Category Archives: Gigs

In Flames, Disturbed and Avenged Sevenfold

Sheffield Arena, 15th January 2017

Mabh’s wearing a Wyrd Ways Rock Show t-shirt!

I don’t get out much, so when I do, it’s nice to go all out! Tickets for this gig came courtesy of my rather marvellous fella, who wanted to treat his eldest boy to his first ever gig. The lad is a MASSIVE Avenged Sevenfold fan, so when I heard tickets for this line up advertised, I was like ‘Buy buy buy!’ And he did. So we trundle off to Sheffield on a Sunday night, already realising we won’t be home until 2am and me dreading work at 7am on Monday. Needless to say, for the grownups at least, this gig already has its work cut out to be worth it for us.

We get there at twenty-past-six and are dismayed to hear the opening strains of In Flames’ set from outside the arena. It’s not supposed to start until half past! Argh. We shuffle as speedily as possible through ticket check, and after a mandatory warning about pickpockets manage to easily find some standing space close to the sound desk. I am surprised how much space there is; I had imagined a packed room for these guys. They certainly deserve it.

 ‘For most of you people who can fucking read, we’re ‘In Flames‘. It’s [written] right there and there’, shouts singer Anders. ‘We’re from Sweden, where it rains as much as England, so we are like neighbours.Anders continues some playful banter with the crowd, then goes on to chat about pudding. Every other word is fuck. He seems delighted to be here, and the crowd that came are delighted too.

The first song I hear in its entirety is The End. Anders is on knees, as if pleading with audience. His vocals are flawless and the entire band has so much energy. Also, give the sound guy a medal as the room is filled with beautiful noise; what a ‘fat’, full sound this band has.

The guitar sound is tremendous, it alternately sings and cries. Some complaints about going to see bands, particularly very good bands, are that you could just sit at home with a CD, avoiding bad overpriced beer and crowd BO. Not so with In Flames. Although they are note-perfect, they are so much more vital live. The audience interaction is great too. A random fan shouts that he likes the guitarist Björn’s beard. ‘I like his beard too‘. Anders admits cheekily.

The song ends abruptly, and after a heartbeat of silence the room erupts. The crowd is won over, and so am I. There’s a slight pause followed by an electronic synth sound which leads into the leaden opening beats of Cloud Connected. This song draws the crowd in a bit more and gaps start to fill on the floor, as people who perhaps only came for the headline act start to realise they are in the presence of greatness.

Anders is off again: ‘We are truly honoured that we can travel the world and play our way of heavy metal.’ He says something that really resonates with me. There is so much debate today about what is proper Metal, and what is not. (Anyone starts that sort of shite here will be told to fuck right off! – Ed)  He goes on to say that In Flames will only be playing the kind of Metal that they like to play. And if you don’t like it, fuck off! Hear hear, I say.

Some great back-up vocals come into play with the next song, The Truth. He reads some of this song like a poem rather than singing it, making it very personal. The place is really filling up now. Blue lights flicker around the room, and a long, drawn out synth drone is heard.

All right people, I know when you’re home alone, and no one is watching, you’re dancing your asses off. Let’s see some crazy dancers!‘ And the crowd start to move. They have been mesmerised both by the music and the charisma of the singer. The interaction continues on stage too. The band members seem to bounce off each other really well.

The next tune is Paralyzed, what a monster of a song. ‘Fucking scream for me Sheffield. You guys are too quiet between songs, we’re used to people screaming all kinds of shit.’ There’s a scream to my right which seems to spread through the crowd. Anders throws his arms up and we all follow suit. This is a delightfully dark and gritty track which shows off the talent of the whole band. Then we’re straight into Deliver Us. This is an epic tune with an orgasmic guitar solo. The guitarist has his foot right up on monitor, playing practically into the crowd. Very old school.

The band surprise me with some clever key changes, and some flawless vocal harmonies, all tiny spokes in a wheel of very heavy, crunchy Metal. Anders says ‘To each and everyone in this house thank you for paying attention to what we do’. You can’t help but feel that the band are genuinely grateful for their fans, and the opportunity to do what they love. And they are really good at revving the crowd up. They also have a great sense of humour. It’s implied, with tongue firmly in cheek, that listening to In Flames will improve your life, and it’s observed that one man doth not a mosh pit make. ‘One person is not a circle pit, it’s a drunk dance, that’s what that is. Now fucking dance for me.’

I was really impressed with In Flames (Never! – Ed). This is the first time I have ever seen them live and they did not disappoint. Great performance, great songs and great production. As Anders said, ‘This is a heavy metal show, right? We can all agree on that?’ Yes sir, yes we can.

We eat ‘The best hot dog in the world’ (it wasn’t) and drink some terrible beer while Disturbed start their show, with a guitar solo. There’s immediately something cheesy and posey about them, but the band are really into what they are doing. The stage production for Disturbed is hot. I mean literally. Every other beat is emphasised with a jet of fire. David Draiman is as imposing as ever, strutting the stage in his long coat. There’s something odd and off key about his vocals at first, then as soon as it sounds in tune, it sounds a bit too loud; a bit overbearing in the mix. The dynamics are odd too, as his levels seem to hover up and down. I wonder if maybe he has too much coming through his monitor.

The band open with Immortalised, from the 2015 album of the same name. I have to admit, I only know three Disturbed songs, and two of them are covers. However, this is an epic opener, although there is something off key-wise in the chorus. It’s worth noting I’m listening from the bar which may account for the odd sound.

Draiman is not the most energetic of frontmen; he walks up and down the stage, while the cameras capture some close ups of grasping hands and pumping fists. He starts to energise the crowd with the ‘Hey! Hey!’ section in the song. Soon people are jumping and thrusting their fists at the ceiling.

The next tune is The Game. Here we have the first emergence of what we fondly refer to as ‘the monkey sound’. You know what I mean. ‘Ooh ah ah ah ah!’. Not quite in that rhythm, but very reminiscent. Some of the lyrics stick with me:

‘You always wanted people to remember you, to leave your little mark in society’.

Draiman has a little smile as he sings this, like it’s a private joke. I wonder if he is thinking about the one song we are all waiting for, or if that’s just me being cynical.

The band are fully alive, energy zaps across the stage and guitarist Dan Donegan thrashes enthusiastically at the crowd. ‘Let me see your motherfucking fists in the air!‘ bellows Draiman, as another gout of fire punctuates the night. These guys love their fire! One of my companions comments that this stage production would have been oddly more apt for In Flames

The Vengeful One is another soaring, cynical sneer at modern society, accompanied by further jets of flame that threaten to take the drummer’s eyebrows off. Green light soaks the stage and crowd, giving the whole room an eerie feel. The backing vocals are a touch too quiet in the mix, which is a shame as they are spot on for timing and pitch. It would have been nice to hear more of bassist John Moyer who seems involved in a few of the songs.

My brothers and sisters; my blood. Speak to me!Draiman calls, nay, commands. The crowd is shrieking now, as they are ordered to ‘put those devil horns in the sky’. We have left the bar and re-joined the masses, and the sound is much better here. Also, as the show progresses the band seem to gain in confidence and energy.

Prayer is one of those classic Metal combos of upbeat riffs and depressing lyrics, yet it has a vocal jump that oddly reminds me of Shaggy’s ‘It Wasn’t Me’. The sound has definitely improved now and the vocals are way more balanced. There’s a huge cheer for this tune, then a slight pause before jumping straight into one I don’t recognise, but which has some deep Metal mumbling. Cue another burst of fire and a key change, into another catchy chorus. These guys are good at these. They are also good at some lovely chromatic guitar work.

Speaking of which, a two-note riff suddenly takes me back to being a youngster at the late, lamented Bradford Rio’s. It’s Voices! A track I had completely forgotten about, which used to be a favourite to jump around the dance floor to. I could be cruel and say I had repressed it, but if so it’s because of some no doubt humiliating drunken memory that accompanies the song, because the song itself is great; sharp melodies, perfect staccato vocals, a super heavy beat and just discordant and crunchy enough to be a nu metal classic. It’s been worth coming just for this.

Next up, it’s back to sickly green and yellow lighting, and an almost rapped vocal line. I think this one is called Stupify. Again it is very staccato, but lacks a certain depth after the massiveness of the previous track. However, it’s clearly a crowd favourite, who shout along with Draiman in a call and response fashion. I find it a bit odd that the lead singer is least energetic person on stage; Moyer and Donegan are leaping about like crazy, whilst drummer Mike Wengren is going hell for leather. Draiman definitely has charisma though, which is carried not just via his voice but through a combination of pointing, grasping, and intense facial expressions.

We are left in darkness for a few moments, with a haunting, droning sound. Suddenly a crystal clear piano line cuts through the background noise. I know it is The Sound of Silence but for one horrible moment I’m afraid they are going to cover Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart. Seriously, go play the first five seconds of Tyler and the first 13 seconds of Disturbed and you will know exactly what I mean. I’m suddenly surrounded by little specks of light, as everyone has their mobile phones out and is waving them in the way of lighters of old. Something I never thought I would write… I think it is guitarist Donegan who is playing piano, and it’s pretty much perfect. There is also some aggressive timpani action which is quite gorgeous. I know it’s a cover, but I can’t help but think that this song will be associated with this band for a very long time. It’s a very good rendition.

There’s another long pause, as if to let us absorb what just happened, then the room turns red and we are treated to more fiery excitement. Which makes sense, as we move into the song Inside the Fire. The sound by now is excellent, very tight and crunchy. The band seem re-energised by the response they received for Silence. The energy increases even more and the performance for the rest of the show seems note perfect and much more enjoyable. Albeit slightly over the top, the stage production is excellent, and the lights are perfect and dramatic. It’s a really well produced show.

Draiman pauses to have a word before the next track: ‘Tonight we have a special moment where the members of Disturbed need audience participation.Draiman wants us all to get out our ‘cell phones’ and lighters (no one has a lighter any more, oh sorry, there is one woman with a Zippo, I take it back!) to join in every time he sings the words ‘The Light’. The crowd howl; I don’t know this track (also called The Light) but they clearly do. And it’s a lovely song, so different to any of the previous offerings. It’s an optimistic ballad of hope, without being sappy. The crowd and band are as one now. Since Silence it’s been a different show from the start; twice as good with twice as much energy.

Stricken is soaring yet mournful, then the stage goes dark except for searchlights, and the sound of sirens permeates the arena. This leads into Indestructible, while flames fan across the stage. The crowd are drinking in every minute and Draiman knows it: ‘Alright Sheffield, your arms aren’t tired yet are they?’ There’s a thunderous roll of toms, and I swear I can feel the heat from those flames even over here by the sound desk.

After a rousing performance of 10000 Fists, we are commanded to Get on our fucking feet! and the obvious closing song is sung…. Ooh ah ah ah ah! There we go. So satisfying. The crowd surges forward, and the show ends in chanting and mutual worship between the band and the fans. Over the top, overly dramatic but so much fun. And worth it just for Voices, which I had forgotten about and The Light which is a truly beautiful song.

We move much closer for Avenged Sevenfold, having timed our ablutions and beer foraging perfectly. It’s pointed out to me that the original artwork for the single The Stage is on the screen, two halves of a skull, one on each screen with a perfect CGI eyeball looking around the arena. The left eyeball has the new album cover instead of iris. The sense of anticipation is palpable. Obviously there’s a longer gap before the headlining band, and the piped in music includes Space Oddity by David Bowie. There’s a touching moment where the crowd hushes, then starts singing along, and phones are in the air all around me. A brief but touching moment of tribute. So much love.

As the last notes and lights twinkle out, darkness falls and the crowd roars. The stage is set up as a series of screen and a huge cube suspended in mid-air, each side of which is a projector screen. Images of space and the Earth fly across our eyes, finally ending on the band’s logo as they appear on stage to a wave of crowd noise the like I have not heard for years.

As expected, the band open with The Stage. This is a great song, and I am impressed by some perfect guitar tapping. The audience absolutely love vocalist Shadows. I am surrounded by screaming women. Literally screaming. Unintelligibly. Whilst the band play, imagery plays pretty much constantly across the screens and the giant cube, meaning there is always something to look at. At the start, we have cave men puppets, Cromwellian witch burners and various other types of execution. Cheery.

‘Sing it!’ demands Shadows with a grin on his face. The two guitarists are in the spotlight, harmonising to the crowd, then bantering with each other and with Shadows. It’s clear that these band members have real love for each other, which is a beautiful thing to see.

I probably won’t write as much about A7x, simply because I was absolutely mesmerised. I can’t tell you exactly what songs they did and in what order, I just know this was one of the quickest two hours of my life, and that if their guitar sound was a real person, I would marry it. If I wasn’t bouncing up and down and screeching along, I was gazing wide eyed at smiling missiles, virtual flames licking across the stage and strange, Gallifreyan-looking swirls.

As the show progresses, we have synths and strings, and the screens go mad with imagery. There’s a clever thing they do, where they project the space imagery at the same time as projecting the live shots of the band, so on the screens it appears as if the band are playing in space. Later on, this technique is applied again to imprison the band behind chicken wire, and to set them on fire. The production is absolutely astonishing.

‘I don’t belong here,
Gotta move on dear’

A7x are a master of sing-along-specials, and Afterlife is the first of these (well, that I know!) and the crowd does not disappoint. Even Shadows repeatedly comments on how loud Sheffield is.

‘I can’t hear a goddamn thing I’m singing cos you motherfuckers are so goddamn loud!’

Shadows is an incredible vocalist. At times, he is almost rapping but the intonation is perfect on every note, whether low or high. The band really remind me of Faith No More, and the vocal lines are a big part of that, I think. There’s even some delightful three part harmonies. Oh, and it’s been said that A7x changed their style because Shadows couldn’t roar or scream like he used to. I’m here to tell you he can. Oh yes.

He also loves the crowd, and they love him. He asks where everyone is from. There’s a few locals, and many from surrounding towns. He laughs at the enmity we English have between rival towns and counties, and the room erupts with a chant of

YORKSHIRE! YORKSHIRE!’,

Something I have never heard at a gig before!

Highlights of the next hour and a half or so include Hail to the King. This song starts with such a sweet riff and when the drums kick in, every fist is trying to hit the ceiling. Buried Alive starts with a gentle, understated guitar line, which is soon underpinned by cellos and accompanied by a cheery backdrop of skulls, bones and decay. I love how the band themselves are so cheery and upbeat, whilst their themes range from death and destruction to entropy and the downfall of society. A wonderful juxtaposition.

The artwork on the screens is utterly amazing. As well as the aforementioned skulls, we have planets brimming with lava, space scenes, and swirls and lines that look like they are from the TARDIS. I am staring at the Gallifreyan when I realise the projection cube is travelling towards the crowd, leaving a gap at the back of the stage. It tilts up and down, the moves back, and I wonder if this is merely a distraction technique while the stage is changed somehow.

As the bizarre move finishes, a familiar synth line starts and the crowd howls again as the band launches into Nightmare. Another sing-along choice, this track is amazing live. This is one of my favourites, and again, almost worth coming just for this.

After Nightmare, there’s some more crowd interaction, as someone inexplicably tries to give Shadows their phone! Shadows introduces their most recent drummer, Brooks Wackerman. Cue a drum solo, which somehow melds into a gorgeous little snippet of War Pigs. I tell you, I can’t hear this band without thinking of Faith No More and stuff like that is not helping! The kit is great, such a fat sound but never overbearing. Shadows comments on what a rowdy group we are for a Sunday night and he’s right. I’ve totally forgotten about my dreaded 7am start.

Another high point is Sunny Disposition. This is where we see the nukes with smiley faces. I wasn’t sure at first if the band had a synth/keyboard player hidden away at first, but now I’m pretty sure that the ‘non-guitar’ sounds were pre-recorded tracks. You can’t tell though; the performance is perfectly flawless. The band toys with us by leaving a long pause, eventually filled by the inevitable cries of we want more, get on with it. The cube is tilting again, creating a spot lit area for one, then both guitarists. The musicians move down the stage and the lights follow them as they play; it’s quite lovely.

A loud rumbling occurs and the lights stutter. The screens go blank. Square waves batter the audience. With a burst of light the screens come alive, with capillary like red streaks. Our eyes are drawn to the back of the stage, where there is suspended a giant spaceman! It’s the astronaut from the album artwork, skull and all, in three-dimensional glory. There is something akin to an Iron Maiden show in all this; a real sense of theatre.

The band roar through Planets and after a gorgeous rendition of Acid Rain, leave the stage. There’s the inevitable ‘Will they, won’t they?’ before they return, leaving a long enough gap that some people actually leave. I can only presume they are trying to beat the car park queues; not a good enough reason in my mind.

As Shadows returns, he asks how many more songs we want. Someone shouts ‘Ten!’, and he quips,

‘If we play ten we won’t get to Manchester.’ After some predictable ‘booing’ Shadows laughs,

‘I swear, all we have to do is name any city! What do you guys think of London?’

And the loudest booing of the evening occurs! We are awfully parochial aren’t we.

The audience now has its knowledge of song lyrics tested, as a condition for playing Bat Country. The harmonised guitar solo in this is amazing on CD, but even better in the flesh. Or wood. How about a love song, one equally about murder and necrophilia? After the roar, Shadows pleads ‘Never bury me in Sheffield!’ and adds ‘This one goes out to the Rev.’; a touching tribute to an amazing drummer and songwriter. Little Peace of Heaven is exactly that. I’ve never known a track make me so uncomfortable and yet have me singing along every time. It’s a real conflict of emotions.

The band finish with Unholy Confessions, not a favourite of mine, but my companions, along with most of the crowd, are elated. Shadows encourages the biggest pit he can, which becomes a swirling maelstrom in front of us. This is a frontman who knows how to wind the crowd up into a frenzy, and all the while has a smile on his face.

All in all, a really great night. Yes, I’m biased by my lack of interaction with the real world lately, but this was genuinely a fantastic line up. In Flames were solid, entertaining and really heavy hitting. Disturbed were not quite as tight at first, and a little over the top at times, but in the end very good, lots of fun and threw out some real classic tunes. The headliners though. My word. Avenged Sevenfold have made it into my top ten live bands, that’s for certain. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the next time they visit the UK.

In Flames: 8/10

Disturbed: 7/10

A7x: 10/10

Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Genting Arena, Birmingham, 25/06/16

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Review: That lucky, lucky bastard, Tom Mead.

When Ritchie Blackmore announced he was forming a new incarnation of Rainbow for three shows, his first Hard Rock performances for over 20 years, he admitted it was primarily for the fans’ benefit; while he’s made a happy career out of playing Rennaissance-folk rock with his wife Candice Night in Blackmore’s Night, his status as a Rock Legend is primarily based on his genre-defining work as a founding member of both Deep Purple and Rainbow.  Fans have come to Birmingham tonight from all over the world though (the other two shows last week were both in Germany), so this can’t afford to be just another tired nostalgia show.

Consisting of Jens Johansson (Yngwie Malmsteen/Stratovarius) on keyboards, David Keith and Bob Nouveau (both of Blackmore’s Night) on drums and bass respectively, and relative unknown Ronnie Romero (originally from Chile, he fronts the Spanish band Lords of Black) on lead vocals, this incarnation displays a chemistry that you’d expect of musicians who’ve been together for years, rather than for just a handful of shows. They position themselves compactly on stage (à la the cover of Deep Purple’s seminal live album Made in Japan) and no one moves around much throughout the show; now aged 71, Ritchie Blackmore opts to perform far fewer Pete Townshend-esque acrobatics than he did in his earlier days! This hardly matters though, nor does the lack of video screens; the five men on stage (plus two female backing singers, including Candice Night) might look like dots from the back of the cavernous Genting Arena but the classic Rainbow arch lighting rig, a much welcomed nod to previous Rainbow shows, provides an impressive visual spectacle nonetheless.

While it’s no doubt an obvious move for promotional/marketing reasons, a look at tonight’s setlist (see below) does make you wonder why the “Rainbow” name was chosen for the band; Deep Purple songs outnumber those by Blackmore’s other band.  It does mean that those fans who were expecting more of their favourite Rainbow songs (there are plenty of calls for Kill the King from Long Live Rock & Roll for instance) might be somewhat disappointed.  In practice though, songs by both bands are perfectly performed and enthusiastically received, with seemingly every single one of the 10,000-plus fans here tonight in fine voice; Ronnie Romero doesn’t even need to bother singing much of Child in Time at all, as he is thoroughly drowned out in what is undoubtedly one of the most memorable live music moments I’ve ever experienced. The bits where the crowd does his job for him aside though, Romero’s performance tonight must be singled out for particular praise.  He has the task of handling the work of five respected, but very different, singers but luckily he has the vocal range and stamina to pull it off with ease. Whether it’s David Coverdale-style chest-bursting on Burn or soulful Ronnie James Dio-esque crooning on Catch the Rainbow, Ronnie Romero’s rich tenor voice is well-suited to the task. Ritchie Blackmore said that, when he announced Romero as Rainbow’s latest singer, he hoped he could introduce a new star to the world; based on tonight’s performance, he’s done just that.

I only really have a couple of small pieces of criticism to make about this show.  Blackmore only ever intended to form this incarnation of Rainbow for these 3 shows; this is not a well-oiled production and that does show in places.  While the sound quality in the Genting Arena is excellent, Blackmore’s guitar does not come through clearly at times; maybe decades of concentrating on acoustic, rather than electric, music has something to do with this?  Moreover, while the band manages to cram a lot into 2 hours tonight, they could have trimmed a bit of time off the title track from Difficult to Cure (the instrumental one that’s essentially a rock version of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy).  If the solo section in the middle was a bit shorter, they could have found space for another song or two.  But hey, tonight’s all about reliving the glory days of 70’s and 80’s Arena Rock; if you can’t have a gratuitous instrumental section, what’s the bloody point!?

As the end notes of Smoke on the Water are still ringing throughout the arena, I doubt anyone’s left tonight with any real disappointment.  We came to see one of rock’s greatest musicians and most enigmatic characters play timeless songs to loyal fans, and no one can say that neither Ritchie Blackmore nor the rest of the band failed to deliver.  It remains to be seen whether more shows (or maybe a new album?) will follow tonight but the signs are promising if they do.  The rainbow has risen again, shining as bright as ever.

Verdict: 9/10

Setlist

  1. Over the Rainbow
  2. Highway Star
  3. Spotlight Kid
  4. Mistreated
  5. Since You Been Gone
  6. Man on the Silver Mountain
  7. Soldier of Fortune
  8. Difficult to Cure (with Drum, Bass and Keyboard solos)
  9. Catch the Rainbow
  10. Perfect Strangers
  11. Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll
  12. Child in Time
  13. Stargazer
  14. Black Night (with Woman From Tokyo excerpt)

Encore

  1. Burn
  2. Smoke on the Water

Evile, Blasphemer, Tyrant @ The Venue, The Parish, Huddersfield 28/05/2016

West Yorkshire as a whole has a strong underground Metal scene, despite the lack of venues willing to host the bands and quality promoters willing to put in the effort to properly promote the shows.  The Parish in Huddersfield is one of the small venues fighting the good fight, helping nurture the underground scene.  In past years, they’ve hosted Gama Bomb, Ginger Wildheart, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Marmozets, Wheatus and everyone’s favourite, Evil Scarecrow.  On this particular night, it was the turn of local heroes, Evile.

Tyrant @ The Venue 28.05.16
Leeds band, Tyrant, making a return from retirement last year, to open for Evile

Before the main event, though, there were two more local bands to hit the small stage in The Venue.  First up were 80’s-style Thrashers, Tyrant.  They’ve been around for a few years, plying their own particular brand of solid classic Thrash, and came out of retirement to play this gig.  The slot they had was a very short opening set to sparse crowd.  Generally they had a pretty decent time of it with some quality musicianship and songs.  Unfortunately, they were hampered by the frontman’s cringeworthy attempts to be funny.  The shame is that his “hilarious” joking around will probably be remembered more than their sadly too-short set.

Verdict: 6/10

Blasphemer @ The Venue 28.05.16

At 9pm, the lights came down and Blasphemer‘s infernal noise roared out of the amps.  Now this is more like it! Powered from the back by My Dying Bride and former Bal Saggoth stixman, Dan Mullins, Blasphemer‘s early 90’s Death-meets-Slayer-tinged Thrash finally gets the venue going, with the mosh pit in full swing by the second song.

Like Tyrant, Blasphemer suffered from having a length of set that didn’t really give us time to get to know them properly, but this short, sharp shock certainly served as a very interesting taster.

Verdict: 8/10

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Evile’s Matt Drake – less banter, more Thrash than before!

