Live Review : SOTO + StOp,sToP! + Scarlet Aura @ Rebellion, Manchester on September 2nd 2019

We start tonight with a female-fronted metal band from Romania. Scarlet Aura tried really hard, but as first band up on a Monday evening in rainy Manchester they didn’t really stand a chance. The music was OK, generic Metal, some rather intrusive use of backing tracks for intros though. The singer had a pleasant voice, she was in tune, but it wasn’t a Voice if you know what I mean. She was kind of a minor version of Doro. A moon of Doro. Doro-lite even. I liked them, but I think they maybe would have done better with a more responsive crowd. There’s only so many times you can plead with stoic Mancunians to sing along and still get no reaction even if you are a tiny cute blonde singer, and it all just felt a little flat.

Flat is not a word you can apply to StOp,sToP! though, definitely not! They start the evening with their most recent single ‘The Last Call’, complete with the old-man outfits from the video – you need to watch it, I can’t really explain! – and the crowd, now swelling slightly, are delighted. I love the message of this song, that you’re never too old to rock so make sure you do it all before you die. Yep. That’s me that is! I think, as they rip off the old-man costumes and rip into ‘Renegade’, I might fairly describe StOp,sToP! as the ultimate party band. Their music is upbeat and fun, there’s a lot of AC/DC influence but at the same time they sound uniquely like themselves. These 3 guys live and breathe music and it shows in their performance which is theatrical as well as eye-wateringly tight. A bit like guitarist Vega’s trousers! It’s a short set today due to time constraints so favourite songs such as ‘Lola’ and ‘In N’ Out’ are aired, finishing with the self-titled ‘Stop Stop’. During this we find all 3 band members off the stage and in the crowd whilst still playing, segueing into a singalong chorus of ‘Knocking On Heaven’s Door’. Yep, even the drummer. It’s a polished performance done with joy and love, and the whole set is an uplifting experience. It’s all about the party, the good time, the music. Don’t stop, StOp,sToP!

Headliners SOTO is the band put together by vocalist Jeff Scott Soto after he’d worked with, well pretty much everyone. He has a musical pedigree as long as your arm so I’m a little ashamed to admit that I am not at all familiar with his work. His main claim to fame is being the vocalist on Yngwie Malmsteen’s first two albums but as I dislike Yngwie with a passion, his work on that kind of passed me by. I did see him perform an acoustic set earlier this year in Miami for the Monsters Of Rock Cruise pre-party, but hey, it was Miami and I was going on a cruise! I remember him having a decent voice but I was way too excited to really take in the details! With this in mind, I don’t really know what to expect tonight.

To start with the sound isn’t great and the vocals seem a bit lost in the mix, which seems odd for a band built around the vocalist. There is also a fair amount of backing track usage, which I find un-necessary and a touch irritating. If you want keyboards, get a keyboard player? I find it tricky to catch the song titles but I think the first one was ‘Freakshow’ and once I could actually hear the vocals it was a fine slice of technical rock with a nod of AOR loveliness.

The set covered all of Jeff’s career and was apparently a greatest hits kind of thing. I handed my rock journo credentials in at the door because with the exception of a couple of covers I didn’t really know any of them. My bad, as his work is a diverse portfolio covering a number of genres. He plays all-out fast rock (‘Wrath’) and gentle lightweight AOR (‘Soul Divine’). He throws in a bit of dirty sleaze (‘The Fall’) and some more commercial, poppy stuff which I believe was a combination of W.E.T. songs. I make a note to check out his work with W.E.T., I enjoyed that! ‘Learn To Live Again’ particularly was a bit classic Whitesnake-y. He dedicated the tour and a couple of songs to his late friend and bass player David Z, who he worked with on various projects for many years.

The current band are introduced and we get the title track from the new SOTO album ‘Origami’. This is another harder, faster, Metal song with a double kick drum beat and a pacy riff. It’s OK but I think I prefer AOR Jeff personally. After a couple more songs, one of which I think is called ‘Detonate’ and is a bit proggy and one ‘Torn’ which has apparently never been played live before Jeff moves on to include a few covers. His choice of songs is…. Interesting! Comprising Madonna’s ‘Frozen’, Seal’s ‘Crazy’ and Michael Jackson’s ‘Give In To Me’, it starts as a bit of a WTF moment but is actually done really well and becomes enjoyable to hear such familiar songs given a proper rock twist.

There are a couple more of his own songs that segue into each other and are very popular with the crowd, who provide enthusiastic backing vocals. I didn’t catch the first one but the second was Talisman’s ‘I’ll Be Waiting’. There’s no time to go off and then do an encore so he goes straight into the final song ‘Stand Up’ which I recognise as being a Steel Dragon song and is a fine anthem to end the night on. I leave wondering how the hell this man has produced so much great music over the years that I have had no clue about, and resolving to check out his back catalogue immediately and Do Better in future!

Words by Jo Crosby
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki