I arrived into the venue just as Phil Campbell and The Bastard Sons took to the stage and it’s not just a clever name for a band, as the line-up consists of Motorhead legend Phil Campbell and his three sons, Todd, Dane, and Tyla. Although I (and their mother) are not so sure about their official bastard status. Handling lead vocal duties for the group is family friend Neil Starr and their debut album, The Age of Absurdity, was released this January and has garnered many positive reviews since then.
Lined up across the front of a slightly cramped stage, the Pontypridd 5-piece launch into their set and lay down the template for the next 35 minutes which included huge riffs, soaring solos, plenty of headbanging and the odd crowd singing face-off. As this was my first time hearing the band, I was happy that they weren’t aiming for “Motorhead Mk II”, but are striving to make their own mark with a heavier rock orientated sound. One thing the Campbell patriarch has brought with him from the Motor-days and instilled into his kids is to play at an absolutely blistering stage volume. While those in the crowd wearing the aged battle vests would expect the ear-numbing sound levels being thrown forth, it did come at a cost as, at times, Neil Starr’s vocals just couldn’t rise above what the rest of the band were doing and ended up becoming lost in the mix. Luckily there were no such issues for their penultimate song, the rather catchy Ace of Spades, which unsurprisingly brought the biggest reaction of the set. Phil Campbell has done a great job of bringing together this band, one that will ensure that his legacy will extend beyond the glory days of yore and with only one album under their belt so far, there’s still life in the old dog yet.
Mention Ugly Kid Joe and people are likely to reply, “are they the cats in the cradle guys” or “did they do that we hate everything song”, but there’s more to UKJ than a couple of hits. Their record, As Ugly as They Wanna Be, was the first EP to go multi-platinum in the US and they shared arena and stadium stages with the likes of Ozzy, Motorhead, Van Halen and Bon Jovi. After an extended hiatus and dabbling in other projects, Ugly Kid Joe got back together in 2010 and since then have released new music and taken up the touring life once more.
This was the first show on the UK and Europe leg celebrating the 25th anniversary of the release of their debut album, America’s Least Wanted. Even though this is an anniversary tour, it is not a straight run through of the celebratory album in question but more of a retrospective journey through the majority of the band’s back catalogue. Being the first night of the tour, everyone seemed fresh and ready to go, with Whitfield, Klaus, Dave and Cordell pacing and bouncing across all areas of the stage and playing up to the audience, and each other, as much as possible. Thankfully, the volume had been dialed back slightly after the Bastard Sons set so the songs were delivered with better intelligibility while still maintaining all the heft one would expect. In fact, compared to the original records which had that 90’s high sheen production value, in the live setting, the songs come across with an imbued sense of weight and freshness which really helped to connect with the crowd. This connection was most evident during the closing lines of “Cats in the Cradle” when the father’s revelation that his son had grown up like him was delivered by the crowd with such passion and emotion that it seemed to actually knock the band backward a step or two. And therein lies the appeal of Ugly Kid Joe. While they may not be the most prolific band when it comes to recorded output through their career to date, they are a band that revels in what they do and because of this obvious joy that they display on stage, they have amassed a loyal fan base that sees them playing bigger venues each time they come to town. I came into this show thinking they would be fun to watch, but I didn’t expect them to be that much fun.
All photos © John Gilleese