CONCERT REVIEW: NITA STRAUSS Brings Summer Metal Downpour On Her Live Debut at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern (June 18th, 2023)

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It’s beginning to look a lot like summer in Canada, and with that, a barrage of concerts and other events are taking place every weekend. On Sunday, June 18th, it was time for Nita Strauss to make her first solo appearance in Toronto, at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern. Fittingly, the tour is called Summer Storm.

Located in Toronto’s Queen West neighborhood, the Horseshoe Tavern has been a Canadian musical institution since it opened its doors in 1947. Though its history, the 400 capacity venue has hosted artists that would become legendary, such as The Police, Talking Heads, Jeff Healey and more. Famously, The Rolling Stones played a secret gig there, in 1997. Tonight the proceedings started with the Brampton-based Sticks N’ Stones who have consistently played in the city’s live circuit. While it’s clear they’re still honing their skills and developing their style, their blend of sludgy riffs, catchy choruses and heavy moments is promising. The cover of Gojira’s “Only Pain” was a nice touch, and the skeptical crowd was left pleased at the end of their set.

Next up it was time to check out Lions at the Gate, the band featuring former Ill Niño members Cristian Machado (vocals), Ahrue “Luster” Ilustre (guitar) and Diego Verduzco (guitar), alongside bassist Stephen Brewer (Westfield Massacre) and drummer Fern Lemus. They have been together for about two years, and their debut album, “The Excuses We Cannot Make” is scheduled for release on August 25th. Right off the bat it was clear that the stage of the Horseshoe was too small for the band’s ambitions and stage moves. Cristian and Diego’s dreadlocks were a dangerous weapon throughout their set, eventually hitting other band members as they head-banged. Catapulted by Luster and Diego’s powerful riffs, they kicked it off with “Not Even Human”. Their sound drinks heavily from Ill Niño, Drowning Pool and other contemporaries from the alt metal scene.

“Scapegoat” came next, and the energy of the band – particularly Cristian’s charisma and versatile voice – was palpable and contagious. Things got funky on “The Climb”, and alternated between insanely heavy moments and pop chorus on “Digital Sea”. They finished the show with the intense and emotional “Find My Way”, which features Tatiana Shmayluk of Jinjer in its studio version. Lions at the Gate are picking up the pieces of the dispute between Ill Niño members, and something tells this reviewer that we’ll be talking a lot more about them once their debut album comes out.

Nita Strauss entered the stage around 10 PM, starting her show with the thrashy and melodic “Summer Storm”, and hit the speed of light with “Our Most Desperate Hour”. If the years she spent in Alice Cooper’s band and the recent stint with Demi Lovato have taught her anything, it’s how to work up a crowd. She moved across the stage and commanded the crowd as if she was playing at Wembley Stadium. Her musicians were no slouch either, headbanging in synch with Nita on the melodic “Alegria”.

The show was originally scheduled for December 2021, and had to be rescheduled due to COVID. The long wait made the crowd even hungrier for Nita’s solos, and she wasted no time. The only moment of her show to catch a break was actually not planned – the band had to deal with technical difficulties between songs. But even that did not stop her from being an entertainer, and while the roadies were fixing the problem, she told the crowd this was the fist sold out show of her tour, which was met with great applause.

It’s not easy to form a sonic identity and remain a creative force as a solo artist, but Nita’s career has been carefully planned and nourished. The controversial move to join Demi Lovato’s band was a stroke of genius, exposing her to a whole new audience. Her credentials from the metal world came from playing with Alice Cooper for a number of years, and now there are many more doors opened after the shows with Demi. One could argue that this is translated also in the versatility of her sound, and there was no shortage of evidence of such claim during her set. She gravitated between the black metal elements of “Lion Among Wolves” and the neoclassical, Malmsteen-esque motifs of “The Quest” without skipping a beat.

Another element that cannot be neglected in the music business these days is the social media presence. Like it or not, the number of subscribers, likes and views are a modern day currency, and Nita wisely chose to embrace that concept. She brought in the Tiktoker Kasey Karlsen on tour to perform the vocals on several tracks. This is Kasey’s first ever tour, and judging by the confidence she showed in a live setting, it seems that she was born to be on stage. She quickly won the crowd with the guttural screams on “The Wolf You Feed” an “The Golden Trail”, and got everyone to sing along the chorus of “Through the Noise”. “Dead Inside”, which has Disturbed’s David Draiman in it studio version, was yet another crowd-pleaser. And they closed it in bombastic fashion, with a blistering version of Pantera’s “Cowboys From Hell”.

Heavy music did take a beating during COVID, and at the current rates, touring will likely become more and more expensive. However, nights like these give the fans hope that more artists will be able to play in Canada and still make a decent profit. Nita’s tour will hit a few more locations in the US and Canada until its last date on July 14th in New Orleans. If she’s playing near you, do not miss the chance to see a night of melodic shredding, in-your-face riffs and anthemic choruses. What more can a metal fan wish for?

“Summer Storm” Tour Dates

“Summer Storm” Tour Dates:

Jun. 21 – Harrison, OH – The Blue Note
Jun. 22 – Flint, MI – Machine Shop
Jun. 23 – Angola, IN – The Eclectic Room
Jun. 24 – Bloomington, IL – The Castle Theatre
Jun. 25 – Madison, WI – Majestic Theatre
Jun. 26 – Omaha, NE – Waiting Room
Jun. 28 – Denver, CO – Blue Bird
Jun. 29 – Salt Lake City, UT – Urban Lounge
Jun. 30 – Boise, ID – Neurolux
Jul. 1 – Portland, OR – Hawthorne
Jul. 2 – Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada – Rickshaw
Jul. 3 – Seattle, WA – El Corazon
Jul. 5 – Sacramento, CA – Goldfields Trading Post
Jul. 6 – Los Angeles, CA – Whisky A Go
Jul. 8 – Las Vegas, NV – The Space
Jul. 9 – Phoenix, AZ – Crescent Ballroom
Jul. 11 – San Antonio, TX – The Rock Box
Jul. 12 – Dallas, TX – Trees
Jul. 13 – Houston, TX – Scout Bar
Jul. 14 – New Orleans, LA – The Parish @ House Of Blues

Photos by Ryan Miles Leblanc


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