Vegas metal band Hemlock celebrates a quarter century with a Downtown show

Hemlock is bringing it home.
Photo: Dianne Webb / Courtesy

When Chad Smith was a 15-year-old Basic High School student in 1993, he and his brother Brian did what a lot of teenagers do—they started a heavy metal band. Unlike almost every other teenage musician, though, Smith then spent the next 25 years of his life devoted to that band, and 2018 finds Hemlock celebrating its 25th anniversary with a massive U.S. tour.

Chad Smith remains the band’s lead vocalist and bassist, with Brian Smith on drums, along with Jesse Akers and James Gelber on guitars. The Smiths now live in Iowa, but Vegas will always be the band’s hometown, and Akers (who’s serving his second stint in Hemlock after 14 years away) is still a local.

In addition to the tour, the band has been putting together an anniversary album titled XXV, which is set for release on May 5, the day Hemlock plays in Vegas. “It’s not necessarily a greatest-hits, because we’re not pulling old recordings off of all of our albums and just re-releasing them as-is,” Smith explains. “We actually went into the studio to kind of give them a new face-lift.” The shows on the anniversary tour will also look back at the band’s history. “We’re going to pull a few [songs] from way back in the ’93-’94 era,” Smith says. “It’s crazy, because sometimes you’ll get that young rock ’n’ roller who comes to the show and is like, ‘That song’s older than I am!’”

Smith has dedicated himself to the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle, touring the world and performing with heavy metal icons including Slayer, Ministry and Lamb of God. That can take a toll, but in recent years Smith has focused on getting healthy, losing 115 pounds and adopting an exercise regimen after back surgery that left him unable to walk for almost two months. “It was kind of a second chance on it all,” he says. “I was like, ‘I’m going to get in better shape by the time I’m 40 than I was when I was 20.’ And I was kind of joking, but thinking maybe, and I did it. I should’ve said that 10 years ago.”

Now Smith and the rest of the band members are ready for a flurry of activity, with plans for a European headlining tour and a new album of original material following the U.S. tour. Smith has fond memories of playing the House of Blues and the Huntridge Theatre in Vegas, along with less-celebrated former Vegas venues like Ozone and the Castle, but he also enthuses about visiting Mount Fuji and the Catacombs of Paris, all while on tour. “It’s just cool how far art and music really can take you,” he says, “if you’re basically stubborn enough to not give up.”

HEMLOCK with Sevidemic, Mastiv, NE Last Words. May 5, 8 p.m., $10-$15. Backstage Bar & Billiards, 702-382-2227.

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