I’ve seen The Wildhearts in many venues across the country over the last 28 years, but never at their hometown gig in The Toon. So when a co-headline tour with Sweden’s finest the Backyard Babies was announced, it was a toss-up between Manchester or Newcastle for me, I opted for the latter for no other reason than it was the first date of the UK leg of this tour. A 2-hour car journey is a small price to pay for an evening in the company of 2 of my favourite rock ‘n’ roll bands.
It’s been 20 years since Camp Kill Yourself first gained recognition through Jackass on our TV screens and there has been a lot of water under the bridge in that time. Following a lengthy hiatus, CKY return, albeit as a two-piece, featuring founding members Chad Ginsburg on vocals/guitar and drummer Jess Margera.
With early doors at 6 pm the duo hit the stage at the only-just rock ‘n’ roll time of 7 pm to a fair-sized crowd, it must be said. To be honest, I’m unfamiliar with most of their material, but they sound pretty cool. Their skate punk/stoner rock hybrid sound fits the bill nicely, and while I could name 10 young UK bands off the top of my head that would’ve killed for the opening slot on this tour, they hold their own. Originally the guitar player, Chad excels in his role as frontman, peeling off metal-edged licks and technically proficient riffs on his CKY emblazoned Musicman guitar. He’s engaging with the crowd and thankful for the support. The likes of ‘Attached At The Hip’, ‘Escape From Hellview’ and the classic set closer ’96 Quite Bitter Beings’ show a band with punk ethics and technically heavy tunes that are still here to party like its 1999.
The Backyard Babies closed the show for the German dates. Now, with both bands getting an equal 75 minutes stage time, it’s the sleazy Swedes chance to show The Wildhearts massive what they got going on.
Backyard Babies stroll on stage to massive cheers as oversized blue police lights flash, outlining their silhouettes in the dark. Photographers in the pit fight for the elusive killer shot, as frontman Nicke Borg and livewire guitarist Dregen, jump on their respective ego risers stage front and kick into ‘Good Morning Midnight’ from last year’s return to form album ‘Sliver and Gold’.
Wrapped up in a hoodie and a leather jacket, Nicke incites the crowd to riot from the off and the packed Academy responds in spades. In skinny jeans, leather waistcoat and a straw boater Dregen is looking more rock ‘n’ roll than he has in the last few years, and the diminutive guitarist is in fine form. With his custom Gibson E335 hanging from his knees he peels off killer licks, making good use of the stage and plays every solo on his riser, high above the heads of the front few rows.
A killer ‘Nomadic’ follows ‘Shovin Rocks’, the frontman getting the Academy crowd to sing every chorus with him. Yeah, the newer songs sound a lot better than I imagined to be fair, but it’s not until ‘Heaven 2.9’ that things really get cooking. The following ‘Highlights’ sounds amazing before Nicke brings out the dreaded acoustic. An acoustic guitar would not have happened at a ‘Total 13’ era Backyard Babies gig, right? But hey, that was 2 decades ago and who’s to argue at a singer/songwriter wanting to channel his inner troubadour? Well, ‘Painkiller’ is pretty much a Dogs D’amour tune anyways, so I’m cool with that and to be fair it’s a surprise highlight of the main set for me, along with the awesome, Dregen led ‘Star War’.
If you only made it in time for the 5 song encore you would not have been disappointed. ‘Look At You’ was a breath of fresh air when it came out back in 1998 and its easily the best tune of their career-spanning set. Even witnessing Nicke take a tumble jumping on his riser during a killer ‘Minus Celsius’ doesn’t compete for set highlight.
I’ve heard reports that Backyard Babies are not at their best live these days, but for me, they absolutely killed it tonight. They are tight, professional and they know how to put on a high energy rock ‘n’ roll show. Yes, the setlist could’ve been stronger, and with the addition of a few more classics from ‘Total 13’ or ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ they could’ve stolen the show from the headliners tonight.
But the headliners are not going to be overshadowed tonight. This is The Wildhearts and this is their gaff! Let’s just ease the crowd in gently, shall we? No. Let’s grab ‘em by the ball sack and twist the fucker till it bleeds! They open with ‘Everlone’; I’ve never seen them open with that before. The first ace has been played.
But this band has so many aces in their pack right? ‘Diagnosis’ follows, not only is it one of the most important songs (lyrically) in modern history, it has quickly become a live fan favourite. The building AC/DC riff into that killer refrain, it’s so…dare I say it ‘classic rock’, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. The first time I heard it, it was like I’ve always known it.
The band is on fire, Ginger is remarkably happy after a few days climbing the walls in Germany with no weed and (as he later informs us) nursing a major hangover. The singer, CJ, and Danny all take to the mics and interact throughout the set between songs. And what songs! ‘Vanilla Radio’, ‘…Shitsville’ and newbie ‘Let Em Go’ fly by in no time at all, the packed room singing every word back to the grinning frontman. Ginger and CJ giving multiple opportunities for photographers to capture the elusive jump shot.
It’s great to see ‘The Revolution Will Be Televised’ back in the set; personally I would love to hear more from that era. But then ‘Dislocated’ takes the energy levels up a notch or two. The intensity of this song live is up there with the feeling I got watching ‘Suckerpunch’ live for the first time, and that is a good thing to witness. ‘My Kinda Movie’ is a welcome addition to the set this time around; again, the intensity of this song live is so, so good.
Encore time ‘Geordie In Wonderland’ is sung probably louder than any other time I can imagine and the closing ‘My Baby Is A Headfuck’ is as good a way to bow out as any other.
While the demographic of a Wildhearts show is generally middle-aged these days, there are plenty of teenagers in attendance tonight, for many, it will be there first Wildhearts show, it could even be their first rock show. Imagine this gig being your first show? The Wildhearts and Backyard Babies set the bar really high tonight, good luck to all bands who try to follow.
Author: Ben Hughes