The Wildhearts By Request
Livestream Presented by Crosstown Concerts
Review by Simon Black
Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, Livestream events (whether they are truly live or not) are all we’ve had to keep us sane over the last year and a half. They are also about the only revenue stream currently available to musicians right now and have become something of a lifeline to many bands. Even though The Wildhearts have a bunch of real dates planned for later in the year, the reality of this actually happening is by no means certain, so doing something like this makes a huge amount of sense. I also personally think these types of events are going to continue to be a part of the furniture moving forward. More on this later however…
This band have had their fair share of ups and downs over the years and the line-up has been something of a revolving door around Ginger, but for many the golden years were that seminal line up of Ginger, CJ, Danny McCormack and Ritch Battersby, so I was delighted to find that that’s what we’ve got for this show. This group of four really are the essence of the act and even though we know in our hearts that this may not always stay stable forever, or that the four of them may not always be “in” The Wildhearts at any given time, but that none of them are ever never truly “out” either…
This event opened with ‘Dislocated’ from the 2019’s ‘Renaissance Man’ album, but being a fan requested show the vast majority of the set list was not going to come as much of a surprise to most. In some ways that’s a shame, as that recent album has some great material on it and is a massive return to form, but thanks to the joy that is Covid it’s not had time to worm its way into the fan consciousness live yet, but I am glad they opened with this song. You get the sense from Ginger’s sometimes caustic comments on the subject during the show that they were hoping for some more obscure requests for material that doesn’t get played live too often, but no, after eighteen months of lockdown, the fans wanted what they knew and love. Ginger refers to the debut “Earth Versus The Wildhearts” record as “The best of the Wildhearts” and that album certainly gets plenty of airplay in this set list with six of the thirteen songs coming from this disc (although with thirty years of hindsight “East West Versus The Wildhearts” would have been a more appropriate title for it). This included what might just have been the final performance of ‘Greetings From Shitsville’, as Ginger made it abundantly clear that he dislikes this one intensely – it’s his nemesis apparently and it’s officially got retired tonight by mutual band agreement, although personally having lived in the ridiculous overpriced squalor that was digs in London around the time this was written I can completely empathise with the subject matter.
The atmosphere of the performance is pure Wildhearts – no large hanger size sounds stages here, or fancy camera work and tableaux, no technical effects or staged gimmickry – this looks and feels like it’s coming from a small rehearsal space. The musicians are all pretty much facing each other rather than assuming stage positions with cameras crammed into the space between in the middle, so the overall feeling is that we’ve been allowed into their private and intimate home. The lighting is bare bones too – a few white par cans with the odd bit of flashing in time with the music, but absolutely nothing fancy at all. A brilliant decision and one that closes the gap of impersonality and distance that is the curse of streamed performances, creating intimacy and immediacy.
It does feel raw and live with no obvious recording gaps, so the banter, occasional instrument retuning and mistakes are as real as they would be in a live venue. The sound is perfect for the effect they are creating – crisp and clear; fat and rich, although the guitars are a bit back in the mix compared to the rhythm section. The filming is of the handheld in your face variety, which captures the atmosphere these guys work best in – a sweaty club with the tangible risk of dripping condensation causing an electrical fire. Now the reality is these events are not truly live, but importantly this one feels ‘as live’, without obvious edits and plenty of shots of tuning fun, inter-song banter and rehydration and all the other stuff you would get if you were in the room with them.
At the end we also get a guest vocal appearance from band friend and Million Dead frontman Frank Turner as Ginger gets his wish for a lead singer on the final two tracks, giving the chance for a cracking layered vocal harmony that would be a challenge otherwise live. Turner also acts as the interviewer for the numerous extras that are available in the deluxe package and his love of their music is tangible. Given that Ginger has moaned a lot over the years about having to be the main vocalist all the time I wonder if we may not see more of his input in the future, as his vocal tone fits a treat with the Wildhearts sound.
At an hour and fifteen minutes run time it was a little on the short side, but short is sweet here and otherwise spot on, although for those with access to the bonus package there was also the chance to hear a new track ‘Splitter’ as a plug for the upcoming album “21st Century Love Songs”. This is now available on pre-order, and the track is a bit more frenetic with time changes aplenty and a lovely slide guitar break from Ginger. It whets the appetite nicely, as indeed would anything recorded by this line up of the band, who are on an absolute creative roll right now.
This is the closest any of us can get to a gig now and frankly I don’t care about whether it’s pre-recorded or not. And neither should you, as these things are currently the only real revenue stream bands currently have and without labels, streaming platforms, promoters, venues and all the other assorted fleas and ticks of Rock’n’roll taking their cut, actually can be a financial life line for the artists, as they are relatively cheap to produce and the band should be getting a much larger slice of the revenue.
That’s why I think they are here to stay – not least from the fact that this pandemic is far from over, but that its impacts are only just getting started, with Brexit and all the woes and costs it adds to touring providing the icing to a shit cake of epic proportions in the UK live scene in particular. Many venues aren’t going to survive this; it’s going to be a while until the touring machine gets going again and in the meantime the bands need to eat. If someone’s ill, physically unable to tour or it’s not simply cost effective then bands are going to realise this delivery method is another trick in their arsenal, and one for which they see a lot more of a slice of the income. It also gives bands a chance to do something different (as Avatar did recently with a four show tour of almost their entire recorded catalogue) and that might not work commercially on tour but works perfectly for the streamed format.
Add to this the deluxe packages on sale can be worth the extra money. In this instance this got fans an event T-Shirt, the new sneak preview from the new album and an hour or so worth of interviews including a very frank and open discussion from Danny about his battles with mental health and drugs (and yes, I may just try CJ’s chicken curry recipe), because let’s face it, live streams are as cheap as chips for us as punters compared to the cost of going to a gig so why the hell would you not spend that extra couple of quid and keep the bands alive?
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