Review: Kris Barras Band – “Kris-Mas”

It was an odd feeling arriving at The Foundry for Kris Barras’ hometown Christmas show. That “C” word was back in the headlines and the “fuck it” attitude I had found last time out at The Darkness in Cardiff had been replaced by a palpable caution. More masks, more distancing, and unfortunately far less people than ticket sales would have suggested all clearly apparent when I got to the venue. Would that impact any of the bands or affect the atmosphere once the music started or would people make the most of what might, potentially, be one of the last gigs before it all has to go quiet again for a while?

EthyrfieldThe Foundry is a criminally underused venue for rock gigs. Big stage, good sound system, a deep balcony running all around meaning that bands look out at a wall of fans and an impressive lighting rig (maybe needing tweaking a little for live music but visually spectacular) so even opening band Ethyrfield had plenty of stage to use.

I have been following the Devon trio for a number of years and with every new release, their ability has grown exponentially. Musically they are talented beyond their years as opener “Sunstroke” demonstrates. Hitting off with an immense riff they grab the attention of the early arrivals and refuse to let it go throughout the set. Their confidence on stage continues to grow as well. More active around the space than in the past, the visual spectacle is starting to match the aural one. Musically, think an Alice in Chains/Rush mixture that leaves you constantly wondering where each song is headed, and always. The set majors on the recently released album “In Delirium” with only “Free the Dog” predating it in the setlist. “Serenity” and “Laying on of Hands” are my favourite songs in the set tonight. Trademark huge riffs and complex bass lines from the Cornish pair driven along by at first simple-sounding drumming from Dan Aston, which when you tune in more carefully is actually way more challenging. The instrumentals mid-song are utterly sublime in terms of light and shade and then both explode into a huge last third. The solo on “Laying…” in particular is quite stunning.

FirekindThe filling in tonight’s sandwich are Firekind. How I have managed to miss these guys I have no idea! A quick browse through YouTube didn’t really throw up too much so I had no idea what to expect. I have to say, WAY more than I anticipated! Opening with “Adrenalin” they were a bit of a revelation. Another trio but with a very different stage vibe and sound, they hit the stage with immense energy. Vocalist/guitarist Jas and bassist Dan deliver the melodic elements of each song before ripping off around the stage then return for some soaring guitar lines and rock-hard bass lines. The sound is rock for the “now”, with influences from all across the spectrum, run through with battering drum beats (“Defend” in particular), complex yet accessible melodies and vocals that start in the small Torquay club but could fly out over the Devon coastline for miles. Drawing from “What I Have Found Is Already Lost” the set also includes the slower “If There’s Any Reason”, the complex “These Are The Thoughts”, the anthem “Sound of Rain” and the set closes with “Desolate”. I am looking forward to seeing how Firekind progresses because all the elements are in place for them to make some great leaps forward.

Of course, we are all here for the man himself Mr. B. I have seen the band play big festival sets and smaller more intimate venues, as well as a previous hometown show, but tonight is unique as it brings a bit of everything. Songs off the soon-to-be-released album “Death Valley Paradise”, older favourites, covers, an acoustic interlude, and even a few well-chosen Christmas favourites.

Kris BarrasThe set even changes as it progresses which always feels like a sign of a band out to have as good a time onstage as the punters have off it. Opening with one of those new tracks “Dead Horses” which showcases the twin guitar sound that the band has moved to, they swing quickly through older tracks “Rock ’n’ Roll Running Through My Veins” and an extended “Ignite (Light It Up). The formula may have evolved, but at its heart it is still based around the main man’s prodigious guitar skills, and ”Kick Me Down” and “What You Get” continue the momentum before we are treated to a new track coming out in Feb 2022 called “Who Needs Enemies” that continues to raise anticipation for the new album. Kris introduces “My Parade” by talking about the first time it was played, at Steelhouse Festival, when he finished playing the song for the first time and the crowd just carried on singing it back and challenges the Devon Riviera crowd to do the same. In truth, it is an easy ask as the song is just so damned chantable! Sometime, somewhere, this is going to find itself a huge audience as a sports song or film theme.

A change of energy as Kris and Josiah take a seat each and strap on acoustic guitars for “Propane” (or in Josiah’s case a guitar, a stompbox drum, and a set of bass pedals), talented doesn’t begin to describe the man! The slowdown gives Kris a chance to discuss both the acoustic sessions he did during lockdown and also the aforementioned re-emergence of the virus, commenting on the number of cancellations for the evening. If I was to feel somewhat down at that point it didn’t last long as the pair treated us to a cover of “Simple Man”, one of my favourite songs and a piece of music that occupies a lot of room in my heart. “Vegas Son” completed the acoustic set and we were back to the loud. Oh My Lord were we back! The band absolutely RIPPED into a cover of “Goin Down” that made the foundations shake. Both Kris and Josiah were absolutely on fire. Firstly in Kris’s intro, then the guitar battle midway, and finally Josiah’s answering solo towards the end. If I could have bottled one song from the set, taken it home, and lived it over and over it was that incredible passage of guitar work.

Kris Barras“Not Fading” was added to the set last minute, simply because it sounded good and was fun to play in the soundcheck. “Watching Over Me” is always a highlight of the set for me due to the palpable emotion that pours out of both voice and guitar and after talking about the song’s genesis Kris dedicated it to all those who have lost people over the last two years. Incredibly emotional stuff showcasing once again the power of music to bring a tear to the eye. New release “These Voices” featured one of the most incredible guitar sounds I have heard in a long time and then we were treated to an absolutely rabble-rousing version of “Merry Xmas Everybody” that had the crowd dancing and partying. Usual set closer “Hail Mary” featured a fun call and response with the crowd before finishing the set in spectacular fashion. After a brief wait the band returned sporting Christmas hats for “Lovers or Losers”, but to finish, the show went full-on rock and roll with the Chuck Berry song “Run Rudolph Run” and had a blast with the two guitarists trading licks and the sight of the normally “too cool by far” Josiah dancing with bass player Kelpie. Definitely a not-to-be-forgotten highlight.

For one evening it was great to put all the crap that seems to be building again to one side and just have a great time, and if the last notes I hear live for a little while are that encore with crowd and band all having a party, then I can think of far worse memories.

Review and Photos – Rob Wilkins

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