36 min read

Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM

Another hectic Saturday and I’m alone, strapped in and heading for the ‘NEC’, as the Resorts World is affectionately known by those amongst us who have trodden the earth for a good number of years. I’ve chosen to prepay for parking so I’ve got a ‘charging slot’ in the EV parking area a short bus ride from the box office. It’s been a little while since I’ve been here so I’d forgotten how well organised this sprawling metropolis of a venue is. This time there is no meet, greet and being ushered to our congregating area as before. Once we have self-assembled, we are briefed and then left until we are collected and ushered to the side of the stage minutes before the set times.

Up first is MAMMOTH WVH, Wolfgang Van Halen’s band, the name being derived from one of his dad’s, the GOAT Eddie Van Halen’s former bands, in fact it was the band that went on to be known as Van Halen. There has been a lot of speculation about Wolfgang’s abilities, and I have to say that he is quite the accomplished musician, although the comparisons to his father, although frequently made, should now be dropped to allow him to spread his own wings and develop into the musician he is meant to be.

Standing stage side, it’s all too apparent how massive the Birmingham’s Resorts World Arena is, crammed full of eager face’s, most adorned with various vintage SLASH, Myles Kennedy and Mammoth tour tees, ready and waiting for a Saturday night full of unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll, you can’t help but feel humble as music, yet again, has united fans from across the midlands and beyond as they’ve converged on this huge arena to witness modern day musical greatness. Tonight, the opening leg of the UK tour, Mammoth WVH are the opening for the legendary SLASH featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators, here on the ‘Rest Of The World ‘ leg of their ‘The River Is Rising’ world tour. Already the atmosphere in the venue is charged with anticipation, and as the very first chord is struck, it’s clear the fans, already light in their loafers, are here to enjoy themselves.

Mammoth WVH launch into their set with an unbridled energy, kicking things off with “Another Celebration at the End Of The World” from the sophomore album, MAMMOTH 11, it immediately grabs the fans attention with its infectious riffage, powerful drums provided by Garrett Whitlock and as ‘Wolf’s’ powerhouse vocals gets the show on the road, the front row against the barrier have the fists pumping and the heads nodding from the get go, the song breaks down with some heavy blast beats from Whitlock and sees “Wolf’ coming forward as he plays up in the dirty end for the gathered press, he’s got the chops as the crowd are now firmly in the palm of his hand is this a partisan crowd? check!

This was followed straight away by the gritty and hard-hitting “You’re To Blame”, this one being from the eponymous, debut album MAMMOTH WVH, it demonstrates the undeniable cohesion between WVH, who writes and plays all the instruments on the recordings, and the band’s musicianship, as they each interpret the original to give an outstanding live performance.

This has particular song has a great vocal, as the band, bathed in blue and red lighting continue with its high-octane delivery. Sidoris and Jourdan are both providing excellent backing vocals and guitar as ‘Wolf’ is up front ripping into the solo, his EVH SA126 guitar, headstock pointing skyward as he does so.

There’s no denying that frontman Wolfgang Van Halen has an undeniable stage presence, his slick guitar work, yes, we get the EVH finger tapping, but its controlled, matching his relaxed demeanour on stage. He effortlessly chats about how good it is being back in Birmingham and that he has borrowed Frank Sidoris from the Conspirators, to play in his band.

The crowd are cheering, whistling and screaming as he slowly makes his way to the microphone once the song is finished, he is beaming like a Cheshire cat, his whole face alight with appreciation of the reception he is being given. Gripping the microphone and stand with both hands, he speaks out, asking how Birmingham is doing, the response is deafening, He tells us all “it’s great to be back”, last time he was supporting Myles Kennedy and Alterbridge, He also thanks SLASH for having him along on the tour and for letting Frank Sidoris play in his band too, double bubble for Frank? before dropping into the latest single, “I’m Alright”, another from the Sophomore album.

