Louie’s Cocktail Lounge in Rancho Cordova, California, October 27, 2017
Friday night the mighty Razor Queen took the stage with a powerful hard rock set that opened with a solid “warm-up“ cover of Alice In Chains’ “Them Bones,” then launched right into “Guardian Angel” to kick-off five consecutive tracks from their debut CD, Kingdom of Dysfunction. The rhythmically whiplashing “Holy Nights” was followed up by the power ballad “Only Love,” then “Sweet Alcohol” and “Last Shot,” with a Zeppelin cover and one more original to follow.
On the surface these original numbers are all instant classics. With kick-ass, driving rhythms and powerful lead vocals matched by well-composed guitar fills and riffs, always with an interesting modern vibe that subtly borrows from a variety of genres ranging from power metal to post-hardcore while remaining solidly rooted in accessible hard rock rhythms and chord progressions, each of Kingdom’s tracks is a well-composed rocker with an infusion of pop sensibilities that makes for a disc loaded with true hit potential.
But on a deeper level, poetic lyrics on themes of abandonment, alcohol abuse, suicide, love and redemption prevail, and arrangements that are multi-layered and nuanced all reflect the songwriting and musical talent of the artist solely responsible for crafting the truly superb rock CD that is Kingdom of Dysfunction.
Razor Queen was founded and is fronted by Cortney DeAugustine who singlehandedly wrote and produced the entire disc, drawing upon her experiences growing up in a fatherless family and later enduring the aftermath of the suicide of Ronnie Montrose, with whom she was touring at the time of his death in 2012. (The band’s name Razor Queen is an homage to a song called “Razor King” that Ronnie Montrose performed during his tenure with Gamma). Cortney also skillfully performed all of the instruments and lead vocals on the CD. It was indeed a solo project until she assembled the current band for live performances, but Razor Queen now consists of a highly talented team of veteran rockers: Scott Johnson of the rock bands Rogue and Savannah Blue covering most of the lead guitars, and Johnny Rowland of the metal band Restrayned covering most of the rhythm guitar, though he eventually punches in for an absolutely blistering solo on the final number, “Burn.” Throughout, Chris Ellis, who also hails from Restrayned, solidly nails down the bass with perfection and style, though his signal was a little light in the otherwise perfect live sound mix. Cortney says she took the “Tesla approach” to her guitarist lineup, combining Scott Johnson’s traditional hard-rocking style with Johnny Rowland’s modern metal flair. “Tesla has always been one of my fav bands of all time for several reasons, but the way that Frank Hannon and the other original guitarist, Tommy Skeoch blended together was a very integral part of their sound. Frank is like Scott in the sense that they are more classic organic bluesy players and Tommy and Johnny are similar in the way that they are both much more hard rock/metal based players. When that combination is set in motion, it is really magical.”
She knows of what she speaks. As it happens, Scott temporarily replaced Tommy in Tesla back in 2006, and Cortney herself got her start touring as the drummer for Frank Hannon with his solo band Moon Dog Mane in 1998 while Tesla was still on hiatus. Between touring with Frank Hannon and later with Montrose as opening bands for Judas Priest and Def Leppard (among others), Cortney is accustomed to rocking packed arenas from behind the drums. She cites John Bonham as her biggest influence, and she showcases her considerable skills by performing covers of some of the venerated Zeppelin drummer’s most challenging numbers. So at the show on Friday night, after the first set of five originals from Kingdom of Dysfunction, the band launched into Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick,” then gave the floor to Cortney who then proceeded to broaden her tribute to Bonzo by artfully annihilating her drum kit during the extended solo as the crowd cheered her on the whole way through.
To wrap up the set the band returned to Kingdom of Dysfunction once more with “Burn.” Not to be confused with the Deep Purple classic, this modern-sounding piece features soft, tantalizing verses and one exquisite bridge punctuated by heavy crashing chorus sections culminating in pyrotechnic guitar solos: the aforementioned metal virtuosity of Johnny Rowland followed shortly thereafter by an equally energetic and innovative solo by Scott Johnson to bring it on home.
The show marked the band’s triumphant return to the stage after a year-long hiatus following their headlining of RevFest ’16 in Southside Park in Sacramento late last year, an all-day event featuring a killer lineup of mainly NorCal heavy-hitters: Kingsborough, Mudface, Skyler’s Pool, Long In The Tooth, Restrayned, Super Mega Everything, Shirlee Temper, and Gamma, all in support of Razor Queen, who brought the house down in their first-ever live performance. It was great to see the same Razor Queen lineup back now and sounding better than ever. This time they were returning the favor and opening for Super Mega Everything who had supported them so masterfully at last year’s event.
Performed live, some of the recording’s nuances necessarily get lost. There are very subtle sonic layers to some of the songs on Kingdom that wouldn’t translate perfectly to the stage anyhow, for the same reasons Pink Floyd’s performances don’t have quite the same kind of effect live as they do between headphones in a darkened room. But any loss of subtlety was more than made up for by a powerful presentation consisting of heavier, tone-laden guitars, more explosive rhythms, and dynamic vocals that were even more charged with energy than the recorded versions, all of which added up to an exciting performance that kept the live audience pumped up and ready for more to the very end.
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I first saw Super Mega Everything at RevFest ’16 and was instantly a fan. It’s almost impossible to describe the incredible music this popular NorCal band produces, but it’s tempting to compare them favorably with King’s X, whom they cite as an influence. However SME is indeed its own band, featuring powerhouse vocals by the amazing Star Cannon, who commands center stage with her mesmerizing and engaging performance style; eclectic and multi-textured guitar work by Frank Garay, sometimes heavily layered with effects to produce sweeping soundscapes and always full of rich tone; dynamic, and masterful drumming by Matt Evans; and the bass craft of Odell Robinson which can only be described as sublime. Odell plays a 12-string Hamer bass which has 4 arrays of 3 strings in lieu of the normal 4 strings found on a traditional bass. Presumably he has each array tuned to span 3 octaves. He plays almost all of the songs with a pick, which enables him to produce melodic riffs interspersed with crushingly heavy chords as if he were playing 3 down-tuned guitars simultaneously, a technique he uses at just the right moments, with great precision and to tremendous effect.
Super Mega Everything’s music is deliciously heavy and groovy, entrancing, and is delivered with true passion from each of the band members. If you’re in Northern California be sure to check them out. You won’t be disappointed.
Odell Robinson is also a disc jockey who goes by the on-air moniker DJ Judge on www.thecaperadio.com. You can hear him on Sundays from 9 A.M. to noon, playing musical selections and interviewing artists, music producers and the like.