Review by Pete Finn for MPM
This is the first trip of 2023 together for myself and fellow ‘Old Muppet’ MPM Tog ‘Statler’ Manson. We’re heading west, towards the bright lights and traffic jams of Birmingham.
The tour bus is loaded with Diet Cola, beer and the left-over/unwanted sweets from our Christmas Selection Tubs (I hope the Manson’s haven’t left the same ones we did).
Tonight’s trio of bands are a co-headline offering from Black Stone Cherry and The Darkness, with support from Danko Jones.
The Resorts World Arena is a multipurpose indoor arena located at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Solihull, a little over 7-miles from Birmingham. It has a capacity of 15,685 seats. The venue was built as the seventh hall of the NEC complex. After 18 months of construction, the arena opened as the “Birmingham International Arena” in December 1980 with a concert by Queen.
In 2019, Resorts World Arena had the 5th highest ticket sales of an arena venue in the United Kingdom. On 9 March 2020, the NEC Group announced that they had submitted a planning application to Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council to expand the arena’s capacity from 15,685 to 21,600, which would make it the largest indoor arena in the United Kingdom. Though unanimously approved by councillors, the plans were put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We park up and have a 5-minute airport style bus ride to the arena. Manny gets his photo pass, my name isn’t on the list, but the helpful lady on the desk and her boss soon have it sorted and we’re in. Once inside the arena it’s clear that only half will be used tonight, it’s slowly filling as people finish their drinks and hot dogs.
Danko Jones is a Canadian band from Toronto. Formed in 1996 by namesake Danko Jones, Scaltro (John Calabrese) and Gran Sfigato (Michael Caricari). Danko Jones played consistently for two years after their formation in and around the north-eastern United States and Canada. Originally, they did not intend to release an album, preferring to have the band’s live reputation spread by word of mouth. Eventually, the trio relented and put out a self-titled six-song EP in 1998.
Since 2013, the band consists of Danko Jones (vocals/guitar), John ‘JC’ Calabrese (bass), and Rich Knox (drums). The band’s music includes elements of hard rock and punk and they are known for their energetic live shows. So far, the band have released 10-studio albums, their first ‘Born a Lion’ in 2002, and the most recent being ‘Power Trio’ during 2021.
The lights go out and fanfare music is played over the PA. The Canadian trio appear on stage, all dressed in black, with a wave of acknowledgement to the crowd the power riffs of ‘Saturday’ from ‘Power Trio’ start. The bass and drums are shaking the floor from the off. Jones’ lyrics are rapid and razor sharp. Calabrese and Knox’s beats have the crowd nodding. John Calabrese is windmilling in fine Pete Townshend fashion. That was an impressive start to the evening.
Now, it’s time for ‘I Gotta Rock’ which is taken from 2017’s ‘Wild Cat’ album. Calabrese starts the clapping. Knox’s beat accompanies Jones’ angry chanted words. This is quick. It’s a track that played at a festival will launch the crowd surfers. The hard rhythm section propels the track forward. Jones’ chants have the crowd clapping along as he points at them.
Danko Jones asks, “How are you doing Birmingham? Tuesday night is Rock n’ Roll night, a night when real rockers go out.”
Next, taken from ‘A Rock Supreme’ released in 2019 it’s ‘I’m in a Band’. Massive wash and feedback signal the start. It’s a bit Chili Pepper’s with an added cowbell sound, a mighty fine concoction. It’s slows it the middle allowing Jones to narrate the lyrics before Knox and Calabrese build the tempo to a riff laden finish.
Without pausing, we go right back to 2006 for ‘First Date’ from ‘Sleep Is the Enemy’. Rich Knox’s drums bring the track in. A heavy circular riff and steady beat give the track a punk sound. The band demonstrating a great variety of sounds. The strong vocal a big feature. I, like the Birmingham crowd are enjoying this. John Calabrese arms above his head gets the crowd clapping.
The charge continues. ‘Full of Regret’ is on the 2010 ‘Below the Belt’ album. A tight circular riff followed by rapid fire lyrics sees Jones catapult the track off. Big beats from Calabrese and Knox are boxing the ears. The breaks mid-track have real power, carried by Calabrese’s growling bass tones. The track concludes with a big finish.
‘Had Enough’ continues with tracks from the ‘Below the Belt’ album. Fast, hard classic rock riffs get things moving. Jones’ words match the tempo, this is powerful. The solo gives us another style, these are talented guys. The tempo rises and falls. We’re treated to a Calabrese bass break. That one went down well.
Danko Jones tells the Birmingham crowd, “I’m having a great time, and happy to be on tour with The Darkness and Black Stone Cherry.” He introduces the band, then from the 2002 debut album ‘Born a Lion’ it’s ‘Lovercall’. John Calabrese’s bass lick starts the track, quickly followed by Rich Knox’s steady drums. Danko Jones is rapping the lyrics. This is fun, and heavy.
The final song from a brilliant set is ‘My Little RnR’ from ‘Wild Cat’. The up-tempo beats and riffs keeps Birmingham on its toes. We’re treated to more cowbell sounds; the riffs are filling the hall. Jones powers out the riffs as Calabrese calls for the crowd to join in clapping. They play out to a big finish before Danko Jones says his final words of the evening, “Thank you Birmingham, have a wonderful Tuesday night.” The band wave and leave the stage. The Resorts Arena show their appreciation.
This was my first-time seeing Danko Jones play live, I’d heard a few of their tracks before and liked them. However, after seeing them play tonight it’s taken my appreciation to a new level. These are a must-see band if they get anywhere near to you.
Setlist: Saturday; I Gotta Rock; I’m in a Band; First Date; Full of Regret; Had Enough; Lovercall; My Little RnR.
The crews have a 30-minute to changeover. Rufus Taylor’s drum kit is on a riser and moved to the centre of the stage.
Originating from Lowestoft and formed way back in 2000, having recorded an impressive seven studio albums, all of which have made the Top 20 including a number 1, The Darkness have become one of the mainstays of British Rock, this band are well loved, and every rock fan can name some of The Darkness’ tracks.
Their 2003 debut album ‘Permission To Land’ spawned many iconic tracks, their most recent release was in 2021 and ‘Motorheart’. The Darkness are a band, that all rock music fans must see perform live. The current line-up which has been together since 2015 has Justin Hawkins (vocals/guitar/keys), Dan Hawkins (guitar), Frankie Poullain (bass) and Rufus Taylor (drums).
Recently, during an interview, Justin Hawkins said he injured his hamstring after attempting to recreate a “David Lee Roth-style” split jump on stage. “I did a David Lee Roth-style split jump and fucked up the hamstring in my left leg. It was a great jump, with my legs over my head, but when I landed, I went, ‘Uh-oh’.”
Hopefully, he’s fully recovered and ‘Match-fit’, also a couple of nights ago in Liverpool the pyro early on in the show, set fire to a light which caused an evacuation of the arena. The Bee Gee’s ‘Jive Talkin’ is playing, the hall standing area is full.
The hall lights go out and ABBA’s ‘Arrival’ is played over the PA as the band walk out onto stage, The Darkness logo lit up behind the drum riser. There is a ‘waterfall’ of pyro, Justin Hawkins is wearing a big black furry coat.
Frankie Poullain is looking very dapper in a turquoise suit. The opening track this evening is ‘Growing on Me’ from the debut album ‘Permission to Land’. Heavy beats, squealing guitar riffs and Hawkins high pitched vocal has the Birmingham Arena bouncing and singing along, the crowd are hooked. Justin Hawkins is duck-walking around the stage as Poullain gets the crowd clapping. A fine start.
Another oldie is next, ‘Black Shuck’ again from ‘Permission to Land’. Dan Hawkins has his guitar launching notes around the arena, Taylor and Poullain are assaulting the breastbone with punching beats, all this as Justin Hawkins, now bare-chested prowls the stage commanding his audience, “Gimme a D” he shouts, we respond, he comes back, “Now, gimme an arkness”. The track closes to a volley of flame cannons.
A wall of feedback dislodges some confetti from a previous gig, then from the recent ‘Motorheart’ album it’s the title-track. It’s an interesting song about a sex robot, a mix of tempos and riffs, some real heavy riffs and a magnificent Hawkins slide solo, Justin’s trademark pitch is exchanged briefly mid track as he tells us the reason why he bought her.
