Caught Live: HAIM, Olympia Theatre, Dublin IRL 12th June 2018

It’s been almost five years since I last saw the sister-act HAIM live; that was at the end of their breakthrough year of 2013. Although they’d played UK dates in 2012 as support to Florence + The Machine, they really came to the attention of the British public when they won the BBC’s ‘Sound Of…’ award at the beginning of that year. From there they were featured heavily on BBC music programmes including their coverage of Glastonbury, T in the Park and Reading/Leeds (the band appeared at all those festivals), and their UK tour that winter saw the ‘sold-out’ signs everywhere they went. Since then, they’ve replicated their UK success in their US homeland, off the back of a support tour opening for megastar Taylor Swift. This short run of UK and Ireland dates came a year after their second album ‘Something To Tell You’ was released, and also sold out rapidly proving their popularity hadn’t waned in the interim.

The Olympia in Dublin is a small but ornate theatre, I chose to sit in the circle rather than stand in the crowd in the stalls, a wise decision when I got there to find the queue reaching back halfway across Temple Bar! They played two nights here, and I was at the first of those. The opening act was US singer Maggie Rogers, somebody who (once again) I had no prior knowledge of. She turned out to be an expressive performer, clad in a blue jumpsuit and using all of the stage to dance across as she sang, she drew huge cheers from this (mostly) female audience every time she so much as let her hair down or took off her jacket! Her material wasn’t that far removed from HAIM’s own, at least in terms of how they sound on record, and her band gave her good backing, particularly the drummer.  Not strictly my cup of tea, but a good live act and fine singer.

Support act Maggie Rogers

Support act Maggie Rogers

Following her set a huge army of techs were on to turn over the stage for the main act, and soon revealed were a bank of keyboards to one side, a set of drums to the other (for touring members Tommy King and Jody Giachello respectively), and in the middle, more drums! Three sets, for the sisters themselves to use, and not content with that, there were more set up at the front of the stage! These came into use right away as the girls came on, led by youngest sister Alana. Her drum pounding was soon joined by middle sister Danielle and finally, by eldest sister Este. The three of them gave a Sepultura-esque display before launching into opening number ‘Falling’, from their debut ‘Days Are Gone’ album. Following that up swiftly with ‘Don’t Save Me’, they already had this crowd in raptures.

Most of the set leant towards the current album, although other favourites from the debut such as ‘My Song 5’, ‘The Wire’ and of course ‘Forever’ were played. Whatever the song, once again this band showed themselves to be a vastly different experience live than they are on record. Meticulously-crafted, polished and slick on the CD you listen to in the car, live they are a much heavier, much harder-hitting band. Put simply, on record they’re Smooth Radio, live they’re Planet Rock! Live drummer Jody Giachello has a lot to do with that, he is a thunderous player and drives the backline along superbly, but the other major difference is that Danielle Haim is unleashed live – she is a fine lead guitarist, throwing out solos that Gary Moore or Robin Trower would have enjoyed on songs like ‘Nothing’s Wrong’, which simply aren’t there on the records. In addition to that, Alana gets to add her own guitar parts as well as contribute keyboard touches and additional drums. She relishes the chance to get amongst the fans and did just that towards the end of the set, singing while posing with her adoring public on the front row. She even draped a tricolour around herself and returned to the stage to play, with it still on her back!

Eldest sister Este on the bass once again delighted her fans with her ‘bass face’ expressions, and surprised us all by ditching her top after three numbers, opting to play the rest of the set in her bra! Not that anybody minded (least of all this fan!) but it did encourage at least one audience member to follow suit! As usual, there was the humorous banter between songs, and as they were in Dublin they even indulged in a pint of Guinness each. At least two of them did, Danielle opted out, explaining that she’d been fighting off a bug and was still on antibiotics.  Behind the antics, Este is a fantastic bass player, locking in with their touring drummer and providing many tasty little fills. Danielle took over the drums for ‘Something To Tell You’; she normally sings it too, but with her being ill Alana took the lead vocal on this occasion.

That was about the only indication Danielle was unwell, she still sounded in good voice and her guitar playing, as said before, was immense. For their rendition of ‘Right Now’, played in the encore, the delivery was with more ‘anger’, more ‘menace’ than was evident on the album, with a few choice F-bombs thrown in for good measure. Danielle closes this with another scorching lead solo before the three of them take to those drums at the back and give us one final blast. For this segment, they gave Giachello a (deserved) moment in the spotlight for a solo of his own. After that they took their bows to tumultuous cheers and made their exits.

The band I saw in 2013 were great, but still raw. It was their harder live sound which hooked me, and they still have that now but with more experience and more craft, after some solid touring in huge arenas over the past couple of years. They’re now the finished article, and it’s to be hoped that their short run of shows on these shores this time will be followed up by a more comprehensive tour at a later date. That will likely be in arenas though, they now have the audience to fill bigger places and if I may drop a hint to the girls, it’s time you came back to headline Liverpool’s Echo Arena!

5 – Delightful

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Punk Sunday 16 (Diablo Furs, Healthy Junkies, Lilith and the Knight), Stalybridge Tavern 10th June 2018

The latest in the series of multi-band shows, staged on a Sunday afternoon/early evening and promoted by IndigoBravo (two guys based in east Manchester who have worked hard to bring up-and-coming bands to the local area), saw another varied selection of groups playing at this bar, sited close to Stalybridge railway station and also close to a free car park for those who drive in. The IndigoBravo team are about to change venue yet again, as the venues often find that they are drawing visitors from outside the local area (such as your correspondent) and are therefore on only soft drinks such as J20; they’re not necessarily attracting a local clientele.

I got there in time for Diablo Furs (the openers were The Awkwards, apologies to them), a female quintet which spans generations. They played a lively set of new wave-style power pop/rock, lead vocals split between a frontwoman and a guitarist/singer. The bassist was the live wire of the band, all over the stage (literally, lying down at times) and occasionally off it altogether. They have a sound straight out of 1978 but are well worth catching.

Next up was a band I’d heard of, but not seen live until now. Healthy Junkies are a four-piece led by singer Nina Courson and guitarist Phil Honey Jones. A band inspired by the 90s grunge movement by the looks of things, with Nina’s stage look reminiscent of Daisy Chainsaw’s Katie Jane Garside. They have that heavy guitar sound to boot, and Nina is a captivating performer, never stood still for a moment and quite prepared to try a jump off the bass drum on the crowded stage of a pub back room, let alone a big venue! The guitar sound was a bit overpowering from my position (near the front – I wanted to try some gig pics with a DSLR) though, so I would definitely like to see these again.

Last band I saw was Lilith and the Knight, a Metal outfit rather than punk. Formed around the singer (Lilith, of course!) they have also attracted a lot of attention over the past year. Lilith has recently joined up with the Women in Rock touring collective (an act I’ve seen several times) so will be seen as one of two or three singers at selected shows from now on. However when she pitched up here, there was a bit of a surprise – her right arm was in a sling! She’d injured herself only just before this show, so her rather glamorous look was offset somewhat by this ‘accessory’ of a blue sling, as she could not move her arm! Her voice was unaffected, she and the band gave a strong performance of modern-style Metal, with plenty of chances for Lilith to reach for the big notes. Owing to time constraints none of these bands could play for longer than about 45 minutes, so this is another band I must catch again soon.

As stated earlier, I do like to take snaps at gigs but I have found it difficult to get pics in this, and other smaller places unless I used flash. I’m reluctant to do that with a pocket camera whose inbuilt flash I cannot control, plus I dislike the idea of firing it in performers’ faces (although Nina told me afterwards that they’re used to it!) So, with this being a more informal setting, I thought I’d try a digital SLR. I’m not rich enough to get the latest and greatest kit though, so I went with a ten-year old one picked up for not too much money, from a well-known chain store specialising in used electronics. With this was an old flash unit from my decades-old film SLR kit (NB – if doing this yourself check the trigger voltage of the flash, some can ‘fry’ the electronics of your modern DSLR or CSC) which had the ability to tilt upwards. Knowing the pub’s ceiling isn’t that high, it was a matter of playing about with manual settings until I got one that looked close, and went with that for the sets. A handful of snaps from the day are presented, and where possible I will do this again. (For big gigs, this isn’t possible without a photo pass so I will continue to use a pocket compact there).

The experiment proved a success, so I hope to do this again at a future event.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

Caught Live: Marco Mendoza (with The Kut, Nitroville) Rebellion Manchester, 7th June 2018

Marco Mendoza is a busy guy. He’s barely finished a tour with the Dead Daisies (with further dates scheduled for later in the year) and has also managed to squeeze in a short run of solo shows in between. These are in addition to the dates he played last autumn in the UK, when he made it to Liverpool despite the fact the venue was switched at the last moment. He plays in a trio format when solo, and he was once again joined by North East-based guitarist Micky Crystal (on loan from Tygers of Pan Tang). This time however, he had a different drummer in Kyle Hughes, another North East native who also added vocals.

