Archive for June, 2013

Rubicon Cross – Live Review – Closed Rehearsal – 22nd June 2013

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on June 26, 2013 by novametalreview

So, something a little different today, with a review of a rehearsal session. I’d say that most bands generally keep a pretty tight lid on rehearsals, since this is where the raw underbelly of the beast is likely most exposed. It’s where the kinks in arrangements get ironed out, those tricky background harmony vocals are massaged and, for most bands, in the early days can be pretty stop-start affairs. Getting a clean run through a few songs is pretty rare. The band in question here is Rubicon Cross, who I’ve written about before, when I had the lucky opportunity to listen through their, as yet, unreleased debut album. For those that missed this you can catch up here > http://wp.me/p2hj3p-4P

This particular occasion was related to a fun idea by the band: a public listening party for the CD. This was a chance for fans to meet the band, hang out at local metal bar in Chicago (the excellent Lockdown Bar and Grill, see here: http://www.lockdownbar.com/) and listen to the CD, while perhaps enjoying a beverage or three. So, we packed a few things in a couple of bags and jumped on a flight to Chicago. I won’t turn this into a blow-by-blow account of our weekend, but I will say it was a majorly fun time start to end. Well worth it. The band had scheduled a rehearsal for the majority of the afternoon and as luck had it, myself,  Michelle and our good friend Marty Burns were invited to stop in at the end of the session and have a listen. I might be wrong, but as a result we could well be the only three people outside of the band to have heard Rubicon Cross in a live setting. Something I didn’t know until later in the day was this session was the first full rehearsal by the band, which is even more amazing given what we heard, but now I am getting ahead of myself.

First, let me try to describe the bands rehearsal space, since it is pretty special. When you pull up outside, all you see is a fairly run-down warehouse of no particular note. There’s nothing fancy to be seen, not even a name, so compared to some rehearsal studios I’ve used in the past, this was interesting. Opening the outside door reveals the space inside has been split into a set of isolated rehearsal rooms, which I only noticed in passing, so I can’t really comment on beyond this, however Rubicon have a room that is theirs and theirs alone in the back of the building and it comprises an upper and lower level – I believe the top floor was a managers office or similar. Having a dedicated space to work in is obviously a significant advantage, since it removes the need to haul equipment and drum kit in and out at the end of your time – just show-up and play. Add to that a full 7.5KWatt PA system and monitors, a drum riser, and an English-style bar upstairs, and indeed you have something close to perfection. Yes, you read that last part right; a full-scale English pub-style bar occupies the back-wall of the space upstairs… how does any work get done? The only explanation I can think of is the air-conditioning wasn’t working too well (if at all), so the space upstairs was decidedly hot. Perhaps too hot to sit around drinking beer…

When we arrived we were greeted by Rubicon’s drummer, Robert Behnke, who I later learned is an Grammy nominee from a previous project, and he led us back to the “room”, where we found CJ Snare (vocals, of FireHouse fame), Chris Green (guitar, who I last saw in the flesh some 21-22 years ago…wow!), Simon Farmery (bass) and Jeff Lerman (2nd guitar). The room itself is festooned with metal band posters, Union Jacks (after all Chris and Simon are British) and even the odd guitar here and there. See the pic below (borrowed from the RC Facebook page – if you’re reading this and haven’t ‘liked’ them yet give it a go here > https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rubicon-Cross/196675117028954?fref=ts). Equipment wise, Simon has a monster bass rig (I think it was an 8×10 cab, with a rack full of gadgets), Chris has a Marshall JCM2000 DSL sitting on a 4×12 with a pretty modest pedal-board, and I’m not entirely sure what Jeff was playing through, though I did spot a midi pedal-board (I think!). Chris was playing a PRS guitar, which I later got to strum and that guitar is as close to perfectly set-up as I could ever imagine – it has a wickedly low action and almost seems to play itself. Jeff switched between a Gibson explorer and a Les Paul, providing a nice compliment to Chris’ PRS.

So after a few hello’s, CJ gave us a quick tour of the bar-room upstairs and managed to persuade us to accept a cold beer from the fridge… and now it was time to hear some tunes. We were treated to the following four tracks, two of which are available in part via CJ’s Soundcloud page as samples: “Next Worse Enemy”, “Bleed With Me” (https://soundcloud.com/cj-snare/bleed-with-me-sample), “You Will Remember Me” (https://soundcloud.com/cj-snare/rubicon-cross-you-will-remember) and “Kill Or Be Killed”. Now, for those that read my previous CD Listen Review, you might recall that I made the comment that listening to the recording “feels like watching drag-racing on TV” (meaning I believed there was more to this in a live situation), well, that drag-racing monster was in the flesh right there in front of me now, and hell if it wasn’t fully-fueled and injected with nitrous… While the recording captures the essence and all the finesse the band has to offer, when the rubber hits the road, this band are wickedly badass. Live they definitely have the same melody and precision as the CD, but there is another heavier dimension that wraps around those same songs and makes them growl and roar at the same time. I don’t think it’s one specific thing, though perhaps Mr. Behnke who wasn’t behind the skins on the recording has a part to play in this (since he is to all intents and purposes a monster on the kit), but the sum of all the parts is clearly what makes this tick.

