Concert Reviews

Houston / Serpentine / Vega Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     May 20, 2011    
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Houston / Serpentine / Vega - The Borderline, London (UK) - 4th of March 2011.

With the recent upturn in interest in AOR it only stands to reason that there will be younger bands coming through playing music in that style alongside the long-standing well known names of the genre. Hopefully there will be many more gigs like this to come – in fact there will as a six-date tour has already been booked as well as all three of these bands playing at Firefest – but getting three of the best new bands around for the princely sum of £8 is a deal that I'm betting will never be repeated.

Vega, the band featuring the talents of ex-Kick singer Nick Workman and the talented Martin brothers, James and Tom, have had great reviews across the board for their debut album 'Kiss Of Life', and quite rightly too as they've struck a great balance between traditional melodic rock and something a little more modern. With a great sound from the beginning the lively 'Into The Wild' gets things underway and immediately gets the crowd going with the infectious backbeat of Dan Chantrey, with new bassist Rob Wilde, despite looking like he's in the wrong band with his shaggy two-tone hair and guyliner, helping out the backing vocals immensely and moving about far more than anybody bar the confident Workman himself. The band use their limited time extremely well with highlights being the insanely catchy 'Staring At The Sun', the excellent ballad 'What It Takes' and great upbeat rockers like 'Heart Of Glass', 'S.O.S' and 'Kiss Of Life'. They've been out playing shows since the end of last year and their professionalism shows through, my only criticism being that there's very little movement from guitarists Nick Horne and Tom Martin leaving Workman and Wilde to carry the show, but playing and song-wise Vega just can't be faulted.

It was South Wales based Serpentine's first ever live gig, and to be honest having to follow Vega isn't something I would wish on anyone, but to their credit if they were nervous then it didn't show much. Having recently replaced TNT/Shy singer Tony Mills with the relatively unknown Matt Black due to Mills' other commitments making it impossible for him to tour, it has to be said that Black is certainly a better visual fit being of the same mid-twenties age as his bandmates. As they kicked off with the extended intro the first album's title track, 'A Touch Of Heaven', it was immediately apparent how well rehearsed they were, and also great to see the faces in the crowd the moment Black opened his mouth and delivered the soaring vocals with ease. With bassist Gareth Vanstone and keyboard player Gareth David Noon helping out on backing vocals it's impressive just how easily they can create the sound of their heavily layered album, with the extra bite of Chris Gould's Zakk Wylde Les Paul and Roy Millward's powerful drumming giving the songs far more grit than the keyboard-heavy recorded versions of songs like 'Lonely Nights' and 'Let Love Rain Down'. However, it's Black that's the main focal point and his stratospheric vocals, with just a hint of a warble to avoid being a Mills copyist, cut through the mix like a hot knife through butter. New songs 'Philadelphia' and 'Cry' from the forthcoming sophomore album certainly bode well for a chunkier future and the insanely catchy 'Whatever Heartache' brings up the rear with a chorus that won't leave your head for days. Their first album came out just before anyone knew there was a new wave of AOR coming, and as such they were probably the least known of the bands on offer, but despite a couple of slightly off-key moments during the earlier songs, I doubt any band could hope for more than this from their first ever live show.

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The great reviews that Houston's debut album has been met with are, in my opinion, totally deserved as the Swedish duo have tapped into the subtlety that AOR used to have before everyone started cluttering up their albums with layer upon layer of guitars, keys and backing vocals. The album was refreshing as it gave the songs room to breathe, even though, again in my opinion, it was still a few great songs short of the genre classic it's being made out to be in some circles. I'd been here for the soundcheck earlier and it had been quite impressive, but despite the great reception they got I feel they made a few wrong calls. The all-white clothes, especially when you have female guitarists of the blonde (Filippa Naessil) and brunette (Helena Alsterhed) varieties, just looks like an Abba pastiche. Similarly with opener 'One Chance' having a definite 'Eye Of The Tiger' beat to it, singer Hampus 'Hank' Erix' white boxer robe, complete with his name on the back and the boxing gloves, just managed to confirm which track they'd just lifted from. To be honest I don't think the band had quite done their homework and the number of bum notes, both played and sung, meant a dodgy start where songs of the undoubted calibre of 'Chasing The Dream' and 'Give Me Back My Heart' were carried along purely by enthusiastic audience. Similarly the eagerly awaited 'Truth Slips' featured guitarist Helena Alsterhed on the female vocal part, although to be fair there were more mistakes on that track than just her off-key voice. Thankfully things started to improve and the band visibly grew in confidence through some of their best tracks, with Hank proving to be a very decent singer and frontman during 'Under Your Skin', 'Hold On', '1000 Songs' and the set closer 'Pride'. The sole encore of the night was a surprising cover of The Outfield's 'Your Love', which the band made a good job of to make an enjoyable last half of the set, but in my book the band have a lot of work to do to prove that they're a good live band and not just a studio project.

Phil Ashcroft


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