Retrospective: 35 Years Since “Ernest Saves Christmas” By Jesse Striewski

I recently had a conversation with a friend who had noted the theatrical family Christmas film has all but disappeared from the mainstream. Sure, you can still get your fair share of the romantic Christmas movie each holiday season via the Hallmark channel. Or plenty of over-the-top seasonal slashers or stoner buddy comedies, but all of these are a dime a dozen. Where are all the Christmas Vacation’s, the Home Alone’s, and the Ernest Saves Christmases‘ at now?

When Jim Varney hit the big screen as Ernest P. Worrell again for the John Cherry-directed Ernest Saves Christmas (which originally dropped in theaters on November 11, 1988), I was there to catch it with all four of my older brothers and sisters in a New Jersey theater, for the one and only time I can recall the five of us ever going to all see a movie together (if memory serves correct, this may or may not have also been when us kids all stopped by the photography studio of a mall department store to have a portrait taken for our parents that Christmas).

But I digress, back to the movie itself. This time around, Ernest is an Orlando-based cab driver who happens to pick up the one and only Kris Kringle himself (played perfectly by the late Douglas Seale) at the airport, who’s in town searching for a replacement Santa for his inevitable retirement, setting his sights on a local children’s show host name Joe (Oliver Clark) who checks all the marks on the “good guy” list.

But it wouldn’t be an Ernest flick without some complications; Santa leaves his bag of toys in Ernest’s cab, and he and a troubled teenaged runaway who calls herself Harmony Star (Noelle Parker) must not only get it back to him, but also spring him from jail after being incarcerated/written off as just another crazy old man.

Granted, we’re not talking Academy Award worthy material here by any means; but as far as harmless, family-oriented holiday films go, Ernest Saves Christmas is easily a top ten pick on many a list. And having since moved to the central, FL area since originally seeing the film all those years ago, I’ve been lucky enough to have visited many of the locations where it was filmed, including the Orlando International Airport (see photo), making it all the more personal for me. Though it might not be a holiday classic in everyone’s eyes, it remains one in my book to this day.

The Orlando International Airport where Ernest (Jim Varney) picks up Santa Claus (Douglas Seale) at the beginning of Ernest Saves Christmas (from the author’s personal collection, taken on 10/9/23).

Bush, Bad Wolves, and Eva Under Fire at Hard Rock Live in Orlando, FL on 11/14/23 By Jesse Striewski/Photos By Brooke Striewski

This past Tuesday, November 14, Orlando was graced with some ’90s post-grunge perfection when Bush lead the charge through the Hard Rock Live for the very first date of their current Nowhere to Go But Everywhere tour, complete with support from Bad Wolves and Eva Under Fire in tow.

Just days prior, Rewind It had visited the Hard Rock for Bullet For My Valentine’s show the previous Friday (an admirable concert in its own right). But having been a teenager/high school student in the decade Bush had originally emerged from meant that there was much more nostalgia going into it for me than said last show. The only other difference this time around was I had my wife Brooke acting as photographer rather than my son, Jacob.

I had looked up Eva Under Fire prior to going into things as well, who seemed decent enough at a quick glance. Commanding frontwoman Eva Marie (whose voice reminded me of a cross between Heart’s Ann Wilson, and Lizzy Hale of Halestorm) gave it her all on songs like “Comatose,” “Heroin(e),” “Devil in Disguise,” “Coming for Blood,” a cover of Journey’s “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart),” “Unstoppable/Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” and “Blow.” A chance meeting with Marie shortly after their set was the icing on the cake.

Rewind It’s Brooke Striewski (right) and Eva Under Fire singer Eva Marie after the show on Tuesday night.

On the other hand, Bad Wolves are a band truly worthy of having the title “bad” in their name. Now, I understand there’s been some drama within the ranks of this band after former lead singer Tommy Vext was ousted over “creative differences” (a nice way of saying he likely didn’t confirm to the rest of their beliefs) a couple of years back. But sans their 2018 single “Remember When” (a track they of course did not perform), I really can’t say I was a fan of much of their material to begin with, so I truly have no investment with one side or the other either way (but in comparison, I think I would’ve much rather had seen Bad Wolves when Vext was still at the helm of the mic, as their current frontman, Daniel “DL” Laskiewicz, simply did not come off as very “likeable”).

I truly tried to get into their set (which was introduced by WJRR DJ Mel Taylor) as they went through titles like “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” “Killing me Slowly,” “Savior,” “Sober,” and “Lifeline,” but couldn’t help thinking all I was hearing was the most generic of mainstream rock available. Even their closer, a decent (yet still very odd choice, in my opinion) cover of The Cranberries’ 1994 hit “Zombie,” only elicited a mild reaction in my book.

Finally, the main even everyone had come to see, Bush, hit the stage just after 9pm. Opening with a one-two punch of numbers from their 1994 debut Sixteen Stone in the form of “Everything Zen” and “Machinehead,” the band instantly had the crowd in their grasp.

Songs like “Bullet Holes,” “The Chemicals Between Us” (where I can honestly say my wife and I lovingly held hands the entire time throughout), “The People That We Love,” “Quicksand,” “Swallowed,” “Nowhere to Go But Everywhere,” and “Heavy is the Ocean” all followed before lead singer Gavin Rossdale sprinted off into the crowd during “Flowers On a Grave,” running to the top of the balcony to finish off the song before ultimately heading back to the stage all in due time.

“All Thing Must Change” and “Little Things” followed before the band took a brief reprieve prior to their encore, which consisted of “More Than Machines,” “Glycerine” (with Rossdale performing solo with just his guitar), and finally, “Comedown.” I doubt that even the most casual of Bush fans (and grunge, for that matter) could find one single complaint with the band’s set last Tuesday night at the Hard Rock; I know I certainly couldn’t if I tried.

Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale going from balcony to stage during one of the most exciting moments of Tuesday night’s show at the Hard Rock Live Orlando.

Book Review: Walking with Sam: A Father, A Son, and Five Hundred Miles Across Spain By Andrew McCarthy (Grand Central Publishing)

By: Jesse Striewski

When I read and reviewed Andrew McCarthy’s 2021 memoir Brat: An ’80s Story, I found things about the actor, author, and former brat-packer that I never knew we shared in common (for starters, we’re both originally from New Jersey). But now after having read his latest printed offering, I realize we’re almost one and the same when it comes to one extremely vital role of adulthood; parenting.

It’s almost uncanny to learn just how many similarities we share as fathers after reading Walking with Sam…, which detailed his walk across the Camino de Santiago in Spain with his still teenaged son (the aforementioned “Sam” in the title). Not only are our respective sons close in age (his is nineteen in the book, while mine is currently seventeen), he also seems to have almost identical struggles, like getting his offspring out the door on time in the morning (which I suppose is fairly universal these days).

Along the path, they learn things about one another, process personal traumas and regrets, and ultimately grow as human beings. It’s a bittersweet journey that McCarthy allows us an intimate look at his inside thoughts, and the dynamic between parent and child and the sometimes difficult decisions we have to make along the way.

Those looking for a walk down ’80s memory lane similar to Brat are not likely going to find much of that here, sans the occasional mention when it pops up as a topic of conversation. Regardless, there’s no shortage here of discovering who McCarthy truly is as a person, which in turn causes one to look further into themselves; that alone is worth taking the journey with him.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Bullet For My Valentine, Of Mice & Men, and Vended at the Hard Rock Live in Orlando, FL on 11/10/23 Words By Jesse Striewski/Photos By Jacob Striewski

Back in 2006 (what now feels like a lifetime ago), I caught this little unknown Welsh band at the time opening for Rob Zombie called Bullet For My Valentine. Two years later I saw them again, opening on a bill alongside Avenged Sevenfold and Atreyu at the 2008 Taste of Chaos Tour. Five more years after that, I caught them as openers for Alice Cooper at a gig I worked security for at the CFE Arena in 2013. A lot has definitely changed for the band in the span of all those years, the most apparent being they’ve since grown to be headliners themselves rather than simply a warm-up act, and rightfully so.

