When an AOR revival suddenly became flavour of the month late in 2010, the debut album by Swedes Houston was seen as the standard bearer of the new revolution. Even if live performances were a mixed bag, the quality of the album really captures the spirit of AOR’s heyday justified its major label release in the UK.
Many line-up changes later (singer Hank Erix now being the only survivor of the original line-up) , this showcase was their first UK show in nearly three years to promote the suitably titled Relaunch 2. However their bandwagon has slowed to the extent that even the tiny Barfly was only half full, not helped by The Treatment’s show down the road the same night splitting the potential London audience.
This was a value for money bill with a trio of Swedish acts starting with Big Time. Seeing them come on stage could have been stepping into a 1985 VHS video with guitarist Rick Digorio looking like a period Nikki Sixx and singer Mike Palace (sic) sporting the same massive poodle perm and fringed leather jacket Jon Bon Jovi had in those days.
Despite the glammy image and a basic guitar/bass/drums format the songs were pleasingly melodic notably opener ‘Julia’ and the eponymous ‘Big Time’. Most impressive of all was Mike’s strong, rich voice, calling to mind Matti Alfonzetti even with a hint of Ten’s Gary Hughes.
In a short set they were allowed time for an encore which they dedicated to Ronnie James Dio – I was expecting one of the standard covers but was delighted with a rare airing of his forgotten charity Hear n Aid record ‘Stars’, which had a few people, notably my mate Dave Bowman, rolling back the years and punching the air.
The Spin have an interesting story – as Sencelled they recorded an album in 2011, when I remember them opening for the Electric Boys, but after a name change and a relocation to the UK are now playing a mixture of originals and covers on the pub circuit where East London meets Essex. They seemed to have attached several followers and it has obviously enhanced their stage craft.
Their pop rock sound mixes the likes of Cheap Trick and Rick Springfield with – dare I say it – a hint of Busted or McFly, but the hooks and choruses, delivered with a sense of fun, on the likes of ‘I Wanted You’ , ‘I Love The Way You Are’ and a new song, ‘On My Way’, are lovably catchy. I found myself only mentally deducting marks for enhancing the melodic nature of the sound with some blatantly taped keyboards.
Coming on stage early, Houston’s new five piece band, with image firmly toned down from days of old, opened with ‘Glory’ and ‘Don’t Look Back’, and their style remains refreshingly true to classic old school AOR.
While contemporaries like H.E.A.T. have progressed to a tougher hard rock sound, Houston seem content to stick to a gentler, older fashioned form of melodic rock with its feet very much in the first half rather than the second half of the eighties. indeed it is a rare gig when the singer asked for the guitar feed to be turned down to allow the keyboards to be heard.
‘Truth Slips’ from the debut album was a highlight especially when fellow Swede and rock poppet Mia Klose sidled on stage from the audience to provide the female duet, while ‘I’m Coming Home’ and a cover of the Dakota obscurity ‘Runaway’, apparently used in a Red Bull advert, also went down very well.
I found myself punching the air to ‘Hold On’, with a chorus showing off the ear for melody that the Scandinavians do best, and crowd favourite ’1000 songs’ was bringing the gig to the boil very nicely.
However I was then stunned when Hank made his closing remarks, and after a single encore in ‘Return My Heart’, one of the shortest headline sets at shy of 50 minutes was over, a good half hour short of the venue curfew.
It was good while it lasted, but the short set length and poor turnout symbolised that Houston are at a crossroads in their career. If they do not swiftly regather momentum they could, in a manner of speaking, have a problem.
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
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