Over the years I’ve covered some really cool shows by legendary bands. The 80’s were something, don’t even get me started; the 90’s too. I count my lucky stars that I got to see some legends. Needless to say, it really takes a lot for a band to impress me. The reason being is the first concert I ever went to was in 1980, it was Earth, Wind & Fire at the Fabulous Forum. I honestly thought that was the standard that all bands should be measured by. Great music, great musicianship, great vocals and being entertaining on stage was how a show was supposed to be. That combination was lethal in my eyes, and I have always chased that show. I’ve been lucky to see bands that measure up to that every now and then.
To some extent, that’s barometer has been somewhat of an unfair way to give a review of any band. For me, the thing about the 80’s and 90’s in addition to Earth, Wind & Fire, I got to see Bowie, The Beasties, Nirvana, The Cure, the Specials, and Van Halen before they hit it big. I also got to see one of my favorite bands before they called it quits; that band was The Smiths.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen Morrissey and Johnny Marr play many times on their own, but that magic that was The Smiths was like lightning in a bottle, never to be duplicated. There’s just something missing when I see the two namesake smiths playing on their own. Don’t misunderstand me, they’re both great live, you always get your money’s worth. The fact remains that it’s just different; that’s all I’m saying. The hardcore Smiths fans understand.
Fast forward to 2019: I was at a party at my friend Leeza London’s house. She has a beautiful sprawling little estate in Pasadena, down the street form the Rose Bowl. The show she puts on each year is called Leezapalooza. That show is always the show to go to, and 2019 was a stellar year. When I got there, Leeza introduced me to a mild-manner, polite guy named Jose Maldonado. She went on to introduce him as the lead singer of Sweet and Tender Hooligans. Being that I follow the music scene, I’d heard of the band and knew they were a cover / tribute band; I just hadn’t seen them live before. Jose told me a little about the band… I thought to myself, Smiths cover band, that’s a tough pole to climb… good luck! Later than night I heard him do a acoustic set at the party. Wow, I was very pleasantly surprised. The dude could sing, he had great vocals. Sadly though, I didn’t have a chance to speak with him before I had to leave.
It’s been several months since I met Jose at Leezapalooza, but luckily I got a chance to chat with him again a few days ago. I do a radio show in Laguna called TNN RADIO with Leeza. Sweet and Tender Hooligans was playing the House of Blues | Anaheim and we thought it would be a good time to introduce Jose to our audience . Just like at Leezapalooza, Jose was very polite, a great speaker and guest for the show. The interview went very well, we played a few songs off their CD and the band sounded great. I was very interested in checking out their HOB show.
Jose Maldonado at the House of Blues | Anaheim
I got to go to the venue just as the opener, El Vez was taking the stage. I really wanted to see if the Hooligans were the real deal. I mean Jose talks great, looks like and dresses like Morrissey, and from what I had witnessed… the dude has skills. When I got to the House of Blues, my photog and I noticed there was already a good sized crowd. I was stoked for Jose and the band; the venue was like half full, so that’ like 1,000+ paying customers. I thought to myself, not bad for a cover band. I went backstage to say hello and immediately I ran into Jose. We took some photos and I also chatted with Joe Escalante. I almost forgot that Escalante is in the band as well; he’s also the bassist for the Vandals. It was about then it started to make sense how solid this band was; they have a guy that can sing and a bad-ass legit bassist.
Backstage at the House of Blues
Just before the Hooligans took the stage, I took a peek from behind the curtain to see if a few more souls had rolled in. That’s when it downed on me…. OMG, this joint is sold out! Before I went out to the front of the house, I told Jose he had a good sized crowd out there. He just smiled and winked, most likely he already knew that house was sold out. He said “yeah, we have a few fans in Orange County.” I asked him that it must be gratifying to do what they love to do and people show up to see them play. Again he smiled and said “we’ve always done what we do out of love and respect, and to do it in front of a sold out house like this, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now | Off “A Tribute to The Smiths”
As the Hooligans took they took the stage, the lights dimmed and the crow roared. From the first note from the band, and the first lyrics from Jose, that’s when it all came back to me. That Earth, Wind & Fire show mixed with the last time I saw The Smiths… it was that same vibe. It was that moment that I got it… I really got it… I got the reason the House of Blues was sold out. It wasn’t because the band had a gimmick, no, that was too convenient. It was because this band is really good, maybe; just maybe, more than really good! The band was electric, their tempo was spot on to the original Smiths sound, and Jose channeled inner Morrissey to a tee.
The crowd literally lost its proverbial mind to songs like How Soon is Now, Girlfriend in a Coma, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, This Charming Man, November Spawned a Monster, Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, Ask and countless other classics. It was such a great show, I couldn’t have be happier to have been proven that there are some bands out there that are just as good as the original. I know I’m a hard guy to impress, but hats off to the Sweet and Tender Hooligans because they just that, they impressed me.
I ended up backstage again towards the end of the show, it was really something to see. Fans of all ages, nationalities and races just taking in the music. They were singing along to each word of every single song. The band just connected with everyone, it was truly a sight to see. The emotions in motion along with the moves Maldonado displayed would have even made Caligula blush.
Photo from the backstage area
In the end, Sweet & Tender Hooligans did what Earth, Wind and Fire did for me so many years ago; they delivered and lived up to the hype. They entertained their fans, they sounded great and they reminded me why some bands play music; because they love it.