The 80s Rekindled at Cathouse Live Concert
By Scott Essman
In a way, it was all Led Zeppelinâ€™s doing. Just as the breakup of The Beatles in early 1970 ushered in a burst of bands in various sub-genres which The Beatles had first explored, all trying to fill their void, so did the 1980 breakup of Led Zeppelin provide another opening into which many bands would try to make their own singular mark.
The most obvious heir to the Zeppelin throne was Southern Californiaâ€™s Van Halen. The first band signed off of the Sunset Strip since The Doors in 1966, Van Halen rocketed to stardom with their 1978 debut album, serving as an opening act for everyone from Journey to Black Sabbath, and, by 1980, were international headliners with three top-selling albums. Many comparisons can be drawn between Led Zeppelin and Van Halen. Both four-piece acts featured an innovative flashy guitar player across from an even more flamboyant front man, set against a relentlessly pounding rhythm section. Where Zeppelin were kings of the 1970s, Van Halen were poised to rule the 1980s, but by 1983, their recording career with the four original members came to an end. Again, there was another crack in the musical fray into which many would-be hard rock bands would mount their attack.
Enter the Sunset Strip, phase three. While the Doors shook the Strip in the mid-1960s with their blend of haunting hard rock and mesmerizing psychedelia, and Van Halen ignored punk and prog trends of the mid-1970s during their conquering of clubs including The Starwood and Gazzariâ€™s, another movement sprouted up in the mid-80s. Unfairly deemed â€œHair Metalâ€ by dismissive critics, this new strand of hard rock was notably a combination of the stylish proto-pop of David Bowie-esque early 1970s glam rock and the more overt onslaught of Van Halen, circa the late-1970s. The new form would more affectionately be called â€œGlam Metalâ€ by revisionist journalists such as Sam Dunn in his Metal Evolution research and documentary project which has aired on VH1 Classic.
In fact, at one point in the lavish August 15 festival at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheater assembled by MTVâ€™s Headbangerâ€™s Ball host Riki Rachtman and dubbed Cathouse Live, singer Jaime St. James of the Portland-based 1980s band Black â€˜N Blue exclaimed, â€œThis is the Woodstock of Glam Metal!â€ And true to that moniker, many of the emblematic bands of the mid-80s performed at Cathouse Live, regaling a largely Gen-X audience with their hallmark tunes of the era. Only missing from the proceedings were understandably some of the biggest bands of the movement. While Van Halen has toured the U.S. this summer in concerts of their own, which included their own stop at Irvine Meadows in July, a prototypical 1980s Sunset Strip glam metal band such as Motley Crue is likely still too big of a draw to be enlisted in a festival with 25 total acts. Other than such additional acts as Quiet Riot and Warrant, Cathouse Live featured the most central glam metal bands, each performing a 30-60-minute set.
Two winners of previously held â€œbattle of the bandsâ€ competitions won the opening spots at Cathouse Live: The Aviators, who played on a smaller festival stage, and Swamphammer in the main amphitheater. Beginning shortly after 2pm, temperatures at the Irvine Meadows site bridged 100 degrees, which may have accounted for the approximately 75% of capacity audience in the amphitheater area (the lawn section was closed) with a few hundred others huddled around the festival stage.
Following the new bandsâ€™ kicking off of the day, BulletBoys graced the main stage as the first nostalgia act. Significantly, first Van Halen producer Ted Templeman, who was ostracized from Van Halen when they acquired Sammy Hagar as their new lead singer in 1985, signed BulletBoys and produced their early material in the mid-to-late 1980s, with lead singer Marq Torien emulating much of founding Van Halen singer David Lee Rothâ€™s onstage antics and vocal stylings. Alas, BulletBoys never ascended to the heights of Van Halen â€” perhaps a serious understatement â€” despite some early airplay for hits such as â€œSmooth Up In Yaâ€ which was predictably played at Cathouse Live to the adoration of older fans. Both on record and at Cathouse Live, BulletBoysâ€™ high water mark was a scorching cover of The Oâ€™Jaysâ€™ 1974 classic, â€œFor the Love of Money,â€ creating an entirely new, appropriately vicious meaning to the cynical song, fully separate from the Oâ€™Jays adamant funky soul of its time.
