On the 8th of March 2020, MV found itself in Wolverhampton, watching a three-band bill. Little did we know then that the virus we were talking about was going to ruin the world, and I was six days away from not seeing a gig for 18 months.
The second band on that night was These Wicked Rivers, and at the end of the review, I wrote, “They’ve got a new record due, and if tonight is anything to go by, it’ll be a stunner.” “Eden” was reviewed a few months later, and it was.
Watching them play songs from it tonight, like the opener “Shine On,” is to watch a band of consummate skill. I’d wager that there’s nobody who sees them and doesn’t go, “Blimey, these are good.”
Cut from a similar type of cloth as their fellow East Midlanders Doomsday Outlaw, and with guitarist Arran Day capable of swampy southern riffs, they also have singer John Hartwell possessing a voice that was made for this stuff. “Force Of Nature” and “Evergreen” are superb, “Black Gold” injects some energy, and “That Girl” is harmonica-drenched and sassy.
There is an impressive change of pace with “Testify,” and the last one, “Don’t Pray For Me,” has an almost Americana feel. These Wicked Rivers are a mighty fine rock ‘n’ roll band – but people have been saying that for years, after all. Watching them now, though, they are the ones who are clearly getting better – and they were damn good to start with.
Kira Mac, the frontperson with, well, Kira Mac, writes our intro for us, to be fair to her. “When we released our first single around a year ago,” she says, “we had nine Spotify listens a month. Now we have 40,000.”
Notwithstanding the fact that given the royalties Daniel Ek pays (and this is hypocritical seeing as I am listening to Spotify while typing this), they probably make about 75p from this, it shows a band on the rise.
More practically, it means that last year Kira Mac were upstairs in the little room, and tonight they are downstairs in the big one. And it means they have the chance again to show what they can do with a headline set.
The answer, of course, is exactly the same as they always do: win everyone over with their infectious enthusiasm and look like they are having the time of their lives.
Kira (Rhiannon to her mates, I think? And she reckons we’re all friends here so should flash our boobs….) is a wonderful band leader, and the band she leads is superbly tight, and actually, this is the third time I’ve seen them in the last 12 months or so (the first one they played acoustic as the drummer had COVID), and it’s the best by some distance.
“Hit Me Again” sets the tone for the set. Hard Rock with a swig of whiskey and a glint in its eye. It’s a mixture with Kira Mac, that you feel there’s no trouble she couldn’t get in, but you’d best not get on the wrong side of her. “Scorned” – one of a few songs they play from their upcoming second record – is typical – “I’ve taken to writing girl power anthems,” she explains later.
There’s some choice stuff from “Chaos Is Calling,” not least “Hell Or High Water,” “Dead Man Walking,” and “Never Gonna Stay” – and it’s the latter that always resonates since I first heard it: “Don’t make me choose between this and you,” she sings. If “this” is the band, then that single-mindedness shines.
Of the new ones, “Farewell” swings its big potatoes in your face so you can’t miss them. “Play The Game,” which KM reckons is her favorite, has the sort of hook Stone Broken normally find, and “Climbing” is a step up in heaviness, a metal riff is hinted at.
It all ends with “Downfall” and their mantra “If you’re gonna die of something, it might as well be a good time,” before they encore with another new one, “Save Your Whiskey,” and their very first single, “One Way Ticket.”
That one talks about a lifetime in rock ‘n’ roll, and there’s a clear desperation to succeed, not to mention a sense of fun. “We’ll be at the merch at the end, we’ll sign anything for you and do anything you like, well… it depends on how much you pay,” she smiles, and this is all so natural to them all.
Credit to them too for not doing what most bands would and padding the set with covers. They’ve got too much belief in their own stuff for that.
It’s well-founded. These venues are only going to get bigger.