Steel Panther @Newcastle O2 City Hall, May 15 2023
When the Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown of 80s-styled rock first burst onto the scene, a bellyful of largely harmless laughs was guaranteed.
Rushonrock’s first, joyous experience of Steel Panther was under the canvas at Download in 2009.
Back then, we got the joke.
The banter — like the songs — was as tight as spandex.
The double entendres trumped crass filth (most of the time).
And four middle-aged men sending up the Sunset Strip didn’t seem too offensive at all.
Fourteen years ago, the Rushonrock verdict was clear:
“Forget Spinal Tap, consign The Darkness to the history books and spare a thought for Dragonforce.
“The new kids on the block manage to blow all those acts into the water with a mix of spoof quality, sharp spontaneity and stunning professionalism.
“Sadly, it’s unlikely they’ll have much more staying power than Devon Loch so enjoy the Panther while you can.”
How wrong we were.
And how wrong Steel Panther were to outstay their welcome.
The death knell was sounded with 2019’s ludicrous Heavy Metal Rules.
And in 2023 there’s simply no place for the rank misogyny underpinning an increasingly pathetic parody.
Within a decade Steel Panther have gone from reasonably likeable dumb-ass fools to the masters of distasteful degradation.
And they don’t appear to give a damn.
Neither, of course, do the screaming masses sustaining this senseless juggernaut of ill-judgement.
A wild O2 City Hall crowd lapped up the ‘Headed For An Outbreak’ one-liner — one of many predictably lame jokes sending up well-paid support act Winger.
The band’s word-perfect acolytes — from the under 12s (incredibly, this was an 8+ show) to the over 60s — sang every expletive with a common zeal.
And fans laughed out loud at the volley of quips rolled out at the expense of Rick Allen (Starr’s ‘vintage’ On Through The Night tee offering little in the way of levelling up when it came to cruelly mocking Def Leppard’s drummer).
In fact, the baying majority voted with their feet and stayed right until the bitter end.
So maybe it’s the Rushonrock team that’s completely out of touch with what constitutes entertainment these days.
Maybe we’d be better off waiting for Dolly Parton’s ‘rock’ album before slipping silently into some sort of Radio Two-soundtracked retirement wearing our Supertramp slippers.
Perhaps it’s us — not the Panther — that’s had its day.
But here’s the thing.
In the past, Steel Panther’s comedy always teetered on the brink of bad taste.
But for a while it stayed the right side of clever and canny. On the cusp of inspired.
Sadly, Starr crossed that line a long time ago.
Songs like the superb 1987, Eyes Of A Panther and Death To All But Metal deserve their place in the pantheon of expertly penned hard rock satire.
But this washed up band of misguided brothers should have followed Lexxi Foxx’s (Travis Haley) lead and quit while they were ahead.
Winger fly the flag for retro cool
And then there was Winger.
The 35-year-old Sunset Strip staple is still doing it for real.
And if a song like Seventeen has become dangerously dated then at least it can fall back on the defence that it was written during ‘different times’.
Back then Winger were hot on the heels of Leppard, Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi, Europe et al as the rising stars of the hair metal scene.
Frontman Kip and his well-coiffured crew had it all: the looks, the hooks and the contacts books.
And it seemed only a matter of time before hits like Headed For A Heartbreak, Can’t Get Enuff and Miles Away would propel the well-heeled New Yorkers into hard rock’s big leagues.
Thanks to grunge that never quite happened but new — and likely last — album Seven represents the very best of a classy band that’s been back gigging since 2006.
And the classic line-up — bolstered by long-time touring member John Roth — set about proving the originals really are the best.
Starr bounded on for a brief cameo during …Heartbreak and, in fairness, it’s impossible to knock the charismatic frontman’s vocal prowess.
For all their faults, Steel Panther have always had huge respect for all of the 80s bands they’ve made a living out of aping.
And fanboy Starr seemed genuinely in awe as Winger made another dream come true.
Roth and the redoubtable Reb Beach delivered a masterclass in six-string wizardry and provided the pin-sharp vocal harmonies key to the band’s enduring success.
Main man Kip might struggle to hit some of those higher notes more than three decades down the line but an astute choice of Wingmen allows his band to soar.
Keysman Paul Taylor picked up a richly deserved namecheck as the man behind the magnificent Miles Away — one of a slew of iconic tracks that truly stand the test of time.
What Winger really think of Steel Panther will remain backstage and behind closed doors.
But it’s thanks to Starr and co. that one of the great survivors of that excess all areas 80s scene has the chance to do it all again across the UK.
And for that we should be eternally grateful.
Winger image courtesy of Adam Kennedy