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Concert Review: Me First and the Gimme Gimmes / Masked Intruder / Pears – House of Blues – Cleveland, OH – 04/12/2017

It’s not every day that you hear a cover band sold out a venue on a Wednesday, but that is exactly what happened last night at the House of Blues in Cleveland.

This honestly wasn’t a fluke though seeing how said covers band was none other than punk rock supergroup Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.

If I am not mistaken, the last time the Gimmes even played Cleveland was back in 2003 at the Warped Tour, so this was a pretty big deal to all of the Gimmes fans out there.  Needless to say, I was pretty stoked myself to see they were coming back to my hometown with special guests Pears and Masked Intruder.

The Gimmes roster consists of Spike Slawson (Uke Hunt / Swingin Utters), Joey Cape (Lagwagon), Fat Mike (NOFX), Chris Shiflett (No Use For A Name / Foo Fighters), and Dave Raun (Lagwagon).  They have been covering various tunes for over 20 years now and do not take themselves very seriously at all.  The result is an overdose of fun covers of songs with a punk edge that in incredibly addicting  They have 8 covers albums out now featuring all sorts of genres of music and were bold enough to just release a “Greatestest Hits” album.

The one ever so slight downfall with this leg of the tour was that Fat Mike was not playing due to scheduling conflicts, but Jay Bentley from Bad Religion was filling in on bass duties, so there were no complaints from me.  Chris Shiflett also was not playing this stretch of shows, but his brother and Face To Face guitarist, Scott Shiflett was filling in.  If you notice the photo of the flier above, you’ll see that they even took the liberty of photoshopping Jay and Scott in appropriately.

The House of Blues slowly filled up before the show started with big thanks to the Cavs and Indians games both going on at the same time making for parking to be a pricey nightmare.  People of all ages even including some kids with their punk rock folks were hanging about.  I really liked seeing such a variety of fans.

New Orleans hardcore punkers Pears started the night off with a pretty insane set.  Sadly, I think less than 10 people were really into them and the rest were just trying to get their place in the pit for the other bands on the bill.  Those Pears fans did sing along to every single song and had a hell of a time.  Vocalist Zach Quinn noticed this and at one time jumped out into the crowd to hang out with his fans.

I am not sure the crowd really was digging what Pears were playing as many seemed to just observe and take in their set, but when the band played a cover of “Judy is a Punk”, the place erupted.  Playing a few songs off last year’s Green Star as well as some from their debut Go To Prison, I really dug what I heard and was reminded that I really need to listen to them more.

Masked Intruder took stage with Officer Bradford, but there was a noticeable inconsistency.  Red was missing.  Apparently Red was serving time for picking pockets, but  Big Luke Ferguson from Lipstick Homicide was filling in on drumming duties.  Jarret Nathen from Pears actually filled in for one song too.

Blowing through songs like “I Fought the Law”, “I Don’t Wanna Be Alone Tonight”, and “Saturday Night Alone”, the crowd was robbed of all of their attention by the masked musicians and were perfectly ok with it.

Blue at one point instructed the crowd put their hands up in the air and then the band proceeded to played “Stick Em Up”.  There is nothing quite like a sing along with plenty of profanity.

Officer Bradford did his thing throughout the set and at the end pulled a Har Mar Superstar and shed his uniform to reveal a singlet that showed off all of his manly curves.  His stage charisma is like Ben Carr from The Mighty Mighty Bosstones in a sense,  but far crazier.

Between the dance party going on in the pit with fans and Green,  Officer Bradford dancing with the kids who were lucky enough to stand on the backside of the crowd barriers, and even a “literal” gracious mention by Blue to some “Grilled Cheese Sandwiches” place, the band kept the Cleveland crowd wanting much, much more once they finished off their final song of the night, “I Don’t Want to Say Goodbye to You Tonight”.

As this was my first time seeing Masked Intruder after missing countless opportunities before, I was impressed.  The Daft Punk of pop punk were hilarious throughout and sounded pretty great live.

The Gimmes took the stage just around 10pm to a packed house and started playing “Summertime” with Spike running onto the stage dressed to impress.  From there, it was an all out party with the band dipping into their huge catalog of covers.

I was so stoked to hear “Jolene” and “Rocket Man” as well as “End of the Road” all in one night.  The band looked comfortable playing on stage and were just having as much fun as possible.

