@Newcastle O2 Academy, March 20 2016
Taking one of the UK’s fastest-rising festival formats on the road may have appeared overly ambitious when these dates were first mooted late last year. And including AOR in the title is more than a little misleading given the nature of the four acts on show.
But the people of Tyneside weren’t demanding a Best of Boston or Journey’s Greatest Hits as they were treated to a rock and roll tour de force. By the time hometown heroes The Quireboys celebrated a frantic set-closing Sex Party, the masses were simply demanding more.
As the best value live package on the road right now HRH AOR is more about the notes than the letters. It’s not keyboard-led pomp rock but that’s not the point.
It’s a packed programme of kick-ass live music that proves there’s life beyond the corporate enormodomes and sanitised stadium experience.
Kicking things off in confident fashion – albeit in front of just a few hardy souls – were feisty trio The Texas Flood. Their name and their music might be more deep south than South Wales but the Neath band know a thing or two about crafting heavy Southern Rock anthems built to last.
Frontman Tom Sawyer boasts the swagger of a born entertainer and if wingman Ben Govier’s dubious banter raised the odd eyebrow then it was the music that did the talking.
Bonafide are seasoned campaigners when it comes to delivering bang-on rock shows and the super Swedes didn’t hang about as they raced through a typically furious set.
Lead vocalist Pontus Snibb looked relieved to have his band-mates on stage – the singer was forced to fly solo in Bristol two days earlier after Bonafide’s tour bus broke down – and gave a convincing audition as Brian Johnson’s would-be replacement in AC/DC.
Inciting a rowdy sing-along on set closer Fill Your Head With Rock, the self-styled denim devils raised the bar ahead of Hardcore Superstar’s hugely anticipated show.
Bonafide’s fellow Swedes boasted a huge backdrop and even bigger tunes: their sleaze-ridden set ripping up the formbook. Frenzied singer Joakim Berg is adrenaline personified – his wild eyes and even wider grin forcing a subdued Sunday crowd into action.
Last Call For Alcohol, Moonshine and the ironic We Don’t Celebrate Sundays revealed why Hardcore Superstar are serious headline material in Europe and seriously good fun on stage. Missed this? You missed out.
The Quireboys had it all to do as they set out to set the seal on a fabulous night of live entertainment and fresh from their HRH AOR 4 main stage appearance the previous weekend this would prove to be a walk in the park.
The astute decision to include St Cecilia and Gracie B served as a timely reminder that the enduring rock and rollers have no need to live in the past. Their new material may lend itself to a more intimate, acoustic setting but both songs fitted seamlessly into a set as proud as it was loud.
A initially muddy mix might have spoiled Troublemaker and Too Much Of A Good Thing but by the time There She Goes Again was ringing out around the Academy this most accomplished of acts sounded superb.
Guy Griffin and Paul Guerin delivered yet another masterclass in understated cool – the former climbing off his sickbed to roll back the years and the latter caressing every last note out of his beloved new guitar. Keith Weir’s keys have been central to The Quireboys’ decade-long resurgence and Spike didn’t allow a disappointing derby result to dampen his boyish enthusiasm.
Who knows how long it will be before rhythm kings Nick Mailing and Dave McCluskey are officially recognised as permanent members (Wikipedia update anyone?) but two of the longest apprenticeships in rock continue to add stability and steely determination to a band so often undermined by its revolving door policy relating to bass players and drummers.
Wrapping up with Sex Party – the second of two encores – the headliners invited various members of all three support bands to join in the fun. It was chaotic and it was comedic. But it was also rock and roll camaraderie at its very best.