March is now an even busier month in the gig calendar with bands fitting mini tours around the Hard Rock Hell United extravaganza in North Wales, and this was a welcome London showcase for three of the current generation of melodic rock bands, ahead of their appearance at Hard Rock Hell AOR. What the crowd lacked in numbers it made up for in appreciative enthusiasm of three bands giving their all, despite an unfortunate combination of circumstances.
One of the never ending production line of young Swedes, Degreed got the evening off to a good start with a generous 45 minute set. Their stage craft still needs a bit of working on, but they were highly impressive. Opener ‘A Little Bit’ was a trademark piece of Scandi AOR, with Robin Ericsson’s melodic vocals, but the most interesting aspect of their set was the fresh and very diverse approach to an often formularised genre.
Some of the songs, ‘Black Cat’ for one, had unexpectedly interesting song structures with the synthesiser work in particular giving them quite a progressive bent. In contrast new songs from their upcoming third album ‘Kill Your Darlings’ and ‘The Scam’ were distinctly more metallic and the dark and passionate ‘Inside of Me’ and ‘Followed Her Home’ even called to mind Shinedown.
In contrast there was still plenty to satisfy the more conventional AOR ster with memories coming flooding back on a cover of Steve Perry’s ‘Captured by the Moment’ and ‘We Don’t Belong’ having an epic feel. ‘Arms of Misery’ ended a very impressive set.
Night by Night have built quite a buzz around them and having managed to miss all their shows to date other than an acoustic performance at Download I was looking forward to seeing for myself as the original headline act. However, with wretched timing just days before the show they announced the departure of singer Henry Rundell.
The gig went ahead with Daniel Leigh from perennial hopefuls New Device standing in and the diminutive singer played a blinder, working the crowd in his usual whole-hearted, energetic fashion and barely missing a note. If it was an audition it was a pretty definitive statement of intent. However he had only had time to learn six songs, so they played a shorter set and swapped with White Widdow.
With a short haired image and no keyboards, NxN, much like Vega, are bringing a fresh young modern approach to the genre. At times the music was quite heavy with the twin guitar attack of Ben Christo and Tom Daniel to the fore. Yet the choruses, bolstered by Def Leppard-style gang vocals, for the likes of ‘Time To Escape’, ‘A Thousand Lies’, ‘Can’t Walk Away’ ‘Holding Onto Holding On’ and ‘The Moment’ were excellent even if the songs did begin to sound a bit samey.
The change of singer was not the end of their troubles as Tom’s guitar packed up for a good couple of numbers – karma perhaps for sporting a Shoreditch-hipster style waxed moustache? A very accomplished cover of ‘Love In An Elevator’ completed a set that snatched triumph from the jaws of disaster and left me keen to hear more in more propitious circumstances.
Promoted to headliners, White Widdow were the most experienced of the trio, the Australians now onto their third album of defiantly old-school eighties AOR, with sunny choruses and keyboards and guitars battling for supremacy. They too had endured a torrid time with personal effects and instruments not arriving and Xavier Millas having to borrow Degreed’s keyboard.
Jules Millis is also a natural frontman, the singer looking like a Pirates Of The Caribbean extra but working the crowd with infectious enthusiasm, his experience with Tigertailz invaluable. The opener, ‘Caught in the Crossfire’ from their latest Crossfire opus, showed the formula is still intact while ‘Strangers in the Night’ breezed along on a bouncy keyboard hook.
‘Angel’ and ‘Do You Remember’ were scarcely less impressive, but the highlight for me was Jules introducing a song and saying that everyone there should buy it, however obscure- it was ‘Frontline’ from the 1986 self-titled album by Aviator, one of those albums talked of with hushed reverence by us AOR anoraks and indeed one of the major influences on the White Widdow sound. As you might expect they nailed it but the jinx struck again as Enzo Almanzi’s guitar packed up halfway through.
The Aussie national catchphrase is ‘no worries mate’; and it was in that laissez faire spirit that they ploughed on, with keyboardist and Xavier and bassist Ben Webster swapping wisecracks and ‘Change Of Passion’ taking keyboard driven AOR to its extreme.
Fortunately with Tom Daniel’s borrowed guitar, Enzo was back for ‘Fly Away’, another marvellous slice of prime time up tempo AOR. The chorus of ‘Restless Nights’ embodies all the best clichés of the genre, while they ended with ‘Broken Hearts Won’t Last Forever’ from their debut which seems to have become their signature song and ticks all the right lyrical boxes for this style of music.
That seemed to be the natural conclusion to the set, but they returned for another classic eighties cover in Dokken’s ‘Unchain The Night’, Enzo doing his best George Lynch impressions.
It is not easy being an up and coming band in the cult world of melodic rock, ignored by the mainstream, and circumstances tonight put the bands to the ultimate test, but they all plugged away and passed with flying colours. All in all an enjoyable night and hopefully one which will give the bands plenty of ‘war stories’ to talk about when greater success comes their way.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 30 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 8 September 2020.
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