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(Live Review) GIRLSCHOOL + LILLIAN AXE + ALCATRAZZ - Chicago, 4/2/24


The Beard & Little Johnny


Tonight, The Beard and Little Johnny took their first steps down a VERY busy April, as we attended show number #14 and bands #52-54 of the 2024 season. This evening found us on Chicago’s south side at Thalia Hall for some retro metal acts featuring Girlschool, Lillian Axe and Alcatrazz. All these bands pre-date my young moshing companion, but I assured him he would enjoy this evening’s performances.


First up tonight was Alcatrazz a band that reminded The Beard of high school and the well-known method of learning about metal, (in those pre-internet days) ... after school tape trading. We had cassettes back in those days, kids and young metalheads used to meet and discuss new emerging acts in the early 1980’s and trade or copy them for each other. It was in this manner I was first exposed to Alcatrazz, (which in that early incarnation featured former Rainbow singer Graham Bonnet, and at that time virtual unknown guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen, along with bassist Gary Shae.


While the Beard never got to see that incarnation live, their No Parol from Rock N Roll Live in Japan release certainty got a lot of play. The Beard also missed out on subsequent incarnations of Alcatrazz featuring in succession both Steve Vai and Danny Johnson. (Ed: You didn't miss much re: the latter formations.) Clearly this evening’s version of Alcatrazz will have none of those members. In fact, since 2020, there have been two versions of Alcatrazz touring, the one with Bonnet and the one with Shea. Tonight, we will be seeing the Shea version (also featuring original keyboardist Jimmy Waldo), but having a singer, drummer, and guitarist all with less than five years’ time in with the band. In fact, vocalist Giles Lavery (Warlord), has been there less than a month. So, while I CAN scratch seeing Alcatrazz off the missed bands bucket list, in missing 3/5th of the classic line up, it will likely not be what I remember from those early 1980’s days.

This show unfortunately did not sell very well. The main floor was less than half full, (which is too bad as people are missing out on some historical era bands.)  Right off, I have to say Lavery provided good vocals, and sounded like Graham Bonnet with that tone and high range. Guitarist Joe Stump had the licks. Trying to play like Yngwie is a thankless task but Stump shredded well and managed the solos from the classic No Parole album well as demonstrated by their second song “Too Young to Die Too Drunk to Live. “Hiroshima Mon Amor” was another throwback number and it sounded great.

They did play modern Alcatrazz material like 2021’s Turn of the Wheel. I did not know that one, but it was Alcatrazz style song structure with the high lyrics and shredding guitar solos. Other than wanting Lavery to have just a touch more clarity, this set could have been early-mid 80’s Alcatrazz. “Kree Nakori” was next from the first album and again Stump handled a difficult Yngwie style solo well.. After a couple more modern ones they played their big MTV hit “Islands in the Sun” which was not one I liked back then and in fact was actually one of the weaker numbers overall in this set, although I certainly get that it was necessary to play it.


For an opener, Alcatrazz played just shy of a full hour. This was a great retro set, and I am thrilled I got to see this band once live. The Beard is grading 87/100. Johnny’s report: “Guitar player was good Beard, and that guy sang well for only being in the band for about five minutes.”



Second up was another early 80’s act, New Orleans based Lillian Axe. 

Originally started in 1983, their 1987 classic lineup (featuring Ron Taylor, (vocals) Jon Ster, (rhythm) and Rob Stratton (bass) along with Steve Blaze (guitar) and Danny King (drums) released their self-titled Lillian Axe album to moderate success at the time. The follow up Love & War (1989) was unsuccessful though and they were dropped by MCA.


Despite about twenty years of lineup changes and no real success, Lillian Axe was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2010. (Ed: Not much going on down in ol' Louisiana, I guess.) That spurned a reunion of sorts with Blaze, Vines, King, and Michael Darby, although they only released an album of previously unreleased songs in 2013 and an acoustic album in 2014.


In 2020 Lillian Axe parted ways with vocalist Brian Jones in favor of Brent Graham. In 2022 they released their first new material in almost a decade with Womb to Tomb. All that history and this will be the very first chance The Beard has had to hear what they do. (Ed: Pray tell why Alcatrazz played below Lillian Axe?!)


They had an overly long intro. You are the support act not The Rolling Stones. That intro music went on for too long. Once they did start though, it was clean rock and roll with a southern tinge in both the look and sound. Guitarist Sam Poitevent in fact looked like he could be found in the Bayou of New Orleans (or perhaps on a mountain top waiting for Jimmy Page to climb up to him.)



