Date: Saturday, May 19th, 2012
Line up: The Expendables, Unwritten Law, Josh Fischel
Location: Marquee Theatre. Tempe, AZ
Each time fans enter a venue for a live show, by the best and brightest in this musical genre, something new and unexpected is taken home and becomes a reminiscing moment decades later. A certain expectation is always building inside concertgoers, or else the drive to enter the show would not be worth it, and for this particular live event, the anticipation began to boil as soon as a half acoustic, half electric performance was announced months ago.
A showcase such as this, headlined by Santa Cruz, California’s The Expendables along with touring support by Unwritten Law and Josh Fischel, founder and lead singer of Long Beach, California’s Bargain Music, it is understandable that musical tensions began to rise. Putting together a lineup like that, while bringing together multiple decades and styles of music and also raising the stakes with a dual acoustic set, the evening was sure to be filled with more than a few musical gems.
After opening the Gone Soft tour at the House of Blues in Anaheim, CA, the trio caravanned across the border for night number two at the Marquee Theatre in the desert metropolis of Phoenix, AZ. A large contingent was expected with the trifecta of veterans gracing the stage, and at 8:00pm, when Josh Fischel took the stage, maybe 400 patrons of the roughly 1,500 capacity venue had arrived. Yet, Fischel, sporting a black button down shirt with a white tie, and matching black slacks and white shoes, came prepared to overwhelm the crowd. Not only did Josh Fischel look sharp, he played sharp; just like he has since he began taking over every bar and club in southern California.
Equipped with only his voice and his six-string guitar, the crowd was at his fingertips and holding on to every lyric. Fischel played old Bargain Music classics like “Raking Leaves” and “Black Eye”, with the crowd singing along like it was 2006 all over again. However, it was not all old walks through memory lane, Fischel even mustered up a rendition of “Dracula’s Lament”, or more affectionately known as “The Vampire Song” from the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Needless to say, finishing out his set with that song for everyone’s delight, elevated the crowd for Unwritten Law to follow. But, before Josh Fischel left the stage, he told fans “Meet at the merchandise booth, I will only be able to stay for a half an hour. My wife and I are driving down to Tucson for another show at 11pm!” Right on time, the crowd soon vacated the large floor and waited to greet Fischel.
As soon as fans migrated to the lobby, I happened to bump into both Thomas (singer/percussionist) and Matt (drummer) from local reggae band RAC, who have shared the stage with such acts as the Dirty Heads, Tribal Seeds and the ever-present Josh Fischel. We went around talking about past shows we witnessed the underground legend perform, and Matt said, “We played a show, maybe two years ago, at local venue called Crabby Don’s with Josh, and there were only a handful of people there to see it.” Sometimes those intimate shows are the most memorable. Comparatively speaking, Josh Fischel has seen both the bright side and dark side of the touring circuit. This night just happened to be one of the more enjoyable shows for the vocalist/guitarist.
At this point, fans in attendance were prepared to experience the remainder of the evening with Unwritten Law and The Expendables splitting the highly anticipated acoustic and electric sets. For music enthusiasts unfamiliar with Unwritten Law, the band’s career has expanded through three different decades and multiple musical platforms. After touring with notable acts Blink 182, Buck-O-Nine and Pennywise, during the late 1990s and early 2000s, Unwritten Law garnered plenty of mainstream success with such hits as “Up All Night”, “Save Me” and “Seein’ Red”. Along with those milestones, Unwritten Law also performed a cover of “Saw Red” on the Look At All The Love We Found: A Tribute to Sublime DVD.
Recently, Unwritten Law has joined forces with Suburban Noize Records, releasing Live and Lawless, as well as their sixth studio album titled Swan in 2011. As the lights once again illuminated the stage, Scott Russo (vocals/guitar) and Kevin Besignano (guitar) took their places on their bar stools and belted out “Starships and Apocalypse”, Unwritten Law’s lead single from Swan. With Unwritten Law’s heavier, progressive rock-punk grooves, transferring their sound to acoustic wasn’t difficult for the rock veterans. The one aspect that I was surprised about during their set was their crowd interaction. Perhaps, I was not familiar with Unwritten Law’s snarky and sarcastic sense of humor, but engaging with the crowd while simultaneously poking fun at the “Gone Soft” tour name, which also happens to be the title of The Expendables most recent album, might not have been the best strategy to win over the half-capacity venue.
However, the wait was not long before The Expendables graced the stage with acoustic guitars, an acoustic bass, as well as a Adam Patterson playing behind a subsided drum set featuring chimes, but did not include a beefy bass drum. Yet, all of the power and vigor that The Expendables feature on their full electric songs happened to be present within their acoustic set, as well. Jumping through their extensive catalog, old favorites like “Minimum Wage”, “24/7”, “Ryan’s Song” while also featuring their new song “Corporate Cafeteria”. The intense dueling guitars rang true through the speakers, even without the fully plugged in nature of the acoustic set. If The Expendables intended on displaying their true musical talent and vast range of hard and soft rock touch, the Santa Cruz outfit definitely did not disappoint.
With the stools no longer present on stage, the laid back atmosphere was about to turn rambunctious and much, much louder. The decibel levels were raised, and certainly, Unwritten Law felt right at home. The crowd was more in-tune with their performance during the electric part of the night, and the aforementioned hit songs “Seein’ Red” and “Up All Night” were featured prominently. And, the crowd responded accordingly, as fans jumped about the wide-open floor, nearly creating a token punk-rock moshpit.
After just under an hour long set from Unwritten Law, the “Gone Soft” tour officially got hard. All of the in your face bass lines from Ryan DeMars and dueling guitar solos by Geoff Weers and Raul Bianchi filled the venue with the true essence of rock and roll. The night wasn’t all heavy guitar licks and hard rock ballads, after all, the concert was billed as a reggae-rock show.
After opening with an extended dub rock instrumental that seemed endless, The Expendables then unleashed “Let Loose” and “Down Down Down” on the Marquee crowd. The Expendables kept their sound going, transitioning from one song to the next, like true live show professionals. The fans in attendance, couldn’t get enough, trying to capture every moment of the musical pleasure.
It wasn’t long before The Expendables broke out their recognizable cover of Eek-A-Mouse’s infamous tune “Ganja Smuggling”. Although, it might have been on the brink of summertime, the indoor venue coupled with a scarcely filled crowd, left no presence of the green leaf, at all, even with the provocative lyrics blasted through the soundsystem. With that point evident, it would seem the security staff would have a relatively easy-going night, but they needed something to keep busy, right? Even if that meant escorting a particular media member out of the venue for recording with an HD camera, over three hours into the live show. Yet, as I looked back at the stage, nothing but digital cameras and smart phones lit up the front of the stage.
Maybe this was the final sign of the growing case of Arizona’s music scene crumbling before its’ residents and patrons’ eyes. Moreover, the figures that show dwindling crowd sizes, even among loyal fan bases in the reggae-rock genre, is the ideal warning sign that many prominent acts have not ignored. Two of the genre’s flagship acts, SOJA and Tribal Seeds have virtually ignored the Phoenix metropolitan area, and rightfully so. Venues are continuing to close down, one after another. The draw is not there, and even if the numbers proved otherwise, the bands are wise enough to take their devoted fans’ in-show experience to heart.
However, we at The Pier have plenty of embedded reporters and comrades on the scene, and the show continued on for everyone else remaining in attendance. One of the most enjoyable live songs performed by The Expendables is undoubtedly “Sacrifice”. The studio track has all the ingredients for a musical masterpiece, but when “The Expendies” perform this song live, a four-minute gem turns into nearly an eight-minute long ensemble. Other performance mainstays “Bowl For Two”, “Alone” and “Head In My Hands” were also featured before the night came to an end, bringing the crowd to full voice.
The act of putting on an acoustic/electric showcase such as this was a pleasant surprise on a concert circuit that can sometimes seem repetitive. For this particular show, nothing came as expected, both musically and with the environment inside the Marquee. This was a live version of “unplugged” with all of your favorite songs performed, followed by another set completely plugged in. Fans that enter the show for all the remaining dates on The Expendables’ Gone Soft Tour will leave with an abundance of noteworthy moments and cherished songs, both acoustically and electrically. Just remember to not bring an HD camera!
Article By: Kris Siuta
Photos By: IrieAZPhoto