ROCK N SKULL ENDS ON A HIGH
Date: October 30, 2016
Venue: The Tree Of Joliet
Location: Joliet, Illinois, USA
My unlikely reality of the last four days was sadly coming to an end as Day Three of the 2016’s edition of Rock N Skull Festival was coming up. No more hanging out all day with four funny yet very different Decibel Geek staff members before catching one set after another from various hard rock and heavy metal artists starting each afternoon until the wee hours of the morning. Even though we were now in the morning of Day Three, Rock N Skull organizer Justin Murr had yet to announce who was replacing Tigertailz. I had previously been told by one Rock N Skull attendee who was staying at the same hotel (and whose name unfortunately escapes me at this time) that American Bombshell would be playing their second set of the festival on Day Three. While definitely a lesser name than Tigertailz, I was happy with American Bombshell getting the nod since I really liked their debut album No Regrets.
As the Decibel Geek guys and I got up on Day Three and with just about everybody’s nose in a phone or laptop, I saw a suspicious announcement pop up in my Facebook feed that stated “H.E.A.T at The Tree Of Joliet.” Now I knew that three of the five H.E.A.T members had been in Joliet, Illinois, USA the previous day since guitarist Dave Dalone, keyboardist Jona Tee and drummer Crash were part of the band backing up Scandinavian singer Martina Edoff on Day Two of the Rock N Skull Festival. Since H.E.A.T had previously played the Melodic Rock Fest at the H.O.M.E. Bar in Arlington Heights, Illinois, USA two years ago and with Melodic Rock‘s founder Andrew McNeice in attendance and having likely been instrumental in bringing many bands at this year’s Rock N Skull, could it be that Rock N Skull would be flying in the two remaining members of H.E.A.T — singer Erik Grönwall and bassist Jimmy Jay — to make a big splash on the festival’s last day?
What made H.E.A.T‘s Facebook posting that much more suspicious is that the group had not posted anything about Rock N Skull, which made sense since the group was not playing it. In fact, H.E.A.T‘s previous Facebook post dated back to October 20, 2016. Now all of a sudden, and with Rock N Skull having yet to announce the replacement for Tigertailz, the latter had posted a message on its Facebook page stating “H.E.A.T at The Tree Of Joliet.” It just seemed too good to be true. Not only did I get truly excited at the prospect (since I absolutely love H.E.A.T‘s last album Tearing Down The Walls which landed the #5 album on Sleaze Roxx’s Top Ten Albums of 2014), but my Decibel Geek cohorts did as well, so we did what excited people do these days — we turned to the internet to share the possible great news! The internet news traveled fast because within an hour or so, Rock N Skull organizer Justin Murr squashed down the rumours and Melodic Rock principal Andrew McNeice went a step further announcing that American Bombshell was the replacement band for Tigertailz. As it turns out, H.E.A.T had apparently posted a Facebook message about being at The Tree Of Joliet at seemingly the wrong time when the Day Three line-up was still unclear to most concert attendees.
It was undoubtedly a bit of a downer when it was confirmed that H.E.A.T were not coming for a last minute appearance at the Rock N Skull Festival. At least, we still had the possibility of the “real Ratt” reunion with singer Stephen Pearcy, bassist Juan Croucier and guitarist Carlos Cavazo all previously announced to attend Day Three of Rock N Skull with rumours swirling that guitarist Warren DeMartini would be joining them as well. Unfortunately, I had also heard recent rumours during the actual weekend of the Rock N Skull Festival that DeMartini would not be showing up. What to believe?
During the morning, Decibel Geek photographer/writer Brian Ronald put on some Inner Siege for everyone in our hotel room to hear and the excitement started building for the unknown group’s (to all of us) upcoming opening set on Day Three. Inner Siege definitely excelled at the power metal game and sounded at times like old school Queensrÿche. By the time that the five of us got to The Tree Of Joliet venue, we bought four of the five remaining physical CDs that Inner Siege‘s friendly merchandise lady had for sale even before the band hit the stage.
