Peace, Love, Death Metal – How Live Music Can Live On

EODM - Jesse Hughes

Eagles Of Death Metal’s Jesse Hughes @ The Ritz, Manchester, 7th November 2015

It’s taken me a few days to come to terms with what’s happened in Paris. And when I say ‘come to terms’ I don’t think it will ever be the case that I’ll feel in any way accepting of the tragedy that has unfolded.

I can’t help but think about the fact that I’d been at exactly the same gig only six days previously. Eagles Of Death Metal were playing the Ritz in Manchester, and it was sold out to the tune of 1500 fans in attendance. As similarities go, it all still feels a little bit too close to home.

The show itself was one of the most enjoyable I’d ever seen in over 20 years of gig-going. I’d never seen EODM live before and I really wasn’t prepared for how much pure fun they brought to the live arena. Frontman Jesse Hughes in particular was instantly likeable and endlessly funny, the embodiment of hip-swaying, tache-curling boogie for a good two hours of incredible rock and roll.

The show culminated in a light-hearted duel between Hughes and guitarist Dave Catching that saw the frontman emerge from the Ritz’s balconies to throw down riffs at his partner in crime. The crowd lapped it up too, kids, adults, skinheads and folk on the hairier side of the spectrum all cheering each comedic battle with grins as wide as the stage.

Then only six days later, the Bataclan in Paris sees the most awful tragedy that live music has ever had to witness. It doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things which band was involved, but there’s something about the fact that it was such a good-time group like EODM and their fans that were caught up in all this that makes it seem all the more awful. I haven’t been able to listen to any EODM songs since, quickly skipping tracks if anything’s been coming up on shuffle. I’m not trying to ignore what’s happened, it just doesn’t seem right at the moment to try to get enjoyment from their music.

But life does go on. On Saturday I was fortunate enough to go over to Huddersfield to see Eureka Machines and Tropical Contact play at The Parish. I’d been looking forward to this one for a while, despite having seen both bands loads of times before. I knew that in attendance would be all the like-minded folk I see at so many gigs across the country and that if any combination of bands and crowd were going to help each other get over what had happened the night before it was these.

What ensued was every bit the group therapy that was required. From staff at the venue through to the bands, punters, even other people milling around in the pub out front, there was a good time vibe in that leaky room that simply would not be quelled by recent world events. Even when an obviously emotional Chris Catalyst (the Eureka Machines frontman) took to his mic to pay tribute to his friend who had died at the Bataclan (EODM’s merch man Nick Alexander) it wasn’t with a sense of revenge or anger, it was to encourage and enlighten, ensuring that the show went on and that expression didn’t die along with all of those who lost their lives in the French capital. Needless to say, that outpouring provided some of the biggest bouncing of the night as we all joined together in thanks that we were able to enjoy live music, freely and without fear of judgement or censure.

I’m not going to get into the politics of it all, as far as I’m concerned, killing innocent people anywhere in the world is wrong, tragic and heartbreaking. What I will say is that I hope live music somehow comes out of this stronger. It’s always been a place where people from all different backgrounds and of all shapes and sizes can come and forget all of their troubles for a couple of hours, united in a shared joy and euphoria that’s difficult to match and without these little pockets of escapism, the world would be a far, far poorer place.

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Therapy? @ Manchester Academy 2 – 18th April 2015

Therapy? @ Manchester Academy

Therapy? – Hopefully going nowhere.

To get it out of the way up front, Therapy? are my favourite band. I’ve been listening to them on record and bouncing around to them in various states of inebriation live for over 20 years now, whether at Donington, at home in Bristol, at Uni in Sheffield or most recently in Manchester, but as with any band or review, I’ll always call a spade a spade and be brutally honest about any live performance or record.

Many bands that have been around as long as Therapy? will have a hardcore of fans who blindly go along with all that it is put before them but with this particular bunch you’re always challenged. After being at the forefront of the mid-90s rock resurgence, the band made albums that were raw, catchy, bleak and drug-addled with one simple consistency; fight. Therapy? wouldn’t lie down. They wouldn’t compromise. And they’ve certainly never been in the business of bowing to commercial pressures.

So here we are in 2015. Therapy? have recently released album number 12, Disquiet and they’re all set to lay waste to Manchester’s Academy 2 on a sunny Spring evening. Before tonight’s gig, I’m asked in the pub who I’m off to see and my reply is met with the usual “Christ, are they still going?” The answer to that is a resounding ‘yes’ and by not realising that, you’ve been missing out on some of the most brilliant music and consistently enjoyable live shows in modern rock.

The venue isn’t sold out tonight as it was for last year’s 20th anniversary Troublegum show, but the crowd is healthy and ready for the first live outing of tracks from T?‘s latest opus. Meeting that need with a snarling ‘Still Hurts’, Therapy? hit the ground running; frontman Andy Cairns is as wide-eyed and psychotically brilliant as ever whilst Michael McKeegan pogoes around, showing no less enthusiasm than the very first time he set foot on stage. The Manc-pleasing ‘Isolation’ is up next followed by Troublegum partner in crime ‘Die Laughing’ and despite many in attendance having heard these songs countless times, every word is still belted back joyously at a grinning Cairns. Even tracks like ‘Vulgar Display Of Powder’ and ‘Idiot Cousin’ are surprisingly well-known despite only being a month or so old, proving that T? can still drive a hook into your long-term memory after only a couple of listens.

With so many tracks to choose between from their long career, there were always going to be some major omissions (namely everything from 1998 to 2012), but Therapy? can’t get away with ignoring their classics and they simply have too many of them these days. ‘A Moment Of Clarity’ gets more harrowingly beautiful with every listen, raising goosebumps throughout a captivating six minutes, whilst ‘Turn’, ‘Stories’ and ‘Nausea’ are anthemic to the ears of the adoring pit.

Therapy? @ Manchester Academy

Andy Cairns – Evil Elvis on top.

If Therapy? were to have a theme tune it’d be a toss-up between ‘Screamager’ and ‘Teethgrinder’ as both songs encapsulate what the band have always stood for; the former being the catchiest thing since a particularly hook-loving sea bass whilst the latter will forever stand as a proclamation of the dawning of a new era of heavy music, both danceable yet angular and twisted. So by pairing the two together in the live setting, Therapy? nail a euphoric high you’d struggle to get from sticking a skag jabber directly into your eyeball.

After such a crescendo you’d be disappointed to see on paper the set closing with ‘Deathstimate’ and ‘Diane’ but this comedown simply doesn’t materialise. ‘Deathstimate’ is monolithic in riff whilst allowing a chance for us to cool down and ‘Diane’ is given such a powerfully upbeat reworking compared to the version on Infernal Love that you’d almost be forgiven for glossing over the subject matter.

It only takes a short break for T? to re-emerge and hammer into a violent ‘Knives’, a rare outing for ‘Skinning Pit’ and the familiar ‘Potato Junkie’ and ‘Nowhere’. All four sound as fresh as they did two decades earlier and screaming about Irish novelists having carnal relations with your siblings has never been more fun.

What we’ve had tonight are 22 songs of brilliance, variety, passion and integrity. I’ve yet to find a band who can equal such consistency and I challenge you to find a show packed with more quality than tonight. Quite simply, Therapy? ooze excellence and long may it continue.

Hawk Eyes + God Damn + Bad Grammar @ Sound Control, Manchester – 18th February 2015

Hawk Eyes @ Sound Control, Manchester

Hawk Eyes – everything’s lovely, thanks for asking.

Seven pounds

As far as gig reviews go, this one’s pretty fucking straightforward. I went to Sound Control tonight and saw three shit hot British bands for seven pounds. Time of my life. About 30-40 people did the same.

To find out why more didn’t join in, I had a think about what else seven pounds can get you.

A cheap cocktail
That’s right kids, modern day culture dictates that one shot of cheap rum combined with two of your favourite fruit juice, tossed rapidly over the shoulder of your favourite low slung-jeaned, tattooed bar-keep can be garnered for the cost of two proper man pints. So when the A-board outside indicates a special offer, you’re all over it like a tramp on chips. Sadly you’re going to end up with teeth furrier than an Angora-fancying Dracula so if I were you I’d steer well clear of such sugary malevolence.

A baby
I’m no expert but from seeing work emails flying about over the years it appears seven pounds is some sort of reputable figure for a miniature human. Yes they scream (horns up) but little scientific evidence has discovered much else they’re good at. If you fancy getting one for yourself, I’ve heard rapid intercourse or too many seven pound cocktails can help. You can have that one on me.

A peak time ticket to work
It’s important to get a job, don’t get me wrong, but for those who aren’t aware, cheaper tickets are available. The next time you wrench your flipper from your pocket, have a think about a season ticket, freeing up funds for something far less banal.

So, you could get a crap drink, a lifetime of never seeing your friends or a rocky ride on a four mile rattler.

Tonight, I chose Hawk Eyes (riffs, stories, Yorkshire) plus God Damn (riffs, all of the hair, deafness) and Bad Grammar (riffs, guitar issues, humility).

I know where I’d rather have been, time to have a think about where you were.

Feed The Rhino + Night Verses + Baby Godzilla @ Sound Control Manchester – 20th October 2014

Baby Godzilla @ Sound Control

Baby Godzilla – On top of the world.

Monday nights haven’t seen the best of turn outs at Manchester gigs in recent weeks, but all that’s about to change with the massive throng piling into the Sound Control basement for tonight’s openers Baby Godzilla.

I’ve been to all but one of Baby Godzilla‘s Manchester shows as well as their chaotic and rammed Camden Rocks performance that saw even Ginger Wildheart peering in through the window like Tiny Tim left out in the cold, but tonight they take it next level.

The usual suspects get the usual BG treatment, with the bar, the rafters and the balcony all clambered upon with gusto, but to carry off a show that actually features damn good songs alongside all the chaos is another thing entirely. Screeching out ‘Powerboat Disaster’, ‘Whorepaedo’ and ‘The Three Legged Race.ist’ whilst riding a battered Marshall around the room can’t be easy, but the big early doors crowd lap it up and help out on lead vocals as and when required. Baby Godzilla: destroying bigger venues near you soon.

Night Verses have got their work cut out after such carnage but carry off their main support slot well. The band play a soulful and intense brand of post-hardcore that grabs the attention of casual onlookers as well as die-hard fans with vocalist Douglas Robinson in particular living every beat of every song.

The band aren’t scared to throw in some ambient atmospherics and guitar effects either, and both serve to really enhance their sound. An intimate affair in a very different way to BG, Night Verses prove they’re worthy of a second look.

Feed The Rhino are on their third album now and have left some time since The Sorrow And The Sound‘s release before hitting the road. And it’s worked. Tonight there are a lot of FTR fanatics about, all screaming along to whatever they throw out, whether old or new. There’s also a huge mix of people here, with older guys in Download shirts mixing it up in the pit with kids in Guns N’ Roses shirts who are young enough to be Axl’s grandchildren. All are flailing wildly, yet good naturedly, as the Rhino blast through an opening salvo of ‘Behind The Pride’ and ‘Deny And Offend’ from their latest opus.

‘Left For Ruins’ and a thermonuclear ‘The Burning Sons’ get things absolutely riotous and by the time ‘Finish The Game’ and ‘Tides’ rear their horns, stagedivers are jumping on top of crowdsurfers who are themselves writhing on top of other crowdsurfers. It’s pleasing to see that Sound Control’s side of stage security keeps a watchful eye on proceedings rather than ham-fistedly wading in as many others would, preferring instead to let the crowd (helped by FTR frontman Lee Tobin’s safety advice) keep each other on the straight and narrow amidst the chaos.

‘Flood The System’ brings a close to the hour-long set, and even though you get a lot of ‘we love you guys’ shtick at metal shows these days, tonight Tobin seems genuinely taken aback by the reaction as well as the turnout. Manchester, for a dingy Monday, you’ve done yourselves proud. Feed The Rhino, Night Verses, Baby Godzilla; thank you very much for the ammunition.

Alice In Chains + Ghost + Walking Papers @ Manchester Academy – 11th November 2013

Alice In Chains @ Manchester Academy

The devil put brontosaurus-sized riffs here.

It’s Academy WeatherTM in Manchester tonight, with the long walk down Oxford Road punctuated by the usual splashes right up the trouser from the odd loose paving stone. Despite the increasingly wet nether regions, however, the prospect of yet another killer live bill is preventing spirits from being dampened as we head towards a night with Alice In Chains, Ghost and Walking Papers.

The Academy is moderately busy as roadies ready the stage for Walking Papers, the latest band featuring former Guns N’ Roses four-stringer Duff McKagan. Purveyors of a decent brand of blues-tinged rock and roll, the group are obviously experienced and talented and get some heads nodding, but singer Jeff Angell appears disappointed with both the turnout and the reaction. In reality, he should be grateful, and let’s be honest here, that so many have rocked up at 7pm on a cold Monday evening solely to see what Duff McKagan’s been up to lately.

It’s a shame that Angell is initially a touch downbeat, since Walking Papers play some great stuff, with McKagan himself in outstanding form. Former Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin is full of stick-twirling showmanship and Benjamin Anderson bangs the holy hell out of his keyboard to raucous effect and eventually Angell joins in by hopping into the crowd to give high fives, his charm offensive receiving some worthy adulation. Overall, Walking Papers’ set is full of hip swaying goodness that will hopefully see some Euro festival slots next year.

Ghost @ Manchester Academy

Preaching to the unconverted.

And so to Ghost. This is the venue I first experienced them in a couple of years previously and since then they’ve released an album of the year candidate, but the band are still greeted with more static than a TV aerial pointing directly into a hippo’s undercarriage. I really don’t know what it is about the Swedish ghouls, whether people are just in awe of the spectacle, if a support slot with Alice In Chains is misjudged or if the typically reserved British public simply don’t know what to do with themselves, but if a pounding ‘Per Aspera ad Inferi’ and a groove-riddled ‘Stand By Him’ don’t get feet jiggling I don’t know what will.

I just pray to Lucifer that Papa and the gang finally tour these shores on their own headline outing so the brethren can get well and truly involved. Tonight, it’s only after a spine-tingling ‘Year Zero’ that the audience really acknowledges the grandeur of their music and despite a clap-a-long ‘Ritual’ and faux-encore ‘Monstrance Clock’, Ghost remain on the very cusp of awkward UK audience acceptance.

If there is an unsold ticket for tonight then you’re going to struggle to find it as people almost stack on top of each other to witness the return of Alice In Chains. Latest release The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is arguably a career best album from the grunge godfathers and after two records with vocalist William DuVall, the band are playing with an intensity and drive that belies the fact they’re in their 27th year.

Opening up with ‘Again’, the crowd are instantly in awe and as ‘Check My Brain’ and a euphoric ‘Them Bones’ are banged out, the love in the room is almost tangible. ‘Hollow’ and ‘Voices’ from the band’s latest opus are heavier live than on record and the groovy sludge is powerfully accompanied by DuVall and Jerry Cantrell’s amazing harmonies. ‘Man In The Box’ will be the standard bearer for many AIC fans and tonight it feels as fresh as it did when doing the rounds on MTV in its heyday, whilst ‘We Die Young’, ‘Grind’ and ‘Got Me Wrong’ are all greeted like the bride at a wedding, with doe-eyed fans worshipping at the feet of such classic songs.

Closing the main set with the grace and elegance of ‘Nutshell’ and a balls-out ‘Would?’, no-one in attendance wants this night to ever end. Returning to the stage for an encore of ‘Down In A Hole’, ‘It Ain’t Like That’ and of course ‘Rooster’, Alice In Chains not only sound good tonight, they look amazing, happy and proud to be playing to such adoration, which includes numerous ‘Jerry, Jerry’ chants throughout the night.

It’s almost as if the ghost of Layne Staley is watching over the band, content that not only does DuVall more than do justice to early AIC classics, but he’s also helped the band carry on to even bigger and better things. Sean Kinney’s drum kit may bear the initials ‘LSMS’ in memory of Staley and former bassist Mike Starr but this is no memorial to the once-great, this is a celebration of what came before just as much as it is the here and now.

A superb bill, an emotional night and a set rammed so full of classics you’re going to struggle to listen to any other band’s records for the rest of the year. Simply stunning stuff.

Manic Street Preachers @ Manchester Ritz – 27th September 2013

Manic Street Preachers @ Manchester Ritz

You still love us – damn right.

I’ve banged on ad nauseam on this blog about how the Manic Street Preachers were the first band I ever saw at a proper gig. This was way back at Bristol Anson Rooms, days before my 15th birthday. I was drinking my first ever pint in the form of finest Foster’s beer and on the left of the stage was an enigmatic songwriter called Richey James.

Fast forward 19 years and as I sit supping my latest beer of choice, I’m giddy with excitement at seeing the Welshmen again. Myself and the Manics have a bit of an odd relationship in that they, along with Terrorvision, Therapy? and The Wildhearts were my favourite bands of the mid 90s but soon after Everything Must Go I almost disowned them. Their previous long-player, The Holy Bible had been my all-time (at age 15, natch) favourite album, and was on constant rotation, sat alone in my gigantic five-CD super changer Sony hi-fi. To me, there wasn’t a need for any other album ever again, as the record not only marked the zenith of the MSP‘s songwriting powers it also paid poignant tribute to Richey James who went missing in February 1995.

And then came the aforementioned Everything Must Go. The Manics had already moved away from the punky Welsh Guns N’ Roses of Generation Terrorists and the catchy-as-hell pop rock of Gold Against The Soul, but I wasn’t prepared in my immaturity for the laid back textures and orchestral arrangements of EMG. I gave them every chance to please me, travelling over to Newport to see them on tour, but I just couldn’t get over how they’d moved on from The Holy Bible and myself and the Manics parted.

In 2007 I began hearing good things about Send Away The Tigers and so I picked up the album. Pleasantly surprised, I stuck with the band again until this very year when it was announced the group would be playing some smaller gigs to promote latest CD Rewind The Film.

And so here we are. On arriving at the 1500-capacity Ritz, I can’t quite believe the buzz in the building. The gig had sold out in mere hours and this feels like a celebration, almost a homecoming due to the excitement that’s palpable in the room. Hitting the stage just after 9pm, I don’t think I’ve heard a roaring welcome like the Manics receive for quite some time. Even the band themselves seem a little taken aback but it doesn’t stop them from launching into an absolutely spot on ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ as pretty much everyone in the crowd sings along to every word with passion, joy and beauty, encouraging the Manics to bask in the adoration.

The first test for me comes in second song ‘Ready For Drowning’. Taken from one of the MSP albums I’d avoided, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, I fully admit I had no idea whether I’d enjoy these songs in a live environment. But it’s at this point I realise this isn’t about me; this is about the power of music and the ability of chords, phrases and expression to form a collective passion, and that’s exactly what the song does. It’s mesmerising to see the juxtaposition of the gangly, grinning. Nicky Wire, the suited James Dean Bradfield and the ever precise Sean Moore back on stage together, and this ensures that even brand new songs such as ‘Show Me The Wonder’ are greeted like old friends. ‘Rewind The Film’ has the power to be a new live classic and Bradfield really excels in conveying the emotion of the song as if he’s singing it individually to each and every one of us.

And then something odd happens. I hadn’t been expecting anything from Gold Against The Soul, as I’d heard the band hadn’t played anything from that record thus far on tour, but after a short intro, the opening notes of ‘Sleepflower’ ring out and the whole place goes batshit crazy. It feels like people are bouncing off the walls, there’s that much energy in the room, and not content with trying to finish us off with one sonic eargasm, the Manics then launch into a mid-set ‘You Love Us’ that has men who should know better jumping around like speed-fuelled llamas.

Manic Street Preachers @ Manchester Ritz

James Dean Bradfield – Everlasting

An acoustic interlude from Bradfield takes little of the energy away from the set, with ‘This Sullen Welsh Heart’ in particular a song you can just stand there in awe of and revel in its emotive core. Teasing the crowd with snippets of songs created by Manchester’s finest (‘Fool’s Gold’, ‘Waterfall’, ‘This Charming Man’) the Manics switch between playful and spell-binding effortlessly. After an outstanding acoustic ‘The Everlasting’ and ‘Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier’, the Manics launch into an absolutely electric ‘Revol’ charged with the spirit of Richey James to whom Wire dedicates the track. ‘Tsunami’, ’30-Year War’ and ‘Kevin Carter’ keep the crowd jumping and the honorary choir yelling and just when we all think things can’t get better, ‘Motown Junk’ slaps us squarely in the face, making us realise just why the whole evening has been such a success; songs new and old stand successfully shoulder to shoulder with one another. There are no eras anymore, each song is a brilliant piece of craftsmanship in its own right, and you wouldn’t be able to tell on this night that some have been written 21 years apart.

An absolutely majestic ‘Design For Life’ brings things to a pleasurable crescendo that should be deemed nigh-on illegal and you cannot spot a sullen face or heart anywhere in the Ritz. This has been one of those ‘were you there’ experiences that I along with 1500 others will be talking about for years to come. Gig of the year? Let’s just say other bands are going to have to pull out something special over these next three months to top it.

Danzig + Black Spiders @ Manchester Academy – 19th June 2013

Danzig @ Manchester Academy

Glenn Danzig – Evil Elvis Lives

This may be controversial to some, but personally, I can’t really blame artists for exploiting their more popular back catalogue in the live arena; after all, if it’s not something the fans want to see, they wouldn’t pay for it. So as yet another anniversary tour rolls into Manchester, I’m intrigued and hopeful of witnessing something fun and just a little bit special.

This time around it’s the turn of Glenn Danzig, bringing his namesake band out on the road to celebrate 25 years of darkness, and combining it with a mini-set of Misfits songs with guitarist Doyle.

I must admit that after recent gig-going exploits I was wary of another 90s nostalgia fest, but upon reaching the Academy it’s pretty clear that organisationally at least things are already looking better than the Megadeth debacle.

Even more promisingly, Danzig has chosen to get Sheffield’s finest rock and rollers, Black Spiders to open for him. Prepping for the release of second record ‘This Savage Land’ via a Pledge Music campaign, the ‘Spiders grasp the opportunity to play to such a big crowd firmly and shake it around until its ears are pricked up like a horny hyena.

Black Spiders @ Manchester Academy

Black Spiders – Proving a rock is a fat lot of use without a roll.

‘Kiss Tried To Kill Me’ sounds as monumental as ever and ‘Stay Down’ with its magnificent ‘Fuck You Black Spiders’ interlude is both brilliantly funny and raucous. New track ‘Creatures’ is already shaping up to be a live pleasure, whilst ‘Just Like A Woman’ sticks around in your head just as much as it did on that very first listen. Maybe this isn’t quite your typical Black Spiders crowd but they’re intelligent enough to know a good thing when they hear it, showing a decent amount of appreciation for the gurning sluggers.

As the length of time between support and headliner approaches the 45 minute mark, thoughts of Dave Mustaine’s diva-like behaviour creep into the mind, but the wait is soon forgotten when the room blackens and the Academy goes crazy to ‘SkinCarver’.

Chugging through classic Danzig fare such as ‘Hammer of the Gods’ and ‘Devil’s Plaything’, the now 57-year-old frontman is showing no sign of slowing down, prowling the stage with horns aloft and basking in the adulation he receives.

The fans are always going to lap this stuff up, but the fact that the band are such talented individuals really helps matters. Prong‘s Tommy Victor effortlessly shreds through the set, whilst Type O Negative‘s Johnny Kelly is always a percussive beast. As ‘Dirty Black Summer’ and ‘How The Gods Kill’ round off part one of the set, Danzig prove that they can still hang with anyone on the live circuit, even those half their age.

I was never really a huge Misfits fan, simply because their heyday was a little before my time, but I grew up listening to bands influenced by them and it’s only now I really appreciate why. As Glenn introduces his ‘man monster’, Doyle stomps onto the stage, ripped and ready for action. Hammering out power chords with his taped up fingers, a furious ‘Death Comes Ripping’ kicks things off, followed by ‘Vampira’ and the glorious slice of punk that is ‘I Turned Into A Martian’.

Without relenting, ‘Astro Zombies’ keeps things going at warp speed, followed by the classic pairing of ‘Skulls’ and ‘ Last Caress’ leaving few in the Academy without a smile on their sweaty faces.

The first encore pairs ‘Soul On Fire’ with defining Danzig breakthrough hit ‘Mother’ which invokes an absolutely glorious sing-along, and despite a slight strop from Glenn at one of the many concert filmers, he finishes things off brilliantly with ‘She Rides’ and an inimitable ‘Die, Die My Darling’ which belies its 29-year age.

On this joyously triumphant night, Evil Elvis reminds everyone just how many great songs he’s written over the years and simultaneously shows some of his old school contemporaries just how to put on a show. Absolutely stunning.

Megadeth @ Manchester Academy – 5th June 2013

Dave Mustaine

Dave Mustaine: Mega-disappointment.

On 19th March 1995, a certain 16 year old got only his second live experience of one of the thrash scene’s ‘Big Four’. The venue was Newport Centre. The band was Megadeth, and on that night, the band’s lead singer, Dave Mustaine, was a fiery ball of ginger-tousled bile.

