After a pair of memorable shows at Ivory Blacks and The Hug & Pint, we were looking forward to finishing off the 2017 New Hellfire Club Big Band Payday with a jam-packed finale at The Grand Ole Opry, featuring a mixture of bands and unplugged performers.
Kicking off the event was Plectrum – a brilliant name for an acoustic artist, by the way – who delivered a short but sweet set, with the cream of the crop being Monster for it’s stand out writing and the spirited Words; both of which saw him really absorbed and in the zone.
After a swift changeover, The Fables got up and wasted no time at all, determined to get a party started in the venue.
By My Side was awfully catchy, Worry got quite the reaction as some folk sang and clapped along, and Sleeping On The Floor involved an overzealous guy taking it to the front of the stage, jumping up and down and fist-pumping with immense joy.
The bass lines were just superb, the solos were flashy and both the vocals and drumming were quality. The only downside is that at moments, there were screeches of feedback and some monitor issues which had the guys looking a bit flustered and that broke the immersion.
Regardless of that fact, they earned an ovation as they took their leave and deservedly so. They were a hell of a lot of fun and situated a standard to be topped.
We were desperately needing a breather after that, but luckily Lisa Kowalski were there to give us just that, holding our interest with some lovely harmonies and an elegant deposition. She shined well in the brief time she had.
Strung Out Nights was a different kettle of fish entirely.
There was a real angst and resentment in his voice, he strummed with a sharp animosity and his lyrics were blunt and provoking; not to mention there were regular bursts of naughty words that would have old Christian ladies shaking in her little shoes.
We loved every second of it, with him keeping us hooked end to end.
Daryl Sperry kept the pace going fine. His selection of tracks which included Me Myself And I, Eyes On Me and The Sun Is Out had spurts of energy, and with each he displayed confidence, crisp picking on the guitar and a genuine passion in his vocals.
Joe Bone & The Dark Vibes were our most anticipated of the night, as we had been dying to see them live for ages. The intro set the mood as the members emerged one by one.
Joe himself was a revelation. He was absolutely engrossed in the moment and emitted a mesmirising presence which had us totally sucked in and unable to avert our eyes. A unique, one of a kind frontman in every sense of the word.
The backing vocals from Sue were stunning, and the rest of the ensemble collectively produced some very compelling rhythms, as demonstrated in the likes of Voodoo Blood, The Exorcist and Benny Lynch, each sporting their own distinct styles.
To best describe their sound, we have to quote our gonzo journalistic friend Chris Herron – “The Doors slowed down on mescaline”. It was an unforgettable experience, to say the least.
Another reprieve was required as KC Johnston wrapped up things on the unplugged spectrum in solid, enjoyable fashion.
He came out donning pilot’s gear for reasons unknown to ourselves, although it only lasted one song as poor KC was boiling under it all, mos likely as the result of those pesky stage lights. He finished off with a medley that had us tapping our toes and a few audience members behind us chiming in.
And now for the main event – Jackal Trades. Before commencing, Mark led the people in a rousing, standing applause for both New Hellfire Club and the Grand Ole Opry, in respect of their services. Due to late-running, we unfortunately we had to leave mid-way, but we felt we got enough of our fair share.
As expected, we got to hear material from the fantastic Need The Character(s) album, with highlights such as Triangular Trades, Rabbie Burns Benefits and Miley Syria. Mark had an off-kilter, offbeat demeanor which, in conjunction with a fiercely direct tone and explicit writing in tow, kept us and the crowd in the palm of his hand.
Admittedly, we found the live performance to be a touch stilted and lacking a spark, but for the majority of it, we were moderately entertained by the content and it brought the annual weekender to a close quite well.