If I had a penny for every time someone told me it ‘wasn’t cool’ to wear a band’s t-shirt to their gig, I’d have… well, maybe just enough to buy half a pint in London. But, as I walk through the throngs of Thunder clad fans, it’s clear that tonight at the OVO Wembley Arena, if you aren’t donning one of the headliner’s shirts, you might want to head over to the nearest merch stand and change that pronto.
Thunder, Ugly Kid Joe, Kris Barras Band
OVO Wembley Arena – 28 May 2022
Words: Monty Sewell
Photography: Robert Sutton
Thunder have always been a reliable, strong point in the rock world. Bar the occasional breakup and that certain cake throwing incident, the band remains a much appreciated and respected bud on the taste palette of the industry.
With their new album, Dopamine, unleashed upon the masses earlier this year and a continuous string of well-received shows under their belts since, even before I stepped through the arena doors, I couldn’t help but already feel well cradled in the knowledge that this would be a great gig.
The Kris Barras Band were up first as a fine opener. I’d previously seen half the band play an acoustic set back in December, so to see them in full swing cemented the fact that their burst onto the big circuit scene was no fluke. Playing mostly material from their latest album, the guys showed skill and hot brawn, offering us a masterclass in the perfectly balanced thirty-minute set.
I can’t imagine it’s easy to choose six songs from what I consider to be a damn good discography, but Barras steers us through the set with numbers such as Dead Horses and Rock ‘n’ Roll Running Through My Veins before ending with My Parade.
An extremely germane song to finish on, there isn’t much that’s more unifying or satisfying than a Wembley sized crowd all chanting “I Don’t Give a Fuck What People Say” together.
Down with the Kris Barras Band banner and up with that of special guests Ugly Kid Joe. The trademark green tinge gauzes over the thickset stage as the band’s baseball cap sporting the ‘ugly kid’ logo gives us the finger from the sizable backdrop.
It was my first time seeing this ninety meshed genre group, and they didn’t disappoint. Frontman Whitfield Crane exhibits the same charismatic vigour onstage as he did back when they released the first-ever EP to go platinum, As Ugly As They Wanna Be, whilst new drummer Cam Greenwood proves to be a fierce addition to the line-up.
The crowd absolutely loves it, with Cranes’ audience interaction being more than well met as he attacks every corner of the stage in that same high sock, backward cap, logo embellished look that has carried Ugly Kid Joe’s image throughout their twenty-year span.
For better or for worse, we as music fans can never resist that sensation of satisfying nostalgia when our favourite artists come on stage dressed in whatever ‘look’ that made them. Angus, Gene and Alice, to name a few, we’ve got to admit we would be quite a bit peeved off should any of them turn up to a gig in anything apart from what image we have embedded in our minds of them.
So, in high energy and instrumental perfection, Ugly Kid Joe whips out the songs that made the world love them. Panhandlin’ Prince, Devils Paradise, Funky Fresh Country Club and, of course, their cover of Harry Chapin’s Cats in the Cradle. It’s a sturdy warm-up for the main event and a welcomed invitation to the need to see them again.
20:45 on the dot, and the blare of ACDC’s Thunderstruck strikes out from the monitors as ‘Thunder’ is sprawled across the headliners front banner four times for that bit of extra effect.
Never has a song been so perfectly matched with a band for their introduction track, with the now filled arena all jacked up and ready for action. Moments later, the band is revealed to the unrelenting eager cheers of an audience rearing to get stuck into whatever Thunder was about to offer.
The stage setup itself is visually quenching, with a five-screen backdrop displaying a never-ending plethora of colourful imagery and a light show that could only lead to promotion. It’s vibrant without being overpowering; a joy to the eyes as well as the ears.
The last time I saw Thunder was back in 2014 at Calling Festival. What always gets me from that experience and various filmed live performances is the sheer unwavering powerhouse vocals that Danny Bowes delivers every single time.
They ease through the first quarter with Last One Out Turn Off the Lights, The Western Sky, Higher Ground, One Day We’ll Be Free Again and Resurrection Day. Bowes is the epitome of ‘vocals sound just like they do on the record’ with a true class in his performance that lingers after each smash ending from his fellow bandmates.
Harry James, in particular, is wonderfully animated behind the drum kit, offering the same energy and passion that drove Thunder’s rhythm section at the start of their career.
Unsurprisingly the bulk of the set contains songs from their newly released album, Dopamine. The guys have been very vocal about this being some of their “best stuff yet” with Across the Nation, Dancing In The Sunshine, Last Orders and Unravelling being played to drive home that point to a well-receiving audience.
On record, the production is obviously different when comparing their newest material to the early days but live, every track melts into one another with that same, dependable Thunder sound that has rarely rattled into unknown territories.
Luke Morley carries the instrumental with a lustrous performance which sees him don a slick Flying V and Gibson, amongst others, as well as bringing out an acoustic for Low Life In High Places and Love Walked In.
With right-handed guitarist Ben Matthews sharing the stage with the left-handed Morley, these two create a wonderful ocular symmetry when playing back-to-back.
The band ramped up a nostalgic buzz with Backstreet Symphony whilst The Devil Made Me Do It, and Young Man are proof once again that Thunder have continued to bring out great records throughout the years and are more than likely to continue that troupe.
Last, but very much not least, we, of course, get served up Dirty Love.
It’s the song we play to those who ask who Thunder are and the one that, without a doubt, gets the biggest audience reaction on any given night. Bowes is barely audible over the crowd singalong, and you can see the sheer joy coming from bassist Chris Childs and the rest of the band, letting us into the knowledge that after all these years, it never gets old.
Leaving the venue is bittersweet for most as the excited murmurs of a show well worth watching twice over is heard from each person passed.
The boys have still got it, and it was awe-inspiring to see them in action again. I expect another album will be on the way the year after next, and along with it, another chance to see Thunder do what they do best.