KICK AXE–CD RELEASE PARTY
Thursday November 4th, 2004
Mesa Luna / Vancouver, BC Canada
Review and All Live Pictures by Lord of The Wasteland
In 2002, one of Canada?s most successful hard rock bands from the 80s, Kick Axe, announced they were working on their first album since 1986?s ROCK THE WORLD. When the simply-titled IV was finally released in September of this year, I couldn?t wait to hear it.
Eighteen years was a long time and the band did not disappoint. While the guys in the band have obviously matured, the blues-based sound is still there. The heaviness of early material like ?Heavy Metal Shuffle? has taken a back seat to mellower tracks like ?Time? and ?Rockin? Daze? that are rich with melodies and solid musicianship. The only difference from Kick Axe circa 2004 and that of the 80s lineup is that vocalist George Criston opted out of the reunion to concentrate on his work managing and providing vocal lessons to such artists as Avril Lavigne and Sarah McLachlan. In his place is Gary Langen, the original vocalist and drummer of the band before they recorded their first album, 1984?s VICES, while guitarists Raymond Harvey and Larry Gillstrom, bassist Victor Langen and drummer Brian Gillstrom round out the classic lineup.
As part of the return of Kick Axe, the band announced a CD release party right here in Vancouver at a small dinner and dance club called Mesa Luna (http://www.mesaluna.com). This was a curious choice as the usual suspects of live rock venues were passed over for an off-the-beaten path club that holds about 250 people. The environment was sure to be up close and personal and what better way to experience a band who once toured with such acts as Judas Priest, Metallica, Whitesnake, Scorpions, Quiet Riot and Rush than within arm?s reach of the stage?!
A local band called Catapult opened and played some decent hard rock originals for about 40 minutes. The charismatic vocalist strummed away at an acoustic guitar while the rest of the band stomped away behind him. I was unfamiliar with the band or its music but ?Bury Me? was a real standout. I managed to grab one of their three-song demos from the guitar player so look for that to be reviewed at Metal Rules soon.
Local radio personality, Bro Jake, introduced Kick Axe and, in a funny quip, mentioned that the band was played on all of the rock radio stations he has ever been fired from between Vancouver and Toronto. Kick Axe hit the stage at 11:00 and played for about 80 minutes. The chosen songs covered their entire career very well but I was a bit surprised at how few songs from IV were played (only three), especially since this was the release party for that disc. The guys look totally different than in the picture on the back of IV, too. They all have much longer hair (except Gary) and were dressed up in full metal uniform of jeans, leather and boots. The fourteen-song set was dominated by VICES, with two tracks each taken from WELCOME TO THE CLUB and ROCK THE WORLD. As already mentioned, only three tracks from IV were played and ?Hunger,? a track from the soundtrack to the TRANSFORMERS movie (that was written for Black Sabbath and made famous by King Kobra), rounded out the set. The band sounded pretty tight although the small stage caused some havoc and a touch of nerves were evident. Gary Langen has an excellent voice but he definitely needs to work on his stage presence as a frontman (not to punish the guys by any means?this was only their second show since 1987!) Langen?s pipes are definitely influenced by the hard rock greats of the early 70s and the band?s choice to cover Led Zeppelin?s ?Whole Lotta Love? for the encore showcased that. Langen hit all of Robert Plant?s screams and wails spot on, even during the trippy middle section of the song. Most importantly, he nailed the VICES, WELCOME TO THE CLUB and ROCK THE WORLD stuff dispelling any fears that Criston was irreplaceable. Granted, Langen did have all the lyrics in a binder in front of him, though, so I guess he?s still learning the older stuff. Bassist Victor Langen was the most animated of the group and nearly took out the drums?TWICE!! The small stage got the better of him and his swinging bass guitar and he almost did a nosedive into Brian Gillstrom taking out a microphone and one of Gillstrom?s cymbals. Less than a minute later, he took another tumble. Great stuff! ?Alive & Kickin?? got the ball rolling and is the perfect opener. One of the band?s best-known tracks, ?On The Road To Rock,? was a real highlight as was ?Welcome To The Club? and ?Rock The World.? The new songs came across very well in the live setting, as well, with ?Rockin? Daze? and ?Consolation? fitting right in alongside the older material. Before playing ?Heavy Metal Shuffle,? Larry Gillstrom laid down a smoking guitar solo that segued into Brian Gillstrom pounding out a stellar drum solo?complete with strobe lights! Ahhh, the long-lost days of soloing?
There to immortalize everything was a video camera that was rolling for a live DVD. According to Victor Langen, this show, along with the rest of the upcoming Canadian dates, was also recorded for a possible CD.
A few people shouted requests and bought the band shots, but the crowd was pretty subdued and seemed content with some head bobbing and gratuitous applause. A few people were dancing during ?Heavy Metal Shuffle? and the now-clich?d appearance of faux lesbians deciding to “shock” everyone by dancing together during “Dreamin’ About You” left no one impressed. The lowlight of the night, though, goes to some dude and his female Asian companion who made more of a pair of drunken asses of themselves than anything. I guess they were trying to appear cool but it was painfully obvious they had no idea who was even on stage, let alone any of Kick Axe?s songs. Also, what was with the pair of nice-looking girls in skimpy tops who seemed more interested in walking in front of everyone at least seven times to get to the bathroom than they were in the actual show??
Mesa Luna was a cool choice for a venue because it was so up close and personal and the fans could really get into the band and the band into them. The crowd was definitely different than I?m used to, though. Everyone seemed to be greeting each other with cheek kisses and hugs and the average age of the crowd was probably early to mid 30s. This wasn?t a show that will have the city buzzing for years to come, but the fact that it was such a small venue and a ?special? night was pretty cool. The tickets were a STEAL for $12, too. I hope the rest of Canada and the U.S. embraces Kick Axe during their upcoming live appearances because they left far too soon and it sure is good to have them back again.
Alive & Kickin’
On The Road To Rock
Welcome To The Club
Turn To Stone
Rock The World
Dreamin’ About You
Heavy Metal Shuffle
**Time (on setlist but not played)**
Whole Lotta Love (Led Zeppelin cover)
Extra special thanks to Victor Langen for the ticket! Look for my (nearly two hour) interview with Victor coming to Metal Rules very soon!
Read my review of IV here.
Visit Kick Axe?s official website at www.kickaxe.net