Review by Paul H Birch, photos by Martin Tierney
So here we are on the last leg of the Shake A Leg Tour. We’re all a little unsure about what’s happening, or rather when, because we get the impression the support bands are loitering around the merchandise stands or sitting across the room, and we know that’s a member of the main act just headed off towards the upstairs loos. No one’s in a rush. The gentlemanly thing is to go the bar. Then, around 8.15pm bodies stir from the shadows summoned by the raising of the stage curtain…
Up on stage there’s a band telling us they’ve got a ‘Ticket To Rock’ by which we can safely presume that means jumping ‘n throwing shapes like Dave Lee Roth back in his prime. They’re all over the shop visually but the four-piece bring a nice slice of retro rock to the party. Daxx & Roxane is the band’s monicker but it’s a red herring ; none of these Swiss lads bear either name. Sounding like an unlikely hybrid of Cheap Trick and Extreme they keep us entertained, and when singer/bass player Cedric Pfister shout out: “Rock ‘n roll people put your hands in the air!” they oblige and clap along. With a half-dozen numbers safely delivered, ‘Walking on The Wrong Side’ being particularly noteworthy, they leave the stage and join the audience and proceed to dance pretty much throughout the rest of the night!
Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics are up next. A bunch of individuals who may well have got dressed in in the dark because they don’t look like the kind of group you’d picture hanging out together. A butch bass player with a Mohawk, an even taller white leather-jacketed guitarist, a drummer who looks like he flew in from L.A’s Sunset Strip; and a second guitarist of a wee lady in cool red jacket and fedora hat shimmying about.
The latter it turns out is the sister of Mr Buchanan himself, former Heaven’s Basement vocalist (and from which band we get a number of covers tonight) who’s a cocky foul-mouthed geezer camping it up like a cross between Freddie Mercury and Kenneth Williams while resembling Jude Law by way of Steve Harley… And there’s a noticeable flamboyance of the art rock persuasion going on aside from the music’s more obvious hard rock credentials.
Initially Buchanan’s voice is low in the mix but picks up once he starts screaming away, numbers like ‘The Devil That Needs You’ and ‘Dancin’ Down Below’ drawing your attention for their variety. “The Cult Classics” tag is either because they started out wholly as a covers band or the instrumental mélange of Sabbath, Kiss, Maiden and The Knack’s ‘My Cherona’ we get. They end with Aaron Buchanan roaring away in fine form to Heaven’s Basement’s ‘Heartbreaking Son of a Bitch’. Truth be told, I thought this embellished theatrical metal show might be a bit too much for tonight’s audience, but they leave to fine receptive applause.
Bad Touch walk on stage to a mash-up of James Brown’s ‘Sex Machine’ and Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’. The choice of music says a lot. Confident, with a lion king like grace. As the evening ensues we will find this no false sense of bravado. This band has upped their game and raised the stakes.
It begins with a single power-chord and becomes the squealing of six-strings s as they turn away from drummer George Drewry with legs astride and guitars swung low to face their audience. The large stage allows them room to move, roam, and begin to own it, as they stomp out and dine on hardened rock. ‘Lift your Head Up’ comes armed with hook lines, singer Stevie Westwood loud and articulate, Drewry and guitarist Daniel Seekings adding backing. Guitars then set out in harmony as they riff their way into ‘Movin’ On Up’ and open things up musically.
But this is a band whose influences are as much about rock bands who hit the singles charts as played stadium rock, so succinctness comes into play with the Stones sounding chords and drum hammering down of ‘Good On Me’, Westwood drooling out lines like “Won’t you tell me where you buy your jeans!” then interjecting ZZ Top’s ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ into the proceedings. As lead guitarist Rob Glendinning circles about soloing, from where I’m standing, with his fair-haired locks falling about his face I’m reminded visually of the late Steve Clark from Def Leppard, though musically the only similarity would be Jimmy Page as mutual influence. What’s apparent is we’re getting a lot of tunes from their latest Shake A Leg album tonight, and it’s good to see a band confident in laying to rest past set favourites bit by bit. Broken chords resonate as tub-thumping builds the momentum up for ‘Hammer Falls’ – Epic in feel, if not length, Michael Bailey’s bass crawling and sliding with melodic presence akin to a more metallic Andy Fraser or Neil Murray under a slow burning solo from Glendinning.
