08.27.04 - NY, NY
Gig Review: Bands (in order of appearance): Phoenix Reign, Dirty Brown Eye, Supervillain,
I am of the opinion that Riots last album, 2002s Through The Storm , was
among the best of the bands twenty-something year career, even rivaling their 1981
masterwork Fire Down Under . Add to that the fact that the band had not played within a
thousand miles of my home in eons, and I had sufficient cause to embark on a mission: To
catch the band live, up close, in their original NYC habitat. And what a night it turned
out to be!
I had no idea what I was in for upon entering the deceptively run-down looking rock haven
that is Don Hills. I was also a bit worried at first when the show failed to kick
off more than an hour after the scheduled 9:00 start time. But man, I shouldve had
more faith. Five bands, plus classic rock and metal blasting from the PA between sets,
entertained a moderate-sized crowd of discerning punters til a little past three in
the morning, a feat virtually unheard of in my area, where most rock clubs close their
doors by one AM.
Phoenix Reign kicked things off in fine fashion with a set of well-constructed, old-school
melodic metal. Despite being plagued by sound problems after their first song, the band
gave it their all and emerged triumphant. Frontwoman Theresa Gaffney sounded off a siren
call that must be heard to be believed, above a driving sound that fused Priest, Maiden
and other classic metal sounds into a surprisingly fresh brew.
After about forty minutes too much of Dirty Brown Eyes unremarkable and tiresome
hard alternative sound (out-of-tune bass included), it was time for something completely
different, courtesy of Supervillain. A curious combination of stoner rock tendencies,
retro/ garage-rock imagery and some surprising, almost progressive musical left turns,
their set was a pleasant surprise.
Topping off the explosion of underground talent for the evening was the fierce and
formidable HavocHate. With aggressive riffing, melodic respites, and vocals that
alternated between somber melodicism and guttural death growls, these purveyors of
eclectic ultra-heaviness commanded attention and, subsequently, respect.
Ah, yes, and then there was Riot; What can I say about Riot? There was obviously much
anticipation in the air prior to their arrival, and to no ones surprise, I suspect,
it was well worth the wait. Guitarist Mark Reale (the sole original member) in particular
arrived to an instant round of cheers, and proceeded to lead the band headlong into
Narita, the fast and furious instrumental epic from the classic 1979 album of
the same name. Next came a swift segue into another fast one, Angel Eyes, from
their Celtic-flavored 1997 album Inishmore. It was at this point that vocalist Mike DiMeo
made his entrance, and proceeded to command the full attention and respect of the fervent
crowd. What followed was a little over an hour of exactly what most of the fans present
were hoping for, but hitherto could only dream of. Riot had begun a triumphant comeback,
and they had picked a surprisingly good location for it. Such was the intimate nature of
the venue, that your humble writer was able to stand directly in front of center stage,
less than ten feet from where DiMeo spent most of the set.
The lineup that all but completely ruled the stage that night had not been together long
before the Don Hills gig, but whatever they lacked in collective experience, they
more than made up for in musicianship. New bassist Randy Coven seemed a bit unsure what to
do in a few places, resulting in a few errant notes, but his flashy, mesmerizing playing
style showed that his musical skill was certainly not the problem. (Note: After the show,
I asked Randy how long hed been in the band. His reply: A week.) Their
new drummer, whose name I did not catch (Sorry, man! Please make your identity known to me
if you read this!), was clearly working his posterior off, often looking like a runner at
the ass end of the Boston Marathon, but lo and behold, he made it through and kept up the
momentum throughout. Mark Reale and co-guitarist Mi ke Flyntz put on one helluva
performance, tossing off tight solo trade-offs and fast harmonized lines on their
requisite Gibson Les Pauls.
Riots set shaped up to be a well-balanced one, visiting almost all eras of the
bands career, with the glaring exceptions of the two Rhett Forrester-era albums and
the magnificent Through The Storm. Modern-era Riot material like Twist Of Fate
and The Man mingled comfortably with classics like Outlaw and
Alter Of The King. All of the songs were delivered capably, but something
truly wild happened to Road Racin, which became a launching pad for an
unbelievable barrage of impromptu solos. Towards the end of the song, DiMeo introduced the
band members, and let each of them rip extensively, culminating in what I can only
describe as a downright CLASSIC guitar duel between Reale and Flyntz .
Both band and audience were clearly getting off on the good vibes in the air, and DiMeo
encouraged the crowd to voice their enthusiasm, even pointing his mic at people in the
front row (including yours truly) to let individual fans take a turn singing a line from
the chorus of Swords And Tequila. The mood remained at a high level right
through the classic inevitable closing number Warrior, which set loose the
energy that had been building up in the room up until that point, leaving all present
exhausted, ecstatic and hungry for more.
Unfortunately, no more was to be heard tonight, but the band members could be seen
afterwards chatting with fans, even as they worked frantically to pack up their gear.
Fortunately, however, it has been reported on the bands website that more dates can
be expected in the future, along with a new studio album. And if tonights show is
anything to go by, it should be quite a feast for the senses. I hope Im right, and
Id say so does the small but fervent audience that came from far and wide to witness
this sparsely-promoted gig. Could it be a mere taster for much better things on the
horizon? Im not sure, but like I said, I sure hope so. And I think the bands
small but exceedingly loyal legion of fans would agree: Its about time!
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