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SUICIDAL TENDENCIES And SICK OF IT ALL @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (July 25th, 2018)

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Currently doing a short tour before recording a new album, Suicidal Tendencies had a stopover in Toronto and brought punk veterans Sick Of It All in tow. Coming from New York, Sick Of It All hit the stage after a western soundtrack intro, and instantly the pogo dancing started at the already packed Phoenix Concert Theatre. Speaking of which, you might remember other reviews of concerts at the same venue, The Darkness and Saga played there recently.

With brothers Pete and Lou Koller at the helm, Sick Of It All have 32 years of music under their belts. Combining the energy of teenagers with the authority bestowed upon them after influencing countless bands, they played like they had something to prove. Pete in particular was a sight to behold: looking like a ripped Flea and with a respectable Mohawk cut, he ran, kicked and screamed from the first to the last song, whilst bringing to life some of the grittiest riffs punk has ever produced. And it’s hard to believe that Lou’s screams are in such good shape after so many years of relentlessly putting his vocal chords to the test, but he clearly delivers, and his performance on “Road Less Traveled” was clear evidence of that. The gang choruses are a natural crowd pleaser, and the audience wasn’t shy in engaging with those. Songs such as “No Cure” and “Sanctuary” brought both a sense of camaraderie and repressed anger to the excited Torontonians who shamelessly elbowed and kicked each other, and crowdsurfed like mad. At some point during their set, Lou made a joke about Hatebreed stealing one of their riffs, and he’s right to point that out: how many bands do these guys have to influence until they’re given proper credit? This surely wasn’t their first concert in Toronto, and judging by the devotion they harnessed, it won’t be their last.

Known for being one of the pioneers of the crossover thrash, Suicidal Tendencies have been around since 1980, and have had many lineup changes and hiatuses through the years. One of the highlights of their lengthy career was taking part of the “Clash of the Titans” tour, with Slayer, Megadeth and Testament – the tour that spearheaded the term “Big Four” of thrash metal. Since 2013 they have experienced a new lease of life, and continue to be led by the only original member, the legendary Mike Muir.

With the persistant crowd screams of “S!T!S!T!”, Mike started the show asking “what the hell is going on out here?”, the first line from their signature anti-censorship song “You Can’t Bring Me Down”. Funny enough, he tripped and fell during this song, in one of his many forays toward the edge of the stage. Nothing that harmed his performance, though. Guitarist Jeff Pogan left the band at the beginning of the month, and while an official replacement hasn’t been announced, tonight his parts are played by The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Ben Weinman, who did a great job and captured the energy of Suicidal to a T. He dangerously swirled his guitar many times, almost hitting the other members on stage, and defiantly jumped atop the speakers, without losing his balance once. The vocals were a bit too low in the mix, but Mike more than made up for it with his manic moves. At 55 years old, his stage persona is akin to that of a boxer on cocaine, and one couldn’t tell he already had two back surgeries for herniated discs. On “Lost Again” they managed to find a perfect balance between funk and thrash, while the fast “Clap Like Ozzy” approached hardcore territory. Ra Diaz slapped his bass mercilessly through the set, proving that he’s more than capable of filling the shoes once worn by Metallica’s Robert Trujillo.

Mike’s banter alternated between lessons in self-help and “f*ck the system” discourse, while introducing each song. For the most part, the band didn’t play the songs as they were recorded, but included some welcome improvisations here and there – most notably, Dave Lombardo’s fills were met with eyes and ears wide open, especially on “Freedumb” and on the crowd pleaser “War Inside My Head”. Dave has played with them for almost two years now, and brought a heaviness and crispiness to their sound that simply wasn’t there before. And on “Trip to the Brain”, Dean Pleasants delivered a blistering solo, with a style that mixed influences of Tom Morello and Eddie Van Halen.

On “Send Me Your Money”, the band’s penchant for humor was made unequivocally clear. Many metal bands have addressed the issue of phony televangelists, but none did it with such crass and debauchery. “We’ll take cash, we’ll take checks / We’ll take credit cards, we’ll take jewelry / We’ll take your momma’s dentures if they got gold in them”, Mike sang. Preach on, brother. And if there was any hint of politically correctness during the night, that was quickly dismissed with the “I Saw Your Mommy” gory lyrics: “Twisted body, chopped-off feet / Her body was minced meat / Bust crawling on her arms / She’s dead can’t do no harm / Gnarled-up legs, broken and bent / Her last breath has been spent”.

By the time their hit “How Will I Laugh Tomorrow” was played, the amount of sweat dripping from Mike’s bandana could have irrigated the whole Sahara desert – but it’s worth pointing out that he seems much more in shape now than he did a few years ago. On “Pledge Your Allegiance”, the band invited audience members to come on stage and party with the band – a welcome gesture at a time when certain shows are so rehearsed that they seem more like a Broadway act.

On the anti-establishment “Institutionalized” they proved there’s still enough anger in them to conjure and to be brought out in new songs. The mix of old and new reflected in the comprehensive setlist, fully allowing this lineup – mixing seasoned players and young guys with knife in their teeth – to prove their worth. There’s a lot of hope and expectation for what the new album can bring. Are Suicidal Tendencies “still cyco after all these years”? You bet they are!

SICK OF IT ALL Setlist

Take the Night Off / No Cure / Machete / Uprising Nation / Scratch the Surface / Step Down

SUICIDAL TENDENCIES Setlist

You Can’t Bring Me Down / I Shot the Devil / Lost Again / Clap Like Ozzy / Freedumb / Trip at the Brain / War Inside My Head / Subliminal / Send Me Your Money / Possessed to Skate / I Saw Your Mommy / Cyco Vision / How Will I Laugh Tomorrow / Pledge Your llegiance

Encore: Institutionalized

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