Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM
So, the much-awaited album release has happened, fans are happy with the arrival of the new album on their doormat. Now the band embark on a 15-night tour to promote the album.
Tonight, sees me heading to my old favourite venue, Rock City Nottingham, a place I’ve been attending in one form or another since the very early 1980’s.
Heading out at just gone 5pm as tonight it is another early curfew due to the student night that happens straight afterwards. En-route, I’m caught up in the football traffic leaving the Forest ground. Forest scored a good 4-0 win over Reading so the fans are continuing to see a great run of good fortune from their club.
Getting to the venue just over 30 minutes before opening, there is already a sizeable crowd gathered in the evening coolness.
The guys stood at the front have been there for over 2 hours, dedicated fans indeed. Once inside there is yet another mix up with my name, again not being on the guest lists.
The girls at the box office are efficient in sorting it once I share my confirmation e-mail from the powers that be. In I go with the first band ‘These Wicked Rivers’ already on stage, which is dressed like an old lounge with some old standard lamps adornig the place.
They are quickly off with the opening song ‘Shine On’. With its searing guitar and thundering drum beat it wakes the crowd that are hurrying to get a good slot at the barrier. It’s great to see former Wolf Jaw bassist, Dale Ton back on stage again and enjoying himself as he delivers a chest breaking bass line, tied in tightly with Dan Southall’s, kick drum its fairly thumping along.
Arran Day in plaid skinny fit trousers is off in another world, with eyes closed, he smashes his green Gretsch guitar within inches of its life, his arms and legs flailing as he goes about his business. A blinder of an opening anthem.
‘Force of Nature’ is up next and again Arran is away as Dan smacks his snare like it’s been a really bad boy (Putin). John Hartwell singing from beneath his ever-present hat, looks down his scarf wrapped mike stand as his voice curls around this great tune.
This is followed by ‘When the War Is Won’ an appropriate song today but was written in 2017. Hartwell’s voice is deliberate and pure as he sings along to the guitar of a restrained Day, who is like a coiled spring ready to unleash a fury.
The bluesy Smokey vocal tones completement the distorted rasping’s of Day’s guitar as the song slowly builds until, like precision bombing there is a guitar solo with attitude, never messy as it swoops in and finds its mark.
‘Evergreen’ was the penultimate song on the set list, a driving number seeing Dan driving hard on the drums as the guitars, distorted, weave around Hartwell’s lyrics. Understated we have keys from Rich Wilson striving along as he tickles the ivories, face pulling as he provides backing vocals, watching Day tie himself in knots as he digs in deep on his guitar as he slides into a flashy solo, fingers and hair everywhere as Southall marks time on the beat locked into Ton’s bass line, they sing about having a cup of tea amongst the evergreen. Great fun tune.
2017’s ‘Don’t Pray for Me’ finishes the set. Hartwell again starts the song accompanied by the swirling’s from Wilson on keys. The Band stare at the floor as Hartwell asks them not to prey for him. Declaring his shortcomings, the band join in nice and subtlety but you know it’s not going to last, Day’s eyes are already closed and his guitar is hanging low as he finds an unbelievable vibrato from out of the Paul Kossoff book of vibrato, Killer sound buddy.
The song has built now as Hartwell sings along with Days outrageous solo, again all body parts are flailing as he kicks and pushes along, oh what’s this? a thunderous double kick drum announces itself as it joins the dots and smashes its way into the song! With some decaying reverb the song finishes and so is their set. By far one of the best opening sets I’ve seen this year. Stunning band that you need to catch at the next opportunity you won’t be disappointed.
Shine On, Force of Nature, When The War Is Won, Evergreen, Don’t Pray For Me.
Welsh bangers ‘Florence Black’ are up next. With the usual efficient set change over done by the great Rock City crew, we’re back on it as Tristan, Jordan and Perry hit the stage.
Starting out with ‘Zulu’ from ‘Weight of the World’ this slowly builds up as a distorted guitar suddenly hits, with strong drums crashing around you and a tight bass this fast-passed tune is under way. Jacket wearing Tristan is snaked around his microphone as he seduces the ribbon mic with his throaty vocal, hair neatly coiffured for a minute then its being swirled around as his sunburst Les Paul takes on the sound of gun fire as Perry’s drum beat explodes back.
Jordan is lost in a mass of tight curls as he parades around thumping out a great bassline that’s hitting you hard in the chest. A great opener.
‘The Deep End’ follows from the same album, full of distorted guitars and a driving drum beat. This trio are making a big mark on the world of power trio’s, tuneful but hard hitting with a driving rhythm, they cite the betakes as being an influence, ok mixed it with the likes of Tool, Metallica, and Sabbath you get the idea, These guys are proper old school heavy and it’s great to hear.
Bird on a Chain’ released in 2020 sees a slight change in attack but not for long. A more melodic beat kicks in then we get a full, head on attack of vicious guitar as throaty vocals rasp through-out, as the guitar and bass, together, smash your senses into rubble, and then throw in a screaming solo over the top just to make sure your awake, you get the idea, hard and heavy and the crowd are digging it, both the band and their fast n furious deliveries.