It’s hard to put it all in place in my mind, and those four songs finished way to soon for my liking, but the overriding thought in my head once they were over was: “I’d buy tickets to see them tonight, right now… well, and tomorrow night for that matter.” CJ was spot on with the lead vocals (as anyone that has been a fan of his for a while might expect); bringing a melodic edge that has been missing from a lot of more recent metal. Chris ripped each solo off his fret board with apparent ease, which, like any master craftsman, is the ultimate trick! Close your eyes and there’s melodic mayhem occurring, open them again and there’s the epitome of a guitar-hero just playing his guitar, and apparently having a fun time doing it. Perfect. Jeff on 2nd guitar was doing exactly what was expected, but during one of the songs (and I don’t recall exactly which one) there was a very tasty guitar harmony with Chris, that clearly indicates he’s got the chops to make things very interesting indeed… And that just leaves Simon and Robert on bass and drums respectively, and here we have the powerhouse that allows everything else to build on, and that’s exactly what they did, and with plenty of horsepower to spare. Four songs, in a relatively small rehearsal space, may not be a lot to base judgment on, and I would have gladly heard more, but what we did get was exceptional. My words are beginning to loose their ability here to express what we heard and felt, so I’ll finish with one final thought.

At the time I didn’t know, but CJ later mentioned this was the first ‘full’ rehearsal by the band, so what we saw and heard was even more amazing, but these guys, Rubicon Cross, were stunningly good, which, to be honest, I had expected. That wasn’t the most noteworthy thing to me, important as it is. What caught my attention more was the excitement, the energy and the sheer enthusiasm in the room – from every member of the band. Despite having already played for some 4 hours by the time we arrived, and the fact the room itself was close to sweating, it didn’t matter. Everyone in there had a glint in their eyes that told me more than any words. This is a band that has all the components to make it big, but the sum of the parts takes them way beyond – it’s a rocket ship ready to lift off and I know everyone who was in that room understands what I mean. The sooner they hit the road and bring this music to the fans, the better as far as I’m concerned. I know I will be right up front and center for as many shows as I can. If you love metal music, then I expect to see you right by my side. “You Will Remember Me” – I think the title of this track really says it all.

– Neil Waterman

Rubicon Cross In Rehearsal - photo CJ Snare

Rubicon Cross In Rehearsal – photo CJ Snare

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L.A. Guns – Live Review – Tally Ho, Leesburg – 6/1/13

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2013 by novametalreview

I must admit there was a complete moment of disbelief when I read that L.A. Guns were scheduled to play my local town up here in Northern VA. For one I didn’t even know there was a concert venue in Leesburg capable of hosting them! Well, that’s not strictly true, since a friend of mine was due to play the same place a few weeks earlier in May, which is how I came to find out about the L.A. Guns gig in the first place… let’s rewind about 8 weeks.

So my friend Danny O’Rourke plays in a stunningly good Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band called “Tuesday’s Gone” (which I swear I will get a review written someday soon) and he mentioned they were coming to our hometown, Leesburg. So, I thought I better look up the place they were scheduled to play. This turns out to be the old town cinema/theater that has now been re-purposed as a concert venue. I’m going to try to write up a few venue reviews, so for now all I will say in this regard is the venue is excellent, with a nice high and large stage, great sight-lines from anywhere in the venue and an excellent in-house PA system. I surely hope they book more rock and metal bands, because not only is this place 10 minutes down the road, but it’s a great place to see band. While looking at the Tally Ho website (http://www.tallyholeesburg.com/) I scanned down the list of bands coming to play and blow me down… L.A. Guns! I had to do a double take and took a quick look at the L.A. Guns website and indeed it was them!

I previously reviewed the last L.A. Guns album release, “Hollywood Forever” and you can find the whole thing here http://wp.me/p2hj3p-19, but the short version is this is an excellent CD and, if you don’t have a copy already, go buy one. At the time I scored it an 8.5/10, and I stand by that well over a year later. As a testament to how well this record stands up over time, I still have the CD on rotation in the car today. I also glossed over the rather confusing duality that existed at the time; yes, there were two versions of the ‘Guns, one led by founding member, Tracii Guns, while the other, and the artist of the prior CD and indeed this live review, led by Phil Lewis. Fortunately this situation is now just a fading memory, as Tracii has stopped flogging that horse and disbanded his version in late 2012.

