FIRST SHOW ON AMERICAN SOIL
Show Date: November 13, 2014
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Venue: Hard Rock Cafe Toronto
Band Website: www.facebook.com/ShirazLane
A few weeks prior to Shiraz Lane‘s scheduled show at the Hard Rock Cafe in Toronto, the band’s new bassist Joel Hiljanen forwarded a link to a video for the band’s new song “Out There Somewhere” to Sleaze Roxx. While checking out the video — which I really liked — I noticed that the Finland based Shiraz Lane had a gig booked in Toronto of all places.
As I quickly learned, about seven months prior, Shiraz Lane had won a contest called Hard Rock Rising Helsinki — which was essentially a battle of the bands culminating with the grand prize being an all-expenses paid (or perhaps at least a free night in a hotel plus flights) trip to play a show at the Hard Rock Cafe Toronto. Shortly after viewing Shiraz Lane‘s new video I contacted Hiljanen to make sure the band was actually playing in Toronto on November 13th, given that there was no mention of the gig on the Hard Rock Cafe website or FaceBook page. The bassist kindly confirmed that the gig was going to be proceeding and that Shiraz Lane would share the stage with a few local acts. About ten days prior to the show, the Hard Rock Cafe finally advertised the gig, but accompanying Shiraz Lane on the card were two unknown local bands to me — Ungrateful Children and Grand Opening.
Unfortunately, I could not find any additional original material from Shiraz Lane on YouTube, but did find two videos of the band playing live covers of Led Zeppelin‘s “Rock And Roll” and Guns N’ Roses‘ “Patience”. Although I had never been to a concert to hear a band play on the strength of only one original song, that is exactly what was going to happen. That really tells you how impressed I was with Shiraz Lane‘s song “Out There Somewhere”. As it turns out, while heading to the concert fellow Sleaze Roxx writer Mark Horvath informed me that Shiraz Lane had previously released an EP called ‘Lights Out’ back in 2012 that he was able to find on some obscure website. My post-show research revealed that Shiraz Lane had apparently already released two EPs, but the group decided to forge ahead as if those EPs never existed — more on that later in this review.
A few days prior to the show, I had contacted Horvath to see if he would be interested in seeing Shiraz Lane. It was no surprise that he was into it as the Finnish band plays the kind of melodic glam metal that he usually likes. More surprising was that occasional Sleaze Roxx writer Chris was also interested in attending, as apparently Shiraz Lane had made a favorable impression on him as well.
By the time that Horvath, Chris and I were all at the Hard Rock Cafe, it became obvious that the lack of advertising by the venue would unfortunately mean a sparse crowd for the very promising Finnish winners of the Hard Rock Rising contest. The first band to hit the inwardly triangular, but fairly big, stage was Grand Opening. At first I thought that part of the band was simply doing a soundcheck since there were only two members on stage, a guitarist and a drummer. Although the band’s FaceBook page lists three members, the two musicians on stage turned out to be the full complement of band members for Grand Opening on this night. The funny bonnet wearing lead singer/guitarist (who I presume was Rex Spangle) addressed the crowd in the highest pitched voice I have ever heard from a guy — or is he a girl? If that wasn’t surprising enough, he also sang in that very high pitched voice throughout the show. I am not sure if this was simply an act because he seemed from afar to talk to the drummer (presumably named Andy Shonicker) in a much lower register when only addressing him. While I won’t be running to purchase Grand Opening‘s forthcoming new EP anytime soon, the songs that they did play live were enjoyable once I got used to the frontman’s super high pitched girly vocals.
Next up was Shiraz Lane, whose band members looked a little bit like a young but slightly more polished version of Guns N’ Roses. The similarities were uncanny with Hiljanen looking a lot like Duff McKagan, minus the height, tattoos and hair color (he even sported a tank top with the word “Duff” on it), and rhythm guitarist Miki Kalske reminding me of Izzy Stradlin with his little cap. As previously mentioned, I only knew one of the band’s songs going into the concert so I am grateful for Kalske for providing me with a copy of the band’s setlist posted on stage after the show but in particular for Hiljanen for taking the time to write out the full names of each song that were played once I got the posted setlist. Shiraz Lane kicked off their set with “The Cure”, which I liked right away. The band had a bit of an Iron Maiden feel to them with Hiljanen and lead vocalist Hannes Kett jockeying for who would be the furthest in front of the stage during the show — Kett easily won that “duel”. Unlike other bands, the two guitarists, Kalske and Jani Laine, seemed to spend more time in the background while on stage — although Laine was clearly given centre stage whenever he had a guitar solo to play.
All of the band’s songs had that sleazy hard rock and metal feel so prevalent in the late ’80s, yet with a fresher sound. Kett addressed the crowd in his Finnish laced English between most of the songs and seemed quite comfortable and confident beyond his presumably young age. My favorite songs from Shiraz Lane surprisingly didn’t include their single and the track that I had heard at least ten times prior to the show — “Out There Somewhere”. That tells you how good the band’s material was, considering the one song I was most familiar with and which brought me out to the concert in the first place was not one of my favorites played that night. The best song for me was “Money Talks” (and “Bullshit Walks” as described by Kett) which is the B-side to the “Out There Somewhere” single. Other song highlights included the opening “The Cure” and “Gimme All Your Love”, which from what I remember provided some sing-along opportunities during the chorus. The general consensus among Horvath, Chris and I were that all of the songs played by Shiraz Lane were good and everyone liked the band’s overall sound. My one pet peeve was that the band’s frontman could have worn some “cooler” threads than a big green lumberjack jacket.
After Shiraz Lane‘s set, both Horvath and I were slightly embarrassed — at least I was — and we both apologized to the band for the sparse audience attendance. It was clearly not Shiraz Lane‘s fault as the relatively unknown band (outside of Helsinki, Finland) won a contest to play overseas and both the Hard Rock Cafe and the two local bands should have advertised better and pulled in more people to the show. I also wondered why the Hard Rock Cafe did not bother booking some better known local talent such as Diemonds or Last Bullet to get more people to attend considering they were flying in a band all the way from Finland.
Once Shiraz Lane‘s set was over I asked the band members if they had any music to sell, but alas, the answer was “no”. Drummer Ana Willman explained that the band did have a prior EP (apparently two of them) but they were not playing or promoting any material from them because their new songs were a lot better. After the concert, I was able to track down two tracks from the band’s EP ‘Lights Out’, but it seems that Shiraz Lane have pulled whatever videos they had made in support of their earlier EPs. Based on the two tracks that I was able find, I have to agree with Willman‘s assessment that the new Shiraz Lane tracks are way better than what the band previously came up with. Nevertheless, it would have been nice to walk away with some music from the group to tide me over until they release their new songs in record format. Despite Shiraz Lane‘s entire set in Toronto having been videotaped, I could not find any videos of their performance on YouTube to include with this review.
The Shiraz Lane band members were all very friendly and even posed for a group shot after their set. Horvath, Chris and I all ended not sticking around for the “headliner” Ungrateful Children‘s set. I did listen to a few tunes from that band via the internet in advance of the show but just wasn’t feeling it.
At the end of the day, Shiraz Lane put on an energy filled and fun performance and I will definitely be catching the band’s future shows assuming that they make their way to the greater Toronto region again in the years to come. I will also be eagerly anticipating and purchasing their new record — whenever it comes out.
Shiraz Lane’s setlist:
01. The Cure
02. Behind The 8-Ball
03. Gimme All Your Love
04. Story To Tell
05. Too Much Is Not Enough
06. Breaking Down
07. Money Talks
08. Out There Somewhere