‘Pierrepoint’ and ‘So Far Away’ follow and lead into what is usually the finale to previous FB sets, the mighty ‘Bread Fan’ by fellow Welsh rockers Budgie. This never fails to bring a smile as they boys nail this tune every time! The crowd know it as the horns go up as soon as Tristan strikes the first fast note.
The screeching intro has the crowd bouncing as it flattens the room with its delivery. With a slightly darker edge to it curtesy of Thomas’s rasping vocal a direct counterpoint to the original vocals of the now sadly departed Burke Shelley. Budgie have been acknowledged as one of the major influences of N.W.O.B.H.M. and the likes of Metallica who have also covered this epic tune.
The set closer can only be one song. Now a firm Planet Rock favourite and one regularly heard on their shows it’s the stunning ‘Sun and Moon’. A great tune and completely at odds to what we’ve just witnessed previously.
Tristan’s voice is superb, as he delivers a softer gentler vocal. A rambling bass line and steady drum beat caress the listener as the pure guitar builds to a more forced chorus and then it’s back to a softer almost ballad like beat as the light and the dark of the song project a more gentle side to the band. The heavy distorted guitar is tasteful and blends in with the vocal as Tristan expresses himself building towards are great climax to the song of the set!
Zulu, The Deep End, Bird On A Chain, Pierrepoint, So Far Away, Bread Fan, Sun & Moon
Again, the Rock City Crew work their magic and in a short time we have the set ready for Kris Barras and his band. I’m looking forward to this one. I covered the Black Stone Cherry night at Rock City where Kris was support, and Oh my what a great set he played.
As is often the case with the undercard, it was a short set but he made sure the crowd knew there would be a headline tour happening in March on the back of a new album which we had been treated to a few numbers from. Thankfully everything has gone according to plan and we have live music back in our lives.
Starting the set off we see Kelpie, Josiah and Billy on stage. They quickly set about proving to the crowd that tonight was going to be a belter with a screaming intro, smoke, lights and a wall of sound smashing you in the face, Kelpie is on it as he leaps into the air, feet well tucked up behind him, another wrong lens moment as I miss the top off his bass in the capture.
Smoke cannons go off as Kris, triumphantly walks on stage, arms outstretched he stands at the stage front, back lit, Baccus hanging from around his neck, he’s not played a note and the crowd have gone nutz. ‘Hail Mary’ Kicks us off as we get the high ho lyric, the crowd are singing along, bass is throbbing out as hand in the air Kris belts out this great tune. Billy, hidden by his kit in the corner makes excellent time as the rest of the stage sees Kelpie romping around with a big smile.
This flows into what has already become a fan favourite. ‘Dead Horses’ this single from the new album was released last September so has appeared on several set lists since. This heavier blast takes Kris and the band down a rockier route.
A darker drum beat segues nicely with a brooding guitar riff grinding from both Kris and Josiah. This is a full-on rock tune underlined when Kris winds his blue Baccus guitar and it screams at the crowd, with it held high he brings the song back down to huge cheers from the crowd.
‘Rock N Roll Running Through My Veins’ from 2016 with its almost cowboy western style and ‘These Voices’ follow, the latter is described by Kris’s as being his Christmas song due to its release date. It’s a personal song about those inner voices that we all have suffered with at some time. Kris is proud of it having a somewhat Spanish feel to it, especially played acoustic, and has a riff section instead of a solo. It’s a great tight song on the album which really comes to life live.
‘Light it Up’ has Kris, arm raised telling the fans what’s on his mind. Standing in cut vest, tattoo’s glistening in the warmth of rock city, in front of the microphone he bounces as he delivers the vocal, the crowd are dancing and singing back.
Its obvious that the folk in tonight are hardcore fans. Kris Rips into the solo as the smoke cannons either side of him go off, this flows into yet another track from the new album ‘Welcome to Death Valley Paradise’ with its stomping intro ‘Devil You Know’ drives into a another anthemic tune and a great display of the band’s song writing prowess.
With a change of guitar, Kris is now wearing the silver glitter Baccus baritone. ‘Wake Me Up When It’s Over’ has Kris singing gently as the song blends its way around this delicate tune, again from the new album, along with ‘Hostage’ that follows, a song Id not heard live.
With a steady drum beat it allows Kris to sing along as the guitars riff out, Kelpies bass is cutting through like an axe wielded by a demented Viking, is tied in tight to Billy’s kick drum, they both hammer the point home, hard, as Kris sings about the girl being toxic. The song finishes are the electric guitars are being exchanged for acoustics and a couple of stools have appeared at the front of the stage.
As they’re setting up a female voice screams out ‘I love you Kris’, Kris, head down plugging his lead in replies ‘Love you too’ followed by ‘thanks mum’, the crowd are giggling, he follows on with ‘weird thing for mum to say’ which brings more laughter. He introduces this acoustic piece as a ‘tribute’ to the songs that don’t get played anymore as they now have a lot heavier set.
We’re treated to ‘Propane’ a slow blues number from 2018’s Divine and Dirty with its southern blues groove and Simple Man a Lynyrd Skynyrd tune that Kris played acoustically back in April 2020 on his YouTube channel. A stunning song made his own.
