Vega – Fibbers, 02/11/12

There seemed to be a long wait between three members of Skin & Bone taking to the stage, the famous “do you feel lucky?” speech from Dirty Harry coming through the speakers and, finally, frontman Johnny Trowbridge appearing, much to the apparent delight of a vocal group of fans I can only assume had made the journey from South Yorkshire along with the band. Skin & Bone are influenced by 80s hard rock, as well as more modern, edgier bands. There was definitely a degree of Iron Maiden in their sound, which still managed to sound fresh and individual. As a frontman, Trowbridge is a little showy, in the sense that his stage presence seemed tailored to a bigger stage than that of Fibbers, but that didn’t detract from the fact that he is also very good. For a rock band, they are, musically, almost subdued. There is no over-reliance on guitar histrionics, with the first screaming solo only appearing three tracks into the set. In fact Richie Beardsley’s guitar work was, in places, simple but effective and what solos he did play ended up tantalising rather than outstaying their welcome. For me, the most interesting song was Walking Shoes which, through a couple of pace-changes, built up from a slow-burning start to a mush faster and livelier ending. Personally, I thought it would have been better to end the set with it, rather than a Chickenfoot cover – not that the latter was a bad song, but when you have one as interesting as Walking Shoes, use it to go out on a high.

Second support came from Stockholm’s Degreed, who were supporting Vega throughout the tour and, tonight, playing their first ever UK gig. There was a lot of effort put into making sure a huge banner, advertising their debut album Life Love Loss, was hung straight, with as much attention being given to it as would normally be lavished on the instruments. Eventually, with the help of some Fibbers-supplied tape, the band seemed satisfied with it and drummer Mats Ericsson promptly sat down, obscuring most of the advert… As with Skin & Bone before them (and what seems to be an increasing number of bands) Degreed came on stage to a backing track, but the twin guitars of Jesper Adefelt and Daniel Johansson gave this band a heavier sound. The vocals from Robin Ericsson, who also played bass, were very clear and Micke Jansson’s keyboards, despite sometimes being lost in the background gave the music a more melodic feel when they did filter through. Most of tonight’s tracks – including Color Me, Human Being? and Just Imagine – came from the debut album but Degreed are about to release a second and the first track they played from it tonight seemed to bring them luck of the wrong sort, as the stage lights went out halfway through Black Cat. The band played on, finishing that track before Ericsson near-pleaded for light so that he could see to play. Bravely, they attempted the next track, B.O.D. and the lights returned just after the introduction, much to the band’s almost palpable relief. Track followed track in rapid succession as the band ploughed through their set with scant pause between songs, except when Ericsson gave away a handful of free copies of Life Love Loss and a T-shirt to eager punters. Nice touch – I was too far away to get a copy and would have bought one at the end of the evening, except that I couldn’t find the band. The set ended with Arms Of Misery, which was the most melodic song the band played, slightly reminiscent of Toto. This was a thoroughly entertaining performance, despite the lighting issue and little were we to know that it had just knocked spots off the headliners. Just two pieces of advice – maybe hang the banner during (or just after) the sound-check, even if you fold it up so it can’t be seen and, if you want to sell merchandise, hang around until the end of the gig. After all, not everybody has pockets big enough to put CDs in…

I saw Vega just over a year ago and, looking back on my review of that night, I enjoyed the gig. I really like their 2010 debut Kiss Of Life. They are a lot like Bon Jovi, which isn’t a bad thing in my opinion. With a new album imminent, there was little chance I was going to skip this gig. Strangely, though, tonight didn’t hold a candle to that first time. Extra lights had been brought along and, perched on top of the speaker stacks, they seemed to give the stage a washed-out hue. The band themselves, once again a six-piece when playing live (there’s only four “official” members) looked nervous, with “new blood” Marcus (I was sure I remembered him from last year) on lead guitar being the only one apart from vocalist Nick Workman, to have any stage presence. Nick’s vocals were heavily tampered with, giving them a feeling of fakeness and each song seemed to have a “Whoa, whoa” for the crowd to sing along to or a “Hey! hey!” for them to shout. I’m not against a bit of audience participation but you can go too far. That said, the songs were performed well. Tracks from Kiss Of Life, which I hadn’t played for quite a while, were instantly recognisable the addition of tracks from new album meant that the set was longer than last time. New songs such as Bless My Soul, title track What The Hell, current single White Knuckle Ride and both album and set closer Hands In The Air, bode well for the new album, showing progression without losing sight of the melodic stadium rock sound that made Kiss Of Life such a pleasing debut. Tonight’s crowd was noticeably smaller than that of last year and it seemed to thin out a bit at the front as the set went on, so it’s possible I wasn’t the only one a slightly disappointed with the performance, especially given how good Degreed had been. I also had to question the timing of the tour – I had come out tonight expecting the new album to be available and fully intending to buy a copy, but it’s not actually released until January and the only merchandise available was a rather uninspiring T-shirt. Overall, a bit of a disappointment. Not that that will put me off seeing Vega if/when they play York again. Given the strength of Kiss Of Life and the sound of the new songs I still think there’s a great band somewhere in there, just waiting to be let loose.

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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