THUNDER - Live At Leeds / Live At Islington Academy

January 27, 2024, 6 months ago


Mark Gromen

Rating: 8.0

review hard rock thunder

THUNDER - Live At Leeds / Live At Islington Academy

A pair of "old" live outings from the blues-based UK hard rockers. Although copping a title from The Who, the first entry is the newer of the bunch, recorded March 3, 2015 on the touring cycle for Wonder Days. As such, it features a half dozen cuts from said disc. Most of that material is aired in the initial half (if not third) of the 16 cuts. In fact, all but a pair appear prior to "Backstreet Symphony", which is squarely in the middle: #8. The tour was amongst Ben Matthews' (guitar/keyboards) first dates back, after a battle with throat cancer. Perhaps that's why his assortment of keys are given an increased presence on this album.

It kicks off with the title track from said album, which gets the joint jumping, complete with squawking guitar break, offset against a piano backdrop. Simplistic "Black Water" gets some crowd participation/sing-along. Lots of energy on "Resurrection Day", another crowd sung offering. The likes of "Broken" and slower, ‘70s, electric piano laden "Empty City" demonstrate that Thunder would have been better served (back in the day) to be positioned alongside The Black Crowes, rather than the Sunset Strip brigade. Always melancholy juxtaposed to the "party" anthems (which were actually fewer in number). 

That said, should have been able to get more mileage out of the Backstreet Symphony CD songs, here in all their rocking glory; from the wicked guitar break and sing-along chorus of the titular cut (which I always thought was a better single than "Dirty Love"), to the restrained stomp of "Higher Ground".

"I'll Be Waiting", as Danny Bowes announces, is "a sad one," with Matthews' keys propping up the emotional/mournful tune. "This Thing I Want" lightens the moods, as it picks up the pace. The songs after the midway point also tend to be longer, 6+ minute range, with an eleven minute rendition of the aforementioned "Dirty Love" closing the show. There's minimal chatter from Bowes, but it's funny that, on the heels of "When The Music Played" he introduces "Love Walked In" with the confession, "Now one that you know." Acoustic begun, vocal accompaniment from the crowd, it eventually takes off (ultimately landing softly), but is the epitome of the 80s power ballad (sneaking under the wire, in the last year of the decade). The singer persuades the crowd to "do better" during "Low Life In High Places". The winning duo of "Higher Ground" and (expanded sing-along version of) that bouncy ubiquitous throwaway single/closer round out the performance on high note, literally.

The second gig - Live At Islington Academy - was a radio station promotional Christmas show (limited to 800 fans), in '06. There's just ten songs, five of the biggest hits repeated on the Leeds gig. Self-deprecating "Loser" sets the stage for what will follow, trying to keep the festivities in tune with the holiday season, downtrodden numbers kept to a minimum. Despite the title, "River Of Pain" is a fun little ditty. More acoustic guitar, and a cappella crowd accents, for "Low Life..." They might come from the UK, but there's a southern/country vibe in songs like "The Devil Made Me Do It" and, especially, a raucous "Robert Johnson's Tombstone". 

The latter is perfect for a party atmosphere, complete with harmonica and gradually increasing tempo. Same goes for beer swilling, clap-along "You Can't Keep A Good Man Down". Bowes chides one lady, "A pint of lager in your hand does not preclude you from singing, you silly woman!" Gritty "Love Walked In" gives way to always over-the-top "Backstreet Symphony". Cowbell begins the staccato riffing of "I Love You More Than Rock n Roll", which ends the proper set, but Thunder returns for a nearly 13 minutes of "Dirty Love". The fun quotient transcends an audio-only recording.

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