Monday, January 15, 2024

Wayward Sons - Riverside, Newcastle, 14 January 2024

Lightning-strike riffing. Wah-wah howling, hair-tossing lead guitar. Thunder-cracking, skins-flaying drums. Shape-throwing, bassist pogo-ing stagecraft. Soaring, machine gun vocal delivery. Buckets of charisma. Oh yeah, and a hatful of irresistible tunes.
Doubtless I’ve left half a dozen impressive qualities out of that list, but you get the picture.  Yep, Wayward Sons are a proper, hard-hitting rock’n’roll band - one of the most thrilling around today, Jack.  
They come onstage to an entry tape on which Johnny Cash singing ‘Folsom Prison Blues’
Toby Jepson reaches up, Nic Wastell gets down
morphs into fairground music, which just about sums up the balance of the serious purpose in Toby Jepson’s lyrics and the rock’n’roll frolics of their performance. Then they launch into the hard-riffing ‘Big Day’ with smiling, kinetic intent. They follow that with the rollicking, lives -up-to-its title ‘Feel Good Hit’, at the end of which Jepson observes that the line “Feel good hit of the summer” feels ironic on a winter night when the Riverside is “bloody freezing”.  And then they set about heating the place up with a pace that barely slackens over the next hour and a half as they blast out one hard rock anthem after another. 
How to describe the Wayward Sons’ vibe?  Think Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson cranked up into the red zone and covering The Ruts ‘Babylon’s Burning’ maybe, with lead axe picker Sam Wood nicking Brian May’s piercing guitar tone every now and then just to spice things up.  Nah, that doesn’t really cover it, but it’ll do for a start.
It's full throttle stuff, except when they downshift a gear or two for what passes for a breather on ‘Faith In Fools’, with its ELO-like chorus, complemented by airy backing vocals.  They dial things down here and there though, to create a sense of dynamics, as on the power-popping ‘Fake’
with its harmonies, whopping great riff and a “na-na-na” ending reminiscent of the Banana Splits, no less.  Most of the time though, they're powered along by Phil Martin making like Cozy Powell on drums, while bassman Nic Wastell charges around in rollercoaster fashion.
Smiling Sam Wood knocks out another solo
Did I mention riffs?  There are belters here, there and every which where, from the twist and slam of the aforementioned ‘Feel Good Hit’ to the blitzkrieg of ‘Even Up The Score’, the tense but melodic ‘Bloody Typical’ to the ringing-then-climbing affair on ‘Crush’ which is the catalyst for a bouncing, singalong highlight.
But they’re more than just riff merchants, because Toby and chums don’t half know how to put a song together.  Sadly the caustic polemic of Jepson’s clever wordsmithing tends to get lost in the Riverside’s high-ceilinged acoustics, but there’s no ignoring the quality of the melodies, arrangements and hooks.  Did I say hooks?  Nah, when you get to the focal points of tracks like the set closer ‘Until The End’, and the second of three encores ‘Ghost’, they’re not so much hooks as red-hot rivets slammed into your noggin with a hard rock sledgehammer.  And those aren’t isolated examples, no siree.
All of which leaves me with one question.  Why the hell are these guys still playing modest clubs like the Riverside?  Don’t get me wrong – I’m happier seeing ‘em here than fifty yards away in some aircraft hangar of an arena, but that’s just me being selfish.  Hopefully 2024 is the year Wayward Sons achieve lift-off.
Finally, a quick word for local lads Thieves of Liberty, who opened the evening.  My first impression was that they were pleasingly solid, but I ended up enjoying them more than that. Their twin Les Paul attack and whomping rhythm section gelled tightly, the lead guitar playing was engaging, and if the sound was a bit unkind on the vocal front they still knew how to put on a show.  They looked like they were enjoying themselves, and rightly so.
Wayward Sons play Nottingham on 19 January and Wolverhampton on 20 January, details here.

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