Return to Lit











Published: Jan. 30, 2011
Updated: 12:10 p.m.
Lit returns to Mouse House all fired up


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 like
Cheap 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 it showed.

“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.