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Thunder @ Wolverhampton Civic Hall (21/12/13)

posted 19 Jan 2014, 08:33 by Paul Woodward

Review By Woody

For a retired band Thunder has had an extremely busy and active year, including a couple of live shows in Japan. Not that anyone’s complaining and even the band joke about their current transient state, whilst hardcore Thunder fans hope and pray that it will pave the way for Thunder to return full time the band themselves still insist they have no plans to return to recording new material and extensive touring. I say ‘never say never’ and hopefully the band will continue to exist even if it is in only a part time or occasional form. Since the band’s official retirement (for the second time) in 2009 their infamous Christmas parties which had by this point had migrated north of their London hometown origins to Nottingham Rock City continued and they had established a sell out crowd guaranteed. Although well established at Rock City last year saw Thunder take the Chrimbo party on the road to Manchester and then of course this year to Wolverhampton. A risky move moving from an established venue but one that has paid off with two sold out nights in Manchester and then their most successful Christmas party ever at their largest capacity venue yet for these shindigs with two sold out at nights at The Civic Hall in Wolverhampton. It was a risky move but one that I applaud as it gives more fans the opportunity to see the band live who can’t get to Nottingham which is so much more important given the bands semi-retirement. Such is the devotion and loyalty of the Thunder fan base that these shows are sure to sell out wherever they occur, but Wolverhampton has always been a good crowd and usually one of their largest turnouts since the mid nineties so surely it was always destined for success here! I did have initial worries that hardcore Thunder travellers would be disgruntled at this year’s choice of venue and the Civic would receive a backlash as Wolvo has none of Nottingham’s beauty or the prestige of Manchester. But thankfully this didn’t happen and it seems travelling fans embraced the awesomeness of The Black Country, yes I get to live here, please don’t be jealous, been born awesome isn’t easy.

Having balls’ed up getting a ticket for the first night by leaving it till the afternoon to purchase them, I found the man who lives in my mirror screaming and threatening to tear my nut sack off for been so slack, thankfully he calmed down after learning a second night would be happening. So no messing about this time and I get my golden ticket and squeal like a teenager going to pop his live show cherry, was I really that excited about seeing a band who I’ve seen a million times before?  You bet your ass I was, - THIS IS THUNDER!

I’ve never been to a Thunder Christmas show, so wasn’t sure what to expect set-list wise but I had been led to believe these shows were aimed at the hardcore fan base and would feature songs you may not of heard or rarely live over the years with a few covers thrown in for good measure. That’s exactly what we got, the chosen set list was aimed at those who loved the band and all their back catalogue and in fact many fair-weather fans may be shocked to learn the bands most famous songs ‘Love Walked In’ and ‘Dirty Love’ were not played. Omission’s aside it never affected the flow or energy of the crowd, if anything they relished the rarities as much as the live set list standards.

The thing about Thunder crowds is they are always up for a party and as soon as I approached the Hallowed Civic Hall the buzz and excitement of my fellow rockers hit me and even before the band took the stage the atmosphere was electric and as the band hit the stage for the opening acoustic set they ripped a hole in the roof with an almighty roar which never seemed to diminish throughout the night. Thunder fans go to a show expecting awesomeness, because well that’s what were used to getting and that normally creates a fantastic overall atmosphere for the entire night and one of the main reasons I love seeing Thunder live! Of course this makes it very easy for the band to control and excite the crowd before them, which they do in their usual laid back good humoured way with total ease. It’s almost like they are playing a small gig to a bunch of mates just for shits and giggles not a crowded 3,000 strong crowd in Wolvo.

Danny Bowes is almost universally praised as one of the greatest voices of his generation and tonight he sounded just as good as he ever has done, has it really been four years since I last saw them?! Danny’s laid back humour and relaxed stage presence is a welcome sight as well as his infamous dad dancing – I decided a long time ago ‘cool’ is for miserable fookers, been yourself means fun so cool is for suckers, let’s just smile and rock. That’s pretty much Thunder for me in a nutshell, fun with a contagious smile.

The band as a whole makes use of the spacious Civic Hall stage as though returning home to familiar surroundings. The crowd just adore these guys and the smiles of the entire band just reflect how much they are obviously enjoying themselves. They have pulled out all the bells of whistles on these special shows with an extra keyboardist helping out Ben Matthews when he’s on guitar duty as well as a horn section and backing singers who are brought out on certain songs, to great effect on songs especially ‘Fly On The Wall’ from their third album Behind Closed Doors. I know for those who like things raw and dirty they may have seen this as too much, but for someone like me who loves this sort of rich and multilayered music I’m biting my bottom lip in ecstasy and trying vainly to hope big Woody doesn’t poke someone’s eye out!

Although the opening set was a laid back acoustic set it still garnered a noisy reception for every song, many songs getting noisy welcomes as soon as they were recognised. It was cool seeing Thunder in this laid back way and hearing some songs done in a different way, but I have to admit my heart sank a little as I recognised the intro to one of my personal live favourites ‘Higher Ground’ as I knew this meant it would not be amongst the full on electric set. I quickly snapped out of it and thoroughly enjoyed this unique opportunity to hear a favourite as I’d never heard it before. The real stand out for me was the emotional return of ‘Love Worth Dying For’ which took me right back to my youth and memories of ’96 and it’s album The Thrill Of It All and a wry smile remembering the album launch party at Mike Lloyds (record shop) in Wolvo hanging with the band. This acoustic may have been for the faithful only, but the faithful in the Civic Hall were pretty damn happy with the party so far.

Having missed the first night I had worried briefly that tonight’s show would suffer and we’d get a sloppy seconds hangover cursed performance, I know my worry was brief I mean were talking about Thunder right! They have always treated their crowds like their one and only lover and hell we all know the eat hangovers for breakfast! Tonight’s performance was spot on, energetic, exciting, fun and well performed – is it the best they have ever been? Maybe not, but they don’t have to be, THIS IS THUNDER and this is rock n roll!

The full on electric set is the bouncy party we had been promised and we got a few established classics like ‘She’s So Fine’, ‘Everybody Wants Her’ and an encore of ‘A Better Man’ complete with the now well loved vocals and acoustic guitar from beloved drummer Harry James.  They get the crowds energy level up and bouncing along to other lesser known tracks like ‘Just Another Suicide’ and the infectious ‘I Love You More Than Rock N Roll’ and suitably emotional during ballads ‘Don’t Wait For Me’ and ‘In A Broken Dream’. Highlights for me though personally though were the melodic punch and energy of ‘Fade Into The Sun’ and ‘Pilot Of My Dreams’. The night ends with them performing ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ by local legends the Black Country’s own Slade. This cool cover caps the night of with a bang complete with inflatable’s and snow, although it was weird hearing the song without Noddy’s Black Country twang! I’m sure everyone had a fantastic time and it was smiles all round leaving the Civic, they never fail to deliver and they sure brought the party to Wolvo!

There has always been a varied age range at Thunder shows which just highlights the accessibility and strength of the band’s songs to all generations and it’s good to see that in evidence again tonight. Given the band’s status this may be the last time I ever see them live, although I’ve come away from the Civic twice in the past thinking that, with Thunder you never really know, here’s hoping they surprise me again!