It’s a bit of a mystery to me why a performer of this calibre isn’t playing to huge crowds unless with the Daisies, the attendance here was better than at Liverpool last year but not by that much, especially considering this show took place in summer. The ‘Download factor’ may have come into play, as this date coincided with the annual bash at Donington but even so, the stayaways missed another excellent show.  There was plenty of banter between the three, and just as he did at Liverpool, the Daisies bass player ventured out onto the floor while playing, in order to get his audience to clap, click fingers or just sing. He was out on the floor during their cover of Lennon’s ‘Give Peace A Chance’.

There were several covers (including ‘God Bless The Child’, a Billie Holliday song), as well as many ‘props’ given to artists he’d performed with in the past. In particular he praised a certain Ted Nugent for taking him out on the road (he played with the Motor City madman in the early 2000s) and ‘schooling’ him, as he put it. As at Liverpool, he did Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’, retaining all the funk vibe of the original but giving it a rockier feel. He did play some of his own songs too, including ‘Viva La Rock’ from his recent solo album, but later in the set he treated us to some Thin Lizzy, even letting Kyle Hughes take lead vocal on ‘Jailbreak’. For ‘Chinatown’, somehow Micky Crystal manages to make you forget the original had two lead guitars – he covers both magnificently. After this set Marco Mendoza was immediately off the stage and at the stand for an instant meet and greet, happily posing for pics and chatting to all and sundry – including the opening bands!

I did want to get there early to catch London trio The Kut; a highly-rated outfit (who have enjoyed airplay recently on Planet Rock) fronted by the striking Princess Maha on vocals and guitar. Instantly identifiable with her bright blue hair, she and her bandmates (drummer Diana Bartmann, and deputising bassist Dany Jones) stormed the stage early on. Dany Jones clearly knew this band and their material well, slotting in seamlessly for regular bassist Stella Vie who was unavailable for this tour. A hard rock trio with a grungey/punky flavour, the highpoint was probably ‘Bad Man’ for which they invite punters up to add their own backing vocals – including the F-bomb in the lyric if they wish! Maha is a mean guitarist as well as a powerful singer with a raunchy vocal, she treated us to the full Eddie van Halen tapping routine at several points! They certainly converted this punter, who had only heard about them via reports until then.

Nitroville were a more traditional Metal quintet fronted by a female vocalist; they gave a good performance of numbers which were in the vein of Judas Priest, plenty of twin guitar parts and lead solos to widdle along to on the air guitar. Their drummer even managed to wreck his snare mid-set, leading to a dash off stage for a spare while the rest improvised hastily! Good, but I did lean more towards the performance by The Kut who I hope to see again soon.

Nitroville supporting Marco Mendoza

Nitroville supporting Marco Mendoza

Whoever is the support though, it’s highly recommended that you catch Marco Mendoza whenever he plays these solo gigs, he always gives a top-drawer performance and makes you feel as though you’re part of the act.

5gtrs

5 – Delightful

Caught Live: Space Elevator, Old Courts Wigan 19th May 2018

It’s now been two years since I discovered this band via their cover of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Don’t Believe A Word’, and around 18 months since seeing them live on a joint tour with fellow Brit-rockers CATS in SPACE. While the CATS have taken off into orbit with some high-profile tours supporting major names, the Space Elevator hasn’t quite ascended to similar heights. Not yet, anyway.  Their second album, cunningly titled ‘Space Elevator II’ should have been out to coincide with this run of dates but in the interim between its recording and this tour, the group signed with German independent label SPV. That meant the release date was put back to 25th May, so those who came along to this show would be in for a set containing several new numbers not yet known.

This date was to say the least, low-key. Wigan Old Courts is a multi-purpose arts centre, a converted magistrates’ court as the name suggests. It now hosts a variety of arts events including regular gigs, and this show took place in a rather dark room in the building, quite an adjustment since it was still extremely bright and sunny when I arrived at the venue. After a brief chat with drummer Brian Greene (manning the merch table), who explained the situation with the band’s signing to SPV and subsequent delay in the album release, I entered the hall to find few people there. There was no opening act, so there was a bit of a wait for the band to appear on the stage.

The three guys came on and struck up before the singer, the enigmatically-titled The Duchess strolled out resplendent in a leather jacket and shorts. Not the catsuit she is renowned for wearing, but she had a reason for that and the clue was printed on her top, a large-scale picture of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (who were wed that day). Opening with ‘Elevator’ itself, opening track of their debut album, they did indeed showcase numerous songs from the upcoming record. Based on what I heard, it promises to be another varied selection of songs – even touching on a bit of ‘rap-rock’ in one number! They played quite a few we did know as well, including my personal favourite ‘Loneliness of Love’ which came quite early into the set. Stood close to the stage, with the PA stacks actually beside me, it wasn’t the best place to get a good sound mix but The Duchess has such a powerful voice, she can overcome pretty much anything, still making herself heard. Not so much seen however, the stage lighting was quite dark all night and in a hall which was near pitch-black already, it didn’t do them too many favours. A pity, since The Duchess eventually showed just why she’d decided not to perform in the usual catsuit tonight – ditching her shorts Angus-style, to reveal that her top was actually a leotard and she’d had the words ‘Hazza 4 Megs’ printed on her backside! Anyone who’s seen this band before would know she’s a bit of a character and with a welcome touch of saucy British humour, of course this audience (mainly comprising ‘certain age’ guys like your correspondent, ahem!) were most appreciative of that interlude (!)

Their cover of ‘Don’t Believe A Word’ came towards the end of the night, as guitarist David Young described it, a hybrid between the Thin Lizzy and Gary Moore versions. He gave an excellent performance on lead guitar, never over-playing and always servicing the song, with strong rhythm backing from bassist Chas Maguire and drummer Brian Greene.  There was a lot of humorous banter between themselves and the punters all night, as though they’d decided just to have a bit of fun seeing as so few of us had come out. But they were still ‘on it’, for all the joking about there wasn’t one missed cue, they’re far too good.  The last two numbers consisted of one new song, inspired by Freddie Mercury (reminiscent of ‘Only The Good Die Young’ to me) and a cover of  Motörhead’s ‘Ace Of Spades’. Following this they were straight out to the foyer for a meet and greet with the punters.

This gig actually felt similar to the last time I saw them, in so far as I didn’t know the material (or at least much of it!) but there was no doubting their quality. The Duchess is an accomplished stage performer outside of this band, and the others have all been in some major productions too (David Young spent some time with the We Will Rock You house band, for instance) so you were always in for a good evening with this band. To say it set me back just eight quid for the ticket was a (pleasant) surprise too, in this age of big-ticket shows at astronomical prices, it just shows you don’t have to buy into corporate hype to get a good gig! I do wish more had turned out though (we could all have got the same bus home!) Perhaps they have come up against the ‘never heard of them’ factor which means few will take the punt on a band without a ‘big name’. With SPV now behind them, that should change and soon once the second album is released, it’s to be hoped their new song (‘We Can Fly’, played tonight) will be picked up by Planet Rock and if that happens, their audience will inevitably grow.

When they come around again, heard of them or not – get along to the show. They’ve got the lot: songs, top musicianship, a singer who not only has the looks but a voice that stacks up against anyone.  Ann Wilson, Floor Jansen – for me, The Duchess is in that bracket and I say that about very few, even singers I like. She also has that cheeky sense of humour, while immensely talented she doesn’t take herself TOO seriously.

The second Space Elevator album will be released on 25th May 2018 and I look forward to hearing these tunes on record.

Set List:

  • Elevator
  • Take The Pain
  • Talk Talk
  • Loneliness Of Love
  • Little White Lies
  • Lucky Girl
  • Far Away Boy
  • World Of Possibilities
  • More Than Enough
  • I Will Find You (Gallifrey Dreams)
  • Crazies (Take Me Home)
  • Keep Waiting
  • Oils And Bubbles
  • Really Don’t Care
  • Don’t Believe A Word (Thin Lizzy cover)
  • W.Y.T.A.T.
  • We Can Fly
  • Queen For A Day
  • Ace Of Spades (Motörhead cover)

Space Elevator Facebook Page

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

Caught Live: King King (with Steve Hill), Epstein Theatre Liverpool 10th May 2018

A shuffle of the running order caught me out tonight as I entered this venue, a small theatre above what used to be a musical instrument store, but is now just another bar. The times had been bumped so that opener Steve Hill was already playing as I entered, and made my way to my seat in the second row. I’d have liked to see more, as he was an intriguing ‘one man band’ – playing guitar and singing, while keeping the beat using bass and snare drums operated by his feet, and with a small drumstick coming from the guitar headstock, so he could play cymbals as well! I saw enough to pique my interest and as he is also supporting King King in Chester in a few days’ time, I might have to check that out.

His sound is rootsy hard rock, and by playing everything himself he can’t blame the drummer (!) on the other hand, he doesn’t have to pay a backing musician! I’ve mentioned before on this blog that the ‘duo’ thing has become almost a cliché now since Royal Blood got successful, spawning many similar acts. It did cross my mind that it is the logical conclusion to this paring down thing that’s seen the likes of The Picturebooks, Rival Bones, REWS (to name but three) duos who have all come along in recent years. Whether we’ll see a trend for this one-man band style remains to be seen, but if anyone can blaze the trail for others it’s this remarkably talented Canadian.

The early start meant King King were due on at 8:30, it was a little after that when the lights went down and the quartet (led by recently-recruited keyboardist Jonny Dyke) came on stage to their intro tape, of AC/DC’s ‘Highway To Hell’. Opening with ‘(She Don’t) Gimme No Loving’, the lead-off track from current album ‘Exile & Grace’, that set the tone for the evening.

King King have steadily evolved from a blues band into a melodic rock outfit, still with that blues base but with accessible, snappy songs that have you clapping along, or in some cases getting folk out of their seats to dance – even as early as second song in (‘Waking Up’, in this case).  They’ve been compared to early Whitesnake but to me, especially with this current album, the material is reminiscent of Thunder (a band they supported a couple of years ago, which helped to raise their profile).  Singer/guitarist Alan Nimmo (following a period of recuperation after a throat operation) is now back in the sort of vocal form which won over many Thunder fans on that tour, while his masterful guitar playing is as immaculate as ever. His vocal on ‘Broken’ from the current album was immense, putting over the passion in the song’s lyric (‘this world, is broken, we can’t hold on’) dealing with the current state of the world. Not everything was so lyrically dark; as the big Scotsman observed, we’d come out to enjoy a night of music.

The band went back to their earlier days to perform  ‘A Long History Of Love’, which features extended solos on both keyboard and guitar. The audience were treated to a beautifully-performed guitar solo which was immaculately-observed, the proverbial pin would not have dared drop during the quiet moments. New guy Jonny Dyke was also welcomed with a generous cheer; having taken over from the popular Bob Fridzema just after the album release he has made the keyboard position his own already.

It was such a superb set, that it flew by and barely seemed like an hour. In fact they’d been on stage for at least 90 minutes, and nobody would have minded if they’d done 90 more! The rhythm section of Lindsay Coulson (bass) and Wayne Proctor (drums) kept it tight all evening, both play immaculately but tastefully, always for the song. That’s the second time I’ve seen King King, both times were in this small gem of a theatre which yours truly persists in referring to by its old name ‘The Neptune’ theatre. The venue went into administration late last year and it’s to be hoped that it is able to continue, as this band certainly enjoyed performing here and I for one hope to see them again on this stage next time around.

5gtrs

5 – Delightful

King King facebook page

Steve Hill facebook page

Caught Live: Nickelback (with Seether), Echo Arena Liverpool 7th May 2018

The lads in Nickelback were well aware that people would have been feeling the effects of enjoying the hottest day of the year so far, and on a Bank Holiday Monday at that.
“So are we feeling, what’s the word – knackered?” asked guitarist Ryan Peake early in the set, while frontman Chad Kroeger joked that they should never arrange a gig on a bank holiday again. He did his best to gee up this crowd by hollering ‘LIVERP-O-O-O-LLLL!’ at regular intervals, something he habitually does every time this band visits. It did have the desired effect, and he got a second wind out of the ‘knackered’ audience.

There’s little I can add to what I wrote the previous time they came here; their show featured many of their regular crowd-pleasing hits, they played everything well and the humorous interplay between Kroeger, Peake and their crew was present and correct (at one point, Chad jokingly admonished the crewman who brought on their drinks for not stopping to salute the crowd, then getting him to do just that the next time he came out). One thing I did like was their idea of putting up a countdown on the screen behind the stage, after support Seether’s set the band appeared on that screen to deliver a brief message, telling the crowd they’d be on in 20 minutes and in the meantime telling us to ‘buy beer’ (not at arena prices, fellas!) When that clock did count down to zero, it was a short featurette on the band which played on that screen, and in fact there was another five-minute interval before the lights dropped for real.

