Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin' Stones + Gorilla Riot + Piston

Friday 11th October 2019

O2 Academy Islington, London

Well this is quite an inventive format for a series of gigs, Roadstars consists of three bands taking it in turns to headline a different venue on alternate nights culminating in Hannah Wicklund + Steppin' Stones topping the bill at London Islington's 02 Academy upstairs room.
 
Hard Rockers Gorilla Riot take to the stage, and the big surprise is when lead singer Arj sings his first few bars of 'Kerosene Clown': somehow by some strange osmosis his growly baritone belies the fact that this group hails from Manchester and not the States. This allows for a convincing take on the Blues of the Deep-South with a heavier edge. Moving on to 'Bad Son' with its piercing guitar intro, a track that could easily be passed off as anything by Chris Cornell/Eddie Vedder, and this is where the vocal similarities struck. They signed off with 'Dirty' a rabble-rousing number that set the stage for what was to come next.
 
Actually originating from South Carolina, Hannah Wicklund and the Steppin' Stones brought the house down. It's difficult not to get carried away about band leader Hannah Wicklund’s spell-binding guitar and powerful voice which manages to invoke the spirit of Hendrix and Joplin, which has been well-documented elsewhere. Everything from the flowing tousled red hair to the extensive use of wah-wah pedal recalls that period and suggests that she was ripped straight out of Woodstock.
 
The frightening aspect is that she is only 22 years old but her accomplished playing lends itself to the fact that she has been playing to live audiences since the age of 13. This recent UK tour comes on the back of the release of the band’s eponymous album (she actually released two albums previously but does recognise them as official) and one hopes that this power trio is the line-up she settles on.
 
Despite the sixties/seventies influences she finds time to write lyrics about pitfalls of social media in the revealing title of the number 'Shadowboxes and Porcelain Faces' - the latest single from the album. There follows some heart-wrenching soulful songs but the high-point for me and what would seem the most crowd-anticipated 'Bomb through the Breeze'. The screaming-squelching monster of a track blew the room away and showcased the band and its potent best.
 
I must admit that I have not heard the album yet, and would be interested to hear if this explosive display translates to disc. An act that will surely be eagerly followed, I just hope they avoid the trappings of fame - or worst still sanitised pop - and continue on this Bluesy-vein. 
 
Phenomenal!
 
Ivan De Mello

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