With Josiah beside him, these two songs took on a new lease of life, in fact Simple Man is a personal favourite and unfortunately the dust in the room had me heading for some clean air. I actually went and got myself a tour hoodie from Jim on the merch, he seemed grateful for the company. It’s the 4th Night of the tour and he was telling me the merch had been flying out and that some sizes were already limited. I’m glad I had some dust in my eyes. I head back to catch the end of this great tune.
Stools tidied away, and blue Baccus std back in place, Kris tells us that the next song was the first song he wrote and was in honour of his dearly departed dad. Oh no! ‘Watching Over Me’ has me in tears every bloody time I hear it.
The goose bumps start as soon as his gravelly voice starts talking to his dad. I’m trying to make notes through tear filled eyes, I can’t so I give up. Call me a softy all you want but unless you’ve heard this loving son talk to his dad with so much respect and love in front of a packed room you wouldn’t understand the powerful emotion.
As the solo builds you can feel the connection between Kris and his Dad, there is no one else in the room as the haunting solo cries out, Kris is looking skyward, a call goes out for phone lights which blink into action as they are held aloft, Kris stops playing and holds his arms out to embrace the crowd, Jesus this is powerful and the highlight to the night. I hope someone had the sense to film it and share it later on.
Dust removed from my eyes I’m ready for ‘Not Fading’ from ‘Light it up’ which follows. This brings the mood back to a happier place. With blue lights strobing all over the stage, Kris and Josiah share solo duties, Josiah’s telecaster is being ripped a new one as he shreds like a demon, trading licks back n forth with Kris, Kelpies bass is registering in Edinburgh on the Earth Quake detector as it shakes the floor, walls and your insides. Guitars scream back and forth as they blow the cobwebs away smoke cannons erupt filling the stage with more smoke as the lights flash through it to great effect. Bloody hell that’ll work.
‘Who Needs Enemies’ is up next. A New Planet Rock ‘A’ lister and currently getting a lot of air time. With the stage still full of smoke, the fast red and white strobing has the venue glowing like something from Homer Simpsons place of work, Springfield Nucleur Power Plant (sector 7-G). Apparently, with a change to its verse chords it elevated the song to where Kris was happy with it. Crammed full of tapping and other guitar acrobatics Kris lets loose on this one.
Everything is going on; the blinders are in overtime as smoke cannons go off, Kris rips the solo on the sliver glitter Baccus guitar. The song finishes to cheers and whistles from the bouncing crowd. That song is certainly a great tune played live.
Before the final song Kris takes time out to thank the fans and says that although it’s only the 4th night of the tour it is the one that every other venue has to better. Kudos to Nottingham and the Rock City Crew.
The final song, ‘My Parade’ has the crowd singing along. Drummer, Billy smacks out the driving beat. Looking around me, there is dancing and singing a plenty, the night has taken on a party atmosphere with this upbeat number.
The Chorus has the whole of Rock City singing back. The energy on stage has gone to the next level, the bass and kick drum are slamming hard as ticker tape falls from its resting place high overhead. As Kris shouts ‘sing’ the crowd are there already. Removing his guitar, he grabs his mic and starts conducting the crowd from the security step on the barrier first one side then along to the other. Jumping back on stage he throws the glitter Baccus back on to finish the song. He and Josiah get locked in a riff war as the song builds to a screaming climax amidst huge cheers and screams for more!
The usual thank you and good night happens and the band leave the stage, the houselights stay off so that’s a good sign they will be back. Sure enough as the crowd grow hoarse from calling for more, the band reappear. Kris walks on and straps in, into the mic he says ‘I fuckin’ Love you Guys’ with a beaming smile. ‘Lovers or Losers’ from ‘Divine and Dirty’ finishes the night off with a bang. A throbbing bass line allows Kris to slide his way around this banger. The crowd are singing, and dancing, phones are raised capturing this final song of the night.
A nice classy tune to finish with. Horns are up as are several pint glasses in salute as Kris rips out a solid solo as he raises them up and shoots them down. More lights and smoke fill the main room at Rock City as Kris’s deft guitar work brings the song to a sudden end.
With that he asks the crowd for the obligatory end of show photo, you can sense the surge as the room moves forward in one to get in shot.
The promised album delivered and the tour is proving to be a great success if tonight was anything to go by. As we get chased out of the venue, I manage to have a quick word with Dale Ton and tell him its great to see him back on stage enjoying himself after the sad departure of him friend Tom. He’s beaming with appreciation. Another great night out in Notts
Welcome to Death Valley Paradise has something for everyone. A heavier album than previous ones, but one that marks a great change in direction for Kris and the band. There are 10 more nights to catch a show, its money well spent and beats watching the dreadful news on the TV. Live Music is back and last night it destroyed Rock City, Nottingham,
Intro, Hail Mary, Dead Horses, Rock And Roll Running Through My Veins, These Voices, Light It Up, Devil You Know, Wake Me When Its Over, Hostage, Propane (acoustic), Simple Man (acoustic), watching Over Me, Not Fading, Who Needs Enemies, My Parade