Monsters Of Rock Cruise 2013

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Monsters Of Rock Cruise 2013

Monsters Of Rock Cruise 2013 - MSC Poesia - 16th - 20th March 2013

As a fan of (most of) the US Hard Rock scene of the 80s, the thought of seeing forty well known bands from that genre at an M3-like four day festival was quite enticing enough. However, if you move the whole operation onto a huge ship sailing from Ft Lauderdale and around the Bahamas while the UK continues to freeze over, and place it roughly around the time of my better half's "forty-tenth" birthday, then it suddenly becomes a distinct possibility. Testimonials from friends and musicians who'd attended and played at the inaugural event last year was the final push we needed, so we left the snow-covered surroundings of Manchester Airport for the baking heat of Florida. The original plan was to have a couple of quiet days in Ft Lauderdale before the madness began, but as the weeks before the cruise went by and a few of the bands would be in town anyway, it seems some people had other plans for us.

The independently run Rockerz Pool Party was great fun, with L.A. Guns (the Lewis/Riley version), Ted Poley, Bang Tango and a couple of lesser known bands playing in an enclosed area at the Days Inn, and despite the fact that one side of the PA blew up early in the day and never worked again, it would have been the only chance that week to see a full L.A. Guns line-up, but more of that later. The following night was the official Pre-Cruise Party, which was held in a great club with a huge outdoor area and featured an Enuff Z'Nuff performance that was the best I've seen for quite a long time, and a barnstorming set by the Vixen girls under their enforced name change of JSRG. The facilities and stage set-up were far superior to the pool party but sadly the rockers were kicked out at 11pm prompt to change the place over to their club night, so we preferred the pool party for its more relaxed atmosphere and less heavy-handed security.

Saturday 16 March

Our well chosen hotel was a five minute walk from the Pool Party and a short taxi ride from the Cruise terminal, so within minutes of checking out of the hotel we had navigated the quick and painless security checks and were already making new friends before we'd even boarded the ship, and once we'd done that it was even more surreal to be standing between JSRG's Janet Gardner and our old friend Tony Mills with our life-jackets on to run through the lifeboat drill. With that out of the way it was a total rollercoaster ride for the next four days, the MSC Poesia having no less than fourteen decks, although there are only four or five that we ever needed to use. Our cabin was on Deck 8, with four of the five stages on decks 6 & 7 (the main auditorium spans both!), whilst the upper outside Deck 13 is home to the Pool Stage as well as the main buffet and the meeting place of choice, the Sky Bar. Before the ship had set sail I went to the plush Zebra Lounge (check out that crazy decor!) to see one of the lesser known bands on the bill, Sunset Strip nearly-men Jailhouse. Sadly the band seemed a little under-rehearsed and none of the ex-Rough Cutt members were present, but original singer Danny Simon and guitarist Michael Raphael ran through a surprisingly lengthy set that included personal favourites 'Please Come Back' and the ballad 'Stand Up' as well as their version of Thin Lizzy's 'Jailbreak'.

We had been given the final running order only a couple of days before and a quick scan made it obvious that we were going to have to miss some sets to fit as much in as we could, but one of the plus points is that all the bands play twice so you should be able to see everyone at least once. With that in mind, we missed out on XYZ's set in the compact Bar Di Poeti to catch Tesla playing the 'Sailaway Concert' on the pool deck. However great your experiences at shows have been, you'll have to take my word for it that seeing a band you really like on the sun-drenched upper deck of a ship that's drifting past the Miami skyline, is a major lump-in-the-throat moment. Tesla were the perfect band for that situation, and after one or two sound problems at the beginning the whole crowd and band had gotten into the holiday spirit, with a quick glance around revealing that members of all the other bands were mingling with the paying cruisers and getting into the party atmosphere. Favourites like 'Hang Tough', 'Gettin' Better', 'Love Song' and, of course, 'Modern Day Cowboy' showed just why Jeff Keith and co. (with guitarist Tommy Armstrong standing in for Dave Rude due to his imminent fatherhood) are one of the most revered live bands on the planet. Watching Tesla alongside Stryper's Michael Sweet and Oz Fox with a Guinness in my hand has to rank as an all-time concert highlight, and one that would be the first of many such surreal moments.

Having seen Bang Tango at the Pool Party we opted for our first foray into the main auditorium for an excellent set from John Corabi, playing songs from both The Scream and Mötley Crüe amongst material from his recent solo album, immediately followed by one of the main pulls of the cruise for me, my first ever sighting of the elusive Kix. Their live reputation preceded them but thankfully they didn't disappoint, with amazingly tight musicianship and an absolutely awesome performance from frontman Steve Whiteman as they blazed through the likes of 'No Ring Around Rosie', 'Lie Like A Rug', 'The Itch' and the sublime ballad 'Don't Close Your Eyes'. Whiteman is the consummate entertainer and his stage raps are as funny as they are bizarre, but new bassist Mark Schenker and original guitarists Brian 'Damage' Forsyth and Ronnie '10/10' Younkins are all pretty mobile too, without threatening Whiteman's all-action role on every inch of the stage. They cement their well-earned reputation with a rock-out of 'Layin' Rubber', 'Cold Shower', 'Blow My Fuse', 'Midnight Dynamite' and 'Yeah, Yeah, Yeah'.

Meeting up with some fellow UK cruisers it soon became obvious that some of the rumours we'd heard were true, including L.A. Guns' new guitarist Michael Grant being refused entry onto the ship, so for the band to go ahead and play as a trio with Phil Lewis also handling the guitar was a very brave move. It sounded a bit strange without guitar solos but kudos to Phil and the band for not cancelling. Another rumour was that Tom Keifer wasn't on board despite the fact that Cinderella were the supposed headliners, however this didn't seem to have affected Eric Brittingham and Jeff LaBar who both strolled around smiling and chatting, or drummer Fred Coury who guested with the covers bands. Back in the Bar Di Poeti it was the turn of Killer Dwarfs frontman Russ Dwarf to play an enjoyable acoustic set taken from his band's back catalogue and one song from his new solo album 'Wireless'. Russ is an absolute diamond of a gentleman and I was certainly pleased to see him here, his typically Canadian friendliness exuded from the stage and hooked in many passers by as he gave stripped down versions of 'I'm Alive', 'Dirty Weapons' and 'Keep The Spirit Alive', amongst others.

An absolute no-brainer for an event like this was the first of two sets from Y&T, the band hitting the Pool Stage at midnight and finishing an hour later after uplifting versions of 'Black Tiger', 'Mean Streak', 'Dirty Girl' and 'Forever', alongside lesser played songs like 'Lipstick And Leather' and 'Contagious'. Dave Meniketti is playing better than ever and this version of the band are simply on fire, with bassist Brad Lang and drummer Mike Vanderhule nailing the bottom end and tasteful guitarist John Nymann being the perfect complement to Meniketti's fiery lead work. Nymann even gives a decent vocal on the Phil Kennemore classic 'Squeeze', whilst 'Summertime Girls' has rarely been played in a more perfect situation. Unfortunately Y&T had clashed with Ron Keel, and by the time they'd finished Lita Ford was well into her set too. Looking good in a red leather cat suit, Lita had former Vinnie Vincent and Hardline drummer Bobby Rock in her band (as did several others on this trip!) as well as guitarist Mitch Perry, but after sitting through lacklustre versions of 'Out For Blood', 'Under The Gun' and a cringeworthy 'Close My Eyes Forever', I went off in search of Enuff Z'Nuff who were bringing the first half-day to a close in the Zebra Lounge. Unfortunately the low roof means you can't really see the band on this stage unless you're at the front, but it had been a long day and I settled for a last beer and took a comfortable chair to listen to a set that included The Beatles' 'Come Together', 'Fly High Michelle' and 'New Thing', before turning in.

