Realistic scenarios to bring rock music back to Super Bowl Sunday

It wasn’t until Super Bowl XXV, which brings deep, deep pain for other reasons than the halftime performer, that the Super Bowl really started to bring in pop-icons to perform at the event. For most of the game’s existence until that point, the halftime show was performed by college marching bands. Super Bowl XXV, which featured the Buffalo Bills and the New York Giants, brought in pop sensations New Kids on the Block for the halftime entertainment. Talk about yawn. At least that game lived up to the hype, albeit in heartbreaking fashion for yours truly.

While some true pop icons (Michael Jackson, Prince) have graced the stage, for far too many Super Bowls, the performers have been inadequate with music that plainly doesn’t resonate with the average football fan. Guys that play football don’t listen to Gloria Estefan or Jessica Simpson. Guys that played football grow up to be a large base of the people that watch football. Yeah, yeah, this isn’t true in every case. But for simplicity’s sake, a large portion of football’s most loyal base, grew up with rock music in their locker rooms. Not all, but a lot. A lot of that music can never be played at a family-friendly event like the Super Bowl, so sorry fellas we will probably never see a Limp Bizkit or Korn performance at the game. Likewise for those who listened to mostly rap in the locker room. But, what if there were rock bands that would make sense and would be tame enough for the whole family to enjoy? With the next three Super Bowl locations set, this is what the halftime entertainment committee or whoever they are should do to appease their loyal fans that listen to rock music. While the bands have to be interested as well and all of that jazz (who’s going to turn down the Super Bowl though), these are scenarios that make sense for the next three Super Bowls.

Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Atlanta has hosted two recent Super Bowls; the second of back to back blowouts of the Buffalo Bills by the Dallas Cowboys and the epic game played between the St. Louis Rams and the Tennessee Titans that came down to the last play of the game. While the Bills/Cowboys game featured an all-star lineup of country musicians at the time, it was largely a forgettable performance, because you likely have no recollection of a halftime show featuring Clint Black, Tanya Tucker, Travis Tritt and The Judds. The Rams/Titans game was a better game and a more pop-friendly event featuring Phil Collins, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, and Toni Braxton. Atlanta and America, you deserve better. So for next year’s Super Bowl in your city, imagine having Metallica!

Why Metallica? Why not? That’s a better question. This is quite possibly the absolute most overdue selection to play the Super Bowl. This band probably has more “all-time” locker room play time than any other. They are currently the biggest rock band in the world and have been since AC/DC started to slow down. With AC/DC’s future uncertain as well with Brian Johnson being out of the band and Malcolm Young’s recent passing, Metallica is the pick. Unless Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd were to reunite, Metallica is at the very top of the mountain until they decide to call it quits. They are still making new and relevant music and every single person that has played football in the last 30 years has likely heard their music in the locker room or during pregame at some point. They are likely the only heavy metal band that could pull this off. While their hardcore fans would want a halftime set-list of thrash gold, a more realistic and media appeasing set-list would be more palatable for those that are scared of heavy metal music. Imagine all of the fire and lasers of a full Metallica show condensed into this four-song set for the Super Bowl:

1. Whiskey in the Jar

2. Enter Sandman

3. Moth Into Flame

4. Seek and Destroy

 

Super Bowl 54 in Miami, Florida.

Miami has also hosted numerous modern-day Super Bowls. Let’s see, during the San Francisco 49ers’ blowout of the San Diego Chargers, they gave us Patti Labelle and Tony Bennett. No kidding. Then while the Denver Broncos were blowing out the Atlanta Falcons, we were treated to Gloria Estefan (again) and Stevie Wonder, which was probably decent but how much Gloria Estefan can they expect us to take? While Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts were taking it to the Chicago Bears, Miami gave us a pretty cool set from Prince. Their most recent Super Bowl was their best, however. In 2010, the New Orleans Saints were pulling away from the Indianapolis Colts for their first Super Bowl victory, and we were treated to a fantastic show from The Who. Now THAT is an iconic rock band if there ever was one. So, in two years when Miami gets to host again, who should they pencil in for the event? Why not stadium rock icons Journey?

Even with millennials, Journey remains one of the most popular bands in the world. They are still touring today and still sound great live, albeit with a “new” singer, Arnel Pineda. With Journey just recently inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, wouldn’t the Super Bowl Halftime Show be the perfect moment for them to reunite for the night with the vocalist of their heyday, Steve Perry? He and Arnel could trade off vocals and the band could finally move forward without fans having to wonder “what if” anymore. This is a win-win. You find someone that is in a bad mood while listening to Journey and what you’ve really found is a liar. Imagine this halftime set:

1. Anyway You Want It

2. Wheel In The Sky

3. Faithfully

4. Don’t Stop Believin’

 

Super Bowl 55 in Inglewood, California. (Los Angeles)

The Los Angeles area hasn’t hosted a Super Bowl since 1987. It featured George Burns, Mickey Rooney, and the Grambling State and USC marching bands. That act must have put the Denver Broncos to sleep because they were outscored in the third quarter 17-0 by the New York Giants who wound up turning a halftime deficit into a blow out win. Considering that it’s been so long since LA hosted the Super Bowl and it will be in a brand new venue, they’ll need a marquee act for sure. This one is such a no-brainer, though, that failure to book this act would be a travesty! Los Angeles last had the Super Bowl in 1987, the same year that Guns N’ Roses exploded onto the scene with their debut album Appetite for Destruction. 

It has to be GNR, right? There is no other band that came out of the Los Angeles hard rock movement that better epitomizes that city than Guns N’ Roses. They were the definition of living in excess. They had infighting and turmoil. They broke up. They said never again on numerous occasions. They reunited anyway after more than a decade apart and they’re now selling out football stadiums around the country and headlining some of the biggest festivals in the world. Coupled with the fact that guitarist Slash has appeared at multiple Super Bowls now as a guest musician and they absolutely need to play the halftime show to their hometown crowd. This is a no-brainer, as long as somebody remembers to set Axl Rose’s alarm clock. Imagine this:

1. Welcome to the Jungle

2. Paradise City

3. Patience

4. Sweet Child O’ Mine

Then in a move that only they could pull off, they just keep playing. They also get through “November Rain” and “You Could Be Mine” before being forcibly removed halfway through “I Used to Love Her”. Once the field is finally cleared, the Buffalo Bills will continue on to their third consecutive Super Bowl victory fresh off of three consecutive rockin’ halftime performances. Right?

 

Dorothy brings the wild West to Columbus

As a huge fan of bands like KISS, I’m no stranger to huge concerts that require a massive production to pull off. Sometimes, though, it’s refreshing to experience rock & roll, rhythm & blues in its rawest form in a sweaty concert hall where the onstage talent is truly working (and truly sweating!) to gain their still growing fanbase.

I’ve been on the Dorothy hype train since I first saw her music video for “After Midnight” (that’s still my favorite song of hers) several years ago and watching their performance on the tiny Jagermeister stage at Rock on The Range back in 2015. I have a mad respect for true, old school rock bands that grind to earn their way to the top. I saw that from this band the first time I saw them. I saw them a second time at the same festival on a bigger stage in 2017. There ascension had kind of been slow to that point, and they had every excuse to phone it in for that gig. They played early, on a chilly and rainy day; hardly ideal conditions to be excited to play to a hungover festival crowd. They absolutely brought it though and won me over again with a haunting rendition of “I Put A Spell On You” that was one of the highlights of the festival. I’m absolutely convinced that if/when that event returns to Columbus post-COVID, that this band will be gracing the main stage whenever they make their third appearance. So, that’s the backstory for my fandom with this band.

