Hollywood Vampires – Gig Review

Hollywood Vampires + The Darkness + The Damned

Sunday 17th June 2017

Manchester Arena

It was a rare, but welcome night out for Mrs Platinum Al and myself in good old Manchester.  Tickets were booked and we were off to see the big rock show.  It promised to be an exciting evening, but I was unsure whether our expectations would be met.

First off the bat, our old chums The Damned!  This was a real bonus for me, though the handbrake is also a fan after all these years of putting up with me playing their records.  However I was a tad nervous, wondering how these esteemed gentlemen would go down with what appeared to be a more traditional rock crowd.  And in such a huge venue.

Now I know I’m biased, but we were both impressed by The Damned’s performance.  The band didn’t shy away from the large stage; they actually looked quite comfortable up there.  I was quite a way away, mind – I think our seats were in Stockport.

Opener “Street of Dreams” was a moody yet raucous number that’s become a bit of a live favourite of mine over the years.  Follow that with classic “Neat Neat Neat” and you’re off to a hell blazing start.  Just as the stars align and every single person in the huge arena is going “Oooh, they’re quite good, aren’t they?” we get a minor mishap with Captain Sensible’s guitar packing in and the moment seems lost…

Not to worry, before you can say “is he the bloke  who sang Shaddup You Face?” the band, old troopers that they are, are back in the game.  Dave Vanian steers the ship over stormy waters and is in fine, confident voice all through.

The icing on the cake – for me, at least – is the return of Paul Gray, a sight I’ve not witnessed since Sheffield, 1991!  Paul’s bass rumbles and sounds triumphant, particularly in the “Love Song” intro.  Fantastic.  There’s just a drop in volume during “Ignite”, other than that, Paul is a ninja master.

Pinch’s drums are perfect, you can hear Monty (and see him bouncing about); so other than a couple of technical issues The Damned performed superbly.  The set is far too short of course, but I was relieved that they seemed to go down well.  From where I was sat, the arena seemed mostly full, so they didn’t suffer from support-band-empty-hall syndrome either.

I felt like I was watching my child in the school play; happily no-one forgot  their lines and The Damned get a gold star.

You can certainly say that I got value for money for this gig, what with three bands on.  However I was feeling a little short changed after The Darkness performed.  Admittedly, I am biased in favour of The Damned.  Yet I’ve seen The Darkness before, at Download festival a couple of years ago, and was much more impressed.

Not that the Hawkins boys don’t give it a fair shot; a short tight set is delivered in inimitable style with splurges of Justin’s trademark wit and swagger.  Perhaps it’s just that the set is lacking some bigger numbers in the first half; following “Growing On Me” with “Love is Only a Feeling” as the third song is too much of a comedown so early on.

The crowd don’t seem to mind though, it all goes down very well.  Let’s be honest, most of ’em are happy because they’ve heard of The Darkness and haven’t got a clue who The Damned are.  Or, shock horror, don’t like punk rock.  For me, with no “Black Shuck” in the set, and a mediocre version of “Barbarians”, it’s good but not great from the Darkness.

I still can’t bring myself to dislike ’em, regardless.  At least The Darkness tried to bring loud, exuberant British guitar rock into the 21st century, and aren’t a wanky indie band.

There followed some musical chairs for Mrs Platinum Al and me, as we secured seats much nearer the front.  This pleased the other half immensely, she would now have a much better view of the headliners (or one of them, at any rate).

And so the Hollywood Vampires took the stage, and the Big Rock Show was in it’s final phase.  The air of tense expectation was only mildly subdued by the band’s arrival, as the audience were keen to experience what they could serve up.  Would this be a vanity project for ageing rock stars and their pirate actor buddy?  Or could they deliver something tangibly worth their collective prowess?

Led by the preposterously cool Mr Alice Cooper, the Vamps rattle through a few of their own original numbers at first, as if to prove a point.  Yes, they can play – and they can write, too.  It’s super confident and great fun – every song gets a chance to shine on it’s own merits.

The bulk of the set is a succession of expertly reproduced cover songs, each dedicated with respect to a fallen rock comrade.  Songs range from The Doors, to Motorhead, to AC/DC – with my favourite being a great version of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”.

Joe Perry delivers a spine tingling “Sweet Emotion” complete with the extended intro that builds magnificently.  It’s a master class in rock star awesomeness, though Joe seems very much enjoying himself in a humble manner.

