Slam Fest feat. Queensrÿche, Skid Row & Great White in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada Concert Review

SKID ROW STEAL THE SHOW IN KITCHENER

Date: July 6, 2019
Venue: Bingeman’s Center
Location: Kitchener, Ontario, Canada
Event: Slam Fest
Reviewer: Tyson Briden
Photos: Tyson Briden
Videos: Pete Dove

As I was sitting down to write about my latest adventure at Slam Fest in Kitchener, Ontario, something quickly occurred to me. How is it that in Canada, in 2019, we have gotten so far removed from the sounds of hard rock and heavy metal? Back in the day, this was the music that was prevalent in so many ways. Now you may ask yourself, why is the writer even bringing this issue forward? Well, it’s because in the last few weeks, two big events planned in Southern Ontario, Canada have been cancelled due to poor ticket sales. The first was an event called Hair In The Fair that was to take place in Welland, Ontario, Canada. The second was the Roxodus Music Fest which was to take place close to Stayner, Ontario, Canada. Now with this festival, originally it was announced that it was cancelled due to the conditions of the grass being too wet. That seemed kind of bogus, so as the days would pass after the cancellation, the truth would come out. Poor ticket sales and trouble with the promoters would become the real issue for the cancellation. Now these two festivals featured many prominent bands, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Cheap Trick, Sebastian Bach and Vince Neil just to name a few. Now, these are not B-level bands. These are artists that are well known to most.

Now I pose the question. Does this all come down to poor promotion? Or is it the fact that Southern Ontario has now become a hotbed for the likes of Drake, Country Music and Musical Entertainment [Rap, Dance] as I like to call it? Is it that rock is truly dead in Southern Ontario? I remember the days when bands like Mötley Crüe and Aerosmith could sell out the Skydome (which had a capacity of about 50,000 people). Is it that in Canada, we are all about trends? If it’s popular, then everybody wants to be there. Taking selfies and posting these self-indulgent photos of themselves on social media. Are we a nation full of puppets? A good example is the Toronto sports teams. When the Toronto Blue Jays were winning in 2015 and 2016, everybody had to be at the Rogers Centre. Now fast forward to 2019, the team is rebuilding and the Rogers Centre is empty. So next year, if the Toronto Raptors are mediocre, will the fan base still be there? That remains to be seen.

So as the Slam Fest event approached, my thinking was that because this would be the only one of the three events to take place, those that got burnt by Hair In The Fair and Roxodus would take in Slam Fest. I wish that was true. As I approached the event, I could see that the huge grounds of the event were not even a quarter full. Okay, the main artists had yet to take the stage, so I thought possibly more would come. As I parked, I quickly realized that possibly the event promoters may be making up for costs in other ways. $20 for parking? Okay, a little steep for an event in Kitchener, but since my tickets were complimentary, then I will pay it, but then I think of those that paid full price for their tickets. Is it necessary to take advantage of the consumer?

Kevin Gale (ex-Slik Toxik) and Tyson Briden

As I went in the gates and walked towards the VIP section, I caroused the beer trailer and found that a tall boy can of Landshark was $10. Well, good thing I have to drive back to Oshawa, Ontario because if not, this could turn into a pricey night. As I mention all this, I think back to the M3 Rock Festival that I attended back in May. Okay, yes, in some sections, beer was expensive, but if you were willing to walk up a hill, you could indeed purchase cheaper beer. Having just returned from a trip to Nashville and Memphis, I have concluded that in the USA, your dollar stretches a lot further than in Canada. Many say it’s because we have far less people. Well, I live in a metropolis area of 3 million people. That is very comparable to an American city. In Tennessee, I was paying $2.25 a gallon for gas. That is less than half of what I pay in Canada, even with the exchange. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my Health Care in Canada. I love our gun laws and the fact that we are a peace-loving nation, but when it comes to how much things cost in Canada, I truly get annoyed. Big business and politicians have been gouging us for so long that we just accept it. Frankly, we in Canada need to quit being so passive and take charge. When will enough be enough?

So that was my rant, but I think it needs to be said. These festivals were a good thing for Canada and live music, but somehow they almost all failed. Chances are these will never happen again, so M3, I will definitely be back next year.

So now getting back to Slam Fest, moments before Great White were to take the stage, my good friend Kevin Gale and his awesome girlfriend Val, showed up. We conversed, had an expensive beer and waited. We scanned the grounds and noticed that the place hadn’t really gotten much fuller. Oh no, this is not right. It was at that point that I ran into fellow Sleaze Roxx writer Mark Gregory. We would end up hanging for the duration of the show.

