Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
Two years, four dates and finally the show is on! The second Steelhouse Awayday is upon us with the force of a super-heavyweight pugilist landing the title-winning punch.
Knockout blow time in the Welsh capital with the Steelhouse promotion bringing a delectable slice of the mountain festival to the city. With a fine triumvirate of top-notch Welsh rock acts the Y Ddraig Goch is certainly a beast fulfilled.
A stone’s throw south-west of the city centre, across the River Taff, The Tramshed is located in the suburb of Grangetown nestling in the shadow of the railway tracks of the South Wales Main Line. A grade II listed building it’s a fine piece of Cardiff history once serving as the terminus for trams to the west of the city centre. Its street-side facade consisting of eleven red-brick gables, each embellished with a louvred oculus and a pair of semi-circular windows, can, no doubt, relate many a tale.
Passengers no more but there a thousand hardy souls, braving the rain-swept evening, descending upon the Tramshed to catch Bridgend quintet Those Damn Crows’ first live action of the year. There’s a tangible, fervent expectation from the gathering that is steadily growing in numbers by the time Steelhouse promoters Max Rhead and Mikey Evans give a brief welcoming intro by noting “Two years, two fucking years and Steelhouse Awayday Two is on!.” In a neat touch, they congratulate Llanelli rockers Scarlet Rebels – who will be heading up that infamous mountain track come the end of July – upon hitting number 7 in the UK Album charts just 24 hours previously.
With minimal fuss opening act Tribeless enter from stage left; having expanded their ranks during lockdown to become a quartet with the addition of bassist Morgan Price. In fact, since bursting onto the scene towards the end of 2019 this young Welsh outfit have undergone several lineup changes with a couple of guitarists coming and going before settling with current six-stringer Matthew Alessandro alongside the founding nucleus of high-energy vocalist Lydia McDonald and tight-as-you-like drummer Max Rhead.
Although in their infancy careerwise Tribeless have grabbed deserved attention with their dynamic, progressive hybrid mix of alt-rock with an undercurrent of electronic and receive a warm welcome from the Tramshed crowd during their half-hour set. They weave an intricate, oft-spiky fabric in their offerings that showcase Lydia’s wide-ranging vocals so very well.
The recent single ‘Impulses’ is a glass-shattering bullet of a track, think Muse in harmonious collision with The Cranberries. Whilst in ‘Blossom’, Tribeless’ latest single, Lydia brings a rocked-up inner Dolores O’Riordan to proceedings garnering a good response from the good-sized early-doors crowd. Searing track ‘Formed By Us’ scorches a fiery trail that will take some extinguishing as the quartet leave their impression upon the Crows’ faithful.
For capital-city slickers Hand Of Dimes this Steelhouse Awayday slot is a hometown gig and they cleanly grasp the baton handed to them by Tribeless as they hit their leg of the evening at a fine pace. The Tramshed is close to bursting as they truck into the clean racing lines of set-opener ‘Looking At You’. Fronted by the broadly smiling vocalist/rhythm guitarist Nev MacDonald (Kooga/Skin) Hand Of Dimes soon have the crowd onside and rocking along as lead guitarist Colin Edwards lays down a sublime bluesy southern edged vibe which simply delights.
The silken tones of Nev are the perfect suit for sultry Whitesnake-drenched ‘Bad Reputation’. His longtime songwriting partner Neil Garland (also Kooga) emerges from behind his keyboards, harmonica in hand, to join his friend centre-stage as they set about bringing the house down.
Playing trump card after trump card, drawn from their solitary long-playing release ‘Raise’, the pace is slowed, neatly, with the soothing balladic tones of ‘Angel and Demons’; it’s a soaring raptor that successfully hits its prey every time. This mood is continued with the epic strongly-keyed overtures of ‘Jacob’s Ladder’; a soulful blues-soaked number that soars effortlessly upon musical thermals.
The foot-stomping delta-blues of crowd favourite ‘Guilty’ tears down the walls with driving harmonica delivered by Neil as the rhythm section do their level best to piledrive down through the stage. It’s easy to see why Nev performs alongside former Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden on this showing; this harks back to those glory days of British rock.
Nev teasingly comments “Let’s play a cover version” before the Dimes tear into the absolute anthem and Skin classic single ‘House Of Love’ with Colin whittling a precise solo from his Gibson Les Paul. Job completed as the house is well and truly brought down! There’s time for one more with ‘Sail On’ that builds up to a triumphant crescendo which incites a victorious roar from the capacity gathering. No one begrudges these hometown heroes running over a bit; this has been a near hour masterclass.
It’s a high bar that has been set but this evening’s headliners, Those Damn Crows, have made a habit of setting stratospheric standards of their very own catching many a musical crew unawares in the formative days. Stood with The Crows, just four years ago, on Womanby Street, outside legendary Cardiff rock venue Fuel, looking up at the building on the opposite side of the street one of them wistfully observed “We’d love to sell out Clwb Ifor Bach one day.
Well, they certainly missed that step out in the plans! Hurdling the dreamy ambitions of maxing out a club and progressing to selling out a 1000 capacity venue is a major accomplishment.
Since those halcyon grassroots days, things have gone from strength to strength for Those Damn Crows. A rapid ascent of festival billings, a top 20 album, headlining Cardiff Castle and the no small matter of this evening’s achievement are matters most significant.
A lot of water has passed under the metaphorical bridge and The Crows have evolved from a raw, fledgling outfit to a fully feathered, high flying hard-rocking quintet with all the contagious hooks and strategic gimmicks to match their infectious character. It’s a highly polished outfit that takes to the stage to thunderous cheers from a fervent crowd that chant “THOSE DAMN CROWS” at the very top of their collective voice. It’s impressive for sure.
The irrepressible Ronnie Huxford settles behind his towering kit, high up on a massive riser, before hammering the introductory beats. Enigmatic front-man Shane Greenhall is straight at the maxed-out crowd enquiring “Are you fucking ready Cardiff?” whipping up a storm as the ‘Crow Army’ join him in singing the “We’re Those Damn Crows” intro.
Traditional set-opener the powerhouse that is ‘Who Did It’ fires the cannon explosively as the band and crowd compete in the noise stakes. It takes a thunder-god delivery for the Crows to eventually emerge triumphant in this early good-natured ‘skirmish’. Shane, at song end, beats his chest in approval of the faithful’s efforts.
There’s no drawing breath, though, as they hurtle into ‘Long Time Dead’ with a furious twin six-string assault from ‘Shiner’ Thomas and David Winchurch bracketing the stage whilst indestructible rhythm pairing of stampeding bassist Lloyd Wood and skinsman Ronnie constructs their trademark rock-hard foundation. Just two songs in and Shane is right on to the barrier to engage with the front rows as he cries “Scream for me Cardiff!”
The energy levels are palpable as the intensity rises further with the hard riffing of ‘Don’t Give A Damn’ before a truly ramped up vigorous ‘Devil In My Pocket’ is uncaged. The pace is eased a little with 2021’s single only release ‘Sick Of Me’ manoeuvred on to front-line duties.
A brief pause allows an enthusiastic “Ronnie, Ronnie” chant to erupt from the Tramshed crowd before hands clap frantically to the intro riffs of ‘Someone Someday’ which, with metamorphic forces, segues midway into ‘Pinball Wizard’ with a typical noisy Crow faithful response. ‘Set In Stone’ sees Shane on walkabout taking to the balcony before, unbelievably, hopping over the barrier to conduct a sing-a-long with the ‘Crow Army’ before dropping back down onto the speakers before reacquainting himself with terra firma.
“Not gonna lie I proper shit myself then!” he quips whilst collecting his acoustic guitar for a highly emotive rendition of ‘Be You’. There’s time for Shane to make sole mention of the recording of their third album and to quirkily tease the gathering with a seemingly spontaneous burst of “Show me the lyrics.” The emotional delivery of ‘Be You’ is right on point and this one track encapsulates the strong bond between fan-base and band, It’s a highly-charged passion of a thousand like-minded souls in complete harmony.
Swapping his guitar for a crow-cloaked keyboard the spotlight burns brightly upon Shane for a re-worked version of ‘Kingdom of Dust’. Announcing it he remarks “This is a bit different, it might go tits up!” Naturally, all is fine in the Crows camp and rock-steady tubthumping from Ronnie and slick acoustic from David this is the largest surprise of the night.
‘Never Win’ commences with Shane alone, aloft, on keys with Dave, stage right, waiting patiently tapping his left foot on his pedals board to layer some gentle six-string licks to further enhance the beautifully empowering moment.
It’s nailed on that ‘Blink Of An Eye’ will follow, after all this is the most natural of pairings trackwise. However, before getting underway a clearly emotional Shane takes time to pause “This one has always been special for us. Tonight let’s remember those who aren’t here with us”.
A single white spot shines as he continues “Sing this as loudly as you can!” The duelling guitars of Shiner and Dave take mid-stage as the track ascends through the clouds to the higher reaches of the atmosphere; next stop space itself! The crowd response is spine-tinglingly loud; word perfect.
“We got three more songs” rallies Shane as the Crows set about picking up the momentum once more with the crowd bouncing along manically to ‘Sin On Skin’ before a rumbling six-string growl announces ‘Go Get It’. Tightly clenched fists punch the air as the crowd chants loudly. An amazingly bright cloud bursting light flashes across the arena as the track outro’s towards its thunderous conclusion.
Ronnie leads the way with ‘Rock N Roll Ain’t Dead’ with an ecstatic crowd savouring every last moment of the last song of an epic 75-minute set. The reverberating riffage of this nailed-on anthem for the masses completes structural demolition as the loudest cheer of the night is reserved for last.
The band take the deserved applause and salute their faithful’s cheers. It’s been an eventful and enjoyable path to this juncture and there is much more to come from the Crows. The brand-new album, recently recorded, is currently being mixed in the States and it’s going to be interesting to see what direction the Crows have chosen to fly in. A question, however, left unanswered this evening leaving a healthy thirst unquenched and the fires of expectation fully stoked.
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM