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Killer Dwarfs turn 'favorite place on planet' upside down in long-awaited return

Original singer Russ 'Dwarf' Graham does his patented headstand during 'Keep The Spirit Alive.'
Original singer Russ 'Dwarf' Graham does his patented headstand during 'Keep The Spirit Alive.'
JAY NANDA / San Antonio Metal Music Examiner

Killer Dwarfs' two nights @Fitzgerald's Bar


Russ Dwarf looked at the fans showing his band some love Saturday night at Fitzgerald's Bar and could only smile and soak it all in. The frontman for Killer Dwarfs said he'd been playing live in San Antonio "since I was 25. And now I'm a hundred-and-25."

Sure, the singer of the Toronto rockers was selling himself short . . . forgive the pun. But just because he's now in his early 50s doesn't mean the man also known as Russ Graham has given up body surfing with his band's fans. Or that he's stopped flailing his arms while maneuvering crazily around the stage. Or that he can't keep doing headstands in mid-song (see slideshow at left).

The occasion certainly called for a frolicking time. The Killer Dwarfs returned to where it all began for them in the United States, playing two nights at Fitzgerald's.

Having had their music exposed to South Texas metalheads in 1983 by the late Joe "The Godfather" Anthony -- San Antonio's renowned disc jockey -- the Dwarfs marked the weekend by playing their first gigs here since 2003.

The SAMME had the pleasure of interviewing Russ and bassist Johnny Fenton in between the Saturday and Sunday evening performances. Russ spoke more in depth as to why San Antonio is his "favorite place on the planet" to play -- as he told Saturday night's packed house -- and revealed special plans for this city in the near future (watch here). And for those -- including the SAMME -- who thought that might have been sheer concert-speak, consider not only Russ' response in the interview but also that he recently told the Decibel Geek Podcast out of Nashville, Tenn., the same thing.

Saturday's gig, which included local openers DevilMayCare, IsoLayDead, Override and Above My Enemy, saw the Dwarfs open with Comin' Through -- an apropos rocker following the 11-year San Antonio absence. The tune marked the first of a whopping six songs from 1990's Dirty Weapons.

Saturday's setlist: Comin' Through, Hard Luck Town, Last Laugh, Driftin' Back, Union of Pride, It Doesn't Matter, All That We Dream, Nothin' Gets Nothin', Start @One, Stand Tall, Keep The Spirit Alive. ENCORES: Cat Scratch Fever/Cold Gin jam, Dirty Weapons

The Dwarfs graciously signed merchandise, posters and memorabilia fans had brought with them while posing for photos after the show. But the omission of tunes from their 1983 debut self-titled album, which Anthony had played over the airwaves back in the day, left some scratching their heads. Others were more displeased. The SAMME asked Russ during our chat the next afternoon why he chose to forgo the band's most classic material. While appearing regretful over that decision, Russ said, "You may hear Heavy Mental Breakdown" tonight.

Sure enough, Russ kept his word during the second gig, which came in front of a much more intimate crowd with the band taking the stage at 11:40 on a Sunday night. The song's inclusion provided the only difference in the set from night No. 1 (though technically, the jam of KISS' Cold Gin occurred in the middle Sunday, and Ted Nugent's Cat Scratch Fever wasn't riffed. But you get the drift). Here's crossing one's fingers the Dwarfs will play personal favorite We Stand Alone when they return for the aforementioned "special" plans. The omission of that 1988 MTV hit was just as glaring to this particular fan as was the absence of debut-album material to several of the diehard faithful. Given that Russ asked the Sunday night gathering at one point what song they wanted to hear -- and that a fair share of fans were likely to attend both shows -- you could be excused for being bummed out that there wasn't more career-spanning variety between the two sets. At the same time -- as the SAMME has pointed out several times in the past -- San Antonians should feel grateful that many '80s-era bands continue to make this city more than a pit stop on a tour and that, in the Dwarfs' case, future visits are already being planned out.

The tone of the second evening was opposite of the first. Whereas Saturday was more of a straight-ahead rock show with its share of crowd interaction, the guys spent much more time conversing at length with those in attendance while on stage Sunday. They did a couple of extended jam sessions within songs. While saying that the band was "just having fun," Russ said he wanted to keep on playing ballads instead of rockers, but of course, that didn't go over very well (as if the band was going to do that anyway). As Russ stated, "We're playing in your living room."

Russ later asked if members of the previous act -- local outfit Big Bang -- were still in the house. When two members raised their hand, he complimented them, but Jeff, the Dwarfs' guitarist, took it even further by saying, "We just finished a tour with Cinderella, and you guys were better than Cinderella." The comment didn't exactly set off fire alarms. It only seemed that way. After raising more than a few eyebrows, the only things being raised were drinks, in a toast to the area band that had just made new fans in the form of the Killer Dwarfs.

Russ was no less energetic Sunday night, performing yet another headstand during "Keep The Spirit Alive." But this time, he had a maze of open floor with which to work and took advantage of the extra space in the bar by singing while visiting with people seated on couches or hanging out in the back corner as Jeff, Johnny and original drummer Darrell "Dwarf" Millar rocked out. The band then extended its appreciation to soundman Winston Martin and Fitzgerald's staff, headed by owner Jesse Tavitas, for the loud-and-clear sound and hospitality.

Whether you were at one or both gigs, or came away feeling satisfied or not with the songs that were played, consider what Russ says during our interview regarding what the band has in store for San Antonio.

And if you didn't know the Killer Dwarfs were still playing music, take heed as to when they may be coming to your hard-luck town. Then remember that San Antonio will always be No. 1 in the Dwarfs' hearts. And there's nothing your city can do about it.

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