‘Take Your Time’ is the first of two slow ballad numbers where Westwood’s voice takes centre stage. Loud, brash but with an emotive tenderness underneath vocally, it’s a peace and love Free meets Pie hillbilly blues tune, the sincerity of it holding my attention rather than enjoying it for its own sake. Later we’ll get ‘Believe In Me’ and that proves a joy, solos too. Hamming it up good with some Rockin’ The Fillmore attitude via the groove and call and response gospel hollering of ‘My Mother Told Me’.
“Thank you so much for everyone who came out on a Monday night” says Westwood when the song’s over. And while I don’t doubt his emotions are genuine, I just wish I didn’t keep hearing bands, big and small, saying similar things; being appreciative of us spending our decade long recession-hit money on seeing them when there are so many entertainment opportunities available to us these days. Sod that. Gene Simmons put it crassly saying “rock is dead”; whereas Gore Vidal expressing that there still good writers but no great readers anymore might be a better analogy. If all reprobates like me can do here at The Midlands Rocks is stand, shout and point you in the direction of bands worth checking out, then we can fall on the sword with honour. Your role, dear readers, is to point your friends our way so they too can check out new bands or find out what old what ones are up to; then you can all go off for a great night out together and catch one of those bands live. Right, sermon over.
Another Shake A Leg number comes next with ‘Skyman’. An odd single for them to bring out and one of my least liked songs on the album, they give it a shot of staccato echoed rock here, with some hefty early slap and pulling on bass from Bailey, but it’s when they surge into a cover of ‘Still Of The Night’ that they blow the bloody doors off the thing! It’s reinvented as if played by the original Whitesnake, allowed to prowl like a drooling love hunter, the look on their faces telling you they’re lapping up playing this.
A little later ‘Outlaw’ will challenge that number as the highlight of the night, hooking together hard the three guitarists stand firm at the front of the stage, Westwood standing on the drum riser screaming and roaring away. But the fact is it’s the empowering statement of intent for the band they were two years ago when they released the Truth Be Told album – A Bad Company attitude, with some Black Crowes and Humble Pie chutzpah grooves, but tonight Westwood’s not even wearing the cowboy hat, that’s Seekings.
Much as I like Shake A Leg, and I do, I think it was a new beginning: repositioning themselves for the next stage in their career. On this the last night of their current tour, they remain match fit, have developed their stage craft and perform with a zen-like belief in each other and the songs they’re playing. Yes, they’re still just a rock band, but one ready to go up a league; and they ought to. I can only hope the dice keeps falling in the right direction for them.
The home run in sight, we get “an old song” in ‘Down’ and then the direction I wouldn’t mind them steering a little more towards with the snappy swagger of ‘Dressed To Kill’ – Having hit the stage to the sounds of James Brown and Zeppelin brewed together this would be a perfect way to form the circle. As it is, it steps outside it R ‘n’ heavy rock hybridisation to take in a brief drum solo, a walking bass line over which we get a freeform jazz rock moment and a shot of bluesy metal soloing, none outstaying their welcome. Then, just to remind you why they appeal to modern rock radio stations they end with ‘99%’, its vocal innuendo joined in by the bopping audience. A Monday night indeed, any time’s the right time to enjoy some rock and roll when there’s a good band in town!
Bad Touch Setlist
1. Show Me What It Means
2. Lift your Head Up
3. Movin’ On Up
4. Good On Me/Sharp Dressed Man
5. Hammer Falls
7. Take Your Time
8. My Mother Told Me
9. Skyman / Still of the Night
10. Believe In Me
13. Dressed to Kill