Review by Pete Williams with Photography by Helen Williams

It’s hard to believe that 15 years have passed since Hell Is For Heroes released their first studio album, The Neon Handshake. It was one of the defining albums of the early-2000s rock scene, gathering rave reviews and scoring Rock Sound’s Album of the Year award.

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Although the band have only made scarce appearances since announcing their hiatus in 2008, they still have plenty of fans out there, and decided to treat them to an album anniversary tour. They brought two of their contemporaries, A and Vex Red, along for the ride.

First on stage were Vex Red, who were excited to be playing “the gig we wanted to play in 2002”, finally getting to play alongside two of the bands who inspired and influenced their careers.

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Some early sound issues revealed their nerves, but lead singer Terry took the opportunity to chat with the crowd and soon enough they were in full swing, belting out some of their most popular tracks, including Can’t Smile, Itch and Burn This Place.

The crowd, which was a very respectable size considering how long the bands have been out of the public eye, showed good support, singing and cheering along. It was good to see several die-hard fans reliving their youth in the pit.

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Next up were A, the cheery, bouncy five-piece from Suffolk who always entertain with their catchy songs and upbeat attitude. For this tour they were joined by McFly bassist Dougie, one of lead singer Jason’s connections from his thriving music production career.

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After so many years of very sporadic touring, A were a bit rusty around the edges, but their ability to laugh it off just made the night even more fun and they were clearly having a blast being back on stage.

Of course, personality will only get you so far, but they backed it up with a fantastic selection of their best songs. Focusing on their older (and arguably better) albums, they smashed out favourites like Lake Tahoe, Monkey Kong and Something’s Going On.

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Finally, Hell is for Heroes took to the stage. Noticeably more polished and confident than the supports, they certainly didn’t come across as a band who have hardly toured in 10 years. In fact their set was more professional than many current bands, so fingers crossed they decide to make at least semi-regular appearances from now on.

The full run-through of The Neon Handshake was electrifying. Vocalist Justin had apparently suffered from throat problems earlier in the tour but tonight he was note perfect, nailing every last scream, shriek and wail.

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The audience thrived off the energy coming from the stage, turning the mosh pit into a sea of bodies. They were clearly buzzing to see their old favourites putting in such an incredible performance after so many years.

This was a masterful comeback for all three bands, and they seemed to enjoy it as much as their fans. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another 15 years before we see them again.

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See the complete photoset from tonight’s gig here.

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