Review by Paul Quinton
After the stir they caused in melodic rock circles in 2016 with their debut, Cats In Space are now touring their second album, ‘Scarecrow’, and drew a healthy crowd to the Academy 3, although the show was originally planned for the Academy 2, before being switched a few days before the gig.
With Australian band Kaato being the official support on the tour, each gig has also seen a local band opening proceedings, and for Brum it was Stoke based SILVERCHILD. A four-piece, with two chaps forming the rhythm section, and gender balance provided by Vic Jepson on guitar and Alex Hiley on vocals. For a first listen, Silverchild were quietly impressive, Vic certainly knows her way around a riff, and there’s more than a touch of Lee Aaron and Kelly Johnson about Alex’s vocals, which is surely no bad thing. They played some songs from their debut EP, ‘Red Desert’, including ‘Jukebox Junkie’, which were enough to show that there’s some real substance to this band, and while the band’s logo has a touch of Goldray-like psych about it, Silverchild are a much heavier unit, live at least, with definite echoes of the NWOBHM about them. If there is a criticism, it’s that not a lot is happening visually onstage, only Alex Hiley really doing anything to put the music over, with the others concentrating on playing and almost never making even eye contact with the crowd, but that aside, there was a lot to like about Silverchild.
KAATO are a project founded by Australian singer Kurt Lowney (The name, pronounced ‘kar-toe’, comes from how some Japanese people pronounced his first name, in case you were wondering). Their debut album was released last year and was played on and produced by AOR hero Mitch Malloy, although sadly he couldn’t be here tonight, instead the touring band had several guests, including former Inglorious guitarist Jack Edwards. No doubt based on Lowney’s stage persona, not entirely unlike a young Michael Monroe, the band played HRH Sleaze earlier this year, but to file them under that heading would be a misconception based on tonight, as there was far more of a Cheap Trick and early Foreigner feel about the band. Granted their cover of ‘Bony Moronie’ did sound like Hanoi a lot, but the band were far more effective on the dirty blues of ‘Snake Eyes’ and the more straight ahead rock of ‘Clean As A Whistle’. Perhaps Kurt’s vocals could have been a little higher in the mix, as too often he was drowned by the backing, but despite that, this was an enjoyable set from the band.
You’ve got to like a group who use the theme from the original series of ‘The Sweeney’ as their intro music, before CATS IN SPACE began their set with ‘Too Many Gods’. Not for the first time during the show, I couldn’t help thinking that this is exactly what it would sound like if Jeff Lynne started writing for Styx, the highly catchy blend of smart pop with pomp rock, taking commercial songs into another place entirely. After ‘Too Many Gods came the equally impressive ‘Last Man Standing’, followed by the ballad, ‘Unfinished Symphony’, which in some circumstances might have slowed the momentum of the show, but the band wisely avoided this pitfall by allowing the crowd to sing the chorus, which helped the atmosphere and kept the impetus of the show at a high level.
The set list was split between the band’s two studio albums, although the bulk of the new material was played in a block in the middle of the set. The older songs got the most response, understandably, especially the sumptuous ‘Mr Heartache’, although there was still a good reception for the newer material, and another highlight was their note perfect cover of Slade’s ‘How Does It Feel’, which they’d released as a charity single in 2016. It was perhaps a little surprising that the band kept ‘Time Bomb’ in the set, in view of recent events it would have been understandable had they decided to drop it, but nobody seemed to mind tonight. One thing about this band is that, despite the fact that they’re performing some pretty ambitious music, for all its commercial sound, with multi part harmonies, which for the record, were almost invariably faultless, they all seem to be having a huge amount of fun playing, and this communicates itself to the crowd, even when mentioning guitarist Dean Howard’s recent heart surgery, which definitely didn’t seem to have affected his playing, nor did the serious note affect the show.
If I have a criticism, it would be directed at how short the main set was, finishing almost exactly after an hour, augmented by a two song encore of ‘Greatest Story Never Told’ and a superb ‘Five Minute Celebrity’, bringing the whole show up to 70 minutes overall. No doubt this can at least partially be put down to the Academy’s 10 o’clock curfew, but it was a bit of shame that the show had to end when the band were reaching such a high note. Nonetheless, it didn’t spoil a great gig overall, with two highly promising newer bands and a headliner almost guaranteed to put on a great show.