WITNESSING ROCK N SKULL 2016’S BEST PERFORMANCE
Date: October 29, 2016
Venue: The Tree Of Joliet
Location: Joliet, Illinois, USA
The longest day of the Rock N Skull 2016 edition was upon us with a start time of 2:00 pm and for me, the much anticipated set of Swedish rockers Eclipse. I had forgotten to mention in my initial Rock N Skull Pre-Party Concert Review that Eclipse were at the top of my list for bands that I wanted to see at Rock N Skull. Oddly enough, Eclipse were way down on the bill given that they would be the fourth up out of nine bands. The line-up order was a bit puzzling with former Bad Company lead vocalist Brian Howe, who really plays classic rock, getting the top billing for Day Two and Eclipse being so low in the line-up. At the end of the day, the line-up order didn’t really matter as each band seemed to get to play seemingly the same amount of songs for just about the same amount of time with a few exceptions such as Eclipse who was scheduled to play an hour set. In fact, with so many bands on the Day Two bill and fatigue invariably rearing its ugly head for many of the concert attendees towards the end of the night, it was best for bands to play around mid-bill to get the biggest crowd size.
The Radio Sun:
Probably the most anticipated “first” band to play of any of the four Rock N Skull 2016 days (including the Pre-Party) had to be Australian melodic rockers The Radio Sun. It seemed that there was quite the sizeable crowd for The Radio Sun. There were even two people who had flown from Mexico especially to see them. The Radio Sun did not disappoint with their catchy brand of melodic rock. The group consisting of lead guitarist Stevie Janevski, singer and rhythm guitarist Jason Old, bassist Robbie Erdmanis and drummer Ben Wignall were enthusiastic and put on a solid opening set. Old joked with the crowd in his Aussie laced English that he was having a bad hair day as his long curly black hair apparently did not look right to him. The Radio Sun went out of their way to make the two Mexican fans’ journey to Rock N Skull a very special one. Apparently, the female Mexican fan got a tattoo with the name of or lyrics from one song from The Radio Sun repertoire. Old advised prior to The Radio Sun playing their last song of their set that they did not have time to play the song that was mentioned on the female Mexican fan’s tattoo but that they would do an impromptu and unrehearsed portion of the track live for her, which they pulled off successfully. At the end of the day, my favorite tracks that The Radio Sun played were the heavier and more riff based ones. I particularly enjoyed “World’s Crazy Now” and “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head.” Overall, The Radio Sun put on a strong performance and sounded heavier live than what I have heard from their studio albums.
The Radio Sun’s setlist:
01. Tell Me What You Want
02. Wrong Things Right
03. One In A Million
04. Standing On The Edge Of Love
05. World’s Crazy Now
07. Switch Of The World Tonight
08. Caught Behind Heaven And Heatrbreak
10. Can’t Get You Out Of My Head
The Radio Sun performing “Broken” at Rock N Skull on October 29, 2016:
One group’s music that I had never heard before but was looking forward to hearing was Livesay, especially with guitarist Gregg Livesay having told me two days prior that the band had taken a heavier less progressive direction on their latest album Frozen Hell (that I look forward to hearing soon — thank you John Kivel of Kivel Records). As it turns out, I got quite the preview of Frozen Hell because Livesay‘s setlist, which I obtained after the band’s set from Kivel was very heavy on Frozen Hell. How heavy you may ask? Well, even though Livesay have three prior albums — Livesay (1996), Darkest Hour (2000) and Awaken The Giant (2010) — under their belt (according to Spirit Of Metal), they only played songs from their latest record Frozen Hell at Rock N Skull. The only song that was not played from the new album was “Spread Your Wings.” I’ve never been a big keyboard fan so I thought that the keyboard layer during the group’s various songs was simply too much for my liking. I am not sure if there were sound issues but I could not hear singer Shawn Pelata‘s vocals that well over the music. It’s either that or his voice is simply not powerful enough to pierce through Livesay‘s music. Let’s hope for the former! Gregg Livesay proved to be somewhat of a master shredder and reminded me a lot of former Deep Purple guitarist virtuoso Ritchie Blackmore. Unfortunately, a lot of Livesay‘s songs sounded very similar on a first listen. My favorite track from “Frozen Hell” was seemingly the band’s heaviest of the night. Overall, Livesay didn’t exactly wow me in any way but I look forward to giving their new album a chance in any case. Although Livesay failed to make much of an impression on me live, the band did have a large line of people waiting to meet them at the Kivel Records‘ merchandise booth after their set.
