Firestation 8, Gaithersburg, Maryland
November 9, 2006


Whether delinquency or music, we all have our youthful indiscretions. But one thing that’s not on my record is ’80s hair metal. The seeds of my hatred were sown when I heard Def Leppard’s execrable “Rock Rock (’Til You Drop)” in early 1983, and only intensified as equally pathetic posers like Quiet Riot appeared on the scene. Sure, hair metal had its moments, such as Autograph’s “Turn Up the Radio,” a few Ratt songs, and perhaps even Cinderella, but mostly it was just one huge pile of shit. The Bulletboys, I must admit, were a band I’d tossed on the dung heap after seeing their “Smooth Up In Ya” video back in the day.

Until November 9, that is. Improbably, friends of mine -- the Saviours -- had been booked to open for the co-headlining Bulletboys and the L.A. Guns at Firestation 8 in Gaithersburg, Md. So in the spirit of supporting friends and once more once, I went -- entering the alien world of hair metal fans, who stood amidst the club’s many pool tables, TVs, and video games surrounding the backstage area.

As the Barman has correctly noted, it’s lame to hype friends’ bands, so I’ll let you check out the Saviours for yourself. You can also let someone else talk you into Havok in Hollywood, who played second. Personally, I found more pleasure downing a burger and fries at the bar and watching Rutgers upset Louisville on the telly -- which, honestly, I thought would be the highpoint of the night.

Can’t say I expected what happened next. Clad in black, looking almost like Motorhead, and standing stalwart in front of amps, the band ripped into a tight, energized version of AC/DC’s “Riff Raff” with the singer’s razor-sharp vocals practically severing the microphone from its stand. I did a double-take and asked Dave Mann from the Saviours: “Did the L.A. Guns go on early?” Nope, this was the Bulletboys -- sans Spandex, big bleached hair, awful ’80s production, and flashpots.

It was as if Lemmy had grabbed Bulletboys frontman Marq Torien (the only original member left) by the collar, thrown him in a cold cell, and said: “Don’t come out until you’ve lost the glam shit, boy.” Say what you will about Torien’s past; the man can sing his ass off. His crazed shriek vocals were easily a highlight of the set, and only enhanced by the mean sounds he was generating out of his beautiful ocean-blue Gibson Les Paul. And just to avoid another rock star trap, this was no 40-something has-been with a paunch and double chin sweating like a pig; Torien is a lean, mean, singing machine in great shape (and now sporting mid-length jet black hair rather than the David Lee Roth bleached mane).

Another impetus for the makeover was undoubtedly the new backing band of guitarist Michael Thomas, bassist Dave Weeks, and drummer Ryche Green -- who hit harder than Rutgers hit number-three ranked Louisville with the game-winning field goal. This wasn’t your high school sweetheart’s first flirtation with metal; it was a case study in how basic, bar band hard rock should sound -- a la Aerosmith and Montrose. The Bulletboys actually covered the latter’s “Rock Candy” (interpolating “Whole Lotta Love”) as Torien one-upped Sammy Hagar, but mainly, they made raw meat of cuts from their old catalog like “Hard As a Rock” and “Kissin’ Kitty,” sandpapering out the pop-metal sheen in favor of off black.

Heck, even the finale of “Smooth Up In Ya” -- the song that prompted me to change the channel nearly 20 years ago -- sounded cool, as Torien got the chance to proudly deliver his signature tune to the loud appreciation of the crowd he’d been demanding a response from throughout the set (including from my friend A.J. -- who saw the Bulletboys back in 1990 and came all the way from Woodbridge, Va.). Good, no bullshit rock ’n’ roll from an old hair band: Who woulda thought?

(Postscript: The good time at the gig prompted me to pick up the recent two-fer reissue of the Bulletboys’ Freakshow and Za-Za albums. While they fell short of my expectations, I still recommend this band live. Hey, there’s an idea: Live album of the current group.)

The L.A. Guns were more of the same mostly, though their set also included some less-than-exciting power ballads and a cover of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” nowhere near the original. But they weren’t bad, and by midway through the set, vocalist Paul Black had enlisted two hot blondes to join him onstage for some very dirty dancing. So dirty, in fact, that Black didn’t feel uncomfortable saying “hey, I didn’t even get to see your tits” as said blondes (one a deadringer for Heather Locklear) stepped offstage. Suddenly, the two looked at each other and exposed their bosoms -- and if that ain’t rock ’n’ roll, I don’t know what is. (Bonus: The drummer was Nickey Beat of ’70s punk legends the Weirdos. Oh, and for anyone who cares, this is apparently one of two L.A. Guns now touring.)