Fast forward 18 years (and eight albums) and that same kid is getting a little bit excited about seeing that same band again after all this time. Older, wiser, and maybe a little more drunk, it was time for me to get to Manchester Academy to witness a legend reborn.

Having missed metalcore marauders Bleed From Within when they’d recently played in Manchester, I head down to the Academy around 20 minutes after the 8pm doors opening time to make sure I catch them, but it soon becomes apparent that I haven’t got a hope in hell. I knew the gig had sold out, so that’s nearly 2,500 denim and leather-clad booze hounds to get into the venue, but I’ve been to sold out Academy shows before and I’ve never seen queues that stretch back past The Manchester Museum, especially when the doors were open. Walking down to the Academy itself to check stage times, I notice the key problem; the doors aren’t open at all.

Now, for those of you not in the know, Dave Mustaine can be, shall we say, ‘temperamental’. He’s thrown his musical toys out of his pram a fair few times over the years and this has added a sense of danger (or more recently frustration) to Megadeth‘s live shows during their 30-year career. It’s unfortunately no surprise then that despite the support act being due on stage at 8.25pm, there won’t be anyone in there to see them.

Popping to perennial favourite pre-gig watering hole Big Hands, I strike up conversation with fellow fans who are equally unsurprised that the night is already looking like a bit of shambles. More worrying though, Megadeth are due on stage at 9.15pm, and as the time approaches the queue is still taking an eternity to get into the venue. As I finally shuffle on in, the bars are already heaving, the main hall looks suspiciously over capacity and the heat is stifling. But this doesn’t prevent a raucous welcome when ‘Prince of Darkness’ heralds the band onstage only five minutes late.

The crowd’s enthusiasm is easy to spot when even ‘Trust’ from the much maligned ‘Cryptic Writings’ album is so well-received, but it’s ‘Hanger 18’ which really gets things going. ‘Kingmaker’ from the band’s latest CD, ‘Super Collider’ doesn’t sound completely out of place alongside such a legendary thrash anthem and another ‘…Writings’ track, ‘She-wolf’, also seems familiar to most.

As Dave announces the band are going to celebrate defining album ‘Countdown To Extinction”s recent 20th anniversary by playing material from that record, the crowd roar shakes the venue. The album’s title track and ‘Architecture Of Aggression are still killer, polished mainstream thrash classics, but then, suddenly…silence.

The stage is dark, the band have departed, and only six songs in, the audience are left stunned. After five minutes, guitarist Chris Broderick emerges to tell us that the band are ‘fixing some shit’, but after ten minutes I’m beginning to wonder if I’m going to be phoning up for a refund the following morning. Then, after a full 15 minutes of hanging about, the band return, and we’re told by Mustaine that they had to ‘send the guy on the spotlight packing.’ Apparently Dave was concerned that we couldn’t see the band due to the lighting guy being a little ‘off’. Twisted logic there, we can see even less of you when you storm off in a huff over a minor, unapparent to everyone bar yourself issue and then come back out acting like a dick.

Mustaine then proceeds to identify an ‘Eminem wannabe’ in the crowd flipping him off and orders security to escort him out. Ironically if he’d bothered being on stage for the previous 15 minutes he would’ve seen a lot more fans giving him the bird, and you’d think he’d be used to it after all these years anyway.

Anyway, when we do finally get some music again, it’s in the shape of ‘Sweating Bullets’, ‘Ashes In Your Mouth’ and ‘Dawn Patrol’, with the triumvirate reminding us once again what a great band this used to be, making it even more sad to see such static performances of incredible songs.

‘A Tout Le Monde’ feels a little rushed tonight, losing some of its majesty in the process and although ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ recovers the set a bit, a rendition of new album title track ‘Super Collider’ manages to somehow sound worse than it does on record. There’s just something nagging away that the songs aren’t played with enough honesty to really get you to connect with them, instead it all feels like a band going through the motions.

The sound is admittedly its usual Academy 1 muffled self with the guitars muted and drums too high in the mix, but even so, Mustaine doesn’t help matters, refusing to name check the city he’s in once, or mention that the show is a sell-out. Two easily achieved and cliched pops admittedly, but fans love that kind of stuff and just saying we’re ‘beautiful’ repeatedly doesn’t really cut it. Instead, you’re left wondering if Mustaine actually knows or cares where he is. The backdrop videos playing throughout smack of paranoia and insecurity as they force the lyrics of the newer tracks down the audience’s throats, whilst the only positivity from the band comes from long-suffering bassist Dave Ellefson who does his best cheerleading act. Unfortunately a few fist pumps can’t hide a largely by-the-numbers, cliched performance.

There’s even a bass solo for crying out loud. A piece of understandable padding at a festival show, but unforgivable when we’ve already lost 15 minutes due to the aforementioned hissy fit.

After a highly insincere apology to the earlier Eminem wannabe who appears to have snuck back in, ‘Symphony of Destruction’, ‘Peace Sells’ and Holy Wars’ are always going to be lapped up despite what goes before. To be fair, they do still sound great and deserve the warm reception they receive, but the set’s close is a little too late in the day to just throw in the big guns and hope everyone goes home happy.

