Skid Row with Ugly Kid Joe
@ The Limelight, Belfast
Tuesday October 29th 2013
Review by Melanie Brehaut
Photography by Paul Verner
Can bands that reached the heady heights of rock and metal fame in the Eighties and Nineties still be relevant today? More importantly, can they still kick ass? That’s the question hanging in the air at the Limelight prior to Ugly Kid Joe and Skid Row’s co-headlining gig tonight.
Up first though are rockers Dead City Ruins. From their opening notes it becomes immediately obvious that they bear traces of AC/DC in their DNA (as do all Aussie rock/metal bands. It’s a scientific fact), as well as a reverence for the pub rock scene of Seventies and Eighties Australia. Their music is a vibrant mix of GNR, Velvet Revolver and fellow Antipodeans Airbourne. They are emphatically at home within tonight’s lineup – despite the fact that they barely look old enough to remember their co-headliners’ heyday.
They (and particularly vocalist Jake Whiffen’s rather unhinged ‘Billy Connolly meets Robert Plant’ performance) go down a storm and by the end of their (early!) set they are playing to a satisfyingly full house.
By the time Ugly Kid Joe saunter onstage (after a f**king long wait and a rap-metal explosion of an intro), the room is rammed with people and high expectations. It’s almost a year to the day since they were last here in Belfast (after ‘retiring’ the band for fifteen years) and this time they have new material in the form of a six-track EP titled ‘Stairway to Hell’. Squee!
When frontman Whit Crane arrives clad all in black he is given a hero’s welcome: a roar of approval that rattles the rafters (and in case anyone was wondering; yes, he still looks as good as he ever did. Damnit, what’s his secret?!). They launch into ‘VIP’, complete with heavy Southern groove and a rap rock flavour; both equally surprising and gratifying to those in the audience who may not be familiar with their back catalogue.
Crane is a charismatic, youthful ball of smiley energy from the off, whether he is chatting amiably to the crowd, high-fiving the front row, snapping pics of audience members (using their own cameras) or zipping around the entire stage.
Another roar (and a delighted singalong) follows the intro to ‘Neighbour’ as memories (and lyrics) come flooding back to the crowd. And the hits just keep coming: the driving, deep bass riffs and ‘wacka wacka’ guitar solo in ‘C.U’S’T’, the confident swagger of ‘So Damn Cool’, the Whit-led clapalongs in ‘Panhandlin’ Prince’…we are even treated to a taste of the aforementioned new EP in the form of the blistering ‘No One Survives’, which instantly proves to be one of the highlights of the set.
The band seem genuinely delighted to be back in this neck of the woods, with Crane declaring that “Belfast is fuckin’ kick ass!”, and that “It’s no secret that you guys rule”. He holds the equally gratified crowd in the palm of his hand throughout the entire set. By the time they arrive at ballad central, the bittersweet ‘Cats In The Cradle’, everyone in the room is wreathed in smiles and having a ball.
After an amusing ‘pretend exit’ where they just stand stock-still onstage (there is no real ‘backstage’ to speak of in this venue), and a crowd-led chant of ‘Ugly! Ugly!” followed by a chorus of “Ole Ole Ole” at Crane’s request, the band bring out the biggest gun in their arsenal for their encore. First up: yep, it’s THAT song, the effervescent and sardonic ‘Everything About You’ in all its glory. The crowd duly goes bananas, singing along jubilantly. What could possibly top that? Hmm, how about a cover of ‘The Ace Of Spades’? Jaws hit the floor and gasps of astonishment ring out as they crank it up and blast out Motorhead’s signature tune in their own bristling post-grunge Nineties rock kinda way. It’s a gobsmacking end to a terrific set, which proves emphatically that there is more to UKJ than just ‘that’ song, and absolutely still life in this bunch of skater dudes.
4. Panhandlin’ Prince
5. So Damn Cool
6. No One Survives
7. Devil’s Paradise
8. Cat’s In The Cradle
9. I’m Alright
10. Milkman’s Son
11. Goddamn Devil
12. Everything About You
13. Ace of Spades
So…in the words of one punter: “Skid Row. Top that!” With the place now officially packed, the pressure is indeed on. For many people (including this reviewer) this is the first time they’ve seen SR live with their ‘other singer’ (Johnny Solinger, in case his name escapes you, who has actually fronted the band for about fourteen years now – far longer than the infamous Mr. Bach did).
The Ramones’ “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!” rings out, followed by the band making their appearance onstage to another hero’s welcome, complete with a rather M. Shadows-esque Mr Solinger (bandana, mirrored sunglasses, tshirt/denim vest combo). They start ambitiously with ‘Let’s Go’ from their brand new EP ‘United World Rebellion’ – a risky move, but it’s a kick-ass groovin’ number so their boldness pays off. They then slam it into reverse and play ‘Big Guns’ from the first SR album all the way back in 1989, before Solinger issues a warm welcome to one and all, waxing lyrical about “a band and a fuckin’ rock n roll crowd, that’s it!” Indeed.
The ensuing set spans the length of their career, from the very early to their most recent output; they proudly display their heritage in a non-stop plethora of hits. New tracks sit comfortably with old, and Solinger covers them all with his powerful hard rock vocals. Some set of pipes on him! He is the consummate rocker dude (looking a bit like a cross between Bret Michaels and, uh, Stephen Fry); he is driven, enthusiastic and passionate. It’s this intensity that lends SR a fervent edge and makes them seem hungrier (and a tiny bit more polished) than co-headliners UKJ. The crowd in turn tap into this almost evangelical hunger, receiving both old and new numbers with alacrity and singing lustily along with the classics – ‘Eighteen and Life’ and a gorgeous ‘I Remember You’ being particularly resounding. The latter is preceded by Solinger declaring that “when a chick leaves you, there’s always a song to get you through” and peppered with stage dives and crowdsurfing (actual ballad crowd surfers!).
Another fake ‘stage exit’ later, and the band are ‘back’ for their encore performance. And it’s a belter; ‘Youth Gone Wild’ sounds as furious and relevant as the day it was released, and is a definite set highlight. The band finally leave the stage for real, leaving the ecstatic crowd to ponder another question: who was better? A brief vox pop seemed to indicate that UKJ perhaps just edged out SR tonight, but for many it’s just too close to call: both bands are truly worthy – and equal – headliners.
1. Let’s Go
2. Big Guns
3. Makin’ A Mess
4. Piece of Me
5. Eighteen and Life
6. Thick Is the Skin
7. In a Darkened Room
8. Kings of Demolition
9. Psycho Therapy (Ramones cover)
10. I Remember You
11. Monkey Business
12. Slave to the Grind
13. Youth Gone Wild
The Eighties and Nineties may be long gone, but tonight’s gig proves that there’s definitely still a place for bands that were mere whippersnappers back then. There wasn’t even a whiff of ‘cashing in on nostalgia’ from either headliner; both were in fierce form and absolutely still pertinent to today’s music scene. In fact, in this reviewer’s opinion, having such a long-reaching career that straddles both the past and the future is an incalculable advantage that many new bands can only dream about.