Home Gigs Gig Review : Thunder with Ugly Kid Joe and Massive Wagons: First Direct Arena, Leeds.

Gig Review : Thunder with Ugly Kid Joe and Massive Wagons: First Direct Arena, Leeds.

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Review by Pete Finn for MPM

It’s a glorious sunny Sunday afternoon, and the two old Muppets are off out on a Road Trip. It’s our last one together for a few weeks as the holiday and festival season kick-in.

We’re in the ‘Tour Bus’ and heading north to Leeds. We have taken a cool bag with plenty of sustenance (Diet Coke, Guinness, and Jelly Babies) in case we get lost and need to sleep in the car, with our track record for missing junctions it’s a real possibility.

The First Direct Arena is a venue I’ve not been to before, so I decided to see what I’m in for. Looking at their website I find this; “The Arena’s unique ‘super theatre’ style configuration is designed to enhance the arena experience, with all seats facing the stage and high-quality acoustics providing the best sound experience in the UK. Spectators and performers alike will enjoy a more intimate atmosphere with reduced viewing distances inside the 13,781-capacity venue.” I also like the option to check the view of the stage from near your seat position. Sounds good.

We work our way into the centre of Leeds and park up in a multi-storey opposite the venue, the guy on the barrier warns us there’s a possibility of a 90-minute wait after the gig to get out. So, we’ll have our running shoes at the ready.

We arrive at the Box Office to collect our tickets, but we’re not on the list. So, a phone call to Darren at MPM HQ, and with the help of the ladies on the desk they get it sorted between them, and we’re in just in time.

Tonight’s extravaganza gives us three bands that certainly know how to rock, we have Thunder, Ugly Kid Joe, and Massive Wagons. This is part of Thunder’s 5-date UK tour, Ugly Kid Joe are Special Guests for all dates, however, Thunder have invited an extra ‘local’ band to open each of the shows. There is definitely going to be a party in Leeds tonight.

Massive Wagons are Baz Mills (vocals), Adam Thistlewaite (guitar), Alex Thistlewaite (drums), Adam ‘Bowzer’ Bouskill (bass) and Stevie Holl (guitar). A question that often pops up is the origin of the Massive Wagons name. With the most popular answer being, it’s derived from an attribute of the barmaid in their local pub.

Now, I’ve never heard it confirmed or denied for that matter, that this is true. They have been at the forefront of the New Wave Of Classic Rock genre from the offset, supporting and promoting it in many ways, including a ‘Band Aid’ style version of their own monster track ‘Tokyo’. I’ve seen Massive Wagons many times, and they always produce a great show, including a pyro-laden Headline show at last year’s Rockin’ The Bowl Festival.

The opening song is the wonderful tribute to Status Quo’s Rick Parfitt, ‘Back To The Stack’, a crowd favourite. It sees those in the seats on the floor, up and bouncing. Baz patrols the stage with his mic stand above his head, looking a bit like a Dalek. The guitars line up in Quo fashion. Plenty around the hall raise their glasses to Rick, it’s a great start that sets the tone for their show.

‘Bangin’ In Your Stereo’ Alex’s pounding drum and Baz’s clever lyrics, this track has the Wagons fans playing their air guitars, middle fingers are raised in time with the lyrics. I look around and sense that there are a few in tonight who are experiencing Massive Wagons for the first time. They are liking what they are seeing and hearing. There’s a good cheer at the end. I can also see the stewards talking to people who are standing and dancing, that’s a shame.

Baz tells us they have a new back drop up, and it’s a great relief that it’s all spelt correctly. He continues that the next song is a new one, from the album they are currently making. It’s ‘Triggered’, it has a rock ‘n’ roll feel, Baz is speaking the lyrics as he’s stood on a monitor. Bowzer adds a pounding bass riff. Adam and Stevie exchange solos with Alex’s beats driving on behind. If this is a taste of the new record, it’s something to look forward to.

Baz thanks the crowd. From my position opposite the stage in the tiered seating the lighting seems a bit poor, hopefully Manny has managed to get a few shots, the sound is good though. ‘Hate Me’ from their well acclaimed 2018 album ‘Full Nelson’ is next, we’re asked to clap it in. Alex and Stevie provide chugging riffs. Baz is running from one side of the stage to the other twirling and spinning his mic stand. Alex ventures right to the stage edge as he plays his solo.

Staying with the ‘Full Nelson’ album we’re straight into ‘China Plates’ it’s about society’s obsession with Social Media, and how the various posts are interpreted differently. This is a high-octane track with intense lead breaks and thunderous drums from the Thistlewaite brothers, the end has Baz pointing at the crowd, “You, You, You”. Its conclusion is welcomed by widespread approval. Leeds liked it.

