Massive Wagons @Sunderland Independent, February 22 2020

Massive Wagons stripped of both guitars is like an HGV without its engine.

Think a monster truck with two flat tyres.

Or the pop lorry missing a couple of crates of cream soda.

Alex Thistlethwaite and Stevie Holl are central to the Wagons’ signature sound.

Their Quo-inspired twin guitar assault is a legendary staple of the live scene.

And they perfectly complement rabid frontman Barry Mills with a high-octane brand of riotous riffage.

But for the first 20 minutes of the band’s Sunderland debut both were inexplicably absent from a muddy mix.

Try as they might to make themselves heard it wasn’t until Red Dress that the duo broke through the sound barrier.

And even then Thistlethwaite and Holl never appeared entirely happy with their night’s work.

But the Wagons’ axe attack set the highest of standards.

And after breaking outta the studio to celebrate their new-found freedom on Wearside, neither wanted to be held back by pesky gremlins.

Ever the professionals, they ploughed on.

And given the trademark vim and vigour underpinning a typically balls-to-the-wall set, those early sound problems were soon forgotten.

Mills had fared little better than his six-string buddies at the outset.

And for a while it was as if drummer Alex Thistlethwaite had the stage to himself.

But once all five members were in sync this shit got serious.

Days after wrapping up work on their fifth long player, the Wagons were keen to trial some hot new tunes.

Banging On Your Stereo and Freak City slotted seamlessly into a set bursting at the seams with bona fide fan favourites.

And on this evidence the follow up to Full Nelson – slated for the summer – should be the sound of a band bang on form.

Mills and co. have always boasted that happy knack of crafting singalong anthems perfected for the live arena.

Back To The Stack, Ratio and Tokyo were bellowed back word perfect by the majority of the Independent’s bouncing masses.

And the odd brave soul accompanied Mills on the ever-evocative Northern Boy.

The Wagons’ massive are a breed apart when it comes to unwavering support of their favourite band.

But even they raised an eyebrow – and the odd heckle – at Mills and Thistlethwaite’s bold decision to wear red and white for the encore.

When in Sunderland…

Less daring in their attire but fashionably cool, main support Anchor Lane’s gutsy brand of heavy blues brought the house down.

The Glaswegians continue to build on a reputation for old school grooves coupled with new school attitude.

And in Voodoo, Stone Cold Hearted and Casino, the assured quartet boast three gold plated classics capable of underpinning their live sets for years to come.

But when it comes to striking the odd rock star pose the ‘Lane could learn a lot from Twister’s Stevie Stoker.

A frontman by default – nobody else would take the mic – his Sunset Strip styling and sleaze-soaked tones could give Stephen Pearcy (circa 1987) a run for his money.

Twister whipped up a storm before most punters had paid for their first can of beer.

But those who did catch Stoker and co. were blown away.

Ones to watch…if you can keep up.