Monday, July 22, 2013

Interview with Back Alley Riot

Critical Mass: Thanks for taking the time to talk with Critical Mass guys. Can you give us all a little history on Back Alley Riot and how you got your start?

Back Alley Riot: Well, Danny, Matty, and Mike started playing together in a band called Graveyard Ruckus which was shortlived.  Graveyard Ruckus started as a side project of a band called Rosedale and eventually both bands ended and Back Alley Riot was formed after.  A couple bass players came and went due to commitment issues, but we finally found Russ and became a real family after.

CM: The bands latest release, "My Girlfriend's A Serial Killer", is an amazing EP. Just packed with so much attitude and amazing playing. How do you feel this EP compares to the bands first album, "Dead End Wine Mixer"?

BAR: Our first album was a blast to record, but it was before Russ joined the band.   Russ brings so much more to the table and we feel our sophomore release "My Girlfriend's A Serial Killer" is much stronger as a result.  Before the recording of MGASK we started our own studio and really got to take our time to achieve the sound we really wanted with that release.  We are aiming to achieve the same thing when we go back into the studio.
                    B.A.R. L-R Matt Jankiewicz (drums), Russell Katzenmaier (bass/vocals), Mike Nakis (vocals/guitar) and Danny Starks (guitar/vocals)

CM: When I saw you guys play live I was automatically blown away at how much energy and excitement goes into your performance. But once I listened to your CD's I have to admit you guys have a sound all your own. It's got a hint of outlaw country, a splash of rockabilly and plenty of punk rock excitement. So, I have to ask you guys who are some of your personal musical influences?

BAR: We have so many influences when it comes to writing music that it's tough to just pick a few, but the most influential ones probably would have to be Johnny Cash, Mike Ness, Tim Armstrong, Lars Frederiksen, Matt Freeman, and Johnny Ramone.

CM: When it comes to songwriting, is it a group effort or is there a primary songwriter in the band?

BAR: When it comes to writing our songs it is an open door policy and anyone can bring something to the table.  The majority of our songs are written by Mike as a country/rockabilly song, which is then brought to practice and everyone puts their own stamp on it.  The rest have either been written by Danny or co-written by Danny and Mike.  However on the upcoming release there will be songs written by each member and we feel they are some of the best tunes yet.
CM: The band has a brand new video for the track "Whiskey Over You". It's a really fun video and a great tune! Can you give us a little insight into the video shoot and how you guys chose this track to become a single?

BAR: Well, we have been approached at many shows by fans new and old stating that Whiskey Over You is their favorite tune and since we are avid whiskey drinkers it just made sense to make a music video for that song.  In fact we even have a fan who comes to shows and buys each band member a shot of whiskey after we play that song.  Now if we just wrote a song about ham sandwiches, we would be all set.
The video was a blast to shoot.  We got a bunch of our friends to come out (at 9am on a Saturday mind you), and we pretty much drank all day.  Danny and Matty had quite a few ideas they used for the video along with suggestions from Mike and Russ and a few friends who were at the shoot that day.  All in all it was a great collective effort on the whole bands part.  Both Danny and Matty have more ideas, so expect to see more videos from Back Alley Riot in the near future.

CM: The first 2 releases were independently put out by yourselves and sold at shows. But you recently signed on with my label Infested Records, and we will be re-releasing the first 2 releases in the coming days. Is there any new material in the works for either later this year or early next year that you wanna talk about?

BAR: We have about 6 new, unrecorded tunes or so that we've been alternating through at our recent shows and we have several more up our sleeves.  We are hoping to be back in the studio this summer/early fall to record a full length that we are hoping to release by the end of this year.

CM: The band recently made a trip up to WI for a show. Was this the first time out of town? And will we be seeing anymore out of state gigs in the near future?

BAR: Yes, we recently played Franks Power Plant in Milwaukee with the Wiscoholics and it was our second time playing that venue.  FPP is a great venue, the staff is awesome, and we love playing there.  As far as out of state gigs, we have played a few and we are ramping up to do many, many more.
CM: Is there a website that you guys wanna plug where fans can get some merch, news on upcoming releases and show dates?

BAR: Our website is where anyone can get ahold of us, find out about upcoming shows, or hear our most recent music.  We are currently looking into some redesign ideas to offer merch on, but we have quite a few items available at our Bandcamp page as well.

CM: Gentlemen, it's been a blast picking your brains and I'm stoked to see you play live again. Thanks again for talking with Critical Mass! I really appreciate it!

BAR: We appreciate you taking the time to talk with us and we're looking forward to everything in store for us at Back Alley Riot.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Concert Reviews: Rush live at The First Midwest Bank Amp, June 28, 2013

Rush is one of those bands you either love or hate. There's really no in-between. They've been compared to Led Zeppelin with their debut self titled album before going prog on us with their second album, "Fly By Night". Fast forward a few years, and the band went a little more mainstream with 1980's "Permanent Waves" and '81's "Moving Pictures". All the while they picked up die hard fans, mostly in the form of teenage boys and young men, who have stuck with them through all the highs and lows and highs again! So, it was no surprise to see a rather big turnout for the bands return to the First Midwest Bank Amp in Tinley Park, IL on June 28th on the second leg of the Clockwork Angels tour.

Going into this tour I was a little apprehensive. The band had let it be known that they would be bringing a string section on the road with them to play on select tracks from last years monumental concept album "Clockwork Angels", and I was a little nervous. Anyone remember Metallica's "S&M" album? Yeah...'nuff said. But at the same time I was kinda interested to see what other tracks they would pull out of their vast catalog of nearly 40 years of music, and how the strings would compliment the songs.

As the day grew closer I got more and more excited. Not sure what to expect from the 2 sets and nearly 3 hours of music by one of my all time favorite bands in the world. Let me tell ya, that first set was AMAZING! The band hit the stage at around 7:40 to a short intro film before going into 1982's masterpiece "Subdivisions", and off we were! The bands playing is just as tight and precise as it was 25 years ago. Rush is a band that always said that if they couldn't play at top performance, they would hang it up and call it a day. Glad to see that nearing 60 years in age, these guys still have their witts and chops about them.

This set featured mostly deep cuts and fan faves, which made me grin from ear to ear for the duration of the set. "Grand Designs", "Territories", "The Pass"...all personal faves of mine. But the real show stopper for me was "Analog Kid" from 1982's Signals album. A track that I have loved for as long as I can remember, but never had the chance to see them play it live until that night. The guys knocked it out of the park all the way. Geddy Lee sang and played his bass with a fierce intensity. Alex Lifeson's guitar riffs were spot on as always. And Neil Peart....well, what can you say about Neil. He's a master of his craft and consummate professional from start to finish.

There was a very brief intermission to get ready for the string section and a good chunk of CA in round 2. As the second set started, another short intro film was played to coincide with the CA tracks. After the film the band went right into "Caravan" and the blood started pumping again. The strings were not as bad as I was expecting. They gave a certain beefiness to the tracks, I must admit. And the string section really seemed to be enjoying themselves between songs as well.

"The Anarchist" and "The Wreckers" were stand out tracks for me at first. But once they went into "Headlong Flight" it was like a second wind for everyone involved. The band played with so much heart and passion that it really transcended into the audience and we were feeding on the energy in the place, full throttle!

As if all this manic energy in the room wasn't enough, the band surprised everyone when they brought out The Stanley Cup that the Chicago Blackhawks brought home earlier that day. I'm not a hockey fan, but I really thought that the band taking the time to share that moment with us was super cool! Geddy, Alex and Neil all took pictures with the cup before going into the classic instrumental "YYZ" complete with string section. YouTube footage can be seen HERE!

Closing out the night were 2 stellar encores in the forms of "Tom Sawyer" and "2112: Overture/Temples Of Syrinx/Grand Finale". We left that night with renewed energy and continued belief that Rush are still one of the greatest live bands to ever grace the stage. After nearly 40 years as a recording band, finally being inducted into The Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame earlier this year, and releasing possibly one of their greatest conceptual pieces with Clockwork Angels, I am STILL honored to be a fan of this band. And I hope we can keep them around for many more years to come.

Set list 1:
Video Intro (Gearing Up)
The Big Money
Force 10
Grand Designs
Analog Kid
The Pass
Where's My Thing (with drum solo)
Far Cry

Set list 2:
Video Intro (The Appointment)
Clockwork Angels
The Anarchist
The Wreckers
Headlong Flight (with drum solo)
Halo Effect (with guitar solo intro)
Wish Them Well
The Garden
The Percussor (drum solo)
Red Sector A
(Clockwork Angels String Ensemble exits)
The Spirit of Radio

Tom Sawyer
2112 Overture/Temples of Syrinx/Grand Finale
Video Outro (Office Of The Watchmaker)