JUNKYARD / LITTLE CAESAR - '80s Flashback in Philly!

May 30, 2017, 4 months ago

Mark Gromen

gallery hard rock junkyard little caesar

Never really got into much of the Sunset Strip stuff, although was able to see most of the national touring acts (for free). However, by the dawn of the ‘90s, as the sound/image was getting played out, found myself drawn to some of the more fringe elements of that scene that the major labels were signing. In no way did they look/sound like those that had come before (and scored major success). I'm talking about personal favorites like The Four Horsemen, Rock City Angels, Masters Of Reality and these two acts, touring together after all these years: the bluesy/Motown inspired hard rock of Little Caesar (named after the 1931 Edward G. Robinson gangster movie, not the Detroit based pizza chain) and hard driving/harder drinking Junkyard, shit-kickin', southern fried boogie played by ex-members of noted punk outfits!

Anyone expecting to hear saccharine coated ‘80s fare was in for a big disappointment! With denim jackets/vest embroidered with the ace of spades Junkyard logo, the band look like punks. Veins bulging in his neck, as he screamed the words, David Roach recalls a young Meatloaf, as the band launched into "Life Sentence" without fanfare or intro. Tim Mosher (guitar) wore dress pants, along with t-shirt beneath denim vest. Guess they afford him the mobility to kick up his legs, while playing, something that happened frequently. "Back On The Streets" was followed by "Hot Rod". Through the rapid fire set, there were minimal stops and little change in dynamics: full-on was the way to go. Newbie "Faded" got a decent response, especially since many were only tonight, picking up a copy of High Water, the latest CD.

Jimmy James, he of the impressive mustache/mutton chops combination, took the lead, as Roach kicked back on the drum riser, sipping on a bottle of water (given up booze a while ago). Slide guitar, courtesy of James, begins "Simple Man", Mosher on backing vocals. Speaking of "Blooze", it was up next, Roach slapping hands at the front of the stage, as the audience added their voices to the mix. When not down front, the singer paced in a circle (like a caged animal) then got face-to-face with the fans. A false ending fools a few, who have already broken into applause. Mosher announces "Styrofoam Cup", then "W.F.L.W.F.", in all its understated Blackie Lawless subtlety, stands for We Fuck Like We Fight! Roach drops to his knees, center stage. Working up a sweat, the singer removes his well-worn (can we say faded, without making a pun?) patched denim vest.

He plays air guitar for "All The Time In The World". If there was any doubt about the punk pedigree, "Wallet" lays it to rest. In a blink of an eye, it storms by, over almost before it began. Wow! Leaning in the monitors, Roach sings over the heads of those in the first two rows of people, pressed against the stage. a boogie laden "Texas" sees twin lead guitars and Mosher doing his best headbanging, the small tuft (like a rooster's mane) snapping back into place, each time. Winded, Roach misses some lyrics in the initial verse of "Hollywood". Hunched over, for a brief second it looked like something was wrong, but the self-deprecating smile reassured, as the crowd picked up the vocal slack and Roach was ready for the chorus. Announcing their intention of calling it a night (both bands hung with fans afterwards, this being the final night of the tour), the band left a dark stage. Eventually, they did return, for the vindictive ballad "Hands Off".

Little Caesar were, in a word, entertaining. Frontman Ron Young, looking more the silver haired beachcomber than bruising tattooed biker portrayed in the ‘80s, is from the David Lee Roth school, peppering between song banter with personal anecdotes and band history. The band has volumes of tales about abuses/hard living and are alive to talk about it. "Rock N Roll State Of Mind" kicked things into high gear, immediately. On his left was mainstay Loren Molinare, these days looking like a cross between Woody Allen and Rick Moranis. Regardless, he spasmodically bounce around and created mayhem on his guitar, when not playing straight man to Young's comedic tendencies. A club is really the atmosphere where Little Caesar gel, not the arena stage, opening for Kiss, the only other time I'd witnessed the band.

"Hard Rock Hell" was prefaced by Young saying it was about their life, four part vocal harmony accompanied. A pumping "Drive It Home" was backed with the slowed down blues of "In Your Arms", complete with wood block percussion from original drummer (and one time record exec) Tom Morris. With the two guitarists seated on the drum riser, Young and Molinare temporarily steered the song into a hushed verse of "Proud Mary" (Rolling on the River). "American Dream", whose lyrics are either about a car or girl, one can never be sure, enlivened things once again. Speaking on double-entendres, the only disappointment was the absence in the set of "Tastes Good To Me", a playfully rowdy  take of nursery rhythms and cunnilingus, that appeared on their initial EP. 

"Down N Dirty", a slice of ‘80s stripper rock off the debut full-length, was co-written by Randy Bachman (BTO). Young let the crowd know then when he's not doing rock shows, he's an avocado farmer. Seemed rather perplexed how his life had turned out. There was also quite a bit of humor about both bands living together on the same bus, watching the Vikings TV series. A slinky "Cajun Panther" was punctuated by Young's purposeful laughs, before a cover of Merle Haggard's (surely the last name I thought would be referenced, given tonight's performers) "Mama Tried" practically blew the roof off. Continuing with his retrospective, Young admitted the boys did a lot of substances, back in the day, recounting a period when Molinare had a zebra painted station wagon and was transporting drugs. Lead in to "Rum & Coke", which ain't about the mixed drink! A couple more covers to close, first the four part vocalizing on Aretha Franklin's "Chain Of Fools", a number they put on their 1990 eponymous debut, and closed with a faithful rendition of Rod Stewart's "Every Picture Tells A Story".

Great opportunity to witness two of the (unfortunately) lesser known ‘80s associated bands, whose music has (unlike so many of their peers) aged well. If you get the chance to see either (already seen mid-west dates for Junkyard announced for the fall), don't miss it.

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