Caught Live: Nightwish (with Beast In Black), Manchester Arena 11th December 2018

Nightwish concerts in the UK are rare events, tours doubly so. This run of dates hardly counts as a tour, consisting of just three shows (all in England) but it is the first time (festival slots apart) they’d played outside of London since their 2012 UK dates, when vocalist Floor Jansen had been hurriedly drafted into the band. Six years after that turn of events, she has become the figurehead of the band; a towering presence, it’s no exaggeration to say she’s not only restored this outfit to greatness but helped them to still greater success.

The last time I saw Nightwish was three years ago in Amsterdam, reasoning it was easier to go over there than travel to London and Wembley Arena for their only UK date that time. They were supporting then-new album ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’ then, after that tour they took a year off and when they reconvened, it was not for a new album but to tour in support of a career retrospective album, ‘Decades’. To that end, the setlist for this show included many older songs, ones that they haven’t done in many years and probably quite a few unfamiliar to more recent converts to the band (raises hand!)

With this show falling midweek and in Manchester, I feared a traffic nightmare since there are extensive roadworks taking place in and around the city centre, including on the motorway heading there. The delays have been bad enough to hold traffic up for around an hour, however I got lucky on this night as I was able to get to my usual spot a short walk from the arena in plenty of time to make it through the security checks and get a reasonably good spot about 10 from the barrier. That meant I was able to see openers Beast in Black, another Finnish-based group fronted by Greek vocalist Yannis Papadopoulos. I knew only two things about them beforehand: the fact that they were founded by a former member of Battle Beast (guitarist Anton Kabanen), and their single ‘Born Again’.  I’d heard that on a rock radio show, which was broadcasting in my local area up until around this time last year, and liked it for the strong vocal and to be honest, overblown production!

The band on stage are a quintet, featuring two guitarists (Kabanen is joined by the equally fleet-fingered Kasperi Heikkinen), but surprisingly no keyboard player. Considering much of their music has prominent keyboard sounds as well as guitar, that was a little disappointing to find that these parts would be delivered on disk. Papadopoulos was as powerful live as he is on record, able to go full Halford when required or sing in lower registers. The band were typically Euro-Metal though, complete with synchronised poses, cheesy grins, and for one number (‘Crazy, Mad, Insane’) even wearing shades which spelt out on an LED ticker the words ‘Crazy’ or ‘Mad’. It all came off a little bit cheesy, a bit too Eurovision for me; I like my Metal with a bit more menace and doom. I could have lived with it all though, had there been an actual player performing all the keyboard parts we heard, and had it not been so  obvious that the backing vocals were also on disk. Either that, or Kabanen and bassist Mate Molnar can emulate the lead singer’s voice perfectly whenever they stepped to their microphones! Even their delivery of ‘Born Again’ didn’t get me going, and I was sadly underwhelmed by their set. A pity, since I wanted to like them more than I did.

Nightwish’s set was heralded by a pre-show announcement asking people not to reach for their cellphones during the gig; a forlorn request as minutes into their set a multitude of the devices popped up in the crowd. First to appear was multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley with a gentle flute intro before the whole shebang kicked off in a spectacular way with ‘Dark Chest Of Wonders’. They threw the kitchen sink at this one; back projections, lights, pyro, flashbombs were going off all over the place, and the pace didn’t relent with ‘I Wish I Had An Angel’ providing a perfect one-two punch of an opener. Having got the crowd (by my reckoning around 7000 showed, which is  respectable but in this enormous dome, it looked a bit empty) rocking they then reached into the back catalogue for their promised ‘trip back in time’, for ’10th Man Down’.  Some of these numbers were so old that only founding members, keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen and guitarist Emppu Vuorinen actually played on the recorded versions, but everything was handled superbly by Jansen. She made her own of even early stuff such as ‘Dead Boy’s Poem’ and ‘The Carpenter’; the latter introduced by fellow newbie (kind of!) Troy Donockley, whose flute, uilleann pipes and bouzoki  added much to the band’s sound.

‘Elan’ (one of only two from the last studio album in this set) got the crowd bouncing in unison, before they delved back through the years yet again for ‘Sacrament of Wonders’. A lengthy set came to its conclusion with the epic ‘Greatest Show On Earth’, with the visuals in full effect both on the screen and on the stage, as yet more pyro toasted the first few rows. The encore was ‘Ghost Love Score’ after which the ensemble took their bows as the conclusion of ‘Greatest Show On Earth’ played on tape.

Although this was every bit the full-on, slick arena production we’ve come to expect from Nightwish, there was still some fun to be had. Jansen tries and fails to get Emppu Vuorinen to dance with her mid-set, and she is later seen enjoying a glass of wine with Tuomas Holopainen while Marco Hietala talks to the audience. An observation I made back in 2012 still holds, in that she is so much the face and voice of the band now, that anyone new to them would think it’s been her band all along. I also said that they should move heaven and earth to keep her around as she was the one to make them great again; they did and she has.

