Review: Thunder – SEC Armadillo, Glasgow

After the tour was pushed back twice in two years – thanks to C***d – could Thunder fans finally uncross those appendages that had been tangled up in hope since the new dates were announced? Dare they dream? Would lightning strike yet again? Open up Facebook on Saturday lunchtime and bingo! Thunder backing vocalist Julie Maguire (AKA The Duchess) is pictured backstage in Glasgow with a mile-wide grin and the all-important AAA lanyard around her neck. Yes, the tour is finally happening and Thunder are in town for the opening night of their highly-anticipated five-date tour of Scotland, England, and Wales. Huzzah!

With a model that really should be copied by more acts of similar stature and standing, Thunder are giving the opportunity of opening each of the five dates to a young, up-and-coming – and in most cases, local – band. The remaining four dates on the tour will give Massive Wagons (Leeds), Those Damn Crows (Cardiff), Piston (Birmingham), and Kris Barras Band (London) the chance to strut their collective stuff in front of a much larger crowd than they are used to, and tonight the young band gaining that invaluable experience is local boys Mason Hill. Or should that read: “Top-twenty selling artist Mason Hill”?

Mason Hill Thunder

With the debut album ‘Against The Wall’ storming the National Album charts in March 2021, Mason Hill were finally able to put years of legal difficulties behind them, and at last, get the long-awaited debut album into the hands of a rapidly growing fanbase who had kept the band going through some pretty anxious times. Coming off the back of some well-received festival appearances, and an extensive tour with Stone Broken, Mason Hill are firing on all cylinders, and when the stage lights come to life, the young five-piece set out to show to anyone unfamiliar with them why they are so highly regarded. Using their thirty minutes stage time wisely, Mason Hill don’t hang around and as one song finishes, there is just about time for brief thanks from vocalist Scott Taylor before guitarist James Bird or drummer Craig McFetridge brings the band (completed by Matthew Ward on bass, and Marc Montgomery on guitar) in for the next song. Boisterous renditions of ‘Hold On’ and the foot-stomping ‘DNA’ calm any nerves, and the well-deserved sustained applause – from those who made it in early enough to lend their support – as standout track ‘Broken Son’ fades out has the band beaming from ear-to-ear as they stand back and soak it all in. Ending on a whirlwind romp through album title track ‘Against The Wall’, Mason Hill take their bows to end an evening that they will never forget.

Ugly Kid Joe Thunder

The role of special guests on the tour falls to the evergreen Ugly Kid Joe, and if you are of the opinion that the Californians merely consist of THAT one song, then you have obviously never caught them live before. Judas Priest had Ugly Kid Joe open for them in Virginia last year, capiche? They have chops. One of the most entertaining live bands still plowing the live circuit today, the band are a few shows into a lengthy UK & European Summer tour that consists of a mixture of special guest shows, headlining shows, and festival appearances (including Graspop, and Hellfest). With real-life getting in the way of the fun stuff, there are a few new additions to the Ugly Kid Joe family with Mike Squires standing in for Dave Fortman on guitar and Cam Greenwood of Terrorvision filling in on drums for Zac Morris. The duo joins UKJ OG’s vocalist Whitfield Crane (damn, he is in great shape), guitarist Klaus Eichstadt, and long-time bassist Cordell Crockett, meaning that three of the five members that recorded the 1992 breakout debut album ‘America’s Least Wanted’ are onstage. Worldwide lockdown aside, Ugly Kid Joe have been on a hot streak of form since reforming in 2010, and if ever a bunch of chilled-out dudes belonged back on the live stage, then it is these guys.

Ugly Kid Joe, Thunder

After an extended jam/intro from the band, Whitfield Crane walks onstage, plonks his rucksack down on the drum riser, and goes to work. The band launches into a one-two of material from the multi-platinum debut album, first the smash-hit single ‘Neighbor’ and then ‘Panhandlin’ Prince’ which of course comes complete with a namecheck for “Mr. Trump”. After the thrilling Bon Scott-meets-Sabbath-fuelled ‘Devils Paradise’, Crane points to someone in the first few rows and asks; “Is that a beer, and a shot?….looks nice!”, it’s fair to say that Crane is having an absolute blast back doing what he does best, and at times it is so laid-back and natural that it is almost as if the audience are watching Ugly Kid Joe rehearse in a garage. As he is singing, Crane waves to one of the stewards over at the side and gets a reciprocal wave back, he walks over to the drum riser and gets a fresh bottle of water and gives it to someone down the front, and then motions for them to pass it to the steward who accepts it with a smile and another wave. A few times he turns a monitor on its end and uses it as a stool as he sits and chills out, he notices someone in the crowd wearing a Judas Priest ‘Defenders Of The Faith’ t-shirt and stops to ask the crowd “Priest or Maiden?” and when the majority responds with “Maiden”, he then asks “Di’Anno or Dickinson?” before adding “I love it that we had a Heavy Metal trivia night!”. Everything is of course building up to THAT song, and when ‘Everything About You’ lands, the front few rows break free from their shackles and strut their stuff in front of the stage, which results in fistbumps from the band. Once the song fades out, Crane bids farewell, thanks the audience, turns and picks up his rucksack, and leaves the stage the way he came in: as cool as you like. Ugly Kid Joe – job done.

