‘Oh no, I’ve left the tickets at home’
Not what you want to hear when you’re sat on a train whizzing at high speed towards Manchester, but that’s the predicament I and a friend (who had inadvertently come out sans tickets) were in when he realised, when there was nothing either of us could do about it. It’s one of those things of course, we’ve all done it. However, as these tickets were booked by his girlfriend (who subsequently decided not to go, hence offering me the ticket) we had to think about how to resolve this one once we got to Oxford Road station.
It’s a straight, but lengthy walk to the Academy from the station, and we realised that we’d have to explain this to the box office and also get his (decidedly unimpressed!) girlfriend to speak to them. After a conversation with the lady, with evidence of the tickets on his phone, she gave him a contact number to try and resolve the situation. It turned out that the ticket outlet don’t reissue after 2pm, so we were in a bit of a pickle when the most extraordinary stroke of luck happened – two guys on the guest list picked up their tickets, they had plus ones that they didn’t require – in stepped my friend, and sure enough, we got in courtesy of a guest list plus one for each of us! As we entered the venue the pair of us were still pinching ourselves at our luck at getting out of this little predicament; I had ideas of watching the football in the student union bar instead of the gig, but suddenly our problems were over!
Having entered the hall through this remarkable turn of events, we found that the hall had only a few people in it as openers Faster Pussycat went through their paces. Vocalist Taime Downe is the only original member left from the heady days of the late 80s, but has held a stable line-up together now for some years. They gave a short, entertaining set of old favourites including ‘Slip Of The Tongue’, ‘Bathroom Wall’ and ‘Babylon’, and although Downe himself looks more goth than glam these days, he remains in decent nick vocally. They probably deserved a better crowd than they got at such an early point in the evening, but it meant we could get reasonably close up for the rest of the bill.
I was looking forward to seeing The Answer again; the last time I caught them was in March when they played the Band on the Wall across the city. This time around they’d promised to play a little of everything, opening with ‘Solas’, the title track from their most recent album. The short set they played did indeed touch on every album, with one track from all their albums released to date (two from debut ‘Rise’) and a cover. That cover was ‘If You Want Blood, You Got It’; their tribute to recently-passed AC/DC guitarist Malcolm Young. The Answer supported AC/DC throughout their massive ‘Black Ice’ world tour of 2009, and regarded Malcolm Young as a mentor, so the news of his passing must have had an impact on the Irish lads. They were, as ever in great form live, with the sound mix favouring bassist Micky Waters (at least from my spot, slightly right of centre). He played with real attack, and was praised by singer Cormac Neeson as ‘our bassmaster’. The sight of Paul Mahon holding a Zemaitis guitar meant that the band would perform ‘Preachin’, always a live favourite and one that got the crowd (by now starting to swell) rocking. Just before these dates took place, the singer revealed plans to release his first solo album; he’s quashed any rumours of a split already. The album promises to take a rootsy, more introspective direction, maybe taking ‘Solas’ a stage further, and that might just suggest that he will explore that side of things as a solo artist and possibly mean that The Answer’s next album will be a return to a harder rocking style. Time will tell, anyway.
We were still in our spot for Mr Big, but mindful that if it were a lengthy set, we might have to leave before the end in order to catch that train back to Liverpool. Mr Big came on at around 9pm and kicked off with ‘Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy (The Electric Drill Song)’, which saw both bassist Billy Sheehan and guitarist Paul Gilbert produce the ‘drills’ for the lead solos. On drums was Matt Starr; he’s been performing live with the band for a few years now since original drummer Pat Torpey was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. After a couple of more recent numbers (‘American Beauty’, ‘Undertow’) from 2010’s ‘What If…’ album, Pat Torpey was brought on stage to huge cheers from the crowd. He then took up a spot alongside Matt Starr, onto a special kit that was set up for him to play additional percussion for a couple of numbers, before actually sitting at the main kit for the slowie ‘Just Take My Heart’. Sad though it was to see such a great musician struck down like this, it was a terrific gesture from the band to still bring him out on tour and play at least in part with them. Matt Starr’s performance was of course first-rate, this is a band made up of outstanding players throughout and although he had big shoes to fill, he did so admirably.
Several numbers from current album ‘Defying Gravity’ were played, as well as plenty of choice cuts from the back catalogue. That meant favourites such as ‘Green-Tinted Sixties Mind’, ‘Just Take My Heart’, ‘To Be With You’ and ‘Addicted To That Rush’ were all delivered during this set. At times it was difficult to know where to look, having virtuosos on both four and six-strings mean there’s spectacular playing either side of the stage. However, it was noticed that Sheehan (who appeared to be directing things, actually counting ‘1-2, 1-2-3-4’ on his fingers to cue Gilbert into a lead solo) didn’t just spend the whole gig showing off. He has fingers as nimble as any guitar shredder, but when required he’ll step back and just lock in with the drummer. Of course he did get a solo spot in which to show his ‘chops’, as did Gilbert, whose own solo saw him take to another guitar on a stand, this had only the top three strings in place.
Vocally, Eric Martin was in good voice, if not quite the guy he was 25 years ago he could always depend on excellent backing vocals from all the other guys in the band – including Pat Torpey when he was on the stage. ‘To Be With You’ had the crowd also joining in the chorus, that was a particular highlight for the band’s collective singing prowess.
Our only disappointment was that we did indeed have to miss the end of the set, to my surprise this hall was only just over half-full, and so it was a simple matter to get out of the crowd and head near the door in order to make the dart for the train. We left during ‘Colorado Bulldog’ as the Sheehan/Gilbert combination shredded away, faced with a lengthy walk back to the station we were far from the only ones having to make the dash for the door prematurely. That meant missing out on seeing them play ’30 Days In The Hole’ alongside Cormac Neeson; apologies to the Answer frontman but that train wasn’t going to wait for us!
All in all a fine evening of classic hard rock, all three bands gave a good showing and fingers crossed that next time I’ll get to see these guys complete their set!