Thunder @ Sage Gateshead, February 6 2019
Sure, there was the occasional rumble of distant Thunder. And Danny Bowes almost wriggled his way off a wobbling stool as the urge to break free became too great. But he resisted and resat.
You see, this was not a night for the frontman’s frenetic arm-waving call-to-arms and the oh-so-endearing dad dancing that has come to frame a typical Thunder set. This was the Blues rock treasures reinvented, reimagined and, incredibly, reined in.
And it worked an absolute treat.
The Please Remain Seated tour did what it said on the tin. At least until some unruly folk stage right had the temerity to stand up during the encore and demonstrate a blatant disregard for the gig’s laid-back vibe. Shocking behaviour all round.
And it’s not as if they weren’t warned. Anyone anticipating the usual mix of rock and roll bombast and on-stage shenanigans were immediately put in their place. No sooner had an occasionally awkward version of Love Walked In reached its emotive denouement than Bowes made a point of explaining this would be a far more sedate affair. Civilised, almost.
And so it turned out to be. Bowes did admit that remaining rooted to a stool for two hours was proving to be uncomfortably challenging and, as if persuading himself it wouldn’t last forever, he revealed there would be a return to leaping and yelling later this year. If only those rude chaps romping their way through the encore had waited until then.
At least a full house at Sage Gateshead didn’t have to endure calls for Bowes to rip off his shirt during one of the set’s quieter moments – a fate that had, apparently, befallen fans earlier in the tour. It seems that band and punters alike have struggled to get to grips with Thunder as stripped back, laid back lounge kittens after all those years roaring across the world like uncaged British lions.
But the Sage has always benefitted from a soothing vibe and it proved to be the perfect setting for a Please Remain Seated show.
Love Walked In might seem like an odd choice as the opening song. But the acoustic version of Thunder’s standout ballad – featuring only Bowes and songwriter Luke Morley – didn’t make the cut on latest long player Please Remain Seated (there’s a theme here) and perhaps it should have been parked here too. On a night when perceptions were challenged and creativity celebrated, it stood alone in lacking a new identity.
Otherwise, this was a sonic tour de force with Morley, in particular, relishing the opportunity to put a fresh sheen on familiar favourites. Supported by backing singers, additional keys and some seriously radical reworkings, Thunder added jazz, country, Americana and swing to their ballsy, bullish blues. Higher Ground and A Better Man blossomed, Serpentine sizzled and set closer Low Life In High Places, featuring the Thunder choir, set the seal on a truly memorable musical event. And in spite of that polite request to park bums on seats – plastered across every poster and tee – a standing ovation ensued. It was all that Thunder deserved.
They also deserved better lighting. Lighting that complemented the vibe, mirrored the rhythm and just occasionally focused on the chief protagonists. Surely this was a show that required softer lighting, akin to a Nashville bar or a Soho club? Not a karaoke bar in Birmingham circa 1987. The decision to go for a flashing sea of red, blue and purple was utterly at odds with the music and completely baffling. At one point, Bowes was a little blue dot with no body. He was lucky. His band mates had disappeared completely.
Fortunately, opening act Dan Reed was clear for all to see – and hear. A regular visitor to the North East, this was his biggest show in the region for decades and he seized the opportunity with both hands. Acoustic versions of the Dan Reed Network classics Rainbow Child and Get To You were a genuine treat but it was a heartfelt cover of Dio’s Holy Diver that stole the show.
Images By Adam Kennedy