Baz apologises to the audience, apparently, he’s struggling a bit with his voice and it’s not where it should be. He continues to tell us that, “It’s Massive Wagons’ job to warm you up, get clapping, I want to get paid.” Everyone is clapping as ‘Nails’ from 2016’s ‘Welcome To The World’ starts. Alex is powering out the beats, whilst Bowzer’s bass is stamping on your chest.

A Roadie runs out onto the stage and starts wiping the floor by Adam’s feet, Baz goes over to him and gets him to sing along. Adam’s solo sees him light up his Flying V guitar. Baz is now up on the monitor headbanging. This is high-energy stuff, the band build to a big finish, which is met by a great roar.

Looking down on to the stage, Stevie Hols guitar lead is lying across the floor like the outline of a body from a murder scene. The final track of the way too short set is ‘In It Together’ the opening track from their latest album ‘House Of Noise’ a riff laden anthem, with clever and personal lyrics, we get to join in with the ‘Wo-ahs’. Baz is jumping around the stage, flicking his hair, he cries “We’re in it together Leeds.”

They finish the set to a great cheer from the crowd, and wave and smile at the crowd before leaving the stage. As they go off, Baz says “Rock ‘n’ Roll is alive and well and living in Leeds.” I don’t think anyone in here would disagree.

Setlist: Back To The Stack, Bangin’ In Your Stereo, Triggered, Hate Me, China Plates, Nails, In It Together.

American rockers Ugly Kid Joe were formed in 1990 in Isla Vista, California. The band’s name parodies the name of glam metal band Pretty Boy Floyd.

To date, Ugly Kid Joe have released four full-length albums, two compilation albums and two EPs. Their best-selling releases are 1991’s ‘As Ugly as They Wanna Be’ and ‘America’s Least Wanted’ released the following year, which were both certified Double Platinum. ‘As Ugly as They Wanna Be’ is notable for being the first EP to go platinum.

The band broke up in 1997 but announced a reunion in 2010 and has been together ever since. The line-up consists of founder members Whitfield Crane (lead vocals) and Klaus Eichstadt (guitars, backing vocals), with Cordell Crockett (bass, backing vocals), Mike Squires (guitars) and Cam Greenwood (drums, percussion). 

Cam is standing in for regular drummer Zac Morris who is currently immersed in his new career as a Substance Abuse Counsellor. Cam has played with UKJ before and is normally behind the kit for Terrorvision. Mike Squires is covering for Dave Fortman who is on Producing duties.

The band walk out onto stage minus singer Whitfield Crane and start the ‘Intro’ instrumental. A few minutes later Crane comes out onto the stage with a rucksack on his back, he removes the rucksack putting it down on the drum riser and they start with ‘Neighbor’ which is from the 1992 debut album ‘America’s Least Wanted’. Quick punchy heavy riffs, Crane is prowling the stage as he speaks the lyrics, the tempo change brings a sleazy sound. Eichstadt in shorts and golfing socks comes to the stage front for his solo. Crane lets out a big scream as Squires plays the outro. We liked that one.

Crane is stood off the front of the stage, on top of the bass bins as ‘Panhandlin’ Prince’ from ‘America’s Least Wanted’ begins. He starts everyone clapping, Klaus Eichstadt moves to the centre of the stage for his solo, Crane crouched down, stage right is singing to the front row. Squires opens up with a lead break as Crane asks Leeds to cheer. The crowd clap the track to its finish.

“It’s great to be finally doing a Rock Show after 2-years”, states Crane, he continues, “When I lean forward, I want to hear you scream. Got it?”, the crowd scream to confirm. It’s ‘No One Survives’ from the 2017 EP ‘Stairway To Hell’. This is slower with more spoken lyrics, but the beats from Greenwood and Crockett are heavy, during the track Crane leans towards the crowd, each time the crowd cheer louder. Good fun.

Staying with ‘Stairway To Hell’ up next, it’s ‘Devil’s Paradise’, this is possibly my favourite UKJ track, so I’m glad it’s been included tonight. Crane gets people waving their arms and shaking their hands, he’s skipping around the stage as he belts out the words. Greenwood is smashing his kit, so much so he’s broken a snare and gets it replaced as the song continues. Squires and Eichstadt are producing some really dirty riffs full of distortion. Brilliant.

Crane thanks Massive Wagons and Thunder, now we have a ‘Who is the loudest’ competition between the floor and the seats. The seats smash it. Then it’s ‘Cats in the Cradle’ again taken from ‘America’s Least Wanted’. This is a cover of Harry Chapin’s folk song originally released in 1974 reaching No. 1 in the U.S. Billboard Charts. The 1993 Ugly Kid Joe version reached No. 6. Johnny Cash also released a version too. This is sung with control and passion; Crane is sat down at the front of the stage on the bass bins. Leeds is on backing vocals, it’s a fabulous sound.

