Clutch, Graveyard & Kamchatka @ The Roundhouse

18th December 2019

Another rainy winters night in Camden, but thankfully we had some fine rock and roll in town to raise our spirits prior to the oncoming Christmas holidays.

First up were Kamchatka, the blues rock band not the Siberian Mountain range in case you were wondering (and yes I had to google that). As they journeyed riff first into their opening track the formula was clearly set. Intro, verse and bridge of each track were always nifty but never truly took flight until the solo. At which point the trilby donned Mark Rylance(alike) frontman let loose and owned his fretboard completely. In fact their image was a mixed bag containing ‘The cool’ (blues) ‘The hair’ (prog) and ‘The leather’ (metal).

However overbearing deep bass tended to drown out the already underpowered vocals. This rumbling was a constant nuisance but they did make good with a few very good knockout melody, riff and chorus combinations. A composed and non stop run through some decent bluesy and head banging hard rock numbers.

Graveyard appeared out of the darkness and quickly set about their business, the business of vintage rock and rolling. These long haired Scandinavian cave dwellers undergo a mega evolution from studio to stage. LP’s just don’t translate their deliberate, melancholic, soulful and ragged brand of psychedelic meander rock.

Here in the round(house) they sounded absolutely stunning. Going in ever decreasing melodic circles with no real destination has never sounded quite so good. They moved seamlessly from uptempo layered blues rock to super slo-mo, warm comforting burners which are their undeniable strength. The intricacy in which they craft their delicate yet gargantuan dual guitar harmonies is a genuinely rare beauty. This is doubled up with power packed gruff vocals that say everything with mere emotion, without seemingly forming an English word. A dazzling set which shows that time and space can still exist at a hard rock show much to the bemusement of a cluster of cluster of metalheads.

They also get the very special award for being the first band to sound amazing in this troublesome sonic venue.

Next into gear were Clutch, as the hard hitting, fast talking blues-mobile roared into the red. They brought their alt styled, southern rock veined hard rocking riff machine to the starting line.

Along with the opening notes of Burning Beard, a sea of humanity flooded pitwards. The sway or ebb and flow was a constant reminder of the legion of fans gathered to party. Having formed way back in 1991, this isn’t surprising. The big surprise however was their set choice which eschewed from the typical new album focus and ‘the hits’. Rather you felt they played what they wanted from the archive, old, new, rare, cover or anything in between. (Having checked setlist.fm tour stats I can confirm their set choices are massively varied). Tonight it was 2004’s Blast Tyrant which got the most coverage but some stretched even as far back as 1998 on groovy The Butterfly.

Frontman Neil Fallon was a true force of nature, exhibiting powerful arm-o-graphy and muscular flexing of both vocal chord and biceps. His rapid fire gravelly delivery is as uncompromising as his bounding about stage. His almost preacher like stances, passion (and pointing) give him authority in his revered ‘church of rock and roll’.

Backing him up was the immense power of the humble blues riff firing from lead guitarist Tim Sult’s Gibson SG. His obvious mastery of the phaser and warp pedals were evident. Each fretboard run had its own heart and soul which forms the bedrock of their appeal.

The crowd demographics was an interesting one too. There was a huge mix of younger hip folk, middle to aging rockers through to pierced punks and patched metal heads. Their dance moves also ranged from funky struts (In Walks Barbarella), rock and roll twisting (The Mob Goes Wild) wild head banging (Mercury), mental moshing (Noble Savage) bluesy toe tappin (Sucker For The Witch) and even seductive swaying (The Face).

Throughout the energy and intensity levels were high, topping off a really superb performance. For me, it could have done with some ‘Earth Rocker’ tunes. But there lies the mystery set appeal…I already want to see them again!

Airbourne, Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown & Cellar Door Moon Crow @ The Forum, Kentish Town

26th November 2019

A packed bill tonight kicked off with one of the most improbable bands of recent memory.

Cellar Door Moon Crow are a twin brother drum and guitar duo who also feel the need to have matching everything. From their flat top crops, Nike air tees, tracky bottoms right to their hipster (broom like) beards. That’s where the indentikit ran out though as they play a slapdash but unique take on Beastie Boys meets classic rock, or Slaves meet White Stripes.

Their stage presence was good, if a little overbearing with their terrace chant vocals on full shout when they weren’t rapping. Throwing in the occasion cool vintage sounding (but ultimately simple) guitar solos, leaping around to catchy (but repetitive) catchy choruses and a fair few sampled riffs meant that it was unexpectedly entertaining, even if a little cringeworthy at times. I’ll be checking out there debut for sure.

Next was Tyler Bryant And The Shakedown a band last seen on these pages in xxx supporting gnr in the gigantic london stadium. Tonight in closer quarters it was evident they had lost none of their touch. Also apparent was the striking youthful good looks of Tyler himself. Thankfully he wasn’t just a front of stage poser as the eponymous band leader showed through his soulful fretboard flaring.

Trying their best to outplay tonight’s headliners, this was a complete package performance. Twisted blues and amped up rock and roll combined to add substance as well as rockin fisticuffs. A compact set which exhibited power, control and precision musicianship.

They also don’t know how to say goodbye with their final track (seemingly) clocking in somewhere in the double figures with so many fake-out crescendos it was hard to keep count. A fantastic rootsy set full of soul which cements their place as rising stars.

The countdown was over…Airbourne were back! It’s been six years since our last encounter (also at The Forum) and I’ve still got the ringing ears to prove it.

Joel O’Keefe and his crew of hard rockin Aussies wasted no time in cranking up the amps beyond 11 to 111 and rampaged into opening number Raise The Flag. Before he did he asked rhetorically ‘Do you like rock?… coz it’s the only thing we know’.

This proved true as their hard partying, beer soaked, adrenaline pumping power rock and roll started out fast and thundered through a well rounded retrospective through their big riff, big chorus, riff rock catalogue. When Joel dedicated ‘Girls in black’ to those in the borderline in 2008, suddenly my memory was suddenly jogged and my fist shot up to the sky to salute the gesture. That show was 13 years ago and it still remains high up in the greatest ever list.

Fair to say they haven’t grown old gracefully, still full of mischief and misdemeanour throughout their showcase trick bag. Some we’ve seen before (trolly surfing through the crowd, running wild through the balcony. But the new additions add that surprise element, each time upping the level of danger to incite the chaos in which they thrive. (Although nothing will quite match them scaling the download stage!)

Joel put up a makeshift bar onstage, poured pints of JD and coke before handing them out! Then later proceeded to play catch with the crowd by throwing out beers with inevitable consequences. A few beer showers later he finally got one to its mark, and one even up to the balcony! Less said about the one that crashed into the lights creating a beer waterfall the better! At only 13 songs long, you can see their antics were an integral part of their show.

They were at their best when slowing and extending their mighty breakneck grooves. The great air raid siren build up to ‘Live It Up’ was fantastic, ‘Too much, Too Young, Too Fast’ and it’s head banging sing-a-long plus the anthemic rabble rousing melody of ‘Ready To Rock’.

The atmosphere and crowd make tonight. The willingness for everyone here young, old, man and woman to let loose, throw away their normal lives for 90 mins of adrenaline fuelled rawk rebellion. People were flying everywhere, getting stuck into the mosh pit chasms, bounding like leaping salmon and crowd surfing to oblivion.

After 130 days on the road you’d be hard to believe they still had the stamina for a crazed Tuesday night in the capital. But sure enough the Airbourne division destroyed the venue once again.

Deservedly they stand atop of the Rock Mountain once again! Flag raised in one hand and a beer in the other!

Volbeat @ Brixton Academy

26th September 2019

A night of heavyweight Hard Rock was ahead as vast swathes of revellers swelled the Brixton Academy bars early this evening. Why? Because it was almost time for Danko Jones.

Being first up didn’t seem to matter to Danko Jones, who was his usual chatty self who lives, breathes and eats rock and roll. The size of the crowd wasn’t a surprise, as after 20+ years, the band have built a loyal (if still mainly underground) following. To their credit, dwarfed by the huge stage they attacked each riff, shot every rapid fire lyric and fired every solo like they were headliners.

Showcasing classics from the back catalogue and newbies from ‘A Rock Supreme’, they mostly up to the big arena test. However you did fell their ambition and short punchy songs about rock, girls and partying somewhat restrictive. Soaring in the basement doesn’t always equal raising the roof. Despite this it was a very positive high energy from this amazing hard rock trio that set us off strong.

Lack of scale is not something you could attribute to the next band up. Baroness came storming out the blocks with their dreamy yet heavy, proggy offerings. What shone was their melodic phrasing which interlaced between their mammoth soundscapes. Never straying into pop but also unifying bind for their Stoner Metal keeping them on a common trajectory.

Yet despite the ambition and optimism the set largely fell flat as the crowd struggled to engage with these long epics with barely a recognisable vocal hook. Vocals overall were low and inaudible which put up barriers too high for the casual onlooker. Neither did their riffs shine, too often being expansive and arty as opposed to catchy and direct. Clearly dividing, but definitively different!

As the lights centred for the headline slot, Volbeat quickly and purposefully strutted into the spotlight. Opening with a new track from their latest album ‘Rewind, Replay, Rebound’ this clearly set the direction of their set. Tonight, a lot of the album got a spin and the hard and heavy pop first approach had plenty of voices raised and fists high. There was no doubting though this was a true rock show with endless thundering riffs, metallic shredding and head thumping melodies.

To their credit, there was a surprising amount of variety packed in. From the out and out old school thrash metal of ‘Slayton’, to the radio pop of ‘When We Were Kids’, through to rollicking boogie blues of ‘Let It Burn’, rockabilly metal “Sad Man’s Tongue ” and anthemic hard rocker ”Let It Burn”.

Band leader Michael Poulsen was as indecryptible as ever despite perfectly forming his words, all channeling through his smooth Elvis(y) vocals chords. None of this mattered though as whatever he was singing, it sounded great!

He was even joined by some special guests, Clutch’s Neil Fallon (via sample) and none other than Danko Jones himself to spit lyrics on Black Rose. It was a winning combination and one of the highlights of an evening full of top class hard rock class.

Crobot @ Underworld

26th July 2019

One of the best hard rock bands to emerge in recent years were in town. In fact they were worldwide as tonight’s headliners were being broadcast live over the interweb.

It was an odd start to the support act. I was sure I’d never heard of Wolf Jaw before, yet I was sure I recognised their opening song. A quick bit of mid song googling led me to the realisation that I was infact watching the band formerly known as “The Bad Flowers”. These ‘Planet Rock’ pushed rock trio were very tight and played a decent set of mid tempo riff rock that clipped along nicely. Lots of nifty melodies but a lack of real headline singles left this feeling a little flat.

With the cameras rolling and the stream online, out stepped Crobot‘s glamtastic frontman Brandon Yeagley with amazing sparkly bejewelled waistcoat and launched us straight into what was to be an exhilarating and exciting evening of hard rock. His highlight statement outfit was only matched in flamboyance by his dancing was a curiously engaging and visually magnetic. He didn’t stop all night, his long sleek locks were endlessly swirled round at hypersonic speeds, his legs were wobbling to the groove and his vocals supercharged.

The heart and soul of the band is their guitar tone. It’s rugged brutality, smooth mid-range and warm crunch really rampages out of their multitude of Orange amps. Their guitar rig was simple and barely a change was made throughout, showing their commitment to perfecting their riffing craft. Those riffs were bulldozer driven and vibrant in the dynamism, as was their signature rising warping effect which is as simple as it is bloody brilliant!

One thing did bug me though. Whilst I appreciate that bands like/need to play their new material in order to sell records. At least play these songs once the album is released and don’t play them a month before its release…as was the case tonight! Bar a few singles already out, much of their set was unidentifiable even if it still sounded fantastic.

The set itself was skewered between their astounding debut and their new record, somewhat absent mindedly skipping 2013’s Welcome to Fat City. Set highlights included the crushing power of ‘Cloud Spiller’ with its headsplitting skyscraping riff, a rockin’ ramble through fantasy pop land on singalong ‘Nowhere to Hide’ and the elephantine plodding menace of ‘Plague Of The Mammoths’.

