The Quireboys don’t do subtle. What they do is full on in your face rock and roll and they do it bloody well. Their reputation as a live band is second to none but they’ve also released a couple of well received albums in the last couple of years with White Trash Blues, a collection of standards from the repertoire of the likes of Chuck Berry and John Lee Hooker being a particular favourite in our house.
They’re regular visitors to Grimsby and their set at The Yardbirds opens with one of my personal favourites – Too Much Of A Good Thing, from 2013’s Beautiful Curse which sets the scene for the evening, plenty of classics, a few new ones and surprisingly few from White Trash, considering that this is listed as the album’s European Tour. It doesn’t matter too much though because the truth is that The Quireboys haven’t changed their sound a whole lot over the past thirty or so years and songs from their 1990 debut A Bit Of What You Fancy sit seamlessly alongside more recent material and it all sounds like it was ripped by main force from the 1970s heyday of British rock.
This is timeless music. If you were determined to be mardy about it you could say that they’re a band who haven’t developed much in three decades but you could also say that if you’re that good at what you do why change things around?
Spike is on fine form, the celebrated soft rock rasp is as good as ever and we are reminded early on that we are in the presence of one of the all time great microphone stand jugglers but what’s a little bit of false ceiling damage among friends? It’ll fix easy enough. He’s a force of nature, roaming the stage, playing the crowd, dancing on his own or with the band, bandannaed as always, the piratical effect accentuated by a long scarf and one velcro sea boot. Curiously enough the last time I photographed The Quireboys he had a broken leg as well, on that occasion caused by a heavy tackle in a game of football (that’s soccer to some of you) against giants of British metal, Saxon.
He’s not the only one set for a good time – the whole band look like they’re ready for a party. Guy Griffin’s guitar is the perfect foil as always, particularly on Going Down and This Is Rock And Roll which feels like a stadium filler in need of a stadium and sets the walls and furniture buzzing. They’re the just the band for a proper dark and sweaty rock club like the Yardbirds. Highlights include a raucous 7 O’Clock and I Don’t Love You Any More (obviously) but also a gorgeously sleazy cover of Slim Harpo’s King Bee, with Keith Weir’s honky tonk piano a driving force and Sleepy John Estes’ Leavin’ Trunk.
They round things up with Sweet Mary Ann and Sex Party which is about as good a singalong finale as you could wish for and we’ll be keeping an eye on the website to check that they’re making their annual visit again next year.
Who is the best vocalist currently working in rock music? We could argue that one all day. It’s the kind of debate music fans love and of course we’d never get a definitive answer. But we can be pretty sure that if it came to a vote then Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge, a man who was twice considered for Led Zeppelin duties and doubles up as vocalist for Slash’s touring band, The Conspirators, would be near the top of the poll.
It can’t be very often that the pre-eminence of Kennedy’s vocals is given a run for its money but at the Leeds Arena on Friday, December 2nd, we’re treated to a magnificent display of power and technique from not just one but two vocal greats, with Kennedy’s crown coming in for some serious pressure from Michael Poulsen, lead vocalist of Danish rockabilly metal outfit Volbeat.
It’s a 6.30 start and I’ve no chance of making it for hard rockin’ kiwis Like A Storm (subsequent YouTubeing indicated that I missed out, and I’ll be keeping an eye open for them in future) but I manage to catch the second half of a superlative set from Gojira. The Frenchmen certainly know how to put on a show and many critics tip them for superstardom. On this showing that sounds perfectly reasonable and they certainly know how to whip a crowd into frenzy – the ferocity of their performance being matched on the night only by a particularly terrifying circle pit.
Volbeat wear their influences on their sleeves. They reference Johnny Cash early on at the opening of Sad Man’s Tongue and later welcome Barney Greenaway of Napalm Death for a rousing Evelyn. As you’d expect the set is dominated by tracks from their most recent album, 2016’s Seal The Deal & Let’s Boogie (there can’t be many better ways to start a set than The Devil’s Bleeding Crown), but the highlights come when they rifle through the back catalogue a little for a captivating Lola Montez and Still Counting, for which they bring about half the audience on stage to sing backing vocals. Poulsen’s vocals are riveting throughout, particularly on the inspirational Let It Burn, for which phones and lighters (remember them?) are out in force.
Alter Bridge arrive quietly, sneaking onto the stage in the dark and launching into The Writing On the Wall. Their schtick throughout is to play down the grandstanding and showmanship in favour of being four ordinary guys playing some music. That’s not to say they don’t play a great show – they assuredly do – but it does mean that they put their energies into the performance, not into playing ‘Look at me, I’m famous,’ and they’re all the better for it. A little bit of modesty can be very endearing at times. With Kennedy on vocal and guitar duties he can’t roam the stage like some do, so he has to make up for some visual riffs in favour of musical ones – he’s a pretty good guitarist too, although he did seem happy to be released from instrumental duties and to interact with the front rows on Metalingus.
Alter Bridge are anthem rockers at heart and they have a knack for coming up with great melodies that give Kennedy something to really lean into. On songs like Ghost of Days Gone By and Farther Than the Sun Kennedy gives it that unique blend of passion and controlled power that made him famous back in the Mayfield Four days, but it’s on Blackbird that he really shows just what it is that makes him the best in the world with an extraordinary blend of power and emotion, accentuated by Mark Tremonti’s guitar work. On Waters Rising Tremonti takes the vocal duties while there‘s a moving solo acoustic performance from Kennedy for Watch Over You. Among the many highlights were a hard driving Addicted To Pain and the anthemic Rise Today, which closed the show and sent the fans home happy.