The Gimmies rocked out their version of the Beach Boy’s “Sloop John B” and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” with the crowd singing along loudly.  They also gave Barry Manilow props for announcing to the world the truth before playing “Mandy”.

Cape and Shiflett basically manned the sides of the stage throughout the show.  Cape at times would just vanish leaving Spike to ask if anyone had seen him while Shiflett was just rocking out and having a good ol’ time with Bentley.

At one point during the set, Spike started rambling off a story about another venue in Cleveland he played at with another one of his bands where a awfully friendly man offered to pleasure him out front.  He was quick to admit it was Now That’s Class.

Bentley had me cracking up tons during the set.  When it was not his turn to play, he would pretend to start playing, hesitate, make faces, and then jump into action.  You could tell he really was enjoying the night.  At one point when Spike was shamelessly putting in a plug for Rake It In: The Greatestest Hits album that just came out, a fan in the front row held up the LP and Bentley took it from him.  The fan thought he was just going to hold it up for all to see, which he did, but then put it on the drum stage and left it there until after the set.  He eventually gave it back, but not before Bentley told the fan he would have to buy another copy.

As a special treat, Spike performed a couple of times with a plugged-in ukulele including a song from his other band Uke-Hunt as well as an amazing, intimate cover of Madonna’s “Crazy For You” and also “I Believe I can Fly” with Shiflett playing a Hawaiian riff with eventually the rest of the band kicking in.

With plenty of comedic banter between the bunch, they interacted with the crowd frequently, cracked jokes, and bashed current events just making for just a fun set.  It was like NOFX, but far less wasted.

After leaving the stage only to come back for a four song encore, the band called it a night, but not before thanking the crowd and handing off picks, drumsticks, and setlists to a few lucky fans.

I have to admit, I was kind of worried before the show after hearing that their Pittsburgh show had a shorter set the night before, but the Gimmes played for almost 2 hours.  The full setlist is listed below.

It was a  solid night for punk rock tunes with friends and fans alike thanks to a trio of Fat Wreck Chords bands.  It was my first time seeing all three bands, and I was thoroughly entertained.

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes Set List:
“Jet Plane”
“Who Put the Bomp”
“Science Fiction”
“Ghost Riders”
“Sloop John B”
“Danny’s Song”
“Country Roads”
“Crazy For You”
“I Believe I Can Fly”
“Isn’t She Lovely”
“Over the Rainbow”
“Rocket Man”
“Straight Up”
“Different Drum”
Spike playing the Uke
“All My Lovin'”
“I Will Survive”
“Sweet Caroline”
“End of the Road”

Click on a photo below to open the slideshow:

Photographer Ryan Russell To Release New Book Via No Sleep Records

Ryan RussellChances are if you are fan of music and photography, you may know the name Ryan Russell.  This humble photographer has taken thousands of photos of bands and scenery in his career.  Russell has worked with bands like Death Cab for Cutie, Against Me!, Mastodon and his photographs have appeared in such periodicals as Rolling Stone, Spin, Esquire, Playboy and New York Times.

No Sleep Records has partnered up with celebrated rock photographer Ryan Russell to release a new photo book titled “Continental Obscura: From Birmingham to Bellingham” this coming fall/winter 2013.  The title is derived from his recent departure of his long time home to a new city all the way on the other side of the states and will showcase photos taken by Russell prior, during, and after his move.

I am really stoked to see this book.  I have been a fan of him, and his dog Ava, for quite some time now.

Fans are invited (if not already doing so) to follow Russell’s journey via his Instagram account http://instagram.com/ryanrussell where he will be posting daily photos over the course of the trip with the hashtag #continentalobscura.

Concert Review: NOFX / Anti-Flag / Old Man Markley – House Of Blues – Cleveland, OH – 10/12/2011

There is nothing punk rock about the House of Blues at all.  Sure they sell PBRs in those big cans, but it is not the typical place for punk rock bands to take over on any given evening.  That’s not to say punk bands have never played there before, I am just saying when I think of a punk rock show playing a club, it is not HoB.  Hell, there’s even a bathroom attendant who will hand you a paper towel after you just pissed away said PBR.  I will say that the HoB is a clean, organized venue, a venue that hosts some kick ass shows at that.

