Sometimes you walk into a gig not really knowing what to expect – and tonight was just one of those occasions. Mainly because, if I’m honest, I’m not a big fan of bands which could be perceived as “superstar vehicles”, especially as many of them are just that – vanity vessels to allow one member, best known for doing something completely different, to exercise their egos and splash their cash on their pet desire to prove their rock ‘n’ roll credentials – which often themselves prove to be non-existent!
However, Fozzy are one band who defy that categorization as, despite something of an ill-starred start – with two albums of cover versions and WWE superstar Chris Jericho initially adopting what it must be admitted was a pretty daft stage alter ego – this particular band have been able to prove their musical credentials by the absolute spade load. After all, they were originally the brainchild of Stuck Mojo innovator Rich Ward, who spawned the project via the bar scene in his native Atlanta. Over the past half a dozen years (and especially since Jericho finally quit ye olde wrastlin’ game in 2013) they have produced a clutch of pretty decent albums and become an extremely popular live attraction, especially here in the UK – as evidenced by the fact that this first night of the ‘Cinderblock Party’ tour (the name itself a throwback to the frontman’s former existence), and the band’s first appearance in Belfast in several years, was a complete sellout: not a bad achievement, considering it was a midweek school night and the second of three high profile gigs within just four days…
Openers The Dirty Youth had last made the trip across the Irish Sea from South Wales to this part of the world a little less than a year ago, and once again deliver a proficient set of sharply defined Paramore-redolent power-pop-punk. Their heavier edge is accentuated by Leon Watkins’ solid bass work and the crunchy bottom-ended guitars of Matt Bond and Luke Padfield, while Danni Monroe is a confident and assured frontwoman, enjoying an affable rapport with the audience, who almost immediately are eating out of the palms of her hands. Set highlights are the singalong ‘Requiem Of The Drunk’ (during which Monroe is ironically sipping on bottled water) and the feisty ‘Fight’.
During the extended handover, the mixed nature of the crowd – which seems to be made up of a combination of straight edge metalheads, metalheads who happen to also be wrestling fans and wrestling fans relishing the chance to get up close and personal with one of their heroes – comes to the fore, when a few geek chants of “Y2J” rise up from the pit area, but these are soon drowned out by the “FOZZY” yells, as the crowd grows increasingly impatient the longer the break (all 40+ minutes of it) drags on.
As the band finally hit the stage and launch into the groovy hard rock meets classic metal set, it is immediately obvious that the frontman has applied everything he learned in the supreme marketing machine that is the WWE to his more intimate and convincing onstage performance. He bounds on stage and immediately turns his back to the crowd, arms cruciformed in remembrance of his top-of-the-ramp entrances and flicks the switch on his trademark illuminated leather jacket. There is absolutely no doubt that Jericho has brought the skills he learned in the WWE to this environment and knows how to work a crowd and give them what they want – and simultaneously get what he wants from them. He stands astride the monitors, soaking up the adulation of the rapturous Fozzy-holics below him, cupping his ear to encourage the screams of “FOZZY! FOZZY!” to ever-increasing decibel levels which even threaten to drown out the band themselves. And one scathing glance from Jericho silences the lone “Y2J” shout which pathetically attempts to interrupt…
The band themselves are sold, tight and economic in their performances: Ward’s guitar rips and tears through the room, as the musicians feed off the pure energy of the rabid crowd in a non-stop pumped up, adrenalin-fuelled r’n’r party. With Jericho holding everyone in the room by the balls with his charisma and professionalism, the rhythm section of Jeff Rouse and the positively gigantic looking Frank Fontsere – the only member of the band who could challenge his frontman in the muscularity stakes – are tighter than a WWE championship-winning tag team.
Latest album ‘Do You Wanna Start A War?’ gets a decent airing, from the one-two opening salvo of the title track and ‘Tonight’ through the thumping single ‘One Crazed Anarchist’ to the grinding ‘Lights Go Out’ and main set closer ‘Bad Tattoo’ via the tackily obscene but hysterical cover of Abba’s ‘SOS’: what a fucking reaction this particular piece of inanity gets, with arms waving in the room and at least half of those present signing along to each and every word (and I reckon they deliberately faded Jericho’s mic out of the mix to let the crowd take over!).
However, the frontman saves his gift for true showmanship to the end: pointing out that there is nowhere for the band to disappear to while the crowd cheer for the inevitable encore, the singer remains on stage and pulls a black towel over his head, gradually lifting it up and down before finally flinging it into the crowd in one of the funniest and best displays of shits and giggles crowd-playing it has been my pleasure to witness in many a year.
There is no doubt about it: Chris Jericho is a consummate showman. But, this is no mere superstar-playing-at-rockstar vanity flash-in-the-plan. Fozzy have the songs, and Jericho the easy talent, to deliver on every level.
Do You Wanna Start A War? / Tonight / To Kill A Stranger / One Crazed Anarchist / Sin And Bones / She’s My Addiction / God Pounds His Nails / Died With You / Spider In My Mouth / SOS / Lights Go Out / Enemy / Bad Tattoo
Encore: Sandpaper / Eat The Rich (Krokus cover)
Saturday March 7 – Nottingham, Rescue Rooms
Sunday March 8 – Wolverhampton, Slade Rooms
Monday March 9 – Manchester, Ruby Lounge
Tuesday March 10 – Glasgow, Garage
Wednesday March 11 – London, Underworld
Thursday March 12 – Bristol, Marble Factory
Friday March 13 – Exeter, Lemon Grove
Saturday March 14 – Southampton, 1865
Sunday March 15 – Brighton, Concorde 2[flickrapi user=”planet mosh” get=”photoset” id=”72157648856317474″ size=”z” count=”100″]