Red Dragon Cartel live at The Rockpile in Toronto, Ontario, Canada Concert Review


Date: March 16, 2019
Venue: The Rockpile
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Reviewer: Olivier
Photos: Olivier

I should have checked the setlist in advance of Red Dragon Cartel‘s tour stop in Toronto. Had I known that they were going to play mostly songs from their latest studio album Patina, I probably wouldn’t have attended. As it turns out, I bought my ticket to see Red Dragon Cartel only two days prior to the concert because I was on the fence whether to go or not. If you haven’t already guessed, I am not a fan of the album Patina. I tried to get into the songs as they were released but really nothing stood out. I preferred the albeit a little disjointed debut album with the various guest singers, mainly because a lot of the songs on that album had better melodies and hooks. Frankly, there are hardly any ‘hooks’ to be found on Patina. I only knew going into the Red Dragon Cartel concert that the band would be playing Badlands‘ “High Wire” and Ozzy Osbourne‘s “Spiders” (from the European album version of Bark At The Moon), and that Jake E. Lee and company really seemed to like and be proud of Patina. Before I get any further with respect to Red Dragon Cartel, I did catch the last opening act CounterWait so let me start from when I got to The Rockpile.


I was curious to catch CounterWait‘s set because fellow Sleaze Roxx writer Tyson Briden had reviewed their concert performances a couple times in the past. As I checked the Sleaze Roxx archives, I noted that Tyson wrote three concert reviews that involved CounterWait, each time as an opening act to Ted Poley (in 2017), Faster Pussycat (in 2017) and The Dead Daisies (in 2018). The group is a three piece consisting of lead vocalist / guitarist Paul Charlebois, drummer Jordan Malcolm and bassist Jeremy Grischow. There was a large crowd there to see them play and quite a few people in the audience cheering them on. CounterWait began their six song set at around 10:00 pm. Charlebois addressed the crowd quite a bit and seemed really appreciative of being up on stage. Unfortunately, CounterWait play more alternative ’90s era type songs so I can’t say that I was really into any of their songs. At first, Charlebois‘ vocals seemed buried by the music but that was presumably fixed by the sound man within ten seconds of the opening song. I didn’t really like Charlebois‘ vocal intonation and found the music sounded a bit thin with only one guitar. I understand that CounterWait had two guitarists a couple of years ago. The best part of CounterWait‘s set was when the group played a very short snippet of Soundgarden‘s “Spoonman.” Overall, I just wasn’t into the ’90s era music that CounterWait played but there definitely seemed like quite a few people in the audience enjoyed it.

Red Dragon Cartel:

You might wonder why I bothered attending Red Dragon Cartel‘s concert if I wasn’t into their new album Patina. Well, first of all, I am a big Badlands fan. That band’s debut album was magnificent and Voodoo Highway was no slouch either. Secondly, I “discovered” heavy metal during the time that Jake E. Lee was Ozzy Osbourne‘s right hand man / guitarist so Bark At The Moon and The Ultimate Sin are special albums for me. Thirdly, I enjoyed some of the songs on Red Dragon Cartel‘s self-titled debut album such as “Deceived,” “Feeder” and “Shout It Out.” Finally, I really enjoyed Red Dragon Cartel‘s live performances back in 2014 when I saw them at The Rockpile and a few weeks later at the M3 Rock Festival. The big difference between those performances in 2014 and the show at The Rockpile this time around was of course the material that was played. I should add that I was hoping that the songs from Patina would grow on me once I heard them in a live setting.

For those that complain that bands don’t change their setlist around from one tour to the other, such complaints simply cannot be bestowed upon Red Dragon Cartel. The band surprisingly only played two songs from its set at The Rockpile almost five years ago. The setlist this time around consisted of two songs from Red Dragon Cartel‘s self-titled debut album, a whopping eight tracks from the new record Patina, two Badlands songs, a drum solo and one Ozzy Osbourne song. As stated above, my main issue with the new songs from Patina is the lack of hook and melody to them. They are all more or less mid-tempo plodders. Aside from the terrific Badlands track “High Wire”, even the two other “covers” played on this night — Badlands‘ “3 Day Funk” and Ozzy‘s “Spiders” — were also of the mid-tempo range. I can think of many Badlands songs (for example, “The Last Time”, Dreams In The Dark” and “Streets Cry Freedom”) and Jake E. Lee era Ozzy tracks (for example, “Slow Down”, “Never Know Why” and “Killer of Giants”) that I would have wanted to hear before those two. Out of the Patina material, my favorites were “Havana” and “Bitter.”

While this usually doesn’t happen at a Rockpile show, there seemed to be some sound issues throughout the night as lead vocalist Darren James Smith was constantly signalling, motioning and speaking to someone at the sound booth about adjusting the guitar and seemingly vocal levels. In particular, the first couple of tracks didn’t sound that great sound wise. Given that James is from the greater Toronto area, he referred to the Rockpile audience as his “friends” and it did look like he knew tons of people in the audience as he would give shout outs to various people throughout the night. James seemed truly appreciative for the opportunity that he had to front Red Dragon Cartel and he let the audience know how he knew how special that experience was. All the band members looked like they were having a good time on stage and that included drummer Phil Varone who will apparently retire from drumming / touring at the end of the group’s tour presumably in about two weeks. Smith did mention that the group was having fun despite what seems like a rather bumpy tour thus far with the tour bus breaking down before the second gig. It would have been fun for Smith to share a “war story” of what the band had been through thus far but that was not meant to be.

I think the best way to sum Red Dragon Cartel‘s setlist and concert on this night is to compare it with their tour stop almost five years ago at the same venue. The second best song of the night (the closer “Feeder”) this time around was probably my second least favorite song of the night (after “War Machine”) back in 2014. Overall, I was quite disappointed with Red Dragon Cartel‘s setlist and will make sure to doublecheck their setlist before committing to go see them play live again.  Although I was hoping that I would get into the Patina album songs once I heard them in a live setting, that has turned out not to be the case.

Red Dragon Cartel’ setlist:
01. Wasted
02. Havana
03. Punchclown
04. Speedbag
05. Bitter
06. Chasing Ghosts
07. 3 Day Funk (Badlands cover)
08. The Luxury Of Breathing
09. Drum Solo
10. Crooked Man
11. Spiders (Ozzy Osbourne cover)
12. Ink & Water
13. High Wire (Badlands cover)
14. Feeder

Red Dragon Cartel performing “Bitter” at The Rockpile in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on March 16, 2019:

Bitter —– Red Dragon Cartel (live)

The Rockpile —– Toronto. March 16, 2019

Red Dragon Cartel performing “Ink & Water” at The Rockpile in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on March 16, 2019:

Ink and Water. —- Red Dragon Cartel (live)

The Rockpile —- Toronto. March 16, 2019