If the amount of releases, chart success and fans of Glee are to be believed, then Classic Rock and AOR are back in business and in a big way. If that's the case though, nobody has quite sent the message to music fans in Scotland yet, with the small turnout for this excellent bill of new young bands resulting in this show being moved from the compact ABC2 to the positively miniscule Academy2. Of those that did make the effort most were, judging by the teased, spiky and peroxide blonde hair, here for Crash Diet who had initially been billed under Houston when the tour was announced, but by tonight's show (the third of the tour) are now headlining.
Local band Komatose were a late addition to the night's bill and with them only appearing on this date, I have to be honest and say I hadn't anticipated including them in this review. However on the strength of their short set, this bunch of melodic rockers from Greenock could have a decent future ahead of them. Their twin guitar attack and an ear for a hard hitting yet melodic melody impressed, as they tore out riff after riff of uptempo crunchy rock that reminded of a more strident Heavy Pettin'. For such a young band they also had great stage presence (even if the stage is smaller than most cupboards) and their lead guitarist was a real focal point with some tooth picked solos and he even rushed through the crowd as he played at one point. What really impressed was as they left the stage they announced that they'd actually played the show with a stand in rhythm guitarist and singer, which for someone like me who had never heard the band before, was hard to believe. I don't know what Komatose's full time vocalist sounds like, but he'll have to go some to beat the man who was very comfortable being front and centre tonight. A band to keep an eye on for sure!
With the night's crowd obviously of a more sleaze based nature than the majority of the bands on stage, it is clear that Miss Behaviour, as well as Serpentine and Houston, were going to have to work pretty hard to win them over and to be fair to the first of the three Swedish outfits on the bill, Miss Behaviour were up for the challenge. Sporting a heart-throb singer in the shape of Sebastian Roos and one of the worst mullets in rock bravely worn by guitarist Erik Heikne, Miss Behaviour certainly look the part, however it is the rock solid base provided by drummer Anders Berlin and Henrik Sproge's layers of keyboards that really set the musical tone of the band. Heikne is also a fine guitarist and his talents were well used on "'Till We Meet Again", although slower number "Give Her A Sign" fell a little flat and lacked any real heart. Closing number "Emergency" gave Roos the chance to shine and he didn't waste it with his vocals hitting the heights on numerous occasions, but it was the big brash riff that really set this song apart as the band's best. My only real complaint was the obvious use of pre-recorded backing vocals, however considering how vital the big choruses are to this band it maybe shouldn't have been too much of a surprise. That was a minor niggle on a night that otherwise saw Miss Behaviour show real potential.
I have to be honest and say that on the strength of their excellent debut album "A Touch Of Heaven", it was the UK's own Serpentine that I was most looking forward to seeing tonight. It was though with some reservation that I watched them come on stage. For any band to replace a frontman this early in their career is a big ask, however when that frontman is the huge vocal presence of AOR (and other genres) legend Tony Mills, the task is ten times harder. Opening with the slow build of the title track from their album was inspired as it quickly drew the audience into the song and also allowed the guys on stage to work their way into their stride. By the time the chorus had come round the Serps were firing on all cylinders, with guitarist Chris Gould wringing the neck of his Zakk Wylde guitar to great effect and bassist Gareth Vanstone setting himself out as the most versatile four stringer of the night. It was a blistering start and new singer Matt Black has obviously settled into the band really well. Unsurprisingly style wise Black has a strong hint of Tony Mills in his voice, but there's also touches of Kevin DuBrow (Quiet Riot) and Ted Poley (Danger Danger), which adds a pleasantly surprising warmth to his delivery. In truth a little of the high pitched histrionics that are a hallmark of his predecessor's sound were slightly beyond him and he also looked slightly out of puff at times, which considering how small the stage was, is a worry. However when the excellent pair of new songs "Philadelphia" and "Cry" which both stay true to the band's sound were galloped through, he really sounded strong and completely comfortable. Add to that a sharp wit, the ability to boss the audience and a smile to make the girls go weak at the knees and it looks like Serpentine have found a singer capable of taking the band forward and impressively the new songs sound every bit as energetic and rich in melody as the material from "A Touch Of Heaven". However it was "Whatever Heartache" and the simply awesome "Let Love Rain Down" that hit the heights and suggest that Serpentine really do have the songs to hit the big time.
So what of the deposed headliners? Well after being universally criticised for their lacklustre debut show in London back in March, the duo of vocalist Hank Erix and drummer Freddie Allen have returned with two new guitarists more capable of raising this studio project to a fully fledged live act. That's not to say that there aren't still a few missed steps along the way – in a set of only 50 minutes both six stringers get an overlong solo each, the cheesy keyboard intro seems to go on forever and Erix taking to the stage in a boxing gown is either parody, or a subconscious nod to just how much opening number "One Chance" sound like the Survivor classic "Eye Of The Tiger". However on the whole, this is a classy, slick performance that is much more assured than feared. Songs such as "Pride" and "Misery" really benefit from the twin guitar boost and "Hold On" is as seductive and glossy as keyboard led, pompy AOR can be. Also worth a mention is the fact that while Serpentine kept it to a minimum, Houston are the only one of the three AOR acts not to use pre-recorded backing vocals at some point. With more shows to come hopefully Houston will iron out the few, but obvious flaws that still highlight their lack of stage hours and with a bit of luck should be spot on the money by the time of their appearance at this year's premier Melodic Rock showcase Firefest.
Of the established acts on tonight's show Crash Diet were the only band with more than one album under their belts and the only one I haven't heard before, but with the buzz in the room and the excitement of everyone I spoke to about the Swedish four piece, by the time their set came round I was ready for something special. Now I don't know if the fact that I was ever so slightly more senior to the majority of the very young audience in the Academy2 was a factor, but for me Crash Diet were more about attitude than substance. There's no doubt that when Simon Cruz enters the stage to snarl out his vocals that the energy level is far higher than at any previous point in the night, but even though Crash Diet are all torn spandex, peroxide Mohawks, pink bass guitars and expertly thrown poses, I can't help but feel that I've seen and heard all of this umpteen times before - and with better songs in tow. Musically Crash Diet are firmly from the Skid Row and Motley Crue school of sleazed down party-punk metal, but for some reason they are determined to deliver their songs with more spit than polish, leaving a distinct feeling that relying on the music alone would leave this band ever so slightly short. They are a tight unit though and the effort put in is impressive, even if bassist Peter London did seem intent on inadvertently smacking himself in the face every time he approached his microphone! The girlie teens down the front scream their way through the whole set like this was the original Fab Four and not some punked up, leather clad louts and to be fair those who turned up especially to see this lot sneer and scowl at them lapped up every second. Big things have been predicted for Crash Diet, but unless they come up with some really killer songs, things may end up as disastrously as Cruz's end of show stage dive that saw the pantie wetter's part and allow their hero to smack onto the floor, before they huddled round him again to lovingly tend to his wounds!