Caught Live: Monster Truck (with Royal Tusk), Academy 2 Manchester 20th April 2019

Never mind Same Night Syndrome, Manchester University Students Union (who run the Academy group)  have taken it up a level. Same Venue Syndrome! They hosted three gigs simultaneously, all of which I would have liked to attend, but with Massive Wagons playing the upper floor (Academy 3) and American rockers Papa Roach also playing at the main Academy, you might have thought that might impact on the attendance for Canadian ‘true rockers’ Monster Truck. Not a bit of it – as vocalist/bassist Jon ‘Marv’ Harvey’ informed us during their set, this date was the fastest-selling one of their UK dates.

I got into the Academy 2 (also known as Main Debating Hall) to find it already filling up, as openers Royal Tusk were on the stage. The four-piece (also Canadian) were making their UK debut on this tour; playing a style not too far removed from the Truck themselves they gave a good account of themselves. Vocalist Daniel Carriere was a bit of a Meniketti, demonstrating a good voice and also fine lead guitar prowess. He took many of the lead solos himself although guitarist Quinn Cyrankiewicz (you’re gonna be known as just Quinn from here on in, fella!) also got his share of the spotlight. They harmonise vocally similar to the Truck, and bassist Sandy Mackinnon was up front too, making a formidable front line. Towards the end they threw in a surprise cover of Audioslave’s ‘Cochise’, which Carriere handled very well. I’ll look out for these should they come back to the UK, and especially if they find their way to Liverpool!

Monster Truck had this crowd in their palms from the off, opening with stomper ‘The Lion’. They then got a (wait for it) monster singalong second song in, when they launched into ‘Don’t Tell Me How To Live’. The sold-out crowd were hollering ‘soooarrrr like an eagle’ lustily, back at ‘Marv’ and his cohorts. The set was a mix of all their albums to date, though ‘True Rockers’ is the current offering and several from that were duly played, I suspect that previous album ‘Sittin’ Heavy’ got more songs aired. Not that I was complaining, since the aforementioned ‘Don’t Tell Me How To Live’ is a favourite, as are other bangers like ‘She’s A Witch’ and ‘The Enforcer’ with its crowd-friendly ‘whoa-ohohoh’ refrain. Lots of their material is designed to involve the crowds with shoutalongs like this, allied to satisfyingly meaty riffs from guitarist Jeremy Widerman, big sounding drums from Steve Kiely and that classic organ touch from Brandon Bliss. On top of all that is ‘Marv’ himself, with a rock vocal strong enough to stand with the greats. When not at the mic, he headbangs with menace, stood near the drum riser to allow his guitarist to do his best Angus Young act, all over the stage, never still for a moment.

This was one of those gigs where the band couldn’t put a foot wrong, for me at least even if they’d played a set of polka or something, once they’d given us ‘Don’t Tell Me How To Live’ it would still have been great. As it was, with absolute corkers like ‘Thundertruck’, ‘The Lion’ (which they opened with) and of course singalong favourite ‘Sweet Mountain River’, this was a complete triumph. Gig of the year for me so far, the Truck ticked every box and left me with a post-gig Cheshire Cat grin, always a sign of a corker.

Only slight downer – that old Same Venue Syndrome thing – as we went to exit, they let us out onto the same bit of corridor as the crowd exiting Massive Wagons on the upper floor, causing some crowding. That should have been staggered better, but even that couldn’t detract from a terrific night of proper old-fashioned heavy rock played hard, played like they used to in the old days. Five inflatable guitars coming up!

Monster Truck Facebook Page

Royal Tusk Facebook Page

5gtrs

5 – Delightful

 

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Gigs of 2017 part one

That time of year again, and it’s been another busy gigging year. A frustrating ankle fracture stopped me going to see several shows I’d planned to, so let’s hope at least some of those bands I was forced to miss come around again. I didn’t get to write about every gig I did see on here, so this post will cover those briefly.

JANUARY

The year started off with a gig I only found out about the night before, a Bristol collective known as The Blue Aeroplanes stopped off in Liverpool. My main reason for going along was the fact that iDestroy’s Bec Jevons was part of this band; it was a rather different experience than her normal ‘power trio’ act but this group were actually quite enjoyable, if a bit ‘art-rock’ for my usual taste. They had a ‘Bez’ in dancer Wojtek Dmochowski, who must be around 60 but is exceptionally nimble, he had to be to avoid three guitarists, a bassist and a vocalist on the small stage in the o2 Academy’s lower floor! A week later and I found myself in the back room at Frederiks in Liverpool, normally a restaurant and bar but on this night there was a three band bill showcasing locally-based bands. First up was duo Dangerously Canadian, exactly as they said they were a Canadian guitar and drum duo who played a powerful set with plenty of energy. I was there to see Indigo Moon, who were up next, having been told many good things about them. Their set was trippy and psychedelic, something not a lot of others do and I had hoped to see them again this year. It’s all gone rather quiet on that front since the middle of the year, however, so I have no clue whether they’re still going. Their singer (Ash Colley) was enchanting, and I hope she at least is still on the scene somewhere. The third band was Big Bear, another power-rock duo – for the most part – whose drummer really hit like he meant it! For just £3 that was a good night of local music.

Two days later it was back to the o2 Academy for veteran melodic rockers Tyketto. Fronted by Danny Vaughn still, he delivered the goods yet again with a fabulous vocal performance. His band still features original drummer Michael Clayton Arbeeny but also now includes Brits such as Chris Childs, of Thunder fame, Ged Rylands and Chris Green. The turnout was very good and encouraging for bands of this style who might consider playing in our city.  The next gig I saw this month was in the same building, but in the larger upstairs hall. US rockers Rival Sons squeezed in this date as a headliner, in between their arena dates supporting Black Sabbath on their ‘The End’ UK tour. This was a return to Liverpool and in my view a huge improvement on their previous appearance, mainly because unlike in 2015, vocalist Jay Buchanan had come out of his shell and actually addressed the rapt crowd he had at his command.

Closing out the month was a gig by Cannock’s favourite son, Glenn Hughes. The gig was moved from its original venue at Manchester University, from Academy 3 to the Club Academy. That didn’t go down too well with yours truly, who isn’t a fan of the basement venue owing to its poor sight lines. However I and a friend who attended this gig got there early enough to get a reasonable spot close to the front, where you need to be in order to have any hope of viewing the bands! Support was from Walsall foursome Stone Broken, who were very good if a little reliant on the downtuned guitar sound. Glenn himself gave his usual stellar performance, with guitarist Soren Andersen back in the ranks alongside hard-hitting drummer Pontus Engborg and keyboardist Jay Boe. At one point in the evening the drummer had a problem with his kit which took several minutes to deal with; as the tech worked feverishly he continued to play on, while the rest of the guys improvised a jam. It’s always a privilege to see Glenn Hughes, he is now back with Black Country Communion of course.

FEBRUARY

This month saw me venture out to Stalybridge, where a new venture run by two guys I know from Facebook had started to put on bands at the Stalybridge Tavern. The place is a pub a stone’s throw from Stalybridge station, which is accessible by rail from Liverpool. The first gig of the year they put on featured iDestroy, the Bristol power trio fronted by Bec Jevons and also featuring Becky Baldwin on bass, a popular performer who is in several bands, and drummer Jenn Haneef. Also featured were Gdansk81, a Manchester-based outfit influenced by the post-punk era and particularly Joy Division, who were good but not my cup of tea. However iDestroy gave a knockout performance, they have energy, passion and above all, songs. Bec Jevons has that magic knack of writing a catchy, pop-punk anthem that will stick in your mind after one listen, and with a strong rhythm section behind her, it’s easy to see how they have grown in popularity over the past year or so. A week later, back in Liverpool and at the o2 Academy yet again, I encountered the ‘all-Metal tribute to the Bee Gees and beyond’, Tragedy. These crazies from New York take 1970s disco-pop classics and twist them into Metal ditties, the most amusing transformation being their take on The Weather Girls’s  ‘It’s Raining Men’ – prefaced by the doomy intro from Slayer’s ‘Raining Blood’! They were supported by up-and-coming Brit hard rockers Bigfoot, who have been widely tipped for success in the next year or so.

MARCH

The spring is almost as busy a time of year as autumn for gigs, and this year was no exception. Starting off at Manchester’s Band on the Wall, one of the better small venues in that city, was Northern Ireland’s finest The Answer. They’d taken a musical left-turn with their sixth album ‘Solas’, introducing many elements of traditional Irish music to their rock sound, though their live shows remained as heavy as ever. This gig was roughly evenly-split between songs from that album and older tracks from their back catalogue, as the group set out to demonstrate that the latest album didn’t mean they’d turned their backs on hard rock for good. The ‘Solas’ material actually sounded harder live, in particular the title track with which they opened the show. Liverpool band Black Cat Bones supported, their retro look was clearly inspired by Guns ‘n’ Roses but they did a good job warming up the crowd, and that was only the first of several occasions I’d see them this year.

The very next night it was over to Chester Live Rooms to see Dan Reed Network. Many years ago I passed on seeing them at Liverpool, when almost everyone else I knew went along. They weren’t ‘heavy enough’ for me as a young Metalhead then, y’see! What won me round was seeing Dan Reed himself play acoustically with Danny Vaughn on tour a few years ago, he showed himself to be a warm, engaging live singer. The band played a set that seemed to be made up on the hoof, they took several requests and discussed among themselves what they would play next. Although it’s Dan Reed’s name on the ticket he was willing to give the stage over to other members, who all got extended spots. A very good gig, which left me 30 years’ worth of catching up to do!

Barely pausing for breath or even sleep (!) the next gig came up quickly; it was back to Liverpool for a triple bill of hard rock headlined by Swedish outfit Bonafide, with Aussie all-girl trio Tequila Mockingbyrd and another Swedish band (Killer Bee) opening proceedings. This being a Monday night with three, shall we say ‘obscure’ bands, turnout at the o2 Academy was far from packed but those that came got a great night of old-school rock. Bonafide were very much old-school hard rock not far removed from AC/DC, while Tequila Mockingbyrd rocked it HARD. They were in the middle of a transition at this point, with a stand-in bassist (Keira Kenworthy of Syteria played and fitted in so well, I would never have known she wasn’t full-time had they not told us!) and with frontwoman Estelle Artois playing her last tour with the band before stepping down from the group. Killer Bee also played a good set, for those who showed early.

At that time I was working in Chester, which came in handy for the next gig – Stevie Nimmo Trio who were on at the Live Rooms. Stevie, elder brother of King King’s Alan Nimmo attracted some fans of his brother’s band and quite a few who were more familiar than I of his own material. His music is more ‘purist’ blues than the more radio-friendly King King, but he gave a great set, excellent in both vocal and guitar department and ably backed by bassist Mat Beable and drummer Craig Bacon. That was the first of two occasions I’d see Stevie Nimmo here, but more on that later!

The next gig saw a return to the o2 Academy in Liverpool, for American pop-rockers Against The Current. This is a band I knew little about, other than they were favourites of Kerrang! magazine and so I expected a more youthful turnout than normal. They packed out the lower floor of this place (and perhaps should have been given the larger floor) and it was indeed a young audience in the main. They are similar in style to Paramore, with ATC singer Chrissy Costanza openly citing them as influences. For what it was, this was a good live performance and she was particularly energetic and engaging. Not strictly my cup of tea to be honest, and I went mainly because they bothered to come to our city, as one of the most vocal complainers that bands miss Liverpool off such tours!

With many bands on the road at the same time, the inevitable gig clashes started to happen (or ‘Same Night Syndrome’ as I call it!) and one cropped up mid-March as I had inadvertently double-booked the 18th March. I originally planned to go and see Thunder in Sheffield, but had grabbed tickets to see Canadian rockers Monster Truck play in Manchester, before realising that was the same evening! Fortunately I found a taker for my Thunder ticket; though a huge fan of those guys I’ve seen them many times, and this Monster Truck show was too enticing to pass up after seeing them play a stormer of a support to Nickelback previously. It was once again in the unfavoured Club Academy basement but this was a marvellous show, the Canadian quartet really do take you back to the old days of denim, leather, meaty guitar riffs and raucous vocals. They’ve got the songs and the style to really break through in the next couple of years. I was still a bit miffed at missing Thunder, mainly because they had the excellent 70s-flavoured band CATS in SPACE as support and I knew that they’d win fans off the back of that tour. They did that and then some, which I’ll get back to.

A week later it was another trip to Liverpool o2 Academy to see 90s survivors Feeder; I got in to find an all-girl trio bounding across the stage on the main upstairs floor. The Tuts were the band in question, a power-pop outfit with plenty of energy and attitude who told the crowd on several occasions how thrilled they were to support Feeder, a band they grew up idolising. Feeder themselves weren’t the trio I expected but a five-piece, as Grant Nicholas and Taka Hirose were joined by an additional guitarist and keyboard player, as well as drummer Geoff Holroyde who sat in for usual incumbent Karl Brazil. The expanded Feeder were very good, better than last time I’d seen them when for me they tried a bit too hard to emulate Nirvana. For their encore, two members of The Tuts appeared in the crowd and I found myself bouncing along with singer Nadia and drummer Beverley!

This mad month continued with another run to Stalybridge in order to see Scream of Sirens. An all-female trio hailing from the North East who play hard rock with a dash of punky attitude, they are a band worth catching if in your area. I got to chat to them and found that their guitarist Ruth is a fan of Y&T, which instantly endeared me to her! Meniketti’s troupe had themselves just announced the dates for their regular autumn UK tour and that tour included a return to Liverpool. At around this time, Metallica announced their own UK tour dates which were slated for the huge arenas of the country. That didn’t include Liverpool, which didn’t surprise me, but the cost of the tickets I thought were prohibitive in any event. Which didn’t stop them from selling out instantly!