The set delivered was not that different from last time they were here 18 months ago; although they did open with the title track from current album ‘Feed The Machine’. I’d have liked more from that record personally (that was the only song from this record played all night), but they do tend to stick to what works and so once again ‘Photograph’, ‘Something In Your Mouth, ‘Lullaby’ and ‘Figured You Out’ were among many of their favourites given another airing. However they did pledge that they’d play something off all their albums to date and so they did ‘Million Miles An Hour’ from their previous album (‘No Fixed Address’) this time, as well as a medley of ‘Curb’ from their first album, incorporating snippets of ‘Where?’ and ‘Left’ (“There were some cool riffs on that first record”, explained Kroeger).

The traditional performance of ‘Rockstar’ with two fans invited up was memorable; Ryan Peake picked out a guy called Adam who not only sang it all but thoroughly lapped up his moment of fame, stomping all over the stage and even onto the stage ramps while fellow audience member Lucy (picked out by Chad Kroeger) also enjoyed her time up there, singing and dancing away. Both of them even managed to get selfies with the band members without breaking stride mid-song! (“No stage fright whatsoever”, remarked Chad afterwards.)

Towards the end the frontman sent the guitar tech into a bit of a panic, declaring that he wanted to play ‘Hero’ (his song from the ‘Spider-Man’ film of 2002) this meant a change of guitar and so he stalled for time, making light of the crew rapidly running off so that they could fetch the correct guitar for him and Ryan Peake. It kept them on their toes of course, but there was a lot of humorous banter all night, as usual whenever the band play here.

Of course ‘How You Remind Me’ closed the main set, and their encore was ‘Gotta Be Somebody’ and ‘Burn It To The Ground’ (“I’ve got my James Hetfield guitar ready so you know what’s coming!”, said Kroeger, a self-confessed Metallica fanatic).

So few surprises then, but once again Nickelback came, played a well-received set with everything from pop-rock singalongs to outright Metal, and sent a few thousand people home with smiles on their faces. I wish they had taken a few more chances with the setlist, though I get that they aren’t in the business of disappointing their fans (hey, that’s why they always play these big barns after all!) and so tend to adopt the AC/DC approach of ‘give ’em what they want’.  As they took their final bows, bassist Mike Kroeger decided to treat us to an impromptu workout of about 20 press-ups, why that was only he could explain!

Openers Seether also played a set touching on most of their back catalogue to date, with their riff-heavy downtuned guitar sound going down well with those who’d got here early enough to see the South African rockers. Perhaps they felt that they should do a bit of everything for fans not necessarily well-up on their material, but their sound is familiar enough. Not a million miles away from the likes of Shinedown or even Nickelback themselves when they crank it up, though their decision to place bassist Dale Stewart front and centre (thus getting the best of the stage light) rather than vocalist/guitarist Shaun Morgan was a little bit strange. Another good band brought to an arena setting in the UK by Nickelback (following the likes of Monster Truck and Black Stone Cherry), they’re a band I wouldn’t mind seeing live at one of their own shows at some point.

4 – Deserving

 

Caught Live: Marmozets (with Himalayas) o2 Academy Liverpool 5th May 2018

Another band about whom I had little prior knowledge, this ticket was bought close to show date and on the recommendation of friends. Marmozets are a Yorkshire-based quintet made up of two sets of siblings: lead singer Rebecca ‘Becca’ McIntyre with her brothers Josh (drums) and Sam (guitar/vocals) alongside Will and Jack Bottomley (bass and lead guitar respectively). Their second full album ‘Knowing What You Know Now’ came out late last year and they’ve toured quite extensively to promote it. This short run of dates called at Liverpool, so it was only fair I went along!

The band had the bigger upstairs hall at the o2 Academy but it was still quite sparse when support Himalayas came on. I confess I took one look at this lot as they came on and thought ‘indie band’, expecting a set of light guitar-based tunes. Erm, not quite! The first thing that hit me was James Goulbourn’s drum sound. Monstrous, dare I say Bonhamesque! They have two frontmen in guitarist/vocalist Joe Williams  and Mike Griffiths (guitar/keyboards/vocals) but it was the latter who led things off, taking lead vocal on the first number. He resembled a youthful Jimmy Page to me, he and Joe Williams shared the lead vocal throughout. Their sound was a lot heavier, a lot harder-hitting than I’d bargained for. Midway through they announced proudly that their song ‘Thank God I’m Not You’ had over five million views on Spotify. That was probably enough to  buy them a sausage roll to share between the four of them (!) but that to me showed how the importance of that platform, although not every band is enthusiastic (to do with its business model and how bands are remunerated, or not – something I will cover in a future post).  These lads from Cardiff did play an impressive set though, and I’ll keep an eye on them in future.

