By Mark Gromen
Full disclosure, I consider James Rivera a friend, having seen the "Mexican Dio" front many different incarnations of HELSTAR, dating back to their first concert outside Texas (believe it or not, in Cleveland, Ohio! Still don't understand why they couldn't find a gig a little closer to home), as well as reviewed his live stints with FLOTSAM ANDJETSAM, SEVEN WITCHES, DESTINY'S END, VICIOUS RUMORS, as well as the recreated MALICE album he sang on last year. So it was only natural that when he stopped by the Voltage Lounge, in downtown Philadelphia, with his DENIM AND LEATHER tribute act, BraveWords.com had to be in attendance.
Hats off to the School Of Rock teens who opened the show. Not only did they play the hits: KANSAS, THE DARKNESS, OZZY ('Bark At The Moon' and 'Crazy Train') but dusting off 'The Sails Of Charon' (SCORPIONS)? Hell, their parents might not have been born when that was originally recorded! Speaking of which, the MILFs and Dads left soon after, emptying the house before SEASON OF MOURNING took the stage. The local act debuted five of the nine songs they have slated for Salvation, their next CD, which is tentatively to be mastered by Joey Vera (ARMORED SAINT/FATES WARNING). The slow, heavy 'Crimson Rain' lives in the same arena as MY DYING BRIDE, while the closing 'A Wish, A Prayer' offered atypical growling vocals.
Before going on, Rivera confided in me his vision of franchising the DENIM AND LEATHER concept. While there already exists a Las Vegas based outfit he can fly in and do shows with, the singer hopes to have similar backing bands in Germany, Austria and Slovenia, so he won't have to worry about shipping a band/equipment for overseas dates. Good luck! Unlike most cover bands, the fans treated the performance like a touring act, camped out at the front of the stage, headbanging and singing throughout the night. The selections go beyond the obvious choices, 'Hammerhead' (FLOTSAM & JETSAM), 'Restless & Wild' (ACCEPT) and in between, Rivera added tidbits from his life, like "IN '77, I heard Taken By Force (SCORPIONS album) and made me pick up a microphone," or "As a 17 year kid, I saw JUDAS PRIEST open for BACHMAN TURNER OVERDRIVE." In a spin on the "if it's too loud, you're too old' adage, tonight proved "if you're too young, you've got no idea," as everything did not hit its mark. In the world of flying (to the rainbow) over the head of the crowd, 'Top Of The Bill', with a quick drum solo, had people looking at each other for explanations. MERCHFUL FATE'S 'Curse Of The Pharoahs' received a better fate, as did 'Run With The Pack', which usually ends HELSTAR shows. He called out Bevis & Butthead for ragging on GRIM REAPER, prior to 'See You In Hell' and proclaimed DEF LEPPARD were "fully metal on their first album," leading into 'Wasted'. Of course he had to try DIO, in the form of 'Neon Knights' (BLACK SABBATH) and 'Holy Diver', as well as more standard fare: the aforementioned PRIEST ('Hellbent For Leather' and 'Green Manalishi', IRON MAIDEN 'Running Free' and the concluding SAXON namesake, 'Denim And Leather'. Not for the casual FM classic rock "fan." If they come near your town, check it out. Thoroughly enjoyable!
MINDMAZE, the female fronted progressive act who just issued their Mask Of Lies debut, had the thankless task of performing after DENIM AND LEATHER. They deserve a bigger crowd, as the mix of power metal, with TSO/ Zak Stevens era SAVATAGE is inviting.
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