Skid Row – Backyard Babies – H.E.A.T. – Vega: Live at O2 Ritz, Manchester

A four band bill on a cold Tuesday evening seems like the perfect antidote to the winter blues, so with Skid Row bringing the heat… sorry, bringing along H.E.A.T. alongside Vega and Backyard Babies on support on their latest tour, it seemed like the perfect evening. A quick trip across to Manchester later and it was time for the rather early doors.

First on are Vega, a band I’ve been fortunate enough to see on several previous occasions, who have plenty of good level slots under their own belts. Taking to the stage a mere ten minutes after doors opening could be daunting or disheartening for a lot of other acts, but Vega takes to the stage with a visible level of enthusiasm in their accustomed manner. They are a highly polished outfit, treading the line between Hard Rock and AOR with the ease and polish required to show themselves off as adequate support on such a bill as tonight.

Thirty minutes is good timing for an opening slot, especially on a four-band bill and they use it to its fullest, minimising any downtime returning, showing a lot of forethought about their setlist. They once again show their talent, both individually and collectively, with the rapidly growing audience showing due appreciation as they take to Vega quickly; a very good performance.

H.E.A.T. is another band I’ve caught before and have become a fan of following their sets. They show why again tonight with a high-octane performance demonstrating they are one of the most vibrant live acts coming out of Sweden at the moment, with frontman Erik a perpetual motion bleached blonde Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s not enough for him to jump from the stage to the barrier several times, he decides he has to pop into the crowd too, delighting those around him as he dances away whilst singing.

Not even the keyboard stand collapsing can put the guys off, as Jona plays one-off the top of a bin, while two guys fix the stand for him, after taking turns to hold the keyboard for him first! The band are as tight as ever and the screaming around me shows that they already have some definite fans amongst the crowd tonight. It’s fair to say that they will have undoubtedly picked up even more following this set. Passion filled, sweat-drenched Rock n’ Roll at its best and moving an already high bar even higher for Skid Row to attempt to emulate later.

Time for our main support of the evening now, as Swedish Punk n’ Roll act Backyard Babies claim the stage for themselves, coming on to the Sex Pistols’ ‘Frigging In The Rigging’ – quite an apt choice as it is a clear marker of where their sound seems to come from through the majority of their set. It’s clear from the fluidity and rapport between each other that these guys have spent some time in each other’s company – thirty years since their inception now – with their on-stage charisma and energy as exuberant as ever.

None of the band can stay still at any point, with all three guitarists moving almost constantly around when not performing vocal duties, with their sound highly Punk infused – think Sex Pistols becoming an adept Rock band instead and you will get the gist of it, though main vocalist Nicke has an almost Billy Corgan tone to his voice through most of the set, something that sits well alongside the able musicianship shown by all of the band equally.

There is a fair amount of singing along by the crowd as we get later into the set, with the band reciprocating that energy even more so than they had already been giving out, with deserved applause and acclaim coming both between songs and at the end of the set. Whilst I was fairly familiar with their work prior to the set, I hadn’t previously seen them live. It’s fair to say that even though the Babies have now grown up, they’re still doing so in the very best and most disgraceful fashion.

Coming on to a backing track of the beginning of Slave To The Grind, Skid Row finally claim the stage for themselves, running on simultaneously and playing along just as we get into the first almost Thrash-like riff. ZP seems to have cemented his place firmly amongst the band and rightfully so, as he is a highly talented vocalist in his own right. While he lacks some of the grit that Sebastian Bach had in his era of releases, ZP’s vocal range and ability is absolutely without question, with my only gripe being he could really do with turning his mic up a touch a bit, as down at the barrier, we don’t pick up everything he sings!

Musically, the band are as tight as ever, with their internal issues now appearing to be at an end, and with each member looking less taut and stressed on stage, with that extra level of relaxation coming through to the crowd who are absolutely up for it from the start.

The set is markedly different from last year’s, with people around me trying to guess at quite what it might be, given this is the opening night of their new tour. We get some of the same old in terms of opener ‘Slave To The Grind’ and no Skid Row set is complete without the likes of ‘18 And Life’, ‘I Remember You’, ‘Monkey Business’ and encore closer ‘Youth Gone Wild’, all of which are as immaculately performed as you would expect from such a renowned act as our headliners.

I finally get to see them perform ‘Get The Fuck Out’, which is a very welcome bonus and Rachel Bolan gets his usual cover of The Ramones‘ ‘Psycho Therapy’ in the set too. Some nice surprises have been added – ones I don’t really want to spoil, especially given one particular track is the first time ZP has performed it with the rest of the guys. Suffice to say, there were probably not many in the building who left with their voices intact by the end of the evening.

Each band played an enjoyable set with fantastic energy, belying their age and years in the business, making for an incredible gig. If you have the chance, get to one of their shows, as they are recording a new album right after the UK leg of the tour.

Words and Photos by DJ ASTROCREEP