Despite the attention thrust upon him by a vast number of fans in attendance, Johnny Depp manages to not only look the embodiment of cool, but actually performs brilliantly.  He appears very much in his element as part of this massive spectacle, indeed his rendition of Bowie’s “Heroes” is one of the highlights of the night.

It’s one of several moments that manages to evoke the ghosts of heroes past, as  accompanying images are shown on the screen onstage.  It’s not altogether subtle, but rock’n’roll rarely is.  Instead the audience cheer their appreciation and nod sagely as our heroes are exhumed for us to behold.

Finally, Alice declares “School’s Out” yet again, as the whole show reaches it’s climax.  Cooper is an absolute delight, the demented circus master and ring leader of this crazy gang.  He is unbelievably cool and amazing at what he does: a true legend.

In the end, despite any doubts, it’s been a hell of a ride.  Despite whatever misgivings anyone may have had regarding authenticity, the Hollywood Vampires delivered an excellent, well performed show that was pure fun.  It was so much more than just athe world’s biggest covers band.  Abandon your cynicism, this was rock’n’roll for the sheer joy of it.  Which is what it’s all about, right?

Melvins – Gig Review

Melvins + Big Business

Friday 9th October 2015

Gorilla, Manchester

I had been waiting for this for a long time.  As a long time fan of the Melvins, it seems inexplicable that I’ve never seen them live before.  But then I rarely travel to Manchester for gigs.  2015 has been the year of live music for Platinum Al; as such the planets aligned, the tickets were bought, the wheels were rolling towards the big city and it was on.  Finally, I would witness the wonder of the Melvins.

And not just the Melvins – the support slot went to Big Business, a two piece of bass and drums in a similar mould to the mighty headliners.  Of course, anyone who knows their Black Flag from their Black Sabbath will tell you that Jared and Coady of this band also perform with Buzz and Dale to create the steaming sonic soup with lumpy riff croutons that is the Melvins. Melvins

The Big Business set was extremely impressive in it’s own right.  As I said, the band is just bass and drums, yet the almighty noise they make is astounding for a two piece.  They play a solid set that could’ve been a main course of the evening’s entertainment.  Big grooves, pounding drums and awesome sound scapes create a fine appetiser.

Gorilla in Manchester is some sort of restaurant/bar thing, with a stage at the back for live shows.  It’s seems more in scale with stand up comedy gigs, but despite the modest size it’s a great place to see the band – close up, good views and sound.  The beer is a bit expensive, but I got a Melvins (official!) t-shirt for a tenner!  Yeah!!!

So anyway, the Melvins arrive on stage as a four piece – Buzz, Dale, Jared and Coady – and we’re off.  It’s a gig unlike any I’ve experienced ever before.  There’s no breaks; no chat with the audience; no introducing the songs – the band just plough through their catalogue of fantastic songs and drag the audience along with them.  The audience follow willingly, of course – and the band don’t ignore us – it’s a unique unspoken agreement that we’re all along for a hell of a musical journey.

The music is heavy, sludgy, intense – exactly what I expected and wanted.  There are several songs from newer albums (“The Water Glass”, “Evil New War God” – both superb).  Older classics like “Sweet Willy Rollbar” and “It’s Shoved” are given a welcome play too.  The absolute high light for me though is “Civilised Worm” – what a riff!

The power of the riff is what the Melvins are all about.  Buzz’s guitar is astoundingly heavy, yet also shines with artistic flourishes and strange sounds to keep the listener guessing.  The bass is relentless yet groovy, hammering home the riffs.  Add dual drummers and ears were ringing for days.

It was a truly intense live experience and one I’m really glad I saw.  Unlike anything else and worthy of the hype, the Melvins are a unique band and I love them.

Did I mention I got a t-shirt for a tenner??!!

Corrosion of Conformity Gig Review

Corrosion of Conformity

Saturday 7th March 2015

Manchester Academy 2

I’ve been a Corrosion of Conformity fan for a long time.  Starting with a cassette copy of their hardcore punk/thrash crossover Eye For An Eye back in my early skateboarding days; through their major label success as a stoner metal band; and on.  Never seen them live, though.  Ridiculous, no?

All that was about to change: I decided to get my act together and go see the band in Manchester for their latest tour.  The fact that vocalist/guitarist Pepper Keenan was back fronting the band, completing their Deliverance era line-up, was a nice little sweetener too.