One of the crew (Mick Gray?) is on the stage playing the cowbell. This is high quality and high energy entertainment.
Next, it’s the title track from the 2005 album ‘One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back’. The stage illuminated red. Hawkins’ vocal is slower, almost speaking, but the beats are hard and the riffs heavy, complete with a sitar sound. We have a sing back with Justin as the band pauses. Then the Birmingham crowd are on lead vocals, as the flame cannons light up the arena when Justin leaps off the drum riser.
Apologies if I misheard the next bit, Justin introduces Ian “Soft Lad” Norfolk onto the stage with an acoustic guitar. ‘Heart Explodes’ is from ‘Easter Is Cancelled’ released in 2019. This is slower, ballad like, the intro has a ‘Radio Ga-Ga’ clap along. Justin Hawkins is narrating a story, the band turning the pages. The sound builds, arms are waving. It’s giving everyone chance to get their breath back after the high velocity start to the show.
The stage lighting is glowing gold, which can only mean the next song is from 2017’s ‘Pinewood Smile’ and the tongue in cheek ‘Solid Gold’. Justin is stood in the pit area atop the bass bins as he sings. The steady beat and over the top lyrics get the crowd nodding along. Hawkins now back on the stage is handed an axe shaped key-tar as he plays the track out.
We go back to ‘Permission to Land’ for ‘Love Is Only a Feeling’. Another slower one from their repartee, the sea of arms waving to and fro. Hawkins’ lyrics passionate, the riffs and beats heartfelt. The solo is spine-tingling. The outro delicate. “Are you guys having a good time?” asks Justin, “We’re in Birmingham, the home of Metal, let’s get bouncing”.
‘Japanese Prisoner of Love’ is taken from ‘Pinewood Smile’. Taylor launches a salvo of rapid drum beats leading to tempo changes. The sound rich and heavy. Theatrical in a classic Queen-esque way. The band given the opportunity to let all of hell break loose. Justin Hawkins leaves the stage, handing his guitar to Ian, who carries on playing, the guitarists line up Quo style for a Rock-Out.
Dan Hawkins starts powering out a riff, it’s ‘Givin’ Up’ from ‘Permission to Land’, this has a party tune intro. Justin Hawkins returns to the stage, he’s now wearing a patchwork jumpsuit with tassels, the arena is bouncing again. We chant the chorus.
‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’ from ‘Permission to Land’ is probably one their most well-known and legendary tracks, not bad considering it’s totally unsuitable for the radio. The crowd has just gone nuclear, Hawkins points his mic at the crowd for them to join in. He wants them to clap along, he performs a head-stand on the drum riser and starts clapping with his legs. The track finishes as Justin leaps off the riser to a fusillade of fireworks. This is high-speed, maximum energy rock n’ roll at its finest.
The energy and hits continue at full pace with ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’ again from ‘Permission to Land’. A few notes in Justin stops the band, he wants everyone to put their phones away and start enjoying themselves, the band resume. The crowd are clapping, singing and jumping, it’s a wonderful crazy atmosphere. The band are grinning and encouraging the mayhem. The track concludes to a symphony of flash-bombs.
Justin Hawkins thanks Danko Jones, and tells the audience to copy him, he starts waving his arms above his head. We reach the conclusion of the set with ‘Love on the Rocks With No Ice’ from ‘Permission to Land’. It has slower driving, dirty riffs with a pulsating beat. Justin Hawkins vocals adopt a sleazy tone to compliment the sound.
Dan Hawkins plays the solo; Justin climbs onto the shoulders of a crew member and is off into the crowd playing his guitar. As he returns to the stage Poullain and Dan Hawkins get the crowd clapping. Justin leads a yodel sing-back before playing a solo with his guitar behind his head. The track builds to a massive crescendo finish and concludes with a ‘crane’ leap from Justin and a barrage of flames, fireworks and strobes.
As always with a Darkness show, it’s top-quality entertainment provided by brilliant musicians, with a ‘Give ‘em everything’ attitude. A show that never disappoints, and this one tonight in Birmingham was a superb party full of unadulterated excess.
Setlist: Growing on Me; Black Shuck; Motorheart; One Way Ticket; Heart Explodes; Solid Gold; Love Is Only a Feeling; Japanese Prisoner of Love; Givin’ Up; Get Your Hands Off My Woman; I Believe in a Thing Called Love; Love on the Rocks With No Ice.
Black Stone Cherry originated in Edmonton, Kentucky. Chris Robertson and John Fred Young, son of The Kentucky Headhunters’ rhythm guitarist Richard Young, started to play music together early in their teens and were soon joined by Ben Wells and Jon Lawhon. Black Stone Cherry officially formed on June 4, 2001.
They were signed to Roadrunner Records until 2015; the band is now signed to Mascot Label Group. On June 2nd 2021, Black Stone Cherry announced that bassist Jon Lawhon will take an indefinite hiatus from music and touring.
The band consists of Chris Robertson (lead vocals, lead guitar), Ben Wells (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Steve Jewell (bass, backing vocals) and John Fred Young (drums, backing vocals). Black Stone Cherry has released seven studio albums, their self-titled debut in 2006, with their most recent ‘The Human Condition’ in 2020.
Again, the crews have a 30-minute turn-a-round. The crowd entertain themselves with a great sing-a-long to Tenacious D’s ‘Tribute’ and Iron Maiden’s ‘Run To The Hills’.
A huge white curtain covers the stage. The house lights go out and Sam Smith’s ‘Unholy’ is played over the PA. Those that can see behind the curtain cheer and whistle as the band make their way out, the cheers of anticipation ripple back through the crowd, as the band members silhouettes appear on the curtain.
It’s straight into ‘Me and Mary Jane’ from the ‘Magic Mountain’ album released during 2014. Chris Robertson’s lyrics start us moving, the band come crashing in, as the curtain drops and smoke cannons burst into action. The arms of the crowd are punching the air, I look around and see them singing along too. Young is striking the drums with venom; the whole arena is shaking. Ben Wells in blue tartan trousers and Steve Jewell either side of Robertson are headbanging and bouncing around the stage. The Resorts Arena take over lead vocals. WOW, what a start.
Without pausing, we’re straight into ‘Burnin’’ it’s taken from ‘Family Tree’ released in 2018. Quick tempo and dirty riffs, orange and red stage lights, with the smoke cannons creating a great spectacle. Young is pounding his kit and twirling his sticks as the crowd clap along. Ben Wells is twisting and high kicking like no-one is watching. Robertson comes right to the stage edge up on a riser leaning towards the crowd as he plays his solo.
The foot is firmly on the peddle. ‘Again’ is taken from the recent ‘The Human Condition’, this is slower and steady, but hard as nails. The crowd are on the chorus, Wells and Jewell crossing the stage like dog-fighting pilots, before ascending the drum riser to continue their dual.
“Hello Birmingham, how y’all doing?” asks Robertson, Wells continues, “Every time we come here, we’re welcome.”
From ‘Folklore and Superstition’ next we have ‘Soulcreek’, a Swamp Rock anthem, it’s impossible not to sing along, this has a rock steady beat overlayed with chugging riffs. The guitars sound fantastic, with a good heavy, dirty sound. We’re belting out the backing vocals, as Robertson plays his solo low down at the naughty end. Ben Wells grabs a drumstick and tosses it into the waving hands of the crowd.
There’s a mass swapping of guitars by the band, and a ‘Hey, Hey’ chant is started, we have ‘Blind Man’ from 2008’s ‘Folklore and Superstition’ album. Robertson plays the intro; the crowd go to another level. Wells crouches down low as he fires out the riffs, Jewell foot on the monitor singing along. The pair encouraging the crowd to clap, not only do the crowd clap, they take over lead vocals. The band play out to a big finish.
A country style lick from Wells, then Young’s beat and Robertson begin ‘In My Blood’ from ‘Between the Devil & The Deep Blue Sea’. This is slower and full of emotion, Robertson’s vocal controlled. The band pause momentarily and the crowd take over the vocals. Young is off his stool as he smashes the cymbals. The stage lighting creates a glitter-ball effect around the hall.
