For a certain generation, tonight is nirvana, an orgiastic meeting of music and memory that fizzes on the brain synapses like a crackling bonfire. Judging by the crowd however, barely a single person from either side of that generation gives two shits, such is the lack of age diversity in the room.
25 years ago, these four bands ruled Britain like the seasons, Dodgy bringing the good time summer vibes; Terrorvision the anything-can-happen magic of Spring; Reef the solid reliability of Autumn; and The Wildhearts the bitter realism of Winter, and what is abidingly obvious tonight is that, just like the seasons, everyone has their favourite.
MonkHammer is too late to catch Dodgy, because a) they’re rubbish b) they’re rubbish and c) they’re rubbish, but we arrive just in time to hear Terrorvision launch their set with a monstrous Discotheque Wreck, the first of several songs culled from breakthrough 1994 album How To Make Friends and Influence People. The devotees down the front dutifully throw down, bouncing as one and gurning like electrified gibbons, but elsewhere, the reaction in the packed, but by no means full, Apollo is understandably more restrained, sly grins tickling faces as people raise a glass to their youth and nestle in the buzzy underglow of nostalgia. By the time Alice What’s The Matter? rattles the rafters, the crowd is deafening, and it’s clear there will be some very hoarse voices down the garden centre this bank holiday Monday. However, as the career-spanning set progresses, two glaring issues stand out. The first is the set itself. While a handful of individual songs hit hard (My House and Pretend Best Friend in particular), and it’s great to hear Demolition Song from massively underrated (and to much of this audience, probably unknown) 2011 album Super Delux, the set feels disjointed, with slower numbers Didn’t Bleed Red, Some People Say and Middleman slamming on the breaks every time a bit of momentum gets going. The second problem is frontman Tony Wright, who is celebrating his 50th birthday tonight, and has evidently started a bit early. Normally a whirlwind of funky dancing and blokey-bloke-vocals, tonight he lollops round the stage, out of breath and often out of tune, yelling into the microphone like he’s in the crowd rather than up on stage. Rather than bringing the party to the people, the impression is that the people have interrupted his party, and while both band and crowd have fun, it’s a disappointingly sloppy turn.
By the time The Wildhearts take the stage, colours have been firmly nailed to masts and the venue has noticeably emptied, leaving a baggy chasm between the hardcore at the front and the bar-huggers at the back. Considering how obvious the pairing seemed on paper, it’s surprising to see the fans so divided, but it’s the early-leavers who lose out, because The Wildhearts are on top form tonight. Technical gremlins threaten to derail everything before even a note has been played, but problems fixed, Ginger commands his troops with a grouchy “Are we fucking doing this then or what?” before barreling into I Wanna Go Where The People Go. After battling through said track on crutches like the punk rock legend he is, bassist Danny McCormack (who lost a leg to an aneurysm two years ago) takes a seat to an uproarious cheer from the crowd, and from here on in it’s riff after riff after motherfucking riff, the band playing the closest thing to a Wildhearts “best of” you can get, with chart-bothering hits Caffeine Bomb, Suckerpunch, Sick of Drugs and Vanilla Radio all given full throttle outings. Despite the diminished numbers, the crowd are as loud as they were for Terrorvision, if not louder, with the colossal “London” roar of Greetings From Shitsville likely audible back in the band’s native Newcastle. Wildhearts fans don’t do things by halves, and tonight is no exception.
Whereas Terrorvision make the Apollo feel like a festival mainstage tonight, the Wildhearts use that same space to re-create a heaving, seething, pulsing club show, and it is brilliant. No wonder it’s their album that lent its title to the tour name.
[Editor’s Note] Yes, Reef played as well, closing the night, but to be honest, MonkHammer was too giddy to stay for a band we never liked in the first place, and judging by the reactions of the people we met in the pub 45 mins later, we didn’t miss much.
[Editor’s Note] And yes, we appreciate the irony of chastising Terrorvision fans for leaving early and doing it ourselves literally one hour later.