NOTE: I apologize for the poor quality of the photos. You can’t exactly bring a professional camera into a casino, less they think you’re taking photos so you can make plans to rob the place. So, I had to make due with the camera on my Kindle, which isn’t very good and is especially poor with concert lighting.
Last Friday night on November 6, 2015, I caught Skid Row at The Wolf Den in Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut. Like all shows in The Wolf Den, admission was free on a first come, first served basis. With most of the shows I’ve attended by non-metal/hard rock artists at The Wolf Den, people start lining up an hour before the show and everybody in line always gets in. Even when the artists are contemporary and really popular like Nicole Atkins or Kat Edmonson. Hell, I saw the late Davy Jones there and the line only started an hour and a half before the show (if memory serves me correctly). But when it comes to heavy metal, the fans are hardcore. As was the case when it reigned in the late ’80’s and early ’90’s, it’s a love it or hate it type of music. And those who love it, really, really love it. They’re as dedicated as a fan base can be. So, it was no surprise when people started lining up for Skid Row around 3PM Friday, which is pretty remarkable when you consider that the show wasn’t until 8PM.
I always recognize many of the faces in line. The regulars, like me, who are at most of or all of the rock shows at The Wolf Den. And it’s not just because the shows are free. Most of us would rather pay 25 dollars and have an assigned seat and not have to worry about standing in line. But being in that line isn’t the worst thing in the world. You’re among friends, who share a deep interest in something you’re also invested in. Many people have made friends while waiting in line for shows at The Wolf Den. What baffles me about a lot of these fans is that they aren’t interested in hearing any new music from these bands. They just want to hear the hits from when they were growing up. I enjoy hearing the hits, too, but I’m among the fans who continue to buy albums released by these bands, so I tend to wind up in awkward conversations with people who are there solely for nostalgia’s sake. But, hey, at least they’re there, supporting the artists and having a good time. So, I digress.
Skid Row kicked off their set right on time, opening with an energetic, heavy as hell rendition of the title track of their second album, “Slave To The Grind,” which they’ve apparently been opening with since the first time I saw them with Johnny Solinger on vocals in 2003. Solinger was their second singer, following Sebastian Bach, who ultimately proved to have LSD — lead singer disease. Or so the rumors go. Solinger wound up being the band’s singer even longer than Bach was. (He joined the band in 1999 and remained their singer until earlier this year.) But that era has ended and a new one has begun with legendary metal vocalist Tony Harnell now at the helm.
As a longtime fan of Tony’s bands — especially TNT, Westworld and Starbreaker — I knew Tony would sing the hell out of Skid Row’s songs and he certainly did not disappoint, hitting all the high notes as the band barreled through the classic “Big Guns” from their debut album and “Let’s Go” from their United World Rebellion Chapter One EP. “Let’s Go” was the first Solinger-era song they did and I was a bit surprised, having thought they would just go back to doing Bach-era music exclusively with Solinger out of the picture. But it was a pleasant surprise and Tony’s vocals really shined on it. And, of course, it only made sense that the core guys who’ve been in the band since day one — Dave “The Snake” Sabo, Scotti Hill, and Rachel Bolan — would want to continue playing the music they made during the past several years.
The set continued with “Piece of Me” and “18 and Life,” two classic Skid Row singles and staples at all of their shows. While all of the band’s songs tend to have high notes to be hit, “18 and Life” is an especially challenging song to sing — trust me, I’ve attempted it at karaoke — but Tony actually took it to new heights, going even higher and holding the notes longer. I’d already heard him sing it, as they’ve been giving away a free download of a new recording with Tony on vocals, but his live performance was even more impressive than the studio version.
Everyone was firing on all cylinders throughout the show, killing it as they did “Give it the Gun” and “Riot Act” before slowing things down for the ballad “In A Darkened Room,” which Tony sang better than any of the band’s previous singers. Nothing against those guys, mind you. But Tony poured so much emotion into that one, it was as if he’d personally survived the horrors the song details. And he hit the high notes so impressively that I thought my wine glass was going to shatter, which could very well have happened as Tony is one of those rare singers who can actually break glass with their voice.
As for the rest of the band, Snake and Scotti are one of the genre’s best guitar duos, each having a slightly different style but the blend of the two is just magical. And they’re both lead guitarists, really, as they both provided lead guitar parts and solos throughout the night. They also looked like two of the happiest guys in the business, Snake especially, constantly smiling at the audience. It was nice to see because some of these bands just continue to play so they don’t have to take on day jobs and really aren’t up there enjoying it. Everyone in Skid Row was enjoying the hell out of it.
Aside from rivaling Nikki Sixx with his bass playing skills, Rachel Bolan sang lead on a totally punked out cover of The Ramones’ “Psycho Therapy” after “Thick is the Skin” and “Makin’ A Mess” had people fist-pumping along. Meanwhile, drummer Rob Hammersmith was a force to be reckoned with all night, playing those drums like they were an enemy he was assaulting. In other words, he hit them with more power than the Energizer Bunny and then some. The speed at which he played during the faster songs was equally impressive. But, of course, he was going to kick some serious ass, as he’s been in the band for five years now and has had lots of practice accordingly.
When we were done getting “Psycho Therapy,” the acoustic guitar came out and that could only mean one thing, the band was going to do their mega-hit “I Remember You,” which is easily one of the best metal ballads of all-time. And they played it with so much passion one longed for the glory days when everyone held up a lighter instead of trying to record things for Youtube. Once again, Tony hit all the notes, his voice soaring impressively.
Next was my favorite Solinger-era song, “Ghost,” which was more of an alt-rock song than a heavy metal song, which might have confused some fans who hadn’t kept up with the band over the years, but I was thrilled to hear it. Tony especially put his own spin on it, too. Of all the evening’s songs, it was the one where you felt a bit less like you were hearing Skid Row and more like you were hearing the Tony Harnell of TNT fame.
The ultra-heavy “Monkey Business” came next and the band knocked it out of the park. A home run for sure and one that had damn near everyone in the house singing — no, screaming — along. And it was no wonder why the band saved it for last — it required so much energy, it wouldn’t be humanly possible to play anything else after that.
But wait! They returned for an encore. The one major Skid Row hit they hadn’t played yet. The one that put the band on the map. “Youth Gone Wild”! Lots of fist-pumping and head banging took place during that one. Plus, everyone was singing along, even the wimps who weren’t singing along to “Monkey Business.”
Ultimately, it was one hell of a night and there wasn’t a single area where the band slacked. I’ve seen bands that play their songs lazily or screw up the tempo and make other mistakes because they don’t care about their own music now, but Skid Row remain one of the most positive and vibrant bands in the business and the line is sure to start forming five hours before the show the next time they hit Mohegan, which they’ve been doing once a year for six years now.