The Wildhearts: Manchester / Nottingham – live review
Manchester, Academy & Nottingham, Rock City
April 5th & 6th 2013
Twenty years on from Earth vs The Wildhearts & the band are on the march to celebrate the anniversary with a series of “album gigs”. Louder Than Wars’s Andy Santiago had such a good time at their Manchester gig he went off to catch them at Nottingham as well.
Has it really been 20 years since The Wildhearts released what is arguably the greatest album in the history of British Rock? Apparently so and the time was right to celebrate this occasion with a tour, a tour that there was no way on earth I would miss.
I have a lot of love and history for and with The Wildhearts and their mercurial frontman Ginger. Since the first time I saw them when they supported Seattle smack enthusiasts Alice in Chains, to being kept awake for the duration of Reading ’94 when the noisy bastards camped near me, to proposing to my wife at one of their gigs and to our unplanned first dance at the wedding that followed (‘Sick of Drugs’, no significance, it was all the DJ had!), this is a band that has pretty much been a constant soundtrack to the last 20+ years of my life so when gigs were announced to celebrate the ‘Earth vs. album, I was in there like swimwear!
First night of our tour was at the upgraded Manchester show. Originally planned for Academy 2, the gig sold out and was re-housed in the much larger Academy 1 and that didn’t look far off sold out either. On entry we were greeted by the first of 2 support bands for the tour, Baby Godzilla.
This is a band whose members play a large majority of their set rampaging through the audience and generally getting up in people’s faces. A vast amount of the assembled were pretty bemused by the whole thing and their noisy as all the hell brand of confrontational shout racket was an interesting experience. Even the drummer got involved with the audience and dragged a floor tom into the crowd, wandering around and pounding away like a maniac.
Next up were Eureka Machines from Leeds. Fronted by former Robochrist, full-time Sister of Mercy and Ginger Wildheart solo band guitarist Chris Catalyst, this band WILL become your new favourite one, I promise. Looking for all the world like a Yorkshire version of The Hives in the black shirt and white tie combo they took their places behind those retro mics that Elvis used to scream down and let rip with one of the most gloriously melodic and rocking sets I’ve seen from a new(ish) band in years. Catalyst is a natural frontman and interacts with the crowd with ease. He even draw attention to the tiny Eureka Machines stage backdrop hanging behind them, totally dwarfed by the huge one with the nights headliners logo sprawled across. This is how good they were, when I woke up in the hotel the following morning suffering a near-fatal hangover, all I had running through my frazzled head was a hook from a song that they played and I’d never even heard this song before. It went “This is the story, the story of my fucking life”. Do yourself a favour, check them out.
The atmosphere in the room was raised a few notches from borderline frenzy to just below total meltdown as long-time Wildhearts guitar techs Dunc and ‘Hot’ Steve appeared on stage and proceeded to set the stage for the arrival of The Wildhearts. How many bands can you think of who’s crew are almost as famous as the actual band? Without any form of intro, the lights dropped, the band took to the stage, the crowd roar was almost seismic and the first riff-bomb of the night was dropped. As it was an ‘Earth vs’ gig and all the album was being played, it had to be the ode to London town that is ‘Greetings from Shitsville’.
I’ve seen The Wildhearts live more than any other band I’ve ever seen, probably 75 times or more and I’ve never heard a crowd as loud at any of their shows as they were at this one. I swear you could feel the euphoric sense of community that filled the venue as they hammered out those songs that mean so much to the totally devoted fans. Heaton Park? You got fuck all on this!! Anthem after anthem was played, there were no highlights, it was all a massive celebration.
The band themselves were tighter than a majority of bands could only dream of and there’s just something right seeing guitarist CJ being effortlessly cool, posing and pouting away to Ginger’s right hand. After what seemed like minutes, the first half of the set was almost over, ‘Love You Till I Don’t’ was been played and they left the stage to return shortly for the encore that was chosen by the audience. How it was decided was the aforementioned guitar techs stood at each side of the stage holding a large sign with the name of a classic, a b-side or a real obscurity. Whichever song got the loudest cheer was played. Genius. This worked really well though I’ll never forgive the Manchester crowd for voting against ‘Deep In The Arms Of Morpheus’! Can’t have it all I guess.
All too soon, Ginger, who looked totally blown away was wishing us goodnight and it was out onto the madness of Oxford Road and into a sea of post-gig grinning faces. This was honestly one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to and the best part was, we we’re gonna do it all again the following night in Nottingham.
And so to the East Midlands we went, only to find the door time was the ungodly hour of 6.30 and a curfew at 10pm due to some form of ‘disco’ taking place after the gig. A couple of fortifying pints in the pub around the corner and it was though the hallowed doors of Rock City, up the stairs and into the main hall to be met by Baby Godzilla, in full audience-baiting mode again! Some poor pissed-up bloke was on the verge of having a crafty snooze on the stairs going up to the balcony and unlucky for him, Baby Godzilla’s guitarist had him in his sights! I have never seen a guitarist ruin a man’s night as much as he did, it was absolutely hilarious watching the hapless beer sponge trying to look indifferent as a maniac with a way too loud guitar got right up in his shit for pretty much the duration of their set. Most people I spoke to reckoned Baby Godzilla were a bit of an acquired taste but I don’t think anyone of them will be forgetting them any time soon.
More Eureka Machines action followed, every bit as excellent as the previous night but the crowd seemed a whole lot more into them and that seemed to push them on to greater heights. So impressed was Mrs Santiago that after their set she went to Mr Catalyst on the merch and bought the entire back catalogue! This is particularly newsworthy as I don’t think she’s bought a cd since Babylon Zoo topped the charts way back when!
Once again it was Wildhearts time and if Manchester was incredible, how would Nottingham be? The answer? Even better! Louder, heavier and ever more euphoric. This is about as good as any gig can ever get, I doubt anyone could have come away with the opinion “Yeah, they were ok”, indifference was an impossibility. Every moment was very special, from the opening of ‘..Shitsville’ to the final song, ‘I Wanna Go Where The People Go’, just pure quality. The Wildhearts are a UK band we can feel justifiably proud of, complete survivors with a fan base any self-respecting band would kill for and a frontman who has re-invented artist control through the medium of Pledge Music. Just check out the ‘555%’ project and you’ll see what I mean.
I doubt I’ll see any better gigs this year and that includes Rammstein at Download, Ginger has hinted on various social media sites that there will be more ‘Earth vs’ shows in the following months. When these are announced I strongly recommend you go and I’ll see ya down the front! As a final thought, 2015 will see the 20th anniversary of the ‘P.H.U.Q’ album, come on lads, you know you want to….
All words by Andy Santiago. More work on Louder Than War by Andy Santiago can be found here.