Six years to the week since I last saw them, and at the same venue, I eagerly headed into the Shepherds Bush Empire to help The Wildhearts (and around 2,000 fans and friends) celebrate the 20th anniversary of their much-acclaimed second album – P.H.U.Q.
Before that though, with the venue already nice and busy, Wildhearts’ frontman Ginger’s newest band, Hey! Hello! started things off with their mix of spiky, punky guitars with pop harmonies.
Featuring a new line up since the release of their debut album the sound remained exactly what you’d expect and it seemed to me Hollis J was far more suited to the rock show setting than her predecessor with a voice to match.
While Hollis was whipping the crowd into a frenzy, bass player Toshi was all over the stage and Ginger, while comparatively static, was clearly having a great time as many in the crowd sang the words back to this new band.
The set predominantly drew on their first album, but a few new songs showed there is plenty more to come, including the announcement of a new album.
Ending the short but sweet set on Swimwear many in the audience were calling for more and it seems Ginger has once again hit on a magic musical formula redefining just what pop-rock can mean in a world of bland mediocrity.
Second support on the tour were a band who first toured with The Wildhearts back in the mid-90s but called it a day in the late-90s, Baby Chaos.
Back together, and with a new album, the Scottish quartet delivered a sound firmly placed in that much overlooked time for British rock that married elements of Therapy? and Placebo with a truck load of thunderous riffs.
While clearly a bit more accustomed to smaller venues than this big old concert hall, the band’s huge sound more than filled the space and their genuine enthusiasm for being back on stage was infectious winning many new fans (myself included) while delighting their die-hard followers and excellently setting the stage for what was to come.
As soon as the opening bars of The Wildhearts‘ I Wanna Go Where The People Go rang out from Ginger and CJ’s guitars the positive atmosphere in the Shepherds Bush Empire jumped even further and didn’t let up for the next hour and three-quarters.
On record P.H.U.Q. is a tour-de-force album that spans styles and moods somewhat like a mid-90s, cocaine fuelled, Abbey Road-era Beatles record with a chip on its shoulder. Live it took on something of a new aspect as every track became a kind of celebration with everyone in the venue, from the band on stage to those in the upper circle, and even astonishingly hard-working roadie Dunc, getting in on the action of singing, dancing and reveling in a unique and classic set of songs.
One of the things I love about The Wildhearts is the sense of unpredictability they bring with them, any fan of the band can tell you stories of gigs that have descended into a kind of chaos as well as shows that have reached a special kind of height.
Thankfully this one was of the latter and is probably the best outing I’ve experienced from the band. The first half of the set was a run through of P.H.U.Q. with highlights coming in the opener, Baby Strange, Nita Nitro, Jonesing For Jones, Whoa Shit You Got Through, Be My Drug and Getting It with the audience’s singing and interaction being as much a part of the show as the band’s performance on stage.
After a brief break the band were back tearing through a set of ‘hits’ from their other albums spanning everything from Don’t Be Happy Just Worry to Chutzpah and once again every song was a mass singalong.
With Anthem from Endless, Nameless getting a rare a well received outing alongside crowd-pleasers like Weekend and Geordie In Wonderland the whole thing reached a climax with Ginger’s homage to his heroes 29x The Pain (complete with Ritch Battersby leaving his place behind the drums for ‘the duck song’) as sheer positivity flowed through the whole place as we headed out into the night.
As a celebration goes no show has quite reached the level of pure enjoyment for me that this one did tonight, in fact I’d put it up with the best music events I’ve been to (alongside Rancid at Brixton in 1996). It showed that, for a band who’ve been together for the best part of three decades, they can still put on a high energy show that connects with an audience and, while looking back, it didn’t feel like a simple nostalgia show.
So, Fishing For Luckies in two years then?