Prolific vocalist Jeff Scott Soto’s well-travelled career has seen him spend brief spells with big names like Yngwie Malmsteen and Journey, participate in supergroups like Soul Sirkus and W.E.T., release albums under his own name and lend his pipes to a series of other bands and projects. However his latest outfit, going under the Soto band name rather than his own, represents his most serious attempt since Talisman to lead a band with a settled line-up.
This notorious workaholic even acted as MC for opening band Vanadine, the Swiss quartet taking the stage at an unfeasibly early 6.30pm with three bands to squeeze in before the Underworld was turned into a club night. They seemed to be having something of an identity crisis from the moment the opening song began in a similar vein to fellow countrymen Gotthard before singer Mitch Michel moved from a rasping voice into a touch of rap-style singing.
Songs like ‘Liar’ reminded me of many of the bands around the early to mid nineties, who when the old glam/sleaze scene suddenly went belly up, were suddenly in search – not always successfully – of a more alternative direction, right down to donning tea cosy hats.
As well as some almost Eddie Vedder-esque mannerisms, Mitch was an energetic presence, encouraging the crowd to come down the front. They were nothing if not eclectic with ‘Where Do I Belong’ almost in an indie pop mould, but the music and lyrical content of ‘F*** U’ suggested a poor man’s Rage Against the Machine.
In contrast I was eagerly awaiting my first glance of Bigfoot, having heard numerous reliable reports that the young North-Westerners were a band to watch. They even seemed to have quite a few dedicated followers in attendance.
Tall and long-haired and with plenty of stage movement, they certainly looked the part, while Ant Ellis has a strong, rich voice and mixed chirpy North-West humour with a passing resemblance in looks and a wild-eyed stare to the young Axl Rose.
Opener ‘Stone Soldiers’ had a bluesy swagger to compete with contemporaries like Bad Touch and heavier numbers ‘Run’ and ‘Bitch Killer’ were very impressive with some meaty riffs and solos from the fine guitar pair of Sam Millar and Mick McCullagh, either side of a semi ballad ‘Come Down My Way’ with Ant playing acoustic.
In the second half of the set their aggression, allied to a tad too much bad language for my taste, reminded me of Skid Row though was marginally less impressive. Ant showed impressive confidence to lead some audience participation during ‘Blame It On The Dog’, playing the classic divide the crowd down the middle ruse, which never fails. The furious-paced ‘Freakshow’ featured a Lizzy-esque twin guitar break before another no-holds-barred closer in ‘Other Side Of Paradise’.
In a similar vein to fellow Brits The Treatment and Vega, they have the youthful swagger to carry venues much larger than this, and with a forthcoming album on Frontiers who have a near monopoly on melodic rock, the future for these Wiganers is very bright indeed.
As Soto took the stage to a tape of a Dave Lee Roth impersonator, they carried a menacing street image in shades, rags and hair tied up, and the opening numbers, including ‘Freak Show ‘ and ‘Weight Of The World’ were uncompromisingly heavy, though I sensed they were dividing opinion – for every person like me who prefers their music to have more prominent melodic hooks, there were just as many blown away by their force, and in particular the fast fingered fretwork of diminutive Spaniard Jorge Salan.
Jeff warned people that the majority of the set would be new material, reflecting the fact this was a band effort rather than a solo gig, though he did slip in a medley of ‘Colour My XTC’ and ‘21st Century’.
One of the pleasures of watching JSS live is the way his manic energy and lust for life creates a sense of spontaneity and camaraderie both with the band and crowd, and there were plenty such moments, including him judging all of our singing during ‘Living The Life’ and a four letter epithet for the new President getting the biggest laughs.
A surprise cover of Michael Jackson’s ‘ Give In To Me’ worked really well while of the new material from Soto’s pair of albums to date, ‘When I’m Older’ was a more melodic change of pace and recent single ‘Unblame’ also impressed.
After a relative Talisman obscurity in ‘Tears In The Sky’, their classic ‘I’ll Be Waiting’ was as usual a vehicle on which to build various shenanigans, including audience participation, bassist David Z playing a solo to Billie Jean and pulling some Jacko-like moves and rhythm guitarist BJ taking his turn singing a couple of bars of ‘Don’t Stop Believin’.
JSS then left the stage for Jorge to show his instrumental prowess on ‘Risk’ which lost nothing against the Satrianis of this world before coming back for a Malmsteen medley, though he was straining somewhat on ‘I’ll See The Light Tonight’, unbelievably now over 30 years old.
The inevitable Steel Dragon ‘Stand Up’ was also a fun end with a party atmosphere not just in the crowd but also as both support bands squeezed onto the crowded Underworld stage. There was even a final curveball as the Soto members did a brief but spot on acapella version of Steel Panther’s ‘Community Property’.
I would be honest and say the preponderance of the newer, heavier material did not make this my favourite gig featuring Jeff Scott Soto, though it ultimately became a fun night. Without doubt though this is the most talented band he has yet assembled, and this show was proof why he has total faith in them.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
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