The song ‘Cat’s In The Cradle’ carries a particular resonance for Northern Ireland rock fans. While, almost exactly 20 years ago, our counterparts in the rest of the world were propelling Ugly Kid Joe’s cover of the Harry Chapin ballad back into the upper reaches of the charts, the government here coincidentally had selected the original version to be used in one of a series of hard-hitting TV ads, using its lyric in a bitterly ironic way to attempt to dissuade young people here from following in the footsteps of their elders into a life of terrorism and its horrific side effects:
But, that’s enough of the history lesson: after all, we’re here to talk about UKJ’s first visit to a part of the world where one of their signature tunes is better known for other reasons… And any doubts that the gig was not one of the most eagerly awaited on the local calendar were quickly dispelled when, on show day, it was upgraded from the original venue to the newly-renovated and rebranded Limelight 1 right next door. Didn’t someone recently try to claim that rock ’n’ roll is dead? I think that fact alone denies that particular bunch of tosh…
In fact the upgrade means that this is the first rock gig to be staged in the impressively refurbished former Spring And Airbrake – beating Anthrax’ sole UK headliner to the honour by a little over a week! This in turn means that, having made the short hop over the Irish Sea to open tonight’s proceedings, rising stars Heaven’s Basement are the first rock act to grace the greatly enlarged stage – and they do so with highly impressive aplomb.
Frontman Aaron Buchanan may bear an (unfortunate) uncanny resemblance to Justin Hawkins, but he is a much better vocalist, and he certainly is charismatic – even cocksure – as he struts and preens with the assurity of Steven Tyler in his prime. His crowd interaction skills are second to none and he quickly wins over anyone (your scribe included) who until now may not have been unfamiliar with the band and their material.
Almost constant live work has turned the quartet into a tight, well-oiled rock ‘n’ roll outfit, and drummer Chris Rivers is especially impressive in keeping the bottom end of things together, his style restrained and unflashy – and all the more effective for it… bassist Rob Ellershaw complmenets his rhythm colleague superbly, while Sid Glover’s guitar hero shredding has just the right amount of sleaze and dirt under its fingernails to accentuate the bump ‘n’ grind of the overall sound and ensure that they are probably the perfect opening act to get the party kickstarted tonight.
Duff McKagan is a regular visitor to this shores, with this being Loaded’s fourth visit to Belfast (their last two gigs here having been in the previous incarnation of this same venue – a fact remarked upon by the former G’N’R bassist turned frontman). However, while Duff is obviously very happy to be renewing his acquaintance with both the city (despite the closure of his favourite clothing shop since his last visit) and many of those present, the set once again demonstrates the main problem both he and the band have…
And, that is the fact that Duff McKagan is Duff McKagan – no one more, no one less. And that is all that really carries this sub-standard and disappointing bar room band-style set, which is characterized by a series of songs which are arguably interchangeable with one another. The rest of the band are in danger of being reduced to bit players, although guitarist Mike Squires does deliver an impressive performance and raises the quality of the playing above the mediocre.
However, it is not until Duff changes instruments with bassist Jeff Rouse that he seems to relax and ease into his more natural role, and an enjoyable, punkier and rawer version of ‘It’s So Easy’ gets a suitably warm and appreciative reception.
Here a brief aside: the changeover periods between bands aren’t exactly designed to be entertaining, but those who didn’t brave the cold night air or avail of the facilities were treated to one of best and most original vocal checks I certainly have heard, as the tech proceeded to blast through a few bars of Metallica rather than the standard, boring ‘one-two-three’ count!
It may be nigh on 20 years since Ugly Kid Joe enjoyed their moment in the sun and the music business may have moved on in the interim but the Californian quintet are determined to carry on the party exactly where they left it back in the mid 1990s – even if the sight of men in their mid-40s running around in surf shorts and white socks while the temperature outside is plunging the mercury further and further into retreat may seem somewhat innocuous, if not inane!
With their recent comeback EP ‘Stairway To Hell’ proving that UKG weren’t messing with the winning formula that had propelled them into both the rock and mainstream, charts two decades ago, tonight’s set was a well-balanced run through of standards and hits mixed from across their entire back catalogue with new material and a few welcome surprises.
The focus of attention, of course, is vocalist Whitmore Crane, who doesn’t look he has aged a day during the band’s 15-year hiatus – much to the doubt of the very large female contingent in the audience, which has now swollen to almost ‘house full’ capacity and fully justifying the venue upgrade. He’s tanned and relaxed looking, his distinctive tousled blonde mane still, well, distinctive and tousled and he quickly has everyone present eating out of the palm of his hand, his charisma leading mass sing-alongs during the likes of ‘Neighbor’.
Of course, the ‘Cats’ moment, if you will, is eagerly anticipated, and when it comes it doesn’t disappoint, with the audience all singing and swaying as one and a few stray lighters replacing the now mandatory android screens. The new material is well received as well, with the pumping riff of ‘Devil’s Paradise’ and the anthemic new single ‘I’m Alright’ proving that Messrs Crane, Eichstadt, Fortnam, Crockett and Larkin can still right catchy-as-fuck, hugely enjoyable rock songs that stick in your head and get your feet tapping and fists punching. Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t even think about changing it!?
‘Everything About You’ proved that it had lost none of its sardonic irony as it closed the main set, before the band returned for a stunning encore which also saw the return of Duff McKagan to the stage, joined firstly by sidekick Mike Squires to provide backing vocals on a blistering version of ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ and then slinging his bass with gusto for a neck-snapping ‘Ace Of Spades’.
A hugely enjoyable set from a band for whom fun is of the essence, and who translate that fun to their audiences in bucketloads. Rock ‘n’ roll is very far from dead, mi amigo – and it’s future is also in very safe hands as long as the likes of Ugly Kid Joe are surfing stages.
One complaint I’ve always had about the Limelight complex has been the extremely annoying, and in my view downright stupid, policy of enforcing daftly early curfews on rock gigs to allow everyone to be kicked out and make way for a handful of students and saddos to sit over three drinks (between them) the rest of the night: tonight, however, every band took to the stage at their previously advertised set ending times, with UKJ blasting into their intro at around the time security were supposed to have been clearing the venue. Maybe the new management see a few hundred sweaty rockers enjoying themselves and trying to drink the bar dry in a good natured way as a better way of recouping some of their investment in the venue. Let’s hope this is the case for future gigs which happen to clash with one of the previously precious club nights.
Intro, VIP, Dialogue, Neighbor, C.U.S.T., Panhandlin’ Prince, No One Survives, Devil’s Paradise, Cats In The Cradle, I’m Alright, Tomorrow’s World, Jesus Rode A Harley Davidson, Milkman’s Son, Goddamn Devil, God, Everything About You
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (AC/DC cover, with Duff McKagan and Mike Squires), Ace Of Spades (Motorhead cover, with Duff McKagan)
Listen to our interview with Whit Crane and Klaus Eichstadt of Ugly Kid Joe, conducted immediately after this show, here: http://planetmosh.com/interview-with-whit-crane-and-klaus-eichstadt-of-ugly-kid-joe/
Live photographs by Marc Leach – http://www.marcleachphotography.com/