BulletBoys frontman Marq Torien rocked an acoustic show, Wolfgang Van Halen sold out the venue, and Dokken was back for the attack at Whisky A Go-Go throughout 2021, providing the Sunset Strip with some of last year’s best shows.
There was a good variety of decent rock shows to check out in 2021 that gave Angelenos something to take their minds off of the pandemic. And while legends like the Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters, and Slipknot rocked Inglewood’s newly-opened SoFi Stadium last year, some of the best intimate shows were happening in WeHo, where rock superstars like Wolfgang Van Halen, Don Dokken, George Lynch, Vivian Campbell, Vinnie Appice, and BulletBoys’ Marq Torien kept the Sunset Strip shakin’ with memorable sold-out shows and timeless stories at the Whisky A Go-Go.
BulletBoys’ Reunion Show Unexpectedly Turned into an Unplugged Solo Set with Frontman Marq Torien Sounding as Smooth as Ever
The hotly-anticipated BulletBoys reunion show at the Whisky A Go-Go in December had been advertised for months. But at the last minute, plans unexpectedly changed on show night, explained frontman Mark Torien from the Whisky’s stage, where he delivered a scorching mostly-unplugged solo set. He didn’t explain why the reunion was cancelled, and instead he invited Whisky fave Ira Black to help out on timeless BulletBoys hits like “Smooth Up in Ya,” “Hell On My Heels,” and “Shoot the Preacher Down.”
Black’s scorching guitar contribution and Torien’s soulful metal pipes immediately had the crowd forgetting all about the reunion as they rocked along. Throughout the 90-minute show, Torien covered most of the best tracks on the L.A. band’s first two albums, BulletBoys and Freakshow. The Whisky crowd seemed won over by the impromptu solo show, especially when he got to the unplugged renditions of “Hard as a Rock” and the BulletBoys’ cover of The O’Jays’ “Money.”
Just as memorable as Torien’s set were the awesome stories he told between songs, about his glory days creating heavy metal history on the Sunset Strip, and getting props from David Lee Roth and Alex Van Halen when performing at WeHo’s Troubadour when he was 16.
Then again, hearing these first-person stories is what makes seeing a show at the Whisky so special. Throughout 2021, other Sunset Strip legends would also share fascinating personal anecdotes about their connection to the Whisky and the Sunset Strip.
Wolfgang Van Halen Marked a Milestone with Mammoth’s Historic Headlining Show at Whisky
When Wolfgang Van Halen’s band Mammoth headlined the Whisky shortly after their North American jaunt opening for Guns N’ Roses, the frontman looked around the room in awe from center stage and reminded the sold-out crowd, “So, this is where it all started…”
He seemed as in awe of the venue and its history as we were, and we all knew what “it” meant, of course. The Whisky’s stage is where his father and uncle’s iconic band launched a career that would make music history over and over again while inspiring countless young musicians whose first taste of world-class hard rock was hearing Van Halen’s self-titled 1978 debut.
Wolfgang seemed to know he had an important family history to uphold, and the former Van Halen bassist then spent the next hour and a half proving that he doesn’t necessarily need his Van Halen cohorts to effortlessly deliver a commanding, amp-shaking performance before a fist-pumping packed house at one of the world’s most iconic—and intimidating—rock n’ roll venues.
Now fronting his own band as it’s key singer-songwriter and guitarist, Van Halen covered most of his 2021 debut album, Mammoth WVH. He seemed to be in his element in a live setting, confidentially delivering an engaging vocal performance of deeply personal songs like “Don’t Back Down,” “Epiphany,” and “Mr. Ed” that seemed to resonate with the audience.
Of course, Wolfgang also caused an eruption of the loudest cheers when he started shredding on “Mammoth” and “Feel.” There was nothing flashy, no pyro, no costumes, no AutoTune, just an incredible evening of straight-forward, stellar rock n’ roll that had rocked every Van Halen-t-shirt-wearing fan in the crowd.
Don Dokken Kept Whisky Rockin’ with Heavy Metal Hits, Personal Sunset Strip Stories, and a Visit by George Lynch
Don Dokken and his guitar hero ex-bandmate George Lynch helped close out 2021 with two back-to-back mid-December shows at the Whisky. The amazing and rare opportunity to see these two legends perform together again on the very stage where the magic was launched back in the late-’70s was a monumental rock n’ roll experience.
