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Ten years strong: (l-r) Craig Hiltsley, Grant Matot, Phil Montelone, Boonie and Ralph Renna of Last Call.

photo:Chris Shields

Ten Years After
By Bill Ketzer

With a growing fan base and new opportunties to tour, Last Call aren’t about to call it a night

So 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.

“Here 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.

“OK 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.

“Now, 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 anniversary.

“We’re 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.

“We’ve 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.

“OK, 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 Blood.

“Me 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.”

“The 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 . . .”

“And 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.”

“We don’t get along, man,” says Renna.

“Well, OK, that’s true,” Boonie concedes. “We’re getting along better anyway.”

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.

The 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, Bad Blood.

“I 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 . . . ”

“And Journey,” Matot quips.

And 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 better production.”

“Slayball!” 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.

“But 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 came out.”

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 Capital Region.

“From 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 show.”

“And 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.”

“It 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 . . .”

“Sometimes all at once,” Boonie says.

“Yeah, 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.”

“Yeah,” 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.”

“I 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.”

“Five 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.


ROUGH MIX

-no rough mix this week-



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