notes from the coast: Michael Monroe. 10.20.11

Hanoi Rocks. Most know them only as the band whose drummer was “the guy Vince Neil killed” in his 1985 vehicular manslaughter case. But Hanoi Rocks were far from nobodies. This was a band on their way to stardom when tragedy struck down drummer Razzle and ultimately doomed the band to the annals of the tragically overlooked and under appreciated. Hanoi Rocks preceded the whole glam movement by 4 or 5 years, and their wild looks held a lot of influence over the genres biggest bands, but Hanoi‘s unique sound and style really set them apart from the pack. Their roots were based more on punk rock and blues, taking as much influence from late 70’s punk bands like the UK Subs, The Dead Boys, and New York Dolls as much as Bowie, T-Rex and other “glam” rockers of that era. And even though they never reached superstar status, one thing that couldn’t be denied was the talent the group possessed, starting with the legendary frontman Michael Monroe.

When talking about the best rock n roll frontmen of the last 30 years, Michael Monroe should’ve been as big, or bigger than peers like Vince Neil, Sebastian Bach, Axl Rose, etc…, Even though all went on to have bigger careers, Michael was just as talented and is still as revered a rock frontman as there’s been. His stage presence, musical and songwriting ability make him one of the greats and those same frontmen, among many others, have all sung Michael‘s praises over the years. Even metal heavyweights like Lemmy, who recently took the Michael Monroe band out on tour as supporting band for the immortal Motörhead, have nothing but the highest praise for this frontman, which certainly speaks volumes about his contributions and respect in the rock n roll world.

Over the years he’s continued rockin’ away without care for the spotlight or the glory and for those of us lucky enough to know just how great he is, he’s always delivered the goods. Thursday night was my first time ever seeing him in action and I was excited to see one of my favorite rock singers perform. But even though I love his music and his latest album Sensory Overdrive is fantastic, it’s never safe to assume that aging rockers can continue to show the form of their youth, particularly at his age, so I came in to the show tempering my expectations.

The two bands I caught before the main set only get a mention because I did see them and, well, that’s it. Sometimes it takes watching some really crappy bands to make you fully appreciate really talented singers like Michael. And tonight, that band was the Trophy Wives. A typical glam rock band with a horrible singer who was out of tune on every song and not engaging at all. It just goes to show you why a majority of bands never make it huge and really makes you appreciate the great ones that much more. I don’t even know the name of the band that came on after them, but they played an uninspired blend of new wave/modern punk that was at the most, better than the Trophy Wives. All I cared about at this point was downing some beers to dull the pain of the openers and getting to the main attraction.

After a long delay, with anticipation boiling over, Michael and the band finally came out to thunderous applause. For a guy who’s been in the biz for over 30 years, he looked great and was extremely fired up to be in front of this packed Whisky audience. Strapped with his trusty sax and harmonica, he greeted the riled up audience and dove into brand new rocker Trick of the Wrist. Before giving the audience a chance to breathe the band ripped into two more new tunes Got Blood? and Modern Day Miracle. Swedish rock guitar hero Dregen, who co-founded the fantastic Backyard Babies and The Hellacopters, and Steve Conte, fresh off a stint as lead guitarist for the New York Dolls, comprised Monroe‘s twin guitar attack, concocting a lethal one-two punch. Their raw, electric riffs perfectly complemented Michael‘s snarling, in-your-face intensity and gave the songs a heaviness that even surpassed the lp versions. The first of many surprises came when Monroe asked if we all wanted to go Motorvatin, an old Hanoi Rocks song that had the crowd going apeshit. I couldn’t help but get a little misty eyed seeing ex-Hanoi bassist Sam Yaffa laying down the thunder next to Michael as they played together. With the crowd absolutely pumped, the next surprise came as the band launched into Hammersmith Palais, a song from fantastic sideband Demolition 23, which Michael had formed with Yaffa post-Hanoi Rocks. Hearing obscure songs like Nothing’s Alright and Disfunctional was a huge thrill for me as it was a brilliant album that I never expected to ever hear done live.

The title track from Michael‘s biggest solo album Not Fakin It got a huge response and got the fans up front and in the crowd chanting along to the chorus as he ran from one side of the stage to the other, venturing out into the crowd and getting to know each of his fans very intimately. But my favorite part of the night came when the oh so familiar strains of Hanoi classic Back to the Mystery City rang out. It got everyone going crazy and jumping around but the euphoria didn’t stop there as the band rolled right into Malibu Beach, yet another Hanoi classic that was a total thrill seeing live. Without missing a beat, Michael brought the house down with his biggest hit ever, Dead, Jail or Rock n Roll, a perfect close to an electrifying set that had the sweaty bodies savouring every last riff the band had to give.

With the whole crowd screaming for more and the band itching to please, they came back out with the Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers classic, I Wanna Be Loved. This brought the crowd back to their feet and got the juices pumping once again. Steve Conte, who already has a pedigree covering classic Thunders riffs, wailed away giving the tune a gritty edge that would’ve made the fallen hero proud. The biggest surprise of the night came when none other than Sebastian Bach of Skid Row fame came out to help sing a rousing rendition of another classic Hanoi Rocks song, an ode to Robert DeNiro‘s classic nuthouse character Travis Bickle called Taxi Driver. He looked a bit weathered but sounded great, and at this point the crowd was on overload, and even I was screaming the lyrics to the Hanoi classic with vigour. The band closed down the thunderous set with rock n roll staple I Feel Alright in excellent fashion with both band and audience spent from almost 20 straight rockers. One of the best parts about this show was that there were no ballads or cheesy radio songs performed to appease the masses, this night was about the pure spirit of rock n roll, plain and simple, and Michael Monroe delivered in spades. A stunning performance from a truly class act.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen a truly great rock n roll show like this one. This was the kind of show that resonates with you long past its relevance. At my purest essence, I am a rock n roll fan and consider this one of the truly great performers I’ve witnessed, and I’ve seen a lot great singers from the modern era deliver in their prime, Axl Rose (pre-rock star bullshit), Vince Neil, Phil Lewis, Ian Astbury, etc…, and Michael Monroe stands up right next to them all. He still looks and sounds fantastic, is full of energy and passion, and rocks harder than any of those guys. In fact these days he’s running rings around all of them, despite being at it longer, as most of those guys don’t have the stamina or range they once did. I guess in a way, he’s now receiving his just due and getting the last laugh on all of them. He still embodies the rock n roll spirit and you can feel it oozing out his pores and into his music. By far one of the best performances I’ve seen this year, metal, rock, whatever. Aging gracefully and still rocking with a passion of a twenty something, he’s a true professional and will always be regarded by me as one of the truly greats. Catch him if you can.

Trick of the Wrist
Got Blood?
Modern Day Miracle
Hammersmith Palais
Nothin’s Alright
Not Faking It
Superpowered Superfly
Bombs Away
Back To Mystery City
Malibu Beach Nightmare
Dead, Jail or Rock ‘n’ Roll

I Want to be Loved
Taxi Driver
Fallen Star
I Feel Alright