Manchester Academy and Nottingham Rock City
10th and 12th April 2014
Britrock legends The Wildhearts make Andy Santiago keep going back for more, 80+ gigs and counting – “unfeasibly tight…nose-bleed volume”
As the country gets all misty-eyed and dusts off its vintage Adidas Gazelles to celebrate the 20th anniversary of ‘Britpop’ (copyright Mr J. Robb) let’s not forget the other side of the coin, the far more interesting ‘Britrock’. And it’s the godfathers of that little niche, The Wildhearts that we’re here to see.
In a career that’s lasted well over 20 years and showing no signs of ending soon, The Wildhearts have just completed a UK tour and I took in the recent Manchester and Nottingham dates.
There was to be no hanging about in the pub before the gig, as soon as the doors opened it was straight in and down the front for the first of tonight’s support bands, the quite spectacular Hey! Hello!
Originally just a duo featuring American singer Victoria Liedtke and a certain Ginger Wildheart, Hey! Hello! have expanded into a live band of full-on Rock Gods.
With Victoria taking centre stage and Ginger noticeably taking a back seat they hammered through a nine song set of hook-laden, chorus heavy, ‘Noisy Pop’ magnificence.
Kicking off with “Feral Days” from the self-titled debut album it became clear that Victoria is a natural frontwoman who comes across like a hyperactive younger version of Debbie Harry.
Highlights of an all to brief set were “Black Valentine”, “Swimwear” and the song Ginger wrote for Courtney Love, “The Thrill of it All”. If all that wasn’t enough, H!H! even threw in a cover of “Wacky Women” by Sparks.
The one thing about going to The Wildhearts gigs is that you end up invariably bumping into people you haven’t seen for ages or just since the last tour. There’s a strong sense of community amongst fans and it’s because of this I end up missing the second support band The Von Hertzen Brothers due to been stood outside having a catch up with some old friends.
On our return to the venue we speculated what tonight’s set would bring. I’d seen the set list from the two previous nights on the tour and it was made up of a lot of the more obscure, shorter, faster and punkier tracks with the well known anthems held back for the encore.
We took our places and the Manchester crowd got more vocal as time passed, waiting for the arrival of the headliners. Without warning and in possibly the most understated way I’ve ever seen a band take the stage, the four members wander on, pick up their guitars and we’re away!
Ginger stands in front of his mic, head tilted back and gently swaying as he picks out the intro to the utter classic “Nothing Ever Changes but the Shoes”, CJ joins in, the main riff is dropped like a bomb and Manchester goes absolutely ballistic.
No hanging about and straight into a frantic version of “TV Tan” and then the familiar scratchy intro to “Nita Nitro” gives way to the bounciest riff ever written. Unsurprisingly, bouncing occurs throughout the venue.
So much for the obscure set, this is panning out like more of a greatest hits type of affair and as returning bass player Scott Sorry launches himself into the crowd, the band tear into “Sick of Drugs”
I’ve seen The Wildhearts well over 80 times throughout the years and this was turning out to be one of the very best gigs I’d seen them do. Unfeasibly tight and playing with a strut and swagger most bands could never imagine, they just fucking nailed everything and made it look effortless in the process.
Before “Mazel Tov Cocktail” Ginger invited the crowd to help out on vocals (like an invitation was needed, the crowd had been singing along at nose-bleed volume all night) and seemed genuinely shocked at the deafening sound that came back at him during the song.
As the main set drew to a close with the holy trinity of “My Baby is a Headfuck”, “Suckerpunch” and a raucous “I Wanna Go Where The People Go” the band left the stage and we wondered just how such a sledgehammer of anthemic joy could be followed.
Ginger returned to the stage and played the first few notes of “Geordie in Wonderland” before the crowd hijacked the song and sang every word.
“We’d like to play a few songs that we’d like to hear if that’s alright with you” says Ginger and “The Jackson Whites” from 2009’s masterpiece album “iChutzpah!” gets an airing.
Scott then takes lead vocals on “The Only One” from the same album and dedicates it to his wife who’s watching from the side of the stage. Apparently, it was the first time she’d ever seen him play with The Wildhearts.
“Zomboid” from “Endless Nameless” and a cover of Helmet’s “Unsung” raise the heaviness bar and then Scott returns to lead vocals for a rowdy version of Warren Zevon’s “Carmelita”.
“29 x the Pain” brings the evening to an end and as ever with The Wildhearts, everyone leaves with ringing ears, sore throats and ear to ear grins.
Once again, a life-affirming evening from without doubt, the finest UK rock band you will ever see.
Shall we do it all again in 48 hours? Oh, go on then, you’ve twisted my arm!!
Fast forward to Saturday, about 6.20pm in Nottingham. I’m returning to a pub full of Wildhearts T shirts and tattoos, the doors at Rock City open in ten minutes and I’ve just spent the last half hour interviewing Ginger!! Life really is THAT good.
Down the front again for Hey! Hello! and it’s noticeably more packed than Manchester and the rapidly growing crowd seem to know every word, hell, even a small pit breaks out!
It seems that the ungodly earliness of tonight’s show is doing nothing to dampen the enthusiasm and my companion for the evening, “Heavy Metal Pooley” lets rip with one of his infrequent moments of sage-like genius when he states the spectacularly obvious, “It’s gonna go right off in here tonight mate”. Nice one.
Once again, chance encounters with long lost friends conspire to keep me from seeing The Von Hertzen Brothers but I do catch the last one and a half songs. Had I been going to any more gigs on this tour, I would certainly have made the effort to see their full set.
Just like the previous gig in Manchester, The Wildhearts laid it down like only they can. Exactly the same set apart from a Jason and The Scorchers cover this time, instead of Helmet.
Rock City can’t have been far from a sell-out and the crowd was deafening in its approval.
Next year will be the 20th anniversary of another The Wildhearts classic album, the magnificently titled “P.H.U.Q.” and I have it on pretty good authority there will be a tour in 2015. Whether this will be an anniversary tour remains to be seen and, as always with The Wildhearts, expect the unexpected, but one thing that can be absolutely guaranteed is a great night out.
Thanks to Ginger for taking the time to talk to me and Valeria at Duffpress for arranging it all.
All words Andy Santiago, find his Louder Than War archive here.