The afternoon got off to a great start when, mere seconds from arriving in the car park next to the Academy, I spotted bass player Mike Dean walking along the road.  I greeted him and wished the band well in a brief, pleasant conversation.  I think I managed to remain cool and not look like a total weirdo.

A few beers were had in the early evening, before we made our way to the venue.  Unfortunately we were in Manchester Academy 2, not the nice big main Academy building.  The Academy 2 is the size of a sports hall and was too small for this band.  People were crammed in tighter than a glam rockers spandex pants; it was not cool.

I only caught the end of the support bands slot, so I will pass judgement on Hang the Bastard at this time. COC

When Corrosion of Conformity hit the stage, there’s a genuine sense of excitement in the (tiny) room.  They open with instrumental “These Shrouded Temples” from the Blind album, before charging into “Senor Limpio” and “King of the Rotten”.  There’s hardly a breather between songs, and minimal banter – it seems COC are on a mission to destroy.  Pepper leads the band confidently, like he’s never been away; whilst Woody throws down a barrage of guitar.

In keeping with the tour theme, there’s a healthy chunk of tracks from the devastating Deliverance album.  This is fine with me.  My sad fanboy credentials mean I love all their output, but Deliverance is the cream of the crop as far as I’m concerned.  A genuine metal/punk/stoner/doom/whatever classic, rated in the same bracket as Volume 4 and Master of Puppets.  “Albatross” and “My Grain” are highlights amongst a head crushing set, though the slower pace of “Seven Days” is my favourite from that era of the evening – forgot how great that song is.

There’s a pinch of tracks from across several albums, with “Long Whip/Big America” shining from Wiseblood.  “Thirteen Angels” (America’s Volume Dealer) and “Paranoid Opioid” (In the Arms of God) also stand out in a set filled with gems.  The band are well rehearsed – Reed’s drums and Mike’s bass sound tight and locked in.

COC return for their encore with “Broken Man”, before launching into the inevitable “Vote With a Bullet”.  This song is still an absolute monster, and is welcomed heartily by the audience.  “Clean My Wounds”, another Deliverance era stormer, finishes the night off with it’s awesome riff.

Despite being crowded in the tiny Manchester Academy 2, it’s a great night.  Corrosion of Conformity perform a powerful set, which I only wish could have been longer.  I got to tick a band off my “must see” list tonight, and I retire with obligatory tour t-shirt a very happy punter.

Death Skateboards – My Current Set Up

Death deck, Independent trucks, Death wheels 

Recently I set up my new skateboard.  This new set up is, again, primarily Death skateboards.

The new deck is a Lee Dainton pro model – yes, he of Dirty Sanchez fame.  I’ve actually had this deck for a while, I just hadn’t got round to setting it up.  Truth be told, I’ve not done much skating for a while, due to factors like becoming a  Dad; the bastard recession killing my employment; and being busy getting fat.

I’ve kept my previous set of good old reliable Indy trucks, but invested in a new set of Death wheels (52mm).  I picked the wheels up from the very nice people at Note skate shop in Manchester on a recent visit. IMG_3168

Death are a great company, I’ve owned (and skated) many of their decks and wheels.  They’re British, and make really good products that you can depend on.

Back when I used to own a skate shop, I spoke on the phone to Death boss man Nick Zorlac a few times.  He’s a sound guy with an obvious enthusiasm and love for skateboarding. IMG_3170

I also had a brief meeting with Dainton a couple of years ago, when he and Matt Pritchard did a Dirty Sanchez show at the Tivoli in Buckley.  The conversation basically consisted of hollering “Independent for life!” at each other.

Anyway, I’ve now skated this deck and I am extremely happy with it.  No techy nerd ramblings in this blog post, this is a quality skateboard and we’ll leave it at that.  Well done Death on another fine product!

Deck only, before trucks were mounted.

Deck only, before trucks were mounted.

Lunch at Taco Bell

Buenos dias, compañeros amantes de la comida!

I went to Manchester yesterday, for a general look around and to spend some money on tat.  My plan, while I was there, was to have lunch at Taco Bell.  There is now a Taco Bell in the Arndale Centre food court, and it’s one of the few such restaurants in this country.

Back in 2000, I visited the USA and was able to persuade my travelling companions at the time to try Taco Bell one lunch time, rather than the Golden Arches.  As a fan of Mexican food, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  So the opportunity to eat there again was one that I could not pass up.

