Review by David Waterfield, photos by Russ Tierney
“Doors open 19:00” said the ticket – and they did – but fans were queuing around the block to see New York’s The Pretty Reckless at The Institute so by the time I’m inside the venue Texan band Nothing More were already onstage. They were damn good too; hard and heavy, powerful and precise, producing a full-blooded set packed with energy and invention. Closing number ‘Salem’ was positively tribal with shirtless frontman Jonny Hawkins firing up the crowd and all four members of the band playing drums simultaneously. I hadn’t come across Nothing More until tonight but they definitely made an impact and the band will undoubtedly have gained many new admirers.
Young British band Heavens Basement are the odd ones out tonight, being neither exotically American nor musically dark. They’ve clearly got their own fans in the audience but they seem to have to work harder to win over the neutrals. The band has earned their stripes the hard way through relentless gigging, becoming a killer live act in the process and they don’t disappoint; delivering a vibrant set of smouldering, hook-laden hard rock drawn from their debut album Filthy Empire. Lead vocalist Aaron Buchannan works hard to keep the Birmingham audience on their toes, a spirited ‘Fire Fire’ and ‘Heartbreaking Son Of A Bitch’ are set highlights while the low-slung guitar hero cool of Sid Glover elicits more than a few screams.
The Institute is plunged into darkness for the arrival of The Pretty Reckless. AC/DC’s classic ‘Hells Bells’ plays over the PA before yielding to the orgasmic sounds of Jenna Haze as silhouettes of the band are visible through a thin black curtain at the front of the stage. The opening riff of ‘Follow Me Down’ kicks in, the curtain falls and Birmingham goes crazy. The Pretty Reckless are headliners but its 21 year old Taylor Momsen who is their centre of gravity and everything revolves around her. Moodily backlit with a mass of blonde hair tumbling down and obscuring her face, her voice alternates from a folksy murmur to an impassioned growl – and it’s hard to hear either of them, such is the volume of the crowd.
There’s a hint of Shirley Manson in Momsen’s stage presence – provocative, challenging, sexual, edgy, unsettling – and for the next 75 minutes The Pretty Reckless treat Birmingham to an evening of dark, passionate rock ‘n’ roll laced with attitude, sex, sin and, lest it be forgotten, well-crafted songs. ‘Absolution’ betrays the band’s classic rock leanings while ‘Why’d You Bring A Shotgun To The Party’ is edgier, but both go down a storm.
The crowd sing along word for word all night elevating ‘House On A Hill’ to another level. ‘Heaven Knows’ would undoubtedly have been another highlight too but the song is interrupted when The Institute’s PA system blows mid song forcing the band to take leave of the stage. Fortunately a monstrous version of ‘Going To Hell’ more than makes up for it.
‘Fucked Up World’ is a fantastic encore and I loved it but extending the percussion section into a lengthy drum solo is a bad idea. One minute the crowd are up and bouncing to a great kick ass rock song and the next they’re becalmed and standing watching, however appreciatively. The solo kills the momentum and it really needs to be a lot shorter or placed elsewhere in the set.
As I left The Institute the queue at The Pretty Reckless merch stall was huge, Heavens Basement were meeting fans and posing for pictures and Nothing More were still there meeting fans outside the venue. It was a great evening with three excellent bands. Headliners The Pretty Reckless were superb and the next time they’re Going To Hell I’ll happily come along for the ride!
1. Follow Me Down
2. Since You’re Gone
3. Sweet Things
4. Miss Nothing
5. Dear Sister
7. Why’d You Bring A Shotgun To The Party
8. House On A Hill
9. Make Me Wanna Die
10. Heaven Knows
11. Going To Hell
12. Fucked Up World