Review by Pete Finn for MPM
Although it is a cool and damp Tuesday evening, the offer of a trip to one of our favourite venues, combined with the performances of two absolutely banging bands, was too much for these two ‘Old Muppets’ to resist.
So, it’s with a great deal of excitement (even with the potential of never-ending road works and diversions), we set off in our tour mini-bus (which happened to be Mrs. M.’s) and head in to the Black Country. KK’s has one of the best set-ups on the tour circuit, great sound, easy and cheap parking, and very reasonably priced beer. The reason for all this excitement, on the bill tonight are two of our favourite bands, Aussie rockers Airbourne with support provided by the Welsh power trio of Florence Black.
Tonight’s gig is the jam of a ‘Festival Sandwich’ as both of the bands appeared at last weekend’s Maid of Stone Festival, and will also appear at this weekend’s Steelhouse Festival.
We park up in a nearby carpark, £1.20 for the evening, and head to the venue where the ever-efficient Security and Box Office teams soon have us inside. It’s a near sell-out with only a few tickets available on the door. As we enter the hall, Manny points out a sign above the door, it reads “This is gonna be F#@king loud.”
Florence Black hail from Merthyr Tydfil, in the rock/metal goldmine of the South Wales valleys. They were formed in 2012 by friends Tristan Thomas (vocals/guitar), Jordan Evans (bass/backing vocals) and Perry Davies (drums/backing vocals). Having learned from their peers, including local drumming legend Ray Phillips of Budgie, they have become known for blending heavy rock swagger with melody. Having seen Florence Black several times before, you find yourself looking around the stage wondering how come just these three people can produce so much power and noise.
The stage lights go out, Warrior chants are played over the PA, the band walk out onto the stage, waving ‘Horns’ to the crowd, then we’re off. ‘Zulu’ is from ‘Weight Of The World’, the Shadows-esque plucking start is blown away by a fierce Perry Davies drum volley. Thomas, mic cupped in his hands is screaming the lyrics; the crowd at the front are nodding heads enthusiastically. The thunderous sound is shaking the floor, like a herd of charging elephants. Jordan Evans signals for the crowd to join in clapping. That’s an impressive start.
Perry Davies keeps the beat going, then adopts an “Animal” drum intro to ‘On the Ropes’ taken from ‘Weight Of The World’. Thomas and Davies double up on vocal duties an effective tag-team combination. It is quick and angry, full of ‘haymaker’ riffs and ‘upper-cut blows’. Thomas wants the KK crowd to raise their fists. It plays out to a big knockout finish.
Tristan Thomas asks “Are you feeling good Wolverhampton?”, with an affirmative reply we begin ‘Bird on a Chain’ which was released as a single in 2020, the start/stop beats and riffs are huge, the squealing guitar notes delivered by Thomas make you think of classic rock at its finest. This is really heavy. Looking around the crowd, I can see that they are enjoying what they’ve seen and heard from Florence Black so far.
‘The Deep End’ is from their debut album ‘Weight Of The World’ which was released during 2021. Tristan Thomas starts a heavy circular riff, then the rhythm section comes crashing in making the whole room shake. Thomas’ vocal is clear and powerful, the crowd are already punching the air in time to Perry Davies’ hard beat. Thomas has his eyes closed and leans back, pointing his guitar at the ceiling as he plays the solo, he’s feeling every note, just as we are.
‘Start Again’ is a new single, the first to be released from Album 2, which we should hopefully have later this year. More powerful, grungy and heavy riffs, Evans’ and Davies’ beats are stomping on your chest. Thomas’ sharp lyric slices through the growling and grumbling wall of sound. If this is a taster of the new album, it’s going to be a monster.
Returning to ‘Weight Of The World’ we get ‘Black Cat’. This has a stadium anthem sound, the vocals are evenly paced and controlled, they are the focus of the track, Thomas’ picks up the pace and belts out the chorus. It’s dark and moody, with a clever mix of distortion. A chugging riff carries the vocal to the forefront.
Tristan Thomas addresses the crowd, “We’re Florence Black from South Wales, thanks for coming down to see us.” Judging by the reaction, I think all those inside KK’s tonight are glad they did.
It’s ‘Smoke’ from ‘EP II’ released during 2017, aptly the stage is awash with smoke too, looking like a seen from Jack The Ripper era London. It has a dirty grungy sound with big riffs and bigger beats. Thomas’ guitar is chugging out chords, Jordan Evans’ bass is boxing the ears. The track is full of raw power. The crowd are clapping along, then we have a mini drum solo from Perry Davies to finish.
It’s time for their cover of Budgie’s 1973 hit ‘Breadfan’ which is on ‘The Final-EP’ released in 2018. A proud nod of appreciation to their fellow countrymen. It’s a faithful and passionate rendition of the classic track, fast, furious and delivered straight between the eyes. Florence Black are playing this track with respect. The KK’s crowd are loving it, their arms swaying above their heads. Brilliant.
The highly successful and Planet Rock favourite, ‘Sun & Moon’ from ‘Weight Of The World’ is Florence Black’s final track of what has been a superb performance. This has an epic sound and clever tempo changes, Tristan Thomas’ vocals and riff’s steer us expertly through the track, the strong beats of Evans and Davies indicating the way. The band play to a close with the crowd clapping along.
The band thank the crowd, who reciprocate with cheers and clapping. The band pose in front of the audience for a photo. There were a lot of Florence Black fans in here at the start, there’s a whole lot more at the end. That was a great performance, and has put a real buzz around KK’s.
Setlist: Zulu; On The Ropes; Bird On A Chain; The Deep End; Start Again; Black Cat; Smoke; Breadfan; Sun & Moon.
Antipodean hard rockers Airbourne (initially started as Airborne) formed in late 2001 in the Victorian city of Warrnambool by Joel O’Keeffe and his younger brother Ryan. Joel had played guitar since the age of 11 and Ryan got his first drum kit four years later also at the age of 11. Their early material was influenced by Australian rock artists AC/DC, the Angels, Billy Thorpe, and Rose Tattoo. From their debut ‘Runnin’ Wild’ released in 2007, the band have also released four other studio albums and currently the band are working on a new album to be released later this year.
They have rightly earned the reputation as a high energy, foot to the floor Rock band, so I don’t expect any ballads or acoustic strumming. The current line up consists of the original founding brothers Joel O’Keeffe (lead vocals, lead guitar) and Ryan O’Keeffe (drums, percussion), along with Justin Street (bass, backing vocals) and if my research is correct, the very recently recruited Brett Tyrrell (rhythm guitar, backing vocals) who was in Thunderstruck an AC/DC tribute act in Australia.
A 30-minute change-over reveals a stage containing a wall of Marshall amps and racks of lights. After rousing renditions of Iron Maiden’s ‘Run To The Hills’ and Motorhead’s ‘Ace Of Spades’ by the KK’s crowd, then a cheeky back-stage riff of ‘Ready to Rock’, the house lights go out. The soundtrack to ‘Terminator 2’ comes through the PA, as red lasers cut through the darkness.
The crowd inside KK’s are whipped up to a screaming frenzy, there’s an explosion of strobe lights and Airbourne launch straight into ‘Ready to Rock’ from ‘Black Dog Barking’ released in 2013.
The sound comes crashing over the audience like a tidal wave, KK’s Steel Mill will need a new set of ‘What 3 Words’, as its location has just moved. A shirtless Joel O’Keefe is screaming the lyrics, the crowd are screaming back at him as the band pound out the notes. What a start!
Without pausing or breathing we have ‘Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast’ from 2007’s ‘Runnin’ Wild’, the power is incredible, the beats are shaking my eyeballs, the riffs and lead breaks are like sirens. The band are criss-crossing the stage and then head-banging when they stop moving, the guitarists form a line for a Quo like rock-out. Joel O’Keefe is up on the monitors, whilst his brother Ryan is trying to hit his drumkit through the floor.
A grinning Joel O’Keefe says, “How ya doin’ Wolves? It’s good to see you again. Do you wanna hear some Rock n’ Roll? Rock n’ Roll is for life, let’s get mental.” From the 2019 album ‘Boneshaker’, it’s ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll for Life’. A squeal of feedback, followed by Ryan O’Keefe’s rapid drumbeat and we’re off, the start/stop track is hard and heavy, with a punk tempo, Joel gets the crowd clapping and punching the air. Street and Tyrrell adding backing vocals. The crowd add ‘Woah’s’ when called upon.
‘Back in the Game’ is off ‘Black Dog Barking’, a prowling Joel is chanting the words, the crowd are on backing vocals. Tyrrell fires out the riffs from the edge of the stage, Street is just a blur of hair as he slaps the bass strings. Joel comes the edge of the stage, leaning over the pit as he unleashes his solo. The band play to a big finish pointing their guitars towards the ceiling. That went down very well inside KK’s.
Joel dedicates the next track, “To all you beautiful girls dressed in black.” From ‘Runnin’ Wild’ we get ‘Girls in Black’, Justin Street is hunched over his bass, his hair going around like a Catherine Wheel as he bangs the strings. There’s a girl sat on someone’s shoulders near the front, Joel throws her a drink which she impressively catches.
He is now down in the pit climbing on a roadie’s shoulders and is off into the crowd, he’s playing is solo as he’s carried around, he gets a can of beer and smashes it against his head until it explodes. He returns to the stage where the rest of the band have been hammering out the tune before playing out to a big crescendo finish. The crowd are loving it, no-wonder as it’s great entertainment.
Joel O’Keefe screams, “Wolves do ya wanna rock?” A crash of cymbals and a flash of flame cannons start ‘Burnout The Nitro’ from ‘Boneshaker’. Joel gets the crowd chanting ‘Hey’s’ in-between his lyrics, Tyrrell plays a scratchy riff in the background as Joel hits the solo, brother Ryan’s bass drum is pounding the senses. Flames are going off at the front of the stage. We have another round of ‘Hey’s’ and fist pumps.
Joel asks if we want to hear ‘Boneshaker’ or Cheap Wine & Cheaper Women’, we cheer as he calls out the names to decide the winner. The title track of 2019’s ‘Boneshaker’ is next, Street’s bass is purring, the quick beats and short riffs are entwined around O’Keefe’s chanted lyrics, he punches the air shouting ‘Hey, Hey’, the crowd instantly follow his lead and join in. Pulsating strobes, a leap from the monitor by Joel and a big finish from the band see the track close.
Joel wants to know who’s at work tomorrow, a huge show of hands, he follows it up asking who’s at work tomorrow with a hangover, nearly everyone keeps their hand up. Taken from ‘No Guts. No Glory’ released in 2010 is ‘Bottom of the Well’, the stage is lit blue, a red spotlight on Joel, the band jam the intro, as Ryan O’Keefe hits his tubs, brother Joel starts the lyrics, the version is slower with a hint of blues. Between riffs Joel is punching the air, he walks the stage as he plays his solo, then as the pace intensifies, he starts bouncing, this guy has unlimited energy (and he has his right foot in a protective boot). He has a hand-held searchlight pointing around the crowd. He asks everyone to light up the hall, and according to Joel we’re looking alright.
Ryan O’Keefe keeps his bass drum beating, brother Joel calls for a circle pit to whip up a hurricane. It’s time for the title-track from ‘Breakin’ Outta Hell’, Ryan is stomping on his bass drum, the stage a mix of red and orange lights, the tempo quickens with the riffs, Joel is screaming the lyrics, Street and Tyrrell supporting with backing vocals, Joel finishes with his guitar held high above his head.
‘It’s All for Rock ‘n’ Roll’ is the song that was written for Lemmy, and is found on ‘Breakin’ Outta Hell’. A full anthemic chant, Joel is on his knees playing his guitar. A member of the road crew, Mr Watts, wheels out a travel case with a picture of Snaggletooth a.k.a. Warpig and Lemmy’s Bar on it, on top is a bottle of Jack Daniels and some plastic cups. He pours out JD’s and coke, then distributes them to the band introducing them to the crowd as he does so, before they all drink a toast to Lemmy.
The intro to ‘Stand Up for Rock ‘n’ Roll’ from ‘Runnin’ Wild’ quickens. Joel is charging from one side of the stage to the other jumping into the speakers, pausing as he passes the mic to sing the next line. The band play out to a big finish before leaving the stage, and the stage goes dark.
Time for the encore. Sounds of planes flying overhead comes over the PA, Ryan O’Keefe walks out and starts winding an Air Raid Siren, the rest of the band appear and start the intro to ‘Live It Up’ from ‘Black Dog Barking’. Street is spinning his hair, the crowd are punching the air, Street and Tyrrell move to the back of the stage clearing the way for O’Keefe to run around, the tempo slows Joel starts to throw cups of beer into the crowd to people who are sat up on shoulders, most of which are still quite full when they’re caught. All hell breaks loose as they turn it up for the finish, the crowd are chanting ‘Hey, Hey’ as Ryan O’Keefe pummels his drumkit into submission.
The final track of this monstrous show is the title track from 2007’s ‘Runnin’ Wild’, the foot is straight to the floor, everything goes to 11+, it’s fast, frantic, loud and fabulous. The intro is a full rocking jam, before Joel, foot up on the monitor starts belting out the words, he thanks his road crew for their support before asking the crowd to give them a cheer too. As the track reaches its finish, Joel gets everyone to sit on the floor, he then releases an army of ‘Jack-In-The-Boxes’ with a scream. A great end to a great show.
Setlist: Ready to Rock; Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast; Rock ‘n’ Roll for Life; Back in the Game; Girls in Black; Burnout The Nitro; Boneshaker; Bottom of the Well; Breakin’ Outta Hell; It’s All for Rock ‘n’ Roll; Stand Up for Rock ‘n’ Roll; Live It Up; Runnin’ Wild.
This pair of Jackhammer bands have destroyed Wolverhampton tonight, everything is still shaking and buzzing, the floor, the walls, my legs, chest and ears, the sign above the door on the way in was true, it was F#@king loud. It has been a superb rocking evening at a superb rocking venue. In fact, even the efforts of the Highways Agency can’t and won’t spoil the enjoyment of our night at KK’s Steel Mill.
Photography by Manny Manson for MPM