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FM + VEGA + Serpentine @ The Slade Rooms, Wolverhampton (16/3/13)

posted 29 Mar 2013, 17:06 by Paul Woodward

Review By Woody

When FM announced this tour it would be remiss of me not to mention that the prospect of seeing FM in the Black Country left me a grinning, dribbling, fan boy ball of excitement and anticipation. Then they go and add Vega and Serpentine to the bill, which as you could imagine led to a house call from the local constabulary after complaints of loud whooping and hollering had caused an avalanche in the Alps! So it is safe to say this melodic rock triple bill at The Slade Rooms in Wolvo, was at the top of my list of things to do in 2013, just below Julianne Moore *cough*.

It would be unjust of me to say Serpentine opened the night with a bang, they did just that but that statement doesn’t really express what the Serp’s are about, it would be better to state they opened the show with delicious smooth melodic style. I’ve had some doubts about the sound quality at The Slade Rooms, sometimes it’s great but I really did fear the venue would struggle to give all the bands the sound their multi-layered melodic beauty deserves. So my jaw bounced off the floor when the Serp’s sound was not just good but totally spot on, their sound guy is a genius and I think he should go to every gig I go to and say – ‘Nah ya don’t wanna do it like that, ya wanna do like this!.

So the sound showcased the band’s brand of keyboard drenched smooth traditional AOR with  maximum effect, generating a warm response from established fans, but also obviously winning new fans as the crowd responses to each song intensified as the set went on.

It’s never easy opening a show but the Serp’s have gathered a lot of live experience in the past few years and deliver a well performed show with ease and confident stage presence. The charismatic Matt Black really does make the band a full force entertainment unit live, with his tongue-in-cheek fun loving humour combined with a powerful voice more well known vocalists would sell their soul for. Although he announced early on he was going to keep the chat to a minimum so they could fit as many songs into their set as possible, he did manage to get the crowd laughing on more than one occasion with his lad-ish humour, albeit at bass man Gareth Vanstone’s expense!

So they ran through a tight set-list of ‘Deep Down (There’s A Price For Love)’, ‘Lonely Nights’, ‘Philadelphia’, ‘In My Blood’ and set closer ‘Whatever Heartache’. I enjoyed the set as a whole and it’s a pleasure to hear a band playing traditional AOR music so well live it has become such a rarity in recent times, young lads with a long future ahead – probably best not to leave your wives and girlfriends alone with this lot.

VEGA have fast become my favourite band since their debut album Kiss Of Life was released a couple of years ago, The bands feel for melody and understanding of the traditional melodic rock sound combined with the desire to push the sound outside the genre and embrace a more modern sound, has really captured me and made me extremely passionate about them. The AOR songwriter’s songbook may be my bible and comforter as far as music is concerned and although I know the band have ripped it up and are taking their own path into uncertain territories I’m very much on the rollercoaster with them and enjoying every last minute of the ride!

It was fantastic news when I heard they were supporting FM, not only did it mean I got to see VEGA at a local venue (which therefore makes it a better than any other venues, because, well, I said SO!) and also gave them a perfect audience to perform too and not only appease the already growing army of VEGA fans but also win new fans over to the VEGA side.....This is the band you are looking for. (Crap star wars joke?! Ahhh fook it, I liked it!)

The small stage space at the Slade Rooms wasn’t really great for a six piece band which saw drummer Dan Chantrey tucked in the back, with Marcus Thurston (guitars) Tom Martin (Bass) Nick Workman (Vocals) Ben Christo (guitars) and Keyboardist James Martin virtually standing shoulder to shoulder or in the case of Ben and James shoulder to keyboard. That of course did restrict the bands mobility, but it didn’t take any of the fire out of their strong and confident stage presence, they commanded the stage like it was theirs.

Nick declared this was a hometown gig for him and he wound the crowd up by stating that he had told the rest of the guys that tonight’s crowd would set the benchmark by which the rest of the tour would be measured by so not to let him down, and the crowd didn’t! You could see with every cheer from the crowd Nick’s smile grow bigger and bigger as the crowd of fans which up until VEGA he knew well from years of gigging the local area, he knows if you can get a crowd together in the Black Country, they’ll scream for you, they’ll sing for you and they’ll keep the party going! Tonight’s crowd proved everything Nick had told the guys tenfold, leading him mid set to turn to Tom Martin and say ‘ I told you didn’t I, Wolverhampton is where it’s at didn’t I’ and just as he’s about to kick into the next song he turns to James and say ‘and I told you too!’. Of course I’d be biased towards my local area, but that doesn’t make a fact any less a fact! I’m really hoping tonight’s stellar response to their performance brings them back to area again in the future!

I have to say Nick was like a man on a mission tonight after taking recent accusations of the band using backing tapes to heart, he at every opportunity stretched his voice to dispel the rumours and given some of the imperfections throughout the set from the entire band, all part of the beauty of live music and why I love it, anyone who came away from this gig and said they were using backing tapes is obviously not right in the head! Also rumours of the band playing crowd noises through the PA system was not audible maybe the real crowd drowned them out?!

The sound whilst not as perfect as the Serp’s was still great and thankfully had James’s Keyboard’s balanced right in the mix and it enhanced the sound of the band perfectly, just the way his magical key’s do on CD, which was delightful for me cause at the show in Nottingham last year James may have been better pulling up a seat next to me and enjoying the show, for how neglectful the sound man was to the Key’s that night!

Guitarists Marcus and Ben are not officially members of VEGA, but as hired guns they really do earn their stripes with the band as they know every note of every song like the back of their hand. Given both guitarists’ work with much heavier bands, it’s no surprise that they sounded a lot heavier tonight than I’ve witnessed previously or indeed as they are on CD. This didn’t harm the show and really did give the band some forceful impact. If I’m honest I did miss Nick Horne, who I very much class as part of the VEGA team, he plays lead guitars on their new album and has been with the band at every live show I’ve seen and he does have a more melodic style to his playing which I really enjoy, it’s a shame he couldn’t commit to this tour!

Oddly given reports I’ve heard from other gigs on this tour, it seems they got a longer set at Wolverhampton something I’m not going to moan about and be very appreciative off! The band kicked off with established crowd favourite ‘Kiss Of Life’ before the excellent ‘You Can’t Run’ picks up the baton and see’s some sublime drumming from Dan Chantrey. Given the lack of stage space Nick does frequently lean over onto the crowd barrier especially when winding and spurring the crowd on to sing along, as in Nick’s words they like a good sing along! Towards the end of the set Nick climbs down the barrier to kiss his daughter, who’s at the front of the crowd, which I thought was a really touching moment! I know I know I’m a big soppy bastard!

‘Saviour’ came across really well live, whilst the song has great impact on CD, I wasn’t sure it would have the same impact live – the guys proved me wrong! The Def Leppard flavoured ‘What The Hell’ got the crowd stomping before the anti- Jovi of ‘Not There For You’ showcases what the band is best at! The familiar intro to ‘Into The Wild’ makes me smile like a seeing an old friend before kicking into what is sure to become a staple of the bands future shows ‘She Walks Alone’.  The band started with an electric atmosphere and they never let up and they got everyone singing to the radio friendly ‘White Knuckle Ride’ before making the whole of Wolvo put their ‘Hands In The Air’ before they left the stage!

It was another strong performance from the VEGA guys in front of a VERY appreciative crowd. It’s also great witnessing the VEGA fan snowball grow bigger with every live show. People keep saying these guys are going to be big, they sound promising ect.... NO the band are here and blowing us away NOW! It’s just a matter of time till everyone else joins the party for them to be big...and trust me it really is just a matter of time!

Surprisingly given how cold it is outside The Slade Rooms is increasingly turning into a sweat box by the time FM come on stage. I’ve managed to see FM twice since their reformation and enjoyed both performances immensely, having never had the opportunity to see the band back in the day it has been great hearing some of my most loved songs performed live. Tonight though had a slightly different feel to it, it felt more like old school eighties FM, more keyboard heavy and there was a strong sense of good old nostalgia about tonight’s performance. For someone who never saw the band at that time it was wonderful experiencing how it would have been then. This was mainly down to the set concentrating heavily on the bands first two albums.

Steve Overland’s voice never fails to impress and his silky smooth blues tinged tones bring every song to life exactly as he has always done. A better front man you couldn’t ask for engaging and flawless. Obviously Merv and Jim benefitted from more stage space, than the support acts and both made the most of it and although sweating buckets both seemed to be enjoying the loud crowd responses to every song. Jim definitely showed his versatility as a player performing in a more traditional melodic rock sound on most songs, previously he excelled well on the bands latter material and beefed up the guitar presence of the early songs, tonight though his performance is more faithful to the original sound which judging by the crowds response was being really enjoyed! Drummers don’t really get the appreciation that other more visible band members get, but Pete Jupp’s ever reliable performance provides a great backbone to the bands live performance.

Keyboardist Jem’s performance I think was the most important tonight as he is thrust into the spotlight more often and with more significance tonight than previously. Something he seemingly takes in his stride, and my keyboard loving ass enjoyed immensely! I have to admit I was expecting more songs from their rather excellent ‘Rockville’ album which feels like old school FM to me and many of the songs would have sat easily amongst tonight’s set. No complaints on the set though from me as they aired songs I never thought I’d ever hear them perform. So of the new tunes ‘Tough Love’ opened the show and grabbed a rather excited audience by the ears and the song garnered cheers usually reserved for more well known hits, the infectious ‘Only Foolin’ provides one of my highlights of the evening mid set and again the crowd greeted it like an old favourite! ‘Crosstown Train’ was the first of the songs in the encore and I think the FM faithful liked it because the Wolvo crowd took the roof off to it!

My highlights were ‘Let Love Be The Leader’, ‘I Belong To The Night’, ‘That Girl’, ‘Bad Luck’ and my biggest holy shit moment was the melodic beauty that is ‘Does It Feel Like Love’! We got a jammed packed almost two hour set from the FM guys and they really didn’t disappoint with a set which kept everyone in attendance happy. They also played ‘Love Lies Dying’, ‘Hot Wired’, ‘Frozen Heart’, ‘Don’t Stop’, ‘Over You’, ‘Burning The House Down’ and they close the night out with ‘Other Side Of Midnight’. Which see’s Jem don his keytar (all hail the Keytar!) and come front and centre for a song which see’s everyone sent home with a big cheesy satisfied smile!

Obviously with FM having not played the local area in a long time, they may have been concerned not only with turn out but also crowd reaction and I think they were genuinely took aback by the loud and obviously loyal crowd who came out to see them, FM have always been very good with their fans and have always made them fully aware they appreciate their support and they do all these shows and albums for them! I think tonight’s mob will have put all their minds at rest as to if they have a following in the Midlands! Here’s hoping they’ll be back and with tonight’s response I’m sure they will be! A Great night, if you weren’t there you really missed out!

Tonight proves that not only is their new young talent in the melodic rock genre but also the established bands can still bring it and just as importantly there is an audience for this style of music on the live front. Melodic Rock it lives, IT LIVES!!! And cue maniacal laughter.