April 30, 2017 —
Why is it, just when we think something will never happen again it does? Perhaps it’s because rock bands are a strange ilk. We’ve heard countless stories and rumors about bands that we’re told, even by the members themselves that there’s no way they would ever reform and tour again with their original members – there was just too much bad blood to overcome. Now, in less than a year, three bands from the 80s that swore they would never reunite have done so; Guns and Roses last Summer, Dokken this past fall and in the last few months – Ratt. I was a fan of all of these bands that rose from the burgeoning LA rock scene in the 80s. Being a guitar player, I gravitated towards Dokken and Ratt more because of their lead guitarists – George Lynch and Warren DiMartini, who both played their version of “Stun Guitar.” While Dokken were a bit inconsistent with the music they released, they hit a home run with “Back for the Attack” before inner conflict between band members tore the band apart (no one’s girlfriend was wearing a Dokken t-shirt that I knew of.) Ratt was a different story, however. Ratt hung together from the start of their run from 1984 until 1991. Changing musical tastes and the death of rhythm guitarist Robben Crosby put the band in a tailspin that pretty much sealed their fate until 2010’s “Infestation”. I had always been a fan of these guys. I first heard them when I was in the Air Force in 1984 – when Metal was enjoying monstrous popularity. There were so many bands out there that had the hair and the look and screaming guitars, but Ratt was different. They took the “upbeat, hard rock mentality with pop sensibility” attitude that Van Halen created and made songs with hooks and great guitar playing that you could sing along to and that girls liked too. I took an instant liking to them for all of those reasons but the clincher was watching the video for “Round and Round” on MTV. Smartly, their manager – Marshall Berle (who managed Van Halen when they got signed) asked his world famous uncle, comedian Milton Berle to guest star on the video for “Round and Round.” The result was an instant hit, visually and sonically. Berle was hilarious and the irreverent Ratt crashing the dinner party full of “hoidy-toidy” guests made for a memorable salute to the counterculture that hard rock was/is. It became instantly stuck in the back of my mind.
2010’s “Infestation” was regarded as a triumphant return by critics as well as fans. A short tour followed including a release party in Philadelphia that unfortunately, I was not able to attend. When the tour started all seemed to be going well and then *poof*, the band released a statement that they were going on hiatus. “What?…Why?…Who???” (OK, I stole that from Bugs Bunny.) Almost as soon as the party got started, it was over. Singer Stephen Pearcy stated on several occasions that he was done with Ratt and that he could never work with them again. Several iterations (and lawsuits) followed with members and former members touring with their own versions of Ratt – most recently drummer Bobby Blotzer, while at the same time suing each other. So, after six years of not knowing what caused the rift between band members it turns out that the real problem wasn’t Pearcy causing all of the turmoil, it was Blotzer. Pearcy, DiMartini and bassist Juan Croucier (who had just rejoined) sued Blotzer over use of the Ratt name and magically appeared on a rock cruise earlier this year performing Ratt songs but without an official band name. Subsequently, Blotzer lost the suit, found himself no longer a corporate board member of Ratt and became unable to use the name, which was ruled to be under the control of the other members. “Hmm…” I thought. “First Guns and Roses, then Dokken have reunited in the course of less than a year and were touring, so what were the odds that Ratt would tour too?” I think we all knew what was coming next. A few weeks later Pearcy, DiMartini and Croucier announced a Spring Tour as Ratt. I started looking for tour dates and sure enough, Philadelphia was on the list. I couldn’t get on Ticketmaster’s website fast enough. It turns out they were playing the TLA (Theater of the Living Arts) which is a small club, mostly SRO in Philly. I had been there before to see The Pretty Reckless and Black Star Riders (among others) so I knew the club and that I could probably get up close to see the show. Never having seen them (I don’t remember why), this was kind of a bucket list show for me. So, as I drove to the show last Thursday I thought: “how good would this Ratt gang be?” Pearcy had shown a pretty laissez faire attitude in the last several years when onstage and a lot of fans questioned whether he could still sing anymore or if he even cared enough to be on stage. Croucier hadn’t been in the band for more than twenty years, Blotzer was out and replaced with former Heart and Black Star Riders drummer Jimmy DeGrasso. How good would they really be? To put it bluntly…they kicked ass!
I managed to get there early enough to be in the third row of people standing at the front of the stage and was able to weasel my way into the second row before the band came on. All of the sudden the lights dimmed, the crowd went crazy and the band ripped into “Wanted Man.” It was a Ratt frenzy – like they never missed a beat. Pearcy sounded good, so did the rest of the band and the crowd devoured it. I managed to be standing directly in front of DiMartini for the whole show so I could hear his guitar “par excellence.” They followed with one of my favorites – “Dangerous but Worth the Risk”, delved back into their first release “Ratt” EP for “You Think You’re Tough” and “Walkin’ the Dog.” It was give-the-people-what-they-want night and they did it in spades. “Way Cool Jr.” was up next with DiMartini finger-picking the intro before Pearcy belted out the lyrics. Next, they went right into songs from the “Out of the Cellar” album with “I’m Insane”, “In Your Direction” and fan-favorite “Lack of Communication.” After that they dove in to tracks from “Invasion of Your Privacy” with “Lay it Down” (one of my favs) and “You’re in Love.” Songs from the “Detonator” album were next with “Lovin You’s a Dirty Job”, “Slip of the Lip” and “Nobody Rides for Free.” Instead of saying goodnight before doing an encore as they had in some shows on this tour, they stayed on and ripped into “Body Talk” and “Back for More” before signing off with “Round and Round.” Pearcy was great throughout, engaging the crowd, singing well and appearing sober and in shape (all of the band drank water on stage.) DiMartini played smoking guitar, as I thought he would. Rhythm guitarist Carlos Cavazo (formerly of Quiet Riot in their heyday and who joined Ratt in 2010) battled equipment issues at first but then played solid rhythm supporting DiMartini with the occasional solo on his Gibson Flying V. Newly rejoined bassist Croucier did all of the stage moves he was famous for and laid down a solid foundation with DeGrasso as well as deliver great backup vocals. All in all, it was a great show, with a bare bones, “let’s get down to it” approach and a no-nonsense delivery.
I’m hoping they keep it together. Of course, these bands have been around for so long that a change of the Rock guard is inevitable but at least for a while I hope they carry on and in true Ratt form…”Tear ’em up!” (Movie: “Willard” 1971)
The set list can be found here: http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/ratt/2017/the-theatre-of-living-arts-philadelphia-pa-2be60c76.html