Not all has been plain sailing in the Phil Lewis ensemble however, with long-time guitarist, Stacey Blades (who joined way back in 2004), leaving back in December. The guitar slot is now filled by Michael Grant (ex-Endeverafter), who it seems got the job after walking past the rehearsal studio where auditions were being held, and “looked right”. After checking out his guitar skills (which are pretty much way up there…), he was roped in as a full-time member and roughly 2-days later was playing his first show, which strangely was another Virginia date, back in early May, at Empire in Springfield. After that show, another reviewer mildly panned Michael’s playing, but the fact he made it through the set at all is rather amazing, given all he had was 2-days to learn the set. Read on to see how he was doing when we got to see him!

When we arrived at the Tally Ho I asked the guy on the door what the turn out was like and he had a count of 150 I believe, which was a pretty healthy number for a new venue. Over time I suspect it peaked at 160 or so, but I will note that by the end of the L.A, Guns set the audience had shrunk to perhaps 80-90 or so. We were treated to two local support acts, the first we all but missed entirely so it would be unfair to comment on them, while second up were local favorites “Westmain”, who themselves thought were a rather eclectic band to pair up with the ‘Guns, being more of a pop-rock outfit. However, don’t take that in any negative sense – they were tight and overflowing with great musicianship. I don’t remember the name of the song, but there was a song some 4 or 5 tracks into the set that was simply excellent. We have the CD at home, so hopefully I can figure out exactly what song it was and update this at some point. I suspect that Westmain was responsible for a good chunk of the audience, which to a large extent is the point of having a local support act, so overall job well done.

After some stage clearing, next up were L.A. Guns themselves. Now I will admit to some concern at this point, since it turns out the venue had misread the contract and missed the fact that the rider required the provision of a full backline and drum kit. Now all credit to the folks at Tally Ho, who after figuring what might be useable from the support bands (which amounted to one half-stack), went out and simply bought the required gear (yes, a full drum kit, bass rig and Marshall half-stack). However, I don’t think L.A. Guns ever got a sound check due to a bit of running around necessary to gather all the gear, so there was a little bit of a longer pause while the stage crew got everything figured out. However, fear not, these L.A. Guns fellas have experience out of the wazoo and from the moment Phil Lewis sauntered on stage, sleaze was in town and running on full tanks.

With little more than a momentary strum on their respective guitars, L.A. Guns were off and running, opening with “Over The Edge” from Hollywod Vampires (’91). There’s something just natively cool about Phil Lewis and tonight was no exception; cool was literally dripping off him. With the opening number behind them and the soundman now just about caught up with what was happening on stage, we were treated to the obligatory “Sex Action”, followed by “Never Enough”, which of course fired up the crowd and really set the course for the rest of the night. The band were loud, the drums tight and the audience was into it. At this point I need to mention the new-guy, Michael Grant, on guitar. Not only does he absolutely look the part, but this dude can play. Now, I’m not expecting note for note transcriptions of all the previous solos, but what we got was the soul of those previous solos brought to life with the character of Michael’s playing. This is what you need when you bring in new blood. Any misgivings brought about by earlier reports were quickly dismissed and filed as “not an issue”.

We then got a couple of numbers from the latest CD, Hollywood Forever, with “You Better Not Love Me” and “Sweet Mystery”, which to be fair settled the crowd down a little, since I’m guessing these are not necessarily what everyone came to hear, but sounded great to me. I won’t recount the remainder of the set track by track, but will comment that the “big hit, the one you all came to hear”, yes, “The Ballard Of Jayne”, was perhaps my least favorite track of the night. We did get a drum solo from the excellent Steve Riley, who, for those without access to Google search, was in W.A.S.P. and Keel prior to joining LAG back in 1987. I enjoyed his solo, as much as do most drum solos… We also got a pretty ripping guitar solo from Michael Grant. So far I haven’t mentioned Scott Griffin on bass, but this gent reeks ‘cool’ and was rock solid all night. As for Phil Lewis, he sounded absolutely spot on from start to finish and it’s very hard not to like him – his in-between song banter is simple chit-chat and far from the cliché laden scripts that a few lead vocalists lean on to get through the night.

The set closed with “Rip and Tear” which is pretty much the standard for the band, but it was clear we were in for at least one more, and after a brief interlude with most in the, now diminished, crowd yelling “LA GUNS!, LA GUNS!…”, they were back with not one, but two encores, starting with “Gypsy Soul” and finishing up with “No Mercy”.  In total we got 14 songs (well, 13 discounting the drum solo/guitar solo), with a run time of around 1 hour 20 minutes or thereabouts. To be honest I enjoyed every minute and the band themselves seemed to be having a good time which tends to be infectious. After the show I never heard anything that how good the band sounded and what a great time everyone had, which I would whole-heartedly agree with. The band seemed to like the venue, so I really hope they make a return visit next time they swing through the East Coast. My score for the night: a hard rockin’ 9/10. Oh, yes, the band re-named the town: It’s now called sLeesburg… (Though I believe they had a little help with that one Mrs. NoVAMetalReview…)

– Neil Waterman

Photo credits: mostly Michelle

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