Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
Twice postponed during the pandemically restricted times of 2020 it sure has been a challenge to get Kris Barras’ hometown show to the point of doors opening.
Not that the Devon-born Barras is shy of a fight or three given the Mixed Martial Arts / Muay Thai career he retired from to re-focus upon his musical ambitions. Seven years on from the switch and it’s one that’s paying handsome dividends. A UK-wide support slot with US A-Listers Black Stone Cherry following on from a successful summer festival has seen Kris and his trio of musical brothers truly tighten with each passing day whilst progressively heavying things up.
Just a stone’s throw from the waters of The English Riveria sitting rather anonymously between two fast food emporiums one would be forgiven for not, at first, noticing the entrance to this evening’s venue The Foundry. A glance above street level and one swiftly gets the impression that this club is housed in something quite grand. Dating from 1909 this is the Scala Building, an ornate three-storey Bath stone structure that was originally intended for use as a theatre. However the onset of the First World War meant only the elegant outer walls were completed. Now Grade II listed its long parapeted frontage looks out over Torwood Road whilst just around the corner the bands load in largely unaware of the pedimented temple front above. The figurative carvings up in the tympanum keep a watchful eye.
Inside, in what was once a ‘Victorian’ arcade of shops during the 70s, is the immaculate venue. There’s an impressive array of lights and a decent sized stage with the venue possessing a ‘caged’ Mad Max sort of feel to it with a balcony on three sides. It’s no surprise when informed that Kris actually fought here back in the day.
The only question remains is how good the PA is; a question that is consummately answered before the end of Ethyrfield’s opening track. Like all three bands on this evening’s billing this extremely talented youthful powerhouse trio hail from this corner of South Devon, just a few miles up the road in Kingerswell. Make no mistake this is a big deal for these ever so humble lads, and they waste no time in setting about tearing up the stage. Something they have become rather accomplished at over the years since they first burst on to the scene.
Set-opener ‘Sunstroke’ has a nailed on sound from the very off with the stunning harmonies of the Cornish brothers Ben and Zach given the very best treatment from the sound engineer. It’s a credit to Kris, his band and their crew that they’ve loaded in and sound-checked early so as to afford both of their support bands time for a complete sound-check; something that doesn’t often occur and is most worthy of note.
The notes, riffs and beats generated by Ethyrfield are, as always, top drawer with ‘Laying On Of Hands’ – by now one of the first tracks on the set list – and ‘Serenity’ showcasing the elements on offer. From armour-piercing artillery-like phases to moments of subtlety and back we embark upon a wondrous neoclassical journey.
Drummer Dan Aston lays down a furious and technical percussive assualt without breaking sweat; he could be sat on a sofa he looks that relaxed! Out front, atop this solid beat, Zach’s sinuous bass-lines meld perfectly with Ben’s six-string precision constructing a direction all of their own. It’s one that is well-received and has deservedly won them further admiration from the sizeable early doors crowd.
There’s a good deal of symmetry with this evening’s support with Newton Abbot-based stadium-ready rocking trio Firekind alsofeaturing brothers. Jas and Dan Morris hitting the strings to the fore of the absolute drumming beast that is Mitch Pike. Incredibly the Morris brothers have been on a two decades long expedition thus far; something belied by their youthful appearance.
The second half of 2021 has seen their burgeoning reputation begin to justifiably accelerate. A stunning debut long-player, from which all bar one of the six tracks in this evening’s set are drawn from, set the ball rolling. Whilst released during 2020 its rich tones have only been recently officially launched. This coupled with a lengthy set of dates nationwide with six-string empresário Jack J. Hutchinson has resulted in a slot at the prestigious Planet Rock Winters End festival next March where they lineup alongside their Devonian musical brothers Ethyrfield.
Animatedly springing on to the stage to the techno beats of their intro tape Firekind launch right into ascending riffs and shadowy rhythms of ‘Adrenalin’. Jas’ high-hitting, yet somehow brooding, vocals smoulder “I met a man who said he knew the day I would die” as The Foundry fills further.
A quickfire “Hello Torquay” and the trio fire headlong into the thundering entity ‘Defend’. Like Ethyrfield before it’s clear that this triumvirate is in determined mood to impress. An ethereal, haunting link rolls into anthemic ‘It’s Not Over’. Its emotive strains coupled with the considerable hook of a chorus cry loudly for an arena to raise the spirits of Valhall within.
The hairs on the back of the neck stand to attention with the opening notes and words of ‘Sound Of Rain’; a sure-fire highlight that has the masses salivating before the portentous swagger of ‘Desolate’ ensures the set ends upon an explosive high. There’s intricate and progressive components that weigh in deliciously alongside the scorching forces of the portentous cadence.
