Original Great White singer Jack Russell made the patrons at Hooligan's Bar and Grill in Live Oak feel festive and lucky Monday night, jamming out many of the hits that made him a part of the hair-band scene 25 years ago. In truth, Russell had just as much reason, if not more, to celebrate New Year's Eve.
Though it was Russell's second visit to the San Antonio area in five months, he showed that he's come a long way in a short time. In more ways than one. When Russell headlined the America Rocks tour on July 7 at Backstage Live with Faster Pussycat, BulletBoys, Lillian Axe and Pretty Boy Floyd, his version of the band was known as Jack Russell's Great White. This time, the banner says Great White Featuring Jack Russell.
More importantly, Russell let the fans know he has been sober for 16 months. No easy feat, especially on the most popular drinking night of the year, for a man who's been arrested well more than 50 times and had his share of drug and alcohol issues. The proof was in Russell's performance, which was a far cry from his June 11, 2010, concert at the now-defunct Scout Bar -- his final San Antonio show with original guitarist Mark Kendall and longtime members Michael Lardie and Audie Desbrow.
On that night, Russell, toting a cane, couldn't make it past opening song Desert Moon without falling on stage and needing to be helped up. He cited back surgery (see my review with video in the "suggested" links at bottom). Eventually, Russell's addictions and deteriorating health led to a contentious split and eventually, two versions of Great White as we know them today. Monday night, Russell definitely had something to prove to the fans, and he passed the test.
Russell had a facelift several years ago. He's attempting to resurrect his career as well as his appearance with all-new musicians, including guitarist Matthew Johnson, a native of the north Texas city of Denton. Russell's voice was in fine form and though he had a good time, he appeared to be more reflective than joyous while thanking fans for their support on several occasions. Showing no signs of ill health, Russell's set consisted of tunes almost exclusively covering 1984-91 including Face The Day and obligatory encores Rock Me and Once Bitten Twice Shy. Russell introduced On Your Knees, a rocker from Great White's 1984 self-titled debut, as "my first attempt at a ballad."
Save Your Love, a true ballad from 1987's Once Bitten and a popular MTV hit, resonated with the couples in attendance (read my 2010 interview with Russell in blue below to see what he had to say about that song). Russell later referenced Great White's 1987-88 tour opening for Whitesnake -- the first time yours truly saw the band live, in Rosemont, Ill. -- introducing 1989 hit House of Broken Love by saying he wrote it during that trek (click on video at bottom).
Russell turned over the spotlight to guitarist Robby Lochner for a solo preceding that tune. He also took a breather by allowing Johnson to take over vocals for a track called Save Me. The band, also comprised of bassist Dario Seixas and drummer Derrick Pontier, did a lengthy Jimi Hendrix jam halfway through Mista Bone and later ended another song with the last four beats of Rush's 1981 instrumental YYZ.
Russell and Co. stayed true to the setlist and added personal favorite Lady Red Light, which inexplicably was originally not going to be included. And it showed, as that was the only tune of the evening that felt forced, coming across sounding as if it hadn't been rehearsed in awhile.
Despite the estimated couple hundred in attendance and two stages that also featured Krokus tribute band Headhunter U.S.A., Journey tribute S.A. Lights, The Steel Soldiers and two all-female groups Katz Fite and The Voyeurs (click on slideshow at top), there wasn't much of a midnight countdown. Even though there were many televisions on, none of them were tuned to local coverage of the annual party and countdown at the Tower of Americas downtown. Instead, Russell took the stage, Lochner held up his phone that indicated there were 10 seconds left, Russell began counting down -- and the first sounds of 2013 became 1991 tunes Call It Rock N' Roll and Desert Moon. Minus confetti and champagne. But hey, people came for a rock show, and that's what they saw.
Russell promised the fans that he plans on touring for a long time. Good news, no doubt, to those in attendance. But it's also a middle finger to the longtime bandmates he left behind who felt Russell couldn't bring it anymore. Monday night's show may not have been a renaissance per se for Russell. But it was more than merely a step in the right direction. And you can't help but root for a guy who provided many memorable hits of yesteryear to keep on trucking and continue doing what he loves.
SETLIST: Call It Rock N' Roll, Desert Moon, On Your Knees, Save Your Love, Face The Day, Robby Lochner guitar solo, House of Broken Love, Mista Bone (with Jimi Hendrix jam), Rollin' Stoned, Save Me (guitarist Matthew Johnson on vocals), Lady Red Light, Can't Shake It, Rock Me, Once Bitten Twice Shy.
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