Evile are, of course, much more in the vein of classic Bay Area-style Thrash, merging influences from the likes of Exodus and Slayer with more than a splash of Teutonic Titans, Kreator.  It’s been a long time since they’ve played a stage this small, but their level of professionalism shines through, ramping up the intensity in a way you can only get from sweatboxes like this one.

This is a new version of the line-up, having only played a handful of gigs in this formation.  New boy six-stringer Piers Donno-Fuller has stepped in replacing Ol Drake, making the band meaner, Thrashier and most importantly tighter than before.  Matt Drake keeps the banter to a bare minimum, accentuating the band’s more aggressive new attitude.  The rhythm section of bassist Joel Graham and drummer Ben Carter are their usual selves: tight as those things Ben beats the tar out of during the set.

This is a very different beast from the one that headlined the Holmfirth Picturedrome.   The traditional circle pit (egged on by manically-grinning Joel) kicked off during the opening chords of Cult.

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A slightly out-of-focus Joel Graham – It was hard to take decent photos!

From this evidence, it looks like Evile have evolved into a leaner, meaner, tighter, more efficient machine making the Kreator analogy more apt.  This was a welcome return for one of the best UK bands currently on the circuit.  Based on this show, the new album can’t come soon enough.

Verdict: 9/10

Avantasia, O2 Forum Kentish Town, London, 08/03/16

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Three hours, no support, THIRTEEN musicians on stage (Nine of whom are vocalists) AND it’s their first ever headline show in the UK.  This all sounds like a recipe for disaster but Edguy frontman Tobias Sammet has already overcome countless other obstacles in order to make his “Metal Opera” project Avantasia a success.  Besides, his love of all things English is well-known (he even wrote a song about it on Edguy’s last album), so the sold-out crowd at the Forum are no doubt confident that the international line-up Sammet’s assembled will be able to deliver the goods.

Entering to Richard StraussAlso Sprach Zarathustra (the famous music from 2001: A Space Odyssey) and with a stage layout containing raised platforms depicting a gothic graveyard, it doesn’t take long for Avantasia to make an impression and grab the audience’s attention.  Even though there are many things that could go wrong with such an ambitious production, the mood throughout the show is reasonably relaxed, like an intimate gathering of close friends. Tobias Sammet is a consummate entertainer and Master of Ceremonies, with plenty of banter between himself, the crowd and his fellow singers. In addition to regular collaborators Amanda Somerville and Oliver Hartmann, and new addition Herbie Langhans, on additional vocals throughout the show, a succession of guest vocalists are introduced, each contributing to a handful of songs: Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween, Unisonic), Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids, Nordic Union), Bob Catley (Magnum), Jørn Lande (ex-Masterplan) and Eric Martin (Mr. Big). Each guest star adds their own unique component, and the effect is that the evening becomes like a Metal version of the Royal Variety Performance.  As with that event though, not every joke or story properly hits the mark tonight; some between-song chats go on a bit, and Eric Martin in particular is nowhere near as funny as he thinks he is.  This is a small concern though, and hardly detracts from the music.

One thing that Tobias Sammet and Avantasia should certainly be commended for is that they’ve made good use of the 3 hour running time here.  Despite the epic nature of the music (several songs are 10+ minutes), this is not a Prog Rock gig where half the time is taken up by tedious drum solos and mind-numbingly boring jams. Tonight, more time = more songs; 24 in total. New album Ghostlights has been generally well-received and so choosing to play 7 songs from it proves to be a sensible decision; Lucifer and Let the Storm Descend Upon You, both featuring the iron-lunged Jørn Lande, go down particularly well.

However, as with pretty much any other gig by any Metal band ever, there are certain people here tonight who just want to hear “the old stuff”. Avantasia’s first two albums, The Metal Opera, Parts 1 & 2, definitely feature a more traditional strain of Symphonic Power Metal than all their subsequent albums, but anyone who came here hoping the band would play lots of earlier songs is bound to be somewhat disappointed.  To be honest, while I think Tobias Sammet is justified in having confidence in his more recent material, I think shuffling the setlist a bit would have been a good idea.  Nine of the first ten songs are from Ghostlights and its immediate predecessor The Mystery of Time, with most of the older songs crammed in together near the end of the show.  Front-ending your setlist with lots of recent material is the sort of thing that makes a lot of long-term fans restless and impatient but hey, you can’t please everyone (and there’s surely no perfect way to coordinate all the different singers!)

Minor quibbles about the setlist and between-song banter aside, Avantasia’s performance tonight cannot really be faulted. Kudos to the band for sustaining a tight, energetic show for three hours, and every singer delivers to the best of their abilities.  Avantasia’s future is always uncertain due to the project’s logistical complexity but Tobias Sammet assures the crowd that, if they tour again, there will certainly be a return to the UK.  I can’t imagine many people here tonight wouldn’t want to return for that.

Verdict: 9/10

Setlist (with singers in brackets)

  1. Mystery of a Blood Red Rose (Sammet)
  2. Ghostlights (Sammet, Kiske)
  3. Invoke the Machine (Sammet, Atkins)
  4. Unchain the Light (Sammet, Atkins, Kiske)
  5. A Restless Heart and Obsidian Skies (Sammet, Catley)
  6. The Great Mystery (Sammet, Catley)
  7. The Scarecrow (Sammet, Lande)
  8. Lucifer (Sammet, Lande)
  9. The Watchmakers’ Dream (Sammet, Hartmann)
  10. What’s Left of Me (Sammet, Martin)
  11. The Wicked Symphony (Hartmann, Lande, Somerville, Langhans, Kiske)
  12. Draconian Love (Sammet, Langhans)
  13. Farewell (Sammet, Somerville, Kiske)
  14. Stargazers (Kiske, Lande, Atkins, Hartmann)
  15. Shelter from the Rain (Sammet, Kiske, Catley)
  16. The Story Ain’t Over (Sammet, Catley)
  17. Let the Storm Descend Upon You (Sammet, Lande, Atkins)
  18. Promised Land (Sammet, Lande)
  19. Prelude/Reach Out for the Light (Sammet, Kiske)
  20. Avantasia (Sammet, Kiske)
  21. Twisted Mind (Martin, Atkins)
  22. Dying for an Angel (Sammet, Martin)

-Encore-

  1. Lost in Space (Sammet, Somerville)
  2. Sign of the Cross/The Seven Angels (All)

 

Dream Theater, The London Palladium, 19th February 2016

Dream Theater

Ushers with waistcoats and bow-ties telling people to put their cameras away, pictures of Bradley Walsh on the walls, champagne popsicles on sale in the foyer, and little pairs of binoculars to see the stage better.  Suffice to say, the legendary Palladium theatre in London’s West End is not your typical Metal concert venue.  Then again, Dream Theater have never been your typical Metal band.