All in all then a real ‘event’ of an arena show which deserved more of an audience than it got. Coming as it did in the middle of three big shows at this place (Black Stone Cherry performed the night before, Def Leppard the following night) that might have affected attendance, as people pick and choose which big gig to attend.  However, for the show itself I have to award all five inflatable guitars.

5 – Delightful

 

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Caught Live: The Dead Daisies (with Massive Wagons), o2 Academy Liverpool 13th November 2018

Five years on from the last time this venue hosted the Dead Daisies, it’s a radically different band in both personnel and approach which appeared this time. Only founder member David Lowy remains from the band who played here in 2013, and the soul-tinged rock of that incarnation has been replaced by a much harder, heavier outfit. This was the band’s third visit to this country inside a year; they toured in the Spring, played a few shows in the summer around festival appearances (including one that the British weather ensured that they did NOT make, but let’s not dwell on that here!) and finally, this winter tour taking in some cities they didn’t get to first time around. One of these was Liverpool, and that meant ticking off at least one name from my requested list of bands to come to this city.

The format of this show (billed as ‘Welcome To Daisyland’) meant that the first fifty people in line would get early entry to the venue for a short acoustic set plus meet and greet with the band members; I’d made a panicked dash into town after work in the hope of getting a place but as it turned out, the nice lady handing out the all-important orange wristbands seemed to have more than 50 to hand out, so I got one as did many people I knew who were ahead of me in the line. Entering the building and climbing the steep steps to the main hall, we were greeted at the top by John Corabi, no less, welcoming the early arrivals with handshakes or high-fives. They’d set up on the main floor in front of the stage, with a smaller drumkit for Deen Castronovo and stools with mike stands in front of them for everybody else. Once we were all in and settled, the band picked up their acoustic guitars and played five numbers; from memory these were ‘Dead and Gone’, ‘Set Me Free’, ‘Lock ‘n’ Load’ (featuring bassist Marco Mendoza on lead vocal), ‘Maggie May’ (the Rod Stewart classic sung by the drummer) and finally, seeing as we were in Liverpool. ‘Let It Be’. Following this, the five members mingled with the punters, chatting or posing for pics, or signing the posters we had been given by one of the crew. This also meant that we early attendees got first shot at the barrier once the floor setup was clear, and yours truly definitely took advantage of that!

I was looking forward to catching the support this time around, Lancaster nutters Massive Wagons. They’ve had a successful 2018 with airplay on both Planet Rock and internet station Primordial, the latter consistently plugging this band and even giving their listeners an exclusive play-through of their album ‘Full Nelson’ prior to release. They got the attention of this old rocker straight away with their intro tape,  using Slade’s ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Preacher’ as prelude to their set. Frontman Baz Mills made an instant impression with a black catsuit, on which a skeleton design was printed (!) and he proved to be a bundle of energy, never standing still but delivering that strong, distinctive vocal for a set of numbers many from ‘the Primordial massive’ (as he put it, asking were any here) have already adopted as anthems. They have a nice line in humour too, with the social media-bashing ‘China Plates’ a favourite of mine.

Between acts I encountered another up-and-coming musician who’d found me in the crowd: Beth Blade was here after having recently played the KISS Kruise with her band (The Beautiful Disasters), as well as on another bill with the Daisies shortly before this date. Beth is a singer/guitarist, a hard driving rocker herself and I look forward to seeing her own band live in the near future, but seeing as I was in a good mood, and also because she isn’t as tall as me, I vacated the prized barrier spot for her so she could get an unfettered view of the band.

There were a few changes to the Daisies’ set from the last time I saw the band in Holmfirth, but by and large it was another riff-heavy slab of high-octane rock ‘n’ roll, played with panache and all topped off by Corabi’s engaging humour. ‘Liverpool – that’s the home of Van Halen, right?’ he joked. Although they did an acoustic set before the main show, they still made room for a mid-set interlude here as well. It did give Deen Castronovo a chance to show his excellent vocal skills to this crowd as he did another run-through of ‘Maggie May’, and he is proving to be a popular addition to this band as the audience began chanting his name, as the rest of the band feigned dismay! Once the amps were plugged back in it was straight back to the heavy stuff, with ‘Burn It Down’ pounding out of the speakers. They did their intro piece for each band member again, only this time they’ve changed the song snippets around. That didn’t stop this lively crowd from joining in enthusiastically, though!  There were, as ever, several covers performed and they ended the main set with a storming delivery of Deep Purple’s ‘Highway Star’ – the current incarnation of the Daisies has no keyboard player, of course so both solos were delivered (quite faithfully) by guitarist Doug Aldrich.

Following an encore of ‘Mexico’ and ‘Helter Skelter’ (again, with reference made to the band who wrote and recorded that track!) the guys bade us farewell with our ears ringing and our faces melted. The Daisies have made no secret of wanting to play in Liverpool for some time now, and it was a pleasure to welcome the current line-up to our city at long last. Let’s hope it’s not another five years before they’re back!

