We’re here to rock tonight in Wolves with two nineties rock bands back out on the road. Really a double headliner, we have Californian surfer dudes Ugly Kid Joe up first in ‘support’ of screaming stalwarts of trad metal rock Skid Row, as part of a 29 date over 36 day intensive tour of the UK and Europe.
Tonight’s gig at the Wulfrun is very nearly sold out. Unfortunately we’re not here in time to catch the early support on at 7pm; Australians Dead City Ruins we hear, have gone down well. Whit Crane from Ugly Kid Joe alluded to the fact they are touring in a little black van, to feed them and to the girls in the audience to give ’em a place to sleep. 2013 has brought them their long awaited second self titled album and this tour. They are “… a working class hard rock band fuelled by what life throws at them from good times, bad times, disappointments, achievements and life in the cruel f***in city!” Find out more about them on their Facebook page.
So at 8pm, Ugly Kid Joe take to the stage. The band returned to the scene last year after totally disappearing for 15 years. In the day, these Californian rockers had two top ten singles and in the day were all over MTV. Reappearing last year in the UK as support for Alice Cooper’s Hallowe’en tour, they were band that stood out for just how bleedin’ good and how much fun they were. And they’ve not stopped; they’ve continued to tour and released ‘Stairway to Hell’, a 6 song EP. We should realise “… one VERY important thing about UKJ; they mean every goddam note, every goddam riff and every goddam moment they deliver.”
UKJ are the charismatic Whit Crane (vocals), Klaus Eichstadt (guitar), Dave Fortman (guitar), Cordell Crockett (bass) and Shannon Larkin (drums). And as they take to the small stage, Crane appears to huge applause and bows to the crowd and they’re into first track ‘V.I.P.’ UKJ are hugely energetic; every centimeter on the stage is used and Crane takes the first of several opportunities to get up close and personal with the crowd, by dropping down into the pit. Crane conducts the audience with the minimum of effort; for ‘Neighbor’ he’s effectively ‘pulling the crowd’ to get them to sing “…gonna be my neighbor…” and the bass player is high up on one of the amps. UKJ are totally inclusive too, even inviting the photographers to climb up on stage and take pictures from there. The band rock out, encouraging every audience member to jump; “let’s see if we can get this floor moving…”
“So this is the Black Country…. the home of Zeppelin and Black Sabbath… the home of all things metal… we’re from California… without these guys we wouldn’t be here….” For Panhandlin’ Prince we’re told to put our hands in the air “…. and do what I do…” As Crane starts to clap, so do we. Crane can only see the first couple of rows and insists that the house lights are on so the band can see everyone. “… Hey everyone, how are you? Nice to see you all….” For ‘So Damn Cool’ the band rock on, Crane paces the stage like a caged tiger, continually engaging with the crowd, getting us to cheer, to clap, to way our arms from side to side. For ‘Cats in the Cradle,’ the houselights are still up, he implores everyone to sing with him on this song, and once again we do – it’s the chorus before Crane joins us.
For ‘Tomorrows World’ the houselights are off because “… this song is more sinister….” and the beating rhythm of the song rolls on. ‘Goddamn Evil’ is the last song in this part the set… Crane: “I have to be honest with you, pretend we have left the set, and start chanting, like we have never heard before….” this is an imaginary encore, except the band stand motionless like statues on the purple lit darkened stage. Then restarting to a question; would you like to hear one song or two. “Two…” is the overriding response from the crowd. “Your wish is my command….” and the chords strike up and we’re into the manic ‘Everything About You.’ “Go f****in’ crazy!!!!” as we, the crowd, shout the last line of the track…”Hate everything… about you…” “Nice…” says Crane, before the band leap into a rip-stonking rendition of Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’ – giving it the full credit the track deserves.
UKJ’s set is over. Humble, yet awesome, UKJ deliver and then some. They’ve clearly had a blast and clearly wanted us all to have a blast – which we did. So, next up Skid Row – will they be able to delivery to the same level as UKJ?
Skid Row hail from New Jersey. Rachel Bolan and Dave’ Snake’ Sabo formed said band recruiting Scotti Hill. Sabo and some bloke called John Bon Jovi were mates and they had a deal to help each other if they made it in the music business, Bon Jovi’s manager signed the band and a young Sebastian Bach joined as vocalist. By the end of ‘96 they’d opened for Jovi, sold 20 million albums, toured the world, took a hiatus and fired lead singer Sebastian Bach.
Original members Sabo (guitar) and Bolan (bass) along with Hill (guitar) are the core of the band with ‘new’ singer Johnny Solinger (who joined way back in 2000) and Rob Hammersmith (drums) who joined in 2010. In 2013 Skid Row released the first of a series of EPs ‘United World Rebellion: Chapter One’. The audience seems a tad thinner; clearly a few were here to see UKJ only. Onto Intro track ‘Let’s Go’ by The Ramones, followed by an air raid siren, here comes Skid Row. Sabo and Hill still have waist length locks, Bolan having taken his looks from Scott Weiland (circa Velvet Revolver era) and they start off with ‘Big Guns.’ ‘New’ singer Solinger has good vocals, albeit slightly lower than Bach’s, although he does have the ability to squeal. The band are clearly tight and clearly enjoying being out touring and playing live – there’s a big cheer from the crowd. “Look at all you crazy f***ers here man…. we’ve been waiting a long time to see you… the wolves of Wolverhampton…” Solinger certainly has that American rock band gift of the understated gob.
Skid Row songs, unlike UKJ, haven’t stood the test of time in the same way; they are indeed, as Solinger points out ‘old school.’ Hit ‘18 and Life’ takes place with Solinger mostly not on stage and he doesn’t have the extreme vocal range to deliver as the original. However, the crowd aren’t fussed, they all sing, a nostalgic sing-along to a song from their youth and the band get a good response.
Solinger: “Its been 24 years since the first Skid Row album came out….” he speaks like he was there at the outset as they rock and rumble through ‘Thick is the Skin’ and ‘Kings of Demolition.’ Then Bolan speaks: “You have never let us down, thank you for your unconditional support and I mean that…” as him and the rest of the guys go into The Ramones ‘Psycho Therapy’, Bolan on vocals – he’s clearly the punk of the band.
Solingers back and taking; “There was no cellphones to speak of when Skid Row started out…we had to catch up with the kids, use your phone to send us your pictures on Facebook – Tweet us your neighbour, a selfie or me….” And we’re into Skid Row’s ballad – ‘I Remember You.” The audience all sing along but Solinger’s vocals don’t again quite hit the mark.
So tonight may have been two rock bands from the nineties, that each audience member can look back with a nostalgic viewpoint on a particular time that meant something in the day. And fair play to both bands coming out and giving it and more than some on such an intensive tour. But there is a difference between UKJ and Skid Row. UKJ give it all, to each and everyone in the audience. They have the ability to connect in whichever city they play, to make people smile, to just have one hell of a party. And they also have that other thing; like Faith No More who disappeared for over a decade before re-appearing, the time gap they were away has just disappeared and they remain current and relevant. Skid Row were indeed big, in their day. The band remains hugely talented; the guitars and rhythm tight and they’re clearly enjoying it. But, the tracks haven’t really stood the test of time – a middle aged band singing ’18 and Life’ and ‘Youth Gone Wild’ was always gonna be hard – they have become (scarily) old school. And while Solinger has great vocal range, he can’t reach the dizzying vocal heights of Sebastian Bach (although I doubt that even Bach could these days).
UKJ will be back and are well worth seeing for any rock fan that loves the fun energetic metal funk side with rip-roaring vocals. Skid Row are more akin to those of that time period – if you like 90s big hair rock than take a punt – but note that Solinger’s delivery is not Bach’s. Accept that, run with the nostalgia of the old, embrace the new and you will enjoy.
Ugly Kid Joe Setlist
Jesus Rode a Harley
So Damn Cool
No One Survives
Cat’s in the Cradle
Everything About You
Ace of Spades (Motorhead cover)
Skid Row Setlist
Makin’ a Mess
Piece of Me
18 and Life
Thick is the Skin
In a Darkened Room
Kings of Demolition
Psycho Therapy (Ramones cover)
I Remember You
Slave to the Grind
Youth Gone Wild
Ugly Kid Joe:
America’s Least Wanted 
Menace to Sobriety 
Skid Row 
Slave to the Grind