As I've written many times, rock n' roll is at its best when it works a crowd into a frenzy and is completely unpredictable. In that regard, last night's Sebastian Bach show at the Cubby Bear was a throwback.
I say that because in today's rock world where everything is safe, bland, corporately sponsored and completely homogenized... well this show was none of those things.
One thing it was, however, was indeed unpredictable.
The most unpredictable shows that I saw in 2011 (Jane's Addiction and Guns N' Roses amongst others) succeeded despite being well scripted and rehearsed because of the mercurial nature of their frontmen.
And Sebastian Bach is the classic frontman. He's got the look, he's got the swagger, he can certainly still sing and most importantly, you literally have no clue what the hell is he going to say or do next.
For example, he stopped the set four times in the first five songs.
During the evening's opener "Slave to the Grind," he stopped the song and ran off stage. Later we found out it was because his pants were falling down ("Chicago, that was NOT the entrance I planned on making tonight!").
"Here I Am" was stopped after Sebastian said he saw a male fan beating up a female fan. That less than classy concertgoer was escorted from the premises and the song was restarted, though guitarist Nick Sterling looked downright frightened as Bach launched into his patented mic swing nearly decapitating anyone within in a ten foot radius.
"Big Guns" turned out to be quite interesting. Sebastian stopped it once to try and get the crowd a bit more into it and again when he saw another fight from the stage. "Why do you guys always fight? This is supposed to be fun!" said Bach. Once the song was restarted, a female concertgoer graced the stage to flash the crowd a look at her own... ahem... big guns.
It's clear that as a performer, Sebastian Bach feeds off of the crowd's energy. Having toured in support of his last solo album primarily as the opener for a massive Guns N' Roses world tour, this tour puts him back in smaller venues and closer to the crowd. This audience was drunk, surly and ready to rock and responded enthusiastically each time Bach asked them for just a little more.
One thing I'm not sure rock fans fully fathom though is just how great Sebastian Bach's voice is.
97.9 The Loop's Byrd was the evening's emcee and he asked the crowd rhetorically during his intro if Sebastian Bach is the greatest metal singer of all-time? And while an admittedly lofty question to ask, it also isn't exactly farfetched. In no particular order, for me, that list includes names like Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, Judas Priest's Rob Halford, Ronnie James Dio and Sebastian Bach (with guys like Robert Plant, Freddy Mercury, Roger Daltrey, Klaus Meine, Layne Staley and Axl Rose more on the rock side to me than metal).
The best singers treat their voice as an instrument and from what I've heard, Sebastian's pre-show preparations are intense. And yes, while Sebastian can scream, squeal and grunt with the best of them, he can also sing. He's done it with Skid Row, he's done it on Broadway and he's doing it now solo. And even though I expected it going in, I remain nevertheless thoroughly impressed by the range and depth of that voice. At 43, it has not even remotely lost a step and truly is Sebastian's instrument.
Bach is touring in support of 2011's Kicking and Screaming and that material was amongst the evening's finest. The album rocks because the songs are strong. Without making a concerted effort to do it, the album sounds timely with the elements of rock, metal, and even pop (there are multiple ballads) that one has come to expect from Sebastian Bach. It doesn't seem forced and definitely isn't an album of eighties retreads that are at times all too common from his peers.
The album's title track came second in the evening and saw Bach at his most animated. One of the new album's strongest tracks, it was delivered quite capably by Bach's tight four-piece band (Nick Sterling and Johnny Chromatic on guitar, Bobby Jarzombek on drums and Rob DeLuca on bass).
My favorite live moment of the evening was actually from Bach's 2007 solo album Angel Down. "Stuck Inside" (which on the album also features vocals from Axl Rose) was one of the set's best and heaviest of the night.
But the Skid Row material got the best crowd reaction as hits like "18 and Life" still sound great. The crowd went thoroughly ballistic for 1991's "Monkey Business" and one crazed audience member did her best to accost Bach, running onto the stage during the evening's closer "Youth Gone Wild" (I'm always impressed when these guys manage to continue the song without skipping a beat as scenes like that play out).
I never knew that Bach had several connections to Chicago. Believe it or not, as Sebastian informed the crowd, Skid Row's self-titled debut was recorded not terribly far away amidst the very un-rock trappings of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and the band eventually filmed the video for "Monkey Business" in Chicago. Bach's twenty-one year old guitarist Nick Sterling also recorded his first album Ten here when he was in fact only ten years old.
When all was said and done Wednesday night at the Cubby Bear, Bach had one last request for the packed and sweaty crowd: to join him at the merchandise table for a well-deserved drink.
*** Photo above by Clay Patrick McBride
- "Slave to the Grind"
- "Kicking and Screaming"
- "Dirty Power"
- "Here I Am"
- "Big Guns"
- "(Love is) A Bitchslap"
- "Stuck Inside"
- "Piece of Me"
- "18 and Life"
- "American Metalhead" (Painmuseum cover)
- "As Long as I Got the Music"
- "Monkey Business"
- "I'm Alive"
- "I Remember You"
- "Youth Gone Wild"