02. Comes Of Age
03. Age Of Reason
04. With Or Without You
05. Slaved And Bound
06. Stop Believing
07. Since You’ve Been Gone
08. Frozen Hell
09. Welcome To The Real World
One performer that I checked out in the week prior to Rock N Skull was Scandinavian singer Martina Edoff given that she was the only female lead vocalist on Rock N Skull‘s roster this time around. I was impressed with a few of the videoclips that I viewed and looking forward to seeing her set. Edoff showed up with an all-star cast to back her up consisting of three members from the very good Swedish rock band H.E.A.T. Guitarist Dave Dalone, keyboardist Jona Tee and drummer Crash were the three H.E,A.T members backing up Edoff along with a very tall presumably Scandinavian bassist whose name I do not know. Unfortunately for Edoff, there appeared to be some sound issues on stage and for the first four songs or so, Edoff seemed more preoccupied with the sound issues than really getting into her performance. The tall imposing bassist was also making all sorts of hand signals to the sound area technicians between songs. I had heard from more than one performer that you could hear almost nothing on stage, which is quite problematic when you are singing but not hearing what you’re doing. It was only during the last two to three songs that Edoff seemed to hit her stride, which is a shame because it seemed that she did not make the most of her opportunity to impress the mostly North American audience. The H.E.A.T drummer Crash also sort of came to her rescue at one point to get the crowd going. Despite the slow start, I really liked Edoff‘s songs, her backing band was quite solid and I thought that her voice was for the most part quite powerful and pleasant to listen to.
Martina Edoff performing “Spirit” at Rock N Skull on October 29, 2016:
Live at Rock ‘N Skull 2016 at the Tree of Joliet10/29/16
The most anticipated set of the night was up next. Eclipse were one of the first new bands that I got into upon my first few years of discovering the Sleaze Roxx website back in 2006. I really liked Eclipse’s album Are You Ready To Rock (2008) before kind of forgetting a little bit about the group given that I was not as keen about its subsequent release Bleed & Scream (2012). That likely was the reason why I only picked up Eclipse‘s Armageddonize album, which was released in early 2015, in early 2016 even though my predecessor Skid gave the album a rave review. To my dismay, I was listening in early 2016 to one of the best albums of 2015 yet I had failed to include it in Sleaze Roxx’s Top Ten Albums of 2015. I had already personally apologized to Eclipse singer Erik Mårtensson by that point for my omission in that regard. I am not sure it even matters to him but whatever — I wanted him to know how much I like the album. If I could redo the top ten list, I would likely slot Armageddonize as the Sleaze Roxx’s #4 album of 2015. All this to say that I was REALLY looking forward to seeing Eclipse play. However, my love of Eclipse‘s latest album also meant that I had high expectations for the Swedish rockers’ live set. Would Eclipse be able to meet my lofty expectations?
Obviously , I was not the only one looking forward to Eclipse‘s set because The Tree Of Joliet venue looked packed waiting for Eclipse to go on. It felt like the night’s headliner was about to hit the stage as you could hear snippets of songs from various classic bands such as Whitesnake, KISS (“Crazy Nights”) and Judas Priest (“Freewheel Burning”) before the band made as grand of an entrance as anyone else up to that point. Eclipse simply proceeded to put on the best performance for Day Two — hands down. Hitting the stage with Armageddonize‘s catchy opening track “I Don’t Wanna Say I’m Sorry,” Eclipse simply commanded presence and it quickly became clear that they would be a very very hard act to follow. Eclipse kept the pressure on with great live versions of “Caught Up In The Rush” and “Wake Me Up” before taking it up a notch with the stellar “The Storm.”
Eclipse‘s intro and performing “I Don’t Wanna Say I’m Sorry” at Rock N Skull on October 29, 2016:
Eclipse playing their intro tape and first song I Don’t Want to Say I’m Sorry at Rock N Skull 2016 in Joliet, IL October 29, 2016
Eclipse performing “The Storm” at Rock N Skull on October 29, 2016:
Eclipse playing The Storm at Rock N Skull 2016 in Joliet, IL on October 29, 2016
After having had the pleasure to see Mårtensson perform live as a guitarist during Ammunition‘s set, I now got to see what a great frontman that the man really is. Mårtensson was a bundle of energy constantly moving and covering all facets of the stage. His voice sounded really good and he had the uncanny ability to get the Rock N Skull crowd to cheer and scream for long periods of time, which is something that previous bands at Rock N Skull‘s 2016 edition up to that point seemed unable to do. Guitarist Magnus Henriksson and bassist Magnus Ulfstedt also seemed to have that star power and performed admirably. Newcomer drummer Philip Crusner put on an inspired performance. It was fun hearing Mårtensson introduce his Eclipse bandmates. Mårtensson advised that Ulfstedt was actually previously the group’s drummer (2000 to 2006) before returning to the band as the bassist (starting in 2014). Mårtensson also indicated that they tried to find the best looking drummer possible — clearly referring to Crusner‘s pretty boy good looks — before exclaiming that they were pleased that Crusner could play drums as well (or something to that extent).
At least one of my Decibel Geek cohorts had expressed surprise over the weekend that I liked Eclipse so much given my penchant for dismissing other bands that played melodic rock. It’s true that I prefer music with some grit and sleaze but I can also recognize groups that simply excel at a genre. In terms of melodic rock — if you are going to classify Eclipse in that category — they along with H.E.A.T are simply the cream of the crop at this time. Every song in Eclipse‘s set was at least a good one and I never felt like there was a slow moment during the group’s set. In fact, I would have loved for Eclipse to play an even longer set. I have viewed some of the various YouTube videos of Eclipse‘s set at Rock N Skull and I just don’t think that it really captures what a magical and outstanding performance that Eclipse put on. Nevertheless, it gives you a small sampling of how good Eclipse really were on this night. Not surprisingly, Eclipse seemed to have the longest line-up of people waiting to meet them at their designated merchandise booth after their set.
Eclipse performing “Breakdown” at Rock N Skull on October 29, 2016:
For those who couldn’t make Rock N’ Skull this year, here is a small taste of what you missed. Ecilpse ROCKED!!
01. I Don’t Wanna Say I’m Sorry
02. Caught Up In The Rush
03. Wake Me Up
04. The Storm
07. Blood Enemies
08. Stand On Your Feet
09. Bleed And Scream
11. Breaking My Heart Again
It was going to be tough for any band to follow up Eclipse on this night. The unlucky band in that regard was Tuff who is led by Metal Sludge‘s “CEO” Stevie Rachelle. Truth be told, back in the ’80s, with so many great bands such as Ratt, Mötley Crüe, Van Halen, Iron Maiden, etc. releasing record after record every year or two years, I never got into “all” of the bands that were releasing albums. By the time that I finished high school and started university, I was hardly listening to new bands but rather focusing on the bands that I had loved from back in the ’80s. With Tuff‘s breakthrough album What Comes Around Goes Around getting released in 1991, this was simply a band that I never got into or really heard. I actually first knew Rachelle as the mastermind behind Metal Sludge before realizing that he was also Tuff‘s long-time frontman. I have a lot of respect for Rachelle because I can certainly appreciate first hand how much time goes into running a website like Metal Sludge and he provided his public support to me when I first took over the Sleaze Roxx site back in July 2015 when I got some initial backlash from my predecessor’s loyal followers.
All this to say that I was not familiar at all with Tuff‘s material going into the Rock N Skull weekend aside from having heard and reviewed Tuff‘s The Glam Years, which came out in July 2015. As it turns out, that album was not representative of the material that Tuff are really known for. I was surprised by how gritty that Tuff‘s songs were live. My unfamiliarity with the Tuff songs coupled with having just seen Eclipse put on an absolutely stellar live performance resulted in a bit of a downer when Tuff played their set. I was looking forward to seeing Tuff and in particular the muscled Rachelle, who I had heard was very entertaining on stage, and guitarist Billy Morris, who did a three part interview with Sleaze Roxx (part one, part two and part three) writer / Lipstick frontman Greg Troyan last year. Rachelle did not disappoint in terms of his witty comments and entertaining the crowd while on stage. It was particularly funny to hear him introduce his long-time bandmate and Tuff founder Todd Chaisson (also known as Todd Chase) as an “original quitter” rather than an original founder on the basis that Chaisson left the band for about ten years before returning to the group (in 2008). Clearly, Rachelle can be very entertaining on stage with his quick wit and funny barbs towards others. I would expect nothing less from the Metal Sludge CEO.
In terms of Tuff‘s songs, since I was not familiar with them and they were not that catchy, it was hard to get into them simply based on the group’s live performance. Funny enough, I went to introduce myself to the friendly Rachelle after Tuff‘s set and the singer point blanked asked me if I knew any of the Tuff material. I gather that Rachelle could see me standing in the audience not singing along during Tuff‘s set so presumed that I did not know any of the Tuff material (which is pretty much correct).
