|Candlebox/ Jeff Angell’s Staticland/Pete RG/ – Wolverhampton, Slade Rooms – 24 January 2017|
|Written by Rich Hobson|
|Thursday, 16 February 2017 04:30|
In 2017, all it takes to be a grunge band is a fuzz-pedal and a ticked box on Facebook. It doesn’t matter if you’re from Seattle or Sheffield; any band that writes songs that could be used in an episode of ‘Dawson’s Creek’ suddenly gets the “grunge” tag. Yet somehow, some bands that arose from (or alongside) the scene are inauspiciously absent in discussions about grunge’s impact on music. Candlebox are one of those bands. Formed in Seattle in the 90s and sonically akin to grunge forefathers Mother Love Bone (of whom Candlebox’s vocalist Kevin Martin was a friend), Candlebox are pushed out of grunge discourse in favour of “post-grunge” radio friendlies like Puddle of Mudd and Nickleback. But, in these times of austerity and uncertainty, you go where the music goes.
Unfortunately, by the time we arrive at the venue we are already too late to see Burton-on-Trent rockers Theia opening set. A band who describe themselves as influenced by the likes of Black Stone Cherry and Heaven’s Basement, it’s no wonder they were offered a spot on this bill and it’s a damned shame we miss them as their set is likely the only linear choice for this bill. Raised alongside grunge though they might be, Candlebox have looked well outside of the scene for their supports.
Pete RG provide our first dose of live music for the evening and if you’re expecting Eddie Vedder vocal stylings with a dash of slightly fuzzed-up guitars, you’ll be disappointed. What Pete RG have in abundance is melody, possessed of a sound which was described by Kevin Martin before the show as “like Roxy Music meets Happy Mondays meets Oasis meets The Smiths, this ethereal thing with a Neil Young baritone vocal”. Ethereal is about right; the band are gentle and ambient, with a sound which reminds of U2 at their very best, REM at their most appealing. The band’s set is a strange opener, not so much pumping the audience as gently introducing them to the sounds of Pop-Rock bliss. Poppy without sounding overly commercial, the set is a taste of primo neo-80s style alt. rock right down to the prangy guitar riffs, which conjure up audio memories of Johnny Marr or The Edge.
If Pete RG bring the alternative to tonight’s formula, Jeff Angell’s Staticland are here to provide the rock. A consummate showman from the get-go, Angell struts the set like the virile rock icons of old. Employing a snake-hip dance that’d leave Mick Jagger blushing, Angell is determined to get the room swinging and shaking to the groove heavy moves of his latest band. Coming out somewhere between The Cult, Mark Lanegan and The Cure, Staticland possess plenty of rhythm and big choruses to boot. It’s not hard to imagine the band propping up the gossip section of a sleazy tabloid, such is their schooling in the classic ways of rock n roll. But where they differ from the old guard is in their amiability; Jeff is intense as a front-man, but at no point confrontational, more alluring than predatory. The end result is a greatly enjoyable set of gleaming rock n roll tunes that make you want to drink, dance, fight and fuck all at once.
Taking cues from their arena rock predecessors, Candlebox mark their introduction to the stage with an intro-tape. A mixture of some of the biggest and most prominent grunge and rock hits of the ‘90s (starting with ‘Touch Me I’m Sick’, including ‘Alive’ and ‘Spoonman’), Candlebox aren’t beating around the bush when they pick out their own contemporaries.
They might not have achieved the same commercial success as Pearl Jam or Soundgarden, but that doesn’t make their music any less potent and right from track number one the band are firing on all cylinders. Vocalist Kevin Martin makes full use of his punk rock roots as he bounds around the stage (which, considering its relatively small size, is a feat is daring) and jumps into the crowd for mass sing-alongs.
With a twenty-year career (plus change), it’s not surprising that the band are put on the spot to try and cover all of their extensive materials. Given just a little over an hour and a half to get through everything, the setlist is an eclectic mix of classic tunes and recent cuts, providing something that resembles an abridged run-through of their career. The end result is hugely enjoyable, the band sounding crystal clear and ubiquitous as they hammer away. Embodying the very best elements of arena rock unity and punk club energy, the band straddle the lines between rock pomp and communal punk effortlessly.
A discography of soulful ballads, rock howlers and punk-ish bounce-alongs offers a litany of reactions throughout the night. At one point, you might find yourself swaying the pseudo-anthem of ‘You’ or ‘Blossom’, only to build to a roar-along crescendo. Throw in the pounding efforts of ‘Arrow’, ‘Simple Lessons’ and ‘Vexatious’, and you find a recipe for a show which could easily fill an arena twice over, in showman terms at the very least, wringing the crowd dry of every emotion they could possibly feel.
The term “band’s band” appears from time to time when discussing acts whose musicianship is so key to their sound that they offer very little in the way of commercial appeal. Candlebox have commercial appeal flying out of the wazoo, so they’re not at risk of being lumbered with that particular tag. A more appropriate tag is “fan’s band”, which is to say a band created clearly by and for fans of a particular style of music. Candlebox are every inch this, drawing influence from every band around them (from Pearl Jam to the Happy Mondays) to come out with something which feels like the epitome of rock fandom. It’s no coincidence that the band play the Slade Rooms during Independent Music Venue week: independent music venues are where real music lives, and Candlebox are just coming home.
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