Mon­ster Truck

…stays in Vegas? Not this time. Clas­sic Rock joins Mon­ster Truck in the gam­blers’ par­adise and gets an eye­ful of 24/7 drunk­en­ness, de­bauch­ery and deca­dence on a spec­tac­u­lar scale...

Classic Rock - - Contents - Words: Sleaze­grinder Pho­tos: John McMurtrie

Clas­sic Rock joins the band in Vegas and gets an eye­ful of 24/7 drunk­en­ness, de­bauch­ery and deca­dence on a grand scale.

I’m star­ing at Elvis Pres­ley’s karate out­fit. It’s on dis­play right out­side the Par­adise Tow­ers el­e­va­tors in the lobby of the Hard Rock casino in Las Vegas. The en­tire ho­tel is ded­i­cated to the golden (let’s say 1957 to ’97) era of rock mu­sic. I’m not sure how to take any of it. What do I learn from this? Okay, I saw Mor­ris­sey’s suit jacket from an NME cover shoot. Now what? Do I get to heaven? What is any of this even about? I’m pon­der­ing this be­cause I’m killing time be­fore I in­ter­view Mon­ster Truck. They have to fin­ish watch­ing a hockey game on TV first, which is the most Cana­dian thing I’ve ever heard in my life. And that’s fit­ting, be­cause this band are the quin­tes­sen­tial Cana­dian hard rock band, eas­ily the best since Bach­man Turner Over­drive were takin’ care of busi­ness.

Mon­ster Truck formed in Hamil­ton, On­tario back in 2009. In the be­gin­ning it was just a gag, a house-party band with a dumb name. But it quickly took on a life of its own, and now here we are, 10 years and one hockey game later, awash with the glitz and glam­our of Las Vegas and with a back­stage rider that pro­vides us with… well, plenty of tor­tilla chips and bot­tled wa­ter, at the very least.

“To me, we were car­ry­ing on in the tra­di­tion of Grand Funk Rail­road,” explains Truck guitarist and co-founder Jeremy Wide­man. “We just fell in love with that sixty-nine to seventy-two era, when they played this kinda pow­er­ful, prim­i­tive riff rock and were big­ger than any other band in Amer­ica.”

“And then we fucked it all up by throw­ing punk and me­tal in be­cause that’s what we played,” says Jon Har­vey, the band’s af­fa­ble front­man.

“Well, we have a mod­ern sound to our band, be­cause we do have these other in­flu­ences,” Wi­dener explains, “but it’s ba­si­cally Grand Funk with, like, Soundgar­den and Me­tal­lica. Peo­ple call us ‘meat and pota­toes’ and I’m per­fectly fine with that.

That is not an in­sult to me at all.”

Mon­ster Truck’s meat-and-pota­toes rock won them a Juno award (the Cana­dian ver­sion of the Gram­mys, ba­si­cally) in 2013, and both of their al­bums – 2013’s Fu­rios­ity and 2016 fol­low-up Sit­tin’ Pretty – have been Top 20 hits in Canada. And they’ve toured the globe sev­eral times over, head­lin­ing and also open­ing for artists in­clud­ing GN’R, Alice In Chains, Buckcherry and yes, even the band that sing that god­damn ‘Look at this pho­to­graph’ song. In fact, the Truck are here in

Vegas for a week of shows open­ing for them.

Ev­ery­body hates Nick­el­back. It would be re­miss of me if I didn’t men­tion that, sit­ting back­stage at one of their shows. I per­son­ally don’t care ei­ther way. They just seem like grunge-lite to me, like Can­dle­box, or maybe the Cana­dian Seven Mary Three. They don’t seem evil, un­less medi­ocrity is the devil. But Nick­el­back’s rep as ‘worst yet most in­ex­pli­ca­bly pop­u­lar band in the world’ is so per­va­sive that my very rep­u­ta­tion as rock’n’roll’s reign­ing king of sleaze is on the line just for be­ing here. So I’ve gotta at least ad­dress it.

This is not the first time or the first place

Mon­ster Truck have sup­ported these fel­low Canucks. They trun­dled around Europe with them a cou­ple years back. So is this just an Amer­i­can thing, or does ev­ery­body hate them?

“Oh, it’s global,” shrugs Wi­der­man. “And I don’t even know why. Maybe it’s just be­cause they’re pop­u­lar. But they’ve al­ways been nice to us. And even though we have our own fans, there’s enough cross­over with their crowd that it works.”

“It hasn’t been a big deal for our fans at all,” says front­man Jon Har­vey. “They’re just like, ‘Fuckin A. Those are big shows. Cool!’ They don’t give a shit what any­body thinks about Nick­el­back.”

Not giv­ing a shit what any­body thinks – about any­thing – is ba­si­cally the Mon­ster Truck story in a nut­shell. They are pop­ulists in an elit­ist world, work­ing-class he­roes mak­ing sim­ple, di­rect mu­sic for blue-col­lar rab­ble-rousers. And oc­ca­sion­ally, on nights like this, for well-heeled mid­dle-aged ac­coun­tants and their es­corts. It’s Vegas, baby.

Our mis­sion this evening is a sim­ple one: we’re sup­posed to lose our minds, wal­lets and souls. Spoiler alert: we’re not go­ing to. Mon­ster Truck are not Möt­ley Crüe, or even Mon­ster Mag­net. Jeremy’s dad and Har­vey’s girl­friend are part of our roving crew, and most of them are more in­ter­ested in a good night’s sleep than in snort­ing ants or chas­ing groupies around ho­tel rooms. Of course, the band are 10 years into their ca­reer at this point. Had I met them in 2009, would I have seen a dif­fer­ent sort of rock’n’roll beast al­to­gether?

“Not re­ally,” says Wi­der­man, laugh­ing.

“I mean, well, sorta,” says Har­vey.

“On our first tour,” Wi­der­man con­tin­ues, “when we were out with The Sheep­dogs tour­ing Canada, we ripped it up ev­ery night pretty good.

But even then, how hard can you rip it up when it’s De­cem­ber in Canada and you don’t have any money?”

Be­fore our night out tonight, I wit­nessed the full-throt­tle fury of Mon­ster Truck. Let loose on a cu­ri­ous au­di­ence that freely mixed ag­ing hard­core rock­ers with in­dif­fer­ent tourists, the band tore through their age­less hits in­clud­ing

Why Are You Not Rock­ing?, Don’t Tell Me How To Live and The Lion, and in­tro­duced a few num­bers from their lat­est al­bum, in­clud­ing the fe­ro­cious crowd-pleaser (and al­most-ti­tle track) True Rocker. There were no lasers, no cos­tume changes, no fan­fare, just four denim demons strut­ting their stuff. It was loud, wild and heavy. It was prob­a­bly more than the largely anaemic Vegas au­di­ence de­served, but the Truck gave it their all, as they are wont to do. If this was 1976, they’d each own their own fuck­ing cas­tle.

Later on, while Nick­el­back tear through their long and wind­ing head­lin­ing set of AOR megahits, Mon­ster Truck and com­pany hop in a few cabs. We leave the up­scale strip be­hind and race to­wards the big­ger and brighter lights of Fre­mont Street, the ragged glory of ‘Old Vegas’ beck­on­ing us with its prom­ises of cheap thrills and easy money. Twenty min­utes later and lives are changed for­ever. Even for world-trav­el­ling rock’n’rollers, Fre­mont Street is fuck­ing crazy.

“We’ve played so many shows with big bands like Guns N’ Roses be­cause we don’t cause trou­ble, we just do our jobs.”

Jon Har­vey

“The only word for what’s go­ing on right now is ‘awe’,” mut­ters Truck’s slack-jawed or­gan grinder Bran­don Bliss. “I am in awe right now.”

There is no sky here. The sky is a canopy of video screens sell­ing God-knows what, while zip-lin­ers zoom over­head, scream­ing in ter­ror. Evel Knievel, the world’s great­est stunt­man (RIP) has a pizza place here. What a mo­tor­cy­cle dare­devil has to do with pizza is any­body’s guess, but it makes a warped kind of sense in the con­text of a street with a gi­ant re­volv­ing high-heeled shoe in the mid­dle of it. Down a block there’s a two-storey pray­ing man­tis spitting fire. Not sure if it’s gonna kill us or what. There are stages on each cor­ner of the street, with live bands bash­ing out clas­sic rock cov­ers. We see an out­fit called Zowie Bowie tear through White Wed­ding to rap­tur­ous ap­plause from the crowd. There’s an all-meat restau­rant called the Heart At­tack Grille with a sign that screams: ‘Over 350 Pounds? Eat for free!’ You have to wear a hos­pi­tal gown to eat there, and they weigh you on the way in.

