On a frosty winter’s day in Manchester, three bands from three different continents Europe, North America and Australia descended upon the O2 Ritz for a sell-out show.
First up at 6:20 pm, and a little too early for many revellers, came ‘all girl garage group’ The Franklys, although they’re based in London their ranks consist of two Swedes and two Brits. Singer and rhythm guitarist Jennifer Ahlkvist’s vocals reminded me of Toyah Wilcox in places. Fanny Broberg on lead guitar was constantly moving with her blonde hair flying everywhere, I don’t know how she could see through it, but she didn’t miss a beat! Lexi Clark on drums had the same vitality, with her long blonde hair flying everywhere too. Although Zoe Briggs, on bass, also had a good head of hair it was shorter and dark, but she gave the blondes a run for their money and never seemed to stop moving either. Energetic and hard hitting they powered through five songs including the mellower My Love with a strong rhythm section. Jennifer asked us to give it up for Crobot and Airbourne, as they’d been out on the road with them for the past week. This was to be their last show on the tour and she said ‘Where better than Manchester?’ (There can’t be many places better than Manchester!) Fanny announced that they had a new song out and they launched into the Cultish Castaway a hard hitting number with some siren-ish riffage. They ended a too short set with their guitars held aloft, then stood with their backs to us, for a photo opportunity with the audience. The Franklys are set to release their debut album in early 2017.
By the time the second act, Pennsylvania’s Crobot, who describe themselves as a ‘dirty, groove, rock band’ took to the stage the Ritz was filling up nicely, frontman Brandon Yeagley, sporting some impressive facial hair let out a blood curdling ‘Manchestaaaa! Let’s Get Groovy’ and they launched into the psychedelic ‘Legend of the Spaceborne Killer’ the next song Not For Sale was like The Vintage Caravan meets Kiss, I’m thinking Midnight Meditation merged with Love Gun! Brandon never stopped moving, his legs looked to be made of rubber, as he executed some scissor kicks and twisted and turned in all directions, throwing in lots of expressive gestures and hand movements. Entertaining to watch, I picked up elements as diverse as Led Zeppelin to Rage Against The Machine, as well as a few funky numbers. Nearing the end Brandon asked us to give it up for The Franklys and got a chant going, which he wanted to make sure could be heard down under ‘Airbourne, Airbourne, Airbourne’ and they finished off with the groove laden ‘Welcome to Fat City’ the title track from their latest album. Brandon’s last words ‘Thank you so much for coming out on your Saturday night! Airbourne up next!’
After a short interval which allowed time for a back drop change, the lights dimmed as Iron Maiden’s Run To The Hills played in the background, initially giving me the impression that it was the intro, until the lights were dimmed even further and the theme tune from Terminator 2: Judgment Day rang out as Airbourne took to the stage. With a flash of red light the pint sized powerhouse, who is frontman and guitarist Joel O’Keeffe jumped from the drum riser and Airbourne launched into Ready To Rock. Wearing just ripped jeans sweatbands and a white axe, he seemed to be covered in a sheen of sweat from the off, but Joel rarely stands still for a moment. Encouraging the audience to join in clapping and singing. I noticed someone lob a pint at him (of beer I hope, in a plastic pot, which is a terrible waste at Ritz prices). I don’t condone throwing anything at a gig, but Joel didn’t even flinch when it hit him! Why would he? He’s hard, which we’ll come to later!
The popular Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast came next and Joel asked ‘How are you Manchester? Are you ready to rock?’ and of course we were! Then we got Chewin’ the Fat, not that there’s any to chew on Joel! I think he’s mainly skin ‘n’ bone, and iron plated bone at that, as we came to his party piece, with a ‘G’day Manchester’ he grabbed a tinny, shook it and banged it on his head, spraying beer everywhere before throwing what was left into the crowd with a ‘Finish that’ and said how glad they were to be back. Joel asked who had got the new album Breakin’ Outta Hell and there were lots of ‘Yeahs’. I have to confess that I haven’t heard the full album yet, so the next one Rivalry was new to me and reminded me of Cochise by Audioslave meets Bulletproof Rose’s Bang Your Head.
Girls in Black had Joel smashing more tinnys on his bonce. Then he said he needed to ask a question ‘Have we got any Motorhead fans?’ and of course the answer was yes. Joel went on to say ‘All he (Lemmy) wanted was salt on his chips and two bottles of Jack’ (at least I thinks that’s what he said, let me know if I’m wrong). He went on to say that Lemmy appeared in their first video (Runnin’ Wild) and that they wouldn’t be here to a sold out Manchester show if not for Lemmy, then they played the song which they wrote in the late ‘Rock Legend’s’ honour It’s All For Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Down on You reminded me of AC/DC’s It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll) and had people singing along to the down, down, downs. The hard hitting title track of their latest album Breakin’ Outta Hell followed. Then some plumes of dry ice shot up either side of Joel and some AC/DC TNT style ‘Oi, Oi, Ois led into ‘No Way but the Manchester Way’ with Joel singing Manchester instead of hard but that’s because we’re hard in Manchester!
Joel then shone a big spotlight over the audience before Stand Up For Rock N Roll not that he stood still for a moment, running across the stage with sweat and beer flying in his wake. His last words ‘Stand up for Manchester rock and roll’ then the music faded out and the band went off. Now I tell a lie, the last work of the main set was actually ‘G’day’
The crowd didn’t want it to end there, it was only 9:30pm so plenty of calls for more rang out which led to sirens and bomber plane noise effects and drummer Ryan O’Keeffe came to the front of the stage to wind up a generator, getting faster and faster. Some AC/DC For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) riffage led into the rousing Live It Up with its own great riffs and more tinnys were brought out. Joel asked ‘Who wants a beer? Manchester, are you thirsty?’ and he asked everyone to get up on people’s shoulders and he’d throw beers out, adding ‘If you catch one, you have to down it in one’ some Motorhead fast riffage accompanied the smashing, spraying and throwing of beer then the band went back to the song. After living it up we were asked if we wanted one more. Only one? The night was still young but curfew is curfew! Joel tried to encourage people to get a circle going for Runnin’ Wild but it wasn’t happening. I’m sure people would have done, if there had been any room to run round in a circle, but the gig was sold out and there just wasn’t any room! However it didn’t put a dampener on things there was plenty of fist pumping and head nodding and the riffage to AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds was cleverly worked into the song and Joel ditched the guitar, can’t remember if it was black or white, as he’d been alternating guitars throughout the evening, kind of like a costume change, black or white to match the song? He grabbed the beers and asked ‘Are you crazy?’ before spraying beer then repeating the process several times, then he got his guitar back for a few AC/DC riffs before a bit of an Oscar worthy speech. He said we were louder and crazier than last time and that he fucking loved Manchester because ‘It’s Manchester and I love Rock n Roll’ he asked us to ‘Scream for The Franklys, Scream for Crobot and Scream for Airbourne’s road crew’ which we did before Airbourne returned to the song and finished their show.
Joel left us with these last words ‘Manchester! Thank you very much! I fucking love Manchester! As long as we’re alive and you’re all alive rock n roll is never going to die.’
It wasn’t even 10pm, so it gave people the chance to get public transport home or to continue rocking in Manchester. It was a smashing night and yes, whilst I do mean literally smashing, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening too!
The photos used to illustrate this review were taken by my colleague Ant May at the O2 Institute in Birmingham on 21st November 2016. See all the photos and read his review of that show here.