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Still a Slave to the Grind

Heavy-metal bad boy Sebastian Bach to make Southern California stops on comeback tour.

June 04, 1998|NATALIE NICHOLS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Eight years ago, Sebastian Bach was the flaxen-haired bad boy of hard rock, preening and screaming with his band Skid Row for tens of thousands in packed arenas worldwide.

These days he's howling for crowds of under 1,000 at nightclubs from Canada to Korea on a grueling grass-roots tour that began last November. The trek, which includes a series of Southland shows starting Saturday at the Galaxy Theatre in Santa Ana, is a comeback for Bach, who disappeared mid-decade under the grunge onslaught.

It's a far humbler slice of fame than Bach, 30, had in 1989, when New Jersey-based Skid Row's self-titled debut album sold 4 million copies. The quintet soon headlined arenas, and Bach sealed his untamed reputation by brawling with fans at a 1989 Massachusetts concert, racking up three years' probation. He later got in hot water for wearing a T-shirt with a homophobic slogan.

Although some critics lauded the harder punk edge of 1991's "Slave to the Grind," pop fans' fascination with screamy delinquents like Skid Row began to wane in favor of flannel-clad angst-meisters led by Nirvana and Soundgarden. By the time Skid Row released "Subhuman Race" in 1995, nobody much cared. After touring South America in 1996, Skid Row fired Bach, according to the singer. (A spokeswoman for the group's management says the other band members have hired another singer for a side project, but that Skid Row has not officially broken up.)

One issue in the split was a basic creative dilemma: Keep the heavy-metal faith, or roll with the pop changes? For Bach, the choice was simple.

"I don't change my singing style," he says. "I like to scream, so that's why I do it."

In his frequent tour updates on his elaborate Web site, Bach (whose real name is Sebastian Bierk) seems both amazed and relieved to be drawing audiences of any size on his own. He still plays such Skid Row favorites as "Slave to the Grind" and "18 and Life," along with new tunes that he plans to release this year in a solo album on his new independent label, Get Off My Bach Records, distributed worldwide by Sony.

And as unlikely as it seems, Bach has come to an accommodation with the alternative rock that hastened his demise.

His current undertaking was inspired by the do-it-yourself ethic of the Breeders' Kelley Deal, who teamed with Bach, guitarist Jimmy Flemion (co-founder of the notoriously outrageous Milwaukee-based alternative act the Frogs) and the Smashing Pumpkins' then-drummer Jimmy Chamberlin to record Alice Cooper's "School's Out" for the 1996 "Scream" soundtrack.

Bach has also sung a Judas Priest song on stage with the Pumpkins' Billy Corgan and hung with members of Marilyn Manson. His new band--which includes the Frogs' Flemion--is playing the late Jeff Buckley's "Eternal Life." Genre wars? Hah.

"There's great alternative bands, and there's boring ones, and the same with metal," Bach says. "Too many people spend a lot of time talking about rock 'n' roll instead of actually doing rock 'n' roll. I think Frank Zappa had a good album title when he said 'Shut Up and Play Your Guitar.' "

BE THERE

Sebastian Bach, Saturday at the Galaxy Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, 8 p.m. $16.50. (714) 957-0600. Also Sunday at the Whisky, 8901 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 8 p.m. $15. (310) 535-0579; June 13 at Club Caprice, 1700 S. Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach, 8 p.m. $12.50. (310) 316-1700.

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