“It's mind boggling that we've been around for 30 years,” said Stryper front man Michael Sweet to a crowd of several hundred fans at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, during an intimate all acoustic performance with his band mate, guitarist Oz Fox. The guitar duo stripped down their 80s glam metal sound, down to the raw basics, two clean guitars and two microphones. “We're in our 50s, but we made it!” said Fox in a very enthusiastic voice. “And we don't like a year over 30,” joked Sweet.
The band wanted to set the tone of the night just before the two sat down and began to play. Sweet asked out loud, “You know that this is NOT Stryper. It's Michael Sweet and Oz Fox playing acoustic Stryper songs.”
This was not a night of head banging, even though it was technically a performance of 'heavy metal' songs. Fans stayed in their seats for the entire night, which gave the venue the vibe of a VH1 Unplugged episode.
The guitars were crystal clear, and each and every note, riff and harmony was absorbed throughout the club. With a set that lasted just over an hour, Sweet and Fox revisited the myriad of Stryper classics in a somewhat chronological order, and took time to recall memories and thoughts with fans. Fan favorites included “Honestly,” a song that Sweet said changed Stryper from a club band to an arena band in the mid 80s, “Calling On You,” In God We Trust,” and “Soldiers Under Command,” among many others, which did incite some air guitaring and mild head banging by several inebriated fans.
The songs were very epic, and although '80s glam or hair metal might not be everyone's musical cup of tea, one had to recognize and appreciate the brilliant song writing structure, and virtuoso acoustic guitar style of Fox and Sweet. These giant metal songs translated perfectly into the Coach House as powerful-yet-mellow tunes about devotion, spirituality and faith. Unfortunately, the band did not perform an acoustic rendition of their powerful tune, “To Hell With the Devil.”
Sweet's vocals were timeless, and sounded very crisp, sharp and beautiful; down to the last notes and echoes, which were provided by Fox, who also did back up singing. The crowd loved it, and even though it was a smaller, dinner type crowd, cheers and applause roared after each song. The band did not have set list, but instead just improvised and played whatever they felt was comfortable. Many fans and friends of the guitarists, who were with the band from day one, were in the crowd, as Fox kept giving personal shout outs. “Don't worry, to all of you who don't know us personally,” said Sweet with a smile. “After the show we promise to hang out, and if you buy any piece of merch we will sign it,” he said.
For a band that has made a name for itself with a thirty year career, Stryper have gained a following world wide with an admittedly, yet not forceful or overt Christian message. But from a band that has a fan base of people into 80s metal, ballads and Christian Rock, Stryper is anything but Bible thumpers. The only indirection mention of Jesus (Lord) was at the conclusion of the show.
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“We're still around and still making new music, we have a new album called 'No More Hell To Pay,' out in the states in November,” said Sweet just after the set was over. “We've always gone against the grain and will continue to do so. We're just hearing spreading the word of the Lord through rock and metal music.”
Opening the show was songwriter, guitarist Mike Tramp of the famed '80s metal band White Lion.”We used to have pyrotechnics, lasers, and a huge stage show in the 80s. Now we just come with the Truth it's much more affective,” Tramp said to fans before his hour-long performance. Just an acoustic guitar, Tramp played songs off of his biographical acoustic album, “Cobblestone Street” and several White Lion songs as well.
But, for fans of the guitarist's early days of hard rock and excess, this performance was a reflection of his past ways. “Things aren't like they were, I am a different person now, I have three kids living in two continents,” Tramp said.
Again, one had to at least give props to the catchy hooks, lyrics and well-written ballads. Fans loved songs like the tragic and personal, “Ain't The Life I Asked For,” and “Find It In Your Heart.”
Tramp also took several moments before each song, with anecdotes about the glory days when White Lion were bigger than the world in the 80s. “We were at one point on MTV, when they actually played videos. I hope they realize, Music videos made MTV, not the other way around,” he said. He also reminisced about touring with Van Halen, Motley Crue, KISS and other huge rock bands of that era.
“I'll be around after the show, and for all my fans, pictures with me are free,” he said, in a joking manner. “You know KISS charges 125 for a picture with them, but with me they are free.”
The Crowd: There were cougars everywhere at this show. Plus, lots of couples. Of all ages and races. The Coach House was full of dudes in pressed collared shirts, to impress their dates. There were not too many in the house younger than 20 by the looks of things, but there were a few people who brought their families including several young kids. Tons of people in Stryper shirts. The place had a bar, where women were drinking wine in tight skirts, and old fogies' were drinking beers. There were several small groups of dudes with beards and skullets as well as some bikers who could have been mistaken for Black Label Society crew but were really with Bikers For Christ, according to the emblems on their jackets.
Overheard in the Crowd: A long haired, tattooed dude in a witch shirt in the corner was overheard saying to his friends, before Mike Tramp, “Whiskey shots are on the way, I'm just gonna take shots and wait for Stryper!”
Random Notebook Dump: Aside from Stryper, Michael Sweet was actually in the classic rock band Boston for a period of around four years. After lead singer Brad Delp tragically took his own life in early 2007, Sweet was recruited by Boston's founding member Tom Scholz, after a benefit concert he heard Sweet perform at in late 2007. He left the band in 2011, on good terms to focus his energy on Stryper.