To slightly misquote one of their own songs, Thunder are proof that you can’t keep a good band down. Their split in 1999 after a decade of success only lasted three years before they reformed to make another four albums, and after calling it a day in 2009 with a show at this very venue, within a couple of years they were back out of semi-retirement.
However trotting out a standard greatest hits at festivals or multi-band bills, or playing an annual Christmas show for fans is one thing. To move forward is much harder, but the creative juices that had run dry have been flowing again to the extent that the Londoners have not only recorded a new album, ‘Wonder Days’, but by common consent it is their finest since their critical and commercial peak of the first half of the nineties, and even reached the top 10.
So this first proper headline tour, albeit just three dates, to promote new material and confirm their return to the big time, had a real sense of occasion building around it, as they played to a sold out Hammersmith for the first time since this now gaudily lime green painted venue was still the good old ‘Hammy O’ with the sticky cinema carpet. The light show and visual backdrops were much more elaborate than at previous Thunder shows, and a camera crew was there to film the occasion.
The tone of the evening was set by opening the show with the title track, lyrically and musically the finest thing they have done in years and with the video backdrop portraying grainy seventies images, before Danny Bowes induced the crowd to clap along to the evergreen ‘River of Pain’.
The new album then featured heavily in the first part of the set with ‘Black Water’, very much with the vibe of Luke Morley’s other band The Union, ‘Resurrection Day’ which again promises to be a lasting Thunder classic with a refrain the crowd picked up on, and ballad ‘Broken’.
It was also great to see Ben Matthews back in harness, albeit shorn of his straggly locks, after his successful operation to remove a cancerous tumour and his versatility in shifting between keyboard and guitar makes a big difference to the depth of their more melodic material.
The pacing of the set was perfect-at a time when new material risked testing the crowd’s patience they reverted to a quartet of oldies, which also showed their diversity- ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’, and the epic ‘Empty City’, reminding us as Luke and latterly Ben stretched out on guitar of the Zeppelin vibe of their earlier work, were followed by a breathtaking ‘I’ll Be Waiting’, with Ben’s keyboards and Danny’s singing giving the ballad a really soulful feel before a sweet solo from Luke.
Danny has one of Britain’s classic blues-rock voices, and hits the notes even live with unerring accuracy, but has the rare ability to combine that with being a great frontman and his urgings had the whole of the downstairs bouncing during a joyful ‘Backstreet Symphony’.
Yet at that point they shifted back into new material, and the obvious faith the band have in it was justified: ‘The Thing I Want’ is a typical piece of raunchy rock n roll designed to get a live crowd going and ‘When The Music Played’ had a more epic feel and continued the nostalgic musings of the title track, with an image of David Bowie as Aladdin Sane projected high above them.
From now on in it was old favourites all the way, delivered with typical Thunder panache, in an epic ‘Love Walked In’ and ‘I Love You More Than Rock n Roll’, thankfully kept quite concise.
The presence of an acoustic guitar at Luke’s side of the stage could only mean the first encore was ‘Low Life In High Places’, simply a great song but also a timely reminder, as rough sleeping rises again in our capital city, that unlike many of their contemporaries alongside their good time songs Thunder also had a social conscience (though lets draw a veil over ‘Welcome to the Party’…). It also featured some classic Danny call and response banter as he invited people to match him in holding the notes.
After its absence from its usual early set position had me wondering if it had been dropped, ‘Higher Ground’ was also exquisitely delivered, before the inevitable finale of ‘Dirty Love’. This has taken on marathon proportions over the years so, rather sadly, I set the stopwatch and Danny’s introductory rap alone lasted five minutes before Luke cranked out the instantly memorable riff.
By the end it had clocked in at nearly 15 minutes but to see Danny bouncing about, hands flapping as if controlled by a drunken puppeteer, smiles all over the band’s faces and even the whole of the balcony brought to their feet justified the indulgence.
They have been so much a part of the rock scene that it is easy to take Thunder for granted, not least with the cheeky chappie image they fostered. But absence has made the heart grow fonder and both the new album and this almost faultless show suggest that they have come back better than ever. Having seen the strength of their fans reaction, a longer tour than this surely awaits next time.
Review by Andy Nathan and photos where stated
Photos by Darran Scott
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