After the vocal and guitar histrionics of Alcatrazz, Lillian Axe was far more straightforward. Musically they had a little bit of a Lizzy Borden-meets-Skid Row sound with touches of early 80’s NWOBHM and a dash of a gothic sensibility. Gothic in feel, not a musical goth sound.

The set has a good feel to it (considering I have no frame of reference to work from with them.) I enjoyed this as it progressed, and I suspect there is more of a story to their Womb to Tomb release to unravel, plus they had good crowd support. The crowd pushed closer as the set progressed, which meant the band’s energy was drawing the crowd and that is a good sign to see. I award them an 82/100.

Little Johnny’s report: “That guitar player looks like you Beard except with hair. They were pretty decent though.” No no…that’s okay Johnny. I just buy all your beer, go ahead and keep ripping me.



Headlining tonight was the 1970’s all-female act Girlschool. 

Originally formed in 1978, Girlschool are the longest running all female rock band still touring after 46 years. Benefiting from their supporting role in 1979 for Motorhead on the “Overkill” tour, Girlschool were at the forefront of what came to be known as the NWOBHM movement in music. This meant they had a niche, (an all-girl band), a degree of actual talent, and a sound coveted by record companies at that time. That led to their first release in 1980 (Demolition) which reached #28 on the billboard charts.


More touring would follow as support for Black Sabbath and RUSH in 1981, and Iron Maiden and The Scorpions in 1982. By their fourth album “Play Dirty” (1983), Girlschool members were tiring of the four years relentless touring grind and founding guitarist Kelly Johnson quit the band in 1984. Forging onward with a few variations of style, (less punk and more glam), Girlschool continued to tour with big names supporting acts like BOC and Dio until the 1990’s when they largely dipped under the radar, (although they never stopped playing).


In the early 2000’s Girlschool toured the world again with the likes of fellow NWOBHM bands Saxon, Tigers of Pan Tang, and Paul Di’Anno, as well as once again accompanying the mighty legends Motorhead on their 30th anniversary tour. Girlschool also found considerable success on the European festival circuit performing at Bang Your Head (2007), Wacken (2008), & Hellfest (2009.) Continuing to tour the world in 2013,14, &15 Girlschool released their 13th album Guilty as Sin in 2017.


Tonight’s line up featured original members Kim McAuliffe (vocals & rhythm), and Denise Dufort (drums). Accompanying them was on-again-off-again bassist Tracey Lamb and the newcomer (at 24-years with the band) guitarist Jackie Chambers.

Girlschool, even after forty-six years remain a punk influenced rock & roll band. One can easily see & hear why these ladies got their start opening for Motorhead. I love McAuliffe's English accent as well as how they poke fun at their own ages given most of the band is on the back side of sixty. “I need bloody glasses cause the set list is way over there.” Great stuff.



Songs like “Guilty as Sin,” “Future Flash,” or “Kick it Out” are just straight ahead three-minute rock and punk type numbers. This fusion made Girlschool a fun act to watch. They are smooth and practiced in the way they drift from left to right on the stage letting everyone get a look at each of them, while Dufort pounds away on the drums sounding pretty amazing for someone able to collect social security.

“Nothing to Lose” took us back to 1978, (a year when the ancient Beard was just a simple 12-year-old and as of yet unaware of bands like Girlschool.) (Ed: You're just a pup, Beard. I saw these ladies headline a gig in 1980 ... and had beers beforehand!)


Applause and respect that they paid tribute to their first benefactors with a great cover of Motorhead’s “Bomber.” Finishing strong with “Emergency,” Girlschool put on a fun set and the Beard wished more people had turned out to hear it. A solid 87/100 for the ladies from England.

Little Johnny report: “Hey Beard, this is pretty good, but since it’s four old chicks is your heart gonna be able to take that or should I run to the car for your medicine?” “Bite me Johnny.

Well, this wraps up show #14 and bands #52-54. Keep reading our reviews on the greatest site for metal music The Mighty Decibel. Follow our promos and video postings on TIKTOK at thebeard0728 and remember to friend and follow Mark McQueen on Facebook to keep up with the latest reviews (both Metal & Non-Metal.)


Until next time, this is your favorite reviewing duo The Beard & Little Johnny saying ...

Stay Heavy & Horns Up!!


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