If ever a promoter put their intentions up front it’s SONI. The initials stand for Sounds Of Northern Ireland and their mission is simple: to put bands from this part of the world in front of local audiences with the best possible shows, promoted in the most professional way. Their monthly ‘SONI Rocks’ gigs in Belfast city centre are always looked forward to, not least because of their blend of experienced and new bands, while they’ve also taken their shows to a variety of other venues, not only on the outskirt s of the Northern Irish capital but also to the Province’s second city, Lisburn.
Tonight’s show was a bit special, though. SONI is the brainchild of Philip McCarroll, the lead vocalist of Pay*ola, who were using this month’s showcase to stage their first hometown headlining gig in more than 15 months. Such a long gap in Belfast shows is unusual for this hard working band, who have spent practically every waking minute of their 13-year existence either in the studio or the place they love best – on stage, especially at their beloved Empire, where for many years they were regarded as virtually the house band. However, the hiatus was enforced: last year, guitarist Nick Joseph sustained a major head injury during a boxing match and, for the first time in their seemingly indestructible career the quartet were forced to do the unimaginable – cancel gigs and take things easy! Slowly, Nick has regained his health and Pay*ola have returned to action…
Always following the ethos of supporting new talent, the gig was opened by a bunch of lunatics by the name of The Unprotected, who should really come with a government health warning. Right from the off, frontman St Dave is prancing around the stage like Freddie Mercury portraying Frank N Furter, camping it up to high heaven in knee-high boots, skimpy boxer shorts and leopard-print hoody, climbing speaker systems and dancing on the bar. His flamboyant antics, however, at times are in severe danger of taking away from what is actually a damn fine rock ‘n’f’n’ roll band, with element so f early Guns ‘N Roses, The Cult, Misfits and LA Guns in their prime and lead guitarist The Ride pulling off some pretty tasty licks and solos.
High-Output are a completely different kettle of fish – a fiery five-piece packed to the brim with classic good time rock ‘n’ roll spirit. Their traditional blues-inspired southern rock style is very much imbued in the style of the likes of Black Oak Arkansas, early Lynyrd Skynyrd and .38 Special, Mountain, Joe Walsh and even Golden Earring, updated with healthy slabs of Black Label Society / Pantera bassiness, while there are some nice delta blues touches, particularly in the guitar solos. Despite only having been together just over a year, the band are incredibly tight and are sure to become firm favourites on the local live scene.
“We are Trucker Diablo and we’re here to rock!” There certainly is no mistaking the intention of tonight’s main guests, as the ‘Big Truck’ rolled back into the heart of Belfast. It’s been a great year for the Trucker boys, with their debut album receiving global acclaim and resulting in the four piece being snapped up by the Californian Ripple Music label, and a highly successful slot at Download which earned them the adulation of none less than the legendary Dee Snider. And they’re certainly ending 2011 on a high, with a support slot on Black Stone Cherry’s forthcoming sold out Irish tour, and an appearance at the O2 in London to come in early December – as well as winning a coveted spot at next March’s Hammerfest, alongside legends such as Anthrax.
So, it’s no wonder that Tom, Simon, Glenn and Terry are in party mood – and that’s exactly what they do! This is a band who do not know how to write a bad song or perform a bad gig – everything is always turned up to maximum – and beyond. Ripping into their set with ‘Rock Hallelujah (dedicated to Ronnie James Dio), the Truckers deliver yet another blistering set, combining new material such as ‘Bulldozer’ – a track which lives up to its title and the heaviest song they’ve ever written – alongside perennial favourites such as the anthem ‘Drink Beer, Destroy’ and ‘Juggernaut’, as well as the recently resurrected ‘Evil Marie’, a beautiful song infused with all the spirit and energy of Thin Lizzy and featuring one of Tom’s best guitar solos, which in itself would do the late, great Gary Moore proud,.
But, tonight is all about Pay*ola, and the room has filled up rightly by the time the guys take to the stage in an explosion of pyro and riffs. Phil immediately storms through the falling sparks and over the monitors with a youthful vigour which would put many a younger singer to shame, as the band rip into their set with a vengeance. As you would expect of a band of this pedigree, they are extremely tight, with the rhythm section of bassist Nick Conway and Adam Callaghan a veritable powerhouse underpinning the guttural guitar work of the recuperated Joseph, who bounds around the stage with a renewed energy befitting the band’s return to their spiritual home.
The band air a substantial portion of their impressive back catalogue, concentrating on favourites such as the brilliant “Rather Be Dreamin”, the anthemic “77 Miles” and absolutely storming versions of “Blindside”, “Show Me The Payola” and “Yesterday And Today And Tomorrow”. They also present a couple of new tracks, including the ballouts rocker ‘Hard To Define’, which are a more than mouthwatering appetiser for a new EP due early in the next year. Welcome back, boys.
Trucker Diablo play Dublin Whelan’s on Thursday 1 December and Belfast Spring & Airbrake on Friday 2 December as support to Black Stone Cherry, London O2 Piazza on Sunday 11 December as part of the ‘December Sessions’, and Ballymena Diamond Rock Club on Friday 23 December. You can check them out at www.truckerdiablo.com
The Unprotected play Belfast Voodoo on Tuesday 6 December. Check them out here.
Review by Mark Ashby aka DJ Monk