Before I get into my article, I feel the need to post this disclaimer. Skid Row was one of my absolute favorite bands when I was young. I will try to write this review objectively, but the fanboy in me might pop out here and there. Take it for what it is worth.
I first got turned onto Skid Row in 1989 by my much cooler older sister. Their eponymous debut record dropped in January of 1989. Lead single “Youth Gone Wild” was everywhere that year. This band had it all, from the hard driving rhythm section of Rob Affuso on drums and Rachel Bolan on bass to the dual guitar attack of Dave “Snake” Sabo and Scotti Hill. Topping it off was a twenty year old Canadian singer with an operatic vocal range. Sebastian Bach had a voice unmatched in rock at that time. They followed up “Youth Gone Wild” with a pair of power ballads, “18 and Life” and “I Remember You” both of which were in heavy rotation on MTV. I was able to catch them at Glens Falls Civic Center opening for Aerosmith on the “Pump” tour.
Most bands would keep the same winning formula for their sophomore album. Skid Row took a hard turn with “Slave to the Grind.” The drums were heavier, the riffs flashier. The gamble paid off. “Slave to the Grind” became the first heavy metal album to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 in the Nielsen Soundscan era. They also gambled with their headlining tour. A band that had once been unfairly lumped in with the “hair-metal” bands of the same era brought Soundgarden and Pantera out as openers for the tour. Can you imagine the confidence it takes to bring a Vulgar Display of Power-era Pantera out as your opening act? I caught this show at RPI Fieldhouse. It was my first exposure to Pantera and it blew me away. Skid Row held its own that night. It is still in my top ten concerts of all time.
Some band in-fighting led to Bach and Affuso leaving the band. Somewhere along the way, my music tastes changed and I lost track of Skid Row. I would still listen to the first few albums from time to time but I wasn’t the die-hard fan that I had once been.
Over the years the band has recorded and toured with a number of different singers. I caught them once with singer Johnny Sollinger. The show was good, and Sollinger was a decent singer, but I felt that something was missing. There are different schools of thought on replacement singers. For years I refused to go see Journey in concert even though I heard how amazing Arniel Pineda is. When I finally bit the bullet and saw Journey last year, Pineda won me over by the second verse of the opening song. Skid Row released a new record last year entitled “The Gang’s All Here” with their new singer Erik Grönwall. I gave it a listen and was blown away. The 35-year-old Swedish import seemed to have injected life back into the band. Singles “The Gang’s All Here” and “Time Bomb” sound like they could have come from 1991’s “Slave to the Grind” or 1995’s “Subuman rACE.” The band itself, including longtime drummer Rob Hammersmith, seemed to be rejuvenated by this new addition.
On Saturday night, Grönwall wasted no time staking his claim to the stage. The band hit the stage to the pummeling rhythm of “Slave to the Grind.” Grönwall raced from one side of the stage to the other, without missing a note. Bolan, Hill, and Sabo all looked elated to be playing these songs for their fans. The situation to me was very reminiscent of the Tim “Ripper” Owens era of Judas Priest, where a fan of the band becomes the singer of said band. Grönwall sang “18 and Life” during his audition for Swedish Idol in 2009, a competition that he would eventually win. He has charisma and stage presence as well. He is just the perfect fit for this band. I had been holding out for a reunion with Bach and Affuso as so many other Skid Row fans have. I can honestly say that I would rather see this current lineup. They are just THAT good now. It might be nice for nostalgia’s sake to see the original band together, but other than that Grönwall has taken this band to new heights. The setlist was all killer and no filler. They played thirteen songs, mostly pulled from the first two records and their latest release.
Great White occupied the direct support slot. Original guitarist Mark Kendall and long-time drummer Audie Desbrow anchor this version of Great White. Here is another example of a band touring with a different singer. The current singer Brett Carlisle celebrated his 26th birthday on stage in Verona. He wasn’t even born when Great White had their biggest success, but damn can this kid sing, His soaring vocals on “House of Broken Love” brought goosebumps. They only played a seven-song set but Great White is definitely still a band worth checking out.
Kip Winger opened the show with an unplugged set. Armed with a 12-String acoustic guitar, Winger ripped through an eight-song set of his greatest hits. Winger’s biggest chart success was the 1988 single “Seventeen.” A song about a relationship with a much younger female. The woman in that song is now 53 years old, a fact that Winger mentioned by changing the lyrics in one of the choruses. A stellar cover of the Cars classic “Just What I Needed” was the highlight of Winger’s set for me. His voice is still as strong today as it was at the height of his success. It is a shame that people lumped Winger in with lesser talents of the era. That band was full of top-notch musicians. Winger himself was once a very important member of Alice Cooper’s band before striking out on his own.
Skid Row will continue to tour supporting The Gang’s All Here through the summer and fall. There are dates in New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Long Island with Buckcherry slated for September. Trust me, it is worth the day trip. If you’re a fan and have been sitting on the fence, get down, get in your car, crank “Youth Gone Wild” to eleven, and get your ass out to a show. Thank me later.