Gig review: THE ANSWER/THE DEAD DAISIES – Electric Ballroom, London, 23 November 2016

Dead Daisies

In the current live music climate, a touring double bill makes sense. As well as sharing overheads and potentially playing to double the normal audience, for the fan it helps manage an increasingly crowded calendar where often multiple gigs compete for attention on the same night. With luck the bands may even get on well and enjoy the traditional camaraderie of life on the road.

However, its a tricky one to pull off – the two bands need to be compatible and in a broadly similar musical ball park yet with a different enough fanbase to maximise the attendance. The pairing of The Dead Daisies and The Answer was one such, two bands of current vintage but inspired by the classic rock of the past, testified to by a predominantly middle-aged crowd.

It was also a value for money bill with both main acts given a good hour and a quarter (by comparison the Last In Line/Inglorious co-headline the same week in London saw the two only play an hour and 50 total), and a third act in the eponymous Jackaman, or more accurately a stripped-down line-up with just petite singer Lynne and an acoustic guitar partner in Danny Page.

Jackaman - Electric Ballroom, London, 23 November 2016

With a confessional, chatty manner between songs as if she was gossiping over a glass of Prosecco, she joked at the dark nature of her love songs, and both that and her powerful soul-influenced voice drew comparisons in my mind to Beth Hart, who was in town the same night. After impressive originals like ‘No Halo’ and ‘Can’t Take It Back’, an impromptu encore saw her make the Blind Faith classic ‘Can’t Find My Way Home’ her own.

The constant changes in line-up since The Dead Daisies started life in 2012 make them more a travelling collective than a supergroup, but these seasoned pros certainly know how to put on a high energy live show.

The Dead Daisies - Electric Ballroom, London, 23 November 2016

While the last Guns’n’Roses members have departed, rough-edged former Motley Crue singer John Corabi is short of stature but long on rock star charisma and the audience reaction had the air of a big event from the opener ‘Long Way To Go’ and the infectious ‘Mexico’, though I did wonder whether the chorus ‘We’re Gonna Ride To Mexico, California Goodbye I’m Moving On’ might have to be rewritten in the age of Trump.

They are also accomplished musicians, with Brian Tichy thrashing the life out of his drumkit, while they pulled off a real coup in persuading Doug Aldrich, for so long David Coverdale’s right hand man in modern day Whitesnake, to come on board. His down and dirty, bluesy style gave the songs a sharper edge, even when they were covers like Creedence’s ‘Fortunate Son’, while he even played a seventies style talk box on ‘With You And I’. He also teased with the intro to ‘Slow an’ Easy’ before ripping into ‘Last Time I Saw the Sun’.

The Dead Daisies - Electric Ballroom, London, 23 November 2016

I didn’t think much of the title track from latest album  ‘Make Some Noise’ which sounded like one of Gene Simmons’ weak contributions to eighties Kiss, but the response it sparked suggested I was in the minority. However originals ‘Song And A Prayer’, and ‘Lock n Load’ and ‘Something I Said’ with their bluesy,  almost southern feel, were all impressively melodic, particularly with John’s acoustic guitar adding even more depth to the sound.

The Dead Daisies - Electric Ballroom, London, 23 November 2016

The number of covers in their set – whether in full form or excerpts -  might have been excessive but a rocked up ‘Join Together’ proved a perfect live song, and bassist Marco Mendoza went deep into the crowd to play. ‘Helter Skelter’, with a snatch of ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’, was another old classic enlivened by a heavier treatment, while I’m not sure how many, myself included,  realised that the catchy closer ‘Midnight Moses’ with its ‘hey-hey-heys’ was also a cover of a Sensational Alex Harvey Band song.

Though their set flagged a little near the end with excessive band intros and chatter, the Daisies’ stage energy and dynamism and good songs, whether their own or other people’s, had set the bar high for The Answer.

2016 has seen the affable Northern Irishmen at a career crossroads – they celebrated a decade since debut album ‘Rise’ threatened to send them into the stratosphere, yet their sixth album ‘Solas’ has been a remarkable reinvention, an experimental album far removed from the reliable if slightly pedestrian blues rock they are associated with. The question on my lips was how much they would go easy on the new direction and reassure long-time fans.

The Answer - Electric Ballroom, London, 23 November 2016

The answer (pun intended) was that they showed absolute faith in the new material, opening with the slow burning title track without so much as a recognisable riff or hook, and ‘Beautiful World’, which at various times had a trip hop feel and quavery high-pitched vocals reminding me of Muse, though by the end I was appreciating the quality of the song.

With the clock already ticking towards 10 o’clock and those whose primary loyalty was to The Dead Daisies wondering whether to stick around, this was what Sir Humphrey in ‘Yes Minister’ would have described as a ‘courageous’ decision.

There was still a dip into the more traditional back catalogue from time to time as Cormac Neeson bellowed his way with great urgency through ‘New Horizon’ and ‘Waste Your Tears’, the former after some typically heavy slide playing by Paul Mahon.

The Answer - Electric Ballroom, London, 23 November 2016

However new material formed the bulk of the set: hearing these songs for the first time, it was almost as if each one was designed to showcase a new side of The Answer that no-one knew existed. ‘Tunnel’ was a reflective downbeat ballad while the likes of ‘Untrue Colour’ had the celtic, post-punk feel of The Alarm and early U2 and Big Country.

Though  the likes of ‘Demon Driven Man’ had choruses commercial enough to get a thinning crowd singing, there was not a trace in any of the new songs of the trademark Answer bluesy bluster and Paul was playing in a much more restrained style.

The Answer - Electric Ballroom, London, 23 November 2016

Yet at the same time they were very impressive in their own right. ‘In This Land’ harkened back to traditional gaelic music, with Paul seated playing mandolin, while Cormac played a variety of acoustic guitars including a Balalaika on ‘Being Begotten’.

More normal service was resumed with perhaps their best song ‘Nowhere Freeway’, with Lynne Jackaman having great fun as she returned to duet with Cormac, as she did on the record, the 100 mph pace of ‘Demons Eye’, and ‘Spectacular’ with a riff that grew on me.

The Answer - Electric Ballroom, London, 23 November 2016

However a total of nine new songs was reminiscent of the seventies when the original wave of classic rock bands would always change their setlist to reflect the new album and some of the songs we now think of as unmissable signature classics were regularly omitted live.

They threw a final curveball on ‘Battlecry’,  another with an experimental feel. After some scat singing with bassist Micky Waters, off Cormac went into the crowd and ran right through to the back, as we played a game of ‘Where’s Wally/Waldo’ in trying to spot him.

But as the band, who let’s face it are not the most charismatic, quietly left the stage he never returned. It was a peculiar end to the set and the sense of anti-climax was added to by the complete absence of a single song from the career-defining ‘Rise’.

It was an intriguing evening, and perhaps the bands on the double act were not so similar after all – The Dead Daisies played it safe but went  down a storm, while The Answer boldly waved the banner for their new direction, but possibly at the expense of their popularity.

Review and Photos by Andy Nathan

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