Massive Wagons Facebook Page

The Dead Daisies Facebook Page

5 – Delightful

 

Caught Live: Within Temptation, o2 Academy Birmingham 9th November 2018

Cast your mind back twelve months, there was intense speculation about this band and whether it was actually going to continue, fuelled by the act itself who darkened their website and put up a stark notice saying ‘official statement (from) Sharon den Adel coming soon’. That remained for a whole week, during which time their fans worked themselves into a frenzy, with many believing that the band was over.

As it turned out, that was not the case and this was merely to herald a solo project from the singer (‘My Indigo’), along with a statement that the band would return in 2018. I felt that was badly-handled, although when she did emerge from that self-imposed blackout she did admit to several ‘issues’ following the band’s last album and tour. The My Indigo project was more pop-orientated than Within Temptation, which admittedly wasn’t my cup of tea at all but the way it was ‘marketed’ left rather a bitter taste.

Also after they restored their site, they announced a UK and European tour a whole YEAR in advance. That didn’t endear me to their cause much either, since I knew that there would be many other tours happening around then and that clashes were bound to happen (as indeed they have!) It also didn’t help that the nearest date, once again, was the o2 Apollo in Manchester, which also fell on a Saturday. As I’ve boycotted that venue for several years now (in fact the last time I was there was for a concert by this band in 2014), that meant an alternative date if I wanted to see this gig and so I chose Birmingham.

For me then, this band had a fair bit of ground to make up. Their last UK run of dates was that 2014 tour with Delain as support, and I may be biased but for me Charlotte Wessels’s gang stole the show that time. Nevertheless, the band’s pulling power remains intact, as this and the next night’s show at the Apollo were total sell-outs, with other dates close to selling out as well by the time these dates came around. I got to Birmingham after a surprisingly trouble-free run down the M6 of a Friday night, in time to join a massive queue stretching from the venue doors down to Holloway Circus and right around the corner. With driving rain and howling wind to contend with as well, I was at least grateful for not having to stand in that line for longer! The wait was worthwhile despite the sodden clothes, as I got a fairly reasonable spot in this hall for once, it does get packed quickly and isn’t the greatest viewing experience if you’re further back.

Opening band were a Brazilian quintet called Ego Kill Talent (styled as EGO KILL TALENT); as is so often the case this was a band I had absolutely no previous knowledge about. They had a somewhat unusual approach in that several members would frequently swap instruments; i.e. the drummer would switch to playing bass, the bass would go to one of the guitarists, who then took over the drums! That was about all I took from their set however, they played grunge-influenced material with plenty of energy, with lots of loud hard riffing, and a decent vocalist in Jonathan Correa but, for all their good playing I don’t think I heard an actual song all set. The vocalist struck me as a huge Eddie Vedder fan, he had the look of a younger version of the Pearl Jam vocalist and had clearly taken several of his stage moves and poses.  I didn’t come away with even a line of any of their songs in my head, so I’d suggest they need an external songwriter to work with.

Openers Ego Kill Talent

Openers Ego Kill Talent

One of the downsides of picking this venue to see Within Temptation is that it isn’t really big enough to fit in their whole stage set. So it was that only part of their elaborate set was used tonight, but for me that doesn’t particularly matter. They came on a little after 9pm and opened with a new one (‘Raise Your Banner’). Den Adel was indeed waving a big flag around for this number, a substantially heavier track than what we’ve been used to from them with guitarist Stefan Helleblad yelling ‘BLOOD FOR FREEDOM!’ in the choruses.  They performed several tracks from upcoming album ‘Resist’ tonight, of which only ‘The Reckoning’ was known to us beforehand. That one came next and was enthusiastically received by the Brummie crowd. If I’m honest none of these new tracks quite grabbed me on first hearing, though it does indicate a harder direction for the new album, and so it wasn’t until they reached into the back catalogue that I really started to get into the gig.

A treat came fairly early on when they played ‘All I Need’ from ‘The Heart of Everything’ album, den Adel’s delivery of this was full of feeling and reminded me just why I got into this band in the first place. They then unveiled another new one (‘Mercy Mirror’) before playing ‘Shot In The Dark’ from ‘The Unforgiving’; that’s another favourite of mine and one which may be pop-influenced but is definitely the sort of song that does latch into the mind.  The thing I took from this performance against the last time I saw them was that this was definitely more of a band now than in 2014; they were a bit over-reliant on the visuals and the backing tracks for me then. This time the band, and in particular Helleblad and fellow guitarist Ruud Jolie were much more to the fore, so it didn’t come across as the ‘Sharon show’ as much. Den Adel herself sounded in terrific voice, especially when the bombast was toned down for a beautifully-delivered ‘Forgiven’, where she was accompanied only by keyboardist Martijn Spierenburg.

For numbers such as ‘Paradise (What About Us?)’ and ‘What Have You Done’ it was still necessary to use the backing from Tarja Turunen and Keith Caputo (who is nowadays Mina Caputo, of course); both were shown on screen while den Adel sang around their part. But this definitely felt more of a coherent band performance than four years ago, and my only minor disappointment was that they didn’t play one of my other favourites, ‘Ice Queen’. There was still a lot they did do that I enjoyed however, so this gig was definitely worth the long run to the Second City. I do hope that their next tour isn’t so far away however, since the audience was certainly ‘of a certain age’ and to be frank, we can’t all wait around four to five years for this lot to come around again!

EGO KILL TALENT Facebook page

Within Temptation Facebook page

4 – Deserving

Caught Live: JOANovARC, Percy’s Whitchurch, November 10th 2018

Another band who have been on my radar for some time before getting around to seeing for myself, the self-styled Queens of Rock were the latest to be brought to this curious venue just inside Shropshire by the team doing some great work in attracting bands here. I got here to catch the end of the debut set by Exiled for Eternity, a band only recently formed. One and a half numbers (one of those being an improvised cover of Halestorm’s ‘Here’s To Us’!) isn’t enough to make any sort of assessment on, but they probably want to get a few more gigs under their belt first anyway.

Following this, JOANovARC wasted no time in setting up on this small stage, before launching into their set with minimal fuss. Opening with ‘Girls Wanna Rock’, that set the tone – no-frills, hard hitting, hard rock with sledgehammer riffing from guitarist Shelley Walker allied to harmonised vocals from her sister Sam on bass, and second guitarist Laura Ozholl. Driving it all along is drummer Debbie Wildish, and the quartet delivered a set lasting around an hour, comprising numbers from their album ‘Ride Of Your Life’ plus a few covers, including the Cranberries’ ‘Zombie’, AC/DC’s ‘Highway To Hell’ and ending things with a storming rendition of Skynyrd’s ‘Freebird’ – for which nobody had to ask them to play!

Their approach reminded me of early 80s Girlschool; no gimmicks, no messing about, just straight-up, straight ahead rock. That’s how I like it, with plenty of opportunity for Shelley Walker to show off her lead guitar prowess, frequently stepping forward to take the lead solos. The band were raising funds for the Pink Ribbon Foundation, placing a collection bucket on the stage for people to drop change into.  During the set, the girls made reference to the conditions (the stage at Percy’s is set in what amounts to a shed, in a small courtyard) and it was cold, so all of them were wrapped up in big coats. ‘We’re southern softies, y’see’, joked Shelley but there was nothing soft about this performance. They’re as hard rockin’ as you will get, and if you like it served straight then this band is for you.

JOANovARC Facebook Page

The Pink Ribbon Foundation

4 – Deserving

Caught Live: Devilskin (with The Fallen State), Live Rooms Chester, 4th November 2018

I was at this gig because of a friend who won a contest for tickets to this show; as is usually the case when I’m offered a chance to see a live gig ‘gratis’ I’ll seize upon it! I’d probably have gone anyway, since New Zealand outfit Devilskin have had some good reports during their current UK and European tour, they were support to Halestorm on the continental leg but here, they’re headlining with fast-rising Brit rockers The Fallen State along for the ride.

We got there to find not a lot of people in the main hall at the Live Rooms, to be honest this gig could have been held in the bar area with this turnout! I had expected more to show, as this tour has been well-publicised and certainly I expected a few to see The Fallen State, as they went down well in the summer supporting Tremonti. There were the die-hards on the barrier, but not a lot else as the quintet came on, led by drummer Rich Walker. The guys played a short set similar to that performed on the Tremonti dates, though the sound was actually better tonight than at the o2 Institute. They’re an energetic lot, especially vocalist Ben Stenning who is never stood still throughout. Their music is not a million miles away from that Alter Bridge sound, which was probably why Tremonti picked them to open on their summer run, but the sentimental old bugger I now am still thinks power ballad ‘Nova’ is their best song. They give it so much effort you can’t help but wish ’em well and hope they can make the breakthrough in the way Stone Broken have done.

Not knowing a great deal of Devilskin’s material (OK, next to nothing!) I settled close to the front for their set as they came on, there still wasn’t a big crowd by the time they arrived on the stage (I estimated 60 at the most). Led by singer Jennie Skulander, she was flanked by two beefy guys who seem to have taken a sort-of ZZ Top approach to their look, both guitarist Nail and bassist Paul Martin were sporting bald heads and longish beards, both dyed a nice shade of maroon! Drummer Nic Martin (son of bassist Paul) didn’t join in the look though, and they launched into their set with minimal fuss.

I might not have known about their music beforehand but it didn’t take long for the vocalist to make an impression. She possesses a voice strong enough, rangy enough, to live with the likes of Lzzy Hale; not only that, she’ll switch from clean to ‘cookie monster’ at will. The band have a heavy, chunky style of riffing allied to thunderous drums and Skulander was easily able to soar above it all. A slightly scary moment came early in the set when she picked up what looked like some sort of gun, it turned out to be a carbon dioxide jet for her to spray the front row! (Not that there was much beyond that front row to spray, in truth!) She was in terrific voice all night, she actually sounded so like Lzzy Hale in places that she could probably have covered for the Halestorm singer on that tour if required! A measure of how strong she is vocally came mid-set, when they played something I actually knew (!) – a cover of Heart’s ‘Barracuda’. You have to be good to take on anything of Ann Wilson’s, and this singer is certainly up to the task.

