Zal Cleminson’s Sin’Dogs playing Barrowlands is a gig I’d been looking forward to for a long time, particularly as it felt like a homecoming for one the greatest performers I’ve ever had the pleasure to see live. Zal Cleminson gained international fame as the extraordinarily talented face-painted guitarist with the Sensational Alex Harvey Band (SAHB). He is definitely one of my favourite guitarists of all time. For me, Zal is to music, what Sir Alex is to football, and Jimmy Reid was to politics. Having gained three of his Sin’Dogs from tribute band the Sensational Alex Harvey Experience (SAHE) it would be reasonable to assume that Sin’Dogs would be performing mostly SAHB songs. Reasonable, but wrong. It’s reminiscent to the way Alex Harvey teamed up with Zal’s established band Tear Gas to form SAHB.
As the lights go out, there’s a dramatic increase in PA volume as the atmospheric intro music is injected through the speakers. Sin’Dogs stroll onto stage with such swagger, it gives the impression that they own the place. And they are about to. Sin’Dogs have already established a loyal following, and there are numerous Sinners gathered. I’m about 5 rows back in the centre and nobody is conceding an inch. Sin’Dogs are all dressed in black but each has their own unique style befitting their stage character. Keyboardist David Cowan punches the air and greets the audience with an exuberant “Good evening, Glasgow” clearly fulfilling a lifelong dream. Zal and fellow guitarist Willie McGonagle wear high-visibility jackets, in a show of solidarity with the Yellow Vest movement. Zal throws his into the crowd and there’s a short frenzied tug-of-war at the front before it disappears.
Most of the audience flinch as the band explode into their opening number, “Armageddon Day”, it’s breathtakingly powerful. With its Herculean riff and mighty vocals, it has all the attributes of being the best ever lead soundtrack for a cinematic blockbuster. On stage, Zal immediately captivates the crowd, athletically sabre-rattling his guitar at the front row. His gravelly vocals, coupled with his punishing Hendrix-like solos, where he bends strings for a couple of notes, then forces them up further, screaming as they reach their maximum possible tolerance, lets everyone know that Zal’s back in town. What’s also already evident, is that his Sin’Dogs are performing the gig of their lives. They all look great and they all sound great. The backbone of the band are Nelson McFarlane on 5-string bass and Carlos Marin on drums, and they’ve formed a formidable partnership.
Nelson totally looks like a bass player. His rig outputs some ribcage rattling low frequencies which keeps the audience moving to the rhythm, whether they want to or not. Carlos is unmerciful on his drums, powerfully and relentlessly thumping on his not-long-for-this-world skins. His cymbals sound amazing and he utilises them to absolute perfection. It’s obvious that many in the audience weren’t expecting Sin’Dogs to be so heavy and loud but you can see that most are very impressed, and the band are given a tremendous roar of approval at the end of the first number.
The next song is “Stick Man” which delivers more fantastic guitar lines. It’s clear to see why Zal wanted Willie McGonagle in the band, and it certainly wasn’t to be a rhythm guitarist, as Willie also produces some great lead solos. Having the audacity to play the role of Zal with SAHE, is clear evidence of how good a guitarist Willie is, and with Sin’Dogs, you find yourself occasionally looking to see who’s playing which part as they bounce off each other so well. Willie provides a great foundation for the guitar tracks, giving Zal the freedom to concentrate on vocals. At the end of this song I feel a tap on my shoulder and it’s the guy who asked me who they were earlier, having now pushed forward himself.
David then takes us on a saunter into “Evolution Road”. David’s beautifully arranged intro for this track is a masterpiece. It enchants those unfamiliar with Sin’Dogs into a false sense of security. But of course the rest of Sin’Dogs are ready to pounce and they suddenly come punching in with eight rapid bombshell beats of drums, bass, and heavy guitars, before delivering the knockout combination of the mighty riff and powerful lyrics. It’s yet another great response from the crowd. Zal, looking as cool as ever, has a good look around the venue in the manner of someone who’d just returned home after a number of years. He lifts his sunglasses to reveal that he’s not given up on face painting just yet. His eyes are masked, in black, of course.
We’re then treated to a brilliant 21st century rendition of my favourite SAHB song “The Faith Healer”. I felt the crowd surge in response to the bass synth’s instantly recognisable pulsing, beefy intro, before everyone joined David and Nelson in hand clapping to the rhythm. This is by far the heaviest version I’ve ever heard and it underlined why it’s regarded by many as one of the best rock riffs of all time. Carlos ends the track on his own with a short solo in tribute to the memory of Scotland’s greatest drummer Ted McKenna who sadly passed away in January. The response from the audience is predictably the biggest of the night, with even the gracefully aging hippies joining in the lengthy roar of appreciation.
Penultimate song “Euphoria” has something for everyone. The instantly catchy vocal line, anthem-like lead guitar and stylish keyboard runs are all held aloft on the menacing rhythms being generated by Nelson and Carlos. They complete their time-constrained set appropriately with the track called “Sin Dogs”, leaving the audience in no doubt of who they just witnessed, and Zal is still in scintillating form. Yet another with terrific guitar work, the head-banging tempo allowed the Sinners to bounce off any remaining calories. The end inevitably came all too soon. The crowd were buzzing and the band were buzzing but time was up. So with the obligatory thank you goodnights, air punching and waving, Sin’Dogs left the stage. And Barrowlands was conquered – the Sin’Dogs are right at home here.
If asked to recommend one band to go see live in 2019, I’d immediately say Zal Cleminson’s Sin’Dogs. They’re doing exactly what they want to do, collectively creating powerful, exciting new music and delivering it at maximum volume. Go see them if you get the chance and take your friends with you. You might have to invest in a new pair of ears, but it will be worth it.