Sunday 17 March

A full day at sea had festivities starting at the ridiculously early time of 10am, so we decided not to take part in Luc Carl's Workout, the Rock N Roll Q&A or the Tattoo Contest, so we strolled up to breakfast at a more civilised hour and then caught a bit of the hangover-friendly Heavy Mellow in the Bar Di Poeti. There's something strangely satisfying about three flamenco guitarists playing heavy metal cover versions in a plush lounge, but it's soon time for the noon kick off of Alcatrazz in the Carlo Felice theatre. Graham Bonnet is joined by former Jeff Scott Soto guitarist Howie Simon, bassist Tim Luce and Vinnie Vincent, Hardline and Lita Ford drummer Bobby Rock, who as well as running through storming versions of Alcatrazz songs like 'Too Young To Die, Too Drunk To Live', 'God Blessed Video', 'Jet To Jet' and 'Hiroshima Mon Amour', also included MSG's 'Assault Attack' and 'Dancer', Impelliteri's 'Stand In Line' and Rainbow's 'Since You've Been Gone' and 'Lost In Hollywood'. Bonnet is in surprisingly good voice and Simon shreds for all he's worth, watched closely by guitarists from some of the other bands who were all standing at the front.

Missing out Femme Fatale (who clashed with Alcatrazz), the Charity Rock Star Bingo and the Eddie Trunk quiz Stump The Trunk, the first half of Ted Poley's set (with a band that includes former Rainbow/Red Dawn/Alice Cooper bassist Greg Smith) was exactly the same as the Rockerz Pool Party, so it was back up to the Pool Stage for a bit of sun and Dangerous Toys, who were playing a set that included the whole of their debut album. Jason McMaster proved to be a great frontman and the tight band ripped through classics like 'Outlaw', 'Bones In The Gutter', 'Sport'n A Woody' and 'Scared' like their lives depended on it. I'm not a fan of Rhino Bucket at all so I opted for the Tesla acoustic show in the theatre, which was not only jaw-droppingly good, but went down so well that they over-ran by about forty-five minutes until they'd played everything that was shouted out. The next show in the theatre was also acoustic, and it was great to see Stryper's Michael Sweet and Oz Fox run through 'Soldiers Under Command', 'Lady' and 'Honestly' before being joined onstage by Tony Harnell for TNT's 'Child's Play' and 'Northern Lights', the trio finishing their short set with superb versions of Boston's 'More Than A Feeling', Led Zeppelin's 'Kashmir' and a wonderful take on Queen's 'Fat Bottomed Girls'.

Another band I hadn't seen for many a year was Black 'N Blue, a personal favourite who fitted just about everything I wanted them to play into their hour, with 'Stop The Lightning', 'Autoblast', 'We Got The Fire', 'Miss Mystery', 'Hold On To 18' and 'School Of Hard Knocks' amongst the highlights. With just Kiss' Tommy Thayer missing from the original line-up, they tore up the pool deck with a super-tight set and a real feelgood vibe emanating from the ever smiling Jaime St James. Other events going on were the So You Think You Can Shred! guitar competition, which rather amusingly resulted in some very red faces when Loudness' Akira Takasaki's daughter stepped up and blew all the competition away. Also, XYZ/Great White singer Terry Ilous was apparently the prize in the Rockstar Dating Game, which really proved what we'd heard about the number of single mums on the cruise looking to bag themselves a rock star.

Meanwhile, back in the Zebra Lounge the Atomic Punks proved to be a scarily accurate Van Halen tribute band, and Saxon, one of only two British bands on this cruise, treated their Saxon-starved US fans to a set of old and new classics on the Pool Stage, including a handful from the excellent new 'Sacrifice' album. When speaking to a few North Americans on the cruise it became apparent that Saxon were the band that a lot of them were mostly looking forward to, some saying that they hadn't played in their part of the States in well over twenty years, so there's no doubt that the band left them well and truly impressed. Biff seemed to enjoy it anyway. Next up was another eagerly awaited act, the return of Queensrÿche with new singer Todd LaTorre, suffice to say that I haven't enjoyed a Queensrÿche set this much in years. Opening with 'Queen Of The Reich', La Torre was note perfect and made it seem effortless, the band going on to nail unexpected gems like 'En Force', 'Child Of Fire', 'Warning' and even 'Roads To Madness', with some obvious 'Operation: Mindcrime' and 'Empire' numbers being joined by the seriously unexpected 'Prophecy'.