Such a special venue is required in order to reflect the ambition of what Dream Theater are attempting here.  Their new album, The Astonishing, is their most ambitious project ever and trying to perform its thirty-four tracks, lasting 130 minutes, live in their entirety is no small undertaking.  The album has divided opinion and most people here tonight would have bought their tickets before they’d heard it, so there is certainly a sense of scepticism in the air.  So, has the band bitten off more than they can chew?

Well first of all, this is a very visual show, with banners on stage depicting the flags of the Great Northern Empire of the Americas and the Ravenskill Rebel Militia (the two opposing sides featured in their dystopian sci-fi tale) and large screens depicting the story throughout.   Similar to when they toured their previous concept album, Metropolis Part 2: Scenes from a Memory, these animated sequences are invaluable in helping fans decipher and follow the story, and thus people who had not quite been able to “get” the complex album just by listening to it will hopefully understand it a bit better now.  Being such a highly conceptual project, the story and music go hand in hand, and so this live setting is the perfect way to fully appreciate it.

Another great contributing factor to tonight’s success is the Palladium’s brilliant acoustics; this is not the first time that this 100 year-old hall has had to withstand such loud volumes.  From the opening discordant sounds of the NOMACS (the flying robots who create electronic music in the story, and who look truly imposing on the 20ft high screens) to the closing triumphant crescendo of the album’s title track, every note is loud and powerful, yet clear.  A criticism some have levelled at The Astonishing is the dominance of keyboards and acoustic instrumentation at the expense of guitars and drums, but this is much less of a concern in this live setting.  Every band member is firing on all cylinders, with the live mix being much more balanced than what can be heard on the record; guitarist John Petrucci and drummer Mike Mangini are not happy to just sit back and play a minor role, so their presence is strongly felt.  Essentially, any of the fans in attendance who didn’t think The Astonishing was a heavy enough album should be more satisfied with its live interpretation.

I do have some small points of criticism to make though.  Dream Theater, as expected, have clearly rehearsed the music to death and I can’t fault their performance from a technical standpoint whatsoever.  I was particularly impressed with James LaBrie’s vocal performance, as it was hard enough singing all the different characters’ voices on record, so the fact he managed to replicate it all live without his voice faltering is, well, astonishing; he showed a level of vocal stamina many singers half his age would envy.  However, while Dream Theater are arguably the most pre-eminent live rock musicians of their generation, they are not the most theatrical or animated live act.  Put bluntly, as good as the music sounds and as effective as the screens and banners are, Dream Theater’s performance of The Astonishing does not rival Pink Floyd’s The Wall or Genesis’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway in terms of Prog Rock theatricality.

Maybe this is just because it’s only the second night of the tour; perhaps they’re concentrating on playing the music correctly for now and will add more elements to the stage show later?  Or maybe the budget’s not high enough to do anything else?  If it was up to me though, there’d be a lot more going on onstage; sets, props, actors to play the different characters, pyrotechnics, and costumes for Johns Petrucci and Myung to break the monotony of their usual “any colour so long as its black” stage attire. Hopefully, they’ll add some of these elements if they tour the album again in future, or maybe I’d just be better off going to see Kiss or Rammstein live instead…

In summary, any concerns that Dream Theater would be unable to play The Astonishing live have been firmly put to bed by this performance; quite simply, the album sounds better live than on record, and the visual aids on stage and screen do a decent job of telling the story. It’s perhaps not quite as theatrical a performance as some people (i.e. me) would have preferred, but that’s not why people go to see Dream Theater live anyway. These are thoroughly professional live musicians at the top of their game and anyone who was previously unsold on The Astonishing as an album should now hopefully realise what a triumph it is.

Verdict: 9/10

Symphony X + Myrath + Melted Space, Monday 15th February 2016

Corporation, Sheffield, UK

This was a transcontinental affair at Corporation, with melodic/progressive metal from Europe, Africa and North America all on offer.

7pm on a Monday evening is not your typical gig time, and thus it’s a sparse crowd that welcomes France’s Melted Space.  A “metal opera” band in a similar vein to Avantasia and Ayreon, their trio of vocalists (clean male, harsh male and operatic female) work together nicely and the band’s enthusiasm is admirable in the face of a lukewarm reception.  Their layered, intricate sound is also somewhat muddled by the Corporation’s poor acoustics so, through little fault of their own, their set is ultimately disappointing.

Verdict: 6/10

 

Tunisia’s Myrath, on the other hand, fare somewhat better.  With a set largely taken from their new album Legend, their catchy blend of crushing progressive rhythms and Arabic folk melodies goes down well with the crowd.  It’s a sound that many people here won’t be familiar with, but it doesn’t take long for them to be converted; the increasing globalisation of metal in the social media age has brought greater prominence to many sub-genres and regional scenes, and Myrath’s brand of “Oriental folk metal” is a notably strong example. This is a confident, yet modest, performance from a band whose star is firmly in the ascendancy; expect to see them back in the UK soon, headlining.

Verdict: 8/10

 

Early in their set, Symphony X frontman Russell Allen self-deprecatingly acknowledges that his band doesn’t tour very often as they take ages to record their albums.  The US fantasy prog-metallers last toured the UK five years ago, and the rapturous response they receive indicates it’s been worth the wait for many.  Their recent album Underworld is played in its entirety at the expense of a lot of earlier material (à la Iron Maiden’s A Matter of Life and Death tour), but there are few grumbles from the crowd, as it’s thankfully one of the strongest albums they’ve made in years, with crushing heaviness, technical dexterity and Allen’s rich, soaring vocal melodies complementing each other harmoniously.