The only real disappointment was the turnout; I get that autumn is ‘gig season’ and people cannot do it all, but this was a quality bill that deserved far better support than it got.  In a week when another ‘big-name’ band announced stadium dates and asked a small fortune for tickets, it’s saddening to see that bands such as this don’t get any attention. The ‘name’ bands aren’t going to be around for very much longer, and there are a whole heap of good, yet undiscovered bands out there currently playing but only drawing a few die-hards. Hopefully Devilskin and The Fallen State will get a better turnout on their remaining dates, it’s a tough ask to get the ‘never heard of them’ crowd out.

4 – Deserving

The Fallen State Facebook Page

Devilskin Facebook Page

Caught Live: Eric Martin, Tivoli Venue Buckley 27th October 2018

There’s been a lot of talk about how tribute bands have ‘ruined’ the live scene, with an increasing number of places only putting on these kind of acts, playing tried and tested music from a classic artist instead of original artists, who may be younger, and will certainly be unknown. The solution is of course in the hands of the public, it’s up to them to turn out to support artists who are doing their own thing as opposed to somebody else’s.  The Tivoli in Buckley hosts its fair share of tribute bands, but is one of the better venues for staging gigs from original artists, both newer and ‘heritage’.  The management could explain why they put on tributes simply by comparing numbers who showed for this gig, against the much larger crowd they played host to the night before when AC/DC tribute LiveWire performed. Quite simply the tributes pay the bills – they bring in a crowd, and the crowd knows what they’re getting. The fact remains that a known ‘name’ in the business was playing the ‘Tiv’ the next night which did not draw the punters in anything like as many numbers, though, and that’s a shame since the solo performance from Mr Big vocalist Eric Martin here was a truly special evening indeed.

I was here with a friend and two of her children, the eldest sibling often accompanies her mother to gigs. Before we got to the main act, there was an opening band in the form of B4 Time. Although the main act was to perform acoustically, there was a complete set up of drum kit and amps for this band, a quartet who played a set comprising mostly covers from quite a variety of bands, ranging from the Wildhearts to Metallica (!) The band are three guys of ‘a certain age’ shall we say, but backed by a girl drummer. I’d guessed the girl was one of the guys’ daughters, which was confirmed by their singer/guitarist late in the set. The band were actually pretty enjoyable, and as was the case with the last time I was here (when The Clan opened for Martin Turner), they benefitted from a good sound balance.

They completely stripped the stage after that set, leaving just a table and a couple of microphones on stands, for when Eric Martin came on accompanied by another player in Dave Cotterill. The performance was informal, to say the least and featured a number of deeper cuts from Mr Big and other stuff he’s done, including a burst of ‘Sucker For A Pretty Face’ from the Eric Martin Band’s 1983 album of that name. There was more familiar stuff to, including a cover of Cat Stevens’ ‘Wild World’ as well as a few of his main band’s hits. The ballads ‘To Be With You’ and ‘Just Take My Heart’ were performed, as well as an impressive acoustic take on ‘Daddy Brother Lover Little Boy’. No electric drills this time, but the lead solo on acoustic was played impeccably by Dave Cotterill. He found himself acting as tech for the main man on several occasions, helping him tune or in one instance, actually taking the guitar and tuning it for him while Eric engaged in banter with the front row. There wasn’t much beyond that front row in truth, this was a crowd best described as ‘exclusive’.  He also gave a shout-out to former Mr Big guitarist Richie Kotzen, telling us to go and see him if we get the chance. (We got the chance in the summer, Eric and I was one of those who took it!) The duo then performed (if memory serves me correctly) ‘Electrified’ from one of the albums that band made with Kotzen, ‘Get Over It’.

It was a great night of music performed with humour and style, and Martin was sounding in splendid voice all night. The acoustic style suits him, and he did say that he’d love to come back here again despite the disappointing turnout. The night got even better following this show however. I and my companions waited around for a short while in the hope Eric would appear; we were about to call it a night when he came down to the floor to greet the few who’d stayed around. He settled at a table near the bar, and gave an impromptu meet and greet, but he sprang a real surprise when he was asked about the Mr Big song ‘Take Cover’. The duo did not perform it in the set, but when he found out it was a favourite of my friend’s young son (who was here this night with us) – he asked Dave to fetch the guitars, and the two of them played it, at the bar, where they stood. This was a fantastic gesture, from a guy who’s been on the biggest stages, played to huge crowds the world over, and yet he can grant a wish like that for one young boy.  By doing that he transformed the night from merely very good to truly special, the hallmark of a genuine rock star.

To conclude then, yes enjoy a tribute gig if that’s what you want but do try and support artists who are still out there doing their own thing too. After all, as this showed, you never know what surprises you might get!

5 – Delightful

Caught Live: Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Echo Arena Liverpool 23rd October 2018

There was one thing and one thing only which disappointed me about this concert: the absence of keyboardist Richard Tandy from the line-up. The only other member of the classic band (besides leader Jeff Lynne) still involved, he has been suffering health issues recently and so has sat out the 2018 tour dates. Perhaps at his own request, no mention of this was made during the show, not even when Lynne introduced the audience to his ‘right-hand man’, guitarist, vocalist and musical director Mike Stevens, who then introduced the rest of this expansive line-up.

That aside, this show was as good as you’re going to get. A collection of hit songs, plus a few deeper cuts and surprises, all performed live by an ensemble cast of 13 people, fronted by one of British popular music’s most successful, most enduring and most gifted performers. One who, until fairly recently, eschewed the whole idea of going out on the road. Now, with Stevens alongside him and a carefully-selected band complete with a string section and three keyboardists, there seems to be no stopping the man.

This time around, the band opened their set with ‘Standing In The Rain’, a cut from 1977’s mega-selling ‘Out Of The Blue’ album.  Having a closer spot this time than I had two years ago, I focused less on the visuals and more on the actual playing. Lynne, or more correctly Stevens, has selected a remarkable group of players to bring this painstakingly-orchestrated material to life. They all played magnificently, and Lynne himself sounded in good voice overall, though his advanced years did betray him in one or two places. He has little to say to the audience, other than a simple “We love it here in Liverpool, thanks for having us” there was not much else from the man who wrote and produced all this music, which still holds up well four decades on.  Yet the atmosphere did not suffer for it, the songs were strong enough to stand up for themselves. Hit followed hit, from ‘Evil Woman’ to ‘Showdown’, through disco-flavoured numbers like ‘Last Train To London’ and ‘Shine A Little Love’ to harder rockers like ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ or ‘Do Ya’, all of it had this crowd in raptures.

One of my favourite moments was the performance of ‘10538 Overture’, a number we didn’t get last time. But there was so much to savour from this concert, they played 19 songs in a set which approached two hours, with little fanfare as they launched into classic song after classic song. Lynne even reached back to his Traveling Wilburys days to play ‘Handle With Care’; with supplementary vocal from Iain Hornal. When the ensemble eventually launched into biggest hit ‘Mr Blue Sky’ the place just erupted, almost as though the arena was about to lift off like the spaceship seen on ELO album covers.  Following that, the whole band took their customary picture with the audience as backdrop before exiting, only to return for regular encore ‘Roll Over Beethoven’. The Chuck Berry song gave Lynne and guitarist Milton McDonald ample opportunity to trade guitar licks and send this capacity crowd home happy.

One of the shows of the year for me without a doubt; he may have had to wait until technology caught up with his vision, but now he has that as well as enough people on the stage to recreate his music live, Jeff Lynne finally seems as happy on the road as he has done in the studio.

Support act was Northampton singer-songwriter Billy Lockett; his set of soul-tinged pop numbers was going over well and then he dropped the mother of all clangers: he plugged an upcoming date of his own in… Manchester! The reaction he got answered his own question (“was that bad?”) as he recovered from that moment (“well, that didn’t go as well as hoped!”) to carry on with his set. He was backed by a drummer and a guitarist who occasionally switched to bass, while he himself sang and played keyboards. The trio were actually a really good live act, not my cup of tea in truth but despite the faux-pas, he won enough over to ensure his show at the Deaf Institute will be well-attended next year.

5 – Delightful

 

Caught Live: Prognosis (with Equinox, Dead Rebel, NESH), Outpost Liverpool, 20th October 2018

Unbeknownst to me, Maguire’s Pizza Bar, the pizza restaurant which sometimes hosts gigs in its back room, has had a bit of a makeover and is now known as Outpost. Still serving pizzas but now with an expanded menu and drinks selection, the back room is still used to host live bands such as this evening’s offering of four rock groups. Not much has changed in that back room, it’s still painted matt black throughout, still has stickers and posters all over the pillars and ceiling and still has a *loud* sound system for such a small room. I got there to find NESH nearing the end of their short set, this is a band I’ve seen before and probably will again in the near future so apologies for missing their opening set. I did hear at least two in the audience praising them however.

Next up were self-styled ‘Doom Dance’ trio Dead Rebel; first thing I noticed was that there were two guys out front but no bassist! Their sound was heavy regardless, I suspect the guitarist who doubles up on vocals has his guitar tuned down a bit, he seemed to be playing the bottom strings a lot so his sound was almost bass-ish, if that makes sense. Overall, the trio sounded reminiscent of Alice in Chains to these ears, that same sort of heavy guitar attack. They weren’t working to a set list and were discussing among themselves which number to play next! They have a track on Spotify, ‘No Reply’ which was played during this set, that is pretty representative of what they’re about.

The penultimate band up were the ones I’d actually come to see: Equinox. I was impressed with this local quintet when I saw them at EBGBs recently, and they gave another good account of themselves tonight albeit with a shortened set. The band’s lead singer Daniel Moran was once again in jocular mood, improvising a ‘snooker cue’ from his mic stand and pretending to play shots for the benefit of a gig photographer at the front. However he also has a tremendous voice, an exciting raw talent whose sheer power ensured he could be heard over the (overly-loud, in my view) sound system. At the moment they’re seeking a permanent bass player, as at EBGBs it was Chris Jones who stepped in. He doesn’t look the part at all; bespectacled, with shorter hair than the other band members and tonight, wearing a Level 42 T-shirt – but his playing is impeccable. This is a young band, but he brings experience and accomplishment to the party. Whoever eventually gets this role will have a lot to live up to. It was another enjoyable set; though there wasn’t room for ‘Empire’ tonight, this band absolutely blew me away when I saw them play it at EBGBs. I’ll follow these guys and girl more often from now on, this is a local band I think are going places.

Last band of the night were Manchester quartet Prognosis, these guys specialise in long-form numbers with heavy but intricate riffing, and complex drum patterns. Vocals were split between bassist Danny Daemon and guitarist Phil Weller, the latter occasionally came out onto the floor to give us some up close and personal fretwork! I was wondering what drummer Aaron James Youd was on to be able to perform like that, his playing was something to behold. A technically accomplished outfit I wouldn’t mind seeing again on a bigger stage.

Another good value night of rock/metal in one of Liverpool’s small venues, it does prove that the bands are out there if you care to delve a little deeper. For a fiver it was well worth the effort to get out and see these bands.

4 – Deserving

NESH Facebook page

Dead Rebel Facebook page

Equinox UK Facebook page

Prognosis Facebook page

Caught Live: Delain, Patronaat Haarlem NL, 12th October 2018

‘Oh, mijn haartje’.

Towards the end of this show, a specially-arranged date intended to preview material from an upcoming EP, Delain singer Charlotte Wessels has to stop to take in tumultuous, and relentless, cheering from the sold-out Patronaat crowd. Addressing her home crowd (mostly) in her native language, this exclamation (‘oh, my little heart’) came after the reception actually moved her to tears briefly.

The show did indeed unveil two new songs, but was based still on last album ‘Moonbathers’. There was no support act, so it was a long wait for the die-hard Delainers who’d been queuing outside the venue, some since mid-afternoon. The doors eventually opened at 8pm and I managed to get a spot just off the front, which meant looking upward on this rather high stage.  When they came on stage, the whole band were wearing something red. What this signifies is unknown to me yet, but from a red dress for the singer, to a natty red suit for keyboardist Martijn Westerholt, the theme was clear. Guitarists Timo Somers and Merel Bechtold both had red jackets on, bassist Otto Schimmelpenninck van der Oije wore a red T-shirt, while new drummer Joey de Boer was wearing a red tie to offset his mainly black attire.  Although the set was mainly focused on the last album, they opted to start with ‘Go Away’, off the ‘April Rain’ album (one I hope they celebrate next year, as it will be a decade old by then). The first of the new tracks, ‘Masters of Destiny’ followed; the main thing which I picked up on here was how Wessels really pushed her upper range in this number. Her voice is far stronger now than it was even a few years ago, so I look forward to hearing the recorded version of this song.

(These photos were taken only on a phone camera, apologies for them not being very good!)

The band always give you 100 per cent whenever they step on a stage and this was no exception; plenty of synchronised head-swishing, band members frequently swapping places and some fine vocal backing from Timo Somers. In fact, for the other new number (‘Hunters Moon’, delivered late in the set) it was he who started the vocals with a raucous scream. A different approach I guess, and again one I need to hear the officially recorded version of to make proper judgement. My only slight reservation was that despite these two new numbers, the set itself wasn’t that far removed from the one I saw them play on the last full tour, albeit with the song order shuffled about. With it being a special show I would have liked a few deeper cuts, numbers they don’t play that often, as they’ve done at previous Patronaat gigs. One thing I did like – they’ve made room in the set for a ‘Timo and Joey spot’; this gives Somers the chance to show his not-inconsiderable guitar ‘chops’ and also showcases de Boer, who has just been elevated to a full band member after spending several months touring with the band in place of previous sticksman Ruben Israel. Anyone who follows Timo Somers’ own Facebook page will know just what a potent axeman he is, in my view he’s in the class of Doug Aldrich or dare I say Gary Moore – he has the tone, the nimble fingers, and the fire. However the regular Delain material doesn’t tend to allow for guitar pyrotechnics, and it’s good to see him show a little of what he can really do.

