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

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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