As we wind our way through the crowd, a dom­i­na­trix in pa­tri­otic red, white and blue leather and a cow­boy hat cracks her whip on my ass. A few steps down there’s a guy hold­ing a sign that’s dares you to ‘Kick me in the nuts’, pre­sum­ably for cash, but who re­ally knows. Half-naked women, clad only in pasties and G-strings, wan­der through the throng, hav­ing their pic­ture taken with coun­try boys for tips. Go-go dancers in hot pants do dou­ble-duty as bar­tenders in out­door bars, sell­ing gi­gan­tic cock­tails that you’re free to gulp down in pub­lic. At this point it’s af­ter mid­night and most peo­ple here have been drink­ing for hours. Ev­ery­where I look, there are puk­ing brides, still in their wed­ding dresses. Se­ri­ously. This is what Dis­ney­land would have looked like if Caligula had de­signed it.

The most shock­ing thing about the en­tire evening, though, is this: it’s freez­ing out­side. I’m not sure that any­body out here ever con­sid­ered that it could be cold in the desert, but it’s a shiv­ery 42 de­grees Fahren­heit/six de­grees Cel­sius, and the neon lights are do­ing noth­ing to warm us. I just came from Bos­ton so I’ve got a coat. Mon­ster Truck are Cana­dian, they were born cold, and they’ve got jack­ets as well. But most of the idiots out here are wan­der­ing around in shorts and T-shirts, de­ter­mined to not have in­clement weather ruin their va­ca­tion.

We’re not so will­ing, so we duck into a casino to warm up. Bliss pops a cou­ple of dol­lars into an Elvis-themed slot ma­chine and im­me­di­ately wins 50. I’m blown away. Aren’t you sup­posed to lose money in Las Vegas?

“That’s noth­ing,” Bliss says. “Jeremy won, like, two hun­dred bucks yes­ter­day.”

As if to prove their point the Mon­ster Truck guys as­sem­ble and head over to a black­jack ta­ble, where Wi­der­man very quickly triples his money. And then he very sen­si­bly walks away.

“It’s not that hard to win money in Las Vegas,” reck­ons Har­vey. “The hard part is not get­ting crazy. That’s what gets peo­ple: they go crazy and bet all their money and then lose it. We never do that. We don’t get crazy. We win some money and then go home.”

If more rock’n’roll bands fol­lowed this ad­vice, we’d have fewer tragic tales to tell. If there’s one pre­vail­ing char­ac­ter trait that ev­ery­one in this band has, it’s rea­son­able­ness. Mon­ster Truck have a nag­ging ap­petite for mod­er­a­tion.

“Dude, I think that’s why we’ve played so many shows with big bands like Guns N’ Roses,” Har­vey explains. “We’re easy. We don’t cause trou­ble, we just do our jobs. And we don’t get crazy about it. It’s hard to keep a rock’n’roll band go­ing if you’re pay­ing your­self a ton of money, so we in­vest most of it back in the band.”

We de­cide it’s time to take the money and run, so we snag the first avail­able ve­hi­cle we can find, which just hap­pens to be a party bus. This would prove to be a nearly fa­tal mis­take all round. The in­te­rior pul­sates with flash­ing neon lights, and both ends of the bus are cov­ered with video screens run­ning

an end­less loop of pop videos cranked up to ear­bleed­ing vol­ume. The bus bobs and weaves through the Vegas streets like a drunken un­cle stumbling home af­ter a par­tic­u­larly long night on the tiles, and I, for one, am sure that I’ll be spray­ing the con­tents of my stom­ach all over the pink and green walls if it doesn’t end soon. Af­ter ev­ery au­to­tuned synth-pop ra­dio hit, a gen­uinely con­fused Har­vey shouts from the back of the bus: “What is this mu­sic? Is this hip-hop?”

Even­tu­ally, and mer­ci­fully, our Ri­hanna-heavy rip ride through town comes to an end and we’re dumped back at the ho­tel. Most of the crew sen­si­bly go to bed, but a few of us de­cide to creep back out into the cold, still search­ing for the elu­sive heart of Satur­day night.

