Thunder/Heaven’s Basement/Get Vegas
Tonight’s a bit like a comfy slipper for me, musically. After all, I’ve seen Thunder about twenty times since 1989, have been following Heaven’s Basement since their early Hurricane Party days, and even new boys Get Vegas are chalking up their second appearance on my gigometer. It’s potentially a five star line up, almost comparable to Thunders tour with Roadstar (Heaven’s Basement again by another name) and Toby Jepson, when Jepson played loads of Little Angels songs.
There’s not a great deal of people in when Get Vegas kick of what is the first gig of a short tour. One reason is that drinks are not allowed in the auditorium, something that always makes the first band suffer unless they have a decent rep. Get Vegas don’t have that rep yet, and so deliver their bluesy goods to a small but interested crowd who happily applaud the music that seems stuffed somewhere between Free and The Answer. This may sound good, but it is hampered a little by two things. Firstly, the sound mix for the vocals is rather crap, and Jonny Cole seems to be straining his heart out for nothing. I know from previous experience he has a superb voice, and it’s a shame we don’t get to hear it tonight. Secondly, the aforementioned Mr Cole manages to display almost zero stage presence tonight. Telling the audience your website address twice in the manner of a teenager who wants more friends on Facebook just isn’t gonna cut it. Maybe he was having an off night, but if this was the University of Rock, not Exeter, he needs a weeks detention with Mr Lee Roth to sort out his stagecraft.
In complete opposite to Get Vegas’ laid back approach, Heaven’s Basement are no less than a force of nature. They come out like their arses are on fire, flying round the stage like sniffer dogs at a High Times convention. Despite taking their time releasing an album, there’s a good few fans in attendance, with more being made with every song. The likes of “Rain On My Parade” and the ever brilliant “Executioner’s Day” ensure that the pace never drags, with singer Richie Heavenz looking every inch the rock star. Not to be outdone, the rest of the band strike poses straight from the “Big Haired Boys Book Of Strutting”, whilst Chris Rivers does his best to kill his drum kit. Although not a long set, it’s filled with big songs, big licks and some great solos from Jonny Rocker and Sid Glover, whilst bassist Rob Randell does his stuff and smiles a lot. There’s a great new song “Such Is Life” that I know I’ll be humming all the way home, and an overall sense of a band having a great time that earmarks Heaven’s Basement out as a band that are just waiting to gran the collective throats of the rock world. Mind you, they could all do with a good meal, skinny bastards!
The hall is pretty much full (although not jammed) when the light dim and “Thunderstruck” starts to play. It’s nice to have it back, as it’s the perfect intro, but half way though it stops and there is much confusion. Something has gone wrong, and it all starts again, only to stop again at the same point. As we are wondering what’s up, there is a massive BANG! (appropriately) and several audience members have heart attacks. It’s nothing bad, however, just a noisemaker on stage to remind us of the new album title, although it is, and I cannot stress this enough, REALLY loud. With the age of many of Thunder’s fans these days (I even saw one couple with matching wolf fleeces, for God’s sake) it might not be the best way to come on, but casualties are few so the gig goes ahead with old favourite “Backstreet Symphony” providing the perfect starting block. Without pausing for much breath they whip out “On the Radio” and “Stonewater”, arguably the best two tracks from the new “Bang!” album, the combination of the great music and some cool, creative lighting getting everyone in the mood for a typically bouncy Thunder set.
Danny Bowes takes some time out to introduce stand in drummer John Tonks, before he does his best showing off for “Low Life In High Places”. It’s nothing new to see Danny totally milk the final line of the song, but as usual it’s entertaining and funny, not repellently smug. That’s the thing about Bowes – he knows he’s a fantastic singer (one of the best I’ve ever heard live) and he plays up to it but always with his tongue firmly in his cheek. After the tour finishes in December it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if it was announced he was going off to do a bit of Panto, but for now it’s nice to have him. Apart from the slow bits, Danny manages to bounce around the stage for the entire show, trying at every opportunity to get the crowd to join in and have fun, not just stand there and watch. With a frontman like that, the rest of the band are hard pressed to make a lot of impact, but they do their best, with not one happy to sit back and let Danny do all the work. Luke Morley’s guitar seems a little tinny at times, but aside from this the band get through teh first night with nary a hitch. The set list is a cracker, with “Carol Ann” and “Honey” rounding off the new album showcase, plus a welcome return for “Empty City” and “Higher Ground”. There’s only time for 15 tracks amongst all the bouncing, waving and clapping, and as usual it’s impossible to keep everyone happy. The problem is that Luke Morley writes far too many excellent songs to fit in a single night, and the band must be well used to “Why didn’t you play...” moans after each tour. Even so, we get “You Can’t Keep A Good Man Down”, “Love Walked In” and the brilliantly silly “Dirty Love” dragged out as a final encore. Thunder are one of those bands that guarantee a good show every time, and Exeter was no exception to the rule. Everyone present had a great time, even those who had to recover from heart attacks, and once again Thunder have proved that when it comes to British Rock you can’t beat them at their own game.
Review & Photos by Alan Holloway, alan "at " rockunited.com