A WAR’S BEEN WAGED IN THE BATTLE TO SAVE ROCK N’ ROLL
Date: August 13, 2022
Venue: Tourist Inn
Location: Hallam, Pennsylvania, USA
Reviewer: Jeff Onorato
Photos: Jeff Onorato
The state of Connecticut has spawned a number of monumental “firsts” throughout the years – the phone book, the helicopter, the Polaroid, color T.V. and not least among those, the hamburger. While the land of steady habits (as it’s sometimes referred to) is not commonly known as being a hotbed for fledgling hard rock bands, that may be changing in the not-too-distant future with the War Brothers staking their claim as New England’s prize fighting torchbearers poised to usher true rock n’ roll into a new generation. They really are preserving the artform of raw, organic, 100% live and in-your-face audible mayhem delivered with sheer debauchery. They’re also on that list of “firsts”, with the band boasting not one but two sets of identical twin brothers in its line-up. Successful musical acts comprised of siblings, and even twin band members, in their line-up are certainly nothing new. Good Charlotte, Nelson, Greta Van Fleet, the Breeders and Tegan & Sara have all enjoyed moderate to enormous success on the charts and proven that a musical inclination and natural affinity for the craft can very well be woven into the fabric of one’s DNA. But TWO sets of twins with an inherent musical aptitude in the same band? From the same family? That’s more like a clone army hatched out to serve at the altar of rock n’ roll.
Originally recording and releasing music under the moniker of Crosby (their surname), the band has evolved by leaps and bounds in the years since releasing their initial 12 track album on Apple Music back in 2017. Songs such as “Teasing The Bull”, “Assisted Scuicide” [SIC] and “The Legend of The Mirror Dragon” hinted at things to come and served in showcasing the musical virtuoso and potential of the young band’s (then) untapped talents. In the midst of fine-tuning the tracks for their upcoming debut album at Obscenic Arts Studio with producer Anthony Esposito (of Lynch Mob, Red Dragon Cartel, Ace Frehley), the band took a break from the grind of studio work for a quick detour to a familiar haunt — Hallam, Pennsylvania’s Tourist Inn.
It’s a rocking, roadside tavern and motel nestled just north of the city of York with walls that (fortunately) don’t talk. It has great character, and one of the few remaining venues for live rock n’ roll in the immediate area. Hearing a few snippets of the band’s in-the-works music back in early June had me hankering to see the War Brothers live and get a bigger picture of what they’re all about. The Tourist Inn might just be the perfect venue for a new band to get broken in and pay their dues. It’s a no-frills, blue-collar, country bar and concert hall with plenty of room to either pack a crowd in or remind an up-and-coming band that they might need some work. That long, unforgiving space between the stage and the soundboard in the back of a potentially empty room has dashed many hopes and dreams, I’m sure.
Magic Man Jeff
There’s a first time for everything, and admittedly this concert marked my first time seeing a magician as the opening act at a rock show. That’s not a bad thing. Hell, KISS had a painter opening for them on their End of The Road World Tour. If a non-musical opener is good enough for the legendary KISS, it’ll fly for just about anyone. Making the long trek down from Massachusetts, Jeff Kempton is a 16-year magician specializing in sight gags and optical illusions (such as the “restored card”) that bedazzled and impressed onlookers with just a subtle bit of comedy thrown in for good measure. When opening up for two rock bands on a Saturday night, I might suggest upping that comedic aspect to potentially break the ice and lighten the mood – particularly when performing in a club such as the Tourist Inn. All told, Kempton’s act was really interesting and very entertaining to watch. If performed at any other event or occasion not centered around music, I predict that Magic Man Jeff would be a huge hit. All of his bits were executed professionally and convincingly without folly, which I would say is the most imperative element in successfully selling the “mystic arts” to a captive audience waiting to rock n’ roll.
Prior to seeing the War Brothers live in concert this first time, I wondered if a vibe of duplicity might be the glaring elephant sitting in the room. You know, a gimmick that would come across in the band’s stage show with two sets of identical twins making up the band’s line-up. Even if the guys were to place emphasis on that detail of their kinship (which fortunately, they do not), they wouldn’t be the first to attempt to monetize on a band roster consisting of siblings. Each of the band members have their own unique identity and stage presence, bringing a distinct vibe to the table. That fact that they’re brothers isn’t a novelty that the War Brothers play on and rarely mention it, for that matter. At least at this show. If you didn’t know that they were related, you might not even notice that detail about the band. Though they have an innate rapport as musicians, the members are so invested in their playing and performance that it’s really just an underlying detail.
Following Magic Man Jeff, things came to a boil quickly as the band took the stage and started their show — well, three quarters of the band. In a rather unorthodox move, the War Brothers kicked things off with a frenzied but tight instrumental jam that lasted for several minutes and demonstrated not only their musical prowess but also the high degree of passion that they perform with – an energy level that simply did not dip on the barometer or wane as the show continued through the night. In short, the opening jam session proved effective in laying their cards out on the table and letting the Tourist Inn know exactly what we were in for. High velocity, no holds barred hard rock infused with a very 70’s grit and early 80’s electrified pomp — sold.
