Date: February 11, 2012
Once Upon A Concert Night…
The strains and echoes of this concert, all the sights and sounds, are still ringing and dancing in my head three months later and that’s saying something, given the massive doses of music I listen to in order to feed my addiction. But, this concert left quite an impression on me, it was larger than life, it sunk its teeth into me, it has a life of its own, and, so, I feel compelled to do a write-up even though it’s no longer topical. Hands down the best I have ever seen Lukas and Stars Down live. Freaking awesome guitar, bass and drumming. Damn near blew my mind how good a show this was! Stars Down literally tore the roof off the place with a sound that must’ve peeled the paint off the walls (it was too dark to check)! I have never seen them that good. The band was in a heckuva zone, musically and vocally. Seriously – and I do mean seriously – put those two opening acts to shame! Looking back on it, it’s excruciating painful to remember but, yes, there were two opening bands – one of them with a rather appealing heavy sound on occasion but atrocious vocals – that were, thankfully, purged from the collective memory with Lukas and Stars Down’s stunning show. Where, oh where the heck were the industry peeps to see this performance that was totally off the hook?
It was the Saturday after Hallowe’en, barely a week since Lukas Rossi had put out his 3rd full-length album, Prophecy. And he was out there, touring, promoting his newest creation, quite a remarkable CD at that (we reviewed the album here when it was released (click here to read our review)
Lukas Rossi: Musical Chameleon
Most people wouldn’t conceive of Lukas Rossi as being anywhere near metal on the musical spectrum. That’s where they’d be wrong. At least on this night. I made the mistake once of considering Cheap Trick‘s music tame. It is ….if you play it back medium-range on your stereo or iPod but, if you crank it up during a concert to 115-120 decibels, it just rips you to shreds like an airplane reactor. That is still the only concert I have attended where I had my ears buzzing 4 days later and, believe me, I’ve seen some pretty wicked-hard bands in my day.
You see, Mr. Rossi is a musical chameleon. He has a soft side, an acoustic gem that he deploys to great effect with his 7 and half-octave range in solo tours in intimate venues throughout North America (it’s often just him sitting on a stool playing his guitar), sometimes with sparse musical accompaniment, such as a keyboard player (for instance, Canadian keyboardist and vocalist Lou Dawson who joined him on many of the Love & Lust tours) or a violin player, such as Stefan, hired for the evening (for instance, on a sublime 8+-minute rendition of Leonard Cohen‘s Hallelujah at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, California). The best representation of this intimate bubble is Lukas’ double CD recording of a live concert called Storyteller (2010). Just Lukas singing at the piano. Magic.
But, then, there is the dark side of Lukas Rossi, the one where he brings out the monsters, unleashes the beast, often gets lost in a hypnotic-like trance where all sound and movement become organic and he invites us to join him and the band in a cathartic ritual on stage to purge our own demons in his exercise of musical exorcism. To accomplish this total Jeckyl & Hyde feat, he assumes another identity, an incarnation of sorts with a full band called Stars Down. The line-up changes constantly but one thing is certain: by the time the band hits the stage, they are a tight-knit group that look and sound like they have been playing together forever and feed off each other with the ferocious lust of vampires because they have been practising their asses off to get the sound just right. And Mr. Rossi is a perfectionist when it comes to his craft and what it sounds like, especially live. He treats pre-concert rehearsal time like the preliminaries to full-blown battle. He can wrench acoustics out of the worse dive or cavernous venue you can imagine. Most artists just resign themselves to the notion that cement walls and low ceilings are just going to reverberate and warp their sound live, make it sound fuzzy, which can be cool… if that’s the effect you intended. But when you write, play and produce your own music, I guess, by nature, you are compelled to think that way, about every inflection, every tone, every nuance. You live it, you breathe it, you dream the melodies and hooks and lyrics up in your head before you ever play a note. To date, Lukas Rossi is the only artist I know of who not only strips down the sound of a few of his songs to create an acoustic version, like many artists today do since the concept of Unplugged took off, but unleashes an entire arsenal of the same songs, and I mean of all his songs, in wild, screaming, animalistic renditions of the soulful, watered-down and introspective versions. It is as if his whole repertoire existed, or rather co-existed, as alter egos in parallel universes, so radically different that they only knew of each other’s existence when their dual personalities are reunited for a short period of time. In point of fact, Lukas Rossi released his first full-length album Hollywood (which FringeMusic reviewed) in both a ‘regular’ and a ‘stripped-down’ version. Yes, that’s the full album! But, this contrast in styles that inhabits Mr. Rossi is truly apparent live, when he experiences a psychotic break and transforms his own – and other artists’ – songs into a heavy or a soft version you could never have conceived of in your own head. Now, that’s artistry and wizardry! He must hear voices and sounds we don’t. Call that the intricate method to his madness.
A Night At The Headbangers’ Ball
Pardon the parenthesis. Now, back to the concert. I will not get into the specifics except to say: 2 hours of pure, unadulterated energy and musical bliss that I will dub A Night at The Headbangers’ Ball. Just imagine ‘soft’ classics like I Love Myself Today, Hollywood and, yes, even Headspin (as an encore) given the harsh treatment – ‘Lukified’ – and turned into seriously sizzling hard-rocking songs bordering on metal. The whole new album sounds amazing live, especially Caves, Dead Man Walking, The Only One and Prophecy. The band also played Lonely Boulevard from the Seed EP and covered Alice in Chains‘ Rooster. Insanely good! The set was near perfect in my eyes and particularly to my ears: the only other tracks I would have thrown into the mix personally, assuming I may even presume to tweak breathtaking and headbanging heaven, would have been Revolver and Police. Then, I’d still be raving about this concert 6 months from now! I can tell you: I sure as heck wish there were a recording of this show! It would be a bootleg that would make believers out of the most blasé and jaded of music critics.
Oh and Billy Idol has nothing on Lukas Rossi when it comes to facial expressions! Mr. Rossi has a new stage gimmick: besides sticking out his tongue on occasion when seeking to squeeze that perfect note out of his guitar and making these incredible contorted faces when pounding out his musical punishment, a few times he flipped his eyes back so all you could see were the balls of the eyes accentuated by guyliner. Very impressive trick. Looks like someone having an epileptic seizure on stage without the customary flailing of the arms. That would come later. Indeed, Lukas now does this twitching, jerky, ripping motion on his guitar that looks like he’s tearing the strings right off! What a showman! The voice was in rare form, I must say. A huge shout out to the drummer and bass player backing up Lukas. Gustin Flaig and Jody were phenomenal.. A very tight band that, at times, lifted off into flights of fantasy, a musical feeding frenzy, taking everyone on a ride to wherever the music wanted to go. This, I saw before when Lukas ended a concert in Toronto a couple of years back jamming with the band Ours, two full bands – about 12 people – on stage, for a riveting 18+-minute piece that had shades of The Doors’ most intense performances.
And who says rock ‘n roll ain’t a phallic art? At the end of the concert, Lukas placed his Fender Stratocaster upside down with the two points resting on the middle of his thighs, and played his ‘instrument’ facing upside down, all the while jerking it upwards to the ceiling, fingers running along the fretboard underside well like… Just to deliver a few extra strains … of joy? :) Cheeky boy! If this concert was your introduction to Mr. Rossi live, if you were, so to speak, going to lose your Lukas musical virginity, I can’t think of a better concert to do so. Impressed the hell out of me and I’ve been around the block a few times.
When the whole affair broke up, in the dark, poorly-lit streets of Oshawa at 2 a.m., a breath of fresh air was welcome but most who witnessed the show were basking in the warmth of a musical cocoon, oblivious to the biting cold, still buzzed from the most amazing show. Oh.. and, by the way, Lukas plays a mean-ass guitar. Just sayin’. He has nurtured his talent and become quite the virtuoso axeman over the years. Some of the guitar feats he was performing that night were legendary. Even Jody the bass player extraordinaire looked slightly aghast at his talent as lead guitar.
I lead a double life …consummate professional by day, headbanger by night. I’m already on the prowl for my next fix. It will have to be something really special to beat the imprint this concert left on me. Top 5 material all-time in my concert book. And that includes some very accomplished, prestigious, world-renowned acts. From one Maestro (on paper) to another: Bravo, Maestro Rossi!