|Over Memorial Day weekend, hundreds of fans streamed into the Alexis Park Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada to attend the very first annual Ultrasound 2000 show. Fans from Holland to Georgia, New York to California enjoyed the tropic-like climate and friendly environment as the main stage erupted with an array of polished talent. The following is a first-hand, front-row look at the spectacle of events that surrounded the Ultrasound 2000 show and the bands that made it famous.
Pre-Party: Mad Margritt, Kinetik, Agent Steel and Vain.
The weekend show kicked off with a four-band set on Friday night. The Pre-show party was held a Pink-Es (I know, it sounds like a strip joint to me too) on Flamingo Drive right across from the Rio Casino. The first band, Mad Margritt, took the stage at 9:30pm for their 45-minute set. Margritt, formed in 1990, hail from Georgia and have gathered quite a reputation in and around Atlanta and South Florida. What brought them to Ultrasound was their new Delinquent Records release, In The Name Of Rock, a highly combustible, full-throttle effort packed with hooks, and trashy, loud rock. In their press release they claim, "We are proving time and time again that Rock & Roll can be commercial without losing its punch, melodic and soft without losing its integrity, and rough and gritty enough for the most critical rock fan." They stomped through a steady set dousing the crowd with some serious blasts of testosterone. However, this was the healthiest we would see Mad Margritt. They pulled into town a little under the weather and only got sicker as the weekend progressed.
Kinetik was next up. Sorry dudes I missed your show. I had to run the president of A2 records back to his hotel because security wouldnt let him in the building without ID.
Agent Steel brought some real muscle and a frantic display of screeching to the show. Both guitarists, Juan Garcia and Bernie Versailles locked horns in a proud display of six-string theatrics. Omega Conspiracy marks their return to the spotlight after a 13-year hiatus. The band originated in LA (1985) and saw the release of two critically acclaimed speed-metal masterpieces (Operation Redeye and Skeptics Apocalypse) but disbanded after the killer Unstoppable Force (87) when vocalist John Cyriss moved to Florida. Nowadays Bruce Hall fronts the band with an exceptional bag of pipes that can growl (or scream) with the best of them.
Near midnight Vain, fronted by the notorious Davy Vain, pounced on the stage pumped and ready for action. The band looked fit with tattoos running down their arms like some runaway street gang. Vains music is muscled-up biker rock with loud guitars, dynamic hooks and juicy vocals. Too brash to be considered sleaze metal, yet too polished to throw in the garage, this outfit was perfect to close the night. In 1989 the first Vain record, No Respect, was released on Island Records. Produced by Paul Northfield (Rush and Queensryche) in Morin Heights, Montreal. It was a decent mix of hard rock/glam and was well received by MTV. A second record, All Those Strangers, was set for release but the group was dropped before the album ever made it out. Move On It (94) and Fade (96) saw limited distribution primarily overseas. However, in 2000, Vain is back and pushing In From Out Of Nowhere. The CD is killer and, for the Pre-Party guest, so was the live show.
Erotic Suicide, Towne Cryer XXI, Swirl, Lazy Jane, Cage, The Szuters, Mad Margritt, Steel Prophet, Jag Panzer and Leatherwolf.
The first thing I noticed when Erotic Suicide fired up the main stage at noon on Saturday was the massive sound system. Dave had done his homework and spared no expense getting a top-of-the-line sound stage complete with stage lighting and a solid back line. Erotic Suicide had the toughest set of the day as sound engineers tried to work out the bugs for the rest of the show. Midway through their set, everything came together and the band exploded into on all out manic attack. Never breaking pace and lead by recently acquired frontman, Mike Pierce (Black Symphony) the group kick started the show in fine form. Ive known Mike for many years and to see him and the band at the top of their game so early in the day proved this band is ready for the big time. They were tight, controlled and very well rehearsed. "This is a band of great musicians," Pierce told me after their show. "The harmonies are all there, and were really starting to cook. We played some pretty big shows before coming here Sebastian Bach, Dio and the crowd response has been great. Were writing for the next album, taking our time to make everything right. Judging the reaction today, Id say we walked away with a few more fans."
Towne Cryer XXI rode all the way in from Vails Gate, New York. Their alternative look was a bit deceiving as their presentation was more of a New Wave Of British Metal Samson-meets-Mammoth sort of thing. Erik Deitz and Chris Kopp brought the guitar power of the band right to the edge of the stage while excellent vocalist Tim Kopp (Chriss brother) kept the momentum churning. Stand out selections were Seize The day, Ecstasy and Rage all from their current disc Revolutionize.
Borrowing more than a little from Tesla and Living Colour, Swirl focused on dynamic songs with an aggressive, melodic presentation. The lush vocals of Rick Collin bring an instinctive balance to the raw guitar edge of Duane T. Jones. The group call Seattle their home and did an extensive warm up tour prior to their Ultrasound gig. Their roadwork paid off in tunes Shades of Red, Ant Farm and Purple Hearts. Their debut CD, Out Of Nowhere, was produced by Quit Riot guitarist Carlos Cavazo and has a delightfully refined maturity to it. [Duane recently e-mailed me letting me know Rick has left the band and is replaced by Pauly Shortino, son of Rough Cutt singer Paul Shortino.]
If Lynryrd Skynyrd had a younger sister it would be Lazy Jane. The band delivers southern rock laced with a tinge of biker blues. They were still in the demo stages of recording their first disc at the time of the Ultrasound gig, but that didnt hold them back from shooting straight from the hip. Originals such as Destiny, Gemini Lady and Devils Daughter reiterate why their sound is so popular with its meaty chops and a cowboy swagger. Backup vocalist, June Sigman, an intriguing complement to lead vocalist Paul Lancia, is very easy on the eyes and the only female, other than Robin Brock, to play this years festival.
Cage unleashed their full aggression in the heat of the late afternoon. As the sun was baking the desert outside (105 degrees) Cage was heating things up inside. Labeled as the band to watch from last years Power Mad Festival in Baltimore, Cage proved they could easily carry the show themselves. Skilled in the art of Judas Priest meets Blue Oyster Cult stage heroics, the band dismantled their 45-minute set with a staggering performance. Sean Peck powers the quintet as a hypnotic frontman while professional bodybuilder Dave Garcia and Eric Horton keep the frets burnin. Mike Giordano and Damien Arletto make a thunderous rhythm section, completing the package and shaking the rafters. Live versions of Shoot To Kill, The Iron Priest and Devil Inside, off the bands Unveiled album, accompanied a couple new numbers not yet released. The event certainly moistened the appetite for more Cage in 2001.
I stepped out to grab a bite to eat across the street at the Hard Rock Café Casino and so missed the entire Szuters set. Dave claims to have booked them after catching one of their local appearances and it was rumored they went down a storm.
Singer/Songwriter John Taglieri sent this in on Mad Margritts set, "The band was tight, energetic, and fun to watch. Their drummer, incidentally, gets the Most Beer Consumed All Weekend Award! This guy was with beer at all times 10 am until whenever he slept if he slept!!" Margritt did a decent job considering they were all starting to feel the effects of warm beer and the virus they rode in on. Their set was close in character to Warrant but without the babes.
Steel Prophet was added to the bill at the last minute and were on fire when 8:45pm rolled around. Astounding vocalist, Rick Mythiasin captivated the punters with his incredible showmanship and led the band through one of the breakout performance of the show. He is easily one of the best in the current trend of frontmen schooled in the art by Iron Maidens Bruce Dickinson. Steel Prophet is the brainchild of guitarist Steve Kachinsky who believes heavily in the band even when they were turned down by just about every major label in the 80s. Power Metal at its finest, songs like The Idles of March, Messiah and 7/30/47 became highlights from their last two Nuclear Blast releases (Dark Hallucinations, Messiah). Says Mythiasin about their last minute add to the show, "The other band dropped off the set and when we got the call, we jumped on it. I mean its Vegas!" Little did they know that they would dominate the first day.
Jag Panzer's long history dates back to 1981 when they changed their name from Tyrants to the German World War II tank in an effort to label their sound. Though the band attracted a loyal following and released two classic metal records, they slid into hibernation by 1987. Eight years later, in 1995, they signed a worldwide deal with Century Media Records. The band released The Fourth Judgement (97) and The Age Of Mastery (98), both highly-praised by the press and fans. Tours of Europe with Hammerfall and Gamma Ray and in the States with Iced Earth, brought the band's material to an ever expanding audience. In support of their new offering, Thane To The Throne, Jag Panzer were in peak form when they rolled out to greet the Ultrasound cheers. More textured than expected, the group unraveled an almost concept-like production, rich with dual-guitar orchestration and blistering with passion.
I wore out Leatherwolfs first two records, Leatherwolf I (84) and Leatherwolf II (87) three times. Thankfully their third opus, Street Ready (89) came out on CD and though a little more mainstream was still just as intoxicating. Recently released, Wide Open Live (99) is a brilliant little souvenir to take home from US2K showcasing the best of Leatherwolfs live set and an added reminder as to why they were headlining. In 90 minutes they sliced though fifteen slabs of riveting rock n roll with Mike Olivieri, Carey Howe, Geoff Gayer, Dean Roberts and Paul Carman delivering a top-notch greatest hits package. A tip of the hat to the solos, which were spot on, and to Olivieri whose voice has remained powerful and unmatched all these years. Please come back and do it again.
John Taglieri, Robin Brock and Ken Tamplin.
Again, I really must thank Dave who did a splendid job setting up Sunday morning. The Sunday brunch idea was the best idea ever! There was some concern for the unknowing travelers that were staying at the Alexis Park, how would they handle a sea of longhaired, beer-drinking wild men (and women) raising Cain over the weekend? The brunch answered that question as many of the tenants were delighted with the highly professional musicians that serenaded them poolside.
I loved John Taglieris own account of his early morning acoustic jam so Im including it here: "It was only 9:30 am, but it was already HOT! Robin Brock came by my room and we rehearsed One More Tomorrow and felt we were ready to go. At 10:00, I brought my guitars out to the pool area to warm up so theyd be ready to play. Can you say MISTAKE!!! Coincidentally, Mad Magritts drummer was already awake and in the pool with a beer in each hand at that hour!! Now, either he gets up early, or just plain doesnt go to sleep! Im still not sure! By the time my set started at 10:40, my guitars were so hot from the sun that I couldnt rest my arm on them and my strings were burning my finger tips!! To top it all off the microphone was so hot it was burning my lips!! It was about 106 degrees when I started and there was no shade to be found! But you know what? It was awesome! A lot of people turned out at that early hour to catch my set, and considering what time everything ended the night before, I was honored. My voice felt great and I had lots of water and Gatorade to chug! Robin came up and nailed the duet with me. Her voice was awesome. I finished the set and was tempted to just fall into the pool, but was content to dunk my head and relax. The hard part was over!"
Canadian songstress and A2 recording artisit, Robin Brock was next on the dock. Clad in leather from head to toe, we thought she was going to pass out from the heat. But she blazed through a ten-song set including Pickboy Rules, I lied, Rockin On The Airways, and Burning Up. She looked a tad uncomfortable out of the gate but flanked by guitarists Danny Jacob and Steve Webster she was soon in line and belting out a string of crowd favorites. Brocks debut CD, Blame It On Rock & Roll, is a more souped-up affair with some exceptional guitar work to accentuate her vocal prowess.
One of the most anticipated artists of the day, Ken Tamplin, was last to bear the heat as the thermometer crept well over 100 degrees. Dressed in shorts, he sat down with his sparring partner, Howie Simon and away they went. Tamplin, considered by many to be the David Coverdale of Christian rock, has 19 records out two have not yet been released, and one was for limited distribution only. His most recent are Brave Days Of Old on Z Records in the UK and the Shout reunion disc Shout Back on Planet Records in the US. With a four octave vocal range and his agile guitar ability, Tamplin was a marvel to watch and hear. Heavier numbers like Never Stop, Radio Bikini and Dont Let The Sky transcended well into mid-tempo acoustic rockers while I Just Want To Celebrate and Freeride spun a unique twist on the radio classic covers. The flamenco styled It Wont Be Long off the first Shout disc was positively breathtaking! FEATURE STORY
Smilek, Moore, Enertia, The Promise, New Eden, Picture Perfect, Michael Morales and Vicious Rumors.
Smilek had a better sound check than Erotic Suicide the day before. The Richmond, Virginia three-piece is led by Marty Smilek (bass) and rounded out by Kevin Tipton (guitars) and Bruce Crump (drums). Watching Marty warm up, I was impressed with his smooth vocal sweeps against an acoustic backdrop. Word had it that the band sound a bit like Winger so it was with great interest that the milling fans watched them plug in and rip into Vain, Wind & Reign and the ballad Lay Down Your Guns. Shot Of Your Love and Fire It Up are closer to Bonfire / Firehouse territory with thick layered vocals on a steamy hook. Tiptons guitar is never far from center. He sneaks in behind the chunky rhythm and jabs in with a bursting fiery solo. Crafty songwriting and slick harmonies are the essential ingredients to Smilek sound. Their CD Christened by Fire is a must for fans of melodic rock.
Moore win the award for the Best Dressed In Leather and they stuck to it all weekend! Aside from the show on the main stage there was a second vendor room where labels and bands were set up to greet the fans and hock their Cds and other assorted merchandise. Moores table blew them all away. They not only had all three of their CDs for sale (Dance of The Damned, American Vampire and Rhapsody in Blood) but a continuous video showing the band live on stage in front of a sold out home crowd. Fresh in from Denver, Colorado, the lads were revved up and ready to rock. As the lights went down it was a blizzard of Wasp-meets-Faster Pussycat with a chainsaw delivery. Moore are seconds away from becoming a really great act. Jim Moore (vocalist), Robert Sanchez (guitarist) and Danny Akin (bassisit) could all be stars in their own right, but as a group, they are three times as deadly. FEATURE STORY
New York-based five-piece Enertia are out with their third album Flashpoint. As a hard-working quintet they have focused on the strength of their live shows and used the web extensively to sell their brand of molten metal. Enertias last album, Momentum, capitalized on their 1996, five song EP Law Of Three and brought them from relative obscurity to a white-hot commodity in the metal community. Vocalist Scott Featherstone had no trouble rousing the troops with a delivery that was both raw and powerful. The band proves to be competent players with Dave Stafford and Roman Singleton engaging in a raging guitar duel backed by the thunder of Joe Paciolla (bass) and Jeff Daley (drums). Several numbers, Victim Of Thought, Leave Me In Peace and Glitch had the hair on the back of my head standing straight up. Always a good sign.
Scotland's not the first place I'd look for a killer rock band. The last one I can think of was the Gizzi brothers/Mark Rankin's Gun. But with Scotland, quality not quantity is the focus of the day. The Promise were, hands down, one of the GREAT acts on this years bill. When they launched into Let's Talk About Love off last year's Human Fire CD, all jaws dropped to the floor. What we'd been hearing most of the day was fairly heavy, so when The Promise lit up the stage with four vocals converging in unison over a slippery chorus, it was chilling. European magazine, Raw, called their brand of melodic rock/AOR "lipsmackin' melodic eargasms" a perfect description of what was coming from the speakers. Band founders Gareth Davies and Nods Graham embarked on a perfect Thin Lizzy guitar suite that almost made you weep (Kiss Me And Kill Me, When Love Takes A Hand) and as a singer, Ian Benzie would rival anything on the FM dial. Taking his vocal chops from Toto, Night Ranger and Journey, he packs emotion and charisma into a sweeping climax. The Promise have a reputation of a turbo-charged live act and man, did they live up to it the stage never stood still. Drummer Colin Fraser spits his time between Pallas and The Promise. His contribution is flared with style and finesse, making The Promise as perfect a package as you can get. For their first time in Vegas, these guys were having the time of their lives and it showed - absolutely amazing! FEATURE STORY
New Eden had it rough. Following The Promise had to be intimidating yet, having been schooled in the ranks of Steel Prophet, guitarist Horacio Colmenares plugged in lead and his band through 45-blistering minutes of bone-crunching progressive power metal. The meaty set left ears bleeding after Evil Logic and the brilliant I Am. Tony Devitas operatic range and commanding voice is able to paint vivid pictures, perfect for the bands intriguing lyrics. Michael Echeveria and Oscar Gomez hold down the bottom end with precision. An untamed furnace is brewing in the eyes of New Eden you can see it. Live they are reaching into that core and pulling out some exceptional moments. Oddly enough, one of the songs they played was The Promise. Coincidence?