Following that short introduction, a wry, taunting voice echoed across the P.A. in jest repeating “War Brothers…..” as heard in the 1979 movie The Warriors, from which the band derived their name. Frontman Rich Crosby then made his grand entrance to join the band for the first full-length song of their set, “All Or Nothing.” It was about what I expected, save for the complex time changes that elevate the song above standard fare. It also showcased Rich Crosby’s impressive lead vocals, as he wailed near the end of the song reminding me at times of a young Jizzy Pearl (Love/Hate). That similarity – and potential – will stylistically work to the band’s advantage in the years to come. “So Bad” was another highlight and continued the deluge of just pure, unbridled energy from the four musicians who never seemed to stop moving once throughout the performance. “So Bad” benefitting from the unified gang vocals that set it apart.
Let me preface the next statement I’m about to make by saying that normally, I am not a fan of cover songs when I go to see an original band play. One in the set is fine, but two is my limit. The War Brothers played four of them. However, I give them a hall pass because for the sheer variety of artists that they were covering, they did so astoundingly well. And their debut album hasn’t even been released yet. So, we aren’t talking about a catalog of their own original music that they’re sitting on and could be drawing a setlist from. Van Halen’s “Mean Street” was the first of those to turn up and proved to be the perfect vehicle to show off the otherworldly talents of guitarist Danger Crosby. He plays with that same heart, feel and natural connection to his guitar as Eddie Van Halen.
Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” was another cover that the guys included. While this song could also be considered a “guitar hero” staple, to my ears it brought the talents of the rhythm section front and center, with bassist John Deets Crosby and Rich Crosby fully locked into the punchy groove and movement of a song that is basically driven by its pulsating, swaggering beat. Quite bravely, the War Brothers also decided to tackle Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” with surprisingly positive results. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page aren’t the easiest of rock gods to emulate, however Rich Crosby busted out an impressive take on Plant’s vocals as heard in the beloved track from Led Zeppelin III. In what was perhaps the mellowest part of their show, The Zombies’ 1968 hit “Time of The Season” rounded out the cover selections as an all-around victory. Not only is this song what I would consider a more obscure selection, but it worked perfectly within the parameters of what the War Brothers do while giving their captive audience a breather from the beatdown that they were otherwise receiving.
If you asked me to pick one highlight of the band’s show, I’d have to say that their original “Let It Burn” was it. It’s aggressive, accentuates the strengths of each band member, and is just an all-around catchy song which I predict will be a hit for them when their new album is released. Not only does it have that same high-octane delivery found elsewhere in their performance, but it showcases stellar background vocals which lift the song to another level. You can pump your fist in the air to it. Rich Crosby aims for a Rob Halford-style vocal delivery near the end of the song and achieves it.
The War Brothers perform with heart and conviction and have been sharpened into a formidable arrow aimed right for the bullseye. Converging the very best elements of classic rock into an honest, updated, and inspired sound with their own stamp on the package, they possess all the makings of a truly great band. With the right refinement and team behind them, they stand to gain a solid foothold in what is a potentially mountainous climb to success in the music industry. It’s a perilous ascent, which many have not risen to the challenge of surmounting given the many obstacles that stand before new bands in this day and age. With the talent, fervor, and natural intuition that the band members have for each other’s performance and song execution, the War Brothers won’t be waiving a white flag in the air any time soon.
H.Y.D. (Hide Your Daughters)
In what was both a reunion and seemingly farewell performance for H.Y.D., the long-running band is going to be throwing in the towel on their extensive 30-year career performing original and cover songs in the area. One has to wonder just how many parties they’ve provided the soundtrack to in that run. Alas, after a long, successful go at it, the band members have decided (at least for now) to put the name to rest and move on to other things. With their guitarist moving out of the area to Florida, the logistics involved in continuing the band presumably aren’t something that the members want to pursue. There may be additional factors involved in the members opting to bow out gracefully, but what a shame, nonetheless. H.Y.D. delivered a cool set of what I consider classic rock standards that all tied together well. As I alluded to earlier, I’m normally not a huge fan of cover/tribute bands, especially when national bands lean on them at length. With regionals, it’s a little more understandable. Particularly when they’re turned in with such resounding reverence to the original versions.
Their take on the Scorpions’ “Big City Nights” was a marvel that made fans of that 1984 album nostalgic for what is arguably one of the Scorps’ best records to date. The lead guitar playing on this one was spot on with crunchy opening chords and soaring riffs that would have made Rudolph Schenker and Matthias Jabs proud to hear H.Y.D.’s spin on this classic. Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded” was another crowd favorite, with Lou Gramm’s melodic vocals convincingly replicated. I consider his voice an integral element of the original band’s sound, and H.Y.D.’s spin on the classic kept a watchful eye on that detail.
I have to give H.Y.D. a lot of credit. While most of their set was culled from hits of the 80’s, they went deep at times. Most notably with Vandenberg’s 1983 hit “Burning Heart”, which the Dutch band originally recorded at Jimmy Page’s studio. Guitarist Adrian Vandenberg is regarded as one of the best of the era, so to tackle one of his songs (and solos) is both bold and commendable. Ironically, the band made another Vandenberg connection with their take on the Whitesnake hit “Slide It In”. This song pre-dates Vandenberg’s tenure with the band, but was an interesting song choice for them to cover, nonetheless. My hat is off to H.Y.D.. It’s a pity that such a talented, rousing band from the area have decided to pursue other avenues, but I’m glad that I got to see this reunion show and experience the band at least one time before they hang up their guitars… for good?