Just days prior to their show at the Hard Rock Live in Orlando, FL on Friday, November 10, I received a request to cover the concert from the publicist for openers Vended, the young Iowa-based metal group who have since been carving a name out for themselves and gaining significant traction thanks to two of its members being the sons of Sliptknot’s Corey Taylor (Griffin Taylor) and Shawn Crahan (Simon Crahan). After shifting a few things around, I was able to make it to the show with my own son (Jacob) yet again acting as my photographer for the event (who ironically was “with me” in a way at that very first Bullet For My Valentine show back in 2006 when his pregnant mother and I attended it together).

The minute Vended hit the stage, it was clear they were not about to go easy on their audience any time soon, after a recording of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” was played and slowed down to eerie levels before the guys emerged on stage to blast into “Ded to Me.” More hard-hitters in the form of “Am I the Only One,” “Overall,” “The Far Side,” and “Asylum” all followed before the guys stepped aside to let Of Mice & Men take a turn.

I’ve always held a small place in my heart for metalcore bands like Of Mice & Men, but for whatever reason had still not seen them live before now despite the number of shows I’ve been to over the years. It felt like 2010 to me all over again as the band plowed through a set of tracks both new and old that included “Bones Exposed,” “Would You Still Be There,” “Castaway,” “Obsolete,” “O.G. Loko,” “Into the Sun,” “Warpaint,” and “Bloom.”

Finally, Bullet For My Valentine took over the stage, and full command of the room for that matter. While “Knives” and “Over It” were admirable enough to kick things off, it was song number three (“Your Betrayal”) that really got the crowd pumping. “Piece of Me” followed before the band dug deep in their catalog with “4 Words (to Choke Upon).”

The crowd stuck in there until the very end as the band went through old and new songs alike in the form of “The Last Fight,” “All These Things (I Hate Revolve Around Me),” “Shatter,” “Scream Aim Fire,” “You Want a Battle (Here’s a War),” “Rainbow Veins,” and “Don’t Need You.” By the time all was said and done, there was nothing else left except to visit the merch tent on the way out (and the nearby Voodoo Doughnut shop!) before finally calling it a night.

Spooky Empire’s 20th Anniversary at the Hyatt Regency in Orlando, FL 10/27-10/29/23 Words and Photos By Shawn McKee

Spooky Empire recently celebrated its 20th year of delivering horror fandom to the masses with a monstrous weekend extravaganza that stared on Friday, October 27, and concluded on Sunday, October 29, 2023.

The renowned convention dominated the Hyatt Regency Orlando with a star-studded guest list of horror icons. And for the first time, Jason Vorhees (Kane Hodder), Freddy Krueger (Robert England), and Pinhead (Doug Bradley) were in the same room together! I don’t know if that’s true, but it sounds cool.

The long-running convention bills itself as the “Dark Side of Comic Con.” It was my first time ever attending, and the event didn’t disappoint. The 3-day weekend featured an extensive list of panels with actors, creators, and industry insiders, a horror film festival, an onslaught of vendors, a massive tattoo festival, special effects exhibitions, and costumes galore from staff and attendees. Of course, the event’s biggest draw was the sheer amount of horror icons in attendance.

The convention boasted a roster of over sixty guests from various decades of horror films and television. Their top draws were Kiefer Sutherland, Robert Englund, and Cassandra Peterson of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark fame. Having recently read her memoir, I was excited to meet the queen of haunts, but the list didn’t stop there.

In addition to the aforementioned greats, they had Jason Patric, Lou Diamond Phillips, special effects legends Greg Nicotero and the Chiodo Brothers, A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Heather Langenkamp, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2‘s Bill Moseley and Bill Johnson, An American Werewolf in London‘s David Naughton, Alex Vincent from Child’s Play, the voice of the Crypt Keeper himself, John Kassir, Nick Frost, Danielle Harris, Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, and many more.