They did have their usual guest appearances for this show; up popped George Oosthoek to deliver his grunt vocals where required on songs such as ‘Hands of Gold’ or ‘Pristine’ (his headband made me think of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle; I do hope he is not reading this!) and also returning was cellist Elianne Anemaat for the gentler ‘Scarlet’ as well as ‘Danse Macabre’.  For ‘The Gathering’ they not only used the streamer cannons but also a bubble machine – I couldn’t help but think of Ozzy here and his complaint of ‘what’s so evil about bubbles?’ 😀

It was a very good gig as I expect from this band, the only reason I haven’t gone for all five inflatable guitars was that for me it did feel a little too familiar, there were many songs still in the set that appear on the Paradiso DVD which came out last year.  When they come around again next year (I assume there will be a run of UK dates in 2019, Martijn/Charlotte!) hopefully the set will be markedly different.

 

4 – Deserving

 

Caught Live: Chantel McGregor (with Lucy Zirins), Citadel St Helens, 6th October 2018

Early on in this set, Chantel McGregor is glancing at her watch while in the middle of another shreddingly spectacular guitar solo. Quite why she needed to know the time so soon after coming on stage was a mystery to me, until she explained herself at the end of the number. It turned out her watch was one of these fancy new-fangled things that is also a phone, and she’d received a text from her Dad.  It got better, since the text was to warn her that her boobs were in danger of falling out of her dress! “What can I do about that, when I’m playing a guitar solo?”, she asked the audience and by extension her Dad, stood near the door of the small standing floor at the Citadel. After checking to make sure ‘all was safely gathered in’ she carried on with the set, but not before a few more jokes were thrown about between herself and her band!

That was one of several ‘blonde moments’ which punctuated this set; another classic moment came later on when she picked up her acoustic guitar. Hearing nothing, she asks “Am I being really dim here, but I’m not hearing anything come through?” A further check and she realised that the battery for her pickup in the acoustic guitar was flat, and she had no spare! Worse was she didn’t even know what sort of battery she needed – until her guitar tech came to the rescue with a new 9 volt battery so that she could play the song she’d intended. These aren’t the type of things you expect from an experienced live musician, but when this woman strikes up with her guitar you can forgive her anything. She is an astonishingly good player, able to melt faces with the best of them or play with magnificent subtlety. Often during the course of the same song!

The main difference between this gig and the last time I saw her (in Chester) was that the sound balance here was much better, it was a tad TOO overpowering last year but here it was a more satisfying mix, her guitar prominent but not overly-dominant. That allowed her (extremely good) rhythm section of bassist Colin Sutton (whose hairstyle caused some to compare him to Phil Oakey, which he didn’t mind, or in my case Jesus Jones – at least one of them, anyway – which he liked even more!) and drummer Thom Gardner (standing in for regular sticksman Ollie Goss) the chance to show their own considerable skills, the bassist filling all the gaps with some delightful runs.  For ‘Inconsolable’, a number which starts out acoustically then ends with a mind-blowing lead solo, Chantel had suddenly remembered that this drummer wasn’t clued in on how the closing part would go! Yet another ‘blonde moment’, but averted thanks to a thoroughly capable drummer who worked around it well enough to convince everyone present that it had all been rehearsed to within an inch of its life!  I haven’t even mentioned her vocals, she was suffering from a cold on this night but she sounded in great voice, again the sound mix did her vocal more justice than was the case last year, when she was swamped somewhat by her own guitar.

She and her band were so good live that it was easy to overlook the goof-ups between numbers, even the confession that they had not got drum mallets and so improvised with tissue paper and tape on a regular stick! “Why are you paying £30 for drum mallets, you’re onto something here!” she asked her drummer. Soon after that one of the ‘mallets’ fell apart when the tissue paper came away mid-song, but it hardly mattered as Thom just continued with regular sticks! In lesser hands these sort of things could have caused the whole show to disintegrate like the ‘mallet’, but the calibre of these players – all of them, not just the name on the ticket – was such that everything was just laughed off by this crowd. It was a respectable if not packed Citadel, the gig scheduling gods had once again played their tricks since a certain Joanne Shaw Taylor was playing in Chester on the same night as this gig. Those who plumped for this show however, got a doozy of a performance in amongst a few farcically comic moments for their money!

Support was from Lancashire lass Lucy Zirins, a singer/songwriter accompanied by just a keyboard player and a bassist (playing a strange short-scale instrument that he explained had ‘shrunk in the wash’!) She delivered a gentle warm-up to the main act, strumming an acoustic guitar and demonstrating a rather sweet singing voice. Most of her set was original material but she also performed a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Everywhere’, stripped back to just her voice and an organ. She went over well, sadly she’d gone by the time the main act had ended so I couldn’t grab a CD afterwards.

Despite the flat battery, near-wardrobe malfunctions and improvised percussion materials, the delivery of this set from Chantel and band was such that I am obliged to award all five inflatable guitars. On a night when another more ‘notorious’ McGregor was making a return, this particular McGregor proved to be a far more enjoyable way to spend a Saturday night.

Chantel McGregor Facebook page

Lucy Zirins Facebook page

Setlist Chantel McGregor

Set list (those with ‘?’ not performed)

5 – Delightful