Thunder

Okay, hands up who had Thunder down on their C***d bingo card for producing not one, but two killer new studio albums during the last two years? Even the most ardent of Thunder fans might have predicted one, but no one outside of the band could have predicted two. Had the lockdown not happened, instead of recording the glorious double album ‘Dopamine’, Thunder would no doubt still have been caught up in the touring cycle for the rather-magnificent ‘All The Right Noises’ album. But shit happens, and one became two, and now after a couple of attempts, Thunder are finally able to bring their new music to one of the most loyal fanbases in British rock music.

Thunder

It’s always a dilemma when reviewing an opening night. How much detail does one go into with regards to the production and the setlist? It’s always nice when you don’t know which song is coming next, and if it’s your own particular favourite, then it makes it that little bit more special. So, if you don’t want to know the results then look away now as this piece does contain some setlist spoilers for those attending later shows and who are strong enough to resist the urge to seek out footage on YouTube.

Thunder

With two incredibly strong studio albums coming in the space of thirteen months, Thunder created a bit of a dilemma for themselves with regards to the setlist. What do they leave out? Apart from a few tracks aired at the legendary Thunder Christmas Party gigs/piss-ups at KK’s Steelmill in December 2021, no one has heard any material from ‘All The Right Noises’ live. No one even knew about ‘Dopamine’ in December 2021! Fear not though, for Thunder have created a setlist that flows perfectly and should keep the most thunderous of Thunder fans happy. Chances are that given the vast array of material on offer they might shake it up each night anyway. But here is what you need to know; Thunder sound better than ever. While the 1990 Monsters of Rock Donington gig has moved over to stuff of folklore, and the Newcastle Mayfair 1992 Monsters Of Rock warm-up gig was also something special, this was without a shadow of a doubt THE strongest and most enjoyable Thunder show that this reviewer has witnessed. Perhaps it was the fact that as Danny Bowes (still the best Rock vocalist around today) stated “We all made it!…two and a half years since we put these shows online…and you came!”, but there was a real celebratory feel about tonight, a sense of achievement, almost as much as a sense of relief. And what a celebration it was!

Thunder

Seventeen songs over ninety minutes, with the emphasis on both recent albums. Normally the mere thought of new material would see the average gig-goer breaking for the hills (or the sanctity of the bar) but when you have material as strong as; ‘Last One Out Turn Off The Lights’ (what else could open the show?), the thumping opener to ‘Dopamine’ – ‘The Western Sky’, and ‘One Day We’ll Be Free Again’ then that is not an issue. And those all came in the opening twenty minutes. ‘Unraveling’ is a special, memorable moment, and reinforces the fact that no one quite writes heartache like Luke Morley, and no one sings heartache like Danny Bowes.

Thunder

Morley? Songwriter, guitarist, producer, and later on in the set – vocalist, the recognition as one of the greatest British creators of rock music of the last few decades will hopefully come before Thunder hang up their boots as the guy simply gets better and better with each passing day. And Danny Bowes? Peerless. As simple as that. Utterly peerless at this moment in time, and he really does make it look effortless. Still the best/worst Dad dancer as well. Scattered throughout the set are a handful of cornerstone moments from Thunder’s back catalog, and when you see the guitar tech setting up the acoustic guitar on a stand late in the set, then you know that ‘Love Walked In’ is coming. And even today, thirty-two years after it first landed, it still has the same power to make the neck hairs stand to attention. Another special moment would be when Danny Bowes introduces ‘Resurrection Day’ by mentioning that it is about guitarist Ben Matthews and his brush with cancer, as humble as ever, Matthews looks on embarrassed as the crowd gives him a massive round of applause. On what was quite an emotional night for a lot of reasons, this moment particularly stood out.

Thunder

With an impressive light show (including a lighting rig with a few tricks up its sleeve) and video production, top-notch sound (Harry James and Chris Childs are still the most reliable rhythm section on the scene today), and a stage uncluttered with walls of amps, this is the biggest Thunder production to date. With the addition of an onstage keyboard player, and Carly Louise and Julie Maguire on backing vocals, the songs sound amazing, and the backing vocals add a different atmosphere to the older material as well as newer moments such as the aforementioned ‘One Day We’ll Be Free Again’. In all honesty, pretty much the perfect gig. Thunder? Untouchable.

All remaining tour dates can be found here.

All images – Callum Scott

 

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