Even when you’ve been a band for over 20 years, as The Wildhearts have, getting gigs right is always a strange kind of alchemy that it’s impossible to get right all the time.
So far on this tour, they’d had mixed reports on the sound quality, lighting and the engagement of the crowds, but luckily for us, it all clicked into place in Manchester.
It was a really enjoyable night all round, bookended by two performances from the seemingly inexhaustible Ginger, starting off with his Hey! Hello! sideproject, even if he was wearing ‘incognito’ shades and leaving the talking to co-lead vocalist Victoria Liedke.
Their set, mostly taken from their debut album, was half an hour or so or noisy pop perfection, with Liedke (a backing vocalist in Ginger’s solo band) thriving in centre stage, a charming mixture of sassy and goofy, especially on Sparks cover Wacky Women.
Ginger’s manifesto song How I Survived The Punk Wars was a definite highlight, while Black Valentine and Swimwear probably got the best reception from the crowd, who treated them almost like headliners at times. Unsurprisingly, really.
This of course made it tricky for second support act The Von Hertzen Brothers, who not only didn’t have the lead singer of The Wildhearts in their line-up, but also have quite a different sound. And their prog-rock leanings weren’t to everyone’s tastes.
However, I really enjoyed them, the three (actual) brothers were all engaging, particularly frontman Mikko, and songs like Flowers And Rust and Coming Home from their most recent album showcased both their heavy and melodic sides well.
Previously on this tour, The Wildhearts seemed to have played with backlighting turning them into silhouettes, so it was a surprise when they walked on stage all lit up and shiny. They’d also kicked off with b-side S.I.N. (In Sin), whereas last night it was the more familiar (and slower) Nothing Ever Changes But The Shoes.
When you’re not touring to promote anything in particular (new music, anniversaries, etc), and you’ve got a fanbase that’s largely of the die-hard variety, both band and most fans do want to hear more obscure tracks, but possibly where the first two gigs in the tour went wrong was including too many of them early on.
Last night, the early part of the show was heavy on fan favourites and hits (Sick Of Drugs, Caffeine Bomb, Vanilla Radio, TV Tan, etc), giving the crowd the chance to sing along at the tops of their voices, creating a great atmosphere to the obvious and genuine delight of the band.
There was even perhaps a slight dig at the fans at the other gigs when Ginger thanked the Manchester crowd for giving them such a good reaction: “It’s been a while.” Returning bassist Scott got a great reception, to the extent that he went on an impromtu crowd surf between songs. It was that kind of night.
Toploading the set with the kind of songs that make everyone happy, rather than throwing in too many deep cuts early on meant that when it came to tracks like This Revolution Will Be Televised and Mazeltov Cocktail, the crowd response was as wild and vocal as any of the more famous songs, and those two were probably the best songs of the night.
The encore was when most of the less familiar songs got played, which did create a little bit of a lull, but the CJ-sung Helmet cover (Unsung) was fantastic, as were Scott’s two lead vocals on The Only One (dedicated to his wife at her first Wildhearts gig) and Warren Zevon’s Carmelita.
I really enjoyed a rare outing for Junkenstein from the criminally-underrated Endless Nameless, but sadly not many other people seemed to, so the chances of a 20th anniversary tour of that album in 2017 aren’t looking good.
Throughout the show, Ginger was in fine form, clearly loving the reaction from the crowd and adhering to the rules he’d set out in that Hey! Hello! song earlier, while it was great to have Scott Sorry back on bass, as good as Jon Poole had been at last year’s shows.
Finishing off with the b-side that’s as loved as any of their hits, 29 x The Pain, The Wildhearts offered one last great sing-song to round the night off. Sometimes going to a show a few dates into a tour is a blessing because it’s given the band time to work out their best setlist and iron out the kinks.
Showcasing songs from every album they’ve released, this was another great show by a great band that had something for everyone.