By Mike Finkelstein
Earlier this week, RATT had a homecoming of sorts as they played the Key Club to celebrate the release of Infestation, their new album on the Roadrunner label. Located in the heart of the Sunset Strip, the Key Club occupies what used to be the legendary Gazzari’s, a rock ‘n roll proving ground for many years before it was remodeled and given its new identity. Name any successful LA-based band, from the Doors to Van Halen to RATT, and they undoubtedly would have played many gigs at Gazzari’s on their way to the big show.
In the early 80’s RATT, along with others like Dokken, Quiet Riot and Motley Crue, epitomized the hair metal scene of the times. They all launched upwards through the same circuit centered mainly on the Sunset Strip and including Gazzari’s. That was then and this is now, more than 25 years later, and RATT remains a well-oiled rock ‘n roll outfit that still delivers the goods as satisfyingly as ever. Guys half their ages and younger are still busily learning RATT riffs from YouTube.
Like the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith before them, RATT features a five piece drums/bass/twin guitar/lead singer lineup…and it never hurts to have one blonde haired guy in the band. On Tuesday the players included original members Bobby Blotzer on drums, Stephen Pearcy on lead vocals, and Warren DeMartini on lead guitar. Relative newcomers Robbie Crane on bass and Carlos Cavazo (supplying the blonde hair) on rhythm and second lead guitar round out the roster. The band had a back-to-basics, streamlined approach to its stage show. They hung their stage-wide logo banner above the wall-to-wall Marshall cabinets and double bass drum riser. As most of these guys are pushing 50 years old (Crane is younger than the others), nobody was wearing spandex or leopard print gear, nor using hair spray for this show.
Pearcy was wearing black leather pants and studded gloves and belt. As the front man for a hair metal band one would expect him to continue to dress distinctively. His face showed some mileage and for effect he wore eyeliner onstage, as he always has. Otherwise, he looked remarkably the same as in the early days ! At 50 years old he is lean and ripped and has acquired a lot of tattoos. His stage moves range between different standing poses and spins. Though they’ve never been anything to rival David Lee Roth of Van Halen’s acrobatics (the standard that any hair metal singer is measured against), Pearcy’s moves worked then and they still are a focal point in a RATT show. Fortunately, the whole band moves on stage now much as they did then.
RATT played all of their most popular songs and several more from the new Roadrunner album – Infestation — at a quick pace as the crowd ate it up, fists pumped in the air. Hits like “Round and Round,” “Wanted Man,” “Back for More,” “Lay it Down,” “You’re in Love,” and “Slip of the Lip” satisfied big time. Over the years, these tunes have provided the soundtrack to quite a few people’s youthful forays into vice and sex. Countless warm moonlit nights, high school parties and, later, bachelor parties have had RATT in their sound track. The new songs, particularly “Eat Me Up Alive,” compared very favorably with the hits and, strung together, they all formed an impressive body of work. Every tune rocked powerfully and enticingly, with tasty riffs everywhere, polished hot guitar solos, Blotzer’s booming steady double bass drumwork blending in the deepest registers with Crane’s bass and, above it all, Pearcy’s snarl. His lyrics were very simple and basic in their rhymes but they were rock ‘n roll to the core. While his voice is not strong or beautiful, it was unique and a fine match to the sound of the band. If the shoe fits, wear it well.
RATT’s biggest musical asset is Warren DeMartini. His is one of the names that always comes up in discussions of who might actually be top dog in the metal genre. Compared to his peers and contemporaries, he distinguishes himself by his restraint and sense of dynamics. In a field where soloing has gotten increasingly frenetic, as every other player has learned to shred at breakneck histrionic speed, he often lets one or two beautifully placed and timed notes do all the talking. He can and does throw in the blazing speed that ignites the songs to groove, screech and hum but he is a truly fluid lead player who swings. He stands out from the crowd for purely musical reasons. On Tuesday, his tone was warm even at its trebliest, his rhythm riffs were as beefy as the best of ‘em, and his phrasing was just remarkable. His arrangements were always interesting, with unorthodox but logical voicings. And DeMartini does it all, apparently, without tattoos.
Back in the early days, guitarist and founding member Robbin Crosby complemented DeMartini’s style marvelously. He wrote many of the band’s best-known classic riffs. They were a formidable combination. The two pulled off many harmonized twin lead guitar solos together. Sadly, Crosby died of drug related causes several years ago and until recently the versions of RATT that followed had not even come close to filling his large shoes. The band’s signature twin leads were shelved. That has changed with the welcome arrival of Carlos Cavazo in the band. Cavazo is an accomplished lead guitarist in his own right, having been with Quiet Riot through their most prolific and successful period in the mid 80’s. He can hang in with DeMartini. When he soloed on Tuesday, he tore it up and when he doubled with WD it seriously evoked the old sound with Crosby. The harmony leads were back, taking the new songs to the high level of the hits. With this approach RATT has returned to what they do best.
The hair metal genre was all about excesses, which, at its best, meant plenty of hot rock ‘n roll girls, crunching and catchy guitar riffs, customized guitars, noteworthy guitar solos, songs about sex and the pursuit of it, thunderous syncopated drums, big hair on the girls and on the guys, and a smoky, sex-charged den of sin atmosphere. Hair metal offered everything to make a wild, young heart seek it out repeatedly. It was music for sowing the wild oats. While styles change and evolve, rocking around and cavorting are perhaps guilty pleasures that plenty of people will keep right on taking. This is why RATT may always have an audience. On Tuesday it was great, even inspiring, to see such an exemplary rock ‘n roll band recapture their essence so long after peaking.
Photos by Baldomero Fernandez
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