The crowd had swollen substantially by the time Marmozets came on, and a big cheer went up as the five members casually ambled onto the stage. They chose to open with ‘Habits’, their lead-off track from the current album and the one which I knew best, and straight away this crowd were with them, chanting the ‘get carried awaa-a-y’ chorus loudly alongside Becca McIntyre. The crowd were boisterous throughout, and it wasn’t long before the moshpits started. At which point yours truly shuffled away from it all – fun 30 years ago, but these days at my age with a fractured ankle not long healed, thanks but no thanks!

The set featured many tracks from the current album including ‘Play’ which had everybody jumping (this one reminded me a bit of Sumo Cyco, a band I saw recently in Chester) and ‘Meant To Be’. These were all high-energy numbers, with a lot of heavy fuzz-toned guitar designed to keep the crowd bouncing, and that certainly did so! Their sound isn’t that far removed from Tax The Heat, albeit with a female singer, they have that same sledgehammer delivery with the drums and heavy guitar.Becca McIntyre herself is a visual performer, swaying the hips and gesturing with the arms, she holds the attention well. She was clearly pleased with the crowd reaction, on the rare occasion she addressed the crowd (they rattled through about 17 numbers in just over an hour) she told us how ‘amazing’ the crowd was and how pleased the band were to be playing these stages. They ended with ‘Major System Error’ and exited promptly, there was no encore but to be frank, your correspondent was spent by the end!

Marmozets may be a ‘Kerrang band’, or one that is pitched at the younger market (they’re all around mid to late twenties themselves) but they’re a hard-hitting, hard riffing rock band of the sort this country doesn’t produce enough of. If you like a high energy full on live rock gig, this band will give you what you’re looking for.

Himalayas Facebook page

Marmozets Facebook page

4 – Deserving

 

Caught Live: Reef, Arts Club Liverpool 28th April 2018

Thinking I had plenty of time I got into the Arts Club venue at around 8pm, expecting to find the opening band playing. However, the hall was already quite full, with a better turnout than I’d anticipated for the reformed 90s rock band Reef on this Saturday night. The stage was empty, and it appeared they were actually setting up for the main act; the main drum kit was out of the covers and there was feverish activity. It turned out I’d cut it much finer than I thought; the band came on at the unusually early time of 8:15.

It’s been many years since the last time I saw Reef live, it might have been as long as 16 years ago. They had enjoyed a few years of success off the back of their first two albums, issued at the height of Britpop (remember the Sony MiniDisc advert? No? What about ‘It’s Your Letters’ on TFI Friday? Thought so!) but after the departure of drummer Dominic Greensmith in 2003 the band dissolved into a series of separate projects. The band reunited in 2010 with the original line-up, which lasted until 2014 with the departure of guitarist Kenwyn House. He was replaced by Jesse Wood (son of Rolling Stones’ Ronnie) who has remained with the band ever since.  The group have a new album (‘Revelation’) about to be released, their first since ‘Getaway’ in 2000 and the title track has been played on Planet Rock ahead of the album release. The song is much heavier than previous work, being compared to AC/DC however to me it sounds a lot like The Answer in their early days, especially since Gary Stringer’s vocal sounds so much like that of Cormac Neeson.

The set played covered quite a few of their older numbers, surprisingly ‘Place Your Hands’ came midway through the set. They still have that ‘groove’ and Stringer still sounds in excellent voice, backed vocally by bassist (and Dumbledore lookalike!) Jack Bessant, as well as touring keyboardist Andy Wallace. There were also several new songs from the upcoming record aired, one of them (‘My Sweet Love’) was prefaced by a mock introduction for Sheryl Crow! The US singer has guested on the studio version of this track, but Stringer laughed off the muted crowd reaction, saying ‘we’ll just have to play it without her then!’

Jesse Wood seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of guitars, using at least five different ones during the show including two Telecasters. Able to emulate perfectly  Kenwyn House’s original parts, he has slotted in well to the line-up. His Epiphone guitar was used for the heavier numbers in the set, and he was keeping the guitar tech busy, appearing to change guitar after almost every song played. Near the end Stringer (in jovial mood throughout) even handed the mic over to punters in the front row to contribute their own ‘vocals’! The encore included ‘Revelation’ and old favourites ‘Come Back Brighter’ and ‘Yer Old’ (delivered without a trace of irony, seeing as that song is now over 20 years old itself!)

A fine performance from a band that still has something to offer the rock scene, the reception was good as was the attendance, an encouraging sign for rock gigs in this city. Following this date the band are to embark on a further run alongside Terrorvision and the Wildhearts, a fine bill of 90s nostalgia which I’d have liked to see here, but just Reef alone were good value.

Reef Facebook page

4 – Deserving

Caught Live: The SoapGirls, Percy’s Whitchurch 27th April 2018

Domestic duty called on this night and so I wasn’t expecting to be able to attend this gig by South African punk chicks The SoapGirls, but as it turned out I was able to escape later in the evening. Whitchurch, a market town just inside Shropshire and quite close to Wrexham, is about an hour away from me and I reckoned I’d make their set if I set out sharpish. As it turned out, I did (just) although my tardy arrival meant I’d missed Midlands metallers The Loved And Lost who were also on the bill. There’ll be more chances to see them soon, though and I was just pleased to make it here in time for the SoapGirls’ first gig of 2018 back in the UK.

I first discovered the SoapGirls in 2015 as openers for another band; two blonde sisters in matching outfits and blessed with supermodel good looks, they surprised many that night with a set comprised of hard riffing numbers and outrageous stage patter. delivered with both passion and humour. They also made use of props such as dolls, and audience participation challenges such as getting a punter to drink their ‘voodoo’ concoctions of various alcoholic drinks, or even challenging them to eat raw fish! I’d not seen anything like that since W.A.S.P. were around in the 1980s and certainly not from two young women, and having somewhat upstaged the act they supported that night, they won a lot of new fans – myself included.

The sisters – bass player Camille (‘Mille’) and guitarist Noemie (‘Mie’) Debray share lead vocal, with contrasting styles. Mille’s delivery is a powerful roar reminiscent of Lzzy Hale, while Mie’s gentler vocal style is at odds with the buzzing riffs she blasts out with her Ibanez guitar.  Originally a dance/pop act signed to a major label, they changed tack quite abruptly after their first album, in order to take more control of both their image and their musical direction. They have since released two more albums (‘Calls For Rebellion’ and ‘Society’s Rejects’) independently in their current punk rock style and they have been working on material for a fourth record, scheduled to be released late 2018. They’re backed by a male drummer, recruited whenever they are in the UK (they spend the summer months based in this country while playing here and in continental Europe, returning to South Africa each autumn), and the current incumbent behind the kit is Stoke-on-Trent sticksman Sam Ogden.

Percy’s is an unconventional café/bar which once also sold antiques, hence the place has many unusual artefacts around the bar and stage area. The stage is set in a courtyard and has its own weird and wonderful décor. There was already a pretty large crowd gathered there as I got in (the band have played here on several previous occasions, and consider it one of their favourite venues) and the girls kicked off their set. This being their first gig of the year they focused more on the playing than the usual Soap tomfoolery, the set also included a substantial amount of new songs. The new stuff is in keeping with their current style, but they’re unknown yet even to some of the dedicated ‘Soap Suds’ in the audience so it was when they played more familiar songs such as ‘Bad Bitch’ or ‘Voodoo Child’ (not the Hendrix song!) they got the crowd cheering loudly. They did get a few of their fans to join them on the stage too, but on this occasion they were just dancing or headbanging along rather than eating any dubious foodstuffs! Many of their songs deal with serious topics such as the situation in their native South Africa, but they also have light-hearted numbers such as closer ‘Champagne Cocaine’ – a party anthem that Mötley Crüe must surely wish they’d written!

Following their set both Mille and Mie always are prepared to meet, greet and mingle with their followers, chatting or posing for photos.  They have got to know many of their fans who travel the country following them, and after they’ve been seen once they usually get people coming back for more. As said earlier the show this evening was lighter on slapstick than is usually the case and more focused on the music, but as the tour progresses no doubt the ‘Tiswas’ element to their show will be back with a vengeance! This is their third year of playing up and down Britain and their hard work is beginning to pay off – they have already been featured in Classic Rock magazine this year and have had airplay on radio station Planet Rock. Having seen them on many occasions before now, but only just getting around to doing a blog post on their live show, I intend to see several more of their gigs while they are in the country this summer!

4 – Deserving