Review by Ian Savage, photos by Mark Lloyd
If you didn’t know better, you could swear that you’d walked into a Tardis version of late-70s CBGBs to witness Hey! Hello! opening up tonight’s show. From guitarist The Rev’s full-bore Ramones look, through Viktoria Liedkte’s gum-chewing Debbie Harry swagger, Ginger’s Joe Strummer-esque ‘suit, quiff and sunnies’ get-up to bassist Toshi’s tartan bondage trousers, this is one band who aren’t afraid to wear their musical influences proudly on their sleeves.
The music is broadly in-line with the look; the big riffs are saved for the main-man’s ‘day job’ later in the evening in favour of three-part harmonies over sing-along pop choruses with a gleefully punky edge. Inter-song banter is largely handled by Viktoria in her aptly Yankee twang, with the feel of Ginger being happy to step back from frontman duties – the band throw out tune after tune of pop-rock gold (‘Feral Days’, ‘Black Valentine’, ‘Lock For Rock’) in spite of a crowd still strangely reluctant to get up to the barriers. The band are introduced over the intro section to ‘How I Survived The Punk Wars’, which Ginger brings the vocals into perfectly on cue, delivering his mantra to every unsigned band in his inimitable Geordie drawl.
By the time last single ‘Swimwear’ rolls around the sound has improved massively and the glory of Hey! Hello!’s vocal harmonies can be fully appreciated; there’s synchronised hand-clapping across the room as Toshi and The Rev share a microphone for a nicely-orchestrated finale. A top-class opening to the evening, and would have been so even without the Ginger connection.
Something the Wildhearts have always prided themselves on is the quality of the support bands they take out on the road with them; second outfit The Von Hertzen Brothers totally fail to break the tradition. Multi-platinum in their Finnish homeland, the five-piece have developed a nicely modern take on prog-rock over the last decade or so, making them the ideal bridge between the perfect pop-punk of the openers and the left-field hard rock of tonight’s main attraction.
They power through a couple of tracks from new release ‘Nine Lives’ (battling a rather vocal-and-drum-heavy mix) before settling into latest single ‘Flowers And Rust’ – a slower, more expansive tune suiting the improving out-front sound and allowing VHB to fully stretch their musical wings. It’s appreciable how much more experienced these boys are than many working at this level in the UK, straddling the front of the stage with a total certainty of purpose and an air of assured confidence in what they do.
There’s little of the ‘prog’ element in the set tonight, a more immediate ‘intelligent rock ‘n’ roll’ approach reaping dividends as ‘Freedom Fighter’ pulls many of the bordering-capacity crowd firmly onside. The occasional odd time signature or tempo change (as in ‘Coming Home’) combines with the ever-present intricate vocals to create a challenging-yet-accessible way into the band’s output; as they cruise towards the finish with the appropriately full-bore ‘Thy Will Be Done’ the by-now perfect mix allows keyboard subtleties to soak through the wall of riffs and vocals before an abrupt “thank you, goodnight” heralds closer ‘Let Go’, before the band leave the stage having deservedly gained a LOT of new fans. Well worth looking out for.
We’d been prompted to expect something ‘a little unusual’ from the headliners tonight – opening up with little-heard ’95 B-side ‘S.I.N. (In Sin)’ into album tracks ‘Nexus Icon’ and ‘Tim Smith’, The Wildhearts pretty much tick the right boxes. Bassist Scott Sorry is very obviously glad to be back in the fold, making full use of his third of stage-front and trading grins with the two mainmen to his right – the crowd largely seem slightly less comfortable though, the first few rows surging and singing to ‘Get Your Groove On’ whilst those behind seem somewhat dumbfounded.
‘Caffeine Bomb’ then aptly explodes to get the first half of the hall moving. From here, the obscure geek-pleasing tracks are tempered by more obvious sing-along numbers, Ginger’s “let’s see how long we can keep this going!” call to the extended outro of ‘Whoa Shit, You Got Through’ possibly a metaphor for the band’s career as a whole. The mix again improves as the set goes on, and by the time ‘Moodswings And Rounabouts’ is ushered in with “some songs sound best when you play them ropy as fuck” Ritch’s by-no-means-ropy double-kick drum is pounding chest cavities across the Wulfrun.
The second set is almost entirely crowd-pleasers. With the prolificacy of Ginger’s writing it’s entirely possible to forget how many stone-cold-classic singles The Wildhearts put out over the years; here we are reminded in grand style. ‘I Wanna Go Where The People Go’, ‘Sick Of Drugs’, ‘TV Tan’, ‘Nothing Ever Changes But The Shoes’ – as security step up to the barrier to pick off crowd-surfers during ‘Nita Nitro’ in the way that their predecessors did twenty years ago, there’s a definite sense of nostalgia being done right.
There’s only really one song that can close a show like tonight’s – as the opening bars to ’29 x The Pain’ ring out the faithful threaten to drown out the PA system with their roar of appreciation. Even if Ginger can’t quite crowbar ‘Wolverhampton’ into the “I’m gonna miss Kurt Cobain” line he and his band of miscreants are pretty much untouchable as they walk off tonight; Wolves has always been a favoured ‘hearts stomping ground, and tonight that mutual respect was on display for all to see. Long may it continue.