t’s been an uneven experience at Shepherd’s Bush Empire tonight. Both Toseland and Bad Touch have offered enjoyable support slots, even if hampered a little by bad sound. Toseland, in particular, have shown they really know how to fill a half hour effectively, with frontman James Toseland coming across very jovially. He’s so likeable that it doesn’t matter or not whether you’re familiar with the material, you’ll have a good time regardless. The evening’s first credited headliner, Night Ranger, were largely awful: not so much classic Night Ranger of old as the Jack Blades Show with support from Kelly Keagy. Their set was ruined further by the worst sound we’ve encountered at a large venue for a number of years…if not ever.
Skid Row are about halfway through ‘Sweet Little Sister’. They’ve been on stage for less than ten minutes and already wiped the floor with Night Ranger. The fact the set opened with a rollocking rendition of ‘Slave To The Grind’ certainly got everything off on the right foot. ‘Sweet Little Sister’ is incredibly punchy tonight and with the band subsequently moving into an equally sharp ‘Piece of Me’, things really fall into place. New boy Z P Threart (formerly of DragonForce) is a perfect fit for the band. Their original vocalist Sebastian Bach may be long gone, but it’s still not long enough for some fans to let go; Theart, although facing an unenviable task, has the personality and the pipes to tackle all of Seb’s old material. To prove it, the bulk of tonight’s excellent set is culled from the first two albums.
After needing no time to warm up (and thankfully with excellent sound quality), things get better still with an amazing rendition of ‘Livin’ On A Chain Gang’. By this point, the twin guitars of Dave ‘Snake’ Sabo and Scotti Hill are completely flowing, while bassist Rachel Bolan (these days, all punky hair, glasses and the demeanour of an easy cool) chugs at his four strings, giving the track a real edge. It was always one of ‘Slave’s best tracks, but in the current live setting it sounds as vibrant as anything. The crowd – a sell out night on a Sunday, although a few groups of people left after Night Ranger – are totally into it…and rightly so: there certainly feels like there’s more at stake here tonight than cheap nostalgia.
The classics come thick and fast: ‘Big Guns’ gets the audience roaring on its simple chorus; ‘Makin’ A Mess’ really allows Theart to inject a little more aggression into his already flawless performance and the during the trashy ‘Rattlesnake Shake’ it’s clear the band are having as much of a great time as we are. The classic single ’18 and Life’ slows everything down, but really allows a look into how good their still new-ish frontman is – he’s able to tackle the former singer’s work with ease – and the same goes for an emotive take on the powerful ‘Quicksand Jesus’. With Rachel taking the mic, a ferocious rendition of the Ramones’ ‘Psycho Therapy’ proves especially rousing this evening – he’s also a great frontman in his own right and on the basis of these two minutes, it’d be fantastic to see him take the helm for a set of punky material. Bringing the main set to a classic finish, ‘Monkey Business’ is at once heavy and melodic and its great that the sound is good enough to hear Rob Hammersmith’s drum fills and cowbell with absolute clarity. Upon release in 1991, that moment where ‘Monkey Business’ kicks in after the quiet intro was thrilling; a quarter of a century on, it’s lost none of that magic…and the audience loves it.
After a great main set, the encore is brief at just two songs, but with fine performances of the well-worn but still loved ‘I Remember You’ and ‘Youth Gone Wild’ at hand, Skid Row get a final chance to show the whole range of their talents. The acoustic elements of the former are beautifully clear and with Theart taking the song as if he’s been singing it forever, it works very well, while ‘Youth Gone Wild’ is more about the audience letting off steam before a long trek home. It would’ve been great to hear ‘Can’t Stand The Heartache’ or the much overlooked ‘Beggars Day’, but there’s no time…
On the occasions the band stop to address the crowd this evening, there’s no feeling of playing for time as with some bands [Lamb of God, we’re mostly looking at you, but tonight’s Night Ranger set wasn’t entirely guilt free in this regard]. Both Dave and Rachel speak from the heart; they’re clearly still thrilled at how Skid Row are still very much loved in the UK and how even on a Sunday night their fans will go to any length to support them. It’s hardly new banter for an established band, but it feels absolutely genuine.
Two songs in and this set was already the best of the evening. Three songs in and there was a feeling it was going to get better and better. We were not proved wrong. Five songs in and it was like “Sebastian Who?”. The only real complaint is that at just over an hour, it’s been too short.
It’s been too easy for some to bitch about there only being three fifths of the classic line up present since 2010 and into the present but in truth, in March 2018, Skid Row are currently the best they’ve been since 1993. You owe it to yourselves to go and see them at the earliest opportunity.