May 16, 2014
Coach House
San Juan Capistrano, CA

Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Ron Lyon & TourBusLive.com

Friday nights are meant for kick ass rock ‘n roll and the Coach House delivered on that promise with three bands — Skid Row featuring three of the five original members; Black Star Riders with guitarist Scott Gorham of Thin Lizzy, singer Ricky Warwick and bassist Marco Mendoza playing predominantly Thin Lizzy songs; and local favorites White Lie.

White Lie hit the stage at 8:15 with a selection of original tunes and improvisational blues. Veteran guitarist Kevin Reye, who has lead the band since 1981, worked the fretboard of his Strat like a master axman. Drummer Daniel Mark and bassist Billy The Fist fielded the rhythm down tight, while singer Michael O'Mara, who’d only joined the band that week, tackled the melodies with a high-pitch yelp that seemed to suit the early 80s prog-metal-styled material. I interviewed White Lie later that night.

The one band on the bill I was really anxious to see was Black Star Riders. Having caught Thin Lizzy in their prime in 1978, and reliving their music through recent titles I’ve reviewed — the reissues of Jailbreak and Johnny The Fox, the live Still Dangerous: Live At The Tower Theatre Philadelphia 1977, and the DVDs, Are You Ready? and Greatest HitsI was expecting nothing less than a high-energy, guns-a-blazing jam-a-thon highlighted by those killer trademark twin guitar attacks. I was not disappointed.

Gorham and guitarist Damon Johnson locked in and engaged from the get-go on “All Hell Breaks Loose,” the title track from Black Star Rider’s 2013 debut album. It’s a no nonsense rocker with rumbling guitars and a driving bottom end. Warwick confidently took the reins on the lead vocals, and I immediately picked up on the Phil Lynott vibe the fellow Irishman projects. He’s a little rougher around the edges, but that fits the swing and swagger of the music.

As I would tell Gorham after the show, when they played “Bad Reputation,” I about lost my mind. To me, the song with its chug-a-lug guitars, Lynott’s smooth delivery and original Lizzy drummer Brian Downey’s skipping breaks defines everything I love about Thin Lizzy. Black Star Riders did the song justice, and BSR drummer Jimmy DeGrasso, who’s played with everyone from Megadeth to Alice Cooper, slammed a homer on the breaks. Throughout the night, he and Mendoza kept the engine room running on all fours.

The Celtic-flavored “Kingdom Of The Lost” paid homage to Lynott and Lizzy’s Irish roots, but with Warwick out front, the effect was that much more profound. After hearing additional BSR nuggets “Bound for Glory,” “Hey Judas” and “Valley Of The Stones” in the set, I was more than convinced to pick up All Hell Breaks Loose when I got home.

There was room for plenty of classic Thin Lizzy songs too. “Jailbreak” went off like a fire alarm, its lifting progression sending the house lights aflutter and the crowd in a frenzy. Even within the comfy confines of the Coach House, it felt arena-size. The Lizzy stuff took over toward the end as a sweet and salty read on “Whiskey In The Jar” came tumbling out, followed by a totally mind-boggling, brain-tingling “Emerald” that easily  captured the essence of the whole set.

That caliber of intensity was measured to the max as the band finished out the night with "Cowboy Song” and “The Boys Are Back In Town.” Black Star Riders owned it right then and there. Say what you will about Gorham and the Lizzy legacy, which he was most certainly a major contributor. After years of catching flak for using the Thin Lizzy name, he decided that if the band was going make new music, they’d do it under a new name. Combining the new songs with the Lizzy blasts from the past made for a truly thunderous set.

Touring behind their upcoming seven-song EP, United World Rebellion - Part 2 (set for release August 5 via Megaforce Records), Skid Row hit the Coach House stage shortly after 11 and dove headlong into their 15-song set. Original guitarists Scotti Hill and Snake Sabo, along with original bassist Rachel Bolan, were joined by longtime vocalist Johnny Solinger and drummer Rob Hammersmith, who’s been pounding it out with Skid Row since 2010.

They lifted off heavily with “Let's Go” from 2013’United World Rebellion: Chapter One before heading into a selection of songs pulled mostly from their 1989 self-titled debut and its equally successful follow-up, 1991’s Slave To The Grind. Solinger, who’s been tasked with the job of convincing people he’s not Sebastian Bach, suavely handled the proceedings while showing off his rigid pipes on “Big Guns,” “Makin' A Mess,” “Piece Of Me” and “18 And Life.”

Bassist Rachel Bolan assumed singing duties for a snappy rendition of the Ramones’ “Psycho Therapy,” while a run-through of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” underscored the band’s acknowledgment of their influences, however varied. Speaking of acknowledgments, Skid Row was fairly generous in doling out thanks to their fans, everyone in attendance (“thanks for spending your Friday night with us”), and, in particular, the people of the armed services just before going into “I Remember You.” Sabo strummed the acoustic as Solinger worked the crowd, strolling through the aisles and exchanging high fives. He doesn’t possess the deep, soulful growl of Bach, but he pulled a convincing performance together.

It was just after 12:30 when Skid Row encored with “Youth Gone Wild,” the band’s first single from their debut album. For a night of bands without all their original members, the prevailing sentiment among the masses was that it still kicked ass. When you can bring the Coach House and Friday night together, that’s just the way it seems to work out.

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