Black Star Riders, Michael Monroe, Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons
The Tramshed, Cardiff
Live Review and Photograhy by Paul Hutchings
There will be few more variable yet totally entertaining bills than the one that rolled into one of the best venues in South Wales this Tuesday evening. Celebrating a decade together, Black Star Riders pulled in two very solid supports to bolster the audience on this tour. Not that they ever looked like they needed it. But more of them later.
Just shy of seven o’clock and the Tramshed is already an expectant buzz. Twenty minutes later and there’s not an awful lot of room in the 1000 capacity venue as the first in a parade of hard rock legends enters the stage. It’s been eight years since Phil Campbell played his final gigs with Motörhead, something which still seems incredibly raw. Since then, Campbell assembled his All-Star Band before morphing it into The Bastard Sons. The band tour relentlessly, evidence that fame and notoriety and status doesn’t a) pay the bills and b) ease the creative itch. Campbell is most comfortable on the stage, peeling out those bluesy solos he’s been doing for over 40 years, since those days when he played with Persian Risk a mere stone’s throw from tonight’s venue.
The band are a man down. Guitarist Todd is absent, still recovering from illness. This leaves the band slightly light in the axe department, although bassist Tyler appears intent on bringing the low end, such are his rumblings through the 40-minute set. He locks in tightly with drummer Dane, who is surely becoming one of the most underrated drummers in the UK. He handles everything with ease. But this is a band made to survive adversity and the four-piece don’t look like they’re bothered. Indeed, given the limited space afforded to them, it’s probably a relief for Tyler and vocalist Joel Peters to have an extra foot to move around in.
They hit the stage hard, with their anthem ‘We’re the Bastards’. It’s a fist pumper of a track and immediately gets the crowd moving. This is home turf after all. Peters is a blur of movement, he reminds me of a lighter Ben Ward (Orange Goblin) with his constant cajoling, be it splitting the sides to get a singalong which was embarrassingly polite or getting the crowd to raise their middle fingers to shout, “fuck you, Tyler Campbell”. The band may be struggling slightly when Phil takes the solos, but overall, there is little to complain. They throw in the welcome smattering of Motörhead tracks. ‘Born to Raise Hell’, ’Going to Brazil’ and the mandatory ‘Ace of Spades’ all feature – they do the job in style and Lemmy smiles, I’m sure.
In Peters, the band have the frontman that they were hunting for since Neil Starr left. Andrew Hunt did a fine job, but Peters is loud, obnoxious, and potty mouthed. He gives it large, and then some. Meanwhile, Phil is content to play guitar, and he can do that with such ease. He thanks the Cardiff crowd, and as ‘Ace of Spades’ fades away, we hope the band will be back to play another headline gig here soon.
If you look in the dictionary for the definition of flamboyance, you’ll find the name Michael Monroe there. Now aged 60, there cannot be many of his age who are in such fine shape. As the lights drop, Monroe and his band enter the stage to a huge ovation. There are clearly a good percentage of the audience here to see the Finn as well as the headliners. He’s everywhere, a nervous ball of wired energy, dashing across the stage, dropping onto the barrier, climbing high above the front row, sitting on the monitors. He does it all.
One Man Gang starts the evening, and it’s a 40-minute high-octane riot that races through a combination of solo hits and some old favourites. He mixes the set slightly, throwing in ‘Hammersmith Palais’ and ‘Motorvatin’ for the first time on the tour. The songs whizz by, as Monroe thrusts, pouts, flatters his mascara coated eye lashes and generally throws shapes. He can still do the splits, which he manages with alarming frequency. I’m sure I’m not the only middle-aged dude to wince.
Alongside Monroe, he has quite the team. Guitarist Rich Jones and Steve Conte riff it up on either side of the stage, leaping about almost as much as their frontman at times. Behind them drummer Karl Rockfist hammers out the beat, locking in with long-time bassist Sami Yaffa, whose time with Monroe dates back to those heady Hanoi Rocks days. By the time the band hit ‘Dead, Jail or Rock ‘n’ Roll’ the crowd are eating out of his hands. It’s time for a final fling, and there was never going to be anything other than ‘Up Around the Bend’ which Rocks made their own from CCR, and which gets the Tramshed bouncing. Legend number two ticked off.
Formed in 2012, The Black Star Riders has always been a supergroup of sorts. Formed by Ricky Warwick, Damon Johnson, and Scott Gorham in 2012, it’s Warwick who survives as the sole original member. The band’s latest album “Wrong Side of Paradise” was released a couple of weeks before the tour began.
They get a good start as heavy metal comedian Don Jamieson cracks a few poor jokes but succeeds in raising some laughs as well as some emotions. Slade’s ‘Cum On, Feel the Noize’ gets the crowd singing and the band race into ‘Pay Dirt’, the first of five songs from the new album to get an airing. Warwick is centre stage, leather jacket, bandana and that familiar scowl. He’s flanked by bassist Robbie Crane, a fixture since 2014, and Wayward Sons guitarist Sam Wood, who’s the new boy in the camp. Although Zak St John played on the album, it’s Jimmy deGrasso who is laying down the rhythm for this tour. His CV is impressive and he nails the new tracks as well as those he’s a bit more familiar with.
With five albums to choose from, it’s almost a greatest hits set. We get ‘The Killer Instinct’, ‘Bound for Glory’, ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ and ‘Another State of Grace’. The audience is singing along. Warwick rehearses his Celtic connections. It goes down well. As does the arrival of the main man, Scott Gorham, who spends 60 minutes reminding us of his skill. A bruising cover of ‘Crazy Horses’ increases the temperature.
We get an even bigger treat when Phil Campbell joins the band for the cover of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Don’t Believe a Word’. It’s a massive song, and a massive moment. Michael Monroe will join the band for ‘Tonight the Moonlight’ later. It’s fabulous stuff, with the musicians in harmony, smooth and polished, whilst the crowd roar approval.
They do what they do flippin’ well. They may be slightly formulaic, but Warwick can write an anthem. Of course, he’d kill to write something as good as Lizzy’s ‘Jailbreak’. It gets the venue jumping once more before ‘Finest Hour’ wraps things up. It’s been immense. Hard, heavy, but with heart and feeling. Smiles all round. They know how to do it right. Every time.
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