It was a late decision to go along to this gig, which I would have booked far sooner had my car not been off the road. Warrington is not far from me, it is slap bang in the middle of the cities of Liverpool and Manchester so you’d think it is convenient for both. That didn’t stop the regular ‘what, no Manchester?’ comments on the band’s Facebook page when this tour was announced, which overlooked that this autumn run of dates was intended to hit places where they hadn’t been on the spring tour earlier in the year. To get there without a car is straightforward enough, there’s even a direct bus to the town which runs along my road – it’s the getting back. I decided the best way was to get the train there from Liverpool Lime Street, as there was a late train back which got you there in time for the last bus.
This bill featured four bands, and despite setting out at what I thought was an early time, I’d still managed to miss openers Dirty Thrills. Apologies to those guys, as I entered the hall while the crew were changing the stage over for next band up Tax The Heat. I saw these guys earlier in the year at Chester, a real up-close-and-personal gig that has gone down as one of the gigs of the year for me. The bigger stage suited the band, as they gave a lively run-through of tracks from their album ‘Fed To The Lions’ as well as airing a couple of new numbers. Their sound is relentlessly heavy right through, Jack Taylor’s thumping drums are accompanied by fuzzy bass from Antonio Angotti, and given extra wallop from guitarist JP Jacyshyn. On top of all that is frontman Alex Veale’s equally heavy guitar – he takes the majority of the lead solos as well – and they pair a monstrously heavy sound with excellent vocal harmonies from all four members. The only let-down was the out-front sound, it tended to swirl around in this hall. The place isn’t particularly big but has quite a high ceiling, and this would be an issue all night. That was a little disappointing, as this is one of the better venues in the area when it comes to actually being able to see the bands on the stage, it has good sight lines wherever you are in the room.
Sound problems aside, Tax The Heat gave a great account of themselves once again. They were never going to top that Chester show this time, but this is a band that’s going places and I predict they’ll be headlining venues bigger than this within a year. A nice touch for the Remembrance weekend was the poppy on the headstock of Alex Veale’s guitar, good to see. Following that the next band up were Swedish retro-rockers Blues Pills.
On the two occasions I’ve seen Blues Pills before they’ve been let down by a sound balance that gave far too much prominence to Zack Anderson’s bass. The sound tonight was only a little better in that regard, but their out-front mix was still a mess – actually worse than the previous band. It all tended to blend into one in places, so much so that it actually neutralised singer Elin Larsson’s powerful voice. She is without doubt the focus of this band, with guitarist Dorian Sorriaux and drummer André Kvarnström stationed over one side of the stage, with bassist Zack Anderson and touring keyboardist/guitarist Rickard Nygren over the other, giving the singer the centre of the stage in which to move about. She certainly does that, with moves ranging from sensual swaying to saucy thrusting, with plenty of jumping about thrown in too! They’re a band I really like, because of their modern take on 1960s/70s blues rock with plenty of jamming, solos from guitar and organ, plus of course that voice on top of it all. They were still very good, but with a decent sound balance they’d be sensational. The other slight let-down for me came when they left out ‘Devil Man’ from the set, choosing instead to close out with a cover of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘Somebody To Love’. It was a good version, but it was ‘Devil Man’ which hooked me on this group in the first place.
It’s been a few years since last I saw Black Star Riders play a full set, there have been a few changes to the ranks since then with Robbie Crane now on bass in place of Marco Mendoza (now a member of The Dead Daisies). They have also changed drummer this year with Chad Szeliga taking over the position from Jimmy DeGrasso. With three albums now under their belt, they have gradually loosened the links to guitarist Scott Gorham’s former band Thin Lizzy since reforming as Black Star Riders in 2012. Three of the current Black Star Riders membership were touring as ‘Thin Lizzy’ up until then, when they opted to make a new album of original material. Initially they included a great deal of classic Lizzy numbers in their live set but as time has gone on they have been able to lessen the dependence on that material.
The band came on to big cheers, as this hall had gradually filled up during the sets from the previous bands, opening with ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’. Straight away, the sound hit like a sledgehammer – this is one thing that is definitely different from Thin Lizzy days, Lynott’s outfit were never this relentlessly heavy. They still have that twin-guitar sound, provided by Damon Johnson as well as Scott Gorham, plus vocalist Ricky Warwick adding extra weight with his own rhythm guitar, which may help explain this heavier sound. It was extremely loud, even so they still were stymied a bit by the acoustics in this hall. The current set included plenty of singalong anthems, such as ‘Finest Hour’ and ‘Testify or Say Goodbye’ which had the crowd bouncing from the off. Warwick was in good form all night, sounding strong vocally and encouraging plenty of clapping along from this crowd.
One of only two Lizzy nods all night came mid-set, with ‘Jailbreak’; that did show however, that good as their own material is, a classic like that is pretty hard to beat. They played a lengthy and unrelenting set packed with hard rocking numbers, there were few pauses for breath! After ‘Bound for Glory’ they ended things with ‘Whiskey In The Jar’, which even Lizzy themselves seldom played once they really broke through. That sent the punters home happy, as this one was quick off the blocks to get out in order to get back to the station in time for that last train!
All in all a good value night of hard rock, despite missing the first band there was still plenty to enjoy from the bands I caught. The sound issues were the only quibble for me, however the bands themselves gave plenty and I look forward to seeing any of these again in future.