He’s quickly rocking out to this slammer as Whitlock is pounding out the beat driving this one onwards, his arms carving big circles as he times each delivery with the precision of a metronome. Ficarro, on bass is bouncing around as Jourdan paces back and forth in front of his mic. The solo is full of wah-wah goodness as ‘Wolf’ delivers the goods and thanks Birmingham once again, complaining about his ears to get the crowd to cheer again.

The set continues with a couple more from the latest offering, “Like a Pastime” with a thundering drum intro provided by Garrett Whitlock. Garrett’s had the unenviable job of transcribing ‘Wolfs’ beats into something he can replicate live, but keeps the flavour of the original. ‘Wolf’ started out as a drummer just like his dad, and with an Uncle like Alex VH to help out, you just know he is a bit tasty behind the kit. WVH has then effortlessly shifted between being a drummer to being a guitarist and frontman.

Garrett is killing the beats as this one plays out, with a selection of spots highlighting him it’s hard to miss this dynamo destroying his poor kit. The band dial up the intensity once again, The outro to the song takes on a dark and brooding note as it drops a few gears and finishes dark and heavy. “Take A Bow”, is introduced, it’s a number that ‘Wolf’ has said previously that he wanted the song to take him along for the ride, as he didn’t know where it was going, so it has become a ‘mammoth’ of a song, bordering on Prog Rock at around 7 minutes long, complete with its extended meanderings and a blistering guitar solo, where WVH stands front and centre and simply delivers, there’s a look in his eye that could have easily been his dad looking on, as he plays a stunningly built solo showing he’s got the maturity to know when less is more. But it’s of no matter, the crowd respond in kind, feeding off the band’s energy and erupting into raucous cheers when it finally concludes.

As the set draws to an end, MAMMOTH WVH deliver one final knockout punch as ‘Wolf’ say thanks to the crowd and Sidoris for doing double shift and finishes the set with “Take a Bow,” a leap back to the band’s first release. It’s a great tune to finish with as it leaves the audience wanting for more, and proves that there are many layers to ‘Wolf’s’ song-writing abilities. The bouncing drum beat drives the song forward like a charging herd of Buffalo.

The breakdown has the band rocking out, as Wolf teases the crowd and gets them cheering, to be fair he doesn’t have to try too hard, he’s nailed the opening set as he finishes, singing into the mic, his hair hanging across his bearded face. Respectfully the band form up and bow to the noisy crowd, thanking everyone and saying they’ll be back, they leave the stage. Sadly, it’s been a short set of six songs, lasting just over 30 minutes, but it’s been one that has been filled with blistering guitar solos, thunderous drums and some great vocal, it’s well and truly laid down the gauntlet to the music world stating that WVH has arrived and he can knock out a great tune or two or three. The VH legacy is in very safe hands indeed.

With the set now clear and the heat in the venue turned up to eleven we are ready for to witness greatness for the next 135 minutes. As the roof is lifted by the fan’s cheers, Brent Fitz climbs behind the kit as Frank Sidoris, Todd Kerns, Myles Kennedy and SLASH make their way on stage, the fans volume is peaking the decibel metre, as slowly the drum beat slams out, SLASH, on the drum riser, leaps into the air, his Les Paul hanging low as the night kicks off with “The River Rising” from ‘4’ (2022). Almost immediately, SLASH, adorned with his comfort blanket of a Top Hat, is at the stage edge pulling the shapes for the gathered press who are circling around his feet ‘clicking’ away. The fans are getting a great view. Myles, meanwhile, with mic stand in hand, is delivering an outstanding vocal, his voice is distinctive and dare I say one of the best rock voices out there.

“Driving Rain” from Living the Dream (2018), quickly follows on before “Halo” from Apocalyptic Love (2012) and “Too Far Gone” from World On Fire(2014), round out 4 songs from the 4 albums. “Back From Cali” completes the set as this is from the 2010 album that featured a variety of artists when it was originally released. It having been originally sung by Myles, after which he was chosen as the vocalist to tour the debut album and since then has been the permanent singer, recording another 4 albums. As this one plays out, a big red heart is beamed onto the back drop. SLASH has a moment and leaps from the drum riser again, whilst leather clad Kennedy wanders the stage playing to the crowd, before returning to the stage centre for the finish of the song, the band holding their guitars and Kennedy the mic stand, high in the air.

