Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM
Well it just happens to be the hottest day of the year so far as I head the motor towards Birmingham and KK’s Steel Mill in particular. With 32.5C showing on the temperature gauge, I settle back to enjoy the coolness of the Air Con as I head into the setting sun.
This is sadly, another trip without brother Waldorf, he has previous arrangements with a certain Kelly Jones and the Stereophonics in Wales, so I head off on my own.
Arriving at the venue at 18:45, doors being 19:00, I’m amazed at the size of the queue already gathered waiting for entrance. There is no shade from the heat for these ‘early doors’, Mad dogs and Englishmen’ comes to mind as I pull into the small carpark at the top of the road. £2 all day, a bargain.
Once inside a quick hello to ‘Tice’, mien host if you will, tells me that it’s a sold-out gig. With tonight’s configuration that means 1200 hot and sweaty bodies taking the temperature through the roof so to speak. On top of that we have been asked to wear a mask in the pit, in fact KK’s have issued us with the limited-edition black KK’s special. I opt to wear a medical issue mask as it wasn’t as hot or as claustrophobic feeling. I grab a bottle of water and stuff it into my combat shorts pocket, I’m sure I’m going to need it.
Up first tonight we have ‘Tigress’, a quick google tells me they have been on the circuit for a few years and up until August 27th 2015 they were known as the, ‘The Hype Theory’. From then, they have been called Tigress. Not to be confused with the American hardcore punk band from Chicago. As is usual the support are pushed to the front of the stage, thankfully KK’s stage is a good size so they will have more room than in other venues. The mighty ‘Tigress’ backdrop hides Billy Talent’s drum kit from view. Behind which is a large video screen.
With a 30minute set ahead of them the band hit the stage on time at 20:00. Tom Harrison, guitar, stage right, Sean Bishop, guitar, stage left, Jack Divey, bass and Josh Coombes on the kit. Once plugged in Coombes sets about smacking out a driving bass and snare ‘rattle’, a riffing single guitar note joins him as the band fire up into ‘Powerlines’.
From the 2017 E.P. ‘Like It Is’. During this opening salvo, singer, Katy Jackson swaggers onto the stage in shorts (sensible choice) a pink loose tee shirt and her two-tone hair up in two buns like mickey mouse ears, only better.
Hooking into the driving beat, her vocal is full of angst as she sings about resetting the powerlines. Pacing the stage, it is a wide one tonight, the band go into ‘A Letter to Death’, with a “what’s up Wolverhampton! We are Tigress” the band are off again, full of distorted guitar and a steady rocking beat.
Divey on Bass is having fun, he must have his fit bit on tonight as he’s rocking out like a demented soul. Jackson screams “get your hands up”, surprisingly the crowd punch the sky as they enjoy this one from their 2021 album ‘Pura Vida’.
Bishop with the long hair on stage left has his foot on a monitor as he goes into a distorted run of filthy riffage, “let’s hear it for Sean on guitar” cries out Jackson.
Another from the album follows ‘Choke’, it kicks in with its simple opening riff from Harrison who is joined by Bishop with a heavy fuzz laden cry from stage left, His Cort guitar is full of synthesized pitch shifting badness, not unlike the sounds that Matt Bellamy of Muse makes.
‘Feel It’ again takes over where choke left off. With a strong vocal Jackson sings “Hey Hey Hey” as she fist pumps at the crowd who duly oblige and fist pump back. Pacing back and forth, Jackson sings softly as the drums crash around her, Bishops guitars softly cries in sympathy to her lamenting vocal. Standing next to Bishop she screams out the finish to the song.
Next up is ‘Headaches’ which starts off with a zingier vibe. This is from the 2017 E.P. ‘Like It Is’. A solid drum beat and riffing guitars give it a solid foundation for Jackson to lay down a powerful vocal. As the song moves along with a strong back line the guitars seem a little lost in the mix, It, could be that my vantage point is bass positive so I’m missing some of the fidelity of the tune.
Bring Me Down’ is up next from the 2018 E.P. ‘Who Cares’, this has Bishop spinning around while he’s playing, the sweat is running off me so I appreciate his energy, its super warm in here tonight, as they crush this powerhouse of a song.
Plenty of fuzz laden licks and some great tom and cymbal play on the kit throw this song at the crowd who are happily bouncing along to it. ‘Alive’ is up next, again from an E.P. this time 2015’s ‘Human’. With an intro that immediately struck me as being very ‘Starset’ in sound. Lots of crushing drums and crashing cymbals bookend a driving guitar as, again, Jackson proves she’s got the pipes to deliver a great tune, in fact on relistening to this tune I have to say it’s my favourite of the set, Jackson’s voice is powerful, a great tune, if one of their older tracks.
Jackson shouts out “Wolverhampton are you feeling alive, I SAID ARE YOU FEELING ALIVE”? the crowd are clapping and cheering in response.
Alright we have one song left”, she screams as Coombes strikes out a very fast Queen style drum riff, Boom Boom Dah Boom Boom Dah, is hit hard and heavy on the kit, the fuzzy guitars explode into action. The dead pan delivery of Jackson gives this, their final tune an eerily vibe.
Bishops guitar is full of Bellamy’s squealing pitch shifting sounds as they power on, driven by Harrisons hard riffing and explosive concussion from the drums, screaming out, “I can’t hear you” and “Get your Hands up” the song continues as the crowd clap along as the song finish, the music and lights slowly fade as the band walk off the stage.
A great opening set from a band I’d not heard of until now despite them having toured extensively, supported Skindred and played alongside Don Broco, Enter Shikari and Yonaka.
After the usual half hour stage swap over, we are ready for the main act. All the way from Canada, Billy Talent. This band has gathered a loyal following of fans along the way, they are in tonight despite the heat. Originally formed in 1993 they went by the name of PEZZ, in 1999 they changed their name after a U.S. band challenged them for the sole use of it. Changing to Billy Talent thereafter. The name is not that of the bands singer as was thought by a lot of people but from a character in Michael Turners Novel, ‘Hard Core Logo’. It was at this time that the band embarked on a more aggressive, hard core post punk sound.
As Ian D’Sa, guitar, Loel Campbell, bass, and Jonathan Gallant, drums, get their positions on stage the crowd erupt! The lights and sound hit like a Tsunami as Benjamin Kowalewicz hits the stage, and engulfed in bright red light, launches into the vocal for ‘Devil in a Midnight Mass’. This hard-hitting tune from 2006’s Billy Talent II, has the crowd bouncing straight away despite the heat.
Ben’s Foot is up on the riser centre stage as he’s wrapped around the microphone delivering this edgy opening number. This is followed up with ‘This Suffering’ from the same album and continues with the onslaught. Ok it’s a slightly slower song but carries the same socially minded issues that the band write about.
With barked backing vocals from D’Sa and Campbell the song continues about having a friend to help you out. The sound is immense. Ben’s voice is dry and on point as his unique vocal style continues to deliver through-out the song.
The guitar jangles as the drums kick in for ‘I Beg to Differ(This Will Get Better)’, the first song tonight from the new album ‘Crisis of Faith’. The almost spoken style of sung lyric fits in with the driving beat being delivered by a hard hitting back line.
The sweat is flowing as they work out hard. The heavy hitting drum slams out as the melody is picked up by D’Sa as ‘Afraid of Heights’ now plays out. This steady beat gives the band a slight reprise before going stratospheric with ‘Try Honesty’ after a rant about the UK being afraid of Air Conditioning.
In fact, he calls this song Air Conditioning as the yellow spots fire up into the crowd, who seem oblivious to the heat, are singing back as one. The high energy delivery and racing around the stage, I’d been told to look forward to was simply not happening, possibly due to high temperatures and a 19song set.
Despite being uncomfortable with the heat he thanks everyone for taking the time to come out and see them. He mentions the band played the local Civic Hall some 19 years ago. While he speaks the hi hat is steadily marking time. As they go into 2006’s ‘Pins and Needles’, Ben shouts out “this song goes out to all the old school Billy Talent fans”.
A steady guitar picked intro marks the start to this banger, singing about his insecurities, the band joins in as does the crowd. We have some hard-core fans in tonight. He lets the fans sing as he stands on the riser and conducts them beaming like a proud school music teacher. The thud thud drum beat has the security in the pit nodding their heads.
‘Rusted from the Rain’ from 2009’s Billy talent III, isn’t going to happen today with the all that excessive heat. With a drum stick count in, white spots flare up from the set, straight into the crowd, the drums slam out the bouncing beat as the recognisable jangling guitar sounds out. During the breakdown, Ben’s on the riser throwing water into the crowd, the outstretched arms keeping time get a bit or a watering. It’s certainly a warm one, as I wipe the sweat from my palms for the third time during this song.
‘Surprise Surprise’ from 2012’s Dead Silence follows. The tight snare rings out as the fuzz laden guitar races around creating the melody line. The yellow spots are bouncing along with the crowd as this racy number flies along, straight into ‘The Wolf’, another from the latest album.
This starts off with the band in shadow, as lights flash from the sides in time to the percussive snare crashes. This slow ballad cruises along and, surprisingly, shows how fine a singer Ben Kowalewicz is. His unique style sounds comfortable in this slower delivery, it’s still full of power but has deliberate restraint and it makes for a great song.
This is followed by a song that Ben says tell us they don’t play very often. With it being written over 20yrs ago it seems more appropriate today. Ben tells us “we need to be easier on each other”. Again, the band are in shadow as they start into ‘Nothing to Lose’ from the original Billy Talent album released in 2003.