Inner Siege were another last minute replacement — I believe for Bombay Black (I can’t recall why they were off the bill) — but with little fanfare since they were taking the opening slot for Rock N Skull‘s Day Three. After getting a lot of melodic acts throughout the first few days, I was happy to have a heavier band to listen to. As it turns out, Inner Siege are comprised of some older looking gentlemen. What I really mean is people in my age demographics and meaning that likely grew up in the ’80s, and perhaps a little earlier or later for one or two band members. The singer Jeremy Ray and bassist Ravn both had long hair and proceeded to put on a formidable headbanging display. Guitarist Kevin Grose who was pretty much right in front of me was all smiles and even jokingly mouthed off an “Oops” when he had some sort of technical issue. It was clear that the Inner Siege band members were having a good time.
Ray advised the still thin crowd that Inner Siege would be playing some new songs for the very first time live. I do note that the Inner Siege album Kingdom Of Shadows that I bought dates back to 2012 so I suspect that the band was chomping at the bit to start playing new material. I’ve never been a big fan of bands testing new material live but this certainly does not apply when I am not familiar with any of the bands’ songs. Ray also advised that the band had gone through a very rough patch the last 18 months to which a smiling Grose apparently wholeheartedly agreed. At this point, it is difficult to recall which Inner Siege song stood out from the rest but suffice to say that I liked all of the tracks played by the band.
Inner Siege’s setlist:
01. Dragon Rider
06. Echoes Into Eternity
07. Children Of Winter
08. Fight On
I might be in the minority on this one but I was really pleased when I heard that American Bombshell were going to play one more time at the 2016 edition of Rock N Skull. I am not saying that to knock American Bombshell but rather point out that they are not exactly a big name band compared to some of the other acts at Rock N Skull. Others might have liked a better known band to replace Tigertailz who do have a rather long and stored history including lots of albums behind them. I really enjoyed American Bombshell‘s set back on Day One and thought they were even better this time around. American Bombshell proceeded to put on a kick ass set of hard hitting rockers one after the other. Even their “ballad” was a rather faster paced rocker at times. Unfortunately, there weren’t many people in the higher priced VIP section (which only contained two rows of seats but which really took up the space of four rows of seats at any other venue) so I was kind of lonely there while headbanging and thoroughly enjoying American Bombshell‘s set. As it turns out, there were a few songs that I could not identify and I now know why. It appears that a few of the songs played were new ones based on the setlist forwarded presumably by American Bombshell guitarist Steve Boyles to me for the purpose of this review. The only “faux pas” that American Bombshell committed was when singer Jay Cee commented to the crowd towards the end of the group’s set that the audience was not into it enough, not loud enough or something like that. Overall, American Bombshell put on a great performance. It certainly helped that I really like the band’s songs.
American Bombshell’s setlist:
01. Tattooz ‘N’ Booze
02. Saving Me
03. My Drug
04. No Regrets
05. Hole In My Head
07. So Broken
08. Like The Rest
09. Another Dead Rockstar
American Bombshell playing “Another Dead Rockstar” at Rock N Skull Festival on October 30, 2016:
Rock-N-Skull 2016 at The Tree
By the time that Tango Down took the stage, The Tree Of Joliet venue had filled up considerably and it was obvious that there was real buzz to hear the band play. Just like Eclipse on Day Two, Tango Down seemed to be the headliner of the night (although that feeling quickly dissipated once Stephen Pearcy took the stage later on that night) and had an intro track before they took the stage. Funny enough, the high priced VIP section in front of the stage turned out to be likely the best barometer of the audience’s anticipation towards a band. The fuller that VIP area was, the higher seemingly was the anticipation for the group. No need to say that there were a lot of people in that VIP section for Tango Down‘s set. It helps that Tango Down have some star power with singer Chas West who has previously played with both Lynch Mob and Red Dragon Cartel. Both of those bands boast some of the best guitarists of all-time and now West was playing with another good one in Scott Miller. The one semi-odd member in the band was bassist Axel K. Gessner whom I understand is only 21 years old and looked like West‘s son.
Tango Down opened their set with the first four tracks from their very good fifth album Bulletproof — namely “Punching Bag,” “Give Me A Reason,” “Bulletproof” and “Carry On” — which was a wise move considering that those four songs are likely some of the best ones from that album. West definitely had a Robert Plant quality to him with his height, long hair and demeanour. Although Gessner is quite young, he seemed to fit right in stage wise. Next up was another track from Bulletproof in “Going Under” which sounded better live than on the album. From then on, Tango Down played songs from their two previous albums, Charming Devil (2014) and Identity Crisis (2012) when they were fronted by former Accept singer David Reece.
