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HOUSTON, Serpentine, Vega
Borderline, London 4 March 2011
Once seen as
a genre stuck in its halcyon days of the early eighties, one of the
pleasures of the recent revival of interest in melodic rock is that new
young bands are getting some fresh exposure.
None more so
than Swedes Houston, whose album was deservedly raved about by Classic
Rock. Their UK showcase attracted a near full house to the Borderline
and, better still, two British bands supported them. It was interesting
though that the audience was primarily my fellow forty-something
diehards of the genre rather than any new generation of fans.
proceedings were VEGA, fronted by former Kick and Eden singer
Nick Workman and twin brothers Tom and James Martin, rising young
melodic rock songwriters.
giving off the air of Simon Le Bon circa 1985, Nick is not only a
strong singer but an assured, self-confident frontman who had no
difficulty stirring the crowd to give the opening band their full
that the likes of Staring at the Sun and One of a Kind have massive,
accessible choruses, while the ‘He knows that she knows’ refrain of What
it Takes was buzzing around my head for some time afterwards.
Glass with its ‘hey hey hey’ chorus got people going and although S.O.S.
veered too much into U2 territory, set closer Kiss of Life has the hooks
that demand that fists be punched in the air.
craft may need some work with the fine lead guitarist hidden away near
the back of the stage and a bassist looking like a glam metal reject
who had stumbled into the wrong band by mistake. However their
songs, while still melodic, have a crisp modern pop-rock edge to them
and allied to a clean cut, non-metal image, they stand a chance of
breaking beyond the genre’s limited fan base.
Next up were
SERPENTINE, playing their first ever live show over a year after
their debut album appeared. I was curious how they would fare without
ex-Shy singer Tony Mills who sung on the debut, but new young vocalist
Matt Black was a star, showing great enthusiasm and his voice
comfortable in a higher register.
opener A Touch of Heaven and Let Love Rain Down were classic AOR with a
smooth, lush sound pitched somewhere between Journey and Excess All
played a couple of new numbers, Philadelphia and Cry, before closing
with the featured cut from the first album, Whatever Heartache, with a
great keyboard solo from the band’s mainman Gareth Noon.
stage, the gig was just getting better and better and anticipation was
high for HOUSTON. However when they hit the stage I was
instantly put off by a cheesy image which, if a parody, was unfunny and
did their credibility no favours.
all dressed in white, down to sundry headbands and white gloves, various
wits in the crowd drawing comparisons with Olivia Newton-John’s
Physical video, John McEnroe, and the runners in the 118 118 advert.
singer Hank Erix (who looked a little like the young Mike Tramp) took
his bow in a boxers gown with his name emblazoned on the back.
One of the
criticisms of many melodic rock albums is that they are purely studio
projects that never result in live roadwork. However in this case,
the studio product - recorded as a duo with the cream of Scandinavian
players - was musically far superior to the live band.
lead guitarist and brunette rhythm guitarist (leading to cheap Abba
comparisons) were easy on the eye but rather rudimentary players, as
were the rest of the band who seemed to lack the requisite tightness. In
addition, live Hank’s vocals did not appear as sharp and crystal clear
as on the record.
it would be hard to completely mess up songs of that quality, and Truth
Slips, with brunette Helena Alsterhed adding her vocals, and the fluff-tastic
Hold On had people singing along and punching the air.
track Under Your Skin was one of the better ones, and the silken
melodies of Pride with a fine keyboard solo ended the set.
As a bonus
for those of us in the know, they encored with an authentic cover of
Your Love, the big US hit for East End expatriates The Outfield.
viewpoint, in the international AOR battle of the bands it was a
surprise result - Brits 2 Scandis 0. Houston for me will need to raise
their game by the time they return for a full tour in May.