Jan. 30, 2011
Updated: 12:10 p.m.
Lit returns to Mouse House all fired up
By KELLI SKYE FADROSKI
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Saturday night at House of
Blues Anaheim wasn’t just another gig for O.C. rockers Lit --
the sold-out show marked a new beginning for what is now a quintet.
It’s been years -- nearly seven, actually -- since these hometown
heroes have released any new material, but on this night loyal fans
and close friends were preview to what they have been diligently working
on for the last year or so.
After losing drummer Allen
Shellenberger to brain cancer in August 2009, Lit naturally took some
time off. But as 2010 dawned, the group’s remaining members, Jeremy
and A. Jay Popoff and Kevin Baldes, pulled it back together for both
themselves and their fallen brother Big Al. And there could be no better
place than the Mouse House -- which Lit helped christen a decade ago
-- for the band to reemerge in front of its ever-loving local fan base.
(It’s also where a July 2008 benefit concert was held to help
Shellenberger offset medical costs.)
This night, however, Lit
was unleashed like bats out of hell. The band -- now with Nathan Walker
on drums plus an extra guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist, Ryan Gillmor
– was thoroughly revved-up. They’ve endured some hard knocks
the past couple years, but tragedy certainly hasn’t doused their
fire or dampened the party.
Lit remains a straightforward rock act that unapologetically wears influences
on its sleeves, drawing liberally from bands likeCheap
Trick, Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard; one new song reminds greatly
of "Pour Some Sugar on Me," while others evoked everything
from the melodic wallop of Pretenders to the heavy crunch of Marilyn
Manson. Fittingly, the guys blasted through their set in front of enough
hyper-flashing lights to give audience members seizures. Unlike more
routine gigs a half-decade ago, there wasn’t a second of this
show that felt merely dialed-in; these guys were having big fun and
“Heard you missed us,” A. Jay shouted after the opening
song. “We’re back! You ready for Lit 2011?”
Apparently so, as fans roared along through plenty of bigger hits (“Over
My Head,” “Zip-Lock”) while “Lipstick &
Bruises” sounded phenomenal thanks to fuller vocals and Gillmor’s
additional guitar. Not surprisingly after so much inactivity, there
were a few minor glitches here and there, most noticeably during the
intro to a freshly inked tune in the encore. They merely took a moment
to regroup and explain: “What happened there,” A. Jay said,
“was … that is a new song.”
No apologies needed: this crowd seemed more than willing to let Lit
shake off what few flakes of rust had built up over time. All the same,
I don’t think I’ve ever seen the band rock so strongly.
Baldes, for one, played so hard that if it were possible to actually
rock your own face off, he might have done so here. Grinning from ear
to ear nearly the entire set, he was constantly spotting people he knew
in the audience, excitingly waving and mouthing individual hellos.
A. Jay was as charismatic
as ever, and his movements seem more controlled now as he smoothly slinks
and slithers around as if he ripped a page straight from the playbook
of Stone Temple Pilots' Scott Weiland. Yet, though his manner may be
slightly borrowed, his vocals were much stronger than anything that
frontman has done in years. A. Jay always had a cocky-cool “check
me out” stage presence, and though that hasn’t completely
diminished -- this is still hard, fast rock ’n’ roll, baby
-- it comes across now more like confidence than arrogance.
In the hearts of many fans, no one will ever be able to replace Big
Al, but Walker is a perfect fit; Shellenberger would be proud. Bringing
on Gillmor has also been a positive change: the additional guitar gives
Jeremy more room to lay down powerful leads, while the extra vocals
thoroughly enhance songs old and new live.
The fresh material has all the fun and party-rock feel of tracks like
“My Own Worst Enemy,” “Over My Head” and “Too
Fast for a U-Turn” -- all songs the band performed in stellar
fashion during this 75-minute set, preceded by turns from promising
local outfits Runner Runner and Alevela. But to pay homage to Al on
such an auspicious evening, the band slowed things down a bit at the
start of the encore, bringing out three cellists for the acoustic tribute
“Here’s to Us,” accompanied by a slide show of Shellenberger’s
life. That was followed by a mellower “Happy in the Meantime.”
This is going to be a big year for Lit. With a new album and plans for
a summer tour, it’s great to see that these hometown heroes really
haven’t changed -- something A. Jay himself noted: “We’re
still the same guys.” Yes, they are: shirtless, sweaty, tattooed,
wine- and whiskey-guzzling stars straight outta Fullerton, who are more
than ready to rejoin the rock ’n’ roll circus.