Don’t you love it when bands turn up on time ? (take note Mr Rose) Bang on 9pm, Hagar, Anthony and Satriani amble on stage to a hero’s welcome from a sold out Academy 1. As Chad Smith is busy with his Chilli Peppers day job the drumstool is filled by Kenny Aronoff – a long time friend of Hagar. As the band kick off with the highly bombastic ”Lighten Up” the first thing to notice is the lack of ”stage production” – there’s minimal, but effective lighting, the bands logo, no dry ice, no pyro and absolutely no thought of rollercoasting drumkits (I’m already sick of hearing about it!) . What Chickenfoot deliver in spades though is serious riffage, memorable melodies and an ability to vary their tone throughout a highly impressive 100 minute set. By third song ”Big Foot” the riffs coming from Joe Satriani’s guitar are heavy enough to remind your reviewer of early Black Sabbath – now that’s seriously heavy. Throughout the show, Satriani’s playing is a minor revelation. In sharp contrast to his early solo career he forgoes any temptation to unleash his full technical wizardry and keeps the solos sharp and to the point. Make no mistake, this is a ‘real’ band and not some hastily arranged record company exec’s wet dream of a ”supergroup”. The whole band looks comfortable and are clearly having a blast just as if they were just banging out some tunes down at their local. Which, coincidently, is how the band came together (see interview below!)
”Up Next” is an immediate toe tapper and at this point it occurs to me that I’ve been doing this and nodding along since track 1. This is a ”classic” Chickenfoot song – here’s not a note wasted, a riff that immediately pulls you in and an anthemic chorus. But don’t think that this is party metal or poodle rock – the songs have an earthy and honest quality and are often very heavy. Amusingly this track is preceded by mainman Hagar looking for some local beer recommendations and a choice between John Smiths and Old Speckled Hen which is typical of the man’s persona. What’s refreshing about him is the complete lack of ”rockstar bullshit” – you could easily have a beer with him at the pub and it’d be completely cool.
”Down the Drain”, with it’s slowburning intro takes the pace down a little and is showcase for Hagar’s vocals. This epic tale ends with the kind of scream that would rival Dickinson and Halford in their 20’s. Bear in mind that Hagar has been doing this since the early 70’s (I won’t mention his age – do the sums!) and you realise how astonishing the vocal performance is throughout. There is no skating over the high notes and no changes in pitch by the band in order to accomodate a lack of range – frankly it’s jawdropping. Clearly, he has looked after himself.
Next track ”Three and a Half Letters” is a work of genius. Listen to the arrangement of this song and you’ll understand. Lyrically this is really quite a touching song which bemoans the human cost of the worldwide depression – clearly this is music with a little more substance than many bands I could mention (I mean slag off!) . The main set comes to a close with a rockin’ but very poignant ”Future in the Past” which judging by the roar it receives from the crowd clearly ” hits the spot” emotionally. A word on the crowd actually- I had assumed that given the band members’ cumulative near 100 years service in the name of rock that I’d be surrounded by geriatrics. Whilst many in attendance are of a similar vintage to myself and beyond it’s encouraging to see so many teenagers at the gig who are getting into it as much as the dads! The highlight of the inevitable encore is ”Different Devil”. I swear Bon Jovi would kill to have written this… it’s got ”anthem” written all over it but it’s vintage Hagar. It really would be a cynical soul who couldn’t relate to this song – instant classic. By the time they’ve finished with the huge singalong ”Oh Yeah” and Hendrix’s ”Foxy Lady” the crowd is going slightly mental and demanding yet more.
As I leave the venue it’s obvious the fans have loved every minute of this and I have to say I’m admiring the fact that they delivered purely Chickenfoot material and clearly had no thoughts of pandering to those who may have been expecting classic songs from their individual careers. A top night of seriously heavy rock. Hugely impressive!