Black Star Riders, Michael Monroe, Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons – O2 Academy, Leeds: Live Review

Black Star Riders, Michael Monroe, Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons – Leeds O2 Academy – 19th February 2023

The Wrong Side Of Paradise album is the fifth in a career that sees us gathered to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Black Star Riders. Once a vehicle for prolonging the Thin Lizzy legacy, the outfit marshalled by Ricky Warwick is it’s own baoss these days while owing much to the inspiration of Phil Lynott’s legacy and spirit and ricky’s roots in the emerald isle.

In the latest in a series of fine sidesmen, he’s joined by the lively presence of Sam Wood on guitar, not a million miles in looks, style and moves from Scott Gorham while the rhythm section of long-time Rider Robbie Crane on bass and drummer Jimmy DeGrasso make for one reason for celebration. Sam proves more than adept at combing with Ricky in a twin attack (that’s very Emerald-y and not the only reminder of the frontman’s Celtic roots on display in the set) on Another State Of Grace early doors. A handful of new songs feature in the opening half hour or so, four of the first six actually plus The Osmonds Crazy Horses (that we rather liked and felt fitted the bill nicely), kind of reminding us of the latest incarnation of Black Star Riders, before the first, but not unexpected (ie, widely advertised) treat in the set.

Scott Gorham walks on – looking a little frailer these days – walks on to a hero’s intro and a hero’s welcome for All Hell Breaks Loose. He’s on the smartest and shiniest guitar of the many on show and it may be the adrenaline or the following run of songs, but it signals a point at which the gig really steps up. Bloodshot and Soldierstown whip up a fair old storm and sweat that sees Ricky take the chance to lose his the guitar off for once but there’s a sub – it’s Phil Campbell! A three guitar lineup powers through Lizzy’s Don’t Believe A Word and in need of a comedown, Ricky returns with the acoustic for a hint of drama and a splash of the blues on Blindsided.

It’s the single concession to a breather in another set dominated by Warwick fuelled fire, energy and passion and a pumping basslines stage right from Crane. Although there’s another tsunami to come that kicks off with the return to the stage (thankfully with feet on the floor) from Michael Monroe for Tonight The Moonlight Let Me Down. Followed by the Black Star Riders own Black Rose in Kingdom Of The Lost with its very own hard rock jig, there’s the spirit of Bound For Glory and a bit more Lizzy as the hits keep coming. Ending with a Finest Hour – “this could be our finest hour…” indeed; it might sound a bit cheesy, but the sentiment plus a “sha-na-na-na” singalong – and yes, in the words of the song, it’s better than Saturday night.

One thing guaranteed at a BSR show is that they won’t skimp or give short shrift when it comes to a touring package.

Michael Monroe has form. He has energy too – not cocaine-fuelled either as we hear from the BSR TM in his warm-up speil. His band strikes up a fanfare for One Man Gang and he’s dancing from the wing, pouting and fanning himself – the fan soon flies into the crowd – and a rapid-fire race to the finish has MM and Leeds breathless. It’s not just the fan that’s in the crowd. Within a few minutes, MM himself is at the barrier, nay, atop the barrier, supported by the front rows and telling the security “I’m OK. Im OK!” Just as OK as when he climbs one of the lighting struts, perhaps when health & safety kicks in , as his foray up the opposite strut result in the plug being pulled and a yellow card issued. “climb – climb – climb” is the chant but he resits in favour of continuing the show and reverting to a much safer harp playing.

With New York Doll, Steve Conte adding not only a slab of attitude to the overdose of Glam Punk, but also one more big name treading the Leeds boards tonight, the chorus of “I live too fast to die young” becomes the battle cry. A song that actually would fit quite nicely with Ricky and the boys. And with Last Train To Tokyo, we’re on a roll. A roll that doesn’t end – Michael Monroe is the gift that keeps giving with ’78 – “you can’t take ’78 out of the boy” – and we’ve time traveled back forty years – plus a blast of end-of-set covers including a nod to his Hanoi Rocks past. The communal passion of Dead, Jail Or Rock’N’Roll is a joyous (and rebellious) finale from a showman and a class band.

It’s been a breathless and breathtaking onslaught that celebrates the power of rock – sorry, rawk and roll. Absolutely tremendous.

Opening up tonight is a four-piece version of Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons; tonight it’s Tyla and Dane plus new singer Joel Peters. Often content to play the warm-up slots, their half-hour gives the sort of taster that pays dividends in pulling in the new recruits for their own headline gigs.

With a handful of Motorhead inevitably in the set – Going To Brazil, Born To Raise Hell and ‘Spades’ – the opening declaration of We’re The Bastards might owe a nod to We Are Motorhead. A clarion call of an opening charge that declares how “music is medicine, music is therapy,” they don’t fall short when it comes to giving the finger to one and all along with plenty of good-natured, self-deprecating banter albeit in the vernacular. We’re encouraged to abuse Tyla in particular – such is the lot of the bass player. Point made, the ‘Welsh Wanker’ guitar strap (beautifully crafted we must add) that’s on clear and visible show gets sidelined as Phil straps on the Flying V for Dark Days that provides relative calm before the storm of Spades.

They have a Live In The North album on release. In its own way, as essential – almost – as No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith. Get on the download…

A fantastic tenth-anniversary tour and show – guests galore and with everyone in the package pulling their weight and urging each other ever onwards, there’s a real camaraderie amongst the bands. Even Saxon’s Biff Byford was in the house. Surprisingly he wasn’t goaded onstage. It was that sort of evening.

Black Star Riders  online:  Website / Facebook / Twitter /  Instagram /   YouTube

Michael Monroe online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

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