Rocklanta Day One Concert Review w/ Hardcore Superstar, FireHouse, XYZ, Babylon Shakes & O.D.D.
HARDCORE SUPERSTAR EXCEED THE HYPE AND PUT ON A KILLER PERFORMANCE
Date: March 29, 2019
Venue: Center Stage
Location: Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Organizer: Brad Lee Entertainment
Band Photos: Joe Schaeffer Photography
After less than five hours on Day One of the inaugural Rocklanta, I had already received more than my money’s worth after seeing Hardcore Superstar‘s simply electrifying and killer performance. Yeah, Hardcore Superstar were that good. Actually, “good” does not even begin to describe the band’s performance. How about great, fantastic and likely impossible to top for the rest of the weekend. The gauntlet had been dropped for the bands playing on Day Two. Stay tuned for my review of Rocklanta‘s Day Two to see if any band would be able to top Hardcore Superstar‘s simply dominating performance.
But before I get into Hardcore Superstar‘s amazing performance in many details, let me start at the beginning. Now I know that many of the Rocklanta attendees are “regulars” at many of these types of events from the Monsters of Rock Cruise to the M3 Rock Festival but I simply don’t have the luxury (mainly time related) to go to all these events every year. Accordingly, I usually pick one event each year to go away to and really look forward to it. I have always skipped the Monsters of Rock Cruise as the time commitment to attend is too great at this point in my life (wife, three young kids, job, etc). In any case, this year, I chose to attend the inaugural Rocklanta for two main reasons.
First of all, I was very impressed with my first Brad Lee Entertainment event that I attended last year, which was Sleazy Slimey Sunday 3 in Hanover, Maryland, USA (you can check out my reviews if you like — parts one and two). Everything was really well organized. It felt like the event was going over and above (i.e. L.A. Guns were added as the headliner less than two weeks before the event when most of the tickets were already sold, and Tyketto‘s frontman Danny Vaughn made a surprise appearance to sing a couple of songs with Ted Poley). It was also great to see some of the “younger” generation bands such as Denman and Kickin Valentina. Second of all, the Rocklanta line-up was really enticing to me since I had only seen five (Babylon Shakes, Denman, Kickin Valentina, Tyketto and Warrant) out of the fourteen bands play live in the past. I was also very excited to finally see Tora Tora and Dangerous Toys play live since I have been a fan of each band since the release of their debut albums. Throw in Hardcore Superstar playing their only live show in the US this year at Rocklanta and it really was a “can’t miss it” type of line-up. Clearly, Rocklanta was also catering to my expanding musical palette in the last decade. To illustrate, I have a very old iPod that dates back to 2006 with tons of music that I uploaded on it from 2006 to about 2008. Out of the 14 bands that were playing at Rocklanta, only two were featured on that iPod (Tora Tora and Dangerous Toys). I suppose Warrant frontman Robert Mason gets an honourable mention since there’s tons of Big Cock on the iPod.
Obviously, Atlanta, Georgia is quite far from Toronto in Canada so I decided to fly to the event. It had actually been a while since I flew internationally and I was hit with a flood of memories in regard to an Asia trip that I had taken with my wife ten years earlier simply from seeing the international terminal in Toronto once again. Since most of the concerts that I attend are usually within two hours driving distance from Toronto, and since I didn’t particularly enjoy the travel to get to Atlanta (two hour wait at the Toronto airport, about a 1.5 hour flight from Toronto to Atlanta, more than one hour to get to the car rental compound located off site from the airport, and another 45 minutes to travel about 13 miles from the car rental compound to the hotel), I definitely gained more appreciation during this trip for what bands have to go through simply to get to a gig.
For those who think that Canada and the States are “very similar”, that’s simply not true. As soon as I landed in the Atlanta airport, I was reminded of some of the big differences. Customer service in the States can range from abysmal to over the top. I got to experience the two ends of the spectrum within half an hour. In terms of the abysmal service, I must have stood for what seemed like an eternity in front of an Atlanta Airport’s “Information” booth waiting to talk to one of two service representatives. None of them ever bothered greeting me in any way even though they clearly saw me right away. One of them eventually got up to go for some sort of break so I went up to ask my question to the one remaining service representative who seemed annoyed that I would even ask him anything. Isn’t that his job? My service experience was like night and day when I got to one of the rental car counters as the service representative there was super friendly. Welcome to the United States of America… I eventually arrived at my hotel (the Residence Inn by Marriott) that had been recommended by Brad Lee Entertainment for Rocklanta concert attendees. I was very pleased to see that the hotel was only a short block away from the Center Stage venue.
A few days prior to Rocklanta, Dangerous Toys, 99 Crimes and ex-Dirty Looks guitarist Paul Lidel had suggested that we meet up for a drink. I had interviewed Paul two times in the last year (in November 2018 and earlier this month) and was looking forward to getting to meet Paul for the first time. I had driven through Atlanta almost two years ago on my way back from Florida and the traffic during rush hour was disastrous. This was again the case as I headed to meet Paul and his girlfriend Suzette as what should have been a short drive from a grocery store turned into horrid bumper to bumper gridlock with some of the longest traffic lights that I had ever seen. In any case, we ended up having an early supper and an enjoyable chat talking about everything from Steel Panther to an individual’s attempt to resurrect Dirty Looks with no original members a couple of years back. Paul was kind enough to give me a copy of his band 99 Crimes‘ debut self-titled album, which will be released in a couple of days on April 5, 2019. I highly recommend that you pick up 99 Crimes‘ new album via Perris Records. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
I eventually got to the Center Stage venue and wow! What an amazing venue. When Brad Lee indicated that there wasn’t a bad seat in the house, he wasn’t joking. The only real difference from the photo that I have included is that there were no seats in the general admission area. From anywhere inside the venue, you simply had a terrific view of the stage. I will note at this time that I met tons of great people throughout the two-day event but will only mention a few of them throughout this review. When I first arrived, I ran into photographer Joe Schaeffer who graciously offered that I could use some of his photos for my Rocklanta concert reviews if need be. Although I did take photos throughout the two day event (thank you for the press pass Brad Lee!), you’ll notice that all of the band photos accompanying my Rocklanta concert reviews are from Joe. As soon as I saw Joe‘s photos from Day One, I knew that I would be asking him to use his photos!
Now, this next part may seem a little negative but bear with me as I explain why. Rocklanta kicked things off with a local band named O.D.D., which was a three-piece band that seemed a lot closer to ’90s grunge than ’80s hair metal. There are not going to be too many bands on an ’80s influenced festival bill that Sleaze Roxx (or I) would not know about but O.D.D. were an unknown entity to me. I understand that they ended up replacing another local band Atlas, which had to pull out for whatever reason. I did check out O.D.D.‘s music for a little bit before coming to Rocklanta but found that their music was likely outside what Sleaze Roxx would usually cover. The guitarist / lead vocalist (HDS) and bassist (Gunny) also did not have the typical “hair metal” look with long goatees and/or beards. Accordingly, Rocklanta started a bit slowly with O.D.D.‘s set. The band members must have noticed that too as they threw in a cover of Ozzy Osbourne‘s “No More Tears” by their third song. That seemed to get some of the audience members more involved in the band’s set so that was a good move. Overall, O.D.D.‘s set was quite forgettable as I wasn’t into their music and frankly, I think it would have been better to restrict the bill to 13 bands rather than include one that didn’t quite fit in.
I was expecting that Babylon Shakes would be playing next followed by XYZ, Hardcore Superstar and headliner FireHouse but the schedule that was released about a few days prior indicated that the next band would be XYZ followed by FireHouse, Hardcore Superstar and Babylon Shakes. Prior to the schedule coming out, I thought that the experienced FireHouse would have a tall order following Hardcore Superstar‘s much anticipated set so to have the relatively new Babylon Shakes having to play right after Hardcore Superstar‘s set seemed like throwing a lamb to the slaughter. I will have more to say on that later on in this review!