Wednesday evening was the perfect example of this as the the place was filled to the rim of punk rockers of all types thanks to the popular independent godfathers of punk rock NOFX bringing their Eastcoaster Tour to town with special guests Anti-Flag, Old Man Markley and The Bombpops.

Thanks to an accident on Euclid Ave., it took me a moment to get parked and into the nearly sold-out HoB show.  Apparently someone felt they were ok to cut off one of those giant RTA futuristic train-looking busses.  Needless to say, there were lots of flashing lights and Cleveland’s finest Fire, Police, and EMT cleaning up the mess.  Because of this, I missed the opening act The Bombpops.  From what I heard, their female driven pop punk rock was actually pretty enjoyable not to mention the two ladies in the band are beyond cute.  I will be checking them out soon.

Punk / bluegrass act Old Man Markley took to the stage just before 9 p.m. and showed Cleveland just exactly what they were all about.  Having never been to Cleveland before, the band gave it their all while performing tracks from their Fat Wreck Chords debut Guts n’ Teeth. With seven members on stage playing their version of “Newgrass”, they proved Cleveland that they were not copying the likes of Flogging Molly or Gogol Bordello.

John Carey and Annie DeTemple took turns signing a whole slew of songs including “Do Me Like You Do”, ” Guts n’ Teeth” and the ever catchy “For Better For Worse”.  The crowd clearly was loving what that heard and for the first time ever I witnessed a square-dancing circle pit .  Ryan “Old Man” Markley played the absolute shit out of his washboard and Katie Weed (swoon) just about sawed her fiddle in half.  Then there was Joey Garibaldi and his homemade washtub upright bass – impressive.  The band decided to close their set with their unique rendition of Screeching Weasel’s “Science Of Myth”.

To say I was entertained by the band was an understatement.  I have been wanting to see OMM live since I first heard about them a year ago and can not wait to see them again next month when they play an after show at Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin.  This band performing live was right up my alley.  I see good things happening with them in the years to come.

Up next was Pittsburgh’s pop political punk rockers Anti-Flag (and clean cut too) who welcomed to the stage by cheers and boos.  Apparently some Browns fans just can not shake the fact that if a band hails from the rival team’s city that they suck too.  I might as well admit that I am not the biggest Anti-Flag fan, or shall I say I have not been the biggest of fans for a while now, but these guys killed it on stage.  Their stage performance was well-done and they had the crowd obeying every command.  Playing what seemed a ton of songs with a few from 2006’s For Blood And Empire including “The Press Corpse”, “This Is The End” and “1 Trillion Dollar$”, the band rocked out throughout their entire set and played like the rock stars they have become.

At times it appeared that Justin Sane and Chris Barker were trying to outdo one another with stage kicks and jumps (Barker actually jumped from atop the bass drum at one time), but it was all in good fun for the foursome.  Barker made the comment that the Cleveland stop was the “second best” show that he had played on the current tour and left it up to Cleveland to make it the absolute best by starting a giant circle pit.  I think Cleveland earned the title of best show after they were just running in circles.

It was no surprise to me that the band started preaching politics and many of the young ears listened.  Speaking of the whole Occupy Wall Street amongst other current political affairs, the bad knew what they were preaching and hopefully inspired one or two folk in the crowd to learn a little more about what goes on in this crazy country we live in.  I was more interested in the rock and not the talk so once they started playing again I started paying attention again and good thing I did as they performed a cover of “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” and nailed it.

During the last song of their set there was some commotion on stage and suddenly Pat Thetic jumped in the crowd and was handed some of his drum set by Sane and Barker.  In a moment’s time, with help from the fans in the pit, Thetic assembled his set and started playing his drums with fans holding on to it preventing it from moving while the rest of the band played on.  I’m pretty sure they played “Power To The Peaceful” as the closer, but to be honest I was too busy jumping up on the barrier between the stage and crowd so I could take some pictures.  It was a pretty awesome site to witness.

Finally the band that everyone was waiting for all night was to take the stage.  The curtains rose and there was El Hefe standing there by himself admitting he had no idea where anyone else in the band was.  Smelly soon jumped behind his set and did not have a clue either where Fat Mike or Eric Melvin were.  11 minutes later the missing half stumbled onto the stage.  Fat Mike, sporting two drinks in hand, took a few moments to sip out of each cup and made faces that clearly proved whatever he was drinking could fuel a car.

Within the first two songs, the band signaled out a the-die wearing hippie dude in the crowd and started maxing fun of him.  The hippie dude took this opportunity to crowd surf to the front and Fat Mike yelled “dude, you don’t even shave your legs?”

I loved that they played one of my all time favs, “Linoleum”, as well as “Franko Unamerican” and even “Seeing Double At The Triple Rock”.  I also enjoyed hearing “Arming The Proletariat With Potato Guns” as well as watching the people dance around me during El Hefe’s horn playing.  Honestly that may have been more entertaining.  NOFX also played Rancid’s “Radio Radio”, a version I almost prefer more to the original.

During “Lori Myers”, the two girls from Bombpops came out to fill in for female vocal duty after El Hefe called their band “Kids-bop” and sang the part pretty much perfectly followed by a well deserved stage dive into the crowd.  As much I wanted NOFX to play “The Decline”, they did not as they played it at the HoB in 2006 (the only time I missed them), but they did play “Murder The Government”, “Don’t Call Me White” and “Dinosaurs Will Die”, a couple other favorites of mine.

15 years ago I got to see NOFX play a Warped Tour in a gravel parking lot and then later that year with the Bouncing Souls and Hi-Standard at the Agora.  In those 15 years, they have put out 6 albums and toured the world god knows how many times.  A lot of songs played that night spanned throughout their almost 30 year career but they played pretty much the same songs that they have the last two times I have caught them live.  I would have loved to have heard more songs off White Trash, 2 Heebs, and a Bean as well as Punk In Drublic, but I guess there is always next time.  El Hefe seemed to be the sober man of reason that night while Melvin was in his own little work of happiness and Fat Mike, who admitted he was not on pills to the crowd that night, was half way to black-out land.

For a band that never signed to a major label or ever has their songs played on commercial radio, they filled up the HoB with no problem.  It was a good night of music from all the bands on a Wednesday night.  People young and old were all over the place having a good time and sang along at every opportunity.  Based on the condition of the crowd by the end of the show, I am guessing many called off work the next morning or went in with a severe hangover.  That’s punk rock right?  Regardless it it was or not, it was tons of fun thanks to all of the bands played to Cleveland.

Concert Review: Dropkick Murphys / Against Me! / Off With Their Heads – House Of Blues – Cleveland, OH – 03/06/2011

If anyone in the Cleveland area was suffering from the Irish flu Monday morning, chances are it was because they were one of the many who the filled up the House Of Blues Sunday night to see the Dropkick Murphys (DKM) with special guests Against Me! and Off With Their Heads.  The Irish punk rockers just kicked off their St. Patrick’s Day tour in support of their new album Going Out In Style that was just released last week.  Having been sold out for months now, all who filled that venue last night were well aware that they would be treated to a top-notch performance by two of the most talented punk rock acts out there.

Fans of all ages waited anxiously outside the House Of Blues along Euclid Ave. prior to the doors opening.  The weather was relentless to all who showed up early with frigid winds hammering down upon everyone, especially to those who few decked out in kilts.  Everyone obviously was from Northeastern Ohio though as the cold did not ruin anyone’s spirits.  The doors to the venue soon opened and everyone made their way inside.

Opening act Off With Their Heads took the stage around eight o’clock and played through a straight up punk rock set.  The Minneapolis, MN band had no problem introducing their style to the packed house and by the third song of their set the crowd was getting into them.  Not worrying about initial crowd reaction, the band seemed more focused in on rocking out as they tore through their set with songs including “Fuck This, I’m Out” and “Terrorist Attack”.

Gainesville, Florida’s Against Me! followed soon after delivering one of their best live sets I have seen to date.  These boys have come a long way in their career and really are not that punk rock band they used to be.  They have turned into rockstars, there is no doubt about that, and fully embrace their change in style to the fullest.

The fans went crazy as the band played quite a few selections off their newest release White Crosses as well as older material like “Pints Of Guinness Make You Strong”, “T.S.R.”  and one of my favorites, “Turn Those Clapping Hands Into Angry Balled Fists.”  Tom Gabel, James Bowman and Andrew Seward were beyond energetic and encouraged crowd participation throughout the set.

