Date: 1st February 2020
Review by: Beandog
Photography by: Graham Hilling
I have no doubt most of us have a few lesser mentioned skeletons in our gig closet… I certainly do.
There was one time, somewhere around the turn of the millennium, I was in my early twenties and had set off for London with a gig ticket in my pocket. For reasons that have long been lost to time, I hadn’t planned on roughing up my ears too much. In fact, I was stepping well outside of the riff zone that night – and well outside of the realms of credibility as far as rock ‘n’ roll is concerned because the ticket in my pocket was actually for plucky, Latina pop sensation, Nelly Furtado!
Stick with me… I realise you may be asking yourself, what has ANY of that got to do with this evening’s trio of raucous entertainment? Well, fate had taken a hand that night back in the noughties, because when I turned up at the Kentish Town venue – the same one I’m standing in now – I was greeted, not by a queue of pepped up, pop music fans, eager to bounce into the auditorium – but by a lone, dutiful caretaker, sweeping the remnants of the previous evening into a neat pile.
I had come on the wrong night! The fun was already over.
The concert I’d intended to be at had happened the night before, so I was feeling red-faced and more foolish than I had for even buying the ticket in the first place! Maybe I had dodged a bullet… but I now had a free evening and the need for a plan B. Luckily, I had a copy of Kerrang! magazine in my back pocket, which made it easy enough to give the gig listings a quick scan. Moments later, I was back on the tube and heading to Tottenham Court Road where a Swedish band called Backyard Babies were scheduled to play a headlining slot at the now-defunct London Astoria 2.
The night was saved and I had a fantastic time… but this is not a review of THAT gig. I only mention it to give context to the excited anticipation I’m feeling at the opportunity to see Backyard Babies again, albeit twenty years further down the line and with the memory of a good night carrying me from the station to the venue.
The fact the Swedes have been paired up with The Wildhearts tonight is more than a double bonus. The Wildhearts are a band I’ve held in my affections for a very long time. I first became acquainted with their music via the Don’t Be Happy, Just Worry EP while I was still at school; my ex-girlfriend had a tidy looking vinyl copy that I still kick myself for not taking custody of when we split!
I digress. All this reminiscing about the good old days does nothing to acknowledge both headlining bands as having had a consistent and credible career in the intervening years. Significantly, both bands put out brand new music in 2019 and are riding high on the merits of their most recent work. For that, they deserve a tip of the hat and our hard earned respect; if the number of people who have turned up early enough to catch the start of the show is a measure of that respect, then I’d say it’s being paid in full this evening.
Before either of the headliners take to the stage, we have an additional warm up, courtesy of Pennsylvanian hard rockers CKY.
Glancing around the auditorium, I can see that CKY shirts are a prominent feature in the crowd. There is clearly a lot of love for the band in the venue tonight.
I speculate that many will remember them via their close association with the Jackass TV show and the similarly themed video series (also called CKY – Camp Kill Yourself!). Indeed, the band’s drummer is Jess Margera, brother of troubled skater, filmmaker and lunatic star of Jackass, Bam Margera.
When the band arrives, it’s to a welcoming cheer. A big surprise for me is to see the line-up slimmed down to a two piece. Jess is sitting behind a modest drum kit and Chad I Ginsburg takes the centre spot for both guitar and vocal duties.
All other instruments are piped in via a backing tape – which on one hand, should be applauded as a triumph over the practicalities of touring a fluctuating line-up; but on the other, and in the context of a rock & roll show, it means CKY have to work a little harder to move into the higher gears.
With 50% of the band tethered to a drum stool and a click track, it’s down to Ginsburg to provide the flashier showmanship. Credit where it is due, he does a great job – they both do; but it’s not quite enough to distract from the set feeling a bit neutered due to the use of a of programmed backing.
On the positive, the two musicians get behind their performance with full conviction and their songs are well received. CKY’s link to the nineties skate scene may lead you to believe they’d have an accelerated, US punk sound, but they’re actually made of meatier stuff.
Ginsburg peels out some solid, rolling guitar over Margara’s thumping rhythms. On The Human Drive In Hi-Fi, they establish a strident, industrial pulse that vibrates into the auditorium, and gets heads nodding. Sporadic Movement continues on a riff-disco theme as both crowd and band alike warm into the evening.
Ginsberg is a comfortable frontman, looking every inch the showman as he strides across the stage. Towards the end of their set he acknowledges that if you’ve only heard one CKY song it’s likely to be this one, before leading his bandmate into a triumphant rendition of fan favourite 96 Quite Bitter Beings.
The idiosyncratic riff bounces off the jubilant mood in the room and makes for a genuine highlight that draws me away from my initial reservations.
The crowd cheer out their approval, maintaining an elated mood that builds into a rousing group sing-a-long with the Backyard Babies’ intro music. The song used to unite the crowd this evening is the Sex Pistols‘ bawdy punk anthem, Friggin’ In The Riggin.
Charging into Good Morning Midnight from their 2019 album, Silver and Gold, The Backyard Babies bring an immediate energy to the room. Their confidence is clearly inspired by a blend of experience and enjoyment and the four men on stage appear to be in their element.
Dregan, with his hat set to a jaunty angle, wears his guitar low, just like all the coolest guitar players. To his right, Nicke Borg is tattooed and focused, belting out the opening verses with a sneer.
They follow up with Th1rt3en Or Nothing, then back to the new album for Shovin’ Rocks. Each song benefits from the thrust applied by pigtailed percussionist Peder Carlsson. He is a monster behind the kit.
He’s an underrated drummer who brings each tune the fury that feeds the other musicians and keeps them bounding from song to song. Acting as a counter to the whirling glam rock, Johan Blomqvist uses his four strings to anchor the performance, giving a cool weight to the snotty rock n roll.
