Caught Live: Dinosaur Jr, East Village Arts Club Liverpool, 27 October 2016

Beards, beanie hats and flannel. Lots of that was in evidence at the East Village Arts Club on Thursday as alt-rockers Dinosaur Jr rolled into town as part of Liverpool Music Week, a music festival held over several venues in the city. The downstairs hall was very well-attended for the return of these 90s grunge survivors, and I got in to find openers Sheer Attack already on stage. Despite the name they have no connection with Queen, and are in fact a four-piece hailing from the Merseyside area. Their vocalist was a strange character, making oddball gesticulations during each number, and even jumping out onto the floor for a mostabout, joined by one or two from the pit. They were loud (boy were they LOUD!), energetic and enthusiastic, and had some nifty guitar runs in their material, but it didn’t really float my boat. I mean, I was around for the Thrash era and while these lads certainly gave it plenty, they didn’t do it with quite the same style as say, a Slayer of 30 years ago!

jmascis

Dinosaur Jr’s J. Mascis

I had noticed not one, not two, but THREE Marshall stacks over one side of the stage set up for the main act, and with the venue holding (by my estimation) around 800, I wondered whether at least two of those stacks were for show. I soon found out that wasn’t the case when guitarist/vocalist J Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow and drummer Murph hit the stage. It was absolutely ear-splitting! There was enough volume for the Echo Arena, let alone this intimate hall and to me at least, this was way over the top. I’ve been to over-loud gigs before (I can remember having my ears shredded by the aforementioned Slayer back in the 1980s) but this was up there with the worst of them. Mascis’s amp stack was rivalled by Barlow’s rig, another Marshall stack accompanied by an Orange, both towering over the bass player. I had hoped to enjoy this show, in particular J Mascis’s lead playing (he’s renowned as one of the finest lead guitarists of the grunge era) but, the volume was so overpowering it demolished any hope I had of enjoying this gig. I couldn’t make one word out of the frontman’s vocals all night, and on the occasions when Lou Barlow took a lead vocal, it was totally drowned out by his own and Mascis’s guitar sounds. For one number, they brought out the guitar and drum techs to play alongside the trio (‘we’re doing something unique and playing this next one as a five-piece’ – Barlow) but this seemed pointless as the three main players produced such noise that extra instrumentation was hardly required.

The only time I could make out the frontman was between songs, when he announced they’d play some ‘new material’. However, these were few and far between, as he is Lanegan-esque in his connection with the audience (hardly at all!) It was the bass player who was the more upfront, headbanging away and throwing himself about the stage while Mascis contented himself with standing and playing. He does have some nice touches on the guitar when he does play cleanly, however even then, the distortion from the bass side overwhelmed the guitar.

Bassist Lou Barlow

Bassist Lou Barlow

I’d like to be able to list a few songs but they were indistinguishable from each other, and that was entirely down to the inappropriate use of a rig better suited to a festival than a club gig. There were cheers of recognition from the crowd at some (presumably) older numbers, but all of it was delivered at such devastating volume that they might just as well have set up a couple of road drills and had done with it.

In conclusion, this was disappointing. I’m all for loud music but when it sacrifices clarity to the point of being a mush, it is a difficult one to get enthusiastic about. I’m not having that it’s the ‘style’, or the way it has to be for this genre; guitar chords are the same whatever your clothes or hairstyle. I’ve seen some other artists play with both power AND control in recent weeks, this was completely out of control. There’s a clip of this band performing on BBC’s ‘Later With Jools Holland’ available on YouTube which frankly, gives a far better idea of what this band sound like live than anything I experienced at this gig. Cut it back fellas, let’s hear what you sound like rather than trying to impersonate a passenger jet taking off!

murph

Drummer Murph

2- Disappointing

2 – Disappointing

 

 

Caught Live: Nickelback (with Monster Truck), Echo Arena Liverpool 22 October 2016

I’ll say this for Nickelback: whenever they tour the arenas of the UK they invariably stop off at Liverpool’s arena. That isn’t something that can be said for most rock tours that come to this country, and as a result despite this place having been on the circuit for eight years now I still find myself traversing the M62 to Manchester far too often. They do draw a good crowd here too, although just as I did when they played here on a previous tour, I was able to get a ticket on the night for the standing area. On entering the arena, only the back blocks of the upper tier were sectioned off, suggesting that many had booked for the seats. That proved to be the case, as the seats were full shortly before the headliners appeared.