Speaking of which, we now get another 3 from the 2022 album ‘4’, the brooding ‘Whatever Gets You By” featuring Kennedy on Triangle, “C’est La Vie” which includes SLASH on voice box and black Flying Vee guitar, and “Actions Speak Louder Than Words” with SLASH on an Explorer this time during which audience participation is encouraged, their hands punching the air.

The tour has had some covers thrown in and these have given Bassist, Todd Kerns a chance to stretch his fine vocal, he now takes over the lead for Lenny Kravitz’s 1991 hit “Always On The Run” from the Mama Said album (what a great release that was), the first of three which he fronts. Kerns’ vocal is an extreme contrast to Kennedy’s. The sleazy delivery of Kerns has the crowd on their toes as he gets them boogieing. SLASH as you can imagine, is digging into Kravitz’s distinctive guitar riff. However, his guitar soon migrates to his knee, yet again, as he takes the solo into low earth orbit whilst Sidoris continues with that tell tale riff. Kerns encourages the crowd to sing along, 10,000 voices eagerly sing back as one.

This break from singing has allowed Kennedy a few minutes before he takes up the vocal once again for the slightly more sedate “Bent To Fly” from 2014. Clutching the microphone, he shows his stunning range as his voice swoops and soars through this tasty addition to the set, his trademark vibrato sending shivers down the spine as he effortlessly builds the song to SLASH’s searing solo.

“Avalon” picks up the pace once again as it slams out across the venue, the sea of standing fans are bouncing along like breaking waves to the beat of this, another tune from 2014. The haunting eastern Sitar sound of “Spirit Love”, this one from 2022, continues the set, the band have spread out across the front of the stage, as SLASH builds the song, Kennedy’s haunting vocal joining in with the instrumental intro. Kerns’ Bass is rumbling with a tasty edge, and is locked in tight with Fitz, as the vocal is delivered. Fitz is having a great time, his hair flying as he marks the time with some tasty grooves, SLASH again does what he does best, commanding the stage with another powerful display on his faithful Les Paul as Kennedy asks for a show of hands before retreating to stand in front of the drum riser, when the vocal picks up again he wanders across the stage effortlessly delivering a spectacular vocal. With a flurry of flashing red lights and sizzling guitar the song is brought to a finish to huge cheers from the gathered faithful.

It’s time for Todd Kerns to milk the crowd again saying “we’ll take you back to 1991, it goes like this”. The sleazy rock sound of “Bad Apples” fills the venue, as Kerns takes up the lead vocal on this one. No SLASH gig would be complete without a nod to GnR, and this has given Kennedy a chance to slink, briefly off the stage as this one whets the appetite of the all the hardened GnR fans in the crowd.

The fat sound of SLASH’s Les Paul floods the arena as Kennedy stands at the microphone. This is without doubt one of the outstanding tunes of the night. “Starlight” from 2010. The crowd sing along to this phenomenal song, as Kennedy delivers with consummate ease. Kerns runs across the back of SLASH who lifts his guitar and delivers the songs sublime solo. This is a fan favourite and one of mine too. We all like this one.

“Wicked Stone” quickly follows with SLASH bouncing around as Kennedy twirls around in a crouch. The dirty riff, crushing in volume, propels the song along to point where Kennedy pulls on a guitar given to him from stage right. Kerns, Sidoris and Kennedy stand in front of the drum riser leaving SLASH the whole stage, but he decides to parks himself firmly over on stage right and proceeds to deliver a monumental solo, full of scorching runs, swells and all the trademark SLASH goodies, the guitar headstock spending the majority of its time pointing to the ceiling as SLASH nails it, an eleven-minute guitar solo.