Great White

Great White took the stage at 7:00 pm. The sun was shining through the back of the stage nicely. First the band would appear, than new lead singer Mitch Malloy would finally grace the stage. With his chiseled good looks and long flowing curly blonde hair, I quickly wondered what Great White would sound like with Malloy at the helm. I had been waiting until I actually seen the band in person before forming an opinion. Sometimes YouTube, as great as it is, can be not so flattering to an artist, especially if the artist is having an off night.

What I will say about Great White is this. As great a singer that Mitch Malloy is, I found it strange to see him without a guitar draped around his body. Mitch and I speak periodically. Generally, we talk of guitars. Mitch is pretty much his own guitar tech. When it comes to guitars, Mitch does not like weight to contend with, so he will take out wood from the guitar to make it lighter. Now with that said, Mitch as a solo artist always plays guitar, so seeing him without it was strange. I am a huge fan of Mitch’s solo work. I think he is so underrated. He is a true master at the songwriting craft. So keep that in mind when Great White talk of a new album because it possibly could be some of the best work the band has done. That remains to be seen, but I am pretty confident in the mindset that the material will be darn good.

As for the performance itself, I thought it to be very well done. Possibly I would have liked to see the band play longer. There is so much great material in the band’s catalog. Really eight songs doesn’t d0 the band’s material justice. It’s a tease. Possibly in the future, I will get to see the band at full capacity, but the chances are minimal that it will be in Ontario, Canada. If I was one of these bands, I would think twice about gracing a stage here. What is the incentive? The crowds aren’t there. This market is dried up so to speak. Possibly the weekend was all wrong? I don’t know, but if I was a promoter, with all the money spent to bring three great bands to Canada, it just doesn’t seem feasible. I wonder if the promoter actually made money. Those that were in attendance had a great time though and that’s all that matters at this point.

Now with all that said, it could be thought that maybe if original singer Jack Russell was gracing the stage, the numbers would be better. I highly doubt that. In 2019, this is just the dynamic that bands of the ’80s face in Canada. The general audience is in their 40’s and 50’s. Most of them these days have kids and are in bed by 9:00 pm. I myself am not the norm in that department. I still like to stay out late and rock out. Overall, Great White were a good warm-up to what was to come.

Great White’s setlist:
01. Desert Moon
02. Lady Red Light
03. Big Time
04. House of Broken Love
05. Mista Bone
06. Save Your Love
07. Rock Me
08. Once Bitten, Twice Shy

Skid Row

So this would be the second time I had seen Skid Row in the last two months, with the first time being at M3 back in May. They impressed then, so I was pretty confident in my thought that they would be great on this day too. I was not wrong in that assumption. Holy shit, were they ever good. Skid Row, with singer ZT Theart at the mike, easily make you forget about the original guy who will remain nameless. There are so many that feel that the original guy should be brought back in the fold. I am not so sure that Skid Row need to do that. Yes, it may sell a few more tickets, but how many really? On numerous occasions I have read where guitarist Dave “The Snake” Sabo has commented that he’d rather just be happy with the band he has. I think as we all get older, that’s really what it’s all about. If there is an element in your life that makes you uncomfortable or makes you miserable, then it’s best to just stay true to yourself and stick to what makes you happy. Sometimes when it comes to musicians or sports figures, we forget that they are still humans. Why are they any different from anyone else? Then there are those that say, “Well you should do it for the fans!” You think so? So for your own nostalgic and selfish reasons, others should be miserable so you can hear the music like it was on the album? Silly kid, Trix are for kids! Move on…

So as I say that and getting back to the performance, ZT Theart is really a captivating singer. At one point, Mark Gregory turned to me and said, “He really has that Europeon element to his voice!” I couldn’t have agreed more, but he still executes perfectly. Every nuance, every scream and most of all, every attitude is executed like it should be. As the band was playing, I looked around and noticed how into the show the audience really was. There were so many singing along. There were those headbanging and then there were those that were just mesmerized by the sheer exuberance of the band’s presence on the stage.

It was about midway through the show that Mark Gregory said, “Hey, do you know that song ‘Ghost’ from Thickskin? Do you think they’ll play that?” I looked him straight in the eye and said, “Ah, man I wish. They didn’t at M3. I really can’t see it!” Suddenly, as “Living on a Chain Gang” ended, Theart took to the mike and announced, “This is a song called ‘Ghost’!” Mark and I looked at each other astounded. Was this an omen or what? Did they hear us talking?

