Thursday, January 19, 2012

2011 - My Year in Rock

What an interesting year it has been for me in the wild world of music which I try to find my way through.  Music is a subjective medium and despite any stereotype of what a "music fan" should look like is about as accurate as assuming all blonde men make great lawyers.  It was a year marked with live music, recorded music, this blog (and all of the social media I use) and venues I really never knew existed.  It sounds like a fun year, but was it really all that fun?

The year 2011 began in January (I'm really observant aren't I) with a little trepidation and a great deal of my daily immersion into music.  I often find myself dredging through the world of YouTube and subjecting to my Facebook friends with my days perspective through my musical choices.  January 2011 made that perspective a little broader with the first show I went to in the year, Tesla at the Mississippi Moon Bar in Dubuque, Iowa.

When I began to listen to Tesla I was using a crappy cassette player and crappy speakers in my beautiful 1976 Buick Regal (either that or my crappy Mustang) but despite those shortcomings the band was stitched into the fabric of my soul.  It seems that despite my affinity for their music Tesla became one of those bands that I didn't see live.  In that part of the '80's - '90's my life was plain insanity and either the opportunity to see them live or the ignorance of their tour schedule and potential tour dates in my area helped lead me away from that experience.  Let's cut back to 2011 again and the MMB and their appearance at that venue.  When I heard Tesla was coming to the MMB I felt all warm and fuzzy, it was almost as if part of my missing younger days could be filled in.

That evening Tesla became the "gold standard" of what a band should be live.  Tesla, despite the size of the MMB played their hearts out and their proverbial asses off.  I was amazed at the fact that so many people were there and how much the crowd got into the show.  The energy Tesla exerted that evening could by itself provide enough electricity to run the lights of Las Vegas for an hour.  I promise this if I get the chance to see Tesla again, I will and you should too!

Have you ever had a situation in your life where you look at it and think to yourself how odd something about it seems to be?  February 14th, Valentines Day my wife and our children ventured to the iwireless Center to see two more bands that I had never seen (this is a recurring theme by the way) and coupled with the date it seemed like one of those odd situations.  Imagine the opportunity to see Slash open for Ozzy Osbourne and add to it Valentines Day, the entire combination seemed like it would be a date to never forget.  It was but it proved oh so much about the "drug addled mess" label that seems to follow Ozzy.

Ozzy Osbourne has this skill to prove that he is indeed one of the most impressive forces in music to this day but what I saw with Ozzy that night made me walk away with goosebumps.  He's phenomenal, entertaining and still rules a stage with his larger than life persona and can still give his fans an experience that will keep them wanting more.

Although I talked about the headliner first I can assure you that the only reason for that was because Ozzy was that he performed to such a high level but trust me when I tell you that Slash was more than just an opener.  Slash and his solo band played Guns 'n' Roses classics (to such a level Mr. Rose wasn't even missed) as well as tracks from his current album and provided us with headliner quality.  I openly commented that I was very happy to see Slash at this juncture of his career as all of his youth was behind him (as well as the aforementioned Mr. Rose) so his skill could burst forth.  Slash was another gem in the crown of rock royalty so coupled with Ozzy the show was simply unforgettable.

In March I realized that I was being transported back into the '80's for the simple fact that three humongous metal bands from the era were on my schedule.  Once again the Mississippi Moon Bar was at the forefront of the experiences with the billing of Stephen Pearcy and Slaughter.  The show was incredible and each band stood steadfast and thrust their laurels in the face of the crowd (okay everything about that line is disturbing).  Pearcy, founder and frontman of Ratt provided a show to his fans that was unequivocally the best show he could have done.  Pearcy and his band were beyond anything I would have ever expected even in the heyday of Ratt.  This band is definitely one I will see again (and again and again, keep reading you'll understand) but as Pearcy seems to be in Ratt mode (which by itself is exciting) I may have to wait a bit.

