Review: Massive Wagons/The Virginmarys – The Fleece, Bristol

The Fleece, Bristol
Saturday 15th April 2023

Review and Pics – Rob Wilkins/Celtography

Part one of a two-part weekend sees us heading to Bristol to catch Massive Wagons on their “Triggered” tour alongside The Virginmarys at the compact and bijou Fleece in Bristol. For anyone reading this that hasn’t had the pleasure of The Fleece, think City Centre small venue in an old warehouse with massive pillars through the middle, including the stage! Never an easy place to shoot as there is no pit, we are queueing outside early to ensure a good spot at the front and then stay rooted at the front against the barrier until the lights come back up three hours later.

Opening the two band bill are Ally Dickaty and Danny Dolan, aka The Virginmarys. Previously when I have seen them they have played alongside a bass player but now they exist purely as a duo and between them win over the packed venue with an immense set. How two guys produce such a massive and immersive sound is beyond me, as Dickaty fills the room with octaved, raw guitar work and powerful vocals whilst Dolan utterly batters his kit, often out of his seat using his entire body weight to add power to cymbal smashes. From set opener “The Meds” to the immense last song “Bang Bang” the pair raise the energy levels song by song until they both look utterly exhausted from their efforts. When the last notes die away and they take a bow the unanimous verdict from around me is “Wow! I didn’t expect two guys to be THAT good!” If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, catch them soon!

So to the headliners, the Lancastrian Massive Wagons. Taking to the stage one by one, drummer Alex, bassist Bowzer, and guitarists Stevie and Adam, the biggest cheer is reserved for the last man to hit the stage, frontman Barry Mills wearing his traditional bowler hat along with a UV reflective jacket. The tour is to promote the recent album “Triggered” and from the off that album is strongly represented with the first five songs “Gone Are the Days”, “Triggered”, “Fuck the Haters”, “A.S.S.H.O.L.E” and “Sawdust” all coming from that piece of work.

We then go right back to 2011 for “Buck”, dip into “House of Noise” for “Hallescrewya” and then back for yet more from “Triggered” with “Never Been a Problem”, “Germ” and “Please Stay Calm”. So that’s eight songs from the new album in the first ten and I will be honest and say I’m waiting for the Wagons classics to make an appearance as the back catalogue is so strong. Instead, after a speech from Baz about two kinds of music: music you like and music you don’t like, the band plays a series of cover versions with “Your Love” (The Outfield), “Creeping Death” (Metallica), and “Livin La Vida Loca” (Ricky Martin). It’s fun and enjoyable but with so much great material of their own, a slightly bizarre setlist. “Generation Prime” gets a great reception before there are some of those missing classics to close out the main set with “House of Noise” and “Northern Boy”.

A brief disappearance from the stage and a LOT of noise from the crowd and we get a three-song encore. “Skateboard” (track 10 from “Triggered”), then a huge cheer for “Ratio” and finally some real singalong familiarity and “In It Together” as a poignant way to end the evening. Talking to those around me once the last notes echoed away many seemed to be of a similar mind to me. As always the live performance was intoxicating. Baz is one of the best frontmen around, never still and larger than life. The rhythm section are as tight as an otter’s pocket and Adam and Stevie keep solos short but perfectly formed. Somehow though the setlist left almost everyone disappointed. We all have our favourites from Wagons’ back catalogue and playing them all would be impossible, but a better balance between new and old would have added even more energy to the crowd. Possibly instead of those covers? Maybe next tour a “Best Of” set would sell out even bigger venues?

That said. As always I left a Wagons gig with a huge smile and a croaky voice and at the end of the day, that’s what it is all about!


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