Second band Trixter might be fairly classified as a lower-tier second generation glam metal band, not coming to record until the early 1990s. Nevertheless, their shorter set was well-received by the crowd, most of whom slowly drifted in as the scorching afternoon wore on. Next on the itinerary was the aforementioned Black â€˜N Blue who had debuted with a promising self-titled debut album in 1984 and superior follow-up, Without Love, in 1985, but only lasted two more recordings in the 1980s before calling it quits as a recording act. Without question, in the 2000s, with income from album sales having stalled for many artists, bands such as Trixter, Black â€˜N Blue and others from Cathouse Live have reformed for performing purposes, either on full tours, or at select summer dates.
The next band in the lineup, Autograph, had won the coveted spot on Van Halenâ€™s enormous 1984 tour, hailing from Van Halenâ€™s hometown of Pasadena, California, and were able to then release and promote their debut album, Sign In Please, and single â€œTurn Up the Radio,â€ to modest success that year. Following Autograph were Junkyard, Saigon Kick, and LA Guns, all of whom were notable for mid-1980s albums, the latter of whom were involved in the simultaneous complex history of the Sunset Stripâ€™s anti-glam metal band, Guns â€˜Nâ€™ Roses. Though all were well-received, Florida-based Saigon Kick provided the most distinguished sound, a combination of modern hard rock and almost Beatles-esque homage to 1960s rock artists.
With the sun dying, two bands were de facto warm-up acts for the eveningâ€™s biggest names: Dangerous Toys, whose five Cathouse Live players were all original members of the band, and Faster Pussycat, a â€œraunch â€˜nâ€™ rollâ€ act who might best represent the vibe of the 1980s Strip. Amusingly, Toysâ€™ singer Jason McMaster quipped that his entire career has been founded by one song, the minor early 1990s AOR radio-friendly hit, â€œScared.â€ Prominently among the entire Cathouse Live lineup, Pussycat, and their track â€œBathroom Wall,â€ evoke the spirit of the mid-80s, right down to their glam attire and take-no-prisoners onstage attitude. Where the Rolling Stones where always raunchier than the Beatles, and Aerosmith was more bawdy than Zeppelin, Pussycat expressed more Hollywood debauchery than even Motley Crue and its brethren.
During Pussycatâ€™s set, on the festival stage, Enuff Zâ€™Nuff, a late-1980s entry into the glam metal scene, presented stripped-down versions of their pseudo-pop metal in tracks including â€œFly High Michelleâ€ and â€œNew Thing,â€ plus an upbeat cover of Paul McCartneyâ€™s Wings staple, â€œJet.â€
Without his longtime band Ratt, on the main stage, lead singer Stephen Pearcy expectedly played a healthy dose of Ratt tunes, all of which were from their four full-length 1980s albums, surfacing roughly along with the first releases of Black â€˜N Blue, Quiet Riot, and the next act on the Cathouse Live bill, Dokken. Though lead singer Don Dokken has always been the creative force of the band, other key members, including guitarist George Lynch and bassist Jeff Pilson, have not been officially in the band in nearly 15 years but for a very brief 2009 reunion. However, drummer Mick Brown, from Dokkenâ€™s 1980s heyday, remains with the outfit. Eager to please while Cathouse Live was doused in darkness, Dokken played 40 minutes of their biggest hits, including several from their best album, 1984â€™s Tooth and Nail.
Seemingly ageless, reality show personality and one-time Skid Row lead singer Sebastian Bach, now 47, provided the nightâ€™s most energetic performance. While his signature music might now fall somewhere between irrelevancy and anonymity, Bach more than made up for any lack of vocal and otherwise artistic prowess with a magnetic onstage presence which rallied the audience for the final third of the event. He was immediately â€“ quite literally â€“ followed by Tom Keifer, former lead singer and songwriter from Cinderella, as a revolving stage turntable quickly brought in new artists without missing a beat, no pun intended. Where Bach has more than requisite leading man abilities, Keifer has equal if not surpassing musical achievements. His sound, swagger, and musicianship still ring true, whether revisiting a Cinderella song or dipping into his new solo albumâ€™s tracks from The Way Life Goes.
In a pre-show interview, Keifer said, about his album, â€œThe record has the same kind of dynamics that people expect from Cinderella records. I came up on the rock of the 70s which was very dynamic: Zeppelin, Stones, ballads, acoustic, heavy stuff. The record is very similar to that. I was the songwriter, the singer, and did the signature guitar work.â€
Keifer recalled what started him on the path of creating the music which came of age in the 80s. â€œIn high school, when I got an electric guitar and started trying to learn Jimmy Page riffs, I was pretty young,â€ he said. â€œYou start to emulate your heroes. It starts off covering their songs. I needed to write my own if I needed to come close to walking in their footsteps. You want to try and accomplish the same things musically that they do. Thatâ€™s whatâ€™s always driven me.â€
Of Cinderellaâ€™s glam metal peak, making Keifer peers with many of the artists at Cathouse Live, he was reflective. â€œIt was an amazing time,â€ he said. â€œThe 80s was very colorful and creative, and the visual element with MTV: a lot of over-the-top imagery. The music reflected that as well. It was a great time to come up and release records and tour. I feel fortunate to have come out in that era. The fans that we made friends with were incredibly loyal and still here today.â€
Finally, the last main act at Cathouse was the Boston-based Extreme, who, by their own admission, rarely perform on the West Coast at present. Nonetheless, the four members of extreme â€” original singer Gary Cherone (briefly in Van Halen in the late 1990s), guitarist Nuno Bettencourt, and bassist Pat Badger plus new drummer Kevin Figueiredo â€” stopped the show with their outstanding rendition of tracks that one would never know are now 25 years old. Celebrating the quarter-century mark of their second album, Pornograffiti, Extreme looked, sounded, and performed as though it were the onset of the 1990s and not midway through the 2010s. Other tracks in their 12-song set were from their seminal additional three early albums, though the reunited band has continued to record. Not so much a throwback as a reaffirmation, Extremeâ€™s set re-established them as a viable current act much more so than a nostalgia act.
Abbreviated perhaps by a time limitation, the final moments of the night were an â€œall-starâ€ jam with one time former Guns â€˜Nâ€™ Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke, and a host of other players from throughout the dayâ€™s acts. After the glam anthem â€œThe Jean Genieâ€ by David Bowie, the group played â€œSearch and Destroyâ€ by The Stooges, and two Kiss songs with an unannounced surprise musician, original Kiss lead guitarist Ace Frehley, joining the throng of musicians: â€œShock Meâ€ and â€œDeuce.â€ Symbolically, during Deuce, came the bizarre interruption, as the stage slowly swiveled around and the PA system was cut, in effect ending the entirety. Yet, even after the house lights came up, one could still hear the musicians, many of whose careers are nestled in the past, continue to play, wholly rotated away from the audience, finishing the landmark song to its natural conclusion.
2:30 PM The Aviators (Battle Of The Bands winner)
3:05 PM Tuff
3:45 PM Little Caesar
4:25 PM Pretty Boy Floyd
5:05 PM Bang Tango
5:45 PM Jetboy
6:25 PM Enuff Z’Nuff
7:05 PM Tracii Guns
7:45 PM Gilby Clarke
2:15 PM Swamphammer (Battle Of The Bands winner)
2:30 PM BulletBoys
3:00 PM Trixter
3:30 PM Black ‘N Blue
4:00 PM Autograph
4:30 PM Junkyard
5:00 PM Saigon Kick
5:30 PM LA Guns
6:00 PM Dangerous Toys
6:30 PM Faster Pussycat
7:00 PM Stephen Pearcy
7:30 PM Dokken
8:10 PM Sebastian Bach
8:50 PM Tom Keifer
9:50 PM Extreme
10:50 PM Gilby Clarke’s All Star Band
Los Angeles, California