The LA based group returned to Columbus last night with a pair of hard rocking up and coming bands to a venue that I had not previously been to. The Bluestone turned out to be a perfect setting for the rock revival that took place last night. The concert hall is actually in an old cathedral and provided both amazing acoustics and an atmosphere that was just right for the evenings event. Afterall, Dorothy’s new record is inspired by a revival of their own sorts; both literally and spiritually.

All three bands were on fire. Outstanding musicianship was on full display and all three bands feature they type of virtuoso front man/woman that gives me hope for the future of the genre. These vocalists have the type of stage presence that demands the crowd’s attention. Both opening acts’ lead vocalists feature fellas with soaring vocals reminiscent of the heavyweights of the 70’s and 80’s; and Ms. Dorothy Martin’s vocal talent is as good as any live performer I’ve ever seen. It’s cliche these days to claim that “Rock is dead.” I would counter that with real rock & roll is alive and well if you know where to look.

The evening started with a quintet from California (minus one from Texas) called Classless Act. I wasn’t familiar with them before last night but they absolutely will not be a “warm up” band for long. They give me so much hope for what can be with hard rock. With a sound and performance that reminded me of what I imagine it must have been like to see bands like Guns N’ Roses before they became a radio band, they quickly won over the crowd during their abbreviated set. They even played a blistering cover of GNR’s “Civil War” that really brought the crowd to a frenzy. My fourteen year old daughter and I were towards the back of the concert hall, near the merch booth, and it was cool to see these guys mingle and sign autographs and take pictures with fans for the rest of the evening; when they weren’t going out into the pit and enjoying the other two bands that is. I’ll definitely be pulling for these guys moving forward and their debut album will be coming out on June 24th. If you weren’t able to catch them this time around, they’ll be back in Ohio for two stops as opening support for Motley Crue, Def Leppard, Poison and Joan Jett & The Blackhearts on their summer Stadium Tour.

The next act is one that I’ve been wanting to see for a long time. Orange County, California’s Joyous Wolf have long eluded me. I had arrangements to see them and review them at Rock on the Range one year and for reasons that I don’t remember, I missed their set. In all honesty, my group was probably having breakfast beers in the parking lot, and I may have forgot. My bad. Subsequently on their visits to Columbus I haven’t been able to get there. This quartet took the energy up even another level, led by the stage command of lead vocalist Nick Reese. My introduction to this group was when I was reading up on the bands that I wasn’t familiar with coming to that festival and I was immediately drawn to their bluesy rock sound and the antics of Reese. They lived up to the hype last night with a wall of sound and their front man doing flips on stage, diving into the crowd, and even doing the splits. Compared to their early live videos of six or seven years ago, we’re witnessing a band that is now really coming into their own as seasoned vets in the world of rock & roll with multiple records under their belts. Highlights from the set were “Fearless” and a mandatory crowd participatory version of “Mother Rebel“. They also could be graciously seen for autographs and photo ops at the merch booth after their set and well after the evening’s event concluded.

After a short while, the evening’s headlining act took the stage. I’ve long considered the Dorothy band to be the best kept secret in modern rock music as they’ve stayed largely underground to the “mainstream” rock & roll powers that be. Whatever that means and for whatever that’s worth. That best kept secret, however, is making its way out as the band continues to put out high quality jams and at this point are refusing to be ignored. Their current album, just released last week (I picked up my vinyl copy at the show last night), has them on the verge of exploding. Titled “Gifts From the Holy Ghost“, the record had been gaining steam before it’s release with the lead single “Rest In Peace“. The album, the group’s third, was featured less than I imagined it would be in the setlist from the night, but the songs that were played were very well received.

The motivations for this album have been well documented, and the songs have shown a maturity that only life experiences can create. She and her band are in a different place than they were on past records lyrically but continue to excel at their craft musically as a raw, bluesy hard rock band. While her stage presence and vocal talent demand the most attention; Martin also shows off the talented musicians in the group with numerous extended jams and a terrific drum solo towards the end of the set. I’ve long thought that they should be the next big thing, and now I believe that time has arrived. While her debut album may have been titled “RockIsDead” they’re certainly too good and at the forefront of a modern rock revival for that to be true.

Turning 40: The Number of the Beast

The greatest metal album of all time turns 40 today! That distinction goes to Iron Maiden’s 1982 release; The Number of the Beast. While the band’s two prior releases are special in their own right, TNOTB saw them reach their full potential and kicked off a run of classic albums that would dominate the rest of the 1980’s.

Featuring the genre’s best bass player, founding member Steve Harris, this record saw the band go from supporting act to headliner around the world. It would be the last one with drummer Clive Burr but the first with former Samson singer Bruce Dickinson. The album is Burr’s finest accomplishment on the sticks and Dickinson’s voice transitioned the band from more of a amateur hard rock outfit to something entirely different but meeting Harris’ vision for the group. Soaring vocals that rivaled those of Ronnie James Dio and Rob Halford took them to new heights. Childhood friends Dave Murray and Adrian Smith traded off guitar solos on the record and again combined with Harris to form the signature “Maiden gallop” that their songs are still known for to this day.

The frightening album art, along with it’s title, unfortunately led to the record being pigeonholed as some sort of devil worship. Perhaps the creative lyrics went over the heads of many critics of the time, but the stigma was attached to the band for several years. The record led the band to fall victim to folks burning and smashing their albums and protesting their concerts in the United States. Nonetheless, all of the extra attention caught the eye of teenagers looking for something different and was a commercial success. It became Iron Maiden’s first record to reach the Top 40 on the U.S. Billboard Charts. It produced two iconic singles in “The Number of the Beast” and “Run To The Hills” and was certified Platinum in the U.S. and virtually everywhere else in the world. This band has sold over 85 million records and 20 million of those were just this album alone. Its staying power and longevity speak for itself.

I discovered the record as a thirteen year old coming of age moron in roughly 1999, while going through my dad’s old cassette collection. Remember cassettes? I was immediately drawn to the cover art; as any thirteen year old boy probably was back in 1982. Upon placing the cassette in my stereo I was greeted with the heaviest thing I’d probably ever heard to that point. Invaders doesn’t have some melodic, build up intro like the more modern Maiden songs do. From the first note, it is an in your face metal onslaught. Most metal bands in the 80’s were making songs about girls and parties. Not Maiden. Invaders tells the tale of some ancient Saxons being invaded by and falling victim to Norse Vikings. Probably not the type of music that was popular with the chicks but nevertheless the type of music that would inspire future metal titans like Amon Amarth and Sabaton.

The second track is one of the album’s absolute gems and has the aforementioned type of intro that the band would become known for. Children of the Damned starts off with a melodic intro and was inspired by the TV show Village of the Damned. The song starts out nice before transitioning into a heavy metal classic that showcases the band at their peak. Rarely played live, I was able to hear it performed in Detroit on the Book Of Souls World Tour in 2016.

The next track is The Prisoner which was based off of the British TV show of the same name. It’s another song that is rarely played live, but I was fortunate enough to catch it in Indianapolis in 2012 during the Maiden England tour. The song was inspired by a character in the show who is taken hostage in a village that might seem to be too perfect, but in actuality is a prison as there is no free thought or freewill.

22 Acacia Avenue is another underrated masterpiece that is probably due to it’s lyrical content; but as a song it flat out jams. The song is a sequel to an earlier song about the band’s favorite made up (or was she?) lady of the night. First appearing in 1980’s Charlotte The Harlot, this song tells the third person view of her life before the narrator ultimately rescues her from her life of sin. In Charlotte the Harlot, the song is much more upbeat and has a very punk rock vibe to it. However, in 22 Acacia Avenue, the corner she works on and the song warns of the dangers of the lifestyle she has chosen on the streets. I hope that someday I will hear this one performed live.

Then comes the aforementioned, controversial title track. Contrary to popular activist beliefs at the time, the song is not an ode to Lucifer. Rather, the song is the reflection of a nightmare that Steve Harris had after viewing the sequel to The Omen. A quick look or listen to the lyrics could have calmed a lot of the outrage that this song created. Rather than running from it, the band embraced it, and rode the momentum of this moment all the way to the bank and then some. This was the second single released on the record and it has become one of the defining songs in the history of heavy metal. They’ve played this song on every tour I’ve seen them play.

Run To The Hills was the first single from the record and is probably the most popular and well known song from the band, at least here in the States. On the very rare chance that a radio station will play any Maiden music, you have about a 95% chance of it being Run To The Hills. From the catchy intro and piercing vocals the song was an instant hit and is usually in the set list when the band tours. The song is a back and forth tale from the perspectives of both the Native Americans and their conquerors from Europe. It’s an absolute metal classic.

Arguably their most popular song is followed by the “weakest” track on the record. Gangland isn’t necessarily a bad song but it doesn’t seem to fit. Written by drummer Clive Burr and guitarist Adrian Smith, it is from the perspective of life dominated by organized crime. Again, it isn’t a bad song, but when placed next to the song that it replaced on the album you can see why Steve Harris now believes they made the wrong choice. However, now knowing that this would the last album to feature Burr on the drums, I believe he delivers one of his all time best performances in this song. So, while the song isn’t catchy nor all that memorable in the Maiden catalog, it does show Burr going out in his prime with one of his best performances.

Total Eclipse was initially left off of the album and was instead used as the B-Side for the Run To The Hills single. This was the decision that Harris regretted. It’s a much stronger song than Gangland and would have been better served on the record. When the album was remastered and re-released in 1998, it was added as it should have been to begin with as it is a great straight ahead metal jam. I’d love to hear this one live.

The finale, as is common with this band, is the strongest track on the album. I’ll go further. I will opine that this is the greatest heavy metal song ever written. Throughout their career Iron Maiden have been known more so for their massive “epics” than their singles. They’ve released some doozies, like Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Phantom of The Opera, and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. The crown jewel of them all, though, is Hallowed Be Thy Name. It is the one that closes most Maiden shows. I assume this is because it is too good to follow with something else. Lyrically, it tells the tale of a man that is awaiting death at the gallows and the reflection of his life during his final moments. The song has everything that a heavy metal song should have. It’s got a build up intro. It has, arguably, Dickinson’s finest vocal performance. It features the classic Maiden gallop and twin guitars trading off masterpiece solos. Burr’s drums and Harris’ bass play are out of this world as well. All metal songs since and in the future should be measured against it and THAT alone is the deciding factor in making this the greatest metal album of all time. It would still be considered an all time classic without Hallowed, but its presence elevates it to the #1 slot in my not so humble opinion.

Cheers and Happy Birthday to The Number of the Beast.

Metal music is alive and well in Louisville

It had been a very long time coming, for me to attend a real, full production concert. Actually, it had been 21 long months since my wife and I saw Korn and Breaking Benjamin in Columbus, before the world came to a screeching halt. As 2021 has progressed, I’ve been able to see some really good tribute bands and a couple weeks ago I was able to catch a small scale concert from 80’s rockers Great White. The lineup for yesterday’s final day of the Louder Than Life Festival in Louisville was too good to pass up and was just what I needed.

The Wife and I had planned to be down to Louisville in time to catch The Hu and Skillet but unfortunately, for us, Cincinnati happened. I’ve been driving for a lot of years. Never in my life has there been a casual drive through Cincinnati. I don’t know what it is about that town, but traffic delays there and between Florence and Kentucky Motor Speedway added considerable time to our voyage, unfortunately putting us there at the end of Skillet’s set.

Having been to many other Danny Wimmer Presents productions in the past, we explored the grounds for a little; making comparisons to Rock on the Range/Sonic Temple Music Festival. Concession prices were quite steep, but the atmosphere was great. More relaxed than some other festivals I’ve been too, we were able to make our way fairly close to one of my favorite bands, Sabaton. As they have each of the other three times I’ve seen them, they were phenomenal. While my wife couldn’t really see much, I’m hopeful that I was able to make a fan out of her. Joakim Broden and the boys from Sweden raced through a ten song set of most of their biggest hits as well as their new single. Virtually between every song, the band would pause long enough to let the deafening “Sabaton!” chants die down. As always, one of the best performances of the event.

Sabaton Set List per setlist.fm

  1. Ghost Division
  2. The Last Stand
  3. Swedish Pagans
  4. The Red Baron
  5. Carolus Rex
  6. Fields of Verdun
  7. The Attack of the Dead Men
  8. Primo Victoria
  9. Steel Commanders
  10. To Hell and Back

From there we went to the main stages area to see the rest of Breaking Benjamin, who had started before Sabaton had finished. As always, BB sounded great and it was fitting that we were able to see some of them in our first big concert, since they also played at the last show we had gone too 21 months ago.

After Breaking Benjamin finished up, it was on to the two main stage headliners for the evening. The festival could not have nailed it much better either. Judas Priest, one of the founding bands of heavy metal, are touring on their 50th anniversary. Sadly, they were only allotted a one hour time slot, which is just way too short for a band of Priest’s stature. Halford and the band were firing on all cylinders; albeit with some curious setlist choices, it did me good to see so many young people witnessing this band probably for the first time. The scream in “Victim of Changes” is still one of, if not the, best screams in heavy metal history.

Judas Priest Set List

  1. One Shot at Glory
  2. Lightning Strike
  3. You’ve Got Another Thing Coming
  4. Freewheel Burning
  5. The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown) *Fleetwood Mac cover w/ Kirk Hammett
  6. Turbo Lover
  7. Hell Patrol
  8. The Sentinel
  9. Victim of Changes
  10. Hell Bent for Leather
  11. Painkiller

After a short break, the main event of the festival took the stage for the second of their two headlining appearances of the weekend. Saying they had something special planned would be an understatement, as they played their self titled “black” album in its entirety. I’m not one of those people that says that Metallica sold out with that record. I’ve always thought that was a lazy take. Is it my favorite Metallica album? No. That would probably be And Justice For All. But, what the “black album” did for metal music cannot be ignored. It is the defining record that made metal acceptable in the mainstream & it has many songs that flat out jam. Is it thrash? No. Is it heavy metal? Yes.

As the band is celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of that record it was pretty cool to see the album played in its entirety in reverse chronological order. It’s my wife’s favorite record by the band also, so that was a cool moment being able to share that with her; at her first Metallica show. The band sounded fantastic as always. Some people might complain because it’s the edgy take, but DWP will never fail to sell out a festival when they’re able to secure the biggest metal band in history to headline his shows. Period.

Metallica Set List

  1. Hardwired
  2. The Four Horsemen
  3. Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
  4. The Struggle Within
  5. My Friend of Misery
  6. The God That Failed
  7. Of Wolf and Man
  8. Nothing Else Matters
  9. Through the Never
  10. Don’t Tread on Me
  11. Wherever I May Roam
  12. The Unforgiven
  13. Holier Than Thou
  14. Sad But True
  15. Enter Sandman
  16. Blackened *Encore*
  17. Creeping Death *Encore*

Rock in peace; July 2021 in memoriam

A brutal July has come and gone in regards to the untimely passing of several members of some of rock’s biggest bands.

On back to back days, July 14/15, bluesy hard rock band Cinderella lost two members of their band family. On the 14th, guitarist Jeff LaBar was found deceased. Unfortunately, hours later on the 15th they were made aware of the passing of long time touring member Gary Corbett had also passed away from lung cancer. LaBar played on each of Cinderella’s records and Corbett had been their long time live keyboard player. I’ve long maintained that Cinderella was the best and simultaneously most under rated of the “hair” era bands. I was fortunate to see the band perform live twice before their long time hiatus.

Days later on the 17th, long time Kansas violinist Robby Steinhardt passed away from pancreatitis. He hadn’t been a performing member of the band in quite some time, but during the band’s hey dey was credited for his violin work and being the co-lead singer of the band. Their frequent use of violins in rock songs, gave Kansas a sound that was fairly unique to them.

One of Steinhardt’s vocals was for the song Cheyenne Anthem

Unfortunately, on July 26th the losses would continue, and this time would hit the metal world hard. Former drummer of and co-founder of Slipknot Joey Jordison would pass on. He had been ill for awhile and it appears that he died in his sleep. Jordison, who cited Keith Moon (The Who) and John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) as influences of his, had won many awards for his drumming talents. These included being named the greatest drummer by the following publications: Rhythym magazine and Loudwire. He also won the Drummies Award for Best Metal drummer in 2010.

Jordison featured on Slipknot track Duality

That same day, metal vocalist Mike Howe, of Metal Church took his life at age 55. He was the bands second vocalist, manning the microphone from 1988-1996 and again from 2015 until the time of his death. At the time of his passing, the band had been working on a new album.

One day later, the rock world would lose a true titan in ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill. Hill, had recently left the road with some hip issues and had asked their long time guitar tech to cover for him. It appears, at least for the time being, that the band will continue on with this lineup as Billy Gibbons has said Hill asked for the band to carry on. Top’s most impressive feat had been that the Texas three piece had never had any lineup changes since their formation in 1969. As one of the longest running and stable rock bands in history, tributes and condolences poured in from throughout the rock world. ZZ Top, with Hill holding down the bottom end, were able to maneuver as a blues band, a southern rock band and in the eighties as one of the most commercially successful pop-rock bands with a slew of iconic music videos during the rise of MTV.

I was fortunate to be able to see ZZ Top twice. They were the first band to headline the Rock on the Range festival in 2007. The festival would go on to become the biggest rock festival in the United States before becoming the Sonic Temple festival in 2019. That first year ZZ Top closed the night and I recall being impressed as I was close enough and could see members from several of the newer bands of that time (Evanescence, Buckcherry, Hinder) standing to the side of the stage in awe of the icons performing in front of them. Icons.

ZZ Top performing their biggest “Hill” song, Tush.

Rock in peace to them all.

The Iron Maidens headline trio of tributes in Columbus

Live music is coming back, and it’s a beautiful thing. While last night’s show featured a trio of high quality tribute acts, even the big tours are starting to get the wheels rolling towards big shows as well. The concert last night was at a new, to me, venue that exceeded my expectations. What they’ve got going for them first and foremost was excellent hospitality. I’ve had VIP at both The Newport and ExpressLive (or whatever it’s called these days) and never been treated as exceptionally as we were last night at The King of Clubs. While this new venue is in a tough part of town like The Al Rosa Villa was, they’re offering something that the rest of the city hasn’t for quite some time. Just being frank, compare the largely utter garbage that The Newport and Express Live are booking compared to The King of Clubs and you’ll see why I have hope for this place. The joint is being ran by a heavy metal vocalist and the talent they are booking are filling the demand for hard rock and metal fans in the 614. The former Al Rosa was not only in a tough area and it was cramped; and while we all have fond memories there, this new venue appears set to offer the same music but with more space and much superior hospitality. They’re pushing this narrative at The King of Clubs, where they are going to be Ohio’s finest entertainment venue and everyone is treated like royalty. Well, to my surprise, they delivered on all of the above. I want to see this venue do well and the surrounding area come up with it.

The opening act were Sweet Leaf, a Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne tribute. They were a fun way to kick off the night and until you hear these songs live, it’s easy to forget just how heavy Sabbath really was. In today’s world of growling vocals and muddied distortion, what was once considered heavy could be forgotten. Not the case with Sabbath though. Those old, doomy riffs still hit today. Their lead singer and Ozzy lookalike took time to take a photo with my daughter who was with us celebrating her 14th birthday to see the evenings headliners. Much appreciated.

Sweet Leaf set list

  1. I Don’t Know (Ozzy cover)
  2. Sweet Leaf (Black Sabbath cover)
  3. Bark at the Moon (Ozzy cover)
  4. I’m a Believer (Ozzy cover)
  5. Crazy Train (Ozzy cover)
  6. Suicide Solution (Ozzy cover)
  7. Paranoid (Black Sabbath cover)
  8. N.I.B. (Black Sabbath cover)
  9. War Pigs (Black Sabbath cover)

From there we’d be treated to the Steel City Crue, who came from Pittsburgh to bring the Motley Crue goods to Columbus. When people think about or listen to Motley Crue music, I think the general consensus is fun. At least for me, I just think of good times, anyway. These guys went the extra yard and the entire four piece looked and sounded like their counterpart from the real Crue. That’s what the people want. When they go to a show like this, they want it all. It was my first time seeing either of these opening acts and they both exceeded my expectations. Steel City Crue didn’t only focus on the radio hits either, and made sure to play some of the old, heavier Crue as well; which was very well received. They also made sure that everyone knew that they were from Pittsburgh so they also didn’t like Penn State and of course did the obligatory “O-H” “I-O” back and forth with the crowd.

