A very special evening in Belfast’s Ulster Hall was going to prove to be a very hot sticky sweet night for everyone entering through the iconic doors of the Ulster Hall. Out of the cold night and into the conflagration that the hall was anticipating as tonight STEEL PANTHER was bringing some Californian heat to all and sundry as they start their Sunset Strip tour on the island of Ireland, otherwise known as the place with lots of wind and rain. Supporting them on their tour is GUS G.
Whilst waiting for the whole show to start there was no just waiting around, shuffling your feet as DJ Matt Stocks battered his turntable with classic rock songs that got everyone in the mood.
The turntable was put away and out came the talented GUS G. This very self effacing chap from Greece had a very quiet humble gait until he struck the first chord and his band, singer and bassist Dennis Ward and drummer Will Hunt, immediately stun the well packed audience with “Fearless”, the title track form his album released last year. Without a shadow of a doubt in anyone’s minds, Gus was a virtuoso on the fret and could have walked off after the first song and cemented it in everyone’s minds that he was a master shredder. But he had a full set and on he went with “Burn” before dropping into his first single from his album, “Mr. Manson” which had slight evocation of Ozzy’s “Mr Crowley”. “Don’t Tread on Me” and “Letting Go” continued the shredding onslaught as this three piece group produced enough of a sound to make it seem there were six band members on stage. The crowd were in metal ecstasy as Gus G should pure wizardry and enough magic in his playing he could have fooled Penn and Teller. All together the band produced a sweet savage sound that had riffs, solos, thunderous drums, chugging bass that had the whole place in headbanging, foot stomping awe.
Then they cheated in the greatest way possible and delivered probably the best cover of Dire Strait’s “Money for Nothing” that has been done yet. It was recognisable but had that undeniable Gus G twist and had the entire hall singing their lungs out in joyous rock rapture. Gus then explained to the audience he had been in Belfast before and that he would like to do something special whilst in Belfast, home of Gary Moore, and launched into an impossibly superb cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Cold Sweat”. The crowd were enraptured state by now.
Without allowing the crowd to have too much thinking time Gus hammered home “Force Majeure” a mesmerising instrumental that delighted all with the sight of his lightning fast fingers caressing and hammering the fret board and the sound of incredible shredding magic wrapped up in a track that had a melodic harmony that touched the soul.
GUS G and his band were able to touch the right rock and metal buttons throughout the set on performance alone but this proved he knew his audience as well. He finished with “I Am the Fire” which included a crowd set piece singing along with the chorus.
DJ Matt plugged the rock hits back in and did not allow any thoughts to stray or too many people to dander off as the crowd was now singing along with delight to each track coming out of the speakers.
Then the turntable went quiet once more, the stage went dark and on came the kings of comedy metal chaos – STEEL PANTHER!! And they blasted in with “Eyes Of A Panther” before they hit home with “Backdoor”. And it wouldn’t be a STEEL PANTHER gig without the sidesplitting banter between the four man crew of calamity. Satchel announced to a roof lifting roar from the overjoyed crowd that “Belfast is the most heavy metal city in the world. This is the Belfast I know and love. How many people here love Heavy Metal?” That was answered once more by arms and horns in the air from front of stage to the very back doors along with a deafening bellow of acknowledgement. Within the the first two songs they had more than cemented and superglued their flag to the slippery mast of dubious double entendres, euphemisms, sarcastic quips and straight up toilet humour of the bluntest kind. Exactly what everyone there was looking for.
This was their Sunset Strip Tour and that meant classic 80s hear metal covers with the first being a more Motley Crue than Motley Crue rendition of “Shout At The Devil” to everyone’s delight. The thing about STEEL PANTHER is that they are really difficult to describe and have to be experienced. The joking and ribbing in-between songs are perfectly timed flowing naturally into the fabric of the whole show. Just like their own songs such as the next two “Asian Hooker” and “Poontang Boomerang”, hilarious completely rude and everyone singing the choruses at the top of their voices with joyous abandon.
Then with Michael pretending to climb astride a motorbike and Lexxi riding pillion they launched into another Crue song, that while most knew what was coming, could not contain their utter delight as Satchel revved his guitar. Yup, “Kickstart My Heart” and what a version it was. Like evey song they do Michael, Satchel, Lexxi and Stixx own the stage, firing of riff and joke with equally wild abandon.
The next song beautifully segued from Michael Starr failing to finish a very dirty run down of what he, Tommy Lee, Vince Neil, Satchel were doing to a, ahem, lady. He stormed off in disgust at his mic constantly dropping out whilst the rest of the band mucked about as they do on stage. Lexxi Fox then noted that Satchel had not done any impersonations and duly embarrassed he decided to do a fantastic pastiche of Randy Rhoads as he launched into the first few chords of “Crazy Train”. And with that Michael “Ozzy” Starr hobbled on and performed a fantastic imitation of Ozzy himself. It was a turely amazing performance that had the crowd in awe and in stitches. It was especially poignant as Ozzy had to pull out of his Dublin show the previous week due to ill health.
With parting shots to each other all left the stage but Satchel, who produced and incredible guitar solo that mixed in his own riffs and snippets of iron Maiden, Guns N Roses, Black Sabbath, and a well-placed “Olay Olay Olay” sing along, Michael showed off how he could play guitar and drums at the same time. It really was something wonderful to behold.
And so all returned to the stage to deliver “Party All day” before Michael summoned all the girls in the audience on stage, and my goodness the stage filled to the brim with pus… er…ladies. They writhed, danced, shook their money maker, and did their best to catch Michael, Satchel and Lexxi’s eye as the band produced another rock classic, Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and then on into “Living On A Prayer”. And so the ladies’ time in the limelight within kissing distance of the mighty makers of magical comedic rock came to an end. Off they reluctantly trotted with their prized selfies as the guys launched into their classic “Community Property” before finishing off with “Death To All But Metal”. Stay classy, Belfast!
Obviously an encore had to happen. Its part of the show. And it was a belter with the wonderfully risqué “Gloryhole”.
And with that a magical night came to an end. Nobody left without a ten foot wide smile hardened to their face. It was a night of awe with godlike mastery of the fretboard from GUS G and laughter induced very sore sides and facial muscles from STEEL PANTHER.
For everyone yet to see this tour, you are in for a complete night of entertainment. GUS G provided a definite “wow!” factor as three unassuming guys take the stage and produce musicianship that takes you to a whole new mesmeric level. STEEL PANTHER delivered STEEL PANTHER, which is now a days all that really needs to be said. People who know the group go because they know without any doubt they will be witnessing a set list of excellently delivered songs with a unique comedic twist – this is why these guys sell out their shows. They are pure metal comedy gold. Anyone who goes out of curiosity will, within the first 10 minutes, become an ardent “Fanther”. Yes – they are that good.
In all seriousness, if you enjoy metal, hair metal, and solid rocking riffs, have a sense of humour AND have an opportunity to see these two bands in action, you really do owe it to yourself to go. If you don’t, then in the words of STEEL PANTHER, “You can suck our dicks!”
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