Although Lynch did not perform with the current Dokken lineup until the last three songs, the Don Dokken-led night of timeless heavy metal hits had the Whisky’s walls shakin’ like it was 1985 with live renditions of timeless tracks like “In My Dreams,” “Kiss of Death,” “Just Got Lucky,” “Breaking the Chains,” and “Alone Again,” which indisputably still hold up today and sound better then anything on the radio nowadays.
Donning his famous black fedora, the band’s namesake frontman shared rockin’ stories about his Sunset Strip glory days, and hanging out with actor Robert Englund after providing the theme song “Dream Warriors” to the third installment of A Nightmare On Elm Street. And just before breaking into one of the band’s biggest and most awesome hits, “It’s Not Love,” Don Dokken talked about filming the song’s iconic music video that featured the band rolling down Sunset while performing in the back of a flatbed truck, traveling from Hollywood and Vine straight to the Rainbow’s parking lot.
“Almost fell off the truck on my ass,” Dokken recalled before kicking into the 1985 hit from Under Lock and Key. It was just one of over a dozen hits that he and his band (sans Lynch) performed throughout the two-hour set. Lynch appeared onstage at the end of the show and shredded on a jam song that he and Dokken improvised on the spot, before closing out the show with a few more Dokken hits.
Like other 2021 Whisky shows, part of what made Dokken’s performance so memorable and unique were the personal stories he shared between songs, often reminding fans that Dokken got its start on the Whisky’s stage in the late-‘70s opening for fellow local band Van Halen. If these 2021 shows are indicative of what’s ahead on 2022, it looks like it’s going to be a helluva good time.
Last in Line brought Dio’s greatest hits to the Sunset Strip, reuniting Vivian Campbell and Vinnie Appice
Vivian Campbell had some unexpected time off after Def Leppard’s tour was postponed until summer 2022, but he found a way to keep the beat rockin’ by reuniting with his Dio-era bandmate and fellow rock legend Vinny Appice and taking their side band Last in Line to the Whisky for a smokin’ show last November. The guitarist and drummer recruited singer Andrew Freeman, who previously did a stint in Sunset Strip-launched band Hurricane, and bassist Phil Soussan, whose list of credits include performing with the other Black Sabbath frontman, Ozzy Osbourne.
Freeman did a great job bringing Ronnie James Dio’s powerful lyrics and signature growls to life in scorching covers from Dio’s early albums. The set list included heavy metal classics like “Last in Line,” “Holy Diver,” and “Rainbow in the Dark,” which still hold up today as sounding current and original. All hits originally featured Campbell, Appice, and bassist Jimmy Bain, (who passed away in 2016). The band sounded as good as any Dio CD I’ve ever owned — and I’ve owned them all. Nothing will replace seeing Dio on his Sacred Heart tour at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium in 1985, but the Whisky’s show by Last in Line was the next best thing, and a lot better than a hologram tour.
Fast Times Returned to Party Like it was 1989 at Totally Tubular Monday Night Eighties Party
Also, in late 2021, the Whisky saw the return of one of its most totally awesome weekly live rock showcases “Fast Times.” Hosted by L.A. Eighties tribute band Fast Times the Monday night showcase didn’t miss a beat when it hit the stage again in early winter after being away for about a year. The weekly rock and roll showcase features covers of the most rockin’ songs from the era performed by a supremely talented front man in the guise of Jeff Spicoli, leading his band through hits like Depeche Mode‘s “Personal Jesus,” Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” and the Beastie Boys‘ “You Gotta Fight for Your Right to Party.”
For two hours, the faux Spicoli and his band turned the Whisky into what felt like an ’80s prom. (Actually it was better than an ’80s prom, because my 1984 prom wasn’t even this much fun.) The rest of the band sticks with the theme and sports costumes paying homage to Devo and Motley Crue. But it’s the music that’s the star of this show, because the covers are spot on and they’re the songs everybody loves and sings along to, and on the evening the event returned, you could hear the sing-along echo down the Sunset Strip. It was an incredible night of music that made you want to pogo your way back to the Eighties, with the perfect soundtrack to drown out all the pandemic craziness that was happening outside of the walls of the Whisky on that Monday night.