LIVE: The Wildhearts, Brixton Electric 09/05/19
I think it’s fair to say that rock music has not been in a particularly healthy state these last few years. It’s one of the great unwritten laws of any kind of music genre that if it wants to survive and not be sidelined into irrelevance then it needs to move forward and keep evolving. And looking at the bands that the mainstream music press were hyping to high heaven in 2018, your heart sinks when you bear this in mind. Greta Van Fleet? So banal and derivative, they’re not even a third rate Led Zeppelin, more like a third rate Kingdom Come or Wolfmother. The Struts? The musical answer to a question no-one asked, i.e. what would happen if Simon Cowell decided to put a Darkness tribute band together. Great, life-affirming and genuinely innovative rock music has been in worryingly short supply of late.
Until this week, when the Wildhearts released their new album Renaissance Men and delivered a storming 21st century rock album – sure, there’s the odd nod to the greats that came before them, but this collection of songs is very much in the here and now. Packing choruses and riffs that level pretty much anything from the last few years you’d care to put it up against, but with the sort of neat little tricks that Ginger and co have made an integral part of their work all through the years, it’s way too clever to simply zerox some 70s band’s back catalogue, instead mashing up its influences into one glorious sonic storm. As I write this, it’s crashing into the upper end of the charts and, who’d have thunk it, setting the Wildhearts up as the unlikely saviours of rock in 2019. Well, I say unlikely, I’m sure I speak for nearly everyone who’s followed this band down the years to say that us fans never doubted them, but their reputation for being the most dysfunctional and self-destructive Britrock band of the last 30 odd years meant they seemed to be one of those bands forever stuck with the status of being a cult outfit. If recent events mean that’s changing, then it’s about bloody time.
More on that shortly. Opening the bill tonight, it’s weird to see Towers of London back on the gig circuit in 2019. The last time your correspondent caught this lot live was at the height of their infamy back in 2007 in Leeds, when my main memory of the gig is singer Donny Tourette referring to the Arctic Monkeys and the Cribs as a bunch of wankers from the stage, much to the horror of the NME readers in the audience and really, it’s difficult to disagree with that. Unfortunately, TOL were always kind of overshadowed by their offstage antics. Musically, they put out two absolutely storming singles (the first two natch) before a disappointing first album and a truly dismal second one, compounded with the PR disaster that was Donny’s appearance on “Celebrity Big Brother” which well and truly sunk them. Seemingly a bit older and wiser tonight with Donny now looking uncannily like Dennis Waterman’s character Terry from Minder, their cheerful self-deprecating banter actually sees them come across as a surprisingly likeable bunch, which, unlike their music, is about the most surprising thing you might hear all year. Still, they play On A Noose and Fuck It Up which is all we really wanted so we’ll give them a pass.
Massive Wagons seem to be one of those bands who split rock fans right down the middle. For what it’s worth, I can take ’em or leave ’em to be honest, I enjoyed their Full Nelson album from last year which saw them graduate from the “bunch of riffs meandering around in search of a tune” approach of previous efforts to adding some hooks that actually stuck in your brain, and the likes of Back To The Stack, China Plates and storming closer Fe Fi Fo Fum are proof of what they can do when they get the formula right. The trouble is there’s something that’s still a bit second division about Massive Wagons – the effort is very much there but they still don’t quite have a full set of killer tunes yet. Hopefully when they get round to the next album they’ll build on the progress of the last one and properly put that to rights.
When The Wildhearts‘ classic line-up of Ginger, CJ, Danny and Ritch reconvened last year, the resulting gigs on the “Britrock Must Be Destroyed” tour with Terrorvision and Reef were enjoyable enough, but there was a slight feeling that the band was kind of rediscovering itself a bit – pick the stuff from the major label years that the crowd will enjoy, and just see how it goes. Tonight though, it definitely feels like the stabilisers have been taken off and the band is back at full power again, from the minute the furious Dislocated kicks the set in followed by a storming Everlone and a frenetic one-two of Vanilla Radio and Suckerpunch, it’s clear that the band mean business.
One thing that’s especially enjoyable tonight is that while there’s a good few new songs (more of which in a second), every Wildhearts album is represented in the set. Top of the World and the great single-that-should’ve-been Someone That Won’t Let Me Go represent The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed, the rarely-played Urge from Endless Nameless gets an airing and The Revolution Will Be Televised from the band’s self-titled “white album” also makes a welcome appearance. The group’s previous album Chutzpah! meanwhile has no less than three cuts tonight with The Jackson Whites, You Took The Sunshine From New York and a mass singalong Mazel Tov Cocktail all getting an airing, the latter quickly proving why it’s become such a fan favourite. And of course on top of that you get the usual old school favourites like Sick of Drugs, My Baby Is A Headfuck and Caffeine Bomb which never fail to sound good to these ears.
And speaking of fan favourites, it’s pretty clear that both of the other new songs played tonight (we’re sadly denied a run through Renaissance Men‘s awesome chantalong title track due to time constraints) are well on their way to that status as well. Let ‘Em Go inspires a mass crowd singalong with the audience in Brixton bellowing the lyrics about cutting negativity out of your life at full volume, while the slow-building Diagnosis (which definitely has an air of the Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again about it) near as dammit takes the roof off of the place – it’s very rare you’ll see a song which most of those present probably only heard for the first time a few days ago have that effect, and it really proves what a great album the new effort is.
By the time 29 x The Pain and I Wanna Go Where The People Go bring proceedings to a halt (way too soon even though this was a 90 minute set – always the mark of a good gig), you’re in no doubt that the Wildhearts are back, focused and well and truly ready to give the current music scene the kick up the arse it’s badly needed for a while now. Once upon a time, it was Earth vs the Wildhearts. Now in 2019, it feels like the Wildhearts are back to save the earth from the boring predictable hack-rock music that’s been poisoning the well in recent years. You have been warned folks – it’s time to pick sides all over again. And on tonight’s evidence, for the right-thinking out there it should be no decision at all.