Manchester O2 Ritz January 26th.
Back in December, The Wildhearts tour came to an anticlimactic ending in Manchester when frontman Ginger contracted the norovirus and had to pull the show less than an hour before the band were due to hit the stage. Making good with their promise to return, they blow the January cobwebs (as well as the O2 Ritz’s roof) off in good style.
As the temperature drops outside, you can always be sure that some fantastic rock music will warm both the body and the soul, and kicking the night off and doing just that were The Main Grains, the latest band from former Wildheart Danny McCormack. The bassist/vocalist’s chequered past and struggles with substances have been well documented, but now he is genuinely lucky to still be around, having suffered an aneurysm just prior to the release of his new band’s debut EP, resulting in the loss of his lower right leg. Receiving what can only be described as a hero’s welcome (he too fell ill on the previous Manchester show and had to be rushed to hospital), he and the band tear through a short set of songs that can only be described as ferocious. Like a melodic Ramones, the tunes are catchy singsongs in which each member of the group gets a take the spotlight on vocals. Guitarist Ben Marsden grins throughout the performance like a man possessed, while fellow six-stringer JJ Watt complements the melodies with some insane fretwork. Drummer Ginna Rhodes even gets to contribute the band’s cover of The Undertones classic Teenage Kicks. With songs like I’d Rather be in California that stick in your head for days, they are fun and need to be experienced. It’s just a shame most of the Mancunian audience can’t understand a word of Danny’s thick Geordie accent. Not that it matters when they rock so well.
With such a strong opener, it’s down to second act Massive Wagons to bring their A-game tonight. A solid band who have made a name for themselves by slogging around the arse-end venues up and down the country over the past few years and releasing some brilliant if overlooked albums. They don’t let their followers down tonight and their mix of old-school sleazy rock n’ roll goes down a storm with the Ritz, getting that sprung dancefloor well and truly going. Watching Massive Wagons, it’s like the ‘90s and ‘00s never happened. And we’re all thankful for that feeling. We’re sent back to a time when groups like Skid Row and Poison were not dismissed just because of the way they looked and Status Quo were not on the cabaret circuit. In fact, Back to the Stack was written and dedicated to the late Quo guitarist Rick Parfitt. Watching from side of the balcony, Ginger Wildheart can’t contain his enjoyment and neither can the Manchester crowd.
Better late than never is the saying, and by the time The Wildhearts hit the stage with the first of their many riffs, most of the crowd have forgotten the disappointment of December. Not that we held it against Ginger, who is genuinely humbled that people have bothered coming back out for another go. Not that he could ever doubt it, as every voice in the Ritz sang out each and every tune throughout the night.
It’s a set that takes in a lot of the band’s history, but since their next venture is playing the album Fishing for Luckies in full (the following night, and then in Japan), it’s no surprise that there’s more than usual from that particular opus. We get a trio blast of Red Light – Green Light, Do the Channel Bop, and Mood Swings and Roundabouts with an immense Inglorious reserved for the extended encore. As the band storms through each ‘should have been a massive hit’ tune; full of harmonies (CJ and Jon Poole should be recognised, naturally, as they provide so much to the band’s sound) and blistering riffs and melodies, they reach the end with Love U ‘Til I Don’t before returning with the aforementioned Inglorious, 8 minutes that showcase Ginger’s wonderful knack of writing a cracking tune that can always keep you on your feet. Following Sick of Drugs (one of songs the band actually played live on Top of the Pops back in the day), they bring out Danny McCormack for a reunion of sorts. All the negative history between Ginger and Danny appears to be long gone as they share the stage and tear through another 5 tracks, including the brutal Suckerpunch, a mass singalong ensues for My Baby is a Headfuck and doesn’t let up throughout Geordie in Wonderland, I Wanna Go Where the People Go, and set closer 29 x the Pain. It’s a good job, too, as Ginger has a mischievous head on and gives the hardest working roadie in the business, Dunc, a run for his money by ensuring his mic stand doesn’t stay on the stage. It’s thrown toward the crowd, who dutifully sing as they should while Ginger forces CJ away from his mic. Every time the stand is back in place, the crafty Geordie knocks it over again. Far from a self-indulgent whim, it’s this sort of camaraderie that the fans love. When they’re at their best, nothing beats a Wildhearts show and thankfully, at the moment the band is flying high. Let’s just hope they don’t implode again.
The Wildhearts setlist: Everlone/TV Tan/Vanilla Radio/Red Light – Green Light/Do the Channel Bop/Mood Swings & Roundabouts/The Revolution Will Be Televised/Nita Nitro/Nothing Ever Changes (But the Shoes)/Weekend (5 Long Days)/Love U ‘Til I Don’t/Inglorious/Sick of Drugs/Suckerpunch/My Baby is a Headfuck/Geordie in Wonderland/I Wanna Go Where the People Go/29 x the Pain.