The overall song selection tonight, despite the ‘Cryptic Writings’ tracks seems overly safe, and played with skill rather than true passion. It seems that Mustaine is largely oblivious to the slew of top quality bands around in 2013, and for that matter bands who easily match live what they are doing on record, and the show feels somewhat dated because of this. Someone really needs to sit him down and have a quiet word, telling him that it’s no longer okay to charge £30 a ticket, create an organisational mess and hope the fans will still turn out in their droves; Megadeth are really going to struggle to stay relevant if that type of form is anything to go by.

I hate to say it, but this night smacks of a band that could well be on their countdown to extinction.

Andy Cairns @ The Ruby Lounge, Manchester – 31st May 2013

Andy Cairns @ The Ruby Lounge

Andy Cairns – Going nowhere anytime soon.

When I talk to people about Therapy?, the reactions vary wildly. Those of a similar age to me remember their bigger hits and maybe the odd Top Of The Pops performance, whilst others seem genuinely surprised they’ve released any records in the past 10 years. Fortunately, the band have had a loyal, hardcore set of fans throughout their career and it’s these people who make sure they keep plugging away and churning out quality records and astonishing live shows.

Following last year’s tour in support of the magnificent ‘A Brief Crack Of Light’, the Therapy? apparently had a large enough window in their schedule to try something a bit different, sending frontman Andy Cairns out around the country by himself to play Therapy? classics both new and old as well as trialing some new material for the first time in public.

This wasn’t the first time the members of Therapy? have dabbled in acoustic songs; back in 1995, the B-Sides to the ‘Diane’ single featured some great arrangements of both ‘Troublegum’ and ‘Infernal Love’-era tracks. Even so, it’s not often that Andy performs live by himself, so the announcement of a solo acoustic tour during this mid-album period was exciting if a little rare.

Catching the tour on a sunny Friday evening in Manchester probably helps to set an enthusiastic mood, but the like-minded souls in attendance at The Ruby Lounge would still be grinning ear to ear if it was snowing outside and all the beer had been stolen by booze weasels.

On entering the venue a fluffy-sideburned wingman/long time guitar tech for both Therapy? and The Wildhearts, Stevie Firth, is manning the merch stand, flogging signed Cairns CDs recorded specifically as tour mementos. There aren’t many bands out there who would go to such an effort, and it’s these little things that lend the night a great relaxed vibe.

Support on the tour is being handled by local outfits in each town and it’s pleasing to see decent crowds for both Greg Larkin‘s incredible dexterity and Exit Ten‘s enjoyable, catchy set.

Andy Cairns @ The Ruby Lounge

Andy Cairns hears there’s a party at Lake Cove.

After a short break, a happy and chatty Andy Cairns takes to the stage and launches into an incredible ‘Die Laughing’. I’ve heard the song hundreds of times on record and at probably every Therapy? show I’ve attended, but acoustically it takes on a whole new dimension.

Cairns rattles through numerous singles, each being met with utter joy by an appreciative mob. ‘Lonely Crying Only’, ‘Nowhere’, the oft-forgotten ‘Opal Mantra’ ( I may have optimistically requested ‘Auto Surgery’ at this point), ‘Loose’ and of course the band’s biggest hit to date ‘Screamager’ all put smiles on faces and springs in steps and it’s a wonder that a mini mosh doesn’t break out instantaneously.

Even sinister short sharp shocks such as ‘Knives’ work brilliantly either solo or with Stevie as he takes to the stage later on, whilst a frantic ‘Our Love Must Die’, live favourite ‘Stop It You’re Killing Me’ and old school classics ‘Meat Abstract’ and ‘Potato Junkie’ get a more enthusiastic response than I’ve seen at some fully plugged-in shows by other bands.

Both Cairns and Firth help set the tone with between-song anecdotes and banter, whether it’s Stevie professing his undying love for Taco Bell or Cairns giving small insights into how certain songs came about, both are brilliantly natural and genuine entertainers, taking the time to respond to the crowd as well as keeping the momentum going.

Perhaps the main beauty of this show is the way the audience participation works. Most in attendance are singing along to each and every classic, but Cairns is loud enough to cover a couple of over-enthusiastic duff notes from the crowd, whilst also encouraging maximum volume for ‘Church of NOISE’ and the chorus of ‘Living In The Shadow Of The Terrible Thing’. The favour is dutifully returned when, during a stunning ‘Diane’ (Therapy?‘s outstanding Hüsker Dü cover) the crowd watch on respectfully to ensure full impact.

You probably wouldn’t be able to get a better crowd in such a notoriously tough-to-please city, and it’s testament to Cairns and his songwriting ability that a good couple of hundred have turned out tonight to witness this one-off event.

The highlight of the night oddly comes during the kind-of-new-song ‘Lost In Care’. A recognisable track (since parts of it were extracted to create ‘The Buzzing’ from Therapy?‘s last record), this stripped down, haunting take on mental illness is hugely powerful and you can’t help but feel privileged to have experienced it at such an intimate venue.

