It’s Wednesday and hopefully, with the first balmy day of the year we turn our back on one of the longest winters for a generation. Manchester streets are trying hard, shorts, hot pants and sunglasses are out. We aren’t quite there yet, but we northerners don’t know when we might get a consecutive day without rain. It’s a well-travelled route to the academy, I’m starting to recognise the yellow jacketed security staff. Rockflesh founder and all round photographic wizard, Johann, the brobdingnagian European has left his phone in the car. This is a problem, we aren’t down on the press list and the staff aren’t volunteering options. Back to the car. After a few calls we get in touch with the tour manager, Bill. Problem solved.
The Academy 3 is a rectangle, bar, mixing desk & stage, all in line. The sound has no where to escape, a wind tunnel of rock and roll. The stage is small, a four piece fills the stage and there is an absurdly large gap for pro photogs (take note Hangar 34). In a venue this small, there isn’t the sense of anticipation, people lean awkwardly at the sides of the hall, or meander around waiting for focus.
Lionize, the Washington DC four piece, with nine (yes nine) albums under their belt are embarking on a short European tour. Self promoting, self recorded and jet propelled, Lionize have a hearty back catalogue with which to mesmerize new and familiar audiences alike. The technical theatrics are limited at the Academy 3. It’s as raw as it gets, a band, some lights and the crowd. It’s down to the band to get the crowd cooking. Nate Bergman, the singer, everyone notices first. A sparkly neon shell suit and pink and black running shoes adorned with a Black Les Paul and thick rose printed leather strap. He has my build, burly, simian that kind of rotund that suits some people. I’m sure he gets tired of the “hangover dude” comparisons. He screams “I hope your ready for some funk”. The drums parap into life, then a flurry of bass notes usher the Les Paul Hammond frenzy that is the “Face of Mars”, the second track from the band s latest album Nuclear soul. The shell suit dances and sparkles under the limited lights as Nate bellows I’m the exploding star!. Without pause they move straight onto “Power Grid Blues”. This sets the tone for the rest of the night, there are no prolonged gaps, self-indulgent stories. Audience participation is kept within song.
The vocal harmonies are on point and the crowd are starting to feel the power. Lionize are a well toured band, their experience is showing and despite the less than filled auditorium they are giving everything for us. Some of the songs have embellished outros, there is some confusion in the crowd, early cheering and clapping. It doesn’t matter, the musicianship is first class. There are elements of the in sound from the way out (The Beastie Boys). The Hammond gives a dream like progressive vibe that is countered wonderfully by the searching vocals. There is strong story telling in the songs, as Nate powers his way through “ain’t it a shame”, the sixth track from Nuclear Soul, the hairs are electrified a little when the band harmonises “when the sun finally consumes us all”. There is something of the ethereal intensity of Pink Floyd. The Hammond organ lent the night a psychedelic odour, Chris Brooks on Keys and vocals helped spice up what might have been a straight out of the garage funk rock band, not unlike Cameron, Ferris Buellers misanthropic BF, but with drive and talent he gave an edge to the band that helped make you want to dance.
Partway through the set a guest appearance is made on guitar by what I initially though was a member of Planet of Zeus. I was wrong, and his identity will remain a mystery. Apologies guest guitarist but the small bar had run out of Carlsberg and there was a terrible and haunting possibility of having to drink cider.
The set was closed with an epic version of Fire in Athens, the third track off Nuclear Soul and a wonderful Segway too Planet of Zeus. Lionize are an electrifying live act, with a larger than life frontman. All the way through the set though, I couldn’t help but think this would be what Jack Blacks band “Sonic Death Monkey” would have sounded like from the book High Fidelity. Ultimately this was more of a compliment to Nate Bergmans Vocal and Guitar talents. The band are continuing their European tour through until the end of May.
From the outset I’d like to thank Bill, Planet Of Zeus tour manager, publicist, PA, sales and merch, roadie, sound tech, guitar, drum and bass tech. He danced at the back of the stage while the band played. Dedicated beyond description really, I know I’ve tried.
After spending the last week or so listening to the band, I had a preconception of a very heavy rock outfit, as much in the vein of Black Label Society as anything else I could discern. I clearly wasn’t paying attention. The crowd was a male heavy group with a large Greek contingent, or at least a large Greek speaking contingent. A strat rang out, neck pickup, that bubbly little wing slight crunch. It’s a trick oft used by bands, I’ve done it myself, when playing limited bars and clubs create a big entrance by playing low key entrance music then BOOM. They delivered, and the reason bands do it is because it works. They smash straight into Macho Libre, a mid tempo head banger. Bass fuelled symmetrical guitar lines. Babis Papanikolaou on vocals and guitar, has that very modern American Vocal nailed, he veers between Zakk Wylde’s aggressive drone, through to the power metal scream of Phil Anselmo. He has the build of Anselmo, and the aggression. Throughout the whole set his voice didn’t waver. A truly good band makes it easy to make comparisons, there are elements of Disturbed, Clutch and even Motörhead in the way they play and write. Yet there is no overall comparison, there is a uniqueness to them. Babis deserved a larger crowd to display his frontman talents.
Planet of Zeus have three albums under their belt and pulled tracks from all their albums. Babis told the crowd he was about to play a song dedicated to a great hero. I mused if they had written a song for Bill, alas no, they played the first track from the debut album Vigilante, “The great Dandolos”, a tribute to Nick The Greek. The set veered between foot stomping rock to full mosh pit metal, screaming guitar solos and time changes.
It was good to see some classic guitars on display all night, A les Paul, an SG and what appeared to be a Jagstang with a bixby trem on. The set became hypnotic, I could feel the bass through the floor and started to just be a metalhead again. I’d stopped analysing and started enjoying the night. I’d started to cheer between songs. These are a very good live band and had given so much they had scooped the audience up and now had them, so they chose just that moment to do a drum solo, an extended one. Normally this is the chance for the band to dry off, get a drink have a cigarette. Not Planet of Zeus, they watched the drum solo….. onstage. I suppose you wear the clothes for the job you want not the job you have, but quite a lot of arena stuff just doesn’t translate.
What is going on in Greece, they have produced some absolute top-notch metal over the last decade and things just seem to be going form strength to strength. Let’s not forget the king of Metal, Ozzy who since leaving Sabbath has only had American virtuosos, hired Gus G of Firewind. The metal scene in Greece is huge, the future of rock may rest in the hands of the country that gave us democracy, language and mathematics. They rounded the night off with the surprisingly pop rocky Vigilante from the album of the same name. A crowd jumping, screaming belter of a track. the encore was a very odd moment to also do an extended guitar solo, but the band are living the dream, playing live, playing by the rules they write. The crowd where bouncing, one fan even invaded the stage. The security guard looked thankful for something to do. It was a great ending to a good night of funk rock and hard rock.
Planet of Zeus are a fantastic live band, a truly accomplished garage rock group who will not let you down live. During the set I couldn’t help but lament our culture, trapped indoors, kept safely bored with Netflix, Gogglebox and being fed their musical knowledge from a greedy, Saturday night charlatan. Get out there and feel the music through the floor. Planet of Zeus took us away for brief while to a place where the rage still lives and makes me want to start a band again, regardless of how old I am. Live music, live rock music brings out the wild youth, well mildly mischievous old man who had one too many ciders on a school night.
Planet of Zeus are on a European tour until the middle of May, dates can be found here : Tour Dates
Lionize : Tour Dates
Click on photos to access photo galleries!
Look out soon for the Fleshcast, a vlog of Rockflesh exploits pre and post gig!
Words by Paul Flett
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki