcy play “In Your Direction”, “Nobody Rides For Free” and “Body Talk” live, I had heard Juan Croucier sing those songs live back in 2015 (that was an awesome show). Being a big Ratt fan, I knew virtually all of the lyrics to the songs played on this night so it was like hearing one hit song after another all night long. I really didn’t have any complaints about the setlist except that I would have loved to hear something from Infestation. Overall, Ratt stuck to tracks from their most recognized albums with two tracks from the Ratt EP (1983), six from Out of The Cellar (1984), three from Invasion of Your Privacy (1985), two from Dancing Undercover (1986), one from Reach For The Sky (1988) and one from Detonator (1990), along with one (“Nobody Rides For Free”) that was on the soundtrack for the classic movie Point Break (1991).
Pearcy has never been the most chatty frontman when it comes to addressing the audience so his interactions consisted mostly of asking how the crowd was doing and getting everyone to scream “Fuck yeah!” after him. The singer did recognize that it had been a while since Ratt had played in Buffalo and he apologized for that in a way that seemed sincere to me. In fact, I respect Pearcy for being able to apologize when it’s appropriate such as when he apologized a day after his terrible performance at the Paramount Theater in Huntington, New York, USA on September 26, 2018. I didn’t see Mötley Crüe apologizing for their dismal performance during the opening night of their All Bad Things Must Come To An End “farewell” tour back in July 2015. Let’s hope that Mötley Crüe have their act together for their upcoming The Stadium Tour. Pearcy also pointed out that it used to be a Ratt tradition to do some December shows and the group was resurrecting this tradition with its run of east coast shows this year.
I was interested to see how Ratt‘s “new breed” line-up would fare. I knew that Pete Holmes was a monster on drums having seen him perform with Juan Croucier and Black ‘N Blue in the past and he did not disappoint. The man can really pound those drums! Guitarist Chris Sanders looked a lot like the departed Robbin Crosby with his look and flying V guitars. I don’t think that he’s as tall as Crosby was but it was kind of cool to see Robbin Crosby Jr. in action. Lead guitarist Jordan Ziff is obviously a very talented guitarist and played the Ratt material and presumably DeMartini guitar parts with ease. In fact, Ziff would often play rather complex guitar solos with his eyes closed or while not l0oking at his guitar strings. Clearly, the man has mastered the Ratt material. Ziff was also given a chance to shine as he didn’t play everything note for note the way DeMartini plays and he was seemingly allowed to free style a bit. A few of the songs had a bit of a jam element to them but they still sounded good. In any case, I thought that Ziff, Sanders and Holmes were solid additions to the Ratt line-up. What can be said about Juan Croucier? The man has a lot of original and distinctive moves while playing the bass and his background vocals really help the Ratt songs to shine.
Overall, I thought that Ratt put on a great performance and I really hope that they’ll make their way close to Toronto (or how about in Toronto?) in the near future. During my last interview with Pearcy, the singer had spoken about bringing integrity back to the Ratt name and with the band’s solid performance in Buffalo and hopefully many more to come, I think that Ratt‘s “new breed” line-up is well on its way to accomplishing its mission.
01. Wanted Man
02. Dangerous But Worth The Risk
03. You Think You’re Tough
04. Walkin’ The Dog
05. Way Cool Jr.
06. I’m Insane
07. In Your Direction
08. Lack Of Communication
09. Lay It Down
10. You’re In Love
11. Lovin’ You’s A Dirty Job
12. Slip of The Lip
13. Nobody Rides For Free
14. Body Talk
15. Back For More
16. Round And Round
Ratt performing “In Your Direction” live at the Showplace Theater in Buffalo, New York, USA on December 12, 2019:
Ratt performing “I’m Insane” live at the Showplace Theater in Buffalo, New York, USA on December 12, 2019: