Around halfway through Black Star Riders set here, Ricky Warwick steps to the microphone. “You know what’s unique about this tour here?” the frontman questions the huge crowd. “Like many of you, I grew up idolising Motorhead – still do – and in 1983 I got an album called “Two Steps From The Move” and a VHS Cassette of the Hanoi Rocks at The Marquee. I played that thing to death, man. Then there’s this man here……”
In many ways Warwick – who if Wiki is to be believed is around nine years older than MV – speaks for me so much that the rest of the review is pointless. This is a tour that is essentially a celebration of “then and now”, and its actually proof that the “now” part is just as good.
Take Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons. They are a wonderful rock n roll band – and in singer Joel Peters they now have a real focal point – in their own right, as “We’re The Bastards” and “Bite My Tongue” prove, but they have Motorhead in their DNA (as do the crowd judging by the amount of the bands t-shirts here) and “Going To Brazil”, the even better “Born To Raise Hell” and the last one, the one about jokers and not forgetting them are never going to be played better elsewhere these days. They have an extensive back catalogue of their own too and the quality of “Dark Days”, “Get On Your Knees” and “Freak Show” shouldn’t be overlooked. Playing here as a four piece, there’s something reassuring about the presence of Phil Campbell in the shadows tossing out his riffs without taking the limelight. When it comes to Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons, they know what they are doing – and they do it real well, as someone might have said.
By contrast, Michael Monroe has never knowingly stood in the shadows. Any stage, anywhere, belongs to him. In between bands he comes to meet someone in the disabled section and even there, he’s on. He’s wonderful. He’s a force of nature, he’s all the clichés. But here’s something that often gets overlooked: how good his songs are. Note the word “his” here. Never mind the band he’s known for. For 45 minutes he gives a masterclass as to how its done. Here with the same band that played on his “Live Too Fast To Die Young!” tour de force from last year – Steve Conte and Sami Yaffa are family at this point you’d guess, and Rich Jones on the second guitar, plus drummer Karl Rockfist are as good as it gets – the title track and “Murder In The Summer Of Love” both underline its quality. Perhaps unlike many of the crowd and in contrast to those words from Ricky Warwick, my entry point to Monroe was his solo stuff, so its “Trick Of The Wrist” “’78” and the rest that most grab me. Not that it matters, because its all about Monroe, and his little sailor hat, as he leaps on speakers, climbs onto barriers and just does his thing, time and again. Along the way, he chucks in Demolition 23’s “Nothin’s Alright” – one of my favourite songs of all time, to be truthful – and there’s a Hanoi Rocks tune too. The sparkly Saxophone isn’t working so there’s a change to the ballad “Don’t You Ever Leave Me” before “Dead, Jail Or Rock N Roll” (the one that gave me the moment Warwick had with the VHS) and CCR’s “Up Around The Bend” end things. So yeah, the three options he had? Be glad he chose rock n roll. Although perhaps, with Michael Monroe, rock n roll chose him, not the other way around.
“….Then there’s this man right here” Warwick had said, before Scott Gorham launched into “Don’t Believe A Word”, and in that moment, you are in the presence of greatness. If this night has seen some of the best bands in the history of rock represented, then Thin Lizzy are perhaps the kings of them all?
And Gorham is back to play these gigs for the tenth anniversary of the band he formed after Thin Lizzy’s last shows. He’s on stage for 12 of these twenty songs, and they are 20 tunes that prove yet again, if there was any doubt, that Black Star Riders are the best band of the last decade.
They’ve just released their new “The Wrong Side Of Paradise” album, and they play a lot of it, all before Gorham, (who isn’t on it) emerges. “Pay Dirt” and “Better Than Saturday Night” are its best moments and so they are here too.
They, and the cover of “Crazy Horses” and the other couple they play from the new album, show just how well Sam Wood (also of Wayward Sons) has settled in but its what happens after The Osmonds’ finest that switches gear. Scott Gorham has a presence, nothing more nothing less. And “All Hell Breaks Loose” the first song from their debut is one of a clutch of many recorded highlights. “Blindsided”, “The Killer Instinct” and “Before The War” are a hat-trick of just that, and if its noticeable how loud the band are playing, then let nothing take away from these songs.
BSR have always been able to build to a crescendo. Michael Monroe does his bit on “Tonight The Moonlight Let Me Down” (“the riff is one of his” smiles Warwick, with a mix of envy and pride) before they end – as ever – with “Kingdom Of The Lost”, “Bound For Glory” (my favourite song of the last decade, to be clear) “Jailbreak” (enough said?) and “Finest Hour”. The one that became their anthem, and still is. Here, given the mix of history and current greatness, the line about “did we look better in black and white, I don’t know….” Seems to have a greater weight than normal.
At the end of it, Warwick simply says: “Wolverhampton, thank you for the last ten years. Here’s to the next ten.” I was there at the start, the very first gig in Milton Keynes and it’s a pleasure to still be there with them. It feels like we should thank them, perhaps, but this is a band who have always let their music speak for itself.
BLACK STAR RIDERS PHOTOS COURTESY OF KEITH TRACY