Live Review: The Wildhearts, Manchester Academy, 10th April

The Wildhearts - Manchester Academy April 2014

There are many musicians in the world today who claim to be the hardest working in rock. Many others, too, claim to be geniuses. The fact that Ginger Wildheart doesn’t claim to be either – yet may well qualify to be both – makes him all the more worthy of the titles.

He appears for the first time this evening at Manchester Academy in a pair of shades as part of one of his many projects, Hey!Hello!, a relatively incognito presence stage-right. Despite Ginger’s legendary status for the fans out-front, it makes absolute sense that Victoria Liedtke takes centre stage for the set, as her unending enthusiasm and enigmatic way with words and a melody soon engage the crowd and have them cheering, pogoing and baying for the band’s brand of upbeat, tune-centric rock n’ roll. A majority of the group’s eponymous debut album gets an energetic airing during the 30 minutes they’re on stage. It’s a fine opening and sets the scene for the rest of what proves to be a memorable night.

On UK shores, Von Hertzen Brothers are still a relatively unknown quantity. After their frankly astounding 40 minute set tonight, however, the Finnish siblings will no doubt have a few hundred more converts for their cause. Their’s is a particular brand of rock that somehow wouldn’t seem out of place on classic rock, prog or heavy metal bills. Try to imagine Rage Against The Machine crossed with Pink Floyd, and somehow filtered through the lens of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Tracks such as ‘Flowers and Rust’, ‘Insomniac’ and ‘Coming Home’ from their recent Nine Lives album are delivered with commitment, passion and – almost – show-stealing style. They deserve to be heard.

But let’s not be disingenuous. The vast majority of the crowd are here to see one band, and if there’s any band who could deliver the goods following the opening acts’ two brilliant performances, it’s The Wildhearts.

Their’s is a well-told and familiar story to a hardcore group of fans who have remained loyal to Ginger and Co. over the last 20 years or so. Bursting on to the scene in the early 90’s with a very British brand of lyrical wit and hugely melodic, guitar-centric, glam-tinged punk rock, they soon built a rabid fan-base, managed to sell enough to sneak in to the charts, and then somehow fell from favour amidst tales of difficult relationships with press, record labels, drugs and each other.

The atmosphere in the Academy shifts tangibly up a gear as Ginger, CJ, Ritch and Scott amble on to stage, plug in and immediately set about the intro of old-school fan favourite ‘Nothing Ever Changes But The Shoes.’ A cheer goes up as the crowd recognise the song, and a triumphant set begins.

It’s obvious everyone here knows every word to every song, the audience providing on-tap gang-chant vocals for the likes of ‘TV Tan,’ ‘Nita Nitro’ and ‘Caffeine Bomb.’

“Thank you Manchester, it’s nice to get a positive audience reaction. It’s been a while!,” quips Ginger after the barrage of opening tracks that sees their public raising hands and playing air guitar to song after song after song. It’s possibly a knowing reference to early reports from the preceding two gigs in Bristol and Wolverhampton that suggested sound problems and a lukewarm reaction.

A mix of better and lesser known songs keeps coming as the night draws on: ‘Someone That Won’t Let Me Go,’ ‘I Wanna Go Where The People Go,’ ‘Tim Smith,’ ‘Junkenstein,’ ‘The Jackson Whites’ and ‘Chutzpah!’ all get outings.

Ginger regularly checks with the crowd, “Is it okay if we play some stuff that WE like?,” before cranking out b-sides and more obscure album tracks. What could be construed as a clever artist’s conceit – getting the audience to be complicit in indulging the band’s need to play what they want to play, rather than what the audience may want or expect – soon proves to be an unnecessary tool, if that’s what it is. Every single song is met with nothing but love, rapture and mass sing-a-longs.

Scott takes lead vocals for a rendition of ‘The Only One’ that he dedicates to his wife, apparently watching from the wings on her first trip to the UK, and CJ gets a shot too, delivering an impassioned cover of Helmet’s ‘Unsung.’

The grins on both audience and band faces alike have just been growing and growing as the 11:00pm curfew draws nigh, but as Ginger announces that they still have time for two more songs, ‘You Took The Sunshine From New York’ and stone-cold classic ’29 x The Pain’ metaphorically destroy what is left of the Academy’s PA.

“Thank you, Manchester, we needed this,” says Ginger, visibly beaming.

So did we, Ginger. So did we.

The Wildhearts Strike Back 2014 UK Tour with Von Hertzen Brothers and Hey!Hello! continues until the 17th April, with dates as follows: 12th April @ Nottingham Rock City, 13th April @ Newcastle O2 Academy, 14th April @ Glasgow O2 ABC, 16th April @ Cambridge Junction and 17th April @ London Electric Ballroom.

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