I was sad to see that Warren Oakes was not behind the drums anymore as he departed from the band back in 2009 in favor of becoming a restauranteur, but their current drummer for 2011, Jay Weinberg, was absolutely amazing.  Many of you may know his father – Max Weinberg, you know, the that guy who played drums for Conan O’Brien as well as some guy named Bruce Springsteen.  Like father, like son, young Weinberg was a treat to watch live with the rest of the band.

Ending their set with “Sink Florida, Sink”, all the Against Me! fans in the crowd sung with the band as loud as they could proving that rockstars or not, there were plenty of true fans gathered to see them play that night.

Gabel with his very similar James “Buffalo Bill” Gumb looking hairdo and crew were all smiles throughout their shorter-than-I-preferred-set.  I may be biased sounding here, but I am used to seeing this band headline shows so to see them fill in a middle slot with no encore was kind of a bummer.  I was not the only one who felt this way either as other Against Me! fans begged for just a couple more songs, but the band needed to make way for the headliners.  Headlining or not, this band gave it their all from the moment they took that stage until the last note was played.

Taking the stage in style, DKM emerged to the crowd in the dark while Thin Lizzy’s “Boys Are Back In Town” blasted over the PA.  The Irish punk rock heroes of the working class took their place on stage and immediately tore into “Hang Em High” with Jeff DaRosa starting things off on banjo as well as Scruffy Wallace doing his thing on the bagpipes.

To say that the crowd went wild would be an understatement.  They went insane and pretty much stayed that way for the band’s entire set.  It probably helped that lead singer Al Barr kept jumping down off the stage and into the crowd throughout the night to get some help from the fans as well as the rest of the band sounding amazing as ever.  Sadly James Lynch was not able to make the Cleveland show, but their guitar tech saved the night and filled in.

Focusing on newer material throughout the set, the band cranked through “Captain Kelly’s Kitchen” as well as “Deeds Not Words” but also played a few gems like “The Gang’s All Here” and even “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya”.  “Barroom Hero” with Ken Casey taking the lead was without a doubt my favorite song played.  Casey also was the one in the band who spoke up about the union issues going on currently and dedicated “Worker’s Song” to all who are dealing it.

The female that joined DKM, whose name I did not catch, not only played fiddle throughout the night, but also did a hell of a job singing with Casey and Barr on “The Dirty Glass”.  In fact, for a quick moment I thought Stephanie Dougherty snuck up on stage.

“I’m Shipping Up To Boston” was without a doubt the crowd’s favorite song of the night.  The moment the first notes of that song started everyone knew exactly what was about to happen.  Barr screamed at the crowd with mic in hand atop a wooden box for a moment and soon thereafter jumped towards the crowd again for some more help.

The encore was more like an all out party.  Hordes of female fans were invited onto stage as DKM played the crowd ‘s anthem of the night “Kiss Me, I’m Shitfaced”.  Tons of girls all took advantage of the invite and continued to jump on stage until there was no more room left.

Of course the band had to invite all the boys to the stage soon after to help sing the final song of the night, “Boys On The Docks”.  I was seriously tempted to push my way up front and try my luck at jumping up there, but clearly there was not enough room for the what looked like 100 fans that were already up there.  Honestly I am not quite sure how the band was even able to play, but they did, and it was awesome to watch.

People off all ages (and I mean all ages – there was a seven-year-old front stage and center) were Irish for a night.  It was really cool to see all the different types of people who came out that night and enjoy themselves.  Some folk were holding up union shirts as a symbol of thanks to the DKM for their stand with all that is going on with the workers labor issues while others held up their pints high.  Everyone was signing loud and proud throughout the night all thanks to DKM and their 15-year career.