Tango Down playing “Punching Bag” at Rock N Skull Festival on October 30, 2016:
Tango Down playing their first song Punching Bag at Rock N Skull 2016 in Joliet, IL on October 30, 2016
West pointed out to the crowd at one point that this was only Tango Down‘s second gig as a unit. That is likely the reason why West seemingly had all the lyrics to the songs attached to a monitor with a little lamp. Once I noticed that, it became obvious that West was looking at those lyric sheets quite a bit but he did it quite well so I suspect that people that were not close to the stage may not have noticed him reading lyrics throughout the songs. In that regard, West reminded me of current Lynch Mob singer Oni Logan who brings lyric sheets with him on stage. Tango Down ended their set with a surprise (to me) cover of Lynch Mob‘s “Wicked Sensation” which should not have been that surprising to me since West played in Lynch Mob for a while. Unfortunately, Tango Down proceeded to extend “Wicked Sensation” way too long with a harmonica segment from West, which kind of hurt what should have been the climax of the band’s set.
Of note, Tango Down were one of two bands — the other being Livesay — that were under the wings of Kivel Records who simply went all out to support its two bands with the flashiest and most impressive merchandise display at Rock N Skull to beautiful setlists for anyone that wanted one.
Tango Down’s setlist:
01. Punching Bag
02. Give Me A Reason
04. Carry On
05. Going Under
06. I’m Done Loving You
07. Charming Devil
08. Change My World
09. Hearts Catch Fire
10. Wicked Sensation (“Lynch Mob cover)
Tango Down playing “Hearts On Fire” and “Wicked Sensation” at Rock N Skull on October 30, 2016:
Rock N Skull Day 3 10-30-16 The Tree Joliet, IL
King Of The Hill:
One band that I had never heard of before that I did check out prior to heading to Rock N Skull was King Of The Hill. Their jazzy rock songs reminded me a little bit of Extreme and I was curious to see them play live. King Of The Hill‘s singer had an eccentric look to him with a bright silver jacket, scarf and big curly hair. The singer was definitely full of energy. I can’t say that I was particularly enamoured by King Of The Hill‘s songs but I did love hearing their cover of Alice Cooper‘s classic “Is It My Body” from the stellar Love It To Death album. Funny enough, there was a long haired gentleman in the front row with me who knew all the words to all of the King Of The Hill songs that were played except seemingly the Alice Cooper cover. I was the opposite only knowing the lyrics to the Alice Cooper track. Later on in the night, a friendly Australian named Matt introduced me to the long haired gentleman who turned out to be White Widdow Australian singer Jules Millis who informed me that he previously sang for Tigertailz. I could not resist and asked Millis if he could have and would have filled in for Tigertailz‘s current singer Rob Wylde whose visa was revoked causing Tigertailz to cancel their performance at Rock N Skull. Millis advised me that he knew all the songs and would have filled in had he been asked. Clearly, an opportunity was missed in that regard for Tigertailz to play despite Wylde‘s visa setback.
King Of The Hill’s setlist:
01. Freak Show
03. Hands On U
06. Place In My Heart
07. If I Say
08. Something Bout U
09. Save It
10. I Do U
11. Is It My Body (Alice Cooper cover)
King Of The Hill playing “Freak Show” at Rock N Skull on October 30, 2016:
The Tree, Joliet, IL
I get that PJ Farley had earned his spot at Rock N Skull mainly with his work as Trixter‘s bassist but this time, Farley was playing to support his new solo album Boutique Sound Frames. Aside from absolutely stellar melodic rock, that hasn’t been my music of choice so you can imagine that I wasn’t that keen about Farley‘s brand of “modern” melodic rock going in. I had of course heard Farley‘s first two singles “You’d Stick Out” and “Fallen” since Sleaze Roxx had posted about them. Hearing Farley play his new solo tunes live did not alter my frame of mind when it comes to his solo music. The songs just don’t resonate with me. That being said, I stayed and listened to Farley‘s entire set.
