Winger, Jettblack & Blackwolf: O2 Academy Bristol
Cards on the table I hadn't even heard of Winger until they were introduced to me a few weeks ago. Since then they have been playing on my iPod incessantly along with the likes of Ratt, Motley Crue even Night Ranger and the rest of those slightly cheesy rock/metal bands. So again a journey to the not so brilliant but now second home, Bristol O2 Academy was ahead of Matt and I to check out Kip Winger and his nearly complete original line up on their post Donnington UK dates with Black Wolf and Jettblack.
The Bristol based band are a band that I have heard a lot of great things about over the past year or so, so I was looking forward to catching them for the first time. Unfortunately due to a following club night the night at the Academy the evening started early meaning Black Wolf opened at 6.30 and were playing predominantly to an empty venue… a real shame. Nevertheless this did not stop them giving it all they had and impressing the fans that had arrived early. Combining classic heavy rock with bass lines full of swagger, Black Wolf offer up the type of music that just keeps your head bouncing throughout the set. Jason Cronin on the rhythm guitar and Ben Webb on bass ensure the songs slide along nicely with some great bluesy undertones. The highlight of Black Wolf however is the voice of Scott Sharp on vocals, damn what a voice! Silky smooth with a bucket load of power behind it. Sharps vocals were able to compliment every song be it more bluesy asking for the deeper range or a powerful screech when flying through the more demanding power rock tracks. Every member of Black Wolf were energetic all over the stage showing that despite the empty room they were there for one reason; to play some stonking rock music and have some fun! A band I definitely want to see again soon, hopefully with a bigger crowd. Turns out the rumours were true, these guys were brilliant! 8/10.
Having seen Jettblack many times before I knew what we were in for and with Jettblack that is always smutty sex driven hard rock at its finest. Entering the stage with their half lit (half broken) logo behind them the London lads burst open with fan favourite Get Your Hands Dirty. This groove-laden anthem ensured the now growing crowd were on their feet and moving around the floor with arms aloft clapping. As the set progressed band showed off a lot of stuff from their latest album Raining Rock. Full of sharp edge ecstatic riffs Jettblack always prove they know what they are doing musically. The fans joined in during the obligatory Two Hot Girls and Prison Of Love bringing smiles to the fan around the room. Bassist Tom Wright jumped about the stage headband donned as usual interacting with the crowd at every opportunity however the other lads didn't seem quite so energetic tonight. Very static in their position and content to run off the set one song after another with unquestioned quality, however this didn't really feel right as usually when I think Jettblack I think fun and mayhem on stage and we just didn't get that tonight. Not the best I've seen them, but we all know what these lads are capable of, so there is no doubt I will be catching them again for sure 7/10.
With no thrills Winger entered the stage one by one holding a grinding riff as we awaited the arrival of Kip, as his silhouette turned into the figurehead of Winger no time was wasted as the New York formed band steamed full throttle into Midnight Driver Of A Love Machine and the anthem Easy Come, Easy Go to which the entire room gladly joined in when prompted. A brief pause as Kip told the crowd how he felt that even after all these years Winger are once again on the up. If any proof was needed Winger had already been promoted to the main stage of the O2 where only last year they played in the box room known as the Academy 2. Filled with honest appreciation and clearly humbled we were next treated to another run of great hits and anthems including Hungry and Down Incognito both of which showed that if anything Wingers voice had vastly improved since the 80’s. The passion in which not just Winger, but the entire band showed for their music as they swung about the stage was a great sight to see, this in turn transmitted to the hardcore fans who returned the favour by singing every note of every song while giving each track its deserved ovation.
Soon we were treated to a glorious bluesy solo from John Roth (also of Starship) as the rest of the band left the stage. Showing off his 40 years of talent, Roth presented us with a brief yet faultless solo that was as smooth as cut crystal. Moving up the timeline now and a few tracks from Winger's latest albums Better Days Commin’ and Karma were dispatched with equal skill and ability. The stand out of these tracks was Rat Race which was delivered with energy and vigour that some modern bands could only dream to provide... believe me, I've seen it. After a solid and tight drum solo Kip retreated behind a keyboard and once again showed off his voice and songwriting skills as the band flawlessly delivered ballads Miles Away and Heading For A Heartbreak. With some arms in the crowd swaying and the odd lighter and phone held high it was clear that both the crowd and the band were loving every second of this gig. To pick up the pace again we were given what was to be the third and final solo of the night, this time provided by Reb Beach (not before Kip jokingly listed twenty plus bands that Reb had played for). But that didn't matter as right now he was on stage for us… and wow! The guy delivered a stunning face melting, glass shattering solo that brought the crowd to a bellowing applause. Alas everything great must come to an end but not before the band thumped out two final tracks; the career making Seventeen and to finish an energy filled cover of Van Halen's Ain't Talkin 'Bout Love with the lucky Nigel on bass who was plucked from the audience allowing Kip to jump about the stage and mingle in the crowd to finish. And a fine job Nigel did too, well done sir!
There were no patronising comments or looks of annoyance as the crowd joined in with the banter in between songs here, and this is what live music should be about. As far as the band were concerned they were one on the same as their fans, the only difference being they had come with instruments and boy, did they know how to play them?! Whether or not you really like this brand of in your face bouncing slightly cheesy rock, it doesn't really matter as the sheer enthusiasm and love that these guys showed for their music, together with their honest appreciation to be back where they belong made this a classy yet fun filled brilliant night of old school 80’s rock that everyone could enjoy. Proving once again that even bands getting on for three decades old can still wipe the floor with Modern chart music. 10/10
(If I could add my two cents as it were I agree with Nick 100% I've seen Poison, Ratt, Motley Crue, Cinderella etc and not one of them came close to Winger the only ones that could ever or would ever would be Van Halen but as it looks like we will have no chance to see them, Winger are possibly the finest example of 80's rock. Don't let the Beavis and Butthead ridicule fool you, Winger are 50 times heavier live than on record, they seem to be enjoying every minute of playing and they show a technical ferocity that many bands even today lack. As I said to Nick on the night Winger could quite possibly be the Dream Theater of hairspray fuelled 80's rock)