There’s a certain crackle in the air tonight inside the Civic. Seems to be a lot of positivity coming from the assembled masses as the bald and bearded old timers (a group which includes this writer) mingle with the younger fashion victims to create a mixed crowd excited to catch two hard rock behemoths who have reportedly been playing at peak form for the last few weeks.
But before those we get to witness young all-girl power trio The Amorettes. Obviously going to draw a comparison to Girlschool before they’ve even played a note, The Amorettes do indeed sound quite similar to Kim McAuliffe and co. but their playing and attitude goes beyond that and into the realms of Motörhead and, more prominently, AC/DC. Much of that has to do with the guitar playing of frontwoman Gill, which echoes the style of the Young brothers while the rhythm section of drummer Hannah and bassist Heather keep things going in a rock steady fashion. With song titles like ‘Hot & Heavy’ and ‘Bull By the Horns’ you know where they’re coming from and they play well, adding to the positive vibes and warming the expanding crowd up nicely.
The Amorettes setlist:
Fire at Will, Get What’s Coming, Bull By the Horns, Give ‘Em Hell, Son of a Gun, Shoot From the Hip, Hot and Heavy
Hitting the stage to a hero’s welcome and launching into the prophetic ‘Bound For Glory’, Black Star Riders can seemingly do no wrong as they play an assortment of tracks from their two studio albums alongside a string of Thin Lizzy classics. Having risen from the post-Phil Lynott touring version of Lizzy it was always going to be a struggle for BSR to carve their own identity, and although latest album “The Killer Instinct” is far from a duffer it does feel slightly underwhelming at times and does veer dangerously close to Thin Lizzy tribute band territory every now and then. However, the stage is a totally different environment and, like Lynott‘s Celtic warriors themselves, BSR live is a totally different prospect than the studio output.
Obviously, guitarist Scott Gorham is the centre of attention as Lizzy classic ‘Jailbreak’ is given an airing and the six-stringer laps up the attention, constantly smiling and nodding to the crowd, even when locked in to those gorgeous Celtic harmonies with fellow guitarist Damon Johnson. But the star of this set is frontman Ricky Warwick, who seems to stop just short of personally slapping every person in the crowd around the face in order to have them join in. Still exhibiting the punk rock aggression that made The Almighty such a formidable live force two decades ago, Warwick is determined to have the whole crowd have a good time and he injects songs like the bouncy ‘Kingdom of the Lost’, “The Killer Instinct” highlight ‘Soldierstown’ and the inevitable-but-no-less-welcome ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ with such passion that it is hard not to resist. After a brilliant rendition of ‘Emerald’ Ricky acknowledges the fact that the new album went into the UK album charts at number 13 and that latest single ‘Finest Hour’ was Radio 2’s Single of the Week (“At 48 years-old I’ll take what I can get” joked Warwick after confessing his childhood dream was to get played on Radio 1) before the band play the song to rapturous applause, rounding things out with ‘Rosalie’, ‘The Killer Instinct’ and a joyous ‘Whiskey in the Jar’. To anyone who finds their studio output not quite hitting the spot then please do go and catch Black Star Riders live because from the stage it all makes sense and you’ll be guaranteed hard rockin’ hit after hard rockin’ hit.
Black Star Riders setlist:
Bound For Glory, Jailbreak, Kingdom of the Lost, Charlie I Gotta Go, Hoodoo Voodoo, Soldierstown, Are You Ready, Bloodshot, The Boys Are Back in Town, Through the Motions, All Hell Breaks Loose, Emerald, Finest Hour, Rosalie, The Killer Instinct, Whiskey in the Jar
And hard rockin’ hits are what Europe specialise in, so it’s lucky that they’re here to carry on what Black Star Riders started. Opening with the excellent title track from new album “War of Kings” the band don’t let up as they tear through a set that leans heavily on the previous three albums, with one or two inevitable classics from the 1980s, and as a majestic ‘Last Look at Eden’ brings out the band’s Led Zeppelin influence it would seem that singer Joey Tempest may also have dabbled in some of that band’s alleged occult mythology as the man hasn’t aged a day since about 1988. Tempest addresses the Midlands crowd with a “How am ya?” and asking what a Yam Yam is (sorry Joey, not being a Midlands native I’m not sure what it’s all about either!) before a sublime ‘Superstitious’ incites a huge sing-a-long down the front. A roadie brings out a note urging Joey not to mention Yam Yams any more and the singer knows he has the crowd in the palm of his hand, and judging by the smiles and raised arms around the hall it looks like there’s nowhere else the audience would rather be.
“War of Kings” centrepiece ‘Praise You’ brings the party mood down a notch or two but the song itself is magnificent, with keyboard player Mic Michaeli‘s Jon Lord-esque tones coming through more prominently and, although the song loses a bit of the stoner rock vibe that the album version has when played from the stage, the bluesy atmosphere conjured up by guitarist John Norum and drummer Ian Haugland takes it to another level. The double-whammy of ‘Rags to Riches’ and ‘Firebox’ from 2012’s “Bag of Bones” album add some groove to the set, with Joey Tempest strutting around the stage like a hybrid of prime Mick Jagger and Robert Plant, constantly sticking his mic in the face of the front-of-stage security trying to get a reaction before he’s off the the front row to show off a bit more, all the while keeping that voice under perfect control and sounding as clear and pitch-perfect as he does on the albums.
‘Rock the Night’ gets people jumping before Tempest lets the crowd know that they are filming tonight and to go appropriately mad for the next two songs. ‘Days of Rock n’ Roll’ sounds mightier than it does on the album and the crowd obliges before that familiar rumble and keyboard riff ushers in the last song of the evening, and three generations of rock fans unite in an epic sing-a-long of ‘The Final Countdown’. How could it end any other way?
So overall, this was a top way to spend a Saturday night in Wolverhampton – a solid up-and-coming young band, a band that exceeded expectations and a band that totally lived up to their reputation, the only real nitpick being that old chestnut about what songs weren’t played. But rather than grumble about that – except to say that ‘Cherokee’ and ‘No Stone Unturned’ would have been nice – it’s best to celebrate what we did get and that was an evening of wonderful rock n’ roll entertainment with three bands having a good time and playing at the top of their game – can’t really ask for more than that.
War of Kings, Hole in My Pocket, Last Look at Eden, Girl From Lebanon, Superstitious, The Second Day, Scream of Anger, Praise You, Sign of the Times, Rags to Riches, Firebox, Rock the Night, Days of Rock n’ Roll, The Final Countdown
Photos by Sabrina Ramdoyal.