Unfortunately Queensrÿche had clashed with Keel and the Quireboys (obviously known as the London Quireboys in these parts) but I managed to make my first foray into the Pigalle Lounge for the last half hour of the latter's acoustic set. The Pigalle has the same visibility problems as the Zebra Lounge, but the band had drawn a big crowd for this rare trip Stateside (so to speak!) and certainly seemed to be flying the flag for Britain and making new fans as they went. Back on the Pool Stage it was time to bow to the awesome power of Loudness, with Akira having the biggest guitar sound of the whole cruise and giving a masterclass in guitar histrionics, although I have to say that his ridiculous wig didn't really increase his credibility as much as his guitar playing did. It was over to the Zebra Lounge for Frank Hannon's Party Ninja's All-Star Jam, the Tesla guitarist having been checking out all the bands so far and recruiting members to come and join him on some covers. Unfortunately I couldn't see a thing so I made the short walk into the theatre for another dose of Y&T, this time including personal faves 'Hard Times', 'Don't Stop Runnin', 'Rescue Me' and 'I Believe In You' in an almost completely rearranged set that was even better than the night before. The day ended with the last half hour of JSRG on the Pool Stage, the girls ripping it up with killer versions of 'Cryin', 'Rev It Up' and the inevitable 'Edge Of A Broken Heart', although I could have done without yet another cover of 'Rocking In The Free World'.

Monday 18 March

One of the nice things about cruising is waking up in a different location, so after an exhaustion-fuelled sleep I stepped onto the balcony to find we were moored offshore in the bluey-green waters of the tiny private island of CocoCay. Less than a mile square, the island is owned by the cruise company and the crew had already started heading ashore on the shuttle boats to set up the bars and barbecues ready for our arrival. They were also setting up a small stage so that Great White could do an acoustic set while we lounged about on the beach or in a sea populated by thousands of brightly coloured fish. On the stroll to the beach we swap pleasantries with the JSRG girls and Queensrÿche's Eddie Jackson, then stroll around the trinket stalls chatting to our friends Lynda & Brian Vollmer (from Helix), Russ Dwarf, Ron Keel, Dave Meniketti, Michael Sweet and Nigel Glockner from Saxon – are you getting any kind of idea about how surreal this trip was? It was a rather unique experience lying in the sun with a Mojito and Hot Dog listening to Great White playing 'Rock Me', 'Save Our Love' and 'Mista Bone' as Saxon's Biff walks past with shorts on and his sandals in his hand.

After a few hours of this hardship it was time to head back to the ship for what was meant to be Cinderella on the Pool Stage, and with the absence of Tom Keifer (with Bronchitis apparently!) Eric, Jeff and Fred had opted to play anyway, bringing up John Corabi and Spike and running through a mix of covers and a handful of Cinderella songs. This wasn't so interesting for me so I opted instead for Ted Poley in the Zebra Lounge, where he again started his set with the theme from The Love Boat before heading into Danger Danger mode for 'Monkey Business', 'Bang Bang', 'Shot O'Love' and more surprising selections like 'One Step From Paradise' and 'Lovin' A Girl Like You', as well as a cover of Tracy Chapman's 'Baby Can I Hold You'. Poley/Rivera's 'Crossing The Ocean' was also aired, but the set seemed like it was going to be the same again so I headed to the theatre to see the end of Nelson's set. With guitarists Howie Simon and Night Ranger's Joel Hoekstra in the band it was no surprise that they were playing mostly upbeat songs, the added guitar presence giving more weight to 'After The Rain', '(Can't Live Without Your) Love And Affection' and 'More Than Ever'. The band also had ex-Vinnie Vincent, Hardline, Lita Ford and Alcatrazz drummer Bobby Rock back in their line-up.

Heading back to the Pigalle Lounge the all-girl Femme Fatale line-up were part way through their set, and whilst the band cut all the right shapes and Lorraine Lewis is an energetic front-person, her band let her down big time. Coming over as under-rehearsed and with very dodgy sound (not their fault!) they sometimes seemed to be playing different songs and guest drummer Athena Lee doesn't seemed to have learned much from her brother Tommy or ex-husband James Kottak of the Scorpions. Thankfully Stryper were just as good on the Pool Stage as they were in the theatre, ripping through their best known songs and a few covers, with John Corabi joining them to sing Queen's 'Tie Your Mother Down' and Tony Harnell guesting on UFO's 'Lights Out' and Priest's 'Breaking The Law'. There was an unintentional comedy moment when Harnell tripped up on his entrance, but again there was a nice feelgood vibe to proceedings as the sun began to set on the pool deck.

Over in the theatre TNT were playing their first set, a mostly upbeat affair with Ronni LeTekro attracting the interest of the guitarists in attendance and the band mostly covering their 80s years with Tony Mills hitting the high notes. Nice to hear 'Caught Between The Tigers', 'Listen To Your Heart' and 'Downhill Racer' among the more obvious tunes, and closing with '10,000 Lovers (In One)', 'Everyone's A Star', 'Intuition' and 'Seven Seas' didn't do them any harm at all. With apologies to the glamsters among you, it had been pretty non-stop since we got on the ship, and having seen Bang Tango and L.A. Guns already, and having no interest in Faster Pussycat, we had our first relaxed meal of the cruise (i.e. not throwing pizza down your throat!) until it was time for Dio Disciples. With Tim 'Ripper' Owens, Toby Jepson and Rudy Sarzo no longer in the line-up, their places had been taken by the much travelled Mark Boals, Lynch Mob singer Oni Logan and Yngwie Malmsteen bassist Bjorn Englen. They put on a great show too, with Dio members Craig Goldy (guitar), Simon Wright (drums) and Scott Warren (keys) giving a bit of authenticity to proceedings, Boals and Logan did a great job on the vocals and the set flew by with the likes of 'Stargazer', 'Children Of The Sea' and 'Holy Diver' among the highlights.

Queensrÿche switched a few songs around for their midnight show on the Pool Stage, adding a couple more 'Empire' songs for Todd La Torre to nail note perfectly, whilst Alcatrazz also had a complete re-jig for their Zebra Lounge performance, adding the likes of 'Island In The Sun', 'Kree Nakoorie', 'Love's No Friend', 'Skyfire' and 'Will You Be Home Tonight', alongside MSG's 'Desert Song'. Keel brought the music to a close in the theatre with a tight set that had Tesla's Frank Hannon headbanging to 'Speed Demon', and I was happy to hear 'I Said The Wrong Thing To The Right Girl' and the title track from 'Streets Of Rock 'N Roll' in the set. With an all original line-up bar bassist Greg Chaisson, the band seemed to have a lot of fun with Ron Keel getting a few special guests up to join in with 'The Right To Rock'.

Tuesday 19 March

The last full day started by waking up in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, and quite a picturesque setting, or at least it would be if the rain wasn't hammering down and scuppering our plans of renewing our marriage vows on the Pool Deck. However, things were moved down into the Zebra Lounge where John Corabi conducted a brief ceremony for around a dozen couples with Night Ranger's Joel Hoekstra playing some beautiful classical guitar. The rest of the morning and afternoon were spent wandering around the town and bumping into the inevitable band members, the strangest one being when we went to an ice cream parlour and the only other people sitting on the balcony were Enuff Z'Nuff's Donnie and Chip.

After some gift shopping we were back on board to see a lot of bands for the second time, and we were just in time for Saxon's show in the theatre, the band piling on the intensity to a packed crowd with a perfect setlist that mixed old and new. Similarly Kix were an absolute hoot on the Pool Stage, playing more or less the same set as before but in a different order. Steve Whiteman complained about his sunburn but gave another masterclass of what an entertaining frontman should be, including the following stage rap; "The maid left a vacuum cleaner in my cabin this morning. Did you ever put your dick in the hose of one of those things and then switch it on to see what would happen? No, me either! This is a song called 'The Itch'". My good friend Howie Simon introduced me to Graham Bonnet during the Kix set and we had a rather bizarre conversation about Butlins holiday camp in Skegness, Graham apparently grew up a stone's throw from it. The second TNT set in the Zebra Lounge had Tony Mills struggling a bit and Stryper's theatre show had more originals and less covers (just 'Heaven And Hell') with their official photographer Gunner Kal proposing to his girlfriend on one knee mid-set – hey, this really is the love boat!

Personal favourites Helix are now back down to three members of their most popular line-up since the recent departure of guitarist Brent Doerner, but Brian Vollmer (vocals), Greg 'Fritz' Hinz (drums) and Daryl Gray (bass) are carrying on regardless and put in a great high energy show that included all the songs you'd expect, like 'Heavy Metal Love', '(Make Me Do) Anything You Want', 'Gimme Gimme Good Lovin' and 'Rock You'. As was the norm in the Zebra Lounge, you couldn't see much unless you were at the front, just the occasional glimpse of Vollmer's cowboy hat as he climbed on things and jumped off again. The Canadian connection continued in the next room with another set from Russ Dwarf, who mixed up his set to include the song I'd asked for, 'Stand Tall', and hinted that the Killer Dwarfs were about to reunite for a few dates, one of which will hopefully be the Monsters Of Rock Cruise 2014.

Back in the theatre it seemed that the entire crowd for the Quireboys (sorry, I refuse to call them the London Quireboys!) was made up of musicians from all the other bands, and the band did themselves no harm with a great set that included all their best-known songs and a guest appearance from Donnie Vie, who didn't seem to know the words. Their 70s influenced rock and roll seems to have struck a chord with a lot of people here and their totally organic sound seems to be ripe for making a comeback. I'm sure the US promoters present will have watched them with interest. Meanwhile the feelgood vibe was still prevalent up on the Pool Stage where Great White ran through a greatest hits set. I'm of the opinion that Jack Russell IS Great White, but the band still put in a great performance with Terry Ilous at the helm and Mark Kendall is still one kick-ass blues guitarist. Having missed them the previous day I felt it was my duty to catch Faster Pussycat the second time around, and whilst singer Taime Downe is the only original member, most of the current line-up have been together since the 2001 reunion. Not my thing at all but they were actually pretty good with a few catchy riffs and choruses, although Downe is from the Vince Neil school of letting the crowd sing as much as possible so he doesn't have to.

Whoever managed to put the event together did a stand-up job for the most part, but Nelson playing at the tiny Bar Di Poeti was a bit of a mistake, as not only could you not see them but everybody had drinks tokens left and couldn't get near the bar. Still, a lot of members of other bands were hanging out in the hallway so we got drinks from the bar next door and hung around hob-nobbing with one ear on the stage. Fatigue was really beginning to take hold now so I abandoned the mind-numbingly loud (sic) Loudness to have a sit down during a second great set from Dangerous Toys, and stayed on the Pool Deck for a superb Black 'N Blue set that just put the whole vibe of the cruise into perspective.

As we didn't want the experience to end, we stayed around the Sky Bar for most of the night, where the Vixen girls had admirable stamina and it became obvious who the party animals from each band were. Our Facebook UK Cruize Crue made up a sizeable chunk of the all-night socializers, with Sue and our friends Andy and Mandy giving up in the small hours and leaving me to make new friends and try to get through the last of my drinks tokens before eventually turning in at 8am for a one hour nap. Despite the absolute high of being at this amazing event leaving the boat was a pretty melancholy affair, it's like having a glimpse at another life and then having it taken away from you. One of our friends said it was like being at Firefest but with better food, drink, weather and facilities, and it certainly had the same friendly vibe, but as we checked out at reception (inevitably at the same time as the omnipresent Stryper and their wives!) it was unbearable to think that we'd never experience anything like this again. So, see you next year!

Phil Ashcroft


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