Man, The Wildhearts were great. I don't know how many times I've seen them in the past, 20 or so. From the tours supporting the Manics when they were still playing Cardiff Uni rather than arenas, through to tickets for the tour that never happened. They were one of the great British bands. Yet still I kinda feared for this one. Oh me of little faith. That it wouldn't be well attended, that it would be a bit shite. Then, I read news yesterday that Danny has basically had to leave the tour due to ill health brought on by his heroin problem. Things didn't really look too promising. Shows you what I know.
Strapping Young Lad really stand out and don't honestly fit on this bill. They're a great band, but tonight they're kind seem like it's going through the motions, though Devin has gone back for the mad professor look, giving hope to us all! They don't appear to be winning a great deal of support, they're a far heavier proposition than it seems people want. The melodic feel and grace of the Ocean Machine material seems to win about the best response, though the closing song, first track from Physicist (which I don't have so don't know the name of), is punchy, with Gene Holgan able to demonstrate some of his more famed drumming prowess. But ultimately it feels like the wrong night (maybe tour?) for them.
By the time that Anti Product (pronounced by all it seems as antie not antee) take the stage, the place is pretty much full. A mish mash of dayglo flourescent amps, decorated people and purple lighting, the visual aspect and engagement of the band, and in particular Alex Kane seems to overcome what for me was pretty ordinary party pop rock music. Not really my thing, and although the songs demonstrated on first hearing that there are enough hooks in there to get you going, Alex' voice begins to grate after a while. Still, it's what people want to hear, and they receive possibly the best support band reception that I've heard in maybe a good few years. Clapping along, it's helped by his ludicrous "rock" quotes, this is rock'n'roll and everything. At one point he mentions that we're in the presence of genius, not him, "but the freakiest bunch of Canadians you'll ever see, and Devin Townsend, who's hung like a cricket." He goes on to let slip, like it was a secret, that the person who has saved the night, is bassist Toshii, and a chant goes up for him. He'll be back later, right now, he's having a ball, bouncing all over the stage and pulling as many rock shapes as he can muster in the 30 minutes. Good time fun music, didn't captivate me, but for having a good fun there and then, they did the job.
And by the time the Wildhearts wander on stage. The place is packed. It's strange, I don't think I saw one "nu" kid in there tonight. Everyone seemed to be mid 20s - 30s. It's kind of weird. Sad in a way that older fans don't always seem to keen to check out the newer younger bands, and vica versa. It's great to see so many people here for this, it's a testimony to word of mouth and the loyalty of the Wildhearts following, given that there's been pretty minimal press coverage to this whole tour. I just question where a lot of these people are for a lot of gigs. Or I would do, but doing so usually gets me into trouble with irate people subsequently questioning my birthright.
They take to the stage to a massive cheer, but a fairly somber tone. "We've got some news we need to tell you. Danny's ill and can't do the gig. Luckily Antie Product have loaned us their bassist, Toshii, make him feel welcome." Another chant goes up for him, and things relax and the music can start to take center stage.
The opening riff to Nothing Ever Changes But The Shoes is cranked out, slowly, building before the crowd let rip. It's the second time in little over a week that I've been witness to a gig where the crowd know all the words and want to prove themselves. It really kind of feels like a gig of yore for me, this is how it used to be. Your bollocks are sweating just standing there, and the nerve ends tingling.
Tonight is pretty much exclusively early Wildhearts. Everlone, TV tan, Weekend (5 long days) where the crowd sing the entire first verse word perfect, Liberty Cap - "he's not bad on the bass is he. And he doesn't do heroin" says Ginger, and a Toshii chant goes up again. I Wanna Go Where The People Go (still think this is one of their most overrated songs personally, but the place bounces all the same), Suckerpunch and b-side, Shut Your Fucking Mouth and Use Your Fucking Brain, and for the later material, "this is pretty topical", Sick of Drugs.
My Baby Is A Headfuck is for me the best WH song. Every guy knows at least one, it's such a rock'n'roll moment. I always thought it should've been a single and gone straight to no 1. It's that good a song, and it's a special moment as they plough through it. "We're going to leave you in a moment, go backstage, you'll cheer and we'll come back. This one is for Danny, I really hope you get better soon mate, this is Love You Till I Don't." It's a sentiment shared I would think by everyone here. And those Beatles like harmonies in the middle of the song are as great as the day they were recorded.
Encore's include Nita Nitro, Caffeine Bomb (let's go crazy for 2 1/2 minutes, and people did), and after declaring this to be the best gig of the tour (hmm), and that Newcastle which they expected to be the best had actually been the worst, (for obvious reasons I guess) and earlier reflecting that "this was the first place we played a gig, well, where me and CJ sang together. And after it, Andy Copping gave us a bottle of champagne and told us we'd headline the place one day. And he was right. I'd forgotten who good it had felt to be up here again," they launch into another of their overrated songs, 29X the Pain before departing. Unlike other times I've seen them, there's no spontaneous burst into "don't worry 'bout me, don't worry 'bout me, I'll be alright, don't worry 'bout me". Instead, we just filter out.
Ultimately, it's kind of strange. To my mind, they proved themselves as fresh, vibrant and vital to todays music scene as they did all those years ago when they started out. Yet I kind of feel sceptical, in that I don't understand the reason for it. I don't think they can be earning much money out of it really, the decision to play only older stuff, well it makes you wonder if there's really a plan to record any new material. I kind of hope they do, but I really wonder. I somehow can't see CJ staying full time. Let's just hope that their return doesn't lead once more to a slew of fifth rate copycat bands, because the world doesn't need those. And ultimately of course, can they go on without Danny, can Danny go on with them.