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Album Review: TBA

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Gig review: The Answer + Black Spiders + Dark Horse – The Junction, Cambridge, 08/12/09

Going head-to-head in a self-defeating battle of rock promoters, the bands on tonight’s Cambridge Junction bill are going up against the powerhouses of Dragonforce and Glamour Of The Kill who are playing across town at the Corn Exchange. The quick fill suggests that, not only have they stolen some of the aforementioned bands’ crowd but that, people have ventured from far and wide to catch a glimpse of this venue’s headliners, The Answer – a band experiencing probably the most oustanding year of anyone on the rock circuit.

Kicking us off tonight, Dark Horse, are clearly revelling in the pregnant atmosphere. “I’m feeling it, let’s ride this bitch!” cries the lead vocalist/bassist Will Walter (one of three brothers on stage) before the band stutter into their highlight, Unspoken. The two guitarists flanking him rip out familiar riffs and leads, all the time dancing upon the grave of the now-defunct band, The Darkness. There’s no doubting the influence – you just have to look at Will’s trousers to show they are proud to be able to follow in such grandiloquent footsteps; one pant leg is denim, the other is white leather. Quite why they’d want to mimic their idols so closely is beyond me, but they have a damned good go at it, overegging the pudding at every opportunity. Falling short is inevitable, but it’s nice to see a little bit of AC/DC influence also creep in along the way. Highlights are the one-man rampage through the crowd that guitarist Ollie Walter attempts during ‘Pictures’ (he’s hilariously followed by a roadie with a torch to light his way) and the back-flip finale that Tom Johnson pulls off… just.

Black Spiders are burly, butch, brash and lots of other things starting with ‘b’. It’s the big beards that make them stand out physically and the bruising beats that isolate them sonically. A string of four axemen spread across the front of the stage, pinpoints the direction of their sound – guitar-driven desert rock with little touches of classic, old school riffing thrown in to fill out the mix. By tossing out the infectious chorus of Stay Down for the crowd to singalong to, they mark their territory early, with frontman Pete Spiby asking those gathered to raise their middle fingers and point them in his general direction whilst screaming “Fuck you Black Spiders!” It’s a move that certainly raises the temperature a couple of notches and endears the band to the crowd with immediate effect. It’s like listening to Maylene & The Sons Of Disaster on some kind of power trip. By St. Peter, drummer ‘Tiger Si’ Atkinson is leaning over his kit to longingly eyeball the crowd whilst the guitarists are taking it in turn to laugh dementedly into their mics. A bed of smoke begins to rise from the floor and a blue hue is thrown onto the stage to blur the lines even further. “How are you doing, Cambridge?” yells Spiby and repeats it over and over until he’s got the crowd busting a gut to appease him. Behind his rotund physique, Atkinson hammers at his kit with huge towering strokes until the sizzle cymbal finally explodes in a shower of rivets. By the time they reach closer, Full Seven Inches, the audience are utterly transfixed. It’s a performance that won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

“Hello Cambridge town. We’re The Answer from County Down, Northern Ireland, and we have some business with you tonight… and that business is rock and roll”. It’s a beautifully worded introduction and the riotous response indicates that plenty have heard it before. The Answer have spent the year touring as main support for AC/DC on their incredible ‘Black Ice’ U.S./Europe tour and have loved every minute of it. It’s been the proving ground on which they’ve tightened up their act, so that now they could pretty much do this gig with their eyes shut. The experience is showing as little marks all over the stage – taped crosses to indicate where they need to stand at any one time to maximise a riff or a movement. Out front, it’s the extra margin that proves there class. Lead vocalist Cormac Neeson is resplendent in his familiar flowery shirt and long hippie hair (a mop to begin with, it takes shape as he sweats it out) and he moves like a man possessed by the bluesy rhythms. They seem to flow through him as he stoops and shrugs, taking great heaving breaths to suck up the heart of firstly their single, ‘Tonight’, then the pulsing rocker, ‘Demon Eyes’. His croaked, yet voluminous delivery is a talent that his own peers, nay, idols crave (Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott has professed to being a fan) and, on the band’s slower material, it steps into the spotlight, stunning the crowd into a jaw-dropping silence. ‘Cry Out’ and, especially, ‘Why’d You Change Your Mind?’ are stunners, transcending the borrowed chords to stand alone as things of beauty.

All the way through, Neeson is checking back in with the crowd to make sure they’re all enjoying themselves, be it to regale us with faux stories of how the drummer turned down a place on the Cambridge University Rowing Team to play drums tonight, to ask us to help them out by clapping to keep the band in time, requesting a singalong for the now famous Belfast Blues Off, or letting us know that the band haven’t forgotten the last time they played Cambridge (three years ago). At his side, guitarist Paul Mahon constantly switches between guitars all night, utilising finger-slides, capos, whammy bars and wah pedals to hammer home an array of different sounds. It’s his solos that startle the most – he leans into them, stepping right out to the edge of the stage, before raising his axe triumphantly after each one’s climax. During ‘Evil Man’, Neeson steps off-stage to sing with the front row so that, come the end, he and his cracking band are being roared from the stage as heroes.

Photo by Rich E

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