However, despite the undeniably precise performance from the band, the mood throughout is distinctly flat. The venue’s half-full at best, a case of preaching to a small group of die-hard fans (many of whom sound like they still have the Monday blues) rather than reaching a wider audience.  There’s plenty to celebrate about Symphony X’s uplifting take on progressive metal, and they’ve certainly carved out a niche for themselves over the past twenty plus years.  It’s clear though that that niche is evidently not big enough; it’s a shame that they’re not big enough to fill arenas, as their soaring sound would no doubt translate well in such an environment.  As it stands, there’s a distinct incongruity between the music and the surroundings; this is a cold, rainy Monday night in a half-full, sticky nightclub in northern England and, even though the band plays well, they seem noticeably deflated by such surroundings.  Die-hard fans here would surely pay no attention to such concerns, but the lack of a suitably uplifting atmosphere will not have endeared Symphony X too well to more casual listeners.

Verdict: 7/10

Rancid, The Warfield, San Francisco, 1st January 2016

Oh My Gosh… Can we just stop for a moment and talk about how absolutely AMAZING 90’s punk band, Rancid still sounds live. They still tear up that stage with the same fierce spirit and undeniable talent that they always have. I honestly don’t thing it was possible to attend this show and not have a good time.

For the uninitiated, Rancid are a 90’s punk band originating in Berkley, California with two (Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman) of the four (with Lars Fredrickson and Drummer Branden Steineckert) founding members previously belonging to the popular Ska-punk band Operation-Ivy.  They have released eight albums to date, including 2014’s Honor Is All We Know, and are still touring.

It was January 1, 2016 in San Francisco and the Warfield.  I flew down frm Seattle with a friend just ring in the New Year the best way I knew how. Punk Show. Rancid; performing their 1995 release …And Out Come The Wolves in celebration of it’s 20 year anniversary.

F-Yeah!

Probably My favourite Rancid album.

Opening for them were OFF! and a pretty rad band called The Interrupters.   They also did a second show the following night with the band The English Beat taking over the opening spot from OFF!. I assume that night was just as mind blowing, in fact I was tempted to hustle up tickets and catch both nights, but unfortunately I had to return to Seattle and adult.

The Warfield is a great venue. Plenty of room to hang-out, cool down and talk to friends in between checking out the bands.  Not to forget short lines for drinks and merchandise, and super organized, cheap coat checks. Dream come true!  The opening bands were great, but I was there to see Rancid and that’s all my pretty little punk heart cared about. I was dead center in front of Lars, just three rows from the very front.

Happy Girl!

The moment they hit the stage, the entire GA Floor turned into a pit and everybody rocked the fuck out and had fun.  Such a great crowd!   No fighting, no assholes and everybody kept everybody safe in the pit, having a good time.

The show was amazing. The guys looked and sounded like the punk gods they are (in my eyes at least), and I am so glad I got to see them. I can’t think of a better way to start off my New Year! I highly recommend going to see them if you get the chance.

 

Lordi, Warehouse 23, Wakefield, 25th March 2015

Lordi

It’s been a good few years since I last saw Lordi.  It was just after they’d won the Eurovision Song Contest for their home country of Finland.  That time, they played at The Carling Academy in Birmingham, with support provided by a young Finnish band called Turisas.

That night, despite a storming set from the support band, culminating in a breakneck version of Rasputin (which they eventually recorded), Lordi still managed to come out on top.  This time, at the much smaller Wakefield club, would the masked Finns still be able to pull it off?

Unfortunately, thanks to a parking issue (as in the lack of it within the easiest distance of the venue), I missed the first few songs of the openers, Hollywood Groupies, but what I did see certainly made me want to know more about them.  The Italians certainly won themselves a few new friends on the night thanks to their obvious enthusiasm and very nice line in traditional, proper Heavy Metal, very much in the vein of their fellow countrymen, Arthemis.  These guys are definitely worth watching for the future.

Next up were Sweden’s very own Dirty Passion.

This is a bunch of guys who definitely know what they’re doing and what they’re about.  They also happen to do it very well.  It must be really only down to the vagaries of fashion that these guys aren’t a lot bigger.  With the seeming resurgence of this type of music, and the usual Swedish flare for doing this sort of thing right, it can only be a matter of time before these chaps become much more well known.  On that night’s performance, they certainly deserve it.

Onto the main event, then.  The Finnish Monster Squad, kicking off with new single, Nailed By The Hammer Of Frankenstein, which was the first of five songs unleashed from the new album, Scare Force One, including the title track and the instrumental track, Amen’s Lament To Ra.  Somewhat surprisingly, Hard Rock Hallelujah was the third song in the set instead of it being saved for the encore (which was made up of Scare Force One, Who’s Your Daddy? and Could You Love A Monsterman?)

The set itself was very well balanced.  There was literally something from everything, to twist the old phrase.  Since this is Lordi, the vast majority of the songs are the best ones Kiss never wrote.  With some lyrical modification, virtually anything Lordi have ever recorded could slot into almost any 70’s album from their back catalogue.  Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the most recent Kiss albums had co-writing credits featuring an obviously Finnish name.

Anyway, special mention has to be made of both the theatrics (this is a Lordi show, so there has to be some showmanship and some gore), which were always spot on and just the right level so they didn’t overshadow the music, and the musicianship, especially from Amen (guitar) and Mana (drums).  Being able to play that well in full costume makes what they do even more impressive.

As for Mr Lordi himself, he was in fine form, striding the stage in total command.  The venues may have become smaller, but The Monsterman hasn’t.  Could we love a Monsterman?  Yes.  We did, and we still most definitely do.

Amaranthe, Wakefield Warehouse 23, Wednesday 18th March 2015

IMG_3289

So on an ordinary Wednesday night, I made my way to a new venue in Wakefield by the name of Warehouse 23.  Having got inside, I was genuinely surprised that my feet weren’t sticking to the floor and that the toilets had toilet paper and didn’t stink of urine.

On top of that, the bar prices were very reasonable, being much more “pub” than “venue”.  This was the first time in quite a while that I’d bought myself a drink at a gig and not felt like I’d been done.  The venue are also building a bit of a reputation thanks to the bands they’re putting on since they opened last year.

On this particular night, it was the turn of Swedish genre smashers, Amaranthe, supported by the Modern Metal of Engel and throwback Glam/Sleaze Rockers, Santa Cruz.

IMG_3185The first band up, somewhat surprisingly having read the poster, was Santa Cruz (****).

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I will freely admit that from my position right down at the front in the photo pit, it was somewhat difficult to gauge the sound and the reception the first two bands got, but the Finns seemed to be playing something of a blinder.  They were definitely not a band going through the motions.  All shapes thrown were genuine as were the smiles on the members’ faces during their set.???????????????????????????????

