COOL FROM THE SPEEDWAY
Released on May 31, 2022 (Sticky Records)
I will confess right now that Dirty Looks‘ seminal album and Atlantic Records debut Cool From The Wire is one of my favorite records of all-time. I had taped back in the day when it first came out and just played the shit out of that cassette. I eventually bought it on CD and then purchased it again when Rock Candy Records reissued the album with a deluxe CD packaging. That album to me is simply one of the greatest of all-time. The line-up for the Cool From The Wire album consisted of band leader / founder Henrik Ostergaard on lead vocals and guitar, Paul Lidel on guitar, Jack Pyers on bass and Gene Barnett on drums.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck back in January 2011 when Ostergaard sadly passed away at the young age of 47. It seemed at that time that Dirty Looks were dead and done. Without Ostergaard fronting the group, it seemed very difficult to imagine how Dirty Looks could possibly move on. So much so that when a likely well intentioned fan of the band — Todd Cage — decided to reform Dirty Looks with no original members, that never got off the ground. Clearly, there was some interest for Dirty Looks continuing as the “reformed” band apparently quickly received offers to play two of the biggest 80’s rock festivals in the US. As can be expected, the news of Dirty Looks reforming without any original band members sparked a lot of negative backlash, which led to Cage dropping his efforts to reform the band on the basis that “unfortunately the negativity surrounding the issue is just too much to move forward.”
Fast forward to March 2019 and I am having lunch with none other than Paul Lidel and his eventual wife Suzette in Atlanta, Georgia, USA as Dangerous Toys were scheduled to play the inaugural Rocklanta Festival. I’ll apologize again to Paul and Suzette for being so late to our lunch as one of my character flaws (that I recognize but never seemingly get a handle on) is a really poor sense of direction in new cities. Funny enough, this was a very rare occasion for me to have lunch with a band member since I have always thought that if you’re best buddies with all the band members that you cover as a “journalist” (and I use that term very loosely for myself), it is very difficult to be objective when it comes to reviewing those bands’ albums and shows.
Inevitably, the lunch conversation turned to Dirty Looks and I was at first simply shocked when Paul advised that Dirty Looks were reforming with none other than Jason McMaster on lead vocals. I don’t know if Paul and Suzette could see the shock on my face as I tried to put on a poker face but my first thought was that Dirty Looks would now sound like Dangerous Toys given that McMaster and Lidel had been playing together in the latter band for a couple of decades now. Paul explained how McMaster was a huge Dirty Looks fan, knew Ostergaard quite well and likely no one would likely oppose this development because no one would give shit (or something to that effect) to “Jason McMaster”. I had to agree with that last comment! Unfortunately, the dreaded Covid pandemic then reared its ugly head and the much anticipated Dirty Looks live reunion which included McMaster, Lidel as well as the “classic” rhythm line-up of bassist Jack Pyers and drummer Gene Barnett (along with Broken Teeth guitarist David Beeson) had to be delayed but eventually took place at the Selinsgrove Speedway in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, USA on Saturday, September 18, 2021.
After Dirty Looks‘ reunion concert took place, I obviously checked out the available YouTube footage of the show and I have to say that the band sounded fantastic and McMaster had done a great job! I was super pleased when the group hinted that a live release of the show in question was coming and now here we are. Cool From The Speedway features songs from probably the two best known Dirty Looks albums — Cool From the Wire (1988) and Turn of The Screw (1989) — and the three remaining band members who played on those records that were originally released via Atlantic Records. From the first guitar riff on opening track “Put A Spell On You”, I started getting goose bumps, which was a fantastic sign of things to come. The sound of the music sounded so crisp. The rhythm section of Pyers and Barnett along with Beeson sounded so tight. And Lidel seemed to have taken the song to a new level with the tasteful soloing at the start of the track.
The big question mark in my mind was how McMaster would sound and he answered the call and more. Unlike in Dangerous Toys where he often seems to be screaming or Broken Teeth where it’s hard to understand what he is saying, McMaster was singing the songs’ words with a seemingly melancholic tone that was perfect to honour and remember Ostengaard‘s unique vocal delivery. McMaster isn’t a carbon copy of Ostergaard in any way and puts his own spin on the songs while retaining the essence of how Ostergaard made the songs so great. While some people may find it difficult to hear a new singer in Dirty Looks after Ostergaard, I’ve always felt that it’s one thing to replace a singer who is still available but when your lead vocalist has passed away, a replacement should be afforded more slack as you’ll never be able to get the deceased singer back. Accordingly and although I didn’t really like it, I think Quiet Riot‘s musical carousel of singers after Kevin DuBrow‘s passing was more acceptable than let’s say Skid Row missing the mark with their replacement singers when Sebastian Bach was still alive and keen to get back in their line-up. Of course, Skid Row have finally found an excellent replacement in Erik Grönwall but it took a few decades to find him… The bottom line is that Ostergaard is not available anymore and McMaster has done a great job as evidenced on Cool From The Speedway.
Given that ten songs out of eleven from Cool From The Wire made their way onto Cool From The Speedway, it’s already like a dream setlist from Dirty Looks for me. Interestingly enough, the one song that wasn’t played live from Cool From The Wire (“It’s A Bitch”) is a fantastic track and could have easily been included if you ask me. Rounding out the setlist on Cool From The Speedway are seven songs from Turn of The Screw. I was actually surprised how I wasn’t that familiar with those songs. I think that I had Turn of The Screw taped on cassette back in the day but always fell back to my default Dirty Looks album — Cool From The Wire. In any case, it was fun “discovering” these “new” (to me) Dirty Looks songs. My favorites from that record on Cool From The Speedway consist of “Turn of The Screw”, “Slammin’ To The Big Beat” and the classic “Nobody Rides For Free.” As an extra bonus, Dirty Looks also included a DVD of their performance at the Selinsgrove Speedway. I absolutely love seeing Pyers “dancing” away while playing his bass. He definitely has some unique moves and if you look at older YouTube videos, you’ll see him doing the same thing a couple of decades prior.
Cool From The Speedway is the perfect way to capture a band firing on all cylinders while paying respect and honouring the man that founded the group in the first place. I really hope that this new Dirty Looks line-up continues and I would love to see them play live some day. I don’t know if I would necessarily want them to come up with new music but certainly what they are doing now seems to be the perfect way to keep the Dirty Looks legacy going in a very positive way. I can imagine Ostergaard smiling from above as he witnessed his friend Jason McMaster along with his old bandmates, Paul Lidel, Jack Pyers and Gene Barnett, along with “newcomer” David Beeson tearing it up at the Selinsgrove Speedway on that fateful night.
01. Put A Spell On You
02. It’s Not The Way You Rock
03. Cool Wire
04. Get it Right
06. Turn of The Screw
07. LA Anna
08. Can’t Take My Eyes Off You
09. No Brains Child
10. Wastin’ My Time
11. C’mon Frenchie
12. Take What You Get
13. Hot Flash Jelly Roll
14. Slammin’ To The Big Beat
15. Get Off
16. Nobody Rides For Free
17. Oh Ruby
Jack Pyers – bass, vocals
Paul Lidel – guitars, vocals
Gene Barnett – drums
Jason McMaster – lead vocals
David Beeson – guitars, vocals
Reviewed by Olivier for Sleaze Roxx, July 2022
Dirty Looks‘ Cool From The Speedway live concert promo:
Dirty Looks performing “Put A Spell On You” and “It’s Not The Way You Rock” live in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, USA on Saturday, September 18, 2021: