It’s December and touring season is upon us once again, so it is with a bit of frustration that the trip up the A449 to Wolverhampton on a cold and wet Thursday evening is a slow one, as the thought of seeing one of the UK’s finest metal bands laying waste to The Slade Rooms whilst having to endure the rush hour traffic first is proving to be very testing.
Eventually getting inside the venue there is the matter of the support acts before the main event, and first up tonight is local band Vandaliers who provide a solid 30-minute set of ’70s-influenced hard rock swagger. The small crowd assembling at the front of the stage applaud enthusiastically for each song and the band keep the riffs coming in a set of no-frills rockers that may not be the most original you’ve ever heard but they can play, they sound tight and they go down well.
The room begins to fill up for main support Gentlemans Pistols and the atmosphere suddenly becomes electric. With latest album “Hustler’s Row” having been released to positive reviews the band are given a hero’s welcome as their energetic take on blues rock gets the assembled masses in the mood for a rock n’ roll party. Legendary guitarist Bill Steer effortlessly throws out those silky leads as singer/guitarist James Atkinson and bassist Robert Threapleton throw Judas Priest-style shapes and grin like loons, and this display of cheerful bonhomie is reflected back from the audience who greet each song with rapturous applause. Each of their three albums is represented, and with tracks like ‘I Wouldn’t Let You’ and “Hustler’s Row” highlight ‘Devil’s Advocate On Call’ providing more groove than a touring funk band’s tour bus stereo, Gentlemans Pistols prove why they are one of the UK’s most exciting live bands right now.
And so to tonight’s headliners. Celebrating 20 years as a band, Orange Goblin are in the position of playing a greatest hits set when they don’t actually have any ‘hits’, in the conventional sense of the word, but that doesn’t matter as everyone in attendance tonight seems to know the words to the songs that the band have chosen to represent their career. Coming on to the stage to the sounds of AC/DC‘s ‘It’s a Long Way To the Top If You Wanna Rock N’ Roll’, huge frontman Ben Ward (no relation) lets us know that this is the 20th anniversary tour before the customary “We are Orange fucking Goblin, baby!” and then the band begin relatively cautiously with a trippy ‘Solarisphere’ before laying down some serious grooves with a rocking ‘Acid Trial’ and debut album highlight ‘Saruman’s Wish’.
Much was made of the fact that when Orange Goblin released “A Eulogy For the Damned” back in 2012 the four band members were able to quit their day jobs, and ever since then they have upped their game as this is now their living and they’ll be damned if complacency were to set in. ‘The Devil’s Whip’, from latest album “Back From the Abyss” and dedicated to the late Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor, displays no complacency whatsoever as the band pick up momentum with song after song of sheer heavy metal perfection. Ben Ward commands the stage in a way that Ozzy Osbourne can only reminisce about as he barks out commands to the all-too-eager-to-obey crowd, who bang their heads, clap their hands and sing along to the words as if life itself were going to end at any moment. Ward also leans right over the barriers on more than one occasion, all wide-eyed and maniacal and geeing up the mob at the front, and his actions are reciprocated as The Slade Rooms goes off in an explosive frenzy of flailing hair and raised fists.
So having honed their stagecraft to the point of being a stoner/doom metal party band that takes no prisoners, it’s left to the choice of songs to elevate things further and, as Ben Ward is at pains to point out, when there are eight albums to draw from then somebody’s favourites are going to get left out. However, when you have bangers like the incendiary ‘Some You Win, Some You Lose’, the zombie-themed ‘They Come Back’ and the positive vibes of ‘Stand For Something’ in your arsenal then the setlist pretty much dictates itself. And once the band finish the main set with a sublime ‘Time Travelling Blues’ they leave the stage to rapturous applause, only to return for a perfect rendition of ‘Scorpionica’ before the closing double-whammy of ‘Quincy the Pigboy’ and ‘Red Tide Rising’ ends things on a colossal high, the band all smiles and clearly moved by the reception, and the audience still wanting more.
Orange Goblin are in a pretty good place right now, with their studio work having stepped up a gear to the point where we’re getting cast-iron modern classics in the shape of their latest two albums, and also the fact that they are pretty much untouchable as a live band. Over the last 20 years there have been several bands that have been tipped as ‘the next Iron Maiden‘ in terms of being a British metal band that can break through on a global level, and while Orange Goblin are still too much of a cult band to match the likes of Maiden for record sales, as a live entity they embody the enduring spirit of metal. Here’s to another 20 years boys, and hopefully that three-hour set that Ben threatened us with!
Orange Goblin setlist:
Solarisphere, Acid Trial, Saruman’s Wish, The Devil’s Whip, The Fog, Heavy Lies the Crown, Magic Carpet, Stand For Something, Shine, Your World Will Hate This, Some You Win Some You Lose, They Come Back, Blue Snow, Time Travelling Blues, Scorpionica, Quincy the Pigboy, Red Tide Rising