Tuff’s setlist (which was provided by Rachelle):
01. God Bless This Mess
02. Spit Like This
03. Ruck A Pit Bridge
04. In Dogs We Trust
05. Good Guys Wear Black
06. I Hate Kissing You Good-Bye
07. Daddy’s Money
08. American Hair Band
Tuff performing “Good Guys Wear Black” at Rock N Skull on October 29, 2016:
Tuff playing Good Guys Wear Black at Rock N Skull 2016 in Joliet, IL on October 29, 2016
Pretty Boy Floyd:
Next up was Pretty Boy Floyd. Once again, yet another band that I was not that familiar with although I have the sleaze rockers’ Live On The Sunset Strip album. I had heard that Pretty Boy Floyd put on a great show live and that certainly was the case. I hadn’t realized that the group would be wearing what I can only describe as gothic like make-up, which really added to their stage look and reminded me a bit of KISS‘ early days. The chorus portions of Pretty Boy Floyd‘s songs were quite catchy and the background vocals provided by bassist JK Famous and presumably guitarist Kristy “Krash” Majors really added to the songs. There was a sizeable crowd on hand to hear Pretty Boy Floyd tear it up on stage. The group’s frontman Steve “Sex” Summers was definitely the star of the show and had good stage presence. I liked Summers‘ look with his longer and big leather jacket. I was surprised how much I liked Pretty Boy Floyd‘s songs given that their Live On The Sunset Strip album simply does not do justice to how good the band’s songs are. My favorite tracks from Pretty Boy Floyd on this night were their opener “Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz,” the catchy “Toast Of The Town” and the surprise and very good set closer “Live Wire.” As a caveat to the setlist below, it could be that I forgot one song or two from Pretty Boy Floyd‘s set.
Pretty Boy Floyd’s setlist:
01. Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz
02. Toast Of The Town
03. Your Momma Won’t Know
04. Wild Angels
05. Forty-Eight Hours
06. Rock And Roll Outlaws
07. Rock And Roll (Is Gonna Set The Night On Fire)
08. Live Wire (Mötley Crüe cover)
Pretty Boy Floyd performing “Toast Of The Town” at Rock N Skull on October 29, 2016:
Pretty Boy Floyd playing Toast of the Town at Rock N Skull 2016 in Joliet, IL on October 29, 2016
Pretty Boy Floyd performing “Live Wire” at Rock N Skull on October 29, 2016:
Live at Rock ‘N Skull 2016 at the Tree of Joliet10/29/16
Jack Russell’s Great White:
Next up was one of the all-time greatest rock and roll voices in Jack Russell who was bringing his version of Great White to Rock And Skull. I ended up missing the first song from the set played by Jack Russell’s Great White because I did an impromptu interview with the engaging Babylon A.D.‘s frontman Derek Davis in the outdoor backstage area after Decibel Geek editor Rich Dillon had introduced me to Davis (thank you Rich). I later learned that another fellow Canadian and Toronto area resident Dave Wood had introduced Jack Russell’s Great White. Given that Great White were one of the bands that I grew up listening to, there is no need to say that I was very familiar with most of the songs that Russell and his bandmates would be performing on this night. It was just one great song after another as Russell and company played mostly the best known Great White songs. Given that I was located in the first row for this one and was singing along to all the songs, Russell pointed his mic to me and I got to sing in his mic during one of the songs, which of course was a lot of fun. I apologize to anyone who had to hear me “singing.”
Having seen Russell play live a couple of times in the last few years, this was definitely the best that I had seen him from a live and movement perspective. He sounded great as always but his extra mobility added to this performance. One funny moment was when Russell introduced his bandmates. It appeared that he was paying a fantastic compliment to guitarist Robby Lochner when he called him the best guitarist (ever?). Unfortunately, Russell followed that up by calling the bassist and drummer as the best for their respective instruments which diminished Russell‘s compliment to Lochner to smithereens. It was cool also seeing that guitarist/keyboardist Tony Montana was back in the fold so to speak. I was particularly impressed with Lochner who was able to play his guitar parts while moving around constantly on stage. Every song that I heard from Jack Russell’s Great White was a good one and so much fun to sing along to. Jack Russell’s Great White definitely put on one of the best performances of the night.
Jack Russell’s Great White’s setlist:
01. Out Of The Night
02. All Over Now
03. Desert Moon
04. Mista Bone
05. Save All Your Love
06. Lady Red Light
07. Call It Rock ‘N’ Roll
08. Rock Me
09. Once Bitten Twice Shy
Jack Russell’s Great White performing “Lady Red Light” at Rock N Skull on October 29, 2016:
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If there is one band that I have tried to get into to no avail, it is Danger Danger. Once again, it is a group that came up through the ranks just as I was closing myself off unintentionally to new bands. Of course, I had heard some of Danger Danger‘s biggest hits but they had not pushed me to seek out any music from the band. I did end up purchasing Danger Danger‘s first two albums in anticipation of Rock N Skull this year but the light Journey like rock (from what I remember) that prevailed on the self-titled debut album didn’t do it for me and I never did open the packaging to the Screw It! album. All this to say that despite singer Ted Poley‘s charisma and solid voice, it would be difficult for Danger Danger to hold my interest, especially since I had already seen seven bands play in the seven hours or so beforehand. That being said, there was a large crowd on hand to see Danger Danger and the audience appeared really into them.
Of note, guitarist Rob Marcello apparently had some customs issue similar to the ones that caused Tigertailz to cancel their scheduled performance. However, instead of cancelling, Danger Danger recruited the guitarist that would be playing with PJ Farley on Day Three to fill in. Being not familiar with PJ Farley in general, I don’t know the name of the guitarist who also apparently was Farley‘s former 40FT. Ringo bandmate but he did a great job filling in for Marcello! As expected, Poley‘s trademark enthusiasm was on full display and he got lots of cheers from the audience. At one point, bassist Bruno Ravel advised the audience to stop using their phones and simply listen and remember the band’s performance instead, or something to that effect. I always find it odd to have a performer comment on how a paying audience should be enjoying a concert. If someone wants to sit down the entire time while a band is playing, I find it is more the band’s responsibility to inspire that person to get off his/her ass with the group’s music/performance rather than tell that person how to enjoy themselves. Obviously, Sleaze Roxx depends on audience members to take videos and post them on YouTube for its concert reviews so I disagree with Ravel‘s comment that people should stop using their phones doing concerts.
Overall, I think Danger Danger put on a good performance for most people but for whatever reason — likely fatigue and not being into their songs that much — it is one set that I was not into and that had me wandering around shopping for CDs.
Danger Danger performing “Naughty Naughty” at Rock N Skull on October 29, 2016:
10-29-16 Rock N Skull Day 2 The Tree Joliet, IL
Brian Howe, the voice of Bad Company:
Last but not least was former Bad Company lead vocalist Brian Howe. Having never had a Bad Company album in my collection, I was intrigued to see how many songs that I knew from Bad Company given that the group’s brand of classic rock gets played on Canadian classic rock radio stations quite a bit. Howe was a puzzling headliner to me as his brand of rock n’ roll was different than any other band on the Rock N Skull roster this year. In addition, although Howe was Bad Company‘s lead singer between 1986 and 1994, there is no question from the band’s record sales that its best days were behind it by that point. I also thought there was a bit of a generation gap between Howe and most of the audience. Indeed, Howe did proclaim early on in his set that he was the oldest performer at almost 64 years of age. He also kind of complained about having to play so late stating later that he liked to go to bed these days at 8:00 pm or so.
Sometimes, Howe was quite funny while other times, his attempts to connect with the audience fell flat. At one point, Howe described his beautiful and huge mansion in Florida before advising that his ex-wife really enjoyed it. That was quite funny! However, Howe made some missteps such as commenting early on in his set that he would not keep the audience much longer since it was late. It seemed from the audience response that Bad Company fans were not happy to hear that. Later in Howe‘s set, he took a poll on who was more popular for the upcoming elections for the presidency of the United States of America — Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump. That was a rather odd move and seemed to kill the mood. I definitely recognized quite a few songs that Howe and his band played but I didn’t really like the slowed down versions. Perhaps I am just used to the sometimes speedier cover versions that bands have done of Bad Company classics such as the stellar cover from Dangerous Toys of the Bad Company track “Feel Like Makin’ Love.” Howe and his band also had a tendency to drag the songs on, which hindered the band’s performance more than added to it. Unlike the previous evenings when L.A. Guns headlined both nights, I was more than ready to pack it in this time around while listening to Howe‘s set. I stayed to the end in any case likely much to the chagrin of some of the Decibel Geek guys (that attend way more cruises and festivals than I do and have less patience for acts that they do not really like) and who sometimes were just waiting for me to head back to the hotel or get some mostly terrible late night American fast food.
Overall, Howe‘s set was a disappointing way to end Day Two.