Live Review: The Wildhearts – Earth Vs 20th Anniversary Tour, Manchester Academy 05/04/2013

Greetings From Shitsville
TV Tan
Shame On Me
The Miles Away Girl
My Baby Is A Headfuck
News Of The World
Drinking About Life
Love U Til I Don’t

Caffeine Bomb Vs Sick Of Drugs
Got It On Tuesday Vs Schizophonic
You Beautiful Thing
Vs Red Light Green Light
Naivety Play Vs Dangerlust
Mood Swings & Roundabouts
Vs Now Is The Colour
Deep In The Arms Of Morpheus Vs Turning American
The Duck Song
Vs Hate The World Day
Nothing Ever Changes But The Shoes Vs Geordie In Wonderland
29 X The Pain
Vs I Wanna Go Where The People Go

Last April my brother asked me to be his best man, an honour, for sure, but I’m not the most organised person. So when the Wildhearts announced a tour to celebrate Earth Vs The Wildhearts 20th Anniversary it certainly took a lot of pressure off my shoulders.

They’re not just a band who my brother and I share a love of, but also my girlfriend, her brother, several of our closest friends. All of whom made the trip over the Pennines for this gig. In the past I’ve been on road trips to Dudley, Nottingham and Scarborough to see them, as well as closer to home, so a jaunt to Manchester felt like the perfect choice for this stag do.

The gig had been upgraded from The Academy 2 to the main Academy, a fact that underlines the appeal that The Wildhearts, and more specifically the Earth Vs album continues to have. Thankfully tonight the line-up, which consists of Ginger & CJ from that era, together with Rich Battersby and Jon Poole, do the album justice. As does the sound in the Academy, Rich’s bass drum is particularly punchy during opener Greetings From Shitsville. The crowd is also in fine voice as well, singing the ‘So, So, KO’ line in TV Tan with gusto. The fact it’s a Friday night and most people are willing to lose their inhibitions no doubt aids this. During Everlone I even found myself pogoing for the first time in years, something my knees weren’t thankful for the next day.

Shame On Me  is one of the less familiar album tracks, so there’s a slight lull, but the trio of songs that follows The Miles Away Girl, My Baby Is A Headfuck and Suckerpunch is pretty much unbeatable, especially the one-two combination of the last two. Suckerpunch sounds as frenetic as ever, echoing Ministry’s Jesus Built My Hotrod in terms of its impact the first time I heard it, it was the song that converted me to the Wildhearts in the first place. Following this News Of The World is never going to compete, which is the inevitable issue that arises at shows such as this, whereas a straight ‘hits’ based set wouldn’t leave room for comparative filler. Still the meaty, almost thrash, riff near the end compels my neck muscles into action.

The outset of Love You Till I Don’t’s brings a touch of sunshine to the Manchester night, whilst later in the song Rich Battersby’s drum tattoo brings to mind the opening of another classic song from 1993, namely Anthrax’s Potters Field. Catchy choruses to kill for, thrash riffs, near industrial hit singles and a pop sensibility that has always served the band well, it’s fair to say that the band and Earth Vs in particular covered a lot of bases which explains the diversity in tonight’s crowd (More of which later). So far, so good.

The second half of the set offered that crowd a chance to select what the band played, an intriguing premise that despite being highly enjoyable initially was slightly flawed. There was a slight air of inevitability that when presented with a choice of Caffeine Bomb or Sick Of Drugs. The majority of the crowd opted for the former, which appeared on Earth Vs when it was re-issued in 1994. For me it would have been preferable if it had been featured in the main set and something else went up against Sick Of Drugs, perhaps If life Is Like A Lovebank I Want An Overdraft.

The next two choices presented an interesting dilemma, pip for the song you’ve heard of or go for a surprise in my case. Schizophonic won out, a track that originally appeared on the band’s legendary, initially mail-order only, EP Fishing For Luckies. The alternative was Got It On Tuesday, a B-Side from the Red Light – Green Light EP, which on the night I couldn’t remember. Both choices show how prolific The Wildhearts were from their early nineties inception right through to their initial split after 1997’s Endless Nameless. Nearly every single they put out came with 3 new songs, some of which happened to be amongst their best material.

I was at the bar during the next choice and a gent in what can only be described as glam-rock attire, including a fur coat, planted a kiss on my cheeks by way of an apology for spilling some beer over me. A gesture which underlines the love in the room for the band, having an uplifting affect on those in attendance. Had he spilt that beer in one of Manchester’s many bars later in the night over a less open-minded individual he may well have got into a physical altercation!

The next choice, You Beautiful Thing was a B-Side on the Suckerpunch single and was a fairly unanimous selection over the somewhat novelty Red Light – Green Light (The video for which is well worth looking up on Youtube just to contemplate how the band got away with putting it out). Granted there’s no guest saxophonist but just hearing such a gloriously hook laden song and realising that this wasn’t even the best B-Side on said single makes you realise how much the quality of that format has nosedived since the advent of downloading.

The crowd certainly seems to be largely populated by singles and rarities aficionados, who go on to select Dangerlust from the TV EP over PHUQ album cut Naivety Play and Mood Swings And Roundabouts, which came from the band approved re-release of Fishing For Luckies and wasn’t on EastWest’s cash in version (Are you keeping up, following The Wildhearts was certainly an exhausting pastime!) over Now Is The Colour (An Endless Nameless album cut).

The subsequent choice of Turning American from Don’t Be Happy…Just Worry over Deep In The Arms Of Morpheus was described as a forgone conclusion. Perhaps not surprising considering a recorded version of the latter has only surfaced on Ginger’s fan funded 555% in 2012. It’s similarly unsurprising that the audience implore Rich Battersby to come out from behind his drum kit in order to sing The Duck Song (The football chant style ending to 29x The Pain) rather than Hate The World Day; a Life Is Like A Lovebank… B-Side which itself ends with a rather memorable football terrace friendly chant (Something the band excelled at, Don’t Worry About Me still gets sung by the audience at the end of any of their gigs).

Geordie In Wonderland, which successfully mixes an almost Mediterranean feel with its lilting folk and lyrical subject, is a crowd pleaser that would have trumped most songs, so the chances of hearing Nothing Ever Changes But The Shoes were always slim, and so it came to pass.

The final choice of the night, described as a heavyweight clash by our announcer sees perhaps the greatest Wildhearts song (And one of my all time favourite songs), Suckerpunch B-Side 29x The Pain pitted against one of the band’s most popular singles I Wanna Go Where The People Go. It’s a close run thing. Thankfully, for me, the former got the nod and I was in heaven for the next few minutes.

Giving the audience the final say in the second half of the set led to some enjoyable moments, but it robbed that portion of proceedings of some momentum. That the audience frequently chose B-Sides suggest the band should have just stuck to the Earth Vs singles and played all the B-Sides from the TV EP, Suckerpunch and Caffeine Bomb. Five of them made it in anyway. There was also a noticeably less banter from Ginger tonight, but what little there was mostly revolved around the fact the band genuinely didn’t know what choices the band would be presented with. In that sense tonight was, for better of for worse, truly about people power.

If you want to have a hand in deciding what the band play next time round they have added another batch of dates in June:

21st June – Bournemouth Academy
22nd June – London Forum
23rd June – Bristol Academy
28th June – Leicester Academy
29th June – Newcastle Academy
30th June – Leeds Academy

Post by Andrew Whittaker


Live Review: Napalm Death – The Well, Leeds, UK – 4th Oct 2012

It’s been five years since I last caught a Napalm Death headline gig, at the sadly now defunct Leeds Rios. So the prospect of catching them at an even more intimate venue, thankfully recently saved from closure, was more than welcome.

As with their Rios gig they have opted to have local acts opening for them, which lead to a low key feel, certainly in contrast to the first time I saw Napalm in 1996 with Crowbar and Face Down in tow. In fact I don’t think I’ve seen Napalm given a run for their money by their supports since The Haunted left them looking somewhat pedestrian in 1998.The blackened riffs and vocals of Diascorum do little for me, whilst Hawk Eyes burgeoning reputation is still something of a surprise. Certainly an interesting band, there’s an off-kilter edge to their music, which brings to mind Helmet on more than one occasion, I just feel other Leeds bands such as Black Moth and Gentlemans Pistols currently edge them in the live arena.

It’s gone 10pm by the time the strains of ‘Circumspect’ finally herald Napalm’s arrival, but no-one seems to be escaping for the last train to wherever. Anyone who did have to leave early would have been kicking themselves as this was a classic performance by the boys from Brum.

The opening salvo of ‘Errors in The Signals’ and ‘Everyday Pox’ (Complete with grindcore sax attack sample!) from this year’s ‘Utilitarian’ underlines Napalm’s continued relevance, with said album easily maintaining the standards of the band’s 21st century output. Live they are noticeably tighter since slimming down to a quartet, although seeing them turn in such a life affirming display inevitably brings to mind the late Jesse Pintado. His one time partner in crime, Mitch Harris, is for me something of an unsung hero. Until tonight I’d assumed that Barney provided the Burton C Bell-esque vocal on new track ‘The Wolf I Feed’, but it’s Mitch who steps up to the microphone for that section, proving a much more convincing clean vocalist in the live arena than Fear Factory’s frontman.

Alongside the cuts from ‘Utilitarian’ in the first half of the set are a number of modern Napalm classics, including ‘Silence Is Deafening’ and ‘Fatalist’, the breakdown at the end of the former never failing to bring a smile to my face. They also delve into their often overlooked late nineties album, ‘Words From The Exit Wound’, with a run through ‘Next Of Kin To Chaos’.

With such an extensive back catalogue to plunder there were inevitably some omissions (Sadly no room for ‘Mass Appeal Madness’), but in general this was as well balanced a set as you’re likely to hear, with the second half taking in material from their first two Earache albums, whilst still throwing in refreshing reminders of the band’s ability to pen a tune as catchy as ‘Breed To Breathe’. The only cover of the night, ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’, is a staple of the band’s set that frankly would be a glaring omission if they didn’t play it.

Following the encore of ‘Scum/Human Garbage/You Suffer/Instinct Of Survival’, I speak with a few long term friends who rate this as highly as any previous encounter with the band. The majority of us, all in our thirties, have seen the band countless times, thankfully as we hung back around the middle of the venue a new generation of fans has taken over from us at the front, ensuring that the chaotic pits I would once have thrown myself into live on. Near the end one skirmish led to Barney acting as a lost property attendant, trying to locate the owner of a mobile phone and a single shoe, speaking into said ‘Shoe phone!’ he played the joker for a moment that reminded me why I so love this band. For all their intensity there is a human side to proceedings, and I would like to think that people take to heart some of Greenway’s words, as they continue to be a relevant, raging, force for good.

Andrew Whittaker

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