Steel City Crue set list

  1. Shout at the Devil
  2. Doctor Feelgood
  3. Take Me to the Top
  4. Wild Side
  5. Red Hot
  6. Home Sweet Home
  7. Looks That Kill
  8. Ten Seconds to Love
  9. Kickstart My Heart
  10. Smokin’ in the Boys Room (Brownsville Station cover)
  11. Live Wire

The headlining Iron Maidens were making their King of Clubs debut as well. The two previous times that I’ve been able to catch them were at The Al Rosa Villa. While they are credited with being the ‘World’s only all female tribute to Iron Maiden’; their gender really is irrelevant to their musical abilities. As a Maiden die hard, it’s cool to see chicks that even like Iron Maiden and the fact that they are excellent musicians is the icing on the cake. Just don’t get hung up on the “female” part as a gimmick. It is not. These ladies flat out rock. Nikki Stringfield and Courtney Cox trade guitar solos throughout the show and pack the Maiden punch. Kirsten Rosenberg hits Bruce Dickinson’s high vocal notes and even takes them up another couple levels on her screams. The backbone to both Maiden and their counterparts in this tribute band operate at another level. Wanda Ortiz’ right hand is a blur on the bass as she holds down the Maiden gallop and Steve Harris’ rhythms and Linda McDonald seemingly had all four of her limbs in constant motion for the entirety of the set on the drums. Fantastic as always. And in a time when most of the big tours haven’t returned yet, and the uncertainty of the industry, these high quality tribute acts bring much needed live music to concert craving fans.

The Iron Maidens performing Run to the Hills

Small venues are cool. In the mezzanine was a VIP lounge where the girls were prior to the show. It appeared that they briefly may have had a Spinal Tap moment in not being able to find their way to the stage, which I genuinely hope was the case as I love that movie. My daughter was able to get a fist bump from Courtney after the show and seeing her smile and enjoying these songs with me, the same way that I’ve enjoyed hearing these songs live with my dad, made me a happy man.

The Iron Maidens set list

(Doctor, Doctor)

  1. Aces High
  2. 2 Minutes to Midnight
  3. Infinite Dreams
  4. Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra)
  5. The Trooper
  6. Stranger in a Strange Land
  7. Wasted Years
  8. Wasting Love
  9. Rime of the Ancient Mariner
  10. Sun and Steel
  11. Killers
  12. The Number of the Beast

*Encore*

13. Hallowed Be Thy Name

14. Run to the Hills

(Always Look on the Bright Side of Life)

First gig, post apocalypse

Still Life performing Iron Maiden’s Aces High

Prior to last Saturday night, the last show I’d been able to attend in person was KORN and Breaking Benjamin in January 2020. Those of you that know me, know that going over a year in between concerts is not really a thing. Alas, that is the world that we’ve been left with after the ongoing pandemic.

Much to my delight, some smaller venues are starting to host socially distanced events again, and I was quite pleased to be able to catch a band that’s been on my radar for a few years. Still Life, an Iron Maiden tribute band based out of Columbus, and their friends from Sanitarium (a local Metallica tribute) were booked to play a gig in Dublin. I had previously caught Sanitarium once before at the Al Rosa Villa as one of the opening acts for The Iron Maidens a few years back. On that same bill was a local Judas Priest cover band which is how I heard about Still Life. For whatever reason, I hadn’t been able to catch them until now.

And how fitting would it be, that my first live show since the pandemic, would be two tribute acts playing songs from two of my favorite bands; Metallica and Iron Maiden.

Sanitarium kicked off the night with a set that primarily focused on the 80’s thrash era of Metallica’s catalog. While their set was shorter than I’d have liked and I would have liked to hear some songs from each of the bands albums (minus St. Anger), time was limited and they kept it to the classics. The band sounded great, played the songs true to form, and had the packed crowd headbanging and singing along throughout the entirety of the set.

Sanitarium performing Metallica’s Ride The Lightning

Before moving on to the evening’s headlining act, I’d like to shout out the venue. It was the first time my wife and I had ventured to Last Call Music Bar and Grill and we were quite impressed. The women that made up the wait staff that night were fantastic to us. Our table was visited at least every fifteen minutes throughout the evening. Drinks and food were served with a smile and the hospitality was fantastic.

After briefly sound checking with 1982’s The Prisoner or Invaders (I don’t recall, just was surprised either way), the stage appeared to be set for the main event. Now, and this is being picky, the person controlling the house music has to know that it’s criminal to play anything other than U.F.O.’s Doctor Doctor as the last song before Maiden or its tribute brothers and sisters take the stage. But I digress.

As far as Maiden tribute bands go, I’ve seen three, this quintet might have been my favorite. From song choice and musicianship they were top notch. Post-gig we were able to mingle a little with lead singer, Rachl Raxx Quinn, who admitted to having to shake off some rust as the band hadn’t been able to play out in quite some time. Metalheads may also recognize her from her work in Graveshadow, a self described symphonic metal band from Sacramento that I’ve been listening to since speaking with her.

As stated, after brushing off some early rust, she and the rest of the band were on fire for the entirety of the night. Maiden is not an easy band to play or sing. The musicians sounded flawless and Quinn’s vocals hit the high notes of the Air Raid Siren himself. They raced through a set that almost entirely consisted of the 1982-1988 Bruce Dickinson era of Iron Maiden. This was a popular choice, as that era had a run of five albums that are essential to all Maiden fans. They completely ignored the Blaze Bayley era of the band in 90’s and only played one song since the “classic” lineup returned in 1999. If they do venture into any of the 90’s material, I think Quinn’s pipes could do a monster rendition of Lord of the Flies (the Bruce version from Death on the Road of course) as well as a great many of their post-reunion songs. Alas, this is the struggle of trying to contain a band with Maiden’s catalog into one concert set. You, quite literally, can’t please everyone.

Even so, the set had a great pace and the song choice was varied enough between staples and deep cuts that surely everyone left happy. I know that I was certainly stoked. I got to take in some live music. Iron Maiden music at that. It was a great night! Concerts are back! As a proper Maiden concert always ends: “Always look on the bright side of life….

Still Life Set List 4/3/2021 Dublin, OH

  1. The Ides of March (1981)
  2. Wrathchild (1981)
  3. The Wicker Man (2000)
  4. 2 Minutes to Midnight (1984)
  5. The Trooper (1983)
  6. Revelations (1983)
  7. Flight of Icarus (1983)
  8. Still Life (1983)
  9. Aces High (1984)
  10. Wasted Years (1986)
  11. Powerslave (1984)
  12. The Number of the Beast (1982)
  13. Run to the Hills (1982)
  14. 22 Acacia Avenue (1982)
  15. The Evil That Men Do (1988)
  16. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)
  17. Hallowed Be Thy Name (1982)
Still Life performing Iron Maiden’s Wasted Years

The 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominees

After a 2020 that was devastating to music lovers around the world, perhaps it’s time to look forward a little bit. 2020 saw live music come to a screeching halt. We lost rock legends like Neil Peart and Eddie Van Halen. I don’t think anybody knows with any certainty what will happen when it comes to live music; but some gigs are being scheduled and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has released it’s annual list of nominees. These will ultimately be cut down to a group of five or so for induction.

If diversity is what you’re looking for, we’ve got quite the list of nominees to choose from this year. My lack of faith in the powers that be at the R&RHOF is no secret. For crying out loud, Ted Nugent is not in there. Styx is not in there. And I could go on and on. For the sake, however, of this list; let’s assume that “rock & roll” does in fact encompass all genres of popular music and that all genres matter. Who should make the cut? Who should not? Outside of my favorite band, Iron Maiden, finally getting a nomination; this list is not real awe inspiring. It’s also not really a list that is friendly to what can traditionally be defined as rock music for an institution that is supposed to cater to rock music. After having a few weeks to ponder on the nominees; these are my thoughts.

Iron Maiden performing Aces High in Japan

The no-brainer is the aforementioned Iron Maiden. The metal legends have been eligible since 2004 and are just now being nominated for the first time. Getting Metallica and Black Sabbath in as the only metal bands inducted thus far has to help. However, the recent failure of the deserving Judas Priest twice in the past five years also gives reason to not trust the Hall to do the right thing. Iron Maiden is one of the pioneering bands of the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” from the early 80’s that helped pave the way for bands like Saxon and were a direct influence on classic metal bands like Metallica, Megadeth and Iced Earth as well as more modern ones like Sabaton and Amon Amarth. Outside of KISS, there is probably no other band that is as marketable as Iron Maiden. Their live shows are a spectacle to behold and the 85 million albums they’ve sold with little to no radio or TV support make them the grassroots heavy metal champions of all time. This band is bigger now than they were in their 80’s heyday. Do the right thing R&RHOF. I know you haven’t been historically kind to including metal bands but this one should not even be up for debate. Although, with their denial of Judas Priest recently, I won’t hold my breath.

Iron Maiden performing Phantom of the Opera in England

Tina Turner comes in next. She’s already in the Hall of Fame for earlier work, while this nomination focuses on her as a solo artist. She has had a hit song in seven different decades. Few artists, past or present, have the stage presence that she does as a performer as well. Her solo music is kind of all over the place, but her roots are in rock & roll, rhythm & blues and at the end of the day she has sold over 100 million records. She once held a record for the largest paying audience for a solo artist at over 180,000 fans. She should join Stevie Nicks as the next woman to be inducted a second time.

Tina Turner covering The Who

The Foo Fighters are an intriguing candidate for induction. Front man Dave Grohl is like the biggest rock nerd in rock history, even bigger than myself. Even with his outspoken politics aside he seems like one of the most down to earth guys as well. A common man’s rock star perhaps. Is his band groundbreaking? Probably not. Can you definitively say they have changed rock music? No, not really. However, over the scope of their careers, they have maintained their status as one of the biggest rock bands in the world. There hasn’t really been a dip in their popularity. They still fill stadiums to this day. Their live performances are phenomenal. The ability to replicate what you are selling live should matter and they absolutely are a better live band than they are a radio band. The album sales are there. The live show is there. The staying power is there. I would include Foo Fighters and Dave gets in for the second time after previously being inducted with Nirvana.

Up next is Fela Kuti. While his music is not rock & roll, per se, he was a pioneer of the Afrobeats genre; blending jazz, funk, psychedelic and traditional Nigerian music to create his sound. His legacy to this music is second to none on this list of nominees. For that alone, he should be on the shortlist to be inducted.

Carole King has written 118 songs that have made the Billboard Charts. But, she is already in the Hall of Fame as a songwriter. Should she get in, this time, as a performer? That’s where the debate comes in. She is considered a soft rock artist and she’s got the career to back it up. It may not be my cup of tea, but you’ll get no argument here if she is inducted.

Dionne Warwick isn’t really a rock singer either, but the woman has charted 56 Hot 100 pop singles on the Billboard Charts.But her very early music contains a lot of the same elements that became rock music later on. She meets that credential as well as her staying power. If being exclusive to rock is not a prerequisite for inclusion, it’d be hard to argue against her.

Rage Against the Machine are another tricky candidate. They are relatively newer for induction. Their blending of metal and elements of rap and hip hop would pave the way for the future genre that became nu-metal and featured bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn. This is the third time they’ve been nominated, but their outspoken politics that carry weight in the music community could finally carry them over the threshold this year. I’m not convinced that the music does that for them. While they made some impact, they were a band for a relatively short period of time and their album sales aren’t overly impressive. I’d be fine with them getting in and completely indifferent if they don’t. Artists like Ted Nugent and even Kid Rock have been much more impactful for a longer stretch of time and won’t be nominated, simply because they have the wrong politics. Bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit were bigger than Rage but will likely not ever be nominated either. My beef isn’t really with RATM, it’s with the fact that they are largely only being force fed as a nominee due to their “message”.

Since the precedent has been set with rap artists being inducted into the Hall of Fame with the two kings of rap 2-Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. both recently being inducted, I’m inclined to hear arguments for Jay-Z. While, nowadays, he’s more well known for riding the coattails of his wife and kissing Barack Obama’s butt, Jay-Z was one of the next wave of rappers that ushered in the post-Biggie and Pac era of rap. His album The Life and Times of Shawn Carter: Volume 2 was a huge success and spawned several hit tracks. He has sold nearly 40 million records, which puts him higher than most of the people on this list. I’m a staunch anti-rap in the R&RHOF guy, but since we’re already doing it, this is one that makes sense.

The Go-Go’s were a new wave rock band formed in the late 1970’s. They were the first all-female band to top the Billboard charts. Rare and groundbreaking, check. Outside of a few years of popularity, though, they miss the mark as far as staying power and their album sales aren’t huge. I won’t protest their induction, unless it comes at the expense of Iron Maiden, but they would be a borderline inductee for me.

Todd Rundgren has also been nominated twice before. His biggest influence has been as a music producer. His solo career has been very long and experimental, but not necessarily groundbreaking. Thankfully, he’s not bothered by the Hall of Fame, because I’m not sure that the third time for induction is a charm for him either.

The New York Dolls were an early underground band that were heavily influential on early glam bands like Twisted Sister. One of the first punk bands on the scene, their time was fairly short lived and really achieved no success commercially. Their biggest impact is more likely to have come from the bands that they influenced. I won’t complain if they get in, but also won’t cry if they don’t.

Rapper LL Cool J gets nominated, seemingly, every year. Every year he doesn’t get in. While he was cool when I was a kid, and I actually prefer him as an actor, I don’t think he makes it. I’m still not convinced that rap should be included in this Hall of Fame and if it does he doesn’t quite make my very short list of those who should.

R&B artist Mary J. Blige has been nominated as well. Dubbed the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul with her ability to blend rap and R&B, you’d be hard pressed to find another female artist that has been as instrumental to modern day rap music than Blige. Ultimately, I don’t believe she should be inducted into the rock hall of fame, but an R&B one without hesitation.

Akron, Ohio’s Devo were another new wave type rock band that had some radio success but are a fringe candidate for induction. They’ve been around since 1973 but are largely known for one song. I do not anticipate them making the cut.

Oh, Chaka Khan. I feel like she’s been nominated like eight times and never gotten in. While she may be the Queen of Funk, and funk is much more related to rock than some of the other stuff in the Hall of Fame, there aren’t many artists that I could be more indifferent to. She doesn’t move the meter for me. Maybe she’ll get a lifetime achievement award or something.

Pop star Kate Bush rounds out the group of this year’s nominees. She’s a pretty big deal on the other side of the pond in England, her home country, with many charting songs but isn’t necessarily a household name here. That doesn’t disqualify her, necessarily, as it isn’t the American Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. With that said, however, I do not anticipate her being inducted. To each their own, but, no.

Sound off in the comments! Let me know what you do or don’t agree with. Who’s too high? Who’s too low?

