Christmas is coming. How is it less than a week until Christmas Day? It’s been one of those months where everything sneaks up on you, much like this gig did on me.
I’ve been meaning to catch These Wicked Rivers all year but for one reason or another there had always been a clash, so I’m quite looking forward to seeing them live. Billed as the These Wicked Rivers Christmas Party and hosted downstairs at The Hairy Dog on a Friday night, this four band cavalcade has pedigree in its line-up.
Opening for the night are local heroes Scribble Victory who seem to play an average of 2.4 billion shows a year. I may have exaggerated mildly (although they genuinely have already played another gig by the time I’ve started writing this), but this repeated exposure shows its benefits in the phenomenal tightness between the pair in their performance musically, vocally and visually. The sound is unified between Jamie’s travelling guitar lines and chords with Tom’s harmonies and precision drum work. Absent from last time I caught them was a cymbal direct onto one of the drums which created a rhythm crasher effect, but overall it led to a tighter, more balanced sound so not a loss per se. They’ve set a dangerously high bench mark for the rest of the night.
Second out of the traps is Stand Amongst Giants who have travelled down from Chesterfield, a solid blues rock four piece whose vocalist has a decent amount of sandpaper at the top of his vocal range for that classic sound. A Rage Against The Machine bass patch clangs, squalls and slices through the mix leaving space for the guitar as the string section doubles up on classic riff based progressions. Steady drums with ample fills finish their collective sound and I’m getting mildly nostalgic for an old Skid Row mixtape I was given in the early nineties that had their cover of Delivering the Goods on it. I glance across to the ‘Interstate Missouri 66’ sign near the toilets and for a split second feel that I’m an extra in Supernatural. Spot on stuff, this.
Anonymous take to the stage next; a similar vein to Stand Amongst Giants but with an extra guitar in there. Keeping with the early nineties influences, there’s mild hints of the work of Chris Cornell here and there in this set, touches of Pearl Jam’s harder edges… Maybe this is what Temple of the Dog would have churned out if they’d made it to album three, at a stretch. Its every bit as entertaining and tight as everything we’ve seen so far tonight with a particular highlight being their fast tempo cover of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Purple Haze.
Home crowd or not, and with a late starting time generally, you’d think that These Wicked Rivers have time stacked against them, but in fact the crowd grows consistently throughout the night with most here for the headliners. Wicked River Blues plays as introduction music as they form up on stage in near darkness. The crowd visibly pushes forward, filling the standard gap at the front of the stage.
The band hold a pace that is much slower than the previous two groups and have to drag the audience down there with them, but they manage to do so competently, reducing the horizon line to a collective knowing nod to their own brand of pulse. A sound that initially seems a little kick heavy is suddenly compensated and balanced by on point bass, which matches the rhythm section with text book accuracy, creating a carcass resonating whomph! Arran’s Gibson Les Paul cuts through the spotlights refracting out to the audience as he plays initial fret-muted lines that reveal additional reverb and space which fires out of the PA with equal amounts of clarity. This is well rehearsed and it’s time to open up and find the room.
A handful of strong songs with some vocal power follow until When the War is Won which creates such calm with its introduction it’s palpable, and later augmented by an absolutely caramel guitar solo melting across the other supporting instruments. This isn’t music to head bang to by any means but it does force you to pay attention and appreciate it.
A couple of covers appear throughout the set, firstly Neil Young’s Rocking in the Free World, but more impressively a wonderfully slow version of Rag’n’Bone Man’s Human which contains more sharp sand in it than a council appointed grit spreader. An emotional Bottom of Here is pushed out next where you really see John’s devotion to his craft in his face as he sings, followed by the slightly filthy Testify just to even things out again.
The night has gone well and an encore is deserved, finishing off completely with Gangsta’s Paradise. If that doesn’t scream of blues rock and Christmas, then I don’t think they know what does.
You can find These Wicked Rivers;
You can find Anonymous;
You can find Stand Amongst Giants;
You can find Scribble Victory;
All words and images by Richard McKerron.