Tonight is the opening night of the UK leg of Frank Carter And the Rattlesnakes’ tour in support of their recently released fifth studio album ‘Dark Rainbow’, and whilst there are no Sold Out signs on the posters by the time The Mysterines hit the stage midway through proceedings it’s certainly as full as when I saw The Cult here playing ‘Sonic Temple’ and that had Sold Out plastered all over it.

Granted it does take a while for Cardiff University’s Great Hall to fill up though, and that might be due in some part to the almost biblical amounts of rain falling outside, so when Hastings trio HotWax hit the stage at almost bang-on 7:30 the hall is still only about a third full. There are still a hell of a lot more people here than when me and my gig going buddy Nev Brooks last saw the band though when we encountered them playing a cellar bar in Newport back in April of last year and I rather bravely declared that they are “one amazing band in the making” in my review for RPM.

Spending most of the tail end of 2023 supporting Royal Blood around the enormodomes of the UK, Ireland and the US has seemingly only helped to reinforce my point, and now even the likes of Alexis Petridis are singing the band’s praises in the mainstream press. This might be down to the fact that where there was previously a degree of innocence within the still very young band’s sound, here tonight, the trio take their catalogue of fine post punk grunge infused tunes and literally ram them down our throats straight from the get-go. That time spent on big stages has certainly worked its magic with HotWax that’s for sure.  Catching up briefly with both vocalist/guitarist Tallulah Sim-Savage and bassist Lola Sam following their set, they both laugh when Nev mentions that Newport show, almost in a half-embarrassed way (they shouldn’t be though, it was great), and they immediately credit their newfound sonic intensity to “having much bigger amps now.” Whatever it is, HotWax are great fun and I’d suggest you experience the fury of their all-new backline too as they play pretty much all over the UK this spring/summer.   

A band who are certainly no stranger to larger stages is Merseyside alt-rockers The Mysterines, having not only played Cardiff University before headlining the building’s neighbouring Y Plas venue, they’ve also toured with the likes of the Arctic Monkeys and there’s also the not so insignificant fact that their 2022 debut album ‘Reeling’ not only landed them a number 9 spot on the UK album charts but also graced the RPM Online Albums for that year too. Yet somehow, I’ve never heard a single song by them, well, until tonight anyway.

Taking to the stage with (non-album track) ‘The Last Dance’ I’m instantly wrapped up in the band’s overdriven almost alt-country take on their genre, and it’s all topped off with the unique twist of Lia Metcalfe’s effortlessly cool vocal delivery, something that has me half wondering if this is what Lone Justice might have sounded like if they’d have formed a decade later and been signed to Sub Pop.  Throughout their 7 song set The Mysterines exude a sense of class above that of simply being a.n.other support act, and looking around me there does seem to be a large contingent of the crowd mouthing every word to the likes of ‘Dangerous’ ‘All These Things’ and set closer ‘Hung Up’. I must have been the last person at RPM to discover this band, but better late than never I always say, and the Mysterines were most certainly worth the wait.

In spite of the fact that ‘Dark Rainbow’ is Frank Carter And The Rattlesnakes most introspective and mature sounding album to date, and indeed, in spite of the fact that there are two keyboards being set up on stage during the changeover, Mr Brooks and I rather sensibly decide to take up a much safer position (for our aged bodies) on the edges of the by now packed out crowd ahead of tonight’s headliner’s arrival on stage. It’s whilst picking out our new spot that I get chatting to a young lad about what awaits us, and he shares with me the fact that the first time he’d seen The Rattlesnakes live was at Sin City in Swansea back in 2019, which also just happened to be the last time I’d seen the band live. It’s at this point I suddenly realise it’s been a full 17 years since I first saw Frank Carter grace a live stage, just around the corner in the still much missed Barfly venue, and just as I’m about to do my very best Colin Robinson impression and share this my new BBF the lights suddenly go down and it’s showtime. 

I guess the real relevance of recalling this, is that things in life change as do people, and just like the fact that last time I saw Frank Carter live he had the demeanour of a young offender about to commit a crime, tonight he bowls onto the stage looking like that same, now slightly older offender, coming out of prison after doing a five stretch. Thankfully, Frank’s only crime (as far as I’m aware) is that of writing some of his generation’s finest rock songs and alongside his longtime Rattlesnake writing partner Dean Richardson, with ‘Dark Rainbows’ they have penned their most musically brave set of tunes yet.

It’s obviously an album they are fiercely proud of too as evidenced by the fact that during the band’s 19 song set list they play all of the record’s 11 tracks, and as Frank seems acutely aware that this might be a bit of a stretch for some of those looking to come and stir up it up in the pit to the band’s anthemic back catalogue, he quickly promises following the opening 1-2 of ‘Can I Take You Home’ and ‘Brambles’ that the band is about to kick everyone’s arse by mid-set.

Me, I could happily have left after ‘Brambles’ as for me that is the band’s finest 3 minutes and 30 odd seconds to date. Of course, I don’t head for the doors, but whilst I might agree in principle with Mr Brooks that opening the set with new songs is somewhat risky when they are songs as strong as these then maybe for once its more about listening and soaking up the music rather than simply losing our shit to the oldies.

Talking of which ‘Kitty Sucker’ is the first of the older tunes played tonight, but it’s the Dr Who theme tune staccato riffage that introduces ‘Devil Inside of Me’ that generates the full-on frenzy I’ve become accustomed to whenever Frank Carter has been our ringmaster for the night. ‘Juggernaut’ quickly follows, and that glorious bastard of a tune truly steamrollers us all into submission. My new BFF returning to my side immediately after this soaked to the skin thankful, I guess, that the new album’s opening track ‘Honey’ is up next.

What strikes me most tonight (other than the fact that the band have seemingly inherited Mark Langan’s old red/blue light show) is just how fantastic a vocal performance Frank Carter turns in, something I can’t ever remember saying during my numerous previous live encounters with the singer where perhaps the showman aspect has always come first, or perhaps I’m just listening for once eh? Tonight, though the likes of ‘Lullaby’ and main set closer ‘Man of the Hour’ (a tune that is just as popular as the oldies I might add) sound gigantic, and custom built for arenas around the world.

Returning for a 2 song encore of ‘Thunder’ (perhaps one of the less obvious choices from the band’s formidable sophomore record) and ‘A Dark Rainbow’ (the sombre closing track from the band’s latest album) I do wonder what might be next for The Rattlesnakes though following this tour. As I mentioned earlier the band sound colossal right now, but by equal measure at times tonight they also seem like they might just fall apart at any time such is the fragility of the new material. Whatever happens, let’s just all enjoy the ride, because Frank Carter And The Rattlesnakes are one righteous celebration of everything that is good and great in rock music here in 2024.

Author: Johnny Hayward