years strong: (l-r) Craig Hiltsley, Grant Matot,
Phil Montelone, Boonie and Ralph Renna of Last Call.
a growing fan base and new opportunties to tour, Last
Call aren’t about to call it a night
many anomalies. It is mid-January; the colossal parking
lot at Northern Lights in Clifton Park should be slick
with the day’s runoff, and framed by heaving banks of
snow. Yet, even after sundown, it remains a balmy 50 degrees
under a full moon. Soon, Troy-based Last Call will rattle
the club’s panes with their workingman’s blend of hardcore
and thrash as leotarded 30-somethings march in lockstep
on Stairmasters in the gym next door. And then there’s
singer Ralph Renna, whose voice splinters the quiet coolness
of the cavernous pregame venue as he barks commands like
an off-duty drill sergeant on a family vacation.
is Last Call’s guest list. . . . I can’t give you names
for every band,” he tells an inquisitive bartender, introduced
as “Jeff.” “You’ll have to get that information from them,
I have like 50 other things to do.” This doesn’t wash
with Jeff, who asks Renna to send the bands to him to
provide guest information. He nods and spins on his heel.
listen, all bands playing tonight,” he announces, walking
toward the loading area, “please go to the bar and give
Jeff your guest list. One person per band member, no
exceptions. Last Call members, get ready for soundcheck!”
Some might call Renna your stereotypical Italian. Big-eyed,
big-hearted, ham-fisted, fast-walking, fast-talking, punctuating
each sentence with arms flailing, pacing about as his
brain works twice as fast as his feet. I catch up with
him as he sets up the merchandise booth with friend and
retail overseer Annie Goldsberry.
see, you have all your shit in the middle of my merch
table,” he says to her, yanking her pocketbook and bags
from the tabletop of long-sleeved tees and CDs. She laughs
and smacks him on the arm. He can’t help it, and she knows
it. He wants it all to go down like clockwork, because
tonight is a landmark; the show marks the band’s 10th
even doing a soundcheck,” Renna admits. “I don’t
think we’ve ever done one in our entire 10 years as a
band.” As band member, day laborer and partner in the
burgeoning production company Stupid White Boy, Renna
juggles responsibilities with willingness and the proverbial
gift of gab, of self-promotion. I follow him around the
bar as he proselytizes, already taping up flyers for Last
Call’s March 5 show with Prong.
gotten a lot of calls . . . asking us whether the show
is sold out yet and can they still get in,” he says. “That’s
a good sign.” Then, as if crisply punched with an overhead
right, he abruptly changes directions. “Where did everyone
go? Last Call on stage!”
One by one they file up, dressed entirely in black: guitarist
and Last Call cofounder Boonie, bassist Phil Montelone,
drummer Craig Hiltsley and recent guitar recruit Grant
Matot. They immediately burst into a roundhouse version
of “Blue in the Face,” with Renna stalking the monitors,
testing for feedback by waving his microphone like a can
of spray paint. Suddenly the affable face contorts into
demonic torpor as he bellows: “Blood pours from angry
gashes/Across a once beautiful face/Smudged from lies
and the ugly truth/Regretted and paid for!”
Then, just as quickly, Renna returns to inhabit his body
when he stops the band with a raised hand. “Hey, we need
some guitars in these things,” he calls to the soundman.
“We can’t hear them for shit.” They banter back and forth
until the band members rumble on with their breakneck
assault. Without 400 bodies present to absorb the sound,
it sounds as if an alien spacecraft is landing. And then,
an awful silence. As if he can’t stand the horror of it,
Renna pipes up immediately.
Last Call backstage for the Metroland interview,”
he yells, walking toward the backstage area known as the
green room, where we discuss the band’s history, Troycore
and the forthcoming spring release, Good Times, Bad
and Boonie started writing songs in his South Troy apartment
in August or September of ’96,” Renna explains. “I liked
Zeppelin, Black Sabbath. . . . Journey was the first concert
I ever went to. I admit it. I went to my first hardcore
show with Raw Deal and Breakdown at some VFW lodge that
Steve Reddy from Equal Vision put on. Then I started helping
out Flat Broke, booking shows. . . . Then I started bringing
bands like Type O Negative and Life of Agony to South
Troy Community Center.”
first hardcore show I ever saw was in downtown Troy, right
behind City Hall, underneath some back-door thing in somebody’s
basement,” says Boonie, Renna’s partner in crime. “It
was Final Terror, Dead End, and fuckin’ Civilized Evil.
I had to be 11 or 12. Then I played with Flat Broke for
about a year, got kicked out, started Dying Breed, got
kicked out . . .”
probably by the end of tonight he’s gonna get kicked out
of Last Call,” says Renna.
