Trouble Comes Home To Chicago
Concert review by Scott "Dr. Music" Itter



Come Touch the Sky
Plastic Green Head
A Sinner's Fame
Going Home
Pray For the Dead
Run to the Light
Memory's Garden
All is Forgiven
Revelation (Life or Death)
At The End of My Daze
Psychotic Reaction
Wickedness of Man


It's been an institution for Chicago area metalheads for about 25 years now. The classic sounds of Trouble have infiltrated every crevice of this great city. From their beginnings in 1979, and through the two decades that followed, Trouble has remained true to their mission of bringing Black Sabbath-style metal to its' small but rabid fan base. As they continue to forge their way through yet another decade, they came back to their deepest roots to throw a birthday bash for longtime guitarist Rick Wartell.

It was a bar on the North Side of Chicago with a capacity of about 20, and that's counting the band and the club's sultry barmaids. Yeah, it was small, hot, smoky, loud, and sweaty it was the perfect atmosphere for vintage Chicago metal. Seeing a band of Trouble's caliber in a place like this was a real treat. And this was not just any Trouble. On this night, the tiny crowd in this North Side outhouse was going to be treated to an almost entirely original lineup. This is a band that has seen very few personnel changes over their many years. The drum throne and the bass duties have been manned by only a few, and the guitarists and singer have always been a constant throughout the band's long history. Since the sad passing of ex-drummer Barry Stern on April 1st of this year, the band has brought original skin basher Jeff Olson back into the fold. Along with Olson were the three stalwarts vocalist Eric Wagner, guitarist Bruce Franklin, and guitarist/ birthday boy Rick Wartell. The only non-original member of the band for this show was bassist Chuck Robinson. I ask you, how many bands can arrange a four-out-of-five showing of original members after 25 years in existence? It was great to see and it was only great to see because the guys were enjoying themselves, and they were tighter than the barmaids' jeans. This was a band that was happy to still be playing together. And as they tore through a bundle of their older gems, they shared laughter and smiles throughout the set. They had come home to play for a handful of devoted fans, and they played as if there were thousands of them.

As I approached Nite Cap and saw the sidewalk speckled with leather-clad rockers that were far out of their teens, I knew I had come home. As I squeezed through the door, I felt like one of those big ships inside of a bottle . . . a really small bottle. As I got to the area in the club where the stage stood, I noticed the members of Trouble lounging in the ambience of their surroundings. As they had to bear witness to three inferior backup bands, I'm sure they were itching to take the stage by the time the brutality ended, which turned out to be around the stroke of midnight.

As each member squeezed into his tiny space, the buzz of the set opener finally filled the room with an enjoyable noise. When the band ripped into "R.I.P." from their 1990 self-titled masterpiece, it served as an unspoken tribute to Barry Stern, their fallen musical brother and former drummer. When the band rattled off "Come Touch the Sky" and "Plastic Green Head" immediately after it, you could feel a fire burning inside these guys. I do believe the band has some big festival gigs coming up shortly, and they are using these smaller, more intimate shows to gear up for them. The fact that this band has played together for as long as they have comes shining through in their live show. Drummer Jeff "Oly" Olson was simply amazing to watch as he pounded out every track with angry precision. He looked like a man on a mission, with a serious face of determination, until one fan cocked his head to the side and growled at him in between songs; an act that brought a big smile to the drummer's face. After singer Eric Wagner addressed the crowd for the first time he told us that the next record was half done, which brought thunderous applause from the small gathering before him.

He then asked if the band could play a couple of tunes from the record, and again there was an overwhelming response, as every fan has been craving new music from the band for many years now. These new songs sounded as if they would fit perfectly on the self-titled album, or the "Manic Frustration" release. As Wagner thanked the audience for "humoring" them, he announced that they were about to do some old stuff. Being a hometown crowd of longtime fans, there wasn't anything that this crowd wasn't familiar with. As a shout came for "Pray For The Dead," and another for "Run To The Light," Wagner made us aware that there really wasn't a concrete set list for the show, and the band proceeded to play both requests in near succession. It was a fan's paradise and as the set wore on, things continued to heat up. They went back to the self-titled release for flawless renditions of "A Sinner's Fame," "Psychotic Reaction," "All Is Forgiven," and "At the End of My Daze." They honored the "Manic Frustration" album by dealing out "Fear" and the MTV hit, "Memory's Garden." They even went back into the first release from '84, and gave a gut wrenching rendition of "Revelation (Life or Death)," along with dipping into "Tempter," "Endtime," and "Assasin." But it wasn't until the band cut into their classic album "The Skull" once again and delivered "Wickedness of Man" that this show reached its completion. It was the perfect ending to a near perfect set.

This was not only a show that found Trouble the formidable, influential force that it always has been, this was a show that was very special to the longtime fans of the band the folks that have supported them from the very beginning. The fact that some of the set list took form as the show happened, and the personal touch of this neighborhood bar singing "Happy Birthday" to one of its' own musical heroes in between encores, were just the proverbial cherries on top. As a kid growing up in Chicago, and having Trouble's brand of classic metal to help me through the darkest hours of eighties hair metal, I feel like this band is family. Seeing this band in a venue such as this, and singing to a friend on his birthday were special moments that went down perfectly.

Look for Trouble to release their next album sometime in 2006, with a possibility of Dave Grohl playing drums, while Jeff Olson adds keyboards and percussion.

Photos by Scott Itter


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