I stepped outside into the smoking alley behind the Agora next to the main ballroom to take a break from my reviewer duties.

Staff had actually let me in with my cup of Starbucks, I guess I looked like I wasn’t going to use it on offense. I set the coffee down, lit my cigarette and watched some boys knocking around a hacky sack. It’s kind of funny; none of them are very good, maybe 2-3 kicks before they lose it. I briefly disappeared to a moment long ago in 1993 A.D. when boys my own age were into that stuff.

Turns out they were the opening band, Twysted Asylum. They look like cool kids, horror-flick masks, blood-stained clothing. Vocal duties are passed off between three band members. Their rhythm section is pretty tight especially considering the pace demanded of speed-metal, and their bass player is carrying a six-string. Don’t take them seriously, but do.

Photography by: Joselin Heretik

I’m at the bar scribbling more notes before Two Dead Roses come on for their set, and something a bit unusual catches my eye. It’s an ass, and a nice one, a very tight, very feminine ass in skinny bleached-denim jeans with a smooth, tiny waistline showing from underneath a crop-top, also bleached-denim, vest. And there’s a mullet. The thinning hair on top of his head has definitely been blow-dried and sprayed back leading down to just above his neck where the 80’s party really starts. What a flashback – I have literally not seen a man more authentically, terribly, ‘80s in, well, thirty years. I can’t stop staring at this guy thinking, ‘there was actually a time in my life when I found this attractive’.

Turns out my friend knows who this man is. He was in an ‘80s glam-metal band from Cleveland called Priscilla; we Googled it to be sure. Priscilla had achieved relatively decent success in the local glam-metal scene, enough that this chap decided it was best to never leave 1987. Ever.

Emerging from smoke and a sea of red lighting, Two Dead Roses launch into “Dead Remains”, a Rammstein-esque industrial metal banger. Their sound is guitar-rock-driven: think KMFDM but more “A Drug Against War”-style KMFDM than “Juke Joint Jezebel”. TDR is currently looking for a new drummer, letting magenta-haired keyboardist Rich Bembenic provide percussion via his synth as they rolled through more anthemic tracks like “We All Fall Down”, “Disinfecting” , and “Apocalyptic Midnight Death Cult”, which will be the title track to their new album coming out this summer.  TDR bassist Chad Perkins told me before the show that his stand-up electric bass, known as “The Boomstick”, would not be joining us this evening, but you can introduce yourself to it in the new song’s video.

Marilyn Manson and White Zombie hoodies worn with age dotted the crowd and all hands went up as John 5 and The Creatures took the stage. John wore a long, tattered, red robe and the familiar full white face make-up with the exaggerated, evil black smile. He’s wearing a mouthpiece with multi-coloured lights flashing from in between his teeth as he blazes into his first song.

From folk and country on through to hard classic-rock riffs and early 50’s rockabilly, John 5 expertly blazes through each genre putting on an instrumental guitar clinic for the audience. They came for the metal but were very receptive to the other genres, because how can you not be when they’re played so masterfully? He did “Beat It” for Christ’s sake, certainly not easy vocals or guitar parts to take on. The hardest part to really get comfortable with was seeing a man in face make-up playing a song that makes one think of Bill Haley and The Comets.

John introduces “Behind The Nut Love” from his 2005 album, Songs For Sanity, saying, “it’s the only love song I have. It also means when someone is playing with your butthole. “ Good to know as John carries on into the song, which turns out to be a folksy little tune complete with the drummer cross-sticking a wood block to get the “clocking” sound so familiar to old-school country.

John 5 told PressureLife in an interview before the show, “As a little kid, I would always enjoy someone doing something really well, like karate or hitting a baseball, someone who was really great at their craft. I wanted to excel at guitar, I was completely obsessed with it as a kid. I wanted to make a great instrumental record of all different genres of music and push those limits as far as they can go.”

The theatrical side of John 5’s persona is not lost without the bands he is most known for. His guitars tend to act as props, including one with a transparent body filled with yellow, slimy liquid that he played with a bow, grating on to the guitar’s strings for full-on grunge effects. “You can feel the heat coming off that thing,” a random stranger noted to me.

The crowd was very chill compared to the going expectation for a metal show, and all the ages mixed well together. An older chap in the front row, no hair left on the top of his head and a super-long ponytail in the back, wearing a T-shirt that said in very large, basic letters, “Fuck Off” – even that guy was happy. The vibe was mutual; John allowed the audience to take his guitar completely free of his hands from the stage (they gave it back) and at what would have been the end of the show, John plainly announced, “we’re gonna keep rocking cuz we’ve got nowhere to go” before blasting into another instrumental speed-metal track. Apparently, neither do we.

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