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!

A , Wheatus & InMe @ Shepherds Bush Empire

21st November 2018

DIR.net opened the door to the DeLorean and sped back to the early noughties for a stellar line-up of old favourites whose appearance back on the live scene is much anticipated. With a line-up this good we were in early to catch the openers InMe.

Dave McPherson

This Brentwood based alternative rock/metal outfit have been consistently putting out quality albums for over 2 decades, rarely growing beyond the small venue’s that they frequent almost on a yearly basis. This experience means they are a formidable live act as they mix tracks from early grungy numbers, to more modern epic metal high up the progressive scale. Lead singer and guitarist Dave McPherson with his trademark flat cap was talismanic. His impassioned vocals were exhilarating, guitar work was highly technical and mastering both at the same time was impressive. His emotion poured out on latest single “For Something To Happen“, which he openly admitted that “I’m likely to cry during this next song” which visibly opened some raw wounds. This was a headline act compacted into a 20min sampler, which cut them down when they were only getting going.

Wheatus

Next we have (dare i say it without upsetting fans) a one hit wonder band in Wheatus. Sure they have a few other songs of note, but obviously we didn’t start there tonight. All 7 of them rambled out with bespectacled band leader Brendan B. Brown, for whom they oversized baggy t-shirt look hasn’t needed an update since the 90’s. Still it was somewhat of a surprise to see the sheer swell of numbers. To start with, they have 3 backing singers, for what reason I’m unsure.

Brendan B. Brown

That aside they mid-tempo’d their way through some decent pop ditty’s and their signature cover version of “A Little Respect“. Rather uninspiringly they remained fairly static throughout and just played their tunes. Of course we rounded out with the aforementioned classic alt-rock anthem and rock kid’s fairy tale “Teenage Dirtbag“. It was as fun today as it was back then, and despite exhibiting less of power than you’d have expected, it got the full sing-a-long treatment from the crowd who knew every word from years gone by.

The nostalgia didn’t end there as A bounded onto stage. I was always a little miffed that I missed them in their (/my) heyday. So I was glad to get the chance to turn back to clock and enjoy their 2002 classic Punk Pop album Hi-Fi Serious in full.

A

As with any gig of this ilk, it can easily get predictable (obvious point right?). But somehow it was still surprising how great these sounded live and how the various tempo/mood shifts typified what is a cracking LP from start to finish. From the powerful frenetic start of “Something’s Going On” and “Six O’Clock On A Tube Stop” before mellowing out with a few semi-ballads to calm the moshers.

Jason Perry

Lead singer Jason Perry was in a rather unexpected outfit tonight. A full Deliveroo rider’s uniform complete with backpack. An interesting choice but not surprising given their punk stance, spiking a undertone of social non-conformity and capitalist unease. In fact as he extracted a Starbucks mug from his backpack (which stayed on for almost 5 songs by the way), it was done only in irony to tee up the immortal sing-a-long anthem of the same name with its classic line “I Don’t Want Your Job In Starbucks“. Hundreds of people barking that at top volume clearly made their evening.

Jason did a straw poll towards the end of the night which summed up the crowd nicely, most remember the LP being releases, almost all are over 30 and lots had kids. Which duly prompted him to instigate an “Age Appropriate Mosh Pit“. The caveat being you had to walk! As old bones don’t mend as fast. Of course this accounted for little as the madness soon resumed unabated.

Looping back round to end the main set to the thumping riff of “Nothing“, they exited and duly returned for a last min compilation of older tunes that had the faithful bounding like loons, “Old Folks” ahead of its time mockery of the aging technology user and the perky stomper “I Love Lake Tahoe” being the best of the bunch.

To surmise, tonight successfully managed to turn the clock back 20 years of so and those here to witness, revelled in its nostalgia and youthful reminisces.

Danko Jones @ The Underworld

16th November 2018

What?! Another Danko show?? That’s right folks, our favourite Canadian rock trio were back in London seemingly rounding out the endless Wildcat Tour 18 months on from their last visit to the London. Whats for certain is we can’t get enough of their energetic, punk-infused hard rock as we descended into the Underworld, too late to catch the support on this occasion.

So immediately to our headliners and the man himself, the eponymous Danko Jones. As ever trailed by his trusty bass partner in guitar slinging John “JC” Calabrese. A packed congregation was wedged into this newly shiny basement club, ready to worship Father Jones. Any break in proceedings was met with the same chant “Dank O Jones, Dank O Jones, etc…”. To which Mr Jones himself merely stood and absorbed all the good vibes coming his way.

Danko Jones

Being a personality and figurehead of the rock and roll scene and eloquent podcaster, the charisma pours off of the man with an almost unfair bias. Plus he certainly has his stage banter down to an art. Seamless transitions, honest but appreciative demeanor and funny but not crude jokes typified a night where either you were rocking with the band or rolling with the laughs. He openly admitted to forgetting the set list, and having to bend down to read it!

Sonically they were as compact as ever, punishing the PA system with their good time party anthems each with a stellar sing a long chorus. Their melodic guitar solos were simple but effective and their rhythmic phrasing super tight. As it turned out there is a new Danko Jones record due early 2019 and we were treated to a few early samples. Each with (you guessed it), cracking chorus’s, rollicking riffs and a lust for rock. The best of the bunch being “Burn In Hell” which bristles along with punk intensity charged with  a wonderful guitar lick and rapid but well delivered vocals. The rest of the packed set list picked fro across their discography, some of the best coming from lesser played songs such as the punk power player “Rock Shit Hot” and the rampaging “She’s Drugs“.

A night of full throttle, energetic rock and roll that has a true pop heart, delivered from a legend of modern hard rock that is a shining beacon for all those young bands out there to aspire to greatness.