As for the set itself, it was like being back in the late 80’s, very much following in the footsteps Hanoi RocksMichael Monroe.  Classy Glam/Sleaze Metal, straight off Sunset Strip, but infused with that characteristic Finnish know-how and confidence.

The boys from Helsinki certainly made themselves a few friends, going by the comments I heard from various members of the audience.  Then again, with this type of crowd, the type of music Santa Cruz play and their Finnish attitude, failing to connect was never really an option for them.  They connected big-style.

Next up were the band I had been expecting to see first, Gothenburg’s very own Engel (***½).

They seemed to be an interesting choice for the bill, especially since Amaranthe’s bass player, Johan Andreassen, is a former (albeit a shortlived stint, nearly a decade ago!) member of the band.

Obviously no sour grapes from either side, then.

Their style of music is very much straight-ahead Modern Metal in a similar vein to the more melodic sides of bands such as Killswitch Engage and current iteration of The Agonist, contrasting clean and Death Metal vocals over a Melodic Heavy Metal base.  The band themselves were very professional and self-assured.  Their level of experience was obvious (only accentuated by relatively new vocalist Mikael Sehlin’s mentions of the band’s “fourth album“) and they used that experience to put on a solid, if unspectactular show.

Finally, to what had to have been a somewhat disappointing crowd (which more than likely got more to do with the newness of the venue and it being a Wednesday night not long before payday, than it has to do with the quality of the bands on offer), Amaranthe (*****) hit the stage.

Olof Mörck

Their enthusiasm and the obvious joy of performing was incredibly infectious.  It was virtually (and literally!) impossible not to stop a huge grin spreading over my face as I snapped photos in the pit and then from the punters’ side of the barrier following the traditional three songs.

To say that, onstage, Amaranthe are a well-oiled machine would make them seem soulless.  They’re not, by any stretch of the imagination.  They’re actually a lot of fun to watch.  The triple vocal line-up of Jake E, Elize Ryd and new boy Death Metal vocalist, Henrik Englund worked a lot better than expected on the surprisingly spacious stage.

When propelled by guitarist Olof Mörck, bassist Johan Andreassen and drummer, Morten Løwe Sørensen, they form a truly formidable live outfit.  One of the tightest I’ve seen in a long while.  They were almost effortless in their stagecraft and were very obviously enjoying themselves as they powered through a set made up of songs from all three of their studio albums.

As for the music, it’s bouncy, catchy feel-good stuff, ample proof that good Metal doesn’t need to be grim, angry and aggressive.

Jake E
Jake E

Not even a technical fault early on that took down the vocals, guitar and bass could even slow their momentum.

There were no tantrums or hissy fits from the stage, which was a very pleasant surprise.

They actually finished the song before joking around with the audience and each other until the power was restored, at which point they carried on as if nothing untoward had happen.  Extremely professional and very refreshing.

Johan Andreassen

Throughout the whole set, probably the only miss-step was the entirely gratuitous (but thankfully not long) drum solo.  Then again, it did give the rest of the band time enough to gather themselves before carrying on.  To say the two hour set flew by would be by no means an exaggeration.  The pounding encore-closer and final song of the night, Massive Addictive came far too soon.

An apt way to finish, really.  It would be cheesy to say that Amaranthe, as a live act, are Massively Addictive… but they are.  Their sheer joy at being on stage and the quality of the songs and musicianship on offer make that something that really does have to be said, despite the fermented milk factor.

IMG_3293

Hayseed Dixie, Wakefield Warehouse 23, Saturday 21st March 2015

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Guest Reviewer: Kath Runciman

I first would like to address the venue for this gig.

Having never been to Wakefield’s new venue, Warehouse 23, I was unsure what to expect for the evening.  What I experienced was polite, pleasant staff who were attentive and supportive and who showed a level of empathy with disabled audience members, I feel has to be mentioned, as there were several large motorised wheelchairs, several visually impaired and hearing impaired people there and what I saw was a superb level of support to ensure that they had the best experience the venue could offer. Yes, there is still room for improvement but I don’t think I’ve seen that level of genuine inclusivity in any venue before….well done Warehouse 23.

So….downside…..no support band, so there was a long wait before Hayseed Dixie came on, but for me, that is the only negative of the night.

Once on stage, Hayseed delivered on of the most fun and enjoyable gigs I have ever experienced. The level of energy from the band members and musical ability was superb and they competently carried the audience through renditions of classic rock tracks, hip hop, Britney Spears (only for a moment, fortunately) and triumphant renditions of classic tracks such as Bohemian Rhapsody.

John Wheeler engaged with the crowd brilliantly with a blend of banter and interesting (and insightful) political commentary on issues both American and British.  He finished a staggering rant quoting several philosophical and scientific theories, with, “I’m not just a redneck, I’m an educated redneck and that’s something to be afraid of“.

Class.

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Getting back to the music, renditions of Motörhead‘s Ace Of Spades and AC/DC‘s Highway to Hell whipped the crowd into a sea of horns up waving hands and when they broke into Journey‘s Don’t Stop Believing, young and old embraced their inner Glee demon and sang along and danced equally. The band also introduced the crowd to some of their original material from the No Covers album which was well received.

The musicianship was phenomenal and the band members, apart from Jake ‘Bakesnake’ Byers on acoustic bass, swapped between instruments and showed a level of classical aptitude, mixed with thundering rock interpretation that was awe inspiring for its execution and truly brilliant.  The fiddle playing (as a classically trained and experienced concert violinist) was breathtaking at times and beautiful in moments of classical and softer renditions, something which in a climate changing in temperature constantly due to the mere heat of the crowd in such an intimate space, was very impressive.

Finishing with a staggering rendition of Pink Floyd‘s iconic Comfortably Numb, the audience were left with no doubt, that Hayseed Dixie had given their all to Wakefield and after 5 minutes, all of the band were in the bar with the fans, drinking, signing autographs, having photos and selfies done and relaxing, no sense of rushing away, a genuine desire to meet, greet and relax with the fans who supported them, old and new.

If you see Hayseed Dixie are playing a venue near you, if you need to feel the joy of music and the fun of not taking life too seriously, you cannot go wrong with a trip to one of their gigs. 10/10 and thank you for an amazing night.