Boonie shoots him a look. “We’re like the Odd Couple,”
he says. “When Ralph got clean, we started getting along.”
don’t get along, man,” says Renna.
OK, that’s true,” Boonie concedes. “We’re getting along
Kidding aside, there is an air of anticipation in their
voices when they indicate this is the tightest and most
driven that Last Call have ever been, a refreshing break
after years of lineup changes, money problems and drug
addiction. Renna, in recovery for more than four years,
is itching to get back into the studio to follow up on
the band’s last full-length release, The After Hours.
After Hours was a long time coming,” Renna says. “I
moved away twice, got arrested and finally went to rehab.
When I got home in 2002, me and Boonie started jamming
again, dug into some old tunes, and I had some images
in my mind from rehab, of angels and clocks and needles.
I wrote it all down. I [used to] do coke and sit around.
. . . You’re just sitting there talking so much bullshit,
but I’d write it out, and people would give me their poems.
I told their stories.”
Making up for lost time, the band then released a split
CD with Boston’s Cheech in 2005. Boonie claims that not
only did the quality of the recording improve, but Last
Call became more consistent in their melding of styles,
and they say the same can be expected from Good Times,
write in a more metal, thrashier direction,” Boonie says.
“Ralph is more [influenced by] bands like Agnostic Front,
Sick of It All and Sheer Terror . . . ”
Journey,” Matot quips.
Journey,” Renna says in mock concession. “But Boonie did
more writing on Good Times, so you’ll hear more
of a thrash influence. Grant actually wrote a song for
the new record. . . . He’s coming from a more death-metal
thing. He just took what he had and made it Last Call.
The whole thing sounds like Slayer meets Madball, with
says Matot, his delivery a mock deep-country in its revelry.
He describes his early dabblings with Metallica and Iron
Maiden as key to his eventual baptism into death metal.
“Yeah, I heard Morbid Angel and it changed my life. So
now I’m sick!” He leaps up and flashes the devil
horns to qualify the statement.
we’re not really a hardcore band,” says Boonie. “We’ll
always hold on to that, wave the Troycore banner, but
we stopped playing it that way after The After Hours
Indeed, Last Call’s popularity now reaches far beyond
Troy’s hardcore scene. Key slots opening for bands like
Anthrax, Otep and scores of others allowed the band to
reach beyond the Collar City, bringing them to a point
where good money is made; some would argue exceptionally
good for a heavy band playing all original music in the
the get-go, we never had a following like Withstand, Stigmata
or One King Down,” says Renna. “When we played with them
we did good, but when we played on our own we really built
our own crowd. In my opinion, Troycore was really Cranial
Abuse, Dead End, Direct Attack. . . . But in the ’90s,
everyone kind of took on that name. So all the heavy music
coming out of Troy at that time was called ‘Troycore.’
But Last Call has always been Last Call, and we do better
with kids that wouldn’t normally come out to a DIY hardcore
now we’re starting to get tour offers,” he continues.
“And I’ve booked enough bands to where now I’m going to
start calling on them for favors. We’re gonna go to Europe,
and then we’re gonna go to Japan.”
Boonie agrees. “We’re not getting any younger. . . . I
want to do this thing. We’ll start with weekend tours
and grow it from there.”
seems like no matter where we play, people leave with
their jaws dropped . . . and I wanna see that in other
states and other countries,” Renna confides. “And who
knows? Maybe it [will be] just once, maybe we’ll be done
next year. But I have fun. I love it. It’s aggravating,
it’s frustrating, I get pissed off, I scream, I yell,
I cry . . .”
all at once,” Boonie says.
definitely, because I still work 40 hours a week, manual
labor,” says Renna. “Mommy and daddy don’t buy our equipment.
Craig had to work hard this year to buy all new drum shit.”
Boonie says, “He worked hard all right, all he had to
do was walk out in front of a car. He just put one foot
in front of the other.”
did that,” Hiltsley affirms. “I got hit by a car when
I was 12, but I was 18 when I got the money. It was gone
by the time I was 19.”
grand on pot,” says Montelone.
Hiltsley puts his hands in his armpits. “It was good pot.”
As the interview winds down, Renna grows restless. He
paces the small room, rising again and again from his
chair to peer onto the club’s floor. When seated, he eyeballs
the door, fumbling for his cigarettes. It is clear he
doesn’t want to be rude, but finally he says, “Are we
just about done here?” And with a handshake he’s gone,
wading into the growing crowd now piling into the club.
He can’t help it.
Last Call will appear next on Friday, Feb. 3 at Backstreet
Billiards in Saratoga Springs. Their new CD, Good Times,
Bad Blood, will be available this spring. Visit www.lastcallny.com
or www.my space.com/lastcallny for more details.