As the show ends, this acoustic jaunt through the Therapy? back catalogue has proven to be a triumphantly special and unique event that immediately makes me want to do it all over again. Here’s hoping…

The Wildhearts + Eureka Machines + Baby Godzilla @ Manchester Academy – 5th April 2013

The Wildhearts @ Manchester Academy

Greetings From Hitsville

In the past two years, I’ve seen Ginger Wildheart live six times. I’ve watched him perform everywhere, from a tiny acoustic show in Ashton-under-Lyne and a support slot with The Darkness all the way up to his celebratory London birthday show where he even supported himself (does that make it seven times?) and a raucous couple of nights in larger Manchester venues. But when it was announced that The Wildhearts would be hitting the road to perform the nailed-on classic Earth Vs The Wildhearts album in full to celebrate its 20th anniversary, I felt a) very, very old and b) so excited I could actually have a bit of a cry.

To make me even more giddy with joy, Ginger and co once again proved how in touch with the fans they were by delivering some amazing value for money, announcing that both Eureka Machines and Baby Godzilla would feature on the bill.

Baby Godzilla @ Manchester Academy

Cutting their Baby teeth in Manchester Academy

I’d seen Baby Godzilla playing with Ginger in the tiny Club Academy, on a night where they completely blew second support act The Guns off the stage. The Welsh crew didn’t stand a chance following the ‘Zillas, as both Matt and Jonny took the show into the crowd, literally, and threw themselves around like demented wildebeest. So, faced with the daunting prospect of the near 2,500 capacity Academy 1, what would the band do? Exactly what they do best. It takes about 15 seconds for the band to lob guitars and mic stands into the crowd and perform most of their punky hardcore psychoblues set WITH the people.

Many stand on, enthralled (if a little scared) as the band tear through a storming clutch of songs, and lets be honest here, these boys know how to write a tune. Tracks such as Powerboat Disaster and A Good Idea Realised are not just mental slabs of rock and roll, they’re quality tracks which can spur any size crowd into having a good time. One thing’s for sure, Baby Godzilla aren’t a gimmicky, comedy band, they’re a quality group laying down some awe-inspiring sounds and they’ve only got bigger and better things in their future. And to the 10 year old kid handed a ‘Zilla guitar mid-set; yes, this lot will be your favourite band for years to come.

Eureka Machines @ Manchester Academy

A Eureka moment.

Following Baby Godzilla is never an easy task, but if anyone’s up to it, it’s Ginger-collaborator Chris Catalyst and his Eureka Machines. Another band who put on a great show no matter the venue, EM gurn and dance their way through catchy tune after catchy tune, their hardcore and loyal fan base loving every minute of their hugely enjoyable set. It might be an all too brief appearance for many (full tour coming soon, kids) but EM still pick out the best tracks from their three albums, so there’s something for everyone. Champion The Underdog is a great pop rock opener whilst Pop Star is brilliantly written, funny, and an absolute joy live. This Is The Story Of My Life and Affluenza get the crowd bopping like they’ve been close personal friends with the band for years, and None Of The Above and Zero Hero close things off magnificently, setting the scene perfectly for what is to follow. EM are another band at the peak of their powers, having as they do three albums worth of ridiculously good songs up their black sleeves, and it’s a shame they can’t play the whole ruddy lot.

After a short wait, the sense of anticipation is absolutely crazy. The crowd ranges from eight year olds to octogenarians, fans new and old all in attendance with one common goal; dancing like absolute lunatics to an album seen more as a life-changing moment in time than a simple shiny disc purchase. As Ginger, CJ, Random and Ritch take to the stage, you can’t spot a miserable British mug for miles; this isn’t a gig, this is a lock in with all your mates in the best sound-systemed pub in the world.

I probably don’t need to run through every song here, as you can guess what the band play (hint: check the Earth Vs… tracklisting for details), but if there is a better live opening salvo than Greetings From Shitsville, TV Tan and Everlone, I’ll eat my not inconsideable collection of headwear. My Baby Is A Headfuck rocks the crowd from front to back, and even though I’ve heard Suckerpunch so many times live over the years, the two decade-old song sounds even better once again, losing none of its whirling punkish attitude.

As for the encores, there had been talk pre-gig of the fans being able to pick the songs, and this does ring true as long-standing roadies Dunc and Stevie wield giant boards plastered with various songs from the entire Wildhearts back catalogue, with the louder cheer signifying which would be played.

Trickier than it sounds, the crowd seem genuinely pained to pick between Caffeine Bomb and Sick Of Drugs, but one thing this scheme does lend itself to is the opportunity to hear some songs that haven’t been played that much over the years. TV EP track Dangerlust beats Naivety Play to the punch, whilst a close call sees Geordie In Wonderland edge out Nothing Ever Changes But The Shoes and a similarly tight decision ensures 29 x The Pain gets heard over usual show-closer I Wanna Go Where The People Go.

As the band exit the stage for the final time, the shared joy in the venue is truly palpable. The Wildhearts seem just as proud as the audience in being part of such an astoundingly happy night, where songs that have meant so much to so many for so many years get the airing they deserve. Some might see anniversary tours as a faddy, cynical cash-in, but if anyone would begrudge us of this amazing night, they need to grow a new soul. Magical stuff.