The catch was that you’d have to be a millionaire to get all their autographs (more on that later). Admittedly, I wasn’t all that prepared for the big event. I didn’t attend Friday and opted for the weekend. The entire three days, I soon learned, were a necessity to make headway.

I arrived close to noon on Saturday and contended with a large crowd. The staff, however, kept the lines orderly and moving. Once inside the Hyatt resort and through the festival entrance, I witnessed a barrage of sights and sounds. Massive monster inflatables, an empty stage adorned with banners and blasting music, and a gaggle of lines were my introduction.

Countless eye-catching costumes were on display, some more impressive than others (the less said about the guy wearing the foam Lego brick the better). Jason, Michael Myers, and Leatherface were everywhere, and it was interesting to see all their different variations. There were a lot of Elviras there as well.

Perhaps most interesting were the couples costumes. I saw Beetlejuice and Lydia, Edward Scissorhands and Kim (both of which the female characters were portrayed by Winona Ryder), Candyman and Helen, and even a spot-on Hellraiser duo with Pinhead and female Cenobite.

Gore galore was displayed in many costumes. I felt under-dressed in my regular, boring non-costume attire. But I didn’t have time to sit around admiring costumes all day. I had a noon panel to attend with John Kassir, the Crypt Keeper.

They had no shortage of exciting panels on the schedule, but no matter how well I tried to plan, most of my time was spent waiting in lines for celebrity autographs. Out of the six panels I planned for that weekend, I only made it to two.

The John Kassir panel featured an insightful Q&A, where he detailed his early career and breaking into the business as a comedian “with no act” but lots of impressions. Growing up with HBO’s Tales from the Crypt, I felt my childhood come to life. And when it came time for audience questions, I wasted no time getting in line.

Panel on 10/28/23 featuring John Kassir of Tales From the Crypt fame.

I asked Mr. Kassir about the evolution of the Crypt Keeper from a restrained, quiet ghoul in the first season to the wisecracking, pun-making maniac in the later seasons. Kassir explained that advancements in the animatronic puppet over the years allowed for a more animated and expressive host. He also stated that showrunners wanted to explore what else the Crypt Keeper might do outside of living in a Crypt, hence the gleefully cartoonish persona he evolved into. To talk to an actor from a cherished show was worth the price of admission alone. But my day was only getting started.

I ventured into the vast autograph room, fully adorned with tables, banners, and celebrities. Some friends of mine were there who knew the general layout and had already done a bunch of stuff on Friday. The lines for Robert Englund, Cassandra Peterson, and Kiefer Sutherland wrapped outside the doors and were up to two hours long.

As I tried to take in the flurry of celebrity tables encircling me, I saw Greg Nicotero of The Waking Dead fame seated nearby. He was on my list. I asked him to sign my Blu-ray copy of Creepshow 2, a film he did special effects for before the establishment of KNB EFX Group. I thanked him forkeeping the Creepshow legacy alive with the current Shudder series, which I genuinely enjoy.

Author Shawn McKee (right) with Special F/X wiz Greg Nicotero.

Next up was a panel featuring cast members of 1987’s The Lost Boys. Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric, and Billy Wirth addressed the packed room, recounting insightful behind-the-scenes stories, including paying tribute to their late great director, Joel Schumacher.

The Lost Boys panel on 10/28/23 featuring (from left to right), host Riki Rachtman, Jason Patric, Kiefer Sutherland, and Billy Wirth.

I scheduled a photo op on a whim with Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, and Marley Shelton from Planet Terror, the first half of the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino magnum opus Grindhouse (2007). The photo cost me about what I had left to spend that day, so I proceeded to tour the vendor room for the remainder of the time with my delicious Nightmare on Elm Street rum and ginger beer mix in hand.

By Sunday, I arrived early with hopes of meeting Elvira and Kiefer Sutherland. Most of everyone else, however, had the same plan. Neither celebrity had arrived yet, which freed me up some time to see Doug Bradley, who just set up. I also had a busy panel list of separate Q&As with Kane Hodder, Rose McGowan, Robert Englund, and others. It all seemed doable…until it wasn’t.

