Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Yellow And Black Attack At The Rockpile

Once again it's off to The Rockpile Bar & Nightclub in Etobicoke, Toronto, Ontario for another great rock show.  Last night I was just there for Dio Disciples and the week before was Harem Scarem and with all the upcoming acts that this place is luring in to Toronto it looks as though maybe I should just move right in and take up residence!  The Rockpile have done an incredible job of bringing in some bigger name acts to their
Photo taken from Rockpile's Facebook page
relatively small venue and have done an awesome job of creating a local scene here.  The Rockpile is fast becoming a rock & roll destination, boasting such names as Faster Pussycat (many times), Helix, Kill Devil Hill, Drum Wars, Jack Russell's Great White, Stryper, Y&T, L.A. Guns, Dio Disciples, Brighton Rock and many more with a bright future ahead including UFO!  In October they will be opening the doors on another Rockpile, (Rockpile East) on the other side of the city.  Together with S&S Promotions they presented tonight's show with Stryper, who took the Rockpile by storm.


I arrived before the doors opened and joined the que waiting to enter.  What??  A que!  This was the first time I had ever seen a line-up waiting to get into the Rockpile and it was not just a little line, but stretched all the way across the front, down the side and around the back of the bar!  Toronto was hungry for the Christian rockers apparently.  I myself was a little anxious to catch the show.  Stryper had been booked on both of the Monsters of Rock Cruises that I've had the opportunity to sail on, but I completely missed them the first voyage and only managed to catch part of their set last year.  This was a great chance to partake in their full set.

As we waited in the drizzling rain and finally began to shuffle towards the entrance I felt a little out of place as many of the crowd were adorned in Stryper t-shirts or yellow and black in the form of something as simple as a tie to headbands to striped shirts to full on costumes.  I wasted no time, grabbing a cold beverage and made my way directly to my "reserved spot" at the front of the stage.  I was right to get up there quickly as the place packed in and the first band readied themselves to start their set.

They took the stage announcing their band name which I missed (but think it was Trove, as I later discovered to be correct) and that they would be releasing a CD on August 24th with the release party taking place right here at The Rockpile.  Their set was entertaining, filled with good power riffs and a little bit of a dirty rock feel to their original compositions.  By the second song the bassist jumped up onto her rather
 small and unsteady amp as I turned around and saw many heads bobbing in the crowd behind me as they got into the set.  Trove punched through their roster of songs taking no breaks (the way it should be in my opinion of an opening band) and at the end of their last song as the bassist tripped, laughing, she instigated a mini brawl as she tried to take down her singer and guitarist band mates as well.  This simple act showed their camaraderie, how energised they were and how much fun they were having just finished their set, the way rock & roll should be!  With a little practice and polish this band could definitely be great and I'll definitely be making the attempt to get out on August 24th!


Next on the roster was Revolution out of Brampton, Ontario and are all between the ages of 15 and 17 years.  I had seen these guys before and remember not being overly impressed.  This time I was in my "reserved spot" at stage front which usually means I'll enjoy the bands more than a lacklustre seat in the back and this time was no different.  Revolution were much, much better than I remembered and the guitarist had some "fingers" for sure.  The whole band seemed to be rather skilled with their instruments of destruction although I feel that the vocalist was a little weak.  They closed up their six song, half hour set with a cover of Black Sabbath's Loner from the freshly unleashed 13 album with Ozzy Osbourne back at the helm.

I was excited for the next band, J'nai.  I have had the extreme pleasure of catching them live many times now and right from the first time I saw and heard them, not knowing who they were at the time, liked them immediately.  For me J'nai is like that one local band that you discover and love and follow their career from the ground up as they rise in the business.  You want them to succeed and you're excited to introduce people to their music and live performance.  J'nai are comprised of front woman and vocalist Jeanette Ricasio, Richie Nguyen slinging the lead guitar, T-Bo (also known as Stephan Nakamura on rhythm guitar), Dave Alcordo's thumping bass lines and Rui Cimbron bashing the skins.  J'nai has opened for many bands such as Queensryche, Vince Neil, Michael Schenker and more, but tonight is more excellent exposure for them as I've never seen The Rockpile as busy as it is tonight and in overhearing several conversations I knew that there were many folks here that had never set foot in The Rockpile before this event.  The youngsters took their positions and I braced myself to hear their excellent cover version of Heart's Barracuda as their usual opening song.  J'nai announced the band as she stood on the elevated drum riser behind Rui's kit and as they launched into the song I realised immediately that this was a new opening choice and a new song for them as they rolled through it.  Their choice was a cover of Rainbow's Kill The King, an excellent selection given
Dio Disciples had just graced this very stage a mere 24 hours prior.  Rock and roll is still alive and well and the university age youngsters of J'nai are proudly carrying the torch.  I was once told that Jeanette loves a big audience and tonight she was in her glory, already displaying her patented wacky dance moves that would surely cause spinal injury to anyone else attempting to perform them!  Next came Away From You which was followed closely by In The Light.  The latter brought the signature unison bouncing of all four unseated members during the chorus and I swore that we were going to be witnessing Jeanette herself  taken out in traction before too long.  J'nai's next song, Accident, will be featured in a Christopher Walken film due out in 2014 if I'm not mistaken and it's obvious how much these guys practice in their tightness and choreography on stage.  Jeanette's intensity reached a high point as they ripped through my personal favourite song Skipping Stones which was filled with high energy and synchronised kicks by all members.  J'nai's roller coaster ride of ass kicking continued with their newest song Gone featuring Jeanette crashing on Rui's symbals.  The J'nai show is about watching just as much as listening and during the next song, Defeat Them All, guitarists Richie and T-Bo perform a move that I've seen them do at least ten times before.  During the song they toss their respective
guitars at each other, catch them and continue playing the song to complete the guitar switch.  This time however, something was amiss and the toss did not go off unhitched as Richie's axe did not cleanly make it into T-Bo's hands, clambering to the stage.  T-Bo scooped it up quickly and soldiered on with no immediate damage to the guitar apparent.  Closing out with their usual sign-off tune of Guns N' Roses Welcome To The Jungle, or maybe it's W"elcome to the Rockpile".  I loved seeing a bit of a set change for J'nai tonight, but I rather miss Barracuda as they do an excellent job with the Heart classic.  HMV Music stores are now selling the self titled release and I recommend you pick it up, but they're even better in the live setting, join me in the front row as they open for Slaughter August 3rd.


The reason for the evening was due up next and you could feel the excitement in the air, riding along on the wings of the humidity building in the Rockpile.  The "Yellow and Black Attack" stormed the stage opening with To Hell With The Devil complete with the Abyss prelude.  It was abundantly clear immediately what kind of a show we would be in for as the band sounded awesome and really tight, with Michael Sweet's vocals in top form, perhaps even better with age.  Stryper features all the original members with Tim Gaines thundering bass lines, Oz Fox's squealing guitar and brothers Robert and Michael Sweet pounding the skins and handling vocals and guitar respectively.  By the time they had completed Sing Along Song I was kicking myself for not giving these Christian rockers, probably the most well known of the kind, more attention on both the previous Monsters Of Rock cruises, but thanking myself for making the effort tonight.  Two songs in and Stryper was blowing me away already!  Watching Oz Fox handle his guitar brought me back to the magic moment on the first Monsters of Rock Cruise
that saw Oz among others (Helix's Brian Vollmer and Black N' Blue's Jamie St. James) join Keel on stage for their classic The Right To Rock.  Michael addressed the audience after Sing Along Song and tossed out five bibles to the delight of the crowd members who were lucky enough to snatch one up.  He also apologised for not getting up here too often with the restrictions and he thanked the fans that came from far around for tonight's show, citing the Maritime province of Newfoundland and also recognising one fan by name, Craig, all the way from New Zealand who'd been at every show on this leg of touring.   Loud & Clear and Reach Out were the next selections, the crowd singing along all the while as Stryper continued pounding out a string of their 80's era classics.  Michael took a moment again to talk about 1986 on the Sunset Strip with the men wearing spandex and more make up that the ladies before they charged into Calling On You.  Free and More Than A Man followed suit now
having played half of the 1986 record To Hell With The Devil.  Stryper has a new record due to drop on November 1st called No More Hell To Pay and Michael introduced Marching Into Battle from that forthcoming CD.  I was able to find a fan filmed video of the track on you-tube and posted the link below, so check out Stryper live at The Rockpile and their new material at the same time.  Rock That Makes Me Roll brought us to their cover of KISS' Shout It Out Loud, at which they did an excellent job as Michael's voice was in top form.  During All Of Me it suddenly struck me that perhaps hoisting my arm high into the air and displaying the "devil horns" was not the best thing to perform at this show and as I looked around I saw that there were many in the crowd making the horns with their fingers.  I became careful not to do that for the rest of the show and simply raised my fist or one finger, just out of respect.  Honestly was shown next on the set list, but it was heavily marked out, so we were not treated to that cut this evening.  Michael instead introduced the band, brother Robert Sweet coming out from
his drum assembly hidden behind a row of amplifiers, joining centre stage and each member tossed out another five Stryper bibles into the audience.  Another cover song with Black Sabbath's Heaven & Hell including an impromptu little snippet of The Kink's My Sharona as Michael interacted with the audience again briefly before they blasted through a charged up Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love serving as their third cover song of the set.  While they did a great job at Van Halen as well as the rest of the cover songs, I would have preferred that they cut one or two out in favour of some more of their original material as they certainly have the catalogue to do so.  The Way (had Honestly not been scratched off this would have made all but two of the songs from To Hell With The Devil) closed out what was to be the regular set, but they soldiered on remaining on stage instead of making the crowd go through the rigamarole of cheering and chanting to have a encore and finished up with Soldiers Under Command.  The whole band was all smiles and bassist Tim Gaines reached down to bump fists with me as Michael asked the crowd if they minded if he closed with a prayer.  The audience remained rooted to their spots, being quite respectful as he said his closing prayer and they then took the time to shake everyone's hand in the first row or so of the audience.  Wow and wow again is about all I have to say after that show.  They played amazingly, the whole band was so tight musically and sounded great with Michael's vocals in top form, leading the charge.
At first I was not bothered when Stryper had not been announced as a returning act on the 2014 Monsters of Rock Cruise, but now that's all I can think is how much I want them back aboard!


The Meister

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