LIVE REVIEW: The Wildhearts, Backyard Babies, CKY @ O2 Academy, Newcastle (28.01.20) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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The Wildhearts may have a famously (or infamously) chequered history, but you’d have to agree that they’re in the middle of a pretty impressive purple patch right now.

After releasing and touring their highly acclaimed Renaissance Men album and a follow-up EP, they rock up, apocalyptically hungover according to Ginger, at the O2 Academy for the first UK date of their co-headlining tour with Swedish mainstays, Backyard Babies.

CKY are opening the show though, and pretty early too. Yes, it’s that CKY, the one the skate kids used to listen to because they heard them on Jackass. For a tour that features two bands who were at their most potent in the 90s, it’s strange that CKY are the ones who feel more like a throwback to a particular time and place.

Backyard Babies are a different proposition entirely, taking cues from down the decades to put on a consumate rock show. Guitarist Dregan remains as entertaining as ever, dressed and behaving as if Keith Richards woke up in 1980s LA and formed a sleaze rock band, especially when contrasted with the more stoic performance of his bandmates. Solid is probably the best way to describe Backyard Babies. Reliable. They warm up a cold Tuesday evening crowd with relative ease and deliver up a clutch of songs that veer from traditional head-nodders to the spunkier earlier cuts. There’s a bit of a lull in the middle sections but only one real low point (2019’s Shovin’ Rocks, which mentions rock ‘n’ roll no fewer than twenty times in a 3:20 runtime), and the Babies leave the stage to a swell of goodwill. Job done.

For all that the set times may be equal however, there’s no real doubt that the night belongs to The Wildhearts, and, being a homecoming show, that’s only fitting. From the first crushing riffs of Everlone, it’s clear that The Wildhearts aren’t dicking around. They’ve wasted enough time down the years, and with the definitive line-up of Ginger, CJ, Ritch Battersby, and the long-absent but much loved Danny McCormack back in place, it feels like they’re making good on their promises.

Being a 75 minute set there’s little in the way of deep cuts or surprises, but what we do get is a reminder, if needed, of why Ginger and co inspire such devotion. Their perfectly blended mix of harmonies, hooks, time signature changes, wit and pummelling riffs feels nothing short of alchemic, no matter how many times you’ve seen the band play. Add to this the fact that they’re on the form of their lives over thirty years into their career, and you can see why the passion is still there on the floor.

A litany of huge rock songs fill the room, with Sick of Drugs, Greetings From Shitsville, Vanilla Radio, TV Tan and more keeping energy levels at maximum, and it’s a testament to just how many songs The Wildhearts have that you could fill another set list just from the fan favourites that aren’t played. The real feat that the Wildhearts are achieving in 2020 though, is that they have found the perfect balance between their past, present and future.

For all the bona fide classics (hello, I Wanna Go Where The People Go and Geordie in Wonderland) it’s the reception that greats Diagnosis, one of the standouts from Renaissance Men and an anthem for those living through mental health conditions, that is the most telling. Every word is screamed along with, the sentiment connects, and there’s surely songs that have gone platinum that don’t mean as much to a room full of people. For a band this far down the line it’s seriously impressive.

Renaissance Men tracks crop up a few more times to great affect. My Kinda Movie feels vintage, Let ‘Em Go is timeless, and Dislocated is a more punishing six minutes of sledgehammer guitars than any band with members in their 40s and 50s has any right to release.

What really makes it work is that the band seem to have finally found peace with each other. Coming out a near-constant cycle of drugs, fights and fallouts, all four of The Wildhearts, this classic line-up of the most fractious of bands, finally seem to have found a peace with each other that lets them get on with the task of being the UK’s noisiest, most anthemic hard rock band.

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