Off With Their Heads setlist:
1612 Havenhurst
Their Own Medicine
Trying To Breathe
I Am You
Terrorist Attack
The Eyes Of Death
Fuck This I’m Out
Cover Song (Fake Boys)
Keep Falling Down (I think…)
Die Today
Clear The Air

Against Me! Setlist (from what I gathered):
High Pressure Low
Pints Of Guinness Make You Strong
From Her Lips To God’s Ears
Don’t Lose Touch
Rice and Bread
White Crosses
New Wave
I Was A Teenage Anarchist
You Look Like I Need A Drink
Turn Those Clapping Hands Into Angry  Balled Fists
White People For Peace
Bamboo Bones
Walking Is Still Honest
Thrash Unreal
Sink Florida, Sink

DKM Setlist:
Hang ‘Em High
Captain Kelly’s Kitchen
Barroom Hero
The Gang’s All Here
Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya
Never Alone
Deeds Not Words
The State Of Massachusetts
Memorial Day
Road Of The Righteous
Curse Of A Fallen Soul
Going Out In Style
Take ‘Em Down
Worker’s Song
The Gauntlet
The Dirty Glass
Citizen C.I.A.
The Auld Triangle
Broken Hymns
The Irish Rover
I’m Shipping Up To Boston

Kiss Me I’m Shitfaced
Skinhead On The Mbta
Boys On The Docks

Interview: Matt Fish – The Man Behind Melt Bar & Grilled

Being from Cleveland, it’s kind of hard for me these days to not think of Melt Bar & Grilled when someone mentions the words “grilled cheese” in a sentence. Anyone who has had the privilege to devour one of the many gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches can probably agree with me – There is just something about a gigantic sandwich of comfort that is ever so addicting (oh, and the fries are pretty damn good too).

Matt Fish, proprietor/founder/pro-Clevelander/friend to all, is the man behind the grill(s) at Melt Bar and Grilled. It was he who took an idea and made it in to so much more than a place to grab a sandwich and a beer. He took a simple childhood favorite and turned it into a guilted-gourmet delight of stomach-bursting proportions.

In only four years, Fish now has two locations that have received an abundance of local attention as well as national. Wait times for a table alone reach upwards to two hours on the weekends meaning only one thing: Melt is kind of a big deal.

Recently I had the chance to catch up with Fish. The man is such a busy man it pretty much took two weather changes for this interview to finish, but in my opinion it was well worth it. Read on to get to know the man who is responsible for raising cholesterol to many Cleveland-ites, one sandwich at a time…

Photo by Chris Walters
Photo by Chris Walters

Kindly introduce yourself to the folk that have not had the privilege of meeting you yet.

Hello everyone. My name is Matt Fish and I am the owner of Melt Bar and Grilled in Lakewood and Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

What was life like for Matt Fish before Melt Bar & Grilled existed?

Definitely a little less crazy. I have always been a busy person so I was ready for the challenge of restaurant ownership. Life before Melt was a bit more relaxed though. I did more things that gave me personal enjoyment without having to worry about the restaurant all the time. The one thing that I did before Melt and I miss the most was play music. I have been playing in bands as a drummer since 1989 and I had to give that up to open Melt. Music and food have always been my passion but music has always been first. I will hopefully have time to get back into it sometime in the future.

How did the idea of gourmet grilled cheese come about?

There was no real epiphany or voice from above that gave me a vision. It was really just an innocent idea that I had. I wanted to open a restaurant that completely different than anything in the city at the time. Grilled cheese was always a big part of my life and I had always dabbled in making unique grilled type sandwiches with tons of great cheese. Bread and cheese have always been two of my favorite foods on earth. My last meal on earth will hopefully include some great artesian bread a some really sharp cheese.

How big was the original menu when you first opened about 3 years ago?

We have actually been officially open for 4 years now. Our anniversary will be on September 22nd. The menu when we opened is only a little smaller than the one at Melt today. My goal when opening was to offer 30 different gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and over 100 different beers.

Did you think Melt was going to take off like it did?

Hell No! not even my a long shot. I had no idea that the restaurant would be as popular as it has become. I thought I was opening a small little bar that served great beer and also had this really silly and unique gourmet grilled cheese menu. Right after the first opening weekend I realized that I had something pretty special.

Those sandwiches are not exactly health friendly. How is it that you are still so slim?

I actually eat Melt food at least 5 days a week. I have always had a pretty high metabolism rate but I fear that it is slowing down now as I approach 40! I still work at least 12 hours a day and I try to find time to work out a few times a week. I find it to be a great stress relief for me.

Do you have a favorite sandwich? I am a huge fan of the Big Popper and loved the last couple sandwiches of the month including the Soul Vegetarian and the Guitar Gyro.

I think my favorite sandwich on the menu right now is The Godfather. I am a freak for Italian food and that sandwich is really awesome. It combines all the elements of food that I really love. Great bread, pasta, sauce and cheese. It is so huge though that I can only eat one about once a month.

When did the whole sandwich of the month idea start?

I think the sandwich of the month started sometime during our first full year of operation. It was something that I wanted to do from the beginning but I realized that I was just too busy to pull it off at the very beginning. I worked open to close, 7 days a week for the first 2 years of the restaurant so finding time to create a special was difficult, but I eventually managed. I think the very first special was in July of 2007 and it was the Firecracker Chicken.

Has Melt always catered to vegetarians and vegans?

Being very vegetarian and vegan friendly has always been part of the Melt concept from the beginning. We are actually becoming more vegan friendly than ever. I make it a point to try to create a vegan version of every special that we offer. The vegan version of the Gyro Melt was incredible!

Who’s brilliant idea was it to put the menu on a vinyl album cover?

That was an idea that I came up with right before opening in 2006. I was looking for a very unique way to present the menu. All the ideas that I had were basically boring and over used. My father’s girl friend at the time (now his wife) mentioned that she had been to a restaurant that somehow used records to present the menu’s. That was all the information that I needed to start the ball rolling. I was trying to figure out how to do it the very next day. I actually raped my own record collection for the first two generations of the Melt menu’s. Michael Jackson’s Thriller was the first menu that I made!

Earlier this year, you opened a new location in Cleveland Hts. How exciting was it for you to finally expand your baby to share it with the other half of Cleveland?

It was a complete thrill. Like I mentioned earlier I never intended for Melt to be popular at all. For me to have the opportunity to open a second location in Cleveland in less than 4 years from opening the original is just a dream come true. I feel very privileged to be able to be open on either side of town in two very awesome communities.

You seem like a very hands on person at Melt. In fact when I see you most of the time you are in the kitchen. How tough is it to operate two grills now? I know your staff is amazing and all but I was just curious if you wish you could be on location at both spots all the time.

I definitely wish I could clone myself and be at both locations at the same time. Maybe make 3 of me and the third clone could be sleeping. It is very difficult running 2 restaurants sometimes but I have a fantastic staff and they really keep both places going very well.

Do you ever have a day off? What do you when you’re not working?

Days off for me are very rare. I am such a busy person and workaholic that I hardly ever stop. In fact I am answering these interview questions late on a Friday night instead of going home to relax and recharge for tomorrow. The only days off I have taken recently has been to travel to a wedding for a weekend. I try to take a few hours a week for myself to take care of personal things.

Can you tell me about some of the bands you used to be in?

The first real band that I was in was called Whatever… We were a punk band from Parma that released 2 full length records. The second was on Dr. Strange Records from Alto Loma, CA. Dr. Strange was one of the biggest independent punk labels in the mid 90’s. The last more popular band that I was in was The Chargers Street Gang from Cleveland. We were a garage-punk band that released 2 records on Get Hip! Records from Pittsburgh, PA. Get Hip! is still one of the major independent players in underground garage rock. I loved my time playing in recording and touring rock bands. Sometime I wish I could give it all up and go back to that free lifestyle.

Any special projects going on these days as far as bands go?

Nothing right now, simply not enough time. Last year The Chargers got back together to play the annual x-mas show at the Grog Shop. We practiced once a week for 4 months before the show. It was great fun and I really miss playing and hanging out with those guys. They are truly my best friends on earth.

How did it feel the first time you saw yourself on The Food Network or The Travel Channel?

It was quite odd. I really did not know what to expect so I hoped that I did not make a complete ass out of myself. I was very happy with the way both shows came out. I happen across the reruns every now and then on late night cable and it still a bit weird.

Who was cooler, Guy Fieri or Adam Richman?

That is like choosing between Gene and Paul or Ian and Guy or Steven and Joe or Mick or Keith. They are both pretty cool in their own right. Both pretty different but both heading for the same common goal. Who would I rather do another shoot with? Probably Guy.

As many of my friends and readers know, I was at that Man Vs. Food taping. Was that not the longest day ever? Did you think he was going to be able to kill the Melt Challenge?

It was an extremely long day but actually not as long as the DDD (Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives) shoot. Plus the DDD shoot was 2 killer days in a row! I had a really good feeling that he was going to kill the challenge. I watch his show pretty often and I have seen Adam destroy much more food. Not that much cheese though – that was certainly a first!

