One of music's greatest crimes is that Redd Kross are not one of the world's biggest rock bands. Since forming in 1978 (when band leaders Jeff and Steve McDonald were only 14 and 11, respectively), the L.A. rockers have been putting on an arena-ready show for small-to-medium-size clubs. They are the prime example of a cult band.
For their first trip back to Toronto since 2013, Redd Kross didn't have a new album to push (yet — they teased that Octavia will come later this year), but they did have some free time, which has often been the obstacle for coming up north. Instead, this tour was dedicated to the 2016 CD reissue of their fan favourite Teen Babes From Monsanto EP, as well as an opportunity to road-test new drummer: the one and only Dale Crover (Melvins, Nirvana).
They kicked things off by book-ending arguably their greatest song, 1985's "Switchblade Sister," with Phaseshifter's "Lady In the Front Row," one of the finest Beatles knockoffs ever written, and near-hit "Jimmy's Fantasy." Part of the band's greatness is their interactions both with the crowd and themselves. Steven McDonald took the first of many opportunities to praise Crover: "You're so lucky to have this man behind the drums tonight. Let's hear it for Dale 'Sweet Cheeks' Crover!"
Admitting they like to keep the set list fresh each night for all of the "travellers," they dropped in a couple from 2012's Researching the Blues (the title track and "Uglier," featuring Steven on lead vocals), 1997's Show World (their cover of the Quick's "Pretty Please Me" and "Mess Around") and a rare performance of "Annie's Gone" from their seminal 1990 LP, Third Eye. This marked the end of what they called "Part One."
Steven then introduced "Part Two" as a "sentimental journey," admitting how meaningful Toronto is because "it was the first foreign city to give a fuck about us." He then reminisced about how their first-ever show was at the recently closed Silver Dollar, and about an entire weekend of playing at Lee's Palace in 1990, when old guitarist Robert Hecker had his foot run over by a taxi cab.
Then came the performance of Teen Babes From Monsanto in its entirety. Their version of "Deuce" is as good as KISS ever played it, and without exaggerating, guitarist Jason Shapiro proved he could "out-Ace" Frehley on the solo. That came with Steven's Paul Stanley impersonation and a recommendation to track down the "Paul Stanley tapes," a compilation of the KISS man's greatest dialogue. Their take on the Stooges' "Ann" suited Crover, as it was borderline Melvins: crawling, heavy and so possessed that Jeff unwittingly smashed up his tambourine. Things proceeded to get rowdy during their 1984 cover version of their own "Linda Blair," which segued into an extended noise jam that saw Shapiro accidentally but impressively scissor-kick his mic stand.
For the encore, they ripped right into a couple from 1987's Neurotica: the title track and the fantastic "Peach Kelli Pop," after which Jeff bid goodnight and retreated to the green room. This seemed like an act scripted by the band, as he peeked out the window over the stage, while Steven asked him if was coming back out. When he didn't, Steven decided to play "Standing in Front of Poseur" from 1980's Red Cross EP as a trio, or "Rush-style for the Canadians." Jeff then returned for "Annette's Got the Hits" and finally, a cover of the Beatles "It Won't Be Long."
Whoever said rock'n'roll is a young person's game forgot to share that memo with Redd Kross. Once they were the embodiment of that rule, and now into their 50s they continue to defy it by putting on one of the greatest rock shows on the planet. When Steven McDonald told the crowd, "I expected a fun time but that exceeded my expectations," he wasn't just speaking for himself and the band. He was speaking for every single person in the room.