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08.27.04 - NY, NY

Gig Review: Bands (in order of appearance): Phoenix Reign, Dirty Brown Eye, Supervillain, HavocHate, Riot

I am of the opinion that Riot’s last album, 2002’s Through The Storm , was among the best of the band’s 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 Hill’s. 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 should’ve 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 Eye’s 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 one’s 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 Hill’s 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 he’d 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.

Riot’s set shaped up to be a well-balanced one, visiting almost all eras of the band’s 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 band’s website that more dates can be expected in the future, along with a new studio album. And if tonight’s show is anything to go by, it should be quite a feast for the senses. I hope I’m right, and I’d 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? I’m not sure, but like I said, I sure hope so. And I think the band’s small but exceedingly loyal legion of fans would agree: It’s about time!


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