Without so much as a breath SLASH is off again into “April Fool” another from 2022, before dropping into the next song, Kennedy dedicates it to every one’s pet animals, “this has become somewhat of a tradition at the shows he tells us”, as the band drop into “Fill My World” another from ‘4’. There are voices in the crowd as some sing along to this ‘ballad’ with its catchy hook.

Next up we get Todd Kerns back on the vocal as he delivers “Dr Alibi” another from SLASH’s 2010 debut album. The song kicks off with Frank Sidoris playing a tasty lick, but he’s soon joined by SLASH and the band. Sunglasses wearing SLASH is shares the mic with Kerns as they belt out the chorus, the height difference between the two is apparent even from the back of the venue. With a stage bathed in blue, SLASH then crunches out the intro to “You’re A Lie” from 2012’s Apocalyptic Love. This bouncing number has the crowd quickly clapping along as Kennedy picks up the vocal to this oldie but goodie. The crowd joining in with the chorus.

The repeated hi-hat stamps from Fitz count us into the last song of the set, SLASH is away once again; his stamina is unbelievable, as the band kick into “World On Fire” the title track from the 2014 album of the same name. This one thunders along and has the crowd dance along as it does so. They start to clap as SLASH teases the solo over on stage left. There now follows a quick call and from Kennedy, whilst he does, SLASH has moved over to his ‘Magnatone’ stack, his back to the crowd. The band is now introduced by Kennedy, each member raising their hand in acknowledgment, we get to Brent Fitz on drums, he embarks on a quick groove around the kit, building the suspense, as a smiling Kennedy then waxes lyrically about his friend SLASH, he comments on how SLASH loves to play all the time. SLASH then takes up the mic and introduces Myles as the guy who runs the show before setting off on another sublime display of showmanship on a beautifully figured Les Paul resulting in an extended ending to the song.

After a brief exit we get the first of two encore songs. This is one I’ve been waiting to see played live, since I saw it played on the Howard Stern show on YouTube; Elton Johns 1972 belter, “Rocket Man” from the Honky Château album. SLASH has his traded his Les Paul for a pedal steel, drummer, Brent Fitz, is now on keys, as the pair introduce this legend of a track. Up front, Kennedy stands alone, the stage front is bathed in blue light, as he sings this stunning track. The crowd join in the chorus, proper spine-tingling stuff. Kennedy shows off his vocal ability and why the hell not when you’re that bloody good. The venue is respectful, the crowd is a sea of phone lights as this one, one of my favourite Elton songs, puts a lump in my throat and dust in my eyes, I love this song, and they nail it! It looks like Wyatt Wendell’s from Planet Rock has taken over the drumming throne for this one but Kennedy tells us to cheer for ‘ImyJames’, Fitz’s drum tech, when the song eventually concludes.

With the crew quickly moving the pedal steel and keyboard from the stage, SLASH is upfront nailing the arpeggio intro to the final song of the night. Someone nearby quickly declares his love for SLASH just before he does so. The crowd are on it, singing along as this one plays out. The roof is lifting and the venue has bounced into a new postcode. The crowd scream when Kennedy asks for it right before we have lift off with more Gibson goodness at the fingers of SLASH. Two hours fifteen minutes in and SLASH is as Fresh as when he started it seems, he must be powered by Duracell’s as his fingers, a blur, smoke up and down the fret board of his Les Paul. Myles Kennedy has donned a guitar as he joins SLASH, up front, in ripping this fan favourite a new one to finish the night off.

The crowd are going nutz with their appreciation of a stunning show. It’s the opening night of the UK run of shows and it’s been nothing short of gig of the year. I first saw SLASH and Guns, back on the ‘Appetite’ tour, in Rock City, Nottingham in the 80’s, back then he could hardly stand let alone play, tonight he’s paid me back in spades for that dreadful show. He was sensational and well deserving of his Icon status. Money well spent and a Saturday night for the memory books. If you get a chance to grab tickets for this tour, don’t hesitate, SLASH, Myles and the band are on fire! A packed-out Resorts World Arena will no doubt agree, now where can I fit in another night?

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