A Personal Perspective | Music Review -- The Viletones - Friday December 13, 2013 @The Phoenix Concert Theatre
It was Friday the 13th and 13 below zero -- neither preventing a lucky crowd from seeing Steven Leckie and the Viletones's much touted and eagerly anticipated new lineup at the Pheonix Concert Theatre.
In phenomenal voice and sound, they did not disappoint; save for the fact that it was the band's last performance, ever.
I've been watching and listening to the Viletones for more than 30 years. In fact, I opened for them with an all-girl band a few times -- the first at Exile on Main Street when I was 14 with the Forgotten Rebels on the roster, and then again at The Turning Point. Steven came out hear us, (The Revells, who he also named), before deciding to let us open for them. It was a risk, but he took it and let us play.
Although our egos and those of our idols get in the way over the years, our true heroes never change. The ones we know from our coming-of-age era have a way of staying with us -- no matter the pain and heartbreak, no matter the inevitable changes we all go through.
Those were the days my friend: Eva and the Bad Boys, Screamin' Sam, Ronnie and Charlie Azzopardi, Steve Koch, Ross Taylor, Mr. Shit, The Horseshoe, Johnny McLeod, The Elmo, The Edge, Kurt Schechter, Maple Leaf Gardens (Iggy Pop, Chrissie Hynde, Prince), The Brunswick House, The Diamond (Mink DeVille), Larry's Hideaway (The Police, Bob Geldof), Ildyko's (Johnny Thunders, The B-Girls), Tony Vincent, The Gary's, Scruff's, Chris Hate, Lee's Palace, Robin Handsome Ned Masyk, Mike Motor X Anderson. All of these people and places, and many others - too many to mention - are etched forever in our sublime collective unconsciousness - and all have one common denominator: Steven Leckie and the Viletones.
We all know too well about the angst and infidelities, fury, trespasses, rage, and betrayals; but as Anne Lamott says, "Anything said and felt from the heart that is completely inexplicable, is prayer - Rage is prayer, grief is prayer, it's all prayer."
So here's to the beauty and poetry of the Viletones.
Perhaps Leckie's Facebook page the morning after the show said it best: "With ALL My Heart and Soul, on behalf of VILETONES and myself, thank you all so very, very much. If you could have seen yourself from where I was standing, for the first time I've ever been onstage I FELT LOVE. I just could NOT get "into character" as some sort of presentation of your worst nightmare!"
Die-hard punks, old and young, po-goed and slammed front of stage, as the band opened with, Never Be Sad. A peculiar but ardent love shone in Leckie's resolve to give the gang what they came for.
It felt magnificent to hear the sacred chunks of timeless punk melodies like, Outta My Mind and Rebel, live again.
The fans converged on the stage to see the Viletones reconstructed, resurrected only to crucify themselves one more time; but they are the band, all these years later, who still make us feel the opposite of mediocre; who made us feel like we count, and like we could do anything.
They inspired us to start our own bands and sing our own songs; the only difference was that ours had different melodies and kitschy hooks. But not Viletone songs. Sure, theirs have hooks, but they aren't the kind you hear on the radio. And yet, every once in a while, songs like Nailed tread, ever so faintly, daring to fall into the pop abyss, only to return again with a vengeance to the core of their punk roots.
Theirs have snippets of melodies LA, New York, or London record producers could capitalize on, given the chance. Stretch a few bars, repeat, add keys, sax, back-up vocals, and make them into one of what Springsteen called, "Those ragged, jagged melodies, that still clings to me like a leech."
But that won't do for the Viletones. Their music is unabashed, uncompromising, unconditionally disenfranchised rock-'n-roll - or "punk and roll," as Leckie calls it.
It wasn't the same not hearing Screamin' Sam Ferrara's primal backup vocals on Last Guy, but the new version still rocked. Drummer Damon Richardson, drove into Screaming Fist, and made us feel as if we lifted off into outer space. Complimenting him after the show, Richardson, dripping wet, said, "I don't know, something takes over me. I got to the end of the set list tonight and on the final song, I thought, 'ok, I can do this.'"
They all played as tightly as they are talented. Bassist John Sutton's backbone stood out on all the songs, but a highlight was, Back Door to Hell. The band was raw and elegant. Ian Blurton played every Viletone song to perfection, though I wouldn't tell him that to his face if I were you. Of course Blurton's going to like this review (if he ever sees it) about as much as Pompeii, or I fear even maybe Steven will, but that's ok - to quote the mystic William Blake, "We are put on earth, a little space, that we may learn to bear the beams of love."
Scott McCullough's playing on the band's flagship songs, Possibilities and Screaming Fist, was rich and memorable. All the songs were memorable, but then again, like the sadness and loneliness no one escapes at different times, these punk anthems just seem to be able to take away all of that, if even for a moment.
After the show, we were all backstage and I heard McCullough ask Leckie to autograph a copy of the book,Treat Me Like Dirt for a fan waiting at the door. Leckie took the pen and wiped out the word, "Dirt," and replaced it with the word, "Gold." Whispering, he said, "No, no, treat me like gold."
Getting ready to leave, we were all searching the dressing room for Leckie's lost Misfits toque, but it was nowhere to be found. Finally, we all gave up, and he surmised, "Ah, someone probably scooped it up." Then added, "Good for them. It was a great hat."
They played 13 songs, and closed the night with, Nailed. Not surprisingly, they didn't do an encore. I asked Sutton and McCullough why not to which they replied, "Because we didn't need to."
It's clear Leckie hasn't been in the game of punk and roll all these years for the money; if he had, he would have sold out long ago. As McCullough, Blurton, Richardson and Sutton were packing up their gear on the stage, McCullough told Leckie he'd take care of settling the money from the door. Leckie turned to him and said, "After you guys all get paid, just hold on to whatever's left for me."
FULL DISCLOSURE: Steven Leckie is my brother.