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Skid Row finds life after Bach, hits club circuit

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“skid row (noun): a district of cheap saloons frequented by vagrants and alcoholics.”

- Merriam Webster Dictionary

New Jersey bad boys Skid Row are out to rock their way back to the top, but they know it'll be tough getting off skid row without their high-profile lead singer, Sebastian Bach.

“A lot of people don't like change, especially when it comes to the lead-singer capacity,” bassist Rachel Bolan said. “But we decided we wanted to do it. And we can't do it the other way. We were like, `Skid Row has never been a band that shies away from a challenge.'”

The heavy-metal group, formed in New Jersey in 1986, started off with a bang by landing an opening slot on Bon Jovi's 1989 tour. The group's self-titled debut disc was released the same year and sold 4 million copies, and the band enjoyed heavy rotation on MTV for the singles “Youth Gone Wild” and “18 and Life.” Its second CD, “Slave to the Grind,” debuted at the top of the Billboard album chart when it was released in 1992.

Skid Row's early days “were sort of fun but there was always a problem,” Bolan said, and the band broke up shortly after the release of its 1995 album, “Subhuman Race.”

Bolan and fellow Skid Row founders Dave “Snake” Sabo and Scotti Hill, both guitarists, decided to resurrect the band in January, 1999, nearly four years after parting ways with Bach and drummer Rob Affuso. The breakup clearly was not amicable, as Bolan said icily that it's been five years since he spoke with Bach and has no interest in his former band mate's whereabouts. (The singer is currently starring on Broadway in the title role of the hit musical Jekyll & Hyde.)

Bolan, Hill, and Sabo searched for a new lead singer and held several auditions, “but we kind of got discouraged,” Bolan said, until someone told him about a singer in Texas named John Solinger.

“I checked out his Web site, which had video and audio, and I called Snake a few minutes later and said, `Dude, I think we got a new lead singer here.'”

Solinger flew up from Dallas for an audition that wasn't really necessary, and the group brought in an old New Jersey pal, Charlie Mills, to play drums. (Mills recently left Skid Row, however, “due to lack of income,” the band explains on its Web site, www.skidrowonline.com. He has been replaced by Phil Varone, former drummer for Saigon Kick.)

The reunited Skid Row got a boost when KISS tapped the band to open a leg of its farewell tour last spring. That gave the band instant credibility because “they wouldn't have picked us if we sucked,” Bolan said proudly. “It was amazing to get picked to open for their final tour. It's an honor beyond honors.”

Unlike the arena tours of its glory days or even the recent opening spot for KISS, Skid Row is now playing small clubs in towns like Sauget, Ill., Poland, Mich., and Lebanon, Pa. The plan, Bolan said, is to “test run” some new songs in more intimate settings where the band can get immediate feedback from the crowd.

“We love playing the big stage, and we love playing the small stage,” he said. “When it's our show, it's our show. When you cut the scale down with everything, it takes on a whole 'nother feeling, having people just one foot from you instead of 40 feet from the stage. But we really enjoy it.”

Skid Row performs Wednesday in Union Station, 140 North Huron St. Opening is All-Time Low. Doors open at 8 p.m., and tickets for the 18-and-over concert are $15 at Boogie Records and at the club, 241-1100.

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