Meeting someone of Doug Bradley’s stature was a bit unnerving. Even without the extensive Pinhead makeup, you could see the character in his startling, gray eyes. He was ever the English gentleman though, calm, and friendly.

I mentioned Anthony Hickox, director of the Waxwork films and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth who recently passed away. Bradley seemed to recall him with fondness. I felt thrilled upon getting a signed 8×10 Pinhead glossy and a picture with the actor. That was what it was all about. All the lines, expense, and planning came down to those brief moments where it was just you and the star of the films you love.

My excitement soon turned to trepidation when I learned that Elvira and Kiefer Sutherland had arrived. Their lines were long, their autographs cost $100, and they weren’t taking selfies. Pictures were, in fact, another commodity to be paid for separately in the designated photo op room. I passed both out of principle and financial necessity.

Besides, I had already scheduled a photo op with Danielle Harris, Jamie Lloyd from Halloween 4 and 5. I also knew Harris from her role as Bruce Willis’s smartass kid in The Last Boy Scout (1991) and many movies or TV shows she popped up in back then. She was incredibly kind in person and equally reciprocal when I thanked her for being there.

McKee with actress Danielle Harris, best known for her involvement in the Halloween franchise, including Halloween 4 (1988), Halloween 5 (1989), and Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007).

During The Lost Boys panel, Kiefer Sutherland made similar appreciative remarks toward the fans. “We’re only here because of you,” he said. “We owe all of our success to you and your interest in our work.” For such a big star, he showed the utmost humility. It was those moments that suggested it wasn’t just work for them. Some of them actually wanted to be there.

As the day ended, I had only the time and money to meet one more celebrity. Why not Kane Hodder? The actor and legendary stuntman who portrayed Jason Vorhees an unprecedented four times had me nervous in line. Would he crush my skull if I asked for a selfie?

He was candid, friendly, and funny despite being clearly exhausted by the end of the long weekend. When most others had packed up, Hodder remained even as his line grew. We all watched, starry-eyed and infatuated, as the supernatural serial killer from our youth sat only a few feet away. Our words exchanged with Hodder and the signed Jason picture said it all, we love these damn movies.

Author McKee with actor/stuntman Kane Hodder, best known for his portrayal of Jason Voorhees.

Spooky Empire and similar conventions have their fair share of headaches. At times, my impatience at long lines and disappointment of missing panels grew, along with anxiety toward my diminishing finances. Ultimately, the experience gave me a deeper appreciation for horror films and the talent behind them.

It is both a community and an art form for people to express themselves through. To truly enjoy these conventions is to immerse yourself in your surroundings. Next time, I’ll be more prepared.

Album Review: FEAR -For Right and Order (Atom Age Industries)

By: Jesse Striewski

In a time where punk music has really lost its edge (and I’ve personally lost much interest in it) and has really just become nothing more than another type of conformity itself across the board, the world really needed something new from the likes of a band such as FEAR.

Their first “true” album of new music since 2000’s American Beer (not including re-recordings and/or comps), there’s not a single “dud” to be found on For Right and Order (typically there might be at least one or two skip-able tracks on later releases of theirs).

The minute “I’m Back and I’m Bitching” kicks off the album, it’s clear that Lee Ving and company have returned to form. It’s hard to decide on just one favorite track here, with titles like “100 Downers,” “Manhunt,” “Homicide,” and “Nobody Hears You.”

There’s even a cover of Rose Tattoo’s “Nice Boys (Don’t Play Rock and Roll),” and Ving digs into his best country with album closer “I Like Beer.” But I’ve always loved Ving most when he puts on his thinking cap and gets serious, and there’s no better example of that here than the epic title track, which I find myself going back to time and time again.

Every track here fits in its own right, and there’s rarely a weak moment. No doubt the material found here fits easily alongside past releases; this is FEAR at their absolute best, on top of their game and right where the world needs them, when it needs them the most.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Film Review: Five Nights at Freddy’s (Universal Pictures)

By: Jesse Striewski

Truthfully, I knew very little about Five Nights at Freddy’s prior to going into the new film other than it’s a game I’ve surely pumped plenty of money into over the years already thanks to my kid, and it bore a striking resemblance (at least on the surface) to the 2021 Nicholas Cage vehicle Willy’s Wonderland.

