Saturday, July 30, 2016

Saints of Las Vegas - Hard Rock Cafe, May 27th, 2016

It goes without saying that I am a big music guy, I listen to literally everything, no really you should see my iPod its packed full of music of so many genres I pull ligaments and tendons in my hand as I peruse it.  I debate myself constantly about many of those genres and what qualifies inside of said genres and I think the hardest area to define is "metal," "hair metal," and "hard rock."  The problem is never if music is good (or bad) enough to qualify itself for those genres, its actually more complex than that.  Think about it like this for a moment, what if there was a band that had its roots in the L.A. music scene, the L.A. club scene and tours with bands like Alice Cooper, Motörhead, KISS and Mötley Crüe, was still alive and kicking today?  Would that be a pretty important band?  Well?

I live in a small town, its historic, it has historic architecture and scenic splendor but when I was eighteen it sucked.  I always told people that it was a beautiful place to visit but it sucked to be a kid there because the only entertainment we had was watching cars rust.  It was only about twelve miles from my home to a larger city but if you didn't have a car you were stuck.  The first car I purchased was a "beautiful" 1976 Chevy Nova with a small V8 motor, four doors, chocolate brown paint and a mind of its own, it would turn for no reason.

When I got the car it was freeing, I could go where I wanted and with my spiffy "Sparkomatic" cassette deck and Jensen speakers it was... it was still a crappy car but man could I make those speakers pop right out of the rear window deck!  Okay the reason they could pop out of the deck was because the speakers didn't fit in the deck from the bottom so I cut out the top of the deck and just placed them in the holes, and to be fair I could make them pop out of the top just by driving normally and hitting bumps at high speed (or as I refer to it as my normal speed).  One of the things that I did do with that car besides terrorize corn fields, tourists and my passengers was go to our only video store, I loved being able to do that too because I am a movie junkie as well.

One day I decided to see what they had at the video store and I ran into two movies I had to rent: Decline of Western Civilization and Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years.  The movies were incredible, the first about the punk scene in the early '80's (which introduced me to so many great bands) and the second the "heavy metal" scene of Los Angeles.  The number of great bands in that movie was mind numbing but I recall with some clarity (that is difficult for me knowing what I have done to my brain cells) a particular band: Faster Pussycat.

For me Faster Pussycat really defined the "glam metal" scene or as I like to call it "the Era of Hair" and that movie really made me look to them as the pinnacle of what that era meant.  The band I saw had this aura about it, their energy was palpable not to mention the fact that one of the members of that band was an owner of a bar on the Strip, it all made sense.  Soon after that I went to the nearest record store and bought the soundtrack to Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years and the self-titled Faster Pussycat.

I inhaled their music, I wore out Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years and I lost the original Faster Pussycat cassette but replaced it.  That album was as complex as it was simple, it really became the identifier for that era.  With roots that are interspersed within punk rock and "the Era of Hair" it was pure irony and chance that I would venture to the Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas, Nevada and see a band called the "Saints of Las Vegas."  Did I mention that the Saints of Las Vegas are fronted by a gentleman named Brent Muscat, the same Brent Muscat that was one of the founders of Faster Pussycat?

I think that is really one of the interesting things about doing what I do when I attend festivals (I was in Las Vegas attending "Punk Rock Bowling" later that week), is seeking out bands that aren't part of the landscape of what I am there for.  As I sat at the Hard Rock Cafe eating a cheeseburger, watching a baseball game and looking at the rock memorabilia scattered about, this band began assemble out on the coolest patio overlooking the Las Vegas Strip.  We made our way out onto the patio and began to listen to the band I was immediately struck by how good they are.

When we sat down to watch the band that night I had no idea who was in the band, except for Brent Muscat so I took notes with descriptions of the band partially so I can remember them until such a time that I can figure out who they are and one member seemingly had a pedigree immediately: Brian D. Litton.  Litton struck a chord with me immediately because of the tattoos that adorned his arms, the bass he was playing and how much he looked like Nikki Sixx.  That makes a person fairly easy to remember but what set Litton up as himself was how good he is on the bass.  The setlist is not the easiest, and the variety of bands that are covered is insane but Litton simply played his hind end clean off.  He is an incredible performer, moving about the entire time and not missing a beat, this is what a real bass player looks and sounds like.

The heart and soul of any band has to be the drummer, it's true as without a drummer all you have is a band that sounds like a giant guitar / bass solo.  Drummers are often maligned with the fans of a band just because they aren't front and center.  While sitting on the patio of the Hard Rock Cafe on the Strip I watched with amazement a drummer that had command of the band in which he played.  The drummer that is Robert Cournoyer is so impressive, he seems to slow down almost never.  As I sat and watched the band the entire time he was doing something.  What I mean by that is even during the breaks in between songs he was doing something, not just sitting there.  I think that is the sense of energy that a band needs to be a great band, it separates the great from the good and this man is phenomenal.

What impressed me when the band start playing was the fact that they decided to take on two of the greatest Rolling Stones songs immediately.  I was seriously taken aback when I heard Anthony Serrano belt out "Under My Thumb."  That song is not an easy song for Mick Jagger to sing let alone a young man that I had never heard of.  When Serrano began the vocals I was amazed as his skill, he was so good on vocals.  Serrano showed not only his range on that song but on the other songs that he took on.  I have said repeatedly that there are certain songs that should never be remade and Serrano and his Saints of Las Vegas cohorts took on one song that TWO bands did perfectly and should never, EVER be remade: Ring of Fire.

