Band Concert Review
Tramp’s White Lion: Picking Up The Pieces
And let the world know the reason why
Shine again little fighter
And don't let 'em end the things you do
Have you ever seen a show and wanted to love each and every bit of it wanting to tell your friends that it was transforming, enlightening and worth seeking out? This happened to me last March when Tramp’s “White Lion” came to the Chicagoland area. OK, I’ll admit it; I loved hair bands growing up. I got into music in 1987 and the musical landscape at that time was probably single handedly responsible for widening the hole in the ozone. White Lion was one of the acts I enjoyed and I bought all of their albums. “Wait”, “Tell Me”, “When the Children Cry”, “Little Fighter”, “Radar Love” and “Cry For Freedom” were first rate pop-rock songs regardless of what anyone says. Say what you want about the late 80’s but mix a killer riff, a gorgeous melody and a hook gave us some of the catchiest music created since the rock n’ roll era began in the 1950’s. What differentiates White Lion from most of the other acts of the time to me is their final album, 1991’s “Mane Attraction”. As time progressed and these bands became older, some of them looked inward and began writing some truly philosophical music. Unfortunately most of these early 90’s albums went unnoticed in the marketplace. The biggest casualty of them was “Mane Attraction”. Here is a perfect power-pop-blues-metal album. The album contained three beautiful ballads (“Till Death Do Us Part”, “You’re All I Need” and “Farewell To You”) along with two or three of the catchiest singles I have ever heard (“Love Don’t Come Easy” & a re-recording of “Broken Heart”) and three epic numbers that showed this band was noticing the worlds quandaries (“Lights & Thunder”, “Warsong” and “Blue Monday”-a tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughn).
The album bombed when released in the spring of 1991 and when tickets for the bands club tour did not meet expectations in September 1991, the band disbanded. Since then, White Lion (in any form) has not had a single note of their music performed live on US soil, until early 2005. A year ago it was announced that lead singer Mike Tramp had put together a band (none of the original members took part) to go out and recreate the White Lion classics in all of their glory. So, I put in a request to review the show when it made its way to the Chicago area. Drummer Troy Patrick Farrell (who rocked out and was an improvement to the edge and sound of White Lion) was kind enough to put me on the guest list. I was hoping I would see some of these classic rock songs and forgotten album cuts given their dues, as I felt this material was underappreciated. Sadly, this was not the case.
Enuff Z Nuff opened the show and powered through a solid 60-minute set of their brand of Beatles-esque-Cheap Trick rock and geared up for Tramps White Lion. First off, the band went on late and when they did hit the stage, the sound was mediocre at best. This was most likely out of the control of the band and the fact it was a small nightclub did not help. As “Lights and Thunder” opened the show, it sounded muddy and the songs arrangement left me bewildered. Don’t get me wrong, as the evening wore on, I got used to the sound and there were moments that took me back fifteen years, most notably on “Lady of the Valley”, “Warsong”, “Till Death Do Us Part” and “Tell Me” which was a definite crowd pleaser as the band delivered the classic album track to perfection.
However, while the album tracks sounded great, the band’s greatest hits had radical rearrangements that made the songs sound second rate. I have seen a number of 80’s cover bands in the last few years and each one performed more faithful versions of these songs than Tramps White Lion did on this rainy spring night. ”Cry For Freedom” “Little Fighter”, “Love Don’t Come Easy” and “Broken Heart” sounded like a third rate cover band was performing them. The rhythm section delivered and kept the beat, but the guitars and arrangements were out of the scope of the audience. “When The Children Cry” opened the encore and was performed with electric guitars making the song sound like something out of a high school talent contest. It kills me to say this but each and every hit performed took me further and further away from that band I grew up and continue to tell people was vastly underrated. The most painful part of the evening was right before “Wait”, the top-ten single that put White Lion on the map, Mike Tramp went on a tirade against MTV and how metal music was about being fun and there was a time on Dial MTV where all of the videos on the show belonged to bands who enlightened fans with their “fun” music. Now, while I would agree with him to a certain extent, I can’t condone his words because something that every hair band forgets to mention is how they alone put the own nails in their own coffins and not Kurt Cobain, whom they all (and the media) usually blame.
