Riot on Sunset Strip: At this point, the sort of hair metal that ruled Hollywood in the ’80s is undeniably the least “cool” music in the world. Very few serious music fans admit to liking it, for fear of losing their credibility. Cred that, in actual fact, is all in their heads anyway.

But dig beneath the dated surface and there was plenty to enjoy. The music was actually far more diverse than people generally remember, lumped together by fashion and geography (as is the case with many scenes). Blues nudged up to punk, glitter rock bumped uglies with power-pop, and the world rejoiced for a brief, bright moment.

Then it largely burned out. The giants, such as Guns N’ Roses (sorta), Motley Crue and Poison still played the big rooms. Next rung down, the likes of Warrant and Cinderella kept a career going. But keep climbing down that ladder and there were many, many bands that had a cult following on the Strip back on the day but didn’t really expand beyond that for whatever reason. When the world went plaid, they were just about done.

There’s a superb CD box set called Hollywood Rocks which allows people not in L.A. in the ’80s to discover many (though far from all) of those bands that didn’t get as big as some, but could have done with a bit more luck. One of those bands is Blackboard Jungle.

These guys reunite every year for a one-off show, and for the past few years it’s been at the Viper Room (though they’ve had a couple of years off for obvious reasons). Back when they formed, they were closely associated with Faster Pussycat, but the sound is less punk and slightly more ’90s than Taime’s crew. Songs such as the opening “Chicago” and the brilliant “Paint You a Picture” highlight the fact that they didn’t get anything close to the attention they deserved.

“It’s a weird anomaly, what it does once every year,” bassist Britt Pennella told us in 2018. “But why does Maiden sell out now, and skater kids love that shirt? I don’t know. We’re not trying to be cool and pretend we were into the Dwarves. A lot of our songs are about moving here. We were watching Mötley Crüe on MTV from Jersey, and we decided we were going to the Sunset Strip. And we did. It was great.”

Before Blackboard Jungle, we were treated to the rap-musings of Old Man Crawford, the stage name of Mandie (formerly of trash rock troupe the Glamour Punks). It’s a bold move to open a show like this with a rap set, but it’s delivered with passion, the crowd is into it, and he ends with a rejigged version of a Glamour Punks tune.

Best band of the night is Swingin’ Thing. The guys have switched the makeup and big hair for a look that is much more punky, but the image still suits the tunes. Songs such as “Supersonic Loverboy” and “Let’s Do it With the Lights On” sounded phenomenal at the Viper, and the band was just on it.

We ducked out of the Viper Room briefly to catch some of Quiet Riot‘s set across the road at the Whisky, and it was worth it. They’ve been catching some shit for carrying on after the death of drummer Frankie Banali in 2020, and everyone is entitled to their opinion about that. But the current lineup includes returning bassist Rudy Sarzo, former Type O Negative drummer Johnny Kelly, and Jizzy Pearl on vocals. Pearl sang for QR between 2013 and 2016, and returned in 2019 when American Idol contestant James Durbin left the band.

Pearl has previously fronted his own band Love/Hate, had a solo career, and sung with Ratt, LA Guns and Adler’s Appetite. He generally improves every band that he’s in, thanks to his stage energy and incredible larynx. “Slick Black Cadillac” and “Mama Were All Crazee Now” prove that very point. Make your own mind up about how genuine this version of the band is, but they sound superb.

Back at the Viper, Stars From Mars (another band on the Hollywood Rocks box) closed the night. Having never seen them, we were excited but it wasn’t happening for them on Saturday. The thinning crowd didn’t help. Frontman Dazzle certainly looks the part — he’s barely aged on the surface. But they just sounded tired. Maybe next time, fellas.

Overall though, this was a night of proof that, when the stars align and the mood is right, this music can still be the joyous party that it used to be.

Quiet Riot

Quiet Riot at the Whisky (Brett Callwood)

Riot on Sunset Strip

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