If you are of a certain age, (hint, one similar to the writer of this article), the term “Young Guns” elicits memories of a group of twenty-somethings, loosely portraying historical outlaws in a very 1980’s rendition of a western film. Unlike what one might see in a cowboy movie, The Young Guns Tour trades horses and a chuck wagon for luxury coaches and trucks to bring this particular drive to market. On Wednesday, March 2nd, this combined band of wranglers made camp appropriately on the corner of Western and Wilshire. When it was a movie theater, The Wiltern no doubt saw more buckaroos projected on its screen than you can shake a bullwhip at. On this night, the gunslingers are local outfits Mammoth WVH and Dirty Honey. The weapons are not six-shooters and rifles, but rather six-strings and drums.
Opening the show on this particular night are Wolfgang Van Halen and his band. The concert goers who filled The Wiltern to about 90% capacity, seem to adopt a “let’s see what you got kid” posture when the set begins. This may be a bit understandable as Mammoth’s music has only an eight-month life thus far. Van Halen has surrounded himself with a highly proficient supporting cast. Former fellow Tremonti alum, Garrett Whitlock pounds the skins like a war drummer, summoning the entire Indian Nation. Rhythm and lead guitarist Jon Jourdan compliments the leader’s playing with precise riffs and harmonious backing vocals. There is not a ton of showmanship, with the sole exception of bassist Ronnie Ficarro who raises and thrusts his bass downward to emphasize the crescendos and spins about the stage as he plays.
Despite cutting his teeth in one of the most notoriously bombastic groups to ever hit the road, Van Halen seems more content to concentrate on the music. Primarily remaining behind his microphone stand, he displays his vocal range and incredible guitar playing skills, popping out occasionally to nail a blistering solo. Seeming perhaps a bit uncomfortable in the spotlight, he lets the music do the talking. There are some flashes of connection with the audience as evidenced by his heartfelt introduction to Distance. The first single released long in advance of the album, he notes that this one is sometimes hard for him to sing. Van Halen wins the audience over with his very sincere charm and genuine appreciation of the response to the band’s performance. The 12 number set contains most of the songs from the inaugural compilation. In addition, Mammoth indulges the audience with a new song, I Don’t Know At All as well as a very adept cover of Alice In Chains’ Them Bones.
At nearly 10:00 pm, Dirty Honey take the stage and the atmosphere in the room ratchets up about three notches. The very same people who fill the hall go from curious spectators to full participants. It is obvious that the crowd is more familiar with the music of the headliner. As Mammoth WVH is a tour de force of musical performance, Dirty Honey hits the other end of the spectrum. The filthy and sweet boys channel the classic rock icons of the 1970’s with a more loose and emotion filled set. That’s not to say that theirs is not a well-played performance. It’s just a different approach that manifests itself in an anything can happen attitude.
From the opening drum roll of California Dreamin’ it is clear that the hive is ready to swarm. All the elements of a Dirty Honey show are on display. Marc LaBelle dips and gestures at the first few rows and extends his mic stand over the audience. John Notto delivers his typical searing guitar solos as he holds his axe up for all to see, as if to say, yeah, this is how I do it. Justin Smolian wanders the stage while punching out the bottom and occasionally flipping his caveman locks. Drummer Corey Coverstone appears especially stoked for this show. His creativity behind the kit is much more inventive and free-wheeling than in the previous three encounters this writer has witnessed.
The still unsigned, #1 hitmakers chug through a 12 song set that includes their cover of Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy, which they recorded for a National Hockey League spotlight. The abbreviated instrumental solo section is just the right length with Smolian playing a synthesized bass solo, Coverstone’s solo starts with what sounds like the intro to Van Halen’s Everybody Wants Some. Notto does about two minutes of string manipulating with elements of Zep’s Ten Years Gone thrown in. Another highlight is when the band is joined on stage by a few friends. Accompanying them on Another Last Time are Nigel Hall, who plays keyboards and a lady named Rocky who performs backing vocals along with Hall. All this while LaBelle performs two of the verses sitting in the barricade, up close and personal. But not only is the Wiltern treated to this in the middle of the set, but to do some more filming for a live video of the song, this is all repeated at the end of the set. So the Angelinos get two last times.
Back to that movie from 1988. This show wraps as a complete success. Mammoth WVH has played in front of a hometown crowd and no doubt won over many of those who were reserving judgment. Dirty Honey plays yet another hometown show, solidifying their place in Southern California’s heart. Not bad for a bunch of guys who may have not even been born when the namesake movie was released. At the very least, they were still in diapers when it was. Let’s just say this group of desperados has created another reference for when people hear the term young guns.
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CLICK HERE to see more pics of Dirty Honey.