Mad March finally came to an end with a run down to Bilston and the Robin 2, for a show headlined by LiveWire (an AC/DC tribute which features two singers to emulate both Bon and Brian material), but I’d gone there to see DORJA, an all-girl hard rock band who I’d been supporting since their formation as I knew three of the girls from a previous band. That was another frustrating gig clash, as my planned trip to Manchester on that date to see Blackberry Smoke went up in, er, smoke! Because of the fact that DORJA’s singer Aiym Almas is based in LA, they can only get together and perform in short stints and so the chance to see them had to be taken. Their 45-minute set went over very well, especially since Aiym herself was firing on all cylinders this time (she was suffering with a throat ailment on their previous appearance in the UK) and showed us all what a soulful, rich voice she has. Their set drew people from all over the country, many of whom I knew personally, but after their performance some left in order to catch Hands Off Gretel who were playing in Whitchurch, also on that night. I stayed around, partly to see LiveWire, but also to take the chance to spend a little time with the DORJA girls who I hadn’t seen in months. I didn’t realise then that’d be my only chance to see them this year however!

For Part 2 click here


Caught Live: Monster Truck (with The Picturebooks), Club Academy Manchester 18th March 2017

Same Night Syndrome. That’s the snappy name I’ve given to that irritating occurrence when two gigs or more happen on the same night. It caught me out here, when I excitedly booked for this gig having recently seen the Canadian hard rockers play a short but storming set in Liverpool as support to fellow Canucks Nickelback. I failed to spot that the date clashed with Thunder’s show at Sheffield City Hall which I’d booked weeks before, meaning a choice of one or the other. (Thunder were at Manchester o2 Apollo the night before, but that is a venue I have vowed never to set foot in ever again). Despite the fact that Thunder are a long-time favourite band of mine, I opted for this show instead and was able to find a taker for my Sheffield ticket.

When your band is called Monster Truck, it’s a clear indication of what sort of music to expect. They’ve had some radio play on Planet Rock off the back of most recent release ‘Sittin’ Heavy’, and also more locally on the weekly rock show broadcast to the Merseyside area on Wirral Radio, which is how I discovered this band. Having played to arena crowds only six months earlier, it was a chance to see the band in the much more intimate confines of the Club Academy before they blow up huge themselves, as I expect. Fronted by vocalist/bassist Jon Harvey, their style is good old-fashioned, riff-heavy driving hard rock like it used to be, powered along by a solid rhythm section of Harvey and drummer Steve Kiely and given real wallop by guitarist Jeremy Widerman, whose guitar style melds the shirtless antics of Angus Young with the immense sound of Tony Iommi. Add to that tasteful organ touches from Brandon Bliss and you have a band that will take old-school metalheads like me right back to the glory days of denim and leather.

Before that we had The Picturebooks; I’ve seen this German duo twice before (they supported The Answer two years ago, as they reminded punters here) and so knew what to expect. Loud overdriven guitar riffs aplenty from guitarist/vocalist Fynn Claus Grabke and hard slamming drums from Philipp Mirtschink, who hits the tom like it’s being assaulted with a sledgehammer! Their short set was pretty much relentless hammering throughout, the only changes came between songs as Fynn worked his way through a seemingly infinite selection of Gibson guitars! By the end, the drummer looked like he’d been through twelve rounds with Tony Bellew, although they didn’t bring much new to the table they did get a good reception from the crowd, many of whom had got here early enough to catch them.

Monster Truck did not hang about when they hit the stage a short time later, opening proceedings with ‘Why Are You Not Rocking?’ – we certainly were, as Widerman was off on the first of many stage runs getting the crowd going from the off. Surprisingly, ‘Don’t Tell Me How To Live’ came early in the set, as they ran through a selection of tracks from both ‘Sittin’ Heavy’ and previous album ‘Furiosity’, as well as a couple from their ‘The Brown’ EP.  It was just as immense as when they played the bigger stage last autumn, this band have the heaviness to satisfy the Metalheads, the rhythm to keep the heads bobbing all night and the songs to latch into the brain immediately. ‘Sweet Mountain River’ had the crowd chanting to its chorus from the off, Harvey hardly had to prompt them to chant it back loudly and enthusiastically.

“You keep coming, we’ll keep coming back” said the frontman as they neared the end of a set lasting just over an hour, but with 16 songs packed in. They sold out this basement venue despite the fact that there were several competing gigs in this city alone, let alone the one in Yorkshire that I’d sacrificed to be here. They can be sure that people will be back and in greater numbers next time, and if Jon and the lads happen to read this, we’ve suitable venues this end of the East Lancs Road as well besides that big arena you played last autumn! (Hey, it’s my blog, I’ll drop as many hints as I wish!) 😀

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

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

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

Monster Truck's Jon Harvey

Monster Truck’s Jon Harvey

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

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

Chad Kroeger of Nickelback at Liverpool

Chad Kroeger of Nickelback

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

Ryan Peake of Nickelback at Liverpool

Ryan Peake of Nickelback

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

Daniel Adair of Nickelback

Daniel Adair of Nickelback

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

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

4 - Deserving

4 – Deserving