Co-headline tours make business sense, especially when the bands concerned have flown over from the USA: in Skid Row’s case this double header was part of an extensive UK tour, with Night Ranger’s briefer stop over focused around a headline performance at HRH AOR.
There is also a fine line to be struck between maximising attendance by pulling in two distinct sets of fans, while at least maintaining some musical compatibility. If a week is a long time in politics, the five years between, say Night Ranger’s US hit making peak and Skid Row’s brash arrival onto the scene, is an eternity in rock music circles so the two were probably pulling in slightly different demographics.
For diehard fans of a band, a double bill like this can be frustrating as each band strip out the more obscure numbers in a set shorn of its full length, but the more casual fan benefits with two sets for the price of one, each focusing on the best-known material.
In fact this show was quadruple value for money as it also included 30 minute sets from the two supports on the Skid Row tour, both hard touring home grown rising stars. Opening proceedings were Bad Touch, looking entirely comfortable on a larger stage after a headline club tour last winter.
Stevie Westwood has a strong voice while the Les Pauls of Rob Glendinning and Daniel ‘Seeks’ Seekings have a great feel with a real Black Crowes vibe, especially on ‘Good On Me’. Not all their songs hit the mark but the likes of ‘Heartbreaker Soulshaker’ with its heavy funk feel and ‘Outlaw’, building from quiet beginnings into a big chorus suggest that Stevie may have been over modest when he kept describing them as a ‘little band from Norfolk’.
They even had the confidence to play an impressive new song in (I think) ‘Get Your Head Up’ before ending an excellent set with the Stones/Georgia Satellites- style raunch of ‘99%’.
The talking point as Toseland hit the stage was not the music but the new look of eponymous former motorcycle ace James, with a brushed forward fringe and dapper blazer that gave him the look of a boy band member. Ironically my thoughts as they opened with ‘Puppet On A Chain’ were that the music was too much on the heavy side, notably with some over drumming from Joe Yoshida, while the band’s stage movements were on the distracting side of energetic.
This rather bludgeoning approach only drowned out James’ Miles Kennedy-influenced vocals on otherwise good songs like ‘Living In A Moment’ and ‘Life Is Beautiful’. Things improved when he took to piano with ‘Fingers Burned’ showing Queen and Meatloaf influences then his best song ‘Renegade’ where the lyric ‘god speed your wayward son’ was a tell tale sign of Toby Jepson’s involvement. A frantic ‘Hearts And Bones’ ended a set that confirmed my view Tosleand have rather hit a plateau.
Of the co-headliners Night Ranger went first but a clichéd intro tape of ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ led into something of a false start with a very ordinary new song ‘Somehow Someday’, before things picked up with ‘Touch Of Madness’, notably with Brad Gillis’ squealing guitar solo building to an ever faster climax. His fellow lead guitarist Keri Kelli gave them a glammier edge in his street rags though he seemed to get less of a look-in on the solos than predecessors like Jeff Watson and Joel Hoekstra.
Unfortunately for a while the sound was not the best, impairing my usual enjoyment of ‘Four In The Morning’ while on ‘Sing Me Away’ drummer Kelly Keagy’s first lead vocal of the set felt too low in the mix before some trademark twin guitar work from Brad and Keri.
After Jack Blades paid tribute to the history of the place he dipped into his Damn Yankees catalogue for a sparky ‘Coming Of Age’, with a great solo from Brad before one of my favourites in ‘Rumours In The Air’, albeit with Erik Levy’s keys more in the background compared to the studio original.
Jack then said they had searched to play something never played on previous UK shows and we got the eponymous ‘Night Ranger’ from their first album: after a brief mid-section bass and drum solo, the furious guitar climax was a reminder that they were originally a harder rocking, guitar-heavy outfit; indeed Brad briefly succeeded Randy Rhoads as Ozzy Osbourne’s axeman.