Chris Robertson asks for the house lights to be switched on, he says they have a new song out, and would anyone like to sing it with them. Next, we’re treated to the new single ‘Out Of Pocket’, released earlier this month. Crushing beats and a heavy riff start the track, the tempo drops as we listen to the story, before it explodes again accompanied by smoke cannons. This has some massive riffs. Jewell’s bass is angry and shouting. The track sounds great live, and a brilliant taster for the new album.
Ben Wells tells us that “Birmingham feels like home”. ‘Like I Roll’ is taken off of ‘Between the Devil & The Deep Blue Sea’. This has a real Southern Rock feel, full of ‘Good Ol’ Boys’ energy and feeling. Chris Robertson wants hands in the air, we oblige and clap in time. His solo brings the track to a close.
The 2016 release ‘Kentucky’ is the source for the next track ‘Cheaper to Drink Alone’. John Fred Young’s drums a prominent feature with Steve Jewell’s cheeky bass breaks. Chris Robertson adds a bluesy guitar solo.
A snare drum appears and is added to the kit, John Fred Young removes the top of his hi-hat and starts hitting his drums with it before launching into a blistering solo. You have to look hard to make sure that there are no extra arms up there with him. The rest of the band return and the heavy riffs bring the track to a finish.
The epic and emotional ‘Things My Father Said’ from ‘Folklore and Superstition’ is next. This slow ballad has the Birmingham crowd singing from the first line. I find myself just listening and watching, soaking up the moment. Chris Robertson is singing with his heart. The phone lights are on, the atmosphere is amazing. And breathe.
A total switch in style brings us ‘White Trash Millionaire’ from ‘Between the Devil & The Deep Blue Sea’. The big beats and rapping lyrics played with some crunching riffs has the crowd jumping again. Robertson teases the solo from his guitar strings, the arms are punching the air. Young is off his stool again. Jewel and Wells covering every inch of the stage, wringing the notes from their guitars necks.
The party continues as the riffs start for ‘Blame It on the Boom Boom’ again from ‘Between the Devil & The Deep Blue Sea’, the crowd instantly recognising it they start clapping and chanting ‘Boom Boom’. The lyrics rapid as are the beats, Birmingham is singing its heart out. Wells and Jewell are still charging around the stage, as the smoke cannons go off around them. That went down very well.
From their 2006 debut ‘Black Stone Cherry’ album it’s ‘Lonely Train’. Fast and hard are the pace and riffs. Birmingham are chanting the ‘Hey, Hey’ chorus, this is full body contact for the senses. The band play to a big jam crescendo finish. The band wave and leave the stage.
The crowd are cheering, whistling and stamping their feet, calling for Black Stone Cherry to return to the stage. Eventually, they return and after thanking the audience and the other bands, they start a cover of Birmingham band The Electric Light Orchestra’s 1979 hit ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’. It was ELO’s highest charting track in both the UK and the USA, and the “Bruce” fill, was never recorded as “Bruce” but, was a made-up word “Groos” people mis-heard it and sang “Bruce”, as does Jeff Lynne when he plays it now. Black Stone Cherry have this track is also on their ‘The Human Condition’ album. Jeffrey Boggs, bongos and congas, joins John Fred Young on the drum riser.
The Resorts Arena is duetting with Robertson, the arms are waving, heads nodding. Steve Jewell has his foot half-way up the stack. This is going down very well. Ben Wells plays the solo crouching down of the riser. The band all finish up on the drum riser for the finale and an explosion of smoke cannons.
It’s been an absolute banger of a performance from Black Stone Cherry. With a great mix of old and new tracks. Unfortunately, there are only a couple of dates left on this tour to see them, and you’d be missing a superb night of live music if you didn’t grab the opportunity. They are back in the UK in the summer for a headline slot at The Steelhouse Festival in Wales.
Setlist: Me and Mary Jane; Burnin’; Again; Soulcreek; Blind Man; In My Blood; Out Of Pocket; Like I Roll; Cheaper to Drink Alone; Things My Father Said; White Trash Millionaire; Blame It on the Boom Boom; Lonely Train; Don’t Bring Me Down.
Photography by Manny Manson for MPM