As my memories waft to the past I am reminded that I had seen Slaughter in concert at the Five Flags Center in Dubuque, Iowa many moons ago and although I wasn't a huge Slaughter fan (oddly enough I seemed to listen to him whence young ladies were with) I was excited to see the band again!  Time makes the heart grow fonder I suppose and although the memories are fading when Mark Slaughter and his band took the stage those fading memories seemed to re-emerge and were as polished as a new car.  Mark Slaughter can control a crowd like few others can, and as he meandered toward our table, through the crowd (that surprised me) I understood why Slaughter was so popular, quite simply he loves his fans.  Slaughter became another destination on my journey and guaranteed another stop when he comes near once again.

On a side note that show (Stephen Pearcy and Slaughter at the Mississippi Moon Bar) became a launching pad for several friendships.  I met a few members of the bands and met some new people whilst re-kindling (I think that is the appropriate word) some old friendships as well!  Thanks to each of them because I think they helped make the show even better!

Just a couple of days after that show my wife, two of her friends and I traveled to the United Center in Chicago, Illinois to see the "extravaganza" that was Bon Jovi.  The experience was as turbulent as a thunderstorm I must say (I think that describes it well actually) but not because of fighting, odd travel events, road rage or any other malicious acts.  To start the evening while standing in line to enter a woman next to me commented about my Ozzy Osbourne t-shirt, something to the effect of "An Ozzy Osbourne shirt at a Bon Jovi concert, really?", to which I replied "Yup.  Its probably the toughest thing at this show tonight" which did elicit a laugh from the woman.  The evening continued to rumble with an absolutely amazing dinner and experience at the Stadium Club in the United Center then as we made our way to our seats the most amazing sense of claustrophobia kicked in when I saw the million people that waded into the arena, talk about sardine like.

As Mr. Bon Jovi and his cast of characters played I was watching the crowd (and the two female lovers picking on a girlfriend of some huge guy) as much as Mr. Bon Jovi was watching himself on the Jumbotron.  It was a nice night, and the other three had a great time so that made up for the narcissistic moments quite nicely.

Rick Springfield, that "working class dog" from the '80's music scene (and of "General Hospital") burst forward onto my scene at the Mississippi Moon Bar that chilly April night.  I still think I was only one of six men in the entire place that evening but I was really impressed by the way Springfield performed that night.  His music was crisp and his band was wonderful and although he really didn't want to be bothered after the show (prisoners should ask him for escape tricks) he did stop to take pictures with a large group of female fans (my wife included).  What a great show!

The Rave in Milwaukee was our May destination with Social Distortion on the bill and one of the greatest places to see a show ever was found.  If you like history or are an architecture geek (I'm guilty of that) the building itself is worth the price of admission, but Social Distortion trumped the building.  Social Distortion is one of the most important bands in the history of punk rock and the band is probably within the top three of my all-time favorite bands.  Mike Ness is a musical genius and he is the consummate performer and I can honestly tell you I felt like a kid at the show.  I really have no words to tell you how incredible Social Distortion was that evening (yes I do, look at my review in this blog) but I think that this was the greatest show I saw this year.  Before I continue, SEE THIS BAND and buy their music if you haven't already!

When I was a child AM radio provided me with music of so many great bands and of those bands I remembered the most was the band "The Sweet".  Imagine my surprise when the opportunity to see the band in concert at the Mississippi Moon Bar in June 2011!  This show transported me to those scratchy AM radio days BUT despite all of that this show kicked ARSE!  Although most of the members weren't in the band when I was listening back then (only Steve Priest remains) they perform at such a high level that its like this was the band that did that music all those years ago.  The Sweet is amazing and they too will be another destination if they tour anywhere near this area again!

Hazel Green, Wisconsin and Royalton, Minnesota probably aren't two destinations you may not think of when you think of rock concerts (I'm guessing most people don't know where both of these locations are or have been there before) but in a sweltering July those two locations were the sites of two great shows!  Jackyl, that chainsaw wielding band hit Hazel Green, Wisconsin with the force of a thousand Harley-Davidson motorcycles and with the attitude with a rabid pitbull.  Jackyl is another of those bands that I had never seen before but I will tell you this it won't be the last time!

Halfway Jam in Royalton, Minnesota was next on the July whirlwind (literally the day after Jackyl) and on this bill were three more humongous bands:  Stephen Pearcy, Kix, and Skid Row.  Pearcy was phenomenal and everyone in the band was great to us (major THANKS!).  The interesting thing about this threesome was I had seen two of the bands before (Pearcy and Skid Row) which left Kix as the one band I new nothing about and I had never seen them live.

At this point in time, I really knew nothing about Kix except for their song "Don't Close Your Eyes" so I wasn't that interested in seeing the band.  Assuming that they were a band that was just in it for the money (as I did before the show) was unjust and completely false.  The show that they provided was spectacular and the songs were performed at such a high level it was simply scary.  Interestingly enough when we returned to our hotel that evening I immediately went to YouTube and sought out the songs I had just heard.  This one evening transformed me from a skeptic to a fan!  Kix can expect another visit from me one day (just tour out here again will you please),

On September 11th, 2010 my wife and I saw Skid Row in concert at the Mississippi Moon Bar and that evening I became a huge Skid Row fan all over again so when Skid Row was on the bill at Halfway Jam I was like a kid in a candy store!  As I said in the article I wrote previously about this show, I personally think that Skid Row is much better now without Mr. Bach (sacrilege I know) so it was no surprise when the band came out and just violated the crowd.  Skid Row is what all of this is about.  Their music, their passion for their music and their fans as well as a skill level that most bands would kill for is obvious in everything that they do.  Skid Row can still bring it to the house, to the table and to the car so if you are able to see them, well do it!

Halfway Jam is a music festival that was just incredible!  We met some really cool people there, made some new friends and had a great time.  It should be noted that I'll be attending again this year too, but this time all three days!

The month of August didn't want to disappoint me obviously because within that single month I saw the first "glam" band, a stalwart (and obvious fan favorite). a metal legend and a rock goddess, how could the month have been any better?  Once again the iwireless Center didn't disappoint as the New York Dolls, Poison and Motley Crue shared the stage on a great summer night.  It was fun because you were able to see the passion of the Dolls screaming forth and performing some amazing tunes while keeping everyone entertained to such a level that it held through the intermission and right into Poison's set.

Poison performed like a band that has finally exercised their demons while showing that they too can still put on a great show.  Poison was fun to watch this seeing how far they have come since I last saw them (at the Dubuque County Fair no less) where they seemed like a hot mess.  I was intrigued to see them perform together and look at the entire dynamic of the band and I was determined to ascertain their passion for it all and I wasn't disappointed.  All four guys should be proud of themselves, they really seem to have straightened their world out and played at the highest possible level!

Having seen Motley Crue on the Dr. Feelgood tour I was kind of ready for their stage show but much like Poison I was interested to see if they had congealed and righted their ship after their tumultuous history.  The good news is that the past seemed like it was just that for them, the past and while some of that past was nearly the death of the band (and a couple of members) they dominated the stage.  From Nikki Sixx's speech to the crowd to Tommy Lee's "Rock 'n' Roll Roller Coaster" and all of the other stuff in between it is obvious that Motley Crue is indeed "Metal Royalty".  As long as Crue is touring make sure you see them at least once!

With yet another Mississippi Moon Bar visit scheduled (this time in August) I was able to attend a show by the single-greatest female performer from the '80's, Pat Benatar.  I still remember the poster I had of her when I was young and with anxious anticipation I awaited her arrival.  The possibility of a performer on such a pedestal not being the same as she was in her past was merely a fleeting thought as Benatar took the stage.  It was jaw-dropping to hear her hit the same high notes as well as sound like she did back then.  Benatar revealed to everyone in attendance how good she really is and how worthy she is of being the "single greatest female performer of the the '80's.

During the month of September the Wisconsin State Fair suffered a serious blow when a "riot" erupted on their grounds and although completely blown out of proportion a lingering fear seemed to be prevalent when mentioning the Fair.  Undeterred I made my way to the Fair to see Stephen Pearcy once again, and once again he didn't disappoint.  After the show we kind of mingled with the band and had some laughs with all of them so the night was a complete win!

In "The Heat of the Moment" we made the decision to add the band "Asia featuring John Payne" to our list of mirth and merriment for 2011 and just like Pearcy there was no disappointment.  Asia is a very interesting band, and if you think about their music you will realize how many great songs they provided their fan base through the years.  The venue was the Mississippi Moon Bar and when Asia began to perform it became apparent why they were booked.  I loved this show!  It was great meeting some of the band following the performance and I look forward to seeing them again soon!

All Hallows Eve, ghosts, goblins and all sorts of scary things make their presence known in the month of October but in 2011 the month gave me a thrash metal extravaganza!  I'm guessing that this is the first time anyone has ever used "thrash metal" and "extravaganza" in the same sentence but with the bill of Death Angel, Testament and Anthrax it can be understood why.  October provided me with an opportunity to see three great bands in a new venue (the Congress Theater - Chicago, Illinois).  What an amazing experience, all three bands were on top of their game and all three bands became a huge highlight in my year!

Death Angel is one of those bands I was always really curious about, not because of their music (I had a couple of cassettes) but because I wondered what they would be like live.  I quickly discovered my answer when they came on stage and that answer was "SWEET MOTHER McREE!!!  They're awesome!"  This band was impressive and I promise you that if you partake in either a CD or a show you will be far from disappointed.

Testament has been a band that from the first time I heard "C.O.T.O.L.D." I was hooked.  With the incomparable Chuck Billy shredding his vocals with the intensity of a piranha on a strayed cow in the river and the mind-blowing sound of the instruments of destruction that their music screams forth from, their set was pure perfection!

The headliner of the night was another thrash stalwart, rather legend Anthrax.  When I obtained my first taste of Anthrax (that sounds ominous) I was just a teenager and despite that I knew what great music sounded like.  Anthrax always had possessed the ability to perform at the highest level possible (and always did) from their vocals to their music it was a beautiful thing.  That night in Chicago Anthrax did everything to remind me of those things and proved how easy brilliance is for them.

Along my tour (it sure felt like it at times), the curiosity of the next show always kept me focused and as November approached that curiosity seemed to spike.  Standing in the wings for that month was Lita Ford (every mullet wearing guys dream me thinks).  As Ford took the stage it was obvious that all of the accolades she has received are exceedingly well deserved.  Ford and her band are a finely tuned machine and made for a show that was really impressive.

As 2011 wound down two final shows were in the offing but they seemingly couldn't be more different.  As a general rule I wouldn't consider a tribute band as a live show to write about (the KISS inspired "Strutter" comes to mind) but then I saw Hairball (at the Mississippi Moon Bar).  I must admit I had no idea who or what Hairball was before the show began but I do now and does that make me happy!  The talent that every person in this band has ranks up there with every performer I saw this year, they are that good.  From their performances as Twisted Sister all of the way to Queen were impeccable.  I seriously can't wait to see this band again.

As the year wound down to a screeching halt and the countdown to Mayan apocalypse began I found myself in Springfield, Illinois on New Years Eve and in the presence of the Bret Michaels Band.  As I mentioned earlier I had seen an iteration of the Bret Michaels Band when I attended Poison at the iwireless Center in August but I really didn't expect what I heard.  Michaels was great and with the musicians he has in this band really can rock.

The year 2011 is in the books and what a busy year it was.  I visited cities all over the Midwest and saw great bands at every turn.  The experiences I had were really not to be believed.  I met some great people, made some great friends and listened to great LIVE music what more could you want on a year-long journey?  Fun you ask, did I have fun?  Nope, I had a blast!

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