Next, it’s ‘Milkman’s Son’ which is from the 1995 album ‘Menace to Sobriety’, Mike Squires starts the intro, it’s riff and beat heavy. Crane’s vocal is gravelly adding bite. Squires solo has everyone’s attention as the notes fill the hall.

‘Funky Fresh Country Club’ is taken from ‘As Ugly As It Gets’ released in 1998. Starts with fast riffs from Eichstadt, crashing beats from Greenwood, and an amazing funk bass riff from Crockett. Crane cupping his mic and rocking to-and-fro as he calls out the words. Crane introduces Crockett for the bass solo before Eichstadt takes over. We have another sing off, as the crowd copy the notes produced by Eichstadt and Squires. The baton is passed to Greenwood for a quick drum solo.

We arrive at their final track. It’s the song from Ugly Kid Joe that is recognised by the first note, it is ‘Everything About You’ from ‘America’s Least Wanted’. Everyone is clapping, Crane commands everyone to stand up (the stewards don’t intervene). The crowd are on lead vocals as the track builds to a finish. It’s met with a huge cheer and whistles. The band acknowledge the crowd. Crane puts his rucksack back on and leaves the stage. Almost like a hitchhiker who has just shared a ride.

Setlist: Intro, Neighbor, Panhandlin’ Prince, No One Survives, Devil’s Paradise, Cat’s in the Cradle, Milkman’s Son, Funky Fresh Country Club, Everything About You.

In early 1989 rising from the ashes of the now defunct Terraplane, came one of the Monsters of UK Rock, Thunder. Four-fifths of the new band had been involved with Terraplane, Danny Bowes (vocals), Luke Morley (guitars/keyboards), Ben Matthews (guitars/keyboards) and Harry James (drums), the ‘new boy’ Chris Childs (bass) joined in 1996. Although they have split up and reformed a couple of times Thunder have been one of the mainstays of British Rock for several decades. In that time, they have released 14-Studio Albums, embarked on 22-Tours, and have by my reckoning appeared at the Monsters of Rock/Download festivals 6-times. That’s a very impressive résumé.

This tour is to support the new album ‘Dopamine’ which was released last month, but I guess the previous album ‘All The Right Noises’ released during Lockdown in 2021 will have a representation too, as it will give us a chance to experience the tracks live for the first time.

The lights go out, projected onto the huge black curtain is the name ‘Thunder’ and the familiar sounds of AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’ fill the arena to a huge cheer of excitement. The crowd are clapping in time. The curtain drops revealing the band behind and it’s straight into ‘Last One Out Turn Off The Lights’ which is from the 2021 album ‘All The Right Noises’. The five screens behind Harry are displaying the album cover. Luke Morley has his silver sparkle guitar hung low as he powers out the solo. Danny Bowes calls out for claps and screams. After that opening no-one will be leaving.

It’s straight into ‘Western Sky’ it’s the opening track from the new album ‘Dopamine’, it was also released as a single. Harry James’ hard beats and the crunching riffs from Matthews and Morley fire the track off. The vocals coming from Danny Bowes are immense.

Bowes addresses the crowd, “Thank you, how ya doing? Are you pleased to be out of the house? Give me some Hey, Hey, Hey” and we’re into ‘Higher Ground’ as we go back to the first album ‘Back Street Symphony’ released over 30-years ago in 1990. This is a genuine Classic. Morley with his guitar on his hip crunches out the notes, the Leeds crowd are clapping. Bowes holds a powerful note as he points to the sky. It’s Matthews’ turn for the solo. Harry James launches a quick-fire salvo on his drums. We take over singing the chorus, as the guitars line up close together for the big finish. The arena rises as one to their feet.

It’s a leap through time to ‘One Day We’ll Be Free Again’ from ‘Dopamine’, with a slower The Who sounding intro, Bowes is singing and only Morley is playing. The track builds as one by one the band members join in. Carly Green and Julie McGuire on backing vocals add harmonies to the track. I can feel the vibration through the floor from all of the foot-tapping, the chugging riffs get heavier.

Bowes say the next track is normally dedicated to the “Comeback Kid” pointing at Ben Matthews. “But tonight, it’s dedicated to everyone in here after Covid.” ‘Resurrection Day’ is taken from ‘Wonder Days’ which was released in 2015. With a flick of his wrist Bowes call for some clapping, then he asks us to sing back to him. His voice is sounding great. As the song finishes, he fist pumps the air and applauds the crowd.

It’s one from the new album ‘Dopamine’ which provides ‘Unraveling’. Luke Morley is playing his acoustic guitar; Bowes’ lyrics are slow and passionate. We have full harmonies from Carla and Julie, intricate piano from Sam Tanner. This is an epic power ballad; it finishes with a Luke Morley solo.

Next, it’s ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’ off the 2006 release ‘Robert Johnson’s Tombstone’. The stage glows red under the lights, there’s the silhouette of a female devil dancing on the screens. A grinning Chris Childs is pounding his bass supported by Harry as they drive the track forward. Bowes is serenading the crowd, the screens now showing a lava tunnel. The crowd are urged to join in and clap along. That went down very well.

It’s back to ‘All The Right Noises’ for ‘Destruction’, Morley’s guitar has a futuristic sound coupled with the chugging riff, it entices the clapping. Childs’ bass is giving a deep growl. The screens above are showing a trapped hand behind, it’s very James Bond film title sequence. This is moody, it’s creating a great atmosphere. There’s a huge cheer as it finishes, that was very good.

Bowes asks if we’d like an old one, laughing he says it was released in 1562 just before the Mary Rose sank. ‘Low Life In High Places’ takes us back to their second album ‘Laughing On Judgement Day’ which was released in 1992. Luke Morley has the acoustic out again, Leeds are singing lead vocals under Bowes’ direction, he asks for the lights to go on the crowd. Morley has exchanged the acoustic for a Flying V, Ben Matthews moves to the centre of the stage for his solo. Harry’s drum beats are shaking the arena. Morley back on his acoustic plays the outro as Danny Bowes gets the Leeds crowd to hold the final note. This brings huge cheers and claps.

The 2021 album ‘All The Right Noises’ gives the next track ‘Young Man’. This is rocky with a steady beat and hard riff. Morley and Matthews are centre stage as they overlap solos. This is a wonderful sound. The screens behind Harry’s kit are moving in time to the beats.

Luke Morley gets the crowd clapping. ‘Black’ is from ‘Dopamine’, the intro has a real 70’s Glam Rock vibe, the rhythm section of James and Childs are pounding out the beats, the keys are adding a subtle electronic sound similar to a Hammond organ. This track is both melodic and intense. The finish is pin point in its accuracy. They enjoyed that one.

The iconic ‘Love Walked In’ from the from the debut ‘Back Street Symphony’ gets a massive cheer as Morley hits the first note. Leeds is on lead vocals; from my vantage point I can see all the phones have come out to record the song. It’s a real favourite. Bowes takes back the lead vocals and demonstrates his power and range. Luke Morley’s solo is full of passion as he crouches down, or leans back as he plays, he could be in a Yoga class the way the music is bending him. Bowes builds the excitement towards the big finish; the crowd are cheering and whistling way before the final note is played. Leeds goes crazy.

“I want to see everyone stand up and jump.” Shouts Bowes, as we hurtle forward to the new album for ‘Across The Nation’, this is pure Thunder, genuine balls out Arena Rock. The guitars are lined up across the front of the stage. The place is jumping, it’s a sea of arms as they are waved over heads.

Without pausing Matthews starts the riff, everyone know it, there’s more cheers and whistles. What a way to close the set, it’s the title track off their first album ‘Backstreet Symphony’. I look around and everyone is up on their feet, the place is rocking. Bowes is pointing at the crowd to sing, there’s no need, they’ve been singing from the start. A huge salvo of beats from Harry James brings the show to a close. The band thank the crowd, the crowd thank the band as they leave the stage.

“Thunder, Thunder” is the cry. It’s not long before they return to the stage, grinning and acknowledging the audience, before starting ‘Last Orders’ from ‘Dopamine’. Luke Morley starts on lead vocals; strumming his guitar. Matthews joins in before Bowes takes over vocals. It has a marching beat; the others enter the track and fill out the sound. There’s a massive kaleidoscope effect across the screens behind.

Bowes asks us to clap our hands, staying with ‘Dopamine’ we have ‘Dancing In The Sunshine’, this is a real ‘feel good’ track, full of bounce, they want to party. It’s impossible not to nod or tap along. Carly and Julie are filling in with harmonies tying the track together.

Ben Matthews teases the crowd with a riff, Bowes asks if we’re tired, “No” is the scream, “Are you sure? I want to see jumping up and down, arm waving.” Bowes builds the excitement, then signals Morley to start the intro to ‘Dirty Love’ from ‘Back Street Symphony’. Matthews and Morley change sides running across the stage. We’re clapping, screaming, jumping and singing. Thunder finish their set and thank the crowd, before leaving the stage.

Tonight’s performance is a fine example of why Thunder have been a favourite of so many, for so long. There are a lot of people in Leeds who will be going home very happy. I don’t think anyone will be turning off the lights, just to make sure they’re ready for the next time Thunder are in town.

Setlist: Last One Out Turn Off The Lights, Western Sky, Higher Ground, One Day We’ll Be Free Again, Resurrection Day, Unraveling, The Devil Made Me Do It, Destruction, Low Life In High Places, Young Man, Black, Love Walked In, Across The Nation, Backstreet Symphony, Last Orders, Dancing In The Sunshine, Dirty Love.

Photography by Manny Manson for MPM

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