Screaming Eagles with support from Triggerman
Saturday, 31st May, 2014 – Diamond Rock Club, Ahoghill
There’s never a bad gig at the Diamond Rock Club. There may be the odd one where, for one reason or another, the crowd isn’t as full as usual, but in terms of what you get for your money, the visitor is rarely left disappointed. The punters love the place, the artists love playing there, so that’s a recipe for good times. Tonight is no exception. There is a party atmosphere as it is a special birthday for one of the club’s many regulars, but there is also a sense of excitement that is palpable. That this excitement is being generated by two local bands, says a lot about the D.R.C. patrons and the bands themselves. The D.R.C. and its patrons are passionate about local music but it is not blind devotion. The bands themselves need to be up to the challenge, to prove themselves worthy of this now-venerated stage and worthy of the great reception D.R.C. crowds tend to give (i.e. no hanging back at the bar with arms folded).
Triggerman is a safe pair of hands to open proceedings tonight. Veterans of the local music scene now, with multiple appearances at the D.R.C. behind them and an ardent following, the crowd are ready and waiting at their feet as the band take to the stage. There is no preamble, no messing about, no pulling punches as they launch straight into what is basically the band’s theme tune, ‘The Riff Holds Sway’. The riff would indeed hold sway all through a barnstorming, brutal set, crammed full of groovy-yet-heavy guitar riffs that had the crowd bouncing, fist pumping, and head nodding from start to finish. Triggerman has the happy knack of being able to take riffs that you swear you’ve heard before but don’t quite know where, then adding that touch of uniqueness to make them its own. Bap’s vocal delivery is uniqueness personified; a mixture of Lemmy-style gutteral singing and his own brand of celtic rapping/storytelling. It may not be to everyone’s taste, especially those who like nice, high-pitched traditional rock vocals (of whom I would normally be one) but it works. It’s like Heavy Metal Tom Waits. Triggerman without Bap’s vocals would be like Slayer without Tom Araya. It’s ‘man music’ as I would overhear one punter tell his mate. I get what he is saying, but the ladies in the crowd seemed to enjoy it too!
We are treated to a good spread of the band’s lengthy career, but the band gives an airing to the three songs that make up its newly released (and excellent) E.P. – ‘Origins, Lost Travellers and Rock & Roll Heaven’ and a fair dollop of its predecessor, ‘Hail to the River Gods’. ‘Origin of Man’ is second up on the night and it encapsulates the band perfectly. Musically it is a beast, with its pulsing intro and unrelenting main riff. Lyrically it is a wonderful romp, poking fun at creationists and darwinists in equal measure. The Triggerman virgins in the crowd (of which I am one) are won over already, I look around and everyone is bobbing their heads in time, as groove after groove belts out. ‘Rage of the Goddess’, ‘Hail To The River Gods’ (awesome offbeat work here by the rhythm section), ‘Flower of Life’ (all from ‘Hail’) pummel any remaining doubters into submission. There is no way to resist. Triggerman never let a song outstay its welcome; 3-4 minutes is usually your lot. ‘Valhalla’ says it all to me, a celebration of life if there ever was one. Bap tells the crowd that he’s heard that the afterlife consists of ‘Rock & Roll, whisky and beer’. Sounds to me like nirvana has a name, and it is Diamond Rock Club. 12 songs go by in a flash and we arrive at the crescendo – the crunching ‘Son of Solomon’. ‘Follow that boys’ is the challenge to Screaming Eagles.
But Screaming Eagles are undaunted for, you see, guitarist Adrian McAleenan knows a thing or two about the magical art of the riff. True, his are more in the vein of Messers Young and Young than the Iommi/Hetfield-inspired riffs of Triggerman, but the result is the same – a happy crowd. That McAleenen manages to crank out as many decibels from his one guitar as Triggerman did with two is some feat. His Marshall stack and Les Paul combination produces a thick/fat sound that is as good as any I have heard at this venue. Backed up by the tight-as-a-gnats-ass rhythm section of Lily and Cruickshank, Screaming Eagles have a fine collection of tightly constructed Classic Rock tunes. And then just to finish it all off, there is Chris Fry on vocals. And what a voice this man has! It’s hard to pigeonhole who he sounds like, he has the pitch of Bonn Scott when he wants to but also the deep bluesy rasp of, to keep the Oz connection, Jimmy Barnes. And this is good, because if a detractor was to say Screaming Eagles are too like AC/DC, then I think Fry’s voice, how he sets up his melodies and choruses, is not ‘DC-like at all. It’s what sets the band apart from what I would call ‘DC clones, both here and further afield. Screaming Eagles has strong songs and that is no doubt why its debut album ‘From The Flames’ has been picked up by Off Ya Rocka Records for general release, having previously been self-released. This is not lucky happenstance, this is because of the quality.
Anyway, the D.R.C. crowd know all this, which is why, as the band takes the stage, the tight venue is crammed from front to back, with cheers ringing out already. ‘Hungry For More’ comes crashing out of the speakers like Froch’s fist on Groves’ chin at roughly the same time. Beautiful in its simplicity (it’s classic 1980’s L.A. Rock) it gets everyone going as if they needed prompting. ‘Down The River’ is one of the ‘Screagles’ (as its fans call it) tunes you can definitely hear the ‘DC influences more acutely, but this no way detracts from the song itself and given the number of AC/DC t-shirts in the crowd, it is a sound that is most welcome. Bodies are swaying in time and heads are bobbing and there is no let up with ‘Take My Time’ maintains the pace and ferocity, with Fry’s vocals full of spite.
The first little surprise of the night comes next with a very unexpected but thoroughly enjoyable version of Adele’s ‘Rolling In The Deep’. Brilliantly constructed and performed, it has impressed all who have heard it and may, as Fry admits during the introduction, be one of the main reasons the band won a slot at the recent Hard Rock Hell festival in Ibiza. It is followed by one of my personal favourite tracks, ‘One Man Revolution’ with its mean n’ moody intro that breaks into an irresistible riff that is ‘Given The Dog A Bone’s twin brother. Strangely, Fry admits it’s not featured that much in recent shows – for me it’s one of the lads’ best tunes. But then again the band has such a strong song base, as shown by the next two tunes – the funky ‘Devil In The Dust’ (reminds me of Jake E. Lee’s Badlands) and ‘Fight The Fire’ (again, what a riff and great work on bass by Lily!!).
There’s a bit of ‘light relief’ next as the band crank out a shortened birthday request in Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’. The band takes its authenticity seriously, none more so than Fry who spent the song looking down at the lyrics but still getting them wrong – just like Mr Plant himself! The bluesy, moody ‘Vampire’ is atmospheric and menacing, whereas ‘All The Way’ is all tongue-in-cheek sexual innuendo: different but enjoyable. I said in a previous review of the band when it did a shorter set that included covers, that they had to be careful that covers did not overshadow the band’s own material, but in this longer set, the inclusion of a few carefully chosen covers just adds to the enjoyment. The band’s rendition of ‘Immigrant Song’ is ferocious and right on the money – think the live version off Zeppelin’s ‘How The West Was Won’ album. That’s how good it was.
We are treated to a taste of things to come with a new song, tentatively titled ‘Ready For the Fall’. My one listen would suggest its a strong song more in the vein of ‘Hungry For More’ than some of the band’s more ‘DC-inspired songs. A very enjoyable set is concluded with the celebration of all things Hard Rock that is the songs ‘Blood’ (complete with ‘It’s a Long Way To the Top’ cameo) and ‘Rock n Roll Soul’. It is perhaps fitting, in a part of the country that is viewed as Ulster’s ‘Bible Belt’ (complete with the ignominy of banning E.L.O. all those years ago), that the walls of the local success story that is the Diamond Rock Club, should reverberate to the refrain from Fry and the crowd of, ‘You came to save my soul, but I want to Rock ‘n’ Roll’.
Screaming Eagles has it all. It is a band very much on the up and up. Catch it when you can. You will not be disappointed.