Reviews for Leeds, Buckley, Manchester and Bilston
New Model Army’s latest album, Between Dog and Wolf, seemed to divide opinion amongst followers, fans and The Family when it first came out. A departure from what we’ve come to almost expect over the years, BDAW contains really only one bouncing, mosh pit rock and roller (March in September).
The rest of the album has this gigantic, epic feel about it – more elaborate and even sophisticated than offerings from years before. The question was how would that translate to the live experience?
After a tour of Europe and returning to the UK via 2 dates in Scotland, NMA entered England and Wales with a string of 4 “Northern” dates, starting with Leeds on Thursday Nov 14th. For me personally, having seen NMA probably over 200 times, this was not their best. Then again, like the album, others think differently.
There was something strange about the atmosphere, the flow, the connection, the venue, the crowd, the band…even Justin himself made a comment which reflected my feelings. His 8am voice (a reference to a sore throat he as feeling) may well have contributed. I was convinced that although perfectly delivered, the new songs were maybe a little out of place, difficult to get used to in a live set.
On to Buckley in North Wales the following night for a return to The Tivoli after 21 years! I was there for that Lords of Chaos gig, but only had vague memories of that gig and of the venue. Some other good bands have played there recently and are due to appear soon…it’s definitely somewhere worth doing if you get the chance.
Justin’s throat was still playing up at the start, but it wasn’t long before normal service was resumed and this was shaping up to be the type of Army gig I’d come to know and love over the years. That crowd connection had returned and Justin made a comparison to the connection at German gigs and UK gigs – cheer louder and longer, they’d play longer. Simple! Highlight of the night for me – and probably Justin himself – was Modern Times, although that version of Vagabonds where the crowd do the violin bits also raised a massive smile.
A much better evening than Leeds, it left me looking even more forward to the following night in my hometown of Manchester.
The gig at The Ritz was possibly the best Army gig I’ve been to in years. Seriously. The venue has become my clear favourite in a city that is not shy of places to enjoy live music…and not just because of the bouncing dance floor! This was a perfect performance – anything missing from the previous 2 nights was completely restored in a blistering, powerful set which even included a surprise appearance by Ed Alleyne Johnson. His violin on Vagabonds, Purity and Green and Grey topped a quite amazing evening that not even a fire alarm could ruin!
New Model Army. Manchester. November 2013. I’ll always remember this perfect gig, this perfect night.
On to my final date the following night – a Sunday evening in Bilston,near Wolverhampton. The excesses of the previous 3 nights had kicked in and I was more of a passive observer. We were treated to Vengeance, which lit up the pit and everyone in it! Another top night in what has always been a traditional stronghold area of the UK for New Model Army. I’m thinking about distant, far off nights in Dudley JB’s, Birmingham Powerhouse, Birmingham Hummingbird, Woverhampton Civic Hall…even the Aston Villa Leisure Centre!
That was it. My 4 night road trip was over.
So, what of the new songs from Between Dog and Wolf? How did they transfer from that epic, rolling studio sound to the live gig experience? I’ll make no secret of the fact that I had some doubts in Leeds and a few nagging ones remained in Buckley…but that set in Manchester blew away any and every doubt that had ever existed. Opener for the whole tour I Need More Time just doesn’t sound the same on CD now, having seen Justin perform it with such emotion, such anger., whereas Knievel seems to have firmly found a place at or near the top of live favourites. Mixed up with classic crowd pleasers like The Hunt, Christian Militia, Bodmin Pill, WWTG, Get Me Out, these new tracks fit in no problem.
It was a tiring but wonderful 4 days and nights on the road with New Model Army – but nothing compared to the miles and hours that many others have put in on this tour. They’re a band simply not to be missed – I now look forward to Nottingham Rock City in December. You should too.