From the second album onwards they hit paydirt in the USA with their ballads and ‘Sentimental Street’ was in the classic AOR mould, Kelly coming out alone to song before returning to his drumkit and with some superb vocal harmonies from the band.
When Keri brought out an acoustic guitar, there was the surprise of the night in a couple of verses of ‘Come Again’ before the more usual Damn Yankees hit ballad in ‘High Enough’, again with some top vocal harmonies, before they launched into their classic ‘Don’t Tell Me Love Me’, with a mid-song snatch of ‘Highway Star’, before Brad and Keri traded guitar solos furiously with some great poses to match.
Usually at this stage of an NR set they would leave for an encore, but with time constraints a keyboard solo led into Kelly again coming up front to sing the intro to their huge US hit ‘Sister Christian’. It was noticeable the role his drumming contributed to the atmospheric, melodramatic feel that almost defined the term power ballad. However, as if to prove that is not the band’s preferred epitaph, a rousing ‘You Can Still Rock In America’ complete with a bit of audience participation concluded 70 minutes of their usual high energy set.
With a long changeover, it was not far short of 10 0’clock when Skid Row hit the stage, but the place was still packed. They had a more obvious headline set up with a better sound and their own backdrop of what looked like a street insurrection, an image enhanced by the machine gun like drumming of Rob Hammersmith as they launched into their set in the most uncompromising way possible with ‘Slave To The Grind’.
The main interest was in how the latest successor to Seb Bach, former Dragonforce and IamI singer ZP Theart, would cope. I was cynical that he would be a good fit but he stayed fairly faithful to the originals while having an added vocal range, and with his curly hair and at times clichéd routines, played the role of rock god frontman perfectly.
The truncated set was drawn entirely from their first two albums with brash anthems like ‘Sweet Little Sister’ and ‘Makin A Mess’ delivered in a lean and mean style, even if the likes of ‘Piece Of Me’ and ‘Rattlesnake Shake’ may lack something in songwriting class.
‘Big Guns’ sparked the first outbreaks of pogoing in the stalls and ’18 And Life’ remains for me their crowning glory, not to mention one of the few songs where the guitar attack of Dave ‘Snake’ Szabo and Scotti Hill combine in harmony, as they generally alternated between lead and rhythm.
ZP took a break while the band’s resident punk Rachel Bolan took lead vocals for a cover of the Ramones ‘Psycho Therapy’. However the revelation of the set was ‘Quicksand Jesus’ which I barely remembered. Beginning with an acoustic guitar intro from Snake, it allowed ZP to dig into his higher vocal range. Moreover, while up to now the solos had been functional and concise a lengthy one from each guitarist really showed off their talents.
Time had flown by and yet we were already into the last song with the swampy guitar intro to ‘Monkey Business’ leading into that snarling anthem and from my balcony viewpoint I could see most of the downstairs throwing themselves about in a way that suggested it was 1991 all over again.
I had mentally checked off all but three likely songs – they thought better of ‘Get The F*** Out’ but there were no surprises in the two encores. ‘I Remember You with its ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn’ type acoustic guitar intro may be very much an MTV ballad of its time, but the crowd took over large parts, before rocking out one of the ultimate anthems of the ‘glam and sleaze metal’ era in ‘Youth Gone Wild’. Even several of us in the seats could not resist headbanging, though there is a delicious irony in the fact that few of the crowd punching the air and shouting the chorus will see even 40 again.
Considering how huge they were for a while at the turn of the nineties, Skid Row’s current profile is remarkably low. But the band are also great anglophiles with both Rachel and Snake singing the praises of the British bands they grew up on and the fervour of UK audiences, which augurs well for future tours. Even if it was something of a nostalgia fest, their highly charged performance demonstrated they are well worth seeing and completed an excellent night all round.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
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Each week David Randall presents ‘New to GRTR!’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, with the emphasis on independent artists and labels. During December he replays favourite tracks including power plays featured during the year. This show covers the period January-March and was first broadcast on 1 December 2019.
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