I had however wanted to see fellow Canadians Monster Truck who were the support, as what I’d heard from current album ‘Sittin’ Heavy’ I’d liked. The hall was still filling up as they came on stage at around 7:30 and proceeded to rock the hell out of the early attendees. A four-piece band fronted by bassist/vocalist Jon Harvey, they were as heavy live as they are on record, it came across as rather ‘stoner rock’ with satisfyingly sludgy guitar from Jeremy Widerman (playing a Gibson SG, he had the tone of Iommi with the stage presence of Angus Young – shirtless, bounding all over the stage), old-school Hammond-style keyboards from Brandon Bliss and relentless pounding from drummer Steve Kiely (who looked uncannily like Dead Daisies’ Brian Tichy to these eyes).

Monster Truck's Jon Harvey

Monster Truck’s Jon Harvey

The Truckers had about 45 minutes to make an impression and were boosted during ‘For The People’ by a surprise appearance from Nickelback’s Ryan Peake, which brought huge cheers from the still-swelling audience. It’s always a good sign when a member of the main act comes on during the opening act, it shows they’re there because the headliners wanted them, not because they had to ‘buy on’ as still happens all too often. Their set of old-school, hard-driving rock was very enjoyable and I would love to see them in a more intimate venue such as Liverpool’s o2 Academy; I reckon they could rock that place down the way the likes of Black Stone Cherry and Halestorm have done in the past.

Nickelback have scaled back their stage show in recent years; when I first saw them in 2009 they brought pyro, more lights than Blackpool Illuminations and an ‘ego ramp’ that not only extended well into the floor but had a drum kit of its own at the end of it! They pared it back on The Hits Tour a few years back and this time around, there were ramps to the side but aside from a couple of video screens and an effective lighting rig (allowing me to take snaps at a mere 800 ISO on the pocket camera!) it was just the guys and their instruments. They don’t really need gimmicks; they have plenty of singalong anthems and in Chad Kroeger, a frontman who is able to take command of an arena audience easily. He and fellow guitarist Ryan Peake were frequently calling for their tech to bring out drinks, toasting the Liverpool audience as they went along. It became something of a running gag, but it didn’t impair their performance. Kroeger is underrated as a live performer; a strong vocalist, he is also a good lead guitarist (even performing one number ‘fingerstyle’) as well as having a self-effacing sense of humour, joking among his bandmates and with the audience. When introducing the band, he observed how the female element of the audience would crane their necks to look past him at ‘handsome dude’ drummer Daniel Adair (!) Adair and also Peake provide good backing vocals, with the latter taking lead on occasion. The band performed ‘Hero’ (from the ‘Spider-Man’ soundtrack, credited to Chad Kroeger and Josey Scott), with Peake taking the Scott vocal lines. He was also given lead vocal duties in the encore, which featured a surprise cover of the Foo Fighters’ ‘Everlong’.

Chad Kroeger of Nickelback at Liverpool

Chad Kroeger of Nickelback

About midway through the frontman joked that he was glad that there were women in the audience, as they’d have to ‘become a Metal band’ if they stopped coming (!). They do play some material that is definitely Heavy Metal, but their enduring strength lies in that they really do have something for everyone, be it power ballads, fun rock ‘n’ roll, or even a bit of protest with set opener ‘Edge Of A Revolution’. The classic bands of the past mixed it up, and these guys are wise to do the same thing. Towards the end of the night, they invited up three fans to perform ‘Rock Star’ with the band. Two young girls (Faye and Georgia, if memory serves!) nervously shared one microphone while the older male who joined them (George, recognised by Chad Kroeger as having been on the front at most of the UK dates) was much more upfront, All knew the song word-for-word, and George enjoyed his three minutes of fame thoroughly, with his ‘backing singers’ providing a little bit of glamour on the stage!

Ryan Peake of Nickelback at Liverpool

Ryan Peake of Nickelback

They finished of course with ‘How You Remind Me’, and encored with the aforementioned cover of ‘Everlong’ before deciding to throw in an extra song for the Liverpool audience. That meant ditching the guitars already strapped on by Kroeger and Peake for different ones (they’d been swapping guitars frequently throughout the night) in order to play ‘Where Do I Hide’ (a track from breakthrough album ‘Silver Side Up’) before finally ending with scheduled closer ‘Burn It To The Ground’.

Daniel Adair of Nickelback

Daniel Adair of Nickelback

This is the fourth occasion I’ve seen Nickelback play (third time in Liverpool) and each time I’ve been scratching my head as to why they are so hated by the press; they have good songs, they play them well, they provide a lot of enjoyment to those who come to see them and they always draw a good crowd whenever they play. That’s really all people want from a live band, and this group know how to give an audience a good night out. My only slight criticism is that they didn’t play much from most recent album ‘No Fixed Address’; the set was loaded with their hits once again and perhaps they feel that they ought to give their public what they want. Perhaps that’s it – they play for their fans, not the self-appointed ‘tastemakers’ who think they are so influential about what the masses should see and hear.

As long as Nickelback put their fans before their critics they’ll continue to thrive, and I look forward to their return to Liverpool whenever they play this country next.

4 - Deserving

4 – Deserving

Caught Live: Robin Trower, Live Rooms Chester, 8 October 2016

One of several rock legends of yesteryear that I’ve never got around to until now, one-time Procul Harum guitarist Robin Trower is still making music and touring as he reaches his seventies. Although he continues to release albums, his career is still defined by 1974’s ‘Bridge Of Sighs’ album, with several tracks off that record remaining staples of his live gigs. Often compared to Hendrix back in the 70s, he is still a draw as a healthy attendance at the main stage at Chester’s Live Rooms attests.

I’d hoped to catch opener Stevie Nimmo Trio but delays getting into the city of Chester and then finding somewhere to park, meant that by the time I got into the hall all I heard from the big Scotsman was ‘Thank you – enjoy the rest of your evening, goodnight!’. I was soon able to greet Stevie (older brother of King King’s Alan Nimmo) at the merch table however and treat myself to a CD, which he told me formed the majority of the set I’d missed! Listening to that on the way home afterwards, it’s safe to say if you like his brother’s band (and if you are of discerning taste, you surely will!) then you’ll like Stevie Nimmo’s material also.

A short while later, a guitar tech appeared brandishing a white Fender Stratocaster, soon followed by a slightly-built elderly gent who was handed the instrument, as he was followed by two obviously much younger guys. Yep, that was Robin Trower and his low-key entrance was soon ramped up once he plugged in. He might be an old fella now, but he can still cook up a mighty storm with the guitar. Opening number was ‘Too Rolling Stoned’; from that seminal ‘Bridge of Sighs’ album and a frequently-played track on Planet Rock radio station, it got the crowd going straight away. These days, the lead vocal is handled by bassist Richard Watt, he is not James Dewar (Trower’s bassist/vocalist during his heyday, sadly passed away in 2002) but still gave a decent vocal delivery – when he could be heard over the mighty sound coming from the older guy with thinning silver hair.

Robin Trower at Chester

Robin Trower at Chester

Most of the vocals were handled by Watt; the main man did take lead vocal on a handful of numbers but his voice is in his fingers, not his throat. Several numbers spun out into extended showcases for his playing, the rhythm section of Watt and drummer Chris Taggart knew exactly when to step back and just let the maestro play. In return, Trower gave a masterclass in power and control, he has all the force of any heavy metal axe hero but knows when – and when not – to use it. In addition, his tone is something almost every other guitarist playing would sell their grandmother to have. He really makes that guitar sing, an art that is rapidly becoming lost in this day and age. The huge cheers after every number were greeted with a modest grin and a simple ‘we really appreciate that, thank you’.

Despite his advancing years the guitar legend is showing no sign of losing the magic touch, he still has ‘it’. This must go down as another one of my ‘why did I leave it so long’ gigs, it really was a pleasure to watch such a master of his instrument in such intimate surroundings. When he comes around again, take the chance to see Robin Trower live.

4 - Deserving

4 – Deserving

Caught Live: FM (with Dare), Parr Hall Warrington, October 1st 2016

It’s autumn once again, and that means gig season. With that comes the inevitable date clashes, and this was my choice on the night in question over seeing Limehouse Lizzy (a long-established tribute to Thin Lizzy, which has been going for about twice as long as the original band did!) in Liverpool. LL tour frequently and I expect to get another chance to see them soon, so I plumped for this melodic rock bill.

