Once seen as the cheeky Londoners reliably entertaining loyal crowds in theatre sized venues or livening up a festival crowd halfway up the bill, since returning for a third time a couple of years ago Thunder have hit a purple patch in their career.
‘Wonder Days’ was a quite superb comeback album which also returned them to the top 10, and now 27 years into their career, for the first time they headlined an arena tour. While the rear third of Wembley Arena was curtained off, it still must have been the largest headlining show they have ever done in their home city.
A full three band bill gave good value for money and King King went down spectacularly well. It helps that they are hewn from the same blues rock influences as the headliners, albeit with a tad more emphasis on the former.
Whether on punchy heavy blues rockers like opener ‘More Than I Can Take’ and ‘Hurricane’, the Bad Company-esque ‘Waking Up’ or more laid back smouldering tunes like ‘Rush Hour’, the interplay between kilt wearing, ever smiling singer and guitarist Alan Nimmo and his organ playing foil Bob Pridezma was extremely enjoyable listening.
‘Crazy’ even saw a successful crowd singalong before closing with the epic ‘Stranger to Love’. This wasn’t an ideal format for a band who may lack a little in the visual department and be better seen in a club, while a 30 minute set also meant they had to rein in their jamming tendencies, but their sheer musical quality ensured a very good reception.
If King King were a good musical foil for Thunder then Terrorvision were a suitable generational match. They were two of the few bands who in the nineties kept up the end of British rock against Britpop and the alternative rock sounds coming from America and were as likely to be seen on Top of the Pops as Raw Power. Indeed I was reminded that the first time I saw the Bradford outfit was alongside Thunder on a bill supporting Def Leppard at the Don Valley Stadium in 1993.
I cannot claim to have ever been a fan, preferring my music a little more accomplished and polished, but there is no denying that a hit-packed 45 minute set was entertaining. In a T-shirt with a headache-inducing pattern, and dancing hyperactively like a cross between a toddler on a sugar rush and a metallised version of the Happy Mondays’ Bez, singer Tony Wright is the star of the band , and it was interesting the spotlights fell on him with his rather anonymous bandmates literally lurking in the shadows.
With pockets of people jumping up and down it was clear they had plenty of fans in the house. Songs ranged from the fast and furious such as ‘My House’ and ‘Do You Wanna Go Faster’ to the relative ballad ‘Middleman’ and ‘Some People Say’, Tony for once this time rooted to the spot in a rather bizarre hand over face pose.
I found myself guiltily singing along to the catchy choruses of hits such as ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Alice What’s the Matter’, although after ‘Perseverance’ the set ended abruptly and their biggest hit of all ‘Tequila’ was omitted.
As for the headliners, Thunder’s upgrade in status has also been accompanied by a stage show to match. The opening backdrop was a montage of seemingly every film, sports star, politician or TV programme from the seventies, from Enoch Powell to Mr Benn, set to Edgar Winter’s ‘Frankenstein’, and it led into the similarly nostalgic ‘Wonder Days’ title track with so many twists and turns, and another new song in ‘Black Water’, with some typically fluent soloing from Luke Morley.
Once again, as well as acting the ringmaster, Danny Bowes’ voice was immaculate and it also helped that the sound was crystal clear, Wembley now much improved these days on that front from the aircraft hangar days of old. The crowd responded to his exhortations to jump up and down during the timeless ‘River Of Pain’ before he rather carelessly introduced Ben Matthews as ‘Mr Cancer’ as he played the opening to ‘Resurrection Day’, which by the way the crowd even took over the chanting at the end has to be considered nothing less than a modern classic.
The setlist was a good balance between the old, new and in between and also showed that Thunder’s material is more diverse than you might expect. So a beautiful ‘Like A Satellite’, initially delivered by Danny just with Ben’s piano accompaniment before the band kicked in with some great twin guitars, and the ambitious Zeppelin-esque ‘Empty City’ were sandwiched by the more throwaway but extremely danceable grooves of ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’.
Likewise the famous album cover backdrop led to joyous scenes both on and off stage during ‘Backstage Symphony’ to be followed by the bluesiest of ballads in ‘I’ll Be Waiting’ with a sweet solo from Luke.
It is a sign of their confidence in the ‘Wonder Days’ material that some of it was saved until relatively late in the set with the uptempo ‘The Thing I Want’ and ‘When The Music Played’ accompanied by more retro seventies scenes on screen, and such an epic that momentarily mid-song I thought they had started on another!
In more traditional style they ended with an epic ’Love Walked In’ and the usual audience participation number ‘I Love You More Than Rock’nRoll’ which I must admit was rather predictable and somewhat in the shadow by the rest of the set.
There was also a surprise for the first encore with another newie in ‘Serpentine’, which started as a slow burner with its stripped back, bluesy feel, but as it wore on showed signs of being a live favourite with a great rhythm. Inevitably though ‘Dirty Love’, with Danny’s usual call and response taking it over the ten minute mark, got people jumping around as always, though it was disappointing that a number of the usual favourites such as ‘Higher Ground’ and ‘Low Life In High Places’ were omitted.
Many will tell you that Thunder’s own ‘wonder days’ were in their earliest years, when they were thicker and darker of hair and stole the show when they opened Download. For me though, this triumphant gig proved that, for all the seventies themed nostalgia, they are a band that has returned in the finest form of their career yet.
Review by Andy Nathan
Photos by Paul Clampin
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