Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Thunder - London Review

The problem with going to gigs on consecutive days, especially when the first one is truly fantastic, is that the second one runs the risk of being somewhat of an anti-climax. I must admit, after Symphony X's masterful gig in Islington the night before, I was worried that Thunder would come off a poor second. I have been a Thunder fan for a long time and know of the band's excellent reputation as a live band (despite the fact I have always felt that the real die-hard Thunder fans do over-glorify the band somewhat. I would also add Marillion into this category, and they are one of my favourite bands - go figure!). I had seen the band live twice before this show at London's premier venue Wembley Arena: once at the High Voltage Festival in 2011; and once supporting Journey and Whitesnake in Nottingham in 2013. Both times Thunder really rocked, and demonstrated why they are so well loved. I had wanted to see the band perform a headline-length set for quite a while. I almost went to see them at the Hammersmith Apollo last year, but then Kamelot announced a London show on the same day before I had bought the Thunder ticket, so Kamelot won! Thunder were then, and still are now, promoting last year's excellent album Wonder Days, the first album from the band since 2008. It is a really solid, rocking piece of work which reaffirmed the fact that Luke Morley (guitar/vocals) can write some ridiculously catchy rock songs. When this UK arena (yes, arena! I was surprised too!) was announced, I got a ticket almost instantly. Tying it in with Symphony X the day before meant I could have a full weekend in London, which was not an opportunity to pass up. I am not sure if Thunder have ever headlined arenas before this tour. The Hammersmith Apollo is usually their venue of choice, so I wondered whether they would be able to fill Wembley. The answer to that is no, but they gave it a really good go! The back portion of the arena was curtained off, but the floor was pretty packed until about two thirds of the way back, and the seats were nearly all full. My fears were unfounded, and it is great to see a band like Thunder in a venue like Wembley.

Before Thunder however, the crowd were treated to two other bands. Scotland's blues rockers King King were the first on, and impressed me with their highly melodic and polished take on the blues. They were not on stage for long, but their concise and melody-driven songs were pretty memorable, and seemed to avoid falling into many of the traps that snare a lot of new blues bands. There was even a slight hint of 1990s Toto in their sound, with some funky rhythmic guitar playing from Alan Nimmo (vocals/guitar) and driving keyboards from Bob Fridzema (keyboards/vocals). Fridzema actually stood out the most for me. Most of his playing was seated at the hammond organ, but some uses of the electric piano also helped to add some variety to King King's sound. King King are never going to set the world alight, but their set and sound was enjoyable.

1990s rockers Terrorvision, making some live rare appearances this year, were the main support to Thunder however, and their 45 minutes or so on stage was simply a bundle of energy. I had seen frontman Tony Wright on an acoustic tour with Ricky Warwick back in 2013, but that was my sole exposure to Terrorvision before this show (and having heard hit single Tequila, which they did not even play, previously a few times). I must admit, I felt slightly confused after their set and am not quite sure what to make of them. Wright is certainly a captivating frontman, although he is not much of a singer, but the music seems to have it's feet in a lot of camps. Rock, punk, and 1990s alternative can all be found in their sound, which makes for an odd mix of styles. Some of their songs were pretty catchy and fun, and others lacked the quirky charm that the band clearly thrive on. That being said, there were clearly a lot of Terrorvision fans in the crowd, and the reaction to their set was very good. I just do not think Terrorvision are for me in all honesty, but I may give them a Youtube at some point!

With stage turnover times at big venues being extremely slick, it was not long after Terrorvision's set that Thunder hit the stage. Opening with Wonder Days and Black Water from the new album showed that the band are not just here for a nostalgia trip, and new material was featured heavily throughout. The core due of Morley and frontman Danny Bowes were understandably the centre of attention for much of the evening. Bowes has always been a fantastic frontman, even if he as a tendency to drag out the crowd interaction sections for far longer than necessary, and he owned the stage all night. He still has a fine voice too, and raced with ease through oldies like River of Pain and the ballad Like a Satellite, which both came early in the set. Not to be outdone, Ben Matthews (guitar/keyboards/percussion/vocals) - who is back fighting fit after battling cancer - took every opportunity he could to shine. While he does not solo as often as Morley, he shines when he does, and his excellent keyboard work on numerous songs really adds another dimension to the band's sound. Black Water would not be the same without the driving boogie blues piano, and atmospheric songs like Empty City would lose a lot of their impact without his keyboard playing. Elsewhere the band really rocked. Backstreet Symphony, the title track from their smash-hit 1990 debut album, really had the crowd dancing and singing along, as did the Faces-like new number The Thing I Want. A couple of more epic songs were wheeled out towards the end. When the Music Played, another new number, contained plenty of excellent Morley soloing; and the top 40 hit Love Walked In was extended with plenty more soloing and extra reprises of that catchy chorus. The band ended the set with I Love You More Than Rock 'n' Roll and the cries for an encore nearly took the roof off the place. The venue has seen bigger crowds, but I think it could be hard-pressed to find a louder one! The crowd were treated to two more songs. The dirty blues of new number Serpentine (with a suitably dirty video being shown on the screens behind the band!) was a song that really got hips shaking, but it was an extended version of the band's most famous song Dirty Love (a rather dirty encore all told!) that saw some of the loudest cheering and singing of the evening. Thunder left the stage triumphant, their place in rock history more than secured. The setlist was:

Wonder Days
Black Water
River of Pain
Resurrection Day
Like a Satellite
The Devil Made Me Do It
Empty City
Backstreet Symphony
I'll Be Waiting
The Thing I Want
When the Music Played
Love Walked In
I Love You More Than Rock 'n' Roll
Dirty Love

Despite the stiff competition from Symphony X, Thunder held their own and put on a fantastic show at Wembley Arena. It made for an excellent weekend of live music, and getting two gigs together always makes the trip from Devon to the capital all that more worth it. With talk of another Thunder album next year (rumours anyway!), I think we will be seeing and hearing more from the much-love English band in the near future.

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