The Wildhearts Live at Manchester Academy

‘Earth vs. The Wildhearts’ has turned 20 years old this year and it would have been very rude not to celebrate the occasion, especially as The Wildhearts have been on hiatus for far too long now. I dare say a few of us breathed a big sigh of relief when the reformation of the band was confirmed for Ginger’s birthday bash and then these dates that have followed on. The Wildhearts frontman has had quite a successful solo carrier of late!

For most fans, The Wildhearts will have been the starting point for fans of the Ginger one. Even though the band have a prolific back catalogue and enough killer tunes to play all day, the debut full length album will always stick out as their greatest moment. It’s the album you always give to people to introduce them to the band, it has some of their biggest hits and brought the band their first taste of mainstream exposure, but most importantly…it’s flawless!

There are a lot of bands out on tour playing certain albums from their catalogues in full. You’ll be hard pushed to find one as jam-packed with massive songs as ‘Earth vs. the Wildhearts’ though.

It’s also a bit of a help when the band playing the classic album are on top form and tighter than ever. The Wildhearts have never sounded better. The addition of Random Jon Poole to bass duties again has been smooth, he fills the role with ease, and it’s great to see CJ and Rich back where they belong. Ginger was as charismatic as ever, beaming at how much he enjoyed the show on several occasions.

The album is attacked in track list order, with ‘Greetings from Shitsville’ starting things off complete with a massive strobe light show and from there the band barely stopped for breath. The performance was powerful and slick but the party atmosphere prevailed and everyone, onstage and off, looked pretty chuffed to be involved. Ginger’s between song banter was kept to a minimum for the first half of the show, but he notably stopped proceedings to request everyone stop “watching the gig through their telephones and enjoy themselves”. Nobody did things like that when the album was first released apparently! ‘Caffeine Bomb’ was omitted as it only appeared on the re-issue and a huge show-stealing ‘Suckerpunch’ had all the power in the world.

So after a short break it was time for the second half of the set; billed as ‘the audience choose the set list’. Nobody was quite sure how this would work in the build-up to the tour. Would there be a suggestion box on the bar? Or maybe it would be a case of getting everyone to shout for their favourites and the band would play what they had written on the set list anyway? No, it was much better! In an over the top boxing announcement style, two songs at a time were brought out by the glamorous assistants on huge boards and whichever got the biggest cheer was played. Like a Wildhearts song death-match tournament.

The hugely vocal Manchester crowd chose well too. It’s always going to be a bit controversial and you can’t please everyone but we got to hear a good mix of (more) big hits and a few rarities! Starting off with Caffeine Bomb vs. Sick of Drugs, it was only right that the missing bonus track from the ‘Earth vs.’ album had an airing to complete the celebrations.  Old favourites ‘Geordie in Wonderland’ and ‘Turning American’ came out on top in their matches. We also got the less often heard ‘Mood Swings & Roundabouts’, ‘Dangerlust’ and erm… ‘The Duck Song’ complete with Rich on vocals. The final heavyweight clash was ‘I Wanna Go…’ vs. ‘29x The Pain’ with 29x just edging the vote with a roof-lifting cheer to close the show.

It was great to see The Wildhearts back out on the road in front of the large crowds again. It’s also nice to see all the band genuinely enjoying being on stage and putting out A* performances. Apart from a few more of these anniversary shows, there’s not much indication that the band is back in full time operation but at least they’ll go away from this tour on one of the highest peaks of their career. Let’s just hope they don’t leave it too long until next time!