We end up where ev­ery self-re­spect­ing rocker in Vegas should: at the Dou­ble Down Sa­loon. It’s four am, but no­body seems to no­tice. The Dou­ble Down is a no­to­ri­ous punk club jut­ting out of the ass-end of a strip mall. There was a gig here ear­lier, but it was more than for hours ago and they’re just mop­ping up the blood at this point.

Ev­ery inch of the walls is plas­tered with band stick­ers. The booth Har­vey and I are sit­ting at is lumpy and un­even and held up with cin­der blocks. The floor is a sticky roller-rink of spilled booze and the juke­box is, like ev­ery­thing else in this town, per­ma­nently cranked to 11. The playlist is snarly and sav­age, mostly Iggy, MC5 and vin­tage LA hard­core.

I re­count to Har­vey how I was watch­ing a cou­ple of grey-haired re­tirees at Mon­ster Truck’s show wildly air-gui­tar­ing and singing along to their

‘It’s ob­vi­ous that the Truck haven’t got the ‘rock is dead’ memo yet. Hope­fully they’ll never get it.’

songs, thor­oughly lost in the mo­ment. It struck me that the vast ma­jor­ity of Truck’s fans are twenty years older than the band mem­bers are, clas­si­crock hold­outs from the days of tran­sis­tor ra­dios and eight-track cas­settes. I ask him if he’s wor­ried that Mon­ster Truck aren’t pulling in a younger crowd. He isn’t.

“We don’t worry about pleas­ing the kids,” he shrugs, pulling on his beer. “We make mu­sic that we like and that Mon­ster Truck fans like. We don’t re­ally give a shit if the kids like it or not.”

And that’s when it hits me. No­body here gives a shit about the god­damn kids. Cer­tainly not the Hard Rock Casino, a ho­tel that promi­nently fea­tures the pink satin jacket worn by the singer from REO Speed­wagon in 1982, dis­played be­hind glass in the lobby. Nick­el­back are just happy that their au­di­ence is mid­dle-aged and mid­dle-class enough to throw down 100 bucks for a ticket to their show. The Dou­ble Down is op­er­at­ing un­der the premise that peo­ple still wanna drink, puke and fight all night. The whole city is bet­ting on twin­kling lights and $10 prime rib to see it through. Ev­ery­one here, in­clud­ing Mon­ster

Truck, is liv­ing in the per­pet­ual now.

No one in Vegas chases trends. No one here cares about the fickle de­mands of the youth brigade. They go with what works right here, right now. Mon­ster Truck de­liver rock mu­sic to rock fans, and that’s good enough for ev­ery­body, in­clud­ing them. And that cer­tainly ex­tends to their new al­bum. It’s called True Rock­ers.

“We thought of it be­cause I re­cently bought a skull ring,” says Har­vey, “and I re­alised that only true rock­ers wear skull rings.”

I’m wear­ing sev­eral, so guilty as charged.

Har­vey rolls up the sleeve of his jacket to show me his lat­est tat­too, a fist with a skull ring. It’s the most per­fectly Mon­ster Truck thing I’ve ever seen.

As if on cue, the Stooges’ Search And De­stroy blares to life on the blown-out speak­ers. We’ve done it. We’ve reached peak ‘rocker dudes’. Mis­sion ac­com­plished. We’ll leave the piles of co­caine for some other band.

Here’s the thing: Mon­ster Truck are never gonna be crit­i­cal dar­lings. They weren’t even hip young dudes when they were hip and young. But they are car­ry­ing on in a sa­cred tra­di­tion. Ev­ery­body wants to be the Vel­vet Un­der­ground, but some­body’s got to be Foghat. Mon­ster Truck are the Foghat of the 21st cen­tury. They say that news trav­els slow in Canada, and it’s ob­vi­ous that the Truck haven’t got the ‘rock is dead’ memo yet. Hope­fully they’ll never get it.

True Rock­ers is out now on Mas­cot.

Fun and games, Elvis, nutty signs, drink­ing, par­ty­ing… all of life is in Vegas.

Driv­ing the Truck: (l-r) Jon Har­vey, Bran­don Bliss, Steve Kiely, Jeremy Wi­der­man.“We make mu­sic that we like and that Mon­ster Truck fans like. We don’t re­ally give a shit if the kids like it or not.”Jon Har­vey

Mon­ster Truck live in Vegas: wild and heavy.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.