Review: The Pretty Reckless – O2 Academy, Bristol

Another night, another gig in one of the busiest few weeks I have had! Tonight it is the turn of The Pretty Reckless supported by The Cruel Knives at the O2 in Bristol, so a quick two-hour blast up the motorway and I am quickly inside and looking at a long, orange line in the photo pit over which we are apparently not to stray when the headliner is on stage. This is going to be interesting then!

One of the reasons I wanted to catch this gig was the support, The Cruel Knives. Some time ago I remember seeing a band called Heaven’s Basement in a tiny venue in Plymouth. They were en route to huge things with major league sponsorship I seem to remember, and an album, “Filthy Empire” that was simply stunning. That band broke up when vocalist Aaron Buchanan left for a solo career and The Cruel Knives featuring Sid Glover on guitar and Rob Ellershaw on bass (alongside Tom Harris on vocals and Al Junior on drums) were born. Then I have no idea where they went! Tonight, that confusion is even more prevalent as their set is immense! A massive sound, with Sid’s guitar huge in the mix and Tom’s vocals powerful and tuneful at the same time; this is rock as it should be.

The crowd is one of the youngest I have seen at a rock gig in a long time and The Cruel Knives are probably not the sort of band that they would go to see but the quartet gets a better and better response to every song through sheer energy and sonic power. “Black Eyed Friday” opens with a big drum intro and extended build-up before the stage explodes with light and movement. “Life That We Made” and “Overdose” follow without respite and our three songs in the pit are over but I am straight to the barrier for the rest of the set. Of the remaining setlist, “Crawl” stands out as it gets faster and faster and even features Sid playing his guitar with his teeth, and as the band takes a bow, I want more and so do a large proportion of those now crushed into the downstairs viewing areas.

It isn’t a long break, although the stage clearance at this venue, via the photo pit and the crowd, is a pain in the ass when it is full as nobody wants to give up hard-earned space. A reminder not to cross that line and 16, yes 16 of us are allowed into the photo pit to stand in a long line, wondering how we are supposed to move from the location we end up in without crossing that line! A few seconds later and none of us care as The Pretty Reckless explode into life with “Death By Rock and Roll”.

When the mic stands were being set up I was amazed at how high Taylor Momsen’s set up was, but seeing her onstage she is a commanding figure dressed in black leather jacket, black shift dress, and big black boots. As a frontwoman, she is in a different class to times when I have seen the band before. Her vocals are strong yet tuneful with no stretching to reach the higher ranges and she prowls the stage between the two risers, with constant eye contact with the crowd and band members. Mark Damon (bass) and Ben Philips (lead guitar) frame her movements and the sound is thick and well-mixed. “Since You’re Gone” and “Only Love Can Save Me Now” follow in quick succession and then it is time to file out, past security who collect our passes (there is always one that thinks they are above the rules and tonight that one claims his pass must have dropped off – because clearly security won’t see through that!) One of the challenges at the O2 is where you go to watch the rest of the gig when you leave (not to mention stories about people being asked to leave the venue after shooting this gig in other locations) but tonight there is a Rob-shaped hole close to the stage so I shoot in and for once, get to enjoy the rest of the gig with a view of the actual band!

“And So It Went” has the crowd bouncing and is followed by fan favourite ”Make Me Wanna Die” and a chorus of “I love you Taylor” from many of the girls surrounding me! A setlist change as “Just Tonight” was added so late that it was an amendment in pen on the setlist due to a fan request (which was a nice touch) and then a couple of songs to celebrate Momsen’s love of Halloween with “Sweet Things” and “Witches Burn” (“for anyone that has ever been fucked over by a man!”). “My Medicine” has the crowd’s energy harnessed spectacularly and then “Going to Hell” and “Heaven Knows” keep ramping it up in increments before “Take Me Down” ends the pre-encore setlist with a flourish.

For once the demand to return is genuine as chanting, clapping, and stamping draw the band back for “Fucked Up World” – (“Rocking in the Free World” is on the setlist but dropped on the night, and the next day Momsen struggled with a respiratory infection and then cancelled a gig so maybe issues were brewing although not apparent). Complete with an immense drum solo it is an energetic end to the night and the band takes their goodbyes to a passionate and grateful ovation.

My main impression? This is the tour where Momsen went from an ex-actress with a band, to a musician and frontwoman with a dimly remembered past life. A simply stunning performance!

All current tour dates can be found here.

Review and photos – Rob Wilkins

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