How do you open a three-band bill at 7:30pm? By hitting the stage running and burning your way through as much of your best material as your limited slot will permit, with barely a pause for breath and absolutely no dicking about.
Wayward Sons have done enough of these shows to know the score, which perhaps explains why they’re treated like conquering heroes rather than an excuse to linger in the pub.
In truth, their set has been in need of refreshment for a while. New release The Truth Ain’t What It Used To Be provides just that. Deftly avoiding Difficult Second Album Syndrome, it succeeds in both broadening the band’s sonic palette and reinvigorating founder Toby Jepson’s songwriting, being a non-didactic political semi-concept piece that nonetheless makes no attempt to conceal his astringent views on Brexitland (Exhibit A: the jaunty, punky ‘hidden track’ Totally Screwed), which get him shouted at by spittle-flecked members of the gammony community on social media. You know – those middle-aged men who get their kicks bellowing ‘FAKE NEWS!’ in the faces of teenage girls who are trying to do something about global warming. Not a good look. But I digress…
The driving Any Other Way proves an effective opener, but it’s Little White Lies that is the most impressive of the new songs unveiled tonight, being an ambitious composition that sounds rather like Queen by way of The Beatles, with Lennon-esque vocals by Toby and a great guitar solo by Sam Wood, who, as usual, looks absolutely overjoyed to be on stage.
Bassist Nic Wastell continues to delight us with his gurning and what appears to be the late Keith Flint’s old hairdo, forming a potent rhythm section with Phil Martini, while Toby’s old mucker from Little Angels days, Dave Kemp, contributes subtle keyboard embellishments.
The oldest song Wayward Sons perform is Small Talk, Toby’s angry indictment of the sheer crapness of the 1980s (“I was born into Thatcher’s disaster/Cruel and selfish the first words that matter”), which dates from his early solo recordings but now sits comfortably alongside his more recent state of the nation stuff from The Truth Ain’t What It Used To Be. Set closer Until the End is greeted with a huge roar of approval.
“Follow that!” is the unspoken challenge to Stone Broken, who are oft-described as “Walsall’s answer to Nickelback”. That’s rather unfair, because they occasionally sound like Shinedown and Black Stone Cherry too.
It’s hard to fault the quartet’s work ethic, and they clearly have no shortage of fans. Rich Moss has a voice big enough to deliver those huge, sturdy, arena-rattling songs about self-belief and grasping the nettle, each and every one of which builds to a soaring chorus seemingly bolted together from industrial grade steel (though harmony vocals are mysteriously parachuted in from the aether).
Chris Davis’s guitar sound is equally enormous, and Robyn Haycock pummels her drums with a forcefulness that would surely earn the approval of the late John Bonham. But – you knew there was going to be a but, right? – with the best will in the world, it’s hard to see them as any more than the sum of their influences from across the pond.
It’s taken seven years and four albums, but – hurrah! – Black Star Riders have finally embarked on a tour without playing a single Th*n L*zzy cover. One can understand their previous reluctance to make this move. Scott Gorham is, after all, a veteran of the classic Lizzy line-up and has every right to perform the songs he helped to create. Trouble is that each time they play The Boys Are Back in Town or Jailbreak, it simply serves to remind us all of how much we loved Thin Lizzy and hampers Black Star Riders’ attempts to move on.
Now sure, we’d all howl with approval if they dug into the Lizzy songbook. But the fact that it doesn’t feel as though something is missing without them stands as testament to the quality of BSR’s own increasingly impressive catalogue. They open with the title track from new album Another State of Grace, which underlines how far they’ve moved on from the overt Lizzyisms of All Hell Breaks Loose to establish their own hard rockin’ identity.
This being the first night of a lengthy trek, some glitches are inevitable. But it’s poor ol’ Scott Gorham who seems to be experiencing the most difficulty, which becomes glaringly apparent during Testify or Say Goodbye. A guitar tech scuttles on and begins fiddling. By the end of the show, he’s still fiddling. Rather than throwing a guitar hero-style strop, the laidback Californian just takes it all in his stride. Fortunately, it doesn’t affect his performance appreciably.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the stage, Damon Johnson’s replacement, former Dee Dee Ramone/Stone Sour guitarist Christian Martucci, is playing his very first gig with BSR. Breaking with men-in-black sartorial tradition, he sports a green shirt and a mohican, proving to be a major asset as he bounces around like the proverbial dog with two dicks. “Are you going to be staying with us?” asks frontman Ricky Warwick, who’s clearly delighted with this punky energy injection. “You betcha!” he grins.
One of those guys for whom rock star was clearly the only career option, Warwick’s years of hard slog have paid off as BSR have won a loyal Lizzy-sized audience. (Despite their (bad) reputation, Lynott’s mob were never an arena act.) Indeed, he deliver these songs with such conviction that even Tonight the Moonlight Let Me Down transcends its daft title.
The best part of the set is the heavy-duty middle section comprising In the Shadow of the War Machine; Soldierstown, Warwick’s account of his Belfast childhood, with Martucci barking those backing vocals; and the overtly political Why Do You Love Your Guns?, which virtually scuppers any chance they may have had of winning over Trumpland.
The pacing is spot-on, the final straight lightening the mood with the irresistibly catchy Dancing with the Wrong Girl, the big singalong of Finest Hour and a euphoric Bound for Glory. No encore, then. But after an epic 18-song set, BSR had said all they needed to say.
All photos by Mike Evans
Read more: Metal & Prog Picks: October 2019