I must admit, I've seen Thunder more times than any other band by now, and in all that time they have never put on a bad show, be it in small clubs or massive festivals. I could probably review one of their gigs in my sleep, with the only difficulty being coming up with fresh superlatives with which to praise the talented buggers. Oh well, I'll do my best...
As expected, The Academy is pretty well rammed. For a band without a 'proper' label, Thunder seem to be doing very well for themselves, selling out tours, getting songs in the charts and releasing more DVD's than any other band purely on the back of talent and personality. There's a small bit of aggro at the door when the security jobsworth searches my bag and tells me I can't bring in a packet of Pork Scratchings. For those not in the know, these are incredibly unhealthy snacks only British people seem to appreciate properly. Although I promise not to stab anybody with them, Mr Nobby says 'no', so I have to throw them disgustedly out of the door. I've got to admit that this really pisses me off, especially as my bag was going straight into the cloakroom anyway. On the plus side, we manage to miss almost all of Lauren Harris' set, so things are definitely looking up.
Over the last 18 years, Thunder have built up a sizable back catalogue of songs to unload live, and choosing the right ones must be a bugger. Fortunately bad songs by Thunder are few and far between, so the crowd are happy with whatever they get. You can't really go wrong opening with 'Dirty Dream' and 'Last Man Standing', both of which show off the quality of the bands last studio album, 'Robert Johnson's Tombstone'. The title track also gets an airing, and I'm glad of that as it's one of the best songs they've come up with for many years. Watching the show, I'm jealous of anyone experiencing Thunder for the first time, and wish I could be one of those staring with a slack jaw at what must surely be one of the tightest and best live rock bands on the planet.
Undoubted master of all ceremonies is the impossibly bouncy Danny Bowes, a man who seems to get physical, possibly sexual, pleasure from getting people to jump about and clap their hands. It's a rare song that goes by without him trying to get as many people as possible bouncing about, clapping or waving their hands like lunatics. On one hand it's all a bit excessive, but on the other he's such a bloody likable bloke that if you don't do as he says you feel like you're letting him down. On top of that it's actually a good laugh, so he gets away with it all the time. He thrives on energetic tunes (commenting after 'I'll Be Waiting' that 'that's the soppy shit out of the way') and seems to want everybody to have as good a time as he does. Either that or he's doing his best to fight the so called obesity epidemic by turning every gig into a mass yoga session!
Whilst Danny grabs the attention, it doesn't mean the rest of the band don't get a look in. Luke Morley, of course, gets plenty of chances to show off his guitar playing (and harmonica playing), with Ben Matthews getting a few solos as well as switching deftly between guitar and keyboards when needed. Bassist Chris Childs has a got at a small solo at one point, only for the rest of the band to sneak to the opposite side of the stage whilst he's concentrating and make fun of him. This sense of genuine friendship and enjoyment underpins a Thunder gig, with the band seeming more like your old friends than professional musicians earning a crust. When 'Backsteet Symphony' is belted out the band are as good as they were all those years ago, with Bowes' voice not having lost any of it's range or power. This is especially evident during 'Like A Satellite', which is simply awesome, a beautiful song, played up to the halfway point by Ben Matthews on the piano with Bowes singing, after which the rest of the band join in.
The inevitable encore arrives, bringing with it great versions of 'Spin Doctor' and 'I Love You More Than Rock & Roll', with 'A Better Man' sandwiched between them. The latter sees drummer Gary 'Harry' James escape from behind his kit to accompany Bowes on the acoustic guitar. He gets to stand at the front of the stage whilst the other four sit on the drum riser and heckle him, like you would. As 'ILYMTR&R' finishes, the lights go up and there's more than a few confused faces. It's understandable, as Thunder always end with their ridiculously overlong version of 'Dirty Love'. (It's a tradition, or an old charter or something.) On this tour, however, it's been well and truly dropped, and if I'm honest I don't miss it. We've already had a brilliant extended all singing, clapping and bouncing version of 'You Can't Keep A Good Man Down' at the end of the main set, and that was good enough for me. Once again, Thunder have pulled out a great set, and although I'm not that young man waiting behind to have my 12” of 'She's So Fine' (why don't they play that any more?) signed after the show, I'm a very happy punter anyway. Thanks lads, see you next time.
Review & Photos by Alan Holloway