Molly Hatchet, Islington Academy, London
My first gig of 2014 finally arrived in the shape of legendary Southern rock outfit Molly Hatchet who were in the UK for a short round of dates in some quite bizarre locations including Llandudno(!!!)
Opening the proceedings were German outfit Iron Horses. I have respect for anyone who has the guts to get up on stage and perform but I'm afraid that this band were truly abysmal. Iron Horses have been together for over a decade and have released two albums, Titan ‘n’ Bones in 2007 and Black Leather in 2013. They opened with the routine hard rock of Cowboys Of Rock and the sparse crowd clearly had difficulty in determining what the hell was going on. Singer Sebastian Wegner certainly tries to provide a stage presence with his Iggy Pop style swagger and physique but unfortunately the guy just can’t sing. The second track The Boneshaker opened with a thumping bass intro from Sven Moeller and was a completely different style from the opening track, backing vocals and time changes helping to make it a bit more interesting and this was followed by The Game which at least allowed the guitar work of Manuel Arlt to come to the fore. However, the band appeared to struggle with their style, chopping and changing from hard rock to thrash with a variety of styles in between, none of which were particularly inspiring. As I said earlier, Wegner works hard to try and get the crowd interested but his flat guttural delivery did not inspire and some of his gestures were straight out of the Spinal Tap manual. A couple of other tracks were delivered before the title track from their latest album Black Leather witnessed the quite ridiculous Wegner waving an enormous flag with the band logo on. They finished with possibly their most clichéd track of the night, a bland and tired song called The Stage Is On Fire which thankfully it wasn’t. Unfortunately neither were Iron Horses. They left the stage to a reasonable round of applause and are clearly well thought of by Molly Hatchet, several of the band watching from the side of the stage and Phil McCormack giving them a very positive comment during Hatchet’s set. 3/10
Back in 1985 Molly Hatchet released Double Trouble Live, two disc live album which captured Hatchet at their most impressive. Nearly 30 years later this album sits alongside UFO’s Strangers in the Night, Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous and Live Killers by Queen in my top five live albums of all time. I’d never managed to get to see them though and so as the band arrived on stage and launched into Whiskey Man a swell of emotion ran through me. Although Hatchet have had numerous lineup changes over the years, the current lineup features a number of long serving members. No messing about from Hatchet who kept the Southern boogie moving with the brilliant Bounty Hunter. Vocalist and harmonica playing Phil McCormack, fronting the band since 1996 is incredibly engaging, encouraging the crowd to respond with not a “Yeah” but “Hell Yeah” in true Southern style. His vocal delivery is reminiscent of the late Danny Joe Brown who featured on many of the early Hatchet releases but also has his own Southern stamp on it. A second track from Molly Hatchet, the cracking Gator Country followed with the guitar playing of Bobby Ingram and original guitarist Dave Hlubek shining through.
When you think of Southern Rock, bands such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers and Blackfoot come to mind. Hatchet sit comfortably alongside these classic bands and they have the songs to rival all of these bands. Of course, it helps that all members of the band are pretty damn fine musicians with the twin guitar attack so often the signature of such bands prominent and backed by the water tight rhythm section of Tim Lindsey on bass and Shawn Beamer on drums. Second track from the classic Flirtin’ with Disaster, One Man’s Pleasure came next and then it was the turn of longstanding keyboard player John Galvin to demonstrate his quality during a quite stunning Edge of Sundown and Fall of the Peacemakers before Devil’s Canyon and then a quick drum solo from Beamer. Beamer’s solo was impressive, even more so when you take into account that he suffered a heart attack less than two years ago.
This also allowed Hlubek in particular to have a rest. He is not in the best of health, years of substance abuse clearly having taken their toll and he required a stick to walk off stage. However, he is the only original member of the band, having returned at Ingram’s invitation in 2005, and is the co-songwriter of many of the Hatchet classics, none more so than Beatin’ the Odds which followed the drum solo. Son of the South allowed Ingram to show his quality with a guitar/vocal duel with McCormack before Jukin’ City and their staple cover of The Allman Brothers Dreams I’ll Never See brought the main set to a close with smiles all round. This included me and I found myself beaming from ear to ear throughout the evening. A swift encore included a rousing cover of Honky Tonk Women before the inevitable Flirtin with Disaster brought the evening to a close. So, after a wait of 30+ years I finally ticked Molly Hatchet off my list. A superb band who can still cut it live and who ooze the quality of a genuine classic group. A great start to the year for me gigwise and a possible contender for my top five even at this early stage. 10/10