Iron Maiden performing in Cincinnati, 2019. Photo by Chad J. Hobbs

Remembering Dio

It’s been ten years since the heavy metal world lost one of it’s greatest icons. By all accounts from those who knew him, Ronnie James Dio was one of the “good guys” of rock & roll. When I first began my journey into discovering heavy music, I was well aware of “Rainbow in the Dark” and “Holy Diver” from my VH1 Classic video binges. And I certainly knew of the kickass “Man On The Silver Mountain” from all of the classic rock radio that I listened to.

It took Ronnie’s passing for me to dig deeper into his career. I knew that at one point he fronted Black Sabbath, but wasn’t familiar with that incarnation of the band at all. The day that Dio died, a friend of mine that was a big fan, had a memorial style bonfire/celebration of music with myself and a couple other friends. It was that night that I heard “Heaven and Hell” for the first time.

In the following weeks I was able to start piecing together the rest of his career and found a lot of amazing music. But more importantly, I began to see how much he meant to so many other bands and the metal community in general. One of my favorite memories of seeing Iron Maiden that summer was when they dedicated “Blood Brothers” to Dio’s memory.

On the Mount Rushmore of heavy metal vocalists, Dio is firmly on there with Dickinson, Halford, and Ozzy. Fully aware, now, of his legacy on heavy music; I present to you my ten favorite tracks in the Dio catalog.

#10. The Mob Rules (Black Sabbath – 1981)

 

#9. Stand Up and Shout (Dio – 1983)

 

#8. Neon Knights (Black Sabbath – 1980)

 

#7. Last In Line (Dio – 1984)

 

#6. Children of the Sea (Black Sabbath – 1980)

 

#5. Stargazer (Rainbow – 1976)

 

#4. We Rock (Dio – 1984)

 

#3. Holy Diver (Dio – 1983)

 

#2. Heaven and Hell (Black Sabbath – 1980)

 

#1. Man on the Silver Mountain (Rainbow – 1975)

 

And there it is. While it was hard to leave off songs like “I” and “Rainbow in the Dark”; this was ultimately what I narrowed it down to. Share your thoughts in the comments if you agree or disagree. More importantly, add these iconic tracks to your playlist!

Iron Maiden turns 40

Today, April 14, 2020 sees the self titled debut album from metal legends Iron Maiden turn forty years old. We’ll examine the record track by track to see how it measures up.

As a debut goes, the record does its primary job right off the bat. One look at the cover probably did exactly what it was intended to. Circa 1980, one look at Eddie probably either scared you away or piqued your interest. Relatively unknown outside of England at the time, this was their first real chance to make an impression to the rest of the world.

Clocking in at just over 40 minutes, it’s a pretty standard length record for the times, although it’s a much more frantic pace than their recent releases. While I disagree with many assessments that liken early Maiden to punk, their sound on the first two albums with Paul Di’Anno on vocals is much different than the sound they’d become famous for years later.

The opening track is “Prowler” and is a smack to the face. It features elements that will later become their feature sound, albeit with Di’Anno’s more gruff voice. As for being the introductory song for the group, it’s a classic. It’s meant for Di’Anno’s vocals though, so sadly it’s time of being played live is probably over.

“Remember Tomorrow” follows and is quite honestly one of the most underrated songs in Maiden’s illustrious catalog of music. It very well could be Di’Anno’s greatest performance with the band before he was replaced by Bruce Dickinson. Seldom played live, it’s an absolute treat when it is. It is so unique when compared to the rest of their stuff.

The first hit off the record is the third track. “Running Free” is about as essential to their catalog of music as it gets. The single charted at 34 in the UK. The live version from 1985’s “Live After Death” recording is the absolute best with crowd participation. This fun song still gets played regularly when the group is touring.

The fourth track is without question the defining song of the Di’Anno era of the band. “Phantom of the Opera” is in your face from the opening get go and doesn’t let up for over 7 minutes. The musicianship on this one is phenomenal and is the first “epic” in a long line of “epics” that the band would go on to be known for. The entire band is at their absolute best on this one. It still gets played live regularly and for good reason. This one simply captures everything that they do well and is a precursor to where they’d end up fifteen records later. Turn this one up all the way!

All of that concludes the first side of the record. Side 2 opens up with an iconic jam that is entirely an instrumental piece. “Transylvania” is another one that has the vintage Maiden sound, and I’d love for it to be played live. That won’t happen, but the song is just the first of a few great instrumentals that they band would go on to release over the years.

“Strange World” follows and is another underrated Di’Anno gem. The song has a mellow opening, followed by a brief wailing guitar solo, and along with the aforementioned “Remember Tomorrow”, one of Di’Anno’s greatest vocal achievements. The track also foreshadows the progressive rock elements that would later become staple but in the early years were not as common for them. An absolute killer that I’ve yet to see performed live, but would love to.

The second single from the album follows, and as is usually the case with me and this band, it’s not one of my favorites. It’s not that the song is bad by any means. However, the first six tracks are what I’d call definitive Maiden songs. This one doesn’t meet that bar for me. What do I know though? It charted at 29 in the UK as the better performer of the two singles. It jams, but “Sanctuary” falls short for me of the six songs before it.

The next song is also one that I could do without. It has a fun opening and has some good rhythm work. Songs about ladies of the night are a tough sell for me I suppose. “Charlotte the Harlot” is a good play on words and the breakdown midway through is quite enjoyable and has some good vocals. Once again, it just doesn’t measure up to tracks 1-6. However, it would spawn a sequel a couple albums later that is flat out brilliant. So, I’ll give credit where credit is due.

The self titled album ends quite fittingly with the self titled track, “Iron Maiden”. In a sense the song may be a tad overrated. Simply because if you go to an Iron Maiden show you two things are for certain. One of them is that this song will be the closer to their main set. The second is that is when we will get an appearance on stage from the infamous Eddie that adorns each of their record covers. He will either be in classic Eddie form or reimagined to fit whatever “new” album the band is touring on. It is an absolute essential song to the band and as mentioned before is forever locked in to the live set. Watch the crowd reaction to this one!

Overall, this record is an iconic debut for an iconic band. Tracks 7 & 8 are the weakest in my opinion and one of those is the highest rated single from the album. That means it’s in pretty good shape. The overall grade for 1980’s Iron Maiden is a solid A! It is one of the early records that would shape heavy metal for the next four decades and counting.

My RUSH story

RUSH. Man, this unique band played such an integral role in my journey with the greatest music ever made. Neil Peart’s devastating passing last week was a cruel way to make me reflect on what that band has meant to me and rock music in general. I’ve seen hundreds of the biggest rock bands to ever exist. Bar none, “The Professor” was the greatest drummer I’ve ever heard or seen live. Non-RUSH fans may also not realize that he was often the chief lyricist, as well, to some of the greatest songs ever composed.

My journey with RUSH truly began on my parents back porch. This is probably circa 2000 or 2001. Sure, like anyone with a pulse, I knew “Tom Sawyer“. But, my familiarity with them pretty much ended there. You see, at around the turn of the century, rural teens like myself who knew nothing about anything sought our rebellion in rap; for reasons that are still unknown. At that time my CD collection consisted of such embarrassing things like Puff Daddy, Jay-Z, and Eminem. Now, I know, I know even in my old age; if I get the rap itch, I still go back to these hip-hop gems. But I say embarrassing because when I compare it to what my collection consists of now, it’s tragic what I was missing out on.

Back to the porch. It’s probably July 2000. I’m in my bedroom “bumping” some Bone, Thugs ‘n’ Harmony or some nonsense like that. The Old Man is firing up the grill and has had it with my choice of music. It was at that time that I was beckoned to the back porch where the Old Man was waiting with his cassette player and a cold Rolling Rock in hand. It was at this time that he put on the band’s greatest album, Moving Pictures. I know the hard core RUSH fans may disagree due to this album being the most mainstream one, but the bottom line is that it’s a flawless album. From that moment, I was intrigued. RUSH wasn’t the first rock band I’d gotten in to. By that time I’d already gone through a pretty heavy AC/DC phase as well as KISS and Pink Floyd. So, while they weren’t my first rock band, they were the one that sent me into a genre that I’ve never left. My rock loyalty would never fade again.

My friends and I would spend our high school years with many Choina family garage hangouts and Hobbs QFM 96 Memorial Day 500 countdown bonfires jamming to our favorite bands, including RUSH. Most kids our age were not listening to the same music that we were. My high school wardrobe consisted of Maiden, Zeppelin, Floyd, and AC/DC band tees before it became a fashion statement (sadly, depending on who you ask, my wardrobe remains the same in my thirties!) A lot of our classmates probably thought we were weird with our shirts and CD’s of bands from fifteen to twenty years before we were even born. We didn’t care, however, and just continued to dive deeper and deeper into the world of rock music.

Our first opportunity to witness RUSH came on June 2, 2004. Freshly graduated from high school, my buddy Nick scored four box seats to see the band at Germain Amphitheater (RIP) in Columbus. RUSH was in town on their R30 Tour celebrating their 30 years of rock & roll magic. That night was the first time I’d seen a band that plays with such bad-assery that they had to split the gig into two performances. Of the five times that I saw them, there was never an opening act. Just a mind blowing evening with RUSH. They played thirty two songs. For starters, nobody does that. Secondly, those who do, aren’t playing stuff as technically advanced as RUSH. That night ended with my favorite “hit” of theirs; “Limelight“. A song that was near and dear to my group of friends, The Random White Guys. I know, I know. To that point, that was the biggest and most electric crowd I’d ever seen.

Days later, I would meet the girl I’d eventually marry. She overheard me bragging about the RUSH show I’d just seen. She entered the conversation claiming that she loved the band. As kind of a dork, I was highly skeptical of this hot chick stating to like a band that girls traditionally despised. She put me in my place. As she still does from time to time to this day.

I rode the momentum of that first show all the way to September 2, 2007. The band returned to Germain Amphitheater (seriously, RIP) in support of their new record, Snakes and Arrows.  Most of the bands that I’m into stopped making good music thirty years ago. RUSH was one of the few exceptions that continued to make great albums until they stopped. Not only did Nick and I go to this show, but I made sure that my wife, Old Man, brother and brother in law tagged along as well. We packed the six of us into the truck and made the trek down I-71 to that venue for the last time. Less than a month later Germain Amphitheater would close its doors. RUSH was our last gig there. Some of my favorite RUSH live moments came that night. While the last show ended with “Limelight“, this show began with it. They followed that with the deep cut, “Digital Man“. This event sent the aforementioned Nick into a reaction unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I guess you had to be there.

The Old Man’s high school classmate, Mike, who happens to be a huge RUSH fan found us on the lawn just in time for my favorite obscure track, “Witch Hunt“. He knew the song was being played and wanted to enjoy it with us. Solid move, my friend. I include all of these people in this story, because they were part of my RUSH journey and I know they are in some way feeling something with the news of Peart’s passing. “Working Them Angels“, from the new record would wind up being my favorite song of the night for its relevance to the world in 2007, regardless of your political leanings. That evening ended my run of joy at Germain Amphitheater. The type of venue that Columbus still sorely misses to this day.

It would be another three years before Nick and I would get our third chance to see the band. August 29, 2010 was going to be an epic evening with RUSH though when they came to Nationwide Arena in downtown Columbus. They were touring on somewhat of a “greatest hits” type of concept and were playing Moving Pictures in it’s entirety. We went down to the arena district early and stopped in a pub for a few beers. In my excitement for this tour, I definitely looked up the set list in advance and kept a little secret from Nick for this gig. When they played “Presto“, another one of his obscure favorites, it set off another reaction from him that definitely rivaled his “Digital Man” celebration from the previous tour. The tour did, however, feature a pair of new songs for a future album and the first of those was my favorite of the night. The song was titled “BU2B“, meaning brought up to believe. By this point in my musical journey, I was well into my discovery of metal. “BU2B” was about as metal as RUSH would get and they did it well.

Nick and I enjoyed the gig so much that he would see it again in Toledo. When it was announced that the Cleveland date was going to be the show that would be used for making the live album and DVD of the tour, we knew that we simply had to be there. So, on April 15, 2011 we headed north on I-71 for the first time to go see the trio from Canada. Cleveland was electric. The Indians were in town for a home game against the Baltimore Orioles at the same time as the concert across the street in the former Quickens Loans Arena. As we had already seen the tour, and in Nick’s case twice, I felt we were really able to soak in the Cleveland show more than any RUSH show we ever saw together and really just enjoy it. And enjoy it we did. The “2112” stuff was my favorite that night because of the crowd’s energy, but as usual the whole show was phenomenal. This was also the night that we learned that Clevelanders pronounce Cuyahoga County as “kee-a-hoga” when Nick was pulled over for speeding on the way home. Who knew?

Two of the 20,000 or so screaming fans in this video were my friend and I.

About a year and half later the band returned to Columbus for what would be my final time seeing them. Again at Nationwide Arena, and again with Nick, we watched them for the final time as they toured in support of their new, stellar album: Clockwork Angels. September 20, 2012. I really loved the new album, and the new music was phenomenal that night. But I remember wondering what the future of RUSH might be. They were approaching forty years of being a band and it was no secret that the physical toll that Peart’s drumming was taking on him. At that time, though, talks of it being the end were just rumors, but it was a conversation that Nick and I had had about the future of the band. For that reason, Peart’s drum solo (something that blew me away every time I saw them), was something that I really soaked in and enjoyed more than my prior RUSH shows. It was the first time that retirement whispers really started to pick up steam and I wanted to enjoy it. He didn’t disappoint.

The band would only return one more time. In 2015, they toured on R40 a celebration of 40 years of rock that actually occurred in their 41st year as a band. They made one more Columbus visit to Nationwide Arena. Regretfully, for reasons I don’t remember, neither Nick or I made that show. I wish I had. That would end up being the group’s last tour.

While we all knew that that tour was the end of RUSH as a touring band, as Peart made very clear, I think most of us held out hope that there may have still been the occasional one-off show or new music release. It simply wasn’t meant to be. As disappointing as that is, I’ve been reflecting with enthusiasm on the joy that that music has brought and continues to bring to me. I put the “A Farewell to Kings” album on my record player last night as and ode to and a giant thank you for the music that Peart and his bandmates brought to me and the tens of millions of RUSH fans around the world. They were simply the best.

Thank you, gentlemen.