There was little in the way of stage banter, with interaction from the stage fairly brief. With a clear time limit and a global outreach you did feel thy is was an all out attack set which whilst flying at 200% effort, inherently suffered with a lack of intimacy that you can usually guarantee in The Underworld. More like a concert dvd, which I guess is expected given it was recorded!

On reflection it was an outstanding showcase performance from an outstanding and exciting hard rock band.

Finally…for once you can experience yourself rather than take my word for it…stream available here Live Stream Recorded

Justin Courtney Pierre @ The Underworld

28th May 2019

Arrived unusually early tonight for a warm up band. Having found a DJ(?) we settled into a quiet and understated Underworld to enjoy the relative calm in this otherwise crazy rock venue. Somewhat surprisingly this juxtaposition was a theme of the night full of informality, intimacy and intrigue.

With little to no fanfare, the tunes melted away, cuing a shuffle of the few feet who braved a Tuesday night gig in Camden. These brave folks were rewarded with one of the most open, honest and spirited shows we’ve been to for years.

Justin Courtney Pierre or more commonly known as the Lead Singer/Guitarist of Motion City Soundtrack, stood uneasy on stage. His nerves were clearly on edge and his body on flight (not fight) mode. Joined onstage by a long time buddy made it all just about manageable as he opened with some new tracks from his solo record. For a man on a solo tour, having been used to selling out theatres it was all very peculiar.

Sure he’s always had his band to back him up, but the shift in persona was marked. What in MCS clothes comes across as self deprecating humour, was exaggerated to vulnerability.

He needn’t have been so concerned as his output of short sharp pop ditties was totally on point. Everyone here were MCS fans, so he was already winning in our eyes. With just his road worn Telecaster on rough overdrive mode and a drum machine on repeat, he brought life and vitality to the room. Flexing from darkened pop of his new solo record on Undone, to raging indie rock of Ready Player One to the MCS styled I don’t know why she ran away, each track sounded bright and full of fragile beauty.

Between songs he’d invite us into his chaotic mind warehouse and chatted openly like this was his living room. He was refreshingly honest and mindful, yet erratic and somewhat bleak. This personality shone through as he played select MCS numbers, those he penned himself. Not surprising then they match his persona…the pop strummer Stand Too Close, heartbreaking Happy Anniversary, uplifting(ish) Broken Heart and lyrically cunning L.G.F.U.A.D.

In retrospect, it was sure to be a highlight of the year. One which brought light and brightness shining through some dark assembled clouds. A true pleasure to be there to support and a joy to be a part of.

Hayseed Dixie @ The Garage

15th March 2019

It was party and singalong night in Islington this evening as the bluegrass cover legends returned for their almost annual outing to the London stage.

Before though we had to endure ‘Just Tom & Pete’ whose original tracks were tongue in cheek and little more than a few bedroom penned ditties. Comedy relies on timing and delivery, unfortunately this set had little of either. To make matters worse the song craft was basic and bland, only saved by the bias towards covers, including the spice girls.

Hayseed Dixies arrival was greeted with rapturous adoration as their rock acolytes readied their vocal chords for a workout. It proved such that their set was a fantastic highlights reel of banjo based classic rockgrass hits. Clearly stage confident, their comedy banter was on point all night with beer fuelled quips and set pieces which showed their experience of soundtracking a great party night.

I’ll be honest band go so far to say the Banjo is clearly an underrated instrument. Associated with roots and country acts, when played at almost 100sps (strums per second) it gave each song a unique groove, which inherently made your body bob and sway.

Fast and furious was also the ‘lead’ guitarist Hippy Joe Hymas’ motto as he exhilarated the crowd with his showboating virtuoso antic on his…….MANDOLIN! It was truly fantastic to watch as this little crazy demon of whirling hair and sweat attacked this tiny instrument with flare and fury.