That Johnny Cash song is really his "signature song" meaning NO band or musician should ever try to remake it because the can never sound like Cash and his band or do it justice.  With that said there is an exception to that rule and the exception is Mike Ness and Social Distortion.  The version of the song that they did was brilliant.  Social Distortion didn't try to sound like Cash, they put a Mike Ness spin, a punk spin on the song and it was brilliant.  For the most part that's it, no one can do better or even well enough to be in the conversation until May 27th, 2016 that is.  As the Saints of Las Vegas began to play the iconic beginning to that song my ears immediately perked up.  It was definitely "Ring of Fire" and it was definitely in the fashion of Social Distortion.  It sounded incredible and the cherry on top was Serrano's vocals.  His vocals are so good, they were in the fashion of Ness and so similar it was beyond impressive.  I loved it.

What is interesting about Serrano was how good he is on guitar as well.  For a younger performer, without the battle scars of the veterans in the band this gentleman can play every bit as well as any of his contemporaries and those that have decades more experience.  Very impressive, and a well rounded performer!

Brent Muscat, one of the founders of Faster Pussycat, a man who literally influenced innumerate young men and women to begin playing guitar and starting a band was the first vocal I heard from the band that night.  Listening to Muscat start singing "Miss You," the first of the two consecutive Rolling Stones was refreshing.  I have seen many bands that have splintered off from other bands and often they play only songs from their previous bands so as Miss You started I knew that Muscat was ready to entertain and show off his serious chops.  However, don't think for a minute I didn't want to hear songs from Faster Pussycat because I assure you I did.

In 2005 Muscat was diagnosed and treated for oral cancer for which he has recovered but treating any form of the disease is devastating to the person afflicted.  For a performer like Muscat, a singer, oral cancer and the treatment of it could seriously diminish his ability to perform at a level his fans remember.  As Serrano finished "Under My Thumb" I was able to hear him perform one of those classic Faster Pussycat songs, "Bathroom Wall" and was I impressed.  Muscat sounded incredible!  If I were to garner an opinion I would say that the aforementioned song was always my favorite and Muscat didn't detract from that opinion in the slightest.  Vocally he has the iconic "voice of the era" it is really remarkable how good he sounds.

There is a definite feel of the "Era of Hair" in Muscat's guitar playing but you can feel that gritty edge that is influenced by punk rock.  He plays with fluidity and attitude inside of it which is a testament to the performer that he is.  Don't ever think that this man should or could be counted out because he is spectacular.

There is a complexity to the setlist of the Saints of Las Vegas that most bands don't like to do but this band seems to revel in it.  From the three bands I mentioned earlier (Rolling Stones, Faster Pussycat and Johnny Cash) to the likes of Elvis Presley, the Ramones and even a little Lynyrd Skynyrd those are some very serious, artistically different bands.  I honestly do not believe that this band would shy away from any music so hopefully they will continue to prove me right and throw in another Social Distortion or even Clash song (hint, hint).

Music genres are always a point of contention, they have to be because it is a source of delineation to divide music into categories.  It goes without saying that a person who was listening to Dottie West on the radio and enjoying it, might not like hearing The Exploited come bursting through the speakers next (I would).  That's the beauty of genres isn't it?  We can define our entire listening experience and tastes specifically to something.  Music is subjective if you want it to be and much like those speakers in my 1976 Chevy Nova it can jump right out at you and surprise you.  Inasmuch as that is true, we are defined by what we make ourselves to be, but there is always room for change.

There are many bands and performers that change their stripes as often as we brush our teeth, they are not afraid to change because they know they will gather new fans and the old fans will either stay loving them in the band they have always known or those that follow them across genres.  Examples would be Kid Rock, Steven Tyler, and Bret Michaels with many other others but the point is it's not unheard of.  That's where Brent Muscat and the Saints of Las Vegas comes into the picture.  It's obvious that the band has punk influences but is that all?  No.

This band has a depth to it that can only come from multiple genres which also includes hard rock, hair metal, heavy metal, adult contemporary and even Southern rock.  This is not a band that has to be pigeonholed or classified, this is a band that is just great.  They really are the means to the whole from Muscat to Serrano to Cournoyer to Litton and all of their influences this is a complete band, a phenomenal band.

I suppose music is as cyclical as it is subjective, it's freeing and if I were to venture a guess its that way for all of us.  There wouldn't be much of a stretch for me to call my first car, that horrible Nova with cobbled speakers just as freeing as the music I played in it.  As a teenager I could buy any music I wanted, I could listen to whoever or whatever I wanted.  That crappy car had so many good times, miles on tires and my music that it became my first real freedom.  Despite that I could have been labeled, defined by the car and the music I listened to, but no matter what I really didn't fit into a specific category because I was just me.  Categories are helpful, genres are basic definitions but we really can't rely on them all of the time.  By doing so we stand a chance to miss something that could be our freeing moment and The Saints of Las Vegas are a perfect example.

The Saints of Las Vegas have grown from the weeds that was the "Era of Hair," glam rock, glam metal whatever one wants to call the '80's L.A. Sunset Strip music scene.  This band emerged from those weeds into the most perfect flower, and it's so awesome to see.  This is a great band, and if you are in Las Vegas make sure you find them because you simply will not be disappointed!  Great job gentlemen!

Follow The Saints of Las Vegas on Facebook HERE.

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