Skid Row/Black Star Riders

May 13, 2014
DNA Lounge, San Francisco, CA

By Dan Wall

Car Pool, gas money, and photo: Ace Collins

Skid Row Set List:
Let’s Go, Big Guns, Makin’ a Mess, Piece of Me, 18 and Life, Thick Is the Skin, In a Darkened Room, Kings of Destruction, Psycho Therapy, I Remember You, Riot Act, Monkey Business, Slave to the Grind, Youth Gone Wild. 80 minutes.

Black Star Riders Set List:
All Hell Breaks Loose, Are You Ready, Bloodshot, Bad Reputation, Hoodoo Voodoo, Jailbreak, Kingdom of the Lost, Rosalie, Hey Judas, Emerald, Bound For Glory, Cowboy Song, The Boys Are Back in Town. 65 minutes.

Dan: Skid Row is still touring without vocalist Sebastian Bach. The Black Star Riders is also known as Thin Lizzy, but without vocalist / bassist Phil Lynott. These are the realities (marketing difficulties) facing each of these bands in 2014.

The quandary-Skid Row wants nothing to do with Bach, and hasn’t since he was let go after a disagreement in 1996. The Black Star Riders would give anything to have Phil Lynott back, but that’s not going to happen as he passed away in 1986.

(Coincidentally, Phil Lynott once fronted a band called Skid Row back in Dublin, Ireland, with future Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore before forming Lizzy.)

Ace: Good knowledge there, Danny….

Dan: And therein lies the big difference between these two bands, which are currently touring together and played in San Francisco, CA on May 13-Bach has made overtures many times about returning to his former group and has been rebuffed, with longtime bassist and band leader Rachel Bolan usually leading the charge against that concept. Bach’s huge, unique voice is only dwarfed by his huge ego, so it’s not hard to imagine why his old buds carry on with another singer after reading about Bach’s many shenanigans and seeing his act on reality television.

Bach’s replacement of 14 years, Johnny Solinger, is a decent singer and a heckuva nice guy to boot, but he does not have that extra highway gear, that “Voice from the gods” that Bach possesses. Occasionally, he will channel Bach; unfortunately, he channels Diamond Dave, too. So when the band attempts to do something live, like “In a Darkened Room,” a Bach tour-de-force from the “Slave to the Grind” record,” it usually falls flat. When the quintet sticks to the rockers and the big hits like “Youth Gone Wild,” the sound is much closer to the band’s heyday.

Bassist Bolan and guitarists Dave “Snake” Sabo and Scotti Hill are still around from that heyday, along with drummer Rob Hammersmith, and these guys have lost absolutely nothing musically. Aside from the rather lame, impromptu dual guitar solo that elongated “Monkey Business” from reasonable to bathroom break, the band rolled out the hits with ease. But I think everyone in the business knows that nothing will get Skid Row out of these small clubs and back on big stages unless they give in and let Bach back in the band. I actually like a lot of the material the band has produced over the last 10 years, but let’s face it, I’m in the minority.

Ace: I agree, good energy, great song selection, and Solinger makes this act continue to be viable, but the alternating solos were a definite throwaway. If you’re gunna play late on a weeknight, don’t waste my time with a section of music titled ‘Who wants to go first?’ on the set list… Unless, of course, you announce to the crowd that you have a nightly unrehearsed section of music that is just long enough to get in the beer line. Now, if you are a ‘gear nut’ like some of the males that come to these small club shows, you took advantage of the people leaving during the solos for the bathroom by stepping right up to the stage… although there wasn’t much to see. Snake came, and went, holding the same axe all night, a Trans-red ESP LTD 327, a 27 fret shred machine with a humbucker and a single coil sized Duncan Hot Rails stacked humbucker, with a Floyd and a D-Tuna…his tone was pumped out of a Peavey 6505+ stack… Scotti Hill plays a guitar that looks like it was made from scrap after a home-flooring project…. but he makes it scream… he was also shreddin’ thru a Peavey 6505+ stack… There’s something to be said for only needing one axe all night, and leaving your expensive gear at home… Now, the Black Star Riders played just before Skid Row, and had some axes that were worth getting’ up close to see…

Dan: As opposed to Bach and Skid Row debating going down memory lane, the Black Star Riders would love to still be Thin Lizzy with most of the original band still active, but death has not only taken Lynott but also guitarist Gary Moore. So Scott Gorham soldiers on with a tribute to his old band… but with one twist-he was smart enough to rename the band when the group decided to release new material. Not many were bothered with the Thin Lizzy tag when alumni Brian Downey and Darren Wharton were in the group with Gorham, but no one wanted a new Thin Lizzy record without Lynott.

So, the new music sounds like Lizzy, but with a modern twist that makes the new sound just slightly different to notice. The all-star cast around Gorham, which features vocalist/guitarist Ricky Warwick (former leader of The Almighty, one of the best bands you’ve never heard of), bassist Marco Mendoza (former Whitesnake, Ted Nugent), guitarist Damon Johnson (former Brother Cane, Alice Cooper) and drummer Jimmy DeGrasso (former Y & T, Megadeth), is a super group that can rip and tear the new stuff and the Lizzy classics as well anyone you might think of.

And onstage, this new Lizzy tone really comes to life, which won’t surprise those of you who remember “Live and Dangerous,” the Lizzy live album that has often been called one of the greatest live recordings of all time. Gorham and Johnson play the old double-lead guitar stuff just as well as Gorham did with his many partners, including Moore, Brain Robertson and John Sykes. Mendoza and DeGrasso are rock solid, and Warwick sounds just enough like Lynott to make this sound valid, but not so much that it sounds imitation-cheesy.

Ace:  Not only is Warwick a sold singer with just the right amount of Irish accent for this ensemble, he also played some nice complementary guitar… an acoustic  / electric most of the night, occasionally grabbing a walnut Gibson SG with P-90s to spank out some crunch. Marco Mendoza held down the bottom end with a couple of ESP basses and an 8x10 Hartke stack. Scott Gorham is travelling with his favorite axe, a deep red Tiger burst flame maple Axcess chambered Les Paul with a vibrato, plugged in to a pair of ENGL amps thru a 1960B Marshall cab…  Damon Johnson was sporting his mid-’90s 1960 reissue Les Paul, a beautiful honeyburst / flametop pumped thru a couple of Wizard heads- a Vintage Classic and Modern Classic run together- plus a 4x12 cab.

Jeb (editor): Sorry to interrupt…. Where’s my interview, Dan???

Dan: Jeb, I had a chance to talk to Mendoza by phone earlier in the evening while he was at his hotel. Currently working with BSR and in the studio on Neal Schon’s new album, the veteran bassist and road warrior was asked why he (and the band) still does this, year after year. “I’m a fan of music,” Mendoza said. “I not only love the old classics, like Purple and Zeppelin, but a lot of the new bands, too. And I have to keep working. It helps me stay sober.”

Marco and I chit-chatted during the Skid Row solo as he was grabbing a taxi to go back to the hotel. Mendoza said the band will tour this summer in Europe before returning to the studio to record album number two this fall. That record, due in spring 2015, should keep this band on the road and in the public for the better part of next year. When I met Gorham, all I could do was smile, make small talk… and get a ‘selfie’… no shame.