I rarely venture out to academy size gigs these days, not for lack of wanting I hasten to add, it just seems most of the bands I’m interested in play smaller more intimate venues. But after catching The Interrupters last summer, it sure reminded me of a lot of the rock shows I used to attend back in the day at academy size, and who doesn’t like a full-on rock show?

So, with Black Star Riders coming into town promoting their highly acclaimed new album ‘Wrong Side Of Paradise’, and bringing with them not only the Michael Monroe band but also Phil Campbell & The Dirty Bastards, well it would be a shame to miss this.

I wouldn’t say I’m a massive Motörhead fan, but Phil Campbell once came to my flat and I made him a cup of tea, but that’s another story. Anyway, Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons are not Motörhead, but in the same way as Black Star Riders they channel the spirit of the band that came before them. What The Bastard Sons are though, is a full-on, old school hard rock band, and a good one at that. The sole non-Campbell onstage, new singer Joel Peters, works the crowd like a pro tonight. A larger-than-life personality with a larger-than-life voice, he splits the crowd for audience participation, mixing up originals like ‘We’re The Bastards’ and ‘Get On Your Knees’ with Motörhead classics like ‘Going To Brazil’ and ‘Born To Raise Hell’, the band are mightily impressive. The rhythm section is tight, the guitar tone fantastic and Phil must be proud having his sons up there keeping the spirit of Motörhead alive for fans and the younger generation.

The biggest cheer of their set goes up as bassist Tyla thumps out ‘that’ bass line. They were always gonna end with ‘Ace Of Spades’, right? The crowd go wild, and so they should.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Michael Monroe support anybody before, and I’ve never seen him do such a short set. This band don’t do bad shows, never give less than 100% onstage. The opening salvo of ‘One Man Gang’ and ‘I Live Too Fast To Die Young’ works a treat. The die-hards down the front know the words and the uninitiated are getting a shock treatment in high energy rock n’ roll. The Finnish Iggy Pop is on fire and the usual onstage chaos surrounds the whirlwind vocalist, who as ever is mesmerizing to watch, as he gets tangled up in microphone cables, does the splits and climbs the rigging. He swings the mic stand precariously close to guitarist Steve Conte’s head, but its all in a day’s work for the Michael Monroe band.

Older singles ‘Last Train To Tokyo’ and ’78’ go down well and get the crowd singing them back to the livewire singer as he bounds about the stage. If this is mainly a Black Star Riders fanbase tonight, I would say the band have won them over by now. And any who are not convinced may be shedding a tear by the time they finish the Hanoi Rocks classic ‘Don’t You Ever Leave Me.

‘Ballad Of The Lower East Side’ is arguably the strongest song in the band’s solo discography and it sounds killer live, yet as Michael climbs the rigging for the second time, the power is cut and the band stop playing mid-song! Seems the 02 don’t like rock stars climbing on their equipment. Funnily enough, the last time I saw this band, at The Brudenell up the road, there was an actual power cut on the equipment on the exact same song. What are the chances of that?

The band shrug it off and launch into ‘Motorvatin’ to get things back on track. ‘Dead, Jail Or Rock N Roll’ and ‘Up Around The Bend’ end a killer set that didn’t exactly go to plan, but rock n roll’s like that sometimes. I like it when a band has to work for it and I pity any band who has to follow The Monroes night after night.

Black Star Riders have that unenviable task, and while Ricky Warwick doesn’t possess the maniacal stage presence of Michael Monroe, he is one of the last of a dying breed of classic rock frontmen who are still out there doing it and doing it well. A 10-year anniversary for any band these days is something to celebrate, and Black Star Riders have morphed into quite the classic rock band now.

With original members drummer Jimmy Degrasso, bassist Robbie Crane and the Richard Branson of rock n’ roll Scott Gorham back in the fold for this tour, tickets have flown out, and the 02 is buzzing with anticipation as the band break into newbie ‘Pay Dirt’. In a leather jacket, his hair greased back and a Les Paul swinging from his hips, Ricky Warwick looks mean, moody and healthy, and his gritty voice is as powerful as it ever was back in The Almighty days. With the ever-smiling Wayward Sons guitarist Sam Wood by his side (who looks uncannily like a young Scott Gorham) the band sound impressive too.

The first half of the set weighs heavily on the new album. The single ‘Better Than Saturday Night’ is a killer highlight, ‘Riding Out the Storm’ and the title track ‘Wrong Side Of Beautiful’ showcase Warwick’s songwriting ability and suggests this album could go down as their strongest effort. They even breathe new life into their cover of The Osmonds ‘Crazy Horses.

Ricky introduces Scott Gorham to great cheers and the 71-year-old Thin Lizzy guitarist joins Black Star Riders for the rest of the set. The likes of ‘All Hell’s Breaking Loose’, ‘Testify Or Say Goodbye’ and ‘Bound For Glory’ all hit the spot and are welcomed like old friends to a crowd of a certain age. The spirit of Thin Lizzy seems omnipresent and of course a couple of choice songs get aired tonight. Phil Campbell joins them for ‘Don’t Believe A Word’ and a sublime ‘Jailbreak’ comes later in the set and understandably gets the biggest reaction of the night.

While the first half of the set was strong, I felt the latter half suffered and felt ploddy and a bit so-so. Only the addition of the Lizzy covers lifted thing for me. Hey, but I’m just nit-picking, really.

Big academy rock shows are always an event and tonight was no different. 3 bands who are well suited, all channelling the sprits of the bands who came before them, yet all with strong material that sets them apart from the legacy of those classic bands. And whether you’re a fan of Motörhead, Hanoi Rocks or Thin Lizzy, all had great new things to offer, as well as dipping into the past.

But finding out The Academy takes 25% of profits from the band’s merch and the fact that a pint and a G&T cost £17 reminds me why I favour the smaller shows these days.

Author: Ben Hughes

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