Live Review : The Wildhearts + Massive Wagons + Towers Of London @ Academy 2, Manchester on May 3rd 2019

In early May 1994 as an enthusiastic but rather rough around the edges reporter I reviewed The Wildhearts playing the Student Union’s Main debating Hall for the Student Paper. I tell you this as here I am twenty-five years later as an enthusiastic but rather rough around the edges reporter for ROCKFLESH reviewing The Wildhearts play exactly the same room (now renamed Academy 2). Many things have changed (how many new buildings does Manchester actually need and where did that bloody spiral staircase come from) but other things have stayed the same; namely I still can’t spell, my social skills haven’t improved, my teeth are still in woeful condition (I remember someone at the ’94 gig commenting on it) and The Wildhearts are touring a stunning album seemingly on the verge of greatness. In 1993 the album was the sublime (and to be honest much commemorated) “Earth Vs The Wildhearts” which catapulted them into… well if I am being honest into drug abuse, acrimonious departures and carrier dead ends. In 2019, we have the absolutely stunning “Renaissance Man” and the hope is that this is finally The Wildhearts moment.  

The opening act is another band that seemed to have it all before purposefully finding a convenient wall to piss it all up against. In 2005, Towers of London were the most dangerous band on the planet; they got banned from Download, lorded it up on Celebrity Big Brother and caused choas whereever they went. They were also incredibly exciting live and an air of early New York Dolls meets Sex Pistols. Of course it all went tits up and they disappeared for almost a decade but now they are back and well it is like the last ten or so years haven’t happened. Donny and Dirk Tourette may be older and have a little less hair, but they still bounce around the stage like their lives depend upon this and they still play gobby, simplistic, punky rock n’roll. Tracks such as 'I’m a Ratand 'Beaujolais' have aged remarkably well and still have the swagger and the grit. In fact, the whole set is a cacophony of attitude and energy that grabs you by the lapels and refuses to let go. The only issue is what place Towers of London have in 2019, we certainly need their choatic charm but is anyone actually interested after all this time?

Massive Wagons are less spikely and threatening than Towers of London. They are about the time before punk when sideburns were king and rock n’roll was bold and bluesy. There is a real warmth to Massive Wagons, this is about music as fun, accepting and non-confrontational. While Donny Tourette still has the air about him that he is about to glass you, Baz Mills comes across as he will buy you a pint and recount you with tales of the time he hitch-hiked to Doncaster to see Status Quo. The material is basic, but it is well played and highly infectious. I am not that familiar with last year well received “Full Nelson” but I found myself singing along with gusto with essentially the rest of the hall. The best track of the night is 'Back to Stack' a tribute to the late great Rick Parfitt and in four and half minutes they manage to distill everything that was wonderful about the frantic four era Quo. Overall Massive Wagons are highly entertaining, this heavy blues with not a care in the world is played as it used to be played and Baz Mills feels like a latter day Noddy Holder in that he is playful, affable and you would kill to have that aforementioned pint with him. 

The Wildhearts have scars, lots of scars. Their history is turbulent and full of missed opportunities and personnel upheaval (Ginger has an ongoing battle with mental ill-health and Danny has lost his lower right leg after a decade long battle with Heroin Abuse). They also are one of the finest bands this country has ever produced and on their day there is no band like them. There is a real feeling of new beginnings here as this is the first show in their campaign for their frankly outstanding new record and they finally have something that lives up to their promise and potential. The only problem is that they are not playing enough of it! This may seem like first world problems and a nit pick for nit picks sake but I wanted far more of “Renaissance Man” than I got. In fact, I would have happily had the the whole of “Renaissance Man” as it is that good. What we do get is stunning opener 'Dislocated' and the melodic venom of 'Let ‘Em Go' and aside from the bizarre mimed version of the title track which is captured for a video (and doesn’t count as it was just a taped version played through the PA) that is all we get. This is, in my humble opinion, a massive missed opportunity to showcase their best work in twenty five years!

So putting aside my rather bizarre hungering for a set of entirely new stuff, the show itself is great and Ginger seems to be having so much fun that he manages to forget to play 'Caffeine Bomb’, sticking it later when he realises his mistakeThere is even an unexpected appearance of 'Urge' from ‘Endless, Nameless’ which is welcomed with open arms by the feverish crowd though to me still sounds melancholic and out of character for the band. The rest of the set is not exactly a best of (“hits” such as 'TV Tan, 'Geordie in Wonderland' and 'Greetings from Shitsville' are all AWOL) but instead a frantic whistle stop tour through twenty-eight years of recorded content and every track is greeted with relish by the crowd and results in a hearty sing-along.

Overall this is The Wildhearts doing what The Wildhearts do best and it is immensely good fun. I know I am being greedy and might be unfair but as excellent as they were tonight (and they were) I know they can be even better.  Having spent the last week immersed in “Renaissance Man” I know they have something truly special to shout about and I really really wish that alongside referring to the rave reviews that they had introduced us to more of their new additions, as they are all utterly brilliant. Oh well, still a great gig though.

Words by Stewart Lucas
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki