The Stone Pony
August 28, 2010
ASBURY PARK—Skid Row was one of the most promising hard rock groups in the ‘80s. Their first three albums were multi-platinum successes and they raised the bar for hard rock bands that wanted to be taken seriously in a world of cross-dressing musical pirates.
Then like a meteor out of nowhere, the explosion of grunge sent everyone reeling down the road to obscurity post-haste. And although Skid Row continued to perform and release some good rock and roll music after that time, they just never seemed to fully recover (no one did) from that scene changing detonation. It’s a shame because out of all the groups back then, they had the most to offer as far as longevity. Yeah, Cinderella was cool for a while and Aerosmith could do no wrong (Rocks is still unbeatable) but before the flannel shirt outburst, Skid Row was poised to dwarf even the big names.
However, that’s also one of the reasons that this band didn’t self-destruct. Their evolutionary style of blending early punk influences with hard rock kept them on the radar well into the 1990s. These guys weren’t the crystal light sugar of Bon Jovi or Winger. They were the heavy-duty kings of attitude and aggressive snarl in a genre that had gone powder puff soft and fans kept them alive on their CD players specifically because of that.
I grew up with Rachel Bolan (bass) in Toms River and even back then I remember him being a focused musician. The rest of us were animals that wanted to do drugs, play guitar and get laid, I mean, I’m sure he did too, but you just knew that he had that extra something that was going to propel him away from landing in the lumber yard.
Having said that, it was interesting to watch these road dogs still doing their thing and enjoying the stage like it was day one. Hardcore fans showed up to support the boys and they didn’t disappoint, going thru a solid selection of hits and treasures from their past and present. Dave Sabo’s onstage persona of road weary, cigarette-smoking letch is secure in history as is the wild cro-magnon shtick of guitarist Scotti Hill, who appeared long-haired, bare-chested and spitting on the floor (ah, you can take the boy outta Toms River but…)
The energy level was high and singer Johnny Solinger led the group well. Solinger has the unenviable position of being the guy who had to follow Sebastian Bach and it hasn’t been easy. To his seven-year credit he’s stuck it out, singing on both Thickskin and Revolutions Per Minute to date and his style is his own.
Skid Row dazzled the crowd with over 15 songs including “Big Guns,” “18 and Life,” “Monkey Business,” “Slave to The Grind” and a great version of The Ramones’ “Psycho Therapy.” The band still manages to show a sense of humor with Sabo and Hill touting their cigarette usage humor against Rachel Bolan’s levelheaded straight man vibe, which came thru hilariously onstage.
And finally, for a band that’s been around for as long as they have, I thought it was interesting to see that the core was still solid and aligned as a true group of friends. I find it funny that these guys still get shit about post-Bach material, which is ridiculous as some good stuff also came about after the split. Fans can be fickle at best and just as Skid Row has managed to outlive the grunge craze that obliterated most bands, so it will always be as far as their musical detractors. I for one am glad they’re still around and playing real, raw, rock and roll.
Opening the show was Frankenstein 3000. Complimentary in style and sound, they put on a faced-paced rock and roll show. Featuring Keith Roth, (this guy knows everyone) the bands dirty rock sound kept the Pony crowd up front. Frankenstein 3000 is yet another survivor that has been gaining new fans because of their steadfast attention to writing and performing things their own way. Songs like “Generation Jack,” “Wildebeest and Goin’ Away” had the sing along crowd primed. If you dig the New York Dolls or early Aerosmith, pick up some FS3K music. For more info on the Skids head over to skidrow.com and check out the FS3k crew at frankenstein3000.com
The Model Citizen LP
Tommy Strazza combines melodic pop sensibilities with genuine guitar-oriented rock and roll. It’s kind of like having your cake and eating it, too. Strazzas newest disk titled, The Model Citizen LP shows a matured writer that leaves no influential stone unturned in his enthusiastic quest for fresh, stand apart from the crowd, sounds.
The disk opens up with the right field, southern Baptist swing of “You’re Not The Only Show In Town,” complete with mid-ranged guitar chucks and riffs that simulate a horn section with great accuracy. The riffs themselves are New Orleans brassy and the background vocals are hilariously genuine. You can hear the fun these guys must have had as Strazza demonstrates a completely admirable method of kicking off your CD.
“Sensory Overload” has the interesting two-headed possibilities of heading down the rock and roll highway or taking the country fork in the road. I could see this tune either way and it’s a winner. Strazza isn’t shy when it comes to harmonies and his understandings of which chords work best, and in what position, are worthy of a chess player’s strategy. His lead work is gritty, Miller beer fare here and it fades out perfectly for the catchy organ fueled chorus.
“Shark In the Water” dredges up a latent 1970s Allman ghost ala “Midnight Rider.” Cool background organs mix with sharp-bitten junkyard lead work and understated rhythm shuffles. Bridges modulate elevator smooth into hot Georgia asphalt guitar lines that cook over boiling organ whirls on this smoky wood stove of country rock.
One of my favorite tracks is the mid-tempo “Unresolved.” Easily a hit, this is a song that also holds massive crossover appeal. I’m surprised that some of the big producers around here haven’t scooped this guy into their fold. “Unresolved” also features a chorus that can go on for days. Previous reviewers have taken Strazzas vocals to task; I don’t see the weakness or thinness here. What I do hear is the genuine weariness and starkness from a writer that’s come to terms about life and the checkers game that it can be. I would have loved to hear a bit more guitar on this but what can I say? I’m a six-string junkie and he’s a smart kid trying not to piss off some impatient label guy.
Other good efforts are “So Much More” and the Cake feel of “Walk A Mile” as well as the big production sound of “Ultimate Illusion,” a tune that has Strazza breaking his good time Charlie character on the CD and submerging into deep, dark and minor drenched waters. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting direction and I dig the Killing Joke meets Tears for Fears vibe that roars out of fat, greasy guitar lines and “Kashmir,” half-step lead line drifts, supported by synthesized backgrounds, bass and Jeff Fernandes’ backbeat blitzkrieg.
Strazza and friends will be having a CD release party on October 8 with The Sunday Blues, The Amboys, and WUPA at Asbury Lanes, 209 4th Ave. Asbury Park. This disc is a great example of a composer looking at getting the hell out of Palookaville. And if you’re also looking to get out, head over to his site and buy this CD, it’s a fresh start in a brand new musical territory, myspace.com/tommystrazza.