Words by Michael Hillson
There’s nothing quite like Christmastime on the Sunset Strip. While not entirely reverent to religious aspects of the holiday, there are still a requisite amount of decorations, copious festive celebrations at bars and clubs and certain annual traditions that mark the season for visitors and locals alike. One of these recurring end-of-year engagements is of the musical variety, a December residency by rock ensemble Camp Freddy at The Roxy. Since 2007, these wild, loose and exciting concerts would take place each Friday or Saturday over the course of a series of weeks but 2013 saw the run occur over three consecutive nights, of which I attended the middle performance.
Camp Freddy prides itself on pleasing their rabid fans with high-octane cover versions from classic rock stalwarts and the bandmates’ main projects as well as inviting a slew of special guests for surprise song choices. One of these unexpected moments happened early on when the band kicked off their 90 minute set and Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro was conspicuously absent. Anticipating his presence in the weeks since the shows were announced, I had previously thought of him as one of the most consistent members in the unit and was hoping to hear his fluid and commanding playing anchoring an inevitably varied setlist. Alas, it was not to be and in his stead was Steve Stevens, lead guitarist for Billy Idol, whose abilities were a sufficiently capable substitute and musical lineage came in extremely helpful later on. Aside from this minor lineup shuffle, the rest of the performers were as expected: ex-Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum, Billy Morrison, formerly of The Cult, on rhythm guitar, Jane’s Addiction bassist Chris Chaney and vocalist Donovan Leitch, who would graciously yield his microphone to the many notable musicians that would join in the fray.
After a trio of uptempo and well-known choices by Blur, Lenny Kravitz and The Cult, the first special guest, Franky Perez, was revealed to sing “Immigrant Song”. His vocal contribution was bolstered when an additional ex-Gunner, Gilby Clarke, was introduced to play guitar on Stone Temple Pilots’ “Vasoline”. As a longtime fan of Gilby’s, I was quite satisfied with seeing him in this context again; he gave an impressive contribution during last year’s run as well.
Taking lead vocals on “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, Gilby undoubtedly owned the spotlight and provided the first true highlight of the show for me and, likely, others. Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath had the unenviable task of following up Gilby (his words) and admirably kept the pedal to the metal, singing three cuts from Beastie Boys, Ratt and Rage Against the Machine. Ex-Hinder vocalist Austin Winkler then took us back to the 1960s and 1970s with songs from Steppenwolf and Alice Cooper. Unfortunately, at this point it seemed that crowd energy started to dip and wouldn’t completely recover for quite a while.
In a true Hollywood VIP moment, a path was hastily cleared through the sold out, at-capacity audience and none other than Billy Ray Cyrus was guided to the stage from a side door, drink-in-hand, delivering ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” and The Troggs’ “Wild Thing” to a decidedly mixed reception. Befuddling many, I had read that he was a guest the night prior, so the incongruous combination wasn’t a complete surprise to me, but he simply didn’t bring it and his pair of songs failed to ascend to heights already reached by the other musicians.
Still, no harm, no foul, as it’s part of the spirit of these evenings to venture into uncharted waters with new friends and see what works and what falls flat. The most perplexing and sour moment was still to come as another repeat performer from the first show, Courtney Love, was brought up for three songs. Setting aside my preconceived notions and media-fueled impression of her, I must concede she fared well on a version of The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man” before stumbling through “Sympathy for the Devil”. In fairness, she did admit fault in flubbing the song but compounded the problem by injecting some personal drama into the party atmosphere with banter that she was out at dinner with attorneys trying to hash out a lawsuit settlement when she was invited to The Roxy for another appearance. It was a jarring and disappointing interlude that brought me out of the revelry and reminded me why she is so often maligned by the press and her musical peers. While not abundantly familiar with or a fan of her band Hole, “Celebrity Skin” showed some teeth and provided a sly, rocking conclusion to her brief stint.
At this point, the show had a plethora of peaks and valleys and was nearing the end, but not before an unforgettable rant and tantrum by Matt Sorum, who berated the subdued crowd into eliciting some legitimate vocal appreciation for the band and their compadres. Stepping out from behind the drums, Matt laid into the quieter attendees, informing them they had soundchecked for 4 hours before the performance and goaded us into making noise before destroying an undeserving mic stand by bashing it into the stage. This visual assault on equipment was punctuated by an aural shock to the system as the final guest, Billy Idol, sneered and strutted his way through three mega hits, defibrillating the room through its roof.
This was my first time seeing Billy Idol and his reputation as an iconic 1980s and ‘90s-era punk and new wave performer was not left wanting. “Dancing with Myself, “White Wedding” and “Rebel Yell” all lived up to their top billing, ringing through The Roxy with lyrics that had long been seared into my brain and guitar solos courtesy of Steve Stevens faithful to the original compositions while applying new textural layers and riffs that delighted everyone. Billy’s vocals were strong and he even added a twist or two along the way, reprising the 4 hour soundcheck anecdote amidst one of the songs. The night had it all, for better or worse, and left me energized and ready for Christmas and New Year’s Eve with vivid memories of a rock show that fulfilled and exceeded expectations, as Camp Freddy has done so many times before.
12/20/13 – The Roxy – West Hollywood, CA
Are You Gonna Go My Way
Immigrant Song (with Franky Perez)
Vasoline (with Franky Perez and Gilby Clarke)
Won’t Get Fooled Again (with Gilby Clarke)
Fight for Your Right (To Party) (with Mark McGrath)
Round and Round (with Mark McGrath)
Killing In the Name (with Mark McGrath)
Born to be Wild (with Austin Winkler)
School’s Out (with Austin Winkler)
Sharp Dressed Man (with Billy Ray Cyrus)\
Wild Thing (with Billy Ray Cyrus)
I’m Waiting for the Man (with Courtney Love)
Sympathy for the Devil (with Courtney Love and Franky Perez)
Celebrity Skin (with Courtney Love)
Dancing with Myself (with Billy Idol)
White Wedding (with Billy Idol)
Rebel Yell (with Billy Idol)