Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
Evergreen and ever-popular Marco Mendoza – bassist of a thousand stars – returns to the UK shores. He has a ‘New Direction.’ With a sizzling new album, an equally sizzling new band and a brand-new set of UK dates the former Dead Daisies, Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake bassist is living and touring to the max.
This charismatic rocker lives for playing live; it’s as central to him as his genuine caring heart is. A man of the people he possesses a rare level of connect and desire to engage and perform on stage. ‘New Direction’ – his fourth solo release – is an album that Marco, during his 100 minutes plus set, explains “We started this album back in 1935, we all went through a lot of hassles eventually finishing [the recording and production] in June ’21. At one time it looked like it wouldn’t be released until next year. I’d be 95 by then!”
Mercifully, his record label, Copenhagen’s Mighty Music, have pulled out the stops to ensure a release this year enabling Marco to tour with his new material and present us with the opportunity to witness it live. Viva La Rock!
Having kicked off his European tour with a couple of dates in Romania back in August Marco has been touring across a further ten counties – from Spain to Serbia – before landing in Scotland for a sterling set at Inverness’ Monsterfest last weekend. This evening – on a thoroughly wet, windy and generally miserable Wednesday – the UK tour kicks off at Hangar 18, Swansea. Tucked away on the western edge of the city centre this venue has been, deservedly, garnering an excellent reputation for a top-notch sound and being a great place for bands and punters alike.
With an always keen eye on the emerging talent Marco has elected to invite Scottish rockers Bad Actress to tour, once again, as his support. Or as the affable bassist, with genuine sincerity, puts it “I don’t like that term, they’re our co-headliners.” Marco has faith in this Inverness-based quintet and it’s safe to say during their 45-minute set they repay him in full, with interest added on for good measure. “They’re writing great stuff and going places” he adds.
They’re an enthusiastic bunch and chatting to them before hitting the stage it’s evidently clear that they’re loving life and genuinely appreciate every ounce of support they’ve received through gigging up and down the length of the UK. Explaining that it’s only since lockdown ended that they’ve managed to achieve a breakout over the Scottish border. No mean feat when you consider how far north they’re based!
They’ve taken a few knocks along the way but with a maturity rare at their age or stage of their career they’ve turned these negatives full 360 degrees. Recently cruelly described as something along the lines of “A goth, a wee nerdy guy, two wannabe Bon Jovi’s and a country western reject” the quintet are keen to enthuse how they’ve owned this disparaging social media comment into a reflection of their own individualities. A clear sign of their collective strength.
Indeed, Lemmy once sagely observed “People don’t want to see the guy next door on the stage, they want to see a being from another planet. You want to see somebody you’d never meet in ordinary life.” From the moment these five Scots burst on to stage to launch into the raucous glam metal of ‘Poison Snake’ we’re left in no doubt that these are an extraordinary group of youngsters having an absolute ball.
Rolling seamlessly into ‘Mama Ain’t Talking’ lead guitarist Chick whirls, his long blonde hair a blur. Bassist Alexi – otherwise known by his brand-new alias ‘Cowboy Jo’ – and his partner in crime Tommy B (rhythm guitar) hi-kick their way through this highly infectious rocker. Drummer Lui, ever an entertainer, spins his sticks effortlessly and wide-ranging vocalist Vinnie Vex prowls the stage front commanding the Hangar crowd’s attention, demanding “C’mon talk to me Swansea!”
2020 single ‘High Speed Heartbreak’ is given a slight Randy Rhoads / Ozzy edge as the unrelenting full throttle rock n’ roll shows no sign of easing up. Shredder-in-chief Chick carves a stunning solo from his custom-made Hilditch Raptor ‘Chick’ Signature six-string with ostensible ease. The marauding riffage of ‘Skin Tight,’ with barely a breath drawn, is heralded by a thumping beat delivered by Lui. The band are in a determined mood for sure.
The most appropriately entitled ‘Red Hot’ scorches a path with its furibund supersonic pace before the all-action ‘Outta My Head’ is dedicated, by Vinnie, to “All those who have started drinking already!” With a War Of The World sort of excitation to its intro the profoundly contagious ‘She’s Got Fire’ – the co-conspirator to recent single ‘Hot Stuff’ – leaves everyone grinning.
It’s less than seven months since Bad Actress made their Welsh debut at The Patriot over in Crumlin and they’ve certainly grown an infinity with these fellow Celtic lands. Vinnie rhapsodizes “It’s an absolute pleasure to be back on the road with Marco once again. Absolute pleasure to be back in Swansea for the third time this year” as the crowd are beckoned to take a step forward.
Rock n’ roller ‘Actin’ Like An Animal’ has a Beach Boy styled surf vibrancy about it. One that has been launched headlong into the glitter of the LA Strip. A complete prowler it’s a bonafide party anthem with Vinnie departing the stage to get up close and personal with Hangar 18. A connectivity Alexi reiterates in the stampeding ‘Low Down n’ Dirty’ that ratchets up matters.
BA’s blazingly energetic ‘Hellbound’ witnesses their set building up to a crescendo with the summery Ramones tones of latest single, and set closer, ‘Hot Stuff’ tearing off the roof in one fell swoop. Watch out for continued ascension from these ranks.
For this tour Marco Mendoza has engaged the services of two new colleagues in the opulent form of guitarist Ivan Keller and percussive-force Mario Lepoglavec. A brace of incredibly talented Croatians who crossed paths, in Belgium, with Marco when playing as part of one-time Trans-Siberian Orchestra touring vocalist, and current Whitesnake member, Dino Jelusick’s band. From what is seen during throughout the set this is a trio that has gelled into a tightknit outfit very rapidly.
Marco – with a rock n’ roll career over thirty years plus – has worked at the highest levels but seems most adept on the smaller stage. With a ‘rap sheet’ right out of the top drawer he could be forgiven for eschewing the smaller stage; however, this is where his lustre is most radiant.
Firstly, Mario settles behind his kit with the PA emitting forth Aerosmith’s gold-certified single ‘Pink’ before, with a tumbling roll, he welcomes his compatriot Ivan on stage. Delivering a howling initial solo from his aurora burst Schecter C6 Ivan gets in on the shindig. Marco follows, from back-stage, but navigates a tangent and heads not for the stage but directly for the crowd. Now that’s rock n’ roll! An immediate connect with the Hangar 18 gathering and they’re in the palm of his hand from the very off.
Returning to his mic Marco reflects “Good evening Swansea, we’re not many but we’re gonna have a blast!” It’s quintessentially Marco; unite with the crowd and make them at ease. There’s a core message herein; times are currently tough within the industry but let’s make the very best of it and demonstrate a support of unity for venues, promoters, and bands alike. It’s a resonance that radiates throughout.
With the crowd onside the triumvirate tear into ‘Take It To The Limit’ the first single from latest long player ‘New Direction.’ Bestowed the honour of album and set opener this downright honest rocker, recorded prior to lockdown, powers along in top gear with hooks aplenty. Slick licks and a ferocious beat coupled with Marco’s vocals, which put Steven Tyler to shame, result in a gloriously voluminous rush of the metaphorical herd.
The spotlight switches back to the previous release and its titular track ‘Viva La Rock.’ Pointing to the skies Marco sings “Gonna fly to the highest side” The levels of kinetic are high with the three-piece controlling masterfully. Ivan’s six-string delivery is old-school and wondrously delicious for it.
Taking a well-earned breather, following the opening twinned salvo, Marco continues to reflect upon how he can’t imagine towns and cities without venues to go and hang out and catch great music. Expressing genuine gratitude for the support presented he concludes “We’re right on the edge. It can go either way.” A stark reminder of the reality of the everyday struggles of grass-roots entertainment.
Marco has enjoyed a prosperous and lengthy career working alongside a sizeable number of high-profile names; a career which he passionately weaves, with rightful pride, into his live solo performances. Mr. Cat Scratch Fever, himself, Ted Nugent is the first to be honoured so with his 1976 single ‘Hey Baby.’ With a hip-swaying swagger this teeth-rattling rock n’ roller bays to our nearest celestial neighbour. A goosebump moment is recorded with the crowd reverently finger-clicking along accompanying Marco whilst he sings, without mic, at the very stage edge. A pin dropping would have been audible.
Introduced as being “Written about a girl in Hollywood who sadly lost her way” the nitrous injected ‘Sue Is On The Run’ is a loaded gun that is most receptively received. Neil Schon (Journey, Santana et al) gets a re-working Mendoza fashion with gutsy, blues-edged number ‘Hole In My Pocket’ having Lennon’s timeless ‘Give Peace A Chance’ masterfully inserted within. Peace signs are symbolically raised throughout.
With his faithful five-string bass rumbling Marco kicks out from the go-get as Ivan’s raw, bleeding riffing provides the backdrop for the instruction to not mess with the ‘Rocketman.’ Lifted from ‘Viva La Rock’ this foot-stomper is followed by the Zeppelin phased intro of ‘Look Out For The Boys’ that constructs heavenward with a blood-curdling clamour.
The contemplative ‘Shoot For The Stars’ – the second single of 2022 – and its heavenly melodious sumptuousness brings the tempo down in a caressing semi-ballad fashion. Complete with an impromptu ‘jazz break’ the band’s versatilities are amply substantiated before they diverge into a funky arena to loud appreciation. It’s Hill Street Blues with all the urban groove just minus the blue lights.
Transported back to 2007 and Marco’s debut solo release we’re treated to a rare outing for ‘Still In Me’ which alloys an Aerosmith-edge and a bluesy underpinning. Enthrallingly captivating it’s described by Marco as “A beautiful song that touches me in a special way. When I’m feeling melancholic and missing home.
Thin Lizzy’s ‘Are You Ready’ flicks its mane with the majesty of the king of the plains before ‘New Direction’ sooths in a contradictorily furious style ahead of a show-stopping funked-up rendition of Stevie Wonder’s classic ‘Higher Ground’ encompasses classic rock anthems ‘Chinatown’ and ‘Jailbreak.’ Perfection in a nutshell.
Leaving guitar and bass feeding back Marco, Ivan and Mario depart stage left to loud cheers to gather a moment of quiet sanctuary before returning to the bowels of the gladiatorial arena for one last time. ‘Sweetest Emotions’ upscales a funky up tempo; the brass section is a mere step away. The masterclass is at an end – the river has run its course from the mountain peaks through the meandering plains to the oceans wide. Viva La Rock!
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM