I’d wager right now that if you could get South Of Salem to handpick the band they’d most like to go out on tour with, tonight’s headliners would be somewhere close to the top of the list. The Bournemouth mob are primed and ready to make the most of it, too. Back in 2020 I’d reviewed their “Sinner Takes It All” album , and pronounced that it was: “Utterly glorious, dark rock n roll, with dreams of arenas, and a sound big enough that [if] it had been 1989 we’d have watched them get there.” This is my first look at the band in a live arena (there’ll be a couple of others in the near future) and they are even better than you’d hoped. “Let Us Prey”,  “The Hate In Me” and “Made To Be Mine” are big, anthemic slices of vaguely sleazy sounding 80s rock that walks the line between Billy Idol and The Cult better than most (and better than The Cult themselves do, given their recent lacklustre showings) but they’ve another side to them too. “Demons Are Forever” is preceded with a heartfelt plea to improve mental health from Joey Draper, the bands singer and focal point. Mostly though, they are one of those bands for whom a hook seems to come naturally, as “Pretty Little Nightmare” shows, and as they end their set with “Cold Day In Hell” then, given their increased activity in the next month or two, then there’s every reason to presume that South Of Salem are going in the right direction.

As W.A.S.P prepare to come out on stage tonight, “The End” by The Doors plays. It’s not the album version. It’s the version from “Apocalypse Now”. The inference is clear. If this is the end, my beautiful friend, if there was nothing left. Then there’d still be Blackie Lawless and his microphone. W.A.S.P will never die.

They begin with a medley. It takes in a few from “On Your Knees” to “Inside The Electric Circus” and at the risk of torturing an analogy, then there’s only one Ringmaster. High above it all, riding that stage prop for all its worth is Lawless.

“L.O.V.E  Machine” and “Wild Child” follow, a throwback to when they were the most dangerous band on the planet. Scaring middle America in a way that only metal can. They are both fabulous too, ludicrous in their own way, but undeniably brilliant.

Here to celebrate two anniversaries, the 40th of the band itself but also the 30th of “The Crimson Idol”. ‘Fess up time, its my favourite W.A.S.P album, and the first “concept” record I ever heard, looking back. They play three of them for 20 minutes or so, and Doug Blair’s solo in “The Idol” itself, is proof perhaps, that W.A,S.P 2023 has a guitarist that is as good as its ever had. “Chainsaw Charlie (Murders In The New Morgue)” is absolutely glorious, and as it gives way to “Blind In Texas” and its filthy boogie, then the years are washed away and Lawless himself becomes visibly invigorated.

A stage show that belong in arenas takes you straight back to the 80s controversy before half of “Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)”. Lawless had not been playing it given his beliefs, but maybe to shine a light on censorship, its back and is a crowd favourite, giving way to “The Real Me” which is likewise.

There has been much discussion in the press about Lawless’ use of backing tapes and there’s clearly some augmentation here, but the question as to whether it matters is open to debate. Certainly as he points out before “I Wanna Be Somebody” seven of these nine UK shows are sold out (KK’s is rammed to the gills, for sure) so evidently the fans have made their choice.

And, as he ends his 80 minutes atop the microphone, its clear that Blackie Lawless needs this as much as the the crowd. Where he ends and W.A.S.P starts is another matter, but for 40 years there’s never been a band quite like them.

As one of the many lavishly priced t-shirts says: “Jason still lives here.” So does danger. There’s still, even now, a whiff of it in the air.

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