Hair metal’s death is associated with the release of Nirvana’s “Nevermind”. For the record, “Nevermind” was released on September 24, 1991. It eventually made its way to the number one position on the chart that following January, following a performance on “Saturday Night Live”. Every show I ever see about the glam and raucous decade of the 80’s blames it’s demise on St. Cobain, however, have any of these artists looked in the mirror as to why the sun set on their platinum MTV days? What most people seem to forget, is that most of the biggest acts from the 1980’s hard rock scene were in the process of change or on hiatus between the fall of 1991 and fall of 1992. All of the following acts had either broken up or went on hiatus during this time; Ratt, White Lion, Whitesnake, Poison, Motley Crue (w/ Vince Neil), Cinderella, Nelson, Winger, Warrant and even powerhouses like Bon Jovi and Def Leppard took at least four years between their last multi-platinum release and their follow up’s in 1992. I think the biggest thing that stands out to me is Bon Jovi and Def Leppard’s resilience to not give up and continue forging ahead and hence why they are two of the acts that survived the “me” decade and in many ways have transformed beyond the hair genre. Now, when members of these bands made their way back around to the marketplace a few years later the rock landscape had dramatically changed due to the grunge revolution. However, if any of these acts had stayed in the spotlight, I have a feeling they would have endured, much the same way Kiss, Van Halen and Aerosmith were able to transcend beyond the 1970’s. In fact, several of these bands did not release another album until after Cobain had tragically died (Cinderella and Skid Row), so I don’t think the long held truth that Nirvana killed hair metal is completely accurate because if your forged ahead and stayed true to who you were and what you were doing, you found a way to survive.
White Lion called it quits mere weeks before “Nevermind” was ever released, so while I can understand the position Mike took on stage against MTV, I also had to think that he and original guitarist Vito Bratta called it quits before the grunge element ever came into play. Regardless, I was startled at the less than stellar arrangements of the band’s biggest hits. Now, I am someone who loves seeing new interpretations to songs. I believe you can only see a certain song performed live so many times before it becomes tiresome. However, Mike had not performed these songs since leaving White Lion in ’91 and no one had heard them live in over fourteen years, so for him to come out with dramatically altered versions completely lost the crowd. From an artists perspective I completely understand why he did it, but he should have understood that the audience wanting to see these songs was not one who has been following Mike’s side projects and solo career since he left White Lion. Can you imagine if Kiss, when they reunited in 1996, brought all of the elements of their stage shows from the 70’s but were playing radically different arrangements of their biggest and best hits with a grunge element? While I would welcome a change like that now, the fans would have retaliated if the band came out and was doing a slow version of “Detroit Rock City”. After a prolonged absence, you have to ease people back into who you were and what you did. I’m listening to “Wait” on my Ipod now and when Mike sings the line “Wait, just a moment before our love will die”, I truly and sincerely believe every word this guy is singing. When he performed it, I didn’t feel it. I felt he was merely running through the motions and this is probably why he rejected the idea of playing any of these songs in concert for over a decade. Was a simple song like “Wait” going to change the world? No, but it’s a first rate rock song that just gives me chills when I hear Vito Bratta’s guitar crunch it’s way as Mike pleads for a lover to hold on, and merely “Wait”. Regardless of what people say, much of the reason bands like White Lion had platinum albums were because the power, force and passion conveyed through the songs, which could shoot you right through the heart. Like all music made before and since, no matter how effortless they may have been, great songs make you feel like you had a friend. Whether you are U2, Kiss, The Beatles, Wilco or even White Lion, it does not matter the genre of music, what maters is the connection. As far as I’m concerned those White Lion records not only once had a feeling of connection, but they still do.
As I was about to leave to club last spring, Mike Tramp appeared before me and next thing I knew we had struck up a conversation. I introduced myself and told him how a mutual friend of ours said “hello”. Mike immediately told me that if I or my friend needed anything to contact him via his website. You see when my friend’s wife had their first child, Mike showed up at the hospital with a bouquet of flowers. This was an unbelievably kind and generous act on Mike’s part and my entire discussion with him was enjoyable as he was as friendly, warm and courteous, more so than anyone could hope for. So as I drove home that night, and every night since, I’ve struggled writing this review. In my mind, it’s all good, because Mike and his band had their place in time and for that, they should be truly happy that at one time, they were able to forge a connection with millions. It’s more of a connection than I’ll ever make with any audience. Granted the spotlight that shines on them now is much smaller, but regardless of whether the show was disjointed or not, Mike is still a first rate musician who is still doing what he loves each and everyday of his life. I truly wish him he best on his journey…I just hope the next time he pulls the White Lion card out, it has Vito Bratta attached to it.
I¹m glad you stayed until the end
I hope that you¹ve enjoyed the time we spent
Though I know that I will be back again
I don¹t know just how soon my friend
Until we meet again just think of me
I¹ll think of you
-“Farewell To You”