L. A. Guns + Jared James Nichols + Stone Trigger
O2 Academy Islington, London
Friday 31st August
It's the end of the Summer break and the kids are on their way back to school. So it's time to check that they have the essentials. Overstuffed pencil case with mainly redundant utensils? Check. School blazer three sizes too big to allow them to 'grow into it'? Check. New shoes destined to last less than a term? Check. L. A. Guns tour ticket? Check. All set then. Apparently the latter is non-essential but then we are talking about the school of life, and there's nothing more important at school than great teachers, so with tonight's line up we are in for some serious musical education.
Class tonight will be held at the excellent O2 Islington Academy, with the first lesson starting at the early time of 6.30pm. With train disruption causing some to get to registration late (poor performance - see me), openers Stone Trigger had a somewhat threadbare audience to entertain. Did the Dubliners mind? Feck no, they had a blast. Entering the stage to their customary Terminator soundtrack, the four piece let loose their dogs of war with all the enthusiasm of the new kids at school. Although this lot have been around since 2011 so have scuffed a few pairs of shiny shoes in their time. Opening track 'Children of the Night' gives them a chance to unleash their considerable energy showing the influences of tonight's headliners along with other 80's West Coast Metal bands. Singer Tommy Rockit looks more like he was born in Redondo Beach, LA, rather than Ranelagh DUB, with obligatory long hair, red strides and eyeliner and a strong voice to boot. Whereas guitarist Andii Andrews looks smooth in comparison picking some fine lead licks from his beautiful cherry sunburst Les Paul through a Marshall stack. Andrews is happy to look mean and moody doing his thing whilst Rockit provides the showmanship. Providing back line are lefty bassist Peter Jordan and drummer Moyano El Buffalo. Despite the small crowd they played as if to a packed arena. Rockit gave everything. It was a fine rocking performance with tracks like 'Got To Get It On' and 'Rattle Your Bones' getting a good reaction - chugging riffs and screaming vocals will get you that. Finishing with their recent single 'Edge of Insanity' and a cover of the epic Lizzy track 'Killer On The Loose', they were a great opening act.
Stone Trigger setlist:
Children Of The Night
I Declare War
Gotta Get It On
Larger Than Life
Show Your Hands
Rattle Your Bones
Edge Of Insanity
Killer On The Loose
In school terms, Wisconsin's Jared James Nichols is surely a star pupil. Tall, good looking and with a Colgate smile, the long haired guitarist with snake tattoos looks every part the LA Metal rocker. But looks can be deceptive. Whilst he can rock out with the best, there is a strong Blues vein running through the LA cheese as well as some spectacular technique. One of the most notable, and refreshing things of note is that JJN plays an 'affordable' Epiphone Les Paul ('Old Glory') that has clearly seen some action. Unusually, he has removed the neck pick up (and the selector switch and volume/tone pots) so only has the trebly neck pick up. Played through a Blackstar amp, this produces a harsh Metal tone but, as JJN eschews a pick and plays with his fingertips, he gets some extraordinary tones from a hugely simple rig. And boy does he put that rig through its paces. When he's not throwing the Epi around his body or up to the ceiling, he is bashing the poor D'Addario's with every part of his considerable anatomy or, failing that, the guitar cable, to squeeze out some great sounds. Here's proof that quality is not necessarily down to how much you spend on your rig. And the speed that he gets with his fingers is faster than many can manage with a pick. And not a note out of place.
The star pupil has some qualifications to his name too. Following his move to Los Angeles in 2010, he quickly gained notoriety by winning the prestigious Gibson Les Paul Tribute Contest as well as Musicians Institute Most Outstanding Player Award. Watching him, I can see why. Backed up by bassist Gregg Cash and drummer Dennis Holm, the trio all look remarkably similar although JJN seems to tower over the other two despite Cash's 6 foot. And a fine trio they are. Although there to compliment JJN's talents, Cash and Holm are skilled musicians themselves. How many times do you see acclaimed musicians touring with a 'backing band' only there as a prima donna's bitch? Well the JJN trio are a band of equals, making great music without ego. When you have the skills, they speak for themselves. It also helps that they are three of the nicest guys you are likely to meet.
The set is a fine mix of funky Rock Blues although with a rock edge and tracks like 'Last Chance' and 'Don't Be Scared' getting the now full classrooms attention. But it was when JJN invited one Tracii Guns onto stage where they performed an excellent cover of Sabbath's 'NIB' that the evening was made for me. With Holm outdoing Bill Ward on the drums, and Cash, bass slung low and grinning like an evil goblin, the only thing missing was a shambling mess on vocals. Great track - excellent cover. Great band.
The missing piece from 'NIB' heralded the entrance of our main event as Ozzy's 'Diary Of A Madman' filled the packed auditorium. And entering the stage with a nonchalant swagger comes the iconic guitarist Tracii Guns and lead vocalist Phil Lewis. So where was Michael Grant? Well he has now moved on to be replaced, eventually, by ex L. A. Guns bassist Adam Hamilton on rhythm guitar whilst bass duties are expertly handled by Johnny Martin. Shane Fitzgibbon is still there on drums. Keeping track of personnel changes in L.A. Guns is like getting to grips with your new lesson timetable. Old and new subjects, and in different places too.
As always, they look the part of an 80's Metal band. Lewis dresses all in black sporting a black top hat with steampunk goggles and his L. A. Guns sleeveless jacket whilst Guns sports a battered old Harley Davidson denim cut down, both sporting tattoos showing a lifetime of Rock and Roll heritage. Tracii - a true professor in the arts of guitar work - sports a worn Les Paul played through the obligatory Metal Marshall stack. Hamilton, in contrast hides his short grey hair under a natty black hat whilst sporting a Siouxsie and the Banshees t-shirt under a smart black jacket. The Union Flag badge on the jackets lapel was a nice touch too. Welcome to the UK lads. Johnny Martin again sports all black with matching straight black hair whilst Fitzgibbons seems to be wearing a large drumkit. He's in there somewhere.
Opening track Is the rocking 'The Devil Made Me Do It' from their 2017 'The Missing Piece' album followed by 'Electric Gypsy' which gets the now full auditorium well and truly moving. Lewis is an experienced, charismatic and talented frontman both effervescent yet cool at the same time. And Guns is just on fire. He is a truly iconic guitarist, followed via social media by adoring guitarists, like students learning at the feet of a master. Yes, he plays a Gibson, but tonight he is playing through a Headrush multi effects pedalboard. He's more pedal god than pedagogue though. These modern gadgets are not usually the domain of our master musicians but Tracii Guns has always been one to innovate when it comes to equipment. And he drags some impressive tones from them too. During the awesome 'Over The Edge' he wields a violin bow, a la Jimmy Page, to get some interesting variations from an otherwise slow, sludgy track. Tracks alternate between balls out rock like 'I Wanna Be Your Man' to slower power Metal tracks like 'The Floods The Fault of the Rain'. For 'Speed', Guns changes his trusty Les Paul for an unusual striped Chubtone guitar which lifted the slightly muddy sound with its brighter pickups, although it clearly couldn't keep up with the master as a broken string during 'I Wanna Be Your Man' sees the LP back where it belonged. In the hands of a man who knows how to use it. For 'One More Reason' he takes centre stage, torturing the instrument whilst performing a true guitar masterclass, on his knees.
One of my favourite tracks - 'Hellraisers Ball' - has one of those chuggingly addictive riffs that epitomises everything that is great about this genre of rock. Lewis is nonchalant almost to the level of indifference as he relinquishes the track to the guitar guru. But he's back with a bang, and a tambourine for 'Malaria'. Not very Rock and Roll but very good. It's during 'Malaria' that Guns now breaks into physics teacher mode by 'playing' with a Theramin - a quirky sound altering device which changes pitch when Guns moves his hands towards it. It probably ranks as the only thing more dull during a gig than a drum solo. No wonder I used to skive off physics - usually to listen to L. A. Guns. Thankfully, the maestro's fingers were returned to his guitar fretboard to wow us with a guitar solo with every skill on display. Ending the solo with AC/DC's 'Hells Bells' it's just what we needed to get back into the groove. And with 'Never Enough', the crowd were happy to sing their little hearts out like the school choir at the Christmas carol concert. Ably conducted by Mr. Lewis, the choirmaster.
A break in the set sees Jared James Nichols return to the stage, this time with a full fat Gibbo around his neck. The resulting jam was a master of Blues Rock, with JJN towering over the relatively diminutive Guns, trading licks with all the joy of the great masters and prodigies. Spine tingling stuff. Penultimate track 'The Ballad of Jayne' sees a slower lament with Guns playing some excellent solo work whilst Lewis again conducts a heartfelt singalong. Closing track is, in contrast, the angry 'Rip and Tear' which ("My name is Phillip") Lewis uses to introduce the band and bid adieu to our hearing as they sign off with a bang. Leaving the stage to the strains of 'So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night' from The Sound of Music, the boys head off to headline at the HRH Sleaze festival. Well who else is better qualified? The gig over, we did what all kids do after class - head out for a quick grout and a cheap lager before heading home. Those of us taking guitar class are already pondering our homework. Something i was never any good at doing years ago. But then i never had such excellent teachers. The school of cock Rock is back in session. And L. A. Guns are a class act.
L. A. Guns setlist:
The Devil Made Me Do It
Over The Edge
Kiss My Love Goodbye
The Flood's The Fault Of The Rain
I Wanna Be Your Man
One More Reason
Never Enough (with Jared James Nichols)
The Ballad of Jayne
Rip And Tear