On this showing Alter Bridge are definitely shaping to be one of the major arena rock bands of the next few years with Volbeat not far behind and you should definitely catch both of them if you get the chance.
The Quo roll into town and Sheffield takes a break from the snooker to welcome the legendary (and of course mighty) rockers who played the second night of their 2015 Aquostic Tour to a packed house at the City Hall on Tuesday.
Status Quo go acoustic? It seems like an odd premise but the album of the same name, featuring twenty one acoustic covers of Quo classics performed in chronological order reached number 5 in the UK charts in 2013, their highest chart position since 1996’s 30th Anniversary album and a concert from The Roundhouse was broadcast on the Beeb and issued as a live album. Empty seats are few and far between. So even if the idea of acoustic Quo seems a little odd to me there’s no doubt the fans are on side already.
The acoustic album is an established part of the modern music business, right up there with the full album live performance and the special collector’s edition CD in a tin stuffed with imitation tickets and loads of outtakes that didn’t make the cut because they weren’t good enough. To some bands it might seem like an opportunity to cut costs and save some cash but Status Quo don’t do things that way. Apart from the five band members there is a six piece string section, two backing singers, and bass player John Edward’s son Freddie, (who has a considerable and vocal following among the Quo faithful). I think that’s everybody but there may be one or two more I missed.
Acoustic reversioning is nothing new of course, you only have to look at the enduring success of MTV’s Unplugged sessions to realise that. I honestly thought it had died off in the late 90s (we only have free to air TV in our house) but it’s still going strong apparently, with Miley Cyrus the latest victim. Despite some remarkable performances, (Nirvana and Clapton being among the most obvious) there’s always something unedifying about the format however, an unspoken assumption that the performers in question need to stop hiding behind all that noise and play acoustically in order to prove their worth as musicians. With more than fifty years as a band Quo don’t appear to be in need of that kind of validation.
So if they’re not saving money and not seeking artistic credibility just what are Status Quo doing playing acoustically? The answer would appear to be that they are having a good time, sitting in a row, playing some favourite songs and cracking a few jokes. And why not?
First up are Terry and Gerry, Louder Than War’s favourite 80’s cow punk skiffle band complete with long black coats, shoestring ties, a washboard with one of those bits on it that sounds like the death rattle of your favourite clockwork railway engine and a ton of great little songs. Little being the operative word. Terry And Gerry seem to think that the phrase “three minute pop song” represents some kind of extreme upper limit on duration. I shoot the shortest three songs worth of pictures in history.
They’re masters of the art of creative anachronism, starting out in the early 80s (which wasn’t a skiffle boom period), appearing on The Tube and doing several Peel sessions back in the day when peel favourite was just a preparatory instruction in the post Grand National barbecue cookbook. Having been on hiatus for several years they reformed for a 2014 Peel celebration tour. They are bursting with energy and enthusiasm, apparently overwhelmed with their reception and the fact that people haven’t left by the end of their set, and seemingly on the verge of going into a full on Gwyneth Paltrow between songs.
Their exuberance certainly strikes a chord with the audience and by the end of their set contains lashings of community singing, organised waving (some of it bimanual) and some great tunes, among them Kennedy Says, which features benedictions from a place in the sky above the White House and a posthumous pardon for the whole Bay Of Pigs thing, Clothes Shop, a hymn to the loneliness of sartorial elegance and teenage individualism.
I will confess that this was the first time I’d heard Terry and Gerry but it won’t be the last – great stuff.
Status Quo take to the stage in 5-2-6-2 formation with the flat forward line of guitar and bass, the big guys in the centre, backing singers in midfield, and the strings on the left of the defence. The songs adapt well to the new instrumentation and they the size and quality of the band mean that no two numbers sound the same, so there’s no danger of the set getting stale. Paper Plane is embellished with zydeco accordion, Rock’n’Roll is a delicate memento to the band’s heyday, Caroline is an up tempo stomp.
Of course the hits go down a storm and in this new format they sound thoroughly refreshed. Rocking All Over The World has a barrelhouse piano that transforms it into pure Rockney, Down, Down is up tempo concertina driven skiffle and Caroline has an streetwise boogie that belongs to the heyday of pub rock. It’s the less well known songs that benefit most from their new clothes however. (That of course means songs that are less well known to me – I suspect I’m the only person present who doesn’t know all the words to everything). My favourites are Rain, which fairly chugs along with a steam engine percussion and some hobo harmonica, and Don’t Drive My Car, possibly a riposte to The Beatles free and easy attitude to key sharing, with the rhythm picked out by the strings, some great backing vocals and guitar and a sort of Cossack soul vibe going on.
If there’s any fault to be found it probably lies with the choice of venue. With the best will in the world this is music for dancing to, (not by me I hasten to add, but by others), not for staying in your seat and listening to quietly but the stewards are polite but firm, there is no stage rush and people who get up and block the view are politely asked to replant themselves. Hats off to the brave few that just ignore them – it’s a fine show but the dancers are the ones who enjoy it most.