One might wonder, in a moment of cynicism, what a band such as The Wildhearts is doing – 25 years since they first formed – playing gigs at venues such as Nottingham’s Rock City, with a capacity of 2,500. When a band has 2 and a half decades to its name, one begs the question, why aren’t they bigger?
A multitude of road humps in the duration of their career has meant that The Wildhearts have never truly achieved commercial success. But after a night spent with them at Rock City on 12th April 2014, you’d be right to assume that the idea of commercial superstardom means very little to them.
First band of the night to grace the legendary Rock City was British-American rockers Hey! Hello! featuring Ginger Wildheart (also of – you guessed it – The Wildhearts) and fronted by the delightfully bouncy Victoria Liedtke. I was immediately enthralled by their sunny, melodic pop rock sound which engaged the audience in an effortless manner. It became quickly obvious that many of the largely 30 – 50 year old crowd were already fans, judging by the and uncharacteristically genuine applause that was given to them as the first support band.
The Debbie Harry-esque lead singer kept me fully engaged with their set, as whenever she wasn’t singing flawlessly, she was serenading the audience and dancing around the stage with the confidence of someone with much greater experience than she. The presence of Hey! Hello! was not, however, a veil to disguise bad performance. Their music is big, loud and entertaining, and final song Swimsuit prompted the makings of a mosh pit and a warm close to the first band of the evening. Next up, Von Hertzen Brothers.
This Finnish hard rock group performed pretty respectably throughout their set, giving the impression that their music is a force to be reckoned with. With a heavy, Black Sabbath-like sound and a modern edge, their performance proved a wealth of experience and certainly didn’t disappoint the crowd, who were here strictly for rock, rock and more hard rock.
Von Hertzen Brothers’ single Flowers and Rust caused an infectious, collective head bang across the room. They evoked the passion and heart of a band that is truly living the dream and I, amongst others in the audience, felt them to be fast, fun and technically flawless.
It is undeniably rare to see such a welcoming crowd to support bands of this ilk. While there would usually be a gentle hum of polite clapping as each song drew to a close, in this case it was replaced with an eruption of cheers and applause normally worthy of a headlining act. Maybe it was all in anticipation of The Wildhearts but after seeing what the bands had to offer, I’m inclined to disagree.
As The Wildhearts took the stage, the crowd entered into a whole new level of appreciation, making it abundantly clear who they were really here to see. They walked on stage as confidently as a band of their stature would and the penny finally dropped for me as to why a band that’s been around for 25 years still exists after very little recognition from the industry. The fans. The loyalty of their fan base has clearly been one of the pivotal reasons as to why they have continued over the years – that and for the blatant love of the job, which was written all over their faces.
The Wildhearts provided us with a set that spanned their entire career and both pleased and displeased fans in some cases (Ginger asking plainly “is there anyone who fucking hates it?” regarding their 4th album Endless, Nameless). With many singles played, including their last released single The Only One, Vanilla Radio (the video for which was filmed in Nottingham) and an early fan favourite TV Tan, it seemed that the majority of attendees were satisfied with the spread. The energy of said fans did not dwindle throughout the night, many of them still head-banging away as the final songs came to a close.
The setup of the gig was unsettling for me. I say this as the main set and encore consisted of 12 and 9 songs respectively. Never before have I been to a gig where the ready-prepared encore is almost as long as the initial set and it left me wondering when it would end – not from boredom, but out of sheer curiosity.
Regardless of its bizarre order and the fact that previous to the gig, my knowledge of The Wildhearts was limited, I thoroughly enjoyed a night of watching a group of very talented and enduring musicians. The raw speed, rhythm and grit involved in their music is reminiscent of 90s Green Day, 80s Cheap Trick and 70s Thin Lizzy. Somehow they’d managed to encapsulate several decades’ worth of evolution in the rock genre into one sound, and it was fantastically pleasing.
There’s something unique about seeing a band live before you’ve heard their music recorded that makes them all the more exciting. I think it’s the rawness and vulnerability – the fact that at any moment it could all go wrong, but rarely does. If anything, it’s better that way. That’s how I felt about The Wildhearts, and I don’t think a single person left that gig feeling short changed or disappointed.
Photos: Lucienne Sencier Photography