Volusia County was pulsating with the sounds of boisterous ’80s hard rock this past Saturday, July 23, as the criminally underrated Cinderella frontman Tom Keifer and his band blistered through the hot and humid night with fellow ’80s rockers Faster Pussycat in direct support (L.A. Guns were originally scheduled to perform in between the two acts, but unfortunately cancelled at the eleventh hour).
Faster Pussycat have always been one of those bands from back in the day that I tend to forget about sometimes (often times due to inactivity), but am always quickly reminded by how fun they truly are. Opening with “Jack the Bastard,” Taime Downe and company (it should also be noted that although L.A. Guns were not able to play, Faster Pussycat bassist Danny Nordahl and drummer Chad Stewart previously both served some time with them between 2007-2012) quickly got bodies moving.
More heavy-hitting cuts followed, including “Where There’s a Whip, There’s a Way,” “Cathouse,” “Slip of the Tongue,” “You’re So Vain,” “Ain’t No Way Around It,” “Number 1 With a Bullet,” and “Sex Drugs & Rock-n-Roll” before they finally slowed things down a bit to play their hit 1989 power ballad, “House of Pain.” The guys then brought out guitarist for Tom Keifer’s band Tony Higbee to finish off their set with “Don’t Change That Song” and of course their signature rowdy anthem, “Bathroom Wall.”
Finally, the legendary Tom Keifer took the stage, armed with a stellar band of musicians, and that unmistakable voice, kicking things off with the solo track “Touching the Divine,” before treating fans with some favorite Cinderella tracks in the form of “Night Songs” and “Coming Home.” “It’s Not Enough” and “Somebody Save Me” followed before Tom and company slowed things down a bit for the piano-driven title track of his latest album, “Rise.”
Another Cinderella classic in the form of “Nobody’s Fool” got the crowd back on their feet again, before one last solo tack, “Solid Ground,” paved the way for a slew of Cinderella staples, including “Bad Seamstress Blues/Fallin’ Apart at the Seams,” “The Last Mile,” “Don’t Know What You Got (Til It’s Gone),” “Shake Me,” and “Shelter Me.”
The band took a brief reprieve before taking to the stage once again for an encore that included dueling guitar solos between Keifer and Higbee, then finally closing out the night with “Gypsy Road,” leaving the audience dripping with sweat, yet fully content. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; Keifer often does not always receive the recognition he truly deserves, and any list of greatest hard rock frontmen should include him right alongside the best of them. At least those of us catching him on this tour right now understand the true depths of his greatness.
L.A. Guns are a complicated bunch to say the least; for the second time in the band’s history, there are two separate versions of the band currently active (a practice becoming more and more common among groups from their era). Bassist Kelly Nickels was a part of their “classic” era (as well as an early member of another notorious Sunset Strip group, Faster Pussycat), playing on the first four L.A. Guns records and classic tracks like “Never Enough,” “Rip and Tear,” and “The Ballad of Jayne.” After a number of years absent from playing with the group, Nickels recently re-joined the Steve Riley-led version of the band; I recently spoke with him regarding just how that reunion came about, among other things.
Before getting in to band business, I asked Nickels what he was up to during his time away from the band. He tells me; “I’ve done all kinds of stuff! I’ve done a lot of carpentry, I’ve got my own design company where I do a lot of graphics and computer work, and the last few years I’ve been working on a shark cage diving boat off of Long Island. And of course raising kids in there, too, so I’ve stayed busy!”
Nickels then painted a picture of just how things played out getting involved with L.A. Guns again; “Well, Steve (Riley, L.A. Guns drummer) called me and told me what was going on with M3. They asked him to put a version of the band together to play that festival last year, and he basically asked me if I’d be interested in doing it or not, and the timing was good in my life, and it’s felt good to get back out there”
He goes on to explain how this incarnation of the band came to be; “When we first started the project, we had two other people who were into doing it, but dropped out. So we looked at Scott (Griffin, L.A. Guns guitarist), who had played bass in the band before (from 2007-09, and again from 2011-14), but Steve said he was an amazing guitar player too, which I had no idea. But I thought that was a great cause I already knew him a little bit from meeting him throughout the years. And Scott knew Kurt (Frohlich, L.A. Guns singer) and said he’d be a good fit. Kurt sent us a tape and we liked it, so we flew him out from FL to L.A. for a few days of rehearsal, and the chemistry and energy were really good, so we just said ‘let’s go’.”
The band released a new single last month called “Crawl,” and also have a full length album coming out soon titled Renegades. I asked how the songwriting went, and Kelly tells me; “We all chipped in and brought in songs. We basically took the best of what we had in a short amount of time to put it together. We wanted to just keep it a high energy record, which I think it is. A little punk, a little thrash mixed in there. But it’s been a really fun project, and we’re just looking forward to playing it and getting it out there. Just to put a song out into the world is an amazing gift, and we’re looking forward to sharing it with people.”
I also had to ask if Nickels, who is the only member of L.A. Guns to ever sing lead vocals on a song other than a lead singer (on the track “Nothing Better To Do” from 1994’s Vicious Circle album), would be singing lead again on any of the upcoming album’s numbers. He explains; “First of all, “Nothing Better To Do” was an accident (Laughs)! We were in the studio doing it, and everybody went to dinner, and I stayed with the engineer and decided to put just a guide vocal down for Phil (Lewis, L.A. Guns vocalist in the Guns/Lewis version of the band), and when he got back from dinner I played it for him, and he said it was ‘already done.’ I never had any intention of singing lead on a song (and probably never will again!). I was just trying to help him out, but he thought it was good the way it was, so it just kind of ended up the way it is.”
Still, the band revived the track last year during the previously-mentioned M3 Rockfest, alongside a host of classics, including perhaps the band’s most well-remembered hit, “The Ballad of Jayne.” I asked Kelly what it was that made so-called power ballads like it so enduring to fans all these years later, and he says; “I think that a good song is a good song, any way you want to label it. But there were a lot of really good ones that I think were pretty solid, heartfelt songs that a lot of bands put out at the time. Being a hard rock band known mostly for your ballads, it’s a weird thing. But hey, as long as they like you, man (Laughs).”
With the situation being as unique as it is with two versions of the band, I had to ask if there might ever be a chance for the two fractions to ever play together again. Nickels says, “I never want to say never, but I would say it’s pretty unlikely. It’s unfortunate L.A. Guns is the way it is, but it’s a rock n’ roll soap opera (Laughs). But if you like them (the Guns/Lewis version), it’s totally fine with us. We’re not trying to hurt anyone, but this just is the way it is. We just wanna be able to play as musicians, and these are the songs that we wrote, too, that are a big part of who we are, you know? And we’re all getting older, and don’t really wanna start over from scratch at this point in our lives. But like I said, we’re not trying to hurt anybody here, we’re just trying to play some music, too.”
And finally, with the uncertainty of live events still hanging in the balance, I asked Kelly what the future looked like for the band as far as playing live. He informs me; “We have a lot of shows that are being rescheduled for August, September, October, etc. It’s giving us some time to make sure the coast is clear, and if it’s safe to do them, of course we’d love to do them. I know people are ready to go, and a lot of people are ready to bust out their windows (Laughs). Obviously we have to make sure it’s safe for everyone to go before we do them, but we’re hoping for sometime in the fall though, so we’ll see how it goes.”