The historic Center Stage Theater in Atlanta, Georgia, kicked off its June slate of concerts on Thursday night with beloved rockers Ugly Kid Joe. Built in 1966 to honor Atlanta’s performing arts community and to memorialize Helen Lee Cartlidge after she and 100 other arts patrons perished in the Orly plane crash of 1962, Center Stage is an iconic live performance destination that has played host to Sir Elton John, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, just to name a few. With great acoustics and a choice between a general admission floor or auditorium-style open seating, this space is the perfect large-stage experience for summer concert goers to enjoy live music in an intimate 1,000-capacity venue.
Out on the road for the first time in nearly three decades, Ugly Kid Joe is touring in support of their latest release, Rad Wings of Destiny (October 2022), with special guests Fozzy and Pistols At Dawn. Both openers have deep ties to Atlanta, which surely explained the audience of early attendees bellied up to the stage fence long before Pistols At Dawn was set to perform.
Kicking the night off with arena-sized energy a bit before 7:30pm was Atlanta-based rockers Pistols At Dawn. Described in PR as a band that “delivers hard-hitting hooks, magnetic melodies and intricate instrumentation,” P.A.D. quickly sent a message to the hometown crowd that rock is far from dead. Anchored by charismatic frontman Cris Hodges, Pistols At Dawn executed an in-your-face, nearly 40-minute set of tunes, much of it pulled from their full-length debut, Ascension (2022).
I live here in Atlanta and shamefully have never seen P.A.D. perform, so I essentially went in cold Thursday night, hoping to be impressed. Quite simply, I was. With the band behind Hodges rounded out by Sean Benham (bass), Adam Jaffe (drums), 22-year-old phenom Will James (guitar), and Devin White (guitar), Pistols At Dawn showcased their solid musicianship and mature songwriting. While they did pull off an enjoyable rendition of Alice in Chains‘ “Man in the Box” hit mid-set, it was their final two originals – “The Truth” and “Under the Surface” – that really caught my ear at the end. I am excited to see what lies ahead for Pistols At Dawn and look forward to them continuing to represent the Atlanta music scene.
After a brief stage turn, the nearly full venue of multi-generational fans welcomed Fozzy back to Atlanta at 8:25pm as the band launched into “Sane” from their latest album release, Boombox (2022). I will regrettably admit I have never seen Fozzy live, and what a mistake that has been. The Fozzy experience can only be explained with one word: WOW.
Lead by the larger-than-life professional wrestling personality of Chris Jericho on vocals, Fozzy immediately draws you in to their over-the-top, nearly exhausting level of positive rock-and-roll energy. With Jericho flanked by spirited guitarists Rich “The Duke” Ward and Billy Grey (both from Atlanta), along with lively Grant Brooks on drums, and the highly entertaining PJ Farley (of Trixter fame) on bass, Fozzy’s longevity of over two decades was on full display. The band is super-tight, with an unmatched level of musicianship.
In between the chants of “FOZZY, FOZZY, FOZZY,” the band performed a dozen tracks, including an enjoyable cover version of “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and then much to the crowd’s delight, the band punctuated their night with Jericho’s wrestling ring entrance theme, “Judas.” Fozzy’s set was intoxicating, only elevated by the circus-like atmosphere on stage among the audience-engaging attitude exuded by each band member. All I can recommend is that if you don’t have Fozzy on your personal band bucket list, do yourself a favor and add them immediately. After watching these guys pull off a stadium-type show in a smaller space, I actually felt a little bad for Ugly Kid Joe that they had to follow the Fozzy spectacle.
2.) Lights Go Out
3.) Do You Wanna Start a War
4.) Nowhere To Run
5.) Relax (Frankie Goes to Hollywood cover)
6.) I Still Burn
7.) Burn Me Out
8.) Spider In My Mouth
9.) God Pounds His Nails
As the clock crossed the 10pm hour, platinum recording artists Ugly Kid Joe took to the stage to a visibly thinned out general admission crowd, which I assumed was mostly due to home towners checking out after Fozzy. Donning his signature look of a backwards baseball cap, t-shirt, and shorts, founding member and lead vocalist Whitfield Crane started the set off with a taste of new music from the band, “That Ain’t Livin,” the opening track from Ugly Kid Joe’s latest release, Rad Wings of Destiny (2022). Along with fellow founding member and guitarist Klaus Eichstadt, Crane was backed by Dave Fortman (guitar), Cam Greenwood (drums), and Mike Squires (bass).
Joking that they were finally “working musicians” again after being dormant for many years, Crane and Ugly Kid Joe delivered upon a set that took their fans on a musical journey that crossed decades. What immediately stood out to me was how well-preserved Crane’s vocals were; he still sounded great after all these years. It is also worth mentioning that Crane was super-interactive with the fans, at one point even chatting it up with some parents in the front who brought their daughter to “a heavy metal show rather than letting her sit at home on TikTok.” He was funny, thankful for the audience’s support, and said he honestly just “didn’t want to suck.”
While there have been a handful of line-up changes over the years, the current incarnation of Ugly Kid Joe is as on-point as ever, especially when they performed the expected fan favorites dating back to 1992’s America’s Least Wanted debut album. It was awesome to hear tunes like “Neighbor,” “Goddamn Devil,” and “So Damn Cool” live. Sitting down at the edge of the stage with Fortman, Crane also lead the band through their commercially successful Harry Chapin cover of “Cats in the Cradle,” which was a radio darling back in the early ’90s. Commenting that they weren’t going to bother with the tradition encoring behavior of walking off and coming back on, Crane had Ugly Kid Joe power through an energetic rendition of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades,” followed by a crowd-encouraged sing-along to their most recognizable hit, “Everything About You.”
This current tour (with Fozzy only appearing on select dates) will wrap up next Saturday, June 10, at Come and Take It Live, in Austin, Texas, so be damn cool and try to catch it if you live along this final tour route.
1.) That Ain’t Livin’
4.) Jesus Rode A Harley
6.) Panhandlin’ Prince
7.) No One Survives
8.) Devil’s Paradise
9.) So Damn Cool
10.) Cats in the Cradle (Harry Chapin cover)
11.) I’m Alright
13.) Milkman’s Son
14.) Busy Bee
15.) Goddamn Devil
16.) Ace of Spades (Motörhead cover)
17.) Everything About You
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Elliott is a music photographer covering shows in Atlanta, Georgia, and the surrounding area. The highlight of his photography career was back in the early ’90s, when he sold Neil Diamond the rights to his negatives from a show and then purchased a set of tires for his 1979 280ZX during college with the money.