I really want to give the Melt Challenge an attempt- one day. How many people fail it? Have more people been ordering it since the premier of the episode?

The challenge has become very popular since the airing of the MVF episode. We probably serve at least 2 challenges a day in either restaurant. There is still about an 80% failure rate for the challenge. It is a lot more food that you think.

Has business increased because of it?

Business has definitely increased because of the MVF episode and also from the DDD episode. It really exposed us to people that may have never heard of Melt otherwise. We saw a lot of out of town travelers in Melt over the summer because of the shows.

What is the furthest someone has traveled to try Melt?

We see travelers coming into Melt from all over the country every week. The furthest I know about was a couple from Green Bay that just came to Cleveland to try Melt. I know that there are farther travelers but I am not sure exactly from where.

Back to the Cleveland Hts. location. How many other places did you look at before you chose Cedar and South Taylor?

Cleveland Heights was my first choice for the second Melt location. I knew if I really wanted to cement myself in the Cleveland restaurant scene I needed an east side location. Cleveland Heights was the logical location for the second Melt. Very similar city to Lakewood with a very diverse demographic and a very solid hometown feel.

That place used to be the Rhythm Room and a Peabody’s at one time. Had you ever attended a show there?

Yes, I actually attended a few shows there back in the early and mid 90’s. I really don’t remember much except the stage being in the basement. The huge hole in the floor is really all most people remember from The Rhythm Room.

How difficult was it to cover up that huge hole?

It wasn’t really difficult but it was a bit time consuming. Our walk-in coolers now occupy a majority of the basement area. We needed to actually build the coolers first and then fill in the hole second. Looking at the room now it is hard to believe that there was a 20×25 ft hole in the floor.

I need to comment on your staff. They are all wonderful and very personable people at both locations and appear more friends than coworkers. I love how Melt is not full of skinny fake model looking folk which is such a relief, leave that for the W. 6th district. The idea that they are all different one way or another from appearance to attitude is also a nice touch. Is this something you look at when hiring someone?

We actually look at personality first and work history second. I really want the entire staff to be filled with very interesting individuals with a strong personality. You can teach and train most people to do what you need them to do but you can’t teach someone to have an outgoing personality or a strong work ethic.

Was it your idea to have mostly retro movies playing and a constant stream of good music?

Yes. I believe that the atmosphere of the restaurant needs to be as interesting and colorful as the food and staff. I wanted to visually overload guests with fun things to look at and listen to. Melt is all about comfort and nostalgia.

Did you think that many people would actually get a variation of the Melt logo tattooed on them for life?

I never dreamed that the tattoo promotion would grow as fast and large as it has. I originally thought that maybe 20 people would do it and then it would fall off. We are up to over 160 family members so far in just over a year since the promotion begun. I really think that is incredible! The idea came from my favorite band Rocked From The Crypt. They have a rocket logo that they began suggesting their fans get tattooed to get into shows for free. It has grown into a world-wide tattooed fan base with hundreds and hundreds of tattoos. They created a family around the tattooed fans. I always loved that idea and I actually have a RFTC tattoo that I got many years ago. I wanted to capture the same family idea for Melt so I launched the Melt tattoo promotion in Sept 2009.

Has the question “If I get 2 Melt tattoos can I get 50% off” been asked yet?

Oh yes! We hear it quite often. No matter how many Melt tattoos you get, you still only receive the 25% off. I will however consider a larger discount for a full Melt body suit.

So do you have one (Melt tattoo)?

A very common question asked to me and the answer is no. In the tattoo world getting the name of your parents, significant other etc… is bad luck. I choose to not get a Melt tattoo for that very reason. I do not want to welcome any bad luck onto Melt.

This might be too early to ask but any expectancy on adding a 3rd Melt anytime soon? Maybe Akron?

The plans for a 3rd Melt location are already in the works. I am searching the city right now for a location. I plan to stay in the Cleveland area with the 3rd location and then hopefully branch out farther to cities such as Akron. Keep your fingers crossed!

If someone has never been tried Melt before how would you describe it to them?

It is like reliving all your favorite childhood memories again… Only better! The ultimate comfort food fantasy land where all your grilled cheese dreams become a reality!

For more information about Melt Bar & Grilled, head on over to their website and see what you have been missing out on!