THE HITMEN featuring NIAGARA
+ THE VISITORS
+ SOUTHERN PREACHERS
Saturday, February 23, 2008
The Crest Hotel, Sylvania

By BEN MERWOOD

This line up was the stuff that dreams are made of. Being born out of time myself, it was especially true. I wasn’t going to let the minor detail of being 4000kms away shatter my illusions. So I jumped on a plane and into the time tunnel back to the Stagedoor Tavern, 1979. Anyway, enough of the procrastination, it was time to shake some action.

Around 8:15 the Southern Preachers ambled onstage. I hadn’t seen or heard much from this 4 piece so I was optimistic to see what they had in store. Presenting a solid sound, images of Hell Crab City came to mind with their sharp chord changes backed by aggressive drumming. It was enjoyable and promised something for the future.

That left the door ajar to be filled by the seasoned veterans.

Original members Sisto, Tek and Hoyle were joined by Andy Newman on bass, NiK Rieth (ex-New Christs) and a sax player to comprise The Visitors tonight. The anticipation in the room was rife, as with their arrival the crowd silently surged to the front of the stage. Starting off with a cover, it was turned into something you’d associate with The Visitors and the results were pleasant. Following on from that, monolith “Brother John” was out of the bag early but didn’t suffer for it. With Mark Sisto sounding as soulful as he did all those years ago, Deniz was left to shred that amazing lead break that is so distinctive. 

“Sad TV” was next off the ranks and was executed perfectly. As Sisto dropped the line “I take this cigarette and burn myself” excitement washed over the crowd waiting for the solo to take hold. Although it wasn’t played in the same kerosene fashion as Ron Asheton had on “First and the Last”, it was still a marvelous thing to see.

The Iceman was really enjoying the moment and didn’t short change the punters one iota. Although minus his trusty white epiphone, he still was getting an amazing sound out of an Ampeg Dan Amstrong which looked as good as it sounded.  

Announcing that the next tune was a “Detroit regional single”,”Persecution Smith” was unveiled on the unsuspecting masses. Taking Seger’s work and giving it an extra energy seemed like a masterstroke in the circumstances. The verbal banter played off fantastically well against an increased tempo and with Tek going to the hilt it was a rip roaring version to say the least.         

Amongst all the action Pip Hoyle manned his keyboard dutifully. In general his sound was a little more recessed than the self-titled LP, but his presence was integral. Nick Reith was creating such a seamless flow that made him almost transparent. It was a testament to his expertise behind the kit that he could do it with such ease. The sax added nice touches here and there and was used to give that soulful essence that is frequently associated with the band.

“Journey by Sledge” and “Haunted Road” had the band pushing even harder. It really was a joy to see these songs played live and with such gusto. Climaxing the set with an old Radio Birdman song, “Hit ‘em again” lacked some punch due to the absence of a twin guitar attack. It was however, a welcomed point of reference to leave on.

A great set by a band whose time was too short lived, both back in the day and here on the night. Bidding farewell they left the scene set for something special.

Casually striding out a little after 10:15, Murray Shepherd, Chris Masuak and the Tony’s, Robertson and Jukic took the stage ready. After a little introduction of noise, Murray shouted “Its dancing time” and  then let the music do the talking.

Cue Johnny Kannis, he entered the stage like a man possessed. Boogalooing and bopping anywhere and everywhere he was shit hot from the first line of the night. He screamed rock and roll soldier with his dark wrap around shades while having the charisma of a teenage boy dancing to his hearts content. He wasn’t the only one feeling like a kid in a candy shop.

“Big Love” was churned out and it was obvious that this was going to be one hell of a show. Klondike was leading the charge with his mesmerizing work as usual and Jukic acted as the perfect foil. Together they were raw, sharp and uninhibited. Combined with one of the hardest working rhythm sections around and the results were incredible. An all-encompassing sound that kicked your ass to the floor then begged you to get up for more.

“Oh No” preceded a rousing rendition of one the band's staples “Rock and Roll Soldiers” Attacked with the full ferocity of men on a mission the intensity was something to marvel. Kannis vocalized like a freight train and Klondike reciprocated Ron Ashetons handiwork masterfully without even raising a sweat. On song’s end “15 Hours” bustling intro kicked off without pause and they repeated the dose.

In wake of the reissues and reformation the Hitmen have been doing some recording. Reports state Klondike has got a whole album of material ready, tonight though we are only afforded a taster. “Just Another Weekend” has the goods to be amongst their illustrious catalogue, however it’s in the vein of some of the lighter moments, such as “Didn’t Tell the Man” and “Wrath of God”. One can only hope that amongst numbers like this there are some truly appetizing cuts to be savoured.

“Everybody Knows” follows on after Klondike remembers how it transpires. The sing-along chorus has the crowd in full voice without hesitation. The trend continues with “Shake Some Action” where Johnny baits the audience having them sing the next line and then retorting back raising the already raucous levels inside to boiling point.            

Next was “This Bar” from the “Moronic Inferno” LP. An unusual choice considering the tension could be cut with a knife at this point. However the tune is slotted in to let the band recoup a breath of collective strength. To be fair though, not one member looked jaded or seemed to be lagging. It was full steam ahead.

“Who brought a birthday cake for Chris?” Kannis asked the masses and with that all hell broke loose for “I Don’t Mind”. No stage could contain Kannis, and before long he had bounced off into the crowd and continued on his merry way. Mingling with the punters was just part of his extrovert personality and something to be applauded.  

“This will be our last song for now, but we will be back, your night is not over, it’s just the beginning.” JK assured us all as we prepared to witness Niagara. Not willing to leave sheepishly Murray began pounding that annihilating beat that is “Solid As A Rock” and the number was launched into some ethereal plateau. When Zeus Kannis exploded with the line “I feel like revolution”, you couldn’t help feeling a little nihilistic.

Thanking everyone, Kannis departed, leaving some big shoes to fill. He had been indestructible and nobody was more aware of the fact than himself. Staying on without pause the rest of the band geared up to welcome a Motor City stalwart.   

Helped on stage Niagara looked like a delicate nymph wearing her silver full length coat.   Assuming a very theatric pose with her back turned to the audience “Little Doll” kicked off proceedings. As she came to the microphone I couldn’t help thinking she had the presence of a raw Deborah Harry, although of course she had forged her own career. Not as clean as the Hitmen songs that had transpired prior; this tune had all the makings of sounding just as brazen as it did back in the day

“Niaaagara, Niaaagara” can be heard over the din as the wail of Masuak guitar dies. “Ill see you later” came the rebuttal in a curt tone, warning that she was not one to be messed with. This was further enforced by shedding her coat for the ensuing number to reveal a miniskirt over a leotard with fishnets. A priceless image of femme fatale and a force to be reckoned with.  

“Gonna Die” and I Love You But Your Dead” ensue and have the band and Niagara sounding tight through all the brilliant resonance. Maybe it’s the band sounding tight and Niagara’s ability to place her lyric over that. Whatever it is though, its working and when it aint broken don’t fix it.

Speaking of brilliant resonance, the crowd is treated to a strident version of “Real Cool Time”. With that grabbing repetitive throb and cascading percussion the pleading lyric of Niagara is left flailing against Klondike’s imperial soundscape. Bringing the song to an abrupt end Niagra comments “Well it makes my job a lot easier when you guys stop the song half way.” This prompts Klondike to launch into “1, 2, 3, 4!” and has the band explode into an extended reprise.

A Destroy All Monsters tune “Bored” is next. It’s a shame that “Nov. 22 1963” or “Meet the Creeper” hasn’t been brought out of the bag but no-one can argue with the quality of what is before them. Niagara is so committed that she blows up or breaks a microphone towards the end of the tune and has sound guys clambering up to rectify the situation.

Winding down her set “Died 1000 Times” slowed the pace of the show beyond some peoples liking. However it was quickly revived for her closer “Anyone Can Fuck Her”. Niagara thoroughly appreciated the performance of her colleagues knighting them all with her microphone stand. With that all depart and wish everyone goodnight, but it couldn’t end there could it………….

Coming back on Murray Shepherd was determined to get a decent rise from the crowd. He mocked the crowd stating that he wouldn’t even walk back out there if everyone didn’t make some more noise. After a little more coaxing he was happy and settled back into place with the rest of the band. Straight of the hip, Masuak leaped into Death by the Gun and vocalized without Kannis. It was a moment to enjoy the spotlight on his birthday and inadvertently build the anticipation for the arrival of JK.

As the tribal beat of Bwana devil rang out Zeus leapt back onto the stage and was ready for action. Within the first few bars, it seemed the crowd had gained their second wind and was thrashing around and up against the stage. Not only were the patrons enjoying themselves the band was too and you could see it.

Incendiary covers of “Don’t Fear The Reaper” and “LA Woman” continued on this electric atmosphere and had Johnny Kannis crowd surfing and climbing tables in the far reaches of the audience while the band stood firm and stage not missing a beat. Niagara was welcomed back to close what seemed the end of the night with “TV Eye”. Her bellowing scream as the song famously dies away was impressive not mention the vigour with which all members on stage attacked this one. Applause filled the Crest Hotel as most inside believed it was over

Without even a breath, Kannis was back on stage and two more gems were unleashed. “It's So Hard” and “Pay Up or Shut Up” were the climax of an unbelievable night in which many had witnessed the performance of a truly hard working rock and roll band. Johnny Kannis remarked somewhere towards the end that” You can’t keep the Hitmen away from the stage”. Let’s hope that’s the case because this was fuckin’ unbelievable.

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