After Tango Down, it seemed that both King Of The Hill and Farley were just unable to come even close to matching the excitement and buzz that the former had generated. Again, I gage that largely on the amount of people in the VIP section in front of the stage and what I could hear behind me in terms of cheers from the audience. There was one song that I quite liked that Farley played. It was a little heavier but I can’t recall the name. Farley‘s set was my least favorite for the evening.
One band that I was really looking forward to seeing play live was Junkyard. They play the kind of grittier type of rock n’ roll that I prefer and I had heard that they put on a strong live performance. Junkyard didn’t disappoint starting strong out of the gate and never letting up. Although I recognized most of the songs, naming them is a real challenge. After years and years of seeing the band members’ pictures, it was neat to finally see them in the flesh. They all pretty much looked exactly the same except for one of the guitarists who had a huge old school 1800s moustache and beard with nothing on his chin. I am not sure what it is called. It’s hard to describe so you might as well just take a look for yourself. I even tried turning to Google to identify the kind of moustache it was before realizing that there are way too many types of moustaches out there. I assumed the guitarist with the very retro moustache was Brian Baker, but as it turns out, Junkyard advised me that Baker could not make it and the latter was replaced by guitarist Jimmy James. In any case, James just seemed a little out of place with his big facial hair. Nevertheless, Junkyard‘s trademark punkish sleazy type rock n’ roll was on full display.
The one song’s name that I was able to identify was “Simple Man” which sounded great. Singer David Roach hardly cracked a smile during his performance. In fact, none of the Junkyard band members really did. It was pedal to the metal the entire time. At one point during one of the songs, Roach put his microphone down near the end of the stage before hopping one of the side barricades and casually walking into the VIP section right in front of the stage. Roach grabbed his microphone from the stage and went to the back of the VIP where he stood up on one of the barricades singing to the general admission audience. A nice touch from Roach to change things up a little bit during Junkyard‘s set. There is no need to say that there was a sizeable crowd to see Junkyard play. Overall, Junkyard put on a strong performance that pretty much lived up to my expectations for them.
Junkyard playing “Life Sentence” at Rock N Skull on October 30, 2016:
Uploaded by Al Ritter on 2016-11-01.
Junkyard playing “Simple Man” at Rock N Skull on October 30, 2016:
Uploaded by Al Ritter on 2016-11-01.
After a whopping 30 bands, it was now time for Rock N Skull‘s headliner to play. It was hard to believe that Stephen Pearcy was originally not the headliner for the last night given that The Tree Of Joliet venue seemed packed to the rafters to see the former Ratt frontman play. As the band was setting up, I was surprised to see one of Pearcy‘s guitarists from his solo band setting up. I recognized him from when Pearcy last played in Toronto (Canada) earlier this year. Out of the “friends” that Pearcy was supposed to play with, I only saw drummer Greg D’Angelo (who plays in Pearcy‘s solo band) and former Ratt bassist Juan Croucier. There were no signs of guitarist Carlos Cavazo and more importantly guitarist Warren DeMartini. Eventually, Pearcy and his solo band kicked off the evening with the trio of “You’re In Love,” “Lay It Down” and “Lack Of Communication” and simply had the crowd in a frenzy — or at least I was in a frenzy — and everyone seemed to be singing along to every word that Pearcy sang. If there is one band whose lyrics are easy to sing along to, it definitely has to be Ratt given that Pearcy really only sings in a slower calculated method or register.
Stephen Pearcy playing “Lay It Down” at Rock N Skull on October 30, 2016:
Rock N Skull Day 3 10-30-16 The Tree Joliet, IL
Truth be told, once Pearcy and his band started playing, it didn’t really matter to me whether anyone else was going to join them onstage. I knew that Croucier would eventually make his way on stage and frankly I was surprised by how long it took him to get there. Pearcy and his solo band had already played 11 songs before Croucier joined them for the last three of the night. Getting back to the other “friends” that were supposed or rumoured to join Pearcy, I didn’t care at that point. I was just having so much fun. You may recall that I previously indicated that I grew up in the ’80s and Ratt‘s Out Of The Cellar was the second hard rock album (in cassette format) that I have ever bought. That album along with Invasion Of Your Privacy were two of my most played albums from the mid to late ’80s and I still love them to this day (thank you Rock Candy Records for re-issuing those albums). No need to say that Pearcy could have played just about any Ratt tune and I would have loved it.
