This time: the end of my annual winter sulk and the best purple patch of gigs ever.
On Thursday 23rd February I drove to work in daylight, and returned home in daylight. This was a significant event for me. It marked the end of my annual winter sulk, and signalled the commencement of seven months of feeling a darn sight better about everything. That particular February Thursday was one of those bizarre days that come along once every winter: blazing sunshine, temperatures in the mid-to-high 60s, and a reminder of all the joys that summer might bring. At lunchtime I found myself shedding my coat, putting on my shades, and wandering through Liverpool on my way to a wonderful lunch at La Tasca. Even the M62 had failed to get me down, with its interminable current set of roadworks between Birchwood and Burtonwood and the parade of trucks overtaking each other at 56mph. The Edge Lane car park (aka approach to Liverpool) had been successfully bypassed by heading through Wavertree Technology Park, with its gleaming reflected windows and sense of something really important going on. I felt really, really good. And it would get better.
Peter Holland – Christopher West – Dicky King
On Easter Monday Trippy Wicked and Stubb came to town and played a game-changer of a gig at the Star and Garter. I had been wanting, indeed needing to see these two bands for the best part of a year so as I sat in the Salisbury pub a couple of hours before showtime the anticipation was so thick you could cut it with a knife. I was nervous about meeting Christopher West, Peter Holland, Dicky King and Jack Dickinson – normal dudes who make music but who had become titanic rock giants in my mind with the release of Stubb’s eponymous debut album and Trippy Wicked’s monstrous sophomore effort, Going Home. Fuelled with Jagerbombs to ensure I didn’t descend into a sycophantic, dribbling annoyance I marched into the venue with the confidence of a cage fighter.
The next 3 hours were something of a fanboy’s wet dream. Walking into the venue and being met like a long lost friend by Messrs Holland, West, King and Dickinson was overwhelming. We spent an age chatting with them, having our photos taken with them, and engaging in quite ribald banter.
Stubb opened proceedings. It was fecking loud - but controlled. The trio cracked through most of their debut album, finishing up with an incendiary Galloping Horses. Jack’s singing was particularly ace – a throaty wail like an echo from the early 70s making itself at home in his larynx after a forty year journey.
“Oh my god.... it’s JACK!”
By the time Trippy Wicked hit the stage I had lost control of my faculties. They slayed, simple as. Highlights were Fire (from the debut), whose cavernous riff and bottom-feeding bass had the floor shaking and my sternum thumping, I Want Another Drink, which surely is now my own anthem, the Die Hard-quoting Hillbilly Moonshine, and Going Home - the title track from the new album and an instant classic – with its intense and uplifting melotron ending.
There was a third band playing (Stone Axe). I wish I could say I stayed for them, but after TW I was spent. After more beers, photos and banter with the Stubb and Trippy boys we stumbled into the night with ringing ears, grins on our faces, knowing we had seen a once in a lifetime performance. When Trippy Wicked are laying waste to arenas in the future I will know I saw them with 20 or so other maniacs for £6 in a tiny venue in a backstreet of Manchester. A treasured memory.
There were other gigs. I remember everything about our trip to see Rush tribute band Bravado playing in Birkenhead as I was designated driver. I don’t remember the last time I saw a gig sober. I only offered to be the taxi dude as I was recovering from a session the night before. Tired and emotional and with a nasty case of the shakes I somehow managed to get the Usual Suspects (Berr, Cap’n Ron, Barchetta, Zedskin) to Birkenhead without killing them – though I tried hard on the way through Liverpool. Pod, Deano and Paul gave us Rush’s 1981 live album Exit Stage Left in its entirely, delivering it with real aplomb. It was amusing watching the Suspects get gradually more animated as the beers took hold. “So this is what I’m usually like?” was all I could think as Captain Ron barrelled into me, frantically moshing and unleashing a flurry of notes on his air guitar. After the show the band looked flummoxed as I failed to slur and downed yet another Diet Coke. It was a surreal night.
A week later I finally got to see Korn and they didn’t disappoint. Jonathan Davis and the guys served up one skull crushing riff after another. I left the gig thinking it doesn’t get much better than that, but a few days later it really did. Helmet came to Manchester’s Sound Control and took me to a hard rockin’ place that few bands can. It was one of the very best gigs I’ve been to.
Simply put, Page Hamilton and his mighty trio of supporting members came onstage and ripped through 75 minutes of brutal, angular, high octane alternative metal. They played the whole of their Meantime album, celebrating its twentieth anniversary. There was something in the air. The moshpit was rough but friendly. The sound engineer was in total command of his mixing desk and the venue’s acoustics. I lost the plot and left the venue a sweating, bruised, exhausted wreck. If only all concerts were this tasty.
Orange Goblin (photo by Zedskin)
The final gig in the purple patch was Orange Goblin, once again at Sound Control. Happening only two days after Trippy Wicked we nearly didn’t go, being as we were tired and emotional and still recovering from the events of Easter Monday. Thank god we did as Ben Ward and his mighty quartet played a blinder.
Whilst there will be other gigs, I will always remember April for that five-shows-in-two-weeks blast of sheer sonic perfection. I doubt the combination will ever be bettered. And I certainly won’t see anything as good as the Trippy Wicked show this side of a Rush tour.
Spring has been great for television. I’ve hunkered down and got lost in old and new stuff – The Sopranos (I’m on series 5 now), Blue Bloods, Homeland, Touch, The Wire (started from the beginning again), Inside Men, and Two and a Half Men (loving Ashton Kutcher..... Charlie who?).
Rush - 2012
Outside of all that, February through to April felt really busy – looking back it seems I didn’t stop much. I was either working, rockin’, recovering, combining all three or being with my children. A real whirlwind of a quarter. And it’s all ended with Rush releasing Headlong Flight, a song from their forthcoming Clockwork Angels album, that is – in my view – right up there with their finest work.