If I have one complaint, it was during the hit ballad “I Remember You.” About three quarters through the song, something quickly changed with the snare drum sound. It was big and loud. There was so much delay, compression and reverb on it that myself, Kevin and Mark plugged our ears with our fingers. Then like a “Midnight/Tornado” it was gone. And trust me, that’s what it felt like. It really took something out of you. It was all that you focused on. It ruined the end of the song’s performance. Thank goodness it was short lived.

Skid Row performing “18 & Life” at Slam Fest in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada on July 6, 2019:

Skid Row – 18 & Life 2019 HQ HD

Skid Row perform ’18 & Life’ live at SlamFest 2019. Bingeman Park, Kitchener, ON. July 6, 2019.

Skid Row performing “I Remember You” at Slam Fest in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada on July 6, 2019:

Skid Row – I Remember You 2019 HQ HD

Skid Row perform ‘I Remember You’ live at SlamFest 2019. Bingeman Park, Kitchener, ON. July 6, 2019.

As the show wore on, the band broke into the great album track “Makin’ A Mess’ from the debut masterpiece. Kevin Gale and myself could be seen uttering every word and action to each other. “T-Bone Billy just a singin’ the blues; he caught his lady with another man. Lit up a smoke, did some talking with the back of his hand… Smack!!!” I think Kevin hit me so hard, that I fell to the ground and came up with a bloody lip. That’s the Slik Toxik way don’t you know? And if you believe that really happened, then I also have some land for sale in Florida that you may interested in. Regardless, Kevin and I were just so fired up and quickly decided that under no circumstances should the other guy ever grace the stage with this great band ever again. Why do they have to when ZT Theart is kicking it on that stage? It was so great to see the huge smile on Sabo’s face throughout the entire show. That says it right there. “Kids, Mommy and Daddy are divorced with no chance of reconciliation ever. I hate to say it, but you’ll have to deal with it!”

Just as that song ended, we quickly thought that “Youth Gone Wild” would be next, but that was not to be as the opening guitar introduced the audience to the great “In A Darkened Room” from the band’s 1991, #1 album Slave To The Grind. Honestly, that was something to be seen. ZT Threat, vocally, did not miss a beat. It brought shivers down my spine.

Overall, all I can say is ‘Wow.’ Skid Row annihilated the stage on this day. They really worked the audience into a frenzy. It was a roller-coaster of musical emotions. The formulation of the setlist was so well calculated. Amazing!!!

Skid Row’s set list:
01. Slave To The Grind
02. Sweet Little Sister
03. Big Guns
04. 18 & Life
05. Piece of Me
06. Living On A Chain Gang
07. Ghost
08. Psycho Therapy
09. I Remember You
10. Monkey Business
11. Makin’ A Mess
12. In A Darkened Room
13. Youth Gone Wild

Skid Row performing “Makin’ A Mess” at Slam Fest in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada on July 6, 2019:

Skid Row – Makin’ A Mess 2019 HQ HD

Skid Row perform ‘Makin’ A Mess’ live at SlamFest 2019. Bingeman Park, Kitchener, ON. July 6, 2019.

Queensrÿche

With Skid Row totally annihilating the crowd, it was thought that Queensrÿche would have some serious shoes to fill. In the past, that was an easy feat for this great Seattle band, but wait some things have changed since the mid-’90s. The first to go was original guitarist Chris DeGarmo, who in my eyes was a driving force to what the band became on the album Empire. Many years would pass and the band would have a falling out with original singer Geoff Tate. He would move forward and form his own version of Queensrÿche which would morph into Operation: Mindcrime, mostly for legal reasons though. Who recalls that court battle? Now here we are in 2019. It was announced that long-time drummer Scott Rockenfield would not be accompanying the band on its latest tour. It may be noted that new singer Todd La Torre actually played drums on the band’s latest album, The Verdict. So Rockenfield is nowhere to be found and there is not much speculation as to when or if he will return.

So what can be said about this version of Queensrÿche with only two original members remaining? Well kids, what I can say is this. My thoughts of the show were that I must go home when the show is done, put on my old VHS copy of Operation: Live crime and remember the good old days because what I heard at Slam Fest was not the band I remember. Now I can’t really pinpoint what was off. Kevin Gale did mention to me that the new drummer is definitely not Scott Rockenfield, but maybe that’s just a perception thing. I did notice that the textures of the guitars, especially on tracks from Empire and Operation: Mindcrime were much harsher and didn’t possess that nice smoothness that I have become accustomed to. Now as I mention these two albums, the band would play only three tracks off Empire and one off of the Operation: Mindcrime masterpiece. Now, how absurd does that seem? The band’s best work gets one track? Huh?