With the two supporting acts give fantastic accounts all that remains is for Kris-mas to be served up with the main course the Kris Barras Band. It’s gonna be a party unlike any other with some things new, some things borrowed and, undoubtably, some things blue. Add in the most pleasant surprise of an acoustic segment and a couple of seasonably appropriate numbers and with betting maxed out we’re on to a surefire winner.
Recieved so well this summer single ‘Dead Horse’ kicks off proceedings with riffs and beats as rugged and craggy as the Dartmoor granite scenery that lends itself to the backdrop of the accompanying video. It’s a track that has set the benchmark for the forthcoming album ‘Death Valley Paradise’ and the coming months and years. The transition of one-time keyboardist Josiah J. Manning to rhythm guitar and the harnessing of a new rhythm section that features hard-as-nails drummer Billy Hammett and the energetic bassist Kelpie Mackenzie has born witness to a shift upwards in terms of power and kinetic.
There is, of course, time for the blues with the introspective ‘Rock n’ Roil Running Through My Veins’ proudly flying the flag for Kris’ debut long-player ‘Lucky 13’. The now-packed venue raucously sings the chorus of ‘Ignite (Light It Up)’ before Kris’ gentle six-string intro lies serenely atop Hammett’s thundering beats before the former punches the air with his right fist. The signal for the band to plough headlong into a highly energised rendition of ‘Kick Me Down’. Given similar igneous treatment ‘What You Get’ is delivered at force 12 trucking along the highway without impediment. This quartet is most certainly not “The loser in this one horse race”.
Brand-new track ‘Who Needs Enemies’ machine-gun delivery punches a hole in the roof of The Foundry before recent single the tub-thumping ‘My Parade’ sees Torquay torn a brand-new one. Kris sets the faithful the ‘Steelhouse challenge’; being the first time KBB had played this live only for the entire field to carry on singing at song end. Needless to say the response is utterly magnificent. “Never been the kind to hide away. Don’t give a fuck what people say” is the perfect anthem for the current climes.
Hammett and Kelpie take a deserved breather as the mood takes a slower direction as matters are lovingly stripped back for a trio of acoustic tracks with Manning taking his seat to the left of Barras. A down and dirty ‘Propane’ sets the tone before the duo take Skynyrd’s ‘Simple Man’ out into the arid badlands with Barras acclaiming his partner-in-music “Let’s hear it for Josiah! He’s making me sound great. Also playing foot-stomp and bass pedals. What a talented muthafucker!” Indeed, Kris, indeed!
The immensely infectious ‘Vegas Son’ wraps up the acoustic hat-trick in fine style with Kris concluding “Who knows if we get locked down again again we might do some more of that!”
Back to full strength the band catapult into a rip-snorting cover of Alabama State Trooper’s ‘Going Down’ with Kris taking to the front of the stage for a searing solo with conflagrent sparks flying off the fret as he trades licks with Josiah who, later on in the track, sets about throttling a totally sick solo of his own.
The band meander away from the set-list for a moment with the buzzsaw riffs of ‘Not Fading’ added in after the sound engineer requested they include it after nailing it in sound-check. The emotively charged blues of ‘Watching Over Me’ is not only dedicated to the memory of Kris’ father but to all those loved ones we have lost through the course of the pandemic.
Latest single ‘These Voices’ with its chainsaw-like guitar roar and contagious hook is given a most welcome airing – things are shaping up nicely for ’22! As set end nears Kris declares “It wouldn’t be Christmas without a muthafucking Christmas song. So we’re gonna do one!” bringing the house down with a rumbustuous “Merry Christmas Everybody”. This is a full on, force 10 Kris-mas!
The party continues with the foot-stomping anthem ‘Hail Mary’ with Kris enquiring “Are you ready to sing?” The deafening response answers that one with aplomb. As always the a cappella intro is the foreteller of a ferocious storm. This is heads down and no-nonsense rock n’ roll with Kris presiding over the mid-song crowd singing as masonry falls all around; demolition guaranteed.
As the final notes ring out so the crowd roar for more and after a couple minutes to regroup and gather their senses so Kris, Josiah, Kelpie and Billy, all bedecked in festive hats, return for a further brace. Kris wrily comments “We’ll give you buggers a couple more. It’s Christmas!” before treating one and all to the rocked up southern charms of ‘Lovers or Losers’ and the hallowed rock n’ roll riffs of Chuck Berry’s ‘Run, Rudolph, Run’ brings the show to a rollckingly fantastic finale.
Full marks to all involved in pulling off this truly phenomenal evening with the spectre of covid returning with a vengeance. For a few precious hours we were all transported away from the concerns and worries; thank you to one and all. I couldn’t think of a better way to end our gigging for 2021; it’s been a challenging but rewarding second half of the year with much to be hopeful and positive about as we approach 2022.
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM