WINGER NEWCASTLE 2014@Newcastle O2 Academy 2, June 18 2014

Midway through an accomplished set Kip Winger revealed that his first show in Newcastle was with Alice Cooper on the shock rocker’s mid-80s Constrictor tour. If that bold admission immediately dated the bass-playing frontman it hammered home the fact that one of America’s finest singer songwriters is enjoying an Indian summer. 

Fresh from the previous weekend’s main stage set at Castle Donington’s Download Festival – and flanked by fret-burning duo John Roth and Reb Beach – Kip conjured up a captivating career-spanning set three days shy of his 53rd birthday. Significantly, the new material culled from 2014’s Better Days Comin’ was more than a match for Winger’s heavily rotated made-for-MTV hair metal standards.

The sound may be beefier, bluesier and ballsier two decades after the band went on hiatus in the face of grunge’s unrelenting advance but Kip and co-writer Beach still have an ear for a classic melody and memorable chorus. The title track from Better Days Comin’, opener Midnight Driver Of A Love Machine and Rat Race breathed new life into a greatest hits set that refused to rely on former glories.

Of course Winger could get away with playing the heritage card. And few of Kip’s fellow 50-somethings would have complained had debut single Madelaine or In The Heart Of The Young made the final cut. However, Kip and Beach are clearly far from finished as a songwriting team and fusing original riffs with heartfelt lyrics remains the band’s lifeblood.

Roth switched to the bass (a task outsourced to Geordie Barry for the Van Halen finale) for a memorable rendition of Miles Away but it was hard to look beyond the full version of Headed For A Heartbreak in the search for a genuinely affecting highlight. With Kip on keyboards it would have been easy to overlook a vocal tour de force and yet Winger’s main man was in scintillating form as he belted out the high notes.

Ceding to the request to play Blind Revolution Mad and prepared to fill the gaps with affable banter, Winger the man ensured Winger the band left another indelible mark on Newcastle’s jubilant rockers. But this wasn’t all about the headline act.

Openers BlackWolf built on the foundations laid down at their Trillians show earlier this year with a ridiculously assured performance. The word is out where these 70-soaked classic rockers are concerned and in frontman Scott Sharp the brazen Bristolians boast a truly exciting talent.

Fellow leaders of the Brit rock pack Jettblack have been setting the pace for homegrown talent for some time now and the sleaze-tinged quartet were slicker than ever. Blazing versions of In-between Lovers, Prison Of Love and staple anthem Raining Rock brought the sweaty masses to boiling point and left the door wide open for Winger to bring home the win.

Simon Rushworth