If Steel Panther are the parody then Winger are the real thing. And in the same month hair metal’s spoof heroes treated Tyneside to a set so close to the bone it made grown men cry, this was a rare chance to get up close and personal with a true great of the genre.
There was a time when watching Kip Winger tear through the hits inside the cramped but atmospheric Academy II would have been unimaginable. Unfairly targeted by cult MTV cartoon Beavis and Butthead then, like so many of their pretty boy peers, crushed by the onslaught that was grunge, this was one band which never seemed capable of mounting a comeback.
A back catalogue bursting with class counted for nothing when the world’s biggest acts were trading in chugging riffs and lyrical misery. Winger were about as far removed from Nirvana as Kip was from Kurt and so their rapid demise following 1993’s Pull was no surprise.
But tonight proved that hair metal is back in a very big way. And Winger are at the forefront, leading the way.
From the off frontman Kip hit some classic notes, immediately easing fears that his soulful voice may be on the wane. Settling on Pull Me Under, from last year’s Karma, to open the show was brave bordering on the foolish but it sent out a clear message – Winger will not trade on past glories even if they can.
That album made rushonrock’s Top 20 of 2009 for a reason and Stone Cold Killer and Deal With The Devil sounded just as fresh live as they did on CD six months ago. Whether we’ll be treated to more of the same in the future remains to be seen with Reb Beach committed to a new Whitesnake record and fellow axeman John Roth a key player in the new-look Giant.
But let’s revel in the here and now. Winger, Beach and Roth are a terrific threesome and each one would be at home in any one of the biggest rock bands in the world. Beach was in brilliant form, juxtaposing that arena confidence with a club-style charm. And it’s no wonder Giant have snapped up Roth. Note perfect, he nailed this show.
King Kip is, quite simply, a class act. Tinkling the keys on the spine tingling Headed For A Heartbreak and delivering a masterful version of the band’s first single, Madalaine, the bass wielding vocalist is like Lemmy’s family-friendly cousin.
Ironically, given the combined age of these guys, the highlights came from the band’s biggest record – In The Heart Of The Young. Can’t Get Enuff, Miles Away and Easy Come Easy Go became huge hair metal anthems 20 years ago as Kip and his buddies toured their second album for 13 months alongside the likes of Kiss, Scorpions, ZZ Top and Extreme.
Steel Panther might make a living out of sending up bands like Winger but the originals are the best. Newcastle was treated to a thrilling blend of the old and new on a night when the city’s reputation as a rock hotbed of old was all too briefly revived. Welcome back Winger, we missed you.