Essentially, the four musicians are giving a stadium sized performance in a club sized venue. Both Dregan and Nicke make use of plumes of dry ice that have been set to shoot dramatically from the stage at key points.
These whooshing jets of vapour give Dregan’s solos an extra visual flair. Each time it happens, there is a big noise from the crowd as they lean in to see him peel out a flurry of notes. Hands are held aloft and excited voices whistle and whoop out appreciative cheers.
As if to up the ante, Dregan climbs to the top of his amps and leaps dramatically back on to the stage as soon as the next song come crashing in. Another cheer goes up and the band are straight off into another riff.
It’s not all completely gun-ho though and around the middle of the set, the band find time to bring out their acoustic guitars for a couple of looser moments.
Painkiller and Roads both feature a gentler approach that brings latter day Social Distortion to mind.
Ultimately, the set draws on songs from across the band’s career, so by the time they bring things to a conclusion with the stuttering People Like, People Like, People Like Us, it would be hard to say we haven’t been given good value for money.
A final goodbye evokes a rousing and heartfelt response from the auditorium, which has been full to capacity for the duration of their set. Spirits are high and it’s clear people are ready for tonight’s main event.
During the changeover, I consider how those less familiar with The Wildhearts might consider their current trajectory a “comeback” of sorts. Only, this wouldn’t really be an accurate account of circumstances. I don’t think The Wildhearts ever really went away.
It was touch and go at times. We had the lesser-heard, self titled album and the much underappreciated Chuzpah! to enjoy, but there were also line-up changes and periods of instability. Ultimately, there was an eventual sense that Ginger had fallen out of love with his own band. His focus shifted to his solo output and as the primary songwriter, this put everything into stasis…
But there were always some signs of life. There was always something to prevent the band from disappearing down the plughole completely. Thank goodness!
There were the anniversary shows… First there was 20 years of Earth Vs The Wildhearts, then 20 years of PHUQ… then 25 YEARS of Earth Vs! By this time, some momentum was building. Danny McCormack had rejoined the band and they teamed up with Terrovision and Reef for the Britrock Must Be Destroyed shows. Somewhere in amongst this progression, Ginger announced that he was writing new music. Crucially, that he was writing new WILDHEARTS music.
From this point, it’s heartwarming to consider the last five years or so for The Wildhearts: What began as a jog turned into a run, that turned into a sprint, that has led to an almighty leap back into the rock and roll stratosphere.
As Ginger, Danny, Rich and CJ take their places tonight, they are beaming with the pride and confidence of a band who have put in the work, paid their dues and to top it all off, just written and released some of the strongest material of their career.
After a few rounds of crowd participation for the swaying “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me”, Rich Battersby counts us in – and if appreciation for The Wildhearts music could be measured by people’s willingness to throw a full pint of lager into the air during the first bars of a song, then the love in the room tonight for Everlone must be very strong indeed. Drinks are tossed aloft and the crowd immediately shifts into one big, jostling party.
Diagnosis is up next. A clear highlight from the new Renaissance Men album and a song so good, The Wildhearts singled it out and gave it its own EP in the latter half of last year. On its surface, it’s a simple AC/DC styled rocker; but scratch away the top layer and you’ll find powerful verses describing the effects of austerity in the midst of a national mental health crisis.
“You’re not an animal, you are a human being” has become as rousing a chorus as any of the band’s most cherished songs. Putting it this early in the set is testament to the tune’s ability to unite the crowd and bring them up to fever pitch.
It’s not the only song tonight which could be described as an “anthem” though. Vanilla Radio, Caffeine Bomb and another, new-but-already-a-classic song, Let Em Go, are all met with ecstatic cheers. More boozy missiles are hurtled towards the ceiling and Ginger acknowledges that “there are no rules anymore.”
He invites the crowd to climb over the barrier and storm the stage, stating that all bets are off in a world where politicians can openly lie without repercussions to achieve their agenda. “Fuck it! This is Brexit!”
It’s a perfect introduction to The Revolution Will Be Televised, a refreshingly deep cut from the bands very own “White Album”, and one that plays like a super-charged country hoedown, albeit one with a killer chorus.
This part of the set signifies a confidence the band have found on their most recent tours to take wider excursions away from the greatest hits. The reward for taking these chances is the discovery that the fans love these rarer gems as much as the more obvious choices. There is absolutely no less enthusiasm for this song as there is for the classic TV Tan that follows it.
To say the band are feeding off the crowd’s energy is an understatement. Danny is up on his feet, which is no small task considering his amputated leg! His bass tone is as strong as his smile. CJ grins too, his stickered guitar as much of a iconic presence as his pork pie hat. He makes his trademarked leaps from the drum riser; each one a two fingered salute to the idea that he should be slowing down this far into a career. At the back, Rich hits his drums with the conviction of a man who believes if he stopped hitting them, they would turn around and hit him back!
Ginger, as always, is front and centre… except, I have never seen him looking as ferocious as he does tonight. It’s not aggression though; it’s not jarring or bad tempered. It’s pure conviction. It’s self-assuredness. He looks comfortable. He ROARS on Dislocated. He leans into the mic and gives it absolutely everything he has to give.
He ducks and dances and the penny drops for me… Ginger in 2020 looks like he has fallen completely head over heels in love with The Wildhearts again… And fair play to him. The band are brilliant and absolutely on top of their game tonight.
As things hurtle towards a conclusion, I take note of one moment that exemplifies the power of what a great gig this has been. Standing in the centre of the mosh pit during a climactic My Baby Is A Headfuck is one gentleman, steadfast and firm – holding his walking stick aloft while the mosh churns – seemingly cured from whatever ailment he walked into the venue with. The power of the riff compels him!
You saw it here folks, good music cures all.