The set list was rammed with covers all withtheir unique spin, either slowed, sped or spiced it was different enough to be a Hayseed Dixie song, but familiar enough for everyone to sing along. Even the cheesy ballads raised a smile and many beer ‘glasses’. Even the odd original song sounded pretty good, ‘I’m keeping your poop’ being the best of the bunch.

Overall these guys know their audience, carry their instruments with pride and by gosh they can throw one hell of a rockin’ party,

Black Stone Cherry, The Cadillac Three & Monster Truck @ Wembley Arena

14th December 2018

Before I dive in, a lesson from history…11 years ago a young southern rock band called Black Stone Cherry were furiously handing out flyers for their early afternoon set on a side stage at Hard Rock Calling 2007. It was packed, it was incredible and It was from that day that tonight’s headliners lodged themselves into my youthful rock heart…

Jumping back to the present tonight showcases a truly spectacular lineup of North American guitar talent.

Monster Truck

The Canadian’s were up first as Monster Truck rumbled straight down the throats of the early swelling crowd. They’re no nonsense, all man rock yeah. Playing loud, massive power chords, driving tempos, big choruses and thumping riffs. Their bluesy swagger emanated from lead vocalist/bassist Jon Harvey whose gravel paved howl was designed strike muscle bound notes. Playing a variety of tracks across their discog they cut out all the fat and went straight for their hits. A groove heavy Sweet Mountain River, Don’t Tell Me How To Live soared like an eagle and fresher True Rocker did exactly that. A cracking start and certainly won some new fans in the process.

Straight out of deepest Tennessee come out next act, the Nashville countrified rockers The Cadillac Three. This trio tick many of southern stereotypes, a slow caricature drawl, trucker hats, slide guitars and a gift for musicianship. No Bass and Two guitars, three if you count the double mounted slide fretboards. A unique approach and certainly front man Jaren Johnston did his bit to make up for any rhythm slack.

The Cadillac Three

Coming with a formidable live reputation, I can verify they do indeed whoop ass. But not in the way I had expected. Rather than the big hoedown rock and spritely tempos it was captivating with its approach to slowing almost every song to accentuate the notes at a snails pace. Plus it was far more country than expected too. It showed craft and soul beyond their LP’s and ability to thrive on stage with little or no boundaries. The crowd pleasers we all here on the emotive White Lightning, the adept song craft of American Slang and their Night rounded off with launch pad party anthem The South.

Jaren Johnston

The night was yet young as the stage unraveled to its full potential. No more pokey curtains and basic smoke & light combos. From here on in we had the best pyro and staging Wembley could throw at us, Smoke cannons and all.

Black Stone Cherry

In an instant the Kentucky kings of Hard Rock, Black Stone Cherry had the crowd in the palm of their hands. This being their first headline Arena tour they were enjoying the space and theatre of the evening. Rhythm guitarist Ben Wells especially, running round like an over enthusiastic man child. He barely stayed still all night, which for me set the tone. A exhilarating embrace of their current status and homage to their past.

 

Ben Wells

Their leader, the enigmatic southern man Chris Robertson, was far less athletic, more killer guitar slinger. Taking the leads he showed us his exemplary six string skills with blazing solos and the fattest riffs. It was however their ballads and mid tempo crooners which got the best reception tonight. Engaging in sing-a-long songs and good time crowd pleasers are all Arena staples, perfected on In My Blood and Like I Roll. Even their more touching emotive moments shined under the huge light rigs, Things My Father Said, Peace Is Free and new tune My Last Breath.

Chris Robertson

Their new material got a good airplay tonight, but with a 20 song set it had plenty of space. Despite this, they brought a groove not usually associated. Just Like James Brown and Ain’t Nobody brought the funk, even if Robertson overstepped slightly by opening up a dance floor in crowd central ‘for the ladies’. Despite this blip, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening which played much more to bluesy roots, which the overstaying 12 min rendition of Hoochie Coochie Man will attest to.

Hooooochie Cooooohie Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!!

After 11 years they have hit new highs and as ever their open hearted honest thanks, gets kudos from the adoring masses who have been with them every step of the way. What’s next? Who knows. But it will be fun finding out!