The reality is that I have always loved the Ratt songs that Pearcy chooses to play. They are among the best ones that Ratt have to offer except for perhaps “Drive Me Crazy” which I am not that crazy about (pun intended). You simply can’t go wrong with songs like “Slip Of The Lip,” “Dangerous But Worth The Risk,” “Insane” and “U Got It.” Given that I was close to the stage, it was awesome to have Pearcy sit down a few times so close by on one of the monitors. I even got a rather hard fist bump from the man himself. I also loved that Pearcy included a great cover of Judas Priest‘s “Heading Out To The Highway” in his set. Eventually, Croucier made his way on stage. There was a bit of lag time as Croucier was doing some last minute preparations while on stage. Pearcy noted to the audience that there were many worse delays than that or something like that, and that he likely caused most of those problems in the past! I thought it was cool for him to acknowledge his past faults like that.
Stephen Pearcy playing “You Think You’re Tough” with Juan Croucier at Rock N Skull on October 30, 2016:
Stephen Pearcy playing You Think You’re Tough with Juan Croucier at Rock N Skull in Joliet, IL on October 30, 2016
Croucier did not disappoint bringing his trademark moves with his bass that he has been doing for 30 plus years. It was a lot of fun seeing Croucier and Pearcy playing together live. This was my first time as I believe that I caught Ratt opening for Poison back in 2009 but Robbie Crane was in the line-up at that time. One other interesting aspect during Pearcy‘s set was that there was only one guitarist playing all the Ratt hits. I am not sure if there was somebody in the back playing a “ghost” guitar but it was interesting to see that the Ratt songs could be pulled off with only one guitarist. At the end of the day, Pearcy and his band were the perfect way to cap off an amazing four days of music at Rock N Skull.
Stephen Pearcy playing “Round And Round” with Juan Croucier at Rock N Skull on October 30, 2016:
Rock N Skull Day 3 10-30-16 The Tree Joliet, IL
Stephen Pearcy’s setlist:
01. You’re In Love
02. Lay It Down
03. Lack Of Communication
04. Way Cool Jr.
05. Slip Of The Lip
06. Drive Me Crazy
07. Dangerous But Worth The Risk
09. Wanted Man
10. U Got It
11. Heading Out To The Highway (Judas Priest cover)
12. You Think You’re Tough
13. Back For More
14. Round And Round
I usually don’t include a section like this in any of my concert reviews but I’ve got to thank a number of people. First and foremost, thank you to Justin Murr for putting on such a great event. It was truly a lot of fun! Could it have been better organized? Sure. Could there have been certain predictable and preventable situations? Absolutely. That being said, and having organized city wide sporting events myself including a tennis tournament lasting about ten days, I can tell you that shit happens –– some predictable and some not, people don’t come through and it always feels like a mad rush at the end to get everything ready. I am pretty sure that Murr isn’t making a whole lot of money on this venture and is doing this in large part because he just loves the music and wants to keep the scene alive. So thank you Justin Murr. Thank you for all your hard work and putting on a really fun and great event!
I am sure that there are many others that have assisted Murr with 2016’s edition of Rock N Skull but three that come to mind include the very friendly Bob Long who manned the Rock N Skull merchandise booth (and where many acts did their free meet and greet) the entire four days, the tireless and always enthusiastic Sarge, and Melodic Rock principal Andrew McNeice who I am pretty sure is responsible for bringing Eclipse and Ammunition amongst others to Rock N Skull. For those heading next year to 2017’s edition of Rock N Skull in Pekin, Illinois, USA, make sure you check out Bob Long‘s music store Shandi’s Music & More, which I understand is less than 15 minutes from the venue there.
Finally, a big thank you to the guys in Decibel Geek — Rich “The Meister” Dillon (editor), Shawn “Animalize” Irwin (photographer/writer), Brian “I am missing a nickname” Ronald (photographer/writer) and Mikael “Lionheart” Svensson — who provided more laughs than I could have imagined and who are all great guys despite the rather terrible smells that I sometimes had to endure. If I wasn’t able to write for Sleaze Roxx anymore, I’d write for Decibel Geek.