But perhaps my ignorance of the franchise was actually advantageous in this case; having little to no knowledge of the source material, and in turn no real expectations of the film itself, I went in with more or less a blank slate. That said, I really enjoyed what was on display on the big screen.

John Hutcherson plays Mike Schmidt, a down-on-his luck, unemployed security guard raising his little sister Abby (Piper Rubio) solo while also dealing with the guilt and trauma of losing their little brother to a kidnapper when he was twelve years old. After accepting an ill-advised overnight position from his career counselor (Matthew Lillard) at a defunct ’80s family entertainment center called Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria, things take a turn for the worse for him.

It’s quickly apparent after starting the job and meeting local beat cop Vanessa Shelly (Elizabeth Lail) that there’s more going on behind the scenes at Freddy’s, discovering the animatronic figures in the pizzeria are not only possessed, but also share a certain connection to his long lost brother (and a creepy reaction whenever The Romantics track “Talking in Your Sleep” comes on).

Aside from a fairly uninteresting subplot involving a custody battle with a vicious aunt (Mary Stuart Masterson), the film actually moves along quite nicely (albeit a bit slow at times). And while others have criticized its focus on the kidnapping backstory, it never goes the route that so many similar films have before it with unnecessary sex and violence (and/or gore).

Is Five Nights at Freddy’s a flawless movie? Of course not. But is it harmless enough, PG-13 level campy fun that you can take the family to without cringing the whole time? Absolutely.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Retrospective: 45 Years Since The Night He Came Home on ‘Halloween’ By Jesse Striewski

In the late ’70s, the face of horror and overall cultural landscape of American films as we knew it was changed forever when co-screenwriters John Carpenter and Debra Hill unleashed Michael Myers upon an unsuspecting world via the original Halloween, effectively launching a seemingly never-ending franchise and media machine.

Directed by Carpenter and released on October 25, 1978, the film centers around the aforementioned Myers (played primarily by Nick Castle in this entry), who stalked and killed his older sister Judith (Sandy Johnson) on Halloween night 1963. Fast forward to 1978, when after serving fifteen years in a mental facility under the care of Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence), he suddenly makes a break for it, just in time to return to his home town of Haddonfield, IL on (you guessed it), Halloween.

It’s there he encounters three unsuspecting babysitters whose fates will all be drastically changed; Annie (Nancy Loomis), Linda (P.J. Soles), and of course, the lone survivor (and epitome of heroines), Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). Meanwhile Loomis enlists the help of local sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers) to track down and prevent Myers from seeing through his devious acts.

Rewind It’s (l to r) Jacob, Jesse, and Brooke Striewski with actress P.J. Soles – who portrayed Lynda Van Der Klok in the original Halloweenat Fantasm in Orlando, FL on 10-3-21.

With a budget of larger than $325,000, the film quickly became one of the most successful independent films of all time after earning over $70 million at the box office, and is considered groundbreaking horror, and the go-to example to the slasher genre. Every last detail from its isolated, dark suburban setting, to the simplistic yet eerie music score by Carpenter, struck a lifelong nerve with audiences and non-horror fans alike.

Of course one can no longer talk about Halloween without mentioning its various sequels, remakes, and overall retreads. While 1981’s Halloween II directly followed the first film (and admirably at that), few that came after were able to re-capture that same “feel” as the original. 1982’s stand alone Halloween III: Season of the Witch (which I’ve mentioned before in previous articles was my introduction to the Halloween films, and still my personal favorite of them all to this day) saw filmmakers attempting to try something different, yet audiences were not ready for such drastic changes at the time.

After 1988’s Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, the series began declining considerably, with many of the entries released since being nearly unwatchable (most notably the latest “requels” that began in 2018 and concluded with last year’s notorious Halloween Ends). Yet whatever rehashes that have come and gone since, nothing can ever take away from the original “night he came home.”

Album Review: Air Drawn Dagger – Songs To Fight the Gods To (Silent Cult Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

It’s becoming less and less common for me to come across a completely original new band that I really dig. and although I realize such statements may sound like nothing more than the ramblings of some bitter old dude, there’s a certain truth that many bands that come along nowadays just don’t pack the same punch as many of those who have come before them.

Such is not the case with Air Drawn Dagger, a young three-piece outfit hailing from the U.K. who I was pleasantly surprised by when deciding to give their new EP, Songs To Fight The Gods To, a legitimate try.

At first glance of their music video for “You Should Have Known Better,” I initially got some Billie Eilish vibes from singer Maisie (whose commanding yet elegant presence is impossible to take your eyes off of while performing). But once things started truly going into full effect, I could tell these newcomers had something different going for them, and was reminded more of late ’90s/early ’00s rockers Tsunami Bomb instead.

Other tracks like “Stigmata” “Title Fight,” and “GhostsGhostsGhosts (Phantoms),” keeps this five song EP floating along nicely. One minute any one of these given tracks might be barreling at full force, only to reach an unexpected piano-driven breakdown, keeping things diverse and interesting.

I’m sure there’s a number of things I would probably disagree with the young members of Air Drawn Dagger if you were to put us all in a room together to talk politics. But one thing is for sure, we would certainly see eye-to-eye on how to rock out appropriately if we ever did.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Depeche Mode at Amway Center in Orlando, FL on 10/10/23 By Jesse Striewski

Last week, ’80s stalwarts and new wave innovators Depeche Mode brought their signature synth pop to Orlando for the first time since 1998 (the closest they’ve come has been Tampa a couple of times since then) for what many have labeled a “comeback” tour (original keyboardist and founding member Andy Fletcher past away last year, leaving just singer Dave Gahan and multi-instrumentalist Martin Gore as the two lone original members).

Admittedly, I was not quite prepared for the laborious, twenty-five song set list that lay ahead at the Amway Center last Tuesday, October 10; as only a casual fan of the band, I was more or less there out of my wife’s insistence. To make matters worse, photo passes for media were limited for the event (and Rewind It were one of many not to be issued one), and rather than bringing a contemporary with them to open the show, that duty was given to a bland New York-based outfit called DIIV (pronounced “Dive”), who maybe I might’ve shown some interest in had I first heard them ten years ago.

Earlier this year I had actually given Depches’ latest album, Memento Mori, a favorable review for Rewind It. But after hearing far more tracks from it than expected live (six out of a total of twelve of the album’s tracks were actually performed), I was slightly over it. “Speak to Me,” “My Cosmos is Mine,” “Wagging Tongue,” “Walking in My Shoes,” “It’s No Good,” “Sister of Night,” and “In Your Room” were not exactly the strongest songs from the band’s extensive catalogue to kick the night off with.

“Everything Counts” finally started bringing things in the right direction, before “Precious,” “My Favourite Stranger,” “A Question of Lust,” “Soul With Me,” “Ghosts Again” (one of the more favorable tracks from Memento…), “I Feel You,” “A Pain That I’m Used To,” “World in My Eyes,” “Wrong,” and “Stripped” all followed.

But the band truly saved the best for last, with “John the Revelator,” “Enjoy the Silence,” “Condemnation,” (with a brief rendition of “Happy Birthday to You” thrown in for good measure, dedicated to a 16-year-old member of the audience), “Just Can’t Get Enough,” “Never Let Me Down Again,” and lastly, the grand finale of “Personal Jesus” closing out the already exhausting evening.

Although they might have ended on a high note, there were still far too many of the band’s classics missing from the set, including “People are People,” “Policy of Truth,” and one of my personal favorites, “Blasphemous Rumors” (I’d take any one of those tracks over “Just Can’t Get Enough” any day). But I digress; regardless of what songs they included in their set, there’s no denying the everlasting imprint Depeche Mode have left on modern music, so to hear them live at least once in this lifetime was fully worth the investment.