The band sing backing vocals as Ben winds this song up with screaming lyrics and a steady guitar riff. The crowd have sung this one and deliver a huge round of applause when it finishes. ‘Surrender’ again from Crisis of Faith fires out with its lamentable intro.
We’ve entered the slower section of the set remarks Kowalewicz. As the crowd continue to sing along. The backing vocals seem to be extra loud on this particular track, Ben’s on the riser as the crowd sing and clap along, he finishes by singing Surrender repeatedly, the lights fade as he does so.
Again, the hi Hat is marking time as the band go into ‘End of Me’. Its chunky guitar riff is fat n funky as yet again the tech visits his mic stand / pedal board, we have some sort of issue but thankfully it’s not impacting the tasty solo being delivered as Ben, again, leaves the stage, no doubt for another quick wipe down with a fresh towel.
An oldie but goldie is up next, ‘Forgiveness 1’ full of angst and driving guitars has the crowd singing again. The crowd are all arms as they bounce along to the dirty guitar and thundering drum riff. With some great off beat ride ‘bell’ hits this crazy number from the single released in 2019 has gone down well and has opened up a dirtier side to the set.
‘Reckless Paradise’ from the new album, full of faster beats and a more dynamic sound is up next. The band are bathed in green light, as this song rocks out, I notice folk marching past me to the smokers outside area for a cool down, it must be pretty crowded in that small enclosure.
The last song of the set is ‘Devil on My Shoulder’ from Billy talent III, this 2009 banger follows on but not before Ben tells us that he’s spoken with Josh, the bands original drummer, the previous day.
He tells that he’s ok and doing well. For those who don’t know Josh has MS and despite his diagnosis continued to play while he self-managed it. Unfortunately, in 2016, it flared up and it became obvious that Josh would have to make the decision to retire from drumming, he gave the band his blessing to continue with out him. They are all still good friends to this day.
With the band lit by devilish red light, they fire up into this crowd favourite. They are bouncing along like a stormy sea, to this tune full of tempo changes and instrumental breaks. A great strangled solo cries out as Ben, drenched in sweat is back and forth across the stage.
The fat bluesy solo is full of double stop goodness which has the crowd clapping along in appreciation. D’Sa and Gallant lock horns in front of the drums and rock out, D’Sa’s flat top hasn’t wilted at all from the heat, there must be a fair bit of product holding that aloft! The tempo builds, once again, to a thudding bass line and a single distorted guitar note as the band are introduced.
Ian D’Sa on guitar and Flat top, Jonathan Gallant on Bass and Loel Campbell absolutely smashing it on the drums.
Again, Ben thanks everyone for turning out, especially the moms, he tells us he became a dad during the pandemic. “And now we sing” he shouts, ‘I’ve got the Devil on my Shoulder” is repeated until the band lock in and bring the song to an end bathed in red light.
The decision is made to carry straight on with the ‘encore’ songs, no leaving the stage to be called back on by the fans. They are straight into a classic banger, ‘Viking Death March’ from 2012’s ‘Dead Silence’. Standing at the back near the doors its slightly cooler as I wipe my brow yet again.
The crowd are still bouncing along, as the strobes flash out the singing starts. With fingers pointing, the fans and band rock out. The distorted guitar sizzles as the heat is off the chart, Ben prowls back and forth during the repetitive guitar lick, the crowd clap along. With snare snaps and lighting flashes the song is brought to an end to huge crowd appreciation. KK’s like that one.
The ‘Fallen Leaves’ chopped guitar intro has the crowd singing straight away. Bens vocal is just heard over the crowd as they sing “Fallen Leaves” “Fallen Leaves”. With a Thank you again the crowd continue to sing along, he pauses momentarily as the singing continues.
The song finishes to more claps and cheers. As Ben acknowledges the fans, the slamming drum beat continues, red strobes flash out as it booms around the venue. Ben shouts out “there’s a rumour that we might be coming back in the new year” with a count of 1-2-3 the Crowd sing out to ‘Red Flag’ the closing song of the set.
Bathed in red light this high-speed song screams along, the crowd are still singing and bouncing along. Ben has a finger in the air as the clapping from the fans gets more intense, he rolls the lyrics out as the drums crash around him, a screaming guitar rings out as he wishes everyone a safe journey home and to be more compassionate to others. The song builds to a final salvo, and with a simple thank you almost drowned out by the crowd the night is over.
Wow what a night, a great set played hard despite the heat. I didn’t hear a bad thing said about the band from the crowd on leaving apart from they don’t tour the UK often enough. This short, three-night rescheduled tour, has proven that the band still have a massive following, here, in the UK, making the rumour of a big tour in 2023 looking all the more likely. Roll on 2023!