I saw FM in the summer as openers to veteran US rockers Heart, and enjoyed their set much more than I expected to. I was never a fan of theirs in the 1980s, they were that bit too ‘nice’ for me back then, with their exquisitely-coiffured mullets, their tailored clothes that didn’t exactly look like they’d come from the local army surplus store, and their glossy sound, with a little too much emphasis on keyboards for me, as an unreconstructed Metalhead. Then again, I kinda liked Heart in those days, but they had Nancy Wilson… 😉

They started to rock out a bit more with second album ‘Tough It Out’ but by then, the grunge revolution was imminent and FM were one of many rock bands swept aside for not fitting in with the trend. They disbanded in the mid-1990s, but a decade later were tempted to play at melodic rock bash Firefest, initially as a one-off. That show went down so well that the band decided to give it another go, with original members (vocalist Steve Overland, drummer Pete Jupp and bassist Merv Goldsworthy) being joined by keyboardist Jem Davis and lead guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick. (Original guitarist Chris Overland – Steve’s brother – parted company with FM in the early 90s and is nowadays a guitar tutor).

Dare have also had a chequered history since their formation in the mid-80s; founded by Darren Wharton of Thin Lizzy fame, he emerged from his keyboards to front this melodic rock act to some success around the end of the 80s. but after their second album ‘Blood From Stone’ (where once again, the band beefed up their sound) they splintered. They’re now best known as the group which gave Brian Cox (now Professor Cox of TV fame) his first gig – he was the band’s original keyboardist and played on that album plus debut ‘Out Of The Silence’.  Wharton reconstructed the band in 1998 with a new line-up, releasing several more albums, and in recent years has reunited with original guitarist Vinny Burns.

The Parr Hall saw a very good turnout for this show, I got there just after Stone Broken had finished their opening set (apologies, chaps!) and saw the crew feverishly working to set up for Dare. It must be at least 25 years since I last saw this band, probably more, and given that they’ve made many albums since the first two (the only ones I have) I wasn’t expecting to know much of their set. I got that wrong, as they performed several of their early hits (including ‘Abandon’, ‘Don’t Need A Reason’, and Wharton’s tribute to Phil Lynott, ‘King Of Spades’) as well as some of their more recent, Celtic-influenced numbers. Wharton’s stage persona is very chummy, he seemed to be grinning ear-to ear from first song to last and frequently threw his arm around either guitarist Vinny Burns or bassist Nigel Clutterbuck. His singing voice has held up well, and after an enjoyable set the band were cheered like returning heroes. Sadly I never got the opportunity to remind Darren about the time I saw Dare at this same venue in 1989, and while walking through the town was stopped by a van asking for directions to the hall. Of course it was Dare themselves, presumably he had an easier time finding his way here on this occasion!

FM’s set was a longer version of the one they played in the summer, featuring many of their old favourites from debut album ‘Indiscreet’ (they are celebrating that album’s 30th anniversary in 2016) and follow-up ‘Tough It Out’. Other more recent material was played too, but one thing I noticed watching them today as against when I saw them in the 80s supporting the likes of Gary Moore and Bon Jovi, was that their live sound is definitely harder than it was back then. Their songs are almost all designed to grab you on the first chorus (they have more hooks than in the locker room of the Denver Broncos) but nowadays there’s enough wallop behind them (courtesy of Kirkpatrick and Overland himself adding occasional guitar, plus heavy-hitting drummer Pete Jupp) to satisfy even hard-bitten rockers like me. That’s before I mention what a great singer Overland still is – he is another who has retained his singing voice over the years and is still able to do justice to those favourites. That said, he did warn the audience that he was likely to grimace all the way through ‘Someday (You’ll Come Running)’! That one is a fan favourite that he openly admitted he dreaded singing, presumably as it is so demanding.

They might not have been my cup of tea 30 years ago, but the FM of today are well worth seeing, boasting great songs and a singer who ought to be regarded as one of the finest rock vocalists this country has produced. Only slight quibble was that once again, they didn’t play ‘Crosstown Train’ from 2013’s ‘Rockville’ album but they can’t do everything and I remain hopeful it’ll be played the next time I see them. (There will be a next time, fellas!)

4 - Deserving (

4 – Deserving