Now here’s where it gets even confusing for me. Queensrÿche would not play one, but two tracks from both 1984’s The Warning and 1986’s Rage For Order albums respectively. We all know that neither one were a big seller. Read into that as you may. I am not putting either album down in any way because I think both are amazing. Rage for Order was very ahead of its time. What I will say is that in a Canadian festival setting, with probably more casual listeners than die-hards, it makes more sense to play the songs that most would know. Now all is not lost because going back in the catalog, the band would perform “Queen of The Reich” from the band’s 1983 self-titled EP. That was the first vinyl I actually ever owned. I still play it periodically to this day as I have kept it in pristine condition over the last 30 years or so.

Queensrÿche performing “Queen of The Reich” live at Slam Fest in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada on July 6, 2019:

Queensryche – Queen Of The Ryche 2019 HQ HD

Queensryche perform ‘Queen Of The Ryche’ live at SlamFest 2019. Bingeman Park, Kitchener, ON. July 6, 2019.

Within about four songs, half the crowd had been lost. There seemed to be no flow within the setlist. It was a mismatch of songs that nobody knew. Of course, the positive in all of this were the vocals of Todd La Torre. If you closed your eyes, you’d swear it was Geoff Tate. So, in terms of the vocals there seems to be no issue. What I find weird is that the nucleus of the band is now made up of now. You still have originals Michael Wilton, Eddie Jackson with newbies Todd La Torre, guitarist Parker Lundgren and drummer Casey Grillo. Now, are the two remaining members the strongest elements of what the band once was? Sure they are. All five original members are all just as important. That is the five that developed the sound, but sometimes taking out certain elements dilutes the original product. With the complexity of the Queensrÿche music, it becomes apparent that without the missing three elements, something is amiss. It is no fault of the band as they are trying to compensate for what they have become. Possibly the realization isn’t even there because it has been so long between member changes that you become accustomed to what you have morphed into. Mark Gregory said to me during the show, “Do you think this place would be packed if Geoff Tate were to return? What if Chris DeGarmo returned?” I responded quickly with, “I really don’t know! It seems so far out of reach that I can’t even fathom it!”

So as I say all this, a thought quickly occurred to me. What would the band have sounded like had they performed say, six songs from Operation: Mindcrime and possibly four from Empire? Possibly, something from Promised Land, which would definitely not be the one they did perform which was “I Am I.” What if it was say “Bridge”? Then possibly, they throw in “Sign of The Times” from Hear In The Now Frontier. This to me is the perfect, heavy, melodic mix for a Canadian show. Now if it was Europe, the set they played would have gone over perfectly. As I say that, it seems to me that Queensrÿche have gone backwards in their musical mindset and have developed back into a European heavy metal band. Not that I am adverse to that, but as I have gotten older, my taste for balls out metal has truly changed. I prefer textures, melodies and harmony. Especially with the Empire material, that’s what I love most about the original Queensrÿche.

As I am writing and re-evaluate the setlist, I seem to think that the band did its best to do a wide range of material throughout its career, but let’s be honest, the band changed so much from The Warning to Empire. I think for me, the era of 1988 to 1997 was my favorite time for the band. That was where Queensrÿche developed their own identity. In the early years, they very much fit into the Iron Maiden, progressive metal genre. Moving forward, once they incorporated more textures, they stood on their own. So possibly I am only a fan of Queensrÿche in certain years. I am not a die-hard who loves everything they have ever done.

With the band’s last three albums that have all featured Todd La Torre, Queensrÿche have made a conscious effort to rekindle that relationship with their fan-base. They have brought forth a sound of old that many are really gravitating towards. I myself commend the band for doing so and feel that a lot of the material on those three albums is stellar, but with that said, in a concert setting, I prefer to hear the popular material. Possibly it’s because they followed Great White and Skid Row. With those two bands playing so many hits, it created a certain expectation. Somehow, Queensrÿche missed that mark, but they are entitled to play whatever they want and I feel had it been solely a Queensrÿche show, I would have been a little more receptive to what they had to offer.

Queensryche’s set list:
01. Blood of The Levant
02. I Am I
03. NM 156
04. Man The Machine
05. Walk In The Shadows
06. Condition Hüman
07. Queen of The Reich
08. Silent Lucidity
09. Screaming In Digital
10. Take Hold of The Flame
11. Eyes of A Stranger
Encore:
12. Light-Years
13. Jet City Woman
14. Empire

Queensrÿche performing “Take Hold of The Flame” live at Slam Fest in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada on July 6, 2019:

Queensryche – Take Hold Of The Flame 2019 HQ HD

Queensryche perform ‘Take Hold Of The Flame’ live at SlamFest 2019. Bingeman Park, Kitchener, ON. July 6, 2019.