Certain Syracuse rock bands have always had an affinity for Halloween. Perhaps it’s the imagery that lends itself to the Goth fashion sensibilities of its fans or the need for dark musical rituals as we mentally prepare for another brutal upstate New York winter. Whatever it is, it makes for a great relationship and an auspicious night for a “rock’n’roll extravaganza.” Which is exactly what will transpire this weekend when the “The Real Deal Halloween Freakout” takes over the stage of downtown Syracuse’s Landmark Theatre.
Syracuse rock fans of a certain age fondly remember experiencing the legendary Halloween shows at the Landmark performed by the Masters of Reality. Starting around 1986, fog machines on overdrive, Chris Goss, Tim Harrington and company played shows around Syracuse that were good enough to get them a record deal and a producer by the name of Rick Rubin. Easily some of their most theatrical shows took place at the Landmark.
Unfortunately, all this was happening before Joe Altier was old enough to drive. But he did become a fan of the music, despite never having had the opportunity to see them live. Altier went on to win a Syracuse New Times Syracuse Area Music (Sammy) Award in the Best Rock category with his band Brand New Sin in 2004 and now plays shows as “Just Joe” while working to finish his first solo project.
From the mid-1980s, fast-forward to this summer when Altier and a bunch of local musicians happened to be seated at the same table at a wedding reception, and talk turned to memorable Syracuse shows from the past. Before the meal was done, the idea for a one-night-only, Masters tribute band called Kill the King playing a Halloween show at the Landmark was in the pipeline. Rehearsals were scheduled, the photo was taken and Stacey Waterman from DMR Booking Agency started working on the logistics.
Altier describes the project as an “homage” to one of his favorite Syracuse bands that still inspires him. He also hopes to resurrect some of the magic he missed the first time around.
As Goss and the Masters eventually left Syracuse in search of greener pastures, the mantle fell to the bastard sons of Syracuse, Dracula Jones, to continue the hallowed Halloween tradition of staging a rock’n’roll blowout. They took to the task with a vengeance. Beginning in the early 1990s, the Jones boys played pretty much every Halloween for a decade at the Lost Horizon, most years to a full house. Different band, different venue but once again, Syracuse had its night of Halloween-themed decadence and debauchery to look forward to.
In 1996, Drac Jones won the Sammy for Best Rock group and performed a medley of songs on the stage of the Landmark to a cable-TV audience, so they have played the venue before, although they are especially looking forward to this show and all it implies.
The Jones boys have been playing together off and on for 19 years. Jeff Jones and Sean Trinkaus have known each other since second grade and Bob Hubbard met Jeff in 10th grade. Guitarist Ed Ordez left the band and Syracuse to attend law school. He graduated this year but will be flying back from St. Paul, Minn., so that the original lineup from oh, so long ago can take the stage to mark the occasion.
Ashley Cox, named the Best New Artist Sammy winner in 1997, will also be gracing the stage on Halloween, playing keyboards and singing with her husband Shawn Sullivan and his new band Professional Victims. “This is not Ashley Cox’s band! Last time I checked I wrote all the songs,” says Sullivan. “She recently wrote some amazing new material but this is my moment. Sorry, babe.” Sullivan has a couple of Sammys as well, from his days as a member of the Electric Chick Magnets, which won for best dance/cover band in 1996 and 1999.
While Altier couldn’t drive himself to see a Masters show at the Landmark, Andy Godlewski of Dead Rose hadn’t even been born. None of the members have ever even been to a Dracula Jones show, let alone a Masters of Reality gig. Understandably, they are honored to be included and excited to
see what all the fuss was about. And like everybody else on the bill, they also possess a Sammy or two.
In 2005 they won the Brian Bourke Award for Best New Artist and again this year for Best Rock CD. Bassist and vocalist Godlewski, lead guitarist Jimmy Falco, guitarist Richard Borza and drummer Rob Zaccaria aren’t worried about being put on the bill with such illustrious company, since they are old pros when it comes to playing at the Landmark. In fact, when Borza joined the band last year, his very first show was at the Landmark.
Bringing Rocktober to a close: Dead Rose (above) and Dracula Jones will celebrate Halloween in hard rock style at the Landmark Theatre. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTOS
All these bands have a huge Internet presence with profiles on Facebook, Myspace and Youtube as well as having music for sale on iTunes. Google any of the bands featured here and you will get several hits. You can check out some of the footage from before the Internet was such a pervasive presence in our lives, before it affected the business. Maybe you’ll see yourself in the crowd of an amateur video shot circa 1993 at the Lost Horizon with Drac Jones or see some slick production values in old Masters videos for MTV. Catch up on the songs and the history before heading out—in your costume, of course.
The Real Deal Halloween Freakout takes place Saturday, Oct. 31, at the Landmark, 362 S. Salina St. Doors open at 7 p.m. and music starts at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $15 and are available at the Landmark box office and all Ticketmaster locations. Charge by phone at 472-0700 or online at ticketmaster.com. All ages are welcome, but you must be 21 to drink. For more information, call 475-2500.
Ghost Busters The Landmark Theatre, 362 S. Salina St., gets a head start on Halloween with another rock’n’roll blowout on Friday, Oct. 30. The Reissues, 3 Inch Fury, One Hard Krank and Under the Gun (pictured is Gun bassist Mark Reagan) all check in for WAQX-FM (95X)’s Halloween Massacre III, starting at 8 p.m., and if there are any spirits in the joint, they better wear earplugs. All ages are welcome, but only age 21 and up can imbibe. Admission is $15; for details, call 475-7980. MATT MUMAU PHOTO