As previously mentioned, there were many bands on the Rocklanta bill that I had never seen before and some such as XYZ that I (now shamefully) never got into back in the day. In the months leading to Rocklanta, I did purchase XYZ‘s second album Hungry but didn’t bother getting the band’s debut record since I would have had to fork about $60 US to do so. Having seen singer Terry Ilous front Great White at last year’s M3 Rock Festival, I was intrigued to see him with XYZ. While Terry seemed to constantly battling the ghost of Jack Russell while performing on stage with Great White last year, he seemed a much better fit in XYZ, which was after all the band that he founded with bassist Pat Fontaine some 33 years ago. If I recall correctly, Terry pointed out that it had been 30 years since XYZ performed in Atlanta so it was quite the feat to have them at Rocklanta. Although I wasn’t that familiar with their material, I really enjoyed their set including the acoustic segment mid-way through. Terry has a great voice and he certainly had to have one handling the Great White material for all those years.
02. Come On And Love Me
03. What Keeps Me Loving You
04. Take What U
05. Follow The Night
06. Nice Day To Die
07. Medley: After Rain, When I Find, Souvenirs
08. Tied Up In Love
09. Face Down In The Gutter
10. Inside Out
Back in the early ’90s, I had heard of the band FireHouse but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I could have named you one of their songs. FireHouse, just like XYZ, was just another band that I (shamefully) ignored. While in the last 10 to 15 years, I have been willing to give any band a chance, back in the late ’80s / early ’90s, I was extremely fickle and if I didn’t like a band’s name (for example, Tuff or XYZ), I wouldn’t really bother listening to them. It wasn’t until Bad Reputation Records sent the reissue of FireHouse‘s debut album (still have to review that one) to the Sleaze Roxx headquarters a couple of years ago that I realized that FireHouse had tons of hit songs that I knew quite well. So many that when I play FireHouse‘s debut album, I find myself singing along to songs that I didn’t even know I knew. How many times does that happen?
Accordingly, I was really looking forward to seeing FireHouse play even though they probably play a brand of hard rock that is slightly poppier than what I usually prefer. What can I say? Wow! FireHouse were really good live! CJ Snare — what a voice! Man, that guy can sing and he also has great stage presence. I would rate Snare just behind Europe‘s Joey Tempest in terms of expertly handling and spinning a microphone stand. Snare wasn’t shy to address the audience and I believe that he mentioned at one point that FireHouse hadn’t played in Atlanta for 16 years or so. I had heard great things about FireHouse guitarist Bill Leverty in the past and he more than lived up to them with his fun melodic laced guitar playing. FireHouse were just a lot of fun to see live. They were the first band of the night to have some sort of stage set up with a huge FireHouse banner in the back as well as some sort of draped design over the amps. The setup gave a real headliner feel to FireHouse‘s set.
Not knowing that much about FireHouse, I was surprised when I checked the band’s discography for the purposes of this review and found out that the group had released eight studio albums! I would have never known that. That being said, FireHouse concentrated on their early material since seven songs were played from the debut album (1990), four from Hold Your Fire (1992), three from 3 (1995) and one from Prime Time (2003). I could have done without the drum and guitar solos but I would say that for just about any band. Overall, I was very impressed with FireHouse‘s performance and will plan on going to see them when they play with Sebastian Bach in Welland, Ontario, Canada in early June. I wasn’t planning on going but now that I have seen them live, I will make sure not to miss them.
01. Overnight Sensation
03. Shake & Tumble
04. Oughta Be A Law
05. All She Wrote
06. Something About Your Body
07. When I Look Into Your Eyes
08. Don’t Walk Away
09. Get In Touch
11. Drum Solo
12. Sleeping With You
13. I Live My Life For You
14. Love Of a Lifetime
15. Guitar Solo
16. Reach For The Sky
17. Don’t Treat Me Bad
As a regular concert attendee, you always long for that one special over the top performance that exceeds your expectations. It’s one thing for a band or artist to make a great impression when they are not well known to you (such as when I saw The Lazys for the first time live last April) or when your expectations going into the show are pretty low, it’s totally different when people’s expectations and anticipation are sky high for the band’s performance. You could feel a large buzz in the air when it was Hardcore Superstar‘s turn to take the stage. The Swedish sleaze rockers were playing their one and only show of the year in the United States of America (might as well say in North America). Just about anybody that you talked to was looking forward to seeing the band perform. As I waited at the barrier near the stage for Hardcore Superstar to hit the stage, I ended up being beside a California based gentleman named Jordan. We hit it off quite well and before long, Jordan, his friendly girlfriend Sandy (watch out — she will drill you with questions) and myself had a very enjoyable time getting to know each other. Of course, the conversation included Hardcore Superstar and how much all of us were looking forward to their performance.
Funny enough, Hardcore Superstar are a band that I have never really gotten into until it was announced that they were playing Rocklanta. You see, I “discovered” the Sleaze Roxx website back in 2006 and that led me to tons of great new bands (such as Eclipse, Big Cock, Airbourne, Bonafide and Sister Sin to name a few) via the website’s top albums of the year lists. There were so many great new bands to check out that there were a few bands such as Hardcore Superstar that I overlooked for a couple of years. By the time I got around to Hardcore Superstar, they had released their ninth studio album C’mon Take On Me in 2013 (which I purchased). To be fair, that album wasn’t one of their greatest efforts and their next one HCSS in 2015 failed to register with me. It wasn’t until Hardcore Superstar released their latest studio album You Can’t Kill My Rock ‘N’ Roll last year that I really started getting into the band. The album seemed to be a return to form for the band and certainly, the Sleaze Roxx readers thought so voting it to #1 on the Sleaze Roxx Readers’ Top 20 Albums of 2018. In the months leading to Rocklanta, I ended up buying pretty much all of the Hardcore Superstar discography that I could find and I landed on a gem of a gem with the self-titled one that was released back in 2005. If you’re wondering why I have been a little slow in reviewing albums for the last couple of months, blame it on Hardcore Superstar‘s self-titled album, which has monopolized my car’s CD player over that time period. Hardcore Superstar‘s self-titled record is now up there with my favorite albums of all-time.
As you can likely surmise, my expectations were sky high for Hardcore Superstar. The energy level was through the roof when they finally hit the stage. It seemed that I was watching the poster band for the Sleaze Roxx website. They were sleazy, raunchy, young, seemingly hungry and full of energy. Frontman Jocke Berg seemed larger than life with his arms full of tattoos, his tall frame and and his rock star look down to a T. Bassist Martin Sandvik had one big smile for the entire night. Guitarist Vic Zino and the newest Hardcore Superstar member (dating back to 2008) was a bundle of energy. Finally, drummer Magnus “Adde” Andreasson was quite the joker as the band’s roadie was dismantling his drum set during the last song of the night. Kicking things off with “Kick On The Upperclass” (from my favorite Hardcore Superstar album), the band members had the audience in the palm of their hands. Hardcore Superstar could simply do no wrong. Berg got the crowd singing along nice and early with some “oooh oooh” parts during the opening track. “Electric Rider” from last year’s You Can’t Kill My Rock ‘N’ Roll was next and kept the energy levels high. Things seemed to go up to another level when the band played “We Don’t Celebrate Sundays” as I could hear the crowd singing behind me. In fact, if you view the video for that song below, it’s hard to hear Berg singing because the crowd is screaming the lyrics so loudly.
Hardcore Superstar performing “Kick On The Upperclass” live at Rocklanta in Atlanta, Georgia, USA on March 29, 2019:
Hardcore Superstar: Kick Out The Upper Class
Live at Rocklanta at Center Stage in Atlanta, Georgia3/39/19
Hardcore Superstar performing “We Don’t Celebrate Sundays” live at Rocklanta in Atlanta, Georgia, USA on March 29, 2019:
Hardcore Superstar: We Don’t Celebrate Sundays
Live at Rocklanta at Center Stage in Atlanta, Georgia3/30/19
Every song played by Hardcore Superstar could have been their closing song because they were all played with such fire and fury, and there never seemed to be a dip in the energy level from the crowd. The great songs just kept pouring after another with “My Good Reputation” and “Wild Boys” (from my favorite Hardcore Superstar album) followed by “Someone Special.” By the time it was time for “Last Call For Alcohol”, a number of fans jumped up on stage with one in particular (Roberto C Orellana) who seemed so happy to be on stage with them! Next up was the title track for Hardcore Superstar‘s latest studio album You Can’t Kill My Rock ‘N’ Roll, which will surely be in the band’s live set for the remainder of the group’s musical career. Throughout the entire set, I don’t remember Berg talking that much to the crowd but he definitely had the audience singing along after him on many occasions. Berg climbed on the drum set numerous times with his back facing the crowd before he would jump off it in spectacular fashion. The guy is 44 years old and looks in fantastic shape. Hardcore Superstar closed off their absolutely fantastic set with “Above The Law” and while I was grateful that they had such a long set, I would have loved to hear even more songs from them.
It seemed that Hardcore Superstar had delivered more of a greatest hits set for the Rocklanta crowd as I had previously checked out their prior setlists and they seemed to play a lot more of their new album during those times. Hardcore Superstar ended up playing one song from It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (1998), one from Bad Sneakers And A Piña Colada (2000), four from their self-titled album (2005), two from Split Your Lip (2010), one from C’mon Take On Me (2013) and two from You Can’t Kill My Rock ‘N’ Roll (2018). Arguably, you could state that they played two songs from Bad Sneakers And A Piña Colada since the track “Someone Special” from the debut album also appears on that record. At this point, I knew that I had seen the best performance at Rocklanta and that likely no other band was going to come close to Hardcore Superstar‘s absolutely mesmerizing and stunning performance. I could have also left Rocklanta at that point as I felt that I had already received more than my money’s worth. After all, Hardcore Superstar had just delivered one of the best concert sets that I had ever seen.
Hardcore Superstar’s setlist:
01. Kick On The Upperclass
02. Electric Rider
03. We Don’t Celebrate Sundays
05. My Good Reputation
06. Wild Boys
07. Someone Special
08. Last Call For Alcohol
09. You Can’t Kill My Rock ‘N Roll
11. Above The Law
Hardcore Superstar performing “Moonshine” live at Rocklanta in Atlanta, Georgia, USA on March 29, 2019:
Hardcore Superstar: Moonshine
Live at Rocklanta at Center Stage in Atlanta, Georgia3/30/19
I will go on a limb and say that no band at Rocklanta wanted to play right after Hardcore Superstar but unfortunately, someone had to and that turned out to be Babylon Shakes. From what I was told at the end of Day One, some bands had requested to play certain time slots so accommodations had to be made in that regard. I suspect that FireHouse requested an early time slot since they were playing in Charlotte, North Carolina the next night. In any case, the Center Stage venue emptied out after Hardcore Superstar‘s set and for a while, I was really worried about how many people would be staying to see Babylon Shakes who had just released their debut full-length album Exile To The Velveteen Lounge. I have been a big fan of the band’s frontman for some time as Chris Clark fronted the harder edged Last Call Messiahs before that group disbanded and he founded Babylon Shakes. Considering that I don’t travel down to the States to attend concerts that much, this would be my third time seeing Clark perform in a live setting and my second time seeing Babylon Shakes.
The vintage sleaze rockers were now a four-piece band having recently added Dave Elmore on the bass with Gary Jordan switching from bass to rhythm guitar. By the time that Babylon Shakes hit the stage, a number of concert attendees had returned near the stage. Babylon Shakes came out swinging and playing their songs at a much faster pace than what can be heard on their debut EP and full-length album. They were all moving around quite a bit and frankly, I thought that they did a great job in a very tough situation. The extra band member gave the songs a thicker less retro sound and I really liked the tracks being sped up a tad. It kind of reminded me of KISS with their first six studio albums where the songs on those albums were played at a slower pace than what can be heard on Alive! and Alive II. Even though I was still on my Hardcore Superstar high, I really enjoyed Babylon Shakes‘ set and was sad to see their set end after only eight songs. They are definitely a band to watch out for in the future and since they were able to survive and really successfully follow Hardcore Superstar at a rock festival, they seemingly can achieve just about anything that they set their sights on.
Babylon Shakes’ setlist:
01. Making A Million
02. Silver Tongue Devil
03. Sunset Striptease
05. Velveteen Libertine
06. Die Pretty
07. No Pictures Please
08. Motel Lights