Lunch time at the Arndale Centre food court was fairly chaotic, with hundreds of people bustling about and queueing for their fast food of choice.  Chairs were scarce and the vibe was more seething ghetto than high class eating.  However, most punters were opting for the obvious Mac or KFC, so the Taco Bell area was slightly less busy.

I opted for a meal deal consisting of two soft tacos, served with fries and a drink.  As I was as hungry as a mountain bandido recovering from a heavy night on the tequila, I also decided to add an extra “Craver” to my tray.  There followed an anxious adventure to find a seat. 1939521_10152342074678714_1669132817_n

The Craver was first, as I treated it as a starter.  Cravers are smaller, appetite beating choices, like the 99p menu at other restaurants.  The option I chose was a soft tortilla wrap, containing chilli beef and cheese.  Not overly spicy, it was still a good start to my culinary trip south of the border.

I’d chosen Pepsi as my drink, and after the Craver started on the Mexican fries.  Though they were more chip than fry, I have to say that they were the best fries I have ever had from a fast food joint.  Basic chips coated in spicy seasoning, they were simply fantastic.  Highly recommended.

Along with the fries, my meal deal consisted of two tacos.  I chose chicken, in a soft tortilla (rather than crispy); with cheese, sour cream and diced tomatoes.  Very messy, but very tasty.  Other options are available, including beef – plus you could go for burritos, quesadilla, or numerous other options.

If you are a fan of Mexican food, or have been to a good Mexican restaurant, then don’t expect Taco Bell to live up to those standards.  But as an alternative to the standard burger and fries fast food choice, this was an enjoyable – and fun – replacement.  I just hope that the British public can forget it’s reluctance to try “spicy” food (it’s not spicy!) and try this out.  I’d love to see Taco Bell everywhere in the UK.

Good points:

  • A new, different option for lunchtime
  • Traditionally boring British palates mean that most punters are too unadventurous to try this – so the queues are smaller
  • It’s Mexican food – good or bad, that beats everything else in my book!

Could do better points:

  • It’s messy – clean up towels (like KFC) would be a good idea
  • The food could be spicier, and who knows how traditionally Mexican this is?!
  • Better seating arrangements would be better at this particular venue – I was there on a Thursday, so why was it so busy?

¿Dónde está la taqueria?

Check out the Taco Bell UK website here.

Go straight to the menu here.

Volbeat – Gig Review

Volbeat + Support

Friday 18th October 2013

Manchester Academy

OK, so I should’ve posted this gig review a while ago – Hallowe’en Horror Fest got in the way.  I apologise.  Better late than never.

My buddies and I went to the magical land of Manchester, to see Volbeat.  The weather was terrible – non stop rain – as befits Mancunia.  It always rains there.  Every time I’ve been, ever.

I missed the first support band, but arrived just as Iced Earth were beginning their set.  I’d heard of the band, but never listened to them – so wasn’t sure what to expect.  I thought they were death metal, I was wrong.  I thought they were European, they’re American.  They were better than I expected, more trad metal (Iron Maiden, Judas Priest) with some 80’s thrash (Testament, Megadeth) along for the ride.  Another comparison I can make is Black Label Society.  Overall, I was impressed with their crunching attack and will look out to purchase some recorded material.

Before Volbeat take the stage at the Academy, they treat us to some Motorhead.  An apt intro tape, as much like Lemmy’s crew, we are dealing with a heavy band who make no secret of their love for good old rock’n’roll.  “Born to Raise Hell” thunders from the PA until Volbeat erupt into live action – and we’re off.

Volbeat are an interesting concept.  Undeniably they are a heavy rock/metal band, yet they embrace the past unlike many others.  Thus we are given a cheeky rendition of “Ring of Fire” and a rocked up “I Only Want to be With You”, to garnish the rockabilly twangs of their original  material.  To be honest, it’s nothing that Glenn Danzig hasn’t already done, but there’s something great about hearing current metal’s DNA being exposed that makes this band thoroughly enjoyable.

In the audience, you can spot the odd dude with a quiff alongside the usual metal uniforms, not to mention a couple of girls in Bettie Page styled attire.  Very cool.  And definite visual evidence that here, rock has come full circle.

My only problem with this gig is that I don’t know the music well enough.  I have three albums by Volbeat, and they’re great – but to really get the benefit of this gig I should have done more homework.  Not that the songs don’t work if you’re not familiar with them – I just wish I’d taken more time to get under their skin.  Then this would’ve been a legendary gig, not just a great one.