On a cold, rainy winter night, the MetalTalk team all head to my favourite venue, the iconic Shepherd’s Bush Empire, for a double dose of hard rock courtesy of Massive Wagons and Ugly Kid Joe.
Ugly Kid Joe – Massive Wagons
Shepherd’s Bush Empire – 6 November 2022
Words: Sara Harding
Photography: Trudi Knight
I’ve known UKJ since my Headbangers Balls days when my presenter Vanessa Warwick and I would often interview enigmatic frontman Whitfield Crane, and he is a bloody nice guy. Whit always remains so down to earth and is the sort of dude you can have a drink and a right good laugh with.
So I was very happy to find out the Californian creators of some of our favourite ’90s rock anthems were flying in to share the stage with heavyweight Lancastrian rockers Massive Wagons.
Massive Wagons are on a high due to their huge chart success, with the new album Triggered entering the UK Album charts at Number Six. As the enigmatic frontman Baz Mills said to MetalTalk last week, “we are two similar bands but with just enough difference to make this a great show.” And boy, did the Wagons do that.
The energy this band perform with is up to 11. Baz commands the stage, and in his long shorts and crazy socks, he reminds me of a young Mike Patton steaming around, doing crazy high kicks, and getting in with the fans. Plus, he sings note perfect. The Massive set is anthem after anthem, and I’m sure it won’t be long before they are sharing world stages.
The guys play like they’ve been given a million Duracell batteries, and the crowd reacts accordingly. I haven’t seen a mosh pit of dancing fans like that for a long time. Kicking off with Pressure, then taking us straight into the now with their latest anthem, Triggered. Up next, it’s onto Bangin’ In Your Stereo and Back To The Stack. The crowd lap up their intro. “Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an English rock band”, Baz shouts to us. We were up and out of our seats and giving him middle fingers back.
When the Flying V comes out, guitarists Adam Thistlethwaite and Stevie Holl aren’t duelling. They are playing in perfect synergy with off-the-hook guitar solos and a backline that is tighter than tight, with three-part harmonies that elevate each song. Fuck The Haters is up next, and in true Baz style, he spots me dancing like a maniac and gives me the two-finger salute – that’s why I love this band – they are not just incredible musicians and songwriters, they are pure entertainment. That’s something hard to find these days with the Spotify era, and it’s much needed.
Back to the stellar setlist, and we are treated to China Plates, Please Stay Calm, and the new single Skateboard. Friends, if you haven’t seen the video yet, it’s fucking brilliant.
As if Shepherd’s Bush couldn’t get any crazier, it’s time for Generation Prime then Ratio. The band go off kilter into a mash-up of Peter Andre’s Mysterious Girl (in my whole life as a rock journo, I never thought I’d hear that song live) into a superb reggae rendition of Marley’s blockbuster, No Woman No Cry.
Finishing up this blur of a gig was Nails and, of course, one of my fave anthems, In It Together.
Epic is an overused word, but that’s what this gig was. To think these down-to-earth lads were literally driving trucks a few years back, and to see them now – they really will be massive.
Ugly Kid Joe
As the legendary Ugly Kid Joe backdrop lands on stage, we all know it’s time to get some Californian cool songs from a group we all know and love.
Dressed very demurely in an all-black tracksuit and baseball cap, Whitfield Crane steps into the spotlight and is welcomed by a pulsing Shey Bu Empire. The ‘Joe’ kick off with the super catchy single That Ain’t Livin from the new album Rad Wings Of Destiny, and it’s a class start to the show.
Up next is one of my all-time fave songs, V.I.P, and hey, who doesn’t love feeling like a VIP for a day? Another killer anthem is up next with Neighbor. I’d forgotten just how many Ugly Kid Joe songs we all know and love. Whit looks at the packed Empire and at us all. “Wow, what a way to spend a Sunday evening – awesome,” he says. There really is nothing like a crowd singalong to make your endorphins flow.
As the set continues and we are treated to Panhandlin’ Prince and No One Survives. Whit is in his element, and his energy is contagious – the frontman is fist-bumping all the fans and once again the mosh pit is going strong for Devil’s Paradise and So Damn Cool. Then Crane looks up to the very handsome man sitting next to me and gives a massive shout-out to his long-term producer Mark Dodson.
We all cheer, and what song could be better to perform next than the truly iconic cover Cats In The Cradle. Everyone is singing at the top of their voices, and Crane’s vocals are simply on point. Just as awesome as when we first filmed them 30 years ago at MTV.
The band kick into I’m Alright, followed by Failure. The whole band shine during this song with psychedelic heavy rock. It’s goosebumps time. Then it’s a trip back to 1995 to the Menace To Sobriety album for Milkman’s Son. Boy, it’s great to hear all these songs live again. We then travel even further back to 1992 for Goddamn Devil.
Klaus and Dave are serving us their serious guitar chops, and as they bring in the intro to Lola, their nod to British legends The Kinks, every single person in the venue is arm in arm and singing their hearts out.
And then there’s an announcement – it’s special guest time. And who else but the truly rocking Aussie tennis superstar Pat Cash to add in the growls to Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. Who doesn’t love a bit of AC/DC on a dark, dank night? Baz Mills runs on stage, too, and we have three stellar vocalists for the price of one. Mind blown.
Then Whit turns to the crowd and says, “this is what your lives have all been leading up to,” and they break into that song. Yes, you all know it. Everything About You brings us their Californian sunshine mixed with hard rock flawless fun, and this really is one of those moments we will remember forever.
If two words can sum up this gig, they would be – Massive and Epic.
Huge thanks to Nick Azinas, Kirsten Sprinks and Mark Dodson