Live Review : Skid Row + Backyard Babies + H.E.A.T. @ O2 Ritz, Manchester on January 22nd 2019

It’s as regular a night in Manchester as you are likely to find.  There is evidence of rain and daytime activities have transitioned into minor night time reveries.  The crimson death wagon has sped into Manchester with the grace of a drunk at an open bar. We arrive late, H.E.A.T. are just about to go on stage.  Johann makes the scramble to the pit, leaving me at the bar. Apologies to Vega, domestic shenanigans and Manchester never ending roadworks hold us up.

Swedish H.E.A.T storm the stage with an electrifying energy.  Eric Grönwall is on fire, dancing, jiggling and moshing along to H.E.A.T.’s own brand of classic pop rock. The set kicks off with the aggressive sounding  ‘Bastard of Society’, a high tempo, pop song with multi vocal chorus and a high octane riff.  They continue in a similar vein with songs taken from their latest album ‘Into the Great Unknown.  The last song they play is the standout unknown song of the night and well worth a listening.  ‘A Shot At Redemption‘ has an extremely catchy vocal part with a thumping back beat.  It is an easy to pick up, pumped up rally to arms and succeeds in warming the crowd up for the Backyard Babies.

Backyard Babies kick their set off with one of the better songs of the night and one of the best songs I’ve heard in ages ‘Good morning midnight’.  A well sculpted chorus with a pacey, punchy verse and middle eight.   Dregen, the guitarist, wields a rust coloured 335 and his razor edged sound cuts through to the bone. Each broken note in his solo scrapes and pulls the nerves but accompanies the fluid pounding rock of the Backyard Babies. ‘Look At You’ takes the band to a more predictable American punk vibe with a hint of the Dropkick Murphys that shout through the song, the crowd are bouncing. The song is short and aggressive and the shot in the arm the crowd needed.  With seven albums to draw from the Backyard Babies have almost veteran status. Their influences veer between punk, rock and that pumping Irish hard rock.  Nicke Borg handles the vocals well without being flashy, while also holding down guitar parts as well. The band are super tight and power through a set of blistering songs.  By far the best song of the night is the opening track from their latest album ‘Four by Four’, the track ‘Th1rt3en or Nothing’ has a more modern rock sound leaving room in the verse for Borg to cast a vocal spell over the audience, the chorus again espousing the more cliched elements of rock music.  They round the set off with ‘Brand New Hate’, a song opening with the line “Making enemies is good”.  There isn’t much chance of that at Manchester tonight, Backyard Babies made plenty of new friends including me. 

Thankfully Skid Row are seasoned pro’s and the gap between the bands is slight.  They come onstage to a massive roar. Wherever they play, the Skids are well received having recorded two of the best rock albums of all time. Many think Sebastian Bach as the talisman of Skid Row but in actual fact it is and always has been Rachel Bolan, bassist, writer and heartbeat of the band. The band kicks things off with the immensely heavy ‘Slave to the Grind’.  The crowd sings every words, I’m right in the middle of it now, bouncing, fist pumping and seem to have gained an old couple for company.  With the worldwide success of both ‘Skid Row’ and ‘Slave to the Grind’, it is unsurprising that the songs are taken predominantly from those two albums. This time though, they only drop the tempo for ‘18 And Life’ and ‘I Remember You’ with an almost non stop powerhouse display of their most frenetic songs. The gig flashes by at warp speed. The last six songs span a mere 19 minutes and kick the crowd into oblivion. This set compared to last year’s tour (See review) was so much more Skid Row, powerful, relentless and without mercy. The highlight being the historically underplayed ‘Get the Fuck out’ a childish, toy throwing, anger ridden punk headbanger, with the simple yet effective chorus of “Get the fuck out!”. We left the Ritz battered but not broken, with new songs and new bands to consider, and the cementing of an old favourite.   

Words by Paul Flett
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki